I opened my mouth, but what could I say? She was right on so many levels. I had caused the problem in the first place, and it had been a learning experience, albeit a terrifying one.
“Come on.” She jerked her head at the door.
“Where are we going?” I asked in confusion. I looked down at my Burberry medium buckle tote, in pink, hanging from my forearm like it was on display.
“There is a bar close by, and I’m pissed I only recently found it.” Bria jerked her head again. “Come on. I need a libation after that shit-show turned awesome situation. We can discuss what happened.”
“You would want to hang out with a bunch of derelicts in a dive bar,” Daisy muttered, refilling her glass.
Bria gave Daisy a gooey, Bambi-eyed smile. “You get me.”
Daisy’s eyebrows lowered. “Ugh.”
Bria motioned me out of the house.
“Oh, it’s you,” Frank, my resident poltergeist, said from the middle of the walkway leading to my front door. His watery blue eyes shifted to Bria, narrowing as they did so. His gray comb-over didn’t move in the small breeze.
A month ago my yard had been full of spirits who’d followed me home from a haunted house in the magical zone. If it hadn’t been for Kieran, who could now see ghosts courtesy of our soul connection, they’d still be loitering on my lawn.
But one whipcrack of command from him, and most of them had found somewhere else to be. The rest had been hauled away by John, a very able-bodied spirit who hated Valens as much as we did.
The only one who’d stayed was Frank. He, for some reason I didn’t want to think about (which likely had to do with my mother), thought of my house as a place of comfort. He wouldn’t leave. Unfortunately.
“Why is she always hanging around?” Frank asked, staring at Bria.
“One could ask the same thing of you,” I retorted.
“Is that Frank?” Bria asked, stepping onto the walkway. She was able to feel stronger spirits, but Frank wasn’t one of them.
“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: you don’t need riffraff like her hanging around,” Frank said, bracing his hands on his hips. “She’s a bad sort, make no mistake.”
“Yeah, it’s Frank.” I followed Bria down the walkway toward him.
“I have a lovely cadaver for you, Frank,” Bria said with a wry grin. “A real nice one. You’ve always wanted to have a vagina, right? Didn’t I hear Alexis say that? The breasts aren’t there anymore, but you can always pretend.”
Frank’s expression soured. He backed away from us. “She’s vulgar. Why do you hang out with such foul-mouthed women, Alexis? Think of what your mother would say.”
“A vagina and breasts are parts of a woman’s anatomy, Frank,” I said dryly. “Fifty percent of the adult population has them. How is that vulgar?”
“Snatch. Now that’s vulgar,” Bria said. “Do you want a snatch, Frank? I’ll stuff you into a body good and tight. That’s why you hang around, isn’t it? To be shoved back into the world of living in a different skin? How about a granny? Do you fancy coming back as a granny?”
“Wretched woman.” Frank reached the sidewalk and went left, which was, unfortunately for him, the way we were headed. “Repulsive. A skin, Alexis? Has this woman no respect for the dead? Well, I won’t have it.”
We turned his way and he sputtered, about-facing and walking faster.
“No, I will not,” he muttered. “I will not tolerate such a woman.”
He flickered and then disappeared, probably heading home to the house he had died in. Ms. Merlin, his roommate, unbeknownst to her, would not be pleased with the slamming doors and mysteriously opened cabinets. She was a crotchety old woman, though. They deserved each other.
“So that’s why he always takes off when you’re around,” I marveled as we sauntered down the sidewalk. Shadows stretched across the cracked cement and leaned heavily against the run-down houses we passed. “I wondered.”
“Spirits can sense what I am.”
“Then they can surely sense what I am, too, but for some reason they choose to hang around.”
“That’s because you’re nice to them. Stuff them in a cadaver or two, control them in a way they surely won’t like, and watch them run.” She hefted her backpack a little higher on her shoulder. “Been there, done that, don’t wear the T-shirt.” She glanced my way. “It got too old. My left nipple popped out through the hole.”
