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  True to his word, Luke Sparks had a truck ready for us in the morning, along with permits and a work crew.  The Coffee Shoppe, closed down a week ago, was opened for us, and we quickly pulled down the rafters and loaded them into the truck.  I signed their papers; Luke will cut checks for them from our operations account.  As for me, I'm on my way to the desert.
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It was my day to sleep--since I left NagaWorld, I've been sleeping thirteen to fourteen hours every other day, during daylight, so that I'm up every night while the vams are abroad, and have every other day free to get things done in the daylight.  Since I destroyed the Presemium yesterday, by this morning I was pretty tired.  So I slept in the back seat while Raal drove the first leg of the trip.  When I awoke, Whisp was at the wheel, and darkness was upon us.  But I had the chance to talk to Raal before we switched seats and let him get some sleep.  I'll keep Whisp company during the night, and take the wheel in the morning; he doesn't usually sleep much, but we'll drop him in the back seat in the daylight.  It's a long drive, but we're going non-stop.
It was a clean run--this afternoon we reached the middle of Death Valley.  Whisp had a hole dug in the ground in minutes, and easily tossed the heavy beams into it.  Then we buried everything, and left it behind us.  The gold coin enspelled as a Malcavian vampire attractor is now buried in Death Valley, secured by epoxy to a large wooden beam.  Any Malcavians attracted to it will probably die in the desert sun; if any is clever enough to find his way as far as the burial site, he'll have to dig up the beam, and then find a way to break the beam or carry it out.

So tonight we're staying in a motel, so that Raal and I can get some decent sleep for a change; Whisp will keep watch.  Tomorrow we'll begin our trip back to Chicago.  Then we launch our bigggest challenge:  bringing down Marileth, crashing her super computer, and recovering the Glom Bashal.  Hopefully Azineth has things ready to go in that department.

We agreed that we would go back by another road; and Raal asked if we could pick up someone on the way.  It seems that when his pack in Australia was destroyed by the vams, he and his daughter were out on an extended "coming of age" journey, a kind of wolf version of the walk-about.  She was nine then, and would now be thirteen.  He had left her with a pack in Big Sur, related to his pack and of similar mind, hoping she would be safe while he found a new home.  Now he was very much established in the Chicago pack, and thought he should take care of his child once again.  I saw only one reason not to do this, and it wasn't one I cared to mention:  Whisp has an untamed libido, and I did not wish for there to be tension between members of my team.  Thirteen is young for Whisp, but the garou mature early, and I couldn't guess what this girl might look like, or whether she might be attracted to the strange metallic man.  But although I was worried about it, I set that aside as being something I could control if it became necessary, and a small concern compared to a father's worry for his daughter.  I agreed to do it.

That's how I ended up here in San Francisco.  It seems that there is a group of vams here (Father Holer would be able to tell you with precision what clan they are, and what that means, but I was too busy to determine that) that decided to attack the local pack.  They don't strike directly, but pick off lone individuals in the night.  The wolves have become particularly insular, even for Garou, and felt they could not guarantee the safety of anyone not part of the pack.  They sent Raal's daughter Obriel--not to San Francisco, of course, but to another pack in the Washington/Oregon State forests.

So why am I in San Francisco, instead of headed north to find Obriel?  Whisp and Raal said that the least we could do for these wolves was identify and cripple their vampire adversaries (and never let it be said that I didn't do the least I could do...).  The trail suggested that they came from the city; and a quick call to Luke Sparks got us the address of a local hunter who might be able to help.  Of course, it's my job to talk to him.  After all, Whisp is a nearly seven-foot tall hairless metallic humanoid who can pass himself for human as long as no one looks too closely; and Raal is a werewolf who can move through society because of the veil, but would be easily spotted by a hunter or a vam.  Besides, I'm known to be a powerful wizard with a reputation, although I'm not entirely sure what that reputation might be.

