Almost Winter 1.10

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“You think he bought it?” Christopher asked.


I shrugged. “John did. Whether Garrett will fall for it I don’t know. I expect you’ll find out pretty soon. Somehow I think the stunt we pulled tonight’s going to get us some kind of reaction.” I broke off yawning; it had been a very long night, and even with preparation and appropriate foci I had been throwing around a lot of magic. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go and collapse for a while.”


He laughed briefly. “Not at all. You might have to wake Kyra; I think she already fell asleep on the couch. I’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”


As it turned out he was right. Kyra managed to drive me home safely, but I still made her promise to go right home and sleep for a few hours. The sun was already cresting the horizon by that time; our werewolf trap had taken most of the night, and I’d spent the rest of it reporting to Christopher. Aiko, being apparently slightly more sensible than me, had left almost immediately.


As for myself, well, I was in better shape than the last time I’d come home after throwing my magic around. I managed to brush my teeth and get undressed before I fell asleep, even—although I did make sure to keep all of the useful things I’d taken with me near my bed. I wasn’t really anticipating a retaliatory attack, but it was pretty clear by this point that there was no such thing as an excessive amount of paranoia.


Seven hours later the phone rang.


“Looks like we’ve got our answer,” Christopher said grimly.


I was instantly alert. “What’s happened?”


“Message left on my doorstep. Says ‘Moonrise tomorrow,’ and then specifies a location in the forest west of the city.


“You’re kidding. He gave you a formal invite?”


“Looks that way. You think he’ll show?”


I frowned. “I don’t know. I can’t get a sense of this guy, Christopher. I’m sure I was right about what he’s doing, but I feel like there’s something we’re still missing about this.”


“Maybe,” Christopher said, although he didn’t sound convinced. “But it hardly matters at this point. The whole pack knows about this. I can’t back down from a direct challenge after what he’s done.”


“Fair enough,” I said reluctantly. I didn’t like rushing headlong into danger, but from what Conn told me about the pack structure in this town it was probably true that Christopher didn’t have an option on this one. A more secure Alpha could safely ignore a challenge if they played it well, so that it seemed insulting rather than fearful, but with an unstable pack no amount of spin was sufficient.


I didn’t bother getting up; it sounded like the next day was going to have some exciting nightlife, so there wasn’t any point going back to being diurnal. I wanted to be well rested, so I figured I’d get some more sleep. I didn’t wake up again until almost sunset.


I spent most of the evening and night checking on my equipment. Knives were cleaned and sharpened, although they didn’t really need either. Most of my silver was good, but a few of the bullets and needles had gone flat. I set them aside to recharge later. I could have used them—regular silver hurts werewolves too, remember—but I wanted the best equipment I had in a fight this serious.


Eventually I ran out of stuff to deal with—it had mostly just been an exercise in distraction, anyway. I thought for several minutes, and then made a couple phone calls.


It had occurred to me that maybe there were a few things I could get for this fight in particular. I might not have anything like the power a demon-possessed werewolf could claim, but my specialty has always been obsessive preparation. I saw no reason to change that now.


Even if we lost this fight, Garrett wasn’t going to be forgetting it anytime soon. I was determined of that.


I was a little nervous going back to Alexander without an invitation. Growing up I’d heard a lot of stories about the punishments mages visited upon those who annoyed them. The basic lesson most of the time was that powerful mages have short tempers, no concept of proportion, and unpleasant senses of humor, and as a result you should avoid pissing them off whenever possible.


On the other hand, he seemed to like me well enough, and there was no question that he was both more powerful and more skilled than me by a wide margin. Which is why, the next day, I found myself outside Alexander’s house in the afternoon. I could have asked Dolph to bring me, but he undoubtedly had his own preparations to make. Besides, it wasn’t a ridiculously long walk, and it wasn’t like I could mistake it for another house.


Alexander answered the door looking about as happy as last time, although I could smell that at least I hadn’t actually interrupted him at his magic this time. “What do you want?” he snapped peevishly.


