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Imperative

Imperative


P. A. Wilson Imperative

Chapter One

    I couldn’t wait to try the spell until I got to Bank’s. It was my first level five and I needed to read it more than I needed a pint of ale. The street lights were the only illumination and half of them were smashed, so I felt a sufficient level of privacy. I stepped into the shadow of a doorway and unfolded the half sheet of paper.
    On a dark moon night, before Venus descends…
    I stopped reading because I felt a twinge of guilt. Cate was waiting at Bank’s and I promised I’d read it with her. I folded the paper and jammed it back in my pocket.
    I headed toward Blood Alley, Bank’s current location, thinking about how we should use the spell. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a fairy talking to a human. My attention twisted away to follow the sound and dragged my body with it. I made an effort to be casual about it but there was no one on the street to notice so I didn’t try too hard.
    I slipped into a doorway next to Trounce Alley and leaned to peek into the darkness. A flower fairy, Lily Clan I think, was leading a human woman into the shadows of an alley. The fairy had cast a glamour, and I could see the shimmer, but I couldn’t see what he was projecting because of the shadows. The woman was gazing up at what she must have seen as his face, about three feet higher than where the top of his head really was.
    When they were a few feet in and just past a dumpster, the fairy offered a glass vial; the woman knocked the contents back like a shot of tequila. I stepped into the alley keeping to the wall curious about what was going on. I noticed a tall shape lingering in the shadows at the other end. My attention came back to the woman. She collapsed on the ground her back arching, a keening escaping her throat. I started to step forward, hoping I could help. Then, knowing it was too late, I retreated to the shadows.
    The fairy stood watching, then reached into his bag and retrieved a jug. He looked at the shadowy figure who nodded and gestured toward the woman. I saw the human’s spirit rise, the lavender mist unmistakable. The fairy captured the spirit in the jug, careful to gather every wisp.
    What the hell was going on?
    I leaned against the brick wall. Now more than ever I needed to keep out of sight of the other two. The keening faded and the woman gave a gurgle as the last trace of her spirit escaped her body. I watched as the fairy placed a cloth over the top of the jug and stepped toward the hooded creature. A pale hand reached out from under the cloak and took the jug.
    “Where is my payment?” The fairy hissed.
    A ripple of laughter came from under the hood. “You fairies are so impatient. It will be the death of you at some point.” The pale hand extended again, passing a vial of glowing amber liquid back. “Here, be careful. Do you know what to do with it?”
    The fairy sighed. I could imagine his eyes rolling. “Yes, I remember.”
    “Tell me.”
    “I rub it on her.”
    “All of it,” the voice under the hood snapped.
    I wondered what the liquid would do for the dead woman. Then the fairy put the vial in his bag and I wondered who he meant by ‘her’. He started walking toward me, so I ducked behind the dumpster.
    “Goodnight, then.” The figure turned to leave by the other end of the alley. I got a glance of a pale face and a curl of red hair in the lamplight.
    Now what were the Sidhe trading with fairies? And, why did that woman have to die?
    I was alone again. I slipped over to the body; a quick glance showed me she was young. I threw a charm at the dumpster and the lid lifted. I placed the body inside, hoping no one would notice.
    Killing humans is not a good thing. If they find out we exist, we become a threat and they’ll hunt us. Last time that happened the Vampires were destroyed, not just here in Vancouver, everywhere.

Chapter Two

    I met Cate at Bank’s. We spent a half hour talking about the spell, but the excitement was gone for me. We agreed to meet in a couple of days when it was moon dark and we could test it.
    I got to my place around three in the morning. I live near the hospital, away from the crowds of downtown, in a little house that has a big basement. My friends know how to find me, my enemies can’t. When I secured the spells on the entrance I went straight down to the basement. It was my workshop and my haven. It was warm and smelled of herbs and unguents and burning wood.
    When I decorated it, I had function in mind way more than form. The floor was bare to the dirt in the center. I built up the floor around a circle, a slab of concrete to hold my benches, a couch and a few worn upholstered chairs. The walls were plaster, originally white but now stained from all the powders and potions I used in my spells. In the very center I had a fire pit, and around that, a circle etched in white chalk, one section open to show there were no spirits there. The only thing that linked me to the outside world was an iPod speaker run on batteries. No other electricity.
    I turned on the speaker and chose a mellow playlist that wouldn’t interfere with my research. I needed to figure out what the Sidhe and the fairies were up to.
    My copy of the History of the Real Folk, that’s what we call ourselves, was falling apart. I took it from the bookshelf and laid it out on one of my tables. I would have preferred to sit on the couch and flip through it, but I needed the table to hold all the loose pages. I had rubbed the leather cover smooth as skin over the years, and I didn’t want to lose that feeling by having the binding repaired. I opened it to the center and summoned my power. Passing my hand across the open pages, I whispered, “Google, fairies and Sidhe.” Yeah, I know but why go all arcane when you can use what the humans use, they are wizards at efficient processes if not magic.
    The pages that contained some reference to the words glowed pale yellow. I passed my hands over again, and added human death to the search criteria. Three pages flickered violet then the colors faded completely. That was not good.
    I went upstairs and got a beer from the fridge, then sat on the edge of the wooden floor thinking about what to do next. I didn’t want to summon anything big, but I needed to know why my search failed. I was pretty sure whatever was going on was a Sidhe plan, because even though they were considered fairies, they were different. Fairies don’t generally have the attention span to do anything quite as complicated as kill a human. The Sidhe, however, were always up to some convoluted power play.
    So, who to ask? Summoning even a minor spirit was going to cost me energy. I swallowed half the beer and pulled a protein bar out of a drawer. I washed the first half of the power bar down with the last of the beer.
    I prepared for the summoning. In the center of the circle I placed the remaining half of the protein bar. Around that I put four finger bones from a raccoon, a pinch of dust from a graveyard and four drops of pine oil. Before stepping into the circle, I checked the windows were securely covered so no prying eyes would disturb the spell. I closed the door to the cellar and threw the bolt, just in case I got unwanted visitors.
    After I felt sure I wouldn’t be interrupted, I stepped into the circle and closed the gap by drawing the final chalk line.
    “Spirit of the City, rise in this shape and answer my questions.” I decided my usual coax and cajole approach to summoning was going to take too much time. The direct approach was more appropriate to the urgency of the situation.
    Nothing happened.
    I wasn’t really surprised. The Spirit of the City would know everything I needed but was fickle and demanding. Since he didn’t answer I decided to go for a less fussy sort. I picked up the bones and scratched at the earth. “Lucas Jordan. I call your restless spirit to this circle to provide information.” I waited. It would take a few minutes to get Lucas’ attention.
    Lucas had been a city councilor before his mysterious death well, mysterious to the humans. He got caught in the middle of a magic duel between a Rose fairy and a River Sprite. Since he passed to the other side, actually to the place between the other side and this side, he’d been a fount of information on the inner workings of Real Folk society. Unfortunately for me he was in demand and it took a while to get him to respond.
    I didn’t want to throw my question out to the ether, anyone could hear it. Keeping it in the circle was safer. While I waited, I thought about what I needed to say to get his attention without giving away my interest.
    It had been too long since I called so I tried again. “Lucas Jordon, ex-councilor, I have a matter of urgency about your opponent to discuss.” Lucas might try to ignore me but he wouldn’t be able to ignore an opportunity to smear a fellow politician.
    After a few minutes I upped the pressure. “Time is ticking, Lucas. I can always seek what I need elsewhere.”
    A few seconds later, the bones rose and danced an intricate pattern before clicking together and falling. Then Lucas faded into sight like a reverse Cheshire Cat. The protein bar slid toward my foot. “I don’t need the meal, Quinn.”
    “I know, but my first choice would have wanted it.”
    “I’m offended.”
    I laughed. “Don’t be, I went to the top first.”
    “Ah, the Spirit, well, he’s busy with this environmental thing. What do you have for me?”
    I knew better than to give up the goods before I got what I needed. “It’s good, but first I need to know something.”
    “Ah, quid pro quo, that is familiar ground.”
    I told him what I saw earlier and waited while he faded in and out. I assumed he was checking with sources, or referring to a diary or something. Who knows what ghosts get up to?
    He returned to the circle. “There have been other instances. One of my new assistants was a… well victim might be the right word.”
    I waited, knowing he had more but wanted to get something before he gave me the rest. Testing if what I had was worth the value of his information.
    Minutes later his curiosity won out and he inflated his image in a ghostly sigh. “Okay, I forget how patient you are. She says a great looking guy came on to her in a bar and the next thing she knows she’s looking down at her body. It was all contorted like she had been broken and dropped on the ground. Then the guy shimmered and turned into a skinny kid. Well, now she knows. It was a Wheat fairy.”
    He paused again. I was running out of patience for his coy act. “Lucas, just tell me what you have. I’m not giving you anything until you do. You know you can trust me.” I was starting to worry that he didn’t have any decent information.
    He did the ghost sigh again and rolled his eyes. “Okay, she heard the fairy thank someone and say ‘we will be safe now’ and that’s it. I can’t get any more details, because she’s wispy, not much of her spirit was left when she passed. And, someone is keeping a hard lid on the fairies.”
    I believed him and I figured it was the Sidhe keeping everything tied down. It was time to pay for what he’d given me. “Okay, I found out that your opponent, or ex opponent, had been keeping company with a lady of the evening.”
    “Oh, is that all?” Lucas shook his head, clearly disappointed. “I want juice that will end his career. A dalliance with a hooker is almost accepted as part of the life now.”
    “I would never bring you here for something so minor.” I liked to draw out the drama for Lucas. He didn’t have much to excite him now that he was dead. “How are you going to make this work in your favor if I give you the rest of the information?”
    “Simple. I have an arrangement with a medium. I give her some information and she spreads it to the right people. In exchange I find out a few choice details about her clients so she seems credible when she reads their fortune.”
    “If she can talk to you, she should be credible as a medium without help.”
    Lucas chuckled. “Well, yes, that would be true except I keep the other spirits away.”
    I appreciated the deviousness of the plan, Lucas would land on his feet wherever he went, and he knew that his current location could be temporary. I gave him the rest of the gossip. “The hooker isn’t the whole story. He shares her with a couple of contractors, ones who seem to get a lot of city contracts.”
    “Thank you, Quinn.” Lucas clapped his hands, but since he was a ghost, it was very Zen — the sound of one ghost clapping. He shimmered in and out then said. “If I find anything else out, it’s yours for free.”
    After Lucas faded, I cleansed the circle and broke it.
    It wasn’t a total waste of time. I hated the bastard who won Lucas’ seat. I may be a wizard but I have to pay property taxes and I wanted the money to be spent on the right things; the new guy had different ideas.

Chapter Three

    It was almost dawn and I had no idea what I could do to solve the fairy problem. Despite agreeing to wait until moon dark to try the new spell, I couldn’t stop wondering about it. The result was supposed to be changing cheap wine into a great vintage. I decided to just read it over once and see if there was anything we could get set up in advance.
    The trick seemed to be pouring the cheap stuff from a high enough point to allow the spell time to work. I was scratching out some possible distances to test when I heard something tapping on the south window. It had to be a Real Folk, because no human would make it through my wards — they would just change their mind about coming in. I put the paper and pen away before I approached the window. As usual, the basement windows were covered with tight blackout blinds and a layer of spelled paper. It keeps me safe from observation but allows me to hear anyone who tries to get through.
    I removed the paper and held a protective spell ready to go before I lifted the blind. A pixie dressed in strips of foil and pink embroidery thread was tapping on the glass with a five inch bobbin.
    “Finally, wizard.” His voice was creaky and familiar.
    Great, that was all I needed: Olan Merewater.
    “Come to the front,” I said. “I’m not opening the window.
    “Understandable.” Olan jumped off the sill and I saw the point of his bobbin bouncing away.
    I unlocked the front door and invited him in.
    “I have information,” he announced.
    My stomach clenched. “Why should I trust your information? The last time we talked you caused a fight with a bear spirit and left me to resolve it.”
    “Don’t whine it’s not attractive, you did survive after all. Look, wizard I have information that will save the humans. You know I have an interest in protecting the humans, right?”
    Olan had run afoul of the Pacific Coast Real Folk before I was born. “Yeah, I know the story. Is it true you caused the death of an entire village?”
    “No, it was not that bad. And it was an accident.” He winced at the memory. “But I did have to accept Raven’s punishment. Now I have to protect the humans for another four bloody centuries.” He climbed up the side of my favorite easy chair and sat on the arm. Preening his pink hair he asked, “Would you have any thistle tea?”
    I put the kettle on and looked around for a suitable cup. I found a screw top on the back of the counter and rinsed it under the hot water tap. “Okay, how do I know I can trust you? I did survive the last trick you played, but barely.”
    He shrugged. “How do you know anyone be trustworthy?”
    “Yes, but not everyone has your history.” I didn’t want to add to my problems, but Olan was right. He did have an interest in humans; maybe he was more afraid of Raven than interested in playing games. “What about the time you made Mark’s beer turn red and smell like blood?”
    “It was just a joke. It was still beer after all. Besides it was a very long time ago.”
    The kettle boiled and I made a mug of tea, pouring some into the twist top before passing it to Olan. “What is your information?” I figured it was worth hearing him out. It was up to me to decide whether I trusted it or not.
    “I was in the park and overhead two iris fairies. There’s a problem with their breeding. Well the problem is they aren’t breeding.” Olan cocked his head and looked at my bookshelf. “That’s rather attractive.” He pointed to the top shelf where I kept a few trinkets that held my protection spells. “It would be nice to get one of those as a present.”
    “I’m sure it would. Is that all you have to tell me.” I could make a replacement charm but I had a feeling Olan wouldn’t bother coming here just to tell me that fairies couldn’t have babies.
    He looked at the charm again and I saw a bit of lust light up his green eyes. Then he shrugged and looked back at me. “It seems that it just started happening, or not happening if you get my drift. Some of the clans are almost gone.”
    “Shit.” Having clans of the Real Folk die out is bad for everyone. It’s like they take their share of the power with them. When the Vamps were killed, we all lost a little bit of our ability. “So what does this have to do with killing humans?”
    Olan sipped his tea. “I really like that pretty charm, Quinn.”
    There was something desperate in his tone. “Why do you need a protection charm, Olan? You are a pretty powerful being. Who have you pissed off now?”
    “Well, thank you Quinn. I am a powerful creature and I think a mighty handsome one. I have a bit of a problem with the Irish bird.”
    “You pissed off The Morrigan? Man, I thought you were supposed to be smart.” Olan was probably stronger than The Morrigan all around, but she was focused on death and war and sex. Pull your power from three essential aspects and you get what the economists call ‘a multiplier’.
    “It was more a prank that she took offense to. I forgot she has no sense of humor.”
    Despite myself I laughed. “And you should develop a sense of danger. Jeez. Do you have any more information before you go? I don’t want that crow attacking my place to get to you.”
    “No, I don’t have any details. I was thinking we could work together. Between us we could save the day, so to speak.” Olan jumped up and walked along the arm of the chair.
    “Yeah, and I suppose you thought I could protect you from the crow.” I sighed, but Olan knew he’d won. We both had Irish problems, and maybe it would make sense to team up.
    “Yes, if it comes to that, I hope so.” He gave me a wide grin.
    I took down a small silver charm and showed it to Olan. “I’ll go refresh this. Do you think you can wear it?”
    “Of course, it will shrink to fit. I thank you, Quinn.”
    I went back down to my workroom and found the potion I’d made yesterday to refresh my charms. I dipped Olan’s in the pot and dragged a fine silver chain behind it.
    After Olan left I crawled into bed. We’d agreed to gather information and get back together later. First I needed to restore my own power. Sleep is the great provider of energy and I’d had too little lately.
    After too short a nap I headed out. I figured the fairies themselves would be the best source of information and Stanley Park, only a few blocks away, was full of fairy clans. I took a bottle of water and some sour candies and sat on a bench in the sun.
    “Wacher got?” I looked to where the sound came from and saw a tulip fairy standing at my elbow.
    “Hello, brother. I need some information. In exchange I have these.” I held out the sour candies and bottle of water.
    “Kinda information?” He kept his eyes on my hands. “I might know what you want.”
    This was the tricky part. I needed to obligate the fairy so he had to give me information, but I needed to know if he had what I wanted. If I gave the candy and he only had information about how to plant bulbs for the best flowers, I was stuck with that. If I told him what I needed, he might decide the price wasn’t good enough.
    “The Irish ones are doing something.” I watched his eyes shift from my hand to flick around the park.
    He licked his lips. “No.”
    I felt sorry for him. He looked like he hadn’t eaten for a while, but I couldn’t give him anything for free or the other fairies would think I was a sucker and I’d never get anything out of them at a reasonable price.
    “Do you know who I should talk to?” It would be worth a few candies if he could get me someone.
    “Yes. For seven sweets I will bring them.”
    “For five.” I had plenty of candy but fairies didn’t trust anyone who didn’t bargain.
    He brightened. “Three now, two when I bring him.”
    “Two now, three later.”
    He nodded and held out his hand, tossing one candy into his mouth before running off to a stand of bulrushes near the pond.
    I waited, sipping some of the water. There was a pleasant buzz floating around adding a drowsy quality to the air. I felt my eyelids droop and my head jerk.
    Dammit, a spell!
    The fairies must figure if they stole the candy, they didn’t owe me. Sometimes I’m way too trusting.
    “Stop.” I snapped upright. “If you take these without fair trade you are violating code.”
    “I told you,” a voice squeaked next to my left elbow, Tulip. He pulled on my pant leg. “Okay here is Bob. He will tell. He owes me.”
    I looked at Bob who was taller than Tulip and had a bush of brown hair topping a skinny frame. He was a bulrush fairy. Bob did not look like he wanted to tell me anything. “Are you passing me the obligation?” I asked.
    Tulip nodded and held his hand out for payment. I considered holding on to his candy until I was sure Bob was going to give me the goods, but he looked so hungry I dropped an extra candy in his grubby palm. Tulip turned his big fairy eyes on me and split his face in a grin. I knew it meant the same thing as when I smile, but fairies have pointy teeth set wide in their faces, so it looked more like he was thinking of taking a bite out of me.
    Tulip raced to the shade of an oak tree, putting the extra candy at the root. I liked the fact that he gave an offering to the park spirit even though he was hungry.
    “So, Bob.” I looked him over. “Did he tell you what I wanted to know?”
    “Yes.” Bob kept his gaze on me.
    “Do you have the information?”
    “Maybe, but I don’t know if what is known is what you want.”
    And so I start the negotiations again. “Why don’t you tell me?”
    He shrugged. “It’s dangerous. You might want to keep out of it when you know there’s no going back.”
    “Well, thank you. But I think I can take care of myself. If you know what’s going on with the Sidhe, tell me.”
    Bob hitched himself up on the bench beside me. “Do you have any more candy?”
    “Yes.” I took a handful out of the bag. “You can have this if you tell me what you know. I will add more if it is good information.”
    Bob’s eyes flickered from the candy in my hand to my face. With this much sugar he could attract a lot of females. Most fairies liked to have multiple partners and to breed with as many others as possible even though they formed lifelong partnerships with one mate. Bob gave a little smile and I could see he was counting the females in his mind. Then the smile dropped and he frowned. He must have remembered that they weren’t breeding any more.
    His shoulders dropped. “Why do you want this information?”
    “I want to know why humans are being murdered. You know that will bring trouble eventually.”
    He sighed. “Yes. Human trouble may be bad. Sidhe trouble is bad.”
    “Maybe I can fix that.”
    Bob jerked back from me. “Why would you?”
    I laughed. “You know us wizards. We like to meddle in everything. Beside what is bad for the fairies is bad for everyone.”
    His eyes gleamed. “You can end the Sidhe?”
    Fairies were kind of in the moment creatures and didn’t understand the larger picture. I guess it comes from being tied to seasonal things like flowers. “No. It’s not good to end anyone. It’s better to stop them, but not end them.”
    “Okay. What you want to know?”
    “The Sidhe are paying the fairies to kill humans, right?’
    “Yes, they want us to kill with poison. Harder the better. More pain more payment.”
    “What is the payment?”
    “Breeding, only fairies who kill for Sidhe have babies.” Bob’s face crinkled.
    I took a few more candies out of the bag. “Do you know why they are doing this?”
    “Yes.” A tear dropped off Bob’s eyelash. “My wife wants babies. I don’t want to kill humans.”
    “Tell me what you know.” I put the whole bag of candy on the bench between us. Maybe I could stop the Sidhe before Bob had to make a choice.
    “Fionuir found some way to stop baby fairies coming. Now we have to give her human spirit power to get okay to breed. That’s all I know.”
    “Thanks, Bob.” I pushed the bag of candy toward him. “Let me see what I can do.”
    Damn Sidhe, I thought as I walked home. They are like spoiled teenagers. Never caring about the repercussions of their actions.

Chapter Four

    Like I told Bob, all I needed to do was stop the killing. And do that before the humans found any clue that led to a Real Folk perpetrator. There is way too much history about humans and things they don’t understand. We may have magic, but they have bullets. Bullets win every time.
    So, I had to talk to Fionuir and she wouldn’t just let me walk in and chat. She was the queen and all the other Sidhe obeyed and protected her, or else. Getting an audience with Fionuir could be easy if she liked you. I’m not sure she had any feelings for me- yet. The Sidhe could be cruel and cold, but they could also be charming and funny. I just had to figure out how to get on Fionuir’s charming side.
    I needed a contact.
    The only one I had in the court was Melbe. He’s a sprite with a talent for management who runs the Sidhe household. And he owes me.
    I grabbed my crystal ball off the shelf. It’s not like you think, a big round globe of clear crystal. It’s a roughly round dingy pink lump of crystal. It gets clear when it’s ready to deliver the goods. I put the crystal on a black cloth which covered the dirt part of the floor and then I sat.
    Now I had to get my questions in order. I knew the Sidhe would be monitoring information requests and the longer I was on the crystal, the easier I would be to locate. And if I got caught, Melbe would also be caught- and he would be hurt.
    I cleared my thoughts and brought his face to mind. Sprites all look pretty much the same, only one or two differentiators exist. Mainly size; they came in all ranges from eighteen inches to the size of an ancient sequoia. If you know what to look for, you can recognize individuals at a glance. Melbe had a notch in his left ear from a duel with a pixie.
    I breathed on the crystal and whispered his name.
    The crystal cleared and then faded again. That usually meant someone was ignoring me. I breathed on the crystal again and whispered, “Melbe.”
    “Go away. I am busy.” Melbe’s brown face frowned at me. “Oh, it’s you. Just give me a minute to get someplace private.”
    I saw the background move nauseatingly for a second then Melbe’s face came back into focus. “I can only give you a few minutes before someone will come looking for me. What do you want? And whatever it is, we’re even right?”
    “Okay yes, we’re even. I want to know what’s going on with this fairies thing?”
    He nodded. “Ah, the breeding plan?”
    It bothered me that he seemed so blase about it. “There’s got to be more to this than trying to control the flow of baby fairies. What else is Fionuir up to?”
    He glanced sideways. “What do you know about the Sidhe succession?”
    “Not much, they keep pretty much to themselves and most of us find that to be a good thing.”
    He chuckled. “Yes, I understand why. Anyway, they choose a queen every fifty years. They can choose the same queen or a new one.”
    “So this is the end of the fifty years?” A political fight wasn’t going to be easy to resolve.
    “Yes, Fionuir does not want to give up power so she came up with a plan to make herself the best choice.” He glanced around again.
    “And that involves killing humans?”
    He didn’t turn back to face me, but I could still hear his words. “Yes. You know how lazy the Sidhe are. Well, the killing is giving them power for no effort. So far it seems to be working.” He turned back to me and I could see the tension pinching his face.
    I wondered if I could find an ally in one of the others, although no Sidhe could really be trusted. “If Fionuir is taking this much risk, the other contenders must be strong. Who is she most worried about?”
    Melbe glanced sideways again. “I have to…” He faded from the crystal. Whatever made him leave must have been dangerous, it would have taken all his power to break the summoning. I hoped he was fast enough not to get caught.
    At least he gave me some information. I could probably find out who the other Sidhe was and maybe she would be willing to stop Fionuir without extracting too big a price.
    I wrapped the cloth around the crystal and put it back on the shelf. I was thinking about a cold beer when the rapping on my window started again.

    I let Olan in the front door.
    “Did you get any information?” He asked as he climbed onto the kitchen chair.
    After I told him what I’d learned from Melbe he smiled and said, “So the Queen is worried. I’m sure she has reason to be. She’ll have made a few enemies while in power.”
    I shrugged, that was like saying rain was wet. “I still don’t get why the fairies are suddenly becoming barren. What if it’s permanent? What happens when sprites can’t reproduce, or wizards? Or, pixies?”
    Olan bobbed his head. “I’ve no expertise on fairy husbandry, and pixies are not having any problems in that direction. I doubt Fionuir is the kind to wait for fate to give her an opportunity. It’s my guess she created this whole situation.”
    He had a point. This seemed like too much of a coincidence to me, too. I really wanted it to be more than a coincidence because I can’t do anything about fate, but I can stop a Bean Sidhe; maybe. “I need to talk to Fionuir. If I can get an audience, I might be able to get her to reconsider whatever the reason is for this.”
    Olan snorted and hopped down to walk into the living room. He jumped on the coffee table and stood on tiptoes so he could look out the window.
    I got tired of waiting for him to say what he had to say. “Do you know anything I can use to get to Fionuir?”
    He turned back to me. “Well, I’m thinking you don’t have to do this alone.”
    This was going to be a problem. I didn’t like to put other people in danger, and Olan was just unreliable. “I work alone. I could use information, but that’s all. This is going to be dangerous. Really dangerous.”
    “Yes.” Olan turned back to me. “I was here when the Sidhe arrived. That’s, what? Five hundred years ago? I knew they’d be trouble then. I’ve been proven right more than once since. Remember when they thought Father Bear was mocking them?”
    Father Bear was one of the old Pacific Coast Folk. They had been around since time began. Literally, they started time. “I’m only three hundred years old. What happened?”
    He sat down and laid his bodkin spear across his lap. “Ah, you kids, you don’t know anything about history. Well it was Fionuir’s mother who got it into her head that there had been an insult. In revenge she burned half the forest. Father Bear got a singed paw.” Olan gave another laugh. “Ah, well, it wasn’t that bad; no one got killed and the forest did need to be refreshed.”
    “Okay, we all know the Sidhe don’t have a lot of perspective when they’re mad.” I remember a few stories myself. “That’s why I’m going to do this alone.”
    “Alone is not good,” Olan said. “Better to have many talents together. When you spread the work, you make it harder for your enemy to break you.”
    Great, wisdom from a pixie. “I don’t want anyone hurt.”
    Olan walked back and forth. “Nor me, but doing it alone won’t stop the hurting. What happens to one of us hurts others. And, no matter how prettily you ask, Fionuir is not going to just change her plans to make you happy.”
    He was right. I thought about how Cate would feel if I got killed. I know how I would feel if I got her killed. Crap, thinking about this wasn’t going to get the problem solved. “I know; that’s not what I was planning. I’m hoping I can get something to hold over her head. Or, if she’s done something, find a way to reverse it.”
    “You need help.” Olan seemed to be stuck on one path. It was like arguing with a two-year-old. Time to try a different tactic.
    “Okay, I need help. I need information. When I have that, I’m working on my own.”
    “I might be able to find you any information.”
    “I was thinking of someone more reliable, Olan. I can’t be second guessing every step of the way. If you pull a trick, the whole plan could be screwed. It’s too important for that. You know the humans will kill us wholesale rather than look at us.”
    “I swear I’ll not trick you.” He stifled a smile. “I am required to keep the humans safe. The only way I see clear to do that is to stop the Sidhe taking contracts out on them. I’m a bit too small to do that on my own.”
    One thing still bothered me. “Why is The Morrigan angry with you?”
    Olan jumped down from the table and started to walk away. “It’s nothing to do with this.”
    “See, you won’t give me important information and you want me to trust you.”
    He turned to face me and I saw a green blush under his skin. “It is embarrassing and it’s not important. What is important is information about the Sidhe, or about the fairies.”
    Nice try. I wasn’t going to let him get away with it. “The Morrigan is part of the same world as the Sidhe. If she is angry she’ll get in the way just to spite you.” I wondered why Olan was being so dense.
    “I may have given insult to her. She may have misunderstood something.”
    “Olan, just spit it out. I won’t agree to us working together unless you come clean.” I was getting really tired of this. It just proves my point, working alone is best.
    “Okay. I was talking to Brother Eagle about the general advantage of being a bird. It was a great conversation.” He smiled up at me. “But, The Crow was listening and I might have made some comment, not being mean mind you, about how some black birds were bossy. Now Brother Eagle just laughed, but he has a sense of humor.”
    I rolled my eyes. “Do you think you can avoid making it worse?”
    He leaned against his bobbin and stared at me, and then he sighed. “I promise to try.”
    “All I can ask.” I resigned myself to having a partner. It would be better to have Olan officially on my side, rather than have him ‘helping’ unofficially.

    While Olan went snooping for more information, I was going to try to figure out why it had to be poison. Why not just a convenient accident, or a suicide? Poison seemed to be too obvious for Real Folk; too likely to bring attention. The Sidhe wouldn’t want that any more than I did.
    I didn’t feel like sitting in the basement, and I didn’t need to work magic to do this research. I had a regular book on poisons, one I could read in public. So, I took it with me to the park, and enjoyed a bit of sunshine while I read about the effects of various plants on humans. Fairies would use plants. I remembered the way the woman convulsed that night. And started with Belladonna then looked at various mushrooms and flowers. They all gave pain and hallucinations and killed fast; most of them worked by ingestion. It would be difficult to keep some of them fresh enough to be guaranteed fatal. I figured two options, Belladonna and Lily of the Valley. So great, now I had information but no idea what to do with it.
    “Hello, Quinn.” Olan’s voice in my ear startled me. He was standing on the back of the bench, staying in a shadow. I looked around, but there were no humans near enough to notice him.
    “Did you find something out?” I felt the tickle of an idea still in my mind.
    “I did.”
    “Okay wait a minute. I need to work out this idea in my mind before you tell me anything that will distract me.”
    Olan sat on the back of the bench and started to braid some red threads into a rope. “Can I help?”
    “I figure the fairies are using Belladonna or Lily of the Valley. The key seems to be more pain, more fear, and more power.” This was Olan’s opportunity to show how much better it was to be working together instead of alone.
    “That sounds about right. No one gets energy from a peaceful death. Fionuir probably knew that since she was a tiny thing. Have you never noticed that the Sidhe can be found around violence?”
    “No, I don’t tend to hang around violence myself. So, something tells me there’s more to this than just increased power.”
    “Nothing I can think of just now.” Olan stuffed the rope into his pocket.
    He wasn’t helping. The itch in my brain didn’t go away nor did an answer come.
    Olan rubbed his chin and frowned. “The fairy you saw at the murder, were they from the Belladonna or Lily family?”
    “Yes. But it’s not just those clans affected. Bob didn’t say it’s just two clans, he said fairies.”
    “What was in that book about Belladonna?”
    I shrugged. “It grows here and it is fairly easy to get.”
    “Lily of the Valley, is that the same?”
    “Almost every garden on my street has some.” The tickle of an idea started to increase. “I think we’re getting warm.”
    “Well, is there a place where the fairies might harvest the plants?”
    “There’s a patch of both down at the other end of the path. But I think it’s a red herring. If we stake out that patch, we could be wasting our time. Like I said, both grow everywhere.”
    “You don’t need much to turn the flower into poison in either case.” Olan looked up at the sky. “Did you hear that?”
    “What?” I wasn’t really listening; his interruption chased the idea away before I could grasp it.
    “Nothing there. It must be my imagination.” Olan turned back to me. “Are you ready to hear my news?”
    “Sure, go ahead.” I hoped it was worth more than what I’d come up with.
    “I have a friend who supplies the Sidhe court with jewels. She tells me that the women of the courts are competing for position. There is a lot of backstabbing going on and Fionuir may lose her control of the court.”
    “Who is your friend?” His information was important but didn’t get us anywhere.
    “A brownie, she likes to find shiny things. The Sidhe take half her supply and pay with food and protection for her family.”
    “Is this information reliable?”
    “As far as I know.” Olan sidestepped closer. “Are you willing to work together?”
    “It’s not like we’ve made a lot of progress, but we haven’t screwed anything up yet either. What could go wrong?”
    For a while, we tried to think of the best way to get close to Fionuir, or find a source of real information, but eventually we ran out of ideas. The sun was warm and no one was nearby. I felt so tired and started to doze off.
    “Pixie.” A voice screeched from the treetops. I dropped the book and pulled out my wand. There was threat in that one sound. If I had to cast a protection spell I would, and be damned if a human saw.
    Olan climbed off the back of the bench. I heard him say, “damn that bird.”
    A crow the size of a small plane streaked to the earth, The Morrigan. Mad as hell and bent on Olan. I put my wand back in my pocket and stepped aside. Olan was capable of taking care of this all by himself. I looked around in case I needed to put a veil spell on us, but there was no one in sight.
    The Morrigan landed beside Olan, she shrank to double his size and stalked him. “I have been looking for you.”
    “Now, Morrigan, dear. Why do you sound so angry?” Olan tried to sidestep away from her. “I told you I didn’t mean what you thought.”
    “What did you mean by ‘the crows give birds a bad name’?” She flickered in and out from crow form to a blur of black. “How am I supposed to have taken it?”
    “I see. If that is what you heard I can see how you would be upset.” Olan kept sidestepping as if he thought he could escape. “What I actually said was, ‘they are so intelligent that they give other birds a bad name’. It was a compliment.”
    “You think me a fool.” The crow shifted into a beautiful woman, then back to crow. “Do not try your games on me.”
    Olan didn’t respond.
    “What has he told you, wizard?” The Morrigan took the form of a woman again, she was beautiful. You could tell she had something to do with the Sidhe, the same fine skin, but hers was pale without the rosy blush of the Sidhe. Her hair dropped below her waist but it was black and straight, not fair and curly. She stalked toward me and the world disappeared as I met her green gaze. “Tell me.” Her voice surrounded me.
    “Just gossip about the court.” I heard myself say.
    “Hmm, those children are doing what comes naturally. Leave them to my protection.”
    I felt a poke on my ankle, but I couldn’t look down.
    The Morrigan leaned in and I fell into her eyes. “He will betray you when you need him the most.”
    Then she let me go. I saw her shift back to a crow and she lunged at Olan before launching herself to the sky, one of the feathers from Olan’s staff in her beak.
    I sank back onto the bench. Olan hopped onto the back and said, “She took a feather. That must mean she likes me.”
    I laughed. It was going to be fun, even if it killed us.

