Cast a Kitten

Story by Searska_GreyRaven on SoFurry

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Technically a sequel to Speak Easy, but can be read on its own without missing too much. A second request for Seht, involving my character Sinclair and his Kore. It's a longer piece, heavier on story than fap, but if you're into 1930's gangsters, occult secrets, and a world where the stock market crash never happened, this one's right up your alley.

Kore is copyright of Seht.

Cast a Kitten

Story © Searska GreyRaven

Korestai © Seht

Something was chasing him down a narrow hall. He clutched his notebook in one paw, unwilling to let go. He knew it wanted the notebook and that it mustn't have it, couldn't have it, because if it took the notebook from him, bad things would happen. He darted down halls that became cobbled and slick with slime. Each turn seemed to twist on itself like a nightmarish maze.

He turned a sharp corner, and was faced with a fork. A growl from the nameless Thing startled him, and without thinking he sprinted down the left-hand path. A pair of green eyes opened at the end of the hall, and he skidded to a halt. He tried to turn back, but a solid wall made of bones prevented him. Eyeless skulls mocked his decision, and he realized the sculls were equal parts animal and human. Hybrid, anthro skulls.

The glowing green eyes at the end of the hall blinked, and spoke. These weren't earthly words; they were words from a place long since dead and gone--they were the words from his notebook, words he'd painstakingly translated from a dead language he'd never heard before.

And in the dream, he knew them, understood them.

"We are gods. We pour death into life and life into death, not once but for millennia, and never spill a single drop."

He collapsed to his knees, desperately covering his ears.

"We lay the path for flesh to follow, that they may become divine. Nothing is forbidden, all is forgiven."

He couldn't speak, couldn't block out the voice. It was in his head, cackling like a crow.

"It's all merely transition."

The eyes flared, and the skulls behind him began to chatter, crowding him toward the glowing eyes. "No, never. You'll never take it from me. Never. Never!" He cried.

The skulls tumbled forward in a wave, forcing him to his belly before the eyes which looked down upon him. The floor turned to water, and he felt himself sinking, falling...


Sinclair woke with a start, nearly tumbling out of the bed. Where am I?_He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and glanced to his right. Korestai was still sleeping soundly, his breath coming in soft, measured snorts. He was in a hotel, in New York, with Kore. Not in some nameless tomb. _No, not nameless. It had a name, once. He knew that tomb, or at least the waking version of it. He'd first cracked open his now-battered notebook within it.

Sinclair slid off the bed and padded to his clothes. His moleskin notebook was hanging out of his pants pocket like a drunken sailor over the rail of a ship. Sinclair grabbed it, skimming the pages of symbols that were incomprehensible to anyone without the key. He made a few more notations in the bizarre script, and closed it. The dream was becoming a little clearer now, more of a far-off memory than a dream. He felt a sinking, sick feeling in his gut. It was the same feeling he would get days before an earthquake, or before a major storm.

If something happens...I ought to make arrangements. Just in case. It's probably nothing, but...

Sinclair paused, his paw hovering over the cover. He closed his eyes and flicked a claw along the edge of the cover. He gently peeled it back, revealing a slender sheet of paper, neatly folded and torn on one side. Taking care to make as little noise as possible, Sinclair wrote something on the slip in the same script. Thanking his feline blood, Sinclair tip-toed to Kore's wallet and slid the paper inside. Just as he was replacing the wallet to its original position, Sinclair heard Kore stir.

"Sinclair?" Kore said, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. The sight of the blue and yellow dragon, naked but for the white linen sheet covering his lower body, made Sinclair's heart jump into his throat. Things below the belt did a jump as well, though he was fairly certain Kore couldn't see it from the bed.

"Sorry, Kore. I was having an uneasy sleep. I didn't mean to wake you," Sinclair said softly. His Southern accent was fainter than usual.

Kore grinned and stretched, and the stirring sensation in Sinclair's loins went from a suggestion to a demand. "I can think of a few ways to help you sleep, Sinclair, if you're of a mind." Kore said, mimicking Sinclair's accent. Kore reclined, and the sheet slipped further down his hip, just shy of fully exposing the dragon. Even still, the bulge in the fabric clearly expressed how sincere Kore's intention of helping Sinclair "sleep" was.

Sinclair chuckled, drifting back toward Kore. With a throaty laugh, Kore grabbed the slender cat by the waist and pulled him into the bed. The dragon's tail flicked the last of the sheet aside, and Sinclair's own tail twitched with anticipation. Kore peppered kisses down Sinclair's neck, nipping every other bite until Sinclair was panting. The pink tip of his feline member emerged from his sheath, and Kore turned his attention to fully arousing Sinclair. The dragon's practiced touch quickly brought Sinclair to full attention.

"Good Lord, Kore! Where did you learn to do this?" Sinclair's breath came out as a hiss of pleasure. Kore didn't reply. He bent his head, nibbling down the length of Sinclair's body until he settled between the cat's legs. Kore wrapped his tongue around Sinclair and began to suckle gently, pulling the cat's entire length into his mouth before slowly releasing it. Sinclair moaned, running the pads of his fingers along the dragon's horns. The dragon responded by running the tip of his manicured claw against Sinclair's entrance. The sensation vanished a few moments later, and Sinclair blinked his eyes open, confused. There was the sound of a lid being unscrewed. Sinclair saw Kore holding a glass bottle in one hand and pouring its contents into the other. Kore turned his attention back to Sinclair's length, and a moment later the cat felt something slid effortlessly into him. Sinclair threw back his head, gasping.

The cat tried to back away from the strange sensation, but Kore held his hips with his other arm, refusing to let the cat escape to easily. He made a tsking motion with one hand, his forefinger raised, before turning his attention back to Sinclair's aroused shaft.

"Trust me, Sinclair. You'll like it," Kore murmured, blowing warm air across Sinclair's body. The cat shuddered and nodded, wincing at the odd, not quite painful feeling of behind filled. Kore wrapped his mouth around Sinclair again, enveloping the cat in hot, wet flesh, tightening his lips around Sinclair, and the black cat arched his back, yowling like a tabby in heat. Kore worked his finger deeper into the cat, added a second one, adjusting with each thrust until--

Sinclair howled and Kore hit something inside that sent lightning racing down his veins. His claws dug into the mattress and his hips thrust against Kore's mouth. Kore chuckled, plunging into the cat again and making him writhe.

He was beyond words--his lips simply wouldn't make them anymore--but his voice was far from gone. Sinclair moaned as Kore sped up and the dragon's tongue worked his length. Kore worked Sinclair up, and stopped just shy of the point of orgasm, driving the cat mad with pleasure.

"Korestai, it's not polite to keep a man in such suspense," Sinclair managed to choke out between panting breaths.

Kore paused, his hand still stroking Sinclair's length. "But it's even more offensive, lover mine, to bring you so quickly." Kore rumbled. He wrapped his lips around Sinclair again before the cat could speak. Sinclair's response came out as a strangled moan of pleasure. Kore's tongue moved from his smoother shaft to the barbs along his tip. They were the most sensitive part of his body, even more sensitive than the pads of his feet. Sinclair threw back his head, his eyes closed, and made a sound between a snarl and a moan.

Kore suckled in earnest, and Sinclair matched his rhythm, thrusting into the dragon's muzzle. Heat coiled in his loins, growing brighter and brighter with each thrust. Sinclair pried his eyes open and looked down the length of his body. Kore looked up at him, his eyes flashing faintly in the dark. He raised an eye ridge and grinned around Sinclair's erection, giving him such a wicked look that it sent Sinclair over the edge. The black cat yowled, shuddered, and shredded the sheets under his claws. Kore held him until the aftershocks of his orgasm were spent, flicking the tip of his tongue across the very tip of Sinclair's waning maleness every now and then. Each time he did, Sinclair hissed and squirmed, until he finally managed to "free" himself from Kore's embrace. Kore licked his lips and grinned, looking more like the proverbial cat that ate the equally proverbial canary than a dragon.

"You...are ridiculously skilled at that," Sinclair said when he'd recovered enough to speak. "I'd return the favor, but I de believe you've taken the last bit out of me."

Kore chuckled. "As I had hoped to have done. Sleep well, kitten."

"Kitten?!" Sinclair protested. "I'd hardly call what you just did something fit for kittens." His voice trailed off, and Kore could see him struggling to stay awake.

"It certainly turned you into one." Kore said. "You're purring. Sleep well, my friend."

Sinclair mumbled something to the effect of "Sorry about the sheets," but it came out as a muffled purr. A moment later, he felt Kore curl around him, and Sinclair fell asleep.


But Sinclair woke an hour later, dreams of fire and death preventing the cat from getting a good night's rest. Sinclair sat up and carefully extracted himself from Kore's grasp. Kore shifted and rolled over, still asleep. Sinclair dared a sigh of relief. He picked up the notebook from the floor (when had he dropped it there?!) and replaced it in his pants pocket. After a moment of silent contemplation, he pulled his pants on, followed by his shirt.

I swear, Kore, I didn't mean for you to get involved. But if there is a mind out there that can puzzle this mess out, it's yours.

He didn't bother buttoning up his shirt. The warm New York summer coupled with his fur would keep him comfortable for now. He grabbed the remainder of his effects and quietly left the room. The latch of the door was no more than a whisper, and couldn't be heard over the sounds of New York's night life, still going strong at three in the morning.

If Korestai hadn't lived in a large city like New York, Sinclair suspected his exit would have been noticed far sooner. He stood in an alley several blocks from the hotel he and Kore had been staying at, tying his shoes and trying to get a handle on his nerves. The sky hung above him, marred only by the occasional star that shown through like a cigarette hole in a fine velvet curtain. Sinclair touched the notebook in his pocket, but his eyes were on the street. Shoving his paws into his pockets, Sinclair began to walk.

He knew what he was walking into. He knew they would be there waiting for him, and if he didn't go now, they would come to Kore looking for him, and Sinclair couldn't bear the thought of Kore in their claws. All he could do was leave a trail of breadcrumb clues and hope his clever lover could figure them out in time.

Sinclair's humble apartment was on what Kore would say was the "wrong side of the tracks." The brick buildings were coming apart at the seams, mortar rotting away. Instead of ivy, rust crawled along the metal fences. His room was on the top floor, though in a few more years it was sure to be the ground floor. Sinclair twisted his key in the lock, and heard something that had nothing to do with his door.

