Saturday, November 10, 2007

Episode 17: Spiders and Webs

There was enough cocaine in the warehouse to supply the city of Las Vegas for two months, bundled into bales and stacked into thick white walls of blow.

Lex had hidden behind one of the larger walls in a little alcove formed by the rounded corners of the bales. The hundreds of kilos of powder was packed so tightly that it felt like stone against his skin.

There were no witches in the room. If there had been when he broke in, he would had to let Sora's voice fight for it and they'd been coming up with new tricks to use against him.

The men moving the stacks of cocaine with fork lifts were just heavies for the mob. The witches wouldn't come all the way out here at night unless something was wrong.

So they should be almost here.

Ready? he thought.

Sora's voice didn't bother to make a response, but on the edge of his consciousness he could feel the presence waken.

Outside there was the noise of an jet taking off from the Las Vegas Executive airport, and then in the background there was a car engine roaring closer. Lex wiped his sweaty hands on his shirt.

There was a squeal of tires in the front and all three of the men in the room suddenly ran for the back door, pulling guns from their holsters as they ran. There hadn't been a warning and, as far as they knew, it was the cops.

*Bang* went the door, and a woman in a black dress with a red shawl was standing there.

The men raised their weapons, but only for a split second before dropping them back down to their sides. They knew what the shawl meant, probably better than Lex did.

The witch stalked into the room, peering from side to side, but there was nothing to see now. Lex wasn't using the least bit of magic, and hadn't since Sora's voice tipped off their intrusion system. Two men, both easily six feet tall, black and covered in muscles followed her.

"Mistress Bybreak?" said one of the men. "Is there a problem?"

She waved him to silence. "Out!"

All three of the mob heavies started toward the door, and the witch and her men spread out among the cocaine boxes.

Time to go, thought Alex, and mentally stepped back, letting the voice take over his body.

The witch was the most dangerous of the three left in the room, but she was also the target. The voice didn't think they'd get a second chance at this, and he didn't want to risk messing up this opportunity.

"Well?" demanded the woman once the door had closed.

"I don't see anything," the first black muscle man said as he peered down one of the aisles.

"Me neither," said the other.

"He can't have left. I would have felt him pass back through the perimeter." She lifted her thin face and closed her eyes. Lex recognized her now, she'd been one of the witches that had gone down the hole after Soraperion when he'd died in pursuit of his box.

Alex gestured with one hand, tracing out a rune. At the same time, the part of him that was him reached out and grabbed a metal bar leaning against one of the stacks of cocaine with invisible hands.

The bar twitched, but didn't fly up like it was supposed to.

The completed rune blazed and took hold. The voice said something to release the spell and it blazed toward the man standing closest to the witch and slammed into him. He collapsed, cracking his head against the concrete floor.

Are you going to . . . started the voice, but Lex reached out with his mind again, suddenly terrified by the absolute uselessness of his telekinesis. As hard as he could he thought, SLEEP, at the other man. There was a pause and then that man dropped to the ground as well.

The witch's eyes snapped open. She raised her arm and a ball of crimson fire flew toward Lex. He was still in his hideyhole of cocaine bags, and the bloody fireball burnt through the plastic wrap. The sudden acid smell of burning cocaine seized him. Desperate to avoid the toxic cloud, he pushed forward, through the wall of coke and out into one of the open spaces.

The voice was still sketching runes into the air, but now Lex was gasping for air. He flicked them at her anyway, but they didn't do much without the words to support them. I could use some backup here, kid, the voice thought at him.

The first thing that popped into Lex's head was the bar that he'd been supposed to hit the man over the head with. He grabbed it with his telekinesis and threw it at her, and this time it worked. It was the danger, the adrenaline, that was powering him.

He expected her to try to catch it with her own abilities, like Sue had done in the alley way with the knife, but she didn't. She just stepped to one side, and the bar flew past her harmlessly. She gestured at him, almost negligently, and suddenly the world skewed and Lex's body went completely limp and fell to the floor.

