Chronicles of the Night: Chasing Shadows

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The Peach House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 7:30am

Aimee woke again at a reasonable hour and immediately felt as though she hadn’t slept at all, her lungs starved for air as she coughed. The loud, insistent pounding on her bedroom door was not helping in the slightest.

She pulled the blanket closer. A bead of sweat trickled down her forehead, to her horror. Outside, her mum was bustling around. Inside, her track gear littered the floor, but other than that her room was tidy and warm… Too warm.

“Aimee! You up yet?”

Aimee gave a loud groan that indicated she wasn’t alive, let alone awake.

The door burst open, and Yasemįn Grace appeared with the phone against her ear. “Oh Jesus – hold on a sec, John – Aimee, your dad’s on the phone. Up, quick, and get downstairs – she’s awake, and she’s caught the plague by the looks of it – and go take your temperature – I know, even my parents said she was a mess last week – and put on more toast when you’re in the kitchen – no, not you…”

Aimee fell out of bed and staggered onto her feet. Her parents had been separated officially since she was four, and a good thing too, since combined they were the biggest gossips on the planet – they’d managed to find out about her tattoo even though her dad was working in England. God only knew who they were talking about now (hopefully not their daughter).

She kicked her stuff out of the way and rushed downstairs, swiping the phone from her mum along the way. She chattered as she went, in through the kitchen to the toaster, all about what she was doing in school and how her friends were. He said he missed her, but she knew he’d been glad to leave the country on principle – the divorce had taken four years to get started after they’d filed for it and it dragged on forever just to swindle money from both her parents’ pockets. There were no disagreements over custody, but since single fathers had no rights in Ireland he’d taken the opportunity to leave when it came his way.

“Your eyes are completely bloodshot!” her mum exclaimed the moment she hung up. She’d materialised to check her hair in the kitchen mirror.

Aimee waved the thermometer like a magic wand, still rummaging around the cupboard for some medicine. “I’m hot. (And so are you, Mumsie.)”

“Good genes, of course…” muttered Yasemįn, glancing at it on her tiptoes over Aimee’s shoulder. She heaved a massive sigh. “I wish you’d get sick on schedule! Are you sure you’re not still shaking off the hangover?”

“Mm, kinda. I still have the sore chest from yesterday, but now I have a wicked headache and my belly’s gone wobbly.”

“I’m only thankful you came all the way back here after that party in Wexford – your grandparents would’ve killed you if you dropped in on them in this state. We’ll have to do something about this before you catch your death.”

“As if I’m able to run to catch it. D’you want some help?” asked Aimee. Her mother was at the mirror, this time with make-up.

“Not from your clammy hands, hun.”

“Hey! These hands are still young and quick, even if I am dying. Move over, the beautician magician needs her space.”

As Aimee went through the motions of switching from brush to brush with her kaleidoscope of colours (yes, her mum had stolen her eye shadow again), she tried it very cutely: “So, can I stay home?”

Yasemįn rolled her eyes and checked her watch. Her schedule was tight, and it took her an hour to get to work in Cork. “Hopefully it’s just looks and you’ll be up and running by this evening.”

Aimee took an aggressive bite of toast.

“Don’t look at me like that, my girl. I’ll be away at work until Wednesday night, there’s not a crumb left in the fridge, and if you get worse there’s not a soul to take care of you. I told Clara you’d be on the bus this afternoon with Conn and Cairid. They’re a lovely pair, so I doubt they’ll care if you’re contagious. You’ll have the nurse to look after you in school, won’t you?”

“I’ll tell her how horrible you are.”

“You’ll do no such thing! Here I was thinking your year was organising that charity event as well, and you can’t miss out on all that this week – Aimee, pick your head off that table. I’ve no time for the dramatics. You can take the ten o’clock bus to school, if you like.”

A spark of hope smouldered deep within the ashes of her soul amid urges to be angry at all living things. That was the sickness meddling with the hormones; never a good sign.

“BUT – ” she snapped, before Aimee could celebrate, “there’s that new shop in town, and I want you to take this fiver, pop in and buy something small. Nope – no moaning. Shut your mouth before the birds start nesting in it.” She stood and gathered the plates off the table, leaving them at the sink. Then she said what she always said in the face of her sick child. “I’m going to have a talk with our lovely doctor outside if I can catch him. Saving us millions, he is.”

“Mummy’s hero!” sang Aimee, banging her knee off the table by accident on the way out. She rubbed it sorely and raged, giving a muted howl as she stomped away.

Whatever, she thought. If this was what she had to do to get her mother off her case, she would do it. Conn lived across the road so it wouldn’t take long to go and get him, but she had no plans on visiting in her pyjama shorts; not in this weather, anyway. Back to the bedroom she went.

CLASSIFIED, Waterford City, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 7:40am

Meanwhile, there was a large, grey storage warehouse. It was not the only warehouse in the city, and it certainly wasn’t the only one used for storage. But it was the only warehouse in the city – and the country, for that matter – that held illegal weaponry kept for the purpose of hunting down supernatural creatures, should the circumstance arise. This was one of the few Magic Hunter Weaponry Department holdings in Ireland.

In countries like America, Magic Hunters circulated their goods and bought them freely from normal human manufacturers but in Ireland, where civilians were forbidden to carry firearms, they had to be more careful and that meant more security. Still, few Magic Hunters operated in Ireland. Ireland was a quiet place in terms of supernatural activity (not in many other respects, mind you), and had been for some time.

That was to end, now that the fairies were back in town.

