Episode 3: Reviewing the Situation
The silence was palpable. With that smile still stretched across his face, the man walked up to the bar, stopped for a moment to fish some money from his pocket, then turned to Treddz. "Here's a little extra for your pains. I appreciate the service."
She swiped the cash from his hand without hesitation and made a small bow. "Pleasure doin' business with you sir!" Treddz straightened, then turned and gave Alistair a little salute. "See ya' 'round, Ali!" With that, she bounced out of the bar the same way she came in.
As soon as she was gone, the man's smile vanished, and he looked pointedly at Snow and Parker. "Now, conversation."
"I'm not in not in the mood for conversations," Parker drawled, returning the glare.
"What do you want, Artemis?" Snow shot at him, her confident tone somewhat forced. "God, of all the Gray-cloaks the Council could have sent, it had to be you."
"Missed you too, Miss Niveus." Artemis pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "In any case, I have distinct proof," he gestured towards the skull, "that there has been a violation of two of the Laws of Magic: the Second and Fourth, to be specific. You two are the only known wizards in the area powerful enough to pull that off."
"And what, exactly, do those Laws state?" Alistair raised an eyebrow at him, surprised (though a bit glad) that the Law they'd thought Snow had broken wasn't named. But Artemis frowned at him.
"That's information not privy to mortals like you. They know what I mean."
Alistair started to protest, but a small crash from the back interrupted. They all exchanged looks, and Lina was the first to comment. "I'll just go check on that," she mumbled, disliking Artemis as much as the rest of them, but knowing she had little grounds to argue, like she knew Alistair did. That, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to keep her butterfly knives out of the smug bastard's gut if she stayed.
Once she'd left, Artemis turned to Alistair, as if he expected him to do the same. But the conman only smirked. "If you think I'm leaving, you're sorely mistaken. Have you know, my grandfather was a wizard, and damn powerful one from what I've heard. I'd say I'm more than privy to that sort of information, thank you."
"Even if that's true," Artemis said. "You are still mortal..."
"Hey, Alistair," Parker cut in with a grin, motioning towards the small performance platform, one of those glints in his eye. "Why don't you go warm up for tonight with a little song, hm?"
The conman frowned and glared at him, knowing exactly what he was trying to get him to do. "No, Parker. I'm not in the mood to sing."
"Oh come on! I don't care if you sing 'Walking On Sunshine;' I think our guest deserves a little..."
"Parker, don't help me," Alistair gritted through his teeth, hoping to make his message clear: he was not going to show he was more than mortal to this Warden.
"The Second Law is never transform another," Snow rattled off before Artemis could stop her. "The Fourth never enthrall another." She gave him a coy smile. "And for some reason, even though Artie here knows how careful I am about the Laws, he still thinks I'd be willing to break not one, but two of them. Shame on you."
Artemis growled and turned back towards her, smirking. "You underestimate my confidence in you," he sneered. "You're lucky they sent me and not someone else. Anyone else, and both your heads would have been on the floor now. The White Council is wary of you Miss Niveus, because of your heritage, and you know that. I'm giving you the chance to catch the real culprit, if there is, in fact, someone else responsible for this."
"This is bullshit." Parker slammed his hand on the counter, unable to hold his tongue. "Do you even know who I am? Who I'm related to?" He looked at Snow. "Hell, who we're both related to?"
"Yeah," Snow said, catching on. She stuck her nose up and propped her hands on her hips. "My fae heritage is only half of it. You remember Justin Mecholsky, my first cousin, twice removed? He was his grandfather. And Frank Mecholsky, my great great grandfather, still up there on the Council? His too." She gave Parker a smile. "What do you think Grandpa Frank would have to say about his grandchildren being harassed like this?"
Parker barely managed to restrain a victorious laugh, but Artemis seemed barely moved.
"He'd think I'm letting you off easy. Whose idea do you think it was to come investigate the area?"
Both of the wizards' smiles vanished. Alistair whistled and shook his head.
