Amy L. Boukair

Author of the time-travel romance novel Indigo


EXCLUSIVE: Shade - Chapter 4

I release the darkness I’ve cloaked around me, pull my phone out again, and hit the speed dial for my boss at the Bureau of Regulations, Jet. Her real name is Jeanette but like me, she hates her given name. Even though she’s my supervisor, we’re close in age, and we’ve been friends since I joined the Bureau as a file clerk ten years ago when I turned eighteen. I keep my eyes on Gary’s body but remain aware of the open French doors to my left and the entrance to the bedroom to my back right. I don’t have a clue what’s going on. I thought Gary was the one who attacked Flynn, but obviously something or someone else is at work here.

Jet answers after several rings, and I can tell from her scratchy voice I’ve woken her up. “This better not be what I think it is Shade.”

“Hey Jet,” I say, trying to keep my tone casual. My nerves are pretty much shot to hell, and I need to concentrate on keeping the hysterical screech that’s threatening to escape out of my voice. “Something went wrong on the mission tonight. I need your help.”

“What happened?” she asks, “Where’s Flynn?”

I cringe inwardly. I knew that was going to be the first question, but I’m still not prepared for it. “He’s been hurt. My mom’s taken him to Aubrey’s place. But that’s not all, something’s not right here Jet. Gary’s dead, but it wasn’t us.”

“What do you mean it wasn’t you? Wasn’t that your mission?”

“It was,” I say, looking down at Gary’s still smoldering body, “but someone beat us to it and took out Flynn in the process. All I know is whoever it was, was arcane. It reeks of electricity in here.” My heart starts to hurt physically as I think of my brother, lying on the pavement outside only moments ago.

“Gary wasn’t arcane, he was a water mage.”

“I know,” I say as the toe of my sneaker pats the wet carpet around Gary’s body. He must have been mid-attack when he was struck down; the water dispersing around him.

There’s a beat as Jet processes what I’m saying. “Alright, I’ll pull a team together and be there shortly. Don’t touch anything.”

“I won’t. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet. This should have been a slam dunk mission.”

We hang up, and I stand there for a minute, trying to collect my nerves and my thoughts. So much has happened so quickly tonight; I need to take it all in before doing anything else. It’s hard with Gary’s pained face and hollow eyes seeming to stare at me, and I turn away from him to look around the bedroom.

Despite Jet’s orders to the contrary, I have to turn off the TV. I can’t think straight with the noise of the mindless sitcom blaring around the room. Once it’s off, the sudden silence again envelopes me, making my skin crawl, and putting my senses on notice that I’m alone in this big house. I take in the immediate scene around me, and see the room is in disarray. There’s an open suitcase on the bed, half filled with clothes and other accessories, so Gary must have been preparing to skip town. Understandable, considering he knew the consequences of the third-strike. The odd thing is the rest of the bedroom looks ransacked - dresser drawers left in various stages of openness; a large jewelry box has been practically taken apart; its contents strewn haphazardly across the dresser and floor below. I highly doubt that Gary would have done this to his own belongings. Perhaps whoever did kill him was looking for something specific.

I’m about to investigate the other rooms, but hear a loud knock on the front door downstairs. Jet’s nickname is apropos - she’s fast. As an air mage not only can she fly, but she can just plain move faster than anyone else. With it being almost the middle of the night, flight is possible. Had this been broad daylight, she’d have to use old-fashioned motorized transportation.

“I’m up here,” I shout down to her. I know she’s already in the house; Jet wouldn’t wait for a welcoming committee.

She breezes in like a blur and stops right in front of me, the wind that carried her brushing past me. “You didn’t touch anything did you?”

“I just turned the TV off, that’s all,” I say. “I haven’t had a lot of time to mess up the crime scene yet.”

Jet gives me a knowing look. “You know what I mean, Shade.”

I shrug and turn from her gaze. With Jet being my friend, she knows my past, and how hard it has been for me to get back into the violent work that can be my job. She’s been as encouraging as she can be, but as was proved tonight with Flynn, I’m not to be trusted on missions of any consequence.

I give her a brief rundown of the night’s events, being careful not to leave anything out. Whoever hurt my brother, wasn’t going to get away with it if I could help it. And the more people that could help with that goal, the better.

“So, Gary was about to bail,” Jet says, surveying the room, “and the perpetrator was either looking for something or really wanted us to think he was.”

“What else would he have besides cash?”

“He was a collector.”

“Of what?”

“Magical items. He dealt a lot with the Warlock Guild Directorate, and sometimes found things of particular interest to them.”

“Like what?”

