This is my first submission and I'm a little uncertain if and/or what kind of disclaimer I should add here. For now I'll just say that any and all feedback can be sent to LazyLaziel@gmail.com and that the errors you will undoubtedly find belongs to me only. It's my first slightly longer work, and my first work put up for mass consumption.
Copyright, December 2011. All rights reserved.
By Lazy Laziel
“Not too hot. Extra chocolate. Shaken, not stirred.” Samantha whispered to herself as she peered down into the cup, not quite able to keep the childish smile from her face. “And to finish it off…” She picked up the single red and white candy cane from the table and snapped of a small piece, the sound making her smile even more. Carefully she held it over the exact center of the cup as she started the Countdown.
A sharp knock on the door shattered the silence in the apartment and Sam’s concentration all in one go, causing her tender grip on the candy piece to falter. Dismayed she saw the bottom half of the cane fall. She saw it twisting slightly in the air. And in slow motion she saw it hit the chocolate, not sliding in gently as had been the plan but instead causing a gigantic splash that made a single brown droplet bounce up and hit the rim of the white cup.
It just sat there, fat and trembling, apparently unsure if it should seek the sudden freedom that had been presented to it, or run back towards its chocolaty siblings. Another hard knock on the door seemed to determined things and the droplet sought glorious freedom as it started its slide down the outside of the cup.
She just sat there, frozen. Twenty three years she had done this, and this was the first time it had been interrupted by anything. Not work, not coworkers, not friends. Well, friend anyway. Even her assignments had always been put on hold for this one time of the year. This was December first, 8 o’clock in the evening and this was her time damn it!
A third knock sounded, although this one had graduated to a full on banging that shook the door. With a growl she rose up from the couch and started to stalk towards her front door, not noticing the soft shiver that raced down her spine, nor the soft scent of summer that tickled her sensitive nose.
Her muscles slowly loosened and got ready to rip a spine from a body, possibly followed by using it to beat someone to death. This one she’d play by ear. Swiftly she unlocked the door and pulled it open, lungs already filling with air, ready to voice her anger.
“It’s gone!” A woman stood framed by the doorway, Her long blonde hair was tangled mess, gone from its customary braid. A field of freckles covered her face, somehow making the tear filled blue eyes stand out. Eyes that caused Sam’s lungs to silently deflate and left her sputtering for a reply.
“It’s gone!” she croaked out once again, her gazed locked with Sam’s.
“W-what’s gone Amy?” Sam managed to reply once air had returned. She had seen Amy cry exactly twice before and knowing what had caused that, she knew that whatever had happened now was huge.
“It’s gone!!” Two hands snaked out and grabbed a hold of Samantha’s T-shirt. With a firm grip in place Amy yanked her down so that they were, for once, face to face. “It. Is. Gone!” She growled out, revealing that it wasn’t sadness that was the cause for the teary eyes, but a raging fury.
“Amy… Please,” She said with a quiet swallow. “What’s gone?”
“IT!” Came the harsh reply as her blue eyes got impossibly wider, almost causing Sam’s dark brown ones to tear up in response.
“She means the Book.” Said a leathery voice from somewhere up above. Sam flicked her eyes upward and finally noticed the Greek turtle placed firmly on Amy’s head.
“It’s gone!” Amy said again, as if this time it would convey everything that was needed to be said.
“Yes dear, it’s gone. Now let me talk for a minute” The turtle replied followed by a soft pat with her front foot. This seemed to finally calm Amy down and her fist loosened their grip slightly, but remained firmly anchored to Sam. The instinct that had driven her here finally managed to form a single thought as she stood connected to her friend. ‘Sam will make this right.’
“Hey Charlie,” Sam said with a small smile as she looked up at the turtle after making sure that Amy was doing okay. “What’s this about a book?”
Charlie stretched out her neck and looked down at Sam. She was quite enjoying this. Normally she was the one looking up at everyone, especially Sam, who was tall as a tree, but right now she was the one with the height advantage.
“Yes, as my companion so elegantly put it, it’s gone. It being the Book. You know the one. The Book she hasn’t been able to stop talking about for a month.” She gave Sam a meaningful look, which didn’t look that different from all her other looks. Turtles weren’t big on facial expressions.
Confusion danced across Sam’s eyes for brief moment before a light bulb went off and her eyes widened.
“No! You don’t mean…”
“I’m afraid so,” came the dry response from Charlie the turtle. “Mom’s cookbook.”
Amy’s mother was the sweetest soul one could ever meet. She had the kind of heart that just drew everybody in and made them feel loved, hence why she was referred to by everyone that knew her as ‘Mom’. She’d give the clothes off her back to a needy person if that was necessary and actually had on more than one occasion. But in all that goodness there was one thing she held on to with a death grip, her cookbook.
She had apparently lent it out once before, though no one knew to whom. But the fact that Martha Stewart had started a rise to stardom shortly afterwards did spawn some theories. And now she had lent it out for a second time to her daughter in everything but blood and it was apparently gone. No wonder Amy was having a meltdown.
“Amy, listen to me.” Sam said as she softly placed her hands to cover Amy’s. “We’re gonna find it, okay? I’m going to help. But before I can I need you to let me go so I can get my coat.”
“We’re gonna find It.” came the reply as she started to loosen her iron grip even more.
“That’s right. We’re gonna find it.”
Finally the grip loosened enough so that Sam could turn around and reach for her thick leather jacket that hung on its peg next to the door. While putting it on she cast one last glance and the cup of chocolate that sat on her living room table. Then she turned and walked out while closing the door behind her.
“Okay, let’s head over to your place and we’ll see what we can pick up.” Sam said as she gestured for Amy to take the lead. A few steps took the trio to the nearby elevator and they started the long decent from the top floor to the bottom. Not for the first time Sam spared a thankful thought to her dual salaries that allowed her to live where she did. Not only was the concierge building pleasant, she had managed to find a place high enough so that the bustle of the city seemed to almost disappear. It gave an illusion of peace, a rarity in New York, but it was one that she enjoyed.
“Okay Amy,” she finally asked as the elevator doors opened up to release them on the first floor, her sharp nose scenting for trouble on pure instinct. “Can you tell me what happened?” She glanced at Amy and was glad to see that she had apparently calmed down some.
“Well…” She hesitated, trying to find her voice. “There really isn’t that much to tell. The book was on the kitchen table. I had just finished reading a recipe for chocolate covered sponge cake.” A swift gust of wind as they stepped outside in the cold momentarily stole Amy’s voice while it forced Sam to bite back a small wince. The damn cold always made her scars ache.
“Then I went to my bedroom to change into a t-shirt. When I got back to the kitchen the book was gone!” The last part almost sounded like a wail and it made Sam arch an eyebrow. This was not the happy and confident Amy, like the one she had gotten to know in the months since Amy had first turned up on the Community radar after the… Incident with the dragon Valari.
“Okay. So there was no clue at all?” Sam probed as they turned a corner and started to walk down Broadway.
“No. Not that I can recall.” Amy frowned as she started going over what had happened once again. “I got in the bedroom, opened up the drawer. I took of my shirt and put on the T-shirt and…” The frown seemed to deepen and she paused. “Wait. I think I heard something when I had the T-shirt over my head. A bell, maybe?”
“Huh.” Was the response from Sam as she gathered up her brown hair in a short pony tail, though as usual her bangs remained to frame her face. And as usual there were more hair on the left side, covering the long scar that ran from her hairline to near her chin.
“Huh?” Amy looked up at her taller friend and gave a questioning look along with her statement.
“Yea. Huh.” Was Sam’s response. While she was mostly talkative around Amy, Sam would from time to time become very spare with her words. It was probably a reflex from being on her own so often.
“I’m wondering about something though…” Sam asked quietly. “You’re a decent Mage. Why didn’t you just cast a search spell or something?” Amy froze and it took a few steps for Sam to realize it. She looked back and saw the look on Amy’s face. If she’d only mutter D’oh she could have been Homer Simpson’s twin.
“I didn’t even think of that.” Amy muttered as she caught up with Sam. “Can I actually do that?”
“Well, yea.” Sam replied. “I thought you knew.”
“No, didn’t.” With a frustrated sigh Amy ran her fingers through her hair and gave it a couple of tugs. “I hate not knowing.”
Sam nodded in understanding. Magical powers were mostly hereditary and the supernatural community was small in comparison to the rest of the world. When people Awakened to their powers they tended to be young and aware of what was going to happen. Amy was an oddity. She had been orphaned as a toddler and had been adopted shortly afterwards, but her parents were regular people with no idea what lurked out there. Somehow Amy had managed to suppress her considerable magical talent. It wasn’t until recently, after certain problems with her ironically named consultation firm ‘Magi consultations’ that she had Awakened to her powers. Now, a few months later, she had power. Did she ever. But her knowledge on how to use it effectively was lacking. In many ways she was a child with a nuke.
“Don’t worry Amy. It’ll come. I think you’re sick of hearing this but it’s still true, give it time.” Sam said as she grabbed Amy with one arm and gave her a half hug as they walked. Amy looked up into Sam’s brown eyes that were shades darker then her hair and smiled in return. “Yea, you’re right. I’ll try when we get home.”
“By the way,” Sam asked as she looked at the turtle that was still riding proudly on Amy’s head. “Where was Charlie when the book disappeared?”
“Where do you think?” Amy snorted. “On the couch, watching her favorite soap, ‘Rose thorn abbey’. Apparently today was the day that sister Rachel discovered that the janitor was having an affair with the Mother superiors mother. So she was completely distracted. Not only that, she couldn’t even tell me that I could do a search spell!” The last part was said with a sharp jerk of her head that sent Charlie bouncing.
“HEY!” Was the indignant response from the shelled creature. “I may be a physical manifestation of your magical powers through the use of your subconscious but that does not mean that I know everything there is to know about magic!” Again her statement was ended with a pat of her foot. All Sam could do was to shake her head.
Charlie was a Familiar, or an avatar or whatever you’d like to call it. Every mage had one that manifested when they Awakened, and the little things usually took the shape of various animals. When Mages were young the familiars tended to shift shapes every other hour, but as the Mage grew older the familiar started to stabilize until they generally stuck to one form. Once again Amy was an oddity. While she hadn’t Awoken to her powers as a child, her familiar had somehow manifested herself anyway, leading to an interesting childhood for everyone involved.
“All right you two, don’t fight.” Sam said as she smothered a grin behind a raised hand.
“She started it!” She just shook her head at the two indignant looks she was getting.
“I don’t care if the Pope started it, because I’m ending it right now. Now play nice or I won’t help you look for the book.” That statement managed to make two sets of jaws slam shut and the small group walked on in silence. Something that lasted for a minute before Charlie launched into a tirade about why it was scandalous that the janitor was having an affair when he should remain faithful to his dead wife that had passed on after a failed nuclear test. It was an enlightening conversation, all in all.
Finally they arrived at Amy’s townhouse. It was a nice building with a white façade that seemed to scream ‘home’ to the people passing it by. As they reached the steps leading up to the front door Sam gestured for Amy to stay back.
“Might as well start here.” She said with a glance at Amy. She nodded in return, crossed her arms and leaned on the tree next to her as she watched Sam get to work.
Sam walked up one step and leaned forward as she inhaled through her nose. Dust, melted water, cat hair and the sweet smell of summer was all she could smell, but there was nothing unusual about those scents. Fine, so it wasn’t really summer she scented. But it was the best thing she could sue to describe what Amy smelled like. All warm, soft, bubbly, alive and peaceful. It always calmed her down when she scented it.
