Leanansidhe tapped her fingers against the armrest, pursing her lips in thought. “Oh, what did they call it? They all sound the same to me, darling.” She snapped her fingers. “SciCorp, I believe it was. Yes, in downtown San Jose. The heart of Silicon Valley.”
“Big place,” I muttered. “I don’t think we can just walk in. There’s sure to be cameras and security guards and everything.”
“Yes, a frontal assault is doomed to fail,” Leanansidhe agreed, glancing at Ironhorse, who stood in the corner with his arms crossed. “And remember, it’s not only mortals you have to worry about. There’s sure to be Iron fey as well. You’re going to have to be…sneakier.”
In the corner, Ironhorse raised his head. “WHAT ABOUT A DISTRACTION?” he offered. “I COULD KEEP THEIR ATTENTION ON ME, WHILE
SOMEONE GOES IN THROUGH THE BACK.”
“Or I could glamour Meghan invisible,” Puck added.
Grimalkin yawned from where he lay the couch. “It will be risky holding a glamour with all the iron and steel inside,” he said, blinking sleepily. “And we all know how horribly incompetent the human is when it comes to magic, even without her glamour sealed off.”
I threw a pillow at him. He gave me a disdainful look and went back to sleep.
“Do we know anything about the building?” I asked Leanansidhe.
“Blueprints, security, that kind of thing?” I suddenly felt like a spy in an action movie. The image of me dangling over a net of trip wires, Mission Impossible style, sprang to mind, and I bit down a nervous giggle.
“Unfortunately, Warren didn’t have much to say about the building, though he really wanted to at the end, poor boy.” Leanansidhe smiled, as if reliving a fond memory, and I shivered. “Thankfully, my spies found out all we needed to know. They said they’re holding the scepter on floor twenty-nine point five.”
“Twenty-nine point five?” I frowned. “How’s that work?”
“I’ve no idea, darling. That’s just what they said. However—” and she produced a slip of paper with a flourish “—they were able to come up with this. Apparently, it’s some sort of code, used to get into the Iron faeries’ lair. They couldn’t solve it, but perhaps you will have better luck. I’ve no head for numbers at all, I’m afraid.”
She handed the paper to me. Puck and Ironhorse crowded around, and we stared at it for several moments. Leanansidhe was right—it was definitely part of a code. 3
“Okay,” I mused, after several moments of racking my brain and not coming up with anything. “So, we just have to figure this out and then we’re home free. Doesn’t sound too hard.”
“I’m afraid it’s a bit more complicated, darling.” Leanansidhe accepted a glass of wine from a brownie. “As you said before, SciCorp is not a place you can just walk into. Visitors are not allowed past the front desk, and security is fairly tight. You have to be an employee to get off the first floor.”
“Well, what if we pretended to be the janitor or cleaning service, or something like that?”
Grimalkin snorted and shifted position on the couch. “Would you not need an ID card for that?” he said, settling comfortably on the pillow I’d thrown at him. “If the building is so well guarded, I doubt they let in common riffraff off the street.”
I slumped, frowning. “He’s right. We would need a fake ID, or the ID of one of the workers, to make it inside. I don’t know anyone who can get us something like that.”
Leanansidhe smiled. “I do,” she said, and snapped her fingers twice. “Skrae, darling,” she called, “would you come here a moment? I need you to find something.”
A piskie spiraled into view, gossamer wings buzzing. Three inches tall, he had indigo skin and dandelion hair, and wore nothing but a razor-toothed grin as he fluttered by. His eyes, enormous white orbs in his pointed face, regarded me curiously, until Leanansidhe clapped her hands.
“Skrae, pet, I’m over here. Focus, darling.” The piskie gave me a wink and a suggestive hip wiggle before turning his attention to Leanansidhe. “Good. Now, pay attention. I have a mission for you. I want you to find the streetrats. The half-phouka and the troll boy, I forget their names. Tell them to leave off the eggs for now, I have another job for them. Now go, darling. Buzz buzz.” She fluttered her hand, and the piskie zipped away out of sight.
“Kimi and Nelson,” I said softly.
“That’s their names. Kimi and Nelson. They were with…with Warren, when we first met.” I remembered Kimi’s impish grin, Nelson’s stoic expression. “You don’t think they’re involved with the Iron fey, too?”
“No.” Leanansidhe leaned back, snapping at a brownie for wine. “They knew nothing of Warren’s betrayal or plot to kidnap you. He made that very clear.”
“Oh. That’s a relief.”
“Although,” Leanansidhe mused with a faraway look, “the girl would make a lovely violin. Or maybe a lyre. The troll is more of a bass, I believe. What do you think, darling?”
I shuddered and hoped she was kidding.
KIMI AND NELSON showed up a few hours later. When they walked into the foyer, Leanansidhe wasted no time in telling them what had happened to Warren, which left them shocked and angry but not disbelieving. No tears were shed, no furious accusations were hurled at anyone. Kimi sniffled a bit, but when Leanansidhe informed them they had a job, both perked up instantly. They struck me as very pragmatic kids, used to the school of hard knocks, which left little room for self-pity or wallowing.
