It was Benjamin who finally broke the unhappy silence that had fallen over us. First he cleared his throat. Then, once he’d gotten my eye, he said: “So… you’ve used the term before, but… What exactly is a solock?”
I used the back of one hand to wipe my cheeks dry while I stared back at him. “What do you think?” I asked. “It’s a combination of a soldier and a warlock, of course. So-lock.” Wasn’t that obvious?
Ben’s lips twisted slightly toward a smile, reminding me that he’d seen the inside of my soul. He probably knew perfectly well that it was something I’d just made up and was only pretending was obvious. Bastard! “I see,” he said. I narrowed my eyes at him suspiciously. The spark of mischief behind his confirmed it: he was laughing at me.
I sniffed and looked away, letting silence descend again. To distract myself, I started looking for a faerie among the leylines I’d accumulated in my soul.
It didn’t take long — I’d learned the trick of sorting them out when I’d hunted down Pipsqueak. What was more alarming was that all of the ones I found were so faint. Like my connection to Megan — or like my connection to Pipsqueak had become after I’d killed him.
Has Archarel withdrawn those of his people I can track? That would be disastrous. Or have they simply heard of Pipsqueak’s fate and fled before I could get to them? Actually, in our current straits, that would be just as bad. I continued to look desperately through the leylines.
There was one link that stood out from the others. It was stronger. Not as strong as Pipsqueak’s had been, last night, but at least strong enough to belong to someone who was still in this world. I focused on it, sharpening my attention until it was as clear as I could possibly make it without either knowing the faerie on the other end better or being closer.
I let out a small sigh. I had my faerie. Finding her was just a matter of time, now.
Unlike Pipsqueak, this one was a her. And unlike Pipsqueak I didn’t think I’d found her in the act of feeding. I watched her emotions spin along the thread of the leyline between us. It was a window into her soul no wider than the eye of a needle, but I didn’t find the active malice that had accompanied Pipsqueak’s emotions while he tortured Daniel. Instead, I caught hints of mischief and amusement. I had caught her while she was engaged in some diversion, then. Hell, for all I knew she was invisibly watching her favorite sitcom over the shoulder of her most recent victim.
“Abby?” Fumiko asked, pulling me back to the room at large.
I blinked and looked around. Everyone had gotten up and was moving toward the door. I could hear Mr. Kallaher in the entry room, talking to Dad about the amulets he’d enchanted. How long had I been concentrating for?
“You were focused,” Fumiko said, “so we let you be. But everything is ready now.”
I nodded hastily and stood up. I brought the faerie’s leyline forward in my consciousness again and measured the strength of our connection as I walked out of the funeral parlor’s viewing room. “I have a faerie’s leyline,” I told Fumiko. “It feels like most of the others have fled this world — maybe Archarel pulled them back, or maybe they just heard about what I did to Pips. But there’s at least one still here. Keeping an eye on things, I guess.”
Fumiko nodded. “Alright,” she said. “You’ll have to direct me toward him.”
“Her,” I corrected Fumiko. She didn’t bat an eye.
“Her,” Fumiko repeated. We joined everyone else in the front room of the funeral parlor. I looked over my gathered allies. How had I even gotten here? Some of them weren’t even really on my side — Derrick and Justin were only backing us up because they’d been fed on recently. That thought made my skin crawl. I was not a good person anymore. Not after taking advantage of people who were enthralled like that. Even if their help was only fair as repayment for trying to kill me.
Dad gave me a tight hug. I hugged him back — but had to be careful not to hug him hard, because I could break people that way, now. “Be safe,” he admonished me.
“As safe as I can,” I agreed. “You too.”
He gave me a wry grin, then Dad and everyone who was accompanying him departed. I watched them go, then bit my lip to keep from shouting a sudden realization.
“What is it?” Fumiko asked.
“They took the van!” I told her. She looked at me like that wasn’t a surprise. “I’m supposed to be in a warded vehicle to make it harder for Lewellan to find me instead of Dad,” I reminded her hastily.
“Oh,” Fumiko laughed. “Yeah, we talked about that while you were zoned out. Ben, John and as many as can follow your dad will be in the van so they can act as a surprise if he gets stopped. He’s going to take Benjamin’s car, because mine is too shot up to really escape notice — he’d get pulled over for sure by mortal cops if nothing else.”
I stared at her. “Then what are we going to do?” I asked.
“You’ll have to ride with me,” Mr. Kallaher answered in Fumiko’s place.
I spun to stare at him. “What?” I asked.
He shrugged. “My condition on assisting you was that if you did not find the information you thought you would, then you would come back here to plan your next move rather than going up against Lewellan directly. I intend to accompany you to ensure you hold to that bargain — and because you are correct that you need a warded vehicle, and because I happen to have one.”
My eyes narrowed slightly. “Well, if I have a driver then Fumiko could have gone with Dad and the rest,” I pointed out.
“Sure,” she agreed, “which is why I didn’t bring it up before they left.” Fumiko shrugged. “You aren’t getting rid of me just because you don’t need me to drive the car.”
