I followed Gretchen and Dichall through the portal into another world. Bracey the Talonted, our owl companion, followed. The sky was bluer than I would ever have guessed blueness could get. The snow was the whitest white. But the strangest thing was the lack of smells. I could smell faeries, but no dirt, grass, or anything else. As a mouse, this was like being half blind, and made me very uncomfortable.
I looked back through the Tremulous weir at Louis Lifeinpink. He gave me the thumbs up, or as close as he could with mouse anatomy. Beyond him I could see the Ottawa River, covered partly with ice. I tilted my head a bit and peered at the same spot on this side of the weir– Louis wasn’t there. The ice was, but the water wasn’t either. We all took a few steps, and then stopped and marveled at the ground. We were on snow, but it didn’t give at all. It was as though we were walking on the hardest stone. I patted my hind paw on it. “What’s wrong with this snow?”
Gretchen gestured to the ground. “Interstitial manifestations of Mundane World things are immobile here. And unalterable. And they only appear if they remain motionless in the Mundane World for several minutes. I don’t feel very comfortable out here in the open…” She pursed her lips and looked around. “Let’s find some cover, then try hunt down a faerie who knows something.”
We climbed the short hill of the bank to where we knew our pigeon waited for us in the Mundane World. But he wasn’t here in the Interstitium, probably because he was moving to keep warm. As we gained the summit, I turned and took one last look at the Tremulous Weir. At this distance it looked like just a small, desaturated, patch of the world. I could barely make out Louis through it. I tried to memorize its location. I sure didn’t want to get stuck here.
Bracey turned her giant head almost all the way around to face me, and stretched her wings. “I’m going to take to the air, see if I can spot a faerie from there,”
I barely heard her lift off—owl wings are just about silent—and we found a shrub to hide under. We had to carefully crawl beneath the delicate looking branches, because they would not give in the slightest, and if you ran into one it could cut your head open. What looks like a lovely, bright shrub of leaves turns into a bush of blades here.
“We’ll wait here until Bracey spots something.” Gretchen’s voice trembled and her eyes darted from side to side, whiskers twitching. “She’ll be able to find something much faster than we could on foot.”
A ghost, or something, walked by, greatly faded and transparent, but clearly a chipmunk. It ignored us and scampered around a bit, sniffing for food that wasn’t there and it wouldn’t have been able to eat anyway. After a few seconds, it disappeared into a copse of trees.
A moment later, Bracey touched down silently in front of us. We all squeaked in surprise. “I found something.”
We climbed onto her back and took off again.
Bracey flew us near the Canadian War Museum, which was even more imposing in the Interstitium than in the Mundane World. It looked like an alien shipwreck. I could see the Parliament Hill Centre Block building in the distance, and it appeared to have a gigantic balloon, shaped like a six-legged teddy bear, attached to the top of it. Unlike everything else, the balloon was moving.
I pointed at it. “Why is that moving?”
Bracey nodded at it. “That’s a chimeral balloon. A fae adornment. You’ll see a lot of those. They’re like animated sculptures. Okay, there he is.” She gestured down with her beak.
I watched as we got closer and closer to a figure on the ground, a seven-legged rabbit-looking thing with a single, rhino-like horn on its head. Bracey descended and grabbed it with her talons as she might snatch… well, a mouse.
We three mice leapt off Bracey’s back. She had it pinned to the ground with one of her talons, and we surrounded it. I drew Grassblade and held it as steady as I could. Unlike our usual missions, we were facing a faerie on its own turf, and I didn’t like it.
The creature shrieked a long, piercing wail that cut the atmosphere and echoed off all of the hard surfaces of the Interstitial geography. It sounded scared or hurt. But my whiskers itched the way they sometimes do when my subconscious was trying to tell me something was wrong.
Gretchen pointed her carpenter’s nail at it. “Whose domain is this?”
“We’re in the domain of her majesty queen Yonya!” The faerie’s voice was a kind of a purring chitter.
“We don’t want to hurt anybody,” Dichall said, though I’m sure everyone present doubted his sincerity, “We just want to know what’s going on in the Mundane World lately. Which fae is behind the attempted kidnapping of the piano prodigy?”
With the weapons pointed at him and an owl talon digging into his flesh, he didn’t have much wiggle room. “It’s Yonya! It’s all for that sculptor! But do me a favour—don’t tell Eventua I told you, okay?”
Gretchen poked her nail into his flesh a little more. “Why would we even have an opportunity to talk to Eventua?”
I racked my brain, trying to remember my briefing. Eventua was Yonya’s daughter. Right.
The faerie smiled and my blood ran cold. “Funny you should ask!”
From the horizon came rushing a flurry of feathers and silk, claws and teeth. The creature was about ten feet tall, and vaguely humanoid, but her limbs seemed to grow into and out of her body every few seconds, and feathers would grow out, fall, and vanish into the air before they hit the ground. An opaque gray smoke swirled around her like cream in coffee. She would be upon us in seconds.
Gretchen turned to us, eyes wide. “That’s a greater fae! We have to go, Now!”
Bracey lowed a wing. “Get on.” I had to hand it to this owl—she was cool under pressure.
We scrambled aboard, Bracey lifted off, and started flying back toward the weir. Fortunately, that didn’t mean flying toward Eventua. Unfortunately, it didn’t mean flying directly away from her, either. We flew kind of perpendicular, and she changed direction to cut us off. “She’s after us!” I gripped Bracey’s feathers tighter as she picked up speed.
Bracey pumped her wings hard, but Eventua was gaining, and starting to make sounds, like she was a whole lot of fae in one. We could hear voices singing, and voices screaming in harmony, and others just screaming in terror … or pain… or something.
She was almost on top of us when a transparent, faded, crow appeared in the sky. She spotted it, wheeled around, and attacked – her whole body engulfing the spirit. When she unfolded, it was gone, devoured. That slowed her down enough for us to close the distance to the Tremulous weir.
We might just make it.
But the weir was too small for Bracey to fly through with her wings spread. She slowed, landed, and ran the last few steps.
I glanced back. Eventua was right behind us, a long-fingered claw emerging from the blackness of her body less than a couple feet away, the screaming hammering our ears. We held on tight as Bracey ran for her life.