Chapter Five

    Standing in an alley in downtown Vancouver in the rain, at night, with a pixie might seem suspicious. So, I had cast a spell that deepened the shadows around us.
    I bent down to close the gap between Olan’s ear and my mouth. “Are you sure she will meet us?”
    “I am.”
    “A dandelion fairy isn’t the most reliable source.” I thought over the possibilities. Maybe someone was playing a trick, maybe someone was lying. “I hope she does really have some information for us. I don’t know that there is anything that will stop the Sidhe if we can’t find out how she’s doing this.”
    “You’re chatty for a wizard. Stop before you bring the wrong attention down on us.”
    He was right, but I was nervous. I endured another fifteen minutes of drizzle and dripping before we heard footsteps. That didn’t bode well; fairies don’t make a sound when they walk because they don’t actually touch the ground. I leaned forward out of the shadow to get a quick peek at the source of the sound. Olan pulled at my pant leg and I leaned back. I didn’t sense anyone else coming, and the alley had been clear when we started.
    The fairy stepped into a pool of light and I could see she was carrying a sack. The footsteps were coming from inside the sack. I knew Dandelions were weird but this was over the top.
    “If you want to talk, you have to show yourselves. I know you are there, but I’m not talking to shadows. Come out or I go.” The squeaky voice was an odd contrast to the words. I guess toughness transcends size.
    Olan stepped out and looked up at the fairy. She was tiny for her kind, but the blond fluff of hair added another two inches. I sidestepped out of the shadow to avoid stepping on her.
    “Good evening, madam,” I said, figuring formality was the best first approach. “I am Quinn, this is Olan. You may have heard of him.”
    “Yes, everyone has heard of the trickster. You, I do not know.” She looked me up and down. I thought she might fall over backward when her gaze reached my head. “Hmm, tall. I am called Evangeline Clock. You may use that name.”
    “When we met earlier, you said you knew how the Sidhe are controlling the fairies’ breeding. Will you tell us?” I guess he didn’t like being out in the rain either.
    Evangeline shrugged. “What will you give me?”
    I expected the bartering. It would not occur to Evangeline that saving her species would be payment enough. Or, perhaps she didn’t have any confidence in our abilities and wanted payment up front. Most fairies like sparkly things, or whole spices as well as sour candy. I had a supply of cloves, star anise and a few glittery bangles I found in a dollar store.
    I held out two bangles. “I have these for payment. They will fit as necklaces, you will be envied.”
    Evangeline stepped closer and ran her finger along the edge of the bangles. She sniffed and opened her sack. Inside I caught a glimpse of white bone. The noise I had taken for footsteps was actually two small skulls knocking together.
    “I have those already,” she said, showing me the evidence, one pink and one yellow bangle just like the ones I held.
    I reached into my pocket and pulled out the remaining two bangles, a red one and a blue and violet striped one. “What about these?”
    Her face split in a beautiful smile, and her yellow eyes seemed to glow. She checked her reaction and sniffed again. “Pretty and a good start. Giving you this information can get me killed and my whole clan banned from the breeding program.”
    She had a point, and if we didn’t succeed that’s probably what would happen. “If we stop the Sidhe, you will be able to breed. That is part of the payment.”
    Olan had been quiet. I glanced down and he had disappeared.
    Evangeline shrugged. “Maybe is no good to me.”
    “If I give you payment, will the information help me to stop the Sidhe?” I figured I had to go all in, but I wasn’t going to do that without some assurance. “Will you let me place a truth spell?”
    She threw back her head and brayed a laugh. “Ha, wizard, you don’t have a spell that will work on my kind.”
    I did but she didn’t need to know that until I cast it.
    My gut was telling me she would give us what she had for the spices, there were enough in my pocket to make her rich. I pulled out the star anise and showed the five pieces to her. “Tell me what you know and I’ll give you these. If it is helpful information, I will add cloves to the payment.”
    Evangeline crept up to my outstretched hand. She placed her minuscule fingers on my thumb to bring my hand lower. Her nose sniffing at the five-cornered spices, her eyes lit up. She stared up at me and I could feel the weight of her scrutiny. She licked her finger and rubbed it along the edge of the anise, then tasted the brown powder. “Good, fresh.”
    I lifted my hand, gently so I didn’t hurt her. “If you want these, you must tell me what you know about what the Sidhe are doing to stop you breeding.”
    “Okay, Wizard. Come with me, this is too important to say in an alley.” She started walking farther down.
    I hurried after her. “Where are you going?”
    She turned and beckoned to me. “Just into this doorway, don’t fret.”
    I revised my estimation of her age. This wasn’t a teenager; Evangeline has been around more years than me I bet. When we both stood in the shelter of a fire escape she pulled at my coat until I bent to her level.
    “My cousin, Elbert, was watching a flock of moths one evening. He was at the Drell museum. You know where the druids keep old things?”
    I nodded. Most of the old things were of huge historical significance. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this.
    “So, that Fionuir and her five guards went in just after Elbert arrived. Elbert got curious and got up in the tree beside the back door. Then after a few minutes, the Sidhe came running out. Fionuir was holding something and laughing.”
    “Do you know what it was?” If it came from the Drell museum, it was powerful.
    “No, but it was stone and looks like this.” Evangeline scratched in the dirt. She drew a square that would fit into my palm, and then scribed a rune in each corner. My blood chilled. The Gur amulet; it was used to capture the spirits of murdered druids. It was a powerful battery. What did Fionuir want with it?
    “Did the druids come after them?” I hoped so, if they came after the amulet they would eventually find it. If not, we were going to have a hell of a time.
    “No. Elbert stayed for an hour, his spot in the tree was perfect for moth watching. No one else came out.” She held out her hand. “That is all I know.”
    I passed her the star anise and pulled the cloves out of my pocket. Her information wouldn’t get us any closer to stopping this, but knowing the Gur amulet was in Sidhe hands, was worth the price.
    “That’s interesting,” Olan stepped into the light as soon as Evangeline left. “What’s this amulet about?”
    “Where have you been?”
    “Keeping lookout. You never know who might come by and overhear.” Olan paced around the dry space. “So, why did Fionuir steal the amulet?”
    “I don’t know. Something that old has great power. You can use it to feed a spell. Or you can use it for its original purpose. But I’m pretty sure that Fionuir is not capturing spirits of murdered druids.”
    “Why would the druids want to capture those spirits?”
    “I think they expected to free their fellows at a safe time, but there wasn’t one for centuries, and no one really knows how to do it anymore, if they ever did.” I started walking away from the safety of the fire escape. “Come on; let’s get back to my place. It’s warm and I have beer.”
    “Not so fast, Quinn.” Olan looked up and then cocked his head as though listening. “Why didn’t the druids go after Fionuir?”
    “Who knows why druids do or don’t do anything? Come on. I’m cold and wet.” As I spoke I looked up and saw why Olan wouldn’t come out. On the landing of the fire escape was a shadow. It shifted and flickered, but mostly stayed in the shape of a crow. “What did you do, Olan?”
    “Nothing, I swear.” Olan kept his gaze on the landing.
    “How long has she been there?” If The Morrigan had heard us talking about druids and amulets, she would tell Fionuir and we would never fix this problem.
    “Just now, don’t fret.” Olan sidled behind my legs.
    “Morrigan,” I called to the shadow. If she was mad at Olan again, I wanted to get it over. Like I told the pixie, I was cold and tired. “What do you want?”
    The shadow moved, she flickered into a woman. The shadow stretched and laughed, slowly and sensually. “The pixie. He can’t help himself.”
    “What has he done?”
    “Ask him what he keeps in his bag of toys.” She flickered back to a crow shadow.
    I looked at Olan and raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to speak.
    “I didn’t know it belonged to anyone.” He stepped out from behind me, dug around in his sack and then threw a lump that landed on the ground. “She can have it back.”
    The crow launched herself off the railing and swerved toward Olan. She screeched and swiped at Olan with her beak. Being touched by The Morrigan was death to some beings. Olan fell over.
    As I bent to pick him up, The Morrigan swept past me and took the lump in her beak. I fell back to avoid her spread wings as she rose again.
    I looked for Olan and found him lying on his side in the dirt. “Olan?” I didn’t believe he was gone. I didn’t want to believe it. He could be a pain but I was just getting to like him and he could be helpful. “Olan?” I heard a wheeze and turned him over.
    He was sprouting feathers. The transformation completed and he flapped a wing and righted himself. His beak opened and only a weak chirp emerged from his chickadee throat.
    “Can you fly?”
    He hopped and flapped his wings. No luck. He shook himself and looked around. Picking a patch of dirt he scratched with his talons the stood aside. He’d written home.
    “Okay, get up here.” I put him on my shoulder, picked up his bobbin and sack and headed for home.

Chapter Six

    Olan was making a crooning croak. I know birds are not capable of it, but I thought he was trying to clear his throat. “You should probably rest your voice. It might be temporary.”
    He butted my ear with his head.
    I really did hope he got his voice back and learn to fly if he couldn’t get back to pixie form. I figured if he didn’t, I would have a permanent bird on shoulder look. As we cut through a few alleys to get closer to my place, I thought through some possible healing spells. It was probably not a good idea to mess with what The Morrigan had done, but I felt sorry for him.
    I turned down the last alley and heard voices. Olan pecked my ear just as I came to a stop. I stepped back into the shadows. Ahead a fairy girl was walking with a human man. I could make out the glamour she’d spun to hide her true identity. In reality she was a nightshade fairy, about three feet tall and thin, dark purple hair and white skin; the glamour showed a busty blond almost six foot. The human was almost salivating with desire. I could smell his musk from here.
    Olan rocked on my shoulder, as though trying to tell me something. I hadn’t a clue whether he meant we should run away or jump in to stop what was probably about to happen.
    I stayed in the shadows.
    In my pocket I felt for the sight charm I carried for emergencies. If I was right, there would be a Sidhe lurking nearby. The spell would let me see into shadows.
    I found the charm and squeezed it to release the power, keeping it in my pocket minimized the chance the fairy would notice, but did diminish the power. I could only see dimly into the shadows, but I could see. There was a Sidhe woman wrapped in a dark cloak standing in the deepest gloom of a doorway beyond the fairy and human.
    I didn’t recognize her but she had the look of a court member. Her hair was golden; at least the few strands of curl that fell out of the hooded cloak glinted like gold. I caught a glimpse of milky skin splattered with freckles as she leaned forward slightly. Her movement brought my attention back to the fairy who was talking to the human in a warm voice.
    “Drink this.” She held a glass in her hand. “It will help you later, when we are alone.”
    “I don’t need help.” The man laughed and reached for her. “Let’s get to your place.”
    Good, he was going to survive. I searched my pockets for something to interrupt them. I didn’t have time for a spell, and the Sidhe would probably intercept it if I tried to cast something. If I could find a stone or something to throw, I could break the trance she was building.
    “No.” I wondered if he heard the desperate note in her voice as I scanned the ground. “You don’t know. I’m different.”
    “Okay, sweetie, don’t get upset.” He kissed her before taking the glass. “If you really want me to, I’ll take it, but I’ve never needed help.”
    I looked up, a chunk of brick in my hand. She smiled and leaned into him as he swirled the glass. I stepped forward to throw the brick.
    Too late, he tipped the liquid into his mouth. I saw him swallow and then drop the glass which shattered on the cobbles. The fairy stepped back as the man reached for her, his body contorting. The man twitched and spun on his heels, it looked like he was searching for something. Then he started swinging as though he was fighting more than one opponent.
    Suddenly he stumbled, one leg giving out. His hand grabbed at his stomach. He groaned. The groan changed to a gasp, and then a wheeze as his body buckled to the ground.
    The fairy beckoned to the Sidhe and held her other hand over the man as he bucked on the ground. His movements getting smaller until he almost lay still. The Sidhe bent as though to kiss the man. I saw his spirit leave his mouth to be sucked into hers. It brought back memories of vampire feasts: bad memories. Taking too many victims is where the vamps made their mistake. If the Sidhe weren’t careful they would disappear, too.
    “Well,” the fairy snapped. “You have your feast, give me my payment.”
    The Sidhe wiped the corners of her mouth before speaking. “Why should I pay you, fairy? I have what I wanted. You should have taken payment first.”
    “Do you think to cheat me? How many of us do you think would be interested in playing your game if we didn’t get to breed?”
    “True enough. I suppose you are not so blinded by desire for offspring that you would play the odds.” She straightened and reached into her cloak, withdrawing a vial. “Here, you and your mate will need to ingest this before procreating. I will guarantee one child.”
    With that the two separated, leaving the human body in the shadows. By the time he was found all traces of the poison would be gone. His convulsions would have left enough bruises to convince the authorities he was beaten to death.

Chapter Seven

    “Olan, stop that.” I needed sleep, badly. Unfortunately, I needed to figure out how to fix whatever The Morrigan had done to Olan more. I couldn’t stop the Sidhe by myself.
    I tried to get my patience back, but the bird kept bumping me with his head or with his wing. I know he wanted to tell me something but I couldn’t figure out what. I had my healing spell book open but couldn’t find anything about curing him.
    Olan bumped my arm again. I slammed my hands down on the bench. “What! You know I am doing my best. I don’t know where to look. If you have any great ideas, find a way to tell me.” He jumped on my hand, the back of my hand, but I got the hint. He couldn’t fly or talk, but he could point and I could move him around. I held up my hand and walked over to the bookshelves. If there was anything in my place that would help it was on those shelves.
    “Don’t damage my books. You peck my finger when we get close. Don’t peck my books. Do you hear me?” Olan stared at me with one beady eye then pecked my finger, hard. “Okay, point taken.”
    I held him at the top shelf. “Do you know which book you want?” Olan nodded. “Okay, peck when we get to the shelf.” I lowered my hand slowly and Olan pecked half way down, he drew blood. This was not going to be fun.
    My bookshelves ran the length of the wall. “Okay peck gently this time. I need my fingers. Is it closer to the left?” No peck. “The center?” No peck. “Okay, the right.”
    A few pecks later, I held an old volume in my unpecked hand and a cloth to soak up the blood in my other. This volume had belonged to my great grandfather. The last time I remember it being open was at my father’s funeral. It contained random spells and speeches; there were maybe six hundred pages.
    “There’s no index. I can’t let you find the spell because you’ll pick holes in the book. I can’t let you pick any more holes in my fingers. What now?”
    Olan spread his wings in a good impression of a shrug. I opened the book. The first page was covered in runes, a speech about the dangers of using most of what the book contained. I flipped gently through a few pages hoping fortune was willing to lend a hand. No such luck. Each spell and speech had a bold title and a sub heading that explained the use. After a minute, the writing started to blur and jiggle. I rubbed my eyes and it all settled for a second, then blurred again.
    “It will take a while but I can read each one. I’m really tired, though. I need a nap.”
    Olan ran over and pecked my hand. “Ouch, that didn’t help. Look, I know it must be bad for you, but I’m going to fall asleep in the book in about five minutes. Is the spell in the first few pages?”
    He shook his head back and forth. “How do you know?” He continued to shake his head. “Oh, you mean you don’t know.”
    He flapped his wings at me. “Half an hour, I just need a half hour nap. You can wake me up then if you don’t need to sleep.” I ignored his chirping and went upstairs to bed. Light was spilling in through the window, so I pulled the blackout shades and lay down fully clothed.
    I woke up to the sound of breaking glass. I shot out of bed. There were dangerous things in bottles in my house.
    Olan perched on the end of my bed. He opened his beak and I heard another bottle smash.
    “Couldn’t you wake me with a nice sound?” I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and looked at the clock, an hour. Olan had let me sleep an hour. I guess I should be grateful. “Thanks.”
    I was refreshed and I had an idea. I grabbed a glass of water and went downstairs.
    “It will go faster if I can just read the titles.” I grabbed a big sheet of paper and a Sharpie. “I’m going to write the alphabet on here and you can peck out the letters.”
    Olan hopped onto the bench and looked at me. I took that as agreement. “It’s mostly in English, do you know if the title is in English or Runic?”
    Olan looked at me again.
    “Oh, yeah. Okay, is it English?” Olan tapped his beak on the bench. I nodded and wrote the alphabet on the sheet, letters far enough apart so that he could tap them. “Go ahead.”
    Olan started tapping letters and I wrote them down. “Slow down a bit. I don’t want to miss something.”
    In less than a minute I had the title of one spell, Minimization of repercussions of punishment by Elementals. I guess it would have been clear when we found it. I laid the book open in the center, said the locater spell and flipped directly to the blue glowing page. It was three pages before the end of the book.
    “Okay, almost there, Olan.”
    I glanced down the list of ingredients and I had all of them except one — Olan’s blood. Now don’t get me wrong, I have done blood rituals before, they aren’t all black magic. But I wasn’t looking forward to taking Olan’s blood.
    He was looking over the page with me. I pointed to the blood requirement. Olan stepped away from the pages and started pecking at his chest. A few blood drops hit the top of the bench. “That’s plenty.” I grabbed a brush and dabbed the pink liquid.
    I wrote the spell on a scrap of paper and mixed the blood with rosemary. When I painted the rosemary mixture across the words, they faded. Then I used the brush to dab Olan’s beak and wings.
    “Okay, did it work?”
    Olan strutted back and forth then pronounced. “I can speak.”
    “And fly?”
    He flapped and got a bit of air. I hoped it didn’t mean I had failed. I needed my energy for solving the Sidhe problem. If I had to cast that spell again, I would need another nap. Maybe Olan had an unlimited supply of power, but I didn’t.
    “What if you got a running start?” I pointed to the edge of the bench. “Jump and flap.”
    “No, if I can’t fly, I don’t want to be breaking my leg.” Olan ruffled his feathers. “We should be thinking about stopping Fionuir.”
    I crossed my fingers that he would find his flight soon. If he could only see the world from my shoulder or my ankles, it would be useless because I could see that much.
    “Why didn’t you find a spell to turn you back to a pixie?” I was reluctant to admit my ignorance about elemental magic, but my curiosity outweighed my embarrassment.
    “It is impossible.” Maybe it was because he was a chickadee and they tend to be happy all the time, but Olan didn’t seem concerned. “Best I can hope for is for it to wear off.”
    I carried Olan over to the couch figuring we might as well get comfy while we plotted. A beer would be nice, but probably not helpful, so I grabbed a bottle of water and poured some into a saucer for Olan. Figuring he might be hungry, I offered to dig up some grubs. He shook his head.
    “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “Best we figure out two plans, or maybe more.”
    “Contingencies are good. Did you have anything in mind?” I figured it was better to let Olan put the plan on the table and work with that than try to convince him my plan was better.
    “I thought out two while you were snoring.” He flapped and got a bit more air. “I’m thinking we take a fairy and keep them until they answer questions. Maybe they know, maybe not. The other thought is, still to find a way to talk to Fionuir herself.”
    ‘You think she’ll agree to meet us?”
    “Not us, you. I think she’ll be curious and feeling fairly safe. She won’t think you can do anything to her. And, that will be her downfall. She’ll let something slip if you are patient and careful.”
    “I’m not so sure about that. Why would she tell us anything?”
    “You forget how curious the Sidhe are. You can offer exchange of information; if you have anything to give. Or, you can get her angry. Have you ever seen an angry Sidhe?”
    “I don’t think I have anything she will find interesting enough to exchange her secret for. Is an angry Sidhe, anything like an angry Crow?”
    “No need for that, Quinn. But, yes, they get blind to the consequences of their actions. Fionuir will tell us something, we’ll just have to interpret it.”
    I didn’t like the idea of making a Sidhe angry, especially Fionuir. “What about making that plan B? If we go to Fionuir first and it doesn’t work, it pretty much shuts down any other plan.”
    “That is true. Well, what about taking a fairy? What do we want to know?”
    “We know the Sidhe have the Gur amulet. We know there’s a potion to block the effects. We know the fairies are affected, but no one else, so far. We know the Sidhe, Fionuir’s Sidhe anyway are gathering power. We could use information on the location of the amulet.”
    Olan flapped his wings again gaining three feet of air before floating back to the sofa. “You think a fairy might know where it is?”
    “No, and if they did, it would be almost impossible to get that information out of them. Let’s look at this another way. If we knew what the antidote contained, we might be able to figure out how to cleanse the amulet when we found it. But that would mean another human dying.”
    “That is likely to happen,” Olan said, his tone grave. “But it can’t be because we cause it. We are trying to save humans”
    “Yes, Olan. I don’t want any more dead humans.” We may have different reasons but the outcome for the humans is the same. I don’t want them retaliating and Olan just has to protect them. “I can’t think of a way to get a sample without someone dying. So why don’t we put that under the ‘if we can’ column of plans. If we come across another killing that we can’t stop, we’ll capture the fairy and get a sample. It shouldn’t be too much of whatever that potion is, the fairy should be allowed to breed.”
    “What if we knew how the fairy makes contact?” Olan ran toward the back of the couch, making the top by flapping his wings and digging his talons into the leather. He jumped and flapped a graceful landing on the floor.
    “It looks like you just have to have patience and you’ll learn to fly. Don’t hurt yourself while trying.” I shifted so I was lying on the couch and thought through his question. It was a good idea. If we could catch the Sidhe who was running the contact, we might be able to get some of the potion without the cost of a human life. I had a feeling we were running out of time for this to go unnoticed.
    I turned my attention back to Olan. He was managing to fly from the floor to the window ledge and back without losing control.

Chapter Eight

    We waited until dark and then headed for a section of the park where the nightshade fairies built their homes.
    We stood in the shadow of a large pine. The nightshade patch was about forty feet away. I could see the fairies dancing around a small fire.
    “It looks like the mating caught.” I said to Olan. Fairies knew when they were pregnant within minutes. “Let’s hope it encourages another pair to try.”
    “It will. You know nightshades. They are happy to jump on any opportunity to mate.” Olan fluttered down from a branch. Throughout the evening he had been trying to fly from higher and higher points. He had managed to take off from a running start and flapped around for short distances, but no sustained flight, yet. I hoped he was successful soon. I hated to think of spending the rest of my life with Olan flying up and down everywhere I went.
    “You should give it a rest. If you wear out your wings, you’ll put your progress back days.”
    “That’s good advice, wizard.” He made it to my shoulder and I could hear his breath laboring.
    “You sound a bit out of shape.” I tried not to snicker, but it just came out.
    He pecked my ear. “Stop being insolent and watch the fairies. That pair by the pond are up to something.”
    I leaned sideways and saw two nightshade fairies standing just on the edge of the light. They were too far away to hear, but the body language was clear. She was telling him to get going. He was holding something in his hand, something small and shiny. “That’s gold in his hand. Okay I guess we have our target. That is unless they are planning something else.”
    “Well you won’t find out by standing here. Just follow them and be quiet about it,” Olan said.
    The nightshade boy was skirting the bushes on his way out of the park, his pale skin showing in the street light as he dashed across the street. I could see his left hand was clutching the gold tightly.
    We trailed him to a bus stop. The next bus was due in about five minutes and I said a little plea that he wasn’t going to get on when it came. Any hope of being inconspicuous was out the door if I stepped on a bus with Olan on my shoulder.
    “If we have to get on a bus, so be it. I’ll fly up to the top,” Olan said as if he had read my thoughts. “You get on and stay with the fairy.”
    “Do you think he’s going to get on?”
    “Maybe. Looks, he’s preparing a glamour right now.”
    Olan was right. As I looked, the fairy shimmered and the glamour spell turned him from a three foot nightshade fairy to a four and a half foot blond surfer type. “Do you think the Sidhe is on the bus?”
    “I’m not an oracle. Stop asking stupid questions.” Olan clacked his beak.
    “Okay, okay. It doesn’t seem likely. But if this is going down on a bus, we are going to have a hard time being subtle.”
    The fairy looked up and down the street then crossed. No bus ride for us, I hoped that wasn’t the only good luck we had tonight.
    I followed Nightshade as he continued around the corner of the last building on the street. He was going to a bar that I knew; it would be busy at this time of night. I looked at Olan and he fluttered up to the top of a street lamp. When he was settled, I pushed open the door and stepped into the noisy room.
    I could see a space at the end of the bar but all the tables were crowded with people who were red-faced with alcohol. I slid in to the opening and made feeble attempt to get the bartender’s attention. I scanned the room, trying to look as though I wasn’t. The Nightshade fairy was sitting in a far corner with someone. The lamp on the table was turned low but I saw the telltale lock of fair curly hair and rosy face of a Sidhe. I knew this one — Iain. It would not be helpful to have him see me, so I slid behind a fat man who was shouting at his companions.
    From my position, I could see Nightshade pass the gold to Iain and Iain pass a slip of paper to Nightshade. Good. Now we just had to intercept the paper. It was sure to lead us to the Sidhe waiting for the power.
    I watched Iain leave through a back door. If Nightshade left that way I’d follow and hope Olan figured it out. But Nightshade headed for the front door. I peeled away from the bar when he opened the door and made it outside just in time to see Nightshade running up the street toward home. Olan swooped down onto my shoulder as I passed the street light. “Nice, you seem to be getting the hang of it,” I said.
    He clacked his beak. “He’s going home. Do you think the meeting is tonight?”
    “To quote you, how should I know?” It would complicate things if the fairy wasn’t going to get his reward tonight. I didn’t think we could keep following him for days. “Let’s just see what happens.”
    We tracked him back home where he met his girl in the shadows. She kissed him and I heard a giggle. I tried to slip closer to hear what happened, but the girl handed him a while china jug and he turned and ran back into the dark. “We are in luck.” I whispered.
    It was about two in the morning. Nightshade would have to find and enchant a human before meeting the Sidhe. We would need to get ahead of him if we wanted to interrupt, save the human and get a sample of the potion. A half hour later, nightshade had found a man outside a bar downtown. The glamour he wore now showed a tall thin girl. Olan had ventured a short flight down the alley. He reported back, “There is a Sidhe woman half way down wrapped in a black cloak.”
    I was in favor of the direct approach. “Let’s try to capture her.”
    “Wizard, you are addled. You know there’s no sneaking up on one of them.”
    “But if we try, maybe we can get the potion. If we had a whole dose it would be better. We can do more testing.”
    “What about Nightshade? He paid for the potion. I don’t think they will give him another go at it. That means his family can’t breed.”
    I was surprised at Olan’s concern. “You are worried about the fairy?”
    “I don’t like creatures being taken advantage of. He is only doing this because the Sidhe won’t let him breed. Breeding is no choice, it is a biological imperative. You know that.”
    That’s a new side to the pixie. “If we get the potion, I can take a bit and give the rest to Nightshade. I won’t need much. The trick is going to be getting the Sidhe to drop it.”
    “If I fly into her face, maybe she will drop it trying to protect her precious looks.” He puffed his wings up and tried to look more dangerous.
    It didn’t feel like a good idea to change plans at this point. It would be too easy to lose the human while we attacked the Sidhe. Despite his initial reaction, Olan seemed confident so I pushed aside my concerns and started down the alley while Olan took to the air.
    Nightshade was still working on getting the human into the alley. The man was reluctant to trust a stranger, but it was only going to be a matter of time before he was pouring belladonna down his throat. Olan was slightly ahead of me as I entered the shadows. His flying was erratic; as though he was drunk, but I was sure he could manage the attack.
    I could see the Sidhe lurking in a doorway beside a dumpster. It amazed me that the normally fastidious Sidhe were willing to endure the smell and filth of the alley for a dose of human spirit. She was wrapped in a dark cloak as had Olan reported. The cloak was too small and I could see her hand clutching it around her, the white fingers almost shining against the dark fabric. The hood rested back from her face, framing rather than concealing. I could see she was really young. Her skin was almost translucent white except for the rosy blush of her cheeks.
    Olan swooped at her from behind. She didn’t suspect anything until his claws pulled at the hood, exposing thick spiral curls of strawberry blond hair. Both hands flew up to protect her face. Neither held the vial.
    I rushed forward to pull at the rest of the cloak. I hoped for a pocket, but didn’t get a chance. She saw me coming and spun away as I reached for her. As she did, the cloak swirled open and I saw the outline of the vial in the breast pocket of her blouse. Before I could grab at it she slipped out of arm’s reach.
    Olan flew after her, and I chased her down the alley, but it was no good. After a few twists and turns, I could no longer see even a hint of dark cloak. Olan landed on my shoulder. “Good news, I can fly. Bad news, she’s gone.”
    I could feel it all coming apart. “Can we get back to the Nightshade fairy before he kills the human?”
    “Next right and we’re back in the alley where they were supposed to meet.” Olan lifted off my shoulder and flew over the roof tops.
    When I got there, Nightshade was alone in the alley. At least there was no body on the ground. He looked up as I approached then shook his head.
    “She’s gone. You should go home.” I felt sorry for him. The poor guy was just trying to have a baby.
    “I know. Now I have to find more gold to buy a meeting. Dora will kill me.”
    “You can’t just kill a human so you can have a baby.” I knew it wasn’t worth my breath to try to convince him but I couldn’t resist the urge.
    “Who cares about stupid humans anyway? They just trample around and destroy gardens. Killing them is a service.”
    I hated that attitude. “If they find out we exist they will destroy us. Killing them will bring attention.”
    “I don’t care.” Nightshade stomped his foot. “We want a baby and this is the only way.”
    “No. I will stop the Sidhe and then you can breed without this death.”
    “Stupid wizard, you can’t stop the Sidhe.”
    Olan landed on the cobbles between us. “Let it go, Quinn. He won’t be killing anyone tonight. It is time for a new plan.”

Chapter Nine

    The next night Olan and I were back in Stanley Park looking for another fairy to follow. The park was quiet tonight. Not a human in sight.
    “I am off to scout the area,” Olan said. Since he’d worked out how to fly, he was taking full advantage of the new freedom.
    “Great, you get to fly around and I’m stuck here getting arthritis from the damp and West Nile from the mosquitoes.”
    “Okay, you do the flying around and I’ll wait here.”
    “I wish I could. Go ahead. I don’t think anything will start up here soon. Maybe you’ll find something going on. Try the Lily territory behind the tennis courts.”
    While he was gone I checked the spell lines I’d cast earlier. I had a web of spells attached to everyone I knew. If Iain came into contact with them, I’d hear about it. It was weird that I hadn’t heard anything in the last two hours. Iain wasn’t exactly a hermit. Whatever Olan came back with, we were going Iain hunting later.
    The shadows seemed to get darker; someone had joined me. It felt like my skin was crawling off my back. “What do you want?”
    “Good to see you too, Quinn,” Iain said. “I hear you are looking for me. Or should I say I felt it.”
    “Yes. I want to ask you a few questions.” I turned to face him. He was dressed in a black silk shirt and black leather pants. On him it looked normal.
    “What questions?” He flicked some imaginary speck from his shoulder.
    “About fairies and babies.”
    “Well, the daddy fairy and the mummy fairy love each other very much.” Iain started laughing.
    “Yeah, so I heard. The problem is it no longer results in babies.” I tried to read his expression but he gave nothing away. “You know what’s going on.”
    “You think so?”
    I wondered where Olan was. Iain wasn’t into violence; or rather he wasn’t into doing it personally. I could handle Iain but it would be nice to have back up. “Yes, I saw you at the pub last night with the nightshade fairy.”
    “Ah, yes, that little thing.” He checked his nails and then buffed them on his sleeve. “I can’t really tell you anything, Quinn.”
    “What’s Fionuir up to?”
    “I don’t know. You know I’m not part of the court. I’m not privy to her plans.”
    “Why does she use you to make contact with the fairies?”
    “I am, shall we say neutral? I perform a service for her and she lets me stay that way.”
    “I need to stop her. It isn’t going to be good in the long run. You know someone will have to pay for all these deaths”
    “Perhaps.” He rose. “Quinn, this isn’t going to work out for you if you keep going. Just a friendly warning.”
    “If I don’t, it won’t work out for anyone.” I felt like I was the only one who could see how badly this would end for us Real folk. We call ourselves that but the humans are more real than we are and they were increasing in number while we were diminishing.
    Iain sighed. “Leave it Quinn. You won’t be able to stop her. If she wants to pull power she will. If you try to interfere it will indeed end with someone dying. I like you, Quinn. Don’t be a fool.”
    “I can’t help it. I remember the last time we ignored the humans. You should too. You loved Belinda.”
    “Don’t bring her into this.” Iain spat the words. Even after all this time, the death of his vampire lover stung. “I can’t help you.”
    He spun and faded into the shadows.

