Alex tossed and turned in his tent that night. The snarky witch had told him he couldn’t leave the campgrounds, or more specifically she’d told him that he’d be better off staying there for the night. He couldn’t stop thinking about his girlfriend – surely she was wondering what had happened to him. Sy kept reassuring him that Clarissa was just fine and tucked away safely in the cabin but she wouldn’t tell him how she knew that. She just knew.
After an hour of staring at the fabric walls of the tent, Alex threw off the sleeping bag with a sigh and crawled to the flap. In the corner he saw a small bag of clothes and the investigative reporter in him drew him to the bag. He carefully poked around in it, not wanting to disturb the contents too much. He couldn’t even say why he was poking around anyway. He knew right off that it was Sy’s bag – of course he’d already gotten the impression that he was sleeping in her tent, in her sleeping bag. But if he was here – where was she?
In response to his unspoken question, he heard a twig snap just outside the tent and then a shadow fell across the flap. He scrambled back into the sleeping bag, unwilling to be caught with his hand in her bag. Truth was it probably wouldn’t matter – she’d know he’d been there the same as she knew about Clarissa. Still, when he heard the zipper on the tent flap, he closed his eyes, pretending to sleep.
Sy stuck her head in the tent and surveyed their guest. She smiled at his attempt to feign sleep and grabbed an extra blanket before retreating back outside. “Sleep.” Sy said quietly. A fine mist surrounded the tent. As it dissipated, she nodded to herself and returned to her spot overlooking the city of Auchlin.
Alex step outside the tent and shivered a bit in the chilly night air. Even the fire – which was magically still lit – did little to warm the campsite. He imagined, though, that none of these women were uncomfortable. He wondered what the insides of the other tents looked like. Were they really multiple bedroom houses under those bland, deceptive covers? Did they have all the comforts of a four star hotel? His imagination ran wild with the possibilities. He was about to peak his head into the neighboring tent when he saw someone standing on the cliff a short ways off.
He started for her without really thinking but then stopped dead in his tracks. Hadn’t Sy said something about a circle, some sort of protective barrier? He walked around slowly, staying close to the line of tents as he searched for some sort of physical indication of this circle.
Sy chuckled in the distance, drawing his attention back to the cliff where she was standing. “It’s perfectly safe,” she spoke quietly, barely above a whisper, but her voice traveled along the wind to Alex. For a moment, it felt like her voice was swirling all around him, pulling him into a warm embrace.
Alex felt drawn to her and took several awkward, halting steps before he seemed to regain control of his body. “What are you doing out here?” he asked. Unlike Sy, his voice was loud and seemed to disturb the very air around him.
“Watching.” Sy said simply. To her, it was all the information he needed but Alex’s mind instantly formulated a dozen possible questions.
“Watching what exactly?” Alex asked. He took a chance and moved until he was standing next to her though she hadn’t asked him to join her.
Sy smiled at him. In the pale moon light he could see her eyes were twinkling; he felt like behind those eyes were the answers to so many mysteries and questions. “Everything.” she replied. Alex didn’t doubt that she had the capabilities to see everything. Alex was silent for a while. Sy didn’t seem bothered by his presence and he was loathed to return to the tent and the hard ground that awaited him. “Your wolf has left the area.” Sy said after they’d been watching quietly for some time. The rim of Gladio, the larger of the two suns, was just beginning to peak over the horizon behind them painting the sky like a brilliant canvas.
“What? How do you know that?” Alex asked even though he knew she wouldn’t tell him. As expected she simply smiled at him.
“Look, sunrise. Guess you can get back to that girlfriend of yours.” Sy said, in a fluid movement she turned, like water going around a bend. She paused to look at him, “Good luck Alex.”
And then she was gone. He could barely have blinked in the time it took her to disappear completely from his sight. “What IS she?” he asked aloud. He turned back to look down on the city in the distance and shook his head. It would take years to answer that seemingly simple question.
Try as he might, Alex couldn’t get that night in the woods out of his mind. The wolf invaded his dreams at night, growing larger and more menacing each time. And then there were the witches, mostly Sy. Though he’d gotten the impression that one of the others led the coven, Sy had exuded the real power in the group.
“Alex!” Clarissa’s shrill voice finally snapped him out of his thoughts. “Where have you been lately?” she asked, looking both concerned and annoyed with him.
“Sorry Rissa..” Alex said. “I’m just thinking about this article I’m working on,” he tacked on. It was a bald face lie but Clarissa would never be mad at him for focusing on work – his work kept her from having to work particularly hard. He stood up and put on his work face, “in fact, I think I’ll go to the office and get some work done.”
“Alright hon.” Rissa said with a grin. He could practically hear her ringing up the shoes, clothes and purses. He kissed her quickly on the cheek and left the loft in a hurry – more eager to be away from her than he probably should be.
Alex wasn’t the only one working late at the newspaper that night but the crowd was light. He waved to a few people as he passed them until he reached his small work station. He dropped his bag on the floor and sat in front of his computer. Even here, where focus was never an issue for him, Alex’s mind wandered while he waited for his computer load. The shrill sound of his desk phone shook him out of his thoughts. Alex looked at the phone in confusion - why would anyone be calling here now? He picked up the receiver, "Alex Garza, Auchlin Times" he answered. He was sure he could hear faint noise over the phone but no one spoke. "Hello?" he tried again. He rolled his eyes, probably a crank caller. "Anyone there? Guess not..." He replaced the receiver just as his computer connected to the network.
