Mathew rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. "Invisibility is impossible, but this guy didn't even bother destroying the cameras that had to see him at the hospital. He isn't on a single one of them. No dark haired men who are about five nine, pretty fit, and pale white, no short, long-haired red heads, nothing. How is he doing this!"
Jenkins dropped a cup of coffee on the desk. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"Sleep?" Mathew didn't screech. He kept his voice too low for it to be called a screech. "Who has time for sleep? If we don't catch this guy soon, he's going to be able to destroy the entire city if he thinks we're getting close to him, and that's just if he wants to duck and cover! If he decides to fight, God only knows what he could do!"
"I get it, this is serious," Jenkins sighed. "But you need sleep."
"I know, I know," Mathew slumped back in his chair. "I took an infusion of tea, put me out for a few hours. Not as good as the real thing in the long run, but enough that I can function. I'll take another one in a few hours, so I'll be good all night if I have to be."
"Thinking about that ritual thing again?" Jenkins leaned back in his chair.
"Yeah," Mathew nodded. "He stole the books the day before the equinox, and I don't buy that it's random chance. He knew we were closing in on him, or at the very least that we were going to destroy the Iniuriam. Why throw all caution aside in favor of just snapping up the damned books?"
"Can you track them?" Jenkins asked.
"Already tried," Mathew sighed. "When I destroyed the sleep spell, there was a backlash through the aether. The energy signature of everything in the room was wiped clean. Deliberate, I'm sure. There's nothing there I can use to link into the other two books, even assuming that he hasn't worked a cleansing on them too."
"You said they were enchanted, can you track that?" Under normal circumstances, Mathew would be glad that Jenkins wasn't prepared to give up.
"Do you think I haven't tried that?" Mathew asked lightly. "Maybe I forgot to put my shoes on the wrong feet this morning, too? Thank you for making me check, mother. I'd forget my own head if it weren't screwed on so tight!" His voice built up until he shrieked out the end of the last sentence.
"Don't assume, it makes an ass of you and me," Jenkins chided him. "I get it, you're tired. Things are bad. That's why I'm going over everything from the ground up, challenging assumptions until we find one that is either bad, or can be worked around. So, get with the program and start working!"
Mathew sighed. "I spent half the night chatting with other people who work with the DPCR, we went over the magical angle. All that's left is the mundane angle. Fingerprints, DNA traces, whatever the cops use."
"Ah," Jenkins nodded. "Well, I've gone over them quite thoroughly. Forensics did a very good job finding everything down to the lint that might possibly be related to our perp."
"And?" Mathew knew from the look on Jenkin's face it was bad.
"Zip, zilch, nadda," he shook his head. "With time they might be able to sort it out, but the Doctor has a lot of people moving through his office everyday. Simply the door has so many prints on it that it's going to take them a week just to catalog them all, and after that they have to rule out hospital staff, known patients, the janitorial company that manages cleaning the place, and if our perp is in that group we're going to have the Devil's own time finding him. And that's just what they recovered from the front door. With enough time, they'll be able to sort out the skin flakes, and body oils, hair follicles, and fingerprints and tell us all about everyone that's ever been in the room. If we get the guy, we can prove he was there in a court of law, but they can't help us find him. Too much, not too little, information."
Mathew groaned. "We're missing something, something important, something big."
"What?" Jenkins asked. "Seriously, we've gone over everything twice."
"Except the tape of Lily's attack, I'm going through it again just in case-" Mathew blinked. "What the hell?"
"What is it?" Jenkins got up and trudged around the desk as Mathew rewound it slightly.
"Coincidence?" Jenkins suggested. "An illusion of some kind?"
"I don't think so," Mathew shook his head. "Look, right there, he looks directly at the visible security camera. Right at it. He does a sweep of the restaurant, then looks right at the only visible camera in the place. Did you ever check-"
"The plastics inside it were melted, as if someone tried to destroy it," Jenkins cut him off. "I thought you said he couldn't be our perp."
"Remember what I said about missing something incredibly obvious?" Mathew asked. "What did he do right before he handed me his card, carefully smearing his fingers all over it to give me a great trace of his energy signature?"