But since there was nothing unusual she might as well crank it up. With an almost imperceptible twitch she called up her inner animal and she let a fraction of its power surface. Suddenly her nose was assaulted by hundreds of scents, each one overlapping creating a jumbled mess that momentarily confused her human brain. But only momentarily. Soon her predator instincts kicked in and she was able to sort through everything.
“Huh.” There was something there, hovering right at the edge. It was dust but with a sharp purple-ish green tint to it. As a wolf shifter she could practically see with her sense of smell, something that confused regular humans to no end, and this particular sense was familiar. But she couldn’t be sure.
“Come on.” She called over her shoulder as she made her way up the few concrete steps to Amy’s front door. There the scent was stronger, slipping out from under the solid oak door. It was about an hour old, placing it right around the time the book went missing.
“Anything?” Amy asked as she reached around Sam and unlocked the door.
“Yea, I got a scent.”
“And I need more evidence before I say anything.”
Amy sighed and looked at Sam. “You know, sometimes I think you cops enjoy keeping regular people in the dark.”
“It’s what we live for” was the deadpan response. Amy chuckled in response and opened the door, all of her explosive feelings from earlier seemingly forgotten. It seemed to be a recurring pattern with her. She seemed able to store her anger, keeping it ready to be unleashed when it was needed.
Amy’s townhouse was well lit and the light colored walls gave it a warm feeling. Amy’s place reminded Sam of summer, just as her scent did. It was nice.
“Okay, to the scene of the crime!” Amy said as she grabbed ahold of Sam’s arm and half dragged her to the kitchen. It was the best stocked kitchen Sam had ever seen in her life and she wondered if Amy actually knew how to use everything in it. She claimed she did, and the few times Sam had been over for dinner it had taste okay. Though the solid stack of take-out menus still made her wary.
Amy led her past the kitchen island to the small table placed under a window. There she stopped and pointed an accusation finger to an empty spot.
“There! That’s where the book was before it disappeared.”
“Alright. Give me a second.” Sam inhaled deeply and once again kicked her nose into overdrive. Oh yea, the scent was thick here, out of place with the houses natural, soft smell. And her nose would swear that the out of place scent color had taken on a sort of spiral pattern. She knew that scent, had encountered it both in her role as an NYPD cop and as an agent for the Trinity. But ever suspicious, she acknowledged the fact that it could be a setup. One way to make sure.
“Amy, can you try a tracking spell?” She asked.
“Right. Okay.” Amy muttered. She took Charlie from her perch on her head and placed the turtle on the kitchen island. Then she closed her eyes and focused.
This part always fascinated Sam, even after all the years she had spent around Mages. Magic was the same for everyone. Much like a fire, a Mage needed three things to use magic. Access to magical energy, a ritual and will power. And it was the ritual, or spell, that was fascinating. There was no universal ritual for Mages. No Abracadabra or Alakahzam that worked the same way for everyone. It was all mental. The basics was that if you thought you could do it then you could access the magical energy, focus it and use it to do what you wanted to. But few people actually believed that they could create a fireball, or lift a gigantic rock with merely a thought. That’s where the rituals came in.
Just like a Pro baseball player believed that wearing the same jock strap to every game was lucky, Mages thought that they had to do certain things before they could perform anything magical. Sure, they knew that that wasn’t true. But there is a world of difference between knowing and believing. So each Mage did something before a spell. Some sang, some gestured with their hands, most had some sort of object that they had created that made it easier. She knew of one poor soul that had to pick his nose and ear before he could do anything remotely magical. The rituals required shifted from spell to spell, and it even shifted as the Mage learned more, or got used to a particular spell. Safe to say, Magic was a scientist nightmare since there was no real way to do solid empirical research.
In the quiet of the kitchen Amy stood and focused. Almost absentmindedly she rubbed the bump on her nose where it had been broken years earlier. Then, as she waved her hand and made some gestures above the table, soft ripples in the Aether could be felt as she unleashed the tracking spell she had thought up.
Much like rituals, the magical effects were different for everyone. No person had the same fingerprint and no person had the same thoughts, so spells were unique. Though Mages tended to clump spells with similar effects into the same categories. From Amy’s hand came a tiny, shimmering cloud that hovered in the air for a moment before it started to float towards the table. As it moved it started transform, taking a solid shape. When it reached the table the blue mist was gone, replaced by what appeared to be a solid magnifying glass. With pink ducks on the handle.
“Not a word from you!” Amy said as she pointed with her free hand behind her at Charlie. “Or you!” This time the finger pointed at a smiling Sam who raised her hands in a surrendering gesture. Pacified Amy returned her focus to the magnifying glass that was now focusing on the spot where the book had been. The sot was empty, but when they looked into the glass they could see a thick book laying splayed open on the table.
“Oh, a spatial resonance spell. They use them in the investigative division of the Trinity Guard. Nice work Amy! That’s usually tough to pull off.” Sam said with an approving nod that made Amy grin with pride. She really had good instincts, doing that on her first try. Then Sam shifted her focus from the spell, to Charlie. The turtle stood on the table and looked like she didn’t have a care in the world.
Familiars weren’t just there for fun. For a lack of better terms they acted like circuit breakers and surge protectors for Mages, protecting them from magical backlash. By now a familiar for an average Mage would look strained. But Charlie almost looked bored. With the smile still on her lips Sam shook her head and refocused on the magnifying glass.
The book just laid there. For a moment nothing happened, and then the page that lay open fluttered slightly, like as if a breeze had floated through the room. A pale hand appeared over the book, very different from Amy’s healthy hue. It seemed to hesitate for a moment before it suddenly clenched with a single finger stretched out. The thief in the past was giving the investigators in the future the bird.
As if that was a signal the magnifying glass suddenly exploded back into a fine mist, wrenching a cry of pain from Charlie. The mist shifted color from a nice blue to a purple-ish green that looked just like what Sam had smelled earlier. On pure instinct she had spread her legs, moving into a combat stance. Not that it would do any good. She overrode her instincts, realizing what would come next. She opened her mouth to warn Amy but before she could, she saw the mist transform again and she slammed it shut, along with her eyes, knowing that it was too late.
The giant tongue that had formed showed no mercy. The moment after it came into existence it started to blow a giant raspberry and it didn’t hold back the spit. People would probably be surprised at the amount of spit a 4 foot tongue could produce. After a solid minute of raspberrying it suddenly vanished, leaving a Werewolf, a Mage and a Greek turtle cover from head to toe in magical spit.
Eyes still firmly shut; Sam used the sleeves of her jacket to slowly wipe the stuff from her eyes and mouth.
“Right. I guess I was—“
“So help me Sam. If you knew, if you had even the slightest hint of what was about to happen I swear to everything I hold dear that I. Will. End. You!” Amy spit out her curse through clenched teeth as she too tried to wipe away the thick cover from her face.
“Ah,” Sam said as she summoned up her cop face, along with the attitude that said ‘I know everything.’ “I knew that something ‘might’ happen if it was the person I thought it was. But I had no idea that this specific thing would happen. None what so ever.” She said confidently while simultaneously wishing she had brought her second best jacket instead. It was hard getting magical essence out of leather. Should have thought of that before trying to confirm if I was right, she thought.
“Right…” Came the sarcastic response. She looked at Sam and noticed that the manifested spit was beginning to slide off of her exposed skin, all the while she could feel it starting to stick to her own. “Damn therianthropy spell immunity.” Amy muttered quietly to herself, knowing that Sam would overhear it with her sharp senses. The tiny smile that bloomed on Sam’s face just confirmed it.
“Wait here.” Amy said as she walked out of the kitchen, only to return a minute later carrying a couple of thick towels. “It might not really affect you, but it’s sure as hell affecting my floor.”
“Sorry.” She took the towel that Amy offered and started to wipe herself off. “Honestly, I didn’t know that he’d do the tongue thing. I figured he’d gotten bored of those tricks years ago.” Amy paused in her efforts to get Charlie spit free and locked eyes with Sam.
“Uh, yea. He. Him.” She coughed. “I know what happened to your book. Or, I think I do.” Suddenly the anger that had lain dormant flared up and the iron grip returned to its previous position near Sam’s throat.
“Who!?” Amy usually had a nice, soft voice. It was an asset in her line of work as a consultant, the gentle sound giving the clients a sense of security and making her suggestions easier to swallow. Even now, when it came out as a low growl, it sounded nice. Until the listener connected with her eyes which made it clear that she really wasn’t soft.
“Amy, please. I can’t answer if I can’t breathe.” And once again her words calmed Amy down enough for the grip to loosen. “Okay, this is what I know. I recognize the scent. Both from my beat cop days and from working with the Trinity.” Sam walked over to the kitchen table and pulled out a chair, gesturing that Amy should do the same. Thankfully the chairs had been behind the tongue and were spared a new slimy coat. But they conveniently ignored the fact that their still spit covered backsides were now giving the chairs a nice even layer. Teach them to be behind the line of fire, the little wooden cowards that they were.
“First time I met him it was as a cop and at that time he was a fence. Nothing major, stolen watches. Maybe some jewelry. He ran a souvenir shop if I remember correctly. Apparently he came in with tips from time to time and that’s what kept him safe from jail. Too valuable.” Sam started tapping on the table with her fingers as she gave voice to her memories.
“Right off the bat I smelled something different about him, but I was new and inexperienced. Both as a cop and a Trinity guard in training, so I didn’t think much about it. That was a big mistake. Turns out the man were a fugitive in the Community with a big assed bounty on his head.”
“What did he do? Murder someone?”
“Hah, that would probably have been preferred. No, he did something worse. He humiliated two members of the Trinity at a Christmas party. I really shouldn’t tell you what happened. Safe to say, no one at that party looked at cactuses and eggnog filled pastries the same way again.” She chuckled at the memory.
“Anyway, I only learned this later and once the injured party got wind of where he was, I got orders to go in and get him, but by then he was gone.”
“Alright, but so far it doesn’t sound too bad. Except for moms stolen book of course.” Amy said as she tried to clean a particularly sticky part of her hair.
“That’s the problem with this guy. His priorities tend to be skewed. One day he’ll pull a prank to take someone down a peg while getting angry at people being naughty. On others he’ll happily steal and sell what he can get his hands on. The annoying part is that he’s been dodging everyone for several decades, humans and supernatural beings alike.”
“So what is he? I take it he’s not human?”
“No, he’s not. He’s… He’s an herphl…” The last part came out in a mumble followed by a slight blush on Sam’s face that caused the scar on her face to almost glow. The sight distracted Amy for a moment. She knew that Sam disliked the scar, being a reminder of her childhood as it was, but Amy liked it. Just as she liked the other scars Sam carried. They showed something of what kind of person Sam was, a survivor. Indomitable. And she was trying her best to get Sam to see that as well. It was an uphill battle though. But, as her moment of reflection ended, she returned quickly to the topic at hand.
“He’s a what? I didn’t catch that.”
“I said that he’s an… Elf.”
“Oh, you mean like the Courts?” Amy’s exposure to Elf politics had thankfully been limited since her Awakening. The longer the, arguably, most powerful part of the Supernatural community stayed away from her the better.
“Not that kind of elf. He’s a, or rather was, a Helper.”
“Yea. As in Little?”
“Little?” Amy’s mind started to turn. “Little helper? Elf.” And then realization hit. “You don’t mean?” She swallowed. “Santa’s little helper?”
“I’m afraid so.” Sam winced. She could take being bested by Trolls, beasts, and powerful Mages. Not that it happened often mind you, but when it did happen, once in a blue moon, she could take it. But there was something slightly degrading about confessing that you were unable to apprehend one of Santa’s elves.
“You mean Santa’s real?” the two voices that asked the question did so in a hushed, slightly awed tone. Sam looked up from her lap and noticed that both Amy and Charlie were looking at her, their eyes almost as big as saucers.
