Chapter 33 — Self-Made
”There is a famous quote about magic: that it could merely be technology so sufficiently advanced we cannot distinguish the two. I do not hold with this belief. Magic may obey rules, and it may abide by certain consistencies akin to the laws of nature, but I have seen things so impossible that they defy all traditional definitions of science. Show me the man who can truly explain magic. Show me the woman who can tell me without a shadow of a doubt that magic could have been invented by any civilization, human or otherwise.
We may treat it as science to satisfy our need for logic and patterns, but that is our greatest folly—to assume we could predict the next great development in the arcane arts. I take comfort in the notion that magic will continue to produce phenomena which defy human logic, and I find true joy in the discovery of miracles.”
~Cinza, the Rallsburg Diaries
Jeremy didn’t get much sleep on Wednesday night, and it was threatening to become a habit.
After Hailey blew out of the church in the middle of her eulogy, the rest of the funeral party went their separate ways in pretty short order. Cinza and her group disappeared before Jeremy could get a single word in with the strange silver-haired girl—and after they left, nobody else wanted to stick around in a building that was suddenly quite exposed to the outside world. He ended up giving the Silverdale parents a ride back to their home. Beth Silverdale thanked him again, but it felt so hollow and empty that Jeremy just felt worse. Jesus Christ…
He knew exactly where Hailey was headed, and he couldn’t do a thing for her. Stebbins hadn’t gotten anything out of the last guy they’d picked off the street. Todd Piller, former Army Ranger, without a shred of evidence linking him to anything of note. Discharged honorably, no less. It made Jeremy sick, thinking a guy like that had come out of his own country’s training.
After stonewalling them for a few hours, Piller had been turned over to the FBI, hand-delivered by Jeremy to Aderholt’s office. He’d been hoping at the very least to get reinstated, maybe some actual clearance to start helping out Maddie and Rachel in earnest, but his old boss was still just as pissed as always. Aderholt practically shouted him out of the building, telling him to stay out of it and leave the work to the “agents who actually deserve motherfucking badges.”
As a result—thanks to his continued suspension and distrust from the department—Jeremy couldn’t even get a ticket to London for himself. Aderholt, reinforcing his true nature as the asshole of all assholes, had Jeremy on every no-fly list in the continent and beyond. Jeremy was grounded for the time being, even more restricted than he had been before Hailey left. He could even hear them shouting about her. They were worried about their cooperation, since she was suddenly violating international law and travelling around the world, but damned if the FBI was going to use their best connected agent for the situation.
No Hailey, no Lani, no Grey-eyes. Fuck. What’s my job now? Just stick around Rachel?
”I’m all right here,” Rachel replied, once he’d arrived at the hotel and asked that very question. “How was the funeral?”
”Depressing,” said Maddie, unloading her bags. “The sooner we get this rolling, the better.”
”How long until you announce?” Jeremy asked. “And more importantly, the fuck are you announcing?” He was a bit tired of being kept in the dark. It wasn’t malicious in any way, what with Jeremy darting all around town trying to keep up with people like Hailey and Jonathan Hudson—but Grey-eyes’ warning about Rachel still rang through his skull like a stubborn tune. “We savin’ the world yet?”
”Not exactly,” said Rachel, frowning. “Just the first initiative of cooperation between Washington and the Awakened. We still need to coordinate with Cinza though.”
”She still thinks you’re in the wind, doesn’t she?”
”Yes.” She sighed. “I’m working my way up to it.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Just call the damn hippie already.” Maddie elbowed him in the side. “…Sorry.” But she is a fuckin’ hippie if ever I knew one. New-age as hell, but still.
Maddie and Rachel got to work soon after, leaving Jeremy impatient again. They were planning something huge, he could tell, but the timing wasn’t right. They couldn’t launch while Hailey was still dominating the headlines. People were afraid of her, and all the things that kept happening around her. Someone had to rein her in—if anybody even could.
It wasn’t going to be Jeremy though. He had a different job to do, one that decided to phone right that moment.
”…Well, that was fast.” Maddie nodded along with the faint voice through her phone speaker. “Uh huh. Yeah. I’ll send him over first thing in the morning.”
”…What am I gettin’ volunteered for?” Jeremy groaned, sitting up and putting aside his laptop. He’d just gotten the basketball game stream to work, too. “And how many guns am I gonna need?”
”None, hopefully,” said Maddie, pocketing her phone. “That was Kendra Laushire.”
He gaped at her. “No shit.”
”You have Kendra’s personal number?” asked Rachel, raising her eyebrows.
Maddie shrugged. “You get to meet tons of interesting people in my line of work.” She glanced over at Jeremy. “Kendra wants you to meet her at her Seattle office tomorrow morning, eight sharp.”
”And it’s a private office,” she added. “She’s under a fake name, don’t forget.”
”Yeah, yeah,” Jeremy grumbled, getting to his feet. “Didn’t happen to say why, did she?”
”Not a word,” said Maddie, though as soon as Rachel looked away, Maddie gave him a significant look. Expect trouble, she was saying. Jeremy took a deep breath as he left the room. He needed to get some real sleep, if he was going to be babysitting a British billionaire all morning from who-knew-what. As soon as he got home, Jeremy was out like a light.
