Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 12 (finally!)

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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.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 11

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The look the woman at the ground transit desk was giving me made me long for the perplexed suspicion of the TSA agents in the midwest. I resisted the urge to cross my arms over my chest, opting for the charming smile with easily-visible hands stance, hovering just high enough to see her eyes, but not too high.

“You said you were looking for what?” her forehead wrinkled, her sun-weathered skin plastered with enough makeup to make my own face itch. The brown eyes peering over her glasses at me were anything but understanding.

“We had a shuttle scheduled for 10:30,” I explained yet again, “but our flight was delayed taxiing in. We’d like a cab to the downtown Radisson.”

The cross in the center of her chest sparkled at me, and I imagined that her Jesus was up in their heaven sky-land laughing. “I don’t believe there are any cabs around with the right… equipment for your kind.”

Our baggage dropped on the ground when Caleb swooped upwards, perching in a way that was almost dainty.

“Marlene,” he said softly, calling the woman’s attention. I watched him, and for a moment was offended that he was butting in – but then I saw it, the faint sparkle when the light hit his eyes, a glow that had the quality of an intricately-cut jewel. Though Dy only rarely used her magick to curie favor with humans in my presence, I’d seen it enough times to recognize it. “It would be to your advantage to pick up that phone and call the nicest, Fae-friendliest cab driver that you can think of.”

Marlene’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe in special treatment-”

“It would make you righteous,” he continued, taking a new tack, “so much better than the lost Fae. So much more generous.”

Marlene blinked, and I could see the muse magick taking. She paused, catching her bottom lip between her teeth, and finally went to pick up the phone. The light went out of Caleb’s eyes.

“It will be just a few minutes. You can wait outside,” Marlene said, as polite as could be.

Caleb flashed the woman a peace sign, and I couldn’t help but snicker. Marlene didn’t even seem to acknowledge it.

I picked up my bag, carefully sliding the strap over one shoulder where it wouldn’t interfere with my wings. I stuck my thumbs in my jeans pockets and allowed Caleb to lead the way out the automatic doors.

A wave of heavy heat hit me in the face, and I coughed at the impact. Austin in the winter may as well have been Portland in the summer. I had been assured by the Granite glade that it should be “cooler” this time of year, but it was clear that our definitions of “cool” were somewhat different. It was sunny, warm, and just humid enough to be uncomfortable. The air here was nowhere near as clean as Portland’s; I’d taken a prophylactic benadryl before we touched down, yet I felt that I would be needing another sometime soon. Even Chicago didn’t seem to be as bad as all this.

I’d heard from several scientists that there was a crisis going on in the southern United States. They called it the second dust bowl – winters had effectively begun to disappear, and the pollution around southern cities seemed to be eating into the surrounding rural areas. The oil in the air here was thick, way beyond the usual Fae tolerance; we could handle hydrocarbons at the level usually found in nature, but this was several times normal. It was like breathing pure gas. It was no wonder that Houston’s glade had been abandoned two summers ago.

Caleb leaned up against a concrete piling, tying his black jacket around his waist. He rubbed his eyes with one hand.

“Itchy?” I asked.

“Burning,” he groaned. He drew a pair of rather dashing sunglasses from his backpack, looking so very out of place with his pale skin. “And you wanted to visit the south why, again?”

I squinted, taking my first look around the place. Austin wasn’t completely devoid of trees; I’d seen some from the air, certainly, and there were trees appropriately spaced throughout the medians in the roads and next to buildings. All the same, there was something so sad about the trees, compared to Portland and her rolling hills of endless firs. The poor things were in a battle with their environment. I shivered, feeling their ache in my bones. After our tree Fae magick session last week I’d been practicing my skills more often, and I started getting the weird plant-empathy that most pure tree Fae felt all the time.

“I’m not sure want is the right word,” I muttered, taking off my own jacket. In hindsight it was silly to bring a jacket at all. A young lady who looked like a hippie waif I might see on the streets in Portland passed by and slowed down long enough to smile and nod at us. I returned the gesture. “Why couldn’t we have gotten a girl like her at the transit desk? Austin is supposed to be the Portland of the south.”

“Marlene’s tribe lives up in the northwest, too,” said Caleb, his expression again unreadable under the glasses. “They’re just afraid to talk about it as much up there. They’re outnumbered. They’re outnumbered in this city, too, but step outside the limits and it’s a different world down here.”

“I have read books, you know.”

“Yes, but you haven’t spent time down here like I have.”

He was looking out at the trees, still, while I was twisting my eyebrows at him. “I didn’t know you spent time in the south.”

“Cally didn’t put me down here with you just because we make an striking couple,” his lips twitched on a grin, “You remember my father?”

“I think everyone remembers your father.”

He just nodded. “Howard Hughes didn’t always live in California. Hughes’ family was from Texas, and my family came over with them from Ireland back in the settling days. I spent some time visiting Houston as a youngling, before the Fae deserted it.”

“You still have family down here?”

“Techincally yes.”

“’Technically?’”

