“Nixon, report,” Kavon barked the second he came into the office.
Darren followed, wondering how to deflect some of the anger boiling just under Kavon’s skin.
Coretta looked up from her computer. “I’ve created a crystal interface for the team from cyber. We think the spell caster in this trafficking case is using a spell to determine which of the targets are legitimate and which are part of any sting operation. It could be that the spell is even telling the traffickers which children are most at risk. I’ve designed a crystal spell to counter that so the cyber unit can set up a more efficient sting.”
Rima picked up from there. “The spell seems to be something rather generic. It’s a simple reveal, so I can’t get any sense of the spell caster’s training.”
Rima definitely looked unhappy about that. As the Talent Unit’s spell caster, she had mad skills. Give her the remains of a curse or even an object that had been struck by the energy of one, and a lot of times she could identify where a person had trained from the ingredients they incorporated. So if Rima had hit a wall, either their suspect was lucky or good.
“Frane?” Kavon turned to Traci.
“I’m setting up computer profiles that would appeal to the traffickers. I really can’t do much more than the cyber unit themselves is already doing.” Traci’s incantations could only affect the immediate area, so cybercrime was not her forte, which was ironic given that most of her considerable experience was with computers.
Darren looked around the room. “Where’s Les?”
“He’s in the conference room trying to sweet talk the server company into giving us better access,” Coretta said.
Kavon strode across the room. “Call legal and get a warrant.” Darren could tell Kavon was already focused on Thuya. His trust in the team flowed across the bond loud and clear, cutting through the frustration of this shaman case.
“That’ll be great,” Coretta called after him. “Only, legal already told us we didn’t have enough for a warrant. Because the traffickers are using software to spread their IP addresses, any warrant would sound more like a fishing expedition than a targeted search. They told us to come back when we had something more specific. What we need is someone to talk them into playing nice.” Coretta looked at Darren.
Guilt showed up right on schedule. Darren loved working with Kavon and going on spirit walks with him, but it did mean they had one fewer person to handle the cases. Worse, Darren had been the official schmoozer of the team, although he would argue that he was simply the best listener. If he could get people to talk about why they didn’t want to help, Darren could work around objections like a champion. “Les and I could head over to their home office,” Darren suggested hopefully. He had a job, and while anchoring Kavon was part of that, his team also needed his expertise.
“They’re based in LA,” Coretta said, which made Plan A unlikely. “However, if you got on the phone, you might be able to talk them into playing nice.”
Kavon faced off against his second. “Darren is with me. The Egyptian magical council had a death at the embassy. They aren’t sure if it was a murder, and Darren and I agreed to try to contact the woman on the spirit plane.”
Coretta looked from Kavon over to Darren and then back, her confusion clear. “Can’t they contact their own shaman?”
“You would think,” Kavon said drily.
Coretta started to ask another question, but Kavon held up his hand. “We agreed to this. If Les can’t get the job done…” He didn’t finish his thought. He turned and headed for his tiny meditation space. Two months ago, Darren definitely would have taken that as a threat. He would have assumed the silence implied that if Les couldn’t do the job, he’d have to find another. Now he understood Kavon better, but the others didn’t have the benefit of the bond to help them translate Kavon’s bad moods. They didn’t understand that Kavon had cut himself off to avoid saying something cruel—not that leaving those words hanging in the air was exactly kind.
“If he can’t, I’ll help later,” Darren finished for Kavon.
Coretta nodded, and Darren hurried after Kavon. Their meditation space was an old janitor’s closet Kavon had cleared out when the FBI had proved particularly uncooperative about the need for such a room. It still had holes in the walls where shelves had been screwed into them, and a drain in the floor. However, Kavon had added two plush, comfortable chairs. He was already seated, so Darren closed the door behind him and sank into the other chair.
“Tell your guide to find Thuya,” Kavon said as he closed his eyes.
“You could tell him.”
Kavon’s eyes opened. “Excuse me?”
“All four of us bonded. I know I can feel your bull, so Bennu can hear your requests.”
“Do you think he would answer me?” Kavon asked. He didn’t even try to hide his shock, so Darren guessed this was one more way that he and Bennu were atypical for shamans. Without the bond that allowed Darren to feel Kavon’s respect and devotion, Darren definitely would have developed a complex about his weird magic.
“Don’t you think your bull would answer my requests?” Darren asked.
Kavon studied him. “The bull would defend the bond. If you were magically attacked, he would counter that attack, and kill if necessary. If you asked him to guard an area or call up power or do any number of other shamanic duties, he would chew his grass and stare at you.” Kavon grimaced. “Which is not significantly different from how he treats me, but I know how to force him to cooperate. Like I told you, spirit guides are lazy—guides other than your bird are, anyway.”
Darren understood that. Bennu was more of a spirit partner than a typical guide.
“I’ll try,” Kavon said. “But if your bird doesn’t come or respond to my request, I trust you’ll ask him.”
“Absolutely,” Darren agreed. He closed his eyes, breathed out slowly, and when he opened his eyes again, they were on the spirit plane.
When the shaman O’Brien had trapped Kavon and attempted to invade his soul and enslave him, Bennu had called up a storm that had shredded this place. Before that, Darren had seen the spirit plane as Kavon had imagined it—an African grassland appropriate for Kavon’s cape buffalo bull. However, as it re-formed after the tempest, it took on a slightly different appearance. The streams were deeper and ran faster, the African grasses still swayed in the breeze, but along the rivers, sections had given way to sand and rock or tall reeds. And at seemingly random spots, Egyptian columns stood in the middle of nothing. The central part of each column was white stone carved into tall furrows as if the column were really a bunch of reeds strapped together. However, the top and bottom of the columns were decorated, painted in bands of yellow and orange and red bordering large teal sections.