Thursday night wasn’t any better, as Jeremy once again only got a few hours of sleep. Sure, he’d fallen asleep right away, but that didn’t help much when he kept waking up in the middle of the night, hand clutching his pistol, half-expecting someone to have teleported into his room with intent to kill. Motherfucking magic…
Grumpy and exhausted, Jeremy sipped his coffee as he rode the bus across Seattle to meet with Kendra. Public transit was as crowded as ever, with the steady growth of incoming pilgrims—as Cinza called them, and as someone in the media apparently agreed with—looking to awaken. They stood out by their attitude alone, and the bus divided itself quite evenly between the excited magic-seekers and the usual nine-to-five crowd. No one crossed the line or said anything, but there was such an obvious undercurrent of hostility that Jeremy half-expected it to erupt into a gang war somehow.
It didn’t, of course, but he could feel the tension in the air. Something had to give sooner or later. The public wasn’t really involved yet, despite all appearances. Every little skirmish was just Hailey and Brian’s men, or Hailey and Malton’s. Sure, a few bystanders got caught up, but the public didn’t have a clue what was really going on.
Maddie, you’d better hurry up and figure out if Rachel’s legit or not… I don’t know how much longer we can keep this up. Lines are already gettin’ drawn.
Jeremy stepped off the bus and found, to his surprise, an unassuming little office stuck right in between a coffee shop and a supermarket. It was so far removed from the extravagance he expected, he laughed aloud. He tossed his coffee into the trash can by the door and strode past the little sign on the wall advertising Wilmore Ventures. As soon as he took a step inside, the scent of his coffee vanished, along with the sounds of the city.
”Mr. Ashe, Miss Wilmore is expecting you,” said the receptionist, before Jeremy could even open his mouth. The young man pointed him through the back into a rear office, where Kendra Laushire herself was busy typing away on her laptop. She glanced up at the clock, brushing her curly red hair out of her eyes.
”You’re early, Mr. Ashe.”
”Figured you didn’t want to be kept waitin’,” said Jeremy, taking the nearest chair. It was comfortable, if a bit plain, and he relaxed his legs gratefully. “It’s only seven fifty-five.”
”Indeed.” Kendra tapped a few more keys and spun her laptop around, showing Jeremy the screen. “This is why I called.”
Jeremy leaned in close. It was security camera footage of the building’s entrance, dated from the night before. Two men walked right up to the door and tried to break in. The picture was crystal-clear, and as one of the men turned away in futility, Jeremy caught a glimpse of his face.
”Son of a bitch,” he muttered.
”I assumed you’d recognize him,” said Kendra, nodding with satisfaction. “The unfortunate incident in Tacoma, correct?”
”How the hell did you know him?” asked Jeremy. “They wouldn’t accept my testimony, let the motherfucker walk. He dropped off the radar.” He glared at the face frozen on the monitor—a face he’d last seen holding a gun to the old man’s head in a bar, the day he’d met Hailey.
”The video published on the night of the interview contained two frames in which a partial badge number was identifiable, after a reconstructive algorithm was applied,” said Kendra. “Not enough to convict, mind you, but I was convinced after I heard he’d taken a leave of absence from the Tacoma Police Department.”
”And now he’s tryin’ to break into your office.” Jeremy put his hands to his forehead. “Shit.”
Kendra nodded. “Quite.” She closed the laptop lid and folded her hands on top. “It seems Mr. Hendricks has discovered my place of business.”
”Can you move?”
”Not easily.” Kendra glanced over his shoulder at the window next to the door. It was empty, but even so, she lowered her voice a little. “I suspect you may have felt a shift in the air quality as you entered the building?”
Jeremy nodded slowly. “…And?”
”We aren’t presently in Seattle,” she explained. Of course we fuckin’ aren’t. Motherfucking magic. “This was the best security I could procure, given the circumstances.”
”Except it ain’t, if you’re callin’ me,” Jeremy pointed out.
”Yes.” Kendra picked up her laptop and dropped it into her bag. She got to her feet with a regal, precise air. “I fear I am no longer safe here, regardless of any otherworldly devices I might employ. I wish to depart at once.”
Jeremy scrambled up as well. He hadn’t expected to be moving again so soon. His joints groaned in protest, but he couldn’t exactly just stay there. Especially if the place wasn’t… well, real wasn’t the right word, but it definitely wasn’t going to be a good place to stick around once the boss left.
”Where are we goin’?” he asked, pulling his coat back on.
”For the time being, I’m accepting a long-belated invitation to the Greywood,” said Kendra, who picked up a thick dark winter coat from the rack by the door and slid it on. She murmured something under her breath, and her hair shifted color into a drab brown, straightening out as it went. Kendra tied it up into a bun before she opened the door. “I trust you can make the arrangements? We shouldn’t linger.”
Gonna have to call in a favor… “I’ll see what I can do.”
”Good.” Kendra swept out of the office, Jeremy hurrying to keep up in her wake. She called down the hallway to her receptionist, letting the whole place know they were done early for the weekend and to enjoy their holiday break. As soon as the place emptied, they stepped back into the cold November chill, and Kendra locked up the door behind her.
”It’s just an empty buildin’, right?” Jeremy asked as she did. “Why bother lockin’ it?”
