Chapter Eight

 

New York Boogey

 

I’m going to die, Timothy thought, watching as a strange city flew past under his propelling body.  We’re hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in the air, and when we hit, we’re all going to go splat.  His mind was surprisingly calm, however, and his heart wasn’t thudding as hard as it had been while he was between worlds.  That had been a wicked few seconds, and he tried to forget the feeling of otherness that had invaded all of his senses in that brief moment.  Now however, when his eyes were telling him that he was going to fall a very long way and die, he felt calm and reassured.

 

Stockholm’s thoughts were flowing along the same line, though they were slightly less fatal.  This is going to hurt like a motherfucker, he thought, because despite the height of the company, he’d survived further falls with only a few shattered bones.  They were moving in one direction, however, and losing altitude rather more slowly than he’d imagined they would at first.

 

Behind and slightly higher than the Red Tribesman came Hina, who only had one thought at the moment; I should have said something.  She truly believed that wherever they finished up after this fall (which appeared quite lengthy), she was at fault for their circumstances.

 

Bradley Ashford, who’d been in this very city passing below them, had a completely different line of thought as well.  It’s New York, he thought, Fun City.  I hated this goddamned place.  He too noted the way they were falling, and didn’t think it was at all accidental.  The rift served to send people places, not kill them, and he had a feeling that the rift’s power would protect them when they landed. As it turned out, he was correct.

 

When the quartet did land, roughly and almost one atop another, they found themselves in a place that stank to high heaven and was filled with people who would no more be believed than they would on any other day.  The homeless tribes of New York City only drew attention from the merciful and the police, and neither grouping often took their words into account.  Stockholm marveled at the sheer height of the buildings around him on either side of the alley, and his nose cried out to him about the awful smell coming from the metal container he’d landed in.  A refuse bin, he thought, sitting up amid the city’s waste.

 

Timothy and Hina landed together against the green outer siding of the bin, Timothy with a hard thump and Hina with a softer one, landing atop Timothy sideways.  Ashford was deposited a few yards away, right in front of a homeless fellow who was dead asleep, a bottle of Wild Turkey in a paper bag next to his open hand.  Stockholm came grunting up out of the refuse bin, and almost landed atop Timothy and Hina, who were both groaning and coming to.  Stockholm stood up, and tried to take his surroundings in.  “Where the hell are we,” he muttered, pulling an old newspaper out of his armpit and tossing it to the ground.

 

“New York,” Bradley Ashford said, dusting off his fatigues.  Several of the homeless folk living in the alley had approached to within a few yards, all of them staring wide-eyed at the Red Tribe Werewolf.  “The asshole of the universe,” Ashford said, looking back at the towering lycanthrope.

 

“That’s one hell of a costume, buddy,” one of the vagrants said to Stockholm.

 

“It’s not a costume, fellah,” Ashford said, cinching up his M-16.  “And he’s probably feeling a little hungry, so you may want to pound pavement,” he warned.  Stockholm growled low in his throat and bared his fangs at the homeless crowd, and with shrieks and cries of ‘Werewolf!  Werewolf!’, they departed.  Only the sleeping drunkard remained, unaffected by the noise and commotion.

 

Timothy and Hina got up to their feet, and wrinkled their noses at the sheer stench of the alley.  It wasn’t just the garbage and filth of the departing vagrants that stung their nostrils and Stockholm’s.  The sheer quality of the air felt foul to them, and as they hadn’t lived in the Age of Mecha, they didn’t know what gasoline fumes were or how they affected the environment.  The air simply seemed foul to them, and they attributed it to the overall strangeness of the world they’d entered.  “What did you call this place, Mr. Ashford,” Timothy asked, rubbing his forehead.

 

“New York,” Ashford said.  “And you can call me Brad.”

 

“We’ve got to find that rift again, and get back to our world,” Stockholm said.  “We don’t belong here.”

 

“Damned right we don’t,” Hina said, looking around at the concrete buildings that formed this particular alley.  “I can’t detect any mana coming from anyplace other than us.  Wherever we are, there isn’t a lot of magic in this world.”

 

“Damn straight, sister,” said Ashford.  “This is my world, or a version of it. There’s no magic, and there’s no such thing as Elves and Werewolves, at least I don’t think,” he said, now truly wondering about that.  After all, he’d been sent through two rifts in reality now, and he though he might have to question even his own reality as it was.

 

“A world without magic,” Timothy asked, his face a display in disbelief. “How do you people get by?”

 

“Technology mostly,” Ashford said, starting off down the alley slowly. “What you call mecha.  Come on.  We better get moving, and keep our profile as low as possible.”

 

“That’s going to be a bit difficult if Stockholm walks around in his bestial state,” Hina said.  “You have a humanoid form, don’t you?”

 

“I did, once,” Stockholm said, balling up one hand into a tight fist.  “It’s been too long since I used it, though.  It’d be too difficult.  We’ll just have to hope the people of this world won’t have too many questions about a big red dog,” he said. Stockholm then shifted down into his animus form, and was pleased that his equipment wavered into the spirit realm with his change instead of just dropping off of him, as he’d feared it might.  His lips moved animatedly into a grin as he said, “Well, let’s get moving.”

