I wasn’t sure whether I’d ever had a plan go this smoothly before, ever. It was kind of worrying, really. I was not a lucky man. If things went well now, that just meant that I was freaking out about what would happen when they inevitably went back to their usual state of barely-controlled disaster.
For the moment, though, I could ride out the high while it lasted. The warehouses had been captured in less than two minutes, without even alerting the complex security. The occupants of a third warehouse, which hadn’t had any dogs and had thus escaped my detection, tried to run. With people watching from every angle, they hadn’t had a chance of getting away clean. The snipers had kept eyes on them the whole time, and after they made it out of sight of the complex the werewolves on the ground had taken them. No one made it through the net.
Since we had the luxury of time, for once, I brought the experts to the information rather than the other way around. It seemed like the more logical answer; I wasn’t as out of touch with technology as a lot of the older supernatural things out there, but I’d never had any need to work with a server farm. I had no idea how to move it without causing damage, and I did not want to lose any of the data on those computers.
I couldn’t reliably open a portal to Philadelphia, and it would take me a few hours to get that well-acquainted with a spot in the city even if I felt like going to the effort. So I took the mundane route instead, and had Selene charter a plane.
Or, rather, that’s what I’d planned. It turned out not to be necessary. Apparently, one of the things that I’d acquired from my association with the Midnight Court was a private jet, complete with crew on retainer. So I didn’t have to charter a plane. I already owned one.
That was…well, it was another of those moments when I felt like my understanding of the world was changed on a fundamental level. I’d known that the Faerie Courts had an immense amount of money, enough that the actual number was immaterial. But this really put that into perspective. It also made me wonder just how much of the wealth in the “normal” world was really controlled by supernatural interests. I mean, I’d known that Zhang’s smuggling ring had been worth billions, and there were plenty of other individuals that had finances on the scale of major corporations.
It also gave me a much better idea of why someone might be inclined to take a job as the champion of a Faerie Queen. Buying a plane like that was…it must cost tens of millions, at least. And for me it was a casual perk of the job, not even worth mentioning. For most of my life, that had been more money than I’d ever had, all put together.
I’d never thought of myself as a particularly materialistic person. And I could still see how that kind of thing could make one hell of a tempting offer. Sure, it was guaranteed to end badly, but when you’re on your third week of living on ramen and peanut butter, that starts to seem like a fair trade.
It took a few hours for them to get there, though, during which time the last few loose ends of the operation were tidied up. Under cover of a darkness that I made just a bit deeper than nighttime in a quiet part of the city, we dragged all the prisoners into one building and made sure that their bonds really were secure. Kyi personally searched all of them, which took a while–between the two buildings and those the werewolves brought down outside, we had almost fifty of them.
They probably should have been able to attract notice, since even with their mouths taped shut, fifty people can make a fair amount of noise. But the warehouse was fairly well insulated, and given what kinds of activities the Light of Reason got up to, I was guessing that muffled sounds of fear emanating from these buildings was not a terribly unusual event. Not to mention that they were surrounded by the bodies of their former associates, which tends to lend a certain credibility to threats of death for making too much noise. Between the three, I was not expecting them to bring security down on us.
Antonio was already gone by that time, of course. Once all the prisoners were present and restrained, Elijah shook my hand, congratulated me on a job well done, and left as well, taking his wolves with him. They took the dogs, as well, saying that they knew an animal shelter that would know what to do with them. Something about having someone there who was really good with animals that had been involved in violence. I was just glad not to have to kill them.
I thought that Antonio didn’t entirely approve of the crowd of restrained prisoners on the floor. I couldn’t really blame him. Werewolves tend to be violent–it goes hand-in-hand with their predatory nature. But at the same time, the hunt is quick, and clean. A werewolf’s victims don’t, generally, linger long. I could see how Elijah could disapprove of this without really being a hypocrite.
I wasn’t entirely sure I approved myself. But the stakes were too high to be squeamish about this.
After they were gone, things got a little more relaxed. I had people watching the empty warehouses to make sure that nothing went wrong, but that didn’t take all that many people, and the rest had nothing in particular to do at the moment.
The jötnar passed the time in ways that were fairly similar to what humans might have done. Some of them had brought flasks, and some others had brought dice. They appropriated one of the tables, and sat around drinking, gambling, and conversing quietly.