“Relics mostly,” Jet says, sifting lightly through the items spilled onto the dresser. “You didn’t read the latest dossier, did you?”

Of course, I hadn’t. We had dealt with Gary before when we moved him to this new location several years ago, and I hadn’t taken the time to read the updated file since Flynn was basically in charge now. It was sloppy and stupid of me not to. Once again, my guilt doubles in size, weighing heavily in the pit of my stomach.

“Did the file say anything about enemies?” I ask, attempting to deflect the question. “Anybody threaten him lately?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Jet sighs. “I have a small team on the way, but I’m going to have to call BOI in on this.” BOI is the Bureau of Investigations. While we Regulators don’t necessarily answer to them, we act on their information. “If this is about a magical warlock item, we’re going to need diplomats on this too.” Yay, politics.

I give Jet a sympathetic look as I walk around the room. There is a walk-in closet on the wall opposite the French doors, and I can see a light is on the inside from under the door. There could be someone hiding inside. I stop and silently motion to it, and Jet nods at me, allowing me to open the door. I tentatively pull at the shadows and can feel a slight breeze behind me as Jet also prepares an attack stance. My hand trembles slightly as I turn the doorknob and yank the door open.

Nothing. There’s nobody hiding inside. Clothes and shoes are scattered about the floor, but our attention is immediately drawn to a safe in the far wall, its door left wide open. I glance at Jet as we both silently approach the safe, neither of us has dropped our magic; unsure of the situation. For all we know, the safe could be booby trapped somehow. At this point, anything is possible.

The safe is empty except for a very old, thin wooden box. Runes are carved into the sides, but they’re not any that I recognize, and the top is open. The box itself is empty too.

“Oh boy…” Jet lets out a deep breath as she finally drops her magic. I hesitate but then do the same.

“What? What is it? What was in the box?” I don’t like the look of unease coming over her. This evening has been enough of a nightmare. I don’t need anything to add to it.

“If I’m reading it right, the box held the Stake of Banna.”

“Steak and banana, what?” I laugh nervously, unsure where the sudden urge to joke comes from. The events of the night are finally taking their toll on me, and I’m going insane. Jet stares hard at me, and there’s something in her features that scare me - she looks terrified. The hair on the back of my neck immediately stands on end.

“It’s Norse mythology, Shade,” she says, her voice steady even though I can see she’s almost trembling. “The Stake of Banna is rumored to be a sliver of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, used by the Valkyrie Kara on the battlefield to choose who lived and who died. Wielding it gives the holder access to a very powerful curse.”

“Okay, that’s definitely not cool.”

“And that’s not all,” her eyes shift back to the bedroom, “allegedly it can also be used to reincarnate the dead.”

I follow her gaze and peer out of the closet. I can still see Gary’s legs on the floor by the bed, and let out the breath I’m holding. I don’t know what I thought I’d see, but am glad he’s still there.

“So, reincarnate is different from reviving, how?”

“Bringing someone back from the dead can be extremely difficult, especially if the body is damaged or broken in some way. It’s why we really don’t have a lot of undead wandering around the city streets. Reanimating a corpse isn’t the same as relocating the spirit. Reincarnation is basically relocating a person’s spirit into another body - preferably a healthy one.”

“Okay, I guess that makes sense.”

“The problem is, this Stake of Banna doesn’t just take the spirit out of one dead body and put in into another dead body to bring it to life.”

“What does it do?” I liked this Stake of Banna less and less the more she described it.

“It takes the deceased spirit from a corpse and moves it to overtake a living spirit in a healthy body. Basically devouring it in the process.” Jet visibly cringes as she says this, and I can’t help but cringe right along with her.

“So reincarnation is pretty much just possession, right?”

“Pretty much,” Jet sighs, “but, in this case, the reincarnated spirit feeds off of the living spirit, killing it. Once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back.”

“Lovely,” I say, heading back out into the bedroom. How the hell did Gary get his hands on something so powerful? Was that where his lottery winnings went? Surely something so valuable wasn’t sold for mere cash.

“I’m definitely going to have to involve the Warlock Guild Directorate,” Jet says, her face growing more tired by the minute. “If Gary was procuring this for them, they may have an idea who else was after it.”

“I’m sorry. I had no idea this was going to turn into a huge… thing.”

“It’s not your fault,” she says, looking into my eyes as though she means it. I can’t hold her gaze as guilt overtakes me yet again. “Go to your brother. I’ll take it from here. My crew should be here any minute. I’ll call you later and let you know what we find here.”

“Thanks,” I say, and quickly head down the stairs and out to Flynn’s car. I pause only briefly by the scorch marks on the pavement as I pass. I need to make sure my little brother is okay.

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