Agents of Sorcery launches! Read an excerpt from Book 1, Gremlin Night

My new urban fantasy series, Agents of Sorcery, begins with Gremlin Night, which is now available. Liz Marquez is a sorcerer-agent belonging to a secret organization responsible for enforcing the laws of magic, the Regulating Union for Normalizing Enchantment.

She spent time assigned as a guard in the Silos, a magical prison for supernatural creatures (called manifestations), but has finally been transferred back to field duty and is determined to prove she deserves the spot. A series of gremlin outbreaks and a new partner beg to differ.

Gremlin Night is available at all major eBook retailers:

Chapter 1

Burt the ogre was late. I squatted in heeled boots in a snowy alley in Peoria, calves burning, hair damp, stomach rumbling, all because an ogre crime boss took his sweet time to show up at his own blasted nightclub. Talk about a thoughtless jerk. My life would be so much easier if criminal manifestations kept better time. But that was the supernatural for you, always doing things on its schedule, never mine.

I fought a yawn. It had been a very long day.

The snow fell faster, and I pulled my motorcycle jacket closer around me. From where I crouched, I glimpsed the human bouncer as he paced on the steps outside, parka hood covering his face, wind-milling his arms to keep warm. His breath frosted the night air.

Freezing my behind off while assigned to a stake out wasn’t the worse part of being a sorcerer-agent for the Regulating Union for Normalizing Enchantment. No, the worse part was doing this stakeout solo, because my temporary partner, Nancy Kirk, a Seer, had decided she’d rather stay in the van parked six blocks away, casting her magical sight through binoculars. All because she listened to the Midwest front office when they said we needed to keep a low profile.

We always needed to keep a low profile. But the neo-gnome we’d gotten the tip from said Burt the Ogre was leaving town tonight and headed to Chicago. It would be a lot harder for R.U.N.E. to track him there.

My phone slithered in my jacket pocket. I slipped my hand inside and the phone coiled around my wrist. It was a R.U.N.E.-issue arcane phone. I should have had an ear talker, one of those little jeweled silver dragonling artifacts, but the Midwest division of R.U.N.E. didn’t have any to spare, especially not for someone passing through on a temporary assignment.

So, I was stuck with the arcane phone. I raised my hand. The phone looked like a big ebony bracelet to normal eyes; to mine, it was covered in scales, scales that projected messages before my eyes.

Words glowed in my vision. Get back to the van, Liz. Now.

Nancy and I had already had this conversation. Twice.

Any sign of Burt? I whispered. My words floated in front of me. Nancy would be seeing them in the same way. Arcane phones couldn’t be snooped on, or hacked. They were useful in other ways, too, since they were alive, like all manifestations, but fixed in form, since they were artifacts.

No. You must be freezing, she replied. Get back here.

A Hummer limousine, black and ridiculous, windows tinted excessively dark, drove past the alley and pulled up to the night club’s entrance.

Can’t, I replied. We have action.

You don’t know that! Nancy texted back.

The bouncer nodded at the limo, and spoke into what looked like a CB radio.

The door to the club opened and two big men bounded down the stairs to the limo. One of the men opened the limo’s side door.

A faint purple haze drifted out, almost too faint for me to see. Mana, the raw fuel for magic. With her seer’s eyes, Nancy must have seen it, too, and in more detail.

A female figure covered in tattoos and leather hopped down from the Hummer. Her long blood-red hair was pulled up into a top knot. Even from where I crouched, I could tell something was off about her. Her skull came to a point in the back, and her skin was bone white.

A whorl-kin. A bloodthirsty neo-type manifestation. They were getting more common. Criminal manifestations like Burt used whorl-kin because they had no remorse, they just lived to create fear and cause pain.

I was a sorcerer, so I could see manifestations and magic, while ordinary people only felt their presence, if they noticed them at all.

The whorl-kin scanned the area. I ducked back, my heart racing, just as she turned to face me.

