"He won't listen to me. He thinks I'm a glory hound."
Jim shrugged. We've worked together long enough to know that neither of us was interested in fame.
"You aggravate the hell out of him."
"There is more." I led him to the porch. A gathering of human bones lay arranged on canvas, spanning the entire porch.
"You rob a graveyard?"
"I wondered how he came so close to the house without setting my wards off, so I went looking and found these. He arranged them in a circle around the property in the tree line. It's a form of a ward. Very old."
"Neolithic. Primitive hunters would lay out the bones of their prey around their settlements. The idea is to form a chain of Rock, Bone, and Wood. You use Rock and Wood to obtain the Bone, binding all three, so if you return the Bone to the Rock and Wood after you're done with it, it will afford you protection. He created himself a safe passage so he could wander around my yard whenever he wanted. It's an easy spell to break. All you have to do is to remove the bones, and that's why nobody uses it anymore. Unfortunately, you can't detect it unless you stumble over it."
I picked up a skull and handed it to him. Jim took it and recoiled, hissing. His eyes flooded with green.
Folklore correctly stated that in death a shapechanger's body would revert to the form it had at birth, be it human or animal, but Lyc-V did some permanent things to bone structure, which remained in life or in death. Several long glossy strips of Lyc-V-created bone marked the skull in telltale places above the jaw and along the cheekbones.
"A wererat," Jim said, handing me the skull as if it was hot.
"Guess how many I found?"
"And at least three vampires. The skeletons are not complete. Some bones are missing, but there are eight pelvises and nine skulls, three of which have bloodsucker fangs."
Jim glared at the bones. "You have to put the vamps separate."
"Put the bloodsucker bones separate," he repeated. He was agitated and low snarls crept into his voice.
"Why don't you get off your ass and help me?"
"I'm not touching them."
I sighed. "Jim, I'm not a criminalist. Without a bloody loup and an m-scanner, I don't know which bones are vamp. You, on the other hand, can tell by the scent."
He glared at me, his eyes a little wild. "You look through it and if you have trouble, you let me know."
He marched into the yard. I sighed and went about sorting the bones.
I SAT ON THE PORCH BETWEEN TWO PILES OF bones, watching the werejaguar in my yard make small circles around the stick supporting the rotting head of a young woman. I had failed her. I had looked at the evidence. I had drawn the wrong conclusions. But I was still here, sitting on my porch, while she had paid for my stupidity. And my arrogance.
Jim kept walking, placing each foot softly in front of the other, stalking an invisible prey around a circle. Yellow flooded his eyes and his upper lip quivered once in a while, showing his fangs. Unless the cat was yawning in your face, you wouldn't see his fangs until he was ready to sink them into you. Jim was ready to sink them into someone. He would have to wait in line.
"Stop it. You're wearing a hole in my yard."
Jim stopped pacing to glare at me.
A dark van pulled into the driveway. It was magic and water powered like Karmelion and it made enough noise to match my horror of a truck. Four stone-faced shapechangers stepped out and approached me, carrying several canvas bags. I got up and stood aside, giving them access to the bones. They began packing the fractured skeletons of their dead into the bags, sorting as they went along, handling the bones with the same care a china dealer employs when touching his best merchandize.
Doolittle stepped out of the van, wearing denim overalls and carrying a portable m-scanner. He paused to murmur a few words to Jim and proceeded to the head.
Jim approached the porch. "Curran wants you in the city."
I shook my head. "I can't go. After you're done, I'll have to call the cops. You got your bones back. The Ying family deserves to receive their daughter's."
"What the fuck do I tell Curran?"
Doolittle plucked the note from the nail, flipped it over. "Looks like he wrote on the back of some sort of magazine page."
I took the note from his fingers. The page was from Volshebstva e Kolduni, the "Spells and Warlocks" rag-sheet whose credibility Saiman had so easily dismissed.
"Kate?" Jim asked.
I wanted to cry. How could I have been so stupid? I brought the Almanac out to them and handed the upir article Bono had given me to Doolittle. He read a few words. "It says here this creature feeds on dead human flesh. It will mate with animals and produce half-breed sons, neither animal nor human. Where did you get this?"
"One of Ghastek's journeymen gave it to me."
"Ghastek knew," Jim snarled. "He knew the whole time. I'll rip his heart out!"
" 'Driven by the need to produce an heir, the upir will mate with women of power, for only a woman of power can carry a true upir to term...'" Doolittle looked at me. "You cannot stay here, Kate. You must come to the keep." I opened my mouth but he silenced me with a wave of his hand. "There are seven of us and one of you. We'll carry you if we have to."
THE PACK COUNCIL SAT IN PADDED CHAIRS around a table. In the middle of the table sat the head of Jennifer Ying brought in as evidence by Doolittle and placed under a glass hood laced with preserving spells. She bore silent witness to all that was said. Next to her a speaker phone relayed Saiman's cool voice.
"All upiri are male. The history of their breed is quite old: it's likely they were an integral part of the fertility cults in early agrarian societies of the Bronze Age. During the rites young women, embodying the Goddess, were brought to the upir so he could play out his role of her son-consort by copulating with them. Of course, often the copulation resulted in the woman's death, in which case, the upir would complete the rite full circle, devouring her body.
"The arrival of the Iron Age with its patriarchal gods-heroes signaled the end of the Goddess cult and the upiri gradually migrated to the remote regions, finding the vast Russian forests particularly suitable. Although they are driven by the urge to procreate, the upiri are interested only in producing a powerful male, another upir. All female children are born dead. Once a son is produced, the upir feeds the mother to the child and casts him out, driving him out of his territory. It must be noted that only a woman of significant magic power is able to sustain enough magic to produce a baby upir."