January 21, 2010

Meeting with Giuseppe

We all headed back to Maury's, feeling at least somewhat accomplished. We didn't know much about spirits, but at least we'd been able to help. I was mulling over just how long Giuseppe had been lurking in my shadow. Well, at least updating him on what had been going on would be short and sweet. He'd seen most of it.It explained why I'd felt stalked every time I'd gone out to feed. It also meant he'd probably heard the lesson on Cruac from Rowan.. sneaky bastard. I couldn't help the smirk plastered across my face the whole way back.

When we got back, he was talking in hushed tones with Maury about something. I half expected him to disappear again once he left the meat packing district. I was glad he hadn't. Really, it had only been about a month since I'd last seen him, but with all the events that had occurred recently, it felt like longer. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but once we were all in the living area they had finished, and Giuseppe walked in, nodding to all of us. He looked the same as he had when I left him in New Orleans. He wore black slacks and a black long sleeved shirt with a mandarin collar. He was pale. He was two shades away from pure white alabaster. I could see the veins in his face and hands, and I knew from experience that when he manipulated the shadows those veins became blacker and more pronounced. His eyes were without white, all pupil, he was seldom NOT manipulating the darkness in some fashion. Now was no exception.

I cracked a small smile and sat sideways in one of the over stuffed armchairs, legs dangling off one arm. I always felt more secure and comfortable when I knew Giuseppe was around.

He held out his hands to us and spoke to everyone as a group. "I am very glad that my faith in all of you was not misplaced. I greatly appreciate you're willingness to get involved with my pack, even though it was not required of you."
The way he said 'my pack' was less like he was the pack's leader, and more like the pack was his possession. His gaze paused on Ori (eyes still completely black.. and while I was getting used to that, Ori seemed to be a little spooked by it. Or it could've been the fact that the last time he ran across Giuseppe, Ori got the shit beat out of him. Who knows.) "You are free to go, if you like, Grigori Ironfeather. I will not threaten your family again."
Ori looked as though he didn't fully believe him. "Would you have hurt them in the first place?"
Giuseppe gave a small shake of the head. "No. I would not have, but they needed your help. You are free to go."
Ori settled back into the cushions of the couch and shrugged. "I think I'll stick around.. my last pack.. well.. lets just say daily beatings weren't unheard of. I'm getting kind of used to NOT having to deal with that..."

At that, Nobody pulled a rolled up newspaper out from god knows where and smacked Ori in the face with it. I had to wonder how long he'd been hiding that paper waiting for the opportunity. "Unless you're a bad dog!" Ori just rolled his eyes. He apparently had more patience than I did.
Giovanni snorted. "Besides, you still owe me for that gun. I ain't lettin' you off the hook."

I regarded Ori, expression curious. "Really? You want to stick around because we don't beat the shit out of you? Surely there's more to it than that." My words were tinged with sarcasm, but really, I was just curious to hear what he had to say. Regardless of what Ori may have thought, I really didn't have any major problem with him... yet. Aside from the fact that he was mildly irritating.. his usefulness outweighed the annoyance.

But it was Giuseppe who answered my question. "It's because you all are just too interesting to leave behind, I'd imagine."
I looked at Ori, one eyebrow raised in question. he gave a small shrug of acquiescence.

"How did you know that I was sent here to help them in the first place? How'd you know that my uncle Stepping Feather sent me to Chicago in my vision quest?" Ori asked. Giuseppe gave him a questioning expression similar to my own. "I did not know you were sent here, or that you were related to Stepping Feather. Though I did note a passing resemblance.."
Ori opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it, furrowing his brow in confused thought at that revelation.

Giuseppe turned his attention to the rest of us. "Please, tell me if there is anyway that I can help you. It is the least I can do. I at least owe you that much."

"Got a spare 20k lying around so I can pay off this guy?" Ori said sarcastically, jerking a thumb at Giovanni.
Giuseppe gave a single nod. "Certainly. Do you have an account number?"
Ori blinked, taken aback. "Oh shit.. no, I was just kidding."
"I am not. It is the least I can do."
"Uh..well..yeah..thanks..." Ori said as Gio scrawled a number on a piece of paper and handed it to Giuseppe, who slipped it into his coat and settled down on one of the couches.

