After that, working on the depressingly plausible assumption that I would need it, I made a stored spell. I had two others, but neither of them had really been intended for violence. I had, rather optimistically, thought that it wouldn’t be worth that much work to produce something which could only be used as a weapon and would only work once. Past experience suggested, however, that once I got into a mess like this one violence was almost inevitable, and a few hours of work is an excellent trade for continued survival. So my third stored spell was the kind of thing which was very specifically meant for violence. I didn’t really expect it to do much against players on this scale, but it beat nothing.
Legion was a surprising amount of help with the process of creating it. I had assumed that most of his talk about knowing magic and working well with mages was just padding his résumé. As it turned out, though, if anything he’d understated his understanding of the technical aspects of magic. With his advice on power flows and storage mechanisms, it was much easier than I would have expected.
Granted, his techniques weren’t my normal fare. It was fluid, rather than the more typical static format, energy constantly moving and shifting and sliding from one form to another. That was to be expected; Legion was an entity of change, not stability. For some purposes, like a long-term enchantment, it would have been ineffective. Given that a stored spell was designed to release power very quickly, though, it was in some ways more suited to Legion’s approach than what I had learned from Alexander.
It was still hard work, though, especially because I was trying something that wasn’t natural for me. Every mage has things they do easily and well, and others that are, well, not so much. You can still do them, especially in the unrushed conditions I was working under. But it’s a lot more difficult, and it takes longer. Given that I was also learning a whole new way to create a stored spell, it was even trickier. By the time I’d finished that and gotten the lab back into order it was nearly dark.
I did finish it, though, in one sitting, and I felt a certain justifiable pride as I slipped it into a pocket, checking that I could grab it quickly and easily. The small, transparent glass marble felt hot against my skin, even through my pants. Not painful, exactly, but very noticeable. That was Legion’s influence, I expect; the energy wasn’t just sitting there, it was active even without being released. Over a long period I thought that either the power invested in it would bleed off or the structure of the spell would decay to uselessness, but since I was betting I’d need it within the next few days I wasn’t too concerned. I’d be thrilled if things went so well that I had to worry about that.
I grabbed a few other things, including my other stored spells, and then went to leave. Snowflake, still lying near the door, looked uneasy, but since she didn’t convey anything specific to me I decided to ignore it for the moment. I locked up behind me and walked out.
I made it about three steps before a woman on the street, leaning against the wall and smoking, asked, “Are you Winter Wolf?”
I looked at her and frowned. Up close she didn’t look like the sort of person you find in places like that. She looked to be about sixteen, and she was lean and somewhat hungry looking, but she didn’t have the confident swagger of a prostitute or the drawn look of a junkie. Her clothing was about ten cuts too high, too, nicer than mine—which, granted, doesn’t take much, but still. You don’t expect to see name-brand shirts or jackets in a neighborhood like that unless you’re at the fence’s place.
Oh yeah, and she knew my name. Which I hadn’t shared with anyone in that area—in fact, I tried not to talk to them at all.
“Depends,” I said cautiously. “Who’s asking?”
“My mistress,” she said as though she’d expected the question.
About that time I finally realized what had been bothering me about the woman’s scent. It was hard to get a clear grip over the cigarette, but I could get a fair amount. For example, I could smell that she was human. And I could also smell a bit of something other about her magic.
If I hadn’t just encountered it I wouldn’t have recognized the touch of vampire in otherwise human power. It was inexpressibly different from the aura I’d detected at the hotel; the vampire smelled like a part of her magic, rather than something external to it.
I stared for a moment, and then it clicked. “Let me guess,” I said. “Your mistress is a vampire.”
The girl went tense and her eyes flickered to the nearby windows. I chuckled. “Relax,” I drawled easily. “Even if somebody heard us, which they didn’t, and they took it seriously, which they wouldn’t, ain’t nobody gonna believe ’em if they decide to talk.”
The vampire’s minion relaxed a moment later. “Fine,” she said, not sounding nearly as venomous as I would have expected. “Yes, she is. Now are you or are you not Mr. Wolf?”
“I’ve been called that,” I said. “Although I prefer Winter from friends, enemies, and most people in between. Was there anything else?”
“She would like a meeting with you,” she said, ignoring my rather pitiful attempt at levity. “Midnight tonight, at Pryce’s bar.”
