Mr. Kallaher was waiting in the hearse with the windows down and the radio on when we reached him. He jumped when Fumiko walked in front of the vehicle to get to the passenger side. Then he clicked off the radio and got out to let me in the back.
“How did it go?” Mr. Kallaher asked me in a hushed whisper. “Did you find one?”
“A faerie? Yeah,” I answered.
He leaned in. “And it gave you the location of Archarel’s new gate before you banished it?”
I paused, halfway into the hearse. “Not quite,” I hemmed. “She did give us the location of a gate we can use to get into Archarel’s kingdom unannounced, though. From the sounds of things, Archarel won’t be forcing his permanent gate into being until he’s actively ready to attack. But I suspect this might be the one he intends to use for that, too, since it was maintained by Katherine.”
Mr. Kallaher’s eyes widened. “I see,” he said.
“As for the faerie,” I continued, “well, she hasn’t been banished but she’s under control. I bound her with a geas to prevent her from escaping us, and…” I nodded to the front of the vehicle, where Bonbon had become visible and was trying to get into the passenger seat with Fumiko. “…she’s under an obligation to Fumiko that she will not be paying back any time soon.”
Mr. Kallaher looked at where I’d nodded and stiffened. Fumiko was holding Bonbon back with one hand. “Yeah, no,” Fumiko said. “You can ride in the back with Abby.”
Bonbon’s eyes widened and she glanced at me fearfully. I smiled back toothily. Okay, maybe I was getting a little too close to the ‘hungry’ side of the line. It was still fun to watch her squeak and shrink back.
“She’s coming with us?” Mr. Kallaher protested. “She’s one of them!”
“Please?” Bonbon begged Fumiko. “There’s plenty of room.”
“Yes,” I said to Mr. Kallaher. “And not really. She was a familiar. I don’t think she was ever one of Archarel’s fae; she certainly isn’t now. For all intents and purposes, she’s bound to Fumiko.”
“No,” Fumiko reiterated to Bonbon. “There isn’t. You’d be riding in my lap. And while some people might get a kick out of that, I’m straight.”
“Oh,” Bonbon breathed in relief. “Is that all? Just a second.”
Mr. Kallaher gasped and looked around when Bonbon suddenly shifted back to her shadow form — invisible to him. I had to find her leyline again before I could see her. When I did, the shadows composing her shape were deeper, thicker. They started to unravel and expand, then coalesced again. Then they faded back to what I considered ‘normal’ shadow-form before sharpening back into proper existence.
Only now, instead of a short punk-rock club girl, Bonbon was a middling-tall, slender young man in a blue button-down shirt with khakis and dress shoes. That was… my instinct was to think ‘weird’ but I’d read enough gender-bender manga that it was just neat. Besides, it wasn’t like Bonbon was naturally a guy or a girl, anyway. Faeries were magical beings and their bodies were phantasmal illusions. Why wouldn’t they be able to change gender along with everything else about their appearance?
It was a little weird in other ways, though. I mean: I couldn’t imagine Megan as a guy. Or Melvin as a…
Actually, no: cross-dressing Melvin was now officially going in my slashfic.
“There we go,” Bonbon said cheerfully. She… he? Bonbon still had the punky hair and excess of piercings, despite the change in stature and wardrobe. And Bonbon’s eyes hadn’t changed with the rest of his — her? — body. His… I guess it had to be his, now? I was going to get confused eventually, otherwise. His voice was recognizable, but deeper. I would’ve thought maybe it belonged to a sibling if I hadn’t watched the transformation take place. Bonbon started getting back into the front passenger seat with Fumiko.
Fumiko stopped him again, and Bonbon pouted. “In the back,” Fumiko said firmly. “Abby won’t eat you. Unless she’s hungry, she’s usually too nice or too self-conscious to just bite someone out of the blue. Unless thinks you’re attractive. Then she’s either really nice but probably still too flustered, or a real bitch.” Bonbon looked at me nervously. “Oh, or if she gets flustered,” Fumiko added. “God alone knows what she’s going to do if she’s flustered. Or if she decides you’d make a good substitute for bacon. Or… Well, really, if you’re nervous then it’s probably best if you just try not to interact with her.”
