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    Chapter Eighteen: Corrosion


    Sinajfae

     

    Chapter Eighteen
    Corrosion

     

    After releasing the button on the hotel alarm clock, Madeline rolled onto her back and stared at the vast, white ceiling. Typically, she would have only trusted her own personal alarm, but there wasn’t anything pressing today, other than her trip to Taro’s Library this afternoon. Reflecting on her call to Caslon yesterday, it was comforting hearing his voice despite his never-ending advances. She’d grown so used to them by now that if there came a time where he wasn’t hitting on her, something would feel terribly wrong.

    He’d spoken openly about his relationship with Ms. Bassir. She’d been his prearranged mate, and he’d been more than anxious to fulfill his duties for two main reasons. The first being obvious - Caslon loved women and loved having sex with women. It was his hobby. The second only made sense to Madeline now that she knew of Tiff’s situation. Certain pantherinae families participated in a practice to basically replace themselves with future generations. In Caslon and Tiff’s case, they would have to produce two offspring, one for each of them. Because Caslon’s coupling bore twins, he covered both his own and his sister’s obligations. This took enormous pressure off of Tiff, seeing as a natural pregnancy for her would go against her sexual preferences. With that quota met, both were free to pursue life without further reproductive expectations.

    Madeline’s cell phone rang suddenly.

    Reaching lazily to the bedside table, Madeline lifted her phone and brought the screen within eyesight. It was Cameron.

    “Hello?”

    “Just calling to let you know I spoke with the Elder about that fourth folder,” Cameron began, sounding a lot more awake than Madeline was. “He doesn’t want you to look into it any further. He’s aware of what it likely contains and doesn’t want the knowledge to endanger you.”

    “Did he tell you who’s in the folder?” she questioned. 

    “No,” Cameron replied, “But I need you to promise me you won’t read it.”

    “Alright, fine,” Madeline agreed with a drawn-out sigh. She hated leaving stones unturned. “I promise I won’t poke around in that folder.”

    “Thanks. So am I picking you up at the same time today?”

    “Sure,” she responded. “It worked out really well yesterday, but I might stay longer depending on if there are any other developments. This will be my last trip. I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

    “Or give him time to follow through with whatever he’s up to.”

    “Exactly.”

     

     

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    Levi had spent the past couple of days gathering information on Cameron McCaffrey. Along the way, he determined there was a branch of Madeline’s family tree that was purposely incorrect, and that once bridged, did, in fact, link her to Cameron’s, which was heavily canidae. There wasn’t even so much as a trace of canidae scent to her, indicating her side was ridiculously diluted with human DNA. His research also revealed that the McCaffreys dated back a very long time, intertwining with the famed Orimura clan at one point. It explained her link to the wakizashi, but not the affinity for it. 

    The picture was looking more complete, but there were still some critical pieces missing.

    Rising from the round cafe table the overlooked the city streets through a ceiling-to-floor picture window, Levi headed to the kitchenette to make some coffee. 

    He didn’t expect to hear his phone ring.

    Puzzled as to who would be calling him directly, he was quite surprised to find it was Maseo.

    Moshi, moshi,” he answered, tone reflecting the unexpectedness of the call. 

    “I’ve got some bad news,” Maseo replied, voice sounding a bit shaken, which was very unlike him. “You’ll want to have a seat.”

    Instead of walking back to the table in front of the window, Levi sat on the edge of the bed.

    “Go on.”

    “I’ve heard from a reliable source that number four has passed,” Maseo said solemnly.

    Levi leaned back, phone still braced to his ear, sinking his backside into the mattress.

    For a few moments, nothing was said between them. Maseo dared not speak another word until Levi did. 

    “How?”

    “Reports are indicating murder, with the suspect being number three.”

    “Of course,” Levi replied as he closed his eyes, voice a pained whisper crushed by a heavy heart. “Why would he do that though? He’s already next in line. The fourth was never a threat to him.”

    “Your guess is as good as mine,” Maseo admitted. “I don’t claim to understand the ways of that process.”

