Sierra and Elia shared a weighted glance, and then they began talking. Taking turns, they managed to get out the whole story, starting with Elia’s parents sending him away to hide his magic from Orsino and leading up to Sierra seeing J.D.’s body on the news.
“Wait, that body that was mangled on the edge of town? I saw that story.” Intira’s face drained of color. “You’re telling us that was a werewolf? That’s what we’re dealing with? Those were werewolves that attacked us tonight? I don’t get it, why didn’t they just come after us in wolf form?” Her eyes were wide, and she looked at the rest of the group in desperation, as if hoping someone would speak up and refute what Sierra and Elia were telling her. “Werewolves,” she breathed, her voice shaky. “This can’t be happening.”
Elia shook his head. “Only one of them was a wolf,” he said. “Their leader.” He frowned in thought, as if trying to recall. He glanced at the door to the pantry. “But I think a couple of them were eagles, including, if I remember correctly, our friend in there.”
“Eagles,” Bobby said, rubbing his face. “Because of course.”
“It makes sense,” Elia shrugged. “Most courts use birds as messengers. Bobbi Leigh probably sent them along to get word back if they encountered more resistance than expected.”
“It makes sense?” Bobby repeated, staring at him with incredulity. “None of this makes sense. What’s wrong with cell phones?” He stopped and drew in a breath, brow furrowing as if he was trying to put together another piece of a tricky puzzle. “Or do you people avoid technology?”
“On the contrary,” Elia said, the hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “We’ve had our fingers in most of the technological advances of the last two centuries. But cell phones aren’t reliable when you’re working with someone you don’t trust.”
“This Orsino guy?” Bobby guessed. Elia nodded, and Bobby frowned. “I still don’t get why they didn’t come at us with full magic blazing. I don’t think we would have been able to stand up to them if they had. I mean, they had no problems killing your friend, right?”
“Let’s just be thankful they didn’t come at us full strength,” Intira muttered. She looked a little calmer, but had sunk into her chair and looked wan. “Fuck!” she spat, with feeling. “I need a drink.”
“Sorry, love,” Cammy murmured, reaching over to squeeze her hand. “Afraid the fridge isn’t stocked. We’re going to have to try to wrap our heads around this without the aid of alcohol.”
Sierra frowned and gave her friend a long look. Cammy didn’t really look like she needed to wrap her head around anything. She was always pretty good at going with the flow, true, but in Sierra’s experience something this big should shake even her. But her face was impassive. She wanted to know what was going on, but she didn’t seem terribly surprised by any of the night’s revelations. After a minute, she realized everyone was looking at her and Elia, waiting for an answer. Elia, staring down at his hands on the table, didn’t seem inclined to say anything after the reminder of J.D.’s murder. She cleared her throat. “This is Bobbi Leigh’s territory, or at least close enough to it that she’ll be careful. They don’t want to reveal themselves to us ‘mundanes’ if they can avoid it. We’re pretty sure J.D. was killed by one of Orsino’s people. They have less at stake if they make a mess.”
Elia swallowed and nodded in agreement, lifting his eyes again. They were bright with tears, but also hard. Determined. Sierra nodded back to him. They would figure this out. They would.
“This is freaking unbelievable,” Intira sighed, running her hands through her hair. “Magic is real. Magic.” She looked between Bobby and Cammy. “Tell me you’re not just buying this? How do we just accept it? What do we do with this?”
“I get it,” Sierra sighed in agreement. “It’s a lot, and I still kind of wish this was all some kind of wild, extended fever dream. But–“
“But after everything we’ve seen tonight,” Bobby finished for her, “I don’t see how we can pretend magic isn’t real.” He shook his head, but there was a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “Jackie will never let me hear the end of it.” He stopped short, the smile fading. “The reality seems a lot more dangerous than the fairy tales.” Intira snorted in agreement.
Sierra glanced around the room, eyes falling at last on Cammy. Her arms were crossed and her impassive expression had given way to a sour look. She’d landed on a reaction, apparently, and was definitely not happy about all of this. “I’m sorry,” Sierra said, holding Cammy’s eyes but speaking to all of them. “I fought with myself over whether to tell you guys from the start. But I didn’t want to put you at risk by getting you involved.” She let out a choked laugh. “I thought I was protecting you.” Yeah, that worked out well, didn’t it?
“I get it,” Bobby said, “and if it was just us,” he waved a hand around the room, “at risk, I’d say we can handle it. But do we know that it is just us?” This last question was laced with worry that Sierra had no trouble identifying. Her stomach churned with guilt.
“I don’t know,” she whispered. “I wish I did. I’m sorry,” she repeated.
