Death is only elusive when you search for him, and for Nena and her friends he's a mystery wrapped in an enigma. His motives are unknown and his influence beyond their reach, but with the fate of the world on their shoulders they're not lying down on the job. Fortunately, the information they gathered from Matt's computer leads Nena and her new companions to one of the largest firms in the city, Rogue Rough, Incorporated.
A brief infiltration shows them they're on the right track, but they're going to need some insider help to get to the bottom of things. Fortunately, Nena knows someone on the inside, her father. The only problem is that once someone knows about the Agency they have to become a part of it, and there's no exceptions for the living.
Now Nena must make the choice to once more include her father in her life or keep him in the dark about her new existence. Either way Death is coming for them all, and when he comes it will mean the end of everything.
White doors. White halls. White floors. Rinse and repeat.
Those were the thoughts that wandered through Nena’s mind as she herself wandered the blistering-white halls of the Agency.
“This place is a maze. . .” Nena muttered as she turned a corner to another long white hall. She stopped and brushed her hand over the pin she now wore at all times. It was Matt’s lucky square pin with a pair of black glasses on the front. “Maybe I should’ve dropped some bread crumbs behind me.”
“The demons would have eaten them.”
The voice came from directly behind her. Nena spun around and found herself face-to-face with the smiling, and handsome, Jack O’Kent.
She clutched her chest over her still heart and glared at him. “Do you really have to float up on me like that? Maybe you could rattle some chains or something.”
He pulled out the pockets of his tan overcoat to reveal their emptiness. “I left my chains in my other coat, but-"
he tucked his pockets back into their places and swept his eyes over the area, “- it wouldn’t be a bad idea. It might liven this dead place up.”
She followed his gaze and wrinkled her nose. “For this place beings owned by the Devil it sure is white.”
Jack nodded. “Yes. His nickname of the Prince of Darkness is a little overstated.”
“Maybe they should’ve called him the Prince of Blindness,” she suggested.
He chuckled. “I’ll have to tell him that when we meet. That is, if he hasn’t seen it already.”
Nena furrowed her brow as she looked up at him. “What do you mean?”
He pointed up at the ceiling tiles. “See those dimples near the lights?”
Nena squinted against the harsh light and noticed a small round bump about four inches in diameter and two inches out from the ceiling. “Yeah, why?”
“Cameras,” he told her. He smiled and waved at the bump. “They see everything we’re doing.”
Nena paled and whipped her head to Jack. “Even in our rooms?”
He nodded. “Even in our rooms.”
She cringed. “That’s sick.”
“That’s the way Scratch plays,” he told her.
Nena’s eyes flickered up to him and she arched an eyebrow. “You really like to tempt fate, don’t you? By bothering him, I mean.”
He shook his head. “Scratch isn’t my fate, at least that’s my plan, and speaking of plans, Scratch has one that he wants to talk to us about. I’ve got a couple of things to do, so you think you could go get Pete for me?”
She blinked at him. “Me? But I don’t even know where he is.”
He glanced at his watch. “It’s a little before sunset, so he should still be in his room.”
Nena jabbed a finger at the white walls. “And I don’t know my way around here. Heck, I don’t even know where we are right now.”
Jack smiled as he stepped backward beside a door and turned the knob. The door swung open to reveal Nena’s own room. “Right where you started.”
She face fell and she dropped her hand to her side. “See? Totally useless.”
“Then it’ll be good practice for finding your way around here. Besides, he’s just two intersections beyond here and in the room with the scratch on the door,” he told her.
Nena folded her arms over her chest and glared at him. “You know, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
A sly smile flashed across his lips. “That depends on if we’re comparing birth dates.”
Her eyebrows sank lower. “I may not be a good liar, but I know when somebody’s hiding something, and you’re hiding something from me.”
“Why would I hide something from such a lovely woman?” he countered.
“Then why don’t you go wake him up?” she returned.
He sheepishly grinned. “To be honest, he’s a little sore at everyone. Azazel took Matt’s data from him before he was finished with it, and he really hates to be interrupted.”
She shook her head. “Then I’m definitely not-” Jack grabbed her shoulders and spun her in a one-eighty to face the opposite direction. She teetered and would have tottered into the wall if he didn’t have a good grip on her.
“I knew you could do it!” he exclaimed as he gave her a good hard push down the hall. She stumbled a few feet before she turned to frown at him. He was already ten yards down the hall with his back turned to her and fast disappearing. Jack gave a wave over his shoulder. “When you find him tell him to take you both to the conference room. He’ll know what that means. Later.”
Nena balled her hands into fists at her sides and stomped her foot on the floor. “You. . .you. . .you dead idiot!”
“Undead,” he called out before he disappeared around a corner.
“You’re still an idiot!” she shouted.
Her voice echoed down the hall, but didn’t receive a response. Nena growled, spun on her heels, and nearly fell over. She caught herself and marched down the hall.
“Damn him. . .” Nena grumbled as she made her way down the hall with its endless, unmarked doors on either side of her.
“That would be a long list around here,” a voice quipped.