"So whats up with that ghost? The others said it was yours..." Ori asked.
"It is. It takes great pleasure in getting in my way and making things difficult for me." Giuseppe answered.
"Which means sometimes making things difficult for us." I interjected. Giuseppe nodded. "Yes. I am doing what I can to deal with it's mischief."
"As long as it stops killing people." Ori said with a frown.
"Yes. That is..problematic. It will be addressed." I could tell by the way that Ori's eye twitched that he had picked up on the tone in Giuseppe's voice. The tone that said Giuseppe didn't really care that the ghost was killing people for the people's sake, but merely that the deaths were very inconvenient for him.It was something I was used too. Something I was seeing the merit in more and more every night, really, even if I didn't like to admit it.

Ori fell silent again and Giuseppe looked at all of us expectantly. I let the others talk for now. Giuseppe may have felt that he owed us for this, but I didn't agree, at least in my case. It would probably take a shit ton of 'favors' before I felt like Giuseppe owed me a damn thing. As far as I was concerned, I was the one indebted. It was shaky logic, I realized. Hell, he'd turned me because he'd needed me, but I couldn't help but feel like he'd done me a favor by doing so, and training me thereafter. It wasn't necessarily logical.. but things that like seldom were. My relationship with Giuseppe was.. mutually beneficial, among other things..
"Does Mona know you're here?" I asked. He shook his head. "Mona is a good soldier. She awaits orders." Coming from someone else, I would have found that irritating. But I'd spent enough time around them both to know it was more a sign of their trust for each other that he'd say that.

Nadi's quiet voice broke the silence. "Do you know of any..magic libraries? or books? Or.. anything about Ray Fawkes? He was involved with the serial killer.. he's gone missing.. and we don't know where to look now..."
"I don't know much about magic libraries.. such things don't come very easily to the Santore's, I'm afraid. However, there is a tome in the Chicago museum of Natural history that may interest you. I do not know if it is magical or not, but it should at least prove informative. As for your friend.. I will see what I can do, but it will take some time."

The ice now broken, the others started to chime in. Nobody asked about two weapon fighting, but Giuseppe told him that Ori might be a better teacher than himself.
"Can you get any more information on Dana?" Nobody asked. Who the hell was Dana? Gio echoed my question..but aloud. "The baby I found in the Fae garden. her name is Dana. She's like..18 now." Nobody explained. Gio muttered something to himself about crazy faerie bullshit. Nobody ignored him and focused on Giuseppe, who just shook his head. "Unfortunately not. I don't deal with changelings." I could relate to that sentiment..

"Anyone else...?" He asked. I rolled off the chair and onto my feet in one fluid motion, starting off down the hallway without a word. I had something I needed help with.. but not just Giuseppe's. I went into Ori's room and grabbed his painting off the easel and brought it back into the sitting room with me. I showed it to everyone. "I need input.. from everyone. Ori and I both saw this imagery.. mine was slightly different, but basically the same. In mine, the black figure," I pointed to the figure on the canvas. "was talking to this woman in a tower. And this weapon was clear. I don't know how to interpret it. I'm kinda new at this shit." I passed the canvas around the room and sat back down in my chair, leaning forward to watch each person's face.

"Yeah.. I'm not really an artist..especially not in paints, but I felt I needed to paint it.. I mean, I didn't even really have paints..I had to use my own blood for the red.." Ori explained as the painting made its rounds. Giuseppe stared at him incredulously, then pointed up at the cieling. "There is an art store.. up.. and 2 blocks over..." his expression and tone did enough to convey that he felt Ori was functionally retarded without actually having to say it. Really, what the fuck? Painting in blood? This isn't some cheesy horror flick, despite evidence to the contrary. Ori gave a sheepish shrug. "I'm new in town."

