Saturday, December 6, 2008

Episode 24: Real Lessons

Lia headed for The Strip flying low over the building toward the Stratosphere Hotel’s tower. She’d been there only once or twice since she’d run off in the night looking for Lex.

She knew that he’d probably had to move on. He’d been running. Both of them had been running. And to a certain extent she wanted to go back to running again, leave Mohan’s pack and go back to the “good old days” when it was just her and Lex.

In the books that she’d read with Annabelle, when someone did what Lex did, you swore vengeance against them. It was one of the reasons that she thought Lex was so sad.

But he’d never hurt her. In fact, he’d done everything that he could to make sure that she was okay and if she found him she’d do everything in her power to make sure that she was okay. He’d been working so hard to support them before she’d run away.

If she had too she could challenge Mohan and force him to let her bring Lex back to the pack compound. She could buy him some real clothes instead of the ratty jeans and jacket he always wore and he wouldn’t have to worry about food or money ever again.

And if anyone so much as hinted at trying to bite him she would rip out their throats with her bare human hands. It wasn’t like he wasn’t unusual for a human. Lia was sure that Lex could have contributed significantly to the pack if they would let him.

She just wanted to see him happy and not worried anymore. There had to be something that she could do to make that happen, something that she could say that would make him understand that she didn’t hate him for what he’d done but that she loved him for caring about what it meant to her.

She flew into the MGM amusement park and settled behind a trellis and next to one of the outer walls and resumed human form. No fuss, no feathers. No nudity. She was often thankful that was one of her gifts.

She didn’t have any money. Annabelle or Miss Chi-Wong always paid for everything and since she wasn’t supposed to be out by herself anyway they wouldn’t bother giving her an allowance. She probably could have tried to picked pockets or something but she really didn’t want to get caught. She’d have to call Miss Chi-Wong to come get her out of trouble and even the thought of that made her wince.

So she wandered to the exit and found a daily ride pass armband from a family that was about to leave which was good enough. She just wanted to ride the rides and remember the day that Lex had brought her here.

She went on a few roller coasters and even though she could fly now it was still surprisingly fun. Lex had always smiled on the steepest hills and now she threw up her hands and screamed with the rest of the passengers when they took a quick turn.

It was another evening so she didn’t have to wait long between rides. Even though the sun set it didn’t deter her from the roller coasters. She could see almost as well in the dark as most people could in the day.

It started to cool down but she didn’t want to leave yet. She was just hungry. She could shift into her raven form and then come back but decided to see if she could figure out some way to get food from one of the food courts.

She took a seat at one of the tables with a bored expression on her face and looked around. There a few groups of boys a few tables over and they weren’t bad looking. She pointedly made a point of not looking or talking to them.

Despite eying her for a few minutes, it wasn’t any of the groups of boys that approached her but a guy.

He was tall pale and blond and gorgeous. He was wearing a tight black shirt and jeans and looked like he was about twenty four. He was also incredibly familiar looking.

“Can I join you?”

Over the smell of grease and broiling cheese came another set of smells. The strongest one was . . . aftershave? An expensive one she would have guessed, because the guy smelled something like Mr. Mohan. It was covering something else.

The smell of carrion and rot.

The blond guy was a vampire.

She stiffened for a moment. “Aren’t you a little old to be hitting on teenagers?” she said.

He politely laughed and then sat down anyway. “Oh, I doubt you have any idea. I’m just a little curious what a werewolf is doing alone in the middle of this tent after dark.”

Well, crap. “I’m not—,” she started, but he interrupted.

“Let’s not pretend. You can probably smell me just as easily as I tell what you are. What exactly are you doing here? This area is most definitely off limits to Mohan’s activities. Whatever business you’re conducting here, you didn’t check with your pack leader or he would have told you that.” His incredibly pretty blue eyes were trying to bore into her and he was doing something to try to make her speak.

“I’m not here on business,” she said, genuinely surprised now, and looked directly into his eyes. “It’s . . . my day off. I came here to relax,” she lied.

There was a sea of old power behind those blue eyes but Mr. Mohan could pull the same trick. Lia had long ago learned to resist him and suspected that the vampire didn’t realize that could push him off so easily.

At her answer it was vampire’s turn to look surprised. “Relax?” he asked and she watched his face for some sign that he didn’t believe her.

“It’s an amusement park,” she said. “I’ve been riding the roller coasters.”

He blinked, as though he hadn’t realized that and glanced around. “Uh, well, what are you doing just sitting here then? It looked like you were waiting for someone.”

She sighed. “Actually, I don’t have any money and I was going to try to get one of those guys over there to buy me dinner.” She looked at the vampire and realized that he seemed familiar. “Which they won’t do now that they’ve seen me talking with you,” she added.

The vampire looked at the group of guys that was now studiously avoiding her.

“Oh. Look, I’m sorry for that. If you want, I can buy you something to eat.”

She hesitated wondering if he was lying to her the same way that she’d lied to him. “I’m not going to let you bite me,” she said and wondered if vampires could fly.

“Uhg. Bite you? No thanks. No offense, but you all taste like wet fur to me.”

He thought she was a wolf then. He could tell that she was a werecreature, but he couldn’t tell what kind. She wondered if feathers tasted better to him than wet fur.

A guy was approaching their table. He was wearing a security guard uniform. “Everything all right?” he asked Lia.

“Sure,” she said. “He’s my uncle.”

“I just saw her as I was passing through and thought I’d say hi,” the vampire added easily.

The security guard looked at her and then at the vampire. She was small and had dark skin and hair. He was tall, pale and blond. The security guard and the vampire’s eyes met for a moment and the security guard smiled. “Of course. Sorry to bother you.”

From the outside it was a little more impressive than it had been when he’d been focusing the same powers on her. She could do that to other lycanthropes but didn’t know if she could do it to a human. The vampire had stopped trying to coerce her after she’d told him she’d been riding the roller coasters and she supposed it would be rude now that he was trying to be nice.

He stuck out his hand. “I’m Edward.”

She reached out. “I’m Lia.”

As they shook his eyes widened. “I didn’t recognize you,” he said, “without the made up hair and the dress.”

“You were at the meeting,” Lia realized. “With Lo. You had a computer.”

Edward nodded.

“You look a lot different without a suit on,” Lia said. He looked like a clothing store model actually. Not her type at all but still very handsome.

“Thanks,” he laughed.

“No, er, that was supposed to be a compliment,” she said, and then looked back at the stalls that lined the food court. “Er, about dinner . . . ?” she prompted him.

“Yeah, sure, what do you want?”