Nena spun around to find Azazel behind her. The woman was dressed to perfection in her business attire. A cold smile lay on her lips as she walked up to stand before Nena. She put a hand on her hip as her hard eyes looked Nena over. “You look like a little lost lamb. Can I be your shepherd?”
Nena took a step back and shook her head. “I think I’d rather find my own way back to the barn, if that’s okay with you.”
Azazel dropped her arms to her sides and shrugged. “If that is what you want.” She strode past Nena, but paused when they stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Azazel leaned toward her and her cool breath wafted over Nena’s skin, chilling her to her bones. “You know, your streak of independence is admirable, but to follow a great leader into hell itself-” she winked at Nena, “-that is true courage. Just think about it.” She strolled away.
Nena’s heart didn’t stop racing until the clack of Azazel’s heels faded into the distance. She gathered herself and hurried forward past the two intersections. Her eyes swept over the doors until she froze before one of them. The white door looked like everyone else’s except for five long claw marks down the front.
Nena furrowed her brow as she raised her hand to the marks. She stretched out her fingers and pressed them against the deep cuts. They fit perfectly into the jagged grooves.
Nena leaned toward it, took a deep breath, and knocked. “Peter? Pete? Mr.-um, Pete?”
There was no answer. She tried the door. The knob proved to be unlocked. She opened the door and peeked inside. The room was as plain as her own with its bland asylum-esque style of white walls and floors. A few spots on the ceiling were spotted with small, jagged holes. They coincided with the locations of two cameras that, from their glossy surfaces, showed they were new.
There was a small black end table on the right, and between that and the wall sat a long, low oblong box. The color faded from Nena’s face when she recognized the box for what it was, a coffin.
Nena swallowed the lump in her throat and stepped inside. She reluctantly shut the door behind herself and eased herself over to the coffin. The young woman was a foot away from the death box when she noticed a narrow table against the far left wall. She furrowed her brow and walked over to it.
The contents were sparse. A black laptop sat to the left, its lid shut to her prying eyes. There was a black wooden box with a lid on the right side of the table top. She opened the lid and peeked inside. The small white bag that typically hung around Peter’s neck lay on black felt. She tipped the mouth open and viewed the bits of silver Peter used as a weapon. They were stacked haphazardly one atop the other. She shut the bag and box, and swept her eyes over the object in the center of the table.
It was a large picture frame kept upright by a stiff back leg. The wooden frame was aged by countless years, and only the copious amounts of varnish kept the wood from falling to dust. In the frame was placed a hand-drawn sketch of a small cottage with a thatched roof. In front of the cottage was a wooden bench, and upon that bench sat a beautiful woman of twenty. She had a half-finished reed basket in her lap, but the woman looked straight at the viewer. There was a soft smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes that made Nena smile.
“What are you doing?”
Nena gasped and spun around. A foot behind her stood Peter in all his black glory. His eyes were narrowed and lit with a color as red as hellfire.
She clutched the picture to her chest as shrank from his fury. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”
He held out his hand to her. “Give it to me.” Nena handed the picture to him. Peter didn’t so much as glance at the image before he pushed her aside and set the frame back on the table. He turned to her and his look had cooled some. “What are you doing in my room?”
She took a step back and nervously smiled at him. “Jack told me to come get you.” His expression darkened. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I-it’s in the conference room.”
Peter pursed his lips, but grabbed the small white bag from inside the black box and strode past her to the door. He paused in the doorway and glanced up at the ceiling. His bright eyes narrowed and two of his pieces of silver shot out of the bag and slammed into the cameras, shattering them into tiny bits of glass that fell to the floor. The pieces flew back into the bag.
Peter hung it around his neck and lifted his gaze to the startled woman. “Are you coming?” he snapped from the open doorway. She nodded and took a step toward him, but the picture caught her attention. The woman’s smile seemed a little sadder than before. “Miss Tacitas,” he called out.
“Coming!” she yelped as she hurried after him.
Peter shut the door behind them and led the way down the hall. Nena struggled to keep up with his fast pace, but she had enough energy to speak. “Weren’t those cameras?”
He answered without looking at her. “Yes.”
“They looked kind of new.”
“They were installed while I slept.”
“Ah. So-um, that picture was nice. Where’d you get it?”
She arched an eyebrow. “So it was a gift?”
“Did you steal it?”
Peter’s expression tensed. “No. I drew that picture.”
Nena’s eyes widened. “You can draw?” His eyes flickered over his shoulder at her. She held up her hands in front of her. “I didn’t mean anything. I mean, it’s cool that you can draw, I just didn’t-well, you didn’t tell me-”
“You failed to ask,” he countered.
She snorted. “I don’t think that’s high on my list of things to ask you.”
He arched an eyebrow and glanced over his shoulder at her. “You have a list?”
She shrugged. “Well, yeah. I mean, you’re a vampire. Who wouldn’t have a list?”
Peter returned his attention forward and pursed his lips. “I would rather not answer them.”
Nena’s face fell. “Why not?”
He stopped at a pair of white double doors and turned to her. “Because we have arrived.”
She blinked at him as he opened one of the doors. “Oh. Right. I knew that.”