I texted Nancy frantically. Bring the van. It had a lightning staff. That would take care of an ogre and a whorl-kin.

Stay put, she texted back. I’m calling the front office.

I shook my head. That would take far too long, and Burt would be long gone again. No time! I replied. I slipped my hand back in my jacket pocket, and the arcane phone uncoiled and slipped off my wrist.

I risked a look around the corner.

A huge figure in a London Fog overcoat emerged from the limo. Burt loomed over the whorl-kin. He was eight feet tall. He would have been an impressive figure on the basketball court, but the Compact forbid manifestations from playing in human sports leagues, or starring in movies. Exceptions had been made, but they were extremely rare, and usually thanks to some bribes and favor swapping in some of the other organizations in the Hidden.

Burt’s outfit dealt drugs, pimped out the down on their luck, ran gambling rings–all the usual vices. My jaw tightened. Far worse, Burt’s outfit also engaged in human trafficking. Yet Burt managed to stay free. Someone in one of the arcane organizations that dominated the Hidden world must be in his court.

R.U.N.E. had been after him for a long time, but he had always eluded us.

That changed tonight. I knew he had young women, maybe young men, too, in the basement of his nightclub. R.U.N.E. blew me off when I brought that up, saying there was no evidence. But, the thought stealer I’d spelled yesterday when we “interviewed” a middle-aged man who frequented Burt’s nightclub gave me a glimpse of young women chained to a wall. R.U.N.E. forbid us from using thought-stealers on ordinary “normal” humans. The Compact stated such thought reading was only to be used on magic-using humans accused of crimes. Come on, a creepy perv visiting Burt’s night clubs was an accessory to magic crime as far as I was concerned.

Burt brushed snow off his jacket, rings flashing on his huge fingers. He said something in a low rumble, and the whorl-kin nodded.

She was going to be a problem.

Just then, my scamper returned from its mission at the other end of the alley.

It looked like a cross between a ferret and a monkey, with bat ears, wearing a silver collar with a milky arcane pearl. The scamper was a loaner from R.U.N.E. Midwestern Resident Manifestation office.

The scamper slunk up to my hand. I stroked its sinuous neck with one finger while another touched the arcane pearl. The fresh memory of its journey flashed into my head. The scamper had snuck into the back of the nightclub, and down into the basement.

The basement was a labyrinth of rooms, a perfect place for criminal activity. If I could get in the back way, I could ambush Burt and company. Okay, so I was one five -foot- two twenty-five-year-old human woman versus a hulking ogre and his private army. Crazy, but doable.

My phone stirred in my pocket again. Had to be Nancy, but I left the phone where it was. I didn’t have time to waste.

I gave the scamper a peanut, then followed it out the far end of the alley and around to the back of the club. “Thanks for the help,” I told the scamper. Time for it to head back to its nest at the Chicago castle. I hadn’t exactly asked for permission to take it with Nancy and me, and I’d kept Nancy in the dark about it. Simpler that way, for everyone.

The scamper nodded at me, then whirled around and darted into a drainpipe. Being a scamper manifestation meant it could take a secret way back to Chicago. I’d have to take a train, plane, or an automobile since I’d already used the teleportal there tonight, and it was one way. Rules. The arcane, which included we sorcerers, lived and died by them.

The street behind the club was filled with dumpsters and overturned shopping carts. There was a small loading dock off to one side. The door was a steel job with three locks and a little viewing window, currently shut.

#

Luckily for me, I had a magical lockpick, also on loan from R.U.N.E. Chicago. Okay, I borrowed it without permission, but I’d return it as soon as this assignment was completed.

The lockpick was a telescoping silver rod that expanded from two inches in length to a foot. It shivered and clicked into place. Like all magical artifacts, it was alive in its own way, trembling and hungering to fulfill its purpose. I stroked the lockpick with my pointing finger. “Descuia,” I said, unlock in Romanian.

