The wind was picking up as Agatha left. It had been for the last few hours, replacing the usual stillness of the ancient forest with steadily stronger breezes until they became a constant, steady wind. It limited Lilith’s hearing a bit, drowning out the softest sounds with rustling leaves, but not terribly; she could still hear the camp if she listened for it between the strongest gusts of wind. She waited until she could faintly hear Agatha greeting Adam before turning to Dimo, Maxim and Oggie. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell her.”
“Tell her vot?” Oggie asked. Ah.
But then why did they bring her back? At least, Lilith would have expected them to help by “accidentally” chasing her in the right direction, and then allowing themselves be “chased off” by a brief and injury-free fight. Helping openly was strange.
“Hy em surprised she dun already know,” Dimo said evenly. Ah. He was frowning, not glaring yet, but with Dimo that was as likely to mean that he was completely serious as that he wasn’t upset.
He wouldn’t be upset by Lilith hiding her own past from a human. She sighed. There was no chance of making excuses to send them off now.
“Know vot?” Oggie asked again.
“You may call me Lilith Clay,” Lilith said. Dimo’s frown deepened. Oggie looked even more confused; Maxim nodded as if everything was clear now. “My husband is Adam, I’m sure you’ll meet him soon. We are both grateful to you for bringing our daughter back safely.”
“She iz not hyurs!” Dimo snapped. He was scowling now, hands curling into fists. Oggie and Maxim eyed him skeptically.
“Dimo, deed hyu get bit by dose angry bogs?” Maxim asked.
“She’s an orphan. We’ve raised her since her uncle brought her to us and asked us to,” Lilith said. “We do consider her our daughter.”
“Vere iz he? Vhich vun?” Dimo snapped.
Maxim and Oggie were beginning to frown too. “Miz Ju—Lilith,” Maxim began, “vy her oncle esk hyu to take care ov her?”
“He went missing eleven years ago,” Lilith told Dimo. “And she cannot know who she is before we get her to Mechanicsburg. It would put her in danger. ...More danger,” she amended.
“Vy iz she in de Vastelends,” Dimo demanded. “Hyu iz not effen on roads!”
Oggie leaned over to Dimo and hissed, “Dimo, iz she Heterodyne?” in a stage whisper.
“Iz dot vy she ponch me?” Maxim said. Lilith paused.
“No, iz becawse hyu iz en eediot,” Dimo snapped. “Bot ov cawse she iz, vy vould ve not find de Heterodyne vanderink alone in de Vastelends und she dun effen know who she iz—”
“Dimo,” Lilith said firmly. His mouth snapped shut. “She is not hurt. We are bringing her to Mechanicsburg. We will tell her who she is after we get her in the town, where she can be protected. In the meantime, telling her will only put her in danger.”
“Vy?” Dimo demanded. “She iz not jäger, pipple like Heterodynes!”
“What do you know about the Other?”
Dimo, Maxim and Oggie froze. Fog started creeping into the clearing, spreading over the ground and the jägers’ feet.
“He keednapped Miz Lucrezia,” Maxim said. “Und… she vos pregnant den?”
“Lucrezia is the Other,” Lilith said. Dimo frowned, Maxim snarled and Oggie growled. “She’s missing, but she planned to become immortal by taking over Agatha’s body and pretending to be her. Klaus was and probably still is her ally.”
Oggie growled again, and he and Maxim both turned to Dimo. “Ve gots to tell de others,” Oggie said.
“…No,” Dimo said. “Ve gots to protekt her. If Jenka finds os ve tell her, und if not ve tell Mamma.” He shot a look at Lilith, half wary and half warning.
“I won’t tell you to stay away,” Lilith said as the fog rose. It wasn’t thick enough to prevent her from seeing the jägers, as close as they were, but it was cold. “But you have to promise not to tell her until she is inside Mechanicsburg.”
Maxim looked worried. “Bot she gots to know.”
“She has too many enemies and not enough protection.”
“Den vy not tell her?” Dimo demanded, too loud. He lowered his voice at Lilith’s glare, but continued. “She ken protect herself if she knows she ken!”
“She already knows she’s a spark,” Lilith said. “She has nothing to work with. What could knowing that she’s a Heterodyne, specifically, do to help?”
“Ve ken get de army—” Maxim started.
“And Klaus’s attention? And all the rest of his army right behind?” Lilith asked. Maxim wilted.
“Vot ken it hurt?” Dimo demanded. The plume of his hat waved behind him, and the tip of it flicked off tiny beads of water that had condensed from the fog.
Lilith sighed. “She’s too much like her father. No, listen.” Oggie and Maxim both shut their mouths with a click of fangs. “We’ve tried to keep her away from the stories, but she loves them. The books, the plays, anything about any hero; she admires them. If she gets the idea that she can be one, she’ll try it.”
“…Vos fon vatchink her poppa,” Oggie said cheerfully. Lilith couldn’t tell if it was forced or not.
“Bill was not being hunted by the geisterdamen, every force Klaus has, and any other power Lucrezia may have gotten on her side. She is not safe, boys; even Beetle wanted to use her. Barry has been missing for eleven years; we can only assume they caught him, and he had experience. If she stays outside of Mechanicsburg it is only a matter of time until she gets caught, and if she decides she wants to, would you be able to tell her no?”
Dimo frowned like he wanted to argue. Oggie looked unhappy, glancing in the direction of the camp. Maxim looked almost guilty, toying with the edge of his hat with the tips of his claws. “Iz her right to know,” Maxim said, uncertain.
“Then help us get her there,” Lilith said, more gently. “Help us get her to Mechanicsburg, let her have a few days to fall in love with the town, let her realize she never wants to leave, and then we’ll tell her. Keeping it from her forever was never the plan.”
There were a few more silent seconds before Dimo said, “Hokay,” like releasing a pressure valve. Maxim nodded, and Oggie’s hand shifted to a looser grip on his poleaxe.
Lilith should have known that would be what convinced them. She sighed and relaxed too. It was still possible the jägers would change their minds, but not terribly likely. It was more likely they would simply forget themselves or say something they didn’t realize would be telling, but there was nothing Lilith could do about that.
A drop of rain landed on the back of her hand and Lilith looked up, but the trees were still too dense to see the clouds. Well, knowing how bad the storm would be wouldn’t change it, and they couldn’t prepare more than they already had. She nodded firmly to the jägers. “Let’s go and get you introduced to everyone. And remember to call me Lilith.”