“Right,” I said, dragging it out. “And I should believe her…why, exactly? I mean, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but her kind doesn’t have the best reputation for fair dealing, do they? I’m not real excited about the prospect of an ambush, here.”
“She offers you her word of safe conduct,” the girl said. “And, as a sign of good faith, she offers you my life as collateral. Should you find her behavior less than courteous, it is yours to do with as you wish.” Her chin lifted slightly, and the defiant look in her eyes almost covered up the fear.
I sighed. “Of course she does,” I muttered. I would attend the meeting—I didn’t see much way around that, and I might learn something—but I couldn’t just let the girl go. I doubted that the vampiress had much fondness for her, but she was still the only bargaining chip I had. Besides which, her boss might view it as an insult if I let her offer go without at least pretending.
On the other hand, I didn’t exactly have facilities here to put her in. Even if I were willing to tolerate her in my lab, which I wasn’t, I couldn’t have kept her from walking out. The wards were designed to keep things out, not in.
I thought for a few minutes, and then nodded. “Do you have a car?”
I nodded again. “Right.” Then I pulled out my phone and made a call.
Kyra pulled up about twenty minutes later. Not the fastest service, but beggars can’t be choosers and her wheels were cheaper than calling a cab. I was just surprised she’d come to pick us up herself; now that she was the boss, I had sorta expected her to detail the grunt work to one of her grunts.
I’d made small talk with the girl in the meantime. It was awkward, because I’m not very good at small talk, but I’d managed to get a little information out of her as we talked. Her name was Olivia, she was actually nineteen, and she’d been with the vampire less than a year. I couldn’t get anything on the vampire herself, though. Olivia became unresponsive when the topic came up, and I figured pressing would be a little ruder than was wise.
Olivia got in the back without prompting, Snowflake slipping in beside her, and I took the passenger seat next to Kyra. I wasn’t concerned about being stabbed in the back, not with the dog there. The werewolf looked curiously at the girl, but all she said was, “Where to?”
“Your place,” I said, rubbing my forehead. That never really does anything for a headache in my experience, but somehow I try it every time. “I’m supposed to keep track of her for a while, and I was hoping your people could keep an eye on her for me. Maybe put her in a quiet room downstairs.”
Kyra paused slightly. She knew as well as I did that I’d been referring to the pack’s safe room, and she was clearly curious what I was doing bringing a prisoner in. “How long we talking?” she asked, pulling her old and increasingly beat-up car out into the nonexistent traffic. I’m not quite sure why Kyra keeps driving the same vehicle, when she could have appropriated one of the newer, better-maintained pack vehicles for herself. It wasn’t like she’d had any trouble moving into the last Alpha’s giant house in the south end.
“I don’t know,” I said. “One o’clock tonight, maybe?” I shrugged.
It was late enough that there were very few cars on the roads. We made it to Kyra’s house, which mostly belonged to the pack, in about fifteen minutes. Long enough that the absence of conversation became a palpable presence in the air, but not long enough to drive any of us to fill it.
When we got there, Kyra invited me in in a tone that made it clear that this wasn’t the kind of invitation you decline. I sighed, but Snowflake and I followed her in; I couldn’t exactly say that she was being unreasonable in wanting more info than I’d given her so far.
Olivia sat uncomfortably on the edge of one of the couches downstairs. I wasn’t concerned about her doing a runner. Not with two other werewolves, one in fur and one out, in the same room. The man in human form was engrossed in his book and the wolf looked to be asleep, but I knew for a fact that if she started to leave they would turn out to be paying much more attention than was apparent.
And no, Kyra hadn’t told them not to let her leave. She didn’t have to. All she had to do was carry herself in a certain way, look at Olivia with the right combination of hostility and resignation, for them to know more or less what her role was here. They wouldn’t let her go.
Here’s a piece of advice for you, in case you’re ever in that situation: Don’t run from werewolves. Especially not on their home turf. I don’t care if you’re an Olympic sprinter; you’re not getting away. If they don’t have you within a minute, it’s only because they’re enjoying the chase too much to want it to end so soon.
Snowflake, lucky dog, got to lie down and wait near the door while Kyra and I went upstairs. Technically the whole house belongs to her, but in practice most of it’s more like communal property. Almost the whole first floor, for example, is taken up by the huge lounge area where we’d left the vampire’s envoy. There are also guest rooms, a kitchen, and such that are open to the pack any time of day or night.
