“I had to call him,” Sarah said. Harper wasn’t looking at her, but she could hear the justification in her voice and maybe the unspoken plea for understanding too. She wanted to hear that she made the right choice.
Conner was still alive, so how could Harper argue she hadn’t?
“Alec will figure it out,” she said. “Him and Chloe. They’ll have a plan.”
“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. She transformed into her panther form and prowled around the room. They were alone for now, other than Conner on the other side of the glass. He was still chained to the chair, but they’d taken the bag off.
“We could fight our way out,” Harper said.
Sarah glanced at her, and she didn’t need to speak. Harper could see the reproach in her golden rings. Fight, sure. But over a hundred demons, all with amplified abilities? Impossible.
Harper fidgeted in her chair. “Well, Alec won’t just hand himself over. That would be foolish. They’ll kill him, and Conner too. I mean, they said they wouldn’t, but that doesn’t matter, does it?”
Sarah said nothing, just paced past her.
“I mean, Conner told me that a deal with a demon doesn’t always mean much. They lie, he said. They break promises. They have no reason to let us live once Alec’s here.”
Sarah glanced at her, baring her teeth.
“We have our phones,” Harper told her. “I mean, that’s still true. They don’t want to bring the police down on this place. But that protects you and me, maybe. It doesn’t protect the others.”
Sarah growled, deep in her throat.
“It’s true,” Harper snapped. “They could kill Conner anyway, and Alec now too.”
“Stop,” Sarah said, after transforming. “I get it, Harper, we’re risking Alec this way. Risking. What else was there to do? Let them shoot Conner?”
“No, I’m not saying that,” Harper said.
“Good,” Sarah said. “Because you might have let him die for your idealism. Don’t negotiate. Make the logical choice with the best odds for us all. Protect Alec. But Conner is — I know him.”
“I know him too,” Harper said, stung.
“Yeah?” Sarah glanced at the incubus. “Tell me, what’s his favorite food? Band? Fandom?”
Harper shook her head. “Those are — look, I know him, I know the important stuff. How he chose to be good, all the reasons why and—”
“Yeah, the important stuff,” Sarah said, sounding weary. “You — look, Harper — I’ve known Brittney as long as you’ve known Conner. The important stuff? She has an unused bachelor’s degree in marketing design. She used to party a lot because her parents are rich, and she changed boyfriends weekly. Sound about right?”
Harper thought about Brittney. “I get it.”
“Yeah,” Harper said. “I’m sorry, Sarah. I didn’t — okay, tell me something about him. I mean, you know, Brittney — we were taking Dutch in college. She saw this kid, like barely 18, getting teased a lot. Every time, she’d drape herself around him and start talking to him like he was hers. And all the guys started thinking he was this European kid who’d somehow got the hot girl. The only thing either of them could say was ass-violin, but it worked. He ended up more popular than she was. So Conner, just…”
“He likes Doctor Who,” Sarah said.
Harper gave her a startled look. “Conner? But that show is—”
“About adventure? Yeah, I know,” Sarah said. “It’s not just the new series, either. He’s watched all the old episodes too, plus the spinoffs. He’s a big fan of Captain Jack.”
Harper looked back through the glass at him. She could see it, she realized. Conner on the edge of his seat, waiting for a new episode to begin. Conner, with a bowl of popcorn, kicked back, watching reruns.
“I couldn’t let them put a gun to his head, whether or not they would have pulled the trigger,” Sarah said.
“No, you couldn’t,” Harper agreed, soft.
Sarah set her hands on the table. “When Alec arrives, we—”
The door opened, and she and Harper looked over.
The vampire from before was gripping Chloe by the arm. She let her go and shoved. Chloe, graceful as ever, skipped forward without missing a beat.
“Harper? Sarah? Oh, thank god. Where’s Conner?” Chloe looked around, then saw him through the glass. She whirled around to the vampire. “Why is he chained? You said he’d be unharmed.”
The woman gave her a sullen look. “Morodan was supposed to be here, not you. You broke the agreement, so shut your mouth.”
“You want me to shut up?” Chloe said, her eyes flashing. “You’re going to have to gag me, and that means coming into this room. Let’s see how you fare without your little buddies upstairs.”
“You think I fear you?” the vampire asked. She laughed. “I’d snap you like a twig, little girl.”
Chloe stepped toward her. “Come snap me then. You’d be a hero, after all. The vampire who killed Sylvania.”
The vampire’s eyes widened, and Harper saw a moment of doubt. Then she was all swagger again. “You’re that Chloe, huh? I expected someone more adept. You couldn’t even get past our guards.”
