“Nevertheless,” Merlin replied, “we would like her safe return, and we do have someone who must have some meaning to your organization, or else she would not have been freed earlier. Your superiors will not be happy that she is in our custody.”
“And you think I can do anything about that?”
“You will if you want Ari back,” Owen said. “Unless you want to tell your bosses that you lost her.”
Idris looked even more panicked. “I’ll see what I—I’ll try—this could take time, you know.”
“Relax,” I told him. “It’s not like we’re going to cut off one of her fingers every fifteen minutes or torture her.” If there was any torture, it was the other way around. My head felt like she was throwing a hissy fit in there.
“And what if I don’t care whether or not I get her back?” Idris switched tactics, which played beautifully into our plan. We were supposed to stall him until Sylvia and her crew showed up with Marcia.
“Then we keep her. She might not think so favorably of you at that point,” Merlin said.
“Well, where is she?”
“Right in here,” I said, tapping my head. “It’s a long story involving a fairy godmother.”
He laughed, long, loud, and hard. “You expect me to believe that?”
Reluctantly, I eased my tight control on my tongue and let the foreign thoughts that had been welling up in my brain spill out. “You moron! I bet you didn’t even notice I was gone until they told you, did you? You were so busy with your precious business. I hate this! This wasn’t what I signed up for!” It was weird to hear someone else’s words coming out in my voice.
Idris wasn’t convinced. “Anyone who’s spent five minutes around Ari knows she’d say something like that.”
Before I knew what was happening, I’d put my hands on my hips. “Oh yeah? Well, how about this: I know you’ve got a mole shaped like Mickey Mouse on your—”
“Okay, I believe you!” he shouted at exactly the same time I bit down hard on my tongue. I didn’t want any more details like that about him. “What do you want me to do? I can’t do anything to get your friend back. I don’t have that kind of pull with these people.”
“You need do nothing more than you already have,” Merlin said. “Your presence is enough.”
“So you’re going to give Ari back, just because I’m here?”
“Not exactly,” Owen said, his voice soft but still ringing through the cavern.
I glanced over to Ethan and Philip and saw that Sylvia and Mr. Bones were there, with Marcia. Marcia was blindfolded, much to my relief. I didn’t want her seeing any of this. I couldn’t begin to imagine the cover story I’d have to concoct.
“You see,” Owen continued, “we just needed you as our prisoner. You’re what we plan to exchange for Marcia.” He signaled Rod, who made a waving motion with one hand. I assumed that meant Idris could then see the other side of the chamber.
“What if I don’t want to stay and be your prisoner?”
“I wouldn’t suggest you try running.”
“What are you going to do, stop me?”
“No. They are.” Owen snapped his fingers, and dragons appeared, blocking every exit. One of the dragons obliged us by shooting a mighty burst of flame at Idris.
Idris tried to act unimpressed, but there was fear in his eyes that he couldn’t quite mask and he jumped as the flame got too close for comfort. “Illusion, right?” he said with a snort.
“If you’d like to test it, be my guest. Your friends are free to leave, however.”
They didn’t need much encouraging. Owen raised a hand, holding the dragons back, while the geek brigade took off, leaving Idris alone. He went pale, and his hands trembled, but he seemed to be trying to look brave, for which I had to give him the tiniest bit of respect. “So, you’re trading me, huh?” he said. “I guess after I go over there, you’ll let Ari go?”
“Whatever gave you that impression?” Merlin asked, his voice like ice. “You have no choice in the matter. You are our prisoner, and Ariel was our prisoner before she was illegally freed. We will merely be returning her to custody once we’ve removed her from Miss Chandler’s head. Now, shall we make the exchange?”
He nodded at Rod, who did something complicated with his fingers. “Miss Meredith, I presume?” Merlin said.
She whirled to face him. “You!” she shouted, as if she’d just met her old nemesis.