Intira sighed and sat up straight again. “Well, if it had been me, I would have called all of you the second it happened, because I’m not gonna lie, I’m still freaking out a little over here. But,” she paused and then nodded, “I can see why you went the way you did. Can’t say I’m happy to be in this shit, but I’m not mad at you. You did what you thought was right by us. We get it.” She caught Cammy’s eyes, arching an eyebrow. “Don’t we?” she asked in a pointed tone.
Cammy drew a slow breath, uncrossing her arms and taking a step forward, leaning on the back of one of the chairs at the table. “Oh, I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand. She narrowed her eyes, looking between Elia and Sierra. “But now we all know. The question is, what do we do next? I presume this Orsino,” she spat the name out as if it tasted foul in her mouth, “and by extension his local counterpart, will only take this incident as further motivation to capture you.”
Elia nodded, taking a deep breath of his own. “I think we start by questioning him,” he tilted his head toward the pantry. “We need to find out what Bobbi Leigh knows, and what her plans are. Not just for me, but for all of you as well.”
“Okay,” Bobby said, standing up. “So, he can turn into an eagle. What do we do if we open the door and he’s changed?”
“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Elia mused. “Intira may have broken his wrist. She at least damaged it badly. He won’t want to risk shifting in that condition. There would be no point.”
“So is he just a regular guy, then, unless he’s doing the bird thing?”
“Pretty much,” Elia shrugged.
“Cool,” Bobby said, starting for the door. He paused and glanced back. “Uh, Tira, you wanna give me a hand?”
“Sure thing,” she said, regaining some of her usual confidence as she got up from her seat.
Cammy sighed and shook her head. “Hold up a moment. I have some twine in the boot. We can tie him to a chair.”
Sierra followed her into the garage, wanting to speak to her alone. “Cammy, I am so sorry. I wanted to tell you. I just didn’t know how.”
Cammy stopped and turned, giving her a long look. “I know,” she said at last, quiet. “You wanted to keep your friend safe.” She gave Sierra a lopsided smile and reached out to take her hand, lacing their fingers together. “It’s an impulse I can understand.” She gave Sierra’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Just promise you’ll let me help you while you’re helping him, yeah?”
“Prometo,” Sierra whispered, leaning forward to kiss Cammy’s cheek.
“Right,” Cammy said, straightening and pulling her hand away. “Let’s find that twine. It seems we’ve an interrogation to conduct.”
They grabbed the twine and, on impulse, Sierra snagged the first aid kit in Cammy’s trunk as well. They went back to the kitchen and found the man slumped in a chair set back from the table. Bobby and Intira held him in place, and he was glaring at Elia as if trying to set him on fire with his eyes. Sierra paused to wonder if that was actually a thing people could do. Not this guy, obviously, but maybe one of the stregones? She’d have to ask Elia later. But first things first. She handed the first aid kit to Intira and gestured to the man’s wrist, moving to help Cammy and Bobby secure his arms and legs to the chair. Intira knelt down next to him and probed at his wrist, then began wrapping it in a splint. “Probably broken,” she muttered. He flinched as she worked but allowed it. Sierra hoped it might buy them some goodwill with him.
Once he was secure, Cammy leaned forward and cupped his face, forcing him to look at her. “You and your friends tried to hurt my friends tonight,” Cammy said, “and we’re not very happy about that. So we’ve got some questions for you, and I’d very much appreciate you answering them.”
“Or what?” he snarled.
Cammy’s eyes narrowed. “Or a broken wrist will be the least of your problems,” she said in a haughty voice.
It was an empty threat, or at least Sierra hoped it was, but he didn’t know that. He stared into Cammy’s eyes for a few more heartbeats and then his shoulders sagged in resignation. “Fine,” he mumbled. “Whatever you want.”
Sierra let out a breath in relief and glanced at Elia. He was standing back, watching the proceedings with a curious look on his face. “This is your show,” Sierra told him. “What do you want to ask?”
“It’s Joey, right?” Elia asked, stepping forward. He waited for the nod of confirmation before continuing. “How did you find me at In–” he caught himself and tried again, “at band practice?”
“Followed you from the apartment building,” Joey said.
Sierra sucked in a deep breath. She could have sworn no one was watching them. But…she hadn’t been looking for eagles, had she? Damn.
“How did you find the apartment building?”
Joey shrugged. “Bobbi Leigh had someone go through J.D.’s computer, see what he’d been looking at last. They found a big purchase from one of your accounts delivered to that address, and the browser history said J.D. found it right before he went missing. Then there was the plane ticket to Mexico City. She sent Orsino’s people to check out that lead and put me on surveillance of the apartment building, just in case. Been watching it for a few days now.”
