Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 9

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When I first became a bridger I have to admit that the prestige was part of the decision. Bridgers that I’d met – and certainly the stories I’d read about Caleb – made them out to be these elusive fixers. They got things done, talked with some of the most powerful people in the world (Fae and Human alike), and traveled all over the place to get things done.

Elements of that were present in the work, of course, but nothing prepared me for how tiresome phonecalls could be. I didn’t mind talking to people in person, but calling a person on the phone seemed like such an intrusion into their privacy, and took away all opportunity to gauge facial expressions. Skype helped with this, but most major news media places shied away from skype calls. Probably something about not wanting to be recorded while they were doing whatever they were doing.

I could have cried when the deluge of phone calls, emails, and internet research finally, mercifully came to a conclusion. It was 5 pm pacific time, which meant that most of the offices around the west coast were closing and it certainly meant that the east close was ending their day. We’d established early in the day that Caleb, Landsong and I would take the day shift for the western bridgers; Peter and Alex were slated to take over any new emergencies after us. It was one thing after another – this outlet talking about the Fae as victims, this other one nearly uttering the word “terrorist” in the same breath as our people. To our knowledge the terrorist label was mainly being applied in the blogosphere, a sector of the media we had very little control over. The television outlets were complying with our desperate requests to keep the tone neutral – for the moment.

I knew it was going to get worse, though. After the initial gratuitous shots of the burning buildings and families of those who died they would have to move on to making new tragedies; likely of a religious nature. I was certain that the next group of speakers on the media’s list consisted of reverends and pastors, a group we historically clashed with on a regular basis. There weren’t many large blocks of strongly religious people who were strictly comfortable with the idea of the Fae. Most of us still saw ourselves as demigods, a direct contradiction of the many monotheists on the earth. This belief my people held was really a two-fold disadvantage; we angered both the religious and the non-religious or scientific community with our “magick.” I tended to side with the scientists, who insisted on a mundane explanation for our extraordinary feats.

As I’ve said before, I’m not much like the other Fae.

I was about to jump off of the council chamber porch to glide to the ground when I paused. Caleb was following me out of the hut, just as stiff and bleary-eyed as I was. It was already getting dark, which suited me fine truth be told. The nip of the cold on my skin and the sight of the stars above – almost totally untouched by city glow this far out of town – felt like freedom to me. They didn’t name me Starhunter without cause.

Caleb shrugged into his jacket, hands in his pockets. “Don’t stop just for me.”

“I can walk down-“

“I’m still Fae,” he raised an eyebrow, “if it didn’t hurt so damned much I’d do the same thing. Just go.”

I clamped my mouth shut, and knew instantly that if I stayed and walked down with him he’d be perhaps more irritable than he already was. I nodded, turned back to the edge, and leaped off.

No matter how many times I’d done it, I never got rid of the heart-stop-in-the-throat feeling of free fall, and I’d never want to. I held out my hand in front of me, the gold shimmers turning to silver in the night. I grinned, blissfully dizzy on the high of flight, and canted my wings just so to bring myself up, whipping my body in a u-shape a few feet off the ground. I closed my eyes, my wings easily keeping me airborne and upright. The new cold from the fall made me shiver; it was getting downright frigid.

Most of the tree Fae had gone inside for the night. Tree Fae were of a sun aspect, and tended to avoid the night when they could. Me, though, with my half-water Fae tendencies, was just as happy in the dark as I was in the light. Muses were like that too, from what I knew of Dyana – she was pretty adaptable, though I tended to get the feeling that she liked the night more than the day. That might have just been her though.

The Fae lights on the edges of the bridge gave off just illumination for me to see Caleb’s face, his lips twitching in a new smile. He’s checking me out?

I shook my head. Probably just the light.

I swooped upwards before dropping down beside him, letting loose a contented sigh.

“Feel better?” He asked softly, continuing his stroll like nothing happened.

“Much,” I rubbed my arms, coaxing the warmth through the fabric. “My grandmother’s place is through these trees, here. You’re welcome to join me. I’m sure she has food ready.”

I almost winced after I said it. Inviting him to Nan’s home seemed to somehow breach that personal gap I’d been trying to maintain with him – though I supposed that the gap had been crossed back when I spent the morning hugging his backside to maintain balance on his motorcycle.

Though, to his credit, he seemed to notice that crossing of boundaries with the way his half-smile disappeared. “I assumed I would meet you again in the morning to conduct our original business.”

“Original…? Oh, yes. The tree Fae tour and all that. Renewable energy.”

