“The most interesting game has the intelligence of the hunter.” Bria bent to a case with a glass top. “See if you feel anything else, but don’t look around. You won’t like what you find.”
Disgust ate at me. “Are there more like this?”
“Like I said, you won’t like what you find.” Bria straightened up and glanced back at the fairy box. “But you know what, that fairy box looks pretty new. What do you think, ten years? Less?”
I shook my head, hardly able to bring myself to look at it again. “Yeah…”
“See if you feel anything else. I have a theory.”
I didn’t. The only buzz came from that box, where the fairy’s spirit was trapped inside a space so small it would barely be able to move.
“I don’t feel any souls.” Bria lifted the top of a gold and white urn, peeking inside. “He used to keep their ashes, it looks like.” She lowered the lid and bent to the side. “This was a mermaid, and the urn is dated fifteen years ago.” She straightened up and tapped her chin. “The fairy box has a spirit, but the mermaid is ashes. It means trapping spirits is a newer process. Given that I really don’t think our old Necromancer would be up for it, I’d hazard a guess that the person doing this is a newer staff member. As in, hired in the last five or ten years.” She walked toward the door and gestured for me to follow. “Come on. Let’s check out Valens’s room really quickly.”
“We should find out if anyone else has heard of the ability,” I said, trying to move as silently as Bria. Unfortunately, it made me slower. “If it’s a rare ability, surely there’s a record of it somewhere. I mean, I would’ve thought you’d know about it, given your profession.”
“I know, right? Color me surprised.”
“If this spirit trapper is handling some of Valens’s key…possessions, he or she is probably a high-dollar employee.”
“At least medium to high, sure. Valens typically underpays people if at all possible.”
“Right. How many high-dollar employees do you think Valens has brought on in the last five or ten years? Can’t be too many, can it? Payroll would have that info. We can check it out.”
“Kieran will handle all that.” She waited at the doorway. “Honestly, what do you have, lead feet? Hurry—”
She cut off and her body stiffened. In another moment, she darted back into the trophy room. Realizing something was wrong, I broke off in the other direction.
A door closed down the hall, wood softly bumping against wood. Fabric swished and footsteps thumped. The butler was active.
I slipped behind a large wooden chest, peeking around the corner. A tall, thin man with graying hair and loose jowls drifted into the hall, visible from the doorway. He was nearly out of sight when he slowed. A loud sniff invaded the dense silence.
The floor creaked and his confused face edged into the doorway.
I pulled back slowly. Fast movement would attract attention. Thank God he couldn’t see my racing heart.
Another sniff. He had a superior sense of smell.
Rhythmic, soft buzzing rattled my bones. Bria’s phone.
I squeezed my hands into fists, hoping to God it was a booty call, or a telemarketer, or anyone else but Mordecai telling us to get out. Nervous anticipation of being found weakened my bladder, a horrible side effect to my trying for secrecy. I would make a terrible spy.
A careful footstep entered the room and my bladder threatened to give out. The buzzing cut off abruptly. I held my breath.
Murky silence filled the room with expectation.
Then a deeper buzzing began to roll through the floor as a soft hum permeated the walls. The feeling crawled up through my body. Was it magic? A trap being set somewhere?
Leather shoes squeaked and shoe soles squealed as the man turned. His footsteps retreated from the room.
I held my position. He might have pretended to leave to draw us out. Daisy did that all the time.
“Come on,” Bria whispered, hurrying to the door.
Clearly she didn’t have a Daisy in her life.
“What if he comes back?” I rose up just enough to look over the chest.
She braced her hand on one half of the double door and leaned out. She shook her head slightly and stepped farther out.
Movement from the other end of the room caught my attention. The older man who’d given us directions earlier stood at the back wall in the corner, his hands at his sides.
“The owner is home,” he said. If only the words were attached to a string, I’d rush over there and give them a yank to get them out faster. “He will change in his quarters before taking a brandy in the parlor. Often he stops in here to marvel. I suggest you get out.”
