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NIGHT STUDY Chapter Eleven - Janco
"What's your rush?" Maren asked.
Janco hustled her along the hallways of the castle. The need to hurry pulsed in his veins. "Something's not right," he said.
"What are you talking about?"
"Outside Valek's office. That darkness was...odd...weird. I felt strong magic. And his knife was on the floor. Didn't you see it?"
"No. I was—"
"Too busy sleeping. And that was strange, too."
"Yeah, I guess." Maren remained quiet for a while. "Do you think something happened to Valek?"
Did he? He considered the clues. "Yes."
"But he's immune to magic."
Janco forgot that Maren didn't know about the null shields. No time to explain it to her. "Yeah, well Owen could have shot him with a dart of Curare."
"Where are we going?"
"To get Ari. We need reinforcements."
"You need a couple magicians to fight them."
"Ari's got the best aim with the blowpipe. Curare works on magicians, too."
"But can't that one guy move objects with his magic? A dart wouldn't reach him."
Janco skidded to a stop. "Oh, hell."
"And I'm sure they're gone by now."
They wouldn't wait for Janco to figure it out and return. What to do? Janco closed his eyes. He ejected his chaotic thoughts, suppressed his worry and fear for Valek, and concentrated on the logic. If Owen killed Valek, the Commander would be upset, but if Valek disappeared... But he couldn't hide a dead body, it would stink after a few days. They could smuggle the body outside the castle by hiding it with an illusion. Too risky. Maybe they planned to keep him locked up. But where? And would they risk the possibility of Valek escaping? Probably not.
This was going nowhere. He switched his line of thought. Where was the one place the Commander had said was off limits? The guest suites! Janco opened his eyes.
Maren waited with her arms crossed. "Got something, genius?"
He ignored the insult. "Come on." Janco ran and didn't bother to check if Maren followed or not.
Ari jumped to his feet when Janco burst into their apartment. "What's wrong?"
Janco raced to his room, grabbed his bag of tricks, and dashed back. "Reema stay here. Ari come on."
"Weapons?" Ari asked.
"Got'um. Let's go!"
Maren remained in the hall. Janco shot passed her, heading to the nearest stairwell. Her and Ari's pounding footsteps sounded behind him.
"Are you going to tell me what's this about?" Ari asked him.
"He thinks Valek's in trouble," Maren answered.
Maren explained about the oddness in the hallway outside Valek's office. It didn't take Ari long to reach the same conclusion.
"The three of us can't fight three magicians," Ari said.
Janco reached the stairs and bounded up them three at a time. At the fourth floor, he stopped, putting his hand up to signal all quiet. He peered down the hall. Empty.
Giving Maren and Ari the wait signal, he crept down the corridor until he reached the turn that would lead to the guest quarters. A quick peek confirmed no one lurked in the shadows. But a creepy crawly sensation brushed his skin.
Magic nearby. Lovely. At least it wasn't the sharp pain of an active illusion. Janco returned to his friends. He explained his plan in a whisper then dug into his bag of tricks.
Ari raised his eyebrows when Janco handed him a blowpipe and darts.
"Just in case," Janco said. Then he gave Maren the most important item. "Make sure it gets as close to the action as possible."
"What if there's no action?" she asked.
"Then we find it," Ari said. "No stopping until Valek's safe."
Janco flashed his partner a grin. While Maren might doubt him, Ari was all in.
In silence, they ghosted through the hallway. When they reached the door to the guest suites, Janco knelt on one knee. He twisted the knob. Locked. Janco whipped out his lock picks. Using the one with the mirror, he inserted it under the door and confirmed no one guarded the door. A cool breeze blew over his hand and voices murmured from inside.
"A window is open," Janco whispered. "We'll have to move fast."
Inserting his diamond pick and tension wrench into the lock, he aligned the pins in record time and slowly turned the cylinder. Even though every nerve tingled with the desire to hurry, he eased open the door. It about killed him to move that slow.
Owen, Tyen, and Rika stood in front of the window with their backs to the door, talking. Strange, but good fortune for him. Where was Valek? He scanned the rest of the room.
"...Valek," Owen said.
Janco's gaze jumped back to the others and he spotted his boss through a gap between Tyen and Rika. Valek sat on the ledge with Owen gripping his shoulders, talking to him. Pushing the door wider, Janco entered the room and signaled Ari and Maren to follow.