    Levi took a deep breath and placed his free hand over his eyes, picturing his brother’s face in the darkness. The mysterious death of mother’s eldest son, Masataro, had been blamed on Levi. And because Levi had missing memories that corresponded to the time of death, he was unable to present a defense. The first thing he remembered was brother's blood on his hands, so he wasn't even 100% sure of his own innocence. His punishment had been exile, putting his fraternal twin next in line for leadership. For obvious reasons, no one liked his brother Matajiro, who had been treated poorly behind their mother’s back since he was born, so Mata had many reasons to detest the courtesans and high-ranking officials. Levi wondered for a moment if popular opinion was attempting to force his mother’s fourth son into a position above Mata, triggering this assassination. Still, Levi couldn’t imagine Mata being a murderer or even ordering someone else to do the deed. 

    “Any word on the twins?” Levi finally asked.

    “No mention of them, so I assume they are both fine,” Maseo informed. “Look, I don’t want to butt into your business, but if I were you, I would go back and put an end to this before… well... you know.”

    Maseo didn’t have to name names. The same thought was on Levi’s mind as well. If Matajiro was disposing of competition, there was only one brother left. The very youngest, and still very much a child, Keigorou.

    “I know.” 

    “And unfortunately, that’s not all the bad news I’ve got.”

    “I can’t see how anything else can be worse,” Levi tempted, “But give it to me.”

    “Gideon is in Japan.”

     

     

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    The rain had passed, but there was still an undeniable chill in the air, prompting Madeline to coddle the teacup that was poured for her by Taro’s assistant, Takeshi. She was able to acquire Cameron’s folder, disappointed that there wasn’t really much to it, and all of the entries were recent as if he’d flown under their radar until meeting up with her. To be honest, she felt incredibly guilty about that, having dragged him into Taro’s focus.

    Her own folder had been a little more interesting at least.

    They had painstakingly traced her back to the McCaffrey that produced a babe with the head of the Orimura clan, whom Madeline assumed was the Elder, only they called him Kage. They also knew Madeline was able to wield his weapons, but they weren’t sure how. The katana job was ordered through Taro as a “compatibility” test. By their notes, she should not be comfortable holding the weapon, but she was. As far as why she was, they were still researching that.

    Confident she had all she came to see, Madeline had since settled back down on the sofa with a second cup of tea and was browsing through a general informational book regard felinae and all the different types. Some of the facts were fascinating, such as the normality of twins and triplets, both identical and otherwise, leading her to the realization that Caslon and Tiff being twins was ordinary.

    After taking another sip of tea, her ears picked up on the subtle hiss-click of an electronic lock coming from the entry door.

    Stepping into the library was none other than Mr. Taro Tetsugawa himself, only he wasn’t alone.

    At his side was an elegant man, with chiseled Nordic facial features, golden-blond hair gathered at the nape of his neck, and the clearest blue eyes she’d ever seen. He smiled cheerfully as he spoke with Taro, radiating with genuine warmth. He had all the characteristics of a classic blue-eyed, blond-haired angel, and Madeline found it difficult to take her eyes off this ray of sunshine as the two men strolled in her direction. She also missed the chance to pick up on the tail-end of their previous conversation before it was pointed in her direction. 

    “Let me introduce you to Miss Madeline McCaffrey,” Taro invited, speaking English, as both men approached. “She’s visiting from the states and is using my family’s library to familiarize herself with the unsavory nature of some of our yokai.”

    As the gentleman approached her, impeccably dressed in a pale gray suit that made his blue eyes even more piercing, Taro handed an unassuming manila envelope to Takeshi and dismissed him. Madeline gently set her cup down on the table in front of the sofa and rose swiftly to greet them, though her eyes were fixed on the unfamiliar, yet captivating, one. 

    “It is a great pleasure to meet you,” the blond smiled brightly as he reached out and took her hand. His deep voice was peppered with an accent that sounded slightly British, with hints of Northern European. “My name is Gideon.”

    His grip was pleasant and politely firm. 

    “Pleased to meet you,” Madeline replied, silently wondering what brought this enchanting man to the library. 