“Oh, you sweet idiot,” Chloe said, both mocking and incredulous. “You really believe that. I’m right where I want to be.”
Sarah cleared her throat. “Chloe…”
“Present and accounted for,” Chloe said, not taking her eyes off the vampire.
“Don’t let her—”
“What? Get to me?” Chloe laughed. “I took out a hundred vampires that were better and smarter. She’s a gnat. Still, an annoying one. Flee, gnat; the adults need to talk now.”
The vampire shimmered and lunged. Everyone acted at once. Harper dashed forward to slam the door closed, Chloe levitated and twirled away, and Sarah leaped in front of the vampire, transforming into a snarling wolf.
Before Sarah could take a bite of the woman — or the other way around — they were all blasted off their feet. Harper struck her hip against a chair on her way down, then sat on her butt, shocked. “What?”
The door reopened, and the maroon demon from before swept inside. “Ladies, really? I leave you alone for — ah, no matter. You’re all fine, I trust? Good. Demmy, leave us.”
The vampire picked herself, gave the group a contemptuous look as they stood too, and walked out.
“You shouldn’t test her so,” the demon sighed. “Terrible temper.”
He held a hand up, and Chloe stopped talking, though she was scowling. “Now, Mr. Morodan? Come join us, please.”
Alec stepped into the room. Harper looked past him and saw the inferi watching.
“Alec, I’m sorry,” Sarah said right away.
“Don’t,” Alec said. “You’re not at fault here. Trentreen, I’m here. What do you want?”
Harper snapped her eyes back to the demon. “You’re Trentreen?
He gave Harper an amused look. “Why so surprised?”
“Conner said you were too scared to come out of hiding,” Chloe said, adding as much inflection as possible.
He shrugged. “Times change. Oh yes, I hid. For a long time, I hid. Not my proudest time, but we do what we do, hmm? But I got myself together. Even found a replacement for the eye that your friend took, and a few other changes too. All it took was a little negotiating and to let go of my revenge schemes.”
“But here we are,” Sarah said.
“Mm, yes. Conner was a means to an end, that’s all,” Trentreen said. “It wasn’t personal. Audio, please!”
He clapped his hands, and then Conner looked up, expression sharp.
“Conner?” Trentreen said. “Can you hear us?”
“Yes,” Conner said, mouth twisting in disgust.
“Good. Would you care to see us too?”
The glass lowered, turning two rooms into one. Harper, Sarah, and Chloe all moved toward him, but Trentreen said, “Stop. He’s fine, but keep back.”
“Do as he says,” Conner told them. “It’s all right, guys. I’m fine.”
Harper said, “But—”
“No,” Conner said. “Don’t, Harper. Please. Alec, I need to speak with you.”
Alec moved past the others, not bothering to glance at Trentreen. He stopped a few feet from Conner. “He wants me to join him. What’s he offered you, Conner? Or threatened you with?”
Harper glanced at Trentreen and saw he was smiling. Her vision doubled for a moment, but returned to normal when she blinked.
“James,” Conner said. “Alec, I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t ever ask this of you, but he’s a kid. He’s—”
“He’s your kid,” Alec said. “I get it.”
“But they lie!” Harper said. “You said that, Conner!”
He didn’t even look at her. “He did a binding contract. You go with them, without a fight, and he’ll let James go home with me now, unharmed, and the others too. Afterlife.”
“All but me,” Alec said, musing.
“No,” Sarah said.
Chloe was in agreement. “You can’t, Alec. Conner, you can’t ask him too, either. There’s another way.”
Harper started to agree, and then her vision doubled again. She blinked, and then they were all dead.
“What? No. No!”
She stepped backward, holding her hand to her mouth. Chloe, sprawled out, not breathing. Sarah, crooked on the ground. Conner, glossy-eyed. And there she was, too. Broken, lifeless.
“But — no, but—” she knew it made no sense. She couldn’t be there because she was standing, breathing, warm and alive. She looked back at the bodies and realized who was missing. Alec. Realization hit her at the same time reality did. She came back to the present.
“You can’t,” Harper said, as the bodies on the floor vanished. She hurried forward, hearing Trentreen say something behind her, but ignoring him. “Alec, Conner, no. Listen, I saw us… all of us. Alec, you — you go with them, and we die. Not you, the rest of us. I saw us.”
Alec didn’t look at her. “Not all visions come true, Harper.”
Chloe and Sarah were adding their disagreements, too. All of them, telling him no, not to go with.
“Stop,” Alec said. They did.
He looked at Conner. “You want this?”
“He’s my kid,” Conner said in a small voice. But he met Alec’s eyes, desperate.
Alec turned to Trentreen. “You’ve got your deal. Take them home.”