    Olan practiced flying all the way home. It took a half hour to make it back and when we got there, I saw someone standing in the shadows beside the door; about three feet tall and skinny, probably a fairy.
    “Olan, get up on the roof.” I shrugged him off my shoulder. “Leave the fairy to me.”
    He landed on the roof of the porch and settled down as I made it to the first step.
    The fairy rushed toward me and I put my hands out to stop him. A nettle fairy can attack with a tiny prick of poison that will fell you in a few seconds. It doesn’t kill, but it can leave you paralyzed for months.
    “Stay there and tell me what you want.” I figured I knew but didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
    “I want you to stop bothering the Sidhe. We need babies, and that is the only way.” The fairy trembled, his green skin flashing dark then pale with emotion. “Please. Stop.”
    I was getting tired of pointing out the long term problem with that plan. Knowing fairies didn’t think in the long term didn’t stop me from hoping they would get it. I told him what would happen.
    “Quinn Larson. You are wise but you don’t have any solution to our problem.”
    I heard Olan grumbling from the roof.
    “What is your name?” It couldn’t hurt to try to make a connection.
    “Stern Greenway, I am prince of the nettles. I have to protect my people. If we don’t breed we will die out. There are precious few of us now. Where will we be in a year?”
    “Fionuir has caused your problem. Did you know that?”
    “It doesn’t matter who or what caused it, the Sidhe have the cure. We will do as they ask.”
    “It’s not a cure. I’m pretty sure that you’ll need to go to them again for the next baby.”
    “So, we have enough poison to kill as many humans as it will take.”
    “And will you teach your children to kill?”
    “We have started already.”
    Olan squawked. I cut my eyes to the roof. I could see his beak and eyes popping over the gutter.
    “That’s a lot of humans, they’ll notice,” I said to Stern.
    Stern threw his arms out. “So we deal with that when it happens.”
    “Why did you come to me?” I knew by the way he hopped from foot to foot that he had something else to say. “Why now? I haven’t been able to do anything to stop you.”
    “We didn’t take the Sidhe up on the offer right away. We didn’t think it was necessary. We have times when we have few babies and times when we have many.” He took a deep breath and I could see he was making up his mind. “But, we were worried. So, I went to see the old lady.”
    The old lady was something of an oracle. No one had actually seen her in centuries. She usually talked through an intermediary. “What did she say?”
    “She said that you would stop the Sidhe but the cost would be heavy. She meant the fairies would die out.” Tears started to fall. “If the fairies go, what will happen to the world?”
    “It might mean something else.” I didn’t trust anything the old lady said. Like most oracles, she gave such open answers everyone interpreted it their own way. “She could mean the cost would be for me, or for the humans, or for Fionuir.”
    “No, it must be us, we asked the question. Why would she tell us about the cost if it had nothing to do with us?”
    Olan landed in front of Stern. “You stupid fairy.” I heard a power I didn’t know he had roar from his beak. “Killing humans will be your ruin. If they don’t retaliate, I will.” Stern bent backward as though caught in gale.
    “But…” Stern didn’t manage another syllable.
    “If you bring the attention of other beings that protect the humans, you will be crushed. Did you not think?”
    I didn’t move; getting between Olan and Stern was a bad idea and I have strong survival skills. But, I could talk. “Olan, settle down. They are just trying to survive.”
    Stern looked at me then stepped back, trembling. Olan turned to me; I saw thunder and lightning in his eye. As soon as Olan turned, Stern leapt over the railing and disappearing into the dark.
    “Damn you wizard,” he spat. “Now he’s gone.”
    “Yes, and that’s the best way for this to end. He is just one fairy. We need to stop this at the source.”

Chapter Ten

    Olan flapped back up to the roof. I figured he was going to simmer for a while. If I was right, I would much rather he do it on the roof than in my workshop.
    “Well, goodnight.” I pulled my keys out and flicked off the protection spells. As I opened the door, something rushed past me. It wasn’t Olan, too tall, and pink for that.
    I stood in the doorway and looked around. “I did not invite you. Step out from where you are and explain yourself.”
    Nothing happened. My spells should have stopped anyone entering without permission, failing that it should have compelled the intruder to the center of the room. This was not exactly impossible, but it meant there were only a few Folk it could be. To avoid the spells, my intruder must have been here before. When I invite people, it’s for the one visit unless I expressly state it. Olan was a permanent guest so he could come and go as long as I don’t physically lock the door because he can’t manage to open it.
    The other way for someone to be able to enter was if they left enough of their possessions behind them. I was very careful about checking to make sure my few visitors didn’t leave any articles of clothing or belongings. But, it seems I missed one.
    “Okay, come out and we can talk.” I saw a blur out of the corner of my eye and spun, casting a protection spell as I did. A rose fairy smashed against the spell and bounced back, dropping a knife in the process.
    “Wizard,” she spat, picking up the knife. “Drop the spell and fight me fairly.”
    There was no such thing as fair fighting with fairies. When they decided to kill you they didn’t play fair, they played for keeps. I threw a confinement spell around her. Step one was to make sure she couldn’t get back in. “Princess Elizabeth, what did you leave here?” She didn’t speak but I noticed her glance toward a box on my kitchen counter. I tipped the box and found a golden ring in the bottom. “That’s the last time I invite you to my party.” I opened the door and tossed the ring into the yard.
    When I turned back she was hissing and spitting while trying to break the confinement spell. The problem was it bound her like a constrictor, more struggling meant tighter binding. “Stop struggling before you hurt yourself.”
    Olan waddled into the room. I had left the door open so I could toss her out when I was done with her. “What did you do to piss her off?” He asked.
    “As a wild guess I would say it has something to do with the Sidhe.”
    Princess Elizabeth was now whimpering because the invisibles bonds of the spell cut into her arms where she’d continued to struggle despite my warning. I flicked my fingers and loosened the bonds a little. “Don’t tighten them again, or I will leave them.”
    Olan circled the fairy clucking. “Look at her; she hasn’t eaten for a long stretch. She is all bones and wings.”
    He was right. What the hell was going on? I hoped the Sidhe hadn’t upped the ante. So far I hadn’t believed they were trying to kill the Real Folk, but that they just didn’t care about the repercussions. Now, I wondered if maybe they were trying to destroy the entire fairy species. “Why haven’t you eaten?”
    She just spat.
    “Did the Sidhe have anything to do with it?”
    No response.
    I shut the front door. “We need to go downstairs. I have some things down there that will make her talk.”
    Olan shook his feathers and walked over to me. “I didn’t think you be the kind of wizard who would stoop to ‘techniques’ to get information.” His voice was low.
    “I’m not. I have a spell that will make her answer our questions and not hurt her. When we get information, I’ll remove the spells and let her go. Or rather, I’ll put her outside and then remove the spells.”
    Princess Elizabeth was staring at me and trembling, I felt like an asshole, but her fear will make the spell work better. I reminded myself I really wasn’t going to hurt her. I picked her up, she weighed so little I could hold her in one hand.
    “I am off to do some more research.” Olan called as he fluttered outside.
    I could have used Olan when I cast the spell, but we did need to split up to get more information, so I nodded and took Princess Elizabeth downstairs.
    Ten minutes after I cast the spell, I noticed that she kept nodding off between questions. It wasn’t because of the spell. It was because she didn’t have any reserves of energy. She was only a few steps away from death.
    “Princess, why are you so thin?”
    “I am being punished. I failed to get the lotion.” Her voice was barely audible. I fetched the bottle of honey from my kitchen. Fairies practically lived on sugar. Releasing the binding, I poured honey onto a plate. “I said I was being punished. I cannot eat that until I am forgiven.”
    “What do you know about this problem?”
    “Only that babies stopped and the other Real Folk couldn’t help. Then the Sidhe came to tell us they would fix it.”
    “They have an amulet.” I reminded myself not to give away too much information. “It has something to do with your problem.”
    “Yes,” she choked out the words, eyes on the honey. “Fionuir painted a spell on it. Then we had no babies.”
    That got my attention. If Princess Elizabeth had seen something, maybe she held the clue to breaking the spell. “Did you see what happened?”
    “No. My lover did. He said she put some brown liquid on the amulet and it glowed.”
    I considered asking if she would take me to her lover, then realized she’d probably try to kill me the minute I released her. “Why are you trying to kill me?”
    “You are stopping the Sidhe. If I kill you, then we can continue to breed. And, maybe I will be forgiven.”
    “Why did you fail?”
    She squirmed in the binding. I loosened the spell a little when I saw the raw wounds on her arms. Her gaze never left the honey. But I knew she couldn’t eat it. Fairies are stubborn about their ethics. Rose fairies were the worst. If I forced her to eat, she would be shamed and maybe killed by her clan.
    I waited a few minutes. “Do the other fairies know why you failed?” Tears were sliding down her cheeks. “Is that why you are being punished?”
    She sobbed in a breath and nodded.
    I knew she would tell me now. That’s how the spell worked; if you could get one hard truth out of the subject then the others would follow. “Tell me what happened. Maybe I can help.”
    Now it was time for patience while she fought the compulsion to tell me. If I spoke to her before she answered, I would have to start again. I’m not sure she would survive long enough for that. If she spoke, I could cast a spell to preserve her until I could solve this problem.
    She turned her head away from the plate of honey, a grimace pulled at her mouth but she tucked her head into her shoulder. If it weren’t for the trembling of her body, I might have thought she was sleeping.
    I’d left a small window open upstairs so I wasn’t surprised when Olan swooped into the room while Princess Elizabeth struggled against her compulsion. I motioned with my head for him to land near me. When he was on the ground, he looked at Princess.
    “Did she tell you what you need?”
    “Not all of it. But we were right, Fionuir cast a spell on the amulet, painted it with brown liquid.”
    “Why is she biting her lips?”
    “There’s something more and she’s trying not to tell me. She will.”
    Olan gave that little bird shrug. “If she doesn’t know what the spell is, why bother?”
    “She failed to get the potion. I figure it’s important to find out why. Maybe we can just break the routine enough to make the Sidhe bored. Did you get anything on your travels?”
    “Yes. There is a pattern. My source says the Sidhe need a sacrifice every three days at minimum. He didn’t know why but he heard them talking after one of the killings.”
    “Who’s your source?’ I watched Princess. She had stopped struggling and was listening to us. Maybe she figured she could find a way to try again. Then her shoulders slumped.
    Olan fluttered his wings. “You won’t know my source, but he comes when humans die violently.”
    I put my finger to my lips and then pointed at Princess.
    Tears dripping from her chin she sobbed again before speaking. “I failed because I couldn’t kill the human they picked for me. It was a child.”
    “They pick the victim?” That was something I hadn’t considered. “Do you know why?”
    “Something about the energy they need.” Her voice was fading, there wasn’t much more time to get information.
    “Do you know why they need it so often?”
    I could see it was taking her longer to find the energy to speak, so I gathered my preserving spell while I waited.
    “To keep the spell fresh without using their own energy.” Her eyes closed and I cast my spell. She would stay alive but immobile for at least a month.
    “She probably knows more,” Olan said, hopping onto her lap. “You could have asked another question.”
    “I didn’t want to kill her. I don’t need a stain like that on my energy.” I wasn’t usually in a position to consider violating the spirit wizard’s oath. I didn’t use sacrifice in spells, and until now, I have never felt the need to end someone’s life. “If I am going to kill, it will be Fionuir, not some poor victim.”
    “She would have killed a human to breed.” Olan croaked. “These fairies don’t value humans at all.”
    “Olan, that is her problem to deal with not mine. But I will remind you that she didn’t kill the child. Wouldn’t kill the child, and she is suffering for that mercy.”
    He hopped back down to the floor. “She would have if it hadn’t been a child. The children are the only ones who still believe in fairies.”
    I’d had it with his attitude. “Maybe if your damn humans cared about something other than themselves they wouldn’t get in harm’s way.”
    Olan flew at my face. I dodged and only got struck by a feather, but it left a shallow cut on my cheek. “Wizard, do not make this the fault of the humans.”
    He was right. It was the Sidhe, not the humans causing problems; this time. “Okay, let’s both agree to stop trying to piss each other off and solve the problem.”
    I waited for his response but he said nothing. I looked around for him and saw him strutting along the top of a bookshelf. “Olan?”
    “Okay, I can see we are wasting time. A truce until we solve this.”
    I wasn’t aware we were at war about anything but decided on discretion rather than trying to figure out what I had done recently that Olan might take affront to, other than the humans dying. “I don’t think Fionuir would go to all this trouble to spend time feeding a spell she cast.”
    “No. She’s got to be giving her followers something for their trouble otherwise they wouldn’t keep it up.”
    “The only thing Sidhe covet is power. All kinds of power.”
    I removed the binding spell from Princess and lifted her onto the sofa. She would be fine there for a while. The sofa was soft enough not to leave pressure bruises.
    “I’m hungry, let’s get upstairs.” It felt too odd to be discussing plans with a fairy passed out on my couch. She was like a life-sized doll that had been left behind after a tea party.
    Olan flew up to my shoulder. I guess we were back to being on the same side in this fight. Unfortunately that wasn’t likely to continue. This fight had too many sides: Sidhe versus Fairy, Fairy versus Human, Morrigan versus Olan. And probably ten more I had no idea about.
    I opened a can of soup and put it on the stove. Olan perched on the back of a chair and watched me prepare. “Did you already eat?” I asked.
    “I am not hungry yet. Hurry up. We need to be on our way.”
    “Where?” I guessed what he meant but it was time he took some responsibility for planning this fight.
    “To the Sidhe court. It is time to talk to Fionuir.”
    “Yes, but we can’t just barge in. First of all she’ll have guards set around to stop unwanted visitors.”
    “You can handle that.” Olan walked back and forth along the top rail of the chair. I couldn’t help thinking of my old mentor in full lecture mode.
    “Maybe, but I can’t handle Fionuir that way. She won’t just stop because we asked her. We need some leverage.”
    “Well, we could threaten to back her opponent.”
    I poured the soup into a bowl and took a sip. “I don’t think that will count. Even if all the Real Folk backed her opponent, the election is Sidhe business. She only has to convince enough Sidhe that status quo is better than promises of future changes and she’ll win.”
    Olan continued to pace. “Do you think she is giving everyone access to the human’s spirit?”
    “Maybe she’s offering it for votes.”
    We sat quietly while I ate the rest of the soup. I grabbed beer from the fridge after I finished. “We don’t know enough to use leverage. What we think we can use is based on guesses and second hand information. Princess didn’t see the amulet, her lover did. She didn’t tell me who he was so we can’t ask him. Melbe’s information is probably right but Sidhe politics is convoluted and full of grudges from the time they lost Ireland to the Milesians.”
    “My throat is parched. Pour some of that into a saucer.” Olan flapped his wing toward the beer. I did as he asked, or rather demanded. He sipped some of the amber liquid before speaking again. “What if we gave her something?”
    “Who is this ‘we’ you mean?”
    “That is, you. I don’t think they will want anything that I have. As a pixie, or as I am now.”
    I just knew this was going to turn out bad for me, but Olan had a point. “It’s worth a try. I draw the line at giving her anything that will do harm, though.”
    “You have things that will do harm?” Olan sipped some more beer. “I thought you were one of those spirit wizards. Do no harm, kind of thing.”
    “I am. But, some of the things I have can do harm in enough concentration. You know that. You saw the belladonna in my workroom.”
    “I don’t think she’ll ask for something she can get from the fairies for nothing.”
    “No, but I have some amulets that shouldn’t get into her hands.” I’m not sure why we were arguing this point. It was up to me what I gave Fionuir. And, Olan had come up with a good plan, or as good a plan as I could. “How do we get an audience with Fionuir?”
    Olan shrugged. “I think the best way is the direct one. Let’s go tap at her door.”

Chapter Eleven

    It took me a day to get ready to visit the Queen of the Sidhe. I’m not usually prone to vanity, but Fionuir would expect me to dress as though I respected her position. I went to my barber and said goodbye to the scruffy magic geek look. A nice shave and a trendy haircut and I had to admit I looked better.
    I had some court clothes in my closet, they were from the nineteenth century, but a good preservation spell had kept them in perfect shape. I couldn’t say the same for my body. Olan and I looked at the clothes hanging on back of the closet and back at my body. “It’s going to be close,” I said.
    “Mayhap we should go shopping. I don’t like the idea that you suffocate because you can’t breathe in that waistcoat.”
    “Even if I can fit in it, I don’t know that the Sidhe court is into the Steam Punk look.” I couldn’t help myself. I needed to try on the suit. I guess there’s a bit of vanity in my blood. If I could fit into the same clothes I wore almost two hundred years ago, I would feel good.
    The shirt fit, and the waistcoat and jacket. From the waist up I looked mighty fine. Unfortunately, from the waist down, my body now stuck out where once it narrowed, so I couldn’t close the buttons on the pants. “Oh, well, I guess I’ll start exercising after we fix this little Sidhe problem.” The sound that a chickadee made laughing was not pleasant; neither was the sight on one rolling on the floor with hilarity.
    I changed back into my regular clothes, and grabbed a roll of twenties from the stash of cash I keep on hand. I told Olan to wait for me at home because shopping with a talking chickadee was sure to raise eyebrows.
    I returned with a black suit and pale green shirt, black shiny loafers, and an emerald green tie. It’s fortunate that I look good in the colors of Ireland. I hope Fionuir sees it as honoring her homeland,
    “Okay, now I look the part, it’s time to arm myself.” We headed back to the basement. Princess looked cold so I threw a blanket over her.
    “What kind of armament do you need?” Olan waddled along beside me as I pulled out two chests from under the counter. “I don’t think they will attack you.”
    “Not with swords, but I’m not taking the chance one of them will try to stun me with a spell. After all, her best outcome right now is for me to be gone. So, I need a bit of magical protection.”
    I took three amulets from the black chest and two from the gray one. The five amulets were made of precious stones: Jade, Obsidian, Opal, Soapstone, Coral.
    “The Soapstone is from California. I’ve added a transmittal spell. If we can find a way to leave it there, we will be able to hear everything that goes on.”
    “Handy.” Olan pushed the stones aside with his beak. “It is small enough that I can hold it in my craw. I will find a place to leave it before we exit.”
    I nodded but didn’t pay attention to what he did with the soapstone. I was just glad he had something to occupy his attention while I dealt with the other stones. I took the opal and checked it carefully for flaws; no one wants a cracked opal. I renewed the oil that I had painted on it before storing. The stone was for attack. I wasn’t certain if the spell I had cast on it for attacking vermin would do enough damage to a Sidhe to distract them so I could run away.
    The coral would absorb a spell, kind of like a shield but it would hold the energy for me to use later.
    The obsidian was another matter. My mentor had forced me to learn a killing spell, one strong enough to kill a full grown human. He was always worried that we would have to battle humans. I hadn’t pulled this spell out since he confirmed it was right: three hundred years ago.
    The jade held a distraction spell.
    I placed the stones in handy pockets inside the jacket and pants. I would look like James Bond, but my toys could be hidden more easily than a gun disguised as a pen.
    The Sidhe court resided in a building that looked abandoned and ready for demolition. It was on the still to be Yuppified side of Yaletown. I know that humans used these kinds of buildings for raves. This one would not be on their radar. Any human walking by would see an office building, lights on shadows of people moving, lights out during the night. Inside, past a false wall, the Sidhe surrounded themselves with luxury. The public part of the court was on the first floor, the residences were on the floors above. All the Sidhe had homes above the court, but some lived off campus so to speak.
    I had been there once, a long time ago, for Fionuir’s birthday party. I asked Olan, “How often do the Sidhe breed?”
    Olan didn’t answer. I looked around and he was flying up to the fence. I stepped toward it. “Where are the guards?”
    “There are two by the door and one on the corner.” Olan pointed with his beak. “Don’t worry, you are just asking for an audience. The worst they can do is say no.”
    “Not even close to the worst they can do. Are you coming with me, or do you have a way to get in without an invitation?”
    “I’ll try the legitimate way first. If that doesn’t work, I have my ways.”
    “Can’t I just use one of your ways?” It’s not that I was afraid of the Sidhe guards, well not that afraid. But if I could surprise Fionuir, maybe I would have an advantage.
    “Quinn, stop being a wimp. Just ask for an audience and get in there. If you think surprising Fionuir is a good idea, you are mad and I am going to have to find a new partner.”
    I wanted to tell him to shut up, but he’d just told me not to be childish. “Okay, here I go.” Olan landed on my shoulder as I turned toward the building.
    The door guards were a pair of twins, tall, red haired and mean looking; although, to a human they would have looked bent, dirty and indigent. You would think someone that pretty would just be happy. I heard a flapping overhead but when I looked up there was nothing there. Olan moved closer to my ear.
    “Anyone we know?” I whispered.
    “No, just get on with it.”
    I stepped forward and pasted smile on my face. “Good evening. I wish to speak to Fionuir.”
    “That’s Queen Fionuir,” the twin on the left said.
    It seemed that my new clothes didn’t impress them “I wish to speak to Queen Fionuir… please.”
    “The queen isn’t taking visitors,” the twin on the right said. I could see the sneer on his face as well as hear it in his voice.
    “When will she take visitors?” This conversation wasn’t getting me anywhere. “I’d really like to speak with her soon.”
    “She is busy. I don’t think it will be soon,” the twin on the left said. It looks like they were going to take turns talking.
    “Why don’t you ask her if she wishes to see me?”
    A caw sounded from the top of the building. Olan tried to huddle under my jacket collar.
    I reached in and pulled him back onto my shoulder and whispered. “I thought you said it wasn’t her.” I turned back to the door twins. But there was only one twin. “Where did your brother go?”
    “He took your suggestion and has gone to speak with Queen Fionuir.”
    The crow cawed again. Olan flew off my shoulder and stood in my shadow. If that was The Morrigan, it wouldn’t help him to hide in shadows. “I thought you two were square. Did you do something to her?”
    “No.” Olan was clearly uncomfortable
    Twin two came back. “The Queen has agreed to speak with you. Only you, the bird stays outside.”
    Olan bumped my leg as he crossed to the next set of shadows. I figured he wanted to keep out of The Morrigan’s line of sight so I didn’t say anything. Twin two led me through a narrow hall around the inside of the building until we reached a set of double doors. If my sense of direction was working, we were on the far side of the building. With Sidhe magic, you can never tell. We could be under the building and not have noticed descending the stairs.
    The doors were metal with an etched pattern. It looked like tin so it must be laid over sold wood. The knot patterns twined from the top left across both doors and back to the bottom left side. I could feel the magic vibrating out of the patterns. There was no way an uninvited guest would get through these doors.
    “Wait,” Twin two said. He looked at me until I nodded, then banged his fist on the center of the doors. “We wish audience with her exulted Majesty Fionuir of the Green Hills.”
    We both waited for something to happen. I pulled at the cuffs of my shirt, making sure I showed the right amount of cuff below my sleeve. I may not dress well all the time, but I do know how to wear clothes properly. I hoped Fionuir would appreciate the effort.
    After a minute, the doors swung open.
    Beyond, it looked like something from pre-revolution France: mirrors, gilt, and scattered chairs. I could see golden light reflected in bars across the room. Candles supplied the illumination that would normally come from windows.
    “Stand there.” He pointed me to a corner beside the door where there was an empty space between two chairs which were upholstered in pink Toile. “Wait until you are summoned.”
    I kept control on my temper, reminding myself I knew what I was stepping into when I came here. The fact that Fionuir agreed to let me in, meant she would talk to me, eventually.
    My feet were just starting to complain when a short female Sidhe strode up to me and snapped her fingers. “Follow me.” Her voice floated lightly to me. Fionuir had surrounded herself with paragons of beauty and grace.
    She led me to the center of the room where Fionuir and her court lounged in a circle of chairs. Each chair a different shade of green.
    “Welcome, Wizard.” Fionuir smiled and I felt like a bowl of cream must feel when the cat slinks into the room. “It is so nice of you to visit.”
    “Your Majesty.” I executed as courtly a bow as I could manage. “It is a pleasure to be once again in the midst of such beauty.”
    She turned to her court. “And you said wizards were crude.”
    They tittered. I was reminded again of the court of Louis the sixteenth. I hoped we could come to a less violent conclusion than he did. I turned to survey the six Sidhe of her court. Three men and three women, all draped in pastel shaded silks. All red haired and pale skinned. It was a bit creepy, like I was surrounded by clones.
    Fionuir admired her jewelry before she spoke, “Why did you come, Wizard?”
    “I need to understand something that is happening in the world; the real world and the human one.”
    An eyebrow arched. “You are questioning our actions?”
    “Not at all, your majesty.” I kept my tone smooth and as nonthreatening as I could. “I just wish knowledge. You know how curious wizards are.”
    “I know how wizards are,” one of the women said, her voice hard. “One of them killed my husband. I believe that wizard was your mentor.”
    This was a trap. If I answered her before Fionuir allowed me to recognize that someone other than her had spoken I would fail. If this wasn’t a test they had agreed on in advance, that woman would be punished later. I kept my eyes on Fionuir until she nodded.
    “My mentor did many things I did not agree with. I am sorry for your loss.”
    “Prettily said.” Fionuir flicked her fingers at the others and they rose, gracefully and faded into the corner of the room. “Ask your question, then.”
    I considered my approach. It’s not like I hadn’t thought it out before, but the situation was always going to be a factor in how I asked my question. Fionuir was in an apparent good mood. The fact that she had sent her courtiers away was not good. And that she was allowing me to ask without a lot of protocol was also a bad sign.
    I fingered the charms in my pocket and decided to go for it. “I witnessed the death of two humans. They were poisoned.”
    “What is that to me?”
    “A Sidhe was in attendance each time. The fairy paid for a vial of potion with the spirit of the dead human.”
    “And you think I am involved in these events? That I have sanctioned death.”
    “That is what the street gossip says.”
    She waved the topic away. “Leave those charms alone, Quinn.”
    I didn’t know which was worse, that she knew about the charms or she let me know that she knew. I took my hands out of my pockets.
    Fionuir unfolded herself from the chair and walked toward me. And now, I knew what the mouse felt like when the snake approached. “I will tell you what you want to know, but you will need to take on an obligation. I will not trust you otherwise.”
    “What obligation?” I didn’t like the idea of being controlled by the Sidhe.
    “Only that you will do no direct harm to a Sidhe. For any reason. Forever.” She ran her finger down my freshly shaved cheek.
    I needed to clear my throat before I could get words past the lump there. “I am a spirit wizard. I have already vowed not to do harm. How would this obligation be different?”
    “Too many spirit wizards find ways to work around their vow, or will take the punishment as a price for violating their oath in the name of justice.”
    I had a feeling there was no way I could control this. “What is the cost to me if I violate the obligation?”
    “That you will have to worry about. Take the obligation, knowing I will not be merciful, or leave without your information.”
    “Will it be fatal?” I didn’t think she would answer but I had to try.
    “It will not be fatal. I want to be able to torture you for many years yet, Quinn Larson.” She blew me a kiss. I tried not to flinch.
    “I will accept the obligation.” I didn’t have a choice. “Please tell me why you are killing humans.”
    She laughed. “The fairies are killing humans, not I. You said you saw it happen.”
    “I did, and yes, the fairies poisoned the humans, but they are your weapons. Why are you doing it?”
    She sighed and lowered herself into the chair again. “Because it gives us power. Because the fairies are desperate. And because I can.”
    “It is dangerous to kill humans.” I couldn’t believe she didn’t know the dangers. I could believe she didn’t care; that she thought the danger didn’t apply to her.
    “They die all the time. There is at least one body in an alley every week.” She picked up a crystal goblet and sipped an amber wine from it.
    “Not these humans. The fairies are choosing healthy humans, humans who will be missed. Ones with jobs and families.” I didn’t want her to know that I knew the Sidhe were picking the victims.
    “Well, then they will be missed. It means nothing to me.” She sipped her wine again.
    “It should. Eventually the police will realize there is a pattern. They will find some clue and The Real Folk will be discovered. They will kill whoever they find.”
    “Are you sure of that? Humans are not that clever.”
    “Oh yes, they are; clever and lucky. And violent against the unknown.”
    “They will find fairies, not wizards or Sidhe or other Real Folk.”
    I felt my temper rise and forced it down. Now was not the time to antagonize Fionuir. “Do you remember when the vamps were around?”
    “That was a long time ago.” This time her casual air belied the flash of memory in her eyes. “What would you like me to remember?”
    “That feeling of unending power. Do you remember it flowing through you like life itself?” My blood yearned for that time.
    “How do you know that I don’t still feel power that way? That it isn’t just wizards who were affected.” As she returned her glass to the table I noticed a tremor.
    “I know it affected everyone. And, so do you.” I waited for her to retaliate at my tone. She didn’t do anything other than cross her legs. “What would it take to make you stop?”
    “I will not stop. It is too much fun.”
    “The fairies are getting desperate. Aren’t you afraid that they will die out before you tire of the game?”
    “No, we will husband our resources, do not fear. Some will die, as happens in life, but we will ensure enough are born to keep us entertained.”
    I schooled my expression. The Sidhe were known to be cruel, but this was beyond anything they had done in the past. I felt my resolve harden. “Perhaps you haven’t thought this through. Are you getting so much power from these deaths that it is worth the risk?”
    She flicked a lock of hair away from her face. “We get some power. It is sweet and pure, just a taste is as good as a meal.”
    At least I had the answer to one question. If Fionuir could give her followers power, then whoever this pretender to the crown was, they had no chance. “Is there nothing I could do or say to change your mind?”
    “Wizard, do not try my patience.” She threw the glass onto the deep piled carpets, not wanting to break it and take the bad luck I’m sure. “We are finished talking. Now, come entertain my court with your stories of the old days.”
    “I would rather not. I think it’s time for me to leave.” I turned to go.
    She laughed and a chill slid down my body. “You will leave when I allow it. I want you to tell my court stories.” She snapped her fingers and the six Sidhe glided back to the circle of chairs. “Tell them of the Vampires.”
    “I’m sure that they have their own memories. I have pressing business, your majesty.” I started to back out of the circle. It was not going to be easy to fight my way out of their palace, but if I had to, I would. It’s not like I was going to get any more information from her.
    “Melbe.” Fionuir called. “Bring wine for Quinn.”
    “It is too early in the day for me to imbibe, your majesty.” I took a few steps further away from her and picked out a distraction charm. “I promise to come back soon and entertain you with tales of Vampire adventures.”
    I saw Melbe approach from behind Fionuir, he was looking over my shoulder. I glanced at the mirrors across from me and saw the twins coming behind. Time to cast the spell.
    I took the jade from my pants pocket and tossed it in the air, stepping back to let it fall at my feet. A plume of blue smoke billowed out and filled the space around me. As soon as the smoke hid my actions, I ran to the doors and tossed a leather thong behind me. The sound of shattering glass filled the room. I heard Sidhe voices behind me screech in dismay. I smiled at the loss of their carefully nurtured court manners.
    “You will regret this, Larson.” Fionuir’s voice seemed to come from my right shoulder, but knew she was cowering far away from me, worried about the flying glass. I chuckled. It was just the sound of glass. I had no desire to take on centuries of bad luck.
    The twins were still somewhere between me and the door. I was almost as blind as the Sidhe, the only different being that I knew the glass wasn’t breaking and the smoke would dissipate soon. I saw a shadow in the fog to my right. One twin was moving away, good.
    I kept walking toward the doors keeping my eye out for another shadow.
    Three feet farther and the fog started to thin, I could see the doors; they were open just enough for me to slip through. I glanced to both sides, no sign of twin two. Now that I could see, I could run. So I did, past the last grouping of chairs and within touching distance of the door. I reached out a hand to pull myself through and just as I passed the threshold if felt a metal bar hit me across my knuckles.
    I screamed.
    “Wizard, you were asked to stay.” Twin two, or one, I’d lost track by now, raised his staff.
    I cradled my right hand against my chest and used my left hand to toss a handkerchief in his direction. As it neared him it spun out into a net and caught the end of his staff then stretched to cover his arm. It was a fine net, but it managed to stop his swing and turn his momentum into a stumble. I stepped over him and raced for the front door, shoving my injured hand in my pocket and clenching my teeth against the pain.
    There was no sound behind me. I raced around the outside hall, made it through the front door and kept going.

