A nightmare. I was having some kind of nightmare. That was the only explanation that made any sense: Witches weren’t real. Werewolves weren’t real. Faeries weren’t real. Vampires weren’t real. And I sure as hell wasn’t dating anyone.
In the dream I was currently having, all of those things were real, though. And everyone and everything was whirling around me, like some sort of sick carnival ride: faster and faster and faster; too fast for me to even see what was going on. But more and more people and things and monsters were being thrown into the frenzied mass, and I was juggling for some reason and mom was yelling at me for being such an irresponsible freak, and what would my dead grandma think?!
Of course, grandma was the giant who loomed above all of us, spinning the ride and laughing as I fought to keep my balance and my lunch, while all the people who depended on me begged me to save them — even though I couldn’t do anything for anyone — before the merry-go-round went so fast that they lost their grips and they were flung off into the hideous, empty abyss.
Then, suddenly, the nightmare got worse in the only way it could. It turned out to be real. I gasped and sat up, opening my eyes and choking back an instinctive scream as I did. I was awake. I had been asleep? Maybe I’m still asleep. Please, god, let this still be the nightmare. But I wasn’t and it wasn’t: I could tell because I hurt. You don’t feel pain in dreams. But there was something hot nearby, hot enough that being so close to it hurt. Hot enough….
My brain whirred up to speed, shaking off the disorientation of waking up, and I suddenly realized that the heat around me was from fire: Salvatore’s house was on fire. His yard was on fire. All of our cars were on fire. I choked back another scream as I realized there was a faerie looming over me: Pips was standing at my side. He fell down on his butt in exhaustion even as I sat up.
“Wh… What?” I stammered. I wasn’t even coherent enough to form proper questions. What happened?!
I heard heartbeats. Someone else was on my other side. I twisted around, looking away from Pips just long enough to keep myself from panicking about the unknown lurker. It turned out to be Shantaya. She was crouched beside me. There were scattered burns on her clothing and soot streaked her face and hands. Next to her, unconscious, were Megan and Emma and a couple of Ben’s blood donors.
“You were cursed,” Pipsqueak said. I jerked back around to look at him. “I woke you.” He pushed thoughts at me, faster than words could leave his lips. My vampire ordered everyone out of the house, so I had to leave. Since you had approached me, you were the only one I wouldn’t be ‘bothering’ if I followed the leyline back to you — but I couldn’t do that, because of the order to leave the house, until you were out of the house, too. And then I had to break the curse on you just so we could talk. You know, it would be very convenient for everyone involved if you countermanded Mister Dolcet’s last orders. Maybe even put your foot down and declared that I not be subject to his orders unless they are reasonably phrased to begin with, hmmm?
I stared at Pips. He’d broken a curse on me? No. No, I wasn’t going to owe him for that. Hell no. He was too pretty already: I didn’t need to be grateful to him for coming to my rescue, too. That was Hans’ role. I didn’t… “Megan,” I blurted on autopilot while the rest of me freaked out about how damn gorgeous Pips managed to somehow be, sprawled out and grinning like some kind of damn knight errant. Was Megan cursed, too? And Emma, and all the rest? First things first. “Wake up Megan.”
Pips nodded and scrambled over to do as I bid. I looked around, still too shocked by what I was seeing to really believe it. Abruptly, I realized that the first thing wasn’t taking care of Megan. “What happened?” I asked, desperate from the surge of anxiety and fear. “Are we under attack?!” Clearly we had been — but were we still? And by whom? I looked around desperately and my supernatural senses jumped wildly as they tried to take in everything all at once.
The Center. John’s mom. Step-mom. Step-moms are more evil, right? And she’s the only one who knew I was coming here.
“There was a man.” Shantaya spoke. She sounded shaken; unsteady. “He wore a mask. All wrapped around his head, like a terrorist or something. He shot Jacob!” She was definitely shaken: I could hear the rising panic in her voice.
