Book 2, Chapter 082

Meanwhile, inside the theatre, JD was so wrapped up in the performance that he totally forgot himself. He bolted to his feet, shouting: “No, good king! Trust not treacherous Macbeth! He’s gonna shiv you in your sleep!”

The theatre went absolutely silent for a few seconds… then the actors bravely shouldered on as though there hadn’t just been a huge disturbance in their audience.

JD, now acutely aware that everyone was staring daggers at him — not just the people he’d stopped from chasing after Rachel — looked around the theatre audience sheepishly.

“Gee,” he muttered to himself as he slowly sank back down into his seat. “I could really use some sort of huge distraction right about now.”

And then the auditorium doors burst open. JD looked, as did most of the audience, and saw men in masks, carrying guns, come storming down the aisles. The lead one — Mister Six — fired a shotgun shell into the ceiling, sending plaster raining down on the crowd of theatre patrons.

“Nobody move!” he screamed. “This is a robbery. Throw your valuables into the aisles and no one gets shot in the face!”

JD gawked at the thugs and then looked up at the ceiling. He gave a thumbs up to whatever force drove the universe. “Dude,” he exclaimed, “that’s perfect!”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 081

While Michael was driving Rachel to his house, and Sakura and a JSSDA agent were following, and Ean was face down on the floor of his apartment and JD was starting to get into the first act of Macbeth, the kidnappers Michael had arranged for were gathering to storm the theatre. There were eight of them: all members of a small time gang that had been unexpectedly approached by a representative of The Family and given an offer they couldn’t refuse.

All they had to do was get in, grab the girl and her date; then get out and they would be in. Official members of The Family, with all the respect and street cred that entailed.

Their leader looked over his group. They were all armed with whatever they’d been able to scrounge up for the job: pistols mostly, with a couple of shotguns mixed in. He himself had a machine gun he’d been keeping as a trump card for a special occasion. They were all wearing hockey masks to hide their idenitites, though each one had a number painted over it so they could easily tell each other apart. He, of course, was Mister One.

If Misters Two through Eight were nervous, they didn’t show it.

If anything, they looked eager. This was their ticket to the big leagues. If they pulled this off, they’d stop being penny ante thugs and take their place as honest to god enforcers. With The Family backing them, their petty turf wars would be over: all opposition would get rolled over. Flattened.

“Alright,” Mister One said. His guys grinned back at him. “Remember: When we barge in, go ahead and grab whatever you want to make it look like a robbery. Then we’ll nab the girl as a ‘hostage’ and bolt before the cops get there. And then we’re set for life. So let’s do this.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 080

When Michael peeled out of the parking lot, Sakura was hiding behind one of the other parked cars. She watched the windowless van pull away. Then the car Sakura was hiding behind — a taxi, with a driver who struck her as suspiciously reminiscent of a JSSDA agent, pulled out and started tailing it. Sakura sighed and slipped into the shadows of another vehicle.

<“Hell,”> she muttered to herself. <“Do I even want to get involved in this? I don’t owe the JSSDA anything — and I hate wizards.”> The balding guy had mentioned becoming king of the arcane. And the undead. <“Especially wizards that deal with death magic.”>

She fidgeted for just a second before she was forced to say something else. <“But he’d called her ‘Rachel,’ too,”> Sakura admitted. <“Does that mean she was Ean’s Rachel?”>

Sakura hesitated again. If that was Ean’s Rachel, then she really couldn’t blame him for turning her down: she was gorgeous. <“And I really owe him for screwing his date up. Dammit!”>

Sakura crouched and darted across the parking lot. She scooped Rachel’s dropped keys off of the pavement and unlocked the beat up car they belonged to. Then she got into the driver’s seat, started the vehicle, and carefully backed out of its spot.

Then Sakura proceeded to follow the JSSDA agent who was following Micheal and Rachel — and cursed herself softly in Japanese for being such a softie while she did it.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 079

Michael yelped as well and jumped back a step, jerking his hands behind his back. He was not a fighter. He didn’t want to get in a scuffle that might get noisy enough to attract attention.

As she had when she’d surprised Ean at his door, Rachel quickly recovered. “I’m sorry,” she said nervously — Michael really freaked her out. “You startled me.”

“Oh,” said Michael. “Um. Right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Er… I just saw you run out of the theatre, and I wanted to check and make sure you were alright.” He did his best to smile convincingly. It turned out sickly, instead.

Strangely, Rachel actually did relax a little. Or maybe it wasn’t so strange: she was mad enough at her instincts for insisting that Ean was trustworthy that she took their screaming run! run! this guy is going to kill you! as a sign in Michael’s favor. Her shoulders dropped slightly and she gave Michael a heart-stoppingly sad smile. “I’m okay,” she assured him. “My date stood me up.” She forced some wry humor into the tilt of her lips. “Again.”

