Chapter 34 — Rook Takes Knight
”The decision makers are always a layer above. No matter how high you might climb in the ladder, there is always another level to reach. The world has been structured for a long time, and the rungs exist to keep us in our place. Any attempt at independence will inevitably be crushed—not by active effort, but by the simple truth that none can truly break a system when they’ve never known anything beyond it, when nature itself prods civilization toward certain outcomes.
The only way out is through total systemic change—the kind which republics and tyrants alike fear, that which shakes democracies and oligarchies to their core. Such change has never existed in history, for such change requires a fundamental shift in the laws of the universe, else the universe will perpetually drive society back to the same basic structures again and again, simply out of convenience.
That shift has come. We are the change.”
~Cinza, the Rallsburg Diaries
The jeep burst out of the trees onto the open road, skidding across the pavement. Makoto scrambled on the wheel, trying to correct it—in the wrong direction. They slid even further, wheels skipping across the frosty asphalt.
Goddammit. “Turn into the skid!” Jeremy shouted, covering his phone speaker for a second. Makoto did so, and soon the jeep had steadied out. They shot down the road, travelling away from the chopper far to the north, quickly becoming a distant speck in the sky.
”Standby for connection, Agent Ashe.“
”Hurry the fuck up,” he growled. “And have that chopper ready to meet us!”
Jeremy glanced over his shoulder to the back seat. Kendra Laushire was taking deep breaths, her hand right on top of her lungs as if she were having difficulty breathing. Cinza leaned over her, making a gesture with her hands.
”What are you doing?”
”Helping oxygen move into her lungs,” Cinza replied, her echoey voice audible even over the roaring engine and the chirps in Jeremy’s ear.
”Ashe, you’re live with tactical.“
A radio click, and then Jeremy was suddenly hearing the traffic net for the Washington Air Traffic Control.
”Say again, unidentified helicopter. You are ordered to divert immediately to SeaTac and disembark all passengers. Please respond.”
Kendra coughed behind him. “What’s happening?” she asked, her voice ragged.
Jeremy muted the microphone on his end. “ATC’s ordering the chopper to land at SeaTac.” He glanced at Makoto. “Speed it up.”
Makoto nodded, gunning the engine. Jeremy unmuted his phone. “This is Ashe. I’m in a black jeep heading south on Highway 101. Need immediate pickup and dust-off for four persons at…” He glanced at a passing road sign. “Brockdale. Right fuckin’ now.”
”Affirmative, Agent Ashe.“
A different voice cut in, much deeper and with a much higher-quality sound—like a whole room instead of the traffic controller. “This is Washington. Please advise on current situation.”
…Holy shit. This escalated fast. “…Say again, Washington? You know the fuckin’ situation.”
Another voice—one instantly familiar to Jeremy. “Ashe, this is President Stafford. I’ve heard a lot about you in the last couple months.“
At the sound of the President’s voice, Jeremy found his composure. As much as he hated his own department, he respected the man at the head of the show. “…Sir, with all due respect—”
”Why am I scrambling two F-16s out of JBLM right now?”
Jeremy took a breath and cleared his throat, trying to steady himself. He’d never spoken to anyone more than a single level above Aderholt before. This was way outside his pay-grade. “Mr. President, I have reason to believe that helicopter has a high value hostage on board and is attempting to flee the country.”
”The president?” asked Cinza sharply, looking up. Jeremy nodded.
”Who’s the hostage?“
Well… shit. “I’m not at liberty to say, sir.”
A harsher feminine voice cut in—Jeremy wasn’t quite sure, but he believed it to be the National Security Advisor. “Agent Ashe, you’re in a region that’s experienced multiple terrorist attacks in the last thirty days. Now you’ve got a high-profile abduction. Tell us what the hell is going on.“
”…Standby, Washington.” Jeremy muted the microphone, glancing back. They were still a few minutes out from Brockdale, and Jeremy could see a helicopter rushing to meet them in the distance, while their target got even further away. “Cinza.”
”They want to know who’s in the helicopter,” she concluded. The jeep rumbled as she spoke, as if adding its own angry growl to her narrowed eyes. Kendra didn’t respond, but her own expression was desperate, as she gazed out toward her departing sister—or clone, or whatever the hell she is.
”Pretty much.” He frowned. “Look, you want to talk to them or me? Because I can try to shield you a bit longe—”
Cinza shook her head, cutting him off. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “…It’s time.”
Jeremy nodded. He grabbed the cord for the jeep stereo and plugged it into his phone, cranking the speakers up to hear them more clearly. “Mr. President.”
”Still here, Ashe. The jets are in the air. Tell me what they’re doing.“
Cinza cut in before Jeremy could say another word. “This is Cinza. The helicopter has one of my people on board. I need them back.”
The fuck is she doing? Why not just tell them it’s Kendra? Everybody knows Kendra’s alive, and government always leaps to protect the mega-rich… except it’s Lily on board. So Cinza’s protectin’ her by stickin’ out her own neck, even though they’ve only been there one day.
Damn. No wonder she’s got a cult.
A pause. Brockdale was now in sight, and their helicopter had put down on the ground. They were coming up fast. “…Did you say Cinza?“
”In exchange for your assistance, I will meet with a representative of your choosing and open relations between myself and your government.”
Jesus Christ, what the hell’s she doing? “Sir—” Jeremy started, but the president cut him off.
”Done. How do I get in touch with you?“
”Mr. Ashe can act as liaison, if that’s acceptable.”
Oh, fuck me… I’m never gettin’ back to a normal life…
”The F-16s are coming alongside the chopper now. We’ll patch you in on the transmission. Phil?“
Another radio crackle. Jeremy winced as Cinza glanced over at him. He nodded, and she nodded in return. Kendra looked like she’d barely heard a word they’d said.
The low, bored voice of the fighter pilot drones out of the jeep’s speakers. “Unidentified chopper, descend to one thousand feet and divert immediately to SeaTac. I have missile lock and am prepared to fire if you do not comply.“
Cinza’s eyes widened. She spoke up again, before Jeremy could stop her. “They must not shoot down that helicopter.”
They aren’t going to! Jeremy shook his head frantically, trying to stop her—but to his relief, the president spoke up again in a calming tone. “We’re just trying to scare them. Nobody’s getting shot down.“
”These people are professional mercenaries in the employ of a multi-billionaire,” said Cinza, disgust plain in her voice. “You won’t scare them.”
”Employees of who?” cut in the National Security Advisor. Kimberly Young, Jeremy finally remembered. That’s her name. Gave us that whole boring-ass speech on readiness.
”Cornelius Malton,” said Cinza. We don’t have any proof of that…
”…The energy tycoon?“
The President cut back in again. “Status on the helicopter?”
