They published it on their blog (link). You can read it here or there – this episode is where Jim tells Curran about Kate’s heritage. The only reason I’m posting this here is to add it to my collection of IA freebie short stories. Also to advertise their awesomeness. Enjoy!
I was sitting in my office, thinking my life was pretty good. The magic was down, I had a hot cup of coffee and Great Big Sea on the old CD player. The last couple of weeks had been awful. Well, that was a bit of an understatement. Members of the Pack had broken my first law and joined Kate in the Midnight Games. Derek got hurt, bad. Kate almost died, and I have never been that scared, not since my family was murdered. I had felt that same sense of helplessness as I held her limp form. Still we won, the kid recovered his health if not his looks, and things had calmed down.
I even managed to put that fucking pervert in his place. Such a waste, instead of reveling in the power of his true form, he hid like a coward behind beautiful masks and played seduction games. Saiman was weak but very vain. I had stung his pride. He would probably retaliate in some way.
I toyed with the idea of telling Jim to get rid of him. It would be easy. Saiman had no friends or family. Who would miss him? Besides Saiman dealt in knowledge and secrets, and I knew a jaguar who would love to spend some quality time with him and pry some information out of that pretty head.
I drank my coffee from my blue metal mug.. When I was a kid, after my parents died, I’d lived in the woods for a while and once I’d raided a holiday cabin. They had a set of blue metal plates and mugs, the camping dinnerware. I’d stolen it and their instant coffee and drank it by myself that night over my meager fire. That first cup of coffee had tasted like pure heaven. George, Mahon’s daughter, had found the same set of plates and gave it to me for Christmas.
A familiar scent and a knock on the door told me my head of security had arrived.
Think of the devil…
Jim strode through the door, carrying a thick leather file. At least an inch thick. Great. This would take forever.
Jim checked the hallway and closed the door behind him. He was wearing his “we need to talk face,” which was quite different from his normal “I’m a badass don’t mess with me” face that Jim believed to be pleasantly neutral. He wasn’t just physically imposing; he had the ability to radiate menace. I think most of the time he was not even aware of it. He would make a terrible kindergarten teacher, but he was perfect in his position as Alpha of Clan Cat and my second in command. The rest of the clans did not necessarily like him but they respected his power and position.
“We need to talk,” he announced without preamble.
And there went my pleasant mood. I braced myself. “How bad is it?” It sure as hell wouldn’t be good.
He put an old Polaroid down in front of me. In it a young girl, maybe twelve or thirteen, with swollen eye and a split lip, stared back at me defiantly. I would know those eyes anywhere.
“Kate,” I said. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes.” Jim sat down into the chair. ”The best we can figure this was taken in Guatemala, over a decade ago. She won a bare-knuckle boxing tournament. The rest were boys, some as old as 16.”
“Is that a big thing down there now?”
“Yeah, I guess it beats watching roosters tear each other apart.”
And humans called us animals. “Why are you showing me this?”
He held up a finger. Apparently there was more. Jim opened the file in his hand, took another picture and put it down. Kate older now, a gladius in her right hand and a bandage on her left shoulder.
“Rio,” he announced, “two years later. She fought in and won a citywide sword tourney, sponsored by one of the big gangs. A way of scouting new talent I suppose. Matches only ended when one of the fighters was crippled or killed. She disabled most of her opponents, but the last guy, twice her size and age, she sliced his throat open in thirty seconds. They called her ‘pequena assassina’ and still remember her.”
The little killer. Kate would love that. So her childhood had been horrific. A lot of people had less than perfect childhoods. Why did he feel it was so important? There had to be more.
“I thought she was raised by Greg.” Greg was a knight of the Order, a diviner, and an ally. He died a couple of years ago. That’s when I met Kate. She came looking for his murderer.
Jim shook his head. “No, this was before that. But it segues nicely into the next bit.”
He pointed at the first and then the second picture, “Look closely, notice anything?”