"He ran his fingers over that book you were so excited about, didn't-" Jenkins broke off. "You said the book was enchanted."
"Ooh yeah," Mathew nodded. "Enchanted by a powerful, and very pure, very good magic. The kind of thing that would read as absolutely pure, especially if I didn't take the time to refine the spell that was reading it to wash away accidental contaminates."
"It's all speculative," Jenkins commented. "No one told him which restaurant Lily works at. It's entirely possible he didn't recognize her later."
"Look, when he hands the cash over, he makes sure to touch her," Mathew pointed to the screen. "Completely innocent, no one would think anything about it."
"I think we've got probable cause for another visit," Jenkins grabbed his coat. "Have your reinforcements arrived yet?"
"Not until tonight," Mathew shook his head. "It takes time to get them moving. This time tomorrow, we'll have a hundred Magi in town, ready to take this bastard. Right now, you've got whoever is local and maybe one or two out-of-towners who could get here fast. The first plane won't land until around eight this evening."
"I heard the Lieutenant was called over to Departmental Headquarters to explain why we didn't even send out a preliminary warning," Jenkins commented.
"I'd rather have him in his office, coordinating everyone that was ready to head in because he'd sent the warning," Mathew sighed. "I'll call DPCR, see who they have in the area already."
"Nothing!" Mathew resisted the urge to smash the empty bookcase in Doctor Grayson's office. "Not at his home, not here, not anywhere! His kid isn't even in school today! His wife hasn't been seen in weeks!"
Resisting the urge to flip over the desk took a lot more control than smashing the bookcase. More, in fact, than Mathew had at the moment. "He played me! He played me for a fool!"
"He played us," Jenkins agreed. "Now, think, if he's going to rabbit, why did he take his kid? That's just going to make him stand out, and from what we saw yesterday, I don't think paternal instinct really applies."
Mathew kicked the desk in frustration. "I don't know!" he shook his head. "It doesn't make sense," he admitted. "His kid's power has been suppressed, not leeched off, so it's not like he's been using Billy's powers to augment his own or anything like that."
Mathew's cell started ringing. "Yes?" he snarled into it, ready to rip the head off whichever unfortunate had called.
"Hello, this is Delores Worden, Alex's mother?" the woman on the other end asked. "Is this Magi Trent?"
"Hello Mrs. Worden, excuse my temper," Mathew took a deep breath. "I'm having a very bad day."
"Oh, is Alex being that big of a problem?" she asked.
"Huh?" Mathew was completely thrown by the non-sequitur. "I'm sorry, is something going on with Alex?"
"Oh, excuse me," she apologized. "The school said someone from DPCR had pulled him out of classes for some training, and I assumed it was you."
Mathew grew cold. Oh hell. "Ma'am, where are you?"
"Is something wrong, Magi Trent?" she asked. "I'm outside the school, I was picking Alex up for a doctor's appointment."
"Mrs. Warden, where do you live?" Mathew looked at Jenkins and mouthed, "trouble." They started walking back to the car at as fast a clip as they could manage while Mathew was on the phone.
She gave Mathew an address, and he noted it down. "Ma'am, I need you to to stay calm. Talk to the school and find out if Alex left anything behind today. If he did, grab it, and head to your house, wait for me there. I'm the only DPCR agent currently assigned to this area, so whoever took him was almost certainly an imposter. There are a few other agents in town, I'm going to call them as soon as we hang up and tell them to meet us at your house. It's possible one of them did this, but I don't think so."
"You think Grayson did it?" Jenkins asked as they picked up to a fast trot.
"No," Mathew shook his head. "Even if..." Mathew swallowed. "Even if he needed a blood sacrifice with magical talent, he has his own son. He wouldn't need another child, or if he did he'd need two. Not more than three. Oh God-damn it, maybe he does have three, we need somebody to run through missing persons and see if any other children with magical talent have gone missing lately. Call DC and ask them to check back around the summer solstice, too, though I doubt we'd have any luck even then."
Mathew's phone began to ring again as they slipped into the car. "It never rains," he complained. "Yes?"