“Where?” I demanded. I instinctively reached out for my leylines. Jacob had been shot? Had I gotten him killed?! But no — there he was. I couldn’t see much through the mask of Benny’s aegis, but Jacob was alive.
Benny’s aegis. I had fallen asleep from the curse. Same with Megan and Emma and Benjamin’s donors. I guessed that Jacob and Shantaya hadn’t because Benny had shielded them from enchantments back at the hotel.
I turned my senses toward the house. Was anyone still inside? I took a step, and Jacob’s leyline grew fractionally in prominence. So he was. And where was Ben? I grasped his leyline, too, but it was tenuous; frail. Thin, but growing.
Ben was feeding.
I felt a tremble in my arms and legs. I couldn’t hear anything from inside the house except the crackle of fire and random pops and snaps as the blaze dealt it’s destruction. But Ben was alive and Jacob was alive, so they must have dealt with whoever Shantaya had seen. That just left… That just left Fumiko and John.
“Abby?” Megan stirred and sat up. Pips practically collapsed beside her. “What happened?”
I snapped around to look toward the house across the street. I pushed my thoughts to Megan, bringing her up to speed as quickly as I could — though they had to be at least a little jumbled in my haste. I wasn’t paying attention to that, though. I was trying to pull together details from across the way.
The windows of the house across the street were busted out. My supernatural eyesight could pick out bullet casings on the street, near where John had gone to call his step-mom. The house’s front door swung slightly ajar, and I could see where the doorjamb had splintered around a deadbolt. I couldn’t see John or Fumiko, but I could hear movement from inside.
“God,” Megan whispered as she digested my thoughts — and looked up at the burning house behind us. “Who… why… how?”
“Across the street,” I said. It looks like they attacked us from there. Then ran away? I think John and Fumiko are still inside. But I don’t hear fighting.
A hit and run? Megan thought back dumbly. She had picked up a thread of my paranoia, and gave words to it. An assassination attempt?! I could feel her horror and fear at the thought. I’d been trying not to dwell on it, myself.
You are a faerie queen, I thought darkly. Lots of people seem to be not okay with faeries. If I hadn’t been the target, then Megan was. But I think they were after me, I tried to reassure her. John’s step-mom knew I was going to be here. But no one knew you were coming, too. Fumiko invited you over on her own.
Beside Megan, Pips groaned quietly. “If you want me to break any more curses, I’m going to need something to replenish my essence.” He turned his head and grinned at Megan. It made his cheeks dimple. I wanted to be mad about that, and how appealing they were, but he looked too exhausted for me to hold it against him. “Queen Megan, you’d probably be more able to help with that than our Abby, at the moment.”
Pips had that right. I felt like my hands and arms and legs were shaking, even though I was doing my best not to show how freaked out I was. Someone had tried to kill me, again.
“I… right,” Megan said. “Okay. I’ll do what I can. I’m still pushing to Emma, and it’s hard to draw more from my kingdom, here.”
Pips nodded. “The portals between this realm and yours are already strained from the number of faeries who have come through, and you are not near to any of them. Do what you can, and so shall I.”
I felt sick. Someone had tried to kill me, and that always ended with me killing them back. Except this time they might have hurt any number of other people. Do what you can. What could I do? What was I supposed to be doing?
“I have to get Ben and Jock… Jacob,” I said. My voice sounded dull. I felt kind of dull, and I wondered briefly if Megan had sucked away some of my anxiety when she’d gotten that bit of paranoia about assassins. But I was pretty sure she hadn’t. I was probably just shocked and overwhelmed and undead inside. But that didn’t change the fact that I had things to do, too. I turned around and looked at the roaring fire behind me. I really didn’t want to go in there. How ironic. This time I’m going to be set on fire by actual freaking fire.
