A week later, we were stuck in traffic hell going over the Brooklyn Bridge. We'd reentered Earth through a portal in Manhattan, necessitating a little trip to get back to the auction house. Only, it was rush hour, and we weren't getting anywhere. That would have been nerve-wracking enough on its own, but with a Light Fey and a dragon in the car, it was enough to make anyone testy.
The dragon was Tanet, my newly discovered brother. He'd refused to allow me to go back "into the world of men" without him. He seemed to view New York as a place filled with both wonders and horrors too great to describe, and believed that my willingness to travel there showed great fortitude.
At the moment, I kind of agreed with him. Damn it, we hadn't moved in five minutes! There simply had to be a wreck up ahead somewhere.
"I think we could get there faster by walking," Heidar grumbled, echoing my thoughts. Tanet didn't say anything, being occupied with his lunch. Despite the fact that he was in human form – a gangly, red-haired teenager – his meal consisted of a squirming sack of live rats. I was very carefully not looking at him in the mirror. He had offered me a terrified-looking specimen shortly after we got under way and my dragon twin had immediately started mewling hungrily. Apparently, it hadn't thought much of the salad I'd had for lunch. I'd tamped it down and smiled a refusal at him. My inner beast could damn well learn to eat tofu and like it.
While I glared at the unmoving line of traffic, a woman in the next lane caught sight of Heidar. She stared in open-mouthed astonishment until she rammed her car into the SUV in front of her. I realized that he wasn't wearing his usual all-encompassing cloak, maybe because it was about ninety degrees outside. The Fey timeline doesn't move at the same speed as the human, a fact I'd realized when we arrived back from a week in Faerie to discover that New York had progressed from a cold spring to a scorching summer.
Whether the rune could have lain undiscovered at Gerald's for so long was problematic. But it hadn't been listed for sale again, and no Svarestri army had suddenly appeared in anyone else's lands. So we were hopeful, assuming we could ever make it back to Gerald's in the first place.
"Can you do anything about that?" I demanded, as the woman, heedless of the angry cries of the other drivers, got out of her car and ran over to peer in the passenger window. Wonderful.
Heidar blinked at me as she began hammering on the glass. "Such as?"
"You could try to stop glowing!"
"You know I can't do anything about that."
"Then tell her to go back to her car and forget about us!" I scanned the area for police, but mercifully didn't see any. We had enough weapons in the car to outfit a small army, none of which were registered with the NYPD. I hoped Heidar could manage a strong enough suggestion to overcome her interest; if not, we were in trouble because I certainly couldn't. No magic means no magic, and that includes the mind control variety.
He rolled down his window, but that only made things worse. The driver of the SUV and a motorcycle messenger boy soon joined the woman, worshipping at the new shrine of Heidar. "Do something!" I hissed frantically.
"I'm Alma," the woman breamed, drinking him in with her eyes. "I work for Manhattan Models, and I have to tell you, my boss would offer you a contract before you finished walking through the door! Let me give you my card – "
"I'm Steve," the SUV guy said, thrusting a hand in the window and trying to muscle Alma out of the way. "I'm a freelance photographer, and buddy, could you and I make a mint! We gotta talk – "
He was cut off by a precisely aimed elbow to the ribs. Yeah, Alma was a native. "Back off, I saw him first!"
"It's a free country, lady," Steve gasped, and grabbed for the window ledge. That resulted in a tug of war that landed them in a scuffling fight outside our car. The motorcycle messenger quietly took their place. He didn't say anything, even to introduce himself, just stood there staring at Heidar with a look of wonder.
"I'm open to suggestions," Heidar informed me dryly.
"Do a glamour!" I whispered, having just sighted a red-and-blue light weaving its way toward us. It was pretty far back, but the cop was on a motorcycle, meaning he would be here soon even if the line didn't move. Come on, I thought desperately, how long had we been sitting here? I hit the horn. "Let's move, people!"
"Your power makes working any magic much more difficult," Heidar reminded me. "We don't know what we'll find at the auction house. I cannot afford the drain of a prolonged glamourie."
