December 3, 2010

Aftermath and Foreshadowing.

I pulled up a chair and settled across the small table from Giovanni. He looked at me over the top of his latest project, silent and waiting for me to speak.

"I got a hold of Giuseppe. He said that the beetles could be a Lancea Sanctum thing...but probably not Birch." I kept my voice low. No one was close enough to overhear us.

Gio looked back at his work and shrugged. "Much too subtle to be Birch. Any other suspects?"
"I"m not too familiar with all The Sanctified in town. The only other one that I know of is Sylvia Raines. I've heard she's Birch's rival... and though shes not too terribly old, has an impressive gift for Theban Sorcery. Doesn't mean its her, but that's my exhaustive list."
Gio frowned. "Name sounds familiar. Would I know her?"
I smiled bitterly. "She was with the Prince when he came to kill me."
"Ahh, yes. I remember."

"Why would she, if it is her, do it though?" I mused. It was mostly a rhetorical question. We didn't have enough information to do anything more than speculate.

Gio was silent for a moment. Then I saw that smug grin. "We should ask Frost when he's awake."

"Yeah we.. wait what?" I gaped at him, eyes wide, and glanced at the darkened doorway of the room the kid was in. "Frost? Are you serious?"

Giovanni nodded, and a surprised laugh escaped from me. "Well damn...I see now why you told Nobody to leave his knives."

Gio nodded. "So.. Mona is the Seneschal in New Orleans now? How'd that happen?"
I quickly sobered. I crossed my arms with a frown and looked at Gio a moment before answering. "That brings up another concern I have with this whole Lancea Sanctum thing. Mona isn't Seneschal, per se.. but Monica De La Croix, respected member of The Lance, is. She looks remarkably similar to one Ms. Mona Cross. Even vetted by the Lance.. extensively, I would imagine."

Giovanni gave a low, conspiratorial chuckle. "He's a clever son of a bitch, isn't he? I even know how they did it."
I looked at him expectantly.
"Yousef's desk in the secret room."
"The papers that you were going through?"
He nodded. "The same."
We shared a brief moment of amused silence.

I broke it. "Tommy called me earlier."
"To tell you about Giuseppe?"
"Yes and no." I rested my elbows on the table and leaned forward. "I think he was trying to get a read on me." Gio snorted. I continued. "He was voicing concerns about Giuseppe taking too much power, too quickly, and getting corrupted by it."
"And there would be little reason for Tommy to say things to the person who works the closest to Giuseppe unless he was trying to gauge your reaction."
I nodded."They could really fuck up his plans. But there's not too much that I can do about it. Guiseppe will have to take care of that. And it doesn't help that they hate him."
Gio gave me a sardonic smirk. "Who doesn't?"
I started to protest, then caught the gleam in his eye. He was such a smart ass. But at least he understood, to an extent. Giuseppe was family.

I sighed, resting my chin in my hand. "They just don't get it. They live in a world of black and white."

Gio rolled his eyes. "Oh they get it. They just don't care"
I looked at him skeptically. "I disagree...but it's unimportant."
He set down his tools and leaned back in his chair. "They're job is to be the upstanding citizens. Ours is to police the night. They'll keep doing what they always do, because that's what they feel is needed. We'll do the same, in their own upstanding way."

I waved it away. "The Asylum keeps bugging me. It's holding a whole slew of unknowns right now. Giuseppe said that neither he, nor Ray, were responsible for Natalie.. now we have these weird ghost bindings, using Smoking Mirrors... and no real idea of who might have done it."

Gio shrugged, looking mostly unconcerned. But then, that's how he always looked. "They were amplifying insanity. That gives us a suspect right there."

I drummed my fingers on the table and frowned. "You think Traveler was involved? That he did it?"
"No. I think the man with the flute did."
I considered that. It didn't feel right. "Doubtful. He was crazy, certainly, but I never felt as much malice from him.. at least not enough to put something like that together."
Giovanni looked at me with patronizing skepticism. "Really, Harper?"
I scowled at him. "Look. I'm not going to say its not possible. I won't discount that its a solid idea, but we shouldn't assume, one way or the other."

He accepted that with a shrug. "Maybe another Promethean made her?"
"Another possibility...but how did it get the parts?"
"You know.." Gio said thoughtfully, "the New Orleans Natalie said that Stone was followed.. ghosts on his back of people he'd killed.. what if he's not the mastermind behind all this? What if someone is using him?"
I shuddered. "God help us all. He's a big enough problem without having to deal with a potential puppet master.."

Silence followed once again. Gio just waited. None of these things were what was really bothering me, and he knew it.

It was a long moment before I spoke again. My voice was quiet, lower than last time. "Nobody ran today. Again."
He leaned back casually in his chair. "Yes. He did."
"I'm beginning to think we may not be able to trust him." I said finally.
Giovanni barked out a laugh. His voice was quiet, but not nearly the hushed tone I was using. "Trust? Harper, look who you hang out with. A death mage who cares more about ghosts than living people, a gangster who signed a, quite literal, deal with a demon, a shady faery assassin..and then there's you. A secret mongering blood sucker with daddy issues," I glared at him, but there wasn't much venom in it. "...and the airheaded, idiot werewolf."
"He's alright." I muttered absently.
"yeah. He's a good kid. Too good, really. Note to self, see to it Ori gets more jaded."
I rolled my eyes at him, my expression dour.
"None of us trust each other." He said.

