“And the more fluent one?”
“Right.” Emery rubbed his chin. “If what you say is true, it sounds like Grimshaw was trying to get Nicholas, a known killer within the guild, to believe Happerhust sent that note. And there are only a couple reasons why that would be. Either Nicholas was already assassinating people for Happerhust and Grimshaw wanted in on it without going through the proper channels, or Grimshaw wanted the finger pointed at Happerhust.”
Emery narrowed his eyes at Clyde, who was a vampire and therefore couldn’t be trusted. Hence his issue with leaving Penny alone.
“From what I know, those two don’t feud or disagree all that often,” Emery said.
“They certainly do not, but you can never know what is brewing outside of the public eye.”
Clyde would know that all too well. Vampires were notorious for their secrets.
“What did the letter say?” Emery asked.
“It is a vague message with a few lines of code to which I have no cipher. In time, I might be able to turn up something, but it was written four years ago. If they are not currently using this same code, I doubt we’ll find much. As it is, what I can gather is that the creator of the letter was checking up on his instructions. He wants to know if all has been tucked away accordingly.”
“What are your thoughts on that?”
“I can’t be sure, of course, but the letter was dated, and it was written at about that time when three high-powered magical members of the guild disappeared. They were never found. A lackluster search and a watered-down investigation was the only effort the guild put into finding out what happened.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Yes. I’ve been keeping track of disappearances and higher-level maneuverings within the guild for some time. Often I am able to get extensive details. If someone outside of the guild commits a crime against a guild member, the killer is usually discovered and punished. Other crimes go unsolved for no notable reason. This was of the latter variety. As was your brother’s death.”
“Which reeks of an inside job.”
“Of course. The mages that disappeared around the date of the letter belonged to the field office fifty miles from the office you ransacked.”
“You checked up on me.”
“I should’ve known you were in the area the second you stepped onto our soil. That I didn’t is…troublesome.” A wrinkle formed in Clyde’s forehead. Someone would be punished, Emery had no doubt. A vampire’s whole existence was based on knowledge. They couldn’t play political games without it.
“Given the unusual jump in the chain of command, the time frame, the deaths, and the fact that Nicholas is a known killer, I have no doubt all of this is connected to my brother’s death.” Emery scratched his temple. The who didn’t really add up. From what he remembered, those two mages generally got along. They were on each other’s sides and didn’t go behind each other’s backs to this degree. Of course, the guild operated on secrets and lies. There was no telling what was going on behind the scenes. And besides, this one instance didn’t give Emery direct proof regarding his brother’s case. He was a tiny bit closer to getting answers, but his next steps hadn’t changed.
“What about someone that could get access to a Baron’s office?” Emery asked, trying to consider all the possibilities.
“That is a possibility, though remote. Getting into those offices is not easy. I have tried to infiltrate them in a great many ways. It would have to be someone with a direct relationship to the Baron and a lot of magic. Mages as a whole are solitary and territorial, guarding their power with traps and fail-safes. The guild amplifies those traits in its members.”
Emery had always thought that too, but Penny had changed his mind. She wasn’t territorial. She worked with others as well as she breathed.
Maybe mages would be more powerful if they worked more like witches.
He ran his fingers through his hair, forgetting halfway through that the hairdresser had put a styling serum in it. He untangled his fingers and patted things back into place. He hadn’t cared much about his appearance since he’d left town after his brother had died, but a big part of him wanted Penny to see the man he once was. It would make him feel normal for once.
“It must have been a Baron,” Emery said, sighing and leaning back. “Besides the High Chancellor, there’s no one else powerful enough to water down an investigation. The only way someone could use a Baron’s office without his knowledge, then get an investigation evaporated, is if someone in a lower position ordered the killing, and the Baron went along with it after the fact.”
Emery had to agree. Those in the guild liked to hold on to power with everything they had.
“I have to break into the guild compound.” He felt resignation bleed through him. “I have to check out their main offices. It’s the only way to know for sure.”
“If you want to confirm the particular circumstances of your brother’s death, then yes. Or you could just kill them all. I would help you, of course. I know where they live and their daily routines. Though I couldn’t let my assistance to you be known, you understand. Even with the top tier taken out, they will still be able to function. They would have their whole faction hunting my vampires. My businesses would be in jeopardy.”
The thought struck home. Emery’s gaze slid over to the adjoining door.
What would happen to Penny when this was all over? Her house was in this area. Her family and her life. She couldn’t leave with him and traipse across the worlds—it was no way for a girl like her to live. She deserved so much more.
But where would she go if the guild continued tracking her?
“They don’t know that she is a natural,” Clyde said. He’d clearly seen Emery’s worry roll across his features. He was agitated enough that he wasn’t doing much to disguise his thoughts right now. “Not yet. Right now, they are just curious about her. They are still working on your first ward, which they know is yours. We have time.”
“After they break mine, they’ll find the one her father put up a long time ago. That one will throw them for a loop. It’s old and put together well. It’s held up all these years. It’ll help.”
“We can distract them with something else, and burn down the house so they can’t get any information on her.”
Emery sat forward. “Burn down the house? That’s her family’s house. You can’t burn it down.”
Clyde put his hands up. “That is not for me to decide. I apologize; I spoke out of turn. This matter has been handed over to Darius. He’ll take over the logistics.”
Emery tapped his phone in his pocket, just making sure it was still there. He had exactly one number stored in it. Hers. He’d exchanged digits with her before closing that adjoining door, with a command to text him if she didn’t feel like knocking. He’d figured texting would be easier if she felt shy. It had been a shot in the dark. One that had clearly failed. She should’ve checked in by now.
Had he remembered to tell her that vampires could magically open locks? She could be operating under a false sense of security.
“Speaking of Darius.” Clyde held up the second sheet of paper before laying it onto the table. “These are the spells he is requesting. We’ll supply all the necessary ingredients, as usual. They are being assembled now, and will be in the warehouse as early as tomorrow morning. Some are from a newly procured volume. The pages have been copied and will be given to you when Darius gets here, but the book itself will not be supplied. I apologize for the inconvenience.” They didn’t want Emery to steal the book. Wise. He would’ve tried, just like the last time. “Payment will be in cash or gold, as usual. For the usual spells, the price will be as previously established, and they’re to be color-coded as specified on the paper. You can negotiate your fee for the new spells with Darius when he arrives.”
The knock on the inner door had Emery’s heart speeding up. Holding his breath, he crossed the distance and pulled open the door.
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