This story takes place several months after Silver Cross, shortly before Welsh Witch.
Her name was Lily Harper, and her birthday was on Halloween. Of course it was. Her whole life was a horror show anyway, so why not add some irony?
“Wait, where is she?” I asked.
“The kids from school dragged her to a Halloween party,” Ed said. Lily’s dad was as bland as paste, but a really nice guy. It was comforting, honestly.
“Oh, okay, so she’s with her friends,” I said to him. “On her birthday, that’s nice.”
“She’s with kids from school,” Ed corrected.
“Oh,” I said. “Huh. Gotcha.”
“Okay,” Isabella – the mom – said. “So you’re going to pick her up, right? And bring her back in time for the party?”
I grinned. “Well, that depends.”
“On what?” Bella asked.
“On her driving skills,” I said.
“You’re really doing that, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Letting her drive on the freeway? You bet!” I smiled. “Come on, you said it yourself. She got her permit, she’s almost ready for the exam. Think of it as a reckless crazy-aunt-Lucy birthday present.”
“You’re not her aunt,” Isabella Harper said.
“I know, I’m a lot more fun,” I nodded. “But seriously, she’ll be fine. There’s no safer place in the world for Lily than with me.”
“No, you keep her safe from monsters,” Isabella said. “This is keeping her safe from herself.”
“Bella, it’s okay,” I said. “She’ll do great. She’s better than she think she is.”
“You haven’t been in the car with her,” Bella said.
“I can handle a reckless teen,” I said.
“But she’s not reckless,” Bella said. “She’s nervous. She drives like a old lady.”
“Hey!” I protested. “I happen to be an old lady! Eight hundred years, remember?”
“She drives way too slowly and she’s jittery,” Bella said. “She’s going to cause an accident.”
“You mean she’s going to cause an accident unless she gets the chance to practice ad loosen up a bit,” I said. “How she is right now is not how she’ll always be. That’s the weird thing about kids, they keep growing.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “Fine, fine, just be careful. I worry a lot.”
“And that’s why you’ve got people like me and Gabe and Meg,” I said. “We kick bad guy ass so you can relax and worry. Isn’t that right, Ed?”
“Yah,” Ed said, half-listening. “It’s all good.”
“You’re not listening!” Isabella protested.
“I’m listening,” Ed said, clearly not.
“So uh, where is Lily, again?” I asked, changing the subject a bit.
“The party’s at the bowling alley,” Isabella said. “Nathan’s Lanes. Do you know where it is?”
“No, but my phone does,” I said. “See ya! I’ll bring her back in one piece!”
I got in the car, punched the bowling alley’s address into my phone, and went off on a mission. A birthday mission.
Lily Harper was special. She was a Conduit, a person born with a special connection to the spirit world. Conduits had the potential to do great things, but they were also great sacrifice bait if you were really into that sort of thing. Lots of monsters found them tasty, too. The poor girl had been plagued by living nightmares all her life, but at least she had friends to protect her now. Sure, some of us were monsters as well, but at least we were the nice ones.
The party was at Nathan’s Lanes, and I understood why as soon as I got there. It was kind of a dump, but it was near the school – close enough that nobody had to arrange transportation. The kids could just walk a couple of blocks and have their party, no fuss needed. It was impressive that they pooled enough money to rent the whole place out, though. There was a banner advertising the Halloween party, and I could spot a few adult chaperones here and there mixed in among the students milling around. There was no way I could find a parking place anywhere nearby, so I slowed the car to double-park on the curb, and got ready to call her. I was just about to grab my phone when I spotted her. Lily had tied her hair in a loose messy, curly ponytail, and she was easy to spot in the crowd.
In my mind, I was cool. The suave vampire pulling up in a sleek fancy car to pick up the girl, dropping jaws and increasing Lily Harper’s status by about a hundred points. But what we had in reality was the strange short lady in a beat-up Corolla awkwardly stopping in front of the alley and calling “Lily!”
“Hey, your weird gay aunt’s here,” one of the kids said, nudging Lily.
