My question was answered with silence. I swept a glare through Archarel’s faeries and then nodded. “Good,” I muttered. I turned to Megan and Fumiko. “We should go get Emma now,” I said. “And I guess you should let Orlina out from behind that wall and have her come with us or go to a guarded room or something.”
Megan nodded. Her brow pinched slightly as she focused, and then the wall melted away.
I did a double take. When the protective wall vanished it didn’t reveal Orlina, trembling in fright from the claustrophobia and the adrenaline of hearing bullets tearing through the air around her. Instead, it revealed the tall, lanky form of Melvin — though I only knew that because of his stupid top hat, since his back was to us.
Melvin twisted around when the wall vanished. He gave us one of his trademark smirky grins and sidled a step or two as he turned to face us, revealing that Orlina was in fact there — she had just been behind him. Or rather, from her perspective she had been facing him — and he had been facing her — but she had been behind him from ours. My lips slipped into a frown as I noticed that the limited confines of the circular wall Megan had created had forced them to be quite close. In fact, Melvin still had a protective arm about Orlina’s waist.
I thought of all the darkly, intensely intimate things two people might do while walled away from a cacophony of death ringing around them, and scowled. Which was weird, because normally I’d be totally into imagining something that combined those levels of danger, helplessness, confinement and forced proximity to a man who was at least as dangerous as he was a flirt… but this time it was more like when I’d thought about Katherine and Emma making out: impossible to stop picturing, but intensely dissatisfying to imagine.
Katherine and Emma making…! Megan’s thought blindsided me. But she swiftly recovered. Wait, no: Abby, are you being jealous of Orlina and Jack?!
No! I immediately protested. I pulled my arm away from Megan before she could get a glimpse at any more of my thought processes — good god, once my soul was recovered I was going to have to freak out so hard about her getting that glimpse of my fantasies. It wasn’t even a good one! That was going to be mortifying… But beside that, I wasn’t jealous. I couldn’t be jealous: not of Melvin. He creeped me out, and I had a Hans, anyway. Or at least, I would until Hans got the chance to finish dumping me.
But regardless: my soul was partially empty right now. I couldn’t be jealous because I could only care about important things right now, like saving Emma and Megan and Fumiko. And vampire things, since I was peckish and Megan and Fumiko didn’t really need saving at the moment. But that was all this reaction was: I was just being undead and possessive. Melvin was my sadistic stalker elf, dammit!
I felt my jaw clench. I was going to have to nibble on him until he remembered that, wasn’t I? That jerk! He just couldn’t stop making me do things I didn’t want to do, even if he’d promised not to use geases to do it, could he?
Melvin released Orlina and offered her his elbow. My scowl deepened and I crossed my arms as she accepted his arm and he escorted her to us.
Melvin’s smirk didn’t slip as he sauntered over to us. He looked inordinately pleased with something. “That was a good glamour,” he said to Megan, “but you didn’t ward it. Any faerie with a strong enough connection to Orlina could have traveled a leyline to skip through it, and she would have been trapped with them. Fortunately, I realized it first — so I took steps to ensure any other faerie who tried would also be trapped with me.” He ran his thumb over the topper of his cane significantly. “Still, we will have to spend more time developing your abilities, Lady Megan, to ensure no slips like this occur in the future. Particularly since you seem to have expanded them so significantly.”
Megan opened her mouth, then closed it and hastily reworded her thought. “You did well,” she said instead of the ‘thank you’ I figured she’d almost handed out. Melvin smiled like he was the cat that ate all the canaries, ever.
I am going to eat your face, Melvin, I thought at him as loudly as I could.
He jumped as though he’d just been jabbed with a pin, then glanced around in momentary confusion. That was somewhat mollifying. When his eyes crossed me I gave him my best ‘no I am not crazy-why would you think that-I am innocent’ smile — and although he frowned for a second (and it was so slight I only picked up on it because of my supernaturally perceptive vision) he didn’t say anything and appeared to accept my face at face value.
By then Benjamin and Daniel had reached us as well. Reid wasn’t: he was taking time to direct his followers — my followers, and that would take some getting used to — around the edge of the clearing to secure the various portals around the clearing. Benjamin’s donors, along with Derrick and Justin, were keeping their distance but had formed up in a loose, protective circle around us.
Satisfied that we’d be safe enough for a moment if Orlina’s knights tried to come back, I arched an eyebrow at Ben. “So, I thought Mr. Kallaher wasn’t letting anyone through that portal,” I said.
He shrugged, but grinned. “After the traitor Katherine and this one,” he jerked a thumb at Mr. Eyelids, who was being watched by some of Kallaher’s warlocks, “came stumbling through the portal babbling about the sun turning into a moon and Archarel being dead, I convinced Mr. Kallaher that we really needed to do some reconnaissance and find out what was going on over here.”
Daniel nodded. “And by that he means that I pointed out that I wasn’t on The Center’s list of unacceptable losses any more than you were, Abigail, and volunteered to take Philippe as a local guide and check it out while the others held Katherine hostage against his good behavior.”
“Yeah,” Ben said. “And then, while Kallaher was distracted thinking about a way to say ‘no’ to that,” Ben concluded, “I pointed out that it wasn’t really his call by getting the jump on him, tying him up, and coming through anyway.”