”Heading zero degrees, elevation eight thousand feet. No response.”
”Jack, talk to me. What do we have to bring them down safely?”
Fuck-all… You can’t force down a chopper with a goddamn fighter jet. The jeep skidded to a halt on the pavement as they finally reached the waiting helicopter. The rotors were still spinning as they leapt out. Jeremy held the phone to his ear as they boarded, Makoto helping Kendra on board. Cinza, to Jeremy’s surprise, clambered up without any help at all—despite her short stature, Jeremy felt like he had more trouble getting onto the deck than she did.
As soon as they were on, the helicopter took off, jerking them up into the sky. Kendra clutched at her seat, still breathing heavily. Cinza looked distinctly uncomfortable off the ground as well, while Makoto was an unreadable mask as usual. Jeremy gestured at the headsets hanging off racks near their seats, and the trio hurriedly put them on. The headsets were already patched into the same channel he’d just been speaking on.
”…Sidewinder air-to-air missiles with heat seeking capability. There’s no armament on the F-16 or any other platform that can force a helicopter to land without risking the health of the passengers, sir.“
”So what can we do?”
”Wait for them to run out of fuel.”
”Get me close to it,” said Cinza. Her hair whipped around from the open helicopter door, bright silver and glowing in the morning sunlight. She took Makoto’s hand, and met his eyes for a moment. They nodded in unison. “We can force it down.”
Young cut in, her voice skeptical—if not downright annoyed. “I appreciate the offer, Miss…”
”…Cinza, but what the hell are you going to do that the Washington Air National Guard can’t do?“
”Magic,” she replied simply, as if that could explain everything.
Jeremy slapped a hand to his forehead. Jesus fuckin’ Christ…
”Are you kidding m—“
President Stafford cut her off again. “Do it. Ashe, you’re cleared to approach. We’ll wave off the F-16s to clear your space.“
”Yes, sir,” said Jeremy. He leaned forward to the chopper pilot and tapped the man on the shoulder. “Can you outrun that bird?”
”We’re about to find out,” replied the pilot, as cool as any Air Force man under pressure. He leaned into his controls.
The helicopter pitched forward. Jeremy’s stomach sucked up into his chest as they accelerated. He fell back into his seat, double-checking his seatbelt. The forest whipped by below them, interspersed with streets and houses every so often, until they suddenly shot out over the water. The rapid change in scenery made him even more nauseous. I fuckin’ hate flying…
Cinza didn’t look much better off. Kendra was practically heaving, her mouth covered by a handkerchief she’d somehow produced from the dressing gown she still wore. Only Makoto looked well-adjusted to the bumpy ride—in fact, he was leaning out of the open side door, completely unbuckled, his robe whipping around in the wind.
”Coming up fast!” he shouted. Everyone in the helicopter winced in unison, as his shouts echoed through their headsets. To Jeremy’s relief, nobody in D.C. reacted—Makoto had clicked off the transmission on his helmet.
As Jeremy twisted around to look forward, the target was, in fact, getting larger by the second. The two F-16s blew past the black military chopper, peeling off in either direction in another show of force. They’d circle back around and be ready for another pass if they were needed—for all the good that’ll fuckin’ do…
”What are you gonna do?” Jeremy asked, glancing back to Cinza.
Cinza leaned over in her seat, straining to look out while still strapped in. Unlike her lieutenant, she apparently didn’t feel quite so secure riding around in an open helicopter without a seatbelt. She frowned. “We need to get closer.”
”And then what?”
”Helicopters need an engine to power the rotation, right?”
Cinza nodded. “So I disable the engine. They’ll lose power.”
Jeremy gaped at her. “And fall out of the fuckin’ sky!“
”Not likely, sir,” their pilot chimed in, even as he pressed them into a steeper angle of attack. “That bird can autorotate just fine. It’ll lose altitude fast, though. They’ll be forced to put down around here.” They were catching up, though they were losing some altitude on their target. “How close do you need?”
”As close as you can get.” Cinza unstrapped herself and clambered down to the opposite side of the helicopter. Makoto grabbed her around the waist and swung her around, holding her just outside of the helicopter. Her silver hair and robes fluttered wildly in the open wind that blasted her whole body. “Don’t let go.”
Is she making a fuckin’ joke? Right now?
”Ruby would kill me,” said Makoto.
”She still might,” said Cinza—and suddenly, Jeremy could hear the quiver in her voice. Goddamn, she’s actually scared—and she’s still out there. “Just tell her already.”
”Makoto, we’re on the phone with the President of the United States, in the middle of a helicopter chase a mile up in the air, flying to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a billionaire,” Cinza deadpanned. “And you’re not wearing a seatbelt. How are you still afraid to tell her?”
”This isn’t the time,” said Makoto, squeezing his arms tighter around her as she tried to lean out into the open a bit further.
Cinza shook her head, nearly tangling the headset cord that trailed back into the helicopter. “If I die doing this, I want to know Ruby has someone.” Another set of helicopter blades chopped the air nearby. They’d come up on the target, an ugly dark blot on the pale blue sky.
”You’re not going to die,” he said, and Jeremy heard real emotion in his voice—Makoto was afraid, too. “I won’t let you.”
”You might not have a… choice!” Cinza blurted the last word as she thrust a hand forward, then slammed it down. Nothing seemed to happen. “Missed!”
”Do you need more?” asked Makoto.
”As much as you can give me,” Cinza replied. “I’m using too much just on distance. Pilot! Get us closer!”
”You got it— what the hell?”
Jeremy whipped around, suddenly grateful for the seatbelts as the chopper tilted sideways. Cinza fell in, Makoto hooking an arm around the metal bar to keep them both inside. Jeremy strained his eyes through the cockpit canopy, only to see… nothing.
”Where’d they go?”
A new voice crackled onto the headset—if Jeremy had to guess, he assumed it was the other F-16 pilot, based on the callsign and the tone. “Oracle, Wolf-1 has lost the target. Please advise.“
”Wolf-1, repeat last. Tango is still on our scope.“
”Negative, Oracle. Target is missing.“
”Where the fuck did they go?” Jeremy asked, looking around. The sky was totally empty in every direction. “They didn’t go down, did they?”
”Negative,” reported the pilot. “They were there… and then they weren’t.”
”Ill…illusion,” Cinza coughed, getting back upright again. She strapped herself back in, hand clutching her stomach. “It’s a trick of photons. Use radar and get us closer. I can break it if we can find them.”
”This bird doesn’t have local radar.” The pilot flipped a couple switches, then turned on his radio. “Oracle, this is Whiskey-delta-four-zero.”
