*Ready, Suze?* Alison said. *I can see Lloyd, and Des came back. We can do this any time.*
Suzi, currently in the loft of the stable because Lloyd had been moving around unpredictably, took a deep breath. This whole situation terrified her. She could deal with aggressive dogs—that was largely a matter of being able to read them and predict them and understand why they were acting that way. But physical violence had never been a factor in her life otherwise. She knew that made her relatively sheltered, but every time she saw the news, she said a thankful prayer for that—followed by one for those less blessed.
Now? Small and weak beyond anything she ever could have foreseen, it was even more frightening. They weren't even sure that her one defence against humans would work against Lloyd. There were small mysteries surrounding him, and he just might have protections independent of Isabel's false ones. But it might affect him, and if it did, it would keep Alison and Des safer. Either way, this was one more step towards getting home to her husband and the dogs.
It gave her a gnawing deep-down sense of shame, that she felt so grateful to have a good reason not to have a hands-on role in any physical violence. Alison and Des didn't like it either, and yet they'd promised to make sure Lloyd never touched her. But the gratitude was there. She tried instead to calm herself, to concentrate on fervent prayers. God helped those who helped themselves. God would be on their side, surely, with so many innocent lives at stake... right? He couldn't possibly believe, like Isabel, that fae lives didn't matter.
*Coming,* she told Alison.
The ladder didn't so much hold her up from falling as give her handholds to draw herself downwards more rapidly. Life in very low gravity for her, though not for anything around her, was certainly interesting at moments.
Alison met her in the stable. The fence around her pasture looked like an innocuous split-rail affair, but the spell reinforcing it created an impenetrable barrier—for anyone but Des, at least. The one way in or out for most people was via the stable doors.
Alison gave her a hug, careful of her own considerable size and strength and Suzi's relative fragility; Suzi snuggled into it for a moment, drawing what courage she could from it, then wriggled, and Alison let go.
Alison was, Suzi was certain, powerful enough to shatter the doors if she chose, but that would be loud and dramatic and draw attention. Instead, Des simply unbarred them from the outside, pulled one door open, and offered an inviting hand to draw Suzi out—fairly literally, really. The dark hand around hers gave her a reassuring squeeze, then let go, as Alison joined them. Just in case one of the wizards or Isabel happened to look, Des closed the doors again.
Alison peeked around the corner of the stable; Des dropped to all fours, tail-tip swishing, and crept closer so she could look.
*There's Lloyd,* Alison said. *Climb up, Suze, so you can see too.*
Suzi's weight being effectively non-existent, Alison would barely even notice, and the crisscrossing blue harness gave Suzi easy finger- and toe-holds as she scrambled up her friend's back like a squirrel up a tree. From there, she could lean forward and peer around the corner.
*What's he doing?* Suzi asked, puzzled. Lloyd had settled himself in a spot not easily visible from the main house, though that might be a coincidence; seated on the ground, legs crossed, he had a circular mirror balanced on his hands, and all his attention was on it.
*Have seen him do it before,* Des said, with a shrug that made black fur ripple all the way down her body. She'd taken off her yellow and brown spotted sarong, Suzi noticed, leaving only her own midnight fur and striped dark skin, maybe to keep from having anything loose that could interfere. *No idea. Don't think it really matters. Let's just be glad he's distracted. Let me circle around to his far side... that apple tree will be some cover, at least. The more directions we come at him from, the better.*
*Why am I thinking lions with prey?* Alison said, with just a hint of humour, as she stepped back from the corner. *Try to remember that I am not a zebra, no matter how hungry you are.*
*Fluttery little butterfly is easier prey. But not very filling.* Des inched back, straightened, and sauntered away at an oblique angle. Probably just as well not to make a straight line from the stable doors into Lloyd's line of sight, but the extra wait, while Des looped around into position, made Suzi fidget.
*This will be over in a few minutes,* Alison said.
*I know. I'm okay.* Suzi jumped down, though that was more like a very slow drift towards the ground. Moving was less about fighting gravity to stay upright, and more about fighting inertia and air resistance to get from one point to another. Dense greenery wasn't just useful to hide in, it also meant lots to hold onto and pull herself more quickly.
