“Brennan, how are you?” Darius flashed a polite smile. “Your hours this week have been intense, haven’t they? I hope you qualify for overtime pay.”
Agent Harris glared through his glasses. “You are not invited to this meeting, Darius. We’ll summon you for questioning when we’re ready.”
“On the contrary, I have every right to be present while you’re interrogating one of my guildeds.”
“She isn’t a member of your guild—or any guild,” Agent Harris snapped.
“Pending guild member,” Darius clarified with easy cheer. “Which means, as you know, I can choose to exercise my full rights as her GM.”
“She—is—a—human,” Agent Harris ground out. “She can’t be a guild member, pending or otherwise. Humans can work for a guild—with MPD approval—but they cannot be inducted as members.”
“Very true, very true. However”—Darius put his elbows on the table, fingers steepled—“Tori is a mythic.”
Agent Harris’s mouth fell open. So did mine.
I recovered fast, pretending that hadn’t been a bombshell equivalent to a cattle prod being jammed up my ass.
Outraged, Agent Harris looked between us, then slapped a hand against his open folder, his professional façade evaporating. “I won’t tolerate your bullshit, Darius, not this time. We know she’s human. We already checked her background, lineage, and family history. She’s as human as it’s possible to be.”
“It would seem that way,” Darius replied, unfazed, “but she was merely undiscovered. It’s rare, but—”
“An undiscovered what?” Agent Harris interrupted.
“A witch, of course.”
I clenched my jaw to keep my mouth closed. Ha-ha, funny, right? I waited for the punch line.
“She is a witch,” Darius repeated into the terse silence. “For a mythic who’s lived her entire life in cities, it’s not surprising she never saw a fae before arriving at the Crow and Hammer. Indeed, when she stumbled into my guild, she believed she was human. But”—he tapped his nose slyly—“I had my suspicions. I hired her as a bartender—”
“You didn’t file the paperwork for that!”
“I admit I delayed her paperwork. I didn’t want to trouble your busy administrative branch with unnecessary forms when I was expecting to submit different ones in short order.” He smiled. “And lo, Tori soon displayed her aptitude for Spiritalis.”
Uh, no. I definitely hadn’t.
Agent Harris barked a harsh laugh. “Too ambitious, Darius. If you wanted to pretend she’s a mythic, you should have picked a better class. Psychica is far easier to fake. Hell, you could have signed her into a demon contract if it was that important to induct her into your guild.”
Darius opened his folder, lifted out a form, and continued to lie so smoothly that I was left in awe of his skill. “This, as you can see, is the preliminary paperwork for her registration as a mythic. Signed and dated four weeks ago, though I’m afraid my tragically overworked AGM hasn’t had a chance to submit it.”
I peeked at the form as he slid it to Agent Harris. There, at the bottom, was my signature in a big ugly scribble like I always did. I would kiss whoever had forged it so perfectly.
“And this”—Darius handed over another thick packet—“is the documentation for her induction into the guild. You’ll find my handwritten notes from our interview, dated three weeks ago.”
Clamping down on the urge to hug Darius, I tried to look like none of this surprised me.
Agent Harris flipped through the forms, then shoved them aside. “Impressive forgeries, Darius. Do you really expect me to believe any of this?”
“If you have doubts, we can proceed to an arbitration panel, as per MPD policy. Though,” Darius added with a smile that held all the warmth of an arctic storm, “I don’t see how you or anyone else could prove these documents are fake.”
Agent Harris bared his teeth. “The documents don’t matter. What matters is this woman is not a witch. You can’t prove she’s a Spiritalis mythic. Without proof, she’s headed straight to a prison cell. We will not allow you to play us for fools.”
Darius swiveled in his chair to face me. His expression was solemn but his eyes sparked with fierce enjoyment. He loved messing with the MPD. “Tori, could you please summon your familiar for Brennan?”
My familiar? But I didn’t have a familiar.
I’d scarcely begun to panic when the corner of the room inexplicably darkened. A hulking shape emerged from the shadows—stubby snout gaping to show a mouthful of teeth, red eyes blazing like they were about to shoot lasers.
