October 29, 2010

Tracking down Ghosts, Part I


For the second time that day I woke up to the phone ringing. At least this time the caller waited until the sun went down. I stood and answered the call, holding the phone between my ear and shoulder as I got dressed.

"Whats going on Tommy."
The werewolf on the other end of the line sounded tired and suspicious. Welcome to my world.
 "Pack get there okay?"
I strapped on my holster. "Not sure. I haven't been up stairs yet. But I imagine if they didn't, the others would have let me know by now."
"Good.." He paused. I frowned and grabbed the sheaths for my knives, two of them now lined with silver, just in case.
"You gonna talk or sit there and imagine me half naked? I hate to tell ya, but I'm putting clothes on, not taking them off." I slid the knives into their respective homes. My voice held an annoyed edge that put a little more bite into the words.

"Mona is the new Seneschal of New Orleans...under a fake name, as a member of the Lancea Sanctum." Tommy said, finally.
I nearly choked on the next smart ass remark that was on its way out of my mouth. It came out as a barking laugh. But Tommy wasn't laughing. Hell, Tommy sounded downright bleak.
I scowled silently at the phone and sunk down onto the foot of the bed. "And this is something that bothers you, I take it?"
"He's gaining more and more influence. I'm just waiting for the day when the power corrupts.. if it hasn't already." He said in a low voice.

I rubbed my eyes with my thumb and forefinger. This could be bad. The guys down in New Orleans didn't like Giuseppe. The feeling was mutual, but this level of suspicion could lead them to fuck up Giuseppe's plans, just out of spite. If he had finally managed to get someone of his into a position of power in New Orleans, I wasn't about to let Tommy or Karl fuck it up because they lacked the ability to understand anything but black and white. I also wondered why Tommy was calling me about this. He knew I had a relationship with Giuseppe that was significantly more positive then anyone else in our group, and he wasn't really the type to call someone to get them to talk him out of anything.

Which meant he had another motive for calling me about this. Beyond keeping me up to date on what was going on. I resisted the urge to bitch him out. It wouldn't help. I decided to take a different route.

I sighed. "Look, Tommy. I know you guys aren't fond of Giuseppe."
Tommy grunted.
"But give it a chance." I continued.  "He hasn't gone off the deep end, and if he's doing this, you know he has something important in mind. If he's turned into one of the bad guys.. you'll find that out soon enough. But if he hasn't, and you blow the whistle on his charade, there is no going back. You could fuck up something that would have helped everyone. You don't trust him, I get that.. but don't jump the gun. He has good intentions, believe it or not."
There was a pause as Tommy considered what I had said.
"It makes me nervous that he's building up so much power, so fast."
I sighed, my voice sounded strained and tired. "His methods may be less than savory, but he's effective, and so far, our goals have lined up pretty well. I'm not asking you to trust him. But give it some time."
"And if he has let the power go to his head?" Tommy asked, searching.

Ah. That was his agenda. He was trying to gauge my loyalty. My connection to Giuseppe made him nervous, and he wanted to figure out just how much I'd support my sire.

I lowered my voice to barely more than a whisper, my tone serious. "Then you won't be the only one after him."
Tommy considered that for a few heartbeats. "Alright. I'll talk to Karl, see if I can talk him out of telling the world. Let me know how the hunt for Stepping Feather goes."
I muttered ascent and hung up the phone.

I sat there for a minute, contemplating the call. I was annoyed, and worried. It annoyed me that Tommy was so concerned about my intentions.. and it worried me that he and Karl might feel the need to fuck up what I knew to be Giuseppe's very carefully laid plans. But there wasn't a lot I could do from here, except pretend to be opening up to Tommy a little, and hope he took my word for it. He was too trusting, but I could used that to my advantage.

Of course, if I were being honest with myself, I'd realize that it wasn't completely an act. There was that little voice in the back of my head, the one that had the same fears as Tommy.. but every night, my vision went a little less black and white.. a little more gray, and the voice got quieter. I'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing, but I ignored it, either way. I trusted Giuseppe. I wouldn't be so willing to help if I didn't. He and Mona had become family, and I'd rather walk out in the noon day sun than let anything happen to either of them.

I stood and finished prepping. My movements were short and angry. I was ravenously hungry, moreso than I usually allow myself to get. I shut the door behind me and went upstairs, furiously shutting out the soft voice in the back of my head that was asking me to tally up all the people who had ever killed me.


I leaned my head into each room and beckoned the others join me in the lab. Ori was asleep on the couch and wouldn't rouse when I called him.. or slugged him.. so I grabbed a magic marker from the lab and waved it under his nose until he sat bolt upright, sputtering and pawing at his forehead. I tossed the marker into his lap.
"Wake up. I'd just hate to have to use that thing again. Come on."
Ori followed me into the lab, grumbling.

We sat around one of Gio's tables as he worked on one of his projects with a small blow torch. I sat at the far side of the table from him.

"Karl called me this morning. " I said without preamble.

Gio looked up sharply and flipped up his welding goggles. He put one hand on the torch value, making the flame a bit smaller. "Doesn't that.. never happen?"
I nodded. "He had important news. They found out who Stone's son is."
"Oh yeah? Who?" Gio asked, the others watched me intently.

I met Giovanni's eyes and held his gaze. "Thomas Mattheson."

Giovanni's hand spasmed on the value of the torch and it flared suddenly, setting the entire table top on fire. I jumped back faster than I thought possible, chair clattering loudly to the floor.

"Jesus H. Christ, Giovanni!" I snarled. I was glad I'd chosen the far side of the table.

"I'm going.. to kill him." He said in a quiet voice.
Ori grabbed Gio's hand and angled the torch upward, and off the table, then put out the flames. "Weren't you already going to kill him?"
"I'm going to kill him.. slowly." Giovanni all but growled.

"Is the pack here?" I changed the subject away from one that caused Giovanni to light shit on fire in my presence.
Gio exhaled slowly, then his eyes rolled into the back of his head for a moment, before he shook himself and nodded. "All but Larissa."

"Okay. I'll be back." I headed towards the door. As an afterthought, I poked my head back into the room. "Oh, and Mona is the new Seneschal of New Orleans."

I left the surprised laughter behind me and went out in search of prey.


I wasn't in the mood for the usual seduce-some-guy-at-a-bar act. I was too angry. Too hungry to be that subtle. I was worried, anxious, pissed, and annoyed. I needed to hunt in a way that I hadn't done in quite some time.

It didn't take me long to find a lone drunk staggering down the road, and even less time to see the shadow that detached itself from a small alcove and followed the guy into the alley. I waited until the mugger had the drunk pushed up against the wall to jump his ass.

And I missed with the first grab. The mugger spun to face me, letting the drunk slide to the alley floor.
"What the fuck?" He pulled out a gun. And then he shot me.

Or shot at me, in any case.

I was pissed now. I flowed around the bullets like water and rushed the fucker. I twisted his gun arm back behind him in a hammer lock, spared a glance at the drunk, who thankfully, had passed out, and sunk fangs into the asshole's neck.

My throat convulsed, trying to take in as much blood as I could, as quickly as I could. I nearly lost myself to it, at one point. The compulsion to take too much, to keep drinking that warm, coppery sustenance until there was nothing left was so strong it was painful. I could compare it to someone eating a huge steak dinner after fasting for 3 days, but that didn't even come close. It was more like a drug fix a week into your withdrawal symptoms.

It was a hunger.. an addiction.. and it was the only thing that actually made me feel alive.

And when I tore myself away from it, it felt like I was ripping out a fucking rib. The need hit me like a physical force.. but I did my best to ignore it, sealed the wound, and let the mugger slip bonelessly to the asphalt. His face was pale, his lips looked almost bloodless... but he was alive.

But I was still hungry, dammit. I found myself staring at the drunk man, unconscious on the ground. But I forced myself to stride purposefully away, instead. I had work to do tonight, and his blood was too diluted with alcohol to allow me to think straight. So I walked out of the alleyway, and called an ambulance for my little anemic friend. I'd taken enough that he would probably need medical care. But he'd live. I stuck around long enough to confirm the sounds of sirens, then started walking back to the lab.


I focused on the problem at hand in order to shut out the pulsing hunger. I didn't have time to find anyone else tonight.

Stepping Feather had gone to places he'd either already been, or we'd already been. Of course, all the places he'd been, we'd been too. Was he having some phantom memories? I'd like to think that, but it seemed unlikely.

What was much more likely was the idea that he was following the scents he found at his grave. We'd all been there, as had the members of his pack. It would explain why he'd gone to the lab, before he'd seen the note. He followed our trail there.

Which meant.. we had a place to start looking.. well.. places.

I quickened my pace.


