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“Karen’s back,” I said with relief. I looked up just in time to see her step out of the forest and stumble to her knees on the driveway. A pit formed in my stomach. Both Mark and Kelcie were getting up to look out the window as I walked quickly to the front door, grabbing my coat on the way out.

Karen smiled when I opened the door. “Hey you,” she called out, getting to her feet slowly.

“Hey hun,” I said, crossing the driveway and draping the trenchcoat over her naked shoulders. It dwarfed her small frame. “I was just starting to worry about you. We were expecting you back hours ago.”

Her smile wavered a little as she pulled the coat around herself. “Sorry. I uh… I fucked up.”

I bit my lip. “Fucked up how?”

“They got my key,” she said with defeat, leaning up against one of the cars.

A dozen angry curses flooded into my mind. I bit them all back, breathing deeply. “It’s okay,” I said a moment later. “I’m just glad you’re alright.”

“You don’t have to pretend, Rachael,” she said, “I know you’re pissed. I’m pissed.”

“As our newest recruit reminded me, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can use it.” I sighed. “And I really don’t know what I would have told your family. Especially since they’re already suspicious.”

“Fuck,” Karen said. “Alicia didn’t give you a hard time, did she?”

“She did,” I said. “Your husband too. We can talk about it later though. Let’s get you some food. And clothes.”

She nodded, her stomach grumbling. “Is everyone else okay?” she asked, following behind me. “Last I saw Mark was in a bad way.”

“He’s fine,” I said. “They’re all fine. Mostly just waiting on you.”

“Karen!” Kelcie was waiting for her just inside the door.

“No lectures please,” she said with a sigh.

Kelcie looked hurt. “I just came to make sure you were alright, and let you know there’s pizza in the kitchen.”

Karen smiled at her tiredly. “Thanks.”

I grabbed her bag of clothes, pushing her towards a bedroom to dress.

“Is she okay?” Kelcie whispered.

I shook my head. “We need to do a group meeting as soon as she gets food and clothes.”

Kelcie nodded. “We have another problem. I figured out why Errok was so quiet.”

“So clearly, we got problems,” Kinder said, standing in the living room in front of the other librarians. It had only taken a matter of minutes to gather everyone together. Karen had dressed with lightning speed and now sat beside Mark on the couch, a plate of pizza. Kinder had offered to let me lead the discussion, but it was clear to me that everyone still respected his opinion more. I was sitting on the window ledge again, keeping a half eye to the forest outside.

“First up is the obvious issue. Our books are missing. We have a full list of the books missing, but to put it in general terms, we’re missing 25 out of 49 books, including all of the fae, the majority of the orange arcane books, and over half of the nature books. The rest of the books are scattered amongst the other domains. It’s believed that the fae are responsible for this due to the use of several glamours.”

He paused for a moment. “This would be enough of a problem, but at the same time, we’ve had a direct attack from the harpies last night, during which they dealt significant damage to our team and successfully stole the Nature Key.”

There were a few murmurs in the crowd at that. I heard Jeff asking how, but Karen just stared at her pizza. Kinder continued. “And while we were recuperating from that, they took the opportunity to invade at least one member’s home, if not others. Does that about sum up what you know, Rachael?”

“More or less,” I shrugged. “They also definitely stole Demons of Ice and released the demons inside and I think the fairy invasion was at the direct behest of the Fairy Queen.”

“If you only think that’s who’s responsible, we can’t trust that,” Kelcie chimed in. “Did they tell you that directly?”

“They’re fairies, Kel,” I said exasperatedly. “They’ve never told me anything directly. I’d get better answers from the harpy in the cellar. But you’re the one who says they don’t lie.”

“They don’t,” she insisted. “But they do misdirect and mislead and omit.”

“So, might as well be lying.” I crossed my arms in front of me. “Got it.”

“Enough, ladies,” Kinder said. “The fae have clearly been involved, and this fits their methods best. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to learn their nobility is involved.”

“If it is a plot of the fae, is it even worth detangling?” Mark asked. “It seems like their reasons might be less important than some of the creatures they could have released.”

“I’ve already contacted the Falconers,” Kinder said. “I’d like to work with them to discuss our priorities, but unfortunately, they’re unavailable at this time. Hopefully they’ll be available soon.”

I let out a sigh of relief and Mark rolled his eyes at me. “I guess we have a few days to try and fix this ourselves before we can call on them.”

“Indeed,” Kinder said. “Moving on, we’ve had a slightly worrisome report from Gale, though he didn’t leave any specifics about the incident other than some property damage and that he would be out of town.”

Figured. I’d have to convince Amber to enter the room under her own power. “Lots of people leaving town,” I remarked.

“The fae may have planned for that,” Kinder said. “They rarely fight fair.”

“It’s annoying all the same,” I said. “They’ve gone out of their way to keep us out of the loop, off guard, and under-equipped.” And they were doing it well too. We were already down two significant sources of information and one room, having lost the key. And one heavy hitter as well. Karen still boasted considerable strength but she’d be handicapped without her key. And it would have been great to have Gale in our corner as well. I wasn’t sure how much more could go wrong.

“And one last thing,” Kinder said. This must have been what Kelcie alluded to about Sir Errok. “It seems we have an escaped fairy in the house.”

Well, fuck.