Hex and the City

Episode 3: Mirrors, Snakes, and Thorazine

As Alix’s car roared away from the crippled Nina Mori and her band-mates, Christmas wrenched his shoulder joint back into place. Slán Ghrian, the Winter thane’s weapon, whispered audibly in the tongue of Faerie as he did so.

Frost spread on the interior glass, and vapor chased Alix’s words as she asked Christmas what came next.

He gave her an address, and to everyone’s surprise, it was one with which she was familiar. They made their way in haste to the home of Miles Morrison, whose stock-in-trade was obeah and vodoun –-ritual magic in the Caribbean tradition. Black luck, ill fortune was his gift.

They soon arrived in Logan Square, the car barely parked before Christmas was stalking up the stairs to Morrison’s second-floor apartment. The ragged man did not so much knock at the door as beat on it like he meant it harm.

When Christmas finally paused, breathing pale and furious clouds, the door opened a crack. Behind it, a wary eye scanned the group of them.

Alix stepped smoothly in front of the Winter thane. “Miles. I’m sorry. My friend, here …”

The hidden figure let the door open slightly. He raised his chin to Alix in recognition, then turned to Christmas. “Something wrong?”

“Some_one_’s wrong. Stole my goddamn hair. Threw fire at me,” ranted Christmas. “And I want some payback.” He let the glamour on his weapon fall, and Miles stepped back in alarm as the sad, broomstick-and-duct-tape American flag that the ragged man carried changed its form. It became a single heavy bone that reached from his feet to his collar, bleached snow-white and polished, shod in silvery metal and fitted at one end with an angular, machete-like blade. The ragged man shook its blunt end. “I got her blood right here. Fresh.”

Miles turned toward Alix, eyebrows raised to their limit.

“Christmas,” said Alix Ison-Raith, her tone friendly but firm. “The fight’s over, for now. Take a breath.” She turned to Morrison and smiled. “Maybe we can move this out of the hallway?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Miles looked askance at the ragged man, and the weapon he bore. He could swear the thing whispered, just at the edge of his hearing. “Think you can keep it together, pal?”

Christmas cast his eyes down, sheepish. He nodded.

Slowly their host stepped back and widened the door for them to pass. Tilda punched him softly on the arm as she passed. “Thanks, champ,” she said with a wink. “You’re the tops!”

With a few subtle gestures, Alix seated the group around her, making introductions as she did so. “So, Miles,” she began. “You and Christmas know each other?”

The two men exchanged a glance. “Yeah, we… worked together a couple times.” Miles looked sideways at the ragged man. “That was before he got the, uhhh—what the hell is that thing, anyway? And why is it in my house? You’re lucky you brought Ms. Ison with you, or I’d’ve left you out in the hall.”

A soft whisper passed among them, and Christmas’s spine straightened. “I serve the Lady of Winter now, and bear Slán Ghrian in her name,” he said, brandishing the weapon.

Morrison’s brow furrowed. “_Slán Ghrian_,” he repeated. “That’s … what? ‘Goodbye, Sunshine’?”

Tilda snorted. “Catchy. Did it used to belong to Paul McCartney?”

The skin over Christmas’s knuckles, very fair under any circumstances, went a shade whiter.

“Show some respect. This weapon was old when Rome was young.” The ragged man loosened his grip on Slán Ghrian’s haft, and let it lean upon his shoulder. “But unless you decided to become an enemy of the Winter Court, Miles, you don’t need to be scared of it, or me. We always got along all right.”

“We did.” Miles looked Slán Ghrian up and down. “I gotta say, you were kinda creepy as a homeless vet with a gun. This is not a huge improvement.”

Christmas opened his mouth, then shut it as Alix began to speak. “Our friend’s in a complicated place right now—we all are,” she said. “Let me give you the bullet points.”

She was just finishing her summary of the last two days’ events when a thunderous noise arose upon the stairs outside. Heavy footsteps approached the door outside, accompanied by the sound of cursing in a distinctive accent.