Tanet caught my eye in the mirror and grinned, his teeth as red as his hair. He rolled his eyes at Heidar and shook his head. Tanet could understand a little English, but so far he spoke about the same number of words of my language as I did of his – roughly five. But he got his point across.
"We aren't going to find anything if we're in jail!" I said. The delivery van in front of me lurched forward a few yards, and I followed on its bumper. Heidar's congregation jogged after us, their vehicles abandoned in their wake.
Alma, looking ruffled and with a tear in her blouse, reached us first. She shoved a card in Heidar's face. "My business number is on the front, but wait – let me give you my home number, too." She started searching frantically in her purse for a pen. "Call me anytime, I mean that!" I noticed her wedding ring and wondered how much her husband would appreciate getting a midnight message from a male client, but the thought didn't appear to faze Alma. Or maybe it simply hadn't occurred to her. She looked pretty bemused.
"The human authorities are the least of our worries," Heidar intoned darkly.
"Fine. Explain that to the cop who's two cars back," I told him, wondering if it was time to cut and run. I really could walk faster than traffic was moving.
Alma's hand brushed Heidar's as she scribbled down her number, and that slight touch seemed to seriously up the amplitude on her fascination. She started trying to crawl through the window, but Steve jerked her away. A couple of matronly ladies in a nearby Volvo began craning their necks to see what all the commotion was about and I got a sudden vision of us besieged by love-struck grandmas.
"Damn it, Heidar, help me!"
"What seems to be the trouble here?" One of New York's finest had pulled up beside us and was attempting to see inside the car. Tanet had just torn off another rat's head in the backseat and was crunching it contentedly. I let my head fall forward onto the steering wheel.
"We require assistance," Heidar told the policeman.
"Yes, sir! And what can I do to help?" I looked up to find the policeman staring at Heidar with the same look of slavish devotion everyone else seemed to be wearing.
"The vehicles do not move," Heidar explained, gesturing at the long line ahead of us.
"I'll see what can be done about your problem, sir!" The cop strode away like a man on a mission and remounted his motorcycle. I watched in complete bewilderment as he turned on his siren and started clearing a path through the crowd, ignoring the fact that Heidar continued to hold court with a growing number of admirers in the middle of the bridge.
"Do the damn glamourie," I whispered, as the two old ladies in the Volvo began blowing him kisses.
I'd barely finished speaking when the florist van ahead of us suddenly burst its seams, engulfed by large climbing vines that broke through the back doors and grew upward from the undercarriage. As if that wasn't enough, a flood of hothouse blooms exploded out of the back, slapping us with a rain of rose petals that made the car's automatic wipers switch on.
I turned them off, and shot Heidar a look.
"You have two magical natures now," he reminded me. "Your power is subsequently greater."
"I, er, overcompensated."
We'd discovered that Heidar's dual nature was the reason my power hadn't originally had much effect on him. The human part of him had blocked it from reaching his Fey magic, but now that my Fey half was out and about, he was having some of the same problems that everyone else did. It was only one of a number of issues in our new relationship, most of which involved families who cordially loathed each other. I was still hoping for a fairy-tale ending, but was starting to suspect we'd have to work for it.
We inched around the destroyed van with the help of our new police escort, who also insured that we reached the auction house in record time. He sat on his motorcycle, scratching his head and looking around uncertainly. He was probably wondering what we were doing at a dilapidated warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront without so much as a nearby deli to explain its allure. I stayed in the car until Heidar worked his magic on the man's mind and he left happy. Then Tanet and I piled out onto the asphalt.
It was high noon, chosen because the trolls and vamps would be asleep. That didn't mean there wouldn't be security, of course, but after several years on the payroll, I knew Gerald's as well as anyone. Which probably explained why my palms were sweating.
"He uses booby traps in daytime," I told the rest of the team. "Bad ones."
Heidar translated for Tanet, who nodded before transforming into his alter ego and bounding over the chain-link fence. A few flaps of his powerful wings took him up to the second story, and a heave and a wiggle forced his considerable bulk through a window. Unfortunately, he didn't bother to open it first.