I hurried into the shop and back to the lab. Ori stood in the doorway to the kitchen, shoving beef jerky in his mouth. "Well aren't you looking fat and happy. Had a bite?" he said through a mouthful of food.
I arched a brow at him. "Pot calling kettle?"
He held out a piece of dried meat and grinned at me. "Want some? I found it on top of the fridge."
Giovanni looked up sharply and choked back a laugh before continuing his work. Ori just gave him a perplexed frown at continued to eat.

The pack appeared in the doorway, joining the loose circle we were forming around Giovanni's work table. I didn't waste any time getting down to business.

"Judging by the places we've already spotted Stepping Feather, or seen evidence of his passing, we can assume that he's tracking the scents that he picked up at his grave site. It's more plausible than fragmented memories, at this point." I pulled a street map I'd grabbed on my way back out of my coat and laid it out flat on the table. Gio handed me a red marker. I started marking through the places he'd already been with a big red X.

"How do we know he's following our scents?" Nobody asked, skeptical.
I shrugged and tried to feel as confident as I was pretending to be. "We don't.. but its the only lead we have right now. If we don't assume it, then we have no idea where to start looking." I turned to Nadi, standing quietly next to Becca, who was making a point to look everywhere except at Roxanne. The werewolf seemed obliged to do the same. "Once we find him, will you be able to give him his memories back using that journal?"

Nadi pulled the slender notebook out. "I'll have to ask my sister.."
I nodded and looked back down at the map. We'd been all over the city. We had a lot of ground to cover. Call her. We're going to need the help."

Nadi pulled out her cell and dialed a number. She had a brief conversation then looked up at Giovanni, snapping the phone shut. "Open the door."
Giovanni nodded, got s distant look in his eyes for a brief moment, then Alexandria was standing in the middle of the room with us. A growl bubbled up from Roxanne's very human throat, somehow making it more menacing than it would have been if she were in a wolf form. But she didn't say a word to Alexandria, and Nadi's sister said nothing to her.

"Okay.. we've got a few key locations that we should probably hit. We've been all over town, but some places more than others. I think we should focus on the places that all of us have been. Or at least, most of us." I circled five separate areas of the map. "The Santore Tower, Maury's place, The Library, The Shedd, and Cook County. If anyone can think of any others, feel free to speak up."

No one said a word. They looked thoughtfully at the map.

Larissa (who, consequently, was not looking at the map) sighed. "He has been speaking with Spirits of darkness.."
Ori's face paled. "Oh shit..."
Larissa frowned at him, and I had a feeling she rolled her eyes, but I coudln't tell from behind her sunglasses. "It's not like that. They are like any other spirit.. not inherently evil.. but it will make finding him much more difficult."
I smirked to myself, examining areas of the map. I flicked a glance at Ori. "Shadows have their uses."
He snorted and crossed his arms. "Yeah. Skullduggery." He said with a scowl.
My lips twitched into a brief smile. "I like to think of them as stealthy shenanigans.."

"We will have to split up.." Nadi remarked quietly, interrupting Ori's response.
I nodded. "Yeah.. don't want too.. but its the easiest way to manage it. Who wants to go where?"

After a bit of discussion, we decided that Becca and Ori would go to the Library, Giovanni and Roxanne would go to the tower, Alexandria and Nadi would go to Maury's, Nobody and Larissa would go to the Shedd (there was some debate on that one, but I had no desire to go back over there right now, vampire territory or not.), and Davareaux and I would head to the Asylum.

"Only one of us can have the journal.. what do we do if we find him?" I asked, looking to his pack.

"Try to hold there as long as you can, and call us." Davareaux said, his voice grave.
Larissa tilted her head to one side and went still for a moment.."There.. now we are all connected. Will your thoughts to the others, and we will hear it." She turned and looked at me before I could even speak, smiling slightly. "And don't worry.. we can only hear what you choose for us too."

Everyone nodded, somber and serious. No one said what everyone was thinking.

We'd lost him so many times already, how the fuck were we going to slow him down this time?


(((note: the next few scenes happen nearly simultaneously, for the sake of the story, the scenes Harper wasn't directly in will be in third person. This will be divided up into two separate posts, due to its length.)))

Ori and Becca walked up the familiar steps to the Library. Becca held a collar and leash in her hands, just in case Ori needed to get wolfy. No sense in getting detained because of a leash law violation while on a time sensitive investigation.

"Hey, while we're here, we can check out that new issue of Highlights." Ori said lightly, falling back on his usual distraction when he as nervous- humor.
"Hell yeah.. I'm behind." Becca said without missing a beat.

They noticed something was off almost immediately. There was no guard the door. They exchanged a look, and Ori put one hand on the door, pushing it open slowly. It swung inward on silent hinges.

The Library interior looked normal. Some of the lights were out, but it was after hours, and that wasn't unusual. Lights still burned in the upstairs, were Volkas would be hard at work. Ori's nostrils flared.

Familiar scents came to him.. burnt coffee, newsprint.. and the familiar but distinctly out of place smell of fresh blood. He bolted up the stair, Becca only a few steps behind him.

The smell of blood became stronger, and when they rounded the corner, they discovered why. Volkas lay on the floor, a small pool of blood forming around his head. His chair was fallen to the side, a few newspapers scattered, but for the most part he seemed to have been caught unawares. Had he struggled, had there been an actual fight, the place would have been torn to shreds. He was breathing shallow breaths, alive, but completely unconscious.

Becca leaned down and picked up the plastic handle to the coffee carafe, now only adorned with broken glass. She looked at Ori, eyes wide. "What the hell happened?"

"Not sure.. but.." He crouched next to Volkas and looked at the head wound. "He shouldn't still be out. The wound looks mostly healed... that's weird, right?"
Becca shrugged. "I'unno. I'm not a medic."

Hey Harper.. He look like he's gonna be okay to you? Why's he still unconscious? Ori projected his thoughts through the link Larissa had established, holding the image of Volkas in his mind for her reference.

The contusion looks mostly healed.. and there really isn't that much blood. If he was human, I might be worried about a concussion.. but he's not. From here, it looks like he'll be fine. Harper answered, almost immediately.

Ori stood, perplexed frown crossing his face. "Lets look around. If he was only hit with the coffee maker, he'll be fine.. maybe he'll be awake when we come back up."

They made their way through the library, hyper aware of every little sound, every small movement, even though they both knew that if Stepping Feather wished it, they'd see neither before he jumped them.  All the guards but one were unconscious, slumped over in chairs, sitting leaned against walls.. out, but not injured.

One guard though, was feeling his way along the wall, eyes open, but unseeing. He looked frustrated, scared, and tired.

Looks like everyone is out.. except one guard, who is blind. Ori said to everyone.
Ugh.. I know now he feels.. Nobody grumbled.
Did you talk to him? He may have some idea what happened. Harper asked.
Talk to the blind guy. Gio thought, at the same moment.
The blind man may be able to help. Nadi suggested, simultaneously.

Nah. Ori said with a dismissive wave of the hand that only Becca could actually see.
Harper's voice took on an undercurrent of irritation. Why the hell not?
Ori shrugged. It's a hunch. He's not important.
Gio and Nobody let out exasperated complaints, and Harper somehow managed to convey that she was rolling her eyes, just by the inflection in her voice. Becca...
Yeah, I'm on it. Becca replied.

She stepped around Ori and walked towards the blind man, letting her boots fall loudly on the floor, so he's hear her coming.
The guard froze. "Whose there?"
"Friend of Volkas.. we came to see him and saw that you looked like you needed help. What happened?"

The guard swallowed and took a shaky breath. "Yeah.. I recognize your voice..don't know what happened.. everything just suddenly went dark.. all the lights, I guess. I've been trying to make my way back to the security office for an hour.."
Becca and Ori exchanged a look. Stepping Feather was probably long gone by now.
Becca waved a hand in front of the guards face. "Is everything still dark now..?"
"Can you show us where the security office is?" Ori asked.
Becca blinked at him, then covered her face with one hand, shaking her head.
Ori scowled. "I mean tell us what direction its in.."
"There are signs.." The guard motioned vaguely towards one wall, which had directional arrows leading to the office. They helped the guard back, and let him sink down into a chair on the far side of the room. Becca shivered. The last time she'd been in here, there had been a man with a newspaper shoved down his throat so hard it killed him. She hugged herself and tried not to think about it.

"There are security tapes.." The guard said.
"Ah! My specialty. Lets see what we've got." Ori said, leaning over the keyboard.

