Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 7

Miss the previous installments of Fae and Folly? 

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

When I reach a certain level of terror and excitement, I giggle. In my very early memories of learning to fly with my grandfather, who had this obsession with jumping off of cliffs, I would take his hand, close my eyes, and let him jump. Together we’d fall, wings held wide, watching as the grass and the trees soared to greet us. We’d catch ourselves just before we smashed into the ground (surely hard enough to kill us both), and I would giggle wildly.

The trait would be cute, I supposed, except that with Caleb’s radio-helmets he could hear me every time, and every time he laughed at me. I had yet to tell him about the flight thing, hoping that it would go away eventually, but when the engine revved and we started hitting 70 on the on-ramp to I-5, there was no hope left. I was pathologically incapable of stifling my giggles every time the motorcycle contraption gained speed. The wind was coming at us just as fast as it did on those cliff-high falls from childhood, and it felt as if we were about to take the motorcycle airborne. I ducked my head closer to Caleb’s back (his wings, sadly, remained tucked beneath his jacket). My stomach fluttered in that almost-pleasant new-love kind of way as we took off onto the actual highway, giant semis and cars flanking us like enemy armies. We were tiny next to them. Caleb’s cycle was specially modified, he’d told me, so that it was almost as big as a small human-sized cycle, yet still designed to fit his three-foot-seven frame. The seat was set extra-low while the handlebars were a little on the high side. I supposed it made sense, in a way, but I had my doubts about the safety of being so small on the road. He didn’t seem concerned about it at all.

Good gods, it was terrifying, but it was so much fun.

“Has anyone told you that your giggling is adorable?” Caleb’s electronically-transmitted voice sounded in my ear as he punched it, weaving around a car going slow in the right lane. I yipped, my fingers digging into his hips, probably painfully, I noted. I couldn’t really change that, either.

“I think I hit the last person who said that,” the squeak in my voice belied my tough-Fae attitude.

There again, his laugh – a rather enchanting laugh, actually. I had to remind myself to stop thinking of so many of his attributes as enchanting. I still didn’t know the man. The whole way to Corvallis we’d spent most of our time talking about riding etiquette and the special features of his bike. He liked to tinker with it himself, apparently. That was something I knew. He had a thing for wrenches and wiring. It wasn’t exactly something we had in common.

“Maybe next time you can do the driving,” he continued. We were going at a better pace, now, back in the right lane with a lot of space between us and the next group of vehicles.

I was starting to shiver even more than I had when we were back on 99, even with Caleb in front of me to shield me from the wind. He must have been positively freezing. “Nah,” I replied, “I don’t think I’ll be doing much more motorcycling in the future.”

“You say that now.”

“Surely I’ve passed your test.”

“Test, Ms. Fletcher?”

“Well,” I started to relax, the tension in my fingers easing up. His hips would have to be bruised by now. “I don’t have any better explanation for why you’d take me out on this… thing.”

“Did you ever consider that I wanted to have a little fun?”

“I don’t know what to consider with you. You’re… inscrutable.

“Those are big words to use on a simple muse such as myself.”

Simple. Sure. “Tell me something about yourself that I don’t know,” I countered. It was a little on the nose, I supposed, but I was getting sick of this who-do-you-think-I-am game, and we still had a half hour to go before we came in range of the glade… and another few minutes of flight to get to the right place. “Something I wouldn’t have read on the internet. You owe me after that little snit in the conference room.”

“Snit?” He turned his head over his shoulder as if to glance at me, and I tensed up, sure that taking his eyes off the road for a second would mean that we would crash and die. We didn’t. “I don’t even remember what you could be referring to.”

“I…” I choked out, “you… you made me look stupid. Unprepared.”

“Stupidity had nothing to do with it,” he said evenly, totally unaffected. “You were incorrect and I corrected you.”

“You didn’t have to be so snippy about it.”

“Snippy? Hm. My mistake.”

I snarled, wishing I could pop up in the air and fly the rest of the way. The endless green fields of the I-5 corridor might well have been an ocean for how I was stranded on this contraption, alone with him and his radio. “See, you’re doing it again. I try to get to know you and you do this.”

He fell silent for a while. A couple of mile posts passed us by, and I wished I could let go of him, or that he would pull off and let me step away for a moment. What was interesting – and probably more revealing than anything he could have told me about himself – was that he didn’t.

“I corrected you for the very opposite reason that you imagine,” he finally spoke up, jerking me from my wandering thoughts. “You’re an intelligent Fae, and I believe that you yourself would prefer to have the best data possible for your arguments.”

“You don’t know me.”

New York Times, June 22, 2017.”

I blinked behind the mask, back where he couldn’t see me. My thoughts stuttered. “You remembered my article?”

“I used several of your quotes in the UN hearings on recognition of the Fae Nation.”

“That was six years ago.”

“I had a hunch you could do math, too.”

“So you think that you know me based on one article.” That was defensive and cheap, I realized. I put my heart and theoretical soul into that article. Fae Nation: A Plea for Harmony won me a few moments in the spotlight. I’d made an impassioned argument that the world nations should recognize the sovereignty of the Fae Nation and work together to prevent the environmental destruction threatening to drive my people to extinction. Anyone who read that article knew me – my worldview, my inner monologue, my drive.

I thought that by now everyone had surely forgotten.

“Unless it was all an elaborate lie, yes,” he said. “It’s also why I ended up recommending you to the IFA as the new representative of the Northwest. I don’t think you would have learned that fact on the internet, but I may be mistaken. A great many things are said about me on the internet.”

My jaw loosened, and suddenly I was very glad he couldn’t see me. I was thankful for the deafening rush of wind as we passed another semi, giving me a few extra seconds to figure out how on earth to respond to that.

“That… isn’t really a fact about you,” I managed, and realized that it was a little silly, actually, to ignore what he was telling me. I knew that someone in the IFA had to have recommended me to the position after I applied. I just assumed that Dy convinced Collette to put in the good word. Collette was a big fan of my textbook project, which was more successful than my article, if a fair bit less ambitious. I never confirmed that, though, and hadn’t had a conversation with Collette directly.

“Black is my favorite color.”

He had to be grinning. I narrowed my eyes at the back of his helmet. “I’m pretty sure I read that on the internet somewhere, or I might have also figured it out with my brilliant deductive skills.”

“Then please, Ms. Fletcher, ask me something specific. I seem incapable of satisfying you.”

Was he being deliberately suggestive? I had a feeling that even if I could see his face I wouldn’t be able to tell. “Do you actually like your job?” After I said it I almost wanted to take it back. I hadn’t even anticipated asking that question. Why, gods, would I ask such a direct question?

“No. Now, I believe I gave you some extra facts in between, so may I ask you a question?”

“Wait – ‘no’ is not a proper answer.”

“Explaining it would take much longer than we have left on this trip,” he paused, “and you asked a yes or no question, to which I believe a yes or no answer is, in fact, proper.”

Anything I could say would be tipping my hand. I wanted to get to know him better – for business reasons, of course. I wanted to know if his like or dislike of his job had anything to do with radicalization.

That’s what I told myself, anyway.

“Are you still partnered with Dyana?” he asked, filling the silence.