When the blow came, he didn't even bother to dodge it. The door flew open, throwing him backward. He hit the wall across from his apartment's entrance with a dull thud! The air whooshed out of his lungs as plaster rained down from the water-corroded ceiling, covering his black fur in white powder. Another blow caught him in the belly, and he coughed up the last of his breath.

"Hello, Sinclair," said a sultry voice from his apartment door. Sinclair could only gasp as he looked up. Standing in his doorway was another black feline anthro, wearing nothing but a fox skin wrap. Sinclair raised an eyebrow over the other cat's choice of wardrobe but was unable to do more than snort weakly.

"You...are one very...disturbed kitty," Sinclair choked out.

"Oh, you like it? Don't worry, it wasn't anyone you knew." The cat caressed the fur of her wrap and knelt next to him, grinning. "I have a feeling you were expecting me."

"Fermata...what do you want?" Sinclair coughed, finally getting some air in his lungs.

"Where is the notebook?"

Sinclair recovered enough to pull himself to a kneeling position, but before he could get to his feet, he felt something grab him by the scruff of his neck and drag him bodily into his own apartment. He felt his limbs go limp from the grip. She threw him into his own kitchen and slammed the front door shut. Sinclair noticed, rather belatedly, that Fermata hadn't turned on a single light. The only illumination came from a single streetlight outside his window.

Fermata straddled Sinclair, pinning his arms to the floor with her knees. She held a slender knife in one paw, the polished blade glinting brightly in the dark. Sinclair swallowed. "I hate to disappoint a lady," he said, "but I don't have it."

Fermata slapped him, hard. "You're never more than three feet from it. Where is the notebook?"

"What would a pretty thing like you want with my notebook?"

"Cut the crap, Sinclair. I know you still have it."

"I burned it a while back, darlin'. Thing was more trouble than a pregnant cat."

Fermata's tail lashed behind her head. She leaned down, her nose a whisker away from Sinclair's face. Her pointed teeth gleamed brighter than the silver knife. "Bullshit."

"Alright then, I threw it into the Atlantic."

"You are a horrible liar."

"We can't all be you."

She slapped him again, this time with her claws bared. Four lines of red soaked into Sinclair's fur along the side of his face.

"You will tell me where the notebook is, or I'll ask your dragon friend."

Sinclair's expression hardened. "Kore has nothing to do with this" he said flatly.

"I won't know until I ask." The corners of her lips curled upward.

"I said, Kore has nothing to do with this. He hasn't the faintest idea what's in that notebook."

Fermata grinned wider. "I don't believe you. I think I'll just have to go ask him myself."

"No! Fermata, wait! Oof!"

Fermata kicked off Sinclair's chest, raking another set of red lines across his chest. "Unless you hand over the notebook right now, I have no reason to stay." Her tail flicked impatiently.

Sinclair's shoulder's slumped. He reached into his pocket and took out the notebook. "Promise you'll leave Korestai out of this," he snarled.

"Oh, Sin_clair_, you take the fun out of everything," she pouted.

"Say it, Fermata." Sinclair reached into his pocket and took out a lighter. He flicked it open and held it under the notebook.

"You wouldn't dare." Fermata narrowed her eyes.

"Try me, darlin'. All you have to do is promise not to get Korestai involved in any way." Sinclair brought the lighter to life and moved the notebook closer to the naked flame.

Fermata hissed. "Fine! Fine. You have my word, and the word of the Vammatar, that we will not involve Korestai any further."

Satisfied, Sinclair closed the lid on the lighter and threw the notebook at Fermata. She caught it easily.

"I do believe you've worn out your welcome, Fermata." Sinclair gestured to the door. She ignored him, and opened the notebook.

"You sly cat." She murmured. "Where's the key?"

Sinclair smirked. "You asked for the notebook. I gave you the notebook."

Fermata blinked and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I don't have time for this." She made a motion with her wrist, and four small darts shot from the tips of the fingers on her left hand. Sinclair dodged two, but the others buried themselves in his fur. Suddenly, it was an effort to remain standing.

"What...did you..." His vision greying around the edges.

"You wrote the damned thing. You can translate it. Don't worry, we won't involve your dragon friend. You, on the other paw, are in well over your head."

Her Cheshire grin was the last thing that faded from view as he passed out.


Kore wasn't exactly an early riser, especially after the night he'd had with Sinclair, but something woke him just before dawn. When he'd rubbed the sleep from his eyes and took a good look around, he realized what must have disturbed him.

Sinclair hadn't come back.

Furrowing his brow in concern, Kore regarded the absence of Sinclair's discarded clothes. He left. He just...left?

The table was barren of Sinclair's belongings, though all of Kore's remained.

Something is strange about my wallet...

A hot spark of anger arced in the back of his mind. Sinclair wouldn't have...if he really needed the money, he would have just asked...right? Kore opened his wallet. All his cash was still there. But there was definitely something odd about the contents. He pulled out a slender slip of paper, folded over and torn on one side.

"What in the..." Kore gingerly opened the paper. Printed on the inside was a strange set of symbols, and beneath them a handful of English characters.

"Leaving me love notes, Sinclair?" Kore made a wry face. He flipped over the paper and saw what appeared to be three words in the strange language. At least, he thought it was three.

"It's too early for this," Kore grumbled. But he sat down at the table a minute later with a pen and a scrap of paper, and tried to translate it.

He was forced to give up after an hour.

"Goddamnit, Sinclair. Just because I'm smart doesn't mean I particularly enjoy an enigma first thing in the morning," he muttered.

Kore took a short break, ordered breakfast from the room service menu, and tried to solve the puzzle again. It wasn't until almost dinner that he was able to solve the puzzle, and by then he was getting concerned. He hadn't heard anything from Sinclair, and the cat hadn't left a more legible note regarding his whereabouts.

What Kore had originally believed to be three words turned out to be two, and a badly sketched drawing of a building.

"Sinclair, don't quit your day job just yet," Kore muttered, shaking his head over the image. He'd spent two hours on that thing, thinking it was some sort of strange puzzle within a puzzle. The two words certainly made no sense.

"Water. Tower. What the hell does that mean?" He glanced at the drawing again. Three towers, with an arch in the center, flanked by two more short towers.

"What is this, Sinclair?" Kore murmured. The structure looked familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. There was certainly nothing like it in New York. The memory eluded him, and finally Kore was forced to give up for the moment.

He'd wasted the day trying to figure out Sinclair's enigma. His brain hurt. Maybe Hoagie'll have some bartender insight into this, Kore thought. A little brandy might jog his memory, in any case.

Without the distraction of Sinclair's voice, the journey from his hotel room to Dean's seemed longer. That nagging feeling that something wasn't right seemed to get stronger as he walked.

Dean's was doing brisk business, especially for a Friday night. New York in the summer time was stifling, and Dean's was one of the few places than had some level of cool. The device was still extremely experimental, but it kept the basement speakeasy bearable. Kore sauntered down the stairs and, after passing the inspection of Hoagie's new bouncer, settled down at the far end of the bar. Kore glanced at Sinclair's usual seat, his heart twinging.

"Kore? Where's Sinclair?" Hoagie asked as he slid a tumbler filled with whisky into the waiting hand of a bar patron. "Sinclair" came out more like "Sin-cleh" with his thick Chicago accent.

"I was hoping you had seen him," Kore replied. Without asking, Hoagie gave Kore a similar tumbler, this time filled with brandy.

"I ain't seen dat cat since you was in here de otha day wit 'im. Ain't 'e witchu?"

"That's what I thought, but he vanished dis--I mean this morning, and left me this drawing." Kore pulled out the piece of paper with the sketch on it, careful to hide the strange cipher on the other side.

"Wha...? Bub, dat dere's a drawing of the Chicago water tower. It was d'only ting that didn't burn to ash during the Great Fire. Nifty building. You know, dere was a rumor while I still lived in da Windy City about some cult having a tunnel dat went under da tower," Hoagie said, between filling drink orders. "Christ, if dis place gets any more popular, da cops are gonna shut me down."

Kore tucked the slip of paper back into his wallet and pulled out a twenty. "What about this cult?" Kore asked, rolling the bill between his fingers like a cigarette.

Hoagie looked around, suddenly uneasy. "Look, can you ask me dat when tings calm down a bit 'ere? Dat's...dat's not information ta give wit' loose ears about."

Kore nodded, and Hoagie spent the rest of the night filling orders. He stopped by and filled Kore's glass twice when it looked low. The third time, Kore waved him away. He just couldn't enjoy himself with this nagging feeling that something was very wrong. Every sip of brandy just seemed to make the feeling worse.

Finally, well after midnight, the bar calmed down enough that Hoagie felt comfortable talking.

"Look kid, before I says anyting about whatchu asked me, I gotta ask a question myself. Have you ever heard of the...the Vammatar?" Hoagie asked. He spoke the name as if it were a viper.

Kore shook his head. "Who are they?"

"Look, dis goes back to my grandmudda's time, and I have no idea how true it is, or if it's all just a load of crap. Dere's dis group, see? A bunch of occultists. Dey started off in England, no one knows when. No one really knows what dey do, besides cause trouble. But da word on de street is, anyone who knows da name is either recruited or killed."

"Really?" Kore said, leaning closer. "Then how do you know it?"

Hoagie grinned. "I know when to keep my trap shut, dat's how." He looked around. "You don't tink they've got sometin' ta do with your boy, do ya?"

Kore shook his head. "I have no idea. All I know is that Sinclair left me this cryptic message in my wallet before he vanished without a trace," he finished.

"Have you been to his place since you got dat note?" Hoagie asked.

"No, I..." Kore swore eloquently and slapped the palm of his claw against his brow. "It should have occurred to me."

"Look, kid, Forget I said anything about...them, alright? It's probably nothin'."

Kore darted out of the bar. He marched through the street, barely looking at people. He'll be there, probably writing in his notebook, and we'll all have a good laugh about this.

But when Kore got to Sinclair's apartment, he was dumbfounded. The building wasn't there. Only a pile of debris remained, and a few charred beams sticking out at odd angles like blackened bones. Police lights sent wave after wave of red and blue light dancing against the walls of the other buildings, but seemed to shy away from the ruins of Sinclair's former home.

"Buddy, unless you know someone who was in this building, you'd better move along," a cop shouted at him.

"Were there any survivors? A friend of mine used to live here." Kore asked.

"We ain't found any bodies yet. What's your buddy look like?" The cop pulled out a notebook.