”Oracle reads, Whiskey-delta. Send traffic.“
”Oracle, I can confirm Tango has engaged active visual camouflage, break.” He paused while he wrestled control back from a particularly choppy patch of air. The helicopter bucked and groaned as it righted itself. “Need coordinates via infrared or radar, over.”
”Oracle copies all, standby.“
Jeremy twisted back to face Cinza. “We’re lookin’. Hang in there.”
She nodded, closing her eyes again. “Makoto, give me more. I’ll find it if they can’t.”
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “How?”
”They’re using my spell,” Cinza snapped, rage seeping into her echoing voice. “A spell she stole and gave away like it was nothing. I will break them.”
”Ashe,” said President Stafford, startling Jeremy. He’d totally forgotten D.C. was still listening in. “What’s going on?“
”The target used magic to turn their helicopter invisible, sir,” Jeremy reported. “We’re trying a countermeasure.”
”Jesus Christ,” murmured someone else whom Jeremy couldn’t identify. Jesus Christ yourself, asshole. This is hard enough to coordinate already. Get off the damn line.
”Whiskey-delta, Oracle has Tango locked. Adjust to zero-two-zero degrees, two-six minutes, and raise altitude by eight hundred feet, over.“
”Roger, Oracle,” said their pilot. Their helicopter immediately started to lift up and turn to the right, chasing their invisible prey.
”Whiskey-delta, increase speed by four-zero, over.“
Cinza coughed again. Her eyes squeezed together tight, and her bare knuckles whitened. A gemstone attached to a bracelet on her wrist evaporated into nothing. “I… can’t reach,” she coughed. “Pilot, get me closer!”
”I’m trying!” he shot back, professionalism waning in the face of such a bizarre chase. “I can’t follow what I can’t damn well see!”
”Whiskey-delta, Oracle. New heading. Adjust zero-three-zero, oh-nine minutes, over.”
”Roger, Oracle.” The helicopter swung to the right yet again.
”No!” Cinza cried, her dark eyes flying open. “That’s the wrong way!”
The pilot shook his head, but keyed his radio up again. “Oracle, check heading again, please.” Jeremy craned his neck in every direction, trying to see any hint of the helicopter—strange winds, trees bending from the downdraft, birds flying out of the way. If he could just spot it…
”…Whiskey-delta, Oracle has lost Tango.“
Kendra coughed hard, gasping for air. She looked like she was going to vomit—and Jeremy’s prediction proved true a moment later, as she doubled over.
”Oracle, repeat last,” said the pilot.
”Oracle has lost the target. Negative signature reading.“
”Look again!” Cinza shouted, twisting around in her seat. The loose belts barely held her small frame in place, even while Jeremy’s felt like it was cutting into his shoulders. “They have to be here!”
”Girl, if there’s no signature, we’re blind,” the pilot shot back. “The thing’s gone.”
”Magnetics! EM! Anything!”
He shook his head. “We know what we’re doing. There’s nothing on God’s green earth that can detect them if Oracle can’t.”
”We’ve fought a god,” Cinza snapped. “We won.” She dug into the folds of her robe and withdrew a phone, dialing fast. “…Nikki.”
…The Rallsburg girl from Cinza’s cult? The fuck’s she gonna do? Jeremy glanced at Makoto, hoping for an answer, but the quiet young man simply leaned back out of his door again, still hoping desperately to spot the helicopter in the sky.
”Nikki,” said Cinza again, surprisingly calm after the outbursts to the pilot. The phone was tucked into the ear of her headset, so she could still hear Jeremy over the chopper noise. “I need that location, as precise as you can manage.”
”They’ve gotta be nearby, right?” asked Jeremy, glancing up to the pilot. “What was the range on that model?”
”Depends,” said the pilot.
”Can they get to London?”
”What’s in London?” asked President Stafford.
”Hailey Winscombe,” said Kimberly.
”Cornelius Malton,” Cinza corrected, moving her phone away from her mouth for a moment. “The man responsible for Lakewood, for the murder of Jessica Silverdale, and now for an abduction.”
”Can you prove any of that?“
”I will.” Cinza paused, listening to her phone. She muttered something under her breath, then hung up and pocketed the phone before speaking again. “They’re going to London in a private jet. We won’t catch them in this.”
”How can you be sure?” asked the President.
”Oh, for fu—“
Jeremy spoke up, cutting Kimberly off. “She’s not lying, sir. This is a sensitive abduction and we need to beat the target there, if possible.”
”Kimberly, what sort of transport do we have available for our friend Cinza? Any jets on standby?“
Oh, she’s a friend now? Huh. A different, male voice replied, “Nothing that can seat four plus a pilot, sir.“
”I have… a plane,” Kendra interjected—the first words she’d spoken since leaving the Greywood.
”Who was that?“
Jeremy clicked a button on his headset to cut off their transmission, and gestured at Kendra to do the same. The chopper continued to circle the area, and Makoto was still looking left and right, but they’d obviously stopped expecting to find anything. “Kendra, they can’t hear us anymore. What d’you mean you’ve got a plane?”
She tapped at her chest, taking a few more shallow breaths before speaking again. “Waiting… in Tacoma. A Gulfstream sent by my father for… Mr. Wilmore.” The corner of her mouth twitched upward in a weak smile. “It would be rude… to keep him waiting… any longer.”
Jeremy clicked his radio back on. “I need ATC clearance for a Gulfstream registered to Laushire Enterprises at SeaTac. Emergency takeoff. Clear the runway.” He glanced back at Kendra, who was once again heaving, her eyes downcast and her hand trembling. “Get me an EMT team too. One that doesn’t mind takin’ a day trip.”
Their helicopter put down less than a hundred feet away from the sharp-angled private jet. In the distance, Jeremy saw a line of passenger planes waiting to taxi, but the runway was totally clear—an order from the President of the United States was more than enough to halt all traffic. As requested, a duo of EMTs stationed at the airport were waiting right outside for them. Kendra was taken off the helicopter and helped up into the jet, while Cinza, Jeremy, and Makoto followed just behind.
If anyone recognized Kendra, they gave no sign—Jeremy wasn’t sure if they’d told the pilot his passenger had arrived, or simply commandeered it in the name of national security. Regardless, within a couple minutes, they’d taxied out onto the runway. The jet wound up, and—with a burst of acceleration that had Jeremy’s stomach threatening to burst out of his throat—they were in the air.
”Flight time is approximately five point five hours to London,” said the pilot over the intercom system. “Please don’t hesitate to inform the crew if you require anything.“
”Thanks,” Jeremy grunted, before flicking it back off.