“That’s… a very personal question.”

“So was yours.”

“Do you have actual friends?” I guffawed, “I heard that people like you, but I haven’t figured out why that is.”

His soft chuckle was nearly lost in the road noise. “Anyone can be likable on the surface. It doesn’t take much talent to maintain an illusion.”

I scrutinized the back of his helmet so hard that my head hurt.

“You and Dyana…?”

“No,” I replied. While it wasn’t a secret that we were no longer together, it was probably a little confusing to see her answering my door. “Not for some time now.”

“She seemed very comfortable in your apartment.”

“Dyana is comfortable anywhere she goes. Also, we’re still friends. We just didn’t work out.”

“I see.”

It was coming up towards midday, the sun shining improbably bright, the sky a cloudless, striking blue. I loved the blue skies in Oregon after days of rain – they were clean. Perfect. I scanned the hillsides coming up around Eugene, still heavily forested. Humankind had yet to destroy the natural beauty of most of Oregon.

“That turnoff, there,” I tapped his left shoulder, indicating a road that jutted off to the east. The Willamette Glade was located up on a very particular hill in that area; there was a side road which ran alongside Springfield and up into the wild. There would be a shed somewhere along the winding paths where we could probably drop the bike before heading up where the roads did not go. I knew the way to the Willamette like any child would know the layout of their home. For a couple of years when I lived there, it was my whole world.

The interesting thing about Fae Glades is how humans find them so difficult to locate. Even with as many hikers that frequented the hills in the Willamette, there was a strange energy about the glades which generally eluded them. That energy had been dwindling in recent years, but for the most part it still worked to disorient mundane beings. A turn around a tree that becomes another, and humans spin in circles; lost, briefly, before finding their way back to their original “path” which conveniently took them away from the glade’s location.

I didn’t purport to be an expert on magick, I just observed its effects. The Fae weren’t known for their scientific prowess, and indeed, the mechanisms by which our magick worked was still very poorly understood even by us.

We were halfway up the hill, already completely shrouded by the trees when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I thought for a second about checking it, but then thought better of it – the last thing I needed was to drop my phone from a moving vehicle. Another downside to traveling by bike, along with the cramp I was developing in my thigh. We’d stopped in Corvallis for a few minutes, but it wasn’t nearly long enough. I couldn’t wait to get off.

“Urgent business?” he spoke up. He could probably feel the vibration, too, with the way my legs pressed against his… backside.

“Probably Dy telling me more than I ever wanted to know about her flight schedule. It can wait.”

“Is it much further?”

“No, not too bad. Couple more corners.”

The shed was situated off the road, just beyond a turnout. Between the trees I could pick out bits of the valley and I-5 below us; we’d already gained some elevation. It looked like any other camping-style shed a person might encounter, with wood stacked outside for campfires and a customary brown pain coat, peeling at the corners. The world seemed to move at half pace when Caleb slowed down enough to slide into the gravel and we finally, mercifully stopped moving. Everything got quiet. No more road noise and semi’s here; just trees, squirrels, and probably some hidden tree Fae somewhere out there.

Caleb graciously waited for me to hop off being doing so himself. My legs twinged, the muscles stretching just this side of uncomfortable. I rolled my shoulders with a satisfying series of pops.

“Can shove it in the shed if you want,” I told him, fishing my keys from my pocket. “I think I have the right key here somewhere.”

“That would be lovely, thank you.” He pulled the helmet off his head just as I did, his hair messy yet somehow perfect at the same time. I had sincere doubts about the perfection of my own hair, all frazzled and frizzy. Thank goodness for headbands.

“So… you said it was a short hike from here?” he asked, steering his bike up to the shed while I fiddled with the lock.

“Well, a quick flight, anyway.”

“A quick flight and a moderate hike, then.”

“You’re saying you’d like to walk to the glade?” I tugged off the lock and opened the door to find a shed full of random gardening implements, hatchets, and a few jars in a corner which probably had something magicky to do with them. I wasn’t much of an alchemist, myself.

He situated his bike in the middle, caring for it with the same level of tenderness that I’d seen people use with their pets. He tossed me my backpack.

“We established that it’s a lovely day,” he replied.

It was a lovely day. A little on the cool side, of course – couldn’t be more than 70 farenheit, with a brisk breeze to remind a person that it was still winter, even if it was bright and sunny. I contorted my face to effect. “It’s a lovely chilly day.”

“So you’re saying you don’t enjoy a nice hike.”

“I feel like this is another test.”

He shrugged in his jacket, unzipping it to show his similarly black shirt underneath. He helped me with the padlock and chain when he closed the door. “I will be enjoying the hike. You can go on ahead if you wish.”

I reached for my phone on a sigh, appraising my boots for hikability. It seemed that they would do well enough. “If we go-“

When I clicked on my phone I saw that the one text message I had was not from Dy, as I’d expected, but from Cally. I had to read it three times to be sure I had it right.

Elemental bombing near Birmingham. Not on news yet. Talk to Landsong asap.

Caleb was looking at his phone, too, and from the way he’d gone somehow paler he must have gotten the same message. I should have been trying to search his face for some indication of how he felt about it, but the buzzing in my head was preventing any higher functions.

Bombing? She couldn’t mean that the elementals had bombed someone. The Fae didn’t deal in explosives or firearms of any kind. It was beyond wrong to even touch something that was built exclusively for death.

My phone buzzed again. A text from Dy – Are you seeing this? Where are you?

It was a fair guess that the story had hit the news. The real question remained – how was the news going to hit the story?

I had no words. My thumb hesitated over my web browser. I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to see what happened. As a bridger it seemed like I had some kind of role to play here, but I couldn’t decipher what it was.

“Come on,” Caleb buried his own phone in his jacket and reached out to touch my arm. “Landsong will skype in with us. We have some time.”

“But… have you…”

“No, I’ve never dealt with this before. Now, which way?”

My wings stretched out, quivering. I was far too distracted. I lifted myself in the air and began flying towards the glade. That, at least, I knew how to do. I didn’t know how to deal with some kind of quasi-national emergency, but I could get to the Willamette glade in a reasonable period of time. I was up on top of the first little hill before I noticed that Caleb wasn’t following. I pulled my wings in, dropping down onto the evergreen needle-covered forest floor. He was still walking.

“I feel like we should go as quickly as possible,” I prompted, annoyed. I couldn’t keep it out of my voice this time. Something was happening – something bad – and I needed to understand what was going on.

His eyes flickered up at me, and he stopped mid-walk up the embankment that led from the road into the forest. He raised his eyebrows, visibly considering what he was about to say.

“What in the five earths-”

“I’m going to ask you to fly slower than that, and I’m going to also ask your discretion,” he said softly.

I shrugged, open-handed, waiting for him to continue.

“How far did you say it was?”

“If we fly my speed we’ll be there in ten minutes.”

“Then it’ll take twenty,” he sighed. His wings flexed, their deep, black, graceful lines still beautiful, yet rounded out on the edges in what I recognized as shame. Shame? “You wanted to know things about me that weren’t on the internet.”

“Just tell me already.”

“I have MRPS.”