Owen said, "...Yelena's next."
"Now!" he yelled at Maren.
The three magicians whipped around just as she threw a glass ball at their feet. It shattered on impact. A knockout gas hissed from the broken shards, fogging the area. But the breeze from the outside would soon clear the air. Then they'd have three pissed off magicians.
Owen and the others stumbled to the ground. "Ari!" Janco pointed to the prone magicians. "Curare."
But Ari raced through the fog to the window instead. The empty window! Sh*t. Fear burned in his gut. Janco held his breath and dashed after Ari.
His partner leaned out. Oh no. Janco joined him, preparing to see the worst.
Ari held Valek's arm as the man dangled in mid-air. The big man's arm muscles strained with effort. Janco reached for Valek's other arm. Together they heaved their boss into the room.
"They're reviving," Maren yelled.
"Go," Valek ordered.
They sprinted for the door and didn't stop until they reached Valek's suite. Valek unlocked the door. Or tried. His hands shook and the key rattled in the lock. Ari nudged Valek aside and finished the task. The housekeeper had lit the lanterns, but the main living area was empty.
Valek called for Yelena. He raced up the stairs then returned a few minutes later wild-eyed and frantic. "She isn't here. Owen said she's next. We need to search the castle!"
Ari blocked Valek. "Owen didn't have time to set a trap for her."
"But what if he's looking for her right now?" Valek tried to push pass, but Ari clamped a hand on his shoulder.
"He won't just grab her in front of witnesses. He'll have to plan. Let's just take a moment and think. Okay?" Ari guided him to the couch.
Valek just about collapsed into the cushions. Concerned by his boss's stunned expression, Janco rummaged for the good stuff in Valek's corner cabinet. No one said a word as Janco poured healthy shots of whiskey into four glasses. He handed one to each. They clinked the glasses together and downed the alcohol in one gulp.
Fire burned his throat and warmed his stomach. Janco refilled the glasses.
Valek stared into his, swirling the amber liquid around. "That's the closest I've come to..." He pulled in a deep breath, then raised his glass to them. "Thank you."
"Thank Janco," Maren said. "He's the one who figured it out."
"Yeah, but I couldn't have done anything without you and Ari."
"We're a team. This is what we do," Ari said.
They drank. This time Janco sipped his.
"Now we can concentrate on finding Yelena," Ari said. "Has anyone seen her since she returned from her ride with Reema?"
No one had.
"We'll divide the castle into sections and each take one," Valek said.
"No can do," Janco said. "If one of us runs into Owen or his goons, we'll be in trouble." He scratched his goatee. "We should stay together. Let's list the places she most likely would be." He glanced at the dark windows. "Supper's over. How about the washroom?"
"Or she could have gone to say good-bye to Reema and found her alone," Ari said.
Valek stood. The whiskey appeared to have steadied him. "Let's go."
They left the suite. As they headed down to the washrooms, Janco asked Valek, "Are you going to report the attack to the Commander?"
"No. Owen will spin a tale about how I tried to sneak into his rooms."
"But we saw—"
"What exactly?" Valek asked.
Janco recalled the scene in the guest suite. "He had his hands on your shoulders."
"Which he'll claim he was trying to help me. You didn't witness my abduction. All you had to go on was a creepy feeling in a dark hallway. No. It would be pointless to report the incident to the Commander."
"How did he manage to capture you?" Maren asked.
Valek exchanged a look with Ari. The big guy nodded and Valek explained to Maren about the null shields.
It didn't take her long to understand the danger. "So that means he can trap you at anytime?"
"Unfortunately. And he can also suffocate me with that blasted shield." Valek increased his pace.
Janco wished he brought the bottle of whiskey along as they checked the washroom, then their apartment where they found Reema curled up in a chair fast asleep. They searched the stables, the kennels, and visited Yelena's friend Dilana, the seamstress. With every stop, Janco's alarm grew two-fold.
They visited Valek's office just in case. Valek's knife remained in the hallway. He picked it up and a murderous expression settled on his face. If Owen had been standing there, no doubt Valek would have rammed the blade into his black heart.
While there were plenty of places left to look, there was no logical reason Yelena would visit them.
"Owen must have her," Valek said in a deadly tone. "I'll kill him."
From NIGHT STUDY MIRA Books, January 26, 2016
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