He rewound the tapes and played them forward at double speed, until an unfamiliar figure appeared. A man in what appeared to be stolen thrift store garb entered the library, and guards started to fall unconscious. One camera showed Volkas look up sharply, jumping to his feet and knocking over the chair right before 9 huge dire wolves made of solid shadows flowed out of the book shelves and lunge for him. He tensed, but before he could move to defend himself, Stepping Feather stepped up silently behind him and brings the coffee machine down across the back of his head. Volkas slumped to the floor. Then he was gone.

Ori took the footage and motioned to Becca. They headed back up the stairs to check on Volkas.

He was still unconscious.

"I have an idea." Ori strode over to the counter where Volkas kept the coffee and grabbed a bag of it. He opened the top and waved it under Volkas' nose, waiting expectantly.

Nothing happened.

"Wow...you really have a gift, you know that?" Becca shook her head and stepped over to the cabinet, pulling down the first aid kit that was sitting on the top shelf. She pulled out a small packet of smelling salts, shouldered Ori out of the way, and held them under the unconscious werewolf's nose before tearing them open.

Volkas came too coughing and sputtering. Becca and Ori both jumped back quickly as soon as he moved, wary of how he might react upon waking.

Volkas groaned and rubbed the back of his head. Becca helped him stand. Ori grabbed a damp towel and tossed it to him. Volkas started wiping the blood from his face and head. "He appeared from no wheres..."

"Yeah.. uh..I'd make you coffee.. but.." Ori held up the plastic handle of the coffee carafe, and gestered helplessly to the wreckage on the floor.
Volkas waved a hand dismissively. "Eh.. easy enough to replace. Was your uncle, yes?"
Ori nodded, expression turning grave.
Volkas turned slowly, taking in the room, then grunted, pulling out a file drawer. "He took records."
Ori blinked. "Records? Didn't see that on the tapes.."
Volkas shrugged and closed the drawer. "Cook County records it seems. Do you have the tapes?"
Ori nodded and handed him the footage.
Volkas took it from him. "I will take care of this. Go find your uncle. He is not here, now."
"Will do.. uh.. see ya..sorry.."
Volkas grunted and waved them away, then turned to grab a broom.

Ori and Becca exchanged a glance and headed silently to the door.


The Shedd parking lot was mostly empty. Nobody and Larissa approached the doors quietly, Nobody's head whipping this way and that, on the lookout for danger. Larissa just stared straight ahead, sunglasses still in place, red tipped cane swinging in front of her silently. The lock on the doors posed little problem to the changeling, and they slipped inside.

There weren't many lights in the Shedd during off hours. A few safety lights gave just enough illumination to make the place more creepy, rather than less.

Fucking vampires.. Nobody grumbled, internally. He didn't hear Harper say a word, but felt the distinct impression that she was laughing at him.

The weird shit didn't start until they made it into the main area of the building. Nobody looked up sharply, and held a hand out to stop Larissa. By the glow of the safety lights, he could see fog rolling slowly towards them. It hung low to the ground, and flowed around the floor independent of any air currents in the room.

There's fog on the ground.. don't know what it is..

Larissa nodded slightly. I'm stepping sideways. And then she was just gone. Nobody continued to watch the fog suspiciously.What do you see? He asked.
I don't. Larissa responded, her tone dry.
Nobody groaned silently. Man.. I just pulled a Tommy..
She didn't laugh, but Nobody could perceive her amusement nonetheless. There are a lot of spirits..
Any Stepping Feather might have talked to? Nobody asked, staring at the approaching mist.
I doubt he had many words with the fish spirits. She replied, drolly.

Nobody took a few careful steps back as the fog rolled towards his feet. The fog is still coming.
Larissa sounded distracted when she thought, There is something over here... but I don't know what..

Nobody took another step back and scowled at the floor. Fuck this.

Suddenly, the whole aquarium was full of light. Fish darted back into their holes, startled by the sudden illumination. Nobdy stood in the middle of it all, giving off rays like the noonday sun.

And it revealed the Larvae, crouched in what had been darkness. Before Nobody could utter a word, the vampire charged him, landing a closed fist blow to his chest.

Nobody jumped back, sucking in the breath that had just been knocked out of him and prepared for another charge, knives appearing in his hands... but the Larve just stood there. Muscles twitching in an effort to restrain himself, and eyed Nobody's weapons.

A bestial growl trickled from his throat. Nobody glared, but gave no ground.

The larvae increased the volume of his growl, and razor sharp claws slid silently from the tips of his fingers.

"Okay! Okay!" Nobody said, finally, and let the knives clatter to the floor.

The Larvae seemed greatly disappointed. 

A moment later, a huge dire wolf appeared in the middle of the room, jaws locked around what appeared to be nothing but a shadow. She jerked and pulled, and the shadow wrestled right back.

Nobody threw up his hands. "Woah! Hey! Both of you stop! We're on the same side!" Then he added in a quieter voice, to himself, "more or less.."

"Her first!" The shadow snarled.

"Larissa." Nobody said, the word more a gentle request than a harsh command. Larissa's eyes darted to him and she hesitated briefly, then released the shadow who had solidified into the form of Thaddeus, the khaibit. She allowed herself to shift into human form.

The Larvae started to stalk towards the blind werewolf, claws tensed. Thaddeus held up a hand. "Stand down." His was much more a harsh command than a gentle request. The Larvae stopped, body shivering with suppressed rage.

"I didn't realize the Shedd would be guarded from there." Larissa said, her tone approving.
"Too many of you running around this town for it not to be." Thaddeus said in a rough voice. "Why are you here?"
"Looking for our friend." Nobody said, eyes still resting on the Larvae.
Thaddeus crossed his arms and scowled at them both. "You could have, you know.. called."
"Sorry. Harper didn't tell me the place was guarded all the time. She's rather incompetent." Nobody responded sourly. He made sure everyone on the mental channel heard him say it. A few of the others chuckled, but Harper didn't say a word. However, he again got the impression of smug amusement, with a slight under current of annoyance that gave him at least minor satisfaction.

Thaddeus shook his head. "He hasn't been here."
"Okay.. sorry for the intrusion." His eyes flicked between Thaddeus and the Larvae. "Can I take my knives, or is your pet going to gut me?"
Thaddeus' eyes glinted with dark amusement. "He isn't my pet."
"But you can get him to back off." Nobody said, giving Thaddeus a pointed look.
Thaddeus' mouth twitched into a small smirk. "Take your knives. Get out."

Nobody bent to retrieve his weapons, keeping his eyes on both vampires. He took larissa by the hand and slowly backed out out of the room. he didn't turn around until the doors were shut behind him. He exhaled harshly and re-sheathed his knives. What the hell, Harper?!

He felt what passed for a mental shrug from her. Honestly? I didn't know it would be guarded 24/7. I'm not all knowing when it comes to other vampires. I rarely participate in their bullshit.

Fucking incompetent Nobody muttered, and continued grumbling all the way back to the shop, using terms like 'secret monger' 'completely useless' and 'dragged out into the sun' in as many colorful variations as he could think of.


Giovanni pulled out his cell and hit a speed dial number. Sansome answered on the second ring. "What do you need, Gio?"
"We're still hunting for Stepping Feather.. and I was wondering if you'd seen hide or hair of him at the house."
"Nah, he hasn't been around, far as we can tell."
"Okay, keep an eye peeled for me?"
"Where's Bella tonight?" Gio asked.
"Tower. Why?"
Gio gave a low chuckle. "Oh this is going to be fun..."
Sansome sighed and hung up the phone.

Giovanni and Roxanne pulled up the the Tower not long after that. The guys at the security desk nodded Gio through, but glared daggers at Roxanne, barring her entrance. The look said that there was no way that she was getting through. Roxanne gave them a grin that was more a bearing of teeth.

The guards both stood, muscles tensing.

"Oh for Pete's sake.. she's with me." Giovanni said, annoyed. the guards didn't look happy about it, but they backed off. Roxanne strode through the metal detector and the machine didn't so much as beep. The huge shard of glass she wore openly on her hip gleamed her defiance at the machine.

They hit the elevator, and Giovanni let his eyes unfocus, and began to feel the pulse of the entire building. It was a nifty tool to have, and would make their search much faster. He could sense everyone in it. Vitorri and Bella where in the penthouse, a few others scattered here and there...

And one person in intense pain and feeling immense fear was in the security office.

"Something's wrong in the security office.." he said, his voice quiet and distant.
Roxanne glared at him. "Where?"
"We're going there now.." And suddenly the elevator began to go back down, stopping two floors below. The doors rolled open almost before the car came to a complete stop and Roxanne was off like a bolt of lightning.
"Third door on the left!" Gio called after her, then hurried out of the elevator himself.

He remember to feign the limp again right before he got to the door. The smell of blood was thick in the air as he stepped inside the office.  One man wearing the security uniform was dead, crumpled in a bloody heap on the floor. Roxanne stood over the other, his thigh torn open in a long gash, blood flowing freely from the severed artery. He was getting very pale, very fast.

