So, I have now officially moved my snippet day to Sunday. Last week was an accident, but with posting at Mad Genius Club on Saturdays, I decided to adjust the schedule on my blog as well. If you want to start from the beginning, look here. And enjoy! I’m still waiting on art and edits before I enter the final stages of getting Pixie Noir published, but the date stand firm of being available Dec. 1, 2013.
We hadn’t gone far when she pulled into a gravel parking lot. I looked around. A small store and a hotel even smaller than the one I was staying in. Everything was painted brown and what might have once been white, a decade or so ago. Bella hopped out. I decided that I’d follow her.
A short woman with curly brown hair looked up from a book that she had laid flat on the counter and was bent over, reading. “Bella!”
“Hi, Kathy.” My fairy princess met the older woman at the counter gate and hugged her briefly.
“Could you watch…?” Kathy popped the gate open. Bella laughed.
“Go, go. No kids today?”
The brunette trotted toward the back of the store, tossing her reply over her shoulder. “No, they’re off on the trapline today.”
Bella stepped behind the counter while I tried to figure out what had just happened. She looked at the book and chuckled. “Kathy must be bored if she’s reading this.”
“Ah, do you…” I tried to phrase it properly. “Work here?”
“What?” She looked across the counter at me, propping her elbows on it and nesting her chin in her hands. “Oh, no. It’s just that she can’t leave the front, there’s no one else here. When her kids come in they can help, so she can, ah…” Bella gestured toward the back and it dawned on me why Kathy had been so urgent. “Or stock shelves and such.”
“Oh.” I looked around. There was a little of everything on those shelves. I stepped closer and saw the prices with shock. Two to three times what it would cost elsewhere in the First World.
“Why don’t you find what we came in here for?” Bella suggested.
I looked over my shoulder at her and she grinned. “We have to bribe someone to talk to you.”
I looked back at the cluttered shelves. “Am I that bad?”
“Nah, he’s just suspicious of anyone new. Grab some chocolate bars, beef stew, and jerky.”
I explored the little store for the items, half-listening as Kathy came back and joined Bella behind the counter.
“So how are the kids?” Bella asked her friend.
“Good, can’t wait for spring.”
I could hear the exasperation in the mother’s voice. I wondered what it would be like to have to stay mostly indoors for six months at a time. Poor lady, no wonder she read all the time. There were four brands of beef stew on the shelf. A popular item, it looked like. I picked out one of each. I’d have to be bribed to talk to me, too, some days.
Back at the counter with the requested items, I waved off Bella’s offer to pay. “I’ll pay for information, more often than not it’s worth any amount.”
She nodded and stepped back. I could feel her scrutiny. The plastic card Kathy swiped in the old-fashioned machine didn’t tell either woman what I had in the bank, unlike the old days of Fairy gold. A bag of gold coins would draw unwanted attention, then and now. But I didn’t think that was what she was thinking about.
The bag of goodies rode by my feet as we headed south out of town. I wondered where we were headed, the next major landmark in this direction was the Canadian border, and I wasn’t carrying my passport. Bella didn’t seem to feel a need to chat, so I looked out the window.
The world outside was a study in black and white today, with a heavy overcast sky. I wondered if it would snow. The trees that lined the highway were tiny, sticks of conifers that looked black in the low light, with their feet in the snow and clumps of it scattered over their branches. We’d driven out of town after just a couple of minutes, and now there was no sign of human habitation, except the snowmobile tracks next to the highway. I fully expected to see a sled dog team at any moment.
“Quite a change from the merry Olde, isn’t it? You’re used to a lot more green, and wet, I’d think.” Her voice broke my reverie.
I looked over at her profile. She was completely focussed on the road, and I thought I understood why. Her parent’s death had been covered in the dossier, with an article reporting that Daisy and Ben Traycroft had been traveling up the Alaska Highway when they struck a moose. They were both killed on impact. The article had gone on to speculate that Ben, a known alcoholic, had been drunk, and possibly driving at speeds of up to one hundred miles an hour at the time of impact.
Small wonder that she had become a very self-sufficient young lady. I answered her slowly.
“It’s beautiful, but frightening.”
She nodded. “Yes, it’s deadly out there if you don’t know how to prepare for it.”
“The same could be said of almost any situation, I suppose.”
She flicked me an amused glance with those violet eyes that made me melt a little. “The people who have lived here for generations respect the land highly. They have to, because if you let down your guard it will kill you. Add to that immense tracts of land with very few people, and you could die out there with no chance of anyone finding your body, ever.”
I grinned. This was my kind of woman. “Is that a threat?”
“Nah.” She grinned as well. “See that bridge coming up?
I did, it was an impressive old steel span.
“That’s the Tanana River. Right now it’s frozen almost solid, and in the old days it was the highway.” She slowed as we crossed the bridge and I looked down at the rumpled ice surface with interest. It would not have been easy to travel on that, with sleds or on foot, and add the cold to it… travel in the modern era was so much more convenient. Bella went on. “In summer it’s full of silt, small rocks, the water looks more like soup. I am told – mind you, I’ve never put this to the proof, but I’d heard stories – that if you drop a body in the Tanana all that suspension will grind it up within a few miles.”