“My name is Winter,” I said cautiously. “I was here the other day asking you about demons…”


“I remember. I’m not an idiot. Did you find it?”


“Yes, I think so. Apparently the showdown is tonight.”


He snorted. “How like a werewolf to schedule it. I suppose you’ve come to try and convince me to come?”


“Oh no,” I said hastily. Somehow I didn’t think that line of effort had much chance of success. “But I was wondering if I could purchase a few things….”


At first he looked skeptical. But once I’d outlined my reasoning to him, and explained what I was looking for, he got to be interested enough that he forgot to keep scowling.


And, eventually, started nodding.


An hour later I walked back out of the house with a spring in my step that had been absent for several weeks. The weapon in my coat pocket couldn’t weigh more than a couple ounces, but it felt much heavier than that. It had cost me some things I wasn’t comfortable paying, and the process of making it hadn’t been pleasant, but if this went right it would all be worth it.


Moonrise was about an hour after sunset. About two hours before, we went for a sort of pre-fight dinner. I believe the idea was that, if we were all going to be dead tomorrow, we might as well have a decent last supper, although it also had a practical side, for me at least. I wanted to have absolutely as much magic as I possibly could for this fight, and that meant working to replenish what I’d spent. Food and sleep were still the best ways to do that.


You might expect that we ate at Pryce’s. If so, you would be absolutely wrong. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t have enough money that I can afford to eat out very often, but I still went to Pryce’s often enough that it felt sort of everyday. For Kyra, of course, it was more mundane than that by a wide margin.


Instead, we went to the high-end Italian restaurant where Anna worked. It was a pretty subdued party, all of us probably thinking about what the odds were that we were going to be dead by morning. I had to admit that they looked to be pretty far stacked against us. We had the advantage of numbers, and on a personal level I had all the tricks and toys I’d arranged already, not to mention my magic.


Garrett, on the other hand, was virtually a one-man army. Besides which he had at least four werewolves playing backup, plus any other servants or allies he’d gathered that John hadn’t known about. He’d chosen the field of combat, which meant that he could have prepared God only knows what kind of traps and advantages.


So yeah. None of us was feeling too cheery at dinner. Aiko cracked bad jokes and ate the most ridiculous things she could find on the menu, but there was a sense of forced gaiety even to her antics. Kyra was all but silent, as was Christopher. Dolph reviewed what we knew and went over our game plan for the night in a hushed voice, his face grim. He had judged the odds about the same way I had, I thought.


But he was Rudolph Ferguson, the son of the Khan. He was one of the most personally dangerous werewolves in the world, and he had seen centuries come and go.


You would have a better chance persuading a Spartan army to retreat than convincing him to run from a fight. I think he truly doesn’t know how to be a coward.


As for myself, well, I guess I was somewhere in between. I wasn’t feeling optimistic about tonight, but I’m a stubborn bastard, literally. I refused to allow our enemy to have the victory of making me unhappy. So I was laughing at Aiko’s jokes, and enjoying the meal as best I could because, if there’s one thing you can learn from growing up among werewolves, it’s how to treat food as the most important part of your existence.


And besides, Anna is a very good cook.


After dinner, I got prepped while Kyra was changing in the bathroom. I didn’t have any actual armor—I’m just not in enough fights to justify it—but I made do. I wore a heavy leather jacket that, like my favorite Bowie knife, had been a gift from Erin years before. It didn’t look much like the sort of garment bikers wear; it was heavy reinforced boiled leather, totally lacking in decoration or a silky smooth finish. Boring brown in color, it was very obviously intended for physical protection rather than any conception of fashion.


I was pretty sure my enemies would be fighting as wolves, so I hadn’t bothered borrowing a ballistic vest. It wouldn’t do shit to stop claws. Instead I settled for a thick black hoodie under the leather. The temperature didn’t really justify it—even after dark in the mountains, at this time of year it just didn’t get cold enough to overcome my natural resistance to cold—but the added layers might at least slow down an attacker. The cuffs of the cargo pants were tucked into heavy leather hiking boots. A werewolf could bite through the boots, but not quickly.


