User:Eirik/Silently in the Night
Silently in the Night
It was just the kind of house that he looked for, large, secluded and with a cat door in the back. He wouldn’t have to waste a moment with a basement window or back door. Vince could be in and out in just a few minutes, long before the homeowners knew he was there.
Not that they would realize exactly what was happening even if they saw him. People think of raccoons as thieves, but generally not ones that steal cash.
Carefully climbing down the tree, Vince allowed himself a toothy smile. It was a safe bet that his father had no idea what he was doing with the gift his side of the family had left him. As a child, he’d been filled with high-minded stories of the place that lycanthropes held in the world, always in the shadows, always protectors.
He was a teenager before he’d realized what that role in life would mean: a life like his father had led: Policing mages, duty and honor and routine. It didn’t help that Vince was stuck being a lycanthropic raccoon. His father was a hawk, his grandfather a wolf. What good would a form of a pint sized fuzz ball do?
Padding across the concrete patio, he kept an eye out for the cat or dog that used this door. He wasn't afraid of either, but preferred to keep the ruckus to a minimum. He pushed back the small rubber cat door and slipped into the living room, pausing as he did so. The room was dark and quiet; only the faint sounds of a refrigerator fan in the next room broke the quiet. Vince listened intently for the soft sounds of anyone sleeping in the room, a guest or children’s sleep over. Satisfied that there was nothing, he strolled into the kitchen and found his first target hanging over the back of a chair.
His nimble fingers opened the purse without a hitch and he extracted the wallet. By touch alone he removed all of the currency, five bills, folded them and stuck them in his mouth. Closing the purse back up, he strained his eyes to see a wallet sitting on a counter by the back door. Expertly, he climbed the cabinet and swung himself atop it. With the same expert moves, he rifled through the wallet and yanked out anything that felt like a greenback. In moments, six more bills were safely tucked into his mouth. He spotted a glint out of the corner of his eye and noted ring sitting near the wallet. It was gold with some king of precious stone in it, if real it was probably worth at least several hundred dollars. The raccoon picked it up and played with it a moment between his fingers.
Vince never felt an ounce of temptation as he set it back down. He wasn't beholden to the instincts of this animal for shiny objects. A ring could be traced back to him when he fenced it. So could the small stack of credit cards in the wallet. Cash was untraceable.
He was back out the cat door seconds later. He carried no watch, but knew that he’d been in the house less than three minutes. He never heard a soul stir, never was confronted by a homeowner. It was possible that they’d never even know they’d been robbed.
Sitting safely back on the fence, he pulled the bills from his mouth and examined them. The eleven bills totaled only about $200, but it wasn’t bad for a few minutes work, and this was only the first house of the night.
He kept up the pattern through the night, slipping into a house by pet doors or unlatched windows and making off with any cash he could find. In just a couple of hours, he’d made off with a couple of thousand dollars, a better than average night.
Stashing the last take under a rock near his car, he actually pondered stopping for the night. There would be plenty of time to hit the remaining houses on this street tomorrow. But that twinge of greed got to him. A couple more houses, and he’d head home.
The next two houses were busts, netting only a handful of singles from each.
He approached the next house more quietly than the others. There were still some lights on in a couple of rooms, but the place looked quiet. It was probably someone that left lights on at night in case of a bathroom run, but he wanted to be sure. He crept closer, first skimming the basement windows looking for an open one before he realized that the sliding glass door was wide open.
Vince ducked into the bushes and waited. There was no movement. Indeed, the room beyond the door was dark. Did the homeowner accidentally leave it open before turning in? Worse, was there a large dog they were letting out? Sniffing, he didn't think so. Curiosity got the better of him, and Vince crept closer, his ears trained on the open door for the slightest sound.
It was about two feet from the door that he first heard it, a low voice speaking in short tones. Vince had to strain his furry ears to hear the words, and even when he heard them, he couldn’t believe it. They were clearly being spoken in an ancient Arabic language, one that had been lost to scholars since the birth of Christ.
Lost to all but the mages.
His father had taught him much of it as a part of his childhood training. As a lycanthrope, he would never be able to become a mage himself. As much as he hated to admit it, he was a creature of myth, and magic tended to behave strangely around them. He had been taught to recognize certain spells and cantrips, however. This mage, a young woman from the tone and tenor of the voice, was casting a spell to attract a familiar.
