And here's the rest of chapter 3!
"So about the job," I said, bringing the conversation back on track.
"Right. Lex said you had identified several places that need to be checked out."
"Yeah," I agreed. "I can tell they have something--"
"They who?" Mooney interrupted.
"The Yakooza. They have several warehouses that--"
"You were skulking around Yakooza warehouses?" he interrupted again. "Those guys are bad news."
"I know," I huffed impatiently. "I have identified several--"
"What are you guys looking for in Yakooza warehouses?"
I silently count to ten before answering. "I'm trying to tell you that," I ground out slowly.
"Oh, sorry," he replied sheepishly.
"Lex found out that Zhere Ghan has relocated to Talbot's Peak," I began again. Mooney opened his mouth to ask something but must have seen the murder in my eyes because he shut it without saying anything. "Generations ago, a grimoire was stole from Lex's grandfather. Lex believes Ghan has it and that the tiger would not have left such a treasure behind in Asia.
"In the six months we've been here, I've identified a half dozen or so locations that are not residences that have unusual power signatures. Each of them have characteristics that indicate EOPs are being housed there. Unfortunately, while my magic has helped be identify these locations, it has not helped me actually break into them to see if the grimoire is one of those EOPs."
"Um, question," Mooney said tentatively, raising his free hand up like a kid.
"EOP means Egyptian object of power," I said.
"I'm a witch," I said. Mooney glared at me and I realized I was now doing to him what he'd done to me earlier. Reciprocated rudeness is not cool, I reminded myself. "Sorry," I continued, my own face sheepish this time.
"How do I fit into this? I mean, if you can sense these things but can't get in, how am I supposed to be able to?"
"Fair question," I said as I tried to think of a way to explain it without looking like a freak. "It all comes back to the fact that I can sense the different types of magic present. I'm a level five Earth witch. To people like me, the energies of Talbot's Peak have a flavor of their own. So do the magics of these foreign objects of power. For instance, Egyptian magic tastes like myrrh and Sumatran magic tastes like lily of the valley. What I'm tasting, for lack of a better word, is a blend of all of these, plus some magics that I haven't encountered."
"What does Talbot's Peak magic taste like?" he asked.
"Well," I began, "It kind of tastes like... Pine trees and sage and clean water. Place magic is a blend of the things around it."
"Shouldn't Egyptian magic taste like Egypt, then?"
"Yes and no," I replied. "If it was raw power, it would taste like the area it originated in. Refined magic, like the stuff you find in OPs, pretty much tastes like... I don't know. Kind of like the person who refined it? Like the cultural heritage of that person's people?" I looked at him to see if I was making any sense at all. He was nodding thoughtfully, so I must have been.
"The same way everyone local to the Peak smells like a local--line pine and sage, and spring water, actually--and how people from San Diego smell like sea salt, smog, and cactus," he murmured.
"They do?" I asked, intrigued. He nodded. "Huh, didn't realize it worked that way. Anyway, I was raised around Egyptians, so I'm pretty familiar with the various types of magic from that culture. A god-blessed EOP tastes like myrrh."
"I thought you didn't like swearing," he said with a smirk.
"No, not god bless-ed, god blessed. As in a god literally blessed it."
"I knew what you meant," he said with a chuckle. "So, back to why you think I can find it if you can't."
"You were Lex's plan B, not mine," I commented offhandedly. "But I do agree with him that you'd be better for the actual breaking in and searching."
"Because you are a local. You would know if something was truly off or if it was just an anomaly unique to the Peak. Because you were a reporter and a PI before that. You know where to stick your nose in and where not to. Also, no one would look twice at you for checking something hinkey out. This is your pack territory. Wolves tend to be over protective of their home stomping grounds. Also, there's the fact that you are a wolf. You think like an over protective, aggressive predictor, whereas I don't. I'm a witch. I know what I'm looking for but that's not going to help if I blunder into situations I don't know to avoid."
"Good points," Mooney said, nodding. "I can tell you now that if you sensed any of those oops thingies at the old sugar plant on the out skirts of town, over by Dante's bar, we should start our search there."
"Why?" I asked curiously.
"Because Dante didn't open a bar out there until after Ghan bought the place. My guess is that Dante has some suspicions about the cat and wanted a legit cover so he could keep a closer eye on things."
