Authors: Dana Cameron
By Dana Cameron
Seven Kinds of Hell
Pack of Strays
“The Serpent’s Tale” (short story)
“The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet” (a short story)
Emma Fielding Mysteries
A Fugitive Truth
More Bitter Than Death
Ashes and Bones
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Dana Cameron
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and 47North are trademarks of
Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Cyanotype Book Architects
Illustrated by Chris McGrath
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014951972
For Mr. G, who dares me.
. I’m Zoe Miller and I’m a werewolf, one of the Fangborn. If you don’t know about the Fangborn already, well . . .” I took a deep breath. “You’re going to very soon. It’s not like you see in the movies—we’re the good guys, and have been fighting evil in secret for as long as . . . well, as long as there’ve been people to protect. Werewolves, like me, we can smell evil, track it down, and eradicate it. Vampires can, too, only they can also heal people and make them forget they ever saw us. And oracles—”
I paused, raising my hand against the bright lights, trying to get the guts to go on. “I’m sorry, talking about this, knowing I-Day is here . . . It goes against everything I’ve been taught. Everything’s going to change. For everyone.”
“Zoe, you know, you don’t have to go over all this. The basics are in the report we present to the president.”
“Yes, ma’am, I do, but I have it in my head a certain way, and if I don’t follow that, I’ll lose track of everything else.” I turned back to the camera, trying to get my thoughts in order, trying to find my place. “Oh, okay, right. The rest of our Family are oracles. They’re lucky, or some of them can tell the future, and some of them are very powerful indeed. We all work to fight pure evil, and we’re never wrong. Like I said, we’ve been working on the side of good for as long as human history; you could say it’s our basic nature. But now, we need some help. The Order of Nicomedia has been persecuting—no, that’s too mild a word. Hunting us down, torturing us, killing us. And it’s getting bad. But that’s not the reason I’m here tonight. It’s worse than that.
“I’d rather be doing archaeology—that’s what I used to do, what I still dream of doing, but for the moment, I’m what stands between us and
. By us, I mean everyone, Normal and Fangborn. By them, I mean . . . I don’t know what. I just call them the Makers because . . . they’re whatever made me, whatever ‘made’ the Fangborn. I don’t know for a fact that they’re dangerous—well, they
, but I don’t know that they mean us any harm, if you see what I mean. I figure, you can bend time and space, you’ve probably got
game, so I think we should be careful. Careful and polite, because I doubt we have the tech to shoot first and do anything but make them angry. We’ve had some trouble communicating, but we . . . I’m still trying to see if we can work out a real dialogue.
“I know, this is all a lot to take in. I mean, the Fangborn? We look pretty scary, we’re strong, and we heal superfast—and that’s good when fighting the bad guys. But we’re on your side. Trust me, I grew up not knowing what I was and it was a big relief to find out I was still Zoe . . . plus. Plus some fangs, plus some fur, plus some claws. It took me a while to understand, but I’m getting there, and I hope you will, too.
“But you may have heard about these other guys, the Fellborn. They look like bad copies of us werewolves when we’re in our bipedal form, and were created by the Order I mentioned, by chemicals and arcane methods on unwilling victims, to eradicate us. I can assure you, we’re not the same. They seem to be built only to destroy, and we were born—not bitten, by the way, not cursed—and seem to exist only to protect. The Fellborn have killed my friends, they’ve wreaked havoc on my Family—”
My throat started to close up, but I took a sip of water and continued.
“We’re working on containing the Fellborn, but for now, please understand, we are not the same thing.
“So what I’m going to ask you to do is three things. First: keep calm. We’re all working on this situation. You’ll know when we do, because that’s one of the agreements I have with the folks I’m working with: transparency. From now on, no more secrets.
“Second: cooperate. We’re all in this together. We don’t know what’s coming next with the Makers, but I’m convinced we need to stick together on this one. All of us, all across the world.
