Gretchen, Dichall, and I sat on a box that used to hold matches, attending an emergency Council meeting.
Beatrice cleared her throat to quiet everyone down. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an informant who would like to brief us on something.” She turned to the hole in the wall and in hopped a crow. He was probably a normal-sized crow, but in our headquarters, he looked gigantic. His head twitched from side to side, taking us all in with his black eyes. From the crowd’s murmurings, it sounded like some people recognized him. “This is Moliason Gentry,” She nodded to the crow. “Sir, if you will, please tell us what you have to say.”
The crow shook his head and cleared his throat. “I’m sure you all remember the unfortunate war with the Underworld denizens a few years ago. I was a wizard, but I only used brittle magic. To defend my family, and fellow birds, I made a deal with the fae so I could learn deep magic.”
I heard some mice gasp. I looked around. Many were angry, shaking their heads and looking at each other.
I leaned over and whispered to Dichall. “I gather that’s frowned upon?”
Moliason Gentry continued: “I did learn deep magic, and I was in debt to the fae. Yesterday, a faerie childhunter named Imbingy came to me to make good on the contract. Tonight I will be helping him get a child prodigy through a weir, to the Interstitium, to be consumed.”
“How could you!” A little black mouse shouted, standing and pointing at Moliason. The crowd grumbled in approval of her outrage.
Moliason stepped from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable. “As you know, fae contracts must be honoured. So I must go through with this. I’m bound by the faerie contract and cannot stop him. However, I’m here so you can stop me from allowing his plan to be completed.”
I sat back and thought while the crowd erupted into conversation, then leaned toward Dichall and Gretchen. “This could be a chance to get to the fae who’s behind this.”
Gretchen’s eyes went wide. “What — do you want to volunteer for this? Do you realize we might face a fae, like, tonight?”
Dichall shook his head. “That’s her Puente, Tito!”
I was very aware of Grassblade, my magic faerie-killing sword, at my side, hidden under my cloak. I’d taken this great weapon, against the rules of the Council. I had a responsibility to do something with it.
Gretchen looked unsure. But I wasn’t. I stood and shouted. “I volunteer my team for this mission.”
The room quieted a bit. Beatrice looked around the room. “Is the Boomtown Squad here?”
Emilie, standing next to Beatrice, perked up. “They’re out of town. In Kingston. A bad haunting at the hospital had the local Councilmice overwhelmed.”
Beatrice nodded. “Any other volunteers?”
Nobody spoke up.
“Very well, Moliason will give you whatever other information he knows. Meeting adjourned.”
Gretchen glared daggers at me.
In another room, we sat with the crow and found out what he knew. It wasn’t much. He didn’t even know which fae was behind the plot. I fidgeted – Imbingy was probably getting into the hotel room as we spoke, and planned to get Nathan Thomas to walk himself through the weir at the Aboriginal Veterans Monument across the street from the hotel. Moliason was tasked with fighting off the bird guards stationed there to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening.
I looked up into the crow wizard’s eyes and tried to appear tough. “So what, we just wait until Imbingy brings the child out?”
“That, or intervene before he convinces Nathan to come out. But I wouldn’t recommend that. Out near the weir, you’ll have the pigeons supporting you.”
“Yeah,” Gretchen gesturing to Moliason, “and a deep crow necromancer against us!”
“I’ll have to make a show of helping Imbingy.” The crow’s voice was low. “But ultimately, we’re on the same side.”
Gretchen harrumphed. “This from someone who went to learn deep magic from the fae…”
Moliason Gentry jerked his beak toward Gretchen sharply and shouted in her face. “Don’t lecture me, shaman! I’m not proud of what I’ve done. I lost my wife due to the mistakes I’ve made. My daughter doesn’t speak to me. I’m just trying to do the best I can, moving forward. That’s as much as you can expect from anyone.” His eyes quivered, with rage or shame, I couldn’t tell.
Gretchen stared defiantly up at the great bird, but said nothing.
