Fire and Ice
It was over an hour later when the door of the interview room finally opened again. The woman who entered had a confident sensuality that instantly made me think of Carolina, only where Carolina was raw, this woman was refined.
She was wearing a form-fitting red business suit that managed to flatter rather than suppress her feminine figure. It contrasted with her olive skin and deep brown hair. Her vibrant green eyes swept the room, pausing momentarily at the security cameras mounted in the ceiling.
She smiled as her eyes finally met mine. There was a confident presence to her, neither dominant nor submissive. “My name is Raquel Avis.” She spoke with a hint of a french accent.
Ulfvaldr appeared beside me. “You can trust her. She is a member of Carolina’s pack.”
Raquel nodded respectfully to Ulfvaldr and sat down across the table from me. “I am a bar-certified lawyer and regularly represent members and allies of the pack, as well as the pack itself. I have also dealt with the Ice Queen before. Carolina felt I was best suited to assist you at this time.”
“Great.” I smiled, glad to finally have someone to talk to. “Can you fill me in on what’s going on? I feel like I’m in something way over my head.”
Raquel smiled pleasantly. “That’s more true than you know. We normally like to allow new pack members a more organic initiation process, but your unique situation necessitates an exception.”
“You have met Ulfvaldr. He is one of many nature spirits; intelligent beings who act as avatars for the natural world. Long ago, witches learned that they could form a bond with these beings. The bond is mutually beneficial; it increases the nature spirit’s ability to interact with the physical plane, and it increases the witches ability to interact with the magical plane.
“As with their mortal counterparts, wolf spirits such as Ulfvaldr, or my familiar Bardulf, form packs. When a witch joins their soul with a wolf spirit, they often maintain the same pack structure. Carolina is the alpha in our pack, her familiar Skaldulf is one of the oldest and most powerful wolf spirits we know. You have already met Saul and Scarlett, both witches that are also members of our pack.
“Other witches may join with other nature spirits. Your friend Victor’s familiar is a lion.”
I laughed. “That seems appropriate for him.”
Raquel smiled and nodded “The witch and familiar must choose one another; a human can not force a nature spirit to bond with them. The temperament and place of origin of the witch often influence what spirits are attracted to them.
“Victor met you several years ago when you were still at the academy. He immediately recognized your potential as a witch, and almost as quickly saw that you may prove an ideal match for Ulfvaldr. I must say I’m of the same opinion. Ultimately, however, that is a decision you alone can make. I would caution against making it in haste or without adequate understanding.”
“Thanks.” I said. “That’s really not the issue at hand right now, though, is it?”
Raquel frowned. “Yes and no. There are two types of people who seek power; those seeking personal gain, and those who serve a greater cause. The same is true of magic. Many witches and sorcerers seek magical power purely to satisfy their own selfish desires. As with all who feed the hollow hunger, they eventually find the hunger cannot be satisfied. They constantly seek more power, and in so doing upset the balance, causing loss and destruction.
“On the other side are those of us who seek to maintain the balance. We oppose those who seek to upset the balance, and when necessary we fight. Carolina and those of us who follow her serve the balance. We believe you are like-minded, and would like you to join us in this crusade.”
“Wow.” I said, more than a little shocked at the grandeur of the picture she was painting.
Raquel stood up and removed her jacket. She was wearing a silky halter-top that left her arms and back exposed. As I watched her pace the room, I recognized Carolina’s style in most of the art that decorated them. She returned to stand behind the chair, resting her hands on the back.
“I first faced the Ice Queen over seventy years ago in Japan. She had set a trap that lured many of us into it. Carolina’s mate, a man named Michael, sacrificed his life to save us.” There were tears welling in Raquel’s eyes as she recalled the memory. She paused to take a breath, then continued. “The Ice Queen and her allies were waiting for us. She offered us mercy; all we had to do was swear loyalty to her. When we refused, she attacked. Many of my friends died that day.”
“Seventy years ago?” I asked. “During World War Two?” Raquel definitely didn’t look seventy. Neither did Carolina or Sara.
Raquel sighed. “Yes. The magical and mundane worlds are not separate. That war, like most wars, was as much the work of witches as mundanes. Those who seek power will use whatever means and opportunities arise.
“Which brings us back to today. When Ulfvaldr alerted us to the presence of the Ice Queen, we were forced to reevaluate our analysis of what is happening. Her plans are intricate, complex, and layered. We now suspect you are at the center of those plans.”
“Me?” I asked. “What? Why?”
“You have considerable potential, James. Victor recognized it immediately. Carolina commented to me on it the day she met you. I didn’t understand what they meant until I walked into this room. You could have a significant influence for whichever side you choose.”
I stared at Raquel as the picture slid into focus. “She set up the whole thing. Sara made sure she was the only person who could help me. So I’d owe her…”
As if on cue, the door of the interview room opened and Sara walked in. Her self-satisfied smile turned into an ugly mask of hatred the moment she recognized Raquel.
“How the hell did you get in here?” Sara spat.
Raquel smiled. “I am Mister Hammersmith’s lawyer.”
Sara looked towards me and clearly noticed Ulfvaldr’s presence as well. That settled any questions about whether or not she was actually a witch.
I stood up and glared at her. “You’re not who you claim to be.”