Reaching up to the windowsill, Vince pulled himself off the ground, leaving his hind legs and tail dangling. With a small effort, he poked his nose over the edge of the window. The room was dark, lit only by a couple of small candles. There was a drawing on the floor, not a pentagram like you’d find in a Hollywood film but rather a flowing script, the iconic representation of the spell itself. The young woman was dressed heavily in heavy white and red robes that managed almost to glow in the dim light. She never noticed her observer, but kept intoning the spell, calling herself a familiar.
Vince stifled a laugh. She wasn’t going to get one. He could hear the level of nervousness in her voice; it was throwing off her spell casting. The ancient tongue was hard enough to speak without the stuttering and stammering. The incantation, any incantation, had to be perfect the first time. Otherwise, if you were lucky, it didn’t work.
If you were unlucky, you’d end up a smoking hole in the floor of your living room.
Vince was about to take off running before he could be a witness to that when he spied something that made him stop. The reason that the robe seemed to be glowing, he realized, was the spell book. It was small, not much larger than a steno pad, covered in some kind of animal skin. It gave off a faint glow all of its own. Inside the devious mind of the raccoon, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Real spell books were rare, almost impossibly so. There were enough unsavory or desperate mages out there that would pay enough for one to be worth the risk. If he was careful and bided his time correctly, he could make hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He listened to where she was at in the spell, and recognized that it was near the end. When this was cast correctly, she would literally call an animal from the wild. It could be almost anything, whatever the magic touched. Carefully, he dropped to the ground and leapt onto the patio, then turned and jogged into the living room. Vince could barely make out the form of the woman underneath her heavy white and red robes. She was startled but not surprised at the onrushing animal, but hid that quickly as Vince skidded to a stop and raised himself on his hind legs. Managing a toothy raccoon grin, which probably looked more like a snarl, he tilted himself over in a bow and intoned as deeply as he could, “I live to serve you, mistress.”
She stared down at the raccoon for a long time. Vince stood his ground, unmoving. He was playing this totally by ear. If he could convince this young woman that he was her new familiar long enough, he could make off with the book. It wasn’t that large, with some effort he could carry it out in his jaws.
The young woman frowned, “You’re my new familiar,” she said, though it sounded almost like a question. “What is your name, raccoon?”
“I have no name unless one pleases you, mistress,” he said quickly with another smile.
She seemed thoughtful, then reached out to pick him up. Vince hated being handled as a raccoon, it made him feel too much like an animal, but he didn’t flinch. In fact, he bounded into her arms. “How may I serve you, mistress?” he asked.
Saying not a word, she stood and carried him through the house. Vince didn’t take his eyes off her face, not even to case out the house. He needed to convince her utterly. It was only now that he allowed himself to realize that he may have acted too hastily, but it was too late for second thoughts.
She carried him into a dark room and walked to the center of it. Vince didn’t look away once, showing total trust in the mage. “If you are my familiar,” she asked evenly, “Then what is my name?”
“Mistress?” he asked.
She didn’t respond, but simply dumped him to the floor. Vince yelped as he slammed into a thin steel grate. Before he could even move, he heard a light steel door slam. The lights flipped on, and Vince found that he was in a cage.
“A word of advice,” she said as she slipped off her hood, “the next time that you’re going to pretend to be a familiar, remember that they don’t talk right away, and often for weeks or months.”
He winced, “Thanks for the advice,” he said dryly. He sighed, not much point in trying the masquerade anymore. “The names Vince.”
“Brandy,” she responded curtly. “So, what bring a little raccoon like you into my life? Since you're obviously a lycanthrope, I doubt that you were actually called by my little spell.”
“I was just strolling around,” Vince lied, “and heard your spell casting. You did leave the window open, after all.” He stretched out a bit, “I could tell that you weren’t going to get one, so I wanted to make you feel better.”
Brandy looked at him askance, “Right. Did the council send you?” She mused only a moment on that before she answered it herself, "No, they'd have at least told you to keep your trap shut." She paced back and forth, running her fingers through her dark hair. “You’re right about the spell, I definitely was too nervous. But you weren’t out for a stroll, and we both know it.”
