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I signed the tax return and left a check before heading out. It figured: I owed. Self-employed people always owe. It was a credit to Lara that she’d managed my books well enough that the amount was low, but after seeing her run off with my roommate, I decided it was a good thing our working relationship didn’t include performance reviews.
She’d also left me a jam-packed day, which turned out to be beneficial. A busy schedule kept my mind off Dorian (mostly) and what was transpiring in the Otherworld. I fought with ferocity, as though each ghost or monster I battled was Katrice herself. It was the drives in between that were the roughest on me. There was no action then. Just my own thoughts.
My last job of the day was the most difficult, undoubtedly scheduled that way on purpose so that I didn’t walk into the little ones tired and injured. True, I was feeling weary, but concern for Dorian kept a spike of adrenaline burning through me, one that I knew would get me through this last job. Yet, walking up to the client’s house, I couldn’t stop asking the same questions in my mind. Why hasn’t Volusian reported to me yet? Isn’t the fight over?
A nervous-looking young woman answered the door, introducing herself as Jenna. She was the one who had made the call, though it wasn’t exactly on her own behalf.
“She’s in the living room,” Jenna whispered to me, letting me inside the foyer. Her eyes were wide with fear. “Just sitting there. Staring.”
“Does she speak?” I asked. “Does she answer your questions?”
“Yes … but … it’s not her. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s not. The people at work think she’s just gone crazy. I’m pretty much the only one who still talks to her. She’s about to lose her job, but …” Jenna shook her head. “I swear, it’s just not her.”
“You’re right.” I held my wand in my left hand and my silver athame in the right.
“Is she …” Jenna’s voice dropped even lower. “Is she possessed?”
“Not exactly.” Lara had warned me about this one. It had initially sounded like possession, but further data suggested otherwise, unfortunately. A possession would have been easier. “It’s a fetch. It’s like … I don’t know. Her double. Kind of.”
“Then … what happened to Regan?”
I hesitated. “I don’t know.” I didn’t want to tell Jenna there was a strong possibility that Regan was dead. That was the usual fate for a fetch’s victim. Of course, fetches usually left once they’d sucked all the energy and goodness from someone’s life. If this one was still here, the odds of Regan still being alive were marginally higher. “If … er, when we find her, she may be in bad shape.”
I stared off down the hallway, where I could hear the sound of a TV in the living room. I shifted my grip on my weapons and prepared myself.
“What should I do?” asked Jenna.
“Wait outside. Don’t come back inside until I tell you to – no matter what.”
Once she was safely away, I set off down the hall. There, in the living room, I found a woman sitting perfectly straight on the couch, her hands folded neatly upon her lap as she stared at the TV. There was a blankness in her brown eyes that told me she wasn’t really watching. She didn’t even acknowledge my arrival. Glancing around the living room, I took in its space and features, assessing them for a fight. I also noticed a couple pictures on the wall, group shots with Jenna and a smiling brunette who looked exactly like the woman on the couch. Yet, glancing between them, I knew Jenna was right. This wasn’t Regan.
“Where’s Regan?” I asked.
The fetch didn’t look at me. “I am Regan.”
“Where’s Regan?” I repeated harshly. “What have you done with her?” Please, please let her be alive.
This time, the fetch turned her head, those cold eyes taking me and my weapons in. “I told you. I am Regan.”
I had a moment’s debate on what to do. Killing the fetch without learning Regan’s location would make the next part of this job even more difficult. Yet, as the fetch continued staring at me, I knew she’d recognized what I was and what threat I represented. I had to take her out now, banking on the fact that fetches usually kept their victims close.
I held out my wand and began chanting the words that would drive this creature back to the Otherworld. It was where fetches came from, and a forceful enough banishing was usually enough to deter them from returning. I’d only have to get the Underworld involved if she decided to –
The fetch didn’t transform into her true shape as she sprang at me. Rather, she turned into something in the middle. She still wore Regan’s face, but it had a sickly green hue. Her eyes were bigger and darker and looked like they’d been stretched out. Her hands and feet were bigger too – and clawed.
