"Hey, kids," Alexandra said, ushering us into her apartment. "Getting together to study? Taylor, you okay?"
"I'm fine, Mom. We need to talk to you."
"Oh, okay. What can I do for you? Let's go to the kitchen, so I can get you some snacks."
Once we were seated around the breakfast table, and I had finished chewing the first few pieces of my steak, I got down to business. I wasn't sure where to start. I had to assume trust, or this was going to go nowhere. If I was wrong to trust her... Well, it could end up in a demon showdown.
"How's Kismet? I'd love for you to bring her up for lunch when it's safe for her. Is she still over at Pauline's?"
"She is," I confirmed. "She-all of them, Luke, Tessa and Pauline-are confined at Pauline's house. They can't leave. They are shielded by a witch's spell."
"Really? Did Edith do that to keep them safe?"
"No, Katerina did. But not to keep them safe."
"Your half sister?" she asked, surprised. "Why?"
"She wants my crown."
"Ah. She's blackmailing you?"
I nodded. "She's doing a lot more than that, though. Have you heard about the London killing spree?"
"Of course. We-the New York council-had an emergency meeting to discuss it last night. Sophia, our vampire queen, is flying over to London to assist Alfred. Do you think Katerina is involved in the murders?" Alexandra's eyes narrowed.
"Not just involved, I think she's responsible."
"I guess she might be responsible for Peter's death as well, then," Alexandra murmured.
"She is. She told me so herself," I replied.
Alexandra shook her head. "What a mess. Is there any evidence to suggest that she's behind Sebastian and Oscar's disappearances?"
"Definitely my dad's. She admitted it. I don't know about Oscar, though," I whispered.
"Mom," Taylor broke in. "We think Dad may be involved somehow."
Alexandra rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. I wonder what arrangement they've come to. Katerina obviously wants more than just control of London. She probably wants New York, as well," she mused. "She's putting plans into place to undermine anyone that she can't manipulate. That would include Alfred and Sophia by organizing this vampire revolt. She is sowing mistrust between the demons and vampires by suggesting that the vampires in question have been demonized. A war between the vampires and demons would bring down the whole council in both cities, making it easy for her to step in. She could end up with complete power of two of the most powerful cities in the world. She could create such havoc. And, she would have a perfect partner in Robert. It would be the end of human and paranormal existence, as we know it. She and Robert would destroy everything in their quest for more and more power."
"Taylor? What's the matter?" I asked, noticing her eyes welling up.
"I'm going to have to do it, aren't I, Mom?" she sobbed. "I'm going to have to stop him. No one else will be able to get close enough to him to stop him."
Alexandra went over to her daughter and put her arms around her. "You and Fitch will have to work together to destroy him and Katerina."
"Why them?" I asked.
"Since she has imprisoned Kismet and the others, we can't just destroy Katerina," Alexandra explained. "We need someone to harness her spells and powers before we destroy her."
I nodded. That made perfect sense. But, how? It wasn't like Katerina would share her spells with anyone.
"In order to do that, someone will have to demonize her: possess her and absorb her powers."
"How will I do that?" I asked.
"You can't," she said simply. "Sure, either you or I could possess her, but we're not witches, we can't harvest her powers and spells."
"I can, though. I can do both," Taylor said, reminding us that she was part demon and part witch. "But how will I get close enough to her? And even if I do, she'll never relax enough in my presence to allow me an opportunity to occupy her." She paused, then opened her eyes wide. She nodded.
"How?" I asked perplexed.
Alexandra nodded. "He's probably the only one who can get close enough to Katerina, if he is indeed involved in her scheme. If he is, she must trust him. That trust will make her vulnerable to him. It would be fairly easy for Taylor to possess her dad; he trusts his daughter."
"Taylor, how do you feel about this?" I asked.
She welled up again. "Are you going to kill him?"
I considered the question. Did I need to? He had Neave, but Taylor would release her when she controlled him. Then, she'd leave his body to take control of Katerina. How would Robert react when he was free again and realized what Taylor had done? I guessed that's what would determine whether I would kill him or not. So, I just shrugged. A tear fell down Taylor's cheek.
"I don't want to," I assured her. "And I'm really hoping not to. But, if he goes nuts when you leave his body, I'll do what I have to."
"Could we get Edith to restrain him with a spell after Taylor leaves his body?" Fitch asked. "I don't want to see him hurt, either."
"I'll call her and see what we can do," Alexandra said. "I guess you'll want the same for Katerina, Faustine?" Alexandra asked.
Honestly, we'd probably all be better off with her dead. But I didn't want to make that call. I wanted Dad to do that. So, I nodded. Having Edith confine her until we found Dad seemed like the best option.
