Almost Winter 1.9

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Another interlude of everyday life, which although boring was nevertheless much needed. Strangely enough, although the situation looked to be if anything worse than before, I felt much better. Maybe it was just that now I was actually doing something about it.


Whatever the cause, after a few hours in Val’s shop working on a defective incinerator (don’t ask) and a good night’s sleep, I was feeling pretty chipper the next day. Relatively speaking, I mean.


Edward called around eight.


“Winter,” he said tersely. “I think I know who your murderer is.”


“Really? Who?”


“Some wolf from the Boston pack. His old Alpha should be calling you in about an hour.” He hesitated. “Look, Winter, don’t…don’t be stupid out there, you hear me? Let Dolph and Christopher do the heavy lifting on this one. This thing’s out of your weight class.”


“Oh, don’t worry. I have no intention of getting myself killed.” He hung up without saying goodbye. I dialed Dolph’s number absently, still thinking about Edward’s call.


I hadn’t expected Edward to be still involving himself in this. Werewolves don’t generally intrude on the business of other wolves without a damn good reason, and he didn’t have a stake in this.


Which meant he was involved because of me.


I wasn’t used to people trying to protect me. I didn’t know how to deal with it.


Slightly less than an hour later, the now-standard group was gathered in my kitchen waiting for the phone to ring. It was a bit crowded with me, Dolph, Kyra, Christopher, and Aiko all packed in there, but I was the one getting the call, so my kitchen it was.


Nobody was talking, and the tension was so thick you could have literally cut it with an appropriately enchanted knife. When the phone actually did ring, no fewer than three people were startled enough to actually flinch away from it. I was one; I’ll let you guess the others.


“Winter Wolf?” The voice on the other end was smooth and anonymous, a bland baritone with just a hint of an English accent.


“That’s me,” I replied. “Who are you?”


“Thomas Walford, Alpha of the New England pack in Boston.” I kept my gaze on Dolph, who nodded slightly; the name, and presumably the voice as well, checked out. Dolph doesn’t know every werewolf in his father’s territory, but it’s his job to know the important ones. (I don’t really need to say that werewolf hearing makes speakerphone superfluous, do I?)


“Edward Frodsham said one of your wolves is out here causing trouble.” I made sure to keep my voice nice and not in any way accusatory. Alphas don’t tend to like accusations much.


There was a short pause. “Not mine anymore. I don’t know that he’s the right one, but Edward seemed to think it likely enough that I should tell you about it.” I remained silent, which he seemed to take for assent. “His name is Garrett White. He disappeared about, oh, four years ago now. I figured he was dead, but I suppose he could be out where you are.


“And what makes you think he’s our killer?” Aiko asked skeptically.


“Nothing,” Walford said acerbically, “since I hadn’t heard a thing about it until Frodsham called me asking whether any of my wolves were unaccounted for. But apparently something convinced him, since he told me to call you. So how about I tell you what I told him and you can figure it out?”


He didn’t wait for an answer. “Right, so Garrett was married to his high school sweetheart, girl named Kimberly. Six years ago she got to know one of my wolves at work and wound up asking him to sponsor her in. Without asking her husband’s opinion. Or even telling him werewolves exist, which seems like a bit of a dick move but hey, maybe he would have understood.”


“Except that about two months later she comes back early from a weekend trip to see her family and finds him in bed with another woman. Now, as it turned out, it was his sister. She had to come out for a conference or something, and since it was only one day she decided to stay there rather than get a hotel. He didn’t bother telling his wife, since she was supposed to be out of town anyway.”


“Of course, when she walks in that isn’t what she sees. As far as she’s concerned, he’s cheating on her with another woman. She saw that and then just totally lost her shit, I mean completely. I doubt he was helping matters much, since she started going furry about the same time he saw her. If you don’t believe in werewolves anyway, that much cuts short any explanation you were thinking of making.”


“So the next morning, the sister’s dead, but she only maimed Garrett and he wound up Changing. Kimberly was so far gone I had to put her down within a week. So when he wakes up, his wife’s dead, his sister’s dead, and he’s a werewolf. That was an ugly scene, let me tell you.”