She ordered a burger with everything on it, a giant soda and reveled in the first real fast food that she’d had in ages. Mohan’s chefs were more likely to serve her veal than a simple burger. The food was good but sometimes she missed the junk food.

She offered some of the curly fries to Edward, but he thanked her politely and sat without eating.

“You guys don’t eat a lot, do you?”

Edward shook his head. “We don’t need to eat. Well, burgers and that sort of stuff.”

“But you drink blood.”

“I’m sort surprised that you’re not grossed out by that.”

She rolled her eyes. “You should see some of the things that I’ve eaten when I’m . . . not human. It’s hard to be grossed out after your first few mice.”

He nodded understandingly. “I can understand that. You just don’t look like the kind of girl that doesn’t get grossed out by drinking blood or eating small animals.”

She looked down at her flowery jeans and shrugged. “I guess so.”

Lia ate for a while in silence until Edward asked, “You don’t get out much, do you?”

She examined him again, and then shook her head.

“The reason that you didn’t know that this was technically our territory was because you didn’t tell anyone where you were going?”

Lia nodded, and sighed as she swallowed. “I think the correct term is “run away,” she said, miming one of Annabelle’s most common phrases.

“I’d heard one or two things about that, now that I think back,” Edward told her. “Why do you run away?”

Lia looked at him and shrugged.

“Do they not feed you or something? From the way that you’re eating it looks like they haven’t given you food in years.”

“No . . . they treat me fine. I mean, I have private chefs and they have tutors and stuff. I just don’t necessarily feel comfortable there.”

“What about Mohan?”

She looked at Edward, confused.

“How do you feel about him?”

“He’s just . . . Mohan. He’s okay I guess.”

“You aren’t part of his pack, are you?”

She shrugged, not sure what he meant by that. She was part of the pack. She lived with them, after all, but she suspected that Edward meant something else.

“See, that’s an answer by itself. You don’t feel much loyalty to him. If you’d been a member of Mohan’s pack you would. You wouldn’t run away. You resisted me earlier, when you lied about coming here to relax.”

Lia thought about shifting and flying away but Edward had been friendly to her so far but she couldn’t stop herself from reflexively tensing a bit.

Edward caught her wrist but made it look like he was just laying his hand on hers. Even with time slowed for her she hadn’t seen him move. His skin was cold and she tried to lift her hand but without even appearing to tense a muscle Edward kept her wrist glued to the table.

“I don’t know why he’s allowing it, but Mohan isn’t the kind of guy to be tested forever. You may have been his pet for two years but sooner or later he’s going to get annoyed and he’s going to add you to his pack by force. You’re strong, you resisted me, but Mohan is an Alpha wereborn. He was born to lead a pack and if you throw your will up against his, you won’t be able to resist him. It doesn’t seem like you want him to do that.”

She slowly shook her head. He looked around and when she looked back she winced.

“Do you know why he’s keeping you?”

She shook her head.

“The witches, they don’t like wereravens. I thought you were just a wolf until you introduced yourself but if I was a witch I would have attacked you outright. The raven is sacred to them and they say that wereravens are a defilement.”

He gave her a look. “That’s what they say, but the real reason is that you terrify them. You have a lot to fear from Mohan, but at least he’ll keep you safe. If the witches find you they’ll kill you without hesitation and if you’ve been going around Las Vegas like this then you’ve been extremely lucky so far.”

He let go of her hand and she immediately stood. He hadn’t hurt her and he’d just told her stuff that she hadn’t known.

Carefully, she picked up the last few bites of the burger and bit into it. The entire time she kept her eyes glued to Edwards.

“For a teenager,” he said after a moment, “you do have a few surprises.”

She finished the burger.

“What do you suggest then?” she asked after a sip of her soda.

“Don’t piss off Mohan. If you keep on ticking him off, he’ll eventually crush you like a bug.”

“I don’t like being kept locked up.”

“Nobody does,” Edward said vaguely and Lia could see that there was something in his eyes when he said that. “But sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do to get what you want.”

“What do you think I want?”

Edward focused back on her. “I’m sure I have no idea, just as you have no idea what I want. But if you want to avoid waking up one day and wanting to do everything in your power to serve Mohan, I would learn from him. He’s a powerful guy and no matter how much you dislike him you could learn a lot from him.”

Lia sat in silence for a moment considering his words.

“Thanks for dinner,” she finally said.

“No problem,” Edward said.

He walked her to the gate. She walked a few more blocks alone before she shifted and made her way back to the compound.

Slipping back into the compound was surprisingly difficult. She’d never done it before on her own.

The clock read midnight before Annabelle entered the room and found her reading her math textbook.

“I thought I’d get a jump on tomorrow’s lessons,” Lia said.

Annabelle said nothing but before she turned and stalked out of the room her face had turned the color of a fresh salmon sushi.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Episode 23: Capture and Control

Bliss showed up with four sisters in two SUVs. At six fourteen they were alone in front of the adobe building. At six fifteen there was a sixth person.

Bliss was the first one to approach the body on the blanket. It was Lex. He was naked and unconscious.

There was the raised bump of a spider bite on the side of his neck. In a few days that would be gone like it had never been, even though it had been red and raised for a long time.

Bliss rolled him over. Along the skin over his spine was a red tattoo. To Bliss it meant nothing, but she knew what to do with it.

They rolled him up in the blanket and lay him in the back of the SUV on a foam mattress that they’d just bought at Target.

Justina Bybreak sat by the boy’s side in the SUV. She’d been Maiden in her coven near San Francisco, but had given up that position after her mother died and moved home to Las Vegas. Her father had been outraged, first to find out that Bybreak’s will excluded him and that his daughter was dropping out of medical school to join his mother’s business.

Bliss smiled at the girl as the car started to move. She was in her early twenties and everything that a good witch usually wasn’t: tall, blond and stunningly beautiful.

Bliss had told her how her mother had died. And then forbid her from hurting the boy.

Justina was already stroking the side of his face with a sharp fingernail.


As soon as Lia penciled in the last answer to her homework she stood up and changed into some comfortable clothes.

At first it had been very nice to wear beautiful dresses all the time. They were such beautiful clothes that wearing them made her feel like a movie star and they’d only gotten nicer in the last few years. Annabelle’s selections had been nice for a girl that looked eight but it turned out that Miss Chi-Wong had a surprisingly sophisticated sense of fashion and one of the few ways that she was willing to spend time with Lia was to buy her clothes.

But the dresses were limiting. They were made to stand out and she realized after a while that they were not much more than prison uniforms.