 

Ashford did a double-take at this.  “You can still talk in that form?”

 

“Aye, though I’ll be doing little of it here.  Dogs in your world don’t talk, do they,” he asked hopefully.

 

“Not outside of books and comics, or cartoons,” Ashford replied with a chuckle.

 

“What the heck is a cartoon,” Hina asked.  Ashford started to open his mouth to explain, then thought better of it.  They’d be stuck in this filthy alley for far too long if he started on the subject.

 

“Best not to discuss it right now.  We don’t need anymore distractions than we’re likely to have as it is,” he said.  “Come on, follow me.  And whatever you do, stick to the sidewalks.”  Hina and Timothy looked at each other and shrugged. Best to let Ashford take the lead, since he seemed to know more about this world than they did, and for the better.  They followed him out onto the street, and into a world unlike any they could have imagined.

 

Oun slapped Guirdejef again, hard.  The Greater God of doorways felt his entire being shake with the force of the blow, but he only smiled and cackled at Oun like a lunatic in a straightjacket.  “I’ll only ask you this one more time,” Oun bellowed.  “Where did you send them?”

 

“Over the river and through the woods,” came Guirdejef’s reply, which earned him a blow that knocked him out cold.  Oun spat on the unconscious god, turning then on his heel and stomping out of the room like a tantruming child. Lenos stood out in the hallway, puffing away on his pipe, and Oun had the compulsion to snatch the foul thing and toss it away, but he restrained himself out of respect.

 

“Still not answering,” Lenos asked casually, as if asking about the weather.

 

“No, he isn’t.  We need to find out where Ignatious Stockholm and his companions are, Lenos!  If we can contact the gods of that world, they may help us get them back!”

 

“Or they may scoff at us, let’s not forget that possibility,” said Lenos in his most patient and sage-like tone.  “I seem to recall a few meetings with the gods of these other worlds, and few if any of them were precisely pleased with our intrusion.”  Oun thought back to the two or three such meetings he’d had over the long, timeless period of his existence.  Now that he recalled them clearly, yes, Lenos was right.  None of them had been very helpful.

 

“So what do we do, my old friend,” Oun asked softly, looking down at the Mortal Plane below, at the rift through which Stockholm and his companions had been taken.

 

“We wait,” said Lenos, chuffing away on his pipe.  “We wait, and we trust to Ignatious’s ability to guide them true back to this world.”

 

Bradley Ashford felt relatively lucky.  After all, his company had managed to walk an entire city block before some concerned citizen had called the police to report a suspicious looking group of people and their odd red dog, mostly because the head of the group was carrying a military weapon.  As the blue and white came slowly up the street, its lights flashing but its siren silent, Ashford put his hands back to Tim and Hina to stop them.  “Everybody hold up,” he said, cringing a little when he saw another police vehicle, a truck labeled ‘Animal Control’, come slowly up the street behind the cruiser.  “And for God’s sake, whatever the men coming out of those cars says, do it.”

 

“Constables, I assume,” rasped Stockholm from Ashford’s knee height.  The colonel nodded, and cleared his throat.  “You know, I could get them to go away,” Stockholm offered, smiling his wolfish smile.

 

“No, not now, not yet.  Not unless there’s real trouble.”  The cruiser came to a stop finally, perfectly parallel to the company on the other side of a Volkswagon Jetta parked next to the curb.  Two well-equipped and physically toned young officers came out of the cruiser, and one older officer, in a white shirt instead of the standard dark blue of the city of New York, came out of the Animal Control vehicle, a strange long pole in his hands.  “Hello, officers,” Bradley Ashford said amiably, standing rigidly upright.  He was suddenly very glad that he still had his bird tags and his credentials on him.

 

“Afternoon, sir,” said the nearest officer, a handsome young fellow with the exception of a nose that appeared to have been broken several dozen times in his short life.  The officer nearest approached slowly, cautiously, while the other officer, the driver, remained on his side of the squad vehicle.  The Animal Control officer got as far as the sidewalk, and then stopped quite suddenly, looking at the wolf/dog with squinted, curious eyes.  He’d never seen a dog so large, or with such crimson colored fur.

 

“What can we do for New York’s finest, son,” Ashford said, using the term to try to gain a psychological edge on the officer right away.  It was something he’d learned during his years as an officer in the Marines; if the person you were talking with felt inferior for whatever reason, be it age, experience, or rank, you could control the entire conversation.  This trick would be especially useful and necessary here, to avoid the company being hauled off to lock-up until their identities could be confirmed or disconfirmed.

 

“Well, sir, I was hoping I could see some identification from you,” the officer said.  Ah, yes, Ashford thought.  Got to move quick since these two don’t have any I.D.  He pulled out his wallet with his military tag and his driver’s license both visible, and handed it over to the officer negotiating with him presently.  The officer nodded, and Ashford hoped that he would just hand it back, ask who the young folks were, and what breed the dog was.  If things fell that way, they’d be all right.

 

Unfortunately, officers right out of the academy tended to do everything very much by the book.  “Wait right here,” the officer said, moving back to his squad car with the wallet in hand.  Okay, Ashford thought, he’s running a background check on the license.  Not a problem, he thought, not a problem at all. Except, he thought, there might just be a problem.  He didn’t know how much time had passed between his unit’s return to this world and his arrival!  Ashford very much wished he’d bought a copy of the Times or something while he’d been walking along the block, but he hadn’t even given it any thought.

