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Dark Moon (Chapter Twenty One)

"Let's regroup." Nic stepped out of the sheriff's office and headed for the cabin.

The door was unlocked. A note and the key lay on the kitchen table.

Don't forget to talk to Cora Kopway, I read in what I assumed was Will's precise scrawl. He'd also drawn a map to her cottage.

"Who's Cora Kopway?" Nic asked.

"Ojibwe wisewoman."

"And you're supposed to talk to her why?"

"Remember that talisman we found in Montana?"

Which reminded me…

I left the kitchen and ran into the bedroom, retrieved the icon from my sweatpants and returned with it in my hand.

Nic sat at the table, scribbling notes onto a notepad he'd produced from Lord knows where. He didn't even glance up when I entered. "What about it?"

Quickly I related what had happened since the icon came into my possession, as well as Will's thoughts and the need to talk to Cora. At least he stopped taking notes.

"You're more powerful?"

"Yes."

"And you don't know why?"

"No."

He stood. "Let's go talk to her."

I glanced at the clock. Close to 4 a.m. now. "Isn't it a little early for visiting?"

"You said she was old. She'll be awake."

Since he was already headed through the door, I hurried to catch up.

The sun wasn't even a smoky glow against the eastern sky when Nic parked in front of a small cottage several miles outside of Fairhaven. But the windows were lit, and as we got out of the car, the front door opened. A young, beautiful woman stood on the threshold as if she'd been waiting for us to arrive.

Her skin was olive, not the cinnamon shade of Will's, but her hair was just as dark, flowing to her waist like a waving ebony river. Her eyes, black and heavily lashed, gazed at us curiously, but she didn't speak, she merely waited. Talk about aging gracefully; Will's ancient wisewoman didn't appear a day over twenty-five.

"We'd like to speak with Cora Kopway," I said.

"My grandmother joined the spirits last week."

Hell. We were SOL when it came to information if Cora was dead.

"I'm sorry to hear that. Will Cadotte said she might be able to help us."

"The professor!" An expression of pure delight blossomed. "Grandmother spoke of him often. He didn't come with you?"

"He was called away."

We stood silent, her on the porch, Nic and I in the yard.

"Well – " I began.

"Would you mind if we took a look at some of your grandmother's books?" Nic asked.

"Of course not. She'd be happy to help any friend of Professor Cadotte's."

The woman opened the door wider. When she moved, a sound, like faint jingle bells, ensued. Golden bangles circled her arms; red, blue, and yellow beaded earrings tangled with her hair, their colors a reflection of the calf-length skirt and frilly peasant blouse. I caught a glimpse of an ankle bracelet, as well as several toe rings on her bare feet.

"I'm Lydia."

"Elise Hanover," I replied. "This is Nic Franklin."

She nodded in welcome to us both.

The place was lovely, overflowing with Indian paintings and sculptures. Most were of animals: bear, moose, birds, coyotes, and, of course, wolves.

One table held dried bones and what appeared to be teeth. Candles of all shapes, sizes, and colors graced the room. Pottery bowls stood on each table; some held powders, some unidentified objects.

I smelled fresh-cut grass, sandalwood, and new snow on a crisp winter night. I was reminded of Montana beneath a full moon, and for the first time in a lifetime I missed the place.

Bookshelves lined the walls, filled to the ceiling with volumes whose spines reflected every shade of the rainbow. More cluttered the tables and the floor, some rested on furniture the hues of the earth and the sky at sunset: mahogany, sand, azure, burnt orange.

"It's beautiful," I breathed.

"Thank you." Lydia stepped into the room just behind me. "Grandmother left me the place, and I'm grateful. She'll be a great loss to the Ojibwe community."

"Will said she was quite knowledgeable."

"Very. She was teaching me, but there was so much to learn."

Here was good news. Maybe we weren't SOL after all.

"We're interested in information on shamanic totems with mystical power," I said.

"What kind of power?"

"Shape-shifting."

Her gaze sharpened. "Into what?"

"Wolf."

"Weendigo," she whispered, and one of the candles sputtered, then went out, leaving a trail of smoke behind.

"I always hate it when that happens," I muttered.

Lydia struck a match and relit the wick. The flame held steady and sure.

"What's a Weendigo?" Nic asked.

"The Great Cannibal," Lydia answered. "Ojibwe werewolf."

Nic cleared his throat, turned so Lydia couldn't see, then pointed at his teeth.

I frowned, considering. There'd been a bite mark on the single victim we'd seen. But human teeth, not wolf. No flesh removed.

What about the others that no one could find? For all we knew, they could have been sporting bite marks, too, or missing big chunks of skin – kind of hard to tell without the bodies. We had something to think about.

I shook my head, indicating we'd keep the information to ourselves for now. We were here to discuss the talisman, not the disappearances.

