John and Mr. Kallaher led us into a somberly appointed front room. It was almost more hallway than room, really, except it was too wide to be considered a hall. Anyway, the entire point of it seemed to be to allow people to move on to other rooms, as each wall had no fewer than two doors — including the double doors that led into the building to begin with.
The two doorways to our left didn’t actually have doors in them. I guess that made them more arches than doorways. Through one was an actual hall, decorated with arrangements of what I assumed were silk flowers in dark colors and muted paintings of landscapes. There were at least two more doors off of that one, and when my super-vampire sight skimmed the little brass plaques on them they were identified as restrooms. Through the other arch was a large room — at least as long as the hall had been — with lots of seating and something like a dais at one end. In it I saw Fumiko pacing. Dad was in one of the seats, but he’d turned around when we came in.
Mr. Kallaher gestured toward the large room. “If you’d care for a seat,” he told us, “there are plenty in the viewing room. John, you know your way downstairs.”
John nodded. “I do, but I can wait until we’ve gotten you up to speed, Mitchell. I imagine you’ll have questions, and if we start doing any planning for our next move I’d like to be there for it.” He chuckled, and Mr. Kallaher just shook his head.
“Sounds fair,” Mr. Kallaher said. “And I won’t deny wanting to know exactly what you’ve gotten me into this time, Johnny.” He led us into the viewing room. We followed.
When I came into the room Dad had gotten to his feet. He moved through the rest of the group to sweep me up in a hug. To say I was surprised would have been an understatement, but after a moment of shock I hugged him back. It felt good, like when I was little.
Then he stepped back, holding me at arms’ length by both my shoulders. “Don’t you ever jump out of a moving vehicle again,” my dad ordered me. “You just about gave me a heart attack. Are you alright?” Without waiting for me to answer he started looking me over for injuries. Of course they had all healed, but my clothes were tattered and bloody enough for him to guess how bad things had been.
I opened my mouth, but didn’t know what to say to him. The worry in his eyes was heartbreaking. So too was the strain. It occurred to me, as I closed my mouth without voicing a protest, that I didn’t know if he’d slept last night. Or today, when I’d been dormant. And had there always been so many wrinkles around his eyes?
I knew I should have been full of adrenaline, left over from my recent fight with Adrian and his cronies, but I felt oddly subdued. I was used to thinking of my dad as old — I’ve thought that ever since I was able to realize the difference between ‘my age’ and ‘older than me.’ But this was the first time that it really hit me what it meant that he wasn’t young. Guiltily, I remembered how he’d rushed to my side when I’d fallen dormant, even though he’d been half-convinced I was an evil undead abomination at the time. I’d probably aged him a few extra years in just the past couple days, what with all the worry I’d put him through.
“I’m okay,” I said quietly. Around us the others had descended on the viewing room’s seats. In short order the neat rows of chairs had been broken apart by enough to match our numbers. Those chairs were arranged in a circle and everyone else sat while Dad studied my eyes. I didn’t know what he was looking for.
Maybe some sign that his little girl really was somewhere inside this person who went around flipping over trucks and jumping out of cars and beating up soldiers and drinking blood?
Finally he took a deep, shaky breath and let it out in a slow sigh. “Alright,” Dad said. “Just… don’t do that again.” I lowered my eyes. I knew he wasn’t talking about jumping out of cars now. He was telling me not to scare him like that again. And I knew — we both knew — I wasn’t going to get a choice about it.
Not with Director Lewellan still out there, orchestrating his inexplicable vendetta against me.
“I won’t,” I said — feeling guilty for the lie — and Dad let me go. He knew it was a lie, too, but it was the best I could do. Why was it that so often — even when I’d been alive! — the best I could do just wasn’t enough?
I turned away and sat down. Benjamin had provided an empty seat for me next to him. There was another one next to John for Dad.
