Cadence idly wondered if she was going to get anymore sleep ever again. She was tired and hadn’t really had much rest at all since being mauled by the shadow creature. But when they got back to their office, Agent Whitfield was already there, pacing back and forth.
“Agent Whitfield,” Snow greeted and pushed his own weariness aside. “How wonderful to see you again.”
“Good to see you too. Are you sure you have the breather side of this equation taken care of?” he asked nervously.
“I believe so, why?” Snow asked as he slipped into his chair as Cadence edged around to hers.
“Well, it’s tricky. It takes five to summon the thing, but six to unsummon it. We’ll need three breathers and three spirits.”
“Actually, I think we can manage that,” Snow said.
“You’re working with that many breathers?” Whitfield asked.
“Not in a way that violates too many of our rules, you can rest assured.”
“Yeah, believe me, Ozzie here doesn’t break rules,” Cadence said, grinning.
“Ozzie?” Whitfield asked.
“Ignore her,” Osmond said. He rolled his eyes at Cadence.
“I exist solely to annoy him, and that’s one way to do it real fast,” she said with a self-satisfied smile.
“Uh, okay,” Whitfield said frowning. “I have all of the runes we’ll need and all of the information you requested. But there’s one more problem.”
“What’s that?” Cadence asked as she leaned back in her chair.
“The creature has to be inside the circle before you close it.”
“Ah.” Snow frowned. “That is an interesting problem.”
“Once the circle is closed it can’t hurt anyone. The circle acts as a shield or a prison, it can’t reach through the circle to get at anybody, breathing or not.”
“But it can hurt a hell of a lot of people on its way to the circle,” Cadence commented sourly.
“Yes,” Agent Whitfield agreed. “And there’s also the fact that it isn’t going to want to go back into the circle. How are you going to lead it there?”
“Can I not volunteer to be bait again on this one, please?” Cadence asked.
“We’ll think about how best to accomplish baiting the trap. But for right now, I think we could make use of a few hours of rest. I know I could so I’m certain my injured partner can as well. Will you meet us here tomorrow evening?” Snow asked the agent.
“I’ll bring all of the information we’ll need,” Whitfield said with a nod.
“Perfect,” Snow declared.
Whitfield nodded and turned to head out of the office, but just as he reached the door, Bethany appeared and knocked on the open door. The NHD Agent excused himself and left the office.
“Ah, Miss Saxon,” Snow greeted her. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you. And thanks again for what you did. It meant a lot to me.” She was wringing her hands and fidgeting slightly, which caught Cadence’s attention.
“But you didn’t come over to thank us again, did you?” she asked.
“No, no. I just received someone in my office for guidance. Well….” She faltered, “I think maybe you should come over.”
That caused both of the officers to furrow their brows and rise to their feet. They followed Bethany out of their office and across the observation bay. Mrs. Steinberg smiled happily at them as they entered the waiting room and Bethany led them straight into her office. There in one of the chairs was the hefty form of Dan.
Both Osmond and Cadence’s jaws dropped. “Dan?!?!?” Cadence blurted out.
He came to his feet swiftly and turned around. He looked alarmed and bewildered. “I don’t know you. Do I?” he asked.
“What happened?” Snow asked. “How…?” He looked to Bethany and shrugged.
“Heart attack,” she said quietly. “In reaction to fear.”
“There was something there!” Dan said loudly. “There was something in my apartment! I know it sounds crazy but it was there, throwing things around!”
“Sir, please calm down,” Snow said.
“How do you know my name?”
“We watched you summon that thing that scared you to death,” Cadence replied curtly. Part of her was happy that the shadow creature had gotten to Dan. It served as a sort of cosmic justice. But another part of her was pissed that another body, a corporeal one this time, had been added to the body count.
Dan’s jaw dropped in response to Cadence’s statement and Snow shook his head at her. “Really, Riley, you should try tact sometimes.”
