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Authors: Rebekah Shafer

A Sea of Purple Ink

BOOK: A Sea of Purple Ink
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A Sea of Purple Ink

by Rebekah Shafer

POLICE DISPATCH

via Burner 19

City to Palace

Urgent. Chief of police murdered one hour ago. Signs indicate gravity shifter assassin, whereabouts unknown. All king’s men report to headquarters for emergency assignments. The king is closeted in high security with his guards of choice, Stryker, and one of ours, until further notice. All readers report for squad assignments.

- Fielding

PRIVATE

via Burner 6

Palace to Reader Division

Readers, meet with me before you report to the rest of the police. Brandon’s dead. The plan has changed and Nile got away. For God’s sake, find him before Fielding starts asking questions.

- S.

1

Reese Davis fought to keep her hands steady as she slid two more bullets into the magazine.
Keller should have come back by now.
The last grains of dark sand trickled through an hourglass on her workbench.

A growing sea of possibilities churned through Reese’s mind in a steady stream. Scenario after scenario ticked by.
If he was wounded, he would have sent someone. But if the police found him…
Her mind began moving faster, faster than humanly possible as more and more thoughts poured in.
Either he’s been caught, or he’s too injured to fly.
She gripped the filled magazine and her pistol and forced them together. The metal latched into place with a loud click.
It’s going to be dark soon. We could go after him now and risk the mists, or we wait until dawn.

Metal creaked behind her. Reese turned to see Niela, her second in command, hoisting herself upright in a faded red armchair.

The gravity shifter looked at Reese for a moment, as if registering her presence, then the sleep cleared from her eyes. “What time is it?” Niela asked. Her short, dark hair stuck up in all directions.

“Late,” Reese said. She set the loaded gun in the shadows and began on another. One portion of her brain focused on keeping her hands moving. The rest turned back to its task.
The likelihood of Keller having been caught is too high to ignore. But did he find the new contact? Did they get lost?
A bullet caught against the others, jamming her finger.
Whatever happened, I can’t just leave him out there.

“And he’s not back yet?” The chair springs squeaked again as Niela slid to her feet. “Want me to go?”

The question jerked Reese out of her fears. “Not yet,” she said. The multiplying lines of ideas dissolved, leaving her with the dry chatter of observations.
She’s begging for work.
Reese rubbed her thumb against a smooth bullet. “I need to think. And I want you to lay low for awhile. The police are still looking for that other shifter.”

“It’s been two weeks,” her friend muttered. She shook her head. “And I’m wanted whether I killed the police chief or not.” A wry smile crossed her face and crinkled the corners of her cold, dark eyes. “I’ll just get shot before the trial instead of after.”

Outside the cellar room, a door creaked.

Reese tensed. “Someone’s coming.” She pushed the stack of half-loaded ammo rounds behind a crate.
It had better not be police.
She hid the case of bullets beneath the desk.
I can’t hear uniforms rustling. Maybe it’s the tavern owner. It’s too late to do anything about the lamp. Whoever’s coming will have already seen the glow.

“Get back,” Niela murmured. “Against the wall.” She drew her pistol.

Reese slipped her own gun off the workbench and took two steps backward. She felt a ripple in the air as Niela pushed off the back of the chair.

The gravity shifter seemed to drop sideways, landing high up on the wall opposite the door. She hung there a moment, then walked to the shadowed ceiling and dropped to an upside-down crouch, gun pointed straight at the dark doorway.

Reese’s calculations flared for a moment, documenting how Niela had manipulated gravity. A twinge of vertigo came over her as the observations poured in. She pressed her back against the wall and tried to force her thoughts into other channels.
Whoever is coming will have to come inside to find us.
She crouched lower, ducking down behind the workbench.
The hallway’s too quiet.
Warnings echoed through her mind.
Whoever it is, I should be able to hear something—

“If anyone shoots me, I’ll kill them,” an old voice snapped. A flickering light appeared in the hallway outside and cast a dim shadow over the floor. “Where’s Reese?”

“Keller?” Reese’s mind slipped into analyzation mode. Pieces of data fell into place with lightning speed.
He’s by himself.
She stood up and faced the doorway. “What happened?”

The scrawny, white-haired flyer hovered in through the doorway, clutching a wax candle. “I lost him, Reese,” he said. His expression turned grim. “The vanisher’s gone. I got him as far as the old house in the shipping district before the police caught up with us.”

A cold sensation built in Reese’s stomach. “Did he run or hide?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Keller demanded. “He turned invisible!” He blew out the candle and threw the spent wax into a corner. “He was so anxious to be rescued, and then he disappeared.” The flyer’s eyes seemed to snap and blaze.

Disappeared
. Reese’s mind slipped into full alert.
So our go-between didn’t sell us out. But what about this vanisher? He’d know better than to help them, but is he hiding from the police? Or has he been caught?
The idea twisted through her thoughts. “What about his list?” she asked. She saw confusion on Keller’s face before he even opened his mouth.

“List of what?” Keller asked.

Blast
. Reese shoved her gun into her belt.
It’s still on him.
“Niela,” she said, “we’re going in.”

The gravity shifter landed on the floor beside her. “What happened to me laying low?” she asked, a mischievous gleam in her eyes.

“Just don’t walk up to any police and tell them you’re a gravity shifter,” Reese snapped. She turned back to Keller.
They’ll probably have a reader out looking for the vanisher. They might even have him pinned down somewhere.

The old man stared at her in growing concern. “What list, Reese?”

“A list of contacts,” Reese answered. “People who helped him and others hide.”
If the police or readers get it—
“How much strength do you have left?” she asked the flyer. “Can you keep the police communication lines down? I don’t want them sending for reinforcements when we show up.”

