July 30, 2010

On the Cusp of a New Chicago

January 9th, 2010

A month had passed since the fight with Citysmith, and for the most part, things had been quiet. Everyone had been focusing on their own shit. Nadi disappeared for awhile without a word to anyone, then showed back up yesterday and offered no explanation.. but then, no one asked.

Nobody and Ori had been training, mostly, and doing god knew what else during the day. Becca had started working out almost obsessively, probably in an attempt to distract herself from the fact that Nadi had up and vanished, and that I had been rather scare too, spending the majority of my time with Father Nico since my induction into the Sworn of the Dying Light three weeks ago. I'd already learned a new Coil, and changed my blood to enhance my already supernatural healing capabilities.

Giovanni had been holed up in his lab working on more of his mad scientist shit. His current project with a gauntlet that he had given an electrical charge. So far, he hadn't been able to make it discharge its entire load on contact, but he kept fiddling away.

Tonight, however, signaled the end of our vacation from overly dangerous situations. Ori walked into the lab holding a sketch pad and looking a bit nervous. "I think you guys should see this.."

We all looked up from our respective activities. Gio held out his hand for the pad. "What, did you have another freaky dream?" He asked as he looked over the pencil drawing Ori had rendered. "What exactly am I looking at here?" He asked and passed the pad to me. It made its circuit around the room.

"Chicago.. crumbling away, leaving gleaming white marble buildings underneath.. a perfect, and more terrible version of the city, with a tower stretching up to the sky, and skeletons hunched over people inhaling the life off of them." Ori said as he settled into one of the arm chairs.

"I thought we took care of that problem already when we killed Citysmith?" Gio muttered to himself.

Ori shrugged. "I just had the dream today.."

Nadi stared at the image, aura dancing with curiosity and a mild frustration. Suddenly, she grabbed her laptop and a couple of her old textbooks and began furiously flipping through them.

"Something strike a cord?" I asked her. She held up a hand to forestall any other questions as she flipped pages. Everyone went quiet and waited for her to finish. It only took about two minutes.

"Trajan's column." She said finally. "The tower in the center of the image looks like Trajan's Column." She began to read from her computer screen. "It's a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum. Completed in 113 CE, the freestanding column is most famous for its spiral bass relief, that artistically describes the epic wars between the Romans and Dacians."

We looked at each other, perplexed.

"Walking dead and roman architecture.. whats the significance?" Gio mused aloud.

Ori just shrugged. "I dunno, vampires maybe? But they were just skeletons.." He looked at me, helplessly.
I frowned at him. "Don't look at me.. I don't specialize in dream interpretation. Ask the faery.. I think he eats dreams sometimes."

Ori glanced at Nobody who just shook his head.

Ori looked thoughtful for a minute, then pulled out his cell phone. "I'm going to call the Whispers. Maybe the skeletons represent some kind of spirit." He dialed a number and waited patiently for a voice to answer. I recognized the tired voice as Sleepless William.
"Hey! William! I have a quick question for you. So I was taking this really great nap earlier and I.." click.
Ori just grinned at us and pulled the phone away from his ear.
"He hung up on me.."
I had to look away to hide the smile. Ori loved fucking with Sleepless William, and despite myself, I found it hilarious.

He dialed again, and I could hear someone pick up the other end. "Fucking.. you talk to him." then another voice came on the line, a woman's voice, and she was laughing."Heeey Grigori. Whatsup?"
"Hey Heather. William isn't too pissed is he?" Or asked without a shred of apology in his voice.
"Naw, he'll get over it." She replied. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I uh.. had a weird dream last night.. skeletons draining the life from people.. and a roman tower in the background of a crumbling Chicago.. any ideas?"
"So the walking dead drinking from people? Sounds like vampires to me.."
"No no.. like. the skeletons were standing over the people and..ssshhhhuuurrrp.. you know? They weren't really drinking.."
Apparently, Heather was as confused by Ori's sound effects as we were, because she responded with,
"Just standing over them and ssshhhhuuurrp huh? Caaan't really help you there buddy.."
"Damn.. well.. okay, I was thinking maybe a spirit of some kind.. anyway.. do you know anything about Trajan's tower? Roman architecture?"
"Uuuuuh.. no....what?"
"Trajan's.. nevermind. Thanks for the help."
"Yeeah.. sure.. any..time?"
And she hung up. Ori looked pretty disappointed.