 

Hina and Timothy, meanwhile, were both remaining completely silent while they brought their mana to bear.  They had a feeling that they wouldn’t want to stir up any trouble, not with constables, but they also didn’t want to be slowed down by a possible arrest and detention.  They didn’t have anything excessively valuable on them, though Hina wondered what would happen to their money if they were jugged.  And Timothy wouldn’t want to have to create another Void Staff, because that would be a pain in the ass to do all over again.

 

Ashford looked at the young officer, who had been joined in the car by his partner, and they were holding a long discussion.  He didn’t like long discussions by policemen.  Long discussions either meant that the men in the cruiser had nothing to do, or they were considering various options for dealing with a situation.  The young officer stepped back out of his vehicle then, and he didn’t have Ashford’s wallet with him.  That was the first bad sign.

 

“Okay, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to very, very slowly, give me that weapon on your back, and your sidearm,” the officer said, his right hand on the butt of his own automatic pistol.  Oh hell, Ashford thought.

 

“Look, we’re in kind of a hurry,” said a voice that none of the officers present could identify.  The Animal Control officer’s face made a twitch just below the right eye, and he was now staring at the wolf/dog with widening eyes.  “We haven’t got time to explain, and you gents don’t want any trouble with us.”

 

“Did that fucking dog just talk,” whispered the Animal Control officer.  The two standard black and whites looked down at the dog, which was grinning up at them in what both men would forever remember as a very un-dog-like fashion. The dog swiveled its head toward the Animal Control man, and winked at him.

 

“Congratulations,” Stockholm said, his lips flapping animatedly.  “Give the man a gold star,” he said, and this was one step into weirdness too many for the Animal Control man.  He let out a girlish shriek, dropped his pole with the loop at the end, and pelted down the street in his truck past his comrades at a speed that could best be described as suicidal for Manhattan traffic.  The black and whites, however, were staring slack-jawed at the dog, and then at one another.

 

“Look, guys, just give Mr. Ashford his wallet back, and we’ll be on our way,” Timothy said, flicking his wrist and pluming a fireball the size of his own head into his right hand.  Both officers reeled back, the closer officer thumping his backside into his cruiser.

 

“Holy shit,” the driving officer hollered before clambering into his black and white.  “Give them the fucking wallet Frank and let’s go!”  Frank, the officer who’d done the talking, tossed the wallet at Ashford and darted into the cruiser, which tore off down Second Avenue like a bat out of hell.  Stockholm looked up at Tim, who had snuffed out the fireball with a grin, relishing the moment a few seconds longer than perhaps he should have.

 

“Very nicely handled, Timothy,” Stockholm said.  “However, we should probably try to draw a little less attention to ourselves in the future.  Let’s have Bradley put his speed shooter in your bag, Hina,” he said.  Ashford handed the rifle to Hina, who stuck it in her long rucksack and slung it back over her shoulder again.  Ashford tucked his sidearm into his own bag, and the quartet was once more on its way, heading down Second Avenue.

 

A hour and a half later, Hina pointed up at the skyline of New York.  “There it is,” she said, pointing to the rift as it warbled and shimmered atop an enormous tower.  Stockholm didn’t like the look of the building, or the surrounding area they had entered.  There was a great deal of graffiti spray painted along the walls of nearby buildings, and since entering this particular section of New York, he noted that Bradley Ashford had strapped his sidearm back to his hip.  Ashford’s eyes also kept darting left and right, down into alleys and into apartment building entryways.

 

“Bradley, you know this part of town,” Stockholm whispered, trying to move his lips as little as possible.  Though the sidewalks around this part of town weren’t precisely crowded, he felt many eyes upon him.

 

“Yeah.  This is a part of the city called Hell’s Kitchen,” Ashford said, darting his eyes back and forth, locking for a moment on the end of an alley half a block down.  There was a group of seven young men, three latinos and four black youths, and all of them were wearing baggy blue jeans and dark blue jackets. Around their heads were tied blue bandanas.  Crips, he thought, just what we don’t need.  “You see those kids up the street there, wearing all the blue?” Stockholm, Timothy and Hina all nodded.  “They’re members of a city-wide gang called the Crips.  They’ve got chapters in all the major cities across the country, and they’re pretty bad news,” he said, keeping his voice low.

 

What Stockholm was interested in as soon as he looked at the gang members was not the colors they were wearing, or the weapons they wore in prominent display.  What interested him was the familiar scent coming off of one of them, one of the black youths.  It was an all too familiar scent, one he smelled every day from himself.  The young man was a fellow Werewolf!  He didn’t want to hurt a kindred spirit, but if Ashford’s tone and warning were any indication, they might have trouble anyway.

 

Hina made their troubles considerably less, however.  She used a silent incantation of the Amplify spell, and then sent a streaming Sleep spell at the cluster of youths.  Six of them fell immediately to the ground, their eyes rolling up in their heads, much to the shock of the surrounding neighborhood.  The seventh youth, however, the Werewolf, only looked with wide eyes in the company’s direction, his eyes locking onto Stockholm’s gaze.  “What the hell did you do,” Ashford rasped at Hina, who smiled brightly at him.

