The rest of my evening had been uneventful, and the next morning Dory and I prepared to visit Sam’s secret hideout by the wharf. I sipped my coffee in the kitchen, dressed down in jeans, a chunky green sweater a few shades darker than my eyes, and waterproof winter boots. The snow had finally started falling in the underground, catching up to the Oregon weather above.
I shoved the rest of my buttered toast into my mouth, the pulled my cell out of my pocket to check the time, almost 7:00 am. It was a bit earlier than I normally liked to be up and around, but I wanted to get to the wharf before it got too busy . . . not that it was ever that busy. The demons had tried to make it into a new bustling area of the city, but had failed miserably. We all knew we weren’t really outside near a real ocean, and it wasn’t much fun to pretend. Greater demons would always try to go above ground, and there was nothing the Council could do to cancel out that desire. It was one of the only things half demons had over full bloods. As long as we knew someone with the power to travel, or could travel ourselves, we could come and go between the realms as we pleased. Pure bloods weren’t capable of existing fully above ground, only spectrally. Therefore they’d never really feel the sun on their faces, or the tide washing over their feet.
I pushed away from leaning against the countertop as Dory entered the room, Alexius trotting at her heels.
“Ready, Dumpling?” Dory asked, tugging a black baseball cap onto her head.
I took in her long-sleeved black shirt and black pants, then raised an eyebrow. “Are we suddenly spies?”
Dory frowned and directed her sparkling blue eyes at the floor.
“I’m just kidding,” I consoled, patting her arm as I walked by.
Her outfit was a valiant effort to fit in, but with her sparkling white skin and translucent hair, there was no hiding what she was. Regular demon constructs were one thing, constructs from the Dream Realm were another. That she tended to draw attention was a drawback, but she was still the best backup around: fast, strong, and near indestructible. Plus, even if someone actually managed to kill her, she’d just end up back in the Dream Realm from whence she came, and I could go pull her out again.
She turned to follow me out of the kitchen and into the entry room. Alexius joined us, then sat and looked up at me pleadingly with his black button eyes.
I rolled my eyes. “Fine, you can come with, but you better not run off.”
Alexius barked once in reply.
I shook my head. Alexius was from the Dream Realm too, or something like it. I’d ended up with him on accident roughly five years prior. He hadn’t aged a day since I’d gotten him, so I was pretty sure he was immortal, just like Dory.
With a sigh for my two strange companions, I turned and opened the front door, then took a step back.
Chase waited outside, his hand poised to knock. He wore a heavy green coat over jeans, and had flecks of snow in his black hair.
I narrowed my gaze at him. “I told you I’d call if I found anything.”
He lowered his hand. “Sorry, it’s kind of hard to just wait around with the looming threat of death by Demon Council, as you well know.”
I couldn’t help my smile. I had perhaps feared for my life after breaking Council law once or twice. I could understand the anxiety.
“Okay,” I conceded. “If I let you come with us today, you have to promise to wait outside. We’re looking for evidence on the real killer. Having you contaminate said evidence will not help your case.”
He eagerly nodded. “Deal. Anything to not have to just wait around in my apartment.”
I raised an eyebrow at him as I gestured for Dory and Alexius to follow me past him out the door. “Don’t you still have . . . clients to attend?”
“Not really in the mood,” he explained, falling in to step at my side. “None of it really seems important now that the last person I could call family is dead.”
I knew he was mourning his brother, but his words still stung. He’d had a family. Maybe we weren’t blood relations, but he’d cut that tie.
A gust of icy wind hit my face as I moved to walk slightly ahead, leading the way down the cobblestone street toward the distant wharf. At one time I could have just taken Chase’s hand and traveled there, but the Council didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to draw any extra attention to myself. Plus, it would have meant leaving either Dory or Alexius behind. I could manage traveling with two extra bodies. Three was a little tough . . . not that it mattered with the new law in place.
“Where are we going?” Chase asked, following me as I veered left between a set of tall homes, bordered out front by strange greenery that would be out of place anywhere but the underground.
“To the wharf,” Dory explained. “Your brother was keeping secrets.”
I turned to glare at her. I trusted Chase to keep his word and stay out of the way . . . mostly, but grief makes us do strange things. I wanted to stay in control of the situation.
Chase turned his gray eyes to me as we continued to walk. “I don’t understand. What secrets?”
I sighed. He was going to find out one way or another, so I may as well tell him now. “Sam was helping Nix,” I explained, keeping my gaze forward as the distant sound of artificial ocean hit my ears. “He was helping her build a new identity to finally escape the council. When he seemingly disappeared, Nix came to me.”
“Did she think you had something to do with Sam’s disappearance?” Chase blurted.
