Where Demons Fear to Tread ~ Chapter 11

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Daggers of morning sunlight stabbed through my closed eyelids, adding a fresh wave of agony to the pounding in my skull. My clock said I still had more than an hour before the alarm was set to start its Bean-Sidhe shrieking at seven. Hoping to fall quickly back to sleep, I pulled the covers up over my head and snuggled deeper into my pillow.

The sound of glass shattering dashed that hope.

“Somebody’s going to be extremely pissed off when they wake up,” I mumbled to myself, rolling over.

A second later, adrenaline sent my body’s nervous systems into overdrive as I realized it wasn’t a car window being smashed; the shattering sound was coming from inside my house.

Wakefulness sliced through my hangover-induced lethargy and I fumbled for the metal bat I left behind the nightstand for such an emergency. Settling its weight comfortably in my hand, I slipped off the side of my bed, careful not to shake the ancient wooden bed frame.

My house was old and creaky, but I’d grown up there and knew exactly where to step to avoid making noise. Standing at the top of the stairs, it sounded as if somebody was breaking every one of my downstairs windows.

Son of a bitch. Where the hell are Luka’s wards?

When we had first been teamed up as partners, Luka had set wards around my house. Not a small thing for him to do since warding was one of the most energy-intensive forms of magic. It had taken more than a week for him to get back up to one hundred percent afterward.

A near-solid sphere of energy should have encased my house as soon as anybody intending me harm neared my property line and if they dared venture any further it should have fried their asses with electrical shocks.

The alarm system had been set with my own flesh and blood and Luka had assured me that the only way to break a flesh and blood working was to use my flesh and blood to undo the spell. All Agents were very careful to never let anyone have even a drop of their blood. Blood was the closest thing to the core essence of a person. In the hands of a magical adept, even the tiniest bit could be used to compel or even kill the person it belonged to.

I remembered my conversation with Luka the night before. A super-powered mage or Fey was behind this. If they could manipulate the Veil, tearing my wards without me noticing was probably child’s play to them.

I was halfway down the stairs before my nose caught the acrid tang of burning cloth. My house was on fire! Fear and anger sent me sprinting down the rest of the stairs, heedless of my own safety.

It wasn’t until I caught sight of the dense black smoke billowing out of my living room that caution once again took hold of my senses. I eased around the edge of the open doorway, scanning the room for potential threats. The smoke did much to conceal my movements, but I cautiously crouched low to the floor using my furniture as cover against hostile eyes. As much as the smoke obscured me, it did the same for any enemies lurking about as well.

My window! I clenched my jaws together and tamped down my anger as I saw the destruction of my home. The picture window my grandfather had painstakingly installed himself nearly fifty years before was shattered and the chill morning breeze blew through it fanning the small flames scattered about the floor.

Harsh fumes stung my eyes and nose and made me cough. I hastily stifled it in the hem of my t-shirt, but if anyone were listening, my position would be crystal clear.

A small glass bottle whistled through the broken window, its burning tail a bright spot in the smoky miasma. It landed with a dull thunk on my beautiful bamboo floor and rolled to a stop mere inches from my feet. I flinched back, waiting for it to explode or do something equally deadly, but it merely continued to burn harmlessly.

I was holding my breath waiting for more bottles to fly. I couldn’t sense anyone outside, but that didn’t mean shit; if they were magi, one of them could be standing right next to me, and I wouldn’t notice them behind their shielding.

Weighing my options, I emerged from behind my chair to extinguish the flames. I was a Vamyraset Agent and if I was going to die, it would not happen while I cowered behind a cheap, green velour chair. Besides, I lived in a fairly busy neighborhood and people were going to be getting ready to leave for work; I didn’t think the person or persons responsible would stick around and risk detection.

I’m going to kill those assholes. I charged outside hoping to apprehend said assholes, but the street was empty. There was no sign of anybody racing from the scene and not a single neighbor had come out to investigate the sound of breaking glass. Only the distant sound of an engine starting marred the morning’s quiet. I had always been grateful that the neighbors kept to themselves, but now I wished for a nosy old lady peeping out from behind her curtains at everything happening on the street.

I stomped back into my house to assess the damage and call the Agency.

I counted six Molotov Cocktails scattered across the floor. Through some twist of fate, none of the bottles had shattered and they had all landed clear of the furniture and rug. The flames weren’t doing much more than superficial damage to the floor, but it was enough to ratchet my anger up to even higher heights. This was the home my father had grown up in, handed down to me when my mother moved to Florida. How dare somebody assault it in such a manner!

I put out the fires in my living room before scouring the rest of the house and yard for surprises. Nothing else was evident, but I wouldn’t feel completely safe until I had Vic check the entire place over for traps. I hated having to rely on someone else to protect my home. It was my home and I should be powerful enough to protect it on my own.

“Maybe, when this bullshit case is over I’ll put some effort into learning a bit more about magic,” I grumbled as I scuffed my toes across a soot-blackened section of floor.

First, I had some phone calls to make. My first call was to Tommy. He answered his office phone almost immediately, sounding wide awake and as cheerful as he ever got. It added weight to my suspicion that he never left the building.

