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When we left off, Keira woke up to a nightmare of flames. She puts the nightmare aside for a normal day, but between Brendon’s uneasy feelings and the total lack of communication from both Jon and Aedan, she can’t put aside her worries. After one final conversation with Amber, she caves, calling Aedan for confirmation they’re safe.

────────

Keira stared at the screen.

It twinkled up at her as happily as ever - and as blankly. Not a single notification dotted the taskbar. No texts. No voicemails.

Nothing.

The living room buzzed with quiet activity as the house went about its daily business. Kai sat in front of the tv, his arms folded. He was refusing to pack, Keira knew. She’d heard, after him and his brother had gone on another rip-tear of an argument that morning.

Jake sat next to him, his feet up on the coffee table. Keira didn’t believe the act for a second. His hands were behind his head, like he was a few minutes shy of having a good nap, but the outline of a pistol showed against his sweatshirt.

No one was entirely comfortable right then.

Her foot tapped against the carpet, beating out a rhythm that slowly accelerated with every second the silence dragged on. She keyed her phone on again.

Nothing.

Keira stood with a groan from the chair, still staring down at her phone.

“Everything okay?” Jake said, looking back over his shoulder. His eyes bounced between her phone and her face.

She wobbled her head in a muddled cross between a nod and a shake, heading toward the door. She could feel his eyes on her back with every step, but he didn’t ask again.

Her thumb hit the dial button as the storm door shut behind her. Jon appeared across the screen. Keira turned to the corner of the porch, leaning against the wall of the house.

Ring after ring, the dial tone screamed in her ear. She counted them off, her eyes tightening.

Another.

Another.

Jon’s phone. Not here right now. Leave your name and number and-

She pulled the phone from her ear with an irritated noise, jabbing the off button. The line went dead.

Keira stood, staring down at the device, and tried to pretend her heart hadn’t just plummeted.

“Keira? What’s wrong?”

She stiffened - and then looked up. Tyler sat on the far side of the porch, tucked onto one of the benches. He watched her, his confusion written across his face.

“It’s...it’s nothing,” Keira said, shoving the phone back into her pocket. She smiled, certain the expression didn’t look convincing in the slightest. “Just needed to make a call.”

Tyler only frowned, though, sitting up a little straighter. His golden-brown hair was an absolute mess, falling in clumps about his face. “You sounded upset,” he said, fixing his gaze on me. “It wasn’t nothing, was it?”

“Tyler, I-”

“Is something going on?” Little by little, his face started to go pale around the edges. “Should we- Is there anything I can do?” There was a plaintive note to his voice - wistful, almost.

Keira groaned inwardly. So he wasn’t so blase about running off and leaving the crew a man down.

She hesitated, still reaching for the door - and then she drooped, giving her head a tiny, almost-imperceptible shake. “I don’t really know,” she said. “Come on, then.”

“Where are we going?” she heard Tyler said behind her. She’d already pushed through into the living room, abandoning the wan light outside for the shade.

One foot over the threshold, she glanced back. It wasn’t morning, not anymore. Had she waited too long? She hadn’t wanted to wake them if they were sleeping, but…

Now, she wasn’t so sure.

Her eyes traced the outline of the stormclouds gathering on the horizon. Mirthlessly, Keira smiled. She didn’t need ‘visions’ to read exactly how piss-poor their luck had turned.

They were fucked, weren’t they?

Tyler followed hot on her heels as she stalked the rest of the way inside.

The TV speakers blared behind her, singing out the melody to a game she didn’t quite recognize. She planted herself alongside the screen, her arms hanging at her sides.

Jake and Kai looked up - Kai with a frown, as he saw Tyler lingering in the doorway. “What’s up?” Jake said, eliminating any chance of the younger man speaking.

“Something’s wrong,” she said. Her head spun. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe she was blowing things out of proportion. Maybe she’d get everyone worried over nothing, like Brendon had insinuated the day before.

