CHAPTER 1:

A Head Start

When you are tired of life, come to Haven. And someone will kill you.

The city port of Haven was a bad place to be after dark. It wasn’t much better during the day. If there was a viler, more corrupt and crime-ridden city in the whole of the Low Kingdoms, its existence must have been kept secret to avoid depressing the general populace. If Haven hadn’t been settled squarely on the main trade routes, and made itself such a vital part of the Low Kingdoms’ economy, it would undoubtedly have been forcibly evacuated and burnt to the ground long ago, like any other plague spot. As it was, the city thrived and prospered, brimming with crime, intrigue, and general decadence.

It also made a lot of money from tourism.

Such a dangerous city needed dangerous men and women to keep it under something like control. So from Devil’s Hook to the Street of Gods, from the Docks to High Tory, the city Guard patrolled the streets of Haven with cold steel always to hand, and did the best they could under impossible conditions. Apart from the murderers, muggers, rapists, and everyday scum, they were also up against organized crime, institutionalized brutality and rogue sorcerers; not to mention rampant corruption within their own ranks. They did the best they could, and for the most part learned to be content with little victories.

They should have been the best of the best: men and women with iron nerves, high morals, and implacable wills. Unstoppable heroes, ready to take on any odds to overthrow injustice. But given the low pay, appalling working conditions and high mortality rate, the Guard settled for what it could get. Most were out-of-work mercenaries, marking time until the next war, but there was always a ripe mixture of thugs, idealists, and drifters, all with their own reasons for joining a losing side. Revenge was a common motive. Haven was a breeding ground for victims.

The Guard squadroom was a large, cheerless office at the rear of Guard Headquarters. It was windowless, like the rest of the building. Windows made the place too vulnerable to assault. The Headquarters made do with narrow archery slits and ever-burning oil lamps. The walls and ceilings were covered with grime from the lamps and open fireplaces, but no one gave a damn. It fitted the general mood of the place. Half the squadroom had been taken up by oaken filing cabinets, spilling over from the cramped Records Division. At any hour of the day or night, it was a safe bet you’d find somebody desperately searching for the one piece of paper that might help them crack a case. There was a lot of useful information in the files. If you could find it. They hadn’t been properly organized in over seventeen years, when most of the original files were lost in a fire-bombing.

Rumour had it that if ever the files were successfully reorganized, there’d just be another fire-bombing. So no one bothered.

And three times a day, regular as the most expensive clockwork, the squadroom filled with Guard Captains waiting for the day’s briefing before going out on their shift. It was now almost ten o’clock of the evening, and twenty-eight men and women were waiting impatiently for the Guard Commander to make his appearance and give them the bad news. They knew the news would be bad. It always was.

Hawk and Fisher, husband and wife and Captains in the Guard for more than five years, stood together at the back of the room, enjoying the warmth of the fire and trying not to think about the cold streets outside. Hawk was tall, dark, and no longer handsome. The series of old scars that marred the right side of his face gave him a bitter, sinister look, heightened by the black silk patch over his right eye. He was lean and wiry rather than muscular, and building a stomach, but even standing still the man looked dangerous. Anyone who survived five years as a Captain had to be practically unkillable, but even those who didn’t know his reputation tended to give him plenty of room. There was something about Hawk, something cold and unyielding, that gave even the hardest bravo cause to think twice.

He wore the standard furs and black cloak of the Guard’s winter uniform with little style and less grace. Even on a good day Hawk tended to look as though he’d got dressed in the dark. In a hurry. He wore his dark hair at shoulder length, swept back from his forehead and tied at the nape with a silver clasp. He’d only just turned thirty, but already there were streaks of grey in his hair. On his right hip Hawk carried a short-handled axe instead of a sword. He was very good with an axe. He’d had lots of practice.

Isobel Fisher leant companionably against him, putting an edge on a throwing knife with a whetstone. She was tall, easily six feet in height, and her long blond hair fell to her waist in a single thick plait, weighted at the tip with a polished steel ball. She was heading into her late twenties, and handsome rather than beautiful. There was a rawboned harshness to her face that suggested strength and stubbornness, only slightly softened by her deep blue eyes and generous mouth. Sometime in the past, something had scoured all the human weaknesses out of her, and it showed. She wore a sword on her hip in a battered scabbard, and her prowess with that blade was already legendary in a city used to legends.

A steady murmur of conversation rose and fell around Hawk and Fisher as the Guard Captains brought each other up to date on the latest gossip and exchanged ritual complaints about the lousy coffee and the necessity of working the graveyard shift. As in most cities, the night brought out the worst in Haven. But the graveyard shift paid the best, and there were always those who needed the extra money. As winter approached and the trade routes shut down one by one, choked by snow and ice and bitter storms, prices in the markets rose accordingly. Which was why every winter Hawk and Fisher, and others like them, worked from ten at night to six the next morning. And complained about it a lot.

Hawk leant back against the wall, his arms folded and his chin resting on his chest. He was never at his best at the beginning of a shift, and the recent change in schedules had just made him worse. Hawk hated having his sleeping routine changed. Fisher nudged him with her elbow, and his head came up an inch. He looked quickly round the squadroom, satisfied himself the Commander wasn’t there yet, and let his chin sink back onto his chest. His eye closed. Fisher sighed, and looked away. She just hoped he wouldn’t start snoring again. She checked the edge on her knife, and plucked a hair from Hawk’s head to test it. He didn’t react.

The door flew open and Commander Dubois stalked in, clutching a thick sheaf of papers. The Guard Captains quieted down and came to some sort of attention. Fisher put away her knife and whetstone and elbowed Hawk sharply. He straightened up with a grunt, and fixed his bleary eye on Dubois as the Commander glared out over the squadroom. Dubois was short and stocky and bald as an egg. He’d been a Commander for twenty-three years and it hadn’t improved his disposition one bit. He’d been a hell of a thief-taker in his day, but he’d taken one chance too many, and half a dozen thugs took it in turn to stamp on his legs till they broke. The doctors said he’d never walk again. They didn’t know Dubois. These days he spent most of his time overseeing operations, fighting the Council for a higher budget, and training new recruits. After three weeks of his slave-driving and caustic wit most recruits looked forward to hitting the streets of Haven as the lesser of two evils. It was truly said among the Guard that if you could survive Dubois, you could survive anything.

“All right; pay attention!” Dubois looked sternly about him. “First the good news: The Council’s approved the money for overtime payments, starting immediately. Now the bad news: You’re going to earn it. Early this morning there was a riot in the Devil’s Hook. Fifty-seven dead, twenty-three injured. Two of the dead were Guards. Constables Campbell and Grzeshkowiak. Funeral’s on Thursday. Those wishing to attend, line up your replacements by Tuesday latest. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re covered.

“More bad news. The Dock-Workers Guild is threatening to resume their strike unless the Dock owners agree to spend more money on safe working conditions. Which means we can expect more riots. I’ve doubled the number of Constables in and around the Docks, but keep your eyes open. Riots have a way of spreading. And as if we didn’t have enough to worry about, last night someone broke into the main catacombs on Morrison Street and removed seventy-two bodies. Could be ghouls, black magicians, or some nut cult from the Street of Gods. Either way, it’s trouble. A lot of important people were buried in the catacombs, and their families are frothing at the mouth. I want those bodies back, preferably reasonably intact. Keep your ears to the ground. If you hear anything, I want to know about it.