The EMTs sat Kendra down on the couch with an oxygen mask. She took it off every few seconds to speak, though her brisk tone hadn’t changed in the slightest despite the obvious difficulty. “I will probably fall unconscious soon,” she reported, with such nonchalance that Jeremy’s mouth fell open.
”What the fuck is going on?” he asked.
Kendra held up a hand before he could continue. She turned to the paramedics. “Could we have the room, please?”
They glanced at each other, bewildered, before the senior of the two spoke. “Ma’am, we’re doing our best to keep you breathing, but I’m not sure how we can help if you won’t tell us what the problem is.”
”I’m sorry to say that you couldn’t help even if I did,” she replied. She forced a smile. “I appreciate your efforts despite all the confusion.”
They didn’t exactly look happy about it—and Jeremy couldn’t blame them, they were just trying to do their jobs—but the paramedics left to the forward cabin, leaving the four of them alone.
Kendra took another deep breath from the oxygen mask before continuing. “I expect we’ll encounter my father upon landing.”
”I can take care of him,” said Jeremy.
She smiled. “Not likely. I watched your exchange.” She coughed hard, doubling over. Cinza rushed to her side, helping her back to an upright position. Cinza put her hand onto the mask to help stabilize it. After another brief coughing fit, Kendra managed to speak again. “You must not get distracted. Once I lose consciousness, I will be expending all of my energy simply to maintain myself and my sister.”
”How?” asked Makoto.
Kendra looked at him oddly. “Magic, of course.”
”No, I meant…”
Makoto trailed off. Kendra’s eyes had fluttered closed.
Cinza pressed a hand to her neck. “She’s still there.” She raised her voice. “Come back in, please!”
The paramedics returned. Cinza directed them to set up an IV drip and oxygen, which they supplemented with emergency supplies stowed away on the jet. They tried to make Kendra more comfortable, laying her out on the couch and covering her up with a blanket, but there was only so much they could do. After the EMTs gave them a shrug and a curt dismissal, the trio retreated to the front cabin.
As soon as they were alone, Jeremy rounded on Cinza. “So she’s got a cloned twin sister?”
”Yes,” said Cinza.
”…Why the fuck…” Jeremy trailed off, not even sure what he was asking. Why? How? When? …Why?
”I couldn’t tell you why.” Cinza glanced back toward the closed door to the rear, concern creasing her brow. “Kenda Laushire and I never had the strongest relationship. I’d go so far as to think she hated me. We are polar opposites in many ways.”
”…But you’re still here.”
”Indeed I am.” Cinza took a seat in one of the cushy armchairs, pulling her feet up and sitting back. She’s fuckin’ tiny… and creepy as hell. “And I meant what I said. On my life, I’ll rescue Lily.”
”‘Cause she knows where you live?” Jeremy asked, thinking he’d finally struck on the real reason.
Cinza shook her head. “Because I took her into my protection, and I keep my promises.” She glanced over at her lieutenant. “Get some sleep, if you can. No telling when we’re going to get another chance.”
Makoto shook his head. “I slept enough.”
”In that case, see if there’s any food.” Cinza yawned, stretching her arms out. “Ruby and I hadn’t yet sat down for breakfast.”
Makoto got up, wandering around between the cabinets in the walls and rifling through them at random. Jeremy turned back to Cinza, eyes narrowed. “Why’d she get knocked out?”
Cinza looked at him oddly. “I assumed you understood by now.”
Jeremy shrugged. “You people keep a lot of fuckin’ secrets.”
She nodded. “Fair enough. Thank you, Makoto,” she added, accepting a box of cereal he’d found. She opened it and began to eat the cereal dry, straight out of the bag, and mixing it with olives Makoto had found in another cabinet. Jeremy winced, but she didn’t notice. After a minute, she cleared her throat and went on. “Magic takes energy to enact. If a spell holds a continuous effect, like the one protecting my home, it must be fed to keep it functioning.”
”So Lily Laushire’s made of magic?”
Cinza nodded. “I wasn’t even aware she was a creation until this morning, keep in mind. This is all speculation. However, I would assume that Lily was born by magic, as a result of Kendra attempting to create a copy of herself. For what purpose, I can’t fathom, but it’s no question that she succeeded.”
”No shit,” said Jeremy. “What did she mean by ‘she’s never been this far’, though?”
”Well, since Lily’s creation, I’d assume neither have left the Pacific Northwest, or even strayed more than a few dozen miles apart at the absolute. The energy to cast a spell increases by many factors—strength, complexity, and most importantly right now: distance.”
”So the further she gets away—”
”The more it takes out of Kendra,” Cinza finished, with a dark look in her eyes. She set the cereal aside on the end table, swallowing down a glass of milk. “I’m shocked it hasn’t killed her outright.”
”…Jesus fuck, you can do that?” Jeremy gasped. No wonder everybody’s scared of this shit.
Cinza nodded. “There aren’t any safeguards for yourself; only other people are protected from your ambitions. If it were anyone besides Kendra, they’d undoubtedly have perished by now.”
”‘cept Kendra’s one of your special eight,” said Jeremy, filling in the gaps.
She raised an eyebrow. “You know about that?”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “First you assume I know everythin’, now you’re surprised I know things? Make up your damn mind.”
”I’m sorry.” Cinza sighed, refilling her glass with water. She stared at the windows for a moment, watching the clouds speed by in a pale blur beneath them. “…I’m afraid you and I aren’t going to get along, Agent Ashe.”
The fuck? “Why’s that?”
”I’ve never had the best relationship with law enforcement. It’s not personal, but I’ve no intention of repairing that bridge today.” She continued to stare out the window away from him. “I’m working with you out of respect for your assistance rendered to Hailey Winscombe, and out of strict necessity. Beyond that, I’ve no intention to subject myself to the authority of the American government again.”
Jesus Christ, now she’s a revolutionary. “The government you live under,” he pointed out.
”One that’s never done much for me,” she replied.
A phone buzzed. Makoto shifted in his seat and pulled it out, taking the call. “Cinza,” he said after a moment. “Nikki says they’re in a plane, and she could see the ocean underneath.” He paused, listening further. “She says Lily was bound up, but fully conscious and responsive. Riley was nearby, along with a few people she couldn’t identify.”
”Good.” Cinza nodded. “Thank her for me, please.”
”Thanks, Nikki.” Makoto nodded again. “I will.” He hung up and pocketed it. “Ruby wants to remind you that you’re still weak, and…” He trailed off, looking embarrassed.
”…And?” asked Cinza, a hint of a smirk curling her lips.
”And if you ever want to… sleep with her again, you have to come back in one piece.”