She sped back up as we climbed out of the river valley. I pondered what she had been telling me between the lines of her stories. No overt threat to me, perhaps, but she had a lot of power here in her own right. With a large family that was very fond of her, and only two state troopers covering an area the size of my island kingdom home, I was vulnerable. If she felt threatened by me I was in trouble, not her. I was fine with that.
She put on her turn signal and I looked around. A narrow break in the trees with a roughly plowed driveway that vanished into the depths of the forest was the only place we could possibly turn off.
“He likes company, but prefers not to have people around all the time.” Bella grunted softly as the truck bounced over the berm and left the paved road.
I was becoming very curious about this mystery man. Not only who he was to Bella, but why she wanted me to talk to him. I knew it had to do with my being a Pixie. I also knew there were no Folke living in the area beside Lavendar’s family, at least that were recorded. The Court kept very close track of the Folke. That was mostly self-protection. A rogue fairy, goblin, or pixie even, could do a lot of damage. And that was what my job really had been for a long time now. Tracking down strays.
We jolted to a stop in front of a tiny cabin, even smaller than Bella’s place. It looked like something from a postcard of Alaska, with the cache on stilts just behind the cabin, and a truly magnificent rack of moose antlers suspended over the front door. There was no other vehicle there, but tracks to the porch led me to think someone with a snowmobile had been to visit recently.
Bella took the bag of groceries so I could get my attache. Even out in the boonies I didn’t want to leave it unguarded. I had carried it into the little store earlier, to Bella’s unspoken amusement. At least now she knew what was in it, and yet she showed no real emotion toward it. We crunched through dry snow and the quickly falling darkness to the porch.
Bella rapped on the door, which struck me as redundant. The inhabitant of this remote dwelling almost certainly knew we were coming as soon as we had turned off the highway. There was no immediate answer.
“How do you know he’s home?”
Another of her quick, amused glances. “Uncle is always home.”
The door swung open with a creak, startling me. The wizened old man who stood there cackled slightly at my reaction.
“Come in, come in, you’re letting the cold in.” He hopped back with an agility I would not have expected from his appearance.
Bella handed him the bag as she went by him, headed for the battered couch that formed the living room quadrant of the one-room cabin. He peered into it. “Oh, goodies. What brought on this generosity?”
“I need you to talk to this Pixie for me.” She gestured to me, and I could see her frustration for the first time since she had chased me out of her house.
He looked at me, sharp black eyes framed by a million feathery wrinkles. His thick black hair was cut short and seemed almost out of place above that tanned leather face. He didn’t speak, and I couldn’t look away from those eyes.
I felt myself falling, and the darkness of his eyes expanded until I was soaring in a night sky on rustling wings… I swore out loud as I realized that she’d tricked me. He was an old spirit. Older than any I had ever soul-gazed with before, although I tried to avoid that with anyone, much less a spirit-being. I flapped my wings to gain altitude and heard his distant laugh.
I’ve never put too much stock in the spirit walks you read about. Yeah, I’m a pixie. Magic is part of my life. That doesn’t mean that I’m all happy in the metaphysical, looking for some deep spiritual meaning in everything. I’m Folke, not a hippie, dammit. That, and Raven’s chortling was getting on my nerves.
“I don’t mean her any harm.” I snapped. I grabbed a little more air, then went into a slow bank, looking at the frozen Alaska scenery below me.
“Then why is she afraid of you?” He asked. His voice in my head was warmly amused. This was not a being who feared others. Or at least not me.
“Hell if I know. I brought her good news.”
The forests stretched out endlessly under my raven-host. The spruces were so close to one another it was almost an unbroken carpet. I wondered if he was showing me Now, or Then.
“She does not come to me lightly, my niece. So why would good news have set her feathers on edge?”
“Your niece? Whatthehell?”
I’d finally seen the landmark I was looking for, the snake of white that was the river she’d driven us over. I stooped toward it, my feathers rustling in the wind.
“She is my blood. Answer me.”
The tone of that last rang with command and I winced. So far three people had manipulated me since my arrival. I didn’t like it, but the words came out almost on their own. “She’s also of the Fae. Her grandmother’s blood in her makes her the heir to the throne, Underhill. I came to bring her news of her heritage, and to bring her back Underhill, to Court.”
“You want to take her from her home?” He sounded deeply surprised. I was following the river, now, hoping for the bridge.
“No, I want to bring her home.” I hoped my terse reply would satisfy him, before I revealed more than was good for me.
“This is her home. She is bound here by blood and love. You call only on a forgotten part of her heritage, one that Lavendar set aside long before you were born, Boy.”
“I have my duty,” and I had found the bridge. I swooped low over it, and then followed the highway. I was close, now.
“You have told her. She chooses.” His voice had lost the amusement.
“She is coming back with me.” I gritted through a closed beak, a very odd sensation. I could spot the clearing, now.
“She gets the choice, boy. You are not in your people’s territory, now, and the tales make me a fool, but they also make me free with other’s body parts.” His laugh now was positively chilling.
“Mine are too small to be worth while.” I flapped for airbrake effect and touched down on her truck. The door to the cabin was closed, of course.
Now the chuckle was indulgent. “Want in? And don’t put yourself down, Boy, you have great potential. Mind, you hurt her, and I’ll be in line to hurt you. Got that?”
“Yeah, in spades. Let me in, it’s cold enough to freeze my…” I stopped there, suddenly unable to think of a lewd enough metaphor.