Next to him, there was a young man duct taped to a chair. His chin was resting on his chest, his face a mask of bruises, cuts and blood. A few of his fingers were bent at odd angles. He was barely conscious. Giovanni limped over and raised the kids chin to get a good look at his face.

Giovanni's expression split into a huge grin and he lowered the kid's chin gently. "We're taking him with us."
Roxanne regarded the prisoner with a sneer of contempt. "Weakness."
Gio frowned at her. "Short sightedness." He reached down and started peeling away the duct tape.

Roxanne shouldered him gently out of the way. "I'll get him. You've got a bad leg." She gave him a pointed look, then her eyes flicked briefly to the wounded guard. Giovanni gave her a faint nod, then stepped foward and glared down at the bleeding man.

He forced the man to crane his neck to look up at him. He wasn't about to get down on the guards level. He was above that.

And besides, its hard to crouch with a gimp leg.

"What the hell were you doing?" 
"Following.. orders.." The guard gasped.
"Whose orders?" Gio demanded. His voice carried an air of indignant authority.
The man opened his mouth to speak, to give him a name.. and then he started to choke. He began clawing at his throat, gagging and wheezing as dozens of black beetles began flowing out of his mouth in waves. Giovanni watched, perplexed, as the man died from a combination of blood loss and suffocation. The beetles scurried away.

"Interesting." Giovanni turned his back and walked out of the room, following Roxanne to the elevator.

We're bringing someone home. He broadcast to the whole group. His tone was smug.
Who? Harper asked immediately.
Its a surprise! He thought cheerfully.
He grinned at the annoyed growl that proceeded her next question. Not Stepping Feather?
No. He was never here.. but its someone who should be just as dead. He replied. He ignored the rest of the questions from everyone else, content to make them wait until everyone was home to reveal the identity of the kid laying across the backseat.

He glanced up to the mirrored windows of the penthouse as they drove away, giving the steering wheel a thump with his fist to punctuate his disappointment.

He'd really been hoping to get Bella and Roxanne in the same room and watch the show...


(((I'm stopping here for this post since it is already so very long. I will try to post the second half of this scene tomorrow, but if i can't manage it, it will be next week.)))

October 15, 2010

On the Hunt

Becca and I made it over to the Crowbar and were greeted by Nobody, appearing out of the shadows of the building. I'd called him on the way over.

It was late on a Wednesday night, so the bar was relatively empty. A few booths had people in them, and there was one familiar person sitting at the bar. Shay McGuiness gave us a two fingered wave as we entered and went back to her drink. I wasted no time in walking up to the bar on the side that was unoccupied and waving Mac over. He gave me a surly nod, not looking too happy to see me.

But Mac always looked like that, so I didn't take it personally.

He walked over and looked at us expectantly. The others ordered, and after he got their drinks, I leaned across the bar and started talking in a low voice.

"Have you seen Stepping Feather around here at all?" I murmured.

His eyebrows went up and he just looked at me. In the quickest and most concise way possible, I explained what had happened.

He made a noncommittal noise in his throat when I had finished. "Feel free to look around, but I haven't seen him."

I nodded. "Downstairs.. its locked, right?"
He nodded in return and produced a key from his pocket.
"May I? Just in case."
He didn't say anything, but handed me the key. I stepped back from the bar, key not leaving my hand, and surveyed the room. Nobody and Becca wandered over to talk to Shay.

"Hey Shay, how's it going?" Nobody said as he set his drink next to hers.
"Good!" She took a large drink from her glass.
"Hey.. have you heard anything from that mage guy...?" he asked, voice lowered.
"Uh, you need to be a bit more specific.."
"You know, the one we got the coins from..." his voice went quieter.
Shay's eyes went wide. "Oh! That guy. No, actually.. and that's whats weird. I haven't heard anything at all."
"That's good though, right?" He said, nervously.
She shook her head vehemently and took another long pull from her drink. "Not. Not at all. Those guys? They don't just let things like that happen without some kind of revenge. usually violent revenge. It's making me nervous, truth be told. It's weird.. way too quiet, know what I mean?"

I tuned them out after that. It was another issue for another night. Stepping Feather first, murderous mages later.

I took a moment to concentrate my senses on my sense of smell. It was weird for me to be tracking someone by scent, not really something I was used to, but for now, it was all I had. I picked up his scent again, but it was old, like it was leftover from before his death.

But I followed it anyway. I found myself making slow circles around the room. Only one person was really sober enough to give me weird looks that I ignored. The scent spiraled from the outside to the inside of the room. Nobody was beside me when I stopped in the middle of the bar. I frowned, confused.
"It's a searching pattern." Nobody said quietly. "You were tracking the scent right? And that's why you were walking in a spiral. That is the most efficient way to search a room."
"Makes sense.. confirms that the scent isn't as old as it seems to be. Also means that he searched this whole room, and Mac never saw him once. Lets try the basement." I said.

I told Becca to stay up stairs, in case he showed up. She struck up a conversation with Shay and they were arguing good naturedly about something as Nobody and I disappeared into the basement.

 The scent did the same spiraling action down there. The trapdoor to the subbasement was still covered by crates and boxes.

But I was nothing if not thorough. I started pushing the obstacles to the side. Nobody helped me without a word. We both knew that, as secure as an area may seem, Stepping Feather knew how to get into places. I slipped the key in the padlock and jerked open the heavy door. I started down the narrow stairs, but Nobody didn't move to join me.

"I'll stay up here. I wouldn't put it passed Stepping Feather to lock us down there."

I made a noise in my throat that might have sounded like an agreement, and made my way down the stairs.

The steps were familiar, and I had no trouble finding the light switch. Usually I wouldn't have bothered with lights, but my night vision can sometimes miss details, and I was already more hungry than I should've allowed myself to get. I didn't have time to feed right now, and the beast was getting cranky.

So I hit the lights. The room was just as we'd left it. Stepping Feather's scent was here, smelling even older than the rest of the bar.. and the fine layer of dust on the table, chairs, and floor seemed undisturbed.

My footsteps echoed quietly through the bomb shelter. It seemed much more lifeless than I remember. Forgotten, almost.. like no one had been down here since we'd left...

But that wouldn't explain why the photo on the desk was eschew.

I stopped in front of the writing desk. There was no dust here, and the papers looked like they'd been rifled through. The photo sat in its plain frame, facing the left wall, instead of the room at large, as it usually did. It was a small thing, but the photo had always been a mystery to me when we had been using this place as our headquarters. I would sit and stare at it from the far end of the table, wondering who the woman was with Mac.

I inhaled slowly, and let it out with a loud sigh. He'd been here. We'd missed him again.

Or maybe not?

I grabbed a pen and a blank sheet of paper. I penned a quick note. It was a useless gesture, more than likely. If he'd already been here, it was doubtful that he'd come back, but it was worth the 30 seconds it took me to scribble it down.

Stepping Feather,

We are here to help you. We can help you remember, and help you find your pack. Please, let us help.

We will be at Al'makour Antiquities. We wish you no harm. We are friends.

-Harper O'Shea

I signed my name to the note... and then everything started to go dark. The lights in the room didn't dim, my vision did. I set down the note and shifted the focus of my heightened senses from my nose to my eyes.

It was probably the only reason I didn't go completely blind. Shapes swan across my vision.

"Stepping Feather! Let us help you!" I called, uselessly. I couldn't think of any other reason I'd be randomly going fucking blind. I bolted for the stairs, avoiding the table and chairs more by memory than by sight. As I reached the landed I heard a surprised grunt, the sound of someone falling, and a dark shape rolling down the stairs towards me. The trap door shut, and I heard the lock click and crates shoved over the floor.

Nobody cursed and tried to stand. "I can't fucking see!"

I reached out to Becca. I wasn't used to using telepathy when I couldn't see the person, but the link between her and I was strong enough that the thoughts flowed into her mind with relative ease.

He's here, locked us in the sub basement. Bring Mac.

I heard her heavy boots running across the floor before I even finished the message. She ran down the stairs.. I heard a thud, a startled cry, and then the crates being slid away and the door opening. I smelled the heavy metallic scent of blood. Quite a bit of it. I tensed, commanded the vitae, and felt my pupils expand, hoping it would counteract the weird semi- blindness.

Boy did it ever. Everything stood out in sharp relief, I could see everything, and it was like looking at a negative image. I could count the lines in the grain of the wooden stairs. I could see individual dust particles.

It was fucking distracting.

"Boss, you okay?" Becca called down from the open hatch. She sounded a bit winded.

