If the Keepers had Adam's gadget, nothing good would come from it. Of all the opponents I had to face, fanatics were the worst. Most people could be bribed, threatened, intimidated. None of the usual methods of persuasion applied to fanatics. They did things that defied logic.
And we still didn't know what the hell the device actually did. I sifted through the evidence. Adam had kept a journal, but it was missing, along with all his other notes.
Twenty minutes later I was no closer to solving anything. I picked up pieces of paper at random, marked in Andrea's neat, precise hand. LIST OF CLOTHES. LIST OF COOKING UTENSILS. LIST OF GROCERIES. She cataloged the entire house. I scanned the grocery list. Not like I had anything better to do. Cheese, milk, bananas, chocolate, protein shakes ...
Wait a bloody minute.
Sugar, dried apricots ...
I stared at the list. I'd seen this list of ingredients before. I'd watched them being put into a blender one by one: bananas, sugar, protein shake, chocolate, milk. It was a nauseating mix Saiman used to drink when he was about to change shape and expected to burn through a lot of calories in a hurry.
I double-checked the list. Saiman was Atlanta's premier expert on all things magic. He dealt in sensitive information, owned a part of an illegal martial arts tournament, and had fewer morals than the Norse gods he had descended from. He was a complete and utter egoist, focused solely on gratifying his own wants, and any dealings with him came with a giant price tag. A few months ago his egoism had finally gotten him into trouble. He maneuvered me into playing his escort for the evening and then displayed me for Curran's benefit to avenge a blow to his pride. Curran didn't take it well. In fact, I was amazed Saiman was still among the living.
Saiman also changed shape. Any human body type, any gender. Once he'd turned into a woman, seduced a pagan priest, stolen his magic acorn, and then hired the Mercenary Guild to keep him safe while the priest's friends and relations turned themselves inside out trying to kill him. The priest he'd seduced happened to be a volhv. And I was the idiot merc sent to guard him. He was the reason why I had to go to Evdokia instead of the volhvs and got my childhood smashed to pieces.
If Saiman was involved, he could've impersonated anyone. He could've been one of the guards or he could've pretended to be Adam Kamen himself. But why? What the hell did he want? Saiman was loaded. Maybe he was one of the investors ...
A faint metal clang announced the bar being removed from the door. That was some fast grocery shopping.
"Hi there!" Ascanio's voice had the unmistakable overtone of a young guy trying to be smooth.
"Who are you and where is Kate?" Julie's voice asked.
I GOT UP, PADDED TO THE RAIL, AND LEANED against the wall, hidden in the shadow. From here I had an excellent view of the main room. Ascanio barred the stairs. Julie stood in the middle of the room, with a determined look on her face. Her light hair was pulled into a ponytail. Good balance, light on her toes. Her hand was on one of my throwing knives. No matter how many times I took them away from her, she always managed to steal them.
"I'm Ascanio Ferara of Clan Bouda. The question is, who are you?"
"I can't do that," Ascanio purred. "I'm under strict orders not to let anyone I don't know upstairs. And I don't know you."
At least in one respect the school had been good for Julie--they'd made sure she had frequent meals. She'd come a long way from the waif I found in the Honeycomb. Still slender and pale, she looked stronger now, and her legs and arms no longer resembled toothpicks. She was also pretty, a fact Ascanio noticed, judging by his killer smile and the light flexing of his arms.
One cute face and all my orders of not admitting strangers flew right out the window. The kid was hopeless.
"Move," Julie repeated.
"No. You see, I have a problem. Kate didn't tell me she was expecting an angel."
Julie blinked, obviously stunned.
"I'd like to help you." Ascanio spread his arms. "I just can't. Kate is a very stern alpha."
"She might put me in a hole. Or whip me."
No, but she might twist your head off for this.
Julie arranged her face into a shocked expression. "Whip you? Really?"
Ascanio nodded. "It's brutal. But if I had something, some small favor, I might take a chance on being punished." "A small favor?" Julie nodded. "Like what?"
Julie's eyes narrowed. "Maybe I'll come back later."
"She'll be leaving later and my memory is terrible. I might forget you were here and let her leave for the Keep. It's very difficult to reach her in the Keep. There are many guards."
Who would all fall over themselves to deliver her to me.
Julie stepped back. Ascanio stepped forward. She took another step. He followed, with a fluid shapeshifter grace. He thought he was stalking her. She was pulling him away from the stairs, giving herself room to work.
"Are you going to be nice if I kiss you?" Julie took another step back.
"And no tongue."
Kill me, somebody.
Julie motioned to him. "Okay."
Ascanio took a step forward. Julie stood on her toes and gently kissed him. Her right hand slid into a leather pouch on her belt. Ascanio leaned forward, gliding his hands over her shoulders. Julie jerked back and smothered a handful of yellowish paste on his face. Wolfsbane. Deep color too, almost orange--potent as hell.
Ascanio made a strangled noise and clawed at his face, trying to exhale the fire that suddenly exploded in his mouth and nose. Julie hooked his right leg with hers and shoved him back. He crashed like a log. His back slapped the floor, forcing all of the air out of his lungs in a hoarse breath. Julie grabbed his arm, twisted it, flipping him over on his stomach, landed on Ascanio's back, pulled a plastic tie from her pocket, and locked his wrists.
I wanted to jump up and down, clapping. We'd practiced this takedown over the Christmas break and she had done it perfectly.
Julie grabbed Ascanio by his hair, raising his face off the floor, and slid her knife against his throat.
An eerie hyena noise broke from Ascanio's lips, a ululating half groan, half laugh, laced with a hoarse snarl, like a creaky barn door swinging open inch by inch. Every hair rose on the back of my neck.
"I'll rip you apart!" "Oh no." Julie clicked her tongue. "Did the mean human girl pick on you? Does the little bouda boy want his mommy?"