The lockpick shuddered. The three locks clicked open, one by one, followed by a rattling sound. I opened the door.

Hopefully the back door was unguarded.

It wasn’t.

A surprised looking man in an ill-fitting suit, holding a sub-machine gun, stood there, staring at me wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Magic will do that to ordinaries, if you’re lucky.

My luck wasn’t going to last long.

I pointed my left fist at him. I wore a silver ring with a tiny sculpted silver bullfrog mounting it, mouth yawning open.

“Sleep,” I told the guard. Blue-tinged vapor visible only to a sorcerer gushed from the bullfrog’s mouth and into the man’s nostrils.

He raised his submachine gun, just in time to drop it as he slumped to the floor, the gun clattering beside him. He’d be out for a couple of hours, and nothing could wake him.  The sleep ring should be standard issue, but they were difficult to craft. Policy stated that only Burners could use them, not Binders like me. We tried to avoid tangling with normal humans, but sometimes you had to, despite policy.

Lucky for me I’d found a sleep ring in the armory when no one was looking. Too bad it only had the one charge.

One guard down. Who knew how many after that. Actually, the plan was not to go through many, because there’s no way I could, and still get Burt. The ogre was the point of this exercise.

One of my trainers back at R.U.N.E.’s Academy had told me if you train enough, you can act without fear taking over.

I was trying to do that here. I swallowed, and pushed back the worry, the fear, and pants-wetting panic. I had to keep moving.

My stomach churned at the thought of the women being held here, treated like meat at a butcher shop. Heaven only knew how long they had before they were auctioned off, or worse. I’d heard rumors that Burt liked human flesh, particularly young women, but R.U.N.E. had nothing on file. Proof of that would have brought the roof down on the ogre, but there was nothing.

I slipped around a kitchen area. Now I could hear the thudding bass from the dance party above. The club proper occupied floors two and three, with private rooms above it, while the lair was below this floor.

The door to below was off to my right, at the end of a short corridor. Old-style light bulbs shone inside wire ceiling fixtures. I waved the lockpick at the door, and said, “Unlock,” this time in Urdu. You could reuse a spell another time the same day, but you had to use a different language.

Click! I pushed the door open, listened. Floorboards creaked, and the bass thumped distantly. Voices drifted up from the basement. I crept down the stairs and crouched just above the bottom step. A big room spread out before me, lined with tables filled with vials and boxes. Had to be a drug shipment.

I saw doors at the far end of the room. If they had any cells to hold girls they’d kidnapped, they’d likely be there.

Seven muscled crooks, in all leather coats, loomed around a table in the center. A gnome, dressed in a white lab coat, blue silk shirt and tailored slacks, stood on the table as he did the talking. Light glinted off his bald head and gold-rimmed glasses. The thick lenses gave him a fish-eyed look.

“We have three cargoes to deal with. The boss just arrived and will want the scoop.” The gnome stopped, long nose quivering as he sniffed the air. “I smell a sorcerer.”

Bunny-rabbit panic froze me. He could smell my blood. Curses.

I had two binding spells prepared. Looked like I was going to have to use one right now, no excuses.

Latin fell from my lips like lead, the familiarity of it chasing away fear as I whispered the words. “Thy essence I bind to me. Thy magic I wield. The action is my command. Obedience is thine order. The Law thee must follow.”

The gnome stiffened, his face contorting. “W-h-o?”

Silentio,” I murmured in Latin.

The gnome fell silent. The crooks stared at him, then peered around the room, hands straying to the weapons under their coats.

I couldn’t bind them. But I could persuade them. I hated going through all my talismans and charms like this. The crooks drew knives, pistols, and in one case, a shotgun, and faced in my direction.

I walked to the bottom of the stairs, and raised a charm I’d been holding in my left hand, shaped like a dove. Not my idea, but you go with what you have.

