Kyle was hesitant to cast percipere again. He wasn’t stupid, he was aware that broad scale screwing with fluorine could easily have caused the leak. However, he needed the information, and the leak was already leaking so he scrawled his spell in the air and let the angry elemental gas behind him do its worst. Alison watched with a confused expression, but didn’t say anything.
The same number of people were in the building as before, but they’d moved. The individuals who had been walking around with containers of something were now mostly sitting in a room not far from the clean room with their hands tied behind their backs. Kyle couldn’t be sure, but he thought Jessie and the bounty hunters had probably still been in the clean room when the children started returning for their exit and they’d just scooped them up as they trickled in. They’d either had faith Kyle had been able to handle things by himself or they hadn’t known where he was. He would have liked to assume it was the first, but it was probably the second. Without percipere and a good guess they would have had to question one of the children to find the heart of the spell. Kyle was willing to bet such questioning would have been useless as Sandborn wouldn’t have shared that information with everyone.
There were two figures guarding the captured Children, another three reaching the top of the stairs, and a third in the clean room. Or maybe the final figure was on the floor above the clean room. They weren’t standing on the floor of the clean room but they might have been on a catwalk above it. There were limits to seeing the worlds in shades of absorbed magic.
Still it seemed almost certain the three people ascending the stairs were Sandborn, Murrow, and Alexander. Kyle turned to Alison, “Can Sandborn use the room on his own.”
Alison shrugged, “He can do magic, but he won’t even need to. It’s already going, and we left some magical batteries near its anchor in that first room.”
“Then we’d better hurry; he’s getting away. Kyle started up the stairs as quickly as he could go not worrying if Alison was following or not. She’d get tired of sitting in the basement with the fluorine pretty quickly one way or the other, and he was running toward her exit.
Jessie perched on the rafter above the main entrance to the clean room. She was far enough into her combat magic that striking from above seemed like a great idea. In truth, her messed up instincts hadn’t just gotten the best of her this time. The rafter was within easy pouncing distance of the door, and no one would think to look up at it as they walked in. It made a good ambush spot. Then again, the spell was always good at helping her work things like that out. More importantly, there were actually people to ambush in this instance.
After their earlier fight she and the bounty hunters had gone looking for Kyle and quickly realized that wasn’t likely to be productive. The first hallway they came to was huge and the elevator they found in it said the building had over a dozen floors. They could probably wander around for hours without finding Kyle if he was trying to be at all stealthy. Jessie had wanted to looking for him anyway, but Amadeus had pointed out Kyle would probably have the same problem finding the Children as they would finding him.
As such, they’d gone back to the clean room presuming that he’d come back to them. He hadn’t, but the Children had. They must have had some sort of preplanned departure time because they all wandered in one by one within a few minutes of each other. Ambushed and outnumbered they’d gone down easy. Well, mostly. Bob had been a bit of a struggle, and Lynn had been pathetically grateful to see them. Now half the Children, and everyone Jessie recognized from her bounty job in Pando, were tied up down the hall in what looked like a half empty supply closet.
Unfortunately, none of them had known where the spell they’d been preparing was going to be triggered, and the other half of the Children were still unaccounted for along with their mysterious leader. So she crouched and guarded while Richard and Amadeus secured the last of their prisoners in the other room.
Which turned out to be good when Alexander, Murrow, and Agent Sandborn walked in. They stopped, quite conveniently directly under Jessie’s perch, “Where is everyone,” one of them said. Murrow, she thought, but his voice sounded just a bit different from directly above his head.
“How long do you think Kyle kept us? Five minutes, maybe ten? There should be someone else here.” That was definitely Sandborn and he sounded worried. “Maybe Kyle didn’t come alone.”
Ok, Jessie thought, that’s my cue, right? It’s got to be my cue. She jumped off the rafter. She was aiming at Sandborn because she figured he was the most dangerous of the people below her. Perhaps he proved that because something let him know she was falling toward him. He reacted by taking a quick hop backwards toward the door and out of her path.
Jessie adjusted in mid air and managed to get a foot out to where she could catch Murrow instead. She tapped him on the shoulder, killed some of her momentum against him, and drove him to his knees on the ground. His head wasn’t involved in the hit in any way, but Jessie still thought he’d be out of the fight for just a bit. After she landed she gave him another kick in the back to make sure.
While she was busy with that, Alexander jumped at her. Jessie evaded his first attack, a clumsy tackle, but he knew what he was doing. He landed on his toes and pivoted easily throwing a punch that had had the speed of his spin behind it. It clipped Jessie on the shoulder as she turned to face him, and made her take a couple of stumbling steps backward. He pressed his attack hard, perhaps aware that she had the advantage on him in terms of strength and speed. He took two quick steps forward and kicked out, somewhat clumsily, trying to catch her in the stomach.
