I looked around again while everyone was getting out of their vehicles, and sure enough: no ghosts. Some of the sorority girls looked a little pale and drawn, but I chalked that up to the late hour. Or maybe they’d heard about Linda getting shot, and had been crying earlier? A couple of them looked like that might’ve been the case.
Once we’d all gathered, Valerie stepped forward to greet the witches. “Miss Greene?” she asked while offering her hand.
One of the sorority girls that I didn’t recognize stepped forward. “Just Nora,” she said while shaking Valerie’s hand. “Is this everyone?”
Valerie glanced over the rest of us and nodded. “It is,” she said simply. “Thank you for your assistance. I know how much stress your coven has been put through recently.”
I wasn’t sure if Valerie meant the stress from taking care of Emma, or that Terry and the other two had dealt with when Lewellyn attacked the house, or when they’d backed us up at Katherine’s, or if Valerie had told them about Linda when Kallaher’s ghost had told us, before I’d found out she was probably still alive. Maybe all of it. I was kind of impressed: Nora, although her hair was unkempt, didn’t even look tired. Terry was probably the next most together of the group, and she had noticeable bags under her eyes. She caught me looking at her and met my gaze for just a second before I looked away.
I looked over our numbers again myself, pretending I’d just been glancing at everyone. We’d actually brought a big enough crowd on our ghost hunt for the sheer number of people to make me a little twitchy. I would definitely end up sputtering into autopilot if I tried to talk in front of this group. I was going to have to work to keep my mouth shut, and let Cassie tell everyone about whatever we found.
Cassie, Fumiko, and Elaine were by me. Valerie, Ben and Matteo rounded out the vampire presence. On top of that, three of Valerie’s partners, two of Ben’s donors, and four of Matteo’s solocks had come along, too. And there was Shantaya — who’d moved over to stand by her sister, as well as said sister and Benny. Hans hovered protectively by the werepups, though I caught him giving me a worried glance or two, too.
Jockboy was still in wolf form, and hanging out by Ben’s feet. He growled slightly at anyone who approached ‘his’ vampire, but Ben seemed to have him pretty firmly under control. Whenever Jockboy started to snarl at someone, Ben would casually flick his fingers in a sharp ‘stop’ gesture, and Jockboy’s fang-bearing rumble would turn into a close-mouthed whine, instead.
That left three wolves — spectral wolves — who did their best to circle the group protectively while not straying too far from ‘their’ respective people. Hans’ wolf went the furthest, coming over to nuzzle my shin before going on to patrol the far side of the group. Spectral Jockboy seemed to be insensate, and clung to his wolf like some kind of humanoid, transparent lamprey. Which left Thaddeus as our final immaterial member. He hovered near the talking, but carefully out of arm’s reach of any of the Scions.
While I’d been distracted, Valerie had introduced the other two Scions, followed by Elaine. “And this is the city’s new Sentinel, Abigail,” Valerie wrapped up. “And the medium Cassandra, who will be assisting us in this endeavour.”
I jerked to attention on hearing my name. Who? What? “Sentinel?”
“It’s a title,” Elaine said under her breath. Her lips didn’t even move, and if it weren’t for supernatural hearing I wouldn’t have noticed. “Typically there is only one vampire permanently assigned to protect a city — the city’s Sentinel. They hold sway over the supernatural elements and are charged by the Center with keeping the faeries at bay.”
Oh. Right. The Scions had come to compete for who would be in charge of the city. I’d sort of claimed that position when Lewellyn and I had been fighting — but I hadn’t thought anyone else had heard me. I certainly hadn’t thought anyone else was going to give it to me. But fuck me: if the alternative was letting another Director take up residence, I’d deal with it. I was already shadow queen of the faeries, so what was another title? It was probably ironic that I’d just be the face of this one — Megan or Valerie or someone would probably actually end up in charge of anything important. They knew better than to rely on me.
Fortunately, no one other than Elaine seemed to notice my surprise. Or rather, no one other than Elaine, Valerie, Ben and Matteo. Matteo’s smirk let me know he’d overheard, too, which meant Ben and Valerie had as well. I flushed, but the darkness covered it up. At least Ben and Valerie had the decency to pretend like they hadn’t noticed anything. And everyone else was actually more focused on Cassandra.
“Cassie,” Nora said. “You look well. Have you been….”
“I’m fine, Nora,” Cassie said a bit sharply. I gave her hand a squeeze without thinking about it. She closed her eyes and breathed out. “I’ve been fine,” Cassie started again — more calmly, this time. “And I’ll be fine.” She gave my hand a squeeze back and released it. “But it’s late. Where’s this battlefield I’m supposed to look over for ghosts?”
“Yeah,” one of the other witches — one I didn’t recognize — said. She sounded irritable; maybe even bitter. “Let’s get this over with.” I narrowed my eyes at her, not liking the glare she was throwing at Cassie. A glare that ended up focusing back at me in return, before she abruptly blanched and turned away. She started power walking toward the woods. Nora frowned, but gestured for everyone to follow. The witches quickly caught up to their angriest member, while the rest of us followed in a clump.
