UNMAKE (Spellhounds Book 2), page 11
“See,” I said. “She wants an explain.” I pulled my shirt over my head.
I swear, Eric’s beard bristled in annoyance. “She isn’t the one who gets to decide.”
“Well, she kind of walked in on me mid-transformation, dude, so unless you have one of those mind-blank guns from Men in Black, I think we’re out of options.”
“Oh my God,” Krista said. “You’re a werewolf.”
I paused, hand on my glasses. “Uh, no. So-”
“I knew there couldn’t be that much media out there with all those werewolves and vampires and stuff in it if it wasn’t real!” she squealed, slapping an exam table. “Oh my God! It’s real! It’s real. It’s. Real.”
Her hand flew to her forehead. “I have to sit down,” she said. “Oh my God. I’m best friends with a werewolf. That is so cool.”
She was spinning around, looking at everything like it was totally new. Like she didn’t know what a floor was, or an electric razor, or a sink.
I took my glasses back off so I could rub the bridge of my nose. “I guess that’s close enough for now.”
“The point is!” Eric said, one hand clenched in his dark hair. “We’ve got to go find Helena right now. So you can stay here and talk about your theories for the next Twilight book, or you can get your asses in the car!”
He lumbered back into the office and out the door. I looked at Krista, who blinked at me.
“You want to tell him the Twilight series is done?” She asked.
“I’ll let you break the news,” I said. “But for real, Kris. Hel is in trouble. I promise, I’ll explain everything later, but it’s probably best if you stay out of it.”
She laughed at me. Which made sense. She was Krista. Of course she was going to believe in magic, and werewolves, and saving her friend from going on trial for blood magic.
I expected a reckoning later, but for now, I was just glad she knew. Selfishly, I was glad to have my best friend in on the biggest secret of my life.
When we locked up and climbed into the Range Rover, Eric was on the phone. From his growlier-than-usual tone, I got the sense it wasn’t good news. My stomach twisted, but I waited for him to finish the cryptic conversation.
He slammed his phone into he middle console. I winced and considered taking the poor Samsung into protective custody.
“De Vries isn’t picking up.”
My throat heated, like I was about to throw up. Then again, that might be the sudden hunger hitting me—after effect of an unstable transformation.
“Who were you talking to, then?”
“Ritter,” he growled. “Guy’s partner. Said he wasn’t in today, and seemed to have no idea he’d taken off. He’s going to trace his phone signal.”
Fear clutched at my chest, and I tightened my hold on the door handle. “What does that mean? Isn’t Febreeze taking her to the National Guild?”
Eric made a furious gesture and put the car in drive. “I don’t know! I assumed so—that is not a family that goes rogue.”
“Could he be the first?” I asked. “I mean, if they’re as anti-blood magic as Deepti said, couldn’t he be grabbing her to…” I could make myself finish.
“Blood magic,” Krista said from the back seat. “Did Helena get kidnapped by vampires?”
“Vam—what?” Eric said.
“Yes,” I said, because it shut her up. “Anyway, even if it’s unlikely, we should probably assume he’s grabbed her for nefarious reasons.”
Eric pulled the Rover onto Erickson street. “Ritter seems to think he’s gone off book,” he said. “Pissed off De Vries didn’t say anything to him. Then again, I don’t really know Ritter. Maybe De Vries is being a glory-hog and he’s pissed off about that. Taking all the credit is in character for that family.”
I felt my chest loosen a little. “I prefer that explanation. It means he’s not going to just take her out somewhere and…” I still couldn’t say it.
“Turn her into a vampire,” Krista said, as if it was what we were all thinking.
Eric met my eyes in the rear view mirror. I shook my head. He sighed. “Sure. We’ll go with that.”
Then he hit the gas.
I woke to the sight of a glowing sign looming past my window.