"A black cat anthro, about so tall. He was a reporter." Kore replied. The cop made a face of vague disgust, but wrote down the description.

"Who should we call if we find anything?" He asked.


The cop did a double take. "Korestai? The Korestai?"

Kore managed a weak smile. "That would be me."

"Look, Mr. Korestai, I hope your friend wasn't in this place when it went up in flames. I've never seen anything like it. Burned hotter'n Hell, I tell you. Even the firemen never saw something burn so hot, so fast. If he was in there, he's charcoal."

Kore swallowed. "Thank you, officer." He walked away, claws in his pockets. After a few blocks, he began to run.


Kore arrived back at Dean's just after two a.m. The speakeasy was open for another hour, but most of the crowd had wandered off. Only a handful of patrons remained.

"Kore?" Hoagie looked up. "You alright? You look like yeh've seen a ghost."

"Hoagie, tell me about...about them," Kore said, plopping down heavily on the nearest barstool. His claws shook, and he held the bar to steady them.

Hoagie stood for a moment, his hands caught around a glass mug. Finally, he sighed and gestured to the bar with his chin. "Siddown, kid. Tell me what happened."

Kore spilled the entire story between gulps of brandy to steady his rattled nerves.

"Something's happened to Sinclair. I know it."

"Kid, dat could all just be coincidence--"

"No! No, I know it. Something's wrong. Who the Hell are the Vammatar and why would they be after Sinclair? Is it the notebook?"

"Dat damned notebook again." Hoagie muttered. "Alright, I'll tells ya what I knows. But I'm warning ya, ya didn't hear a word of it from me? Got it? Not a word."

Kore nodded vigorously and leaned closer.

Hoagie sighed. "Dey didn't teach yeh about dis sort of ting at Harvard, did dey? Now, look, dis is all just heresay, mind you. I don't know how much of dis is true and how much is pretty lies. Da...Da Vammatar...Christ, don't make me say dat name again. They_have been around since time outta mind, under a dozen different names. Other people play at occultism, dese guys _are_da occult. But dey don't claim any of what dey do to be magic. It's _technology ta dem. It only looks like magic to us mooks because we ain't never _seen_anything like it before. Kinda how a cave man would look at a light bulb and tink it's some sort of weird ju-ju. Christ, _I_still tink it's some sort of weird ju-ju. Now, I don't know if it's still dis way--I ain't been in Chicago for a few years now--but da word was dat _they_was looking fer a key."

"A key?" Kore asked.

"Not a metal one. A written one, a code to translate a text dey found. I tink your buddy Sinclair might'a had a copy of both da key and da text. Dat first night he was in 'ere, I saw him scribbling away in dat notebook, taking long sips of his coffin varnish. I took a look over his shoulder, and damn if dat cat wasn't writing what like a cross between high-brow math and gibberish. I asked him, and he said he was translating it for somebody. Said if he could get it right, it was worth a million bucks."

Kore made a low whistle.

Hoagie continued. "I didn't believe him. He was drinkin' absinthe for Chrissake. But I left him to it. What da hell, right? But den, I remember what I heard before I split da WindyCity." He shook his finger at Kore as he spoke.

Hoagie paused his story and lit up a cigarette. He took a long drag from it before he continued, blowing the smoke away from the frazzled dragon. "Kore, dey sent the word out for dis key through Capone."

Kore hissed and recoiled. "The Capone?"

"None other. Kid, if dat's what dis is, I hope you kissed Sinclair's ass goodbye. Da Mob supposedly has connections wit' them, and when dey get what dey want outta him, da Mob'ell drop him off Navy Pier with a complimentary pair of cement boots. Ain't no one better at hidin' a body forever dan da Mob."

"What could possibly be in that notebook?" Kore asked.

"Who knows? The solution to world hungar? More likely a weapon... Doesn't matter. Da point is, Sinclair must have found someting, and they found out about it."

"What should I do?"

Hoagie looked at him. "Boy, I don't know. Ain't you da one wit' a fancy degree?"

Kore sighed and lowered his head. "This is way out of my league."

Hoagie gave him a pitying look. "Never thought I see da day something vexed an Ivy League man. Look, kid, I got nothin' ta help you with. All I can say is, follow dat trail. Sinclair left you a fine clue, and it's a start."

Kore nodded and got up to leave, but Hoagie motioned for him to sit back down. "If you are serious about going to dat city, listen up. Don't go looking like a rich boy. Da Mob, assuming dey know to keep a eye out for yeh, will be lookin' for a well-dressed dragon. Don't look fancy, got it?"

Kore nodded.

"And another ting: watch dat drinkin' habit of yours. Capone owns Chicago. Don't let no one tell you different. If you find a speakeasy--and dey aren't dat difficult to find--keep yer nose clean and pay yer tab before you leave fer da night. Don't leave nothin' for dem to follow, got me?"

Kore nodded again. "And if I have to deal with the Mob?"

Hoagie paled and shook his head. "Den you better pray, boy. Pray Capone's in a good mood, and dat your silver tongue can get you and yer cat outta dere alive."

"What of...the Vammatar?"

Hoagie shook his head. "Good luck, kid. I hope you find him."

Kore left, feeling sick to his stomach. He returned to his flat and began to pack. He left a note for his staff, explaining that he would be gone for a few days, possibly a week or more, in Chicago. He busied his mind with preparing for the trip, brutally quashing any thought about what he would do once he got there. All that mattered right now was that he get there.

The following day was a grey blur. He remembered getting his train ticket, he remembered staggering into his room on the train, and he remembered picking up a newspaper that had a rumor about the constitutionality of the Prohibition movement being questioned by the Supreme Court. But for the duration of the train ride, he was little more than a living zombie. The cold hands of dread had settled on his shoulders, and with every passing mile, he felt more and more like he was speeding into something unimaginable.


Sinclair woke to the rhythmic sound of a railroad car going full tilt. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times to verify that he was sitting in virtual darkness rather than blind. A thin rod of light from where the car doors didn't quite meet up broke the darkness. Sinclair groaned and rubbed his leg. Whoever kidnapped him hadn't bothered to give him a change of clothes, and Sinclair frowned at the claw marks in his shirt and pants leg. Fermata had really done a number on him. Something slid down his arm while he was taking stock of his state, and he glanced at it absently.

It looked like a bracelet. The metal band was easily two inches wide, and had an O shaped ring welded to it. Sinclair discovered he had three more of these bands, one on each limb. He crawled to the light and took a closer look at the strange manacles. The metal sparkled faintly, and was a strange blue-green hue he had never seen before. The welding was seamless; it looked as if someone had molded the metal to his wrists and ankles while it was still warm enough to manipulate. They look like restraints, but...

But there were no chains linking the manacles to each other, nothing to prevent or hinder his movement. Puzzled, Sinclair got up and walked around. He tested the doors, doubting it would be that easy and was not surprised to find them soundly locked. He looked around the car for anything he might use as a weapon or a crowbar to pry the door open, but the inside of the car was utterly devoid of debris. _Just me and a matching set of strangeness,_Sinclair thought.

The walls were polished smooth and seemed to be normal steel, but the floor was darker. The rough pads of his paws rasped against the floor, and he could see in the dim light that the bottom of the car was made of the same strange greenish metal that made up the bands.

I don't like this, Sinclair thought, I don't like this at all.

He paced the car in endless circles, loosing his balance only once when the whole car shook. The feeling was vaguely familiar, and he wondered if they had crossed a station or something. While he walked, he tried desperately to come up with some sort of plan to escape, but without anything to work with, he each plan he conceived seemed more outlandish than the last.

Suddenly, the car began to hum. The hum became a roar, and the metal around his wrists and ankles became heavier.

"What in the name of--" he said, struggling against whatever force was dragging his limbs down. But the weight continued to mount until his muscles finally gave in. He collapsed to his knees, the bands clanging smartly against the metal before resting solidly against the floor.

I hope I dented it good, you bastards.

A minute later the door opened, and in walked a globe of light. Sinclair winced and looked away.

"Hello, Sinclair. How do you like your car?" Fermata's voice wafted past him like poisonous melody.

"It's a bit Spartan for my taste, darlin'," he said. "A chair would go a long way."

"Sorry, Sinclair. No chairs. Don't worry, we're almost there. It'll only be for another day or two."

"I hate to impose on a lady, but where does a body go to relieve himself in here?" Sinclair asked.

Fermata sighed. She vanished through the door, and the hum suddenly stopped. The bands on his wrists and ankles suddenly released their grip on the floor, and Sinclair had to catch himself. Before Sinclair could get to his feet, Fermata appeared in the doorway again, holding a new shirt and pants. She threw them at him and he caught them easily between his paws.

"Change. You can't go out in what you're wearing. I'll escort you to the bathroom, and if you behave, I'll bring you a meal afterward."

"Ma'am." Sinclair bowed his head, and Fermata stepped out. He pulled off the tattered remnants of his shirt and pants. He could still smell a faint trace of Kore on his shirt. Reluctantly, he tossed it aside.

You knew it would come to this, Sinclair. You should have said something while you had the chance.

"Hope you're well, Korestai," he said to himself. Sinclair wondered if Kore would have found his note by now, or if the dragon was still wondering what became of him. Sinclair pushed the thoughts away. It was just too painful.

An electro-magnetic generator strong enough to magnetize the floor of a train car, and yet not the whole train? How had they done it? It made no sense. Sinclair shook his head. Metallurgy and physics weren't his strong suit. Kore could have figured it out, if he were here.

_Lord keep him safe, and, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, Lord lend me the strength to..._He couldn't finish the thought. It was the last happy thing he had left. And if he forgot that, he was truly damned.

Kore will come. Kore will figure this out, and when I get out of here, I'm burning that damned notebook.


While he had entertained the idea of trying to escape after he'd emptied his bladder, Sinclair didn't think it would be worth it. He was on a fast-moving train, and even if he could evade Fermata long enough to get off, they would just come after him again. For now, he resolved to play by their rules. I might even get time off for good behavior, he thought, sourly. Wouldn't_that _be fine?

Fermata returned an hour later holding a tray. Sinclair could peanut butter, and his mouth watered. She handed the tray over to Sinclair without a word. He devoured the sandwich in three bites and regarded the silent Fermata.

"So, darlin', where are you taking me?" he asked, licking the last remnants from his whiskers. Fermata gave him a look.

"Don't be an idiot. You know where we're taking you," she said.

"And that would be...where?"

