“You should have told me,” I said.
Kelly didn’t look at me. “This I my problem, not yours.”
“Call me crazy, but I kinda want to know if two of my friends get kidnapped!”
“Stop waving your gun around,” she said, scratching at the device on her arm. “Didn’t they teach you basic safety at that stupid firearms class of yours? Seriously.”
I rubbed my forehead as I holstered my Sica. “…look. I understand the whole ‘don’t get people involved’ thing. Really, I do. But trying to do everything yourself is just going to get those two killed.”
She gave me a sour look. She knew I had a point, but didn’t want to admit it. “How did you even find out about this, anyway? Clarke’s daughter tell you?”
“In a manner of speaking. MC, not Robyn.” Their relationship was… odd.
Kelly sighed. “Fine. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this under wraps for long. But I was hoping to finish this up before we had to call anyone in.”
“Start at the beginning. Do you have any clues as to who took them?”
“No,” she said. “But I still know who.”
I blinked. “Uh, okay. Who?”
Oh. Oh dear.
Kelly’s eyes were hidden behind her daygoggles, but I could easily imagine the murderous fire that filled them. She was an ex-Belian, and while I had never gotten any details on why she had left her culture, it was clear she wasn’t on good terms with them.
“If you know who took them, we can get some ‘sarians and raid the place.”
She shook her head. “Not enough evidence, and they’d just kill the captives before we could get through. We need something more subtle. Kat and George are watching their outpost now. We’ll know when they try to move, and we’ll hit the convoy.”
I held up my hand to forestall her explanation. “Wait a second, back up. You said you don’t have enough evidence. What evidence do you have? How do you know they did this? Should we be looking elsewhere?”
“For the past few months, lesser Belian Nightstalkers have been ambushing me,” she said as calmly as if we were discussing today’s rather mild weather. “I have, of course, been fighting them off. They must have decided to go for my friends instead.”
“That’s it?” I asked incredulously. “That’s all your evidence?”
“At least tell me that you confirmed that they were at Nishrek! That they had the opportunity to pull off this little kidnapping.”
“No. Not confirmed.”
I sighed. “Well, no wonder you’re trying to do this by yourself.” If she called Necessarius, they wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing. I couldn’t even call in a couple CS squads, not with this. “How do you even know you have the right outpost?”
“It’s the only one remotely nearby,” she said without emotion.
“Of course it is. And those two have it on stakeout, right?”
“Good. Then it will give us a chance to search out other leads.” We were standing next to the van, which was parked on the side of the street. I opened up the door and slipped behind the wheel.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
“We need to drive,” I said. “I used to drive big vans like this all the time, whenever my dad needed an extra hand at his shipping business.” Actually, those vans were a little bigger, which would make this even easier, right? “C’mon.”
Kelly sighed and got in the other side as I started the van. The electric engine purred to life as she buckled in. “Where are we going? Do you even know? This isn’t exactly a part of the city you know well.”
“But you should, right?” I said. “You have a good idea of where else to look. Other Belian nests—”
“Like I said, there aren’t any nearby. Besides, that would tip our hands.”
I nodded as I eyed the road, looking for a break in traffic. “Fair enough. But what about other cultures that might have taken them?”
“There is no one else.”
I couldn’t look at her as I focused on merging into the busy street—someone honked at me, but someone was always honking—but I sighed. “Kelly, please stop and think. Everyone has multiple enemies, and the retinue have more than most. Who else could it have been? The fey, finally grabbing a wayward changeling? The angels, taking an opportunity to kidnap a traitor? Explore the other options.”
Laura was silent for about a block.
“Not the fey,” she said finally. “There were no signs of monsters. Their new Chosen or Princes or whatever could have done it without leaving a trace, I suppose, but that’s an awful lot of effort to waste on one little changeling.”
I nodded. “Good, good. What else?”
“The angels are unlikely for the opposite reason. Alex has always been on good terms with them, despite leaving for Necessarius. Some rogue Host could be going around hunting traitors, but I haven’t heard of any such thing.”
