“What does that mean?” Kieran asked.
“Valens isn’t trying to cut them down slowly, driving them to hysteria and madness.”
Bria elbowed me. It dawned on me what I was saying. Who Kieran would inevitably think about. I hadn’t intended on sharing that aspect of the haunted house with him.
“He is keeping them here, but not punishing them,” I said.
“You can punish souls?” he asked.
“It appears so.” I tried to keep my tone light as I tapped the wood with my fingers, impatient. I wanted to see what sort of setup Valens had going inside that wall.
Thane extracted a small bottle from one of his pockets before puffing powder into the air. An unseen current of air caught the white mist, diffusing it. He continued down the wall, puffing every so often.
“You can dissipate a soul, too,” Bria whispered. “Like acid. You can make sure it never comes back. I get called in to do that, occasionally. It keeps the real nasty bastards from being called back and stuffed into a body.”
Kieran shifted uncomfortably.
“He won’t do that to your mother,” I said, feeling the truth of those words as I said them. “He has her under his control. He’s using her sk…” I turned away from the wall, looking out over the tables without seeing them. “He’s using the thing connected with the sea to rule her,” I murmured. “Like how he ruled her in life. He kept her on a small island, surrounded by the sea.” I nodded, now gazing at the exit. “A cage by the sea. Or in the sea. That makes sense. That’s where he’d keep it.”
“None of the locations on my mother’s list were in the sea,” Kieran said. “One was near it, but on a cliff. High up.”
I shook my head. “No. That wouldn’t do. He’d need it in the tide. In the surging waters. Her sea-faring form would be in its natural habitat, but she wouldn’t be able use it. What a shitty bastard.”
“For the record, this is guesswork, right?” Bria asked quietly.
“It is guesswork, yes,” I answered. “Guesswork from years of sitting on a rickety chair in front of rug-covered TV trays, listening to people describe their interactions with ghosts and vice versa. Hear enough of those horror stories, and you get a sense for how people inflict hurt on one another. How they push their will on to spirits. I could be wrong, but man…I sure sound right.”
“The last time you definitely did. This time…mostly,” Bria said as Thane said, “Sir…”
He puffed the powder down the way, showing us what he’d found. The air current sucked it through the wall. The door.
“The cargo pants make sense.” I nodded, following the others. “I get it now. And someday, I’ll graduate to those instead of being offered spandex.”
“Why don’t you focus on graduating to some leggings that go all the way to your ankles?” Bria mumbled. “Baby steps.”
“Bria?” Kieran said, a command disguised as a question. I had no idea how everyone knew what the commands meant.
She put her palm to the hidden door. Even up close, I could barely see the cracks outlining it. Then again, shadow swathed the surface, hiding the details. Like how to open it.
“A handful of souls. Loose,” she said, her eyes closed. “No hosts. No people inside.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, gritting my teeth. I’d almost reached through again and checked it out for myself, but I couldn’t risk it if the souls I’d sensed were living people.
Her eyes drifted open. Her eyebrows rose and lines marred her forehead. “About which part?”
“That no one in there’s alive.”
“I see a latch,” Thane pointed. “Should I open it, sir?”
“Wait.” Kieran stared at Bria, awaiting her answer to my question.
“No people. I’m positive.”
At Kieran’s nod, Thane bent to the ground and his finger disappeared into a little hole in the wall by the floor. A click sounded, the cracks turned black, and the door popped open. Thane straightened up.
“He’s good,” I said, stepping back.
“That’s why he’s one of the Six. C’mon.” Bria pulled the door open slowly before peeking into the room beyond. Her body slowly disappeared from view. Thane followed her, ducked back out like he had upon entering the main body of the warehouse, and then disappeared a second time.
I took a step back.
“What’s the matter?” Kieran said, checking the sleek little watch at his wrist. I wondered if he knew my birthday was coming up…
“The souls in there are powerful. They felt me feel them out. I’m worried about what I’ll see.”
