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He jogged toward the door. If he didn’t find one of the parties before they found each other, the ladies might not come out of the altercation alive.

36

Alexis

“We got ’em!” Bria shooed the large, wire-tailed rat in front of her, grinning from ear to ear. “I told you these guys were good.”

My heart pounded and blood rhythmically thrushed in my ears. I hurried behind Bria across a well-appointed hall and through swinging doors with scrapes on the sides. The lavish furnishings fell away, replaced by off-white walls lined with metal racks. We darted to the right down a service hall, able to move faster now that well to-do people weren’t paying attention.

Bria took another turn, following her rat. Squeaking rose up from a crack I hadn’t noticed, and a different rat darted out.

I jumped to the side as it dashed between my feet and up to its friend. “Gross!”

“It’s just a ghost-powered furry creature, Alexis, honestly.” Bria slowed with the rats, reaching another swinging door, this one a little off-kilter and in need of repair. She stopped beside it and pushed the door a little, peeking out. “Looks like they’re heading for the side exit, closest to the East parking lot. Good. They aren’t checking in with Valens.”

“If they’ve been doing this for a while, there would be no reason to.” I pushed up against her to peer out, then flinched back when a furry body ran over my foot. “These things better not have diseases.”

“Nah. The diseases die with the rodent.” She stiffened. “Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. I should probably look into that. Sometimes they get ornery and bite.”

“You could’ve just called them back and let them stay as spirits. Then we could’ve actually spoken to them.”

“You could’ve spoken to them. I would’ve just stood around with my thumb up my butt, hoping you’d fill me in. Okay.” She pushed through the door. “Come on.”

My phone vibrated in my pocket, but Bria put on the jets just then, her legs churning as she weaved in and out of people meandering through the hall, so I couldn’t do much more than brush my hand against the fabric containing it. The smell of food and clank of dishes became more pronounced as we reached a large opening. A cafeteria. People idled outside, chatting or holding their snacks or lunches, no one glancing at us as we passed. Vending machines with drinks and sugary sweets hugged the wall opposite us, and a large area covered in circular tables spanned out on the other side.

Bria took a right, away from the cafeteria, as someone screamed behind us. Another person yelled. The third rat joined us, catching up with the other two leading the way.

My phone vibrated again, shaking against my thigh. Bria slowed, approaching another corner, before resuming an unassuming stroll. I followed her lead, immediately recognizing the men from earlier, side-by-side with their nice suits, as we turned. If they had any friends in the building, they clearly hadn’t stopped to talk.

“Okay. We’re just going to chat like girlfriends and follow their lead,” Bria murmured, smiling for show. A double door waited at the end of the corridor. “This entrance has a camera that covers the doorway, but nothing beyond that for about twenty feet. After that, a camera looks out at the first couple rows of cars, where the important people have their spaces reserved. Hopefully you’re right and these guys aren’t important. After that, no cameras.”

“We can’t very well hog-tie them in the middle of the parking lot,” I said, looking at the ground because I didn’t know where else to look.

“I have a roomy trunk. It’ll be great.”

The black-haired guy pushed the door open, the metal bar clinking as it compressed. Light sliced through the doorway. The red-haired guy waited for his friend to exit, turning to glance back at us as he did. His gaze slid by Bria, touched me, and then stuck.

“Damn you and that face,” Bria murmured before turning my way and chuckling a little. She raised her voice. “I actually hate roast duck. It’s super greasy.”

“I’ve never had it,” I said honestly, directing my gaze at the wall.

But why would I look at the wall? Surely that would seem odd.

I shifted my gaze to my feet as the light at the end of the corridor dimmed. The door thunked closed.

“Hurry, hurry, hurry.” Bria jogged to the end before stalling for a moment, glancing down at the rats waiting by her side. “Stall them, if you can,” she said to them. Then she looked up at me and said, “Another reason for bodies. Other people can see them.”

