When I walked out of my bedroom the next morning there was a werewolf in my house.
He wasn’t making any particular effort to hide his presence. In fact, he was leaning against the wall opposite my bedroom door reading the cookbook I’d left out last night.
“You know,” he said conversationally when I opened the door, “I had no idea the Czechs ate brains so much.”
I bowed my head slightly. “Good morning, Conn.” With most werewolves I wouldn’t have done that; they’re subtle beasts, whatever their reputation, and they would interpret my posture as submission. In this particular case they would have been right, because the young-looking man standing across from me was the Khan of the werewolves. Even if I weren’t willing to respect his authority, which I usually was, I’d be insane to challenge him. He could rip my head off before I could even blink, and I’m not indulging in hyperbole here. I’d seen him do it.
Conn Ferguson didn’t look like the sort to inspire fear. He was about my height, making him a little shorter than average, and he looked even younger than most werewolves. To look at him you’d think eighteen was being generous, and calling him unthreatening was an understatement. Unless, of course, you were to look into his eyes, the bright green of aspen leaves in spring with the sun behind them, in which case you would probably look away and walk somewhere else very quickly, and swear to God that there was something deeply unnerving about the young man with the old, old eyes.
He smiled slightly and nodded, acknowledging my display. “Winter. I hear you ran into some problems.”
I gave him a mildly suspicious look. “Where’d you hear about a thing like that?”
“Edward, actually.” I must have looked hurt, because his smile widened a little and he continued, “He didn’t tell me it was you. But he wanted to discuss a truly bizarre occurrence, so naturally you were the first person I thought of.”
“Hey,” I protested hotly. I mean, I might have gotten into a couple of sticky situations while I was living among his pack, but I wasn’t that bad. Probably. It could have happened to anyone. Excepting possibly the one incident with the beavers, and anyway there’s no proof I was involved in that.
Conn laughed, a rich sound at odds with his youthful appearance. “You’re still easy. No, I didn’t think a thing of it until after we’d finished talking and I asked him how you were doing. Most of the time he won’t shut up about you, but yesterday I couldn’t get him to string five words together. It didn’t take a genius to take it from there.”
I sighed. Edward was a good man, and he had a lot of skills, but I should have known better than to ask him to lie. He’s too straightforward to be any good at it.
“So,” Conn said, leading the way into the kitchen, “you think you’ve got a possessed werewolf on your hands?”
“Is it possible?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “Maybe. It’s not common that a wolf is demon-infested, though. I’ve only seen it once in the past century.”
I frowned. Demonic possession wasn’t exactly an everyday occurrence, but that still seemed a little much. “Why is it so rare?”
Conn paused, as though organizing his thoughts. “Werewolves,” he said slowly, “must be possessed of very strong will to withstand the pressures within us. You know this. It’s difficult for a demon to infest a strong mind, a strong personality. This is particularly true when that mind is knowledgeable and prepared to resist, which most werewolves are.”
That made sense. “What about the young werewolves, then?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me. “Most of them are having a hard enough time coping with their own urges that I wouldn’t expect them to be able to resist a demon.”
“That’s true,” Conn admitted easily. “But, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work that way. I have never seen a young werewolf possessed. I suspect that their souls are in too much turmoil for a demon to even gain a foothold, much like attempting to board a ship during a storm. The same factors that limit their defense prevent them from being attacked in the first place.”
“But if old werewolves are too strong, and young ones are too turbulent, how do any werewolves become possessed at all?”
“All the strength in the world can’t help if you don’t fight,” he said dryly. “Every possessed wolf I’ve ever seen invited the demon in, for knowledge or power or some idiotic reason of their own.” He paused. “Do you think that’s happened here?”
“Maybe,” I said, shrugging. Then I proceeded to give him the story—the whole story, including Enrico’s involvement and what I’d inferred from the two scenes I saw. It took a while. The whole time Conn sat and listened intently, occasionally asking for more detail.