"Magi Trent, we ran a follow up on the victims of the compulsion attacks over the last few months," Jacob, one of his friends from the DC branch of DPCR, informed him. "We couldn't find them."
"What?" Mathew asked. "What do you mean you couldn't find them?"
"They're gone, all of them, just up and left their lives for no apparent reason," Jacob told him. "We've been trying to find them since last night when we noticed the first of them was missing, and just had a break. They took a flight, all twelve of them, for the Dallas area."
Twelve. Twelve plus one was thirteen. Thirteen victims.
"It is a ritual," Mathew whispered. "Jacob, how did we miss it?"
"Miss it? Miss what?" Jacob asked.
"Twelve DC victims, one local victim. We focused so much on the fact that the last attack wouldn't occur on the solstice that we missed the fact that there would be thirteen victims."
"Oh shit," Jacob swore. "I'll get you that flight information as soon as I can, but I think they already landed."
"Please, please tell me that Agent Burns changed his mind about training them," Mathew begged.
"If they want to be trained, they can seek out a civilian trainer. It's a waste of departmental resources, bla de bla bla bla," Jacob confirmed Mathew's suspicions. "Not a one of them has an ounce of training in resisting mental incursions. Compulsion is like rape, and rapists almost never strike the same victim twice, so why waste our resources."
"Victim thirteen has some training," Mathew chewed his lip. "Not enough, and I've got a missing child on my hands, possibly related."
"Missing child?" Jacob asked.
"Some connections to Grayson, distant but there, and he just went missing," Mathew sighed. "I'm going to follow the kid, and get an agent over to keep an eye on Lily."
"I've got a lunch meeting with Senator Wilson in about ten minutes," Jacob smiled. "I think perhaps I'm going to complain about how Agent Burns has really screwed up this case."
"As I stated earlier today, I'd rather have the dead weights do their job than just get them in trouble," Mathew reiterated. "The damage they've done outweighs the joy of getting rid of them in favor of someone else whose likely to be a deadweight."
"You didn't hear?" Jacob asked, surprised. "The director is planning to retire in a month. He was going to nominate a successor this week, and he'd narrowed his choice down to the two individuals who have done the most for the department."
"Now is not the time," Mathew shook his head. Agent Burns had done a lot of good work in setting up the department, and was often considered one of it's leading lights.
"Goodluck man, and please don't get killed," Jacob begged.
"Under the circumstances, no promises," Mathew disagreed. "I gotta go, now."
He dialed up Lily's number, and to his complete non-surprise she didn't answer. "Lily isn't answering, and all the other compulsion victims decided, as a group, to up and fly out to Dallas yesterday. What do you want to bet that she's decided to join them?"
"I'm not a betting man, and even if I were I'm not stupid enough to take that particular bet," Jenkins agreed. "I'll call in an APB, see if anyone can find her."
"While you're doing that, I'll call up the other agents and have them meet me us at Mrs. Worden's," Mathew nodded. "And can't you go any faster?"
"You want me to go lights and siren?" Jenkins commented sarcastically as he fiddled with his radio one-handed.
Mathew pulled the dome light out of the glove compartment and slapped it on the roof.
"Okay..." Jenkins shook his head. "Pedal to the medal time."
Alex hadn't left his backpack at school, or anything else for that matter. His mother, scared witless, had let Mathew into the house and pointed him at the right room. He'd turned it over quickly, looking for anything useful. Unfortunately, she'd clearly made the kid clean his room recently. "Laundry basket?" he asked.
"In here," she took him to the restroom, swept a basket off a little stand and then upended it to shake the contents out of the swing-out compartment.
Mathew pawed through it quickly, and found a rather ripe set of underwear. "His?" If so, it would form a perfect link to the boy -- fluids of his own body, impregnated into a cloth worn intimately.
"Yes," she nodded.
"I need your permission, formally granted, to take this, and to perform magic in your house," Mathew asked.
"For the sake of my boy, I grant you permission. Take of his clothes, take of my house, use them as you will for his sake," she granted instantly.