His email alert chimed moments after he hung up the phone. After sorting through the various spam, he had only one email left. "Radtke endorsed candidate Pike with a large donation." That was all it said but it had said enough to get his attention. Alex tried to verify the contents of the email but if it was true it hadn't hit the waves yet. Still, if he could find enough to run with it, he could get a scoop so he started trying to determine the source of the email.
Unfortunately, the sender had jumped through a lot of hoops to keep himself hidden. Alex even went down to the IT department where there was always at least one guy on duty and asked them to track the email. The IT guy had his feet up in his chair and was playing what looked a lot like Grand Theft Auto on one of the screens. "Um...hello?" Alex said trying to get the guy's attention.
He didn't even turn, "Bathroom is down the hall dude."
"Yes, I know that. I came down here to talk to you - assuming you're IT." Alex said.
"Oh. Cool. Gimme a sec." he said. Alex watched, somewhat impressed, as the guy finished the race. He spun around to face Alex then and smiled. "What can I do for ya dude?"
"I got an email from someone - he covered his tracks well - and I was wondering if you might be able to track him." Alex said.
"I'll give it a shot. May take some time though." Alex gave him all the information he needed and left it in the hands of a computer whiz who liked to use the word "dude". He tried not to let that fact disturb him too much. He glanced back into the tiny, darkened office one more time and shook his head. "Call me on my cell if you find anything..." The kid didn't say anything and just waved in acknowledgement.
It was too late to call anyone about this potential information but Alex couldn't just go home and sleep either. He knew Radtke's club was open most nights until four in the morning so he grabbed the suit jacket he kept at his desk just in case. After changing, he crossed the few city blocks that separated the business district from the clubs that populated Auchlin.
Elysium was set in the heart of all the clubs and was one of the more exclusive spots in town. Not being a real club goer, Alex was a little surprised to see there was still a crowd of people near the door and reconsidered his plan - such that it was. He was standing toward the back of the ill formed line and about to leave when he heard his name being shouted. "Alex! Come on!" He recognized her from work but couldn't place her department right off but he jogged toward her anyway. "You wanna go in right?"
He nodded. "Of course...you going in?"
"For a piece, I know it's not the investigative reporting you do but it gets me in the door" Liz said with a chuckle. Alex was amazed as she gave her name to the bouncer and they were waved inside without a second glance. "So, well...have a good time Alex." she said, smiling a little shyly. It was a stark contrast to her normally boisterous attitude at the office that Alex was caught off guard.
"Hey thanks Liz....how about I buy you a drink for saving me from a long, possibly fruitless, wait out in the cold?" Alex suggested. His suggestion went over well and soon they were sharing a drink and a laugh at the bar. Finally he was forced to excuse himself but Liz nodded casually and turned her attention to the dance floor.
Alex considered just asking the bartender outright if Radtke was here but they were busy serving people so he turned his attention to the crowd. "If I owned this club where would I sit?" he mused to himself. There were slightly more secluded tables in the corners of the room where local celebrities seemed to congregate. At first glance he could pick out at least a dozen faces he'd seen in the news but he didn't see Radtke among any of them.
When he stopped one of the bartenders to get another drink he made his initial inquiry. "Is Mr. Radtke at the club tonight?"
"Mmhmm." he replied with a slight nod but he gave no more information and turned away from him to make his drink.
He frowned and tried to get his attention again to ask more questions but as soon as he placed the drink in front of him, he turned away to serve someone else and the other bartender seemed to be keeping his distance as well. Maybe it would have been better to wait until the morning after all - this wasn't club business he wanted to talk about anyway. He finished his second drink and decided he'd make one lap of the floor - if he didn't have any luck he'd just have to come back first thing in the morning.
Without warning or introduction, she fell into step next to him. "Mr. Radtke is busy."
Alex turned in surprise, expecting to see the bartender or maybe Liz. She was pale as a ghost but her dark hair was full of life. And her eyes. Her eyes were like pools of blood. He'd never seen anyone with such an eye color before! He felt like he was being sucked in; drowning in her gaze. "And who are you?" he asked - his voice sounded weak and far away even to him.
"My name is Mirelle." she said. "I'm one of Mr. Redtke's..." she tapped her long, perfectly painted nail against the edge of her mouth in thought, "Associates." she said after a short pause. "If you tell me what business you need to see him about, I might be able to pass along a message."
Alex was startled by the exchange, he didn't know this woman and as far as he could tell, the bartender had never even left her post. Something was off, but his desire to get the scoop won out. "I heard that he'd endorsed a certain political candidate - contrary to his normal inclinations - and wanted to talk to him about it."
"Mm. Curious, I wasn't aware that that news had been made public." Mirelle said.
"It hasn't as far as I know, I received a tip..." Alex said and then wanted to kick himself. Why was he being so open with this woman. For all he knew she was actually a reporter for another paper or, well who knows who she was. But he couldn't seem to help himself.
"Well, Alex Garza, I'll pass on your name and inquiry..." she said with a slight nod. It wasn't until after she'd disappeared that he realized he'd never even given her his name. Damn! She probably was a reporter and had recognized him and was trying to get her own scoop!