When I’d finished, he just sat and processed it for a moment. Then he leaned back in his chair, which creaked alarmingly, and said, “Well, now. This is not good, not good at all.”
His words were mild, and so was his posture, but I knew better. His tone was tense, agitated. It wasn’t particularly obvious, just barely at the threshold of my perception, but most of the time I couldn’t detect his emotions at all. Enrico is a good liar, but Conn puts him to shame.
That was a little disconcerting. The situation wasn’t bad enough to merit that much of a response. Oh, Conn was as good a man as his position would let him be, but you don’t get to be one of the oldest and possibly the single most powerful werewolf on the planet by being squeamish. He had seen many worse things than a handful of corpses.
“What’s the problem?” I asked him politely. Conn doesn’t care for beating around the bush.
He sighed. “Ordinarily there wouldn’t be one. Unfortunately, we are considering revealing ourselves to the populace in the near future. If the local police are considering even a slight werewolf connection, it is possible that someone will remember, and make trouble.”
Wow. The werewolves had been hiding for centuries. For them to admit their existence would be…incredible.
“Nobody told me about this,” I said, starting to feel the first stirrings of anger.
“You chose not to involve yourself,” Conn said bluntly. “Werewolf or not, I would have continued to accept you in my pack. You chose to leave, and I understand that. You made it clear that you didn’t want to be a part of the pack and its business, and I understand that as well. That was your right then, as it is now.” He paused to let that sink in. “But don’t complain to me that you weren’t informed when you as much as asked not to be.”
That stung, but I had to admit I deserved it. I looked away and nodded. “So when are you planning this?”
Conn sighed again. “I wish I knew. As soon as the negotiations are finished.”
That got my attention. Conn gave his Alphas a great deal of leeway but, at the end of the day, he was the Khan and his word was the only one that really mattered. “You’re negotiating with the Alphas?” I said incredulously.
He snorted. “No, most of them see the necessity, and the others are too smart to argue. I’m negotiating with the Twilight.”
I frowned. “The Twilight? You mean the Twilight Court?”
“Yes,” he said dryly, “that is generally the only form of twilight one can negotiate with.”
“But I thought the Twilight only governed the fae?” The Twilight Court consisted of the most powerful, influential, and ancient fae in the world, referred to as the Twilight Princes. They weren’t autocrats in the manner of the Khan—the fae were too fractious for something like that to work. But it was generally understood that on the rare occasions when the fae moved as one it was the hand of the Twilight Court at work. The last such had been nearly six hundred years before, when they retreated from humanity almost completely.
“They do. But the fae are planning to emerge from hiding jointly with us.” He paused. “Actually, it was the fae that had the idea first. I understand that some of the Princes became concerned about the possibility of detection nearly fifty years ago now, although they didn’t contact me until recently. Apparently it’s taken them that long to talk the rest of the Court around.”
“I don’t get it. Why would they reveal themselves to the public? Why would they coordinate it with you?” Most supernatural species don’t play well with others, although there are some exceptions. As far as I knew fae-werewolf relations weren’t among them.
“Why does a fae do anything?” Conn asked rhetorically. “Because they think they can benefit from it. They’re revealing themselves because they think that soon they’ll be exposed whether they like it or not. People’s own determination not to see them has kept them safe so far, but eventually it’s bound to fail. Modern technology is making it hard to stay hidden.”
“I take it that’s why you’re joining them?”
“Hardly. Their fears are vastly overstated. We’ve already weathered the hardest period, when people still believed, without even a slight suspicion. No evidence would be sufficient to truly convince them now.” Conn shook his head. “No, I don’t feel afraid. I’d wager the fae don’t, either; they can see all this as easily as I can. They might plead ignorance, but this is a political act, and they know what they’re doing.”
“I don’t get it. What do they get out of exposing themselves?”
Conn shrugged. “I haven’t the faintest idea. It comes back to politics one way or another, I’m sure. Either way, it’s a foolish decision, and one which puts us all at risk. I’m still hoping to convince them of this, but I don’t have much hope at this point.”
