Grand Marronnier, Canada – Sunday, the 10th of June, 2012. 07:51 AM.
After a short night spent in an old trailer in some bush lot outside of town, the Wardens gathered in the chilly morning air around a plastic table outside. For once, Chris was glad to be in her furry bear costume. At least it was warm. The bear helmet sat on the ground beside her chair, waiting to be worn if she absolutely had to. Only their team leader had chosen to remain fully costumed for the remainder of their mission, deerstalker hat and all.
No one was in a very chatty mood as they picked away at a breakfast consisting of foil-wrapped Army rations. The Counselor had been particularly reticent since the previous evening. Every so often, he disappeared into the woods to make or take a call they apparently weren’t supposed to overhear. If there was any new information regarding the case, he didn’t share it.
It’s probably about Noire, Chris figured as she watched Counselor pacing restlessly in the distance with his phone pressed to one ear. She wasn’t looking forward to their return to San Francisco. The Covenant’s involvement in Nora’s case couldn’t possibly be a good thing.
The long faces of the other Wardens told her they’d come to a similar conclusion.
“The boss-man said we’re gonna talk to a witness today,” Emily mumbled between listless bites of dry rye bread. “She was the Historian’s girlfriend or something. She still lives in his old cabin.”
“She lives out in the forest all alone?” Peter asked, surprised.
Emily shrugged. “Maybe she’s an ornithologist like the Historian was.”
Peter stared at her with a blank expression. “An orni what?”
“They study birds for a living, dumb ass,” Nora grumbled, her eyes never leaving her muesli cereal packet.
Chris didn’t join in the guesswork. Her attention was on the early morning breeze that ruffled the bright green maple leaves. The peaceful forest atmosphere almost inspired hope that they had a pleasant day without nasty surprises ahead of them, but something was bothering her. Something just felt . . . wrong. Too many questions remained unanswered. For instance, why had Chayton Wallace drawn those Anasazi protection symbols after he spoke to the killer?
The sound of Counselor’s phone flipping shut stirred Chris from her reverie. When their eyes met, he flashed her a small, cheerless smile.
Fuck this. I need a cig to think.
She got up from her plastic folding chair and dug a hand into her costume. “Be back in a minute,” she murmured vaguely, then trudged around to the other side of the old trailer for some privacy.
After lighting the smoke and taking her first pull, she felt relaxed enough to turn the facts over in her head.
They were dealing with an unknown Evolved serial killer who had possibly used excessive knowledge about Native American culture to convert the first victim to his cause. When Emily had channeled Chayton, her answers had suggested that Chayton thought the bogeyman was some kind of Indian spirit. They knew or strongly assumed that he had some kind of psychic lure power, avoided populated areas, and dragged his victims underground — possibly with the help of Chayton, the Burrower, as his accomplice.
Or he absorbs his victims’ powers, Chris mused, taking another drag. That’s one nasty possibility.
The absence of blood suggested as much. No bodies were ever found, just clothing or personal items. Everything else was just . . . gone.
He travels from North to South, growing as he devours, Chris recalled.
“He travels,” she murmured. “The Oracle’s prophecy didn’t say anything about a she.“
Chayton thought the Indian spirit was both man and woman, but he didn’t reach that conclusion based on what he saw, she thought, recalling what Emily had revealed the day before. But if that was the case, then what did he base it on?
Chris took another pull on her smoke as she turned it over in her mind. She ran a finger through the cold morning dew that had accumulated on the side of the trailer, then absentmindedly drew her wet finger over her cheek. The cold moisture reminded her of another unsolved lead.
If our killer was the one who kidnapped that water-powered girl yesterday, then he’s heading North again. But why?
That definitely broke the pattern. According to the prophecy, he traveled from North to South. It said nothing about him turning back the way he’d come. What was clear was that he was getting faster and faster in his movements.
I hope he didn’t figure out where we are, Chris thought, wishing once again that they hadn’t made such a splash in Grand Marronnier last night. Thanks to Mr. Turner’s PR efforts, pretty much anyone with a TV would know that the Wardens were on a mission to track down the serial killer.