The insulated leather gloves were horribly uncomfortable over the rings, but I was likely to need the foci before the night was out, and I couldn’t afford numb fingers. A little discomfort was a small price to pay.


After that, there was nothing else to do but collect my various weapons. The Bowie knife, steel inlaid with silver, would ride on my belt during the actual fight, but I wasn’t wearing it yet; I didn’t want to have to explain it to any cops. I couldn’t afford the time it was likely to take. Likewise my 9mm, loaded for werewolf. Usually I would have worn it in a shoulder holster under my clothes, but tonight I was putting a higher priority on easy access than concealment. The shoulder rig would fit over the jacket.


My ten-gauge came next. Extra ammunition for both guns went into the pockets of my pants, including both buckshot and slug rounds for the shotgun. All of it was silver, the presence of so much charged silver making my skin crawl a little. Fortunately none of it was actually touching my skin, so it shouldn’t actually injure me.


The ammo was joined by a ton of other things, little tools and toys that I’d been saving up for a long time. I wasn’t as personally dangerous as most mages—or, honestly, most werewolves—but I had years of paranoid preparation on my side. Hopefully it would give me enough of an edge to pull this off.


That’s the thing about screwing with somebody like me. On a personal level I didn’t have the power to threaten most anybody. But if I have time to prepare and I know exactly what I’m going to be fighting, it becomes a different story. It means I have a chance to arrange an arsenal specifically targeted at one enemy. The stuff I was carrying wouldn’t be worth much against, say, one of the fae. But when it came to demons and/or werewolves, I was armed to the teeth.


About the same time I finished getting ready Kyra came trotting into the room. She was clearly nervous, but her green eyes were as bright as ever. I patted her fur delicately into place and then went for her armor.


Kyra was going in as a wolf, which would normally preclude equipment. Fortunately, the werewolves have centuries of experience with killing things and—what many of the stories seem to conveniently overlook—they aren’t stupid.


That was why Kyra had a collection of heavy leather straps and steel plates which, although it looked like a senseless jumble, belted easily into place. I’d learned to put on the armor years before, and it was a comforting routine, something for my hands to do so that I wouldn’t have to think. The armor was a little bit loose on her—the pack owns several sets of the stuff, but they don’t bother individually tailoring it. That’s why it has buckles and is easily adjustable.


The steel plates were designed to offer as much protection as possible without seriously impeding movement. Large plates settled over the back, flanks, and chest, while the throat was protected by a series of smaller overlapping pieces of metal, leaving her head and legs bare. I noticed with approval that most of the plates had delicate tracings of silver across their surface, making it less likely that another werewolf would be able to grapple her successfully. Kyra was stronger than almost any human, but that doesn’t mean much when you’re dealing with other superhumans.


That done, I did a quick final check on the contents of my numerous pockets and then started carting all my stuff out to her car. I put the guns, knives, and pouches into the trunk, concealing them by the simple expedient of throwing a blanket over them. Kyra clambered, slightly awkwardly, into the backseat of her car, while I slipped into the driver’s seat.


Before we left I went ahead and expended a bit of my magic cloaking Kyra in shadows. It wasn’t a huge expenditure—I wasn’t doing anything like as subtle or complex as before—and if anybody saw her in her current state we’d be screwed. A werewolf in fur is one thing; a werewolf in fur wearing what looked like a costume designed for somewhere between a gladiator movie and an S&M fetishist club is another thing entirely.



The designated rendezvous location was a small parking lot in the forests south of Pikes Peak. It was about half an hour’s drive from the city, a short distance off the road. In the daytime it was a pleasant enough place, somewhere people parked while they went for day hikes in the woods. I went there fairly often myself.


The growing twilight, combined with my own foreboding, lent it a different air. Shadows grew and stretched across the ground, and the darkened spaces between the trees seemed to hold a thousand enemies. The lot itself was all but abandoned, feeling desolate and cold. I recognized Christopher’s car, and Dolph’s, and there was one other that smelled like werewolf; other than that it was empty. Of course; if Garrett hadn’t arranged for this place to be empty tonight, Christopher would have. The werewolves mostly weren’t here yet, and the ones who’d arrived early must have gone out scouting, because there was no one else around.