“I’m done with tact in regards to this. Now I don’t mind leaving the room if you two want to coddle him, but I am not about to.” She had gone into bad cop mode and Snow recognized it, as well as the veiled request for the two of them to confer, outside the office.
He offered an apologetic smile to Bethany and Dan and moved to escort Cadence to the waiting room. As they left the office, Mrs. Steinberg flooded the room in scarlet and gold, to make it less white for Cadence, which drew a tight smile from the officer.
“Get him to volunteer,” Cadence whispered to Snow.
“Bait,” she said. “He can be bait. What’s more poetic? He summoned it, he can help get rid of it.”
“I’ll see what I can do. In the mean time you go home, get some rest. I don’t need you low on energy come tonight. For god’s sake be careful and don’t pull anymore stitches.”
Cadence nodded. “Not on my top ten list of things to do, trust me. I’m serious, I don’t care if you have to cuff him and drag him kicking and screaming. Three spirits are no more because of that douche bag in there. It’s the least he can fucking do.”
“And if it consumes him too?”
“He should have thought about that before he summoned the damned thing.”
“You’re acting unreasonable.”
“No, I’m fucking pissed, Osmond,” she replied, her voice quiet and tight and controlled. “There’s a difference. And I’m pretty sure the NHD will back me up on this since they lost an agent because of him too.”
“Look, I’m going to talk to him, find out how he got the ritual in the first place, and we’ll go from there. I’ll try to get him to see reason and to be a part of the solution to the problem he has created. However, I am not going to forcibly sentence him to non-existence because he made a mistake.”
“Mistake my ass.” She grumbled.
“That’s enough. Go home, get some rest, I need you on your game tonight. I’ll see you later.”
Cadence frowned but nodded. She waved a halfhearted goodbye to Mrs. Steinberg and left the office, heading for her apartment.
Somehow Aiden had been added to her list of people she watched over. She had gone home and to let some of her anger cool down she had started flipping through channels on her television. She checked in on Andy, her cat, and others. The addition surprised her but the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She did consider him something of a friend now. However, the thought of making friends with a breather after your own death still struck her as odd.
She had taken a few minutes to watch over Andy and the others, and sleep took her unawares. She was so exhausted from the last couple of days she fell asleep on the couch, with the television still on, remote in hand. The shrill ring of her phone woke her with a start.
“Hello?” she said, her voice sounding sleepy as she answered it.
“Cadence, it’s me.” Snow’s voice came through the device. “Sorry to wake you, but can you meet me in the office?”
“Sure,” she said. She sat up and ran a hand through her hair. “What’s up?”
“We’ll need to have a chat with our cultist. Shortly after you left he claimed that he was tired as well. Miss Saxon had a temporary room assigned to him and we’re meeting with him this afternoon. Miss Saxon will be there as well, as will Agent Whitfield.”
“Should I wear a party dress?” Cadence asked sarcastically as she rose to her feet.
“Only if you’re bringing Ramon,” he countered.
“Ooh, score one for the stuffy English guy.” she grinned at his retort. “Give me a few to freshen up and I’ll be right there.”
“Fell asleep in your clothes?” he asked.
“Did you really think I was going to make it all the way to my bed?”
“No. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised you made it in your front door. I was afraid I would find you passed out in the hall.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she chuckled, rolling her eyes. They hung up and Cadence went to her bedroom. She was adjusting to the idea that your appearance depended solely on your mental image of yourself, but she had been in these clothes for a couple days, and she wanted to get changed.
She opened a drawer and was greeted by the sight of fresh clothes. Going to the wardrobe, she found the same. Clean clothes, all things she would have had in her own closet back home. She had done this before, in the few weeks she had been living on this side of life, but it still was new enough to be something of a surprise to her. She selected a pair of black jeans and a pale green blouse, over which she put a black jacket. She ran a brush through her dark gold hair and nodded at herself in the mirror at the results. She still looked like her, though with a few more bandages; her leg, arm, and middle were still securely wrapped. She also still looked tired. She sighed and shrugged, as there wasn’t much more she could do to improve the reflection in the mirror. She grabbed her phone from the coffee table on the way out, flipping off her television.