There was a bombing somewhere out in the world – people were hurt, maybe dying, and the Fae were either the targets or the culprits, yet hearing him say those words dropped my stomach just as hard as hearing the news. My lips parted, and I again found myself at a loss for words. MRPS stood for multi-radicular pinna syndrome. It was a congenital, relatively rare disease that had become more common with the increased pollution in the atmosphere. I’d discussed it a few times during my activist years as one of those big-name reasons for why the Fae required the human’s cooperation. I’d met a few Fae who had the disease, most of them older. It was pain syndrome that grew worse with time, eventually causing the flight muscles along the spine to go into permanent spasm, rendering their wings useless. There was no cure, and the humans seemed disinclined to look for one.

People didn’t like to talk about it. Our wings – our flight – have always been closely tied to our identities. To lose one’s wings, knowing that someday they would become vessels of pain… well, I would almost rather die.

“Yes,” he fluttered past me, taking deep breaths. It probably hurt him to do it, I imagined, though I had no way to tell how far the disease had progressed. “That’s precisely why I’ve kept it to myself. Unfortunately I think it’s important that you be aware… that this is going to be an issue for today.”

“I didn’t mean to-” I stammered, “I just… I didn’t expect, I’m-”

“We have bigger things to worry about right now,” He managed to fly up to a low-hanging branch where he perched, looking down on me. “I’m not so far gone that I can’t make a twenty-minute stint. You’re still going to have to lead the way.”

There were another million things I wanted to ask, but I didn’t have time. We needed to get up to Landsong, and this whole mess was not nearly as pressing as the mess in Birmingham. This day just gets better all the time.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 6

Miss the previous installments of Fae and Folly? 

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

“Did you not hear anything I told you last night?”

I dodged Dy’s death glare, ducking into the kitchen. I didn’t really need my chai tea, but what I did need was a plausible reason to avoid taking Dy’s energy straight on. It was the fourth time we’d had this conversation after I tried to offhandedly mention to her that she would need to take public transit to the airport because I was going to be gone – with Caleb.

As if to prove a point, she had woken up at 7 am to pester me about it. I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen Dy conscious before ten. She was serious.

“I heard you,” I tried to speak a patiently as I could. “I heard you the first time, and the second time…” well, maybe not quite as patiently as all that.

“There’s something not right about that guy,” Dy continued as if she hadn’t heard me at all. Peering around the corner I could see her perched on my couch the way she liked to do, hands motioning to her own private audience. “You know I’ve never seen him fly? It’s just weird, Lee. The motorcycle thing doesn’t make any sense.”

“I saw him fly,” I said, barely able to censor my initial defensive response. I didn’t need to defend him so much as I needed to defend my own rationale for agreeing to this escapade. Of course, I wasn’t doing a great job of convincing myself to begin with. “He flew inside the bar.”

“Flew? Or did he just do that fluttery thing?”

“How well do you know him, again?”

“Word gets around, Lee. I’m still a muse. We talk.” She swooped around the bar area to stand next to me.

I glanced up at her only briefly before diligently stirring a dust of cinnamon into my travel mug. “It’s not like I have a choice. It’s my job – the IFA wants me to show Caleb around the Willamette, so I will. That’s all it is.”

She was looking at me. I knew she was doing it. I frowned and walked out into my living room, sitting on the edge of my chaise.

Undeterred, Dyana knelt at my feet where I couldn’t evade her wide, silvery eyes. She was childish like that when she was riled – it was actually a little concerning. I’d rarely seen her so hellbent on changing my mind about anything. Then again, when we were doing the activist thing we very specifically agreed on almost everything. That was why we worked so well to begin with.

“We always agreed that we were non-violent,” she began again in earnest. “You still believe in that too, don’t you?”

“What would make you think-” I worked my jaw, but the words weren’t coming out. “How could you… of course I’m still non-violent, Dy. I’d never-”

“I just needed to hear you say it.”

“Dy, is there something else going on that you’re not telling me about?”

Dy quieted, her full, pale lips downturned. Her wings clung tight to her body. “With all that’s been going on… I don’t know, alright? There are rumors about something big going down, and I promise you, if I knew any more than this I would tell you everything. With you being up in the IFA these days I figured it could go one of two ways…”

“Just be honest with me Dyana. We’ve always been straight with each other.”

“I don’t know if ‘straight’ is what the humans would call it,” she struggled to put on a joking smile, but it died a quick death. I narrowed my eyes. “If you were sympathetic to his cause, it would explain-“

“We don’t know that he has a cause at all.”

She blinked at me a couple times, and her eyebrows shot up into her hairline. I shook my head, my fingers working the ties on my boots. Boots would be appropriate for motorcycling. The internet told me so.

Never in my life did I think I’d have a need to look up motorcycling footwear.

“You like him,” Dy accused, leaning in somehow closer.

“I do not like him. I… the very opposite of like him. It’s like you said, he’s strange-“

“And he’s got one hell of a set of wings on him, doesn’t he?”

“Oh please.”

Her wings – which were still just as gorgeous as the day we met – flexed long and languid, almost suggestive. “I know your face, Amelie Fletcher. You think he’s a pretty bit of stardust.”

“That’s not the issue here-“

“You of all people!” her hands covered her face, and at that moment I could imagine no more uncomfortable a feat than discussing attraction to another Fae in front of my former partner – which wasn’t entirely accurate, I reminded myself. Attraction required both the physical and mental aspects for me, and I had yet to find anything about his mind that would be considered desirable. I hardly knew him at all… the problem was, Dy was partly right. He was a pretty bit of stardust, but that wasn’t the point. “I never thought you would be the kind to get distracted by a pair of fancy black wings.”

“Dy,” I grabbed her wrists and pulled them away from her face, planting my now-booted feet on the floor. “Remember who you’re talking to. I’m not as shallow as all that. If he’s in with the Elementals then I want no part of him,” I paused, flashing her a smile. “And besides, what better way to figure all that out than to spend a little extra time with him?”

Dyana sighed, tugging her wrists from my grasp. She rose, kissing the top of my head on her way up. “Take care of yourself out there. Not all the muses are as clean cut as me.”

“You’ve never been clean cut.”

Her lopsided grin warmed my soul – if I had one – the way it always did. “What I do in private notwithstanding.”

I almost had a good reply in mind when there was a knock at my door. Right on time. I had every intention of getting the door myself, but Dy beat me to it.

The wide-eyed, huge-mouthed smile she managed to achieve when she opened it was so comical that I had to laugh. My laughter was drowned out by her overly enthusiastic “Hello!”

I watched their interactions as I finished zipping up my backpack, filled to bulging with a couple changes of clothes and basic essentials on the assumption that we’d be spending a night in Eugene. Landsong would insist.

“It’s nice to see you again, Dyana,” said Caleb, the essence of cool. I was certain that most people would have shrieked or at least looked startled at Dy’s theatrics. Not Caleb. Caleb acted as if she’d answered the door with a polite how-do-you-do.

“Isn’t it though?” Dyana stood in the entryway without the slightest movement to indicate that he could come in.

“You’ve been well? Down in… Reno, as I recall,” he continued, stuck just outside the door.

