Chapter 3 - Persephone

   I wake up to something soft smacking me in the face.

   “MMMMMF,” I protest, the pillow projectile muffling what wasn’t intelligible speech to begin with.

   “The police found a body,” you say, instead of good morning.

   “Mmmmmmf?” I answer, inching closer to consciousness. “Adriana?”

   “Possibly. I didn’t catch many details on the scanner. Are you coming?”

   “When are you leaving?” I mumble around a mouthful of fabric. I don’t know what time it is but I’m certain it’s too early.

   “In five minutes with or without you.”

   Considering the number of times you’ve wandered out the door without bothering to wake me up, I let it slide without complaining. I fling the pillow back and roll out of bed.

   Judging by the light coming in the window, it is in fact around the time most boring people wake up. Which is to say, too early for me because I’m a cool person, and far too early for you because you owe a great debt to your sleep schedule. Especially since you’ve clearly already been up for some time. I’ll admit, use of the motel’s shower has done you wonders. You clean up well. But you still look like you can’t remember the last time you got a full eight hours of sleep, probably because you can’t.

   As you gather your things you glance over and frown at my outfit, which is bold of you. You’re dressed in your usual goth business casual get-up, which -- combined with your widow’s peak -- makes you look like an extra from an old black-and-white movie about vampire accountants. It’s kind of disappointing when you open your mouth to reveal your complete lack of cartoon fangs. (To be fair you’re not a fan of the color black, you just prefer it to worrying about blood stains. Given what I’ve witnessed of your lifestyle it is, unfortunately, a wise decision.)

   “I don’t suppose you have anything approximating professional wear?” you ask.

   There’s usually only one reason you bring that up. “Ooooooo what agency are we impersonating this time?”

   “Not we. Me.”

   “Wow Jonesy. You doubt my ability to make a convincing officer of the law?”


   I pout, but you ignore me in favor of walking out the door. Oh well. Can’t blame a girl for trying.

   I oblige you by digging out the most opaque and least patterned button down I own. It was buried pretty deep in my pocket dimension, so I barely have time to brush my teeth with your five minute deadline. I’m about to leave the room when I stop short, hand on the doorknob.

  You’ve warded the door.

   I drew my own ward on the door last night (in washable marker, I know what a fuss you can make about “property damage”) before conking out. Of the eleven wards in the Strickland series, it’s the most complicated one I could pull off while making sure I was in bed by the time you got back. Meaning I gave myself a cramp writing as fast as possible for ten straight minutes. (All that fiddly crap you like about Strickland, Jonah? It’s because you’ve never actually had to replicate her spells. I don’t care how “efficient” her reactive case-flow structures are, they're a pain in the ass.) I’d left free space above it for you to add your own work, but I wasn’t expecting to see anything so soon. I’m no you when it comes to protective magic but I’m not incompetent. The whole point of the stupid annoying Strickland ward was it being more than enough protection from the creepy-crawlies for a single night. And I thought you might appreciate not having to put up a ward before going to sleep since you were sooooooooo tired and cranky. Sure, whatever you’ve put up looks simple, but simple doesn’t mean weak when it comes to you. I’ve seen you make wards that are like, four concentric circles, and they’ll have lame names like The Raven’s Bower or Cloak of Shadows, and they pack more punch than what most wizards could produce with hours and expensive drafts tools.

   What’s more telling is the fact that you’ve drawn the thing in blood. I put a finger to the edge of one line and, yup. It practically quivers under my skin. Given how dead you were last night, it must have been costly to put up the power for this thing. I’m surprised I didn’t wake up to find you on the floor. Impressive. But it’s a grossly unnecessary use of your energy given that I already took care of that for you.

   Whatever. My fault, for having not learned that even when I try to help there’s no way to make you happy. I slam the door shut on my way out.

   Crime scene number two is even more of a let down than crime scene number one. If anything, it’s downright cheerful. Our meandering backroad has hollowed a tunnel through this wood. The arching, interwoven branches overhead fracture morning sunlight into slanted beams, dappling the road in gold patches. The only disruption to the pretty woodland scenery is a police cruiser and an ambulance pulled off the road, squeezed in the narrow grassy strip between asphalt and treeline. There isn’t even any crime tape this time.

   I jump out the car before you fully finish parking behind the other vehicles. You lack my impatience, stopping to kick at your tire after you shut your door behind you. Whoever sold you the enchantment for your car probably ripped you off. The illusion flickers around the edges of your hubcap in response to your boot’s abuse. For the most part the car looks the part of a black law enforcer’s cinderblock-on-wheels, but here and there bits of your shabby brown Subaru peak through the guise.

   Still, you’re wasting time. The illusion only needs to fool mundies. They’ll see just about anything before they see magic.

   “Will you hurry up?” I snap. It’s the first thing I’ve said since our motel room. I didn’t speak a word for the entire fifteen minute drive here, which you didn’t question at all because why would you? You looooooooove it when I’m quiet.

   You frown, but give the car one last kick before walking after me.