“Hey, are you going to be okay?” I heard Nora whisper.
“I didn’t know they were bringing her,” the irritable witch hissed back.
The hostility in her voice surprised me — as did the hostility I felt back. So far, Cassie had never been anything other than good, helpful, and gracious where I’d been able to see it. And we already knew Linda had lied to her. Cassie had told us someone had spread rumors about her! My fangs ached slightly from the urge to take a bite out of anyone who was nasty to one of my friends. It felt sort of like all those times Salvatore or Lewellyn had threatened Megan or Emma. I was always more protective of my friends than of myself.
“Well you’re just going to have to deal,” I heard Terry whisper from the other side of Miss Irritability. “After what she did, you’d have to be crazy to get pissy with her. And besides: It’s really not your place to be protective or possessive of Emma. Not anymore. ”
Wait. Was Cassie one of my friends now? I barely knew her! But I had kind of adopted her with the hugging and comfort, I gue…. Wait! What? That hadn’t sounded like they were talking about Cassie — it sounded like they were talking about me!
“She almost turned her into a ghoul,” Miss Irritability hissed angrily.
“No, she went into the Faerie lands, conquered a kingdom, and turned their queen into Emma’s familiar to save her from that psycho Director,” Terry shot back in a hushed whisper.
I felt my eyes widen. Was Miss Irritability Emma’s Ex? My jaw clenched, and I cut my lip on a fang. Fortunately, it regenerated immediately.
“That’s just a bullshit rumor,” snapped Miss Irri… no. Miss Dumbass Loser. Hell, she didn’t deserves ‘miss’ anymore. Just: Dumbass Loser. Where the hell did she get off, after how she’d abandoned Emma? I was glad I was too angry to remember her name offhand.
“I was there,” Terry contradicted. “I saw Abigail walk through a Gate like it was nothing.”
“And we all saw how weak Emma was,” one of the sorority girls I didn’t know added. “When she came back through the Archives, her aura was overflowing.”
“She deserves better than a corpse,” Dumbass Loser snapped — just above a whisper this time. And holy hell, I wanted to snap at her too. But instead I just felt a little sick at the reminder that I was dead. Emma did deserve better than that — but Emma had Megan, so that was covered. And Emma deserved way better than Dumbass Loser.
Without thinking about it I took a hasty step away from Cassie. A second later, I had caught up to the witches. The part of me that was just furious with Dumbass wanted to bite her head off. The rest of me just wanted the conversation to stop — all the other supernaturals, at least, could hear and I was mortified enough without having someone talking behind my back in front of my face, without having everyone be privy to it.
I leaned in to tell Dumbass to shut the fuck up and mind her own business — Which Emma wasn’t anymore. Instead, I tapped her on the shoulder. When she glanced back at me in surprise, my autopilot had already hijacked my vocal chords.
“Just so you know,” I said quietly, “Everyone back there with supernatural powers can hear you.”
The blood drained from Dumbass Loser’s face. I felt an accidental surge of sympathy. I knew from plenty of experience: Awkward social interactions were awkward. But, that didn’t stop me from thinking she was a Dumbass. And probably jealous. And should shut the fuck up.
“So shut the fuck up,” I added politely. I even managed to smile.
The Dumbass’ eyes went wide and she stumbled away from me, into Nora. Nora caught her before she fell over, but she looked a little shaken, as well. I stopped smiling and checked my teeth with my tongue.
Oops. Fangs. That probably hadn’t been as reassuring as I’d intended.
While I tried to figure out how to apologize — or if I even wanted to — for the unintended scare, the rest of the group caught up with us. I gestured forward to prompt the witches into walking again. “Shall we?” I asked.
Terry recovered first. Maybe because she sort of knew me? “Yes,” she said, diverting attention from the other two. “Sorry. This way.” She started leading the group while Nora got Dumbass turned back around and walking steadily. I felt weirdly exultant: usually I was the one who wanted to hide after speaking up in a group, but right now Dumbass was the one hovering at the edge of the group.
On the other hand, though, I had no desire to be the new center of attention and I could sort of feel the other vampires’ thinking about the conversation that had just occurred. I gestured for Cassie to join me, and we went up to the front by Terry. It was as close as I could figure out for a way to be at the edge of the group without blatantly hiding like Dumbass was, and I was not going to give her the satisfaction of letting her know she’d bothered me with that ‘corpse’ crack.
Besides, what had actually bothered me was what I knew about how Dumbass Loser had treated Emma. How she’d abandoned Emma to Mister Salvatore. That made me seethe inside. It kept me furious enough to not freak out at having a pack of vampires, werewolves, and warlocks hanging out behind me. Well, not much.
Okay, okay: so it bothered me a lot. In fact, I was pretty fucking wound up when we suddenly stepped out of the trees and into a clearing.
A clearing full of mutilated ghosts.