Now for the general reports. Captains Gibson and Doughty: Word is there’s a haunted house on Blakeney Street. Check it out. If it is haunted, don’t try to be heroes. Just clear the area and send for an exorcist. Captains Briars and Lee: We’ve had several reports of some kind of beast prowling the streets in East Gate. Only sightings so far, no attacks, but pick up silver daggers from the Armoury before you leave, just in case. Captains Fawkes and apOwen: You still haven’t found that rapist yet. We’ve had four victims already and that’s four too many. I don’t care how you do it, but nail the bastard. And if someone’s been shielding him, nail them too. This has top priority until I tell you otherwise.

“Captains Hawk and Fisher: Nice to have you back with us after your little holiday with the God Squad. May I remind you that in this department we prefer to bring in our perpetrators alive, whenever possible. We all know your fondness for cold steel as an answer to most problems, but try not to be so impulsive this time out. Just for me.

“Finally, we have three new rewards.” He smiled humourlessly as the Captains quickly produced notepads and pencils. Rewards were one of the few legitimate perks of the job, but Dubois was of the old school and didn’t approve. Rewards smelt too much like bribes to him, and distracted his men from the cases that really needed solving. He read out the reward particulars, deliberately speaking quickly to make it harder to write down the details. It didn’t bother Fisher. She was a fast writer. A low rumble at her side broke her concentration, and she elbowed Hawk viciously. He snapped awake and put on his best, interested expression.

“One last item,” said Dubois. “All suppressor stones are recalled, as of now. We’ve been having a lot of problems with them just recently. I know they’ve proved very useful so far in protecting us from magical attacks, but we’ve had a lot of reports of stones malfunctioning or otherwise proving unreliable. There’s even been two cases where the damn things exploded. One Guard lost his hand. The stone blew it right off his arm. So, all stones are to be returned to the Armoury, as soon as possible, for checking. No exceptions. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

He broke off as a Constable hurried in with a sheet of paper. He passed it to Dubois, who read it quickly and then questioned the Constable in a low voice. The Captains stirred uneasily. Finally Dubois dismissed the Constable and turned back to them.

“It appears we have a spy on the loose in Haven. Nothing unusual there, but this particular spy has got his hands on some extremely sensitive material. The Council is in a panic. They want him caught, and they want him yesterday. So get out there and lean on your informants. Someone must know something. The city Gates have all been sealed, so he’s not going anywhere.

“Unfortunately, the Council hasn’t given us much information to go on. We know the spy’s code name: Fenris. We also have a vague description: tall and thin with blond hair. Apart from that, you’re on your own. Finding this Fenris now has top priority over all other cases until we’ve got him, or until the Council tells us otherwise. All right, end of briefing. Get out of here. And someone wake up Hawk.”

There was general laughter as the Captains dispersed, and Fisher dragged Hawk towards the door, Hawk protesting innocently that he’d heard every word. He broke off as they left the squadroom, and Fisher headed for the Armoury.

“Isobel, where are you going?”

“The Armoury. To hand in the suppressor stone.”

“Forget it,” said Hawk. “I’m not giving that up. It’s the only protection we’ve got against hostile magic.”

Fisher looked at him. “You heard Dubois; the damned things are dangerous. I’m not having my hand blown off, just so you can feel a bit more secure.”

“All right then, I’ll carry it.”

“No you won’t. I don’t trust you with gadgets.”

“Well, one of us has to have it. Or the next rogue magician we run into is going to hand us our heads. Probably literally.”

Fisher sighed, and nodded reluctantly. “All right, but we only use the thing in emergencies. Agreed?”

“Agreed.”

They strode unhurriedly through the narrow Headquarters corridors and out onto the crowded street. Just a few weeks ago there’d been snow and slush everywhere, but the city’s weather wizards had finally got their act together and deflected the worst of the weather away from Haven, sending it out over the ocean. This wasn’t making them too popular with passing merchant ships, but no one in Haven cared what they thought.

Not that the weather wizards had done anything more than buy Haven a few extra weeks, a month at most. Once the real winter storms started there was nothing anyone could do but nail up the shutters, stoke up the fire, and pray for spring. But for the moment the sky was clear, and the chilly air was no worse than an average autumn day. Hawk turned up his nose at the bracing air and pulled his cloak tightly around him. He didn’t like cloaks as a rule, they got in the way during fights, but he liked the cold even less. The weather in the Low Kingdoms was generally colder and harsher than in his homeland in the North, and it was during fall and winter that he missed the Forest Kingdom most of all. He smiled sourly as he looked out over the slumped buildings and grubby streets. He was a long way from home.

“You’re thinking about the Forest again, aren’t you?” said Fisher.

“Yeah.”

“Don’t. We can’t go back.”

“We might. Some day.”

Fisher looked at him. “Sure,” she said finally. “Some day.”

They strode down the packed street, the crowd giving way before them. There were a lot of people about for the time of night, but with winter so close, everyone was desperate to get as much done as they could before the storms descended and the streets became impassable. Hawk and Fisher smiled and nodded to familiar faces, and slowly made their way into the Northside, their beat and one of the worst areas in Haven. You could buy or sell anything there; every dirty little trade, every shape and form of evil and corruption grew and flourished in the dark and grimy streets of the Northside. Hawk and Fisher, who had worked the area for over five years, had grown blasé and hardened despite themselves. Yet every day the Northside came up with new things to shock them. They tried hard not to let it get to them.

They made a tour of all the usual dives, looking for word on the spy Fenris, but to a man everyone they talked to swore blind they’d never even heard of the fellow. Hawk and Fisher took turns smashing up furniture and glaring up close at those they questioned, but not even their reputations could scare up any information. Which meant that either the spy had gone to ground so thoroughly that no one knew where he was, or his masters were paying out a small fortune in bribes to keep people’s mouths shut. Probably the former. There was always someone in the Northside who’d talk.

They left the Inn of the Black Freighter till last. It was a semirespectable tavern and restaurant right on the outer edge of the Northside; the kind of place where you paid through the nose for out-of-season delicacies, and the waiter sneered at you if your accent slipped. It was also a clearing house for information, gossip, and rumour, all for sale on a sliding scale that started at expensive and rose quickly to extortionate. Hawk and Fisher looked in from time to time to pick up the latest information, and never paid a penny. Instead, they let their informants live and promised not to set fire to the building on the way out.

They stood outside the Black Freighter a moment, listening to the sounds of conversation and laughter carry softly on the night air. It seemed there was a good crowd in tonight. They pushed open the door and strolled in, smiling graciously about them. The headwaiter started towards them, his hand positioned just right for a surreptitious bribe for a good table, and then he stopped dead, his face falling as he saw who it was. A sudden silence fell across the tavern, and a sea of sullen faces glared at Hawk and Fisher from the dimly lit tables. As in most restaurants, the lighting was kept to a minimum. Officially, this was to provide an intimate, romantic atmosphere. Hawk thought it was because if the customers could see what they were eating, they wouldn’t pay for it. But then he was no romantic, as Fisher would be the first to agree.