The ghouls, on the other hand, were…well, ghouls. Aside from their ability to create a humanlike mask over their true features, they weren’t really much like humans. For one thing, they were always hungry. And there was plenty of meat lying around. The results were entirely predictable, and somewhat messy.
I noticed that that upset the Lighters, in some cases seemingly more than the actual deaths. I didn’t have that response, myself. I was enough of a werewolf that the idea of eating my kill wasn’t really a taboo. If anything, it meant that there was less flesh to dispose of later. It was convenient.
For my part, I just stood and waited. I spent a while considering plans for magical items that might be more useful to me in my current state, and almost got out a piece of paper to start writing out formulae and schematics. But ultimately, that just didn’t fit the image well enough. The jarl as a cold, distant figure that didn’t require diversion was better than the jarl as a distractible nerd. Particularly given that I would almost certainly make a lot of errors in the first draft, and there was an outside chance that someone would notice. That was something I wanted to avoid.
So I stood apart, and just…waited. It wasn’t as hard as I would have guessed. I didn’t get tired anymore. I still felt a need to fidget, to pace, but it was entirely mental, and relatively easy to suppress. I got bored, but I didn’t show it outwardly.
Finally, a little less than four hours after I’d made the phone call, the specialists arrived. It seemed awkward to try and smuggle all of them and their equipment in, so we’d gone for a more direct approach. As far as security was concerned, they were from a local tech support company, here to do some work for the Lighters.
I’d been concerned that I might have to buy a company, to sell the story. I’d already spent a lot of money on this, and while I had the funds, I didn’t for an instant think that I could spend them like that without it having consequences. That wasn’t how the world worked. Fortunately, one of the companies Antonio’s pack operated was in that business, and he was willing to let me borrow some of their accoutrements.
As expected, the security guard wasn’t about to accept their story at face value. She called for confirmation; one of the jötnar I didn’t know very well answered the phone, and did a remarkably good job of sounding bored. Hell, he probably was bored; waiting on specialists for hours was, as it turned out, not a bad thing when it came to pretending to be a bored receptionist at the end of your shift.
I tugged the borrowed–well, stolen, but it wasn’t like they were going to miss it–clothes on, and checked my face in the mirror one more time before leaving. It hadn’t quite occurred to me, until about an hour into the wait, that being able to shape my features out of ice and magic could probably make a much more effective disguise than I was used to having.
It hadn’t been easy. I’d lived in my old body for a long time, after all; even when I was building myself a new one, I automatically, instinctively made it resemble the one I was used to. But I had plenty of time to work. The result was…well, not that great, honestly. But serviceable.
The vans, with the company logo prominently displayed on the side, were stopped at the security gate. The guard and the driver of the lead van were both standing around, looking bored. Boredom, really, seemed to be the order of the day.
The guard looked at me as I walked up with, if not quite recognition, at least a certain degree of familiarity. “These the guys you’re looking for?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s them,” I said, then coughed. The cough came out sounding a bit wrong, almost tinny, but not so much so that it would be obviously unnatural. And if, by some incredibly unlikely sequence of coincidences, she happened to be familiar with the guy I was imitating and my voice sounded noticeably wrong for him, a sore throat could explain a lot.
I’d had way too much time to think about this plan.
“Huh,” she said. “What do you need them for?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t need them,” I said, letting a bit of my exasperation leak into my voice. “It’s all buttons and lights to me.”
She should probably have asked to see pressed for details, or at the very least asked to see my identification.
But it was almost midnight, and she’d been on the clock for nine hours. So while she knew that there was something suspicious about this, and that she was really supposed to follow some fairly strict security protocols, in that moment she was bored and she was tired and she didn’t want the hassle. So she hit the button, and the gate slid open, and the van drove through.
I was almost disgusted. The whole thing was so…easy. It shouldn’t be that easy.
I got into the vans, ostensibly because I didn’t feel like walking. In reality, it had more to do with the driver having no idea where he was supposed to go, and it being easier to give him directions without anyone knowing when I was in the van with him.
I didn’t help them carry the boxes and bags of equipment in. Menial did not fit the image I was trying to cultivate, here.
There were some gasps when they saw the inside of the warehouse. One woman even screamed, though I was quick enough to cover her mouth before she got out more than a quick yelp–easily explained as the result of having dropped a box on her toe.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, a little annoyed.