So much for the element of surprise.
"What's he doing?" I asked.
Heidar gave me a sardonic look while breaking open the lock on the front gate. "Why do you think your father sent him with us?"
I preceded him through the fence and up a cracked concrete sidewalk. "To help?"
"He wants the rune, Claire. I saw it on his face when you were telling him about how we met. Your brother is here to get it for him."
I sighed. It didn't surprise me. The week I'd spent with my new relatives had been both very strange and eerily familiar. Strange because the family seemed genuinely happy to have me around, a sensation I'd never had growing up. Familiar because, despite the otherworldly surroundings, the plotting and scheming had been exactly the same as I'd heard every day as a child. This time it was Fey politics instead of human, but it gave me an identical queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Politics had led Father to try to sell me to the Fey, made the family declare me a murderer, and caused the Svarestri to try to kill me on sight. I hated politics.
"What would happen if the Dark Fey got the rune?" I asked, after Heidar kicked in the front door. The sound of splintering wood made me wince, but it made no sense to try to sneak around when we could hear the crashes a 1,200-pound dragon made as it tore through the place.
"I don't know. The Dark King would persuade your father to give it up sooner or later, in exchange for more lands, a higher title..." He shrugged. "Whatever it took. What he would do with it afterward... I don't know," he repeated. He didn't look happy about the prospect.
Unlike Tanet, we headed directly to the lower levels, but all we encountered on the way down was peeling paint and dusty stairs. I didn't see any vamps, but that didn't mean much. If any were powerful enough to be awake, they'd be waiting for us below, well out of the sun.
At the bottom, the light switch didn't work, which meant that the loading area would have been completely dark except that Heidar was glowing like some otherworldly lantern. I'd asked him why he glowed in the human world and not in the Fey, but the answer was really long and complicated, and I'd fallen asleep in the middle of it. So it remained a mystery. But for once, I was grateful for it.
We made our way across the room easily, unimpeded by the usual jumble of pallets, boxes, and packing material that tended to be strewn around. I finally managed to find the button to operate the loading door, but as with the light switch, it didn't work. Heidar manually forced the thing up its tracks, letting in enough sunlight to illuminate the whole room. Not that there was much to see.
I'd never seen the place so clean. The only signs that anyone had ever run a business here were a stenciled logo on the wall for a 1950s-era beer company and a broken pallet. It looked like Gerald's was out of business.
Heidar walked over to where the podium had rested when not in use and managed to pull down the platform. There was nothing on top. The bolts that had once held the giant dragon's head sat empty and, like everything else around us, were covered in dust.
Heidar looked around, his face getting unhappier by the minute. "I don't like this, Claire. It feels too much like a – "
Heidar spun around at the voice, but I just stiffened. I didn't need to look to know who'd spoken. Heidar tensed, remembering Seb's face from the last time we'd all been here together, but I knew there was nothing he could do. The posse was already fanning out around the room, half of them mages, half well-armed humans.
"I can't drain them all," I told him as Seb walked over. The mages would have trouble getting magic to work with me in the room, but then, they didn't really need it. The guns most of them were holding would work just fine.
Seb stopped in front of us, a cautious few yards away. His suit was a light, summer-weight khaki that did nothing for his sallow complexion. It looked hot, or maybe he was more nervous than he was letting on.
I realized that I hadn't heard anything from upstairs in a while, and wondered where Tanet was. If he'd encountered Seb's people, we would certainly have heard the commotion. At least I hoped so. I eyed the mages, but since I didn't know more than a couple of them, I had no way to tell if their power had recently taken a drain. Like enough to kill a young dragon.
Seb's eyes were on Heidar with a speculative gleam. "Claire always did attract unusual friends." He glanced at me. "That roommate of yours came to see me shortly after you disappeared. She seemed to think I might be involved." He smiled. "Of course, I was able to claim quite honestly that I'd had nothing to do with it!"
"Not for lack of trying."
He shrugged. "You gave me little choice. Had you gone to Faerie years ago as planned, we would never have quarreled." He looked back at Heidar. "She can be stubborn."