Chris took another pull from her cigarette, thinking about what had brought them to Grand Marronnier in the first place. The Counselor had sensed that the killer came from the North East, and Emily had confirmed that he’d come from far away. So far away that his starting point must have been in Canada, where the Historian had lived before his disappearance a couple of years ago . . .
Chris closed her eyes and rubbed one temple with her free hand. What if we’re on the wrong track here?
Too many facts didn’t seem to add up. The Wardens were chasing after leads based off guesswork. The Counselor’s guesswork, for the most part. She wished she had a clearer understanding of how his powerset worked, maybe then she’d feel more confident in his methods.
For instance, Emily had revealed how the victim carved those protection symbols after hearing the killer speak — but the Counselor never asked why. He’d moved on to explore a different aspect of the encounter instead. How were the Wardens supposed to solve the case with so many unknowns on their hands?
And the pressure was definitely mounting for them to solve it, especially now that another Evolved had disappeared in the Americas.
Not to mention the fact that Noire’s very life might depend on their successful outcome.
Chris opened her eyes at the sound of a car engine, which was disturbing both her train of thought and the peaceful forest atmosphere. That’s our escort, she assumed. She put out her cigarette, then stepped around the trailer to watch the narrow road.
“Come on, it’s time to go and we need our team Mascot!” Peter called. He and Nora collapsed the plastic breakfast table and leaned it neatly against the trailer.
As Chris helped Emily stack the plastic chairs, her mind turned once again to the suspect’s recent turn North. Maybe he heard about the water chick’s transition in Venezuela and decided to change his course so he could capture her, too, she speculated.
But if that was the case, how would he have known about her transition? It had happened only yesterday, after all. The briefing back at HQ in San Francisco had mentioned some kind of possible locating power. But even if the killer had absorbed that particular ability, would he have that kind of range? There was a distance of many miles between Venezuela and the previously located disappearance.
“Hey,” Chris said, approaching the Counselor. “That girl in Venezuela. Was her transition on the news?”
“Yes,” he replied, clearly surprised by her question. “The media was all over it because she swam all the way across the Caribbean Sea, from Port-au-Prince to Caracas. Why do you ask?”
Chris hesitated. She hated sounding bossy almost as much as she hated taking orders. “Do you think maybe the broadcasters should stop from reporting on any new transitions in the Americas until we find this guy?” She tried to sound casual so as not to alarm Emily.
The Counselor held up his phone. “Already done, as of last night,” he said. “Let’s just hope those trashy infotainment channels will follow the directive. But good thinking.”
That’s just common sense. But thanks, I guess.
The Counselor pointedly looked over to the others. “Now let’s just try to keep ourselves off the news if at all possible, shall we?” he asked over the sound of the nearing car engine.
Nora looked at the ground and gave a meek nod.
“So, this hot Latino chick,” Peter began, diffusing the situation. “She swam all the way from Haiti to Venezuela?”
The Counselor plucked his checkered hat from a tree stump and put it on his head. “Her speed and endurance about matched that of a cruise liner. She didn’t even need to take any breaks or breathe.”
“Wow,” Emily murmured, her eyes going wide.
Chris wasn’t sure if she was impressed by the Venezuelan’s swimming skills or intimidated by the huge military transport vehicle that had just pulled up in front of the trailer. Four stern faces were peering out at them through its windshield, and its six massive tires were nearly as tall as she was.
At least we won’t get stuck in the mud on the way to the Historian’s cabin, she thought.
“Come on,” Nora said, picking up her travel bag and heading for the vehicle. “We’re wasting daylight here.”
After a twenty-minute drive, the Wardens got out of the military vehicle and spent another ten minutes trudging through the woods with their escort following a discreet distance behind. Their short trek was accompanied by the skittering and rustling of startled wildlife, the buzzing of mosquitos, and the sound of twigs snapping beneath their shoes.
