Chapter Four: Deadly Storm

Hey peeps,

I apologize for the delay in releasing Deadly Storm. As a thank you for your patience I am sharing a section of Chapter Four that will hopefully wet your whistle.  The book is coming soon, stay frosty.

Remember this material is copyrighted and belongs to Skye Knizley. It may not be copied, shared, reproduced or otherwise used. 

Chapter Four: Chicago    

The Chicago FBI Field Office was almost silent at this hour of the morning. The faint tick of the heating system seemed loud in the emptiness and added to the feeling that the building was abandoned, a casualty of some unknown apocalypse. Aspen Kincaid strode between the silent, dark cubicles, worry and anger etched in her face. She knew the building wasn’t empty, King never slept if he could help it.

She’d dressed for a field assignment in leather pants, a blouse made of purple silk over a black camisole and boots that rose just over her knees. A belt laden with pouches and her treasured pistol hung low on her hips and a necklace of charms encircled her neck. Fae weren’t supposed to believe in “magikal things” but Aspen knew better. The charms she carried weren’t powerful, but they were useful in a pinch.

She reached the secure hallway at the heart of the building and turned right. Doorways with secure keycard access were set to either side, while an armed Marine sat behind a desk at the far end of the corridor. Behind him was the elevator that descended to the vault and the Section Thirteen office. Aspen didn’t often come down here, her office was in the forensic lab across town, but she’d been there often enough to know where she was going.

The marine stood and rested his hand on the Beretta on his hip. “Excuse me, Miss, this area is off limits to anyone not cleared B-12 or above.”

Aspen pulled her badge out of her pocket. “Special Agent Aspen Kincaid, I’m with s-thirteen.”

She held it out and offered a smile. “I’m here to see King.”

The marine, whose nametag said ‘Hamilton’ examined her credentials. “It says here you’re with the forensics division.”

Aspen nodded. “Liaison with section thirteen.”

“I’ll have to clear it,” Hamilton said.

He leaned down and pressed some keys on the tablet resting on the desk.  Upside down, Aspen saw her face and a list of credentials appear on the screen. The marine blinked and looked her up and down.

“You’re−”

“Raven Storm’s familiar and the most powerful Wicca in North America,” Aspen finished. “Can I go in now?”

Hamilton pulled himself straight and saluted. “Yes ma’am, apologies, ma’am.”

Aspen smiled again. “You don’t have to salute me, you were just doing your job.”

Hamilton relaxed and pressed the button on his desk. “Yes ma’am, but Agent Storm threatened to pull my head off if I delayed her again.”

“That sounds like my girl. Don’t worry, she’s really a pussycat.”

Hamilton gave a small smile. “I doubt that, ma’am.”

The elevator arrived and Aspen stepped inside the small car. “She’s a pussycat, honest, she just has a real short temper.”

Aspen pressed the S13 button and waved at Hamilton. The doors rolled shut and soft music began playing. She shook her head and tried not to smile. Raven insisted every elevator on earth played ‘Girl from Ipanema,’ but for her it was always ‘the Pink Panther theme’ played very softly. There was probably a muse somewhere responsible for giving everyone their own elevator theme.

The elevator slowed and the doors opened on a dark hallway made of stone. It was part of an old underground system that twisted through the depths of the city like some ancient snake. Section Thirteen had made the deepest tunnels into a sort of prison for the worst of the worst preternaturals, a fact that would have annoyed Valentina greatly, had she known. Court had ways of dealing with threats that didn’t involve prison or three square meals a day.

The corridor was lit every twenty feet by yellow service lights that cast more shadow than light as Aspen passed. They served to only highlight the darkness and made it seem lonely and desolate, like some ancient tomb. At the end of the corridor was the Section Thirteen office, a small collection of beige half-cubicles with three glassed-in offices at the back. The largest of the three was shared by Abraham King and Silver Van Helsing, and it was the only one with a light burning within the gloom. The shaded lamp made the Section Thirteen FBI logo flicker like an old movie.

His office was large, with two desks that looked leftover from world war two, a collection of round-faced clocks displaying the current time in various cities and a collection of swords that were placed on the wall to the left of the door. On the far wall opposite the desk was a wide plasma display. The display was blank, showing nothing but the S-13 logo.

King looked up from his computer when Aspen entered and applied a match to the pipe clenched in his teeth.

“Agent Kincaid,” he said around a cloud of smoke.

“Where is she?” Aspen demanded.

King shook out the match and tossed it into the overflowing ashtray on his desk. “That’s classified, Agent Kincaid. I’m sure she would tell you if she could.”

Aspen shook her head. “She’s out of contact, I can’t reach her on her link, which means she’s in trouble. Where is she?”

King’s eyebrows knit and he leaned back in his chair. “She’s working a case. How long since you heard from her?”

“Yesterday. The last time she was out of reach like this, she was stuck in a freezer. Now where the hell is my wife?”

“She isn’t your wife, Agent Kincaid. Not yet, anyway, and you’ve no clearance to be making demands.”