 

“Don’t worry, they’re just taking a nap is all,” she said amiably, moving ahead and taking the lead in the group.  The company moved along after her, and Hina, Tim and Ashford didn’t stop when Stockholm stopped a few feet away from the young Werewolf.  He looked up at the young man, and gave him a brief once-over.

 

“You’re like me, aren’t you,” the black youth asked in a wondering whisper to the Red Tribe Werewolf.  “You aren’t a dog at all.”

 

“Nope,” said Stockholm simply.  “And you’re falling in with the wrong kind of people, friend.  Do yourself a favor, and move.  Find a place out in the country, get a job, settle down.  And remember, you control the beast, not the other way around.”  Without further ado, Ignatious Stockholm trotted along to catch up to his companions.

 

Ashford finally did stop in front of a newspaper box, plucked two quarters from his pocket, and deposited them, pulling out a copy of the Times for himself. The date told him everything he thought he might need to know.  Back before he’d come through the rift and into Stockholm, Tim and Hina’s world, it had been October of the year 2004.  The Giants and Jets were New York City’s two major football teams.  This newspaper, however, was dated September 17th, 2007, and in the sports page he discovered that the New York Furies had trounced the Buffalo Berserkers the previous day in the second regular season game of the year, 28 to 7.  Wasn’t Buffalo’s team the Bills, he thought.

 

“Something wrong,” Timothy asked the shocked Ashford.  Ashford laughed, though the sound was well short of containing anything resembling good humor.

 

“Oh nothing, really,” Ashford said.  “Just discovered that this is close to my world, but it isn’t exactly my home world,” he said, shaking his head.  He flipped through the paper to the politics section, and discovered that a fellow by the name of John Kerry was running the country, not George W. Bush.  “And my home country isn’t run by the same fellow.  Hell, this isn’t even the same year as I came from,” he said, folding the paper under one arm.

 

“No offense, Brad, but that’s hardly our concern here,” said Stockholm, padding along on the hot concrete of the sidewalk.  Several passing bystanders gave the company odd looks, but nobody chose to make a comment to them.  In most New Yorks, the rule of thumb was keep your head down and your feet moving, and don’t stand out.  “We’ve got to get to that building and get to the roof, so we can get back home.”  At that moment, Hina and Tim’s sensitive ears, as well as Stockholm’s, picked up an alarming sound.  Sirens, and in a multitude.  The sound did not diminish either, but got louder and closer, and a minute later, Ashford stopped walking, bringing the company up rather short.

 

“Oh shit,” Brad said, remembering the cops from earlier in the day.  “We’ve got trouble coming,” he said, as several cruisers and a SWAT van came blaring around the corner up the block.  He turned around to run in the opposite direction, but found that several more units were coming from that direction. They were standing in front of a restaurant, but he didn’t want to put anyone inside at risk.  It looked to him like they were going to be detained a little while longer after all.

 

The vehicles screamed to a halt along the street and sidewalk, dozens of heavily armed officers pouring out of their vehicles and pointing weapons at the company.  Shouts commanding them to drop to the pavement came from every direction, and in the confusion, a heavy-handed officer with a prong tazer fired his weapon into Timothy’s chest.  Tim felt his body wracked by hundreds of bursts of lightning magic of some technological type, and his body started thrashing around uncontrollably on the ground.  Hina dropped to the ground next to him, screaming at the top of her lungs for them to just stop, they were going to kill him, didn’t they see that?

 

A rubber bullet slammed into Hina’s chest, knocking the wind out of her and driving her to the ground.  Ashford dropped to the ground smartly, and Stockholm got in front of the three of them, his teeth bared and growling low in his throat. He wanted quite badly to take his bestial form and show these sons of bitches just who they were dealing with, but he had an idea that acting like the faithful doggy sidekick might work out better for them all.  Several Animal Control officers approached him slowly, and one of them used some sort of rifle on him, firing a dart into his side.

 

Stockholm didn’t feel too much of the serum’s effect, but once again thought that playing the part would work in his favor.  He wavered on his feet, snapping at the oncoming officers once before dropping to the ground, his chest heaving deeply.  A muzzle and a black cloth mask were dropped over his head, and all was now in darkness.  The city of New York’s finest had bagged three dangerous individuals, and one very dangerous dog.

 

They just didn’t know how dangerous.

 

When Timothy came to, he found that he felt shackles on his hands, which were behind his back.  He didn’t immediately open his eyes or move his head, but instead listened to the whispering voices around him.  “It was a fucking fireball, detective,” said Voice Number One, a voice he faintly recognized.  Frank, he thought, that’s the one who was called Frank.

 

“It was just a trick, Frank,” said Voice Number Two, a thickly accented voice that he didn’t recognize.  He knew the type, however.  He’d heard it several dozen times in his life.  He’d heard it from everyone who ever doubted the powers of a Void Mage, the voice of a hardheaded skeptic.  He could use that to his advantage.  He let out a low groan then, and started to pick his head up, and was surprised at how well lit the room he sat in was.  Mecha lighting, he thought, looking up at the bars of light in the ceiling.  “Ah, I see sleeping beauty is with us now.  Good morning, sunshine,” the man across from him said, Voice Number Two.

