“Wait a minute!” I cried, but Dad wasn’t listening to me. I felt magic building around us, and I didn’t know whose it was.
“Run,” my dad said, giving me a shove.
I was too confused to do more than stumble forward. Okay, I knew things probably looked kind of bad right now, but surely once things settled down, people would realize that I couldn’t be the one responsible for the bomb. Right? After all, I wasn’t guilty.
Only, it sort of had to be me. During the Bogle attack, I’d been carried miles away from the rest of our caravan, so if someone there had brought a bomb with them, meaning to stick close to me until they had a chance to set it off, then their plan would have been foiled. But I’d had nothing with me but my backpack when Phaedra had run away, and I was damn sure there hadn’t been a bomb in it.
“Come on,” Keane said urgently, grabbing my arm.
“Dad?” I asked, realizing that he was telling us to run but wasn’t running himself.
“I’ll hold them off as long as I can,” he said grimly, then looked back and forth between Keane and Ethan. “Get her out of here before it’s too late.”
“Wait! No!” I cried, but Ethan grabbed hold of my other arm, and he and Keane started dragging me toward the gate, Kimber limping along behind us.
“We can’t leave my dad here alone,” I protested, turning a pleading gaze on Keane. “Or yours!”
I had a strong suspicion that if I wasn’t around to take the blame, my dad and Finn—wherever he was—would pay the price for me. And if I wasn’t around, it would be pretty damn hard to prove my innocence.
“We have to,” Keane said, still pulling me. His eyes were glassy, as if he were on the verge of crying, although he was too much of a manly man to allow that to happen.
I still didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave my dad and Finn to face the wrath of the Seelie Court. But Ethan, Keane, and Kimber weren’t going anywhere without me, and even if I wanted to stay and defend myself, I couldn’t in good conscience drag them down with me. Maybe Titania would hold them blameless, maybe she would figure the blame belonged entirely on me and my dad, but I didn’t dare take the chance. Dad was telling me to run for a reason, and it wasn’t because he expected things to go well when the members of the Court figured out what had happened and decided I had to be responsible.
With a sound somewhere between a sob and another hacking cough, I allowed my friends to drag me away. I looked over my shoulder as we passed through the gate. The last thing I saw before I turned and ran was my father, standing there alone, with those prison-like walls all around him as he prepared for a battle he knew he couldn’t win.
* * *
We managed to make it through the gate without anyone chasing us, though we weren’t exactly inconspicuous, running at top speed as we were. At least we would have the cover of darkness once we got away from the torches that lit the gate area.
“We have to get off the road ASAP,” Keane panted, then coughed. It worried me that he was out of breath, seeing as he could usually spar for like an hour without being even slightly winded. How much smoke had we all inhaled?
“No shit, Einstein,” Ethan responded, and I couldn’t believe he was wasting breath on his feud with Keane at a time like this.
Keane gave him a dirty look, but otherwise didn’t respond, which I thought showed admirable restraint. Magic prickled in the air around me, and Ethan pulled me close enough to put his arm around me. “Stay close,” he told me. “I’ve been working on my invisibility spell, and I can cover us with it, at least for a while.”
Of course, I had the ability to make myself invisible without Ethan’s help. I almost opened my big mouth to tell everyone about the Erlking’s brooch, but decided at the last minute not to. Not because I wasn’t willing to face their anger at my long deceit—well, yeah, maybe a little because of that—but because I was afraid that if they knew about the brooch, they’d make me use it to run off without them.
There was only so long Ethan’s little spell was going to last, and once he ran out of juice, we were probably going to be sitting ducks. I could already see the strain on his face, and I could only imagine how much power it was taking for him to extend his invisibility shield over all of us while running at top speed. And still coughing from the smoke inhalation, to boot. If I knew my friends at all, if they knew about my brooch, then once Ethan’s spell gave out, they’d want me to use the brooch and go on without them. I supposed I’d be safer without them if I could be invisible and they couldn’t, but there was no way in hell I was going to abandon them, no matter how practical it might be. I wouldn’t have run in the first place if my father and the boys hadn’t bullied me into it, and I still felt terrible for leaving my dad and Finn to face the music.
We ran down the road until we rounded a bend that hid us from the view of anyone hanging around the gate, and then Keane directed us off the road and into the trees. Personally, I didn’t have high hopes that we were going to evade anyone. It might take a little while for the folks at the palace to figure out what had happened, pin the blame on me, and organize a pursuit, but we were on foot, and we didn’t know our way around. Surely we’d have to stick close to the road so we wouldn’t get completely lost, and that would make us pretty damn easy to find. At least the heavily forested town gave us some cover.