“Indeed.”

“Like I said, it’s up to you.”

He was still walking beside me, even with his lips in a tight line on his face, considering.

“What would you do alone, anyway?” I began thinking out loud, and once I started I saw no point in stopping. “Something tells me that you’re the brooding kind of Fae.”

“You have many opinions about me for someone I met just yesterday.”

“You mean to say my opinions are incorrect?”

“Some of them, perhaps.”

“So brooding it is,” I chuckled.

At that I finally got another smile. “I’ll go with you if that is what you like, Ms. Fletcher.”

“It’s Ms. Fletcher again.”

“Extenuating circumstances robbed me of my better judgment. It was always Ms. Fletcher.”

“Does that mean I should have been calling you Mr. McLain this whole time?”

His wings shivered, and his expression went unreadable. We were nearing my grandmother’s hut, just two more bridges over. A stray water nymph waved at me – one of the older nymphs who had taught me to manage wings underwater – and I waved back, over Caleb’s shoulder. Her blue-green hair and see-through wings were stunning in the evening light, her skin pale with just a tint of gray. I could spend weeks just visiting all the people I knew in this glade.

“Caleb is fine,” he said mildly, briefly following my gaze to the nymph I’d been waving at.

“Likewise, Amelie would be fine. We’re supposed to be colleagues.”

“As you like it.”

“I thought we were moving past that thing where I give you a chance to share your thoughts and you just brush it off.”

“I think that some leniency might be in order, don’t you?”

The darkness in his eyes cut me right in my center. Perhaps. I didn’t like to think about it – 241 people had died, by the last count. The Elementals had taken responsibility for it, and taken it gladly. They had no shame.

I still couldn’t believe that Fae could be responsible for that kind of loss of life. By virtue of existing we are forced to kill – plants, bugs, the occasional unruly creature that threatens us, but killing for the sake of doing so, to prove a point

It didn’t make sense to me. I spent the entire afternoon trying to cover it, and I still couldn’t quite grasp the concept myself. Part of me didn’t want to, anyway; if I came to understand it then it would mean seeing the world in a new way, and I wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

Light licked out from underneath Nan’s elaborate tapestry when we reached her door. Her hut was one of the odd ones, built originally with one room but later expanded to three, the extra rooms connected by magick-linked vines which might have been part of the tree structure. I smirked to myself, noting the rickshaw construction. I was convinced that when Nan passed on to the fifth earth her home would fall apart. Only she could keep this structure contiguous.

“You hungry, Star?” my grandmother asked. Even with the tapestry closed she must have seen the shadows of our feet. She was observant like that. Caleb startled at her apparent clairvoyance.

“A bit. I brought Caleb along, if that’s alright.”

“Sure it is!” I could hear the wooden scrape of plates as she pulled them down from her shelves.

Nan’s home was almost as familiar to me as the nymph grotto I grew up in, with its various nick-knacks, tapestries, and natural implements hanging from the ceiling. The shell windchimes tinkled out entry, singing in my head – home, safety, warmth.

The room was crowded with Nan’s possession around a circular center table, overflowing with enough nutcakes, blackberry jam, and wood berries to feed half the glade. My face flushed with anticipation. She made all my favorites.

Nan turned around, kettle in hand to make tea. “Jasmine?” she asked me, as if she expected me to object. She knew I wouldn’t.

“I’d love some,” I told her.

“Caleb, do you like jasmine tea?”

“Jasmine would be fine, thank you,” Caleb said smoothly.

I sat down at the table, obliging myself to one of the nutcakes. The taste of hazelnuts and cinnamon was absolutely luscious, and I was starving after spending so much time working the phones. The Fae of the glade could complain all they wanted about human societies and their unnatural dissemination of produce and spices – cinnamon was a living being’s right as far as I was concerned.

Caleb sat beside me, his movements clipped and ill at ease in Nan’s house. Nan was so casual that it was beyond me to imagine anyone being proper in her home.

“Do you like nutcakes?” I asked, too tired to keep myself from adding, “or is that too personal to share?”

As if to spite me, he reached for one of the glistening confections with one eye on me and took a bite so large as to border on rude. I leaned back in my chair with the most skeptical look on my face that I could muster. Every so often he showed that glimmer of being down to earth – and damned if it wasn’t awfully attractive on him.

“Did you figure things out?” Nan asked mildly. She set a mug down for each of us and poured the water in, the scent of fresh jasmine instantly relaxing my muscles.

“I don’t know about that,” I breathed. “Things… aren’t looking good right now.”

