Haley took advantage of his pause to interject, “Wait. We didn’t loose anything. We captured a creature in Turkmenistan. It only got away after Reliquary took it somewhere, and it doesn’t sound like he let it loose either. It sounds like he was attacked.”
Vengeance turned to look at her. “We know he was attacked. Our people were with him. Funny how the prodigal son comes back for help when he can’t handle it alone—”
Haley interrupted. “It doesn’t sound like your people handled it.”
Underneath Vengeance’s beard, his lip curled. “No. They died. We found Reliquary alive. He’d… Yeah, I don’t know how he did it, but he was only hurt. He’d never seen the guy who did it before, and the guy was wearing a mask and hood. All he could say was that the guy was big, strong and fast as hell.”
He scowled. “It doesn’t narrow down the list of suspects much.”
Vaughn laughed. “Sounds like about half the guys we’ve fought.”
Vengeance nodded. “Damn straight.” He pulled out a chair and sat down. “Still, even there, there’s a hint of a clue. The guy who hit them was strong enough to rip the car apart and kill the guys with one blow each. There’s a lot of strong guys, but less who could do that. The guys that were killed? They weren’t regular guys. I looked over the place where it happened. It was a stretch that curved around the bottom of a hill in the middle of a forest.”
Nodding, he continued, “It’s a good spot for an ambush, provided you’re close to invulnerable, fast and strong. Flip the car over, kill nearly everybody, and smash the device. You’re done. Know anybody like that?”
If I wanted to be completely honest, I’d have mentioned that there were four people capable of doing that at our post-extraction party. Jaclyn, Izzy, Travis, and Rodolfo could have easily done it—physically at least. Reliquary was there to pickup the device about the same time we showed up with it which meant they were still in HQ with us when Reliquary was attacked.
I could probably prove that if I needed to. HQ’s security system logged people’s entries and exits. Not that there was a good reason to look. There wasn’t any logical reason to think any of them could have been influenced by the creature.
As I ran through possibilities in my head, Haley said, “The Cabal. Everyone in their core group could pull that off.”
Vengeance nodded. “Yeah. Those guys. The people I work for have been watching them for years. Did you see any connection?”
I’d already told Isaac Lim. I might as well pass it on to Vengeance and the wizards that backed him. “It looked like The Thing That Eats’ last host was a Cabal soldier, but I doubt the host was involved. The Mystic found that it didn’t have much of a brain left.”
Behind me, Vaughn exhaled. “Whoa. You know what would be crazy? If the Cabal arranged to provide The Thing bodies. Maybe they’d hand him the bad soldiers?”
I shook my head. “They seemed more loyal to each other than that, and it still wouldn’t explain why they’d know to look here.”
I ran through possibilities in my head. The only ways they’d know to ambush Reliquary would be if they’d been watching us or if they had someone on the inside.
Dismissing the second thought as way too paranoid, I resolved to check the security system’s logs and clear everyone on our end.
Two in the morning was far too early in the morning to be dealing with this.
Haley glanced my way, doubtless picking up on my anxiety through smell, increased heart rate, or, for all I knew, a visible temperature change.
Vengeance nodded. “Can’t rule that out.” He turned toward me. “There’s more to the Cabal than you’re aware of, and no, I can’t tell you about it. Any sign of them around here lately?”
Camille caught Haley’s eye. Haley gave her a small nod. “One of them worked for a bank, guarding armored trucks. I saw the police take him away. That’s all.”
“Hmmn.” Vengeance gave us all a once over. “So, where is he? Do the police still have him?”
Camille, Haley and I all looked at each other. From behind us Vaughn spoke up, “I’m sure none of us have the faintest clue. The guy was victim of some local robbers. He was guarding armored trucks, and he probably got fired.”
I jerked my head around to look at Vaughn directly. “I bet you’re right. No point in hiring a mercenary if he can’t fight off the people he was hired to fight. Maybe we should check on him.”
Vaughn shrugged. “I guess.”
Vengeance looked from Vaughn over to me. “We’ll be looking into that too. If he’s the host, he can’t go anywhere now, so it’s just a matter of time before he appears.
“If you want my recommendation, you’ll stay out of it. Wizards have been following him for thousands of years and he leaves dead cities in his wake. You’d be best off preparing to evacuate the people you care about if things go south.”
Haley straightened up in her chair. “Why aren’t we evacuating everyone now, so that the host is the only one left?”
Vengeance shook his head. “It’d break the spell we used for the quarantine. It’ll handle normal stuff, but an evacuation? No.”
“That’s one more thing I don’t get,” I said. “Why do you assume he’s here? He attacked Reliquary an hour away from here, right? Wouldn’t he just disappear?”
Standing up from his chair, Vengeance grinned. “Can’t say for sure, I’m not a wizard. I just solve their problems, you know? But I do know this: they’ve got a mess of oracles and if they say it’s here, I believe them. Chances are, it wants to kill you all and destroy your city in the process. It wouldn’t be the first time.”