It took me a few moments but I found him, the same man in the crowd, staring at Kate with what might be described as fierce pride or approval on his cruel looking face. He was big, dwarfing the men around him. Tall, powerful, well muscled, despite being in his late forties or early fifties. His graying hair hung limply down to his broad shoulders. His features once perhaps handsome had turned coarse, thickened by scar tissue and time. He looked like an old boxer who spent too many days exposed to sun and wind. Still he bore no resemblance to the young Kate in the photos.
Jim put another photo down. In this picture Kate and the man sat in a bar, a bottle of something between them, too out of focus to read the label. Kate looked about fourteen.
“They traveled together,” Jim said. “They never stayed anywhere for very long. Every once in a while they would show up, enter some sort of martial contest or take a hard job, win, kill, and leave. This was Cuba. They were spotted once more in Miami, then not seen again. At least not together.”
“Do you know who he is?”
“I have a pretty good idea.” He pulled out a thin manila folder labeled “Voron” out of the leather file and opened it on the desk in front of me.
Inside was a picture of the same man, younger looking, maybe by a decade or more, in some sort of combat fatigues. He held a black axe in one hand and a man’s severed head by the hair in another. His face was demonic, twisted by elation, reveling in violence, like an ancient battle mask. He seemed to be roaring toward the sky. He resembled nothing more than bloody god of war. Invincible and terrible to behold.
“Why is he dressed like a soldier but holding an axe?’
“Technically it is a tactical tomahawk. It was known to be his weapon of choice once he ran out of bullets. Our information leads us to believe that this picture was taken over fifty years ago. Magic was coming back but it was still weak and guns were more reliable.”
“A pleasant chap,” I remarked.
“You have no idea. By all accounts he was a gifted commander but prone to berserker rages. In hand to hand combat he would be overcome by bloodlust and tear into his enemies like an animal.”
“I think I already know, but why not tell me who held this beast’s chain?”
“His master was Roland, Builder of towers and Lord of the People.”
Fucking shit. Metal groaned in my hand. I put the crushed clump of blue down on my desk and shook the coffee off my hand. Jim said nothing, just waited.
“Now you are going to tell me why Kate was raised by this man and why I should give a damn.” Why could nothing with Kate be simple? Why couldn’t Jim ever just come by to tell me that he had bowled a perfect game or benched a personal best. Maybe finally asked that weird tiger girl out.
“I like Kate,” Jim said. “I’ve known her for years and we’ve even saved each other’s asses, more than a few times. I didn’t care much then where she grew up or who she was related to, only that she was good with a blade and did what she said she would. She talked a lot of shit, but she could mostly back it up.”
Jim leaned back. ”At present everything is different. Personally I admire her. You could do a lot worse, but it’s my job to tell you what you don’t want to hear. Now, I’m going to tell you a story and you are going to listen to me because I’m in charge of Pack’s security and I’m your friend.”
Fuck you and fuck your story. “Proceed.”
“This here is what you call an urban legend or modern day fairy tale. It involves a very bad man, king of the vamps and all manner of horrible undead shitheads. People like Ghastek and even this Voron, they flocked to him. He can keep them alive, young. He is old, real old, like he’s in the Bible old. He built a great tower and even, according to some, made the first vampire. For most he is a legend, like Merlin or Heracles. Real smart people, college educated types, will tell you that he is a parable or an analogy. Same types will tell you that Cain and Able is about hunting gathering cultures being replaced by agriculture and the rise of cities. That Roland represents rulers and their laws imposing order on chaos and anarchy. That he is every fabled builder or city founder. That’s all good and well I suppose, but the truth is he exists. We both know that. The rest is not as easy. There are a lot of stories about him, some true, some not. What we do know is that every one of his children has rebelled against him. Some rejected him, some the less fortunate sought to usurp him. Gilgamesh, for example, left and founded Uruk. Abraham took him on and lost. Everything…”
I interrupted him, “Jim, where did you get this shit?”