"It's because of things like this that I'm sometimes very glad I've no living family." He leaned on his hand wistfully. "Mother died giving birth to me, so I have no siblings. Father died in the plane crash that brought me here, and my grandfather, that wizard?" He couldn't help but send a smirk Artemis' way. "He died casting some crazy spell of some sort..."
Though he tried, the Warden was unable to hide the sudden glint of realization (and perhaps fear) that flashed across his eyes, but he made no remark. Instead, he straightened to leave. "I'm allowed to give you three days to find the culprit. If you can't find the wizard behind this, I'll have no choice but to take your heads. Miss Niveus?" He nodded towards her. "I need to speak with you privately before I leave, so if you don't mind..."
"Whatever, Artie." Snow hopped off of her stool. She looked at the other two men and rolled her eyes before following the Warden outside.
"Snow," Artemis said once the door had closed behind them, removing his glasses to clean them on his shirt. "Now, I know you've always been wanting to prove yourself. I've been sent here to investigate, just like you. I have some details, but not enough to work with. This could be your chance."
That wasn't what she'd been expecting him to say, and she raised an eyebrow in confusion. "I thought you guys were more focused on DC."
He laughed despite himself and shook his head. "DC was cleared by mortal authorities, so now our focus is here and Baltimore." He glanced up at her. "I need help, Snow, and I need you on my side."
She didn't hesitate to laugh, rolling her eyes again. "You do realize you didn't make the best entrance for me to be on my side."
"This is not easy. You need to risk your life." Artemis put his glasses on again, his smile fading. "This won't be fun, Snow."
"Never mind, Artie. You didn't have to threaten me to get me to help you. Despite my heritage, I am a Wizard of the White Council, remember?"
He shrugged, the cocky grin returning. "I have to keep up appearances."
Snow groaned. She would have smacked him if he wasn't a Warden. "You are such a dick!"
Artemis just grinned. "You know it!"
"That wasn't a compliment, asshole." She shook her head. "Anyway, yes, I'll help you. I can't promise they will, but they might help me."
"Let's hope, for your sake. Let me know if you get in over your head."
"What can I tell them?" Snow watched him carefully while he considered her question.
With a deep sigh, he looked at her over the rims of his glasses. "As much as you think you need to. Be careful, Snow. Don't make have to use this." Artemis tapped the hilt of his sword and stepped back from her. Then, he was just gone.
The wizard pinched the bridge of her nose before heading back into the bar.
"Is St. Yves gone?" Parker was visibly relieved when Snow nodded, but still tense as she sat back down at the bar. "What happened?"
"He's here for the same reason I am: to find out what the hell is going on. It's something that needs to be done. Our necks are on the line."
The other wizard gulp and rubbed his throat. "No kidding."
The door to the bar opened again. In walked Zacharriah, who walked in with his usual gait and sat down at the bar. He looked over at the large bird skull that was still sitting there, stared at it for a moment, then turned to Parker. "So what have you children been up to?"
The bartender shrugged and tucked some of his hair behind his ear. "Same old, same old. Nothing unusual going on here..." He was so obvious, Alistair couldn't help but groan.
"Don't lie to the man, Parker," he drawled. "You're bloody terrible at it."
Parker frowned, but didn't argue, instead looking back at Zacharriah. "Your usual, I presume?"
The old man nodded.
"One Four Horseman, coming up."
While he mixed his drink, Snow was struck by an idea. She moved to the seat next to him, trying to keep her composure, knowing his power. "Maybe you can help us."
Zacharriah barely moved, casting a sideways glance at her. "What makes you think I can help you?"
"Well," Snow began, swallowing loudly. "I know what you are, what you're capable of, because of that glimpse I got of you last night. And you know the area much better than any of us do."
Parker set his drink in front of him. "I know I've never mentioned this before," he said, giving him a cautious smile. "But I trust you like my grandfather. You're probably the only local who hasn't taken a jab at me or my business for being an Outlander. Hell, you've even defended my place here. That's saying something."