That played against me this time.  The hunter, a man named Dake Jennings, had indeed heard of me.  Rumors had reached him that there was a new wizard moving among the vampires.  I had, as you recall, made myself well known to Gavin and Jackson, and was seen among the vams in the Succubus Club before it was destroyed.  It was to my advantage that the vams disagreed about me, and were unaware of my involvement in the destruction of their strongholds; it enabled me to move among them and learn what the hunters could not otherwise know.  But this man had heard the rumors about me, and was ready to bring an end to my supposed evil doings.  He doused me with holy water (apparently thinking I might be a ghoul or vampire mage), and came at me with a knife about the size of Wisconsin.  I could have finished him in a moment; but that obviously was not the point.  Mercifully, Raiden's training has not been wasted.  I wrapped my kau sin ke around his weapon arm, tossed him against the wall behind me, and dropped him on the ground; at the same time, I spouted out a bit of faith-magic I had memorized, one about making blind eyes see, and another about being blessed because your ears hear.  It was all Greek to him, but had the desired effect; still, I was a bit shaken.  I did not expect to be assaulted by a hunter, and my attacker was noted for his skill with the blade.  I shall have to be more careful in the future.

A phone call to Father Peter Matthew Holer put the matter straight more to his liking; he wanted to be certain that he had accepted me because I had told him the truth, and not because I had enchanted him somehow.  Once he knew the truth about my involvement in Chicago, he was very impressed, full of questions, and eager to know why I was there.  I gave him many of our techniques in fighting vampires, such as having the Priest anoint the injured with oil to cure them, filling fire trucks and supersoakers with holy water, creating portable holy ground in the form of the State Street Mission on the Move.  I told him how we were utilizing the words of our beliefs to focus our faith in specific ways, bringing our expectations to bear, that the God in whom we placed our trust would defend us in our time of need.  I had seen Father Holer pronounce the Requiem Mass in the face of a terrified vampire:  "God grant you eternal rest, and may perpetual light shine upon you", roughly translated; the Nicene Creed had been potent both in boosting the power of his own faith, and in destroying the power of his enemies:  "I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible...."  We had expected God to work miracles in the fight against this damnable evil, and He had done so.  Faith, they say, works wonders; I would never doubt that again.

I then explained what had brought me to California (he laughed for five minutes at the thought of vampires trying to retrieve an enchanted object from the middle of the southwestern desert), and how I had come to Big Sur in search of the daughter of my companion.  I hesitated at this point; not all hunters accept the wolves (as not all wolves respect mankind); not all of them are even aware of the wolves.  But I told him that the garou of Chicago had been invaluable allies, especially in the destruction of the Succubus Club, for which they bore the principle blame of the vampires.  But Dake was quite open to working with the wolves, and had done so some years before.  He had been fighting here in the city recently; the garou prefer the woods (can you blame them?), and Chicago is the only city with a major wolf presence.  The vams tend to congregate in the cities, where one dead human more or less will hardly be noticed by the overworked authorities, and police and government officials are not susceptible to superstitions about magical monster killers stalking the area.

He had been unaware of the attacks on the wolves--indeed, he had not realized there was a significant wolf presence so near--but knowing the population of his city as he did, he had a pretty good idea of who was responsible.  Raal had been waiting for my telepathic call, and he and Whisp came in with a couple of defenders from the pack.  Several phone calls were made, and within an hour there were five of them with the five of us, and a plan on the table which would unite the hunters and the wolves against the vampires here as we had done in Chicago.  They were so pleased with and confident in their new alliance, they didn't need me--although they did permit me to make a few suggestions.  We were fortunate enough to determine that the core vampires had moved in to an abandoned church building in a bad part of town.  The building had already been condemned, and had notices posted on it.  I made a phone call to the local NSA office, identifying myself, and informing them that I had reason to suspect that several missing agents had been killed, and their bodies hidden in this building.  Before midday we had warrants and local authorities mobilized, and firemen were dragging coffins out from the basement of the building for us to open and investigate.  Six vampires were exposed to the full light of day, to awaken no more; I murmured some wonderful Greek incantations over each, such as "It is appointed to men to die once, and after that comes judgment", to seal their fates.  I then apologized that it appeared that although there were bodies buried here, they were not the ones I sought, and were instead a mystery for the local authorities to investigate.  But before three, Dake's people were holding demolition permits, and brought down the remainder of the building.  I was satisfied, as were the garou, that these vampires would no longer be on the offensive.  Dake's new human-garou alliance would do to San Francisco what we had done to Chicago.