”As strong an incentive as any,” said Cinza. She leaned back in her armchair, closing her eyes. “Well, if you aren’t going to get any sleep, I believe I’ll try.” One eye popped back open, eyeing Jeremy. “You should attempt to contact Hailey again. She might be able to help.”
”Hasn’t worked the last dozen times,” Jeremy grumbled. Nonetheless, he pulled out his own phone and dialed her up.
After ten rings without an answer, he dashed off a text: they were heading to London, and Malton had abducted one of Cinza’s people. He didn’t trust Hailey’s phone to be secure, so he refrained from mentioning Kendra or Lily. I don’t understand what the fuck Lily is, and it ain’t my place to tell the world about it. Jeremy also called (and sent the same message, after he failed to pick up) his partner. Once they landed, he’d finally get to work with Lani again—so there was something to look forward to in London, at least. With nothing better to do (and Makoto proving an entirely silent flight partner), Jeremy fell into old habits, heading into the bathroom for some privacy.
He called his sister.
Maddie sounded like she was just waking up—which, since it was Saturday, was entirely possible. “Why are you callin’ me in the middle of the damn morning?”
”As it always fuckin’ is,” she grumbled, still half-asleep.
”Well, I’m flyin’ to London with Cinza and Kendra to rescue her secret magic clone sister, who just got kidnapped this morning by a spy in Cinza’s camp who’s been there for weeks, sent by Cornelius fuckin’ Malton. How was your damn Friday?”
A choking sound, followed by the phone clattering onto the floor. Maddie picked it back up in a hurry. “The fuck?”
”Right what says on the can, Maddie.” Jeremy shrugged. “Every time I think my life ain’t gettin’ more weird…”
”Should I get Rachel on the phone?”
”Fuck that.” Jeremy leaned back against the wall, staring at the ceiling. “I don’t need more complications. You know Hailey’s gonna get involved when we get there. Somehow.”
”…Run me back to ‘secret magic clone sister’,” said Maddie slowly.
”Apparently, Kendra Laushire’s got a twin sister named Lily.”
”…No, she doesn’t.”
”No, she doesn’t,” agreed Jeremy. Okay, I’m being an asshole right now, but it’s better than going insane overthinking all this shit.
”Jere-bear, I swear to God—”
”Lily Laushire is made out of fuckin’ magic. She’s a clone.”
Maddie paused, breathing into the phone mic. Jeremy grinned in spite of himself—finally, someone else who didn’t just take all this in stride. “…You’re fuckin’ with me.”
”Swear to Christ, Maddie. Kendra Laushire made herself a twin sister.”
”Well, what the fuck am I supposed to do with that?”
”You tell me.” Jeremy shook his head, slouching even further down onto the floor. “Anyway. Seems that if Kendra and Lily get too far apart, Kendra might die, and take Lily with her. So we’re bookin’ it to London to try and keep ’em together.”
”They’re actually two people?” asked Maddie. “Not just Kendra controlling her or something?”
”As far as I know, yeah. Two different people.” Jeremy shrugged. “Hard to get a straight answer though. Kendra’s out cold and Cinza hates authority figures, ‘specially cops.”
”Liked the President though,” Jeremy added, grinning like mad. He wished he could see Maddie’s reaction in that moment.
”…How the fu—” Maddie’s voice dropped, though Jeremy could hear a stream of curses echoing through the room. “You two spoke to the goddamn President of the United States?”
”Durin’ the helicopter chase.”
Maddie coughed a few times, as if choking back something she’d swallowed wrong. “Jere-bear, I swear to God if you’re making this up…”
”Have I ever lied to you?”
”Yes, you fucker,” Maddie growled, “so don’t give me any shit right now.”
Jeremy sighed. “Every single word, Maddie. I’m dead tired but too hopped up on adrenaline to sleep, and as soon as I land we’re gonna be rolling through town tryin’ to find the motherfucker who kidnapped Lily. I’m still hopin’ this is some batshit dream I’m stuck in.”
”No shit…” Maddie trailed off thoughtfully. “So… Kendra made a human clone. With magic.”
”Yeah.” Jeremy frowned. “The fuck does that mean, exactly? Not, literally, but, you know.”
”Well, in politics, cloning’s a fuckin’ minefield, I can tell you that.” Maddie sighed. “That’s more to do with selective breeding and baby boutique shit though. There’s arguments to be made for weeding out birth defects, autism, shit like that—but man, do I not want to go there.”
”Okay, but Lily ain’t been born. She just popped into existence at thirty-two.”
Maddie hesitated. “Who knows? Legally, I can tell you she probably qualifies as a citizen of the United States.”
”Even though Kendra ain’t?”
”Yup. If Lily was… well, ‘born’ here, she’s a natural born citizen, same as you and me. I guess Kendra would be her legal mother.”
”And sister.” Jeremy pressed a hand to his temple in exasperation. “This is too fuckin’ strange for me.”
”Ethics professors are gonna have a goddamn field day with this one.” Maddie chuckled. “Wait, if Kendra’s knocked out, how’s Lily still… you know, alive?”
”I guess it still works while she’s out,” said Jeremy, shrugging. “She had to keep her sister alive while she sleeps this whole time, right? Or d’you think she’s just popping in and out of existence every time she goes to bed?”
”I sure fuckin’ hope not,” said Maddie fearfully. “That sounds brutal.”
”Jesus… How do you keep that up, every day, non-stop?” Jeremy asked, gazing back up at the ceiling lamp. It flickered ominously. “What the hell does she get out of it?”
”She gets a sister, ass-hat,” said Maddie. “Not that I understand why she wants one.”
”Well, I do.”
”…You’re sweet, Jere-bear, but say that again in company and I’ll smack ya.” Maddie laughed. “How long ’til you land?”
”I got time.”
Jeremy and Maddie talked and talked, to the point that he plugged in his phone just to make sure it wouldn’t run dry in the middle of London. He went over everything he’d been through since leaving to pick up Kendra—from the angry crowds in Seattle to the sudden appearance of Lily, from the newly awakened Lani to Cinza’s Greywood camp. Talking to his sister helped him steady himself, helped him focus. Jeremy needed focus if he was about to go into who-knew-what in the middle of the United Kingdom.
”So, any tips on dealin’ with the Brits?” he asked.
”Fuck if I know,” said Maddie. “I’ve never been on foreign relations or anything close to it. You’re on your own.”
”Great help, Maddie.”
”Anytime, little bro.”
He groaned. “I’m taller than you.”
”You’ll always be my little bro,” she laughed.
Jeremy sighed. “Maddie, I feel like a goddamn chess piece.”
Her tone fell, mirth instantly gone. She switched back to the caring sister in an instant. “What do you mean?”