"You've been there before," she sighed. "If this is your idea of conversation, no wonder you can't get a female interested in you."

"Who ever said I was interested in female company in that manner?" Sinclair replied. "I just would like to know what the Vammatar's plans are for me. Is that really so much to ask?"

Fermata's lips pressed into a thin line, and she refused to speak.

Sinclair sighed. "If you don't mind me askin', what are these things?" He pushed back his sleeves to reveal the band on his wrist.

"They're insurance," Fermata growled.

"I didn't realize I was needin' to be insured."

"We're not taking any chances. As long as you behave, I won't need to use them again."

"It was just that 'use' I was meaning to ask about. See, that was _right_strange--" Sinclair laid heavy on the Southern drawl, "--and I haven't a clue as to how you were able to do that." He looked at her, wide-eyed and innocent.

"Good," Fermata said, slamming the door shut. Sinclair frowned. Well, it was worth a try. He pressed his face to the crack between the doors, craning to see the landscape. It was definitely getting flatter as they went. The majestic Appalachian mountains folded into rounded ripples, and finally collapsed to monotonous flat in all directions.

Sinclair sighed and sat next to the door, his back against the wall and his head in his palms. He looked for his old shirt, and found it missing. Denied even that small comfort, Sinclair curled up in the corner and wept.


Several days passed, and Sinclair was let out only long enough to eat and relieve himself. In between, Sinclair had plenty of time to think. Fermata had told him more than she thought she had. The main Vammatar base on American soil had been Chicago, right underneath the Water Tower. The Vammatar couldn't move it in anything under a decade; there was just too much down there. And when he knew the Vammatar were moving to collect him, he'd left the clues leading to just that place in Kore's wallet. He honestly didn't think the Vammatar _were_occultists. But what else could this strange metal be but some sort of unholy magic?

Kore, for the love of all things bright and beautiful, don't let me down!

Finally, after seven days (he used the edge of his new "bracelets" to scratch a mark into the wall by the door), Fermata announced that they had arrived at the Vammatar's base of operations. She wore nothing but her own hide, and gave him an offended look when he didn't show an ounce of interest. He was led out of his car, and down a dank hallway. A film of slime covered the arched walls at intervals, draining into the grate on which he walked. Sinclair noted that the walkway was also made of the same strange metal that hung snugly against his wrists and ankles.

She knocked on the door at the end of the hall. Sinclair glanced back at the train. The engine had a single "V" marked where the engine number usually sat. Private train. The door opened, and a human gestured for them to enter. "So, that's your--"

Fermata rounded on the man with a snarl. "Yes. Where do they want him?"

"Boss said cell block delta. Should I have you escorted?"

Fermata gave the human a withering look, and the human gate keeper threw up his hands. "Alright, alright, just thought I'd offer."

Fermata grabbed Sinclair's shirt, balling her paw into a fist, and dragged him down the hallway. Her claws grabbed more than shirt, and Sinclair let out a yowl as he felt fur pulled free of his chest.

"Fermata, darlin', there's no need to be so rough. All you have to do is say the word, and I'll jump to," Sinclair said through gritted teeth.

"Bull. I told you to get your sorry ass back here, and you refused. I warned you that the Vammatar would send someone for you, and you laughed at me. You had that damned notebook for three years, and when you were finally given a chance to do something with your life you blew it." She rounded on him, pulling him within a whisker of her bared teeth. "Why?! Why would you do it? Is that notebook worth your life?"

Sinclair looked away. "Yes," he said softly. "If you weren't one of them, you'd understand."

She snarled angrily and dragged him to the end of the hall, where another guard a jail cell. Fermata threw him in and stood in the entrance, arms crossed over her chest as if she were cold.

"Your notebook is on the table, along with a lamp. You have a week to recreate your key, after which point we are going to start cutting body parts off of your dragon lover."

Sinclair narrowed his eyes. "I don't believe you."

Fermata gave him a ghastly smile. "Then wait a week, and find out." She slammed the door shut, leaving Sinclair in the dark. His eyes adjusted, and he sat at the spare desk, staring at the familiar form of his notebook. Next to it was a note pad and three sharpened pencils.

Something didn't feel right. Fermata knew that he knew about the Vammatar's base of operations in Chicago. But they'd still hidden their location from him, using an underground tunnel. If he already knew where they were, why bother to go through all the secrecy?

Unless he wasn't really in the Water Tower.

Sinclair felt sick. They knew. They knew he'd left clues for Kore, and that Kore would follow them. Sinclair thought he was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, but he'd really been baiting a trap for the only person he gave a damn about.

"Fermata! You psychotic bitch!" Sinclair pounded on the door to his cell. A moment later, Fermata's grinning face peered through the bars. She twisted one of her whiskers between her finger pads and laughed. "You've finally figured it out, have you?"

Sinclair snatched at her face, but his claws only bit air. Fermata merely backed up and continued to laugh. "Poor, poor Sinclair. Like I said, darlin', you had your chance. And while you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, you don't seem to have a sweet tooth for anyone save that scaly egg. This is bigger than both of us, Sinclair. Finish the key in seven days, and your draconic friend will be none the wiser. Fail, and we'll turn him into a screaming vegetable, while you watch."

"You unimaginable quiff!" Sinclair snarled.

Fermata sobered, leveling a glare so full of rage at Sinclair that he felt the blood in his veins turn to ice. "My loyalty was far from cheap, Sinclair."

"This whole thing was a trip for biscuits. And now, you have me, sittin' pretty in a cell, while you threaten the only person left in this life who still means something to me with a horrible death if I don't cooperate. What have you gotten out of any of this, Fermata? What have they done that made any of this worth it to you?" Sinclair said. "What have they done to you?"

She hissed viciously at him. She leapt at the door faster than he thought possible and slammed into the cell door. Sinclair stumbled backward and fell on his rump. Fermata's green eyes glowed through the bars, and Sinclair was suddenly reminded of the nightmare he'd had a lifetime ago.

"What will I gain, Sinclair? I gain a place at the Vammatar's meetings. I gain a future you can't even imagine. I'll be important. While you, dear brother, rot here, alone and forgotten. They've made me stronger, they've given me a home--"

"You had a home--" Sinclair interrupted.

"That rat hole?" Fermata snorted with disgust.

"It wasn't her fault--"

"No," Fermata spat, "it was never her fault. Finish the key, Sinclair. Before I forget we shared the same mother." She left Sinclair without another word.

He leaned on the door for a long time, simply staring at the floor, before he sat down at the desk. He picked up the first pencil, his paw shaking, and haltingly began to write.


Kore's train pulled into Union Station at precisely one o'clock, five days after Sinclair'd vanished from Kore's hotel room. As he stepped off the car, Kore could see a tunnel that opened to a grand hall. People of all walks bustled through the Great Hall, and Kore even saw several of the anthro persuasion loitering near the exits and jostling with the human crowd.

Something shoved him from behind, and a man in a suit pushed past.

"Watch it, scaly." He said disdainfully.

Bemused, Kore followed the crowd into the Great Hall. Awash on the sea of humanity, he was finally cast ashore outside the station. He stood for a moment, watching the stream of people coming and going from the station, with a strange sense of awe. He didn't think anything could rival New York City in shear expanse, but this new station of Chicago definitely gave The Big Apple a run for its money. It certainly wasn't here when he'd--

Kore pushed the thought aside. Next to the exit was a brass plaque with the date 1927 embossed on it. He nodded to no one in particular and made his way to one of the vendor carts that crouched at the edges of the Hall. He purchased a map of the city and a newspaper, and settled down on one of the benches to plan his next move. He located the Water Tower and marked it on his map. It was clear across the city, much too far for him to walk. He supposed he could take the "L" there. He despised public transportation, but a cab would be too risky. Taxi drivers talked, and something told Kore that he wanted to remain as anonymous as possible.

Kore's experience in New York proved to be his biggest boon as he traveled the Chicago public transportation system. Chicago was kith and kin to the beast of New York, and it spat out those unfamiliar with her just as readily and eagerly. But Kore knew how to navigate the concrete jungle, and in short order found himself standing in front of the Water Tower.

Sinclair's scribbled sketch really didn't do it justice. The white stone structure must have once been the tallest thing around, but industrialization had helped build higher and grander skyscrapers, and now it seemed like an artifact out of time. A medieval castle dropped in the middle of Michigan Avenue. He walked around it a few times, looking for something that may lead him to Sinclair, but he couldn't find anything even remotely helpful. Finally, he stood in front of it and sighed.

"Well, Sinclair, here I am. And I have no idea what to do from here," Kore muttered. A crowd mingled around the tower, ignoring most of the benches. One man, however, caught Kore's eye. He sat on a bench, a pad of paper was in his lap, and he was scribbling with a shard of charcoal.

Curious, Kore meandered over to the man. The man wore a threadbare overcoat and canvas pants with gaping holes in the knees. His notepad was water-stained and the corners curled up something fierce. His beard was grey and scruffy, though it looked as if he'd attempted to groom it recently. The man didn't notice Kore as he peeked over his shoulder.

The strange man was drawing Kore's face. It was such a perfect likeness that Kore could hardly believe the man could have done it in anything less than an hour, but he'd only been looking at the Water Tower for fifteen minutes.

Kore coughed politely, and the drawing man didn't even jump. He just kept sketching away, absorbed in his work. Kore frowned, and decided a more frontal approach may be in order. He walked around to the front of the bench and stood directly in the man's light.

The man on the bench blinked, shifted, and continued to work without looking up. Kore cleared his throat.

"Would you like me to hold still for you, so that you may get a better image? My nose looks nothing like that," Kore said.

The man shook his head, putting some finishing touches on Kore's portrait. "No, no need. Photographic memory. Your nose looks like that alright. I draws 'em as I sees 'em." The man on the bench tore the picture off his page and handed it to Kore.

", how much?" Kore asked, digging for his wallet.

The man held up his hand. "No need. You're an easy one to draw. I'd gather by the way you look at that tower, you ain't local."

Kore made a wry face. "Is it really that obvious?"

"Only to someone who knows what to look for. I'd also gather you ain't a tourist. This tower means somethin' to ya." The man grinned a gap-toothed grin. He began to draw something else on his sketch pad. Something that looked very much like the letter V, but with small embellishments at the tips. A slender quarter-arc hung off the tips. He followed up the image with a mirror of that strange V, over-lapping the vertices in the middle. Kore couldn't help but notice that the image looked very much like a noble crest of some kind, but Kore had never seen anything like it before.