I glared at him. “Not everyone automatically assumes I’m a murderer.”
He rolled his eyes at me. “You know that’s never been something I’ve judged.”
I took a deep breath. He was right. The moral dilemmas had been more of an issue with Jason. He thought I took the violent way out too often, but when you were dealing with supernaturals, the violent way was how I stayed alive.
“Sorry,” I muttered, “and no, she didn’t think I had anything to do with Sam’s death. She thought he’d just run off with her money. I told her to truth, and took her back above ground.”
Chase nodded, his expression thoughtful. “So what does this have to do with the wharf?”
“Sam had a secret hideout he never told you about,” Dory cut in. “Bet you wish you hadn’t chosen him over us.”
“Dory!” I hissed.
Chase raised a hand to stop me. “No, it’s alright. She’s allowed to be angry.”
Alexius trotted up and bumped into Chase’s side playfully, likely picking up on the change of tone, then turned and scented the air as the wharf came into view.
There were a few demons out that I could see, including one that looked somewhat like a giant lobster. I’d seen her plenty of times at the local library. She ambled up the docks in our direction, her beady bug eyes on a book grasped in her claws.
“Let’s go this way,” I whispered, pushing Chase toward the edge of the cobblestone street.
We all hustled into a narrow crevice between a boarded up taffy stand and an abandoned boat rental shop. The lobster lady passed by, never having noticed us.
I exhaled in relief, then realized my hands were still on Chase. At his smirk, I quickly dropped them to my sides, then continued down between the buildings, taking a less conspicuous approach toward the docks. We stepped onto the gravel surrounding the lower set of buildings set back away from the main street, mostly warehouses.
“Okay,” I began, keeping my voice low. “We’re looking for a small, gray brick warehouse with a padlocked steel door.”
Chase scanned our surroundings, muttering, “I can’t believe he was still lying to me, after all this time.”
I bit my tongue before I could tell him he got what he’d deserved. His brother had screwed him over in the past too. He’d been a fool for going into business with him.
“What about that one?” Dory asked, pointing to a building far to the right, nestled between a few other small warehouses.
I turned to approach the building, noting the heavy padlock on the door. “There’s only one way to find out,” I decided as I reached the door. I tilted the padlock upward, its metal surface slick with sea air, then focused my thoughts on it, willing it to heat up. With enough power I could melt steel, and my skin was immune to any burns one might incur from touching molten metal.
“What’s taking so long?” Dory asked, hovering over my shoulder to peer down at the padlock.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. For some reason I can’t melt it.”
Chase sighed at my side. “Leave it to Sam to find a magically warded padlock. I’m sure he’s made it just as difficult to get through the windows.”
Dropping the padlock, I put my hands on my hips as I looked at the boarded up windows in question.
From somewhere behind me, Alexius let out a low growl.
“Someone’s coming,” Dory hissed.
I turned to look back, but Dory had already grabbed my shoulders to hustle me toward the side of the building. I glanced over my shoulder to see Chase tugging at Alexius’ collar to follow us.
Soon enough we were all crouched on the far side of the building. The gravel crunched toward the front of the building as someone reached it, followed by the clang of a key turning in the padlock. I resisted the urge to sneak a peek at whoever was entering the building as the steel door screeched open, then shut.
“I’ll go,” I whispered. “We’ll trap whoever it is inside so we can question them.”
Chase shook his head, his back plastered against the wall at my side. “It might be someone entirely innocent.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Someone entirely innocent with a key to a magically warded warehouse at the wharf? I don’t think so.”
“Maybe we should just wait for them to leave,” he persuaded. “If we make them aware of our presence now, they may destroy evidence that could help us.”
I sighed. He was right. “Okay, fine,” I muttered. “We’ll wait.”
My back felt itchy where it pressed against the wall. I hated the risk of letting a possible lead get away. They might even be clearing out the evidence we sought right that moment as we all just stood idly by.
The steel doors screeched open and shut again, then there was rattling as the padlock was returned to the lock. I waited as the footsteps on the gravel began to recede, then stole a quick glance toward the front. I caught a glimpse of a man’s back. Black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and jeans. I could tell it was a man, but that was the only distinguishing feature I gained as the hooded form disappeared back toward the docks.
“Let’s find a way inside before anyone else decides to visit,” I breathed.
“How?” Chase questioned, just as Dory turned toward the nearest boarded up window. She placed her hands against the center board, spread her feet, then shoved. The board came loose with the loud whine of nails pulling free of wood. She braced against another board and pushed again.
I grinned. “It’s nice to have a business partner with supernatural strength,” I mused.
Chase and I walked forward, joining Alexius to watch as Dory pushed the last board free, letting it clatter to the floor inside the building.
