Katherine paced in disgust. Where the hell is he, she thought angrily. It had been hours now since her familiar had perished, and he hadn’t returned yet. And how the hell did that bitch kill him, anyway? She was a fucking block of charcoal when I left!
Suddenly, Katherine felt a far too familiar node blossom in her mind. Philippe was finally back in this world. The node was a fraction of his aura, carefully encapsulated and embedded in her own. The leyline connecting them ensured that the node was a perpetual reflection of Philippe’s emotions, no matter where he was relative to her — which was good, because he had most likely returned to the small portal to the faerie lands she’d opened and concealed in her home.
“Philippe,” Katherine growled. The leyline vibrated as her attention was briefly focused on him, channeled by the use of his name. “Get your ass over here.”
Almost instantly, Philippe appeared. At first Katherine had been envious of the fae’s ability to travel along leylines — to use their connection to another person to essentially teleport to their location, so long as that connection was strong enough. Now, she just took it for granted.
Philippe looked around. He was a massive troll, but slightly smaller than he had been before. Apparently dying had taken something out of him. Katherine felt a rather vindictive sense of satisfaction over that.
“Cozy,” Philippe grunted snidely once his survey of the hotel room was complete.
Katherine scowled at him. “It’s your fault I had to abandon home,” she snapped. “I can guarantee that the Directors know — or soon will — that I’m not Salvatore’s pet anymore. What the hell happened, Philippe?” Katherine used his name again to emphasize her power over him. He cringed slightly.
“I would have had her,” Philippe growled, “if it hadn’t been for her familiar.”
Katherine dropped into a chair. “What?” she asked incredulously.
“The vampire had a familiar,” Philippe answered again. “Her aura was so stripped away that it was easy to see the node of his aura clinging to her. And when you broke the wards on the house it let him in as well as me, but he didn’t show himself until after you’d departed.”
Katherine felt her brow tic from frustrated anger. “How the hell did Abigail get a familiar?” She asked. “She’s not even a witch.”
Philippe snorted. “Are you sure about that, oh mistress mine?” Katherine scowled at him, but the possessive was one that didn’t tie her to him so much as it tied him to her, so she let it pass uncontested despite his snarky tone. “The fae who showed up was the same one that rescued her the first night I ambushed her.” His lip curled, showing craggy teeth. “That fucker.”
Katherine closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair. What the hell, she thought. How is it fair that Abigail has a stronger familiar than I do?! Of course, if Philippe had been defeated by Abigail’s familiar before he’d been punished by Archarel and given to Katherine, then it made perfect sense that Abigail’s familiar would be that much stronger than Philippe now. Archarel had bound most of Philippe’s magic under geases in order to prevent him from being too great a boon to Katherine, and to punish him for dying before the fight with Salvatore had even started — and now dying again had left Philippe even weaker.
But it still doesn’t make sense, Katherine mentally protested. Even ignoring the unfairness of it, since when was Abigail a witch? As much as Katherine wanted to figure it out, she couldn’t get past her first complaint: It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair on so many damn levels. Has she been hiding what she is this entire time? Was this all a long con? Has all that ignorant idiocy just been a mask?!
Philippe grumbled and sat on the edge of the bed, but Katherine ignored him. So far he had proven worthless. If it weren’t for the bindings inherent in his being her familiar, Katherine would have thought he was just there to keep an eye on her for Archarel. But Katherine knew better than to suspect him of that: too many people had failed her when it came to something important. Katherine was confident that there wasn’t maliciousness in Philippe’s failure. He was just another in a string of people to disappoint her.
Starting with Salvatore, Katherine thought. It wasn’t really true: her father had been a deadbeat that she’d never really known. But since she hadn’t known him, Katherine didn’t think he counted as a disappointment. He simply hadn’t been there at all. Her mother… Katherine scowled. Starting with Salvatore, Katherine mentally reiterated.
Katherine had given the best years of her life to Salvatore. It hadn’t really been a gift, though — it had been an investment. The best years of her life in exchange for infinite more. She had been willing to risk death for the chance at immortality, but Salvatore had been too chicken shit to kill her, and it had taken her far too long to realize that he never would. Finally, she had forced the issue. Katherine had felt how Salvatore’s interest was shifting, knew it was shifting to Megan — so Katherine had drugged him. It was easy to do: Katherine managed his blood supply, after all.
Katherine put him in a situation where he would have to drink from her, and drink more than he ever had before. Enough to kill her. Enough to have to share his blood and bring her back.
But he hadn’t. Salvatore had called the hospital, instead. And even worse: when their souls had been bound together, Katherine had gotten a clearer vision of Salvatore’s emotions than she ever had before.
He would never have turned me, she reminded herself. He didn’t want to be responsible for me. My life was already on the line, and he decided to gamble on the doctors rather than on turning me into one of his scions.
That had been when Katherine had written Salvatore off entirely. When she’d consciously blocked off the last of her emotions for him and turned to her backup plan.
Katherine had recognized Megan for what she was when she’d seen her siphon off some of Abigail’s aura. And that had given Katherine another avenue to immortality: following Megan home, to the fae lands, where time was meaningless and she would cease to age.
Katherine had befriended the young changeling, and kept her ignorant of magic to prevent Archarel from seizing her. The plan had been to ingratiate herself to Megan, then convince her to return home — and take a place in the court of Megan’s family. Katherine could have turned Megan over to Archarel instead, but she had too low an opinion of the local fae lord, and too little trust in him to willingly make his court her eventual home. He became her last resort: should Salvatore find out what Megan was, Katherine would turn Megan over to Archarel and take what reward she could.