We kicked around ideas for awhile, and I peeked over Nadi's shoulder at the articles she was skimming, and something caught my eye. There was a point in ancient Roman history when Egypt was Rome's biggest political rival. I knew someone old enough to remember that..but when I opened my email to send a message to Rashida, the Khaibit, I already had a message from her waiting in my Inbox.

Weird. I double clicked the messge

January 10th, 2010
All Must Serve.

What the fuck did that mean?

Giovanni noticed my perplexed expression. "What is it?"

I read the email to them then asked, "Does anyone know the significance of January 10th?"

Nobody shrugged. "Court maybe?"

Why would Rashida reference the next Court? She didn't even live in Chicago.. but it wasn't a bad suggestion, so I pulled out my phone and shot off a text to Deuce. I'd been avoiding Court since we'd moved out of Maury's place, so I wasn't sure of the dates. He confirmed that there was, in fact, Court being held tomorrow at the Shedd Aquarium.

"January 10th was the day Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon." Nadi interjected suddenly.

"Wait.. what?" My voice betrayed my sudden feeling of unease.

She read us the excerpt. "The river is notable as Roman law forbade any General from crossing the Rubicon with a legion. The river marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north and Italy proper to the south; the law thus protected the republic from internal military threat. A Roman General was thus obliged to disband his army before crossing the Rubicon, otherwise both he and his men were guilty of high treason and sacrilege, and automatically condemned to death. When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army in 49 BC, supposedly on January 10 of the Roman calendar, to make his way to Rome, he broke that law and made armed conflict inevitable. According to historian Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est..meaning,"

Gio interrupted her. "The die has been cast."

She nodded.

I scowled and shut my computer. "I don't like this. It's way too coincidental."
"You should know better. There is no such thing." Gio chastised.

"Well I'm going to go talk to Volkas. Maybe he knows something." Ori suddenly announced. It was a decent idea, and no one else had any better ones, so we all went with him.

I was surprised at how quickly we all jumped to action because of a simple dream. It was either because we were all very concerned.. or we'd all been very bored. Probably a little of both. It was frightening to think that we all got our rocks off by putting ourselves in danger on a constant basis.


The coffee pot sat on the warmer, dregs of the last pot burning to the bottom of the glass. Giovanni paused to make more before we approached the table where Volkas sat, dozens of newspapers spread out before him. He was looking through them at a hurried pace, muttering to himself in Polish. Something seemed to be bothering him.

"What is it I can do for you?" He said to us, without looking up.

"Our furry friend had a weird dream we need some insight on." Gio said, pushing Ori to the front.
Volkas set down his pen. "Dream? eh.. I will try, but I am not Cahalith. What is your dream?"
Ori took a moment to describe to him what he had already showed us. Volkas paused in his review of the papers, looking dubious.
"Skeletons sucking live out of people. Walking dead, yes?" He looked at me, but I just shrugged. It was likely it was symbolism for vampires, but I really had no clue.

"Well, I mean.. maybe.. but it might be something else...what about the roman architecture?" Ori said, skeptical.
"Yes, because I know all about roman architecture and the living dead. Give me a moment and I will prepares a lecture on the issue with my large amount of expertise."

I managed to suppress my laughter before it escaped and ruined my humorless facade.

"Do you not know of anyone else who might know more about the roman architecture? Because I do not know much. I focus on the stocks.." Volkas gestured to the papers in front of him.

"Well.. I don't.. but Harper might.." Giovanni gave me a pointed look. It took me a second to understand who he was referring too. I didn't feel like laughing anymore.

"Fuck you Giovanni. No. I will not talk to Solomon Birch just because he might know something about Rome. Forget it."

