A/N: Alouise Briggslay, your messages and reviews are amazing as ever! And may I say that I love the idea of outlining chapters using dialogue-that sounds perfect for me. And a great big thank you to Spazthemagicbeanstalk for following and favoriting a bunch of my stories including this one! We're getting close to the end you guys. Things are beginning to come together.


Lela & Darrius

"Doctor, look into my eyes

I've been breathing air, but there's no sign of life

Doctor, the problem's in my chest

My heart feels cold as ice, but it's anybody's guess"

-Cold Cold Cold, Cage The Elephant

AS soon as Lela bursts through the kitchen door and out onto the porch, she again tries to jump back into her physical body. Just like in the kitchen, she can't find it at first. She sprints down the steps and glances behind her. The creature hasn't followed her outside, instead staring her down through the small window in the kitchen door. Lela allows herself to slow down just the tiniest bit. She would rather be out of the monster's eyeline, though, so she hooks a right and runs around the greenhouse where she can no longer see the kitchen.

Gasping for breath, Lela slows to a jog and gradually comes to a halt. This time, she closes her eyes when she reaches for her body. There it is! She can just barely feel it.

In the real world, she pries her eyes open. Her vision is fuzzy, like she has gunk in her eyes or something. Despite this, she can make out the ceiling above the bed that Tessa and Charise used to share. She rolls her eyes to the left as far as they will go. Just inches from her is Kayla.

Her eyes are closed and her facial muscles are slack. She could be sleeping, except for the fact that Lela can't feel the Fighter's breath ghosting against her cheek. That, and she remembers Maggie telling Leon that Kayla is dead.

She is lying in bed next to a dead body.

Lela snaps back into the spirit world and muffles a sob in the crook of her elbow. Her roommate is dead, but Lela isn't. Not yet. How far from the house did Kayla have to go before her physical body died? Or perhaps something more nefarious happened to the Fighter. Maybe she walked into the woods and came across something more dangerous than Madam Fairchild.

Shaking with the effort, Lela swallows her tears, hiccupping in the process.

She doesn't know what to do now. It's doubtful that it's safe to reenter the farmhouse, but she doesn't know how far she can wander before she ends up like Kayla.

Rock, meet hard place.

She wipes her nose on her sleeve and takes a trembling breath. Falling to pieces won't help. She has to think, think, think. What would Maggie do? Maggie wouldn't be hiding behind the greenhouse, she would be doing something. Struck by an idea, Lela sits up straighter. An experiment! Maggie would conduct an experiment.

Closing her eyes, Lela feels for her body again. Its presence is like the faint, flickering flame of a candle on the cusp of being extinguished. Instead of jumping into her body this time, she just holds onto that presence as it flutters against her exploratory touch. When she opens her eyes again, Lela is pleased to find that she can still feel the weak pulse of her physical body even though she remains outside the spirit house.

She takes two steps away from the greenhouse toward the line of trees where the forest begins. As long as she can still feel the pulse of her heartbeat in her body, then that means she is still alive. If at any point she loses that feeling, or if the fluttering begins to get weaker, then Lela will turn back toward the house.

"Not bad," she imagines Maggie telling her. "You're probably going to get yourself killed, but this could work."

Keeping a mental finger on her pulse, Lela cautiously walks toward the trees. As she draws nearer, the trees start to look blurred. Thinking there's something wrong with her eyes, Lela blinks repeatedly and wipes at them. It does nothing to make the trees clearer, though.

Her pulse suddenly dips. Heart in her throat, Lela staggers four steps away from the dark forest. Once she feels the flutter of her physical body stabilize, Lela studies the trees. The forest is dark, she realizes. Even though the sun is shining, beneath the branches it looks like night. Dark and blurry.

"Leeela."

With a gasp, she loses her touch on her physical body. For about a minute, she clutches the hem of her shirt frozen in fear. Then she scrambles to find the feel of her body once more and takes another step away from the forest. One more step away from death. One more step away from whoever softly called her name.

"Leeela."

She swallows roughly and forcefully tells herself that she can't run back to the house. Who knows if that's any safer, inside with the corpse monster, than she is out here with the bodiless voice calling to her from the woods.

"Leeela."

WWMD, she reminds herself. What would Maggie do? Maggie would be brave and solve this little mystery. Lela wipes her sweaty palms on her shirt and sets out to follow the voice as best she can.

"Leeela."

