Chronicles of the Night: Chasing Shadows

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Truth in Fairytales

In the van, driving very fast, Newtown Cove, Tramore, Waterford, Ireland, 30th of April, 10:15am

After thirty minutes on the road Conn looked ready to kill, Cairid was more dumbstruck than a brain-dead goldfish and ’Lorcan’ (he’d told them his name with less than a gram of eagerness) was strangling the steering wheel. Aimee had thought on it briefly and had come to the conclusion that she was the only sane person in the car; she was panicked, and her panic was moments from overflowing, her fingers scraping at the rough carpet underneath them.

It did her no good to see that it was taking a lot of willpower on Lorcan’s behalf to stop himself from swerving the van into a ditch. He caught her watching and tightened his grip on the steering wheel, muttering venomously about ‘kids these days’ as the scenery outside flew by in flashes of green fields and the grey of the road.

Caught watching and left without reprimand for it, Aimee’s curiosity urged her to look closer. Using the rear view mirror, she saw the chestnut brown cat eyes Cairid had been marvelling at for some time now. It was no trick of the light; those eyes were far from normal, their pupils sharp enough to cut someone, and they were hellish, disturbingly hellish – he must have been wearing contacts. People didn’t have cat eyes! This was crazy stuff! (Drugs, she bet.)

Eyes aside, Lorcan did look scarily normal. He was in his fifties, though he looked strong for his age, and a plain gold wedding ring gleamed from his lined and calloused fingers. In an old shirt, jeans and hiking boots, he dressed like someone’s dad, perhaps even was one. It was just absurd, with those eyes.

Cairid twisted carefully in her seat, pointing urgently at their freakish driver. Aimee imagined a question mark hovering above her head and shrugged her shoulders half-heartedly. Conn frowned at his sister, giving a sharp shake of his head, and Cairid faced front without making a sound. If Lorcan had noticed the exchange he didn’t care, though with such a curmudgeon’s nature it was hard to tell what he was scowling at.

And if all that wasn’t enough to deal with, Aimee was sweating madly, her skin glistening with it. Stomach aches lurched into crippling pains with each agonising bounce over the worst of the potholes on the road underneath. As time dragged on, the road became greener and narrower. If there was a reachable town they’d avoided it. If the motorway was nearby Aimee couldn’t make it out through the hedges, fields and ditches they drove past. It went on until suddenly and finally:

“Is that the sea?” Cairid demanded, calling upon herself an exceptionally withering look from their kidnapper and a mad scramble in the back as Aimee and Conn got their bearings and went onto their knees, peering out the window.

“It’s Newtown Cove,” whispered Aimee, her gaze travelling from the railings around the carpark to the beach below, flanked by grassy headlands. It was far from tropical this time of year. The stone-littered ground led out to the smooth, manmade precipice made for diving, probably as cold under the feet today as an operating table. She and her dad had come here in the summer on their way back from the city. The waters had been calm that day, almost warm. Today they were ready to toss reckless bodies into the cliffs, or drag them under to pummel the air from their lungs…

At that thought, the panic coiled as a whip in her gut, sending her heart racing. Lorcan had another thing coming if he thought he was throwing her in there!

Yet Lorcan said nothing as he pulled into the car-park. He made no move to get out of the van, and the three waited and watched for minutes with bated breath. After five minutes of sickening quiet, he looked abruptly to his left. The three abducted children shared another round of bemused stares, but their explanation came quicker than their questions.

A tiny red car screeched down the road at an endangering speed, swerving into the car park to skid across the gravel where it came to a shaky, yet eerily coordinated, stop.

Cairid laughed – a quick, incredulous bark. Wearily, Lorcan opened the front door and climbed outside, slamming it behind him.

After that, the three left behind gave only a second to silence before making another mad scramble for the side window. Cairid climbed up and over her seat in the front, joining the two in the back. Aimee ended up with her nose pressed against the window pane, Conn’s hand on her shoulder as he rose to a half-standing position, all desperate to get a glimpse of what was happening outside.

A young woman sprang from the driver’s side of the car and bounced over to meet Lorcan.

“This makes no sense,” Aimee mumbled urgently as she watched the two in the car park. Conn moved ever-so-slightly to allow his sister a look. “Who is he?”

