The Path, the Veritas Chronicles
Carters was a modern rectangular block of smoked glass and steel shining in the late afternoon sun converting the glass into a gigantic network of mirrors. Cassie drove the half mile up the block to the club and parked on the street with a clean line of sight to the main doors a few storefronts away. By the lack of traffic coming and going they could assume Carters was a ”nights only ” kind of establishment.
Cassie pulled out her phone and looked up the number. A quick call and she spoke to a polite albeit aloof young man who confirmed the bar would open in a few minutes at four. The restaurant, however, would not be seating until five. They settled back to wait and Cassies hair went up on her arms as Quan opened himself up to follow the hint of any significant energy trails. No one said anything allowing him better focus, though Cassie had seen Quan perform this same task unshaken when he was under direct attack. She doubted a rock concert would break through when he was ”under. ” Cassie envied him his focus.
”There is nothing there now. ” He announced quietly after a few seconds.
”Is there a trace of anything recent? ” Cassie asked his reflection in the mirror before looking over to see Julia worrying at her lower lip. Magick typically left a trace someone as good as Quan could pick up even a few days after it was used. Someone less adept could sense it for maybe a few hours tops.
”There has not been anything of significance there for some time. ” Quan stopped in his report, voice cutting off abruptly bringing both womens heads around. His eyes closed and Cassie felt her hair go up again. Quan had gotten a whiff of something.
When he opened his eyes, he spoke distractedly, his thoughts turned inward. ”There is another energy there although it is faint. It is much less powerful than what Mr. Salter reports and it is not sex magick. ” A wrinkle appeared between his jet black brows. ”I don think. ” Black eyes opened and he stared straight ahead at the clubs quiet entrance. ”I am thinking there is someone in there who is unaware of his own power. ”
”Leaking ” was what it was called when someone was using energy without his or her knowledge. It was low grade and therefore next to impossible to find unless one was looking for it.
Julia tapped the digital clock on the dash showing it was two minutes after four and clacked her tongue on the roof of her mouth. ”Im feeling a little dry about now. You? ”
Inside the building already dimmed for the evening crowd yet to come, Cassie felt her body humming at Quans steady output of energy. Even using a low grade like he was to search the occupants, he was so powerful it was hard not to feel insignificant next to him or their third partner for that matter. The calm façade was in no way indicative of what the woman was capable of. Having witnessed it on numerous occasions Cassie couldn help see Julias gentle demeanor as an illusion. Cassie wasn even on the same planet as far as talent and control went
She sighed and took up the rear, letting the other two lead the way through the giant glass doors and to the large scale rust and black painted metal bar staffed by a nicely built man standing with his back to them. Whatever he was doing with his hands was making the muscles in his torso shift and pull at the deep blue fabric stretched across his frame. One of his hands went to his temple as they drew near. He absently rubbed at it before returning to his chore still unseeable from her rear view. Cassie felt a pang and thought of the guy shed left behind on the reservation for this.
She and Todd would probably have gotten married if shed stayed. Their first kiss had been in grade school behind the portable classroom. Hed asked her to go walking out on the river when they were fifteen and hed borrowed his uncles truck where theyd spent the night in its bed on a pile of blankets watching the stars and figuring out greater mysteries when they were seventeen. Theirs had been a comfortable sort of love, the kind that fits and she had easily seen it lasting for a long time. It wasn full of fireworks like the movies, but it had been good and it had suited them. He was the only one who hadn cared about her mixed blood.
”It could be this one. ” Quan was eyeing the only other soul in the building straight ahead of them.
”Lets grab a chair. ” Julias voice broke into her reverie and Cassie refocused, letting her eyes scan the dark, modern interior for anything amiss on a physical level leaving the other two freedom to operate without concern. At least as far as scouting went Cassie served a purpose.
They each took a high backed bar stool, its red cushioned seat shed first thought was vinyl revealed itself to be the real thing. The smell of leather hit her nostrils seconds before her hand ran over its slightly irregular surface. There was some serious money here.
”Hello there, is it too early for a drink? ” Julia took the initiative in gaining the mans attention and let her drawl roll forth.
Startled, the man spun and Cassie saw the bar glass and rag in his hands. His face was open and honest. Sandy hair with natural streaks of honey carried a heavy wave that suited his boyish looks well. The gray eyes at first wide in shock acclimated quickly and had a softness about them that spoke volumes of the gentle character within. This could not be someone working with a dark practitioner like Terry Pritchard.