“The Tahoe glade is a real trip. I love it down there. I hear that you’ve been awfully busy these days.”

“Professional hazard,” he inclined his head, glancing at me over Dy’s shoulder for the first time since he arrived. “Do you need a little more time?”

“Not at all,” I swung the bag over my back, taking another sip from my mug. The sun shone brightly behind Caleb’s figure, the glowing Oregon greenery a sharp contrast with Caleb’s (apparently customary) black attire. He looked rather out of place against the backdrop of a vibrant, sunny day. He was more of a night Fae, for certain. I hugged Dy briefly before I passed her by. “Lock up on your way out, and have a good flight.”

She squeezed me with pressure enough to approximate my ribs together. It was very Dy of her. “I’ll call you.”

I nodded once more before managing to escape, the click of the door a sure sign that I was all alone with Caleb.

His dark eyes swept me head-to-toe before he made a soft sound of what I assumed was approval. “You’re appropriately dressed, at least.”

I had on my sturdiest pair of jeans and a long-sleeved purple shirt underneath a jean jacket. My hair was held out of my face by a flowery headband. Game enough, I made my own visual sweep of him, passing over his zipped-up faux leather jacket and dark jeans. With skin so pale he was all darkness and light.

“I suppose you’ll do as well,” I raised an eyebrow.

The barely-audible chuckle in his throat could hardly be called a laugh. “I have some gear for you.” He began walking down the stairs – a little odd, I noted, since I usually just glided down from the railing, but I went with it anyway. There was no need to show off.

I was on the second story of the ‘hotel,’ a catwalk connecting my room to all the others with an open-air staircase. To my knowledge I was the only one in a suite for the time being. Most of the time other Fae traveled to the Northwest in the summer when it was less wet. This day was a special day in that regard. Sunshine in an Oregon winter was near-blinding, all the dampened grass and leaves sparkling emerald-green. It was absolutely breathtaking, if a little jarring compared to the usual grayness. The road was mercifully low-traffic so far.

“Where are you staying, anyway?” I asked, filling the silence.

“Family business associate keeps a house down here. They don’t use it much, so I generally have free reign over it.”

“Here in Portland?”

He nodded absently, approaching his very shiny – very pretty – motorcycle. It was all curves, a body that reminded me of smoothed agates. I restrained myself from touching it out of fear that my fingertips would smudge its perfect black sheen. Caleb started handing me a few things from his saddlebag – another one of those things I had to google in preparation for this adventure. My analysis of motorcycle schematics  told me that “saddlebag” was an accurate, if somewhat silly term for the storage device.

“The helmet is where all of the PPE comes in,” he said, referencing ‘Personal Protective Equipment.’ “You’ll need that, the jacket, a scarf and gloves. I think these should fit alright, maybe a little on the large side.”

I handed him my bag in exchange. “You can smash it in there. Nothing fancy in my stuff.”

“Not even a computer?”

“The glade doesn’t have wireless anyway.”

“So I take it we’ll be staying there.”

“Is that a problem for you, fancy Fae?” I was swimming in the jacket he handed me, but it was a nice combination of lightweight and warm. My heart was racing as I handled the helmet, an enclosed unit with a filter near the mouth when the shield was down. I was about to ride a motorcycle.

Why did I agree to this?

“Your stunningly poor opinion of me aside,” his lips twitched the way they liked to twitch just before he settled his own helmet over his face, “no, it won’t be a problem.”

Stunningly poor opinion. It was the first real rise I’d managed to get out of him, if you didn’t count the passive-aggressive sparring in the conference. He didn’t seem angry, exactly, or even hurt. I wasn’t really sure what he was, and that was the entire problem.

I swallowed against the – guilty? – lump in my throat and put on the helmet myself. The filter was cumbersome, my breath fogging the shield almost immediately. There was no way this was going to work-

Until he tapped the switch next to my jaw and the tiny motor whirred, circulating the air. I blushed behind the mask.

“You ready?” I jerked at the sound of his voice, loud and clear in my helmet. He had some kind of radio system in the damned thing – I supposed, though, that with the cost of the filter and the jackets, a radio system was pocket change.

I couldn’t tell if he was smiling at me with the mirrored shade over his face. It made him even less readable.

Gods of the old continent, I was certain I was about to die. My mouth was totally dry and my stomach was clenched with fear. It occurred to me that humans would probably feel the same terror about flying. Anything that is new and seemingly uncontrollable is scary the first time you try it. I could only hope that I would survive to try it a second time, when it would be less horrifying.

“Yeah, sure.” My hands trembled in the gloves which were at least a size too large. At least the helmet fit alright. None of the outside air brushed my face.

He settled down on the bike and craned around to look at me, just waiting. I slipped in behind him and realized, quite stupidly, that there were no safety devices to hook into. I swallowed, and with the radio system there was a good chance he heard me.

“Mind the footholds,” he told me, indicating them with the flick of his wrist. He steadied the bike upright while I positioned myself. “You’ve ridden a bicycle, haven’t you? I regular one.”

“I… once?”

“Just relax,” he crooned. “Hands on my hips. Easier to steer that way. We’re taking 99 down to Corvallis and then the 5 from there. It’ll take longer but it’ll let you get used to things before we’re on a real highway.”

If this is going to take so long, why are we bothering with it at all? With weather so nice would could have flown the whole way. Then I realized it – he was toying with me. The only way this made sense was if it was some kind of test. Test of what and why, I wasn’t sure. It was too late to turn back.

Hesitantly I placed my hands as he asked, reminding myself that such hand positioning was necessary to ride properly, and nothing more. I could almost hear him grinning. “Okay,” my voice cracked without my permission. “Okay, you can… make it go.”

“Hang on tight, Ms. Fletcher,” in his voice I heard mischief; another flicker of life in his heretofore inscrutable personality.

When the electric motor revved and the contraption took off, I learned about an entirely different form of flight.

‘Why is she writing about Faeries, anyway?’ – and other thoughts on intern year

Those of you who come to me for the darkness in my stories – the tragic, gut-wrenching what’s-gonna-happen-to-that-character feeling, may be somewhat confused by my most recent posts. I started writing Fae and Folly with very little explanation, testing the waters of serial blog stories. After posting so much about Fae and Folly and so little about Forsaken Lands I believe I owe you internet folk an explanation. In order to do that I’m going to briefly describe my life at the present time. It may sound a bit whiny, though that is not my intent – I would merely like to give you all a little context. Here we go…

Six days out of the week I wake up at 5:34(ish) in the morning. This, I have discovered, is exactly the amount of time I need to get out of bed, dress in my business casual, check that I have my pager/phone/tablet, eat something that takes 3 minutes or less to prepare and arrive at the hospital at exactly 6 am. I try not to think too much about what I’m about to do at this time of day, because the series of events is inevitable – there’s no way I’m going to stay home or call in, because my team and my patients all need me. I choose one of my hiding places (usually the conference room or this little room off to the side on the second floor where no one goes), turn on my headphones, and spend exactly 30 minutes reading about what happened overnight while evaluating lab results. At 6:30 my day begins in earnest, and I disappear.