Even the “regular” clothes that Miss Chi-Wong bought her though were very nice. The jeans that she was wearing were from a private label and up each side were embroidered flowers. Her white fuzzy blouse was one of the softest fabrics that she’d ever felt and over that she’d pulled a sweatshirt with a brilliant flower on it.

There were werewolf guards at the doors to her rooms, not to mention throughout the building. Ever since she’d been escaping Mohan had been putting a guard on the roof too although that was the easiest guard to evade.

She went to the door and put her hand up on it and concentrated.

Most of the wolves were just normal humans when they hadn’t shifted. A few had improved senses, or could shift part way between wolf and human, but most of them were just ordinary people.

Mohan wasn’t. Michael wasn’t. Lia suspected that Chi-Wong wasn’t. Neither was Lia.

She thought of bubbles and fuzz and fog and anything else that came into her head and pushed them through the door and into the guards on the other side. They wouldn’t see the images, or understand exactly what was happening, but it worked.

After thirty seconds of concentration she opened the door and slipped through the oblivious guards. She still had to move slowly and quietly while the guards daydreamed.

The elevator had a camera and so did the stairs. Mohan was serious about his security.

She had a couple of routes out of the building but the easiest by far was the kitchen window.

There was a much larger and more impressive kitchen down on the main floor of the building that could cater to large groups and meetings that Mr. Mohan sometimes held in the conference rooms on the first floor but the little kitchen up on this floor was what normally fed Lia and provided snacks and lunches for the guards.

Usually the evening guy was a jerk and Lia would have had to fuzz him out as well but today was a Sunday and the weekend guy was a thin Hispanic werewolf named Jaime. He was wearing a white apron and looked up in surprise as she came in.

She nodded to him. “Hola Jaime. ¿Como esta ustedes?” she said. Spanish wasn’t one of her lessons, but even among the servants of the werewolves Spanish seemed to dominate. She’d learned a few words out of self defense.

“Bien, Senorita,” he replied and then said something quickly and sighed.

“Yeah, afraid I need to use the window again,” she said.

She moved toward it, and he moved between her.

“No, Senorita. Senor Mohan no quiere que te vayas.” He doesn’t want you to go, he was telling her.

“Yo quiero.” I want to go.

Jaime looked at her, as though he couldn’t believe that she had desires other than what Mohan wanted. Yeah, Mr. Mohan was scary, but he wasn’t that scary.

“I’m sorry, Jaime,” she murmured and then remembered how to say it in Spanish. “Lo siento, Jaime.”

He bared his teeth for a moment, but she didn’t flinch. She tensed her muscles and things slowed down a bit, and she reached out her hand and touched his face, along his jawline. There was a spark and he was hers.

He was trying to change, and she told him not to. There was a growl in his throat but it was just a human growl.

She relaxed and time went back to the way that it was supposed to be. Jaime flinched at her hand on his face. He looked confused for a moment, then surprised and then scared.

“Lo siento, Jaime,” she said. Go over and stand by the wall for a moment, she said in her animal voice. It was easy to command something like that, it wasn’t even words or language she just had to picture it. Jaime moved back, suddenly aghast and she continued. If they ask you, I never came into the kitchen. She frowned. That was a more complicated image and she couldn’t say that in Spanish.

Well, if she had to hope that he’d understood. She shifted into the raven and fluttered the counter before she realized that she’d forgotten to open the window.

Well, there was Jaime now. She sent and image and he came over, unlatched the window and she flew out into the daylight.

Continued next week . . .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Episode 22: Deals and Politics

Bliss left the dessicated collection of animals and insects in front of the door of the small adobe house. They weren't required, and they weren't part of her current bargain, but they couldn't hurt either. There didn't appear to be anyone home but that was deceiving; it never looked like anyone was home.

"Grandmother?" she called out. It would have been rude to try the door and Bliss didn't particually want to touch the house if she didn't have to, so she just stood there in the cool evening.

There was no response and no movement in the little home except for the swaying of the grasses that grew right up to the walls. Sometimes Spider Woman was in the mood to talk to Bliss and some days she was not.

The old spirits, the ones that were written about in legend, were always a fickle bunch. Some were touchy about the fact that they'd mostly been supplanted in the modern world but some had learned to get along.

Some were dead. In fact, most were dead.

Ideas had power, swirling around in people's brains, and when enough people all had the same ideas, they could give birth to things that were not human but alive and powerful. If the people stopped believing though, the spirits would die. Humans were the special case: they would keep living if whether you believed in them or not.

Spider Woman was amazingly resilient. She'd not only lived long enough to set her foot in with the new agers, she'd managed to keep some of her powers. In this area of the world there weren't many spirits that could say that truthfully.

So Bliss used her when she could. There were some things the spirits could do that the "mortals" could not, and vice versa. What Bliss could arrange through a few telephone calls or an internet search was often enough for surprisingly complicated bits of knowledge or powerful magics. The price for this particular assistance had been unusually difficult.

After five minutes, Bliss pulled an envelope out of her purse, went over, and stuck it in the door frame. It wouldn't get lost, she was sure of that. Spider Woman would get the envelope even if she had to chase it across a hundred miles of Nevada desert. Bliss smiled at the image.

But this resolved her debt, finally.

She turned to walk back to the car where Iron Dog was waiting but before she took more than four steps she heard the door open and turned.

Spider Woman stood there, holding the envelope. Considering the trouble that Bliss had gone through to get what was inside Spider Woman looked unmoved.

"This is it?" The spirit woman asked.

Bliss nodded.

Spider Woman slowly and carefully opened the top of the unsealed envelope and pulled out the paper inside. There was just one and she unfolded it carefully.

"You've fulfilled your end of the bargain, Bliss," she said at last, putting the paper away and holding the envelope gingerly. "And my lawyer?"

"I sent him a copy as well," Bliss said. "And the developers won't bother you again. My sisters and I have made absolutely sure of that."

"When do you want delivery? Now?"

Bliss shook her head. "We can arrange for tomorrow. No mistakes this time."


"Lia's run away again," said Annabelle to Miss. Chi-Wong.

Chi-Wong sighed. "Have you notified Michael?"

Annabelle nodded. "Mohan's not going to be happy."

"No, of course not. But he won't be surprised. What happened this time?"

"She'd been good all morning, I swear I'd been watching her like a hawk nearly since she'd woken up, but she seemed to be enjoying her lessons and she doesn't usually try to run when it's the middle of the day, you know that, so I went to the bathroom and left one of Michael's pack to watch her--."

"Is the guard hurt?"

"Just unconscious."

"Moon be damned . . ."

"She didn't hit him. I don't know how she managed it this time."