"Yeah, is he gone?" My voice was rougher than I would've liked. I helped Nobody up, and got him up the stairs, into the basement.

When I got to the top, Becca's eyes were a little wild, pupils too large.. she looked pretty freaked. "Yeah.. I mean, I don't know if it was him. All I saw was..like.. a shape made of light.. and then it was like the bottom fell out of a can of soup..." She pointed at Mac.

Mac stood near the stairs.. trying to hold in his intestines. He'd been slit clean up the middle. His shirt gaped over the wound that would've been lethal to a human being, and blood oozed freely from between his fingers and onto the floor.

I tried not to stare.

"Got himself down there, eh?" Mac said, voice tinged with pain.

I nodded. "Yeah.. I left him a note.. but I doubt he saw it."

"Blinded me and threw me down the damn stairs.. I smell blood, whose hurt? Mac?" Nobody said. He took a couple steps towards the werewolves voice. "I can help."

Mac's response was a low growl.

Nobody stopped moving and held up his hands. "Fine.. shit.."

"He ran.. but he didn't try and kill anyone.. so that's something.." I muttered, trying not to focus too much on the intricate patterns swirling in the blood that dripped steadily onto the already messy floor.

"That guy got gutted!" Becca said in a voice that was too loud, and thready with panic and fear. She pointed at Mac, as though I hadn't noticed.

I just shrugged. "But Mac's a werewolf."

She opened her mouth to protest, but Mac interrupted her.

"She's right. He knew.. he was just trying to slow us down."

My vision began fading back to normal. I let my pupils contract and found that I could see normally again.  I pulled out my phone and shot off a text to Ori.

To: The Mutt

He was here, locked us in the basement, ran away again. Be on the lookout. Left him a note, but I don't know if he saw it. We are coming to you.


A moment later I received a text back.. but it was from Nadi, not Ori.

From: Nadi

Apparently dead girls do it for Ori, including you... you make his dick erect.


I fought back the surprised laugh. I really didn't want to know what had prompted that text message. I responded with the first thing that came to mind. I was grateful for the distraction.. Mac's blood was everywhere.

To: Nadi

That is probably the most terrifying thing I've heard all night.... he has a penis?!


I kept the texts to myself as we headed back upstairs, Mac making a stop in the office to change into a clean shirt that was identical to the one he'd been wearing. He told us to get the fuck out, which we promptly did and made a beeline for the Hair of the Dog.

I kept wondering is Stepping Feather got my note. Giovanni was at the shop. I debated going straight there, but I figured he'd be more likely to go find Ori..

The Hair of the Dog was about as packed as the Crowbar hadn't been. The bartender, a couple regulars (including SouthPaw), and two men I didn't recognize, plus Nadi and Ori sitting at the usual table. The auras of the two new  werewolf faces danced wildly, and I watched colors of alarm and fear spike through as Nobody and I walked in. They kept giving us sidelong glances.

Our reputation proceeded us, apparently.

Both Nadi and Ori had beer. We sat and filled them in. Unfortunately, they hadn't seen him.

About then, Giovanni walked in. The new guys' auras freaking out more.. faces going pale. One of them tossed his hands up and stalked out the door. "Fuck it! I'll take my chances with the Lex!"

The other remained, but continued looking nervous.

Ori watched him go and shrugged. "I guess we made the ghost wolves nervous.."

Gio smirked and sat. Something was eating at me.. something I wasn't taking into account, but I couldn't place it. I was too damned thirsty to focus. We filled him in as well as everyone had a drink..but me.

"And I left him a note but..." I paused. Giovanni was here. That meant.. no one was at the shop. I let fly a string of curses and jumped to my feet.

"What did it say?" Gio asked, giving me a strange look.

"That he could find us at the fucking shop!" and I bolted for the door, the others close behind me.

The shop was dark when my car screeched to a stop, tossing up loose gravel I was out of the car almost before it stopped moving.

I forced my senses to sharpen and looked, listened, and smelled for any sign of Stepping Feather.

There were faint scratch marks on the front door, and one window.

But he was gone. He'd seen my note. He'd come here, and no one had been home. So he'd left.

How the fuck could I have let this happen? Why didn't I tell Giovanni to stay put? Because I didn't expect him to come out. I thought he'd stay here.. I didn't think it would be an issue.

I was a fucking idiot. I sat down on the front steps, heavily. Ori had shifted to his wolf shape, and was trying to track his uncle.. but it was no good. There was no trail to follow. I never knew a wolf could look so frustrated.

The others looked around the shop. I stayed put. I was marveling at the scale of this simple fuck up. I may have cost us our one chance of saving him. All because I didn't make one simple phone call.

How could I have been so bloody stupid?

An ear splitting howl rang out from the roof of the building.

Literally, ear splitting. I had my senses on overdrive. Ori had gone up to the roof, and let loose a ridiculously loud howl without any warning.

I clasped my hands over my ears and cursed, long and loudly.

At least, I think it was loud. Ori's howl had caused my ear drums to burst. After the inital sound of the howl, all I could hear was a dull ringing, and feel the sharp pain in my head. When I looked up, the others were watching me, mild amusement on all their faces. I flipped them all off. They disappeared inside the shop.

I watched Ori for a moment, and let him get off another couple howls before I coaxed vitae to my ear drums and knit them back together.

I heard answering howls.. but as I watched Ori, he seemed to get more agitated, rather than less. He paced on the roof, like he didn't like what he was hearing.

After about 5 minutes, I heard, "Hey! Harper! Can you hear yet?" Giovanni's voice came floating to me from inside the shop. I ignored him. I suppose deafness has its benefits. I wouldn't have to listen to Gio is I was deaf..pretending was almost as good.

A moment later, I smelled blood. The beast stirred, more forcibly this time, than earlier at the CrowBar.

I closed my eyes, and shoved it down and away. I didn't have time for that right now. Not tonight. I was about to look around for the source of the smell.. but it found me.

I small pool of blood flowed past me, stopping on the sidewalk at my feet like the blob in that old movie. I watched, perplexed, as the pool stretched, lengthened, and became very neat and precise cursive lettering.

I need your help inside.

I looked over my shoulder, and Giovanni was waving at him, shit eatin' grin on his face.

He was really having way too much fun with this whole.. deal with a demon thing. I stood and went inside, the pool of blood followed me.

"You're a fucking show off, you know that?" I grummbled, sitting on one of the stools.

"What? I didn't know if you were still deaf!" He protested. The blood was making little circles around the base of my stool.

"Ever heard of pen and paper?" I tried very hard not to watch the blood.

"No fun in that.. hey! hungry? You can have this.." The blood continued to slide across the floor in my field of vision.

I tried to laugh scornfully, but it came out strained. "No. Because one of two things will happen. I'll either spontaneously catch fire, or you'll continue to be able to move that blood around, even when its in my body.. and I have no desire to have any part of you inside me, Giovanni. Ever."

He grinned at me. "You loss."

I just grunted.

He lead the blood around the lab a little more before allowing it to dissapate. Then he grabbed a cardboard box and set it on the table next to me while he muttered to himself.

"I should do that in a vampire club or something.. it would be like cats with a laser pointer.." then, to me, he said, "can you do your voodoo on this stuff? It's my mom's.." He handed me a lock of dark hair, tied with a blue string.

I took it without a word. After a moment of concentration, handed it back.

"Sansome cut it from her in the hospital, then walked into a room with Guiseppe, Vittorio, Mac and Davareaux.. pretty much all there was too it."

He nodded and handed me a file.

"Medical records. What do you think?" he said.

I scanned over the file. It was mostly normal, until I got to 1986. "Heavily redacted in 1986." I said, Givoanni rolled his eyes. "says those present were the father..not Mattheson, of course.. Sansome, a cousin Vittorio, and a nephew Jesse.."

I looked at that thoughtfully a moment, a bit confused.. When I looked up, Giovanni was giving me the "are you retarded" look.

"What?" I said crossly.

"Nephew Jesse? Giuseppe?" he said.

I dropped the file on the table and rubbed my eyes with one hand. "It's been a long night, alright? I'm a little out of it."

It was becoming evident that I was entirely too preoccupied to be useful to anyone right now. I heard another howl erupt from the roof.

Nobody cursed from the other room and I heard him head to the roof. He and Ori appeared a moment later, both looking annoyed.

"What happened?" I asked Ori.

He shrugged and crossed his arms, looking glum. "I called for him, but he never answered. Traded insults with a random member of the Pure, and Calvin kept telling us both to shut the hell up. That's it, really."

I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes and managed not to let fly another tirade of pointless curses.

Giovanni provided a distraction. He held up a small gold locket. It held two photos inside, and it spun slowly on its chain. "Does anyone recognize the guy? He looks familiar, but I can't place it. He's apparently my grandfather."