We discussed the painting, but really didn't come up with much. The shadow with the clear blade reminded me of Roxanne, but that could just be coincidental, since I saw her and her glass knife tonight. But then again, it could be significant. I quirked a brow at Giuseppe, who had remained silent, for his input, but he just shook his head. "Prophetic visions aren't really my strong suit." That wasn't surprising. I imagined he didn't like anything that implied the future was set, anything that implied he was not in control of his own destiny... I wasn't one to believe in fate, but this was at least somewhere to start. But after another few minutes of getting no where, everyone agreed to give it more thought, and we put the painting away.

"Giovanni, I'd like to go over those documents with you that you recovered from Yousef's secret room. Now.. do you have any more information on this.. Canaanite Heresy?" Giuseppe asked.

I felt myself tense up before I could control it. Mentioning them made me think of what they did to Mona. Everyone else could probably hear my teeth grinding. Giovanni just smirked at me and said, "The Mallaus is doing work on them right now..two young guys have infiltrated them.. or at least were supposed to last time we talked to the priest in charge of it." Giuseppe seemed intrigued. "Oh? What priest?"
"Father Francis Meyers." My voice was quiet, and colored with suppressed rage as I answered. Fucking Heresy..
"Really. Let them do their work. I will check up on the matter."

I stood suddenly, remembering that I had something that might be useful. I strode purposefully down the hall and into my bedroom to retrieve the leaded vial Mona had given me. I tossed it to Giuseppe as I reentered the room.

He never actually touched it. Instead, his shadow reached out and plucked it from the air, holding it up for him to examine. He gave it a once over, then his shadow tossed it back at me. I caught it with one hand. "Hold on to it. You may need it." I shrugged and put it away. "So.. is there any other reason you're interested in finding information about these fuckers? Besides the attack?" I asked. As though there needed to be a better reason. Giuseppe echoed my thoughts with his words. His face went stone still and his voice downright frigid. "They hurt my Mona."

I just gave a nasty smirk in response, chalk full of promised violence. Giuseppe left after that, his parting words a reminder that I could text him if we needed anything. I let myself hope for a second that he was staying in town for awhile before I shoved the notion aside as useless. He'd be where he needed to be.

Once he left, I went to check on the web cam, and found a note from Theo taped to my monitor. "Gone for awhile. Orders now yours again. Kisses. -Theo" Ugh.

Currently, Birch was writing at his desk, but I couldn't see the paper. I took the time to speed through the last few hours of footage I had. The only interesting thing was a phone call between him and Loki. He seemed pissed and told Loki to get his ass over there. This guy really is a dick... I put that laptop aside and pulled out my main computer. I didn't want to check my email on the one connected to Birch, even if it was going through several proxies.

To my surprise, I had an email from Rashida, the Khaibit. In something that looked like Sanskrit. Who types in Sanskrit? I printed it and took it to Gio to translate. It read, "The mirror is back where it belongs. I am sending you a gift in way of thanks." Well, that works for me. As nice as it was to have Icegalos at my beck and call, I found it more useful right now to be in Rashida's good graces. God only knew if it would amount to anything. I returned to my emails to look at the only other new one I had (aside from a shit ton of spam..). It was an email from 'sonofabitch22@hotmail.com'

I was automatically suspicious. Not only did I not recognize the email address, but technically it shouldn't be possible to even MAKE a hotmail account with a curse word in it. I didn't know how difficult it was to bypass those filters, I'd never tried.. but it meant whoever had sent it knew what they were doing. I scanned the email with 5 different programs before opening it. All it contained was an attachment- a zip file that just had a string of numbers for a file name. I ran a shit ton of scans on the file. From what I could tell, there was nothing dangerous inside. So, since I apparently have more curiosity than common sense, I opened the zip file. It was series of JPEGs. I hit print, grabbed the pile, and went into the lab.

"Hey! Get the fuck in here!" I yelled as I walked in.
Ori poked his head into the lab. "Who?"
"All of you." I growled, handing Gio the pile of photos. "huh.. So that's where she was." Ori examined the pictures over Gio's shoulder and the others filed in. I folded my arms across my chest, drumming my fingers against my arm impatiently. "Who is it? She looks familiar." I asked.
"Olivia Citysmith. Shes the Alpha of the largest pack in the city." Ori said, then pointed at the other figure in the photo. "I have no idea who this is."