The quiet was complete, save for the crackling of the fire at the end of the room, and the atmosphere was so tense you could have struck a match off it. Hawk and Fisher headed for the bar, which boasted richly polished chrome and veneer and all the latest fashionable spirits and liqueurs, lined up in neat, orderly rows. A large mirror covered most of the wall behind the bar, surrounded by rococo scrollwork of gold and silver.

Hawk and Fisher leaned on the bar and smiled companionably at the bartender, Howard, who looked as though he would have very much liked to turn and run, but didn’t dare. He swallowed once, gave the bartop a quick polish it didn’t need, and smiled fixedly at the two Guards. He might have been handsome in his heyday, but twenty years of more than good living had buried those good looks under too much weight, and his smile was weak now, from having been too many things to too many people. He had a wife and a mistress who fought loudly in public, and many other signs of success, but though he now owned the Inn where he’d once been nothing more than a lowly waiter, he still liked to spend most of his time behind the bar, keeping an eye on things. None of his staff was going to sneak up on him, the way he had on the previous owner. Hawk shifted his weight slightly, and the bartender jumped in spite of himself. Hawk smiled.

“Good crowd in tonight, Howard. How’s business?”

“Fine! Just fine,” said Howard quickly. “Couldn’t be better. Can I get you a drink? Or a table? Or… Oh hell, Hawk, you’re not going to bust up the place again, are you? I only just finished redecorating from the last time you were here, and those mirrors are expensive. And you know the insurance people won’t pay out if you’re involved. They class you and Fisher along with storm damage, rogue magic, and Acts of Gods.”

“No need to be so worried, Howard,” said Fisher. “Anyone would think you had something to hide.”

“Look, I just run the place. No one tells me anything. You know that.”

“We’re looking for someone,” said Hawk. “Fenris. It’s a spy’s code name. You ever heard it before?”

“No,” said the bartender quickly. “Never. If I had, I’d tell you, word of honour. I don’t have any truck with spies. I’m a patriotic man, always have been, loyal as the day is long….”

“Pack it in,” said Fisher. “We believe you, though thousands wouldn’t. Who’s in tonight that might know something?”

Howard hesitated, and Hawk frowned at him. The bartender swallowed hard. “There’s Fast Tommy, the Little Lord, and Razor Eddie. It’s just possible they might have heard a thing or two….”

Hawk nodded, and turned away from the bar to stare out over the restaurant. People had started eating again, but the place was still silent as the tomb, save for the odd clatter of cutlery on plates. It didn’t take him long to spot the three faces Howard had named. They were all quite well known, in their way. Hawk and Fisher had met them before; in their line of business, it was inevitable.

“Thank you, Howard,” said Hawk. “You’ve been a great help. Now, tell that bouncer of yours, who thinks he’s hidden behind the pillar to our left, that if he doesn’t put down that throwing knife and step into plain sight, Isobel and I are going to cut him off at the knees.”

Howard made a quick gesture, and the bouncer stepped reluctantly into view, his hands conspicuously empty. “Sorry,” said the bartender. “He’s new.”

“He’d better learn fast,” said Fisher. “Or he’s never going to be old.”

They turned their backs on Howard and the bouncer, and threaded their way through the packed tables. Glaring faces and hostile eyes followed the two Captains as they headed for Fast Tommy’s table. As usual, Tommy was dressed in the height of last month’s fashion, had enough heavy rings on his fingers to double as knuckle-dusters, and was accompanied by a gorgeous young blonde half falling out of her dress. Tommy glared at Hawk and Fisher as they pulled up chairs opposite him, but made no objections. He undoubtedly had a bodyguard or two somewhere nearby but had enough sense not to call them. Hawk and Fisher might have taken that as an affront, and then he’d have had to find some new bodyguards. No one messed with Hawk and Fisher. It was quicker and a lot safer just to tell them what they wanted to know, and hope they’d go away and bother someone else.

Fast Tommy was a gambling man. He got his name as a lightning calculator, though some uncharitable souls suggested it had more to do with his love life. He was a short, squarish, dark-haired man in his early forties, with a gambler’s easy smile and unreadable eyes. He nodded politely to Hawk and Fisher.

“My dear Captains, so good to see you again. May I purchase you wine, or cigars? Perhaps a little hot chocolate; very warming in the inclement weather…”

“Tell us about the spy. Tommy,” said Hawk.

“I’m afraid the name Fenris is unknown to me, Captain, but I can of course inquire of my associates….”

“You’re holding out on us, Tommy,” said Fisher reproachfully. “You know how it upsets us when you do that.”

“Upon my sweet mother’s grave…”

“Your mother is alive and well and still paying interest on the last loan you made her,” said Hawk.

Fisher looked thoughtfully at the gambler’s blond companion. “Little old for you, isn’t she, Tommy? She must be all of seventeen. Maybe we should check our records, make sure she isn’t some underage runaway.”

The young blonde smiled sweetly at Fisher, and lifted her wineglass so she could show off the heavy gold bracelet at her wrist.

“She’s sixteen,” said Tommy quickly. “I’ve seen the birth certificate.” He swallowed hard, and smiled determinedly at the two Guards. “Believe me, my dear friends, I know nothing of this Fenris person….”

“But you can find out,” said Hawk. “Leave word at Guard Headquarters, when you know something.”

“Of course, Captain, of course…”

Fisher leaned forward. “If we find out later that you’ve been holding something back from us…”

“Do I look suicidal?” said Fast Tommy.

Hawk and Fisher got to their feet, and made their way through the tangle of tables to join the Little Lord in her private booth at the back. No one knew the Little Lord’s real name, but then, nobody cared that much. Aliases were as common as fleas in the Northside, and a damn sight easier to live with. The Lord was a tall, handsome woman in her mid-thirties who always dressed as a man. She had close-cropped dark hair, a thin slash of a mouth, and dark piercing eyes. She dressed smartly but formally, in that old male style that never really goes out of fashion, and affected an upper class accent that was only occasionally successful. She always had money, though no one knew where it came from. Truth be told, most people weren’t sure they wanted to know. She peered short-sightedly at Hawk and Fisher as they sat down opposite her, and screwed a monocle into her left eye.

“As I live and breathe, Captain Hawk and Captain Fisher. Damned fine to see you again. Care to join me in a glass of bubbly?”

Hawk eyed the half bottle of pink champagne in the nearby ice bucket, and shuddered briefly. “Not right now, thank you. What can you tell us about the spy Fenris?”

“Not a damned thing, old boy. Don’t really move in those circles, you know.”

“You’re looking very smart,” said Fisher. “Those diamond cuff links are new, aren’t they?”

“Present from me dear auntie. The old girl and I were up at Lord Bruford’s the other day, meeting that new Councillor chappie. Adamant, I think his name was….”

“Never mind the social calendar,” said Fisher. “A set of matched diamonds disappeared mysteriously during a Society bash last week. You wouldn’t know anything about that, I suppose?”