In moments, she was opening the door of the office she shared with Snow. “Hey,” she greeted him, nodding. “Where is everyone?” She crossed to her desk and opened the drawer. The knife Whitfield had left for her was still there, and she pulled it out, slipping it into the inner pocket of her blazer.
“Conference room,” he said. He rose and grabbed a file folder from his desk. “I’ll take you there.”
“We have conference rooms?”
“Really, Cadence,” he said as he guided her back out of the office. “You shouldn’t be so shocked at the things we have.”
“So says the man who has had nearly fifty years to get used to it all.” She pointed out.
He chuckled. He led her through a back hall and opened a door. There, seated around an oval table were Bethany, Dan, and Agent Whitfield. Dan looked a little worse for wear, this time, a bit more haggard than he had. Cadence wondered if perhaps his conscience was eating at him. She hoped it was.
“Thank you all for joining us,” Snow said as he and Cadence sat down. “We’re here to discuss the ritual that let out the shadow creature that has been plaguing Lexington Hills and that has recently added Daniel Kurtz to its growing list of the dead.” He tossed the file folder he had brought with him down on the table.
“I didn’t realize what it was going to do, honest.” Dan said.
“What did you think it was going to do, Mr. Kurtz?” Snow asked
“I… I don’t know. I thought it was some kind of ritual for wealth or fame or something. I just … something needed to change.”
Bethany frowned at Dan. “I would think after what happened to me you would have learned to not go looking for change in a kind of cult ritual. What made you go looking for a cult anyway?”
Dan looked at Bethany, puzzled. “Beth… We were all really sorry about what happened to you but what does that have to do with a cult?”
Bethany gawked at him for a moment. “You… Wait… What do you know about what happened?”
Still looking confused about why this was an issue, Dan answered. “You were kidnapped as you left work. They found your body in an abandoned warehouse the next day.”
“Oh,” she replied. She frowned and looked troubled now as she stared down at the table. Snow frowned. This seemed to be going from bad to worse.
“It wasn’t that?” Dan asked hesitantly.
“No… it wasn’t. I was kidnapped, yes. But by a cult, and I was killed as a sacrifice for a ritual.”
Dan shot to his feet. “There was no evidence of any kind of ritual, not that the cops reported to us anyway.”
“Are you saying I don’t know what happened to me?” Bethany asked indignantly, coming to her feet as well.
“Miss Saxon, Mr. Kurtz,” Snow cut in sharply. “Please sit down. Arguing about each other’s manner of death is fruitless. For now, we shall take it on face value that whoever did commit the murder of Miss Saxon went to lengths to clean up any evidence of it being ritualistic in nature. Based on comments Aiden has made he too believed it was a kidnapping. So, Mr. Kurtz, we come down to asking you how you got your hands on a ritual that has been out of circulation in the living world for almost three hundred years.”
Bethany and Dan sat down slowly, neither speaking to each other just yet about their argument. “It was given to me,” Dan said quietly.
“Given to you by whom?” Cadence asked.
“By the leader of the cult.”
“Wait,” Cadence said as she leaned forward a bit in her chair. “You aren’t the leader of the cultists?”
“No. You said you saw me summon it. Were you there?”
“Yes,” Snow replied. “We were monitoring your activities in the hospital that night. We were also there for your previous visit with your ghost hunting friends.”
“Do you haunt the hospital?” Dan asked.
“No, but we monitor haunted places when people come to investigate or disturb those locations. However, what we do isn’t important, Mr. Kurtz. What you did and how you knew to do it is what we are here to discuss,” Snow replied, trying to put the conversation firmly back on track.
“Well, the five of us who went into Lexington Hills to do that ritual were initiates. This was what we had to do to get into the cult.”
