I recoiled. “Ew. I wouldn’t want to force a soul to do something like that.”
“How do you think you’ll ever make money?” Bria gently pulled out another furry thing and set it next to the first.
“Not like that,” I mumbled. I squinted through the low light of the small alcove, trying to make out the shapes she was lining up on the ground. Bria added a third before closing the box and putting it away. “What are those?”
She glanced at the people walking by in the hall. “Rats. And we have to do this somewhere more private.”
“Rats?” I took a step away. The teen’s eyes widened and she blinked out of sight.
Bria looked up in confusion. “What’s the matter? They’re dead.”
“What are you doing with dead rats in your backpack?” I asked, trying to keep my voice down but having a hard time of it.
“To seek so that I can destroy. I just need to animate them, set them on the trail, and hopefully they’ll find our guys before they leave the building. I have a couple standby souls who love scurrying around in these little bodies. I just let them have at it until the bodies decay out from under them. Least I can do, right?”
I took another step back as she collected the bodies and stood, looking down the hall. “Let’s find a bathroom, and then let’s find our guys. We’ll get them today, I know it.”
I had no doubt she was right. My problem was, what would we do when we did get them? And how would we keep from setting Valens on our trail?
Kieran leaned his elbows against his desk, the middle of his chest throbbing. The strange ache he’d felt since leaving Alexis’s house had intensified until about an hour ago, when it had slowly but steadily diminished into nothing but a soft hum. That was when the other feelings had begun. Inexplicable anxiety, random uncertainty, bouts of excitement, and now, intense worry.
He scratched at the center of his chest, knowing the feelings had to do with Alexis in some way. Knowing she’d formed a sort of connection between them, and now he was getting a smattering of her emotions. He had a vaguely similar situation with his Six, whose intense emotions he could occasionally feel, but while he could suppress his awareness of the Six, he couldn’t seem to do so with Alexis. Every surge of emotion caught his attention. Every degree of rising or falling intensity jogged him out of his thoughts.
He looked out of his window of his office at the blue of the bay, one of the better views in the building. The feeling of worry intensified before another emotion took over. Something like fright and disgust mixed together.
Alexis had left her house earlier with Bria. The guys had seen it on the camera and notified him. Judging by the GPS tracker, the BMW had been left behind. That meant Bria had driven, except Zorn had verified that Bria’s car had also been left behind…in a random neighborhood.
Bria only stole cars when she didn’t want to be tracked. When she was doing dangerous work that might have repercussions.
He blew out a breath. Why had he pulled the detail off of Alexis’s house?
But he knew why. He trusted her with every fiber of his being. He couldn’t help it. When she’d looked at him with those big brown eyes and agreed to give up the investigation, he’d bought it. He’d forced himself to tear her presence from his life, believing that she’d keep herself hidden. Keep herself safe.
And maybe she’d meant it in the moment. Maybe she hadn’t lied. But clearly, Alexis Price could not be trusted to stay out of the action. And now he knew.
His phone vibrated against the desk. Zorn’s name came up. The girl knows where Alexis has gone but won’t say. Should I force it out of her?
The girl was Daisy.
He texted back. Ask Mordecai. Tell him that Alexis might be in danger.
Mordecai wouldn’t play games.
A rush of shimmering air magic flew past the window. Like a big blanket, it shifted as it settled, attaching to the walls.
He looked away and returned to his computer. Valens did a fairly useless territory marking every couple of weeks or so, probably intending to prove that he had the staff and resources to “protect” the entire building. No easy feat, sure, but what was the point? It didn’t stop anyone from entering, and it didn’t harden into a forcefield of any kind. It was just there, only visible to a select few and hardly noticeable at that. Unless it was fresh, he couldn’t even see or feel it.
When Kieran had first noticed it, he’d thought Valens was making a statement to him personally, but it had apparently been going on for six years or more. His father was eccentric. There was no two ways about it.