“Well, yes.” She confirmed brightly. “And no.”
“Yes and no? He either exists or he doesn’t!” Was Amy’s wistful response. Long lost childhood dreams of Santa coming down the chimney was now playing out in her mind, returning her to being six years old again.
“Let’s see if I can remember the part of the theory that I could understand.” Sam frowned as she started to dig through her memories. “You know that belief is the main thing when it comes to making Magic work. And children have an easier time believing than adults. Stack the belief of an average child against the belief of an average adult and the child will win every time.”
“Okay, so,” she continued, “children get told the story of Santa and they believe. That much raw belief interacts with the magic in the Aether and that creates an anthropomorphism of the Santa ideal. But at the same time, adults ‘know’ that Santa isn’t real and that belief counteracts with the belief of the children. While the adult belief isn’t as strong as the children’s, there are more of them. Which kinda locks Santa in an awkward position. It’s much like Schrodinger’s turtle.”
“HEY!” Was the indignant response from the resident turtle once again. She really seemed to like that word.
“I, I think you mean cat.” Amy added.
“Well, whatever. It means that until you see Santa it’s all up in the air. Basically, the magical response to Santa is ‘Maybe, maybe not. It’s a Quantum thing’”
“Oh” Amy looked crestfallen for a moment but then perked up. “Well, I’ll just stick with the maybe instead of the maybe not.” Sam couldn’t help but to smile at this. Not that she’d ever tell, but her own belief was the same. When you grew up alone you either turned into a cynic, or you clung to your dreams with your entire being. She looked at Amy and the smile became soft and tender. And sometimes what you thought was a dream turns out to be gloriously real.
“Okay, so Santa’s a maybe. But what about the elves?” Amy said as they got back on track. “How does that work?”
“Ah, Santa’s little helpers. They exist. The thing is, they aren’t a separate branch of the elf species. They’re more of a Cult.”
“Cult? As in drink the Kool-Aid cult?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. It’s generally people, elves mostly, that say they have a calling. They… I don’t want to say worship. Support, maybe? They support the image of Santa. In general they are a pleasant bunch. Kind, hard workers, they help out whenever they can.” Sam stretched her body out for a moment, pleasantly surprised when the scar down the side of her chest didn’t twinge.
“But supporting Santa, not your everyday believing or collecting money in a Santa suit, but actually devoting your being to the ideal of Santa? Well, that changes them. Whatever they start out as, they end up looking like the little elves you see in all the images. It’s believed that it’s due to their proximity to the high concentration of anthropomorphic magical energy that they’re changed. Also, they—“ As she focused on Amys eyes, Sam could see that they had started taking on a slightly glazed look. Right, this wasn’t the time for lessons.
“Okay, I’ll speed things up. As they change they somehow gain the ability to tap into that magical Santa field which enables them to perform certain magic’s. But it works differently than normal magic. Think of every legend you’ve ever heard of Santa and that’s what they can do without much effort. And let me tell you, it’s a pain in the ass. More on that later though. Anyway, as I said earlier, most of them are good. But from time to time you get people like our thief.” Now Amy perked up. On the small kitchen island Charlie could be seen doing the same.
“His name is Tarquin, and I think he’s schizophrenic. Or something like that. One day he got it into his head that the elves weren’t doing enough. They shouldn’t just give presents to the nice people and give coal to the naughty. No, the naughty should be punished. Severely. And that’s what he did. He basically went on a humiliation spree. What he did to us, with the tongue, I’d say that was midlevel stuff for him. Though he doesn’t like to repeat himself too often and that’s a trick he’s done many, many times before. It surprised me.”
“Humiliation? That’s his big crime?” The incredulity in Amy’s voice was clear.
“Well, first off, he pissed of the wrong people by going after the sitting members of the Trinity. They don’t like being shown up or humiliated, something I think you know quite well.” A shiver flowed over Amy. She remembered. Joshua really wasn’t someone she wanted to get angry. Again.
“Right. Second, you have to understand the Helper culture. A couple of hundred years ago Tarquin’s proposal would have looked tame. But today? What Tarquin proposed was almost the equivalent of giving the death penalty to people who jay walks. And that’s how it started out. Somewhere along the line though something flipped and he basically went over to the dark side, using his powers for… Okay, I suppose evil is the proper term. Stealing your book is just one example.
“Wait a minute,” Amy interrupted with a raised hand. “That brings me to something I’ve been thinking about. How the hell did he get in here? I know that my teacher placed wards all over the house a few months ago. They should protect me from letting anyone from the Community getting in here without me letting them. Or at the very least, warn me when it happens.” As Amy talked Sam started to shake her head.
“No, didn’t you listen? I said that they have their own magic, Santa magic. And Santa can always deliver his presents, it doesn’t matter if the house has a fireplace or not.”
“So he might be here right now!?” Her head made a whooshing sound as it whipped around, trying to take in the whole room at once.
“Easy there Amy, easy. No, he’s not here. That particular Santa magic is a quick in and out spell. You could tell from the bell sound you heard. I bet it was a sort of ‘Jingle-Jingle’ sound. At most he would have been here for a minute or so before having to leave.” She quirked her lips. “And if I remember the research that has been done, he shouldn’t be able to enter again for quite some time. Santa isn’t a burglar, so there is no reason for him being able to visit again. Not until next Christmas anyway.”
“I mean it, you’re safe. He just steals things from time to time.” By the look she was getting, that hadn’t been a comforting statement. “Yea, okay. I could have worded that better. But I swear, you don’t have to worry.”
“Fine. I’m taking your word for it.” Amy said as she started to scrub her pants vigorously. “So, can you track him?”
Sam frowned. “No. I can tell that he was here, but the spell moves him from point A to point B and back again. He had to be close by, but by the time I can find the spot he’ll have moved on so far that it wouldn’t help.” Sam stood up, the dried spit making a crackling sound her clothes moved. “Ah, I have an idea. But I think we should change our clothes first.” She eyed Amy’s hair which was an interesting mess of dry and sticky areas fighting for domination. “Let’s take a quick shower, change our clothes and then get on with the hunt.” Sam amended as she tried not to smile. Amy looked adorable with her hair sticking out like that.
With a frustrated sigh Amy tossed the towel behind her. As it landed on and covered Charlie, Amy stood up as well “You’re right. Which bathroom do you want?”
“Um, I’ll take the downstairs one. You wouldn’t happen to have some clothes that might fit me?”
“Hah!” Amy snorted out as she eyed Sam up and down. Standing a head taller, Sam was the definition of long. Long body, long arms, long legs, long fingers. She had probably been gangly in her youth but now each part fit perfectly, making her look sleek and deadly. When she was working anyway. Right now, in the kitchen of her best friend, she seemed relaxed. But still an edge of vulnerability and hesitation clung to her, noticeable only if you knew to look for it. It was a lesson Sam had learned the hard way. Another shoe will always drop, and what gave you safety today would be gone tomorrow.
“No, nothing of mine will fit you.” Then she grinned at Sam. “Thankfully, some of your stuff from our last sleepover is still here in the guest bedroom.” Sam blinked for a few moments before she remembered.
“So that’s were that t-shirt is! I’ve been turning my place over trying to find it.”
Uh, yea. It should be here. And some pants!” Her grin seemed to falter for a split second before returning with full force. “Come on. Jump in the shower and I’ll get your stuff.” Sam nodded in agreement and followed Amy out in the hallway. There they split up with Amy going up the stairs and Sam moving to the small bathroom on the first floor.
Sam turned on the light and stared at her reflection in the mirror. While not quite as bad as Amy, her hair was something of a mess with cowlicks going all over the place.
“Yea, a shower was a good idea.” She confirmed to herself as she bent down and opened the small blue linen cupboard in order to get a towel. But the only thing she saw was two empty shelves with a third sporting a collection of shampoos. The towels Amy had brought to the kitchen must have been the last ones. Briefly, very briefly, she toyed with the thought of using the towel she had dried herself with earlier. But the thought made her shudder and she discarded it. The linen closet on the second floor should be stocked though.
She removed her leather jacket and hung it from one of the pegs used for hanging wet towels and returned to the hallway.
She padded silently up the stairs, the quiet steps being instinct instead of a conscious effort to be sneaky. But the thick carpet that covered most of the floors in the townhouse tended to make every step quiet, no matter the person.
When she reached the second floor she stopped right away. Farther down the hallway she could see three doors. The ones leading to the master bedroom and the office were closed, but the one to the guestroom was opened and probably were Amy was.
Just to the right of the stairs were the linen closet and Sam just turned and opened it. A wall of flowery smells hit her nose, making it tingle. She took a deep breath. There was something comforting about a linen closet filled with clean items, something… Solid. Moving away from her pleasant thoughts he carefully removed a pink towel from its friends and softly closed the door.
As she did so, the door to the master bedroom opened up revealing Amy standing there. In her arms she held a set of neatly folded pants, socks and underwear. On the top laid a rumpled yellow T-shirt, not folded like the rest. The face of a girl with long red pigtails was barely visible on it. A soft, almost inaudible sigh could be heard from Amy before she looked up. When she did and noticed Sam standing there she startled, almost dropping the clothes in her arm.
“Sam! Oh god, you scared me!”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to.” Sam apologized quickly. “It’s just, there were no towels downstairs.”
“Oh, right. I used the last ones.” Amy looked down and seemed to remember the clothes she was holding. Her eyes widened slightly and she looked back into the bedroom.
“I’m, I, ah. I got your clothes from the other bedroom.” A tiny blush worked its way across her face, making her freckles stand out a little more on her white skin. “I remembered… Something that I had to check in my own room so I went through the bathroom.” The two bedrooms shared a huge bathroom, a door on each end connecting them. Sam nodded, slightly confused as to what made Amy sound so flustered. Amy glanced down at the pile of clothes with the shirt on top and then nearly tossed them in Sam’s arms.
“Anyway, here you go!” She said brightly and reached around Sam for a towel of her own. “I’m hitting the shower. See you downstairs in a few minutes!” With those parting words she disappeared into her bedroom, leaving Sam standing in the hallway, still looking slightly confused.
“What the heck was that?” Sam muttered to herself as she made her way back to the bathroom on the first floor. She carefully scented above the clothes she held but could only detect the scent of Amy, which wasn’t unusual since the entire house was filled with her scent. She could, however, detect faint traces of her own flavor clinging to the fabrics. But again, that was to be expected. Finally she just shrugged lightly and placed the clothes on the linen cupboard. The towel she hung next to the shower for easy access after which she stripped down, tossing the dirty clothes in a corner and releasing her hair from the short tail.
As she turned her head she saw herself in the mirror and as always, she paused briefly and looked at herself. The scar marring her face was big by any standard, and she had long ago accepted that she would never be called beautiful. She brushed away the bang that, while not really hiding it, certainly made it less noticeable. No, never beautiful. She thought to herself with a wry expression. The best she could hope for was that it was a face with character. Although, she amended, that one old lady had called her handsome. Not that it was an improvement. Her straight brown hair almost reached her shoulders, and crystal brown eyes managed to soften her angular face. But she couldn’t help but to think that they were wasted on her.
Then her eyes trailed downwards to survey the big one. If the scar on her face was bad, the one on her body was horrible. From just below her left armpit it, or rather, they, started. Three lines, even with each other, moved in a jagged pattern downwards, twisting inwards under her breast until they ended with a twist when they reached her flat stomach. And just as she always paused to look, she unfroze moments later, though this time unwilling to dwell on what had created them.
