Note: This is an advance excerpt, which means it hasn’t been copy edited or proof read yet. So there are bound to be typos.
The three stories high house with its red-brick facade and walled garden didn’t look out of place in the neighborhood, at least not on the surface. The wards I sensed told me otherwise. I knew that if I activated the Sight I would see the rainbow of colors beneath. I frowned. The wards felt like elemental magic, not shamanic magic. Which didn’t make sense. Unlike the other realms, this realm had very low levels of elemental magic. In other words, using elemental magic for spells hurt. A lot. I winced in sympathy with the mage that had been hired to create the wards.
The elemental magic based wards also meant that the owner of the house must have hired someone from another realm. Gnomes, I guessed, since they were masters at creating wards. They were also expensive. Unease slithered down my spine.
Why would someone put in so much money and effort to ward a residence, albeit an upscale one? Maybe it was the wrong house.
I dug into the pocket of my tunic, and got out the birch bark scrap. I squinted at Tony’s scrawled writing. Loraine Street 14. I glanced at the street sign. The letters gleamed silver in the moon light.
Yep. That’s here.
I slid the scrap into the pocket and exhaled. I had to cross the street and enter the building, before the watchman reached this part of his patrol. I took a step forward but froze when eerily familiar howls echoed in the distance. .
Calm down, Jenny, I told myself. It isn’t Dhu Annwi. Not here. Still, I couldn’t shake off the clawing instinct that it was the Dhu Annwn. All tales about the Dhu Annwi had one thing in common: No one survived their bite. I wasn’t planning on finding out if the tales were right.
I shook off the unease.
You cannot loiter in the shadows all night, Jenny girl. Get in, pick up the delivery, get out. The sound of the heavy tread of boots against stone made me look around. looked up when I heard the heavy thread of boots against stone. I cursed softly when I saw the Watchman that was approaching.
I considered stepping back into the shadows, but I dismissed the thought. The worst the Watch could do was to interrogate me and keep me at the watchhouse over night. Rhiane would be worried if I didn’t come home, but it couldn’t be helped. . At least the Dhu Annwi will not be able to get me if I’m in the arrest. It was a faint comfort.
“ You there!” the watchman shouted.
I smiled wanly at the watchman. “ It isn’t criminal watching a house,” I said and did mybest to look innocent.
The watchman grunted, and grabbed my wrist. His free hand slid down to the cuffs hanging in his belt. Please don’t cuff me. I swallowed the words. The cuffs gleamed silver in the moon light.
Steel or silver didn’t matter, both would burn my skin.
Relief filled me when he didn’t unhook his cuffs. The relief turned into confusion when he marched me across the street. The wrought iron gates opened when we approached them. The moment we stepped on to the grounds, the house lit up.
Stunned ,I stared at the building.
The dark windows were just an illusion. My mind boggled at the thought how much time they must have spent to create illusion with shamanic magic. Shamanic magic was as powerful as elemental magic, but the spirits involved could be fickle. Unless, they had created the illusion and the wards at the same time.
The wards tingled against my skin when we entered the building. The foyer was filled with people. I looked around, wide-eyed. The desk was manned by a gnome, a dwarf was stomping up the stairs, an elf hurrying after him.
What is this place? It clearly wasn’t the residence Tony had claimed it was when he hired me to do this run. The watchman led me over to a curved desk, made of a dark wood and polished until it gleamed.
“ The Dhurian that the Director wanted to see is here.”
A layer of ice surrounded me when I heard that. In all the realms, there was only one person called the Director, and that was the leader for the Inter Dimensional Bureau.
Tony sold me out to the IDB. I choked down the bile that rose in my throat.
Why, Tony? I thought we were friends, I wailed inwardly.
If I felt hurt and betrayed, it was nothing compared to how betrayed his friends in the Mafia would feel.
“ I’ll check. What’s your name?” the blonde gnome asked me.
It was tempting to give her a false name, but I pushed away the temptation. If the IDB had found me, they already knew my name.
“ Jenny McNeill.”
After all there years, it felt natural to tell her the alias I used when I dealt with, well, everyone.
Every Dhurian was taught that names are power from childhood. Because of this, I had opted to take another name during my exile. If not, my mother’s assassins would have found me within hours.
I looked up when I heard footsteps. The man coming towards me was human, and dressed in a dark brown doublet and trousers, both made of finely woven wool.
I knew the wool of that quality was expensive. Very expensive. The money I would get if I sold it, would feed me and Rhiane for months, maybe even a year if we lived frugally.
“ Jenny McNeil?” The man asked, a trace of impatience in his voice.
“ Follow me. The Director is waiting.”
Filled with apprehension, I followed him.
As we walked up curved stairs, the dark wood in the bannister gleamed in the lamplight, I tried to figure out why the Director wanted to see me. I was small fish. Unlike some runners, I delivered things that was mostly legal. I had enough problems in my life to add the IDB to the mix.
You will find out soon I thought. We passed by exits to other floors. My heart started to beat harder, the higher up we came. When we reached the top floor, it was beating so fast that I thought it could be heard by the whole building. As we walked down the hallway, I stared at the plain door at the other end of the hallway. It looked like it lead to a closet. I knew it wasn’t. It was the inner sanctuary of IDB. The room where their most important decisions were made.
