Dawn of the Artifacts II: Midnight
Midnight Chapter Opening
Aina looked up at the black-haired elf and scowled. He didn’t flinch, just shrugged and wandered over to help himself to the hot coffee she kept on a sideboard. She had an elegant office she used to meet with those she wished to intimidate or impress. This office, with its comfortable leather couches and battered desk, was where she did her real work.
“How?” she asked, leaning back in her chair, her temper simmering.
“They disabled the tags in the case immediately—but they didn’t find the stealth tag. So when we pinged it, we located them. Moved to intercept. There was a ... an ... incident,” he said. He cleared his throat, took a quick sip of coffee. She knew the “incident.” Two small shipping vessels, one exploding, the other sinking with flames shooting up to the sky — it had been the leading story two weeks ago on the evening news.
“Unfortunately, my hacker was forced to deal with the fallout of the, ah, incident. When he resumed pinging for the tag, it’d gone non-responsive. The team’s rigger was killed in the explosion, and I know at least one other was injured. And their transportation plans were screwed,” he said with a slight smile. “We started working on using magic to track the item, and also tried to ID the rigger. Took a while.”
Aina raised one white eyebrow, giving him a look. He shrugged.
“Body was a bit crispy. Had to bring in an expert.”
“Indeed. And the ritual tracking?”
“Their mage is good. She kept it on the move, kept it within wards, did everything right to slow us down. When we finally tracked it down, she was ready. We engaged them outside of Charleston, but they,” this time, he scowled. “They got away again.”
“You’re losing your touch, Taggert,” Aina said. “Why Charleston?”
“They were heading for CAS, making a run for New Orleans—or at least, that’s what the smuggler we questioned said,” he shrugged again, and Aina didn’t ask how they’d questioned the smuggler. “We’ve been tracking them across UCAS. Lexington, St. Louis, Springfield. Then they just ... disappeared.”
Aina ground her teeth together.
“We did finally get an ID on the rigger, though,” he said. “Worked for a team headed by a mage named Sonora. She’s known to work for Aztechnology. My guess is she was supposed to get it to Aztlan. We’ve made getting out of UCAS hard for her, burning her contacts. She’s on her own — wherever she is.”
“Aztechnology? Assholes. They’ve been pissed ever since the will came out.” Aina ran her hands through her short white hair. “You’ve got good instincts, Taggert. What do you think?”
“I think she’s gone to ground. Regrouping. Trying to figure out what to do. And if I wanted to disappear, off the grid, hide from people tracking me with magic, with tech, there’s one place I’d go.”