“It’s messier than anyone in the IFA would like,” Caleb added. “It may be the worst incident we’ve had, but we’ll get through it. I’m sure of it.”

“What happened?” Nan asked, sitting down at the table. Her earthy brown eyes were wide and concerned. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d expressed an interest in the political happenings outside the glade.

“Some Elementals in Birmingham decided to protest the recent encroachment on their glade by destroying the company headquarters of the construction firm. Lots of people… died.”

Nan’s gaze fell. “It’s been a long time since so many Fae fell tainted.”

“I wouldn’t assume they were tainted,” Caleb said over the rim of his cup.

The statement jostled me so badly that I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made me so surprised. It seemed wholly incongruous to say such a thing. “…what?” I managed to choke out.

“Tainted is a spiritual term. I simply don’t think we need to seek a spiritual answer to a rational question.”

“There’s nothing rational about what happened,” I snapped, and even I was a bit uncertain about defending what he rightly called a spiritual assessment. Nan raised her eyebrows. “If they weren’t tainted then you’re arguing that they had good reasons for what they did.”

“I didn’t say the reasons were good or right.” Caleb cleared his throat, tipping his head in deference to Nan. “I don’t mean to cause a dispute at your dinner table. You are terribly kind to open your home to me and I’m afraid I’ve spoiled that kindness.”

Something about the way he said it made it feel like I had caused him to spoil the kindness, making it in fact my fault. His words didn’t say it, but it was an attitude thing – or maybe I was imagining it. Whatever it was, it sucked the attractiveness right out of him, leaving me with that uneasy feeling I’d had about him since he walked into the conference yesterday.

“I am just glad that the two of you are working on the situation,” Nan took a nutcake for herself, spreading it with jam. “If you’re anything like Starhunter I know you’ll find a solution.”

Caleb flashed a hesitant smile. “All the same, I should probably go.”

“No, no,” Nan waved a hand, “you haven’t even finished your tea. I was just going out to meet Rosedancer. We neglected one of the nurseries this morning with all the activity.” She fluttered up into the air. I often marveled at Nan and her agility – she moved with the grace of a Fae much younger than I knew she was. She was remarkable that way. “I want it to look nice for you in the morning. I’ll be right back.”

Before I could protest she had zoomed out the door. I narrowed my eyes at her path. She was leaving me alone with him – deliberately.

Oh, Nan, you’re such a matchmaker. If only her matchmaking was more attuned to my match preferences.

“Your grandmother is lovely,” he said in a way that was genuine – as genuine as anything I’d ever heard from him.

“She is.”

I let the silence run long, hoping that he would suffer for it. I was just a bit disappointed at how he appeared more amused than disgruntled for my efforts. The amusement he showed was just the slightest flicker of his eyes; almost impossible to perceive.

“You’re angry with me,” he finally broke the silence.

“You could have just agreed that what they did was terrible,” my defensive posture was clanging to my own ears. I was tired. I shouldn’t have been arguing with anyone in my state.

“Loss of life is always regrettable. I would never mean to imply that it isn’t.”

“And still you won’t blatantly state that they were wrong.”

“The world is a lot more than right and wrong right now. We’re just here to deal with the reality of keeping up an image – that’s our job. Judging the actions of others isn’t a part of that.”

“I’m not talking to you as a bridger. Don’t you have personal feelings about anything?”

His shoulders inched subtly closer to his ears, and his mouth failed to move. He had nothing to say. I had… offended him?

I blew out a breath and closed my eyes, which stung with the pain of too many hours spent pouring over news reports and blog posts. “I don’t know why all of this had to happen here, with you.”

The sound of him rising from the table grated on my ears. He took another sip of the tea before turning his back.

Part of me wanted to tell him to go – that he was just annoying me at this point, and I never should have invited him in the first place. The other part – I assume the part that invited him here – was causing a most unpleasant stabbing feeling in my chest.

“Wait-” I started.

“Good evening to you, Ms. Fletcher.”

“It’s Amelie.”

“Clearly not.” He never even turned around to look at me.

I took solace in the fact that I didn’t spring up to grab him, even though that stabby part of my brain (or humans might say, my heart) wanted to do it. It made no sense.

What he’d said about the Elementals was odd, just as odd as everything else he did. How on earth did he get his reputation? I shook my head. There was too much going on here.

“I…” Don’t tell him you’re sorry. You have nothing to be sorry for. He should have just agreed that the other Fae were tainted. He probably is one of those radicals, and you want nothing to- “I’m sorry if I’m the reason you’re leaving.”