“So you had to summon a shadow creature for the leader of the cult to gain entry into the cult?” Cadence asked. “Doesn’t that seem a little backwards? I mean, having the ones who aren’t a part of your sect do something so secretive and so powerful and so dangerous, to prove that they belong to the sect?
“Look, lady,” Dan shot back, “I don’t know, okay? They told me what to do and I did it.”
“Where did you meet these cultists?” Agent Whitfield asked as he took over the questioning while recording the whole thing on his phone.
“Lauren’s shop,” he answered with a sigh.
“Lauren is his ex-wife,” Bethany explained. “And part of the ghost hunting group.”
“If she is your ex why were you at her shop?” Cadence asked.
“It’s not like we don’t talk,” Dan replied defensively. “The divorce was amicable.”
“Dan,” Bethany said, “we all knew you didn’t want the divorce.”
“No,” he said, “but it was still amicable. We remained friends. But you’re right. I love her. I wanted her back.”
“Was there someone else in her life?” Cadence asked.
“I don’t think so,” Dan said. “I went to the shop to talk to her. I wanted to ask her out on a date and see if we could start over, but she refused. We argued about it. When I left, there was this guy hanging around outside of her shop. He said he had heard the argument, and if I wanted help winning her back, he knew how.”
“Was this man you spoke with the leader of the cult?”
“No, I think he was just a member, maybe a recruiter.”
“Did you ever meet the leader?” Whitfield asked.
“He was in the van that night,” Dan answered. Cadence and Snow exchanged a look. They hadn’t even thought to go outside to check for others, they had simply assumed those who came in were all there was.
“Did you get his name?” Whitfield asked.
“They just called him Wolf.”
“My, how original,” Cadence said with a roll of her eyes.
Dan shrugged. “Original or not, it’s the only name I got from him.”
“So this Wolf person gave you the ritual?” Whitfield asked. He was trying to keep them on track.
“We each were given one of the runes to draw. None of us knew the whole thing. I was shown my rune and told where the candles had to go. One of the others was told to carve the circle into the floor. I was given the cat, told to kill it and pass it around as it was bleeding.”
“Seems like you knew the most about this ritual,” Cadence said, which drew a glare from Dan.
“Do you always keep a knife in your boot?” Snow asked.
“Yes, I do. It’s especially handy in investigations in getting doors open or cutting things out of the way.”
“Convenient,” Cadence said sourly.
“Did this Wolf tell you how he knew this ritual or did he tell you what the ritual would bring?”
“No, he never told us what was going to happen. He just said that we would know if we had done it right. And he never said anything about how he knew the ritual. Look, I’m sorry. I was stupid. I was really stupid. I thought this would be something that could help me get back in with Lauren, or maybe do something that would give me money so that I could prove I deserved her.” He stopped and sighed. “Guess I just ended up proving the opposite.”
Whitfield frowned, as he had been hoping to get more concrete evidence as to how the ritual had gotten out. “You know nothing more about it?” he asked.
“No. But I’ve thought about what you said,” he added, looking directly to Cadence. “And I do want to help. It’s my fault this is happening. If I can help stop it, I will.” Cadence frowned. He had turned noble. She didn’t want him to be noble; she wanted to be angry at him. It was much harder to be angry at him when he was all conscientious and nice.
“Good, thank you for volunteering,” Snow said.
“Why Lexington Hills?” Cadence asked suddenly. She wondered if the place had any kind of weird significance or if it had been a coincidence.
“I’d wanted to investigate it for a long time, but we never did get there. Then one night… I don’t know… I guess I just got it into my head to go there, to finally do it. When Wolf asked about a place to do the ritual, I suggested it. We went in to investigate and I was there to also kind of scout it out for the sect. After what had happened with the ritual I didn’t really want to go back to do another investigation, but Lauren and Aiden, even Derrick, they didn’t want to give up on the place. They wanted to go back and finish the investigation. So we went. It was waiting there for me.”