"Yep," Mooney said a half hour later. "This is the place to start looking, all right. The Pleasure Club's just over that hill, about a mile away." He looked down at me with a silly-eager grin as we peered through a thicket of scrub oak at the building in question.
We had schlepped back to Java Joe's over un-shoveled side streets to pick up Mooney's truck for the drive out to the old sugar factory. I had not been out there yet, but as Mooney's point had been a good one, it made sense to check it out. He'd parked at one of those scenic over-looks a few hundred years down the road and we'd hiked in from there.
"I need to get closer," I murmured, staring intently at the rundown brick monstrosity. The fence around it was chain link and new. The roof also looked new, but everything else held an air of neglect. Oh, and the wards set in the capstones of the wrecked wrot-iron fence was also new and very powerful. I couldn't get a sense of what it was protecting past the interference.
"How close do you need to get?" Mooney asked, his voice tinged with repressed excitement. I looked at him, an eyebrow raised at his obvious enjoyment of this breaking-and-entering expedition. "What?" he asked.
"Calm down, Cujo. It's just a little reconnaissance mission."
"Now that's just rude," he sniffed. "And racist. I don't go around calling you Elphaba, do I?"
"You have been known to call me 'that monkey chick'. And how, exactly, were you able to pull the name of that particular witch out of thin air?" I asked incredulously.
"I happen to like Gregory Maguire's books," Mooney replied, completely ignoring my other point. I let it pass, unable to get his own revelation out of my mind. Maguire was a fantastic author of fantasy-satire. His books were deep, dark, and rich with complex social allegory. Never in a million years would I have expected Mooney the Goof to have read it.
"So, how close do I need to get you?" he asked, drawing me back on track. We seemed to spend a lot of time talking about things that had nothing to do with the job at hand.
"Past the wards on the fence, at least," I replied, shaking my head in an attempt to clear out thoughts of Mooney's reading habits. "Whoever laid them made them very loud. They're drowning out the magic of whatever's behind them."
"Extra strong or just messy?" he asked. That was a great question, actually. It let me know that he really could get me in there safely. Wolves weren't magic casters, so a noob would not have known there was a difference.
"Mid-strength and a bit messy, like they are leaking," I replied.
"Whistling like a tea kettle?"
"Good," he said, nodding. "That means there's a flaw in it somewhere we can sneak through. Which way is it noisier?"
I nodded to the right, towards the main gate. He nodded again, as if that made sense to him, and we set off.
There wasn't much snow on the ground under the trees and Mooney managed to find places to walk that kept us to mostly bare rock without moving too far from the perimeter of the sugar factory. I had no idea how he was doing it--it was dark as sin. As we got closer to the front gate, he began picking his way closer to the warded fence. Finally, he stopped and shook his head, a sardonic grin on his face.
"There," he said jutting his chin at section where the original brick hand crumbled and been sloppily repaired with chain link. "They didn't clean up the loose rubble. The warlock I used to work for as a PI in San Diego told me that wards need to be laid over even, tidy areas to work properly. The bricks are untidy and cause turbulence as the ward tries to cross them, making a tell-tail noise a magic user like you can sense, if you know what you are looking for."
"That's awesome," I responded with more than a bit of awe in my voice. Once he'd pointed it out, it was obvious to me. "How do you find breaks in a ward when you don't have a magic caster with you?"
"Same way I found this one; I hunted for a physical flaw," he said with a shrug as he scanned the area with his eyes and nose. "It takes longer, of course, since I wouldn't have someone pointing me to the general area, but yeah. Just look for a messy area and slip in through it."
"Won't the ward alert them to our passage?" I asked uncertainly. He flashed me a satisfied grin.
"It's alerting in that spot constantly. So long as we don't try to cross it too fast, they won't hear anything they haven't already trained themselves to ignore." That was brilliant, I realized.
Wait. It couldn't be that simple. If it was, they would have fixed it. I said this last bit out loud but Mooney simply shook his head.
"It's not that simple. They are tigers, which means they are both lazy and very sure that they are vastly superior to everyone around them. They didn't fix the flaw in the wards because they are sure that they can catch anyone good enough to find it and dumb enough to try it. To be fair, they can."