Faced with three thirsty customers, the bartender finished wiping the low ball in his hand, set it on the bar top and slung the white towel lightly over his shoulder. Leaning on his hands now resting on the lip of the bar, the generous mouth curved up into a playful smile as he put on a face clearly intended to draw more tips. Winking at the woman whod asked the question, he let out a low chuckle. ”If the doors are open, it isn too early. What can I get for you? ”
Julias return grin was genuine. The man had real charm, Cassie had to give him that. ”Ill have a vodka tonic with a twist of lime please. ”
”Sure thing Maam, can I see your id? ” He flashed an even set of white teeth as he played with her.
Cassie couldn be sure but she thought she saw a little flush creep up the womans neck only just showing the signs of her age. Watching Quan to see his take, Cassie was not surprised to feel her hair tingle as his energy surged. What was interesting was the falter in the bartenders confidence. His face fell and for a split second Cassie saw a glimmer of fear, the smallest view of the boy within the man before he put his bravado back in place and turned to face Quan.
”You Sir? Pick your poison. ” His left hand twitched on the bar as Quan continued to reach, sniffing him out.
”Vodka cranberry. ”
The bartender gave a brief nod making no effort to joke or make small talk with the small Chinese man, all in black from shirt to trousers. His shorn head and dark clothes gave him a severe mien, as did the unfeeling stare he was leveling at his quarry. Quan was great as an Investigator, though admittedly lacking in his interpersonal skills.
Their subject visibly relaxed when his nervous eyes rested on Cassie. Younger and smaller than him with her delicate frame and what she would argue were mild good looks, she instantly put men at ease. They never saw her as an object worthy of more than a cursory flirt nor as a threat, though in present company she was the least dangerous. He seemed to sense that subconsciously.
Leaning on an elbow he let the smile creep back into his features. ”And you Miss? Whats your pleasure? ”
That he was used to flirting was clear. That he was expecting it to work on her rubbed Cassie the wrong way almost instantly. What little warmth shed felt for him dried up at once. Glaring down her straight nose at his confident swagger, she sat up straighter and folded her hands on the cool metal surface of the bar top.
”Ill have a ginger ale. ”
Seemingly amused and by no means offended by her snub, he flashed another smile and turned to make drinks.
The hair on her arms went down and Cassie glanced over at Quan. He was serenely eyeing the man bustling around behind the bar that looked a lot like a steel prison cast with an eerily purple glow by the running lights under the bar as well as the upper hood.
Julia was watching their subject move efficiently to fill their orders, her chin resting lightly on her palm. Twitching her neck unconsciously, she tossed her shoulder length wavy hair back out of her way. The movement sent a shot of light dancing along the few gray hairs smattered amongst the dark majority. Another of the few indicators of her age, the vague crows feet by the corners of her eyes, deepened momentarily in her concentration. The total picture was one of warmth. Mixed with a little magickally enhanced charisma and years of experience, and Julia could inspire trust in anyone. She could get people to tell her just about anything.
Carefully casting her spell to draw the unwitting man in, Julia developed a flirtation that started to get personal. Lowering her voice and moving over a stool to give them privacy she hinted at being recently divorced and trying different things to ”find herself. ” If he were their man or associated with him, she would be the perfect addition to his ”family. ”
Good natured and a willing listener, the bartender gave them nothing other than his name, Andrew. His friends called him Drew, and as far as trying new things went, he recommended dancing. He would be upstairs himself in the nightclub bar after seven. They should come back later. It didn get going until after about ten or so, he winked at Julia. Hed given Quan a dubious glance, Cassie a longer one. Cassie kept her eyes from rolling as she turned away from his overconfidence.
Irked by his imperviousness to her usually successful charms, Julia turned to Cassie when Drew excused himself to serve the newly arrived bachelorette party sidling up to the far side of the bar. As soon as he saw the veiled blonde leading the charge, Drews demeanor altered. He swaggered over, the mild flirtiness hed been maintaining turned to raw sexuality in an instant. His targets shoulders stiffened, her features oozing into a dreamy pleasant mask. Tongue running over her lower lip, the bride-to-be leaned on the bar to better show her precariously harnessed cleavage.