At times like these, I wished that I would listen to myself. Even as I said it the apology felt thick and unwelcome in my throat.

There was a hitch in his step, and even through his jacket I could see the wing muscles in his back clench. My own muscles twinged in sympathy when he braced himself with one hand on the wall. His head bowed.

I blinked. My mouth dropped, and my heart thumped irregularly in my chest. No wonder he’s not thinking clearly. Who would? I scrambled up from the table towards him. “Caleb-”

Nan nearly bowled him over when she came through the tapestry. He stumbled briefly enough that only I would notice, dodging out of her way. He stood straight, for all it might have cost him.

“You’re leaving so soon? I was hoping to get to know you.” Nan puzzled.

“I would love to stay, but I have a few more phonecalls to make,” he cleared his throat, “I look forward to talking with you tomorrow.”

With that he left, his boots clopping across the wooden boards and over the bridge. I was frozen in place, one hand on the table. Nan turned her gaze on me.

“You two were having a spat, I’m guessing?” she asked.

“I’m not courting him, grandmother,” I rubbed my temples, feeling the tension all through my neck and my back. “This whole thing is a mess. No one is thinking things through right now. This afternoon was bad… we spent so much time just trying to hold back the waters. I don’t even know what our role is tomorrow, or next week, in Austin…”

Her thin, cool fingers brushed my arm. I swallowed, looking up at her. “Star, I can’t help but think that you and that boy should stick together in times like these. People like you are special. Something must make him special, too.”

“You’re focusing on him when the real problem-”

“Are you going to try to tell me that the explosion is the ‘real problem?’” she cocked her head to the side, “there’s something about him, isn’t there?”

“I think he might be a very bad person, Nan. That’s the ‘thing’ about him. I don’t know who to trust right now. Dyana somehow knew this was coming, and she thinks… maybe Caleb knew even better.”

“Maybe you should tell him that.”

“Nan-”

“Didn’t I try to teach you to say what you’re thinking?” the glint in her eyes was full of Fae mischief, the same glint she wore when she hassled the nymphs and played tricks on the humans. “It gets me in trouble, but I always say what I think.”

My mouth clamped shut, my thoughts spinning.

“I’ll save you a snack for when you get back.” She withdrew her touch and put a lid on the blackberry jam, a hint of sass in her step.

Perhaps Nan and I have a few too many things in common, I thought as I fluttered through her doorway back into the night.

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A silly post: It’s not my fault, really.

Note: the “I” in this post is me – the blog writer – rather than Amelie. *not a Fae and Folly scene* …sigh.

“Hey muse!” I sit down at the table with a bowl of freshly-cut yellow watermelon from the farmer’s market, all glistening and summer-wonderful. Clad in my self-dyed sarong with my hair tied back in a bandana, I look the picture of an exhausted hippie waif. “So, I’ve got two hours before I have to go to sleep and wake up to do my job, which I’m really not liking at the moment. Seems like now would be a great time to work on some Fae and Folly, don’t you think?”

The Inconvenient Muse smiles in her enigmatic way, taking the fruit in hand without consuming it. She scrutinizes it as she might look over my request in writing. “No, I don’t think so. Not tonight.”

“I’m really liking this faerie idea-“

“How about the last scene of your third novel instead?”

“Muse, we’ve been over this. I’m still working on book two. I’d prefer some Fae and Folly, but if you want to work on Forsaken Lands 2…

“I think it’s book three time.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, Muse. This isn’t funny.”

She bites the watermelon, licking the sweet juices from her lips. In her sunfire eyes I see that she has again found my request lacking. “If you don’t write it down now I’ll never give you this idea ever again.”

“Muse!”

“You came to me for help.”

Welcome to my evening.

Suicide is (not) Painless

This is probably a giant bandwagon that I am getting on here. With the recent devastating loss of Robin Williams – one of many great artists to fall to suicide (I should say presumed suicide, since they are still examining the evidence to this point) – came a slew of facebook and twitter posts about the national suicide hotline and depression/mental health awareness. There are thousands of people out there talking about this issue right now, probably saying many of the things I’m about to say.

I don’t mind being one voice among many on a topic for which there are never enough voices.

At once it seems strange that there aren’t enough voices – it seems like there should be plenty, just based on my own personal experiences. I was introduced to the idea of suicide when I was quite young – probably five or six, due to some interactions with a habitually suicidal family member. I saw the anguish that this person went through, and experienced my own every time they said they were thinking of taking their own life.