“No, no need for that right now.” She said to herself as she stepped into the shower and turned on the warm water. “Tonight it’s about helping Amy.” She showered quickly, a brief cleansing of her hair and body taking care of the small amounts of magical essence still clinging to her. One perk of being a shifter, spells tended to have no effect on her. Just as Amy was right now scrubbing away, trying to remove the magical spit clinging to her, Sam only had to rinse off the magical essence. As soon as the spit had hit her exposed skin it had become inert, going from being a magical construct to… Well, magical building blocks that would disappear by itself after a few minutes. Hit her with a conjured rock or a pillar of magical fire and she could walk right through it. Granted, a real rock thrown by magical means would still hurt her, as would real fire simply being manipulated. But Mages tended to be proud of their abilities and you’d be surprised how many simply couldn’t imagine not creating something out of nothing. A fact that made Shifters prized as guards and watchmen in the Community.
As soon as she was clean she stepped out of the shower and dried herself off, shivering slightly as she left the warm water. She took the comb from the vanity and ran it through her hair a few times, just to get most of the tangles out. Then, almost as quickly as she had shed her dirty clothes she put on the clean ones. She tugged lightly at the t-shirt to make it sit straight and then gave herself a once over in the mirror. Big blue jeans hung from her hips; kept in place by the belt she had retrieved from her other pants. Plastered on her T-shirt was a full body picture of Pippi Longstocking, the redheads giant grin firmly in place. The last thing she did was to gather up her hair into the short tail she had worn earlier, leaving the bangs in place once again.
Smiling to herself she stepped out of the bathroom, bringing only her shoes with her. She left her spit clothes where they were, figuring that she would return after they were done to get her stuff. She moved to the living room and then sat down on the couch to wait, something she didn’t have to do for long. Two minutes later Amy could be heard bounding down the stairs and she appeared in the living room moments later, dressed appropriately in warm clothes. Her hair was now clean and combed, trailing halfway down her back.
“Okay!” The blond woman said as she sat herself down on the couch as well. “We’re clean and ready to kick some ass! The only question I have is… Which ass?”
“I don’t know if any ass kicking will be needed, but I have someone we should talk to. A fence named Kennedy. I’m not certain, but I think he’s moved stuff for Tarquin before now that the little elf is out of the fencing business.” Sam stood up and gestured for Amy to do the same. “If he doesn’t know where Tarquin is, I’ll be willing to bet good money that he knows someone who does.”
“Okay then, let’s go!” Amy’s cheerful voice couldn’t quite mask the underlying anger that currently drove her. Her home had been violated, and on top of that someone had stolen her Mothers cookbook. Yea, she wanted payback.
“Exactly! Let’s go!” the small voice came from the kitchen and moments later Charlie simply popped into existence on Amy’s head, clean from spit. “But first,” the turtle said has she stretched out her neck and head butted Amy. “That’s for leaving me covered in a towel!” Amy winced and gently rubbed the impacted spot. Charlie’s strength was in no way proportionate to her size.
“Sorry, I guess I got caught up in the moment. But hey, I tried to clean you up. That has to count for something, right?”
“Oh yes, if not for the fact that the spit on me was a mental projection due to the fact that you were covered in spit.” Then Charlie relented. “But I suppose it is the thought that counts.” Amy gave Charlie a pat on the shell and the trio walked out into the hallway to move outside.
“Um,” Sam hummed as she put a hand on Amy’s shoulder. “I don’t suppose you have a spare jacket I could borrow? Mine is a little… spit covered at the moment. And this weather isn’t suited for just a T-shirt.” Shifters, no matter the type, tended to run slightly hotter than regular people so the weather outside shouldn’t really bother her. In theory. And in theory a person could go without food for several weeks. That didn’t mean either of them enjoyed it.
“Nothing of mine will fit you, that’s for sure.” Amy hummed as she looked up at the ceiling and thought. “But… I think Henry left behind a jacket when he and his family visited a while ago. Let me check.”
She moved to the hallway closet and opened it up. After some rummaging she cried out in approval and pulled out a gigantic jacket, much bigger than Amy. Sam hadn’t yet met Amy’s brother, but she had seen pictures and the big black man would tower even over her, and he had the muscles to match. She took the jacket from Amy’s outstretched hand and tried it on and was glad that she only had to fold the sleeves up twice.
“Yea, it’s a little big.” Amy confirmed as she looked Sam over. “But it’ll help against the wind. And it’ll cover up Pippi.”
“Hey!” Was the indignant response from Sam. “There is nothing wrong with Pippi!”
“No, no. There isn’t. One of my favorites in fact. Especially lately.” She added under her breath. “But I don’t think Pippi would work that well if we have to squeeze this Kennedy guy for information. Lay the hammer on him. Press him for the word on the street. Force—“
“Alright! I get your point.” Sam zipped up all the way to her chin and opened the door to step outside. “Now hurry up or we won’t make it in time to ‘squeeze’ him for information.” Amy quickly grabbed her own jacket and put it on while she followed Sam out of the house. She locked the door behind her and then walked down the stairs to join Sam as she started to walk south.
“Kennedy owns a pawnshop near the East village, so it’s best we ha—“ Sam suddenly stopped and took a few steps out in the street and stretched out her arm. Moments later a cab pulled up and she grinned at Amy. “As I said, it’s best we hail a cab. After you.”
Amy happily slid into the backseat and Sam quickly followed. After prompting by the cabbie Sam gave him an address and as the cab started to move she leaned back. She hesitated for a moment, but her nose didn’t pick up anything that was particularly bad and she figured that the cab was well taken care of, so she leaned back fully. Taking her cue from Sam, Amy did the same. Without talking about it, they decided that the cab was no place for discussing anything about a rogue Santa elf, so they sat in a comfortable silence, their shoulders touching from time to time as the cab jostled around on the snow. True, the cabbie had most likely heard worse things during his fares, but why push it?
Neither gave a thought to Charlie who, as a mental projection, really couldn’t be seen by regular humans unless Amy willed it. The turtle instead chose to take the time to work on her routine as she left Amy’s head and floated by the back window. She nearly had Elvis Presley’s hip movements down and this was as good a time as any to get some practice in.
Finally something that had been bugging Amy ever since she had gone and gotten Sam made itself known and she quickly turned and caught Sam’s eyes.
“Hey Sam, what were you doing tonight?”
“Oh, um.” Caught off guard, she briefly floundered for a reply but settled for the truth. Or something close to it anyway. “Nothing really. Just spending a quiet night at home for once instead of being out, chasing bad guys.” She smiled at Amy.
“Really?” She asked, suspicion filling her voice. They had only known each other for a few months, but even after that time she would swear that she knew Sam better than anyone else. And she knew that Sam was hiding something.
“Really.” Sam confirmed gently. “And even if I had been doing something, I still would have dropped it to help.” She almost surprised herself when she realized how true that statement was. After realizing that it was Amy that needed help she had given her cup of chocolate a single thought before throwing it out of her mind.
“Alright.” Hearing the truth behind the words Amy felt mollified and leaned back. But she started to steal glimpses of Samantha’s nice profile as they passed below streetlights. As always she looked calm. Collected. Strong. But most of all she looked lonely. Again, it was probably well hidden to anyone else, but she could see it. She knew that Shifters were social creatures, maybe wolf shifters especially. Pack was everything from the moment they were born, the social and mental connection something that was as important to them as eating. And due to a genetic quirk she had been denied all that. Thrown out of the pack by her own mother days after she was born it was a miracle she had survived as long as she did. The fact that she was sane an even bigger one.
Amy simply couldn’t fathom it. It was like being denied the use of her arms, all the while knowing that a simple acknowledgment from someone would return them to her. And understanding that it would never happen, while being unable to stop wanting it. Needing it. It must be painful beyond belief.
She had heard her once. One night she had decided to surprise Sam with a visit not long after they had met. She had just reached the sidewalk next to Sam’s building when she had heard the howl.
Never before had she heard a sound packed with so much sorrow and longing. Even not knowing who or what that had made it, it had brought tears to her eyes. As the howl reached its peak, a mental whimpering had pressed on her mind, catching her with her guard down and forcing her to her knees. Then she knew in her soul who it was. Samantha was reaching out with her pack sense like a lost child looking for her parents. The picture came unbidden to her mind, the image of a tiny Sam in tattered clothes walking around in the cold saying, ‘I’ll be good. I won’t be bad again. Please… I’ll be good.’ All while looking up at big, undefined shadows.
The silence had been answer enough. No howl rose in reply to Samantha’s, and that almost broke Amy’s heart, just as she knew that it broke Sam’s.
She had returned home that night, realizing on some level that Sam wouldn’t want to see her then, their friendship too new, even when they both knew that it was special. But not long after that they had actually had their… The idea chased the grim thoughts from Amy’s mind. She had been waiting for a while now, but she was beginning to suspect that Sam would never ask, so it was up to her to take the first step again.
“Hey Sam, when this is over, how ‘bout we—“ The cab suddenly stopped and the cabbie turned his head and smiled towards the back seat.
“Here we go ladies, right to the front door.” He glanced at the meter but before he could say anything Sam stuck a couple of bills through the slot in the glass that separated the compartments.
“Keep the change Mr. Chattopadhyay” Sam said while smiling back at the cabbie. When she didn’t stumble on the name she had noticed on his license, she got an appreciative look from him, a look that intensified when he noticed the tip.
“Thank you!” The wide grin made white teeth shine in his dark beard. “I hope you’ll have a lovely Christmas when it comes around.”
“And you!” Sam waved as she slid out of the cab, followed by Amy and Charlie who now had returned to her customary place on Amy’s head. As the cab pulled out on the road again and moved away, the three travelers looked at the pawnshop. It looked slightly run down, just like the rest of the buildings nearby. But it didn’t look like it was deliberate, more like wear and tear that no one had gotten around to fix yet. But the pawnbroker symbol, three balls suspended from a bar, looked clean and swung in the wind, showing the world that Kennedy’s pawn shop was open for business.
“Okay, let’s head inside.” She glanced at Amy and continued. “Please let me talk to him. No need to take a bat to him straight away. Let’s try velvet gloves first.”
“Sure thing.” Amy replied as she eyed the entrance to the shop. She sounded calm. Too calm. For a moment Sam toyed with the idea of trying to have Amy wait outside but she discarded it as impossible. There was no way she would willingly sit this one out so there was only one thing to do. Play the hand that was dealt.
“By the way, what were you about to ask me in the cab?” Sam asked as she made sure that the zipper on the jacket was still up and that Pippin remained hidden.
“Oh, well talk about That later.” She replied with a faint smile. “But don’t worry, it’s a good thing. Or at least I think so.” She amended. Sam looked her over and then shrugged.
“Later then.” She turned to the storefront and assembled her neutral cop face.
“Right. Let’s go.” Sam muttered as she took the lead and entered the shop. Once inside she loosened the reins and her nose started to sniff around, hitting the jackpot right away. The swirling purple green smell was filling the shop. It wasn’t fresh, but showed that he had been here after taking the book and that knowledge made her smile. She had been right.
“Yea Amy, he was here. Maybe twenty minutes or so ag—“ Her arm snapped out, baring the way for Amy who had started to rush towards the counter in the back. “Easy there. Remember, let me.”
“Right. Right.” Normally cool under pressure, the fact that it was all about her mom’s cookbook made it difficult to stay focused. She mentally shook herself. Let Sam talk to him. She does this kind of thing for a living. Two livings really.
As Amy got a grip on herself Sam quickly waked deeper into the shop, finally stopping by the counter in the back.
“Hello?” She called out as she leaned slightly over the counter trying to get a view of anything behind it.
