"Vice-Director, we have a situation here," Lok said the moment Lendill answered the call. He and Norian were there beside us in ticks.
"This is the first girl taken from Tulgalan," I said, my gag reflex still trying to kick in. Norian was on his comp-vid, asking for local agents and a forensics team to come right away. Lendill went to speak with the building manager, who was still heaving at times, although the contents of his stomach had been emptied long ago.
"So, we need to check the rooms above where she was taken," Lok jerked his head toward Andree's body. Andree, the other two on Tulgalan, the three on Edness and one boy from Farrahn were the only ones that we knew of who'd had been taken next to a building.
"Why did they not consume her?" Lendill asked softly. He'd come back to stand beside me. Norian was now talking to the building manager.
"Perhaps they weren't hungry, or she died too soon?" I asked. "Did she have a medical condition, Lok?"
"It says here that she had an eye defect-partially blind in one eye, but it didn't interfere with much as far as her schoolwork went," Lendill beat Lok to the punch.
"So, nothing really to make her a bad candidate for the soul-shift or for the Ra'Ak's dinner," I said. "Norian, will you make sure they do a rape check?" I turned to him when he walked inside the bedroom.
"Reah, we always do that. But you just frightened me, I think."
I was frightening myself with my thoughts. If the soul-shifting warlock had been an adult male once, there was nothing to prevent him from entertaining or acting upon any of his more prurient thoughts. Andree had been a pretty girl, with long, dark hair and blue eyes.
The forensics team came in while we speculated, and we were moved to the sitting room while the ASD operatives did their job. The other agents were busily searching through the building manager's comp-vid, recording information regarding the three men the suite had been rented to. I didn't think they were going to find anything except a dead end on that idea. Ra'Ak were powerful and could construct aliases that looked legitimate just as well as the ASD could. They were power-wielders in their own right, and only the Saa Thalarr and the Larentii might be more adept.
"The probe confirms semen samples," a forensics specialist came out to talk with Norian and Lendill. "The DNA matches that of one of the boys taken from Dindre. There may be more, but it's degenerated."
"I think we have the information we wanted," Norian nodded at the man, who went back to the bedroom.
"Can we get into the rooms over the street in Tulgalan? Not where Andree was taken-the other two." I turned to Norian. Andree had been snatched for sexual purposes, nothing more, and her boyfriend, who'd been there with her, had been bitten, probably because he tried to defend her. They'd fought long enough to leave physical evidence behind, along with Andree's boyfriend. After he'd been left behind, he'd bitten others. Therefore, the standoff with the spawn in the schoolyard had occurred. I'd said all that aloud, without really meaning to.
Lendill was busy calling the authorities in Targis. We had something set up in very little time. "Let's go," Norian sighed. He folded all of us right back to Tulgalan.
"We had two businessmen renting this unit, and their lease hasn't run out. I do not appreciate this invasion of their privacy." The building manager was a woman this time, and quite snippy with the local constable who met us in the lobby. I wondered if Norian was about to pull out his credentials. He didn't. Probably used to this by now. The woman, whose name was Mirita Proth, opened the door for us. At least the bodies-plural-inside this one were bagged conveniently for us in plastic, since they'd been dead longer. Both girls and both pretty. Mirita was still gagging and pale when the constable led her back into the hall. Norian again called for local ASD. I shivered. Our warlock, and possibly the Strands, too, had a sexual appetite that included killing young girls. I had my comp-vid in my hands quickly.
"Teeg, what do you know about the Strands, and that other one-Hendars Klar? Do you know if any of them liked teen girls-you know-for sex and such?"
Teeg was shocked to hear from me-I could see it in his face. He covered it well, though. "Sweetheart, Darsen and Ansen, two of Lersen's three cousins, are twins, and rumor has it that they love young girls-sometimes to death."
"Do we have any of their DNA on file?" I looked up at Lendill.
"We have Lersen's, and yes-we have the cousins as well," Lendill consulted his comp-vid.
"Reah, what's going on?" Teeg asked.
"Honey, we just found three dead girls. All pretty. I get the idea that soul-shifting and Ra'Ak meals aren't the only things they're snatching these kids for," I sighed. My headache from the day before was coming back.
"Baby, what's wrong?" Teeg was sitting at his desk when I called; I recognized the wide window behind him. He was standing now.