“Mr. Miles!” came a voice. “Open the door, please! Hurry!”

Morrison rose. “It’s OK. Just another customer of mine. His name’s—”

“Moe,” they said, in unison.

Shooting a puzzled glance over his shoulder, Miles strode to the front of his apartment. A moment later, the Wizard of LaSalle Street tumbled in, trembling in agitation.

“We have only moments!” he gasped. “Quickly, quickly!”

“Use your words, Moe,” said Alix. “Someone chasing you? Who? How many?”

Then there was light, and smoke, and the echo of a flat, room-filling vibration that was more sensation than sound. Alix, Moe and the rest were all sprawled upon the floor, awash in tumbled furnishings and books.

The apartment’s smoke alarm screamed, as if from a long way off. But the figure in the doorway raised a hand to point in its direction, and it fell silent in a shower of sparks.

The visitor stepped forward over the remains of Morrison’s door, through the black haze and the glow of guttering flames.

He was tall, and lean. His western boots gleamed white, stark against the deep blue denim of his jeans. These, and his red button-down shirt, and his long factory-weathered canvas duster, all spoke of money casually spent. He looked like an oilman, or a president, who wanted desperately to be a cowboy.

And the Bastards—minus Nina Mori—stood smirking behind him.

The visitor had a mustache and a voice designed to bring you the local news at 3, 6 and 10. He spoke amiably.

“How you doin’ today? Good? Good.” He placed his hands upon his hips in a way seemingly designed to call attention to his belt buckle, which hardly needed the help. It was the size of one of the smaller original thirteen colonies, and featured a scorpion sealed in amber.

“You really know how to show a girl a good time, Miles,” said Tilda. “I didn’t know there’d be a floor show.”

The visitor’s hand rose to his back, and drew it down again in a flashing crescent of silver. He held a sword, the runes carved down the length of its blade glowing with white heat.

“I am, generally, a patient and reasonable man,” said the stranger. Then he chuckled. “Nah. Not really. I’m Chester Goddamn McGinnis. Now’s when I talk, and you shut up.”

“Wizard. Used to be a White Council Warden,” Miles whispered to Tilda and Christmas out the side of his mouth. “Just be cool.”

“Give the man a cigar,” chortled McGinnis. “That’s right. I was a Warden … once. Not why I came by, though.”

He raised his sword and pointed the tip at Christmas.

“I came to give you fair warning, neighbor: Nina Mori is under my protection. Whatever business you had with her, it’s over. You’re done. Count yourself lucky that you get to go home with your own foot in one piece.” He sheathed the Warden’s sword, his eyes never leaving the ragged man. “And just to keep you honest,” he continued, “I’ll be collecting anything you’ve got that might belong to Ms. Mori.”

There was silence for a moment. Then the sound of whispers.

Christmas planted the butt of Slán Ghrian on the floor and used it to raise himself to his feet. “I serve the Court of Winter,” he said quietly. “My orders come from the Queen Who Is To Be—not from you. I was commanded to find the one who’s been assassinating the Winter Sidhe with Summer magic. And that assassin is Nina Mori.”

“Not only that,” interjected Alix. “She’s doing it with ritual magic. And she’s performing those rituals in a nightclub owned by members of the White Court.” She cocked her head at the wizard. “The Winter Fey are the ones that told us the attacks were coming out of the club and it took us all of one day to trace it back to Nina Mori and The Losers. If you are tasked with protecting them, it doesn’t seem like you are doing a very good job of it."

The former Warden winced. “Well, ain’t that a … Really?”

“Oh, yes. Really.”

“OK. OK,” said McGinnis. “That changes the scenery a little. Look, let me give you some background. Maybe we can stop this from getting any uglier.”