Wow. This was…way too big for me. I could barely balance my bank account, for God’s sake, and that was only because it was empty. No one in their right mind would even be discussing this with me.
“You see why this is so critical now?” Conn continued, standing up and pacing over to stare out the window at the mountain. “It isn’t likely we’ll be able to avoid exposure. Failing that, it is of paramount importance that the public have exactly the proper attitude toward us. Our reveal will most likely be within the year, and it’s all too likely that someone will look at this and connect the dots. No, this situation has to be resolved as soon as possible, and an explanation arranged so that no one considers that it might have been a werewolf.”
“Couldn’t you just acknowledge them and say it was a lunatic or something? I mean, humans kill more than seven people all the time.”
“If you could stop him before there are more than seven, I’d be quite impressed,” Conn said dryly. “And no. They might not believe in us now, but it won’t take long for people to remember the legends of werewolves as monsters. If humanity comes to believe, even for a moment, that those legends are true, they will wipe us from existence. Even if only one person had died, public opinion will be delicate enough for the first few years that we couldn’t admit it.”
“What will you do, then?” It had been years since I’d been a part of Conn’s pack, but it didn’t even occur to me not to do what he suggested. There’s something about him that makes even humans obey him without thinking. It’s the same thing that makes him the most dominant wolf in all the territory he controls. Most of the time it aggravates me, but in times of stress his ability to step into any situation and impose order was deeply comforting.
“It sounds like the pack hasn’t been able to do anything toward catching this killer.” At my nod, he continued, “I can’t afford to wait long enough for him to reveal himself—there’s no telling how many people would die first.” He paused for a long moment, frowning. “I would prefer to stay here until this crisis is dealt with,” he said eventually. “Unfortunately, I have no time to spare. Negotiations with the Twilight are at a critical stage, and a lapse now would undo a year and a half of work. I’ll send Dolph out here to keep an eye on things instead.”
“You don’t need to send Dolph.”
He cocked one eyebrow. “I have to send a representative. Would you rather it were Dolph or Erin?”
“On second thought, Dolph is fine.” I’m not spectacularly fond of Conn’s son, but I’d rather deal with him than his sister any day—which Conn knew, of course. Conn is a real master of the art, because even—make that especially—when he offers you a choice, you will always be doing what he wants. Odds are very good he already knows what you will do, too.
Conn grinned. “I thought you might say that.” He handed me a business card—a phone number printed in black against a blank white background, with nothing to say who it belonged to, and an email address at a free domain consisting of apparently random numbers underneath. “Don’t hesitate to call. Dolph should be here within a couple of days.” He nodded to me politely and then walked toward the front door.
“Conn?” I interrupted on an impulse.
“Yes?” he said, turning to face me.
“Why didn’t Christopher know there had been so many deaths?”
Conn sighed. “I expect that he did,” he said. “Christopher was concealing the deaths from you, and probably from much of his pack. By the time you confronted him about it, it was too late to back out, so he doubled down on it.”
“I don’t get it,” I said in genuine confusion. “Why would he need to lie about that?”
“Because this pack is broken,” Conn said heavily. He paused, clearly considering his next words carefully. “The two factors which define one’s place in the pack, aside from simple dominance, are the urge to lead and the desire to shelter one’s subordinates from harm. When dominance is equivalent, these are the things which determine where a werewolf stands.”
“Right,” I said, nodding. This was all familiar, even if it had been years since I’d heard these lessons. They’d been drilled into me hard enough that I wasn’t likely to forget them.
“Christopher has the protective impulse, but he’s distinctly lacking in the desire to lead others. That’s acceptable in most cases, but the Alpha of the pack must provide leadership. Under most circumstances he would never have been put in the position, but between Roland’s purges and mine, all of the more dominant wolves were killed.”
“So Christopher shouldn’t be an Alpha?”