Michael fidgeted nervously. He wasn’t used to interacting with his victims. He was extremely conscious of the stungun he was holding behind his back — and of just how beautiful the woman in front of him was. Rachel’s beauty tugged at something deep, deep, deep within him: a small measure of protectiveness he’d long ago stopped listening to. “That’s awful,” Michael said. “What a jerk! Would you…” He hesitated, ambitions warring with emotions he didn’t really recognize anymore. “Would you like to grab a coffee somewhere and talk about it?”

Rachel’s stomach did a little — oh god no! No no no no no — flip that she succeeded in not showing. What is wrong with me? she wondered. Sure, she knew better than to trust her feelings about Ean anymore. And yes, Doom and Fred made her skin crawl and behaved in ways to back that feeling up — but what had this guy ever done besides selling her theatre tickets and checking to see if she was okay when she ran out before the performance? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, she thought tentatively.

But she couldn’t make herself ignore her instincts completely. “Um,” Rachel said. “Not tonight? I think… I think I just want to go to bed and process, you know?”

“Oh, yeah,” Michael said. Rachel started to say something else — something about maybe the weekend being a better time — but Michael didn’t notice. “Sure,” he snapped, sounding a little agitated. “You pretty girls always think you’re too good for the undead guy.”

“What?” Rachel asked — confused and more than a little alarmed by Michael’s tone. But he didn’t answer. He wasn’t talking to her, anyway: he was ranting to himself.

“Honestly, what did I expect? That we’d get together and rule the arcane world as king and queen or some bullshit? Yeah, right.” He scoffed — then whipped the stungun out from behind his back. He lunged forward, jabbing it into Rachel’s stomach and pressing the trigger. Electricity crackled. Rachel tensed up everywhere, then collapsed.

Michael looked around quickly to see if anyone had noticed their exchange. When he didn’t see anyone he bent down and picked Rachel up by the armpits. “This is your own fault, Rachel,” he commented. Then he started dragging her to his own vehicle — a big, windowless van. “We could’ve tried the whole king and queen of the arcane world thing. But nooooo, you just had to be a stuck up bitch.” He shoved her into the back of the van, then climbed in after her and took a moment to zip-tie her wrists and ankles, and plaster duct tape over her mouth. Then Michael hopped back out. He took another look around to see if anyone was watching, and then slammed the van’s back doors shut.

Still no one. Michael grinned to himself. Then, whistling nonchalantly, he got in the front and started driving home.

After all: he had a ritual to prepare.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 078

Michael crept as stealthily as he could after Rachel. Fortunately, the parking lot was empty: the patrons had already gone into the theatre and presumably found their seats. The play would be starting soon.

If I had known it would be this easy, Michael thought, I wouldn’t have bothered hiring those kidnappers. He slipped a stungun out of his fanny pack: Michael had learned not to rely on magic to coerce other practitioners. Enough raw magic would disrupt any structured spell that wasn’t anchored with a full ritual, so mundane methods were often the best since any spell caster worth his salt could throw out raw, unformed magic.

Rachel wasn’t a spell caster, of course, but there was enough unshaped magic whipping about as her aura that Michael had made the point of picking up some non-lethal mundane options, just in case he needed to… coerce… her. The stungun, however, was just a part of his usual ‘hunting for sacrifices’ kit.

For her part, Rachel was too distracted to notice the necromancer that was sneaking up behind her. She got to her car and started fumbling with her keys. She was muttering to herself as she did: she was too angry to trust herself to control her volume if she just talked.

“I can’t believe…!” Rachel grumbled. “Maybe I should show up and give him a piece of my mind. No, no: that would be ‘crazy’ and ‘stalkerish.’ Maybe I should show up and ask for a real explanation? No! Why do I even think there’s going to be an explanation?” She finally got her keys out and fumbled with her lock. “D… dangit! And now I’m crying. What the heck?”

Rachel scrubbed the back of her hand across her eyes to clear them. At the same time, she heard the scuff of shoes on pavement behind her. She whipped around, startled — and then yelped when she saw the man — danger! He’s out to get me, he wants to hurt me! — who had sold her the tickets for the evening to begin with.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 077

When Sakura reached the theatre she frowned. No where along the way had she found a slumped over, paralyzed JD. His trail led all the way up to the building, which made her wonder if he would be coming out on his own two feet — or a stretcher.

She suspected it would be the former.

Moving stealthily, Sakura skirted the edge of the building, looking for a way in other than the obvious front doors. Then they swung open, grabbing her attention.

True to her instincts, Sakura took a second to make sure she was fully concealed before checking to see if whomever was leaving the theatre was JD or not.

It wasn’t.

Instead, an absolutely stunningly gorgeous woman — clearly distraught — stormed out of the building and toward the parking lot. Sakura felt her jaw slip open. She was so taken she found herself startled when the small side door she’d been approaching burst open as well.

Sakura tore her eyes away from the beautiful woman to see if this was JD, sneaking out of the theatre for some reason. Instead, she saw a middle aged man with a large bald patch in the middle of his curly hair. He plastered himself against the side of the building in an obvious attempt to hide — and by obvious, I mean ‘completely ineffective.’ Sakura rolled her eyes at his amateurish antics — then frowned when he stepped away from the building and proceeded to clumsily stalk the woman she didn’t yet realize was Rachel.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 076

When Sakura left Ean’s apartment she wasn’t just running away from an unexpectedly emotional moment. She was also bothered by something she’d noticed while they were talking.