The hardest part in this scheme was taking the backseat. I was going to have to leave all the action to Taylor, poor thing. We were basically sending her in on her own to deal with my issues, just because it was her dad that was involved, and she was the only one with the combined powers to deal with it. We decided that Fitch should be around for the first part of the operation, demonizing their father. Taylor and Fitch would invite Robert for dinner at their home tonight, and that's where phase one would play out.
"You look stressed," Ryker remarked, once Taylor and Fitch had left.
I nodded. "I feel helpless. I want to be around Taylor to help her out if anything goes wrong."
"And why can't you?"
"What do you mean? How?"
"Make yourself invisible."
"I wish. I don't have that power," I said, regretfully. Most demons did, but not me. It sucked.
"Oh. I didn't realize," he said, surprised. "I do."
"Must be wonderful!" I snapped.
"Faustine, it means that I could make you invisible as well..." he explained.
"Really? That would be awesome! Can you bring me to the dinner at Taylor's this evening?"
"Yeah. But you have to promise to be quiet. I can make you invisible, but I can't mute you," he warned.
I nodded. I could manage that. Probably.
Alexandra looked mildly aggravated when she returned from her phone call with Edith.
"She won't do it?" I asked.
"It's not that. She's in London. She said that she'd try to make it back in time. When are we planning on completing phase two?"
Phase two was taking down Katerina. "I don't know. I was going to play it by ear, let Taylor take the lead and set it up once she has Robert under control," I said. "What's Edith doing in London?"
"Cassandra called her in. Something big is going down, and they needed her powers. In fact, I've had a message from Annabel asking me to come to London, too, and bring you with me."
"They must have made some progress on the killer vampire situation. Fly over. I'll have Ryker bring me as soon as phase one has been taken care of here. Taylor will need some time to figure out how Robert would interact with Katerina, anyway. I want to be back here, in New York, when she meets with Katerina."
I had a few hours to kill before we went to Taylor's. I tried calling both Mom and Dorian for an update, but they weren't answering their cell phones. I was sort of relieved. A few hours of not knowing is what I needed. I should probably have called Alfred and the others, but I procrastinated, instead. With Ryker. We went back to my apartment, made ourselves comfortable on the couch, and turned on the television. CNN images of fresh killings in London lit up the screen.
"Do you mind if I change it?" I asked. I should have watched it, but I couldn't bring myself to look. I needed to unwind for a few hours, and then I'd catch up with real life again. I flicked through the channels and settled on Sesame Street. I wasn't going to watch it, but it was perfect background noise.
Ryker had his arm around me as I snuggled up against him and closed my eyes. What did I know about this guy I felt so close to? Nothing really. I felt like I had known him for years, but that was only because we'd been at Bonfire Academy together. I had seen him practically every day for two years. He had arrived a year after I started, but we had never spoken. I hadn't had any classes with him, nor did we have any common extra-curricular activities. He was mainly into soccer and tennis. I spent my free time skiing, snow boarding and playing field hockey, depending on the season. But I had noticed him, mainly because he would look at me intently whenever our paths crossed. It was like he wanted to say something, but held back. It was definitely not shyness that held him back. He was popular, always surrounded by a bunch of beings; the vampire chicks in particular seemed really into him. Blech. Maybe he was one of those blood junkies. Double blech.
"Ryk, how come you were so friendly with the vamp girls at school?" I blurted out before I could duct tape my overactive mouth.
He laughed. "I'm a blood junkie."
Stupid shield! I had relaxed so much in his company that I had brought down my shield. My thoughts were totally naked to him. How humiliating!
"It's okay!" he said, as I protected myself again. "There's no need to do that, you know. You're safe with me."
"I know. It's just... embarrassing."
He shrugged. "I was in a lot of the vamp classes. That's why I knew so many of them. The vamp guys kind of kept to themselves, though."
"What sort of classes?" I asked curiously.
"Can't talk about that, as you well know," he smiled.
"Did you have common classes with any other paranormals?"
"Yeah. Seeing that I was the only Sigma-W student at the school, all my classes were with other paranormals, even some demons."
"About that. Why were you sent to the academy? Spencer told me that only two Sigma-Ws have attended the academy in the last five years."
"He actually told you that?" Ryker asked, surprised.
"Yeah. Are you angry?"
"No, just surprised. Spencer isn't the sharing type, and I'm surprised that he shared Sigma-W business with anyone outside his circle."
"So, it's true? You were one of two? I'm not going to press you, but I am nosy, so I'd love to know why," I said, batting my eyelashes for effect.
"Cute. I'm a hybrid," he said and stopped.
"That's all I can tell you."
"Oh, come on!"
He looked over at me and laughed. "I can't tell you, but you'll figure it out yourself."