It isn't coming from directly in front of her. She walks around the side of the greenhouse toward the front yard. Following the voice musically crying her name takes her to the driveway. The dirt drive cuts through the sea of blurry, dark trees. Standing on the driveway well back from the tree line, Lela peers down the road. Before it curves out of sight, the road blurs just like the trees, shrouded in some sort of dark fog. The fog swirls as the voice calls to her for the umpteenth time. Whoever it is is very insistent.

"Hello?" she calls back, responding for the first time.

The mist on the driveway parts, revealing someone laid out on the ground on their stomach. They lift their head.

"Farah?" Lela gasps and unthinkingly moves closer. Farah's face morphs into a desperate mask of anguish.

"Leeela. Help me!" The Fighter reaches out and digs her fingernails into the rough dirt beneath her. The effort it takes her to drag her prone body an inch forward looks monumental. In her wake, Farah's body leaves behind a streak of blood where her injured leg still oozes.

Lela lurches forward when Farah puts forth another attempt to crawl, but she only makes it another two steps before the pull to her body stutters and weakens dramatically. The despair in Farah's eyes has Lela's own eyes burning.

"I-I can't." The knot in her throat causes the admission of defeat to come out raspy. Lela shakes her head. "You're too far away, Farah. I can't get to you."

"Please!" The Fighter's head drops to the dirt, shaking with sobs. Lela scans her surroundings for anything that could be useful in helping Farah. There is the garage; maybe if she's fast enough, Lela can drive to Farah and get back to the safety of the front yard without being irreversibly harmed.

She rushes to the garage. There is no keypad for the garage code like there is in the real world, but that's all right since she never knew the code anyway. Hoping that the absence of the keypad means the garage isn't locked, she squats and curls her fingers under the edge of the door. The door is heavier than it looks, and she's forced to readjust so she can lift with her legs rather than her arms.

The door rumbles once she gets it moving. It rolls up to reveal a very different garage than the one she's used to. There's no passenger van, and Maggie's silver car is also missing. None of the Fairchilds' expensive sports cars are here either. The only vehicle here is the oldest car Lela has ever laid eyes on. It would look like a horse-drawn buggy if not for the steering wheel and the windshield. Lela doesn't know much about cars, but she is one hundred percent positive that this car's engine does not have the kind of horsepower she needs to zip down the driveway, grab Farah, and zip back. She's not even sure if the car will start.

Farah is still calling her name, her pleas putting fissures in Lela's heart. Paralyzed with indecision, she closes her eyes and tries to clear her mind. WWMD?

"Oh, screw what I would do." Lela's eyes pop open. Surprised by her own imagination, her fantasy of Maggie faces her sternly with arms crossed. "I'm not even here, Lela!" Imaginary Maggie reminds her. "I'm out in the real world trying to keep Leon from killing you guys. And you know what? I don't have a clue what I'm doing any more than you do! So, forget what I would do." Imaginary Maggie points at Lela just like that Uncle Sam poster and gives her a smirk. "What would Lela do?"

"I don't know," she says, but Imaginary Maggie is gone. As soon as she says it, Lela knows that's not true. She knows what she should do, she just doesn't know if she's brave enough to do it.

Screwing up her courage, Lela walks back to the driveway. Farah's cheeks are shiny with tears, dampening the dirt around her. Lela blows out a breath through pursed lips and then kicks off her flats. If she's going to do this, she'll be better off barefoot; these flimsy black flats will only trip her up.

"Okay," she murmurs to herself. "It's okay. You'll be okay." The last thing she does is make the sign of the cross and then takes off running.

The change in her surroundings is immediate. Once Lela breaks that invisible barrier between the front yard and the long driveway, the air gets thinner. She pushes forward, but the lack of oxygen rapidly starts to make her feet drag. Feeling inordinately heavy, Lela skids as she comes upon Farah's prone form. Disregarding the way pebbles and rocks jab sharply at her bare feet, she reaches down and seizes the Fighter's outstretched arm.

She doesn't know how much Farah weighed prior to dying, however, Lela is certain that no one's arm should be this hefty. Only two inches off the ground, and Farah's arm feels like it weighs thirty pounds. Gasping, Lela allows the girl's arm to limply drop to the ground again. She attempts to catch her breath, tries to make everything stop spinning. The air is too thin here. Her head might as well be filled with helium while the rest of her body is twice as heavy as it usually is. Her brow is slippery with sweat when she goes to wipe it.

In one swift motion, Farah's hands abruptly clamp onto Lela's ankle.

"Ah!"