    As he slowly released her hand, Gideon asked her if he and Taro might have a seat, one at the chair adjacent to the sofa and the other next to Madeline. Nodding, she agreed.

    “So what brings you here, Mr. Gideon?” the redhead asked directly.

    Gideon flashed another magnetizing smile.

    “Oh, no… Not ‘Mr. Gideon’, just Gideon, if you please,” he requested eloquently. “And business brings me here. Quite often actually. My company frequently partners with the Tetsugawa conglomerate, and I simply delight in browsing this library. The wonders never cease.”

    Madeline couldn’t agree more in that regard. The amount of information Taro’s family had gathered here was extraordinary. The fact that Gideon was even allowed entry must mean he knew about the world that went on below the surface, unseen to humans. She couldn’t help but wonder how this glorious man obtained permission to such a place.

    “You are probably asking yourself what kind of man would be allowed access to this treasure?” Gideon smiled. 

    This took Madeline off-guard, but she certainly appreciated his straightforward inquiry, and the look on her face was all the confirmation Gideon needed.

    “I’m sort of hybrid vampire mixed with old magic and a large dose of alchemy.”

    Another old vampire. She should have guessed.

    “Come now Miss, don’t give us that sour face,” Gideon chuckled pleasantly. “I’m sure you know a few good vampires, right?”

    Madeline nodded again, his sweet laughter catching her off-guard.

    “I can’t say I blame you though, most vampires say the same thing - “I’m different,” “I don’t kill for sport,” “I have my hunger under control,”, “I will never hurt you,” “You can trust me”... I could go on and on. The fact is that only a vampire that comes from old blood can ever claim any of those statements to be true. Anyone less is a liar, both to themselves and to you.”

    Memories of Scott thought to have been extinguished, swirled like ashes in the corners of her mind, stirred up by Gideon’s words. Scott had said those things and had lied, just as Gideon described. 

    Seeing her gaze drift off, Gideon was instantly aware of the pain behind her stormy-blue eyes. With a gesture that caught Madeline off guard, he reached out and laid his hand comfortingly upon hers.

    “My dear, I am heartfully sorry,” Gideon apologized, voice softened to a soothing caress within Madeline’s ears. “I didn’t realize you’d already been wronged by one of our kind. Allow me to make things right.”

    “It’s in the past,” Madeline attempted to brush the entire exchange off. “There’s really no need for you to be responsible for his… actions.”

    “Would you at least allow me to tempt your appetite?” Gideon begged adorably. “Our initial reason for coming down here was for Taro and I to chat while he delivered some paperwork to Mr. Mito before heading off to a business meeting. After which, I was to be dining alone. I would be absolutely delighted if you were to join me in his stead.”

    Dining? Madeline thought, arching a brow.

    Gideon’s smile widened with innocent gratification.

    “I did mention I am somewhat of a hybrid, did I not?” he smiled, pleased to have gotten such a reaction. “And I hear the view from the restaurant here is outstanding. Please say you will join me?”

    It was with ease that Madeline decided to accept his invitation.

    Smiling, the three stood.

    “You make me feel extremely guilty,” Taro admitted, as he escorted Madeline and Gideon from the library. “But I will host you for dinner later, my old friend.”

    “Think nothing of it. I have a much better lunch companion now,” Gideon teased.

    As they walked cheerful towards the elevator, Gideon graciously offered Madeline his arm and the pair stepped in first, Taro entering behind them. Turning his back to the couple, he pressed two buttons on the console and then turned back around as to not come off as being rude to his guests. 

    “Again, I sincerely apologize, Gideon, for not being able to join you for lunch.”

    “Business is business, Taro,” the angelic gentleman with the golden hair smiled softly. “I know very much how things can get from time to time, but I will see you later, my friend.”

    Taro gave a respectful bow, rising just as the elevator doors opened on his floor, then he stepped out, leaving Madeline and Gideon alone in the confinements of the elevator. She expected herself to feel nervous, given the situation, but she was not. Not even in the slightest. She felt safe standing next to him but wasn’t sure why. After several failed attempts at analyzing her comfort level, she surrendered and decided to just enjoy herself.

