I took a deep breath, standing on the path of 35 Portland Row.
"Okay, everyone. Be nice, remember that we need this agency."
"Our agency or theirs?"
"Both. But focus on theirs for now."
I rang the bell. A moment later, a girl seemingly a few years older than me appeared.
We looked over each other. She had clearly made an effort; you could tell by her pulled-back hair, smooth red skirt, and neatly-trimmed nails.
I, on the other hand, had obviously not put quite as much thought into my appearance. I'd focused more on what I'd say.
I suppose I should have looked nicer; what good are my words if they're transfixed on my frizzy hair and the dirt on my boots? Why would they accept my proposal if I can't even iron my t-shirt first?
"Are you the Ameara Agency?"
Nodding, I extended my hand. "Alexa Parker, founder and current leader. You are...?"
"Holly Monroe. I spoke to you on the phone yesterday."
Smiling, she shook my hand, glancing at the others.
Beside me was the youngest of us, 10 year old Hayden Summers. He was the happiest in the group, interested in too many things at once. Too excited to sit down and research anything, he mostly stuck to the field. His best Talent is his Touch.
Behind him was his 16 year old sister, Harper. She tried to keep her profile low and rarely made eye contact. Her Talent is Sight, though she researches more than she fights.
Behind me was Daniel Harrison. At 15 years old, his main Talent was Listening. Not to me, of course. He preferred to do his own thing, though he wasn't one for many risks. He used to be second-in-command, but lately he seems to be fighting me for first.
Then, of course, there was me. I'd founded my agency at 11 years old, but three years later, still hardly anyone knew me. We had enough small jobs to keep us going, of course, but we were overshadowed by every other agency in London. Fittes, Bunchurch...and most recently, A.J. Lockwood & Co. There was no doubt that they were an amazing group, which was why I decided that we couldn't do this case without them.
The case that we couldn't manage two nights prior, because Harper and Daniel decided we should leave immediately after the malaise set in. We hadn't even been there for four hours yet. We hadn't even seen anything yet. We had, however, heard and felt enough for them to quit.
"Come in, the others are waiting." Holly led us to their living room.
Two of them stood as I entered, my co-workers behind me.
"Hello, Ms. Parker." The boy standing smiled. "Please sit down."
He was Anthony Lockwood, the founder and head of Lockwood & Co. The photos I'd seen could not capture the radiance of his smile.
"Hello, sir." I sat across from him. Hayden sat next to me while Daniel and Harper stood by the doorway.
Harper stared at her shoes. Daniel cast furtive glances around the room, his arms crossed. When his green eyes landed on me, I saw a hint of anger before they tore away.
I turned my focus to Lockwood.
"What, exactly, did you want us for? You didn't quite make it clear yesterday." He said, smiling still.
I glanced at his teammates; Lucy Carlyle, Quill Kipps, and Holly Monroe. I wasn't sure where George Cubbins was, but I looked up to this group. How they built one of the most famous agencies with only five members, how they went from nothing to constantly being in the papers was astounding. Suddenly, as they all focused on me, everything I'd rehearsed the night before disappeared.
I was there. I was the one that wanted their help. I was why the others were there, and I was just going to blank, wasting all of our time?
Almost. I almost did. But then my stubbornness kicked in, reminding me that I couldn't just give the case up to anyone else. I couldn't give it to Fittes...
I cleared my throat, returning my gaze back to Lockwood.
"Well, my team and I have recently been given a case at Elysian Church, a few towns away."
"Elysian Church?" He frowned. "I'm afraid I haven't heard of that one."
"I'm not surprised, it's quite old and hardly used."
"What information do you have on there?"
I glanced at Harper, who had drawn closer to the hallway. She was the main researcher, and when I really needed her she went further into hiding. What was I supposed to do? I didn't know everything about the case, I don't focus on the history--
"Oh, hold on!"