Quan reacted without hesitation. Cassie felt her skin tingle at the same time she watched Drew stumble. Quan was trying to feel what sort of energy the man was raising. His effect on the opposite sex was too strong to be credited solely to a handsome exterior. Wiping a hand across his brow, Drew gave a small shake of his head and resumed his approach.
Grumbling under his breath, an unsatisfied Quan pushed off of the stool. Julia and Cassie followed suit, trailing him out to the car. A short farewell was called from behind them before another one of the girls pulled his attention back to her with a simpering giggle. Cassie rolled her eyes at the girls simplicity. A good bartender knew how to work a customer for tips and this guy was no different, magickally enhanced maybe, but still just a guy working a girl for kicks. Cassie felt her hackles go up reflexively.
Only after the three were gathered inside the privacy of the car did they all relax. Quan muttered a soft curse.
”I know, ” Julia concurred. ”What is it about that guy? I couldn get anything out of him. Hes completely blocked and unless I miss my guess, he has no idea. ” She rubbed a hand across the front of her neck, worrying at her lower lip. ”He was using a charm spell or something like that to avoid detection. ”
”His energy is not one I can easily recognize. He smells of Earth magick and also something else, maybe air I think. It is hard to know for certain. ”
Both grew quiet and Cassie could almost hear what they were thinking. She swallowed hard and stared out the windshield. When she spoke, her words were sticky in her throat. ”He could be a mix, like me. ”
Quan grunted his agreement. Julias lips were tight. It was true most couldn sense the mixes. Even Salter, the great Diviner, hadn been able to figure her out right away. She wondered for a moment if Salter had ever met the bartender then decided it was unlikely or he would have mentioned it. Surely the curiosity of another mixed blood would have commanded his attention.
Shed thought this bartender, Drew, was only a ”leaker ” and not powerful enough to have been the source of the reports. Cassie had hoped that once they had a talk with him and set him up with a trainer to teach him control they wouldn have to worry about him anymore. But someone had given him that charm. Cassie gritted her teeth.
”Theres more than one witch at work here. ” Julia said quietly, her fingers tracing the side of her neck distractedly. ”Drews allure is undeniable although hes using it for petty stuff. Hes not working with Pritchard to collect followers or hed have nibbled on me. ”
Cassie thought she heard a hint of bitterness at her partners rejection. That didn happen often.
” she continued,
”I think they
e more than likely in cahoots. They
e both using sex magick, that can be a coincidence. ” Her fingers paused in their stroking and her tone grew wistful. ”And it was awful hard to say no to that draw of his. ”
All three were silent until finally Quan spoke up. ”Cassie did. ”
The mood in the car shifted.
”Youve got something there, Quan. ” Julia was grinning. Her eyes locked on Cassie and her fingers fell to her lap. ”And he didn sense anything strange about her, he relaxed with her. I saw it. ”
Another grunt from the backseat marked Quans assent.
Cassie didn like the idea of being on the front lines.
Should a magick fight break out because of her inevitable misstep she might put one of her partners or the occupants of the club in danger. ”Why don we just follow him or bug the place or something? ” She suggested hoping to sideline the recommendation she felt coming.
”You know a listening device won pick up somebody using magick. We need to have you in there to see how many more of these folks there are coming in here and if they
e using any other clubs. You can resist being pulled in and no magick is even necessary. Come on, you can manage that Cassie. ” Julias jab gave a rare glimpse into her harder side.
No help was coming from the backseat.
Arguing was pointless. When Julia made up her mind there was no winning and Cassie being on such thin ice gave her little sway. Shed been lucky up to now with her partners asking her to do very little. Anna had been lying when she said they weren getting fed up with her, Cassie could feel their disillusionment. Trying to keep her dread under wraps, Cassie offered a tight smile. ”Ill go in when it gets busy and try to blend. ”
”We don want you to blend. You have to inspire him to tell you everything, and that, ” she wagged a finger at Cassies conservative garb, ”is not inspiring anything. ”
”You have something in mind I take it? ” She asked between clenched teeth, not liking where this was going.
Julias generous mouth curled into a slow smile only a true southern woman could pull off, equal parts sugar and wildcat.
Cassie didn mess with it fearing she would draw the claws. ”Of course I do honey. ”
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