    “I have only been here a handful of times, and each time the food has been astounding,” Gideon revealed.

    “Do they know you’re… not human?” Madeline dared ask.

    “That’s the beauty of it,” Gideon glowed with excitement. “They have no idea.” 

    Madeline was on the verge of inquiring deeper into the intriguing idea of a vampire actually eating, but the elevator doors opened, interrupting their candid moment.

    Stretching out before them, was a cozy lobby of Brazilian cherry floors and warm, earthen-colored walls. As they approached the dining room, the scents of meats and spices toyed with Madeline’s appetite. They passed the hostess, who bowed deeply and gestured them inside.

    The view from the top floor of Taro’s building was spectacular, with the city unfolding outward to the mountains far off in the distance.   

    “May we have a window seat?” Madeline asked hopefully, any semblance of her fear of heights gone completely. 

    “I don’t see why not?” Gideon shrugged and then made the request of their waiter.

    Without hesitation, they were seated right at the window, and Madeline’s attention was equally divided between views of the city below and Gideon’s pleasant, animated expressions.

    “Order whatever you wish,” he informed her with pride. “Don’t be shy.”

    Nodding, Madeline accepted a menu and leaned back to inspect it. Each dish sounded lovely, but she had promised herself she’d try Kobe beef while she was in Japan, and this was by far the best opportunity to do so. 

    As they waited for their meal to be brought to the table, Madeline sipped a Red Bordeaux while watching, with great interest, Gideon indulge himself with tea.

    “Stop that,” Gideon smiled sheepishly. “You’re making me blush.”

    Feeling a heat rush to her own cheeks at his remark, Madeline convinced herself it was the wine on an empty stomach and looked away briefly.

    “I’m sorry, it’s just that I didn’t realize it was possible for you to have something like tea.”

    “For me, yes, but not for my kind in general. Although I must say, it’s truly a shame there is such a difference between myself and those of lesser bloodlines. I would dare say that the more common of my kind truly are monsters.”

    “You sound as if you don’t get along well with the less fortunate,” Madeline stated bluntly.

    “It’s not as if I don’t get along with them, but that I am ashamed of them the way a parent would be ashamed of a troublemaking child,” Gideon explained. “They must be punished, but at the same time, they are only reacting to their instincts. It is a sad dilemma, one I’ve dedicated my life to resolve.”

    “Resolve? How exactly?”

    At that moment, the first course of their meal arrived, and as the waiter set the bowls down, Madeline again watched Gideon intensely as he brought a spoon full of clear broth to the curves of his pink lips. 

    “Again, my dear, you are making me blush.”

    “Sorry,” Madeline apologized, lowering her eyes to her own soup bowl.

    “As I was saying, in a perfect world none of us would have to hide, and I’m not just talking about my kind but all kinds. New laws and rules laid out worldwide protecting from persecution and setting up systems of blood donation and registration that my kind would be required to follow or suffer incarceration. Multiple systems would manage all races of earth and keep everyone safe. Could you imagine it? All races could live without fear of persecution or harm. There would finally be peace.”

    Eyes wide, Madeline sat stunned for a few moments. Peace? What a grand dream. And as unlikely as it would be for it to come to fruition, she couldn’t deny the allure of it. The big issue was practicality. How would this plan be able to keep those wanting to do harm from doing so?

    “As romantic as that idea is, evil will always exist alongside free-will. Who would stop the evils of mankind? Or any other race for that matter?” Madeline asked pointedly.

    “Races would police their own, and if needed, assist others to do the same,” Gideon explained. “But I would never expect felinae to police my kind, or humans to police canidae, but my kind could help the felinae police other felinae that might be too much of a handful. Does that sound fair? And there would be a world council overseeing everything. But enough about that. It is still just an embarrassing dream I have.”

    “It’s a good dream,” Madeline agreed, reassuring him. “It would be a beautiful world to live in.”

    “I thank you for your support,” Gideon smiled appreciatively, his clear-blue eyes joyful.