   About thirty yards from the road, a paramedic and a cop have gathered around the body.

   “Sheriff Laurence Stiles, I presume?” you call out.

   Both figures whip around in response to your voice. The paramedic is a small, stocky brown woman with a crisp ponytail and a crisper uniform. The cop -- Laurence -- sports slicked back hair that does not go well with his tan uniform and a scowl. Though the paramedic startles the way most people do when they first get a look at you, she doesn’t pay us much mind. She side eyes Laurence and, presumably deeming us his problem, turns back to the corpse. Laurence doesn’t jolt as much when he sees us, but his scowl deepens as we approach.

   “I don’t know how you people got wind of this so quickly but I’m not talking to any reporters,” he snaps.

   “Then it’s a good thing we’re not reporters,” you reply, nonplussed. As proof you produce a wallet, opening it to reveal an FBI badge. (God I wish you’d tell me where you got those things, but no amount of bargaining, pestering, pleading, and threatening have yet to wring the secret out of you. Killjoy.)

   By now we’ve gotten close enough to have a good look at the body and, woof. Her face and torso are in shreds, but there’s enough of her hair and skin left that I’d say we know where Adriana wound up. Shame she had to die in such a terrible outfit; the t-shirt and sweatpants she’s wearing look like they’d seen better days before she spilled half her blood all over them.

   “Agent Jonah Patterson,” Laurence intones, reading the name off your ID and chewing through the syllables like they’re glass. “I didn’t realize the Federal Bureau troubled itself with local animal attacks. Or that it responded to them so promptly.”

   “It doesn’t,” you answer, putting away your badge. “We heard there’d been a few disappearances in the area over the past few months. The Bureau sent me to look at your case files. I intended to collect them at your office this morning. Then I picked up your dispatch on my scanner and decided, well,” you gesture vaguely to our surroundings, “I might as well meet you here.”

   “All of those disappearances already have official explanations,” Laurence says, slowly. He keeps glaring harder at you, which by now only serves to make him look ridiculous, as he is now squinting in addition to craning back to meet your eyes.

   “Nonetheless we’d like to see your files,” comes your flat reply.

   While Laurence works his jaw, I crouch down besides the paramedic. She frowns, but I ignore her in favor of examining the body. Whatever attacked Adriana appears to have gnawed through her throat and did an impressive job of it. A pink froth of aerated blood still surrounds the hole in her trachea, but the rest of her blood has already congealed into a dark red. She’s been dead for at least several hours but not more than a day.

   “Alright,” Laurence relents, after spending too long concluding he can’t tell a federal agent to piss off. His gaze slides my way. “Who’s she then?” His thumb jabs toward me with enough disapproval to rival the looks I’ve seen you give people who track muddy shoes indoors.

   “She’s a consultant,” you respond, dismissively.

   “Really?” Laurence drawls, feigning interest with the subtlety of a very large truck tailgating a Prius, “what kind?”

   “Oh, so rude, I haven’t introduced myself,” I butt in before you can answer. I bounce back upright and proffer my hand to Laurence, palm held downward. “Persephone, head psychic detective with the FBI.” From the corner of my vision I’m treated to a wonderful view of the light leaving your eyes.

   “A. Psychic,” Laurence echoes, each word its own sentence. He does not take my hand.

   “She has,” you say slowly, speaking more to the sky than to Laurence, “had invaluable insights on a number of past cases, and while we have not been able to explain how he came by them, they have been proven true.”

   I pout at Laurence, letting my rejected hand drop to my side. “He doesn’t believe in my gift. Really, I try not to let it get to me, but you’d think after all this time we’ve been working together-”

   “Percy,” you say, cutting me off with as much warning as you can muster without causing a scene.

   But Laurence is already sneering. Even the quiet paramedic is struggling, and failing, to keep her face neutral. “No please, don’t interrupt her, agent Patterson,” Laurence implores, “I, for one, would love to hear more about your gift. Perhaps you could do a demonstration for us.”

   I beam at him. “Gladly.”

   Ignoring your protests (“No, Percy you do not need to demonstrate- oh Lord”) I wave my hand, drawing a drop of Adriana’s blood from her body and flying into my palm. Of course, Laurence and the paramedic don’t notice or comment. (Ha, mundies.) I smack my hands together, close my eyes, and start mumbling an incantation.

   “What’s she doing?” Laurence asks.

   “Communing with spirits!” I lie, cheerfully. “I’m concentrating. Don’t interrupt.”

  Even with my eyes closed, maroon streaks appear in my vision as the spell takes effect. When my eyes open the glowing red remains, highlighting wherever Adriana’s blood has fallen. It trails away from her body and toward the road.

   “I’m getting a vision!” I declare, fingers pressed against my temple. Three sets of footsteps scramble after me as I march along the trail. “I can see her! She’s limp, dragging in the dirt… growing cold. DEAD! She’s dead. She was killed before being brought to her final location.“

   That’s all easy enough to figure out just by looking at the ground. The blood would be glowing crimson instead of maroon if it were spilled pre-mortem. And the drag marks are easy enough to see with plain eyesight.