Chapter Twelve

    I woke up the next morning sore and mad. Before I crawled into bed last night, I had set my two broken fingers and bathed my hand in a mixture of rosemary and witch hazel. The bruises were diminished and the swelling wasn’t as bad as I feared. The pain, however, was unbelievable. My hand throbbed so badly I thought I could see it ballooning up and down.
    I turned on the kettle and poured dried willow bark into a mug to steep while I changed from the suit which I had left on when I hit the sack. I was going to owe the dry-cleaner a bundle for getting out the stains from the fight and deep wrinkles from a night in bed.
    I made oatmeal and took it to the coffee table. As I stepped forward to put the bowl down, I put my foot on something sharp. Great, I had a bum hand and now I broke my foot. The human race would have to take care of itself because Quinn Larson was on a path of self-destruction. I picked up the rock, and saw it was my transmittal charm.
    I put it on the coffee table; I’d ask Olan what happened later.
    As I swallowed the last spoonful of oatmeal, I heard a racket in the backyard. It sounded all too familiar. I went to the window and as I watched Olan and the Morrigan circled and jabbed. Tiny as he was, Olan seemed able to hold his own with the Morrigan. He flew at her and she spun away. Then she attacked from above and Olan back winged to avoid a lethal swipe of her beak.
    I groaned and slid my feet into my boots and went out the back door. I wasn’t going to let these two ruin my garden. I had planted every form of magical plant that would grow in the Northwest and I didn’t want to start all over again.
    “Stop it now,” I used my command voice. “Take your fight where you will do no damage to my garden.”
    Both birds flew apart and perched on branches of opposite trees.
    “Better.” I pretended to believe they had obeyed me. “What is this about? I thought you were in a truce.”
    Olan swooped down and landed at my feet. “I don’t know what is wrong with her. There I was flying reconnaissance and she came at me from nowhere.”
    The Morrigan flickered between shadow woman and crow. That was not a good sign. Whatever had set her off was big enough to make her lose control. I started to believe Olan. I’m not sure he could have made her that angry without knowing exactly how.
    I bent down to whisper. “If she is on the other side of this fight, we are going to need reinforcements.”
    Olan laughed. “There are other fights in town. She need not be on Fionuir’s side. But yes, if she is against us, we are in trouble.”
    I felt the air shift and stepped back. Olan was already in flight.
    They came together and feathers flew. I wrapped my fingers in a handkerchief and picked up a few of the small ones that fell from the Morrigan; big power there. I kept my eye on the two birds. Neither was getting an advantage. This could go on all day without resolution.
    The screeching and squawking was getting unbearable. I started to think of spells that would separate them for a while when I heard a door slam across the lane, then a gun shot, then another. The two birds flew apart. The Morrigan disappeared from view across the neighbor’s roofline.
    “Damn birds,” the old man shouted. “See how you like the taste of shot.” He slammed the door and everything was quiet again.
    Olan landed on my shoulder, I noticed he had trouble folding his right wing into place.
    It was close to dinner the next day by the time we entered Bank’s Bar. The Real folk had been frequenting Bank’s for sixty years. Before that, the same troll had been running River Run Bar and before that, Mud Hole saloon. It changed every fifty to sixty years, depending on when the humans found it and decided it might be a good place to drink.
    The door was marked with a rune in shadow ink, only Real Folk could read it, but it required too much energy to keep the aromas of a bar inside when we entered. Entering wasn’t the problem because we could make sure no humans were around. Leaving was the problem; you just never knew who was outside the door. Now, with the non-smoking rules we were especially careful of letting out the atmosphere. Mark, the proprietor, had asked me to find a spell that could filter the scent of various substances being smoked inside. His idea was to charge a small energy fee to keep the spell working.
    I handed him a lump of amber when we arrived. “This will absorb the smoke for about six months. I’ll replace it then.”
    “Thanks, Quinn,” Mark’s voice rumbled like ancient stones grinding. “You drink for free now.”
    “Thanks, I’ll try not to abuse that. It doesn’t need much power to keep it running, so you don’t have to charge much.”
    Mark poured my Kilkenny and looked at Olan before pouring some fifty-year-old scotch into a saucer. Olan looked at me before sipping.
    I nodded to Mark and said, “I’ve got it.” Then I told Olan, “From now on you find the payment before you get it poured.”
    Mark rumbled a laugh at that. “Some people never have money. I guess there’s some advantage of being stuck in the body of an animal.”
    I sipped my beer and glanced around the room. It was difficult to see clearly much beyond a few feet between the slight fog of smoke which was now drifting toward the amber and the candle light which flickered annoyingly, the details faded into the background. We couldn’t wait until the smoke cleared. “Mark, have you seen Cate Witherspoon or Beacon Reed?”
    “In the corner, underneath the Shield of Charlemagne.” Mark jerked his head in the direction of the table then left us to attend to a couple of Sidhe waiting at the other end of the bar.
    I picked up Olan’s saucer with my good hand, and placed it on top of my pint so I could carry everything to the table. Cate Witherspoon and I were trained by the same mentor, and we’d had a friendly rivalry as students. I had made a move on her fifty years ago and been rejected outright. We had been friendly since, but my heart still sped up every time I met her.
    I saw three people at the table as we approached. Cate was in animated conversation with a young wizard I had never met. Beacon, the sprite was observing the conversation while he puffed on a twist of brown tobacco. I smelled sour smoke rising and was doubly glad I remembered to bring the amber.
    The young wizard looked up as I approached and then jumped out of his chair as though coming to attention. At his reaction, Cate spun in her chair hand raised to cast a spell.
    Beacon roared laughter and choked on the smoke.
    I held my hands up in surrender, at least as much as I could since they were full. “Peace. I mean no harm. I just want to talk to you.”
    She smiled and pointed to the empty chair. “Hah, Quinn, one day you will creep up on the wrong witch.”
    “Pretty girl,” Olan croaked in my ear.
    “Shut up bird.” I didn’t need Olan butting in to the conversation and screwing up my reputation with Cate any more than it already is.
    “You know Beacon, I think.” I nodded and then she pointed at the young wizard. “This is Lionel; I’ve taken him on as an apprentice.”
    I put down the drinks and shook hands with Lionel. “Wow, I didn’t know you were looking for apprentices.”
    “Why? Do you think I can’t teach someone?” Cate was on the defensive. I didn’t know if that was good or bad. I really didn’t know if I wanted it to be good or bad.
    “No, I just meant it was a lot of work. Anyway, I need to talk to you, in private.”
    Beacon started to rise. I waved him to sit back down. “No, Beacon, you and Cate.” I waited for Lionel to take the hint, but he just looked at Cate.
    She shrugged and looked at me. “He’s my apprentice, what you say around him will be under that oath.”
    The apprentice oath was strong and Lionel would lose substantial power if he violated it. Still, he looked young enough to regain any power loss if he misspoke. Unfortunately, that was also young enough to open his mouth at the wrong time. I figured if Cate was vouching for him, I should accept it. And I wanted to just take her word, but this was more than life or death. “Lionel, this is important. Do you recognize that the oath you took as apprentice covers any information you learn while in the presence of Cate?”
    I saw his Adam’s apple bounce then he nodded and said in a voice that was still breaking. “Yeah, I do. I’ll take another oath if you want.”
    “No need. I wanted to make sure you understood the importance.” I looked at Cate and Beacon. “I need you to agree that you won’t speak of this after.”
    “You are very serious tonight, Quinn,” Beacon said. “I trust that your words will merit this weight you bring to them.”
    “Okay, Quinn, just get on with it. As long as you aren’t planning to kill someone I’ll keep quiet. If you plan to kill someone, I’ll report you to the council.”
    I settled back in the chair and took a long gulp of the beer. “Have you noticed anything odd about the fairies lately?”
    Cate shook her head. “The fairies are odd all the time. I haven’t noticed anything different.”
    “They are tense,” Beacon said. “They are keeping to their own patches of garden. When they come out into the world, they are furtive and nervous.”
    “I’ve noticed they have been hanging around the Sidhe,” Lionel blurted. “They don’t usually do that. Even if they are kind of related, the Sidhe treat them so poorly that the fairies just avoid them.”
    Cate glared at him and his face flushed a bright red. I guess being her apprentice must be difficult. To be fair, being anyone’s apprentice is difficult. He looked at me from under downcast eyes. “Sorry. I should not have spoken.”
    “That’s okay, Lionel.” I don’t quite know why I felt it was important to undermine Cate, but he was closer to the truth than she was, so he should get to speak. “You’re right. The Sidhe are up to something.”
    I told them what I knew and Olan added his voice to answer their objections. After they were convinced I was right, we sat in silence. I got up and refreshed their drinks and noticed that the amber had done its job when I was able to see clearly from the table to the bar.
    We got halfway through that round before anyone spoke. I had promised myself I wouldn’t be the one to speak first. I was surprised when Lionel was the one to break the silence.
    “What is it you want us to do?” He asked after looking at Cate for permission to speak.
    “We need to stop them.” I waited for them to agree. Lionel was the first to nod, he looked at Cate and she smiled at him before saying, “He’s right we can’t let the Sidhe destroy our world over a political dispute.”
    I looked to Beacon. My plan only needed one other person to help, but if he was willing to join, we would be stronger.
    Beacon sighed and then swallowed his cider. Wiping his lips with the back of this hand he stood. “I do not wish to die in a fight with Fionuir. I carry an obligation to her. If I actively oppose her, I will wither and die within two days. Thus far I am safe, if I go further with your plan, I will not be.”
    He threw some coins on the table. “I thank you for your hospitality wizard, but I will pay for my own drink just to be safe. Do not worry. I think keeping the secret so far will not imperil my health. If I could I would wish you luck but that might be going too far.” He winked at me before walking away to join a table of Kobolds.
    Olan hopped on the back of Beacon’s vacated chair. He didn’t waver at all, that bird sure could hold his liquor. “Are you in, Witch?” He asked.
    Cate frowned, I knew that look. She was weighing the alternatives. For her there were always more than two choices. Within a few moments, she nodded. “I am in, but Lionel is not.”
    Lionel sputtered his objection and she waved her hand in a silencing spell. “It is too dangerous to you and us to have an untrained wizard at war with the Sidhe. You will go now and wait for me at home.”
    I could see the fight in the boy’s eyes as he slowly unfolded himself from the chair. He stood at least six foot three but the oath he took to become an apprentice forced him to obey. Cate took some mercy on the boy. “I will let you become involved if I feel you have the skills. While I am here with Quinn, you can study the second level spells you have been eying.”
    Lionel’s eyes shone and he opened his mouth but no sound came out when he tried to speak.
    Cate laughed. “Try not to blow up the house in your studies.”
    We waited for Lionel to leave the pub before speaking. When the door shut behind him, Cate leaned forward. “Do you have a plan, or do you need someone to take this to the next level as usual?”
    Olan cawed his laughter. “She’s feisty, Quinn. I like her.”
    I rolled my eyes and pretended to ignore him. “I have an idea. But, the details are still fuzzy.”
    “As usual. I remember when we both had to learn and perform the hunting spell. You had a general idea how to go about it but couldn’t be bothered with the details. As I recall you ended up successfully hunting a rock.”
    “I’ve learned since then.” I guess there was no way we were going to be more than rivals. I tried to make my peace with that. “I don’t know enough to create a detailed plan. That’s where working together will be better.”
    “So, what’s the idea? I know you aren’t going to kill her. Even you know that will be a violation of your oath as a spirit wizard. And you can’t order me to do it either. Just because I’m an earth witch doesn’t mean your oath is bypassed.”
    “I don’t want anyone to die. There have been enough killings already. We need to stop this, not participate in more deaths.”
    “Just tell her your plan,” Olan said. “Stop the mating fight and get on with business.”
    Cate blushed at that and I pretended I didn’t hear him. “Fionuir has somehow cast a layer of spells on the Gur amulet. If we can find the amulet, maybe we can remove that layer.”
    “Makes sense.” Cate looked at the bottom of her wine glass. “How about another round?”
    I signaled to Mark who called over the sprite waitress. Olan winged his way to the front door which opened as he approached. When the drinks were deposited and the empties removed I leaned closer to Cate; she smelled of flowers and citrus. I said, “We need to know two things to accomplish the plan. What she did to the amulet because that is important to reversing it, and where the amulet is.”
    “If you can do that, what guarantee do you have that Fionuir won’t start again?”
    “The Sidhe only change queens every fifty years. If she remains queen through this cycle, she won’t need to give extra power to her followers. If she loses, she won’t have to campaign for queen for another thirty or so years.”
    “So, it’s just buying time.”
    “A lot of time. And hopefully enough to find a way to discourage this kind of thing in the future.”
    “Okay how do you think we can get either piece of information?”
    That was the detail I hadn’t gotten to. Cate was right; I wasn’t good with the details. “That’s your area of expertise. Where do you think we should start?”
    She chuckled and I felt the vibration in some very private places.
    “See, I knew you would get stuck on the important stuff. Talk this through with me. There are only three places we can touch this. The fairies, the other Sidhe and Fionuir.”
    “Fionuir won’t give us anything. I tried.”
    “So the fairies and the other Sidhe. Oh, and I guess the rival for queen. Someone knows something.”
    I told her what Princess had said.
    “It’s unlikely we’ll find the mate of a shunned fairy, unless you’ve gotten much better with the hunting spell.” She raised her eyebrow.
    “We probably want to leave that to the last resort.”
    “Okay. So the fairies know how to contact Iain. It must be something fairly straightforward otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do it.”
    “Do you think catching a fairy will be the best way to get the information we need?”
    “No, I think the best way to get that is to find Fionuir’s rival. She’ll know something, or know someone who knows something.”
    Maybe this would get easy once we got the information we needed, but getting the first piece of information was going to be a killer. “I think I can craft a spell that will track Iain without him knowing.” I said.
    “Okay. I can add something that will make a fairy talk.” She pulled a notebook out of her pocket. “When we get the fairy, we find the information that gets us to other Sidhe. They will probably be on Fionuir’s side. But we can try to get information out of them about the rival.”
    I saw where this was leading, we made a good team. “Shall we go to your place or mine?”
    “Quinn, I didn’t know you cared.”
    I blushed. “I mean to put the spells together.”
    “Yeah, I know.” I thought I heard a twinge of regret in her voice. “Your place will be better. It wouldn’t be fair to Lionel to kick him out just as he was getting into the second level spells.”
    “Yeah, about him.” I couldn’t contain my curiosity. “Why did you take on an apprentice? I thought you said you would never burden yourself that way.”
    “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, you should try it. I find myself stretching to keep ahead of his appetite for learning. I remember the feeling that Master Vollont was holding me back. It’s about keeping pace not keeping secrets.”
    “Okay, but why did you take one on?”
    “Master Vollont said I should. He brought Lionel to my door a month ago. He said it was the next step in my development.”
    “That answers my next question, why him. Why have you been hiding him? How good is he?”
    “Well, I haven’t actually been hiding him; he just likes to study a lot. And yet, sometimes I despair of teaching him anything he seems so dense. Then he’ll find a whole new insight into a spell and I’m in awe.”
    I noticed the shine in her eyes as she talked about teaching. Perhaps Master Vollont was right, it was her next step. I dreaded the thought that he would show up on my doorstep with an apprentice I didn’t have time to teach.

Chapter Thirteen

    I opened the door to my workroom and ushered Cate through. She came to a complete stop in the middle of the stairs and I almost knocked her over before I noticed.
    “What in hell’s name is that?” She pointed to my couch.
    “Ah, I forgot to mention that.”
    She turned to me fury blazing in her eyes. “I hope you haven’t taken up necromancy. I will report you to every authority I can find, and the Sidhe can do as they please.”
    I explained why Princess was immobile on my sofa. Cate hurried to her and ran her hands over the length of Princess’s body. I saw her shoulders relax as she finished her investigation. “She’s barely holding on. I think she can hear what we say and it’s sapping her energy. Do you want me to reinforce your spell?”
    “If it will keep her alive longer, go ahead. I want her to survive so her clan to forgive her. If we can stop this madness, I will gladly give her enough credit so she can get more than forgiveness.”
    Cate smiled at me and laid her hand on Princess’s forehead. “In comfort I send you deeper in sleep. You will not hear; you will not feel until awakened by my call or Quinn’s.” Golden light seeped from Cate’s hands into the fine skin under her fingers. The fairy seemed to respond to Cate’s power by settling deeper into the cushions of the sofa.
    Cate stood and joined me at the bench. “You did a good job on that spell, Quinn. I only had to deepen it a touch to distance her enough for full stasis. Now she will be fine for a few months.”
    “Thanks that should be more than enough. If we are still trying to solve this problem in a week, we won’t win.”
    “Okay, what have you got here?” She touched the three books I’d laid out on the bench. “Hmm, fifth level spells. Anything that you can cast?”
    “Funny, witch. I’m casting higher level spells than this.” Okay, in reality I had cast two sixth level spells and no fifth level ones. “I thought we could start with a seeker spell, and tailor it to just notify us when and where an event happened rather than pull a subject to us.”
    “Okay, do you have enough power to cast the spell over the whole city?”
    “I have some power sinks we can use.” It occurred to me that The Morrigan might notice that we used one of her feathers to power a spell but there was no other way. “Can you tailor the spell?”
    “I won’t know until I see it. If it’s a spirit spell no, but I can tell you how to change it.”
    I was afraid of that. My finesse was still crude and I only had spirit spells. “My seeker spell will activate when something comes within a hundred yards of either my location or something I’ve focused the spell on.”
    “We need time to get to the scene, so if you set the spell to notify us when a fairy comes into contact with Iain, we could be too far away to act.”
    “If we have it coded to a fairy saying his name?”
    “What if they don’t say his name?”
    This was getting crazy. I hated the details even though I knew they were important.
    Cate sat on the edge of the bench and flipped through my spell book. “Let me think for a while. Do you have any coffee?”
    I went upstairs and started brewing my best Columbian. I searched the cupboards and found some gingersnaps behind the container of boiled acorns. I knew it would be better if I stayed out of her way while she thought but having a witch unattended in my work room was making my skin jump.
    As soon as the pot finished brewing, I put everything on a tray and went back downstairs. I made sure to create enough noise so Cate would know I was coming. I really didn’t want to find her digging into something I wanted to keep secret.
    “I have an idea,” she announced as I put the tray on the bench. “We don’t really care when a fairy talks to Iain, if we did, we’d just follow him around.”
    “But that’s the first step for Fionuir’s plan. They go to Iain and he sets up the meeting with the Sidhe who takes the power. I mean…”
    She stared at me until I stopped talking. “Quinn, I would have thought you had learned by now to wait until someone finished speaking.”
    “Sorry, go on.” I knew better than to try to hurry her. She’d talk me through her reasoning so I wouldn’t have to interrogate her after the fact. I leaned against the bench and sipped coffee.
    “You better not be just waiting for me to finish, Quinn Larson.”
    I grinned. “No, I promise I’m listening. I will only interrupt to ask a question if I don’t understand what you mean. I will listen patiently while you explain everything to me as if I were somehow mentally compromised. Carry on.”
    She laughed. “I’ll try not to ramble.” She poured cream into her coffee and looked at the ginger snaps before shaking her head. “Okay, what we need to do is catch a fairy before they poison a human. It doesn’t matter if we catch them when Iain talks to them or just before they slip the human a dose.”
    She paused but I had no questions, I gestured for her to continue.
    “We started by thinking we should track Iain and then catch a fairy who talks to him. That won’t work because we can’t set the spell clearly enough to give us time to get to them. And the fairy might be talking to Iain about anything. He’s a liaison so it’s not just this plan he is involved in.”
    She paused and I took advantage of the opportunity. “Okay, but if we can catch a Sidhe it will be as good as a fairy, right?”
    She cocked her head and frowned. After a minute she nodded. “The only thing is, a Sidhe who is on Fionuir’s side will be harder to get information from than a fairy. And he or she might not know anything. Do you have enough energy to squander it on a Sidhe?”
    She was going to be surprised because I had actually thought this through. “Yes, but what if we asked the Sidhe who Fionuir’s rival was?”
    “That seems like something everyone would know.”
    “I can’t seem to get the information.” I hadn’t actually done a lot of asking.
    Cate frowned. “Are people hiding the information, or is it secret? It could be that the rival hasn’t revealed herself. Interesting if true, Fionuir must be really frightened if she doesn’t know who she’s up against.”
    “Go on with your plan.” I felt all warm from her approval. I really needed to forget this crush.
    “What if we cast a spell out to alert us when a fairy who has met with Iain comes into contact with a human?”
    “That could work. And if we had two ways to go from there we might get more than we expect. I see it this way. We get notified and I have a spell ready to get a fairy to talk and you have one to get a Sidhe to talk.”
    She looked down at the table. “I will only be able to cast a spell to get one answer from a Sidhe.”
    “It’s okay, we just ask who Fionuir’s rival is. If they don’t know they can’t answer. If they do, we have what we need.”
    “Not bad, Quinn. We need a third spell, and I think we both need to hold it ready.”
    “What spell?”
    “Something to make the human forget what they saw and heard.”

Chapter Fourteen

    We agreed to meet at Bank’s by one in the afternoon to wait for the call. If it didn’t come by morning we’d go back to my place to wait and hope we weren’t too far away. Fifteen minutes fast walk from my place downtown seemed too long to me, but Cate was confident we could do it.
    I got to the bar first and ordered lunch, boar stew with fresh bread; better than anything I could whip up myself. Olan hadn’t shown his beak since he left last night. I hoped he wasn’t in trouble with The Morrigan again. I guess it’s not really my problem. He was much older than me and had been handling his troubles long before we met.
    “A beer would be nice to go with my lunch.” Cate’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Is that stew the only offering?”
    “I think they have a plowman’s of some sort.” I waved at the waiter and Cate put in her order. “Dessert?”
    “No, I don’t want to be running around with a full gut tonight when the summons comes.” She held up her glass in salute. “To a successful night.”
    I returned the gesture and passed my empty bowl to the waiter. “Did you get some rest?”
    “Yes, although Lionel was eager to discuss his progress.” She offered me a wedge of cheese. “This is good, you should try it. You are way too skinny.”
    “I didn’t realize you noticed.”
    “I did, don’t get too excited.” She seemed to focus on the platter in front of her. “You are kind of cute when you aren’t trying to show off your knowledge.”
    “You’re pretty cute too, when you aren’t bossing me around.” I tasted the cheese, it was nutty and mild. “Do you think we’ll get a call tonight?”
    “I hope so. Are you sure this information about the killing every three days?”
    “It was Olan’s connection. I don’t know who it is, but he seemed to be confident in the information.” I liked this new Cate, she wasn’t trying to knock me down and I didn’t feel the need to fight her.
    She shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t really matter, this is all we have, unless someone else volunteers information, we have to trust it.”
    “I hate it. I don’t know how you can be so calm. I want to get out there and walk around until we find something. Then I want to kick some ass.”
    She pushed the empty platter away and sat back. “How do you manage it? Being a spirit wizard, I mean.”
    “You know I didn’t choose. Spirit wizard, it is what I am.” I tried to remember if she had been there when Vollont had told us what we were. “How did you know you were earth?”
    “Vollont told me. I didn’t know why he chose that.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “I never thought about it. Do you know how he decides?”
    “I do. I asked him. Didn’t it occur to you to ask? Maybe it’s different for witches.” I thought witches and wizards were pretty much just the male and female equivalent of the same species.
    “I don’t know if it’s different. I showed up at Master Vollont’s when he summoned me. I was so happy he had picked me I just did and learned everything he said.”
    I was surprised. She had never seemed like the type to just do as she was told. “Well, he summoned me, and I was proud he did. I showed up and he told me I was a spirit wizard and pointed me to a book. I started reading and questioning what I found.”
    She laughed and it lightened my day. “I remember you were always asking questions and challenging him. I know other spirit wizards and they aren’t like you. I guess we bring what we are to the table.” She sat back and stayed silent for a while.
    I didn’t say anything to disturb her thoughts. I waved to the waiter, ordered coffee and paid the bill. If the call came, we could just go.
    Bank’s was quiet and we sat waiting for almost an hour without anyone disturbing us. We talked about inconsequential topics and I was feeling like we were getting along nicely. Then my skin felt like it was on fire. Cate looked up. “Let’s go. To the east by the feel of it.”
    We hurried out and turned right. I followed Cate; she seemed to have a clearer message than I did. All I felt was burning, maybe a little less on one side. Cate was acting like she had been given an address. It was dark and the humans were hurrying home to dinner and television. “Do you see anyone?” I panted, Cate wasn’t running but she was pretty close to it. I know I need to exercise but this was crazy.
    “We’re close. I know it. We should see something in a minute.” She slowed and looked around. “I lost the signal. What do you feel?”
    “I feel like someone dipped me in itching powder. It’s all over.” I forced myself to keep my hands at my side and not scratching at the burning itch. “How did you know to come here?”
    “I was pulled here. Crap.” She spun around “Now I can’t feel any direction but there’s no one here.”
    I put a hand out to stop her turning around again. I was getting dizzy for her. “Maybe we are here. Calm down. Let me scope it out.” She did as I asked which surprised me. I looked around, throwing my senses out to see if I could get a hint.
    We’d come to a stop at the mouth of an alley, it looked like the kind of place the fairies chose to do their business. I couldn’t see any fairies or humans, or anyone at all. The place was deserted. What I could see was all clear through to the next street. There were doorways and dumpsters that would work for Sidhe hiding places but no one was there.
    “Nothing and no one,” I said. “False alarm. We might as well go back to the pub. I can’t feel anything on my skin at all.”
    “No, there was something.” Cate walked toward the alley and I followed. You can’t tell what might be in these alleys and junkies are more dangerous than Sidhe. “Let’s just check it out.”
    I stepped beside Cate we looked behind the dumpsters and in the first four doorways before we found what Cate was looking for. A dead human woman was propped up against a red metal door. There was a stream of bloody foam hanging from her mouth. This time it was not belladonna. Her arms and legs were covered in scrapes as if she had bounced around the alley as she died.
    Cate bent over the body looking closely at the damage. “This is bad. Is this what the other victims looked like?”
    “No, the others I saw were belladonna poisoning. They had convulsions but nothing that would cause this damage.”
    She looked up. “Do you think they are escalating? Demanding more violence to increase the power of the spirit?”
    I didn’t want that to be true. We didn’t need any more pressure. I looked closer at the woman, ignoring the recent damage. “Look here.” I pointed to her arms. “There are marks on her arm. If she was stoned, would it affect what happened with the poison? Maybe give her a bad reaction.”
    “Yes, it could depending on what she was taking.” Cate sighed and moved away from the body.
    I hated not knowing what was going on. I led Cate out of the alley. We didn’t need to be caught with a dead body. “Even if this was an accident, I think we need to get more aggressive. This will have given the Sidhe ideas. If they can increase the power they get, they will do so.”
    “Does the spirit carry addiction?” She glanced back as she spoke.
    “Oh no, I don’t know. I hope not. The last thing we need is stoned Sidhe running through the city.”

Chapter Fifteen

    We went back to my place. I didn’t have any ideas but we figured it was as good a place as any to regroup. In the workroom I pulled down my top five spell books. “There must be something here we can use.”
    “Quinn, it’s not our fault.” She put her hand on my arm.
    “What isn’t my fault?”
    “What happened to that woman. It isn’t our fault. You couldn’t have anticipated that the fairy would choose a junkie. That there wouldn’t be enough time to get there. Maybe they didn’t even know she was a junkie.”
    I heard the words, but they didn’t really mean anything to me. If I had been thinking clearly instead of mooning over Cate, I would have figured out the Sidhe were going to change the rules. “The fairy didn’t choose the woman. The Sidhe choose the victim.”
    Cate put her hand on mine. “It’s still not your fault.”
    “It doesn’t matter.” It did but I wasn’t ready for Cate to be all sympathetic. “We have to find a way to stop it. I think whoever picked that woman was experimenting. You know Fionuir wouldn’t touch any drugs other than alcohol. She is too afraid of what it would do to her looks.”
    “But if she’s running this mad operation to keep power who would have okayed the junkie?”
    “Stop calling her that. She was a human. The police won’t care about the drugs when they start investigating. We can’t have too much time before they get suspicious.” I started flipping through the spell books, hoping something would jump out at me. Something called, A spell to stop mad Sidhe from ending the world.
    Cate put her hand flat on the book. “I said stop.” She pulled it away from me. “Take a breath.”
    I tried to get the book back, once. She threw fire dust onto my hand before I touched the binding. I kept my eyes on my hand so I could convince my mind that the flesh wasn’t roasting off the bone. It was over in two minutes. But that was two minutes of agony. “You bitch. And to think I was beginning to like you.”
    “You were?” She blushed from the neck of her black sweater to the roots of her hair. “Really?”
    Oh, damn. Quinn Larson you never know when to keep your mouth shut. “Yes. Can I have my book back now?”
    “Maybe. Are you going to flip pages until they fly out of the stitches or are you going to stop and think for a minute?”
    “While we think for a minute, who knows what is going on out there?” I flung my hands to the windows.
    Cate stepped away from me holding the book in her hands. “You know, I always liked you. Even when you were being an idiot. Like now.”
    I stepped forward and grabbed at the spell book. “Setting my hand on fire is not the best way to tell me you like me.”
    “It seems to have worked.”
    “Woman, give me the damn book.”
    She giggled and moved away. “Come take it.”
    I lunged for her and she wiggled away at the last second. I reached again and she danced around the room holding the book just out of my reach. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes, I stopped chasing her and held onto the bench while I gasped for breath.
    “Are you feeling calmer now?”
    I grinned and snaked my arm out to pull the book away from her. “Yes, you win.”
    She pushed in beside me and opened the book. “Good. So before we go looking for spells, I think we need to figure out a different way to deal with this.”
    “Did you mean it when you said you liked me?” If the world was going to come to an end, I had nothing to lose by asking.
    She was looking at the list of spells, running her finger down the right side. She didn’t look up when she said, “Yes, I’ve had a crush on you for a long time. I didn’t think you were ready to hear that until now.”
    I opened my mouth to protest when Olan flew in at a breakneck pace. “There you are. I have news.” Then he stopped and looked at both of us. “Ah, I see you’ve noticed you are sweet on each other.”
    Cate leaned into me and smothered a laugh.
    “Well, we’ll have to deal with that when this crisis is over. We have news too,” I said.
    Olan nodded his beak at me. “I would hear your news first.”
    I told him about the latest death. “Do the Sidhe react like humans to street drugs?”
    Olan paced the length of the table before answering. “I only know of one Sidhe who went down that path. And it was not the same.”
    “Good,” I said and turned back to the spell book. “What’s your news?”
    “I am not done, wizard.”
    “I know,” Cate said. “He has this really bad habit of interrupting.”
    I looked at Olan. “Okay, I’m sorry.”
    “It is much worse. They lose control of their powers. If I remember correctly, it took four creator spirits to control him. That one took it from a needle. I don’t know what will change if drugs get into the power they are stealing. I’d say we need to be more cautious and act faster.”
    Great, just what we needed. “So what news did you bring?”
    Olan puffed himself up. “As you know I am an excellent spy.” He waited until we both nodded. “I overheard Iain setting up a meeting down on Nelson and Park Lane tonight. If we go there, maybe you can catch the fairy or the Sidhe. I don’t know.”
    “They are really changing the game plan if they have moved operations to the park.” Cate said. “There are a lot of people going through that area every day. Not a good place to leave a body.”
    I knew the Sidhe were going to get too arrogant to be careful. “What did you hear, exactly?” I hoped Olan had misunderstood, knowing it was a blind hope because Olan was an expert eavesdropper.
    “Iain was talking to a Sidhe woman. She asked him if he really thought this was wise. I didn’t hear what ‘this’ was. Iain said. ‘Yes, he will be worth it’. I think they are planning to get someone important, or powerful.”
    I grabbed my leather coat and motioned for Olan to lead the way. Cate followed Olan and I locked the doors after us.
    It was a short walk to the park, so we were there in ten minutes. This intersection was one of the entrances to Stanley Park, the tennis courts and the lagoon were a short walk in either direction.
    “It they’ve decided to jump on the drugs bandwagon, this is the place.” Cate jerked her head slightly toward three men standing near a bench. They had their hands in their pockets and Bluetooth receivers in their ears.
    “Are you sure this is the place?” I asked Olan who was sitting on my shoulder, making me feel like a pirate.
    He turned his eye to me and nodded. I realized he would be keeping silent as long as humans were around.
    I turned to Cate and led her to a bench some ten feet closer to the streetlights than the drug dealer’s station. “Can you sense any Sidhe?”
    She closed her eyes for a minute. “Fifteen feet, maybe a bit more, into the trees. No fairies, though. None at all.”
    “We must be early.” I really hoped so, one death a day is enough. If we could catch the Sidhe, one of us could let the fairy know that the deal was off. “Stand still and I’ll disguise us.”
    It would be pretty easy to slip past the drug dealers. I’d watched them before. They were looking for customers and as long as we didn’t look like competition, they would let us pass. I gave myself a glamour of long bushy hair, to hide Olan. And I hid Cate’s red hair under a hood, filling in the curves of her clothing to create a short chubby man silhouette.
    She looked down at her new body. “Couldn’t you find a better disguise for me?”
    “I don’t think we want to parade a pretty red haired witch past the three musketeers.” I cut my eyes toward the group who were ogling a street walker as she strutted by with a client.
    “Good idea.” She dropped her voice from contralto to tenor. “Thanks for thinking I’m pretty.”
    “Don’t go all girly on me.” I laughed and motioned for her to stand. “Let’s get to that Sidhe.”
    We made it past the three dealers with only one offer of drugs. Cate led us through a few bushes to a clearing just out of sight of the main path. It looks like the Sidhe were not as reckless as I first feared. A body could rest in here for a while before someone stumbled on it. Although there was not going to be another body. We were here to make sure of that.
    Cate held her finger to her lips. Even though I wasn’t planning on chatting I pushed my lips together to show I understood. She pointed toward an ancient oak and cupped her other hand behind her ear. I moved closer and realized I could hear quiet voices from the other side.
    “Did you find the right human?” That was Iain. Interesting, it never occurred to me that he would be anything other than a go between.
    “Of course.” I didn’t recognize the other voice, but the accent said Sidhe. “It is almost time.”
    “I’m ready.”
    Cate and I looked at each other; I didn’t feel any fairy presence. I flapped my hands like wings and raised my eyebrow. She shook her head. And I noticed the absence of bird sounds too.
    I gestured with my hands and a tiny web formed between them. Cate nodded. A snare spell would be the easiest. I pushed more power in the spell and felt some draining from Olan. The web was large enough to hold two fully grown Sidhe.
    I pointed at the left side of the tree and then Cate. She moved into place. We were going to rush around the tree and I would fling the web at the first being I saw. We would get our captive and make the best of it and the chosen victim would be safe. Just before I gave the signal to go, Olan flapped off my shoulders and disappeared into the night.
    I nodded and both of us moved around the tree. I held up my hand to cast the web and stopped. There was a human woman on the ground, her back arched in a convulsion, her lips an unnatural color. I saw her fingers tearing into the ground. Her eyes were staring at the tree canopy with no light of comprehension.
    Cate stood frozen on the other side of the tree trunk. I took one step toward the woman as she sighed and collapsed. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the swirl of a cloak and a sudden absence of something that had been standing in the shadow of another oak.
    I dismissed the spell and grabbed Cate’s arm. We ran in the direction of the motion.
    I heard a series of chirps from above as we entered a clearing at the edge of the park. Only a few tall rhododendrons hid us from the street. I turned to see Cate step into the clearing, her disguise gone. Her eyes widened she opened her mouth. I spun to see what had shocked her.
    Ten Sidhe males stepped out of the bushes and we were surrounded.