Jake watched her, though, his eye sharp and alert. He leaned forward, the movement slow and deliberate, and picked up the remote.

The TV went silent.

“Explain,” was all he said, still holding her stare.

Keira pulled her phone from her pocket, fighting to find the right words. “I...I can’t get a hold of anyone,” she said at last, spitting the words out. “Aedan hasn’t- He’s not ignoring my messages, Jake,” she said, holding a finger up like a deadly weapon.

Jake closed his mouth again, settling back into his seat.

Keira kept the finger up, dangerously close to shaking with pent-up energy. “I’m not just- I’m not having some sort of lover’s quarrel or anything. He hasn’t even looked at his messages in...shit. Three days at this point. And when I call? It’s just voicemail.”

Tyler and Kai had gone perfectly still in the edge of her vision. Keira shook her head again, grabbing for her phone. “A-And then, when I call Jon, no one picks up.”

Jake leaned back, pressing a hand to his face. “Maybe he’s just-”

“Amber hasn’t heard from him either,” Keira snapped. “They’ve both gone radio silent. It’s not normal, Jake, and you know it too.”

His eye snapped back up to hers. “I know,” he said, wrinkling his nose. You’re actually making me do things, he seemed to say. But delicate lines carved their way into his forehead, and his thumb rubbed back and forth across his lips.

Keira lifted a hand, tearing at her hair. “I’m just...I don’t like it. And with Brendon feeling off-”

She stopped, cut off by the hand Jake raised. To her total and complete surprise, the sleepworker was digging in his pocket, making a face. He took his own phone out a second later, sighing loudly.

No one spoke as he scrolled through menu after menu, finally picking out a name. They watched as he lifted the phone. Listened as the dial tone sounded off.

Softly, she heard a canny voice start talking. Jon’s phone. Not here right now. Leave your-

Jake shut the call off. Keira expected him to drop the phone, or toss it onto the table. Instead, he lowered his hand carefully to his lap, his expression dark and unreadable.

“And you say Amber hasn’t-”

“Not a peep.”

“You said three days,” Jake said. It was like he was a totally different person, now that there was business to be done. She’d seen this side from him before, when they’d been attacked by the rogues, but it still stunned her every time it appeared. “When was that?”

She tabbed into her texts without hesitation, pulling up their conversation and handing the phone over. “A bit more than three, I guess. He said goodnight to me, that first night. After they drove off. Since then…” She shook her head, her breath catching. “Nothing.”

Jake nodded slowly, his thumb pressed to the screen of her phone. She watched Aedan’s message slide back and forth as he fidgeted. She should feel nervous about another guy being in her and Aedan’s texts. She should feel violated, like her privacy was being invaded.

There was no room left in her for little concerns like that. Jake was worried too. She could see it plastered across his face - and that was the final cog, the last piece of validation her mind needed. She wasn’t crazy, and this wasn’t normal.

Something was going on.

“Sit down,” Jake said, looking to her. “It’s going to be fine.”

“I’m not going to fall apart,” she snapped. “Jesus.”

“I didn’t say you were,” he retorted. “But I might need you. So sit down. Tyler?” He glanced over Keira’s shoulder, to where the brothers hovered.

Tyler straightened, jumping at the sound of his name. “W-What?”

“You and Kai go find the others,” Jake said, with just enough weary frustration in his voice to make it very, very clear that wasting his time wouldn’t be appreciated. “Group pow-wow time.”

Not that Tyler needed the encouragement. His face white as a sheet, he turned for the door, grabbing Kai’s arm as he went.

Keira stood where she was, stock-still. She watched Jake sink deeper into the seat cushions, his fingers hovering over the keyboard of his phone. In that moment, he looked older than she’d ever seen before.

“The timing,” she said quietly. “It’s...too perfect, isn’t it?”

Jake’s lips pressed together even tighter. His shoulders rose, then fell limply. “Yeah.”