Maeve and Della were on stakeout, their red car parked down the street at a safe distance from their destination. They were human on first glance, but their eyes were feline, their pupils pointed slits, and if it had been night time their eyes would have glowed and they would have even better vision than they did at the moment. They differed physically from humans in that respect, along with varying degrees of enhanced strength, stamina and speed. The magic was another addition, and would be of great use in the raid they meant to stage here today.

The warehouse stood beside a car dealer’s. The larger of the two, the warehouse’s walls had faded to a grey that matched the cloudy sky. Security was not overbearing, especially considering what they were storing. Maeve did not believe they were concealing any surprises, and though whoever worked for them within the building may have been trained, all odds pointed to them having little to no experience in a real fight. This was Ireland, after all. What could the Magic Hunters possibly have to worry about here in this age?

They would find out soon enough, and what a surprise it would be for them.

Maeve stopped playing with her binoculars and dropped them onto the dashboard. In five minutes she had all the information they’d need. Security cameras were plentiful, but she could take care of those. She and Della would break into the building through the smaller entrance, a door that was barred by a locked wire fence, at the end opposite to where they were parked.

As for humans, several were moving cargo in the loading bay at the back of the building and would not be a problem as long as they stayed where they were. One guard patrolled the front area, the area they would have to cross in order to reach the door. He was unarmed, and would have to be taken out of play silently, cleanly. Maeve didn’t want total panic on her hands. Not yet.

“I smell bloodshed for breakfast,” she sang, though her stomach would have preferred a warm muffin.

“Smell in tune, blondie,” her companion retorted. The black-haired woman licked her glossy lips and examined her handgun. She was Della, older than Maeve, and younger than Lorcan. She had the habit of showing up every now and again and had been with them this time for ten years. She enjoyed these rare activities; the ones that involved breaking, entering and violence. The information Maeve had stolen three years ago told them where the department kept the goods, though they knew little of why the Hunters were stationed here, of all places.

The raid in itself was not top priority. Distraction was the name of the game, she’d promised Lorcan. Although, when she’d said distraction he had something different in mind – perhaps a subtle bank robbery that would keep police busy for a couple of days, leaving them to get away scot free with a kidnapping. This, on the other hand, was more of a cry for attention. In other words, the exact opposite of what Lorcan thought she was going to do. He would be angry when he found out about this and he wouldn’t have a clue why she’d done it, but Maeve knew there was a greater fight coming, and for that they would need greater weapons.

So went the plan as versed by Maeve: Lorcan would find the changeling while they attracted the attention of the Magic Hunters. Simple! Maeve thought happily to herself.

“Simple?” Della repeated as she popped a skin whitening pill into her mouth. She was tall and thin, her wire-straight waterfall of black hair streamed down to her waist, and she had rare blue eyes that stood out in any crowd, regardless of the cattish pupils. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. You haven’t done anything like this in a while.”

I know, but it’s like riding a unicycle – you need to be a bit crazy, but you also need skill. And I have plenty of both. And I also know how to ride a unicycle.

Maeve kicked the car door open, leaping into the world and onto the footpath. A cool breeze tousled her golden pixie cut as she surveyed the quiet scene. She grinned. “Are you ready?”

Della shook her head. Eyeliner first.

Maeve sighed, scuttling to the other side of the car. “Come on, Della.” She opened the driver’s door and dragged her companion down the street. For this part there was no gate to break through, no obstacle to climb, but Maeve liked the element of surprise, and Della taking her time was not helping. “I don’t think they’ll care what brand of make-up you wear.” They’ll be a lot more focussed on putting a bullet through your head.

“I heard that,” Della warned, stilettos clacking against the pavement as she strolled by Maeve, determined to lead the way.

A black drawstring bag hung over her shoulder. It was empty, but if everything went as they had planned, it would not stay empty for long.

*

The security guard patrolled the length of the building, and had expected his rounds to be as uneventful as ever. That Monday he and his colleagues were tackling an unexpected dilemma.

“What do you mean, ‘the cameras are down’?” he demanded, unimpressed with ensuing crackles of static. “I’ll take a look, but call someone else – someone who knows how to fix it.”

The walkie talkie went quiet and he clipped it to his side. It looked like the people inside the building were concerned. He wasn’t worried, though. The only action he had ever gotten in this job was telling some nosy kids to clear off of the property, or sending the odd degenerate packing to the Garda station. People these days. No one can resist the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign. Worried? Hah! Not me.

He heard a sound from the corner of the warehouse. He tensed, then shook off the foreboding; it was probably those kids messing around again. Once he shook his fist and told them to clear off they’d get the message.

It’s only kids. It’s fine. Nothing to worry about.

At this reassuring thought, he looked around the corner and was promptly knocked unconscious by Maeve’s fist as it collided with his jaw in a wicked side swipe.

“A fragile snowflake!” she cooed, staring down at the motionless human.

Della raised a thin eyebrow. “Snowflake? Are you serious?”

“They sparkle.”

“Shut up, you’ll make me sick.”

“How long will he sleep for?” Maeve asked, carefully guarding her concern as she bent discreetly to check the man’s pulse and prod a few muscles. His pulse was normal and healthy, and his muscles responded to the stimulus, but when it came to matters of the mind Maeve could not be sure so quickly. Her side swipe had startled the man, allowing easier access for Della’s attack of another nature.

Della was telepathic, a mind reader. Through mental manipulation she could shut the human brain down, supplying her target with a one-way taxi down Coma Street. Other times she left the humans as gibbering invalids for the rest of their nightmare-plagued existence. Knocking out an organised mind was a piece of cake for her, a startled mind more so. She was far more powerful than Maeve and Lorcan, unfortunately.

