The story begins with Inga Svanhart, our valkyrie who is currently in the employ of Monoc Securities and under the tutelage of Susanna Johnstone, finding out about an unusual bounty being offered for animals in Olympic National Park. The information comes from Roxie, who lets her know that the state and government is picking up the tab on the bounty, and that if she wants in, she better jump on the chance, a bounty for bodies of any sort,from her hunting contact, Roxie. She also gets information that there is some weirdness happening there, too. Animal attacks. Die offs. Everyone is being hush hush about it, but the money’s good, right?
Inga informs her new friend and partner in gun-shopping Rika Somner who is a mercenary who is working a short-term contract with Monoc Securities through their Northwestern branch office under the command of Anlaf Ragnar. Rika, who has spent the last month cooped up in a Monoc safehouse, jumps at the opportunity and after a short time they are driving out of Seattle at two in the morning to get to a forest where animals are dying by the hundreds.
The pair make their way across the Sound, and arrive at their destination to find that the area is crawling with men in bunny suits marked with CDC insignias. There are vans and trucks and lots of lights. There is a small hill of furry bodies stacked up like cordwood. As they roll past, a forest ranger stops them and asks them questions. They talk about the animals deaths, and the thinning of the wildlife population in case there is some sort of pandemic. Rika asks if any humans have died.
“Guy got killed by a bighorn,” he says, scratching his head. “Just ran both of ‘em off the cliff. Another guy threw himself off the west face about a month ago. The sheep might have gotten whatever was killing the animals, but the other guy just off himself. We don’t think there’s a human connection.”
The two women thank him and drive deeper into the forest, spending an hour driving through the dark, nearly silent greenery. There’s no sounds outside. Even in the jeep they can smell death outside. They finally pull off onto a smaller trail, taking it closer to the mountain before stopping, deciding the spot was just as good as any.
When they got out, the stink was even worse, and closer. Looking around they found bodies of squirrels and rabbits and other animals. A few birds. All of them were broken, their bodies crunching and twisting unnaturally, but they bore no wounds. The ground showed signs of them hitting the ground with great force. Like they were beating themselves to death. Rocks and other trees showed similar evidence, though there doesn’t seem to be any signs of plant death in the area.
A little unnerved, the pair decided that instead of hunting, they would simply pick up fallen animals, stick them in a bag and turn them in for reward, so that’s exactly what they did, mostly at Rika’s insistence and then decided it would be wisest to get out of there. They make it back to the CDC checkpoint, they are issued their bounty checks of five hundred dollar checks, their pictures are taken and they sign a waiver stating that they won’t try to get the bounty again. Rika starts to sweat. Her face going into a governmental database is not what she signed up for. As they drive away, Rika is playing with her gun. She is seriously and vocally contemplating forcing Inga to turn around and kill everyone in order to preserve her anonymity. She’s afraid of a particular someone finding her location. Inga talks her out of it, and promises her they will go look at a new gun store, and the thought of buying new toys calms the mercenary enough to get them out of immediate danger.
A few hours later, our globe-trotting gentleman thief and Emissary of Set, James is waking up after a night of his usual debauchery to prepare himself for his class that he teaches one day week. He feels like shit because he doesn’t like the house that his father gave him the keys to. He can never get a good night’s sleep. It was massive, expensive, and old. All things James likes, a lot, but he’s also fairly sure it’s haunted, but he’s been too preoccupied to do any real research.
He makes his way to his class, he notices that the local warden apprentice, Morgiana Athena Aphrodite Blackwell, who has been ordered to keep tabs on him, is sitting in the front row as usual. James does not like her. James does, however, like all the other women who attend the class and there are a lot of them. He is, however, distressed to find that his star pupil hasn’t been in class for three weeks, and with his third absence, James has his TA get his contact information so he can find out why.
