When Neo brought us up to a private room at this little upstairs vegan restaurant a few blocks down from the Radisson, I wanted to ask how the southern branch of the IFA could afford to pay their Fae so much. I was back in my capitol hill attire, which was a fairly nice looking gray-and-blue getup, but even in some of my best clothes, Neo outdid me with his sharp, matching suit, tiny cuff links (which probably cost more than the human-sized ones), and his ability to slip the hostess enough money to get us a table wherever we wanted. By the spartan modern furniture and the ultra-hip price-less menu, I would bet that this place – The Grange – was one of the fanciest vegan spots in Austin.
Watching him with all his charm and wit, it occurred to me that Neo’s wealth was likely from the same source as Caleb’s. Neo was still a Muse, even if he wasn’t one the front page of the New York Times. He probably had assets attached to family enterprises throughout the south. It’s not as if the south had a surplus of Muses.
I was wedged in between several huge, plushy pillows in various bright-but-tasteful colors, sitting at the too-cool-for-chairs table which was only inches off the ground. Fortunate for us it was the perfect size. The waitress stepped through the gauzy curtains to take our orders, shutting the door to the private area behind her when she took it back to the kitchen. I chewed on my lip, just praying that whatever I ordered wouldn’t break my own bank account. I was sure that Caleb or Neo would gladly pay for me if I needed it, but I wasn’t about to ask for such a thing. Just because I was a Tree Fae didn’t mean I had no pride.
“So Amelie,” Neo started right in, resting comfortably on his own mound of pillows. “You’re a Northwest original, yeah?”
“I have some roots from the native tribes,” I acknowledged, taking a sip of my water. “More Irish than anything, though. Transplants.”
“So many of us are,” Neo smiled, his teeth starkly white against his dark skin. He nodded towards Caleb. “Especially that one, not even born in his region. How do they let you lead them up there?”
“It’s all in the name,” Caleb shrugged. “You’re doing well for yourself.” The look that Caleb was giving Neo struck me as a little odd – almost suspicious – but I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. I didn’t know him well enough yet.
“Not bad,” Neo hedged. He winked at me in a very human way, to which I reflexively smiled. If ever there was a male match for Dyana, it was Neo. He had that same overly pleasant quality which would be annoying on anyone else, but was perfect on him. “I keep myself busy, you know. Tell me, Amelie, what did you do before you joined the IFA?”
“Activism, mostly,” I told him, “didn’t pay very well, but it was alright. I felt like I could make more of a difference with the IFA.”
“We need more of that optimism,” he rolled his eyes in Caleb’s direction, “don’t take after this guy. He’s a dark one.”
“I noticed,” I chuckled.
Caleb made a rude gesture at Neo, which drew laughs from all three of us. The two of them together made an odd pair – probably just as odd as me and Dyana. Caleb motioned toward the window, which we couldn’t quite see out of. This restaurant didn’t face the side of the street with the protests we’d passed. “Have you had any trouble from them?”
“I stay out of the city when I can, travel pretty light,” Neo hesitated, “sometimes I do wish you’d let me have my cheerful conversations.”
“This is a business trip,” his ultra-serious, dark eyes held steady on his old friend. “You said you had some important things to talk about, but I don’t think it has to do with anything personal.”
Neo’s eyebrow raised and his wings fluttered indignantly. “Straight to the point, yeah? Does he ever relax anymore?”
“He’s insufferable,” I said.
Caleb, for his part, just made that usual almost-smiling face, half of him wanting to disapprove the other half – the real Fae half – wanting to be playful.
“I didn’t want to come down here to begin with, you understand,” Caleb tossed back a couple of antihistamines with his sip of water. “I don’t know how you can stand it anymore. It’s gotten worse.”
Neo sobered. “Everything has, my friends.”
“That’s to be expected though, isn’t it?” I nodded out towards the window. “The protests? After what happened in Alabama…”
“This isn’t just about Alabama,” Neo shook his head, “we started showing up in their legislature, and they’re not happy about it. A few weeks ago a youngling was killed by a church group outside of Waco. The threats we get at the Granite-”
“A youngling was killed?” Caleb pressed a finger into the table for emphasis, “here in Texas?”
“It’s not something we like to publicize,” Neo said bitterly, “didn’t want to put it on the news and encourage that kind of thing.”
“You should have told the IFA,” said Caleb.
“Don’t you think I did?” Neo chuckled hollowly. “The IFA doesn’t want to hear about what goes on down here. They expect us to disappear given enough time.”
It didn’t seem likely that someone like Cally had heard about this – maybe I was naive, but I expected that she would be honest with her bridgers about it. The waitress stepped in to set down a plate of stuffed mushrooms, which gave me something else to look at while I was thinking. It was just another odd incident to add to the list of things that were starting to concern me about the IFA as a whole.
Caleb pensively cracked his neck, a maneuver I’d seen him do once before. “I’ll have to talk to Cally about that.”
“For all it will do,” said Neo.
“We should have known before we were sent down here. If it’s that unstable…” Caleb glanced at me, then sighed. “There’s no way to disburse the protesters before the summit?”