“Give me a boost?” I asked Chase.
He hesitated, then nodded, lacing his fingers together for me to step into.
I hopped off one foot as he lifted me upward, easily propelling myself onto the windowsill. I crouched for a moment, balanced precariously, then hopped inside. The room was too dark for me to see much, so I summoned a small flame into the palm of my hand. A moment later, Chase landed beside me.
I glared at him as his eyes scanned the dark space. “I can’t believe he kept this from me,” he muttered.
I could, but I didn’t say so out loud. No need to rub it in. “You were supposed to wait outside.”
He didn’t answer as he walked further into the room.
I held the flame aloft and stepped forward. The warehouse was one large single room, with an open door leading to a small bathroom in the far corner. There wasn’t much else to see. What looked like furniture was draped with white sheets, and there were several stacks of crates against one wall.
“We need Alexius in here,” I decided. “He’ll be able to sniff out anything strange.”
Extinguishing my flame, I turned back toward the window. Dory was visible from the shoulder blades up, her back turned as she kept watch.
“Dory,” I whispered. “Can you hand Alexius in to me?”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Sure, Poptart,” she whispered, then disappeared as she crouched.
A moment later Alexius appeared, legs flailing as Dory easily held him aloft. I moved to grab him, but Chase beat me to it, taking the dog into his arms and lowering him to the ground.
As soon as his paws hit concrete, Alexius lowered his nose and sniffed. He paced around the room, inhaling with every step. It was nice not having to explain to Chase what Alexius was doing. He was one of the few people who knew the talents of my Dream Realm dog. He could sniff out more mundane things like blood or other odors, but could also scent concentrated magic. If there were any magical items in the room, he would find them, and if there was any blood . . . well, he would find that too.
Chase glanced at me as Alexius worked. “So . . . ” he began, as if grasping for conversation. “How is everyone above ground?”
I frowned at him, not feeling this was the time to discuss it, but not wanting to blow him off. “They’re fine, for now. There’s a war a’brewin’ though. Ever since the big reveal, there’s been tension between the werewolves and the vampires.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I’ve heard a bit about that lately.”
I didn’t ask who he’d heard it from. I didn’t need to know who he was talking to these days, or why. At least, that was what I kept telling myself.
“Let’s help Alexius search,” I suggested, not wanting to invite any more awkward conversation, especially because in reality, I wanted it. I wasn’t supposed to want conversation with Chase. Not anymore.
I stepped forward as Alexius sniffed around a sheet covered sofa. Since the furniture didn’t seem terribly interesting, I approached the crates. I began pulling one off the top of the pile, but it was too high and I started to lose my balance. Before I could fall, Chase was there, grabbing the crate before it could land on top of me.
“I see you aren’t any less clumsy,” he joked, stepping to the side before placing the crate on the concrete floor.
Fighting my blush, I moved to his side and pulled the un-nailed lid off the crate. The container was filled nearly to the brim with little black spheres.
“What the heck are those?” I questioned.
“Oh, Sam,” Chase lamented, kneeling to retrieve one of the spheres. He stood, lifting the sphere in front of my face. It was roughly the size of a golf ball, with an iridescent surface, like tar. “These are transporters,” he explained. “One-time-use traveling devices created for the Demon Council, and only the Demon Council. They use them to reach places like the Dream Realm without the use of portals.”
I took the sphere from him to observe it closer. The surface was smooth and cold. “And why does Sam have an entire crate of them?” I questioned.
Chase took the sphere from me and placed it back into the crate, then placed the lid on top. “Don’t ask me. I didn’t know about this place, remember?”
I pursed my lips in thought, then froze as a low growl erupted from the corner of the room. I hurried over to where Alexius was sniffing underneath a heavy, sheet covered chair with his black and white spotted rump sticking up in the air. I glanced at Chase as he approached, nodded, then we both braced the overstuffed chair and pushed it aside.
I had to grab Alexius’ collar before he could race forward. As he tugged against my grip, we all looked down at a large buck knife with streaks of congealed blood on its blade.
“Didn’t you say the knife that killed Sam was found in your kitchen?” I questioned.
“Uh huh,” Chase replied, staring down at the bloody blade.
I took a step back, still holding on to Alexius, then crouched. “Okay, let’s think. Why would a bloody knife be in here? There are no signs that someone was killed here.”
“They could have cleaned it up,” Chase suggested.
“Then why leave the knife?” I countered. “If someone was going to take the time to clean up the scene, you’d think they’d have the clarity of mind to not leave the murder weapon behind. Unless they wanted someone to find it.”
“Or,” Chase began thoughtfully, “this knife has nothing to do with my brother’s murder. The Council already found the murder weapon.”