“She’s not my aunt,” Lily said as she turned and saw me.
“Hey, Lily, happy birthday!” I called out. “Are you ready to go? We’ve got stuff to do!”
“Oh hey, yeah, happy birthday and stuff,” the guy said to her.
“Thanks, Iram,” she said, taking a step away from what I assumed were her friends. “But I’ve gotta go. Happy Halloween!”
“Lily, you’re beautiful!” girl shouted at her. Aww, that’s nice. She was popular! “Fuck you, bitch!” the girl added, which really didn’t sound like it fit with the compliment.
Lily bristled a bit but retorted with, “Stop it, Savannah,” and then got in my car in a hurry. Her posture had gotten a little closed-off, making her seem smaller than she was.
“Hey, uh, was that a friend?” I asked.
“Just drive,” she said in a quiet little voice. “Please.”
I frowned. “One sec,” I said as I rolled the window down. “Hey, Savannah!”
The other girl looked back at us and rolled her eyes. “What, your mom’s gonna tell me off?”
I did a little trick. Technically, vampires couldn’t really pull the red-eyes-monster-face thing, that was just on TV. But I had learned a long time ago that if I just barely started a bat transformation and pulled back before it really got anywhere, I could make my eyes flash red. It hurt like a mother and was pretty useless in just about every situation. Except now.
“Happy Halloween,” I said to her, fangs out and eyes flashing red.
Lily jumped. Savannah nearly fell over, shouted something that sounded vaguely obscene, and ran inside the bowling alley.
“What was that?” Lily squeaked at me, enough fear tinging her voice that I realized I overdid it a bit.
“Nothing,” I said, and then rubbed at my pounding forehead. “Ow. Bad idea. That really hurts.”
I stepped on the gas and started driving away before we made any more of a scene. Almost hit a fire hydrant in the process, but managed to swerve properly into the lane.
“What are you doing?” Lily shouted. “Lucy!”
I blinked until my vision stopped blurring. “Hey. She deserved it.”
“She’s like that,” she said, retreating again into wilted turtle mode.
“She hurt your feelings,” I said. “So if she has a few nightmares after this and maybe treats you better, it’s worth it.”
“And what if she reports you for making a threat?” Lily asked.
“All I said was Happy Halloween,” I rolled my eyes as I drove away from the alley. “I mean, sure, I almost said ‘I know where you live,’ but that would’ve been over the top.”
“Lucy!” she un-huddled a bit as she got angry.
“Lily, you’re worth it,” I said. “Don’t let bullies stomp all over you.”
“It’s not like it matters much anyway,” Lily shook her head. “It’s just high school. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a couple of years and then I’m not gonna see any of them again anyway, right?”
“Huh,” I said. “That’s a surprisingly mature opinion for a high schooler.”
“I don’t think I’m that mature,” Lily said. “There’s just been stuff going on.”
Stuff like vampires who wanted to sacrifice her or the demons who wanted to possess her. Just normal teen stuff.
“Yeah, there’s stuff going on all over,” I said.
“Sorry that I’m late with my homework,” she blurted out suddenly. Lily blurted a lot. “I swear I’ve just been busy.”
“It’s okay, and we don’t have to worry about that tonight,” I said. “Because hey, it’s your birthday! Happy birthday!”
Since the last few times that Lily had been a monster target, some of us and I had put together a special learning course for her. Teach her to fish, and all. On one side was Gabriel the Holy Knight, who was exactly what he sounded like. And on the other side there was me, the Jewish Vampire. So between the two of us, we figured we had everything covered. We didn’t realize just how little she knew. Lily was one of the few people on earth who wasn’t even passively familiar with religion or mythology. She even thought Thor was just a superhero! So, we plunged the poor girl into a massive crash course of comparative religion, mythology, and history that had taken up the better part of the year.
Maybe someday we’d teach her how to throw a punch or wield a wooden stake or something. Or maybe she’d never need to learn that, and she’d be able to keep at least a small part of her childhood innocence. I sort of didn’t want Lily to ever be in a position where she had to actually kill something. It changed you.