I remember the day I learned that one of my classmates killed himself – we were fourteen at the time. I remember my friends from high school who lived in horrible situations where they frequently thought of suicide, cut themselves, called me in the middle of the night in tears saying that they just couldn’t take the pain anymore. As an adult in healthcare I’ve seen many people who were contemplating or had attempted suicide, and witnessed one death by suicide – the person who died surrounded by weeping friends and family. I didn’t know this person and never got to talk to them, yet I stood outside their room and cried, wondering what must have gone through their head the moment before the gun went off. Did they think their family was better off without them? Was the pain of breathing so great that one more breath would have been too much?

Would it have helped even a little if I’d met this person a day before and somewhere else?

Perhaps I grew up in a particularly bad place for suicidality – perhaps I just happen to attract people to my life with this particular experience. Certainly as a healthcare professional I willingly expose myself to it, and hope that I can make some small difference in my clinical role. It seems to me that more people should be speaking out about this topic, and more should be understanding when a stranger, friend, colleague has the courage to speak up and say, ‘I’m depressed, I need help.’

Sadly it seems that our world does not respond well to these cries. If you look around the internet for a minute you’ll see strangers posting into the ether asking for help, met by other strangers internet-shouting to ‘get over it!’ or calling these people selfish, worthless, failures. I first encountered this in real life during my early pre-med years while volunteering in an ER with some other pre-meds. One of my patients was a woman who had attempted suicide. My pre-med colleague was also on the case, and she said some things I’ll never forget.

“I don’t understand why they don’t call the police,” she said disdainfully, her eyes narrowed with what I can only describe as disgust. “That woman should be in jail.”

Never in my life had it occurred to me that the reaction to ‘this person was so distraught that they saw no alternative but to slit their own wrists’ would be one of disgust and punishment. Naiive little me, I suppose, I fought back with my words, demanded that she see how this was not a moral failing or a matter of choice – attempting or completing suicide is the endpoint of an awful series of events, and if the person who has done it thought there was any other way, they would have chosen it. We are hardwired to live. Taking our own life means that something has gone seriously wrong.

I call this post “Suicide is (not) Painless” because I know – quite intimately – that it isn’t. Suicide is the ultimate culmination of years of hideous pain; when it is completed that pain ripples out to dozens and maybe hundreds of people. In cases where the people driven to take their own lives are great artists who brought us joy and wonder, this pain is amplified to thousands. Nothing about suicide is painless – and nothing about it should be shameful, either, even though we as a society have made it out to be.

If you need help, please ask for it from people you know will be sympathetic – close friends, a therapist, a doctor, the national suicide hotline if you’re in a pinch (1-800-273-TALK) or the boys town national hotline if you’re a teen in trouble (1-800-448-3000). You are not bad, wrong, or selfish. The pain is real.

Thanks for the laughs, Robin Williams. I hope you find joy somewhere out there.

Wattpad – Because it’s Pretty

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http://w.tt/1owiq8U

Alright. All you’ve heard from me is Faerie-this and wings-that for a while – if you’re still wondering why I’ve gone so far into the world of glitter and magick I would point you in the direction of this post. I’m on week 6 of Internal Medicine crazy times, with only 2 weeks left. Two weeks left, people! I cannot describe to you how much I’m looking forward to my first weekend off. It’s… it’s like…

See, I can’t do it. It’s probably all the sleep deprivation sapping away my language centers. Anyway.

In an effort to make Fae and Folly more cohesive, I had the stroke of brilliance to add it to a place called Wattpad. If you haven’t heard of it yet (and I’d be surprised if you haven’t – it’s kind of a big deal), it is a website for sharing free stories with people around the world. Many of the stories on Wattpad are serial in nature; some are by big-name authors you’ve heard of, but most are just regular folks trying to share the written word. What’s cool is that it’s easy to access and totally free, which I’m always happy to support. Adding F&F to Wattpad also gave me an excuse to cobble together a little “cover” for Fae and Folly, seen above. Not so bad for a hippie doctor chick with very little graphic design experience, if I do say so myself (and I do).

Forsaken Lands 2 is going perhaps slower than it was at the beginning of this 8-week internal med stint, and I truly feel sad about that. I’ve had some awesome inspiration for Les’s scenes lately but none of the energy/focus I need to actually produce anything of merit – hopefully that will change here shortly as I transition into a more humane schedule with weekends. Seriously. Weekends are amazing. I miss them so much.

Did I mention that fatigue causes me to have very loose associations? Mm, yes – well, it does. I should probably stop talking now. 😉 If you haven’t checked out Wattpad yet, I encourage you to follow the link and see what it’s all about! …that and check out Fae and Folly. It’s quite adorable.

