Chapter Twenty-Four

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The handsome man's name was Blake.

He told May little else about himself other than the fact that he was Necar Devereaux's assistant as he led her up a staircase at the far end of the hall. On the second floor they strode down a wide white hallway lined with pristine blood-red carpet. Like the ground floor, the walls here were carefully arranged with artwork – paintings and photographs and woven tapestries – making the space feel more like a gallery than a home.

At last Blake stopped in front of a pair of stately black doors. He opened one and then stood back, ushering May in with a polite wave of his arm.

"Wow," May breathed, taking in the room as she turned  in place. The vast room looked to be an office in which every piece of furniture was a work of art in and of itself.  An enormous white desk – at least she thought it was a desk – sat in the middle of the room. Its polished surface curved and jutted, providing various functional surfaces while simultaneously looking like a twisted rock formation smoothed over millennia of water erosion. Designer chairs and low matching tables clustered in front of a sleek fireplace that took up most of the wall to the left. A chandelier of interconnected steel rods and glittering glass hung over the room, casting warm light on the floor-to-ceiling paintings that covered the wall on either side of the doors.

"This is the Art Collector's private study," Blake explained while May continued to gawk. The far wall was made up of windows that curved outward, overlooking the surrounding moors.

"She has offered the space for your meeting with Madam Devereux. Mind you don't touch anything."

"Where is Devereaux, anyway?" May asked as she took a few tentative steps into the room.

"She's finishing business with the buyers. She will join you when she's finished."

"And how long will that take?"

It took a beat for May to realize Blake wasn't going to answer her. Her eyes flicked up to the windows, which acted like mirrors against the night's darkness, and saw the door closing behind her. She spun around just in time to hear the subtle click of the deadbolt sliding into place.

"Are you kidding me?" she shouted, rushing back to the doors and trying them both without any luck. Frustrated, she slammed the heel of her palm on the gleaming black surface. "You can't lock me in here! My friends are looking for me!"

There was no reply. Blake was gone.

May crouched and glared at the door handles. "What kind of office can't be unlocked from the inside?" she huffed, giving them a kick for posterity's sake.

The entire situation made her uneasy. Rubbing her bare arms with her hands, May tried not to entertain the possibility that she had just walked into a trap. What if this meeting was a ruse? Just an elaborate plan to separate her from the others? Blake could be working for the Loyals for all she knew.

Scanning the room, May looked for something she could use as a weapon. She was about to start rifling around the desk when she heard a tapping and stopped cold. It was like a knock, but it wasn't coming from the door. May straightened up and turned slowly. It was coming from the windows.

May peered at the bank of windows, but all she could see was her own reflection staring back from the glass. The sound came again – light fluttering and faint scratching accompanied by a spatter of sharp sporadic clicks, coming from outside. Taking a cautious step forward, May frowned. The Art Collector's study was on the second floor, so it couldn't be another person making the noise.

Unless...

In her mind, May saw Em suspended like a figment in mid-air the way she had seen her do so many times before. Pearlescent skin emanating a soft light as her silver hair wafted like a halo around her smiling face. Blind, irrational hope flooded May's chest. She rushed to the windows and pressed her face close to the glass, shielding her eyes with her hands so she could see beyond the bright room being mirrored back at her.

She held her breath.

But there was nothing out there. Or, at least not the brilliant glow of her ethereal girlfriend come to find her. May's heart clutched in disappointment. Deep down she had known it was a long shot, but deeper still a small part of her had held out hope. It had buoyed her more than she had realized and now she was falling back to reality, hard.

Crushed, she thought to step back just as a frantic black shadow flung itself into her line of vision.

May shrieked. She jumped away from the windows, nearly tripping backwards on her heels.

But then came the noise again, so she swallowed her heart down from where it had leapt up into her throat and leaned into her reflection once more.

Feathers.

"Fargus?" May gasped, watching the raven's beak tap out a sloppy rhythm on the glass while his talons clawed for purchase. She searched the windows until she spotted a latch and wrenched it to the side. The lower pane of glass released with a pop. May gave it a shove and the window hinged outward. Cold air rushed through the opening, hitting her like an open palm. Fargus maneuvered awkwardly, trying to duck in beneath the pane of glass, but his size and wingspan only complicated matters.

Finally May offered an arm, cringing against the cold and hissing against the clamouring of the raven's talons against her skin, but together they got the corvid inside.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as if the bird might actually answer her. He fluttered over to the desk. May crouched beside him, hesitating a moment before pushing past her latent caution and reaching forward to poke her fingers around the downy feathers around his scaly legs. He squawked indignantly and snapped his sharp beak in warning.

May stood with a huff. She had been looking for something – a message tied to his leg or a photo clutched in his claw – anything to tell her why the raven had come.

"Don't you have anything for me?"

Fargus croaked. He shook his head and May wondered if there was some intention behind the movement.

"Is something wrong?"

Another croak. Another shake.

"Did Dom send you?"

This time Fargus dipped his head, a rattle rising from his throat.

May touched her fingers to her chin and wondered what to ask next. "Is he in danger?"

Croak. Shake.

"Did he send you to get us?"

Rattle. Dip.

That settled it: she needed to get out of there. She offered her arm. Fargus regarded it for a second before hopping onto her wrist and scurrying up her forearm as she turned back to the windows.

"Fargus, listen to me. I can't get out of this room. I think I may have walked into a trap. I need you to find Welkin and Grant and lead them back here. Do you think you can do that?"
In a movement so fast and precise it made May's skin crawl, Fargus' head snapped to attention. Except he wasn't looking at her – he was looking passed her, back toward the door.

A smoky voice, as warm as it was chilling, rose from behind her.

"Leaving so soon?"

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