Nina Mori, McGinnis explained, was a changeling, born of a mortal woman and sired by none other than Atomusk, the Phoenix King. As is the case with many such unions, the mortals involved were soon abandoned by the Fey, and left to fend for themselves.
Nina could not forgive her father for leaving them, and her anger at the Phoenix King only grew greater as she aged, slowly shaping itself into an obsession with revenge.

Eventually, a Winter Sidhe noble—the Duke of Mirrors—learned of Nina’s lineage and her anger, and found a way to use her in his own political machinations. The Duke was a climber, seeking a position as consort to the Winter Queen herself; but he had rivals, and the competition was fierce.

The Duke had stolen the Axe of Atomusk, and Chester McGinnis brokered a deal between the Sidhe and Nina Mori: the Duke would grant her the Axe, and with it magical power greater than she could ever acquire on her own. And if she used her father’s weapon to eliminate the Duke’s competition among the Winter nobles, the blame would naturally fall upon Atomusk, instead—gaining him the displeasure of Mab, Winter’s Queen. Which was a prospect that would cause most gods to tremble.

Alix nodded as McGinnis finished his story. “I understand where the girl’s coming from,” she said. “But my family isn’t taking the fall for this. There could be war.”

“Whatever else is true,” Christmas added, “I know who my real assassin is, now . But we’ll need more power than we have here to challenge a Winter Sidhe.”

“If we could identify—and then save—the Duke of Mirrors’ next target,” mused Miles, “we might gain his favor. Or at least turn the target against the Duke, and distract him. Even weaken him.”

“Can’t help you, there,” said McGinnis.

“Well, you’re Old Man Winter, ain’t you, Christmas?” said Tilda. “Don’t you have any snowman friends you can ask?”

The ragged man shook his head glumly. “As time goes on,” he murmured, “it looks more and more like I’m less ‘palace guard’ and more ‘janitor’, as far as status goes. Nobody in the Winter Court has anything to gain by helping me.”

“Hey,” came the voice of Miles Morrison, who had moved to stand before the smoking ruin of his apartment’s entryway. “I understand that all this Winter Court business is important, but, y’know …” He made a hopeless gesture at the detritus. “Anybody got any suggestions on how I explain this? Or maybe fix it?”

The spellcrafters all had ideas; there was talk of wards and alarms, of traps and summonings. They were still earnestly discussing details when Alix appeared in their midst, cell phone in hand.

“Don’t you worry, Miles,” she said. “I have a carpenter, a locksmith, and a drywall guy on their way. My painter isn’t available ‘til Monday—sorry.

“As far as happenings in the Winter Court go,” she continued, “I reached out to an associate of mine, Marcus. He’s a Winter changeling, but he has a much better relationship with his Fey family than our friend Nina does. He tells me that the smart money is on some … thing named ‘Garm the Glimmering Serpent’ as our next target.”

There was a brief silence.

“That was … efficient,” said Miles.

Alix waved her phone dramatically before dropping it in her purse. “I can’t do fireballs,” she said, “but I can do summoning.”

“Brilliant,” said Christmas. “Especially since there’s no time to waste. I have to cross over into Faerie.” He looked up at McGinnis. “Can you open a Way? I don’t know how.”

“Yep. Not from here, though. I’d have to take you to my place.” McGinnis raised an eyebrow. “Which I’d be happy to do … in exchange for a favor.”

“What favor?”

The wizard smiled. “Swear to me you won’t go after Nina Mori. Like I said—she’s under my protection.”

The ragged man ground his teeth. “Fine. I so swear, upon my power.”

McGinnis gazed on Christmas thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded his head. He turned on his heel and moved to the door, beckoning. “C’mon.”

Chester McGinnis had made the practice of magic work for him in a way that few others had.

For example, he had a mansion.

Alix, Christmas, Tilda, Moe and Miles would all, if given the option, have gladly spent significantly more time there, too, exploring its delights; the situation being what it was, however, they allowed themselves to be briskly shepherded into the basement.