Under the strange entwined Vs, the man began to draw another crest. At first, Kore thought it was merely an oroboros, an image of a snake devouring its own tail, but in the middle of the loop the man sketched a five point star. The nub of his charcoal was nearly spent, but he had enough to spare to sign the sketch before handing it to Kore as well. The dragon stared at the two images as if entranced.

"Something tells me those will mean something to ya, or they'll mean something to ya soon. Keep 'em, no charge, no charge," the man said, getting up from his bench. His bones cracked as he stood. "Good Lord, getting' late. Gotta ankle." The man shuffled off and vanished into the crowd. Only after he was out of sight did Kore snap to his senses.

"What? Wait! How did you--"

But the man was gone.

"I didn't even have a chance to thank him," Kore grumbled. He touched the mirrored Vs with the tip of his claw, careful not to smear the charcoal. On a hunch, he walked back to the tower. He walked around the perimeter, looking for either symbol. Carved into one of the corner stones, nearly obscured by grass, he saw the first image of the double Vs. He held the piece of paper up to the carving to make sure they were the same--

A rough hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him back.

"What are you doin' here, buster?"

The person holding him was an anthro, a beast of a bear. Shaggy brown fur hung from his arms, and his hands were tipped in long, ivory-colored claws two inches long.

"Er, this man told me that there was this symbol carved into the tower, and I wanted to see for myself..." Kore said, giving the grizzly a disarming smile. He gestured to the stone, but the bear didn't look; his frown deepened.

"Come with me," he ordered. The bear shuffled toward a side entrance to the tower. The bear sneezed at the entrance and wrinkled his nose. "Damn allergies. Always get me this time of year." He pounded on the steel door, and it creaked inward. The bear gestured to Kore. "After you, twinkle-toes."

Kore glanced into the black wedge of darkness, and suddenly knew with perfect clarity that he absolutely did not want to go in there. "I would, good sir, had I not noticed that all the footprints seem to go in, and none come out again." Kore twisted in the bear's grasp and tore himself free. He kicked the bear as hard as he could in the knee, neatly dislocating it. The bear roared and tripped forward, falling headlong into the doorway. There was a loud crash, a scream, and a chorus of howls.

Kore didn't stick around to find out what happened next. He was off and running. The crowd parted, and he dove into it like an otter into a river. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of pursuit. Thinking fast, Kore darted into the first building that looked public.

A diner. Kore took a deep breath and tried to nonchalantly slide into the furthest booth at the counter. And sitting at the booth behind him, reading the newspaper from three days ago, was the man from the park. The man grinned, folded his paper, and slid into the seat across from Kore.

"Nice going, there. Very clever. Hoagie mentioned you were bright. Try the hot dogs here. Great stuff. Just don't, in the name of all that's holy, put ketchup on it." The man said.

Kore was dumbfounded. He stammered and looked at the man as if he had grown a second head.

"What are you doing here?" Kore finally managed to say.

The waitress chose that moment to come up to them. The man's grin widened. "He'll have a hot dog, with extra fries."

"This isn't...I can't...they might_find_ me..."

"Relax, they won't set foot in here. You're safe here, for now. Capone may own most of the city, but he still respects the sanctity of this hot dog stand."

"What are you talking about?!" Kore asked, nearly having hysterics.

"Don't cast a kitten, Kore. Just take a deep breath. Ahh, here's your hot dog."

The waitress set a dish with a hot dog on it in front of him. A greasy mountain of fries leaned heavily against the bun. The hot dog itself was fairly dripping with mustard, onions, relish, and celery salt. Several slices of tomato were tucked between the hot dog and its bun, and a long wedge of pickle was pressed into the top. Kore couldn't help but this that it looked as if the hot dog had been dragged through a garden before it was set on the plate. It should have looked like the least appetizing thing Kore had ever laid eyes on. But Kore suddenly felt hungry, and after taking a deep breath, pulled the hot dog free of the fries. After a moment of serious consideration, he talked himself into taking a bite. The tang of the mustard and the sharp sweetness of the onion and relish coated his tongue. The crunch of the pickle, the snap of the hot dog casing as it broke between his teeth, sent Kore to a very happy place and for a moment, he forgot he was being pursued.

"That is...really good. What do you call this?" Kore asked, taking another bite.

"It's called a Chicago Dog. Hmm, seems your friends found you after all." The man gestured to the window. Kore looked back just in time to see three more bears charge past the window. One stopped, peeked in, and saw Kore. It narrowed its eyes at him, bared its teeth, but continued by without coming inside.

"They...found me?" The taste of Chicago Dog died in his mouth.

"Don't worry, kid. You'll be fine. They won't be able to come after you once we get you settled in. So, I gather that you're name is Kore, you're from New York, and you are looking for a cat named Sinclair."


"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Edmund, Ed to my friends. And I count Hoagie as one of my friends. He sent word that you were comin' into town, and that you would be found at the Water Tower. I kept a weather eye out for you."

Kore let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"Now, Hoagie wouldn't say too much over the wire, only that you were comin', and that you were in need of assistance of my particular kind. So my question to you is, why would he say such a thing? You don't look like you need help. In fact, you've been doing just fine on your own. But Hoagie never sends me these sorts of things without a reason. So, did you find that carving on the Water Tower?"

Kore took another bite of his hot dog and nodded.

"And you have no idea what that means?"

Kore shook his head.

The man, Ed, nodded and glanced at Kore's fries. "Mind if I have a few?"

Kore nodded. The man took a handful, and Kore noticed that despite the man's disheveled appearance, his fingernails were well manicured and clean.

"You aren't homeless," Kore said once he found his voice again. He popped one of the fries into his mouth, savoring the flavor of salt and grease.

Ed glanced up at him and raised an eyebrow. "Hoagie was right. You really _are_quite clever. Can't put anything by you." Ed popped a fry in his mouth and chewed it thoughtfully. He looked out the window, just in time to see the bears pace back around the block.

"Hmm, they really seem keen on you. Usually, those damned V people give up by now." Ed commented.

"You mean the Vamm--"

"Shh!! Don't say it. Yeah, them." Ed gave him a sharp look. "Alright, looks like we're going to have to get real clever. There's a door out the back, goes through an alley and into the street. There's a door just to the left with that second symbol carved into it, real rough-like. Knock on it twice. I'll be right behind you."

Ed gave Kore a shove, and the blue dragon got to his feet. "But...the tab..."

"Don't worry 'bout it. I got it." Ed took a folded bill from his shirt pocket and stuck it under the now empty plate. Kore swallowed and marched in the direction Ed had indicated. Sure enough, there was the door. Kore poked his snout out the door, sniffing the air. The bears were close, but not too close. He chanced a peek, and watched as the bears rounded the corner, out of sight of the door.

Kore darted into the alley and easily found the second door with the strange symbol of an ouroboros wrapped around a five-point star carved into the wood just above the handle. He rapped twice, his claw shaking, and a voice came from the other side.

"Who's there?" It asked, rather unfriendly.

"A dancer of the spiral has a name only to the stars," Ed said, coming up behind him.

There was a series of clicks and the door opened. "Enter, dancer and seeker."

Ed stepped inside without another word. Kore looked back and saw the bears turning the corner. He stepped inside, and the door clicked quietly shut behind him. The pair was led down a dark hallway lit only by a candle in the hand of the door man. The door man's face was hidden by a deep hood, and in the light the robe appeared to be light grey. A belt of red hung from his hips, the ends of which were embroidered with a the same symbol from the door in silver thread. At the end of the hallway stood a pair of double doors. The door man handed Ed his candle, and shoved the doors open.

"He will see you now," the door man said, and walked back to his post.

Ed smiled encouragingly at Kore and beckoned toward the door.

Kore didn't know what he was expecting, but what he saw certainly wasn't it. The room was softly lit by four rows of candles that circled the room. Reliefs carved into the marble danced in the flickering light, and Kore found himself entranced by the daedal images. It was as if the artist took a small scene from every mythology from every corner of the world and turned it into a single flowing piece of work. Here, Shiva danced upon the ashes of the old world while surrounded by the flames of creation. Here, a hawk fanned life into the dead Osiris. And here, a sparkling city inlaid with diamonds sank into a sapphire sea. The ceiling was covered in tiny tiles, swirling like a storm around a central point. The floor mirrored the ceiling, and in the center was the twisting oroboros symbol. In the center of the five-point star sat...a creature.

Kore wasn't a religious dragon, but his first thought was that the creature was a demon. It had the torso and arms of a man, the legs and lower body of a black goat, and the head that seemed a morph of the two. Its cloven hooves were a bright red, as were the curving ram's horns that grew from its brow. The creature sat in the lotus position, eyes closed and seemingly deep in a trance. The golden skin on its arms and chest glistened with oil, and Kore couldn't help but notice that the goat man had the body of an Adonis. After a moment, its left ear twitched, as if to dislodge a fly, and the creature opened its eyes.

They were liquid silver, those eyes, with horizontal pupils just like a goat. It--no, he, clearly now a he, for Kore could see its loins and the sheath covered in silken black fur--looked at Kore, and smiled softly.

"Welcome, Kore," His voice was like obsidian, smooth and dark.

Kore found his voice, though it sounded thin from shock. "What...who are you?"

The goat man smiled broader, flashing perfect ivory teeth. "I am as you are. An amalgam of man and animal. As for who I am, that could take a great deal of time. Time, I believe, that neither you nor your feline friend have. So I will simply give you a name. You may call me Azazel."

"Azazel. That's...a demon name," Kore swallowed.

Azazel nodded. "It is now, though it wasn't always associated with the demonic." He held up one hand, and Kore could see that even the goat man's fingernails were a dark crimson color. It should have looked outlandish, but something about the goat-man's demeanor made it seem noble, even regal. "But I assure you, I am no agent of evil. You've met them already, or so my people tell me."

"Where is Sinclair?" Kore asked bluntly. "Have your 'people' told you that?"

"Ah, so very direct. No questions? No curiosity as to how, or why, or what?" Azazel tossed back his head and laughed. His voice was a deep rumble, more bull than goat.

"What questions would I ask? If you really are a demon? If all of this is some sort of twisted occult war that Sinclair got mixed up in? What's really in that notebook? I don't care about those questions. I only want to know where Sinclair is." Kore said.

"I know what is written in the cat's notebook. I know why the Vammatar seek it, and I know that the world will be irreparably changed should they unlock its secrets." Azazel said. "And, my draconic friend, I may help you may find your feline companion."