“Okay, because I was totally just kind of lazy,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Lily, it’s your birthday,” I said. “And it’s Halloween. You’re allowed to have fun, okay?”
“Yeah, but it’s not fun to grow up with a holiday overshadowing your birthday,” she said.
“Hey, at least it’s not on Christmas, right?” I asked. “Anyway, you should see what we’ve got for you back at the house. Meg paid for the decorations, and you won’t believe what she did. Like, I thought it was a little over-the-top, but she gave this speech about rites of passages or something from Ancient Greece, and I think you’ll love it.”
“Uh, Lucy, where are we going?” Lily asked suddenly. “You just took a wrong turn.”
“Oh, right,” I grinned. Why yes, I was indeed taking a different route. Down closer to the bay, really. “It’s your birthday, so I’ve got a special present for you.”
“Lucy?” a little bit of fear tinged her voice, and I felt momentarily guilty. We were friends, and I loved her like my own daughter, but I was still a vampire, and she was at my mercy. And I had just done the red-eye thing, hadn’t I?
Well, now was as good a time as any. I pulled over and parked by the curb.
“Uh, Lucy, what are you doing?” Lily asked.
I took the keys from the ignition and offered them to her. “Happy birthday, kid,” I said.
She blinked at me. I could see that her brain was trying to process this. “You’re giving me your car?”
My beat-up used Corolla that I bought on the cheap because I got in a lot of wrecks.
“No, Lily,” I said. “Giving you my car would be a curse. Like the video tape that kills you and stuff. But you’ve got your learner’s permit, right?”
“Wait, is The Ring real?” she asked me.
“No, Lily, The Ring is not real,” I said and jingled the keys a bit. “Here. Take them.”
She looked at the keys. “Why?”
“Because now’s the perfect time to get you behind the wheel! Happy birthday, Lily, we’re going freeway driving!”
The color drained from her face. An impressive feat, since she was already pretty pale.
“I don’t know,” she squeaked.
I jingled the keys again. “Come on, you’ve got me to keep you safe.”
“Lily,” I said. “You rock. You’re awesome. And since literally billions of people have driven cars since they were invented, I think you’ll be just fine.”
She tentatively took the keys in her hand, wincing a little as if afraid they would explode. “You’re sure?” she asked.
“I’m damn sure,” I said. “Come on, it’ll be fun. You ready?”
The sound of my seatbelt unbuckling broke her paralysis, and Lily managed a little bit of a smile. “Okay,” she said, soon following suit as we both got out of the car.
“So, wanna know my dastardly evil plan?” I asked.
She gave me a look. “You’re letting me drive your car. Please don’t tell me it’s worse.”
“Ha,” I said as I got into the passenger seat. “Well, did you see where we were going?”
Lily got into the car, put the key in the ignition, and then just sat there for a moment, clutching the steering wheel. She breathed in deeply, then breathed out, clearly calming her nerves. I let her take all the time she needed. Then she started adjusting the seat.
“You’re short,” Lily muttered as she tried to figure out the mirrors.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it before,” I said. “So, there’s an exit to the 101 about two intersections away. Just stay in the right lane.”
“What?” Lily asked.
“Freeway driving, kid,” I said. “Happy birthday!”
She looked at me in horror, but then drew in a deep breath again and forced herself to calm down.
“You’ve got this,” I said. “And you will kick that freeway’s ass. I’ve planned it out – there’s a farmer’s market setting up and they’ve closed off a couple of exits for tomorrow’s Day of the Dead, so most of traffic tonight is going another route. You’ve got the open road in front of you tonight. Welcome to the adventure.”
“This is terrifying beyond all reason,” she said with steely determination. And it would have been nice and poetic and theatric if she had started the engine and roared out into the street, but that wasn’t quite what happened. She started the engine and overshot the gas and then the brakes, sending us jerking wildly back and forth before remembering how to drive like a normal person.
“There you go!” I said in an encouraging tone. “Great job!”
“Ack!” she sounded like she was choking. But nah, it was just the engine she almost choked. Seriously, though, Lily did fine for somebody who had maybe ten minutes’ experience behind the actual wheel.
