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|Thirteen(Women of the Otherworld #13) by Kelley Armstrong|
So infiltration was proving problematic for the Cortezes. The fact that the Cortezes insisted on infiltration, rather than attack, was proving problematic for the Boyds. Hence the teleconference when everyone really had better things to do.
I could see the Boyds’ point. We’d found ground zero for this movement. The leader was inside, along with presumably everyone capable of disseminating that virus. There were no human observers for miles. So why the hell weren’t we storming the place, killing the guards, and piping deadly gas into the hole? Oh, right, there was a kidnapped woman down there. One woman. A small price to pay to contain this virus.
Lucas could have played the sympathy card. This wasn’t just a woman, she was a valued ally, a friend who’d stuck around to help the cause, knowing she was in danger, a pregnant woman whose husband now lay at death’s door.
He could have played the political card. This woman was a member of the werewolf Pack. Mated to a Pack brother. Carrying his child. The Pack had fought at the Cabals’ side since the beginning of the crisis and to tell them that this woman was not worth any extra effort would be … unwise.
But Lucas knew which arguments would work. Fear and self-interest. This woman? She’s the daughter of Lucifer. She’s carrying his grandchild, quite possibly the first he’s ever had. Did they really want to kill her? Kill her child? Had they already forgotten what Balaam did to Thomas Nast for merely arresting his grandchild? Demons didn’t do well with disrespect.
Finally the Boyds agreed it was best to examine all other avenues first. We had the exit road covered by covert ops teams, so it wasn’t as if the folks stuck in the bunker could escape.
Nast troops—Sean’s men—would be arriving soon. A contingent of St. Cloud security and espionage agents were on their way, too. A rare show of cross-Cabal support. Fat lot of good it would do, as Clay muttered. I silently seconded him.
It didn’t matter how many fighters we had. A brute show of force wouldn’t get us into the compound. It just meant we’d have a hundred or more armed men milling about, bored and spoiling for a fight. The rival Cabals could start scrapping at any moment.
Lucas and Paige left to consult with the ops guys. Jeremy and Clay went with them. Adam and I didn’t. Group strategizing wasn’t really our thing. Besides, they didn’t invite us.
So we blew off some steam. No private sessions. We’d learned our lesson on that one. Instead we ran a circuit in the corn.
“I think we could do it with spells,” I said. “Cause a distraction, then Lucas, Paige, and I go in under blur and cover spells.”
“It’d have to be a distraction that didn’t scream ‘you’re surrounded by SWAT teams.’?”
Adam went quiet.
“What’s up?” I said as we jogged around the far bend of our improvised track.
“I know you won’t appreciate the reminder, but … your spells aren’t up to it, Savannah. They aren’t reliable enough. Lucas and Paige could cover you, but …”
“If they have to cover me, they might as well take in someone more useful. Like you or Clay.”
“Hey, no, I never said—”
“But it’s true. You and Clay have unique talents. Right now, Paige and Lucas are the better spellcasters. I wouldn’t bring anything new to the table.”
He shook his head. “You said you wanted to let Aratron play this out, but I think we need to try summoning him. Get your powers back.”
We jogged past the base. Tactical officers stood in clusters, some checking me out, some glowering at us, as if we were showing them up by making use of our downtime.
I waited until we were in the cornfield again, then said, “Is it even possible to summon a eudemon?”
“I’ve seen rites in the old books.” He paused. “Rites that take a week to prepare, use ingredients I’ve never heard of and have never actually been proven to work.”
I glowered at him. “Helpful.”
“I don’t think we need that. If Aratron’s watching over you, he can’t be far. I say we try a basic summoning—”
“It won’t work,” called a voice behind us.
We stopped and turned to see one of the officers—a dark-haired man in his thirties—gingerly making his way through the corn.
He smiled. It wasn’t a big smile, barely an expression of amusement at all, but I recognized it.
“Aratron,” I said. “Well, that was easy.”
“You know who I am then? Good. The cloak of mystery had its charms at first, but it was getting tiresome.” He waved for us to follow. “Come, children. We need to talk.”
As we headed deeper into the cornfield, I said, “I know you have some master plan for me, and I’ve gone along with it so far, but I need my spells back. We have to get into that compound. Gilles de Rais is going to—”
“—summon Lucifer using his daughter.” He peered over in the direction of the ruined farmhouse. “Jaime Vegas is here, is she not?”
“We met once.”
“Yeah, she told us, but—”
“It was when she discovered those humans learning magic. A precursor to this whole debacle. Hope Adams was with her at the time. I’d expressed an interest in meeting Hope. That never came to pass.”
“I’m sure Jaime did her best. Now—”
“Oh, that wasn’t a complaint. There is no way for Jaime to contact me even if she’d been so inclined. I was merely making an observation. Musing on how things have come full circle it seems. From Hope Adams to Hope Adams. Interesting, don’t you think?”
No, I did not. I suspected that Hope—captive in that subterranean vipers’ nest, thinking her husband was dead, and that she and their daughter would shortly follow—wouldn’t find this delay all that interesting either. I decided I liked Aratron better when his visits were short and cryptic.
“If we can arrange a meeting with Hope later, we’ll do that for you,” Adam said. “As for getting in, we were thinking—”
“I heard what you were thinking,” Aratron said. “Discussing actually. I said it wouldn’t work.”
“You can’t give me back my spells?” I said.
“Of course I can. And I will. When you get inside that compound. But magic will not get you into it. The exterior is warded against them. Once inside, you can cast. But you cannot use spells to get inside.”
The sound of someone crashing through the cornstalks cut me short. Troy strode into the field. No—not Troy. I didn’t even need to see those blazing green eyes to tell me that.
