Elaine turned her incredulous gaze back upon me. “This is Abigail?” She asked. Next to me, John nodded piteously.
I returned her regard in equal measure, though I was less incredulous and more paranoid. I didn’t see any signs of soot or being heavily armed. But, hell: Any vampire worth her fangs could just stop time and do a quick wardrobe change, so it’s not like that was really good evidence that she hadn’t been the one to arrange this ambush. Although, that thought was disconcerting for entirely other reasons: I was a vampire who couldn’t stop time. Couldn’t stomach the thought of it, actually. And now that I was thinking about it, I couldn’t stop. I should’ve frozen time as soon as I woke up. I should’ve checked to make sure people were okay in person, instead of waiting for them to come to me. I should’ve… should’ve…
Fuck! I should’ve opened myself up to Ben and checked to see what leyline was most prominent in his awareness — well, second most prominent, since he’d just been feeding on Jockboy. And I should’ve chased it down and put and end to this fucking nonsense before It escalated further.
In fact: I should still do that.
“Yeah,” I said to Elaine. “Don’t mind me,” I added — and proceeded to ignore her. I turned toward Megan, who was crouched beside Emma with Pipsqueak. Emma groaned and blinked a couple times. She was awake. Pips was looking a little faint.
Too bad. I still needed him to do stuff for me. “Pips,” I called. He looked up at me and grinned, flashing his damn dimples.
“Yes, my lady?” Pipsqueak purred. I got the impression that he was enjoying being the faerie on hand at the moment. He was probably storing up any and all good will with the intent of implying debts in the future. Dammit. I was trying, but even though I had a decent connection to Ben I just couldn’t make much out other than basic emotions.
“I can’t see it well enough,” I growled. “Can you check Ben’s leylines for his newest one? That should be the person who was inside. If you can follow it…”
Pipsqueak stood and walked over to join us. Ben glanced briefly back at Elaine before turning back toward Pips. Pipsqueak, Ben, Jockboy and I formed sort of a circle, perhaps not entirely unintentionally excluding Elaine, who was continueing to gawk at us. John scurried forward to apologize on our behalf and bring her up to speed. Megan was explaining what had happened to Emma, too. Fumiko was tapping her foot impatiently, while Shantaya just looked lost. I ignored all of them.
“Try to focus on the person you want me to find,” Pipsqueak told Ben. “That’ll help.”
“I don’t know who it was,” Ben said cautiously.
Pips shook his head. His dark, curly hair bounced around his face. “Doesn’t matter. If you have any kind of impression of them, that will forge a line. He attacked you — focus on that. It’s too soon for the line between the two of you to have withered — at least, not if you had any sort of emotional reaction to him. Or her.”
Ben scowled. “He was going to take Abigail’s head off.” I paled, but Ben didn’t seem to notice. “Trust me: there was an emotional reaction.”
Pipsqueak nodded absently and continued to study Ben’s aura. I shivered. Ben’s expression was focused and dark. Somehow he didn’t look like a poser dork right now. I wasn’t sure what he did look like, but it made me bite the inside of my bottom lip and try to keep my scrambling thoughts from spending too much time running down that tangent.
Finally Pipsqueak sighed and shook his head. “No luck,” he said. “Whoever it is, they’ve gotten behind a ward.”
Ben curled his hand in a fist. I just cursed.
“Dammit!” I blurted again. I turned away from Pipsqueak and stalked away. Everyone around me was in danger as long as people kept trying to kill me. And people had been trying to kill me often enough that I freaking knew it. “Okay,” I said. “I’m going to have to go get… food… for Daniel. I want the rest of you to just… go back to the apartments. Go to the apartments and fort up, just in case. Keep Megan safe.”
If they thought that maybe the assassin was after Megan, that would keep them in one place — away from me. And if I was lucky, maybe whoever it was would take another crack at me at Kallaher’s. At least everyone there was already dead. Well, except for Mr. Kallaher himself. I caught Megan’s gaze. I could tell that she was on to me from how worried she looked. Megan didn’t worry about herself like that. Emma seemed to be picking up on it, too. Which made sense, since she and Megan were sharing pretty much all of Megan’s essence, anyway.