"You know what I mean." I snapped.
Giovanni heaved a long suffering sigh. "We're all useful, and act in accordance with our nature. And we stand up for each other."
I stood and began pacing a small path in front of the table. "And what happens when we can't rely on that anymore? We're stronger than the sum of our parts, when we work together. We lose something important if all of us aren't on the same page." I stopped and glared at Gio, expression hard and unyielding. "You don't leave anyone behind."
He shook his head. He thought I was being silly. I knew I was being practical.

"He brought us help, didn't he?" He asked me softly. I frowned and started pacing again, eyes on the floor. "He doesn't usually run.. you don't usually fixate on finding one lost soul.." I hesitated, sparing him a glance. he met my eyes and held them. "What makes someone go against their nature?..Stress. The Freehold is about to get demolished. The guy is a freakin' powder keg, ready to go.. he's about to come apart at the seems. Its enough to make anyone act erratic."

I scowled but sunk back down in my chair. I didn't like it, but Giovanni had a point. "Fine. I'll cut him slack.. for now.

Gio nodded and his smug smirk returned. "Good."

I eyed him. "Speaking of that demon.. care to extrapolate?"
Gio's eyes shone with amusement. "First him, now me, eh?"
I held out my hands, palm up. "Just covering all my bases." I said sarcastically.

He gave a small one shoulder shrug. "Fair enough... I made a deal with Yzzacks. She kept me alive, gives me fun tricks.. I provided her with a way to experience the world on a daily basis. More accurately, our world. She's a demon of chaos. We are her entertainment."

I snorted but didn't deny him. We did tend to stir up trouble. "So how much control does she get over you?"
"So far, she hasn't exercised any."
"That's inspiring." I muttered.
"Harper, we work together because it's useful, and when it's not, we get out of each other's way and try not to step on each others toes. If one of us needs help, they usually get it. That's what we have here. And it will stay that way until someone is no longer useful.. and then they won't be around anymore. If I had it my way, I'd be up there hunting down and killing Mattheson. But we've got other things to attend to here, for now. Even if it doesn't concern me as much as finding Mattheson."

It was a little startling, but not all that surprising to hear Giovanni sum up his view of our little group. We didn't agree, though. He saw everyone here as tools in his tool box. Means to ends. Sure, he was willing enough to help us out.. because he was smart enough to know that abusing tools breaks them.

It was possible there was something else there.  He did seem to get pretty pissed when any of us got roughed up.But if there was, he kept it locked up pretty tightly.

I had a different view. I wouldn't go as far as to call them friends...Nobody, especially, annoyed me too much to qualify for that..  but they were comrades. You might not like a soldier in your platoon, but you'd risk your life for him in a heartbeat.

I let it go, for now. It was food for thought though.. and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a bit disappointing.

But I said nothing about that. Instead, I focused on the issues at hand. "We might need Mattheson, you know."
Gio's voice went hot with suppressed rage in an instant. "I'm going to kill him."
I meet his fiery gaze with cool and collected eyes. "I'm not saying I'm going to stop you.. but there's no reason we can't both have our way."
"You'll have to keep me from it long enough to get your shit done."
I smirked at him. "I do love a challenge."

His eyes narrowed, just briefly. "We all burn for our sins."

I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms over my chest. "God, you're melodramatic."

Nobody walked by, heading to the room our illustrious visitor was in.
Gio's anger vaporized, like it had never been there at all. "Oh! Watch this! It's gonna be good!" Gio murmured to me in a conspiratorial tone.
I grinned slightly and shifted on my chair, craning my neck to see into the dark room.

We heard the sound of a muffled gasp, a quiet sound of surprise.
Gio looked perplexed, and rather disappointed. "Damn.. I would have expected more screaming."
I shook my head and stood. "Is he hurt?"
Gio nodded. "He's pretty banged up. Not fatal or anything, or I would have had you look at him already. But I'm sure he could use some attention."
I started for my kit, right as Nobody called from the room, "Harper! Get your kit and get in here!" His voice was urgent. I looked at Gio and he just rolled his eyes. Guess Giovanni wasn't the only melodramatic one in the house.

I went for the kit. I grabbed the handle and pulled the heavy kit over one shoulder and appeared in the doorway only a moment later.

Frost looked awful, which probably explained Nobody's distress. Both eyes were swollen shut, his lips were cracked and bleeding in several places. He had contusions all over his head and face. His body proved to be much the same. He had fingers bent out at odd angles.

All in all, he was in bad shape, but Giovanni was right, nothing was fatal. Just..really ugly. Nobody was crouched next to his chair, and I could smell fairy dust in the air.

Or that last part might have been my imagination.. coupled with deductive reasoning that Nobody had already tried to heal some of the damage. I pushed him away and got to work on the unconscious man. Correction.. unconscious boy. The kid couldn't have been older than 16.. but it was hard to tell with his face so messed up.

I went about setting fingers and other broken bones. When I cut his shirt off, I sucked in a quick breath. Ribs poked out through the skin. I began to reconsider my original assessment. I kept one eye on him as I set the bones back into place. He never stirred. He was completely out.

Which might not be a good thing, considering the extent of the trauma he took to the head.

I had just finished wrapping his ribs when Nadi walked into the room. She looked at Frost, then at me. Or more specifically, the blood all over my hands. "May I help?"

I stood and took a step back, gesturing with the towel I grabbed to wipe my hands. "By all means. I've done all I can do."