Unfortunately, Megan’s attachment to Abigail had been a constant thorn. It had been a stupid crush, Katherine had been sure. And I did my best to break that connection, Katherine thought. For all the good that did me. In the process, Katherine had formed a crush of her own. She knew that Megan was aware of it: as a fae, Megan would be aware of any unwarded emotions around her, and Katherine had very deliberately kept her desire for the younger woman open and unshielded.
“Well, what are we going to do now?” Philippe interrupted Katherine’s thoughts.
Katherine took a deep breath and let it out angrily. Abigail had fucked up everything. Somehow, Abigail had become Salvatore’s scion — Katherine’s rightful reward. Worse still, in two years Megan hadn’t abandoned her infatuation with Abigail. Even when Katherine had introduced Megan to the emotionally shattered Emma, hoping Emma would serve as a replacement for the sustenance Megan took from Abigail, Megan’s loyalty hadn’t shifted.
And of course, somehow Abigail had seduced Emma as well. At first, Katherine freely admitted, taking in Emma had been a means to an end. But over time Katherine’s more maternal instincts had latched on to the broken woman. Katherine had actually started to care about Emma’s well being, and to enjoy the younger woman’s presence in her life. Katherine’s nose crinkled and her lip curled in a snarl. So of course Emma had to be a disappointment, too. Fuck you, Abigail.
And now Abigail had stripped away the immunity to fae that had kept Archarel from going after Megan. Katherine had been forced to abandon her original backup plan: she’d gone to Archarel, after all. Archarel had given her Philippe as a familiar in exchange for her loyalty, and the promise of a place in his court in exchange for Megan.
“Katherine?” Philippe grunted. “Stop falling the fuck apart and pull yourself together. What are we going to do?”
Katherine snapped her gaze up to Philippe. She knew he despised her; hated her for being the symbol of his own diminished status. Before, he had been one of Archarel’s courtesans. He had held the allegiance of lesser fae, and in the mortal world he had practically been a king in and of himself. But now he didn’t even have the autonomy to take action outside of Katherine’s direction. His only hope of regaining his former status was for Katherine to succeed in turning over Megan — and even then, he would be bound to Katherine for the rest of her natural life.
Which Katherine intended to have last forever.
Katherine pulled herself together. With immortality on the line, she could force her emotional turmoil down, push it into the depths of her aura and seal it off.
“While you were dead, did you find out anything about Archarel’s progress?” Katherine asked. If Archarel managed to seize Megan without their help, Katherine and Philippe were both fucked.
Philippe snorted. “He hasn’t made any. His divinations have all turned astray. Even though we know where Megan’s home physically is, it’s been warded so that fae who aren’t connected to her will be turned aside and wind up somewhere else if they try to approach. It’s a nasty little obfuscation — much worse than the ward you placed on Salvatore’s residence when he was your master.”
Katherine sneered back at Philippe to show how little she cared about the dig, but inside she felt a surge of uncertainty. She had been to Megan’s home before and had never noticed that it was warded beyond the ones she’d subtly placed herself. So who was the source of the one that was turning Archarel’s followers away? Abigail? It tore at Katherine’s ego to think that Abigail might be a more powerful witch than she was, and just been keeping it secret this entire time.
It all came back to Abigail.
Katherine’s focus narrowed at that thought. Slowly, her sneer turned into a smile. She had a plan.
“I have a connection to Megan,” Katherine said. “She is my friend, after all — and I’ve been seducing her for the past two years.”
Philippe said nothing. He could have made a jibe about Katherine having failed to seduce her for two years, but Katherine had noticed he kept his tongue in his head whenever she was ready to issue orders. Apparently the lure of being able to take action was greater than his urge to irritate her.
Katherine stood. She’d deliberately chosen the hotel closest to Megan’s home when she’d fled her own. Physically, Megan wasn’t that far away. It was just the ward that needed to be circumvented.
“Gather as many of Archarel’s followers as you can,” Katherine snapped. “Make sure they are the ones you once commanded. You will follow one of my leylines, which I will open to you. They will follow their connection to you. And Philippe… This time, make sure that you are ready for Abigail, and for her familiar. They may be with Megan. If you do encounter them, I’d like for you to do something right for once: destroy them. I want them both to come back from their next deaths in Archarel’s dungeon.” Katherine’s lips twisted vindictively. “They can share a cell until Abigail kills him off,” she said. She didn’t know what it would do for a vampire to destroy its own familiar, but she did know that if she were left to starve long enough Abigail wouldn’t have a choice about it.
Philippe nodded, then vanished. Katherine knew he was following his own leylines to those fae who were in this world and connected to him. Soon, he would have his horde again: even if he lacked the rank to command them, they would follow him in hopes of gaining Archarel’s favor by being part of Megan’s capture.
Which left only Katherine’s part. She crossed the room to her suitcase and flipped it open. There were a handful of clothes inside, as well as a few other odds and ends: a stun gun, a wand and dagger, some fetishes and a tarot deck. There were also a few other paraphernalia Katherine found useful for ritual work, and her most recent Book of Shadows. The other volumes she’d filled over the course of her life were in a safety deposit box, at a bank Salvatore had never known she visited. Katherine shoved all those things aside and instead opened a small jewelry box she’d tucked away in the bottom of the bag.
Inside she found a pendant Megan had given her as a gift. Katherine pushed her glasses up her nose and then held the pendant up in the air. The blue stone that served as its defining feature swayed slowly in front of Katherine’s eyes. She used it as a focus, concentrating on a mental image and letting the pendant remind her of it whenever her attention wavered.
Slowly but surely, Katherine’s thoughts reinforced her connection, spinning it into a leyline Philippe could follow. Abigail had shown her hand: now that Katherine knew she was a witch as well as a vampire, it explained how Abigail had managed to thwart her at every turn. But this time, Katherine swore to herself, it will be different. This time, I won’t underestimate the conniving bitch: I’ll be ready for her interference. This time, she’s fucked.