There weren’t going to be any innocent bystanders for this fight.


Kyra seemed to feel anxious too, sticking so close to me as I opened the trunk and collected my gear that I was practically stepping on her. I didn’t mind; honestly, waiting around in the empty lot was creeping me out enough I almost wished the bloodshed would start already, just so I could stop anticipating it.


It had been a long time since I had this feeling. Now that I was feeling it again, I was a little disturbed by how familiar it felt.


The leather jacket went on first, followed by the belt. The knife on one side was balanced by a large, tough fabric pouch on the other. I’d picked it up cheap at a military surplus. It had originally been designed to hold magazines for an assault rifle; I wasn’t storing bullets in it, but this was still probably the closest I’d ever come to using it for its intended purpose. The interior was divided into four pockets, each big enough to hold a water bottle, although their contents tonight were significantly smaller than that. The extra space was stuffed with padding; I didn’t want my weapons breaking before I had a chance to use them.


I slipped the shoulder rig on over my clothing and secured the pistol in it, making sure the safety was on. It was fully loaded with a round chambered, because I figured that if and when I needed it, I was going to need to be quick. The shotgun, likewise loaded, went on a simple black nylon strap that I draped across my chest. I checked once more that I wasn’t missing anything, then shut the trunk.


I didn’t bother locking the door; any thief ambitious to hit a wilderness parking lot in the middle of the night wasn’t likely to be bothered by such a simple countermeasure. Not to mention that they’d be lucky just to get away with their life if this got as ugly as I was anticipating it would.


It was quiet enough that I heard the next vehicle coming long before it arrived. Christopher appeared before it did, a huge grey-white wolf fading out of the underbrush. He nodded slightly toward Kyra, but otherwise didn’t react to our presence. Dolph showed up a moment later, equally large but several tones darker. He glanced at me, amber eyes practically glowing in the gloom, and flashed his teeth.


Was that a human smile translated to an inhuman face? Or an expression of an entirely inhuman bloodlust? It was hard to tell for sure, even for someone as experienced as me.


And, in the end, did it even matter? However any of us felt about it, our job here was pretty clear. At this point there was no way either we or Garrett could avert what was about to happen.


A few minutes later a large, blocky black van pulled into the lot. It belonged to the pack, of course. As it got closer I realized that Aiko was driving; she must have decided not to take her own car.


The interior of the car looked like a snapshot from some Renaissance artist’s vision of hell—except, you know, in a car. All of the passengers were werewolves, and none of them still looked human. Half a dozen shades of fur, gleaming animal eyes, lots and lots of enormous teeth—there was plenty there to fear, and I would have been lying if I said I didn’t, familiar with werewolves though I was. Several of them had chosen to stick their heads out the various windows of the van, all of which were rolled down to allow just that. And probably also to cut the smell a bit.


The kitsune parked casually in the middle of the lot, ignoring the designated parking spaces that I had unconsciously obeyed. She got out and walked around the van opening doors, letting a small flood of wolf out. Then she walked over to where I was standing while the werewolves stretched and milled about—unsurprising, really, considering that we were the only two capable of speech at the moment.


Her kit was relatively similar to mine, although with a definite Japanese theme. Progressive or not, she apparently had very traditional ideas about equipment. Her scale armor could have starred in a samurai movie, complete with armored gloves and leggings. The boots, at least, weren’t armored, although the tightly fitted black leather was still a far cry from my own hiking boots.


As far as armament, she had a literal freaking sword belted on. Not a katana, surprisingly, but its smaller cousin the wakizashi, which was better suited to the close-quarters combat we were likely to encounter here. The other side held a tanto-style knife in an ornately decorated sheath.


I smirked a little. “Bit of a traditionalist, there?” I said.


“You’re wearing armor too,” she said defensively.


“Granted, but not quite armor like that. I mean, that’s gotta be from what, the fifteenth century?”