Vince tried to put a look of indignation over his face, as hard as that was with a muzzle. “Look, I’m sorry for what I did, but you can’t keep me locked up here forever.” He huffed, “I’m just going to turn back into a human, then we can talk about this.”
She shook her head then pulled a small caliber pistol from under the robes. “I thought that this might come in handy if I called something I couldn't control," she said evenly. "You stay in that form. If you even start to change, I’ll put a bullet in your head.”
His blood ran cold. The tone of his voice was steely, “You need more than that to kill me, and besides you’ll have a body on your hands after that, you know.”
Brandy scoffed, “Yeah, a raccoon body. You won’t turn back into a human if you die in that form, and we both know it.” She clicked the safety off the pistol, “Don’t patronize me with Hollywood crap, you don't need silver to kill a were. Lead will do just fine. What were you doing?”
“I told you…”
“Lie to me again, and I’ll use some other means to find out,” she said quietly.
“Other means?” he mumbled. He was more scared of that idea than a bullet. The worst that she could do with a bullet was kill him, maybe be sadistic and mount his body on her mantel. But an inexperienced mage with a truth spell could scramble his mind beyond repair. He sighed, “I was doing a little petty theft,” he admitted.
“And you wanted to do the same here?” she asked.
He almost nodded, then decided his best bet was to come clean, “I saw your spell book, and decided to try and make a grab for it.” He looked as pitiful as he could as he said it. “I am sorry, but I’m a natural thief. It just seemed too good an score to pass up.”
Pulling up a chair, she thought on what the raccoon had said, “I guess I can accept that. Sounds true enough,” she admitted.
“So I can go?” asked Vince hopefully.
Brandy laughed so hard that Vince felt really scared for the first time. He had to get out of here, any way he could find. “You’re not going anywhere, not until I’m sure that this won’t happen again.”
Vince nodded vigorously, “Believe me, it won’t!” he said quickly. “I swear to it.”
“What good,” she asked icily, “is the word of a thief?” She shook her head, “Lycanthropes are usually the protectors. You’ve obviously turned your back on that.”
Thinking quickly, Vince came up with a new plan. “How about if I give you something to free me?” he asked. “I’ve got several thousand dollars stashed near here from tonight. It’s yours.”
Brandy twisted her mouth in thought, “How much?” she asked.
Vince allowed himself a slight smile now. The young mage did have a price; he just had to find out what it was. “The exact amount I’m not sure, but it’s at least a couple thousand,” he said smoothly. When she didn’t instantly respond, he added, “And there is more where that came from.” His mind was trying to stay ahead of his mouth at this point. If he could just get her to let him go, he’d be into the brush so fast that it would make her head spin. Vince already decided that he’d give her the take from tonight, then he’d vanish into the woods for a while.
The young woman stood up and started pacing again. “I could definitely use the money, it’s not cheap to be a mage in training after all.” She gestured vaguely around her, "My parents were both mages, but they died years ago thanks to the council. Left me with pretty much nothing but their spell books and debts."
"Look, I can take care of that for you," he said pleadingly.
"If I could just get my hands on some of the elements I need, I wouldn't have to worry about money…" she trailed off, not giving any indication she was listening to Vince. He stayed quiet while she was lost in thought. Finally, after a long pause, she smiled and looked at her trapped raccoon, "How many lycanthropes are there within 100 miles of here? One hundred? Two?"
Vince considered a moment, not sure what she was getting at, "I think closer to five, but that might go a bit farther than 100 miles."
She nodded, "How many of them are raccoons?"
He understood what she was getting at all too quickly, "Maybe ten or twenty."
"So if I report a raccoon who attempted to steal my spell book, how long before your kind rips you to shreds for violating your traditions?"
He sighed. She had him and they both knew it. It wasn't going to be a magical bond, but for now, he might as well have become her familiar.
Houses were never like this.
Vince would have let fly a series of curses if he dared as he nursed his nose, but he'd already made enough noise to wake the dead.
Which was appropriate, since Brandy had him stealing from the morgue this time.
It wasn't the first heist he'd pulled for her. Magical artifacts could almost literally be anything. Some were created by great mages, others were created during acts of incredible heroism or barbarism. Vince had already stolen two items just like that, an arrowhead from a private collection said to have slain a medusa in England during Roman rule, and a silver knife that was believed to have been used to sever a living unicorn horn.