Nobody smirked at me, he thought he had my number when he said, "What if he's our only lead?"

I crossed my arms over my chest and glared. "What exactly do you propose I say? 'Oh hey, Birchy, sorry to disturb you, but do you know anything about Trajan's Tower? Why? Oh, no reason..just curious is all.' Yeah. I'm sure Birch would be very forthcoming." I scowled at him and leaned against a book shelf.

"What are you looking for?" Nadi said quietly to Volkas, joining the conversation.
Volkas turned and gestured to the piles of papers. "Patterns. I watch stocks.. find patterns.. but it makes no sense. Stocks of stable companies have fallen for no reason. Cannot figure out why this is. Very strange."

That piqued everyone's interest. "What stocks?" Gio asked.

"Technology firms, mostly." Volkas said.

Gio leaned over the werewolf's shoulder. "Any of them owned by the family?"
"I do not think so, unless they are shells set up long ago, before I started watching. Here." Volkas grabbed a piece of paper and began writing out some information. He spoke while he wrote. "Beshilu have been very quiet too. It is unusual."
"Like someone made a deal with them?" Gio asked with another significant look in my direction.
"What? Giuseppe?" I made a disparaging noise in my throat. "Unlikely."
"You said it yourself that he did it before." Gio pointed out.
I shrugged. "Its a possibility, but that was minor. Remember what Volkas said about deals with the Beshilu before."

Gio remained unconvinced.

My eyes flicked to each person in the room, individually, scanning auras as I went. II watched auras more often than I didn't.. this wasn't an unusual occurrence, but it was worth mentioning this time.. I was in for a surprise tonight. As my eyes wandered to Nadi, I watched as her aura sparked, flickered.. and then exploded outward in a wash of color, leaving behind nothing in its place. I jumped back, caught utterly off guard.

"What the fuck did you just do?!" I exclaimed loudly, the quiet of the library making it sound positively thunderous. She just gave me that blank, impassive look.
"What do you mean?"
I stared at her, then looked at everyone else.. all their auras were still present. They swam with colors of confusion and amusement. Nadi's was just..gone. Slowly, I forced myself to relax. "Nothing.. don't worry about it."

Everyone just looked at me like I was nuts. I kept sneaking glances at the mage. Her lack of aura completely unnerved me. She was already enough of an unknown as it was, able to completely hide what she was thinking and feeling.. and now I didn't even have my normal recourse to judge what was on her mind. I wasn't sure how to deal with that. It also made me suspicious.. why had she done that at all?

I decided to ignore it as best I could for now and focus on the issues at hand. It was difficult.

"What are the companies that have the crashing stocks?" Giovanni asked once my outburst was finished.
Volkas handed him the piece of paper and spoke while Gio was reading it. "Very strange. Those stocks.. always been strong. Never a bad day. No reason for them to be falling.. usually.. media coverage over something like this.. but no.. nothing to explain this." He sounded worried.
Gio frowned and mulled over the paper. He handed it to me, and I did the same. It got passed around the room. None of the companies looked familiar.

Allette, Inc (ALEA)
Icon Technologies, Inc (IACTA)
East Summit R&D (EST)

They were all technology companies, but all focused on different areas of the industry. They weren't closely related.. not even slightly. But as Nobody was puzzling over it, I had an idea. I snatched it back from him. "The codes..the Nasdaq abbreviations.." I looked at it again and began to piece it together. Giovanni grabbed it from me, and I let him.

"Son of a Bitch.." he grabbed a pen and wrote out the symbols by themselves.


"ālea iacta est." Giovanni said aloud. We all fell completely silent. Tension in the room rose drastically.
"The die has been cast.." Gio murmured. Then, in an attempt to break the foreboding gloom, just stuffed the piece of paper in his pocket and shrugged. "I guess a month reprieve is all we get from the weird shit."

I latched on to the more light-hearted turn of conversation, attempting to forestall the uncomfortable feeling of worry growing in my chest. I forced an amused smirk. "Gio, a month for us is nearly long enough to be considered a sabbatical."