“What does he want?” Cairid countered, slamming the van’s side with her fist to hammer her point through. “That’s what we should be wondering. Or maybe we should ask him again since he can hardly get moodier, though I’d rather not risk getting shot in the head for that, so I’d say one of you should chance it.”

Conn tore his eyes from the window and sighed, drawing the breath out as he would a pen across paper. “Stop being so glib, you brat.”

“Guys, shh!” Aimee hissed, slapping at them furiously. The siblings abandoned their bickering at once. “Something’s going on. There’s another one!”

The three gazed again at the strange congregation gathered outside. The newcomer – a Japanese woman dressed in leather – was making wild, angry gestures at Lorcan. The three could hear the sound of her voice from where they stood in the van, but the wind outside smothered her actual words. Moments later, the short girl broke up the argument and the woman retreated to the car, satisfied with what the she’d said. Left alone, Lorcan and the girl continued their friendly chat.

Conn withdrew from the window and Aimee turned, waiting for him to say something. Cairid remained transfixed in place, watching the two kidnappers and keeping her silence for the time being.

“What do you think?” Aimee asked, tugging at her hair out of frustration. She was trying to stay calm, but she wasn’t even fooling herself. Conn was only looking out for his sister, and she could see the blame in his eyes each time he glanced her way. He must have noticed her distress, as he made his startled, hurt puppy face when he next caught her gaze. Quickly, she got a hold of herself. This was no time for waterworks, and none of this was her fault.

“Maybe he’s a mutant,” said Cairid, only half-joking.

“Shut up, Cairid,” they both said absently.

“The eyes are weird, is all.” Then, under her breath she tempted in the sultry voice of the devil incarnate, “We could try to escape.”

“That would be fatally stupid.” Conn leant against the side of the van, fingers drumming at his waist rapidly, as though he was counting. He’d always had that habit, and whenever he got stressed he counted words as he thought them. He’d been doing it for a while. “They have a gun, Cairid, in case you’ve failed to notice.”

Aimee interrupted before any more suggestions could be made. With all the shouting and arguing she had forgotten all about the appearance of Brendan ‘don’t call me Brendan’ O’Casey. He worked for the Town Council and held a book club every Tuesday at their school. She could hardly imagine him taking on Lorcan, armed with only his lisp and Snapchat, even though she’d seen it with her own eyes.

“Why Brendan?” she asked with a perplexed frown.

“I don’t know… the way Lorcan spoke to him…” Conn frowned too, and offered up no further commentary other than looking to Cairid and murmuring, “As you said, nothing makes sense.”

Aimee bit her lip, recalling what Conn had said to Lorcan. “...you came here specifically for her.” That couldn’t be true, but it was all they had to work with. But what could she do here, struggling to hold her mounting wave of panic in check, aware Lorcan could kill her easily if he chose to? Keep calm, breathe, keep calm.

“Alright, never mind. We can definitely get to the bottom of this if we put our heads together. Did he tell you anything, when you left our house?”

“He said he wanted to keep me alive, the creep. He has to be a stalker.” She looked to the window as she shuddered. “What do you think they’re doing out there? Who’re the women?”

“Rendezvous,” Conn said, as if this explained everything. Aimee made her best clueless face. Conn made his best patient face. “He – Lorcan – is meeting up with those two. They’re working together, I think... or they planned it together at least, this kidnapping, and got more than they bargained for. Something seems to have gone wrong for them.”

“Us too.”

Conn nodded, his eyes on the scene outside. “Yes. Us too.”

*

She had bounced out of the car by the time Lorcan walked across the carpark and picked up on his mood instantly, careful with her laughter as she slunk alongside the railing, making a beeline for the van. “Salutations, grumpy,” the fairy winked as she went by. “I can’t wait to meet our new addition to the crew!”

The crew. Lorcan shuddered and hoped that wouldn’t stick. “Hold it!” he ordered, grabbing her by the collar and dragging her to his side. Her shoes scraped a path through the gravel. He nodded to the third fairy present. She stood by the side of the red car, glowering at him.

“YOU BROUGHT HUMANS!”

Maeve looked from Lorcan to Della, then back again. “Chief, you’re on your own.” She tip-toed to the grass and flopped onto her tummy to play with the rocks below. Della stalked past her, ready for war.