Keller nodded. “The backup swimmer is still waiting on the beach, if you need him.”

Good
. It was a long shot, but she had to try. Reese pushed past him into the hallway. “Niela, let’s go.”

---

Reese crouched behind the porch of an old building and tried to ignore the bitter tang of the approaching fog.
The mists are coming. We’ll have to move fast.
She focused on the noise in the street. Someone was walking past with a night watchman. She could hear the distinct thump of each foot.
Wait for the heavier set of footsteps to turn the corner.

Niela nudged Reese’s shoulder.

Reese held up a hand for silence.
Given the sound, we’ve got about twelve more seconds to wait. And probably twenty minutes until the fog sets in.
She took a deep breath.
I don’t think we can do this in twenty minutes.

“We need to move.” Niela’s whisper rustled through the air, triggering a flare-up of possible scenarios in Reese’s mind. “The police will have gotten there by now.”

Maybe, but only if—
Reese shut down the extra thought trails and gave her friend a warning look. “Shh.” The footsteps were almost gone. She heard the earthy thud as they stepped off the cobbled pavement and onto a dirt side street.
Two more seconds for safety, then we’ll sneak right across—
A wooden door creaked behind her in the alley, and lamplight streamed into the blackness.

Reese’s mind jumped to full speed. In a split second the location of the door, the possible entry into the alley, and how best to avoid being seen flashed through her head.
Run
.
Now
. She seized her friend by the arm. For a moment she felt the shifter’s arm tense, then Niela rolled. Reese hung on as Niela’s movement dragged her forward. The cushioning field of gravity rippled beneath her, and another wave of nausea crept through her mental calculations. Then Reese landed against the cobblestone street. The momentum carried her onto her feet. Beside her, Niela swung around to face the alley, gun at the ready.

“Follow me and stay low,” Reese whispered, then led the way at a run.

More calculations surged through her brain as they darted down the street.
If the night watchman heard us, he’ll be turning back right now.
The gas night-lamps shed ribbons of gold across the cobblestones and highlighted wisps of the purple-tainted fog. Fog that hung around the cracked lanterns, growing thicker every minute. Reese ducked through the bands of light, glancing left and right to make sure the partially boarded windows were really empty. “I need another shift,” she hissed. “Now.”

“Got it.” Niela’s hands gripped Reese’s shoulders. “We’re going to be mist-marked,” Niela whispered, keeping stride with Reese from behind. The air began to vibrate.

Reese angled towards the wall of an abandoned warehouse. “Not if we hurry. Up the wall.”

They jumped forward as one. With a soft sucking sensation, Reese’s feet connected with the vertical wall, and she ran on. The empty street, now gravitationally behind instead of below them, stood like a bizarre horizon in a world of deepening night.

At the top of the wall, Reese slowed to a walk. She picked her way along the edge of a sloping roof, stepping carefully until she reached a place that offered a relative amount of stability. “All right,” she said. “We’re good now.”

Niela let go of Reese’s shoulders and took a deep breath. Gravity rippled back to its normal direction.

Reese felt the tug as it restored. She braced against a roof tile and studied the ridgepole a few feet above them. “You did good,” she said. She kept her gaze fixed on the nice, steady ridgepole. “Wait here while I take a look around.”

“Got it,” the shifter replied.

Reese risked a quick glance downward and saw Niela sitting, gun in hand, keeping watch on the street behind them. Her second in command was unusually quiet today.
The inactivity is hitting her harder than I thought.
“Sorry you’ve been stuck babysitting me,” Reese whispered.

The shifter turned her head and gave Reese a smirk. “It sure beats being in prison,” she said, spinning her gun around her fingers. An enigmatic smile crossed her face, and she turned away. “And don’t knock yourself,” she added. “We might still see plenty of action tonight.”

I hope not.
Reese tried to shut down the worst-case scenarios running through her mind and turned back to the roof. The fading light made it difficult to see footholds in the broken slate, but there had to be some. Reese narrowed her eyes and let dozens of variations play out in thought. Half of the climbing routes ended in unstable roof tiles or poor vantage points.
I suppose that one is the best
, she decided, eyeing a narrow support beam.

Checking to make sure her gun was still nestled in her leg holster, she wedged the toe of her boot into a chink and climbed upwards. The old tile rubbed and squeaked against her fingernails. Dirt and corrosion rasped against the palms of her hands and filtered into her eyes. With a few more pulls, she reached the level of the ridgepole.

Reese blinked dust out of her eyes and studied the buildings on the far side of the street. Their target house slumped in the shadows of a storage building, its ramshackle brick front sagging, the paint peeling—and even in the ever-deepening twilight, the gaping holes in its plaster showed like dead eye-sockets in a cracking skull.

The street’s empty.
Reese frowned.
Have the police given up already?
The house seemed quiet and still, but something wasn’t quite right.
If the police investigated, there would be broken pieces everywhere.
Her brain switched to high speed again, analyzing and re-analyzing the factors. The answer evaded her, dangling just beyond reach.
Are they looking somewhere else? Did the vanisher surrender?
She bit her lip.
There’s only one clear way to find out.

“Niela,” she whispered down to her friend, “I’m going in.” Her loaded holster bumped against the roof as she climbed to the far side of the slope. “Cover me and be ready to move fast.” She hung for a moment, bracing herself for the drop as her mind began speeding up yet again. What had started out as a simple rescue of a potential ally had gotten rapidly out of control.

Her grip tightened on the ridgepole. She hated out-of-control.

BOOK: A Sea of Purple Ink
12.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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