“Neither have I,” I said. That was the two obvious suspects down. “What about something random? Maybe someone in Acheron just grabbed two unprotected men when they saw the opportunity. What’s that club next door?”
“The Club Macabre, owned by Wee Jas. But we already asked her. She said she had nothing to do with it, and I’m inclined to believe it.” I could tell by her tone that she was considering my questions carefully, but I couldn’t turn to look. “Hextor or Bane would be happy to pull a random kidnapping, but not from Nishrek. They need to stay on good terms with Gruumsh. No, everyone in Acheron needs to stay on good terms with him.”
“Maybe we should stop by, crack a few skulls, just in case.”
“No, I already used Robyn Joan to scout them out,” she said. “Before I sent her home. They’ll be ready for any further intrusions, and they won’t be happy. No, Acheron is cleared. We need to focus on other possibilities. Take a right up here.”
I followed her instructions, taking a right at the next intersection. “All right. Who else is there?”
“The giants,” Kelly said instantly. “The ogres, to be specific. George left them on good terms, or I thought he did, but the entire culture has been in turmoil ever since Mjolnir died. Mostly between the Thors and the trolls, but it’s been spilling over to the rest. Including the ogres.”
“Wasn’t George the favored of the King or whoever?”
“Gordok, yes. But his is a small tribe, despite his claim to the title of king. Another right here. The ogres aren’t particularly unified, and the Gordoks pissed off a lot of the more violent ones.” I turned my head briefly, to see her scratching the device on her arm with a thoughtful expression on her face. “The gronn? Maybe, Gruul has been making some noise lately…”
“What about Kat?”
Kelly looked at me sideways. “What about her?”
“We’ve gone through your enemies, Sax’s, Alex’s, and George’s. What about Kat’s?”
“Kat doesn’t have enemies,” she scoffed. “No dark secrets in her past, nothing more interesting than losing her parents at a young age. She’s a fel who decided to get nighteyes, and then later decided to become a full anthro. That’s all there is to it.”
“Hm. No enemies at all? Really?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Kelly shrug. “Oh, she has a few. But mostly individuals, family members of people she’s had to kill. She’s served Necessarius for a while, so they take the brunt of the hate that would otherwise be directed at her. Plus, it’s surprisingly hard to provoke someone into a murderous rage if you’re mute.”
“Right.” I decided to table that issue for now. “Let’s get back to you. Besides the Belians, who else would want to kidnap your subordinates just to get to you? Vampires, demons, anyone? Someone who likes kidnapping?”
“Belians are still at the top of that list,” she said. Then she thought about it. “…the Nessians, maybe? That would be a daring move, but if they can hide anywhere, it’s Acheron. They might have thought it was better than their usual haunts.”
“Okay, so we have a list of suspects,” I said as I merged left. “What about motive? Or more specifically, motive and opportunity together. Why choose now to grab them? And assuming they are your enemies, why not just grab you?”
“I was in the center of Nishrek, surrounded by orcs, including Gruumsh’s own son. On the other hand, Alex and Sax were in the security room, alone, with no one to protect them from—” She stopped talking.
I risked a glance over to see a frown of confusion on her face. “What?”
“We never did get a look at that security footage,” she said quietly. “There aren’t cameras in the actual room, and I was so convinced it was Belians, I didn’t even think about it. But we were investigating a couple murders. Could this whole thing have been just to keep us from delving too deeply into that?”
“Call Laura the second we get wherever we’re going,” I said. “We’ll—”
“We’re here. Park right there.”
I blinked in surprise, but still managed to maneuver the van into the designated spot. We stepped out, and I frowned up at what appeared to be a perfectly normal office building, maybe a hundred stories tall. Probably a bit less.
“What’s this? Someone’s domain?”
“No,” Kelly said as she pulled out her phone, presumably to call Laura. “It’s just an empty office building. He’s rented it out temporarily while he’s in the area; it used to be owned by a vampire company, so it suits his needs.”
“We’re hunting vampires,” she said. “So it only makes sense to go straight to their boss.”
I swallowed. “The Dragon.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 255)
This is the first time the Dragon has shown up in a long, long time, but we’re still going to have to wait just a little while longer.