“Not a thing, m’dear. Shocked to hear it, of course.”

“Of course,” said Hawk. “Are you sure you haven’t heard something about Fenris, my Lord? After all, someone such as yourself, moving in your circles, would be bound to hear something; perhaps spoken in confidence in an unguarded moment?”

The Little Lord raised an elegant eyebrow, and her monocle fell out. She caught it deftly before it hit the tabletop, and screwed it back in place. “My dear chap, surely you’re not asking me to peach on a friend? Just ain’t done, you know.”

“Those diamond cuff links are looking more and more familiar,” said Fisher. “Perhaps the three of us should take a little walk down to Headquarters, so we can compare them with the artist’s rendering of the missing items….”

“I assure you. Captain, I haven’t heard a thing about your beastly spy! But of course I’d be only too happy to keep my eyes and ears alert for any morsel of gossip that might float my way.”

“That’s the spirit,” said Hawk. “Noblesse oblige, right? And by the way, I’ve met Councillor Adamant, and I know for a fact he’s never bloody heard of you.”

He and Fisher left the spluttering Lord in her booth, and made their way through the last of the tables to their final port of call, a single table at the rear of the tavern, half hidden in shadows. Razor Eddie wasn’t fond of even dim light. Hawk and Fisher borrowed chairs from nearby tables, and sat down facing him. Razor Eddie was a slight, hunched figure wrapped in a tattered grey cloak apparently held together only by accumulated filth and grease. Even across a table the smell was appalling. He was said to be so dirty, plague rats wouldn’t go near him in case they caught something. He was painfully thin, with a hollowed face and fever-bright eyes. At first glance he looked like just another down and out, but you only had to be in the man’s presence a few moments to know there was something special about him. Special… and not a little disturbing.

Razor Eddie got his name in a street fight over territory between two neighbouring gangs. He was fourteen at the time, a slick and vicious killer, and already more than a little crazy. He spent the next few years working for anyone who’d have him, just for the action. And then, at the age of seventeen, he visited the Street of Gods and got religion in a big way. He turned his back on his violent past and walked the streets of the Northside, preaching love and understanding. A few people laughed at him, and threw things. Later, they were found dead, under mysterious circumstances. They weren’t the last. After a while people learned to leave Razor Eddie strictly alone. He walked through the most dangerous areas in Haven, spreading his message, and came out unscathed. Once, a gang of ten bravos went into the Devil’s Hook after him. No one ever saw them again. Razor Eddie had no fixed abode or territory; he slept in doorways and wandered where he would. Neither heat nor cold affected him, and he always seemed to have a little money, even in the hardest of times.

He knew a lot of things, about a lot of people—if you could persuade him to talk. Most couldn’t, but he’d taken a shine to Hawk and Fisher. Probably because unlike most other people, they weren’t frightened of him. Hawk leant back in his chair and smiled easily at the hunched figure opposite him.

“Hello, Eddie. How’s life treating you?”

“Mustn’t grumble, Captain,” said Razor Eddie. His voice was low and calm and very reasonable, but his eyes shone with a wild light. “There’s always someone worse off than yourself. I’ve been waiting for you. You’ll find the spy Fenris in the house with three gables on Leech Street. He uses it as a drop for passing information. You’ll know Fenris by his bright green cravat. It’s a signal for his contact.”

“You’re not normally this forthcoming, Eddie,” said Fisher, frowning. “What’s so special about this Fenris?”

“Unless someone stops him, two great houses will go down in flames. Blood will run in gutters and the screams will never end. There are wolves running loose among the flock, and they will bring us all down.”

Hawk and Fisher looked at each other briefly, and when they looked back, Razor Eddie’s chair was empty. They looked quickly about them, but there was no sign of him anywhere in the tavern.

“I hate it when he does that,” said Fisher. “Well, what do you think? Is it worth a trip to Leech Street?”

Hawk scowled. “Anyone else, I’d take it with a pinch of salt. But Eddie’s different. He knows things. And if he thinks we’re all in danger because of this Fenris…”

“Yeah,” said Fisher. “Worrying, that.”

“It’s the best lead we’ve got.”

“It’s the only lead we’ve got.”

“Exactly.”

Fisher shook her head. “Let’s go check it out.”

They grinned at each other, got up, and made their way back through the crowded tables. The restaurant was still utterly silent, their every move followed by hostile eyes. They got to the door, and Hawk paused and looked back. He smiled, and bowed courteously to the sea of unfriendly faces. Fisher blew the room a kiss, and then the two Guards disappeared into the night.

Leech Street was bold and brassy and more than a little shop-soiled. Brightly painted whores gathered together on street corners like so many raucous birds of paradise, or leaned out of first-floor windows in revealing underwear, watching the world go by with knowing mascarad eyes. Street traders hawked jewelry so freshly stolen the true owners hadn’t even realized it was gone yet, and hole-in-the-wall taverns provided cheap shots of spirits so rough they all but seethed in the bottle. The air was full of chatter and laughter and the harsh banter of the strip-show barkers. Here and there, gaudily dressed pimps leant casually in open doorways, ostentatiously cleaning their fingernails with the point of a knife, alert for the first sign of trouble. Prospective clients, trying to appear anonymous, thronged one end of the street to the other, eyeing the various merchandise and working up their courage to the sticking point.

Hawk, watching the bustling scene from the concealing shadows of an alley mouth, yawned widely. He and Fisher had been in position for almost an hour waiting for Fenris to show up, and what little tawdry glamour the street possessed had long since worn thin. When you got past the noise and the bright colors, Leech Street seemed more sad and sleazy than anything else, with everyone trying desperately to pretend they were something other than what they really were. Hawk derived some amusement from the attempts of most of the would-be customers to give the impression they just happened to be passing through, but the street itself held no attractions for him. He’d seen the official figures on violence and robbery in this area, not to mention venereal disease. In some establishments, the crabs were reputed to be so big they jumped out on dithering passersby and dragged them bodily inside.

Bored, Hawk leant gingerly back against the grimy alley wall and kicked at an empty bottle on the ground. It rolled slowly away, hesitated, and then rolled back again. After a fruitless hour standing watch, this was almost exciting. Hawk sighed deeply. He hated doing stakeouts. He didn’t have the patience for it. Fisher, on the other hand, actually seemed to enjoy it these days. She’d taken to watching the passersby and making up little histories about who they were and where they were going. Her stories were invariable more interesting than the case they were working on, but now, after a solid hour of listening to them, Hawk found their charm wearing a bit thin. Fisher chattered on, blithely unknowing, while Hawk’s scowl deepened. His stomach rumbled loudly, reminding him of missed meals. Fisher broke off suddenly, and Hawk quickly looked round, worried she’d noticed his inattention, but her gaze was fixed on something down the street.

“I think we’ve finally struck gold, Hawk. Green cravat at three o’clock.”

Hawk followed her gaze, and his interest stirred. “Think he’s our man?”

“Would you wear a cravat like that if you didn’t have to?”