Bonbon swallowed and came around to the back of the hearse. I climbed in and then he followed. Mr. Kallaher scurried back to the front seat before Bonbon could reach us, so I closed up the back of the hearse behind him.
“Um,” said Bonbon. “So, you and Emma hit it off? You’re a lesbian, then?”
I looked at him. He wanted reassurance that I wouldn’t find his male form attractive so badly it was almost painful to watch. “I have a boyfriend,” I said cheerfully. “He’s a werewolf.”
“Oh,” said Bonbon. “But you aren’t, um, hungry, right?”
In the front, Mr. Kallaher started the engine. I braced myself as we started moving.
“Hungry?” I made a show of considering my answer. “No. Maybe a little peckish, though.”
Bonbon swallowed and shrank back as far as the wards in the back of he hearse would allow him.
I grinned a little wider. “No no no,” I protested. “You need to be up toward the front so you can tell Mr. Kallaher where we need to go, alright? I’ve never been to Katherine’s, so I don’t have a clue where we’re going. Besides, you don’t really need to worry about me. I mean, I like some kinky stuff, but Fumiko is the sadist.”
In the front seat, Fumiko snorted but didn’t contradict me.
Bonbon looked back and forth as though searching for an escape. Thanks to my geas — or perhaps just Mr. Kallaher’s wards — there wasn’t one. So he scooted along the far side of the hearse until he was up behind Fumiko’s seat. I moved to the back so I could stretch my legs out and brace myself in place without sticking a foot through Bonbon. Then I closed my eyes, forgot about teasing Bonbon further, and tried to think while he started giving Fumiko and Mr. Kallaher directions to Katherine’s.
A nice side effect of riding in a warded vehicle was that my supernatural senses didn’t extend outside of the wards any more than they had been able to extend inside the ones that were used by Lewellan’s hit squad earlier this evening. It was nice not to be bombarded with road noise — even if I wasn’t exactly buckled in at the moment — and I made a mental note to see about setting up wards on whatever car I ended up using in the future. Maybe Emma’s already had them? It would be a lot more effective than trying to rely on sound dampening headphones, anyway.
Maybe I could get a pair of those rune engraved mini-discs Justin and Derrick had used to trip me up on the roof. I could turn those into a pair of magical senses canceling headphones, which wouldn’t impede my normal sense of hearing at all. Plus I could wear them around outside of the car. That might actually be more ideal… well, that or some charm that did the equivalent.
Of course, those meandering thoughts were not what I needed to be focused on. What I needed to focus on was figuring out what, if anything, I would be able to do to help rescue Megan. I mean: sure, I’d found Bonbon and gotten us on the path to a portal we could use, but I didn’t like the idea of sitting around outside while Fumiko took all the risk from there. Unfortunately, if Bonbon couldn’t restore and wake up Emma then I didn’t have anyone who could invite me into Katherine’s place. I could bull my way across the threshold, but there was no way I wouldn’t wind up going thirst-mad from the damage that would do to my aura. I could still remember Mr. Salvatore’s scream of agony when he’d done the same in my apartment.
Maybe if I took a nibble from Bonbon, first? I popped an eye open and gave him a sidelong glance. I was peckish. And he was kind of cute, although I wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything. He had wasted a lot of my aura when he’d pushed it back to me, anyway, and I could probably make a case for him owning me the difference, at least. Would that be enough?
Before I could pursue that line of thought further, Mr. Kallaher’s cellphone rang. He fumbled around for it, which made me tense up a bit even though I wasn’t sated enough to have my usual level of driving anxieties. Then he got it out and answered it while driving. I scowled. I was okay for the moment, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look back on this and freak out later — and I knew myself well enough to realize it.