I stared as Hayden reached into his backpack and pulled out a folder with the words "Elys. Info" stamped on the front.
He handed it to me, beaming.
"Thank you, Hayden." I gave him a quick smile, removing the first page. I skimmed it.
"We know that several people had passed away there," I started, looking up. "They were unidentifiable by the time a member found them on Sunday. No one had been reported missing that week, nothing had been scheduled there either. But we have reason to believe there was a secret wedding taking place."
Lockwood raised an eyebrow, leaning forward. "Why's that?"
"We attempted to spend the night before last there, to scope out the area and see what we could find before returning to seal anything. Two quarters past midnight, we heard a wedding march play. We did not hear anything else, nor did we see anything. It played for ten minutes straight. Then, silence. Another ten, fifteen minutes went by and heavy malaise came over us. I don't know what else happens at night, because Harper and Daniel thought we should leave and give this job to someone else."
I glanced at them. Harper started towards the front door. Daniel glared at me.
"As you can see, I agreed to leave. However, I am not turning this case over to you."
"You're asking for our help?"
"Hold on," Lucy Carlyle interjected. "Why are you asking us?"
I turned to her.
"I trust your agency the most. I have reason not to trust the Fittes Agency or DEPRAC, but no one else is as good as you all."
"Does your team agree with this?" Lockwood asked, glancing between the others.
I turned to find Hayden transfixed by some trinkets on the wall. Harper was, I assumed, waiting at the door.
My hazel eyes locked with Daniel's. They had not softened since we'd gotten there. Now, however, rather than slight anger I could almost see resentment. Towards me, towards the case, towards Lockwood & Co...I'm not sure. My hunch was it was towards me.
After a moment, I turned back.
"Doesn't matter." I said, in as cool a voice as I could manage. "I'm not giving up on this, though they are free to. It's just another reason why I need your help."
"I'm not giving up either," Hayden added quickly. "So you have half of us!"
I smiled back at him as Lockwood glanced at the others.
"Excuse us a moment," He said, leaving the room with the others close behind him.
I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding.
"I think it's time to leave again." Harper reappeared in the doorway. "They're never going to agree to this. Half of us don't even agree to this."
Daniel nodded, turning to leave. "She's right. Why would this great agency help out the smallest one, whose leader won't listen to anyone else?"
I stood up, crossing the room to meet him face-to-face.
"You know what, Daniel? Go ahead, leave. Leave the agency, if you want." I smiled. "Just remember that real leaders take the path that seems best. This is what I think is smart."
He leaned against the wall.
"You don't think it's smart, you just won't give up on this!" Shaking his head, he took a deep breath. "Real leaders don't let their pasts get in the way of their team's lives."
I stepped closer.
"It's not my fault if you're in danger. You knew what you were getting into when you chose to join an agency, when you chose to actually use your Talent!" My voice rose so much I bet the neighbors heard me. "You could have stayed home, you could have stayed as safe as possible, but you chose not to!"
"I know I chose to work with you, but you were actually smart three years ago. Now, I could be lying outside the chains, dying of ghost-touch, and you'd still want to stay on the case!"
"Oh, please. We both know you're too afraid to get close enough for a Visitor to get you." I scoffed. "By the way, if you hate me so much, why don't you just quit?"
"You know what, fine. I think I will."
"Fine, but I have a suggestion first."
He narrowed his eyes, watching me carefully.
I smiled as sweetly as I could, taking my voice back to its regular volume.
Someone cleared their throat loudly across the room.
Startled, I turned around to find Lockwood & Co. watching us. My smile disappeared without a trace.
"Well, that was quite the show." Quill Kipps leaned against the wall.
"Yes, it was..." Lockwood nodded. "Is now a bad time to answer you?"
I lowered my gaze, shaking my head.
"No, go...go ahead."
"We'll take it."
My eyes widened, darting back up.
"We'll help you."
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"A passionate, fragmentary girl, maybe?"
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