One looked too nice to have what I'd seen. The studio had seemed pretty bare bones and run down. The other two buildings on the street looked like more likely candidates. I drove to each one and walked around their grounds, trying to imagine what the angle might be when viewed from a higher window. I wished I'd had a chance to actually look down to the parking lot in the vision. It would have given me a better idea of the floor. After much thought, I finally deduced the studio had been on the third or fourth floor. Since one of the buildings only had two floors, that gave me a pretty positive hit on the correct place.

Stepping inside the building made me glad I'd packed hand sanitizer in my bag. The halls looked like they hadn't been swept in over a year. The walls were dirty, their paint chipped. Bits of trash sat on the floor. Cobwebs hung in some of the corners, and I prayed spiders were the only creepy-crawly inhabitants. If I saw a roach, I was probably going to bolt. The building had no front desk I could make inquiries at, so I flagged down a middle-aged woman as she was leaving. She paused, regarding me warily.

"Hi," I said, hoping I looked non-threatening. "I'm trying to find a friend of mine, but I don't know which apartment he lives in. Maybe you know him? His name is Marcus. He has a blue tattoo on his face." Seeing her blank look, I repeated the question in Spanish. Comprehension showed in her expression, but once she'd heard my entire question, her only response was a brief headshake. I didn't even have time to show her Marcus's picture.

I spent the next half hour doing the same thing whenever I saw residents going in or out. I stayed outside this time, preferring a brightly lit public area to the dingy interior. Some of the people I talked to were a little sketchy, and a couple of guys looked me over in a way I definitely didn't like. I was about to give up when a younger boy approached me. He appeared to be about ten and had been playing in the parking lot.

"I know the guy you're looking for," he told me in English. "But his name's not Marcus. It's Dave."

Considering how difficult Marcus had been to find, I wasn't entirely surprised he'd been using another name. "You're sure?" I asked the boy. I showed him the picture. "This is the guy?"

He nodded eagerly. "That's the one. He's real quiet. My mom says he's probably doing bad things."

Great. Just what I needed. "Do you know where he lives?"

The boy pointed upward. "At the top. 407."

I thanked him and went back inside, heading up to the fourth floor on stairs that creaked the entire way. The apartment was near the end of the hall, next to one that was blasting obnoxious music. I knocked on 407 and didn't get a response. Not sure if the occupant had heard me, I knocked more loudly and received the same result.

I eyed the doorknob, considering melting it with my Alchemist chemicals. Immediately, I dismissed the thought. Even in a disreputable building like this, a neighbor might be concerned to see me breaking into an apartment. I didn't want to attract any attention. This situation was getting increasingly frustrating, and I couldn't spend all day here.

I ran through my choices. Everyone said I was so smart. Surely there was some solution here that would work? Waiting around in the hall wasn't an option. There was no telling how long it could take for Marcus or "Dave" to show up. And honestly, the less time spent in the dirty hall, the better. If only there was some way to get inside that didn't involve actually destroying -

That's when the solution came to me. I groaned. It wasn't one I liked, but it would get the job done.

I went back outside and waved hello to the boy as he practiced jumping off the steps. "Was Dave home?" he asked.


The boy nodded. "He usually isn't."

That, at least, would be helpful for this next crazy plan. I left the boy and walked around the side of the building, which was mercifully deserted. There, clinging to the outer wall, was the most rickety fire escape I'd ever seen. Considering how rigid California safety standards were, I was astonished that this hadn't been reported. Of course, if it had, it didn't seem likely this building's owner would've been quick to act, judging from the rest of the conditions I'd seen.

Double checking that no one was around, I stood in the fire escape's shadow, hoping it more or less concealed me. From the messenger bag, I produced one of my charms: a necklace made of agate and crow feathers. I slipped it over my head and recited a Greek incantation. I felt the warmth of magic run through me but saw no ostensible changes. Theoretically, I should be invisible for those who didn't know to look for me. Whether that had actually happened, I couldn't say. I supposed I'd find out if someone came by and demanded to know why I was climbing into an apartment via the fire escape.

Once I stepped onto it, I nearly terminated the plan. The entire fire escape squeaked and swayed. The scaffolding was so rusty, I wouldn't have been surprised if it disintegrated beneath my feet. I stood frozen where I was, trying to work up the courage to go on. I reminded myself that this could be my one chance to find Marcus. The boy in the parking lot had confirmed he lived here. I couldn't waste this opportunity.

I gulped and kept going, gingerly moving from floor to floor. When I reached the fourth, I stared down in amazement, unable to believe the fire escape was still intact. Now I had a new problem. I'd figured out where Marcus's studio was, and it was one window over from the fire escape's landing. The distance wasn't that great, but on the narrow ledge between them would feel like miles. Equally daunting was the fact that I'd have to get through the window. It was shut, which made sense if he was in hiding. I had a couple magical amulets capable of melting glass, but I didn't trust myself to be able to use them on the narrow ledge - which meant I had to see just how good my aim had become in PE.

Still conscious of the precarious fire escape, I took out a small pouch of powder from my messenger bag. Sizing up the distance, I threw the pouch hard toward the window, reciting a spell - and missed. The pouch hit the side of the building, throwing up a dusty cloud, and began eating away at the stucco. I winced as the wall dissolved. The spell eventually burned itself out but left a noticeable hole behind. It hadn't gone all the way through, and I supposed given the state of the building, no one would probably even notice.

I had one pouch left and had to make it count. The pane was fairly big, and there was no way I could miss this time. I threw hard - and made contact. The powder smashed against the window. Immediately, a reaction spread out and began melting the glass. It dripped down like ice out in the sun. Now, watching anxiously, I wanted the reaction to go on for as long as possible. I needed a big enough hole to get through. Fortunately, when it stopped, I felt confident I could make it inside - if I could get over there.

Tags: Richelle Mead Bloodlines Fantasy
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