Our collective jaw hit the floor.

Nadi recovered first (her jaw didn't so much drop as just twitched, anyway). "That is Liborio Bellomo.. suspected street boss of the Genovese crime family in New York."

"Oh.. well then." Giovanni peered at the photo intently, then clicked it shut and put the locket in his pocket.

I shook my head. "Its getting late.. and my brain has officially reached its absorption limit for the night."

And with that, I retreated to my bedroom to escape the sunrise.


Stepping Feather towered over me, menacing growl trickling from his bloodstained muzzle. His claws glistening with crimson in the moonlight. I could see his breath, and his eyes flashed with rage and accusation. I held silver in my hands, and it glinted dangerously.. but the blades hung useless at my sides, in hands that wouldn't raise against him. I stared at the beast, and couldn't feel afraid. All I could muster through the guilt and remorse, was a resigned sort of calm. I looked at the battlefield, my comrades absent. 

Just me and the beast that was once Stepping Feather. There was blood on my knives, but I couldn't remember whose it was. There was a gruesome, bloodless gash down the back of my left leg the rendered it useless. I could feel the muscles trying to knit themselves back together, with little success, using the small reserve of vitae I had left.

He would charge, any second.. and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I could hear whispers in my head.. ridiculing and accusing me. They got louder and louder, drowning out even stepping Feather's echoing howl as he charged at me.. until all I could hear was...

Dennis Leary's I'm an Asshole ?

The nonsensical noise shattered the nightmare, right as the huge man-wolf raised his claws to strike me. It feel away into a million pieces. But it left behind the emotions. Those weren't a product of the nightmare.. those were all mine.

I fought my way up to the surface and opened my eyes. The room was dark.. as always.. and I could feel sun, somewhere high above me. I gave an involuntary shudder as I sat up.

A-S-S-H-O-L-E! Everybody!

I grabbed for my phone and silenced it. Normally a phone call wouldn't be enough to rouse me from my death like coma during the day.. but the call was from Karl.. and that was enough of an anomaly to break through my oblivion. I was surprised the bastard even had my phone number, and I idly wondered how dirty it made him feel to call me. I smirked a little at that, allowing the last of the dream to fade into the background. I pushed a button and held the phone to my ear.

"Have you found anything?" Karl's rough voice demanded before I even had a chance to speak.

"Mornin' Karl. Pleasure to hear from you!" I said with sarcastic cheerfulness. "You'll have to be more specific."
"About Stone." He spat.
I closed my eyes briefly. There was almost too much going on to keep track of these days."Not yet."
Karl practically growled at me. "You've been prancing around Chicago for how long and haven't found a damn thing?!"
"I'm sorry. We've been a bit busy" I snarled back.
"With what?!" he demanded, incredulously.
"Dealing with the New Prince, for starters." I grumbled.
"And how the hell does that effect you?"
"Seriously? Vampire, remember?" I said with scorn.
"Yeah. I remember.Do you remember that we have priorities that come before that shit?"
"God Karl, I am so heartbroken that you aren't in Chicago anymore. I miss these pleasant talks." My voice hardened. "'Find Stone's son' doesn't give us much to go on, you know."
"Oh, don't worry honey. I've already dealt with that one for you." He said with a mocking laugh.
I grit my teeth until I could practically hear them grinding. "Please. Do tell."
"His name is Thomas Mattheson."

That brought me up short, robbed me of my scathing retort, and turned me into a speechless blob for a good 15 seconds.

"No shit?.. We know where that asshole is...and have been making plans to take him out. He's in New York." I said, finally.
"Good. That's what I like to hear." he said, his tone as condescending as ever.
"We'll take care of him." I growled into the receiver, and the line went dead.

I laid back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Mattheson was Stone's son. Which meant that Giovanni was related to Stone. It also pretty much cemented that Stone wasn't a vampire. He'd never been trying to cause eternal night. We'd misread his intentions, based on faulty information. We had assumed too much.

No, he wasn't trying to blot out the sun.. he was trying to bring hell to earth.

I wondered if Giuseppe had known about the connection.. but dismissed the idea. It was possible, but I doubted it. I didn't see any benefit from withholding that information.

But then, I'd been wrong before.

I looked at the dark display on my cell and thought about calling or texting Giovanni, letting him know that Stone was his grandfather.. then set the phone aside on the nightstand. They'd gone to pick up the rest of the pack.. and I didn't want to deal with anyone right now. Especially not them. It could wait until nightfall.

The dream came drifting back to me. I still couldn't understand how I screwed up so badly. As soon as Giovanni walked through the door of the Hair of the Dog, I should've made a beeline for the shop. Hell, I should've told him to stay put in the first place.

Would Stepping Feather be with us now if I had? I wrote the note. I asked him to trust us, to come find us.. and then no one was there when he did.

How could I have been so fucking stupid?

I sat up again, rubbing my temples. There was a dangerously sour sensation growing in the pit of my stomach. I knew that feeling. I knew how crippling it could be.


I stood and started pacing the short length of carpet at the foot of the bed.

The feeling grew, the more I thought about it. The more I replayed the events in my head, thinking about what I could have done differently, what I should have done better. My insides tied themselves in knots, and I felt nauseous, despite the fact that I no longer had a functioning digestive tract.

I hauled off and punched the cement wall, out of sheer frustration.

I felt several of the bones in my hand and wrist fracture from the impact. The pain shot up my arm like white hot fire. I bit back a curse and sat down heavily on the end of the bed, right hand laying uselessly in my lap.

The pain helped clear my head. Better than a bucket of ice water to the face. I sat there, and let it hurt. I even tried to make a fist, which elicited an involuntary gasp.

But if I focused on the pain, I could ignore the festering mass in my stomach. I could think clearer.

I felt something cool slide down my cheek. Tears. I'd been fucking crying. Frustrated tears. How god-damned pathetic. I brushed them aside scornfully with my uninjured hand. My fingers came back wet, and I knew, though it was lost to the darkness, the tears would be tinged pink.

I looked around the quiet room and wondered what the fuck I was doing. Obsessing..fucking crying over things I couldn't change. I took several deep breaths, and exhaled slowly. I quieted my internal turmoil, and allowed the bones in my hand to knit themselves back together.

What I was doing right now was completely useless. Yeah. I fucked up. But it was done. I'd be much better served figuring out how to learn from it than by sulking in the dark.. punching walls.

I had to move past it if I was to be any help in tracking down Stepping Feather. Guilt was only useful if you could use it to manipulate others.. not if you let it manipulate you.

I laid back on the bed again, resting my head on the pillow, and my hands folded across my stomach. Tonight, we'd find him, and give him his memories back.

We'd find him before the Pure did, and tear through any of them who decided to get in our way.

October 1, 2010

The Search Continues

The mood was tense as we headed to the Library. There was minimal discussion. Everyone was lost in their own thoughts. I didn't know about the others, but I knew Ori and I were on the same wave length. He was staring out the window, nervously fingering the gold scarf he constantly wore. I had to make a conscious effort to stop drumming on the steering wheel in my own version of nerves.

In a way, the knowledge that Stepping Feather was in danger was more bothersome than the nights leading up to the battle with Ophios. That was an outside threat, a danger that would end in one of three ways.. victory, death, or both. It was a straight forward situation.

But this? Stepping Feather had been a friend. A comrade that we had already lost once before. Now, he was back.. hope dangling just out of reach.. and on the other end of that string of hope, was a fire that was slowly eating its way down to our outstretched fingertips.

It would burn us if we didn't grab hold in time to snuff it out.

A friend becoming an enemy, not out of betrayal, but because of an odd and unforeseen twist of fate.. that was worse than facing certain death.

I wouldn't let it happen again. There wouldn't be another Driscoll, not if I could help it.

I pushed the dark thoughts to the back of my mind where they could fester and leave me in relative peace for the time being as we pulled into the Library parking lot. We were waved inside by the guards, despite the late hour, and found Volkas in his usual place, coffee pot smelling of scorched caffeine. Giovanni grabbed a filter and went to work making a new pot.

"Thank you." The polish man said. He stood to greet us as we entered. His demeanor was calm, but there was an undercurrent of worry, and excited anticipation, like a kid about to open Christmas gifts.

"You say he stepped over, while he was in the grips of death rage? How do you know this?" Volkas asked, not sparing any time for pleasantries.

"We could tell that he'd stepped over, me and Nadi both.." He jerked his thumb at the demure death mage standing behind him.

"And I could feel his rage." I said, simply.

Volkas shook his head in disbelief. He stood and filled a white syrofoam cup with coffee and gulped it down like it wasn't fresh off the burner. It reminded me of how other people drink alcohol when faced with something they don't know exactly how to handle.

