I took a bite of buttered toast and watched Cari, the youngest of the children we’d rescued from Shedraziel’s prison, push scrambled eggs around her plate with a plastic fork. She huffed out a breath that fluttered her sleep-matted, wheat-blond hair. “My tummy feels funny.”
“Take a few more bites,” prompted Emma, my friend and co-conspirator who’d helped save the kids. She set her hand on the little girl’s back and gave her a warm smile. “We’ve got a long time till lunch. You don’t want to get hungry in between.”
My heart ached as I watched the four-year-old load her fork and shove it in her mouth. Emma wasn’t wrong about the girl needing to eat, but eggs weren’t going to solve the funny feeling Cari described. We’d saved a total of eleven children from Shedraziel’s realm and erased the memories of their time there, but the physical effects weren’t so easily overcome.
Behind Emma and Cari, children ranging from six to sixteen lounged among pillows and blankets in front of the cabin’s large, stone fireplace. All were battered, underfed, and hopelessly addicted to goblin fruit—the effects of which were just starting to show. Three had thrown up that morning. Half the kids had fevers. I could only hope my fae grandfather, Bael, sent the medicine he’d promised before their symptoms became more severe.
Long, cool fingers twined with mine under the table. James smiled at me, though the expression failed to crinkle the skin at the corners of his pale-blue eyes.
They’ll be all right. His voice echoed through our telepathic link—a side effect of sharing a piece of his vampire soul to save my life that had grown stronger since I’d given James my “true” fae name. His presence in my mind was simultaneously comforting and unsettling.
I hope so.
Cari took three more bites and announced she was done, then climbed off the bench to join the other children in front of the fire.
Emma pushed a wavy strand of teal-dyed hair back from her eyes and shook her head, causing her many piercings to flash and jingle. “All the kids are complaining about aches and pains. May says her stomach’s been cramped all morning.”
We all looked at Emma’s little sister, curled up in an overstuffed chair with faded floral upholstery. She wore the body of a girl in her mid- to late teens, but she’d been eleven less than a week ago—before being trapped in the altered time of Shedraziel’s prison. She had the same Japanese-Hawaiian features as Emma, but where Emma’s body was all soft curves, May had a willowy, stretched-out appearance marked by hard angles and protruding bones. She stared into space, her bandaged fingers tapping out a rhythm on the armrest.
“The treatment will be here soon,” I said with more confidence than I felt. “In the meantime, just make them as comfortable as you can.”
Emma’s deep, brown gaze swung back to me. “That makes it sound like you won’t be here.”
I shifted in my seat. I would have liked nothing better than to hole up in the little cabin with Emma and James until the kids were recovered and could be returned to their families. Even the single morning of near normal interactions as the kids woke up and ate breakfast had been a welcome break from the chaos of my life. But I had other obligations.
My recorded confession about being a fae halfer who could handle iron without the side effect of burning to death had stunned the human community, though not as much as the footage of my friend Sophie shifting into a werewolf and using my leg as a chew toy. Now the world was being torn apart. Lines were being drawn, sides chosen. Law-abiding members of the paranatural community, like Emma’s practitioner teacher Luke, were being rounded up and sent to detention centers. As were suspected paranatural sympathizers, like my very human, very pregnant friend Maggie.
Even with the PTF’s seeming acceptance that werewolves were a form of local paranatural—unlike the fae who came from different realms—an anti-fae fervor was sweeping the world. And the questions raised by my confession weren’t helping.
“I have to clean up the mess my confession caused, especially now that Shedraziel’s free. I need to do what I can to avert another war.” I hugged myself, my own breakfast suddenly feeling like a nest of insects crawling around my gut. “I’m turning myself in to the Paranatural Task Force.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. Her eyes went wide.
James stilled. No breath swelled his chest. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find his pulse absent for the space of time it took my words to settle over him. A trickle of silver swirled into the blue of his eyes. Then he blinked, and sucked in a long, deep breath.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Emma blurted.