When I say “I disappear” I mean that in an existential sense – on internal medicine who I am, Sydney the writer, the wife, the friend who enjoys pear wine with a new episode of Sailor Moon – that Sydney disappears. I’m Dr. Cooper, and Dr. Cooper has no needs. She is who her patients need her to be, the diligent team member who reads every note, checks every lab, and asks every question she can think of to make sure that nobody is unduly harmed in the process of her training. At the hospital the person I am at home (and here, on this blog) exists only in the approximately 45 minutes per day when she is able to slip on headphones and do charting, because at least if the right music is playing all of the dry technical language tumbles out to a jaunty beat.

– at this point, as an aside, I’d like to remind you that I am not going into internal medicine. I have an immense respect for people who do, but am personally not equipped to pursue a career in which my sense of being is consumed by medical culture and jargon. Internal medicine is merely one of the requirements of my residency as a whole, the specialty of which I may release at a later date. I love the job I actually signed up for and will be able to return to it in November. End digression –

When I come home (usually between the hours of 4 pm and 9 pm, depending on the type of day we’re having) I have 2-4 hours to adjust to doing usual things: eating, showering, watching TV, and if my day was good enough, I will sit down and write. Lately every time I have a moment to transport myself to another world, I find myself in a place where faeries are real, magick is sparkly, and muses trick young humans into colossally poor decisions.

I don’t think I need to explain the connection between working 10-14 hour days in a stressful environment and happy-go-lucky escapism. The escapism is part of what has been keeping me sane as I learn to navigate the complex hospital system all while desperately trying to be a good doctor.

Make no mistake – I still love my Forsaken Lands crew. FL2 is developing into a much longer installment in the series, full of revealed secrets, ambitious (for me) action scenes and new characters who I think all of you will like just as much or more than the old ones. However… FL2 is work-intensive and many times dark. The darkness appeals to me, on the one hand, and on the other is just too much for the next 6 weeks. I’ve been getting a little done on it here and there, but I don’t expect to do much more until I’m on my neurology rotation in late August/early September.

As stated at the beginning of this post, I in no way mean to sound like someone who is griping just for the sake of griping (though I do value the therapeutic release). There are plenty of good things going on in my life right now, even at work. The people I’m working with on internal medicine are amazing. These residents and attendings are compassionate, smart individuals who do a genuinely good job caring for our patients. The hospital has a nice cafeteria, my new home is lovely, and the other interns in my program are positively awesome. In the end I will survive these next few weeks and move on to other things.

…that said, I cannot wait to go back to having two days off in a row at the end of this ride. It’s gonna be wild.

So that’s my (rather lengthy) answer. I hope everyone else is having a positively fabulous summer, and I invite you to check out Fae and Folly if you’re curious about it. Perhaps some of you, dear readers, need a little sparkly magick in your lives too. Peace.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 5

Check out this page to view the previous installments of Fae and Folly.

“Buy you a drink?”

Caleb’s smile – that boyish, damnably convincing smile – was getting on my nerves. He leaned over the mega-sized bar right next to me, his dark eyes shadowed by his similarly dark hair. The other muses from the conference were aflutter behind us, chatting about all manner of things. They’d taken up a long table behind a clouded glass divider made specifically for Fae patrons. I had slipped away unnoticed to order my drink, or so I thought. Instead he pursued me. The man had the persistence of an ox.

Between Dy’s rumor about Caleb being sympathetic to terrorists and his recent lackluster behavior, I was not inclined to give him any leeway. I didn’t want to believe Dy at the outset, but his behavior was so… odd. I approached him from a position of cautious intrigue – to get anything else from me he’d need to prove himself.

“I already ordered,” I huffed, my gaze averted. If I looked at him he’d continue to try that charm thing. Even though other Fae were generally immune to the influence of muses, I didn’t want to risk it.

“Then I don’t suppose I can ask what you’re having.”

“Tequila, thank you.”

“The conference wasn’t that bad.”

I so wanted to give him my best sour face, one that would convey every ounce of frustration he’d caused me. Instead I smiled and thanked the mega-sized bartender for my mini-sized drink. This bar, whimsically named Pixie’s, was a regular hangout spot for the IFA members and Fae who wandered out into Portland from the glade. The music was soft and ethereal, perfect for having actual conversations. They carried tiny shot glasses, which was good. Fae were already lightweights when it came to alcohol – it had some… interesting… effects on us. Tiny shots were fine, but just a little extra and we were seeing flashes of near earth and dancing with starlight.

I could do with some starlight, though. It would be more fun than the prospect of making friends with all the muses. I knew it would come to this, of course, but I pretended it wasn’t going to happen. I made friends just fine out in regular public – people I sought out myself. I didn’t prefer this artificial friend-making process.

“Conference was fine,” I finally replied, taking my shot and quickly sucking on the tiny lime slice attached to it. The glass clicked down against the bartop, the colors swirling from the light below the stylish counter making the loveliest patterns on the rim of the cup. The bar looked like a block of glowing LED ice – a rather nice effect. “I just like tequila.”

Caleb chuckled, his wings shivering audibly behind him. “Sure you do.”

Cheeky one. “You can stop with the disingenuousness any time, you know.”

“Is ‘disingenuousness’ actually a word, Ms. Fletcher?” He was following me back to the gathering of the other bridgers at the appropriate-sized table. He had a legitimate reason to travel in the same direction, much as it vexed me.

“I thought that you muses were all about making things up,” I said, quirking an eyebrow in his direction.

I suppose I had finally come up with a decent comeback; his only response to that was a wry smile. Inside I sighed.  Maybe it was the smile that made people like him so much – it surely couldn’t be his overall personality.

“Ah, I miss those days!” Alex was apparently in the middle of some story when I sat down. Cally moved aside to make room for me,  her body a shield between Caleb and I.

I plucked one of the fried zucchini from the appetizer plate and listened, hoping I would eventually catch on to the topic at hand.

Alex’s dark brown-and-fuchsia wings fluttered playfully when he continued. “I haven’t been able to have that kind of fun in years, not with a job like this one. I wasn’t even that good at it back when I had the chance.”

“You would’ve been fine,” Peter sipped on a mug of what looked like root beer – a safe choice. “You just didn’t try hard enough.”

“I bet you have some stories to tell, Mr. Master of Charm,” Alex purred at Caleb, who looked back at him like he knew exactly what they were talking about.

I still hadn’t figured it out. I glanced at Cally, who was shaking her head. “What are they talking about?” I murmured in her direction.

“Youthful indiscretions,” she snorted.

I wanted to prod her and ask what that was supposed to mean, but she didn’t seem interested in elucidating.

“I don’t have as many as you’d think,” Caleb said, continuing on with the elusive exchange.

“Hah,”  Cally snickered in disbelief. “I believe there’s a story floating around involving some unfortunate young private, a skateboard and a manhole.”

I could feel my eyes widening of their own accord. What in the five earths could they possibly be talking about?

Caleb waved her off dismissively. “All exaggerated. He was fine, anyway.”

“I’ve never known you to be modest.”

Those dark eyes flickered up at me again, and the edges of Caleb’s lips rose and fell so quick I nearly missed it. “I think we might be making our new associate uncomfortable.”

I cleared my throat. “Confused is more like it.”