No one had more than a few words to share. The Counselor had plugged the music player into his ears and changed tracks every couple of minutes, likely picking up connections that were invisible to the other Wardens.
Chris focused her attention on the dense forest, scanning it for anything of interest that could add another piece to the puzzle. She didn’t expect to be making much of a difference – the Counselor was clearly playing the lead role in this mission. The rest of them were just tagging along. But at least keeping her senses on alert gave her something to do.
While trailing behind the others, she pondered what she might be doing right now if she was still on the track of a normal life. If her transition had never happened, she would have been enjoying her regular Sunday morning jog through Museum Park right about now. Then she might have basked in the sun in a lounge chair behind the house, reading the latest issue of some action story magazine where the good guys always won.
If we actually find this guy, then maybe it was all worth it, she pondered. Maybe I can face my parents without feeling like a piece of shit.
Her thoughts were interrupted when their destination came into view. Nestled along the shore of a small lake, the Historian’s former home looked exactly like the quintessential Canadian cabin. It was a small one-story building with stained wood siding and a pitched roof of bright green tin. Two small windows flanked the only door, and a wiry young woman was out on the front porch, seated in a rocking chair with a steaming mug in her hand.
When the woman caught sight of the Wardens, she stood up and briskly strode across the clearing to meet them. Her dark, piercing eyes took in the visitors from beneath a heavy fringe of bangs, and her ponytail swung from side to side with each powerful stride. She was wearing a pair of old jeans, a waffle knit long-sleeved shirt, and a sleeveless brown fleece vest.
The Counselor removed his earphones as the young woman approached. “Miss Leung,” he said, extending his hand to her. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
“Thank the government authorities,” Miss Leung clarified coolly, refusing to shake his hand. “They didn’t leave me with much of a choice.”
The woman’s demeanor and appearance made Chris rethink her opinion of the Historian. With a girlfriend like this, maybe he wasn’t such a bookish, bird-watching nerd after all.
Emily stepped forward to offer a smile along with her small hand. “Nice to meet you, Miss Leung,” she said. “I’ve never met a woman who was brave enough to live out in a cabin all alone! Do you hunt bears?”
Miss Leung’s Lips finally curled upwards. She took the girl’s hand into her own and shook it warmly, saying, “Not if they stay away and don’t become a nuisance,” with a slight Quebecois accent. All animosity was gone from her tone.
The kid’s cheating again, I bet, Chris thought with a flicker of amusement. They were here on a fact-finding mission, after all. And if the little Empath could help them break the ice and get to the truth faster, then where was the harm in that?
Miss Leung turned her eyes back to Counselor. Her gaze wasn’t quite as biting as it had been before, but it was still far from friendly.
“I’ve been informed that I have to give you access to the house and provide you with the information you need,” she said coolly. “But that doesn’t mean I have to stick around to talk to you. I’ve written down everything the police have asked me several times before,” she added pointedly, holding out a folded piece of paper and a key ring. “While you’re poking around here, I’m going for a hike. A long one.”
So we came all this way and we don’t even get to interview her? Chris thought with some regret. Still, part of her understood. The disappearance of a loved one couldn’t have been easy, and being interrogated over and over didn’t make it any easier.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” the Counselor said, accepting the keys and the paper with a courteous nod. “We just want to take a look around so we can figure out what happened to him.”
“No one tried very hard to figure it out when he disappeared two years ago,” the woman muttered, shooting an annoyed look towards the four military officials who lingered at the far side of the clearing. “So forgive me if I’m not very impressed.”
That was only a few months after the Pulse, wasn’t it? Chris recalled. The Covenant was in its infancy, with Paladin as the only member. She could imagine the local police being a little overwhelmed with an Evolved disappearance back then.
“We’ll try to do better this time,” the Counselor assured. “I’d like to find out what happened to Roy, too.”
Miss Leung didn’t look like she cared one iota about what he wanted. “Well, good luck. And goodbye forever, I hope.” After a final glance over the assembled Wardens, she set off towards the rocky lakeshore at a brisk pace, never looking back.
