White Court vampires are bred, beautiful to the eye; and the Black Court are made, as rotten on the surface as they are at the core. There's no mistaking either one, if you're in the know. But there's something really perverse about the Red-- black leathery things taking up residence under the still-recognizable shells of whoever they'd been before. I've run across each type over the years; won some battles against them, and lost others. But none of those encounters had given me any clue what to expect of the fourth type of vampires: the Jade Court.
I'd only ever heard of them from Shiro, once upon a Denarian hunt. All he'd said at the time was that they respected the Accords-- he'd dueled one, once, somewhere in their Far Eastern home territory. I had no idea whether they fell closer to the 'tolerable allies, if you give them the right incentive' or 'never trust them within twenty feet of your neck' end of the supernatural scale, nor even what their notable features might be. Even Bob, my trusty lab assistant and Spirit of Intellect, couldn't tell me much more; his vast databank of mystical information tends to be rooted in Western culture as inspired and influenced by the Fae. The Jade are secretive monsters, choosy about which mortals they'll eat and even more selective in their interactions with other paranormal forces.
So perhaps I can be forgiven for walking into a scheduled meeting with Ramirez-- on his turf, in a restaurant called the Black Pool not far from a rumored Jade Court outpost-- and assuming the worst when I spotted a man with greenish-pale skin bending over his sprawled body. Ramirez lay crumpled on the floor, his battle-scarred staff about an arm's-length from his extended right hand, as though he'd tried to defend himself and been knocked unconscious for his troubles. My blasting rod leapt into my hand almost without a conscious decision, and I Forzare'd the guy's ass across the room before anything else about him even had a chance to register.
Me Warden, him predatory non-human. That's about as far as my train of thought had gone.
He hit the far wall with a solid thump, much harder than I'd have dared throw a human being, and slumped over in a position much like Ramirez's. A gun-shaped object fell out of his hand as he collapsed. I wasn't sure what type of gun it was-- the end glowed a radioactive shade of sky blue, and it looked nothing like any make of handgun I'd seen before-- but its profile was pretty unmistakable as a weapon. I knocked it away from him with a controlled burst of wind that sent papers fluttering atop the nearest table, then knelt next to Ramirez, feeling at his throat for a pulse.
A reassuringly steady beat throbbed under my fingertips, and the tension in my shoulders relaxed a notch as I slid my hand through his hair to probe the back of his skull for knots. There was no blood pool under him, nor any obvious gaping wounds; maybe the intruder had simply knocked him out? On the other hand-- visions of what a supernatural predator might want with a live, unharmed, unconscious wizard raised the hairs on the backs of my arms, and I looked up from my layman's diagnostic effort to cast a glare in the collapsed possibly-vampire's direction.
Unexpectedly, I found my view blocked by a pair of shins clad in military-style boots and black-cloth trousers. I barely had time to look up-- to register a vibrantly blue shirt, the suggestion of pointy ears, and dark eyes looking back at me from under strangely slanted brows-- before I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder and the world abruptly went dark.
Later-- I don't know how much later, but it had to have been more than a few minutes-- I woke, laid out flat on a hard surface, hands crossed over my breast as though I were in a coffin and my head and shoulder throbbing like mad. My skin threatened to part ways with me and crawl away as I realized that I had been taken prisoner yet again; some of my least favorite nightmares start that way, cribbed together from unpleasant past experiences. There was no subterranean chill, though; the surface underneath me wasn't dense enough to be stone; and the sense of moving air around me told me I was still in a large, open room. Maybe the vampire had laid me out on one of the tables in the restaurant?
I was tempted to crack my eyes open and leap to my feet, but there was more noise in the room than two unconscious bodies could make, and that made me cautious and wary. I figured I'd better get at least a vague idea of where my attacker was-- and whether he'd brought any friends along-- before I cast that die and faced the consequences. So I concentrated on keeping my breathing slow and even, and Listened.
Listening's a trick that I've picked up over the years; I'm pretty sure anyone with enough patience can learn to master it, but I couldn't tell you exactly how it works. I focused on my sense of hearing, especially through the ear nearest the faint susurrus of sound I'd picked up, and it gradually resolved into a clear, though faint conversation between at least three different people.
"...have the same type of weapons, both of them; though how they hide something capable of projecting energy in such a way as a simple piece of wood, I've no idea. It would take advanced cloaking and holographic technology beyond anything Enterprise has." The first speaker had a definite accent, either Scottish or Irish, I couldn't be sure.
"But we know only one person went back," a second voice said firmly, in tones ringing with the habit of command. Believe me, after spending years under the mentorship of Ebenezar McCoy, I knew what genuine authority sounded like. "So which one is he?"
"Regrettably, neither," the third voice commented. "The textiles of their clothing and the materials used in their other accoutrements are indigenous to this era, not simply reproductions. In addition, my tricorder showed evidence of trace minerals and biological contaminants that are extremely uncommon in the twenty-third century, combined with a lack of those markers that might be expected in any human raised on Earth after the environmental damage of your Third World War."
Third World War? Twenty-third century? My attacker was a vampire from the future?
Maybe whatever he'd done to knock me out had done more damage than I'd thought, because clearly I must be delirious if I was starting to wonder if he might not even be a vampire at all.
