“Layla, try not to bring attention to yourself,” Jason warned me, swiping his key-card, getting us into the building.
The security to the Dunbar Facility was ridiculous. There were armed officers in front of the building and two officers with rifles standing inside the entrance. They even had one posted next to the most unwelcoming desk I’d ever seen.
“Please place your chin on the plate.” The receptionist smiled, pointing to the eye scanner. “I’ll need your fingerprint and a sample of your blood before we can allow you back into the labs.”
“My blood?” I asked, trying not to blink as the blinding light flashed, scanning my retina.
“The research we do isn’t safe for those with weak immune systems,” she said, pricking the tip of my forefinger with a small cylindrical device. “I’m sure you understand.
“Of course.” I lied.
I knew the blood collection had nothing to do with my well-being. Jason already warned me that they were checking for creatures and fae. Adding new specimens was high on their to-do list just as much as recapturing an old one. I just prayed that the glamour would hold until we got what we came for.
My bones ached as the radiation seeped through me. The body scanner was the hardest thing for me to fool. It took my total concentration to conceal my wings in person and on that blasted screen.
“Ma’am, could you raise your arms higher?” The security guard asked as he waved a coworker over. He pointed to the screen, and the woman looked over the monitor shaking her head.
“Check your cables. There’s nothing wrong with this poor girl beside you making her stand there like a fool.”
The female security guard scolded him. “You’re free to go, ma’am. I’m sorry for the delay.”
I grabbed my oversized purse from the conveyor belt. I had been sure to leave nearly nothing in it besides a book and my cellphone. I didn’t want to give them any excuse to have to go through my bag.
“Girl, you’re magic.” Jason teased as we waited for the elevator.
“I was magic. I’m not sure I have much left after that.” I rested my head on his shoulder. “I haven’t had to project this much glamour in a long time.”
“How long do you think it’ll hold?” He asked as we stepped into the empty lift. “Under thirty for sure.”
“Don’t worry,” Jason said, setting the alarm sub-basements on his watch. “We’ll be out before that.”
The deeper we went into the sub-basements, the woozier I became. I could feel the iron surrounding the elevator. I needed to be outside in the sun, near the sea, to regain my energy. Jason was worried, though he didn’t verbalize it. I knew by how close he held me.
“I’ll manage,” I promised.
“I know, my love,” he kissed the top of my head. “You always do.”
Halogen lights illuminated the nauseatingly sterile hallway of the sub-basement. The white paint glittered, pushing me to the center of the hall. Jason held onto my arm, keeping me grounded so we wouldn’t alert the guards diligently watching us.
“Did they mix salt with the paint?” I asked, nearly tripping over my feet.
“Salt and iron flakes.” He told me quietly. “They want to pin all fae to the ground.”
“They can pin their iron somewhere else,” I said bitterly. “If they’d just leave us alone, we wouldn’t fucking be here.”
Bells were ringing, but they were at a nearly inaudible pitch to me. I didn’t want to think about those who were on the other side of the iron doors. They had been weakened to the point of putty. The guards knew there was no need to worry about anyone fleeing without any natural elements to heal the fae. As a precaution, they still had a daisy chain hanging from each doorknob. It was a blessed side effect I gained after five years of torture from this place.
I wish there were another option on how to get back the amulet. For sixty years, I had avoided recapture only to walk through their doors willingly. Jason’s blood contained enough human DNA to fool Dunbar’s system, but he couldn’t stay at one facility for long. His graceful aging would always raise suspicion.
“What’s this?” I asked, stopping at a bulletin board. There were laminated cards with names printed on them. “Are they tracking families?”
“Layla,” Jason tugged on my arm. “We have to go.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I did my best not to shout at him. I grabbed three cards off the board and shoved them into my purse.
“This,” he pointed at me. “This reaction right here is why I didn’t tell you.”
I could feel my skin heating up. I couldn’t allow myself to snap, or I’d lose my glamor. “Those families have children. Tell me you’ve warned them.”
“I can tell you that no one has gotten hurt,” he said quietly.
“If we get out of here, I’m killing you.” I fumed. Jason laughed. “Whatever makes you sleep better at night.”
“Yeah, your head on a pike.”
It felt like we walked a mile before getting to the tenth set of doors. I was insulted that there wasn’t a daisy chain waiting, but why would there be? I was on the outside. Keep calm. I told myself as Jason cracked the door open. Dust flew in the dim light. Nothing had been moved since I escaped. A stack of books laid on the nightstand waiting to be cracked open next to a half-empty cup of coffee. My vanity desk was left undisturbed. I was so sure that one of the orderlies would have stolen the silver brushes or pearl earrings I had left behind.