”Appearances,” she replied. She dropped the keys into her bag and pulled on a pair of thick, warm gloves. Jeremy rubbed his own hands together, wishing he had the same—and to his surprise, she produced another pair, though they could not possibly have fit in such a small bag. A pair of scarves came with it, one for her and one for himself, of a rich dark cloth that matched perfectly.
”…Thanks.” He pulled out his phone, and the gloves were even the capacitive type that could still use touch screens. Quickly, he dialed up his friend in dispatch—well, Lani’s friend in dispatch, but Jeremy felt like he was owed a few favors too. “Ben, I need a car. Somethin’ discreet.”
”We’re tied up to hell and back,” he replied. “Goddamn magic-hunting tourists. Gonna be at least thirty minutes.”
”Fuck.” Jeremy glanced at Kendra, who was watching down the street with an uneasy look. “Send it out. We’ll be waiting at…” He rattled off the name of a coffee shop two blocks over, just in case.
”You got it.”
They set off, Jeremy just a few steps ahead. To his surprise, Kendra took his hand a moment later. He glanced over, and she gave a smile that read entirely fake to him. In her heels, Kendra was actually several inches taller than him, but she was walking with a slight stoop to mask the difference.
”We’re a couple,” she said, and her accent was gone, replaced with a passable imitation of a Pacific Northwest accent. Jeremy could still tell she was upper-class English, but he doubted anyone else would be around long enough to notice. “We’re merely out for breakfast before your day at work.”
He shrugged. “Sure, why not.” The sooner we get out of here, the better.
They hadn’t made it halfway down the block before someone recognized them.
”Hey, that’s Agent Ashe!”
Son of a bitch… Jeremy kept walking, as if he hadn’t heard the man, but a small crowd was already starting to form. The streets were so crowded already, and half of the people didn’t belong—tourists and pilgrims alike flocking to the city.
”Who’s that he’s with?”
”You think it’s one of them?“
Kendra squeezed his hand. “We should find somewhere more discreet,” she murmured.
Jeremy nodded. They sped up their walk, not so much that the crowd might think they were trying to run, but more than enough to outpace them.
”She’s probably awakened!”
”Hey, how do we do it?”
Just keep walkin’… Jeremy took every opportunity he could to glance at the crowd—in shop windows, on corner mirrors, even in the windshield of an oncoming car. As long as he didn’t turn around. To his dismay, none of them seemed to have lost interest. If anything, the crowd was growing.
Worse, it was splitting in two. Shouts from each half began to overlap, as the people called out to the both of them.
”You’re taking her away, right? Lock her up!”
”How do I do magic? Tell me!”
”They’re dangerous! Lock them all up!”
Jeremy sped up a little more. “Coulda stayed in your damn office…” he muttered.
”That might have been wise,” Kendra agreed. She stumbled a little as her heel caught on a sidewalk grating, but she recovered quickly enough and didn’t lose an ounce of momentum for it. “It’s too late now.”
”Got any more tricks in that bag?” he asked, speaking louder to be heard over the growing shouts.
”Not precisely,” she said. She began murmuring under her breath, eyes half-closed, while Jeremy guided her down the street. He had no idea what was about to happen, but he couldn’t imagine Kendra wanted to hurt any of them, so he trusted the woman. Besides, she’d asked him to keep her safe, and that was his damn job. No matter what happened, Jeremy was going to make sure Kendra Laushire made it out of the city in one piece.
But, of course, Kendra ended up being the one to get him out in one piece.
Just as the mob seemed about to surround them, Kendra yanked Jeremy into an alley. They were only out of sight for an instant, but it was enough. As soon as they vanished into the shadows, Kendra pulled him straight up against the wall and placed a finger on her lips.
Jeremy didn’t dare to breathe. The crowd spilled into the alley, hurrying down and across to the next street over. Kendra had put them up against a dumpster where no one was likely to walk, but even so, Jeremy felt a few people brush against his coat. No one noticed them, even though he stood only a few inches away. Soon enough, the people broke into a run, chasing nothing down the next block and out of sight.
”…Nice trick,” Jeremy sighed.
Kendra shrugged, stepping away and brushing dust off of her jacket with a cloth. “Please inform me—”
She broke into a fit of coughs, almost doubling over. Jeremy started forward in alarm, but she waved him off. It only took a minute for her to recover and straighten up.
”When our vehicle arrives,” she finished, patting the cloth to her mouth.
”Fuckin’ hell, are you okay?”
”Quite fine, thank you.”
Kendra seemed about to lean against the wall, but took one look at the dirty exterior of the building and changed her mind. Jeremy shook his head and headed out to the street, where their ride had already shown up in front of the coffeeshop, just half a block away. He waved Ben over, and the man pulled up right to the curb and hopped out.
Jeremy offered her a gloved hand, which she took gratefully. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Kendra nodded. The corner of her lip twitched, curling upward.
”Pull off here,” said Kendra, interrupting him.
”What?” He took them to the curb, stopping neatly behind the empty pickup that was the only other sign of life on the whole block. “Did I say somethin’ wrong? I didn’t really mean that. Not every awakened is a pain in the ass, I’m just havin’ a rough week here.”
