The full moon had risen, because of course it was a full moon when they were going to visit werewolves. It was casting a light so brilliant that Tam could have driven into the housing development without her light on. Behind her on the bike, Cynthia clung tight, holding onto Tam’s waist in part for comfort and security and in part to ward off the preternatural chill that cut through the early evening air.
“I’m shivering,” Cynthia said, clearly trying not to hold Tam any tighter for fear of crushing her.
“It’s the wolfscent,” Tam said. “We’re close enough that our noses are picking up on the fact that there’s are alpha predators nearby that we need to worry about.”
“I don’t shiver when I go to the zoo though,” Cynthia said.
“Zoos don’t have exhibits that are as dangerous as werewolves,” Tam said.
“Well, at least it’s easy to guess which house is theirs,” Cynthia said.
Tam had stopped her bike at the turn in to the Mare Luna Estates. Down a quarter mile road lay a half dozen large colonial style houses. They stood empty, wrapped in shadows and burnished bright by moonbeams. All of them that is except one.
At the top of the gentle hill the road meandered up, the most distant house sat with light peeking out of curtained windows.
“No lights on outside though,” Tam said. “Think they’re up for visitors?”
“It’s a bit late isn’t it?” Cynthia asked. “And if they are actually werewolves won’t they be, you know, kind of furry at the moment?”
She gestured towards the moon which hung perfectly suspended as a backdrop to the single lit building before them.
“That’s a distinct possibility,” Tam said. “But Anna’s going to be here in a few hours with the people from Bright Spring and we’ll need to get them into their new houses asap.”
“Are they in any more danger on the road than they might be if these people actually are werewolves?” Cynthia asked.
“It’s not that they’re in danger so much as they might still be connected to the residual magic in Bright Springs,” Tam said. “If we can get them settled into their new homes, that will sever enough of the connections to Bright Spring that Val wand Aranae will be able to collect the threads of magic cleanly. If they’re not settled in they may inadvertently drag a bunch of those threads along with them.”
“Should Anna have just left them there then?” Cynthia asked.
“No, that would have been even worse,” Tam said. “Val and Aranae wouldn’t have been able to clean up the stray magic that’s left in Bright Springs if the people it was bound to were still holding on to it.”
“How do you want to try approaching them then?” Cynthia asked. “Sneak up and peak in the windows?”
“I’d love to know more about them,” Tam said, “but they’re likely to notice any surveillance attempts. I mean, they probably already know we’re here.”
“Wolves’ senses are that good?” Cynthia asked.
“Werewolf senses can be. From what I read, they’re usually a lot sharper than either human or wolf senses,” Tam said. “There are a different kinds of werewolf though, so it’s hard to say what exact talents these people might have.”
A long howl rose from behind the house, a celebration of the moon, and the night, and the vitality of being alive. A primal voice in Tam’s mind recognized the cry for joy it expressed but also for the menace it carried. A happy alpha predator was still an alpha predator who might be even happier for a chance to tear your throat out.
Tam glanced to Cynthia before she pulled onto the development’s road. It was unfair to drag her into something like this. Tam had some tricks to rely on, both practical magics and arcane ones, plus signing on with Charlene’s crew made this sort of thing her job to deal with. Cynthia had been a trooper all throughout their journey through the Drowned City, but the world of the weird was a lot to ask anyone to face, even under the best of circumstances.
“We should probably roll on up there sooner rather than later, right?” Cynthia asked.
Tam could feel the shiver in the arms around her waist but, glancing back, Cynthia’s eyes were bright and steady with a gleam of mirth that accompanied the adrenaline high of daring the world to take its best shot and the knowledge that you could (probably) take it.
“You sure you want to come along for this part?” Tam asked. Cynthia didn’t need to impress her. She’d already done that the first night they were together on the boat simply by being open and candid and charming.
“Do you think I became a firefighter because I tend to run away from danger?” Cynthia asked.
Tam opened her mouth and then closed it, not having considered that idea but finding it fit too well to argue with.
“Onwards we go then!” she said and revved the engine.