She twisted out of the way of that blow letting it go past her without touching. Then she darted in launching a jab at his kidneys. He ducked slightly, and got an arm down and into the way of her fist. Still, the blow that she planted on his forearm would likely leave him bruised and numb. She danced back, and then in again aiming to hit his other arm or kidney. That was interrupted by Murrow charging toward her.
He’d gotten up quicker than she expected and come at her in a limping run. She only saw him out of the corner of her eye, but that was enough for her to evade the attack. She sprung up, landed on his shoulder, and then kicked off, toward where she thought Sandborn had been standing. Murrow was knocked to his knees a second time by that maneuver, and this time when he hit he yelped in pain. Jessie winced a little in sympathy. He probably had some pretty good bruises from the first time she’d used him as a springboard.
She landed facing the door into the clean room, but not Sandborn. Now where had he gone? The fight had only been going on for a minute or so, but for most of that Jessie had largely seen spinning whiteness, and people trying to hit her. It wasn’t a surprise Sandborn had been able to slip away.
She looked back to where she had left Alexander and Murrow. Murrow was on his feet again and they were both moving cautiously to flank her. She decided she probably didn’t have time to track down the rogue FBI agent just then.
With magic printing a map of the building in his head Kyle was able to make up a lot of time on the people he was chasing. He ran up three floors, exited the stairwell, ran down a short hallway, and punched the button to an elevator there. The door opened instantly as the car was already waiting, and it carried him the nine remaining levels to a hall that led directly to the clean room where they’d come in and where the three Kyle had been following were now fighting someone who jumped around a lot.
That was probably Jessie. Kyle had sparred with her enough times to know her fighting style was kind of bouncy. If so, she was doing a good job with two of her opponents but a third was sneaking away. Fortunately, he was sneaking away toward the door at the end of the hallway Kyle was running down.
Kyle shot a look at Alison who had kept up with him for some reason. Perhaps she was mad at her former boss; perhaps she was just chasing because he was running. “Wait here!”
She skidded to a halt, “What?”
“I don’t exactly trust you to have my back so stay here!”
Then he took off running again, summoning a ball of light as he did so. By the time he got through the door Sandborn had taken a magical batter and routed its magic into an area on the wall of the clean room. Presumably, the quintessence symbol had appeared there whenever the Door had been placed in this room. At the very least, power flowing in to that spot was sufficient to open it again, and Agent Sandborn looked ready to go through.
Kyle shot the ball of light across the room parking it half in, half out of Sandborn’s chest. Then he yelled, “Stop!”
Sandborn did stop, but only to turn and smirk at Kyle. “I suppose you think you’ve beaten me, and I admit you’ve handed me a set back. However, I’m going to go now. With this lovely little spell you’ve given me I’ll be able to rebuild, and I’m not alone.”
Kyle gave the light spell in Sandborn’s chest enough power that the part hanging out of his body blazed up brightly and the part in his chest got hot. Suddenly he felt very tired, “No, no you’re not. What’s going to happen is if you take one more step I’m going to boil your heart. That wouldn’t be legal, or nice, or anything else, so I hope you have the brains not to make me do it. But at this point I’m pretty sure I would, so don’t push me.”
Sandborn displayed more intelligence than Kyle had been expecting.
Kyle sat on the couch in his apartment drinking a beer. If felt strange to be in the apartment again. The last time he’d really relaxed there had been before he’d started K&J. After the illusion firm he’d been scrambling to make the business work, then there had been Thomas, then Charles and the island, and then the Children. He’d held on to the apartment through all of that because he could afford it, and because he needed somewhere to live, but coming back felt so strange. It was almost like time travel but he couldn’t figure out if he felt like he’d returned to a simpler and better time, or a the headache grey of his old cubical.
Jessie interrupted his thoughts by thumping down on the couch beside him. She had two open beers in her hand. He didn’t know if one of those was for him or if both were for her. “Dude,” she said, “your place is kind of a dump.”
“Well, it’s not a Caribbean island, but it’s not a dump!” Most of the offence in Kyle’s voice was faked. Only most though. They were “dating” now having gone out to dinner and a movie a couple of times while the whole mess with the Children had been wrapping up.
They’d had plenty of time for movies and dinners. The involvement of an FBI agent, domestic terrorism, the archmagi, and unknown but potentially dangerous magic had meant that nearly every government agency with an acronym anywhere in its name had wanted to talk to them. Heck, even The National Historic Preservation Program had questioned them at one point. They thought the room might be a protected site.
Moreover, that was how the Archmagi had wanted it. With Thomas, one of their own going nuts had been something to sweep up quickly and keep out of the press, but with Sandborn they got to play the aggrieved party and that was an angle they worked as hard as possible with both the press and all of their government contacts. The end result of that was that for at least three weeks “being questioned” had been a nearly full time day job for both Kyle and Jessie. It had been exhausting, but at least they’d gotten to see some of the sites in Washington.