Crap! said Sora's voice in his head.

The witch seemed to think that she'd neutralized him, but she'd been in the hole when Lex had been fighting the other witches in the mansion. She didn't even pay attention to Lex, she went over to the black man and felt his neck for a pulse.

No hands, no mouth, no magic, the voice said.

Except my other stuff, Lex thought back.

His body lifted up, buoyed by his abilities. His arms held out like a scarecrow, his head hanging to one side. His clothes rustled as he moved, and the witch suddenly turned back around, her eyes wide.

Lex's telekinesis propelled him forward, his feet hanging inches above the floor. Bybreak raised her own arm, and he bounced off something that appeared between them.

But the metal bar was behind her and, before she could do anything else, he picked it up and hit her over the shoulders with it. She screamed with pain, looked back, and the metal bar just fell apart into dust.

I hope she can't do that to me, Lex thought to himself.

She looked shocked that he'd obviously been affected by her spell but hadn't been reduced to helplessness.

"They told me," she said aloud. "They told me, but I didn't believe them. I just thought they were making excuses for their failure. After all, we defeated the Mage himself. How three of my sisters failed against one untrained mageling puppet was unbelievable, but I'm beginning to understand."

He said nothing, but then he couldn't say anything: the muscles of his voicebox were paralyzed with the rest of him.

"I am impressed, though," she said. "You're more resourceful that I imagined."

She was doing something, gathering herself for another spell, and this time it was going to be a big one.

He couldn't think of anything to do except throw up his telekinesis like a blanket in front of him. She gestured, and there was an invisible pressure against this blanket. For a moment his abilities seemed to stop it but then Lex felt an itching at the bottom of his feet.

I need the spell you were going to use, he thought at the voice. I need it now!

Without your hands or your voice . . . Sora's voice began.

Now! Lex yelled internally. I have to try it!

Four runes appeared in his head along with two spoken words, just as the itching turned into a burning sensation along the soles of his feet.

He lifted a hand, but with his muscles paralyzed, he couldn't seem to created the glowing runes. But they were magic and so was the telekinesis. There had to be a solution there.

The burning was moving up his legs now, and out of the corner of his eye he couldn't see anything happening, but the pain was intense, as though he was being burned at the stake. Bybreak was watching him carefully now, but not doing anything else. She was waiting for him to try something.

Lex's eyes darted around the room, at the walls of cocaine, looking for another metal bar. None were visible, but as the pain reached his chest an idea popped into his head.

One of the bales of cocaine exploded with a muted *bamf*, showering the room with a cloud of powdered cocaine.

Bybreak's eyes darted to it immediately, and then back to Lex. He hadn't moved a muscle to attack her, not that he could while hanging limp in the air.

Powder rained down, and then another exploded, and another, filling the air with a mist of finely powdered drugs.

Bybreak gestured, and a bubble of clear air formed around her. More cocaine bags exploded, but her eyes remained locked on Lex, and the longer they did so, the more painful the burning sensation became, sneaking up his back like a slow moving fire.

In the powdered cocaine surrounding Bybreak, runes were etching themselves. She was so focused on him, waiting for his attack, that she didn't even see it coming.

Internally, Sora's voice and Lex shouted the words in the silence between Lex's mind.

There was a flash of blue light, and Bybreak looked down to see that she was surrounded by runes nine feet long. She had a moment to blink, and then she stiffened and fell backward. Lex was dismayed to see that the inch of cocaine on the floor cushioned her fall. He would have rather she hurt herself.

The pain and the paralysis vanished, and so did his telekinetic ability. He dropped to the floor, and he overcompensated trying to keep himself up and toppled over. The cocaine wasn't nearly as thick around him, and didn't provide nearly the same protection for him.

Still, he rolled to his feet, kicking up little swirls of coke dust and limped over to her, careful not to disturb the patterns of cocaine on the floor.

One of Bybreak's arms had twisted behind her back as she fell, and he basically sat on the other one, using his right hand to lean on her lower throat. If he was as careless as she had been, he was screwed.