See you on the other side, folks.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 8

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7


The second I passed the veil into the glade the world around me changed. There was this subtle shift, and the wind turned clockwise – even deep in foliage I could feel the world open up… and breathe. The worries running through my head – fear for what awaited us on the internet, concerns about my trip to Austin, Caleb’s impassive expression of what I could only assume was masked pain behind me – all of it was gone, just for a second.

A Fae glade is enchanted in a very particular way. The energy around it is bound with magick long forgotten by the ancients from whom we descended. The sphere that contains the glade has been called the veil because of the slight shimmer that is left behind moving objects within its field. The tiny bit of gold sparkle accounted for some of the Human stories I’d heard about walking in the woods and becoming distracted by something twinkly which appears and disappears so quickly that it’s written off as a trick of the light. Of course, it was never an illusion; humans have long preferred to believe in the mundane rather than take a chance on believing in the extraordinary.

Before passing the veil I could see no one, just the thick of the forest and something lake-like off in the distance. Suddenly it blossomed, and I asked myself again why I choose to live in the mundane world at all. The glade’s inhabitants were mostly tree Fae, mixed in with nymphs and the occasional leprechaun, species of Fae who only vaguely resembled the human form in comparison. The central lake itself was built up with houses for the water nymphs, while the treetops were connected by a complex series of huts and bridges making up the tribe’s home. The forest floor was the domain of cooks, makers and, of course, the ground-critters, under the command of the Leprechauns.

There was so much to take in that if pressed I would find it hard to describe to a human who had never been within a glade. It was simply life – bubbling and authentic.

My feet touched down on enchantment-soft grass. Caleb lit on the ground beside me, almost completely silent. The moment of peace I’d experienced was gone with a gripping sensation in my throat.

Caleb was a masterful flier, perfect in every stroke. It was as if he became the wind on a glide, his wings the softest I’d heard. It tugged at my theoretical soul-pieces to know that his time in the air was limited, and getting shorter every day.

Then again, that was true for all of us. A rather morbid thought.

“It’s nice,” Caleb said on half a groan, rolling his shoulders.

“Are you-”

“I’m fine,” he glanced at me sharply, and I regretted even thinking of asking. “We’ll need to find-”

“Ah! Starhunter, I’m so happy you made it,” I heard my grandmother’s voice only a second before she appeared seemingly out of nowhere to wrap her arms around me. I smiled, breathing in her scent – she always smelled of lavender, and I never could figure out how she managed that.

I pulled away from the hug and smiled at her, tugging at my jean jacket. We were mirrors of each other in skin and hair coloring, both nut-brown with an auburn mane, yet she stood barefoot in the forest, clad in natural fabrics dyed red with rhubarb. Her long, wide-cuffed robe was traditional for the older Fae in the winter (we tended towards minimal coverings in the warm months).

She looked over me ruefully, her lips pursed in a thin line. For 112 years old, she looked a human’s 50 or 60 years, her skin still fresh and mostly-smooth. “I was so worried for you after I heard the news.”

“It’s only been an hour,” I said insistently, always the youngling in her presence. I cleared my throat, “Nan, I’d like you to meet Caleb McLain, one of my fellow bridgers. Caleb, this is my grandmother, Blackthorn.”

Caleb smiled for her – a genuine, wide smile, the likes of which I’d rarely seen on him to this point – and gave the traditional Fae symbol of greeting, two fingers swept across the air in front of him, which in the veil left a trail of gold glitter in its wake. “Lovely to meet you, Blackthorn.”

I wondered, incidentally, at what his Fae name might have been. I knew his father was Blackwing, which seemed rather obvious, but Caleb himself had never gone by his Fae name in public. It was something he kept private, it seemed. Curious.

My grandmother also smiled, but in that subtle way that told me she was thinking something about him, whether for good or ill I could never tell. Nan was awfully difficult to read at times. She returned the gesture. “Is this your first time in the Willamette, Caleb?”

“Yes it is. I wish it was under more pleasant circumstances.”

“Of course you’d like to see Landsong,” my grandmother took the hint gracefully, motioning us to follow her. “He’s in the council room waiting for you.”

She spread her wings, mottled green and brown with hints of gold, and took off into the trees with her customary grace. Tree Fae had much shorter wingspans to facilitate ducking in between the branches – something I did not inherit and wished I had many times as a youngling.