The top floor isn’t. That’s where she makes her real home, in a handful of well-furnished rooms. That house was the heart of the pack, and her study was the heart of the house. It still looked pretty similar to what it had been when Christopher ruled the pack from it, but you could see the little touches Kyra had added. I thought it was particularly telling that she’d stuck a bumper sticker onto the huge, antique mahogany desk. It read, in white letters against a black background, “DOG IS MY COPILOT.”
“Okay,” she said, dropping into the comfy-looking office chair. She leveled one finger at me accusingly. “What are you getting me into now?”
“Nothing,” I said with my best air of wounded innocence. “Probably. Most likely. Well, not very much at any rate. And I think you might have actually gotten me into it, so I’m not totally sure that counts.”
She sighed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well,” I said, “apparently a vampire wants to chat tonight and she sent the girl with an invitation. And as collateral. I’m just guessing, but I think it might have something to do with that, ah, situation at the hotel you brought me in on.”
“Wonderful,” she muttered darkly. “Just great. You want us to watch the girl in case she tries to pull something?”
“Can’t be too careful,” I replied. “And I couldn’t think of anyone else I know with a cell in their basement.”
Her lips twitched. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Anybody who can get away from this place isn’t going to be slowed down by being in the safe room.”
“True,” I said. “And thank you. I’ll call you after I finish talking to the vampire and tell you to let her go, if that’s all right.”
“Bit optimistic there, aren’t you? You don’t think this is a setup?”
I grimaced. “Could be. I kinda doubt it, though. If nothing else, you’d be insane to arrange something like that at Pryce’s. Break the truce there and they’d take you apart.”
“Yeah,” Kyra said, something a little bit uncomfortable in her voice. Given that she’d worked there for years, only quitting when she got the job of Alpha, she’d probably seen it happen a few times. If so I definitely wasn’t asking what it had looked like. Most of the people who frequent his bar are, like me, the strays and fringes of magical society, not spectacularly powerful—but there are lots of us, and some of his customers have a nasty sense of humor. I know I wouldn’t want to break the unspoken rules that govern his place.
“Oh,” I said, “speaking of. I think I’m making some progress on that issue. We’ll see if I can get any more information tonight, but I’ve got some idea what’s going on.”
She sighed. “Thank God something’s gone right, then. If you don’t mind I’ll just leave that one to you. Call if you need some thugs—my lunatics could use something to occupy their time anyway.”
“How are you holding up?” I asked. I hadn’t seen Kyra much since January, and I was a little concerned for her. She sounded so…overwhelmed when she talked about her new position.
“Not too bad,” she said. “Although, in retrospect, Christopher was a lot more of an asshole than I thought at the time.”
“Something else he didn’t tell you about?” I said sympathetically. We’d discovered, after his death, that he’d been concealing a lot of info from her. That was, technically, within the rights of an Alpha—but considering her position as his second it was deeply sketchy.
“Of course,” she said. “I think my favorite was when Jack—that’s my chief minion, you don’t know him—had to come up and explain that the crime boss the pack does business with was on the phone.” She snorted. “I didn’t even know he had a deal set up with gangsters. Figures.”
“What kind of deal?” I asked, curious. Plenty of werewolves engage in activities of questionable legality, but I wouldn’t have figured Christopher for one of them. He’d always projected the upright, law-abiding air so hard you’d almost forget he wasn’t human.
“More or less the same as we have with the police,” she said. “He puts some influence in our favor as far as public opinion goes, and if he has a problem with my people he comes to me instead of dealing with it directly. We fix problems for him on the supernatural side of things.” She shrugged. “Works out pretty well.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “A problem with your people? You mean he’s here?” Logically I know Colorado Springs is a pretty big city these days, over half a million people, but…wow. It somehow never occurred to me that there would be an organized crime presence here.
“Denver, mostly,” she said. “Not my turf, but he’s been moving in here too. I understand he saw which way the wind was blowing and moved west about fifteen years ago. Got in before there was much competition and these days he’s big-time.” Her lips quirked. “I could arrange an introduction if you’d like.”
“No thanks,” I said. “I don’t think I need another bad influence right now. I should probably be going. I’ll let you know if I learn anything.”
“Please do. Oh, and don’t forget to call after your meeting so we know the vampire kept her word. Otherwise, well.” Her teeth showed in a smile thin and brittle and sharp as broken glass. “Who knows what might happen.”
“Will do,” I told her, and then I left.