"Where is he?" Kore asked.

Azazel sighed. "I can help you find him, but in return you must do something for me. A boon, as it were."

Kore nodded. "What sort of boon?"

"Find the notebook, and destroy it."

"No," Kore said flatly. "Sinclair would never forgive me."

"So certain are you of this?" Azazel replied, raising an eyebrow.

"Why is everyone out to either get a hold of that notebook or destroy it? What is so damned special about it?" Kore said, crossing his arms over his chest.

The candles flared for a moment, and then dimmed. Azazel sighed and shook his head. "To explain the words in that notebook would take many hours. There are things written there that have not yet been remembered by civilization." Azazel stood and paced the chamber, and Kore saw that the goat man had a lion-like tail, long with a tuft at the tip. Azazel paused beside a strange image of a desert. In the center was what appeared to be a giant mushroom, or a mushroom-shaped cloud, circled by a halo. Or at least, Kore thought it was a halo. He looked closer and saw that it was an oroboros, coiled around the cap of the mushroom as if to contain it. "These things, this knowledge, is monstrous. It will be learned in time--of that I am certain--but if it were to fall into the wrong hands, at the wrong time, the consequences would be dire indeed."

"And who are you to judge who should have it and who should not?" Kore asked.

Azazel turned and gave Kore a steady look. "You do not want an answer to that question, Korestai. But you shall get one, sooner than you think. It has already begun, across the ocean. A symbol has been forged which shall shape the destiny of the future for decades to come. Tell me, Kore, how do you feel about your kind?" Azazel asked.

"You mean dragons?" Kore said, looking confused.

Azazel laughed. "How do you feel about those born different? Do you believe that dragons are, perhaps, superior to cats? That light is superior to dark?"

"No, of course not. I mean, we aren't equal, that would be ridiculous, but..." Kore trailed off. "...but it doesn't really _mean_anything."

"Ahh, it is the beginning of wisdom, I hear." Azazel's face fell. "Sadly, not all are so wise. And it will lead to terrible things. There is no way to stop it, only mitigate the damage that will be done." As he spoke, Azazel began snuffing out candles between his fingers. "That is why I must ask again. If I help you find your Sinclair, will you find his notebook? If you cannot bring yourself to destroy it, bring Sinclair back here, and I will destroy the notebook myself."

"If there is such a catastrophe coming, why not use what is in the notebook to stop it?" Kore asked.

"Because what the notebook speaks of cannot be used for peace. It can only be used for war." Azazel continued to snuff candles, and Kore realized he was making a design out of the darkened candles. "And a war with the thing in that notebook at its head will be a war to end all wars."

Azazel stepped back from the candles, and Kore could see that he had created a four-sided cross with hooked ends, tilted at a forty-five degree angle. The haze from the snuffed candles hung ominously in the air above the strange glyph. Kore looked at the blackened image, but could make neither heads nor tails of it. A nagging part of his mind swore that he'd seen the image before, but not where. But he got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach from looking at it.

"I ask one final time, will you do as I ask?" Azazel asked.

Kore thought for a moment, staring at the darkened candles, before finally nodding. "I'll bring you the notebook, or destroy it. How do I find Sinclair?"

Azazel smiled.


Sinclair looked haggard. He felt pretty bad too, but he looked worse. The mirror was old and pitted, but it showed his reflection well enough by candle light. His black fur had become dull and dusty, his whiskers unkempt. The hollows in his face, which had been filling in since Kore had decided Sinclair was too skinny, were deepening again. His eyes were bloodshot.

Sinclair stuck out his tongue. The pink seemed to be going out of his gums. I'm turning into a ghost down here. Good Lord, when was the last time I saw the sun? Or even the moon?

Sinclair splashed tepid water on his face from the basin and sat back down at his desk. His notebook lay open before him, partially translated from the strange cipher into American English.

I can't do this. I can't keep translating it, Sinclair thought. He dropped his head into his paws. The next part...there's no turning back. Once it's translated, anyone could make this thing, provided they have the right parts.

Sinclair took a deep breath and reached for his pencil. When they first dropped him into the room, he had three, and all of them were six inches long. He was down to the last inch of his last pencil.

I need another pencil if they want me to finish this, Sinclair thought. Suddenly, he had an idea. He pounded on the door to his cell. A moment later, the sliding window opened.

"What?" asked an annoyed voice outside.

"I need another pencil," Sinclair replied. "I've been working my paws to the bone to get this thing translated on time, but I can't do my part if I don't have the right supplies." He pushed the stub of a pencil through the slot.

There was a sound of grumbling on the other side of the door, followed by heavy foot steps. Sinclair raced back to his desk and pulled out the other two nubs of pencil he had left. While the writing end was utterly spent, each still had a nearly intact eraser.

As fast as he could, Sinclair began erasing his work. He managed to destroy three day's worth of translating by the time the guard returned with three fresh pencils.

"Here. Now shaddap. Stupid cat." The guard threw the pencils in through the opening.

"Woof, woof," Sinclair muttered, picking up the pencils. He inspected the tips. They were still giving him pencils with erasers, and as long as they did, he'd be able to stall for time.

He paused, his paw hovering over the now blank page. Stall? For what? It wasn't as if Kore would find him here. Why bother? Why not just finish the thing, and be done with it?

He shook his head. No, he couldn't do that. The minute he was finished, they would execute him, or worse. They'd probably keep him around long enough to make certain he'd translated the thing properly and that the thing worked, but as soon as he wasn't needed anymore, they would bump him off with no more thought than a dog gave fleas.

They'd kill him, in time. He knew that. But he wanted to die knowing he'd left them nothing they didn't already know. By the light of the guttering lamp, Sinclair scooped up the eraser scraps and poured them into the drain in the center of the room.

He hid his eraser scraps three more times before he was finally discovered.


"Sinclair, it seems that you've been a very bad kitty." Fermata said. She strode into the room wearing a white mink wrap draped over her shoulder.

Sinclair gritted his teeth and refused to answer.

"You are a fool, Sinclair," Fermata continued. "All you had to do was finish the damned book, and we'd have let you go."

"Bushwa," Sinclair said quietly. "You know as well as I do, darlin', the Vammatar are just going to execute me once I finish."

"Then finish it, you stupid cat, and your misery will be over!" Fermata shrieked. "Why fight this? Why keep resisting?"

"You really don't understand, do you?" Sinclair said, looking at her.

"What is there to understand?" Fermata sneered.

Sinclair only shook his head and turned away.

Fermata grabbed his shirt and glared at him, her teeth a whisker from his face. "Finish it, Sinclair. Finish it, or your next meal will be barbeque lizard. They may decide dragon is good for felines," Fermata replied, a cruel grin stretching her lips. "Dragon really isn't all that different from crocodile, when you think about it. And I hear it tastes like chicken."

Sinclair paled under his fur. "I'll finish it." He said at last, looking at the floor in defeat.

"You'll what?" Fermata growled.

"I said, I'll finish it!" Sinclair snarled. Fermata threw him down, laughing.

"You'd better, Sinclair. This is your last chance." She slammed the iron door behind her.

Sinclair knelt on all fours, his head hanging between his arms. He opened his mouth and roared as loud as he could, pouring his rage, frustration, desperation, and despair into the sound until it echoed through the compound like the scream of a damned man.


Kore woke with a start, and it took him a moment to get his bearings.

Ed had insisted on Kore staying in the templar wing for now, at least until they knew where to find Sinclair. The room was Spartan, nothing more than a bed, a desk, and a lamp. Ed claimed that the templars needed nothing more. When Kore asked him what a templar did need, Ed suddenly lost his voice and refused to say more about the subject. He did, at least, tell Kore the name of the organization helping him: the Order of Tiamat.

Kore pinched the bridge of his nose and growled softly to himself. None of this made any sense. Ancient cults, cipher script from buried civilizations, secret organizations that pre-date Christ, abductions, veiled prophecies, the Mob. Kore growled softly to himself.

And it all started with Sinclair and his bloody notebook.

But in spite of the insanity, Kore couldn't really blame Sinclair. Wherever he is, I'm sure he's regretting it too. Assuming he's still alive. Kore winced and forced the thought away. Sinclair was alive. He had to be. It had been a week since the cat had been kidnapped, and with every day Kore felt more and more anxious. Kore refused to believe otherwise. Of course, assuming Sinclair was still alive, Kore was still considering strangling his lover on sight for putting him through this.

A knock on his door roused Kore from his thoughts.

"Kore? Are you awake?" It was Ed.

"Yes, just...give me a moment to get decent," Kore replied. He pulled on a pair of pants and slid into a tee shirt. It wasn't classy, but it would have to do. "You can come in now."

Ed opened the door and set down a lantern. "Sorry about the accommodations, Kore. From what I hear, this isn't exactly your style."

Kore made a wry face. "Far from it. But at least there weren't any cockroaches or rats."

Ed laughed. He was wearing a grey robe that reminded Kore of the robes monks wore. A red sash hung from his hips, with the strange oroboros symbol of the Order embroidered on the ends.

"In uniform today, I see," Kore commented.

Ed glanced at his garb. "For now. I have been speaking with Lord Azazel and the ones he sent to find Sinclair." He took a deep breath. "They think that your friend has been taken to a facility just outside the city proper. Records show that it used to be a slaughter house, and it's been out of official operation for some time. But it has a private rail line, and the tracks show fresh wear. It's not much, but it's a lead," Ed said.

Kore sat, listening. "What now?"

"Now, we look for your friend. This won't be easy, Kore. We don't know for certain that he's inside, and even if he is..." Ed sighed. "We don't know what shape he's in."

Kore swallowed. "I have an idea."

"They may suspect something if you just walk up and ring the bell." Ed replied blandly.

Kore grinned. "They won't suspect a thing." Kore outlined his plan, and by the time he was finished speaking, Ed was grinning as well.


This is insane, Kore thought to himself. He stood in front of a full length mirror, glaring at his reflection. Part One of his master plan involved simply getting in the door of the Vammatar headquarters. According to Order spies, the Vammatar had dealings with the Mob, and it wasn't unheard of for one to appear at the door. Kore just hoped he could pass for an upper-level Mob flunky. He wore a royal purple button up shirt with a matching fedora and cane. An emerald tie was neatly tucked into his black vest.

"Ed, I look like the joker on a deck of cards. This isn't going to fool anyone," Kore said.