“Anyway, Garrett’s wolf was nuts. No surprise there, nobody in their right mind would have picked him for the change, but he kept control pretty solid most of the time, so we let him stick around. He hated being a werewolf, didn’t make any bones about it. He blamed the change for his wife and sister, and he wasn’t quiet about it. Didn’t make himself popular, let me tell you. Eventually he snapped and almost killed his seven year old nephew, and you could tell that was just the last straw. A few days later, he up and vanished, gone from the pack and everything. We figured he killed himself, God knows we’d been expecting it for a while, and we just didn’t find the body. But I suppose he could have found a way to break the pack bonds and left.”


It’s a good thing I’m not a sensitive guy, or all these people hanging up on me without saying goodbye would probably get to me.


“So you figure he’s our guy?” Dolph sounded only mildly curious. Of course, from where he was standing, figuring out who was killing people took a definite backseat to shutting him down with extreme prejudice, posthaste, so I suppose I can understand.


“Sounds likely,” I said. “I mean, we’ve got a werewolf with a serious hate on for the supernatural, and I can’t imagine there are too many of those around. Although I don’t know how much good it’ll do us, given that we don’t even know what this Garrett guy looks….”


“Winter? What is it?” Dolph sounded slightly more interested now, but only slightly.


I couldn’t believe it took me this long to catch it. “Aiko? You said the werewolf you saw was grey, right?”


“Yeah. I mean, he had like some brown patches, but mostly grey.”


“The werewolf that attacked me was black.”


There was a moment of stunned silence which, as I perhaps should have expected, was eventually broken by Aiko. “You know, in retrospect, it is a little funny that I wouldn’t have noticed demonic possession at that range. Just sayin’.”


“So you think…what? The first killer was a normal werewolf, and the demon just jumped in on the action later?” Christopher either hadn’t reacted to that statement at all, or he had an absolutely incredible poker face. Which shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, considering that he survived being third wolf to Roland, but still.


“Maybe,” I said slowly. “But I’m guessing they’re working together.”


Aiko frowned. “I don’t get it. Why would a demon be working with anyone?”


“See, that’s just it,” I said distractedly, thinking it through pretty much as I said it. “We’ve been treating it as a demon, but we’re talking about a thought-out plan here, and demons don’t do planning. Garrett’s the one we need to be worried about. A were with a lunatic wolf but very, very good control fits perfectly with what I felt.”


“That doesn’t tell us anything new,” Dolph pointed out.


“Granted, but don’t you think somebody like that might want to spend some time thinking about ways to keep the wolf contained? Especially if he was already convinced that werewolves were monsters just waiting to go on a rampage. Ways like, I don’t know, maybe separating it from yourself and grafting something in between to keep it from influencing you.”


Kyra opened her mouth, but I forestalled her. “Let me finish. Garrett had a couple years in the pack, right? Plenty of time to do some research on shamanic magic and develop a latent talent. He obviously hated the pack, too, so once he was sure he could maintain control without them he would have done it. So he arranges an extremely convincing reason for him to want to die. Then, when he actually did the ritual, I’m willing to bet whatever you like that what he was doing to the wolf would be enough to snap the pack bonds like dry spaghetti. Even if it wasn’t, he’s got enough shamanic magic to do so at this point on his own.”


“Then, once he’s left the pack, he realizes he still wants some kind of company. I bet if we’d looked, we’d have found other werewolves who wanted to leave the pack, and who were also desperate to be able to control the wolf without a constant struggle. So he contacts them and arranges for them to do the same ritual he did.”


“Except at some point, probably within the past six months, he realized that it wasn’t getting easier. His wolf had only gotten more insane while confined, and the wolf he’d sacrificed was understandably pissed about it. So now his plan’s backfired, which is guaranteed to only make him hate werewolves even more. By now that’s transferred over to other supernatural monsters too. He knows that the Pikes Peak pack isn’t in good shape, so he comes out here to put it in motion.”