“Please still be here,” I whispered. Opening my velvet-lined jewelry box, I found the rosary that my grandmother, Mimi, had given me at the turn of the century. It was the only thing she brought back from visiting the Vatican. A hand-painted, cracked image of the Virgin Mary looked up at me, and though it had yellowed with age, it was still beautiful. The six sapphire stones, dedicated to the Our Father prayer, held immense power since they were collected from sacred fae grounds. My ancestors found it safer to keep our traditions close by mincing those of whatever religion was prevalent.
Jason stared wide-eyed at me. “Don’t tell me that we’re risking our lives for a necklace. I could have sent someone down to collect it.”
“You know it’s not just a necklace. Mimi protected the talisman from anyone that wasn’t family.” I reminded him, lowering the delicate chain over my head. With the rosary safely on my body, I started to search through the dresser drawers, only finding my dated clothes. “Shit, the album is missing.”
My dresser. The dresser Jason spent the last 150 years of our marriage carving intricate knots work. I learned a long time ago to let go of anger when I lost my possession to those who hunted us. Instinctively Jason slid his hand along the edge of the dresser. With a pop, the side panel eased open. He knelt, shoving his hand into the crevasse, and pulled out a weathered booked. “Not missing, just in a safe place.”
I clutched the album to my chest, pressing the rosary deep into my skin. I could feel the power of the prayer stones radiating through my body. Sealed into the pages were hundreds of years of magical spells only to be unlocked by someone of the Morrison bloodline.
“Oh shit.” My wings unveiled, dropping to the ground. The glamour had worn off faster than I expected. In the hazy mirror, I watched my blonde hair return to its natural rose gold as my blue eyes faded to violet. It was only a matter of time before the glamour masking my blood disappeared, setting off the alarms.
“Jesus Layla,” He threw his jacket over my shoulders. “You need to give me a heads up.”
I spun on my heels, dropping the album into my purse. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” taking in a deep breath, I gagged on the scent of blackberries. “There are too many poisons. I can’t fight them anymore.”
“I don’t think my magic is strong enough for both of us.” Jason looked down the hall and saw the flashing red light. “I don’t see any guards yet. Maybe it’s a false alarm.”
“False alarm? When has that ever happened?” My heart pounded so hard that the rosary vibrated on my chest. “I can’t be trapped. Here again, I’ll die.”
“Layla,” Jason kissed my fingers, drawing me into him. “I need you to think. How did you get out of escape before?”
Escape, escape, he’s right. I’ve done this before.
But that was sixty years ago when this room was just a room with a locked door. Not a max security fairy penitentiary. I needed to get control of myself if I wanted to be of any use. I escaped from this hell hole before, and I would do it again.
I hated when he was right.
Peeking my head out into the empty hall gave me a moment to regroup, even though I could hear the boots stomping towards us.
“We need to get to the stairs,” I told him, giving him back his jacket, stripping off my blouse and pants. “If they close the door while we’re in here, we’ll never get out.”
“What’s going on in that head of yours?” He asked.
I shoved my clothes into my purse and found a lace slip dress hanging in the closet. I quickly dropped it over my head. Digging my fingers into my hair, I shook out my curls, trying to make myself look as chaotic as possible.
Jason craned his head out the door. “Better make it quick love, there are about ten guards headed towards us.”
“Almost done,” I promised, taking off the rosary and draping it over his head.
“This is Mimi’s magic?” Jason asked, touching the talisman. “What’s this thing going to do to me?”
“It’s going to turn you into a guard, and you’ll lead us out of here or die,” I said, flipping through the album, stopping once I found the picture of Mimi wearing the rosary. Hovering my hand over the image, I could hear her incantation. “Hold me close, my dear, and do not fear those who come beyond the grave.”
“Sounds like I’m going to die.” Jason interrupted.
“Hush.” I hissed. “Free thy body, readying the bridge of both our worlds, hail them home with their names. Join the many to one soul.”
Jason methodically moved his fingers around the rosary, touching each bead, calling out a different name of the deceased. “I evoke thee.”
I could hear the bones crunch as his face transformed from oval to round in an odd blend of his dead uncles. A bushy red beard poofed out of his chin. His jet black hair fell to the ground leaving him bald with red peach fuzz. Jason’s ears and nose were a little too big for the size of his head, but thankfully the transformation didn’t alter his height. It would be hard to pass him off as an agent in an ill-fitted suit.
“Oh, you really shouldn’t have picked so many.” I snickered. “At least no one will ever be able to recognize you.”
Jason wasn’t amused. “Alright, crazy, what’s next?”
I flitted over to him, acting as ridiculous as possible. Trying to remember the state of mind I had been in the last time a Dunbar agent drugged me. “Okay, I’m ready,” I said, throwing myself into his arms.
“This is not going to work. We’re going to die.” Jason nearly dropped me, trying to fit both of us through the door. “Can’t you just walk?”
“Can’t walk, drugged,” I reminded him quietly.