Volkas frowned down at his papers. "So this was message.. but I do not think message was for me. Who could make such a message?"
"For us, maybe?" Nobody suggested.
I dismissed that with a wave of my hand. "Unlikely. The only reason we found it was because of Ori's dream. Too big of an unknown for it to have been directed at us.."
"Then who?" Ori asked, agitated.
No one spoke up with an answer.

"Whoever sent this.. has large power.. to make stocks drop with no reason and no news coverage? That is not easy task." Volkas said quietly.

"So what do we do now?" Ori asked, disheartened.

I said nothing. I was too busy mulling over the possibilities.

"Well.. I could call Bella, see if she saw anything.. she's a Cahalith too." Gio suggested as he brought out the cell phone. No one had any other suggestions on where to go from here, so he dialed his sister. I felt like we were running all over town looking for someone to tell us what to do. I didn't like it.

I heard her angry and curt voice pick up the phone. "You have exactly 10 seconds to tell me why I shouldn't just hang up on you. I'm busy."

Giovanni's face darkened, his aura flashed with irritation and anger. His voice became just as terse as hers. "Our Cahalith had a dream about the city of Chicago being overrun by skeletons eating people and the city burning down and being replaced by perfect, tainted, white marble. Seeing as we thought we'd taken care of that problem, we figured it was fucking important."

There was a pause. Then, "Meet me at the new office." And she hung up.

Gio frowned and shoved his phone in his pocket. "Crazy Bitch."

So we left Volkas and headed there. The place had been cleaned up since we'd flushed out the old occupants. One would never know it had been the sight of a battle for the life of the city. The guards waved us in. When we reached the top floors, every thing was a bustle of activity. Bella wasn't in sight.

We could hear people yelling behind the big, heavy office doors.
Gio limped up to them. "Hey, Ori.. open these for me."
"No knocking?" I asked with a small smirk.
Gio snorted. "Fuck no."
Ori put both hands against the heavy wood and shoved. His muscles strained with effort, but the doors swung open.

Vittorio and Sansome were inside, arguing. They didn't even look up as we walked in. Giovanni pulled out a lighter and lit a cigarette.

Vittorio, once again assuming the role of the feeble old man, looked up from his wheel chair and frowned at Giovanni. "Can you not smoke in here? I'm on oxygen!"

Gio smiled and limped over to the desk. "Its electric." He held up the e-cig. Vittorio rolled his eyes. It was nice to know that I wasn't the only one Giovanni fucked with on a regular basis. Sansome nodded to all of us and left.

"So whats going on?" Gio asked, gesturing to the hallway were people were hurrying too and fro.

"Wish I knew. Something is going on, but I don't know what it is. What are you guys doin' here?"

"I had a weird dream.. we were hoping someone here could help me figure it out." Ori said. He described the dream to Vittorio, who shrugged.
"I don't know what it means, but something big is coming our way. I got this letter from family in Italy. He says we should get our people off the streets." He looked directly at me. "Your boss agrees."

I just raised a brow, but said nothing. I had nothing useful to add. My time was better spent adsorbing the information.

Vittorio handed the letter to Giovanni. It was written in Italian, so Gio had to read it aloud for the rest of us.

"One of our boats left port two days ago, unscheduled. There was no manifest, and it wasn't supposed to be at sea for another week. Eye witnesses saw a woman directing 12 men loading a large crate onto the ship. The men looked strange. They looked like someone had cross brew them with pitbulls- large heads and a stocky upper body, but with arms that looked too long for the rest of them. We didn't get a description of the woman.

That's all we know. Something big is coming your way. Keep the family off the streets.


Something occurred to me. A thought that made me very uneasy. I suspected that the woman might have been Rashida.. but I had no proof, only the evidence of coincidence. I kept my mouth shut.

"That's it?" Gio asked.
"That's it." Vittorio confirmed.

"So what are you going to do?" I asked softly.

