An insistent knock on the door broke Lenara Lenquil’s concentration. “If the Archives aren’t on fire, you better have one hell of a reason for bothering me!”
The knob turned and Brant Grellan entered, a young woman at his side. “Good afternoon, Lennie. Still working on the Callan Journal?”
“Yep. About halfway finished. I need to copy the sketches of the ruins and I have to check the maps down in the lower level either today or tomorrow.” She eyed the female. “What’s the deal with the youngster?”
“I’m not a youngster! I’m eighteen!”
Lennie studied the poorly cut black hair and slender build. Damn! The way she’s dressed, you would have a hard time figuring out she’s a female until she talked. “What do you want, Brant? I told you it would take me another day or two to finish going through this journal.”
“Orders from the top, you are now a Keeper. Security found this young lady in the lower levels last night, with no memory of how she got there. Her name is Nickie Atlan, and she is eighteen. The Scryers confirmed that this morning. Their report will be available tomorrow.” He brought out two silver bands, and placed one around Nickie’s left wrist. He tossed the other to Lennie. “Put it on. No arguments.”
“Crap! A Keeper?” She put it on. Only by cutting off her hand or the Head Archivist could remove the bracelet.
“Lennie, you’re the only single female in the Archive of suitable rank. The Scryers say she wouldn’t do well with anyone else. You will be compensated for taking her in.” He pulled out a fat envelope and tossed it on the desk. “Each week you’ll receive that amount – under the table – so you won’t have to report any increase in income.”
She peeked inside and whistled. “I haven’t seen that much money since I sold my parents’ house and the buyers paid in cash.” She stuffed the envelope in her pocket. “Does she have any belongings?”
“Only what she’s wearing, I’m afraid. I know you value your privacy, but we have no choice. Until we find out how she got into the lower levels and what it means, she needs looking after.”
“Do you hear me arguing? I’m taking the rest of the day off, and tomorrow, too. I need to take this one,” she pointed at Nickie, “shopping and to the Clinic.” Lennie grabbed a bag, and placed several notebooks and the journal inside. From a drawer she withdrew a flashlight with several extra buttons and stuffed it in her pocket. “I’ll keep reading the journal this evening and tomorrow.”
Brant smiled. “If possible, you would read in your sleep, my friend.” He patted Nickie on the shoulder. “Lenara Lenquil is your Keeper now, youngster. Do as she tells you, and stay out of trouble.” With a nod, he left the office.
Nickie pointed at the bookcases. Have you read all those books?”
“Most of them.” They left the office.
“You don’t look much older than me, so how could you read all those? Don’t you sleep? Or have a life outside The Archive?”
“I’m twenty-five years old and one of the lucky ones. I’m a fast reader and able to remember everything I read. Not bad at drawing either.”
“Wish I was like that. Not sure what I’m good at.”
“Weren’t you tested in school?” She paused at the end of the hall to sign out.
“Don’t remember, I can’t remember where my parents are, or where I lived. I think I have a brother and sister, too.”
“Where’ve you been living?” Lennie pressed the Down button for the elevator.
“Wherever I can find a safe spot on the streets. I switch between several places depending on the weather and activity in the area.”
“First thing we need to do is get you new clothes. After that, back to my place so you can take a shower. Then we’ll get something to eat. Tomorrow morning we go to the Clinic and get you an ID card.”
“I’m really hungry; I’m not sure when I last ate,” Nickie said.
At the vending machines, Lennie used her card to buy snacks and a drink. “Here, this should tide you over until we have a real meal.”
“Thanks.” It didn’t take her long to eat the candy and drink half the bottle of soda.
Eyes darting, Lennie led the way to her car. With security cameras and two security guards, no one walked through the garage without a care. Things tended to happen to the unwary. A shadowy form two lanes over caught her eye and she stopped.
Nickie followed her stare. “Wh-what’s that?” She grabbed Lennie’s left arm.
“Not sure.” Lennie pulled out the flashlight. She aimed it at the shadow, and pressed the red button. “If I say ‘run’, head back to the elevators.” The shadow writhed and twisted in the red beam, unable to escape. “Damn. An idiot in Artifacts must’ve been screwing around with a new relic.” She brought out her phone, and hit auto-dial. “This is Lenara Lenquil. Caught a shadow in the underground garage. Better send someone down to handle it. I used the red beam, so it’s not going anywhere for the next couple of hours.” She hit the end button. “Come on, Nickie. Let’s go. My car is over there.” She pointed away from the shadow.
Nickie didn’t release Lennie’s arm until they reached the car. Lennie unlocked the doors and tossed her bag in the back seat. “Those idiots in Artifacts are too eager to find out what a relic does before learning anything about it.”
Nickie stumbled in and locked the door. “You sure that thing won’t get us?”
“I’m sure. I’ll explain later about the light I used to contain it.” She started the car. “All right, time to hit the clothing store.”
Reginald Michael Aston paced behind his desk. “I want to know what happened, Myers. Why did she end up in The Archive instead of our Circle? You swore the ritual would bring her to us.”
The Scryer fingered the triple crescent symbol hanging around his neck. “Mr. Aston, we followed the ritual to the letter. It should have worked. Ralaax himself brought two others the same way.” He shuffled his feet. “Perhaps something is protecting her. We still don’t understand all the changes that occurred during the comet fly-by, sir.”
“The two who appeared were useless, good for sacrifices and nothing more. We need Nickie Atlan. She possesses the ability to see through the shadows, and to spot others connected to them.” Reginald sat. “I want her, Myers. Don’t forget, you are not indispensable. If you need a reminder, I could order your wife taken and sacrificed.”
“Leave my wife out of this; there’s no need to threaten me, Mr. Aston. I will go back over the ritual and learn why it didn’t bring Nickie Atlan.”
“See that you do. We have much to do before we can put our true plans in motion. The Council of the Crimson Moon will not be stopped because of your failure. With this new path and new allies, no one must stop us.” From a desk drawer, he brought out a cheap cell phone. “Keep in touch. I know you have contacts in the police department, talk to them and keep me informed.”
He accepted the phone and shoved it in his pocket. “Yes, sir. One more thing; there’s been another sighting by the docks. Two guards patrolling Harbor Street guards went missing. The city council is considering an increase in patrols down there.”
“When did you learn this?” Reginald’s eyes bored into him.
“Shortly before you summoned me.”
“Which means I need to divert a team from the ruins outside the city to deal with this. Right when they are getting close to uncovering a new section.” He drummed his fingers on the journal. “No, the team remains where it is. We need the scrolls that are supposed to be located there.”
“As you wish. Is there anything else?”
“You may go. Keep me informed of your activities, Myers.”
He bowed and left the office.
Reginald stared at the door and shook his head. “You were a fool to try to Scry me, Stan Myers.” He turned his attention to the latest journal from his head researcher.