"This shouldn't be possible." He held up a hand to forestall our objections. "It must be studied.. looked into. If this is true.. it is an amazing and important discovery." His eyes were serious, and a touch excited.

"Well, my talk with Vitorrio is sure going to be interesting now.." Giovanni muttered to himself.

"I'll take care of that." A familiar voice rang from the open doorway. Sansome stood behind us. God knows how long he'd been there. I managed not to stiffen on reflex.. he still made me nervous. I wasn't yet 100% sure that he wasn't looking for a reason to use my spine as a tug-o-war rope.

"Oh.. good! one less thing on my plate." Gio said. He leaned on his cane, mostly out of habit.

"Oh, he'll still want to talk to you. Just leave this business about side stepping to me." Sansome said.

Gio shrugged. "Fair enough."

"Volkas, we need to find him. He doesn't remember who he is. We have to find him before the Pure do." For once, I let the emotions show. I generally hide what I'm feeling behind a mask of anger. Its just easier that way. People don't know what to expect. It also helps that there are a lot of things that we deal with that piss me off.. but this time, I let the worry show on my face, and color my voice. My words held just a hint of the desperation that was crawling around inside my chest, wrapping itself around my still heart. I needed to find Stepping Feather before the Pure did.

Volkas didn't know me well, but I was hoping he knew me well enough to understand. 

If the darkness could take someone like Stepping Feather, whats to stop it from taking any of us? We all danced so close to the edge. Finding Stepping Feather was about more than saving a friend.

His eyes widened, and he searched my face for just a moment. I also caught Ori's look from the corner of my eye, but I didn't turn to look at him. I think he was surprised. I suddenly felt distinctly uncomfortable, and more than a little exposed. I crossed my arms tightly over my stomach.

Volkas reached out and took Ori's hand while pulling out a large knife. He put the tip to Ori's palm, asking permission with his eyes. Ori gave a slight nod and Volkas drew the knife down his hand, splitting the skin and causing blood to well up to the surface. He let go of Ori's hand, and licked the bloody knife blade. He then took the same blade, still bloody, and cut his own hand. The blood mingled on the glinting steel, bright scarlet in the low lights of the library.

An involuntary shudder went through me as blood was spilled. I could practically taste the coppery substance in the back of my throat.

"Have any of you ever tasted his blood?" Volkas asked, serious eyes staying on my face.

I nodded, more vigorously than I meant to, trying to clear my head. "Once or twice, yeah."

He handed me the bloody knife. I hesitated, but only briefly, and also tasted the blood on the knife. The sensation shot through my body like a current of electricity. It took more self control than I was happy with to keep myself from licking the knife clean.

I looked at Volkas expectantly, knife held a little too tightly in my hand. The mask was back now. I didn't want anyone to see into my head right now. No one else would understand.

"I will need your blood." He said, nodding to the knife.

I used the blade to cut into my own palm, willing the vitae to the surface as I did, leaving a small amount on the blade as it passed through my skin. The cut was closed before the blade even left my palm. Volkas gestured to Ori with an incline of his head, and I handed the werewolf the knife.

His face was a mirror of what I felt my own looked like right about now. Grim and determined. We locked eyes, only briefly, as I handed him the hilt of the bloody weapon. A silent understanding passed between the two of us, right then. He would do anything to find his uncle. He'd crawl his way into hell itself, to save his family from the Pure.

And I'd do anything to help him.

Ori ran his tongue along the blade, eyes on mine.

Volkas took the knife back from him. "Through her memory of his blood, you will find him. Now go."

We all turned to the door and made our way out without another word. Sansome with us.

Nobody called right before we stepped out of the Library.

"Whats up Nobody?" I sadi into my cell.

"I have updates. Can you put me on speaker? Its important." His voice had an agitated edge to it that I wasn't used to hearing. I pulled everyone into a side study room, put the phone on speaker, and set it in the middle of the table.

"Go for it. Everyone is here." I said.

"Okay.. I just left the freehold. We still need to find someone to take that damn sword, but I've got no idea where to start. If any of you guys get any bright ideas, let me know." He paused, hoping for some sort of solution. But no one said a word. He sighed before continuing."I talked to Dana about the Strix.." He suddenly had much more of our collective attention. "She said that they usually follow the Julii.. but she also said that the dragons would know if the Julii were awake. They would sense it.. or something. And she says that they're still sleeping. Which means the strix should still be sleeping too. Apparently the Julii were the embodiment of Rome.. all its glory, brains, power.. and the madness near the end. Also? If all that is true.. Gaius isn't Julii. To be fair, I was thinking back on it, and he never actually said he was Julii. He just claimed the city in their name."

Holy shit.. the faery was right. Shows what I get for assuming.

"That and.. I made a promise to deal with the Strix." he paused, waiting for someone to challenge that decision.. but I just shrugged. "Fair enough. We don't want them here any more than you do.. but how exactly are we supposed to kill them?" I asked.

"We have to figure out whats bringing them here.. and kill it." Nobody said. "I talked to Donkulzon.." He was interupted by a chorus of "what the fucks?" from a couple of us around the phone.

"The dragon guy who's trying to wreck the freehold?" Gio said, incredulously.

"Yup. I didn't know it, but he's been stopping by the freehold once a week and scaring the living shit out of everyone. He's threatening to destroy it if I don't find someone to take the sword. He's also threatening to bring the Faceless King out to take it.. and I'm not really cool with that.. so we need to find someone to take this fucking sword."

The Faceless King, from what I'd been able to glean, was the fae that kidnapped Nobody as a kid.. the guy who made him into a changeling. Apparently, they didn't get along.

"But he also gave me a little bit of insight into the strix problem. He said to find an old one who could change his blood... and we'd find what was bringing the Strix."

Giovanni gave me a significant look, which I dutifully ignored. A short list of people popped into my head.. and I didn't like the conclusions I was coming too.

"The question is, did the person change their blood into that of the Julii, or was he Julii, and changed it into something else?" Giovanni asked. No one spoke up, everyone held pensive frowns. Gio tapped his cane on the wood floor. "Okay.. we need to get our priorities straight. There is the issue of Stepping Feather, the sword, and the Strix."

"The strix haven't shown themselves yet, so I don't think that should be top priority." I said.

"Agreed. We need to find Stepping Feather, first and foremost." Gio said, Ori exhaled, not needing to fight the battle he'd been ready to wage to find his uncle first.

"Awesome.. maybe I'll get to kill more werewolves!" nNobody said, voice excited.

Sansome leaned over the phone. "Have we ever told you how much we love you?"
"Hey! I've never killed a Forsaken.. and don't plan to unless you try to kill me first." Nobody said, defensively.
"There is a great thing about plans..." Sansome said in a droll tone.

There was a pause.."Gio, we need to talk, I'll meet you back at the shop." Nobody said, and disconnected the call.

I slipped the phone back in my pocket and turned to the impatiently fidgeting werewolf. "Ready to go?"

Ori just nodded once and pushed himself off the wall he'd been leaning against.

"I'm coming too." Nadi said, quietly.

We didn't argue. We'd need the help. We let Giovanni have the car, and Ori, Nadi, Becca, and myself set out to try and track down Stepping Feather


I could smell.. practically taste, his blood. Ori scented the air, melting down into his wolf form when we were free from observers, and we went to work, following a scent trail that we shouldn't have been able to follow.

After some searching, we found ourselves on the shore of the lake, in Hyde Park. I looked out over that placid water and shivered, the memory of the fear and determination of that night, and the memory of tasting the blood of a god ran through my head. The shore looked mostly undisturbed, like the battle had never even happened.

"This is where we fought Ophios. And that.." I pointed to a small pier, my nose telling me that Stepping Feather had moved in that direction. "Is where he died."

Our shoes made quiet noises on the boards of the wooden pier. Ori's paws were silent. He sniffed around the area, pausing on one of the wooden posts used to anchor small boats to the dock. It was clawed and cracked, like someones hed had been slammed into it, rather violently.

Looks like a scuffle. Ori pawed at a dark stain on the wood. It's blood, but not his. Can you see what happened? He raised his eyes, still a startling shade of blue, and looked at me expectantly. I didn't know wolves could have expectant faces.. but then, wolves couldn't usually talk straight into your head either.

I laid a hand on the broken pylon and focused.

I saw Stepping Feather, in his own wolf-shape. He stood on the pier, looking lost and confused. A noise behind him caused him to whirl, hackles raised, and a low growl trickling from his muzzle. he lunged.. but I couldn't see who the attacker was from the angle. The vision ended.

"Someone snuck up on him.. he attacked.. that's about all I got."

