Megan… My thought trailed off. I wanted to warn her to be careful, but I didn’t even know how to express it. Besides, she was the super-powerful faerie queen that Melvin was actually sworn to obey. But then again, weren’t faeries supposed to be tricky? I mean, yeah: I’d managed to bullshit myself around Melvin a few times so far, but I figured that at least half of those were just because he let me because he was entertained. And in the stories, wasn’t it always when you had the evil genie or whatever under the most restrictions that it found a way to screw you over the worst? And hadn’t I just been worried about what Melvin would do to Megan? Why was I suddenly flipping back and forth on which of them I had to be worried about?
Oh, sweetie, Megan replied. Don’t. You don’t have to worry about me: I’ll be careful. But if I’m going to be letting some of the fae into this world you can be damn sure that one of the restrictions is going to be ‘no harassing the natives.’ And those restrictions are going to include Jack. He doesn’t get a free pass just for swearing himself to me first, or for having a crush. She pushed a surge of reassurance and calm toward me. It’ll be okay. He’s one of my fae, and I’ll take care of him.
I relaxed a little despite myself. Unfair! I protested. And it was: just directly pushing the emotional response she wanted from me onto me was totally cheating. Of course, my vampiric curse pulled that essence apart and fed it back into my buffer, so it only impacted me briefly — but in that time I’d started to relax a little on my own.
Megan laughed mentally. Totally fair, she countered. She offered no reasons to support her claim, but I didn’t bother to contest it. The fact was: I appreciated the respite from constant panic. So I just let myself relax a little bit more, and I focused on Emma for the rest of the drive. It helped that the extra essence Megan had pushed to me seemed to be enough to keep my enhanced senses from jumping helter skelter to random bits of road noise. Instead, I listened to Emma’s heartbeat and watched her lips fog the window glass and basically just lost myself in how pretty she was.
I think Megan approved. I got that impression, anyway, just before she stopped sending thoughts to me. And I think she shared, because I saw Emma’s spine straighten and her cheeks flush and the reflection of her pupils in the window dilate — And her wolf pulled it’s head back into the car and twisted around to look at me.
But, what the hell: Emma was an exhibitionist, right? And between us, I was supposed to be the aggressive one. So I was perfectly fine with Megan letting her know I was staring.
That didn’t last very long, though, because soon we were turning off of the main street and into an apartment complex — Hans’ apartment complex. “Which way?” Fumiko asked, and I was forced to turn away from Emma in order to give directions.
“Left before the carports,” I said. “It’s down at the end there — the one with the lights on.” Most of the apartments were dark. In fact, I only noticed one other one with lights on before Fumiko turned down Cassie’s pseudo culdesac. But it was getting late, so maybe that didn’t mean anything? Except… no one had really reacted to all the shooting and werewolves and stuff, earlier. It made me wonder what kind of people were living here now that there wasn’t a werewolf pack in residence.
As before, Cassie decided to wait for us outside her place. Fumiko pulled into a mini three-slot lot inbetween Cassie’s apartment house and the next one over, and we all got out. Cassie waved in greeting. “Come in,” she said cheerfully. “Um, do I have to invite you in each time, or is just once enough?” She added to me as she stepped back to open the door and hold it for us. “And who are your friends? I didn’t know there was another werewolf in town!”
“Each time,” I answered as I stepped across the threshold of the apartment. A glance confirmed that the line of salt I’d scattered earlier was still broken. I looked back up at Cassie and noticed a subtle shift in her shoulders. Had she just relaxed a little?
Yes, Megan confirmed.
I can’t blame her, I thought back. “And there isn’t another werewolf… at least, not that I know of. This is Emma. She’s my girlfriend, and she also picked up the curse from Hans. Um. She just….”
“Didn’t pick it up completely,” Emma said. She reached out to shake Cassie’s hand. “I wasn’t bitten, so I’m not exactly a werewolf, even though I seem to have picked up a wolf… thank you for having us over. Abby said you could see ghosts and spirits and wolves, and so I was hoping to talk to you so I could figure out how to see my own, you know?”
Cassie blinked a couple of times in surprise at that, but I ushered Emma into the house so that Megan could follow. “This is Megan,” I continued the introductions. “My other girlfriend.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Megan said. “And I appreciate your inviting us into your home at this late hour.”
‘I appreciate,’ I realized belatedly, is going to be replacing the polite ‘thank you’ for all of us, isn’t it?
Probably, Megan agreed. It’s the best I’ve come up with.
“Sure,” Cassie said back. “Pleased to meet you, too.”