Conn shook his head. “But I didn’t have a choice here. After all the chaos, importing new leadership would have been too much strain for the pack to take. After things had calmed down, he was entrenched, and the pack would accept no one else. Christopher did a great deal to endear himself to them, both during Roland’s insanity and while recovering from it. But they can all sense that he isn’t suited to his position, even if they aren’t aware of it or don’t know why, and his position is unstable as a result.”
“I see. Thank you for explaining it to me.”
“Of course, Winter,” Conn said, starting for the door. “Dolph will be here as soon as he can. Try not to do anything rash until then.”
Well. That was…disturbing. Conn was worried, which I had never before seen. For him to send Dolph into such an admittedly tense situation was a somewhat desperate move.
It is, generally speaking, never a good sign when one of the most powerful people in the world is feeling desperate.
Dolph is Conn’s second son. His real name is Rudolph, but he can’t use that anymore thanks to the children’s song. Of course, since World War II he has to correct people constantly because they think he’s saying Adolph. Personally I’d rather people thought I was a reindeer, but that’s just me.
He’s not dominant the way his father is. You know, the “I can hold half a dozen nation’s werewolves under my sway by sheer force of personality” kind of dominance. He’s still plenty dominant, though, probably one of the top fifteen or twenty in the Khan’s territory. Christopher isn’t. Not even close.
Adding a more dominant wolf to an unstable and possibly imploding pack while trying to avoid publicity being drawn to a series of murders was somewhat akin to trying to stop a fire by starting another fire to consume the fuel first—actually a fairly common strategy, but still. In both cases the theory is technically sound, and there are some situations which are presumably bad enough that it qualifies as a good idea, but…the potential for something to go catastrophically wrong is really, really high.
The rest of the day was less stressful—which, I know, isn’t saying all that much. Most days are less eventful than that morning. Finding a scorpion in your bathtub, for example, would be less stressful. Discovering that you’ve been picked as a juror for a serial murder case would be less stressful. Losing your home to arson while you’re still inside would be more stressful, but not by all that much.
Really though, nothing happened. I didn’t get a call from Edward, although I hardly needed one. He surely knew that Conn had come out to speak to me in person—itself an indicator of how serious this situation was, given how rarely Conn left his home in North Dakota. Enrico didn’t call me either, which I took to be a sign that no more bodies have been found. Either that or an indication that our friendship had been completely severed by this mess, which would be terrible but not something I could do anything about anyway.
I considered calling Kyra, but couldn’t think of what to say. Telling her that Dolph was coming would be meaningless, because I was pretty sure she’d never met him and probably didn’t know who he even was. In any case, she couldn’t do any more about it than I could, so what was the point? So I eventually just went to work, hoping that my problems would magically resolve themselves.
Because it was Monday, I didn’t have the shop to myself. Val got there about an hour after me, around ten in the morning—he doesn’t believe in getting up early, and he’s so skilled he doesn’t have to. He walked into the shop like he owned it, probably because he does, and examined my chess set a moment. Then he grunted, said “Not bad,” and walked off to find something to do himself.
Val doesn’t talk much. He’s even more reluctant to give praise. The bright side of that is that I always know that he isn’t just saying it. He might have only complimented my work twice in the past five years, but when he did he really meant it.
He brought over a panel of cherry and laid it across the table near to where I was working. He contemplated the wood for a moment, still not speaking, and then pressed his finger into it and began to trace a simple border around the edges.
In case you’re confused by the syntax there, let me clarify. I don’t mean that he touched the wood, or pushed on it, or anything like that. No, he literally pressed his finger about a quarter-inch into the surface of the wood, which melted away as though he were tracing designs into warm butter. The wood didn’t scorch or splinter, which is more than even some very high-end tools can manage. It just melted at his touch, leaving a nice clean trail of sawdust behind.
It was, needless to say, magic. The odor hung heavy in the air, stone and iron, with just a touch of the odd mineral smell you find deep underground.