   Shortly, the maroon trail ends at a bright crimson splatter right next to the side of the road, some 30 yards from the line of parked cars.

   “Here! She died here!” I howl, clawing at my throat. “She’s struggling-” (easy to deduce from the scuff marks on the ground) “-but it doesn’t matter, it’s teeth are already on her throat-” (easy to deduce from the wreckage of Adriana’s neck) “-it caught her from behind, she didn’t see it coming-” (admittedly a guess, but a safe one since I don’t see much sign of her running up to this point) “-she’s so, she’s so afraid. She’s growing weaker by the second, she’s bleeding out. Oh, it’s so dark, how is it so dark…”

   And with that I collapse to the ground.

   About a minute of silence passes. The paramedic clears her throat. “Is she uh, should we-”

   I bolt upright. “It was a bear, by the way. A bear killed her.”

   Laurence frowns skeptically, but the paramedic looks thoughtful. “It’s not a bad theory,” she says. “We were assuming this was a dog, but there are black bears in the area. It might be worth checking out in case we need to issue an alert of a problem animal around.”

   “Oh no no no,” I say, shaking my head. “Not a black bear. This is the work of a grizzly.”

   You groan. Laurence’s shit eating grin returns with a vengeance. “Oh really?” he asks innocently.


  “That’s just, so fascinating,” wonders Laurence, “because I was under the impression that grizzly bears-”

   “Aren’t native to the area at all and it’s impossible that one could have wandered this far outside its natural range,” the paramedic finishes for him, pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes.

   I nod solemnly. “I know. That’s what makes it so concerning. You should check with any local zoos or wildlife refuges to see if one escaped.”

   “We will be sure to do exactly that. Thank you kindly for the invaluable insight,” Laurence purrs in grandiose mock-gratitude. “Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to finish getting our Jane Doe sorted.”

   “Do go ahead,” you say, with not so much an air of resignation as a storm front. “I’d like a moment to speak with my colleague, but after that I'll see you about those case files.”

  “Of course! Anything to assist our most esteemed partners in the bureau!” chirps Laurence as he saunters back off to the corpse. The paramedic follows him with a shadow of your current exhaustion.

   Once Laurence and the paramedic are out of earshot, you whip around to face me.

   “Percy,” you say, speaking low, “the psychic routine? Really? You know I hate the psychic routine.”

   “Jonesy Jonesy Jonesy,” I answer, smiling, “that’s what makes it so fun.” I try to boop your nose but you smack aside my hand.

   “I don’t care if it’s fun for you, it jeopardizes our cover. We need the local law enforcement to ask as few questions as possible and a government sponsored psychic always raises more than several. Not to mention it makes both of us look like idiots. And a grizzly bear? Of all things why would you claim a grizzly bear was responsible-”

   “Ohmygod!” I yell, “can you have any faith in me? It literally was a grizzly bear. At least, the bite marks on her neck look like they belong to a grizzly bear. Any animal or bear expert or whatever will agree with me.”

   You pause, staring. “How on earth do you know how to identify grizzly bear bite marks?”

   “Jonesy, you once spent a half hour lecturing me about the lifecycle of the Narcomedusae Jellyfish. And you wanna call it strange that I know animal facts?”

   “...Point taken.”

   “Good!” I chirp. I point to the ground. “Now are you gonna help identify these track marks or not?”

   Judging by your sigh and the accompanying glare, you know I’m hurrying the conversation along so you can’t keep up your tirade. Regardless you crouch down and begin poking at the tracks.

   Mixed in with the tread marks of Adriana’s sneakers, a variety of footprints have trampled the earth. I say variety because they’re hybrids of human feet and clawed paws, in different ratios for each print. But only one pair of prints accompany the drag marks to Adriana’s body, fluctuating in shape at every step. A singular beastie, instead of many. One with an unstable form.

   “It looks like a lycan,” you say, concurring with my own theory, “but they usually don’t cause problems like this…”

   “Could just be a newbie,” I offer. It’s not unheard of for fresh werewolves to drop bodies. Most werewolves panic during their first transformation. And panicked werewolves tend to problem solve with their teeth and claws.

   “I doubt it. The first disappearance was seven months ago.” (Ah. Usually werewolves get their shit together after a month or two. If nothing else, they learn to lock their doors and pound Nyquil on the full moon.) “Besides, the last full moon was over a week ago.”

   “Psycho werewolf then.” A lack of full moon can’t stop a werewolf from murdering. It just means they aren’t doing it by accident.

   You grimace. “Possibly.” Considering you don’t even correct me for using the “werewolf misnomer,” you must be really un-thrilled about the idea.

   “Alright,” you say eventually, standing up and dusting yourself off. “I’ll go arrange getting those missing persons files from Sheriff Stiles. While I’m at it, I believe I saw some blood underneath Pendrid’s fingernails. See if you can collect some. Oh. And Percy?”


   You give me a withering look. “Do try not to make any more trouble.”