It was impossible to tell whether she was joking.
“Where is Henry that he’s getting all the intel from Valens’s people?” I asked, thinking on our situation. Nervousness fluttered my belly, something that was happening a lot lately. “No one ever mentions what he’s doing, exactly.”
“He’s here and there.” She held up a hand in response to my eyeroll. “I’m not being evasive. The guy is all over the place. He’s the only one of the Six that isn’t extraordinary for his magic. Don’t get me wrong, he’s high in power, but he’s a Reflector.” She gave me a knowing look that I perfectly understood.
Reflectors could push a person’s magic back on them. Sometimes that was extremely helpful, like if a Fire Elemental blasted a Reflector with fire. But when in combat with other magical beings, like a Shifter or probably a Berserker, it wasn’t useful at all.
“Henry’s skill lies in his ability to blend in to his surroundings,” Bria went on. “He’s been exploring the government building and the warehouses, making house calls to Valens’s bed bunnies—you name it. Hell, he’s been using those secret tunnels you found in Valens’s house to eavesdrop. You remember those?”
How could I forget? I’d nearly plummeted off a ladder, and after listening to the live-in ghost bicker with his long-dead mistress, I’d almost welcomed it.
“He has a knack for charming information out of people,” she continued, “and a real skill in being in the right place at the right time to overhear pertinent information. Valens and his people underestimate anyone they deem less powerful. They discount Henry for being a Reflector, so they hardly notice him hanging around. It’s perfect.”
“But he has no idea what the big plans are, and how Kieran fits into them?”
Bria ran her fingers through her hair, and for the first time I could remember, wariness crossed her features. “In short, no. No one has anything concrete. But I’ve heard the guys speculate, and what I’ve gathered is”—she glanced around at the empty street before lowering her voice—“Valens wants to make a play for more territory.”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. “That’s not news. And it’s not abnormal. History is filled with rulers, magical and otherwise, trying to expand their empire.”
“History is also filled with genocide.” She gave me a sidelong glance. “What I’ve pieced together is, Valens wants all of San Francisco. All of San Francisco. He’s pushing for legislation that repeals the Peace Accord Treaties.”
My stomach didn’t just flutter this time, it dropped out and rolled around on the ground. “So, in essence, Valens wants the treaties stripped so he can essentially wipe out the non-magical population, without repercussions, in pursuit of their land?”
“Does that sound so far-fetched?”
A strange heaviness filled my middle. No, it did not. And Valens wouldn’t just stop at the non-magical area. The dual-society zone would go right along with it. If Valens got his way, my little family would be ripped apart—and not just mine. No human would be safe, and considering his attitude toward low-level magical people, he’d probably go after them next.
“I don’t know any of this for sure,” Bria said, probably reading the rage and uncertainty on my face. “I’ve never heard so much of a peep about this from Kieran. It’s just the guys speculating. But…”
“There’s no way Valens could get those treaties revoked,” I said with a rush of logic. “He has a lot of power here, and it has clearly gone to his head. In places like Los Angeles, where there aren’t nearly as many magical people, the non-magical would easily reign. They’d wipe out the magical people in no time. Why would other rulers take that risk?”
“But the ruler of magical Los Angeles, a class four…” She stalled. “See? I don’t even know what magic he has. He’s a nobody. He has no power. And in the Magical Summits, when you have no power, you have no voice.”
I shook my head, unable to believe this. “When magical people first revealed themselves, they had to fight for a place in society. The whole world was at war. History books describe it as a walking nightmare. For everyone. Those treaties were the only thing that restored some sense of order.”
“But now magical people have their place carved out, and in some parts of the world, like here, they have enough power to take what they want.”
I sniffed. “And he’s under the impression Kieran would help with any of that?” I pointed to get her to cross the street.
She chuckled. “That’s clearly a case of wishful thinking on Valens’s part. He apparently thinks a child ends up the way a parent wants them to. Boy, could my mother set him straight on that one.”
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