“Meh.” Della shrugged. “He’ll wake up in a few hours. He’s hardly worth the trouble, right?” She went to her knees and began rifling through the Magic Hunter’s pockets in search of his wallet. This was the first Magic Hunter guard they had taken out of play, and there had to be two more inside at minimum. For their first raid in many decades, things were going smoothly. Then again, there was Della to think of. Maeve would have to pay close attention to each move the other fairy made. She couldn’t be trusted here.

“There’s no overkill like kill, as they say.”

“I’m pretty sure you got that wrong, Maeve.”

“My point is that these humans are not prepared for what we’re about to throw about them, and even if they do fight back, no one needs to be badly hurt at the end.”

Della rolled her eyes, slipping the money she had stolen into her back pocket. “Go preach to someone who cares.” She sighed when Maeve frowned. “Fine, OK? I won’t kill any of your precious humans.”

“Thank you,” Maeve muttered, her focus already lost. She threw a quick, analytic glance to the road. The only risk taken here was to be spotted by the innocent bystanders caught in the morning traffic jam. Maeve hated innocent bystanders. Spoilsports, the lot of them.

Della knelt on the ground beside the body again, closing the distance between minds. Her black leather jacket and mini-skirt indicated she wasn’t planning on doing much fighting, Maeve noted with an endearing shake of her head.

Opening pathways in the human’s memory, Della tossed a stray lock of long, ebony hair over her shoulder and said, “He says there are security cameras all along the roof, so what do you want to do about that? We’re too close to get caught on camera, but we all know you love to cause a scene.”

Maeve tapped her chin with her index finger thoughtfully. The warehouse was fifty feet long, roughly thirty feet in width and they had ample time to mix things up a little. “I’ll explode them!” she announced firmly.

“This is exactly why I think you’re an attention seeker.”

Maeve huffed, puffed and pouted, planting her hands on her hips. “I am not an attention seeker. It’s not my fault everyone wants to look at me.”

Della tilted her head to the side, clearly not of the same opinion. “In other words, you’re going to cause a scene. Do you want to know how many security cameras there are, dear?”

Maeve shook her head. The stakeout had not been thorough, and she had spent more time playing with the binoculars than she had observing the area with them. She wanted some form of a challenge, even if this was an excuse to show off. “You know I love a surprise.”

“And you know you’re a waste of my resources.”

Maeve turned her back on Della, her head tilting towards the roof – twenty metres or so up into the sky. She could make out the shape of a CCTV camera jutting into the open air. Her feet were light against the concrete, and she lost her strut as she dipped into a low stance, energy building up inside her, rising through her torso. Her arms began to tingle.

“Let there be light!”

The Blue House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 7:45am

Across the street from Aimee’s house, Conn Donnelly had a bigger problem to deal with, and frowned severely as he climbed the staircase. The sixteen year old was already dressed in school uniform, but certain individuals were having trouble with the ‘harsh’ demands of the morning, as per usual.

The house was small, so small that the smell of freshly-baked bread travelled through the corridor and lingered upstairs, fighting a lost battle against the sweet whiff of laundry detergent. Conn stepped over the basket of clothes left for him to iron later and pushed it against the wall, out of the way.

The three bedrooms were to the right of the landing, his own room the furthest from it. He stopped at the closest door and rapped it with his knuckles, earning not a word in reply. Conn frowned. It would serve her right to sleep-in and wake up with the school day half through – that would teach her to keep her eyes open.

He had seen her stomping to the bathroom to brush her teeth around the time their mother left for work, but all activity ceased after Mrs Donnelly left the house.

Car-id! I’m coming in,” he warned, pushing the door open.

The dark cavern donned a chaotic cloak of posters, magazine clippings and pencilled sketches. His sister’s bed was underneath an old movie poster she’d liberated from the cinema. The only light in the room came from the hallway, and as for the monster of the lair, she herself lay on the bed. She was half-dressed for school but had given up on life at the midway point, still in her purple pyjama bottoms.

Cairid hissed and pulled the blanket over her head, causing her long, tangled ponytail to smack against the headboard as she demanded the time. She sounded so far away. If only it was true.

“Quarter to.” Her older brother folded his arms and leant against the light blue wall, straightening again as frayed pictures made the crackle of tearing paper against his back. “You and Lauren broke up, then?”

That got her moving. She sat up, rubbing groggily at her eyes. “Well… we’re still together, just not like that. I only see her on the weekends, anyway. How did you find out?”

“You told Aimee. She texted me – before she died, presumably.”

“Oh, I thought she’d be too hungover to remember a word out of my mouth.” She shrugged, yawned and looked at her bunched-up blanket as he sat beside her on the bed. “Ah well. Being girlfriends was fun while it lasted. Made hanging out more exciting than usual, you know?”

“Aw, a whole month of holding hands?”

“Actually, we kissed.” His sister jerked the blanket from her head and opened one lime-green eye to glare. “More than once!”

“Well, colour me amazed.”

The glaring went on, until finally she cracked, grinned and spoke. Cairid’s accent was strong and different to Conn and their mother’s, more like their father’s family, and it was put to good use, going hand-in-hand with her way with words. She was the type of child who said things in such a way so as most of the time no one knew whether to take her seriously or not. Other times, they suspected she was insulting them. Their suspicions were more than often correct. To her credit, she had charm enough to make up for it. Not this morning, though.

“So what if I’m a baby? Like you can talk, you loser. Anyway, how come you’re waltzing in here, expecting me to be all nice to you? I bet you haven’t even gotten me a birthday present yet.”

“Your birthday is more than a month away, Cairid –”

“That’s no excuse! How many times have I told you how much I love silly monkey hats? And socks with kittens on them? But do I ever see any suspicious packets lying around when I search your room? No. Either you hate me or you’re evil.”