The photos showed Citysmith and another person talking near a window in a high rise. Gio marked it as the John Hancock Center based on its architecture. There was one photos taken from the ground floor, pointing up, and judging by the patterns of lit windows, we could tell the two were on one of the residential floors, looked like 38. There were time stamps on the photos. They were taken while we had been fighting Pain of Animals. The figure that Citysmith spoke to never turned his face to the window. He had on a hoodie with the hood up over his face, dark jeans, and black converse sneakers. Nadi took one of the photos and frowned slightly. "Is that the serial killer?"

I blinked at her in surprise, then snatched one of the other photos, staring hard. My voice was more accusatory than I meant for it to be when I asked, "What makes you say that?"
She pointed to his feet. "The shoes, and the fact we never see his face.. can we tell what shoe size it is? Killer was like a 9 right?"
I scowled and tossed the photo on the table. "We could figure it out.. but as far as we know he wasn't using the same body every time.. so shoe size could be moot."
"Oh yeah.."
I grabbed another photos and examined it. "Might not be him though.. I don't want to make assumptions. I'm wondering if this is what the vision was referring too.. and if so, does that mean Citysmith is sick or corrupted?"
Gio put his photo down and shrugged. "Lets not jump to conclusions concerning that either.. where the fuck did you get these?"
"Anonymous email.. 'sonofabitch22@hotmail.com' I've got no idea who it is or why they sent these. Do you know where the shooter would have to be to take these Gio? I'm not familiar with Chicago geography."

He shrugged. "It could be any number of buildings.. that Trump hotel, hell, if the lens was long enough, and it would have to be really fucking long, it could even be the Kluczynski Federal Building or the Willis Tower...or a helicopter. We know a guy who could get into the federal building.." I considered that option.."Martindale? Maybe.." But I wasn't convinced. Gio took out his phone and snapped shots of the photos, sending a text. A few minutes later he announced, "Bella says helicopter."

Nobody held up the photo taken from the ground floor. "Look up who owns the condo."
Ori and Gio both shook their heads. "It's more than likely a safe house." Gio said.
I checked it out just in case. It was.. name on the address was 'John Smith' and paid in cash every month.
"Well we need to figure out who she was talking too. If it is the serial killer, we need to know." I said. What I didn't add was that I would've looked into it anyway, even if I didn't suspect the serial killer. It was too reminiscent of the vision, and that made me feel like it was important.
"We could set up my surveillance device if it wasn't in pieces on the work bench." I glared at Gio. he pointedly ignored the glare. "Its too big. Besides, they probably wont be going back there for at least a week, and don't you have to be within like 10 feet of it for it to work?"

Damn. He was right. I hate it when he's right.
Ori grinned at us. "So lets go over there and take a look at the security tapes. We can watch for who came and went for the night and figure it out."
I raised a brow at him. "And you think you can find the security office fast enough to keep us from getting caught? The place has 100 floors."
"Sure. I did surveillance in Vegas, those places are usually all set up the same."
I perked up at that. "You did surveillance? Well shit.. you have useful skills after all. I'm up for it."

"Can I come?" Nadi asked. I just shrugged. "If you can be stealthy, sure... though I'd prefer it if our resident lock pick tagged along too..." I looked at Nobody, who gave me that unsettling smile. "Sure. I'll come."

Gio settled onto his stool. "Well I'm staying. Too hard to hide a cripple. Besides.. I got work to do."
Ori looked at Nadi. "Is Becca coming too?"
I suppressed the urge supersede myself between him and Nadi. I didn't bother to suppress the look of supreme annoyance on my face. "I'm the one you should be asking...and no. We have enough people going, it will be difficult to hide as is without one more."
Nadi fucks her and people start assuming that she's got say in the matter. Becca is my fucking ghoul goddammit.

We left. It didn't take long to get over there, and once we were inside, it was simple enough to talk our way passed the security guard. And simple enough for Nobody to lift his radio without him noticing. It was actually pretty impressive. You'd think a guard would notice the weight being lifted from his belt.. but no. That crazy faery asshole really is good at what he does. We made it into the maintenance hallways with little trouble. Nobody hung out on the ceiling, rotating through several faces before settling on one he liked, and I generated a field of shadows to counteract security cameras in the area.

