Jo finally stirred from her seat. “The best way we can think of is to serve as Ian’s bodyguards. We’re on the fence about using August, because while he’s useful against Hunters, would a supernatural normally hire a human to protect against Hunters? Probably not, but maybe, if they think Hunters wouldn’t hurt a human. On the other hand, if a techno vampire is helping them, they may already know about us and about August and wouldn’t be surprised to see him. So most likely August, George, and me will be his bodyguards, and pretend like we’re moving him like they want. They want to scare him out of his house, so we’ll let them – because they won’t stand a chance actually getting him into his house. We can’t be obvious about letting them have an opportunity to get to him, but on the other hand, if they do know about us, they’ll also know we’re planning to fight them, so it’s kind of a gamble either way.” She shrugged. “The plan would be for you to join us as a bodyguard. Then when they attack, well…we basically try to get us and Ian away while you, um, die.”
The phoenix looked a lot less bothered by the idea of a plan intentionally involving her death than I would have been, but then, she was a phoenix and had just admitted that death didn’t mean much to her. “Your plan relies on me basically being able to keep them focused on me instead of Ian or the rest of you, because otherwise they’d have no reason to keep trying to kill me – particularly when I’m not fighting back – and letting him go.”
Jo huffed out a frustrated breath. “Oh trust me, we know it’s not a foolproof plan and it’s frustrating. Normally we have a plan all laid out and it works and if something goes wrong, it’s something we can handle. This? It’s a lot of huge potential issues. We’d still be with Ian, so hopefully if any of them came after us, we could handle them. Hopefully, but yeah, we don’t know how many there are. We’re kind of counting on the idea that they’re into the Hunt and they’d just see this as part of the fun – a new obstacle to overcome. They may not be as bothered about letting him go because it would just prolong their Hunt and give him a false sense of a victory before they strike again. And how they’d stay focused on you and not leave…I don’t have a good answer for that. Truth is, we can’t even find records of them having killed other supernaturals while chasing down their targets, but we’re not sure if that’s just because they’re careful enough to catch them alone or because the others couldn’t afford to hire bodyguards like Ian can. We have so little information on them it’s almost a joke, but the only idea we can come up with to face them down is a secret weapon – something that can wipe them all out if necessary. Aka you.”
The phoenix was frowning in thought. I got the impression she thought our plan was flimsy at best, and I couldn’t entirely blame her for that. It was, and we knew it.
“You don’t have to help us,” George started to suggest quietly.
“Use me!” Lynn interrupted, much to all our surprise. When we all turned to look at her, some of us kind of alarmed at the idea, she took a deep, steadying breath.
“You need them to do two things, right? Stop and let Ian and the others go, but also attack Cyra, because if they don’t, she doesn’t die. I can help with the stopping part. I mean, probably, at least. They’d notice if everything around them started to turn to gold, right? I’d have to come with you or we’d have to plan out where we want them to attack, if that’s even possible, but if I’m there, I just start turning the walls and floors and things to gold. It could potentially trap them in a room, even, if the door turned to gold. Gold doors aren’t going to move easily.”
I found myself a little more worried about this idea than I might have been if Lynn and I hadn’t decided to be committed partners. I didn’t really like the idea of her putting herself in danger like that, because it was undoubtedly going to be dangerous.
Apparently the phoenix agreed. “We can’t guarantee they wouldn’t fire on you in the process nor can we guarantee you’d get out in time. You’d have to leave yourself an exit, you know, or you’d get caught in the fire, too, and I can’t prevent who it hurts. Phoenix fire takes out anyone in the area. There are some who can survive the blast – Cassie can, and it’s possible Jo would survive in the long run, but it would probably be months of healing even for a demon. You…would die.”
Lynn let out a little breath, but it was me she looked at when she answered. “Actually…no. Alchies can turn anything to our respective element, including, in my case, turning things to gold. Even…fire. Okay,” she added hastily, “I haven’t exactly tried phoenix fire, but water and fire, yes. I’ve experimented. I’m pretty sure I can turn the phoenix fire around me into gold. Or molten gold, I guess, but same thing.”
The phoenix seemed impressed, but also dubious. “Phoenix fire isn’t like normal fire. It’s as hot as the sun. Just being in the vicinity of it could take you out even if you can turn the fire itself to gold. It’s not worth the risk. However,” she leaned back in her chair a bit, glancing over at the empty space again, “we do have one tool they can’t predict, and that should include the techno vampire, if there is one. They won’t see Cassie. The techno vampire won’t be with them,” she added before any of us could point out that potential issue, “because they’re not exactly good in combat unless the enemy is a piece of electronics. So we presume that unless it’s making visits to Ian’s house to mess with his cameras – which it probably doesn’t need to because it can do that remotely – it’s off in some room during all this. Maybe monitoring us on cameras, I don’t know. But cameras won’t show ghosts, even to a techno vampire. So it shouldn’t know Cassie is with us, and the Hunters won’t know, either. We may be able to take advantage of that. Have her follow us at a distance, see if she can identify anyone following Ian, then follow them back – carefully – to see if she can eavesdrop or pick up any information.”
I frowned abruptly. “Would the techno vampire be able to recognize you on camera? Because if so, that might ruin this whole plan.”
The phoenix considered this, but it was Cynthia who answered.
“Yes, they could, but I’m inclined to have faith in Jean. Yes, even though she’s not telling us everything,” she said stubbornly, with a glance in Jo’s direction. “She pointed me in the direction of Cyra, and she wouldn’t send us into a death trap, loyalties to other techno vampires or no. She has to think this would work. I assume she knows the other techno vampire wouldn’t say anything about Cyra to the Hunters, or that they would still attack regardless. I’m just going to believe in Jean here.”