As Sakura walked she examined her broken claws more closely. Yes, there was blood on the points — Ean’s. But there was also blood where JD had grabbed and bent them. Or rather, there had been: it had disappeared before her eyes.

And that meant, as she used her Ninja training to track JD through the streets, there was… well, there was more than only one question on her mind because she was naturally more curious than any ten cats I’ve seen — and as a near omniscient being, I’ve seen a lot of cats. But they all of Sakura’s questions revolved around one theme: what is he?

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 075

JD watched Rachel leave the theatre and shook his head. “Damn,” he muttered to himself. “E and I have to have a talk about this. He should not be making a girl like that think so little of herself that she’d ask out a dude like him.” JD shook his head again. He really couldn’t imagine Ean being that big of a dick, but he still felt the need to verify it just in case. “Lucky bastard. He’d better be treating her right and make up for tonight,” JD groused. Then he turned around and met the united glares of all the people who’d been swarming around Rachel before she left.

“Hi,” JD said. “What’s up?”

One particularly angry looking fellow scowled and started to storm around JD, after Rachel. JD reached out and caught his arm. Then, with a casual twist, he drove the guy down to one knee, swiveled him around, yanked him back up to his feet and shoved him back toward the auditorium doors.

“Yeah, no,” JD said. “I just told that lady that she can do better than my best friend.” He snorted dissmissively at the rest of them. “If you really think I’m going to let a bunch of scuz who are willing to hit on someone who’s clearly interested in someone else bother her, then you’ve got another thing coming. So get your asses into the theatre and sit down, or I will be breaking your legs.”

Some of the people grumbled angrily. A lot of them continued to glare at JD. He just stood there, implacable; arms crossed. Gradually the people started drifting into the auditorium. Satisfied that his job was done, JD relaxed.

“And now what should I do with myself?” JD mused. It would be two hours before Ean regained the motor control necessary to face him in Fantasy Fighter, after all. JD considered going back to the apartments to hang out with Lieutz and Fifi, but then he spotted the two tickets Rachel had dropped.

JD bent down to pick them up. “Score!” He read them as he straightened. “Macbeth, huh?” Then he shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 074

What Michael didn’t realize was that he was already under observation. From her vantage point on the stairs that led to the sound and lighting booth, Hitomi thumbed the talk button on her walkie talkie.

It wasn’t set to the same frequency the rest of the stage hands were using for the night.

“Perimeter, this is Painter,” Hitomi said. “Mr. Bones is leaving by exit three. Be aware.”

“Copy that, Painter,” Alex – a member of Mr. Tanaka’s JSDA team – replied. “I have eyes on.”

Hitomi hesitated, then thumbed talk again. “And be careful. He looked pissed.”

“Roger that,” Alex replied.

Then Hitomi sighed and straightened. She gestured for Al and Hito to come over. “Alright,” Hitomi said. “Michael has left our zone of responsibility. Alex will inform me if he’s coming back in, but otherwise we’re done for the night.”

Hito Yon looked skeptical. “Really?”

Hitomi smiled. “Yep. If something is going down, apparently it’s not here – or not tonight. All we really know is that power has been building, and that guy is the major mystic threat in the area. Anyway, since we have the time, come on.” She led them up to the sound booth. “As long as we’re free for the evening we may as well enjoy the play from the best seats in the house.”

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating

Book 2, Chapter 73

The necromancer known as Michael watched the exchange between JD and Rachel with a growing sense of alarm. He couldn’t hear what they said – but Michael wasn’t stupid. The facts that the spikey-haired man hadn’t been able to recognize Rachel, along with her hesitation in approaching him, were enough for Michael to deduce that something had gone wrong with Rachel’s plans. The thug in the goggled shades clearly wasn’t Rachel’s date.

“Shit,” Michael hissed when Rachel stepped past the muscle-bound moron who’d been talking to her. She stalked toward the theater doors – she was leaving. The trap he’d agreed to spend so much of his carefully hoarded power to purchase was going to close on nothing.

Michael abandoned his post. He hadn’t wanted to risk making a move personally – not here, at the theatre, where he was known. But now he didn’t have a choice. The sheer power of Rachel’s aura was worth the risk of blowing his civilian identity – and Michael had seen her ID when she’d bought her tickets for the play. It had been from out of state. If she slipped away tonight, he might never get the opportunity to seize that power again.

Or, even worse, someone else might manage to grab her first.

With a snarl, Michael pushed past two patrons. Rachel was already out of sight through the front doors, but Michael could sense her aura through the theatre walls. She was heading for the parking lot.

Michael turned and took a shortcut through a side exit. This close to the start of the play, the parking lot should be abandoned. That was good for Michael: if he was going to grab Rachel himself, odds were good it would get messy. Especially if he had to dispose of extraneous witnesses.

Et Alia, Book 2: Black Magic, Secret Agents, Shakespearean Tragedies and Interoffice Dating