As if to prove a point, Caleb launched into the air before I even bent to get a good jump. I couldn’t help but pause, marveling at the beauty of those black wings trailing bits of gold with each soundless flap…

Get ahold of yourself, Fae-girl. Tearing my gaze away, I, too, followed them amidst the branches and the rope bridges.

Each face that turned up to see us was a face I recognized. With our long lifespans – 200 human years on average – Fae populations remained relatively stagnant. Fae rarely moved between tribes given the important-but-subtle cultural differences, and our population stuck around much longer. With the recent tide of infertility sweeping Fae society we had very few new births per year. Our numbers, which were never even close to as large as the human population, were dwindling with each failed mating cycle.

Depressing thoughts of our impending doom aside, seeing familiar faces again was nice, even comforting in spite of it all.

The council room was situated high atop the tallest fir tree. The Fae dwellings in the trees were circular, hut-like structures, each of them older than the oldest Fae in the tribe and reinforced with bits of magick to keep them strong in the face of Oregon rain. I filed in behind Caleb and Nan on the landing platform, the door to the council room covered by a simple cloth dyed in a pleasing combination of colors, similar to human tie-dye. The roof of this particular building was covered by solar panels, an addition made in the last twenty years or so. Nan whistled before pulling open the tapestry to let us in.

The inside of the council chamber was unusual, to be certain. It was about the size of my living room and kitchen combined, a sort of meeting and working area. There were comfortable seating arrangements in a circle on top of a beautifully woven multi-colored rug, all made of the best natural materials – everything in the room evoked nature with the notable exception of the outlets along the walls and the cabinet stacked with laptops, data cables, and a projector.

In the center of the room, half-lying on a loveseat with one leg hanging off the end and his robe halfway slipped off his shoulder, was Landsong. When I knew him as a youngling he had dark, thick chestnut hair; bits of gray now showed through the long beaded braids. His forest-green wings spilled over his shoulders and the couch, his tan skin creased with wrinkles that were new in the last few years. His brow was drawn in concern over warm brown eyes which would normally be alive with laughter.

Much like the misplaced technology in the otherwise primitive hut, the cell phone in Landsong’s hand stood out amongst his otherwise traditional Fae garb.

“Yes, I understand-“ he waved us into the seating opposite him. I began removing my shoes and motioned for Caleb to do the same, tossing them just outside the entrance to the chamber. Wearing shoes indoors – especially on top of a carpeted area – was considered quite rude in the Willamette Fae culture. “Alright. Yeah, sure. Anything you – mmhm. Yes, I’ll fill them in. No, no problem. Thanks.”

Landsong tapped the screen and closed his eyes on a sigh – just one breath – before straightening himself into a more distinguished position. “Sorry about all that younglings.”

A smile twitched at the edge of my lips. Oh, Landsong. I supposed I would always be a youngling in his eyes. He was near as old as Nan. “Don’t worry about it,” I told him.

Nan tapped me on the shoulder and kissed the top of my head. “I have nutcakes for you when you’re done here.” I turned to acknowledge her, but she was out the door before I could say anything.

Nan had been an activist in her younger days, which is how the other bridgers remembered her – a fierce, independent woman who went against many Fae ideals in her own way, even if she never saw herself as a revolutionary. She was still pretty active when I was very small, but she’d dropped out of the scene in the last several years and avoided anything that had to do with politics. It was clear that she wanted nothing to do with whatever was to come of our meeting with Landsong, and I couldn’t blame her. I wasn’t sure I wanted anything to do with it either.

“Well,” Landsong continued, “I haven’t seen either of you in quite some time. I wish this was a happier occasion.”

“Couldn’t be helped,” said Caleb, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees – a very human posture if I’d ever seen one. “What are we dealing with here, Landsong?”

Landsong turned away as if he couldn’t bear to look at us, moving to retrieve a laptop and the projector from the cabinet. “I was on the phone with the Tucaloosa glade Chief. We don’t have a lot of confirmation on anything yet.”

“What do the outlets know?” Caleb pressed.

“The report on the books is that a group of Elemental Fae were seen approaching the the Gowager’s Construction Company HQ just prior to an explosion which took out their campus as well as several fueling stations in the area. Their HQ is-” he paused, “-was… located in the hills surrounding Birmingham proper.”

“Casualties?”

My stomach lurched at Caleb’s question. He asked it with such disconnected authority – as if it didn’t concern him hardly at all. I eyed him sidelong, feeling myself pull away from him. Perhaps this was where I would see his true feelings. Perhaps this kind of behavior was palatable to him.

