The lab belonged to some bio-medical facility owned by Lady Maritza’s husband. Wit the stainless steel table, countertops, and sinks, the set-up reminded Erik of the morgue back in Avalon. There was other machinery that Erik didn’t recognize and his team had been told rather pointedly not to touch. Erik didn’t care. His team wouldn’t need any of those technological marvels. They were just going to be doing a basic locator spell. Or more to the point, Veronica was going to be doing the spell.
The charred bones of the bargainer were arranged on the steel table to form a skeleton. The spell Veronica used on the bargainer had incinerated most of the flesh off the body, but Erik could see bits of crispy here and there on the bones. Veronica was carefully picking off some to use in her spell. Thankfully, the air purification system in the lab kept the burnt flesh scent to a minimum. When they’d first opened the body bag, Erik nearly gagged on the smell. That part of his job never seemed to get any easier.
“Are you going to be alright?” Erik asked Sam. She looked up from behind the laptop and gave him a weak smile.
“I’ll be fine. As long as I keep busy, that is,” Sam answered. Erik marveled at his friend and colleague. He could barely sense the bargainer’s horror from its “ghost,” or the psychic imprint left on the body. Sam could feel the entire ghost, including the last few images of the bargainer. All of the horror, the pleading, the desperate grasping for life as death bore down on the bargainer. Everything that flashes through the mind in the last second of life.
“If you want to go back to the lobby to collect your thoughts, I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that,” Erik suggested.
“Thanks, but no,” Sam answered. “I’m fine, but when we get back home, you’re taking me to your family’s resort for a whole fortnight.”
“Only a fortnight, Sam?” Erik asked playfully, “I thought Aunt Maria said you could stay there for a month the last time we were there.”
“Oh yeah, she did. Okay, a whole month,” Sam said, tapping away at the keys. “Seriously, Erik, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. There’s something odd about that bargainer.”
“Like it’s human, but not?” Erik suggested. Sam nodded.
“Veronica said that it has wild magic bound in it. Actually bound in the body. Have you heard of that before?” Sam asked.
“No, but magic’s not really my thing. It’s why we have Veronica,” Erik answered. Sam gave him a flat look. “Yes, I know that all agents are supposed to have a basic understanding of how magic works.”
“How did you get to be team leader again?” Sam asked, and then looked as she could take back the question. Both knew why Erik had been selected by the Saint to run the operation. He waved it off before she could apologize. Sam had been there for him during the entire fallout from the Commandante Affair, even risking her own career. The pair fell silent as they watched Veronica work.
The petite sorceress was currently pouring a ring of salt around the skeleton. Kurt was following behind Veronica with a box of sea salt. For some reason, Veronica couldn’t pour the salt directly from the box. It had to go through her hands before hitting the table. Sam would know, but Erik wasn’t about to ask her. She’d just roll her eyes and complain that he should know.
Completing the circle, Veronica picked up the small metal bowl with the burnt bits she’d picked off the skeleton. She sat down on the tile floor and spread a map of the city out in front of her. She scattered the burnt flesh on the map, and then poured another circle of salt around her. Seeing that the spell was about to start, Kurt strode to the door of the lab.
Veronica started chanting in elvish. Unfelt winds made her black hair dance as the two circles glowed an eerie, warm white. The chanting changed cadence and the two circles pulsed. The burnt flesh slid around the map in a chaotic pattern. Then the skeleton itself glowed with a brilliant amber light. From Sam’s sharp intake of breath, Erik knew the spell wasn’t going as planned. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stop it. Once a ritual spell was started, it couldn’t be stopped without at least killing the caster. With that much power, it could kill all four of them. There was a blinding flash of light and Erik felt Veronica being hurled at him. Instinctively, he reached out with some power and caught her.
As his vision cleared, he could see the skeleton was gone. No, there was some charred powder on the table. The map was also a charred ruin. The two circles were fused into single, giant salt crystals. Well, that didn’t happen often.
“Give me a map!” Veronica demanded. Sam spun the laptop around for Veronica. Veronica frantically scrolled through the Google map of the city. Finally, she brought up the street view of a dilapidated warehouse a few blocks from the docks.
“That’s where those bastards are,” Veronica said. Fear and rage were radiating from the small woman. There was also a strong undercurrent of certainty.
“Slow down, Veronica,” Erik said, “Kurt and I will go check it out after we clean up here and get you back to the house. If we find something, we’ll figure out how to deal with it then.” Frustration bubbled up in Veronica.
“No, you don’t understand. All of the others are there now!” Veronica said, almost shouting, “It’s a place of power, and they’re preparing it now!”
“And you know this how?” Erik asked. Locator spells were only supposed to tell where the subject was, or in this case, had been.
“That wild magic that was bound up in the body. Part of it is used as a bond between each of the members. They’re like a pack of dire wolves, or something,” Veronica said. “I hit one of the bindings, and I could see where they were.”
“Did they sense you when you broke that binding?” Sam asked. From the look on Sam’s face, she must have picked up a stray thought from their sorceress. Veronica stopped and became very still. Her lips pursed into a single line.
“I think so,” Veronica said.
“Open your mind,” Sam said and concentrated on Veronica. The room was deathly silent for several long moments. Expressions of pain crossed Veronica’s face, but she didn’t utter a word. Sam broke eye contact and both women started gasping for breath.
“They know,” Sam said, “They know Veronica found them, and they seem really happy about it. They’re waiting for us to attack.”
“How many?” Erik asked.
“About ten, I think,” Sam said. Erik nodded as he mulled it over.
“Sam, pull up everything you can about that area and the building while we clean this mess up. Once we’re done here, we’re going to pick up Anne and then Kurt gets to break out the assault gear. We end this tonight.”