Wake her up, he ordered the voice, and a few seconds later she sputtered awake. She was confused at first, but with Lex holding her down, she got the picture real quick.

"I have some questions," Lex said.

She frowned, gritted her teeth, but nothing happened. Whatever Sora's voice had done to her, it had worked just fine, despite the unorthodox activation. She said nothing though.

Lex leaned forward, putting his weight on his hand and slowly cutting off Bybreak's air. She struggled, but she was weak from whatever the voice in Lex's head had done. She started to keen, and Lex realized that she was trying to scream.

"Talk," he ordered her. "And tell the truth." He relaxed the pressure, and she stopped whining. "Do I have to do it again?"

Bybreak shuddered. "No. What are your questions?"

"Do you work with the vampires?"


"Then . . . you don't?" He hadn't expected that answer.

"No. Not usually. Whatever alliances exist between the witches and the vampires are temporary and arranged from region to region."

"But the witches control the drug trade here in Las Vegas?"

"Yes. The Vampires control the prostitution, and the Werewolves control the paid violence." His surprise must have been evident on his face because she laughed shallowly. "You didn't know about them, did you?"

"The Wolves," he said. "Yeah, I knew about them."

"Liar," she said.

"Who controls the gambling?"

"This is Las Vegas, all of the factions have a hand in the gambling."

He shook off the answer to the question. "What was Soraperion looking for?"

Her face went hard suddenly. He pressed lightly, but she didn't say anything so he leaned in harder. She was almost blue when he let up, but she still didn't say anything.

"I will kill you."

She smiled again, and she didn't have to say what she was thinking again.

Last question. "Where's Lia?"

She frowned. "Who?"

"The girl! Where's the girl?!"

"What girl?"

"There was a girl," he said, and he started to press down again, although not enough to choke her completely. "But after . . ." he said, thinking about the night on the Strip with Martin the vampire, but stopped. "She disappeared. I've scoured every bloody inch of the city, and I can't find her. You're the only ones that could be protecting her."

Bybreak's eyes narrowed. "Lia, you said?" she whispered through pale lips.

Lex grabbed her by the collar of her dress and pounded on her upper chest. "Damn you!"

"The raven. Your girl is the raven," Bybreak said in a grotesquely happy tone. "No wonder you can't find your little friend."

She laughed shallowly again. "I would give her up now. The wolves have her, and they don't let go of prey easily."

There was a noise by the door, and Lex looked up to find another woman standing in the door. It was Bliss, the witch with the yellow shawl. The one that he suspected had actually killed Soraperion.

Sora's voice slipped nearly instantaneously into control of Lex's body, but even then it was nearly too late. A protection spell caught most of the fire that Bliss threw at him, but not enough to keep the cocaine from breaking out into poison smoke again.

Lex roared something and spun a whirlwind between his hands, sending a tornado of smoke and stinging powder at the older witch.

She ignored it: the air parted around her harmlessly. She geared up for another spell, but Sora's voice and Lex's hands were too quick. He flung himself up and out and her spell sizzled through the space that he'd occupied.

He landed on top of a twenty foot high tower of stacked blow, kicked the bales forward, and then exploded them all as he jumped backward toward the metal wall of the warehouse. Huge clouds of white filled the air, and Bybreak's scream was cut off by the falling metric ton of cocaine.

I wasn't lying when I said I'd kill you, he thought to himself, fiercely proud of having proved her wrong.

Another spell blew open the back wall as he filled the air inside of the warehouse with bolts of ricocheting lightning, and then made for the chain link fence.

He found the gap in the fence that he'd used earlier in the evening, and tried to launch himself through. His pants caught on the edges, and caught off balance, he slammed to the ground.

He twisted onto his back, struggled with the loop of cloth that was tangled in the fence, and looked up.

Meredith Bliss was standing on the roof of the warehouse, her eyes showing up above her yellow scarf were looking down on him.

He froze, waiting for her attack, but she didn't. She raised no hand, no unnatural wind stirred.