”I wasn’t listening.”
Kendra got out of the car and held up her hand. A red light flashed out of nowhere, emitting from her palm. Another red light lit up the nearest alley. Jeremy stared dumbfounded as Kendra emerged from the shadows. Except… Kendra was still standing next to the car, one foot in the passenger door. “What the fu—”
The other Kendra hurried in and took the back seat. Kendra closed the door. “We can go,” she added, nodding to Jeremy.
”…You got it,” he muttered. He glanced up into the rear-view mirror, where the other Kendra was brushing flakes of snow off her shoulders. Jeremy realized it was snowing, and turned on the wipers before it built up too much. “So…”
”This is my sister, Lily,” said Kendra.
”Your what now?” Jeremy nearly pounded on the brakes, but managed to stop himself. He pulled out onto the highway and sped up, wanting nothing more than to get the pair out to the Greywood and be done with the whole mess. “I investigated your family. You don’t have a sister.”
”Quite,” said Lily. She turned to Kendra. “Kenni, did the Mettis deal finalize?”
”Yes,” said Kendra. “We’ll be acquiring their subsidiaries as of the close of business today.”
”…Lily Wilmore,” muttered Jeremy, remembering the name Maddie had used at the funeral. “So it was actually your sister this whole damn time?”
”In a manner of speaking,” said Kendra.
”We take turns,” Lily explained, “or if need be, we can be in two places at once.”
Jeremy shook his head. “I’ll never understand you people.”
”Nah,” said Jeremy, pulling off onto the Tacoma exit. “Rich people.”
Most of the ride from Tacoma all through Olympia was spent in silence. Both Lily and Kendra were on their phones almost immediately, tapping away at who-knew-what. Jeremy didn’t mind. He didn’t understand them anyway, and he had enough on his mind. There was one topic, though, that they might be uniquely suited to help him with. As they exited Olympia, he finally brought it up.
”Hailey’s in your home town,” he prompted, as he pulled off onto the roads leading out to the forest.
”She’s a foolish girl,” said Kendra dismissively.
”Her best friend just died,” Jeremy shot back. He wasn’t gonna let Hailey take that kind of abuse, even if he did agree she was acting a bit crazy.
”An event which might have brought us together,” said Lily, glancing up. “Hailey’s gone and mucked it up. Now she’s wanted by your government and ours. I’m sure you saw the report of the building collapse?”
”Yeah,” said Jeremy. He’d seen the alert pop up as they waited at a light, and cursed under his breath.
”Bad publicity undermines us all,” said Kendra.
”Our business isn’t so affected, divorced from magic as it is,” said Lily, “but I fear for the greater impact her actions will cause.”
”Cinza must take a stand,” added Kendra.
”…You think she’s gotta go public?” asked Jeremy. It wasn’t a surprise—both Maddie and Rachel had voiced much the same idea. While Hailey was rapidly squandering any goodwill she might have found from her exciting and dramatic reveal, Cinza had yet to take the stage. Her book was still the stuff of legends, the unpublished bible of the new age. She could be incredibly influential on the world at large. And she’ll probably hate the whole fame thing. I know I sure as hell do.
”I intend to discuss the idea when we arrive,” said Kendra.
”So that’s why we’re goin’ to the damn Greywood,” said Jeremy, tapping his forehead. “Figures it was somethin’ like that.”
”Honestly, I hadn’t considered the idea until now,” said Lily.
”The threat was quite real, I assure you,” added Kendra. “And I fear I cannot protect myself or my employees.”
”But you can make your own fuckin’ dimensions,” said Jeremy. “How’s a guy like Brian Hendricks gonna break into that?”
Kendra frowned. “If you know about that particular talent, were you also informed of the many times those dimensions were breached?”
”…One or two,” he admitted grudgingly. Whenever Rachel wasn’t trying to dodge the topic.
”Until we can be sure our design is perfect, we can’t risk it,” Lily said. “I’d prefer we take shelter in the one home we know to be truly protected.”
”I heard Omega broke in,” Jeremy pointed out. And then got shot dead by Rachel, in the one part of her story I completely believe… The look on her face when she said it. Jesus.
”Jackson Smith held power far beyond what we comprehend,” said Kendra. “He is gone. Since that day, despite living in the same forest as our foe and a huge contingent of fortune-seekers, the Greycloaks have never seen a single unwelcome incursion upon their land. Not even a close call. I cannot say the same for my own work.”
”…Fair enough,” said Jeremy.
The car slid to a halt, deep in the forest to the east of Rallsburg. Jeremy had no clue where they were, but the Laushires seemed to know where to go. After the third or fourth mixup, he threw up his hands and hopped out of the front seat. Lily took the wheel, and they proceeded much more swiftly through the rest of the thick forest, in a path seemingly at random.
Seemingly, my ass.
It didn’t surprise him in the slightest when a pair of cloaked figures appeared in front of them, emerging from behind the trees. Jeremy recognized the crimson-haired Ruby from the funeral—and from the many news stories still circulating about her, as Hannah Newman, calling for her return home and an investigation into her original disappearance. Jeremy didn’t know what to think about it yet, but he doubted the girl was worse off without her father, based on what he’d read.