The ‘evil’ part was debatable. In many ways Conn was entirely unlike his sister. Physically he was tall and lanky with the long and tapered fingers of a pianist, and he had a refined, intelligent look about him that made most think he’d be the sort to study something useless like Classics or Philosophy after school. They weren’t wrong. Furthermore, he had a delicate look where his sister was of a kind more suited to breaking delicate things on accident. Sensitivity was another thing to set them apart, in that Cairid lacked the barest smidgeon of it. Then again, just because he wasn’t as bad as her didn’t mean he didn’t have a few tricks up his sleeve. (He’d ordered the silly monkey hat to be delivered next door, just to be on the safe side.)

“Aren’t you so funny?” he cooed, then dropped the act and hit her with her pillow. “There’s a bottle of Doctor Pepper in the fridge. It’s probably Mum’s peace offering, since you’ve been at each other’s throats for what I think feels like forever – I can’t believe you got so pissed off yesterday, though. She was only joking when she said you were adopted.”

Cairid’s scowl loosened at the hinges as she thought. He saw the memory of the fight last night cross her mind, and she promptly dismissed it to ask in words dripping with honey, “Is it the hat or the socks?”

Conn locked his lips. What a pest she was, dropping hints every chance she got for the past month. Shameless, he knew. So was this:

“Fine! I didn’t get you a present either!” she snarled, though his birthday wasn’t until autumn. She leapt onto her feet, towering above him on her bed. “’Scuse me, but I’m trying to get dressed! Get out, Conn! OUT!”

“You’re an impossible brat,” Conn sighed, breezing from the room.

“You’re impossibler, jerkface!” She leapt to the floor and slammed the door, making her brother jump. Both were entirely unaware of the changes the day would bring to their home.

CLASSIFIED, Waterford City, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 7:45am

The fairy sparkles were golden-white in colour, twinkling in the few patches of sunlight that broke the heavy cloud blanket above. They drifted up through the air like dust, like the morning dew and the night stars combined. They were hypnotic in their brilliance, begging watchers to reach out and touch them...

When they collided with the camera on the roof there was a terrible grinding noise and an electrical shriek as the camera’s circuits overloaded. Maeve ran underneath it, dodging a stray sparkle. She threw her golden, glowing hands into the air.

Sparks rose from her skin, caught on the updraft, finding the next camera metres above her. They passed through the casing, attacking the computer chip within. Soon those sparkles were everywhere, floating on the breeze before they petered out of existence. They electrocuted everything in their path, and each camera they hit on the roof was swiftly fried, and some began to smoke.

As she dispersed the sparkles tumbling from her hands, Maeve front-flipped into the air, pirouetted upon landing, made one of the remaining cameras all but explode and – just for kicks – she took one of two throwing knives from her belt and sent it zooming up with a pop of her elbow, straight for the last target.

The knife’s handle hit the security camera so hard it made a dent, and the camera went off course. The fairy woman gingerly moved to pluck her knife from the air before it hit the ground. Knife in hand, Maeve aimed the sparkles at the camera for the finishing touch, throwing up a handful to seal the deal. The camera fizzled out of life in a golden glow.

On the ground, Maeve smiled and dusted off her hands as the deadly sparks stopped flowing from her fingertips. The whole affair had taken her ten seconds to pull off.

She hopped over to the gate at the edge of the warehouse and spared a glance towards Della, who had followed her along the length of the building at a slower pace while looking bored and unimpressed, but Della was rarely impressed.

“HIYA!” Maeve shouted, forcing the gate open with a ferocious kick.

We could’ve just walked over to the gate from there. Della pointed to the pathway from the road, only a few steps away.

I wanted my chance to sparkle.

Della looked at her blankly, even less impressed now.

Maeve grinned, holding up a tiny index finger. Wait for it, wait.

Alarms began to scream from inside the building.

“Quite a show, Blondie.”

Go raibh maith agat!” Maeve swung her hips as she waltzed on through the broken gate, trying not to let the alarms deafen her. Hearing was crucial. She could take over the building blind-folded, but not without her ears.

Della gave the code to an old keypad at the door, nodding shortly to Maeve.

On cue Maeve kicked the door open and with no further ado plunged forwards into the giant building, bounding over the floor under the blinding fluorescent lights.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a shenanigan!” the fairy yelled, her voice bouncing against the walls. Metal racks lined the walls and were arranged into aisles. There were ten rows of them, several metres short of reaching the ceiling. Pallets sat upon the racks and on the pallets were boxes and crates of all numbers, sizes and description. Above the aisles were rafters, walkways that disappeared from their limited view on the floor. The place was gigantic, and there wasn’t a living soul in sight. Maeve felt like an ant in a supermarket.

A human rushed up the aisle on their left. Maeve grabbed Della’s arm as she raised her gun to shoot.

She smiled. “Hi.”

Frozen at gunpoint, the unarmed human stammered the obvious. “Y-you aren’t supposed to be here.”

Maeve smiled through her teeth, her fingers closing tighter around Della’s arm, preventing her from getting a decent aim. “We’re not supposed to be breathing, sir. I’d hate to have you dead, but this fine lady –” She patted Della’s shoulder with her free hand, her other grappling with Della’s, “ – doesn’t share the sentiment.”

Before any further negotiations could be broached the sirens ended abruptly. This caught their interest and Della forgot about the gun in her hand.

That means they’ve called the hardcore Magic Hunters, Maeve purred to the telepath.

Blasphemy! Why do you call the slime ‘hardcore’?

Take a look at them the next time we meet; they do have some style.

Before the telepathic conversation could continue a bullet hit the floor beside them, shot from the rafters above.