The old man hummed and brought his drink to his lips. The other two looked to Alistair, waiting for him to add something, but he only shrugged and kept his focus on his tea.
Snow sighed. "Look, we could really use the help, and you've defended New Detrick so well..."
"There are a lot of bigger things at work here," Zacharriah interrupted, turning towards her. "And it's not my place to intervene."
"Oh, of course not." Alistair looked up and couldn't help his smirk. "I'm not the one perpetuating anything. There's no need for him to get involved." The smile turned to a scowl as he looked Zacharriah's way. "What is it you have against me, anyway? I merely mention some good old fashioned mischief, and I get glared down. What did I ever do to you, besides exist?"
"Exist is enough." The old man slowly turned towards him, his expression stern. "I've encountered your type before, also named Alistair, and I can tell you this: what's happening now was linked to him. I've seen your type before and I don't trust you because of that." That said, he returned to his drink.
Alistair wasn't sure how to respond to that, though glad he didn't glare him out of the bar again. He pressed his lips together, thinking. He remembered the look on the Warden's face when he'd mentioned his family. "You mean my grandfather, don't you?"
Zacharriah nodded, and there was a long silence while he took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, and everyone else took this in. Parker somehow found his voice and leaned against the bar, looking warily at the old man. "How long have you been here?"
"Long before your time."
The door to the bar opened for the fourth time that morning -- a new record. Unfortunately, it was none other than Major Updike, and he looked just as livid as he had the night before as he marched to the bar and slammed his hands down on the counter. "We need to talk, Outlander."
"Oh joy," Parker drawled, not wanting to deal with him. "What about this time? Your kid go traipsing off where he shouldn't again?"
Major Updike sneered. "People from town have gone missing, Outlander. Disappeared. Vanished. Abducted. What do you make of that?"
There was a metallic click. Zacharriah took a drag of his cigarette with one hand and held his gun pointed at the officer with the other. "Abduct this fucker."
He flinched, but tried to keep his focus on Parker. "We're keeping a watch on newcomers to the area, like you and your lot. Your bar seems to draw all sorts of unpleasant characters."
"Well, Major Updick... oh! I'm sorry!" Parker grinned deviously. "I meant to say Updike. Anyway, sir, this bar is under the protection of my friend Zacharriah here, so I'm not worried about any unpleasant characters, as you put it, staying around for very long."
On cue and without hesitation, Zacharriah cocked his gun.
Major Updike's face turned red, but he kept his mouth shut as he promptly turned on heel and marched right back out. Snow let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Great. More crap on our plate."
"Maybe not." Alistair stretched his arms and popped his neck. "We're supposed to be looking for a wizard who's breaking two Laws, right? A wizard who's been enthralling people and turning them into grotesque, bird-like monsters." He tapped the skull still on the counter. "How much would like to bet that, if we find out where our fine featherless friend here came from, we'll find some of those missing people the good major is looking for?"
"I've got everything we'd need for a tracking spell," Parker said. "Well, a basic one. We could get a general sense of where we need to go."
Snow started to nod in agreement, but then shook her head. "I think we need more than that. With help, I could cast one to give us a specific location, but I'll need a map of the area."
"That's one thing I don't have."
"I can get us that," Alistair offered, making a point not to look at Zacharriah, knowing he'd object. "I still have that gate key, and I know just where I can go to procure one. If we can wait until nightfall, I can get it for us then."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Snow agreed with a nod of her head. "It's a place to start, at least."
Zacharriah grumbled, but made no other remark. Just then, Lina reappeared from the back, her face tense, as if she was fighting off the urge to scream.
"What happened?" Parker asked. Lina looked like she was ready to explode as she slowly turned to him.
"That... damn... were-cat..." She started to shake. "My... herb... garden..."
Alistair winced and was the first out of his seat, hopping over the bar to carefully guide Lina over to where she made her tea. "Why don't you fix yourself cup and have a seat, yeah? I'm sure he didn't mean it. I'll help Parker run things today so you can get it fixed up." He looked over towards Snow to quickly explain. "One of the things she grows in her garden is catnip, for that soothing tea I keep talking about. I think it's safe to say he might have gotten a little distracted last night and made a bit of a mess."
