“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Wolf,” the Watcher said in a bright voice totally different from the creepy psycho-killer face I’d seen before. “Your gear’s in the trunk here—the red one, right?”
The same trunk she’d been sitting on. “Naturally,” I muttered, throwing the heavy wood lid open. Inside, neatly folded and stacked, were my clothes, my cloak of shadows, and the various trinkets, toys, and tools I’d had in my pockets. It was a pretty large pile. I hadn’t been carrying it, but Tyrfing was prominently displayed on top of the heap, positioned so that the light brought out the subtle patterns in the sheath. Typical of the sword, really.
“Wonderful job on the cloak, by the way,” she chattered. “Excellent work, even Gil said so—not that he’d ever admit it, of course. I have to say, I’m really looking forward to working with you, Mr. Wolf.”
I frowned, fastening said cloak over my shoulders and belting Tyrfing on. “Are you bullshitting me?” I asked after a moment. “Because, if so, I’d really rather you stop. I don’t know what your boss told you, but you don’t need to butter up to me.”
“Of course not,” she said, sounding a little surprised. “I figure I can learn a lot from you. Everyone says you do excellent work, Mr. Wolf.”
I frowned some more. “If you say so,” I said dubiously. I wouldn’t call any of my work, in any field whatsoever, excellent, but whatever. “You can call me Winter, though. I hate it when people call me Mister.”
“All right, but only if you call me Laurel,” she said, belting that steel oval on over her chest. Up close, I could see that it was a stylized depiction of a sword with the blade surrounded in flames. That done, she led the way down another narrow tunnel. This one wasn’t as well-lit as the others.
I thought about letting it slide. Then I shrugged. Screw it. Sensibility was never really my strong suit anyway. “I have a hard time reconciling this with your attitude earlier,” I commented.
She laughed. “I know, right? Everybody says my game face is really good. I am sorry about that but, well, orders are orders, you know?”
“Yeah, I guess I do. Where next?”
“We can do the first crossing…right here.”
The tunnel terminated into a sort of cul-de-sac, a room maybe ten feet across with no other entrance or exit. Unlike the rest of the complex, it was entirely cut from raw stone, and the only lighting was that which leaked in from the hallway.
“We have the whole place under wards,” Laurel explained, running her hands over the walls. “Try and open a portal anywhere but this room, all you get is a door to nowhere. There’s probably a way to get around it, but that’s way over my clearance level. Sorry, I’m pretty slow at this.”
She wasn’t kidding, either. It was probably more than ten minutes before stone blurred, flickered, and turned into an oval of absolute nothingness.
I will admit that I was rather nervous about stepping into that patch of darkness, but they’d already had me unconscious. If they wanted me dead, there were much easier ways to go about it than this.
It was then that I learned that, just as some connections are harder to make than others, so too are some people not as skilled at establishing gates as others. I’d thought Aiko’s portals were brutal, but I’d actually been pretty lucky. As a native of the Otherside, she’d been using such magic to travel since she was a child. Laurel, who lacked that kind of engrained knowledge, wasn’t nearly as smooth.
Several minutes and a bit of vomiting later, I looked around at a rather unaspiring locale. We were standing in front of a simple, unadorned stone arch about ten feet tall. The entire surface was covered in very fine, delicate script that I couldn’t read. It wasn’t in any language, or even any alphabet, I recognized. The runes I knew, mostly, but there were also bits that looked Greek, Egyptian, and ninety kinds of Asian which I never learned to distinguish.
Around us, arranged in a circle, were eight other arches, side by side, with a sort of nine-sided stone table in the center. The whole thing was contained in a huge dome of carved stone, all of it worked with thousands upon thousands of picayune inscriptions, which terminated about fifty feet overhead. There were no exits or windows to be seen anywhere.
“Nexus,” my traveling companion explained. “Every arch leads to a different domain. So where are we going?”
“Back to Colorado, I presume.”
She laughed. “Well sure, but how do we get there?”
I frowned. “You’re driving.”