She gave me a curt nod and stood next to the chair. Her hands hovered over his ruined body for a moment, trying to find somewhere to rest them that wouldn't cause him pain. There was no safe place. Finally, she just touched her finger tips to his shoulders, closed her eyes.. and made with a light show.

It was hard to tell what she was doing with all the magic flying around. I thought she might be moving her hands, but it was nigh impossible for me to look at it for any length of time. It wasn't blinding or anything... it just made me uncomfortable. couple that with the fact that she was speaking in that weird language that made my brain hurt, and you have the beginnings of a major migraine.

But it didn't last long. When she stepped back, he looked a million times better. He looked.. human again...for lack of a better term. He had also transitioned from unconscious from pain, to sleeping peacefully.

Nobody shook his shoulder gently.

He groaned and rolled his head forward, blinking furiously. "Uh.. where.. where am I?"
"Safe." I said softly.
"Frost, what happened?" Nobody asked with the same gentle tone I had used.
"Who..who are you people?" His eyes wouldn't quiet focus.
"Friends.. why did the men take you?" I asked him.
He furrowed his brow, as if trying to remember, then muttered, "Because they.. found the egg.."

And that was too much for him. He feel back into an exhausted sleep. None of us were willing to wake him again from it. He might have been mostly healed. But that kind of beating takes it out of you. Not only physically, but emotionally and mentally. He needed sleep to recover, in more ways than one.

That didn't keep me from being more than a little frustrated though. The idea that someone in the Lanceum Sanctum had ghoul plants in the Santore tower made me very nervous. I needed to know what he knew. I felt like I needed it in a hurry too.

So I decided to read his mind. It's a remarkably easy thing to do, generally speaking. It gets a little tougher with supernaturals, but changeling or not, if you're unconscious, its hard to battle someone snooping through your head.

So I did it.

And it HURT.

There was a barrage of information too overwhelming to process. I wasn't just watching one movie on fast forward, I was watching 5 of them, all at once. My brain isn't made to undertake that much stimulus all at once. It was information overload. There was so much to process that I couldn't feel my own body anymore. My consciousness was overwhelmed. I was locked into this nightmarish movie reel, where the images weren't terrifying as much as they were just oppressive in their quantity.

It felt like years before I came back to myself, gasping and covered in blood. I was curled on my side on the floor, lying in a rather large puddle of dark vitae, the werewolf on top of me. I was aching, inside and out, exhausted...

and hungry.

"Get. off." I croaked. Ori jumped back, fast as lightning.
"Fuck me.." I cursed, spitting more blood. 
"Not even with someone elses cold, dead dick, Harper." Giovanni replied. He must have showed up while I'd been out. I glowered at him. Leave it to Giovanni to take my expression of pain literally.
"Funny.. weren't you the one talking about being inside me last night?" I shot back, my voice thready and lacking the sarcastic conviction.
Gio put on a horrified face, eyes sparklingly behind the mask. "Not like that."

I pushed myself up on my elbows.

"What did you see?" Nobody blurted. I just held up a hand and he feel into an impatient silence. Jesus Christ he was pushy.

"Ori. Do me a favor."
The werewolf looked at me uneasily. "What?"
"My room. Dresser. Left drawer.. two vials. Get them. And get them quickly." I coughed up more dark blood, and something more solid. My control was quickly waning.
"What is it?" He asked suspiciously.
"Just GO!" I snarled, my voice choked and strained.
"Blood, you idiot." Gio said, simultaneously.
Ori bolted from the room.
I clutched my head in my hands and tried not to look at Frost. He was still covered in blood. Even dried, I could smell it. I focused on not breathing. Which also meant not talking.

Ori was gone only a moment. He handed me the vials, and I spared no time in guzzling the contents of both. I tossed the glass aside and shivered. The blood wasn't warm, but it at least took the edge off. I sat up slowly, taking the towel Gio handed me and mopping at the vitae on my face as best I could. I still probably looked like something out of a horror flick.
"Was that the werewolf blood?" Nobody asked.
I nodded.
Ori went a shade pale. "Mine? You kept that?"
I raised a brow at him. "Well.. yes. That's what it was for.. backup." My voice sounded normal again.. mostly.
"Have you tried the changeling blood yet?" Nobody asked.
I shook my head and ran my fingers through my hair. It was nigh impossible. Red locks were plastered against my face with the dark fluid, and more of it was soaked into my scalp. I settled for smoothing it out of my face for now. "No. I don't know what it will do to me. Her's either." I gestured to Nadi with the towel.

"I'm looking forward to the day you get really desperate and need to take some of my blood. I'm very curious as to what effect that will have." Gio said thoughtfully.
I grimaced and leaned heavily against an empty chair. I didn't trust my legs yet. "Me too, Giovanni.."

I went silent and hung my head for a moment. I felt like shit.

Then the memories all came crashing back to me, and I smiled. I remembered it. All of it. It hadn't made sense at the time, but once my brain got around to interpreting it all, it was right there.

I looked up to tell the others and the words died in my throat.

Nadi had my blood on her hands. She had, presumably, tried to help Ori hold me down. As I looked up, she had just finished wiping her wet hands on the sleeve of Nobody's t-shirt. He glared and simply leaned down...


The word didn't even manage to make it out before he had leaned down and licked the blood, staring at Nadi.. trying to unsettle her.