Chapter Sixteen

    I stepped toward Cate and she turned so that we stood back to back facing the Sidhe. “Sorry,” I said over my shoulder.
    “No problem. This isn’t your fault either.”
    I felt her shoulders move and realized she was forming a spell as she talked. I called back the web, it was an easy spell and I figured the first step was to decrease the number of attackers. “What have you got?”
    “A stun spell. I figure a spirit wizard would be uncomfortable with fatal spells and I didn’t want you stopping to lecture me in the middle of a fight.”
    “Funny.” I appreciated her thoughtfulness. It would help if we could capture one of the Sidhe alive.
    Olan flew to the center of the circle. “Damn, I thought I could leave you to this.”
    I shrugged and said, “Welcome to the fight if you want. But you can sit back and watch us take care of this.”
    One of our opponents roared out a laugh. “Brave words, wizard. But not even a creator will help you now.”
    Ah, twin one. I didn’t recognize him earlier because he was covering his face. Now he threw back the hood and I could see all the bruises.
    “Did I do that? Or did Fionuir punish you for letting me get away?”
    “Queen Fionuir to you.” He stepped forward. “This time you will not triumph.”
    “The odds are in my favor.” I said and threw the web. He tried to avoid it but my aim was true and he found himself wrapped in a sticky net that contracted and hardened as he fought it. We all watched as he collapsed to the ground.
    “Who’s next?” Cate asked. I saw a ball of light growing in her hand.
    The other Sidhe closed the gap and the circle became a step tighter.
    I picked through the charms in my pocket. I always carried a few defensive spells, even though I hadn’t come prepared for an ambush. Cate bounced the globe of light in her hand like she was getting ready to toss a grenade. I found a thistle in my coat pocket that contained a confusion spell,
    I turned to her and whispered, “What will that do?”
    “Blind them. What have you got?”
    “Not enough time,” I said, watching the nine Sidhe, creeping closer while we talked.
    I don’t know why they didn’t rush us, we were totally unprepared and the fight would have been over in a flash. Maybe they thought we were ready for them. “Cast that and I’ll think of something.”
    Cate tossed the globe underhanded; I felt her body slide to the ground beside mine. With our bodies out of the way, the flash should affect the whole circle. I palmed the thistle and found a bee ball. I kissed it and slammed it against the ground before grabbing Cate and rolling on top of her. If I guessed right, my kiss would keep the bees away from me and if she was under me, they wouldn’t find her either.
    I heard the buzz grow as the bees expanded to life size. The ball held a hundred bees. A second after the ball released the bees; I heard two things, Sidhe shouting in pain and Cate swearing at me.
    “Get off me you oaf.”
    “In a second, the bees need to latch onto Sidhe taste before it’s safe.”
    She stopped struggling. The Sidhe yelps slowed and I took the chance to look up, the flash from Cate’s spell should have dissipated enough by now. Three of the Sidhe were running for cover, pursued by a trail of hungry bees. Two were unconscious; I’m not sure what happened to them. The other four were batting at attacking bees and trying to cast spells to disperse them.
    I rolled off Cate and she sat up moving her hands to create another spell.
    “I have confusion ready to go, can you work with that?” I showed her the thistle.
    “Yes,” she said before flicking her fingers in the last gesture. “Rain.”
    We both started to stand but I felt something touch my leg. Suddenly the strength was gone. I looked down and saw a vine attaching itself to me. A glance at Cate showed she was not yet touched. I tossed the thistle toward to Sidhe who seemed to be casting the vine and pulled out my pocket knife.
    The Sidhe dodged the thistle but it did manage to catch two others in its confusion net. Unfortunately, it also caught the remaining bees. They flew out into the trees to get away from the people smacking at them.
    The vine was still trying to attach itself to my leg. It was not getting enough purchase to get anywhere, but if it decided to get under my pants I figured it would at best be an immobilization spell.
    At worst, I was going to die.
    I slashed and caught it on the tip with the point of the knife and it collapsed like a punctured balloon. I looked up as Cate threw the rain spell and saw Olan swoop down from a tree with a stone in his claws.
    The two Sidhe caught in the confusion spell stood looking up at the sky. When the rain slapped at them, it was a buckets of rain spell, it knocked them over. Olan dropped the stone on the head of the most aware Sidhe and we were suddenly able to take a second to breathe. It wouldn’t be long before someone gained enough sense to attack for keeps. We still had four Sidhe who could attack if they thought of something.
    “Can you do another web?” Cate asked, I noticed her face was drawn; she was putting too much energy into her spells. “I don’t know how long we’ve got, but if you can put down two more, we should be safe to run.”
    I nodded and started to spin the web between my hands, then decided to split it. I would have to put more energy into the spell to create two webs, but with two I could pin down the remaining Sidhe and we could leave. If the worse we got out of this a need for a long nap, I would consider it a victory.
    “Get ready,” I whispered. Olan came back into my line of sight, this time he carried a stick in his talons.
    I parted my hands and spun the webs toward the remaining Sidhe, I caught all but one, and they toppled like bowling pins.
    “Run,” I shouted and grabbed Cate’s arm. Olan dropped the stick toward the head of the remaining Sidhe. Cate was now leading me, as I watched to make sure we weren’t being pursued. I blindly put one foot after the other as I watched the branch spin away from the strawberry blond head of the standing Sidhe. His arm swung and the branch followed like it was in his hand.
    I stumbled and felt Cate fall with me. The branch hurtled toward us, spinning as it came. Olan flew at the branch, I think he was trying to force it down, but he couldn’t get purchase. I heard the air buffeting that preceded the impact, and then I felt pain. It started in my shoulder and burned its way up to fill my head with stars. I could hardly breathe with the shock. Over the agony I felt Cate pulling at me, and in the haze that filled my vision, I saw the Sidhe coming.
    He picked up speed and was running in a few steps. He would be here before I could clear my mind enough to fight back. I tried to push Cate away. If I was a goner, I wanted to save her. She wouldn’t move. Then something crossed my sight, streaking toward the Sidhe. Olan pulled up at the last minute and raked his talons across the Sidhe’s cheeks. He stopped and rubbed his hands against the wounds. I saw the blood drip through and his healing spell close the wound almost as quickly as Olan had caused it.
    “Please get up, Quinn.” Cate’s voice in my ear was strained and I realized she was trying to lift me all by herself. “I can’t carry you and we need to go now.”
    “Can you calm the pain? I can barely stand; if you can do something for the pain I’ll be fine. I will run.”
    “I don’t have any strength left. I’m sorry.”
    “You always were bad at conserving your strength.” I laughed, and then drew in a breath at the agony that tore through me. “Let me lean on you so I can stand.”
    She knelt and I put my arm on her shoulder. Then she grunted and stood. “Okay, you run and I’ll be right behind you. Go to my place. The doors will let you in.”
    “No, we go together.”
    I looked at her; there were tears in her eyes. “Okay, you lead. I’m right behind you.”
    She shook her head. “No, I’ll follow. If you fall down I’ll know and help you.”
    “Okay, just run.” The Sidhe would need a few minutes to recharge after healing himself. I didn’t think spending that time arguing would be a good idea.
    She stopped and threw a spell behind us and then gave me a little push. “I thought you didn’t have any strength left?”
    “Shut up, Quinn. You know healing takes five times the energy that casting does.”
    We made it past the three drug dealers. I couldn’t run, but if I held my arm close to my body, I could walk fast. I noticed the dealers started looking around to see who was chasing us. As if there was a signal, they faded off in different directions. Damn, if the Sidhe was going to chase us I was counting on the presence of humans to discourage him from attacking again.
    Olan swooped past me and circled as if trying to land on my shoulder. My stomach rebelled at the thought of even his tiny weight. “Don’t you dare,” I gritted through my teeth.
    He veered and landed on Cate’s shoulder.
    “You can slow down. The Sidhe isn’t coming after you.”
    I didn’t think of arguing, I didn’t really have the energy to run home. “What did you throw back there?”
    Cate snickered. “It was a honey spell. I dumped two gallons of sticky mess on his head. He may have healed the wounds, but by now he’s covered in bits of bark and leaves and anything else he stumbled into.”
    “Almost tempted to go back to see the mess,” I said. My energy was fading away, we needed to get home to my house, and I needed to rest. “But let’s keep going.”
    I was moving so slowly, it took almost half an hour to get to my front door and then Cate had to go and set a chair just inside the front door. I collapsed into it and heard a groan spill from my lips.
    “Do you have any willow bark?” Cate touched my shoulder. I knew she was being gentle but it sent fire through my bones.
    “In the cupboard above the sink.”
    “Any chocolate?”
    “I didn’t know chocolate had healing powers.” I thought I knew all the healing plants; I’d needed them enough in training.
    “No, dope. It’s for energy. I eat the chocolate and then I can fix your shoulder.”
    I figured she was working really hard to stop herself from slapping me. “Sorry, I’m not thinking very clearly.”
    She went to the kitchen to brew willow bark tea. I left the chair and stumbled into the living room and sat in my big leather chair. I tried to think what we could do next, and all that entered my mind was pain, I’m in pain.
    “Here.” Cate handed me a mug. “Drink it in one swallow.
    I looked in the mug, the liquid was thick. I’d never seen willow bark tea so strong. “It’s barely liquid.”
    “You can moan all you want. You decide whether to drink the tea and feel better or not drink it and wait for your shoulder to heal all by itself.”
    “Okay. Did you put any honey in there?”
    “Yes, lots.” She stood in front of me with her hands on her hips, waiting for me to do something.
    I took a deep breath then exhaled, tipped the mug to my lips, opening my throat and hoping nothing hit my tongue. I could smell the bitterness of the liquid. It hit my stomach and I felt warmth rise first in my stomach then in my bones. “You put something else in there.”
    “Yep, you’ll feel sleepy in a minute.”
    My eyelids drooped and the last thing I saw was her stepping forward with her hands reaching for my shoulder.

Chapter Seventeen

    The sun was shining in my eyes when I opened them again. I couldn’t see Cate anywhere, but I was still in my chair, and my shoulder didn’t hurt. Well, not quite as much. The pain was now at the level of a twinge. I rotated my shoulder and was surprised it worked.
    My energy level was almost back to full. I got away from that fight better than I expected. “Coffee I need coffee.”
    “What?” Cate’s voice came from my bedroom.
    “I said, coffee, would you like some?” The thought of Cate in my bed made me feel a bit weak. “How are you feeling?”
    She came into the kitchen pulling her hair into a ponytail and yawning. “Yes, please. I feel fine. Before you put the coffee on, do you have any food? If not, we should go out for breakfast. We need to get a good meal in us or we’ll collapse at the first sign of resistance.”
    I opened the cupboards and took down a tin of steel-cut oatmeal. “This will do it. I’ll make the coffee, will you make the oatmeal?”
    Cate took the tin from me and poured water in a pot. I measured out the coffee and put the espresso maker on the stove. I could tell the oatmeal would be heavy so I checked the fridge. “Here’s some cream. And I think there’s some dried fruit in that container.”
    Between us we got breakfast on the table without any injuries, but I realized she was right. Just getting food on the table had made me tired and more than a little dizzy.
    “I’ve never used up so much of myself. How long will it take us to get back to normal?” I asked.
    “I’m not sure. And, even if I did know, what if I said a week? We can’t wait. I think if we just eat every few hours, we can keep our energy high enough to do what needs to be done.”
    I marked a luck rune on the table. If we ran out of energy, then we might as well give up now. There was no point in annoying the Sidhe if we couldn’t bring the point home.
    “What did you put in that tea? It healed my shoulder like a miracle.”
    “It wasn’t the tea. I just put you to sleep so I could examine your shoulder.” She held her coffee cup up to me in salute. “I’m impressed you managed to get home. Your shoulder was dislocated. No permanent damage but it must have been a lot of pain. I popped it back in while you were asleep.”
    “Thanks.” I felt like a big he-wizard.
    “Olan is gone.” Cate picked a sliced of dried apple out of her oatmeal and chewed it.
    “He does that. I remember him raking the face of the Sidhe but I don’t remember anything after that.”
    “How do you know when to worry about him?”
    “I don’t worry about him. Nothing can hurt him for long.” I was starting to feel the benefit of the coffee and oatmeal.
    “But he can be hurt, right. Can we do this without him?”
    “You don’t know Olan. He can be as much hindrance as help.” I felt mean saying that, he’d saved my life after all. “I mean he has his own agenda, like everyone.”
    “I’m still worried.” Cate finished her oatmeal and put the bowl in the sink.
    “Okay if he doesn’t show up soon, we can try to seek him. I’ve got some good seeker spells I haven’t tried.”
    Cate smile at me and I felt warm all over. “I’ve been thinking,” she said.
    “I’m impressed; I thought you were going to pass out in my lap last night.”
    “Well, your bed is very comfortable.” She blushed and I thought about making my big move, wasn’t now the right time? She’d just called me a hero after all. Before I could say anything, she spoke again. “What if we looked at this from a different point of view? We have been trying to stop Fionuir, right?”
    “Well, she is the one responsible for this problem.”
    She shook her head. “Actually, the problem is the fairies not having babies.”
    “That’s a symptom of what Fionuir is doing.”
    “No, I mean what if the fairies started having babies again? It would at least buy us some time. If Fionuir has to change the spell on the amulet, we might be able to get it away from her.”
    “But they aren’t.” She was right we needed a way to get the amulet, but the fairies were stuck.
    She rolled her eyes at me and started tidying up the kitchen. “Are you sure you didn’t get hit in the head? Look, what I’m saying is, what if I found a way to at least temporarily get the fairies fertile again?”
    “I didn’t think that was possible.”
    “It occurred to me when I made your willow bark. What if I combined a few things then distilled the spell down to strengthen it?”
    It felt like this was one of those things that in retrospect seem like a good idea at the time. “And what if you go overboard and we find ourselves knee deep in baby fairies. Do you have any idea how much trouble a baby fairy can be?”
    “I would be very careful.” She twisted her lips in thought. “I could test it on something. I could make the potion for something short lived and then adjust it if we find it’s too strong or too weak. What about on fruit flies?”
    “Crap, I don’t want an infestation of fecund fruit flies.”
    “Very mature.” Cate poked my shoulder. “Keep that up and I’ll dislocate it again, buster.”
    I dug for a good idea. “We can do it in a jar. That way we know we can keep control of the population.”
    Cate went back to the bedroom and came out pulling on her coat. “I’ll have to do this at home, all my stuff is there and you don’t have what I need downstairs.”
    “Just make sure you don’t let your apprentice help. Remember when we helped Vollont with that snow spell.”
    She laughed. “Yes, we were digging the house out from the blizzard for a week. I think that’s why he had such a remote house; a blizzard in July would raise more than eyebrows in any town in California.”

Chapter Eighteen

    Cate called me when she got home to let me know she’d seen Olan flying over the house as she left. And that I didn’t have to worry about the bird any more. I tried to reassure her that I wasn’t worried but she just laughed.
    I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and tossed the coffee grinds on the garden. I went downstairs and checked to see if Princess was still okay, she was, and then scribed a seeking circle inside my power circle. If Cate was going to find a fertility spell, the least I could do was try to find some information.
    I put three stones and a wren feather in the seeking circle. Then I sat outside it before closing my larger power circle. I took a deep breath and tried to empty my mind. Unfortunately a vision of Cate in my bed filled the space as quickly as I emptied it. I tried again. Deep breath, think of leaves falling, exhale blow the leaves away. There was Cate covered in leaves. Okay that was not going to work.
    I hated to work under the influence of a spell but I wasn’t going to get Cate out of my mind without help. I pulled down a jar of mint leaves and a box of ground cricket. Placing a pinch of the cricket powder in a mint leaf I placed between my teeth. I thought the word calm and bit down. The weight of everything I’d experienced in the last three days drifted off my shoulders. Then the worries about what could happen floated after them. My mind cleared and I was ready to seek.
    I held my list of spirits and looked at the section on procreation. I didn’t spend a lot of time with procreative spirits. Most were both birth and death type, like The Morrigan. They were a bit crazy. I figured I could ask one about how the fairies normally make sure they get a baby when they want one. Like most Real Folk the fairies didn’t have to produce kids if they didn’t want to. The trick was to make sure you got the baby when you did want it.
    There were two spirits who seemed to be in charge of fairy, kobol and troll procreation. One I knew from the past, and we didn’t have a good parting. The other I’d heard of but never met.
    “Ezeral. Please come to my circle. I offer you a stone or a feather for news.” I decided to try the unknown spirit first.
    Five minutes later, nothing had happened. “Ezeral, I beseech you, it is vital we speak.”
    A small dust devil started building in the center of the circle. I saw the feather lift and then spin away. The three stones rolled over twice before settling in place.”
    “The feather is useless to me. I need more than a wren to feed my needs.” The voice echoed from deep in the earth, as though my cellar were a well.
    “And the stones?”
    “Two are adequate. I will take them now.” The stones lifted from the earth and I slapped my open palm on the floor beside me. The stones dropped back onto the ground.
    “When I decide you have told me all you know, I will release the stones.”
    The spirit humphed. “What do you want to know, wizard. Hurry I am busy.”
    “Really, busy with fairies?”
    “No, the fairies haven’t called me for some time now.”
    “Did you wonder why?” The spirits didn’t often keep up with the gossip in the world.
    “No, but I assume you will tell me what you have now made me curious about.”
    I brought Ezeral up to date and asked my question. “Is there a way we can make the fairies fertile so they will stop killing?”
    “There may be a temporary fix.” The stones tumbled closer to the center of the circle but didn’t rise.
    “That will be fine. It will buy us some time to reverse what Fionuir has done. Will you tell me what it is?’
    “”I didn’t say I knew. You will have to ask Ranseed.”
    Damn, I didn’t want to mend that fence. “If I call Ranseed, will you intercede for me?”
    The sound of laughter rustled through the room. Ezeral rose in a cloud of dust and the laughter stopped. “Why is there a dead fairy on the couch?”
    Ah, that was not good. “Not dead. I am trying to keep her alive until I can solve her problem.”
    “Hmm, I am not sure I believe you, but we will let that lie for now. I will not come between you and Ranseed that is a wound you must heal yourself.”
    “It will cost me.” And, I really didn’t have a lot to give for information. “Is it likely to work?”
    “I am not an oracle. You must decide for yourself if effort is worth a reward.” He moved the two stones closer; one was topaz and the other obsidian. “I require my payment now.”
    I lifted my hand and the stones soared into the air and fell, disappearing into an invisible hole, the sound of Ezeral’s laughter fading way with along with the sudden wind. I picked up the list again. There wasn’t a spirit for blocking the Sidhe, nothing about finding the amulet, nothing about miracles for saving the world.
    I was going to have to get more rewards if I called Ranseed. And something stronger than chalk to keep the circle closed.
    I put the list away, and then covered Princess with a second blanket so she wouldn’t be visible. I didn’t think Ranseed would be as ready to listen to my explanation as Ezeral was. When the room was prepared, I wiped the chalk away and replaced the stones with two eggs, an airplane bottle of vodka and a gold chain with three pearls hanging from the clasp. I took some red ink and closed the circle.
    “I ask for Ranseed to come to the circle.” I waited. It took an hour; my bones were aching from sitting still so long. An image of swirling dust filled the circle but nothing moved. “Thank you for coming to my circle.”
    “That will cost you these eggs.” The sound of his voice whispered through my head like leaves in autumn.
    I released the eggs to his control. “You can have them. I have a request. The other items are to pay for that.”
    “You have to pay for more than my attention.” The vodka bottle tipped over and rolled toward the edge of the circle. It bounced back from the power that held the spirit inside. “You owe me an apology.”
    “I might give it as payment if your information helps me.” I know I wasn’t wrong, but apparently that wasn’t the point. “My apology and the rest of the objects in the circle.”
    A rustle like wind in dry leaves flowed from the depths. “I wish the apology in writing.”
    “I won’t break the circle.”
    The rustling turned to the sound of rattling. An image of bones falling in a pile came to me. Ranseed spoke again. “I wish some form I can show to others.”
    I didn’t know whether to just cave-in, or to make him work for it. I needed this and he had me by the family jewels. Well, time is long and eventually things come full circle.
    “I agreed that if you give me the information I need, all the information, I will create a spell for the apology for you to show the entire spirit world.”
    He laughed and I heard fire consuming a forest. “I hope I have what you need. The price will be worth it. What do you ask?”
    I had already figured out my questions. “Have you heard about Fionuir’s interference with the fairies?”
    “Yes, her little play for power. The Sidhe are like drunken teenagers. They only see what is in front of their face. I find it odd they have no concept of the long view given their lifespan.”
    I couldn’t argue with his opinion. Even if I wanted to it was my opinion too. “I’m trying to stop her. I need to know how to make the fairies fertile again.”
    “There is no way. Something is blocking the access to their spirits.”
    “I heard there was a way to temporarily make fairies fertile.” Had Ezeral lied? Or was Ranseed trying to increase payment?
    “There is something that will increase fertility temporarily. I created it to help recover the population after a plague three hundred years ago.”
    Finally, progress. “Okay, that should do it.”
    “It won’t. The spell needs the same access as the normal process. I said that is blocked. You have difficulty listening don’t you?”
    I chose to rise above the bait. “Can you create another spell? One to make fairies fertile for the next few months. Something to give us some time?”
    “Or, perhaps you can do something to convince the Sidhe to stop,” Ranseed said, sounding like steam escaping a kettle. “Something for leverage. Perhaps take away the Sidhe’s ability to breed.”
    I didn’t care for the idea of escalating the conflict. “It will only make things worse. Besides, they only breed every few years. It’s likely they won’t even notice.”
    The sound of leaves in the wind came again. I guessed that was him sighing. “Quinn, you sound so genuinely sad. I appreciate your concern for my fairies, but there is nothing. You will need to find another way. I have been trying to solve this since Fionuir started her little campaign. I only have one way to help them have children, the normal way. Fionuir has chosen an effective tool to carry out her power play.”
    He used my name, which was promising. “I suppose you don’t know how to find the Gur amulet?”
    “Is that what she used? Interesting. The Druids may have to come out of hiding. No, I have no way to help you there. I wish you luck, Quinn Larson. I think I will miss you if the Sidhe take you. Now my apology.”
    “If I solve this problem, will you return my apology?”
    “No. That is about the past. But if you succeed, I will owe you one favor.”
    I released the necklace and vodka. Waited a minute until Ranseed swirled the dust again, then I laughed and scribed in the dust I am sorry I disagreed with you. You were right. I was wrong.
    I dismissed Ranseed and cleared the circle.
    Summoning spirits took a lot out of me, more now that I was directing energy to heal my injuries from last night. I mulled over what I could do next as I went upstairs to make a sandwich: tuna on rye with melted cheese.
    As I popped the last bite in my mouth, Olan opened the door and landed on the table beside my plate. “Any more of that bread?”
    I nodded and went to get the crusts. “You have a spell to open the door? What else have you been up to?”
    He flapped his wings and settled his feathers before answering. “Just flying around searching for information. What have you been doing with your time?”
    I told him what I had learned but I sensed that he wasn’t really listening because he pecked at the bread so loudly I thought there was a woodpecker in the room.
    I finished with, “I don’t know where to go from here.”
    He stopped eating and looked at me with his head cocked to one side. “I think we need a new plan. Something more active.”
    That made me suspicious. “What kind of active?”
    “We need to take the game to Fionuir. This time not just to ask questions. We need to raise the stakes, cause a bit of commotion.”
    I tried to picture Olan as a chickadee causing commotion and had to stifle a laugh. “I don’t think we have enough people on our side for that. Look what happened last night.”
    “That was them setting a trap, and you got out of it with just a bit of damage.”
    “You think they killed that woman just to set a trap? This has gone way beyond a play for power.”
    Olan shook his head, or waggled it and I took it as a shake. “They didn’t kill her, it was an illusion. It was a trap.”
    It was a relief to know there wasn’t a dead woman waiting to be found. I tried not to worry about how I missed the fact that she was an illusion. “If they are setting traps, we must be causing problems.”
    “If that’s how you want to look at it, so be it.” Olan hopped over to me. “We can’t have secrets if we go on the offensive. We need to know what obligation you agreed to.”
    “I can’t tell you that. We can just make a plan.” I figured since I couldn’t do any harm as spirit wizard, the obligation would not come into play.
    Olan flapped his wings, I took it as annoyance and kept talking, “What kind of plan did you have in mind?”
    He paced across the table clacking his beak.
    Yep, annoyance. “Olan, I can’t understand you. Speak human.”
    “We could take Fionuir captive. We could hold her until she gave us the amulet and the reversal spell?”
    Hmm, kidnapping. “Not a bad plan if you can figure out how we get to her and hold her. And, if we do get that far, what’s to say she won’t just wait us out. Eventually the fairies will band together to rescue her if they can’t breed.”
    He chirped agreement and asked, “But it won’t interfere with your obligation?”
    I wasn’t going to fall for such a blatant trick. “It won’t interfere with my spirit oath either. But that doesn’t mean it is a good plan.”
    He flew up a few feet and then settled down. “How do I know what to suggest if you don’t tell me what you promised her?”
    “Olan, we can’t know what will happen. We just need to make a plan that doesn’t violate my oath and not worry about anything else. Cate might be able to help. Her oath is different from mine.”
    “You do know that if we break your promise to Fionuir, even by accident there will be problems.” He returned to the pile of crumbs.
    “Yes.”
    “I worry that we are missing something important or ignoring something obvious. It be a good idea to include Cate in this, she has a sensible head on her shoulders.” Olan clacked his beak again and flew past me to the door, so close I had to dodge. “You will be sorry. I can tell you that. If we don’t have all the information at hand, we won’t succeed.”

Chapter Nineteen

    I couldn’t say I disagreed with Olan but I knew what would happen if I told him I agreed to do no direct harm to her or any other Sidhe. I would find myself on the sidelines. That wasn’t where I intended to be. I knew, I don’t know why, but I did know that this was my job.
    I thought the best approach was to find a way for the fairies to breed. It seemed the least violent approach. And maybe Cate had found a way, some poultice or tea that would override the spell.
    I called her but there was no answer so I locked up and walked to her house. It was three blocks closer to downtown than mine and about fifty years younger. I liked my house with its age and creaks and groans. It was a bit crooked and full of little built in cupboards. The basement was dirt when I bought it; I got to build my workspace the way I wanted. And the garden was mature and beautiful.
    Cate’s place was functional and neat. Her garden was around back, but I could see a small portion of the side of it, as neat as the front. I went to knock on the door and it swung open at my first touch. “Cate?” I peeked inside, feeling good that she’d spelled the door to respond to me. I’m pretty sure I was being sent a signal. After this was over, I was going to definitely make my move.
    “Where are you?” I stepped out of the foyer and came to a complete stop.
    The living room was turned over. The couch was thrown against the wall, cushions torn and lying on the floor. The coffee table was broken in half as though someone had fallen on it. I cast a spell to try to bring up the shadows of power left behind, but nothing happened. This damage was done more than a few hours ago.
    I sniffed the air and there was no blood. No one had been hurt, a least not in here. I made my way around the house. All the rooms were in the same state, food was thrown all over the floor in the kitchen. The bathroom was a mess of suds, bubble bath and shampoo combining to form a lavender and citrus cloud of bubbles.
    The good news was that no one had been injured anywhere in the house. No sense of blood. Either Cate wasn’t here when it happened, or she got out before whoever it was did it. I couldn’t sense any taint of demon, but then Cate would keep control of any demon she summoned. So it must be something else.
    I stepped into her garden and saw it was not touched by whatever happened in the house. It was also protected from nosy neighbors by a boxwood hedge. I pulled a seeking amulet from my pocket. I breathed on it and whispered “Cate.”
    The amulet warmed which meant she was alive and within five miles of me. Five miles was a pretty big radius. I levitated the stone and asked it to point out her direction. It moved toward the park. I couldn’t really follow it to her since there would be people on the street. Following a floating stone wasn’t normal human behavior. I put it in my pocket and headed toward the park.
    The park was empty of humans even drug dealers took dinner breaks, I guess. I looked at the trees where we were attacked last night. There was no sign that any fight had taken place. I don’t know why I thought there should be some sign, but it seemed wrong that nothing showed.
    The amulet was still in my pocket. I had planned to use it as I got into town if there was an opportunity. No sign of Cate, so since no one around, I opened my hand and levitated the amulet an inch.
    “Point,” I whispered and it floated toward downtown. Cate must have changed her mind about where she was going. I hope it wasn’t because she was under the influence of some demon.
    “Quinn.” A voice spoke from the region of my hip. I looked down to see a sprite, oak I think, very young.
    “Do I know you?’
    “My cousin is Beacon. I am Bracken.” He beckoned me to a bench, looking around as we walked over.
    “I am in a hurry to find someone.”
    He pulled on my pant leg. “It will only take a minute. And maybe I know where your friend is.”
    I knew if I argued, I would waste time and probably still end up listening to what he had to say. So, I sat on the bench and waited.
    He stared at me for a moment before speaking. “You are doing something about this situation between the fairies and the Sidhe.”
    “Yes.”
    He nodded. “There’s rumors going around. Something bad is coming.”
    I figured it was about last night but you never know. “What are the rumors about?”
    He waved his hand dismissing the topic. “I couldn’t get any information on that.”
    “They sprang a trap last night and we got away.”
    “That is not why they are excited. It is not something they have done.”
    I didn’t know what to do with that information. “I will be alert for something. Thanks, Bracken.”
    “You are welcome, Quinn Larson. If I learn anything else, I will bring it to you.”
    I rose to go.
    He pulled on my jacket. “Wait, who are you looking for? Perhaps I have seen them.”
    “Cate Witherspoon. She’s a witch.”
    “Yes I saw her.”
    My heart leaped and I looked around. “Where?”
    “Not here, I saw her walking into Bank’s Bar.”
    “That is good news. When did you see her?”
    Bracken shrugged. “An hour ago.”
    Sprites are not good with time so there was a good chance it could have been yesterday. And for that matter, the thing with the Sidhe could have been a week ago, or could have been when they were planning the whole fairy as murderer plan. “Thanks.”
    I rose and started to leave when Bracken grabbed my arm. “Wait, Quinn. She was with another wizard. They seemed friendly. I think she is safe.”
    Safe wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind, but tried to tamp down on the jealousy. I nodded my thanks and started toward Bank’s.

Chapter Twenty

    It took me twenty minutes to get to Bank’s. Twenty minutes of alternating between relief that she was alive and whole, and jealousy of this other wizard. I arrived at the door on the jealousy side so I tried to get control of myself before I walked inside. I told myself I was successful and went in.
    Mark pulled a pint for me before I got to the bar. I thanked him and picked it up then looked around. Thinking the cool beer would keep me cool.
    I saw Cate sitting at a table against the back wall. She was laughing at something her companion said. It was a wizard, I couldn’t see who because he had pulled up the hood of his jacket.
    The beer didn’t help.
    I stepped toward the table running a mental rehearsal of what I would say. I wanted to be cool and professional. If she wasn’t interested, if I was reading the signals wrong, I would not let her see it.
    “Hi. It’s good to see you are okay.”
    She frowned up at me. “What do you mean?”
    “Your place has been trashed. I was just there.”
    She looked across the table at the other wizard. “Know anything about that, Lionel?”
    Relief flooded me and I looked into my glass to cover my reaction. Lionel, of course she would be with her apprentice.
    He coughed. “I don’t know. Umm. Well, I’m pretty sure I got the containment spell right on that mini hurricane. You did check it, right?”
    Cate’s mouth thinned and I was glad I wasn’t Lionel. “I would have checked it if I knew you had a mini hurricane in my house. But if I knew that, I would have sent it back where you got it from. Why did you think you could summon one?”
    Lionel seemed to miss the threat in her voice. “I was looking through the spells like you told me to. That seemed like a real easy one. And it was. I got it on the second try.”
    She shook her head. “You know that you have to master containment before you summon. Well, no real harm done, I guess.”
    I figured she was just trying to be careful of his ego while I was there. I stood up; it was time for them to be alone. “I’ll get you another glass of wine, Cate.”
    She nodded at me then turned her full attention on Lionel. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him.
    Mark and I watched the storm of words she lashed him with. We couldn’t hear because she’d cast a muffle spell as soon as I moved away. We could see Lionel looking down at the table, his shoulders were slumped and he didn’t say anything. I’d finished half of another pint before he stood and walked toward the door, face ashen. Cate beckoned me over and I took two fresh drinks with me. “It will get better,” I whispered to Lionel as we passed. I’m not sure he heard me.
    I put Cate’s glass down and sat. “Still think it’s a good idea to have an apprentice?”
    She looked up and I saw a sparkle in her eyes. “Remember when I spilled the invisible potion on the floor just in front of the door to Master Vollont’s house?”
    “Now you mention it, yes. I remember watching people step over the hole that wasn’t there.” I remember Cate having a blistering talking to by Master Vollont as well.
    She sighed. “I did tell him to look at those books. I should have thought about what he might do.”
    “If you need help putting your place back together, I’ll be happy to be there.” I raised my glass to her. “Have you had a chance to figure out anything about our other problem?”
    “No solutions, but I did find something about how they might have done it. The spell on the amulet I mean.”
    “Okay, if we have the amulet, that will help us clean it.”
    “It was in one of my old books. There are two components of this kind of spell. Unfortunately there was nothing about removal so I’m guessing about that. The Sidhe could do this for other Real Folk but it was easiest for them to choose the fairies because they’re related so the fairies trust them a bit more than the rest of us. They took blood from a fairy and a little more blood from a Sidhe. It’s a control spell. Fionuir used the two bloods to cast a control of reproduction spell.”
    I started to feel hopeful that we would come up with a solution. “So, we might be able to recast the spell with only fairy blood and give them control over their own fate. This is great. You did way better than I did; I wasn’t able to find anything out.”
    She smiled at me and took a sip of her wine. “I have something more.”
    “Okay, how did you get so much when I got nothing but ‘there’s no way’ from my sources? Oh, Olan also told me last night was a trap, there was no woman.”
    She shrugged. “That’s good news. How I got information instead of you? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the questions you ask.”
    I waited for her to continue but it seemed she was making me work for the information. “Okay, what did you find out?”
    She grinned before saying, “I found a Sidhe who is willing to talk to us.”
    That surprised me. “How did you find them? We just got away from one trap, this could be another.”
    “A friend told me about her. I said we would meet with her later tonight”
    “Are you sure about this friend?”
    She sighed. “I trust my friend. Stop questioning my information just because you didn’t get anything useful.”
    “It’s not that.” I realized I needed to back pedal a bit. “I’m really worried about another trap. We barely got out of the last one.”
    “It’s going to be risky. We can’t look for ways to do this without risk.” She plunked her glass on the table and rose. “If you want to stay here, I’m happy to meet her and report back. Is there anything you would like me to ask?”
    “No. I mean, yes. I mean, I’ll come with you.”
    It wasn’t that far to the meeting place. We were in the alley where I saw the first killing. It gave me a chill and I couldn’t help looking at the corner where the human died. There was no sign that anything other than bad toilet choices had taken place here. I wondered what the human authorities had thought when they found her.
    Cate pulled me out of the center of the alley into the shadows. “She’s supposed to meet us here. We’re a few minutes early.”
    I waited quietly. I’d already put my foot in my mouth so I told myself to watch and not make anything worse. Anyway, this was Cate’s clue. If I had found this contact, I would have been bossing her around all over the place.
    “Do you see anything?” Cate whispered.
    “No, but don’t worry. She’ll show up. This will probably be the break we’ve been looking for. You might have saved us.”
    “Don’t be so patronizing.” She giggled with the words.
    “If you two are finished cooing at each other, perhaps we can speak.” The voice came from across the alley in a shadow of a dumpster. The voice was cool and low, but I couldn’t see who was standing there.
    Cate stepped forward to the middle of the alley. “You have our attention.”
    I stepped up behind Cate and kept my mouth shut.
    The Sidhe woman stepped out of the shadow and dropped her hood to her shoulders. She seemed to glow. Her skin was fair, the lightness made more translucent by the rosy blush over her cheekbones. I knew that wasn’t make-up, just the look that teenage human females strove for. Her green eyes were shaded by a fringe of tiny blond ringlets. The rest of her hair bound in a green silk band and braided.
    Cate elbowed my ribs. I realized I was gaping. The woman gave a deep chuckle. “Don’t fear, girl, I have no desire for your man.”
    “He’s not my man.” Cate blushed as she spoke.
    “Who are you?” I asked. Then feeling really clumsy and stupid, I tried again. “I mean. I wonder which of the Sidhe would take the chance to meet with us. You must be someone quite important.”
    She smiled and I felt like prey. “Astute. I am coming to like you.”
    Cate snorted. “I don’t think he needs an ego boost. I am Cate Witherspoon. I was told you wanted to speak to me.”
    “Cate, I knew your mother. She seems to have passed on her directness.” The woman turned to me and I could see she was old enough to be Fionuir’s mother. Not a line on her face, but ages reflected in her eyes. “You are Quinn Larson. I do not know anything else about you.”
    “You asked for a meeting.” Cate took my arm. “Is there something you wanted to say?”
    “I am Maeve.” She waited for something. I didn’t know what to say. “I see you are not clear on Sidhe history. I am the rightful queen. Fionuir took away my crown and installed her irresponsible court in my place.” Pain and bitterness spilled through her words.
    “And you want us to help you take your crown back?” I guess it was one way to solve the problem.
    Maeve nodded.
    Cate looked at me then pulled me back a few steps. “It could work. We could stop Fionuir by replacing her.”
    I knew that the Sidhe weren’t that straightforward. Maeve would exact a price for stopping Fionuir and it wouldn’t be getting her throne back. “And if Maeve is worse than Fionuir? If we are getting the devil we don’t know?”
    “I am not a devil.” Maeve’s voice soothed my objections for a second.
    I threw a charm to the ground between us. Maeve stepped back, as though it was a serpent. It was just a muffle spell. I hoped it worked on Sidhe.
    I turned back to Cate, taking her arm and bringing her close to make sure we were both covered by the spell. “It all smells a bit fishy. Why would she have come to us now? And, why would she need our help?”
    “I don’t know Quinn, but I think we should at least hear her out. It doesn’t have to be a trap.”
    I couldn’t push away the feeling Maeve was going to cause us a lot of trouble. “She has had a chance to start telling us and yet she’s just playing with us.”
    “Unless you have another plan, we should at least give her a chance to tell us what she wants from us.”
    Cate was right, just hearing her out couldn’t hurt. And I might be able to figure out how to keep us safe while she was talking. There was no doubt we would come off worse in Maeve’s plans if we didn’t take care.