“I would love to get out, but he’s downstairs, and we’re upstairs,” I whispered. “I can’t fly.”
I repeated his warning to Bria. “This is okay. This is fine.” She held her hand out to still me, or calm me, or maybe stop the world from turning, I couldn’t be sure. “There are a million rooms in this house. We’ll hide in a guest room. Mordecai can bring the cadaver to the window below us. I’ll slap a soul in it, turn it loose, and we’ll escape while Valens is looking into the commotion.”
It was bad when animating a dead body sounded like a great course of action.
“There’s one problem…” I bit my lip, my mind racing. “If he gets even remotely close to me, he’ll sense my magic. Kieran could.”
Bria’s head turned slowly until she was staring at me with oh shit eyes. The expression cleared in an instant, replaced by determination. “That’s fine. That’s okay. There’s a third floor in this beast. You go up there and hide in a freaking broom closet, if you have to. Go way to the back and wish for Narnia. I’ll find a room with a window somewhere on this floor. Any higher, and I won’t be able to work with the cadaver. I’ll get that dead body tearing up the flower pots and draw Valens out of the house. You get to the backyard. Jump the fence into another backyard—you’re tall, that’s in your wheel house. Hey, go crazy and jump a few fences. Get out to the street and run like hell. Yes? We got this. I’ve been in worse situations. Not with a Demigod, but hey, I’m open to upping the stakes.”
It was a shitty plan, but my mind went blank to any alternatives.
“Crap,” I said, standing. The first stages of panic shook my limbs. I licked my lips and forced away the fear. “Okay.”
She nodded. “Okay. Have faith.”
She darted out of the room, hurrying left, away from the stairs.
I was hurrying to the doorway when I heard, “This way is safer.”
The man pointed at the bookcase. I slowed, because even though he was operating at half normal speed, his brain seemed to be functioning fine.
“Which way is that?” I asked.
“I don’t have the energy to open it. This room used to be bigger. Somewhere along the way, they cut it up to allow for a larger hidden chamber. I never understood why, myself, because it’s awfully dark in the hidden halls, but—”
“What hidden halls?” I made circular motions with my hand. “Get to the point, man!”
“This house is riddled with secret passages. Magical people have been persecuted for centuries. Burned, staked, left for dead—”
“Yes, yes, what about the halls?”
“You can enter the passages here. One leads to the carriage house, but a cabinet blocks the way now. It’s a large—”
“Do you mean the garage?”
“Just…” I flapped my hand, trying to get this conversation to move faster. My heart set a fast drumbeat in my chest. “Does Valens—the owner of the house—use it very often?”
“Oh no, why would he? Magical people are out in the world now. It’s a whole new day. I wish I’d lived to see it. Lived to live it—”
“Right, right. Yeah, yeah.”
“People have come and gone. Come and gone. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone use the halls in…” His face closed down in confusion. The thought of all that passing time had shut down his train of thought.
“Cool. Awesome. How do I get into the halls?”
“Oh. Well…” As he turned toward the bookshelf, deep voices echoed down the main hall.
Valens was coming.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry. Go, go, go!” I pushed in right next to the man, willing his hand to go faster as he moved it through the air, stretching a finger out to point. Finally, it stopped in front of a slight groove. Beside it ran a larger than normal crack between the bookshelves.
“I’ll be damned,” I said, ready for him to push aside so I could get to work.
His pointer finger was on the move again, though, dropping through the air and drifting left, toward the opposite side of the shelf with the groove. Down near the bottom, on the end next to the tighter crack, a tiny inlet allowed enough room for three fingers.
“Push, and pull,” the man said. “You push…” His finger started back to the other side.
The voices in the main hallway increased in volume, two men talking. They were climbing the stairs. Coming this way. “I got it,” I whisper-shouted. “Move. Move!”