"She's getting to be completely uncontrollable. True, the fact that were have her is an important continuing bargaining chip with the Ladies but we can't keep. . . ." Chi-Wong paused. "I will tell Mohan. You know some of the places that she goes, join the hunt. If we can find her before the markets close, he may be willing to overlook your negligence."

Annabelle nodded and excused herself. Chi-Wong arched her fingers and rubbed the bridge of her nose.

All the different shapeshifters were linked through their shared human side. Werewolf, Weretiger, Werellama, they all eventually fit into the hierarchy. You dominated them once, they stayed dominated. If you were at the top of a pack, those under you were nearly completely loyal.

Mohan seemed oddly reluctant to break the girl though, and Chi-Wong had absolutely no idea why. That was what you did with new wolves. You put them in their place and they became quietessent.

Wereravens were rare, and the gift used to create them was rarer. In Chi-Wong's opinion whatever insane shapeshifter had thought it was a good idea to infect a child with lycanthropy, especially wereravenism, should be slowly boiled to death over the course of years by the witches. The problem was that the only person that she knew that could offer the "pure gift" of species undifferentiated lycanthropy was William Mohan.

She'd seen him use it to create Weresnakes out of rattlers. It wasn't a particuarly pleasant experience, and Chi-Wong had only been an observer. For the participants it was extremely painful and sickening, even for the giver.

Considering that the girl had shown up at Mohan's doorstep, it was hard to believe that he hadn't had something to do with her creation, but he still maintained that he hadn't. He pointed out that of all things, why would he have created a wereraven? Even two months before they'd found her their relationship with the Ladies hadn't required the sudden addition of a threat. They'd even considered killing her in her sleep since then to try to win the support of Bliss back.

If the old witch hadn't been such a caniving bitch, they might have gone through with it even.

So now they were left with what amounted to an toxic waste covered wild animal caged in the house. Lia didn't want to be kept, couldn't be easily dominated, and was constantly trying to run away. The Wolves as a group couldn't just let her go because that would permanently fracture their relationship with the Ladies. And, despite their reputation for random violence and as much as Chi-Wong hated to admit it, none of the Wolves really wanted to murder another shapeshifter, especially a child.

So why didn't Mohan want to just dominate her and be done with it? At least then he could tell her to stay put and she wouldn't have a choice in the matter. It was if he thought that her usefullness in negotiations would go out the window if she was broken but how would the ladies even know that if he didn't tell him? Chi-Wong had no idea.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Episode 21: Beyond & Behind

The bird was covered in sizzling energy, and hitting it burned Bliss' bare hands, but she did out of desperation.

Despite her flailing and the bird's apparent ability to be all around her at the same time, it took her several more seconds of pecks before her hand finally connected with a wing, and the bird fell backward.

It didn't even land on the ground though, flapping off and stirring up the dust, and circled around slowly and lazily, until Bliss realized it was going to swoop around to attack her again. It was big, the largest Raven that Bliss had seen before, and she knew it.

She reached down, to where the mirror that she'd been holding was, and flung it up in front of her.

The bird was already coming back, it's claws and beak stretched out in front of the vanishingly black wings, and it nearly collided with the mirror.

There was a brilliant flash, illuminating the dusty landscape and the huge bird swooping down on Bliss.

The silent explosion knocked Bliss off her feet, and when she opened her eyes and looked around, the bird was gone.

She'd lost her trademark smile when the bird, or the girl, or whatever it was, had attacked her, but she resumed it now. It wasn't necessary to let the others know that she'd been flustered. Besides, everything had gone well enough.

Careful not to look directly at the open door, Bliss crawled on hands and knees over to the small structure, felt for the doorknob, and closed the door. She'd come back later to finish her part of the deal.

She stood, swept the dust off of her with a flick, and set about trying to wake up the other witches.


There was no single moment that Lex awoke. When he finally realized that he was in fact awake, he seemed to know instinctively that he'd already been conscious for several minutes.

He tilted his head, and saw a fire going in a hearth. Despite that, the air on his face was sort of cold. He tried to move closer to the fire, and someone moved to help him.

He might have fallen asleep again, or he might not have, but he felt safe and warm, and he relaxed.

Eventually the other person moved away, and he drifted for a bit longer.

When he finally sat up, the fire was still burning but the air was still cool. He was in a little room that didn't look so much like a room in a house but more of a spherical tent or a cave. Everything, including the little ledge near the fire on which he was balanced, curved in multiple directions.

The walls were fuzzy, and two of them were covered with big blankets, like the Navajo blankets that he remembered from the state fair back in Texas. Across from him, there was a wall covered with shelves of little clay and glass pots and vials and other bits of things. There was half a buffalo skull up on the top shelf, and an entire section of it seemed to hold little twigs and sticks. At the bottom, under the shelves, were old books and piles of yellowing newspaper.

There was movement in the other room, and then a Native American woman entered. She was dressed in a brown dress with a black apron over it and had long dark hair gathered back in a braid.

Lex shivered involuntarily and pressed himself away from her. He felt that something was wrong although he couldn't say exactly what.

She smiled at him, and held out a black glazed mug. "Have some tea. Really, you shouldn't be bursting into people's houses, you know."

"You're not a witch?"

The woman laughed. "No, of course not. Call me Grandmother."

His eyes narrowed and asked for a second opinion.

A moment passed and the woman drew a three legged stool over and put the mug on it, within easy reach of Lex.

Sora? He said again to the inside of his head, and then again.

He must have looked surprised because the woman laughed slowly. "You're looking for the enchantment, aren't you. It was a complicated little thing. I can understand why she made the deal that she did now. The thing that I don't understand is why you let it in your head." She shook her head. "Bad medicine, that. More likely to kill than to cure, whatever it was that you wanted out of it."

"What did you do?"

"I took the knot out of your head."

"I thought you said that you aren't a witch."

"Witch? No. Just a Grandmother and a weaver by trade."

"I want it back," Lex said stiffly.

She shook her head. "Had to cut too many of the threads. Can't be fixed now." Her eyes went up to the shelf and Lex's gaze followed. Among the bottles and other objects he spotted a little figure of sticks and bits of black and white string.

Some of the threads were cut, and it slumped over on it's side. The woman's words sunk in and he suddenly realized that Sora's voice was gone, probably for good.

He tried to stand, and at that moment realized that he was wearing nothing under the blanket. He sunk back down, wondering how long he'd been in the house and how long his only ally had been dead, and he recalled why he'd come.

"Where is Lia?"

The woman blinked at him. "Who?"

"Lia. One of the witches called her the raven."