Hawk smiled. She had a point. The cravat was so bright and virulent a green it practically glowed. The suspect looked casually about him, ignoring the birdlike calls of the whores. He fit the description, what there was of it. He was definitely tall, easily six foot three or four, and decidedly lean. His clothes, apart from the cravat, were tastefully bland, with nothing about them to identify the kind of man who wore them. For a moment his gaze fell upon the alley from which Hawk was watching. Hawk damped down an impulse to shrink further back into the shadows; the movement would only draw attention to him. The spy’s gaze moved on, and Hawk breathed a little more easily.

“All right,” said Fisher. “Let’s get him.”

“Hold your horses,” said Hawk. “We want whoever he’s here to meet as well, not just him. Let’s give him a minute, and see what happens.”

One of the bolder whores advanced aggressively towards the spy. He smiled at her and said something that made her laugh, and she turned away. He can’t just stand around much longer, thought Hawk. That would be bound to attract attention. So what the hell’s he waiting for? Even as the thought crossed Hawk’s mind, the spy turned suddenly and walked over to a building on the opposite side of the street. He produced a key, unlocked the door and slipped quickly inside, pulling the door shut behind him. Hawk counted ten slowly to himself and then stepped out of the alley, Fisher at his side. The house the spy had gone into looked just like all the others on the street.

“I’ll take the front,” said Hawk. “You cover the back, in case he tries to make a run for it.”

“How come I always have to cover the back?” said Fisher. “I always end up in someone’s back yard, trying to fight my way through three weeks’ accumulated garbage.”

“All right. You take the front and I’ll cover the back.”

“Oh, no; it’s too late now. You should have thought of it without me having to tell you.”

Hawk gave her an exasperated look, but she was already heading for the narrow alley at the side of the building. Sometimes you just couldn’t talk to Fisher. Hawk turned his attention back to the house’s front door as it loomed up before him. A faded sign hanging above the door gave the name of the place as MISTRESS LUCY’S ESTABLISHMENT. The sign boasted a portrait of the lady herself, which suggested she’d looked pretty faded even when the sign was new. Hawk casually tried the handle. It turned easily in his grasp, but the door wouldn’t open. Locked. Surprise, surprise. Maybe he should have let Fisher have the front door after all. She was a lot better at picking locks than he.

On the other hand… When in doubt, be direct.

He knocked politely on the door, and waited. There was a pause and then the door swung open, and a hand shot out and fastened on his arm. Hawk jumped in spite of himself, and his hand started towards his axe before he realized the person before him was very definitely not the spy Fenris. Instead, Hawk found himself facing a large, heavyset woman wrapped in gaudy robes, with a wild frizz of dark curly hair and so much makeup it was almost impossible to make out her features. Her smile was a wide scarlet gash and her eyes were bright and piercing. Her shoulders were as wide as a docker’s, and she had arms to match. The hand on his arm closed fiercely, and he winced.

“I’m glad you’re here,” said the woman earnestly. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Hawk looked at her blankly. “You have?”

“Of course. But we must hurry. The spirits are restless tonight.”

Hawk wondered if things might become a little clearer if he went away and came back again later. Like maybe next year.

“Spirits,” he said, carefully.

The woman looked at him sharply. “You are here for the sitting, aren’t you?”

“I don’t think so,” said Hawk.

The woman let go of his arm as though he’d just made an indecent proposal, drew herself up to her full five-foot-nine, and fixed him with a steely glare. “Do I understand that you are not Jonathan DeQuincey, husband of the late and much lamented Dorothy DeQuincey?”

“Yes,” said Hawk. That much he was sure of.

“Then if you have not come to see me in my capacity as Madam Zara, Spirit Guide and Pathway to the Great Beyond, why are you here?”

“You mean you’re a spiritualist?” said Hawk, the light slowly dawning. “A medium?”

“Not just a medium, young man; the foremost practitioner of the Art in all Haven.”

“Then why are you based here, instead of on the Street of Gods?” asked Hawk innocently.

Madam Zara sniffed haughtily. “Certain closed minds on the Council refuse to accept spiritualists as genuine wonderworkers. They dare to accuse us of being fakes and frauds. We, of course, know different. It’s all part of a conspiracy by the established religions to prevent us taking our rightful place on the Street of Gods. Now, what do you want? I can’t stand around here chatting with you; the Great Beyond calls… and I have customers waiting.”

“I’m looking for the gentleman who just came in here,” said Hawk. “Tall, thin, wears a green cravat. I have a message for him.”

“Oh, him.” Madam Zara turned up her nose regally. “Upstairs, second on the left. And you can tell the young ‘gentleman’ his rent’s due.”

She turned her back on Hawk in a swirl of billowing robes, and marched off down the narrow hall. Hawk stepped inside and shut the door quietly behind him. By the time he turned back, Madam Zara had disappeared, presumably to rejoin her clients, and the hall was empty. A single lamp shed a dirty yellow glow over a row of coats and cloaks on the left-hand wall and a tattily carpeted stairway that led up to the next floor. Hawk took a small wooden wedge from his pocket and jammed it firmly under the front door. That should slow Fenris down if he made a run for it. Hawk carried lots of useful things in his pockets. He believed in being prepared.

He drew his axe. The odds were that the spy Fenris was alone with his contact. He wouldn’t want to risk unnecessary witnesses. So, two-to-one odds. Hawk grinned, and hefted his axe. No problem. Things were looking up. If he and Fisher could bring in both the spy and his contact alive and ready for questioning, then maybe he and Fisher could finally get transferred out of the Northside permanently….

He padded silently forward, and made his way slowly up the stairs. With any luck, even if the spy had heard him at the door, he’d just assume Hawk was another of Madam Zara’s clients. Which should give Hawk the advantage of surprise if it came to a fight. Hawk firmly believed in making use of every possible advantage when it came to a fight. He ascended the stairs slowly, checking each step first to see if it was likely to creak. He had a lot of experience when it came to sneaking around houses, and he knew how far a sudden sound could carry on the quiet.

He reached the landing without incident and padded silently over to the second door on the left. Light shone around the doorframe. He put his ear to the wood, and smiled as he heard a voice raised loudly in argument. He stepped back, hefted his axe once, and braced himself to kick in the door. At which point the door swung open, revealing the spy Fenris standing in the doorway with a startled expression. For a moment he and Hawk just stood there, staring at each other, and then Hawk launched himself at the spy. Fenris fell back, shock and alarm fighting for control of his features. Hawk glanced quickly round the room, and his gaze fell on the spy’s contact—a grey, anonymous man with an icily calm face.

“Stand where you are, both of you!” barked Hawk. “You’re under arrest. Throw down your weapons!”

The contact drew his sword and advanced on Hawk. The spy fumbled for a throwing knife. Oh hell, thought Hawk tiredly. Just once, why can’t they do the sensible thing and give up without a fight? He decided he’d better take out the contact first; he looked to be the more dangerous of the two. Once the contact had been subdued, Fenris would likely give himself up without a struggle. Hawk closed in on the contact; the man’s face was utterly bland and forgettable, but his eyes were cold and deadly calm. Hawk began to have a very bad feeling about him. He pushed the thought aside and launched his attack. The grey man brushed aside Hawk’s axe effortlessly, and Hawk had to retreat rapidly to avoid being transfixed by the contact’s follow-through.