I scoffed. “A murder weapon that couldn’t possibly be the real murder weapon. Maybe this is the real one.” I gestured with my free hand toward the knife.
“Hey!” Dory hissed from outside the window. “Someone’s coming!”
“Crap,” I grumbled. I turned to Chase. “Get Alexius out the window. I’ll be right behind you.”
Chase hesitated, then nodded. He lifted Alexius like he weighed nothing and carted him toward the window.
Knowing I might be making a mistake, I tugged the corner of the ragged sheet off the chair and tore off a strip, then wrapped it around the hilt of the knife, being careful to not wipe off the congealing blood. I hurried toward the window just as Chase finished moving a crate to stand on. Alexius was already outside.
Chase waited while I vaulted out the window, careful to not stab myself with the knife as my feet touched down loudly on the gravel outside. Dory was at the front corner of the building, peering forward. She glanced over her shoulder with a finger to her lips as Chase landed beside me.
“What was that?” a male voice asked.
“It was nothing,” another replied.
Alexius let out a nervous yip.
“That was definitely something,” a third male voice said.
Crap, there were at least three of them, and we didn’t know what sort of powers they might possess. They might even be the real murderers. Jason’s warning flashed through my mind. Anyone who could have killed Sam would be powerful.
“Run!” I hissed.
I turned on my heel and ran toward the back of the building, trusting that everyone would follow. My feet pounded across the gravel as shouts erupted behind us.
Soon Dory and Chase caught up to run near me, while Alexius bounded ahead, glancing back playfully to make sure he was going in the same direction we were.
“There!” one of the men shouted.
I stole a glance over my shoulder as we rounded the back side of an adjacent building and took off back toward the city. I didn’t recognize any of the three men. None of them looked outwardly demon, which meant they were either half-demons like me, or pure bloods. Either usually looked mostly human, not like the lesser demonic races.
We kept running, weaving between buildings, and soon lost the sounds of pursuit. As we reached the residential streets at the border of the city, I finally slowed my pace. Realizing I was still clutching a bloody knife with a piece of dingy white sheet wrapped around the handle, I quickly concealed it in the folds of my coat.
“Why did you take that?” Chase whispered, having seen the knife.
We all started walking as I replied, “Well I couldn’t let someone else come along to steal it, now could I?”
I glanced at him, noticing the heavy rise and fall of his chest, and the sheen of sweat on his brow beneath his slightly wavy black hair, then quickly looked away.
“But what if someone wanted us to find it?” he questioned, keeping his gaze forward. “What if this is all a set up by Nix?”
“Hush,” Dory chided from my other side. “Do you want the help of Minor Magics Detective Agency, or not?”
“Yeah,” I pressed with a smirk. “You hired us, remember? Let the professionals work.”
Sighing, he shook his head. “You two are just as incorrigible as ever.”
“Why thank you,” I replied.
Soon we left the residences behind, entering the more busy part of the city. Suddenly I was extremely nervous to have a bloody blade, perhaps a murder weapon, concealed loosely within the folds of my coat. It was my job to get Chase off the hook for murder, not to replace him on said hook.
“So what do we do now, Miss Detective?” Chase asked, absentmindedly lowering his hand to pet Alexius as he bumped against his leg.
It was a good question. I’d been pondering it as I walked, but had only been able to come up with one answer. I didn’t have the type of magic needed to track who owned the knife, nor to verify whose blood was on the blade. I didn’t know any Sanguis Demons, so there was really only one option.
“We need a witch,” I admitted.
“But aren’t the witches pretty anti-demon right now?” Chase questioned.
“Yes,” I replied, “but I know a certain witch who’s always looking for a bit of adventure.”
“Not Cynthia?” Chase questioned, referring to a powerful witch who was never terribly pleased with me, though I’d saved her life a time or two.
I shook my head. “No, I’m thinking her daughter, Rose. She’s the only witch I can think of who isn’t terrified of demons.”
“Ah, Rose,” Chase seemed to recall. “She’d have to be what now, about nineteen? At least we’ll be able to talk to her now without her mother around.”
I nodded, though it would be easier said than done. “Last I heard, she was the new leader of the local coven in Shelby.”
Chase stopped walking to balk at me. “The witches have chosen the side of the vampires against the werewolves and demons, and you, both a demon and former werewolf pack master, intend to ask their leader for a favor?”
I forced a smile. Truth was, I didn’t know if she’d actually talk to me. It had been years since we’d seen each other. My only hope was that Rose still held on to a piece of the mischievous teenager she’d once been. A teenager who’d had no problems with summoning demons and running around with wolves.
Chapter Six coming next Sunday!