Snow brought her hand to forehead. "Great. So much for finding a place to stay."
"I think, in light of the circumstances, we can make room." Parker sighed, but gave her a smile. "I'll clear out the storage room upstairs. It's big enough, and doesn't have too much in it. We can make a divider so you each have your own side to sleep on. Alistair?" He turned to him. "Think you can handle things for a few hours so I can do that?"
"No problem," the conman said with a smirk. "Not like it's that busy."
Parker nodded his thanks, then turned to Snow again. "Come on. We'll get you taken care of."
Nightfall came and the usual patrons arrived at the Voodoo Queen. Lina was busy fixing her garden, so Snow had taken up waitress duties for the night to help out, and to pay for her stay, as she put it. Guy, still running on his catnip high, was upstairs, curled up with a pillow filled with the stuff. Lina figured sewing one up for him would encourage him to snuggle that and not roll around in her garden again. Parker was tending the bar, glancing every now and then at Alistair, who was sitting on his corner stool, finishing a cup of tea while he prepared himself for his heist. He hadn't said anything to the others yet, but he intended to get that map from Major Updike's residence, knowing the officer was bound to have at least one of the area. At the moment, Alistair was running scenarios through his head, deciding on the best way to approach robbing a house he didn't have a chance to case first.
Opportunity came in an unusual package when a lovely woman -- well dressed and perfumed, with her hair done up in cascading curls -- walked over the bar and got Parker's attention. "Pardon me," she said, her deep Southern accent as smooth as molasses. "But you haven't by any chance found a wallet that someone left behind, have you? My son, in a lapse of judgment, was out last night and might have left it here."
Alistair didn't hesitate. "Was he a scrawny kid?" he asked. "About so tall, with messy brown hair?"
"Why yes," she said, turning towards him with a smile. "That sounds a bit like my Walter. You saw him?"
"Saw your husband drag him out by the ear, yes." Alistair pulled the wallet from his pocket, but left the key there. He held it out to her. "Is this what you're looking for, ma'am?"
"Why yes! That's it!" She took it daintily from him. "Thank you."
"Gwen! What are you doing out here?"
Major Updike marched over to her, clearly angry, but he couldn't hold his fierce expression when his wife smiled at him and pat his arm. "Look dear," she said, making his frown falter. "I've found our boy's wallet. You see? There was nothing to worry about after all."
Alistair waved Parker over while they talked, leaning in to whisper to him. "Keep them here," he told him. "Try to keep them distracted until I get back. I should be no more than an hour. Two, tops."
The wizard nodded, realizing immediately what he intended to do. He caught Snow's attention and motioned her over while he moved to the couple. "Major and Mrs. Updike!" he said to them, smiling as genuinely as he could as Alistair disappeared out the back. "I'd like to make up for some of the trouble I've caused between you and your son, by having him here. How about I treat you both to dinner, on the house? Drinks included."
With his usual scowl, the officer sneered at him. "I don't need any handouts from you, Outlander..."
"Now dear," his wife cut in, deflating his anger again. "I think that's very generous of him." She turned to Parker. "Tell me, is that a Cajun accent I hear? I've heard some great things about the food where you come from."
"It is, ma'am. I'm from New Orleans." Parker wondered how long he'd be able to keep his temper and play nice. He hoped Alistair was out closer to one hour than two. "I could fix you some jambalaya, if you'd like. An old family recipe."
"Oh! Dear, doesn't that sound marvelous? Let's stay and try it, shall we?"
They could see Major Updike's will breaking to the wishes of his wife, but he still hesitated. "We already ate dinner, Gwen..."
"There's pecan pie for dessert," Snow piped in, trying to seal the deal. She gave Parker a hopeful smile, and he smiled warily back. This was getting a little more complicated than he had anticipated. But the major's wife only lit up more as she looked over at Snow.
