"She's awake now," Ilvan gave my face one last brush with the cold, wet cloth before taking it away.
"Thank the gods," Wroth said.
"Reah, you're so small. I don't have that memory," Edan lifted me off the floor. He'd been crouched beside me, there on the floor between Wroth's desk and the door to his office.
"Reah, Edan and Ilvan are Silmor's assistant cooks," Wroth said softly. I could only stare in shock, first at Edan, then at Ilvan.
"We're not going to hurt you," Ilvan said softly.
"Can you stand up, baby?" Edan asked. Why was he calling me that? I shivered.
"It'll take time," Wroth said. "Silmor, come in here, please." Now I would know. I always knew when somebody was lying. "Silmor, Reah thinks that things will change after this review." Wroth tapped his comp-vid after Edan set me on the floor. He still had a steadying hand under my elbow.
"Reah, I came out of retirement for this job. And as soon as I can, I'm going back to retirement. You're not hurting me at all," Silmor declared. I blinked at him. He wasn't lying. But why? Why had he come out of retirement for this job? I didn't understand.
"Don't worry about it, Reah. You look shaken. I'll get someone to take you home." Wroth looked worried.
"I'll be fine," I said.
"Don't you want someone to go with you?" Edan actually seemed troubled. I couldn't reconcile that with the Edan I'd known before.
"What were you-when Kifirin came to take you?" I asked instead. "I don't know you. The other one I knew too well." Ilvan blinked at my words-he had no idea.
"Come." Edan steered me out of Wroth's office. "I was a pediatrician," he said, his arm around me, walking me toward the employee's entrance at the back of the restaurant. "I see he told you."
"I'm glad you got a second chance this time, but it has to be difficult, with the criminal record," I said, turning the knob on the back door. "I'll have to get used to the fact that your face won't be connected to physical pain from now on."
"Reah, I think if there were any way that I, or Kifirin or some of the others could take some of our mistakes back, we would. Instead, we have to go forward and try to put things behind us."
"I need time to think," I rubbed my forehead. I had a headache.
"Go home and lie down. Sleep if you can."
My head was throbbing so badly, I took the bus home. Of course, Lok was waiting outside the door to the Crown Apartments.
"The concierge wouldn't allow me inside unless you approved my visits," Lok grumbled.
"I have a terrible headache," I muttered, brushing past his wide shoulders. He followed me inside the building anyway.
"Ms. Silver?" The concierge had a question in his voice.
"It's all right," I waved a hand helplessly. Lok and I rode the elevator to the ninth floor.
"This is yours?" Lok looked around when I opened the door.
"No. It belongs to one of my mates."
"One of your mates?"
"Yeah. You'd think I'd have painkill around here somewhere," I sighed, heading toward the bathroom.
"What does this mate do?" Lok was still looking around-he'd followed me right to the bathroom.
"He's the founding member of the Campiaan Alliance."
"You're married to Teeg San Gerxon."
"Yeah. Anyway, that's what he says." I was going through drawers and cabinets. There wasn't any sort of medication anywhere to take for a splitting headache. "Why are you here again?" I looked up at him.
"I wanted your help on this investigation. There's information on the bracelet links you found in the alley."
"Fuck," I muttered. "There's a drugstore on the corner." I grabbed his arm and skipped us there. Lok stared while I attempted to read labels. "Damn," I sighed, pulling three different brands off the shelf and heading toward the self-pay chip reader.
"How the fuck did you do that?" Lok was still staring and cursing, now that we were back inside my kitchen. I poured water in a glass and took three times the recommended dosage. It would take at least that much to have any effect.
"What do you know about me?" I asked. "I checked your records, you're ASD. Active."
"Lendill said you were special. He just didn't say how special," Lok grumbled.
"Ah. Lendill. One of my other mates. Inadvertently." I wet a towel in the sink, squeezed the water from it and went to sit on the sofa, the cloth over my eyes.
"You're married to Lendill Schaff."
