Reluctant of her decision, Renee reached out to the envelope she hoped would have the most promise. As she lifted the note from the device, her stomach lurched as the other two went up in flames. She crossed the room to sit on the bed. There had to be something of value in there or she would scream. She couldn’t think about the others and about the messages she’d lost, there was no point in it.
The name stared back at her, taunting her with the secret inside. Brigytah. What did she have to hide? More importantly, how did he know her secret? Could she really trust the information provided? All the speculation in the world wouldn't make her feel any surer about her decision. Noemi and Calista were both out of the picture, Brigytah was her main threat and she had to be dealt with. Any information that could help her get inside the woman’s mind would be more than welcomed.
Inside the envelope was a black piece of paper with silver lettering. The secret that she wanted desperately to know. Written in code, three single words that together meant absolutely nothing to her. She yelled a curse to the man who had given it to her. Nothing was ever simple. She flipped the paper over and on the back, a time was written. A glance at the clock told her that she had exactly four hours, four hours to figure out Brigytah’s secret or someone would suffer for it. She flipped the paper back over to read the words again.
Cypress. Claret. House.
“What the hell?” Renee fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling for just a moment. She needed just one second for her mind to rest. She blocked out everything in her mind, everything that had been weighing on her since she’d gotten the stupid assignment that sent her to Chicago. Just as her mind was beginning to settle, her phone rang, and she sighed.
She reached for the device she wished she could toss out the window and answered it.
“Renee, I’ve just received some troubling news about your transfer, please explain yourself.” Nicole, the Head of the Texas house spoke with her usual annoyed tone and Renee set up.
“Have you now? I wonder from who.” Renee rolled her eyes because she knew exactly who had sent the message to the woman who was still technically her boss until Xavia was back on her feet.
“The temporary Head says you’ve been making trouble. Now, I find that hard to believe because the Renee I know, as difficult as she may be, isn’t a trouble maker. Tell me whats going on.”
Before Renee could speak his voice came over the line, Donovan, “Be careful what you share.” It was a simple warning, but she understood what he meant.
“Just clashing personalities is all, nothing to worry about,” she lied because she didn’t want the shit that was happening in Chicago to find its way back to Nicole.
“I hope that is all, you’re such a good agent, I would hate to have to reprimand you.” Nicole sucked her teeth. By reprimand she meant dry out. That was the ultimate punishment for agents who misbehaved. They were bled out and left in a box for years. The process was agony because the vampire wouldn’t die, just suffer a terrible hunger until their sentencing was up.
“You won’t have to worry about that,” Renee forced the smile into her voice.
“Good, I will check back in with you in a few days. There are crazy reports coming in from all over the place.”
“Are there?” Nicole had finally said something that interested Renee.
“Yeah, agents losing their shit. The Arcs is going to be all full up soon if this keeps up.”
“Wait, you’re sending them all there?” Renee could hear the sound of papers rustling in the background and it caused a knot to form in her throat. “Who have you sent there?”
“Luckily, I haven’t had to send anyone, but the other Heads are. Look I’ve said too much, just keep your shit together. I’m not trying to have to fill out that form and especially not for one of my best agents.”
“Will do.” The line cut and Renee dropped the phone back to the bed.
The phone chimed again and she looked at it. A text. Time is ticking.
“Fuck!” She threw a small fit on the bed shaking her arms and legs and then stood. She grabbed the note and headed back to what would apparently be her new home until this case was solved.
“You’re back again.” Tamerra spoke around the stack of books in her hand. The woman was always moving books, yet Renee had yet to see another person visit the collection since her arrival.
“Yes, with another clue. You mind if I use my usual spot in the back?”
“It’s all yours,” Temerra nodded and added to her pile.
“Thanks,” Renee waved the black paper at the librarian as she headed for the table in the back of the library.
“Cypress. Claret. House.” She repeated the words to herself as if that would make it any more significant. She checked the time, somehow, she had wasted nearly an hour and was no closer to figuring out the clue.
“Cypress,” She took out her phone looking for a quicker way to get the information she needed and typed the word into the search bar. The results came up with a college, which she quickly dismissed because it was based in California. She continued down the results to find that there were several businesses in the Chicago area that held the name, none of which seemed to have any significant connection to the Caged House. A little further down her search brought her to a city in Texas and a family of plant life. Texas connected to Renee, but how would that relate to Brigytah? The plant life for some reason stood out to her. She marked those two on a notepad provided by Tamerra and continued on to the next word.
“Claret,” She sighed heavily when the results came up with nothing but brands of red wine. “This is hopeless.” She slammed her hand on the table.
“Maybe you should take a break,” Tamerra whispered.
“I don’t have much time.”
“I know, but you don’t look as if you’ve fed recently and if you have it wasn’t enough. You need a clear head and you know that the thirst can make it difficult to see what is right in front of us.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I’ll head over and grab a drink.”
“I’ll be here.” Tamerra smiled and disappeared into the stacks again.
Renee took the notepad with her and read over the notes she’d scribbled down as she found her way to the massive room that was nothing more than a cafeteria but had the word “Refectory” scrawled across the door. Someone loved their thesaurus, she scoffed as she pushed her way through the frosted glass door and headed inside. She went to the massive wall of refrigerators, each one holding a different blood type with options of liquor infusions. She grabbed the closest one that offered a shot of whiskey and headed to a private room. The center of the room held tables for people to sit and enjoy but if one wanted to avoid mingling with the masses, the walls were lined with units that closed off entirely from floor to ceiling with thick black glass that allowed for privacy.
