Grace snapped awake. The candle was lit. Her life was burning away.
Shah stood by the table. It was still strange to see her there and not Menchú. Like trying to walk with a fold in her sock.
Shah turned to replace the glass chimney over her candle. Drafts caused drips, and lost wax was life unused. Shah was meticulous about Grace’s candle, which Grace should have found reassuring, but her new superior’s fetishistic care to avoid any waste of wax merely felt like another fold in her sock.
In keeping with her devotion to efficiency, Shah had set out a pair of black cargo pants, shirt, and tac vest before waking Grace. Not what she would have chosen for herself, but also not an argument Grace felt like having. Not again. And so she contained her inward sigh and reached for the pile. “No plate armor this time?” she asked.
“We’re headed to a point off the coast of New Zealand,” said Shah. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be wearing plate on a boat.”
Grace shrugged as she pulled the shirt over her head. “There’s no evidence I can drown.”
“No evidence you can’t, either,” said Shah. Grace bent down to tighten her shoelaces, sensing Shah’s impatience as she did so. On their first mission, Shah had suggested that—to save time—Grace could sleep in her shoes. Grace, still Chinese in spite of everything, had declined.
Grace distracted herself from her thoughts and Shah from her waiting with another question. “What’s the report from Team Three?”
“They’re on another call. This is our mission.”
Grace looked up, startled. “What happened?”
“You’ll get the brief with everyone else on the plane. We’re wheels up as soon as Brooks gets to the airfield.”
Sal and the rest of Team Three—which, since Asanti had been banished from the field, these days meant Father Menchú and Liam—had been heading for the airport and the next flight that could take them to Auckland when a call came in from the Archives. The Orb had another ping, this time with a location in central Spain.
As soon as Menchú hung up with Asanti, his phone buzzed again. This time, it was Cardinal Fox on the line. When Menchú ended that call, he turned to Sal, frowning.
“From what we can tell, the first coordinates are off the coast of New Zealand, not on land. The cardinal”—Sal thought Menchú did an excellent job of not flinching when he said Fox’s new title—“believes that this means it is less likely to be artifact-related. He wants us in Spain instead. Team One will go to New Zealand.”
“Did you tell him that ‘less likely’ is not the same as ‘impossible?’” said Sal.
“And that he can’t give our job to his old team just because he’s in charge now?” added Liam.
“I made that suggestion. But since we don’t have Grace and Asanti is barred from field work, if our team splits up to cover both sites, it would mean putting one of us on our own.”
“So Team One is going to New Zealand,” said Sal.
Menchú nodded. “Yes. And you’re going with them.”
Less than an hour later, Sal was strapped into the hold of a military transport that Shah had somehow commandeered to take them all to a location on the other side of the planet. In addition to Grace, two others from the Team One roster had been tapped for the job, neither of them conversationalists. Soo, a Korean woman, was busy inspecting what looked like a steampunk jetpack. Given Team One’s gear, it might be exactly that. The man, Ellsdale, who could give Liam a run for his money in a “member of the Society least-suited to survive a sun demon” contest, was asleep. Sal knew them both by sight from other missions, but apparently this wasn’t the trip where they were all going to bond and become friends. The one person on the team she had thought was a friend, Grace, hadn’t even looked up when Sal said hello.
Yeah. This inter-team collaboration was off to a great start.
“Okay!” It took some work for Shah to be heard over the roar of the engines and the rattle of the plane, but she made her voice carry. “We’re looking at a major disturbance off the west coast of the South Island. Local authorities are calling it an earthquake, but the Orb says otherwise, so we’re on the job. Lucky for us, earthquakes aren’t unusual for that part of the world, so we shouldn’t be up to our asses in civilian scientists and looky-loos getting in the way—”
Sal glanced over at Grace, who had her nose buried in . . . The Da Vinci Code? Since when did Grace read airport thrillers?
Sal tried to turn her attention back to the briefing. She managed, at least, to catch her cue when Shah asked her to present the information that Team Three had gleaned from the Orb. (Admittedly, not very much beyond: It’s in the ocean; it’s magic; it’s big.) But she kept stealing glances in Grace’s direction.
Grace didn’t look up from her book once.
The flight to New Zealand was long, and eventually, all the others fell asleep. Grace put down her book that she no longer had to pretend to read and found herself...