It didn't take long for that to warrant a response. The radio crackled and we heard, "Brown out in in Hallway G. Can't see a damn thing. Matt, you're in the security room right? Go check it out." "Roger. I'll take a look."

Well that was convenient, if unintentional. We ducked into a storage room until he passed us, then hightailed it to the security room. Grigori moved like he'd grown up in the building. I immediately began reading through the recorded footage of the night.
"Woah..that's..wow." Ori said suddenly as I fast forwarded through footage.
"What?" Nobody asked.
"This place.. is spotless on the spirit side. Like, completely devoid of any negative spirits. Its... impressive. I didn't think that it was possible to get a territory this CLEAN. It's a bit disconcerting.."
Nadi must have popped on her own voodoo because I heard a "mmm" of agreement come from her.

We found our guy, both coming and going from the condo, and I don't think anyone was surprised when he never once looked at the camera. His face was obscured by his hoodie the entire time. He knew exactly where the cameras were and avoided looking at a single one of them.
"Goddammit." I growled. We weren't going to ever get a break with this asshole.
"Don't worry. I've got an idea! I saw it on CSI! Lets head back." started making a copy of what discs he could, primarily the one from tonight. It was then that the radio crackled. "Headed back. Nothing unusual. Wasn't even dark when I got over there."

"Damn. Nobody, can you take him out?" I watched the guard approach on the monitor.
"No problem."
"Don't kill him."
He just gave me that creepy as shit smile and climbed up onto the ceiling right above the door. As it opened, the guard was still talking on his radio when Nobody jumped down onto him and knocked him unconscious.

"Matt? Matt, what happened?" Nobody straightened and plucked the radio out of the guards limp hand and put it to his mouth. He did a perfect impersonation of the guard's voice. "Everything is fine. I hit my head on that low hanging monitor again. I swear to god I'm going to take a sledge hammer to that thing some day."
"Heh, yeah, I hear ya. Lemme know if anything else looks weird." "Roger." Nobody put the radio back on the guys belt and proceeded to tie him up while we finished with the discs.

He hadn't regained consciousness as we were leaving, so we untied him and put him below the offending monitor.

When we got back, Giuseppe had returned and was going over documents with Gio. Ori headed straight for a computer and popped in the disc. He isolated a frame. We watched as he zoomed in, not on the figure in the hood, but on the picture frame next to him. The one with the glass so clean you could.. well.. see this guy in it. The guys face was unnaturally blurred. It was impossible to discern his features. Ori threw up his hands in disgust. "Dammit! I was sure that would work!"

I sighed. "Well, he's definitely supernatural. Problem is..what kind?"
Nadi tilted her head and regarded me. "Not a vampire?"
I shrugged. Giuseppe walked in and spoke as he leaned down to peer at the screen. "There are many other supernaturals who can blur their reflections with an act of will... is this your musical friend?"
I stiffened. "Why do you ask that?" Giuseppe pointed at the image. "Well he isn't a vampire.. only the face is blurred." I blinked and leaned in close. Goddamn. He was right. I hadn't noticed before.. but the hoodie was sharp, detailed. The face was the only thing out of focus. If he were kindred, the entire reflection would be indiscernible. I swore, long and loudly.

"Why would Citysmith be meeting with the serial killer?" Gio asked from the doorway.
"Fuck if I know. Doesn't make sense. And who the fuck would send us these?" I answered. Giuseppe clicked through a few things on the computer for a moment then said, "Who is sonofabitch22?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. anonymous email account."
He straightened and stepped back from the computer. "Well, find that out and you may be able to figure out why they sent you the photos."
I gestured helplessly to the machine. "Its anonymous.. there's no way too.." Then I had a thought. Maybe there was a way to figure out who it might be.. or at least where it originated from.