“It is their right to be there.” Neo gave him a dismissive wave, “security is good. As long as all of us are careful it should be fine.”
“Should?” I shook my head. The Fae weren’t known for their fighting skills. Leprechauns, maybe, but not us. I toyed with the mushroom on my plate.
“We’re… anticipating that the crowd may be trying to make some kind of point,” he pulled out his phone, fiddled with it a moment, and handed it over to me.
The blog post read –
Calling all spiritual warriors: “Climate” meeting in Austin, Texas this weekend. Anti-capitalist sympathizers and Nephilium all going. Are you?
The responses below included everything from climate change deniers to people openly calling for the genocide of the Faerie people. I could hardly stand to read any of it before I turned it over to Caleb in disgust.
“’Nephilium?’” I asked.
“Sons of god, daughters of men,” Neo explained. “Certain people think we are the fallen angels from the bible.”
“I… hadn’t heard that before.”
“It’s the newest thing,” Neo shook his head, “we have Austin PD and a private security company on watch. It’s not as if we’re just standing by waiting, but I thought you two should know. I’m letting everyone of importance in on it.”
“But you haven’t told the media.”
“It’s the same idea as telling them about the youngling,” Caleb spoke up, still thumbing through the phone. “It would only draw more people to their cause.”
“Why not tell homeland security?” I struggled to speak fluidly, and failed. “They… surely… these are still terrorists, here. What they’re talking about is terrorism just as bad as the Elementals.”
“If I could find it, they could find it,” said Neo. “They do have a motive to protect the human representatives, so I am hoping they do something with it. I did let the human reps know.”
Caleb’s sharp, warning look startled me, but didn’t seem to startle Neo, who was taking the brunt of it. “Is there some reason you don’t want to talk to the feds?”
“I am a bridger, Caleb,” Neo’s demeanor turned entirely serious all of a sudden, for the first time since I’d met him. “If I was afraid of the feds I’d be in some other business.”
Caleb closed his eyes for a breath or two, then handed the phone back. “We appreciate the heads up. I don’t know what you think we can do about it.”
“Just be on watch,” Neo sat back on his pillow, “and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.”
The table sobered. The waitress came back in, bringing a forced light-heartedness to the table. I was still halfway spinning from all that I was hearing and all that had happened since our trip to Eugene. Part of me wanted to know why all of this was happening – another part of me knew all too well. We were on the verge of getting some real rights and recognition, and the people who thought we were demons, or fallen angels, or false gods or whatever… they were afraid.
Those people and the oil companies, to be more accurate – two groups of people known for getting their way. My head was starting to hurt.
“Anything else you wanted to tell us about?” Caleb asked after the waitress had delivered our salads.
Neo’s eyes flitted between the two of us. He made a small humming sound while he thought. “Not if you’re asking that way.” He placed a friendly hand on my shoulder. “You look a little pale, Tree Fae. There’s no reason we can’t enjoy the rest of our meal. They have good food here.”
My sad attempt at a smile faltered. “It’s a lot to take in,” I said feebly.
“You get used to it,” Neo shrugged. “I live with it every day.”
“We’ll stay on top of it,” Caleb tried to reassure me. “It’s going to be okay.”
“You’ll forgive me if I think you’re both full of it,” I said.
“Well,” Neo smirked, “both of those things can be true.”
Caleb managed a real, blossoming smile, and it left me wondering what exactly connected them. I waited.
“You’re making me wonder if you’ve changed at all,” said Caleb. By the sound of it he meant something deeper than I was able to understand. They shared another one of those strange, indecipherable looks.
“Not in the important ways,” Neo replied.
“Excuse me guys,” I interrupted, tucking a lock of hair behind my ear. “Would you kindly include me on your little… secret language?” Among other things.
“Neo and I go back a long ways,” Caleb said quickly, giving me his best earnest look. “I know a few things about him that he wishes I didn’t.”
“As if you would tell this pretty one about the time the two of us had an entire fraternity trying to ride a herd of cattle,” Neo laughed. No hollowness, this time; just mirth. It looked good on him.
Caleb’s cheeks flagged red, and I couldn’t help but giggle. “Sounds like the private and the manhole story,” I snorted.
“Private and the manhole, hm?” Neo waggled his eyebrows, “I hadn’t heard that one.”
“I haven’t heard it either,” I leaned my elbows on the table in the most un-ladylike way that I could. “It sounds like he owes us both a story.”
“I like her,” Neo stuck a thumb out at me, “she’s good for you.”
“She keeps me guessing,” Caleb looked at me from the corner of his eye, sufficiently distracted from the darker side of our conversation.
The rest of the afternoon was filled mostly with silly Muse-stories, enough for me to get a better idea of who Neo (and Caleb) were. The whole time I was listening I was laughing – all while a strange, foreboding feeling was building in my stomach. I couldn’t quite put it into words, but there was something Neo wasn’t saying… something Caleb already understood.
In retrospect I would wish that I had known the right questions to ask, but even then, it probably wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Sorry for the delay! Between working the emergency room and my new rotation I’ve been a little bit scattered. Here’s hoping things are settling down into more of a routine… as routine as intern year gets. Back to the grind, folks.