“And this is Fumiko,” I concluded after Megan followed Emma into the living room. “And Jamie.”
Fumiko also offered Cassie a handshake. “I’m just Abby and Megan’s friend,” she said with a smile.
Cassie looked back at Fumiko a little wide eyed and shook her hand mechanically. “Are you the changeling everyone is talking about?,” she abruptly blurted out. “I mean: come in; feel welcome.”
Fumiko laughed. “No,” she said. “I’m just a mortal. Jamie is my familiar, but I’m not really a witch, either. I’m too new to the supernatural, still.”
“Oh,” Cassie said. “I’m sorry. It’s just: I can tell that he’s fae,” she said with a quick nod to Jamie. “But I couldn’t with you, except… those ears. They moved! So I thought maybe I couldn’t tell because you were the changeling?”
Fumiko laughed again. “Just a glamour. Jamie helped me put them together.”
“Oh,” said Cassie. I noticed her shoulders subtly relaxing again. Wait, did no one tell her…
“Megan is the changeling,” Fumiko added with a dazzlingly innocent smile, and then she and Jamie had stepped through the door as well, leaving Cassie and I behind.
Cassie’s shoulders immediately tightened again. She turned and swallowed. “Please, have a seat everyone. Can I get anyone something to drink?” Seeming to abruptly realize what she’d said and who she was standing next to, Cassie took a quick step sideways. “I have apple juice and lemonade and milk and water.”
“I’m not thirsty,” I hastily reassured her. But then I started to panic that I was being rude. “I mean: I’m not Thirsty. I wouldn’t mind some apple juice, though.” Emma, who had already taken a seat on the couch, raised her cup from the fast food place. She was too busy wolfing down another burger to actually say anything, though.
“I’m good,” Fumiko said, and Jamie nodded along with her, which left me suddenly realizing that I might be the only one to make Cassie go out of her way to serve something, which had to be even more rude than turning down the offer –but maybe I could tell her to never mind, unless that would be even more rude?
“A lemonade sounds splendid to me,” Megan piped up, and I stopped breathing just to hold back a sigh of relief. God, I hate social situations: this kind of crap is exactly how it always starts — and it always ends with me hiding in the bathroom after mortifying myself with something insane I’ve blurted out in polite company.
I took a seat at the end of the couch, and Megan sat at the other end so that we had Emma sandwiched between us. Her wolf paced back and forth to sniff at each of us and then rested its head on my lap while Fumiko sat on the floor with her back against the arm of the couch and her knees up — which I thought was probably a pretty dangerous position in that skirt. Jamie stood.
From the kitchen I heard the clink of glasses along with the opening and closing of a cupboard, then a refrigerator being opened and liquids being poured. While that was going on I looked around Cassie’s living room. I hadn’t taken in much of it earlier, but as it turned out there wasn’t much to take in. It was pretty plain. The couch faced a set of cardboard boxes with a cloth draped over them in imitation of a coffee table. School books were piled on a small shelf set by the door. There wasn’t a television or anything, even: the opposite wall had a window and some posters. A shallow stairway to the loft slanted down over our heads — the couch was set back underneath it.
But because there was so little to catch my attention, I spotted Reid right away once I started looking around. He was seated on the book case, where he had apparently been reading the spines — but had stopped after all of us came in.
“Reid?” I asked in surprise. I had expected him and Thaddeus to be in the basement, but I guess having him up here was close enough for ‘keeping an eye’ on Hans. Actually, given that wording it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that only one of them was ‘on duty.’ And technically, for all I knew, Thaddeus was sleeping with one eye open or something.
Reid flew over and perched on the edge of the coffee boxes. “Ladies,” Reid greeted us with a deep, half twirling bow that encompassed all of us by the couch.. Fumiko’s eyes widened delightedly and she glanced at Jamie.
He’s going to wind up being a bishie fairy, isn’t he? I thought. “Hi Reid,” I said. “Where’s Thaddeus?”
Sure enough, when Reid piped up to answer he confirmed my theory that he and Thaddeus were working in shifts. “Thaddeus is keeping an eye on Hans at the moment — the wolf gets too agitated when both of us are there, so we’ve been taking turns,” Reid said. “You know,” he offered as an additional, slightly awkward comment, “your boy must really hate us fae.”
“Well, yeah,” I said. Then I hesitated. Hans’ story wasn’t really mine to share, but at the same time… wasn’t it sort of common knowledge? I mean, Reid probably would have been there when Archarel’s changeling crossed into this realm and killed Hans’ pack mates. I swallowed nervously. For all I knew, some of the fae who had sworn themselves to my service had killed Hans’ family. No: the fae who had sworn themselves to me had once been Archarel’s army. Some of them had definately been a part of that attack.