Very, very annoying! A hybrid? Vampire? Demon? Shifter? Angel? Troll? I looked him over carefully, looking for signs. There were no obvious ones, like fangs or red eyes. I guess that's why he'd been sent to the Academy, to control any manifestations. I put my head back on his chest and closed my eyes again, listening to his heartbeat. It sounded comfortingly human. My head started hurting as a bazillion different thoughts crashed through, mostly images of mayhem in London, combined with Taylor and Fitch turning on us and siding with Katerina. Images of Ryker transforming into a vampire added to the mix. Yikes. I had to block those before my head exploded. I turned my concentration to the feeling of Ryker's fingers as they gently massaged the back of my neck, shoulders and head. I emptied my mind, eventually relaxing into a deep sleep.
"Babe, wake up," Ryker said, kissing me awake. I opened my eyes to find a juicy bit of steak, cooked to perfection, in front of me.
"Eat up, demon girl."
"Mmm, thanks," I said, and dove in. "Have you eaten?"
"Yeah. I had a snack while I was cooking. Your mom sure keeps an impressive supply of steaks," he smiled.
When I finished eating, I decided to shower.
"Ready to go?" he asked when I came back into the living room after freshening up and changing my outfit. "Taylor just texted me to let me know that her dad is on his way over. She said she'll call us once she's in control of him. I didn't tell her that we were coming. Shall we go?"
"How is it going to feel, Ryk?"
"Feel? You mean, being invisible?"
"It's not going to feel any different. We won't be invisible to each other, just to people around us, so it's easy to forget. So remember! Also, they can hear us, so don't talk," he reminded me.
"Okay. Let's go." I felt queasy as Ryker put his hand on my shoulders. We wandered to Taylor and Fitch's home. We arrived in the kitchen and sat down together in the corner. I sat in Ryker's lap, his arms around me, and watched Taylor and Fitch getting dinner ready. They were actually cooking. Had I been a witch, I would totally have used a spell to magic up a delicious dinner! Taylor was stirring a red sauce in a big pan on the stove. I took a deep breath, bolognaise meat sauce; I nearly drooled. Fitch was busy expertly chopping vegetables for a salad on a large, wooden cutting board on the middle island counter. The room smelled divine. I was glad I had eaten before we came, or Fitch and Taylor would have been subjected to mysterious disappearances of food. Ryker and I sat and waited while the table was set in the dining room. We quietly made our way to the dining room and found another suitable spot to sit.
My heart almost jumped out of my chest when the doorbell rang. Ryker held me firmly, making sure that I didn't react.
It was hard to believe that the man who came walking in was anything but harmless. His smile was wide as he greeted Taylor and Fitch. He was obviously happy to see them. It was the same guy, though; he was the Robert married to Tessa. How did that marriage figure in his plans?
"Taylor, Fitch, it's good to see you. Sorry I haven't been around much," he shrugged.
"You're here now, Dad. I'm pleased you managed to get some time off. What's been keeping you so busy?" Taylor asked, her expression not betraying what she must be going through on the inside. I was proud of her.
"Something smells delicious," he remarked, avoiding the question completely. "Pasta?"
"Yes," Fitch replied. "Sit down and relax you two. I'll bring the food over. Wine, Dad?"
"Some Shiraz, please," Robert replied, slumping into his chair and stretching his legs.
"Busy day?" Taylor inquired.
"Yeah, just work. But you don't want to listen to me go on about stocks and bonds. How's school?"
"It's good. I did well on our first math quiz. I'm thinking about auditioning for the school musical," she volunteered, as Fitch came in with Robert's glass of wine, placing the bottle in front of him.
"Good one! I look forward to it. Are you auditioning as well?" he asked Fitch.
"I want to, but the practices clash with soccer, so I'm going to have to skip it."
As dinner progressed, Robert continued to sip his wine, which Taylor kept topped up at all times. It wasn't long before the bottle was empty and a yawn escaped Robert's mouth. He had prattled on like any other dad during the dinner; he even seemed more interested in what his kids were up to than most parents. Could this man really be involved in a scheme with my deranged half sister? It was hard to believe as he stood and made his way to the sofa.
"I'm going to have a short nap before I go," he announced.
"Dad, you're welcome to stay. You know that."
"Thanks, hon. G'night kids," he mumbled and fell into a deep sleep.
I saw Fitch nudging Taylor, who shot him the death glare.
"Do it," he whispered and nudged her again.
She looked hesitant. I hoped she wasn't going to back out. We needed to know what was going on. Was this man even involved? He sure didn't look like the type.
She finally walked over to Robert and laid her hand on his forehead. He didn't stir. She looked over to Fitch, who nodded. She put her other hand on Robert's forehead, too, and closed her eyes. Then, she disappeared. Vanished.