A guard with captain stripes led the pack of private mercenaries. “Drop the fairy,” he shouted, pointing his rifle at us.
“Captain Cooper, I have direct orders to bring Ms. Morrison to Director Stevens,” Jason said, lowering me to the ground.
“Ms. Morrison?” Cooper looked over to a corporal furiously typing into a tablet. “Sir-”
Jason interrupted. “Agent Perlman.”
“Captain,” the corporal leaned in, whispering. “There’s no record of Ms. Morrison being reentered into the system.”
“Agent Perlman, it looks like you’ve collected the wrong fae, simple mistake.” Captain Cooper said, slowly walking around me. “The higher-ups don’t usually have the most dated records.”
He used the tip of his rifle to push my hair away from my face. I knew Captain Cooper, only I knew him as a much younger man. Twenty years ago, Dunbar had nearly caught me. Jason and I had just moved to Chicago, hoping the city would help us blend in, but being so deep in the city made me sick.
We decided that leaving during the Fourth of July holiday would have been safer. So many travelers on the road, people camping and drinking, having a blast. No one would have possibly noticed a strange woman with pink hair dancing around a fire. We were wrong. Unknowingly we chose to build our fairy circle next to a group of new Dunbar recruits, and Captain Cooper was an over-eager recruit.
“Hello, Ms. Morrison.” He sneered.
“Goodbye, Captain Cooper.” I snapped my hands up, shooting a ball of light into his face.
“Layla! Warnings, a nudge, just give me something!” Jason yelled at me as we ran towards the stairwell.
I could feel my wings fluttering back to life. “I didn’t know if it was going to work.” And thank God it did. My sparkle fingers were a sorry excuse for what I could have done at full power. But it did the job.
“Get them!” Cooper’s bellow echoed off the walls.
Jason tugged off the rosary and jammed it in my hand. “You’ll be stronger with this.”
“No, they’ll recognize you.” I couldn’t give the talisman back. The damage had already been done.
His jet black hair was returning as he shed the bright red beard. “It’s fine. I was over filing paperwork.”
Jason didn’t file paperwork. Not once in his 200 years has that man ever done the paperwork. Usually, he’d have some other low-blooded Fae as his assistant to take care of his work while he was out in the field.
“Jason Ferris, why am I not surprised you fuck those winged beasts.” Captain Cooper drew his pistol and fired. “I’ll hand you over to the doctors right along with her.”
“We might as well die here once the resistance learns you’ve been burned,” I yelled at him over the screams of the fae banging on their doors, pleading to be freed.
“The resistance can suck my left nut. I’m done doing their dirty work. It’s someone else’s turn to risk their lives for them.” Jason said, ducking from a bullet. “Got any more sparkles left, Tinkerbell?”
I wasn’t sure what I had left. I clutched on tight to the rosary, feeling the stones’ power pulse through me. A loud hum reverberated throughout the hall, pushing the mercenaries back. It was only a few inches, but that was the confirmation that I needed. “I hope they’re thinking happy thoughts.” I smiled before turning to face them. “Captain Cooper, why don’t you let your underlings go, and we can play.”
“Please, call me Layla.” I grabbed the closest daisy chain hanging from a doorknob and flung it at the Captain. He jumped out of the way, leaving two corporals exposed. In a matter of seconds, they were engulfed in a daisy cocoon. “Oh, come now, Captain, you know this is above their pay grade.”
“Don’t taunt the man Layla,” Jason laughed, exposing his pointed teeth. My husband’s glamour faded away, allowing Captain Cooper to see who he had truly been working with for the last decade. “You never know what those filthy humans may do.”
“Captain,” called one of the daisy-chained corporals. “Captain, it’s hard to breathe in here.”
“Bryant, cut them out,” He ordered, narrowing his gaze onto Jason’s gray, leathered wings. “This explains so much. The only way you could’ve outdone me was by being fae. I knew you would never have succeeded on your own merits.”
Jason charged the Captain, tackling him to the ground. The two wrestled on the ground—Jason’s wings slapping Cooper in the face. Cooper caught ahold of Jason’s arm and tried to sink an armbar, but Jason picked him up and slammed him on the ground. “Cooper, a child, could outsmart you. You’re an idiot, just like most of your kind.”
“Yet you’re arrogant enough to attack me.” Cooper sneered. “It’s ten to two. Your odds aren’t any good, freak.”
“You’re the one on the ground, and you’re still talking shit?” Jason kicked him in the ribs. “It could be ten to one. It doesn’t matter. I’m stronger.”
A corporal tried tossing Cooper’s iron cuffs but ended up hitting Jason’s leg.
“Irons don’t work on halflings.” Jason hooked the chain around Cooper’s head. As pulled the chain taut across Cooper’s neck, the corporals scattered. “Sacrifice your men, and they sacrifice you.” Jason taunted him.