“Listen, boys, I’m a reasonable type,” I said. “Obey me,” I intoned, in English.

“Who the hell are you?” the nearest crook demanded. He blinked. His face and the faces of the other thugs slackened as the charm’s power took hold. “Yes, mistress,” he said, voice low and tone obedient. “Yes, mistress,” echoed the others.

I rolled my eyes. Great, just great. Whoever had crafted this charm in the R.U.N.E. workshop had put a sexist aspect into it.

Didn’t matter. I needed to get moving. I only had one binding spell left, and the ogre and his nasty whorl-kin bodyguard would be here in moments. Gods, I hated nights like tonight. It would be nice if just once I had real backup, not a partner like Nancy who insisted on following cramped bureaucratic procedures that didn’t work in the field.

I pointed at the speaker and the two men beside him. “You three, guard the stairs. Don’t let anyone past.” The three nodded and ran up the stairs.

The gnome still writhed on the tabletop from the effects of my binding spell.

“You’re a tough cookie,” I told him. A whiff of musty old books drifted up from him. Not a typical gnome. He looked like an ancient manifestation, but smelled like a new one. Modern manifestations had all kinds of weird traits. His must include resistance to binding magic.

“Settle, and relax,” I told him in Latin. He did neither.

Purple fluid dribbled from his mouth. “Cease!” I commanded him.

He screamed soundlessly and fell, banging off the table and smacking the floor, hard.

Stronger tremors wracked his body, as if he was having a seizure.

Then golden light burst from him. I stepped back, shielding my eyes. When I opened them again, he had vanished, leaving only his clothes, shoes, and glasses.

I swallowed. He’d self-immolated. That shouldn’t have happened, but his resistance to magic must have been even stronger than I realized, and my spell’s overcoming that resistance made him self-destruct. A twinge of guilt ran through me. He had served a criminal who enslaved humans, but I wouldn’t have destroyed him. Unless he’d been found guilty of murder, R.U.N.E. would have sent him to the Silos.

Gunfire banged from the direction of the stairs, followed by shouts. I had even less time to find those women.

I gestured at the four crooks remaining in the storeroom. “Defend this room,” I ordered, and sprinted to the far side. I leaned my head against the first door, and listened. No shouting for freedom from the other side.

The lockpick unlocked the door. I swung it open, slowly, holding my wand like a sword, and pointed around the room. Crates stacked from floor to ceiling lined the walls. There was no other exit, and nothing living, human or manifestation, inside. I lowered my wand.

The second door had three locks on it, like the door at the nightclub’s back entrance. It was a double-wide door, too. Promising, though it did eat up three more charges on the lockpick. I only had a few left now.

Beyond the big door ran a corridor lined with doors on both sides and another big door at the far end.

I pulled out my phone and subvocalized another text to Nancy. Exploring Bart’s dungeon. Gun battle in progress above. Send help. I left the phone coiled around my left wrist. If humans saw it now, they’d probably think they were seeing an ebony cuff bracelet. If they saw the arcane phone for what it was, they’d glimpse the actual supernatural world. That could lead to all sorts of problems, but I had to take the risk.

The screen said “message not yet received.” The nightclub’s floors and walls shouldn’t have blocked the message. Perhaps something else had. Fine. I’d just keep moving.

The doors along the corridor were all unlocked. The first one was another storeroom. Pantry shelves lined the walls, filled with cans of dog food, bean-less chili and stew. Burt liked his protein.

The next four rooms were bedrooms, with bunk beds. Made up and empty, obviously for guards.

Curse it, I swore silently, and headed to the big door at the far end. It was locked. Figured.

My lockpick still vibrated softly. I prayed it had enough left to open the big door.

One lock went click. A second went click. A third went click. The door wouldn’t budge.

There was another lock. The lockpick trembled in my hand. It didn’t have enough strength left.

I bit my lip, hesitated, then glanced at my phone’s screen. My last message still not received.