“Okay, you want to put on the turn signal now,” I said. “And get ready. See the entrance sign?”
“I see it!” she squeaked. Oh right, the abject terror. But she turned onto the entrance ramp and began to build up speed, and I felt like a proud not-aunt.
“You can do this,” I said. “You’ve got this. Here we go!”
“Look out!” Lily suddenly shouted, as if it would make any difference to me. The top of the ramp was blocked off with orange cones and a CLOSED 1028-11/04 sign. She swerved back into regular traffic, crossing over two double lines and barely missing a concrete partition to do so. No worse than the kinds of stunts I usually pulled, but she made a sound so terrifying that driving must have been worse than a monster.
“Huh, that’s weird,” I commented. “The 101 wasn’t closed when I passed it earlier.”
She made a rather loud, panicked, prolonged squealing noise as she managed to steady the car in a correct lane.
“Hey, great job,” I said. “You went with the flow and recovered. You’re a good driver, Lily. I guess we’ can just go down to the next entrance and see if it’s open near the farmer’s market.”
She had stopped verbally screaming, but her brain was still screaming. The poor girl. I was so focused on her that I didn’t notice the signs and cones rising up and cutting off the street behind us.
“Lily?” I asked. “Hey, Lily? You’re fine. It’s okay. We’re both okay. A lot of young people wouldn’t have been able to avoid that accident. You’re fine.”
She breathed in deeply as the car crested a steep hill, but then tensed and slammed on the brakes just before we had begun driving down it. The car lurched to a stop by the curve, jolting enough to send me jumping from my seat. She clutched the steering wheel with both hands, white-knuckled.
“Uh, Lily?” I asked.
“I’m sorry,” Lily said. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
“You have nothing to be sorry about,” I said.
“No, I can’t,” she repeated. “Everyone’s said I’m going to kill myself behind the wheel, and I almost got in a wreck, and it’s your car, and you would’ve gotten hurt, and–”
“Lily, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” I said. “I’m a vampire. You can kick me off a bridge for funsies.”
“Okay, then I would’ve gotten hurt!”
“Maybe,” I said. “But probably not. You know why?”
She glared at me.
“Because,” I lifted a finger in emphasis. “That was really shitty barricade placement. It wasn’t even visible until we were halfway up the exit ramp. We had already picked up speed – just like most people would have started, you know? But you saw what was wrong, and you reacted. You turned out of the dangerous lane and back into the street without hitting anything or anybody, without causing another car to crash, and you barely even reduced speed. That was a pro move, Lily, and I’m proud of you.”
Lily ran her fingers through her hair, nearly undoing the ponytail by accident. A few ashy curls fluffed in front of her eyes, and she brushed them back. “I need some air,” she said and got out of the car.
“Oi, Lily,” I muttered, and got out after her. “You did fine. You’re okay, do you understand?”
“I know,” she signed, leaning against the hood of the car in frustration. A cool breeze blew in from the sea, chilling the night and messing up her hair even more as she offered me the keys with her free hand. “I guess I did fine. I just don’t feel up to driving anymore tonight, okay? This is all new to me, and that was really scary and dangerous.”
I regarded the keys for a moment before taking them. “That’s fine, Lily. One thing at a time, right? Baby steps?”
She gave me a really frustrated look at that and stood up straight, turning away for a moment before leaning back against the side of the car. “I don’t know why you keep doing that,” Lily said. “Treating me with kid gloves.”
“What?” I asked.
“Baby steps?” she asked.
“It’s an expression,” I said.
“Yeah, but you’re doing it,” she said. “You all are. It’s been eight months, Lucy. Eight months since I met all of you guys. Eight months since that – since that thing with those vampires.”
“I mean, come on, Lily. If you can’t build up the nerve to drive–”
“That’s different,” Lily said. “I’m learning how to drive. I’m moving forward. Give me another week and I guess I will be on the freeway – I just need to move at my own pace. But with this, you’re pulling me back and not letting me move forward. At all. Eight months, Lucy. It’s been eight months.”