King plucked the nearby phone from its cradle and pressed a series of keys.  Aspen could hear it ringing, then Silver’s voice say “Yes, Opa?”

“Has Raven checked in?” King asked.

The answer was a negative.  King frowned and hung up. “Odd. It’s a simple case, something to get her feet wet after her ordeal. I’m sure there is nothing amiss.”

Aspen leaned on the desk, fear and anger mingling behind her eyes. “Nothing is ever simple with the weird ones. Please, tell me where she’s gone.”

King took another puff on his pipe. “No. Twenty-four hours isn’t long enough to start panicking and I can’t have two of my most experienced agents chasing after one another every time something goes awry.”

“King, I am first and foremost Raven’s fiancée and familiar. The only thing you have that I need is her location,” Aspen said.

“Which I am not at liberty to share,” King said.

Aspen opened her mouth and King held up a hand. “Ms. Kincaid, I know this is where you threaten to disembowel me, rip my living skull from my spine or some other such thing. If you do so, I will have your badge and gun and you will spend Christmas in the cells, am I understood?”

His eyes were hard, but Aspen could see concern behind them. King was concerned but thought he was doing the right thing. Aspen wanted to fireball him into oblivion or use a truth charm to get Raven’s last known location, but that would end her relationship with Section Thirteen. Raven would probably be annoyed if she ended relations with the most powerful preternatural-hunting agency in the world because she was missing.

“Fine. How long before we officially get worried?”

King took another pull on his pipe. “Tomorrow. If she hasn’t contacted you by morning, I’ll send in the cavalry.”

Aspen straightened. “And if she’s dead?”

“Then we’ll both know I was wrong,” King said.

“You really are a cold bastard, aren’t you,” Aspen said.

“Perhaps. You’re dismissed, Agent Kincaid.”

He turned his chair away to face the plasma screen, smoke drooling from his nose. Aspen glared at the back of his head and turned away.

“If anything has happened to her, Abraham…”

King didn’t turn. “I know, Aspen. Go home.”

***

2111 Roosevelt Blvd, Chicago IL

The city was just beginning to wake when Aspen exited the glass and steel FBI building in the heart of Chicago. The sun was a golden glow behind the grey clouds that hung on the horizon and a flurry of snow fell, covering the street in a pale dusting of white. Aspen strode through the snow leaving a whirlwind in her wake. Her Jeep waited in the lot, a purple fleck among the plain black sedans that made up the FBI fleet. She was almost to the vehicle when she heard footsteps growing louder. She slowed and looked over her shoulder expecting to see agents in their black suits and overcoats. Instead, her blood ran cold. Five men dressed in black studded leather long coats over black uniforms with the crest of the Gallowglass Knights on the sleeve stood just a few yards away. Aspen turned and let her hand fall to the pistol at her hip.

“That’s far enough gentlemen. What do you want?”

The leader, a short Fae with brown hair pulled back off his pointed ears, smiled and slowed to a stop, close enough Aspen could slap him if she so desired. The others stopped behind him and spread out in a sort of echelon formation.

“I am Kellen, Captain of the Gallowglass.  There is a death mark on your head, Aspen-Fyre.  It is time to come home and face your crimes,” he said.

Aspen stared at him.  “I’ve been gone from the Faewild since I was a child, why now?”

Kellen smiled.  “We never stopped looking, faerie.  Come with us and your death will be public and painless.  All will see what happens when you defy the Empire.”

Aspen fought to control her fear and anger.  “Neither I nor my mother did any such thing.  My mother was cheated from her station and I−”

“You killed six Gallowglass in New Haven, Connecticut some years ago,”  Kellen finished.

“Only to protect myself.”

“The court felt differently.  Lower your weapon and come with us.  Now!”

“Swell,” Aspen muttered.  She raised her voice.  “Not in this lifetime, pal.  I am the blood-familiar of Fürstin Raven Storm.  I belong to her and she will kill you rather than let you take me.”

Kellen sighed.  “I care little for your vampire owner or your threats.  Guards, take her!”

The four Knights drew curved daggers from their belts and stepped forward, bloodlust in their eyes. Aspen drew her pistol in a motion she’d practiced until it was almost a blur and shot the nearest though the forehead. He dissolved into shimmering smoke that vanished on the wind and she raised her free hand, forming a shield of violet magik that sent the others spinning away into the snow.

“I knew the Knights weren’t the smartest Fae in the forest, but you four must have just fallen off the log. Go back to the Empress and tell her I said to leave my partner and I alone. I’ve no interest in the Faewild or my title, she shouldn’t either,” Aspen said.

Kellen drew a rod of wood and steel from beneath his coat and slapped it in his palm. “I can’t do that, Aspen-Fyre. You are coming with us or you will die here, by my hand!”

