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February 19, 2012 “Out of bed!” The voice snapped through Imriel’s brain, jogging him awake. He was on his feet before his eyes opened, so he was already halfway awake before he saw the time. His mentor and roommate was annoyingly awake, fully dressed and ready to go. He was still wearing his tank top and flannel pants. Whisker liked it a little colder, so he adapted. “Whisker, it’s three in the morning,” he said, realized he’d said it in slurred Japanese, and repeated himself in English. “Yep, and we have work to do,” she informed him. She grabbed his head and he felt something flow through him. Sleepiness fled as she stepped back, grinning. “You might want to call into work now.” -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- I’m going to lose my fucking job, Imriel sighed as he drove down Foothill Boulevard. This was the third time he’d had to call in since the start of the year, and that wasn’t a good track record. Unfortunately, Seers didn’t wait for convenient times to act out. Whisker pointed at a parking spot on the side of the road and Imriel snagged it. As he parallel parked, she pulled out a tiny spy glass and peered through it. When he shut off his engine, she passed it to him. It looked like a run-down apartment complex of a dozen buildings. The sign out front said it was Last Foundations Retirement Home, but it looked like it had been retired. The building that Whisker pointed out wouldn’t have caught his eye, as it was a dirty, broken-down building in a row of dirty, broken-down buildings. A second look revealed signs that she was right; all of the windows were still in place and the doors was firmly locked rather than just nailed shut or kicked in. According to Whisker’s intel, there was a Seer cell operating in the building. The word was that they had captured supernatural creatures and were running tests on them. This could not be allowed, not just because it allowed others to possibly learn about magic but because it was wrong. It was something his mother would do, and so when he’d learned about it, he’d been as ready as Whisker was to kick some Seer ass. Imriel sighed as he glanced at the dashboard and saw it was now just after four-thirty. Whatever Whisker had done to him had been like a Red Bull, but that didn’t mean he wanted to be up right now. But his mentor had a lead on Seer activity and this time it sounded far more important than the usual Seer bullshit. It sounded like something needed to deal with immediately. Whisker waited until he’d had a good look before she asked, “Did you see the light? On the first floor of that building?” “No,” he admitted, not at all surprised. Whisker’s eyes were much sharper than his. “They painted over the windows, but they didn’t go a perfect job,” she said, her sexy voice serious and smug. She really liked having anything she could hold over the Seers, no matter how trivial. “I can see a spot on one of the buildings.” Her exotically-shaped gray eyes focused on him. “Where’s that friend of yours?” “She’s not my friend,” he said absently, still scanning the building’s black windows. “She’s just another mage I know.” “I wish we had more Arrows,” Whisker sighed. Imriel agreed, but Calypso had been the only one to answer her phone when he’d called around for backup. “I’m going to get some eyes on the inside.” Imriel nodded as she hopped out of the car and slipped over to a shadow. He watched, but only saw her kneeling. A moment later, she returned, looking smug. “A rat’s going to check it out for us. We just have to wait.” Whisker was silent, then asked impatiently, “When will she get here?” “When she gets here,” Imriel replied, used to her impatience. She’d wait, though not happily. And she’d make sure he was unhappy about having to wait, too. “She has the address, and she said she was coming.” -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- Thad groaned and pulled the pillow over his head as the beast roared again. He was trying to sleep damnit, and he wasn’t sure how he was supposed to do that when that monster was making so much noise. The spell soundproofing the apartment complex kept people outside from hearing the noise, but he could hear it and he needed some god damned rest! “Fucking furry monster!” he snarled as he rolled out of his cot and stormed for the door. The noise was even louder when he opened the door that had once separated the studio apartment from its bathroom. This room mirrored the other bathroom, which had been left intact for their use. The far wall of this bathroom, along with all the facilities, was long gone and emptied to make a storage room. The opening led to another former studio apartment. This one was now a large kitchen and dining room for the six-man team who lived here. Emilio was standing at the butcher’s block, chopping celery. The ingredients for an omelet were arrayed around him. The former Mexican was the best cook and usually pressed into service for cooking. “I haven’t gotten any sleep,” Thad bitched to the older man, stopping to watch him. “No one is,” Emilio said, looking up at Thad through salt-and-pepper hair. “I told her we should kill