I didn't bother to finish my sentance. I sat down and started typing furiously. "I may be able to track the IP address that made the account... fuck." I resisted the urge to slam a fist through the table.
"What?" Gio leaned in over my shoulder.
"Routed through a proxy server. More than one it looks like. In Russia." I scowled and leaned back in the chair.. wracking my brain.
"Whats the name on the account?" Gio asked.
"SOB. No help there."
"Well who do we refer to as son of a bitch?"
I let out a humorless laugh. "I refer to quite a few people as sons of bitches." But I got sinking sensation when Gio asked that. There was one person in particular...who's initials happened to be SB.. but how the fuck was I going to figure it out for sure.

Gio and I had the same thought at the same time. "Air traffic control!" It sounded like stereo, coming from both of us at once. There had to be some record of the flight. Air traffic control would be pretty tough to get into, so I started with the eaiser options first. It was possible that it was either a news traffic helicopter, or a police chopper, and those networks would have less security. News was a bust.. only one flight tonight, and it wasn't during the correct time frame. When I tried the police system I got a scare.. traced. I had been sloppy and they'd noticed me snooping. I swore quietly and ignored the others asking what was wrong until I managed to lose the trace and back out of the system. It took a good 20 minutes before I knew my tracks were safely covered. I would have worked up a sweat if I still had normal bodily functions.

But I wasn't going to quit that easily. I started in on the air traffic control system, going more slowly and watching my back more thoroughly. It took awhile, but I found the info we were looking for. I smirked and sat back. "One flight matches our time frame and location. Private helicopter owned by a medical supply company... which happens to be a front business. Money trail leads to Brigman Limited, LLC. Real estate company based out of Chicago." Then I paused.. and frowned.. and got that sinking feeling again. "That name sounds familiar.. but.. I can't place from where..."

Gio eyed my suspiciously. I think he had the same frightening idea that I did.
"I tried to find a home address for the owners, but after the trace from the police, its probably not a good idea for me to be snooping anywhere else right now.." I said.
"Don't need it. Pull up a list of all their commercial properties." Gio said.
I pulled up the list, and if I still had a heartbeat, it would've been pounding. I sat stone still, staring at the screen.

Giovanni read off the addresses to himself until he came to roughly the middle of the list. "Son of a bitch. That's Solomon Birch's Eugenics farm. Why in the holy fuck would Solomon Birch be sending us these photos? How would he know your email address?" All eyes fell on me and the realization was almost palatable. Curious eyes became shocked eyes. Shocked eyes became annoyed and angry eyes. "Harper.. did you hack into Solomon Birch's computer to spy on him?" Nobody asked.

I leaned back in the computer chair and let it turn slowly to face everyone, hands folded in my lap and expression utterly unrepentant. As I did, I reached over and pulled up the video feed from Birch's webcam on the other computer. The chair was empty, and I could finally see what he'd been writing. It was tapped to the chair. It read, 'Oh how clever they are. I love it when they're clever, It makes it that much sweeter when they start to scream.'

I looked at everyone with eyes blank of expression expect challenging defiance, but the message shook me. I hadn't expected that. However, I'd be damned if I let them see me scared of Birch.
"Yes. Yes I did."
What came next was a barrage of rhetorical questions and insults. Nobody told it it had to be the stupidest thing I'd ever done, which was saying something. Giovanni was telling me I must be absolutely bat shit insane, Nadi looked at me and shook her head, but remained silent. Ori just seemed confused. I heard "Why the fuck would you do that?" more times in that 10 minute tirade than I care to count. I said nothing to any of them. I looked at Giuseppe to gauge his reaction, and he simply looked at me and quirked a brow. I shrugged. His unspoken comment was the only one I responded too. "Had to see if I could do it."
That caused another avalanche of shit from nearly everyone. Giuseppe never said a word. I didn't bother to explain myself any more than that.

"You get to deal with this bullshit then." Gio finally said.
I gave a nearly imperceptible smirk and nodded. "Oh I'm well aware. I was well aware of the possible consequences the second I did it. The real question is, if everyone is through telling me I'm an idiot, why would he send us the photos in the first place?" I turned back to the computer for a moment to avoid their accusing expressions and began checking things while I spoke. I cursed inwardly when I realized that Birch had pulled the same trick on me. He'd flipped on my webcam.. on the computer that I hadn't been using to spy on him. I'd disabled it on the burn computer.