Val finished the border and turned his attention to the main section of what would probably be a cabinet door. His work was incredible, intricately detailed and perfect on the first try, always. He sculpted a delicate floral design into the surface of the wood and began adding flourishes, not even pausing to think about where to place each line.
His skill isn’t the result of magic; he doesn’t need magic to leave any human craftsman in the world in the dust. No, Val’s skill was the result of practice, an incredible amount of it. I don’t know how long Val’s been doing this kind of work, but I know he’s old even by fae standards, and that meant it was more conveniently measured in centuries than decades. The fae are also immortal, although, unlike with werewolves or vampires, there isn’t any immediately obvious reason why they should be. The fae are the most mysterious of the major supernatural players, and I don’t understand much about them. Val has been exactly no help with this.
It took me a while to work up the nerve to ask him about what’s been going on. No, that’s not quite right; it wasn’t my nerve that was lacking. It’s just that I was fighting against a lifetime’s ingrained training, all of which said not to involve an outsider in pack business. Werewolf troubles, as Edward taught me, should be taken care of by werewolves. Not humans. Not the fae.
I trusted Val, though. And, more importantly, I wasn’t sure how far I trusted anyone else involved in this. Dolph used to be a friend, but I’d changed a lot in the years since then. He might well have too, and even if he were the same I wasn’t sure how well we’d get along. Christopher…well. He was a nice enough guy, and as far as I could tell a decent Alpha, whatever Conn had said. On the other hand, being a good Alpha isn’t at all the same as being a trustworthy person. I hadn’t spent much time around Christopher—a part of my ongoing effort to avoid the pack—and I wasn’t entirely certain whether he was both. Kyra, of course, I trusted implicitly, but—even disregarding how much influence Christopher might have over her—she was more clueless than me. That didn’t leave a lot of options if I wanted a reliable source of information.
So, eventually, I said the hell with it. “How much do you know about demons?” I asked, as casually as I could manage.
Val stopped what he was doing—which, no power tools and everything, means pretty much just that—and turned to look at me. He didn’t say anything, just raised one eyebrow and gave me a skeptical look.
Clearly not casual enough. I worked up what was probably a rather sickly smile and tried to look innocent. Judging by his expression, it didn’t work very well.
Val grunted and grabbed a towel to wipe his hands with. “Don’t know much,” he said eventually, leaning against the back wall of the shop.
“But you do know something?” I pressed, following him back.
He shrugged. “Some. Why?”
I told him, leaving out Kyra and Enrico’s involvement and not mentioning what Conn said at all. It took a little while, and he just stood there and listened the whole time, occasionally muttering under his breath. I have superhuman hearing, but Val knows that and he’s no idiot, so he did his muttering in what sounded like an extremely archaic form of German, or possibly something Scandinavian. It didn’t take a genius to guess what he was saying, though.
“How do you know what a demon should smell like, then?” Val asked promptly when I finished.
I sighed. I’d hoped to avoid this particular conversation—and succeeded until now, because Conn and Edward both already knew the story. “I was out camping with a few friends not long after I moved to the Khan’s pack,” I told him reluctantly. “Some demon-possessed lunatic wandered into camp and tried to kill us.”
Val chuckled. “And?”
“He tried to attack me, two werewolves, and a guy with a gun. It went about as well as you’d expect.”
Val shook his head. “Trouble follows you like a hound looking for a treat.”
“Hey,” I protested. “It’s not like he was looking for me specifically or anything.”
I didn’t have much of a smart retort for that one because, I had to admit, he was pretty much on the money. So instead I changed the subject, because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s avoiding my problems. “Demons?” I reminded him.
Val shrugged. “Not met one. It’s not encouraged.”
“Why do the Twilight frown on it so much?” I wondered aloud. Mostly the Twilight Court doesn’t impose very many restrictions on the fae, especially not specific ones. The fae are just too fractious, as a rule, for that to work; I know practically nothing about them, and even I know that.
