Walking back to my car, my head was abuzz with everything Bishop Montoya and I had talked about. The weight of his words and presence had inflamed my body, but soothed my mind.
Bishop Montoya hadn’t given me much new information, and we may have had severe theological differences, but merely being in his company and listening to him talk had made me, or at least the human part of me, feel better. He was a man who knew his place in the world and strove to make a difference. I liked that.
My cell phone chirruped at me. It was Vic with my update. Hopefully he had some good news for me.
“Alex, you’re not gonna like what I have to tell you.” Not the best way to start a conversation.
“Well, go ahead and spit it out. If I don’t like it, I’ll simply kick the crap out of you the next time I see you.” I was in a good mood and I wasn’t afraid to let Vic know it.
“Somebody’s in rare form this afternoon. I take it your meeting went well?”
I smiled despite myself. I hadn’t wanted to like the Bishop, but there was something about him that put me at ease and had me opening up to him. We sat and talked for almost an hour after I had gotten the information I needed from him about the case.
“It did. Now, please tell me you’re not calling with bad news about those spells.” It was a long shot, I knew it. I could practically feel his disappointment through the phone.
“Wish I could, babe. You’ll have to take the leather to my rump later.” He tried to sound like a slavering letch, but it came out more anxious teenager.
“I had another Breaker come back to the house with me late last night to do a more powerful, in-depth examination, and we deciphered at least two dozen different spells that had been cast within the last week in the hallway alone.”
“A mage’s duel?” It would fit in with my initial interpretation of the scene.
“That’s what we’re going with for now.” He paused as if gathering his thoughts. “There’s very little structural damage to the walls and floors. Only a small percentage of that damage is from magic. The mages involved were very precise in their castings. I’d say at least ninety-five percent accuracy. And that’s being conservative.”
That level of accuracy was nearly unheard of in any sort of combat situation. The amount of control and self-discipline these mages possessed was astounding.
“Yeah, I know. Kind of scary to have that sort of a duel going on and not have anybody call us in.” He read the meaning of my silence correctly.
I merely grunted my agreement, as I attempted to extricate my tangle of keys from my pocket without spilling loose change all over the parking lot. Two high-level mages waling away at each other with magic was more than a little conspicuous, but I doubted any of the neighbors would talk to the Agency; not in that neighborhood and not with Liam’s reputation. I’d have some of the Agents-In-Training go door to door in the neighborhood, but I wasn’t counting on them to find anything.
“But I haven’t even told you the weirdest part; you remember how I mentioned that there were elements of the curse on the body at Liam’s that shouldn’t have been able to be used together?” He continued without waiting for my answer. “Well, I think I’ve figured out how they did it.”
He paused again, and I wasn’t sure if it was for dramatic effect or if he was wondering how to word what he needed to say.
“Alex, they used the fucking Veil.” His voice was full of anguish and unshed tears along with a darker mixture of jealousy and anger.
All the light happy feelings I had acquired during my meeting with Bishop Montoya fled as my demon-self reveled in my friend’s misery. I pushed aside the sick feeling in my stomach and concentrated on the conversation.
“Wait, what are you talking about, Vic? How is that even possible?” I was thinking about making a recording of the phrase and playing it back at the appropriate time since it was about all I kept saying lately. What? Why? How? It made me feel like a trainee again. Not a feeling I had found particularly pleasant the first time around. Much less so the second.
“I have no idea. If I could tell you how they did it, I’d write a book and make millions.” More bitterness. Being a mere witch must have been tough for Vic. Anybody could be a witch if they put the time and effort into it; it was all a matter of training the mind to control the ambient energy existing naturally all around us. To be a mage or sorcerer required an extra spark one could only get from faery blood. Before the Fall, witches were the top of the magical food chain, now they were simply semi-special humans.
Proof of Vic’s feelings lay within his choice of professions. He could have taken a higher-ranking position within the human FBI or even one of the local police forces, but he chose instead a job with the Vamyraset, where he was low-man on the power pole. Either he was a complete masochist, or somewhere in his soul he enjoyed bringing down the beings that had stripped him of his illusions.
I clenched my teeth together and swallowed back the snide comment I was tempted to make questioning his magical abilities. What the fuck was wrong with me? I would not cause my friend pain simply so my demon-self could feed. That was not acceptable to me.
“Okay, so they used the Veil, which is both a barrier and a doorway, to bind dissimilar elements together,” I prompted. If I could get his mind to start thinking about the how of it, he might snap out of this bitter depression he seemed to be in.
“Right. But that’s not all the Veil is,” he said, sounding a bit better having something else occupy his thoughts. “The Veil is a massively complex and intricate layer of energy that separates the human plane from Faerie. It’s the ultimate of possibilities which is why it can only be accessed where two opposing factors meet. Most instances of people accidentally slipping across the Veil into Faerie before the Fall happened at dusk or dawn, or while they were crossing from one place to another: city to field, earth to sea, woods to clearing.”
He paused again.
“With the Power of the Veil they were able to merge them into one energetic thread.”