The grey man moved quickly after him, cutting and thrusting with awesome skill, and it was all Hawk could do to hold him off. Fenris’ contact was an expert swordsman. Hawk’s heart sank. When all was said and done, an axe was not designed as a defensive weapon. Hawk usually won his fights by launching an all-out attack and not letting up until his opponent was beaten. As it was, only frantic footwork and some inspired use of the axe was keeping him alive. Hawk had been an excellent swordsman in his younger days, before he lost his eye, but even then he would have been hard pressed to beat the grey man. He was fast, brilliant, and disturbingly methodical. Unless Hawk could come up with something in a hurry, he was a dead man, and both he and the grey man knew it. Out of the corner of his eye, Hawk could see Fenris circling around them with a throwing knife in his hand, looking for an opening. That settled it. When in doubt, fight dirty.

He struck at the grey man’s head with his axe, forcing him to raise his sword to parry the blow, and while the two blades were engaged, Hawk pivoted neatly on one foot and kicked the grey man squarely in the groin. The man’s face paled and his sword arm wavered. Hawk brought his axe across in a sudden, savage blow that sliced through the man’s throat. Blood spurted thickly as the grey man collapsed. Hawk spun quickly to face Fenris. He might have lost the contact, but he was damned if he’d lose the spy as well. Fenris aimed and threw his knife in a single fluid movement. Hawk threw himself to one side, and the knife shot past his shoulder but pinned his cloak firmly to the wall. Hawk scrabbled frantically at the cloak’s clasp as Fenris turned and bolted out the door. Some days, nothing goes right.

The clasp finally came undone, and he jerked free, leaving the cloak hanging pinned to the wall behind him. He charged out of the room and onto the landing. He’d come back for the cloak later. He peered over the banister and caught a glimpse of Fenris standing at the foot of the stairs, looking frantically about him. Hawk clattered down the stairs, cursing quietly to himself. He hated chases. He was built for stamina, not speed, and he was already out of breath from the exertions of the fight. Still, Fenris wouldn’t get that far. The wedge under the front door should see to that.

In the darkened parlour, the seance was well under way. A mysterious pool of light illuminated a small circular table, throwing sinister shadows on the faces of the six people gathered hopefully around it. Darkness pressed close about the circle of light, hiding the pokey little parlour and giving the six participants a feeling of being adrift in eternity. The air was heavy with the scent of sandalwood, and over all there was an atmosphere of unease and anticipation. Madam Zara rocked back and forth on her chair, as though all around her spirits were jostling for possession of her voice, desperate to pass on messages of hope and comfort to those they had left behind. Madam Zara’s head lolled limply on her neck, but her eyes kept a careful if unobtrusive watch on her clients.

It was just her regulars this week. The Holbrooks, a middle-aged couple wanting to contact their dead son. David and Mercy Peyton, still hopeful their dear departed grandfather would reveal to them where he’d hidden the family fortune. And old Mrs. Tyrell, timidly grateful for any fleeting contact with her dead cat, Marmalade. The two couples were easy enough; all they needed were general platitudes on the one hand and vague hints on the other, but having to make cat noises was downright demeaning. If trade hadn’t dropped off so much recently she’d have drawn the line at pets, but times were hard, and Madam Zara had to make do with what she could get.

She let her eyes roll back in her head, and produced her best sepulchral moan. She was rather proud of her moan. It had something of the mystic and the eternal in it, and was guaranteed to make even the most skeptical client sit up and take notice. She took a firm grip on the hands of Graeme Holbrook and David Peyton on either side of her, and let a delicate shudder run down her arms into her hands.

“The spirits are with us,” she said softly. “They are near us in everything we do, separated from us by only the thinnest of veils. They wish always to make contact with us, and all we have to do is listen…. Hush. I feel a disturbance in the ether. A spirit draws near. Speak with my voice, dear departed one. Have you a message for someone here?”

The atmosphere grew taut and strained as Madam Zara threw in a few more moans and shivers, and then pressed her foot firmly onto the lever hidden in the floorboards. A block of wood thudded hollowly against the underside of the table, making the clients jump. She hit the lever a few more times, producing more mysterious knockings, and then concentrated on getting the right intonations for the Peyton grandfather’s voice. People didn’t appreciate what mediums had to go through for their money. She could have been a legitimate actress, if only she’d had the breaks.

“The spirit is drawing closer. I can feel a presence in the room. It’s almost here….”

The door flew open and the tall thin gentleman from upstairs charged in, glared wildly about him, and then headed for the window. The Holbrooks screamed, and Mercy Peyton fell backwards off her chair. Madam Zara looked confusedly about her, completely thrown. Another figure burst in through the open door, his clothes soaked with blood, fresh gore dripping from the axe in his hand. The Holbrooks screamed even louder and clutched each other tightly, convinced that the Grim Reaper himself had come to claim them for meddling in his affairs. The gentleman from upstairs threw open the window and slung a leg over the windowsill. The second figure charged forward, overturning the table. He grabbed at the young gentleman’s shoulder, and just missed as he dropped into the alleyway outside. The second figure cursed horribly and clambered out the window in hot pursuit. The Holbrooks were still clutching each other and whimpering, Mercy Peyton was having hysterics, loudly, and David Peyton was thoughtfully examining the block of wood on the underside of the overturned table. Madam Zara searched frantically for something to say that would retrieve the situation. And just at that moment a large orange cat jumped in through the window from the alley outside and looked around to see what all the fuss was about. Mrs. Tyrell snatched him up and hugged him to her with tears of joy in her eyes.

“Marmalade! You’ve come back to me!”

Madam Zara mentally washed her hands of the whole situation.

Out in the alley, Hawk found Fisher picking herself up out of a pile of garbage. He started forward to help, and then hesitated as the smell hit him. Fisher glared at him.

“Next time, you’re going to watch the back door.”

She headed quickly for the main street, brushing herself off as she went. Hawk hurried after her.

“Did you see Fenris?”

“Of course I saw him! Who do you think knocked me into the garbage? And whatever you’re about to say, I don’t want to hear it. How was I to know he’d come flying out of a window? Now, let’s move it. He can’t be more than a few minutes ahead of us.”

They pounded down the alley and out into Leech Street. Fenris was halfway down the street and running well. Hawk and Fisher charged after him. The crowds turned to watch. Some laughed, a few cheered, and the rest yelled insults and placed bets. A few up ahead took in Fisher’s black cloak and moved to block the street. Guards weren’t much respected in Leech Street. Hawk glared at them.

“We’re Hawk and Fisher, city Guard. Get the hell out of the way!”

The crowd parted suddenly before them, falling back on all sides to give them plenty of room. Fenris glanced back over his shoulder and redoubled his efforts. Fisher nodded approvingly at the more respectful crowd.

“I think they’ve heard of us, Hawk.”

“Shut up and keep running.”

Fenris darted down a side alley, and Hawk and Fisher plunged in after him. Hawk was already breathing hard. Fenris led them through a twisting maze of narrow streets and back alleys, changing direction and doubling back whenever he could. Hawk and Fisher stuck doggedly with him, breath burning in their lungs and sweat running down their heaving sides. Fenris ran through a street market, overturning stalls as he went, to try and slow them down. Hawk just ploughed right through the wreckage, with Fisher close behind. Furious stallholders shook their fists and called down curses on the heads of pursued and pursuers alike.