They weren’t going to be sneaking up on werewolves, and even if they could Tam wouldn’t have been foolish enough to do so. The only thing worse than a large predator protecting their home is a surprised large predator protecting their home.
Despite the roar of the bike’s engine heralding their approach, no one was out on the house’s porch waiting for them when they pulled up in front of it.
Nor was the outside light on.
“Looks like we’re going to have to knock,” Tam said.
“Do we have some kind of cover story for why we’re dropping by so late?” Cynthia asked.
“Yeah. We’re here to visit with the werewolves since they’re going to be getting some new neighbors in a few hours and we want to make sure everything’s going to be cool.”
“Okay. That’s a bit less ‘misdirectiony’ than I’d have imagined from a stage magician, but I could see how it might work,” Cynthia said. “Assuming they can still understand English. You don’t speak wolf right?”
“Not at the moment, no,” Tam said with a small laugh and got off her bike.
Cynthia followed her up the cut stone path that led from street to the house’s front door. The developers were uninspired in the layout and aesthetic arrange of the house and its landscaping. The path wasn’t particularly well assembled, but it was serviceable and it didn’t take any dramatic turns, opting instead for the shortest (and cheapest) distance between the road and the porch at the front of the house.
The house itself was built to the same standard. Just good enough to attract a buyer’s eye, but without any extra touches of craftsmanship to reflect real pride in its construction. Once the neighborhood aged a bit the whole development would fade into obscuring normalcy, with the earliest homeowners being an unremarkable fixture of the landscape.
Unless they started eating people of course. That tended to draw attention from even the most jaded of suburbanites.
With thoughts like those buzzing around in her mind, and a few tricks literally up her sleeves (and on her eyelids), Tam walked forward trying for the best Anna-impersonation that she could muster.
When no one greeted them at the door, she looked for a doorbell and then settled on knocking instead.
It seemed a trifle silly. Even if the people inside were entirely mundane they had to be aware that someone was coming to visit.
“Hello?” The man who answered the door was not what Tam expected. He was tall but not exceptionally so, with a thin, academic’s build, deep black skin, and the sort of heavy eyeglasses that suggested he’d wrecked his vision reading far too many books from far too young an age.
“Hi!” Tam said. “We’re here to talk with the werewolves of the house.”
The man gave a surprised reaction. It was decently acted. Not professional grade in Tam’s opinion, but certainly acceptable for community theater or the like.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man said, his gaze a little too measured and intent for someone who was truly shocked to find strangers spouting nonsense on his doorstep late at night.
Behind the man a large “dog” was laying on the couch very obviously bored and watching the TV. A smaller “dog” flounced through the room tearing into a chew toy with mad abandon.
“Red Wolf bloodline,” Tam said, pointing at the two “dogs”. “You must have family down in North Carolina?”
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” the man said.
“That’s probably true,” Tam said. “There’s a lot I don’t know about werewolves. Except that you’re one, and they are too.”
The man’s lips tightened but before he could respond Tam continued.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “You didn’t do anything to give it away. Take a look at my eye shadow.”
She closed her eyes so the man could get a better look at the iridescent shading on her upper eyelids.
“Moonstone?” he asked. “But why?”
“It’s a useful base for enchantments to reveal a shifter’s forms,” Tam said. “Also a pain in the butt to work with, but I have a friend who’s good with rush jobs like that.”
The adolescent red wolf and red wolf pup trotted over to stand behind the man, listening intently to the conversation.
“Why are you here?” the man asked again.
“Not to cause you any trouble,” Tam said. “Seriously, we just want to chat about some new neighbors that you’ll be getting in about, oh, three or four hours I think.”
“New neighbors?” the wolf pup asked.
“Awww”, Cynthia let out a delighted sigh before stifling herself and flashing Tam an embarrassed look.
The man, their father, let out an exasperated sigh and shook his head.
“Wow, that is fantastic control,” Tam said. “I thought it was really hard to produce human speech while shifted?”
“We’re gifted,” the man said.
“Hi gifted, I’m Tam,” Tam said, offering her hand.