"Fuck.."  I said with feeling.
Nobody suddenly twitched.. shook himself. "Hot DAMN!" He did a freaking standing back flip. I shit you not. A back flip. I rubbed my eyes. Goddammit.

When I looked up again, Gio was smirking at me. "Well.. this should put your fears to rest."
"Not really.." I grumbled. I watched Nobody freak out from the effects of the vampire blood.

"I feel like the shit!" He exclaimed. he was brething heavily, and if he had eyes at the moment, I knew they'd be heavily dilated.
I fixed him with a cold and serious glare. "We need to talk later.. in private."
He looked like he wanted to be concerned about that, but he was too high to give a shit.

Just. Great.

I stood, shakily, and sat in a chair, instead of in the pool of cold blood. I knew that I'd need to clean up pretty damn fast.. before Nobody came down off his high.. and thought maybe it would be a good idea to take some of it with him.

I was now faced with an interesting problem. I set it aside for now. I needed to tell them what I'd learned in case it started to fade.

I had seen 5 sets of memories at once. Information overload. The seizure wasn't surprising. My head wasn't meant to be able to interpret that much information at once.. unfortunately.

But I remembered all of it now. Frost would never stay dead.

He had never escaped from his Fae keeper, the Queen of Frozen Needles. He'd struck a deal. And from what I knew of Frost, that was rather in character for him. As long as he came back to report to her, she would let him go. Whenever he died, he'd appear back in her domain, and make the report. An egg would appear, somewhere in the world, never in the same place twice.. and once it was broken, the person who did the deed would become Frost.. sans all memories of his previous lives. I had watched as an art collector accidentally dropped the egg, a large piece of what resembled black polished glass. It shattered when it hit the ground.. and when he looked up again, he'd taken on Frost's features.

He betrayed many changelings during his first life. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them, dragged back into the realm of their captures.. it was enough to make me sick... if I hadn't seen what came next.

During his second life.. he actually found a freehold. A family. And eventually he died. He appeared back in her realm again.. and he lied. He told her half truths and complete deceptions. He did not give up a single changeling. But she knew it. And what more, he knew she'd know. She tortured him. Time in that place.. its weird. I had countless memories of the pain she inflicted on him. I don't know if it was days, weeks, or several lifetimes. But he never gave them up.

And when someone found the egg, he was freed from her.

But it happened again. Three, four.. and finally five times that egg was cracked.. five lives he lived. He only ever betrayed his people the first time. And so he was tortured.. every time.

I focused on the most recent memories. Five men in suits grabbed a kid off the street and forced him to break the egg at gun point. 

Then, the beatings.

I started in on the information. Nobody didn't let me get past "struck a deal with a fae" before he freaked out.

"Is the freehold in danger?!" He demanded.
I scowled at him. "Calm your ass down and let me finish."
He started to get up in my face and go off about how important the freehold was, I cut him off. "It's fine. Sit. down." I gave him a look that said I'd rip his fucking teeth out if he came any closer.
He glared at me. He didn't sit, but he didn't come any closer either.

I went through the information, eyes unfocused, trying to visualize all the scenes as I spoke.

"Did any of the guys who grabbed him have a fucked up ear?" Giovanni asked, looking thoughtful.
"Yeah.. one of them." I confirmed.
"He's dead. He was one of the guys in the security room beating the shit out of Frost." Gio said.

I nodded, and looked at Nobody. "Can you teach him how to use his powers again?"
"Hell yes I can."
"You're powers are different, though." I pointed out.
He shrugged. "Similar enough. I'll figure it out."
"Keep in mind, this isn't a matter of breaking down a dam and letting his memories flood back. He's a blank slate..though, there are certain qualities that were pretty consistent.."
"I'll figure it out. Either way, I can't take him back to the freehold until he's trained. Too many enemies that might take advantage of him.." Nobody said.
"DON'T take him there!" My vehemence surprised everyone, including myself.

Everyone blinked at me. "I just said.. I wasn't going to.." Nobody said reproachfully. "But why do YOU say I shouldn't?"
"Because.." I searched for the words.. and couldn't find them. I had the memory, right there in my mind. I could see the reason.. vivid as could be.. but I couldn't say it. Instead, I crossed my arms and scowled at them all. "Just don't, alright?"

They regarded me a moment more, then turned back to the conversation. "You'll have to teach him to fake it." Gio said.
"I'm not sure I want to do that to him.." Nobody said, softly.

"Let him decide." I said.

Nobody nodded. He started looking Frost over again, making sure he was going to be alright. He grabbed a pen and paper and started scribbling a note.

I got up to clean up the mess. My legs were only a little shaky.

It didn't take long, really. I looked down at myself, covered in cold vitae.. I looked up to find Gio watching me. I brushed past him, heading for my room, and a shower.

"Totally worth it.." I murmured to him as I made my way down the stairs. I didn't have to look back to know he'd have a giant smug smirk plastered all over his disgustingly Italian face.


I descended the stairs towards my room and knew he was behind me the whole way, padding along on silent feet. He wasn't trying to sneak up on me, it was just instinct. I heaved the reinforced door open and stepped inside, turning to face Nobody just as he pulled the heavy thing shut behind him. Colors of anxious fear danced through his aura.