Robert twitched and squirmed, then sat bolt upright. He opened his eyes wide and looked at Fitch.
"It's me. Taylor," he said in his normal voice. It sounded eerie for Taylor to be talking through him.
"You okay, Taylor?"
"Is he still sleeping?"
"Yeah, he's totally out," Taylor confirmed.
"What now?" Fitch shrugged. "I guess we should get Mom to come over."
"Ryk, make us visible," I whispered, leaning back into him so I could reach his ear.
"Fitch, Taylor," Ryker announced, standing up.
"What the heck?" screamed Robert, as Fitch nearly jumped out of his skin.
"Where in the bejeezus did you two come from?" Fitch asked, gaping.
"We've been here the whole time," I explained. "Invisible. Just in case you needed backup."
"Thanks, but we did just fine, as you can see," Fitch said pointing to Robert-Taylor. "Now what?"
"Taylor, can you read his thoughts?" I asked.
"No. He's fast asleep and totally drunk. Maybe the thoughts will become less foggy once the alcohol wears off. You know, this really sucks! I hadn't taken into account that I would have to live in a male body. Yuck! I can't believe I'm going to have to use the restroom in this condition."
I fell into the couch rolling with laughter. Now that would be a pain! The boys just shook their heads in disgust.
"Yeah, laugh, Faustine! It's not funny!" Taylor whined.
"I'm sorry. Hopefully, it won't be for long."
"Yeah, I'll get to exchange this body for a decrepit old witch's soon. Lucky me!"
"I promise you a spa weekend when we are done," I offered.
She sighed. "I guess we have to wait until this wine is out of his system. I think we overdid it on that score. We should call Mom and tell her to come over."
"Alexandra had to go to London. In fact, I have to go as well. I just wanted to make sure you were okay, first."
"Okay? That depends on your definition of the word. I am far from okay, but I've done what I was asked. Now what?"
"You need to figure out if your dad is involved in Katerina's scheme. If he is, make contact with her; get to know Katerina through your father. Once you have a sense of her, we can move on to phase two."
"How do I make contact with her? What do I say to her?" Taylor asked, confused.
"You need to tap into Dad's entire being," Fitch said. "That will become possible once the wine wears off. Then you can become him. You'll be able to read every thought running through his mind. You'll be able to manipulate both his thoughts and his actions."
"I'm going to need Mom," she interrupted. "I feel so alone in here," she said, Robert's eyes welling up.
"Taylor, I'll ask her to come back as soon as I get to London. In the meantime, you have Fitch. Get some sleep and your mom will hopefully be back by morning."
It was time for Ryker and me to go back to London.
All hell had broken loose in London. A councilman's daughter had been found murdered, in true vampire fashion, outside Buckingham Palace. This time, the culprit had been apprehended, thankfully not by Scotland Yard, but by a pack of wolves-shifters-who happened to be patrolling the area on behalf of Shaefer and Hickman.
The culprit was actually culprits-two of them. They were now locked in Alfred's basement, awaiting my arrival.
I spotted Alexandra as soon as I walked into the conference room in Alfred's Surrey mansion. "Alexandra, could you fly back to New York right away? Taylor needs you," I said.
"Is she okay?" Alexandra asked, concerned.
"Yes, but she wants you."
"I think you may need me here... But, I would like to go, if you can manage without me."
"Yeah. I'm sure we'll be fine. Taylor is in phase one," I whispered in her ear, "and she's freaking out."
I turned to Dorian, "Dorian, can you get the private jet ready to take Alexandra back to New York?"
"If you want, I can take her," Ryker offered, looking over at his uncle for permission.
Spencer looked uncomfortable, but nodded. "Can you return here once you are done? I need to talk to you," he said sternly.
I wondered what that was all about.
"If you're sure," Alexandra said, squeezing my hand. "Call me, if you need me."
"You gonna be okay?" Ryker asked me, as he put his hands on Alexandra's shoulders.
"Don't worry about me, guys. I'll be fine. Go. I'll see you later, Ryk."
We watched them disappear as Mom came walking into the room.
"Hon, it's so good to see you!" Mom exclaimed. "Did Alexandra leave?"
I hugged her and breathed in her great, mom-smell. "Yeah, she needs to be back in New York."
"Well, we did well here," Mom said proudly, sitting down on the chair next to mine.
Everyone around the table-Alfred, Cassandra, Edith, Sophia (the vampire queen of New York), Nora, Eva, Spencer, Shaefer and Hickman-nodded.
