“We have a faerie in custody,” Beatrice Brownbrow addressed the Councilmice, as she did every evening at headquarters.
“That’s unusual.” Gretchen muttered while scratching her ear. “We usually don’t let them live.”
“He came to us, claiming he has information.” Beatrice nodded to some guards in matchbook armor, worn like sandwich boards. They brought in the faerie.
There were about twelve mice in the room, and I could smell our rising stress at the sight of such a creature in our headquarters. Hair bristled while paws went to weapons.
It was about four inches high, with a body like a tiny, bipedal deer and black hooves that clicked on the floor of the meeting room. His head resembled that of a fox, with little antlers sticking out of it. The guards had fastened his human-like hands together with a grocery store twist-tie.
Beatrice cleared her throat and quieted the murmuring room. “What is your name, please?”
“Musk Muskmusk.” His voice had an unnatural quality—you could understand the language he spoke, but at the same time his words sounded unfamiliar.
“What information do you have for us?”
“There are three fae who rule the Interstitial manifestation of this area.” He glanced nervously at the two guards standing at either side of him, both holding straws with exacto-knife blades on the ends.
I glanced at Gretchen, who was watching closely and nodding, then noticed that Beatrice was nodding too. Apparently, this was common knowledge. I thought back over what little I knew. The greater fae were supposed to be powerful creatures who ruled over the faeries. There are three fae in Ottawa? My goodness.
Musk stomped his feet a few times. “I served my fae mistress. Served her well. Brought her spark!” He shook his head and lowered his voice. “She’s transferring spark to a sculptor.”
Beatrice looked up from the notes she was taking with a small piece of graphite on the back of a ticket. “Who’s the sculptor?”
“Clay Masterson. He lives in Chinatown, above the Kowloon Market. Making a big public sculpture, and my fae mistress is trying to influence it. There’s a prodigy in town. Musician, I think. My mistress has been sending faeries to drain his spark. For the sculptor.”
Beatrice fixed the creature with her penetrating eyes. “Prodigy? What’s her name?”
“Don’t know if it’s a her. Don’t know its name, either.”
“Who is your mistress?”
“If I tell you who she is, she’ll know it. Then it would be the end for me.”
“Why are you telling us about this?” Beatrice said.
“I should have been favoured. Should have been me! But my master chose my sister.” His face twisted in annoyance.
Beatrice nodded slowly, never taking her eyes off the faerie’s. But the fox-eyes were black, impossible to read. “All right. We’re going to investigate this Clay Masterson. And find out who this prodigy is, so we can provide protection.”
It struck me that the faerie could be lying, perhaps to distract us from some deeper fae machination. Or perhaps the message itself was some chess move made in a complex fae struggle, incomprehensible out of context.
“And what about me?” Musk’s eyes widened.
“You’ll stay in Ottawa and lay low. What do you eat?”
Beatrice sighed, but gave a nod. “You may live at the Ottawa hospital for the time being. I’ll notify the mice there that you are to be left alone. If, if you keep your nose clean.”
Musk Muskmusk wiped his nose with his bound hands, and nodded his head as vigorously as he could, given his antlers.
“You may not create pain, only consume it. Is that understood? And you are to avoid contact with any fae. To the best of your ability, of course.”
“Yes, yes, I agree.”
“If we catch any mischief, making contracts with patients, or anything we don’t like, we won’t kill you, we’ll truss you up and deliver you to the fae with a report of our own.”
Musk Muskmusk swallowed audibly.
Gretchen leaned in and whispered. “The fae rule over these faeries like tyrants. Eventually he’ll have to serve one of them.” She shrugged. “Then some Councilmouse will have to kill him.”
Beatrice rolled the ticket she’d been writing on. “Show him out and draft me a letter for Beth Brickwall.”
When the faerie was safely behind closed doors, Beatrice rubbed her eyes and turned to the assembled Councilmice. “Someone’s going to have to investigate this Clay Masterson, but we have more urgent business tonight. We have several reports of faerie infestation.”
A long, thin deer mouse stood. She wore a small jacket, and a honeybee perched on her shoulder. I added bee on shoulder and pain eater to my mental checklist of things to ask about later.
“Evelyn Farseer.” Beatrice acknowledged her.
Evelyn’s voice was cool and soft. “It seems to me that there has been a great deal of fae and faerie activity lately.”
There were murmured squeaks of agreement. The males in the room were probably happy to have a legitimate reason to stare at her. Her brown coat was lustrous, like she’d never spent a day in the woods. Dichall was staring at her too. I looked at my fur. I could use a bath…
“We’ve noticed that, too, Evelyn.” Beatrice drummed the fingers of her paw on her thread-spool podium. “We’ve seen almost nothing from the Underworld for months.”
Evelyn clasped her hands together. “This faerie. Why is he talking to us? Aren’t the grand plans of the greater fae things that the owls should be dealing with?”
“Yes, Councilmouse, but the Oversight Parliament is overworked, as we are.”
I spoke up without being acknowledged. “Why, what’s going on?”
“Apparently there’s a pack of werekin, killing people in a factory.” Beatrice raised her paws. “Whatever it is, the owls have their wings full right now.”
Evelyn was still standing. “You want us to take on a, uh… a fae?”
“We’ll do what we can.” Beatrice tucked her paper roll under her arm, clearly wanting this part of the meeting to be over. “At least try to keep the situation under control until the owls are freed up to attend to it.”
My jaw dropped for a good two seconds before I noticed and shut it. The fae were like gods. You couldn’t kill them. At least, I’d never heard of it happening. Even the owls are no match for the greater fae.
I looked at Dichall, who was shaking his head.
Beatrice gazed around the room full of tired, scared mice, who were getting loud and anxious. She raised a paw. “All right, settle down. I’m not asking you to go head to head with the fae, or to enter the Interstitium. We’re going to deal with the smaller minions here in the Mundane World. See if we can get a better idea of their plans, so we can pass information on to the owls at the Oversight Parliament. Now, I need to give you your assignments for tonight.”
Beatrice called over Evelyn and her team. “Tonight you’re going to investigate some kind of teddy bear-looking monster reported to be dwelling in the Ikea ball pit. Apparently drinking kid’s blood like some giant mosquito. Sorry I don’t have more. Report came from a chihuahua who was snuck into the store in a bag, but we’ve lost touch with her.”
Normally this would sound pretty bad, but compared to dealing with the fae, it sounded like a walk in the cracker factory.
Beatrice looked around the room for us. “Gretchen Flix, Eve Pixiedrowner, and Dichall Smileyes! Your mission is at the Canadian Museum of History. Looks like pain-eaters. Emilie will brief you.” She dismissed us with a gesture at the door with her nose.
We walked out into the hallway, nestled in the quiet walls of human rooms. Above us were shelves full acorn traps. Some of them shook. When we were out of earshot, Gretchen turned to us. “Just to be clear, there is no way we’re going up against a fae. Right?”
Dichall nodded. “In the interest of interest, I think you’re right.”
“`Bravery’ and `suicide’ might both have six letters,” I said, “but to me, they’re very different things.”
They laughed and Dichall and slapped me on the back. “You’re all right, Pixiedrowner! Let’s go clean out that museum.”
My back felt warm where he touched me.