"Thanks," Mathew darted into the living room, where two other agents were waiting. "Either of you carry ritual candles? Mine got broken yesterday, haven't had a chance-"
One of them pulled out a box of candles from his bag before Mathew had a chance to finish speaking. "Alright, help me move this rug out of the way." Mathew poured salt in a circle on the bare wood of the floor, and arranged four candles to the cardinal points using the compass he pulled out of his fanny pack. He ground them into the salt, integrating them to the circle, then poured smaller circles around them.
Pulling a cigarette lighter out of his pocket, he lit each of the candles in turn before tossing the underwear down. Closing his eyes, he reached out into the circle and invoked it's power. "It's a good link to the boy, but I can't get a direction," he swore. "I'm being blocked."
One of the other agents put his hands on Mathew's shoulder. "Take my power, freely granted."
"Thanks, but power won't help," Mathew shook his head. "Water." He turned around to see Mrs. Worden waiting at the door to the kitchen. "Ma'am, could you get me a bowl full of water? The finer the material of the bowl, the purer the water, the stronger the result. Oh, and a clear bowl if you have one would work best, glass maybe."
She came back in moments with a glass mixing bowl, filled with water until it slopped over the rim. "Perfect," Mathew nodded. "A glass, to top it off with?" she rushed off and came back with a glass full of water. Mathew steadied the bowl in the circle, then dropped the underwear into it. The clothes sank like a stone, the magic already forming around the bowl even before he filled it up to the brim. The water steadied unnaturally quickly as he poured more in, until the bowl was so full only water tension kept the water from pouring over.
"You who move between fire and water, between earth and air, I invoke you!" Mathew intoned. "By covenants old and treaties new, I call! Show me who I seek! Show me where to seek!" He cut his thumb and flicked a drop of blood into the circle. It vanished before it could touch the water, and suddenly an image formed over the bowl.
Alex and Billy were in a room, somewhere, small and dark, stripped naked and, judging from their bodies, cold. They were holding onto each other seeking both heat and comfort, sobbing. Mathew couldn't hear what they said, but he could feel the pain and horror. It wasn't natural. Oh pain, horror, despair, all those were normal, but this wasn't. It was being amplified, magnified, fed upon and then fed back into them. "Where," he begged, "show me where to seek!"
The image dissolved into uncertain, unclear mists. Hints of road and lake could be seen, or perhaps river and parking lot. A building built from blood, and Doctor Grayson's face, laughing. A thousand images seemed to form, only to break apart and mix their elements together before forming a new set of images. "Interference," Mathew hissed. "He's shielded the entire location. The spirits can't tell us anything. They can use the clothes as a link to go straight to the boys, but they can't tell us where the boys actually are." He reached into the bowl and pulled the underwear out, ignoring the suddenly resurgent smell.
"So how do we find them?" one of the other agents asked.
"It's impossible!" Mathew snarled. "We can get a view of the boys, but there's nothing there to guide us. The spirits can use the link to create an absolute indicator, but what we need is a relative indicator, and we just can't do it! The shields are too strong, and I didn't give either of the boys anything to create a forced link. I'm an idiot! I should have given both of them tracer pendants the second I saw them!"
"Tracer pendant?" One of the agents asked.
"Yes, it's a basic defensive charm that also provides a combination of alarm and tracking link so I know if someone is in trouble. I gave one to one of the victims, a girl named-" Mathew froze in mid step. "Lily!" Mathew slapped his forehead in frustration. "I'm an idiot!" He pulled out the chain of necklace links. "Which one was she, which one was she..." He found the right link in seconds. The link wasn't yet strong enough to actually draw his attention, but once he was looking he sensed the alarm he'd built into it going off, loudly.
Unlike the incidental link the Alex's underwear provided, this was a purposeful link. The underwear was something discarded, however intimate. The link was two pieces of a greater whole, still one piece even after separation. He'd borrowed the idea from a lecture about quantum entanglement he'd attended a few years ago, and either she wasn't yet under a shield or the link was working just like he'd hoped. One piece in two places, resonating back and forth. "I've got her!" He charged out the door.
"Lights and siren, Jenkins, we need to move!" Mathew barked as he and the other two agents jumped into the car.
"How'd you know they found Lily's car?" Jenkins asked as he spun out.