The waiting had become unbearable. Unsure of when the purifier squad would arrive to free them, but fully aware of Lucian’s capture made every second feel like an eternity. Exploring the house had been a short distraction. Don had found the desecrated remains of a werewolf in the basement along with documents to create a weapon from its bones, blood, and teeth, which Jack had surmised would have been made to deal with Amber and Goldie. Besides that and the notes on the impossible magical phrase, the house was standard warlock fair. Plants of different types and preserved animal remains in jars could be found scattered about the house, seemingly placed more for convenience than aesthetic.
As the minutes marched on, Allie found herself checking the magical signature of the house over and over again. Since the suspected plan was that Dell would somehow steal Lucian’s soul and with it the power of a shadow to avoid detection, she reasoned that as long as his magical signature was still visible, he’d not yet accomplished his goal. This did little to speed the time, but it helped her relax ever so slightly.
A polite knock on the door broke Allie’s focus. Don bounded to the door like a puppy. She’d grown bored about twenty minutes in and had spent the remainder of the time being a complete pest.
“Who is it?” Don sang.
“Room service!” A woman’s voice sang back. “Is this fourteen-oh-eight?”
“It is! Do you have my roasted chicken?”
“Is that Lora?” Allie asked with unrestrained agitation. “Stop fucking around and let us out!”
“Sorry!” Lora sang out. “Just let me- Hey! I’ve seen this lock picking method before!”
“You recognize my work I see,” Don said.
The door swung open after a moment, and the agents were met by a woman in military grade tactical gear with a blue pixie cut and a profoundly gleeful expression. “Sorry. I ate the chicken.”
Don swept Lora up in her arms and spun her around, leaving the house in the process. The pair laughed uncontrollably.
“They know each other?” Jack asked as he followed Allie out of Dell’s house.
“Yeah,” Allie said. “I’m supposed to be her best friend, but she doesn’t greet me like that.”
“When did you get assigned to Zero-One? I thought you were under Hannah Osgood?” Don asked.
“She got pregnant!” Lora said back. “One of Malcolm’s took over, and I got his slot. Hey, is that the Seventh?” Lora asked, pointing at Jack.
“Yeah, you can get an autograph later,” Allie muttered. “Where are the others?”
Lora pointed at an extended black van parked just behind Allie and Don’s car. A short, wiry man who was leaning on it casually waved back.
“The Captain wants an update,” Lora said as she pointed to the sky. “Monica has been spinning up a town breaker as well as cloaking us and speeding us along. He wants to know if she can drop it or if she needs to drop it, ya know?” Lora flicked a thumb across her throat to emphasize the second use of the word ‘drop’.
As they neared the van, the wiry man stepped forward and introduced himself. “Neil Harper. I’m Captain Freeman’s Lieutenant. The others are prepping some gear for you.”
In the back of the van, they found a burly, red-bearded man laying out bits of tactical armor. Overseeing him was a man with thick, close cut, salt and pepper hair who Allie recognized as Malcolm Freeman and a petite woman whose hair was pulled into a thick braid that circled her head like a wreath whom Allie assumed was Monica Warwood. Monica was softly singing a song without lyrics that, which even at low volume, seemed to fill the air with music a human voice wasn’t capable of making. The music was ominous and threatening. Notes flowed into each other spiking in octaves in an almost discordant manner. She was holding a thick book with no printed title and silver bindings tightly to her chest.
“Ah, Agent Piper, Agent Kyle. It’s good to meet you,” Malcolm said. “I’ve had Jason ready some gear for you. Why don’t you fill me in as you prep?”
Allie gave a brief rundown of what they had found in Dell’s house, including the dual cored servant, the magical phrase Jack found, and the fact that Dell’s magic was still detectable.
“Well, it’s good that we still have time,” Malcolm said. “Even if we don’t know how much.” Malcolm looked to the angry sky almost as if gauging the time left on a boiling pot. “Monica, you can stop for now.”
Monica stopped singing. The music that her voice was spinning into existence faded to a whisper and stopped. She sighed an slumped over only to be caught by Jason.
“Thanks for the break, Boss,” Jason said as he began massaging Monica’s neck.
“A storm this big can hold itself,” Malcolm said as he turned back to Allie. “We’ll follow you to your informant. If she can get us to our target, we won’t need it and if not, well…” Malcolm trailed off with a shrug.
“Malcolm, I wish I could say it’s good to see you again,” Jack said.
Malcolm gave Jack a quick nod. “Nix told me you were involved. We’ll catch up later, I’m sure.”
The extra armor was a comfort that was more physical than mental. It couldn’t alleviate Allie’s anxiety for what was about to happen. In fact, it was a sign that all the breaks were off the train. Whatever noise they made tonight would get wiped from the town’s collective memory come tomorrow if they succeeded and if they failed no one would be left to care. True purges were uncommon, and it was a horrible blight on one’s record to be the cause of it. Sure, it would be a singer that dropped the hammer, but it would be the esper who made it necessary.