“I’m coming, I’m coming! Hold yer horses!” The voice came from somewhere above and Sam noticed a stairwell almost hidden behind some boxes to the right. “What can I do for… You…” A man came down the stairs with a smile that was just on the wrong side of sweet. But it didn’t last long. As soon as the black haired man laid his eyes on his visitor it slid right off and his nose scrounged up unconsciously, like he smelled something bad. Which he probably was, Sam acknowledged to herself. Everyone did around her. Well, everyone except Amy.
“Turner?” He asked suspiciously as she slowly approached the counter, carefully keeping his hands in view. “Is there anything I can help a fine officer of the NYPD with?” Sam grinned at him and placed her hands on the wooden counter, palms down.
“Hey Kennedy.” She eyed him and one of her hands relaxed, her fingers starting to slowly tap out a rhythm. “You know, I was debating with myself before I came here which role I should take. Should I come as a Cop?” One sharp tap on the wood marked her statement. “Should I perhaps come as a Guard?” Two taps. “Or should I take door number three?”
They had only been talking for a few moments but Kennedy was already staring at the tapping finger, sweat coating his forehead. In private she might sometimes seem unsure of herself. Here though, doing what she had been trained all her life to do, she oozed confidence. Her presence seemed to have expanded and the quiet grin on her face was predatory. Everything about her made the primal part of Kennedy’s brain go ‘Oh shit!’ while craving for someplace to hide. All from the passive and seemingly relaxed presence of Samantha Turner. The lanky man swallowed and the smell of nervousness edged with fear and panic flowed from him like a river. But you didn’t become a fence without some courage and he summoned up those reserves now.
“And what happens to be behind door number three Turner?” He too placed his hands on the counter and looked Turner in the eyes after dismissing Amy, who stood back a bit, with a glance.
“Well, door number three happens to be the lucky door Ken. Number three means that I come to you as a person. Not as a cop. Not representing the Community and the Trinity. Just me.” The suspicious look in Kennedy’s eyes remained as he continued to stare at Sam.
“Alright…” He said slowly, a Brooklyn drawl noticeable in his voice. “I like door number three. Door number three gives us all options, so please, continue to use door number three.” Sam mentally groaned. I should never have used the door reference.
“So?” He prodded.
“So. A while ago you had a visitor Ken. Tarquin the Elf.” Suddenly the fear lacing his scent seemed to lessen and he seemed to relax. Undaunted Sam continued. “He came by to try and sell you something. I don’t want any fuzz, so if you give us that item we’ll just walk away. No paperwork to mess things up.” She continued to smile at Kennedy, but her mind kept working, trying to determine what he was feeling good about.
“No.” Was the relieved reply from Kennedy.
“No?” Asked Sam, letting her puzzlement shine through. “Come on Ken. You know what they say, ‘The truth shall set you free.’”
“No. Simply becau—“ He didn’t get any further. All of a sudden a 5’6 foot blonde woman was half pulling him across the counter while choking him. Sam was impressed; she had barely noticed her move. She took a few steps back and let Amy have the center stage.
“Listen Jackass!” Amy growled as she locked eyes with the fence. “I don’t care if you swore an oath to the devil himself! I want my book back, and I will get my book back. So tell me before I have to start taking out kneecaps!” Sam looked on. She knew that Amy really wasn’t a violent person at heart, at most she would do what she was currently doing, intimidate him. Probably…
“Gaghfl!” Was the only reply the red faced Kennedy could give.
“Well!?” She continued as she punctuated her question with a small shake that caused the man’s head to bobble around.
“Achvr!” Still unable to voice a reply he started to fumble around and his hand dipped below the counter. Sensitive ears could hear a drawer being jerked open and Sam stopped being passive. She stood up straight and loosened the reins on her powers even more. She stared the flailing man in the eyes and after a moment he caught her in the corner of his eyes. He glanced at her and his red face suddenly became very pale as he took in Samantha. Her Crystal brown eyes had shifted and were now a dark amber color that shone in the lighting of the pawnshop. She had her right arm raised, the too big jacket having dropped down to her elbow. A soft crackle was the only thing that had been heard as her arm had transformed, stopping between wolf and human. Soft silky hair covered it instead of tanned skin, her piano fingers now ending in long claws that could easily shred skin and flesh.
She bared her teeth that seemed a tad pointier and as she sub-vocalized a growl she shook her head slowly while keeping eye contact with Kennedy. He got the message and his hand slowly appeared, empty, from beneath the counter and the .38 revolver remained in its drawer. Puffing out some air she nodded and lowered her arm as it shifted back with soft popping sounds. Her eyes changed as well, returning to their original brown as she restrained her powers and locked them back up. Amy, so focused on her quest for answers, had been completely unaware of what had transpired.
In the back of her head Sam knew that Amy could have taken care of herself. But that knowledge had been buried in the pit that had opened up in her stomach when she realized what Kennedy was going to do. ‘Protect her’ had been the bone deep response, something she had no problem doing. Sam cleared her throat and stepped up behind Amy. Carefully she laced her hand on the shorter woman’s shoulder and squeezed lightly.
“Amy,” she said. “You have to stop choking him or he’s never gonna tell us.” Amy turned her head and glanced back at Sam. She blinked a few times and then seemed to recognize what was being asked of her.
“Damn. Alright. This time.” She conceded as she opened her fists and released Kennedy. The man stumbled backwards and gulped in air while staring fearfully at Amy, a stare that was returned with twice the power. “Okay Kennedy. I want my book back!”
“But I don’t have it!” He wailed as his back pressed up against the back wall.
“Come on Ken, I can smell him. He was here.” Sam fired back.
“Yes but—“ He tried.
“And he stole my book!” Amy interrupted as she clenched and unclenched her hands.
“It wouldn’t surprise me bu—“
“You’ve fenced for him before Ken.”
“I might have b—“
“So give us the book before this has to get official.”
“BUT I DON’T HAVE IT!” This time the wail was more of a yell and it made the two women stop their tag teaming for a moment. “Yes! He was here. Yes! He probably stole your what-cha-ma-book. Hypothetically speaking, it is possible that a man like me offered services of a special nature to the Elf in the past. But I don’t have the damn book! And that’s the truth as you put it!” The tirade left him panting in the back of the shop, his eyes bouncing from woman to woman. When he understood that he finally had their attention he fiddled with his rumpled collar as he slowly moved closer to the counter that separated them.
“Yea, Tarquin was in here a little while ago. But he didn’t try to fence anything. It was the opposite, he came to buy something.”
“What was it?” The women asked in unison, twin gazes locked on Kennedy. For a moment his bravado rebelled, arguing that he shouldn’t tell them anything, to go down with the ship. But that urge was quickly smothered by logic, cowardice and fear using the memories of being choked as a weapon.
“It was an old cooking set.” He replied quickly. He looked skyward for a moment and then pulled out a drawer filled with bits of paper that he started to dig through. But he was careful to stay away from the drawer that held his gun. No need to tempt fate.
“Let’s see. It was pawned by an old woman a few years ago. I think she passed on and that’s why she never tried to get it back.” He paused in his search and looked up. “I can’t be sure, but I think she was a Mage. S’not like they wear a tattoo that reveals everything about them. Plus, this was before I got clued into the Community so I didn’t think too much about it.” Finally his rummaging seemed to pay off and he pulled out a slip of paper that he looked over. “Yea, this is the receipt.” He nodded as he handed it over to Sam.
“And he came by just for this?” She questioned as she read the receipt. A small cauldron, wooden spoon, some mugs. She couldn’t help but to snort quietly. It all seemed just a bit too witchy.
“I swear, just that. He came in, said hi and went straight for it. Paid cash.”
Sam looked up from the paper and eyeballed him. Yea, it looked like he was telling the truth. He was shaking and sweating, and the smell of fear still clung to him, but it seemed like Kennedy was being honest.
“Right.” She folded the receipt and put it in her jeans pocket. “You know Ken, I believe you.”
“You do?” This time the dual reply came from Amy and Kennedy.
“’I do. However, we’re still looking for Tarquin and I can’t help but to think… That you might have a clue where he is.” Once again she smiled at Kennedy. “Come on Ken. So far he’s brought one sale and a heap load of trouble to your doorstep. Tell us and we’ll walk away and I’ll personally make sure that nothing blows back on you.”
Once again his bravado tried to show off. ‘I’m not gonna tell them anything!’ and this time it almost worked, right up until logic showed up while bringing the bat Peace of mind with him. It was a persuasive argument.
“Right,” he sighed as he looked down at the floor. “I don’t know for sure where he is, but I heard a rumor that he’s been crashing a few blocks over at the Guide’s old place.
“No kidding?” She thought for a moment. “How is the Guide by the way? Do you know? I haven’t seen him in a while.”
“Still taking a tour group through the Sidhe lowlands last I heard. If the time shear is still up as usual he won’t be back for a few months.”
“Aww, that’s too bad. I was going to ask him abo—“
“Hey!” Amy suddenly interjected. “I don’t want to interrupt your information sharing,” and to be fair she did look contrite, a big change from her earlier hostility towards Kennedy, “but we have a crazy elf with Santa powers and an old cookware set out there doing gods know what to my Mom’s Cookbook!”
“Ah, sorry, you’re right.” Sam cringed. “We should get back to that.” She suddenly reached over the counter and gave a now stiff Kennedy a pat on the shoulder. “Thanks for the help man.”
“Oh, no problem. Just doing my civic duty” He said with a sarcastic lilt in his voice. The only response he got was a smile from Sam, her massive presence suddenly toned down.
“Let’s go Amy.” She placed an arm around Amy’s shoulders and steered her towards the front door. “You be good now Kennedy.” She added over her shoulder.
“Always…” He replied with a sigh as he turned around to shuffle back up the stairs. He needed a drink.
Sam opened the door and braced herself for the wind but was pleasantly surprised when just a tiny gust hit her face. With luck the weather would stay mellow for a while. She calculated how long it would take to walk to Tarquin’s hideout, deciding that they wouldn’t really win anything by taking a cab and she said as much to Amy.
“Let’s walk over there. It won’t take long and it should cool us down.” Amy cringed at that and she looked at Sam who still had her arm around her shoulders. A very warm and nice arm.
“I’m sorry Sam; I don’t know what came over me in there.” She looked down on the snow covered sidewalk as they moved north. “He was just denying everything and… I just saw red I suppose.”
“Mmm. I have to admit it’s rare to see you lose it like that.” Sam said as she glanced at her friend. “Maybe there is some Irish buried in that genetic code of yours and this brought it out.”
“Heh, maybe” Amy replied with a quirk of her lips.
Sam suddenly gripped a little tighter and pulled them to a stop. “Hey, no need to feel bad about it. You’re angry about your mom’s book, I get that. And Kennedy needs a good shake from time to time. So let’s go get the book and have you back to your happy self.” She smiled down at Amy and used her arm to pull her into a solid hug.
Amy clasped her arms around Sam and leaned her forehead on Sam’s chest, letting herself relax into the warmth. The only thing ruining the mood was the fact that she had a turtle on her head, but neither of them mentioned it and Charlie had apparently decided to stay quiet, so it was a comforting moment.
In a way it was odd. It was just a book. No one had died or gotten hurt, except Kennedy and that was only a little, but for some reason the fact that someone had stolen the book was kicking her insides from left to right. So she soaked up the peace she was getting from her best friend, letting it calm her and willing it to restore her usual mood.
After a short while, a gentle cough from Charlie broke the silence and the non-magical spell that had surrounded them. Amy looked up and smiled when she caught Sam’s crystal gaze.
“Thanks,” she said with a thick voice. “I think I needed that.”
“Anytime, Amy. Just say the word.” Was the bashful response from Sam. They each took half a step back and their bodies broke contact and a moment later they resumed their trek north, this time a touch slower. After having been silent for so long, Charlie had apparently had enough and chimed in with a question.