Chapter Twenty-One

    When I cleared the muffling spell, Maeve said, “This is not safe. We need to go somewhere we can speak in private.”
    “Do you have somewhere in mind?” I was not going to invite her into my home, and Cate’s place wouldn’t be in any shape for visitors no matter how hard Lionel had worked.
    “As a matter of fact, I have. Come.” I could hear the royalty in her voice. That’s what worried me. Fionuir was a good example of the personality of Real Folk royalty and I wasn’t sure how different Maeve was in that department.
    We followed her across the street and down into the basement of a hotel. I could smell the soap and boiling water of the laundry. Maeve led us down a long corridor and finally into a small room. Inside there were four armchairs and a table, on the table stood a bottle and three wine glasses.
    “Will you join me?” Maeve poured herself a glass and sipped.
    Cate nodded but I wasn’t taking a chance on being less than fully alert. Maeve poured then sat on a red leather chair. I remained standing.
    “You want to know what I have to offer.”
    Cate leaned against the wall and said, “Please tell us.”
    “You are worried, Quinn, that Fionuir will bring the attention of the humans on the Real Folk.” She seemed determined to bring me into the conversation. I simply nodded. “And, Cate, I am not sure why you are involved”
    Cate shrugged, and I admired her ability to seem so casual in Maeve’s regal presence. “I don’t like what is being done to the fairies. And, I agree with Quinn.”
    Maeve paused and emptied the small glass before pouring another serving. “I have already told you why I wish things to change.”
    “We are waiting for more information. Perhaps a plan,” I said.
    Cate looked at me and I was glad I was standing too far way for her to poke me. She turned her smile on Maeve. “I prefer the direct approach as you mentioned earlier. Quinn is right; you have not given us any information other than your name. Do you have a plan?”
    “You are in such a hurry.” Maeve gave that warm chuckle again. “Very well, I know where Fionuir has hidden the Gur amulet. If you take it, you can remove the spell. She won’t be able to replicate the spell without such a powerful battery as the Gur amulet. And, perhaps the fairies will be more careful of their blood in the future.”
    “Where is the amulet?” Cate spoke before I could form the question.
    “It is in her court, on one of the tables.” Maeve smiled. “Have you seen the Gur amulet before?”
    I answered her, “I think it is stone. I haven’t seen it but I have heard it described as a small lump of stone with streaks of metal.
    Maeve nodded. “It is sitting on the table in front of a tapestry of the Wild Hunt. I believe you have been in her court.”
    “I have.” I tried to think where the tapestry was. I thought it was behind where Fionuir had sat. The amulet would have been within touch if I had known where to look.
    “Yes, my friends are still talking about it. Very amusing.” Maeve smiled and sipped her wine.
    “And how do you propose we get possession of the amulet?” Cate kept digging right to the heart of the question.
    “You kill the guards and simply rush in and grab it,” Maeve said.
    “No, no one dies,” I said.
    Cate ignored me. “While we are doing this, what will you do?”
    “I will not be there. If Fionuir suspects I am involved, she will use that to defeat me when we choose the queen.”
    Ah, is this the catch? “Is that why you didn’t just bring the amulet here? That would have been the best approach.”
    “Partly that, and partly because Fionuir has added a layer of spell that informs her if another Sidhe touches it.”
    “Only Sidhe?” Cate asked.
    “Yes, she is too arrogant to imagine any other Real Folk will be able to get to it.”
    I still felt there was a catch. I don’t know if it was the plan, or the fact that she wasn’t going to help us any more than this. Or, because I didn’t know if she would be any better than Fionuir as a Sidhe queen. The plan was pretty good. The location of the amulet was our biggest obstacle. “Were you queen before Fionuir?”
    Maeve smiled again, her gaze seeming to focus on something other than us and this room. “Yes, she took my crown and convinced so many of my followers to join her that I have been unable to rally enough support to challenge her since.”
    As long as I could remember, Fionuir had been queen. “Tell me something that happened when you reigned.”
    “We planted trees. Beautiful trees.” Her voice had a faraway quality. It was not earthshaking but the glow that rose in her eyes told me everything.
    Cate had been quiet. I turned to her and saw she was frowning and looking at her empty glass. “I think I have an idea.”

Chapter Twenty-Two

    The meeting broke up shortly after Cate told us what she was thinking. Maeve faded into the shadows, Cate went home to research her part in the plan, and I’m pretty sure to give Lionel another lecture. I went home to sleep and recharge my batteries. The damage from last night was almost healed, so a good night sleep would store up new energy.
    I hoped this ominous feeling would dissolve into my dreams.
    Our agreement was to meet in the park at dusk. I got there a little early and while I waited I tried to find a fairy, but no one was about. I had hoped to get a chance to find some blood. I didn’t have any worries about finding a spell to undo the work Fionuir had done on the amulet. I had two choices. Overlay a spell or wash away her spell. My preference would be the latter. I hated to think that the spirits of those murdered Druids being used to power a spell. They should be at rest, or freed.
    I sat on a bench close to the entrance of the park. I could see the three drug dealers back in their spot. They paid no attention to me.
    I saw Cate cross the street and enter the park. She was wearing black again. All black. It didn’t seem to suit her but I guess if she liked it I could get used to it. She joined me on the bench.
    “I found what I needed. I have a spell strong enough to put all the Sidhe asleep. It will be only for a short period. But you should have time to get in and grab the amulet.”
    I had no doubt she would do her part. I was worried about me. That damn obligation. Would it think putting them to sleep was a direct harm? What if someone fell on a sword and killed themselves. I really wanted Cate to be out of it, but she needed to cast the spell so I could enter the court and take the amulet back. “I wish we had someone else to cast the spell. I would feel better if you were out of harm’s way.”
    “Don’t be an idiot.” She laughed. “I am not going to pass up this opportunity.”
    I started to argue, to tell her that I didn’t want her to be in danger. That I would rather the Sidhe carry on rather than have anything happen to her, but before I could get out a word, Olan flapped into view.
    “Have you saved the world yet?” He asked as he landed on the back of the bench.
    I told him our plan.
    “Sounds perfect. Nothing to go wrong in that plan.” Olan cackled a laugh.
    “Okay, bird. What do you suggest? This is the first break we’ve had, and we’re doing our best. What more can we do?” I was done with Olan not helping. It was bad enough he couldn’t just stop the Sidhe and fulfill his debt to protect the humans, but he kept sniping at our attempts.
    Olan started pacing the back rail of the bench. “It usually is wise to have a backup plan. What if the Sidhe don’t fall under the spell?”
    “The spell should work. It was in the great book of artful war spells,” Cate said.
    Olan pecked at her hair. “So, we are warring with the Sidhe. How do you think a spirit wizard will fare in war?”
    “Stop that.” I pull the tress out of his beak. “We aren’t at war. I can work with this.”
    Olan made a sound that I would have sworn you needed lips for. I felt dismissed. He paused his pacing and looked at me, his beady eye drilling into my soul.
    “Witch Witherspoon.” Olan turned to her. “Do you know for certain you are able to cast the spell?”
    “In the book it says the last time it was cast was in the war between Vampires and Kobolds. The Kobolds hired a witch named Ursulina to avert a battle. She cast the spell at the peak of the full moon and all vampires within a hundred yards fell asleep for two hours.”
    Olan clacked his beak. “That is not what I asked you.”
    She cleared her throat. Annoyance flushed her cheeks. “Ursulina is my mother’s aunt. My great aunt, I suppose. I contacted her to ask her what the key to the spell was. She told me.”
    He hopped a little closer to her. “And what is that key, girl?”
    I didn’t like Olan questioning Cate. “Why do you need to know?’ I asked before she could answer. If she was going to answer that is.
    “It may be of importance. I have been in this world longer than either of you youngsters, perhaps I know more about spells than you.” His tone was wounded as though he hadn’t been interrogating Cate, just offering suggestions and help.
    Cate sighed. “I cannot tell you what the key is. It is a secret kept to my family. I can tell you that it won’t be dangerous. Or rather it won’t add to the danger. The key is available and within my power to use. I have used it before.”
    Olan bobbed his head. “What if the amulet isn’t where Maeve said it was?”
    “Do you think she lied to us?” I had considered the possibility that Maeve was setting us up, but since she seemed to have sufficient motive to support us I had already dismissed the idea.
    “If not, perhaps it has been moved,” Olan answered.
    “We can’t do anything about that,” Cate snapped at him.
    “No, but if this plan of yours, relies on Quinn’s ability to find the amulet and get out fast, perhaps it is a good idea to think of a way to deal with it being moved or hidden.”
    It didn’t help that Olan had a point. “I could look for a recognition spell.” I had a few in my books.
    Cate shook her head. “No, one of the criteria of the spell is that no one can cast another within the range. If they do, they will fall asleep.”
    Olan laughed. “Ah, so finally we start to get to the nub of it. So, tell us what the spell will do, girl.”
    Cate looked down at her lap.
    I tried to make her feel better. “Hey, don’t be upset. I know spells have rules and constraints.”
    “Thanks, it’s not that. I was just thinking them through.” She patted my arm. “Okay, the spell allows me to specify a species. I will set it to make every Sidhe in the range fall asleep. I’ll make it fifty yards to cover the building and a half block. It also constrains anyone casting a spell within that range. You can continue a spell that was cast but not cast one.” She looked at me. “Do you know any spells that you can cast first and continue?”
    “No. If I cast any of my spells while the Sidhe are aware, they’ll know. And, that will just make them come after me faster; probably while we’re trying to remove the spell.” I thought for a moment, to see if I could figure out a way to sneak a spell. “I’m worried that if they know I am seeking, Fionuir will grab the amulet, fall asleep with it in her hands and I won’t be able to take it out without hurting her.”
    Olan hopped onto my shoulder. “So, that is what you promised? Not to harm Fionuir. What is the penalty?”
    He was right. This obligation went much further than my oath. Spirit wizards can’t kill but harm is a grey area. One many of us take advantage of. “If I have to break her fingers to release the amulet, it’s pushing my oath too far. Besides, I hate hurting anyone.”
    “Is it permanent, this obligation?” Olan asked. I could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. Now he was being helpful, I was reminded of how tricky he could be.
    “It doesn’t matter.” Cate slid closer to me on the bench. “We are not going to make Quinn break his oath. We don’t need to.”
    I liked the warmth that filled me when she started protecting me. “Olan, if you can’t be of help, then you can be quiet.”
    He crept closer to my ear and whispered into it. “What about that obligation? There is something, I can tell. What complications will it bring?”
    “None for anyone but me.”
    Cate shook her head. “Look, Olan. If the spell doesn’t work, Quinn won’t go in. If it does and the amulet isn’t there, he can look for an hour before there’s any danger of the spell wearing off. If it’s really not there, we’re in no worse a situation than we are right now.”
    “Who else will be there?” Olan hopped off my shoulder as he spoke. “Who be there to cover your back if something goes wrong?”
    Cate shook her head. “It’s too late to get anyone else involved. We are going to do this tonight. Look at the moon.” She pointed and I saw the moon rising, swollen into its full roundness.
    I turned to Olan. “You could be there.”
    He coughed. “I am worried that the Crow is around. It may be that she might try to interfere. I thought I would be as far as possible from the court and try to entice her away.”
    I laughed. “And you are worried that we aren’t taking enough precautions.”
    Olan flew away, cawing.

Chapter Twenty-Three

    Cate stood at the corner across from the Sidhe court. I stood just behind her and waited for the moon to rise. It was about five minutes before peak. She was pulling spell ingredients from her pocket, inventorying them for me as she did.
    “Rosemary, broken branches to take away memory; lemon verbena for cleansing, lavender for drowsiness, a grain of salt for honesty, that should make the base spell.” She held the items in one hand and looked at me. “I need to you look away when I cast. I read that if someone is looking at the spell when it happens they will fall under its power.”
    “Not a problem. I thought I’d get a bit closer and go when the twins drop off.” I could see the two Sidhe who were guarding the court last time. They were standing on alert, eyes scanning the street. “I don’t remember them being so alert last time.”
    “Do you think something is up?” Cate was reading a scrap of paper, not looking at me. “Should I make the spell stronger?”
    “No, let’s just stick to the plan. If something has got them on alert, it shouldn’t make a difference when they are asleep.”
    She looked up at me and I couldn’t resist giving her a kiss before leaving. It started out as a friendly peck on the lips. And then it turned into something more. Her tongue slipped past my lips and probed my mouth. I started to draw back and Cate placed her hand on the back of my head, pulling me closer. My own tongue took control and the next thing I knew things were getting out of hand.
    Cate pulled away first. “Go, we don’t want to miss the timing. We’ll continue this later.” She smiled when she spoke; it seemed she was taking control of the relationship.
    I gave her another kiss, this one quick and on the cheek. Looking up at the moon I said. “I’ll be across the street by the time you cast.”
    She smiled again and started the spell. “I call upon the power of Hypnos to beckon the Irish Fay to sleep.”
    She continued but I didn’t hear any other words as I loped toward the building.
    Just when I got close enough to see the bruises on the Twin’s faces, I heard her murmuring stop. Two pairs of eyelids drooped and two swords slid from lifeless hands. So far, so good. The Sidhe rocked back to lean against the wall and slid to land on their silk clad butts.
    I almost spoke the first words of an unlocking spell when I remembered I couldn’t cast any spells until we left the radius of Cate’s casting.
    The door swung open at my push, I guess Fionuir had all confidence in her guards. I followed the path we had taken the last time I was here until I came to the large brass doors. Before I opened them, I closed my eyes trying to visualize the location of the tapestry. I thought it was to my right about half way down the room.
    The doors were heavy but perfectly balanced, they swung open noiselessly revealing a room full of Sidhe draped over furniture, lying in piles on the floor, and propped against the wall. A few gentle snores sounded but no one moved. It seemed like most of the Sidhe in Vancouver were at home tonight.
    I turned to walk around the perimeter of the room, working counterclockwise. I passed a painting of the Wild Hunt, tall fair people who looked like Maeve riding in the moonlight, then a sculpture of the same scene, these Sidhe looking more like Fionuir. Beside that was a tapestry of a picnic the setting looking like something out of the sixteen hundreds. Fionuir had covered most of the walls with art depicting hunts and parties and landscapes of an Ireland that never really existed.
    The tapestry Maeve described was further from the door than I remembered but I could see the table underneath it. I tiptoed past three Sidhe women who lay in a crumpled heap in front of a sofa; they were going to be sore when they woke up.
    The table was cluttered with china ornaments. I placed a shepherdess and a filigreed bowl on the floor. Then I started moving the rest of the contents around. There was no amulet. I couldn’t feel any tingle of a disguise spell. I looked around the room; I was going to need a day, not just an hour to search the whole area.
    My internal clock told me I’d been in the room for ten minutes tops. I had an hour easy. If I had a strategy maybe I could do it.
    I did a fast tour of the room, not stopping to search, just looking for possibilities. There were six places where Fionuir might keep something that important to her.
    I found her, sleeping in a chair, a glass of wine spilled on the rug beneath her. I worked outward from her checking all the tables and baskets. I found gems and ornaments and baubles. I found bowls full of gold chains and rings. What I didn’t find was a lump of stone with spells painted on it. No disguise spells either. As far as I could tell the amulet was not in the building.
    Fionuir shifted in her sleep and I realized it had been too long.
    I slipped out of the room and ran down the corridor. The front door was still sitting ajar and I pushed it as I ran through. The twins were stretching, eyes still closed but they were seconds from waking. I looked toward the corner where I knew Cate was waiting for me and saw shadows. Good, she was still hidden.
    Then one shadow slipped away and I stopped dead in the middle of the street. The shadow was hunched and its outline moved as though rats were fighting under the skin. Then it drifted toward the rooftops. I stopped watching it and drew my eyes back to the doorway. My stomach clenched, my blood sank to my feet. I knew I was in shock but I couldn’t let that stop me. I ignored the cold that grasped me. I tried to breathe but it was too much effort.
    I stepped toward the doorway. Cate was there. She was leaning against the door. Her head was hanging, hair falling like a curtain.
    “Cate.” I tried to get above a whisper but I had no breath.
    I kept stepping forward. “Cate, please say something.”
    Now I was standing in front of her. I lifted the curtain of her hair and saw what I dreaded; her eyes were drained of color. There was a round burn mark on her forehead. The shadow had been a demon. Someone had conjured a power demon. It had drawn Cate’s entire magic potential through that burn mark.
    Cate was gone. Cate was dead.

Chapter Twenty-Four

    I picked up her body, she was so light, and carried her home, to my home, not hers. I knew she was gone but I couldn’t leave her here. The demon would go back to its own plane now. Whoever summoned it and didn’t contain it would still be worried until daylight.
    Fed or otherwise it wouldn’t live longer than the night.
    If I found the person who summoned that demon, I would give all my power away by violating my oath and be happy to do it.
    I reached my door and saw someone was lurking in there. I ignored them and went around the side to my garden. There was an old oak tree in the far corner. I cast a dig spell and within minutes there was a deep hole big enough for me to lay Cate inside. I placed her as gently as I could and then picked a bouquet of roses and lilies and placed them across her body.
    Then I pushed the dirt back in place.
    I sat beside the grave trying to make sense of what happened. This afternoon we were planning to save the fairies and humans. The twins had been so vigilant because they knew about the demon. And that was why all the Sidhe had been in court. They weren’t willing to take the chance of encountering a hungry demon.
    Why couldn’t it have taken a twin? Why Cate?
    I heard someone calling. “Quinn. Quinn.” I felt like I was at the bottom of a well, the voice distant and echoing.
    My shoulders were frozen with the cold and from being held stiff to contain my grief.
    “Quinn.” It was a woman.
    I rolled my shoulders to warm them up.
    “Quinn Larson.” I knew that voice, and the impatience in her tone.
    I stood then turned to see Maeve standing at my gate. I ran toward her.
    “Get away from me,” I snarled.
    “Quinn, I’m sorry what happened to Cate.”
    I could barely force words through my anger. “We were there because you told us the amulet was in the building.”
    She frowned. “You mean it wasn’t?”
    “No, don’t pretend you didn’t send us into a trap.”
    “No, I didn’t. I swear to you, Quinn, I wanted you to succeed. I’m sorry, had I known there was danger to either of you I would have done something.” She reached to touch me but jerked her hand back when she hit the defenses I had around my home. “Please, can I come inside? This is too public.”
    “No, I will not invite you into my home.”
    She looked around then sighed. “I understand. I promise when I get the crown back, I will make amends to you.”
    “There is no way for you to make amends. You cannot bring Cate back.”
    A flash of anger crossed her face and I realized I may have gone too far, but I didn’t care.
    She composed her features to sorrow again before speaking. “There is still the problem of Fionuir stealing power from the Fairies. You must stop that.”
    “I don’t care. Find someone else to defeat your enemies. I have better things to do.” Like shut out everyone and mourn what could have been with Cate.
    “You didn’t think that a few hours ago.” Her voice hardened and I saw a glimpse of the queen she claimed to be. “Grieve for her, but don’t walk away from this, Quinn.”
    My vision clouded with a red mist. I reached across the gate to slap her. She pulled away at the last second. “Don’t be foolish,” she hissed. “I know you are obligated to not harm a Sidhe. I will forgive you the attempt because you are grieving.”
    “I don’t need your forgiveness, Sidhe.”
    She smiled and it was a cold expression. “You need two things I can give you. I will find out where the amulet is now, and I will find out who released the demon. I know you have a spirit oath, Quinn. I will leave it to you to decide what to do with the knowledge.”
    She caught my attention with that. “Let me know when you have found the fool who can’t contain his summonings.”
    “Oh, Quinn, I expect to be able to find out both things and quickly. I will tell you who summoned the demon after I am queen.” She smiled that predator smile and walked away.
    I watched her go then turned back to the tree. The mound of earth seemed to reproach me. As if I was supposed to be doing something. Even from death Cate was trying to tell me something.
    “Lionel.” I felt my shoulders slump. I was going to have to tell him.
    I wiped my hands on my jeans and headed for Cate’s house. I hoped Lionel had managed to clean it up since the last time I was there. Remembering the hurricane incident stopped me in my tracks. Could Lionel have summoned the demon? No. I started walking again. He didn’t have the experience to do that. Summoning was not just speaking the spell and having the right ingredients. You had to know what you were doing.
    From the outside, Cate’s house looked fine. The front door was locked, and now that she was dead, I didn’t feel right just walking in. She’d passed me through her protection spells but still, I felt that the permission ended when she died. I knocked on the door.
    No one came so I knocked harder.
    I heard someone approach, heavy footsteps and a bang of some piece of furniture being knocked over. The curtain twitched in the window beside the door, and then the door flung open.
    “Wizard Larson, please come in. I’m afraid Cate…I mean… Witch Witherspoon is not at home.” He sounded happy to see me.
    I followed him into the living room, new furniture was in place. And all evidence of the hurricane was gone.
    “Would you like some tea? Coffee?” Lionel turned to the kitchen before I could answer.
    “No, Lionel, please come back and sit here. I need to tell you something.”
    He sank his hands into the pockets of the overalls he wore, the light going out of his smile. “Something has happened, hasn’t it? I expected her to come home last night but I told myself she was probably with you. She likes you, you know.”
    “Yes, I know.” I forced the words out through the pain in my chest.
    “Look, I know you don’t like the idea of an apprentice, but I promise I won’t get in the way.”
    “Lionel,” I said before he could start rambling again. If I didn’t tell him soon, I wouldn’t be able to speak through the tears.
    He clapped his mouth shut and looked at me expectantly.
    “I’m sorry,” I began then swallowed a sob before telling him what happened in a rush.
    “May I come to say goodbye to her?” His voice was quiet.
    “Yes, of course. I’ll set the protections to let you through. Come when you want.”
    He swallowed and wiped a tear from his cheek. “I should leave soon. I mean someone will want this house. I can’t just stay here. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t be talking about this, but I don’t know what else to do.”
    “Lionel, don’t worry about that right now.” I didn’t think he was about to be evicted. “You can stay here. I’ll see if I can find you a new master.”
    “Thank you. I don’t want to put you out. I can go back to Master Vollont, he’ll find someone for me.”
    Master Vollont lived in San Francisco now; I didn’t think it was a good idea for Lionel to be traveling that far without an escort. “No need for that. You stay here and keep studying. I need to figure out who summoned that demon and deal with him, or her I guess. Then I’ll either take you to Master Vollont or find you someone else.”
    He sighed before nodding. I felt some of my fury drain away at the sight of his wretchedness.

Chapter Twenty-Five

    I went home after making sure Lionel had food and other supplies to last a few days. I would think about getting him a new master in a day or so — when I felt better.
    I sat in my workroom staring at the floor, at the circle waiting to be used. I couldn’t bring up the energy to call a spirit and ask about the demon. I couldn’t stand the thought that whoever I summoned wouldn’t know the answer. Better to be ignorant than to face yet another disappointment. My back sent a message to my brain, move or die. I realized two hours had passed without me noticing.
    I moved, it hurt, but pain was better than nothing. Princess was still covered completely with the blanket. I knew she couldn’t feel anything, or see anything but it made me feel worse to see her hidden like a mirror during Shiva.
    The least I could do is let some light on her. As I lifted the cover, I noticed she had paled a little, the spell kept her in complete suspension, but I guess she needed some light to keep her healthy just like a flower. I took the cover off and let the sunlight flowing in from the row of basement windows fall on her skin. I thought a little color came back to her, but that could be wishful thinking.
    I perched on the edge of the couch and started talking. It felt good to talk, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t hear me, or maybe it was better that she couldn’t.
    “I am such an idiot,” I said, “and a coward.”
    As I expected Princess didn’t contradict me.
    “I should have said something. I should have offered to kiss her when we were both apprentices. If I had, maybe none of this would have happened. Maybe she would be living here with us.”
    I dropped my head into my hands. I hated this spiral of self-pity but I couldn’t stop it. “I don’t know what to do now. I don’t know why I should keep fighting this battle. I should just take up hermiting.”
    “The battle started long before Cate joined.”
    It took me a second to realize the voice was coming from the doorway and not the fairy beside me. I looked up and saw Olan swooping toward the bench. “Yes, and if we had kept her out of it, she would be alive today,” I said.
    “Maybe, but maybe not. A demon took her and it could have been sent to do just that? It could have taken anyone but it chose her. Maybe nothing to do with the Sidhe.”
    “It would be a stretch of the imagination to think someone was trying to kill her for some unrelated purpose just as we were about to get the amulet.”
    “But not impossible.”
    I didn’t have the energy to argue any more. What did it matter, she was gone. “Look, I don’t really want to talk about it. I know I didn’t contact her for years, but we still had time. I was planning to get around to it.”
    “No you weren’t.” He hopped on my shoulder and tapped my head with his beak. I hoped he was trying to be gentle, but it hurt anyway.
    “Well, maybe you are right. I was ignoring what could be while I built my power and reputation. I really did intend to court her; eventually. I thought we had an eventually.”
    “Well, that might be. I won’t argue with you because I don’t know what goes on in your heart. But, I know you can’t let her life be spent for nothing.”
    “For nothing, or for something, what’s the difference? She’s still gone. And it would have been horrible. She must have kept the spell going until the last second. The Sidhe didn’t start to wake until I was almost out of room.” I realized that the demon must have attacked her just as I gave up on finding the amulet. “If I had just left as soon as I realized the Gur amulet wasn’t where Maeve said it was, I could have saved her.”
    “Or, it could have taken you, or both of you, which is worse in my mind.” Olan wouldn’t let me wallow. It was annoying and being annoyed made it difficult to feel sorry for myself.
    “I know. But anything would be better than this.” The whine in my voice actually hurt my ears. I sighed and tried to sound adult and rational. “I am done, Olan. I don’t care anymore about the humans or what happens to us if the humans retaliate. Or what happens to the Sidhe if either Maeve or Fionuir wins the election. I just don’t care”
    Olan paced for a minute or two. “What about her.” He flicked his wing at Princess. “You let the light on her that means you care about her.”
    “Okay, maybe I can find the time to get her off the hook with her tribe. That’s all.”
    “What about Lionel?”
    “Yes, I’ll find him a master. That’s it.”
    Olan hopped back on the bench and turned his head to catch my eye. “And the Druids? What about the druids caught in that stone?”
    “What do you mean? They have been there for centuries. Why am I suddenly responsible for them?”
    “You know they are feeling the impact of Fionuir’s spell. Every human who is killed to feed the spell draws a sip of their soul. Soon there’ll be nothing left.”
    I didn’t know that, but it did make sense. When their souls were drawn into the stone, they were prevented from moving to whatever plane they were supposed to go to. They literally lived in the amulet. What was done by their power was done by them. “It is Fionuir’s spell not mine.”
    “Yes, but she plans to continue. I think, she is planning to keep doing it even when she wins the election. Her followers will want that sip of power. I don’t see how she can take it away them.”
    “Bird, I don’t care.” I said the words, but I didn’t believe them. He was right. Cate had wanted this to end as much as I did. If I really loved her I would end it.
    He fluffed his feathers and settled again before speaking. “What if you knew where the amulet was? And knew it would be there for at least three days?”
    I could finish this in three days. I could take the amulet, clean the spell, wake princess and convince her clan she was the one who fixed the problem. I could find Lionel a new master. “Three days? Are you sure?”
    “Maeve found where Fionuir hid it. She is willing to distract Fionuir for three days. After that, it will be time for the election.”
    “You trust Maeve?” I truly didn’t know if I did.
    “I do. I remember the last time she was queen. It will be worth it to have her rule again.”
    “Okay so, we need a plan.”
    “You are the planner here.” Olan wasn’t going to cut me a break at all.
    I decided to get it over and then I could become a hermit. Hermits are safe from everything in their caves. “Where is the amulet?”
    “In the wall of the basement of the Sidhe court,” Olan said.
    “Great. How will we know where in the wall?” Not to mention how were we going to get down into the basement.
    “There is a loose brick. You will be able to tell by feel. Maeve said it was close to the door from the court.”
    “Okay, we have a plan. I go down to the basement and steal the amulet. We need a distraction and a little bit of information.” I started to pull together some amulets.
    Olan flew to the window ledge to look me in the eye. “What information do you need? You know where it is. All we need is a distraction, we can get in, get it and get it out.”
    “Very poetic, but how do we get in? I didn’t see a basement door when I was there last night. And I don’t remember seeing one from the outside either.”
    Olan tipped his head to the side. “You don’t know how to get into the court basement?”
    “No, and don’t say that like I am some loser who doesn’t know how to tie his shoe laces.”
    “Well, I thought everyone knew that.” He gave a little birdy shrug.
    “Are you going to make me beg, bird? Remember I am pretty close to walking away from this whole thing. There’s a cave in Squamish with my name on it.”
    “You get there through the back of Bank’s.” Olan flapped over to the couch and examined Princess. “I think you should cover her up again. She’s starting to burn.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

    I was sitting at the bar in Bank’s. Mark was polishing glasses and chatting with a female sprite at the other end. He’d placed my Guinness in front of me and wandered back to her. He seemed to be making progress and I didn’t really need to know how to get into the basement right away. I needed to find a couple of people to help. So I didn’t interrupt.
    I saw Lionel enter with a Kobold and decided to join them when they sat at a table toward the back of the room. “Good to see you out, Lionel.”
    “Oh, Quinn, thanks. I couldn’t stay there any longer. I kept waiting for Cate to come in and give me a lecture about the latest spell or potion I’d screwed up.”
    The Kobold looked at me and held out his hand. “Clarence.”
    We shook hands; I made sure I was careful not to squeeze too hard on his spines. I didn’t need to draw blood.
    “I am sorry to hear about Witch Witherspoon,” Clarence said. “She was a friend.”
    Lionel nudged me and said, “He worked with Cate when she researched the fertility spell.”
    That was good enough for me. “Would you like to help avenge her death?” I didn’t have time for subtlety. If he was a friend of Cate’s then he was a good candidate for our plan.
    Clarence opened his mouth to respond, but Lionel beat him to it. “I would.”
    I waited for Clarence to answer, and for a way to let Lionel down gently to come to me. Clarence looked from Lionel to me and then nodded. “I will help. What is it you have planned?”
    “Me too,” Lionel said. “I will help with whatever you want.”
    I still couldn’t tell the guy he was too young and too inexperienced to help. I didn’t want his blood on my conscience, nor did I want to bruise his ego. I told Clarence what Olan and I had decided.
    He nodded, and said, “You need me to start a distraction. Where would that be best done?”
    “Here, I think. Something that will draw any Sidhe out of the passageway, and keep them here until I can get to the loose brick and bring it out.”
    Clarence considered for a moment and then said, “I could entice them with music.”
    I tried not to wince. “Um, please don’t take this the wrong way, but Kobolds are not known for their musical ability.”
    He laughed and it sounded like a gravel landslide. “Ah, but we appreciate beauty even if we cannot reproduce it. I happen to be close friends with Reardon.”
    The bard, he would definitely be able to enchant everyone within hearing distance. And, no violence, that worked well for me. “If he will do it, what will we have to pay?”
    “I’ll ask, but I don’t think it will be too much. He hates Fionuir.” The Kobold laughed again, this time it sounded like rocks falling down a hillside. “She criticized his performance. Well, that’s what he interpreted her remark to be. I would say more faint praise than criticism. Perhaps if he had not been blind drunk it would have blown over by now. ”
    “So, that means I will come with you, Quinn. To help you get the amulet?’ Lionel spoke over Clarence’s laughter. “I could find some defensive spells.”
    “I will go alone.” There was no way I was going to take an apprentice with me into the bowels of the earth. “You can stay here.”
    “But, what if there are still some Sidhe in the tunnel?”
    He had a point, but I wasn’t going to lose Cate and her apprentice within a week. “I will run away and we’ll try again. But, that won’t happen. If the Sidhe haven’t heard Reardon for a long time, they will fall over themselves coming out of the basement.”
    “But what if something goes wrong up here? I could stand guard at the door and warn you.” The kid wasn’t going to let this go.
    “What oath did you take?” If he was a spirit wizard, I was going to lock him in Cate’s basement.
    “I am an air wizard. I can hurt people. Not that I would want to,” he added quickly. “I mean if you couldn’t fight, I could.”
    Clarence put his hand on Lionel’s arm. “The kid is right, you will need help down there. You need a look out and someone to protect you.”
    “I don’t think Lionel is the right person for either role.” There, I had said it and if his feelings got hurt he’d brought it on himself.
    “I agree. Not Lionel.” Clarence patted Lionel’s arm. “You are an apprentice. I know you want to get revenge on the people who killed Cate, but you don’t know enough to help.”
    The kid’s shoulders dropped. “Sure, I understand. I will just go back to my studies. You take care of the important stuff.”
    I had to suppress a smile, because I remember feeling just that way, and I remember Cate saying almost the same words. “No, that isn’t what I meant. You just don’t have enough experience to get into the fight. The trick is to avoid a fight, not be good at winning one. We’ll find something for you to do.”
    Clarence held up his glass and made a circling gesture with his other hand. The waiter, a sprite named Birch, brought another round. When he left, Clarence checked the room before speaking. “It would help if you had a relay of helpers. If we could get some will-o’-wisps to join us, they could run ahead and make sure the tunnel was clear and they could light your way back. You would know something is wrong if there was no light.”
    “That’s a big if.” I know that will-o’-wisps would be good, but you had to get them on your side first. And, then when they made a promise, they fulfilled it as quickly as possible and took off when they thought they were done.
    Clarence waved down the objection. “I happen to have a couple of markers I can put in play. It will bring will-o’-wisps in for the plan.”
    “Could you get them to hang out here for a day before, get people used to seeing them?” My mind was going to the details and I felt the fog of grief lifting.
    Clarence grinned. “Good idea. When do you need them?”
    “I will make my move tomorrow night. If they can wander in later tonight and drop by throughout the day that should work.”
    Clarence took a slip of paper from his pocket, scratched a few words on it and held it to the candle, when if burned away, he licked the ash off his fingers. “Okay. That’s done. Now what?”
    “Can you guarantee Reardon?”
    “I’ll let you know later tonight.”
    I’d figured out what to give Lionel to do. Something he couldn’t screw up too badly. “Lionel, do you have any fairy friends.”