She hesitated. “Actually, I figured you would. Since you’re more familiar with the terrain, right?”
“You realize I can’t actually do portals, right?”
“Shit.” She sighed. “I know we need to classify key information, but sometimes it seems excessively ridiculous. How’d you get to that park then?”
“Portal,” I admitted. “But it wasn’t mine. You really didn’t know about this?”
“Not a word,” she sighed. “It said we had to watch for you to show up in three different places. I just assumed that meant you were doing it yourself.” She chewed her lip. “I don’t know a terminus in Colorado Springs. Closest I can do is Denver.”
I shrugged. “Denver it is, then.”
“All right,” she said, walking to another archway in front and to the right of the one we’d entered through. While she got to work on the next gate, I looked around, being careful not to touch anything. I noticed for the first time that the table, or altar, didn’t match the rest of the room. There was no writing anywhere on it, but the top had several…pictograms, I guess, simple and very stylized. The surface was divided by very fine lines into nine sections, one per archway, and in each section was a glyph. A cloud, a tree, a snowflake. Only the arch we’d come in through was blank. Laurel was working on the arch marked with a crescent moon.
“Ready?” she asked me.
I frowned. That hadn’t been nearly as long as the last time, no more than a minute. When I turned away from the altar, I saw that the portal itself was also different. Rather than a void in the world, it was like looking through cheap glass, or maybe the heat haze over asphalt in the summertime.
Nothing like those Laurel or Aiko had made. But exactly like Ryujin’s portal.
It appeared to be nighttime on the other side of the arch, and I could just make out the dim outlines of trees and rocks. The inscriptions on the arch itself had also changed, and were glowing with a soft silver-white light—a light, I noticed, which was exactly like moonlight, and that same crescent-moon sigil was formed by slightly brighter runes. Apparently whoever had made this place wasn’t big on subtlety when it came to a theme.
“Where now?” I asked, walking closer.
“Faerie,” she replied succinctly. “On the Nighttime side of things. You coming or not?”
I shrugged and stepped across the boundary. There was no horrific interval of infinite darkness, this time, just a faint tingling across my skin—although, trust me, having the interior of your nose and ears tingle is a pretty weird sensation on its own.
I emerged onto a simple footpath at the edge of a dark, moonlit forest. (It was a crescent moon, of course, although in real life it was waxing full.) The air was gently perfumed with pine, bee balm, and night-blooming flowers, with just a hint of something sweet and unpleasant underneath, like decay in a perfumery. It was dead silent, except for a soft breeze coming from the left—the forest. To my right the woods faded into a broad, open plain which extended as far as I could see in the half-light.
“This way,” the Watcher said, and took off down the path. The silver, faintly glowing gravel crunched under our feet.
About half an hour later, she turned off the path and we started walking through the grass. It was very nice grass, green and luxuriant with silver tips, and came up to my thighs. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel nearly as nice as it looked. Anywhere the stalks brushed against me, they scratched my skin, and the marks it left itched terribly. Its smooth surface was deceptive, too, hiding rocky, uneven ground that tried to trip me every other step. The message was quite clear; this was not a place that welcomed visitors. They might as well have put a sign saying Stay on the path. It would have been less communicative.
After another forty minutes of tiring, irritating, itchy wading through the grass, we’d made it into the hills. They weren’t much by my standards (between Colorado, North Dakota, and Wyoming, I’m kinda hard to impress with a hill), short and grassy.
Against all expectations and geographic sanity, though, the other side of the first row of hills was neither more hills nor rolling plains. Instead, the hill turned into a perfectly sheer cliff, plummeting impossibly far below us.
I stared down into the canyon, and could just see the silver ribbon of a river at the bottom. How far down was it? A thousand feet? More? I couldn’t even guess. “Nice,” I said, mostly because you have to say something when faced with that, and anything more eloquent seemed to be beyond me at the moment.
“Isn’t it?” the Watcher said, laughing. “The path’s over here.”