“That would be when you tucked tail and ran. That would be when you left all three of your friends and all of the other haunting spirits there in harm’s way. Right?” Cadence pointed out sharply as she tried to hold on to her righteous indignation at the man.
Dan hung his head. “I’m no hero and I’m not proud of it. I just panicked. All I could think of was just getting the hell out of there. But it kept following me back to my place, it wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“That’s because the rune you drew was the primary rune in its summoning. You were the one who made the sacrifice whose blood sealed the circle. You were the one who broke the circle, releasing it. Any one of those things could make it want to go after you. Put all three together and… haunting you was pretty much a sealed deal,” Whitfield stated.
“Will it go after the others now?” Dan asked.
“We don’t really know,” Whitfield said. “It’s a creature of chaos. That makes it a little hard to predict.”
“Given your involvement in the summoning and that you broke the circle we were able to predict it would go after you,” Snow explained. “Though we didn’t know our supposed head cultist and the leader of the ghost hunting group were one in the same. Not until the night of your second investigation at Lexington.”
“When it attacked me,” Dan nodded.
Cadence blinked. “It didn’t attack you. It yelled at you. It attacked others. And no, we figured it out when you whipped the knife out of your boot to jimmy the lock, just like the cat killer had done on the night of the ritual. Same knife plus same boot equals the same person.”
“Did any of the others get hurt that night? Lauren, is Lauren okay?”
“She’s fine, so are Aiden and Derrick,” Snow replied. “She’s the one the creature went after,” he said as he pointed to Cadence.
Dan’s gaze moved to Cadence. “That explains why you’re so angry with me. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Okay? I have something like seventy or eighty stitches because of that thing. That’s not okay. And even less okay are Carl and Maggie and Agent Banks. The creature consumed them. That’s like a final death. No more haunting, no more existing, just gone. That, Dan, is why I am angry with you. Because you couldn’t man up and accept that your ex-wife just was not that into you anymore, you did something so spectacularly stupid that it’s costing lives.”
“Riley,” Snow said in his usual “you’re being unreasonable” tone. “Mr. Kurtz has already admitted to the poor judgment that brought him here and he has already said he is willing to assist us in cleaning up the mess he made.”
“I just want to make sure he knows what and who were lost because of him.”
Dan shrunk back into his chair, a stark look of guilt on his face. “I know it’s too late, and I know it doesn’t mean much, but I am sorry.”
Cadence huffed and sat back in her seat, wincing slightly as she felt a pull from her stitches. Whitfield, who had been watching her, arched an eyebrow. She shook her head, indicating it was nothing to worry about.
“Alright, here is what we are going to do then,” Snow said. “Agent Whitfield has everything we need to know and do tonight to undo the summoning that brought that creature into being. Mr. Kurtz, Agent Whitfield, Officer Riley and myself will go to Lexington Hills and meet with the monitor there, Mr. Suarez. Miss Saxon, I thank you for your help in this matter but you won’t be required at the location tonight. We will prepare for our part in this ritual. Now, it has been said that Lauren is a psychic?” he asked as he looked between Bethany and Dan. He already knew she was but he wanted to make sure everything was in order.
“Yes, she is,” Dan replied after clearing his throat.
“Good, then we should be able to easily communicate with her to teach them what to do on their end of things,” Snow said. “Hopefully we will be able to have the world short of one shadow creature by dawn.”
Everyone nodded and rose from the table. Cadence pulled Whitfield to one side as the others left. “Hey, I wanted to thank you for the knife. I have it with me. It was a nice surprise,” she smiled.
“Like I said in the note, you need it more that the arsenal does right now. I just wish I’d let you keep it all along. You might not be in such bad shape.”
Cade shrugged and smiled. “I have it now, when it is going to count.”
Snow peeked back into the conference room. “Is everything alright?”
“Yep, just dandy.” She smiled and walked out of the room.