"What did you want to talk to me about?"
I looked him up and down, my frown pensive. How much did I want to tell him? At least enough to scare the bejezzus out of him..."The blood."
Excitement flared for a brief instant, along with a combination of colors I'd come to associate with addiction. Desire, hunger, loathing.. it was a complex medley.
"It was a rush." He said quietly.
I nodded slowly, eyes continually flicking over his aura. It was the only sure fire way to read Nobody when he didn't have a face. "Yeah. It is. It's also highly addictive."
The excitement was replaced by scarlet fear.

"You're shitting me." He said, voice lacking conviction.
I met his eyeless gaze with a steady stare. "Not even slightly. It's the best drug you'll ever have. How do you think we keep ghouls around?"
He started fidgeting nervously. "So.. is there a way to break it?"
"Its just like any addiction, Nobody. Willpower. Don't take another hit for long enough, and you'll be fine. But every time you give in to it, it will make the next time that much harder."

If it sounded like I was talking from experience, it's because I was. I knew a thing or two about addiction.

"So am I a ghoul now?" His voice took on a slightly frantic edge.
"No. Ghouling someone takes an act of will. You... you're just an addict."
He got a little green. "Shit. Shitshitshit."
He didn't have to say what he was thinking. I should have known better.

We both knew it, and as much as I love opportunities to give Nobody shit, this was hardly the time. I actually felt bad for the guy.

But then, I'd been addicted to vampire blood before. He had no idea how bad it was going to get. Not yet, anyway.

I managed not to shudder when I thought back to those nights, locked in a windowless room. Pleading with Giuseppe to let me out.. to share his blood.. or let me hunt. He did neither. He kept me in there, and taunted me with it.. until I got over it.

It was a horrible experience.

"So what do I do?" Nobody said, interrupting my memory.
"Well, we could lock you in a room for weeks and force you to get over it.." He jerked in surprise. I continued. "But that would pose more than one logistical problem." I gave him a wry smirk. He glared at me.
"Look, its just something you'll have to push through. There is no magic cure. Its a drug, like any other. It's up to your own willpower and determination to not give into it every time you see vitae..."
He gave me a dubious look. I winced slightly. My propensity for bleeding from the eyes was going to make this harder on him.

"But.." He began, aura now a whirlwind of surging colors, strong, conflicting emotions. He wasn't taking it well.

But there wasn't anything else I could do. I sighed. "It's on you to beat it. You'll be fine. Now get out."

He seemed about to protest, but thought better of it and just left instead. Shaken.

If he only knew. I didn't mention anything about the Vinculum. That was secret that I kept to myself. Giovanni knew.. but I doubted he'd say a word. But maybe I should tell Nobody. He was freaked out, but not freaked out enough. I could see the wheels in his head turning, nearly as well as I could see his aura. He was weighing the pros and cons of being a ghoul.

The problem was.. he didn't know all the cons.

Hell, I would be lying if I said it wasn't tempting to slip him more blood.. bind him to me further.. two more drinks and he'd have a damn hard time ever running away from our fights ever again. I wouldn't have to ghoul him.. just be his fucking pusher.

I shook my head to get rid of the notion and turned on the shower. I didn't trust the Vinculum. I didn't like it. It could be a useful tool, but I was skeptical of how far one could really push it before it snapped, and the victim's will overwhelmed it. I'd take real loyalty over supernaturally induced love any night.

I knew of too many people who'd defeated it.

And logic aside, I just couldn't do that to any of them.

I spent awhile in the shower, letting the water beat away at the dried blood. It took several shampoos and a lot of prying with my fingernails before the water flowed clean into the drain. I tried to let the temptation flow away with it.

I was only partially successful

An hour later I padded barefoot into the lab, scrubbing my wet hair with a towel. Gio was the only one around.

"Thank you for your time, I will see you soon." Giovanni said into his cell before hanging up. He looked up at me with a grin. "You free for the rest of the night?"
"Let me check my calendar..." I paused, draping the towel over my shoulders. "Yes." I said, dryly.
Giovanni continued grinning, impervious to my snark. "Good, because we need to go visit someone who might be able to tell us more about Stone."

 I blinked at him. He just grinned wider. The bastard.


We parked in front of a tall office building, the same place Giovanni had killed the demon. The security guard gestured to the elevators and we headed to one of the upper floors.

"So this Pelinore guy.. any idea what he is?" I asked as the elevator rose.
"Not really... but I have a few guesses." Giovanni replied as the door slid open with a soft ding.

We entered the main door of the office, into a reception area that was exquisitely decorated. All dark woods and deep colors.. hammered gold and polished metals.. it was gorgeous without being ostentatious.. It looked very, very expensive.

"No wards.." Gio muttered as his eyes roamed the room.
I frowned and took a closer look. I took a few steps into the room and turned in a slow circle. "More than that.. no natural wards. There's not even a threshold..."
Giovanni followed my gaze and nodded.

The door frame was slightly crooked There were peices of the aritecture that would noramly form a natural barrier, but they had all been tweaked jsut slightly to avoid the formation of any sort of threshold. Quite purposely.

It was bizarre.

Gio shrugged. "Guess he doesn't need them."
"Or is trying to make a point.." I muttered.

There was no one to greet us in the front room.
I started towards one of the carved doors. "This way.."
"How do you know?" Gio asked, following behind me.
"I smell blood."

We opened the heavy door and found ourselves in a parlor. It was decorated with the same expensive  decor, but still managed to be comfortable. There was a serving tray on a low coffee table. It held two glasses and a decanter of a amber liquid, probably scotch or brandy, and a matching goblet that was full of blood so fresh it was steaming.