"Damn," the second voice sighed. "So much for that explanation. And our traveler couldn't have arrived much before we did; probably a decade at most. Do you think that's enough time for him to have reproduced these-- weapons-- and trained other people in their use?"
If he meant what it sounded like-- Ramirez' staff and my blasting rod, though they'd probably also found my own staff by now-- then, no; not that I wanted to tell them that. If they didn't understand magic in the first place-- if it wasn't pervasive enough in the future for them to be aware of it-- then 'alien' was looking more likely than 'vampire', and hell if I wanted a hostile alien trekking back to the future with enough knowledge to endanger the Accords. Whoever their magical time traveler was-- and ow, my brain hurt just thinking that phrase-- he'd probably plugged right into an existing power structure and made like a native, difficult for a technologically-based task force to track down. Maybe even the Black Council? Which would explain-- a lot more than I wanted to think about.
"There's no tellin'," the Irish-or-Scotsman replied. "I'd have said no-- trying to build any technology as complex as that'd have to be would be like working with stone knives and bearskins-- but this mission has been beyond my ken from the start."
"Yet we know our malefactor is from a culture merely the equal of our own; and if you cannot fathom such effects as these weapons produce through the use of technology, Mr. Scott, perhaps we must consider the fact that they are not, in fact, weapons at all." Voice Three was all calm reason, logically shaving closer to the truth. Damn.
"What are you saying, Spock?" Voice Two asked, patiently. "If they aren't weapons, then what...?"
Mr. Spock-- and surely that must be an alias, because the famous elderly pediatrician of that name had died before I hung out my solo shingle, at least seven years ago-- cleared his throat. "A famous author and inventor of Earth's twentieth century once proposed three laws, the third of which is in use to this day: namely, that 'any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.' I submit to you that the reverse is also true: that magic, under whatever label it is given, is likewise indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology."
"Magic?" the one identified as Mr. Scott blurted, incredulously. "Fairy tales and leprechauns?"
"I would not endeavor to guess at the specific historicity of any given legend from Earth's past," Mr. Spock said, "but it is the logical conclusion; in fact, the only one that explains all the observed events."
"The logical conclusion?" the leader echoed him. "That is not logical, Spock. Unless there's some kind of Vulcan magic you still haven't told us about?"
Mr. Spock's voice grew more remote. "In fact, Vulcans have several abilities, including touch telepathy and the maintenance of the soul in the physical world after bodily death, that would have appeared quite magical to humans of this era," he said, "but that is not relevant to the current discussion."
He was an alien. Capable of reading my thoughts with his fingers. My skin started to crawl again, and I tried to remember what useful components I might've been carrying that day other than my gun and blasting rod.
"What is relevant," he continued, "is the fact that both gentlemen continue to produce a very strong disruptive field capable of disrupting most electronics of the era, especially the second arrival. Had I been equipped with an older-style bicorder, rather than the newer equipment powered by duotronics, I may not have been able to take any readings in their presence at all-- and the field continues to distort any readings nearer central body mass than hands or feet."
"So... you're suggesting that magic is some kind of organically enabled electromagnetic manipulation? But that's ridiculous!" Mr. Scott replied.
Mr. Spock cleared his throat. "May I remind you, Commander, that when the impossible is eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
A silence settled; followed by a noise of frustration. "Aye. But supposing that's so, and supposing yon fugitive was also a-- a magician, then how are we to find him?"
"The same way we found these two," Boss Voice said, grimly. "It's just that now we know what the emanations we were tracking mean-- and that we may run into a lot more before we find our suspect."
"Well, that's just great. A needle in a bloody haystack," Mr. Scott sighed.
"One we must locate, if we are to prevent the cataclysm that his presence will initiate: one which will destroy your world before contact with mine can ever be established."
"And incidentally preventing you from ever being born," Boss Voice groaned. "Time travel. Why does it always have to be time travel? At least this time we don't have to worry about Bones running amok."
"Indeed," Mr. Spock said.
"Aye," Mr. Scott sighed. "Just us chickens."
"So can we leave them here safely, or do you think we should try to interrogate them?"
There was a pause. "Attempting an interrogation would be unwise at this juncture, Captain," Spock replied. "We have no means of knowing the extent of their abilities, nor countering their effects. Moreover, they are likely to be displeased by our method of introduction. As they are unharmed, I think it wiser to simply-- leave, and approach our next subject more carefully."
"I figured," the still-unnamed Captain replied. "Okay. Leave their-- sticks-- by the door; and see if you can get that tricorder of yours to track over a wider range. We have some hunting to do." Then the footsteps moved away, and a groan at my side finally filled me in on Ramirez's whereabouts.
I cracked my eyelids on an empty room, then sat up and started patting myself down. Aliens. Time travelers. A time traveling warlock from the future, who violated the Seven Laws by his very existence. Hell's Bells, we were in trouble.
Why did I have a sneaking suspicion the bastard would turn out to be Cowl?
I wished my temporary abductors the best of luck. But as sure as my name was Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, I had a feeling this wouldn't be the last time I ever heard from Misters Spock, Scott, and their Captain.