Ruby was accompanied by a tall Japanese boy who stood just behind her at all times, watching the group carefully with his hands deep in the pockets of his robes. Jeremy couldn’t see a gun—but the Greycloaks didn’t need guns to be dangerous.
”Welcome!” Ruby called as they got out of the car. “I’m glad you got here okay.”
”You called ahead?” Jeremy said, glancing at Kendra.
She nodded. “A courtesy to a generous host.”
”For one of the empowered eight?” said Ruby, blue eyes wide and sparkling. “We’d do anything.”
”Please,” said Lily, glancing up into the snow filtering through the canopy. “Can we get out of this? I’m a right popsicle out here.”
”Of course,” said Ruby. She glanced at Jeremy. “Are you coming too, Mr. Ashe?”
Jeremy shrugged. “Figured I should see it sooner or later, right?”
She smiled. “The whole world should. Come on.”
Ruby lead them back through the trees, in a twisting route that had Jeremy’s head spinning in minutes. He knew he was helplessly lost, and stopped bothering to try and figure out the path after the second switchback. Something about the confusion felt oddly familiar though. He couldn’t quite place it, until he smelled a hint of a fire ahead and remembered his last time stumbling through the forest.
Same shit that Julian used to protect his little gambling circle. Bet I can’t just trip into this place though.
They rounded the final copse of trees and found a perfect archway of tree branches and vines forming an entry into the wide clearing. Ruby gestured for them to proceed, a wide grin plastered on her face. “Welcome to the Greywood,” she said, beaming.
Okay, this shit is pretty cool, Jeremy had to admit. The wide clearing with the cabins was covered in a thin layer of snow, but the creek bubbled through the center heedless of the season. Next to the water, the garden still grew, as if it were the middle of spring, and a cloaked silhouette picked out crops ready to harvest. The farmer waved to the group as they walked in.
Ruby lead them across the stone pathway and over the perfect wooden bridge growing out of the ground. Well, nobody else seems surprised that there’s two Kendras. Guess this is another damn thing Rachel left out. Jeremy kept a close eye on Ruby as she sauntered up through the carved wooden doors into the wide meeting hall, where their host awaited.
Cinza smiled from her chair at the head of the room as they walked in—and smiled even wider as Kendra’s hair and general appearance returned to their normal state. “Welcome back, Kendra. I hope your flight from the city wasn’t too taxing.”
”Thank you,” she said tersely. “Though I daresay I’ve never had the pleasure of a visit.”
”Of course. I do apologize for any lack of hospitality in the past. I’m glad we can accommodate now, when you’re in such dire need,” said Cinza.
Jesus, they’re worse than the fuckin’ politicians. Jeremy spoke up before the veiled insults started cutting past the surface. “Nice place.”
”Thanks,” said Cinza. “And welcome to you too, Lily.”
Lily shrugged. “We wouldn’t be here if we had any other option.”
”I’ll choose to take that as a compliment,” said Cinza, though Jeremy could feel Ruby bristling from across the room. “Honestly, I’m quite happy to help for as long as I can. Ruby, would you fetch Nikki please? I feel like we’ll be wanting her assistance here shortly.”
Ruby left, though not without another dirty look at the Laushires. “We’ll need our own cabin with a good connection,” said Kendra, unperturbed. “A substantial transfer was wired into your account this morning. I trust it will more than cover any living costs we might accrue.”
Cinza nodded. “We’re incredibly grateful for the support.”
”We oughta use this as a base of operations,” said Jeremy, glancing around. “Start trackin’ down Hendricks for real.”
Both the Laushires and Cinza glared at him. Cinza was the first to speak, her strange voice echoing far too much around the wide hall. “Do you think we haven’t been trying?”
”The man poses a great threat,” said Kendra. “Both to our lives and our reputation. We cannot get the world to accept magic while they still assume us responsible for the golem attacks.”
”Why haven’t you told everyone about him yet?” asked Cinza.
Jeremy narrowed his eyes. I did. Nobody fuckin’ believed me. And now I’m tied up in too many goddamn conspiracies that I don’t know where to start on who’s tellin’ the truth. “…I’m workin’ on it.”
”Cinza, Ruby said you—” Nikki cut off with a huge sneeze, accompanying a gust of cold wind through the open door. Ruby hurried in after her, a scarf pulled tight around her neck, followed by a similarly bundled up brown-haired woman with a camera dangling in front of her. Behind them…
”Lani?” Jeremy gaped at him. Lani nodded back with a sheepish smile. He was wearing the same grey robes as the rest of them—minus the young woman with the camera—and looked way more comfortable than Jeremy ever remembered him being, even back in the office.
”Your partner came to us three weeks ago,” said Cinza, and she sounded a bit too smug for her own good. “He’s helping build a better place, for the good of us all.”
”For the good of us all,” Ruby echoed quietly, somewhere behind Jeremy. Fuckin’ hell. I’ve seen cults, and this sure as shit is one of them. At least they ain’t proposin’ to burn me alive… yet.
Wait, if Lani’s wearin’ the robes… “Lani, you’re—”
”Awakened, Jeremy.” Lani held up his hand, and a little flame burst into life in his palm. He grinned. “You think they’ll give me a promotion if I’m the first agent who can use magic?”
