Obligatory banter out of the way Santa pulled a file off the top of a stack. Most of the records in the office were small holding no more than five to ten pages, and brown. The file on last night’s target had been disproportionately large and black.
The file Santa handed me was maybe twenty pages and red. That meant something, what I did not know, the contents of the file didn’t help much. Written with blocky letters that made me think of Chinese, the only part I understood was the picture.
She was an attractive woman in her thirties from what I could tell. Skin color and facial features made me think middle eastern or Greek. Her hair was dark brown, but her eyes were green, and she probably worked out.
“Her name is Alvia Longram,” Santa said. Anna, who hadn’t seen the photo, recognized the name, I could feel a stab of hate over the familial bond. “Age thirty-seven, mother of four, grandmother of six and a member of the Lamia main family. In two days at twenty-three thirty-eight hours she is going to be murdered in her home.”
“You can do that? Tell when people are going to die?” I ask.
“Of course we can, it’s not perfect, but our predictions are pretty good these days,” Santa answers.
“So what about Alvia? Do you want me to save her or what? Because I would like to go back to bed, or get some more coffee.” I say.
“Why would we care if she dies? No, the problem is we don’t know who’s going to kill her, don’t freak out we’re not omnipotent about these things, our counterpart is, but she doesn’t like to share. It happens and mostly we just ignore it, but she’s here and so are you so we might as well fill in the details. Most common cause is concealment magic; next is a nonmagic user who covers their tracks well and does it on a whim. Last it could be a magical creature of some kind. Things that hide under the bed are a nightmare on the paperwork, and demons are a whole host of problems.”
I open my mouth to say something, but he cuts me off. “Demons and monsters aren’t our problem just to be clear if you show them your amulet they won’t bother you. Please don’t pick a fight with hell, I’ll never hear the end of it from Triss.”
Triss, who was technically my other boss was Santa’s bane, he couldn’t stand her, and she couldn’t stand not to love him. Triss loved everyone it was part of her nature and the reason I didn’t report to her. It would probably break her heart to give me targets.
“So what you just want me to find out how she dies?” I ask.
“No, she gets shot in the head I just want you to make sure that the person who pulls the trigger doesn’t break any rules. I suppose you could save her if you feel like it,” he gave a glance to Anna, “but I doubt you will.”
“Anything else?” I ask.
“How are you doing after last night? It was your first time.”
“I feel like shit, I need more coffee, and my headache isn’t gone yet. I need to work on my healing because I don’t have the power to save one person without Anna’s help, and I’m pretty sure I should be feeling worse about killing that woman last night, but I just don’t care.” I say, “I think you or Triss might have messed with my head so I wouldn’t.”
“Oh, that was Anna,” Santa says.
“What?” I say in Anna’s direction.
“It wasn’t her fault; it’s the familial bond it isn’t just power and emotions that pass through you’re sharing a soul now. Little bits cross over all the time and are assimilated; it’s why familiars and their partners get along so well after a while. In Anna’s case, she is really dead, even more so than most humans who die, no way any fear or revulsion of death would last long with you.”
“Oh,” I say “really should have read the fine print on the whole familiar thing.”
“If it makes you feel better I think I’m attracted to girls now, and can’t stand boy bands anymore.” Anna says.
“I consider the boy band thing a victory for life and death everywhere.” I say avoiding the girl thing, that was a conversation for another time. Possibly after a very embarrassing consultation with Matilda.
“I agree,” Santa chimes in. “We’re done here, there is going to be a council meeting tonight, your witch friend will give you the invite, Alvia should be there.”
“Awesome,” I take a picture of Alvia’s photo before we leave. V is waiting for us at the front door and hands me a cup of coffee from the local alternative shop that feels really elitist but has good coffee. I have no idea where she found the time, but I love her for it almost as much as I love the coffee.
I stop her before she turns in the direction of my place, instead directing her to the college. I work at the local community college manning the IT desk. I usually have three to four student workers doing my bidding, and I report to Matilda.
I have no idea who Matilda reports to, just that we all get paid on time. Matilda has zero supervision and frequently doesn’t show up, she hasn’t even gotten a call from hr for sexual harassment. No that I had ever reported her, but she keeps inviting the student workers to orgies. Someone should have reported her by now.
Privately she told me it was forty percent magic, sixty percent useless bureaucracy. I was inclined to blame it on the masquerade; the nonmagic population didn’t notice things magic users did just. Powerful enough to cover the world but less thorough than the spell on my coat, and not nearly as strong as what psychopomps like Anna used.