That item had left a deeply bitter taste in his mouth.
Most of what she needed was relatively easy since security systems were rarely designed to catch criminals smaller than most dogs. It wasn't uncommon for priceless magical artifacts to be in old museum collections, hiding in plain sight as interesting artifacts from the past. As long as the mages knew where they were, they were often considered safe.
Vince didn't know exactly what she was going to do with them, but now she wanted body parts.
Since morgues weren't exactly known for easy access, and he wanted to avoid security cameras, he'd decided to slip in through the ventilation system. Contrary to every heist movie ever made, the shafts were not large enough the current big-ticket stars to slip though. They were, however, almost tailor made for a raccoon.
For a raccoon, at least, that was now covered in layers of foul smelling dust after sliding down an unexpected drop in the shaft. The sound of clanging metal had been deafening to him, but the building didn't stir. It was night, so there was only a skeleton crew. If they heard it at all, no one reacted.
Chuffing to get the dust out of his nose, Vince reoriented himself. He'd come in through the roof and entered some kind of administration level. He needed to get down to where the bodies were. His little slide had probably put him close. Padding as quietly as possible, he peered through a nearby vent and only spotted more offices. It took five more rooms before he hit the jackpot: The morgue itself.
Brandy had been very specific, and left no room for interpretation. She needed certain samples from a body, and that body had to be the victim of a murder. Since he wasn't interested in committing murder, he relied on the fact that it was a big city and there were always murder victims at the county morgue. He'd come with nothing, no tools or sack to carry out his loot. He'd gambled on finding what he needed here. Besides, it was less suspicious to see a normal raccoon wandering around than one carrying a scalpel and plastic bag.
From his vantage point, he was sure that the room contained all that he needed, and better he didn't see any cameras or motion detectors. The room was deep inside the facility, so it had probably been ignored. Slipping out of the vent, he lowered himself to the top of a shelf then down to the floor. He started checking the names on the cards in front of the various refrigerators against the names he'd memorized from the news over the last few days. He finally found one that he recognized, a gang member killed during a robbery the night before. Even better, he was in the floor level cooler.
Quickly, he gathered what he needed from the room, then yanked open the cooler door with all of his body weight and climbed in. He pulled the door behind him almost closed, not enough to latch but enough so a casual passer-by wouldn't notice. Then he turned to the body.
Vince tried as hard as he could not to think about what he was doing. He started with the easy stuff, hair and fingernails. After that, it got hard. He needed a part of the ear, which he cut off while trying to ignore the damp, sticky substance he was standing in. With effort, he managed to use a scalpel to slice though a joint on the ring finger, stashing it in a stolen evidence bag. He was hard at work on the last item, part of the tongue, when he heard the door to the morgue open and shut.
He stopped and listened. Whoever it was didn't say a word and was probably alone. If they stayed in the room, it was only a matter of time before they discovered the open cooler door. Working faster now, he sliced the last of the tongue out, bagged in then put all of the bags into one. He made the plastic as tightly bunched as possible and held it in his mouth, waiting.
Vince waited as patiently as he could, feeling his rising terror at being locked in here with the now mutilated corpse. Unlike most people, he knew zombies were real, and being mutilated by a lycanthrope was just the sort of thing to bring one to life. As the seconds ticked away, he found himself listening more and more for movement from the body than from the technician.
Finally, Vince heard the technician make his way toward the door. He allowed himself to relax a little when he heard the man make a small sound and stop, then he heard the footsteps walking toward the cooler.
Vince knew he wasn't getting another chance. He bunched up his legs as much as he could and bit down harder on the bags in his mouth. The moment the door started to open, he sprang out as fast as he could.
He heard a startled scream from the technician, but Vince didn't pause to look back. He went straight up the shelf and into the vent. He heard a muffled scream behind him, probably for security, as he hurtled down the length of the vent. With all possible speed, he crawled up the steep incline he'd fallen down before, raced down the hall, and popped out onto the roof. Without a pause, he was over into a nearby tree and down to the ground. Darting through the bushes, he made his way into a drainage ditch and followed it for a quarter mile before popping out next to his car. It was only then that he stopped and tried to calm himself down.