    They made small-talk through much of the meal, interrupted by Gideon repeatedly asking Madeline politely not to stare at his every bite of beef and sip of tea. But she couldn’t help it. She was captivated by the handsome soul in front of her doing something she had been told was impossible for him to do. And not only that, but he ate his meal with refined grace befitting someone schooled in the highest forms of etiquette. It was actually a pleasure to watch him enjoy his meal.

    Gideon gently set his silverware down and stared into Madeline’s eyes.

    “My dear, I have informed you repeatedly that your lingering gaze gives me cause to blush,” he stated, eyes still locked on her’s. “Are you purposefully aiming to elicit an amorous response from me?”

    As much as Gideon referred to blushing, it was only Madeline’s face that bore such a mask.

    “N... n… no,” Madeline stuttered uncontrollably, and then rushed through the words that followed. “That wasn’t my intention at all.”

    Taking a mouthful of wine for courage, she was able to continue her thoughts, only this time more emotionally stable.

    “Please forgive me. Until now I had thought it was impossible for your kind to eat or drink anything other than the obvious. And you are so… exactly the opposite of what I think of in my head when I think of your kind, and very different from the few I have met so far. You are just extruding warmth and life… like… like an angel.”

    There. She said it. No take backs.

    Gideon picked up his silverware once more and smiled down at his plate, color finally coming to his cheeks as he continued his meal.

    “That is a gracious compliment,” he spoke in a deep voice barely above a whisper. “Thank you.”

    Suddenly his eyes went wide, and his face grew pale, prompting Madeline to stiffen in her chair convinced his food had suddenly not settled as it should.

    “What is it?!” she asked urgently.

    “My phone!” Gideon replied, his voice on the edge of panic. “I must have left it in the library box!”

    At that same moment, Madeline realized she too had made that same mistake. She hadn’t gotten her phone, hadn’t contacted Cameron. She could only imagine what state of mind he was in right now wondering what was taking her so long. 

    “Unforgivable,” Gideon murmured. “I can’t be absent from my responsibilities. An entire corporation rests on my shoulders. If I’ve missed an important call…”

    A shadow suddenly loomed over their table.

    It was Takeshi Mito.

    He bowed politely, presenting each of their cell phones and placing them respectively on the table.

    “My apologies,” Takeshi said, bowing again. “These were left secured in the deposit box, and I received an alert communicating you had both left the library without retrieving your devices. Again, my sincere apologies.”

    Gideon scooped up his phone and breathed a sigh of relief. 

    “Ah good, no urgent calls or emails,” he announced. “Luck has smiled upon me.”

    Laughing, Madeline picked up her own phone and likewise had no emails or texts. She did manage to tap off a quick message to Cameron letting him know she was almost done, just eating lunch. His response came almost immediately and boiled down to asking Madeline to be careful and wrap things up.

    Gideon’s bliss did not last too much longer, however, as within a few minutes of receiving his phone, a simple and to-the-point ringtone pinged from the speaker, muffled slightly by the polish wood of the table.

    Picking it up, he frowned.

    “Unfortunately, that’s it for me,” he sighed regretfully. “I’ve got to handle this immediately. Don’t let that interrupt the end of your meal though, my dear. I would be heartbroken if I caused you to miss out on finishing that delicious beef.”

    “I’ll finish it, I promise,” Madeline smiled pleasantly. “Don’t worry.”

    “It was such a pleasure. May we meet again soon.”

    With an elegant bow, Gideon gave a warm smile and turned to leave, bringing his cell phone up to his ear as he walked away from their table and out of the restaurant.

    Madeline finished her main course just as she planned, but the closer she was to the end of her cut of beef, the more anxious she was beginning to feel. Purposefully, she swallowed another large gulp of red wine hoping the alcohol would relax her nerves, but it wasn’t working at all. Her outward appearance indicated nothing was amiss, but internally she was struggling to find the reason for her increasing discomfort.

    Then suddenly she realized what it was.