I needed to find out which ones. I needed to figure out what to do about that — but I needed to find out which ones they were, first, and make sure none of them were allowed anywhere near Hans.
I breathed out and gathered myself together. Then I looked Reid in the eye — which was made only somewhat awkward by his tiny stature and tinier face. “He doesn’t hate all of you though,” I said, remembering John’s story about Vegas. “But of course Hans hates Archarel’s fae,” I added. “They killed his pack mates.”
Reid stared back at me. His expression… I didn’t need supernatural senses to recognize that expression. It was one I’d seen far, far too often. It was the expression of someone who’d just heard me say something absolutely outrageous like I actually believed it. It was the expression of a cashier finding out that bacon was thirty percent human, or a waiter being asked how many customers it took to dispose of a body. It was the expression of someone who didn’t believe what they’d just heard — or at least couldn’t believe that I believed it.
“W-What?” Reid sputtered.
I froze — for some stupid reason I was far more hesitant than all the times I’ve spouted off made up shit because I can’t handle interacting with others. Maybe because I was so confused? Because this wasn’t made up! “Yeah,” I managed to say. I scrambled to remember everything John had told me. “When Linda was spying for Archarel, she made friends with the local witches and warlocks. So when he planned on attacking, she betrayed him. She told the local wolf pack about Archarel’s plan, and they fought with Archarel’s army at the gate, holding them back. Hans was sent to get help, but by the time he returned with Mister Salvatore, it was too late. Salvatore killed the changeling and drove off the faeries, but Hans’ pack mates had died keeping them from overwhelming the city.”
When I finished I wasn’t breathing and my heart wasn’t beating, but I could hear Megan’s speed up slightly from the tension. Emma, I noticed, was listening with wide eyes. Her wolf sat at attention, practically vibrating with the urge to do something. Cassie had stopped in the kitchen, probably not wanting to walk back out into the middle of this disagreement. And Fumiko hadn’t reacted, but her gaze shifted over to Reid to judge how he did.
Reid shook his head. Vehemently. “No,” he said. “No, Lady Abigail, that never happened.”
Emma’s wolf growled. “Yes it did!” She protested. “Linda told us…”
“No!” Reid protested again. “I don’t know what Linda told you, but… if we’d been ordered to attack the city, I would’ve known. When Lady Linda and Princess Vanessa disappeared, it wasn’t because of some attack ordered by their father: he was furious about it!” Reid hastily turned to face me. “I swear,” he said, “to the best of my knowledge none of us had anything to do with the deaths of your boyfriend’s pack. Please, my lady, hold back from vengance,” he begged.
What? I thought. I’d never seen Reid look quite so panicked, and I’d seen him when he was holding me while I giggled about the prospect of nuking Archarel’s kingdom. Wait! Vengence? Does he think I’m going to….
Execute his friends until you’ve removed the ones you think killed Hans’ pack, Megan finished the thought for me. Yes. I think he might still be a little too accustomed to life under Archarel’s rule rather than yours, she added.
I’m not going to do that! I sent to Reid before Megan even finished thinking at me. I would’ve said it, but thinking was the only way to get the words out fast enough to keep me from throwing up at the thought of becoming a mass murderer like that. I… I don’t know what’s going on now, I told him. I’m not going to go around killing people arbitrarily! Or willy nilly! I turned my thoughts to Megan. I’m so confused, I wailed at her.
Me too, she thought more calmly. But we’ll figure it out, sweetie.
“Lady Abigail,” Reid said aloud. I noticed that he did seem relieved… and maybe a little sheepish. “I… I do not believe we are responsible for those deaths. But with your authority, I shall make certain of it. By your grace to command the truth from those who will obey it, I’ll speak to every fae who Archarel exiled or allowed into this world. Even those that did not swear themselves to you or to Megan — I will find them, and I will find out if any of us were involved in those deaths.”
“Do it,” I whispered.
“I grant you mine as well,” Megan spoke up. “For the purposes of this investigation, you may compel the truth from any faerie who is sworn to obey me.”
“Thank you, Lady Megan,” Reid breathed. “I will not fail you in this.” Then, without another word, he vanished down a leyline — most likely to interrogate the nearest of Archarel’s fae in this world, I thought. That would have been Thaddeus.
Almost as if on que, Hans’ wolf howled somewhere below us. Emma’s wolf howled back, though I think only Megan, Jamie and I noticed. But at the same time Emma sprang up to her feet. “I should get a hold of Linda,” she declared. “This is just… this is crazy.”