Shit, I should’ve taught Megan how to stitch up an aura by now. I turned away before Megan could say something that might let everyone else know I was getting rid of them so that the monsters would only hurt me if they came after me.
“About that,” Fumiko suddenly interrupted. I looked over in surprise. Was she going to insist on coming with me? I was past being shocked by her loyalty — since it was also possibly just her desire for a good fight she wouldn’t have to feel guilty about winning — but I still worried. How could she stand up to someone who had supernatural strength and could freeze time and regenerate wounds? I got ready to protest, but she was staring meaningfully at John.
John noticed, and suddenly his attention snapped away from his step-mom as he was reminded of… something? His expression turned dire, like it had been when he and Fumiko had come over from the other house. “Mitchell is dead,” he said flatly.
Elaine gasped behind him. Her hands covered her mouth reflexively. I just stared at him uncomprehendingly — and then it clicked. Mitchell Kallaher.
“What.” My voice was utterly devoid of shock or confusion, because I was to shocked and confused to express myself. I guess it came off as disbelief.
“We were there when the grenades were launched at dad… at Hans’ house,” John said. “We were walking up to investigate like you’d asked when it happened. I returned fire. Then Fumiko threw some kind of flash-bang, and we rushed the building.”
I blinked twice. Fumiko what? I looked at her, and she was grinning.
“It was a glamour,” she said. “I dialed the sparkles up over nine thousand. It didn’t last more than a second, and it didn’t do anything except be loud and visible — but isn’t that the whole point of a flash grenades, anyway? To distract and disorient?”
John nodded as though to indicate that Fumiko’s explanation was more accurate than his — or maybe to agree on her tactical commentary. “Once we were inside, it was obvious that they were pulling back. One of them had some kind of trigger device — I shot him before he could set it off, and wounded another one, but that’s when we found Mitchell. The rest got away while we were checking him.” John’s voice was rough. “He’d been shot. Twice in the chest and once in the back of the head. Executed.”
I wanted to hug John, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t any better with emotional stuff than Fumiko was. I heard Megan gasp. She was the empathic one. Take care of him, I thought to her. Please. I didn’t say anything, though, because I was afraid of what might come out. Instead I turned and stalked across the street. I was barely cognizant of it when Ben and Jockboy joined me, followed by others.
The building that had freaked me out so much when we arrived was silent. But this time it wasn’t the silence of a warded structure. I could hear the creaks and scuttling critters and other house noises when my supernatural hearing swept through the structure. However it had happened, it wasn’t warded anymore. Maybe John had burned out the ward when he’d crossed it.
The bottom windows were shattered outward — my guess was that whoever had been inside hadn’t waited to open them before lobbing fire across the street. Maybe shattering them had been enough to make the wards fail? If a ward was based on the perception of safety — on the sanctuary of a home — then I could see them possibly failing if that house’s threshold was physically broken.
On the other hand… Was this a home? Emma had said that there was someone who lived her while Salvatore had still been active across the street, but… I walked up to the ajar door and reached out with one hand. I didn’t feel any sort of resistance.
“Abby?” John said. “We shouldn’t go inside. The whole place is still rigged up to be torched.”
I nodded. “Then everyone else should wait out here.” And then I braced myself and stepped inside.
Nothing happened. I breathed a sigh of relief, which turned into a choked off gag when I inhaled and took in the scent of death. There were two bodies in the room. I saw small red canisters — like miniature fire extinguishers, only without a hose or handle. They had the little pin-lock, though. Grenades? They were set up in the corners of the room and wired together.
I looked at the corpses once and then ignored them. They had pistols and rifles, and were wearing military-esque mesh vests covered in pockets, gray cammo pants and jackets, and their faces were masked. Generic army-ish goons. Maybe Valerie’s people in the police departments would be able to identify them, but I couldn’t.
I followed the evidence of people running — another door that was ajar, leading deeper into the house. I followed it into a hallway, and the scent of blood made me turn into an adjacent room. And there was Kallaher.
He was sprawled on the floor, near what was clearly some sort of mystic circle. His cane wasn’t far from his body. I felt dizzy. I’d seen more than my share of horrifying corpses lately. Well, four. Salvatore. Lewellyn. The two guys John had shot.
Archarel hadn’t left a corpse.