    Looking to her right, she saw the wide expanse of the city far below her. Nothing but a plate of glass separated her from a height of twenty stories. Devouring the rest of her meal, she signaled the waiter who informed her, as she expected, that Gideon had covered the bill and she was encouraged to have a good evening and to please come again. Rising from her chair, she was confused as to how she sat there for so long and remembered even asking Gideon if they could have a window seat. Was his charm that distracting? Was it something more? Something to do with him being a vampire? Madeline dismissed the thought. He’d done nothing suspicious whatsoever. Didn’t ask for any favors, or even invite her out for another meeting. The whole affair was nothing but pleasant. Perhaps that was it. Perhaps she had just enjoyed his company that much.

    Gathering her things, she slipped her phone into her purse and exited the restaurant, heading to meet Cameron down below.

     

     

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    “Things appear to have gone well?” Taro inquired as he and Gideon watched Madeline exit the building and head across the street.

    “Exceedingly,” Gideon replied, his crystal blue eyes scrutinizing the monitor. His charm, which he used to his advantage daily, was not lost on Madeline.

    “It is an honor to assist with Miss Madeline,” Taro said. “We have extended a guiding hand, offering her information as you suggested.”

    There was no lip-service in his comment. No insincere flattery. Gideon was at the forefront of modernizing the survival of vampires everywhere. It was his long-term goal to move his allies into planetary leadership roles. To indirectly rule over humankind, therefore ensuring that none of his kind would ever fall victim to humanity again. Already, there were many allies controlling world governments from behind the scenes, with laws already being set into motion to protect his kind by taking certain rights away from others. Gideon was known for his patience, his long game, but recent information pointed to a way to fast-track his plans, and he was not about to let that slip by.

    “Yes, guiding her is the key. Providing her with incentive. She is the type of woman that struggles tirelessly against a leash but doesn’t mind a delicate ankle chain as long as it flatters her. She loves the convenience of freedom, but deep down wants to be guarded by someone she knows has the power to protect her. I will pay her a visit this evening. See if I can get the ball rolling so-to-speak.”

     

     

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    Listening in on half the conversation Cameron was having with the Elder over the phone was frustrating. As soon as she’d told Cam who she had lunch with, the canidae blew up, pacing her hotel room in disbelief and chastising her for not contacting him immediately, despite the fact that Madeline had no idea that Gideon had any importance outside of the business world. She argued with him, quite heatedly, that should couldn’t have possibly been at fault and that she was never in any danger. It was at that point Cameron made the call to get orders from the Elder.

    “Yes, I will tell her,” Cameron confirmed respectfully. “Under no circumstances. Got it.”

    Ending the call, he ran his hand through his spiky amber hair and slipped his phone into his pocket. 

    “Under no circumstances are you to go back to that building,” Cameron ordered. “Gideon is ridiculously dangerous.”

    “Are you sure we’re talking about the same person?”

    “I’m positive. Why do I get the feeling you don’t believe me?”

    Madeline gave a sarcastic shrug. Gideon was the utmost gentleman. Goodness just emulated from him. Clearly, Cameron and the Elder had this wrong.

    “Give me an example of something horrible he’s done,” Madeline asked.

    “How about we start with the biggest one then,” Cameron retorted, raising his voice. “He tested out some theories on how much humans would put up with the internment of other humans during World War II. He was able to push it really far, obviously, since people ended up getting gassed at the cumulation of it all.”

    “You’re saying Gideon is Hitler?” Madeline questioned in disbelief.

    “No, I am saying he influenced the Third Reich,” Cameron explained. “He is working toward a world where he and his allies are in charge, and the rest of can either enjoy the life they give us, be punished for refusing.”

    “He told me about his plan,” she revealed. “The way he explained it, it would bring peace to everyone. No race would have to suffer at the hands of another unless they didn’t follow the rules. It seemed like a small price to pay for peace.”

    “Are you crazy?” Cameron replied loudly. “I can’t believe you’re even considering his point of view! Would you believe what I am saying if it came out of Levi’s mouth instead?”

    Madeline froze. 

    “That’s what I thought.”

    He pulled a chair to the edge of the bed were Madeline sat.