So tomorrow we head up the coast to the wilds of Washington, the timberlands of the northwest, to pick up Raal's little girl.

Why is nothing ever easy?  It took us days to locate the pack in the forests of the northwest, and now it seems that Obriel isn't here, either.  At first there was some confusion, as the garou to whom we spoke did not know who Obriel was; but after a few hours, a familiar story emerged:  there was danger, and the pack was threatened, and not being able to guarantee the safety of the lone child, they sent her to another place.  She is in the woods of Manitoba.  I am not happy.

It was not vams this time.  It was much worse:  men were killing the garou.  Somehow a hunter--not a vampire hunter, a deer and bear hunter--had pierced the veil, and realized that there was a large hairy man-like humanoid living in the woods.  He had brought his friends up to try to kill one--which turned into several.  They were using very potent weapons--a single bullet from a hunter's rifle is normally only an annoying injury to a wolf.  Even the fifty caliber standard rounds in my right-hand revolver would take several good hits to stop a wolf; that may be why Bob the Ghoul always kept phosphorus-tipped brimstone rounds in them, a practice I've maintained with the left hand gun.  But from the descriptions we heard, I knew that several of the weapons being used--well, if soldiers used them against enemy personnel, it would be a violation of the Geneva Convention.

It would not be difficult for us to track such weapons, especially in these woods.  The scanners and sensors in Whisp's arsenal were particularly good at locating weapon systems and explosives, and there was sure to be a small arsenal involved.  He turned into an eagle, and flew over the area with the scanners running.  Within the hour, he had returned with a fix on the most likely location, a hunting lodge about ten miles away which housed a large amount of ammunition.  We agreed to investigate it without any wolves.  This worked well, as night was falling, and Whisp could carry me if he adjusted his antigravity belt and flew there.  We reached the location in half an hour.

The back door was open, so we walked in and looked around.  It didn't take long to find the weapons cache--or the identities of the men involved.  But I wasn't ready to do battle with men.  Killing creatures who cheated death and then spread death and pretended that what they had was life--this I could do easily; but I was not ready to take the life of a man.  Besides, there was a better way to handle this:  it took only a few minutes to get the phone number of the Seattle field division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.  The difficult part was getting past the secretaries and operatives whose jobs were to screen out the cranks; but with my NSA credentials, I was able to reach supervisory personnel quickly enough.  I told her that I had been following up a lead, and stumbled on someone stockpiling illegal weapons.  I was not interested in any jurisdictional conflicts, and would prefer that my presence in the area not be publicized, as it might compromise my investigations.  I gave her the names of the individuals I had uncovered, and used Whisp's computer system to access the global satellite positioning system to give precise coordinates of the lodge.  Satisfied that she was going to shut down the group, I returned to the pack and told them that the humans would put a stop to the wrongs of their own.  I did not expect that the men would get the kind of punishment I thought they deserved--shooting a werewolf is not the crime it ought to be--but they would be stopped; and whether they began raving about werewolves in the woods, or speaking of sasquatch, I expected the leaders of the group would receive the finest of psychiatric treatment for a long time to come.

Our arrival here in the Lake Winnipeg area of Manitoba went smoother than the others.  After all, Raal was known to these wolves; he had been here on his way east when he first arrived from Australia.  In fact, this was where Chikiqua and her husband Jabaar were honeymooning (and having a wonderful time--they were still here).  But the familiar refrain was repeated:  there was trouble here, and Obriel had been sent somewhere else.