Normally, I would have been somewhat unnerved at the prospect of descending a thousand foot deep canyon in the dark by a narrow footpath. Fortunately I had two advantages. One, if I fell, I would have plenty of time to manipulate the air so that I wouldn’t splatter. In fact, with how easy magic was on the Otherside, I could probably manage to get myself back out of the canyon without even having to climb. Two, as a werewolf, I had significantly better night vision than any normal human. It still wasn’t bright (and, like a normal human, I had no detail or color vision in the dark, which is why I still use lights), but the sliver of moon was plenty for me to see by.
I did feel a little sorry for her, though. I would not like to go down that path without a failsafe.
When we’d descended maybe three hundred feet down the cliff (although the river below seemed just as far away), she clambered up and over a section of rock to the side of the path—the cliff side, obviously, not the drop-off side. The boulder was barely two feet from the rock wall and about four feet tall, but she disappeared from sight the moment she dropped over the edge. I stared for a second then shrugged and followed.
On the other side of the outcropping was a small hollow, filled with the same grass as before. It was maybe fifteen yards in diameter. The opposite side from me was very definitely the same cliff as we’d been walking down, but nothing else seemed right. The rock I was standing on, for example, was a good ten feet tall, and similar rocks formed an enclosure around the hollow, though no such rocks had been visible from the path.
“I hate the geography over here,” I said, dropping down into the depression. “Worse than hallucinating.”
She snorted. “You think this is bad? Wait ’til you see the weird places. Escher would shit himself.” She cracked her knuckles absently, turning to the cliff. “Don’t throw up this time, please. Would be very awkward.”
“Well, all right,” I muttered just loud enough to be audible to another werewolf—which is to say, too quiet for her to hear. “But only cause you said please. I mean, I was really looking forward to throwing up, but I guess I can take a pass this time for you.”
About ten minutes later, I stepped through into the infinite void. And, upon exiting the other side a subjective eternity later, promptly hit my head on something. Just as I straightened up, Laurel exited the portal behind me, thereby shoving me roughly forward and bouncing my head off of—this time I identified it correctly—the corner of a metal shelf.
“What the hell! What is it you have against my head?”
She chuckled. “Yeah, it is a little cramped in here. Hang on, the light’s on the other side of you….” The Watcher contorted to stretch past me, in the process shoving my head into the shelving unit again. A moment later a simple electric light flickered to life, showing me….
“A janitor’s closet?” I demanded.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, okay? Now this is the fun part. You went through first, so the door’s closer to you. I think if you turn sideways I can reach around you to pick the lock. Yeah, that’ll work.”
And that’s how I wound up twisted sideways and standing on one foot while the creepy psycho-Watcher reached one arm around either side of me to manipulate the lock with a very nice-looking set of picks. It was, to say the least, an awkward position.
I could, of course, have opened it myself. It wouldn’t even have been difficult—I’ve been playing with locks for the entirety of my adult life, on a purely hobbyist basis except for a bit of mostly-legal locksmithing work, and I was clearly a fair bit more experienced than she was. But as far as I knew she wasn’t aware that I had that particular skillset, and that made it information I wasn’t ready to give out yet.
Don’t get me wrong. She seemed friendly, and I was sure as hell planning on using her talents against whatever bastard had been responsible for this curse. But the fact remained that she was a scary person who had shown herself willing to use violence against me, and I hadn’t forgotten just how creepy she had seemed initially. She might be my ally, at the moment—but she was by no means my friend, and I wasn’t about to forget it. That meant that I treated her as a potential enemy at all times, and that meant concealing whatever abilities I could from her.
Of course, paranoia does have its costs. In this case, for example, it meant that I tripped and fell flat on my face when I went to move once we’d gotten the door open. And, of course, dragged her down with me, which meant that I knocked my head on the tile floor, and a hundred-fifty plus pounds of Watcher landed on me. And, of course, thanks to the awkward positioning, her elbow fell in the small of my back, and Tyrfing’s hilt was in my abdomen.
For those of you who have never landed gut-first on a hard, knobby steel object, this was a rather unpleasant experience. By which I mean that I had been exposed to literal torture which didn’t cause me that degree of pain.