I switched the lockpick to my left hand and reached inside my jacket, to a hidden pocket. My fingers fumbled at the snap, but finally opened it and grasped the spiked iron ring-shaped blood amulet. there. I licked my lips. This was the last thing I was supposed to be using. But just a little, just this once, I told myself, and pressed my fingers onto the spikes. Hot needles of pain stabbed my fingers. I jerked, nearly dropping the blood amulet. I managed to hang on to it, took my pain and pushed mana into the lockpick. Its trembling grew and I commanded it to open the last lock.

A soft click sounded. I let out my breath and I put the blood amulet back in its hidden pocket.

I pushed the door open. Beyond was an upscale penthouse style suite.

There were bedrooms, a living room, and media room, and a kitchen. All were empty. I did find lots of lingerie, and some bedroom equipment, so to speak, that made me twitchy. Burt had definite tastes in that direction.

I looked in all the closets, tried to find hidden doors, but nothing.

More gunfire echoed from the storeroom.

Sorcerer’s tears, I swore silently. I texted Nancy. Down in basement. At least three manifestations on site. One self-immolated. Two more, the ogre and a whorl-kin, are headed my way. Let R.U.N.E. know. Okay, so I didn’t have absolute proof the two manifestations were coming after me, but Burt would come after any threats to his business. And the whorl-kin lived to rend and tear flesh.

An icon of an ear popped up on the phone’s screen, next to the list of my messages. Received. Maybe Nancy would finally do something.

I hunkered down behind a huge black leather sofa in the media room, and faced the door to the hallway. I had one spell remaining, which I had to cast on Burt. After all, he was huge. I could use him against Lady Nasty.

Gunfire crackled and popped. Shouting from human throats turned to screams. I plugged my ears. I’d made the guards defend the room against Burt and his bodyguard, essentially ordering them to die for me. My stomach clenched. But what choice I had I had? The guards were working for a murderous criminal, and probably had killed for him.

I peeked over the top at the door, binding knife in my hand, a long, thin blade. Gesturing with the knife, I began chanting in Irish.

The ogre should come barging in at any moment.

Minutes ticked past. I checked my phone. There was no reply from Nancy or R.U.N.E. Sweat trickled down my back. This was not good, not good at all. I was hell hound chow if I didn’t get backup. Sure, I’d charged in here, but Nancy had to follow. The phone said messages received. Then why hadn’t she answered me? A nasty though popped into my head and I shivered. Perhaps something had happened to her.

Right at that moment a panel slid back in the wall kitty corner from the door. My eyes widened.

The whorl-kin strode through the secret door I’d missed, and stopped.

She raised her head and sniffed the air like a wolf tracking a sheep. “Surrender and I’ll kill you quickly. Resist,” she rolled the word around her tongue like a grape she was about to chew, “and you die slowly.”

I was an idiot. Why would Burt come in when he could send his assassin?

I stood. “How about you work for me?”

Her eyes were red-tinged. She laughed, showing a mouth full of glittering needle-like teeth. “How about I eat you, slowly?” She sauntered toward me, each step a promise of pain, her grin widening as she neared.

I brandished my binding blade. “Hello! Sorcerer here.”

Her grin widened even further until it threatened to split her face. “I love the taste of sorcerer’s blood.” She reached her arms wide. Her fingers were claws now. Her muscles tensed, like a lion about to pounce on its prey.

“By the power of the Laws, I bind thee to me,” I said, in Irish.

The whorl-kin’s tattoos covered her arms and neck, snapping wolf jaws. They began glowing a blood red. Her grin turned into a savage snarl. She leapt at me. I threw myself out of the way and she slammed into the wall behind where I’d been. I thrust the knife at her, twisting it in the air, shouting the spell.

