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Agent Unraveled

Agent Unraveled

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Book 4 of the Reluctant Assassin series

With the head patron gone, the Hundred Halls are left defenseless against an impending dragon invasion from the formidable Circle of the Scale. As other sinister forces emerge from beneath the city, Zayn faces a dire choice between saving the Halls or his own family.


The dragons are coming.

Without a head patron to protect the city, the Hundred Halls are vulnerable to the most dangerous supernatural creatures of all—the dragons. But the Circle of the Scale is not the only problem. Deep beneath the city other dangers lurk, setting in motion a confrontation that will force Zayn to make a decision between the Halls and his family.

Chapter One Look Inside

Chapter One
Somewhere south of Invictus, August 2016
Even a good helmet can't protect everything

The Yakari motorcycle purred between Zayn's legs as he tore down Hwy 202 towards King of Prussia, where he'd turn north towards the city of Invictus to begin his fourth year at the Academy of the Subtle Arts. The eastern horizon glowed with the expectation of morning, leaving the industrial parks on his right cast in shadow. The occasional bug splatted against his face shield, which was annoying but not as bad as the hailstorm of June bugs he'd run into somewhere north of Atlanta. One of the little buggers had snuck under his chinstrap, smacking him right in the neck. He didn't bother to check, but he was sure he had a bruise.
Zayn zipped past a couple of beat-up sedans carrying groggy workers to the D'Agastine factory complex at the next exit. The blur of passing made him check his speedometer to find he was going two hundred and forty-five kilometers per hour. He'd been running hard, taxing his imbuement to keep up with the sensory inputs, but now that traffic was staring to thicken, he pulled back on the throttle, letting his speed burn off like morning mist in the sun.
Around the time his speed drifted south of one-sixty, a migraine hit him like a thunderbolt. He went blind with pain, and flashes like hallucinatory Northern Lights reflected across his vision.
It felt like an icicle the size of a javelin had been shoved behind his eyes. Zayn fought with the Yakari, over braking, his back tire fishtailing, trying in vain to remember if his lane was clear.
Something large and boxy passed him on his right. A semi, maybe.
Just when he thought he might be able to open his eyes, a second stab of pain hit. He felt nauseous, but held onto his stomach. Through the agony, he clamped down on the brake, deciding it would be worse to slam into the back of an SUV than to get hit from behind. He hoped his fellow drivers recognized his distress.
Since the second stab of pain wasn't as bad as the first, after a few seconds he could open his eyes enough to navigate to the gravelly side of the road.
He climbed off the Yakari, yanked off his helmet, and stumbled down the embankment to get fresh air.
It was the fifth migraine he'd had this week, and easily the worst, not just because it'd almost killed him.
Zayn pulled off his backpack and riffled through his stuff to find a small bottle at the bottom. The bottle was full. He'd gotten the prescription in Selma two weeks ago, but hadn't bothered to take a single pill.
He popped it open and stared inside for a few moments before snapping the lid back on. He couldn't understand why he'd bothered to go all the way into Selma and see a mage specialist—highly recommended by one of the Watchers—just to ignore the medicine she'd given him.
"Why don't I want to take you?" he asked the bottle, before giving up and shoving it back into his backpack. The mage specialist had told him it would unblock whatever was causing the headaches.
The rest of the ride was completed at safe speeds, allowing Zayn to consider the implications of what he'd agreed to with Lady Arcadia.
If you can bring me good information next year when you return to the Academy, I'll loosen the reins.
It'd seemed a good idea at the time: giving up his quest to kill her in return for a long and healthy life. But then he'd pushed her for privileges for his family. He couldn't take her deal without giving them freedom as well. In retrospect, it was a mistake, but a deal was a deal and he wasn't going to go back on it. But now he had to give the Lady of Varna information about Priyanka, and he sensed deceiving her would be fraught with danger.
He mulled over his options as he drove into the city, which was awake on this Sunday morning. He smiled as he saw the tourists wandering the sidewalks, heads full of magic as they gawked at the city skyline. The Spire was in full brilliance, reflecting the sun like a great jewel.
The constant sounds—the honking, the shouting of taxi drivers, the roar of illusionary battles coming from the second ward—these had bothered Zayn when he first came to the city of Invictus, but now they were comforting. He smiled as a hotdog vendor shot a spray of sparks after a kid who'd snagged a chili dog before disappearing into the crowd. At other locations, lines of tourists formed at famous shops and at vending kiosks dispensing trinkets that could perform minor magical effects.
He found the Sunless Shore Restaurant without trouble. Classes didn't start until Monday, so his team had agreed to meet for brunch and catch up on their summers. The restaurant was named after a lake in the Undercity. Murals depicting scenes of students battling strange beasties near the water's edge or from the decks of boats covered the walls.
Zayn found the team in a back room, drinking mimosas and chatting. Marley, the striped callolo, leapt into his arms and pressed his furry cat-like face against Zayn's.
"Hey Marley, I missed you too," said Zayn.
The callolo signed: Missed Zayn, love.
"Have you been behaving?" he asked the callolo.
As Portia got up to give him a hug, she said, "I got here last week, and I've spent half my time returning the expensive stuff he's stolen from the neighborhood."