“Did you see those pill bottles on the table?” Miles whispered to Christmas.


“Thorazine’s an anti-psychotic.”

Christmas nodded grimly. “Imagine what he’d be like without it.”

The wizard directed them to stand within a permanent arcane circle. It was inscribed in the stone floor using precious metals, with sigils set out in gemstones.

“Once I open this Way, now,” warned McGinnis, “you got until sundown to get back. You don’t make it by then, you’ll have to find your way home.”

“We understand,” said Christmas. “Open it.”

Through the Way was Winter, and Winter was no friend to them.

The wizard had deposited them upon a road, and their path ahead was clear—that much was in their favor. But it was only just autumn in Chicago, and they had not stopped to change clothes or gather equipment; so it was a grim and shivering company that marched toward the home of Garm the Glimmering Serpent—albeit at a very respectable pace.

[I appreciate skipping the whole embarrassing frozen poppy fiasco. I fucking hate the Nevernever. ~Alix]

The path took them through a leafless gray wood, and after some time to the bank of a river that barred their way. They were forced to detour, but soon found a bridge where they could cross.

The bridge, they discovered, was tended by a troll named Abraxus, who made it clear that he would not allow them free passage. Negotiations opened tensely, but the group’s resident merchant trader, Big Moe, stepped in to manage the bargaining. Abraxus quickly revealed himself to be more greedy than hungry or territorial; and Moe, always ready to make a deal, produced from his satchel a pouch of antique silver coins and assorted dinnerware, offering them as a toll.

“I would’ve been glad to give him iron instead of silver,” grumbled Christmas as they put the bridge behind them.

“Always buy an enemy who can be bought,” scolded Moe, waggling a reproachful finger at him. “Always. Every fight costs you a bit of strength—strength you will want when you face an enemy that matters.”

“Good strategy. If you happen to carry around bags of money.”

“You should get a job.” Moe sniffed. “You are a strong man, a healthy man. There is no reason you cannot work. If you were one of my nephews, I would—”

“Hey, look!” called out Tilda.

The fog covering the plain before them had thinned slightly, revealing a formation of standing stones in the distance. The sight brought Stonehenge to mind, although Stonehenge suffered in the comparison; the tallest stones in this monument were over 20 feet high.

Believing their goal was in sight, the group doubled its pace, and in a short time passed the outer ring of the monument’s stones. At the center of the stones was a hole in the earth.

“Well, it’s serpent-shaped,” Miles said doubtfully, as they gathered in a ring around it. “Doesn’t really look like it leads to the home of an aristocrat, though.”

“There should be guards,” said Moe.

“Like, guys in armor, with spears and swords?” asked Alix. “That kind of thing?”

“In Faerie? Oh, yes,” said Moe, turning to face Alix. “They are quite fond … oh.”

Alix was pointing at two creatures that marched toward them, armed and armored in medieval style, and in appearance much like men. They were tall and broad, with drooping mustaches and beetling brows. Their faces were set in an attitude that invited no nonsense, and the group offered them none.

“Goblins,” whispered Miles.

“Ouch,” replied Tilda. “Geez. They might be nice. You don’t know.”

“No, seriously. They’re goblins.”

“Who dares approach the twisting halls of my lord Garm without invitation?” demanded the first soldier.

The ragged man sighed and stepped forward. “I am Christmas, thane of Winter,” he said. “I serve the Queen Who Is To Be, and I come in her name, and on her orders.”

“I know of no such thane,” spat the second soldier.

“I get that a lot,” replied Christmas. “But, please, hear me out. We’ve learned of a plot to assassinate Garm the Glimmering Serpent. Garm and the Winter Lady have a common enemy in this assassin. I’m here to stop him.”

The guards laughed. “Away with you, mortal,” said the first. “You think yourself our equal? If any enemy comes here that your kind could defeat, we will not notice him until we scrape him from our boots.”

