Home > Shadow Hunt (Disrupted Magic #3)(9)

Shadow Hunt (Disrupted Magic #3)(9)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

When he turned back, the first box was in its original position, with the intact gun and cell phone sitting in their original spots.

Jesse paused. Was he losing it? Had someone replaced the box with magic? He was really starting to wish he’d kept some of Kirsten’s witch bags close at hand. “Hello?” he called again. “Who’s out there?”

If this had been a movie, he would have heard a sudden malicious giggle, but there was nothing but empty silence that seemed to go on forever. How big was this room?

Jesse reached for the cell phone again. This time his fingers went right through it, like it was a ghost—or he was. His fingers felt cold where they touched the non-phone, and he jerked his hand back. “Nothing is real,” he muttered to himself. He tried touching the shelf itself, wondering if he could walk through the damn thing, but no, of course that had structure.

With no better ideas, Jesse resumed walking. It was a little ridiculous, but the lidless boxes were making him more edgy than anything else. Jesse had spent years having proper procedure drilled into him, and the sight of open evidence boxes was jangling his nerves, like seeing someone chain-smoking inside an elementary school. It was just wrong.

Every now and then he pulled out boxes and tried to grab whatever was inside, just for the hell of it: key chains, old trophies, children’s toys, ticket stubs. Everything disintegrated.

Next, he tried leaving boxes out to mark his path, but every time he looked away and then back again, they were gone.

He walked and walked, sticking to a straight line so he wouldn’t risk going in circles, but the aisle he was in simply didn’t end. He was thirsty, and his empty stomach rumbled, but there was nothing to eat except cardboard boxes, and Jesse had a feeling even that wouldn’t work.

After what felt like hours of this strange limbo, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A woman was curled up on the waist-high shelf, arms around her knees, watching him placidly.

Jesse jumped. “Jesus!”

She smiled at him, twisting sideways and unfolding her limbs like a giant insect. She stood up and tossed back her colorless hair, and Jesse realized it was the Luparii witch, Sabine. “You!” he said, darting forward to grab her. “Where—”

But his hand passed right through her frail-looking arm. “Hello, Jesse,” she said with a smirk. “Welcome to the twisted slumber.”

“You can speak English,” he said, the first thought that came to his mind. She didn’t even have an accent.

But Sabine shook her head. “I control this space. If I want you to understand me in your dream, you will.”

“This isn’t a dream,” he scoffed. “I feel hunger, thirst.” Lightly, he smacked the back of his hand against a shelf, getting a quick flare of pain in response. “I can even get hurt.”

“This isn’t a normal dream, no. This is one that I twisted for you, using a piece of my magic. You should feel special. I don’t do this spell for just anyone.”

“Seriously?” He crossed his arms over his chest. “And this is your best shot at me? Miles of shelves? Wow. You sure showed me.”

Her smile just widened. She stepped closer to him, seeming to grow taller with each step, until she didn’t have to look up to meet his eyes. “Ah, but the tedium is the whole point. You’re a man of action, but here there’s nothing for you to do.” She spread her arms, indicating the endless rows. “There are no dragons to slay—or vampires, for that matter. And no way to get yourself out. You can walk, or run, or climb the shelves. You can lay down and wait to die. It doesn’t matter. Nothing you do will matter.”

Jesse felt it then: the hopelessness, the futility. Despite his bravado, his shoulders slumped. “Why? Why are you doing this to me?”

“Where is Scarlett Bernard?”

“I. Don’t. Know,” he said, enunciating each word.

She studied him for another moment, then sighed. “You are telling the truth. That is unfortunate. But we will see if you have other information we can use. Killian has some ideas.”

They could get information from him? That meant Jesse had to be careful. He imagined building a wall to block off the most recent information he’d received about Scarlett. He didn’t even let himself think about what it was.

“What do you want from Scarlett?” he said to the woman. “You’ve got Shadow.”

Sabine hesitated for a moment, then shrugged, as if realizing it didn’t matter what she told Jesse at this point. “Los Angeles needs to be taught a lesson,” she said calmly. “Taking back our bargest isn’t enough. Don’t worry, you’ll be dead very soon. It won’t matter for you.”

Well, that wasn’t going to get him anywhere. Jesse thought of Killian’s earlier questions. “You were tracking Scarlett’s van, and Molly’s car.”

The corners of Sabine’s lips turned down in a “whatever” expression. “To her credit, she has become good at examining her vehicle for tracking devices. But we are better.”

“And yet she left town without you knowing.”

Sabine bared her teeth. “She’ll come back. Especially if someone finds your body.”

Fear threatened to overwhelm him then, but he wasn’t going to let himself freak out in front of this witch. “So you’re going to kill me.”

She edged even closer to him, and Jesse could feel her hot breath on his face. How could this possibly be a dream? “I am killing you now. The twisted slumber is a fever dream, emphasis on the fever. Even now, your body temperature is rising past what a human being can survive. A day, maybe two, and your organs will begin to shut down from dehydration.” She clucked her tongue. “So sad. But the null will return when she learns you’re missing, and we will be waiting for her. There is enough time.”

“That makes it sound like you’re in a hurry,” Jesse guessed. “Why? What’s coming?”

This time Sabine frowned. As quickly as she had appeared, she blinked away again.

Interesting. But now he was alone, with infinite miles of shelves on all sides. Nothing to do, nowhere to go, just like Sabine had said.

Jesse felt panic rising in his chest, and he resolutely began to walk again, trying to think this through. The Luparii wanted Scarlett, obviously, but why? There were plenty of horrible things you could do with a null, including assassinating powerful vampires. But if all they wanted was to kidnap Scarlett and take her back to France, they could have done that anytime. Scarlett didn’t take Shadow everywhere; there would have been opportunities to snatch her away.

And the same went for killing Scarlett. If they’d been tracking her, they’d been watching for long enough to just shoot her when no one expected it. No, timing was definitely a factor here . . . which made it likely that Killian and Sabine had been watching in anticipation of something: a signal, maybe, or a certain date. Scarlett had thrown them off by skipping town.

His thoughts kept going in circles, although they seemed to end up in the same place: was his body really dying? He certainly wouldn’t put it past Sabine to lie to him, but he was thirsty and hungry . . . it was worrisome. On the other hand, if he was dying anyway, why hadn’t they just shot him?

Killian had specifically mentioned wanting to know more about Jesse. But how would the fake LAPD station help them learn about him? Unless . . .

He grabbed the closest box and looked inside. To his surprise, the top layer was hardcover copies of Wunderkind, the nonfiction book he’d co-written. Jesse hadn’t been able to interact with the contents of the boxes, so he didn’t bother touching the book itself. Instead, he tipped the entire box sideways onto the floor. Many more copies of the book spilled out, along with a small gold band. A wedding ring. Jesse crouched down for a closer look. It was his wedding ring, from his brief marriage to the book’s ghostwriter.

It was like a fog clearing. The textbooks were his textbooks. The Glock was his first gun, and the ticket stubs were from concerts he’d seen.

He looked in another box, and this one held plastic claws and giant wolf paws made from plaster. This was the evidence he’d planted to frame the Luparii witch for Henry Remus’s murder.

   
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