He was understandably upset at my news, offering to send a couple Agents over as guards. I laughed and told him I was a big girl and could take care of myself. We ended the call with him promising to send whatever aid I might need and bumping the investigation to top priority.

My second call went to the Crime Scene Cleanup Crew. They’d come in, do a sweep of the property, and take away anything suspicious to analyze for clues. Someone trained to find spell-traps would be dispatched with the cleanup crew, but I wasn’t going to feel safe unless someone I knew and trusted gave me the all-clear. Since Luka’s injuries prevented him from clambering around my house like a monkey to check the roof and upstairs windows, that someone was Vic.

Vic was the lucky recipient of my third call. His groggy, just woken up voice promised he’d get to my house as soon as he could fight his way through morning rush hour traffic. Either he was closer than he had thought or the traffic hadn’t reached critical mass yet, because he was roaring into my driveway almost as soon as I was finished speaking with the window repairman.

“Alex!” he gasped, running to meet me on my front porch. “Are you okay?”

Having a few drinks with dinner the night before had done wonders for my soul. Letting loose and having fun had tamped my hunger for destruction down to a comfortably manageable level. The burst of adrenaline had let me deal with the destruction of my home without more than a slight twinge of demonic power. Vic’s worry threatened to undo all my hard work.

“I’m fine. A little shaken up is all.” I took a step back from his open arms. The ambient energy was bad enough. If I were to take it in directly through touch, I didn’t know how it would affect the temporary truce my night out had secured for the two halves of my being.

“What’s wrong?” His concern ate away at my control and my whole body tensed up.

“Sorry, you’re a little too worked up right now and it’s bringing out my demonic side.” I realized I hadn’t told Vic about my disastrous encounter with Death the day before.

I took a few minutes to fill him in, leaving out any mention of Father Callahan or the Church, before letting him get to work. I owed him at least that much for being such a good friend. He listened with a sympathetic ear, making small sounds to express his disapproval here and there.

By the time I finished telling my tale, the cleanup crew had turned into my driveway and were exiting their van. I knew most of them by sight and greeted them accordingly. This wasn’t the same team that had been to Liam’s house; that team specialized in murder cases. This team would be experts in home invasion and it made me feel a little more secure.

I showed the cleanup crew into the living room and explained the situation to them. Their blasé attitude toward the whole thing baffled and hurt me. Maybe it was because this was my home this had happened to, but I wanted them to be outraged about it. Perhaps some sympathy toward a fellow Vamyraset Agent. Something other than the cool remoteness I saw in their faces.

Leaving them to their work, I found Vic in the middle of his own investigation. He ran his blank eyes over every inch of my property, cataloging each of the protection spells Luka had cast and the manner in which they had been destroyed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to do it myself; I only knew the basic theory, which every Agent learns in training.

His survey of my home was fast; I guess more than a decade of experience in the field made it incredibly simple. I steadied the ladder for him as he climbed down from checking my roof and chimney. His face showed deep concern and frustration and I hurriedly stepped away from him.

“Alex,” Vic’s voice was as grim as his face, “I can redo the wards, but Luka’s better at warding than I am. If whoever did this can break through Luka’s strongest wards without alerting you, they’ll be able to shatter mine without a problem.”

He wiped his soot-blackened hands on the legs of his expensive jeans. The conflicted look in his eyes told me he was arguing with himself about telling me something.

“Damn it! I’m a big girl, I don’t need people trying to coddle me by keeping information from me. What is it?”

“I found traces of Veil-energy similar to what I found in the curse on the body at Liam’s house. Other than that, there’s no other evidence to tell me who fucked with your wards.” Hearing Vic drop the F-bomb made me stop and blink. I rarely heard him utter anything harsher than damn. Then the reality of what he was saying kicked in.

Irritation, anger, and a slim trickle of fear flared through my mind. I lashed out without thinking and my wooden ladder toppled to its side, one side broken almost completely through. My hand exploded in pain as I clutched it protectively to my chest, feeling warm blood soak the sleeve of the silk robe I had slipped on over my scanty night clothes.

“Alex!” Vic leaped to help me, but I waved him away with my good hand. He would be more harm than help in the emotional state he was in.

“It’s okay. I don’t think I broke anything.” No, nothing broken, but blood flowed steadily from my knuckles and I felt a wickedly long splinter imbedded in the side of my hand.

“I’ll have Marguerite take a look at it once she’s done inside.”

He glared at me, but I refused to back down. Finally, he let his head drop in a curt nod.

“You’d better. You’re going to need your hand in top shape for all the paperwork you’re going to have to fill out over this.” He grinned, but I had to stifle a groan.

“Don’t remind me.” Magical fraud was so common, reams of paperwork were used to dissuade people from perpetrating it. Not even Vamyraset Agents were exempt from it.

“Wait, I know,” I teased, “I’ll have you fill the paperwork out for me.”

He backed up quickly, waving his hands in mock terror.

“Oh, no, you won’t! I’m going to have enough of my own, thanks to this.”

He sat on the edge of my garden wall, his face thoughtful.