Elia frowned. “Why not just come after me there?”
“Too hard to get in without attracting the attention of the mundanes. I suggested we nab the girl,” he nodded at Sierra, “use her to get into the building, but she stopped coming and going last few days. Plus Bobbi Leigh wanted it done quiet. She thought if the girl didn’t turn up, you’d get spooked and bolt. She wanted us to bring you in before Orsino’s people got back from chasing the false trail.”
“Why?” Elia asked, brow furrowed.
Joey shot him a nasty grin. “Orsino wants you dead or alive. Bobbi Leigh wants to find you first so she can have the pleasure of killing you herself. Then she just sends your body to him and her problems are done.”
“What? Why?” Elia looked startled. “Why does Bobbi Leigh want to kill me herself?”
Joey spat on the ground beside his chair. He glared at Elia. “You killed J.D. You think she’s willing to let that go? You think any of us are? The only reason Sandy didn’t put a bullet through your head as soon as we found you tonight is because Bobbi Leigh ordered her not to.”
“You think I killed J.D.?”
“We saw the news, man. He was torn apart. Animal attack, they called it. Yeah, right. More like a cat. Come on, dude, don’t bother lying. Orsino’s man was there. He told us what went down.”
“Not a cat,” Elia insisted, “a wolf. Why would I kill J.D.? He came to warn me to get out of town before he had to tell Bobbi Leigh he’d found me.” He shook his head. “J.D. was trying to get me out of Bobbi Leigh’s territory so Orsino would get out of her hair.”
Joey’s brow furrowed in confusion. “The wolf told us he followed the trail of his missing friend to your town and ran into J.D., who was chasing down his own lead. They went to confront you together and you tore J.D. apart.”
“What, while the wolf just stood around and watched?” Sierra interjected with a snort.
“No, this asshole knocked him out. When he came to, J.D. was in pieces and he hightailed it back to the city for backup.”
“And you bought that?” Bobby asked. “Even I think that sounds fishy.”
“Why would he lie about it?” Joey glared.
“Because Orsino has his own agenda,” Elia muttered. “He always does. Did the wolf tell you where I was? I mean, not just Bowieville, but did he give you an address?”
Joey frowned and stayed silent.
“No,” Elia said, shaking his head, “because he didn’t know. He ran into J.D. and J.D. wouldn’t tell him anything. That’s why he killed him.” He let out a sound of disgust. “I wondered why Bobbi Leigh would keep working with Orsino after one of his men killed one of hers.” He shook his head, arching an eyebrow at Joey. “You’re telling me your own wolf didn’t recognize that as a wolf attack? Sandy should have known better. Wolves and cats hunt differently. That is not what my kills look like.”
Intira’s eyebrows shot up at that. She turned to Sierra with a questioning look. “The first werewolf,” Sierra muttered, and Intira nodded in recollection, turning a speculative gave on Elia. Sierra narrowed her eyes and turned to Joey. “Even if it had gone down like the wolf said, why would Elia have left J.D.’s body out in the open like that? He’s trying to avoid attention.” She shook her head. “You guys got played. The wolf wanted to give Bobbi Leigh extra motivation to bring in Elia, and he told you what you’d need to hear to see exactly what he wanted you to see.”
Joey’s face hardened and he looked away. “Maybe,” he muttered. He glanced back at Elia. “You really didn’t kill J.D.?”
“I really didn’t,” Elia swore. “He was my friend. He was trying to help me.”
“Shit,” Joey muttered. “Bobbi Leigh’s not gonna be happy to hear that.”
“Will she be pissed enough to call off her people looking for Elia?” Intira asked, a note of hope in her voice.
Joey shook his head. “You don’t get it. It’s not gonna matter. Orsino’s already got all the leverage he needs. This was probably just to get Bobbi Leigh to act faster.”
“What do you mean?” Elia asked. “What kind of leverage?”
“Orsino’s got a tuar ceatha, man. He’s threatening to use it on the entire crew if Bobbi Leigh doesn’t deliver you.”
Elia gasped, taking a step back, his eyes wide.
“What?” Cammy blurted out. Everyone glanced at her, and Sierra saw that her knuckles were white where she gripped the table. She gave herself a shake. “What’s that? What will it do to your crew?” she asked.
“It’s a zeolite,” Elia answered. “A very old, very rare one.”
“What, like those crystals that new age people think have mystical powers?” Bobby asked, eyebrows shooting up. “Wait, shit, are those real too?” Now everybody was staring at him. “What?” he asked, looking around with a shrug. “I have to help restock in the store sometimes. We have a New Age section. Every once in a while I read the backs of the books.”
