If you haven’t read the previous snippets, you may want to start here. As always, enjoy! Pixie Noir will be released for sale in ebook and print version Dec 1, 2013, and until then, I will be posting snippets of it here on my blog.
A cackling Raven in man form swung the door open and I fluttered into the warmth. My body was leaning on a kitchen chair, eyes closed and slack-jawed. I looked quickly away. That was not a comforting sight. The lights were out and no-one was home.
Bella was sprawled on the couch with a book. She didn’t look up, and I figured that was on purpose. She didn’t want to make eye contact with me, who she’d betrayed into this. I hopped up onto her chest. As a bird, I figured I could get away with it. Cats do it all the time. She grabbed me and held me up in the air, finally looking me in the eye. I squawked.
Raven came and grabbed both her hands and me. I started to feel a bit squashed, and pissed as hell. Well, that wasn’t just starting. I’d felt that way since the bird had pulled me into his trap. He opened his mouth and I was looking forward to home, sweet body, when something made a sharp tone.
Bella let go, leaving me in the old man’s hands, and while the tone ululated, pulled a pager out of her pocket and dialed the volume even higher than the ear-piercing initial sound had been.
A scratchy radio transmission burst forth. “Respond to a motor vehicle accident on the Tanana Bridge. Injuries reported.”
Bella jumped up. “I have to go. I’m probably closest.” She blurted to Raven and I, and bolted for the door.
I shouted, but only the old man heard me, as I was still in the bird. “Wait!”
She was gone, the door banging behind her. “Shit.”
“What is wrong?” He reached out for my body with one hand, and I leaned on the link as well, leaping back into my own consciousness.
I staggered toward the door. “There – there was no one on the bridge when I flew over it.”
I felt woozy. The jump from bird back to human form had been too quick. The old man slid an arm around me with surprising strength. “I mean, there could have been an accident, but for there to have been a response that fast…” We made it out the door, the Raven, his bird, and I, but she was gone already.
“Argh.” Not eloquent, but that summed up how I felt about this. Something bad was happening.
Raven steered me down the steps. I was still tripping over my own feet, so I obediently followed him. It wasn’t like I could go charging down the driveway after the woman in the pickup.
“I’m going to let go, now, can you stand alone?” He peered at me from a distance of mere inches away.
“Personal space…” I leaned back a bit. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
He grunted and stepped away from me. Feathers were starting to sprout from his skin, and his nose was lengthening into an impressive beak. I stared, fascinated, as he transformed into a glossy black raven, taller than I was. He turned a vivid grey eye on me and stretched his wings.
“Ah…” He croaked, and I took a step back. “That feels good. Been a while for me.”
Hearing human speech come from him, even as raspy as it was, I relaxed. Then I shivered. It was damn cold out here, and even with my coat still on, I was chilled through. I looked around. There was no garage hiding a vehicle, so how was I going to follow her?
The giant Raven laughed at me. “Climb aboard, Boy.”
I looked up at the smooth expanse of wing he was presenting me. “Oh, hell no.”
“You would prefer to stay here?”
I backed up a step, and again that piercing gray eye fixed me. I could tell he expected me to turn tail and run. Instead, I grinned at him and ran full speed ahead, up the leading edge of his offered wing and onto his back. He wasn’t the first oversized avian to give me a ride.
Silently, he launched himself skyward. I held on for dear life, pressing my face into his feathers. I dug my hands in deep, holding on near the skin and feeling the heat of his body. I kept my face down as we rocketed up. I didn’t need to see where we were going, and the windchill would have me solid in no time. I could tell from his wingbeats that we were still climbing.
As I pressed my face into soft, cool feathers I could smell the old bird. Smoked leather, salmon, the beef jerky we had brought him: who knows what else, but this was a spirit being at least as old as any of the Fae at my home Court. He was different, powerful, and he was giving me hope for the first time since I had been bidden to this, the final task of my life as a freelancer.
He hit the peak of his arc and I could feel the tension in his shoulders as he pitched his wings for a long dive. His pinion feathers fairly crackled as we picked up speed. I risked a peek.
I caught a blurred glimpse of the bridge looming below us, before my eyes streamed with tears in the cold wind. I put my face back down, trying to blot my tears on his feathers. I didn’t dare let go with even one hand while we were in this dive. I was beginning to wonder how I was going to get off at the end of it. Flung out like a stone from a slingshot, it felt like.
Raven spoke for the first time. “I see trouble, all right. I’m going to drop you by her truck provide distraction.”
“Where’s Bella?” I didn’t dare take another peek, I needed clear eyes for this when I finally got back on the ground.
“He has her.” I felt a jolt as he angled his pinions against the air flowing over them, and we dropped like a stone. “Get ready.”
I was going into a fight blind, no idea what the enemy looked like, what weapon I would find, even if there was one in the rifle case I’d gotten a glimpse of. My ally was a trickster spirit not known for loyalty, and a fairy princess was in trouble. My fairy princess. It was my job to save her cute little ass. I really hate my job.
“Go!” Raven rasped, and I rolled off his wing in the direction he’d banked, and hit the ground running.
Straight into the side of the truck. “Oof…” I could hear all the wind leave my lungs, and I reeled backward for a second, windmilling. Smooth, Lom, real smooth.