“It’s alright,” I heard Ben call out in answer. I twisted to look: a second later I saw him coming from around the corner of the house, on the side where the stairs had been blown out the wall last night. He looked haggard and dangerous, all the more so because of the shaggy wolf that padded along behind him. When I peeked down his leyline I could feel his hunger. But I could also see that he had control of it, and that he was linked to the wolf. Oh, right. A wolf. I felt mentally slow. Ben had fed on Jockboy. But at least the wolf seemed docile, for the moment. Enthralled, I told myself.
“We’re okay,” Ben added. “Just a touch parched.”
I felt dizzy with relief. Not just because I wouldn’t have to run into a burning building, but because they were okay. Everyone was okay. Everyone had to be okay. “Is there anyone else inside?” I asked. Please no, I thought.
Ben shook his head. “I got all of our people out,” he told me as he approached. “I don’t know about the other guy, though. He vanished while I was feral.”
Ben hesitated, then pushed on. “Abby, he was a vampire.” From across the street I saw John and Fumiko emerge from a house. I breathed another sigh of relief. John looked angry, but Fumiko was grinning. They were okay. “And he was stronger than I am,” Ben continued saying. “I don’t think he was a director — Lewellan tore through us a lot faster than he did — but he definitely wasn’t just a scion, either.”
I swallowed. “You keep saying ‘he,'” I observed. I felt something tighten in my gut. Anxiety. It spiked as John approached us. I really didn’t want to voice my suspicions. “I think it might’ve been a woman, though,” I said. I couldn’t meet John’s eyes. “I only know of one vampire who isn’t a scion and knew I would be here.” I swallowed and glanced at John, then immediately looked away. He looked pale and drawn. He got what I was implying.
“No…” John tried to protest, but in light of the evidence it was a weak one.
Ben looked between John and I. “They could be. Whoever it was, they were wrapped up in enough gear that I guess it could’ve been a woman.”
“Can you call Valerie,” I asked. I was looking at somewhere between John and Ben. “She needs to contact the fire department before this spreads. Or attracts the attention of mundanes.” I didn’t want the cops after me for arson. Another rogue vampire was enough.
“Yeah. Um. Right.” John mumbled. He looked shaken. I felt sympathy: first his dad and now his step-mom was turning out to be a murderous psychopath. And even if he wanted to say it was impossible he couldn’t because vampires were always one missed meal away from psychopathy. He stepped back and got out his phone. I heard him dial and start mumbling into it, but didn’t bother making out his words. I heard Valerie say that she would have her people get on the scene asap, and that was good enough for me.
I sort of felt ashamed for further kicking John’s desire for a happy, ‘normal’ family. Ben put a protective, comforting hand on my shoulder. Jockboy’s wolf squeezed itself between us and sat down. I wasn’t in the mood to be comforted by either presence, though.
In fact I wasn’t pulled out of my internal funk until a car turned onto the far end of the street, sending its headlights slashing briefly across us. It didn’t have sirens — though I could hear those in the distance, now. It looked sporty and expensive and it made almost no noise. I blinked a couple of times. I’d been expecting a fire truck, not a Tesla.
I stared at the electric car as it pulled to a stop in the middle of the street, almost adjacent to us. Tinted windows kept me from seeing the driver until she opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. She was gorgeous — like Megan or Helen of Troy or Marilyn Monroe gorgeous — was maybe in her thirties, and wearing a casual blue dress with strappy heels. So not only was she not driving a firetruck, but she was clearly not a firefighter. I frowned. If Valerie was sending spin control ahead of emergency response, she and I were going to have to have a talk about priorities.
To my confusion, I felt Ben tense up next to me. Jockboy noticed it to, and started to growl softly. But the woman just gawked at Salvatore’s burning house. “What the hell is going on?!” She gasped. She had a faintly southern accent.
“Oh, you know,” my autopilot casually drawled before I could rein it in. “It’s just another Saturday night.”
The gorgeous woman stared at me like I was crazy. So: apparently she was perceptive despite not recognizing a house fire when she saw it.
But then John hastily stepped up beside me. “Hi, mom,” he said, and it was my turn to pale. “Um, this is Abby. Abby, meet my step-mom: Elaine.”