Maeve seized the opportunity. She dived onto Della and the panicked human, knocking them to the floor, into the temporary cover of the centre aisle of boxes and crates. Above them, the trigger-happy Weaponry Department lackeys continued firing at the ground below. They had no visible targets to shoot, but one of them would get lucky eventually.

Before they had a screaming mess on their hands, Maeve cupped her hand to the back of the human’s head and slammed his forehead into the ground with the exact amount of force needed to knock him out with minimal brain damage (another skill that had taken centuries to perfect). The fairy hoisted the human’s motionless body into an empty slot on the shelves, protecting his body from any accidental shots his comrades made.

Afterwards Maeve raised her arms and pulled herself further up, onto the third shelf. Della, she said, find the control room, find out where they’ve hidden the weaponry, and also the light switch if you have time.

I’m on it. Della clacked away on her stilettos, black bag swinging over her shoulder. Maeve would have to be quick. Della could not be trusted, disappointingly.

*

“This was not in the job description,” the Magic Hunter upstairs muttered. She worked for the Weaponry Department – and her job was not to fire the weapons, it was to make sure those guns didn’t go anywhere they shouldn’t. But the fey? The fey were here? She took a second to pray she would leave the building alive.

How are they here? she wondered, keeping an eye on the warehouse below. Nothing in this country was deemed as critically important to the modern community. The weapons here were on reserve in case something ever happened in Lismore –

A noise.

She took a shot, down over the rafters.

Silence.

Did I hit something?

Maeve back-flipped over the railing, right up off the crates below. She flew through the air and kicked the toes of her shoes into the human’s chest, landed on top of her as she fell, and jabbed her thumb into the carotid artery at the base of her neck. The woman’s eyes rolled back in her head as she went to sleep. Maeve’s lips settled into a grim line. The Magic Hunter would be extremely sore upon awakening.

She ducked low onto the walkway, hitting the grids as a volley of bullets hissed over her head. Through the gunfire she heard the Magic Hunter amateurs running at her from different directions, all from different points on the walkways. There were three of them in total.

One, on the rafter parallel to hers, above the next aisle. He was exactly across from her but could not get a decent shot with her crouched so close to the body of his fallen colleague. Two, towards the other end of the warehouse where the walkways met in a crossroad. The woman ran along the point where they crossed, closing in on Maeve’s position. Another, three, was at the end of the warehouse and making his way towards the fight, but was not close enough to be of concern yet.

Maeve looked down. Through the grids she could see how far away the ground below was. If she was to fall, the drop would surely kill her. She would simply have to not fall, then.

Daring, she jumped up and yelled over the railing, “I hope you know what you’re doing!” only to be shot at again. She ducked, then stood and planted her hands on her hips with a pout.

“That was rude!”

She winked and waved at the guy across from her, who was too stunned by this display of bravado to continue firing. Position, angle, velocity; calculation. Maeve took her knife and hurled it at her attacker with a graceful flick of her wrist. It found its mark, and sliced up along the knuckle of the man’s trigger finger, making him yell out in pain and shock. The knife’s momentum sent it crashing past the man’s arm, into the railing and it fell onto the grid from there.

Taking advantage of his distraction, Maeve jumped up onto the railing and kicked herself out into thin air, propelling herself over the abyss between them.

First she rose through the empty space, soaring above the space between the walkways. Then her momentum slowed, and her heart quickened in a moment of fear-fuelled exhilaration as there was still nothing beneath her feet. She began to fall. Maeve did not look down, and did not falter. She kept her eyes on the bleeding human and the walkway he stood on.

At the last second, she threw her hands up, grabbing for the walkway. Gravity had not killed her yet; her fingers found purchase, and she scrabbled for a better grip, though her arms felt as though they’d been wrenched from their sockets. Finding that grip, she exhaled a calming breath and swung her body to build up the force needed to back flip over the railing. She pulled herself up and over in one fluid motion, landing safely on her feet.

The Magic Hunter stared in sheer disbelief, clutching his bleeding hand to his chest. He snapped out of it and raised his gun.

Maeve ducked onto her haunches as the bleeding Magic Hunter tried to club her with his rifle. She sliced her legs underneath his, sending him toppling onto the grid floor. Before he could wrestle with her for the rifle, she stole his shoelaces and tied his arms tightly to the railing.

Two down, two to go.

Maeve rolled away from him and retrieved her knife from where it had landed on the cold, metal floor, inches from where their short fight had taken place. Twelve inches long, with a nice weight and a beauteous and balanced black handle to top off a perfectly sharpened, partially serrated blade. There was no way she was losing this baby.

“There’s blood on my jumper!” she moaned and lapsed back into a battle mindset as she did so.

She sprinted the length of the rafter until she came to the crossroad between four of them. Magic Hunter number three was still at the end of the warehouse, firing furiously, but neglected in taking the time to aim. Maeve launched down the walkway, barrelling towards her in rapid zig-zags. The fairy was unscathed by the time she reached the Magic Hunter, pressing her back against the railing as the woman shot a bullet that could’ve ripped the fairy’s multi-coloured jumper.

Close now, Maeve made a ridge of her hand and struck the woman’s kidneys. This caused a chain reaction that started with the liver moving momentarily out of position and ended with the brain thinking it wasn’t getting enough oxygen, which had the result of the woman’s legs shutting down, collapsing underneath her. Maeve tied her arms to the railing with another pair of stolen shoelaces, the woman’s jaw hanging open in shock all the while.

Maeve tilted her head, listening intently for the sounds behind her. It came as no surprise when from not-too-far-away she heard:

“Don’t move.”

The human, Magic Hunter number four, was edging towards her. He was still a couple of feet further up the walkway with his rifle trained on her. She turned to face him.