Val smirked at me. “No one wants to see one of us possessed. Wouldn’t end well.”
“That’s real helpful,” I told him dryly. “I don’t suppose you know what I should do if that is what’s happening?”
He shrugged again—he tends to do that a lot, probably because he talks so little. “Kill it if you can. Might be you could save the fool, but I wouldn’t bother.”
“So how do you kill a demon?” I asked, genuinely curious. Most of the stories I’d heard about demons were annoyingly vague, and a distressingly large proportion ended with all the people dead and the demon laughing as it walked off into the sunset. Not exactly the specific how-to guide I’d like. Val claimed he didn’t know much, but he was still more helpful than anything I’d found so far.
“You don’t,” Val said flatly.
“Then why’d you suggest it?” I asked, annoyed.
“I hate this language. I meant kill the possessed. You can’t kill the demon. Not unless you have a lot more power than you’ve told me about.”
I frowned. “How much power are we talking, here?”
He shrugged. “A Twilight Prince could do it, a couple of vampire lords, some few mages. Heard of some killed by saints, but I don’t know if I believe it—even if you qualified.”
I whistled. Val wasn’t kidding when he said it would take major power. “Why does it take that kind of power? Even a vampire doesn’t take that much to kill it.”
“Vampires are already dead,” Val pointed out dryly. “Demons were never alive. Host is, but demons can live without hosts.”
“But if you kill the host, the demon goes away.”
“Yes.” He paused. “Though that’s harder than it sounds. The infested are strong, fast. They don’t feel pain.”
I sighed. On top of a werewolf’s natural abilities that was starting to sound pretty damn hard to kill. “Anything else?”
Val sighed. “I told you I don’t know. You never quite know with demons, anyway. They have some magic. More than that, who can say?”
Wonderful. Demon-possessed werewolf just took a bump from impressively dangerous to holy-crap terrifyingly dangerous. “I take it their weaknesses are about what you’d expect? Sunlight, holy objects, sanctified ground, that sort of thing?”
He laughed. “They aren’t vampires. The sun doesn’t harm them. Faith, yes. Demons cannot stand faith, even less than bloodsuckers. But I think it best to simply kill it; more certain.” He hesitated. “You might be able to do something with magic. There are a few shamans who’ve affected demons in the spirit world, without doing anything to the body at all. But I don’t know anything about how.”
“Thanks, Val. You’re the best.”
He glowered at me. “Get back to work.”
I had plenty to consider the rest of the day. Assuming Val’s information was accurate—which I thought I could pretty much count on—killing the demon was off the table. I supposed it was technically possible for me to get my hands on something or someone who could pull it off, but they would probably charge a higher price than I’m willing to pay—and not in cash, either.
That left killing its host. From what Conn said this morning I assumed that he probably made that bargain willingly and in good faith, which my limited knowledge suggested pretty much precluded both persuasion and exorcism as options. The weakness to faith was more promising, but I honestly couldn’t think of one thing I believed in enough to bother a demon.
Which was kind of disturbing, actually.
Anyway, that pretty much left overwhelming force as the only option. I doubted I’d be able to bring anything like enough firepower to bear to get the job done. A werewolf is hard enough to kill, what with supernatural strength and healing. Add in even more incredible superhuman capabilities and immunity to pain thanks to a demon and you have a real walking nightmare, even before you tossed unknown magical powers into the mix.
Fortunately, I’d never been planning on taking the thing down alone. I might not be able to kill it, but somehow I thought that me, Dolph, and about thirty werewolves for backup might be able to make a pretty good try at it. Say what you like about talent, overwhelming numbers can generally get the job done.
I couldn’t really do much about it until Dolph got here, though. I was pretty sure his role in the planning would be too integral to ignore. So instead I finished out the workday, completing the chess pieces and starting on the back and sides of the cabinet Val was working on. I’m good, but I’m not anything like as good as Val—even without magic, which he mostly just uses to show off. Fortunately for me his work is so good I can mostly stick to basic stuff and let his contributions shine.