”I think they’ll fuckin’ suspend you right along with me for going AWOL,” Jeremy muttered. He walked over to his partner and gave him a bear hug. “Jesus, Lani. Don’t ever pull that shit again.”
Lani hugged him back. “You got it.” He let go, gesturing to the brown-haired woman. “Jeremy, this is Riley.”
”Riley Emick— er, Riley Emlick.” She coughed, face glowing red. “Emrick. God, what is wrong with me today?” Riley stuck out a hand, and Jeremy shook it. Shit, that’s a firm handshake. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mr. Ashe.”
”You and the rest of the world,” he grumbled.
Lani laughed. “I really dodged a bullet, huh?”
”Lani, you not dodgin’ the bullet is what lead to this clusterfuck.”
He laughed even harder, which left Jeremy feeling warmer than the fire crackling in the stone chimney could hope to achieve. Good to have you back, man. “Come on, there’s a lot you gotta see. This place is amazing.”
”Mr. Ashe,” called Cinza, before Lani could drag him away. Nikki sneezed again, and excused herself into one of the back rooms. Cinza shot a curious look at the Laushires before she continued. “Will you be staying with us tonight? I’d like to draw up one of the guest rooms and plan out dinner accordingly.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I’ll take the dinner, but I should probably get back soon. It’s gonna be morning in London in three hours.”
”London?” asked Lani, surprised.
”Hailey,” he said simply, as if it explained everything.
Lani didn’t seem to follow, but Cinza sighed. “Of course. If you need anything on that front, don’t hesitate to ask. We all want the same thing.”
Still ain’t sure of that… but I fuckin’ hope so. Jeremy nodded. “Thanks.”
Jeremy scrambled back off his chair as the little blue spirit floated toward him, with a vague outline of a face, like a kid’s drawing. His drink crashed to the floor of the cabin. “Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Lani!”
Lani and Riley laughed in unison at his reaction. “It won’t hurt you, man.”
”You don’t know that.”
”I made it, Jeremy,” he pointed out. Lani closed his palm with a flutter of his fingers, and the spirit vanished with a puff of blue smoke. “There, all gone.”
Jeremy clambered back onto the chair, straightening his jacket. “So what do they do?”
”Honestly? Not a whole lot. But who cares?” Lani smiled, in that same annoyingly smug and contented look that every other Greycloak seemed to produce without hesitation. “It’s magic.”
Riley smiled too, but Jeremy could see doubt in her eyes. She sure wasn’t there for magic, but Jeremy couldn’t quite read her. He dismissed the thought though, as Lani put his arm around her. Well, there it is. “So what else you got?”
After a showing of Lani’s repertoire, which was surprisingly wide given how long he’d been awakened (though it paled compared to Hailey’s sheer power or the breadth of Jonathan Hudson’s bag of tricks), they retired to the fire to warm up as night fell.
”So what’s going on with Hailey?” Lani asked, leaning against Riley on the wide chair opposite him. God, they make a cute couple. “Something about London?”
Jeremy sighed. “…You heard about the shit that went down in Lakewood, right?”
”Yeah.” Lani shuddered. Riley nudged him slightly and put her arm around him. “That looked so awful. I was reading all the reports that came in.”
”Bureau doesn’t know shit,” Jeremy muttered. He explained what happened, and where Hailey blew off to. “So now we got one of the… fuck, what did she call them?”
”Empowered eight,” said Lani. “Or the Ogdoad. Ruby keeps trying to push that one. Cinza prefers ‘true awakened’, but everybody else went for the EE, so it stuck.”
”Who are they?” asked Riley sleepily. “The eight, I mean.”
”Well, there’s Hailey, Hector Peraza, Kendra Laushire, Grey-eyes, and Alpha,” said Lani, counting them off. “Then there’s Jessica Silverdale and Jackson Smith, both deceased, and last the one that Cinza won’t tell us.”
Can’t be hard to figure it out though… The quiet purple-eyed elf-girl with the pet hawk seems like a pretty good pick. “Kendra Laushire who just showed up tonight with her sister?”
”Yeah, about that,” said Lani, with a sidelong look at Jeremy. “Since when do the Laushires have two daughters?”
”You tell me,” Jeremy said, rolling his eyes. “Fuck rich people, man.”
Lani grinned. “I’m really curious who the last one is, though. I’m pretty sure most people around here know. Everybody who was here back in May, at least.”
”They won’t tell you?”
”We got bits and pieces, but nothing solid.” Riley smirked. “They will when we’re ready.”
Lani tapped her on the head. “They will,” he agreed, without the sarcasm. “Until then, we help out where we can.”
”Shit,” said Jeremy, glancing at the clock. It was already well past ten, which meant it was nearly seven in the morning in London. “I gotta find out what’s happening over there.” He stood up, but the alcohol was settling into his brain and he stumbled.
”No way are you driving back tonight,” said Lani. “You can fly out to London tomorrow. Cinza set aside a bed for you already, so just take it.”
”Can’t fly out to London,” Jeremy grumbled. “Fuckin’ Aderholt no-fly’d me.”
”Of course he did,” said Lani, rolling his eyes. “I’m really glad I’m not working under him right now.”