“Do you think-”

He looked up to her, still cradling the phone in his hands. “I don’t think we can ignore the possibility Noah’s made his play.”

Her heart froze. If that was true...and if Jake was thinking along those lines too…

Silently, she prayed that they weren’t too late.

────────

The soft patter of rain against the roof filled the living room - the sort of rain that would continue on for endless hours, soaking anything it touched with its icy, early-spring embrace.

No one moved. No one spoke. Bodies filled the space, taking up every seat and standing in every available corner, but not a soul twitched.

Finally, Mason cleared his throat. “Uh...what’s-”

“We don’t know what’s going on,” Jake said, shooting him a look. “Until we do, everyone stays here.”

Mason’s expression hardened. “I can’t leave Cathy out alone. What the hell’s this about?”

“This is about Jon,” Amber said. She stood in the kitchen, leaning back against the counter with icy eyes. “Right?”

“And Aedan,” Jake said, nodding toward her. “We’ve lost contact.”

Mason blinked, the iron leaving his face. “W-What? What does that mean?”

“It means there’s a problem,” Tyler said, his voice low.

“We don’t know that,” Brendon said. He sat at the table, maps spread across every inch of the surface. He scanned each sheet with single-minded intensity. Loren hovered at his elbow like a ghost, wordless and pale.

“It’s only been three days,” Amber said, unmoving. “Brendon’s right. It’s too soon to freak out like this. He’s probably- I don’t know what he’s probably doing.” She turned her sights onto the old man sitting in an overstuffed armchair, a dog cradled in his lap. “You’re the seer, right? So what’s happening?”

Greyson scratched at Spike’s ears, the soft whuff of the dog’s panting rising to meet the steady drone of the rain. “I don’t know,” he said at last.

Brendon stopped, straightening and looking over to him. “Can you do better than that?”

The finder’s lips curled into a snarl. “What’s that? ‘Scuse me?”

Brendon fell back a step, blinking. “Ah- I just mean...best guess. I don’t need everything.

The bluster fled Greyson’s frame, leaving him pensive. “It’s hard for me to tell, boy,” he said. “I’m tired, still.”

“I know it’s been hard,” Brendon said. Keira watched him from across the room. Back when this had started, he’d have run and hid if Greyson was looking at him the way the old man was now. But Brendon held his ground, his hands clamped about the edges of the table. “I know you’re still recovering. But...please. Anything you’ve got. Impressions. Guesses.”

“There’s nothin’ in my range,” Greyson said, shaking his head. “Mind, my range isn’t what it should be, right now. I can see...oh, probably as far as Saginaw, maybe. A bit farther, if they’re strong.

A shiver ran down Keira’s spine. If the finder was right, that cut the reach of their visibility in half. She’d known he was having a hard time recovering from his coma. Aedan had certainly spent long enough explaining the impact age could have on a demi’s body.

Greyson would get better, she told herself. He had to. They needed him.

“Saginaw is better than nothing,” Brendon said, turning back to the maps. His finger danced across the line, even as his other hand reached for a compass. Faster than Keira could follow, he measured the distance out, slashing a circle across the state.

Too small a circle. Much too small a circle.

Greyson sighed, half-raised and watching Brendon work. “There’s...it’s blurry, beyond that,” he said. “Maybe there’s somethin’ there. I...I’m not sure.”

Brendon stopped again, looking up. “Something? Like...demis?”

“Nothin’ definitive,” Greyson said, his face long.

“What direction?” It was Jake who spoke, with Brendon still focused on his work. The others were as caught as Keira was, letting the three of them fire off their questions.

“...Southwest, I think,” Greyson said, leaning forward. “Close to that, anyway.”

“Not Carl’s men, then,” Amber said, her voice hushed.

“I could call him,” Hannah said. “Ask. He’d tell me. Probably.”

Jake shook his head. “Which direction did they go?”

Greyson looked back to him. No one needed to be told which ‘who’ he was asking about. “Our two young idiots went south,” he said quietly. “Not west, mind. Last I felt ‘em, seemed like they were tracking 75.”

