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The second thing Riga was sure of was that at least her intuition was still working. She had a rotten feeling about this job.
Behind the high, sleek desk, the security guard stared impassively at his monitor. October sun slanted through the thick, bulletproof windows of the high-tech security hut. Upright, black metal bars, thick and menacing, formed a rampart outside the Odinjörd facility.
The guard’s gaze flicked to Riga. She smoothed her auburn hair, brushed a fleck of something off the sleeve of her suede safari jacket.
“What color are your eyes?” he asked.
“They look more browny-purply. Are those contacts?”
“No,” she said. “The purple’s an illusion. Just type brown.”
“But they look browny-purply.”
“Fine. They’re browny-purply.”
“There’s only space for one word.” He typed into the computer. Over his shoulder, the ghost of an elderly security guard whispered something in his ear.
And that was the first thing Riga was sure of: she could still see ghosts. Her chest hardened. Spirits and scrying, that’s what she’d been reduced to.
That’s why she’d come alone, sent her familiar to Macau to “help” Riga’s boyfriend who didn’t need helping.
She needed to think of something better to call Donovan than “boyfriend.” They were too old for it, and “partner” sounded sterile.
The printer hummed.
But thinking of Donovan beat thinking she might be walking into a massive magical disaster. Or thinking about the relief she’d felt when he’d had to go to Macau. If Donovan was there, she could make her mistakes privately here. And she hated herself a little for expecting there would be mistakes.
A sliver of motion near the door caught her eye. A gray mouse crouched, shivering. Casually, Riga stretched and opened the door. The mouse darted outside.
The guard slid the small, rectangular printout into a clear plastic Odinjörd lanyard and handed it to her. “Someone will get you shortly.”
She read the card. “Burple? That’s not a color. That’s not even a word.”
“What do you want me to say? Violet? That’s just dumb. Who has violet eyes?”
She sighed, agreeing. “And my name’s spelled wrong. I’m Riga Hayworth, not Rita Hayworth. Rita was an actress.”
The ghost laughed.
“Close enough,” the guard said.
The thick glass door behind the guard opened. A weedy young man with glasses and a slight stoop smiled awkwardly at her. “Riga?”
“You must be Jeff.”
“Thanks for coming. This way.” He stepped outside.
She followed. The door clanged behind them like a prison gate.
They walked down a flagstone path dappled by the shadows of towering redwoods.
“So, I, uh...” Jeff rubbed his wispy beard. “My mom thought you could find something that’s missing, since you’re a metaphysical detective.”
She glanced toward the wooded area and forced a smile. “Tell me about the case.”
“I guess my mom told you I was a software engineer? I specialize in enterprise-level software.”
She nodded. “Software for companies to…?”
“It doesn’t matter. That’s not what’s missing. What’s missing is a sigil app I created. Someone stole it. My mom said you were good at, um, finding things.”
She used to be. “What’s a sigil app?” A sigil was a drawing magically empowered by its creator. It focused the spellcaster’s intent. Riga had never needed tech or props before. Maybe she’d need to start.
Jeff’s freckled face pinked. “We were talking about what we should do for Halloween—”
The trees opened up, and Riga stopped short.
They stood outside a Viking village, complete with a burial mound in the center. Half a dozen sod huts formed a rough circle and faced the grassy mound. Interspersed between and behind them were larger wooden buildings. Two had prow-shaped roofs. One was three-stories tall with curving beams carved into dragon heads.
Riga tried not to gape. She’d known Odinjörd had a Viking-themed logo. She hadn’t expected the tech campus to look like Valhalla.
“Lana, Ryan and I,” Jeff said. “Living here, working for Odinjörd, we wanted to do something thematic. But there’s not exactly a straight line between Vikings and Halloween.”
Carrying laptops, two bearded engineers emerged from the tallest building.
“Ryan did some research,” Jeff said. “He came up with Viking undead. But with all the zombie first-person-shooter games out there, it seemed derivative. Then Ryan found this witchcraft museum in Iceland filled with magical sigils. So we thought, why not an online sigil creator?” He stopped in front of a hut’s arched wooden door and opened it. “This is my place.”
She followed him inside the blond-wood house. Pizza boxes lay stacked atop every flat surface, save the wooden desk. Crumbs and crusts and spatters of red sauce decorated the floor. With its stone fireplace, the room would have been cozy if it didn’t look like a crime scene. “So you, Lana and Ryan built the app.”
“No,” he said, “I designed the app. Ryan got bored with it. Lana was busy with her own projects. And then when things went wrong… My mom couldn’t stop raving about all the help you gave her with those houses.”
And his mother had leaned on Riga to come. It was depressing her biggest clients were realtors looking to de-haunt houses. But it paid the bills. “So you developed an app,” she said. “To create sigils.”
Riga walked to his desk, where a computer glowed. An Odinjörd logo hung on the wall behind it. Clear plastic dispensers filled with pastel candy stood beside the desk.
“Yeah,” he said. “Norse-style sigils, for spell casting.” He motioned toward the window, with its carved, wooden shutters.
“I didn’t think Odinjörd developed games.” Her gaze flicked uneasily to the peaked, beamed ceiling. Silicon Valley was crazy with roof rats. They had to love thatched roofs. And pizza.
“They don’t. I made the app for fun. I mean, magic’s not real…” He trailed off.
Riga nodded. Spells required human focus and intent. That wouldn't happen if the spell was computer generated. The app couldn’t work.
“Do you want anything?” he asked. “Pizza?”
“No, thanks.” She studied the Odinjörd logo, a grizzled, one-eyed Odin. Even in his home, Jeff couldn’t escape the company propaganda. “So what happened next?”
“I didn't realize everything I created here, even on my own time, belonged to the company. I guess I didn’t read the contract very well. But even if I had, why would they want it? Like you said, Odinjörd isn’t a game developer.”
Riga frowned. “But they do want it? Why?”
He shifted on the wooden chair. “It wasn't so much Odinjörd as the DOD.”