For a tense moment I thought Mr. Kallaher was going to refuse to help just because we had a plan he couldn’t shoot down — but that turned out to just be paranoia on my part. “Yes,” he said instead. “I can support that plan. On the condition that if it doesn’t pan out, you agree to reconvene here and don’t go haring off on some new track that I haven’t agreed to.”
“Okay.” I breathed out in relief. “I can agree to that. I think I’d want your input as to what might work if I were coming up with a new plan, anyway.”
“So,” John interjected, “What can you do for her, Mitchell? You wouldn’t have made this big a fuss about helping us if you hadn’t already thought of something that would put a serious crimp in Mr. Lewellan’s schemes.”
Mr. Kallaher chuckled. He straightened in his seat, and then sat back, affecting an arrogant lounge. “Oh, I can throw Director Lewellan for a loop or two,” he said with a grin. “Right here we’ve got two of the amulets he’s been tracking Abigail with, and her father. It won’t even be that hard to work some sympathetic magic, like to like, and trick the other amulets into following someone else for a while. It would work better with her mother, but since she is of her father’s flesh and the amulets are akin to the other amulets being used, I can spoof Lewellan’s spell twice: once by making these amulets draw the attention of the others of their sort, and once by making you,” he nodded at my dad, “appear to be your daughter as far as these spells are concerned.”
I bit my lip. I didn’t really know a lot about magic, but since Melvin hadn’t been able to tell the difference between my leyline and Megan’s when he’d tried to teleport to her while I was thirsting, I knew that kind of misdirection could be done. If Mr. Kallaher thought he could pull it off deliberately, that would be fantastic. But I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of my dad running decoy for me, and being chased by all of Lewellan’s goons. Also…
“Won’t they realize there’s two of me running around?” I asked. If Lewellan’s people could put that together, they’d just split up. I might not be in as much trouble, but neither would I have quite the same safety in numbers — especially since if we chose to do this there was no way I wasn’t going to split up our group more and send people with Dad to make sure he was kept safe.
Mr. Kallaher shook his head. “They would if there really were two of you running around, but as long as you are traveling by warded vehicle..? And I have a charm or two I can spare you that will help mask your presence to the other amulets. Between the strong pull of the decoy and the muted pull of yourself, your pursuers should be left unaware.”
I nodded slowly. “I don’t like it,” I said anyway. “I don’t want my dad to bear that kind of risk.”
“Too bad, pumpkin,” Dad replied. “What do we need to do to set this up?” he asked Mr. Kallaher.
Mr. Kallaher leaned back. He stared at the ceiling for a bit, his mouth moving ever so slightly as he thought. I could almost make out sub-vocalized words as he composed his list. Then he looked at my dad. “I’ll have to start by preparing the amulets. Fortunately, there is energy left in our circle from my coven’s last power raising ritual. Enough for our purposes, I think. I doubt the spells will last more than an hour or two, but it will be enough to give your daughter a considerable head start to seek out one of Archarel’s fae.”
Dad nodded. I tried to protest again, but he overrode me. “I’ll do it,” he said firmly.
“Then I’d best be starting,” Kallaher replied. He glanced around the circle, and then stood. “My coven’s sanctum is on the second floor. The wards there are significantly more severe than those in the public areas of my home, or I would invite you to observe. Unfortunately, since permitting strangers to cross them would undo some of their reinforcements, I will have to settle for asking you to make yourselves at ease on this floor. Johnny, if you want to head to the cold room while I work you know the way downstairs.”
John grinned wryly. “Thank you, Mitchell,” he said earnestly. “For everything.”
Mr. Kallaher shook his head. “You know my motivations, Johnny. The meal? You’re welcome. It isn’t in me to force anyone to starve. But the rest? That, I am not doing for you. I am doing it because the Director who should be protecting us is letting himself be too distracted by his own pettiness to do so, and because the danger of Archarel having a second, unguarded, gate and a changeling is too much for me to allow to go unchecked.”
“Nonetheless,” Benjamin opined, “we are appropriately grateful.”
Mr. Kallaher just shook his head again. He collected the two amulets — one from me and one from Justin — and began shuffling out of the room. John stood and followed. I didn’t even wait for them to finish leaving before I turned on my dad. I got out of my chair and knelt next to his, grabbing his hands and making him look at me.
“You don’t have to do this!” I protested vehemently. The thought of what would have happened if Dad had been the one to face down Adrian and his posse made my stomach drop and my veins run cold. I mean, sure: he was my dad and I’d always thought he was some kind of a superhero, but I wasn’t stupid. He was a normal human underneath all that childhood idolization. Dad wouldn’t have stood a chance.
“I do,” he said in firm denial. “Abby, you’re my little girl. I don’t care if you can lift trucks and outrun time. I’m your father, and it’s my job to protect you from anything and everything I can.”