The second raised a shaggy eyebrow. “Unless,” he murmured, “it is you yourselves that are the assassins.”

“It’s Summer that’s coming for your lord. Your enemy bears the Axe of Atomusk the Phoenix King. He’s brought down fire on several other Winter Sidhe already.”

“What?” a new voice cried out, preceded by the thud of heavy hooves. It was a third soldier, astride over a ton of horseflesh. This one’s armor was slightly more ornate, his helmet gleaming; he had the look of an officer. “Who are you, strangers? What do you know of these things?”

The horseman, after hearing the story from the beginning, glared coldly at his underlings. “Mortals cross into our lands and come to our doorstep with such news as this, and you turn them away? Whether it is lies or truth, there is something in it for certain.”

The second soldier bristled. “We think not, Commander.”

Alix and Moe exchanged glances, then began backing up, gently guiding the rest of the company away with them. The goblin soldiers argued, their words growing more heated. Then, the second foot soldier drew his sword.

“Now,” hissed Alix. “Protect the officer. Don’t hold back. Go!

The battle was as ugly as it was short. The goblins first fell on their commander, leaving the mortals free to attack; but the Winter fey were brutally strong. They shrugged off blows from Slán Ghrian’s slashing blade, and even Miles’ knives of iron—deadly poison to the fey—could not pierce their armor.

Big Moe tossed his iron sword to the unarmed Alix, faded back behind Miles, and began to chant. A tree-bending gale swept out of the sky and seized one of the goblins in its frozen claw, raising him far above the ring of standing stones. The wind shook him like a terrier’s toy, then dashed him to the ground.

And still he would have risen, had the goblin officer not charged forth with his lance and staked him where he lay.

Alix raised Moe’s sword to point at the remaining goblin, and unleashed a terrifying stream of invective at him. She questioned his lineage, his skill at arms, his manhood, his bravery, and the quality of his equipment in a single corrosive monologue that stunned her allies as well as the soldier.

They all stood blinking at her. She took a breath.

Moe cleared his throat.

Christmas felt a hot flush in his cheeks. Shaking his head, he pointed Slán Ghrian at the goblin. A mound of snow appeared at the guard’s feet, piled as high as his knees, then hardened into ice.

They advanced upon him. He could not move.

When it was done, the officer saluted them.

“I am Commander Witherwood,” he said. “And it appears that I owe you a favor.”
Episode 2: A Hairy Little Christmas

After an undignified withdrawal from the fracas at Jezebel’s, Alix, Christmas, and Big Moe piled into Alix’s car and left. Alix dropped Moe at his home and Christmas at his steam-grate, and went to visit her brother, Max—a White Court vampire.

Alix brought Max up to speed on the strange dealings that were going on at Jezebel’s—apparently with Aunt Lillian’s approval—and noted the clear risk that Aunt Lillian would drag the White Court into a conflict with the Winter Fey. Max took this intelligence under advisement and promised to discuss it with their father and get his take on it.

We did not hear back from Vampire Dad for the rest of this session.
[That is such a dad move. ~Alix]

With the dawn came another unpleasant surprise for Christmas: he was awakened by kicks from four leather-jacketed ruffians.

The Winter thane quickly identified the leader among them, and with a single slash from Slan Grian, his weapon, bisected him at the hips.

To Christmas’ chagrin, the rest of his assailants did not flee. Two piled onto him, holding him down just long enough for the third to produce a pair of shears and cut off some of his hair. Having apparently gotten what they came for, they ran off.

Just then, around the corner came Tilda Perth, out walking her dog. She and Christmas were friends, more or less; their paths had crossed before, twice, both times in bloody fights, and they had formed a mutual respect. Tilda saw the downed figure of Christmas, and gave chase to the fleeing bikers, but they reached their van and sped away before she could reach them. She hurled a well-intentioned shoe, but to no avail.