She glowered at me. “Twentieth. But it’s not like I could go into a fight without it. What would my mother say?” She shuddered dramatically. “Totally not worth it.”


I laughed. “I’m surprised you’re going in human,” I said, gesturing vaguely at the werewolves. “I’d have thought you would have changed by now.”


“This may surprise you,” the kitsune said dryly, “but a human with a gun beats a fox in a fight more often than you might think.”


“You brought a gun?” I said, grinning.


“It’s in the van. Speaking of which…” she walked back over and opened the back of the van. She pulled out, in order, a pistol that looked to be of a significantly higher caliber than mine, what looked like a military-model carbine, and a samurai-style helmet and mask that finished up her armor ensemble.


I looked at her and then glanced back at my own kit to confirm that, yep, I totally looked like a wimp compared to Aiko. I was just hoping she could back it up; all the guns and swords in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t use them.


About that time another trio of mottled werewolves melted out of the shadows and went to confer with Christopher. The scouts whose car had been here before I arrived, doubtless. I did a quick count and found that, counting Kyra, Christopher, and Dolph, there were sixteen werewolves total, more than I’d expected; Christopher had brought over half his pack to this fight.


Werewolves can’t talk in fur. It doesn’t matter how awesome you are, you can’t make human speech come out of an animal’s mouth. Doesn’t happen.


On the other hand, werewolves have human-level intelligence and plenty of experience communicating in spite of their difficulties. In addition to that, the pack bonds give them something akin to low-level telepathy. So Christopher could reasonably get some information from the scouts, in spite of the linguistic handicap on both parts.


Apparently they hadn’t seen, heard, or smelled anything which changed the plan, because Christopher started off down the path into the section of the forest where, theoretically, Garrett and Company were waiting.


Around us, the light of the almost-full moon threw the forest into stark contrast, silver light against shadows as dark as I’d ever seen.


About a quarter-mile down the path, Christopher peeled smoothly off the pack and took off at an angle. That was the signal, and from that point on every few steps another werewolf split off from the group, going to both sides of the path at varying angles.


The note had said only that they would be somewhere within a valley to the north of the parking lot, which left almost fifty acres to search. Within that area we had no way of knowing where to look. Thus, the plan called for a search pattern radiating out from the path. Theoretically, if they were here at all, one of the werewolves would cross their trail eventually. If not, we would regroup at the parking lot around dawn and decide the next move.


Kyra, Aiko and I were near the back half of the line. Before too long, though, it was their turn. I wished Aiko good luck and then she slipped into the trees, vanishing incredibly quickly considering her conspicuous appearance. Maybe it was a kitsune thing. Kyra butted her head against my thigh, staggering me slightly, and then followed her. Shortly thereafter I left the path as well, going to the opposite side as they had.


Off the path it was a different world. Under the trees it was vastly darker, most of the moonlight blocked by the trees. I loved the forest, I’d spent quite a bit of time hiking even in this very region, and my preternatural senses were working overtime. I still had to work hard to navigate the woods without either giving away my position or breaking an ankle. Under the circumstances, either one was likely to be a death sentence.


About half an hour later I heard snarling noises to the north.


They weren’t terribly loud. A human would never have heard them. Even I probably wouldn’t have, most days. At the moment, though, my senses were straining harder than they had in years, maybe harder than ever, and there weren’t any distractions.


If a werewolf had really needed help they would have made more noise than that.


On the other hand, this was the first sign I’d heard of an enemy presence in the area. Even if, as we expected, the enemy had split up the same way we had, I might still arrive in time to do some good. I turned toward the sounds and picked up my pace a little.


A few seconds later, the snarls still hadn’t abated when I felt a sudden…what, exactly? Nothing physical, that was for sure. It was clearly magic, but not anything I was accustomed to. It felt almost like my own magic, something tied to physical location, but not quite.


Almost simultaneously there was a brief, very intense light ahead of me, just visible through the trees. A moment later there was a muffled boom of thunder. The snarls stopped for a moment, then resumed, slightly louder.