She came at me with her full strength, knocking me into a wall mercifully free of furniture. I kneed her in the stomach, needing to get distance between me and the claws trying to rake my face and neck. She fell back a little, not much, but enough to give me more maneuvering room. I swung out with the silver blade, and she recoiled. Iron could inflict lethal blows on the gentry, but silver was the metal of choice for almost any other creature.
“Tell me where Regan is,” I said, advancing forward. “Tell me, and I’ll simply banish you back to the Otherworld. Make this difficult, and you die.” I was managing that balance I always did: weapon ready to attack while part of my mind focused on a connection to the Otherworld. Hecate’s tattoo, a snake on my upper arm, began to tingle.
The fetch decided I wasn’t a full threat yet and rushed me again. I dodged this time, anticipating her movements based on the last attack. A fetch might be able to replicate someone, but their fighting style was mostly brute force. My athame caught her arm as I moved, and she snarled in pain, showing fangs that dripped with green saliva. It hurt her but didn’t slow her down as she lunged back at me. I sidestepped her again but overlooked what was behind me, hitting painfully against a cabinet.
I winced, and she pressed her advantage, swinging those claws at me. I barely escaped them, managing to squirm away and hurry to the other side of the room. A banishing, I decided. I’d just keep my distance and do a banishing. I just needed a couple minutes – and to stay alive. I began chanting words to send her from this world, words that didn’t have to follow any ancient form so long as my power and intent were clear. She paused briefly, realizing what I was doing, and seemed to consider her options.
A circle. I should have put a circle of protection around the house. There was a very real possibility she might try to flee. That and killing me were pretty much her only options. The former would probably be easier for her – and would release Regan. But I didn’t want this fetch freely walking the world. I needed to send her on.
Power surged in me and through me, out to the wand and toward her. This was her last chance to run – or, as it turned out, throw a coffee table at me.
I admit, I didn’t see that coming – literally or figuratively. I should have, though. Furniture, props, whatever … they were all fair game in a fight. The fetch had no reason to rely simply on hand-to-hand combat, and my athame gave her good reason to attack from a distance. The coffee table was a simple one, a smooth circle of glass on iron legs. A wood-framed one would have been better. The frame would have slowed the spread of glass. This table had nothing to stop it, except me. I tried to jump out of its way, saving my head and face. I wasn’t far enough away when it hit the wall and shattered, though. Stinging, burning pain went through my back and left arm as glass scraped and – no doubt – embedded itself in my flesh.
My sense of self-preservation kept me moving through the pain, but my connection to the Otherworld had shattered with the glass. The fetch knew this and leaped forward, risking the athame in the hope I was too addled and injured from the glass to stop her.
I wasn’t. I had never let go of my weapons, and my athame was ready and waiting when she came. I plunged it into her heart and started the banishing again. Over the years, as I’d grown in power and spent so much time in the Otherworld myself, these banishings had become easier. Not easy, but easier. There was a time when I couldn’t have held a fetch off with my athame while simultaneously attempting a quick banishing.
But now, the power flowed through me as the fetch pulled herself off my blade. She had no time to react, attack, or flee. The magic seized her, and she disappeared before my eyes, fading into sparkles and then nothing. I didn’t know the extent of the athame’s damage. I might have just sent her back to die. Or, she might survive and come after me in the Otherworld as some creatures tried. I wasn’t worried. My abilities stayed consistent in both worlds, but my magic was a bit stronger over there – especially in the Thorn Land.
I took a deep breath of relief and stuck the weapons back in my belt as I hurried toward the front door. Jenna was sitting on the lawn, face pale with worry. She sprang up when she saw me.
“What happened? Is she okay?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, wiping sweat off my brow. My hand came away red with blood. “We have to find her. Does she have a basement?”