"Lady Annabel is quite the strategist," Alfred said, admiringly. "She suggested we use the shifters in their werewolf forms to patrol some of the more prominent London sites. We have Shaefer and Hickman to thank for getting their packs organized so efficiently. They have been roaming the streets in various shifter forms-cats, birds, dogs. Anyway, we have the culprits in custody. We decided to wait for you before we question them. If you feel ready, we'll go and do so now."
"Who are they? What are they?" I asked.
"It's two female vampires. We have no information about them in our database. They are not London residents. We haven't been to see them, yet. The shifters transported them to my basement and left them there. Like I said, we've been waiting for you to return."
"Have they been demonized?"
"We don't know. We need you to tell us."
Ah. This is where it may have been useful to have Alexandra stay a bit longer. I had no idea how to tell. But, I nodded solemnly.
"Are you ready, Princess?" Dorian asked, as my silence created an uncomfortable atmosphere in the room.
"Yes. Lead me to them," I said bravely. I followed Alfred as he led us through the rooms, then down the back stairs to the basement. Sigh. I could only hope that it would be spider-free. As it turned out, it was more than just free of bugs. The cavernous, dark hole that I had imagined in my head turned out to be a finished, hi-tech play area, complete with a mini-theater and popcorn machine. Cool.
The two prisoners were sitting, bound to their chairs, watching Blade Runner. Alfred turned the projector off, and the two women in the chairs rolled their eyes at each other. Twins. Their mouths were sealed with tape. They both had amber eyes and red, curly hair.
"Does Faustine really have to be here for this?" Mom protested. "She's only fifteen; she shouldn't be exposed to this sort of thing."
"Mom!" I whispered to her. "Don't! I need to be here. I want to be here."
She shook her head and sighed.
Alfred walked up to the twins and tore off the tape covering their mouths-instant upper-lip waxing. Both of them hissed, exposing their fangs momentarily, but then shut up and glared at us.
"Well, they are clearly vampires," Alfred confirmed, reluctantly. "Who are you?" he asked gently.
The one on the left smiled with her fangs still exposed. "Collette, and this is Silvia," she said, darting a look at her sister.
"Do you understand what you have done?" Alfred inquired.
They both shrugged.
"Do you understand that you have broken my rules, the Vampire King's rules?"
"You are not our king," Collette said sullenly.
Alfred delivered a sharp blow across her face. My mom looked ready to hurl, so I reached to steady her. She was clearly not equipped to handle this kind of violence. For whatever reason, it didn't faze me at all. I didn't even blink when Alfred made his move. As long as he wasn't going to torture them with tarantulas, I'd be fine.
"Shall we try that again?" Alfred asked, his voice low and even, as his eyes narrowed and simmered into Collette's. She didn't flinch. "Whose territory are you in?"
Collette shrugged. She was rewarded with yet another head-splitting blow from Alfred. This time, the force of the impact made Collette's chair fall to the side, and her body fell to the floor.
"Faustine," Mom whispered. "We are leaving."
I shook my head, but gestured to Dorian to walk my mother out of the room. She shouldn't have been here in the first place. She protested as Dorian took her elbow and led her out, but he held firm and closed the door behind them.
"Princess?" Alfred asked, sounding slightly annoyed.
"Oh, don't mind me. Continue."
Collette, still attached to her chair, lay silent on the floor.
"Is she alive?"
"Alive? She's a vampire," Alfred remarked.
"Oh, you know what I mean!"
"Yes! She is still alive, but barely."
While Shaefer returned Collette's chair to an upright position, Alfred moved over to Silvia. Colette's head had slumped to the side, and her slack jaw revealed that her fangs were missing. I looked around on the floor trying to spot them.
"Silvia." Alfred seethed venomously.
She nodded, looking over at her sister, who was missing most of her face.
"Where are you from?"
"New York," she whispered.
"Shut up!" Collette hissed, raising her head. She looked more zombie than vampire. Alfred's blow knocked over her chair again, this time hard enough to ensure that she was out cold.
"Please, stop," begged Silvia, her eyes welling up. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know, just don't kill her."
"You are from Manhattan?" Alfred asked for confirmation.
"Yes." Silvia nodded.
"Did you know about this?" Alfred asked, turning to glare at Sophia.
"Of course not!" she exclaimed, annoyed. She walked over to face Silvia. "Do you know who I am?"
Silvia shook her head.
"I am the Vampire Queen of New York." She turned to Alfred. "I've never come across these two before." Then, she turned back to Silvia. "Who gave you permission to travel? I know I didn't."
"We don't need your permission to travel," Silvia spat at her.
Sophia held up her hand to stop Alfred from striking Silvia. "Insolence will get you nowhere," she warned Silvia. "Didn't you see what happened to your sister? I will do the same to you if you don't answer my questions. Now, why did you not seek out my permission to travel?"