“I don’t consider everyone who shares my bloodline to be family,” he replied flatly.

“I see.” I wasn’t sure that I did, but it didn’t sound like he was ready to share many more ‘semi-secrets’ with me. Since our trip down to the Willamette glade last week we’d seen each other for brief periods in the IFA headquarters, but never really spent any time together. I think we were both avoiding each other, hoping that if we could leave things on relatively good terms we wouldn’t end up tearing each other to pieces at the climate change summit.

“Tell me,” I began again, “if muses can have that affect on humans, why haven’t we received everything we’ve asked for?”

“The more deeply-held the belief, the harder it is to inspire an opposite action,” Caleb shrugged. “There has to be a basic interest in whatever it is we inspire – for our friend in the airport, she has a basic need to feel that she has done good works. Muse magick brings basic beliefs to the surface to produce motivation. The idea was already there.”

“And the people we’ve been arguing with don’t have beliefs you can capitalize on.”

“Not when the incentives to continue their established policies are rooted in so many different motivations,” he paused, chewing on his inner cheek. “Most of what we’ve done in history has been easier than what we’re trying to do now. The skateboarding private that Cally told you about over dinner? He had an intrinsic interest in risk taking. I just… encouraged that behavior.”

I snorted. “I can’t imagine you playing tricks on people.”

“That sounds a lot like a challenge, Ms-” he caught himself, “Amelie.”

I was rather proud of myself for not rolling my eyes at him. We stood in sweltering silence for some time before we were approached by a lime-colored prius with a giant logo on the side reading The Green Cab. Caleb looked to me with a smirk.

“That’s inspiration for you,” he chuckled. I had a feeling that Marlene didn’t make many calls to the Green Cab.

“You two must be who I’m looking for,” a man hopped out of the car, casually dressed in khakis and an untucked white shirt. He was tan and fair-haired, young from afar but up close was clearly in his mid-thirties. He bent slightly at the knees to offer us each a hand to shake.

“I think so,” I said, squeezing his hand. “Amelie Fletcher.”

Caleb likewise introduced himself, allowing the driver to take the bags.

“I’m Jessie,” the driver said as we loaded up. I blushed when he opened the door on my side to help me with my belt. It wasn’t like we couldn’t ride in cars with human-sized belts, it was just less comfortable.

I closed by eyes, relieved to have a properly air conditioned environment. We hadn’t even been out in the heat for fifteen minutes and I couldn’t handle it. How was I going to handle an entire week down in this mess?

“The Radisson, right?” Jessie asked as he started pulling out.

“Downtown, yes,” Caleb replied. He looked surprisingly relaxed, watching out the window as the airport passed us by. “Appreciate the service.”

“Ah, well,” I could hear the smile in Jessie’s voice, “I was kind of excited to hear that two Faeries were looking for a ride. They say they have them out in the hill country, but I’ve never met any before now.”

“This state isn’t known for its welcoming nature,” said Caleb.

“Are you here for the summit?” his eyes glanced at us through the rearview mirror.

I’m not sure why, but his knowing where we were going made my heart skip a beat. I shouldn’t have been afraid of him – of anyone – knowing who we were and where we were going. It must have been all the catastrophizing in the media getting to me.

“We are.”

“I was hoping some of you would show up. I have a booth in the lobby.”

“You own this company?” I asked politely.

“Yes ma’am,” said Jessie, cheerfully enough. “It’s not much, I know, but we all have to do our part, right?”

I smiled up at the mirror, where he could see. “Every bit helps.” Maybe I wouldn’t need to worry so much – not about Jessie, anyway.

“Where are you two coming from?” he asked.

“I’m from Portland. Caleb here is from Vancouver.”

“Are you… bridgers? Is that the word?”

“Yes, we are,” I paused, “you weren’t worried that we were with the people who bombed Birmingham?”

When Caleb shot me a withering look I kicked him in the shin. I would say whatever I pleased, and I was liking this new approach of putting it all out in the open. I tried on the polite diplomatic scheme for a while, but in the end, it just wasn’t me. This was activist me, the one who spent a week in the Sacramento jail for orchestrating a sit-in against the burning rice field policies. I liked activist me.

Jessie just smiled, shaking his head. “Well if you were, would I really be your target? The Elementals went after humans who were going after the Fae. I feel pretty safe as a human ally.”

“Very reasonable,” Caleb interjected.

“Glad you think so.” He kept on glancing back at us, almost in disbelief. I laid back in my seat, pursing my lips. I never got used to being looked upon as some kind of celebrity. I couldn’t blame him, of course. I would probably be pretty intrigued by humans if I went my whole life hearing about them without seeing them.

Looking back out on Austin as the sky-scrapers appeared ahead of us, the fear started creeping in again. People of the Northwest saw their fair share of Fae, and even in Chicago, it wasn’t altogether unlikely to see a Faerie now and then – here, though, we were an endangered species. I think the last estimate put our number at about two thousand in Texas, the vast majority of those glade-bound. In the last hundred years those numbers had cut themselves in half as more and more of the elder Fae slipped into near-Earth, never to come back.

