Aaron was the shortest of the three bouncers: A squat, burly man of around forty with lots of curly red hair. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong about him except for a black eye. I glanced at Fumiko and she shrugged.
“He probably has a concussion,” Fumiko said. “And the black eye wasn’t my fault.”
As with Bob, Mark, and… I was going to have to find out the other guy’s name, wasn’t I? Anyway, as with the other three, Aaron was a regular mortal. It only took a tiny taste to get a link formed up between us, and I didn’t dare take more blood than that anyway. Not unless I wanted to actually deserve my reputation for leaving donors in soulless comas.
In short order Aaron was back on his feet as well. Like the others he seemed briefly confused, and then focused in on me.
He thrust out a hand. “Aaron,” he introduced himself. I accepted his hand and he shook a little too enthusiastically. “Thanks. how long was I out? What happened?” He noticed Fumiko then and immediately tightened his grip around mine. The next thing I knew he’d swept me back behind himself and was looming protectively between her and I.
“Wait!” I squawked before he could get himself knocked out again. Sure, he’d heal, but it seemed to me that repeated head traumas — even if they healed magically — would be detrimental to anyone’s long term health. “She’s my friend. She just thought I was in trouble earlier. It was an honest mistake.”
“Oh,” said Aaron. He seemed briefly conflicted, but then relaxed. “Well, that’s okay then. Sorry about the misunderstanding, miss,” he apologized to Fumiko.
Fumiko shrugged. “I’m not. Knocking you on your ass was fun. We should do it again some time.”
Behind me I heard Kelvin make an angry noise, so I hastened to intervene. “Not in the club please,” I said. Then I turned to Kelvin. “You mentioned having an office we could discuss all this in?” I probably should’ve been a little wary of going off to an unknown supernatural’s sanctum, but I really wasn’t. At first I just thought it was because my essence reserve was so low, but then I realized there was more to it than that.
I had active links to four men, none of whom seemed to have deep-seated issues and three of which stood around looking intimidating. Professionally. I was brimming with their innate self-confidence.
I divested my hand from Aaron’s and approached Kelvin as though I hadn’t a care in the world for what secret powers and motivations he might have, if any. Whatever they were, I could deal with it. “Boys, everything is fine,” I said to the others. “You should get back to your jobs while Kel and I chat.” I slid my arm through Kelvin’s and nodded for him to escort me back to his office. Because even if I had the confidence of three hulking brutes and a barkeep, I’d been raised to be a lady, dammit, and I fully expected to be treated like one.
Kelvin might have been angry with us, but he had the presence of mind not to express it around my newly enthralled muscle. He crooked his arm slightly as though he’d intended to have me on it to begin with and placed his other hand over my elbow. The jewellery on it tingled slightly where it touched my skin, not unlike the tracking medallion I had taken from Benjamin — just fainter. “This way, then,” Kelvin said.
I let him lead me to the side of the club I hadn’t ever been on. Fumiko followed us. There were more booths along there, but also, at both ends of the club, two spiral staircases that led up to the second floor. I thought I remembered Emma mentioning that there had been a second floor where Megan and Katherine were probably hanging out while we’d been at the bar, but I’d never really looked at it — It simply would have been impossible to see past the pulsing, flickering club lights.
The second floor was, in fact, something of a wrap-around balcony. It had open tables and two bars of its own — one on each side of the U shape that stretched around each side and the front of the club. Kelvin took me toward the back wall, where I could see that the balcony didn’t just fail to wrap around the room entirely: instead, along the back wall it was walled off itself, making for a room — or perhaps series of rooms — that stretched the length of the back side of the club. There was a door placed approximately midway along the part of the wall that overlapped the open balcony.
Kelvin opened the door and gestured for me to enter. He continued to hold it open for Fumiko, so she accompanied me. In the process Bonbon slipped away from her and clung to Kelvin instead. Kelvin followed Fumiko and then closed the door behind him.
The space we entered confirmed that there was more than one room along the back of the club. This room was roughly as wide as the balcony we’d just left, and about as deep as well — a simple square sitting room, with a handful of chairs along the the the corner walls, with an end table in the actual corner. The walls themselves were decorated with photographs and prints of what looked like club regulars in exotic and wild garb and activities. The lighting was dim, but brighter than the rest of the club had been.