”Wait…” Jeremy fell back into his chair, staring at Lani like he’d just seen him for the first time. “Lani, you could go.”
”Shit, you’re even awakened now. You’ve got the cred, you’ve got magic, and you ain’t grounded.” Jeremy nodded emphatically. “You should go to London.”
”I…” Lani glanced at Riley.
She shook her head. “Nuh-uh. Don’t you decide based on me. I’ll be here either way. I’m still figuring this whole place out.”
”After three damn weeks?” Jeremy asked, raising an eyebrow.
”It could be three damn years before I really feel like I understand magic,” she shot back, not missing a beat. Jeremy grinned. You and me both, sister.
”What would I even do when I got there?” Lani asked, turning back to Jeremy.
”I’ll call her every ten minutes if I have to,” said Jeremy. “I’ll make sure she knows you’re comin’, and even if she doesn’t, you’ve got authority now. Hailey crossed state lines and national borders. Everything ’til now was stuck in Washington, so things got tied up between state and federal, remember?”
”Now you’re goin’ to London as the official representative of the Bureau’s Thaumaturgical Division, commissioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Lani raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Is that even a real thing?”
”Mostly.” Jeremy shrugged. “Paperwork’s in place and the Bureau’s ready to go. Maddie’s still workin’ on bribin’ the right senators to back her up. Doesn’t matter either way. The U.K. already sent a request for assistance from our branch a few hours ago. Didn’t you get the alert?”
”Yeah.” Lani glanced at his phone, sitting on the table next to the fire. The charging cable trailing away looked bizarrely out of place in this structure so clearly built without a single human tool.
”So by the time it matters, you’ll have the title, and you’ve got your ass covered up til then.” Jeremy grinned. “There’s no way they’ll pass up having the first awakened agent for the new shit. You’ve already got it in the bag.”
Lani nodded. “It’ll be good to get back into the field.”
”So what are you waitin’ for?” Jeremy plucked his keys out of his jacket pocket and tossed them to Lani. He missed the catch with his hands, but still grabbed them from mid-air before they hit the floor. The keys floated right back into his hands again. “Take my car and get goin’. If you move it, you could probably still land in London tomorrow.”
”Right now?” asked Riley.
”Yeah,” said Lani. “There’s really no time to waste with something like this.”
Jeremy nodded. “Hailey’s in way over her head and dealin’ with a shit-ton of grief. She’s also one of the most powerful people in the whole fuckin’ world. That’s not a fun combination.”
Lani leaned in and kissed Riley, to Jeremy’s surprise. Well, that confidence problem is long-gone. Good for Lani. He got up again, a bit steadier than the last time now that he was expecting it, and walked Lani out to the edge of the clearing. As they reached the end, Makoto was waiting for them.
”Mr. Ashe, Mr. Makaio.” He nodded at them both.
”Hi, Makoto. I need to get back into town.” Lani held up the keys. “Flying to London tonight, apparently.” Makoto nodded. Lani turned to Jeremy. “Send me everything you have about Hailey for the flight over. I need to know what I’m going into.”
”You got it.” Jeremy paused. He glanced over his shoulder at Lani’s cabin, where the fire was still glowing faint behind the outline of Riley, watching them from afar. “Riley, huh?”
Lani smiled. “A perfect storm of coincidence. Your worst nightmare.”
Jeremy grinned, and hugged his partner again. “Get out of here, man. Call me as soon as you land.”
”You got it.”
Lani disappeared into the forest with Makoto. Jeremy watched until he couldn’t see them anymore. He trudged back through the snow to Lani’s little cabin and began compiling everything he had. Every note he’d taken, every memory about Hailey he had. He didn’t want to betray Hailey’s trust, but somebody had to do something, and he couldn’t be there to do it.
Riley brought him a cup of tea while he worked, sitting next to the fire with a laptop Cinza provided. Jeremy trusted Lani with his own life a dozen times over; he could trust the man with Hailey’s life, too. Besides, Lani would do a lot better dealing with the British than Jeremy ever could. It almost felt like fate, in a way.
Fuck that. Jeremy didn’t believe in fate. It was all a string of coincidence—stupid fuckin’ coincidence that keeps puttin’ me in boilin’ water again and again.
Maybe I need a new job.
Sunlight streamed through the cabin windows by the front door. Jeremy had nodded off in the chair, the laptop still sprawled on his chest. He mumbled himself awake, dragging his feet across the cabin to the small kitchen area and putting a pot of coffee on. Lani didn’t have any black, to his disappointment, but Jeremy could live with anything so long as it warmed him up and got rid of the loginess.
He didn’t need either.
Shouting from outside the front door. Jeremy snapped awake with a rush of adrenaline. Of course somethin’ was gonna happen here the day I showed up. God-fuckin’-damnit. He grabbed his coat and double-checked his sidearm, then burst out the front door into the cold morning air.
Kendra Laushire was sprinting across the field of snow in a dressing gown.
Jeremy gaped at her—as did half of the other Greycloaks, in various states of dress. Cinza finally emerged from her own cabin with a bleary-eyed Ruby hanging over her shoulder. It was early, very early, and no one had really been awake yet. Jeremy, simply by merit of failing to actually make it to a bed, was the only one who looked dressed for the day. He rushed across the packed snowfield to meet Kendra and Cinza at the center bridge, just above the water.