“Huh,” I said. “Where’s John?” I really would have figured he’d be all about launching a vampire invasion into faerie land.
“He got the short straw between us,” Daniel said. “And was left behind with Thomas, Valerie, and the rest to sit on Katherine — and try to placate Kallaher, since they’re old friends.”
“Valerie?” I asked.
“Ms. Grenz,” Benjamin answered for Daniel. “She’s a scion like myself — the oldest of those of us in the city, actually. She and her donors arrived a little bit after you departed. Your dad’s safe, by the way. She picked him up while he was running decoy and got him squared away in a warded safe house.”
I nodded. I was surprisingly touched that Ben had thought to let me know about Dad. Both surprised because I wouldn’t have thought that would be on anyone else’s mind at the moment, and because my emotional equilibrium was mostly at a low ebb, with occasional obsessive surges of one thing or another. Still, Dad’s well being counted as something important enough to grab the aura remaining to me. And I was glad Ben had brought him up.
I didn’t get to ask about Dad, though, because then Reid tried to join us — and was held back by Adam and another of Ben’s donors.
“Let him through,” I told them. “He’s one of mine, now.” Adam and the other man exchanged glances, but let Reid lumber past them. Before I could ask him if we needed to do anything else here, though, I was surprised by Daniel snapping his gun up to point at Reid’s head.
Reid didn’t seem surprised or perturbed. He just lifted his hands, showing they were empty, and said: “Peace, please. I really am one of hers.”
“Daniel?” I asked.
“This fellow tried to kill me yesterday,” Daniel replied. I blinked a couple of times and looked back and forth between the two of them.
Reid shrugged while still holding his hands up. “It wasn’t personal,” he said. “You know how it is with orders.”
Daniel snorted. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Did you deliver my message?”
“I did,” Reid replied. “And she followed through. No one from Archarel’s kingdom is going to be messing with her after this.”
Daniel considered this, and then lowered his gun. “Alright, then.”
I shook my head. I hadn’t followed half of that. “Look, whatever,” I said. “Reid, take us to wherever you stashed Emma. Megan needs to make sure she’s taken care of. And, um, are we really not going to have any problems with everybody else here, or anyone else in Archarel’s realm?”
Reid shook his big troll head. “No,” he said. “I assure you, you will not. Those who remain here will either swear allegiance to the new lady of this land or attempt to cut ties and flee to the court of another noble — but they will not linger. Without invitation, this will become a warded place to them very soon, and that will only become more pronounced the longer you hold it as your own.”
“As Megan’s,” I contradicted him. “I don’t want a kingdom.” I glanced at Megan. “I don’t know if you do, either, but I figure you’ll probably be better at managing it than I would. And it would be sort of awkward to be that queen who eats her subjects, you know?”
Megan managed a tiny smile and nodded.
“Ah,” Reid said. “Then they will be lining up to swear their oaths to Lady Megan, soon. Once that is done…”
“No,” I said. “We’re going to go take care of Emma, now. Anyone who wants to can come swear their fealty once we know she’s okay. And anyone who insists on delaying that further — even to ostensibly prove how loyal they’d be — is going to wind up proving just the opposite. And pissing me off.”
I raised my voice and tried to talk around the armed men — loudly enough to be heard throughout the clearing, but without shouting. “Do you hear that, everyone? We don’t have time for more bullshit, so you’re all on your own. You’ve got three choices here. Leave this realm — freely and without penalty so long as you swear to never bother us again, swear fealty to Megan, or get locked up somewhere until I get hungry enough to forget that eating prisoners of war is bad form. Once you know what it’s going to be, let one of the nice goblins or trolls know so they can have you brought to Megan, kicked out of her kingdom, or thrown in some dark pit. Got it?”
The faeries of Archarel’s court seemed to gasp and tremble as one, and a babble of words rose around us.
“That was unexpectedly generous of you,” Reid said. “Most rulers aren’t so willing to let their power dwindle, and letting those who choose to leave to do so without penalty? Unheard of.”
I shrugged. “They won’t be bothering us — and the more they owe us when they make that oath, the more strongly it will hold. Besides, it’s not like it’s my kingdom.” I stopped short, then turned to Megan. “Shit,” I said. “I’m sorry. This is your kingdom and I’m already going crazy with it. But I just can’t see you being so bitchy as to tear chunks out of people just for not wanting to stick around.”
Megan hastily shook her head. “No,” she said. “We’re in agreement with this. Anyone who wants to leave? Let them. We don’t need to worry about who’s secretly plotting against us on top of everything else. It’ll be hard enough making sure everyone is taken care of without having to deal with people who don’t even want to be here.”
Reid was shaking his head when I turned back to him.
“There,” I said. “See? Now take us to Emma. Everything else can wait, but if she suffers any more…” I frowned. If she dies… “…then even if I did manage to beat another Director, make allies out of everyone he’d had hunting me, destroyed a Faerie King, stole the loyalty of his army and usurped a kingdom, I’ll still have failed in the only thing I actually set out to do to begin with. And I’d really rather not have it come down to that.”