It took all my self control not to bolt to the table and chug it. I was still starving. We entered slowly, regarding the room with the same intensity as we had the previous one. But my gaze kept sliding to that goblet.

It felt like years before we made our way to that table. I picked up the cup and inhaled deeply. I wasn't so starved as to not take precautions. Coil training had helped me hone my...palate, if you will.

Female.. between 18-22, healthy, and free of drugs, as far as I could tell. It had also been given freely, more than likely. That part had nothing to do with Coil training. It was only minutes old, and it sat in the glass too cleanly to have been taken forcibly. I set it down with a great effort of will. My hand shook just slightly.

Gio picked it up and waved it under his nose like a fucking sommelier."Ahh, A-.."
"AB+ actually.." I said, blandly.
He smirked at me and put the glass down. "You'd know better than me.. you're the bloodsucker."

"There is actually little sucking involved in the process. It would be, therefore, more accurate to use the term, 'blood drinker' rather than 'blood sucker'." Said a cultured voice from behind us.

Pelinore was a pale man, just about as pale as me, which is saying something. His eyes were a pale shade of gray, the sclera tinged slightly pink. His hair was platinum blonde, the kind that usually only comes from a bottle, unless, like Pelinore, you happen to be an albino. He was only a few inches taller than me, which put him at about 6 feet. He was dressed in a tailored, three piece suit and has impeccable posture. His stride was sure and graceful. He held out a manicured hand to me as he approached. A diamond ring glinted on one finger.

"Ms. O'Shea, a pleasure to meet you."
I shook the offered hand. "Pleasure's mine." I said without smiling.
"Please. Sit." He gestured to the couches surrounding the coffee table, and sat. He took the decanter and poured two glasses of liquor. He sipped one.

We sat, and I picked up the goblet and drank. I figured if he hadn't fucked with the scotch, he hadn't fucked with the blood.

Besides, it was getting cold.

He settled back into the seat and rested his ankle on the opposite knee. "So tell me.. what can I do for you?"
Giovanni leaned back as well, but he didn't touch his drink. I never thought I'd see the day that Giovanni proved more paranoid than me. "Like I said before, I need information on Mattheson.. and Stone.. whereabouts.. abilities.. anything else that you might find useful.."

He took a thoughtful sip. I found myself leaning forward in my seat and forced myself to relax, and sunk back into the leather.
"Stone.. is distinctly difficult to pin down. Considering that he is closer to the source than either you or I, and has been alive for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, he has measures in place to disrupt any attempt to find him."

I focused on his aura as he spoke. It looked normal.

"Understandably." Gio said.
Pelinore looked at me. "Surely such things, and the nature of their usefulness, would be well within your realm of comprehension." I just nodded. He continued. "As for his abilities.. that is difficult to assess as well. He has had a long time to hone his skills, many opportunities to practice. He is powerful."

Giovanni's face split into an arrogant smirk. Pelinore regarded him with a pale raised brow. "You are passant.. strong.. however.." he held up his glass. "Take this, for example. Several different scotches may come from the same distillery, undergo the same process, sit in the same vats, use the same malted barley..however," He took an appreciative sip, "...age plays an important roll in the quality of the scotch. Some things simply only come from age, and not sheer strength."

Giovanni waved a dismissive hand. "I'm more concerned about Mattheson."
"Ah yes.. but fortunately, those two circles seem to be concentric, do they not?"
Gio shrugged. "I suppose so."

 Pelinore set the glass on the table. "Matheson's power lies in his vices. He indulges them at whim." He looked thoughtful. ".But then, we are all creatures of our vices..."
"We know something about that." Gio said with a smirk in my direction.
"We all do." Pelinore continued. "In fact, indulging in such things are the wellspring of our power. Matheson.. loves a fight. He revels in being above the mortal law. He is well suited to the world of organized crime, in that way. He insinuates himself within an organization and becomes invaluable. Then he leaves when it begins to bore him. The situation in Chicago became too.. complicated." Giovanni looked overly pleased with himself.  Pelinore didn't seem to notice. "New York is much more suited to his tastes right now.."

"The Genovese Family." Giovanni said.
"And his powers?" Gio proded. His voice betrayed a trace of his eagarness. It was understandable.

Pelinore gave a delicate shrug. "Less substantial than Stones, truly. However, he is not weak. During our encounter, only the first two punches made any difference. After that, he was notoriously difficult to injure."

Pelinore had fought Mattheson? That was certain an interesting tidbit..

Giovanni's grin was fierce.  "I guess its a good thing I don't plan on injuring him, then."

Pelinore just nodded. "There is more information that Icould give you.. surveillance that could be set up, wire taps acquired, contractors hired.. but it would be.. expensive. "
"How expensive?" I asked, as Giovanni said, "What do you want?"

A small smile graced his face. "I want for nothing. But those who would obtain the information have prices of their own."

Giovanni nodded understanding.

"Could Mattheson be a weakness to Stone?" I asked in the pause. I'd let Giovanni run the show mostly, get his information on Mattheson, but Stone was my focus.
"Most certainly. " Pelinore said, as though it should be obvious. "There are rituals that are have been known to destroy entire bloodlines."

Maybe Rowan would...
"No." Gio snapped. His gaze was intense and serious. He really did know me way too well. I tried to give him an innocent smile, but all I really managed was a impudant smirk.