After they finished gearing up, the group drove to the animal control building. The purifiers waited outside while Don and Allie went to collect Goldie. The lock on the front door looked to be rusted completely through and was hanging slightly open. Inside, Goldie was holding the suit Amber had left the house in. She looked profoundly exhausted. She also seemed to have gained weight, matching her mother not just in general appearance, but in build as well. She was curled up in a corner, sleeping fitfully. She started violently when Don tried to shake her awake.
“Donna. Allie.” Goldie said, her tone a ghost of its former self. “You are both here. I collected her,” she gestured to her mother’s effects, “so I can give her back to her.” The younger succubus spoke in a strange, dragged out pace. It seemed to be a struggle for her to form words. Tears streamed down her face at a constant rate.
“Are you okay?” Donna asked, pushing Goldie’s hair out of her face.
“No,” Goldie replied, struggling not to break down. “I’m having trouble keeping Momma out of my mind. It’s not her, right? But it’s all of her. It hurts, and I want to get rid of it. To give it back. She’s not here. She’s chasing Dell. She found him. Waits. Waits for me. For you. You need to kill him so she can come back. Come back and take what’s hers.”
“We’re on it. C’mon. We need you to show us the way.” Don helped Goldie to her feet. She could barely walk on her own and seemed to have developed a number of nervous tics that became more pronounced as she moved around.
“I’ll update Malcolm on the plan,” Allie said as she jogged out to Malcolm’s van.
“Well?” Malcolm asked from the passenger seat. Allie had to levitate to get a good view of him. Jason, who was driving, wasn’t helping matters by being thirty percent Viking beard.
“She said her mother knows where Dell is, so she is gonna lead us there.” Allie glanced at her car. Don was trying to load her into the car, but she began to struggle violently.
“Is she okay?” Lora asked, watching the scene from the back.
“She ate her mom’s body, so I’m guessing no.”
“That’s such a creepy technique.”
“I guess she doesn’t want her mom coming back all tabula rasa,” Allie said. Suddenly Jack hopped out of the car, and Goldie finally settled down. “Oh, that’s it.”
Jack jogged over to the van. “If at all possible, I should ride in the van. My presence is too much for Goldie to stomach in her current state.”
“He can have my seat, Sir,” Lora said as she opened the van door.
Malcolm nodded and looked back at Jack. “Hop in, Old Man.”
“I see you aren’t beyond milking that still?” Jack chuckled as he entered the vehicle.
“Not a lot of people in the world I can say it to anymore.”
Goldie led the group to a section of town that looked fairly industrial. It carried the heavy smells of metal and oil. The warehouse they stopped at had the familiar logo for Wagner Maintenance. Allie could feel Dell’s magical profile even before she saw it. It was much lighter here. A sure sign that little magic had been done in this place before recent days, unlike his house which was steeped in it.
Allie reached her mind out carefully to try and get a view of what or who might be inside but found the building heavily shielded.
“Well?” Don asked.
“The whole building is shielded. I can’t see inside.” Allie said as she rubbed her temples.
“That’s proof enough for me,” Malcolm said.
“Why don’t we have Monica just drop a bolt on it?” Neil asked as he loaded and chambered his pistols.
“Nix wants us to bring the kid in if possible,” Malcolm said. “So unless that boy dies, no apocalypse drops.”
“Just because I’ll burn a town doesn’t mean I want to kill a child to be lazy, Neil,” Monica said sadly.
“Fair enough,” Neil said with a sigh. He holstered his guns. “Scouting?”
Malcolm gave a sharp nod.
Neil dropped, without pomp or prep, into a full speed run. As he neared the fence, he began to flip and tumble, moving faster and faster before a final flip sent him sailing high over the twelve-foot fence. After a minute, the closed gate swung open, and Neil sauntered out.
“Nothing outside. No traps I could find. No critters to mess with.” Neil said, his tone bored. “The place is the size of a football field, and any entrance that isn’t the one on this side of the building is welded shut.”
“So a frontal assault?” Jason said. He was holding a riot shield and carrying a combat shotgun with a barrel clip. On his hip, he wore a single bladed ax, painted black save for the edge.
“Looks like,” Malcolm said. “The kid could be anywhere in there, and the last thing I can afford to do is kill him with a breach.”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Don said hesitantly.
Don pointed to the front of the warehouse. A sizeable rolling bay door was opening as if to welcome them.
“Hello, everyone,” A cheerful voice came from loudspeakers on the building. “Why don’t you all step inside and we can move this along? I’d like to start living my new life, so let’s get this over with.”
“Trap?” Don asked.
“Trap,” Jack, Allie, and Malcolm said in unison.
“If you think this is a trap, it could be! Or maybe it isn’t. Who knows but me? Just remember it doesn’t matter,” Dell’s voice came again. “You can walk in here and take this boy from me, or you can walk in here and fail to take this boy from me. Either way, I’d like to get a move on. So chop-chop boys and girls. Destiny awaits!”