Bria followed my lead across the spacious floor, ducking in and out of people moving about their day.
“The teen said she was in the lobby when she saw him,” I murmured. “And that today is the second calendar day she took. If it’s what I suspect, then this is the second time he’s been here since I last saw her. It sounds like he comes about once every two weeks. We’ll see if that’s exact, and if so, we can come back here in two weeks and catch him in the act.”
“Or we can just steal the security footage from earlier, get his face, and get Kieran to find him,” she replied.
I wasn’t going to ask how she planned to get the footage. I suspected I wouldn’t like the answer.
As we neared, the blue-skinned woman at the high desk glanced up with unnaturally green eyes, a welcoming smile adorning her lovely face. I had no idea what kind of magical creature she was, but wondered if she knew Valens’s penchant for killing lovely things and putting them in his trophy room…
“Hello,” Bria said, grabbing the edge of the desk.
I looked at the teen before shifting my gaze to Bria. “Where is it?”
Hopefully the teen would realize I was talking to her.
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” Bria smiled at the front-desk woman. “Can you tell me where the rock wall is? I have a hankering for climbing.”
The teen bent down, out of sight.
“Oops.” I clucked my tongue. “I dropped my pen.”
Bria frowned at me. “Well, don’t expect me to get it.”
“Lazy,” I admonished, scooting around her. “It was on your side.”
“I’m a climber, not a crawler.” Bria winked at the front-desk woman.
I bent and peeked around the side of the desk, gasping when my nose nearly touched the ghost’s. I pulled back a little.
The teen didn’t. She held out her two thick sheets of paper. A large black date graced the bottom of each page, leaving room in the middle for an inspirational quote.
I took them out of her hand with a quiet “thanks” before standing and checking the dates. Fifteen days apart… I squinted and shook my head, trying to remember the date I was here last.
“Oh!” The receptionist frowned at the calendar pages, rising up a little to see better. “Where did you find those?”
“Ummm…” I stared at her like I had been caught holding a stolen necklace.
“They were down there,” Bria said, pointing to the side of the desk. “I noticed them when I first walked up. I meant to pick them up, but…” She laughed and hit the heel of her hand off her head.
I handed them across the desk sheepishly.
“That is so strange.” A look of perplexed wariness crossed her features. “I was watching that spirit guy work”—she pointed at the far end of the large front wall of glass, way to the side of the double door—“and I heard this ripping sound. I swear I saw the page disappear…” She laughed, a forced sound matching her uncomfortable expression. “This was the second time it happened. I mean…” She swiveled to gaze vaguely at the side of the desk. “How did it get over there? And why haven’t I seen it all this time?” She wiped the pad of her finger across her forehead nervously.
“Weird,” Bria said, either exceptional at hiding the adrenaline raging through her body, or missing the huge clue the attendant had just dropped.
“Yeah,” the woman went on, blinking in confusion. She shook her head and lifted her pencil-thin, light blue eyebrows, moving on. “Honestly, they shouldn’t allow that spirit guy to work in such a busy area. Who knows what he’s dragging out of the depths, know what I mean? Both times this happened, he was here.”
“Yeah, that’s not right,” Bria commiserated, grimacing. “You have to watch him work?”
The woman waved the thought away. “He’s over in the corner, so it’s not that big of a deal. And actually, the weird dance he does is kind of neat. It reminds me of those dances the Native Americans do.” She grinned sheepishly. “Or maybe that’s just because his hair reminds me of this Native American guy I dated once. You know…” She made a flowing gestured down the side of her head. “That really pretty long black hair?” Her lips curled. “That air elemental with him gives me the creeps, though.” She shivered. “He tried to hit on me once at the solstice party, and no-thank-you.”
“Wait,” I said, holding up my hand. My heart thudded in my chest. The teen had seen a man with long white hair, but if she’d only glimpsed the spirit trapper while he was using magic, she’d probably seen him in the spirit plane, where the colors were neon, like negative images. That hadn’t even occurred to me!