“Even I know about that fight,” Cassie said softly from where she’d been hiding in the kitchen. She came out with a glass for Megan and a glass for me. “I mean… Jeremiah had friends who died there.”
“Jeremiah?” Fumiko asked while Emma stood apart from us, her phone at her ear. I could hear it ringing on the other end.
Cassie flushed slightly. “He’s a ghost on campus,” Cassie said. “He was apprenticed to a warlock at the time — one of the professors. His teacher and the eldest apprentice died when the fae attacked. He only survived because they made all the younger apprentices stay back, reinforcing the wards in the dorms. They were afraid the fae would incite a riot somehow: using sports, or politics, or civil rights, or some other excuse for the mortals to pin it on — and then let the violence spill out into the city so they could feed on it while using it to incite more fear and panic in the populace. Fortunately, the fae invasion never got that far.” She looked somber. “It wouldn’t have been the first time they used a tactic like that.”
I swallowed. How often had I heard of sports fans rioting when their team lost? Hell: How often had I heard of fans rioting when their team won? Not for the first time I wondered: How often were these random acts of insanity just the result of herd instincts and humans being inherent bastards, and how often were they because of herd instincts, humans being inherent bastards, and the fae giving everyone’s heightened emotions a push?
“She isn’t answering,” Emma said with a scowl for her phone. She looked over at Cassie. “I might have an old number,” she said. “Can you call her?”
Cassie held up her hands and took a step back, shaking her head. “I don’t have it,” she awkwardly admitted. “I applied to the sorority, but was never invited into it or their coven. I don’t see auras right for them to teach me — That’s why I’ve been getting my magic tutoring from Jeremiah, instead. But I can call some of the other local warlocks. I put Kelson on speed dial just today.”
I nodded to Cassie. “Okay, do that.” Then I turned to Emma. “Is there anyone else you can call who might be able to get a hold of Linda?” Actually, couldn’t I just call John? I needed to talk to him about getting a corpse for Daniel, anyway, and I knew he had Linda’s number.
Emma frowned. “Maybe Anna,” she said before I could take my question back. “I’ll try calling the other sorority girls I still have in my contacts. Someone has to be able to get a hold of her.”
I breathed out. “Okay,” I said again. I tried to pull myself together, but I could feel the nervous tension starting to ramp up in my aura. God fucking dammit, why is it that every time I go to a group gathering I wind up getting worked up about being rude, saying something apparently insane, and having a panic attack? “If that doesn’t work,” I added on autopilot, “I’m going to call John in a minute to see about getting something for Daniel to eat when he wakes up, and he should have Linda’s number, too.”
Emma nodded absently, but I didn’t think she was really paying attention to me. Fumiko looked as calm as ever, though there was a slightly dangerous glint in her eye and a worried one in Jamie’s. Megan appeared to be just as serene as she always was when I made a social event implode, but this time I could feel her own anxiety through our leyline. Cassie just looked lost.
I turned to her. “Cassie,” I said hastily — while I still had some semblance of not panicking about… I didn’t even know what, but I had no doubt my subconscious was even now working on horrifying theories about why this wasn’t just some silly misunderstanding. It would no doubt share them with me at the worst possible moments, as far as my anxiety and paranoia were concerned. “I’m going to go use your restroom for a moment, if that’s okay?” I still had the shoulder bag Sebastian had made so that I could carry my ‘real’ clothes with me when I’d left Megan’s bedroom this afternoon. At least I could take care of being naked. And then freak out in private, maybe.
Cassie nodded mutely. Then she managed to stumble over some words. “Um, yeah,” she said. “It’s just down the hall — across from the basement.”
I nodded once and retreated. Or maybe bolted? My stomach wanted to clench up with a combination of nausea and dread. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know what was going on… But it wasn’t just a silly misunderstanding. Someone was telling lies. John, or Reid, or maybe — hopefully — someone who’d told things to them. With Emma and Cassie both backing up John’s version of things, it seemed more likely that Reid was the one who was wrong. Wrong, or lying — and I didn’t know how well I’d handle it if I found out my pseudo general was lying to me. He’d started to feel sort of like a friend. Way more so than Melvin or Pipsqueak or Jamie, anyway.
In any case, though, if there was one thing I’d come to know about my new unlife it was that when things stopped making sense around me; when they went wrong… Well, it wasn’t just me being a paranoid and flighty and anxious freak anymore. If things were going to go wrong around me, obviously they were going to skip every step between inconvenient and disastrous in order to go straight to catastrophic.
And I was by no means ready to deal with that already. Not again.