Sara opened her mouth, then closed it. For just a second, there was a seed of fear in her eyes, but it quickly froze over.
Her black tank-top and BDU pants vanished as her pale skin turned almost white, with faint blue lines tracing intricate patterns along it. Her bleached-blonde hair turned iridescent white and grew until it fell to her waist. A flurry of snow swirled around her naked body, coalescing into a strapless bluish-white dress that emphasized her narrow waist and full breasts. An icicle formed in her right hand, forming into a tall staff. A crystal diadem formed on her brow.
Sara’s true form suited her better, emphasizing the coldness of her icy blue eyes. There was a very real threat in those eyes as she spoke. “I had hoped you would serve me willingly. Perhaps I was overly optimistic.”
I could swear the room was growing cold. Snowflakes began to fall from the ceiling as ice began to form on the walls and floor. The sudden chill in the air seemed to be driving directly at me.
Just as suddenly, I felt a wave of heat from my right. Raquel, who now seemed to be wreathed in flame, stepped between Sara and me.
As quickly as it started, it was over. The chill and heat vanished almost immediately. Both Raquel and Sara stared at me with expressions of surprise. Ulfvaldr was laughing.
“It would seem that James alone will decide his fate.” Ulfvaldr’s voice was quiet.
Raquel smiled at me. “Carolina was right about you.” She stepped aside and sat down on the table.
Sara stared daggers at me, but no attack, magical or otherwise came. After a moment, her magical garment melted and she looked like the familiar Sargent Sara White, dressed in the low-cut black tank-top and BDU pants she’d been wearing before. She turned and put her hand on the door. “You’re dead, James.” She whispered, then pulled the door open and walked out.
I watched the door swing shut, then turned to Raquel. “What the hell just happened?”
Raquel was grinning her head off, and I could hear Ulfvaldr laughing beside me. “You happened, James.” Ulfvaldr said.
“What?” I was confused.
Raquel managed to contain her emotions so she could talk. “I told you that you had incredible potential, James.” She said. “Victor has told us about your ability to heal people. Your natural, instinctive ability to use magic is virtually unheard of.”
“You’re saying I did… whatever just happened?” I asked, confused.
Ulfvaldr chimed in. “I watched as you made the decision, James. When Raquel and the Ice Queen were facing off, you decided something, and the instant that happened, you completely canceled out both their spells.”
I looked at him, then at Raquel, who was nodding in agreement. “That was incredibly powerful magic.” Raquel said.
“I really don’t know what I did. I don’t like getting used by people.” I explained.
“You made it impossible for us to fight.” Raquel said.
I looked at her thoughtfully, then shook my head. “Well, at least that explains why someone like Sara was acting all interested in me. Women like her don’t go for guys like me, they use us. It’s not the first time I’ve had that happen. That prompts the question; is Carolina using me the same way?”
Raquel laughed. “James, I can promise you she’s not using you. She’s not that kind of person. If she saw you as anything less than a potential lover and partner, she’d have someone else teaching you magic. Me, probably, or Saul. She kept me up for hours last night as she told me all about you. I’ve known her for over seventy years, and she’s never done that for anyone. She has genuine feelings for you, James. I hope you can believe that.”
I sighed. “I want to believe you. I really like Carolina.”
“Trust yourself.” Ulfvaldr said. “Your instinct, your awareness; it wasn’t wrong about Sara.”
I nodded. I needed time to think about what I thought and felt. For now, there were more pressing matters to deal with. “Sara — The Ice Queen — just threatened to kill me. If a dozen homicidal men were her way of coaxing me to join her, what can I expect if she’s actually trying to kill me?”
Raquel sighed and sat back down in the chair across from mine. I sat down as well and waited for her to talk.
“She can be extremely patient and calculating, but you’ve also seen that when provoked to anger she’s rash and vindictive. She wants you dead, but she won’t move against you directly; especially now that you know who and what she is.
“I think right now we need to consider your legal situation. Right now, you are in police custody, and she will likely realize the benefit of keeping you that way. We need to make sure that when I leave, you leave with me.”
“So how do we do that?” I asked.
“Let’s start by going over what happened. Tell me anything you think might be relevant.”
We spent the next while going over everything I could think of. Raquel asked a lot of questions, having me repeat parts of the story. Finally, she leaned back and sighed.
“There’s no way we’re going to convince anyone that a dozen men were under a magical enchantment compelling them to kill you, specifically. Our best bet is to try to sell the idea that they were on drugs and would have attacked anyone they encountered.” Raquel explained. “It’s not a particularly compelling story, but we should be able to establish that you didn’t provoke the attack. If you didn’t commit any crime, they won’t have any justification to hold you.”
I sighed myself. I wasn’t thrilled at how differently today was turning out from how I’d imagined it. “Ok.”
“I’m going to invite the investigator in now. There’s a good chance he’ll be a bit hostile. Unless Sara has some other story concocted for him, he’ll probably assume it’s a drug deal gone bad or something along those lines. Be as accommodating and honest as you can, but don’t mention magic. Don’t look at me, and don’t hold anything back. You ready?”
Raquel stood up, slid her chair around to my side of the table, and walked over to the door. She poked her head out and spoke to someone, then came and sat down beside me. “You’re going to be fine, James.” She said.