“So they probably kept going south,” Keira said.

Greyson made a face. “Probably.”

“And you didn’t feel anything odd?” Brendon said, tapping his pencil against the table. “Any surges? Any spellwork?”

Spine whined as Greyson’s hand slowed. The old man smiled sadly down at the pup. “Not before they left my range.”

“Which is shrunken,” Keira muttered. Greyson shot her a wounded look. She flinched, crumpling. “Sorry. I know it’s not your fault. I’m- I’m just-”

“Getting worked up won’t help anyone,” Loren said, sliding free of Brendon. She walked toward Keira, her face unreadable. “We’re all allies, here.”

“I’m sorry,” Keira said again, shaking her head.

Jake sighed, shifting in his chair. That was all it took. The group was that on edge - they all shut up, turning back to him. For a single moment, Keira watched him freeze, looking from face to face.

There, she thought with a wry smile. That had to be how Jon felt, every time people expected things from him. Only, Jon was a little better at hiding it.

The rain pounded down harder. Overhead, a rumble of thunder pealed across the skies.

“I don’t think we can sit around waiting forever for a response,” Jake said, his voice heavy. “It’s...if something went wrong, there’s a real chance that...other parties were involved.”

“You think Noah attacked them,” Amber said. “Let’s not mince words.”

“There’s a possibility of that,” Jake said, not looking up.

Brendon shook his head, still leaning over the table. “If there was a fight, Greyson would have seen it. He’d have made out something.”

“Probably,” Greyson said softly. “Can’t guarantee that. Not if they were too far.”

Tyler shifted from foot to foot. Keira watched him look from Jake to Kai - and back to Jake. But he stood on the balls of his feet, poised to flee.

“Anyway,” Jake said, bringing the crew back down. “I think...we need to do something. We need to at least check up on them.”

“What did you have in mind?” Keira said, her eyes fixed on him.

He lifted his face, staring right back at her. “A scouting party.”

“A-Ah. Wouldn’t…” a voice squeaked, dying out again. Jake stopped.

Loren stood halfway between the table and Keira, left stranded like an island in a storm. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to...to stick together?” she said, her face coloring under the weight of so many eyes.

Jake shook his head. “We’re not going that deep,” he said, setting his phone aside and clasping his hands together. “I just...want to see what we’ve got going on. Keira? Did you try-”

“I already looked at the maps,” she said, her voice hollow. “Nothing. Either they’re too far away...or…”

A hand took her by the shoulder. She flinched. Loren pressed in closer, a wall of warmth at her side.

“That’s fine,” Jake said, unfazed. “We’ll assume you’re just too far away. So we’re going to get you closer.”

“If we’re doing this, shouldn’t we bring the big guns out?” Amber said, cutting across the conversation. The look on her face hadn’t changed since the meeting began. “We’ve got a finder right here. Let’s not toy with parlor tricks.”

Her eyes flicked to meet Keira’s a heartbeat later - and Keira saw the apology waiting there. The woman’s words burned - but Keira couldn’t quite bring herself to deny Amber, either.

Jake was shaking his head by the time she turned back, though. “He’s too important,” he said, his fingers tightening further. “Greyson stays here, where we can keep him safe. And…” He shrugged, looking to Keira. “I kinda thought you might want to go. Shouldn’t have both our finders in one spot.”

She wasn’t a finder, not really, but the shot of adrenaline that surged through her system wiped out any fear that might have been provoked. “Yeah,” she said, standing a little taller. “Yeah, I’m going.”

Jake nodded. “Then-”

“I’ll take her,” Amber said. She stood rubbing a finger against the fabric of her jacket, the only outward sign that she was feeling anything other than completely normal. “Thinking you might be right. Noah might be getting restless. I should...I should be there.”