It made a person wonder why the southern Fae stayed here at all. That was one question I imagined I should keep to myself, at least for now.

“Is this your first time in Austin?” Jessie asked. We were turning off on one of the exits marked for downtown. For all its hype, Austin was actually a rather small city as Texas cities went. The internet informed me of this.

“It’s Amelie’s first time,” said Caleb. “I’ve been here a few times.”

“So you’ve been down sixth street.”

Caleb grinned, and I realized that I was watching him work his charms. “Of course. Plenty of aspiring artists around there. It’s the perfect place for a young muse.”

“A muse?” Jessie nearly lost track of the road with his excitement, hitting the brakes a little harder than I would have liked at the stoplight. “Are you both…?”

“Caleb is a muse,” I spoke up. “I’m a little of everything.”

“I read an article once about…” Jessie turned his head over his shoulder, appraising Caleb more thoroughly this time. “Wait, are you…?”

“Caleb McLain, and yes, I’m probably the one from the article.”

You inspired The Lost?”

I snickered in spite myself. Jessie was referring to Caleb’s relationship with a certain now-deceased screenwriter, Gregory G. Carrol, who wrote the most influential film since Star Wars. Caleb’s foray into artistic inspiration was short-lived; he couldn’t have been quite twenty when The Lost was released, and faded back into public policy thereafter, with a much louder voice once he was known for something. I got the feeling that The Lost was probably Caleb’s father’s idea, but I hadn’t asked him about it directly. Of all the things he’d done, that was perhaps the least interesting to me.

“Surprising, I know,” Caleb said on a laugh. “It was a long time ago. I didn’t write it, after all.”

“Oh, I know – I mean, well, I’ve read… geeze, I’m sorry.”

“You’re not going to offend us so easily, it’s alright. We’re like anyone else.”

“If you’re not easily offended then you’re not much like most people.”

Caleb chuckled. “Maybe so. You have me there.”

“So Jessie, how long have you had the cab service?” I asked, feeling much more at ease. I could see the Radisson coming up down the street, and wished it wasn’t so close. The Colorado River gleamed at us from over the bridge, putting me in mind of Portland – even though this place most certainly was not. It was relaxing to be in a nice, safe car with a nice, safe human. The more I thought about what we were doing, the less at-ease I felt.

“Oh, ever since I finished grad school,” Jessie’s wrist rested casually on the wheel. “I couldn’t find a job in my field, so I managed to put together a business loan and here we are. I have six cars that run the city and suburbs.”

“What was your field?”

The corners of his eyes crinkled. “’Energy and Earth Resources,’ believe it or not. I guess running a sustainable cab company was about as close as I could get.”

“Seems like that could be marketable.”

“Not if you want to stay in Austin. I probably should have widened my search,” he shrugged, “I like it here, though. I’ve lived here forever.”

Even though I had the same kind of connection to the northwest, I still couldn’t imagine a good reason to stay in this particular place. “I guess I could see that,” was the best I could manage.

Caleb just smirked at me with a yeah, right look in his eyes.

Jessie stopped the car in the little pull-through area, and he, too, looked sad to see us go. He helped us with our bags, and just for fun I let him watch me hover about a little. I didn’t need to show off, but the widening of his eyes was adorably child-like. Caleb handed off the IFA credit card (or maybe even one of his own, I supposed, since they seemed to be one in the same), and ran the transaction while I stood near the door.

“Hey, it was very nice to meet you,” Caleb reached out to shake Jessie’s hand. “If we see your booth tomorrow we’ll stop by.”

“That would be great!” he smiled at both of us, and behind it I could see a question he desperately wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage to say.

I was about to bring it up myself before Caleb opened his mouth. “Was there something else you needed before we go?”

“Well… it’s dumb. Don’t worry about it.”

“What is it?” I asked.

He thought about it for a breath or two before his shoulders slumped, surging ahead with abandon. “Okay, well, since I was a kid I always wanted to see magick. It’s dumb – really – I shouldn’t ask…”

Caleb looked to me and raised his eyebrows. I laughed out loud before throwing him my bag. “That’s all?” I scanned the parking area. There were a couple people unloading behind us – I was sure they would be imaptient except for the young children who were enraptured with our presence. I went on as if they weren’t there, finding a nice example of a tiny, young blue bonnet planted in one of the pots. True to season, it had yet to flower – though I wondered if it ever would in this heat. I motioned Jessie over, standing next to him to shield the scene from casual onlookers.

“Here,” I slid my hand to cup one of the stems, an end that would become a flower someday. Closing my eyes I strengthened the connection through the touch, feeling the energy of the plant as if it were a part of me, an extension of my hand. Softly, gently, I coaxed the energy up, a silent request, come closer, show me who you are.

The stem lengthened, the leaves brushing up over my palm. The stages of growth accelerated, and the tip developed a series of buds, then bloomed, until my hand was full; when I opened my eyes the delicate purpley-blue flowers looked back at me.