Once she was out of earshot, Peter spoke up. “Did they ever do a check on her? That woman scares me. She could have killed him with an axe and buried his body. Why else would she be sticking around here?”
“No, she really loved him,” Emily said. “A lot. It’s just that she hasn’t been able to trust Evolved people or the police since he’s been gone. She blames everyone. Even him.”
The Counselor unfolded the sheet of paper and skimmed over the contents, then folded it back up without comment.
“What’s it say?” Nora asked.
“Nothing new,” the Counselor divulged. “I’ve gotten more from the police files, but I don’t believe she doesn’t know anything else. Usually when someone disappears, their life partners notice something.”
“So why don’t we make her stick around so we can ask her more questions ourselves?” Peter grumbled.
“Because unwilling witnesses never willfully share more information,” the Counselor explained patiently. “If she doesn’t want to tell us what she observed, we can’t make her.”
“If Kid’s okay with it, we can figure out if the woman is withholding anything,” Chris said with a glance at Emily. Channeling a woman who was still alive and well seemed much safer than invoking the memories of a potential murder victim.
“What do you say?” the Counselor asked Emily, his tone gentle.
“Sure, I think I can help,” she said brightly.
She’s always so anxious to help, Chris thought with some concern. If anyone ever took advantage of that, they’d have her to answer to.
“Where’s her axe?” Peter wanted to know, a perfectly serious look on his face.
“Can’t handle tough women, eh?” Nora said, clucking her tongue.
“Miss Leung really is a nice person, O,” Emily said. “She’s just a lonely woman who doesn’t wanna leave because she hates giving up.”
Don’t we all, Chris mused, adjusting her grip on the bear helmet she kept pinned beneath her arm. Her teammates were keeping their headpieces in their rucksacks, but hers was too bulky to fit.
She looked at the key ring dangling from the Counselor’s fingers. She counted three keys. One for the cabin door, and the others for a vehicle and a shed, maybe? She couldn’t help but feel that she was missing something. Something important. The Wardens were wasting time just standing around.
“So, where do we start?” she asked others.
“There!” Emily exclaimed. She spun around and pointed a finger towards the woods on the far side of the cabin. “Let’s go that way first.”
Chris raised an eyebrow. “Are you sensing something?”
“Um, no, not exactly,” Emily replied, stumbling for words. “I dunno why, it just feels . . . like we should go that way.”
The Counselor cast his eyes in that direction. “Seems like as good a place as any to start,” he agreed, unfolding the paper to skim the handwritten words. “According to the notes, that’s in the same direction as the bird nesting place that the Historian was observing at the time of his disappearance.”
Overdrive jerked a thumb over at the soldiers, who were gathered around one corner of the cabin. “They don’t really look like your typical birdwatchers,” he joked lamely.
“Really? Because their big guns make me feel like a sitting duck,” Nora said.
The Counselor walked over to the soldiers and said a few words. Next thing Chris knew, the uniformed men were heading into the bush, back the way they came from.
“I told them we’d meet them back at the car in a couple of hours,” the Counselor explained.
Nora seemed relieved to see them go.
As the five Wardens walked in the direction Emily indicated, the Counselor slipped his earbuds into his ears and pressed play on the mp3 player. Chris noticed his eyes roving over their surroundings just like they’d scanned the paper.
Looking for connections again, she assumed.
They came to the little home-made bird observatory mentioned in the notes — a simple roofed observation post made of a few chain-sawed logs. There were no birds in sight, and the only thing the Wardens discovered was the remains of a damaged video camera that had been abandoned years ago.
“Are you getting anything?” Chris asked the Counselor, whose eyes were cast to the treetops.
“Not much,” he replied. “His girlfriend was here a few months back, visiting during one of her hikes. That’s about it. But I think one of his favorite fishing spots is close by,” he added, consulting the paper.
