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The sound of my car's door shutting echoed across the empty lot and bounced against the houses across the quiet street. The gun's weight was an awkward, distressing burden tugging upon my resolve. I wiped my hands on my hemline and as I tried to steady my shaking nerves, a voice spoke from behind me.

"Idiot."

I whirled about and landed on my rear, skinning my palms on the lot's craggy asphalt. The Sin of Pride crouched on the car's roof with his chin perched upon his cupped hand. He watched me curse on the ground with dark, ominous cheer. "You really, really are an idiot sometimes, Sara Gaspard."

"You scared me half to death!" I hissed as I regained my footing. The gun left a throbbing bruise against my hip, and I gingerly probed the spot for further damage. "What are you doing?!"

"Waiting for you, obviously."

"Waiting for—?"

"You." Darius unfolded his lean frame, rising like a grim statue one might see hovering over a grave in an old, decrepit cemetery. He hopped down without a sound. "I'm not foolish enough to expect you to do what is in your best interest and stay behind."

I swore at him, but otherwise had nothing to say in my defense. I straightened my blouse as I shot Darius a furious look, then strode toward the dumpy little store where the cultists would supposedly be meeting in ten minutes.

Darius followed with his amusement weaving under my skin like prickling vines.

"I see you wore your Klau uniform. It seems you've really thought this through. If they were unsure of where you worked, they'll certainly know now."

"I don't intend for any of them to live past tonight," I grumbled. There was a stretch of concrete before Techie-Goods and the neighboring stores covered by thick roof extension balanced on brick pillars. I paused at one end of the walkway to scour the underside of the plaster overhang. There was a camera aimed toward the lot—but further inspection proved it to be a fake. I moved on.

Darius smirked as he caught a lock of hair escaping my ponytail and threaded it around his fingers. He gave it a sharp yank. "My vicious little harridan is out for blood tonight, I see."

"I'm out for answers," I huffed as I straightened my hair. We slowed our pace as we came upon our destination. Techie-Goods was shut tight for the evening, the only light coming from the neon sign bolted to the overhang's front. The single-pane display window dominating the store's front was cool to the touch, but as I pressed my eyes to the edge of the glass, I could see nothing inside but the bulky shapes of inventory and the blurry outline of a distant counter.

"Do you think we're wrong? That there's no one here?" I whispered, cupping my palm about my face in an attempt to see more. I couldn't discern any movement within the shop.

Darius' hand rose to grip the back of my neck, sending a shock through the length of my spine. "Hold your breath."

I did as he said, and the Sin attempted to shift us through the waiting Realm. A blow to my midsection had me doubling over as we emerged no more than a second later inside Techie-Goods. Darius stumbled as he cursed in an ugly, consonant heavy language and gripped a shelf for balance. For a brief instant, the Sin's flesh regained its unsettling luminosity before Darius could dampen whatever untold magic burned in his veins.

We had appeared in an aisle on the far side of the homely shop. The air was warm and fetid, carrying strains of the squalid scent tainting the air outside. Flimsy posters hung on wires from the ceiling announced oddly worded, ambiguous bargains. The shelves surrounding us were comprised of a low-grade synthetic metal and were stocked with late-model merchandise. Nothing about the place attracted customers; no one would want to buy this trash at such exorbitant prices.

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