Instinctively, she tries to leap back and shake off the foreign grip. It puts her off balance, though, and sends her sprawling next to Farah. She feels the Fighter's hands crawl up her leg, scratching and bruising her as they go.

"Farah!"

Lela looks down the length of her body, ready to reason with the girl or kick her in the face if need be. The words she had prepared die on her tongue.

Gray, mottled flesh hangs off Farah's hands and arms. When she lifts her head, the stench of rotten meat smacks Lela upside the head. Cloudy, dead eyes meet Lela's; maggots fall from Farah's nostrils and mouth.

"Help me," she wheezes.

Out of the dark fog emerges Kayla. Or something that used to be Kayla, anyway. Like Farah, she looks like she belongs on The Walking Dead rather than real life. Her skin is ashy as well but blotchy in places where blood settled, whereas Farah appears to have been dead for much longer. Terrible bruises ring Kayla's neck as if something squeezed the life right out of her.

"Lela," she says in a hoarse voice, "I don't feel good." Kayla clutches her stomach and then hunches over to vomit blood.

One by one, other changelings come out of the fog. Dorothy and Matthew still bleeding from gunshot wounds to their hearts; Hank sporting a vicious nosebleed that has soaked through the entire front of his shirt; in his hands, he drags the mutilated bodies that Lela can only assume belong to Gunner and Chaz.

The sting of fingernails scraping the skin of her leg is a visceral reminder that she is still in Farah's clutches. Not wanting to touch the maggots that have made a home in the Fighter's mouth and nasal cavity, Lela presses the balls of her feet against her shoulder and pushes. It doesn't make any difference. In fact, the resistance only seems to give Farah a burst of energy to crawl up Lela's body.

Panting and beginning to see spots, Lela frantically beats on the girl's sternum, although this barely holds Farah at bay. Farah's dead eyes are wide, her brow furrowed.

"I just want to feel again," she breathes. "And you're so warm." Fumbling fingers tear at Lela's shirt right where her heart pumps frenetically below the surface of her skin and breastbone.

"Well, this seems to be going nowhere good," says Imaginary Maggie. Lela doesn't have the energy or presence of mind to conjure an image of the House Pet; it's just her voice ringing in Lela's head. "Now is not the time to freeze up, Lela. Do something!"

"I can't!" she gasps. There isn't enough oxygen. She can't breathe. "I need…" She needs help.

Above the fog, Lela hears geese fly overhead, distantly calling to each other.

Suddenly, Farah is wrenched off of her. Hank's hand is fisted in the back of her shirt in order to hold her back; he must have dropped the bodies of Gunner and Chaz. Farah thrashes in his grasp, spitting and clawing at him. From this angle, the bullet wound in her leg is on full display; the skin around the hole is gangrenous, oozing blood and pus. Hank's nose is still bleeding, and Lela realizes in horror that it isn't broken but split open from the end of his nostril all the way up to his skull.

His gaze is somewhat out of focus, but he manages to pin her with a firm and urgent look. "Go," he hisses. Hank's eyes clamp shut in a pained frown. Gingerly, he touches the fingers of his free hand to his nose. "I can't…" Lela sees flecks of blood spray from the injury when he talks. "Not much longer…"

He doesn't know how long he can hold Farah. He doesn't know how much longer before the rest of them are just like her.

Lela struggles to her feet. The dizziness is worse; her lungs feel like they're being crushed. Ignoring the headache that is making her head weightless, she runs away. She doesn't even feel the rocks slicing into her feet anymore. Her feet are just two sandbags attached to the ends of her legs. The fog becomes thicker as she runs, eating up more and more of the oxygen she so desperately needs until the black spots in front of her eyes turn into tunnel vision. Lela wants to cry, but she's pretty sure that she will faint if she does.

Where is the front yard of the farmhouse? The distance didn't feel this expansive the first time she ran to Farah. Her brain is fuzzy as she squints into the dark mist hoping to see the end of the driveway come into view. One clear thought ekes past the confusion. If she hasn't made it back to the house yet, then she must have gone the wrong way when she ran from Farah.

Lela stops and turns around, but all she sees is more driveway, fog, and dark trees. She has no idea how far from the front yard she is or where the dead changelings went. Panting, she knows that she is too weak now to make it past Farah a second time—and it's possible that this time, there will be more Pit Fighters besides Farah to fend off. If she continues forward, she's dead for certain. But Lela doesn't know if she has enough lung capacity to make it back to the farmhouse even if she isn't ambushed on her way there.