"Why, bless your heart! I haven't had pecan pie since I was a little girl." She turned to her husband again and pouted coyly. "Please, dear? Let's have a date, like you always say we should, but never do."
Major Updike couldn't argue with that and caved. Determined to behave in front of his wife, he sighed and reluctantly looked at Parker. "What have you got on tap?"
Parker hoped his grin wasn't too devious. "What do you want?"
Alistair let himself into the fort through the nearest gate with his pilfered key, not used to going so directly, but knowing his usual route would be too time consuming. He'd need that extra time just to figure out where the Major's house was. He might have memorized the address, but he still didn't know how to get there. He knew the guard patrols well enough that he was sure this gate was unguarded at the moment, while the shift change occurred, and he locked the gate behind him before he hurried passed the guard station, eager to get as far away from it as he could. If he was caught, things would be infinitely more difficult...
"Halt! Who goes there?"
The conman froze, mentally cursing himself. The guard was early, and he didn't have time for this. Quickly, he pulled himself together, then casually turned around. Despite the fact that a gun was being pointed at him, Alistair still gave the soldier a polite bow, leaning on his cane. "Ah, good. I was afraid I was going to have to track down an escort." There was a slight fluctuation to his voice, unnoticeable to most mortals, and he smiled as the soldier's eyes took on that familiar look when he had them enthralled. "If it isn't too much trouble, sir, I was trying to find my way to the home of Major Updike. I have something of his that was left outside the gates and would like to return it to him."
"You shouldn't be out here at night," the soldier warned as he put his gun away. "You don't look like a citizen. How did you get inside the gates?"
"I was loaned a key." Alistair wrapped his arm around his new friend's shoulder. "But I don't wish to stay. Just long enough for my errand, then I intend to leave. Would you kindly give me directions to to the Updike residence? I don't want to be too much trouble."
"Even inside the gates, it's dangerous at night, especially for Outlanders." He smiled at him eagerly. "I'll do you one better and take you there myself."
Alistair smiled back. "You're too kind. Thank you."
It wasn't far, thankfully. The house was a relic of an era long past: large, well-kept and beautifully constructed. A few lights were on, but Alistair knew the Major and his wife weren't home. It was possible their son was, but that was a risk he'd have to take. It was just as likely Updike left lights on to give the appearance of the house being occupied. "They're home, right?" Alistair asked anyway.
"I think so," the soldier said. "Do you want me to go with you?"
"I think I'll be fine, thanks. They know I'm coming."
The door was unlocked, not that it would have been an issue. He could have easily made his lock-picking look like he'd used a key, if only to keep the soldier's faith in him secure; he'd done worse in front of his thralls without them coming to their senses. Usually, it took him attacking one of his false-made friends directly to shatter the illusion before it naturally wore off, but he didn't like chancing it if he didn't have to.
Once inside, however, all bets were off. Alistair took one look around and knew he wouldn't be leaving with just a map. This place was a treasure trove, and the more he thought about it, the more he felt that he owed the major his due for the damages he'd done to the bar. The conman grinned wickedly.
"I'm reviewing the situation," he sang low, then continued humming as he went to work.
Besides a map -- which he found easily in what seemed to be an office -- Alistair helped himself to a pair of combat boots (for Treddz), a bottle of vintage bourbon (for Parker), assorted small electronics and pieces of jewelry (to trade with his suppliers for other goods), a full soldier's uniform (just in case), several vinyl records (for himself), and a satchel to carry it all in. Satisfied with his take, he felt the key in his pocket. It was only fair, he figured, to give it back. Walking to the kitchen table, he pulled the key from his pocket, prepared to leave it there.
"What are you doing here?"
Alistair had known the kid was home, having done a quick run of the house to get its layout, and was surprised he was only just now noticing he was there. He turned to Walter casually and held up the key. "I found this under the bar, after you left last night. I was just bringing it back to you. I know losing it got you into trouble with your dad."