They headed down towards the lake with the Counselor leading the way. “About here, I think,” he said, stopping by a rocky outcrop. He closed his eyes, concentrating as the others watched him with interest. Then he shook his head. “Nothing much here, either,” he muttered, flipping through the tracks on the Mp3 player.
The Wardens trouped towards a small clearing and up to the top of a nearby hill, but with no greater luck. They looped back towards the cabin, making one last stop at a shed. The Counselor unlocked it and found that it contained a motorbike, a chainsaw, and an assortment of tools, but no sign of a crime. There wasn’t even anything that seemed out of place.
“Hey, um . . . so, boss . . . are you sure those connections you sensed in North Dakota led all the way up here to Canada?” Peter asked as they trudged towards the cabin.
Chris and Nora exchanged a look. Good question.
“No,” the Counselor admitted, pressing pause on the track he was listening to. “But Kid confirmed my sense that they came from the North East. The far North East — as far as a person could travel by foot in a couple of months.” He looked off into the tree tops again. “But I’m not able to sense the older connections as well. Hardly at all, in fact. Even with yesterday’s booster, I can’t get a sense of what happened more than a few months ago.”
“Well, hopefully Emily will be able to fill in some of the blanks so we can solve this thing,” Nora said.
Chris snuck a look at her teammate’s worried expression. You’ve got a lot riding on finding some answers here, she thought. Poor Nora.
“We don’t have any time to waste,” Chris said as she climbed the cabin steps. The footsteps behind her told her that the others were right on her tail.
The Counselor reached past her to unlock the cabin’s front door. Once it was unlocked, Chris pushed it open and was greeted with the distinctive smell of cedar smoke coming from the woodstove. It reminded her of weekends she’d spent at her Aunt Claire’s vacation home in the Rockies. The interior, with its rug hookings on the wall and potted geraniums on the windowsill, had a female touch to it. Two walls were occupied entirely by bookshelves so dusty they most likely hadn’t been touched in years.
Must be the Historian’s book collection, Chris thought, recalling something the Counselor had said earlier about the Historian’s volumes on Native American history.
Nothing about the cabin’s furnishings seemed unusual. A plaid couch with a knit throw sat in front of the woodstove, and a large bear skin rug had been laid across the wooden-planked floor. The space in front of the south-facing window had been claimed by a simple wooden table and two chairs.
Chris set her helmet down on the table. A quick inspection of the two other rooms revealed a bedroom and an office space containing numerous personal items. As expected, only the bedroom looked like it had been used recently.
“Everything’s just like it was when he lived here,” Emily commented casually as she settled on the couch.
“Boooooring.” Peter grimaced. “There’s not even a TV in here, just a radio.” He made a snoring sound.
“Some people read, y’know,” Nora retorted, pulling one of the books from a shelf. “I guess they don’t even have cable out here.”
The Counselor picked up one of the chairs and set it in front of the couch so he could face the young Empath. “What do you say, Kid? Are you up for figuring out what’s being kept from us?” He retrieved a small recording device from his briefcase and checked the batteries.
The girl nodded, her small face now serious and focused. Chris settled down on the couch next to the Empath, mentally prepared to intervene if necessary.
“Do you think you need another power boost for this?” the Counselor asked. He held one of his player’s earpieces out to her.
Emily shook her head. “Thanks, but I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s weird, but I already just feel more . . . in tune, somehow. It’s hard to explain.”
The Counselor gave a curt nod and replaced the device in his own ear. “Good.” Then he reached into his checkered coat pocket and handed Emily the piece of paper with Miss Leung’s handwriting on it. “This should help you tap into what she’s not telling us.”
The girl accepted it tentatively. “You want me to channel Miss Leung?”
“It would be highly illegal under normal circumstances, I know,” the Counselor admitted.
What, letting ourselves into someone’s house and then hijacking their subconscious without their knowledge isn’t allowed? Mascot thought sarcastically.
“But we’re operating on a level beyond even counter terrorism protocol,” the Counselor added before switching the recorder on.