He glared at me a fraction of a second longer before my smirk faded and I urged him on with a tilt of the head. There were other things we needed to know. He gave me a sight nod.

Like I said. Too well.

"Maybe you can tell us.. a few years ago, there were 13 young women named Natalie G. They were all killed at roughly the same time on the same night. The whole thing was made to look like a ritual of some sort...We have it on good authority that Stone killed one himself."

Pelinore's gaze was suddenly far away. "Yes.. 2:07am on August the 3rd.."

Gio and I stared at him, both caught off guard. "Do you know what the ritual was for?" I managed to stammer through the surprise.

Pelinore's eyes came back to reality and settled on mine. "Some things require ritual to summon. Some things require an offering.. a sacrifice. We killed them because this one needed a sacrifice of innocents."

Surprise was replaced with instant rage. Red and scalding. Had I still been holding the goblet, I probably would have crushed it. I managed to keep my anger in check. My stare was probably more of a glare. Pelinore met my eyes steadily though.
"What did you summon?" Giovanni said. His eyes flicked to me and narrowed for the briefest of moments. He was telling me to cool it. I gave him a much less subtle look that told him to fuck off.

Pelinore's voice became hushed. "Something brilliant.. and high above what we could ever possibly reach. Something gloriously bright.."
"Why?" It sounded more like an accusation than a question when I said it.

Instead of answering me, Pelinore stood and walked to one wall. He punched a quick series of buttons on a small key pad. We heard the sound of a mechanism coming to life. We heard heavy locks resound from both of the doors in the room. The room literally decompressed as the wall opened to reveal a large trophy case with a vaccum seal.

In the trophy case were two huge feathered wings, both ending in bloody stumps. Exactly what you'd picture an angel's wings to look like, soft white feathers that almost glowed. And they'd been ripped off.

"Quashallim..." Giovanni whispered.
"We all kept trophies.." Pelinore said, putting one palm flat against the glass and looking up at those wings with something like longing written across his face.

"What did Stone keep?" I asked, staring at the case.
"Pieces..Components. Blood, hair, fingernails, bits of bone..presumably to fuel whatever rituals he was conducting off in his own corner. As for myself.." He paused, then shivered slightly, tearing his eyes away from the glass to regard us. "I was just in it for the fight. A once in an existence experience.."

I sat back down on the couch, having jumped to my feet the second the doors had begun to lock. I pursed my lips, pissed, but kept my damn mouth shut.
"Did you take her eyes?" Giovanni asked, steel in his voice.

The wall slid back to hide the trophy case again. "The young woman I was.. responsible for.. had just lost her mother. To cancer. Despite our best efforts, the disease overtook her. She came to me, after that. Rather than be responsible for raising two young siblings, she made a bargain with me. She already felt her life was over." He shrugged, as though it was just another every day business transaction. "I took care to be sure she went gently..after that I do not know, nor do I care to know, what became of her body."

He returned to his seat on the comfortable couch.  "You could perhaps inquire to Mattheson about that, however."
Giovanni's grin was more like a baring of teeth. "I was hoping you would say that."

"Why are you helping us?" I asked. I was a million times more suspiscious than I had been five minutes ago. Maybe I was slipping..

He steepled his fingers and regarded me over the top of them. "One could argue that I am not. If you begin pursuing avenues against Thomas Mattheson, it is surely to attract the attention of Stone.. a fate I would not wish on the direst of foes." He paused, gaze shifting to Giovanni. "One could also say that I am curious. How far are you willing to tread into your other nature?"
Gio just shrugged, looking utterly unconcerned. "If my family is any indication, as far as necessary."
Pelinore raised a brow. "Mattheson and Stone hardly hold back.."
Giovanni made a sour face. "Not that family. Either way, its good to know we aren't the only ones who are driven by curiosity." He smirked at me, I gave him a chilly little smile.
Pelinore seemed to ignore our exchange. "Indeed. several of us even have a little wager going on you."
"Bet the farm." Gio said, without hesittation.

Pelinore smiled. "As far as I know, only one of us has a farm. Is there anything else I can assist you with?"
"I'd like the names of the ones who can look in on Mattheson, if you would.."
"Certainly" He produced a pad and a pen from a pocket and scribbled something, handing the paper to Gio. Giovanni pocketed it without looking. We both stood at the same time, without a word or look at the other. "Thank you for your help..." Gio said, sincerely. "Though, I must ask.."

Pelinore stood as well. "Yes?"
"Out of curiosity, who are you betting on?"
"You of course, however, technically, we all are."
"So its not a matter of if I fall, but how long it takes?"
Pelinore's smile became cryptic. "Please let me know if I can be of further assistance."

We left. Most of my rage had subsided, and all that was left was a slow simmering anger. As we exited through the reception area, there were now two attractive young women at the desk. one had a thick bandage on her left wrist and was sipping at a glass of orange juice as she worked. They both gave us sunny smiles as we stepped into the elevator.

The Chicago air was chilly as ever when we stepped out onto the side walk, but I hardly noticed. Snow crunched under our shoes as we walked back to the car.

