T yler ducked beneath the low entrance of the cave, his eyes darting around like he expected to be attacked at any moment.
“Are there spiders in here? I hate spiders.”
“In an underground cave nearly half a mile long? No, not a one.”
The look Tyler threw me said he didn’t appreciate the sarcasm, but what did he expect? Rats seemed to avoid vampires with the same innate aversion other scavengers showed predators higher up on the food chain; but spiders either didn’t possess that sort of instinct, or they considered us to be very distant cousins. Hey, both our species survived by drinking blood, so while I wouldn’t invite any arachnids over for Christmas dinner, I couldn’t ignore the similarities, either.
“If one of those hairy‑legged things even touches me, I’m outta here,” Tyler muttered.
I didn’t reply. His fixation on spiders was just his way of controlling his fear over the other, far more dangerous aspect of his trip into the cave. The trap was finally ready, but with my ghostly powers being kaput, we’d need a medium to summon Kramer to it. Cue Tyler. He might be swatting imaginary spiders off his clothes and swearing, but his steps didn’t falter as he followed me deeper into the darkness.
“Don’t know why the others are pissed about having to wait in the RV,” Tyler continued in his faux grumbling. “I’d love to trade places with them right now.”
“You see ghosts all the time. Most of them have never laid eyes on a full‑bodied apparition, and they’ve worked as investigators for years.”
“They don’t want to see this one,” he countered, serious this time.
I couldn’t agree more. That was why no one but Bones, Tyler, and I were going to be in the cave. Chris had argued fiercely about being present since seeing if his invention could trap and contain a powerful ghost was the culmination of a decade’s worth of theorizing for him. My concerns centered on keeping everyone alive if things went south. We compromised on his waiting by the mouth of the cave, so he could dash inside as soon as we gave the all clear. The rest of the team waited in the two recreational vehicles parked by the side of the road nearly a mile away from the cave.
Now that it was almost showtime, I regretted not making Chris and the team wait even farther away. If this didn’t work, we’d have a very pissed‑off phantom on our hands. Hopefully, the sage we had ready to burn would be enough to send Kramer running for the nearest ley line if things went awry, but hope wasn’t a guarantee. That was why Chris had sage at the ready, and some was already smoldering in little ceramic pots in each RV, plus my mother was there, ready to heal any injuries if that weren’t enough.
When I told Bones that Madigan would likely be scouring hotels looking for us after we’d absconded from the house, he’d arranged for two RVs to be brought as our hotel on wheels. The RVs came from his old friend, Ted, so they weren’t procured through any rental channels Madigan could track–and knowing Ted, probably not legal ones, either. I’d also kept my cell phone powered off for the last few days while all of us worked feverishly to complete the trap. Even having it on without making a call would be enough for Madigan to trace. If everything went as planned, I’d turn it back on and resurface once Kramer was locked up and we were all safely out of Ohio. Madigan would be forced to admit that he’d been tracking me in order to be able to berate me for successfully disappearing, and I didn’t think his arrogance would allow that.
Or maybe he wasn’t tracking me at all. Maybe Madigan hadn’t given me a second thought since I’d been thrown out of the compound. Don still hadn’t revealed anything significant about their past to explain why he was so convinced that Madigan was up to no good, and despite my intense dislike of him, Madigan hadn’t given me anything concrete to focus on, either. He seemed very interested in finding out if there were sentient ghosts, but any former CIA agent would fixate on the idea of invisible, undetectable spies. Yes, Madigan was a prejudiced prick who’d royally screwed Tate over, but if being intolerant and screwing someone out of a well‑earned promotion was a crime, this country would need to build a lot more jails.
“I hear them, they’re almost here,” Bones said from the cavern ahead. We only had one more slanted, rocky ledge to traverse before we reached the part of the cave where the trap was located. Tyler picked his way carefully, muttering about me owing him a new pair of pants when a piece of fabric tore on a protruding limestone edge.
“Serves you right. Who wears Dolce & Gabanna to go underground?” I pointed out.
“If I’m checking out today, I’m doing it while looking good, ” was his reply.
I wanted to reassure him that he absolutely would not die, but the words stuck in my throat. I’d do my damnedest to protect Tyler, as he knew, but we were dealing with a strong, vicious spectre and a trap that might or might not work. It had successfully held Fabian, then Elisabeth, when we tested it yesterday, but to tell Tyler he wasn’t risking his life summoning Kramer would be a flat‑out lie, and I wasn’t about to lie to someone I now counted as a friend.
“Here we are,” I said, when the cavern widened to a thirty‑foot ceiling and a small, bubbling stream along the far wall. Bones stood in the middle of it next to the oblong limestone, quartz, and moissanite structure. Dexter and Helsing were in pet carriers on the sandy bank, Fabian and Elisabeth floating beside them. After all she’d been through, it was only fitting that Elisabeth was here to witness this. Fabian wasn’t about to stay behind even though entering the cave was harder for him now with his lesser power level and the abundance of limestone, quartz, and moissanite.
My gaze locked with Bones’s. If he was worried, nothing in his expression or vibe gave it away. Instead, confidence exuded from his aura, and his dark eyes glittered with anticipation. With his tight long‑sleeved shirt and matching ebony pants, he almost blended into the background except for the exquisite pale contrast of his face and hands. Good thing he mostly blended, too, since Kramer wasn’t supposed to see him until it was too late.