“So,” Kimi said, flopping back on the sofa, which almost swallowed her whole, “what do you want us to do?”
Leanansidhe smiled and gestured for me to take over. “This is your plan, dove. You tell them what you need.”
“Um…right.” The two half-breeds looked at me expectantly. I swallowed.
“Um, well, have you heard of a company called SciCorp?”
Kimi nodded, kicking her feet. “Sure. Big corporation that makes software, or something like that. Why?”
I looked at Leanansidhe, and she waved her cigarette at me encouragingly.
“Well, we need to get inside the building and steal something. Unnoticed.”
Kimi’s eyes widened. “You serious?”
I nodded. “Yes. But, we need your help to get past the guards and the security. Specifically, we need an ID card from one of the workers, and Leanansidhe said you might be able to get us one. Could you do that?”
Kimi and Nelson shared a glance, and the half-phouka turned to me with a mischievous smile. “No problem.” Her eyes gleamed, relishing the encounter. “When do you want it?”
“As soon as possible.”
“Right, then.” Kimi squirmed off the couch and tapped Nelson’s huge bicep.
“Come on, big guy. Let’s go terrorize a human. Back before you know it.”
As the two left the foyer, Puck glanced at Leanansidhe. “You sure those two can handle it?” he asked, and grinned mischievously. “Want me to help them out?”
“No, darling. It’s best that you do not.” Leanansidhe stood, green smoke swirling about her. “Half-breeds have it easier in Silicon Valley—they won’t attract as much attention as normal fey, and they haven’t our allergies to all the iron and steel. Those two will be fine, trust me. Now, then.” She walked toward me, smiling. “Come with me, my pet. We have a big day ahead of us.”
I stared at her nervously. “Where are we going?”
“What? Now? Why?”
Leanansidhe tsked. “Darling, you can’t expect to waltz into SciCorp looking like that.” She regarded my jeans and sweater imperiously, and sniffed. “It doesn’t exactly scream ‘I’m a business professional.’ More like, ‘I’m a Goodwill junkie.’ If we’re going to get you into SciCorp, you’ll need more than luck and glamour. You’ll need an entire makeover.”
“But we’re running out of time. Why can’t Puck just glamour me some clothes—”
“Darling, darling, darling.” Leanansidhe waved her hand. “You never turn down a chance to go shopping, pet. Besides, didn’t you hear Grimalkin? Even the most powerful glamour has the tendency to unravel if surrounded by steel and iron. We don’t want you to look like a corporate worker, dove, we want you to be a corporate worker. And we’re going shopping, no buts about it.” She gave me an indulgent smile I didn’t like at all. “Think of me as your temporary faery godmother, darling. Just let me get my magic wand.”
I FOLLOWED Leanansidhe down another long corridor that dumped us out onto a sunny sidewalk bustling with people, who didn’t notice our sudden appearance from a previously empty alleyway. Even though the sun was shining and the sky was clear, there was a frigid bite to the air, and people hurried down the street in thick sweaters and coats, a sign that winter was on its way or had already arrived. As we passed a newspaper machine, I quickly scanned the date in the corner and breathed in a sigh of relief. Five months. I’d been stuck in Faery five months; a long time to be sure, but better than five years, or five centuries. At least my parents were still alive.
I spent the rest of the afternoon being dragged from shop to shop, following Leanansidhe as she plucked clothes from racks and shoved them at me, demanding I try them on. When I balked at the ungodly prices, she laughed and reminded me that she was my temporary faery godmother today, and that price was not an issue. I tried on women’s suits first, sleek jackets and tight, knee-length skirts that made me look five years older, at least to Leanansidhe’s reckoning. I must’ve tried on two dozen different styles, colors and combinations before Leanansidhe finally announced that she liked a simple black outfit that looked like every other black outfit I had tried on.
“So, we’re done now?” I ventured hopefully, as Leanansidhe had the store clerk take the suit away to be wrapped. The faery looked down at me in genuine surprise and laughed.
“Oh, no, darling. That was just a suit. You still need shoes, makeup, a purse, a few accessories…no pet, we’ve only just begun.”
“I didn’t think faeries liked shopping and buying stuff. Isn’t that a bit…unnatural?”
“Of course not, darling. Shopping is just another form of hunting. All fey are hunters, whether they admit it or not. It’s in our nature, pet, nothing unnatural about it.”
That made a strange sort of sense.
MORE STORES. I lost track of all the places we visited, the aisles we stalked, the racks we pored over. Leanansidhe was a faery on a mission; the second she swept through the doors, all salespeople would drop what they were doing and flock to her side, asking if they could help, if they could be of service. I was invisible beside her; even when Leanansidhe announced we were shopping for me, the clerks would forget I existed the second they turned away. Still, they were eager to please, bringing out their best shoes in my size, showing us a staggering variety of purses I would never use, and suggesting earrings that would accent the color of my eyes. (This was also the time Leanansidhe discovered I didn’t pierce my ears. Thirty minutes later, I sat with my earlobes throbbing as a bubbly clerk pressed cotton to my ears and cheerfully told me the swelling would go down in a day or two.)