"I'm not a vampire," Silvia laughed. "That's why I don't need your stupid permission."
Sheesh. This meant that they were possessed for sure. She was clearly a vampire, everyone could see that! Flaming, possessed vamps! Eh, I wished that Alexandra had stayed, after all, as all eyes were now on me.
"Faustine?" Alfred sounded annoyed, to say the least.
I took a deep breath and harvested my inner demon. I let my fingers fuse, but stopped the transformation there. I wore my meanest look as I walked up to Silvia; her sister was still unconscious.
Silvia smiled at me. "Princess Faustine? You're not at all as I imagined," she smirked.
"I thought you'd be more... sophisticated. Like your mother."
I shrugged. I wasn't going to let her get a rise out of me. "Silvia, are you a demon?" All right. Lame I know, but I couldn't think of how else to figure out if she was or not.
"A demon? Yuck! Of course, not!" she spewed.
Phew. My work here was done, in that case. I shrugged at Alfred.
He shook his head. "Is that it, Faustine? You're just going to take her word for it?"
Oh, okay. Maybe not... I decided I better ask about the notes.
"Why did you write me the notes?" I asked her.
She looked away. Now what? Slap her? That was kind of Alfred or Sophia's job, seeing that she wasn't demonized; though, I guessed she could be lying. I decided to bail and let Alfred handle it. Guantanamo Bay-inspired interrogation wasn't my cup of tea at all. I shrugged at Alfred, indicating for him to take over.
"The notes," he repeated. "Why did you write them?"
"I didn't," she protested. I could see the fear in her eyes as they welled up when Alfred brought his hand down on her knee, whacking it really hard.
"The next time, your leg will be severed," he warned.
"Dad wrote the note. I just put it by the bodies after I killed them. I did what I was told; that's all."
"Dad?" Alfred hissed.
"My dad. Robert. He's married to Faustine's nanny," she explained.
I closed my eyes. Sheesh. How many kids did that warlock have? I could clearly see the family resemblance now, the red hair and the facial similarities to Taylor and Fitch. They were going to die when they found out! "So, you are vampire-witch hybrids?"
Edith had made her way up to Silvia. "If you're a witch hybrid, then you are clearly under Sophia's jurisdiction and mine. You were not acting under our orders, so whose orders are you under?"
"Dad's!" Silvia muttered.
"Who is Dad?" Edith asked, frustrated.
I sighed. "Edith, let me explain. Their dad is Robert. Robert is working with my half sister, Katerina, in some grand scheme to take control of the New York and London territories. Taking me down and creating mass confusion is part of that scheme," I explained.
"What are you going to do with us?" Silvia interrupted.
"I'd like to hand you over to the police, so you can pay for all the murders you've committed. But, since we can't do that, I guess Edith and Sophia will decide what to do with you, as you are under their jurisdiction," I mused, looking over at Edith, who nodded.
"Just one more thing. Is it just the two of you, or are there others committing these murders?"
We left them in the basement with Edith and Sophia-good luck to them-and reconvened in the conference room where Mom was not-so-patiently waiting.
"So, we have Robert's daughters," I concluded after bringing Mom and Dorian up to date on what was happening in New York.
"So, Robert married Tessa to get close to our family?" Mom voiced. "Did he take Sebastian? Or is he under Katerina's spell?"
"I don't know, Mom." I hadn't shared that Taylor was now occupying Robert, and that I was hoping to get some of this information from her.
"We'll have to update Edith, so she takes Robert into her custody," Cassandra said. "She'll get him to release Neave and the others."
"No. It's not as straight forward as that. Trust me. Give me some time to work it out," I said.
"Care to explain?" Spencer asked. "Is my nephew involved in your scheme?"
"No," I lied. It was a small lie, though. He wasn't directly involved. Not yet, anyway, and I hoped to keep it that way. "But, I do like hanging out with him and hope that you're okay with that."
"I'm not, while this is going on. Perhaps we can revisit it when this situation is over. In the meantime, I'd like him to stay uninvolved."
"Much as I like you, Spencer, I'm not going to stop seeing Ryker. But, I'll try my very best to keep him uninvolved." I could feel the deathly chill in the room as Spencer studied me. His resentment was hard to ignore. Every one else was looking us.
"It's hard to keep young love apart," Nora finally said, trying to lighten the situation. "I'm sure Faustine will keep Ryker out of trouble. Right, Faustine?" she asked, with her eyebrows raised so high that they nearly hit her hairline.
"Spencer?" Nora persisted.
He nodded, but remained silent.
Cassandra interrupted the silence. "You'll need Edith's permission if you're wanting to handle Robert yourself. She is the witch sovereign in New York," she reminded me.