Tendrils of gold shimmered from the blade’s tip and shot into her blood-red tattoos, making them flare gold. She struggled against the binding spell, her breath hot on my face. She snapped her jaws. “I will eat y—” she stopped in mid-threat. A violent tremor ran through her. Her eyes widened, then she slumped, her head down.

I fought to keep my voice even, and keep the screaming fear from my words. “You will obey me.” My blood thundered in my ears. I’d done it. Barely, but I’d bound the psycho manifestation, and held her essence, the mana that made her the supernatural creature she was. That meant I could command the whorl-kin to do my bidding.

Exhaustion washed over me. Lack of food, not enough sleep, the rush of adrenalin, all demanded their cut from me, and I didn’t have enough energy to pay. I wanted to sleep for a hundred years. But sleep was the last thing I could do at the moment.

I still had the ogre to deal with.

At least now I had a new tool to use against him.

“Tell me your name,” I ordered.

“Cindy.”

Cindy? I figured something more tough sounding, like Athena, or maybe Bellatrix. Cindy was the last name I’d have guessed.

It made me think that the whorl-kin had been conjured, rather than born from the collective subconscious.

A sorcerer or worse, a wizard, must have created her.

Right on cue, Burt’s voice boomed from the hallway outside the media room.

“Your only way out is through me, sorcerer-agent.”

“Here I was hoping to surprise you with my big reveal,” I shouted back.

“This can go two ways.” His voice sounded like boulders crashing together. “A quick death for you, or a very slow one. It’s up to you.”

I made a buzzer sound. “I’ll take option number three.”

“Crazy human. Fine, then we’ll play this rough way. Seize her!” Burt’s voice thundered.

Burly guys charged into the room, brandishing brass knuckles.

I hated myself for my next order to Cindy. “Stop them,” I said.

She whirled toward them like a psychopathic ballerina, her claws extended.

“Look out!” One guy shouted, before she sliced open his throat.

Two more men fumbled for their guns. She kicked one in the stomach, sending him tumbling backwards and crashing into glass shelving on the far wall. She whirled on the second, opened her jaws and engulfed his face with a sharp snap. His body thrashed and fell, spraying blood from where his face used to be.

She spin-kicked a third man into two more who were just coming through the door. The men stumbled and fell. She raked them with her claws. More screaming erupted.

In seconds five men lay dying on the carpet.

I bent over and dry heaved. What in the seven hells had I done? There was no stop order for a whorl-kin. Only a kill setting. I knew that in the back of my mind, but stupidly hoped it would be different this time.

A huge form loomed in the doorway, brandishing a machete-like blade. Burt.

Cindy leapt at him, arms outstretched. The ogre slashed at her right arm, severing it. She screamed, a high-pitched glass-shattering eruption of sound.

Burt staggered back. I clutched my ears.

She lunged at his face. He blocked with his left arm. She bit hard into it. He grunted, hurled her down onto the carpet, and slashed her stomach open. Purple ichor-like blood, the blood of a manifestation, boiled in the air, and then her form boiled away, leaving only a blackened smear on the carpet. Manifestations don’t die like humans. They dissolve.

The black smear began smoldering.

Burt reared up, rage contorting his already rugged features into a granite mountain-like appearance. His eyes blazed red.

“I’m going to tear you apart, bone by bone!” He roared.

I didn’t have much time. I was out of binding spells, and it would take far too long to cast another one. My fingers fumbled again at the hidden pocket in my jacket. The amulet slipped over my finger.

I was forbidden from doing what I was about to do, but when you have no choice but to leap over the edge, you leap.

Pain lanced up my arm as I rolled the points of the blood amulet into my open palm. Tears filled my eyes. I managed to hold back my scream.

“With this blood, I power my magic,” I chanted in Coptic.

Purple ichor streamed from the wound in the ogre’s arm. He took a step toward me, shaking his head.

Blood magic was forbidden, but I didn’t have a choice.

I used it to fuel another binding spell. But this one wasn’t a command spell.