Bennu flew down and landed on the ground in front of Kavon while in his heron form. Kavon stared at the bird for a second, and then Bennu flapped off into the sky again.
“He claims she’s that way,” Kavon said.
“Does it seem weird that the spirit plane looks so different?” Darren asked as he walked beside Kavon. The tall grasses caught on their ankles, and Darren rested a hand on Kavon’s arm for balance.
“I assumed if I ever bonded that the spirit plane would change to accommodate both our visions. I’m just glad I never found Les compatible because I’m sure his spirit plane is Hawaiian. I don’t particularly like the humidity in that place.”
“I definitely didn’t bring any humidity to the vision,” Darren said as they passed a sandy patch next to a fast-moving river. “I just brought funky columns. Those are really garish.”
“Is that not how you imagine columns?” Kavon asked.
“Hell no. In my history books, Egyptian stuff was always white.” Darren studied Kavon’s expression. “That’s your ah-ha face. What did you just realize?”
Kavon put his hand on the small of Darren’s back. “Nothing important. But if those columns aren’t from our thoughts, then Bennu is likely generating them.”
“Spirit guides aren’t creative. They can’t conceive of objects they haven’t actually seen,” Kavon said. After one look at Darren’s shocked expression, he gave a gentle laugh. “Sometimes I forget that you never got the early lessons on shamanism. You went from mundane to master-level manipulation of the physical world in a single bound. Guides want to experience the world, but they are limited to what they’ve seen. They don’t understand the consequences of actions, and they can’t imagine possibilities. They can only observe and remember.”
“And how do you know that? I thought spirit guides didn’t talk.”
“No, they don’t,” Kavon admitted, “but if you ask them to do something dangerous, they will. They will then be very surprised at the results. Young shamans sometimes give guides poor instructions, and deaths have resulted. When I attracted my bull, Dave was very clear about the damage he could cause if I wasn’t careful. And my bull would never understand the danger ahead of time. That was my responsibility. The bull could only observe the present and remember the past.”
Darren stopped. “Are you sure?”
“Very.” Kavon sighed. “At least I was before I met you. I was going to start teaching; only, I now have great respect for the depth of my ignorance.”
Guilt returned for an encore. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. If you’d never brought your bird into my life, that wouldn’t lessen my ignorance; it would only prevent me from understanding it.” Kavon pulled Darren close.
Kavon might not talk about his feelings, but his love flowed through their bond. They walked for a time, the hot sun making Darren sweat, which seemed unfair since this was all an illusion created by the combined imaginations and memories of the four of them—Kavon, his bull, Darren, and his bird.
“Why is this taking so long?” Darren asked. Bennu had long since vanished off in the direction they were walking, but Darren had a vague sense that the bird was somewhere ahead of them. Kavon certainly didn’t seem lost.
“If I didn’t know better, I would say there is a shaman who doesn’t want to be found. Sometimes the spirit plane will seem to stretch out when a powerful shaman is attempting to flee.”
“So our murder victim is running away from us?” Darren didn’t like the sound of that.
“I haven’t yet decided whether she’s a victim. But yes, it does seem like it.”
Darren sighed. “Well, that’s not suspicious, not at all.”
“This whole case is suspicious.”
“And where’s Dave?” Darren asked as he realized that the older shaman hadn’t yet made an appearance. While Dave rarely came right away, he did always show up when Darren and Kavon were on the spirit plane. Dave had once been Kavon’s teacher. He was dead now, but with shamans that wasn’t as big of a hurdle to overcome.
“It isn’t just Dave that’s missing. In case you haven’t noticed, there is a definite lack of spirit guides in the area,” Kavon said.
Darren looked around, and he realized Kavon was right. Many guides didn’t have shamans. They would wander the spirit plane aimlessly. Those guides who had connections with human shamans or adepts acted more settled, but usually a number of them would be standing around, watching curiously. Darren sometimes got the feeling that spirit guides were trying to figure out the motivations of their people and failing badly. “Why do I feel like we’re walking into a trap?” Darren asked.
“Because we probably are. However, the other choice is to sit around and do nothing. If we hadn’t come to the spirit plane, we would be back at the office trying to figure out why the Egyptians had come.”
“You’re hoping to find answers here?” Darren asked. Usually the spirit plane just confused him. The one exception had been O’Brien’s free-will-eating slime attack. That had been terrifying.
“That’s the reason why shamans normally come to the spirit plane.”
They continued to walk in silence, but now Darren couldn’t shake the feeling that someone watched. It was hard to know where reasonable suspicion left off and paranoia began. In the distance, a pair of columns stood. Darren could make out the large form of Kavon’s bull standing in the shadows. Darren’s bird was perched on his back as usual.
“Do you see them?” Darren asked softly.
“Yes.” Kavon tightened his arm around Darren’s waist and leaned close to whisper, “If something’s going to happen, now would be the time. Make sure you have a solid connection to your spirit guide, and if something happens, get yourself out to the physical world.”
Darren shook his head. “Not without you.”
“We’re bonded. We will never lose each other. But if there’s a trap, I would rather spring it and get information on what’s really going on.”
Darren stopped and stared Kavon in the eye. “The last time you ended up inside a trap, O’Brien came close to magically lobotomizing you.”
“And that’s how we found out what he was doing,” Kavon said firmly. He rested his palm on Darren’s cheek. “I trust my bond with you will make it possible for you to get back to me, but if this is a trap, they won’t show their hand unless they think they have a clear victory. So you let them win the battle so we can win the war.”