A strange buzz washed over his skin, making him pause. It only lasted a fraction of a second before sliding away, but it was strange enough that he glanced back out the window. Something disrupted the familiar currents of the air magic—strange colors and odd blotches, woven into it. The air drape stilled and, because of that, mostly disappeared.
A burst of feeling unfurled in his middle, the actual emotion unintelligible, but the strength of it undeniable. He paused, waiting for more, when his phone vibrated against his desk.
Zorn: She’s in the magical government building.
Kieran stood in a rush, and like rusty hinges given grease, his thoughts started to collect. Slowly at first, laboriously, but then in a rush.
She’d talked to a spirit here. It was here she’d first learned about what Valens was doing.
She had returned to the source, seeking more information.
He turned his head slowly, directing his gaze out the window.
Alexis had alluded to there being a spirit trap over the building.
Over the whole building.
In a daze, he crossed to the window, and slowly put out his hand. The buzzing he’d felt a moment ago ran across his skin like ants. Air magic didn’t usually elicit that effect, and then there were those strange colors and patches...
He’d never seen the patches before today, or felt the buzzing.
He’d never been able to see ghosts before today, either. But he’d seen three in the building on his way to his office. Two old people and a teenager picking at a sweater button.
Tingles spread through his body.
The answer had been drifting by his window every couple weeks.
The air drape wasn’t Valens’s way of marking his territory. Nor had it been put there as a warning. It somehow carried the magic of a Ghost Whisperer, or some other spirit magic, creating a prison for the spirits inside.
Like flicking on a light in the pitch dark, suddenly he could see.
Kieran remembered something that happened soon after he set up an office in this building. One of Valens’s Elite had been murdered. A crime of passion, people had thought, pinpointing a scorned lover. The clues had overwhelmingly pointed to the lover’s guilt. The case was closed in no time.
But a few days later, miraculously, the suspected murderer had been released. In his place, they arrested a mundane looking guy who had previously lived in a rental on the periphery of town, minding his own business, with a temp admin job in the magical government building. He’d already given his notice, and was ready to head out of town.
Unbeknownst to literally everyone, he was a spy.
Under the pressure of Kieran’s father, the spy had cracked, spilling all of his secrets.
The guy had knocked off dozens of high-profile professionals in his day. He was responsible for toppling the magistrate of Scotland, for forcing the Demigod of Paris to renege on an agreement, and for exposing the illegal trade of magical beasts between the South Africans and Russians.
There had been virtually no clues. No evidence to lead Valens and his team to make that arrest. It wasn’t the first time Valens had pulled off a seemingly impossible coup, sending the world a message: I’m immune to even the best. Nothing can take me down.
Kieran shook his head slowly, incredulous, as he fitted the pieces together.
Valens always got his mark because he never lost a spirit to the Line and the protections of whatever lay beyond it. The dead became their own eyewitnesses. Before the shock and memories from the traumatic event could evaporate, the brain’s natural coping mechanism, his lackeys would move the spirit of the murdered person into another body so they could recount their own murder.
Alexis had helped Kieran uncover another chink in his father’s chainmail: his father didn’t know the unknowable at all. He wasn’t any more insightful than any other expertly trained and experienced Demigod…he just knew how to collect information from the dead. And soon, when Kieran found the originator of the spirit trap, he’d wipe out his father’s neat little trick.
Reality seeped back in. The gravity of the situation blared through the quiet room.
The spirit trap had just been set. That meant the creator—or creators, since clearly an air elemental had laid the foundation—were on the premises. He’d felt it, which meant Alexis must’ve felt it, too.
Bria never ran from a fight. Never. Alexis had courage in spades, and wouldn’t leave a comrade behind.
Those women would go after the magical workers responsible for the spirit trap. Maybe they were already going after them. He knew it as well as he knew his own name. The problem was, if that air elemental was in any way trained—and he had to assume that was the case since draping a building this size was no easy feat—the ladies would be outgunned. Alexis didn’t know how to fight with her magic, and Bria could only take on an air elemental in close combat. Put any space between them, and that elemental would toss her like a tumbleweed.
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