Because of the wards canceling out my supernaturally enhanced hearing, I could only listen in on Mr. Kallaher’s side of the conversation. That was still enough for me to realize that something bad was happening. “Mr. Dolcet?” Mr. Kallaher asked after answering — which let me know it wasn’t Kelvin finally working his way down his contacts to ‘Kallaher.’ “I… I see. Yes. Yes, she is. What?! What about the…” There was a long pause, turned painful by the fact that I couldn’t hear Benjamin’s side of the conversation. Then Mr. Kallaher said: “I’ll tell her. I don’t know what we can… yes, I’ll let her know. Thank you.”
Mr. Kallaher hung up. I frowned. “What was that about?” I asked sharply. I was reconsidering the value of a warded vehicle of my own: I did not like being privy to only one side of presumably important conversations.
“That was Mr. Dolcet,” Mr. Kallaher said. He sounded nervous. “He was calling from Director Salvatore’s house.”
“Salvatore’s house!” I protested. “Ben’s supposed to be with my dad, on his way out of town right now!”
“Apparently Mr. Dolcet changed the plan,” Mr. Kallaher said. “The decoy is still going out of town: your father is carrying it alone. Mr. Dolcet and the rest of the donors and enthralled individuals with him have returned to the the Director’s house.”
“What?!” I yelled. Dad was alone out there, being chased by who the hell knew what?! Even with my hunger creeping up on my sanity, I felt a cold shock of fear. Dad was not up to dealing with the kind of shit supernatural beings could throw at him.
I saw Mr. Kallaher glance at me in the rearview mirror. I don’t know what he saw, but he snatched his gaze away. “Your ghoul…” Mr. Kallaher swallowed and started again. “Your ghoul ate Director Salvatore. It was enough to sate him. Once he was no longer feral, he told Mr. Cullison and the witches watching over your Emma that Director Lewellan had murdered him with the explicit intent of using his death to frame you.”
That shock of fear shifted slightly inside my aura. It was still cold, but now the ‘ear’ part of it was replaced with ‘ury.’ “What.” I demanded.
Mr. Kallaher swallowed again. He sounded like events had just gone well outside of his league and he was slightly terrified to be the messenger. Given that he had professed not to really care about whatever vampire politics might’ve resulted in my persecution, I could imagine the source of his discomfort. He probably hadn’t wanted to actually face the fact that Director Lewellan was corrupt. Mr. Kallaher had probably been telling himself that it was all some sort of misunderstanding.
“Mr. Cullison has been calling in every supernatural he can get a hold of,” Mr. Kallaher answered me. “He suspected that Emma was rendered aura-drained through no fault of your own, but because Director Lewellan intended to use her death as leverage to control or incarcerate you.”
My fingers punched into some of the side paneling in the back of the hearse as I curled them into fists. Bonbon stared at me with wide eyes — but then, we hadn’t brought him up to speed on anything yet, had we? All he would’ve heard was Lewellan’s side of things, when the Director had tried to enlist Kelvin and put a bounty on my head.
“Mr. Dolcet and Mr. Cullison weren’t certain and didn’t want to distract from your own mission to rescue Megan and have her restore your donor, but… one of the witches who had been there to take care of Emma crafted a tracking fetish aligned to Director Lewellan, using sympathetic magic and the flesh of one of his sons. The Director had informed Mr. Cullison that he would be accompanying his other sons to the mortuary to make arrangements for when they awoke tomorrow, but according to the talisman the Director has been heading straight for the house. Mr. Dolcet is convinced that Mr. Cullison’s theory is correct, and that Director Lewellan misled him as to where he was going so that when he showed up at the house, instead, he would be able to take Mr. Cullison by surprise. Mr. Dolcet suspects the Director’s plan is to kill Mr. Cullison, Emma, and the witches watching over her — and then stage the scene so that their deaths will be blamed on you.”
I twitched, but Mr. Kallaher wasn’t finished.
“Mr. Dolcet asked me to tell you that,” Mr. Kallaher said. “And to tell you that they would do their best… but that neither he nor Mr. Cullison are confident in their ability to persevere against the aggression of a Director. He… He suggested that you, and whatever reinforcements you could manage, should make haste to Mr. Salvatore’s house at once… Because otherwise, even if you managed to rescue your changeling friend, Emma may not be alive to be saved from her cursed aura when you return.”