I froze. Werewolves can’t summon lightning. It’s just not possible, not for their magic. I hadn’t asked Alexander about lightning specifically, but it was hard to believe that an entity of chaos and destruction could manage a spell that complicated, which ruled out the demon. We knew Garrett probably had magic of his own, but he had to have been a shaman or a witch to manage the ritual he had. Neither of those types of magic is any closer to lightning than werewolves are.


Which meant that either we’d grossly misestimated Garrett…or there was another player in this game.


I resettled my shotgun and picked up the pace.


It took me another minute or so to get to the scene of the fight, which was farther away than I had anticipated. Once I had a clear view of the combat I no longer had to guess what was going on. It was pretty plain.


Only one of the combatants was a werewolf. I recognized him, both from the parking lot and from the few pack events I’d attended. He was a cinnamon wolf, a little on the small side, about fifty years old named Michael. He’d chosen to forego armor in favor of maneuverability, a decision which had likely saved his life from the lightning strike.


He was fighting…something. It was a little taller than me, generally humanoid in shape but obviously not human. It had silvery skin—not pale, actually silvery, and shining in the moonlight. A pair of gossamer wings sprouted from its back, with a wingspan probably better than ten feet.


And it had sharply pointed ears.


Fae. Probably a wind faerie of some sort. I couldn’t be sure, but it would fit with the wings, and the lightning, and it would explain the idea of location I’d felt in the magic. It, like me, drew power from the world around it on a basic level, although it was tied down to a single element. If I was guessing correctly.


Whatever it was, it was trying to kill one of the pack. That made it the enemy, and I advanced on it, suddenly regretting my decision to bring only charged silver bullets. Lead would have been more effective against a fae, never mind steel.


About twenty feet away, at the edge of the small clearing they were fighting in, I crossed a curtain of some kind of magic. It seemed to burn painfully as I stepped across it, a brief nonphysical agony, but it didn’t try to stop me. Somehow I didn’t think it would be so forgiving of leaving, which explained why Michael hadn’t tried to run.


Once on the other side, I realized what its other purpose was as well. Concealment. Michael’s snarls, which had sounded so quiet even from right outside the barrier, were as loud as I’d ever heard, interspersed with sharp yips and barking that should have been audible from a long ways off. He was obviously trying to make enough noise to summon help, but I was the only one who’d come. Which meant that not only had none of the werewolves heard, but the fae must have somehow cut off the pack bonds for communication as well.


The faerie must have used more than just the one lightning strike, too, because the air inside the bubble was so thick with magic that it was literally hard to breathe. I seemed to hear the rush of wind in my ears, and it was only with difficulty that I could realize that it wasn’t actually there. I could smell magic tinted with ozone, as strongly as ever I had.


This was one badass faerie.


It had a perfect opportunity to kill me while I was staggered by the effect of crossing into the circle it had made, but it seemed not to care, instead focusing on Michael. It raised one hand, its face alien and remote, and I began to feel the same pulling sensation as before. It was about to throw another lightning bolt at Michael, and I was afraid this was going to be one more than he could dodge.


I ran toward the fae, slipping one hand into a pocket as I did. “Stop,” I screamed, noticing for the first time that the faerie was floating a good three inches above the ground, although its wings were perfectly still. If they were even large or solid enough to lift it; looking at them I doubted it.


It paused, as though surprised, and turned to face me, lowering its hand as it did. “Why should I?” it said, its voice buzzing in a way no human’s could. Its eyes were huge, taking up more than half its face, and intensely green without white, iris, or pupil. Up close it looked like an insect, totally removed from anything that could be called human.


“He is no enemy of you or your people,” I said, praying that it wouldn’t notice my hand in my pocket.


It cocked its head sideways, the motion eerily inhuman. Human necks don’t…bend like that. “He and his have killed two of my people,” it said, the buzzing more intense now. “He is my enemy until he is dead.” It turned back to the werewolf, obviously dismissing me.


“Not if I have anything to say about it,” I said with more defiance than I really felt. This fae was beyond my weight class in the same way that Mike Tyson is beyond that boxer you knew in high school.