At first, I was too disoriented to understand why I was seeing a sign, or why my head felt like it had been squeezed inside a metal vice. Then I blinked, and the remembered image of the sign popped back into view. Burgers. Two for one, only they’d used the wrong spelling of ‘two’.
I was in a car. It was night. And Jesus, I was starving.
“Are we getting food?” I mumbled the words hopefully, scrubbing at my sleep-sore face. There was a syrupy lag between sensing something and understanding it. My surroundings were comfortable, even if I felt like I’d just cast approximately eight-thousand spells.
“Yes, but not there. I refuse on principle.”
That was not the voice I had expected. Car rides meant Jaesung or Krista, but that wasn’t either of their voices. That was the voice of some primordial god of deepness and night.
I sat up so fast the seatbelt snapped to a stop and tossed me a few inches back. De Vries glanced at me. The sunglasses were gone now, exposing me to the full force of that side-eye.
Memory tumbled into my mind, rude and unwelcome. I groaned and collapsed against seat, fumbling for the button to lift it back up.
“What’s the principle?” I mumbled, mouth cottony dry. “Spelling?”
“More that it’s attached to a gas-station,” De Vries said. “But the spelling was part of the decision-making process.”
He drove on, and the street-lights near the highway exit faded in the rear view. He didn’t seem inclined to consult my opinion, which was fine. I really didn’t care what we ate, so long as it came soon and there was a lot of it.
We pulled into the parking lot of a small, greasy-looking diner that stood alone in a wide expanse of old, broken concrete. Obviously, there had been other buildings besides the diner at some point, but all that remained were a few overgrown cinder block foundations and a couple of naked street lights.
The diner glowed like a lighthouse in the middle of this scrub-and-concrete sea, battering back the darkness with neon and buzzing fluorescence.
De Vries parked. I tried the door, half expecting the child-lock to be in place. It wasn’t, so I climbed out. I felt stiff from the extended discomfort of the drive, every joint like a rusted hinge that had to be forced to move. I clambered out, adjusting the wrinkles in my shorts and shirt.
There were a few cars around the side—probably employee vehicles—and a trio of eighteen-wheelers parked around back. At least that meant the food was probably decent. Truck drivers know how to spot the best kind of blue-collar dives.
De Vries waited for me in front of the car. I looked at him a moment, wondering what exactly he thought I was going to do. Heel? I gave a soft snort of disgust, turned my eyes toward the diner, and headed straight for the door with long, purposeful strides.
He fell in easily beside me and, annoyingly, beat my reach for the door, simply by having longer arms. He opened the door. I hesitated long enough to glare at his hand with its heavy silver ring, and stepped inside. There was an inner door, which I ripped open and passed through without a backwards glance.
The thick clouds of smoke and animal grease hit me first, followed by the scent of burned coffee. It was just what I’d expected from the outside—chipped laminate countertops, tile floors covered in dingy mop-streaks, and a long bar with stools in chrome and red. The walls were tobacco-stained, telling me just how long it had been since anyone bothered painting. They sported lots of cheaply-framed black and white photographs of old-timey people on old-timey motorcycles, and taped-up menus that hadn’t been changed, except for the prices, which had been marked out and rewritten at least twice.
I half expected the waitresses to co
A bored looking woman glanced up from the front register and waved us in. “Sit wherever,” she said. “Someone’ll getcha in a sec.”
I glanced around. The booths were arranged in a long U-shape around the bar. Sitting at the long countertop would put my back to the door, which was out of the question, and the booths near the door posed the same problem. I decided on a booth near the swinging doors into the kitchen. There would be a rear exit there, and if I sat with my back to the wall, I could keep my eye on the whole diner.
I started walking toward it at the exact same time as De Vries. This was slightly annoying, but I was already in front of him and, arriving first, scored the seat against the wall. We’d see how Officer Blue Eyes took having his back to the whole room.
He barely hesitated before—to my shock—shoving into the seat beside me. He had to push me bodily, and though I hooked my foot around the table’s single support column, it did no good to hold me in place. My thighs scraped across a duct-taped patch of vinyl booth cushion. I scooted away from him with a grunt of disgust.