It did seem like a bit of a gamble, given that Jean clearly wasn’t telling us everything she knew, but on the other hand, Cynthia did know her best and it sounded like she and Jean had a good relationship, so I was inclined to believe her about Jean probably not deliberately sending her mother into a fight she couldn’t win. She must have thought the phoenix would be the trick to beating them, so she must have assumed it would be okay.
The phoenix nodded, accepting this answer as well, and while Jo looked grumpy about it, no one else protested further, so the phoenix continued.
“This would be easier if we had, say, several potential places we could plan for them to potentially attack us. Most obvious one would be moving Ian to what appears to be a remote, internet-free house in the mountains or something. They’d prefer something remote where the victim isn’t found easily. One of us taking a look at it in advance and making sure it’s not wired with explosives or anything would make sense, but we can also have Cassie watch the place, and if we have some control over where, we may be able to account for other elements. Such as with you,” she looked at Lynn thoughtfully. “The idea’s sound, and maybe the best way to trap them, but we can play it simpler. For instance, say we get them inside the house – if that works – then you turn the front door gold so they can’t get out that way. But you’re outside the house and don’t come inside directly. Meanwhile the three of you get Ian out the back way, and I’m blocking access to the back way. My defensive shield should serve that purpose, and if they can’t go backwards, they’ll have to go forwards. I might suggest Lynn also runs around and seals up the back door, too, for good measure – maybe even the windows, I don’t know. It’d probably be best if there’s time. They should have to deal with me to get out, and they shouldn’t have a problem killing a supernatural that’s standing in between them and their prey.
“The problem,” she pointed out, “is if we don’t encounter them in an enclosed area. Phoenix fire tends to burn through anything living and then things like furniture as well, but often leaves structures themselves charred but standing, even if they’re made of wood. So the blast shouldn’t go beyond the walls of a house unless it’s a really flimsy house. If we’re outdoors, though, the blast would be uncontained and could easily take all of you out in the process, even if you run as fast as you can. Plus, it would be harder to keep them from just ignoring me since I won’t really fight them, just…stand in their way, as it were, and not let them pass. I’m decent enough with fighting,” she added, “I’ve learned several martial arts over the centuries and how to use a number of weapons, but phoenix don’t have offensive magic for a reason. I can take weapons with me and try to catch their attention with them, but it makes it harder to use defensive magic and therefore I’d die faster. Which would be bad in an open area since that would give you even less time to get as far away as possible.”
“So we really need to try to entice them into an enclosed space,” Cynthia murmured. “But planning for when someone else attacks you? That’s hard. A cabin, though…maybe. Yeah, I could see that. They want to wait for him to get somewhere remote where he thinks he’s safe and attack then.”
George stirred a bit. “Could we just suggest a meeting? I mean, they’re leaving us notes, couldn’t we just leave them one back?”
For a moment we all just looked at him blankly.
“They’d expect a trap,” Jo said slowly, “and they might not show up, or if they did, they probably wouldn’t all show up because they’d think it’s a trap, but it could work. Might be best to use as plan B if they don’t attack the cabin.”
“Good, we have a plan B then. Plan A is find a cabin, I guess?” I was kind of glad we were coming up with a plan B so we had more options. It sounded like we needed them. “And Lynn will have to come with us, I suppose, because she can’t travel on her own.” It wasn’t that she wasn’t bright enough to figure it out how to, because she definitely was, it was just, well, sometimes it helped to have someone with her who was aware she couldn’t touch stuff and help be a buffer between her and crowds.
Lynn gave me a thankful look, clearly worried about that aspect, too.
“If they get close to me, I can always just touch them,” she murmured. “I mean, it’s not a pretty way to die, and I know it creates a mess for you guys to figure out how to handle it, but, uh, it’s an option.”
Right. Lynn might not know how to fight Hunters in the traditional sense, but she was extremely deadly to them. I’d seen that first hand.
The others paused and looked at the empty space, and then George started chuckling while Lynn looked embarrassed.
“She turned a particularly sadistic Hunter who was holding her prisoner into gold. We had a hell of a time figuring out how to deal with his, err, remains. Gold statues aren’t really our specialty.”
The phoenix seemed amused by this idea, though. “I’ve seen a lot of people die at the hands of Hunters over my lifetime,” she startled us – well, me, at least – by saying. “Even people I loved. Yet you are the first I’ve ever heard taking a proactive approach instead of a reactive one. Mostly, supernaturals just try to be careful or maybe call in supernatural police to deal with Hunters in their city, but truly hunting the Hunters? That’s new. I like it. It seems like poetic justice to me, and killing your own captor with the very thing he wanted from you? Also poetic justice.”
Well, at least she approved of us somewhat. I had to agree with her about the Allen thing, though. Allen had held Lynn prisoner for years because he was greedy and wanted her to essentially be an endless source of wealth for him. Yet in the end, the very thing he wanted was what killed him. Ironic, but in the best of ways.
“So does that mean you really will help us?” Jo asked cautiously. “At least with this clan, and think about the other?”
The phoenix glanced at the empty space, shrugged a bit with a tiny smile on her face, then looked back at us. “Yeah, we’re in. It’s a bit of a chaotic plan and there’s a lot we can’t control for, so I need you all to be aware that you are putting your own lives at risk by planning to be in close proximity to me, but if you’re willing to risk it, sure, why not?” She shrugged and this time smiled a darker smile that was echoed on Jo’s face. “Let’s hunt some Hunters.”