"Someone died here." Nadi said, looking out over the water. "But I don't think it was Stepping Feather."

I ran my hand down the drying blood on the pylon. "Yeah.. not his blood.."

Maybe he threw his body into the lake? Maybe we could find it. You uh.. don't need to breath right? He waggled wolfy- eyebrows at me.

I scowled at him. "I'm always the one who has to go dig dead people out of the fucking lake..." I might not need to breath, but that lake was fucking cold. I took off my suit jacket, my knifes, and my gun, handing the coat, sheaths, and holster to Becca. I took two steps towards the water, and paused.

Fuck it. There was no way in hell I was ruining my good suit for this bullshit. That, and I'm sure it would be a great way to make Ori feel distinctly uncomfortable.

I started unbuttoning the green silk shirt to reveal the simple black bra underneath. Ori blinked, surprised. I tossed the shirt to Becca, then stripped off the slacks too. I stood on the pier in nothing but a black bra and panties, hands on my hips. The lack of clothing really put emphasis on how deathly pale I really was. The moonlight washed out my skin even more, leaving my body to closely resemble pure white alabaster. I let my pupils expand until they filled my eyes. It probably looked more than a little unsettling.

I turned and dove into the frigid water without another word.

Have you ever swam in Lake Michigan in January? It's fucking cold. Its really fucking cold. Thankfully, I didn't have to search long. I found the body only a few yards out, the tides not yet having the time to drag him further. He was stuck in the branches of an old submerged tree, which was the only reason he hadn't been floating on the surface. I yanked him free, and drug him back up onto the shore.

Any idea who this guy is? Ori asked.

"Fuck if I know.. but.." I retrieved my cell from Becca and snapped the dead man's photo. I sent it with a message reading "recognize this asshole?" To Giovanni, and to Volkas.

Nadi was glancing between the dead body, and Ori with a pensive look on her face. "Where did you get those tattoos?" She asked him.

Sansome gave them to me after the defeat of CitySmith. Why?

I frowned at them both. "What tattoos?"

"He has silvery markings when I look at the spirit side of things.. this guy doesn't." She explained. "Do all werewolves have those?"

For one reason or another, usually.. yeah. If he doesn't, it either means he's really new.. or that he's Pure. Ori's inner voice sounded disgusted.

Just about then,  my cell buzzed.


From: Volkas

Nabil Luoma. New member of the Lex Talionis.


Gio responded with something similar a few moments later, courtesy of Sansome.

"Well, we know he was Pure.. and we also know that Stepping Feather has now run into the Lex.. I don't think thats good news." I said, thoughtfully.

But he killed one of them.. thats good.

"Yes and no.. they'll be gunning for him now, if they figure out who did it..we need to keep looking."

The other nodded silently. Nadi and Becca pushed the body out into the water again and Nadi held up a hand. The body began to quickly rot away, and after a moment, nothing was left but sludge that mingled with the gentle waves.

I grabbed my clothes from Becca, slipped my shirt back on and started buttoning.

Wait! Stop! Can you do me a favor and run down the beach for me?

I smacked him upside his furry head and was rewarded with a startled yelp. I put the clothes back on while Ori hummed the theme to Baywatch in my head.


We left the  Lake behind us and continued to follow the trail. It brought us to the meat packing district. Despite the fact that Pain of Animals was now in check.. the place still felt eerie.

We also couldn't follow the trail into the area. The scent of blood was heavy on the air, too much blood to be able to differentiate one from the other. 

Ori shifted back into his human form and glowered. "What do we do now?"

I ran a hand through my damp hair, frustrated. "I don't know."

"This way." Nadi said, and started walking.

Ori and I exchanged a look and a shrug, and followed.

"I can see the trail..a little. Its difficult, because there are a lot of different traces of spiritual energy.. but his goes this way.." She picked up the pace, and we did likewise.

She stopped about two thirds of the way from the building where we had contained the heart. "He stopped here.. circled around..."

I looked around.. frowned.. why here?.. I stared down at a puddle that had formed on the street.. and suddenly it came to me. "This was where we fought that woman made of blood.. when Roxanne showed up and helped us.."

There was no pool of blood now, not here in the real world, and according to Nadi, not in the spirit either. We moved on, relying on Nadi to guide us through the maze of worn down buildings. She paused in a narrow alleyway and looked up at a high window. "He went up there.. jumped up the walls it looks like."

I walked around the front and tried the door. It was locked. Ori was right behind me. He put a hand on my shoulder to move me out of the way, then kicked the door twice, combat boots rattling it, then splintering the lock and slamming the door against the wall.

"All better." He said with a grin, and jogged quickly up the stairs. We followed at his heels.

The room we ended up in wasn't impressive by any means. It had trash piled in the corners, a couple over turned chairs...

And a view of the entire district. It had windows on all sides, and was high enough to get a great view of the majority of the area.

"Why would he come here? Its just an empty room." Ori said, kicking a soda can across the floor.

"Sniper nest. This must have been where Davareaux was positioned during the fight." I muttered as I turned in a slow circle to take in the room. I stopped facing Nadi. "Where too next?"

She shook her head. "I can't tell. The trail ends."

Ori looked dejected. "Just.. ends?"

She nodded. I inhaled deeply, on the off chance I could catch the scent of his blood again..

But couldn't. There was too many competing smells. Too much death here. Too much blood.

But there was something else familiar..

"Hey.. do you.. do you smell that?" Ori said, sniffing the air. "Smells like... ozone? That's kinda weird."

Ozone? He was right.. That was it..

"Nadi, do you remember how to get to Marv's place?" I asked with a smirk.
She gave me a confused look. "Yes. Why would you want to go there?"
"Because we smell ozone. We always smell ozone around the Prometheans. He.. or one of them.. was here." I said.
She remained unconvinced. "How do you know it was him, though?"
My smirk faded into a frown. " I don't.. but at the moment, its all we have to go on, so I'm going to take a chance."
She stared at me for a couple heartbeats, then nodded. She led the way back down the stairs and towards the Hair of the Dog.

I texted Giovanni.

To: Gio

Going to see Marv.. he may have seen SF


From: Gio

Tell him I said thanks again.


Ori pulled up the rear. "So.. whats a Promethean?"


We stood in front of Marv's shack, in the middle of the junk yard. The yard wasn't far from the Hair of the Dog, and it continued to amaze me that he could live here, in the city, and not effect it with his disquiet. Wonders never cease.

The others looked at me expectantly. I stepped forward and knocked on the door. It opened almost immediately, but only enough for the large man to look at us, and it was not a friendly look.

"What do you want." Marv said, his voice gruff.

I decided to go with honesty. "We're friends of Giovanni Santore.. and he asked us to convey his thanks again for your help...We're looking for our friend.. Stepping Feather. We tracked him to the meat packing district.. to places his pack had been.. and lost the trail there. He doesn't know who he is..We picked up your.. or someone like you's.. scent, though. We didn't know where else to look. Have you seen him? Native American.. kinda looks like that guy.." I jerked my thumb at Ori who gave a sheepish smile and waved.

"And why should I help you?" Marv growled.

I inhaled and let out a large sigh. "I would owe you a favor.. a huge favor..other than that, I can't give you a good reason. We just want to find our friend."

He looked over my shoulder at Ori. "He visists places he recognizes.. places people he knew have been?"

Ori nodded, but said nothing.

"Then you do not need to look for him. He will seek out his blood." And Marv slammed the door in my face. I scowled at the worn wood, then turned back to the others.

"We need to go to other places he'd recognize, and places you frequent, Ori." I said as I took out my cell.

To: Gio

If you're at the shop, stay there. We think SF is going places he recognizes, and places Ori has been. Keep an eye out.


From: Gio

I'll keep my eyes open.


"Giovanni will keep an eye on the shop.. we should go to Mac's.. he was with us down in that bomb shelter before the battle with Ophios." I said.

"I think we should go to the Hair of the Dog. I frequent there a lot.. and its right down the street.." Ori suggested.

I was considering our options when my phone buzzed again.


From: Gio

He was here.. but only for an instant.. used the roof as a spring board and kept going. All I know, is that he headed East..


The only problem was that both Mac's bar and the Hair of the Dog were East of the shop.

"He was at the shop.. and he's headed in this direction. At this point, we can't afford to miss him again. Ori, you and Nadi go to the Hair of the Dog, and Becca and I will go check out Mac's. Hopefully one of us will be able to find.. and help him." I said, trying to keep a level head, trying to maintain the hope that he'd actually pause long enough for us to give him back his memories.

We parted ways, and Becca and I took off towards the Crowbar at a run. It wasn't far, but I didn't want to risk losing him again. I scented the wind and hoped that I'd be able to smell him coming...

And get to him in time to save him.