 

Voice Number Two sat slumped forward in his chair, wearing a white dress shirt and a frumpy red tie that didn’t look to be properly put on.  He had a thick set of jowls, and a receding hairline that would probably render him totally bald in another five years.  His porcine features stood out solidly, and were accompanied by a heavy scent of after shave that did nothing for the man’s natural charms.  Tim noted that there was a thick tan line on the man’s left ring finger, but no ring to go with the mark.  Probably divorced, Tim thought, like a lot of long time constables back in my world.

 

Voice Number Two smiled at him in a greasy snake-oil salesman’s fashion, and Timothy instantly knew one more thing about this man; he’d worked this job a long time, and knew no other way to live.  The interrogation was what this man lived for, what he took the most enjoyment from.  Not the actual apprehension, the man appeared about forty pounds too heavy to enjoy a foot chase.  But having his prey cornered, boxed in, probably gave this man his fair share of jollies.  Tim thought he might know how to turn that to his advantage as well.

 

“Hello, sunshine,” the man said, repeating himself.  “I’m detective John Anderson,” he said as Frank excused himself from the room.  “I’d like to know what your name is, sonny, since you didn’t have any I.D. and your prints aren’t in our system.”

 

“My name is Timothy Vandross,” Tim said amiably enough, though his voice sounded surprisingly fuzzy to his own ears.  He felt a strange irritation in his right arm, and looked down to find that there was a bit of gauze and tape on his arm. Had they drawn blood from him?  Probably, he thought, though what for he hadn’t the slightest clue.

 

“Any relation to Luther,” detective Anderson asked with a light chuckle.  Tim cocked his head and an eyebrow questioningly.  “Never mind.  So, shall I call you Timothy, Tim, or Mr. Vandross?”

 

“Tim will do,” Tim said.  “Hey, can you take these manacles off?  They’re kind of chaffing.”  Anderson shrugged his shoulders, stood up, and moved around the table.  He undid the cuffs, despite what Frank Tolburn had said the young man had done.  After all, it was just a pretty parlor trick, Anderson reasoned as he moved back around the table.  The door to the room opened once again, and a pretty young woman in a yellow dress shirt and black slacks entered.  She looked, Tim thought, an awful lot like Hina, except her ears were shaped like a normal Human’s.

 

“This is my partner, Helen Postino,” Anderson said, indicating the young woman, who came in with a manila folder in her hands.  This she handed to Anderson, who opened it and took a brief look inside.  He looked suddenly quite mystified, and gave Helen a questioning look of his own.  She shrugged her shoulders, and looked at Tim.  No, Tim thought, she’s looking at my ears.  These people don’t know what Elves are, do they?

 

“Something wrong,” Tim asked innocently enough.

 

“No, nothing young man,” Anderson said, his serpent’s smile gone for the time being.  “The reason you’re here right now is mostly that we don’t know who the hell you are.”

 

“Or what,” Helen said quietly, but not quietly enough for Tim not to catch her words.

 

“As I said, my name is Timothy Vandross,” Tim said patiently.  He rubbed his raw throat, and grimaced.  “Can I get something to drink?  Water, or coffee, if you folks have it?”  Helen nodded, and slipped out of the room once again, taking the manila folder with her.  On her way to the vending machine, she opened the folder and once again looked over the forensics’ specialists’ report.  One phrase kept creeping up to her eyes, the phrase that had so chilled her and Anderson both, but got the boys down in the lab all creamy in their jeans.  Unexplained phenomenon on a cellular level, the statement said.  Subject is not entirely human.

 

 

 

Hina Hinas slowly came to lying down on some sort of couch.  It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but she was able to detect the smell of cigarette smoke.  As her eyes swam into focus on the surrounding office, her eyes landed on a small, narrow fellow seated behind the desk to her left.  He had an air of authority around him, and when she cleared her throat, he set his cigarette down and looked up at her from some document on his desk.  Whatever he’d been looking at, she saw, it disturbed him greatly.

 

The fellow probably stood an inch or two shorter than she, but he didn’t appear the type to be easily intimidated.  He stood up, and slowly approached her with a plastic bottle of water.  He handed it to her wordlessly, then returned to his desk.  He indicated the chair across the desk from him, and Hina stood up, wincing at a slight sting in her right arm.  There was gauze bandaging on her arm and tape. Someone had drawn blood from her, though she, like Tim, couldn’t guess why.

 

She sat across from the man, who according to the plaques behind him, was detective Samuel Todiro, a man noted for his service to the Police Department of New York.  He extended a hand across the desk to her, though she noticed it was shaking and quite sweaty.  This man was nervous for some reason, and she had a feeling he wasn’t often that way.  “My name is Sam Todiro.  I’m a detective with the New York Police Department.”

 

“Hina Hinas,” she said, taking his offered hand.  She could sense a great deal of life force in this young man, but not even the slightest trace of mana.  Were there no mages in this world they’d been dropped into?