Kieran looked behind him. Zorn, Donovan, Jack, and Boman took off walking, their phones out, headed for the tables. He turned back to me. “I’ll be right beside you. Nothing will happen to you.”
“I know they won’t hurt me, but that doesn’t make what’s about to happen any more pleasant.”
Kieran followed Alexis as she hesitantly stepped into the room. She’d sensed the souls, but hadn’t been able to discern if they were spirits or people. Nor could she sense a living person’s soul without plunging her mental grip into his or her chest. She was so far behind in her magic, even the most basic things were foreign to her.
If his father got his hands on her, she’d be entirely vulnerable. Putty in his father’s experienced fingers. He could ruin armies with her on his arm. Ruin cities. Alexis had the power. His father had the drive.
Kieran forced the thought away. That was never going to happen. He’d tear down the world before he’d let his father, or anyone, mistreat her. He protected what was his, with his life, if need be.
“That smell is…unpleasant.” A look of disgust crossed Alexis’s beautiful features as she edged farther into the room.
A musty, sickly sweet sort of funk accosted his senses. Bria identified the source immediately.
“Cadavers,” she said, cutting across the medium-sized room to two rows of what looked like raised flower beds.
“Cadavers. Like…there are dead bodies in here?” Alexis weaved after her, occasionally jerking away from something unseen. “No touching,” she mumbled.
“Preserved—wait.” Bria stopped beside one of the barren flower beds, and Kieran had to admit the shape did compare to a grave. “This is legit dirt. Are these bastards fresh? Let’s have a little lookie and find out, shall we?”
“Part of your job is digging up dead people,” Alexis muttered, picking at her thumbnail. “That didn’t really register until this exact moment. And here I thought seeing spirits was…unfortunate.” She rolled her eyes. “You know I can see you. I just walked around you after the other lady cut through. Use your head.”
Kieran caught Thane’s eye and received a jerk of the head. Two tables hugged the back corner. Various items were spread out along their surfaces, much messier than the highly organized tables in the main warehouse. Whoever labored in here didn’t have a direct working relationship with Kieran’s father. Valens subscribed to the theory that a messy workspace denoted a messy mind.
“Necromancer supplies,” Thane said as Kieran reached him.
“What’s that?” Bria called.
“Necromancer supplies,” Kieran answered, picking out the few things he could identify. “Two sets of bells with scrollwork along the side, candle stubs of various colors, packets of incense, some sort of…meditation tape, I think. A cassette tape player—”
“A cassette tape player?” Bria looked up. “We’re dealing with someone old and set in their ways. Probably highly experienced. Likely a real shithead.”
“He’ll be at the top of his trade,” Kieran said, thinking of the many ways he could find out who it was.
“Why he?” Bria asked.
Thane smiled and flicked a packet of Viagra resting at the corner of the table. “Either a guy, or a woman who dates guys with performance issues.” He scratched at a couple brown rings marring the surface of the table. “He doesn’t clean, and he’s been in this work station for a while. Ten to one, Valens keeps him hidden just like he does this warehouse.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Kieran said, turning away to survey the room. Barren white walls led up to an industrial ceiling, with beams and wires on full display, just like in the rest of the warehouse. Only one light of the dozen was on, casting the space in gloomy light. Shiny tile, clear of scuffs and not matching the desk, covered the whole of the floor. “Thanks to my mother, I’ve been able to glean a couple of new insights about the ways my father hides information. My father will have grouped him with this compound in his records. I’ll be able to figure out who he is.”
“Then what?” Thane asked quietly.
Kieran glanced at Alexis, her hands on her hips, staring hard at a fixed point in empty space. “We give the information to Alexis,” he replied in an undertone. “She might not be trained on most of the powerful facets of her magic, but she has excellent instincts. She’s goal orientated. Give her an end-game, and she’ll figure out the best way to get there.”