She turned her head to look down the hillside, and I could see a hint of the ugly scars on her neck. The bite scars. I winced.
“Yeah, I guess it’s been a chunk of time, hasn’t it?” I asked.
“Eight months since you promised to teach me how to protect myself, and do you know what you two have been teaching me? The homework I’ve been slacking off on? Gabriel was teaching me what Mormons believe!”
“Well, it’s kind of important,” I said.
“There are no Mormon monsters!” she snapped. “But you know what there are? Demons and vampires and werewolves and things I’ve never even heard of! And I don’t even know where the safety is on a gun! What am I supposed to do if something attacks me and you’re not here? Or Gabe isn’t here? Or Megaera isn’t here? Huh? Just wither and die?”
I shrank back a bit. “It’s hard, Lily,” I said. “This is really dark stuff, and there are steps we hope you never have to take, you know?”
“I’m sixteen, and you’re treating me like a child,” she said. “Back in the Middle Ages, I would’ve already been married.”
“Actually, no, that’s kind of a misnomer,” I said. “Most people in history got married in their twenties, just like they do now, although rich families often promised their children to–”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t really care about that right now,” she sighed and folded her arms. “Just – please – maybe treat me a little more like an adult. I don’t want to have to fight things, Lucy, but I don’t know if I have that choice. And what if something comes after Mom and Dad? What am I supposed to do then?”
I closed my eyes.
“Well?” she asked. “Do I just call you and then ask the monster to please wait twenty minutes for you to get over here?”
I grimaced. “Good point,” I said. “You’re right. I’ll talk about it with Gabe. I’m sorry, Lily, it’s just – you’re a kid, you’re so sweet – I didn’t want to ruin that, you know? Innocence is a thing to treasure, and when you’ve got blood on your hands–”
She hugged me.
“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re getting sappy, kid,” I chuckled and hugged her back. “Anyway, let’s go. We’ve got a birthday party to get to, and we’re late.”
I walked around the car, just reaching the driver’s side when a faintly hum song began to rise from the hill behind us. A hauntingly gentle tone, paced like a seductive lullaby. Sweet tones that bored into my mind, taking root with quietly-whispered commands, as sweet as honey but just as sticky.
It was then that I realized how alone the two of us were in the street. No pedestrians. No other cars. Movement became difficult, simply reaching for the car door handle like trying to push through molasses.
“Run!” I urged Lily.
Her eyes widened and she tried to dash, her movements slowed just as mine, the girl visibly struggling as if against an invisible force. But still that song droned on, burrowing into my mind, shutting down motor control. The thing with a siren song is, it didn’t make you love them or desire them. Even at its most charitable, mind control was violation on the deepest level.
He appeared behind us, the pale and lithe blonde man easily stepping out from the shadows as he continued to sing his poison lullaby. A Nixie, born from lakes and rivers and streams and shores, as beautiful and cruelly sexy a fae as could be imagined. Nixies entranced their victims with song, coaxing them to a watery grave.
“Now stay still, my little precious ones,” he gently sang as he approached, interspersing little notes and nonsense syllables in between the lyrics. “Gently stay, La lay lo, lay.”
I strained against his will even as I felt the song take tighter hold of me, violating my mind with its saccharine notes. But my hand edged closer to the door handle – only a few inches, but hopefully enough for him to notice.
The Nixie turned his head when I resisted, and the full force of his will fell on me. I felt like my head was in a vice, his gently hummed tones violently forcing themselves into my mind and body, wresting away what little control I had. But it meant his attention was no longer on Lily, giving her the chance to bolt. She ran down the steep hill, putting on speed thanks to the incline.
“Oh, I know what you’re doing,” he crooned, stepping around the car to approach me. “Mm-mm, la loo lo, lie.”
The Nixie breathed those notes in my ear, his damp breath brushing against my hair. I wanted to punch him, to throttle him, to bite him, to fight back, but my body refused to function. But Lily put more and more distance between us, further and further from the effective range of the water fairy’s song. Come on, girl. Run. Keep running. I’d find a way out of this, I was sure. But she had to be safe. That was the only thing I cared about.