 

“Hinas.  That’s a lovely name,” he said, smiling at her pleasantly enough, though in truth his heart was hammering in his chest.  The report in front of him, he thought, could not be accurate.  If it was, then he had no idea what kind of creature was sitting before him with its long ears and sylvan features.  She struck him as quite beautiful, but as a life-long moviegoer, he wondered if perhaps aliens could make themselves as attractive as this thing sitting before him.

 

Subject is not human, he thought, mentally quoting the forensics lab’s report.  One of the other young men with this woman had been much the same, with some human traits in his DNA and some that were like hers.  A half-breed, he thought, and they’re here to take over humanity or something!  God, this is something right out of a Harlan Ellison novel!  “Might I ask why I’m here,” Hina asked, trying to get an overall feeling from this man.  He was as open as a book before her, and she found herself surprised that a man who was so easily read could be a constable.

 

“Well, there’s the matter of the fact that we have no idea who you are, Ms. Hinas,” the man said.  “Your fingerprints aren’t in any database we have access to, and you don’t have any identifying papers.  Also, well,” he said, stammering slightly.

 

“You don’t know what I am,” she said, taking the leap for him.  Todiro lowered his head and nodded, seeming slightly embarrassed.  Hina trilled light laughter, not meaning to sound obscene, though the sound did chill Todiro’s blood.  “My goodness, a Human who’s never seen a real Elf in his life!”

 

“A what,” he said, his eyes opening wide.

 

“An Elf, detective,” Hina said, crossing one leg over another.  “I’m an Elf. The young man who was with me is a half-Elf, and Mr. Ashford is completely Human.  By the way, where’s our dog?”

 

“Um, he was taken over to Animal Control next door,” Todiro said, his heart hammering in his chest.  “Why?”

 

“Oh, no reason,” Hina said, smiling wickedly at this poor, ignorant Human.

 

“You ever seen a dog this big,” officer Daniels asked his colleague in the kennel office.

 

“It’s not a dog, Jeff,” said the heavier set Human standing in front of Stockholm’s tall cage.  “It’s a fucking wolf, though I must say, I’ve never known one to be so tame,” he said, tossing another biscuit in to the Red Tribe Werewolf, who dutifully snapped it up out of the air.  He lolled his tongue out at them and panted, making a nice show of things for these two idiots.  “Or have its fur dyed.  Which one of those folks do you suppose it belongs to?”

 

“Probably the woman,” Daniels said to his supervisor, officer Brooks. Brooks was a chubby, jolly, Santa-type fellow who had always loved animals and working with them.  Daniels, Brooks knew, had wound up in Animal Control not because he wanted to be, but because the man couldn’t pass the physical exam to get into the real Police Department.  He suspected that Jeff didn’t even really like animals, just the paycheck the job garnered him.  “Chick that tiny probably needs a big dog for guard duty.”

 

“I already told you, this isn’t a dog, it’s a wolf,” Brooks said, slightly irritated by his coworker’s ignorance.  “Anyway, why don’t you head home, Jeff?  I’m going to run a few tests on this pooch’s blood, and then I’ll make my report and recommendation.  He didn’t actually bite anyone, so I may wind up taking him home myself, if they don’t release those folks.”  Jeff Daniels got his coat and hat, and left the kennel office, leaving Brooks alone with Ignatious Stockholm in his animus form.

 

Brooks liked the wolf, though he couldn’t exactly pinpoint why.  Probably its friendly overall disposition, though he’d seen it bear its teeth during the takedown.  Nothing more than a trained response, he figured, to his master taking a rubber bullet in the chest.  He moved over to the section of the kennel office where he kept his medical equipment, and peered into the upper part of his microscope, where he had a slide with a blood sample on it.

 

What he saw mystified him, as he’d never seen such blood in an animal, not even a wolf.  He’d had three occasions to view samples of wolf blood, as there had been a case several years back where a gang of thugs were using them in a dog-fighting ring.  The animals had been quite feral, and all had been put down on the spot.  This animal, however, showed strange differences in its blood work, and he couldn’t think of how to explain it.

 

“What exactly are you, pooch,” he asked aloud.  He never would have expected a reply.  Nonetheless, he got one.

 

“Nothing you’ve ever worked with, sir,” came a low, whispery response from somewhere in the office.  Brooks whipped his head around, searching for the owner of that voice, but found that he was indeed alone in his office.  Except, he thought, for the wolf.  But that’s impossible, he thought, there’s no such thing as a wolf or a dog that talks.  Someone, he decided, was having a joke at his expense.

 

“Who’s there,” he asked aloud, standing from his lab desk and moving through the office, looking here and there for a radio or other audio transmitting device.  “Whoever’s doing this, it isn’t very funny!”

 

“I agree wholeheartedly,” said the voice again, and this time Brooks looked directly at the wolf in its pen, and found he didn’t like the way the animal was looking at him.  It was grinning, and in a way he recognized as being very human. “Any chance I can get another one of those biscuits,” the wolf asked, its lips moving quite fluidly.  Brooks scrambled backward, tripping himself up and pressing his back against the exam table in the middle of the room.  Beads of sweat sprang out on his forehead, and he was shaking his head back and forth while his heart beat in his chest like a thundering jackhammer.  “They’re a little dry, but that’s what this water’s for, hmm?”