I tried to wrap my brain around that concept. Life and death, yes and no, light and dark, earth and air, fire and water, not just layered on top of each other, not even simply intertwined with each other, but mixed together like a perfectly prepared drink. No one element outshining the others, all blended together to create a fully balanced whole.
“So, the Veil is sort of like Schrödinger’s cat?” I asked as I unlocked my car door.
His laughter came roaring out of the phone so loudly a lady three spaces over gave me a quizzical glance.
“Not quite,” he managed to choke out after getting his fit of mirth mostly under control. “It’s similar in theory, but not in reality. You see…”
I stopped him right there. His explanation would run on for hours and go right over my head. I’d have Luka explain it to me the next time I talked to him. Or, the next time I talked to him when he was lucid. The drugs the healers kept pumping into his system made him pretty loopy and out of it.
“What confuses me is how they got a piece of the Veil at all.” He picked up a different train of thought without a hitch. “Except for the Fall, the Veil has never been broken…”
His voice trailed off as his synapses made connections that had eluded him before.
“The Fall! That’s it!” he screeched, nearly deafening me.
“What are you talking about, Vic?” I climbed in my car feeling completely left behind. Everybody knows what happened during the Fall – one sunny day, while everyone the world over waited breathlessly for the results of a much contested, highly controversial American presidential election, the barrier between Earth and Faerie collapsed, leaving the two planes combined as one. It was nearly a year later before the Veil was restored, but once sundered, it was never quite what it once was.
“When the Veil Fell, it fractured into several hundred billion pieces. It took the accumulated knowledge of every Fey and the combined power of every Fey and the most powerful mages to put it back together again.”
Maybe they could help Humpty Dumpty… I made an impatient noise. This was all information any school child knew; I still wasn’t making the connection.
“What if,” he began dramatically, “what if not every piece of the Veil was reintegrated with the whole? What if somebody deliberately kept a piece aside somehow?”
“How would that even be possible? Wouldn’t the Veil energy automatically merge back into the whole once it was reformed?”
“Not necessarily. If they fused the energy with something, say an amulet or a crystal, it would remain there until they released it.”
Now, the puzzle was starting to make sense. I was sometimes slow on the pickup, but I usually got it eventually.
“So, you’re saying whoever is behind this has had a piece of the Veil for sixteen years? Why wouldn’t they have used it before now?”
Vic hmm’ed for a few moments, lost in the vast complexity of his brain.
“What if they were saving it for something special?” I blurted out.
“What if they were?” he agreed, happily. “What would be special enough to wait sixteen years for though?”
“I’ll check with the Astrology Department. Maybe there’s some sort of astrological conjunction coming up.” Even as I said it, something about the whole thing was bothering me.
“Yeah, what’s going on in your head, Alex?”
“If they’ve had this piece of the Veil for sixteen years, why did they use it on some stupid curse?” I drummed my fingers on my steering wheel as I thought it over.
“What if, instead of having saved it for sixteen years, they found it recently?” It still didn’t explain why it would have been wasted on a curse or how it would have resisted being assimilated into the whole, but it sounded more logical than hoarding a piece of something so immensely powerful and valuable for more than a dozen years and then wasting it on something mundane.
“Could be,” Vic agreed reluctantly, “but what if we’re thinking along the wrong lines?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if they didn’t simply squander their only piece?” He paused, and this time I was certain he was doing it for the drama. “We don’t know for fact that they only had one piece…”
He let his voice trail off so I could pick up the pieces of his unfinished train of thought.
“If they had more than one piece, or a piece large enough to break apart into smaller bits, they could be testing the limits of what they can do with it.” That thought certainly didn’t make me feel all warm and cozy inside. I knew just enough magical theory to know that a section of the Veil in the wrong hands spelled big trouble.
Right now that was exactly what I was in. Then my brain put things together – the body in Liam’s house wasn’t a coincidence, nor was its abduction from the morgue. There was a connection there to my case, there had to be. I couldn’t believe the Universe would throw something that groundbreaking in my path for no reason. That meant Liam was connected somehow, as well. And that made it even more imperative I find him.
“Hey, Space Cadet Powers, you still there?” Vic’s voice jerked me back inside my body. “Earth to Space Cadet Powers.”
“Yeah, I’m still here. I was thinking about some things. Sorry about that.”
“Listen, I’m going to let you go and see if I can figure out what exactly that curse was designed to do. I just wanted to let you know what I had found.” He sounded so much more positive now that his brain had been allowed to stretch itself and help get something accomplished.
“Yeah, I need to get back to the office, I’ve got a lot of thinking to occupy my time. I think it’s time to call in some favors.” We said our goodbyes and hung up.
Before heading back to the office, I dialed my Mom’s cell. I had a feeling things were only going to get crazier the deeper into this case I dug, so I’d better give her a call while I had a spare moment or two.
My call went straight to voicemail; she was likely either in a meeting or in the middle of a photo shoot.