“Your ex didn’t tell stories about all the unfortunate humans she ‘inspired’ in her adolescence?” Alex raised his eyebrows.

Everyone knew about the two of us, even if I hadn’t told them explicitly. Dy and I were inseparable when we were activists. “Dy was never…” I paused, not wanting to shame Dyana in her own community. Then again, she’d never been so much on muse community. She was her own special brand of musedom. “She had trouble relating to a lot of humans.”

“Uh-huh,” Alex plucked the last zucchini spear from the plate. “Funny you’d say-”

“Maybe we should find something in common to talk about,” Caleb said pointedly.

Alex’s sly look was all-knowing. “Fine. You pick the topic.”

“When is everyone heading out?” Caleb asked the group politely – perhaps too politely.

“I’ll be on my way day after tomorrow. People to see down in the gorge,” replied Peter. He turned his kind eyes on me and offered up his mug to toast. I scrambled for my water and clicked glasses, since it seemed the thing to do. “You live local, don’t you?”

I was sure that he knew exactly where I lived, but he was including me so I wouldn’t be so left out. He winked at me as if to confirm my suspicion. I nodded, “Yes, I do. As much as any of us lives in one place, anyway. I don’t think I’m used to the lifestyle yet.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” Peter smoothed his pale hair from his eyes, “I’ve been at this for fifteen years and I’m still not used to it. I miss being a sessile Fae.”

I shrugged. “I was getting a little bored, actually. I’ve lived in Oregon forever.”

“There are few places any better, I assure you.”

“Shouldn’t you be saying that about your own district?”

“Everyone envies you northwest people. I bridge for the southwest because I was born there-” he paused, “well, and because if it weren’t me they’d give it over to one of those shady crazy bastards from New Mexico. Let me tell you, the magick down there is… different.”

“I shall have to visit sometime.”

“Be happy to tour you. Just let me know.”

Alright, I thought to myself, my shoulders ratcheting down a notch. The oldest bridger had taken a liking to me – or at least had not taken a disliking to me. Perhaps this night wasn’t going to be so hard after all.

“So you’re water Fae, right?” Alex spoke up.

“Half,” I replied. The waitress was coming by with a few other appetizers to share – hummus and veggies, and something that looked vaguely falafel-ish. “Mother was water, father was tree.”

“Amelie is IFA-WNA’s very first non-muse,” Brenna chirped. I felt my cheeks go red. Brenna was on the older side, too – probably older than Peter, her hair salt-and-peppery, beige wings faded with time. She was pure tree Fae, actually, the only other individual at the table who was not a muse. “Very ambitious.”

“Ambitious indeed,” said Caleb. “Genuinely, we’re all glad you made it this far. We were worried you’d quit after the first meeting.”

“I had faith,” Peter scoffed. “I knew your grandmother during The Reveal. Strong stock. I have no doubts about you, youngling.”

My coloring deepened, and Cally tisked. “You’re making the girl blush.”

“I thought you’d all be more…” I failed to smother a nervous laugh, “formal.”

“Only with the humans,” Alex stuck his tongue out in the direction of the human bar patrons.

I had to cover my face with both hands to keep from roaring in laughter. Alex’s silly behavior contrasted sharply with his otherwise suave outer appearance and perfectly tailored suit. Not what I expected – so much better. I coughed the outburst away. “I hope you’re not setting me up to let loose and make a fool of myself later.”

If the legends are to be believed we muses are descended from the likes of Pan, Lugh, and Kokopelli,” Peter gazed skyward. “If we cannot be fools amongst ourselves then how are we to survive? I find the human need to put on airs cumbersome, and quite frankly, dumb.”


“I’ve been drinking, darling. Better words fail me.”

“You’ve been drinking root beer.”

“And yet that still qualifies as drinking,” Peter grinned.

Pretenses shattered, three hours passed by in a flash. By the time I was to leave I had an ache in my cheeks from laughter, and learned a great many things about my co-bridgers. Cally, for one, had a near-unhealthy obsession with tie-dying; Alex played the lute, and Peter enjoyed inspiring young athletes. Brenna, of course, loomed over the conversations as the grandmotherly one, and Caleb…

Caleb said nearly nothing. He sat back and watched, his mild-toned voice weaving in between the laughter, rarely sharing anything of himself. It seemed that the others noted the omission, yet chose to ignore it. I found it curious, in addition to being unhelpful. We were supposed to plan our trip down to Eugene, and by the end of the night I’d learned nothing about when he was leaving for Vancouver, or anything else about him for that matter.

At around midnight the group began to disperse. Peter was showing Brenna out while Cally and Alex were discussing some kind of official IFA thing. I closed my eyes, hopping into the air to catch a draft which flung me up on the barstool, a happy flip-flop in my stomach at the quickness of it. The tequila warmed my bones and the good company gave me its own unique buzz, one of acceptance. I could do this, it turned out. I could be one of them, even if I wasn’t really one of them.

It made sense to me in my slightly-altered state.

“Cute trick.” My eyes were still closed when Caleb spoke. I opened them only in response to the clatter of my receipt and a pen against the bar top. The IFA gladly paid for our appetizers, but we were responsible for any alcohol.

“Sure,” I said, catching my tongue between my teeth while I did the math on the bartender’s tip.

“We should arrange the trip to the Willamette.” I felt a brush of air when he fluttered up to the bar, landing delicately on the stool beside mine.

“Of course.” I handed the receipt over and swiveled the stool toward him, my moment of airborne bliss quietly tucked away so I could deal with him. “How long do you have down here?”

“As long as I need,” he cocked his head to the side, his sharp features casting the most interesting shadows over half of his face. “When would you like to leave?”

“Sooner is better. I’m expected in Austin next Tuesday.”

“Austin,” he nearly choked on the word, “they’re sending you to Texas?”

“I’m told that Austin isn’t really Texas.”

“I hope they’re sending you with someone else. Texas is…” He shook his head, and the darkness that swept over his features both frightened and intrigued me. “Our kind have some issues in Texas.”

“I’m not a child. I know what Texas has been like.” I hopped off and started walking outside. Winter in Portland meant rain, and indeed, it was drizzling outside. The sun had long set but the streets were still alive, hipsters and hippies all mixed up together. I waved to the other Fae as I passed them, intending to grab the MAX back to my apartment. Still he followed me.

“I wasn’t insulting you,” he said, two paces behind me.

I paused under the the eve of the house-like building. Pixie’s was in one of those very trendy neighborhoods that Portland was so famous for – a street full of downtown-type businesses with a residential look about it. I began the rather tedious task of putting on my rain jacket. Even though it was specially made for people with wings, it was still a chore just to get it hooked together.

“Here, let me help you with that,” he said charitably.

I just blinked at him.

“Or not,” he held up his hands innocently. “I’ll be ready to leave in the morning. Name the time.”

Buttons buttoned and wings situated through the wing-flap, I shoved my hands in my pockets. This was my favorite jacket – purple like the purple in my wings, a nice fabric that was water-repellent yet lightweight. I fit my form nicely, all modern and human-like. The perfect blending-in jacket. “If we’re taking the train we’ll need to check the schedule first.”

“I assumed you’d ride with me.”