“The third idea, well, that’s more my idea of something to do until we have a solid plan. Hug someone. We could all use a hug right now. I know I could. This kind of contact is unprecedented, and we should learn from our own colonial mistakes if at all possible. We want to make sure we can’t be friends before we know we can’t.”
I took a deep breath and another sip of water. “So here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to remain in contact with the Makers. And to answer a question I’ve heard an awful lot of lately, why am
talking to them and not someone else? I’m doing it because I’m the one who can. I’m representing all of us. I think this will be easier to get through the more cohesive we can be, so if you can find it in your hearts to try and set aside any animosity against your neighbor, the guy who doesn’t look like you, the Fangborn, even the jerk who cuts you in line, that would be good. Thanks.”
I was about to walk away but thought of something and stepped back onto my mark. I looked back into the camera, trying not to squint against the bright lights.
“One last thing: I’m doing the best I can.”
“Quarrel?” I whispered frantically, trying to get my bearings. “You there, my friend? I really could use some help here.”
I was rain-soaked to the bone, in a world of pain, and nowhere that I recognized, with my worst enemy, Jacob Buell, dazed and muttering quietly across the dark alley from me. It looked like Japan, and the train station across the street had a sign that said “Kanazawa.” I should have been in Boston; an instant ago, I had been there with my friends and Family, fighting the Order of Nicomedia, who had apparently started an all-too-public campaign to wipe out us Fangborn once and for all.
I should have been in Boston. Somehow I wasn’t.
There was nothing, just the pelting rain, the cool humidity, and the unfamiliar sounds of traffic in the street just beyond. Not a word from Quarrel. I’d never tried reaching out to him on my own before the first time I traveled to meet him; he’d always contacted me. Since the dragon’s “voice” usually threatened to dissolve my insides with its volume, I didn’t know whether he couldn’t hear me, didn’t want to answer, or couldn’t respond.
None of these were reassuring. I needed a friend. I needed to know where I was. And I needed to know what had happened to my powers—which had become pretty impressive, when I knew what I was doing. The flat stones of the bracelet mystically embedded in my right wrist looked dull and dead, and last I’d checked, the other elements, which had been gradually covering my body like jeweled armor, had vanished entirely.
I’d apparently done something so awful, my powers had been taken away. So terrible, a dragon had gotten frightened and fled from me.
The only thing I could think of was that the unseen Makers, who had been “inspecting” me just before I arrived here—had taken offense when I’d told them to fuck off with the riddles and tell me what they wanted, plain and simple.
Maybe dropping the F-bomb was going too far, but I’d had a pretty grueling day. I at least hoped it was still the same day, and that somehow, I’d find myself back in Boston before too long, fighting the Order and their revolting creations. I might be a werewolf, but my Fangborn Family—including vampires and oracles—were the good guys.
Actually, it had been a tough week, what with the jet-setting, the search for Fangborn artifacts, and their “integration” with me as they took over the surface of my body and enhanced and added to my werewolf powers. The discovery that my dead friend Sean really
dead, and that those artifacts were using my memories of him to communicate with me. The torture at the hands of Jacob Buell, who had accompanied me here, clinging to my leg and the knife that he’d stabbed me with. I didn’t think my transporting him, however accidentally, was going to improve our relationship. Basically since the self-described werewolf hunter was dedicated to eradicating my kind and using them for experiments.
Actually, looking back at it, the last couple of months had sucked pretty bad.
“Quarrel?” I tried again, still keeping my eyes and ears open for Buell. “It’s me, Zoe. Uh, the Hellbender, like you said?”
Still nothing. Calling the dragon with a name or title I didn’t know the meaning of made me feel like a dope. Werewolves can’t move through time and space, I’d thought. Not without a plane.
The stab wound in my right leg itched and hurt like hell, even as it healed far too slowly. I watched Buell closely, but he was worse off than I was; he should have been dead. It was possible that the Order’s chief scientist, Dr. Sebastian Porter, had given him some kind of synthetic Fangborn healing, derived from the Order’s experiments. I didn’t trust Buell as far as I could spit, not until I’d seen his head cut off and I’d buried him myself. Then put a big rock over him. Then nuked that, and jumped all over the little pieces.