"Fuck. The links are from a bracelet that girl wore-Andree Wirth," he said her name. "A boyfriend gave it to her. They found DNA on those links and they can't identify it."
"Probably Ra'Ak," I muttered. "I couldn't find anything on those other two girls. It's as if they were snatched from the air."
"I looked too-same thing."
"Did they talk to the boy?" I asked.
"He was home-his parents confirmed it. They said he'd given the bracelet to Andree."
"Did you talk to him?"
"Didn't see any need."
"Well, if we get the opportunity, I'd still like to question him."
"I know where he goes to school."
"What else are you planning to do?" Lok asked.
"Before I was slapped into the past earlier, I was planning to go to Pridded."
"There's already an agent there."
"You think that'll stop me?"
"I see that was a stupid statement," Lok admitted. "When will you know if you're going and will you take me with you?"
"Are you a sadistic slave driver? Because I assure you I already have one of those," I pulled the cloth away to look at him. He smiled. Actually smiled. It was like the sun breaking through a cloud, just as I imagined it might be.
"Oh, now you want to be seen together," I snapped, slapping the towel over my eyes again.
"I do prefer taller women. With dark hair. I can change my ways."
"Don't bother. You've already fucked up the vision."
"You're not going to shut up, are you?" I pulled the towel away again. "Let's go." I grabbed his arm and skipped us to Pridded.
"This is it," Lok said. We'd arrived at a warehouse, with parts of it still in use. I could hear hovertrucks backing up for loading down the way. "These kids come here and trade prescribed meds after school," Lok added. "The one who was grabbed forgot her purse and ran back for it. They never found her."
I was looking around the area-I could see markings on the floor. "What are these?" I asked.
"No idea," Lok said. I walked around them-they were spaced evenly apart-in the form of an equilateral triangle. "Looks like something from those old witches' tales."
"Then let's see if we can get an expert's evaluation," I said. Wylend? I sent.
Love, what do you need?
I just need a little advice, I returned. Do you have someone who can come to Pridded?
Where on Pridded?
Shoordeed Warehouse in Parid.
Wylend and Erland both came ticks later, surprising Lok.
"Wylend, Erland, this is Lok, ASD," I introduced Lok to them.
"Love, I wish you would call me more often," Wylend pulled me against him and kissed my forehead.
"Can you do anything about a headache, and do you know what these are?" I pointed out the symbols on the floor.
"May the stars never fail," Erland said. "Who did this?"
"We don't know yet," I said. "But this is where one of those children disappeared."
"This is forbidden spellwork," Erland said, walking around the triangle of symbols. They'd been drawn on the concrete with colored chalk.
"What does it do?" I asked. Wylend put his fingers on my forehead, causing the throbbing to go away.
"It's a transference-you trade one body for another," Wylend said softly.
"Like Nidris did for his brother?"
"No," Erland shook his head. "That was a simple spell, making someone look like someone else. With this, you're moving a spirit into another body. You're trading souls around. It's called soul-shifting."
"That's not scary or anything," I said, feeling cold all over.
"It doesn't last long-both bodies begin to die quickly; that's why it's forbidden," Wylend said.
"What's the purpose in it, then?" I asked.
"It's the ultimate disguise," Erland told me. "If you're sitting in jail, awaiting execution, you trade off with your jailer, who's executed in your place. But in order for you to stay alive, you have to keep trading bodies before the one you currently inhabit dies. You leave a trail of dead behind you."
"Unless those dead are consumed by monsters who have a taste for flesh," I suggested. "Before they die, of course. Has anybody checked on those children we found on Bardelus?" Erland whipped out his comp-vid and punched keys.
"That's not good," Erland muttered. Lok was following the conversation, his usual scowl plastered across his face. "There's only one left out of the seven, and he's dying. They haven't managed to save any of them."
"This just gets worse as it goes along," I sighed. "Wylend," I dropped my head against his shoulder, "who would know how to do this?"
"Reah, I will have to do research and get back to you, love. Will you not come home with me now or visit soon?"
"I'll try to visit soon," I said.