“What’s this?”

“This is a magic parchment.”

Saiman took the bag with long, slender fingers, held the parchment to the light, and frowned. “Blank. You’ve piqued my curiosity.”

I took a piece of paper from my pocket. “This is the list of tests ran on the parchment by PAD.”

Saiman scanned the list. A narrow smile curved his lips. “Amusing. Twenty-four hours. I’ll tell you what is written on it, or I’ll tell you who can read it.” He slipped the parchment into his inside pocket. “Shall we?”

I turned to the mercs. “We need five volunteers. Don’t volunteer if you didn’t get a good look at the guy.”

Bob raised his hand. “The four of us will do it.”

“I need one more,” I said.

Mark came forward. “I’ll do it.”

Juke sneered down her Goth Tinker Bell nose, decorated with a tiny stud. “You weren’t even there.”

Mark gave her a grim look. “I was there for the end.”

They glared at each other.

“Let us not argue,” Saiman said. “The five of you will do splendidly.”

He knelt by the trunk. It was a large, rectangular trunk, made of old scarred wood reinforced with strips of metal. Saiman flicked his fingers and produced a piece of chalk with the buttery grace of a trained magician. He drew a complex symbol on top of the trunk. A dry metallic click sounded from the inside. Slowly and with great care, Saiman lifted the lid and took out a bowling ball. Blue and green, swirled with a gold marbleized pattern, the ball had seen some wear and tear.

“Have you ever heard of David Miller, Kate?” Saiman asked.

“No.”

Saiman reached into the trunk and retrieved a plastic pitcher tinted with hunter green. “David Miller was the magic equivalent of an idiot savant. All tests showed that he had an unparalleled magic power. He constantly emanated it the way an electric lamp emanates heat.” He set the pitcher next to the bowling ball. “However, despite numerous attempts to train him, Miller never learned to use his gift. He led a perfectly ordinary life and died a perfectly average death from heart failure at the age of sixty-seven. After he had passed on, it was discovered that the objects he had handled most during his life had gained a magic significance. By manipulating them, their owner can achieve a rather surprising and occasionally useful effect.”

Interesting. “Let me guess, you hunted the objects down and acquired them?”

“Not all of them,” Saiman said. “Miller’s descendants made a concerted effort to scatter the objects, selling them to different buyers. They had agreed that concentrating all of that power in the hands of a single person was foolhardy. But I will collect them all, eventually.”

“If they were worried, why sell the objects at all?” Mark asked.

Saiman smiled. “The lack of money is the root of all evil, Mr. Meadows.”

Mark blinked. My guess was, nobody ever called him by his last name. “I thought it was ‘the love’ of money.”

“Spoken like a man who never went hungry,” Ivera said.

“Besides,” Saiman continued, “the family had concerns for their safety. They were afraid they would be robbed and murdered by enterprising parties interested in Miller’s collection. Considering the worth of the objects, their worries were quite valid.”

He extracted a key chain from the trunk and carefully closed it. “I’ll need a pitcher of water and five glasses, please.”

A couple of mercs brought over a full glass pitcher from the cafeteria and five glasses. Saiman surveyed the floor and headed to the front door, chalk in hand. He drew a semicircle about ten feet from the doorway, the curve facing the center of the room and chalked an odd symbol into it. Then he crossed to the spot of Solomon’s death, drew another larger semicircle, straight side flush against the elevator shaft, and filled it with perfectly round circles. I counted. Ten.

“Bowling pins?” I asked.

“Precisely.”

Saiman returned to the table, freed the keys from the chain, and handed each of the five keys to the Four Horsemen and Mark. “Hold them between your hands and try to recall the event in your mind. What did you see? What did you hear? What smells floated in the air?”

Saiman poured the water from the glass pitcher into Miller’s plastic one.

Ken, the Hungarian mage, studied the key. “What sort of magic is this?”

“Modern magic,” Saiman said. “Each age has its own magic traditions. This is ours. It’s unlikely that most of you will see a repetition of this ritual in your lifetime. This magic is extremely rare and very taxing. I only perform it for very special clients.” He smiled at me.

Oh good. He just made everyone involved think we were sleeping together.

I smiled back. “I’ll be sure to inform the knight-protector that he should be very generous in his compensation.”

Right back at you. Let them scrub the image of a naked Ted Moynohan out of their brains.

After half a minute, he collected the keys, slipped them back onto the keychain, and dropped it into the pitcher. The keys sank to the bottom. Magic pulsed from the pitcher, breaking against me. It felt like someone had clamped a furry soft paw over my eyes and ears, then vanished.

Saiman poured an inch of water into each glass and glanced at the eyewitnesses. “Drink, please.”

Juke grimaced. “That shit ain’t sanitary.”

“I’m sure you’ve swallowed much worse, Amelia,” Saiman said.

“Amelia,” I said. “What a lovely name, Juke.”

She scowled at me. “Drop dead.”

“Drink the water,” I told her.

She skewed her face. “I already told you everything I saw.”

“Our memory is much more detailed than our recall,” Saiman said. “You might be surprised how much you do remember.”

Juke gulped it down.

Bob drank his with a stoic expression. Ivera peered into hers and drained it. Mark tossed his down like it was whiskey. Ken was the last. He drank his water very slowly, in sips, holding each swallow in his mouth, probably trying to glean some sort of knowledge from it.

Saiman picked up the bowling ball. “Please remain sitting through the event. Don’t interfere with the illusion in any manner. Kate, you may move if you wish; however, don’t intersect the image. Is everyone clear?”

An assortment of affirmative noises answered him. He strode to the first semicircle, held the ball at his chest for a long moment, bent, and sent it hurtling across the hall’s floor. As the ball rolled, a different reality bloomed in its wake, as if someone had pulled a zipper on the world, revealing the past. Solomon’s murder took place in the afternoon, and the light slanted at a different angle from the present midmorning sun, clearly marking the edges of the illusion: an oval about thirty feet at its widest stretching through the hall.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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