“If you don’t like it, you can sit on the other side,” he said.
I weighed the thought a moment. Sit next to an enemy who might kill me, or put my back to a full room of unknowns.
In the end, I decided to stay where I was. I didn’t like being blocked in, but if I changed seats, I’d be looking over my shoulder the whole time. I shoved my feet up onto the seat across and snatched a laminated menu violently from the napkin holder.
De Vries was fiddling with his shirt cuffs and craning his neck to read the menu on the wall behind the bar.
A teenage girl in a black tee shirt, checkered skater skirt, and black half-apron bounced through the kitchen door and stopped at our table. She had powder blue hair, three eyebrow rings, and lipstick the color of one of the neon signs out front.
“Hi! Welcome to Lisa-Anne’s!” she said. “Don’t you two look cozy! I’m Zara, and I’ll be taking care of you today!”
Every sentence had an almost-visible exclamation point. I was fairly certain she had some sort of iridescent shimmer on her cheeks. Either that or she was a pixie in a not-very-good disguise.
De Vries was looking at her in a slightly startled way, and I could feel the tension in every one of his limbs, as if he had no idea what to make of this tiny, energetic little unicorn waiting to take our drink order.
I leaned around De Vries. “I’ll have a coffee.”
I kicked him. He didn’t react, except for to actually tear his eyes away from the glitter pressed into her lipstick. “Just water for me,” he said.
“I’ll be right back!” she chirped, and skipped back through the swinging kitchen door with a resounding bang.
“Tell me this,” I said. “Are fairies a thing? Because…”
“No,” he said. “But she might be a sylph.”
I arched both eyebrows. I didn’t like De Vries, but he did have a lot of information, and didn’t seem to think I needed “protecting” from it.
“What’s a sylph? Like a nymph or something?”
He shook his head, as if clearing the vestiges of some spell from it. “It’s the specific term for the elemental friends of the air.”
That cleared nothing up for me. “Okay,” I said, “so it’s probably safe to assume that I learned nothing beyond a few hundred spells and basic Guild Enforcer stuff. I have no clue what any of that meant.”
De Vries sighed, then swiped my menu.
“Hey!” I smacked at it, trying to drag it back toward me.
“If I’m going to have to explain to you the entirety of magical history, I’m going to need protein,” he said. “And you should probably swap to decaf.”
“I don’t need decaf,” I said. “Our waitress needs decaf.”
Unbelievably, there was a slight squint to his eyes that might have suggested mirth. An instant later, it was gone.
“I don’t mean for your energy-level. I mean because it depletes your reserves. You’ve dropped at least ten pounds since last year, most of it muscle, which suggests to me that you’ve had trouble keeping your power expense and intake in balance. Caffeine might give you the illusion of energy, but all it really does is burn through your magic.”
I stared at him. “Eric drinks an ass-load of coffee.”
De Vries shrugged. “And Isaac smoked like a grad student in finals week,” he said. “Just because a person knows something doesn’t mean he changes his habits to reflect that knowledge.”
Zara bounced back through the door and set down De Vries’s water and my cup of coffee. The mug was one of those thick-sided ceramic deals that retains heat for hours, and somehow, though it had been filled right to the top, the dark liquid hadn’t spilled on the waitress’s exuberant entrance.
She extracted double handfuls of creamer pods and dropped them on the table in front of my mug.
“You guys ready to order?”
De Vries seemed to have braced himself for the high-beam energy, and didn’t bat an eye as he answered.
“Three quarter pounders, double fries, side of bacon. Do you have any cheese that isn’t orange? Never mind, then. How does the salad look today?”
She maintained her grin but shook her head in warning.
He sighed. “I suppose fiber is unfair to demand of a diner.” He glanced at me.
