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.
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 …