“A tuar ceatha isn’t like the zeolites you know,” Elia said. He pulled out an empty chair and sat down.
Sierra reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “It does have powers?” she prompted.
“Oh, sì,” he nodded, closing his eyes. “These crystals are made from power. They form in the places where magic flows through the very land. Usually places controlled by the fae, which is why they are so hard to come by.” He opened his eyes and looked around. “They were a tool of the fae, when they still ruled everyone with magic. Anyone who misused their power in their leige’s eyes risked finding themselves on the receiving end of a tuar ceatha.”
“They hurt people with magic?” Intira asked.
“Not exactly,” Elia said, eyes locking on Joey’s. “They eat magic. Or, to be more accurate, they siphon it away, taking it from the target and storing it up until someone uses the right ritual to recover that power for their own use.”
“Orsino is threatening to steal the power of Bobbi Leigh and everyone on her crew?” Sierra asked, horrified.
“We can’t let that happen,” Cammy whispered. She’d gone pale as a ghost. “All of those people, none of them deserve that.”
“Everything Bobbi Leigh is, it’s because of her magic,” Joey agreed. “Everything all of us are. If we lose it…” he trailed off, shaking his head, then fixed his gaze on Elia. “So you understand, right? She’s not going to stop until she has you. She won’t let Orsino follow through on his threat. She can’t.”
“That’s it, then,” Elia said, sounding resigned. “I have to turn myself in.” He nodded to Joey. “Take me to her in the morning. She can hand me over to Orsino, and then he’ll leave your crew alone. You can get back to your lives.”
Sierra stared at him, trying to find the words to object. Intira and Bobby seemed equally at a loss.
“Are you sure about that?” Cammy asked. Elia cocked his head toward her in question. “Will Orsino leave Bobbi Leigh alone? He sounds like the kind of man who doesn’t let go of power once he has it. If he’s seen that Bobbi Leigh and her crew can be made to do what he wants, who’s to say he won’t keep finding ways to exert his power here? You might just be opening the door for him to set up his own court on this side of the pond.”
Elia looked sickened at the thought. Then his face hardened. “Maybe you’re right, but I’m not willing to risk it. Not anymore.”
“Have you lost your mind?” Sierra cried, standing up and balling her fists. “You can’t turn yourself in! After all the trouble you’ve put Orsino through these past three years? He told Bobbi Leigh dead or alive, didn’t he? He’s just as likely to kill you as soon as he gets his hands on you. That is, if Bobbi Leigh doesn’t go ahead and kill you first and just give him your body. There’s no guarantee she’ll believe you about J.D.”
“There are worse things than death, Sierra,” Elia said, staring down at his hands. “If Orsino wants a cat badly enough to keep me alive despite how much trouble I’ve caused him,” he shrugged, “I’ll probably find myself wishing for my grave.”
“How can you say that?” Sierra breathed, staring at him.
Elia looked away, refusing to meet her eyes.
“Uh, guys,” Intira said, leaning forward. “A thought?” Everyone turned to look at her. “What if we make Orsino think Elia is dead?”
Cammy frowned. “Stage his death, you mean?” Intira nodded and Cammy considered it. “That still leaves the problem of this stone he has. He might not be willing to leave town that easily, especially if he didn’t get what he really wanted, which was access to Elia’s power.”
“This is pointless,” Elia said, shaking his head. “To fool Orsino, it would take some serious magic. I don’t have anything like that.”
“No,” Sierra mused, getting an idea. She looked at Joey. “But you know someone who does.” She bit her lip. “Cammy’s right. As long as Orsino has that stone, he’s got influence over Bobbi Leigh, whether she brings him Elia or not. But what if he didn’t have the stone anymore?”
“You mean steal it?” Cammy’s eyebrows shot up.
Elia sucked in a breath, looking around at them. He turned to Joey, eyebrows raised in question. “Would she help? If Orsino didn’t have the stone to hold over her? Would she help convince him I’m dead?”
Joey tilted his head and then at last nodded. “Hell, yeah,” he said. “If you can make the stone go away, and convince her you’re not the one that did J.D.? I think she’ll help you. Hell, she’ll probably be glad for the chance to pull one over on that bastard.”
“Dudes!” Intira laughed, sounding more like herself than she had since Joey and his friends showed up at practice. “Did we just agree to pull a heist?”
A slow smile crept over Cammy’s face as she looked around the room, holding everyone’s gaze for a few seconds in turn. “You know,” she said, “I think we did.”