The latest crop of minions was killing time at the front desk when I arrived. There were three of them who Matilda and I called Mat Damon, Lemon, and Keanu. Mat Damon was texting, Lemon was drawing dicks on our log book, and Keanu was on the internet.
“Don’t any of you have work to to?” I ask.
“Matilda is being scary so none of us will brave the back room and it’s Friday; we won’t have anything to do till four thirty, at which point we will have a lot to do, and it will be all critical.” Lemon says, “also aren’t you suppose to be sick?”
“Hangover, I’ll be fine with enough coffee and opiates.” I answer heading around the desk to the back room door, “anyone have any Vicodin?”
“I know a trap when I hear one,” Keanu says.
Closing the door behind me I survey the backroom, it like always, is a disaster zone. Two towers were partially disassembled on counter tops. The filing system only had three categories, components that work, those that don’t, and wires.
Matilda was at her usual workstation at the back, doing reports or something. She looked up when I came in wearing an expression of both relief and annoyance. “You should be in bed.”
“Don’t be like that, I feel great. Anna has been feeding me power all morning, and I think V made my coffee Irish.” I answer wearing my cheesiest grin.
“Oh don’t give me that, how did you even know where to go last night, I didn’t even hear until they called me, I don’t think the big families found out until they blew up the mall.”
“Anna is excellent at sniffing out trouble, specifically the dying.”
“Jesus, are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“A month ago I would have said yes, but Anna got me over that. Now I’m in a perpetual holding pattern.” I answer, my fake smile is slipping.
Matilda gets a brief flash of horror on her face before bringing it under control. I never did tell her the details of how I gained magic. “Is she here?”
“No,” I say as Anna sticks her tongue out at me from one of the chairs.
“How did that happen? A familiar is a huge step it’s lifelong, some even say it’s longer than that.”
“I found myself in-between a rock and a hard place, she found herself in need of a rock.”
“Are bullshit metaphors your way of not answering?” Matilda asked.
“You know it.”
“Will you, at least, tell me what she is?”
“She’s a death rattle if you ever see her out of my house you’re close to death. Though she is a rather rare kind,” I lie.
“Well, that’s creepy.”
“Look at the bright side, if I ever truly can’t save someone she can tell me in advance, that’s the only reason I even tried with the Dullahan last night,” I say. “We do have work to do right?”
“I suppose, listen if you’re feeling better there is a council meeting tonight. All the clans said to pass on that you’re invited so you should probably go.”
“How will that work?”
“Council meetings usually happen four times a year and are boring. Today’s is an emergency meeting on account of unexpected Dullahan activity; they’re supposedly sending a representative to explain what happened. Mostly it will be a staring match between the three clan representatives while the rest of us use it as an opportunity to drink on their dime. For independents, it’s a good place to network.”
“Who are the representatives?” I ask.
“Well the Lamias are going to send their Matriarch, she’s a bit of a bully and as direct as they come. They have power and like throwing it around. The Prometheans will send one of their council so it will be an out of towner. They’ll probably be nice and will do their best as a peacekeeper. The foxes could send anyone really; I don’t think they’ve ever sent the head of the family,” Matilda explains.
“What about your group?”
“We might be the fourth influential in the region, but we’re strictly neutral, and compared to the big three we aren’t that strong, so we don’t get a seat. Unless Triss is in town or something, as our founder she has the right to represent us,” Matilda says.
“So that isn’t going to happen with her in North Dakota, and all.”
“How do you know that?”
“Did I not mention meeting her? We went drinking together she stayed the night.”
“Nice,” Matilda growled.
“Actually no, I got drunk and passed out. I woke up to a suspiciously clean house and pancakes. Not what I was expecting.”
Matilda laughed, “you dun fucked up man, you would not believe how great she is in bed. But yeah she does that some cleanness obsession, she says she gets it from working in a lab all the time.”
“And the pancakes?”
“She probably just felt sorry for you, or wanted her own breakfast, and you got up early.”
“Right, we should probably let the students back in so they can do whatever it is you need them for, I’ll man the desk.” I say heading out.
Mat Damon looks up when I sit next to her, “is she going to eat my face if I go back there?”
“Nah, she was just pissed at me it’s fine now,” I say.
“There is something wrong with the two of you, and I’m going to figure out what eventually,” she replies.
“I choose to take that as a compliment.” I say frowning at Anna, who was standing behind Mat Damon.
“You know I don’t think this girl is human,” she said after giving a sniff.
“One of you is going to have to talk to her because she’ll be full of magic in less than a month.”