She wants to scream. Why didn't she pay more attention to which direction she was facing before she ran?

There is not even a breeze out here; nothing to move or burn off the fog. She hears geese overhead again and… Are those human voices?

Lela slowly walks farther down the drive—because she's already screwed at this point, so why not?

"It has to be around here somewhere!" says a frustrated male voice. Lela doesn't recognize it but presses onward anyway. "You said the Fairchilds lived on this road, and you've been here a thousand-and-one times. So, where is it?"

The driveway abruptly ends, coming to a T-shaped intersection where a man angrily stalks out of the fog. Light brown hair, a brown leather jacket, and blue jeans are all she has time to take in before another man follows the first out of the fog. Lela's heart jumps—this man she knows. It's Darrius! He looks different, though. Sad and conquered.

"If Leon suspects people are after him," Darrius replies, "he might have disguised the entrance to the driveway."

The other man snorts skeptically. "That's assuming Leon is here at all. You better be right about this." Darrius frowns at him, a facial expression Lela has never seen on the elf.

"As you stated, I've been to this house more times than I can count, and I can't locate the driveway all of a sudden. I believe that indicates that someone is here. And this someone doesn't want to be disturbed."

"Which means that we probably should disturb them." The first man disappears from her view, getting swallowed by the fog again. "And we can't do that if we can't find the damn driveway!"

Heaving a great sigh, Darrius goes to follow him.

"Darrius!" Lela wants to shout his name, except it comes out breathy and weak. Her throat burns, and she can't breathe. The black tunnel narrowing her vision is closing in. "It's over here," she whispers. "The driveway…"

Her legs buckle. The pulse of her physical body is gone, has been for the last few minutes. Something catches her before she hits the ground. Lela thinks she feels feathers. There's no strength left within her to investigate this.

It's almost pleasant the way she drifts. She aches everywhere, but she isn't fighting anymore. Giving up and accepting whatever her fate may be takes so much less energy than railing against the powers that be. That thick, dark fog will cover her and block out everything else; it will protect her like a blanket and simply let her sleep. She's so tired.

Her peaceful rest doesn't last long.

Lela's back thumps on solid ground. Without thinking, she gasps for air and finds that she's no longer suffocating. Her eyes snap open. There's the sun, its light bouncing off all the floating dust motes. Allowing her head to roll to the side she sees two things. The first is the Fairchilds' garage; somehow, she must be back in the front yard. The second is the largest goose Lela has ever laid eyes on. The goose's long neck is arched over her, its black eyes sparkling. Not only is the bird huge, but it also doesn't have webbed feet. The feet on this goose would look more at home on a hawk—individual talons that it used to grab Lela and fly her to the relative safety of the house.

Now that she is awake, the goose spreads its wings, momentarily blocking out the sunlight. It takes to the air, whipping Lela's curls askew. She stares after the bird, mouth agape. The urge to smile a big, dopy grin is nearly painful, so she just lets it happen. Tears stream down her cheeks.

She's alive. She is alive. She's alive, and Darrius is coming to rescue them.


Darrius is learning that Rowan Smith is a nice man to work with until he gets frustrated. From his research, Rowan had a short list of places he believed either Rush or Leon might go, and so far, all of those places have given them nothing. The last bullet point on his list is the Fairchild clan's farmhouse out in the country.

When Darrius questioned why their home was at the bottom of the list, Rowan had replied by saying that the brothers couldn't be that stupid. It wasn't about stupidity, Darrius had thought but didn't say. It was a matter of feeling in control. But Darrius isn't the successful bounty hunter, so he stepped back and followed Rowan's lead.

Now that they are so close to the farmhouse and struggling to locate the driveway, he is positive that he was correct all along. Leon is definitely here and possibly Rush, too.

The day is cold and dreary, mirroring his mood. With his hands jammed in his pockets, he trudges after Rowan.

In the past decade, there have been many times when Darrius wished he could speak to his father. He always misses his dad, but recent events have made that void feel even more hollow than usual. When he was younger, Darrius thought all his dad did was help people in need. Now he wonders if Cassius ever felt like a pawn in everyone else's games. He was lying for Maggie, being used by the Board of Brothers, helping Rush escape, and then double-crossing Rush by allowing Rowan to take advantage of their previous connection. Under the weight of everyone's deceit and expectations, Darrius feels an inch tall.

Reaching the end of the street, Rowan growls and turns about to march back the way they came. This is the fifth time they have been up and down this street searching for any sign of the Fairchild residence.