“I did some checking. I got my sources.”
“You asked Dali, didn’t you?”
He broke into a rare grin, “Yep, she is damn smart, took her awhile but she dug most of this up.”
“Does she know you like her?”
“We aren’t talking about me. We are talking about you and your… hunny bunny.”
“In that case, professor, I’m terribly sorry for interrupting your fascinating lecture on bullshit, please proceed.”
He shrugged. “Thank you, I will. Now before you interrupted me, I was explaining that Roland had bad luck with his children. Very tragic. Now fast forward to about thirty years ago. The main man has a new consort. She is beautiful and everyone loves her. Especially Roland. He is smitten, and soon his lady is in a family way. At first Roland is overjoyed. It has been centuries since he spawned any little monsters and he is feeling sentimental. Everybody is happy. Then out of nowhere he changes his mind and tries to kill his blushing bride and the child she is carrying. She flees with his Warlord. It’s like King Arthur, but Lancelot is a butcher and Guinevere is knocked up.”
This story was just getting better and better.
Jim kept going. “The two of them take off to parts unknown. Like any man would be Roland is put out and looks for them. He isn’t any man though, and nowhere in the world is safe for them. He finds them and confronts her, while Voron fled with the child. Roland kills his wife but not before she takes out his eye. Grievously wounded and heartbroken, he leaves. Alone. Now Voron being a hopeless romantic, raises this child to be as deadly a killer as he can make her. They travel, they train and he hones her into a living weapon. One he will wield against his former master. He tells her how her father tried to murder her and killed her mother. At some point, he got careless and had to leave the girl with another man. The killers were close when he disappeared. His whereabouts are currently unknown.”
“That is a great story Jim, but what does it have to do with me?” I was daring him to say it.
“You know damn well what it has to do with you. There are more pictures, more testimony from witnesses, more legends. It’s all in there.” He pushed the file across the desk toward me. I kept my eyes locked on his, until he looked down.
“I’m sorry, he said. “I didn’t want to tell you all of this and if you love her, I will stand by you. Both of you. But you have to know. He’s going to come for her. He always does.”
“Then we will fight him.” No man would ever take from me what was mine.
“Yes, we will but we might not win.”
“Who else knows?”
“Me, you, Doolittle suspects, Mahon knows and likes it not at all. He sees her as a threat to the Pack. He is not wrong. He always hoped you would end up with one of the girls, George maybe.” He smiled, “Keep it all in the family, I guess. Kills him a little that you chose Kate.”
“He will get over it.” George was my sister. Kate… I didn’t want anyone else. Just Kate.
Jim nodded. “Look, you, Kate, I get it. I just wish it could have been somebody else. If Roland comes… We aren’t ready for him yet. Even if we win, most of us will not make it. I hope she is worth it.”
“Roland is coming anyway,” I said. “Whether Kate is part of the equation or not. She made a third of a demon army kneel. She has power and she will be an asset.” And I loved her.
“What if she runs when her daddy shows up?”
I stared at him. “Kate? We’re talking about the same woman, right? When other people are running away, she runs into the fight.”
“Roland is very strong,” Jim said. “Look, I don’t know that much about how their magic works, but from what Dali said, Kate took that sword to the gut because it was made out of her father’s blood. She couldn’t control it by just grabbing it. She had to dissolve it into her body. That tells you something.
It told me Kate had a long way to go before she could face her father. She would need help and I would be that help.
“I am going to see her in a week,” I said. “She’s making me dinner.”
Jim sighed. “So you decided.”
“Okay.” He chewed on that for a while. “Well, it will make my life easier. I guess my people can stop chasing after you when you go to visit her apartment.”
I simply looked at him.
Jim rose and walked to the door. “One thing. If I were Voron, I’d program her to hide who she is. The man wasn’t a moron. He would’ve drilled it into her to hide. Does she trust you enough to tell you who she is? Because if there is no trust, you know this won’t work.”
“I guess we’ll find out,” I said.