"You know..." I said, breaking the evening stillness. "I've been trying to figure out what that ritual was for.. well, since we found out it was a ritual at all. The answer seems.. somewhat unsatisfying."
"Oh?" Gio said, distractedly.
"Though.. I suppose now the question is.. what kinds of rituals do you need angel parts for?" I said thoughtfully, then glanced at Gio, frowning. "And how did you know the word..what was it? Quashallim?"
"Yousef. He mentioned once that he had hunted one.. and would never do it again."
I pulled up short next to the car and glared at him. "Yousef was involved."
Gio opened the passenger side and glanced at me over the roof of the car. "Lets talk about it back at the shop." And then ducked his head into the vehicle.
I looked around, suddenly feeling exposed, but saw nothing. Not that that meant a damn thing. I got in the car and we headed home.


The pack was getting ready to head out when we stepped into the relative warmth of the shop. Roxanne looked up as we came in and gave a curt nod. "Gotta go. Just got a call that something happened in our territory."
I raised a brow. "Is everything alright?"
She nodded. "I think so. We left Tommy to watch it. I trust him."
I managed not to roll my eyes. I had to admit, as annoying as he was, he got the job done. Usually.

"How're they doin' anyway?" Giovanni asked as he settled himself down in front of one of the numerous work tables.
Roxanne gave him an incredulous look.
I shrugged, leaning back against one wall. "They don't tell us much."
"You know, unless they do something amazingly silly.. like bring someone back from the dead." Gio said, cheerfully.
Roxanne bared her teeth in a grin, her eyes flashing angrily. "Keep talking and I will tear your throat out with my bare hands and make you eat it." The last words came out as a snarl.
The rest of us went still. Nobody and I exchanged a look, Becca had gone pale. Nadi was, as always, unphased.
Gio just started working on the gizmo sitting on the table, utterly unconcerned. "You know where I live."
A growl that was not human in the slightest trickled from her very human lips. She balled her hands into fists, spun on her heel and stalked off into the other room.

Tension eased out of the rest of us.

Gio never looked up, but his eyes flicked in Davareaux's direction. "She's going to get herself killed."
Davareux's expression was bored. "Yeah, those guys mouthing off all the time.. real dangerous." He said sarcastically.
Gio shrugged. "One day, it might."
"Haven't seen it yet." And he followed after Roxanne.

"Care not to get us all maimed or killed trying to prove your points, Giovanni?" I muttered darkly. he ignored me.

"Everything is fine, as far as we know." Larissa said, answering Giovanni's original question. "They're all in one piece.. well.. except Karl."
"Say what?" Nobody piped up.
She smiled. "He went and lost an arm."
Gio an I both looked up sharply. He gave me a shit eating grin, and I couldn't help but laugh, albeit without much humor.
Larissa furrowed her brow in confusion.
"Left or right?" Gio asked casually.
Giovanni jumped up and grabbed a wooden box off one of the tables. "Can you give him something for me?" He handed her the box, she struggled with it a moment. It wasn't heavy, but it was rather ungainly. Stepping Feather took it from her. Larissa still looked confused, but she was also used to us by now, I was sure. She didn't press the issue.

Besides, it would be rather obvious what was going on once Karl opened that crate and pulled the Hand of Glory from the packing material. As though we needed to give Karl any more help in being a fucking badass..

But hey, none of us felt like lopping off an arm to use the thing.

"It's good to have you back, Stepping Feather." Nobody said and offered his hand.
"That it is." Giovanni agreed.
Stepping Feather juggled the box to get a free hand and traded grips with the changeling.
"It's good to see you again." I said with feeling.
He set down the box and pulled me into a tight hug. I grunted at the strenth of it, then hugged him back fiercely, so much so that I even surprised myself. We both pulled away smiling.

He retrieved the box and left with Larissa. Alexandria appeared from the other room and followed them out a moment later, giving us a wave.

The shop was suddenly quiet again. Gio's tools made soft buzzing and chirping noises. I pulled up a stool and watched him work for a few minutes. Becca wandered off with Nadi, and Nobody left. I had no idea where Ori had gone off too.

I let the silence stretch for awhile, watching the tools move as I rolled the nights events over in my mind.

We knew three of the thirteen murders. Maybe four. Stone, Pelinore, Yousef, and possibly Mattheson. And we knew why, at least mostly. To kill an angel. I shuddered at the thought. I was by no means a saint, but even to me that hit a sour note.

I could assume that the parts Stone took were for his rituals to summon these gods we've been busy stopping.. but it might be more than that.

And then there was the issue of Yousef's trophy. What was it that he kept? And was it still in the shop?
And what would we do when we finally found Mattheson? How could we use him against Stone? I didn't know enough about blood magic to even hazard a guess, and as Giovanni had already pointed out, talking to Rowan about it would probably be a bad idea...

Maybe Father Nico could help.

The image of those bloody wings came to mind again. And Pelinore. I wondered what I should do about Pelinore...

"I don't like him." I said, finally.
Gio just kept tinkering.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. It was another problem for another time. "What names did he give you?"
"Names of those like us, I suppose, but there's one name not on the list, the first one I'm going to talk too..a man who works in tv repair shop and specializes in surveillance."
"Well.. at least we have a decent lead now. That's slightly more than we had earlier tonight..." I muttered.

"Yup. Time to see what's further down this rabbit hole, Alice." He winked at me.
I stood and gave him a mock scowl. "Don't call me Alice..."

As negative as I'd sounded, it was true that we'd gotten some important answers tonight. And saved a friend. I couldn't really complain about that. The complications would just make things more interesting.

Problems aside, it had been a good night, and we didn't get many of those.
Giovanni's laughter followed me as I made my way down the stairs, smiling as I closed myself in my haven of darkness for the day.

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