*We're going to get home. It's a good thing your dogs are well trained and don't pull on the leash, or they'd be dragging you all over.*
That image made Suzi smile fleetingly. *I don't think I could stop a toy poodle from running away with me right now. I wonder if the hypnotic thing works on animals.*
*You can test it out soon. Des says she's in place. Hold onto me if it helps, and we can split up partway, instead of doing the whole distance yourself.*
*Across open ground, probably easier.* Suzi hooked a hand into a convenient loop of harness, and made no effort to touch the ground herself. If she tucked herself into a ball, she'd be barely visible behind Alison, who chose to stay close to the line of the fence—someone not particularly paying attention might well register it only as the unicorn trotting along the inner perimeter of her pasture, something she did often to work off extra energy. Alison, even with little effort expended, could cover a lot of ground fast. Suzi had watched her running all-out, and seriously wondered whether a genuine horse could keep up. Possibly, over a very short distance, a highly athletic human could, but not for long.
Two-thirds of the way to Lloyd, Suzi let go, though the momentum helped. While Alison continued along the fenceline, Suzi oriented on the midpoint between Des and Alison that would put her close to Lloyd. He had his back to the pasture, but was so engrossed in the mirror that he was apparently oblivious to Des who was roughly in front of him, though hard to see crouched behind the tree, and to Suzi approaching from one side.
She was still a little farther away than she'd have liked when he looked up and noticed her.
“Now what are you doing out of the swamp?” he asked curiously. “And alone, at that. You'll be lucky if that damned cat doesn't eat you, or one of the troublemakers doesn't string you up to play with. I thought the rest of the flock had accepted you, and that usually means all staying close together. Did you get lost, maybe? If so, the rest will be along looking for you.” He looked back at the mirror. “I have to go. One of the wisps just showed up. I have some resistance to one, but where there's one, there are usually more, and that'll be too much. Especially if they're agitated. Yeah, I'm sorry, but I've survived here longer than any other so-called employee by not being stupid. It all adds up to it being time for me to get out of here while the getting's good. I'm not buying Isabel's claims to be friends with a Cunningham medium, and everything my bugs picked up upstairs say there's a very real chance they're about to run for it and try to destroy all the evidence. And you don't want me to be here when that Cunningham chick comes back any more than I do, and you know she will. It's extraction time.” He swept a hand over the mirror's surface, slipped it into the padded velvety bag dangling from one arm, set it down, and stood up.
*He's been spying and working with someone Isabel doesn't know about,* Des said with interest.
*Doesn't matter right now,* Alison said. *Even if he is keeping secrets, he's been helping to hold us here. What worries me more is what he means by 'destroy all evidence' because all the fae are witnesses and evidence both.*
*Oh God,* Suzi said, and she meant it as a prayer. *Would they? Yes, of course they would.*
They weren't just getting Kayla that cuff because they trusted her. Possibly they were about to stop a mass extermination. And any question of whether they should just stand down and wait for Kayla's friend to return had just disappeared: they couldn't risk it. They had to do this now.
Saying more prayers couldn't hurt. God would understand that she didn't mean to spam Him, that she was scared and desperate.
*I think you have his full attention now, Suze,* Alison said. *Maybe that'll at least distract him for a minute even if he isn't hypnotized.*
Suzi watched Lloyd approaching her, his tone soothing and his motions careful, as though she were a dog of uncertain temper. When she decided he was too close, she spread her wings and dropped back a little, feigning nervousness.
“Oh, don't do that, now. C'mon, calm down, see, I'm not coming any closer. I'm not going to hurt you, I just want to get you back to the swamp where you belong.”
Alison and Des closed in from behind him and to either side.
Alison seized his upper arms and literally hoisted him a few inches off the ground.
“Put me down! What's gotten into you? Unicorns aren't usually... oh, you have some kind of residual affinity for the wisp? I suppose that could happen. I wasn't going to hurt her, you can let go. Wait... how are you out of your pasture at all?”
“Mmme,” Des said. She hooked her fingers around the various necklace cords where they were gathered at the back of Lloyd's neck, and pulled the whole collection off over his head. Dropping those, she seized each of his hands in turn to strip off the rings he wore.