“This is ridiculous.” I thought, clutching the talisman tightly in my fist. The glow from the sapphires seeped through my fingers as I circled the two men wrestling. They were oblivious to how close I had gotten to them. With one firm stomp, I sent a crack through the ground separating them.
“Jason?” I shouted. “Are you two done having a pissing contest?”
“You’re free to go, Ms.Morrison,” Cooper, freed from Jason’s grasp, caught ahold of the iron chain. He wrapped it around Jason’s head and schlepped him down the hall. “The docs will have fun with this one.”
“Piece of shit,” I growled, shoving my hand into my purse. I hated that my weakened magic relied on a book, but no way the Captain was taking Jason. A soft glow illuminated from the bag running up my arm. I wove the power between my finger, absorbing it into my body, before sending a burst of energy at the Captain’s chest. “Let go of my husband, you piece of shit.”
Cooper went flying in the air smashing into the ceiling. I let out a small burst of energy as he fell to the ground. He groaned and convulsed as electricity pulsed through his body.
“Did you really have to play with him that much?” I asked, unwrapping the chain.
“I didn’t think he’d be that much of a challenge.” Jason coughed.
“Your cockiness is going to get you killed.”
“Keeping you on your toes.” Jason stole a kiss before helping me up. “Mimi had some power.”
“Shut up.” I laughed at the grinning idiot. “Let’s go.”
He was right. My grandmother’s book was lethal. It felt glorious, radiating with so much power.
“Layla, what are you doing?” Jason asked as I stopped at the base of the stairs.
We were inches from freedom, but I couldn’t leave the rest of the fae locked inside to be tortured. As the talisman took control of me, their whispers had become cries. I was beginning to feel their pain, and I couldn’t let them suffer any longer. “Open,” I commanded the iron doors.
They screeched, dragging themselves open across the dirty, yellowed linoleum floor. The mercenaries that had abandoned Captain Cooper came running from around the corner, weapons drawn.
“We should stay.” I pleaded to Jason.
Howls echoed through the halls bringing the mercenaries to a halt. Their glamour had failed them long ago. Even from the stairs, I would see the years of abuse as their tattered discolored skin shined brightly under the dull fluorescent light. The faes were rabid.
“They’ll be fine.” He said, pulling my arm. “But bring Cooper, I’m not done with him yet.”
“Veni,” I whispered, and the unconscious Captain appeared on the stairs in front of us. “You’re carrying him.”
I tried not to look back as we ascended the stairs, but a blood-curdling cry made my head snap. The floor was painted in blood. A fae with mutilated wings tore an arm from a mercenary.
I ran past Jason. “Yep, they’re good.”
Sirens blared as we charged up three flights of stairs. Jason tested each door, pressing Cooper’s hand to the pad, but none would unlock.
“He’s worthless to walk through their doors willingly Jason said, dropping him to the ground.
“Wrong hand.” Captain Cooper wheezed, sliding this left hand up the wall.
A blast came from down below, shaking the way. A primal cry came from the basement as the carriage spilled into the stairwell.
“What did you do to them?” I shouted at the Captain.
“It wasn’t me, I swear. The scientist didn’t think y’all were human.”
“We aren’t.” I kicked him.
Cooper scrambled, trying to stand. “Take me with you.” Jason grabbed his hand, shoving it on the scanner, turning the red lock green. “Cutting it off would be easier.” “Won’t work,” he said with a labored breath. “It needs to be warm.”
Jason dragged the Captain into the hall while I sealed the door shut. We ran down towards the closet window. It wasn’t far enough away for me to feel safe from the fae that pounded on the door, trying to destroy the thing that stopped them.
Jason grabbed a fire extinguisher and threw it at the window. It barely left a crack.
“Really? It’s a max security prison. I shoved him out of the way. You think a fire extinguisher is going to do it.”
He shrugged. “I had to try it.”
I brought my hands in front of my chest, focusing all the energy t my palms. A shimmering blue ball formed, sending sparks between my fingers. We were too far away for me to trust myself with throwing it. Jason tried to stop me from walking up to the window. Gently placed the bomb on the glass and ran.
The energy ball exploded, shattering the glass and the wall with such a force that it sucked us out with the debris. The ground came quickly. Being only four floors up didn’t give us enough time to unfurl our wings.
Jason pulled from a bush. “You okay, my love?”
Though I was covered with cuts and my wings pierced, we were free. “Never better.” I smiled.
Jason found the disoriented wobbling away caught him. “Trust me. You don’t want to be here when they get out.”
We ran behind the building and to the river. The glamour I had used to mask the boat still held. With a swipe of my hand, the engine roared to life. Almost instantaneously, Jason had the boat untied and shoved us off into the water away from the burning Dunbar Facility.