He raised the rod and brought it crashing down on Aspen’s shield. The magik shattered under the impact and she staggered away, her pistol lost in the magikal explosion. Kellen followed, twirling the magik weapon as if it was a bo-staff. Aspen dodged and blocked as best she could, but she was no match for Kellen’s prowess with the weapon. He found an opening and slashed the end of the staff across her face, sending her tumbling to the ground. She spat a gobbet of blood and looked up to find the Faerie standing over her with a sneer beneath his hooked nose.

“Pity, I had such high hopes for you in the Arena. Goodbye, Aspen-Fyre,” he said.

He raised the staff for a killing blow and Aspen raised her hand, sending flame from her fingers that wrapped around him, licking at his skin. Kellen screamed and fell to the ground, writhing while his flesh blackened in the heat.

“Not today, Kellen. I told you to leave me alone,” Aspen said.  She raised her eyes and looked at the remaining Knights, who stood in shocked silence.

“I’m not a child, I’m not a frightened Faerie running for her life. Go home, go back to the Wild and tell the Empress I’m not coming at her whim. If she’s very lucky, I won’t come at all.”

The new leader looked at Kellen’s smoldering corpse. “What evil is this?”

Aspen let her magik flow into her eyes. “Not evil, Magik. The magik of a true Fae mixed with the power of the House Tempeste.”

He pointed at her with two fingers. “I will do as you ask, Aspen-Fyre. I doubt the Empress Titania will listen, we will return for your head.”

Aspen shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”

She straightened and shook Kellen’s ash off her coat while the Faeries raised their hearthstones. A gateway opened behind them, a swirling mass of black and silver beyond which stood the endless forest of the Faewild and the spires of the city. The faeries stepped through and Aspen took a breath. He magik faded as she exhaled and she began to shake.

“Agent Kincaid, are you alright?”

Silver Van Helsing, with her grey hair held in plaits that trailed behind her and the ancient leather longcoat of her father had given her stepped from the morning shadows.

“I’m fine, Sil, just never thought I would see them again,” Aspen said.

“What did the Gallowglass want with you?”

Aspen smiled. “Would you believe that’s classified?”

Silver rolled her eyes. “No. Asp, everyone at our level knows you’re Fae, among other things. If you’re in trouble we have your back.”

Aspen pulled her coat closed against the wind and picked up her pistol, which lay in a small pile of snow. She wiped the snow off the barrel as she talked. “It’s a long story, one I don’t feel like telling just now. Rain check on the helping? I need to find Raven.”

Silver cocked her head. “Raven is missing? Does Abraham know?”

“Yeah, I told him. He won’t do anything till tomorrow, but I am not waiting,” Aspen said.

She started toward her waiting Jeep, and Silver caught her sleeve. “Wait, please. Are you saying you can’t reach her through your connection?”

Aspen stopped but didn’t turn. “Yes. Last time, she was technically dead. Whatever is happening, its something bad and she needs help.”

“Rupert is with her, I am sure−”

Aspen turned, magik glowing in her eyes. The rage had come upon her without warning and she couldn’t stifle it. “Are you? Are you really sure? Because I’m not. The two most important people in my world are missing and I can’t reach them! I’m not sure at all!”

Silver stepped back. “I’m sorry, Aspen. No, I’m not sure. Where will you look?”

Aspen reached her Jeep and yanked open the door. “I don’t know yet, but I know someone who might.”

She slammed the door and started the engine. It was still warm and heat spilled from the vents, warming her frozen hands and toes. She put her pistol in the console beside her and backed out of the spot. Silver was standing a few feet away making a rolling motion with her hand. Aspen rolled the passenger window down. “Yes?”

“Do you need backup? All I’m doing is decorating,” Silver said. “I have time on my hands, you, Ray and Rupe are family.”

Aspen smiled. “Thank you, Sil. I’ll call you when I have some idea what to do next.”

Silver tapped the door. “I’ll be waiting. Be careful, Asp.”

“See you soon.”

She waited until she was heading downtown before rolling the window up. The city was quiet, the early hour, snow and holiday preparations were keeping people indoors, and the streets were almost empty. They would fill soon with those who had to go to work or were searching for that perfect last minute gift, but for now Aspen was alone with her thoughts. Her mother had been put to death by the Gallowglass for a crime she didn’t commit, and Aspen had been on their wanted list since she was thirteen years old. But why now? The Fae avoided the human world and generally forgot about people rather than wasting magik to pursue them through the realms. What had changed?

She stopped at a light and tapped her fingers on the wheel in thought. Maybe it was time to open the box her father had left. He’d passed away with little warning, in the end it had been cancer. He hadn’t had much, a small place in Wyoming, a beaten up old truck and a gold watch he’d been given upon his retirement from the police. The box arrived by courier a week after the service and she’d kept it, unsure what might be inside. Whenever she’d thought she might open it, something always came up that was more important.

Raven missing was most important, but she didn’t think it was a coincidence that Raven was out of touch and the Gallowglass had shown up the same day. Coincidences were like rabbits, they multiplied rapidly.

The light changed and Aspen guided the Jeep toward Old Town. She would stop in to see Marie then head to the apartment. She needed answers, in that order. She just hoped they were answers she could deal with.

 

 

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