“Like the people in a cafeteria, yeah,” I muttered.

She pushed the door wide and let me go first before following, shielding her hand against the light. Well-tended bushes, budding with yellow flowers, lined the paved sidewalk leading up a gentle slope to the corner of the parking lot. The guys angled to the side, passing the first row of expensive vehicles.

“Keep going, you rat bastards,” she said, watching them. She wasn’t talking about the ghost-powered furry creatures. “Go to the back. Be less important than you look.”

I glanced back at the windows, climbing high and sparkling in the sun. Many of the blinds were open, anyone at all able to look down at us.

“This is a bad idea,” I murmured. “Too many potential witnesses.” The parking lot stretched out to the side and then wrapped around the building to the front. We’d parked on the way other side. That would be much too far to drag a couple of tied-up bodies, and hanging out between cars with them while waiting for the (probably stolen) SUV to be brought around was too risky.

“No.” I took out my phone and glanced at the screen. Two missed calls from Kieran, and a text. I ignored it for the moment, my mind working. “Let’s not do this here. Let’s follow them. We can get more info. They only spent half a day here, and we’ve already discovered a few of Valens’s spirit traps. Let’s hope they head to another of those. Or hell, a place to get a bite to eat. Anywhere but here.”

Bria huffed as the red-headed guy glanced back again, spying us for the second time—or the third, if he remembered us from upstairs. He slowed, narrowly missing the rat darting out from the car right behind him.

“You’re right,” she said, grabbing my arm and stopping me. She put up her hand to block the sun as she looked around in confusion. “This is the wrong spot,” she said loudly, turning in a circle.

Another rat practically ran over the feet of the black-haired man. He jumped back with a start, drawing the attention of the red-headed guy.

“Go, go,” Bria said, whipping me around and back toward the building. “Wait, shit.” She stiffened as she stared at the black keypad next to the door. “They’d catch me breaking in. Bugger.” She yanked me toward the wall and started walking. “Hurry up. Don’t look.”

I ripped my gaze away from the two guys dancing around, the rats running at their feet, but not before the guy with the black hair looked directly at us, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. I did a double-take as the rat at his feet slowed, then stopped, before convulsing. Another went into convulsions right behind it.

“Can a Necromancer rip the soul out of another Necromancer’s cadaver?” I asked, my voice tight.

“Sure, if they’re set up for it.”

“Like with incense and stuff?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“What if they don’t have that stuff?” I asked, desperately trying not to look back. I could see their shapes out of the corner of my eye. Whatever they suspected, they weren’t following us. Not yet.

“If it’s a human cadaver, and if they were class—”

“What if it’s a fucking rat, Bria? Would that guy know those rats aren’t really rats?”

Her head jerked left and I stupidly followed, my lips tight and my hand gripping her arm. I looked like anything but a carefree woman headed to lunch with her friend, and I knew it.

“Shit.” She swung her head back to face front. “That’s unfortunate.”

“Why? What?”

She picked up the pace. “Something like a rat is much easier, yes. But you have to be accustomed to a critter to know where to find its soul. Most people only focus on humans and large animals. The caverns for their souls are bigger, thus easier to find and work with. Very few know how to use rats and the like.”

“He knows about rats?”

“Yeah. It means he’s savvy. Like me. Let’s hope he’s also not unpredictable like me.”

I grimaced as we reached the corner of the building and cut through the landscaping back to the parking lot. The guys stood at a cross-over type SUV, the vehicle not matching their suits.

“They dress up for their job,” I murmured, cutting right down the center of the row of cars. “Or maybe they just dress up to come here.”

“Hurry. Jog.”

My worn-in dress flats held me back, but my long legs gave me an edge. I kept up with her easily, rushing around the large building and to our SUV way in the corner, which still had not been found by the cops. She quickly sat into the driver’s seat and used the push-start ignition. That should’ve meant she had a key, but I still didn’t ask about the nature of the situation.

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