I extricated myself and, wheezing, managed to stand up. “It’s okay if you want to kill me,” I wheezed. “But do you think we could maybe just fight, instead of you trying to bust my head open one piece at a time?”
She glanced at me as she stood and walked out of the closet. “You okay?”
“Oh sure, sure. Don’t mind me. Werewolves are people too you know. Just because it’ll heal doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”
“Actually,” she said, “I didn’t know. I’ve never worked with a werewolf before.”
I frowned. “Really?”
She nodded. “Scout’s honor.” She may have made some sort of gesture then; I’m not quite sure, thanks to the repeated cranial impacts. I honestly have only the vaguest concept of what that phrase means anyway, so who cares.
“Why’d you get this job then?”
“Beats the hell out of me,” she said cheerfully. “I’m assigned to the southwest, but mostly anything involving werewolves gets handled by the Guards.” She shrugged. “I’ve found it’s best not to ask too many questions about these things.”
Right. And pigs were undoubtedly about to start crapping on me from above.
I shook my head to clear it. “Where are we, anyway?” I said, letting what I was pretty sure was a lie go unmentioned. No sense alienating her any more than necessary this early in the game. Glancing around a bit didn’t help, because it seemed to just be a poorly lit hallway. Wooden doors opened off at regular intervals, but none of them seemed to be open.
“University,” she answered, moving toward the right. “This is the computer science building.”
I blinked. “Really? Seems pretty quiet.”
“Yeah, not much going on here at midnight.”
I blinked again. “Wait, what? It’s midnight already?”
“Yeah, you lost a bit of time in transit. And…well, somehow it always seems to be midnight when you exit from the Nighttime side of Faerie.” She shrugged. “You get used to it.”
Down a flight of stairs and out the door, and we were outdoors. I’d seen the campus a few times—hockey games, mostly, and then I came back with Kyra to visit once (she was an engineering student, once upon a time, although she never graduated). I’d never seen this part, though, and in the dark I wasn’t really sure where we were going.
Laurel was. “Come on,” she said, setting off to the north. “There’s a parking garage the next block over.”
“You have a car parked here?” I asked, jogging for a few seconds to catch up.
She snorted. “No. But I do have a set of picks and a total disregard for private property. Fortunately the ethics board has lax views on theft.”
Why was I not surprised.
She wound up hotwiring a recent-model black sports car. It was a nice change from, say, Kyra’s vehicle, believe me. You’d think that you wouldn’t find the highest quality vehicles at a college campus (feel free to add your own starving student joke), but there were actually plenty to choose from. I guess that’s the benefit of robbing a private university.
“Wake me when we get to the Springs,” I said, laying my head back against the rest. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I was brutally tired.
I was asleep within five minutes.
“Wake up,” she said about thirty seconds later.
I opened my eyes and looked around muzzily. “Wha?” I mumbled, blinking.
“We just passed the Air Force Academy,” she said mercilessly, speeding down the mostly-empty Interstate. “You said to wake you when we hit Colorado Springs.”
I blinked some more and then shoved myself upright. A quick glance around confirmed that we were, indeed, back in my town, and furthermore that it had actually been most of an hour since we left Denver. “Right. Thanks. Okay. What do we do now?”
“Don’t ask me,” Laurel said pleasantly. “You’re in charge.”
“Great,” I muttered. Then, louder, “How much do you know about what’s going on?”
“Pretty much just the bare bones. I know there’s a curse going around, and I know everybody who gets hit with it is connected to you somehow. That’s about it, although I have been able to examine the curse in detail.”
“When you broke it on Anna, correct?”
“Yep, and also on several other people. They all shared the same base structure, if you were wondering.”
I frowned. Something wasn’t quite clicking here. My instincts—wonderful things, instincts, they come highly recommended—were clamoring that there was something painfully obvious which I had overlooked.
“And the memory block?”
She shrugged. “Mixed in with the curse. Probably to keep us from getting any information out of them.”
