first rodeo.

“How many?” Dad returned his gaze to the direction of the swarm.

Emily looked again to better judge their number. They were closer now. Maybe ten minutes. A lot more details were coming into view, like how some of the bats had rocks in their talons. Rocks she figured they intended to let loose on the house when they got within range. At that height and speed, the rocks would do great damage to the cottage. Emily began to wonder what defenses Aunt Anastacia had put on the outside of the house.

When she and her friends had snuck in two days before, they’d been attacked by a wind demon (she didn’t know what else to call it). They had been effectively pinned to the wall by invisible windy latches. It took Aunt Anastacia appearing in the living room and ascertaining their identities to release them.

If she’d put such a defense system inside her house, maybe she had put some external defenses into place as well. Why defend the interiors of your house and leave the exterior undefended? That would defeat the whole purpose.

So the question in Emily’s mind was: How strong was the exterior defense? Was it strong enough to withstand a hail of rocks? Was that even why the bats were bringing the rocks? Because they knew there was a defense system set up, and perhaps that was the only way to break it?

If there was such a defense system in place, was it not wiser for her to go inside and stay safe?

If that would cut it, maybe Aunt Anastacia wouldn’t have asked you to defend the house, Selena suggested.

Maybe she wasn’t expecting to be swarmed by a pack of bats, Emily thought back. Maybe she just wanted to get me out of the house and into the night where I can clear my head. After all, I wasn’t particularly thinking levelheadedly back there.

Selena’s emotion of surprise pranced through Emily’s mind.

What? Emily thought to Selena, wondering what had piqued The Owl’s surprise.

Just that you, for the first time, admitted to me that you’re not thinking clearly, Selena offered.

I wasn’t thinking clearly, mind you, Emily corrected. Right now I’m as clear as . . . as can be.

“It’s hard to tell how many there are,” Emily told her father. “But I would guess a few thousand.”

Emily watched as Dad’s shoulders slumped. He took one glance at his old rifle and hissed. There was no way the gun was any match for what was coming, and he was just realizing it.

“You don’t have to join me to fight them.” Emily tilted her head to the side. “I just want to know if you have any suggestions. They’re about eight minutes out. I’m thinking of taking them on all the way out there. Let me see how many I can destroy before they get here.”

“And when they get here?” Dad was now looking at the swarm. It still wasn’t close enough to see, but some of the early birds—a few dozen or so that were flying faster than the horde—could be seen by the naked eye.

“When they get here, it’s going to be hell.” Emily shrugged. “I mean, I’ll keep fighting them until either one of us is destroyed, but I was hoping maybe Aunt Anastacia—”

Dad shook his head, cutting her off with a wave. “She’s of no use to us now. Even when she’s done with Michael, she’ll be passed out on the floor, still as a rock.”

Emily thought the way Dad had said that was curious. He sounded like he knew a lot about Aunt Anastacia’s magic. Maybe even a lot about the supernatural. Emily shouldn’t be surprised, of course, because Dad was married to an owl shifter. But she had just assumed that Dad didn’t know. It wasn’t like they’d discussed much about Mom’s abilities or anything. Plus, Dad had been cursed by the evil rove, Gregory Alfred, so they hadn’t had any father-daughter pep talks after Mom’s demise.

Hearing Dad talk with such certainty felt odd. Like, how did he know so much about supernaturals? Was he some sort of supernatural and she didn’t know? Did he know Mom was an Owl and married her all the same? Supernaturals tended to marry their own kind. Maybe he really was a supernatural.

Staring at Dad and watching as he looked up at the sky, Emily realized, in retrospect, she knew little about her father. There were so many questions she hadn’t asked yet. Like why didn’t the evil rove just kill him? Why spare his life and cast a spell on his mind?

“I know Aunt Anastacia is going to be knocked out for a couple of hours.” Emily turned away from her father and looked around. “I was thinking maybe she had some sort of defense set up around the house.” She proceeded to quickly explain what she’d experienced when she and her friends had sneaked into the house.

Dad nodded. “Yes, she does have the perimeter secured with a couple of hexes and curses and spells. But I doubt it’d be enough . . .” Dad’s voice trailed off as his eyes narrowed in thought.

“What is it?” Emily was curious to know what her dad was thinking.

“What if . . . ?” Dad’s voice trailed off again.

“Dad, those things would be on us any minute,” Emily pointed out. “If you’ve got something, please let me know now.”

“What if that’s their plan?” Dad’s eyes were set straight ahead. “The perimeter defense Anastacia put in place will take out, say, a thousand of those beasts.”

Emily’s eyes widened in admiration. Oh?

“But that’s like thirty percent,” Dad kept going. “And it’s going to leave this cottage utterly defenseless.”

Emily almost pointed out that she was defense enough. But she didn’t want Dad getting sidetracked.

“Which means the roves would have free access inside,” Dad concluded.

“You think the bats are just coming to open up the perimeter, like an advance party of sorts?” Grim images rolled through Emily’s mind. “You’re thinking that the main attack force comes

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