James calls then student, Allen Lancaster, and finds that he doesn’t answer and that his answering service is full. He sends an e-mail and a mailer-daemon spits back a response that it could not be delivered. Having seen quite a bit of trouble very recently with people digging into his personal affairs, James recognizes that the mailbox is under injunction by the SPD. He does some quick searching with the power of the internet and finds out that Allen is dead, that he jumped off the Space Needle, dragging a woman to her death with him.
Unsure of what to do, he decides to wait until Saturday, the night of his party, to seek answers directly from the police chief who will be in attendance.
Shortly after going home, he received an e-mail from Morgiana, who has decided to look further into the mystery man that has her boss so spooked by having her friend at the bookstore send the good doctor an invitation out on a date. James is less than thrilled by the idea. He realizes that he would have to be bankrupt in order to dress down enough to fit in with the scarred and tattooed warden/college student. He asks his valet Maxwell Carington III to attend as well. Maxwell does as he’s asked, as he almost always does, even dressing for the part.
They agree to the invitation, heading to the place called the “Alibi Bar.” James is throughly upset by the place. Maxwell is appalled by the mass of chewed gum stuck to the wall opposite the entrance. Immediately upon entering the bar, both Maxwell and James note, with a good deal of revulsion, the one-legged woman talking to Morgiana who waves them over to a table. Witty banter is attempted and failed by the warden, who tries to talk to James, but is deflected at almost every question by Maxwell. That suddenly becomes a less serious issue when Maxwell tenses and goes for his gun hidden under his leather jacket.
James, ever attuned to Maxwell’s much more well developed sense of, “Oh, shit!” notices and follows Maxwell’s gaze to the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Selena Childs in the gorgeous flesh. She saunters over to the table like a living wet dream and immediately locks onto James. Maxwell is strung tighter than piano wire, and Morgiana can only try to be catty at the vampire who she has only heard about by reputation. Selena treats Morgiana like a poorly behaved child and invites James out to a place, “more to your standards.” She offers him a ride to her club, the most exclusive in the city, named Dante’s but locally called The Inferno. He demurrs, claiming he isn’t dressed for the occasion, but promises to meet her there after he has changed.
When James leaves the club, Morgiana who spent the latter half of the conversation trying to be invited to go along with, is livid. She doesn’t handle rejection well and proceeds to get plastered.
As soon as they are out of the Alibi Bar and into the James’ car, he begins making calls, hitting up contacts to find information. His normal contacts tell him about her businesses, how she’s rich and runs most of Seattle’s nightlife. Most of it. Not all. And it’s taken her 10 years to do that, but some nuts are just too tough to crack. Then he calls Korva, his wereraven information broker.
“Stay the hell away from her if you want to live. She’s a vampire. Red Court. She’s old and she’s dangerous and she will kill you without a second thought.”
Being the social creature that he is, James realized that he was trapped. If he didn’t show up, it would be an affront Selena, enough reason for violence or at least force. On the other hand, if he did walk into the heart of a club that she controlled, he was throwing himself at the mercy of her power. He asked a logical question, “Is there a bodyguard I can hire? I have Maxwell, but…”
“Are you asking for someone to protect you against Selena Childs?” Korva then informs James that if he just wants a supernatural for a bodyguard, that can be done. Getting one that could or would be willing to stand between him and Selena if it came to bloodshed? No a chance. She gave him that one for free.
Not pleased by the concept, he still prepares to meet Selena, and brings Maxwell with him. They both dress and depart to the most exclusive club in Seattle.
Once they are at Dante’s, they see the club is laid out partially below ground and partially above. They enter at the mid point. The center of the club is hollow, allowing one a view of the circles of hell down below, and above stretches heaven. Heaven also contains a very old Red Court vampire, and all James knowns about vampires he learned from reading Dracula.
He is escorted to the highest floor of heaven, and to a small room that is part lounge and part office. Selena is spilled over a chaise lounge, watching him as he enters. They make small talk. He orders a very expensive wine, and when it arrives, Selena takes a sip before he does. Suspicious of it, he turns his supernatural senses onto the cup, expecting to find something, but there is nothing. Selena hands him the glass, even going to far as to wipe the delicate smudge of her lipstick away with a thumb.