"Getting back to the totem," I said.

"A sacrifice would be required to imbue the icon with power."

"Rabbit," Nic muttered.

"Unusual choice," Lydia said. "But blood is blood. What is the totem made from?"

"Plastic," Nic blurted, before I could show her the thing.

He was right to be cautious. The icon was evidence –  of what, we didn't know. But passing the thing around like a brand-new baby could be a mistake.

"Also unusual," Lydia continued. "But Grandmother always said it's not the vessel that matters but the magic. The power behind the plastic is what counts. A spell, correctly performed by a shaman, could make anything a conduit. However, there aren't a lot of people left with that kind of power."

"Could Cora have done it?" Nic asked.

Lydia cast a quick glance his way. "If she wasn't dead."

Nic dipped his chin in acknowledgment before asking, "I don't suppose you know any others of Cora's stature?"

"No, but I can ask around."

"I'd appreciate it." Nic removed a card from his pocket and handed it to Lydia. "You can reach us at this number."

I glanced at the books. "Axe there volumes on shamanic transformation?"

"I haven't seen any, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. Help yourself."

"I'll take a quick look." Nic headed for the nearest stack.

Silence settled between us. We smiled, glanced away. Now what?

I'd never been good at making friends. Becoming a werewolf and being relegated to a compound in Montana hadn't improved the skill.

Crossing to the window, I peered out. The forest came right up to the cottage. Most people would be claustrophobic, but to me the trees were soothing, both refuge and retreat.

"Sorry." Lydia joined me. "I'm not very good with people. Comes from spending too much time with just myself and my books."

She thought she was being geeky. Her insecurity called out to my own.

"I have the same problem," I said.

My gaze was caught by a shadow. Something slunk low to the ground. Something furry, with ears and a tail.

"Did you see that?" I asked.

"What?"

"There." I pointed. "A wolf."

"No wolves around here. Probably a coyote."

The shadow had seemed damn big for a coyote, but then, shadows were like that.

"You've never seen any wolves?"

"Not since I moved in. Coyotes, though. A lot of them."

And where there were a lot of one, there weren't any of the other. Wolves would tolerate foxes in their territory, but never coyotes. Another of nature's little mysteries.

"I've heard there are quite a few crows, too," I observed. "They usually hang around wolves."

"I read something about that in a book on Chippewa legends."

Chippewa being the misspelling of Ojibwe by the government on treaties and other official documents.

The mistake had made its way into common usage.

"I meant Ojibwe,'" Lydia said quickly. "The author kept using the term Chippewa legend. I can't get it out of my mind."

She smacked herself in the forehead with the heel of her hand.

A second shadow skirted the cool confines of the forest, distracting me.

"What's so interesting?"

Nic stood behind us.

"Elise thought she saw a wolf."

He stared out the window for several moments. I held my breath. Did I want him to see a wolf, or didn't I?

"Nothing," he murmured.

"Must have been a coyote," Lydia reiterated.

Was I jumping at shadows? Probably. In my world, shadows often turned out to be real.

"We should go," Nic said.

"You didn't find anything useful in Grandmother's books?"

"No. But thanks for letting me look."

"Nice meeting you." Lydia followed us to the door. "Come back anytime."

I stepped outside and sniffed, but the wind blew toward the forest – the wrong direction for me to scent anything but grass and trees, a few squirrels.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon. Werewolves, for the most part, exist from dusk to dawn.

However, the exact minute of dawn is hard to put a finger on without an almanac.

"What's the matter?" Nic asked as we climbed into the car and drove away.

I flipped my finger toward the sky. "Too close to sunrise to have been anything but coyotes. Or real wolves."

"Okay." Nic shrugged.

"Then again, maybe not."

"Because?"

"The Weendigo shifted anytime he wanted to, into any shape he saw fit. Luckily, he's dead."

Thanks to Damien and Leigh.

"There can't be another one?"

A cheery thought, however –

"No. Or at least not right now. A Weendigo is made between the harvest and the hunter's moon."

"Which means nothing to me," Nic pointed out.

"Harvest moon is in September, hunter's October. Since it's November we're headed for the beaver or the frost moon."

"Where do you get this stuff?"

"From books. The Indians coined names for each full moon. In November, the swamps freeze and the beavers wander. The People would set traps and make winter blankets of the heavy pelts."

"A kind of calendar – a way to mark time by the moon."

"Right. But I don't remember reading anything about the beaver moon and disappearing bodies. I'll have to talk to Will." I held out my hand. "Cell phone?"

"That's a for-sure thing? The moon influencing – "

"Werewolves?" I interrupted. "Oh, yeah."

"Okay." He gave me his phone. "So no Weendigo. But that bite mark on the body bugs me."

"Me, too. I think we should talk to the medical examiner."

Nic's fingers tightened on the steering wheel. "Me, too."

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