I returned to New York with Ryker, once he picked me up after having dropped Alexandra off. We took the Wanderer Express while Mom flew back the regular way with Dorian, who decided that he could leave London for a while, now that the killings had stopped. We had enough demons in our employment to look after things for a couple of days in London. We were needed in Manhattan.
Ryker brought me home directly into my kitchen. I was famished! I brought him up to date between chews.
"Wow! I was only gone for a short while! That's quite a story. So, Taylor and Fitch have siblings! Wow."
"Now, tell me what's going on with Taylor," I asked. "Is she okay?"
"Define okay," he snickered. "She is furious! She can't stand being in Robert's body. Alexandra had the hardest time with her in the bathroom earlier. Taylor was totally freaking. She's freaking to the point where she's unable to tap into Robert. Anyhow, I left Alexandra trying a number of relaxation techniques on her. So hopefully, she's calmed down. Are you ready to go over?"
"Yeah. Let's not say anything about the twins, not yet, anyway. It'll just upset Taylor more, and that's the last thing we need."
"She's bound to find out for herself when she taps into Robert, anyway," Ryker pointed out.
"True.... I guess we'll let her find out in her own time. I'm not telling her!"
"Don't blame you. Let's go," he said, and put his hands on my shoulders. We took off again. The weightless feeling of wandering was becoming second nature to me. Once we arrived outside Alexandra's apartment, we rang the bell. Fitch rolled his eyes at us as he ushered us into the living room.
Alexandra and Robert were sitting on the couch holding hands, their eyes closed. Robert was wearing a red dress and had a generous amount of make-up on. Ryker and I erupted in snorts and giggles, with Fitch joining us. We clutched our stomachs, laughing for ages; I felt like I was going to be sick.
When I finally looked up, I was confronted by glares from Alexandra and Robert. I nearly started giggling again. I bit down hard on my lips to stop myself. Fitch and Ryker both left and went into the kitchen. I could hear them laughing in there.
"Come and sit down, Faustine," Alexandra said, beckoning me over.
I walked over to the couch opposite the one they were sitting on and plunked myself down. Unfortunately, my eyes focused on Robert's unshaven legs, and I let out a snort.
"It's not funny!" Robert said.
"I'm sorry, Taylor," I apologized, promising myself not to look at those legs again.
"I am sick of this!" Robert exclaimed. "Let's get on and do whatever we have to, so I can get out of here!"
"Sure. What's with the dress, though?" I couldn't help but ask.
"Mom!" Robert cried.
Alexandra sighed. "Faustine, Taylor is having issues wearing pants with the.... well, you know what I mean. She finds it disturbing and uncomfortable. It's a bit better with the dress on, but not much."
"And the make-up?" I queried.
"Force of habit," Alexandra explained.
"Well, we can't have her going over to Katerina's looking like this!"
"I know! And I'm right here. Hello!" Robert interrupted. "I'll get into those stupid pants when I have to; in the meantime, I'm wearing this. So d-e-a-l."
"Okay, Taylor. Thanks. You're being awesome."
Robert nodded his head.
"I guess our first task is to release Neave," Alexandra said.
"Yes. Let's go over to Neave's apartment."
"We don't have to. Taylor should be able to break the spell from here; Neave's apartment is close enough."
Good idea. It would save us the embarrassment of walking Robert to Neave's apartment in a dress.
"Faustine, I'm going to need you to remain silent. No snickering or snorting. Or go to the kitchen and stay there with the boys," Alexandra suggested.
"I promise to be quiet. You won't even know I'm here."
"Taylor, you need to meditate with me now, absorb into Robert's spirit and find the spell that he cast on Neave. Then, I need you to break it. Will you try that for me?" Alexandra asked.
Robert nodded, closing his eyes and taking Alexandra's hand. His labored breathing relaxed into deep, even breaths, his jaw slacking as he entered a deep trance. He sat like that for ages, his eyes occasionally flickering in a disturbing fashion, made even weirder by the false eyelashes bobbing up and down and coming loose in the corners. Finally, he started chanting. As he chanted, a smile spread across his face, which then turned into a grimace. I wished that I was in there with Taylor seeing what was going on. Then, Robert opened his eyes.
"Call Neave," he said.
I nodded and called her.
"Try your door." I waited.
"The shield is lifted!" she exclaimed. "Awesome. Who did that? Mom?"
"No. We've got a lot of catching up to do. Come over to Alexandra's place."
"So, what happened, Taylor?" I asked excited, turning off my cell. "You freed Neave!"
"I did, didn't I? Flaming awesome!" Robert replied. In that moment, I could see Collette and Silvia in him. The resemblance was striking.
Fitch and Ryker decided to join us and were death-glared into no giggling by Alexandra.