He drinks, they chat, and the reason for the meeting is revealed: she wants a partner. Someone with money who would be willing to expand her interests in the daytime. Selena explains that she does not understand the rush of the daylight people. They don’t stop to enjoy anything. She informs him of some construction she has recently acquired, and is willing to give it him to see what he will do with it, the profits will be split 60/40 in her favor.
The gentleman thief says he will have his lawyers look over the paperwork to see if it is legit, which is entirely hilarious because they are currently trying to keep an international investigation from dragging him back to England to be questioned by interested parties.
The rest of the evening passes without event. James and Maxwell leave without being molested, and the good doctor is practically tingling with the chance to make money, and perhaps, just a little bit, to be in the charming company of Selena, even if she does scare the crap out of him.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city earlier in the day, Inga after having divested herself of the now disinterested Rika calls a friend of hers, a hawk shape shifter named Sebastien who had given her some interesting information concerning Olympic National Park, primarily that he couldn’t really fly over it because of some sort of wind that wasn’t really air pushing him away. He also mentions seeing lights over the mountain, but he assumed it to be the work of either the Summer or Winter Court who are entrenched in a prolonged military action in the area.
He tells her that if she wants to find out more about the Courts, if it’s really them, then she’ll need to talk to someone closer to the source, and he tells her to try Dimtown, the transient black market and supernatural haven that exists in the Seattle Underground.
She agrees and makes her way to the Underground, and approaches one of the Gatekeepers, the guardians of the way to Dimtown, and as she approaches him, ghostly wings spread from her back, a sign of her power and the Gatekeeper ducks his end, hit a brick in the wall, and there are a series of lights deep within the mortar and the entrance is revealed.
Dimtown itself is a bustling market, mostly stalls and tents, with the odd wagon or stranger contraption thrown in for good measure. There aren’t many truly permanent structures, but they are all built into the walls. One such building simply has the word “Bar” above its swinging, saloon style doors. Inga heads there. If there’s anyone that has any information, it will be there.
After initially looking for any particularly morose clients, and studiously ignoring the large feline perched upon a table that is watching her, she crosses to the bar itself, and looks up at the massive blue-skinned brute who seems to be running the place. He speaks in a deep, slow voice. “You’re new here. What’ll ya have?”
She explains that she’s looking for information about the park, about the fae in the area. She just wants to know more. The oni informs her that he can’t help her, but tells her that there are two people who can. One, Korva, is an information broker. The other is Greymalkin, the cat who is staring at her.
She starts to leave, but the oni insists that she have a drink. It’s on the house. Inga is nothing, if not polite. Inga is also a little on the forgetful side. The oni pours her a sakazuki full from a black earthenware jug. She takes the wide bowl in both hands and drinks deeply. It takes like a night full of cherry blossoms. She thanks the oni, and only at that point she remembers that you are never, ever supposed to accept gifts from the fae.
Ooops. But maybe it’s alright this time. He seems nice enough.
Still, she asks, “How do people that deal with Greymalkin come out?”
The oni simply shrugs in response, “They don’t.”
She approaches Greymalkin, and in their conversation, she insults the fairy cat by telling him he would make a nice handbag, and then she pets him. This was her reaction when he refused to give the information. Leaving the cat spitting with fury, his claws tearing up the table, she starts to leave to find out where Korva can be located, but Greymalkin calls after her, “Do you want to know, little bird? I will tell you. There was a battle, and something was unleashed. Something ancient woke up. Something that is not supposed to be in the world.” In her mind, she is shown a cave. She knows where this cave is, how to get there. She also knows someone who knows a lot about ancient things.
Greymalkin refuses any payment for the information, “Soon enough, all the little birds will end up down here.” She isn’t quite sure if she’s referring to the valkyrie, or something else. Worried, she plans on making contact with someone she’s run into in the past, if only she could find his number…