Kelvin turned and walked to another door — the only other door in the room. This one opened into a long room, also roughly as wide as the balcony was. I suspected that at some point the balcony-floor actually had wrapped around the entire club, and someone had decided to just wall off the back side of it to make these rooms.
This one was clearly Kelvin’s office. One wall of it — the wall facing the club main — was plastered with old event posters and more pictures of people in elaborate punk or goth get-ups. The room was also amazingly quiet — although I could still hear the dance music, and I thought we could all probably still feel the thrum of the bass through our feet.
The back wall of the office was just a normal unadorned wall. There was a table centered along it — roughly the size of a desk — and pulled away from the wall enough for a large, ornate seat to fit behind it. It reminded me of a cross between a throne of some sort and an office swivel chair. Maybe one of those plush chairs that the evil CEO sits in, but made with a Gothic sensibility. A couple more, simpler chairs sat at either corner of the table on the opposite side. This was not, it was fairly clear, a working office — but there was also a door in the back wall, which indicated that Club Luminescence’s building went back deeper than the main club space occupied.
That didn’t surprise me too much, actually.
Kelvin stalked back to the fancy CEO chair and sank into it. He casually gestured at Fumiko and I, and then to the other two chairs. I sat in the farther of the two open chairs, while Fumiko took the nearer. Bonbon stood behind the table, beside Kelvin — and on the side of his chair that was closer to Fumiko than to me.
Once we were both seated, Bonbon popped into regular existence. The shadows that had wreathed her contracted until they were gone, leaving a very real-looking punk party girl with amber eyes and pointed ears behind the desk. I heard Fumiko’s sudden intake of breath, but otherwise she didn’t react to the faerie’s sudden appearance.
Then Kelvin addressed us. “First things first, then. Introductions.”
I nodded slowly. I’d learned the hard way not to give my name freely to a faerie, so I indicated Fumiko instead of myself. “This is my friend, Fumiko,” I said.
“And this is my friend, Abigail,” Fumiko told them.
A small smirk on Kelvin’s part indicated he knew exactly why we had answered the way we did. He opened his mouth to provide Bonbon’s introduction, but she stepped forward before he could.
“This is Kelvin,” Bonbon said. “My warlock.” She then turned away from me, so that she was addressing Fumiko squarely. “And my name is Jamie,” she said to Fumiko. “Or, at least, it has been for the past thirty-odd years.”
Kelvin’s head snapped around to stare at Jamie, and I gawked at her in surprise, too. Bonbon continued to ignore me, but shrugged at Kelvin. “I owe Fumiko,” she said. “Please don’t be mad. I think I owe her my existence, actually. She saved me from Abigail.”
Kelvin’s jaw snapped shut and he jerked his attention to me. “I see,” he said to Bonbon. “That complicates things… but I suspect that part’s out of my hands already.” She nodded sadly, but Kelvin couldn’t have noticed because he was actively glaring at me. “Alright then,” he said. “I want some answers. First of all: my employees. What did you do to them?”
I frowned at him. Sure, I had attacked Bonbon — but she’d sucked out my soul first! He didn’t need to be so hostile: it wasn’t like I’d been unprovoked. “I healed them of some injuries,” I answered coolly. “The process of doing so may have left them a bit… dedicated to me, but that will pass with time.”
“How long?” Kelvin asked bluntly.
I glanced at Fumiko, then back at him. I’d bitten Fumiko, but she wasn’t enthralled at all. I could only assume that was because Megan had fed on her just as much as me, and we’d both built up a resilience against it. “About a year. But don’t worry: I won’t impose upon their good will in the interim.”
My reassurance did little to relax Kelvin’s scowl, unfortunately. He did nod in acceptance, though. “You’re obviously a vampire. So, are you the rogue that’s been running around, or one of the Center’s scions?”
“She’s the rogue,” Bonbon squeaked before I could reply. “I recognized her from New Year’s. Director Salvatore carried her off.”
Kelvin pursed his lips. “In that case, what brings you here?” he asked me. “Really, you should be running like mad for another country. Maybe find some quiet little village in the middle of the Amazon to haunt, not starting fights in my club.” He tilted his head and raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “I hope, for your sake, that you have some very good reasons that I shouldn’t hand you over to the new Director. He’s put a bounty on you, you know, just to motivate the unaffiliated folk like me.”
