“The things I do for you, Lover Boy,” Eva mumbled to herself as she sat in her stolen car, thumbing the steering wheel with a chaotic beat that made little lyrical sense. “Not really for you, to be fair. For the Asylum, like always, but you’re involved so I’m blaming you, okay? Always liked blaming you when something went wrong on one of our adventures and you must admit, usually it was your fault. So this is too . . . I’m bored . . . I’m on a stakeout . . . must be your fault. All. King. Henry’s. Fault. Yes. It. Is.”
Eva took a sip of her water bottle, gray eyes never leaving the dentist shop she was casing. “I mean, I might have already found Iscariot and delivered Samson’s message to him if you didn’t decide to get yourself mixed up with the Curator. Now Jackson’s dead and every inch of you smells like Isabel Soto and well . . . I’m pretty disgusted with you. Someone should be, shouldn’t they?
“Boomworm won’t be. Never could understand how she just let your crap go on by with a chuckle at it all. Pissed me off from time to time, didn’t it? And I’d tell you it did and we’d yell and get it out and then we’d be ready for the next leap to take together. I fought to keep you on the path with me . . . Boomworm just let you roam around like a herding dog after wolves, and you kept coming back to her with dirt all over your fur and brambles in your paws . . .”
It was jealousy really. Not even jealousy that he might have been with other women and she’d never have known it. It was jealousy that Eva hadn’t been out their roaming with him, getting her own bit of dirt and bramble in her fur, the smell of strange and exciting journeys the only perfume she craved. What did you do without me, Lover Boy? How dare you! You’re mixed up with all that intrigue and I’m out here chasing a shadow’s shadow!
To be fair . . . she was pretty sure she’d found it. Isabel and Conan Sapa’s hideout at least. The corner that the shadow’s shadow is living in . . . argh, I just can’t stand this spy metaphor junk. Lying, deceit, subterfuge. That was the part of her job that she had the most trouble with. The training, the sneaking, the spying, even the killing she’d done in the name of the Asylum was all fine, not a single stain on her conscience, but the lying to the few friends she had . . .
“Killing easy . . . lies hard,” she said to herself.
Lots of talking to herself lately too.
She just couldn’t talk to her friends about what she did or even the world she’d fallen into by accepting Samson’s training. Most of them didn’t even know how dangerous vampires really were to mancers or that the upper structure of Vampire society existed. They didn’t have a clue how much work the Learning Council did to keep them in check and to keep the peace alive. Add in wild mancers going insane week by week, Weres expanding the black market for supernatural goods, and now the Curator . . . Eva was never without something to do, something she couldn’t talk about.
Another adventure that couldn’t be shared.
“You know what this is like, don’t you, Lover Boy?” she asked the invisible presence King Henry seemed to have this week in Las Vegas. “Only difference is that I was invited into this world by our teachers and you seemed to fall into it, probably on your face, just like usual. Or that nice plump tushy you got.”
Maybe she should stop with the metaphors and talk to him about it some time. They used to talk all the time . . . best part of their relationship after the sex really. They just never admitted to each other that the talking was up there . . . always pretended it wasn’t what they were about. Sex, adventure, fun . . . casual . . . nothing more. Then when it might have been something more . . . what if that stopped all the rest? Couldn’t risk it . . . we have to break up!
Sure, sure, yeah, good idea!
Eva wasn’t sure about going back to that particular relationship with him. Or even any relationship that included physical activities of any sort . . . even with him clear of Boomworm again, she wasn’t too interested. “Sleeping with Isabel Soto and that Anne Boleyn months back, what is wrong with that boy?”
But conversation . . . conversation she wouldn’t mind.
“I can tell you the names of the Divines and what they look like, what do you have?” she whispered the imaginary future that she knew she could never walk towards. “You know how to split a pool, but what if I can still rock your world when it comes to anima, Lover Boy?”
She’d never do it . . . but it was nice to pass the time thinking about doing it.
Truth was . . . she’d left the majority of her peers behind. King Henry, Welf, maybe Boomworm if Miss Dale kept feeding her info, but the rest? In another world. “Isabel too, I guess, just on the wrong side of it all . . . they’ll just make me hunt her down and put her back in her cage one day, so why not get it out of the way right now? Especially since once I have her Iscariot will have to come to me . . . then I can deliver Samson’s message, let Lover Boy deal with Sapa, and hand Isabel back to the normal goons in ESLED . . . what a brilliant plan, right?”