I rattled off the spell in Coptic as Burt lumbered toward me, breathing hard. More blood spilled from his shoulder and chest. Cindy had done more harm than I’d glimpsed at the time. He slashed the air in front of him with the machete.

“And I’ll gnaw each and every one of your bones,” he bellowed.

Binding magic, by the Laws of the Compact, is meant to control, not to destroy, and destroying a manifestation with it takes a great deal of time.

Unless you fuel that spell with your own blood, which is what I was doing.

Blood pooled in my palm, and trickled down my arm. I flicked it in the air.

The ogre snarled and swung at me.

I ducked. His wounds had slowed him just enough for me to avoid losing my head.

“Burn,” I commanded in Coptic.

Flames burst from him and he howled like a hurricane. I staggered back. Heat washed over me, and I choked from the stench of burning supernatural flesh. Then, he became a tower of flame and his howl rose. I scrambled away, coughing.

Burt fell onto the carpet and the fire began to spread, his huge body blocking the door.

I was trapped. There were no smoke alarms down here, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there were, I’d be long dead before any fire fighters arrived.

#

I looked around frantically, and spotted the hidden door, now open, that Cindy had come through. I sprinted into the secret passage, which was narrow and dark. Flickering light from the blaze growing behind me illuminated the hall enough to see it had bare stone walls, and a door at the far end. I coughed again. Already smoke filled the corridor.

I stumbled to the door, praying that it wasn’t locked. It wasn’t. I yanked it open. Even gagging from the billowing smoke, my nose wrinkled from the stench of fecal matter and unwashed bodies. A lone lightbulb hung from the ceiling, and illuminated the cramped little room. A half-dozen women in dirty clothes huddled hand-cuffed to a pipe running around the room. Their faces were smudged, and their hair greasy from sweat and not being washed. Beside each was a bucket.

A closed door was on the opposite wall from me. That must lead up. Cindy had to have come this way.

They’d been treated worse than animals. I needed to get them out there. They lifted their heads and looked at me duly.

“I’m here to rescue you,” I said, fighting back a sob.

Smoke billowed into the room. I coughed again, and the women began coughing weakly. There was a little table beside the door I’d come through, and a couple of bowls on it, the kind you might throw keys in. But there were no keys.

My lockpick, did it still have enough juice to open six sets of handcuffs? My hand ached from the blood magic I’d used. Blood magic was dangerous, which was why it was banned by the Compact. Three times in one day was the limit, and even then, it could kill the user.

I drew the lockpick and strode up to the first woman. Her eyes widened. “I’m getting all of you out of here. Now.” I managed to say it with confidence. Now, if I only felt that.

I closed my eyes, concentrating. “Open the locks,” I whispered in ancient Greek, the lockpick cold and motionless in my hand. Smoke tickled my throat. I ran and closed the door. Idiot! I snarled at myself. I’d gotten myself and these women into this fix. I should have looked for keys on Burt, only he had immolated, thanks to my blood-magic fueled binding spell making him combust.

The lockpick suddenly trembled. An electrical tingle ran up my arm. A chorus of clicks echoed in the room, followed by clattering of metal on cement as the handcuffs fell to the floor.

“What just happened?” One of the women shook her head. The six of them looked about a thousand years old, but I guessed they were in their late teens or early twenties. “Handcuffs just don’t unlock themselves, do they?”

“We got lucky,” I said. “Come on, we need to leave, now!” I led them through the back door, down a short hall and through another door which opened into the store room. The place was littered with bodies. My stomach rose. I’d caused this. But, what choice had I had?

One of the women kicked a corpse. Two more spat at the bodies. “You deserve to be dead,” another woman snarled.

I shook myself. “Let’s go.”

I led them up the stairs and toward the back door, then skidded to a stop. Brimstone,I swore silently. This was a night club. There were people here. People who would die. I’d have those people’s lives on me, too.