I narrowed my eyes. “The Director has been setting me up,” I said. “I don’t know why. Probably some kind of politics that I’d have no way of knowing about — but it could just be that he and Salvatore were friends, and he sees getting rid of me as a way to clean up Salvatore’s mess. After all, Salvatore did go off the rails and murder me.”
“Ah,” said Kelvin. “Yes, I could see that.”
So, there’s no love lost between Kel and the Center? That’s good, I guess.
“We came here,” I explained, “because despite having Director Lewellyn after me I still have responsibilities to my friends. I had no intention of starting a fight until she,” I nodded at Bonbon, “drained off a significant portion of my aura. Enough that I was no longer in control of myself, I’m afraid.”
Kelvin’s glance skewed sideways to Bonbon, who ducked her head. “Yeah,” she said. “She was really anxious about… just all sorts of stuff. I couldn’t even tell what all it was, and it just kept growing by the second! I tried to help her out a little before I recognized her. And then wham! It was like I wasn’t even in control of what I was taking: I just got hit by all of it at once. But there wasn’t malice in there, Kel, until I emptied out everything that should’ve been there instead.”
Kelvin took a deep breath and blew it out in a sigh. “I see. So it really is your fault, Jamie.” He shook his head and turned back to me. “I haven’t called the police. I won’t, either, or the Director who’s after you. In exchange, you leave peacefully and hold no grudge against me or mine for my familiar’s transgression.”
I nodded. “We can do that,” I said, “except there’s still the reason we came here to begin with. I was following the leyline of a faerie — your familiar — in order to find out something. I would appreciate it if we could ask the questions we came here for.”
Kelvin frowned, “You were…” he seemed about to protest that following a leyline was impossible, but then he nodded instead. “I’d appreciate knowing how you managed that trick,” he said. “I keep this place warded thoroughly just to keep Archarel and the Center off our backs. I know you didn’t find Jamie with a spell — it wouldn’t have been able to pass the wards. So a leyline would be the only trail you had to follow, of course — except very, very few beings with less magical aptitude than a faerie can actually see them.”
“The club is warded?” Fumiko asked in surprise.
Kelvin looked at her and grinned. Apparently saving Bonbon from me had earned Fumiko enough goodwill to make up for the fact that she’d broken his employees, not me. “Thoroughly,” Kelvin reiterated. “Iron wraps the foundations, and I have more runes and enchantments running through the inside of the place than you actually need to know about.” His grin was genuinely friendly. “All that decorative ironwork outside? Taken from a graveyard and fixed in place reversed, so that the ‘inside’ of the old fences face the street. It has centuries of intent worked into it for keeping spiritual beings from approaching, and now instead of trapping them inside its confines it keeps them out. Fae, being magical creatures, are repelled just as well as wraiths, ghosts — or any other structured magic, like unfriendly spells.”
I knew I should let Fumiko handle the rest of the conversation since Kel seemed to actually like her, but I couldn’t help a sudden exclamation. Kelvin, Bonbon and Fumiko all looked at me. “Sorry,” I hastily said. “I just realized something that I hadn’t realized had been bugging me.” Fumiko didn’t say anything; nor did Bonbon.
“Oh?” Kelvin asked coldly.
I decided to answer. If nothing else, it was a distraction from the question of why I could see leylines when most others couldn’t. But perhaps it would make them more inclined to answer our questions as well. I still didn’t know how strong Kelvin was, but my recent encounters with Derrick and Justin had led me to be wary of warlocks.
“New Year’s night,” I said. “There was a faerie following Megan, but he didn’t know when she’d left the club. Neither did all the others, Archarel’s. Megan probably got in a cab right outside the club, but the other fae couldn’t approach so they were waiting by her car. That’s why Melvin was in the back seat still, and why the rest were there when I called out to them. All of them were hoping I’d lead them to Megan because they’d all lost her at the club.”
“Megan?” Kelvin asked in alarm. “What does this have to do with her?”
I gawked at him. “You know who she is?”
Kelvin’s scowl was back. “We pay attention to all of our regulars, and Megan came in a lot.” His brow was furrowed with worry. “Sweet girl,” he commented. “We’d hang out up on the balcony sometimes and people watch,” he added with a nod toward the door leading back to the club.