I slipped the knife—an ordinary pocket knife, no silver inlay or anything, about three inches long—out of my pocket anyway. Because when push comes to shove, I never did know when to back down.


It glanced back at me, and though its mouth didn’t move I knew that it was smiling, or whatever the equivalent is for insectile wind fae. “Do you think that toy will be enough to stop me?” it said, sounding—as far as I could judge—genuinely curious.


I swallowed. “No.” And then I pulled my other hand out of my pocket, and tossed a handful of ball bearings at it. I’d brought them on a whim—they certainly wouldn’t be much use against a werewolf—and was currently very grateful for my own inability to go without an unnecessary weapon. They can come in handy when your estimate of the situation turns out to be worthless.


I didn’t throw them all that hard, and it didn’t look like a particularly impressive attack. Only one of the little balls even hit the fae, and it bounced off harmlessly. The others passed through the air surrounding it.


Some of the fae—Val, for example—have no trouble with iron. Others find it irritating or even painful, the way werewolves react to silver. But there are also quite a few who find it a great deal more harmful than that, creatures that can’t even stand to be in the same room with it.


This fae turned out to be one of those.


The power the fae had been gathering dissipated in an instant, and it screeched in pain. The sound was painfully high, buzzing, and sounded like nothing I’d ever heard. At the same time its cushion of air collapsed, dropping it several inches to the ground. Its inhuman face held no expression at all, but I like to think it was shocked anyway.


I dashed across the intervening space. I had a very limited time before it recovered, and when it did I was probably dead. I’d only made it this far because I’d surprised it, and it hadn’t really expected me to try anything.


I reached it before it recovered, though, and once I did I reached out and grabbed its head with my left hand. My right positioned the knife at its throat, just barely drawing blood. It was a pale, almost greenish color, smelled a little bit like lime juice, and burned painfully on my skin.


“Leave,” I said, hoarse with exertion and emotion. “Your word that you’ll leave, and dismiss your magic from this place, or I cut your throat right now.


It froze. Then, in the same buzzing and strangely emotionless voice, it said, “You have my word. I will leave this forest for twenty-four hours, and I will make no effort of magic in this forest in that time.”


I tightened my grip. “And you drop all grievances against this werewolf.”


“Yes. I swear.”


“Good.” I let it go and stepped back.


A moment later, both the fae and the magic in the air vanished. I waited a moment to be sure it was really gone, then folded the knife and dropped it back into a pocket. I was breathing hard, more from emotion than exertion. My hands hurt where the fae creature had bled on them, but the pain seemed to be fading and I couldn’t detect any actual damage.


Michael came over and nudged my thigh, whining softly. “Hey,” I said, rubbing his ears. “You been going around killing faeries or something?”


He whined in a slightly different way, one that meant no. I can’t explain the difference, but to any werewolf—or anyone raised around them—it was unmistakable.


“Huh,” I said, frowning. “That one seemed pretty sure about it. You do something to provoke her?”




“All right,” I said. “You better go find your Alpha.”


He licked the blood off one of my fingers and whined again.


“No, I’ll be fine,” I said, waving that hand to prove it. “But somebody needs to tell Christopher what just happened, and you can find him a lot quicker than I can.


He left reluctantly, but he left. I wandered over to a tree and leaned against it, thinking. Somehow I didn’t think that rushing out looking for another fight was a good idea.


That fae had been looking to kill Michael. That much was unmistakable, but at the same time it hadn’t seemed like a targeted assassination attempt. The wind fae had been toying with him before I got there. Werewolf or not, there was no way either of us could have survived a serious fight with it. That made it seem more like the revenge mission it had claimed it was on.


But that made no sense. Not only had Michael denied involvement with any fae murders, it didn’t fit with what I knew of him at all. I hadn’t spent much time around him, but he seemed like a decent person. Kyra always spoke well of him, too, which was the highest praise he could really ask for.


I laughed grimly as I suddenly saw what was going on. Because there had been at least one murder of a fae that I knew about, that of Aiko’s leprechaun friend. It was a safe bet, too, that there had been at least a couple more that the fae had concealed from the police.