Jessie took a long slow look around the apartment. Kyle looked with her. It was still a perfectly ordinary suburban apartment. There was nothing wrong with the bones of the place. However, he’d never decorated much, then he’d moved all of his furniture over to the office (his office manager had eventually thrown that out), and then he’d taken some of what little remained to Charles’s island… Well the bones of the place was about all that was left. That and a nice new TV and couch. “It’s not,” Jessie said slowly making it clear she was referring to the apartment not being a Caribbean island. “It’s really not.”
But then she snuggled close and kissed him, which made everything OK. “I’ll decorate,” he told her.
“I can’t believe Sandborn hasn’t gone to trial yet.” That was something of a non sequitur, but it didn’t feel that way to Kyle. Thoughts of the corrupt agent’s eventual criminal trial popped up a lot.
“I was told he waved his right to a speedy trial, and that means it could be a long time in coming.”
Jessie sighed and Kyle understood. There were facts about the whole thing that wouldn’t be shared until the investigation was over and the case got to trial: Was Sandborn truly not alone as he had claimed? Had Kyle’s involvement in the whole plot been deliberate, or random? What had been intended to happen in that factory and why had Sandborn focused on it? That surely hadn’t been random. Perhaps there was some technikos practiced there and Sandborn had thought if he prompted an FBI investigation he’d get more power over it. The government had certainly questioned Kyle quite exhaustively on the little stanches of plan he’d overheard.
“I heard he waived his right to a speedy trial so now the whole thing could take ages to get to court. Oh! But Lynn and Fern are out. They cut a deal and got off with probation.”
Jessie smiled, “That’s probably good. They didn’t really do anything. Bob?”
“It’s looking like he’ll do a little time. Charles thinks he can get him in to that program for troubled Enchanted though. Have you heard anything about Alison?”
“Still in the wind, I think. It’d be national news if they catch her, wouldn’t it?”
“I suppose.” Alison had rabbited after Kyle left her to confront Sandborn. It probably hadn’t been the best decision as she’d mostly been a dupe, and running had made her look more guilty and earned her endless hours of bad press from the talking heads. But then again that only came back to bite her if she got caught.
They lapsed into silence for long enough that Jessie flipped on his TV. It was connected to Netflix so after she flipped around a little bit she was able to find a fairly innocuous movie. They both half watched it in silence for a while.
Jessie eventually broke that silence, “You’re going to stay here then?”
Charles hadn’t held Kyle’s willingness to continue the investigation over his objections against Kyle. In fact, he hadn’t even mentioned it. Instead, the old wizard had quizzed him on Latin, tutted over his work with Merv, and let him keep the grimoire on magical circuitry. When Kyle had described the sensation of channeling magic to fight the salamander Charles had seemed atypically pleased but he hadn’t explained why. When all the questioning had ended Charles had more or less said he would book passage for Kyle and Jessie back to the island and then sort of casually dropped the idea that “some of the other archmagi” thought it might be good for Kyle to learn more about his role in managing Lux by going back and looking in on his illusion business.
That had made two things clear. First, Charles hadn’t really been interested in losing his apprentice longer than he had to. Second, it was probably pretty important that Kyle get back to K&J and learn what he needed to in order to avoid annoying all the other archmagi. “I’ll stay here for a while. Actually, it’s kind of funny, he came up with a really top flight dream communication spell when I said I was coming here. I think you may have offended his sensibilities when you said the Children’s spell was better than what we’d come up with.”
“No conference code?”
“No activation on my end at all! The old man just pops into my dreams at random and gives me lessons.”
Jessie gave him a horrified look that made him snicker a little. It hadn’t been so bad as all that. Well, it hadn’t been so bad as all that after the first time. “What about you?”
Jessie sighed and then snuggled a little closer. “I dunno.”
Kyle waited a moment, but she didn’t say any more. “No more IP bounty hunting, then?”
She shrugged, “It’s good money, and kind of fun, but it’s not where I ever saw my life going. I’m trying to decide if I want to make a profession out of it, or if it’s a temporary thing while I work my way in to something else, or if it’s dangerous and I need a better way to earn cash.”
“I think I offered you some fairly grandiose title back when we were just getting K&J started. VP of marketing or something.”
“I’m pretty sure you have a real one of those now.”
“Don’t remind me! I’ve got a real one of everything, and when I go in the office they come to me and ask me to make decisions. It’s terrifying, I’m sure I’ll screw everything up.”
She gave him a quick smooch and then fixed him with a serious look, “Hey, you can do this. It’s way easier than the other stuff we’ve already done, and some very powerful and experience men have a lot of faith in you.”
He looked back at her. Considered saying something flip. Decided against it. Then he drew her a bit closer, and answered, “Yeah I suppose so.”