I looked up, startled and concerned. It must have shown on my face, because Mooney chuckled. Not condescendingly, though, more like he saw this situation as a welcome challenge.
"The question isn't if they can catch us, babe. It's if they can keep what they catch."
The answer to that question, I found out a short while later, was no. Six Bengal tigers, four Asian leopards, and one flock of gargoyles were not up to the challenge of one sneaky Moon-dog. The plan had been brilliantly simple. He'd stripped out of his clothes--treating me with the sight of his glorious bare naked ass--and had me put them on before changing to his wolf form. I cast my telepomancy spell so we could communicate without speaking, a trick Mooney was very pleased with. Then with me smelling like him, we slipped into the factory. When Ghan's goons, led by two of his sons, eventually found us, we split up. I kept searching the warehouse for EOPs while Mooney ran all over hell and back, leading them on a marry chase. Since I smelled like him pre-turn, they would assume my current scent trail was his old one and ignore it.
I will admit to being skeptical about this plan. It had looked to me like Mooney just wanted to raise hell, the way he kept hauling ass to get the tigers to chase him--most big cats are faster than wolves in a flat out sprint!--only to turn a corner at just the right time so that the cat hot on his tail crashed headlong into one which had been laying in ambush. I had no idea how he was doing it and I didn't know how long he'd be able to keep it up. I knew I'd be fine since he had all the muscle tied up in knots, only humans left to keep an eye on things. But the lug had started to grow on me. I said a silent prayer to the Mother to keep her mischievous son out of trouble and then set about searching the place in earnest. I had no control over whether Mooney stayed safe or not, but I could make sure that any sacrifice he might end up making tonight would not be in vain.
The fact that only humans were left was to my advantage, I quickly discovered. They knew from the now AWOL shifters that Mooney's scent was present inside both as a wolf and as a man. They assumed that he had begun his breaking and entering bipedal and wolfed out after being discovered, just as Mooney had predicted. They decided to send a team to check out the building and search for his supposedly discarded clothing. Being as they weren't preternatural themselves, they had no way of knowing that Mooney's discarded clothing was following them around, being led to all the best places, since they had decided that anyone breaking into a compound full of big cats and gargoyles would only be interested in the good stuff.
I found what I was looking for behind a triple locked storage room roughly the size of a standard bedroom. The humans didn't open the door, just checked to see if the heavy duty lock had been tampered with. My skin began itching from the competing magics in play soon as I got within ten feet of the door. By the time I was close enough to look into the industrial grade shatter resistant class windows set into it, my chest was burning from the metaphysical fumes seeping out from under it.
Magic didn't have an odor to non-magic users, but it did have very real fumes, sort of the way carpet off-gasses VOCs. Magic off-gassed energy and intent that was just as irritating to me as VOCs were to asthmatics. Whatever was in that room was caustic as hell. I didn't dare go inside, but I didn't really need to. The window was nice and big and the glass was relatively clean, allowing me to see inside the dimly lit room with ease. What I saw was bad.
The floor was bare concrete, but not a smooth slab of it. I could see the trowel lines easily because magic was leaking from the symbols chalked on the floor and into them, crating little rivulets of mashed up energy. Dante had been right to think that Ghan was up to something. It wasn't evil, exactly, but it wasn't safe. The blending of mismatched magic I had sensed all the way outside the compound's perimeter was coming from this room. I could see Egyptian glyphs, Etruscan symbols, Norse runes, and several other types of markings I had never encountered. All of them had been worked into one spell almost haphazardly, like a kid playing with a magical chemistry set.
I didn't know if any of this tied in with the grimiore I was looking for but I really needed to get this information back to Lex. With that though in mind I first pulled out my cell phone and took several pics, trying to get as complete a record of the chalked spell as I could through the door window. Next, I pulled out a small block of lead.
Lead was sometimes called Alchemist's Gold because of all the loonies who had tried to turn it into gold over the centuries. The real value of it was that it could shield almost anything, even gamma particles. In the hands of a witch, it could also take imprints of the energy in an area, making a semi permanent record of it. The pictures of the floor undoubtedly would be useful, but knowing how the spell felt would help my master better understand what Ghan was planning. I hadn't yet searched the whole building, but I quietly let anyway. I was sure the book was not here and I was very sure that I should not risk getting caught. This information had to get out to those who could interpret it.