"Nothing, I just have a headache. That's all."
"I'm coming," he said, and shut off the comp-vid.
"Did we tell him where we were?" Lok asked. We didn't have to, Teeg was there in a blink.
"Sweetheart, come out of there." Teeg had taken one look at the bodies wrapped in plastic on the bed and hauled me away.
"The one at the first place was worse," I said, rubbing my forehead.
"Here." Teeg placed his fingers against my forehead and the pain disappeared. I don't know how he does it; not many can. "Now, did you have breakfast this morning?"
"Yes. But I wouldn't mind something to drink. Something hot."
"Let's go to your apartment." He folded us; I didn't have to do anything. He put tea together for us, too.
We were still sitting there, drinking tea when Lendill, Norian and Lok folded in.
"They found DNA from another missing boy and from Darsen Strand. And we got additional evidence from forensics on Edness-that girl was asphyxiated. Probably during the attack," Norian muttered angrily. "They'll give us any DNA evidence on that shortly."
"We've put out information that they may disguise themselves as businessmen, and anyone renting for a short-term lease-less than a full-turn, that is-is to quietly turn the rental information over to the ASD for verification. I don't know if this will help, but for now we have to keep this away from the media." Lendill was tapping information into his comp-vid while he talked. When Lok set a cup of tea down on the island, Lendill slid it toward himself.
I buried my head in my arms at the island while Teeg rubbed my back in gentle circles. I'd changed clothes-into a fleece set, and Teeg's hand was warm and comforting. I talked with Farzi and his brothers, Teeg sent mindspeech. They say they want to stay where they are for now, but they'll tell me if they want something different someday. Just so you know.
"All right," I mumbled aloud as Teeg continued to work on my back.
"Sweetheart, you need another massage. Your muscles are way too tight." He attempted to work out some of the tightness in my shoulders with a thumb. He was right; my shoulders ached. The images in my head of those three dead girls didn't help much, either.
"You have to cook tomorrow; you ought to get that massage done today," Lok suggested. I thought about throwing my teacup at him for reminding me that I had to work the following day, but I didn't.
"Boss, you should warn us the next time you disappear," Astralan and Stellan were there and taking seats at the island. With their presence, I no longer had much in the way of available seating in the kitchen.
"Send mindspeech," Teeg murmured.
"Reah, how hard would it be to get one of those fruit drinks with rum in it?" Astralan reached over and tugged on my sleeve.
"Honey, for you, I'll make it," I said, sliding off my stool. Everybody ended up getting one-some of them two or more. We'd had a tough day.
"Reah, we'll check all the worlds that have had disappearances-we'll see if there's anything else to find," Norian promised. I nodded at him. Even though our findings had been grim, at least we knew more than we did before the day started. And we would be tapped into the rental market, in case anything else came up. But there was something bothering me.
"Lendill, Norian-none of those places had enough room for six Ra'Ak and several of those children, plus the Strands. Those rooms were big enough for the Strands, maybe, and Hendars Klar. He's probably funding the operation right now, since the Strand's assets are frozen. At least I assume they are." I looked at Teeg. He nodded.
"No doubt. I was thinking the same thing. Which leaves us with the problem of where the six Ra'Ak are staying and what they're doing with their victims." Norian agreed. Obviously he and Lendill had some sort of silent conversation going while we'd been drinking and having snacks that I'd put together.
"They were underground on Bardelus, but they might not do that again." I didn't know if there were records of underground facilities, abandoned or otherwise, across the Reth Alliance.
"Understood," Norian nodded. "I have to go. Lendill, are you coming or staying?"
"I'm staying. For a little while, at least." Norian folded away, leaving Lendill behind.
Astralan grinned and nudged Teeg. Now what? Were they all planning to stay? "I'll be back," Astralan said and folded away.
"Baby, do you have something else to drink?"
"You want more fruit drinks or a tomato spice?" I asked.
"Tomato spice?" Lok spoke for the first time in a click, I think.
"I'll make one for you and see if you like it," I said, and went to the liquor cabinet.
"I like this." Lok finished one off and asked for another, just as Astralan came back, masseuse in tow, with a table and everything.
"Now, our girl gets the massage she needs." Lendill smiled and pulled on his tomato spice drink.