"You're sure there's nothing magicy," Rowan waggles his fingers, "you can do, Darrius?"

He shakes his head. "Elf and faery magic are more different than you'd think. To have the slimmest chance of uncovering the driveway, I would need to know exactly what was done to disguise it."

Off in the distance, where the cloudy sky is grayest, thunder rolls threateningly. Darrius pulls his jacket around himself more securely.

"What do you generally do when you hit a dead end?" he asks Rowan.

"If I had more time," Rowan stresses, frustrated, "I would track down another faery to help me—one that has no connection to the Fairchilds. But since there are changelings that are potentially in danger, we don't have that kind of time to spare."

A noise in the woods nearby has the two instantly dropping their discussion in favor of drawing weapons. Holding his gun at the ready, Rowan listens intently for more rustling off in the trees. Darrius' first instinct is to reach out for any magic in his surroundings. This forest is brimming with magic, although most of it is not friendly, so he abandons the effort. The only other weapon he could use is the Piper's flute, and that is safely tucked inside Rowan's jacket. So, possessing better ears than the human at his side, Darrius listens.

There are light footsteps coming toward them from the east. These are preceded by something small disturbing the branches. Darrius narrows his eyes and peers into the forest. It almost sounds like something is flitting through the tops of the trees. It isn't a squirrel; a squirrel would make heavier sounds than whatever this is. It could be a bird? A very small bird.

An object the size of a hummingbird comes flying out of the woods, swooping straight for Darrius. Yelping in surprise, he ducks as Rowan trains his gun on it. The object circles around, swiftly alighting on Darrius' shoulder. Rowan's gun follows it, and suddenly Darrius is afraid for a very different reason.

"Get that out of my face, Rowan!" he says through clenched teeth. Much to his relief, the bounty hunter lowers his gun. Then the focused set of his jaw relaxes into something akin to confusion. "What?" Darrius can feel whatever flew at them making itself comfortable on his shoulder. "What is it?"

"Um…" The human quirks an eyebrow. "It's a wooden bird, I think."

"What?"

He dares to turn his head and look. Sure enough, the object on his shoulder appears to be a wooden carving of a Canadian goose. Only the goose figurine is moving without the use of strings or a motor.

Taking measured breaths, Darrius says, "Can you get it off me, please?"

"All right." Rowan lifts his gun again, pointing it just above Darrius' shoulder. "Don't. Move."

"No, Rowan! Don't shoot at it! Do anything else!"

"I concur." The voice of a third party has Rowan swinging his gun in the direction of the newcomer.

An oddly dressed man with dark, shaggy hair raises his hands in surrender. His outfit is an eclectic assortment of styles from various eras. His coat looks like it's from the 1800's, his pants and suspenders from the 30's or 40's, and his hair from the 90's. The man is about the same height as Rowan, which is to say that he's nearly as tall as Darrius.

The man clears his throat. "If you would do me the favor of not shooting myself or my little friend there, I would be immensely grateful."

He has a slight accent that Darrius fails to place—although, that is possibly the least odd thing about him. What bothers Darrius the most is the nagging feeling that he's seen this person before.

"Who are you?" Rowan demands to know.

"Magnus," the man says perfunctorily. "And you are?"

"Magnus?" That's why he thought the man's face was familiar! "As in one of the Pied Piper's children?"

The man's eyes darken to be the same shade of gray as the sky. "Not anymore," says Magnus with grim satisfaction. "And you still haven't answered my question."

"Oh, we don't have to answer any of your questions." Rowan's grin is a frightening mixture of anger, humor, and casual violence. "See, that's how it works when you're the one holding the gun."

Magnus rolls his eyes. "Fine then. Well, I'm on a bit of a rescue mission, so if you would return my bird to me, then I will get out of your hair, and we can all be on our merry ways."

A rescue mission so close to the Fairchild residence? Darrius blinks as the first couple of raindrops fall from the clouds and hit his cheek. The next peal of thunder is closer, rolling in with the churning storm clouds. Magnus takes one of his hands from up in the air to wipe the raindrops from his eyes. While he is distracted, Darrius and Rowan exchange a quick glance. What are the odds that this changeling's appearance is a coincidence?

"What's your destination, friend?" Darrius asks him. Magnus motions to the wooden goose on his shoulder.

"Wherever that creature takes me."

"Who are you rescuing?" Rowan gets more to the point.

Magnus huffs and eyes the gun still trained on him. "Just another changeling. I may owe her a favor after behaving rather poorly."

