Ooops! I’m really really late with this post. I can say I was working on the new artwork for Trickster Noir, as I will be proofing the print copy in a couple of weeks, and that takes me an age. I can tell you that it is a gorgeous day here in Ohio, our first real spring warmth, so we went for a long walk with a deleriously happy dog. Also, I’m up to my eyeballs in Chemistry homework and not looking forward to going back to school tomorrow (has it really been a whole week?).
But, better late than never! Here you go… we’re coming down to the wire, I anticipate three more snippets, and then the release.
“Bella.” Dan met her in the lobby with a hug. He nodded at Dean, who dipped his head fractionally in return, and then looked away again. “We have a suite. C’mon, you have any bags?”
She shook her head. “Lead the way.”
They must have made an odd collection, she mused. The tall, bearded man in jeans and a well-worn flannel shirt, the short dark-haired woman, and the very short, slender guy with the black leather jacket and the strut. It felt odd to get on an elevator rather than use a bubble. Humans, Bella thought as they rose in silence, adjusted quickly and well. This was her world, and yet… She got out of the elevator with a quick glance in both directions. It wasn’t hers, and it wasn’t safe, any longer. Dan opened the door and she went in.
“Tex!” She greeted the tall Texan with a hug. “Dan said you flew?”
His eyes lit up. “Ayuh. Wait till you see the new plane.”
“New plane?” Bella was confused by this, but turned to the other person in the room. She held out her hand to him. “Walter Northway, right? I think we met at Uncle’s last birthday.”
He shook her hand warmly. “And you were counting the sands of the sea. Or the wildlife in the Bush, same thing.”
“More getting an approximate census, yes. Did Uncle tell you?” Bella stopped. She wasn’t sure why Uncle would send a tribal elder along. He nodded.
“I’m here to help you. This land,” he gestured vaguely. “I have a connection to it, through him, and other spirits. The evil you seek is a wound we need to scour out, and heal.”
“Thank you. In that case, I’m glad to have you.” She looked around. “And I have a feeling we need you. This isn’t the biggest or best-prepared team.”
Dean reached up and snapped his fingers. Bella caught a flicker of a released spell. Seconds later, the sprites tumbled into the room from a little bubble. Walter’s eyes were wide with surprise, she noted with an internal laugh.
“Our reconnaissance team,” Bella said. “Dean, Tex, Dan…” She pointed at each of them in turn, making sure they all knew one another. “I have a plan,” she announced, gesturing and pulling the maps she wanted from middair. She thought Walter was going to have a stroke, then he shook his head and smiled, visibly relaxing. Good, he was going to go along for the ride. She spread the maps out on the table and pointed at an area above Swift Reservoir.
“There’s a network of caves here. Ape Cave is open to the public…”
“Ape Cave?” Ewan interrupted, walking across the map. “Are there any in it?”
Bella shook her head. “I don’t know where the name comes from. Bats, I believe it has. But that’s not what we’re looking for. It’s open to the public, so it would be hard to hide a bunch of ogres in it.”
“You’re thinking that there’s a network of caves, and they are somewhere in the periphery?” Dan bent over the map, and Ewan politely stepped out of the way.
“Yes, and likely using Longview as a pantry, so to speak.”
“Pantry?” This was Walter, taking a look at the topo map of the hills that rose from Swift Reservoir until they led to the volcano itself.
“Ogres eat everything. Opportunists. But this last year, and specifically the last couple of months, Longview’s annual two murders has risen to five unexplained disappearances, plus a well-publicized hiker staggering out of the woods claiming something had grabbed his partner and dragged her into the woods. For some reason the ogres are preying on humans now. There may be more victims, Longview isn’t huge, but does have a homeless population.” Bella kept her delivery brisk, trying to hide the revulsion she was feeling at the idea of people turned into prey animals.
“I see why all the urgency, then.” Walter shook his head. “There aren’t a lot of resources left, you know. Spirits go into hiding with this many humans around.”
She nodded. “And Underhill doesn’t tolerate Folke above, playing with magic. That’s what Lom has done for… some time now.” Bella realized she didn’t really know how long, or how many beings he had hunted, killed, or captured.
Ewan, standing with his hands clasped behind his back and following along, broke in. “We know sommat who cud help, he’s in t’area. An’ he’s unkindly t’beasts.”
“I’d appreciate any help. Can he meet us here?”
Ewan shifted his weight. “Weel…”
“Not going to make his life hard,” she promised. “I take it he can’t come here?”
He nodded vigorously. Bella sighed. “OK, we will set up a meet with him. And I need you three to help find a likely part of the caves. Not getting too close to the ogres, I don’t want to risk them knowing we are here.” Ewan popped up into the air, his wings a sparkling blur, and threw her a sloppy salute. Then he and his brothers were gone.
“So… What is the plan?” Tex drawled from the chair, where his legs stretched across half the room. “‘Cause, pardon me, but charging into a cave after an ogre sounds like a really bad idea.”
“The only time I know for a fact that we killed one was by me blowing it apart with an incendiary grenade. Lom knocked some off a bridge into a river with a logging truck, and he says likely that didn’t kill them, only injured them. Ogres, according to the books, are incredibly tough.”
“You blew up an ogre?” Dan grinned. “Taught you well, we did.”