But this was the first one I’d seen where the person was someone I sort of knew. Mister Kallaher hadn’t been trying to hurt me. He’d been gruff, and he’d been way too slow to stand up against Director Lewellyn, but he hadn’t been a bad guy. And now he was dead.
I struggled through the dizziness and stepped into the room. The scent of dead blood made my curse’s instincts want to recoil from the body. I resisted, and knelt beside it, instead. “What happened?” I whispered. I was too busy trying — failing — to cope to figure it out myself. Was he a good guy? What was he doing here, then? But if he was a bad guy, why was he dead?
Behind me, I heard Elaine whisper “oh god, John, I’m so sorry.”
Ben crouched next to me. His arm wrapped protectively around my shoulder. Jockboy’s wolf crept closer and sniffed at the body.
I wasn’t crying. Crying might have been appropriate. Maybe it wasn’t. It definitely wasn’t appropriate that part of me was just relieved the body on the floor didn’t belong to someone I knew better — like Fumiko. What had she been thinking, running into a building with a bunch of thugs who’d just been launching grenades across a street in the middle of the night?!
My mind shied away from that thought — shied away from the guilt I felt for having it. Instead, it started spinning up to speed: weaving paranoia and anxiety to distract me.
Only, it really isn’t paranoia when people actually are out to get you.
Except for when they really actually weren’t.
I stood and turned around. Elaine and John and Pips were at the door. Megan and Emma and Fumiko were in the hallway beyond.
“Three hours,” I said.
No one responded, so I said it again.
“Pips, you said whoever was channeling magic into the curse around the house had been doing it for three hours,” I said. “Right?”
Pipsqueak nodded. There was a little bit of a malicious gleam in his eye — no doubt he was enjoying all the distress around him. Whatever. I could have that talk about appropriate behaviour with him later. I looked past John and Elaine to fix my eyes with Megan’s.
“I didn’t even know I was going to be coming here three hours ago,” I said. “This wasn’t about me, and it wasn’t about you, Megan.”
Fumiko and Elaine seemed to get it at the same time. Elaine stiffened, but Fumiko actually said it: “Salvatore.”
I nodded. “Or Lewellan,” I said. Maybe both. Obviously they were working together toward some end — fucking up my life, at least. Apparently they have other allies, too. “This wasn’t an assassination attempt. It was either a kidnapping, or a jail break.”
Ben muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “Fuck me, I didn’t even check on him,” but I wasn’t paying close attention. I’d stepped forward. I was kind of numb, but I knew I wasn’t actually dead inside because I wasn’t thinking about killing everyone around me. Sort of. I reached out and put one hand on Elaine’s arm. “This would have been so much easier if you were the bad guy,” I said.
“I… what?” Elaine asked.
“You aren’t,” I told her. “I know. And John,” I said, looking over at him, “I want you to know that too. I’m sorry I thought she maybe was, but she was right there when Pips said that whoever had been inside the house was behind a ward.” I looked back at Elaine. “It just would’ve been so much more convenient if you were the one behind all of this and had just been trying to pretend you weren’t, for some stupid reason.”
Elaine blinked at me. “I… sorry?”
I shrugged. I’d already squeezed my eyes shut and was pushing my sight higher. Toward that plane of existence that faeries sometimes hid on. “Don’t worry,” I muttered without paying anymore attention to the conversation. “There’s always next Saturday.”
Then I opened my eyes. Emma’s spectral wolf was inside the room, sniffing around. It looked up at me and made a happy noise when I looked back. I smiled at it. Then I turned around.
And there he was. Just like when I’d been in the hospital — when I’d seen ghosts for the first time while looking for faeries. The spectral form of Mitchell Kallaher hovered beside his corpse, just to the left of Jockboy, who’s ghost-like presence was curled around his physical wolf’s form like a lamprey-turned-aura.
“Well?” I asked loudly. Kallaher’s ghost turned toward me as I addressed it directly — just like Emma’s spectral wolf reacted to me when my awareness was expanded to include it. “I asked you a question, Kallaher,” I said as calmly as I could, even though I was seriously freaking out inside because I was talking to a dead guy. I swallowed, and then continued. “What exactly the fuck happened here?“