My mouth dropped. Ride? On a motorcycle? “That’s quite an assumption.”

“You seemed interested.”

“Is that supposed to be a double entendre of some kind?”

There was that twitch of his lips again – not quite a smile. He hooked his thumbs through his belt loops and leaned against the wall, his face frozen in that look. “You know it’ll be fun. It’s even supposed to be halfway sunny tomorrow. It would be a waste to pass up riding weather in the middle of winter.”

I was getting tired, and it was late. He seemed determined to push the point of me joining him on his motorcycle contraption. Practical, business Amelie was telling herself that this was stupid idea. The train made a lot more sense – it would be more comfortable and afford the luxury of using a computer, which would provide both an opportunity for productivity and an additional opportunity to avoid excessive conversation. Moreover, I still didn’t know if he was some radical like Dy had suggested, and joining a radical on his motorcycle was surely the worst travel arrangements in the world. Even after spending an evening around him and his associates I knew perhaps less about him than I knew before.

“Pick me up at IFA HQ around eight.” What are you doing?! Practical, business Amelie shouted at me in my head. I turned away from him before he could reply and walked down the street toward the light rail stop, rain catching on my eyelashes. He did not follow me this time.

Dy was going to have a fit.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 4

Check out this page to view the previous installments of Fae and Folly. Happy reading! 🙂

Humans like to put shine on everything. They shine metal, bits of rocks, even wood – they apply a sheen to whatever they use, a little bit of sparkle. Most of us Fae have a thing for sparkle, but generally we reserve it for magick, wings, and makeup. We didn’t make our everyday items shiny. If I’d been sitting at a human conference table it would no doubt have that glossy look to it, but of course I wasn’t at a human meeting. This meeting was for Fae only.

I set my glass of water down on the decidedly matte block of wood, sanded down and preserved with the softest touch of life magick so that the wood maintained a mold-free healthy color. I resisted the urge to trace my fingers along the patterns in the table, stories of the tree’s life. There was something to be said of our predilection for keeping things in their natural form.

Around me there was chatter. Five people including myself showed up for this conference – Brenna, the IFA coordinator; Cally, the executive of the IFA Western North America Chapter (abbreviated IFA-WNA); Peter, representing the southwest; myself, with the Pacifica territory; and Alexander, with the near-west. Collette would be skyping in, as usual, and Caleb… was late.

Making an entrance, probably. I heard that Caleb was well-liked and nice enough for a muse, but I would imagine that like every other muse from an influential circle, he liked to make an impression.

I took another sip of my water, holding it out like a glassy shield . I wasn’t really thirsty, but it was a good way to keep my mouth busy while I stared out of the many windows in the conference room. There was a beautiful view of Portland, skyscrapers against a backdrop of hills, rivers snaking through the mundane art. Lovely. I wished that I could go outside, anything to escape the awkward pre-business sitting around ritual. After the initial overly cordial introductions the muses went back to talking amongst themselves, a veritable biological clique. The IFA was all about relationships, and I had yet to forge any within this particular group.

When the door crept open a hush rolled through the room. I held my water with both hands, peering over the rim with thinly veiled curiosity. He had finally arrived.  I recognized him almost immediately. Every Fae in the northwest – even those who were glade-obligated – had seen pictures of Caleb and his family. His black hair was fashionably unkempt, windswept in a devil-may-care style. Black eyes glittered under a terse brow, his skin strikingly pale. He had a thin, hawkish face, always searching, and wore a most peculiar getup – some kind of black leather analog jacket, boots and heavy gloves. I lingered on his odd choice of clothing only a moment before I was distracted by his wings.

The photos did not do his wings justice. They were like his hair and eyes – black, deep and dark, almost velvety. I’d never seen another Fae with black wings, but then he was a muse, and they were known for shocking wing colors. Impressive as they were, he treated them as if they were nothing special – they lay across his back, casual, like an afterthought.

I was certain he saw me gawking at them when he flashed a boyish grin and briefly stretched his wings, the Fae equivalent of a wink. I managed a dismissive snort in return.

It was no wonder that Caleb’s family was known for inspiring some of the most brilliant minds in Hollywood and industry for centuries. With his celestial (and highly heritable) appearance he put even the most intriguing-looking muses to shame. My father, who was a traditionalist among Fae, would have guessed that he was a direct descendent of Lugh I’m sure. I didn’t agree with Fae line about us being “the walking gods and goddesses,” but Caleb’s appearance by itself was a fair argument against atheism.

I sighed. I wouldn’t be fooled by all of that. He was a muse – a privileged muse. Nice or not, he would always be one of them.

“Caleb!” Peter, the eldest Fae in the room, rose to greet him. Peter had tan skin like a tree Fae, clashing with his once-blonde-now-graying hair and neon green wings. He reached out to clasp Caleb’s hand. “I was getting worried about you.”

Caleb tipped his head apologetically. “Bike trouble. Sorry about all that.”

Bike?” I blurted, surprising myself and everyone else. I pursed my lips, calling more attention to myself than I intended.

Caleb took his seat, which happened to be directly across the table from mine. “You say that as if you disapprove, Ms. Fletcher.”

Of course he knew my name. I cleared my throat, re-obtaining my composure. “With wings like those I assumed you would prefer flight to pedaling.”

“Motorcycling, actually. It’s a great deal like flying and far less tiring,” he smiled, “you should try it sometime.”

“How…?” I blinked. Motorcycling, out with all the cars right in the trail of their fumes? And was he implying that he’d rode all the way to Portland from British Columbia? Even if it was an electric it had to be painful.

“Extensive environmental PPE,” he answered. “I have an extra set.”

“Of course you do.” It probably cost more than I’d ever made in my life.

“Now that Caleb is here we can get down to real business,” Cally interrupted, walking up to the head of the table near the projector and whiteboard. Her red-and-gold wings fluttered anxiously. She tapped on the television-sized touchscreen behind her and Collette’s image – a dark-skinned muse with dreadlocks and orange mottled wings flashed on the screen. “Can you hear us down there Collette?”

“No problems,” Collette smiled thinly, “good morning everyone.”

The room murmured with ‘good mornings’ all around.

“Before we begin we’d like to officially welcome Amelie to her first regional conference,” Cally smiled and clapped, which caused everyone else to join in, including Caleb who was looking right at me.

I waved a hand to stop them. “It’s great to be here,” I said in my best neutral voice. “I look forward to getting to know all of you better.”

“I’m sure you do.” I didn’t appreciate the glint in Caleb’s eyes. He knew damned well how closed the muse community was, and he was mocking me for it.

I just smiled.

“Yes,” Cally said, already distracted. She motioned widely with her arm. “If all of you would just pull up the agenda we can get started.”

There was a rustling of bags while each of us pulled out our tablets – glass and wood tablets, specially made. They were expensive, too, but luckily it was the IFA who picked up the cost. I’d heard that Caleb and his family were substantial benefactors to the IFA-WNA pool of funds. Finally meeting him with his fancy motorcycle gear gave me a better picture of how the IFA came to afford the things it procured for us. He probably had some line on an R&D facility at one of the big corporations.