“No.” Jenna followed me inside and then halted. “Oh my God … your back …”
“It’s nothing. I’ll deal with it later.”
“At least – ” She reached toward a spot between my upper arm and shoulder blade, wincing as she did. I yelped in pain and watched as she pulled away a huge piece of jagged glass. “That’s bleeding … really bad …”
“I’m in better shape than Regan,” I said brusquely, trying to ignore both pain and the sight of my blood all over the shard she’d taken. “No basement. Closets? Attic?”
We checked the closets with no luck, and Jenna stuck her head in the attic’s tiny space. Still nothing.
“Shit,” I said. I shouldn’t have let the fetch go without getting Regan’s location. What if Regan wasn’t nearby? What if the fetch had broken habit and hidden her victim far from home?
Jenna looked as defeated as I felt, then her head shot up. “The shed. There’s a shed out back.”
We were out the back door in a flash, jerking open the door to a little garden shed that was mercifully unlocked. There, curled up on the ground in a fetal position, was Regan. Jenna let out a strangled cry, and we both dropped to the ground. Jenna propped Regan up while I gently shook her.
“Regan, Regan. Wake up. Please wake up.”
For a few moments, I feared the worst. Then, Regan’s eyes fluttered open, her expression frightened and confused. Her breathing came in short rasps, and she futilely tried to sit up on her own. Her failure didn’t surprise me. When a fetch took over someone’s life, it put its double into a sort of magic coma. It required no ropes or gags, simply leaving behind a silent and immobile victim. Regan’s ability to wake up verified that the fetch was gone, but the woman had spent days without food, water, or using her muscles.
“She’s dehydrated,” I said. Studying Regan’s state, I knew this was beyond a few glasses of water. “Let’s get her to the hospital.”
Jenna drove, with Regan laid out carefully across the backseat. She said little, only making the occasional moan. Meanwhile, in the passenger seat, I attempted to clean myself off with baby wipes and to pull glass bits out of my back. The blood on my face was cleaned off when we reached the ER, as was most from my body, but I didn’t want to answer questions about what had happened to me. I borrowed Jenna’s jean jacket, figuring the few scratches on my face weren’t enough to attract attention.
We told the staff that Regan had been depressed and starving herself. We went on about how we hadn’t seen her for days and had only just found her tonight. Since there was no ostensible bruising or signs of binding, they took us at our word and hurried to hook her up to fluids. We’d also probably landed her in therapy, but that was of little concern now.
I waited with Jenna just outside Regan’s room as a nurse finished attaching the appropriate tubes and a doctor performed further examination. When they were done, they told us we could go in and that Regan would recover once her body had sustenance again. I had no intention of going with Jenna. Now that Regan was safe, my plan was to get a taxi back to my car and go home to clean up before an Otherworldly jump. Lara could bill these women later.
“Wait,” said Jenna, as the doctor and nurse were about to leave. “My friend’s hurt. She broke a window to get in Regan’s house and got cut.”
I shook my head. “No, really, I’m fine – “
I shut my mouth when I followed everyone’s gaze. Even I could see that the left sleeve of the jacket was soaked with blood. There was little argument to make after that. Jenna stayed with Regan, and I was ushered off to a cubicle in the ER. The nurse shut the curtain, and I took off my shirt. The doctor’s eyebrows rose.
“You broke a window? With what, your entire body?” He called for another nurse, who began assisting the other with glass removal and sanitizing.
“I threw a rock,” I said. “It didn’t make a very big hole, but I didn’t have time to make it bigger. I just had to get to Regan.”
“Noble,” said the doctor, whose attention was on the larger shoulder gash. “If stupid.”
Someone with a better understanding of physics might have realized my injuries didn’t quite line up with what I’d get crawling through a jagged hole in a window. Fortunately, this group’s talents were elsewhere. The myriad scratches and cuts were dealt with by bandages and painful antiseptics. The big cut required a fair number of stitches.
