“Ling?” I called, before remembering she was supposed to be in hiding. Best not to draw too much attention to her. Wait, if she was in hiding, then why was she having ice cream in broad daylight with Lizzy?
The little Chinese girl seemed surprised to see me, but waved me over regardless.
“You should reconsider this,” the Mal spy who had led me here warned. The midnight-skinned boy was nestled in the boughs of a small tree planted to offer strategic shade. He’d stick out like a sore thumb otherwise. “There’s something not quite right about that girl.”
“Thank you for your help,” I replied. “I can take it from here.”
“You said you thought my friend was in trouble. You said you’d lead me to her. At this point, I trust Ling far more than I trust you.”
“That’s not what I—”
I wasn’t exactly being as diplomatic as I could have been, but I didn’t care. I had just found out, not an hour ago, that my own subculture was spying on me by order of Abigor, the very warlord who recruited me. That in itself would have been annoying enough. But it also turned out that they had sent out a list of my known acquaintances to all our spies in the field, so they knew who to keep an eye on.
How did I know all this? Because one of those spies had woken me up early to tell me that Akane’s roommate—who I met a week ago—was seen running around with a couple aves and something the size of the toy box.
I sighed. I really shouldn’t be so hard on the boy. He had already promised to keep this quiet from the Nobles, which was a pretty big risk. And the only reason he was even doing that was because he was too stupid to realize that Ling was running around with the freaking toy box.
Not anymore, it seemed. As I strode over to where the girls were enjoying their early-morning ice cream, I didn’t see anything that could hide something so large. No suspicious loitering trucks, no stacks of crates…
Maybe she wasn’t a complete moron after all.
“It’s…Seena, right?” she asked hesitantly. “No, wait, it started with an L…”
“Seena Lancaster,” I confirmed, shaking her hand with a fake smile as I sat down. “I was, uh, in the area, and I spotted you. Figured I’d say hi.”
Damn, how the hell was I supposed to bring up the toy box? Somehow, I didn’t think ‘so I heard you’ve been dragging around a coffin’ would go over well.
Lizzy smiled at me as I sat down. “Did you hear Ling here found the toy box?”
I almost fell out of my chair.
Ling spewed her ice cream across the table. “Y-you can’t just go around telling people—”
“It’s all right,” I said quickly, my brain working frantically to figure out how to turn this to my favor. “I understand, things happen. I, uh…” I bit my lip. “Have you told Necessarius you found it?” I specifically avoided broaching the possibility that she had been involved in the theft. That would just scare her off.
But she looked away. “No. I haven’t told anyone but Lizzy. A friend of mine just…” she sighed. “An ave friend of mine got roped into something he shouldn’t have, that’s all.” She picked at the table. “And I really can’t talk to Necessarius about it.”
“Yeah, Butler has always been a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ kind of guy.” I mused. “But Akane—”
Ling shook her head vehemently. “Definitely not. Can’t talk to her, or Laura or Derek. They’d all go straight to Butler. They’d probably keep me safe, but Turgay…” she closed her eyes. “I’m not killing him.”
“Fair enough,” I said quietly. “So what’s your plan? Anonymous tip?”
“We called Soaring Eagle!” Lizzy chipped in cheerfully.
Ling looked like her head was about to explode. “Velvet hell, Lizzy, can you keep that stupid mouth shut?!”
The golden Amazon pouted. “That’s not fair, I’m only trying to help…”
“No, it’s…” I thought about. “Okay, no, I actually need an explanation for that one. Why did you think sending it back to the chick that stole it would be a good idea?”
Ling rubbed her forehead. “I…it was…Turgay’s my oldest friend, you have to understand, it was the only way to keep him safe…”
I placed my hand gently on her shoulder. “It’s all right. I understand.” And I did. If Simon had been in the same situation, I would have done the exact same thing. Luckily, he wasn’t that stupid.
After Ling seemed to regain her strength, I nodded. “You know this is going to come back to bite you. But I guess you have no choice but to just let it lie. Pretend it never happened and go back to your normal life.”
She groaned. “Tezuka…Derek is going to kill me.”
“Just don’t tell him.”
“No, there was this thing I was supposed to help him with…” she glanced at Lizzy, but looked away quickly. Almost guiltily. “I’m not going to be able to come up with a good excuse.”
“How important was this thing?”
Oh, okay, so something to do with monsters or whatever. Fair enough, shouldn’t be too big a deal. Derek was just a big softie, he’d—
I closed my eyes. “This thing. Was it a life-or-death situation.”
I sighed. Yeah. She was dead. There was a lot Derek Huntsman would forgive. But if someone died because you did something stupid or selfish…
Well. Let’s just say I was glad I wasn’t Ling Yu.
Behind the Scenes (scene 68)
This is a pretty important scene for later on, and I almost completely forgot to write it.
Extra update Wednesday.