“Sammy, any idea what Tarquin would have wanted with that cooking set?”
Grateful for something to focus on, Sam looked at the duo next to her and nodded. “Yea, a vague one. Tell me, how far are you in your training?”
“Uh,” Amy hesitated before replying. “We’re going over elemental focuses at the moment if that’s what you mean.” She left it purposely vague. It was never fun saying ‘Great! I’m studying with ten year olds now!’ She had magical muscles but tended to used them on instinct. Learning helped her focus her power, making it easier to use spells. In the magical world, knowledge was quite literary power.
“I figured that it was something like that. So you haven’t touched alchemy or potions yet?” Sam continued as she took out the receipt and looked it over once again.
“No… But I think I will soon! I’m chewing through those classes like a termite through wood.” She added cheerfully.
“But thankfully she doesn’t get quite as much gas as those little things.” Charlie smirked as she chimed in. Blushing slightly, Amy gave Charlie’s shell a tiny whack. “That’s enough out of you!”
Sam tried valiantly to smother a grin, but it managed to slip out anyway. “Right. Anyway, I think that’s what he’s up to. If it was a Mage’s cooking set, it should have empowered runes that enable it to make magic infused potions.” Then the grin faded to be replaced by a slightly puzzled look.
“But why steal your book? It’s not like it’s filled with magical recipes… Right?”
“Right. Although, a case could be made for her ‘Mexican style’ gratin.” Amy smirked as she recalled the dish. It truly was a heavenly creation.
“Heh. Nothing Magical-magical then. So why the book? If it was punishment he would have done something more.”
“Oh, so stealing the book and covering me, us, with spit wasn’t enough!?”
“To be fair, that spit thing probably wasn’t intentional. It was just something to distract anyone who came looking for him, just in case.”
“Tell that to my kitchen!”
“Come on Amy, no need to be upset.” Sam paused after she made the statement and then amended, “Okay. It should make you a little upset.”
“Yes it should.” Amy confirmed as they turned a corner. A few blocks down Sam could see the building they were after and she focused on Amy again.
“Now Amy, don’t try and throttle Tarquin like you did Kennedy. He won’t be as understanding.”
“You almost strangle one guy and this is where it leads you, classified for life.” Amy grumbled as she jammed her hands down her jacket pockets.
“If we’re going to be accurate, you did manage to strangle me as well.” Sam added with a chuckle. A few steps later she realized she was walking alone so she turned around and saw Amy standing there with big eyes, almost a reflection of what happened earlier in the evening.
“Oh my god!” She cried out, “I didn’t even stop to think about that. I’m so sorry Sam!” She rushed forward and gently grabbed both of Sam’s arms above the elbow.
“Hey, that you don’t have to be upset about.” She smirked lightly. “I’m just as tough as I look.” She twisted her head slightly, letting the scar on her face show.
“Stop that…” Amy said quietly, her eyes still big. “That was horrible of me. You’re my friend Sam and friends don’t do that to each other.”
“You were in a panic Amy” She answered as she pulled Amy into another hug. “So yes, maybe you strangled me a little. But I forgive you because I understand why you did it. And that’s what friends do.”
“Alright…” Was the muffled response from Amy’s buried face. Then she sighed and pulled back, letting her arms fall to her sides. “So no strangling this time.”
“No strangling.” Sam agreed. “Also, I really don’t know what to expect in there. There might be some issues with giving back the book, might take some arguing, but I’m gonna guess that we won’t have any bigger problems than that.”
“Why? I mean, he must have taken it for a reason right? I can’t imagine he’d just give it up.”
“Because I don’t think he likes to steal. He was a Helper after all. You don’t get to be one of those without some serious inclinations to being good. So I think when he comes face to face with you, his victim, things will unravel.” Sam sniffed as she assumed a playfully haughty air. “And I can be very persuasive.”
This got a snicker from Amy and Charlie both. “I just bet.” Amy said just as Sam stopped in front of a three story brick building. It looked well taken care off but empty. The travel agency on the first floor that advertised ‘Magical trips to exotic places’ was mostly dark, the only light being in the display windows that hid behind protective shutters. The second story was dark as well, but on the third most of the lights were lit. All three looked up and stared at the shining lights. Two were going over the imminent meeting with the rogue elf, Tarquin, while the third pondered how big the difference was between ‘Magical trips to exotic places’ and ‘Exotic trips to magical places’.
“Okay Amy. Ready to get your book back?” Sam inquired as she flexed her fingers.
“Yes I am. Let’s go!” They started up the stairs that lead to the massive doors leading to the apartment section of the building. Sam’s training kicked in again, this time when she smelled Tarquin’s green-purple scent. She went first, her spell immune body shielding the smaller Amy from potential harm. Not that they were expecting something, but you never knew.
“Hey,” Sam suddenly asked before they opened the doorway. “Maybe we could do something to stop him from getting away, maybe throw up some sort of shield around the third floor?” In response Amy leaned back to get a view of the third floor, a hand on Charlie’s shell making sure that she didn’t slide off.
“Hmm,” Amy seemed to ponder the question for a little while but then shook her head. “No. I think there are too many things that could go wrong. Since I know nothing of barriers I’d have to wing it and the result would be really chaotic. Besides, from what you told me, Santa magic operates on a slightly different… Frequency, I suppose and I don’t think I could cover it. But I don’t think it’ll be needed.” The last part was said with a proud smile
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Because of Kennedy. Tarquin bought that cooking set. He didn’t steal it like he did my book and I think it would have been easier to steal from him rather than me. So I’m guessing he’s out of juice.”
“Okay… But he’s one of Santa’s elves! Santa! The man who supposedly goes around the entire world in one night. How can he be out of juice?”
“Well, A, he’s not Santa. And B, it’s not Christmas.”
“That’s it?” Sam asked, surprised at the simple answer.
“That’s it.” Amy confirmed. “It makes sense.” Sam eyed Amy over her shoulder and after a moment the brunette relented. She had heard worse theories in her days. She finished the last few steps and pulled carefully at the door. She was oddly disappointed when it opened up without making a noise. Doors to the villains’ lair should be locked. Or at the very least make a scary noise when they were opened.
They stepped through the door, one after the other and ended up in a dark vestibule. Before Sam could enhance her sight, Amy had after some fumbling found the light switch. Bright light flooded the area, revealing a big room with mint green walls. To the right stood a lonely potted plant,, no doubt trying his best to out-green the walls surrounding it. To the left was a line of mailboxes and straight ahead stood a stairwell with one set of stairs going up while the other lead downwards. The only odd think was a giant pile of something black that was blocking the way. Sam took a few steps forward, indicating with a hand gesture that Amy should hang back.
When she got closer she started to scent the air. The scent of the building, blue with streaks of red, transient, surrounded them, as did the scent of Tarquin. But all she got from the pile was a heavy grey smell. She turned her head around and looked at Amy. “That’s weird. It’s a big pile of co…” She tapered off when she noticed that Amy wasn’t looking at her anymore. Instead her eyes were focused behind Sam. Behind and climbing higher. “…al.” She finished as she turned her head back again.
The pile wasn’t a pile anymore. It was now in the general shape of a man, easily two heads higher then Sam with a thick body that would put the Hulk to shame.
“Oh, crap.” With impressive speed Sam zipped down her jacket and let the big thing fall of her shoulders. As soon as her bare arms were free, she hunched down and bent forward. At the same time she had unleashed her powers, letting the wolf slip and letting it change her. She didn’t go all the way, but instead stopped hallway, just like she had done in the pawnshop, this time her entire body shifted.
Fine fur dusted her arms up to her neck, connecting with her hair, and stopping short of covering her face. It was the only fur that was visible, but most of her body was covered now. Her ears hand grown longer and pointy and her lips were pulled back, giving voice to a deep growl and displaying her now big canines. More subtly, if someone knew what they were looking for an increase in muscle mass could be seen. The shirt had hung from her body earlier, just a touch too big, but now it gripped her frame, clinging to her almost like a second skin. And as always when she tapped deeper into her inner animal, her eyes were a deep Amber color, eyes that were focused on the creature
She bent her legs even more, gathering power for a leap forward the moment Mr. Coal did anything. But it just stood there, seemingly waiting. The face that, just like the rest of the body, was made up of lumps of coal was blank. No eyes, no nose and definitely no mouth. This made the fact that its creator had given Mr. Coal definite male equipment somewhat odd. It was like two basketballs hanging down, a horrifying image.
The standoff lasted for minutes where neither side moved, the only sound being heard was the rumbling growl coming out of Sam. Finally having enough, Sam took one hesitant step forward. No reaction came from the coal guy so she relaxed just a fraction.
“Maybe it’s just supposed to stand there and try to look pretty?” Amy asked behind Sam, her arms raised in front of her.
“Maybe…” Was the growling reply. Sam took another small step forward and nothing happened once again. “You could be right. So far he’s done noth—“ She had taken a third step, this time getting a reaction. Once her foot, or paw, landed, a screech could be heard from the creature and a giant fist came slamming down towards her. She hadn’t relaxed her guard completely so she was able to avoid fairly easily. She jumped backwards, landing almost where she had shifted earlier. When she did, Mr. Coal returned to its previous position, the only evidence being the black smudge mark on the ground where the fist had impacted.
“Okay, this could be harder than I thought.” Sam acknowledged as she stood hunched down, her hands resting softly on the floor.
“I think I can take him.” Amy said confidently from behind Sam whose face took on an amused look.
“I’m sure you can but,” Sam started but stopped when she heard a musical lilt enter Amy’s voice.
“Apollo with your sun so bright, won’t you burn my foe tonight!” As soon as Sam heard the words sun she whipped around, words that called Amy to stop dying on her lips. She saw Amy end her phrase and thrust her hands forward; looking almost like she was trying to catch a baseball with both hands. Only instead of catching a ball, a stream of almost solid fire burst forth from her hands. Sam crushed herself closer to the ground, feeling the heat pass over her. She might be immune to magic, that didn’t mean she couldn’t feel certain things before she got hit.
The fire hit Mr. Coal in the chest, making it take a step backward. Then the screech was heard again and Mr. Coal started to walk forward. It seemed that he now classified them as a threat that needed to be eliminated rather than simply stopped from going upstairs. It pushed against the fire hitting it, struggling to move forward. Then the fire suddenly stopped, causing Mr. Coal to fall forward and hit the tile floor with a resounding boom.
“Ah, got him.” Said Amy with a tiny tremble audible in her voice. She’d recover in a few moments but right now she felt drained. She smiled at Sam who looked back at her with an undecipherable look on her face. Sam then hung her head down and you could hear a gigantic sigh coming from her. What?” Amy asked cheerfully.
The answer presented itself fairly quickly. Mr. Coal, who had appeared to be dead to the world, suddenly gave off the same screech as before. Its arms moved and got under it, slowly pushing it upwards and soon the gigantic thing was standing on its legs again.
Sam looked at him and sighed again. “Like a monster wasn’t enough. Now we have to deal with a monster that’s on fire!” The last part was directed at Amy who remained behind Sam with a chagrin look on her face.
“Oh, um… Oops?” Amy said has she took in the new and improved Mr. Coal. His entire body had gone from a solid deep black to vary in color. His chest was glowing white while his extremities held various shades of red and orange. Smoke poured off of him, filling the room with a choking smell. Evidently the building had no fire security since no alarm had started blaring.
Suddenly two heavy thuds echoed below Mr. Coal and it became evident that he had not gotten out of the fire stream unscathed. Two women and a turtle looked down and saw two basketball sized spheres lying on the floor, slowly cooling down. “Oops?” Amy tried again with a weak voice.