 

“Holy Mary mother of God,” Brooks stammered, looking wide-eyed at the wolf in its pen.  He had a sudden flash of memory, a book he’d read a while back by an author named Dean Koontz.  The book was called Watchers, and it featured a super-intelligent dog that the government had engineered and then lost track of.  The dog had known how to communicate with letter tiles, and understood human speech.  Suddenly, Brooks found himself questioning Koontz’s motivation in writing that particular novel.  Had the man owned such an animal, unbeknownst to the public at large?  “Did, did you just talk,” he stammered to the animal.

 

“That I did,” Stockholm replied, feeling a little sorry for the flabby fellow sitting on the tile floor of his own office.  “I’m not usually much of a conversationalist, but you seem a decent fellow,” he said, and he saw something, some spark, light in the man’s eyes.  That spark gave him a glimmer of hope for getting out of here without violence.  “Listen, is there any way you could let me out of this cage?”  But he needn’t have asked, as Brooks was already getting to his feet and undoing the lock as fast as his trembling fingers would allow.

 

Brooks opened the cage door, and Stockholm padded out.  Brooks was looking down at him with shimmering, tear-filled eyes.  “Did the government make you, boy,” Brooks asked in a harsh whisper.  “Did they do some kind of weird experiments on you?”  Brooks patted Stockholm on the head, which the Werewolf allowed, since this man was now exuding a strange sort of glow of kindness.  “I’ll bet they did.  People are so cruel like that,” Brooks said.  He hunkered down, and was face-to-face with the Red Tribesman now.  “Look, I’m probably going to lose my job over this, but you don’t belong here, boy.  You have to get out of here, don’t you?”  Stockholm nodded his head.  “Okay.  I’m gonna let you out through the back door, okay?  I’m sure they’re going to let your masters go soon, so you just wait for them to do that.  I’ll tell them I sent you off to be destroyed at the pound, since I don’t have the equipment to do it here,” he said.

 

“I appreciate that,” Stockholm said.  “What’s your name again?  Brooks?” The officer nodded, still awe-struck.  “You’re a good man, Mr. Brooks.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”  A few minutes later, Stockholm was hiding out in a waste bin in the alley alongside the police building his friends were interred in.

 

“I’m going to ask this again,” said the detective across from Bradley Ashford.  “How did you get a hold of that social security number?  Because it doesn’t belong to you, Mr. Ashford.  And while we’re on the subject, what’s your real name?”

 

“That is my name, and that’s my social,” Ashford said heatedly.  He just couldn’t believe what these men were telling him, that Bradley Ashford was the backup quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, and that he’d never enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  Brad had only barely entertained the idea of playing pro football, but it had never been a real goal of his.  Here, it seemed, in this world, he had done more than entertain the idea, he’d gone and done it.  This was causing quite a problem for him at the moment.

 

“Sure thing, Mr. Ashford.  What’re you, some long-lost twin or something,” the detective asked, splashing his cup of water into Ashford’s face.  “I’m done with this asshole, captain,” the detective shouted, storming out of the room.  Ashford took a moment to wonder how his companions were doing with their own lines of questioning, because his own fate was probably in their hands.  Theirs or Stockholm’s, because by the end of the day, if they didn’t come get him, he was likely going to be collared for identity theft.

 

And to think, he’d never even gotten a speeding ticket.

 

Hina and Timothy had both been left in Todiro’s office to sit and wait until the detectives were done with Bradley Ashford, whom, they informed the mages, might be with them awhile yet.  After an hour of waiting, however, Hina started to get nervous, and down the hall, from the room Ashford was in, she heard a door slamming and someone shouting.  “The son of a bitch insists he’s Ashford!”

 

“Well, the fingerprints match up, and so does the DNA,” said another voice out in the hallway.

 

“Hina, I think we’re going to have to break out of here,” Tim whispered to the Elven Q Mage.

 

“I was just thinking the same thing,” she confided, holding his hand and giving it a squeeze.  “I was also wondering if our magic will do any damage to this reality overall.”  Tim hadn’t considered that possibility, but at the moment, he didn’t much give a shit.  He’d taken a liking to Ashford, and wasn’t about to leave without him.  He also wondered how Stockholm was faring, hoping that someone wasn’t getting pounded to death at that moment.  “I’m thinking a few Sleep spells ought to get us out of here pretty quietly.”

 

“That’ll work for a bit, but they’ll be up and after us if you don’t lay it on pretty heavy.  I’ve got an idea too, though it’s a bit riskier.  I’ve got access to the Memory Sweep spell, and that ought to baffle them pretty good, too.  You knock them out, I’ll clean up their memory of us having even been here,” Tim offered.

 

“Sounds like a plan,” Hina said.  “We need to get our stuff, too.  Any idea where it is?”

 

“Yeah, I think it’s in that closet next to Brad’s room,” Tim said, standing up slowly and stretching.  He brought his mana to bear, and took a moment to bring up the Memory Sweep incantation to his memory.  It was a silent spell, requiring him to recite the words in his own head alone, but the hand motion required was rather extravagant.  He only hoped he could do it without permanently damaging anyone’s mind.  “If we’re going to do this, let’s do it,” Tim said.