“I said don’t move!” he shouted.

The fairy smiled dangerously. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a light at the end of the warehouse begin to flicker.

“You are not going to kill me, human.”

The barrel of the Magic Hunter’s gun shook as she took a step forwards. “Stay back!”

“Do you know who I am?” She smirked, a soft chuckle bubbling up from deep in her throat. “Do you know what your people said about me, what they whispered in fear when the night was long and dark?” Her smirk evaporated. Her knife flashed, protruding from under her long sleeves. “Beware the Queen.”

The Magic Hunter yelled as the lights went out and the warehouse was plunged into darkness.

*

The control room had been the retreat of five humans. All had been terrified by the gunshots outside, but that terror dwarfed in comparison to the fear brought upon them by the monster that had broken into the room.

The lights were off. Brains had been picked. Della had all the information she needed. “So,” she said conversationally, raising her gun and aiming at each human experimentally, “Who wants to be a fatality? Let’s play!”

She pulled the trigger, but Maeve barrelled into the room and smashed into her arm, knocking the bullet off its course in the nick of time. The bullet hit a control panel with a bang and sparks flew, but no one was harmed.

Della glowered. “Maeve!”

The five humans made no sound, no movement other than frenzied, uneven breathing. Their eyes were free, however, looking from Maeve to Della, bright with terror. Della was stopping them from screaming, from attempting to escape, imprisoning them within their own minds. Worse, Maeve was sure that the fairy was planting the most nightmarish delusions she could concoct into their heads.

“Let them go,” Maeve ordered. Her mind was locked, unyielding to any attack Della threw at her.

Their standoff was silent, a battle of wills, and after several seconds Della snarled and relented. She relinquished her control and withdrew, stepping aside from the doorway.

The five humans scrambled past them and left the building, their screams echoing for a good minute or so. Maeve ignored Della’s glare, examining the room instead. Buttons, lights and computers were everywhere, along with one desk, a swivel chair and filing cabinets. Blood spattered the floor in a congealing pool. Della must have wounded one of the humans, perhaps as a warning.

Calming herself, Maeve returned her gaze to a leering Della whose ice blue eyes emitted a soft glow in the dark. This, coupled with her cattish pupils, would have made her look twice as vicious to the humans. Maeve should have foreseen this outcome with certainty.

“Where are the weapons?” she asked. Her eyes emitted the same glow, but were daring and deadly. She would not back down to Della, nor was she intimidated. It was how they worked together, and the reason why they were friends, in their strange and twisted way. Right now, Maeve felt no love for the other fairy.

“At last, something you don’t know.”

“Della –”

“No!” Della snarled. “Go ahead. Give me the ‘holier than thou’ treatment. You always do.”

Contrary to Della’s predictions, Maeve gave her the silent treatment instead. Against all impulse that was telling her to hurry up, Maeve popped her lips and swung on the balls of her feet. When she thought Della had vented enough fury through heavy-breathing and glaring, she said, “Let’s go.”

Della led the way out of the room, still furious. The control room was at the back of the warehouse, close to the spot where Maeve had taken down the last human. Stairs led them to the ground and they walked in silence, until Maeve burst into laughter as they walked by some strange-looking machines. It broke the tense atmosphere and Della smiled, shaking her head.

“Could you stop having a fit?”

Maeve wiped a tear from her eye, her shoulders heaving as her laugh echoed through the building. Della covered her ears. “It’s like the baby of a forklift and an electric chair!”

“Mmm,” Della grunted, grabbing a wrench from the work station as Maeve panted and recovered from her funny time.

They continued on their way, stopped once they reached a marker. Maeve watched as Della read the labels on the boxes sitting on the first shelf, and rolled her colourful sleeves up to her elbows while she waited. They promptly fell down again.

“This one,” Della announced, and they both hoisted the crate from its slot. Maeve set it on the ground as gently as she could. It was more than half her height and had already been pried open by the Magic Hunters when the fairies had broken in, so Della had no use for her wrench. Once they removed the wooden lid, a metal box lay within, which explained the heaviness. The box was only slightly smaller than the wooden exterior. Its keypad’s buttons glowed in the dark. Della raised the wrench, eager to batter it open.

“Della, no. That won’t work.”

Della sighed, entering the code she had picked from one of the humans’ brains. The device flashed green and Maeve lifted the lid away. Both women smiled on sighting the contents.

Several rifles, a strip of grenades, an arsenal of knives and many, many bullets of many, many sizes among other useful prizes.

Maeve grappled with the sea of Styrofoam to get her hands on the knives. They were hunting knives and weren’t of any use to her, so she emptied them onto the floor, keeping the leather pouch they’d been in. The fairy took a moment to admire it. At present, she kept her collection of throwing knives underneath the kitchen sink, strapped to the roof of the cupboard to prevent possible water damage. She had wanted one of these pouches for years – it would add to her already-infinite levels of panache.

Della dangled the drawstring bag from her hand, shaking it open. She grinned. “I guess I should have brought a bigger bag.”

They bundled the grenades and the cartridges into the bag, making sure only to take the ones that would fit Lorcan and Della’s guns. They left the rest.

“Put the grenades in last,” said Maeve wisely. “They’re like eggs – they might explode if you put them at the bottom of the bag.”

“Eggs don’t explode, Maeve.”

“You know what I mean.”

Satisfied with all they had found, the fairies left through the cargo bay, making their way back to the light and into their car. In the distance, police sirens shrieked. By the time the police cars arrived Maeve and Della were gone and the real Magic Hunters were on their way.

The Peach House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 8:00am

With her hair brushed, Aimee slipped into a pair of tracksuit bottoms, threw on a heavy-knit cardigan and went for a look out the window. It was a typical Irish morning; the sky was painted grey. Miserable-looking, but not as cold as you’d think.