I rubbed them with my thumb, a note of thanks before letting them go. I looked up at Jessie sidelong, his excitement subdued under the layer of adulthood. Poor humans with their repressed selves – much as I valued their culture, some parts of it were so unfortunate. I could understand hiding sadness at times, but happiness should be shared.

He brushed the back of his fingers against the flowers in disbelief, as if he expected them to disappear. “That’s amazing.”

I hopped up and down in the air, still feeling the growing energy tingling through my muscles. “My grandmother could do much better than I.”

“Thank you,” Jessie bowed his head, “you didn’t have to do that.”

“Like Caleb said, it was really nice to meet you,” I reiterated, retreating away from the adoration. Funny, really, that he found it so impressive. Nan could have made the plant twice its size and made the whole thing flower. I was lucky that I got the one stem to cooperate.

Jessie waved us good-bye before going for his door. “Hope you have a good visit.”

“That’s the idea,” Caleb waved back.

As we watched him drive away I imagined my grandfather and what he would have said – There goes a once-and-always friend. The Fae believed that spirits sometimes traveled together in groups, and when the met briefly in life they could feel an old connection.

I wasn’t sure I believed that, of course, but if I did that would have been one of those moments.

“That was refreshing,” Caleb noted, heaving his pack over his shoulder. “Ready to go in?”

Just having the jacket tied around my waist was making me sweat. “I suppose so.”

The inside of the Radisson was large and lodge-like, with appropriately Texan accents – antler chandeliers and stars here and there, as if one might forget what state they were in. The lobby wasn’t terribly busy yet – virtue of traveling on a Tuesday, I was sure – but the kids from outside were there, standing beside their parents at the desk.

A little boy about Caleb’s height was looking at him with giant, brown eyes, and much to my surprise (and my amusement), Caleb made a face at the child, his tongue stuck out and his eyes practically in different directions. The look lasted only a second before his face straightened out back into the lazy half-smile he usually wore.

The child’s high-pitched squeal of delight even made me grin. His older sister stood beside him, trying her best to look unimpressed, even as I caught a hint of pleasure. Repression started early.

“That’s not very professional, now, is it?” a voice came from our right.

Caleb and I turned at once to see a dark-skinned Fae, standing a little taller than Caleb, wearing a crisp purple-and-white striped shirt and newly-ironed pants. His wings were also purple with edges dipped black, his pointed ears clearly visible against close-cropped black hair. His clean professional getup made me feel even more travel-weary than I already was, with my jeans and t-shirt wrinkled from sleeping on the plane.

“Neo!” Caleb’s handshake was a half-clap as he folded Neo into a brief hug. “I didn’t realize you’d be here.”

“I just started bridging with the south a few months ago, and you never call,” Neo pulled away, his smile infectiously wide. “And who is this lovely young Fae?” He tipped his head amiably, “beautiful set of wings you have there.”

I fluttered them gamely, mirroring his tip of the head. “Amelie Fletcher, one of the northwest bridgers. Also new to the job.”

His eyebrows waggled up and down. “You must have talent. I’ve never met a bridging tree Fae.”

His comment could have been disparaging, but instead it was quite sweet – he meant it. “Well, that remains to be seen I think.”

“Plenty of time, plenty of time,” Neo cleared his throat, “I was sent to take you two to brunch, but I think it’s full-on lunch at this point.”

“Plane was late. ‘Technical delays,’” Caleb emphasized the latter with sarcasm. It was almost certain that the delay was because we were aboard. “If I’d known you would be here I would have called.”

“And spoil my entrance?” Neo gestured with flourish. “I think not. You two get checked in, I can wait while you change. We have…” his eyes darkened as he looked out the door, as if he could see something in the street that we could not, “a lot to talk about.”

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 10

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I found Caleb in the most likely place he’d be – the guest house up near the council chamber. I’d flown around the glade a bit before finally going up to his hiding spot, considering what I wanted to say to him, if anything. My aerial pacing had gone on long enough that clouds had gathered in the sky and a sprinkling of rainfall tickled my skin. It was now or not, I supposed – even the weather decided that I needed to make up my mind about which hut I would fly back to.

I could see the silver shimmers through the lit window and blushed when I saw that he was changing his shirt, his well-muscled back to the outside. I held myself on a breath just above the deck and spun to look away, but not before the sound of my wingbeats alerted him to my presence. The flooring creaked softly as he walked to the windowsill.

“If you guessed I was cursed with modesty then you guessed wrong,” he said wryly.

I sighed deeply and audibly, my arms crossed. How did Nan talk me into this, anyway? I looked over my shoulder at him reluctantly. His elbows were rested on the natural wood sill, shoulders bare. I raised an eyebrow, mildly curious as to whether he was even wearing pants.

“I was trying to be-” I caught myself, realizing that my attempt at a heart-to-heart was coming out more like a frustrated child instructed to say ‘I’m sorry.’ “…polite.”

He just blinked at me, unmoving.

“Can I talk to you?” And would you kindly put on a shirt?