Before long I was walking back home. When I got there, I discovered that my current visitor wasn’t as subtle as Conn had been. I could smell werewolf all around my house—physically, I mean. If you think it gets confusing distinguishing between physical and uncanny senses, just imagine how I feel. There are times I’m really not sure whether what I’m smelling is actually there, or just in my head.
A werewolf wouldn’t leave that much of a track by accident.
I hesitated a little at the door, then shrugged. Screw it. If this wolf meant me harm then standing around outside wouldn’t do me any favors. Letting a werewolf think they can intimidate you that easily just gives them ideas. I pushed open the door and walked inside, trying to look assertive because first impressions are so important with werewolves.
And then stopped short when I saw Dolph sitting in the kitchen.
He looked exactly like I remembered, of course. That’s a given with werewolves. He had short black hair which, combined with his pale skin and thin build, conspired to make him look like a Goth. He’s not, or at least he wasn’t the last time I saw him. He was just born with that coloration. Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Nazis, the Goth subculture is younger than he is.
He could easily change the features that make people confuse him with any of those things. He just doesn’t care enough. I honestly doubt that he even notices much of modern culture anymore—and, I assure you, by the standards of an old werewolf the fifties are still very modern. Dolph’s seen five centuries pass. Fifty years is a drop in the bucket.
He looked up at me as I walked in and grinned. “Hey, Winter,” he said brightly. Dolph’s voice is surprisingly high, almost boyish. “You know, I knew you weren’t rich but I still expected better than this. I’ve known hobos who lived better than you do.” He waved one arm expansively.
Looking around the room, I had to admit that he had a point.
Somehow, when people find out what I do for a living, they always expect me to have nice furniture, if nothing else. Now, while this may sound reasonable, it actually makes just as much sense as expecting all mechanics to have nice cars. (I know that it makes just as much sense because I’m at least occasionally a mechanic, and I don’t have a car at all.)
See, it’s true that people in my profession can make some really awesome stuff. But, as far as I know, most of those people aren’t rich, including myself. So, when I finish a piece, I have to consider whether putting it in my house is worth as much to me as eating for a week. I usually come up in favor of the food.
I have some of the stuff I’ve made, of course. But mostly only the stuff we can’t even sell on clearance, which means that scattered among the purchases I’ve made at thrift stores and yard sales are a few otherwise nice pieces with a truly fatal flaw. Like the chair that needs a phone book under one leg to sit level. I screwed up pretty badly on that one.
I’m too stubborn to admit it, though, which is why I made a point of sitting in said chair across from Dolph. Let it never be said that I don’t know how to make a point.
“Dolph,” I greeted him. “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow at the earliest.”
He shrugged. “Got a good flight. So since when do you need my help just to deal with a little possessed werewolf?”
“I don’t,” I said lazily. “But your father thought you were getting bored of North Dakota, so I agreed to give you a tour.”
He laughed. Dolph laughs a lot more than most werewolves. Most people too, actually. “Well, I’d hate to miss out on the action, so I guess I’ll take it out while I’m here. Might lighten up the monotony of having to stay in Colorado.”
After that, of course, I had to tell him what’s been happening. I’d told the story so many times in the past few days I’d be tempted to just tape it or something, except everybody got a different version. Dolph, being his father’s representative here, had the privilege to hear about everything except my conversation with Val. By the time I was done he wasn’t smiling anymore.
“What makes you think it’s a werewolf?” he asked when I’d finished.
“Huh?” He couldn’t hope to top a witty comeback like that.
“It sounds like the only thing you’ve found sign of is demon. What makes you think a werewolf is involved?”
“Maybe it’s the perfect resemblance to a werewolf rampage? I mean, just guessing here, but I think that might have done it.”
He shook his head. “It only resembles a werewolf circumstantially. All you have so far are some brutal killings on the full moon. That’s not a hard thing to arrange, Winter. Especially not for a demon.”