“Around this point he’ll also have realized he isn’t going to be able to pull it off. Killing a human is one thing, but Jack was a damn good sorcerer. No way a normal werewolf could have killed him without making a lot of noise, which Garrett really wanted to avoid. But by this point he’s pretty crazy, and he knows about demons from his shamanic training. So he decides being possessed will give him enough power to get the job done, and conveniently also allow him to evade detection.”


“I don’t know, Winter,” Christopher said skeptically. “Even if you’re right—and you’re making a lot of assumptions there—what guarantee would he have that his minions would agree with him? Wanting to go it alone and having an unhappy relationship with the wolf doesn’t make a person a serial killer waiting to happen.”


“Why would he care?” I asked quietly. “Demons are good at mind control. Plus, thanks to the weird multiple-personality magic he did to them, they have a glaring mental weakness. Add in pack bonds if he’s established them, and it doesn’t matter whether they agree with him. They wouldn’t have a choice anymore.”


“Makes sense,” Dolph admitted. “But what good does it do us? Even if you’re right about everything, even if his backup isn’t exactly happy to be working with him, we can’t really take advantage of it.”


“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” I said, grinning evilly. “Because, you see, they don’t have demons in them.” I turned and started for the door. “Aiko, Kyra, you mind giving me a hand with this one? It’ll take a bit of planning and I want it to be ready by tonight.” They followed along behind me, seeming a bit confused but willing enough. Nobody asked any questions. Kyra was willing to do whatever I asked her to, and Aiko was just along for the ride. I’m pretty sure Christopher and Dolph had already ruled out whatever I was up to as a lost cause and moved on to plan V.


Sure, I could have explained it. But what would be the fun in that? I mean, seriously, it’s not every day you get the chance to be the guy who knows more than everybody else, make a needlessly complicated plan, and make cryptic comments while you railroad your partners into going along with it.


What? You know you’ve always wanted to. This was my first opportunity, and I’d be damned if I let it get away. Which isn’t all that remarkable considering that I am most likely damned anyway, but the point stands.


“Okay,” Kyra said on the way in the door. “So the plan is for fox-girl over there to set herself up as an obvious target, thus attracting one of the deranged mutant killer monster werewolves?”


“That’s phase one.”


“And what’s to keep the demonic one from coming?”


I grinned and pulled the plastic tub out from under the futon. “This.”


Aiko snorted. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me. You keep a tub of dangly jewelry covered in crosses in your house?”


“Hey, they aren’t all crosses. See, here’s a pentagram. And I have some prayer beads in here, too.”


Kyra was looking back and forth between me and Aiko with a confused expression on her face. “I don’t get it. What good does cheap jewelry do us?”


“Cheap blessed jewelry,” I corrected her. “I’m not holy enough to bless myself, let alone tacky jewelry. But I do know people.”


“And demons,” Kyra said, comprehension dawning on her face, “are repulsed by holy objects.”


I beamed at her. “Exactly. Aiko, these things are pretty weak, so you’ll probably need at least a couple dozen for it to work.”


Aiko muttered something and then began grabbing handfuls of the kitschy crap, apparently at random. Admittedly most of it wound up in places jewelry should never, ever go, but that really didn’t matter for our purposes. “Do you seriously expect this to work?” she grumbled.


“Honestly, no. I’m mostly counting on Garrett to want to avoid doing his own dirty work where he can. I scared him pretty good the last time we met, and I don’t think he’ll want to chance something similar happening again so soon. But I don’t figure the jewelry can hurt anything.”


“Right,” she drawled. “And what happens if you’re wrong?”


“I’m guessing we all die.”


“This,” Aiko said seriously, “is a shit plan.”


“Obviously. Are you going to do it?”


“It’d be kinda nice to know the rest of it first,” Kyra interjected dryly.


“Oh, fine,” I sighed. “So kitsune are supposed to be good with illusions, right? Do you think you can hide Kyra and me from a werewolf?”