The woman shook her head. "The Raven? She's not here. Hasn't been in this lifetime. She may be back soon, she may not. Always was solitary, that one, and suffers for it."

Lex ground his teeth. "What does that mean? What does everyone know that I don't? I mean, there are enough secrets out there, vampires and werewolves and witches and all of them seem to know immediately what all of it means, but nobody has thought to clue me in."

"Their shapes are important. Wolf or Bear or even Cat, although that one was not one we knew before they were brought from the east. The shapes determine who they are, either by choice or by force. Ravens . . . they're old birds. Some of the oldest, and they control powerful magics. They're present at the end of things, and their presence is greatly feared by the ladies. She'll live and die of magic and have some powerful influence in her short life. At least till one of the great ravens comes, and that . . ." the woman laughed again softly.

"Then it will be Dreamtime again," she finished and she looked at Lex with an almost angry gleam in her eye.

To Lex, it seemed like more riddles, but one like, that Lia would have a short life, stood out like fire in his brain. He glanced around, wondering if he could use the buffalo skull as a weapon when the older woman finally moved again.

"You should have had some tea," she said. "It settles the mind and it would have made this ever so much easier. Still, Grandmother Spider keeps her promises."

Lex jerked back, as though he'd been hit as he finally woke all of the way up and realized that the Native American woman had been only a dream. She was only there in the loosest sense, and also in her position was a six foot long black spider with gleaming red eyes. Two of her legs caught him, pinning him to the ledge of stone and web and as her torso pressed against him he felt a pain on his side. He tried to roll away but as he looked up at her suddenly bloody teeth the room seemed to spin again.

He closed his eyes but the warmth was no longer enough to make him feel comfortable.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Episode 20: Outside of the Door

The driver of the cab kept looking up into the rear view mirror at him, and despite the warm dry heat of the Arizona late winter he kept the plastic panels between the front and the back of the cab firmly shut.

Lex didn't care. He'd been picked up in a bad section of town, and he'd eventually been forced to offer the cab driver $300 to drive him outside the city. In advance.

Still, the cab driver was nervous. He obviously didn't trust the young man in the back seat. Lex sat with his hands held in front of him, looking out of the window into the now dark night. Except for the horizon glow over his left shoulder the lights of Las Vegas were gone.

It wasn't dark in Lex's eyes though. Viewed through invisibly woven spells, he could see every detail of the road, and something was urging him onward.

I have a bad feeling about this, the voice said, but Lex didn't reply. He could feel her out there, the familiar presence. Lia was nearby.

The cab driver pulled to a stop, and Lex glanced at the road ahead. There was a cattle guard in the road, and above it was stretched a heavy chain from which hung a "No Trespassing" sign.

"Can't go any farther," the Cabbie said.

Sora's voice, through Lex's body, flickered a glyph at the chain and frowned when it did nothing.

It's protected, the voice relayed.

Can you do something about that? Lex asked silently.

Not without looking at it.

He opened the cab door without thinking and got out, walked over to the chain. It didn't even have a lock, and so Lex reached out to grab it and throw it aside.

As soon as he'd touched the metal, the cab behind him roared. He twisted around to see the cabbie pulling back down the road they'd come up.

Lex dropped the chain and started to run, but the cabbie swung the car around and pealed out, showing him with loose bits of gravel and sand from the road.

Sora's voice pushed at him to relinquish control, but Lex didn't allow it. The cab didn't matter. He turned back to the chain.

How are you planning to get us home? the voice inquired, but Lex didn't have an answer.

He started to unchain the opening between the fences before he realized that it didn't matter now that the cab was gone. He ducked under the chain and started to walk up the dirt road.

There were animals out at night. Rabbits and mice watched him from the brown grass and under the scrubby juniper bushes. They paused as he came into view, hoping that pausing in the dark would protect him.

He wasn't after them though. All he cared about was finding Lia, and the familiar feeling of her was getting slowly closer.

He was walking slightly uphill, and after fifteen minutes or so on the dark road he took off his coat before it became drenched in sweat, but he didn't pause until a gust of wind floated down from above him carrying words.

". . . waiting out here in the dark . . ."

Just like one of the mice he'd passed, he froze as the voices continued.

". . . back to the fire . . ."

". . . angry at us . . ."

". . . stupid . . ."

". . . not going to happen anyway . . ."

". . . dangerous, out here alone . . . killed Bybreak . . ."

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, and Lex bit his lip.

It's a trap, said Sora's voice, stating the obvious. Lex though, could feel Lia, just up ahead. Only a little bit past the ridge line.

Without movement to warm him up, his sweat soaked clothes felt like ice.

Time for some new tricks, he told the voice.

Slowly he turned around, shielding his hands from view behind his jacket and began to sketch out the runes that the voice fed him. The first set was a minor magic to keep his feet from making noise. Then a minor rune of invisibility, one that would make the shadows around him deeper (Any more, the voice warned him, and the witches will be able to sense the magic that went into it). Finally, he sketched out a circle in his mind, filled it with the basic runes that he would need.

You'll need more, Sora's voice said, sketch out five or six . . .

Alex reached out, his hands on either side of the circle, and concentrated. Carefully he felt around the edges of the circle. There should have been nothing to feel, the blue lines were only faint traceries of energy, but there was. With his fingernails he slowly peeled away the top of the circle, and everything in it peeled away as well.

Two identical rune circles floated in front of him.

Oh, said Sora's voice. I didn't know that was possible.

He copied the rune a half dozen more times, and then gathered them together, holding them like a stack of plates, each floating about half and inch from the next.

Time to go, Lex thought.

He slipped off the road and around the left side of the hill where he thought that the witches waited. Even with the magic, he stepped carefully, not wanting the rustle of his clothes or the sound of scraping against a plant to give him away.

There they were, leaning against the rocks, with a view of the road. Two women, young looking, both with dark hair and wearing heavy wool coats. They were obviously supposed to be keeping watch for him, but neither of them was paying much attention. They were still murmuring back and forth, and every once in a while one would glance down the hill.

They were looking right into the glow from the Las Vegas lights, Lex realized. Whenever they looked down the hill, their eyes had to adjust to the light, and he could have made it most of the way up the road before they would have spotted him.

He took the top magic circle, sketched the activation rune with one hand, and gave it a flick. One of the women yawned.

Another rune, another flick.

The first woman leaned heavily against the rock, and slid to the ground. The other looked at her in surprise for a moment before collapsing herself. They barely made a sound and they weren't hurt, they were just asleep.

Lex frowned. If either of them had hurt Lia, he wouldn't just be putting them to sleep.

