Amy met Vaughn’s eyes. “My father said to wait ten years and if I hadn’t heard anything from him to gather together what allies I can find, and take back the kingdom if I can.”
Her voice didn’t waver, didn’t sound apologetic or uncertain. Her accent even edged toward British though it wasn’t quite. In that moment, I could completely believe that she descended from generations of royalty and supernatural guardians, and would get back what was theirs.
History wasn’t as much my thing as Daniel’s, but long talks with him had made it clear that historical kings and queens weren’t like the royalty in fairy tales. They had more in common with the royalty in Game of Thrones—ruthless and effective.
“I don’t know when I’m going back, but I’m not going to wait ten years to do it. There’s got to be some way to find out what’s going on back home. When I know, I’m going to ask all of you to help. I’ll understand if you can’t, but if I’m fighting something powerful enough to stand against my family, I’ll need all the help I get.”
“Man,” Vaughn shook his head, “that could get crazy… After it’s over, are you going to stay there?”
Amy stopped and said nothing for a moment. “I don’t know. They might need me especially if somehow…” She paused again. “If somehow everyone’s dead and I’m the only one left alive. Then I’ll have to rebuild. If they’re alive, the same conditions that made it easy to send me away might still be true. Then I’ll stay here.”
Nodding, Vaughn said, “We said we weren’t going to take this too seriously, but I’m glad you’re not planning to disappear. I’m not sure I want to relocate to your universe—especially if there’s already another me.”
Amy laughed. “Wouldn’t that be confusing? And that wouldn’t be the worst of it. Even back home, your double’s family is only barely royal and viewed as uncultured colonists. The Bloodlords would be horrified to find that you were courting me, but since the Bloodmaiden has always had a reputation for scandalous behavior, maybe they wouldn’t care.”
Vaughn leaned back in his chair. “That almost sounds fun.” He grinned, but then stopped, turning toward Cassie, keeping his voice low and beginning by saying, “I—”
Holding up her hand, Cassie didn’t let him go any further. “No. Stop. I don’t want to cause problems, so I didn’t bring that up. It’s not as big a deal as The Thing That Eats made it sound.”
Vaughn blinked. “Okay.”
He didn’t add anything to that, and neither did anyone else.
In my head, Daniel added, That went about as well as could be expected.
It made for an odd moment, all of us sitting in the League jet, hearing the hum of the life support systems, and the background roar of the main engine. Meanwhile, outside, the jet hung above North America which was green, brown and gray, but surrounded by blue, and obscured by white clouds.
Yet with almost everyone we cared about and maybe ever would care about below us, we found ourselves unsure of what to say in the face of the relationships right here.
Or maybe I was the only one who was unsure? Still, we didn’t say a lot after Rod interrupted the silence with the question, “So, what do you think of those Nationals?” and Haley answered, “They suck.” A few of us laughed, Cassie, in particular, but maybe you had to be there.
There’s not a lot to say about what came next. We landed in Grand Lake where it was still day time. Alex healed the injuries we had, which were amazingly minor considering what we’d done. Agent Lim debriefed us over the internet, listening, I’m sure, for anything we’d done that could damage the security of the United States or cause problems for the Stapledon program.
Plus, Samita seemed almost disappointed that none of us had come back possessed, making her elaborate protective circles unnecessary.
Reliquary appeared during all of that to pick up The Thing That Eats’ glowing prison and left us celebrating our survival.
We had pizza. And breadsticks. With dipping sauce.
It wasn’t exactly the food of kings, but we were hungry.
After a couple hours hanging out, though, we had to bring everyone home—well, almost everyone. Alex and his friends had flown a Defenders’ podjet. Izzy and Daniel flew back to the University of Chicago together.
That left Haley and me to fly everyone else.
On a whim, we left Cassie and Rod (both in Washington D.C.) for last. That meant that we were floating above Duke University to drop off Amy and Samita at ten at night, practically invisible because of the shields, and about two hundred feet from the ground.
Samita looked out the windows, face pointing toward the ground below. “You’re absolutely certain you can carry me all the way down?”
Amy smirked. “After I transform? Yes. Can I have a second?”
Samita nodded, frowning as Amy walked up to Cassie. “I did what I could to pull the focus away from… Well, you know.”
Cassie leaned back in her chair and looked up at her. “Does that mean you’re not recruiting us to invade your home universe?”
Amy’s mouth twitched. “No, that’s real. Will you?”
Glancing downward toward her gun, Cassie said, “Count on it. Mr. Sparkles’ been complaining about how he barely got to shoot the dragon since August.”
Amy laughed but then stopped. “Are we okay? I mean it seriously.”
Taking her hand and squeezing it, Cassie said, “We’re fine.”
“Good.” Letting go of Cassie’s hand, she tapped Rod’s foot. Nodding toward Samita, she said, “Should I push her out?”
Rod laughed. “Definitely.”
Samita raised an eyebrow. “Don’t.”
Amy didn’t, and after the normal flash of red, she took Samita and flew down to Duke’s campus.
Cassie and Rod didn’t even go to the same university. We dropped them off in a park in Washington D.C. that they said was near enough to a Metro stop that they could get where they needed to go.
As the hatch opened, Cassie asked, “What do you think will happen to that Cabal guy?”
“No idea,” I said.
“Me neither,” she said and stepped out. Rod followed her.
When they were gone, I turned on the gravitics and let the jet float upward. Out the windows, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building dominated the skyline, all of them glowing.
Haley and I looked at each other. “I think this is the first time we’ve been alone in days,” Haley said.
I shrugged. “If we landed at a team’s HQ in New York, we could change into street clothes and I don’t know, maybe go see a band? Or have dessert?”
She pursed her lips, obviously thinking about it. “We can’t be too late. I wanted to go to Mass with my parents tomorrow, and I’ve got an essay due Monday.”
Checking the jet’s radar, I brought the main engine online. “I’ve got stuff too.”
Somewhere over Pennsylvania, Kayla called. Haley and I shared a look. We weren’t going to be going to NYC.
“Bad news. Reliquary was driving The Thing’s prison to some kind of magical storage facility when he was attacked. The attacker shattered the device. The creature’s escaped.”