“Racial stereotypes are hurtful, Winter. And I don’t know. I mean, I’m not bad at illusion, but werewolves are a pain in the ass to hide from. Maybe if I were, I don’t know, a six- or seven-tail….”


Number of tails is the traditional mark of a kitsune’s power, and yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Apparently it’s a scale of one to nine. I wasn’t entirely sure how many tails Aiko had (asking somebody the exact limits of their power is the absolute height of rudeness in in the circles I move in), but it was a safe bet that if she had seven or more she wouldn’t have to bother with the likes of me.


“I can cover sight, at least,” I said. “And if you distract him a bit, he shouldn’t get close enough that we’d have to worry about him hearing our breathing. Do you think you can handle the rest?”


She frowned thoughtfully. “Scent? Yeah, I should be able to get that. If you have sight locked down I’ll probably be able to do a bit of work on hearing too. So what makes you think we’ll be able to attract a werewolf? ‘Cause you better have a good reason if you think I’m wearing this shit in public.”


“Simple enough. I figure they have to be picking targets more or less at random by this point. I’m pretty sure Garrett can sense magic somehow, but just in case we’ll be real obvious about it. By this time he’s probably noticed that you’re always near the scene of the murder, so he should already be suspicious about you.”


“Shit. Plan.” Aiko grinned and wove a simple net out of prayer beads. She looked at me through the holes, and while she was still smiling there was something about the expression that was deeply unsettling. It was too toothy, and her eyes were very cold. “Let’s do it.”


“This spot look good to you?” Kyra asked.


I shrugged. “Good as any.” It was hard to guess where we should be when they were so carefully keeping there from being a geographic pattern to the attacks, but I thought we’d made a pretty good guess. It was a nice alley, shadowy and dank, with assorted and foul smells. We hadn’t even seen a homeless person for almost two blocks; there were plenty of warmer, less foul places to crash within walking distance. This alley was too dark to feel comfortable, and wide enough to remove any coziness it might have offered.


Perfect for our needs.


Every attack so far had happened at night, which had conveniently given us a few hours to finish getting ready and (in Kyra’s case) take a nap before we came out here. At the moment it was around eleven, and I figured it was about time to get the show on the road.


“Aiko, you’ll be over here if you don’t mind,” I said, gesturing toward the corner formed by a doorway.


She shrugged. “This one’s your show. Just tell me what you need.”


“Kyra, you’re with me.” I walked over to the opposite corner from Aiko. It wasn’t quite as shadowy as I would prefer, but you make do with what you have, that’s what I say.


Obviously a few shadows weren’t going to protect us from being detected by a werewolf.


Fortunately, I have magic. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it can be a hell of an useful tool.


People always get a certain (and, in terms of the actual historical group, totally inaccurate) image when they hear the word druid. Now, it is true that you can use druidry to commune with nature and shit like that. For example, I frequently use it to commune with predators (although technically that also owes something to witchcraft), that being my only notable talent.


But you can use it to do other things too. It’s actually a very broad term. For example, a talented druid with the right set of skills using an appropriate focus might dissociate their awareness from their body, spread their consciousness through their immediate surroundings, and then gather up the various shadows and patches of darkness in the area for their own personal use.


Oh yeah, did I mention I’m a person almost exactly like that? Funny, what a coincidence.


I used to be a lot better with shadow than I was now. It didn’t come naturally the way animals did, but sufficient practice can balance that out. When I was working out every day, I’d gotten to the point that I created a focus for the explicit purpose of manipulating shadows. It looked like a simple bronze ring set with chips of obsidian; only if looked at it for several minutes would you notice that the light didn’t reflect off it quite as brightly as it should, and that the obsidian wasn’t reflective the way you would normally expect it to be.


Strangely, nobody’s ever noticed it. Imagine that.


The point is that, although I was severely out of practice, I could still weave shadows around Kyra and myself pretty well. Granted it took me several minutes, whereas once I could have done it in less than one, but still pretty good considering.


It wasn’t invisibility. It wasn’t even close. The patch of shadows was slightly denser than it should have been, and our mottled grey clothing disguised our outlines quite neatly, but it wouldn’t fool anyone with eyes for very long.