I was restless the whole time, wanting only to get back and see what had happened to Dorian. The medical staff was thorough in its work, however. I decided I should just be grateful that they were letting me go and not forcing a longer stay. I was the walking wounded, in bad shape but not in life-threatening danger.
“Here,” said the doctor, just before letting me go. He scrawled out a prescription and handed it to me, along with reams of paper on wound care and cleaning. “Antibiotics. Get it filled tonight.”
“I will,” I said glibly.
He gave me a warning look. “I mean it. I know your type. You think you’re invincible, but any of that could get infected. Get the prescription. Clean and change the bandages on the cuts.”
He was right that I thought I was invincible. I’d had stitches and wounds before, my gentry blood usually expediting the healing. But I nodded meekly, promising I’d obey.
“Good,” he said, following me out to the waiting room. “Follow up with your family doctor in a week. I think your ride’s over there.”
“My ride …?”
I stared around the room, freezing when I saw a familiar face. “Mom?”
She’d been leaning against a wall, eyes anxiously studying everyone in the room. Spotting me, she practically ran over, staring at my bandages in alarm. I had no coat, and the tank top showed my battle wounds. “Eugenie! Are you okay? What have you done now?”
For some reason, that made the doctor snort a laugh before walking away. “I’m fine,” I told her automatically. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m your emergency contact. And that is not fine.”
I was still stunned to see her. It felt like it had been so long. Ages. “It is now,” I said dazedly. “All patched up. And I’ve got all this … stuff.” I waved my stack of paper around.
She brushed dark hair from her face, her expression both weary and distraught as we headed for her car. “It never gets easier. Not with you, not with him.”
I gave her a sidelong look. “Does he know you’re here?”
“No,” she said, getting out her keys. “Not that it would matter if he did. Nothing could have stopped me from coming when they called me. I thought … Well, I never know what to think….”
I couldn’t look at her as I sat gingerly in the car. My eyes were filling with tears. I’d missed her so much. I’d missed her, well, momness. Lots of people cared about me, but it wasn’t the same. Plus, I felt horrible, horrible that I made her worry. And because of me, Roland was out endangering himself again too.
I hastily ran a hand over my eyes and turned to her as we pulled out of the parking lot. “When did you get glasses?” I asked in surprise. Delicate wire frames rested on a face very similar to mine. It was our coloring that was different. My red hair and violet eyes had come from Storm King.
“A few weeks ago. They’re just for night driving.”
I looked away, fearing the tears would return. Glasses. Such a stupid thing. There was a time, though, when I would have known every little detail of her life. There was so much distance between us now. My churning, guilty thoughts only came to a standstill when she turned into a pharmacy a few blocks from the hospital.
“Mom, no! I have to get back to my car and – “
“You can go back to endangering your life again soon enough. Here, let me see those.”
“It’s not my usual pharmacy,” I said petulantly.
She was skimming the wound care instructions. “Yes, well, I’m sure this one still has a couple bandages stashed away somewhere.”
“You’re such a mom.”
She glanced up, a small twinkle in her eyes that reminded me of how things used to be between us. “I’m your mom.”
I followed her sullenly as we waited for the prescription, and she forced me to get a basketful of gauze, bandages, and other first aid supplies. I already owned a lot of them, but she wouldn’t rest easy until she actually saw them in my hands.
“I really appreciate you coming,” I admitted as we waited. “It … it’s good to see you.”
Her expression softened. “It’s good to see you too, baby. I’ve missed you.”
“I don’t suppose Roland’s forgiven me?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” she told me. “He still loves you. Really. But he’s worried. And he doesn’t like you being over … there. Neither do I.”
I averted my eyes again. I knew she didn’t – and she had good reason. My conception was the result of her captivity and rape in the Otherworld. She’d spent years keeping that knowledge from me, hoping to protect me from both my heritage and the agony she believed that place caused.