Focus, Zoe . . .
I tried going to my mind-lab, the meta-space where I was doing research on the artifacts I’d accumulated. It looked like an archaeology lab, which was where I’d worked: black-topped work surfaces, desks, cabinets, a sink and hood. There were so many artifacts now, it would take me several lifetimes to understand them and what they could do. But no sign of the lab, no matter how hard I tried, and no sound from Sean.
Buell moaned louder this time, crawling along the wall until he could stand upright. I took a certain fatigued satisfaction from his appearance; he was tall, dark, and tough as an old root, could do backwoodsman or “in New York to sell his first start-up” with equal ease, but now . . . he was bent over, limping still after I’d kicked his bad leg out from underneath him. His face was crusted with drying blood, his wavy hair matted. There was a wild madness about him, added to the reek of evil and fear. As he reached the end of the alley, he found a discarded bottle. He leaned over, picked it up with some effort, and threw it at me, a noise of fury and frustration coming from deep within him. I automatically scrunched my eyes closed and raised my hand to protect my head. I was just trying to block it, but Buell vanished, as if he’d never been there.
Oh, shit, oh hell, where is he?
Where did I send him?
Barbed wire sliced through every organ in my body. I passed out before I could scream.
When I woke, I don’t know how much later, Buell was still gone from the alley. And it was raining even harder.
I didn’t want to think I might have sent Buell where he’d do more damage. I had to hope I’d blasted him from the face of the planet.
But for now . . . I had only what was in my jacket pockets, which wasn’t a lot. I’d gotten up this morning prepared to do battle—what time was it now? It was dark, but was it evening or actually morning with bad weather? Was it even still the same day? A quick check showed I had my wallet. I had some cash, some change, unhelpfully in Turkish lira, which I hadn’t had time to convert at the airport, as well as some US currency. A couple of credit cards and a couple of phones—
The phone that Dmitri Parshin had given me worked internationally. But had it survived the Battle of Boston, intact and operable?
The screen had a new crack, but other than that, it seemed to be unharmed. I held my breath as I turned it on.
A sharp crackle. The screen fizzed and blurred a moment, and I thought all might be lost. I held my breath as it booted up.
It took longer than I thought possible, what felt like four or five years, but the logo screen came up and went through all its recognizable gymnastics. A moment later, I saw the home page.
One orange pip, the universal indicator of “Make it count, friend, ’cause you got just one shot.”
I had no charger with me.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to call the US, and rather than waste the power on talking to operators, decided to send a text. But to who?
I thought about it hard and quickly. The last friendly person I’d had communication with on this phone would be who I texted. I carefully pressed as few buttons as possible. Adam Nichols’s name came up quickly.
Adam had been a friend to me and recently had been a good deal more than that. I had the silly notion that if he were here, everything would be all right. No, it wasn’t silly. Adam had come to my rescue several times, was smart enough to figure out his own mind, and strong enough to live up to his ideals. It would have been a comfort to have dragged him here, instead of Buell, and we could have—
Was it my imagination or had the screen flickered again as my mind wandered?
With as little touch screen action as I could manage, I typed a message, short, sweet, and to the point:
SOS in kanazawa? japan? low batt. SOS!!!
I would have added a few more exclamation points, but prudence prevailed over emotion, and I hit “Send.”
The screen stayed, then seemed to send, then went black. I hoped my message made it through.
I’d done what I could. Now I needed shelter, food, and something dry to wear, maybe something that wasn’t torn, bloody, and stained with gunpowder and demolition debris. I needed information.
I pulled my jacket tighter and prepared to find some place to regroup. I flipped my wet hair out of my eyes, which made my head ache anew.
