Marcia was at Rod’s side, helping him sit up. On the other side of the room, Ethan was stirring. Philip was still out cold. I opened my mouth to ask Merlin if he’d be okay, but a shock wave shook the whole underground chamber. I ducked instinctively as dust showered us from the ceiling. The dragons twitched and whimpered. Ethelinda—who’d stayed out of the fighting—took to the air, and Merlin looked alarmed.
A moment later, Owen returned. “I couldn’t catch them,” he said with a weary sigh. He had a red spot on one cheekbone that would probably develop into a bruise, and there was a bleeding cut on his temple. There was also a wildness in his eyes.
“You certainly tried,” Merlin said, and there was an unusual degree of sternness to his voice. “That use of power was unnecessary and could have been dangerous. I expect you to have more control than that.”
Owen ignored him, grabbing me in a fierce hug. He then shoved me out in front of him at arm’s length. “Are you okay?” he asked. Before I could answer, he pulled me against him again and held me like he would never let go.
“I just love a happy ending.” I looked over to see Ethelinda dabbing at her eyes with a yellowed lace handkerchief.
“Yeah, you really helped here tonight,” I said, unable to hide my sarcasm. I figured I deserved a little snottiness, considering I’d practically been burned at the stake, thanks to her interference.
I expected her to deny messing up anything, but instead, she burst into sobs. “It was supposed to be an easy assignment. You can only go so long based on reputation, and Cinderella was centuries ago. They weren’t even all that happy ever after, you know. They had nothing in common. Sure, the first few years were fine, but then he started going on more hunting trips and she got caught up with the children, and they were like strangers living in that enormous castle.” She gave a big sniff, then blew her nose so loudly that it startled the dragons. “But now I can’t seem to do anything right.” With that, she dissolved into shuddering tears.
She’d just about ruined my life, and had come pretty close to ending it, but I couldn’t stand to watch her cry. “Wait,” I called out, tearing myself from Owen’s embrace. “You know, those two—” I gestured toward Merlin’s pocket and down the passage where Idris had disappeared “—seem like they could use some help. He doesn’t appreciate her properly.”
Her face lit up and her tears dried immediately. “Oh, yes, that young man does need to learn a lesson or two, and she would have better luck if she were more ladylike. Very good suggestion. I’m on the case!”
Merlin bowed to her. “Thank you for your assistance, but I would appreciate it if you’d leave my people alone in the future.”
“Oh, I have no need to meddle further here. Things seem to be perfectly peachy. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” She vanished in her usual burst of silver sparkles, and I hoped that was the last I saw of her.
Owen squeezed my shoulder. “You never did tell me. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I want to sleep for a week, but I seem to be mostly unsinged, except maybe the soles of my shoes. But why did you let them go in the first place? You had them.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Because they were going to kill you!” he shouted. It was the first time I’d ever heard Owen Palmer really and truly yell at someone, and he was yelling at me.
“But you let them go. Now what’re they going to do?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know, but we’ve always managed to stop them before. We can stop them again.”
“What about the whole saving the world from bad magic thing?”
“It’s not like my choice was you or the fate of the free world.”
I sighed and rubbed my still-aching head. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m glad you saved me. I really wasn’t enjoying the idea of being a human torch, but I hate the idea of them getting away. They’re still in business, and we haven’t learned anything about who’s really in control.”
“We might be somewhat better off,” Merlin said. “They seem to have acquired a major hindrance, due to your efforts. And we once again have our original prisoner. I honestly believe that Ari will be willing to cooperate now, even if it’s only enough to make him suffer for insulting her. In addition, we have freed your friend and preserved Mr. Vandermeer’s claim on his business, which may ultimately cut their funding.”
Owen smiled then as he put an arm around my shoulder. “If that fairy godmother works with them the way she did with us, then they won’t get anything done for weeks. We said we needed to distract Idris.”