Her eyes travelled to the road. Doctor Quinn lived beside the two Grace ladies and her mother had already pounced on him before he could get to his car. Neither of them had been to the doctor’s in years because of all his advice.

Then across from his house was the Kellys’. Evie Kelly used to babysit Aimee, Conn and Cairid, and nine times out of ten her granddaughter Lauren would be there too. It was perfect since Cairid and Lauren were the same age, so if Aimee and Conn ever felt too grown up for the babies they could go play by themselves (which usually meant moving into the hallway or to a different corner of the garden). That was all a long time ago, though. Lauren had finally moved out of her grandmother’s and into town with her dad. As Aimee heard it, they’d been on a waiting list for almost a decade and thought they were going to lose the house to a married couple with a kid who’d only been in the country for a year. Luckily, the couple rejected the offer last minute.

Aimee bit her lip. Beside the Kellys’ house was the Donnellys’. Ever since she was a baby she and Conn had been friends but, in truth, she hadn’t been talking to him much lately. It wasn’t as if he’d done anything or their friendship had gone stale – she just preferred other people when they were in school. A visit across the road was long overdue, if she was honest. Plus, she was in the mood for a chat.

She threw herself downstairs again, and just as she arrived a white van pulled up outside Simon Quinn’s house, but no one got out. She paid it little attention as a new, cold breeze dragged the temperature down and she tucked her hands into her pockets.

Aimee said her hellos, idly wondering if Conn and Cairid had their bags packed yet.

“Aimee, Simon says it’ll be best to take some medicine for that frightful cough. You could even have a chest infection, if that pain of yours doesn’t go away.”

“I wouldn’t go putting ideas into her head, Yasemįn,” said the doctor. Aimee was sure the look he gave her was suspicious, a pointed look her mother missed. He’d probably seen her smoking in the garden before while her mum was out or when her friends came over. “But if youhave concerns… I’m sorry, Aimee, it looks like you have something in your eye. Left.”

“Oh, they were bloodshot this morning – ”

“Hold on.” Doctor Quinn leaned over the garden wall. “It’s by your pupil. Keep blinking –” He stopped, froze, and took a shaky step away from the fence.

“Is it still there?”

His smile was gone. If Aimee was more paranoid and less logical she’d have seen the fear radiating off him like the Northern Lights in the Arctic sky.

“N-no, it’s fine...” Doctor Quinn coughed once, coughed again, and almost fell backwards over his shrubbery as he shuffled away. “Ah... looks like you might be catching the flu.”

“The flu?!” Aimee’s mother shrieked. Doctor Quinn seemed not to have heard.

“I have to go now,” he stammered lamely, running into his house, nearly tripping over the garden path as he went.

“What was that about?”

“No idea.”

“Maybe he really does think we’re cheapskates!” Aimee gasped, hurt at the thought.

Mrs Grace gave a dubious shake of her head, her ginger hair tangling in the wind. “Maybe he’s in a rush.”

“Then why did he go back into his house like that?”

“Never you mind, it has nothing to do with us.” She gave Aimee a hug. “Go to town, try get some sleep on the bus. I’ll phone school and tell them what time you’ll be in at – ask Conn if he’s allowed to take a later bus so you’ll have some company,” she ordered as she threw her bag into the boot of her car. She’d be sitting in the driver’s seat, checking her face and texting her friends for at least another two minutes. Miss Grace was the oldest and plumpest of her cabin crew’s flight attendants, but everyone loved a mother hen with a smile to die for.

“Love you! Have fun!” called Aimee with a rap on the window as she ran off across the street. In front of her house, the white van was still parked behind Quinn’s car. Still, no one had gotten out.

The Green House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford, Ireland, the 30th of April,8:05am

Doctor Simon Quinn’s life had been happy and relatively normal until that Monday. His mother was the one with the creative background – she’d been a member of the Ministry of Silence, working as part of their Education Department. She’d told him the demon stories. All were tales of cold-blooded murder and sly trickery steeped in a history of insanity and violence.

Up until now, he had doubted most of her stories. Rather than dwell on the proof he had decided not to think about it at all. He worked hard and kept himself to himself, and recently he’d even found a secretary for his office who was more human than make-up, barely. It was a great achievement. It was a good life.

Once a year, a representative came knocking at his door to make sure he was keeping quiet about their world. She would ask some questions and vanish without a trace with an unspoken ‘we’ll be watching’ after she was satisfied he had told no one of their hidden society. Despite that, life was good.

Until Aimee Grace. Of all of the people on the planet, it was her who was turning into a mindless, murdering... thing.

This did not stop him from going to the armchair, taking out his laptop and calling up the issued email from the Magic Hunter technology HQ, whatever they called it. The email they had sent it from was known for spam as the annual check-in lady, Mrs Molloy, had informed him. If he tried to convince anyone of its authenticity he would be without any backup whatsoever. Her speech had seemed unnecessary, as all the email contained was a phone number to call in case he ‘ran into any trouble’. Doctor Quinn had a feeling that the gunmen would have a field day with this report.

He hesitated for a moment before picking up the wireless and dialling the number. If there was anybody who could find some way to cure Aimee, it would be these people. He punched eight numbers into the telephone with trembling fingers. He held his breath as it began to ring, and then there came a sharp ‘click!’

“Lismore Town Council speaking.”

You have got to be kidding me.

Doctor Quinn would need a serious change of location after this. Somewhere far, far away. They were here? In Lismore? Why?

“Hello,” he managed, feeling ridiculous. Did Magic Hunters do pranks? Surely not. “I’m, ah... it’s about them.”