Not knowing what to expect, Chris braced herself for more unpleasant surprises. The channeling of Chayton had been disconcerting — the sound of Emily’s eerie man-voice voice still haunted her. Still, she realized this was probably their last option before giving up, and she wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Especially not with Nora’s life on the line.
“Whenever you’re ready,” the Counselor prompted Emily.
The child Empath closed her eyes and brushed her fingers over Miss Leung’s tidy handwriting. After a few seconds, Emily’s expression and body language changed completely. She shifted sideways and draped an arm over the backrest, her stance becoming immediately more aggressive. Then, crossing one leg across the other knee, she opened her eyes. They now contained a sparkle of someone else’s temper. It was the same anger Chris had seen flashing in the cabin owner’s own eyes not an hour before.
“Stop wasting my time and tell me what you want to know.” The words came out of Emily’s mouth, but they were said with Miss Leung’s voice. Defiant, impatient.
Chris sucked in a breath. The child’s transformation was eerily unsettling, but she forced herself keep a poker face. This was their last lead, and Emily seemed okay with their course of action so far.
“Do you have any idea why or how Roy Wilson, also known as the Historian, disappeared?” the Counselor asked.
“Not a clue,” Emily snorted. “And I wasn’t lying when I told the officers so.”
“Did you notice anything unusual before his disappearance?” the Counselor continued. “Anything you didn’t tell the officers about?”
“Yes,” Miss Leung’s voice admitted. Emily crossed her arms across her chest before she went on. “Some teenager in the woods. Roy never introduced him to me.”
Nora closed the hardcover book she’d been reading, staring at the couch with sudden interest. Overdrive shuffled closer to the couch, straining his ears. And Chris’s jaw dropped a little.
Now this is getting interesting.
The Counselor’s eyes locked onto Emily’s face. He leaned forward in his chair eagerly, asking, “What more can you tell me about that teenager in the woods?”
Emily rubbed at her jawline with the back of her hand. “It was a couple of weeks before Roy went missing. He came home from the bird nesting observatory all flustered, asking about the first aid kit. When I asked if he was injured, he said he didn’t need it for himself. He’d found a boy in the woods who was hurt.” She rolled her eyes. “I sent Roy out to fetch the boy so we could provide proper first aid here, but when he finally returned, Roy told me the boy didn’t need help anymore. Apparently, he was healed.”
Chris mulled the words over. Super-quick healing? Newal had that power, but he transitioned much later. Only a few dozen transitions had been reported back then. Chris was sure that she would have remembered someone with regeneration powers. Whoever this teenager was, he’d come out of nowhere.
“Did you meet the boy?” the Counselor asked.
Emily shook her head. “The first time it happened, Roy didn’t come back for a full two hours. When he returned he was alone,” she continued with a very adult kind of arrogance. “He told me the kid had been picked up by relatives and was fine.”
“And you didn’t believe him?” the Counselor asked.
Emily barked a short laugh. “I might have believed it if he hadn’t begun acting so strangely afterwards.”
Chris found herself leaning in towards Emily. Why didn’t Miss Leung mention any of this to the authorities? she wondered.
“Strange? How?” the Counselor asked, keeping his tone professional.
Emily brushed imaginary bangs away from her eyes. “He spent every single hour of daylight in the woods after that, until the day he disappeared. He’d always enjoyed spending time working outdoors, but this was . . . let’s just say it was excessive.”
“Do you know where he went off to?”
Emily’s eyes narrowed. “There’s a natural stone pillar nearby that was considered a sacred site by the Algonquin tribe. Roy had been interested in their culture for years, so he often mentioned it.”
“I see,” the Counselor said with a glance to the nearest window.
“Well, the one time I went looking for Roy, I overheard him talking to someone there,” Emily said. She took a weighty pause, her lips pursed together in barely suppressed anger.
“What did he say?” the Counselor pressed.
“I heard Roy say some shit about ‘showing’ the kid something. Something about a ‘new experience’, and that he’d never need to be alone again. That’s all I could bear to hear.”