Greg cleared his throat. “Um,” he said. “There are, um. A lot of dead people here?” His voice was a little shaky.
“Oh,” I said, as understanding dawned. “Right. Sorry, forgot you guys are civilians. There should be clear space to work.”
“That doesn’t explain why there are a lot of dead people in here,” one of the other technicians said. He sounded a little hysterical, and I thought the only reason he hadn’t also been screaming was that I’d acted before he could process the scene. “And holy shit, what’s with the people on the floor?”
“Don’t worry about that,” I said. “They won’t get in your way.”
I saw that this wasn’t helping, and sighed. “Look,” I said. “You knew when you took this job that you might see some things of…dubious legality. And some things that you don’t like. We were very clear about that.”
“Well, yeah, but I was expecting corporate espionage or something,” the hysterical guy said. “Not a fucking massacre!”
“Nobody’s asking you to kill people, Jim,” Greg said with what was obviously forced calm. “And I’m guessing nobody’s going to find the bodies, either?”
“No,” I confirmed. “I’ll bring out some people to clean things up after you’re done here. They’re very good at their jobs.”
“See?” Greg said. “We’ll be fine. Just do your job and we can all go home as wealthy men.”
The woman who’d screamed earlier cleared her throat pointedly. After that initial yelp, she’d adjusted rapidly; she seemed less freaked out than the majority of them.
“And wealthy women, of course,” Greg said. “But the point still stands.”
“I don’t know,” Jim said, hesitating. “I’m…not sure I can do this.”
“If you don’t feel you can continue to work for me, you can leave now, no questions asked,” I said. “You’ll be compensated for your time, and I’ll arrange for transportation back to Colorado. I do, however, require that you keep the nondisclosure agreement that you signed as a part of your contracts. Otherwise, there will be consequences.”
I didn’t make a threat out of it. I figured that a couple dozen bodies would do that job better than I could anyway.
“I don’t know,” Jim said. He sounded uncertain.
“Just think of the paycheck,” Greg said enticingly. “We’re talking about a lot of money here, Jim. You could finally pay off that mortgage. And besides, you’ve read the files on these people. You saw some of the pictures. Are you really going to miss them?”
You know, Snowflake commented from her spot curled up on the floor, I’m not entirely sure I like how good he is at this. He’s playing that guy like a fiddle.
Yeah, I said. I’m not thrilled by that myself. Though he is at least using it in my favor.
Sure enough, Jim was visibly on the fence already. He knew he should leave. He knew it was the better idea, that getting involved in this would end badly. But the reward was so tempting, and then the prospect of annoying me was scary.
I was reminded of my earlier thoughts about what might convince someone to take on the role of champion. In a way, on a much smaller scale, this was the same. Money and protection as the carrot, the fear of me as the stick, and something that was unthinkable starts to seem like a pretty reasonable option.
Finally, after maybe ten seconds of agonized silence, he caved. “All right,” he said. “I’ll do it. Just…this had better work.”
A couple of other people had looked like they were also on the fence. But when Jim said that, they wilted. I looked at each of the techs in turn, and none of them said a word.
“All right then,” I said. “The computers are back there. There are two other warehouses to go through; I don’t know how you want to go about it, but I’ll trust that you know what you’re doing here. I’ll leave some of the troops in case things go wrong. They’ll do what you tell them so you can do your job, within reason. Kindly return the favor if a fight starts. Other than that, you know what to do, and you know how to contact me if you find something or if a problem comes up. Questions?”
“Don’t think so,” Greg said. Nobody spoke up to contradict him.
“Great,” I said. “Kyi, help me get these guys ready for transport. Want to get them back to Colorado so you guys can start getting information out of them.”
The housecarl started to stand, then paused. “How are we supposed to do that?”
“You’ve got Vigdis, Selene, Aubrey, and a whole bunch of ghouls,” I said, somewhat irritably. “Between them, one of those approaches ought to work. You’ve got enough people to practice on, you can figure it out.”
The people in question looked more than a little nervous when they heard that. Kyi’s lips twitched slightly. “Yes, jarl,” she said, nodding. “Where will you be?”
“I’m going home for a while,” I said. “It feels like it’s been forever since I was home.”