But then another voice spoke.
The word came in a rasped, divided tone, cracked and ruined with age yet brimming with vicious vitality. The Drude emerged from the other side of the street, a cackling hag buried under layers of rags, bones, twigs, and antlers. Beneath the nightmare witch’s cloak was a swirling cacophony of shapes, eyes, claws, half-swept imagery of dreams both vague and frightening. A being that dealt in night terrors, thriving in the dark imagery from which they were born. A German fairy even worse than even the Nixie, if such a thing were possible.
Lily froze in place halfway down the hill, stuck in the middle of the baren street. Her eyes brimmed with terror and tears, her body trembling but just as unable to move as I. The pincer trap had been sprung, one jaw for each of us.
“Come to me, little Conduit,” the Drude grinned as she approached Lily. “My sweet, sweet child. Come and show me what plagues your sleep. Let Auntie Drudenfuss help.”
The compulsion was born from terror rather than sweet song, and yet was just as effective, holding Lily in place as firmly as if nails had been used. She stood, every muscle tense and trembling, straining against the iron will that sought to reach inside her mind, but the ramshackle hag merely came closer, gnarled clawed fingers reaching to caress Lily’s cheek with mock-affection. She tried to recoil from those bony fingers, but could not move.
“Fear is sweet, you know,” the Drude said. “It taints the soul, taking root and spreading like a weed. And you are so full of it – so lush, my little Conduit. Tell me, what do you dream of? What images come unbidden from your mind and rob you of sleep, dear child?”
“We listened, we followed, we planned,” the Nixie sang as he placed his hands on my shoulders, giving a squeeze. “Oh-mm, the trap, we laid.”
A vampire’s will was strong, but struggling against the fairy-song was even stronger. His unwanted touch revulsed me, but his words twisted my guts even more. I needed metal. Iron. Something that could disrupt both fae before they could do anything to Lily.
“Oh, such images. Such fears for one so young,” the Drude grinned as she traced a yellow claw over Lily’s cheek. “I can free you from them. Free you from everything you’ve ever been afraid of. Just let me feast, my dear. Let me taste and partake. I’ll have you anyway, but this way would be easier. Painless.”
Lily whispered something. I couldn’t hear over the distance, but then neither could the Drude, and she was up close.
“What was that, dearie Conduit?” the Drude asked, leaning closer. “What would you like to tell me?”
Lily spat in the Drude’s eye like a champ. The witch slapped her, those claws drawing blood, before grabbing Lily’s face with both hands. Her jaw unhinged like a snake as she shrieked, the nightmare sound echoing across the street and up the hill to us. Something like a gray mist streamed from Lily and into the Drude’s hands, her screams drowning out the witch’s triumphant cry as she drank deeply from the girl’s nightmares and fears. The shrieking malformed shapes beneath her tattered cloak danced and swirled in a psychedelic vision of madness and terror.
“Don’t get carried away!” the Nixie called down to the Drude. “Save a little for me, and I’ll share the vampire with you!”
He had stopped singing for a second. All that I needed. “Cold Iron” was a very vague term, and sometimes it was hard to tell what did and didn’t count. Sometimes it was literal, sometimes it was the spirit of the law. My car keys, for example. They were mostly brass and nickel, not cold iron in any sense of the word. Not a fae weakness. But they were still little jagged metal bits, and when I swung them in his face and hit him in the eyes, it caught the Nixie by surprise and forced him to let go of me. I elbowed him hard and pulled the car door open, diving into the driver’s seat. I had a gun in my glove compartment. If I could only get a few seconds of freedom to grab it.
“You bitch,” the Nixie muttered as he rubbed at his eyes, but then he began to sing again. “Stay still stay now, sight tight and sit now, ah la lay lo, lay la.”
I felt my muscles tighten and my body begin to freeze in place, rigidly obeying the fairy even as my mind screamed to resist him. The glove compartment sprung open as I flicked the latch, but could not reach for it. As my hand fell back, it landed on something else that I could use: The gear shift.