Darrius cuts in. "Is her name Maggie?"

The look on Magnus' face provides him the answer. He and Rowan give each other another look.

"I think we have a lot to talk about."


Sharing stories and information takes longer than Darrius anticipated. The three of them are forced to take shelter off the road and under the trees when the rainstorm moves in. Even so, it's raining hard enough to drench them in icy water and cake their shoes in mud.

Apparently, this wooden goose found Magnus days ago, as well as a mysterious stranger dressed in black armor and veiled in white. Magnus goes on to tell them that, though it should have been impossible, this stranger put his heart back in his chest without killing him all while he peacefully slept. They then gave him vague advice, saying he knows what he should do next. The stranger disappeared after that, leaving him with the wooden goose. When the goose flew away, Magnus somehow just knew that he should follow it and to whom it would take him.

For once, Darrius wishes he was more like a faery with the ability to suss out truth and fiction. Lacking this preternatural ability, he can only use his best judgment to say that Magnus' account seems honest. His story is no stranger than Darrius' own as he soon realizes while relaying how he knows Maggie. When he gets to the bit about Maggie murdering most of the Farichilds, Magnus' expression becomes confused. He puts a hand up for Darrius to pause.

"What do you mean she killed Wilhelm and Lilith Fairchild?"

Rowan pinches the bridge of his nose. "Good Grimm, Darrius. That's what you've been hiding from the Board?"

Magnus shushes him—actually shushes Rowan Smith. Turning back to Darrius, the changeling's gaze is intensely serious even in the rapidly increasing darkness. "Impossible. She can't have killed Lilith Fairchild."

"Maggie is resourceful," Darrius tells him. "You ought to know what it's like being a human and living with faeries. You don't last long if you can't hold your own."

"No, I mean it is literally impossible for Maggie to have murdered Mrs. Fairchild. Years and years ago, Mrs. Fairchild paid a visit to the Piper and elected to have her heart removed and magically preserved inside a box. I assisted in the surgery myself."

Darrius frowns. "You don't understand, Magnus. She didn't just kill Lilith. Maggie put her body through the meatgrinder and fed her to the other changelings so they wouldn't starve."

Rowan's eyes grow comically wide. "She did what?"

"It doesn't matter," Magnus insists. "As long as she did not find the place where Mrs. Fairchild hid her beating heart, which I sincerely doubt, then Mrs. Fairchild's conscious mind is still very much alive."

The bounty hunter snaps his fingers. "Like those changelings at the Burgstaller Center! The ones whose spirits attached to the mansion once their bodies were gone."

"Exactly like that," Magnus agrees. "Except unlike them, I assume Mrs. Fairchild has not gone completely mad, which could make our job more dangerous."

For just a minute, a fire looks like it's been lit under Rowan. Darrius hasn't seen him this energized since before his plan for hunting down Leon went so utterly awry. And just as fast, Rowan slumps against the damp trunk of a tree, downtrodden.

"Not that any of this matters if we can't find the farmhouse. Unless your wooden goose can show us the way."

Both Magnus and Darrius look to the bird figurine. Once it began to rain in earnest, the goose flew inside Darrius' jacket and curled into a ball. He hasn't felt it move since. "I don't think that is going to happen," says Magnus. "And even if it could show us, I'm not sure it would. After all, it didn't lead me to Maggie. It led me to you two."

"Lot of good that does us," grumbles Rowan. "All we have is my gun, my navigational equipment that doesn't seem to function in this podunk town, and a flute that neither of us knows how to play."

The changeling snaps to attention so fast that his long hair whips across his neck, flinging water droplets. "What flute?"

The harsh bite to his words might be what compels Rowan to open his jacket and show him the Piper's flute. Or it could just be that the bounty hunter is running low on ideas and is willing to take a calculated risk. Magnus' jaw drops.

"The Piper didn't want it anymore, so he gave it to Rush Fairchild," Rowan tells him. The dark twinkle in Magnus' eyes simultaneously gives Darrius hope and sends a fearful shiver down his spine.

"Magnus, do you know how to play it?"

Plucking the flute from Rowan's jacket, Magnus gives it an experimental twirl, smiling and breathing heavily through his nose. "Of course I do, Darrius. Changelings are resourceful, remember?"

On the outside, Rowan seems pleased by this turn of events. But from the corner of his eye, Darrius catches the human touch his side where he holstered his gun, and he knows exactly what's going through Rowan's head. The second Magnus betrays them, he's a dead man.