the hombre-lobo.” Thad winced. “You and everyone else, Milo.” The Biologist was super creepy, and when Emilio had told her to kill the werewolf, she’d just said ‘No’ and no one had said anything else. Just that single no had made his skin crawl. He tried to avoid The Biologist with her staring eyes and face that never, ever showed a single expression. He preferred DeathFire, sorta. The guy had the corniest name ever, but after seeing him make black fire from his hands, Thad had never ever laughed at the name again, even privately. He looked like nothing; just some punk with stringy hair and the tendency to wear ripped t-shirts that had band names on them. All the bands had Deth or Death in the title, so at least DeathFire kept to a theme. He was scary too, but not in the testicle-constricting way that The Biologist was. DeathFire was terrifying because of what Thad had seen him do; he didn’t ever want to see what the Biologist could do. Thad once again wished he’d never answered the ad for a vet tech specialist working with exotic animals. A wealthy employer with a private collection who needed round-the-clock vet techs and were willing to pay were few and far in-between. Only once he’d taken the job did he learn why he’d gotten it: he saw magic without freaking out. DeathFire had shown off his fire-tricks, The Biologist had stared – and then things had gotten weird. He was so not suited for this. He was a vet tech, for fuck’s sake, not a… whatever you called people who looked after fucking werewolves. He’d been watching Emilio prepare breakfast when another roar tore through the kitchen. Scowling, Thad pushed himself off the counter and walked over to one of the industrial fridges in the room. This one was the one for food, he knew, not the other one – that was a mistake you only made once. Reaching inside, he pulled out a raw steak and a beer. “Whatcha doin’?” Emilio asked, watching him. “Bribery,” Thad explained and stomped over to the next door. This door led to a library of sots; the room held bookshelves and the Biologist’s desk. Thad wove through them, crossing through another set of former bathrooms, this one with only support studs left. The autopsy room was next and Thad winced at the smell. A man was on one of the tables, his chest and other parts splayed open. Yvette, a slim, petite black woman, was examining something from the dead man that Thad deliberately didn’t look at as he stalked past. He was supposed to be working on animals, damnit! Yvette glanced up at him as he walked by, her dark skin clashing with the blue hospital coverings she wore. “What’s up, sugar?” she asked, glancing at his hands. “Can’t sleep,” he snarled as he entered the next studio apartment. In this one, both bathrooms had been removed again to make room for six cages. Thad’s steps slowed as he looked at the newest occupants of the cages, freshly arrived last night. Of course, then they’d all been unconscious and blissfully quiet. The first cage on the right held a shivering woman. She was actually more of a girl, younger than he, at twenty-nine, would have been comfortable dating. Even with that discomfort, he admitted that the girl was blonde and gorgeous, with a body that would not stop. She was also high out of her mind, shivering and muttering softly to herself. The first cage on the left held a young man; he was in his early twenties with short black hair and pale green eyes. There was something unsettling about that one, and Thad glanced away. There were two empty cages, then the last cage or the right held the source of the noise. Thad’s lips curled in an angry grimace as he understood the cause of the monster’s outrage. Roman, Yvette’s half-brother, was stabbing at the beast through his bars with dowel rods. The monster was snapping them, but Roman just picked up another. Thad considered shoving Roman against the bars and letting the monster do as he would to him; the bars were too close for the werewolf to get his muzzle through, but he could rend the man with claws. Thad settled for kicking Roman in the backside. That was bad enough; Roman spun and glared down at him. Unlike Yvette, Roman was big and ugly. Yvette had been hired for her medical skills; Roman had been hired because he broke things. “You lookin’ for hurt, Tad?” he grumbled, his voice like rocks grinding. “I’m looking to get some fucking sleep,” he snarled, ignoring Roman getting his name wrong again. “Leave it alone so it’ll calm down.” “It was making noise before I started,” Roman protested. “Stop it,” Thad snapped, “or I’ll tell The Biologist what you’re doing to her experiments. If she wanted you to be riling them up, she’d say so. Now get.” The threat of The Biologist was enough. Roman scowled, but he pushed past Thad, bouncing him off one of the empty cages. “Asshole,” Thad muttered when he was sure that Roman was far enough away he wouldn’t hear. Now alone with the werewolf, Thad tossed the steak between the bars. “Truce?” he asked, then held up the beer. “I’ll give this to you, too, if you agree. I just want some damned sleep.” Lips curled back from teeth as long as Roman’s fingers. “I know you can understand me. Just nod and you get the beer.”