We traveled by car for a couple of days. We were fairly certain someone was following us, but they kept switching out which car was close to us between three or four options. Whenever we got out to take a break, refuel, or get some food, again there was that sense of being watched, but we couldn’t seem to pinpoint it on any specific person or vehicle. Maybe we were all just overly suspicious of cameras, even, and maybe it was all in our heads.
But on the second day, Cassie confirmed it wasn’t.
We were sitting in a diner, working through some greasy food, when I could tell from the way the others paused or shifted positions that they had noticed something. Or rather, someone – invisible to me – who had entered and was approaching us.
“Relax,” I muttered under my breath. “If I can tell you’re all noticing Cassie, they might be able to tell, too.”
The others immediately attempted to get back to the business of eating food while Cassie relayed whatever information she had. I noticed Jo’s eyes sparkle a bit before she bowed her head to hide a smile, while the phoenix, who had her sit-back-and-observe expression on, nodded ever so slightly that I probably would have missed it if I wasn’t looking for it.
“She’s identified a couple of the Hunters,” George murmured under his breath to me. “And she confirmed one of their cars. She’s planning to sneak into their car and see if she can pick up more info while they follow us.”
My eyes flitted briefly to the phoenix, but she seemed unbothered by her partner’s decision to jump into a Hunter car. Maybe that made sense, though. Hunters didn’t have a way to even know a ghost was there, let alone how to injure it – anti-magic weapons or no – so Cassie wasn’t really in any danger at all.
I turned my attention back to Lynn, who was sitting in the corner between me and the wall. She was frowning at her food and looking a little put out. I glanced down in her lap, where her hands were, and noticed that her gloves were tipped in gold now.
“Grease messes with the cotton?” I asked softly.
She looked up at me, mild frustration written on her face. “It gets into the gloves and turns gold. I can’t do much about that. Now if I try to eat anything, it’ll just turn to gold. Sometimes eating is complicated.”
If we weren’t in public, she might have been able to just get out some silverware – or rather goldware – and eat that way, but people might notice someone using a gold knife and fork.
“We can package it up for you and you can eat in the car,” I promised. “Sorry, though, we should have realized this wasn’t a good option for you.”
I felt bad about that. Several of the others had been wanting burgers and it hadn’t even dawned on me that it might cause issues for Lynn. I really needed to pay better attention to that.
To my surprise, it was Ian who offered a solution. He picked up a knife and fork and for a second looked like he was focusing really intently on them, then slid them across the table to Lynn.
“D-death should limit your magic, for a bit. I c-can imbue my magic in inanimate objects t-temporarily. It’ll p-probably wear off in a couple minutes, but m-maybe that’ll be enough time.”
Lynn looked at the utensils curiously, then, when she confirmed by picking them up that they weren’t immediately turning to gold, she quickly began digging into her food before Ian’s magic wore off.
Glad she didn’t have to be left out, I turned my attention to Ian and gave him a brief smile. “Thank you.”
“We’ve been trying to figure out ways to help her,” Jo mused, “but I guess that’s not really a practical one, huh? You’d have to run around and magic everything before she touched it, and it wouldn’t last long.”
Ian nodded. “And i-it’s death, so, um, it wouldn’t be g-good on living things. The only reason she’s n-not getting sick right now is b-because her magic is actively pushing b-back against it, as it were.” He paused, then frowned a bit at me as he looked between me and Lynn. “Don’t t-touch them,” he warned me. “You could get r-really sick. You shouldn’t die, but it w-wouldn’t be good, either.”
Good to know. I nodded my agreement and moved slightly to make sure Lynn had space.
“Poor August,” Cynthia suddenly smiled a little evilly. “If she’s not running the risk of accidentally killing you by touching you, your girlfriend might make you sick with silverware.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous, Lynn won’t accidentally kill me. We’re figuring out how to make it work.”
Lynn paused long enough to give me a smile of thanks, although I wasn’t sure exactly what it was for. For being so sure she wouldn’t hurt me, maybe? I didn’t get a chance to ask before she hurriedly went back to her food. I could see the silverware under the tips of her fingers starting to take on a goldish hue, so it looked like Ian’s magic was already starting to fade. I let her work on her food and turned my attention back to the others.