The train station across the street had amazing modern arches, with columns made to look like drums. The posts in the uprights reminded me of a close-up of rope strands; over them was an elegantly curved roof with wafflelike recesses. It would provide shelter, a clock, a map, perhaps even an ATM that would take one of my cards. Vending machines. My “cousin” Danny had always raved about what was sold in Japanese vending machines, had a web page dedicated to it, because he thought it was an awesome idea to get noodles, beer, and bananas out of a machine, and because he is an enormous geek.
God, I missed him.
I tried to put that out of my mind as I navigated my way across the street, trying to pay attention to traffic coming the wrong way at me. The rain was now coming down in sheets and I thought I could smell the salt air of the ocean. It was just enough like home to make me feel even more miserable.
I pulled my hood up, kept my head down, and managed to make it to the shelter of the station. A clock there told me it was nearly ten at night, October 7, the same day it had been when I woke up in Boston. Even when I’m not brain-dead and hurt, I suck at figuring out time changes, but I eventually worked out that if I added a little time for being unconscious, I’d traveled across the planet in almost no time at all.
I hadn’t stopped time, as I’d hoped to, as I’d done before. All I wanted to do was buy myself a few moments to get my friends out of a booby-trapped building and try and fix things so we could win the fight against the Order and the army of Fellborn they’d unleashed on Boston.
The only conclusion I could come to, based on years of reading science fiction at the library, was that I’d moved in space, rather than time.
I felt my knees give a little. A tremor went through me that I knew had nothing to do with trains rumbling beneath the surface of the station.
If I’d done that, what else might I have done? Is that what took my powers away, or was it that, um, discussion that went so poorly with the Makers? I’d learned about them through Quarrel, who was in communication with them. I’d hoped I might learn something about the Fangborn or my powers.
If I don’t have my powers anymore, maybe I don’t have to worry about all this stuff. Maybe I can just be Zoe, and leave all this
behind . . . politics, strife, dragons, crazy-assed powers, visions . . .
As soon as I had the thought, I was ashamed of myself. People I loved were hurt, maybe dead. I owed them everything I could do to get back and help them.
Now what? Dedication and a good attitude were all well and good but wouldn’t really count for much unless I could find a way to implement them.
I still felt woozy, but that made sense. Something major had happened, and I suspected I should feel a lot worse than I did. Ideas kept spinning around in my head about what I should do next, but the thing that kept coming back to me was: I need to get home. Now.
Right, I’d go to the nearest airport, get a ticket, maybe find a phone charger while I was waiting—
How are you going to do that with no passport, Zoe?
My heart sank as I realized I didn’t have either the passport with my real name, or the fake one Adam Nichols had made up for me before we left for Denmark. I had been fighting the science head of the Order, Dr. Porter; I’d expected to be back at the Fangborn safe house, or dead, by the end of the day. I didn’t expect to find myself on the other side of the planet, instantaneously. And now that I knew it was possible, well, this was going to have to be an object lesson. My brand new motto of “Never go anywhere without being prepared for everything” wouldn’t help me at the moment.
I couldn’t just go to the airport and hope they’d find a way to get me home. I couldn’t just go to an embassy and hope no one would ask how I got into Japan without any documentation—tickets, passport, or visa or whatever. The best I could do was try to get some money, get my phone charged, and call for help. Hope no one took too much interest in me in the meantime.
And find something to eat. By all that was holy, I was
as only a shapeshifter can be. While it hadn’t been more than a few hours, as far as I knew, since my last meal, I felt utterly drained, depleted, stomach grumbling and gnawing.
That actually took me away from the edge of a teary meltdown. Where there’s an appetite, there can be optimism.
I spied an ATM and flipped my hood back, wiping the rain from my face. I prayed I could make sense of the screens and make money appear, not necessarily in that order. I was fine with incomprehension as long as it got me cash.
I did some more praying during the long pause while my card was considered for its worthiness. Of course, I didn’t know whether one hundred yen was a lot or a little money, but I figured I should get as much as I could. After a lifetime, I heard the reassuring clack-clack-clack that sounded like “three cherries, and here’s your money!”