“I can call Carl,” Hannah said again, startling the rest of the group back into silence. The whispered conversations springing up around the edges of the room died away. She lifted her eyes, seemingly unbothered by being the center of attention, but Keira saw a flush rise in her dark cheeks. “He’s got finders, too, and he’s closer.”

But Jake shook his head again. “Thanks, Hannah. Not yet.”

Her forehead wrinkled. “But I can-”

“If we call for Carl’s help, just like that, it’ll make us look weak,” Jake said. “I’ve seen shit like this before. If this goes wrong...if we don’t play it right…”

If word got out that they couldn’t even keep their own crew safe, that they couldn’t protect their territory, the attacks would worsen. Keira nodded along, the pit falling out of her stomach. It’d even embolden Noah. They couldn’t afford it. “We don’t even know where they were going,” she said. “They could be anywhere. What if- What if I’m not strong enough? M-My relic? What if-”

“What about you?” Amber said, interrupting her. Keira quieted, seeing the woman’s eyes snap to the figure huddled in the darkest corner of the room.

Nox jumped, looking around wildly. He looked to Amber at last. “W-What?”

She smiled, even if it was a tiny, pathetic smile. “Did you hear anything? Plans, maybe? I don’t know.” She tilted her head, shrugging. “Was Aedan worried about anyone coming after them? If he knew something-”

“N-No,” Nox said, shaking his head furiously. “No, no.”

“Did you pick up where they were going?” Amber said, as patiently as ever. She seemed to be an entirely different person around the telepath, Keira thought with a sigh. Which made sense, and all, but still.

Nox kept shaking his head, though, shrinking further back as the whole room turned to face him. “N-No. I just- South. That’s all. Some images.”

“Was there a name?” Amber said. “A city? Do you know what Aedan was after?” She made a face, shifting to her other foot. “Maybe...could Jake help? We could try hypnosis. Maybe that would-”

“No!” The word came out just a hair shy of a shriek. “S-Sorry. I don’t know anything. I’m sure.”

Amber’s expression softened. “Sorry, Nox. I didn’t mean to push.” Her eyes darkened further, falling into shadow. “Never mind.”

“Right,” Jake said, turning away. “So, you guys should-”

“No,” Keira heard herself say, the word echoing in her ears.

Jake glanced over, his mouth still hanging open. “Uh...Keira?”

Her eyes were fixed on Nox, boring straight down to his soul. “He’s lying,” she said through lips that had gone numb. “I can...I can see him….he’s lying.

And she could. It showed in the movements of his eyes, the nervous way his fingers twitched - and the sudden guilt that suffused the look he gave her.

He pushed himself upright, his lanky limbs quivering.

“Keira?” Amber said, confusion filling her voice. “Look, he said he doesn’t know anything. It’s okay, Nox. Let’s just sit down and-”

“He’s lying,” she said, more loudly. “Nox. What’s- What’s going on?”

“I-I don’t know!” he stammered, stumbling toward the door - but Tyler was there, his bulk blocking the entryway. Nox skittered away, his eyes wild. “I have no idea!” he wailed.

Keira was already shaking her head, her eyes widening. Before she could say a word, though, she heard it.

“Nox?” Amber said, little more than a breath of air.

Nox froze - and wheeled to face her, caught in the center of the room. His eyes glistened, glimmering with moisture that built by the second. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

Amber stared back at him, with a perfect, profound horror slowly replacing her confusion.

“What have you done?”

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About the author

Inorai

Bio: Hi there!

My name is Casey White, also found as Inorai across much of the internet :) I write primarily fantasy and scifi, of varying types.

My day to day stuff can be found at https://www.reddit.com/r/Inorai/ - my longer stuff can be found at www.inorai.com!

I also have four published novels - my Flameweaver Saga! They are each available on Amazon, yay!

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07HGC84LC?ref=series_rw_dp_labf

I'm often found on discord at inorai#9095! Come say hi if the fancy strikes you, or if I've done something you have questions about haha.

Thanks for reading!

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