Moliason ruffled his wings. “I have to go. If I’m not there, and at the ready, my side of the contract will not have been fulfilled and I’ll be forced to do something worse in the future. Maybe something I won’t have time to warn the Council about.” He hopped a few steps toward the exit and turned to us. “Don’t let us succeed. That boy’s life is in your hands.”
We left immediately for the Confederation Park on the back of the pigeon Benny Falafel.
On the Monument, I huddled for warmth with Gretchen and Dichall in the snow. We’d warned the guard pigeons there that a faerie was on its way, probably with a child, and guarded by Moliason Gentry.
The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument was a bronze statue of an amalgamation of several animals on top of a large concrete base, where we hid, the statue between us and the Lord Elgin Hotel. From there, I could see through the portal to the Interstitium. It was like looking through a lens in the air to a version of the world with sharper lines and brighter colours. That was the only way to tell where it was—there were no borders or other indication of its location, or its size. From the other side it couldn’t be seen at all.
“Let’s hide somewhere else,” Gretchen pointed to another spot behind the statue. “Something might see us through the weir.” That was fine with me. The Interstitium creeped me out.
I shivered from nerves and the cold. None of us had faced a faerie childhunter before.
One of the pigeons gave a warning call: “I see them!” And with that, the birds went on the attack. We heard screeching and fighting, but could not see anything from our hiding place behind the Monument.
My paw went to the cold handle of my sword, Grassblade. “Let’s move!” We leapt to the ground to face Imbingy.
A nine-year old boy, dressed in a parka and boots, stood on the snowy sidewalk. Backlit by street lights, we saw a silhouette on his shoulder: Imbingy. The pigeons started trying to pull the faerie off him.
The wizard crow, Moliason Gentry, swooped in, liquid darkness bursting from his wingtips, confusing and attacking the other birds. I drew Grassblade and stood in front of the child.
Nathan stopped short, and Imbingy looked down at me and shouted: “Mice! They’re here to stop you! Step on them!”
The boy hesitated, then tried to get closer to the weir. We yelled at him to stop, invoking our veilrings so that he could understand us. But he rushed forward and tried to stomp on me. I leapt out of the way, tumbling across the packed snow.
“We’re trying to protect you!” With all the commotion I don’t think he could hear my little mouse voice.
Above, I heard one of the pigeons battling Moliason Gentry. The snow around me was briefly lit by searing white magic sparks coming from the crow’s wings, turning snow to water vapour in an instant.
Nathan ran past Dichall and Gretchen, and started to climb the monument toward the weir. There was no way mice were going to physically stop a nine-year-old human boy from going where he wanted. We had to talk him out of it. I sheathed Grassblade and leapt onto his pants leg, climbing with all four paws up his back toward Imbingy, who still perched on his shoulder. Behind me, it didn’t sound like the pigeons were doing very well.
I leaped the last bit toward the faerie, gripping Nathan’s jacket with three paws, drawing Grassblade and swinging, cutting the back of Imbingy’s leg in one, smooth motion. The wound sizzled with magic.
Imbingy whirled to face me, screaming in pain, his eyes wide. Weren’t expecting a magic sword, were you?
The wound didn’t stop him. He leapt at me, slamming into me, and we both tumbled through the air. I crashed into the snow, headfirst. Sputtering, I pulled myself out of the snow and shook cold flakes out of my eyes and whiskers. Then realized my hand was empty.
Grassblade had landed a few inches away from me, buried halfway in the snow. As I turned to run for it, Imbingy smashed into me, knocking me on my back. His fingers found their way around my throat. He squeezed, his face a mask of fury.
I gasped for breath, getting only a tiny bit of air. Panic seized me and I clawed at him, tearing a cut in his cheek, but he didn’t let go. Didn’t even flinch. Do faeries not feel pain? I reached for Grassblade, but my fingers came away empty. It’s only an inch away!
He squeezed harder, closing my windpipe completely. I thrashed, cold and out of air, looking into his face, his toothy grin widening.