I passed a finger over the agenda, skimming it with bored familiarity. I’d read it at least a dozen times the day before while Dy made comical attempts to get ahold of it. There were four major items –

GENERAL BUSINESS: Welcoming Amelie, the new rep from the Pacifica territory. Budget update and personal expenditures (Cally). Scheduling the next IFA budget committee meeting.
EDUCATION: Updates from the Department of Education curriculum meeting (Peter and Collette). Lobbying efforts in the Republican caucus (Brenna and Caleb).
FAE RELATIONS: Updates from individual glades (all). Infrastructure and education progress (Caleb and Alex).
ENERGY: Chicago Renewable-Rail meeting (Amelie). Petroleum and the Northwest – new initiative (Caleb). Lobbying the coal lobby (Peter, Alex, and Collette).

I suppressed a sigh. So much to go through before I would have anything particular to say. I’d been honored to replace Gregory, the muse who came before me from the Pacifica region. His name was well-known (and mostly hated) in the energy community, and as the most important item on the IFA agenda, it was a privilege to represent. In all honesty, though, I was better-suited for the education initiatives given my activist history.

Sadly none of that mattered. I would be a fool to give up the energy piece – it put the Northwest in a powerful position amongst the Fae nationally and internationally. We needed that.

I tried to listen to everything that the others were saying as we went through the agenda, all the while running over what I was going to say in my head. It hadn’t gone poorly, certainly, but I didn’t feel like I’d made any headway. I was still just trying to keep up with Gregory’s shadow.

After much discussion, only a fraction of which I had anything to do with, it was my turn.

“Alright Amelie,” Cally leaned back in her chair, tapping her stylus to her lips. “Would you start us off with the energy section?”

“Absolutely,” I said, more confident than I felt. I flipped my tablet to the page of notes I’d made. “So last week I attended one of the ongoing meetings regarding the renewable-rail initiative to reduce semi hauling. Present at the meeting were myself, Senator Buckley, Senator Reynolds, House Member Ashad,  as well as representatives from Steadfast Rail, Exxon, and Iberdrola,” just listing those people made my heart beat a little faster. The people I’d met with weren’t the biggest hitters in this discussion, but they were several heads higher than the people I worked with as a piss-poor activist in the textbook years. “The meeting, of course, focused on cost. The house budget committee and energy and commerce committee aren’t on the same page with us. We’ve made progress with charging stations throughout major metro areas, and they’ve agreed to expand rail cargo in general, but we’re getting resistance with making those system renewable and with getting the requisite number of trucks off the road.”

“How much of a reduction would we get with the current plan?” Alex asked, a middle-aged Fae with light brown hair who leaned over the table on his elbows.

My mouth was dry. “Fifteen percent, give or take.”

A soft collective groan sounded around the table. I jerked when Collette tapped something on her desk, the sound amplified through the speaker system.

“Fifteen is better than none,” Collette said in an admonishing tone. “It’s better than we have now.”

“Fifteen percent is a boon to the traffic problem, sure,” Peter spoke up from beside me, “I doubt it does much for emissions.”

“If we made the upgrades they’re willing to make they say it will reduce by…” I thumbed through my research, provided by some scrappy human interns who worked on our side. “About 5% of the emissions from all major land cargo transport.”

I paused and waited for judgment, but none came. The muses just looked at me, like they expected more.

I swallowed. “Again, the main sticking point here is the cost, at almost one trillion to get cargo and human transport to 50% emissions by-”

“I hope you weren’t using that number,” Caleb arched an eyebrow.

My mouth snapped shut. I regarded him skeptically. “It’s the number I have to work with.”

“That’s Exxon’s number, not ours. With Fae assistance using nature magick we could reduce costs by a quarter. That’s your bargaining position.”

“My notes-”

“If you’d asked one of us, we could have told you. Obviously someone thought you knew,” he hesitated, “but then you’re new to this group.”

I wished for a ticking clock to break up the ominous silence. He was baiting me – so much for the kind and amiable Caleb that everyone spoke of. I felt my face flush. “Well, that will be something for me to remember, then, won’t it? Perhaps I should have you go over my notes before I go into the next meeting.”

Caleb shrugged, and his face didn’t change from the relatively pleasant half-smile he’d walked in with. “I just thought you should be aware. You no doubt gave up ground with the senate and house by using those numbers.”

“They did agree to the 5%, which is a start. The next meeting is in a month and I have some ideas about presenting the costs in a better long-term projection. We need to think fiscal, not environmental, if we want to convince the humans on this one.”

“Perhaps they’re just uninspired.”

Hotter. My face was on fire. “Are you saying that the meeting was a failure because I’m not a muse?”

“I’m sure that’s not what Caleb was saying,” Cally said patiently. Caleb had locked eyes with me and showed no signs of letting up, even with Cally’s interjection. “Was there anything else from that meeting, Amelie?”

“Yes, actually,” I said pointedly, snapping my gaze back up to Cally. “I got the card of a young woman from an algal-diesel production in Kansas. She’s interested in talking with the IFA about getting some tree Fae in on the action. Exxon has apparently been very concerned with the scale of what they’re doing, which can only be a good thing for us. I’ll forward everyone her information presently.”

“I’ll have Collette get some of her people on it,” Cally said, nodding back at the skype screen. “Now, as for Caleb, we have some updates on the biodegradable plastic work we’ve been doing…”

Her voice was drowned out by the ringing in my ears. I watched Caleb as he talked with his calm, cool composure. Whatever he said to me, he was going to a lot of trouble to make it not look personal. It certainly felt personal. If muse magick could have fixed our Fade problem, it would have by now. The muses were so wrapped up in the crisis that you would think that they had something to do with causing it – and maybe they had. Muses liked money, and oil certainly appeared to pay, even if it did make us itchy and infertile.

“…I think that you may do well to work with Amelie on that.”

I was startled out of my thoughts by the sound of my name. I hadn’t been listening closely enough to know what Cally could possibly be talking about. “What’s that?” I stuttered.

“The plastic problem. Since Caleb is in town I thought you might be able to take him through the Willamette Glade.”

She was talking about the glade just outside of Eugene where some of the best tree Fae – including my grandmother – lived. Tree Fae were proving quite important in the renewables discussion since they had the magick to make things grow larger, faster, and more abundantly. Unfortunately they were also some of the most sensitive to the Fade, and as such spent a lot of time in near-earth.

Of course, being half a tree Fae and connected to one of the greatest tree Fae glades in the world, I had reasons to be included in the conversation. What I didn’t particularly want was to partner with another muse so soon after showing up. I hadn’t even proven myself – had done quite the opposite, in fact.

Sigh. “Happy to,” I replied cheerfully.

“Wonderful,” Caleb nodded at me casually, the same casual way he draped his exquisite wings down his back. “We’ll talk at the mixer.”

Well, there went my week. I had been planning to use some extra time to visit the gorge, but work came first, no matter how uncomfortable it would be. The ride from Portland to Eugene was long regardless of which method of transportation was used, meaning I would have to spend a chunk of actual time with Caleb.

I smiled, lips pressed together.

“Great,” said Cally, oblivious to our interplay. “I’ll let the two of you arrange that. Now, as for the coal…”