"The old Lenox Pointe?"
"He does alright for himself," Derek said.
"Indeed." And I would have to empty my bank account to pay for the information he would provide.
Magic didn't like skyscrapers. It didn't like anything new and technologically complicated, period, but it especially hated tall buildings. Ever since the Shift, Atlanta's skyscrapers had rocked, crumbled, and fallen, like exhausted titans on sand legs.
Against this new jagged skyline, Champion Heights stood out like a sore thumb. Seventeen stories tall, it towered above Buckhead thanks to the deep pockets of its owners and a complicated spell nobody had thought would work. The spell worked just fine: the high-rise still loomed above decrepit buildings, clouded with haze, shifting back and forth between the brick and glass building and a tall granite spire, as the complex web of spells worked tirelessly to support the illusion which permitted its existence. The cost of maintaining an apartment in Champion Heights approached astronomical.
The magic hit, so thick my heart skipped a beat. Derek clenched his teeth. His face strained, muscles on his forearms bulged, and his eyes flooded with yellow.
The hair on the back of my arms rose. The intense cold fire of those eyes chilled me. He was on the verge of going furry.
His lips quivered. The fire in his eyes died to its usual soft brown. "Yeah," he said. "Took me by surprise."
The vampire kept galloping as if nothing had happened.
"Ghastek, you okay?"
He offered Derek a smile. "Never better. Unlike Pack members, the People don't tolerate losses of control."
Derek's eyes flashed gold. "If I lose control, you'll be the first to know."
"I'm quite perturbed by the idea."
We turned the corner. A granite crag greeted us, nestled within artfully landscaped shrubs. The crag rose, completely sheer, until it brushed the sky, where snowdrifts edged its scarred weather-worn top. A flock of birds launched themselves into flight from its top, the setting sun gleaming on their backs and wings. They circled the building once and took off for places unknown.
"Whoa," Derek said. "I thought it was supposed to look like a rock, not be a rock."
"Our furry companion once again forgets the advance of a flare," Ghastek said.
"If the two of you don't stop, I'll send you home."
The flare had turned Champion Heights into a granite spire. And it wasn't even going full force yet. We were just getting the preview of what was to come.
We dismounted, tied our horses to the rail, and went up the concrete steps to where the entrance used to be. Solid rock. Not even a crevice.
The magic fell.
"Window," Ghastek said.
Three stories from the ground a pane of glass shone, catching the sun.
The bloodsucker gathered itself like a cat and launched up onto the wall, finding purchase on the sheer cliff with the ease of a fly. It turned around, hanging upside down, and offered me an arm.
"I'll climb myself, thanks."
"It will cost us time."
"That's fine with me."
It'd been a long time since I had gone rock climbing. By the time I made it to the window, Derek and the bloodsucker had been waiting for a good minute. Ghastek scooted the vamp to the side to make room for me. "You delayed us. It's simply not efficient."
I huffed. "Spare me."
Derek knocked on the window. No answer. He rammed his fist into the glass. The window pane exploded into the apartment. We climbed into the hole one by one and let ourselves out of the apartment. Neither of us mentioned the illegality of our smooth maneuver.
We made it to the fifteenth floor, and I stole a little break by taking my time to find the right door.
"So what sort of person is this expert?" Derek asked.
"The very intelligent, methodical kind. Somber, even. Saiman enjoys erudite discussions. He's like Ghastek - " With a sex drive. "He's like Ghastek except instead of piloting vampires, he indulges in books and late night debate on the virtues of Mongolian folklore."
"Wonderful." Derek rolled his eyes.
I nodded to the vamp. "The two of you will probably hit it off."
The magic flooded us again. This time Derek was ready - his face showed no change. Ghastek, on the other hand, halted in midrise halfway off the ground.
I unsheathed Slayer. Derek backed away, giving himself room for a leap. If the vamp went berserk, we'd be in a hell of a lot of trouble.
"Ghastek?" I murmured.
"Just a second." His voice sounded muffled.
"Are you losing your grip on him?"
The vampire dropped to the floor, regarding me with blood-drenched eyes. "Whatever led you to that conclusion?"
"If you must know, an apprentice brought me my espresso and I burned my tongue on it."
Derek grimaced, disgust practically dripping off his face.
"Can we enter or not?" Ghastek said.
I slid Slayer's blade into the box of the electronic lock. Like many things in Champion Heights, the lock was magic masquerading as technology.
"Anything else we need to know?" Derek asked.
"Just don't stare if he decides to do his thing. He'll draw it out." The memory alone made me queasy.
"What thing?" Derek asked.
"He changes shapes. He's limited to human only, as far as I know, but within that limitation he can assume almost any form."
"Is he a danger?"
His tone had a slightly driven tint to it. His blood oath acting up again. "I met him through the Guild, when I was a merc. On bodyguard detail. I saved his life and now he gives me a discount. Basically, he humors me and tries to get into my pants. He's harmless."
I put my hand on Slayer's blade, fed a little power into the blade, and pushed the door with my fingers. It slid open.
Beyond the door lay Saiman's apartment: an ultramodern backdrop of steel and plush cushions, blending into a monochromatic, almost sterile, whole.
"Saiman?" I called, crossing the white rug.
No answer. A blast of chill air hit me. The enormous floor-to-ceiling window stood open, half of its pane slid aside. Beyond the pane a snow-strewn ledge, barely four feet wide, hugged the building. I stuck my head through the opening. The ledge spiraled to the roof. A trail of footprints led up through the snow.
"IT APPEARS HE TOOK A WALK IN THE SNOW. BAREFOOT." I stepped back into the apartment.
"I'll go first," Derek said.
Before I could say anything, he ducked into the opening and headed up the ledge. Damn it. I followed him. Behind me the vamp climbed the cliff. Using ledges and paths was clearly below Ghastek.