What was left of the night didn’t go well. I sent an email to everybody with a link that would allow them to view the entire conversation with Vengeance. We recorded everything going on in the downtown office but didn’t keep it unless we needed to.
This, I kept.
We took the van back to HQ and slept on cots for the night. At first, I tried to think about how I could use the roachbots to detect The Thing That Eats, but the roachbots couldn’t detect magic.
In the end, I gave up, hoping that The Thing That Eats had possessed someone from the Cabal and would activate if they noticed someone running faster than a normal human–which is what I’d set the bots to watch for anyway.
I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep between three and four in the morning.
I woke up to the sound of Haley’s voice whispering in the darkness. I couldn’t see her. “Nick, Amy emailed back.”
The words made sense but failed to register.
“Nick, wake up.” She shook me, and I was finally awake enough that I said, “Ermf.”
That was almost a word.
“What time is it?” I looked around, seeing only lights from the computers at a nearby table at first. Then I sat up. Haley handed me her phone. Even though HQ was completely dark, it was 8:34am on the surface.
Phrases jumped out me as I skimmed Amy’s email, “Don’t think I won’t be there. Damn their arrogance, this what I’ve been working against for all my time here. Your vampires and their human servants barely understand blood magic and how competent practitioners use it. They’ve exclusively mined the most disturbing potentials and all this world’s wizards believe that that’s the whole of our magic. Well, I—”
It went on for several screens. Handing the glowing phone back to Haley, I said, “Huh. It looks like she’s coming to help whether they want her to or not.”
Visible only because of the light of her phone, Haley tapped it once and the light disappeared. As my eyes adjusted to the renewed darkness, she said, “It sounds like they don’t.” She stopped for a moment, continuing with, “You know, when she gets angry, she stays angry.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I noticed that. I’m trying to remember if I told you about when she was rejected from whatever magic school it was. It was hours away, and she drove there, enraged for the entire drive, and walked straight into the president’s office.”
She took my hand. “Either I was there or you told me. It doesn’t matter. She’s coming, and it doesn’t sound like anything will stand in her way. I hope that’s just her personality, and not, well, you know.”
My eyes were a little better off. I could see that the darkness where Haley sat on my cot was a little darker than the darkness around her.
“Blood magic corrupting her? Yeah. I have no idea, but I haven’t seen any signs of that.”
In a low voice, Haley said, “Neither have I. I’m worried for her, but I’m glad she’s coming. Without her and Samita, we don’t have anyone who knows magic that we can trust. All we’ve got are the wards she made, and that’s not enough to protect our families. I almost feel like we should get our parents out of here, but now I’m not sure we should even do that.”
I was about to ask why, but then I got it. “The vampires and blood mages Vengeance said they were trying to keep out? This gets more complicated all the time. You’re right, though. I think if we brought them out, we’d have to stay with them if we wanted to be sure that they’d be safe.”
Conscious of how her hand had tightened, I decided to interject a little hope. “We’re not totally out of options. Samita set up stuff down here to help contain The Thing That Eats if it got loose. We should ask about it, but if it keeps the creature out too, we’ve got a safe house. I don’t know how we’ll do it but we could bring our parents down here.
“Plus,” I added, “the way I understood it, Amy’s wards were interchangeable. We might be able to use them to contain it. Amy might be able to do the spell that binds it from the outside or teach the binding spell to us.”
Haley’s hand loosened a little, but it still wasn’t quite comfortable.
“I want to believe we could do it, but activating Amy’s or Samita’s magic sounds hard.”
“I’m not completely confident we could either, but it’s worth asking them. We’ve got an ace in the hole, though. Lee’s here.”
She let out a breath and her hand loosened, “That’s true.”
I knew what she had to be thinking of. Last summer, Lee had frightened off a dragon that was so ancient and powerful that young wizards were taught its name. He’d done it just by reminding it of other times it had met him and threatening to change into a dragon himself.
After picking up my jeans from where they lay next to the cot and pulling out my phone, I called Lee. He answered almost instantly which was rare. Normally he was too busy to bother with phones and ignored the interruption.
“Funny you should call,” he said, “I was just about to call you.”
“No kidding,” I said, feeling a stab of worry in my gut.
“That creature you were training to capture last week? Well, it’s loose here, and I’m not going to be able to help you.”
Haley’s took a deep breath. “Why?” I asked.
Lee didn’t sound any more worried than normal, but he answered, “You know how I told you my people had planted magic and technology all over the universe with the sole purpose of making it emptier of life? Well, The Thing That Eats is an example, and it’s got the ability to phone home. So, if I help and it notices, they come here to get me and the world ends. Fire everywhere, rivers of blood, dogs and cats living together… The whole enchilada.”
“You’re putting me off enchiladas now,” I said.