His numb hands struggled with his jeans, separated the wire from the fabric, and then slowly pushed his way through the fence.

They looked at each other for a moment as the last of the noise from inside the warehouse died away. Then Bliss turned away, disappearing behind the edge of the roof.

Lex scrambled to his feet and ran, trying and failing to comprehend what had just happened.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Episode 16: The Hunt

Michael stood in the desert in front of her with four of his men. Three of them carried weapons, rifles with long scopes, but one of them had stripped down to nothing but black shorts.

It late evening, and it was cold, but Michael had told her that she would be warm enough once she'd changed. Annabelle had still refused to come out of the car.

Lia was wearing black shorts and a black top as well, but she was wrapped in a blanket to protect her from the chilly wind. It was late February, but Michael didn't even seem to notice the cold. He stood in his usual black leather jacket hanging open.

"Do you understand?" he asked her again, and she nodded again for the fifth time.

The man in black shorts was Simon. Mr. Mohan had been waiting for him for nearly a month, but there had been a problem with his paperwork as he crossed the border. He had a funny accent, and he had an odd sense of humor that seemed to drive Mr. Mohan crazy.

"Almost ready, lass?" he asked her, and she looked at him. He wanted to change, Lia could tell because of the way he smelled and the way his bare feet scratched at the soil.

He was important, but not as important as Mr. Mohan. Annabelle had said that he was rare and special, and that was why Mr. Mohan had flown him all the way from Ireland to participate in Lia's Hunt.

She'd been allowed to watch one of Mr. Mohan's hunt. Afterward, in the car on the way home covered with blood Mr. Mohan had explained that sometimes they had animals brought in for the Hunt, but that if he preferred to find an animal that on his own. He said it was harder that way, especially to find something that would feed a tiger.

There was a tingle in her neck and she turned to look over the car toward the last clouds. There was silvery light there, and suddenly she could see the sliver of the moon.

Automatically she resisted the change, fighting against it, crying out as the pain hit her. Last night she'd managed to stop herself from changing all night, but tonight was different.

Simon reached out. "Let 'it come, dearie," he said, in that strange accent of his.

She took a deep breath and then stepped out of the blanket, forcing herself to relax into the change as she did so.

One moment she'd been Lia, but now she was two things. She was Lia the girl still, but that was all clinging on to Lia the raven.

Lia the raven spread her wings and flew off into the night. Behind her she could smell fur and knew that Michael had changed, and something else that she couldn't place.

There were some bushed not that far away, and she easily found her footing among them. Lia the girl had read about ravens. They weren't supposed to be good night fliers, but Lia the crow didn't seem to have any trouble.

Something moved, and she looked. There was an owl next to her on the branch with huge brown feathers and massive yellow eyes. It turned to look at her, and blinked.

"Okay there, lass?" said the Simon part of the Owl. It didn't make a sound, but the part of her that was Lia the girl could still hear him clearly. She tried to respond, but when she did Lia the bird struggled against her.

"Wait, wait," the other bird seemed to indicate and it looked around and then took flight. Raven Lia followed after it, trying to stay quiet in the darkness but not doing nearly as good of a job as Owl Simon did.

Lia the raven didn't seem to have a sense of time, and quickly Lia the girl lost track of how long they'd been flying. Owl Simon flew in odd patterns that Lia the raven didn't like. They weren't natural and Raven Lia was hungry but Lia the girl poked at the mind of Lia the owl until they followed along after him.


There was more information packed into that word than just the human connotation. It described something that couldn't be put into human language.

The Raven lanced down out of the darkness toward an unremarkable patch of gray. Her talons went *tha-thicke* into the fur, and her head came down on the struggling mouse's neck. "Cgrrrr . . ." she croaked. The mouse was still alive, still moving, and she shifted her weight, flapped, and struggled. Under her, something small went *pop*.

The mouse stopped struggling.

A beat of her wings and she hopped to one side. The Owl was looking at her from a nearby bush, and she watched him warily. It was her kill, her kill.

