Her stomach growled as Joe slid a heaping plate of food in front of her. She pushed the folder to the side to focus on lunch. Grease-soaked fries, cheese so hot it burned her mouth, and chunks of real bacon was the perfect remedy for too many hours behind the wheel. She cleared half the plate before stopping to take a drink, the angry edge of hunger sated.
“Spectre isn’t your run-of-the-mill talented,” Joe said with a lingering look. “He’s old, and he’s nasty. Bastard don’t like stayin’ dead.”
“Is it because he’s a necromancer?” she asked.
“Doubtful. Even powerful talented stay down when you put ’em there—provided you do the job right the first time.” He tapped the bar counter with two fingers. “But he’s worked some kind of mojo, keeps him safe. Nobody’s managed to keep him dead.”
“So I’ve seen.” Dani clucked her tongue and finished her fries before pushing the plate to the side. “Same shit I heard from everybody else.” She waited a beat. “More or less.”
“Time was, there were weapons capable of handling things like him.” Joe wiped at the scarred counter with a rag, keeping an eye on her as he did.
“Old weapons. Older ’n pretty much anything but lore these days. Called veilblades. Nobody’s seen one in…a long time. But rumor is, there’s one up in Maryland.”
“Rumor?” Dani opened the folder and scanned the details as Joe spoke.
“You gotta understand, Firecracker, we’re dealing with rumors. And you—”
“Know how hunters talk.” She finished his sentence for him with a smile. “Yeah, but you’re the one who taught me most every rumor started with a seed of truth, right?” She cocked an eyebrow. “Nobody has anything concrete. Fucking everybody has heard of Spectre, but he might as well be Valkyrie.”
“Valkyrie is no joke.” Joe’s eyes slid away, and Dani filed away the “tell” for later.
“Okay, sure. But there isn’t a trail. No real name, no hometown, no associates. It’s like he’s made of smoke and mirrors. Just…a nightmare for baby hunters.” She finished her beer with a scowl. “Except he’s real.”
“Way back when, there was a well-known family of hunters up in Dawson,” Joe said. “Capable of taking out nastier things than most of the hunters working these days.”
“It’s been years since anybody caught up with ’em. They worked outta Dawson for a long time, and then overnight, they were gone.” He shrugged and his gaze slid away from hers for the second time in as many minutes.
“Dawson…the name sounds familiar but…”
“It’s a little spot, up on Catoctin Mountain.”
“And what? You think this veilblade is still up there?” Dani raised an eyebrow.
“Maybe. Veilblades are old as legend and just as powerful. The hunters up there had at least one, maybe two. And after the family disappeared…well those blades aren’t the sort of weapon that disappears without a trace.” His eyes slide away from Dani’s again, as though keeping something from her.
“Why did they matter so much?”
“I’ve only got tidbits to go on.”
“So share with the class.” Dani gestured widely.
“You know the stories about the first hunters, right? Bladesingers, able to cut through wraiths like they were smoke and shadows. A blade for each of ’em. The Black family had a pedigree in hunting when they were still around.”
“And they up and poofed?”
Dani shifted in her seat and leaned forward, hungry for more information. Growing up without family, without anybody until she was a teenager, made hunting different for her than for other lifers. They’d been raised in the life, or trained by family like it was a legacy they needed to uphold. For her it wasn’t any of that, it just felt right. Down to the marrow of her bones she was a hunter, so hearing about a family that shared her last name and had a way with hunting wasn’t easy. She didn’t want to think about it, especially not if they were all gone.
“Like I said, they disappeared overnight. Nobody knew what went down, but sentinels locked the place down.” Joe tossed the rag under the counter and avoided her eyes.
Dani blinked and sat back, rubbing a hand over her face. Wasn’t this what she’d wanted? What she’d been asking and hoping and praying for? Something that might help her take Spectre down and keep him there. But things were getting complicated fast.
She’d left Graham dead and staring at her from the ground of a dirty warehouse in Alabama, but Spectre had followed her, chased her across eight months and twelve states. Only quick thinking and every spell and precaution in the book had kept her alive.
Sentinels elevated this to a whole new level though. There was a magical ecosystem in the world, three basic branches that tried to avoid each other. Hunters handled the rogue elements. Talented and casters could enjoy their lives without worrying about having their face blown off, so long as they didn’t screw up. And sentinels kept the peace and protected the land. They made sure that the supernatural didn’t spill over into the normal world and tried to keep regular people from sticking their nose in where it didn’t belong.
“Do you know the sentinels up there? Any of the talented? Anybody?” Dani insinuated the real question under her words. Can we trust these rumors if they involve sentinels? No way was she crossing one if she didn’t have to.
“Yeah, yeah I do.” Joe cracked open a second beer and drained half in a single long swallow. “I knew the hunters back then. Ben.” He tipped the bottle in his hand, staring at the label as though it would explain something to him. “And the Lockgrove family.”
“As in Ephraim ‘I own half of the antique relics on the market’ Lockgrove?” Dani’s jaw dropped. “You’ve been holding out on me.”
“Don’t get so excited. Ephraim handed over the biz to his son, who is…not the man his father is.”
“So we can trust this rumor then. It isn’t just bullshit from the road.”
“It isn’t just BS from the road,” Joe said.
“So the hunters. They never…came back?”
“Only one of ’em. In a body bag. Blade never showed up either, and after they went down, Spectre got bolder. More active than he’d been in a long time.”
“So Dawson is my best shot.”
“Darlin, I think it might be the only shot.”
“Guess that settles it then, huh? Maryland here I come.”