Parker climbed the wall of Hardison's playroom and reminded herself not to call it a playroom where Hardison could hear. She wasn't sure why that bothered Hardison since it was where he played with his techie toys. She watched from above as he came in and started playing. He didn't even look up once! Eliot noticed her as soon as he entered the room and it didn't take Sophie much longer. Nate sat first but then raised his glass to her which , aw, was sweet even if Sophie took it away from him.

"Okay, now that everybody's here, lets get started." Hardison looked up from his toys. "Where's Parker? Why is Parker not here?"

Eliot glared and nodded at her in the corner above the door. "She's right there." His voice sounded like he thought Hardison was an idiot which did seem to be true at times but wasn't. Hardison was just better at his techie toys than at punching or noticing.

Hardison looked up. When he spotted her, the bag he had to hand flew up into the air spewing gummy bears everywhere. "Woman, what are you doing lurking on the ceiling?"

Parker dropped to the floor. "Situational awareness. It could save your life."

Eliot did that thing where his lips tugged up just a bit. Parker was pretty sure that meant if he were anyone else he'd be giving her a high-five. She preferred the lip tugging thing. It was a lot less touchy.

"Taking my life more likely." Hardison said. "Giving me a heart attack."

"Perhaps we could get back to the briefing," Nate said.

Hardison grumbled about "Nana, I'm coming to join you in Heaven," but cheered up when he brought images up on the big screen. See? They were toys.

"Why are you showing us a picture of a stick?"

"Stick? What? Really? It's a flute, Parker, a flute."

"I've seen a flute. Flutes are silver. That's black. And creepy."

"She does have a point," Sophie agreed.

"Well, most flutes can't call up the undead now can they?"

Parker considered this.

"No," Eliot said. "They can't. Stop thinking on it Parker. That's just disturbing."

Hardison did whatever it was that made a red dot appear on the screen. "The flute …" He paused and stared at her. She wasn't sure why so she stared right back. "The flute's name is Chenqing. It belonged to the so called Yiling Patriarch and is rumored to control the dead."

"Which we all know is just a story, Parker," Eliot said.

"Right. Whatever," Hardison added. "While we're on the subject, I just want to thank you all for making a geek's dream come true. Zombie-controlling flute. If we go for the One Ring after this, my life will be complete."

"Ooh," Sophie said, "or Excalibur."

"Why not pick up the Holy Grail while we're at it?" Nate asked.

Parker leaned over toward Eliot and whispered loudly, "I thought we were just going for the demonic flute."

"What? Hell no. Say it with me, people. Demonic cultivation. The flute in and of itself is not demonic. It's powered by like resentful energy." Hardison stopped and glared. "You know, I put all this time and energy into the briefings, even e-mailing you readings so you can come prepared. Did nobody do the readings?"

Parker watched everyone stare blankly at Hardison.

"Fine," Hardison huffed. He clicked something and the image changed. "Wei Wuxian, also known as the Yiling Patriarch. He's been gone for ten years. Fell off a cliff or something. Now we don't know for sure who currently has Chenqing but it's most likely one of these two."

Sophie sat forward when pictures of two different mean came up on the screen. "Ooh, Jiang Cheng and Lan Wangji."

"I thought you said you didn't do the readings."

"I always do the readings when the subjects are such pretty boys," Sophie replied.

"The subjects are never pretty," Hardison said.

Sophie smiled back at him.

"Pretty boys?" Parker asked.

"Even you have to admit they're both quite handsome."

"Not as pretty as a Bowley lock."


"Here's a question," Eliot said. "Why don't we know who has the flute?"

"Demonic flute," Parker whispered.

"It's not … You know what? Never mind. We don't know who has the flute because these people are living in. The. Stone. Age. No computers. Nothing digital. Hell, they don't even have landlines."

"And why's that a problem?" Parker asked.

"Why's that a problem? Do you even know what I do?"

Parker thought about that. She was pretty sure play with techie toys wasn't the answer he wanted.

"So," Sophie said loudly. "It's either the lover or the brother. My money's on the lover. They never expressed their feelings for each other. Think of it, all that pent up passion. He'd definitely want a memento."

Hardison did that clicky thing that changed the image again. "Right then, these are the schematics for Gusu. This here is the Jingshi, where Lan Wangji lives. If Chenqing's in Cloud Recesses, it'll be here. Good news is that they go to sleep at 9 PM. There'll be patrols but not a lot of people wandering about. Bad news is that they go on these things called Night Hunts. Basically hunting in the dark. It's a thing. I don't get it but it means they're highly skilled at tracking, environmental awareness, that sort of thing."

"Unlike some people," Parker whispered to Eliot.

"Really?" Hardison asked. "Are you really going there?"

"All right, all right," Nate said. "How are we getting in?"