I gaped a little in surprise. I shouldn’t have been thrown since Megan was the nicest and most outgoing person I knew, but did everyone just automatically like her or something?
“She’s a changeling,” Fumiko answered abruptly. “Megan is our friend, too. And she’s a changeling, and Archarel has taken her.”
I nodded. “We came here because we need a way into faerie land, and the only portal we know of is too heavily guarded to be used. But that means Archarel wouldn’t try to use it again, either — and since he’s gone out of his way to capture a changeling…”
“…it makes sense that he would have secured another portal as well,” Kelvin finished for me. “Damn. Jamie?”
Bonbon shook her head emphatically. “If he’s ready to make one, he hasn’t actually opened it yet. A disruption that large in the weave? I would know.”
Kelvin breathed out in relief. “Good. Then there’s time still.” He stood. “I’m sorry, but I have responsibilities as well. The last time Archarel attacked he did so by surprise, and the strongest of the supernatural community were the first to fall. I have to alert the rest of the enclave.” His lips twitched slightly. “Well, Abigail, congratulations: the rest of us unaffiliated witches and warlocks will be sitting out this spat between yourself and the Center. I’ll see to it that everyone is mobilized against the threat.” Then he turned to Bonbon. “If he has a changeling already, is there any reason you can think of that Archarel would not have forced open a gate for his host?”
“Of course,” Bonbon answered. She nodded at me. “Vampires. When Archarel attacks, it will be with the sun overhead. He and his will likely torch every known vampire’s residence. They’ll strike during the day and retreat at night, keeping the new gate’s location a secret so that we can’t blockade it like we have the other.”
“I see,” said Kelvin. “I’ll pass that along as well. Thank you, Jamie. You are formally released of all obligations binding you to me. I now declare your tenure as my familiar complete.” He smiled lopsidedly. “I do hope we can remain friends.”
I looked back and forth between the two in confusion. If Fumiko was equally confused, she didn’t show it — but then, she seemed not to care at all. Other people’s drama rarely interested her, even when her aura was fully intact.
Bonbon, on the other hand, was crying. Not noisily, but there were tears in her eyes. They shimmered darkly over her cheeks before fading back into her phantasmal body. She threw her arms around Kelvin. “Of course,” she said. “Thank you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“What…” I started to ask, but Bonbon released Kelvin and whirled around. She leaned across the table and took Fumiko’s hands.
“Fumiko,” Bonbon said with fervent seriousness. “I owe you my existence. You didn’t know it, but you shielded me from Abigail when she meant to destroy me — and when you were aware of my presence you gave me the key to turning her hunger away from myself. That is a debt that I cannot repay, for I owe you an eternity and you are only a mortal.”
I continued to stare. Fumiko looked surprised — surprised and possibly angry that she was getting dragged into whatever this was, when all she wanted to be doing was hunting for a way to save Megan. Kelvin was watching, too, with a bittersweet sort of smile.
“I have been released from my prior obligations,” Bonbon continued, “and as such there are no conflicts that may divide me from this debt. As such, I pledge myself to your service without reservation, as a familiar, friend, servant, confidant, vassal or whatever other role you require. I know it is no equal measure to the debt I owe you, but I beg that you accept my offer and allow some measure of balance to be made between us.”
Now Fumiko was gawking. So was I. Bonbon sounded dead serious. I checked through the leyline between us, and she was.
In fact, when Fumiko didn’t answer in the affirmative quickly enough, Bonbon swallowed nervously. “Please,” she begged.
I wondered, then, about just what would happen to a faerie that never had a chance to resolve a debt binding it in a geas. Clearly, it had to be something bad.
And then, more quietly, Bonbon whispered — almost in despair: “Even if you won’t accept everything I offer… I know where a passage to the fae lands exists. At least let me guide you there; let me do something for you. Please.”
At that Fumiko finally regained her composure. She straightened in her seat. “Jamie,” she said flatly — and I could see Bonbon cringe in fear of whatever would happen if Fumiko refused her.
But that wasn’t what happened.
“Demonstrate your worth by showing me the way to Archarel’s realm,” Fumiko continued in a cold and calculating tone, “and you have a deal. But if you let me down? Then you will owe me that much more and I will never accept your offer of repayment.”