The garou were extremely apologetic about it.  It had been a few months ago; for some reason they had understood that Raal was in Maine, and when their problems began, they sent her on to be with her father.  It wasn't until Jabaar and Chikiqua arrived a couple weeks before that they discovered the mistake, and even then they did not wish to create any unnecessary worry.  They had sent someone to contact the pack in Maine, and had confirmed that Obriel was there and safe, although she was a bit concerned about Raal.  Dad was eager to push on to Maine immediately; but I had driven and ridden through enough Canadian farms and forests for a few days, and slept in the rear of that bouncing empty truck on those bumpy back roads which were supposed to be shortcuts, and I intended to enjoy one night at least without being on the move.  Obriel was fine; a twelve hour delay for sleep and a couple decent meals wasn't going to do anyone any harm, and would do all of us a world of good.  We stayed.

The problem here was less severe but more insidious than those we had encountered elsewhere.  Canada was expanding; forests around Lake Winnipeg were being cut to create developments.  There was nothing we could do about that directly.  Native Americans had been dispossessed of homelands they had held for centuries, in the name of progress and expansion, by a force of invading settlers who viewed their own legal claims to the land as superior; and those at least had the advantage that they were acknowledged to be humans and known to exist.  The garou had lived on these lands for millennia, but their presence, even their existence, was unknown to the humans, or to the Canadian government--and none of us were eager to change that.

But after a night's rest and a discussion with my companions, I had an idea.  I would need my team to help pull it off, but I had everything I needed.

We were still several hundred miles from Chicago; but we were not so far that Luke was completely out of his territory.  A quick call to him arranged for the purchase of a few officially-marked barrels from a distributor within a couple hours' drive.  Raal was off to get them.  He also would be dropping Whisp off at a local hospital; using his stealth technology, it would be simple for him to breeze in and out with a few inexpensive items, which I could quickly arrange to charge to an outpatient account set up through their computer network and paid by one of our credit cards.  (I was going to have to be inventive in filing my report on this one, but I could manage it; anyway, the NSA was rather happy with my department, thanks both to my reports and the various factions I had clearly uncovered--and I had already received e-mail commending me for my small part in the capture of the weapons cache in Washington, so it was a good time to stretch my limits.)  When they returned, I was ready for the next phase.

I had already discovered the owners of the land in the area which was the wolves' principal territory.  A local corporation had acquired the land rather inexpensively some years before, and was now fighting to get permits to develop it.  Friends of the wolves had been attending planning meetings and putting forward the environmentalist arguments; I got their names and other information.  Hacking my way through a lot of red tape--I've learned quite a bit working with Whisp's built-in AI, and have managed to convince it to download some extremely sophisticated Dar Koni information programs into my systems--I created a non-profit corporation, The Society for Spiritual Enlightenment through Natural Communion (it was the best I could do on the spur of the moment), naming Father Holer, Luke Sparks, Raiden, George, Jabaar, Chikiqua, and all of the dependable friends of the garou as holders of interest, and a short list as directors, of which Jabaar and Chikiqua were the only ones I had met.  Whisp then arranged by electronic transfer for Gavin's Church of the Red Sun to make massive charitable contributions from its hidden accounts (did I think for a moment that that computer of his couldn't track hidden accounts?  It just tracked where all payments made from any of the church accounts went, then for each of those accounts backtracked whence all payments came), to support this new and worthy cause.  I had developed the working capital and legal framework I needed, and was ready for the next step.  I found a local attorney specializing in Real Estate, and had Jabaar cut him a check as a retainer; and I gave Whisp a bit of night work I knew he would enjoy.

The next afternoon, representatives and an attorney for The Society for Spiritual Enlightenment through Natural Communion met with attorneys and representatives for the Lake Winnipeg Development Trust.  They had come to make an offer on the entire project, and all of the surrounding land.  Jabaar explained that his organization wished to use the undeveloped land as a retreat, and to house staff, offices, and visitors in the tract of thirty homes which were in various stages of completion; that they wanted to move in immediately, and would take charge of finishing the work themselves, as they would wish to consider what modifications would be necessary to the unfinished buildings to best serve their purposes.  I had provided him with paperwork hammered out with the attorney which stated terms for an acquisition at an offered price.