“Why did you torch my house, anyway?” I asked absently while I tried to niggle at whatever it was my hindbrain was trying to say. Always pretend to have more information than you do. That way, even a person trying not to tell you anything (“I can’t tell you that”) is actually conveying some very important info (“Yes, it was us who burned your house down.”)
“Someone burned your house down? Shit, man, I’m sorry. Wasn’t us, though.” Okay, so that theory never seems to actually work. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Really.
I frowned. I hadn’t really expected it to be the Watchers—but it didn’t fit with the pattern of anybody else out to screw with my life, either. Burning my house down, sure, I could see a dozen different people doing that (Loki foremost among them), but this sort of elaborate revenge mechanism? Didn’t fit. And the timing made it pretty damn unlikely that it was an unrelated event.
“Luckily,” I said, “I wasn’t there at the time. Okay. How did you find me at the restaurant, anyway? Did you get the tracking spell up and running again?”
“Didn’t need to,” she said smugly. “The car was bugged. Why did you think we gave it to you?” Ouch. Really should have seen that one coming.
On the other hand…”So you could still find it?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
“Okay then. Here’s what we do….”
About five blocks in, I was really starting to regret my own paranoia. Not that I thought it was wrong about Laurel or anything, she really set my teeth on edge, but it would have been nice to get dropped at the door. I’d been holding off the fatigue pretty well the past few days considering how hectic things had been and how little rest I’d had, but it was starting to catch up to me, hard.
On the other hand, a little tiredness was well worth keeping the location of my lab at least nominally secret from the Watchers.
As I unlocked the front door, there was a rustling sort of sound in the metal garbage cans around the corner. I tensed, but it was only Snowflake, who launched herself at me with none of her normal decorum. The usually reserved husky hit me in the chest with all four feet and bore me backward to the ground, where she spent several moments licking my face. Rather than words, all I got from her was an overwhelming sensation of relief. A sure sign that she wasn’t feeling herself, that; Snowflake prefers to communicate with pseudo-telepathy, rather than the directed empathy which actually comes more easily to both of us.
“Hey, girl,” I said, hugging the dog tightly. Snowflake is a big girl, and she can take care of herself, but I’d been getting increasingly worried at the lack of communication from her and Aiko. I mean, granted I’m not the world’s best conversationalist, but I’d like to think they would have noticed that I’d been gone for—what? Nearly a day, now? Damn. This whole Otherside-travel thing was really screwing with my sense of time. I couldn’t even remember how long this had been going on, at this point. It didn’t seem like very long, but it must have been most of a week by now.
Where have you been? I couldn’t find you, that’s not supposed to happen, where have you been? Snowflake asked, squirming around in my arms so that her ice-blue eyes stared into mine from less than three inches away. It was sort of amusing, really; I almost never see that level of emotional reaction out of her.
“Kidnapped,” I said lightly. “Which makes no sense at all, given that I’m not a kid and I didn’t get to take a nap. What happened to you?”
Some guy in a suit came in to talk to Aiko right after you went to the bathroom. I couldn’t hear what they said. I don’t know why, either—my ears are supposed to be better than that.
Magic, probably. Kitsune as a race have an excellent reputation for illusions and trickery of all kinds, and Aiko had repeatedly demonstrated that it was deserved. If she couldn’t dupe the ears of a husky, no matter how thoroughly augmented she was, I’d eat my hat. (It makes it a lot simpler to say things like that when you don’t actually wear hats.)
“What happened after that?”
She scribbled something on a napkin and stuck it under my collar and left without saying anything, she said, frustration tinting the communication like a whiff of sour milk. It’s still there, by the way, and it itches like hell. I couldn’t read it, of course, because she took the time to tape it closed and I don’t have any fucking thumbs, but presumably it explains what the hell she was thinking.
I sighed. Somehow, every time I think life hates me, it comes along and proves me right. I mean, as many jokes as I make about how everything around me becomes complicated and the gods are (quite literally, at least a few of them) conspiring to make my existence hell, I really wish I were kidding more often.
