So last week the beta readers got their copies of Trickster Noir, and now I wait anxiously the feedback they will deliver… I expect to have it all by the end of February, and then the editing begins. After my editing, the Editor gets the book for final edits, which will be March-ish. By April, I hope to have it back for formatting and layout design, the last step before publication. While it might be easier to have a bigger team working on this project, there is something ultimately satisfying in seeing it come together, step by step.
As always, what follows is raw, rough draft. From my brain to fingers to keyboard. So there are errors. Feel free to point them out in comments, I appreciate input. At this stage, there are still changes being made!
Oh, and to begin at the beginning? Click Here. Want to go further back than that? Buy Pixie Noir by clicking the cover icon below.
Bella felt Lom go limp, and Ellie ran in the door. “Help me get him back on the bed.” she gasped, the effort of holding his dead weight straining her. She didn’t dare use magic with him in this state. Ellie hurried, and between them they got him rolled onto the bed, on his side, so he wouldn’t aspirate vomit if he did that again.
“I need to get this off me, and clean up. Don’t take your eyes off him, if he throws up…” Bella broke off. Ellie had nursed him before.
“Go. Lucia and I will take care of the mess.”
Lucia walked in the door and took in the situation at a glance. “What happened?”
“He tried to access magic. He can’t do that again.”
“I would hope he’d know better!” Lucia spoke sharply, but Bella knew it was distress, not anger.
“Lucia, I reek, and this must be cleaned. Not now.”
Lucia fell silent, and Bella left the room. In her own bare room she used magic to clean the dress, before stripping it off and leaving it in a heap on the floor. She knew it was an inanimate object, but just at the moment she didn’t care if she never saw it, or another dress, again in her life. Now that she was alone, she couldn’t stop the tears. Through the sobs, she went to the wardrobe and started pulling out more practical clothing.
The crying was annoying, but she couldn’t stop it, and she wasn’t about to throw herself on the bed and “have a good cry.” What would happen if Lom died? She remembered the letters she had written before the king’s arrival. One was for Lom, should she not return. The other had been in case he didn’t awaken before her departure, so she didn’t need that anymore. She was fairly sure that her not telling him she was going on a mission would have been a huge mistake. He was not a man who trusted easily, and having been given his trust, she treasured it.
Bella blew her nose, pulled on a sweater, and mopped her eyes. Finally, they were drying up. She was going to look a wreck, but it was done, and it hadn’t slipped out in public. She took a deep breath. Time to pack, and leave. If she delayed to wait on Lom’s recovery, she might never leave, and this needed to be done.
She did walk across the hall and into his room before she left. He had stopped twitching and was lying still, with Ellie hovering over him.
He opened his eyes a little. “I promise not to die,” he whispered.
She kissed him on the forehead. “I promise to come back.”
“Call Raven. And call Dean. He’ll bring the sprites.”
“Thank you. Please try not to worry, just get better.” She kissed him again and slipped away before he could protest.
Bella went straight to her armory. With the spells on the upper door, she knew she could be completely alone, and it was time to make a list and stop thinking about anything other than the mission. She now knew who to call in, and hopefully the king could provide addresses, or something. Which meant it was time to think about equipment, and money. Even if she could somehow magically conjure gold from thin air, which wasn’t possible, she’d need to convert it without raising eyebrows, and…
She put her head down on the workbench. This wasn’t possible. How did Lom fund his work? She needed to get above, and try some things out, like transportation bubbles. She sat up straight and summoned the briefing portfolio. She had stowed it in her library earlier. How well would this work, above? She was rather spoiled, she admitted to herself.
Reading through the briefing yielded the information that no one knew how many ogres there were in the Mount St. Helens nest, as she dubbed it, but there had to be several. She couldn’t remember how many she had seen in their fight, there had been too much movement and she hadn’t been close. Which had been fine with her. Bella looked around to see the big black multi-grenade launcher on the rack. For sure her little friend was coming along on this mission. And that was another thing, how did Lom carry around weapons that were as illegal as hell?
The ogres had taken a hiking couple, leading to an extensive manhunt. This had alerted Underhill, through some process that was not clear to Bella, although it might have been a news-clipping service, from the articles included in the portfolio. There were older articles alluding to disappearances, and some were of shaky provenance.
“The Enquirer? Bigfoot? Sheesh…” Bella dropped those clippings back and wrinkled her nose. Sure, she was family with a trickster spirit and a fairy princess, but some things were obviously delusions intended to protect the collective psyche of humanity.
In the end, what she was left with was unknown number of the enemy, an unknown location, (although helpfully narrowed down on the included map to several square miles of some exceedingly rough country) and unknown resources. She pulled a blank piece of paper from her workbench notebook and started to make a list.
It didn’t take her long, and then she flicked messages off her fingertips, one at a time, to Joe, Devon, and finally, reluctantly, Alger. From Joe she needed the contact information for Dean. From Devon, the know-how to communicate with the internet from Underhill. Finding out about that had explained so much. Like that some internet trolls were in fact, real trolls. Alger she simply sent saying that she was tasked with a mission above, and did not know when she would be back. She still didn’t trust him, after he had tried to hand Lom over to the Wild Hunt.