She poked at it, tearing it open, and began to eat from the warm little fuzzy body.

Something shivered down Raven Lia's back, under the glossy black feathers. As bits and pieces of the animal were gorged down, something odd was spreading out into her feathery limbs.

"Lia," the Owl said, but the Raven didn't respond. She was still eating, and eating well.

A few more moments passed, and he tried again, "Lia? Lia?"

She croaked menacingly, but didn't look up at him.


She tilted her head up and sideways, staring at him with her left eye. "Simon?" she finally asked back.

"Yes, it's Simon."

"I'm eating a dead mouse."


"Huh. Why am I doing that?" she asked.

"Because of the Hunt. Do you remember?"

"I am Lia. Lia is a human, and a bird. The Hunt. . . ."

"It is a ceremony to bring your two halves together. You are of one mind now. You can send your thoughts out, just as I can. You can control your changes now, and resist changing with the full moon."

"I am Lia."

"You are. Can I approach?"

"It is my kill."

"I will respect it."

"Then approach."

Simon the Owl lifted off his bush silently and drifted down to the ground like a feathery brown snowflake. He tilted his head, and hooted softly, and then hopped closer.

Lia looked up at him. He was looking at her, and his mind was . . . creeping toward her, like a spider, and she could feel it coming. Lia the human would have waited to see what he was doing, but the Lia/Raven flicked her mind out at him before he could reach out for her.

The Owl stiffened and fell over, struggling against her. "No no no no no no no . . ." the human consciousness howled. "NO!"

The Raven kept one eye on him, watching seriously as the Owl flapped and twitched along the dry ground. She pecked again at the dead mouse.

Wereism had originally been a curse hundreds of years ago, Annabelle had taught her during her classes. Witches wanted servants, and binding a human body with an animal gave them control over stronger and more powerful servants than normal humans.

Then came the wereborn, those born into their powers. They were free of the magical compulsions of the witches, and they had authority and power over others of their kind. They took control of the wereturned, and broke away from the witches.


The Owl gave a final spasm and then finally came to a rest in a heap, his perfectly groomed feathers ruffled and dirty from the ground.

Lia hopped over to him.

"Mistress," he said. "Mercy." For the first time she realized that the voice she heard in her head didn't have the accent. Her human mind was just turning it into words because she was used to speaking.

That will change, she thought to herself and then sent back "There is still some of the mouse left."

Slowly, as if exhausted, the Owl rolled to his talons, and painfully hopped over to her kill. He stared at her with one eye for a moment, confirming that it was alright with her, and then pecked at the meat.

"The other humans will ask about this when we return," the Simon Owl said.

"What is the answer?"

"You are strong. I could not dominate you."

"I dominated you."

"That is a dangerous thing to say."


"Because of the games that werehumans play. They fight for power, if not in their animal skins, than in their human skins. They will see you as a threat to their power. You should not have been able to dominate a wereborn on your first Hunt."

"Then I will dominate them."

"All of them? Even Michael? Mohan?"

Lia fluttered her feathers. She thought of her sense of Michael, Miss Chi-Wong, and Mr. Mohan. They were powerful, especially Mr. Mohan, and dominating even Simon alone had been difficult. She could hope to dominate them with their extensive experience. Not yet.

"Then we will not tell them that you are . . ." she sent a concept that her human mind did not know the word for.



"I will have to go back to my home." Rolling green fields and strange lights and smells accompanied the last word.


"But, if you need me . . . you have only to call on me. You are my mistress. When you call I will come."


"We should go. They will be looking for us soon."

Lia paused. She'd come together now, and her raven senses were now connected to her human mind. In the distance, very far away, she could feel things looking for her, hunting for her. On most she could smell the stick of disgust and hatred toward her.

But her feathers would protect her. Nothing that was searching for her could see through the sheen and the reflection of her feathers. She wouldn't have to worry about that . . . yet.

Lia hopped closer, pecked at the mouse a final time, and then flapped off into the night toward a waiting Michael and his men, followed by a dusty owl.