I was looking at him, just a little bit stunned. “Um…Can I have…exactly the same thing. But I want the orange cheese. And the chocolate pie.”
She made a note, confirmed our orders, and shimmered away.
De Vries squinted at the place she’d vacated, as if checking for a trail of pixie dust. “I’m almost certain she’s a sylph,” he said.
A hint of foreboding slithered up my back. I didn’t know if it was instinct, or because she reminded me a little bit of Krista, but I felt a surge of protectiveness for the girl.
“You’re not doing anything,” I growled.
He glanced over at me with those blue high-beams and gave a delicate snort. He picked up his water without bothering to unwrap the straw. A sip later, he grimaced and put it back down.
I took a triumphant—if too-hot—slug of coffee.
“Elemental Friends are generally harmless,” he said. “They have an affinity for the inherent power in certain types of naturally-occurring materials and usually teach themselves to manipulate it unconsciously. You see them a lot in professions that seem to make sense. Firefighters, swimmers, that sort of thing. Often, they veer toward arts and creativity. A lot of sylphs end up as ballerinas or gymnasts or high wire circus performers.
“There was some discussion, actually, about whether you could be a Water Friend. After we got reports of Gwydian’s boat in Miami Bay, and then again after you went through the ice last November. Once it was clear you were D’Argent, however, we realized that couldn’t be the case.”
I added several creamers to my coffee, stacking the cups in the spiral-pattern Jaesung always made with them.
“Add sugar, if you can stand it,” De Vries said, monitoring my doctoring. “Counteracts the caffeine somewhat.”
I lifted my eyebrows and grabbed the sugar tower. The glass was slightly sticky, and it took a few shakes to get the lid to break free of the crystalline crust of melted sugar, but soon the steady stream of white poured out. I added about half the amount Jaesung might have.
“So, what does the Guild usually do with… Element Friends?”
He shrugged. “Varies by jurisdiction, but they’re rarely dangerous. The only time they become troubling is when they’re aware of their power and that power is uncommonly strong. Sometimes all that means is an Olympic diver or a principal dancer in the Russian ballet.”
I felt a pang of regret at the mention of ballet, and wondered if Jaesung might have a bit of friendliness with the element of air. He ha
“Other times,” De Vries said, tone darkening, “it means landslides, arson, and other such disasters.”
“They’re that powerful?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” he said. “It’s not brute power. They do have a sense of their element, though. For instance, an Earth Friend of significant power could feel her way through a mountainside and find exactly the right spot to shift, causing a landslide that destroys hundreds of homes. Most of the time, though, I think they’re more likely to reinforce that spot to prevent disaster. Still, we like to register the strong ones.”
I bristled. “You’re not going to register her.”
He pushed his water cup across the table, unconcerned by the faint growl in my voice.
“She’s not powerful enough to bother with. Sylphs are usually three-fifths whimsy. I’ve never heard of one hurting people on a mass scale. Unless all of them serve water this bad.”
This mollified me, but only a little. I slid down in the seat until my bent knees hit the underside of the table. The sweetness of the coffee left a residue in my mouth. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not, so I just pushed the mug’s handle back and forth between my fingers, swiveling it on the table.
My elbow came into contact with De Vries’s holster, which was snapped securely shut over his gun. I glanced at it, curious what Officer Blue Eyes was packing.
“That a Walther?” I asked.
He nodded. The barrel was too long for a PPK, which I’d seen plenty of Enforcers carry. “At least you know you’re not James Bond,” I said. “What model is it?”
“New one,” De Vries said. He leaned back in the seat as though he was relieved we’d transitioned to the safe topic of firearms. “The PPK’s a bit small for my hand. And the magazine capacity is a joke compared to everything else they make. This one holds sixteen.”
If I’d thought he would let me, I’d have asked to look at it. I drank my coffee instead. It was old and burned and reminded me of the night I’d met Jaesung and Krista on the train from Chicago. The coffee had been just as bad. The company had been the best I’d ever known.
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