“If memory serves we don’t do well with that, you and I. Of course it has been several minutes, so that may have changed.” He paused, as if to pull back from his excessive snark. He began again with a slightly kinder tone. “Sorry. We could try it again if you’re up for it. It would be nice if we established some kind of communication before Tuesday.”

“Tuesday?”

“I just got a text from Cally. She said that you emailed her earlier today and told her you wouldn’t call off the Austin trip.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You’re sure about that?”

I dropped down on the decking, arms still crossed. My body refused to relax no matter what I told it. “What business is it of yours?”

“Cally decided that if you go, I will need to go with you.” He promptly disappeared from the window, sliding to the side to mess with something on the small dresser situated next to the guest hammock. He wore pants, at least – something softer than what he’d rode up in, probably for sleeping.

My jaw slackened while he went about his business. “Does she think I can’t handle it by myself now?”

“You know that’s not it.”

Of course it wasn’t, even if that was the first thing that came to mind. Most likely she suggested it because traveling in pairs would be safer in some ways; someone around to make sure I didn’t disappear for some mysterious reason, as the Fae tended to do in places like Texas. “Bombing or no bombing, I will be fine by myself. I’ve been planning this trip for weeks.”

“And bombing or no bombing, I have a plane ticket to Austin and no interest in losing my job.” He wasn’t looking at me, still. He sat on the edge of the hammock, a jar of what looked like lotion in his hands. “We don’t even have to see each other outside of official business if that suits you.”

I considered asking him if I could come in. I almost did, but at the last minute thought better of it. This was one of my home glades. I could see the whole guest hut already through the window, so it wasn’t like I’d be exposing anything by barging in. I pushed past the generic tapestry and sat my behind in the reading corner, a fair-sized plush chair next to a sparsely stocked bookshelf. The guest hut was well-appointed, but lacking in any sort of kitchen. It encouraged guests of the glade to mingle with the locals.

“Are you an Elemental?” I blurted.

He paused with his fingertips in the jar, his eyes immediately hooded with suspicion. He licked his lips. “Excuse me?”

“You’ll probably lie about it if you are,” I hedged, averting his gaze while I dug myself out of my hole. “I suppose I hoped that if you were lying I would notice, so I may as well ask, then, in case you aren’t. Either way, at least if I say something about it we can stop this passive-aggressive thing, which I guess is more me than you-” I stopped myself. This was getting rambly. “You must think I’m quite odd.”

He frowned, wiping off his hands and setting the jar aside, his task no doubt unfinished. It took a while before he spoke.

“Well, that certainly explains a few things,” he groaned and rolled himself onto his back, the hammock swinging gently from the force. “Let me guess – Dyana is the one who has you worried about all this.”

“Yes,” I said, insecure with the answer. I could have said no, but then I wasn’t sure what good it would do to lie.

He nodded, eyes closed. “Among muses she has a reputation for knowing things she shouldn’t.”

My mouth went dry. “You mean it’s-”

He startled, his eyes fluttering open. “No, no. It’s not strictly true. She would be right that I’ve had intentional run-ins with the Elementals, and it’s true that I’m not one of the people who hate them. I find that the fine line between ‘not disagreeing’ and ‘not supporting’ is difficult for most people to parse, Fae and human alike.”

“You’re saying that you know who these Fae are and you haven’t done anything to bring them to justice,” I replied, hoping for clarification while unable to banish the disdain from my tone. My initial thought was that he was parts each wishy-washy and weak, but I realized that I probably needed more time to think about it than our conversation would allow.

“Not quite like that,” he said softly, his gaze unfocused. “If I’d known they were going to initiate the attack on Birmingham I would have suggested they find something with less loss of life. Barring that, I would have informed the human government,” he paused, “I didn’t know, though.”

“So you’re not… one of them.”

“I can tell you I’m not, but I don’t expect you to believe that.”

I went quiet, watching him rock in the hammock, hands resting on his abdomen, never looking directly at me. I ran down a whole list of things that might be useful to ask before landing on the one that stood out.

“Does the IFA know?”

“Just Cally,” he shrugged. “She seems to understand, at least enough to ignore it so she can benefit from my family’s wealth. The others – the bridgers – I don’t believe any of them know, save for you, now,” he chuckled, “which would make two semi-secrets you’ve discovered about me in as many days.”

“You didn’t have to tell me,” I huffed.

“I’m not certain I would lie if Peter or Alex asked me the same question,” he said, genuine contemplation in his voice. “I suppose I would if it was bothering them as much as it appeared to bother you.”

“You act like you’ve known this whole time and just waited for me to bring it up.”

“I wasn’t sure-” he hissed, and all at once it looked like his shoulders seized up. I found myself jolting to get up out of the chair – to do what, I wasn’t sure. He managed to shake his head when he saw me about to stand, his eyes closed as he breathed through the attack. “…but I thought this might be it.”

“Do you have some kind of medicine for that?” I bit my lip.

He nudged his head toward the dresser. “The salve helps. Cramping usually lets up after a day or so. I haven’t flown that far in a long time.” He pushed himself back up on a sigh, scooting so he could sit cross-legged while he reached for the jar. “Was there anything else you absolutely had to know before the morning?”