I guess I could have sat next to John instead, which made me scowl at myself. I was not going to read too much into sitting next to Ben. I wasn’t. I…
Oh, who was I kidding? I was. But I tried to ignore it, stuffing it down so my subconscious could deal with it while John started explaining the situation to Mr. Kallaher.
Mr. Kallaher exclaimed in surprise — possibly disbelief — once, when John explained how I had killed Mr. Salvatore and been turned myself. John’s retelling of events left out a few things that I hadn’t brought him up to speed on myself — like Megan being my first blood instead of Hans — but other than that it was a pretty good summary of what I’d been going through for the past few days.
Benjamin, I noticed, didn’t correct John when he called me were-blooded. Neither did Fumiko or my Dad, which made me frown. I’d resolved earlier to come clean to John on all the details, including the big one about my first blood belonging to a fae. I still intended to — but I didn’t know Mr. Kallaher, and I was just paranoid enough that I didn’t interrupt since no one else had.
When John was finished Mr. Kallaher looked to me for confirmation. I just nodded. “That’s close enough, minus all the details that would take forever to go over.” Like the real extent of my abilities and the potential power I was starting to realize I would have in a few centuries. Assuming I lasted that long, anyway.
Mr. Kallaher stared at me for a minute and then shook his head. “What a mess,” he muttered to himself. Then he cleared his throat and addressed the rest of us. “Unfortunately, I at least can see how that would happen. I wasn’t one of Salvatore’s donors — he always had an eye for the ladies — but I was a part of his regiment in the war. I know some of the things he’s gone through, the choices he’s had to make, and I could probably offer an educated guess or two as to what pushed him to stay on the edge of his hunger. For a vampire as old as he was, it wouldn’t even take much of a slip in self-control to get addicted to not feeling the weight of the past.”
“As for Lewellan…” Mr. Kallaher leaned forward in his seat, propping himself on his cane. “I can speculate there as well. During the war vampires were too rare a resource to let cluster up, but Lewellan and Salvatore always managed to keep in touch. They were both known for being politically neutral, but I could see them having each other’s backs. An informal alliance, if you will. In any case, what Director Lewellan is doing is wrong.”
Nods of agreement met this statement from around the circle, but Mr. Kallaher held up his hand. “The problem is,” he said roughly, “I don’t know how much I can help you. Not in good conscience. And I’m sorry, Johnny, but I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Whatever Director Lewellan is playing at it isn’t to the benefit of that poor woman, or to the cause as a whole. But the cause is the crux of the matter. I have no problem with you doing everything you can to help your friend. In fact, I’d support that wholeheartedly — except if you try to make a rescue of the changeling, well, that will mean bulling through our defenses at the gait. Which would leave us wide open to the invasion you can be damn sure Archarel is planning.”
I tried to form a protest, but Kallaher had scattered my thoughts along with my hopes for assistance. He didn’t give anyone else a chance to get a word in edgewise, either. “I’ve seen what happens to a community when the fae get an unchecked foothold,” he said. “Even if they can’t let themselves be seen without being disbelieved, they can cause havoc. Using subtle glamours. Selectively feeding until a vengeful pawn has the courage to commit a crime that will shake the community — assault, arson, murder. Whatever. Feeding again until people have the courage to riot or run vigilante, and then gorging on the innocents who cower at home, hiding from the murderers and the rioters and the vigilantes alike while the world runs amok around them.”
Mr. Kallaher looked down at his hands, crossed over the top of his cane. “There are subtle ways to throw people into a fearful panic, and you had better believe the fae will employ all of them and worse if they have a changeling to anchor them. I can let you stay behind my wards and keep hidden from Lewellan — but I can’t help you enact any plan that would threaten to give the city I live in over to them.”
Mr. Kallaher looked up, fixing his gaze on mine. He looked sad, but there was no give in his eyes or voice. “I’m sorry, Abigail. You’ve been given a rough deal, and your friends as well, but the world is as the world is. We like to think we’re at peace, but we aren’t. When immortals go to war a temporary lull might last a generation or two for the rest of us — but it’s still just a lull, not an end to the war. If Archarel is given any advantage, he won’t hesitate to seize it. And I’ve already suffered my losses from this conflict. I care about too many of the people here. I won’t let that happen again.”