He crept up the road slowly, examining every bush and stone for signs of life, and listening carefully for any further giveaway sounds.

He crested the hill, and saw a flicker of light.

A bonfire had been built in the middle of the road, just before it ended before a small house. It was the house, the tiny one from his dream. The tall cactus was there, half illuminated in by the bonfire, but the house looked empty and dark. There was no light coming from the little window, like there had been in his dream.

Around the fire were women, all bundled in clothing, some with their hands out toward the fire. One or two of the faces illuminated by the fire Lex recognized from that night in the mansion with Soraperion.

There were at least ten, and there was already magic in the air. Around the red-orange glow of the burning wood he could flashes of blue.

There was no sign of Lia, but the feeling of familiarity was almost overpowering. It was there in front of him somewhere.

One of figures was holding something, and she suddenly looked up at him and Lex saw that it was Bliss.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and at the same moment he felt something wrong beside him.

He threw himself to the left, and something whistled through the space where his head had been. It was the Native American, the one from the mansion, the one that had gone with Bliss into the hole after Soraperion. He was dressed in black, like a ninja, and in his hands he carried a wand or staff or some wooden dowel. He raised it, and Lex automatically flicked one of the spell disks he'd been carrying at the large man.

A split second to sketch the activation, and it flashed to life, wrapping itself around the man in a glowing string of blue runes. The man shook his head, as though he were trying to stay awake, and the spell fell to pieces. He didn't look tired.

He's protected too, the voice shouted in his head.

Lex's hands clenched, and in the left palm he felt dirt crunch. He flung it up at the man above him just as the staff came down again.

The rod hit him in the shoulder with a sharp crack, and Lex fell backward, howling with pain. At the same time, the dirt had hit the Native American in the face and it was obvious that his eyes weren't protected from that. He stumbled back.

Sora's voice didn't wait for Lex to recover. He slipped into enough control to cast without having to feel the pain.

He flung out the arm that had just been struck, causing Lex to cry out in pain, but also sending the remaining spells down the hill toward the women standing around the fire. He sketched out the activation, and the things burst into spinning disks of azure light.

Lex rocketed to his feet, jerked upright through his telekinesis, and at the same time he grabbed at all of the empty dirt that he could see and shoveled it up with his powers. The Native American was pelted with more dirt, and then with a gout of fire from the next set of sketched runes.

The fire had no more effect than the sleep spell had, but the dust forced the man to shield his face.

Another telekinetic blanket caught a slew of spells from around the fire, and he quickly started to itch again. Crap, he thought, but Sora's voice had a solution this time. A complicated rune of protection, a word, and it went away.

Why didn't you do that last time? Lex thought, annoyed.

No runes, no speaking, no movement, remember?

Right, he thought and went back on the attack.

More useless fire sprang from his hands, but that was only a distraction. With his telekinesis he grabbed the man and jabbed as hard as he could.

It was like a wire effect from one of those Chinese movies. The Native American popped up and backward, flying up at least twenty feet before falling heavily to the ground.

Sora's voice was already sketching heavy protection spells, the first few of which caught fire, ice, hissing bolts of electricity and javelins of darkness.

Me them, you him? Sora's voice asked.


Fair fight then, the voice responded.

At least one of the women had been caught by the flying sleep spells, and now a series of loud explosions occurred in the air in front of those remained. Some, like Bliss, seemed unaffected and others shrugged it off but four of the women went sprawling backward into the dirt. Only one tried to sit up, but was caught with a purplish bolt of something to the head and went down again.

The Native American rushed back into the fight as the witches returned attacks while Lex's hands sketched his next moves. The wooden rod came down at his head, but telekinesis stopped it dead, and jerked it back, twisting it in loops.

The man twisted his arm, trying to compensate, but the telekinesis didn't have to worry about things like arm joints. Already off balance from the sudden stop he toppled over as the staff was ripped from his grasp. It hung in the air for a moment, and then began to attack the Native American, hitting him viciously over the head until he stopped trying to get up.

Lex's hands finished their complex dancing, leaving a crescent of linked runes. They pulsed momentarily and expanded, growing diffuse until they'd melted away.

Then there was a rumble, and the ground around the fire shook. Fingers of sharp stone shot up in the midst of the witches, throwing them around like dolls, and from their points they glowed with electricity which arced out, slicing through the dolls.

Only Bliss was left standing, untouched in a circle of clear ground, the lightning ignoring her. She looked at her scattered sisters, and then slowly bent her knees, leaning back into a position that reminded him of a karate pose, placing the hand mirror that she was holding on the ground at the same time. She didn't kick or punch though, she just raised her arms into a defensive posture and looked at him.

She hasn't attacked us yet, Sora's voice pointed out. She's just stood there for the entire time.

I wonder why? Lex thought to himself and then out loud he called, "Why didn't you attack with the others?"

Bliss shrugged slowly. "It's good for them, to be in a fight against someone creative with magic. They spar amongst themselves, but only know a few tricks and think they've mastered magical combat. You have the range of a Mage, the speed of cheetah, the creativity of an artist."

His mouth opened a bit, and she gave him a level look. "Why so surprised?" she asked.

"I didn't expect you to answer my question."

"How will you ever learn if I don't?"

He looked at her closely for the first time. She was smiling, just as every other time he'd seen her, but she seemed serious enough.

"Are we going to fight?" he asked her after a pause.

"Of course."

They stood facing each other for a few more moments and then he asked, "Uh . . . should I count to three or something?"

"You can start whenever."


Sora's voice murmured, That sounds bad.

So Lex raised his arms and hesitated at the still form of Bliss.

Then he sketched the first blue line in the air, and her arms whipped into action.

The first of Lex's shields were just getting up when the first of Bliss' attacks struck them. Instead of vanishing they clung to the invisible barriers, pressing on them and eating away at them like acid. A jab of telekinesis disrupted the spell that was eating away at his defenses, but it was all that Sora's voice could do to work up new protection spells before the next volley of light and heat hit him in a shower of iridescent bolts of lightning.

All of the other witches that he'd fought had been slow. They'd chant something, and Lex would have three or four spells sketched and away before they'd finished their first. Now the tables were turned. The ground around him splintered and cracked. The dry bushes burst into flame for a moment before disintegrating away to dust. The air filled with the smell of ozone. And Bliss never hesitated, continually throwing spell after spell at him.

Sora's voice finally managed to throw an attack between multiple protection spells, but it did nothing. Bliss almost negligently canceled it out with a flick of her wrist.

So Lex lashed out with his telekinesis, driven by the resurgence of adrenaline as beams of energized air flickered around him.