Now, she needed to go through a door, by herself. Better over quickly, so she could experiment. And make some phone calls while she was out there. It was oddly a vulnerable feeling, the idea that she might lose access to her magic up there. She knew from the little lesson she had on the ferry she would have some, but the big question was how much. Lom had flown to Alaska, and brought her here by plane, boat, and car… but he was a disabled magic user.
Bella climbed the stairs heavily, wanting to see either Lucia or Ellie before she left. At the top of the stairs, two things happened. She got an answer from Joe, and Devon showed up in the entryway, looking worried.
“Devon, Lom is fine.” She hurried to assure him, giving the slender boy a quick hug. “I just needed some information.”
“What’s going on, Bella?” He followed her into the kitchen. “Uncle Lom is the only one I really let know about…” he looked around nervously. “I mean, he said that it was a great tool, but I should be careful.”
“I rather think others know about it, not through you, but on their own. And he told me. Look, I’m going above, and I need to be able to stay in touch.”
He nodded. “I’ll give you the url and password to get in, then. Where are you going?”
“Confidential, Devon, sorry. Court business.”
Which she hoped would satisfy him, because she didn’t know how much he knew about what Lom did for a living. Not knowing seemed to be the phrase of the day, and it all went to show just how much use having a whole library in your head could be.
“Can I come with you?”
He had managed to surprise her. “Devon, you can’t, I’m sorry. Why do you ask?”
“You make Uncle Learo… um, Lom, happy. I want to be there if…” he shifted unhappily. “If you need anything.”
He was offering to be her bodyguard. “Devon. Thank you. I am honored,” Bella assured him gravely. “But I cannot take anyone with me. Orders.”
He looked so much like a kicked puppy that Bella felt bad. “Your uncle had a bad episode earlier, but your grandmother may appreciate a break from sitting with him for a while. He’s fine, he tried to use magic and it didn’t go well. Just make sure he doesn’t do that, or throw up on himself. Can you do that?”
He looked taken aback, but then he put his chin out pugnaciously. “Sure. I’ll see you later.”
With him gone, Bella flicked open the message spell. It held a slip of paper, an incongruous credit card, and a voice message. The paper was a sketched map with a tiny glowing dot on it, she could see it was a spell, and as it moved a little, she guessed that it was Dean’s location.
“Bella, with the king’s regards. Also, the card is to a bank account with funds for your mission. The pin is on the back of the location map, I’d dispose of that when you are done and have it memorized. We realized that you might not be able to get access to Lom’s accounts above. Good luck.”
Joe’s voice faded away, and Bella looked at the short number, committing it to memory. That was very helpful indeed. She contemplated her next task, and sighed. What was she going to say to this stranger? She had never met Dean, and wasn’t sure if she was supposed to hire him, or simply ask a favor.
“Dean, this is Bella, Lom’s partner. Lom suggested I contact you for help with a mission. He’s not able to be on it, and told me to send you a message. If you can meet me at his house in a day’s time, I will brief you and you can decide if this is something you want to do. Thank you.”
She held the little message spell in her palm for a moment and then flicked it away. Time to brave the upper world. She pulled a bubble around herself and went back to the meadow where she had first learned about her wings. It had taken her a long time to get used to them, and they still sometimes got in the way. Poor Lom, she had been such a pain that first day.
Bella stood on the edge of the flower-strewn meadow and realized that this part of Underhill seemed to have no seasons. It was a beautiful summer day, not the fall it was back at Lom’s house, or Court. She had no idea, she realized, what season, or even year, it was back on earth. She took a deep breath and turned around to face the door.
The door was a golden haze shimmering in an arc in the air. She thought it looked like an overlay on reality, about as intangible as a film hologram. Bella reached out and pushed, gently, with her power, and it opened so she could step through. She had made two passages, one with him, entirely unsure, and the other holding on to one arm of a bitter, vindictive old woman who had caused innumerable deaths, and Bella took her to her own death with that passage. Now she was alone.
It was raining on the other side, of course. She had pretty much expected that, and was wearing a light rain slicker. The Oregon coast could be counted on for either rain or fog at any time of the year. It wasn’t bitter cold, though which meant it wasn’t winter any longer. Bella pulled out her cell phone and looked at it. Bars, and a little battery. Enough.
She dialed a number and held it to her ear. “Uncle?” she asked when he answered.
“Bella! How are you, chickie?”
Hearing his rough voice in her ear made her feel like crying again, oddly enough. “I’m well. I need your help, though.”
“Of course. What can I do?”
“Tell me what happens in a minute.”
“What?” he sounded confused, and she didn’t blame him. But she didn’t know if this was going to work, and anyway, anytime she could surprise him was fun.
Flicking her fingers, she sent the package she had prepared to his cabin, aiming for his kitchen table. She heard the startled yelp over the phone and grinned. It had worked, all right. He started to laugh.
“You went away and learned things, my girl!” He was still chortling.
“Uncle, I don’t have much charge on my battery. Can you look at that, and call me back, say tomorrow at this time? There is no cell service where I am staying.”
“You sure you all right?” Bella smiled at the fussy sound in his voice.
“I’m good, Uncle, just… I have a new job. It’s in the packet. Love you, bye.”
“Love you too.”
He hung up, and she stared at the phone. He’d never been one for what he called mush.