Nora strode towards the couch with angry steps. “How come you never told the police about this?” she demanded. “It might have been relevant…”
The Counselor silenced her with a searing look.
Emily slowly released a breath she’d been holding in. “Would you go and tell everyone if your lover turned gay and ran off with some homeless teenager without as much as a goodbye?”
“Whoa,” Peter said, leaning over the couch. “Don’t you think that might be a bit of a stretch? I mean, if you ask me, you’re a pretty attractive woman. A little hostile, perhaps, but—”
Another warning look from the Counselor stopped him short.
“Why else would I have found his clothes by the lake?” Emily answered Peter’s question, giving a humorless laugh. “Don’t ask me why I still keep them, but I do.”
So this really is connected to the serial disappearances, Chris realized, her mind racing. But why the two-year delay between the Historian and the Burrower? Something was still missing.
The Counselor and Chris exchanged a look. “Could you tell me how to find this stone pillar?” he asked, pressing down on the recorder’s stop button.
Miss Leung’s hostile voice described a place not far from the bird nesting observatory they’d checked out earlier.
The Counselor gently placed a hand on the child’s shoulder. “Emily, we’re done,” he said softly, trying to sever her link to the other woman’s personality. “You can stop now.”
The girl blinked and looked around with momentary confusion, then reached over for Chris’s arm. “I don’t like doing this,” she murmured wearily. “I’m gonna have weirdo dreams again.”
Chris made a mental note to discuss the subject with Mr. Turner later. Sure, the girl’s revelations were helpful in terms of their investigation, but nothing was worth putting a nine-year-old through trauma.
“You’ve been very helpful, Kid,” the Counselor enthused, seeming not at all concerned by the child’s melancholy. “In fact, I think you’ve earned us all some ice cream once we get back into civilization. Unless you’d prefer a milkshake?”
The cheerfulness in his voice ticked Chris off. You’re just anticipating the credit you’ll be getting for her contributions, aren’t you?
“Mmm, milkshakes!” Peter exclaimed, clapping his hands together.
“Wardens, I’m going to take a look around that pillar,” the Counselor told them, patting his music player. “In the meantime, do me a favor and look around here for anything we might have missed? But please be respectful of Miss Leung’s personal items.”
“Will do, boss,” Peter said. He gave a mock salute.
“Sure,” Nora said.
Chris briefly considered offering to go with their leader so he wouldn’t be out there alone, but the prospect of getting some alone time her other teammates was much more appealing to her. “Have fun, boss,“ she murmured half-heartedly.
The Counselor paused in front of the door. “You’re in charge of the group until I’m back,” he told Peter. “Make sure everyone behaves.”
Peter puffed up at the words. “I’ve got it covered,” he promised.
Nora rolled her eyes.
Time for Peter play the big hero, Chris thought, amused. Then the screen door slammed shut and the four of them were left alone.
“Gumshoe meeting!” Emily called out. “Let’s figure this out like Shirley Holmes and Bo.”
“I never really saw myself as a kiddie serial detective,” Nora grumbled.
Emily shrugged. “How about the mean Molly Hardy, then?”
Chris didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but figuring things out sounded like a good plan. A whole lot better than looking through someone else’s stuff until their team leader finished checking connections that were hidden from the rest of them.
“Alright,” she began, settling back against the couch. “I think we’re missing something important. We don’t know why the person who grabbed Chayton was both man and woman, and it’s still not clear exactly how the Historian ties into everything.”
“But the clothes his girlfriend found definitely confirm the connection,” Nora stated. “Fits with the pattern of the other disappearances in the Southern U.S.”
“But what about the prophecy?” Peter asked, taking a seat in the wooden chair that their team leader had just vacated. “Does it fit that?”
“A kid who was hurt could fit the picture of a martyr,” Chris suggested. “And he kind of came out of nowhere. There were no reports about anyone with regeneration powers back then.”
“Those two years in between the disappearances don’t make any sense,” Nora said.
They all nodded.
