I woke from a haunted dream. Dichall and I were in the Insterstitium again, and the weir we’d used to get there turned out to be one-way. We were stuck there – scared, and hounded by faeries. We’d found a hiding spot only to be discovered. The faerie opened its fanged jaws and was about to bite when fear startled me awake.
I gasped for air in the darkness, reached over, and put my paw on Dichall’s fur. There was no sound but for his breathing, and the occasional muffled footsteps of human beings starting their morning. He was sound asleep.
I closed my eyes again, but found I didn’t want to return to sleep, afraid of continuing the dream. I yawned, got up, and quietly left the room. The halls were mostly empty. The mice were either turning in for the day or out on missions.
Wandering the halls to clear my mind, I ran into Emilie headed somewhere with a paper cup filled with hot coffee.
“Hi, Eve!” Emilie smiled and her red eyes lit up. “How’s Dichall’s health?”
“Much better, thank you. I think he’ll be mission-ready soon.”
“Did he get to see a duck?”
I shook my head. “Gretchen tried, but they’re too busy.”
“If he’s healing on his own, it’s just as well. My uncle was healed by a duck, once. His leg smelled dead for the rest of his life.”
“Anyway,” Emilie lifted the cup for me to see, “I’m delivering this to Gregory Bookkeeper. He likes coffee at this hour, if we can get it.”
“Where did you get a cup so small?”
“The humans use them for pills. Beth Brickwall gets a bunch of them for us from the hospital every so often.”
“I was thinking of going to go talk with Gregory. I can bring that for you.”
“That would be great!” She carefully transferred the cup of hot liquid into my paws. “I have a lot to do this morning. Thank you!” She scampered off.
Careful not to spill, I slowly walked to Gregory Bookkeeper’s office. The room was unlit, but a crack in the wall let in a bit of light from the human room on the other side. He was curled up, sleeping in some ripped newspaper scraps. I put the paper cup on his desk and cleared my throat.
“Hah? What?” His eyes fluttered open.
“Good morning. Just here with your coffee.”
The old mouse stretched and ambled over to the desk, where he took a few sips before speaking again. “Want to try some?”
It smelled nasty, but why not? I regretted the sip instantly.
Gregory rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “My shift is starting. Why are you up?”
“Couldn’t sleep. Dreaming about faeries.”
“Hmm. Yes. Occupational hazard.”
“It got me thinking. Why were the faeries trying to drain Nathan? What do they get out of it?”
Gregory nodded. “That’s a good question. The better you understand their motives, the better you can predict what they’re going to do. Faeries and fae care about beauty, almost more than anything else.”
I blinked. “But… They’re so ugly, some of them.”
“To you! Their idea of beauty is often a twisted version of what mice think are beautiful, or what humans think is beautiful, but it’s basically an aesthetic motive. That’s why they target artists like that kid you saved.” Gregory waved his paw around, as though he could pull Nathan’s name out of the air.
“Gretchen said that they were draining spark.”
“You can think of spark as artistic talent, skill. The competency of making beautiful things. Most faeries can drain it out of people, and give it to someone else. They do that to consolidate skill.”
“But they stay in the Interstitium. What do they care about art made in the Mundane World?” It was cold in here. I wanted to put my paws on the cup to warm them up.
Gregory took another sip of coffee before answering. “You might have noticed that the Interstitium is a reflection of the Mundane World. Anything that doesn’t move. So when a work of art is made in the Mundane World, a version of it shows up in the Interstitium. The Fae enjoy them.”
“But Nathan made music. A music performance won’t have a manifestation in the Interstitium, so what did they want with Nathan?” I tugged my cloak closer for warmth.
“They were transferring his spark to a sculptor, right?” He stood straighter, forgetting his coffee and going into teacher mode.
“That’s what we heard.” I held my hands over the coffee, but it was cooling quickly.
He stroked his chin. “Right. The spark of children is more fluid. You can take music spark from a child and use it for skill in another domain, like sculpture. The fae don’t give a hoot about music, or dance, or any of the other ephemeral things that fail to appear in the Interstitium. So they try to steal talent from musicians and dancers, and transfer them to painters, sculptors, architects… People who make physical things that don’t move. Once an artist is an adult, their spark is… congealed and is only good for the kind of art the adult can do.”
“So that’s why they target children. Nathan was a musician, an artform useless to fae, so they took his… spark?”
“And gave it to the sculptor.” I traced an imaginary link from Nathan to the sculptor on Gregory’s desk with one digit.
Gregory cleared his throat and spread his hands. “To the best of our knowledge, that’s how it works.”
“Do you still have Grassblade back there?” I gestured to the stacks of papers and objects with my snout.
Gregory snorted. “Wouldn’t you like to know!”
I laughed. “Point taken.”
“Anything else I can do for you?”
That was my cue to skidaddle. “I’m going to go check on Dichall. Thanks, Gregory.”
“Thank you for the coffee!” Gregory looked into his cup. “I’m starting to think this stuff might be addictive…”
I returned to our room to find Evelyn Farseer exiting it. My cheeks got hot. What was she doing alone in the room with my man? Our eyes met, and I thought I saw a flash of alarm in hers before she regained her composure.
“Evelyn.” My voice was cold. “What are you doing here?”