The corner of Walter's eye twitched. Alistair realized that whatever punishment he'd been given for his blunder had probably been very severe. Little mannerisms were telling, and knowing his father's temper, he was sure it had been rough for him. None of that cheerful energy he'd had the night before was there. All that was left was fear and paranoia. His problem, Alistair thought, holding the key out to him. Walter snatched it from his hand like a starving child grabbing for food, staring down at it like he couldn't believe it was real. "You had it," he muttered, looking at Alistair again. "An Outlander had a key to the gates..."
"And now it's back in your capable hands." The conman was half-tempted to pat him on the head, but resisted. "So, now that it's returned, I'll be on my way. Good night..."
Walter moved faster than he would have ever expected, his fist connecting solidly with Alistair's face and sending him staggering from the unanticipated attack. The key, still in the teen's hand, grazed his cheek across the bone with a sudden, sharp pain. Rage filled Alistair as his grip tightened on his cane. How dare he...
"I'm not a man to hunger for blood," the siren sang as he drew his sword. "But the spirit can cry!" Alistair slashed his blade across the teen's chest, far more skilled with his weapon of choice. He was ready to keep singing too, to slash again and this time higher, across the neck, but Walter screamed with that first blow, and the soldier outside rushed in, gun drawn, ready to perform his job. With disturbing grace, Alistair stopped himself, turning what would have been another attack into a quick maneuver to wipe his sword clean of blood before he quickly sheathed it back in his cane. "Thank God you're here," he said with an easiness that was uncanny, given what he'd just done. "The boy startled me and I reacted instinctively. He needs a doctor's care."
"Jesus Christ..." The soldier put his gun away again and hurried to the bewildered teen's side. "Boy, if your father knew you were trying to play soldier again..."
"Tend to him, my friend," Alistair said calmly, though he would have been more than happy to finish the teen off instead. "I must leave. It would not do well for an Outlander like myself to be here when help arrives."
"Yeah, you'd better hurry on out. I'll make sure he gets patched."
"Thank you, again."
Alistair left before he decided that killing them both was a better option.
"I hope Alistair's on his way back," Parker muttered worriedly as Major Updike and his wife left the bar after their meal. "I didn't think I could keep myself from vomiting for long. God, she couldn't have been more condescending to me if I was black."
"At least she didn't 'bless your heart,'" Snow drawled, draping herself over the bar from the sudden exhaustion that hit her from playing that fake cheerfulness for so long. "That's as good as saying fu..."
Alistair came in through the kitchen, all smiles despite the darkness in his eyes. "I saw your guests leaving, so I figured it was safe to come in. I come bearing gifts." He opened the satchel and pulled out the map, handing to Snow. "For your spell, love. Best get to it. And for you, Parker." He pulled out the bourbon. "A special treat, but keep this for yourself, just in case. Don't want a certain someone recognizing a bottle from his personally stash, now do we?"
"It will be kept in my room," Parker assured him with a grateful smile, but frowned when his friend hurried towards the stairs. "And what are you up to now?"
"Music," Alistair called back. "I have some new vinyls I'd like to listen to. It was an exciting night." He disappeared before he could question him further.
Snow cast Parker a concerned look. "Did you see it too? His cheek? You don't think he was caught, do you?"
Parker shrugged and shook his head. "Better not to ask. He got what we needed, and that's all that matters."
"Lina," Parker called to her. She'd finished with her garden shortly before Alistair had returned. "Take the bar for a while. I'll be upstairs."
She nodded, having been filled in on what they had to do. Parker and Snow went upstairs to cast the spell, hearing Alistair in his room, singing along quietly to the record he was playing. The Cajun shook his head again, but didn't let it distract him from his task. They needed to get this spell done tonight.
It didn't take long, especially with their efforts combined. The crystal, the skull, the map, and just the right words were all they needed. The crystal swung wildly on its string, but soon pointed directly at the location they needed to go.
It was an old industrial warehouse, surprisingly close to the borders of the fort...