Bliss countered that as well.

And then she hit him back with her own telekinesis.

Lex threw up a blanket around himself but Bliss poked at it with her own abilities, blows that made what he'd done to the Native American look like a friendly pat. They were sharp pokes too, as though she was forming her abilities into two foot long needles.

Lex concentrated, trying to harden the blanket into a wall, but each time his concentration slipped Bliss was right there, probing and the jamming her powers home, ripping his shirt to shreds, and his skin beneath it.

She's . . . better . . . than . . . we . . . are . . ., the voice managed in between spurts of heavy concentration, and Lex could feel that he was correct. Her attacks were layered, building up from the energy of previous attacks, and their defenses were not. Not to mention that if Lex himself lost concentration, she could rip his defenses apart with her telekinesis.

The door, Lex thought back, but it looked hopeless. It was behind Bliss, much too far, and with each volley of destructive magic it looked even more out of reach.

Then then sky moved. Flickered, a bit, behind where Bliss stood.

Something resolved out of the darkness, like it had been just made. Lex and the voice were busy with other things, but for a moment it seemed to Lex like another attack. Perhaps another witch hidden by the darkness.

It didn't aim for them though. It lanced straight for Bliss and passed through her magical barriers like they didn't exist. The runes composing them turned from blue to red in an instant, and then faded completely.

Bliss had a moment to look around, and then she screamed.

Whatever hit her seemed to burst apart, a mass of inky blackness and claws, and the attacks against Lex ceased.

Lex ran for the door. Sora's voice, suddenly free for attacks, began to rain spells back at Bliss. Some of them were cast aside, but some finally found their mark.

Lex was almost there, almost to the door, and the presence of Lia . . . even though it was weird now. It echoed oddly, as though she wasn't just behind the door. But Lex didn't have time for that. He reached the handle, not even considering that it could be locked, and flung it open.

Golden light was through the door, and he flung himself into it, warmth seeping up at the same time that everything faded to black.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Episode 19: Raven Dreams

At first the beautiful rooms and dresses and the attention from Annabelle was enough for Lia but since her Hunt, she'd been restless and preoccupied.

Annabelle was annoyed. She'd picked up on Lia's mood and her own irritation was showing.

"This is important," she said, mindlessly waving the hot air in the room around with her hand.

Lia focused on the book for just a moment.

It was Math, but her attention slipped away again before Annabelle even registered her look.

"If you do the problems on page 187, we can take a break . . ."

Lia stood up abruptly, and Annabelle started.

"I need to go to the bathroom," Lia told her.

Annabelle nodded slowly, as though she didn't want to do so, but thought of acceptance, and thought it toward Annabelle.

It was a trick that she'd learned from Mr. Mohan. Everywhere he went he exuded power and authority, even when he wasn't doing it consciously. For her it was always an effort, but she found it was just as effective. Annabelle would nod and follow her suggestions. Once, at dinner, she could have sworn that it had worked on Miss Chi-Wong and Michael but only until Mr. Mohan had entered the room.

She'd only done it that one time around Mr. Mohan, and that was enough. His smell had been . . . scary, like he was angry. He'd seemed nice enough still but Lia had felt so sick with worry throughout the dinner that she'd thrown up in her room later.

Lia got up and slipped out of the empty office that they used for lessons, made her way to the bedroom. Instead of the bathroom, she went to the window.

They were high up, six stories at the very least, but the height didn't scare Lia any more. She pulled on the crank to open the window but it didn't budge. She looked for a lock or a catch, but couldn't see one. She pushed harder but there was still no movement. A bit more, harder, harder, and suddenly the crank made a cracking noise and spun loosely on it's bolt.

The window opened a fraction of an inch. A few more cranks, and she had a few inches of space. Not nearly enough for a girl to slip out.

But fine for a bird.

She shifted. It was effortless now, like rustling her feathers before taking flight, and she hopped up to the open window frame.

The sun caught her glossy black feathers. She examined the gap momentarily, and then slipped out into the air.

It was a colder day outside than it appeared, but as a bird it was perfect. A few flaps and she was soaring away from the tower of apartments.


Lex was lying in a pile of blankets on the floor in a cheap hotel room on the northern side of Las Vegas.

With the help of Sora's voice, he could have still be staying in the penthouse apartments, but he suspected that these little clapboard places were safer. Less likely to be watched by the vampires and the witches . . . and possibly the werewolves.

If they even existed.

Sora's voice told him that they did. That they could be harmed and restrained by silver and wolfsbane, transformed at the full moon, and weren't necessarily wolves.

They can be just about anything, Sora's voice had informed him. Lions, Tigers, Bears, Sharks, and even birds and cats and dogs.

The problem was, there was no evidence of them. Everywhere Lex turned he seemed to run into the vampires and the witches, but he hadn't see hide nor hair of the werewolves. If they existed, they blended into the normal Las Vegas underworld without a flaw.

He'd been searching for them for days, but no one that he spoke to could point him in the right direction, and he didn't want to press the issue for fear of drawing unwanted attention to himself.

He closed his eyes, willing himself to sleep, but his mind kept getting drawn back to the werewolves. Why on earth would they be keeping Lia? Did they eat humans? It had been months since he'd last seen her. What if she'd already been eaten?

Bybreak didn't seem to think she was dead. She'd called Lia "the raven."

He wanted to believe that it was because of her black hair. Anything else was unthinkable.

He wrapped himself tighter in the blanket, crushing the black feathers that he'd found when Lia disappeared in his fist.


He was standing in one of those impossible positions from a comic book on the top of a grand tower. All around him were glittering lights and suspended crystals refracting the light. They were drops of rain, he knew, although he didn't know how he knew.

There was howling, but not the howling of wind. It was the howling of of a creature dying.

He stepped down from the building onto the road below, and first saw the bird.

It was black, and against the night it shouldn't have been visible, but it seemed to jump out at him against the otherwise uniformly dark night. In this frozen world, it was the only other thing that was moving.

It looked at him with golden yellow eyes, and he knew the bird. He recognized it, and it recognized him.

He followed where it flew, each step allowing him to cover a mile or more of ground, but always in the same direction: south out of the city, beyond the bright lights of the . . . .

There was nothing out here except for Lex and the bird, and he was chasing it furiously. There was a flicker of feathers here and there, always just out of his reach, and suddenly he found himself alone in the desert.

There was one of those big branching cactuses standing alone in the soil next to a small building. A house maybe, but it couldn't have contained more than one or two rooms. There was no car, only a bit of a dirt trail, and only a small window filled with golden light.