“What the... Oh my god. You're...” He shifted gears visibly; Suzi had to give him credit for drawing conclusions fast. “You won't be able to get off the island without help.”
Des shrugged, discarding the rings and starting on earrings. “Ssso?”
“Better than being lab animals,” Suzi said.
“Would rather stay trapped,” Alison said. “No more lives ruined.”
“I can open the Portal,” Lloyd said. His squirming wasn't getting him anywhere at all, which might be one reason his tone of voice was taking on a note of pleading.
“To another cage?” Suzi said. “Think we're stupid? Outsmarted all of you.” *More charms somewhere, he's still looking at me and okay.*
“It's better than staying here! They've been caught, and everything here is illegal! They're almost certainly going to use a magic nuke to sterilize the whole island while they run for it!”
“Then they're staying too,” Suzi said. “No more kidnappings. Nothing for most of us to go back to anyway.”
*In clothes, under clothes,* Des said. *He gets to get back to nature. Once I get his shirt off, maybe tie his wrists together?*
“I have friends who can help! They have no reason to take Nestor's side, they can help you get home and get your lives back!”
“Have no reason to take our side,” Alison said.
Suzi ran a hand over the silk gland in her navel, and as usual, it responded to her touch by releasing sticky fluid that she could draw out into endless strands.
Des caught hold of Lloyd's t-shirt just below the neckband, dug her claws in, and ripped downwards; the shirt, unsurprisingly, shredded, though the tougher neckband remained intact, as did the sleeves. Lloyd yelped, interrupted in mid-promise of assistance, and kicked out, though Des evaded it without any indication of the clumsy attempt being worth her notice. A couple more rips, and Des jerked the neckband off, only the sleeves remaining, which she pulled down to his hands. When Alison pulled Lloyd's body against hers and offered his wrists held together, Suzi immediately began to loop silk around them, just above the t-shirt sleeves. That gave Alison the opportunity to let go of first one side, then the other, long enough to discard the tattered cotton.
*He is telling the truth to some degree,* Alison mused. *Isabel and the wizards don't care about the wellbeing of any of their employees, we know that. Actually, if they want to erase all evidence, that includes staff too.*
*True,* Suzi said, *but that hasn't improved how they treat all of us.*
*'Just following orders' is not a valid defence, ever,* Des said flatly. She unbuckled Lloyd's belt, then his jeans, and unceremoniously jerked everything down to knee-level, deflecting another attempted kick. *Hello, what's this?* She took a closer look at a blue-black tattoo on Lloyd's upper chest towards the left, then one on his right hip, one hand wrapping around Lloyd's right thigh with her claws digging in to keep him relatively still. *Those look a lot like some of Isabel's jewellery and some designs we found in the library.* Des cupped one hand over Lloyd's mouth, holding it shut; with the yellow nails of her other hand hooked into claws, she slashed across each tattoo, leaving three bloody gouges marring the careful designs. Lloyd screamed, though it was muffled, and his body jerked convulsively in Alison's grasp. Suzi flinched, though she thought Des was probably correct and this was necessary to minimize greater danger all around.
Then his gaze fell on Suzi, and his eyes glazed over, fixing on her without any trace of normal flickering to track nearby motion.
*That was it,* Suzi said, flexing her wings to make them quiver, the colours flickering more rapidly for a few heartbeats.
*Jace is having some trouble with Felix,* Alison said, suddenly tense, then relaxed. *Zach's on it.*
The background discussion in the kitchen was a little distracting, but then, Lloyd was interested only in reaching Suzi, and despite the need to keep relaying for JC and Zach, Alison had no trouble making sure he failed.
By the time they finished, the unresisting researcher was entirely naked, all tattoos had been vandalized, and he was virtually mummified in a thin tough layer of silk, heavier around his wrists and ankles and as a gag.
*That went much more smoothly than I expected,* Suzi said, letting her wings fold back out of the way.
*Any of us alone would have been in trouble,* Des said. *It went smoothly because no one expects us to work together or plan things out. So far so good, fingers crossed it works just as well for the big three.*