While they'd moved back into the Honeycomb for their fourth year, they'd kept the house in the seventh ward as their home away from the Academy. It served as a place for Marley to live since he wasn't allowed in the Honeycomb.
"Marley," said Zayn, lowering his voice to be disapproving. "You know we talked about this."
The callolo signed his acknowledgement and buried his head in Zayn's neck. The gesture made him smile.
The others gave hugs before returning to the table. Zayn threw his helmet onto an open seat and unzipped his riding jacket.
When he sat down, he caught Keelan staring at him. They hadn't hung out much during the summer, after his cousin and aunt had moved into the Gardens. But there was something more, a shadow in Keelan's gaze that felt familiar, because it was the same concern that Zayn had in the past when he looked at his cousin. But now it felt like their roles had reversed, even if he didn't know why.
Zayn opened his mouth to ask, when Vin handed him a mug of coffee.
"A little pick-me-up after your ride," said Vin.
He caught the smirk on Vin's lips only a moment before the bitter drink touched his tongue and the surface of the coffee exploded in a tiny mushroom cloud. Zayn threw the mug away from him, expecting coffee to go flying everywhere, only to see an empty mug tumbling over the table and landing in a bowl of cherries.
Vin slapped his large hand against the table, filling the air with a boisterous guffaw. Eyerolls from the others suggested that he'd performed this same trick on them.
"It wasn't funny the first time, Vin," said Skylar as she scooped up the coffee mug and tossed it to Zayn. A faint outline of runes lay on the side of the cream surface. Zayn turned the mug over, looking for more powerful enchantments that could have hid the coffee, then he scratched the runes off with his fingernail, the chalky ink flaking away with the slightest touch.
"Rocky's Rockin' Runes," said Vin, holding out a booklet of rub-on runic tattoos. Each page showed a different rune. "These things are the best."
The runes confused Zayn because they were a different construction than he was used to, older perhaps. And at least half the runes were superfluous, having no purpose to the resulting magic, but he had to admit they looked impressive. Whoever this Rocky was, he was a showman, or showwoman.
Portia threw a cherry pit at Vin, who knocked it away with a spoon. "Only the best if you like being a jerk, but whoever designed them is making a killing. Those purple kiosks are everywhere in the city."
Zayn remembered the line of tourists outside the nearby kiosk.
"Only takes a touch of faez to activate it," said Keelan. "Enough anyone with even low talent can muster."
Zayn motioned to throw the booklet back to Vin, but he gestured for him to keep it. "So who did everyone get for their mentor?"
"O'Keefe," said Keelan, "but I think everyone expected that."
"Me too," said Skylar, and when Zayn gave her a questioning look, she added, "I figured she's the best one to help me with the shadow cloak. I haven't done anything with the threads Prince Orráine gave me because I'm afraid to screw them up."
"I got Pennywhistle," said Vin, arching an eyebrow triumphantly. "She only took three students this year."
"What about you, Portia?" Zayn asked as he grabbed a piece of crispy bacon from a tray.
"Instructor Allgood," said Portia.
"What? How? I thought he was in charge of the first years?" asked Zayn.
"It's Instructor Minoan this year," said Keelan, shaking his head. "I feel sorry for those poor bastards."
"We can all assume that you got the patron, Mr. Protégé," said Skylar, pouring another mimosa from a pitcher.
Zayn slipped a piece of bacon into his mouth, and it exploded across his tongue. After he swallowed, he said, "Yeah, I got Pri."
"Pri, he says, like he's one of the instructors," said Skylar, playfully poking him with an empty fork.
"It's going to be weird, not having every class together," said Keelan.
"Way weird," said Skylar.
"Does anyone know what their mentor is going to pick for their imbuement?" asked Portia.
"No idea," said Vin, who was paging through another booklet of novelty runic tattoos. It appeared he'd given a booklet to everyone on the team except Marley, and even that Zayn wasn't totally sure about.
"I'll find out first, I think," said Keelan. "Well, me and Skylar. We go on Thursday."
"Nice," said Zayn. "I wish I knew when I was going. I haven't heard anything from Priyanka. She's been out of the realm all summer."
"You're the one that picked her," said Skylar.
"I hope I don't regret it," said Zayn.
"You know you will," said Keelan, and everyone nodded with him.
Zayn couldn't help but let the shadow of a smile onto his lips. His reputation in the Academy for taking risks was well documented.
He grabbed a flute of mimosa and lifted it towards the center. The rest of the team matched him.
"To another year of learning, love, and hopefully living."
They clinked their glasses together and downed their drinks. Zayn coughed a little when the fizz hit the back of his throat, but otherwise, it felt good to be back with his teammates. Everyone looked equally optimistic about the upcoming year, with smiles at the ready. They stayed for the afternoon, drinking and talking about their first three years at the Academy, retelling stories that had grown a little in time, but no one seemed to mind. Zayn stayed out of the storytelling, as he was content to listen, add his laughter, and occasionally roll his eyes.
But beneath that good feeling was an emptiness, a cavern in his soul that he couldn't quite understand. When he searched his mind, he couldn't find a reason for this dissonance, but it remained. For now, he was content, but something didn't seem quite right, and he worried that whatever it was, was not going to end well for him.

Main Tropes

  • Urban Fantasy
  • Magical Academy
  • Found Family
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