After retrieving said shoe, Tilda Perth returned to check on her friend. The ragged man had left the battlefield with a leather jacket and biker boots, as well as the wallet of his slain enemy—containing the ID and credit card of one “Edward Samuelson” and $45 cash. But there was only one reason the bikers would want his hair; they, or someone employing them, wanted to make him a target of ritual magic.

Christmas cut a cloth patch featuring a snarling dog off the back of his new jacket and pocketed it. Tilda suggested that her friend Cassandra—who works at a biker bar called “Leather ‘n’ Chains”—might be able to identify the patch from the dead assailant’s jacket.

After reconnecting with Alix, the three took a field trip to “Leather ‘n’ Chains.” Tilda got Cassandra to spill everything she knew, and she identified the patch as belonging to a gang called the “Devil Dogs.”

Guessing that Nina and the Bastards contracted the Devil Dogs to obtain a ritual link to Christmas, the group decided to go after them directly. They found the Bastards’ website and contact information, and discovered that the group was managed by another of Alix’s relatives, William Raith. Armed with this information, they made up a story about a phony event coming up, and arranged a fake “audition” for the band to bring them out in the open.

While the band played, Tilda surreptitiously opened her Third Eye to observe them using the Sight. She was immediately overwhelmed by a terrifying vision of the Axe of Atomusk—Nina Mori’s guitar. She struggled to close her Third Eye, and only with the greatest effort was she eventually able to do so.

After the audition, Christmas borrowed a cellphone and hid, invisible, on the luggage rack atop the Bastards’ van. They eventually arrived in an alley on the far West Side, at an adjoining pair of garages, which seemed to function as a combination living area and practice space. The band set up again and began to practice.

Meanwhile, Christmas called Alix and Tilda and let them know his exact location. They arrived some distance away and Christmas rejoined them.

As the Bastards practiced, Tilda observed them using the Sight once more. She was able to detect the following from Nina’s aura:

  • Nina herself was represented, in the Sight’s system of visual metaphors, as a mirrorlike shard of ice … which also symbolized the power she serves.
  • Nina hated her father, and was also obsessed with taking revenge on Christmas (for reasons yet undefined).
  • Nina was also portrayed as a sort of “anti-Christmas”—a more-or-less exact duplicate of him, although also his opposite.

Christmas sneaked into garage #1 and sabotaged the band’s van so it slowly leaked radiator fluid. When the Bastards left for their next show at Jezebel’s, Alix and Tilda followed them at a distance in Alix’s car. Christmas once more took a position atop the van, invisible.

The sabotage worked. The band pulled their disabled vehicle onto a side street, then all piled out to pop the hood and look at the engine. Christmas lowered himself, entered the rear of the van, picked up the jar of his hair, and prepared to leave. But in doing so, he knocked something over. The Bastards’ drummer—who, improbably at best, had the most refined hearing among them—detected this and intercepted the Winter thane before he could make his exit.

Melee ensued, and it wasn’t pretty. Nina Mori threw a blast of fire into the van with Christmas, which he was only barely able to dodge (leaving him Lightly Singed).

Then everyone’s attention turned suddenly to the fast-moving car in their midst. The Bastards scrambled out of the way, but Nina only partially escaped Alix’s vehicular assault—ending up with a Broken Foot.

Seeing an opportunity, Christmas lurched halfway out of the van and smashed Nina’s damaged leg with the blunt end of his weapon. The blow connected, but he was immediately grappled by the rest of the band.

Alix backed up the car and revved the engine. With a last burst of effort, Christmas broke free from the unnaturally strong grip of his enemies, sustaining a Dislocated Shoulder in the process. He staggered to the car and fell into the back seat.

It wasn’t much of a victory, if it was one at all, but at the very least they retrieved Christmas’s hair. And Nina Mori may be crippled for life.