The door handle popped open easily, she hadn’t locked it. Why would she, out in this godforsaken wilderness? Well, all right, not so god forsaken. One god, with feathers optional. I looked over my shoulder down the length of the bridge to see where he had gone, and got my first look at the hairball I was walking into.
I pulled the rifle case out by feel while I sized it up. There was indeed a wrecked car midway down, although it looked to me like a fake-up. I had used such a set-up a time or two myself. Bang into the rail just enough to break a light or two, scattering glass and the ridiculous brittle plastic cars are made of these days, then play possum until your target stops to check on you. I wasn’t proud of it, because that was how you caught someone who still had some soul left.
Bella was in the air, clutched by a Norwegian Troll, unless I missed my guess, and I never do. It’s my livelihood to know all the weird creatures out there, and what they are capable of. This one had looked like an ordinary man, possibly with a creative blood smear on his forehead and a dazed look in his eyes, right up until she had leaned in to take his vitals… Then he had changed, into his real appearance, brutish, huge, but the dazed look would still have been there. Trolls are not smart.
Now, he towered twice my height, and seemed to be using Bella as a shield against the angry Raven-god who was trying to pick his eyes out. The way he was holding her, with both hands so he pinned her arms against her body, made me think she had done something to protect herself and had injured him. I had the rifle out of the case, now, mostly by feel, and I tore my gaze from the bizarre fight to look at what I was going to be using.
A nice little 30-30, lever action. Scope, and a rubber recoil suppressor on the butt, which I would appreciate tomorrow. I jacked the chamber open and pulled the cartridges rapidly, finding three, then reloaded as fast as I had pulled them. You aren’t supposed to carry a loaded weapon in a vehicle. Naughty girl. I was liking her more and more.
There was no time to look for more ammo. This was just going to have to be enough. I departed the truck at a jog, headed for the action. The rifle was heavy for me, but not too much.
I knew that the Troll was not an easy being to kill or incapacitate. I was going to have to get it either in the eye, or the nose. Anyplace else, and the heavy plates of its skull bone would deflect the bullet. Also, he was so distracted by Raven that he hadn’t yet noticed me.
“Hey, butt-ugly!” I stopped, braced the rifle to my shoulder, and bellowed at him all in one smooth move. I was in my element, finally. He swung around from trying to bat the annoying bird out of the air and stared at me, mouth hanging open. He held Bella awkwardly in front of him.
She looked at me and stopped trying to kick him, instead curling her head toward her chest, and her legs up. The best attempt at a fetal position while being pinioned by troll mitts. Not bad. I appreciated her consideration for letting me take a shot, as well as keeping her own pretty skin out of the way, and then breathed out as I gently squeezed the trigger.
The first shot knocked his head back, and he dropped Bella. She landed in an ungainly heap, but I couldn’t watch her sort herself out, I was still watching him to see if I had hit the right place. He staggered back and then clutched his head with both hands. Shit… I’d hit him right between the eyes. Blackish blood bubbled out, but I knew it wasn’t a fatal wound. He shook his head, spraying blood in all directions, and then opened his mouth in a roar as he charged toward me.
I had gained his full and undivided attention. I had two bullets, and less than fifty feet between us, and a rifle that wasn’t sighted in properly. I fired again, sighting below the scope, along the barrel sights this time. The troll staggered, and I heard ‘boom, boom, boom’ from behind him. He fell to his knees, one eye destroyed, the other still with a dazed look tinged now with confusion. Slowly, he fell forward onto his face.
I looked over his body at Bella, who was still in her shooter’s stance.
“Why the hell didn’t you shoot him before?” I was pissed, and it may have come out in my voice.
Hers was very tart as she holstered that hand cannon she’d been carrying in a shoulder holster. “I don’t usually shoot my patients out of hand.”
I put the rifle over my arm and walked up to the troll. It was a short walk. I looked down at the back of his head, with the grayish, wrinkled scalp visible through the wispy hairs. “And when he turned into the big ugly?”
“I didn’t have time before he grabbed me. You saw how he was holding me. All I could do was give him a fat lip and a sore crotch.”
Despite myself, that made me chuckle. All right, more like a short bark of bitter laughter. I looked at her. She was beautiful, standing there with her cheeks all rosy and fire in her eyes. The laughter vanished.
“We need to talk. Now, before another monster pops out of the woodwork.”
She looked down at the troll. “What’s going on? What did you do?”
“He wasn’t coming for me, lady. They are after you.”
“What?” Her eyes snapped back to me. She had been contemplating the troll like she was trying to figure out his genus and phylla. Understandable, given her job. She wasn’t going to get it, though, this was way out of the experiences of all but an unlucky few. I was one of those, sadly.
I turned away from her and walked back to the truck. I felt tired. I always did, at those moments, when the adrenaline drained away and left wobbly legs and nausea in its wake. The case was hanging half out of the door, and I fumbled at it with numb fingers. I had not noticed the cold until now, and I was fast losing the ability to use my hands. Bella came up behind me and helped, wordlessly.
A rare woman, this one. She knew when not to talk, and she could handle a gun.
“Your scope is off.”
“I don’t doubt it. It’s sensitive to bumps.”
“I was in a hurry.” I sighed then. “Good thing you had it. Where’s your ammo?”
She pulled a plastic case halfway out and I nodded. If I needed it again, I knew where it was. In that single gesture she’d shown me she was going to trust me. I trudged over to the passenger door and climbed in, my legs leaden. She started the truck’s heater blasting as soon as I got in.