He tried to will himself human, and found that he was so worked up he couldn't even do that for the moment. He had to stop and breath slowly and deliberately before he could feel the control return.
Shifted back to human, the sting of the smell finally lifted, but he still smelled of death. He slipped on some clothes and hopped in his car, almost speeding to the designated drop point. After he ditched the parts, he went home for a long, hot shower.
The doorbell rang again and again while Vince tried to ignore it. He'd spent over an hour scrubbing his skin almost raw in the shower when he'd gotten home, then tried to sleep. It wasn't easy knowing what he'd just done.
After the fifth bell, he realized that it was likely not someone who was going to go away. He wasn't too afraid that it would be Brandy, she'd be busily preserving the parts he got last night. What he was afraid of was…
"Hi, dad. What's going on?"
His father, Tyler Snowfield, stood in the doorway, dressed sharply in his sheriffs' uniform. Like many, if not most, lycanthropes he had gravitated toward law enforcement. Their were surprisingly high numbers of them who served as police, federal officers and the military. Given their task of protecting mages, and protecting society from them, it was a natural fit that allowed them to do that job as well as cover up any evidence of magical happenings that may crop up.
"Vince, sorry to wake you, but it is almost noon," he said with sarcasm dripping from his mouth.
"Dad, I was out late last night. I'm nocturnal," he snapped.
He scoffed, "Right, and I had a mouse for breakfast because I'm a hawk. I'm just wondering why you're not at work."
Vince sighed, it was an old argument, "I've got the day off," he lied. He'd been fired weeks before. "I'm working tomorrow."
Surprisingly, Tyler let the matter drop. "Where were you last night, Vince?"
"Out," he said quickly.
"Out," repeated his father flatly. "Son, over the next few days, my partners and I are going to be talking to every single lycanthrope in the area that can shift into something about the size of a breadbox or smaller. Ferrets, large rodents," he looked sharply at his son, "Raccoons."
"Did someone knock over trash cans?" he asked. Vince felt the panic rising in the back of his mind, but this dance with his father was old and was able to maintain the deception well, "What happened?"
"A morgue worker is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. Seems an animal attacked him at work in the middle of the night," he paused to let that sink in, but Vince managed no to betray anything on his face, "Thankfully, I was the one sent in to investigate this morning. I took a picture of this before anyone else got there," he said tossing a small digital camera into Vince's lap. He picked it up and looked at the screen. It showed the clear, unmistakable footprint of a raccoon in blood at the base of the shelf. This time he didn't have a quick reply.
"I obliterated that one with my foot. The rest were too smudged to get a species on, and of course this could still be a wild animal. I'd be able to cover this up as some prank if not for the worker in the hospital, and the list of parts actually cut from the body," Tyler dropped the façade. "Vince, what's going on?"
"Nothing," he said flatly, "I wasn't there. I was in the park."
"If you did this, come in with me and explain what's going on! They'll cut you a break…"
Vince cut him off, "Cut me a break. Right. If you'd done something like this, they'd cut you a break. Me? I'd be lucky to be trapped as a raccoon for the rest of my life. Most likely, they'd kill me, and you know it!"
"It's not like that anymore, Vince. The council is made up of old men, but they're reasonable men."
Vince felt like his body was burning, "I didn't do anything, dad."
"It's more than the body," continued Tyler. "The inner core wasn't violated by the perpetrator, so it won't go zombie. And the worker is going to recover. But there have been other thefts. Half a dozen known artifacts have vanished, stuff protected against normal theft as well as mage theft. But those cantrips don't work well on our kind." He paused again, "A member of the council came to me today. He was concerned about that gathering of artifacts into one place. Someone, he's afraid, is trying to garner a lot of power very fast."
"Dad, for the last time…" he started.
"Damn it, Vince, I know about the money!" he shouted. Tyler Snowfield never lost control, but he was close now. "I've known about your petty theft for months, so do some other in the department. They haven't arrested you already because of their friendship with me. The only reason they don't suspect you in this is that you've always been careful, you've never once shown yourself to be reckless. What the hell is going on?"
It took all of his self-control not to look at his father, "I didn't do this, dad. Please, go."