"Looking like a joker is the point. Only the upper tier of Capone's people can get away with this sort of...thing." Ed stifled a chuckle. "I got to admit, it looks pretty snappy on you. Makes those scales pop."

"Yes, well, the appearance is only half the act." Kore curled his lip in distaste. "Ugh, wearing this is physically painful, you know."

"Only because you spend so much time well-dressed. Now, put on your coat-ski, and we'll ankle it outta here."

"I ain't wearing a 'coat-ski' in Chicago in the summer, hear?" Kore replied, sounding quite the Chicago native.

Ed laughed. "You're getting better and better at that. If I didn't think you'd need the coat to conceal a gun, I wouldn't insist."

Kore sighed and shrugged into the garish black and purple pinstripe jacket.

"You'll have four hours to get your friend outta there. That's as long as we can safely keep the engine warm for ya. After that, you boys are on your own." Ed said. He gestured to the door, and Kore strode out of the room.

"Well, nice to see you've got the swagger down," Ed muttered.

"If you were anyone else, I'd accuse you of looking at my hind-quarters," Kore said wryly.

"Don't get your hopes up. I'm just trying to make sure we get outta this alive," Ed replied.

Ed and Kore drove up to the front of the old warehouse that was supposed to be the front door to the Vammatar's underground complex.

"Doesn't look like much," Kore commented.

"Not supposed to. How else do you think they fly so completely under the radar? This place was a slaughter house not more than a year ago. Don't know why the Vammater shut it down as one. Could be they just needed the space," Ed said. But from the pinched look of his eyes, Kore had a feeling that "space" wasn't what the Vammater used it for.

"You don't think we'll find him alive, do you?" Kore said at length.

"Son, anything is possible. It all depends on that book, and how resourceful your friend is. If he held out, if he was able to thwart 'em long enough, we may yet find him. If not, well, I hope you have some sort of photo of him, because the odds are good there won't be enough for a proper grave," Ed said.

Kore set his lips in a line. "I'm ready."

Ed nodded, and got out of the car. Kore followed, glancing around at the buildings looming above him. The sky was heavy with swollen grey clouds. A few rain drops splattered against the pavement, but refused to yield more than enough to choke the air with the thick scent of rain. Ed approached the door and pounded on it three times.

A small sliding window opened, and a pair of eyes concealed by a black mask appeared. "Wot's da pass woyrd?"

"Red Riding Hood," Ed replied, without skipping a beat. The eyes vanished, and there was the sound of multiple locks coming undone. The door opened quietly, and a raccoon anthro gestured for them to enter.

"Who should I be tellin' da boss is 'ere?" the raccoon asked.

Ed gave the raccoon a condescending look. "Who does it look like? Our boss caught wind you got a cat problem. He wanted to send you a dragon to help out a bit, see?" Ed replied. Kore grinned slowly, revealing his fangs. The raccoon swallowed and shrank back, nodding vigorously.

"I'll...I'll tell da boss. stay right dere." The raccoon scampered down the hall and vanished.

"That went well," Kore murmured.

"I should'a been wearing a wolf suit," Ed muttered. "I'll never get that chance again."

The raccoon returned, looking even less composed than when he left. "Da...da boss will see you now. Follow me." He led Kore and Ed down the hall and into what looked like a modern parlor. Lounging on one sofa was a black cat.

For a moment, Kore nearly lost his composure. The cat looked so much like Sinclair, only decidedly female. She lay on the couch with a white mink wrap draped around her neck, and otherwise completely nude.

"Good day, boys. What can I do for you?" she said, taking what looked like a cherry cordial from a bowl and dropping it between her fangs. She chewed and swallowed, licking her lips with a small, pink tongue and grinned.

"Boss said something about a 'cat problem' that we were sent to help out with," Ed replied, his gaze fixed the cat's lips.

"Hmm...interesting. I was under the impression that he wouldn't meddle in this affair, as long as we compensated him appropriately," The cat purred.

"We're just following orders, ma'am," Ed replied.

"Of course." She got up and strode over to Kore. "And what are you supposed to be? Merely a body guard? This one must be quite lucky to warrant such a handsome...escort." The cat ran her paw down the length of the fox wrap's tail, leering at Kore.

Thank you, God, for making me a three-letter-man, Kore smiled coldly. "I'm 'ere to do a job, not fraternize."

The cat pouted. "So very serious," she sighed. "Well, I suppose I can let you into his cell for a little while. If it gets him to finish that damned translation any faster, I'll be more than willing to pay _handsomely_for the service." She purred the last word and winked at Kore.

We're doomed, Kore thought to himself, so very very doomed.

"I'm Fermata, by the way," the cat said, leading them down a flight of stairs and onto a redecorated slaughter house floor. Much of the machinery was still present, though eerily still. The floor had rust-colored stains here and there, the only evidence that the place had once been used for meat processing. Everything else was remarkably clean.

Fermata opened what looked like an office door, revealing a hidden elevator. "After you, boys." She took them down another level, through another twisting corridor that smelled faintly of sewer, and to a row of cell doors. She sauntered to a cell marked with a Roman numeral V, hooking her claw under a large key ring as she passed. She fiddled with the keys for a moment before sticking one in the heavy padlock on the cell door.

"Here's where we've been keeping our 'cat problem.' Anything I can get you before you begin?"

"Water would be nice," Kore said. Fermata smiled differently and nodded.

"As you wish."

"And...take your time, sugar," Ed said, winking.

Fermata's smile withered into a look of disdain. "Just as long as he isn't too addled to translate," she growled. Without another word, she stalked off.

Kore turned the key in the lock and pushed into cell. The room was sparse, with only a desk, a chair, and a drain. Sitting at the desk, his back to the door, was Sinclair. Or at least, Kore thought it was Sinclair. It was a black cat, but it looked starved, its fur dull, and its back hunched. The cat didn't even look up; just kept furiously scribbling.

Ed tapped Kore on the shoulder. "I'll keep watch," he said, and stepped outside, closing the door gently behind him.

"Sinclair?" Kore whispered.

The cat tensed, cringing. "No, it's not real. Just ignore it."

"Sinclair, is that you?" Kore asked again, a little louder.

"No, no, no. Stop doing this to yourself, Sinclair." The cat put its paws over its ears, whimpering.

Kore approached Sinclair. "Sinclair, it's me. I'm really here."

His eyes were closed tight, and Kore could see that Sinclair's whiskers, once long and straight, had become brittle and frayed. "Not real. Not real. Not real."

Kore touched Sinclair's shoulder, and the cat screeched, back-pedaling and crashing to the floor. He gave Kore a look of perfect madness, eyes wild and empty.

"Sinclair, what have they done to you?" Kore murmured.

"'re real? You aren''re really here?" Sinclair asked. Kore nodded.

"We have to get you out of here," Kore said, extending his hand. Sinclair took it, his eyes clearing a bit.

"That's...not likely to happen without a little outside assistance. I don't know how you got in here, but I doubt you can get back out the same way. Fermata's likely got some trick up her sleeve, so to speak, and isn't going to simply let us waltz out of here," Sinclair said, pocketing the notebook and grabbing the stack of papers on the desk. He shredded them into very fine pieces, scattering them around the cell and even dropped a handful down the drain in the center of the room.

Kore glanced at a sheet of paper before Sinclair got to it. It was the same phrase, repeated over and over again in tiny script. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

"Sinclair, are you alright?" Kore asked.

"I'll be much better once I'm out of here. But I don't want them finding my notes," Sinclair replied, finishing up the last sheet of paper.

"But these aren't..."

Sinclair silenced Kore with a grim wink.

There was a knock on the door. "Company!" Ed hissed through the window.

"Now what?"

"Now, we buy us some time. Just play along." Kore winked. He listened to Ed and what sounded like the raccoon from earlier exchange words, and Kore knocked on the cell door.

"You give me a hand wit' dis?" Kore said, shifting back to city brogue.

"Ugh, dat stupid cat's been a thorn in da boss's side for weeks." The raccoon pushed into the cell, and Kore made a grab for him. Ed came through a moment later and got him in an arm lock. The raccoon opened his mouth to screech, but Kore clenched his claws around its muzzle, muffling the sound.

"Need something to gag him with," Ed grunted. Sinclair shrugged out of his shirt and tore off a strip.

"This won't hold long, but it'll buy us time," he said. The raccoon glared at him, struggling viciously. Sinclair managed to knot a strip around the raccoon's jaws, and Ed helped get another strip around his wrists.

"Sorry darlin', but you know how it is. I'm a popular man," Sinclair said. The three of them managed to prop him against the far wall. "And I do believe I've worn out my welcome here."

The raccoon howled, but the sound didn't carry far due to the gag. Sinclair tapped the side of his forehead with two fingers and gave the bound raccoon a sarcastic salute. "Goodbye, sugar. I don't think we'll meet again." He closed the cell and twisted the key in the lock. He handed the keys to Kore and grinned. Kore pocketed them, returning Sinclair's grin.

Ed urged Kore and Sinclair down the hall the way they came. "I don't like this," Ed muttered. "The place seems abandoned, but if it really is, I'm a monkey's uncle."

Sinclair snorted and shook his head. Kore tried to appreciate the view of his half-naked lover, but even in the dim light he could see Sinclair's ribs clear enough to count them. The black cat's eyes were sunken and glittered faintly in the flickering light. Sinclair, my friend, what have they done to you? How can you possibly look this bad after a week?

"Where is Fermata?" Sinclair asked.

"Who?" Ed looked at him.

"Fermata. She's another black cat, bears an uncanny resemblance to me. Likes to strut about in her birthday suit and a mink wrap," Sinclair said.

"Ah, her. She's...well, last we saw, she was in the...parlor? Sitting room? What's the proper name for the Lady's room in an underground hideout?" Ed said.

"Why don't you try lair?" Fermata asked, stepping from around a corner, a pistol pointed at Sinclair. "I'm sure it'll catch on in a few years. Hands where I can see them, boys."

"Well, I'm not one to argue with a lady holding a gun to my head," Sinclair said, spreading his arms to show he was unarmed. Ed followed suit, and Kore a moment behind him.

"Any smart ideas?" Ed muttered to Kore. "Cause I'm clean out." Kore made a wry face.

"Do you have any idea what is in that notebook? There's a war coming, gentlemen, and you can either be on the winning side, or dead. It's your choice," Fermata said, cocking the gun.