He reached for the handle, still angry, but he had trouble with the knob. It wasn't locked, he just couldn't reach it, as though he was too far away. As though he were a child.

Then the door opened, light pouring through it, and he had the sensation that his mother was coming through. . . .


. . . Lex jerked awake, gasping, sweating heavily in the little cocoon that he'd built for himself.

There was something compelling about the dream. It was a map, and at the end of it was . . . something that he needed to find.

Are you there? he asked Sora's voice and got back a groan and an acknowledgment.

"We're going out," he added aloud.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Episode 18: Three Factions

They held the memorial on the third day, appropriate for someone that had risen to the rank of Matron in such a powerful Coven.

Bliss, as usual, refused to oversee the ceremony, which meant it was up to the Maiden, Belle Aldecott, to run things.

Belle was relatively new to the coven though, just having moved from Boston, and her training was mostly theoretical. She had to read the memorial and the spirit convocation from a book, and didn't add a personalized epigraph to it. Several of the other coven members looked uncomfortable with the formality of the ceremony when this was a woman that they'd known for years.

Bliss smiled as she stood just outside of the glade. It wasn't any personal resentment against Bybreak for dying, Bliss always smiled.

Mistress Greenwood approached her glaring fiercely, but not doing a very good job. Bliss was substantially more threatening than the thin, bitter looking Greenwood could ever hope to be, and she would smile the entire time.

"There was nothing that you could have done?" Greenwood hissed. She wasn't the first to ask, but she would likely be the last. There were few others in the Coven that could stand up to Bliss, even if she wasn't actively trying to be threatening.

Bliss shook her head.

"Say it."

"There was nothing more I could have done to save Bybreak from herself," Bliss said happily.

Greenwood tilted her head, tasting the words, trying to find a lie but there was nothing there to find.

"And the boy."

Bliss turned her attention full onto Greenwood, who shrank back suddenly, as though Bliss' big white teeth in her toothy smile sent forth a chill.

"What about the boy?" Bliss inquired.

Greenwood opened her mouth, closed it, and finally asked, "Are we going to search for him?"

There was a long pause.

"No," Bliss said. "We're going to use him for bait."


Mr. Lo sat quietly in the shadows of the hotel lobby. In Las Vegas so many people lived in artificially lit Casinos nearly all of the time that it was easy to forget that there was daylight just beyond the thick walls. Inside, day and night meant close to nothing.

It was so easy for vampires to blend in, to sit and gamble with their heightened senses in the false twilight. To enjoy a floor show and then vanish into the tunnels that connected the various hotel properties to each other and several of the vampire's holdings.

Lo liked to sit and watch the people come and go. A few were happy, having just won money or attended a wedding, and some were saddened by losses at the tables or waking up to find that they'd enjoyed too many free drinks the night before.

He wore a suit but people's vision slid right over him. If he was important, he wouldn't be sitting in the lobby of a hotel by himself and he certainly wouldn't be relaxing and reading a paper. The few people that could recognize him would not disturb him unless it was vitally important.

So when his secretary Miriam appeared, he put down his paper at once.

Miriam was tall and blond and wearing a silvery evening gown even though it was just past eleven a.m. She looked remarkably beautiful, even compared to the usual Las Vegas girls, and men's heads turned as she walked along. She was young though, only about fifty years dead, and she still had something of the predator to her. The men looked, but discreetly, and no one dared to approach her.

"Sir," she said softly as she approached, and then sat delicately on the chair beside him. "I got a report from . . ." She looked around. "From our friend with the Ladies."

"About the death of their Matron?"

She nodded. "A name came up. One that I think you might recognize." She took a slip of paper from her slim valise, and held it out.

Lo looked at it and frowned. That was deeply disturbing.

"The wolves haven't reported seeing him in the area that they're patrolling for us," he said.

"It happened to the West, in the Executive Airport annex. He's on the move, obviously, but he seems to be out of our area for the time being."

"Sue said that he was last seen in the presence of One of the Five."

"Ah," said Miriam. "I have more on that as well. Our same friend says that the incident that happened at the Coven house on the 26th involved both that one and also him," she said as she gestured with the slip of paper.

Lo tried not to let his surprise show. "I thought that one of the two attackers died in that incident. And if the boy killed their Matron he must have been the one that survived the attack."

Miriam nodded slowly as Lo's undead mind churned.

"Soraperion was not the weakest of the five," he said at last, softly. "And so far the boy has survived encounters with two full vampires and Mistress Bliss twice. And he killed the Matron of the Coven during one of those encounters."

"Do you think that the boy is a trap?" Miriam asked.

"For whom? Me? Bliss? The Ladies in general? The only faction left unaffected is the Wolves, who seem to have had remarkable luck avoiding such a problematic person so far. If you'll remember what happened at our last meeting, it would seem that William is already trying to bait the Ladies on one front. Why not another?"

"Should we let this take its course then?"

Lo shook his head. "Not necessarily. The Ladies have uncommon influence in this dark city. If we have judged the game correctly we may be able to turn these machinations to our advantage in the long run." He thought for a moment. "Cancel the Wolves' patrol of our area, but double the lookout of our own thralls around the Southwest section. Call for a Family conference, in the usual place, for the day after tomorrow."

He picked up his paper again and Miriam, always so good at reading people, took her clue to leave, followed by the adoring stares of several men.


Mohan woke late, rolled out of his elaborate bed, and slipped on his calf skin slippers.

Michael was outside the door, waiting for him. He'd slept through his alarm: he knew that, but he hadn't expected Michael to be here already.

There were no clocks, mechanical or electric, inside of his bedroom. The buzzing of electric devices sometimes bothered his sensitive hearing.

He dressed quickly, stepped outside, and took the proffered watch, wallet and cell phone from Michael. He checked the time and found that he was indeed quite late.

"Breakfast with the Marcandos?"

"I delayed it until tomorrow."

"The business reports?"

"I have them."

They made their way downstairs. Miss Chi-Wong was waiting patiently in the limo. As always, she looked absolutely flawless and completely unflustered by Mohan's late appearance. Sometimes Mohan suspected that she wore her makeup and a suit to bed.

"There has been a delay in the most recent cocaine shipment, of course," she said. "And the witches are already looking for a replacement for Bybreak."

"Wonderful," Mr. Mohan responded. "Have we heard anything else?"

Chi-Wong shook her head.

"That is interesting," Mr. Mohan said. "Bybreak was definitely a calming influence on the Coven, especially with Bliss running roughshod over the rest of them."

"They'll come, eventually." Michael mumbled.

"But when?" Mr. Mohan said. "That's the question. We have a deadline, after all."