    “Listen, it’s okay if you’re suspicious of what I’m telling you. I just need you to promise me you won’t go back to Taro’s building anymore, and you won’t have any more contact with Gideon, okay? At least until I can get you more information on him. Something that will allow you to form your own opinion. Promise?”

    “Fine.”

    “Okay,” Cameron smiled. “And I need to head out to a pack meeting, so just hang out here and order room service or something if you’re hungry. I just think that after today you need to lay low.”

    “Sure.”

    Cameron’s smile faded. She was being sassy, but at least it appeared she would follow his instructions, she just didn’t like them.

    “Lock the door behind me?”

    Dragging herself out of bed and stomping her feet in protest, Madeline followed Cameron to the door, and after closing it, slid the bar lock into place. Retrieving her handheld game console from her locked suitcase, she climbed back into bed and played for a few hours until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer.

    She was never aware that around 2 a.m. someone had unlocked her hotel room door with a spare key. Nor did she hear them use the Do Not Disturb hanger to expertly push the U bar away from the bar lock. The door quietly opened, and a man carrying a saddleback briefcase was momentarily silhouetted by the light in the outside hall before the door shut and the room was drowned in darkness once more. He approached the bed upon which Madeline slept, then carefully set his briefcase down on the small table in the corner. Slipping his hand into his coat pocket, he removed a tiny glass bottle capped with an eye-drop stopper and leaned over the sleeping redhead. With a satisfied smile, he twisted the cap off, bringing the dropper close to Madeline’s lips. With a cautious squeeze of the rubber, Gideon let fall a single drop of liquid onto her lower lip, watching with interest as it caused a glistening reflection. 

    Sensing the moisture, the sleeping Madeline instinctively licked her lips, unknowingly letting herself be sedated. It took only a few minutes before she was in too deep of a sleep to be woken by conventional means.

    “There, there, my dear,” Gideon purred, stroking her cheek. “Such intriguing genetics you have. Time to unravel your story.”

    Slipping out of his coat, he folded it over the back of the chair near the table and rolled up the sleeves of his white dress shirt. Flipping on the nightstand light as well as the one at the table, he unlocked his briefcase and removed a notebook computer along with a gem-cutter’s eyeglass, some unidentified vials, and small picks. Stepping back to the nightstand where Madeline’s phone lay charging, he disconnected it from the cable. From observing her at the restaurant, he was aware she had both a fingerprint and a code security step implemented.  He removed the SIM card from her phone and slid it into a card reader plugged into his laptop began to copy Madeline’s card. After the card was copied, Gideon briefly carried his laptop to the sleeping redhead and scanned her fingerprint into the reader. He now had all he needed to set her phone up for MiTM control of her communications. Satisfied, he returned the SIM card to Madeline’s phone. 

    Leaning back over Madeline, he gently lifted her head and brushed her hair to the top of the pillow with his free hand. At long last, he would now be able to examine her necklace.

    He first verified that there was no clasp by running his slender fingers entirely around the chain. From Scott’s description, and the accounts of the fae sent to steal it, the fastener must only respond to Madeline, and disappear otherwise. Gideon deduced this was one of the protection measures embedded into the piece of jewelry. The other known protection was the visual camouflage it took on once skin contact with Madeline was completely broken. Gideon wasn’t sure if at that point the necklace was detectable by touch or not, and he wasn’t at liberty to test that particular characteristic, but that was unimportant. What was important was the characteristics of the opal.

    Reaching back into the briefcase, he carefully removed a white cloth. Unfolding it revealed it was painted an arcane, alchemical pattern that Gideon had meticulously prepared weeks ago using an enormous amount of precious resources. Painstakingly created, it would allow him to detect any spells and layers in objects much like an MRI detect anomalies in the body. It was his first time using such a tool, and he didn’t come up with the technique entirely on his own. 

    He lifted the opal pendant from Madeline’s skin and placed the cloth under it so that setting the opal back down caused it to rest in the center of the intricate pattern. Then carefully, anxiously, he took a delicate vial out of a foam-cushioned box and brought it to the cloth. The vial contained what was barely a drop of magic-infused fae blood. It had taken weeks of planning to procure this one perfect drop, and Gideon hoped it paid off. 