Not a minute after she had settled in with her drink the privacy door swung open and a woman she’d never seen dashed inside. She closed the door behind her and sat down on the seat across from Renee.
“Excuse me,” Renee spoke to the woman who had yet to notice that the space was already occupied.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude, this is just my usual spot.” She held her hand out to Renee, “I’m Tiffany,”
“Nice to meet you,” Renee politely accepted the gesture expecting the woman to leave but she didn’t.
“You must think I’m a mess,” Tiffany started to ramble and before Renee could stop her, she had told her about her life as a human, how it had just ended and she was missing her daughters terribly, twin girls who she struggled with not being able to see. “I didn’t ask for this life. I want my babies back.”
“You have children?”
“Yes, and everyone keeps telling me how it will be fine in a few years, you know, once they’re older, or worse, dead. But, how? How can it ever be okay? I struggle. I want to go back to California, put them in my car and hit the road. We used to take such amazing road trips together.” She took out a photo and handed it to Renee. It was her, her husband and two girls in the back seat with wide smiles.
“I thought you said they were twins, they don’t look much alike.”
“Oh, yes, fraternal. Same pregnancy but different sacks, you know,” Tiffany shrugged then looked at the picture longingly.
“Oh, I see.” Renee took a long drink from her cup and let the magic of the blood flow through her waking her tired mind and body once again.
“Its funny one favors me while the other is a splitting copy of her father. Fraternal twins run in our family tree.”
“What did you say?”
“Yes?” Tiffany frowned up at her. “Are you okay?” she sniffed the air, “Maybe a bit too much whiskey in that there drink of yours? I’m much more of a wine girl. Red, it mixes better with the blood.”
“Oh my god,” Renee stood from the booth. “Oh, I’m sorry about your girls, trust me, they're all liars, it won’t get better or easier, but you’ll learn that it's best you keep your distance and let them live their lives. Watch over them if you must but interfering will only cause more harm than good.”
“Oh, thanks,” Tiffany looked down at her hands.
“Hey, at least you have social media now, follow them on Instagram or something.” She ducked out the room.
“It’s a family tree!” Renee burst into the library screaming her realization and was shushed by Tamerra as if she’d somehow disturbed the non-existent patrons.
“Yes, Cypress is a tree, Caret is red, also blood, which is family. Family tree.” Renee looked like she would bounce out of her skin with pride, but her celebration was quickly doused.
“And what about the house?”
“The third word, house,” Tamerra pointed to the pad in Renee’s hand.
“Shit,” Renee was deflated but only for a moment. “The Caged House. So, someone in her family tree is also a member of Caged house?” Tamerra tapped her forehead agreeing. “But, who?”
“For you to figure out,” she looked at the clock that hung on the wall above the entrance. “And less than an hour to do so.”
“Cypress, why would he specifically use cypress?” Renee had returned to her table and looked over the notes in her hand. The only thing that stood out to her was the plant life. He could have chosen any tree, but he chose cypress. Clinging to the thought, she headed to the botany section.
Once there she found a book that spoke about the different families of that species and ran across a name that sparked her mind. She closed the book and left the library. Before she was out the door, Tamerra had put the book back in its place.
Renee walked into the office of the Head of house and found Brigytah there shuffling through a stack of papers on the desk.
“Again with this?” She stood from the desk, “How many times must I kick your ass out of here?”
“She was your sister,” Renee ignored the comment and instead blurted out her discovery. From the look of shock that stretched across the interim Head’s face, she knew she had gotten it right.
“What?” Brigytah froze.
“Juniper, she was your sister,” Renee stepped forward. “Wasn’t she? That’s why Xavia called you.”
“How did you,” Brigytah narrowed her gaze on the red head and bared her teeth. “Who told you?”
She held up the envelope with Brigytah’s name on it. “Donovan.”
Brigytah flashed to her side snatching it from her hand. “How did he know?”
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Renee looked at her. “So, you aren’t working with him?”
“You thought that I was,” Brigytah shook her head. “Of course, you did.”
“You have to admit the way you came in here seemed a little suspect.”
“Suspect or not, no I am not helping him. I’ve been away trying to figure out how to track him down.”
“So who is?”
“I have no idea, but I think you’re right. Its someone here.” She pointed to the desk, “I’ve been going over Xavia’s files. I think she may have stumbled across the real threat but now, when she tries to speak of her, the wound at her side worsens. She can’t help us, she tried.”
“Something isn’t right,” Renee paused.
“Besides the poison eating away at Xavia, my having to send Calista to the Arc, and Noemi going missing? What else is there?”
“I figured it out,” Renee held up her notepad. “The clue, I solved it.”
“Okay, good for you.” Brigytah rolled her eyes. “You want a party now?”
“There was no threat, there was nothing. No message, no follow up, usually there is something.” She took out her phone to make sure she hadn’t missed a call or text from Donovan but there was nothing. She started to speak again but then the floor trembled. The walls around them shook and the sound of crashing books rang out from down the hall. “What the hell was that?”
“Look like you spoke too soon,” Brigytah looked out the door. “I think it came from the library.”
“Shit, Tamerra,” Renee ran to the library. Inside they found Tamerra; the stack of books atop her, and a stake through her heart. “Fuck!”
“There is a note attached to the stake,” Brigytah grabbed snatched the bloody note and read it. “Naughty girls who don’t play fair must pay the toll.” She looked at Renee who eyed the phone still clutched in Tamerra’s hand.
Renee grabbed the device and tapped the screen waking it to reveal a text sent to another Caged House member. “Dammit, Tamerra.” She whispered.
Who did she send the text to? We need a NEW Caged House member! Use the form to submit your girl!