“Seriously, Alex, I don’t know if I’m the best person to redo your wards. Since Luka is temporarily,” he said temporarily as if by sheer force of will alone he could make it so, “disqualified due to his injuries, I’d try to find somebody at least his caliber within the Agency. If you want better, the best in the area is Ryuu Inoue.”

He hopped down off the wall into the driveway, a shit-eating grin plastered on his face. He knew how Ryuu and I felt about each other. Everyone in the Agency did; our battles were legendary.

Vic climbed into his car and I watched him slowly back out of the drive, raising my hand in farewell, then trudged onto my porch in a sulk.

Not even my home was safe. If I continued with this investigation, I might have to start sleeping at the office. Multiple layers of security wards and around-the-clock surveillance made Vamyraset buildings some of the safest places on either side of the Veil. The only thing they lacked were spiritual invocations, for which I was eternally grateful. I wouldn’t have a job if they did.

Although the Agency decried racial prejudice as a whole, quite a few of the higher ups had a distinct dislike of demons. I couldn’t blame them, I did too. As far as I knew, my application wasn’t even given a formal denial. It was more than likely thrown into a recycling bin in the hopes I ‘d be discouraged by the lack of an answer. They hadn’t counted on an eighteen-year-old half-demon’s determination to atone for the unpardonable sin of merely existing.

I wanted a chance to help right wrongs and make the world a better place for humans and Fey. I was a young idealist filled with guilt-fueled righteousness and I would do whatever it took to make amends for the genetic crimes of my demonic kin.

I stormed into the Agency demanding to speak with the person in charge; using my Mom’s genetic gift of intimidation to get me past the lower level officials and her money with the higher ones.

At last I made it in to see the Director.

I wasn’t proud of it, but Mom had supplied me with several damning documents implicating the Director in a plot against the Agency’s best interests. I don’t know where she got them or how and I never cared enough to ask. It wasn’t pretty, but I finally “convinced” him to take me on as a volunteer Agent.

The lack of a payroll paper trail meant I was given some of the most dangerous assignments and my actions were plausibly deniable. I’m sure he was also hoping for my demise so he could be rid of me and the threat I held over his head.

When I wasn’t dead by the end of the year, the Director grudgingly promoted me to Agent-In-Training. Even at the time I failed to miss the irony in the situation. My “promotion” meant I was now getting the most harmless cases.

Some idiot blunder across the Veil into Faerie and can’t get back? Send in a trainee. Accidentally insult a brownie by thanking it and want to know how to make amends? Send in a trainee. I would have called it quits before the end of six months if it weren’t for Tommy. He must have seen something in me he liked because he fought hard to become my sponsor and get me into his command in Violent Crimes.

“Agent Powers?”

The voice came from right next to my ear. As engrossed in my thoughts as I was, I almost screamed in surprised fright. The young man who had spoken grinned with unabashed amusement.

“My apologies, Agent Powers. I came to tell you we’ve finished our initial investigation. We’re packing everything up to take back to the lab; somebody will be in touch with you within the next couple of days with a progress report.”

“Thank you. If I have any questions, who should I speak with?” It felt so weird to be dealing with Agents in this sort of circumstance. You never realized how intimidating things can be until they happen to you. I made a mental note to handle the clients I worked with a little more gently.

He handed me a card with his supervisor’s contact information neatly printed on Agency cardstock, and then disappeared back inside to finish cleaning up. I followed him in to thank the other Agents and make sure my living room was still livable.

It was, but just barely. I stood staring around in dismay at the destruction of my once favorite part of the house. The fires themselves had done little damage aside from a slight charring of the wood floor and the broken window. The cleanup crew had done more damage than the people who had thrown the fiery bottles.

All my furniture had been rearranged and was covered with a layer of the fine silver powder they used to repel any sort of negative energy that might have attached itself to my stuff because of the malicious nature of the attack. I appreciated their thoroughness, but I was going to be vacuuming that shit up for months. Chunks of my blackened floor had been cut out for analysis, as had pieces of my windowsill. Patches of paint were missing from both ceiling and walls which I could only assume they were using to test for smoke damage.

Marguerite, a dark eyed Fey with a heavy French accent and a dark braid of hair that trailed down to her knees, tended to my hand with expert gentleness and gave me a pungent ointment to rub on the wounds.

“Alex, we’ll make sure this case takes precedence over all others,” she assured me as she yanked the splinter out of my hand. I yelped with pain, then blushed at her chiding gaze. I guess she thought rough and tough, half-demon Agents should be immune to pain. “Nobody messes with an Agent and gets away with it. Always remember that we’ve got your back.”

She patted my bandaged hand, then rose gracefully to follow the others out.

“You call me personally if you need anything for your hand.”

“I will, Marguerite. Thank you.”

What they left behind no longer felt like my home. The sanctuary it once provided had been violated, and I wasn’t sure I would ever feel completely safe there again.

I knew I should have swallowed my pride and called Ryuu, but he was such a sanctimonious ass I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I argued with myself for a while and finally decided I would speak to him as soon as I got to the office.

Having firmly set my mind to my decision, I settled into my favorite recliner with a hot cup of tea and waited for the repairmen to arrive so I could start my day.

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