Hospitals, I learned, had so many faeries and so many dedicated Councilmice it was like a whole other social structure, with its own idiosyncratic culture. Technically, Beatrice Brownbrow was the ultimate leader in Ottawa, but in practice, the hospital Councilmice were pretty autonomous. Here, Beth Brickwall was in charge. Around the city, we usually killed faeries on sight. In the hospital they sometimes worked together. It was so weird.
We found Beth, an old house mouse with patchy brown fur and a missing ear, and asked her about Musk Muskmusk.
“He’s been living in the ER.” Beth led us to him, through the confusing labyrinth of passages in the walls.
Musk was lurking by the door, waiting for the next person in pain to arrive. He recognized us and backed up until his antlers hit the wall. “What do you want?! I’ve been good!”
I fingered Grassblade’s hilt conspicuously. “You told us a fae was trying to transfer spark to a sculptor.”
“Yes. Keep it down, for darkness’ sake!”
I lowered my voice. “We caught a faerie childhunter trying to bring a child through an ingress weir.”
Musk nodded his antlered head, which must have required some effort. “That’s what they do.”
“Name was Imbingy.” Dichall’s voice was smooth and casual. “Is this part of your fae’s plan?”
“I have no idea. They don’t tell peons like me anything.”
I took a step closer, searching his fox-like eyes, but Musk was unreadable. Or telling the truth.
“What!” He looked straight back at me, body shaking. “I’ve been keeping my antlers clean! Really! You know how hard it is to avoid faeries around here? I’m trying to not get noticed by… by the fae, but it’s not easy!”
Gretchen sighed. “What a waste of time. He doesn’t know anything. Let’s go.”
We used the remaining crumbs to get a bird back to headquarters and tried to sneak back in, but Beatrice spotted us. “There you are! Just the mice I was looking for. I’ve been thinking the situation over. We’re going to need to find out who the responsible fae is, somehow. I hate to say this, but I’m going to have to send you to investigate in the Interstitium.”
I tried to keep my whiskers from trembling. “You want us to go up against a greater fae?”
“No, this a reconnaissance mission. Information-gathering only. Emilie will help you prep. You’ll spend some time here preparing and resting. Your mission starts in two days.”
Quincy Bent-tail was the Councilmouse in charge of maintaining the Council’s stockpile of magical tools. Beatrice took us to his office, said “give them everything they need,” and walked out.
Quincy gave a sharp nod of his head and snapped his fingers. “Where are you going?”
Gretchen leaned over the counter to try to see what goodies lay behind. “The Interstitium.”
Quincy blinked and stood motionless for a moment. “Oh.” He left us at the front desk and went to the storeroom. A minute later he came back with a couple of flyknockers.
Dichall stuffed one in his satchel. “We could really use some enchanted pine nuts.” I’d never had a pine nut, but I’d heard they were delicious.
“Of course.” Quincy brought out three. They smelled glorious. He also gave Gretchen an acorn trap, which she put in her pack. “Good luck.” He looked us each in the eye, then turned away. He probably thought it was for the last time.
Beatrice saw us off. “Best of luck. We’re sending you in through the Tremulous Weir. Try not to be seen, and find out what you can. Talk to a faerie. Oh, and the Oversight Parliament just got in touch—Bracey the Talonted will be coming with you. Wonderful news, eh?” Her face lit up with a broad smile.
I tried to return the smile, but the thought of working with an owl was pretty daunting.
Our pigeon, Benny Falafel, flew us to a copse of trees along the frozen Ottawa river and promised to wait for us until we came back.
A mouse darted out of a hole a moment later, whiskers twitching. “Hi. Hi. Hi,” he shook each of our paws, in turn, “I’m Louis Lifeinpink. Beautiful day, looks like, isn’t it?” He smiled, showing his impressive incisors to the cold, blue sky.
“So you’re to go in, are you?”
I eyed the sky for a silhouette of wings. “We’re waiting for an owl.”
Louis Lifeinpink pointed to the north. “Here she comes, looks like.”
Bracey the Talonted flew toward us, a hawk flanking her for the last bit. They both landed near us, and it took everything in me to keep from running and hiding. A hawk? Mon Dieu!
Louis was armed with what appeared to be a steel dentist’s pick, which he used as a walking staff. He approached the hawk and patted her gigantic talon affectionately.
“Hi! Nice to meet you!” the red-tailed hawk’s voice was quite gentle. “I’m Eileen Sharpeyes. I assume you already know Bracey the Talonted?”
“We’ve been introduced, yes.” I counted myself lucky that I’d never been this close to a hawk before. She was a full mouse-length taller than the already terrifying owl next to her. What a monster. Good thing both of them were on our side. Still, I adjusted my cloak so my red bead was clearly visible.
Louis patted the hawk’s talon again. “I’m on ground duty, but Eileen here guards the Tremulous weir from the air. If anybody gets too close, she can usually frighten them off.”
“Just yesterday I had to warn off a raccoon. Almost scared the poor thing to death!” Eileen screeched with laughter.
Yeah, ha ha ha.
Bracey turned her head to Louis, her expression serious. “Let’s get going.”
“Right to business, eh?” Louis nodded. “Okay, it’s right over here.”
Louis walked us down closer to the riverbank. The wind picked up, slicing at us with icy knives and I shivered. “Come see it from this angle.” He pointed at something with his dental pick.
The Tremulous weir was a little smaller than Bracey was tall, not big enough for most humans, thank goodness. Through it, I could see the snow of the Interstitium, looking a little brighter and possibly a bit more pure.
Louis traced a circle in the air with his pick. “Here is the border of it. We don’t see too many faeries coming through here, so you should be as safe as you can be – for a while.”
Bracey hopped closer to the weir. “Ready to go?”
I looked around at the frozen landscape, hoping this would not be the last time I saw the Mundane World.
Gretchen hopped through the weir. “We’re ready.”