    With precise control, Gideon let the single drop fall onto the face of the opal and then run slowly down through the pendant’s filigree setting and onto the cloth below, soaking into the pattern. 

    Within moments, the pattern burned away from the linen like a lit fuse, its glowing red symbols and equations rising up through the pendant, stopping to hover a few inches from the opal. The pattern rotated on its many axes until it came to resemble a celestial star map. Grabbing his eyeglass, Gideon wasted no time analyzing the structure of the spells. 

    As he surmised, there were multiple spells intertwined with the necklace and the chain, in such a way that to remove any one of them would cause the others to fail, collapsing the entire structure and rendering the piece useless.

    Grabbing his notebook, Gideon began to jot the four spells down. They were mostly in an ancient script that only fae aristocrats would use. He deciphered the top layer as the protective element, used to keep the necklace unusable to anyone but Madeline. The next layer was surprisingly a reversal spell, which Gideon wasn’t expecting, yet still found intriguing, because it meant the two spells beneath it were actually producing the opposite effect than what was originally intended when the necklace was initially enchanted. 

    This led him to believe that Madeline wasn’t the intended wearer, but that the necklace had been so troublesome, and perhaps even taboo, to make, it was more practical to build upon it rather than disposing of it.

    It became apparent by examining the next level that the language used was not something he could easily translate. The language was too unfamiliar. Something about allowing entry. The final layer was even more ambiguous, with the only word he was able to make out was the ancient symbol for fae. Leaning back into the nearby chair, he went over his notes, making sure he had documented the language of the spells exactly so he could translate them later.

    Back to investigating the stone once more, Gideon took a careful look at the composition. There was one vital element he was looking for, one that would make this the necklace, and it was so well hidden that one would only see it if they were looking specifically for it.

    “Ah,” he sighed out loud, a wide grin indicating he was extremely pleased with his discovery.

    The presence of bone within the opal confirmed the story he was told about the necklace. 

    He was intimate with the sister of its creator, who provided the information in exchange for an alliance. She told Gideon the story of how her brother enlisted her help with the removal of one of his ribs. Knowing body parts were only required for forgotten, forbidden spells, she warned her brother of this but was told to mind her own business. She helped him with the painful surgical procedure and had kept her mouth shut afterward, never quite sure what had become of it. Sometime later, her brother gave a necklace to a girl as a gift. The only reason she remembered the event was of how odd it was for a fae of the court to give commoner fae anything, let alone a beautiful jewel. What made it even more suspicious was how often the same fae girl came and went from The Veil. Gideon’s confidant had been searching for the necklace’s whereabouts for a very, very long time, finally coming across it a mere three years ago around the neck of a human girl.

    Double-checking that his transcripts were accurate, Gideon noticed something peculiar happening to one of the axes. The sister’s pure fae blood he’d dropped onto the opal had begun to shift the Northern axis of the protection spell. Never one to let a discovery go undocumented, Gideon patiently watched, taking notes as the thin red glow of the point fizzled just enough that there was now the most minuscule of gaps. A single spark then dropped down a level and brightening a few of the symbols in the reversal spell before fading out and doing no further harm. 

    Gideon recorded that in his notebook too, describing the symbols that were affected.

    Then on a hunch, he traced the silver chain once more with his long fingers.

    And felt a clasp.

    The slip of the axis must have triggered a fault in the protection spell, but did it have any affect on the reversal spell?

    He studied Madeline intently, silently staring at the symbols mapped out above her sleeping body, and watching the rise and fall of her breasts with every breath. After about twenty minutes, it happened. There was an incredibly faint shimmer of fae magic that rolled like an ocean wave over her body before disappearing at the tips of her limbs.

    Gideon smiled widely and wickedly, and for the first time in a great while he was in a hurry to decipher this puzzle.

    Quietly gathering up his equipment and removing the now unmarked linen from her chest, he turned off the lights and exited the room with no one the wiser.

    Edited by Sinajfae

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