"Get my people off the streets." Vittorio said matter of factly.
Ori shifted uncomfortably. "Does that include me?"
Vittorio turned his chair to regard the other werewolf. "You're part of the family.. but only as much as you wanna be, kid. I'd say yeah, stay off the streets, but you can do what you want. One more black sheep in the family ain't gonna make a difference, as far as I'm concerned."

"Bah bah.." Gio interjected as he reread the letter to himself.

"We need some eyes on the docks." I said suddenly.
Ori grinned. "I can probably get into the security system, rig up the cameras.."
I grimaced, skeptical. "You think the docks will have cameras in all the areas we need?"
"Well what else are we going to do?" Ori said, somewhat defensively.
"Vittorio, when is the ship due in?" I asked.
"Don't know. We don't have any info other than what was in that note.." He said.
I ran through all the people I knew who might know anything about the docks, and came up with one name. Dumptruck Ned. "You know.. let me make a call."
"Yeah.. I got someone who may know something too.." Nobody added.

No one said what we were all thinking. That this was a bad idea. What we should do was lay low, and see how it all played out.. but we couldn't. This was our city now, and Ori's dream had us all concerned for its safety, once again. We'd get to the bottom of what ever the fuck was going on. As far as bad ideas went, it wasn't our worst, not by a long shot.

Ori decided that it would be a smart idea to go bother Bella, who had appeared outside the office barking orders at people.

"What?!" She demanded, whirling on him, aura swirling with rage.. more than normal.
"Did you have a dream too?" He asked nervously. "I can't figure out what it all means."
"My dreams are none of your business." She snarled.
Ori took a step back from the crazy bitch. He wasn't so much intimidated, as he was just at a loss on how to deal with the overly pissed Bella.

So Gio tried his hand instead, since it was slightly less likely to get bitten off.
"Look, we're trying to help. Any insight you could give us would make the situation easier. Just tell us what you saw."
"I'm taking care of it." She growled.
"That's great, but we need information." Gio pressed.
"I didn't have any fucking dreams!" Bella yelled, balled her hands into fists, and stalked away, heavy footfalls practically shaking the floor.

So that's why she was so much angrier than usual... I watched her aura as she went, a swirl of conflicted emotions, all overlaid by a crushing rage. She looked like a walking time bomb.

Ori broke the tense silence, tearing his eyes away from Bella, and turning back to the rest of us. "Well that box was huge if it needed 12 guys to move it..it would be hard to hide, right? We could call around, ask if anyone has seen it."
I dismissed that with a wave of my hand. "Its easier to hide than you'd think. I could hide it, given the time."
"Really? Damn.." Ori looked thoughtful.
"We're going to have to go check it out ourselves." Giovanni said.

Nobody hung up his cell and walked back over to the group. "Roy works on the docks. I just set up a meeting with him. He may be able to help."

I pulled out my own phone and started to dial a number. "Lets go, then."

So we left, and I called Ned on the way over to Roy's.

"Hi Ned.. How you doing?"
"Sam as ever, what's up?"
"I need information concerning the docks.. there is a boat coming in that's not on any manifest, carrying some mystery cargo.." I began, but he cut me off.
"That's not really my area of expertise, Harper."
"In and of itself, no. But you deal in hiding things.. and that's what I'm calling about. The boat is carrying a huge box that will need some safe, secret place to be held. Do you know of any in that area?"
His voice took on an annoyed edge to it. "Your asking me to give up hiding spots? If I told you, they wouldn't be secret hiding places anymore."

We piled into the cars. I held the phone with my shoulder and started the engine.

"Not one of your hiding places. I know better than that, Ned.. but I figured you might know of someone else's..." I let the question hang there.
I could hear him considering a moment, then finally he said, "So what are you offering for me to give this up?"
It was my turn to pause and consider. He had charged us 20k for the pickup and securing of the documents from Yousef's.. and this was only information. However, it was potentially dangerous information for him to give out. I knew Giovanni still had a big chuck of cash.. and it didn't hurt to be generous to my informants..
"12,000 and a favor to be named later."