That’s when I saw Nancy, in her black coat and knitted cap, white hair in a long pony tail, standing with a group of pinched-faced R.U.N.E. agents in business suits by the back door.

Heaven help me, I wanted to give her a hug, but I settled for a quip. “About time you showed up,” I said. “I freed the women the front office says weren’t here.”

Nancy glared at me. I grinned back at her, relief flooding me. The freed women piled up behind me, looking at Nancy and the grim-faced suits in wonder. “Are you FBI?” A woman asked.

One of the suits was a woman with a helmet hairdo, who looked about forty-five. She flashed a badge at them. “That’s right, Agent Barker.” Helmet hairdo nodded at another suit, a man.  “Agent Tyler will help you out.” He led the women outside.

Helmet hairdo strode up to me. “Very funny. What else?”

“There’s a fire downstairs.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m guess that’s your doing?”

I shrugged, trying to look nonchalant while my heart still raced like a cheap sedan’s engine being floored. “I took care of our target.” I nodded at the door to downstairs. “A fire did get started in the process.”

The other business suit, a man, gave me a sour look. “You mean you started a blaze in the process.”

I nodded. “I already said that. I’m sure you have a water spirit or two on hand,” I pointed out, trying to keep things light.

“Amusing,” helmet hairdo replied. You could cut her sarcasm with a knife.

Her partner drew a titanium and blue-steel summoning rod from his coat. It was obviously dragon forged. The rod thrummed as he held it.

“The fire’s downstairs.” I liked to be helpful when I could.

His sour look grew sourer. “We ought to charge you for this,” he said. “Have to call in a few favors to use this. These manifestations aren’t easy to summon, you know.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Excuse me for taking out a criminal ogre.”

He ignored me and began a summoning ritual, gesturing with the rod.

“There are ways to do it without starting a blaze,” helmet hair said. “You realize we have to call in more favors with our local contact, to avoid getting the fire department and local police involved. That would be an even bigger mess to clean up.” She noticed my wound. “What happened to your hand?”

I shrugged. “Wounded in the fight with the ogre. He had a nasty machete.”

Another suit slapped a heal patch on my hand. I winced for a second as the magical band aid went to work.  

More R.U.N.E. personnel arrived, including burners in their gray suits and thin sunglasses. Their job was to burn out any memories, so that ordinaries who might have witnessed arcane shenanigans wouldn’t realize that the supernatural was real. You only needed to call in the burners when things had really gotten out of hand. Okay, so maybe things had a little this time. But, hey, I had taken care of the ogre and whorl-kin before the clubbers had wised up.

A wet whoosh sounded and a person-sized waterspout popped into existence, a fine mist making us blink furiously. The water spirit spun down the stairs toward the billowing smoke.

Clubbers wandered in from the front—a man with a silk shirt and two women in slinky dresses hanging on his arms.

“You shouldn’t be here,” helmet hairdo told them.

“I smelled smoke,” the guy said.

The burners went up to the trio, waved their wands. Translucent memory snakes emerged from the burners’ sleeves and coiled around the three.

Their eyes widened for an instant, then their expressions went blank.

I looked away. I never had the stomach to watch burners at work.

The whole time Nancy watched me with a granite-eyed gaze from the back door.

“See, I told you we could bring him down,” I told her.

“I’m surprised Tomlinson lasted as long as he did as your partner,” she said acidly.

I ignored the remark. “We got the job done. The front office will appreciate that.”

Nancy held up a parchment scroll. I gulped. Even rolled up, the glowing blue characters of the message were visible. The R.U.N.E. pentagram seal had been broken. She’d read it.

“The New York front office wants to speak with you. You are to report to the Brooklyn castle at once.”

“We’re not finished here,” I said. “We need to search the place.”

“Oh, we’re not finished, but you are,” she retorted, looking down her nose at me. “You need to take the teleportal to the Brooklyn castle. Enjoy the ride. I suspect it will be your last as a field agent.”

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