Chapter Twenty-Seven

    The next morning my kitchen was full. Seven will-o’-wisps bobbed around the ceiling, Reardon and his new flautist sat drinking coffee, Lionel had two thistle fairies sitting at the other side of the table and Clarence and his mate, Edrinda, were leaning against the counter.
    “Is anyone else coming?” I asked as I put another pot of coffee on.
    Clarence looked around and then said, “Unless there are any wisps still to come, I don’t expect anyone.”
    The wisps swirled around and flashed their glows on and off before landing in a line on the back of the couch.
    “These are the only fairies I could get to agree to come.” Lionel pointed to his right. “This is Stinger and the other is Burr.”
    Both fairies looked at me suspiciously. I hoped they were not going to start demanding why I had an unconscious fairy in my workroom.
    “Okay, well. I guess we can start working out the details.” I had worried this to death overnight. The only way I could imagine getting the amulet and keeping everyone safe was to talk it through with the whole team; a team that had grown larger than I liked.
    Reardon looked up from his coffee; I noticed his eyes were bloodshot. “Perhaps you can confirm a few things for me before you start with your plan.”
    The wisps executed a wave and the two fairies nodded.
    I started to wonder where the hell Olan had gotten to. He dragged me back into this and now he’s disappeared.
    “Okay, well the short version is that Fionuir is facing an election and to keep her court happy she’s stealing power from humans. She doesn’t kill the humans directly she has fairies doing her dirty work. They have to do this to get the ability to breed. She stole the Gur amulet to power her spell.”
    “I understand you’ve already tried to stop her.” Reardon’s voice was a delight to hear, even with the rasp of a hangover.
    “Yes, and I don’t know why she moved the amulet but she did and Cate died. I don’t know if Fionuir had anything to do with that.” I swallowed a tightness in my throat.
    “Now you are sure that the amulet is in the basement of Bank’s?” Reardon continued his questioning.
    “In the basement of Fionuir’s court, I’ll get there through Bank’s. Maeve found it and has guaranteed it will be there until tomorrow. I want to take it tonight just to be safe.”
    Clarence raised an eyebrow, or more accurately a ridge of spines above his eyes. “And you trust Maeve?”
    “I don’t have a choice.” It didn’t sound helpful when I said it, but it was the truth.
    “Now tell us your plan.” Reardon gestured as though asking me to take the stage.
    “The wisps start hanging around Bank’s.” I looked at the four lights. One floated over to me and settled on my head.
    “My brothers are there now.” A gentle voice filled my head.
    “So that part of the plan is already in place,” I thanked the wisp and started again. “The plan is pretty simple. Reardon, you will start an impromptu concert in Bank’s, and we will open the door to the basement.”
    Reardon held up his hand. “I will work with my flautist, Meredith.” The girl looked up at us and flashed a smile. “I will sing and she will accompany me on the flute.”
    “Good.” I started to wonder if this guy would be able to carry off his part. He was a bit of a ham. “Now, as soon as the Sidhe come out of the corridor between the two basements, the wisps will float down and come back to let us know it’s clear.”
    “How will you know they are saying it’s clear?” Lionel asked.
    I looked at the line of lights. They rose and formed a circle then started spinning. “Okay, so they will do that if the coast is clear.”
    Burr raised her hand and when I nodded she stood on the chair. “What is our role in this?”
    “I’m coming to that. So if the corridor is safe, the wisps will follow me down the corridor and when I have the amulet, they’ll make sure that I can slip out without being seen.”
    “One change there, wizard,” Edrinda said. “I will come with you. There is no point in taking chances. If a Sidhe should come through from their basement while you are locating the amulet, someone will need to deal with them.”
    “What do you mean by deal with them?”
    She smiled and I felt my flight response overwhelm my admittedly weak fight response. “Well, I suppose there are alternatives but I was planning to kill them.”
    “No killing.” I couldn’t take the chance that the obligation would stop us from taking the amulet if a Sidhe was hurt. After all, if that happened it would be because I brought the trouble to them. “We don’t know who is on Fionuir’s’ side and who might be on ours.”
    She grunted. “Very well, I will stun them; there will be no permanent harm. Do not argue with me, Quinn, I will not allow you to go into danger and not be protected.”
    “Fine, then the wisps will lead both of us out.” I would find a way to stop her coming with me but it didn’t make sense to argue the point right now.
    “I will be guarding the entrance to the basement,” Clarence said, patting her arm. “Do not fret my dear. I can create a distraction if need be. I will watch for the wisps and if you are not able to get out easily, I will make it so.”
    She kissed him on the cheek and he grinned.
    I cleared my throat. I came to the realization that my sleepless night was wasted. They had been putting together their own plan.
    “Fine. You create a distraction I slip out with the amulet and bring it here. Then we remove the spell and the fairies don’t have to kill humans.”
    Sting stood on his chair. “I do not understand our role in this, wizard. You said you would get to it, and yet this plan has come to a successful conclusion without our help.”
    “No, you are important to the end.” I poured another cup of coffee. “Fionuir set the spell with a mixture of fairy and Sidhe blood. She painted the spell to control breeding in fairy blood, and then overlaid it with another spell in Sidhe blood. To remove the spell we will paint the control spell in fairy blood which will give you back control.”
    “You wish to take our blood? Why not just wash the spell away?” Sting wrapped his arms around himself as though we were about to drain him right then.
    “I don’t know what washing the spell away will do to the druid souls. And, no, I don’t want to take your blood, I am hoping you will give it.”
    “I will consider it,” Sting said.
    Lionel looked away but I could tell he wasn’t happy with his role stay at home and out of trouble.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

    I arrived at Bank’s just as the sun was going down, and headed to the bar where Mark was pulling my pint. I thanked him as I casually looked around the room.
    There were six or ten will-o’-wisps floating around. I couldn’t really count them because they were moving fast, every once in a while one would dip into an unguarded glass and come back up wobbling. I hoped it was an act, because wisps weren’t all that reliable when they were sober, I didn’t want to think about what would happen if they were drunk.
    I saw Clarence leaning against the back wall, a bit too casually for my comfort. As I watched Edrinda join him. I didn’t see Lionel or the two thistle fairies, but I did see a number of other fairies. What I didn’t see is Reardon, or Meredith. If he didn’t come, we needed a new plan to bring the Sidhe out.
    I turned to talk to Mark. “Don’t you have a basement here?”
    He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, why?”
    “Do you trust me?”
    “I don’t like that question. I would normally say yes, but the question makes me think I should say no.”
    “I promise that nothing will happen to make you close your doors.”
    He pulled another pint as he thought it over. “Interesting way to put it. I guess I don’t want to know the details?”
    “I’ll tell you about it afterward over a glass of whiskey.” I nodded to the top shelf where Mark kept the old stuff. “I’ll even pay for the drinks.”
    “I guess I trust you.” Mark replaced my empty glass with a full one. “The basement door is beside the dartboard. You need a spell to open it from this side. You don’t from the other side, just in case that information is useful.”
    “It is.”
    He flicked a gaze at the door, like he was waiting for someone. “You know it connects to the Sidhe court, right?”
    “Yep, can you give me the spell?”
    He laughed. “No, I don’t trust you that far. When do you need it open?”
    I thought about that, if we wanted the Sidhe to come in, they would open the door. I just needed to make sure it stayed open enough for the will-o’-wisps to get in and out. “I guess the door has to be pushed open from the inside? There’s no proximity spell?”
    “No, someone has to push it. Are you getting lazy in your old age?”
    “I’ve always prided myself on being lazy. The Sidhe are going to come through the door at some point, I just need you to make sure it doesn’t get closed again until I come out.”
    “Okay. I can do that. Just don’t mess with my reputation. I need customers.”
    “I promise.” I couldn’t speak for anyone else, but I knew I wouldn’t be causing any damage.
    “It seems we are going to be honored tonight.” Mark pointed to the door with his chin.
    Reardon was making his entrance. A swirl of colored cloak and with three giggling Sidhe girls made sure everyone paid attention.
    I walked away from the bar and approached Reardon. I could smell the whiskey on his breath. “Is this how you usually come to a performance?” I tried to make sure my voice only carried a questioning tone, no judgment, after all, who was I to say that the best way to sing wasn’t blind drunk.
    He turned to Meredith who answered for him. “Reardon does not speak before a performance; he saves his voice for the song. Yes, the alcohol does help bring his emotions to the surface for the song. Unfortunately, it also means he can’t play the harp.”
    “It is fortunate for you that he needs an accompanying musician.” I figure being Reardon’s back up must be easier than anything she could do on her own.
    “No, it is not fortunate. I am repaying a debt and when that is done I can get back to my own career.” She took Reardon’s arm and led him to the opposite wall from the basement door.
    I felt put in my place and wandered over to Clarence and casually leaned beside him., tipping my glass in a toast. “It looks like we are about ready. I guess we can go in a few minutes. Meredith is warming up.”
    “I noticed the groupies,” Clarence growled “I guess that means the Sidhe know about the show.”
    “Yes, the publicity started right after our meeting. I saw him chatting to a group of Sidhe when I followed him home,” Edrinda said.
    That was news to me. “You followed him home? Why?”
    “He’s a drunk. I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t blab our plans to anyone.” She started at me as if challenging me to say she hadn’t done the right thing.
    “Thanks, I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I was caught up in the glamor of having him on our side. So, what did you see?”
    Clarence laughed. “Well spoken, wizard. It took me much longer to learn not to argue with my wife.”
    “It turns out I was wrong to suspect him. He was talking about possibly coming to Bank’s tonight to test out a few new songs.”
    “I guess he’s practiced at filling a room. But you were right to suspect him. I’m not happy that he’s arrived three sheets to the wind, but Meredith says it’s part of the performance.”
    I glanced about the room again and saw Sidhe slipping through the basement door. I realized why I hadn’t noticed it before. It was covered completely in a Guinness poster. “The audience is arriving. When there are only a few Sidhe coming through, move into position.” I watched as they slid daggers from sheaths on their backs. “I said no one dies.”
    “It’s a precaution. If something goes wrong we may have no time to draw weapons. Do not fear we will not use them by mistake.” Clarence wasn’t going to be talked out of the weapons. I could tell by the way he turned away from me before I had a chance to speak. He jerked his head to indicate a figure approaching us. “It looks like your young apprentice didn’t agree with your orders either.”
    Lionel was crossing the room, Sting and Burr on either side.
    “Crap. I trust you with your weapons, but he’s not seasoned enough to be here.” I wondered if I was really leading this expedition.
    Edrinda said, “Too late.”
    Lionel stood in front of me and I motioned him to move to the side. I needed to keep my eye on the flow of Sidhe.
    “You are supposed to be at home.” I clenched my fist, trying to work out some of my tension.
    “I know but I promise to stay out of the way. I won’t do anything and I won’t cause any problems.” He sounded so earnest I couldn’t really fight him. “I’ve been talking to the fairies.”
    “And?”
    “They will provide blood. They remember giving blood to Fionuir as part of a promise to make them more powerful. It was a week after that when they got the first call to kill a human.”
    Fairies were the definition of sucker. “You would think that they would learn that lesson eventually. How many more times are they going to trust someone who promises power?”
    Lionel shrugged. “It’s their nature to try and get something for as little as possible. Anyway, all the clans had to send a representative. Fionuir took only a few drops from each. So, the casting spell was tribe specific. If we don’t have a drop from all tribes, we won’t free all of them.”
    “Who will gather the blood?” I hated blood rituals, they were always more complicated than other spells, of course they were also more effective and powerful if done right.
    Burr stepped forward. “We will. And we will bring it to Lionel. The fairies that are here now have brought some and we will travel the tribes tonight.”
    “It’s a good plan. Thank you.” Maybe things were going to go right after all. “When you talk to the Rose fairies will you ask a question for me?”
    Sting shrugged. “Yes, but they may not answer.”
    “Ask if they will forgive Princess Elizabeth when this is over.”
    “Is that all?”
    I nodded and Sting shrugged. “Very well, I’ll give Lionel the answer.”
    Sting and Burr left us and headed toward a table of peony fairies.
    Lionel coughed and when I turned to him said, “I have the spell Cate found.”
    “Good, did you write it out?”
    “Yes, the book is safe, but I have the spell here.” He patted his pocket. “Just in case we want to cast it tonight.”
    I hadn’t thought that far in advance, but if we could release the fairies tonight, that would let me get on with the search for Cate’s killer. “Will the fairies be ready?”
    “Yes. I got Sting and Burr to collect the blood by midnight. And it will be viable for a week.”
    I realized I may have misjudged him; he did have a head on his shoulders, for this at least. “If we can, tonight would be best. Now get to a table as far away as you can from that door, It looks like the Sidhe are here, and Reardon is getting ready to start.”

Chapter Twenty-Nine

    The will-o’-wisps drifted across the room to the door. I was sure that no one would notice because it looked random to me even though I knew where they were going.
    “Let’s get closer to the door,” Clarence said. “Edrinda go first.”
    She made her way to the dartboard as Reardon started his show.
    “Real Folk gathered tonight,” Reardon’s rich voice carried across the room, silencing individual conversations. All eyes were on him.
    I followed Edrinda and felt Clarence step in behind me.
    Reardon continued, “I thank you for your indulgence in listening to my poor creations.”
    A laugh and a smattering of applause was the response. Will-o’-wisps disappeared through the door. The three of us were casually leaning against the wall beside the door; no one paid any attention to us. I listened as the bard started his song, a deep resonance building between the clear notes of Meredith’s flute and Reardon’s tenor.
    The wisps reappeared and gave the signal. Then Edrinda slipped through the opening. I followed and move away to give Clarence room.
    Through the door was a staircase that dropped into the dark. A wisp floated in front of Edrinda. She nodded at it and I watched as the stairwell illuminated. We ran down the twenty or so steps to find ourselves facing a long corridor. The walls were brick and it was damp. I could only see about five feet in front of me until a second wisp zoomed past my ear and lighted the way.
    Edrinda held a finger up to her lips then leaned in to whisper. “Try to be quiet. There are no Sidhe in sight, but there may be guards on the other side of their door.”
    I nodded and gestured her forward.
    The three of us made our way down the corridor and I realized we were passing under streets and buildings for two, maybe three blocks. Eventually, a second door came into focus. It was plain oak but it looked solid. There was a heavy latch on the door and I when I looked at it from the corner of my eye, I could see a shimmer of a spell.
    I couldn’t help wonder why Fionuir would keep the amulet outside the court. I hoped Maeve was right and the loose brick was on this side of that spell. It looked powerful and complex and unlikely to let us in without send out an alarm.
    I tapped Edrinda on the shoulder and pointed behind me. I needed room to test the bricks. She didn’t look happy about moving but did take a step to join Clarence. Both Kobolds stood well into my personal space. It wasn’t worth arguing with them. I just started searching.
    Maeve had told Olan that I would be able to find the brick easily. Unfortunately, we had two different definitions of easily. I didn’t see a brick with a label that read “look here” or one painted in white. I would have to work it out.
    If it was obvious to Maeve, maybe it was about my point of view. I was currently facing the Sidhe door. If Fionuir wanted to access the amulet, she would be facing away. I turned around and stood as close as I could to the door without touching it. From this angle I could see two bricks slightly out of line, one on each side of the door.
    I didn’t put much faith in my ability to open both without a problem. And as I waited three other bricks seemed to shift out of place. Okay, clearly this was a trap, unless the Sidhe kept lockers like a bus station. I had a flash of Sidhe lined up opening their lockers and trying to hide their treasures from each other. That was clearly wrong.
    It was probably an illusion spell. I pulled a chestnut seed out of my pocket and breathed on it before tossing it into the air. As it spun back to earth, the illusion broke and the bricks all faded back into alignment.
    A wisp slid onto my head. “I can penetrate the brick if that will help.” It had a clear voice like a child of six or seven.
    Just what I needed, a will-o’-wisp exploding behind the brickwork. I thought back at it, “No, not yet. I am not sure that is safe.”
    It floated off my head.
    I touched the wall to my right and ran my fingers up and down pressing on each brick in turn, the bricks were cool and none yielded. I tried again on the left hand wall. Nothing.
    I closed my eyes to concentrate better. This should be easy. What had Olan told me? Yes, Maeve said it was close to the door. If I was Fionuir would I want to step out into this dampness? Only if I had to. She would want to open the door and reach her hiding place without coming into the corridor.
    I turned my back to the door and pretended to open it. Left hand on the door, right hand to the wall. I hadn’t tested the bricks right next to the door. Now I ran my fingers up and found a loose brick about two thirds of the way up. My fingers tingled as a sealing spell warned me off. That wasn’t going to stop me. I had a little book that gave spells used by thieves in the middle ages. In anticipation of tonight I had memorized it. I whispered the spell into the space where the mortar would have been and waited. The tingle subsided and I stuck my fingers into a hole that appeared in the side of the brick.
    Something pricked my finger but the brick came loose. The wisp must have moved away because the light faded, but I saw the amulet and pulled it out of the hole, put the brick back in and slipped the small rock into a pocket.
    The wisps had now fled the length of the corridor and we were in pitch dark. I reached out and touched a spiky shoulder. “Go,” I whispered and held onto a spike as the Kobold led me back to the stairs. I knew we couldn’t rely on the wisps.
    We made it to the top of the stairs with no major injuries. I had stubbed the same toes three times on the way up. I could hear Reardon, but someone had closed the door because there was no light coming through. I gave a quick pat to the shoulder in front of me before I spoke. “I don’t know why the wisps left, but someone should have a quick peek before we step into the room.”
    I assumed the shoulder belonged to Edrinda, because she spoke. “Quinn, what are you talking about? The wisps have already given the all clear.”

Chapter Thirty

    Clarence left me with Edrinda while he brought Lionel. Between the three of them they got me back to Cate’s place.
    “I’ll make some tea,” Lionel said.
    “You have blindness curing tea?” I heard Clarence ask.
    “No, but tea is always a good idea.”
    Someone touched my arm and led me a few steps into what I thought was the living room. “Sit,” Clarence said, giving me a gentle push.
    I felt the couch hit the back of my legs so I sank into the cushions. I was left alone. I could hear them talking in the kitchen. Well, I could hear that they were talking and the sound came from where I thought the kitchen was. They carefully kept their voices low, but I could still cast simple spells even though I was blind. I cast a spell of hearing and their voices became as clear as if they were standing beside me.
    “He can’t see how will he cleanse the amulet?” Clarence asked.
    “I can do it,” Lionel said.
    “Maybe we can find another wizard to do this, what about that spirit wizard, Joaquin what’s his name?” Clarence said, ignoring Lionel.
    “He’s in Bolivia,” Edrinda said over the sound of the kettle boiling.
    “I can do it,” Lionel’s voice rose a bit.
    “What about Orville Mueller?” Clarence suggested.
    “Maybe. I can ask around,” Edrinda said.
    “I can do it,” Lionel shouted. “If you don’t think I can, we should bring Olan into it.”
    Neither Kobold answered.
    “That’s the best suggestion,” I called from the living room. “Can someone find Olan?”
    “No need to find me, I’m here.” Olan must have landed on the couch because I felt a breeze across my fingers.
    “Where have you been?” I turned to where I thought he was.
    “Scouting around, but now I’m over here.” His voice came from the opposite direction to where I faced.
    “Great, tease the blind wizard.” I turned to face him and felt another breeze. “Stay in one place.”
    He chirped and said, “You take all the fun out of life, Quinn Larson.”
    Someone took my hand and placed a warm mug in it.
    “So, you heard what happened,” Clarence said.
    “I hear you let someone blind my favorite wizard.”
    Lionel’s voice came from across the room. “I don’t think anyone let it happen, Olan.”
    The impending argument was already giving me a headache. “Forget who is responsible. We need to figure out how to fix this. I have what we went there for. We’ll have the other ingredient soon.”
    “Okay,” I heard the sigh in Olan’s voice. He really liked a good argument. “Tell me what happened, exactly.”
    “I cast a spell to release the brick. The lights dimmed and I thought the wisps were leaving. I reached in and grabbed the amulet and by the time I put the brick back, it was dark.”
    “When Quinn touched my shoulder, I didn’t think anything of it. We followed the wisps to the top of the stairs; they went through and came back with the all clear signal. That’s when Quinn mentioned it was dark.”
    Olan hopped onto my shoulder. “The lights dimmed right after you cast the spell?”
    “That’s when I noticed it.”
    “Do you think that’s important?” Lionel asked. I felt sorry for the kid. He was being ignored by the adults in the room. What everyone forgot about apprentices is they had power and they knew some things very well.
    Olan fluttered his wings in my face. “I don’t know, but it is information. I’m going to have to search for a cure. This might take a while. Unless someone gives us the components of the spell that took your sight, we might not be able to cure it.”
    “Thanks for the lesson in magic, Olan.” I was losing my last bit of patience.
    “Sorry, I am thinking out loud.” I felt his feathers brush my cheek as he flapped off my shoulder. “You will have to teach Lionel how to cleanse the amulet. We can’t afford to bring anyone else into this.”
    “We’ll both learn it.” I didn’t have a lot of confidence that Lionel would be able to accomplish the task, but he had a better chance than me. If I had learned the spell before it would be different. “If push comes to shove, we’ll hide it so at least we’ll have control of it.”
    “Not good enough,” Olan cawed. “I am going to find out what is happening out there.”
    “Do you have the spell with you?” I asked in the general direction of Lionel’s voice.
    “Yes, I wrote it out.” His voice came from the kitchen. “Let me show you, um I mean, let me read it to you.”
    “Okay, but don’t just read it out; we don’t want to accidentally cast it.” I patted the couch next to me. “Sit here and start by reading the ingredients.”
    I heard his heavy footfalls cross the room and then felt a breeze. “Oh, hi guys.” Lionel said then I heard him gasp. “What happened?”
    “Who is it?” I asked. This blindness was getting more frustrating by the minute.
    “Burr and Sting,” Lionel said.
    “It looks like they ran into some opposition.” Clarence seemed to be in the same place he was last time he spoke.
    “Someone tell me what’s going on, please. Try to remember I can’t see.” It was going to take a lot of energy to get people to deal with my blindness.
    “Nothing to worry about.” One of the fairies answered me, I couldn’t tell which one.
    “If you were beaten it is something to worry about.” I kept my voice gentle so I wouldn’t put them on the defensive. “I have been struck blind. You have been beaten. I don’t think this is a coincidence.”
    “I am Burr.” I could hear a slur in the fairy’s voice as though her lips were swollen.
    “Okay, Burr tell me what happened.”
    “We have the blood.” She put a warm jar in my hand. I held it out and felt Lionel take it.
    “When were you beaten?”
    “As we finished, maybe an hour ago. This is why we are late.” Sting spoke this time.
    “Lionel, describe their wounds.”
    “Burr is beaten badly around the face; I think she has a broken nose, maybe more damage I will have to see. Sting seems to have a broken arm as well as bruises forming on his face.”
    “Who did this to you?” I thought I knew but it is best to be sure.
    “Sidhe, two males,” Burr slurred again. “They will be sorry, though. When we finish this spell, Sting and I are going after them.”
    “I think we can assume Fionuir has realized we took the amulet.” It meant we had to work faster. “Did they ask you anything? Or, say anything.”
    Silence.
    “Let me rephrase that. What did they say?”
    Still silence.
    “Lionel, please tell me what’s happening.” I felt his hand on my arm.
    “I don’t think they are going to tell you. They won’t look at you.”
    Clarence growled. “I can make them talk if need be.”
    “No, haven’t they been through enough?”
    “Let me talk to them.” Lionel’s voice moved away from my side. “Alone, Clarence.” A new sound of authority in his tone impressed me.
    “They have left the room,” Edrinda said. “Perhaps this is not related to our plan. Fairies and Sidhe often have fights.”
    “I don’t believe this is a coincidence,” I said. “If they were followed here, or told their attackers where we were meeting, the Sidhe are already on their way.”
    “If that were the case, we would have been attacked by now,” Clarence said. “If the boy cannot get them to speak, what will you do? Just take the chance?”
    “We’ll deal with that if it happens. I’m going to have to give that boy a crash course in spell casting; it would help if you spent your time boosting his confidence instead of cutting him down,” I said.
    I heard a sigh and a slap of fist on armor. “Quinn is right, husband, help or shut up.”
    I sat trying to think of any other plan than teaching high level spells to someone else’s apprentice. I don’t know what the Kobolds were doing, but they were silent at least.
    Five minutes, or what felt like it, later I heard Lionel come back into the room. “The fairies are gone. But I have the information.”
    I waited and felt him sit beside me again.
    “They did find out that the Rose fairies would forgive Princess Elizabeth if we were successful,” he said.
    I didn’t like the way he had started with a different topic. “Is this a good news bad news thing? If so, just hit me with the bad news.”
    “Yes, get on with it,” Edrinda snapped.
    “Well, the two Sidhe who beat them wanted to know why they were visiting the other tribes. They asked if it had anything to do with you, Quinn. Burr and Sting didn’t tell them anything and they think they got away clean. They checked very carefully to make sure they weren’t being followed. They took the long way here and swear we are safe.”
    “That’s the bad news? It’s not that bad.” I waited for the other shoe to drop.
    “Well, when I checked their wounds, I found this.” Lionel put something in my hand.
    I felt the smooth edges of the object, it seemed to be teardrop shaped and about the size of a walnut. “They didn’t know they had this?”
    “No, it was hanging from the edge of Burr’s coat. There were a lot of pieces of debris there.”
    “What is it wizard?” Clarence sounded like he understood my earlier frustration.
    “It’s a gem.” I turned to Lionel. “Is it blue?”
    “Yes, how did you know?”
    “Maeve wears these on her clothes.”
    “You think she was there?” Lionel’s voice was hushed.
    “I hope not. This is complicated enough.”

Chapter Thirty-One

    “No, it’s your right hand.” I stopped Lionel from passing his left hand over the lump of coal we were using as a model amulet. “Using your left hand will change the spell and I don’t have time to figure out how to fix that.
    It was hard enough to train someone when you were blind but to train someone who couldn’t seem to remember from one try to the next where he was making mistakes was impossible. I had Edrinda read the spell to me and then asked Lionel to narrate as he practiced the moves. It wasn’t working.
    “Look, Quinn. I have an idea,” Lionel said, frustration bleeding out of his words. That was the other problem, he kept blaming himself every time he got it wrong, which made him less able to get it right.
    “Anything will be better than trying this again. I’m sorry I’m such a lousy teacher, Lionel.” Maybe a bit of blame taking would help his self-esteem.
    “No, I’m sure it’s just because you can’t see.” He sighed. “So, when Cate taught me a spell she would take me through it a step at a time. We would put the ingredients out in order, just like we have now. Then I would talk through the spell until I could do it without reading. Then I would do the motions while talking until I got them both right, then I would try to cast the spell.”
    “And how long did it usually take to get you to the casting point?” Clarence called from the kitchen.
    “It depended. And, she always had a dissolve spell ready. Just in case. That came in handy more than once.”
    It might work, I really worried that Lionel wouldn’t be able to pull this off. But really the spell couldn’t go wrong. It would work or it wouldn’t. The thing is we would only know when a fairy got pregnant; two days at least. “It has merit, and maybe by doing this, we can find some other way to deal with it. Maybe we can work together, or something,” I said without thinking.
    “Really?” Lionel sounded so eager I felt bad about my earlier impatience.
    “Let’s start with the ingredients. List the ingredients in order.”
    “Batwing powder, clover pollen, fairy blood…” Lionel listed the twenty ingredients in order and completely accurately; including the fact that the raindrops needed to have been caught in a Foxglove flower.
    “Perfect,” Edrinda confirmed.
    “Okay, talk me through the moves. Take your time. This spell can be cast very slowly if necessary.” Unfortunately like most spells, no one else could speak while it was being cast.
    “I take the Batwing and using my right hand,” he paused and I assumed he was waiting for confirmation. I nodded. “I gently pour it into the crucible.”
    He stumbled a few times but Edrinda corrected him and we let him go forward.
    “This seems to be working. Okay, keep going through this until you have it right without us prompting.”
    We sat through this process for an hour. And Lionel’s ability dropped the longer we did it. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. “We need rest. Lionel, stop. Let’s have some tea and try again later.”
    After we rested, I told Lionel to go back to reading the spell and walking through the motions. Maybe he would build some motion memory and then be able to do it without the writing. We couldn’t have Edrinda hold the paper because she would get in his way. He couldn’t hold it because he needed both hands for the spell.
    “We need a plan B,” Clarence said. “Can’t you just memorize the spell and cast it?”
    “We can’t take a chance that I will spill an ingredient, or reach for the wrong one. When this is over I’ll figure out how to be a blind wizard. Today we need to find a way for Lionel to cast this one.”
    “I’m sure he’ll manage to learn it. Maybe not in time, but eventually.” Clarence laughed and I looked to see if Lionel had heard. He was so deep in the spell he wouldn’t have heard a train run through the room.
    Someone coughed and I heard Clarence’s armor creak as he turned.
    “Olan. You look like crap.” I felt Clarence move away.
    “I have been fighting for my life. You should see the other bird.” Olan’s voice was weak but he sounded jaunty.
    Great, another complication. “Who were you fighting with? Or, should I guess?” I asked.
    “Well a certain Irish crow. She started it. It was nothing I wanted.”
    “I doubt that, but it sounds like you finished it.” I wondered how badly he was hurt. “Clarence, what does he look like?”
    Lionel sighed and said, “I’ll go find Edrinda; she’s got a healing touch.”
    “A few feathers missing and he’s limping a bit,” Clarence reported.
    Olan chirped a laugh. “Well, that only needs time to heal. It is not serious. I thought I might find a way to get your eyesight back and it worked, I found this book.”
    “Found?” I asked.
    “Yes, I found it in Fionuir’s library.”
    “So The Morrigan was in Fionuir’s court?” I was getting a bad feeling about this.
    “Not exactly. I took the book outside for the light. And the crow was there.”
    Man, he attracted that woman like a trailer park attracts tornadoes. “And you fought.”
    “And I beat her.” He chirped what sounded like a victory cry. “I got the book, and I got her to agree to a truce.”
    “I’m impressed. How long a truce?” I asked.
    “Well, until the next full moon. And that gives us time to solve more than one of our problems.”
    And by then the Sidhe would have a new queen. “What does this book contain?”
    “I don’t really know. I couldn’t get it open, but it is supposed to contain spells to undo spells, to identify spells so they can be undone, that kind of thing.”
    “That’s a myth.” There was no way that Olan had found a Key book. They didn’t really exist. “Where is this book?”
    “Here.” I felt his feather on my hand and a sudden weight on my lap.
    “This book is bigger that you are. How did you manage to get it here?”
    “It’s a pixie thing.” Olan stepped onto my lap. “Maybe Lionel can figure out how to open it. Then we can find a spell to give you back your sight.”
    “That would be useful right now. But we only have a bit of time to deal with the fairies.”