“Mom, it’s Alex. I’m in the middle of a big case and I’ve had some trouble with my demon-half come up. I’m afraid it’s going to interfere with my work if I don’t get it under control. Can you call me back as soon as you can? Thanks, Mom. Talk to you soon.”
I tossed my phone onto the passenger seat then banged my head against my headrest a couple times hoping the impacts would jolt some inspiration into my brain.
What did Father Callahan and this unknown body have in common? Why were they both stolen from the morgue within days of each other? And what was the significance of the Veil-fueled curse?
And somewhat less important, but no less concerning to me: what would be the fallout from the Pope Seeing me in a vision? Nothing good, that was for sure.
This was certainly shaping up to be an interesting case, indeed.
My call to the Astrology Department put me through to Stag.
Finola Staghorn was not, to her eternal dismay, a Cheironian centaur. She was merely one of the Lesser Sidhe with an affinity for the stars and planets.
Her ability to not only decipher the clues written in the heavenly bodies, but to hear their song put her on par with most centaurs. For poor Finola, though, that wasn’t good enough and she would spend hours bitching to anyone and everyone about her misfortune.
“Whaddya want this time, Powers?” Sixteen years on Earth had tarnished her once crisp Sidhe accent. The Sidhe, especially, were nothing if not fast learners.
“Hey Stag. I’m working on a murder case and need to know if there have been any unusual astrological events in the past couple of weeks. Or if there are any coming up.”
“Unusual? I don’t know any off the top of my head, but lemme check.”
There was silence on her end as she consulted her charts and did whatever else it was she did to make sense of the Universal rotation. Within seconds she was back on the line with the information I was looking for.
“All right, Alex, here it is – Mars made its closest pass to Earth in over a thousand years on the thirtieth of April,” The day that Father Callahan died. “and it goes retrograde on the tenth.” She paused before adding, “That means it appears to move backwards in the sky”
Astrology was another subject I knew less than nothing about, but I at least knew what retrograde meant. “That means that its effects on Earth are lessened or reversed.”
“Very good, Powers, you show a keen aptitude for modern astrology.” Her emphasis on “modern astrology” clearly illustrated her disdain. “Now can you tell me what a planet being retrograde means in the real sense?”
Have I mentioned that most Sidhe are a bunch of stuck up prigs?
“I don’t know, Stag. You’re the astrology expert, so why don’t you tell me?”
“That’s right, I am the expert, so why don’t you stop trying to do my job?” Ouch. I may have deserved that one. “The effects of a planet in retrograde are exactly the same as when the planet is direct because the planet is not actually going backwards, it only appears to do so.”
“If Mars passed so close to Earth, does that mean a major war or aggression has started?”
Stag giggled in derisive amusement. Anybody who has never had the pleasure of hearing one of the Sidhe giggle is missing out. It doesn’t sound like a chorus of birds. Instead, a chorus of birds sounds like a cheap imitation of a Sidhe giggle. Even a nasty giggle like Stag’s is beautiful.
“No. The heavens are not a mirror of what happens down here. Nor do the planets possess the same properties as the deities they were named after.”
“So why does it matter that Mars is doing what it’s doing?”
“It matters because you asked about unusual astrological events.” Her voice was patient and just this side of condescending. “Alex, the thing you have to remember is that most people who do things based upon planetary positioning do so because they are under the delusion that the planets carry the same traits as their namesakes and that what happens on Earth happens in the heavens and vice-versa. Both assumptions being patently false.”
“Then the uses for astrology are…”
“Astrology, as practiced by most people, is completely useless. It’s hit or miss with the percentage of misses topping ninety percent.” Out came the teacher’s voice. “But astrology as the centaurs and I know it does not rely on those false assumptions. We deal with the planets and constellations as they are. They speak to us and tell us what we need to know.”
“And what are the heavenly orbs telling you about the next few weeks?”
“That, my dear, is going to take some time.”
Look at my total lack of surprise.
“How long, Stag?” That was the problem with mystical communion with anything – it usually took forever to get something useful.
“Not long, a few hours. I’ll call you if I learn anything important.”
“Call me no matter what you learn. Something might seem unimportant, but it could give me a lead.”
She grumbled something under her breath that I failed to catch, but I thought it sounded like “Telling me how to do my fucking job again.”
“Oh, and before I forget – there’s a full moon on the eighth and the fifth is the actual day of the Beltaine cross-quarter. But, being the know it all that you are, you probably already knew that.” She hung up on me.
“Bitch,” I muttered into the silence. I did know that the twenty-first was the full moon – at least vaguely. Vic had unthinkingly asked if I wanted to join his coven for a full moon ritual.
Her comment about it being the Beltaine cross-quarter had me flummoxed, though. As far as I knew, Beltaine was celebrated on May first which was yesterday. Historically, Beltaine was one of two days when the Veil was at its thinnest, the second being Samhain, in November. Since the Fall, the Veil didn’t fluctuate very much. It seemed to be in a perpetual state of semi-permeability. Yet another question to ask Vic.
While I waited for Stag to call me back, I dug my private Rolodex out of my desk and picked up the phone. I had contacts to hunt up.