“How are things in your car, by the way?”
Jo abruptly groaned. “You know, I assumed Ian would be into death metal or something, but no, he’s got some kind of fru-fru music he likes that sounds like a kid’s station and he won’t let us change the music. I’m slowly going crazy.”
Ian started to object to her description of his music choices, while George admitted he put in earphones and listened to his own music, innocently asking Jo why she hadn’t brought earphones of her own. The phoenix seemed fairly neutral about Ian’s music choices, shrugging slightly and commenting that music varieties were interesting.
We eventually loaded back into the cars and continued on our way, everyone – Lynn included – reasonably happy with our meal. We might have stolen the knife and fork Lynn used just because we thought it might be a little, uh, odd to leave behind some gold utensils, but they didn’t send the police after us so we apparently got away with our misdemeanor theft.
By nighttime, we were less than a day’s trip from the cabin and when Cassie showed up to update us, we were eager to get some news.
Lynn was repeating what Cassie said at a low volume for me while the others listened intently.
“She says there’s at least nine of them, but she thinks more. All human, but they called their tech person, so if it is a techno vampire, they’re not with them in person, which is what we expected. Uh, she’s talking weapon stuff, some different things they use?”
Lynn was clearly not really sure what Cassie was even talking about, but George and Jo were nodding along, so I figured they’d let me know if there were any unusual Hunter weapons I needed to be aware of.
“She says they’re clearly planning an attack. They want to take us by surprise, obviously. Oh, and they don’t seem to know that you’re anti-Hunters. They know Ian hired you all as bodyguards and know that most everyone is supernaturals, although apparently they do know there’s a human present but don’t care. They were told the bodyguards were ‘experienced,’ it sounds like, as in experienced dealing with Hunters, but they don’t know specifically about what you guys do.”
That was interesting. It almost sounded like the techno vampire – again, assuming there was one – had given them partial information, enough to make them think it’d be a nice challenge, but not enough to put them on too high alert. But…why? Why would the techno vampire be trying to help us destroy the clan if they weren’t being held prisoner? There had to be something going on here, but I couldn’t make sense of it.
“She can’t tell when they want to attack specifically, but it sounds like the middle of the night, and they’re debating whether they want to try splitting us up or not. They actually specifically want to take out all Ian’s bodyguards first, let him watch everyone around him die, and then kill him.” Lynn made a face. “Nice people.”
Jo was nodding in response to what Cassie was saying. “So they’ll target me, George, Cyra, and August first. We look like the biggest threats. Cynthia looks like a middle-aged mom and housewife and Lynn looks like she would rather hide in a closet than try to attack anyone. They might know better than to assume supernaturals aren’t dangerous just because they don’t look dangerous, but I’m betting they’ll assume the human is either Cynthia or Lynn and that they’re likely less of a priority.”
Cynthia looked mildly put out by Jo’s description of her, but Lynn kind of grimaced and then shrugged reluctantly like she agreed.
“We’ll get there late afternoon,” the phoenix observed. “That should give us time to set up even if they decide to attack the first night. They might not, though. They want us to be on edge but also take us by surprise. The best way to do that is just not do anything for a while, have us constantly worried that something will happen and then it doesn’t, so we start to relax, and that’s when they strike.”
Ian seemed less than thrilled about this. “They m-might succeed with that if it t-takes too long.”
“They won’t, we know what they’re planning,” Jo stated simply. “Besides, we have Cassie, she can hopefully help find out when they are actually planning to strike so we can be ready, even if we pretend we’re not.”
As it turned out, though, things didn’t quite go as we were hoping. We’d been at the cabin for several days with no signs of attack, and while Cassie had followed the Hunters around and identified their numbers better – 14 total, more than we’d expected – she hadn’t been able to get a confirmed time of attack from them. Apparently they couldn’t make up their minds, either. We had Cynthia’s potions and Ian’s spells out and ready to go and made sure we never walked around unarmed, but we couldn’t pinpoint the time because the Hunters hadn’t made up their minds yet.