I met Mr. Kallaher’s gaze. I wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t. I knew my eyes were pleading, but my shoulders were slumped in defeat and I couldn’t make the words I needed come. My friends were precious to me. His friends were precious to him. And he was right: I was the one acting selfishly, willing to risk the community at large for the sake of rescuing Megan and curing Emma. But then, that was only because the community — or at least its representative, Lewellan, had forced me into a corner where it was either my friends, or them. Maybe it makes me a bad person — and I’ve always tried to be conscientious of others — but I care about the people I know far more than the people I don’t.
I tried to acknowledge Mr. Kallaher’s point, but Dad spoke before I could.
“What if we use the other portal, then?” Dad asked.
For a second I thought I’d misheard him. I think everyone did. Abruptly, the room’s attention left the tension between Mr. Kallaher and myself and fixated on Dad. If he was uncomfortable from the weight of it, he didn’t show it. Instead he looked around the circle, and then settled his own attention on Mr. Kallaher.
“You said it yourself,” Dad pointed out. “If Archarel has an advantage, he’ll seize it. Well, Megan has lived in this city for what… six years? So why is he only acting now? He’s had forces in place: my daughter has been attacked multiple times by his thugs! He’s had ‘subtle ways’ to make Megan realize what she is — I bet he could even have conned a mortal agent into spilling the beans about the supernatural community, if he’d needed her to know what she was before he could do anything else. So why didn’t Archarel seize his opportunity sooner?”
Dad’s voice had picked up in force and conviction as he spoke, until he was addressing everyone and not just Mr. Kallaher. “And why on earth would Archarel attack through a blockaded gate? Did I miss something, or wasn’t his force bottlenecked and destroyed the last time he tried that? His daughter, the changeling, was eliminated by that Salvatore fellow, right? And this time the vampires are already entrenched at the gate. If he launched his assault from there, it would be ground apart and he’d lose his current prize — and he has to know it.”
Dad looked around the room again and then shook his head at the expressions everyone was giving him. “What? Is it that great a stretch to think Archarel spent the last few years establishing a new gateway? A route he could attack through unexpectedly, without being bottled up and wiped out, so he wouldn’t just be throwing away his advantage when he seized it?”
I glanced at Mr. Kallaher. His expression was still, but I could see a faint tremble in his hands; a widening of his pupils. He thought Dad had a point, and it scared him.
“If Dad is right,” I blurted, “then will you help me if I plan to strike through that gate? I won’t be hurting the people you’re counting on to protect the people you care about — and I will be disrupting Archarel’s plans. I’ll take Megan away from him, so he won’t have a changeling, and Benjamin can guard that gate in case I fail.”
Mr. Kallaher’s mouth opened. He closed it on whatever he’d been about to say, then said something else instead. “You don’t know that this is Archarel’s plan,” he said. “And even if you did, we don’t know where this supposed other gate is. How would you even find it?”
I smiled. A small part of me thought that it had to be a creepy, sadistic smile. “There’s another gate,” I said firmly. “There has to be another way into our world from Archarel’s. I’ve seen Mr. Eyelids killed too many times lately for anything else to make sense — unless you think he’s been slipping past Linda’s coven? As to finding it… I can track faeries,” I said. I was actually looking forward to this; to the chance to really be full again. “If you’ll help me slip Lewellan’s pursuit, then I’ll hunt down one of Archarel’s goblins and make him tell me where all of Archarel’s monsters have been getting into our world from.”
My smile widened. I noticed Dad looking a little pale. Fumiko, on the other hand, showed a spark of eagerness that I only noticed because I was aware of the leyline between us. I was showing a bit of anticipatory fang, myself, but I didn’t care. “How about it, Mr. Kallaher?” I asked. “Do we have a deal?”