I shook my head slowly. It seemed that there were a few other things that might be nice to know before I went traveling across the country with a Fae I scarcely trusted, yet at the same time I felt some relief at hearing him explain things for himself. I didn’t want to believe that he was some kind of shady covert operative.

I wanted to like the guy, for what it was worth. That was the crux of it, I realized, in the midst of all the angst I’d developed in the last two days since meeting him – this need to redeem him in my own mind. Perhaps that was what made everyone adore Caleb McLain; some intangible thing about him that made people hope that he was better than he might really be. As I was thinking I could feel myself frowning. More irrationality.

Just because I wanted to like him didn’t mean I would take his statements at face value. He said I could ask Cally about it, and I had every intention of doing so.

I snapped back to reality when I noticed him awkwardly reaching around his back to apply the salve to his wing muscles. “Would you like some help with that?” I asked – blurting again. Perhaps that was another intangible power of his. I usually liked to think before I let go of my voice.

“No need.”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Just watching you is driving me crazy,” I approached him with my hand outstretched, “here. It’s my fault, anyway,” I smirked, “and I thought you said you weren’t modest.”

He gave me a look that I could only describe as petulant before handing over the salve. “You’ll want to wash your hands after touching this stuff.”

It smelled neutral enough, with the texture of body butter. I used a modified hover to hold myself in a seated position. It gave me a good view of his wing musculature – lean and well-developed, completely normal except for the painful bunching around the four wing stalks, black as the wings themselves. When I brushed my fingertips over the skin he bowed his head.

“What’s in it?” I asked, distracting him as I rubbed the salve in.

“Anti-inflammatories, for the most part,” he replied mechanically. “A family recipe, as it were.”

“How’s that?”

“When I was diagnosed my father spent a great deal of money and time on searching for a cure. We didn’t find one, obviously, but they did manage to come up with some salient therapies.”

I narrowed my eyes even though he couldn’t see my face, swirling small, thoughtful circles with the salve while my gaze wandered the lovely, dark arches of his wings. “Did they… experiment on you?”

His laugh was devoid of light. “Astute. It sounds so medieval when you say it.”

I wondered, all at once, if his outlook on the Elementals and everything else might have been different if he didn’t grow up knowing he had MRPS. Flight was one of the things that defined us, made us different than humankind – our culture was much more accepting and relaxed than their society, and most of us believed it had to do with flight. It was one of the few ancient Fae beliefs that I ascribed to. Caleb had grown up knowing his wings were a curse – something that made my own wings shiver.

“Can I ask how long you have?” I said after a time.

“You can ask anything you want,” his voice was smooth, “twenty years, give or take, before I won’t be able to fly at all.”

Twenty years before the pain becomes debilitating. I knew that was what it really meant. Twenty years was nothing in a lifespan as long as ours. “That’s so… soon.”

“Most cases in our generation are rapidly progressive.”

“You say that like it doesn’t bother you.”

“It bothers me plenty, but what good what it do to get upset over it?” He looked at me from the corner of his eyes, “you could spend your life consumed by hating the color of your wings, but that wouldn’t make them change.” My cheeks betrayed me with a blush. His enigmatic smile blossomed. “I didn’t mean you specifically. Your wings are…” he swallowed, trailing off without resolution. He waved me off gently.

I snapped my wings in close to my back, dropping from my hover. I set the salve on the table. “Will that do?”

He rolled his shoulders gingerly, turning to plant his feet on the floor. “It’s much better. Thank you.”

“Well…” I cleared my throat, awkwardly shifting my stance. “You’re welcome.”

His dark eyes looked me over, as if he was deciding something. I couldn’t come up with anything to put in between the silence, relieved when he finally filled it himself. “Like I said, you should wash that off.” There wasn’t any running water in the guest hut.

“Ah, yes. I meant to visit the water nymphs anyway.” I started to drift toward the door, feeling him watch me. “Landsong will want to have breakfast in the morning. He always does.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good.” I slipped through the tapestry without another glance at him, and in my head it felt like a retreat.

Muses were such complicated folk.

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.

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 8

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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.”

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 7

Miss the previous installments of Fae and Folly? 

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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.

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.”

“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.

Interesting.

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…”

Serial Story: Fae and Folly Part 3

You can check out Part 1 and Part 2 via the links.


Tired was an inadequate descriptor for how I felt when I finally set foot in my apartment, one cab ride and two more doses of benadryl later. My keys clanked on the table in my entryway and I took a long, deep breath. Portland was known for decent air quality despite its population density, but no city could be quite clean enough for a Fae. The petroleum running rampant in the air wherever we went gave us trouble, reduced only by copious greenery and the occasional slide into near earth. Sliding into near earth was like coming up for breath after a long dive – that strange kind of I was almost dying and now I’m not ecstasy, which is less pleasure than survival. I’m half water nymph, after all – I would know.