Hawk’s scowl deepened as he ran. Fenris was leading them deep into the rotten heart of the Northside, but Hawk was damned if he could figure out exactly where the man was headed. He must have some destination in mind, some bolt-hole he could hide in, or a friend who’d protect him. Hawk smiled nastily. He didn’t care if the spy ended up in the Hall of Justice, protected by all twelve Judges and the King himself; Fenris was going to gaol, preferably in chains. It had become a matter of honour. Not to mention revenge. Hawk hated chases.

And then Fenris rounded a corner at full speed, and darted up an exterior stairway on a large squat building of stained and patterned stone. Hawk started after him, but Fisher grabbed him by the arm and brought them both to a sudden halt. Fenris disappeared through a door into the building. Hawk turned on Fisher.

“Before you say anything, Hawk. Look where we are.”

Hawk glared around him, and then grimaced, his anger draining quickly away. Fenris had brought them to Magus Court, home to all the lowlife magicians and sorcerers in Haven. The place looked deserted for the moment, but that could change in a second. On the whole, Guards tended to walk very quietly in and around Magus Court and not draw attention to themselves. Certainly, no one ever tried to make arrests there without massive support from the Guard, and, if necessary, the army. Otherwise they’d have been safer playing brass instruments in a cave full of hibernating bears.

“That’s not all,” said Fisher. “Look whose house he’s holed up in.”

Hawk looked, and groaned. “Grimm,” he said disgustedly. “All the magic-users Fenris could have known, and it had to be the sorcerer Grimm.”

He and Fisher leant against the wall at the bottom of the exterior stairway and grabbed a few minutes’ rest while they tried to work out what the hell to do next. Hawk and Fisher knew Grimm, and he knew them. They’d crossed swords before, metaphorically speaking, but Hawk and Fisher had never been able to pin anything on him. People were too scared to talk.

Grimm was a medium-level sorcerer with unpleasant personal habits who specialized in shape changing. He could do anything from a face-lift to a full body transformation, depending on the needs, and wealth, of his client. He had no scruples; he’d do anything, to anyone. Criminals found his services very useful, either for themselves, to change an appearance that had grown too well-known, or for taking revenge on their enemies. The Guard had found one up-and-coming crime boss wandering the streets in the early hours of the morning, leaving a bloody trail behind him. It took them some time to identify him. He’d been flayed, every inch of skin removed from head to toe, but he was still alive, and screaming. He took a long time to die in the main city hospital, and he only stopped screaming when his voice gave out.

It figured Fenris would know someone like Grimm. All the spy had to do was acquire a new face and build and he could disappear into the crowds right under Hawk’s and Fisher’s noses. On the other hand, they couldn’t just go barging in after him. Grimm was a sorcerer and took his privacy very seriously. Officially, any Guard could enter any premises in Haven, providing they could demonstrate good cause in the Courts afterwards. In practice, it all depended on whose home you were talking about. Having a Court declare you posthumously correct wasn’t much of a comfort, and sorcerers tended to throw spells first and think afterwards. Constant industrial espionage among magic-users had produced a general paranoia and split-second reflexes.

“What do you think?” said Hawk finally.

“I think we should think about this very carefully,” said Fisher. “I have no desire to spend the rest of my life as a combination of several small, unpleasant, and very smelly animals. Shapechange sorcerers are renowned for having a very warped sense of humour. I say we stay put and call for backup.”

“By the time anyone gets here, Fenris will have his new face and we’ll have lost him.”

Fisher scowled. “Given the alternatives, I say let him go. It’s not as if he was a murderer or something. Hell, Haven’s full of spies. What’s one more or less going to make any difference?”

“No,” said Hawk firmly. “We can’t let him go. It would be bad for our reputation. People would think we’d got soft, and take advantage.”

Fisher shook her head. “There has to be an easier way to make a living. All right, let’s go in after him. No point in sneaking around. Grimm’s bound to have the place covered with security spells to warn of intruders. So, crash straight in and trust to the suppressor stone to protect us. Right?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Hawk. “Let’s do it.”

He handed Fisher the suppressor stone, and she muttered the activating phrase. The stone glowed fiercely in her hand like a miniature star. They started up the exterior stairway, Hawk in the lead, axe at the ready. The stairs creaked loudly. Great, thought Hawk, Just great. They hurried up the steps to the door at the top of the stairway. Hawk listened carefully, his ear pressed against the wood, but he couldn’t hear anything. He tried the door handle and it turned stiffly in his grasp. He eased the door open an inch, and then stepped back. He glanced at Fisher for reassurance, and found she was doing the same to him. He smiled briefly. They both counted to three under their breath, kicked the door in and burst into the room beyond, weapons at the ready.

The sorcerer Grimm was escorting a robed and hooded figure to a door at the far end of the room. He spun round and glared at the intruders, and then pushed the hooded figure towards the far door. The Guards started forward, but the figure was out the door and gone before they got anywhere near him. Which left them facing the sorcerer. Grimm was a huge, broad-chested man dressed in sorcerer’s black, with a thick beard and an impressive mane of jet-black hair. He was smiling unpleasantly, like a vulture about to feed on a dead man’s eyes.

“You’re under arrest, in the name of the Guard!” said Hawk resolutely, and then flung himself to one side as Grimm snatched a ball of fire out of thin air and threw it at him. The fireball hit a chair and incinerated it. Fisher threw a knife while the sorcerer was distracted, and it sank deep into Grimm’s arm. He cursed briefly, pulled the knife out, and threw it aside. Hawk and Fisher charged across the room towards him. The sorcerer drew himself up and spoke a Word of Power. The suppressor stone flared up, cancelling out his magic. Hawk and Fisher hit the sorcerer together, throwing him to the floor. There was a short, confused struggle, and then Fisher clubbed him unconscious with the hilt of her sword. Grimm went limp, and Hawk and Fisher rolled off him. They sat together, backs against the wall, and waited for their breathing to get back to normal.

“Well, at least we’ve got something to show for the chase,” said Hawk.

“Yeah,” said Fisher. “Pity about Fenris, though. We were that close to getting him….”

“Forget it,” said Hawk. “He’s long gone by now, with a new face and build, the crafty bastard. We’ll have to start over from scratch.”

“Right. Our superiors are not going to be pleased with us.”

They sat in silence for a while.

“There isn’t a reward on Grimm, by any chance, is there?” said Hawk hopefully.

“No chance. There’s never been any real evidence against him. Still, he’s dropped himself right in it this time. Aiding and abetting a fugitive, resisting arrest, assaulting the Guard…”

“Right,” said Hawk. “Once he wakes up, he’s going to have some very leading questions to answer.”

“Assuming he hasn’t got concussion, and lost his memory.”

Hawk groaned. “Don’t. It would be just our luck if we had accidentally scrambled his brains. Come on, let’s have a look round the place while we’re here. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a clue or something.”