The first thing I did, once Snowflake was confident enough that I wasn’t about to disappear again to let me stand up, was to get inside and lock the door. The locals had gotten to know me well enough that they wouldn’t be in a rush to start trouble; after the first several to try wound up with badly broken bones while Snowflake and I laughed, even the muggers got the idea. But that didn’t mean that it was a good idea to stand around in the middle of the night.
The second thing I did, once we were safely ensconced behind locks and wards, was to take Snowflake’s collar off. As she’d said, there was a much-folded scrap of paper underneath, which did indeed turn out to be a napkin which had been taped shut. And what was with that, anyway? Not even I carried Scotch tape everywhere I went.
Anyways, I eventually managed to get it open, without damaging the napkin. It was written in purple ink (don’t ask) and read:
Damn, that was fast. I wasn’t expecting this for at least another day or two, or I would have told you. Apparently interfering with those mages pissed the family off more than I expected. My uncle showed up while you were in the bathroom with an ‘invitation’ to come explain my actions to the higher-ups, and I don’t get to say no this time.
Before you start going on, yes, I knew this would happen going into it. I made my choices, and I can live with the consequences. No, they probably aren’t going to kill me. And, before you start going off on a guilt trip: Not everything is your fault, okay? I mean, seriously, I was the one who told Aubrey he should be more proactive about getting the girl.
Try not to get killed, okay? I’ll be in touch.
I read the letter. Then I read it again, hoping that I had misinterpreted it somehow. Then I just stared at the paper for a moment. The handwriting—eccentric, ranging from huge looping letters to scribbles so compacted as to be nearly illegible—was Aiko’s, and hard to imitate. The purple ink was a holdover from an entertaining event that had taken place about a month back (no seriously, don’t ask. Trust me). The napkin smelled primarily like Snowflake, of course, closely followed by grease from the restaurant, but I had superhuman olfactory capabilities and under those I could also detect the touch of fox I associated with her physical scent, and just barely the mild, vaguely floral perfume she’d been wearing.
It would be extremely hard to forge a note that thoroughly, even for very powerful people. There were too many small details and idiosyncrasies—to say nothing of Snowflake. I don’t care how much time you have to work with, it takes some serious skills to lift anything from under her collar without her knowing it.
Meaning, basically, that this was almost certainly genuine. And that was seriously worrying.
“Well,” I said aloud. “That’s just wonderful.”
I set the napkin down on the floor where Snowflake could get to it. As she had implied, the dog was perfectly capable of reading—meaning that she collects dictionaries and used textbooks, and she’s read more classic fiction than I have (you have no idea how funny it is watching a dog read Old Yeller). I think she and Aiko had been doing language lessons while I was working in the lab some days, so she probably had at least the obscenities down in several other languages.
Great, she said once she’d finished. You got kidnapped—I presume that was the psycho-mages? Thought so. I’m still sore from that gorillafreak in the alley. Enrico’s dead. And now the fox is gone.
“Yeah,” I said. “Things are looking pretty shitty. Did you learn anything while I was gone?”
Not really. What’s the Watcher update?
“They’re all crazy, for one thing,” I said bitterly, resting my head on the table. Damn, I was tired. “And now we get one of our very own following us around. I sent her to get the car Erica took, figured that would get her out of our hair long enough to figure out what to do.”
The same one that’s been chasing us around town?
There was a long pause. I think I want to quit now, she said eventually. This isn’t fun anymore.
“Me too,” I sighed. “But I don’t think ditching town is gonna be enough for this one. These people are too stubborn.”
I always say that the best part of living the way I do is that I can always say, with perfect honesty, that things have been worse. This time was no exception. The problem was that it didn’t feel that way. I knew that I had seen worse things, but somehow that didn’t feel like much consolation. My girlfriend was AWOL and might be dead by now for all I knew, two of my three real friends had been afflicted with black magic curses because of me, and one of them had just committed suicide.