”My partner gets caught up in Rallsburg, and I happen to land the case. Then everybody from Grey-eyes to fuckin’ Margaret Bensen picks me up and throws me wherever they damn well please. You remember how I got on this fuckin’ plane, right?”
”…I told you Kendra wanted your help with something,” said Maddie slowly.
”Jeremy, you aren’t a chess piece.”
”No shit,” said Jeremy, “but it’d be nice to feel like I’m not just gettin’ used by everybody.”
”You aren’t, and here’s why: you chose to go after this case. You spotted Jackie’s car in that video, you hunted down Rachel. You tracked Boris Morozov down in the middle of the damn forest in Canada.”
”So what you’re sayin’ is—”
”You brought this on yourself,” said Maddie cheerfully. “Suck it up and don’t fuck it up.”
”This is the captain. We’ve been cleared to descend and begin our approach to London City Airport at this time. Please take your seats.“
”…Right into the thick of it, huh?” said Maddie.
Jeremy sighed. “I’ll call you later.”
”You must be in a rich people plane, if your phone worked all the way across the damn Atlantic.”
”It’s got heated seats, beds and a full kitchen,” said Jeremy. “And I spent most of it in the goddamn bathroom talkin’ to you.”
”Eat anything good, at least?”
Jeremy grinned. “Cinza ate some dry cereal straight out of the box mixed with olives from the damn mini-bar.”
”…Who the fuck is that girl?”
”I’ll tell you when I find out for myself.” Jeremy got to his feet, stretching out. His shoulders and back were sore from sitting in such an awkwardly small space for so long. The bathroom on the jet was roomy, but even so. “Jesus, this was a bad idea.”
”I told you to move.”
”Can’t get any damn privacy in a plane this tiny.”
Maddie laughed. “Get to work, Jere-bear. Call me later.”
”You got it.”
Jeremy went back into the main cabin. Cinza was fast asleep, curled up in her chair with her head on the armrest. Her hair was dark brown now, instead of the shining silver-grey Jeremy was used to. Makoto leaned against the far wall, watching out the window intently as they approached the London skyline. Jeremy nodded at her, but Makoto shook his head. “When it’s time,” he said quietly.
”Who are you?” Jeremy asked, walking over to join the young Japanese lieutenant.
He hesitated, still watching out the window. “Nobody who matters.”
”You’re the right hand guy to a girl who just announced to the President of the United States that she’s forming her own goddamn country inside their borders,” said Jeremy. “I think you’re gonna find you fuckin’ matter now.”
Makoto shook his head. “We don’t want that.”
”Pretty sure she does,” said Jeremy, nodding at the sleeping Cinza again.
”Why do you think that?”
”‘Cause she fuckin’ did it.” Jeremy shook his head in exasperation. “What else do you figure she meant by ‘open relations with your government’?”
”She knows what she’s doing,” he said firmly.
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “Sounds to me like she’s makin’ up the whole damn thing as she goes.”
”If she is, I trust her to find the right path.”
Fuckin’ cults. The plane started to pitch forward. Jeremy and Makoto took the nearest seats and strapped themselves in. Cinza stirred after a particularly rough bump in the air. As she woke, her hair shifted back to silver once more, matching the robes she was currently using as a blanket. Her eyes blinked rapidly, finding Makoto’s in no time.
”Call Nikki,” she said without hesitation. Jesus, I wish I could wake up that fast.
Makoto nodded, pulling out his phone. “…They touched down as well. She says they’re in London. She saw license plates and the river out the windows.”
Cinza nodded. “How long until we land?”
The plane bumped onto the tarmac, as if to answer her question. A huge rushing sound of wind coupled with the skidding of tires filled the cabin as the jet screeched to a halt on the short London runway. Finally, they jerked to a halt. Cinza unstrapped herself before the pilot could get onto the intercom.
”Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve touched down at London City Airport. I’ve been asked to inform you that Sir Thomas Laushire is awaiting your debarkation on the tarmac.“
Jeremy glanced at Cinza. “…Well, now what?”
Cinza shrugged. “We need someone to take care of Kendra while we track down her sister. Who better?”
Makes sense… but you ain’t gotta sound so fuckin’ cold about it. Jeremy took a deep breath, getting to his feet. “Well… let’s get this over with.”
Jeremy had no clue what they’d told the man. Sure, they’d arrived in the plane he sent across the world, but who was he expecting to see coming out of it? Certainly not the ragged band that emerged onto the stairwell.
He took the lead, stomping down the stairs two at a time. Behind him, Cinza followed in boots, while Makoto was only a few steps behind. Thomas Laushire’s eyes narrowed as he saw Jeremy—they’d parted on less-than-amicable terms, after all. Jeremy had been fairly close to punching the man in the face out of sheer irritation (and boredom).
”Mr. Ashe,” he said curtly. “I wasn’t aware you were acquainted with Mr. Wilmore.” Thomas frowned. “May I ask why you were on board my jet?”
Jeremy’s mouth fell open. He doesn’t even know… the fuck? Well, no wonder his wife ain’t here… “Look, Mr. Laushire…” he started, but Cinza cut in, stepping in front of him.
”Thomas Laushire, correct?” she said, extending a hand. After a brief, confused moment, he shook it. “My name is Cinza.” Thomas’ eyes widened with recognition—between the name and the robes, it wasn’t hard to put two-and-two together, after the media circus caused by Hailey and the Diaries. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a lot of time, so you’ll need to accept certain facts as I explain them to you without question. Do you understand?”
”…Excuse me?” He sounded affronted. “I beg your pard—”
”You have it,” Cinza interrupted. “And I beg yours for what I’m about to tell you.” She glanced over her shoulder, where the EMTs were emerging, carrying a stretcher. “Thomas, those men are carrying your daughter. She’s alive,” Cinza added quickly, as Thomas’ mouth fell open. “She’s currently fighting to keep someone very dear to her alive as well. We’ve come to rescue that person—but to do this, we need to be sure Kendra is safe and cared for.”
”Oh my God…” Thomas murmured, as Kendra’s face came into view. She still had an oxygen mask strapped to her face, and the EMTs had wrapped her in a blanket to help preserve some dignity as they carried her down—or to shield her from the goddamn winter. Jesus, it’s cold out. “What… What happened to her?”
”I don’t have time to explain,” said Cinza firmly. “You need to protect her at all costs, Thomas. Give us a car and a driver, and take her somewhere she will be safe and cared for. These men will accompany you—” She gestured to the two EMTs, who looked like they were sincerely regretting volunteering for this little excursion. “—while we track down the people responsible for this.”
”…Who?” Thomas asked, his voice weak and shaking. He picked up his daughter’s limp hand, holding it tight to his chest. “Who did this?”