Lorcan filtered his disgust from his expression as he met her eyes. He had dealt with his fair share of bad people in the past (quickly, with the minimum amount of blood splatter) but this person was by far the worst. She was unstable, insecure, she didn’t follow orders or listen to reason, she killed for pleasure and was an unpredictable coward on better days.

Della dug her nails into the palms of her hands. “I am going to kill you,” she hissed, her entire frame shaking like a boiling kettle.

“I dare you, Della.” His glare matched hers now, making sure she knew what would happen if she tried to cross him. The air between them crackled.

“Or maybe I’ll kill them!” She breathed in heavily as her eyes darted from him to the van, weighing up the risk taken in trying it.

“If you do that the humans are going to get personal and we’ll be dead within the week.”

I don’t CARE! You’re so damn childish, Lorcan! I’m not letting those pathetic little abortions of nature ruin my life!”

“No one asked you to let them ruin your life, Della. I’m telling you to suck it up and deal with it!” They were inches apart now, guards raised, and the inevitable explosion had been triggered.

“I’LL KILL YOU!”

“I’LL HIT YOU!”

“I’m so scared.”

“Yeah? You weren’t laughing when you fell off the Tower of London because of these,” Lorcan countered, brandishing his knuckles.

This pushed her off the edge (for the second time in a handful of centuries). “That was two hundred years ago! You – !”

“Della,” Maeve chirped, changing her mind about staying out of the argument since they rarely ever solved themselves once they cropped up. She skipped into the car park to rejoin them. “I need to talk to Lorcan alone.”

Della turned her feral glare upon the other fairy present. She and Maeve must have had some telepathic debate, because when she next returned her gaze to him she smirked and said: “Don’t bring home strays next time, Lorcan.”

Her wicked tone sent a shiver down his spine. He could only imagine what Maeve had said to her to get her to leave.

Sure, isn’t dealing with one nutcase more than enough for me?

As she climbed into the car, she clicked her fingers and a lightning bolt of pain seared through his head. He didn’t react. Lorcan and Della had a simple relationship: he hated her with a passion, and if she didn’t cause his death she would definitely celebrate it.

Suddenly there was an apple in his face.

“I got it for you,” Maeve whispered. She’d switched to Irish, her favourite language either by preference or obligation. He followed suit and took the fruit from her flailing hand. “It’s almost a goldy-yellow!”

“I can see that. How did your distraction go? What did you do?”

Maeve swung her arms merrily, the tips of her ears reddening in the cold. The wind tore at both of them, beating into their clothes and leaving icy fingerprints on their skin. “I used my quixotic attributes to our advantage.”

“Huh,” he grunted. Whatever that means.

“And I got you lots of bullets!” she yipped, and he participated half-heartedly in her bone shattering high-five.

As his hand dropped to his side, Lorcan froze. Maeve’s words sunk in as he half-choked on a barely-chewed mouthful of apple. “Where would you get bullets, Maeve?”

Maeve’s smile wobbled.

“What did you do?” Without waiting for an answer, he dropped the apple core onto the ground and put his hands on her shoulders, skipping straight to, “Tell me you didn’t.”

Maeve said nothing and he took a step away, slapping his forehead hard enough to leave a red mark there long after he took away his hand.

The Ministry stored weapons in the city. She’d stolen them.

“But you got out without them knowing, without them catching so much as a spark on camera.”

“If by that you mean causing severe electrical malfunctions –”

“Yes.”

“Making alarms go NEE-WOO-NEE-WOO-NEE-WOO, knocking some Magic Hunters out and stealing their weapons then yes, that is what I did.”

For a moment, Lorcan thought she had broken him. Judging from her concerned expression, she did too. The Ministry of Silence stored weapons in the city, in a warehouse. He’d known this, of course, but he hadn’t cared. What use did his group have for them other than ‘just in case’?

They kept the lowest profile, an almost non-existent profile. It was old, sometimes boring, but what was left for them in this world? Die fighting? Too many had ended that way, and how much honour was left in that if there was no one left alive to fight for? He had done his best to keep even Della alive when she showed up on the doorstep again ten years ago. After all these years, why would Maeve go and ruin it by ensuring the Ministry caught their scent and stopped at nothing to run them down, now of all times?