“Oh my god, Dad jokes?” the adolescent wolf said, somehow conveying a teenager’s disbelief without the right body for the body language she used.
“You should come in,” the man said.
“Thank you,” Tam said, losing the disarming silliness from her voice. “This is Cynthia. We’re from the Second Chance Club. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of us?”
She followed the man and the two wolves inside in time to find a woman coming down the steps from the second floor with a baby in her arms. The woman was taller than the man, and more solidly built, though with glasses similar to her husband’s. If Tam had to guess, she would have bet that where the husband was a teacher and spent the majority of his time behind a desk, his wife was probably more of a field researcher.
“June, these are our guests, Tam and Cynthia,” the man said. “Somehow they know who we are.”
“Not much about who,” Tam said. “And even less about what. Just some basic info and that you’re werewolves.”
“And why do you know this?” June asked, her eyes never leaving Tam’s.
“Some quick research and a strong desire to head off any problems before they blow up unnecessarily,” Tam said.
She laid out for them the basics of what was about to happen and why. How their previously empty neighborhood was going to have over a dozen new tenants in the various houses, how the new neighbors were going to be a little shell shocked and out of touch with the modern world, why that was, and the kind of help they were likely to need.
Then she listened.
From Henry, the father, she drew out the concerns that the family had in general. The worries they felt over people learning their secrets, of worries about how judgemental people who’d missed the civil rights era were likely to be given how much prejudice and hatred existed in people who should have had decades of being raised better than that, and of how people were already starting to blame them for things that weren’t their fault without even being aware of the supernatural elements that made the family different from their neighbors.
From June, she learned about the specific difficulties they faced on a day to day basis. How the closer it got to the full moon, the more people could sense their wolf nature, and the more people grew fearful who otherwise knew them well.
“I don’t have answers for all of that,” Tam said. “And some of it will probably be a ‘work in progress’ sort of thing, but I can offer a few ideas right away. There’s a recipe I came across for a wolfsbane perfume. It’s potent stuff, but a werewolf named Karen Goldman left a book on it that said it could be made in a concentration that didn’t bother her nose but managed to suppress the wolfscent in her house and on herself. She lived in the Bronx and went from a social recluse to a kindergarten teacher and was beloved in the job for years.”
“My grandmother talked about a recipe like that but she said it never worked,” June said.
“There’s some finicky steps in the process, but if James can whip up enchanted moonstone eyeshadow in an hour, I’m pretty sure he can fix up a batch for you in the next day or two. At least to give it a try. If it works out, I can have him write down the directions, or show me how to do it and I’ll come back and lead you through it. If you’d like.”
“If it works, that would be very nice.”
“I don’t mean to pry,” Cynthia said. “But it seems like there’s a ton of misinformation about what werewolves. Do you really need to hide what you are?”
“We do,” Henry said. “The wolf nature we carry is still technically a curse. It didn’t work out quite how the man who cursed my ancestors intended, largely because we’re not the beasts he believed us to be, but attempts to repeat that curse on others could unleash the kind of troubles this world isn’t ready for and doesn’t ever need to see.”
“That just leaves one other likely cause for concern,” Tam said. “I read that there were some cows that have gone missing recently in this area?”
“Yes, that wasn’t us though,” June said.
“Yeah, the lack of a giant fridge to store the meat in kind of gave that away,” Tam said. “Any idea who could be responsible though? Something tells me that could be a problem that decides to complicate the lives of everyone here given how much residual magic there’s going to be floating around for the next week or two.”
“Well, there’s that research lab that had to lay off some people a month ago,” Henry said. “I know they’ve got a bio-tech division, and one of my students swore she saw one of their trucks driving around her farm before they lost three of their cows.”
“A bio-tech lab?” Tam asked, bring up her phone’s browser to do a check of the surrounding towns. She’d been diving so deeply into the werewolf research before she left that she’d skipped one of her most common steps.
“Yeah, Tartarus Technologies,” Henry said. “They’ve been here for decades I believe.”
Tam watched their homepage load and groaned as their logo appeared with a subtitle which read “A division of PrimaLux International!”