Emily furrowed her auburn brows. “I think we’re still missing a lot of stuff.”
As the Wardens sat in silence for a long moment, Chris rolled over the missing evidence in her head. One thing in particular had been giving her an uncomfortable tingle ever since she’d woken up that morning — she just had to figure out what it was.
“Just because their clothes get left behind . . .” she began haltingly, “isn’t proof that they’re dead, right?” She glanced around at the others. “I mean, they’re off grid and the Covenant can’t find them, but there isn’t any real proof that they’re dead.”
Nora nodded slowly. “All we know is that Evolved keep disappearing.”
“So if you think they’re still alive,” Peter countered, “then why can’t they be tracked by Queenie?”
“I dunno,” Chris admitted. “Why can’t she track the European disappeared? We don’t know. I’m just pointing out that we don’t have proof they’re dead.” She cast her mind back to the briefing they’d had with the various government representatives two days before. It felt like months ago. “The only reason the Counselor and the big-wigs think it’s a serial killer is because there’s usually clothes left behind and because there’s a pattern to the disappearances. Right?”
“A serial pattern,” Emily added.
“It’s the only explanation that makes sense,” Nora argued. “If they’re not dead, that means there’s a bunch of naked mind-controlled people following some psycho around.”
“That would draw too much attention,” Peter said, clearly amused by the idea. Then his tone became serious. “Maybe that’s why they all burrow underground . . .”
“That’s still just a theory,” Nora responded. “We don’t have any proof that they’re underground, or that they’re mind-controlled, for that matter.”
Chris burrowed her face in her shoulder, thinking. What are we missing?
“It would have helped if the boss-man had asked why the Indian guy carved those protection symbols,” Nora muttered.
“And why he knew the visitor was both a man and a woman,” Peter added.
“Or what made him appear supernatural,” Emily piled on.
Mascot found herself nodding. These were questions that had been swimming around in her own mind for the past twenty-four hours.
How could our esteemed investigator leave all these questions unasked? Chris wondered again. She tried to keep faith that the Counselor knew what he was doing, but this whole mission was starting to seem like a wild goose chase to her. The higher-ups don’t actually expect us to find anything, a mean little voice whispered in her head. They sent us up here for good PR, nothing else.
Knowing that she was most likely right was the worst part.
“Maybe we should go back to Cowley and get Emily to channel Chayton again,” Nora suggested.
Peter gave an exaggerated shudder. “God, no! I’m done with visiting backwoods towns. Besides, I don’t think I could handle hearing that creepy voice again.”
Emily looked incredibly relieved that a do-over wasn’t on the table. Chris felt much the same way.
This is taking a toll on her, Chris thought. Despite Emily’s brave face, it was clear that the girl no longer wanted to be the conduit for some crazy lunatic, whatever he or she was.
He or she.
Something clicked into place, sending a chill down her spine.
What if it’s the voice? Chris thought, alarmed. What if our killer talks with two voices — a male and female one, like Kid when she’s channeling someone else? Chayton carved protection symbols after hearing the visitor speak.
She turned to Peter. “Do you know of any Evolved women who disappeared before the Sioux guy?” she asked, her voice agitated.
Peter was pulling out his Wardens phone, presumably to google it, when he stopped short. “Wait . . . you think it’s a he who became a she by eating someone?” he asked, following her train of thought.
“It would make sense,” Nora mused. “Unless it’s a woman who snacked on a man?”
Chris was about to elaborate when her danger sense knocked the wind out of her, overwhelming her with a tidal wave of agony more intense than anything she’d ever felt before. She immediately doubled over in pain. The threat potential that came through her danger sense was so severe it made the bile rise in her throat. But just before she could throw up, it stopped.
Emily clung to her arm, tugging on it fiercely. “Are you okay? Talk to me, come on, please?” the little girl was shouting.
Peter and Nora were now kneeling in front of her, their faces marked by identical looks of shock and concern.
“He’s here,” Chris rasped as she pushed up from her seat.