"Done," he said. "You'll have your talk. On our premises."
"I did my part," he said.
I took the m-scan I stole from the morgue and spread it in the dirt.
"What am I looking for?" he asked.
"These." I pointed to the yellow lines.
"Looks like a scanner malfunction."
"I don't think so."
He frowned. "What would register yellow?"
"I don't know. But I know an expert who might."
"You have something more to go on, besides that?"
There was the hair, and I considered not telling him about it. Forewarned is forearmed. And he didn't give me anything that I couldn't have gotten from the knight-protector. Theoretically. Still, the Beast Lord saved me a lot of work and I doubted the texture of Corwin's hair could be altered so severely that DNA mapping would not match it to the sample.
The Beast Lord looked at the photographs, shifting through them with marked slowness. He looked almost human. I realized that I was biased. Biased against Nataraja and his college of death-devotees, with their clinical indifference to tragedy and murder. For them, a dispatched vampire and a comatose journeyman equaled a loss of an investment, costly and inconvenient, but ultimately not emotionally painful. The man in front of me, on the other hand, had lost friends. They were people he knew well and they had placed themselves in his charge. The Pack leader's ultimate duty was to protect his Pack - and he had failed them. As he looked at the snapshots of their deaths, his face reflected determination and anger, cold crystallized anger, born of guilt and grief. There was an old word for that kind of anger. Wrath.
This I understood. I felt it every time I thought of Greg. I'd have to be very careful from now on, because I was no longer neutral. If the Beast Lord did kill Greg, I would have to work harder to convince myself of his guilt.
To think that I had found a kindred spirit in the Beast Lord. How touching. Greg's death was making me lose my mind. Perhaps I could hack off the murderer's head while the Beast Lord held him down.
"Several hairs were found at the scene," I said. "The medical examiner's office doesn't know what to make of them. They contain fragments of both human and feline genetic sequences. It's not any kind of shapechanger that the ME's analysts have seen. It's weird as hell and no, I don't have the exact printout of the base pairs."
"Does Nataraja know?"
"I think he does," I said. "One of his journeymen gave me Corwin's name. He didn't say they thought he did it, but it's obvious they do."
A small muscle twitched in Beast Lord's cheek, as if his face wanted to twist into a feral snarl. "Figures."
"Are you satisfied?" I asked.
He nodded. "For now. I'll call on you."
"I won't come here again," I said. "Unicorn Lane makes my skin crawl."
His eyes shone again. "Really? I find it relaxing. A scenic location. Moonlight."
"I never was much for scenic locations. Next time I'd like an official invitation."
He put away the snapshots.
"Can I keep those?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No. It's enough that they exist."
I turned to leave and paused before the gap in the ruined wall. "One last thing, Your Majesty. I'd like a name I can put into my report, something shorter than typing out 'The Leader of the Southern Shapechanger Faction.' What should I call you?"
I rolled my eyes.
He shrugged. "It's short."
This was turning out to be a difficult night, and it showed no signs of being over. I climbed out, over the heap of rubble. Jim was gone.
Something touched my shoulder. I whirled and saw the Lord of Beasts looking at me from the gap ten feet away.
"Curran," he said, as if granting me a boon. "You can call me Curran."
He melted into the darkness. I waited for a moment to make sure he was gone. Nobody jumped me from the shadows.
Beyond the Unicorn, I could see the blue feylanterns of the city. Time to take the m-scan to my expert. He rarely minded late night visits.
CHAMPION HEIGHTS WAS AN EASY PLACE TO FIND. It was about the only high-rise still standing. Once it was called Lenox Pointe, but it had undergone so many renovations, and changed hands so many times that its old name was all but forgotten. Nestled among the artfully pruned evergreens, the seventeen-story building of red brick and concrete loomed above the shops and bars of Buckhead like a mystic tower. Pale haze clung to its walls and balconies, blurring the crisp man-made edges, as a web of wards worked tirelessly to convince the very magic which fed it that the high-rise was nothing but a large rock. A distortion, the side effect of the spells' labor, spread unevenly across the structure, and sections of the high-rise looked like portions of a steep granite cliff.
The enchantment must have cost a small fortune, and although it had kept the high-rise standing so far, there was no guarantee it would continue to do so. I thought it would. The entire setup had that bizarre illogic peculiar to complex magic. Understanding it required a mind with a specific twist - just like quantum physics. Whatever the future held for Champion Heights, the owners had already recouped their investment several times over. Many couples would be happy to retire on what they charged for a year's rent.
I parked Karmelion in a lot among the Cadillacs, distinguished Lincolns, and bizarre mechanisms designed to transport their drivers during the magic waves. There was no convenient way to carry an m-scan, so I folded it and slid it between the pages of my Almanac. The night wind came, bringing smells from far away: a touch of wood smoke, the aroma of seared meat. I crossed the lot and made my way up the concrete stairs, flanked by some picturesque shrubbery, to the revolving glass doors. Enchanted glass lost a little of its transparency, but I had no trouble making out the heavy metal grate barring the lobby and the small cage with the guard who leveled a shock crossbow at me.
I reached to my left and pressed the button of the intercom. It hissed.
"Fifteenth floor, one fifty-eight, please."
His voice came back, distorted by the static. "Code, please."
"Forth he fared at the fated moment, sturdy Scyld to the shelter of God." Without the code he would keep me outside while he queried one fifty-eight and even then I wouldn't get in without being frisked and surrendering Slayer. Parting with my saber was not an option.
The metal grate slid aside. "Proceed."
A revolving door admitted me to the lobby, flooded with the light of feylanterns. My steps, loud on the tiled floor of polished red granite, sent little echoes scurrying into the corners. I approached the elevator. The magic was still up, but I'd visited Champion Heights in the middle of a magic fluctuation before. Their elevator worked no matter the circumstances.