“Do you have a bout of the death wishes, Mocker?”

“No more than you, Manners. I did it because there’s a fight coming. An important fight. Something needed to start it and now it’s done.”

Maeve would know, of course. Sparkles were not the only magic at her disposal. It had been suspected often by many that she knew everything, and they were probably right.

Something needed to start it and now it is done.

Lorcan winced. Maeve hadn’t been the only one to draw unwanted attention upon them.

“Yes, Lorcan,” she drawled, reading his thoughts. “I know now that if something big is going to happen it won’t be because of my show at the warehouse. Kidnapping humans, on the other hand, is as far from low key as you can probably get.”

She pointed over his shoulder to the van. Cairid was peering through the side window. She waved. Maeve waved back, twice as enthusiastic, Lorcan red with anger at her side. Meanwhile, the other fairy smiled brightly and gave him a hearty shake of the hand.

“Well done, my friend! A kidnapping is far bigger and better than what I did, but on the bright side I have somewhere to put my knives!”

They would need extra weaponry now. Lorcan cursed the doctor and cursed the Donnellys. Maeve had some explaining to do; some warning of this fight on the horizon would have been nice.

“What’s this fight of yours about?”

She hesitated. “I don’t have much information on the fight itself, but from what I do know we’re not going to –”

“You don’t know, do you?”

“I know everything!”

Lorcan knuckled his forehead, exasperated.

“It will have a domino effect, which will result in something I can’t yet fully explain, something bigger than we’ve ever encountered. It’s a mystery...”

“It’s annoying!” he exclaimed. He weighed up his options. Carrying on blindly right now was not something he wanted to do, but for now they didn’t have time to argue – Maeve would tell him when she was sure Della wouldn’t hear.

Lorcan had read a great number of newspapers in his time, and in moments like these he spoke with all the optimism of a current affairs column.

“Right, we’re doomed. If it’s over, it’s over. Let’s move.”

“What exactly happened?” asked Maeve, as she led him to the red car. She jiggled the boot open, jumping with the hood as it rose. Lorcan opened the black bag on the floor.

“A Magic Hunter showed up, the changeling’s a drama queen and we have hostages. You don’t know why they had someone stationed in Lismore, do you?”

Maeve shook her head, stroked her chin thoughtfully, and for a moment Lorcan was fooled into thinking she was about to say something intelligent. “We’ve never had hostages before. This will be an experience.”

He ignored her, examining the goods instead. She hadn’t taken much other than bullets, but that was all they needed to keep Lorcan stocked up. Plus, Maeve had her knives. “Grenades?” he asked sceptically. She shrugged.

“And you’re sure running from this fight of yours isn’t an option?”

Again, she shrugged. “Where can we run at the end of the world?”

“Fair enough,” he muttered, though ‘end of the world’ was a tad melodramatic. Lorcan plucked the last item, a leather knife pouch, from the bag. Maeve had wanted one of those for years, even though she could have easily made one herself (there was once a time when she made her own knives too). He put it back and tightened the bag to a close. “Where did you get the apple?”

“We stopped for food.”

“Have you ever heard of prioritising, Sparkles?”

“Life’s too short to spend time planning what you’re going to do with it.”

“Yeah, well, keeping in mind that sentiment came from a two-thousand year old fairy who can’t keep her face straight while saying it, it doesn’t mean much.” Lorcan reached up and shut the boot and when he turned Maeve karate-chopped his neck lightly as she walked by. She was his oldest friend and all the other competitors for the title were dead, but she was doing that thing she did. The annoying thing. He saw it hidden in her smile.

What are you up to? he wondered, watching her as she took some steps towards the van.

You have no idea, idiot. Look at her, with her floppy sleeves and crazy smile hiding the mind of a stone-cold genius. She can’t not be up to something. Not that you would know.

Della was sneering out the car window. Dismissing curiosity, he blocked her from his mind.

Then it hit him. Hostages would slow them down. He knew that. Maeve knew it too, but she had said nothing of it. In fact, she was excited, the sneaky...

“Maeve!”

“Boop-boppa-doop?”

“We’re dumping the humans here. They’re extra dead weight if we bring them along.”

Her objection was immediate and telling. “Let’s not do that.”