"12k and a favor.." He paused to consider.. it wasn't a long pause. "Did you know there was a fire in that district a few years back? A lot of the warehouses destroyed. But there was one place that never went up. All the buildings around it were blazing, but it didn't get so much as scorched. Number 856."
I took out a pen and jotted down the information. "Thanks, Ned."
He hung up. I made a mental note to get him his money in the next couple days.

We pulled up to Roy's place. He lived within walking distance to the docks. When we knocked, he answered the door in a bathrobe, looking half asleep. "Hey..c'mon in"

We filed in, and Nobody filled Roy in on what we were looking for. He got very alert, very quickly.

"Come with me." Roy grabbed his huge wretch that I was accustomed to seeing with him at all times.

We walked down to the docks and stood in front of a locked gate.

"The ship your talking about docked last night." Roy said, pointing to a boat, docked 100 yards away.
Ori's eyes went wide. "What? But it left Italy two days ago!"
I stayed on task. "Did you see what was on it?"
Roy shrugged. "Naw, they cleared us all out. Whatever it was, it wasn't normal procedure. We didn't see anything.."

We regarded the msytery ship from behind the gate. From here, it looked totalyl mundane. But if they'd cleared all the workers out of the area, something was definitely going on.

Roy looked at all of us and sighed, theatrically. "I'd go in there with you, but.." He gestured widely with his arms. "There's just nothing I can do, I got a job to protect.. I mean.. I just can't help.." and he brought his hands down to hang at his sides in a gesture of defeat.. but not before his wrench clanged loudly off the padlock on the gate and it clattered to the ground.

"See you guys later." And Roy left.

We watched him go, waiting for him to get out of sight before taking advantage of his parting gift.


The boat itself looked innocent enough, moored and silent, one guard pacing the deck. We stood hidden by a few large crates and debated what to do, speaking in low voices.

"I see 3 living things on the ship.." Nadi muttered.
Ori set himself up among the crates, in an area where he had full sight of the deck of the ship. He leveled his rifle and peered through the scope. "Damn.. that looks like one of the guys described in the letter. That asshole is UGLY."
We took turns glancing through the scope. He did indeed stand up to the description from the letter.. but his aura read completely human. Unsettling.

"They probably moved the crate off by now.. do we really need to check out the boat? Why not go find the warehouse?" I suggested.
Gio shook his head. "Its the family's boat.. I want to check it out. Besides, its practically deserted right now.. we can scope it out and see if they left any clues."
"Clues? What are you, Scoobey Doo?" I said sarcastically.
"Naw, that'd be me." Ori said with a grin.
"We're already here, might as well take advantage of it." Gio said.
"Alright. Boat it is.. Nobody and I can sneak aboard and take a look around. You guys set up down here, in case we need backup."

"Should I go up on the boat with you?" Nadi asked.
I looked at her skeptically. "How stealthy can you be?"
She looked thoughtful for a moment, honestly considering the question. "I'll stay down here."

"Have fun, Daphne." Gio said with an ingratiating grin.
"As long as none of you are Fred, I'll take that as a compliment. Daphne was the attractive one." I murmured as I stripped off my coat to prepare to slip into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. I handed my coat and gun to Becca. I kept the knives

"If we get spotted, just try to make it back into the water." I said to Nobody.
"Yeah, yeah."
Nobody and I both paused briefly, allowing the darkness to conceal around us. I was a bit surprised when he did it.. I didn't know he could use some of the same tricks I used. It hardly mattered. We needed to get around to the other side of the boat, to avoid being spotted by the guard.

We were able to scale one of the mooring lines with little incident, and the boat was mostly deserted. We slipped past the ugly as fuck guard, who looked much more imposing from up close, and made our way into the cargo area. The ship creaked and groaned at our passing, moving gently in the water.

There were boxes stacked everywhere, as you'd expect.. but no sign of the large crate described in the letter. There was, however, a space where the crate had been. It was 8 feet wide and 10 feet long. My mind raced with the possibilities of what could be housed in such a large container.