I was about to demand if Seb thought "quarrel" really covered our relationship, when Heidar spoke. "I've noticed." I turned to look at him, but he didn't even glance at me. His eyes were on Seb, and he was smiling. "Do you have it?"
Sebastian nodded. "I thought one of you would be by eventually." He pulled a hand out of his pocket, something clutched in his fist. "I had this place warded, so I'd know when you showed up."
"Matthew told you I tried to persuade him to sell it ahead of the auction."
"And that he refused. A good businessman always holds out for the best price."
Heidar smiled gently. "And what is your price?"
"What do you think?" Seb shot a glance in my direction and opened his hand. My vision seemed to narrow to the point where all I could see was the small gray rune stone sitting in his sweaty palm. All I could hear was Heidar's voice, telling me how important it was, how whoever had it could make a bid to rule all Faerie. Politics, I thought numbly. Had that been what all this was about? Getting me to trust him enough to come back here with him, so he could make his deal?
"Let me see if I understand," Heidar was saying. "I give you Claire, and I walk out of here with the rune – just like that?"
"I've no wish to make an enemy of the Fey," Seb told him, probably truthfully. "The family would like to do more business in Faerie, not less. This could be the start of a lucrative arrangement between us." He glanced at me again. "I could demand more for the stone, but I'd prefer to make a goodwill gesture. Give me Claire, and we'll part friends."
Heidar looked upward suddenly, for no reason I could see. "You know," he said slowly, "I really don't think we will."
I'm still not entirely sure the order of what happened next. At almost the same time, Tanet dropped out of the sky into the middle of the circle of mages, Heidar stabbed Seb in the neck and the rune went flying. It hit the deck near Tanet's huge front paw, but he didn't notice. He was too busy eating one mage, while using another as a club with which to beat several more. The humans started firing at him, but the bullets had no more effect on dragon scales than the Fey arrows had done. I didn't wait for them to remember about me, but flung myself at the stone. I got my fingertips on it, but with too much force, flipping it across the concrete.
It landed almost on top of a mage's foot. He had been working with several others to try to get a net spell going, but at sight of the stone he stopped chanting and grabbed it, a look of disbelief spreading over his features. It looked like Seb hadn't bothered to tell anyone what he was planning to give away.
I reached for the man's magic and pulled with everything I had. I forgot that we weren't in Faerie anymore, forgot that that much force wasn't necessary against a human. He screamed and dropped to his knees, then collapsed and rolled down the loading ramp, the rune still clutched in his fist. I started for him, but hadn't made even a single step when a wave of magic slammed into me like a tidal wave, a raging torrent of it that threatened to bury me under its sheer volume.
I went down, gasping, unable to breathe, as it gushed inside, falling into that part of me that holds my null abilities. I lay there, waiting for it to stop, trying to swallow it as I always had, but there was too much. It kept coming until I thought I would die of it, until the world became nothing but wave after wave of sparkling power that I couldn't eat and couldn't control.
Someone grabbed my hand, but I couldn't see them, couldn't hear, couldn't breathe. I was being shaken, but I barely felt it. "Claire!" Finally, a voice, tinny and weak, cut through the glittering haze. "Claire! Can you hear me?"
I felt myself being drawn into warm arms, and knew without words whose they were. After a few more minutes, the haze lifted, and I could see again. All around us, light danced on the sides of the warehouse, ripples of it making endless kaleidoscopic patterns on the formerly blank walls. It looked like the reflection of water, only about twenty times as bright. I scrunched up my eyes, almost blinded, and behind me, someone started to laugh.
"I looked up your name," Heidar gasped out. "I was going to gift you with a new one, but I don't think I will now."
"What?" I turned to try to see him better, and the kaleidoscope shifted with me, splashing new, wildly shifting patterns everywhere. Tanet slunk over, still in dragon form, and put a paw over his eyes in protest. I finally realized that, for whatever crazy reason, the source of the light was me.
"It means 'shining one,'" Heidar said, tears of laughter rolling down his cheeks. "Who's glowing now?"