Max shrugged. “Projecting is tough on a J, right?” He continued without waiting for an answer, “Why don’t you give us a recap instead?” His eyes were piercing. “If Bonner really is in a cooperative mood, we don’t know how soon you might have to scan him again.”
He was protecting her. The knowledge made her heart expand until it threatened to consume her. Taking a deep breath, holding that powerful emotion like the treasure it was, Sophia described what she’d seen.
“Fog Valley Track,” Max said, already on the phone to the computer techs at Enforcement. “Yeah, how many hits?” A pause. “Narrow it down to a location with a lot of firs, relatively isolated—or it would’ve been five years ago; maybe off a highway.”
Sophia raised her hand to catch his attention. “The temperature was cool, though the position of the sun suggested it was close to midday.” Her mind filtered out the distractions of the other cars, Bonner’s thoughts, and saw through to the other side of the road. “There was a billboard advertising a harvest festival as he turned out of the track.”
Max repeated her words to the computer tech, waited a few moments. “I owe you a drink. Send everything through to D2, comm station three. And encrypt it, just in case someone’s scanning the prison line.” Hanging up, he said, “We’ve got three mentions of a Fog Valley Track that might match,” he said.
“The track was very rough,” Sophia pointed out. “Could be it’s not on the maps at all.”
“Yeah.” A grim look. “But we’ll worry about that after we check out these images.”
Those images were transmitted moments later. Sophia said, “That one,” almost before she was aware of opening her mouth.
Gwyneth Hayley’s last resting place lay deep within a snow-capped mountain range.
Faith NightStar, daughter of Councilor Anthony Kyriakus and the most powerful foreseer in the world, walked out into the forest that surrounded the home she shared with her changeling mate, hoping the fresh air would melt away the fog that clouded her mind. Deep and viscous, damp and clammy, it felt almost real—the chill of it making her rub her hands up and down her arms.
“Something bad is coming,” she said out loud, trying to think past the thick gray soup that hid everything from view. “Fire and fog and screams and metal.” They were all connected. The fog touched those in the center, but so did the flames and the stabbing, cutting violence of metal.
She began to pace restlessly across the pine needles that littered the forest floor, her gut twisted up with the knowledge that someone was going to die. Tears pricked her eyes, burned in her throat. “Fire and fog and screams and metal.”
But no matter how many times she repeated that, no matter how many times she tried to part the fog, all she got was a crushing sense of impending horror.
Evil does exist. It may not be listed in any official manual, may be considered an emotional construct, but as Js, you must accept that there will come a time when you will be faced by such malevolence that it will challenge all that you know, all that you believe you are.
—Sophia Russo (J) to trainee Js (unofficial seminar held
at an undisclosed site)
Four hours after Sophia pinpointed the location, the entire team, complete with a forensic unit, got out of their vehicles at the forested end of Fog Valley Track. Though the ground was currently clear, the air up here carried a touch of ice, the threat of snow lingering in the air.
“You, me, and Bart,” Max said to Sophia. “We go in, see if we can eyeball anything. If that fails, we send in the dogs.” It was just nudging five, but the winter sunlight was fading fast. It would’ve been more sensible to wait until the next day, but an unspoken thought united them all—they couldn’t bear to leave Gwyn alone and cold in the dark any longer.
Nodding, Sophia took the lead. “The undergrowth has gotten considerably thicker in the years since Bonner was here.”
“At least the path’s still negotiable,” Bart said, pushing a branch out of his way as he and Max followed Sophia’s shorter form. “It’ll be a bitch to process though once we find the grave.”
Max shot out a hand to grip Sophia’s upper arm when she stumbled over a rock. “Thank you, Detective.” A calm, even voice, but Max had felt the slight tremor in her muscles, knew his Sophie was hanging on through sheer, stubborn grit.
“Anything look familiar?” Dropping her arm, Max backed off, aware of Bart staring at him.
“Not so far.”
Bart nudged Max, his voice low. “You know Psy don’t like to be touched.”
“They also probably don’t like to fall flat on their faces.”
“True.” Blowing out a breath, Bart shook his head. “I haven’t called Gwyn’s parents yet.” The name fell easily from the prosecutor’s tongue—like Max, he’d come to intimately know the short life and lost dreams of each and every girl.
“Neither have I,” Max said, remembering Gwyn’s mile-wide smile, her long runner’s legs, with an anger that hadn’t dulled in the intervening years. “No use ripping the scab off that wound unless we can give them some peace.”
Sophia went motionless up ahead, her head angled toward a twisted old tree on the edge of the path. “I saw that.” It was almost soundless.
Max kept an eye on her as she stepped off the path and began to jog forward. Not more than five minutes into it, she jerked left and clambered onto a fallen log. But she didn’t step off on the other side. Reaching her, Max jumped up on her right, as Bart did the same on her left.