Episode 1: A Song of Axe and Fire

They call him “Christmas” down at the shelter—“Joe Christmas,” sometimes. He has been called worse, and he does not seem to mind. His backpack displays stickers and buttons featuring snowmen and mistletoe, holly and reindeer, and the rags he wears show a preference for reds and greens.

He awakened that day to the sound of his name. “Arise, Christmas. The Lady requires your service.

The sound of the voice that woke Christmas bypassed his ears entirely, rumbling in the center of his head. It was Grimalkin, he knew instantly. A Winter fey spirit and sometime herald for his court, Grimalkin wore the shape of a cat woven from shadow—dangerous in size, imperious in attitude.

Christmas sat up straight. Grimalkin was acting as an agent of the Lady of Winter; Christmas was her thane.

Let us not listen to the cruel contempt Grimalkin showed poor Christmas in his rags. Hear instead the Winter thane’s mission, his quest:

Someone, Grimalkin reported—or something—was using fire magic to kill fey of the Winter Court. Fire is a signature aspect of the magic of the Summer Court fey.

The intelligence currently available indicates that the attacks are coming from here in the mortal realm.

The most recent attack was tracked back to a Chicago nightclub named “Jezebel’s.”

By way of afterthought, Grimalkin also mentioned that a powerful artifact of the Summer Court, named the Axe of Atomusk, was recently stolen.

The Lady of Winter’s orders for Christmas, her thane? Simple. Find those who would hunt the Winter Court fey.

And bury them.

Christmas, without work or home or family, had few places to turn for help. But he knew one man who might assist him, if not for entirely unselfish reasons.

“Big Moe” al-Salami had a warehouse on Canal Street, not far from where Christmas slept most nights. The Winter thane used a glamour to make himself look like a respectable citizen and dropped in to pay the owner a call.

Some months before, Moe had needed a man with certain skills—a quiet man, who kept his own counsel—and had hired Christmas for the work. Christmas had served him admirably, and Moe did not forget. A man who would do the type of work that Moe requested, who asked only necessary questions, and who could also be trusted, was a hard man to find, indeed.

Moe welcomed Christmas, if not like a son, then at least like a nephew—of which he had several. The ragged man was given soap and a towel, and gratefully he shed the grime from his skin, his hair, his nails. He felt nearly human when he emerged from the small washroom.

Over coffee, then, Christmas confided in Moe the task set before him. At the very end of his story, he dropped a mention of the Axe of Atomusk, and watched the merchant’s dark eyes catch fire.

Moe was a dealer in rare artifacts, particularly enchanted ones. And his library had a fine collection of works cataloguing the properties of such things. For the next hour the two men pored over works arcane, until at last they had learned enough about the Axe that Moe was fairly dancing in anticipation of holding the thing in his hand—while extending the other to receive the purchase price.

The Axe, they had learned, was created by Atomusk the Phoenix King, a noble of the Summer Court fey whose power rivaled that of the Court’s Ladies. It would allow anyone who wielded it to cast Summer magics … among them, spells of fire.

Neither the Winter thane nor the “Wizard of LaSalle Street”—so Moe styled himself—were of any use at all when the topics of nightclubs, parties and the like were broached. The two men agreed that to properly assess the “Jezebel” angle of the case, they would need additional expertise.

Moe made a phone call.

It did not take long for the wizard’s friend to arrive; her offices were nearby. Moe bounded to the door to greet her with the ragged man a few steps behind, so he did not see Christmas’s eyebrows rise when the woman entered.

Her name was Alix, he remembered that. On a night some few months previous, Christmas had been on his way to dinner—which is to say, the dumpster behind Francesca’s in Wicker Park—when the woman had stopped him just outside the alleyway.

She clearly did not fear him. Nor did she despise him. These two things combined to make her fascinate him.

Like Moe, she had heard of him and of his skills; and like Moe, she had needed some work done quietly. Christmas had gone to his labors with vigor, and he had delivered what he promised and more. The ragged man was certain that Alix would be happy to work with him again.