"Darlin', this...thing can't win wars. It can only end them," Sinclair said.

"It's all the same. Hand over the notebook, Sinclair. Now," Fermata ordered.

"I can't do that, Fermata," Sinclair said softly. "You know I can't."

Fermata shrugged. "Suit yourself, brother."

The gunshot screamed in the closed hallway, deafening Kore, and time slowed down. Sinclair dropped to his knees, to his palms, to the floor. Ed made a languorous reach for Fermata, which she lazily dodged. The gun in Fermata's hand flashed again and cascade of plaster fell from the ceiling, dusting Ed's coat as he slowly forced Fermata to the ground.

Kore dropped to his knees and felt something warm and wet soak into his pants leg. "Sinclair? Sinclair!" Kore tried to say. But though he felt his throat working, he couldn't hear it above the awful silence.

Not again, Kore thought. Dear God, not again.

Suddenly, the world righted itself, and the cacophony of fighting burst through the silence. Fermata made a sound between a shriek and a scream, and the gun fell from her fingers.

"You're mad, Sinclair. You could have been free of them. Now, you are nothing!" She screeched. Ed smacked the side of her head, hard, and Fermata collapsed unconscious.

"Kore? Is he alright?"

Kore barely heard him. He was too busy trying to stop the blood from escaping Sinclair's body. The bullet had torn a jagged path through Sinclair's chest. Sinclair coughed weakly, his tongue coated in blood. He pressed something hard and flat into Kore's hands.

"Don't...let her find this. Please, Kore," Sinclair said weakly.

"We have to get you to a doctor," Kore said, getting his legs under him. Sinclair grabbed him, pulled him back down.

"Not this time, my friend. That bullet..." He coughed again, and a wheezing sound hissed from the wound. "That bullet had my name on it. Get outta here, kid. I'm sorry I..."


"Go kid!" Sinclair coughed. "None of this will matter if you get caught."

Ed grabbed Kore's arm. "We gotta go. They'll be here any minute!" he said.

"But...we can't just leave him here!" Kore protested.

"We can, and we have to!" Ed said.


"Kore, sugar, get outta here before they pop a bullet through your lung too," Sinclair said. His coughing was weaker now. "You...are..." Sinclair took a rasping breath and went limp. Kore snarled and picked up Sinclair's body, pressing his hand over the wound.

They escaped the compound, but the drive was a blur to Kore. All he could remember later was clutching Sinclair to his chest and praying that the cat hold on "just a little longer." And when they finally returned to the Order's headquarters and Sinclair was wheeled into the hospital, Kore feared it would be the last time he ever saw his feline lover.


Sinclair opened his eyes to see a place full of white haze. He lay on something cold, and the bullet hole in his chest still seeped blood. A form stepped through the mist, cloven hooves clicking on the unseen ground.

"Hello, you old devil," Sinclair said softly.

The goat man laughed. "You know I am no devil, Sinclair.

"I know that you're the reason my sister is one of them_," Sinclair replied. The haze was clearing a bit, and he could see the goat man more clearly now. Black fur, red horns, and bright eyes. "Azazel," Sinclair murmured._

The goat man inclined his head. "It is good to see you again, my friend."

"Am I...?"

"Not yet."

"Is that why you're here?"

Azazel laughed, and the fog recoiled from the sound as if it were poison. "I am here to offer you one last chance."

"They'll just come for me again."

"By the time they realize what has become of you, you will be beyond their reach."

"You swear it?" Sinclair asked.

Azazel grinned. "You will get the notice in a week, should you choose to remain on this side of the lines."

The fog receded, lapping at Sinclair's ankles. He realized that they stood on top of a great dune in a darkened desert. "I want Kore protected as well."

"Of course."

"And I want to know that your Order isn't going to use this thing to control the world. I know what it can do. I have the blueprint memorized," Sinclair said.

Azazel sighed. "I can only control the members of the Order, not the minds of world leaders. But I will swear this to you now: you will not regret it, should you choose to help us."

"How can you know this? What are_you?" Sinclair asked._

Azazel laughed again, and one of the dunes rippled. Sinclair watched a massive serpentine body writhe free of the desert floor, its scales flashing in the moonlight. It vanished beneath the sand a moment later, and the only evidence that it had surfaced at all was a new dune shivering in the twilight.

"It doesn't matter what I claim to be."

Sinclair snorted, and Azazel grinned.

"You'd better wake up, Sinclair. Or your friend is going to cast a kitten."

The last traces of fog lifted, and just as they did, Sinclair could swear the new dune opened a pair of eyes and winked at him...


Sinclair opened his eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling. His mouth tasted like metal and blood, and he had a raging headache. And his chest ached something fierce. He hissed, and something moved next to him.


Kore looked like he hadn't slept in days. Sinclair had never seen the dragon as anything but composed, and even disheveled he managed to look more regal than a prince.

"You know, I had this horrible dream that I was kidnapped and shot," Sinclair croaked.

"Hell of a dream," Kore replied, smiling. "I think I had that one too."

"My friend, we've got to stop meeting like this. I don't mind waking up to a handsome dragon at my bedside, but the bullet holes I can do without." Sinclair managed a weak smile.

Ed brushed the door open, holding a tray with two steaming mugs, a small sugar jar, and a short pitcher of cream. "Kore, I wasn't sure how you liked your--Oh! Sinclair! You're awake!"

"I am? Between the Kore and the smell of coffee, I thought Fermata'd sent my bullet-riddled backside to heaven," Sinclair said.

"You got shot in the chest, not your ass," Ed said, setting the tray down on the bedside table. He said it with a thick Chicago accent that reminded Kore of Hoagie.

"I'd have been sorely put out if your backside had been marred," Kore said, winking.

"Alright, I'm going to get the doc. You two...get re-acquainted or something. Just...make sure there's pants involved for now," Ed said, retreating and closing the door behind him.

There was a long moment of silence before Kore finally spoke. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, now. I...thank you. For coming after me," Sinclair said. He coughed.

"Easy, that bullet played pinball with your ribs."


Kore smiled. "It's a game that I saw once at Coney Island. There's a weighted metal ball, and it bounces off various obstacles. The more you hit, the more points you get."

"You don't say? Sounds like a good time, if it wasn't in my chest." Sinclair sat up and grunted. "What happened?"

Kore told him his side of the story, up until finding Sinclair in the Vammatar compound. Sinclair filled in his side of the story, and Sinclair couldn't help but marvel at how lucky they'd been.

"What now?" Sinclair asked. "Where do we go from here?"

"I'm going back to New York. I've had enough cult weirdness for three lifetimes here," Kore said. "What about you?"

"I could do with a lot less of the 'cult weirdness,' as you say. Where's..." Sinclair looked around.

"The notebook is safe, for now. We...wanted to wait to see if you'd wake up before we burned it."

There was a knock on the door. "May I come in?" A human in a long white coat entered the room. In short order, the doctor checked Sinclair over and declared him on the road to recovery. "It's the hybrid blood, I think. All the anthros I've known have had remarkable healing abilities. If you were human, you would have been dead, or at least unconscious for another day or two. You're very lucky, Mr. Sinclair." The doctor gave Sinclair a few last minute instructions, not to lift anything heavy for a week and to avoid exerting himself until the wound was fully healed (and giving a very pointed look at Kore while he said it, drawing a veiled smirk from the blue dragon) before finally excusing himself.

"Well, seems you've been discharged," Ed said, leaning against the door frame. He handed Kore a slender envelope. "Two tickets back to the Big Apple, first class."

"What about--"

"They won't be a bother to you. See, we've got people in every major city. You're under our wing now, and the Vammatar will know better than to tangle with you while our men are out there. Besides, you bested them once. They aren't going to be too keen to try a second time. You two aren't worth the trouble, as far as they're concerned. I wouldn't let my guard down, but I don't think they'll bother you again. And if they do, you just let Hoagie know."

"Thank you, Ed, for all your help," Kore said.

"All I did was get you here," Ed said, holding out his hands. "The Oroboros just greased the wheels. You'd have found him eventually."

"Not in time," Sinclair replied.

Ed shrugged. "No way to know for certain. Now, unless my memory is going, those tickets are for a train leaving tomorrow morning. Get some sleep, you two. You'll be back home and out of this crazy city before you know it. Good night!" Ed winked, and left, closing the door soundly behind him.

"You know, those beds on the train are right uncomfortable for sleeping of any kind," Sincair commented.

"And in your delicate condition, we wouldn't want to have you uncomfortable," Kore replied.

"We should take advantage of this fine bed while we can," Sinclair grinned. "It seems big enough for two, I wager."

"Doctor's orders. I'm not going to risk tearing out your stitches," Kore thrummed into Sinclair's ear. "You'll just have to heal _right_fast, darlin'," Kore said in a very bad Southern drawl.

"You're a public menace." Sinclair declared as soon as he caught his breath. Kore grinned.

"I'm worth the wait," he said.

Sinclair chuckled and curled up on the side that wasn't bandaged up. "It's going to be a long trip back to New York."

"I hope so," Kore replied. "I have two weeks worth of catching up to do with you."

Sinclair groaned, but couldn't suppress the shiver of anticipation. "I'll hold you to that."


Two Weeks Later...

Sinclair pulled the battered, blood-spattered notebook from the bottom of his suitcase and grinned. Azazel had been as good as his word, and the cat finally had a job he could sink his teeth into. Kore sighed dramatically when the cat told him about the offer, but called him a fool in four languages when Sinclair expressed a desire to not take the position. The cat flipped through his notes one last time and slid them into the folder on his new desk.

Printed on the label of the folder were two words: Manhattan Project.

Speak Easy

Speak Easy Korestai © seht Story © Searska GreyRaven It was a quite night at Dean's. Or rather, the speakeasy _below_ the restaurant was quiet. The diner upstairs was doing brisk business. When Kore had passed through the kitchen on his way to the...

, , , , , ,

Sweet Home Chicago

Sweet Home Chicago Seraphon © Hive Mind Fury Story © Searska GreyRaven The desert looked like an empty wasteland to all but the keenest of eyes. At the edge of the horizon, a dark image shimmered into view, silhouetted by the setting sun. It...

, , , , , , ,

Knots of Intrigue

Knots of Intrigue By Searska GreyRaven Forgotten Realms copyright of Wizards of the Coast. I don't own their world, I just play in it from time to time. ;) Mistress Balithra Noqu'Zotz clicked her tongue at the slaver's merchandise. "You told me you...

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,