It was surprising that even without a real face, and without a mind of its own, shock could clearly be seen crossing Mr. Coal’s head. It slowly moved an arm and patted itself very gently on its crotch and the women could almost hear a whimper when he found nothing. It just stood there in stunned disbelief, seeming unsure of what to do next.
“Amy, can you cool him down?” Sam whispered backwards, trying not to attract its attention.
“Well, I can try.” She whispered back as she looked around. There was really nothing she could use. There were sprinklers in the ceiling, but since they still hadn’t started they were probably empty. But sprinklers should have water in them, and she quickly started to use that has her focus. Amy rubbed her nose a few times and then reached out her hand towards the sprinklers in the ceiling while she started to chant.
“Neptune’s sea, Neptune’s sea, Neptune see my foe. Oh, how cold, is the flow as it drenches the coal?” Suddenly water started to rush out of the four sprinklers in the room, but it wasn’t a flow of drops that came, but four solid jets of ice cold water that suddenly struck Mr. Coal in the torso. Two hit the same spot as the fire had earlier, but two jets hit him in the back, all four of them keeping him pinned were he stood. The steam that arose made the temperature in the room spike even more and the sweat started to pour off of Amy. Less so with Sam, she had to start panting instead, the shift having closed most of her sweat glands.
When the water hit Mr. Coal some sharp cracks could be heard, showing that there was some metal hiding in the big body. The heating, followed by the rapid cooling down, caused the fragments to shatter. It was clearly visible when it happened as Mr. Coal jerked slightly each time, almost as if he was getting hit by bullets. Not only that, but after a little while it apparently started to sag just a little as the coal the body was made of got soggy. But it wasn’t enough, still it struggled.
“Hey!” Sam barked at Amy. “Stop it for a moment.” Amy nodded and she made a slicing gesture with her hands. Almost as sudden as it had begun, the streams of water stopped. Again Mr. Coal stumbled, but he managed to keep himself upright this time. Though not for long.
Samantha uncoiled her legs, shooting forwards and upwards. She impacted Mr. Coal where she quickly dug her left arm into its shoulder while her feet were placed on the torso. Stretching out her fingers, she quickly jammed her right hand, claws first, into Mr. Coal’s head right where it met the neck. A human would have been dead by now, but the monstrosity continued to struggle, even as it appeared to be dazed.
She let go with her left hand and swiftly placed it behind Mr. Coal’s head, almost cradling it. Then she ripped. With a roar she pushed herself backwards with her feet just as she pulled with her arms. There was a creaking sound that lasted for a few seconds and then Mr. Coal’s head tore loose. Sam flew backwards, head held in her hands. When she reached her peak in the air she managed to a backwards flip so when she landed she landed on her feet instead of her head. The force from the impact still managed to make her slide backwards after she impacted the floor.
“Nice, though I thought that it was cat’s that landed on their feet.” Charlie quipped, still sitting on her blonde perch.
“Cat’s just have better PR.” Sam fired back as she looked from Mr. Coal’s body to its head and back again. There was no question that it had been some sort of spell that had animated Mr. Coal, and spells that lasted, not instant spells like the ones Amy had been casting, needed a focus to chain it to. And they always put it in the head for some reason. Having been separated from the focus, its body started to crumble and shortly there was just a small pile of soggy coal in front of the stairs.
“And that’s the way the … The coal crumbles.” Sam chuckled with a grin as she tossed the head into a corner away from the coal pile.
“The way the coal crumbles?” Amy mused as she walked up next to Sam, any danger apparently passed. “That’s some John Wayne one liner there.”
“Shut up.” Sam blushed as she started to shift back to being human. Snaps and crackles could be heard as bones realigned themselves and she was grateful that it wasn’t like in fiction, all pain. Here in the real world she would just suffer some minor aches at the end of the day. Magic, got to love it.
“Hey, speaking off. Wow. Just… Wow.” Sam said as she looked at Amy.
“I have to say that this is the first time I’ve seen combat magic being done to Christmas tunes. ‘Rudolph the red nosed reindeer’? ‘Jingle bells’? Really?” Now it was Amy’s turn to blush.
“I did what I had to.” She defended. “And I’d do it again!”
“Heh. Well, I can’t argue with the effect. Though I wish you wouldn’t mix up your gods like that. Apollo and Neptune are from different pantheons and they hate being associated. Zeus and Jupiter got into it in a meeting last year.” And then her smirk widened. “And please, next time? Don’t turn the regular monster into a fire monster. It tends to make things harder.”
Amy sniffed as she started to walk towards the stairs. “Fine. See if I help you next time.” She said with her head held high, though a quirk of her lips showed that she wasn’t serious. Sam just kept smiling as she caught up with Amy just as they hit the stairs leading upwards.
“Oh, you can have my back any day. Just make sure you don’t set it on fire.”
The trio walked up the steps and reached the second floor, Sam once again in the lead. She scented around and after separating out the burnt coal smell she spotted Tarquin’s scent. By now the green-purple scent was just a few minutes old and she was really, really getting sick of it.
“I wonder why he hasn’t come down” Amy scratched her chin slowly. “I mean, it’s not like things were quiet down there.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s wrapped up in something.” Sam responded as they started up the next set of stairs. Sam placed her hand on the wooden banister and used it to steady herself, more out of habit then any real need. As she gripped it, the old wood creaked out a protest, making a sound that was eerily like a baby’s cry. Both Sam and Amy stopped and Sam looked at Amy behind her.
“Alright, that was creepy.” Charlie suddenly said and the two women could do nothing but nod in agreement. Sam carefully removed her hand from the banister and moved to the center of the stairs. No need to risk that sound again.
They continued upwards and in no time they found themselves in the third floor hallway. They were at its center and the corridor went left and right from their position.
“Okay, I think we need the super sniffer here.” Amy gently slapped Sam on the back while Sam in return glared back with big eyes.
“What? No good?” Amy asked with an innocent air around her.
“No. No it’s not.” Sam grumbled.
“El sniffo de fantastico?” The only response to Amy’s suggestion this time was the continuation of the glare.
“The scent soaker!” If anything, the glare intensified.
“Fine. The pulchra nose then.”
“The what nose!?” Sam asked, her glare faltering.
“Pulchra. It’s Latin.”
“And it means?”
“That’s for me to know.” Amy smiled at Sam. Here they were, having just defeated a coal monster and on the verge of confronting a renegade Christmas elf and they were bantering. It was a nice feeling.
“Right,” Sam plodded on. “I still think I’m being insulted. But if it matters, Tarquin is to the right.”
“Then lead on.” Amy said as she gestured for Sam to move forward. Amy’s muscles tightened slightly and her eyebrows narrowed as some of her earlier anger peeked out. But after a few moments the muscles relaxed again in a demonstration that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the pawnshop.
They walked on down the right hallway. Sam could feel the scent becoming thicker and she made a guess that they would end up at the door furthest down. Not willing to wait like she had done below, she let her wolf peek out again and half shifted. Arms were once again covered in fur and the long claws were back. Long, straight and sharp. She made a note to remember to pick up the jacket when they left later since it was still on the floor in the vestibule.
It seemed like it had taken minutes to reach the door, when in fact it had only taken moments. They paused at the door and Sam leaned forward, trying to hear anything beyond the wooden barrier.
“It sounds like… Chanting” She whispered to Amy. The sounds were just high enough so that she could hear it, but not loud enough for her to make out anything specific. She stood up straight from where she had been crouching and turned to Amy and Charlie.
“Okay, how do you want to play it? Either we knock and hope he doesn’t bolt, or we kick the door down, go in magic blazing and hope he doesn’t bolt.” Sam laid out the two options for Amy. There were more, but those two were the best bet. And since it was Amy’s book on the line it was only fair that she got to make the call.
“Well, my mother would vote for the knocking. But I’m just a little too pissed off for that, so I say kick it down.” A solid thump from Charlie’s foot showed that she voted for the same thing.
“Alright, kicking down it is. I’ll go in first and then you come in, ready to throw something heavy.” It was the standard operating procedure when a shifter and Mage teamed up and something that worked really well. The shifter is the shield while the Mage is the sword, was the litany during training, though real world experience showed that it wasn’t always like that. “But don’t let loose right away. If he attacks then go for it, otherwise let’s try talking.”
You know, I remember someone saying that this wasn’t going to be that hard.” Amy smirked as she rubbed her bumpy nose.
“So I was wrong. It happens.” Sam growled back. “Though it is unusual.” She finally muttered to herself.
“What was that?” Amy inquired softly.
“Nothing! Nothing.” Sam murmured. She had taken a step back and now you could see that she had shifted further. The fur had climbed higher and her legs were slightly bent and her jeans were slightly tighter.
“Three.” Sam bent down a little bit.
“Two.” She seemed to tense up and she twisted her body slightly, putting her weight on her left foot.
“One.” She growled slightly and flexed her hands.
“GO!” She uncoiled and her right leg flew forward, driven by pure werewolf muscle. She pivoted just a touch and her foot impacted just to the right of the door handle. The force splintered the area around the lock, separating the tumbler system from the door. While it and half a foot of wood remained hanging, the rest of the door flew inwards, having torn away from the hinges. All of a sudden the chanting they had heard earlier was hitting them full force.
Tom Jones’ ‘She’s a Lady’ wasn’t even close to what they had been expecting.
The smashed door hung inwards, remaining upright due to a single door hinge that wasn’t completely torn off. It lead into a big studio apartment were two gigantic speakers were pouring the Jones’ tones into existence. The sound was low, true. But the speakers were so massive that the bass made the floor vibrate. In the center, were the two sound streams crossed stood a circle shaped stone table, almost chest high for Sam, and in its center was the cauldron procured from Kennedy’s pawnshop earlier in the night. A small fire was lit under it; most likely the reason delicious scents were wafting up from the cauldron.
Standing by the table, on a chair, was a short man stirring the cauldron. He wore a white t-shirt with a green vest over it along with red pants. His orange hair was in a buzz cut and he was happily humming along to the song as he shook his hips.
“Whoa, whoa whoa, she’s a lady!” He sang, his voice oddly juvenile. Stunned, neither woman was sure on how to proceed, but after a few moments Sam collected herself.
“Hey!” She called out but there was no response from the elf. There was nothing blocking his pointy ears, so he must be focused in what he was doing. She glanced down at the table and there it suddenly was. Lying in front of him, opened in the middle was the cookbook.
“Hey!” She tried again, but there was still no response, and now she was getting annoyed.
“HEY!” She yelled at the top of her lungs and that suddenly got his attention. He whipped his head around towards Sam and his eyes widened. She wasn’t sure if was due to the fact that he saw that he had intruders or because his sudden move had displaced his center of gravity, causing the chair below him to tip over, taking the elf down with it.
“Woawoawoawoawoaaaaaaaaaa!” His yelling ended with a solid thud on the ground and Sam moved forward a few steps before she remembered that she was here to stop him, not help him. Instead she stretched herself up and peered over the downed chair.
“You okay there buddy?” She asked, her voice going down to normal levels as the Jones’ song stopped playing.
“I’m just peachy.” Tarquin’s voice was amazing. All at once he seemed to speak with a dozen different accents while at the same time sounding accent-less. His fuzzy head shot up and with merry green eyes he took in his new guests.
“Now, what can I do fer you lovely ladies? Something to drink? Or,” He eyed the shattered door behind them. “Do you need to use the facilities? A tiny bladder is nothing to be ashamed of. I had a great grandma with the same problem, Santa rest her soul.” Sam and Amy stood with their mouths hanging slightly open. Like a lot of things during the evening, this was not what they had been expecting. But as they stood there, Amy was the first one to recover her wits.