Christmas left it to Moe to explain their goals, and the wizard laid out the details for Alix with brisk efficiency. In closing, he inquired whether she had any information about, or contacts at, the nightclub named “Jezebel’s.”

In a stroke of a completely different kind of luck than Christmas normally encountered, Alix had both. The nightclub, she told them, had recently been purchased by persons she knew—and her Aunt Lily was currently managing it.

Although it was mid-morning, the three decided to take a quick ride down to the nightclub and look it over. Alix drove them to Jezebel’s location on the near South Side. The club’s exterior was seedy and unremarkable, with an entrance below street level.

A tense parley through the closed door with the bartender on duty ended with the group being admitted, though not quite welcomed. After gaining the counterman’s attention by dropping Aunt Lily’s name, Alix worked on charming some information out of him.

Big Moe and Christmas wandered toward a stage at one end of the club, where some musicians were setting up amplifiers and a drum kit. The wizard pointed out a circle, roughly ten feet across, painted in the middle of the stage; it was marked all around with strange runes and sigils. Both men agreed it was a circle of power—the kind practitioners used for summonings and the like.

After completing her interview of the bartender, Alix gathered up Moe and Christmas and they compared notes in the car. The bartender, while not terribly helpful, had revealed that a band named “Nina Mori and the Bastards” had played a number of dates at Jezebel’s recently. The band had drawn good-sized crowds, but at each successive concert the audience had grown increasingly violent.

And the Bastards were scheduled to play again that very night.

Alix, Moe, and Christmas reconvened that night at Moe’s, two of them in dark, tailored suits, and one in tattered denim and leather with a false leg-cast and crutch.

They passed the doormen with no trouble, and Alix immediately sought out her Aunt Lily’s office. The wizard and the Winter thane took up positions at the rear of the crowd before the stage, where Nina Mori and the Bastards had already begun to play.

Over the course of a song or two, the two men observed the audience members growing more aggressive with each other. The floor under the mosh pit was bloody.

The lead singer of the Bastards, Nina Mori, stood in the middle of the magic circle drawn on the stage, with her two bassists and drummer outside its borders. Mori’s guitar bore a distinctive flame design.

In an attempt to slow the crowd’s emotional build, Big Moe focused his attention on one of the amp stacks and raised a meaningful eyebrow. The wizard’s hex should have blown out the amps and brought the show to a halt; but the only result was a sudden scream of feedback and a shower of sparks.

That, and the burning glare of Nina Mori turning to focus, with deliberate certainty, on Moe.

This last point did not escape Moe al-Salami. With a shrug and a terse wave to Christmas, the mage turned and slipped through the crowd toward Aunt Lily’s office. Once there, however, he found himself the recipient of a White Court Vampire welcome: Aunt Lily worked her will on him, trying to compel the wizard to follow a nubile lady bartender out behind the club. Knowing that nothing good would come of that, Alix attempted to convince her aunt to back down.

Meanwhile, deep in a simmering sea of Bastards fans, Christmas decided to move boldly. Employing the great strength granted to him by the Lady of Winter, he muscled forward to the base of the stage. Once there, he altered the fey glamour that masked his appearance, and became the twin of one of the Bastards’ bassists.

Christmas waited for his lookalike to approach the edge of the stage, grabbed him by the ankle, and pulled him down into the swirling mosh-pit. The Winter thane then leaped up, hoping to gain the stage, then move into the wings in the confusion. Once there, he could create a veil of sorcery to conceal himself while he searched for clues as the concert went on.

He failed.

The bassists, recovering quickly from their surprise, dove into the crowd after Christmas. They were far more than simple musicians; with inhuman speed and strength they came for vengeance.

Now Alix and Moe struggle, locked in a deadly battle of wills with emotion-devouring vampires of the White Court—while Christmas, bruised and alone, hopes only to escape alive from Chicago’s most dangerous rock-n-roll band …


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