“I think we just saw those guys.” Bria turned to me with excited eyes but an inquisitive expression. “Didn’t the arrogant guy we just saw have long dark hair?” She put her hand up to her chest. “He was with that gangly ginger.”
“Yes! That’s him. He’s gangly, right? And such a jerk. I mean, please, I have fae blood. Do you really think I need to lower myself for an air elemental that can only get a job with a spirit person? No.” The woman smiled at someone passing by, easily masking her haughty tone. Clearly my freak show training wasn’t a catch-all, because I had not seen any of this coming. “They just finished up not that long ago. They have to go to the back of the building to get the other half done, whatever that means. All I know is, good riddance. I wish they’d just stay back there all the time. I mean, we have guests coming through here.”
“How often do they come?” I asked.
Bria shoved me and stepped in my path. “I know, right? How often do you need to deal with that?” she asked the woman. Clearly, I was way too blunt in my approach. Subtly, that was the key.
“Every two weeks about.” She plastered on a welcoming smile, perking up as a flustered older woman with a large knit purse approached the desk. She looked back at us. “Oh, right, you want the rock wall. Well, you just go—”
I stepped away, my mind racing. They were here. Right now. Two of them. We could go after them and…
And what? They were Valens’s guys and employed by the magical government. We were rogue rebels who needed to stay under the radar. If anyone saw us, we would be the ones apprehended, not them. In a building full of professionals, a couple of oddly dressed girls attempting to hog-tie a couple of suave guys in suits would certainly get noticed.
“Let’s make that appointment before we hit the rock wall,” Bria said, grabbing my arm and jerking me away. Halfway through the lobby, she said, “Get a grip, would you?
“What’s the plan?” I asked, ignoring her. My legs and arms trembled and anxiety squeezed my chest.
“We know what they look like,” she said quietly, climbing the stairs we’d just come down. “All we have to do is find them.”
“Yes. But then what?”
“What do you mean?” She pulled me into the alcove again, blasting a hard scowl at a woman looking our way. The woman ripped her notice to the ground and quickened her pace.
Oh yeah. We’d get noticed.
I said as much.
Bria slipped her backpack off of her shoulders and dropped into a crouch, ignoring me. She shoved her hand down into the bag. “A little stalking and then springing up unexpectedly will work perfectly for those clowns.”
The teen appeared right next to Bria, her eyes staring solemnly at us.
“Why is Valens keeping you here?” I asked her, shifting from foot to foot as my adrenaline surged uncomfortably. “Did they ever try to move you?”
“We need a code word for when you start randomly talking to a ghost,” Bria mumbled. “Did they ever try to shove you into a different skin?” she asked, pulling a small shoe box out of her pack.
The teen picked at her button, her gaze shifting down to Bria. “Twice. I hated it. It felt weird.”
I relayed what she said.
“I can imagine,” Bria said, setting the box down and digging into her bag again. “Then what happened?”
“It was like trying on gloves that didn’t fit,” the teen said. “They felt slimy. I tried to push away, but I kept getting forced back in, so I dropped a chair on them and left.”
After I relayed the information, Bria paused with a candle in her hand. “She left? How?”
The teen shrugged. “Teleported to the other side of the building. When they came for me, I just teleported again. Finally, they stopped looking.”
Bria braced her forearms on her knees after I’d relayed the girl’s answer. “Huh. They clearly didn’t have someone strong enough to control the soul.” She tilted her head and pulled back the lid on the shoe box. “Stands to reason, I guess. They said she was a strong class five. Still, moving something as big as a chair in the afterlife?” She lifted her eyebrows and pulled out something furry. “That’s intense. No wonder Valens wants her trapped here. He probably wants to keep her in the rafters in case he can scrounge up someone strong enough to use her.” Bria glanced up at me. “Like you.”
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