“Ready, luv?” he asked.
“Almost, sugar,” Tyler replied with a cheeky wink.
I rolled my eyes. Between Bones’s self‑assurance and Tyler’s irrepressible flirting, my lingering nervousness changed into optimism. We could do this. No, scratch that–we would do this.
I grabbed some sage that we’d stacked by the edge of the stream and stuffed it into my backpack, Tyler following suit. I already had lighters in each pants pockets and so did he. All that was left was to break out the Ouija board, and Tyler was already pulling it out of his backpack.
Bring it on, Inquisitor. We’ve got a surprise waiting for you.
T yler and I stood on either side of the stone‑and‑quartz pedestal, the Ouija board lying flat between us. This time, the planchette didn’t jump when I placed my fingers on it, as if I needed reminding that my borrowed powers from Marie had faded.
Tyler’s brows went up, noticing that as well. “Something you want to tell me, Cat?”
“Nope,” I said, and it was the unvarnished truth. Tyler didn’t know that one of the fragile cogs in the peace wheel between vampires and ghouls loosely rested on certain people still believing that I had special connections to the dead. Luckily, no one but Bones knew the average shelf life of my borrowed powers, so I should be able to stretch out the illusion that I could raise Remnants quite a while longer.
What would happen after that jig was up, I’d worry about later. One perilous problem at a time, thank you.
“All right,” Tyler said, after it became clear that was all I’d ante up on the subject. He cleared his throat, darkly musing that he’d probably get something sharp lodged in it again with what he was about to do, then placed his fingers on the planchette.
“Heinrich Kramer, we summon you into our presence.”
Tyler’s voice echoed throughout the cave as he spoke, his voice strong and commanding even though he inwardly cursed himself for not taking a piss before starting this.
“Heed our call, Heinrich Kramer, and come to us. We summon your spirit through the veil into our presence . . .”
The planchette began to jerk around the board in crazy, ragged circles. Tyler sucked in his breath. I strained my senses, but I’d felt chilly, tingling vibrations along my skin this whole time due to Fabian and Elisabeth’s close proximity, so that wasn’t any help.
Suddenly, Bones plummeted down from his hiding place in one of the ceilings many crevasses. He’d been up there so he could slam the lid down on the trap if Kramer appeared, but nothing hazy or swirly interrupted the Ouija board’s smooth surface. Did he see something I didn’t? Couldn’t be; he set the huge, multimineral cylinder next to the trap instead of over it.
“What?” I asked, gaze darting around.
“Stop the summoning,” Bones ordered Tyler. His eyes were sizzling green as he looked at me.
“People are coming, I can hear them. A lot of people.”
“Shit,” I sighed.
We’d left every one of our silver weapons in the RV, not wanting Kramer to have any means to permanently harm us if the trap didn’t work, and he started hurling nearby objects at us. Now, with potential enemies between us and the only weapons we could utilize aside from sticks and stones, what we’d done as a safety measure had turned out to be a huge liability.
Bones cracked his knuckles, that lethal aura increasing until it prickled my skin with its energy. I strained my senses but couldn’t pick up on anything aside from Tyler’s concern and the sounds in the cave. Bones was older and stronger, so I didn’t doubt that he was right. This couldn’t be a hiking expedition stumbling across the cave by accident, either–we were in the middle of nowhere. It had to be an ambush, but how the hell had anyone found us?
Then I heard it. The murmur of voices in my head, too low for me to make out specific words, too many to be Chris’s thoughts.
“Fabian, Elisabeth,” Bones said low. “Find out what’s out there.”
They disappeared in a flash. Tyler glanced around before mumbling some words, then shutting the Ouija board with a bang.
“I turned it off. No one can come through now.”
“See that shadow off to the right?” Bones asked him without turning in that direction. “It leads to a small enclosure. Wait there, and try to stay quiet.”
Knew this day would end badly, Tyler thought in resignation as he did what Bones said.
The seconds ticked by as we waited for the ghosts. My hands felt horribly empty without weapons, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I’d been in fights before against undead baddies without any silver. If we were lucky, and most of the hostiles approaching were human, bare hands would be more than sufficient.
But if someone had gone to all this trouble of finding us, I bet he or she wouldn’t be dumb enough to show up with an army of only humans. There might be a lot of them, from the increased volume in my head that indicated the entrance to the cave was being surrounded, but these had to be the pawns. The question was, who was the chess player?
A hazy outline zoomed up so fast; it took me a second to determine whether it was Fabian or Elisabeth.
“Soldiers!” Fabian exclaimed. “But they are all human. Could these be members of your old team, perhaps here because they need your help?”
My instant surge of relief at hearing they were human changed to suspicion. Bones and I exchanged a look, the tension in his aura saying loud and clear that he thought something was still off.
“Well,” I said at last. “Let’s see who they are and what they want.”
The words barely left my lips before Bones muttered, “Bloody hell.” For a split second, I was confused. But then above the collage of voices in my mind, I heard a new one, chanting a single line over and over.
Fifteen minutes can save you fifteen percent . . .