"What was it like, Taylor?"
"Really weird. I became dad. I couldn't feel myself anymore; my thoughts disappeared into the background. It was sort of scary. I wasn't sure if I could get them back. I was scared that he would take control of me."
Alexandra took her hand. "Taylor, he can't do that. He can't control you. You must remember that, so you don't freak out. A demon can't be possessed. You are always in control of your demon part, small as it is. That is why you are perfect for this."
Robert nodded. "Dad's head is full of spells, so it took me a while to find Neave's. Once I found it, it was easy."
"Did you read any of his other thoughts?" I asked. "Do you know what he's done with my dad?"
"No, it was exhausting enough to find Neave."
I nodded. "Let's plan phase two."
"We're going to need Edith back for that; she'll be here this evening," Alexandra said.
"What's the plan?" Ryker asked.
"Who exactly are you?" Alexandra asked him suspiciously. "I know that you are a Sigma-W, but how are you connected with all this?"
"Faustine's hookup," Fitch volunteered.
I cringed. He was not! But it would stop any further questions from Alexandra.
"We can trust Ryker," is all I said and moved on. "The plan, Ryker? The aim of the plan is to free Kismet and the others trapped at Pauline's. Since Katerina herself cast that shield spell-we assume-we need to get her to break it. So as we discussed before, we need Taylor to take control of Katerina, and then break that spell. Therefore, the first part of the plan will be to enable Taylor to possess Katerina's body."
"Anything to get out of this one!" Taylor groaned. "At least it'll be a female body!"
"Taylor, we need more information from Robert before we can approach Katerina. I think it would be best for you integrate with him until you get close enough to Katerina, then, you can switch bodies," Alexandra explained.
"It will mean that you'll lose me for a while, Mom. We won't be able to communicate. I will still be within him, steering him into a meeting with Katerina."
"Mom, I'm frightened. I'll be on my own, with the two of them. What if Dad goes nuts when I leave his body and he realizes what I've done? What if he tries to kill me?"
"Ryker and I will be with you the entire time," I comforted her.
"No. You can't. Katerina won't relax in front of you! It's got to be just me in Dad's body for this to work."
"Taylor, it's okay. I can make myself invisible again," Ryker said. "And cloak Faustine."
"You see? We'll be there to take care of Robert when you leave his body," I said satisfied.
"What are you going to do with him?" she asked.
Hmm. "Not sure. That's one of the things we need to talk about," I conceded.
"Well, I don't want you to kill him," Taylor said firmly.
"Even if he tries to kill you?" I asked.
She didn't answer, but looked over at her mom.
"This is the reason I felt we ought to have Edith involved. It would be best to able to restrain Robert somehow, once Taylor has left his body," Alexandra said.
"I could do that; I'm pretty strong," I volunteered.
"I don't mean that kind of restraint. Remember that Robert is a warlock; he can counter most physical restraints. What we need is a shield, a strong shield to hold him until we are ready to decide what to do with him."
"And that's why we need Edith," I agreed. "She's powerful enough to create that kind of shield."
"Yes, that's right. We do, however, need to think of a way to get Edith close enough to the action to be able to use her powers."
All eyes were on Ryker. Could he pull off cloaking Edith's visibility as well?
He looked uncertain, his brows furrowed. "I don't know, guys. I've only ever wandered with one other person at a time. It takes up most of my energy. This would, however, be a very short distance, and there's no time or dimension travel involved...."
"Faustine doesn't need to go," Fitch countered.
I shot him the death glare. Maybe not, but I wanted to. I had to make sure that things went according to plan. I would be the strongest being there, and invaluable should anything go wrong and we had to resort to sheer force. Katerina was half demon after all; there was no telling how this would play out. I might have to take her out. "I need to go. I may be the only real weapon against Katerina should something go wrong."
Fitch didn't look convinced. If Ryker couldn't take me, I'd have to find another way. I turned to him. "Ryk?"
He shrugged. "I'll try."
"What happens if his try doesn't work, and you're all revealed?" Fitch muttered.
"All hell will break loose," Taylor said. "I can't have that."
"Wait! No need for all this worry. We don't need to be in the same room with you. We just have to be able to hear you. We could do that from an adjacent room in Katerina's house. Then, if there's an issue with visibility, we'll just hide until we are needed. Okay?" I suggested.
Taylor nodded. "Okay. I'm going to integrate with Dad now and try to arrange to meet Katerina at eight over at her place. So, I'll see you there with Edith. I'll let you know if there's a change of plan."
"Yeah," I confirmed. "And make sure to change outfits! Katerina is sure to know something is up if you arrive in that hideous getup!" I laughed, looking at Robert still wearing the bright red dress.