They moved cautiously round Grimm’s quarters, being very careful not to touch anything without checking it out first. Magic-users were often fond of setting booby traps for the unwary. Hawk’s usual method of searching the premises was to trash the place until it looked like a hurricane had hit it, but this room already looked as if someone had beaten him to it. Grimm was one of those people who lived in a permanent mess and liked it that way. His quarters took up the whole of the first floor—a single long room littered with junk and debris of every description.

There were racks of chemicals, glass vials and tubing, pewter mugs and mixing bowls, all scattered over two huge tables. Together with papers and books and what appeared to be the remains of at least three different meals. Hawk tossed aside a discarded shirt and grimaced as he discovered a dead cat, dissected into its component parts and neatly pinned to a display board. Beneath the cat were detailed instructions on how to put the animal back together again. Either Grimm had a really nasty sense of humour, or… Hawk decided very firmly that he wasn’t going to think about that.

The bed looked as though Grimm had left it exactly as he’d crawled out of it. Fisher peered underneath, just in case, but there was nothing there except dust and a chamber pot. A combination desk and writing table looked more interesting. She eased the drawers open one by one with the tip of her sword, and smiled as she came across a thick sheaf of papers. She ran the suppressor stone over the desk, and then carefully removed the papers, watching all the time in case there was a mechanical booby trap as well. She leafed quickly through the papers, scowling as she tried to make out Grimm’s scratchy handwriting.

Hawk looked into a recessed alcove, and his breath caught in his throat. A dozen different faces lined the wall; skins so skillfully taken and mounted they seemed almost alive. Hawk fought down his disgust and looked them over carefully. They were all unique, no two even remotely alike. Presumably they were models for the faces Grimm could give his customers. He’d better get a Guard sketch artist in to make copies. Fenris might be wearing one of these faces. He moved closer and studied them thoughtfully. Whatever else you could say about Grimm, he knew his stuff. The faces were incredibly lifelike. He reached out a hand to touch one, and then snatched his hand back as the face opened its eyes and looked at him. A grimace of pain moved slowly across the flat features, and the mouth stretched in a soundless scream. The other faces stirred, eyes opening across the wall to fix Hawk with the same unblinking look of agonized despair. Hawk’s stomach lurched as he realized they were all still alive, pinned up and endlessly suffering.

Whatever happened, Hawk swore he’d see Grimm brought to justice for this, at least.

“Isobel, get over here, fast.”

Fisher ran quickly to join him, sword in hand, and stared numbly at the writhing faces on the wall. “My God, Hawk. What kind of bastard… We’ve got to do something. We can’t leave them like this.”

“No, we can’t. Try the suppressor stone. Maybe it’ll cancel out the magic that’s keeping them alive.”

Fisher nodded, and ran the stone slowly over the staring faces. One by one the eyes closed and did not open again. The life went out of the faces, and soon they were nothing more than empty masks, pinned to a wall. At rest, at last. Fisher touched a few of them tentatively, but they didn’t respond. The skin was soft, but already cooling. Just to be sure, Hawk had her run the suppressor stone over the dissected cat as well.

They took turns examining the papers Fisher had found in Grimm’s desk. They seemed to be records of services Grimm had provided in the past, but no names were ever mentioned, only initials. It was mostly cosmetic sorcery, though some of the more bizarre requests made Hawk blink. There was no accounting for taste. But interesting though the documents were, there was nothing in them to tie Grimm in with the spy Fenris. Or at least, nothing Hawk could recognize. He threw the papers back onto the desk, and looked frustratedly around him.

“We’re not going to find anything here. He’s too careful, too meticulous. Probably keeps the important information locked up in his head.”

So let the Guard sorcerers get it out of him,” said Fisher. “Let them earn their money for a change.”

There was a low groan from behind them, and they looked quickly round. At the other end of the room the sorcerer Grimm was rising unsteadily to his feet. He shook his head once to clear it, and then his gaze fell on Hawk and Fisher and his face darkened. He smiled slowly, removed his robe and threw it to one side. Ropes of muscle bulged suddenly across his bare chest and shoulders, pushing out the taut skin. Hawk and Fisher watched transfixed as the sorcerer changed. His body stretched and swelled, impossible muscles crawling over an inhumanly magnified frame. His face trembled, the features shifting grotesquely as his inner rage expressed itself in distorted flesh and bone. His eyes became featureless black pools, and sharp jagged teeth distorted the shape of his mouth. Grimm padded slowly forward, his crooked hands growing razored claws.

“I think we may have a problem here,” said Hawk, taking a firm hold on his axe.

“You always did have a gift for understatement,” said Fisher. “What the hell’s happening to him?”

“From the look of it, I’d say the sorcerer wasn’t averse to sampling his own wares. He’s got to the stage where he can shapechange at will.”

“You know, this strikes me as a good time to get the hell out of here and yell for reinforcements.”

“We can’t. He’s between us and the nearest door. We’re going to have to stop him ourselves.”

“Oh, great. How?”

“I’m thinking!”

Grimm lurched forward, his jaws snapping shut like a steel trap. There was no longer anything human in his face. Hawk and Fisher quickly separated, to attack him from different sides, and each of the sorcerer’s eyes crawled to different positions on his head so that he could watch both Guards at once. Hawk darted in and cut at Grimm with his axe. The heavy steel head sheared through the sorcerer’s waist and out again, but no blood flew. The wound closed immediately, the unnatural flesh flowing seamlessly back together again. Fisher cut at Grimm from the other side, to no better effect. The sorcerer reached for Hawk with a gnarled, clawed hand. Hawk quickly retreated, but the hand just kept coming after him as the arm stretched to an impossible length.

“The stone!” yelled Hawk, backing frantically away. “Try the suppressor stone on him!”

“I’ve already tried that! It doesn’t seem to affect him!”

“Well, keep trying!” Hawk threw himself to one side and the clawing hand dug deep furrows in the wall behind him. He darted behind the writing desk. Grimm demolished it with one blow of a spiked arm. Hawk looked quickly round the room, checking for possible escape routes. Fisher clutched the suppressor stone in her hand, muttering the activating phrase over and over again. The stone suddenly flared with light, bright and dazzling, burning her hand with sudden heat. Fisher threw the stone straight at the sorcerer’s misshapen face. He snatched it out of midair and looked at it curiously. The stone exploded, ripping the sorcerer’s head from his body and shattering every window in the room.

For a long moment there was silence, broken only by soft settling sounds as debris from the explosion pattered to the floor. Hawk and Fisher got slowly to their feet, brushing dust from their clothes. Where the hideous creature had been, lay a headless human body. Hawk shook his head gingerly, trying to shift the ringing in his ears. Fisher put an arm round his shoulders, and they leaned companionably together for a moment.

“We didn’t do too well with this one, did we, Hawk?”

“You could say that. Fenris has escaped, with a new face and body. The one man who could have helped us find him is now dead. And on top of all that, we’ve lost our suppressor stone. Some days you just shouldn’t get out of bed.”

“Well,” said Fisher, “at least this time they can’t blame us for being impulsive.” Hawk looked at her. Fisher gestured at Grimm’s body. “After all, he’s the one who lost his head.”