They would have known it was a werewolf. Garrett had been sure to leave plenty of clues pointing in that direction. But would they have been able to tell which werewolf it was? I doubted it.


So what if Garrett had then, say, challenged them to a throwdown here, tonight? On the same night the pack was coming to kill him? Even if they knew that Christopher was as much a victim as they were, there was no guarantee that they would be able to distinguish his wolves.


To me, the things that had been done to Garrett’s wolves were painfully obvious. I would be able to distinguish them on the basis of their magic alone. Christopher’s wolves all knew each other, and could identify each other on the basis of the pack bonds as well.


The fae had neither of those advantages. They weren’t even aware that there were any werewolves other than their enemies here.


The pieces of Garrett’s plan fell suddenly into place. We hadn’t outmaneuvered him; he’d been leading us here from the start. If I hadn’t provoked him, he would still have arranged to drop that challenge somehow. The fae would have more than one person here, and they would be killing werewolves more or less at random. Christopher’s minions would be confused, but pacifists don’t make it very far as werewolves. Attack them and they fight back.


Werewolves would die. Fae would die. It gave Garrett a perfect opportunity to injure all of his most hated groups. Even better, it stood a decent chance of straining relations between the werewolves and the fae on a larger scale. Especially now that Dolph was involved. If Conn’s son were killed by a fae, it might have very serious repercussions.


In fact…it occurred to me that the timing on this couldn’t be coincidence. Fae and werewolves killing each other, and causing a massive diplomatic incident at the same time, all while Conn was trying to negotiate an alliance between them? There couldn’t be many things Garrett wanted more.


I was in no shape to do anything about it. One fae had practically killed me, and there must be quite a few in this forest. My chances of even surviving didn’t look good.


I forced myself back into motion anyway, because I’d just realized one more thing. This plan was far too complicated to trust to chance. Garrett had to have his people here now, orchestrating the whole performance so that Dolph or Christopher wouldn’t use his personal and political clout to stop the fighting.


They were here. And if I could kill them, I might still be able to salvage this.


I checked my pockets and slipped back into the night.

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One Response to Almost Winter 1.10

  1. Emrys

    This is an author’s commentary written after the completion of the series. Spoilers are in a rot13 cipher; if you aren’t familiar with that there are a number of very easy deciphering websites to use. These spoilers may cover the full series, not just this book, and they may make reference to major plot points and character development. You have been warned.

    The fight in this chapter works a bit better, though it is rather implausible that Winter would have pulled that off. She underestimated him, but he still had to get quite lucky for that to work.

    Otherwise, this chapter works pretty well. I’m happy with the general aesthetic of the fight.

    Fb lbh zvtug, ybbxvat ng guvf, abgr gung gurer’f n ovg bs n tyvgpu. Tneergg xvyyrq n pbhcyr bs gur snr, naq hfrq gung gb cebibxr gurz vagb pbzvat bhg naq trggvat va guvf uhtr, pbaibyhgrq svtug bire n zvfhaqrefgnaqvat. Ohg jung nobhg gur inzcver ur xvyyrq?

    Jryy, gur nafjre vf gung jnf cneg bs gur fnzr cyna. Tneerg jnf ubcvat gb trg gur inzcverf vaibyirq va gur zrff nf jryy, gb ernyyl znxr gur fvghngvba pbyyncfr. Xngeva tbg n irel fvzvyne abgr gryyvat ure gb or gurer. Fur whfg qvqa’g pner.

    Gung gbgny qvfertneq sbe gur yvirf bs ure inzcverf vf gur svefg vaqvpngvba bs jung xvaq bs crefba fur npghnyyl vf. Vg’f bar gung lbh yvxryl jbhyqa’g abgvpr gur svefg gvzr lbh ernq gur fgbel, ohg vs Jvagre unq gubhtug nobhg guvatf ur jbhyq unir xabja gung fur jnfa’g gehfgjbegul zhpu, zhpu fbbare.

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