 

However, a rather loud commotion started on the first floor of the building, and there were terrified screams and several weapon reports.  Tim and Hina exchanged a frightened glance, and both knew what was happening; Stockholm had gotten free, and had lost his patience for the people of this world.  They bolted from the office they were in just in time to look over the railing of the upper floor into the main lobby of the precinct house.  However, the hairy, thickly muscled creature smashing his way through desks and officers, taking bullet after bullet with little or no effect, was not the Red Tribesman at all.  It was a shaggy, black-furred beast, a Werewolf, true, but not their Werewolf.

 

Any port in a storm, Hina thought, turning her magic on the officers entering the walkway with her and Tim.  She streamed her Sleep spell into them, felling all before her in one fluid sweep of her arm.  Timothy followed behind, darting a Memory Sweep spell into each person he stepped gingerly over.  As he busted down the door to the storage closet, Hina burst into the interrogation room where Ashford was seated, and he stared at her with large, thankful green eyes.  “I’m very happy to see you, Ms. Hina,” he said, standing up.  He held out his cuffed hands toward her.  “Any chance you can get these off?”

 

Tim swept into the room then, and handed Hina her bag and her sword.  He looked at Ashford, and tapped the cuffs, using the Sneak’s Unlocking spell on the cuffs.  They fell open onto the floor, and Ashford strapped on his sidearm, listening to the ruckus down on the first level of the station house.  “Hina, any idea who the hell that Werewolf is down there?”

 

“I think we saw him earlier,” Hina said, thinking back to the young black man who’d managed to withstand her Sleep spell among the gang members. “Who’d have thought he’d come around to help us, though?”

 

“Who cares,” Ashford said, and with that the three travelers were on their way out the side of the building, where Stockholm was poking his head out of a dumpster.  He gave them all a huge, toothy grin, and a thumb’s up.

 

The company hustled into the main lobby of the building atop which their way back home shimmered in the air.  They came in as they had appeared earlier, but this time, as they entered the building, Stockholm took his bestial form, an action that sent the dozen or so citizens working in the hotel screaming in a blind panic in all directions.  “The time for subtlety is long over,” he said to his companions.

 

“Agreed,” said Ashford.  “Come on, we’ll take the elevator to the top floor, and then find the roof access.  Let’s hustle!”  The quartet dashed for an elevator which held two of the screaming women who’d been working at the desk, and they quickly ran past them, exiting the elevator as fast as they’d entered it. Ashford his the highest number, twenty-two, and waited.  The elevator started to ascend, giving Hina, Tim and Stockholm an unpleasant sensation in their stomachs.  “It’s just the elevator.  This is a room that moves upward through a building.”

 

“I’ve used one, once,” Stockholm said, thinking back to his years during the Age of Mecha.  “I hated it almost as bad as this.”  Six floors up, the elevator stopped, and the doors opened on a young family of four, all of whom stared at the group with horrified eyes, except for what appeared to be a toddler in the mother’s arms.  The little girl popped her nook out of her mouth, and pointed at Stockholm.

 

“Doggy,” she said, pointing and smiling while the father fell in a dead faint behind her.  Stockholm smiled and waved at the little girl as the elevator doors shut once again.  Hina and Tim broke out laughing, a delightful sound that was music to Ashford and Stockholm’s ears.  After the trouble they’d gone through in this damned city, it felt good to find some humor.

 

The elevator came to a slow stop at the top floor of the hotel, and the four travelers spilled out into the hallway in a hurry.  Stockholm was feeling a particularly unpleasant sensation of something inside his own mind slipping, much like a drop of water from an icicle.  He thought at first that he could shrug it off, but more and more he realized what about this world was making him so uncomfortable.  “Bradley, what’s the most common metal used in construction in your world,” he asked as the group started looking around for the stairwell door that would take them to the roof of the hotel building.

 

“Steel,” Ashford replied steadily.  “Why?”

 

“Because I think it’s silver here,” Stockholm said, wincing a little as he grasped a doorknob that opened on the stairwell they needed.  “I’m normally immune for the most part, but I am a Werewolf, in the long run.  I’m allergic, just like any other Werewolf.”  Brad nodded and entered the stairwell just ahead of Stockholm, looking up and down the stairs.

 

“Way’s clear,” he said back to the trio from Desanadron and points south, in the Elven Kingdom.  “I suggest we boogey though, because I think I can hear sirens coming this way.”

 

“Tim, Hina, I thought you guys wiped their memories,” Stockholm said, looking worriedly back at the mages.

 

“We did, but you did sort of take your bestial form in the middle of a busy building in a world where, well, folks don’t run into lycanthropes every day,” Hina offered with an impish smile, her arms folded over her chest.  Stockholm felt his right cheek twitch a little at this, knowing full well that he had indeed caused quite a scene by doing that.  He might do well in the future to better appreciate just how terrifying he might look to some folks.

 

The quartet hurried up through the stairwell, ascending three levels of steps before exiting through a narrow access door to the rooftop of the hotel.  There, less than thirty yards away, the rift in reality shimmered and wavered like a strange sphere of water.  “All right, let’s not waste anymore time,” Tim declared, dashing across the rooftop.  “Let’s head home!”

 

One by one the travelers spilled out onto the green fields of Tamalaria.

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