Landsong, for his part, didn’t seem concerned by Caleb’s behavior. He sat the laptop in the table at the center of the seating area, busying himself with plugging everything in and booting things up. “The media estimates 300. Our estimate is closer to two.”

“Two hundred people?” I blurted, a hand over my mouth as if to take it back – like taking it back would change anything.

Landsong nodded sullenly, eyes cast down at the laptop.

“And we’re sure this was Fae? What was the motive?”

“The construction company was instrumental in oil production efforts throughout the gulf. Recently the Tucaloosa glade has been scaling back, and several companies have been seeking their land for its… hidden resources.”

“They wanted to invade the glade?” I shook my head, “that’s not possible. No unwelcome human can set foot in a glade-”

“Except that more than half the Tucaloosa glade has faded. Several determined humans have been witnessed breaking their veil.”

“That’s… not…” I was going to repeat that’s not possible, only narrowly stopping myself before looking completely useless. My hands trembled. I knew he wouldn’t lie to me – had no reason to, certainly not about a thing like this – but this was not acceptable. Unwanted humans in a Fae glade violated every sense of our magick. I didn’t even like magick that much, didn’t practice it hardly at all, and I felt offended by the notion.

“Aye, we’d like to think that, wouldn’t we?” Landsong said softly. His gaze hadn’t shifted, but in his voice I heard the same cold sorrow that I felt in my bones.

“How do we know it was one of us?” Caleb again, cutting straight to the point.

“There was no fire.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked.

Clearly Caleb knew what it meant, with the way he stood up and paced the room, running both hands through his hair. “Explain to to her,” he snapped.

“The firedancers they find in the south are able to expand pockets of our space into near earth,” Landsong said as he typed. “There was an incident we contained about a year ago where several firedancers tried to phase a skyscraper in Cleveland. We got to them before they finished the job.”

“Obviously we missed something this time,” Caleb muttered, crossing his arms over his chest. “Did the perpetrators phase as well? Have we detained them?”

“We have people on all five planes searching for them. Nothing yet.”

“We knew this was a possibility?” I choked, frozen in place on this couch. “Why wasn’t I told? Aren’t I supposed to be-”

“We thought this was under control, Amelie,” Caleb huffed swinging around in a circle. It was the first time he’d addressed me without using my last name. “Things have been getting quieter lately. It hasn’t been a project of concern. Cleveland was one group of people – one incident. If the news had gotten out to the media that the Fae can’t be trusted to police their own-” he shuddered, “well, we thought we were preventing a much bigger mess by keeping it confined to a small circle. Having the elemental problem come out in public this way… this is a gods damned disaster.”

Now he was showing some affect, finally, and it was so… angry. I didn’t have time to scrutinize his reaction against the facts. Landsong finally met my gaze, his brown eyes softening at me, the way they softened when I was a child. “Are you alright, youngling?” Landsong asked me directly.

“I’ll be fine. I just… don’t know what to do,” I told him honestly.

“It’s all about spin at this point. The facts don’t matter,” Caleb nodded at Landsong, “you have the others on a secure call?”

“Whenever the two of you are ready,” Landsong confirmed.

“Spin?” I blinked, “you mean… with the media. We have to spin the media.” I was catching on, finally, to what they were talking about. Covering up the Elemental problem was all about saving face in front of an already volatile human public; dealing with this crisis would mean even more elaborate political sleight of hand.

“We can deal with what actually happened later. What we have to do now is keep the media from linking our kind with a label.”

“You mean the terrorist label.” The look the two of them gave me could have stoned a sparrow. I shrunk under their energy. This was politics – a game I used to play on a much smaller scale. I swallowed back my initial shock. “Right. Best not say the word at all, lest I call on its power,” the snark snuck into my voice. I paused, “Should we get back to Portland, with all this going on?”

“All the calls I need to make can be made from here,” Caleb replied, finally sitting back down – further away from me than before. “Common bridgers won’t be interviewed up front. Cally, Jonathan, Paige – those are the people who will need to get seen this week. Grab a computer,” he started in giving me orders, and for whatever reason, it didn’t bother me. Having a task felt better than not knowing what on the five earths I was supposed to do. “Get to gathering as much information about the incident as you can from our internal sources. You can get a list of people to call from Cally. Landsong and I will deal with the conference call and the local media.”

This is what we do. This is how disasters are dealt with – from treehouses in obscure glades with satellite internet and bare feet. I scrambled to pick up one of the spare laptops. Infused with the power of purpose, I managed to regain the confidence in my voice; “Let’s make it happen.”