"Nothing," I told him.
Curran stroked my back. "If the countdown is down to an hour and we still don't know where it is, I want you to leave."
I turned to him. "The children are out of the Keep," Curran said. "They were shipped out overnight into the Wood." The Wood, otherwise known as Chattahoochee National Forest, served as the hunting grounds for the Pack. Curran had bought a hundred-year lease, and once a month each shapeshifter made a pilgrimage there to run among the trees without his or her human skin. "They have orders to scatter. Julie is in Augusta under heavy sedation. Barabas and two of our guards are with her."
"I'm staying," I told him.
"No." His eyes were clear, his voice calm. "You owe me for agreeing to the ritual. If the countdown reaches one hour and we still have no leads, you will leave. The Pack must have an alpha. You will take over. The betas from each clan have evacuated; they are spread out all over the state. They will be your new Council."
Fear grabbed my throat and squeezed, crushing. In a blink I could lose him. "I can't run the Pack, Curran. You're kidding yourself."
He looked at me. He wasn't giving me a hard stare; he just looked at me. "I need you to tell me that you will do this. No arguments, no bullshit heroics. Just do this for me."
"Because I want you to be safe. I want you to survive and if I'm not there to protect you, the Pack will be the next best thing. Promise me," he said.
"Okay," I told him. "But if we find them, I'm staying to the end."
A bright burst of green blossomed to the right. South. A new lead. What was south of the Capitol. . . "The airport?"
BEFORE THE SHIFT, THE HARTSFIELD-JACKSON AIRPORT had served as the primary hub for all flights to the Southern United States. Almost three miles wide and flanked by highways on all sides, the airport ate a huge chunk of the city's Southside. The damn place was so big, there was a train going through it. If you died in the South, you had to stop in Atlanta for a layover before getting to the other side. The Shift fixed that right up. The commercial aviation industry took a century to grow and only five minutes to die, as the first magic wave dropped five thousand planes out of the sky. Overnight, the airport was dead.
The structure didn't sit abandoned for too long. When the MSDU officially came into being, christened in the blood of the Three-Month Riots, the local Unit took over the airport, turning it into a fortified base and the HQ of military operations for the Southeast. Over the decades that followed, the MSDU's forces had continued steadily increasing the airport's defenses, turning it into a full-fledged fortress. As I drove along a narrow access road, I could see the edge of the runways, the concourse, and beyond them the white and sea-foam spire of the control tower. The place looked impenetrable. The long gray building of the terminal bristled with siege engines and machine guns, aided by square boxes of concrete bunkers. A hundred yards out, the second row of bunkers guarded the concourse. Between the bunkers and us lay half a mile of clear ground. Nothing but the old pavement of the runways and brownish grass, mowed down to mere fuzz. No cover, no safe approach, nothing.
Three wards shimmered in the air. The first sheathed the tower in a bluish translucent cocoon. The second rose just past the bunkers. Glowing threads of pale magic wound through it, swirling like colors on a soap bubble. The third and final ward, a translucent wall tinted with red, extended the length of the field.
Why were all three wards up? MSDU usually didn't bother with activating the defensive spells unless they had to contain something nasty, and even then, only the perimeter and the killing field ward went active. I could see the killing field to the left--no ward shielded it. What the hell was going on?
"Could the Keepers have taken the MSDU?" I murmured.
Curran stirred in the passenger seat. "If they have, the device is in the tower."
I'd stick the device in some sort of storage room in some forgotten concourse, but if the Keepers somehow claimed the base, they would choose the tower. They knew we were coming. The tower was an excellent place for their last stand. Stick enough sharpshooters with crossbows at the top and we'd all look like hedgehogs by the time we got to it. Assuming we'd manage to breach all the other defenses first.
"The red ward is a bouncer," I said. "It's not too hard to break. With all of our magic juice, we can breach it in fifteen, twenty minutes. We go through it, and it will bounce shut right back behind us. We'll be pinned between that ward and whatever is in those front bunkers."
"How can you tell?"
"The red is more opaque near the ground, which means magic is concentrated there. That's usually a mark of a bouncer. Regular wards have uniform thickness, like the ones I used to have on my apartment. They can be opened or closed, but once they break, they take several magic waves to regenerate. This one will surge right back up."
"Your wards are transparent, too," Curran said.
"I could make them in color. Transparent wards take more effort. In this case they are warding an area about three miles in diameter. They went for the most bang for their buck--the strongest ward with the least effort. And to people who don't know about wards, giant red domes look impressive."
The access road spat us out into the field. It was half full--search parties trickled in via the other two roads. A vampire completely covered in purple sunblock rose at our approach and waved his claws. I parked. The moment I stepped outside, Andrea was there. "The Keepers took over the MSDU."
"Remember that buddy of mine I called to check out de Harven?" Andrea said. "He has three kids. All of them chock full of magic. So I called him." She held up her hands. "I know, I know. I wasn't going to say anything. I just wanted to suggest to him that he take his family on a trip to the coast or something. He wasn't at his number. So I called the reception in his building. Some guy I never spoke to answered and said that my friend was on bereavement leave. I was right there, so I dropped by his house. His wife says he didn't come home last night. She called the base, and MSDU told her they were holding him overnight due to an emergency. She didn't think anything of it. So I came by here. Look!" She thrust a pair of binoculars at me. "Third bunker from the left."
I looked through the binoculars. First, second, third ... A leg in urban fatigues and an Army-issue steel-toed boot stuck out from behind the bunker. I waited a couple of seconds. It didn't move. Either he was suffering from a sudden bout of severe narcolepsy or we had a dead soldier. A body like that wouldn't be left lying about if the base were still under military control. The Keepers must've ta ken the base.