“First off, my bladder is just fine!” She took a step forward. “Second, you stole my cookbook you pointy eared little bas-mphmgh” She was stopped from continuing that conversational line by Sam’s furry hand that suddenly covered her mouth.
“Sorry about that,” Sam said while giving Amy a stern look. “Sam Turner, NYPD and Trinity guard.” She pointed to herself and then to her friend. “Amy Quinn, Mage. And we’re here because you stole her cookbook earlier this evening.”
Tarquin’s eyes grew wide and he gasped. “I never! Such lies! I’ve never stolen a thing in my life.” He scrambled to his feet and placed his closed fists on his hips. “If anyone has been saying differently, then that is just pure slander!”
Sam shifted her gaze from Tarquin to the book on the table and then back again.
“So you’re playing the innocent card? When the stolen item is right on the table there?” He tried to follow her eyes but was too short to see above the rim of the table. Instead he shook his fingers over his head. The gesture caused golden glitter to fall from his fingers and cover him. It was obviously magic since right afterwards he started to float upwards until he could see the tabletop clearly.
“Oh, that.” He said while he eyed the book. “I didn’t steal that thing.”
“Try it all you want, I got your scent all over her place.”
“Well, of course. I was there.” He crinkled his nose and looked at Sam. “By the way, you stink.”
Sam’s lip became a thin line and she closed her eyes briefly. “I know.” She said softly while her friend Amy sniffed at her and managed to squeak out an honest “No she doesn’t” between the fingers that still covered her mouth.
“Yes she does.” Was the confused reply from Tarquin.
“I. Know.” Sam growled out with her free hand clenched at her side, her claws making small cuts in her palm. “It’s genetic.” She finally muttered as she looked away from Tarquin for a moment.
“Oh. Oh! You’re that Sam Turner.” He actually looked apologetic, but it was hard to take it seriously since his nose was still doing a little dance. But it was nothing new. It was a deep wound that she had been carrying all her life and did another cut into it really matter?
The hand covering Amy’s face was suddenly ripped down and Amy exclaimed, “She does not smell! Stop saying that.” And sometimes you get balm for a wounded soul, Sam thought with a smile.
“No, she really do—“
“Quiet!” Amy gave Tarquin a menacing glare over her now crossed arms. “She does not. End of discussion! Now, about the book you stole…”
“Lass! I didn’t steal it! I swear to you.” Tarquin continued to profess his innocence, now with a hand over his heart.
“Then what’s my book doing here?” Amy had taken a step towards Tarquin, but that was all. She was managing to restrain herself much better this time.
“Well, I borrowed it of course.” And he had such a sincere look on his face as he said it that both Sam and Amy were stunned.
“You… Borrowed it?” This time Amy was the one who recovered first.
“Yes, I tend to borrow a lot of things.” Tarquin waved his hand like it was no big deal. “I don’t need to steal.”
“Ah. And when were you planning on returning this ‘borrowed’ item? Sam asked as she recovered as well.
“Well, in the future of course.” He replied cheerfully.
“I see. When exactly in the future?”
“The… Near future?” He was starting to realize that they weren’t really on the same page and he couldn’t begin to guess why. He borrowed things. That meant he had to return them. It was all quite simple.
Sam pinched the top of her nose. This was going to go nowhere fast so she decided to try a different tactic. “Alright, can you answer me this? Why did you ste… Borrow Amy’s cookbook?”
“Oh, because it’s her magic cookbook!” Now Tarquin seemed extremely cheerful all of a sudden. I had heard of a popular new Mage who was no slouch in the magic department and I figured that whoever it was had to have some kick ass potion recipes written down. And I some of them are great! I mean, just take the one I’m cooking up right now. It’s called ‘Strong wine cupcakes’ Can you believe that? Cupcakes with strength enhancers! I have to tell you Amy, you’re a genius. The things I could do with all these different foods!”
“Schizophrenic you said?” Amy whispered as she leaned towards Sam.
“Or something. He’s usually not all there, but it looks like he’s having a good day so far.
“I hate to break it to you Tarquin,” Amy paused. “Okay, I don’t really hate it, I admit that. But it’s beside the point. ‘Strong wine cupcakes’ aren’t cupcakes that make you strong… They’re cupcakes with strong wine baked into them. Other than that, they’re just regular cupcakes.”
“They are?” Tarquin suddenly stopped bopping around in the air and instead floated in place, his entire focus now on Amy.
“Well, yea. All the recipes in that book are just regular ones that my mom thought up. I mean, it’s her cookbook after all.”
You could have heard a pin drop. Every sound seemed to run away and hide, leaving the dominant silence as king of the room. Tarquin locked eyes with Amy for what seemed like minutes. Sam slowly tensed up her muscles, ready to leap between the two if Tarquin so much as twitched the wrong way. But the only think he ended up doing before speaking was slowly wetting his lips.
“Your… Mom’s? Cookbook was it?”
“Yep. I got to borrow it from her. I’ve been looking forward to it for years. She’s no Mage, but her food is simply divine.”
“So no spell food?”
“None at all?”
“Not a one.”
“All… all right. So, where is your book? A Mage such as yourself must have some good recipes tucked away.”
“Ah,” She paused, wondering how she should present it. But she finally decided to go with the truth. “Sorry. No recipes. I only became a Mage a few months ago and I haven’t even begun to study potions and alchemy.”
“So, let me see if I get this straight. The book I borrowed is a regular book?”
Amy wanted to refute that, because her mom’s cooking was anything but ordinary. But she decided to play it safe. “Yes.”
“And you’re not a powerful Mage with a big potion book?”
“No I’m not.” It was like a switch had been flipped. The jolly expression slid right off his face and was replaced by a chilly indifference. All of a sudden the book was enveloped in golden sparks and it floated into Tarquin’s open hand.
“Get out.” He said as he looked from one person to the next. “All of you.”
“You’re throwing us out?
“Yes I am,” his voice was slowly growing colder and Sam started to inch her way between them. “I want you to get out of my place. And take your damn book with you!” He punctuated his last statement by suddenly throwing the book at Amy. It hit her in the chest and she fumbled with it momentarily before she had it in a tight grip.
Using their non-verbal communication again they decided that a withdrawal would probably be in everyone’s best interest, especially now since they had what they came for. For a little while Sam toyed with the idea of trying to capture Tarquin but soon decided against it. She was tough, but it would be difficult without backup so why risk it? Better to head home for a quiet night alone instead. Besides, all in all it had been easy. As soon as he understood that it wasn’t magical he lost interest.
Just as it had seemed to take forever to get to the third floor, it felt like the blink of an eye to get down to the vestibule and out the front doors. Out there the wind was still gentle and Sam was grateful. She had had enough of aches for a while. She looked over at Amy who stood clutching the book to her chest, looking like she was never going to let it go.
“So,” Sam began slowly. “I guess we did it then.”
“Yea, we did.” Was the whispered response as Amy slowly stroked the bound leather book. Then she looked up and gave Samantha a smile that could melt ice. And that made it all worth it, Sam realized as she looked back. If her only reward had been that smile, it would have been enough. She reached out and pulled Amy into a hug. The tears that had shimmered in Amy’s eyes, so dissimilar to the expression she had worn when she had come knocking earlier, revealed just how glad she was that things had worked out. Sam squeezed her tightly and then gave her a small kiss to the side of the head. After thinking for a moment she gave Charlie a kiss on her leathery head as well, something she seemed to enjoy.
“Come on my friend,” Sam said as she pulled Amy to the street. “Let’s get you home. It’s been a long evening.”
“Yea, you’re right.” As if on cue, she yawned and made a cute little squeak as she tried to stifle it.
“Yep. Definitely sleep time.” Sam chuckled as they stood in the cold. Sam quickly put her borrowed jacket back on. She had picked it up as they were going out and she was grateful for the small amount of warmth. She had to admit that she was a bit of a hedonist when it came to warmth and cold.
It took a few minutes for a cab to appear, a rarity in New York, but instead of contemplating it they just slid in the back seat gratefully. It was a different cabbie this time, not really a surprise, and Sam leaned forward and gave up Amy’s address.
“We’re not dropping you off?” Amy asked as Sam leaned back into her seat. Apparently the other cab had been the exception that proved the rule because the seats in this cab were both sticky and smelly.
“Nah, I need to get my dirty clothes. After that I figured I’d just walk home. The distance isn’t that big.”
“Oh, well. Remember that I was about to ask you something earlier? In the other cab?”
Hey, yea. What was that?” Sam inquired.
“Well, I was going to ask you, since it’s been some times since last, if you wanted to have a sleepover?”
Amy was certain that the cabbie listening in was conjuring up very specific fantasies when he heard that question, but frankly she didn’t care. All that mattered was what a sleepover meant to her, and more specifically Samantha. She looked at her now and Sam’s face almost broke her heart as much as the howl she had heard months earlier. Sam never had any friends growing up. She had teachers, a guardian that made sure she was fed and, as she got older, coworkers who could barely stand the magical smell she radiated due to a random genetic quirk. But never a friend until Amy. She had never had someone to talk to, to play with and she most definitely never had sleepovers. The first time she had been asked to stay the night in Amy’s guest room she had been as skittish as a newborn filly, afraid that she’d do something to screw it up, something to take away that wonderful experience. Which hadn’t happened then, and by now the sleepovers were a semi-regular occurrence with talking, movies, popcorn and ice-cream. There had even been a pillow fight once. And even though they had done it before, Sam’s reaction, the one she tried to hide, was there as usual. Wonder, hope and giddy excitement flickered through her eyes, finally setting on a bashful expression. And expression so unlike the one she had worn when facing down Mr. Coal and Tarquin. Amy wondered almost constantly how one person could be so different in different situations.
“Yea, Amy. I’d like that.” Was the reply and Amy wasted no time. She leaned forward and gave the Cabbie Sam’s address instead, telling him to go there first.
“I figured that you can get some fresh clothes before we head over to my place.” Amy said while Sam nodded in response. “Yea, these clothes really need a wash. They stink of coal. And elf.” Sam had completely shut down her wolf earlier, taking away her hyper sensitive nose. Unfortunately, it was still quite sharp and the scent was starting to get on her nerves.
The cab slid through traffic and arrived at Sam’s place a few minutes later. Sam quickly unbuckled her seatbelt and slid out of the cab. She bent down, looked into the interior at Amy and smiled.
“I’ll be right back!” She said as she shut the door, turned around and almost ran inside the building. Amy just closed her eyes and waited. Four minutes later Sam came running out of the door and would probably have thrown herself into the car is she had left the door open. Instead she came to a stop by the door and calmly opened it. She tossed in a small duffle bag that landed in the center of the backseat and she quickly followed suit, taking the right side of the back.
The cab pulled into traffic and started the short path to Amy’s townhouse.
“So…” Sam finally asked to break the silence. “Wanna watch a movie?”
“I’d love to. But please, no Christmas movies! Just something to relax my brain.”
“Oh, I’m with you there. How about a nice comedy instead… Like ‘Liar Liar’?”
“That sounds like fun. You have it with you?”
“Yep. Ready to play.”
“Ah, great.” And then the short ride from Sam’s place was over. This time Amy paid the cabbie after which they both stepped out. The cab speed away, leaving two women and a now sleeping turtle standing on the sidewalk. Amy slowly bit her lower lip while eyeing Sam who stood there, holding her bag with two hands. “Hey Sam,” She started to talk, but her voice slowly faltered, unable to voice what she wanted to say, not even certain about what she wanted to say.
But Sam understood. She looked at Amy, studied her face like Amy studied hers and gave her a shy smile. “Yea, me too.” And that was enough, they both thought. Because we didn’t need dialogue – We had faces.