Tyler let out a deep breath, then walked to the door. "Vince, if you come to me before the others do, then I can help you. If the mage council has to track you down…" He turned away, clearly near tears, "For the first time, I'm glad that your mother isn't alive." He walked out and slammed the door behind him.
He stared at the door for a long time before he broke down and sobbed on the floor.
He waited until dark, thankful that it was a new moon tonight. He figured his father would have followed him from the air during the day. That could have left some of his partners, of course. He recalled at least one owl, and a number of land animals, but for now he suspected his father was giving him space to come in.
Vince planned on it, but he needed first to see Brandy. He wasn't even sure why. At this point, she was just as guilty as he was, but still he needed to see her first. He slipped out of his apartment and into the carport, watching for eyes in the night.
He sat behind the wheel of his car and stared at his hands. As a raccoon, he still had them, after a fashion. Maybe if he threw himself on their mercy they'd at least let him keep his mind.
He drove to a park over a mile from Brandy's' home and parked, then slipped out and into the bushes. He hadn't seen any pursuit, but he didn't want to risk it. Quickly slipping into his four-legged form, he darted though the bushes, across fences, to the familiar house down the street.
She was waiting for him when he arrived. The rear sliding glass door was open again, and she sat on a chair drinking a cup of tea. "What gave me away?" he asked.
She smiled thinly, "I knew you were coming. I summoned you." Vince was shocked to silence. Summoning spells were never done on lycanthropes. They weren't supposed to work. "I've been practicing. The elements that you've gathered together actually made it all possible. You see, since our first encounter, I've been doing some research, preparing. The council won't know what hit them. I just need a couple more things before I'm ready. Come with me."
Every fiber of his being wanted to run out of their, straight to his father. As much as he struggled against the light command, his body only moved forward. He followed her into the dark room they had first met in, and then commanded him into a spell circle. "What are you doing?"
She turned her back as she prepared her spell, "I still need a familiar. A mage gets very few chances to link up with one in life, and the stronger the animal the better the spell caster." Vince slowly looked around the room, recognizing small items he'd obtained for her and felt his heart sink. "You helped me out tremendously. By getting these items to focus my spell casting, it would up the power immensely. Enough, I think, that it'll get me a powerful familiar indeed."
Vince was shocked, "Brandy, you can't do this!" he cried, "Lycanthropes can't be familiars! We're creatures of myth, the spell will circle back on you and kill you! With this many artifacts in the room, you'll take out half the city."
She laughed at him then slipped out a bright, silver blade. "You don't understand, Vince. I don't want you as a familiar, I need you as an artifact."
Vince let out a strangled cry as he tried to escape, but the last thing he felt was the silver blade slice through his neck.
Tyler knew it was bad the moment that he pulled up the house. It was surrounded by police cars, each one a person that he knew from his other duties. A black sedan sat at the end of the driveway, and he recognized an FBI agent who doubled as a mountain lion. Not a single person here was non-magical.
He jumped out of his cruiser and headed over to his superior, "What's going on?"
"Brandy Macintyre, sole survivor of her clan following a laboratory accident several years ago, showed up at a council meeting and tried to kill the Prime Minister and the Minister of Artifacts. She didn't succeed, but she had some powerful things with her."
A few other officers gathered around, "She had three of the missing artifacts from three months back, including the Blade of Shannon." He held up a picture, "She also had several glass vials of spelled blood. The council still isn't' sure what to make of them, but they were powerful and likely intended as a weapon. We need to go in and find what we can. Watch for traps. The windows and doors are clear."
Tyler had only a moment to reflect on what he'd heard. If this Macintyre had the missing artifacts, then maybe Vince was innocent after all. If he was innocent, why hadn't anyone been able to find him for three months?
Moments later, they rushed the house, breaking down the door and flooding in. Tyler went left, into the kitchen. From the other direction, he heard a startled cry, "Is that who I… Oh God it is!"
He turned to follow the sound, quickly finding himself in the living room. There was a strangely cold feeling in the room that caused the hair on his neck to stand up. The officers looked stunned at what they saw, and it wasn't until he followed their gaze that he realized why.
Sitting in the middle of the mantel, lit by a bright floodlight, was his son, trapped forever in raccoon form, dusty glass eyes starting straight ahead into eternity.