I hadn’t thought about it like that for some reason. I guess because I’m not a cop, or a hard-boiled gumshoe. It made sense, though—and it would explain why Kyra hadn’t been able to smell werewolf, at either scene. It’s hard to make a better disguise for that than not actually being a werewolf.
“So you think he’s trying to get us chasing werewolves deliberately, then?” There aren’t many other reasons to make your kills look so much like the classic conception of what a wolf would do to somebody.
“It,” Dolph said, putting a mild emphasis on the word. “And it’s possible. I can’t think of why else a demon would restrict itself to the full moon.”
We sat and brooded over that for a moment. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. A demon-possessed werewolf was a terrifying concept, but at least it gave us something to chase. Without that I didn’t know what to do.
Dolph stood up and walked to the door. “I’m going to go have a…chat with Christopher. I’ll let you know if I learn anything.”
“You’re not going to kill him, are you?” Conn’s description of the pack’s problems had been…unsettling to say the least, and I was afraid that the latest failure would be the last straw. Dolph doesn’t like killing people, but sometimes it’s necessary.
There are days when I’m very glad not to be a werewolf.
Dolph didn’t do much to reassure me when he just smiled gently and said, “Not if I can help it.”
Why do I do this to myself? I mean, really? Why?
The next week was, thankfully, a reprieve. Nobody found any mauled corpses, or even particularly violent assaults, suggesting that the demon, werewolf-associated or otherwise, was sticking to its pattern. Kyra made a point of calling every day, and visited the shop a couple of times, although she didn’t have any news.
Dolph, too, was constantly calling to update me, even though all of the updates amounted to “we’re pretty sure nobody died last night, keep tuned for more updates.” I…wasn’t sure how I felt about that, really. Dolph was a great guy and an old friend—in case you didn’t guess, he was the one who taught me to pick locks, along with a host of other bizarre skills and useless information. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and it was kinda nice to see him now.
But at the same time, he was a reminder of my time with the Khan’s pack, and I really didn’t have any pleasant memories of that. They were all tainted with the unending reminders that I wasn’t, and never could be, a werewolf, a part of the pack. Between that and the looming specter of my own lingering insanity, even the best parts of the time I’d spent there had a bitter aftertaste.
Enrico, on the other hand, didn’t call me at all. Most of the time that wouldn’t have surprised me—he and his sister are probably my closest friends aside from Kyra, but I didn’t actually hear from them all that often. Now, though, the silence seemed to take on an ominous significance. I was afraid that, despite my pitiful attempts at reconciliation, I had just lost Enrico’s friendship.
So suffice to say that, while the situation was unquestionably better, I was anything but calm. I discovered, too, that the only thing I hated more than being drawn into pack business and demonic killing sprees was when, having been so involved, I was left waiting to hear about the next death with nothing I could do about it.
Feeling helpless sucks. There’s a special horror to knowing that bad things are about to happen, but simultaneously being utterly impotent to prevent them. It’s like waiting on test results from the hospital, except there isn’t even a slim hope that things will get better before they get worse.
I made the best of it, going to work every day and shaping wood into increasingly detailed shapes in an effort to distract myself from the ongoing, slow-motion crisis. Usually nothing soothes me quite like making things, but just now I couldn’t seem to see the beauty in my work. I started to get irritable, and slept only fitfully—which was actually fairly normal for me. Sleep’s never been a close friend of mine.
By the time the third week of this rolled around, I was getting desperate for things to change. I couldn’t take much more of the waiting. It had gotten to the point that I wanted something, anything, to happen, just to end the waiting.
So, naturally, I was horrified when something did. I’d known that it would, of course, but…there’s a whole world of difference between knowing something has to happen and seeing it. As a result, when Dolph called around midnight to tell me that there was yet another corpse, even though I’d seen it coming all along I still reacted with a certain amount of distress
I know. Stupid, right?