My apartment was on the outskirts of Northeast Portland in a little (emphasis on the “little”) building near the Columbia. The IFA regional office had a hotel on the premises used for visiting Fae dignitaries. As a representative of the Northwest I requested a unit reserved just for me with all the amenities of a standard one-bedroom Portland apartment – scaled down, of course.

The “scaled down” part was very important. Before taking a position as bridger I tried to live in mundane society in a tiny studio apartment in downtown. It is difficult to fully appreciate the challenges of cooking in a giant-sized kitchen if you’ve never done it. Just putting a pot of water on to boil was such a workout that I ended up ordering veggie sushi every night for two months.

Portland was good for vegans, at least. That was one of many reasons why when Fae from various parts of the world came to North America, they chose to come to Portland. It was one of the “nice” places to be one of our people.

I breathed deep, feeling just a bit lighter when filtered air scented by the many flowers planted along my walls filed my lungs. My apartment was formerly a one-bedroom suite – the living room and kitchen were decidedly hotel-like, but just spacious enough for my purposes. Ever since I became a bridger I spent half my time away between the grove and my travels, anyway. I’d taken the time to paint the walls in browns, blues, and greens when I got in, reminiscent of nature. The furnishings were otherwise entirely modern. I had a few shiny metal statues mixed in with the green. I liked my nature like any Fae, but I had my own flare for style, too.

I wandered through my sadly empty kitchen, finding only expired juices in my fridge. I settled on a tall glass of ice water, leaning on the counter while I powered up my neglected phone. I’d turned it off at the beginning of the plane ride and hadn’t turned it on since I got back into Portland. My eyes were dull and heavy while I watched the screen power up. I slipped off my blazer, tossing it in a pile on my living room floor. I’d deal with cleanup later.

There were several emails waiting for me, as well as a couple of texts from Brenna, the IFA coordinator who lived in the regional facility, inquiring about my whereabouts. She was a bit motherly, and I’d forgotten to let her know I got in safe. Oops. I replied to that text immediately.

Finally a voicemail notification appeared on my screen, and the number made me raise an eyebrow. I knew that number. It was a Nevada area code, and there was only one person in Nevada who would ever have a reason to get in touch with me.

I groaned low in my throat when I touched the ‘play’ button, speaker on.

“Hey Lee. I guess you forgot to turn on your phone, didn’t you? Oh well. Anyway, I wanted to meet up with you for dinner-” I pressed my palm directly to the center of my face. Dinner. She wants to have dinner. “-but since I can’t get in touch with you I’ll just come by.  Petals, babe.”

“Oh by the blades,” I cursed. My eyes darted to the door, knowing that Dyana would be knocking any minute. We’d bonded for almost a full year, after all – I knew her well, just as she knew me. My windows were closed but my lights were on, surely visible through the little cracks in the curtains. Perhaps if I could just shut off the lights and lock my door really fast before she arrived…

As if waiting for just that moment, an insistent knock came from outside. I closed my eyes.

It came again. Knocknocknock. “Amelie?” A pause, “I flew metal just for you, so don’t you dare-”

As I swung open the door I had to decide what to do with my face – whether it would be appropriately un-enthused, or whether I would put on a fake smile to appease her. In my haze of fatigue I’m pretty sure it came out somewhere in between, an ineffectual medium which would not help me toward any goal.

Dyana’s appearance – silver eyes, white hair and moonpale skin – would be directly at odds with her over-the-top personality except for the bright purple wings she used to hover several inches above me. I fell in love with her wings when we first met. They had a gorgeous glow about them.

“Don’t you look uninspired,” Dyana smiled, her pale lips seemingly too large for her face. Oh muses. I didn’t hate them – it would be quite unfortunate if I did, given that bridging was a muse-dominated field – but I preferred dealing with muses only at work. A year of bonding with Dyana taught me that much.

“I…” I sighed. I wasn’t going to be able to pretend to be excited to see her, even if she was my ex-partner and the woman who convinced me to get into the bridger business in the first place. “I am, Dy. I’m exhausted. Happy to see you, though,” I struggled with the last statement. I liked Dy, and certainly would have been pleased to hear that she was planning a trip to see me. It would have been genuine happiness had she only waited another six hours to announce herself.

“Oh shush,” Dy glided past me, perching with bare feet up on the back of my lovely, white couch. I winced, shutting and locking the door behind her, leaning against it with a huff that blew frazzled strands of hair out of my eyes. “I knew that if I waited for you to get back to me it would be forever. You probably would have gone off to that meeting without even a word.”

“The meeting is-” I was about to say ‘Monday’ before I glanced at the digital clock on the wall. One a.m. “Tomorrow, technically. I would have called you back, you know that.”

Dy shrugged. “If you kept your phone on you maybe I could have caught you on your way back from the airport. Takes two to make these kinds of mistakes, Lee.”

She’d always been energetic, that was for sure. I crossed over to my chaise and threw myself into it. In my shell top with the bra sticking out, business pants, and socks, I knew I looked a wreck. I didn’t even care anymore. “I would say something witty, but my wings are already asleep. The rest of me is just standing guard.”