The six-foot-tall Godzilla roared loud enough to rattle the door.
Agent Harris leaped out of his chair, sending it crashing to the floor. His partner remained seated, blinking bemusedly.
I stared at the mini Godzilla. “Twiggy?”
The monster’s form blurred and shrank. Green skin and branchy limbs solidified, then the small faery leaped onto my lap, his huge eyes bright and his expression a mixture of pride and apprehension.
A flicker of warmth ran through my upper left arm. Air rippling, a long bluish serpent emerged from nothing. Hoshi hovered above my head, her tail sweeping down to curl around my shoulders.
“Behold,” Darius announced dryly, “Tori’s familiars.”
Agent Harris looked from the faery to the sylph, then angrily righted his chair and sat. “How do we know those are her fae?”
“Tori is my human!” Twiggy squeaked, thin chest puffing with anger. “We live in our house and she plays movies for me and I chase the fat man out when he comes in to snoop.”
“The fat man?” Darius murmured curiously.
“My landlord,” I whispered back.
“Where’s your familiar mark?” Agent Harris demanded, smugness crossing his face.
“Do you need to get your glasses checked, Brennan?” Darius tapped my arm. “It’s right here.”
I looked at my left arm. The rune circle Zak had drawn stood out sharply against my pale skin.
“That’s black pen,” Agent Harris barked. “Go on. Wipe it off.”
Darius licked his thumb and rubbed it vigorously against my arm. The liner barely smudged. I would’ve told him it was waterproof, but I was terrified of what would happen once someone washed it off and this whole façade crumbled.
Silently, the female agent lifted her purse off the floor, pulled out a packet of makeup remover wipes, and handed me one. I squinted at her face. Why was she carrying these? I couldn’t see a trace of makeup on her.
Twiggy wrinkled his nose at the smell and hopped off my lap. Nerves pounding in my throat, I pressed the damp towelette against my arm, my wrists held awkwardly to accommodate the handcuffs. I counted to ten, then wiped downward.
The black washed away—and in its place were aquamarine lines in the exact shape of the fancy spell Zak had drawn. As I lifted my arm to peer at it more closely, the blue markings gleamed with pink tones. Hoshi gently squeezed me with her tail, a silent reassurance.
As I wiped off the rest of the eyeliner, Darius beamed. “A clever way to disguise her familiar mark, don’t you think?”
Agent Harris seethed for a long minute, a vein pulsing in his temple. Jerking his glasses off his face, he shoved them in his breast pocket. “We’ll be confirming her familiar bond as soon as we can get a witch out.”
“Don’t think we’re done, Darius,” the agent snarled, shoving all the forms into his folder and snapping it shut. “You hired a human at your guild without clearance, identified an undiscovered mythic without registering her, and involved that unregistered mythic in supernatural activity. We haven’t forgotten the River case either. And there will be an investigation into the events at Stanley Park tonight.”
Darius nodded placidly.
Agent Harris stood. “Expect a full list of the charges and fines against your guild by Monday.”
“I’ll eagerly await them,” Darius replied. “In turn, I expect you to eagerly inform all appropriate parties that Victoria Dawson and the rogue’s death are now under the MPD’s jurisdiction. The police will need to cease their investigation and expunge all records of her arrest.”
Agent Harris grunted and strode to the door, the female agent on his heels.
“Oh, and Brennan?” Darius propped an arm on the back of his chair. “I think it would be in everyone’s best interests for you to expedite the processing of Tori’s registration and guild induction paperwork. You already have the forms.”
The agent snarled something incomprehensible, stormed through the door, and slammed it shut, almost clobbering his partner. She had to open the door again to leave, but unlike Harris, she closed it like a mature, emotionally stable adult.
Silence fell over the small room. Her tail draped over me, Hoshi undulated placidly. I stared at Darius, stunned and speechless.
“How are you feeling, Tori?” he asked kindly.
“I—I—I’m not sure. Relieved? I think?” I twitched my wrists, jingling the metal cuffs. Twiggy watched me anxiously. “Also confused. How did you … all that stuff …?”