“Well, that’s complicated too. I have to be there, Mom. I know you guys don’t approve, but there are people counting on me. They’re not all like you think. I can’t let them down. They’re … they’re dying because of me.”
“Is there a man involved?”
I considered a flippant remark, then chose honesty. “Yes.”
“The obvious problem aside … would I like him?”
I tried to picture my mom meeting Dorian and couldn’t stop a small smile. “Probably not.”
“Do you ever talk to Kiyo anymore?”
I looked up sharply, my smile fading. “It’s over with us. He let me down. You know that. This other guy … he won’t.”
I was saved from further conversation when my name was finally called. I added the prescription to my portable hospital bag and felt grateful that my mom didn’t pursue the topic of my love life anymore. I was equally grateful when she drove me back to Regan’s house. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d left me carless in Tim’s care.
Leaving my mom stirred conflicting feelings in me. After missing her so much, part of me just wanted to stay and gaze at her, to drink in those features I loved so much. I wanted her to hold me, to be my mom and take care of everything. And yet … always, always, the Otherworld was pressing on me. I didn’t have the luxury of being a little girl right now. I didn’t have the luxury of being her daughter.
“Thank you,” I said, giving her as careful a hug as we could manage. “Thank you for … I don’t know. Everything.”
She held me for a few moments and then pressed a kiss to my forehead. “There’s nothing to thank me for. Just be careful.” She broke from the embrace. “Do what the doctor says. And for God’s sake, don’t end up there again. I don’t want another call.”
“I’ll try,” I said. This made us both smile, largely because we knew my trying to stay out of harm’s way was pretty futile. “And tell Roland …” I couldn’t finish, but she nodded.
I left her then, loading my loot into my own car and driving home. Regan didn’t live too far from me, only about ten minutes. The time flew by. I had so many things to think about that when I arrived at my house, I hardly knew how I’d gotten there. Tim’s car was parked out front – as was Lara’s. I dragged myself out of my own self-pitying miasma, uneasily wondering what I’d find inside. Seeing the two of them naked on my kitchen table would not be cool.
Instead, they were cuddled up on the living room couch, watching a movie. All seemed innocent, but some vibe made me suspect they hadn’t been actually watching too much of it. I shook my head in exasperation.
“How is this my life?” I muttered, setting my bag on the counter.
“Did you say something?” called Tim. The living room and kitchen were mostly open to each other. He muted the film.
“We figured you’d be out for the night,” he said. I was pretty sure there was an accusatory tone in his voice.
I opened the cupboards, rummaging for food. I was suddenly starving. “Well, rest easy. I’ll be gone soon enough, right after I get dinner.”
Lara turned and peered over the couch’s back. “Pop-Tarts aren’t – oh my God! What happened to you?” Tim noticed my bandages now too. He didn’t look as shocked as her – he saw me come home after fights a lot – but worry had replaced his snark.
“What have you been doing?”
“Earning the mortgage.” I put two blueberry Pop-Tarts in the toaster. “Isn’t that what you told me to do?”
“Jesus, Eug. I didn’t – “
“Forget it,” I told him. “Everything’s fine. But you’re going to have to send a bill to Jenna Benson, Lara. I wasn’t able to collect.”
Lara nodded without a word, still aghast at seeing what my real life looked like. I poured some water and choked down one of the antibiotics while waiting for the Pop-Tarts. As soon as they were done, I retreated to my room, eating quickly as I threw together an overnight bag. While I was packing, my eyes lingered on a half-finished puzzle on my desk. I sighed. How long ago had I started that one? A month ago? I loved jigsaw puzzles. I used to do one a night.
I was almost finished packing – I even included the first aid supplies, thanks to some residual mom-guilt – when the temperature dropped. An unsettling yet familiar presence filled the room, and soon Volusian appeared before me. I nearly dropped the bag.
“Mistress,” he said with a mock bow. “I’ve come to report on the battle.”
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