I felt my face start to crumple. “But that’s just stupid!” I protested. “I can take whatever Lewellan has coming after us and keep on going. I have so far! But you… you’ll… they’ll…”
“I know, pumpkin,” Dad said. He looked at me and he looked sad — sad, but determined. “If they catch up with me, that’ll be the end of this ploy for certain. But I’ll head out of town, hit the interstate and keep going. I’ll draw them away, and if I think I can’t escape I’ll ditch the amulets and disappear on them.” He smiled. “I’ll probably be safer than you, what with your plans to hunt down a faerie and confront Archarel to rescue your friends. I wish I could protect you from that part, but there really wouldn’t be anything I could do there. At least this way you have a chance, sweetie. Or don’t you think that Lewellan and his goons bumbling toward you would alert any fae you were sneaking up on that it was time for them to run?”
I started to cry. I wasn’t even sure why. Part of me knew Dad could handle himself. Part of me knew he couldn’t, not up against this. What would be coming after him? There was still one more scion out there. One of Lewellan’s ghouls, too. And Lewellan himself. Plus the vampires’ donors. More solocks, maybe? It was too much, too dangerous, and he didn’t have to risk it. Megan and Emma were my friends. Dad barely knew them, even if I had known Megan for years. Which meant he was really doing this for me.
It was so unfair. I would be such a selfish, greedy bitch if I made Dad shoulder my risks — and what had I ever done to deserve that kind of parental dedication?
Oh god. If anything happened to him, what would I tell Mom?
Dad freed his hands and wrapped me up in a hug. “I’ll be fine,” he said soothingly.
I shook my head. I knew better than anyone what he was going to be going up against, because I’d been doing it for the past few days — and it had already killed me once. More than once, if going dormant counted. The supernatural didn’t pull punches. They would rip your soul out in a heartbeat. “You’re taking John with you,” I said. I knew it meant admitting defeat. “And Justin and Derrick and Adam and, and…” I didn’t know the names of Benjamin’s other donors. “Ben, you have to go, too, with all your people.”
Benjamin started to protest, and Dad did, too. So did Derrick, actually. I refused to listen to the jumbled babble of their reasons. “I’m hunting a faerie,” I said, sitting up and twisting so I could glare at everyone. “And everyone here except Dad and Benjamin has a damaged aura. That makes a faerie extra dangerous to all of you. Dad has to go to play the decoy. Okay. I can’t make him stay here and be safe. But I can make the rest of you go with him where you’ll be safer.” No one was going to be safe tonight.
God, if Archarel came through a portal with Megan at his side then that would be true of the entire city. No one was going to be safe until this was done.
“I don’t want to hear protests,” I said sharply. I stood and tried my best to ignore my tear-streaked face. “I’ve done this before. I can manage it on my own. But if everything goes all messed up, then whatever they throw at Dad is going to be something they think can handle me. If nothing else, having a vampire, a ghoul, a couple of solocks and some donors at least puts him on even footing against anything except Lewellan himself. So no arguments. Got it?”
“Abigail…” Dad started to protest.
Of all people, Ben was the one who stopped him. “She has the right of it. I’m sorry, sir, but I’m with your daughter on this. If you’re going to play decoy then you need to have enough people to get away if Lewellan’s people catch up or you’ll turn into a pawn he can leverage against her. I don’t think you want that.”
Dad looked at Benjamin as though the vampire had betrayed him, though when the two of them had formed an alliance I had no idea. Finally Dad’s shoulders slumped. “Alright,” he said.
“No,” Fumiko interrupted. Then she looked around. “I mean: fine, the rest of you can go and distract Lewellan and his people, but I’m going with Abby.”
“Fumiko!” I protested.
She tilted her head toward me. “I thought you didn’t want to hear any protests?” Fumiko teased. “That should apply to the ones coming out of your mouth, too. You aren’t going to dissuade me. Megan is my friend, too. You barely took anything out of me: I know, I’ve felt what it’s like to be drained before — when Megan was experimenting. Faeries feed on fear. Look at me. Look at my aura. Do I look afraid to you?”
I swallowed. Fumiko smiled, though through her leyline I realized that the kind expression should have been a victorious smirk. She wasn’t afraid at all.
“They aren’t extra dangerous to me,” Fumiko contended, “because I won’t give them a handle to latch on to. Meanwhile, you need someone’s help, Abby. Or do you really think you can do whatever it is you do to track down a faerie while driving around downtown?”
I opened my mouth. Closed it. Opened it and closed it again.
That’s so unfair! I silently protested. Just because I’m afraid of driving. And need to be in a warded vehicle as much as possible to help Dad’s decoy work…
“Okay,” I said. “Fumiko can come with me. No one else.”
No one protested further. No one looked happy, except Fumiko, either.
But because I was looking at her leyline still, I knew Fumiko wasn’t exactly happy, despite her easy smile. No, she was something entirely different. She was confident. We were going to catch a faerie together, and we were going to make it tell us how we could rescue Megan.
Even if Fumiko had to tear its wings off and break every bone in its be-glamoured body to do it.