That’s the secret of, well, secrecy. The trick isn’t to make it impossible to find a person, or learn a secret or whatever. It’s impossible to make an absolutely impervious disguise. The real trick is to make sure that nobody looks once, let alone twice.


Aiko walked over and examined us briefly before nodding once. “Not bad. I’ll take care of my part and then we settle down to wait.”


The kitsune didn’t make any show of effort, nor did she take nearly as long as I had. I felt it, though, when her spell took effect. She was keeping the other werewolf from smelling us by the simple expedient of wrapping us in a sort of smell-suppressing bubble thing (I never did claim to be good at illusions). This worked, but it had the unfortunate side effect of cutting off scents from the outside as well, which was hard to miss with my nose. The magic itself smelled like fox, unsurprisingly, with an underlying tone a bit like nutmeg.


I was impressed by how quickly our target responded to the bait. I mean, I was expecting to draw attention, but Aiko barely had time to finish wiping our scent from the area and get back to her position before the attacker showed up. Less than five minutes had probably gone by since I started weaving shadows.


I was just as glad for that. The unfortunate part about the trick I was pulling was that it wasn’t something you can just set up and forget about. I was holding the shadows into an entirely unnatural configuration, and they didn’t like it. Every moment I spent maintaining the spell was draining my magic. Not nearly as rapidly as when I went mind-to-mind with the demon, fortunately, thanks to the focus, which acted like a colored lens to channel power into the right spectrum without my having to concentrate on that myself. It made the spell a lot easier. But it still took power.


The werewolf rounded the corner at a steady lope. It was, as I’d half-expected, greyish brown, and not particularly large by werewolf standards, nothing like the demon-infested monstrosity I’d encountered. I checked Aiko’s face to be sure, but it just told me what I already knew, namely that this was indeed the same werewolf she’d seen before.


It stalked up to her, its jaws split in a grin that had nothing to do with happiness and everything to do with bloodlust. It took its time, walking right up to her. It didn’t need to rush. In just moments it was going to kill her, the same way it had killed at least once before.


Perfect. Everything was, for once, going according to plan.


To come straight at her like that, it had to turn its back on us.


Between us Kyra and I could probably have killed it from hiding before it ever knew we were there. It was just a flunky, though; killing it wouldn’t do us much good in terms of actually stopping the murders.


We had more ambitious plans for tonight.


I had been planning to let my spell collapse, but it seemed a shame not to use all the shadows for something. So, instead, I hurled them out across the alley. The space between me and the werewolf blurred in a dizzying pattern of light and darkness as my shadows sped across the ground in a way that had nothing to do with nature.


Aiko had been watching the werewolf, to keep from attracting suspicion, but she’d been waiting. At the same moment the darkness surrounding Kyra and me faded, she dropped her illusions. Kyra let out a bloodcurdling scream and started forward.


Remember how werewolves are basically predators? Well, try startling a predator sometime and see what happens. I pretty much guarantee the first thing they’ll do is evaluate the threat. In the natural world, even a scratch can become debilitating. Given that carnivores absolutely need to be at the top of their game, every day, it should come as no surprise that they take caution to whole new levels.


This werewolf had just seen a lightshow like nothing it had ever seen before, and simultaneously smelled a strange werewolf less than ten feet away and heard what was clearly the beginning of an attack. It was plenty startled, and it spun to face us in no time flat.


If we were actually attacking it that would have been the perfect response. Its reaction time was really impressive, faster than most werewolves and almost all humans. I doubt we’d have been able to land an attack before it reacted.


Unfortunately for it, this also meant that it was staring right at me from a few feet away. And I don’t care how superhuman your reaction time is, if you don’t have time to think there’s no guarantee your reaction will be an intelligent one.


Here’s a piece of advice for all you aspiring supervillains out there. If, for whatever reason, you feel a need to build a crippling weakness into your servants so that you can control them, go for it.


Just remember that you might not be the only person in the world who can exploit it.