Fines Samson talked a lot about finding weak points. Conan Sapa was the weak point in all of this. “Even if he killed Jackson somehow, poor big, bastard . . . competing in an underground Were event, why don’t they learn that Weres always mean trouble and it never works out? Think King Henry would know after that mess in Los Angeles, but did he learn? Never!”
If hunting Iscariot was a chore then hunting Isabel would be a nightmare. “Locking the most powerful corpusmancer on the planet up in the Pit just to keep the Anima Quota down; talk about being stupidly optimistic . . . if only the Learning Council was nearly as good with plans as I am!”
Conan Sapa though . . . hard to hide when you’re a seven-foot-tall corpusmancer who has had who knows what kind of anima experimentation done on you. Seriously, men and their stupid muscles. Like all those muscles would matter anything once the Mancy was brought into the equation. Even without the Mancy, that much bulk would be nothing but a hindrance. If Jason hadn’t been surprised that the fight took the deadly turn it did, Eva would have put money on him winning over Sapa.
But it had taken that turn . . .
“You expect me to tell you to always fight like your life depends on it,” Eva tried to do a Fines Samson impression, “but you don’t get to fight for your life. You get to fight for the life of every mancer on the planet. So doubly don’t be a moron and ever consider to play fair. You’re the blade that darts in from the shadows, not some stupid ass crusader with a shield screaming as you charge in, never forget it!”
Conan Sapa, too many muscles or not, was the key to finding Isabel and Iscariot.
One: find Conan Sapa.
Two: track Conan Sapa.
Three: Confirm Isabel is present.
Four: Call in the Calvary in the form of King Henry and Welf.
Five: Capture Isabel.
Six: Use her as bait to lure out Iscariot.
“Eva Reti, she’s a planner,” she said about herself before lapsing into awkward silence. “Eva Reti, she spends too much time alone in stolen cars.”
Recruiters and ESLED proper got their pick from the Asylum fleet of modern transportation, but not her. Too obvious, Samson had whispered with a shake of his head, get you killed. You need to know how to always obtain your own transportation.
So he brought in one of the best car thieves in the United States to teach her and Eva had been stealing a car every week for the last couple years. “Alone . . . with my phone and Candy Crush as my only friends . . . at least they let me borrow one of the jets occasionally.”
Alone, but still a planner. When everyone else had rushed through the Ouroboros Casino trying to track Conan Sapa’s quick departure, Eva had tracked his arrival, particularly the car he arrived in. “Thus proving Samson’s point that company cars are a bad idea, especially a black Hummer still registered under a subsidiary of your mercenary company, despite the fact that everyone knows you’re working for the Curator.”
Too many muscles, not enough brains.
“The description of every corpusmancer on the planet except for Isabel Soto . . . whose problem is that she has twenty or so brains all in one head.”
Eva sipped some more water. Once she found out about the Hummer, and really, a Hummer? “Big muscles, small where it counts,” she chuckled. Once she found out about the Hummer, she put in a call to ESLED’s computer club—where most of the electromancers, cryomancers, and mentimancers ended up—and they returned a list of Hummers spotted in Las Vegas during the last week. NSA, be super jelly.
Next came an assumption that Sapa wouldn’t be in an affluent neighborhood or near the Strip itself, which cut down her list to a dozen. Finally she put in the footwork and crossed off five possibilities before finding a black Hummer outside a dilapidated dentist office in a not-so-happy part of town.
Given the way she kept seeing shadows on the edge of her vision, the sciomancer sign of nearby anima pooling, she knew she was in the right place. “Only he’s not alone and I don’t know who’s inside with him.” Two other cars, a SUV and a Mini-Cooper. She ran the plates . . . both stolen, unless George Derek Pleck—a seventy-two-year-old retired high school principal of Lancaster, California—was working for the Curator. “Someone knows how the game is played at least.”
She tried to imagine the Curator driving a Mini-Cooper.
There was no way the Curator was inside of that dentist office. Whole idea was unthinkable, really. Isabel probably stole one of them, but what about the third? “And someone had to drive the Hummer after they dropped off Sapa . . .”
That put her at a minimum of four people inside the building.
Sapa, Isabel . . . but who else?
“Come on, Sapa, keep being stupid. Come on out so I don’t have to go in there and get a look at all of you.”
Three weeks! Check back next week for a King Henry sneak peek!