”Cornelius Malton,” said Cinza. Jeremy winced, but he couldn’t exactly refute her—he was just as sure Malton was responsible. Talk about throwin’ lighter fluid on the damn bonfire, though…
Thomas’ eyes widened. “Cornelius…? But… why—”
”Thomas!” Cinza snapped. “A car and a driver!”
”Jeremy! Cinza!” shouted a new voice. Jeremy turned around to see Lani waving from across the tarmac. Oh thank God, he got my message. “I’ve got a car! Let’s go!”
Cinza promptly turned back to Thomas. “On second thought, focus on your daughter.” She nodded to Makoto, who sprinted away toward Lani. Cinza started hurrying away as well without another word, but Jeremy hesitated just a moment.
”…Sorry about before,” he muttered.
Thomas looked around surprised, as if he’d forgotten Jeremy was even there. “I’m sorry?”
”I was an asshole,” Jeremy said more firmly. “I’m gonna make sure your daughter comes out of this. You keep her safe.” Both of ’em. Or the same one twice. Fuck, I don’t know. Whatever you want to call ’em.
”…Thank you,” said Thomas. Jeremy nodded, then sprinted away to join the others. As he ran, Thomas shouted one final question at him, one desperate cry from a confused father. “But which one of you is Wilmore?”
”She is!” Jeremy shouted back, pointing at Kendra. He got one last glimpse of Thomas’ dumbstruck face before he turned to follow Cinza.
Cinza looked at Jeremy curiously as he caught up, but said nothing. Lani pulled up in a nice-looking car—’cause Lani always has to have the nicest wheels around…—with Makoto already in the passenger seat. Jeremy eyed him, and Makoto got the message right away. He scrambled to the back, and Jeremy sat down next to his partner.
As soon as Cinza was on board, they shot off onto the narrow London streets. Jeremy sighed as Lani took them smoothly around corners and weaved through traffic like a professional. About time I had a real driver again. Makes me appreciate Jackie even more. I wonder what she’s up to right now… Bet she’s in even more shit than I am.
”Two hours after I landed,” said Lani, grinning. Jeremy rolled his eyes, but he had to admit he felt better already. “You missed me that much?”
”You know the bullshit I’ve been through since you left?” Jeremy groaned.
”Yeah, Makoto filled me in.”
”Everything happens when you ain’t around, Lani,” he sighed. “I’m never lettin’ you out of my sight again.”
”I got shot with you,” he pointed out.
”Better you than me!”
Lani laughed. “Where are we headed?”
”I’m getting a location right now,” Cinza reported, phone to her ear. “Nikki’s casting the spell again.”
Jeremy frowned, gripping the armrest as the car darted around another corner. Lani was taking them out to a main street, where they could get to any part of the city without too much maneuvering around traffic. “So if distance matters so much with Kendra, how’s a girl way back in Rallsburg gettin’ locations for someone in fuckin’ England?”
”Knowledge magic doesn’t seem to follow that rule,” said Lani, twirling the steering wheel beneath his fingers. As motion sick as Jeremy got in helicopters and planes, he didn’t feel a thing when Lani drove, for whatever reason. It was strangely comforting to be tossed around by someone he trusted—even if drivin’ on the left is fuckin’ bizarre. “Nobody knows why.”
”I don’t know anythin’,” Jeremy grumbled.
Cinza tapped Makoto on the shoulder, who pulled out his own phone. She rattled off an address, and he soon had navigation open on an app. “Turn left up here,” she said.
Lani took them around the curve easily. “So… we’re goin’ after Malton,” he said.
…He’s way too fuckin’ cheerful. Did Makoto not tell him…? “Kidnapped Lily Laushire,” said Jeremy.
”Wow…” Lani shook his head. “How’s Kendra doing?”
”Blacked out on the plane. We dropped her off with her dad.”
Lani grinned. “You dropped her off personally?”
He glanced over at Jeremy. “No way.”
Jeremy rolled his eyes. “Shut up and drive.”
”Left again up here,” said Cinza.
They sped through the streets, Cinza reading off the directions and Lani taking them in turn. After twenty minutes or so, they got another location update from Nikki to confirm their target hadn’t changed. Apparently the girl was getting exhausted from the magic, so they couldn’t get too many more, but she was sticking it out as long as she could. Jeremy pulled out his pistol, double-checking the load just in case.
”Lani, you good?” he asked.
”Took mine at the gate, as usual,” he sighed. Jeremy shook his head in disgust. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the spare he’d packed—way back when he’d set out to visit Kendra at her office.
He handed the gun over. Lani stuck it into his holster. “Thanks.”
”We’re two blocks away,” Cinza reported.
”Pull off here,” said Jeremy. Lani did, and they got out. Jeremy shivered again in the winter chill, ducking into an alley and peering out around the corner of the building. The rest of the group piled up behind him, waiting for his next move. “It’s that building?” he asked, pointing at a fairly unremarkable grey office building ahead. “You sure?”
”Nikki saw that exact façade, and the street number,” Cinza confirmed. “Lily should be inside, basement level. Two guards plus Riley.”
”Plus… what?” asked Lani, looking around. “They took Riley too?”
Jeremy shook his head. Jesus… Lani, I’m so sorry… “No, man… Riley took her.”
”Riley… what?” Lani’s eyes narrowed. He looked seriously pissed—more than Jeremy had ever seen in their whole partnership. “You’re wrong.”
”I really wish I was.”
”You saw her?”
Makoto put a hand on Lani’s shoulder. “Her tracks, her jeep. Straight to the helicopter, and Nikki saw her on the plane.”
”…Maybe Nikki got it wrong,” said Lani desperately.
”She’s never wrong,” said Cinza softly.
”Lani,” said Jeremy forcefully. Lani glared at him, but didn’t say a word. “Riley works for Malton. She took Lily. She lied to you, and lied to all of us too. She’s in that buildin’ right now. We’re about to breach. Are you good?”
Lani took a deep breath, though his glare didn’t subside in the slightest. “…Yeah, I’m good,” he said finally.
Cinza looked at Jeremy, seeking confirmation. Like hell I’m going in there without my partner. Jeremy nodded, and she turned away, satisfied. Jeremy tapped Lani on the shoulder, leaning down next to him. “I’m with you,” he murmured. “I got your back, no matter what.”
”…You know I hated being your partner this year?” said Lani quietly.
”Got assigned to the most famous agent in our whole station, only to find out he’s famous for being an asshole who never gets anything done.” Lani glanced at him, a weak smile on his face. “Gotta say, they were totally wrong on the second half.”
Jeremy grinned. “That’s Special Agent Asshole, motherfucker.” He clapped Lani on the back, standing up straight again. “Let’s do this.”