It was, in short, a disaster. Making it worse was the fact that, unlike most of the disasters I’d been involved in, I couldn’t really blame it on someone else. This wasn’t someone else’s problem that I happened to be helping out in. It wasn’t pack business. This was my mess, plain and simple, and I’d been doing a horrible job of cleaning it up. I dug through my pockets until I found the sheaf of papers detailing the victims of the curse. Thirteen people I’d failed.
Maybe it was time to just call it quits.
“Oh, spare me the pity party.” Legion’s voice was caustic as usual.
“I am not interested in dealing with your crap today, Legion. Shut up.”
“Oh, sure,” he said bitterly. Well, not really; the tone was exactly the same. It was just that I knew, via no means I could understand or which he could explain, that he was communicating bitterly. “That’s me, just here to do what the boss says. I’ll just leave you two to wallow, then.”
I raised my head to glare balefully at the demon, while beside me Snowflake had just begun to growl. She—or, more properly, he, because this was primarily about the wolf inside her head and that entity was born male—never did like Legion much. They got off to a phenomenally bad start. “I don’t expect you to understand, demon.”
“Oh, I understand plenty,” he shot back. “Like the fact that you’re all too freaking moronic to see past your own noses. ‘Why does this always happen to me? What did I do? I’m so depressed.'” This last was said in an exaggeratedly whiny tone which was obviously meant to be a caricature of me. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much, except that it was disturbingly close to what had been running through my head a moment ago.
I found myself on my feet without any awareness of how I got there, staring into Legion’s cruel white-blue eyes. My fists were clenched at my sides, and I couldn’t help but notice that Tyrfing, which I had dumped as soon as we left the Otherside because carting around swords is generally not the best way to avoid attention, had found its way to the worktable right next to me. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly. “I thought I was your boss.” My fingers had gone white, I was clenching my fists so tight. Snowflake sidled away, whining softly.
“That was the deal,” he said mockingly.
“Then unless you have something useful to add,” I said, still in that very quiet, very even tone, “I recommend that you shut. Up. Right now.”
“Yeah?” Legion jeered. “How ’bout this, Sherlock? If this whole thing was about getting revenge on you, why would they go after freaking Erica? Did you ever wonder that?” He shook his skull sadly. “No, I guess not. Way more important to feel sorry for yourself.”
I stared. Then I looked down at the list of names. Then I looked back at him. “What are you getting at?” I asked, anger giving way to confusion.
He did that not-shrugging thing again, except this time there was an element of not-sighing mixed in too. “Last time I saw you, you were talking about how this might be a revenge mechanism. Okay, I can go there, that’s a classic. But Erica? Really? Even I know you hate her guts. Seems like this guy’s doing you a favor to take her out.”
I stared some more. Then I said, “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. How did I not see that before?” I ignored his insulting, predictable—and, honestly, fairly accurate—reply in favor of looking once again at the sheet.
Enrico and Anna were both obvious targets for someone trying to hurt me. Keegan and Sergio were a little less predictable, but still fairly easy to figure out for anyone digging into my background. Same for Rachel, and maybe Michael the bartender.
Who was left? Abdul, who was directly related to Aubrey—Aubrey who had no apparent motive for wanting revenge on me, Aubrey who wasn’t really all that as mages go, Aubrey who had been getting along fine with the rest of the Inquisition. Jimmy, Erica, and Katie were all part of the same gang. So was Mac, who as a nurse worked alongside doctors every day. Was one of them the man on this list? It seemed quite likely. Especially given that they were at the same hospital, which I hadn’t caught before.
Jasmine was a hippie who, if I recalled correctly, had a number of interests in common with Erica. It was not inconceivable that they would know each other—and, like Erica herself, she wasn’t someone who anybody would think to take revenge on as a proxy for me. Luna knew everyone in the local preternatural community. Considering how much time all of the Inquisition spent at Pryce’s odds were beyond long that none of them knew her.
Right then, everything started clicking into place. I knew why they had gone about it this way. I even had a fair idea who was behind it.
Now if I could just think of how to shut them down—with, if possible, extreme prejudice—we’d be in business.