Jabaar said that they didn't seem to want to sell at first.  I knew that would happen.  The offer I had made would have made them money, about twice their investment; however, they stood to make several times this were they to complete the project successfully.  But my trump card came perfectly timed.  The head of their negotiating team was called from the room to take a phone call; when he returned, he talked Jabaar into a slightly higher price (I had given instructions as to how high to go, and he did not go as high as that), and closed the deal immediately.

I did not tap that phone call; I'd have liked to, but there was too much else happening, and I don't usually use my resources on aspects of a plan that aren't necessary.  So I can only guess how the phone call went.  It would have been the project manager calling.  He had just talked to the head contractor, who had gotten a call from the site foreman, who had been called to the site by the excavation contractor, who had been dragged down there by diggers concerned about a situation.  In finishing the digging on the basement of this latest house, they had uncovered something under loosely packed soil:  a couple barrels marked "toxic", and a dozen red biohazard trash bags.  They were not going to dig anymore, and wanted to know what coverage they had through their insurance if they were exposed to anything dangerous.  By now a score of people knew of the find, and there would be no keeping a lid on it; if they were lucky, it wouldn't make the evening news.  The decision had been made:  sell the property immediately.  It doesn't matter what happens next--even if government investigators give the site a clean bill of health, it will be difficult to sell the sites after the negative publicity that this find will generate; and if there's any leakage or contamination at all, the entire development could be shut down.  Whatever happens, work will be stopped pending an investigation, samples will be taken there and for miles around, water table tests conducted, contaminants tested.  All permits will be suspended for months--optimistically--and everything will be slowed when work resumes, as environmental scientists will be assigned to follow the progress in the area to watch for additional dumped material.

And Whisp did all this by slipping in under cloak at night and digging a little hole.  Of course, neither Jabaar nor his attorney knew this--only Whisp, Raal, and I knew--and we never told them.  The barrels were filled with water I transmuted to alcohol; I had a couple of young garou boys fill the bags with an assortment of the strongest-smelling stuff they could find, and I didn't ask what it was or where they found it.  The investigators will find it harmless; but the friends of the garou will own the land for miles around, and hopefully for generations to come.

And I got two more decent meals, and will spend another day sleeping in a bed that isn't moving (the wolves don't find my sleep pattern at all peculiar), followed by another decent meal before we leave for Maine tonight.

Obriel was here in Maine.  We spent a day resting, and found that things were relatively quiet at least somewhere in the world.  There is vampire activity in Boston, and witchcraft on the north shore; but that's eight hours from here.  Baxter State Park is far from everything, heavily wooded and secluded.  I once knew a girl--back in College at Gordon-from Millinocket who had raved about Baxter.  (I didn't look her up; that was over twenty years ago and two worlds away, and it would be difficult to explain myself.  I remember that I use to refer to the place as Millihocket, and Blaisey would say "nocket", to which I would reply that I did.)  It's a lovely little lumbering town far from everything which the hotel industry regards as a good place to stay if visiting Baxter--and even that's a good fifteen miles southeast as the crow flies, with no main highways through the woods to get there.  Even the lodge on Upper Shin Pond in Patten which declares itself to be close to Baxter State Park's north entrance admits it's a fifteen mile drive from there--and Patten is little more than a smudge where two minor roads cross.  Although this is the northern end of the Appalachian trail, it was difficult to find so much as a campground for humans closer than that.  For the garou, it was ideal.  In fact, after finding Obriel, Raal decided to leave her there.  He would come back with us to Chicago--he was a valued member of a pack there, and a cab driver who had managed to get licenses in that city.  Besides, for him, hatred of the vams was something that would always be there; for his daughter, it was better that she should be allowed to grow in the quiet caring community of other werewolves.

Although I was now eager to get back to Chicago and bring down Marileth, I wasn't going to push Raal.  He hadn't seen his daughter in several years, and now was not the time to rush things.  I knew Azineth would be anxious, and the situation in Chicago might be worsening.  The power of the Glom Bashal had begun, and the focus of that power was to create discord, division, distrust--Marileth was trying to destroy society, so she could conquer it.

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