Having found where the cargo was not, Nobody and I headed back up to the deck. There were a few other areas we still needed to check.

That's where we got made. We were creeping silently across the metal floor when we both felt it start to shake. Loud, pounding boot falls came from behind us. We turned in time to see two of the guards bearing down on us, following the wet footprints we had been leaving, unbeknown to us, in our wake.

Stealth be damned, we made a break for it. We bolted for the railing, both jumped for it, still several feet away from the edge. Right before he made it over, a guard slammed into Nobody and knocked him onto the deck in a flying tackle.

I grabbed the rails before I fell into the water and swung myself back up in a rare show of athleticism. I wasn't about to leave him behind.

Maybe I should have.. because right as my feet met the ground, I also got tackled to the fucking floor. The guard sat on me, pinning my legs and holding me by the throat. Nobody was pinned in a similar fashion, except the giant of a man had both Nobody's wrists held down in one hand.

I had two options. Wrestle with the huge guy, who was obviously ridiculously stronger than me.. or cut a bitch.

I chose option B. I had a knife in my hand and was dragging it across his face faster than he could blink. It should have been a deep and painful gash.. but it wasn't. It felt like trying to slice through hide, rather than human skin. He grunted and turned his head away as a thin trickle of blood oozed from a cut that would probably only need a few stitches, instead of a wound that cut half his face off.

I had just enough time to realize we were well and truly fucked before he removed one hand from my throat, balled it into a fist the size of a Christmas ham, and punched me right in the fucking teeth. I felt several bones in my face fracture (and a few teeth shatter), and saw stars when the back of my head snapped back so forcefully against the metal ship deck that the noise resonated through the entire boat. I think he said something to me, in Italian, but I couldn't tell over the ringing in my ears.

I was trying to think of a way out of this mess through the cacophony in my head when Giovanni landed beside us in his demon form, and folded his wings against his back.

Thaddeus the Khaibit landed beside him, looking rather pissed. No one was throwing punches.

"What do you want?" He demanded.

"You stole my family's boat, we wanted to figure out what was going on." Giovanni said, his voice deeper and more commanding than usual. It was also very angry.

"That was foolish of you." Thaddeus sneered. He waved his hand, and the two guards released us. Nobody and I got to our feet, (me, a bit shaky) just as Ori and Nadi walked up the gangplank.. with Rashida. I'd have been more proud of my deductive abilities if I could think past the shard of bone lodged in the back of my right eye.

"We needed it." Rashida said simply with a cryptic smirk.

I put one hand on either side of my nose and shifted it back into place with a painful and audible POP. The blood did the rest. I coaxed it to repair my nose, and the fragile bones in my face and tried not to curse like a sailor at the pain.

"What did you need it for?" Gio demanded.

"It was a..family matter. We are done with it now." Rashida was staring at me.

"The family doesn't know whats going on." Gio protested, fists clenched at his sides, glaring daggers at her.

"Not your family, Santore..." She gestured casually to me. "Yours." My only response was to frown in confusion. A Khaibit matter? Rashida's gaze met mine, and I felt like she was trying to bore holes in the back of my skull.

"All must serve.." She repeated the cryptic message, and it came out sounding foreboding as she continued to hold my gaze. "We will see you in court." She suddenly broke eye contact and turned to regard everyone. "As heroes of this city, perhaps you should all attend.."

Then darkness coalesced around them both.. and they were gone.

Giovanni immediately pulled out his cell phone and called Vittorio to tell him we had the boat back.

All must serve.. that made me nervous. I knew that, historically, the khaibit were a bloodline of servants. First to the Cult of Set, battling the evil in the night.. and now to anyone with the right budget. I had no desire to be someone's hired help. I felt much more comfortable taking on the more traditional role. But Rashida's words rang in my ears and felt heavy in my mind. What were they planning?

"So.. what do we do now?" Ori asked.

"We go to court." I said simply.

But I knew there would be nothing simple about it.

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