They went in quietly—with a small team of four, there was no reason to risk anything drastic. Cinza kept them invisible, and Makoto picked the lock. Jeremy still wasn’t sure how they were invisible, since to his eyes they looked totally normal, but given the security guard staring right at them from across the lobby, he wasn’t about to question it.
Another door, another lock and they were heading down into the basement. Suddenly, it wasn’t a plain office building anymore—it was a high-tech fortress, sporting heavy steel doors locked down by multiple layers of security. They passed through a corridor of the things, heading to the exact spot Nikki had specified.
Not a single guard to be seen, to Jeremy’s surprise, as they passed through the basement. When they reached the door in question and examined it more closely, he realized why—nothing short of shaped blasting charges were getting through that door.
”…Now what?” Jeremy asked, glancing at Cinza.
She smiled. “Now, we show the limits of technology.”
Cinza held out her hands. Makoto took one, and Lani took the other. Jeremy stepped back, his skin already crawling. He checked the magazine on his pistol again, just to reassure himself.
Cinza closed her eyes. “Begin,” she murmured.
Nothing seemed to happen. Jeremy glanced around, nervous that someone might walk up on them, but the corridor remained empty. Cinza was frowning, her eyelids pressing down tight. Suddenly, he could feel something—energy building up in the air, like electricity before a storm. He took another step back, as if the paltry distance could protect him from whatever Cinza was about to do.
”Now!” Cinza shouted, and flung her hands forward.
An ear-splitting sound of tearing metal echoed through the basement corridors. The door in front of them buckled inward for an instant, before tearing off its hinges and flying across the chamber inside. As it slammed against the far wall with a huge bang, Jeremy saw the crumpled bodies of the two guards behind it. They fell to the ground, and the door fell on top of them.
They twitched, groaning underneath the heavy door. Jeremy was fairly certain they were both stuck, completely removed from the equation. Good thing, too, he realized as he rushed in, weapon drawn—because the other occupant of the chamber hadn’t wasted a second.
Riley was inside, crouched behind a bound and gagged Lily Laushire—and with a pistol aimed at the side of her head. Her pale blue eyes flashed with surprise underneath her short brown hair, but her face was hard and set—practically emotionless, a stark contrast from the friendly photographer Jeremy had met only the day before.
Lani took a step forward. “…Why?”
Riley didn’t answer, staring at Cinza with an expression cold and sharp as ice. Jesus Christ, those are the eyes of a killer. How the hell did I not see her? “What happens now?” she asked, her tone frostier than a frozen river.
”You give us Lily,” said Cinza, her voice ragged. She was leaning on Makoto for support. “You tell us where Cornelius is, and you get to live.”
”Hang on,” said Jeremy. “Nobody’s killin’ anybody here.”
”I might,” said Lani—and with how hurt he sounded, Jeremy actually believed him.
”Nobody’s killin’,” he repeated firmly. “We turn this over to the authorities. She goes to jail for a long-ass time.”
”Assuming your authorities can hold her,” said Cinza.
”So we’ll figure the damn thing out!” Jeremy snapped. “We’re workin’ on it! That doesn’t mean we should become fuckin’ murderers!”
”Is it murder to protect your family?”
Jeremy glanced at her, though he kept a careful eye on Riley out of the corner of his eye—and his gun trained squarely on her. “Since when is Lily fuckin’ Laushire your family?”
”Since May fifteenth, two thousand eighteen,” said Cinza firmly. Since the day Rallsburg died… Jesus Christ… Cinza took a step forward, and Riley pressed the gun harder into Lily’s temple. Lily’s eyes widened, frantic, and they could hear her desperately trying to speak through the gag.
”Riley,” said Makoto from the back of the room. His own hands were up now, and he looked deadly calm. “You know what we can do. This won’t hold us back.”
”No,” she agreed, to Jeremy’s surprise—though she still didn’t move a muscle. “I have insurance.”
Cinza stopped moving—as did Makoto. Lani still looked like he might shoot, but Jeremy trusted him to never pull the trigger, even in circumstances as insane as these. Since no one else spoke, he gave in and asked the question they were all wondering.
”What fuckin’ insurance?”
”Filed with a law firm. If I don’t report in, they will go public.” Riley glanced at Cinza. “Information about Lily Laushire, a woman who should not exist. The location of your home and the means to penetrate its defenses. Your entire library of spells.”
Cinza shook her head. “Information that will become public sooner or later. We can deal with the consequences.”
Riley’s eyes narrowed. “Information about a certain middle school child.”
Who the fu… oh… Shit. Cinza’s eyes widened. Her voice trembled slightly, echoing through the cold chamber. “You don’t know who that is. We made sure of it.”
Riley’s expression didn’t waver in the slightest. “I know she attends middle school in Seattle. How long do you think it will take the public to deduce her identity? Particularly if she’s one of the empowered eight?” She practically spat the last couple words—so strong was her disgust. Who the fuck is this woman?
”Riley…” Lani said, his voice weak. “Why?”
Riley’s eyes flicked over to Lani, though she didn’t move a muscle otherwise. Her voice shifted into the warm tone of the woman they’d met—the woman Lani had fallen for. “Lani, I gotta do what I gotta do. I’m sorry.”
”Fuck you,” Jeremy growled. Lani trembled in place, unable to speak.
Riley’s voice switched back to cold yet again. “So… have you decided?”
Makoto glanced at Cinza, clearly unsure. Jeremy pointedly looked up at the ceiling. “London Police are on their way. You’ll be surrounded sooner or later.”
”And unless you want this information made public, you will ensure my safe and quiet departure,” said Riley.
”Don’t lie,” she added. “My team reports no police inbound.”
Shit… who’s she wired into? We could ge—
Jeremy’s thought was interrupted as Riley looked down suddenly—the first moment she’d broken her perfect stance holding onto Lily. Jeremy was about to move in, attempt to take the opening, but the opportunity was lost a moment later. Riley looked over her shoulder, eyes wide—and dove out of the way.
The fuck? Jeremy had a split-second to move—rush her and try to get Lily out of the line of fire, or get out of there before whatever could scare Riley got him, too. He went with the safe option, falling back.
An instant later, he knew he’d made the right call.
The solid stone wall exploded, chunks of rock utterly annihilated in a massive burst. Dust filled the room—only to be sucked away by a rushing wind. Jeremy struggled back to his feet, still clutching his pistol tight, and the rest of the room followed suit. Riley still clutched Lily tight, gun to her head, as the whole room seemed to rotate to face the new doorway that had just been blasted into it—and the figure standing in the middle of the dust cloud.
”…What the hell is going on in here?” asked Hailey.