I met the werewolf’s eye and immediately cast my next spell. It was a little bit like the one I’d used against the demon, in the same way that an aircraft carrier is a bit like a canoe.


There’s a world of difference between a spur-of-the-moment spell cast out of desperation and a premeditated spell cast by a mage who’s had time to plan and prepare everything ahead of time. If my last attempt at this trick had been a panicky attempt at defense, this was more of a deliberate assault.


I slammed into the other werewolf’s mind. Like the last one, it had three distinct presences, although this time I didn’t have to guess at what they were. This one’s wolf didn’t seem to have been as crazy as the last one’s before the ritual, and still retained some vestige of sanity even now.


I didn’t bother with it, diving instead straight for the actual wolf—which, thanks to Alexander, I now knew was covering up the most beautifully tailored hidden weakness I’d ever had the good fortune to encounter. I mean, seriously. I couldn’t have asked for a better overlap with my own skills.


The wolf let me through with a definite sense of glee, confirming my suspicion that it would also hate its master, and within moments I had bypassed the werewolf’s defenses completely. Once I was inside, I cast about for a moment until I found what I was looking for and gave it a sort of energetic twist. Then, with a feeling of malicious satisfaction, I let myself slip back into my body.


As expected, the werewolf was lying on the ground panting in agony. Kyra was covering it with the shotgun just in case, but it clearly wasn’t able to present a threat to much of anything right now. I took a moment to stretch, accommodating my mind once again to its real home.


I felt surprisingly good, alive and humming with energy. Nothing like after the last time I’d used my magic. I glanced down at my other ring, smiling a little. The dull, burnished steel band looked no different, but the tiny emeralds were still glimmering a little with the energy they’d just focused, looking like a cat’s eyes in the darkness.


When I make a magical focus, I do it right.


On the ground the werewolf had just begun to visibly change. That’s what I had done to it, you see: forced the change. It’s a pretty cool trick, not least because once a werewolf starts changing it’s pretty much impossible to stop until it finishes and reaches the next stable position. I’ve seldom gotten the chance to use that skill, but the few occasions I can pull it off make it all worthwhile.


Aiko walked over and stared down at it. The thing was clearly in agony—having the change forced on you like that is a horrid experience for a werewolf, not just terribly painful, but demeaning as well. It’s absolute loss of control, in a group which prizes control above all else.


Aiko’s face registered no pity, though, no remorse. Nothing but a cold satisfaction.


I probably looked much the same. I don’t like to think about that much.


“You want me to cut his tendons?” Kyra asked, slipping a silver knife out of its sheath beneath her jacket.


I frowned. “Not yet. I’d rather leave him intact unless he tries to run.”


About ten minutes later, a naked and disheveled young man was sitting propped up against the bricks. There were no visible wounds on him, but his black eyes still burned with pain as much as hate as he glared around himself.


He was a werewolf, of course, so I couldn’t trust appearances. Somehow, though, I was certain he wasn’t much older than he looked, no more than twenty years old. Something about the expression, maybe. His malice was very shallow, lacking the murderous edge which would have made it a frightening thing. It was like the difference between dark and milk chocolate.


I schooled my own expression into cool indifference. Whether he’d wanted to or not, this boy was guilty of at least one murder that I knew of, and he’d just tried to kill Aiko as well. I couldn’t afford to go easy on him.


“Here’s how this is going to go,” I said calmly. “You tell us what we want to know, and you get to walk away alive. You cause trouble and you’re not seeing another moonrise. Got it?”


“Screw you,” he snarled. “My friends will come for me.”


“Quite true,” I said, nodding. “I imagine that Garrett, at least, will be aware that something’s happened to you. I figure we have about twenty minutes until one of them shows up, though. So here’s how this works. If we don’t get what we want within ten, we’re going to skedaddle. But before we go, Kyra here’s going to turn you into extra chunky salsa.” She grinned viciously and pointed the ten-gauge we’d picked up from my house suggestively at his head. It was loaded with charged-silver buckshot, and I imagine he could feel the silver even though it was still in the barrel.