He'd somehow gotten through all my fucking proxys and found where I was connected and followed that connection to the other computer, gotten through my substantial firewalls, and had turned my trick around on me. I had to admit, I was impressed. I had underestimated his computer skill. Most elder kindred avoid new technology. He apparently reveled in it. This is what I get for underestimating scary people. I didn't mention it to anyone, but I'm sure most of them noticed anyway. But they didn't say anything.

Gio frowned at me. "He's probably fucking with you.. and us.. by doing it. A game."
"But why would he be spying on Citysmith in the first place?" I stood, back to the computer screen.
"You're assuming he was spying on Citysmith." Gio said with a smirk.
That pulled me up short. Its possible he was after our serial killer too. But why? Fucking vampire head games..
The conversation wound down and Giuseppe and Giovanni retreated back into the lab to look over the papers. Everyone else went off to do their own shit.

I headed to my room to figure out who the fuck I was going to keep my ass out of Solomon Birch's fire when my phone rang. I rubbed the bridge of my nose, squeezing my eyes shut. One thing after another. No rest for the wicked and all that I guess.

My mental fatigue evaporated when I looked at the caller ID.
Call from: Maxwell

Ho-ly fuck. I started at it for a few beats and almost didn't answer it. But my curiosity got the better of me before the anger did. I picked up the line, but I said nothing.

Maxwell's voice was the usual deep baritone. He spoke in measured tones and I couldn't tell if the slight annoyance and anger was actually present, of if I was just projecting. "Ms. O'Shea."
My tones, however, were curt. I bothered with no niceties, and my tone was only a hair shy of downright rude. "Yes."
He didn't seem to notice the terseness of my response, or more likely, ignored it. "You are welcome to come back to court if you would like. The kill order has been rescinded."

The shock of that statement left me speechless long enough for Maxwell to hang up on me before I could so much as utter a sound.

What. The. Fuck.

I stared at the phone in my hand. This was probably the most unexpected thing that could have happened to me tonight. I was automatically suspicious. Possibilities raced through my mind. It was a trap. I'd come to court and he'd order me killed. It was a trap. I'd exit the sewers and he'd have me killed before I even stepped foot into court. It was a trap, Birch had convinced him to lure me out and was going to kill me himself. Every idea that was screaming through my head was that this wasn't real, and I'd die horribly if I believed it.

But in the very back of my mind was a tiny glimmer of hope that it wasn't. That I might actually have been "forgiven". I had no love for the Prince, and doubted I ever would, (what can I say, I'm a vindicative bitch who doesn't forgive betrayal easily, regardless of the reasoning) but shit.. it would be nice to be able to walk around above ground without worrying about EVERY vampire I might come across. However, my suspitions overwhelmed this tiny spark until it was mostly consumed. I wandered, still looking down at my phone, back into the lab. Giuseppe and Giovanni were having what amounted to a theological debate surrounding the philosophical implications of the scrolls in front of them. I stood and waited for a lull in the conversation.

Giuseppe turned and gave me a proding look. I can only image what my expression looked like at the moment.
"Do you need something Harper?"
My voice didn't work the first time I tried to answer him.. which made me furious with myself. I scowled and shoved the phone in my pocket, did my best to wipe the confused expression from my face, crossed my arms and tried again. Anger and suspicion were heavy on my words, but that was better than confused and scared. What the hell was wrong with me? "I just got a call from Maxwell. He said I'm free to come back to court. the kill order is gone. Do you think its a trap?"

He lifted one shoulder in a small shrug. "Maybe."
I just glowered. "It makes me suspicious."
I noted the faintest twitch of what may have been the beginning of a smirk or smile flash for a millisecond across his face. "That is not a bad mindset to cultivate."

I nodded absently and retreated back to my room. They resumed their conversation as I left. As I suspected, Giuseppe was going to leave the problem to me to deal with. As he should.. but...what the hell was I going to do?

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