With my last ounce of willpower I put the car in neutral.
“Now as you stay, as you cry,” he began to sing, but then the car rolled away. “Wait, what?”
I still couldn’t regain control, but now I was in a car careening down one of San Francisco’s famous steep hills. And that was when I suddenly realized the flaw in my plan: Lily and the Drude were in the middle of the street, in my way.
Everything moved in slow motion. I saw the two figures loom nearer, nearer. Frozen in place as I hurtled out of control at them. I still couldn’t move, but my eyes focused on Lily Harper as she stood within the Drude’s horrific grasp, blood streaming down her cheek, the essence of fear streaming from her eyes and mouth.
And then Lily came to life, shoving the Drude at my car and diving out of the way.
The witch stumbled in surprise, the trinkets and teeth on her robe jingling and clattering as she turned just in time to see my Corolla in the half-second before impact. I didn’t know if cars counted as “cold iron,” with all the plastic and fiberglass that they were made of these days. Honestly, it didn’t matter because “being hit by a fast car” was almost everybody’s weakness.
There was kind of a crunch. And a little bit of a splat. Two distinct bumps under the tires. A piece of stray antler cracked my windshield. No more nightmares.
Running over the Drude also took me out of the Nixie’s range and influence, and I slammed on the brakes. My car skidded to a screeching stop, lurching as I fetched up against the curb. My head bonked against the steering wheel, which didn’t mean much because I was a vampire. I scrambled to open the glove compartment and reach inside.
“Come back, come back!” the Nixie sang as he dashed through the air with inhuman speed, closing the distance to my car. “Be at peace, be still! Oh stay, oh say, oh la lee loo, lay!”
Before his song could take effect, I introduced the Nixie to cold iron. Right between the eyes. I mean, sure, technically it was lead, but sometimes it was the spirit of the law that counted.
The gunshot still echoed through the streets after the fairy fell. I held the weapon with a shaky hand, my head aching like someone had jammed a steel brush through my ear. But the night had turned peaceful, as nightmares and songs had both ceased.
“Lucy!” Lily cried out as she ran up to the car. “Lucy! Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I groaned. “You can kick me off a cliff, remember? But are you okay?”
I looked at her. She was bleeding, and the Drude’s psychic attack had left her paler and more drawn than usual. Her ponytail had come completely undone, leaving her hair in limp, lifeless messy curls.
“I’m okay,” she said as she tried to wipe some of the blood from her cheek. “What was that thing?”
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I almost ran over you. I couldn’t move to steer, Lily, I’m so sorry.”
“Really?” she blinked. “I thought you meant to do that.”
She got in the car, and I fumbled my keys in the ignition.
“It was – you know what, never mind. Next lesson, we’re talking about evil fairies,” I said. “I’ll tell you all about Druden. How did you get away from her like that? Was she distracted by the car?”
Lily shook her head. “No, but I knew I had to fight back,” she said. “So I just did.”
She resisted a demonic witch that could control minds and hadn’t even understood what a feat it was. I looked at Lily Harper for a moment and thought about the way I had been regarding her – what I had thought she was capable of. What it really meant that she was a Conduit.
“Okay, so when we get to the party, if your mom asks why you’re bleeding or why the windshield is cracked, we’ll just tell her you hit a deer, okay?”
She frowned, aghast. “But I don’t want to hit a deer! They’re pretty!”
“Good point,” I said as I put the car in gear. “Never mind. I have no idea what we’ll tell her.”
She shrugged as she put on her seatbelt. “I dunno. Let’s just go home.”
“Yeah,” I sighed and nodded. “Hell of a birthday present. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I’ll be ready for freeway driving eventually. I guess now’s just not the time.”
“I think you’ll be ready for a lot,” I said as I got us back en route to the Harpers’ house. We had a party to get to, after all. Megaera the Immortal Fury had bought the decorations. “Happy birthday, Lily.”
Well, you know, at least it was a memorable sweet sixteenth. What more could anybody ask for?