I shook my head. “You know, Asmondai, Benicio’s going to start getting a little pissed if you keep possessing his bodyguard like that.”
He ignored me, bearing down on Aratron. “You have interfered once too often, spirit. Did you think I wouldn’t learn of your meddling? Taking the girl’s powers so she cannot protect my son?”
“Um, I’m not exactly helpless,” Adam said.
“You have crossed a line that you should not have crossed,” Asmondai said to Aratron.
Aratron only lifted his brows. “Is that a threat, demon? Please, do tell me how you plan to carry it through. Your kind have no dominion over mine. In fact, if I recall correctly, it is the other way around. Not that we have invoked that power in millennia—you do get so resentful—but a reminder might be in order.”
“Don’t threaten me, spirit.”
“Then save the bluster. It suits Balaam better.” He turned to us. “There is another way into that pit. Gilles de Rais is waiting for someone. A necromancer whose assistance could make the difference between success and failure. Gordon Scott. Have you heard of him?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Class-A dirtbag who fancies himself a zombie master? The council has tangled with him a few times. He seems to think the antislavery laws don’t apply to dead people. So he’s mixed up in this? Why am I not surprised?”
If we’d had time to compile lists of supernaturals who might be involved, Scott would have been on it. Not only was he an opportunist, but it was rumored he’d been allied with the group that took my mother and me captive all those years ago. Using an underground compound was probably his idea, based on that experience.
“He’s been de Rais’s best hope of summoning Lucifer,” Aratron said. “He’s the one who set them on Walter Alston.”
“This spirit is misleading you,” Asmondai said. “Scott parted ways with de Rais two days ago.”
“Yes,” Aratron said. “Which is why de Rais waits. He has sent a message telling Scott that he now has Lucifer’s child, which is the route the necromancer himself suggested after their failure with Walter Alston. De Rais hopes Scott will return.”
“Ah-ha,” I said. “So if we can find Scott and hitch a ride in with him …”
“Impossible, I fear. He is, at this moment, one of those empty shells he once exploited.”
“He’s dead? Well, he can’t have been dead long, so if you know where his body is, we’ll have Jaime give him a taste of his own medicine. Resurrect him—”
“He isn’t merely dead. He’s quite dead.”
“Oh. What’d he do? Piss off a lord demon?”
“No, it was a group of your garden variety demonic underlings. He thought he might be able to contact Lucifer himself if he summoned enough of his foot soldiers. He was mistaken.”
“Well, we can’t work with flayed. He’d need skin.” I looked at Adam, who confirmed that with a nod.
Asmondai appealed to Adam. “Are you really listening to this spirit, my son? You are brighter than that. You have studied your histories of his kind. Have they ever helped mortals?”
“They’ve been known to help restore balance,” Adam said.
“Tell Balaam’s grandchild when they last did that. And how they achieved it.”
Adam looked at me. “Eudemons are said to have been responsible for several plagues.”
“Which solved serious issues of urban overcrowding,” Aratron said. “And led to many of the scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and disease control that allow you to live such long and healthy lives today.”
“The thousands of people who died in agony might have rather you guys found a kinder, gentler way to go about it,” I said.
“Kinder and gentler does not inspire fear. Fear inspires innovation.”
I turned to Asmondai. “I’m okay with the plagues.”
He gave me a sour look. “You won’t be, if that’s what he’s planning now. This virus you’re trying so hard to suppress could be another method of establishing balance, as he sees it.”
“Then he wouldn’t be trying to stop de Rais,” I said. “In this case, he’s on our team.”
“He’s handicapped you by taking your spells. He is not on your side, girl.”
“No,” Adam said. “You’re the one who’s not on our side. You want this thing stopped—the virus, the reveal, all of it. Not for our benefit, but because you think it would be the end of supernaturals, and you’d kind of like to keep us around. We can be useful. De Rais thinks Lucifer will help him; you think Lucifer will destroy de Rais. So you’re here to make sure we don’t interfere. As for Hope? She’s inconsequential.”
Aratron laughed. “Your son has indeed inherited your astuteness, Asmondai. You must be very pleased.”
The demon glowered.
I turned to Aratron. “What about a glamour spell to make someone look like Scott—Wait. The ward would kill that, wouldn’t it?”
“It would. But you are on the right track, child. Gordon Scott can get inside those gates. You cannot use Scott himself, but you could make someone appear to be him. How can that be done without a glamour spell?”
“It can’t,” Asmondai said. “You’re wasting their time, spirit. Perhaps you are also in no hurry to stop the summoning of Lucifer.”
Aratron kept his gaze on me. “You know there is another way. A special tool tucked deep in the Cortez security cells.”
“Who loves Lucifer’s child. Who would gladly do this to save her.”
Asmondai snorted. “Free a man like that? In the midst of all this? I do believe you may have a taste for chaos after all, spirit.”
“Asmondai has a point,” Adam said slowly. “Jaz isn’t a tool we can easily control. What incentive do we offer? He might claim to love Hope, but the way he terrorizes her? That’s not love. We could offer to set him free if he does this, but he’ll know that’s a lie. He’s too dangerous. He’s never getting out of there.”
“Which is why he’ll do it,” I said. “In order to save Hope, we have to let him out temporarily. It’ll be the first real chance he’s had to escape. He’ll take it. He’s arrogant enough to think he can get away. First, though, he’ll want Hope. Whether he really loves her or not, he wants her. He won’t try to escape until after he’s freed her, so he can take her with him. In other words, he won’t try escaping until he’s done what we want him to do.”
Adam nodded. “That might work.”
Aratron turned to Asmondai. “Your child is astute; Balaam’s is cunning. Do you see how well the two of you could work together?”