Aren’t you proud? A mere runner are being allowed inside. I exhaled. Runners weren’t criminals. Not exactly. But we weren’t always picky about the jobs we accepted either.
The man knocked on the door.
“ Enter”, a male voice called out.
A chill of foreboding, crawled down my spine. I wanted to weep when I felt it. I had felt it twice before, and both times my life had changed profoundly.
In that moment, I wished I could turn around and flee. Even Thyria would be better than here.
The escort opened the door and gestured to me to enter.
I pushed away the thoughts of running away and stepped inside. I swallowed nervously when I heard the door closed behind me. The room was deceptively plain. The shelves lining the walls looked like they were made of Mountain fir. Hard to get in the south. Come to think about it, hard to get in the north too. Carpept had the vivid abstract patterns that signified Thyrian carpets. I glanced around, and spotted a sword from the elves, and a Dwarven hammered shield, fitting considering the close ties they had. A gleaming dragon scale lay on a shelf, next to a weird looking contraption, probably gnomish. . . He has something from all the realms. Does he has something from Dhurig too? I searched the walls for the wooden carvings that Dhurig was known for, but I didn’t see any. Feeling a pang of disappointment, I looked at the man sitting behind the desk, and realised that he had something for Dhurig. Himself.
Oh, he wasn’t a full blooded Dhurian, He was too bulky, his features too square. I also knew that the Arch-priestess wouldn’t have permitted a male to reach such a powerful position. And even if she didn’t find out, the elves would have tried to assassinate him
“ Sit”. The director gestured at the chair. I eyed the chair. It looked like it would break if I sat down on it. I shrugged. The chair breaking was the least of my worries.
I sat down gingerly, holding my breath. When it didn’t break, I let out a relieved sigh.
“ I have wanted to meet you for a time, but you have been elusive.”
I forced myself to calmly meet his gaze. Inwardly, I cursed my bad luck. I had done everything in my power to avoid attention, since my and Rhiane’s life depended on that.
“ Are you really a Dhurian?”
I could understand his reaction. Most people assumed that I was a half-elf, since elves didn’t have a dark hair, but humans did. Since the Watchman had told the woman in the reception that the Dhurian was here, I had assumed that he knew that I was Dhurian.
The Director didn’t look convinced.
My temper flared.
“ Do you want me to summon the shadow of Gwynfar to prove it?” I asked before I could stop myself.
The Shadow of Gwynfar was a gruesome summoning, that would kill everyone in the building, before they could react.
” It isn’t necessary,” he hurried to assure me.
I hid my relief. The ritual was dangerous, and required more knowledge about the Scripture than I had.
The director glanced at the papers in front of him.
” The reason for my inquiry is that I have a job for you,” the Director explained.
I froze. Why would the Director have a job for me?
“ What kind of you?” I choked out.
“ I’m in need of runner,” he hedged.
My eyes narrowed. Being a Runner was nothing more than being a fancy messenger, and even an IDB agent could do that.
“ Ask an agent,” I suggested.
The Director shook his head.
“ Asking an agent isn’t an option.”
Dread filled me. The IDB had jurisdiction in all the realms. It might be a grudging jurisdiction in some cases like Dhurig, but they had it.
The Director sighed.
“Because an agent wouldn’t blend in in Dhurig.”
I stared at him. Why are the IDB even thinking of sending someone to Dhurig? I swallowed the question. I knew that if I asked it, the Director would interpret it, as being interested. Which would be bad, since I couldn’t return to Dhurig.
Even if the Dhu Annwi had tracked me down, being bitten by them would be a less painful death than the death my M-, the Arch-Priestess would give me.
“ I am sorry, but I’ll never return to Dhurig. “
” I’ll make it worth your time”, the Director offered.
I hesitated. If I agreed to do this, I knew I would be confronting the Arch-Priestess. If I won, I would be able to settle down. Except I would also be out of a job. Right now a lot of my runs came through Tony. When the word spread, and it would spread, that I had do a job for the IDB those jobs would dry out. No matter how tempting, it wasn’t worth it.
Maybe you could move to Ahira, ask Eric for help. I squashed that thought. Dealing with Vampires was complicated enough, dealing with my ex lover would be a nightmare.
“ I’m sorry, but I’ll have to decline.”
The Director looked like he wanted to say something, but he didn’t. He scribbled something on a piece of birch bark.
“ If you change your mind, you can reach me by scrying.”
I stared at the square piece of birch bark he handed me. A series of symbols were written it. It is his private scrying rune, I realised.
I knew a number of persons that would be willing to pay me a lot of money for that scrying rune. I pushed away the temptation, and pocketed the card.
I stood, and nodded curtly before I walked out from the room.
I wasn’t surprised to see my escort waiting for me when I stepped outside. We walked down the stairs in silence. When we reached the lobby, he stopped and turned to me.
” You will change your mind about the Director’s offer”, he said calmly.
His words carried a sense of… knowledge, that made me uneasy. What does the know that I don’t?
I exhaled. He is an IDB agent. Of course he knows a myriad of things that you don’t.
“ I doubt that will ever happen,” I told him.
Before he could answer, I walked away. Part of me excepted him to try to stop me, but he didn’t.
The doors swung open, when I approached them. I gave them an uneasy look, and hurried outside