Suddenly distracted, Dy swooped into my kitchen with a dazzling flutter of her wings. I couldn’t see what she was doing behind the little bar – and again, I didn’t care. I was too tired to care about much of anything.

“Why are you here? I haven’t seen you in… what is it, six months now?” I asked over the sound of pots clanging and drawers opening. She’d never been in this particular apartment of mine, yet she walked around in it like it was hers. It made me smile just a little, enough that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to calm down and stay out of my stuff.

“Eight,” Dy corrected, her head poking around the corner. “I wanted to congratulate you! And get the gossip, of course. I have some to give too.”

“And it still can’t wait till morning?”

“Well… some of it can, if I can borrow your couch.”

“Didn’t you start your own… something? Down in Reno?” I leaned forward to try to catch a glimpse of what in the five earths she was up to in my kitchen, but her back was turned to me. I collapsed back in my chair. “Surely you could afford your own hotel room.”

She rounded the corner of the bar, hands outstretched to present a steaming mug of jasmine tea.  Her eyebrows raised. “Burlesque club, is what it is,” she said, carefully delivering the mug into my hands. My favoriteDamn it, Dy. “I could afford it if you want me to stay elsewhere.”

“Forget I said anything,” I sipped the tea, too hot to drink quickly. It was steeped exactly the way I liked. I shook my head. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you need.” Please just don’t let it be too long.

“Just two nights is all. I do have my own obligations. I might not be as important as my lady bridger…” she smirked.

“I don’t feel terribly important just yet. I’m still the newest member in the region.” And the only non-muse. I didn’t add that part, of course. Dyana would insist that as a muse herself she had never looked down on us other Fae, and perhaps for her, that was true.

What I knew was that muses lived by different rules, and they didn’t relish the idea of other Fae getting involved in their games.

“Do you know what the topics are?” asked Dy.

“You know I’m not supposed to share that kind of information.”

“Pish,” Dy settled back on her perch, heedless of the dirty look I was giving her feet. “How am I supposed to tell you what I know if you don’t tell me what you know?”

“I seem to recall that you were the one who customarily did the begging in this relationship.”

“Mm, good one sleepy,” Dy winked. “Have you met Caleb yet?”

Caleb was a highly influential young Fae, the bridger from British Columbia. He’d been serving with the IFA since his early 20’s, a talented muse and the son of Blackwind, who inspired Howard Hughes in the early 20th century. Caleb came from power, talent, and mundane fortune – the kind of Fae I’d always found most difficult to relate to.

“No, I haven’t,” I answered her. “Tomorrow will be my first time.”

She nodded, and the look in her eyes caught my attention.

“Something about him, then?”

“Well,” Dy leaned forward, resting her chin in her hands. “I ran in some… well, you know me, I can’t keep my hands out of the political things. I was at a march down in San Diego-”

My face soured. “San Diego? Please tell me you wore a mask.”

She waved off my comment. “Anyway, I ran into some of the… well, some of the California Fae.”

There weren’t many of those left, most of them all balled up in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. They had a bridger from there – Collette – but she wasn’t very fond of the IFA overall. She usually skyped in, I was told, and even then she rarely spoke. There were very few NorCal Fae who wanted anything to do with human relations.

“Just say it, Dy, I can barely see anymore.”

“Caleb met with somebody from the Elementals.”

“I don’t see a problem with that.” The Elementals were Fae who liked their magick – liked it more than most Fae, if you can believe that, and were hellbent on using it to distance themselves from the humans in any way possible.

The way Dy was shaking her head told me that she had a rather different view of the Elementals. “Don’t see a problem? Lee, those people are radical. They’re way out there, like I don’t think you even know. Didn’t you see how they destroyed that server farm last month? Every hard drive, nonrecoverable.”

“That was a chicken butchery and they were angry about the treatment of the soft ones,” I narrowed my eyes, trying to understand her concern through my fuzzy thoughts. I needed to sleep someday. “Even you and I vandalized a few offices during the whole textbook ordeal.”

“I don’t know, Lee. When I met them they seemed a little… tainted.”

“That’s a serious accusation,” I sat up to make my point, feeling a little off-balance. Tainted was a term we Fae used for dangerous Fae (besides the unders like the Leprechauns, who were a different class altogether thank you very much), Fae who were so twisted that they came to use their powers for violence. Violence – destruction of any kind – was obscene to us. “You can’t just go around saying that about people.”

“I wanted to warn you, that’s all,” Dy apologized, planting her feet on the floor for the first time since she buzzed in. “And I wanted to bug you, too. I missed you.”

She offered her hand to help me up, and my skin brushing hers felt so different than it ever had before. The electricity I remembered from back when we were bonded was replaced by a trail of pleasant warmth. Friendship. At least if we couldn’t be partners, we could be good friends.

In small doses, anyway. I don’t think I could have withstood her energy for long periods, even on a platonic basis.

“Alright, alright,” Dy tugged me down the hall, “I’ll let you sleep.” She paused, glancing at me from the corner of her eyes, “where do you want to go for breakfast?”