His face froze in an instant expression of terror that made him look ten years younger. He was definitely young by human standards, let alone werewolf. Then it firmed back up. “You’re bluffing,” he said, his voice wavering a little.


I sighed. “You know? I really don’t have time to talk you around.” Feeding power to my own inner werewolf, I pulled my silver-inlaid knife from its sheath and stepped forward. I grabbed his right arm and pulled it out to full extension. He struggled, but he hadn’t yet recovered from the change and he had no leverage. Besides, I was feeding enough magic to the werewolf inside that I was probably stronger than even a healthy wolf in that moment. There was nothing he could do to keep me from cutting a long, shallow slash into his skin, making sure to drag the silver through the wound.


Aiko handed me a black handkerchief. “Thank you,” I murmured, wiping the blood off the knife. “Now,” I said, raising my voice slightly, “that cut won’t kill you. You know that as well as I do. However, I’m hoping it will convince you that we’re willing to. You’re rapidly running out of time to start cooperating.”


“Five minutes,” Kyra said helpfully.


The kid’s face was frozen in an expression of shock as he stared at the blood running down across his hand. Odds were good it was the most painful injury he’d received in his life; it wasn’t serious, but enhanced silver is very painful to werewolves. After a moment, his face crumpled. “Fine,” he said, defeated. “Ask your questions.”


“We know about you and Garrett. How many others do you have?”


He looked at me with shock in his eyes. “How do you know Garrett’s name?”


I looked him in the eye and showed a whole bunch of teeth. Not even a young werewolf would mistake it for a smile. “Lucky guess,” I purred. “Now answer the question.”


He swallowed and looked away. “There are four of us,” he said. “Plus Garrett. I’m the youngest.”


Aiko looked at me and shook her head slightly. I agreed with her; we’d had a few more questions planned, but odds were good the kid didn’t know anything more than what he’d already said. Garrett had been getting away with this too long to be stupid, and a smart man wouldn’t have told his lowest-ranking minion any more than was absolutely necessary.


“Look…what’s your name?” I asked, hunching down so that my face was more or less on a level with his.


“J-John,” he stuttered, seeming incapable of looking away from the shotgun in Kyra’s hands. He’d seen the byplay between me and Aiko, and he thought that now that he was useless to us we were going to kill him.


In some sense he was correct about that. Fortunately—or unfortunately—for him, we weren’t quite done using him yet.


“Look, John,” I said gently. “We know who you are. We know what you’re doing. And you know what?” I smiled and gestured around myself. “We’ve just about had enough of it. Now, Garrett or one of his lackeys is going to find you pretty soon. When he does you tell him what I just said. He can try and hide, in which case we’ll hunt him down and kill him like a rabbit. Or he can stand up and face it like a wolf. His choice.” I stood up and started backing away. “Tell him he can send his answer to Christopher.”


“W-wait. Christopher who?”


My smile broadened. “Oh, he knows who. You just tell him what I said.” I turned and walked away. Kyra was the last to follow, slipping the shotgun back under her coat and pulling the hood up as we faded into the darkness, aided by just a bit of my magic.


Let it never be said that I can’t make an impression. Somehow I didn’t think John would ever forget this one.

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3 Responses to Almost Winter 1.9

  1. Mian

    Your grasp of the fundamental cowardice of predators is keen.
    I appreciate it.

    • Emrys

      I’m glad to hear that. I try fairly hard to portray werewolves’ behavior in a plausible way, so it’s always gratifying when someone notices that.

  2. 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.

    So the plan in this chapter? It’s a stupid plan. I look back at it and it’s just painful. For this to actually work is an incredibly lucky coincidence. Once again, I don’t have a good justification for it. Even at the time I thought this was just moronic. I was struggling to get to the story’s climax and this was a way to do so, but it isn’t a very good way at all.

    The actual scene with John is something that I’m more satisfied with. The interaction plays out well, and it establishes Winter’s character rather well.

    Nothing much else going on here. This is a very straightforward chapter.

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