The woman was frantic, far beyond anything Jeremy could have imagined from an upper-class Englishwoman like her. She still stood higher than the whole group, even without the heels, but in her present state, even Cinza cut a far more imposing figure. As Kendra spluttered, Cinza finally stepped forward, stood high and slapped her across the face.
”Focus!” she said, in an imperative tone.
”She’s gone!” Kendra bellowed in her face.
”What?” Cinza looked around at Jeremy. “What happened?”
How the fuck should I know? Jeremy turned to Kendra. “Are you sure? Maybe she just went—”
”She’s gone! I have to find her. Immediately!”
”Where’s Riley?” asked Brittany, glancing over Jeremy’s shoulder.
Jeremy looked around. “I dunno. I didn’t see her this morning.”
”Did anyone?” asked Cinza sharply. The rest of the Greycloaks had converged, a mass of faces Jeremy didn’t have time to learn. No one seemed to have an answer.
Makoto was a ways apart, checking the ground. “There’s tracks. Here.” He pointed at the ground. “Here, and here. She knew where she was going.”
”Where?” asked Kendra.
”To her jeep, then south.” Makoto pointed out of the clearing. “That way.”
”How long ago?” asked Cinza.
”Minutes.” Makoto started into a jog, but it didn’t matter—the loud drumbeat of a helicopter answered their questions in an instant. A black chopper lifted into the sky, taking off straight to the north.
Jeremy was on his phone in an instant, calling his branch operations center. “I need tracking on a chopper lifting out of the Olympic Forest right now. Heading ten degrees, bound for Canadian airspace. Scramble an intercept, too.”
”Right the fuck now, damnit!”
Jeremy heard muffled orders shouted through the earpiece. He’d startled the operator so much, the man hadn’t let go of the transmit key.
”You’re not going to catch them,” said Cinza.
”Where are they going?” asked Kendra.
”London, I’d guess,” said Jeremy.
Cinza glanced at him, surprised. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
”Military operation in this neck of the damn woods? That’s gotta be Malton’s men. Pickin’ up another damn guinea pig.” Jeremy shook his head. “Fucking monster.”
”But—” Kendra started, rounding on him.
Jeremy grabbed her by the shoulders, trying to calm her down. “Lani’s already halfway to London, and I scrambled an intercept. Either we catch ’em here, or we get them at the other end. They aren’t gonna hold onto her for long.”
”You don’t understand,” Kendra shouted, turning to watch the helicopter fly away. “I have to follow them right now!”
Cinza put a hand on her arm. “We’ll get her back, Kendra. Lily will be perfectly safe.”
Tell that to Jessica Silverdale…
Kendra struggled out of Jeremy’s arms, taking a few futile steps toward the departing chopper. “She’s never gone this far away before,” Kendra cried, her voice thick with pain. Her hands clutched to her chest, as if she were about to have a heart attack.
…The fuck does that mean?
”The fuck does that mean?” asked Nikki, echoing him perfectly.
Cinza looked strangely satisfied. “I thought so.”
”What the fuck is going on?” asked Jeremy, really frustrated with the whole cryptic situation.
Cinza turned to him. “We need to get Kendra to follow them, as physically close as we can get her.”
”Wha’s this abou’?” asked Rufus, looking just as confused as Jeremy felt.
”Lily isn’t real,” said Ruby, as if that explained everything.
What the… oh.
”What?” asked Nikki, looking between the three of them who had finally caught on.
”She’s real,” Cinza snapped, and Ruby looked suitably ashamed of herself. Kendra wailed in pain. “Makoto, get the car. Right now.” Makoto nodded and sprinted away. “Lily wasn’t born like the rest of us. Kendra truly is an only child.”
”—was created with magic,” said Cinza firmly. “Nikki, you’ve been allergic to Lily. She is a perfect clone of Kendra Laushire in every form, whom Kendra has been maintaining every day since Lily was born. They are one and the same.”
”We aren’t,” said Kendra, brushing away tears. “She is my sister.”
”She is,” Cinza agreed, correcting herself, “and we will do everything in our power to make sure she stays that way.” Cinza waved Makoto forward. He’d returned in a heavy-duty four wheeler that would breeze through the woods without any trouble. Cinza climbed in, followed by Kendra and Jeremy. “Ruby, keep the Greywood secure. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”
Ruby nodded. She gave Cinza a kiss, then hurried away with Rufus.
”Nikki, I’ll need updates as often as possible on Riley’s whereabouts.”
”Every thirty minutes if I can do it,” said Nikki, though she didn’t look confident.
Josh clapped her on the shoulder. “We got this.”
”Good. Makoto, let’s go.”
Makoto gunned the engine without a moment’s hesitation. They shot off into the forest. Jeremy clutched onto the roll cage for stability, his seat belt cutting into his shoulder. He whipped out his phone, dialing up the closest air base for more support.
I ain’t lettin’ that fuckin’ chopper get away.
Cinza turned to Kendra and clasped her hand, bouncing up and down in the jeep. “Kendra Laushire, I swear to you upon my life, we will bring your sister home. Lily will be safe. I swear it.”