“Actually,” Mr. Kallaher said, “If you think you can handle her I wouldn’t mind if you did drive us.” He shook his head sadly. “If it were the day, I’d drive you with no concern. But as late as it is? My night vision isn’t what it was.”
Fumiko brightened slightly, and she smiled at the older man. “No problem,” she agreed. Then she turned her smile on me. “There, you see? I am necessary to this endeavor.”
I scowled, but didn’t contradict her. “Where’s your car?” I asked Mr. Kallaher. I hadn’t seen any others in the lot.
Mr. Kallaher’s eyes shifted back and forth. “It’s by the side door,” he said. “This way.” He led us back through the viewing room, and out a rather discreet door in the back. It opened into an attached garage. And inside of it…
“Your car is a hearse,” I accused.
Mr. Kallaher glanced back at me. “Yes,” he agreed. “You’ll have to ride in the back, by the way. That’s the portion I have warded. Primarily against malevolent spirits of various sorts, but it will work for our purposes.” He unlocked the doors with a button on his key fob and then tossed the keys to Fumiko.
“Of course,” I said as I walked to the back doors. They had unlocked with the rest. Because it wouldn’t be a proper ride in a hearse without a corpse in the back, right? “Silly me, thinking your car was a car. Say, do you sell coffins here?”
“Hmm?” Mr. Kallaher asked as he got in the passenger side. “Yes. The show room is opposite the viewing room, if you’d like to look later. Why?”
I scowled and climbed into the back of the hearse. “No reason. Just, do you have any that are refrigerated?”
Fumiko got in on her side and started the engine. “I have some that use ice boards to temporarily preserve the body during viewings,” Mr. Kallaher answered me. “Would that serve for whatever you have in mind?”
I scowled and lay down in the back of the hearse, where the casket would have gone. “No, not quite. But thanks. Maybe I should just get one of those deep freezer units.”
“Oh, I have a few of those,” Mr. Kallaher announced casually. “So if you’re just looking for a place to store some bodies I could rent you space. We’d just have to mark yours so that my other customers knew they were off limits.”
I swallowed and tried not to think about that. “Actually,” I said, “I was trying to come up with a place to store myself.” I checked my connection to the faerie once Fumiko had gotten out to the street. “Take the next left, Fumiko,” I said. Then: “I woke up slightly decomposed this morning. It wasn’t pleasant.”
Mr. Kallaher snorted. “I imagine it wouldn’t be,” he agreed. “But no, in that case you probably wouldn’t want to rent space from me, would you?”
“No,” I answered frankly. I was suffering hideous mental images of Mr. Kallaher’s other customers coming down into his freezer room, finding me, and gnawing on a half frozen arm, only for it to grow back while I was dormant. Hell, it wasn’t like I hadn’t had a ghoul eat most of my arm before, right? Mr. Kallaher could probably make a small fortune selling infinite vampire meat to ghouls. And I’d thought my cousin Linda’s ‘free self-replicating undead organs for sale’ scheme had been creepy! Somewhat queasy, I tried to shut those thoughts down. “Never mind,” I said. “It was just a thought.” I focused all of my attention on the faerie I’d identified — the sole leyline remaining in this world that belonged to one of the fae who owed me for their failure to take out Mr. Salvatore. “Left up ahead, I think,” I called to Fumiko. “Back across the river.”
Conversation died out then, fortunately. I called the occasional directions to Fumiko as we slowly wound our way closer to the fae in question. Mr. Kallaher kept his thoughts to himself. I was actually somewhat surprised by that: I’d figured his real reason for tagging along was to get the inside scoop on how I could track faeries all on my own. If it was such an arduous process for regular witches, having an easier way to do it would probably be worth a lot. But he didn’t ask questions and I didn’t offer any explanations.
We made our way slowly back across the river and into the more densely popualted part of the city. Eventually I narrowed down the leyline to the point that I had to triangulate to get a better idea of where my target was. I had Fumiko loop around a few blocks, and then weave along the roads between them, in the somewhat more beat-up part of downtown. At that point I wasn’t even focusing on where we were anymore, just on the waxing and waning of the connection I had through the faerie’s leyline.
“Here,” I said when the connection was at its strongest. Fumiko continued up the street and pulled into a shared lot across from a small strip of defunct businesses — mostly eateries, it looked like. The lot had a little booth for a toll station, but there was no one there. Perhaps it wasn’t worth paying someone to collect tolls on a weeknight? We got out of the hearse and returned to the point where I’d felt the pull most strongly. “In there,” I said, pointing. Fumiko followed my gaze, then did a double take. I had frozen, too.
I hadn’t realized where we were, from the other side of the building. Of course. Why doesn’t this surprise me? It was a big brick structure, taking up most of the block face. It didn’t have windows, but it did have decorative, wrought ironwork trimming its foundation and door.
And, of course, above the door in rainbow colored neon letters, a sign that read: LUMINESCENCE.