    It took a while, but Lionel finally had the spell memorized. He walked through it six times without stumbling.
    Burr and Sting congratulated him on his success.
    “Okay, take your time,” I kept my voice gentle. “You know this spell and we all know you can do this.”
    “Okay.” Lionel sounded a bit more confident than he had before but still doubtful.
    “Everyone is going to leave the room; you and I will be the only ones here. I will sit in a corner, so I’m out of your way. I have a blanket spell ready.” I had shown every charm and amulet I had in my pocket to Lionel and he’d identified them for me. I had a blanket and a freeze spell in my hands. “Are you ready?”
    “Yes, ready as I’ll ever be.”
    I waved Clarence over, or at least if he was where I thought he was it would have looked like I was waving him over. He took my arm and led me to a chair we’d placed in the far corner. We’d set Lionel up in the center of the room, a brazier and a small wooden table in front of him. On the table, all the ingredients and vessels he needed. In the very center of the table sat the Gur amulet. I could feel the power emanating from it even from the corner. The spell would not affect the souls of the Druids. There was no way that could happen-I hoped.
    I counted to ten then said, “Okay, start when you are ready, go nice and slow.”
    There was silence for a few minutes. I hoped he was centering his focus, not getting ready to faint.
    “I call on spirits of love and peace to cover this spell with their presence.”
    It seemed he was able to summon the spirits because I felt the air in the room dampen and his words became muffled. If I could see, all I would see is a shadow of his movements. The suspense wasn’t exactly killing me, I just wish it was.
    I listened to the cadence of the muffed words. He seemed to be going through the process smoothly and there were no dreaded hiccups.
    His voice suddenly became clear as he closed the spell.
    “… for your blessing.”
    I waited, the power still emanated from the amulet, so we hadn’t accidentally release a horde of annoyed druids.
    “Lionel?” He should have said something by now.
    “Sorry, Quinn, I just needed a minute. I think I did it.”
    “Come over to me and bring the amulet.” I would be able to make sure that there was no taint of Fionuir’s spell if the amulet was close enough.
    Lionel touched my hand and dropped the amulet into it.
    I sent my senses out, enveloping the amulet in my energy. It did feel cleaner.
    “Let’s get out of here.” I held out my hand and Lionel led me back to the others.
    “It is done,” Lionel said with all the gravity of someone three times his experience.
    “Where are Burr and Sting?” I asked.
    “We are here.”
    I heard two sets of feet hit the ground. “You know what to do.”
    I heard them run and assumed they were on their way to tell the fairies to start procreating.

Chapter Thirty-Two

    Everyone except Olan and Lionel had gone home. There was nothing to do now but wait. We should know in a couple of days if we were going to be knee deep in fairy babies any time soon.
    Olan was resting; I could hear little chickadee snores coming from the region of the couch. Lionel and I were in the kitchen drinking clover tea. The book Olan had stolen on the counter in front of us.
    We’d managed to open the book with a simple command spell. “It’s in some sort of code,” Lionel said.
    “Well, it’s probably spelled to keep secrets. If we knew the right spell we would be able to read it. If you remember the myth of the key book, it is a spell inside a spell. The key to opening the first spell will be the key to the spell inside.”
    “So, if we figure out how to read the book, that same thing will be the spell inside?” Lionel’s confusion came through in his tone.
    “No, let’s say we need walnut powder to read the contents of the book. We shake a little powder on the page and the words are suddenly legible. Whatever the spell is that we find inside, will need walnuts in some form or another to work.”
    I heard pages flipping. “There must be four hundred pages. Will each one have a different key?”
    “Well, in four hundred pages there will probably be about two hundred spells. I don’t know if there are two hundred keys. But the only way I know to find out it to test every powder and filter I can think of.”
    Lionel groaned. A sound that every apprentice makes many times. “Can we narrow it down? Like trying things that we know are included in spells that do something to sight?”
    Not a bad idea. When he wasn’t so nervous, Lionel showed real promise. “It’s as good an idea as any.”
    “Cate had a bunch of herbs and crystals around because she was learning healing.” His voice moved away as he spoke. “Here are some of them.” I heard him put a box on the counter.
    “Describe them to me.”
    “A quartz crystal, a packet of ground carrot seeds, a packet of spider web, a sheet of rice paper…”
    “Wait, spider web? Is that about curing blindness?”
    “Yes. This is her eye cures box.”
    “I felt a web in the basement.” I couldn’t help but feel a little hope creep into my heart.
    I heard paper unfolding. “We have six webs here. I guess we drape the web on a page?”
    “Makes sense. Okay we get six chances. Where should we start?”
    Lionel pushed the book toward me. “Are you feeling lucky?”
    I pushed it back. “You are the one on a roll, you find the first spell.”
    He took the book and I heard pages whirr.
    “This one,” Lionel announced. “I’m picking up the web and shaking it out.”
    “No need for the play by play. Just tell me if it works.”
    Moments passed, I tried not to fidget, spider webs were difficult to handle. Lionel’s sigh told me everything.
    “Sorry, Quinn.”
    “Okay, can you mark that page so we don’t waste another web on it?”
    “I’ll tack the pages together with a bit of gum. We can remove it later.”
    I took the book and passed my hands across the pages. I didn’t feel any special pull to a page, but I did feel power. It was beginning to look like this might actually be a key book. I let the book choose, laying it on the table and letting it fall open naturally.
    “Okay put a web here.” I smoothed the pages flat.
    After an age, Lionel sighed again. We went through another three webs without finding a cure for my problem; although one page did reveal a spell for repelling flies from a blood sacrificial altar.
    “Lionel, the last one is yours. You choose. If it doesn’t work, we can always try again. At least we know it acts like a key book.”
    Lionel took the open book from my hands. I heard him flicking through the pages, like he was scanning for a particular spell, even though he couldn’t read what was on the page. Then he stopped looking.
    “Hold the book open to this page.” He pressed it into my hands. “Maybe you have to be holding the book for the spell to work.”
    I held the book out, open to the page he had found. I waited while he unfolded the last web. I felt it touch my fingers as he draped it across the page.
    “Did your sight fade, or did it go all at once?”
    “A bit of both. When I found the brick and released the disguise spell, it seemed to get dark. When I pulled out the amulet, the lights went out.
    “So she’s smart. We need to cast two spells to give you back your sight.”

    “You can see the spell?” I didn’t want to get too excited.
    “Yes, it’s pretty complex. Even more than the cleansing spell.” Lionel raised his voice above noise that was coming from the direction of the front door. “What the heck is that all about?”
    I felt him move away.
    “Be careful.” I said above the noise was coming closer to the door; voices shouting and something being thrown around. “I don’t think I can help you if it comes to a brawl.”
    Lionel laughed and I heard the floor squeak in front of the door. He pulled it open and the noise changed into a single female voice.
    “Answer the door. I wish to speak to the witch.” It was Fionuir.
    I felt my way to the hall. “You are not welcome here, Fionuir.” I called before Lionel could say something stupid like ‘come in’.
    She laughed. “It is not your house. Is the witch in?”
    Lionel coughed. “I am afraid…”
    “No she is not.” I overrode him. “But she hasn’t expressed a desire to have you enter her home.”
    I reached forward to pull Lionel away from the door. “Leave.”
    “Wait, Quinn.” Lionel struggled out of my grasp. “I wasn’t going to ask her in. But perhaps she has something to tell us about…”
    “Lionel, be quiet,” I said. Fionuir was just waiting for a slip.
    She wanted into Cate’s place and thought Cate was alive, so the Sidhe probably didn’t have anything to do with the demon. She was after the amulet I’m pretty sure. We hadn’t done anything to hide it yet. If she got into the living room she would see it on the coffee table. “Fionuir, you have been asked to leave this house. Without express invitation from the resident, you cannot enter.”
    “I know the rules, Quinn. But you may have forgotten that if enough of my property is inside this house, I can enter to remove it.”
    “There is not enough of it here for you to do that.” A book and an amulet were only almost enough. “Leave.”
    “No.” Fionuir laughed and I heard jewels bouncing down the hall. “I think that might be enough.”
    Damn. “Lionel, tell her she is welcome into one room.”
    He stuttered out the limitation just in time. Fionuir walked into the kitchen and spun around. “This will be enough I think.”
    I hoped the book wasn’t sitting out on the counter. I prayed that Lionel had slipped it into his pocket. Fionuir hadn’t noticed I was blind so maybe if it wasn’t sitting under her nose, we could pretend it wasn’t here.
    “Lionel, pick up the jewels and throw them out the front door, as far as you can. This will only work if we let it.”
    I heard him scramble around. “Fionuir, what is it you want?”
    “Your damn bird pet, has stolen something from me. I want it back.”
    “Why did you come here?” I didn’t see the point of denying the theft.
    “You were not at home. I heard you were playing house with her.”
    I heard her footsteps clacking on the tile floor. “Where have you hidden it?”
    “I don’t have it.” I heard a clank of metal hitting the street. “Time for you to leave.”
    I heard cupboards banging open and closed. I kept my face turned to the noise.
    “I know you have it,” she spat. “Just give it back and we won’t say anything about it.”
    “Well, I don’t believe you. I’m not responsible for what Olan does. If he stole from you, go find him.”
    I felt Lionel’s arm touch my shoulder. “I’ve thrown everything out as you said.”
    Fionuir stomped past me. “This is not over.”
    “I will show you out,” Lionel said.
    His hand left my shoulder and I assumed he was leading her to the door. I felt my way to a kitchen stool and was about to sit, when Fionuir’s voice shout in triumph.
    “Hah, you should have hidden it better. It’s hanging out of your pocket you foolish wizard.”
    “I’m sorry,” Lionel said.
    Fionuir gasped. “You can’t see. Hah, a fitting punishment for something, Wizard.” I felt her presence loom. “I have what I need. I don’t wish to stay here longer than I have to, it smells of witch.”
    She stomped down the hall and slammed the door.

Chapter Thirty-Three

    We were in Bank’s sitting at a window table. I could feel the chill coming in from the glass. Clarence and Edrinda were there along with Burr, there was no news about baby fairies but we were probably a day early for that. I had the amulet deep in my pocket and I had my hand wrapped around it. This wasn’t leaving my control until we could find a safe hiding place.
    The waiter put a platter on the table; it smelled of toast and honey, refreshed our coffees and then left.
    Clarence restarted the conversation. “We should give it back to the druids.”
    “They lost it in the first place. If we give it back how do we know they won’t lose it again? It’s a powerful battery,” Lionel said before the sound of crunching came from his direction.
    “It is a powerful temptation, too. Are you thinking you would keep this power for yourself?” Edrinda’s voice was cold.
    “No,” Lionel sounded appalled. “Imagine how much trouble I could get into if I tried to use it.”
    I laughed. “You have the right attitude boy. He also has a point. The druids lost it in the first place. And they haven’t been looking for it. I thought it was a spiritual object for them.”
    “What else could we do?” Clarence asked.
    “A spell is going to take some work. Lionel can’t cast one strong enough to hide it from close scrutiny. I can’t guarantee anything I cast will work the way I expected. I need to learn how to cast blind before I attempt anything”
    “The fairies could hide it,” Burr’s voice piped.
    “Thank you, but the fairies have been through enough.” I didn’t want the amulet to go missing around the confusion of the fairy kingdom. “Can someone check with the druids to see if they even know the amulet is missing?”
    “I’ll go,” Edrinda said. “You could be right about them not knowing, they have a lot of powerful stuff there. I will also suggest they may want to consider releasing the spirits soon so that the amulet is not a danger any longer.” Her chair scraped against the floor. “Shit.”
    “What?”
    “A human collapsed across the street. I saw her fall in the alley,” Edrinda hissed the words.
    “Are you sure it wasn’t something natural. They have heart attacks.” I could hope.
    “No, she grabbed her stomach and then blood started to flow from the woman’s mouth.”
    I threw some coins on the table. “Clarence and Edrinda, put on your day time disguises, we need to investigate this.”
    When I said we need to investigate, I hadn’t thought through the fact that I was still blind. I took Lionel’s arm and he led me across the road giving me a running commentary.
    “It looks like the human has been poisoned. Her lips are blue and there’s bloody foam around her mouth.”
    “Anything else?”
    “Like a message or something? No, just a dead human.”
    “Is there anyone looking?” Clarence asked.
    “No,” Lionel responded. “The streets are empty.”
    I heard a grunt and footsteps moving away.
    “Clarence is moving the body,” Lionel said.
    “I guessed that, thanks.”
    I couldn’t think of any other questions to ask. “Let’s go back to my place. I don’t know what to do about this.”
    Lionel led me but I could tell where we were based on the sounds and smells; the bakery, the florist, the butcher. Next would come a park, and then we’d pass the school. The park was now a bundle of scents, pine, garbage, someone was smoking a cigar. We would be at my place in five minutes. I could start training Lionel to remove the spell on Princess, and we could figure out what to do with the amulet.
    “Shit,” Lionel said, then jerked me to a stop. “Oh, sorry.”
    “What, why are you sorry?” I waited for the bad news.
    “I swore. I am trying to stop swearing. It’s not becoming for a wizard.”
    “Who the hell told you that?” I almost laughed until I remembered it might have been Cate.
    “I just thought I should be more thoughtful.” He sounded wounded and clearly he hadn’t appreciated my comment.
    “It’s okay. You don’t have to act in any way that’s not natural for you. You are a wizard, how you act is how a wizard acts.” I suddenly realized how young he really was. “So why did you swear?”
    “I stepped in something. It’s mucky and sticky.”
    “Where are Clarence and Edrinda?” I couldn’t help him identify it.
    “Up ahead. Look, here’s a bench. You sit down and I’ll figure it out.”
    He sat me on the bench and walked away. I tried to be patient, but it was not my best skill. I concentrated on listening. I could hear birds in the trees, so we must only be about a third of the way through the park. I couldn’t hear children but by the sounds of the voices I could hear, there were humans nearby. They could be on the street, though.
    I heard Clarence say something to Edrinda, probably just noticing we weren’t behind them. Then I heard what sounded like an elk running toward me.
    “Quinn,” Lionel’s whisper was fit for the stage not for sharing secrets.
    “Lionel, hush. Get over here before you talk.” I tried to keep my voice kind, and not snap.
    I felt his breath on my ear as he spoke. “It’s blood. The stuff I stepped in blood mixed with mud.”
    “Did you find a body?” I hoped he was going to say it was an animal.
    “Yes, it’s a man he’s been stabbed in the neck.”
    Clarence sat beside me and said. “There’s a pool of blood at the edge of the path. Someone walked through it.”
    Lionel explained what he’d found. “It’s all over my boots.”
    “We need to get home.” I didn’t want us anywhere near a dead body. I told Lionel to clean his shoes on the grass before we started.

Chapter Thirty-Four

    We got home without further incident. I kept asking if anyone saw police hanging round. It’s hard to keep a compulsive need to check on one’s surroundings a secret when you can’t see.
    My door was unlocked but I didn’t worry, because the protection spells were in place.
    “Olan,” Lionel called. “You’ll never believe what has been happening.”
    He left me to run forward. I placed my hand on the wall and followed it to the kitchen.
    “If it is about dead humans, I will believe anything,” Olan said.
    “What do you know, bird?” Clarence growled.
    “So, bodies do ring a bell,” Olan chirped. “It seems someone is killing humans. I’ve seen the police investigating.”
    My stomach sank. “So, despite everything we are about to be found?”
    Olan landed on my shoulder. “Not necessarily. The police are just as confused as everyone. There is no pattern they can find. Three humans died overnight, and now a couple of people this morning.”
    “So they found the body in the park?” Edrinda joined in.
    Olan hopped on my shoulder, it was disconcerting to have something walking on you when you can’t see. “No,” he said. “But, that makes six.”
    “Why don’t the police have a theory?” I tried to keep my mind away from focusing on the image of Real Folk bodies strewn everywhere in an orgy of retaliation.
    “There are too many differences. You know the humans love their patterns. Two people were poisoned. One strangled. One had their throat cut. One was stabbed, what about the person in the park?”
    “Stabbed,” Lionel said.
    I could see a pattern forming. “How long do you think we’ll have before they see the pattern, or something else that will lead them to Real Folk?”
    I heard the kettle boil and then Edrinda asked, “Why do you think it’s someone from the Real Folk?”
    That was a good question. Why did it feel like there was no argument to that? “I guess it feels like too much of a coincidence. We stop Fionuir and humans start dying in quantity.”
    “It could be a coincidence.” Lionel didn’t sound like he believed his own theory.
    “I would guess we are two weeks away from someone figuring out it’s not a human. They won’t be coming to that thought easily. If we find them and stop them…” Olan stopped speaking.
    “Quinn,” a voice called from the door. “Quinn Larson.”
    “There’s a fairy at the door,” Clarence called. “You want me to send him away?”
    “What tribe?”
    The visitor shouted in answer, “I’m a rose Fairy. You have Princess Elizabeth here.”
    I hoped this was good news. Maybe the last bit of good news I was going to get for a while. “Lionel, go check him out, if he seems harmless, pass him though wards.” I gave Lionel the words to open the protection.
    We couldn’t keep talking about the murders with this fairy near so I listened to the conversation at the door. “What do you want with Quinn?”
    “I want my wife back.” I could imagine his chest puffing out.
    “Why do you want her back? You could have protected her before, why should we give her to you now?” Lionel was doing a good job of screening this guy.
    “It is not easy to go against the whole tribe. But now, babies are quickening. She is forgiven.”
    “What is your name?”
    “Diablo. I am called Diablo.”
    “Step back,” Lionel ordered. Then I heard murmuring sounds. “Come in.”
    I heard running feet scurry down the hall. “Quinn Larson, where is my wife?”
    “We’ll give her back to you, but she is very weak. Do you have food?”
    I heard a gasp. “No, I didn’t know she wasn’t eating.”
    “She told us that your tribe had forbidden her food,” I said.
    “No, she was shunned. She has not eaten?”
    I hated to think that I was going to be the one to break it to him, but if I had known the starvation was her idea, I would have called her bluff and fed her. “She is in my workroom. I have her under a suspension spell; do you know what that means?”
    “Yes, like death but not permanent.” The fairy’s voice trembled.
    “She will need to be fed as soon as the spell is removed and she will be weak until she has eaten three or four times.” I rose. “Someone help me get downstairs and we’ll deal with this right now.”
    “But I have no food.” Diablo sounded like he was going to cry.
    “I do. Edrinda, are you still making tea?”
    “I am. Do you want a cup?”
    “Yes, but right now I need the honey, the dark one. A jar of that and a spoon, please.”
    I felt the jar being pressed into my right hand and spoon slipped between my fingers on the same hand. “Who’s going to help me?”
    “I’ll do it.” Lionel grabbed my elbow. “I can help if you need me to do any of the spells.”
    I chuckled. “No, this is one I can do from memory. Come on, Diablo, you can give her some honey.”
    I muttered some restriction spells to keep Diablo from seeing the important parts of my workroom and we went down. I had Lionel take me to Princess’ couch and put me at her head. Reaching out I drew the blanket off her and touched her skin. It was too cold for me to feel comfortable about her state of health.
    “She is so thin,” Diablo whispered. “How did she get so thin?”
    “She didn’t eat. It doesn’t take long for you fairies to fade.” I reached out carefully and found Princess’ forehead. “Lionel, open the honey and put some on her lips. Then give the jar to Diablo.”
    I felt him move beside me. “Done.”
    I pushed away the worries about dead humans and the possible repercussions and concentrated on the elements of the release spell. I ran my finger from her hairline down to the tip of her chin. When I finished I thought the words to undo the spell.
    She breathed in and coughed. I felt the brittleness of her bones under my fingers. “You can eat now.”
    Princess looked at me and licked her lips. Then Diablo nudged my arm aside “Babies are quickening. We will have a baby as soon as you are strong enough.”
    “Lionel, put her in my room, in the bed. They can stay there.”
    While Lionel took the fairies, I felt my way to the stairs and back up to the kitchen, where I found the others still muttering over the news. Lionel joined us just as I sat on a stool. I wasn’t planning on sitting here talking all day. “So, what are we going to do?”
    “If we can find out who’s doing it, maybe we can stop it in time?” Lionel didn’t sound like he believed his own plan would be a good idea.
    “There isn’t a lot of time,” Olan said.
    “Well, I can’t just sit here and talk,” Lionel snapped. I heard his stool scrape across the floor and the sound of his pacing.
    Edrinda sighed. “The boy’s plan is really the only option. Unless someone can figure out how to turn time back and stop the murders in the first place.”
    “It’s Fionuir.” Lionel’s voice was filled with certainty.
    “We don’t know for sure, but it’s a good guess.” I didn’t want to shut down his confidence.
    “No,” he said, “It’s her. I saw her in that abandoned house across the street. She just killed another human.”

Chapter Thirty-Five

    I hear a chirp and a clatter of armor. I guessed Olan and Clarence had run for the door. “Come on wizards,” Edrinda shouted. “Let’s not lose her.”
    Edrinda didn’t concern herself with gentleness when she grabbed my elbow. I almost tripped over my own feet at the speed she pulled me along.
    The door slammed shut a second after I hit the bottom step. “Stop,” I tried not to gasp out the words. “I’m not going to be able to run like this.”
    Edrinda came to a stop and I felt her pulling me back. “We don’t have time, Quinn.”
    “You won’t have time if I fall flat on my face. Let me hold your arm. Good. Now I can follow you, rather than feel like you are pushing me.”
    We ran across the street and I felt the ground change beneath my shoes. We were in the overgrown yard of Mrs. Yeardley’s house. Or rather of her ex house. She’d gone into a retirement home and whoever was looking after her affairs was letting the house go to ruin.
    “Around back,” Olan called to us. “She’s cutting across the yard.”
    “Lionel can you hide the body?” I called out, hoping he was in earshot.
    “I have a spell that will make it look like a rhododendron bush,” he said.
    “Good enough, we can deal with it later. I just don’t want the police finding it.” Having a body so close to my house was too dangerous.
    We got to the back yard of Mrs. Yeardley’s house and I heard branches breaking at the far end. “Is that Clarence?”
    “Yes, he’s just gone through the fence.” Edrinda slowed slightly. “I don’t think it’s safe for you to barge through the bushes.”
    I gave her arm a squeeze. “I’m not waiting here, lead on.”
    “Okay, Lionel, you push the bushes away and we’ll come through after.” The next thing I knew, I felt branches scratch at my arms.
    “In that building over to the right. It doesn’t look like a house.” I heard Lionel say. “Clarence just went through the back door.
    Great now we were breaking in to human buildings. “It’s a power station. There’s probably no one there but be careful.”
    We went in and I heard voices.
    Clarence and Fionuir were shouting. “You will stop what you are doing, Banshee.”
    “You will not speak to me like that,” Fionuir’s voice came back. “Where is that wizard?”
    “I’m here.” I tried to step forward but Lionel pulled me back. “What do you want?”
    “My amulet, you stole it.”
    I tried not to react, the amulet was in my pocket and until we could put it somewhere safe it wasn’t going out of my control. “What amulet?”
    “Don’t toy with me, wizard,” she spat the words. “I thought you were blind from stealing my book, but no, you took the amulet. Give it back.”
    I heard a heavy step and then Clarence’s voice cut across the sudden silence. “We will not help you kill more humans. Leave and stop your foolishness before you start a war between the Real Folk and the humans.”
    “I don’t care about some possible war. I am fighting a real war of my own.” I heard fear in her voice.
    She didn’t believe that the humans would find out, how naive could she be? “The police are already investigating these recent deaths. They may be human, but they aren’t stupid. It won’t be long before they link the last ones to this. How can you not believe they will find us?”
    “It’s been thousands of years, Quinn, only a few teenagers have even suspected we exist. What is real, is me fight to keep my position. Give me the damned amulet.”
    “No.” I pulled myself out of Lionel’s grasp and walked toward Fionuir’s voice. “You will have to find another way.”
    “Oh, I’ve already found another way. I will keep killing humans until I get the amulet back.” She was getting careless; I could hear her footsteps approaching.
    “I am still not giving you an amulet.” I stepped toward her voice.
    “You are supporting Maeve? You think she will be better than me?
    “Can she be worse?” I felt heat from the direction of her voice. “You are putting our entire existence at risk. What point is winning the war with Maeve and losing everything else?”
    Someone grabbed me from behind and I felt the breeze of something just missing my face as I fell backward into one of the Kobolds. Edrinda’s voice grunted into my ear. “She’s armed. Let us fight her.”
    I felt the wall hit my back before I could argue.
    Then all I heard was metal against metal.

Chapter Thirty-Six

    I expected Fionuir to be defeated quickly. Fighting two Kobolds was a good way to commit suicide for most people. But she kept up her end. I could hear grunts from all three. It made me glad I couldn’t see what was actually happening. Although it left me plenty of time to worry about that obligation.
    Lionel slid down to sit beside me. “Quinn, I don’t know what to do, they are not getting anywhere, and I think she’s enhanced her ability. Can you cast a spell?”
    “It would be dangerous for me to cast, I don’t know who I would hit.” I really wanted to throw a net spell but I knew Fionuir would just keep fighting. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my friends for this battle.
    “She’s going to kill them then come and get us. I can’t fight her.” Lionel sounded more angry than afraid.
    I tried to think. Lionel was better than I expected him to be with magic, but this was under a stressful situation. What could I give him that wouldn’t be a disaster for everyone?
    “I don’t think we have much time,” Lionel stuttered. “Can you give me a kill spell?”
    “Absolutely not.” I came out of my internal spell inventory. “How do you know you won’t kill everything in hearing range?”
    “We have to do something.”
    “But not killing. I can’t cause direct harm. This blindness is probably part of that. I gave my word I wouldn’t do direct harm.”
    “Great, Quinn, could you have mentioned that before we were in the middle of a battle?” Olan chirped as he landed on my shoulder.
    “Even if I didn’t have this obligation, I wouldn’t kill. Do you forget I’m a spirit wizard?”
    “Fine,” Olan said. “You think about what you can do and I’ll be getting in her way was much as I can.”
    I tried to ignore the sarcasm in his voice. It wasn’t helping me find a solution.
    Fionuir screamed, “Get out of here you damn bird.” And there was a pause in the clashing of swords.
    I had an idea. “Lionel, have you mastered the preservation spell?”
    “Yes, I preserved three oak leaves last month. They are still green.”
    It occurred to me that he might be bragging but I pushed the thought away, I had to trust him or there wasn’t any point in trying to stop the fight. “Okay, I have an idea. Do you think you can cast this only on Fionuir?”
    “Yes, Olan is keeping her far enough away from Clarence and Edrinda. If we are quick, she won’t be able to get close to them again.”
    “If you twist the spell to include ice and air, you can crystallize the air around her. She’ll be held in a shell of ice until we release her. She’ll be alive and aware, but not able to do anything.”
    “Okay so instead of saying, rot and entropy leave, I say what?” He was smart enough to figure out the way each part of the spell contributed to the whole.
    “Movement and heat.”
    “I’ll get as close as I can.” I felt him rise. “Wish me luck.”
    “Luck”
    The clash of swords started again then stopped. “Bird, I will slice you open if you don’t get out of the way.”
    I sent my thoughts to Lionel, now, do it now! He must have heard me. Murmurs of a spell carried across the room. Then suddenly the room went cold and silent.
    Then I heard breathing, then gasps of breath and a thud.
    “Lionel, what is going on, damn it.” I pushed myself up. If this didn’t work, I was going to blunder into the battle. If everyone was frozen I would have to fix it.
    “It’s done,” Olan said. “The boy did fine.”
    “What was the thud? Is someone hurt?” No one answered. “Someone talk to me.”
    “Fionuir fell over,” Edrinda gasped. “We’re fine. It’s over.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven

    We were in my workroom. Fionuir was resting on the couch where Princess had been. Princess and Diablo had left while we were in battle.
    I checked the integrity of the spell and was impressed with Lionel’s expertise. When he learned a spell he cast solid magic. “Any ideas what we do with her?”
    “She’d make a nice ornament if you just stand her in the corner there. You can always hang a coat on her,” Olan said.
    I rolled my eyes. “I’m thinking I’d like to survive her reaction when we free her. We will eventually do that, I’m not going to keep her in this state forever. She’s aware, remember.”
    “I think we need to get the amulet stored as far away from her as we can think of, and if she’s aware, we need to deal with her first,” Clarence said. “Do you have any more of that tea? And honey, I think the fairies took it with them.”
    I told him where to find my stash of rare honey and heard him going up the stairs. It made me realize that I was going to need someone to do my shopping and other errands until I either cured the blindness or learned to handle being blind. Humans managed so I’m sure I would figure it out. And maybe I could get Maeve to give me that book back when she’s officially queen.
    “There are a few places we can put her where she’ll be out of the way. We can throw her into a dimensional fold. As long as no one finds her we’re the only ones who could pull her out.”
    “We can’t all cast spells, Quinn. What happens if you and Lionel aren’t available?” Edrinda asked.
    “If need be, I can deal with it,” Olan boasted.
    I ignored him, and added another item to my list of things to fix: return Olan to pixie form. I thought for a minute and then came up with the solution. “I can spell the release into a charm. All you have to do is say the words and you can free her.”
    “Okay,” Lionel’s voice chimed in. “Let’s agree that the plan is to be together when we release her. But, in an emergency, I can’t think what kind of emergency would be that required releasing Fionuir, we can do it alone.”
    Olan flapped back onto my shoulder. “If you find you need me, you know how to find me. Just call my name and whistle. I’ll be moving along now.”
    “Is she really aware?” Lionel asked.
    “Yes,” I struggled up and walked toward my couch. “Can someone move her? I need to create the spell down here and I don’t want her hearing what the components are.”
    “Will you need her back?” Edrinda asked. I felt her move beside me.
    I place my hand on the shell of air frozen around her. “No, I can create the fold and send it to her if you put her precisely where I say.”
    I felt the air warm under my hand and assumed that Edrinda was moving Fionuir. “Put her in the bathroom. If you stand her on the blue and green tiles beside the toilet, she should stand upright without help.”
    I heard footsteps on the stairs and went over to my bench. “Lionel, get me the ingredients and two of the gray stones in the bowl on the third shelf of the middle bookcase.”
    We cast the spell and Fionuir disappeared. At least that’s what I’m told. The Kobolds left and I was trying to figure out how to tell Lionel to go home. I was tired and I needed sleep.
    “Quinn, you said you were going to find me a new master,” Lionel said.
    “Yes, I remember. Can you give me a day or two?”
    I heard him fill the kettle. “Do you want some tea?”
    “Sure, but we need to talk about this.”
    “Well, I’ve been thinking.” I heard mugs clatter on the counter. “We’ve been working together really well the last couple of days.”
    I had half expected this. He was right; the last few days had gone really well. But, I didn’t have the time for an apprentice. I had to figure out how to get my sight back, not how to train a wizard. “Look, Lionel. You will make someone a great apprentice. You have a strong talent and when you focus, you cast perfect spells.”
    “Thanks. So, it wouldn’t be too much trouble to teach me.” The kettle boiled and I heard him pour water into the teapot.
    “I don’t have time to teach anyone. I have to reverse this blindness spell. I have to figure out how to survive until I do. I have to try to find out who killed Cate, and I have to figure out how to get The Morrigan to turn Olan back into a pixie.” I was hoping I could appeal to his caring side, and get him to leave the poor blind wizard alone.
    “And, you’ll need someone to help you for a while. Someone to do errands, someone to read spells.”
    “I’m hoping to find the book; perhaps Maeve will give it me in payment for removing Fionuir from the race. But I can hire someone to help me.”
    “Oh,” Lionel paused. “Here’s your tea.’
    I wrapped my hands around the warm mug. “Oh, what?”
    “I thought you knew, but now I really think about it, you can’t have known.”
    I ignored the convoluted words. “Known what?”
    “Um well,” he stopped speaking again.
    “Out with it.”
    “I’m sorry, but Fionuir had the book in her pocket. She dropped it in the fight and I saw her pick it up.”
    “Great, we just sent the only way we know to get my eyesight back into a dimensional fold.”
    “I’m sorry.”
    “Not your fault.” I sipped tea. “There will be another way.”
    “I could help you find that other way.” Lionel’s voice was quiet as though he hadn’t intended for the words to be spoken. As though speaking them gave me too much power to say no, or yes.
    “I’m not a good teacher. I’m not patient in the best of cases and since I can’t see, I can’t tell if you are doing it right.” Aha, I’d get out of this with logic.
    “You taught me the spell to contain Fionuir. If you can do that in the heat of battle…”
    “I wasn’t in the heat of battle. And we were desperate. If you failed one way or another, it wouldn’t have gotten any worse.” I could feel the argument slipping out of my grasp.
    “Quinn, please? I’ve learned more from you in the last two days than I learned in the whole time from Cate. She was great, but really nervous about giving me the green light.”
    “As she should be. Apprentices have been known to cause a lot of damage.” I squirmed at the memory of some of the damage I had caused. “You deserve more than I can give.”
    “Bullshit.” Lionel slammed down beside me on the couch. “Look, if you don’t want to commit, why don’t we agree to do this until you’ve got your sight back? Then we can decide how to go from there.”
    “I don’t know.”
    “You are almost out of bread and I don’t see any fruit here, you need groceries.”
    Okay, he had a point and if I could find a way to get my sight back it would only be for a while. “Okay, until I can see again.” I hoped I wouldn’t regret this.

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