“About who, sir?” the man on the other end asked. It was a familiar voice. In the Council, he’d said. Who could it be?

And what to say? If he’d been wrong to call, he’d hang up.

“It’s about the demons.”

There was silence for a moment. The doctor expected a laugh to follow, but there was a shuffling noise, the click of a computer, and the man was back.

“Doctor Quinn, yes, we know about you. What’s this about demons?”

“I – well, to say would be – actually, do your crowd do, eh, medical examinations for children who’ve been hit with... a curse, is that what it is? I gather it’s like one of them demonic plagues out of the Bible, in which case I feel obligated to tell you that my neighbour, Aimee –”

Doctor Quinn had left the front door open, and the armchair had its back to the entrance of the room. With an efficient gait that barely contained his urgency, Lorcan crept across the floorboard, whacked Doctor Quinn over the head with the butt of his gun, caught the phone before it had time to hit the ground and hung up before the Magic Hunters got their hands on more information.

He had listened to the conversation in the garden from his van. It was just their luck that the doctor had seen the Change starting in Aimee’s eyes, and his reaction said it all. Lorcan had set off to stop the not-Magic Hunter as soon as the mother left and the girl disappeared into the small house across the street. He was too late – the Ministry of Silence would be upon them in less than a week.

“We’ll handle it,” Lorcan muttered as he left the doctor’s body on the floor and retreated to the hallway. He slammed the door as he stormed into the grey outdoors, the gloom broken only by the clash of colours of all the houses on the lane. Briefly, he thought of Maeve, their house and their land. The peace and quiet they had kept for decades was gone. The changeling wouldn’t live long with the Ministry on their heels.

He growled out a sigh and said again, “We’ll handle it.”

The Blue House, Willowcrest Road, Lismore, Waterford Ireland, 30th of April, 8:08am

As the doorbell rang, Conn left the kitchen to answer it, finishing his slice of brown bread and butter as he went.

“Oh,” he said, squashing as much distaste as possible into the syllable as he opened the door. “You.

“Ha! Yeah... me. Hey.” On the doorstep with her suitcase, Aimee curled a strand of hair around her finger, scratching the back of her head haplessly. She wasn’t dressed for school, her eyes were bloodshot, her hair was limp and her brown skin had lost its glow. Her eyes lit up as she smiled. “I tried to think of a good comeback.”

“I see. And you narrate your actions in attempt to mask your defeat.” He was unsure whether or not he really did mean to be horrible to her in that moment.

“Are you still reading psychology magazines?”

No.” The sarcasm was deafening. Yes, he decided, he did mean to be impolite. He shouldn’t be, since she had never been – well, alright, she had been, but there was nothing gained in being surly with her. “What do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

Outside it was impossible to tell whether the water deposits on the haphazard garden were the death of the morning dew or leftovers from the drizzle that had fallen fifteen minutes ago. Dark clouds still threatened overhead, and before they released themselves Conn stepped aside to let Aimee in with a non-committal shrug. Hastily he closed the door as the draught seized the opportunity and swept through the warm hallway, creeping up the stairs.

Aimee led the way to the kitchen, and his inky green eyes secretly bore holes in the back of her head as he tried to get the misgivings out of his system. Once upon a time they’d been inseparable, but this past year they were friends only when Aimee wanted to be. They usually talked mostly on the weekends, if they talked at all. According to Cairid ‘popular girls have reputations to polish’. It was a sort of phase.

“You’re sick,” he noted.

“And you’re a sexy beast, Conn,” she shot back, prancing along past the family photos.

“You only came back yesterday after the party, was it?” he asked.

“Yep, mostly since I was fit to drop dead – I’ll take the bus with you guys,” Aimee added, as if she knew, as if she was about to apologise. Then she laughed. “I’m on a mission to pay a visit to that new shop in town for mum before we leave.”

At the kitchen table Cairid downed her soup as their visitor came through the door, but was too busy polishing her scraped and battered purple boots to spare Aimee more than a glance. Since she’d tried to surf down a muddy hill on Friday her ruined skirt was put late into the wash yesterday, and the only pieces of uniform she wore that morning were a navy jumper and a white shirt. Black jeans would get her detention, depending on which classes she had. If she didn’t avoid it there’d be another argument.

“Are you sick, Aimee?”

“Neither of you say hello.”

“It’s just because you’re here. D’you think you’ll be sick all week?”

“I can dream,” said Aimee, taking a seat across from Cairid and flopping down into it with a moan so melodramatic it would have made an actor cringe. Conn pulled a chair from the fireside and sat edgily beside her, quiet as he looked at the marigolds his mum had left in a jam jar on the table. As Cairid stood from the table to go get her bag, she paused.

“Didn’t you already get a boatload of detention last week? If you’re sick this week they might forget about it.”

“That’s the plan.”

“Knew it. And I bet you were at that party down at Kate’s all weekend too.”

“Yes, and oh-my-God it was wild! I thought I’d walk out of there with a tattoo and ten children. But so what if I was there? I am sick, even if I do have more hours of detention than I’d bother counting.”

“You can count?” asked Conn in an absent way, and though his eyes were on the flowers he saw Aimee consider pushing him off his chair. Cairid watched them both with muted interest now that she had what she wanted from the conversation (she’d have to sit with a friend from a younger year for detention now).

Once the brother and sister had their bags packed and ready for when they needed to get to the bus stop, the three trouped out of the house. They called goodbye, stopping to pet the cat, Tonks, on the way down the garden path. They walked downhill into town, Cairid moaning about her summer exams, the two 4th Years gloating all the while since this year was their doss year. They were sixteen, and there was nothing more to life than friends and family.
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