Lorcan’s bushy eyebrows rose like stage curtains. “Oh?” This ‘oh’ sounded more like ‘explain quickly or I’ll eat you alive’.

“You want to leave them here, like a ditched dog at Christmas?” she whimpered.

“We don’t have a dog.” She was using Conn and Cairid, she had known they’d cross paths. “They’re just kids. Human kids. What are you playing at?”

She paused a moment, looking to the sea before she slyly said, “The Lorcan I know would have caught wind of my meddling far sooner than this. Even with my boundless hoard of knowledge I know only a little of the Donnellys, and most of what I know hasn’t yet happened. I’d suggest it’d be worth it for us all if you think on your own circumstance, and why you only suggested we leave them to get information from me when that would have been your initial mode of operation any other day. After all, I gave you no indication of their worth. For whatever reason, you thought of that yourself – oh, I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just thinking we’re all so mysterious today.” With that, she locked her lips with an invisible key.

“Fine,” he snapped, and he didn’t intend on trying to analyse that cryptic message for a second. He knew her game, she always knew more than she let on, and now she was playing with words. If she was up to anything life threatening she would have told him already. Probably. He would get the full story from her later, but if things got messy between then and now the humans would go.

They addressed the next problem on the list, hoping to actually solve this one.

“We need to get rid of the van. I don’t suppose you’ve given any thought to that?”

“Do I ever think about anything important?”

He wasn’t sure how she wanted him to answer that, so he said nothing. He scanned their surroundings. Road, ditches, cliffs, sea. If it bought them any time against the Hunters, it was worth it. Plus, it worked in the movies.

“Hmm. Mocker, I have a plan, and you’re going to like it.”

“Oh?”

He told her. She liked it a lot.

*

Minutes ago Conn and Cairid had been arguing over something relevant, but their debate had swiftly deteriorated into nonsense. Now Cairid was snapping about how much better it’d be if Hyun-su was with her instead of her brother.

Lying on the floor, Aimee puffed out a sigh. She stared blankly at the ceiling, having given up on everything for the time being. The Donnellys had been arguing for some time now. Too long, if they’d care to ask her.

She was getting ready to snap at them when suddenly there came a rattatat! A rapid drumming on the window pane. Aimee bolted upright as the Donnellys froze.

The back doors swung open and the blonde-haired girl stood before them, beaming largely. She stepped into the dark interior of the van and in the blink of an eye she was cross-legged before them. She held her hand out. No one took it, so she left it there.

“My name is Maeve. I’m a fairy.”

Conn and Aimee stared.

Cairid gave no reaction of shock or disbelief. Instead she said robotically, “I told you so,” earning a proud look from the ‘fairy’.

Conn and Aimee looked dumbly at Cairid and said nothing. There was a point where things went too far, and this was it.

In the face of their disbelief, this Maeve person flashed a sly grin.

The gloomy van was suddenly lit up in gold. The light came from her, from underneath her skin, and a waterfall of stars fell from her right hand. Her onlookers stared in wonder, captivated. “These are my sparkles, peers. Look at them fly!”

Aimee watched and she began to believe it. The golden-white sparks floated up to the musty ceiling of the van on an updraft. When Maeve waved her hand again, more followed. They rolled off of her skin as tiny beads of light or shining grains of dust. Larger sparks could almost be mistaken for droplets of water, and the tiniest ones were specs of light that winked out of existence in less than a second. It was unbelievable and right before their eyes. Aimee had to glance at Conn and Cairid to make sure they were seeing what she was seeing. Sure enough, the two were as bewildered as she, and the sparkles kept on coming.

“Hell’s bells,” Cairid whispered.

“Holy shit, that’s cool!” said Aimee.

Conn hissed and grimaced when he touched one of the golden sparks, pulling his hand away. Shocked (literally), he looked to Maeve for answers. “What in the world are they?”

“Electrically-charged sparkly anomalies. They sting,” Maeve informed him in a very matter-of-fact tone. “Don’t eat them!”

Cairid closed her mouth, but it was too late. Her brow knitted and her lips twisted as though she had tasted something bitter.

“This isn’t possible,” Conn whispered, staring as Maeve conjured up more of the things. Aimee couldn’t resist the temptation. She reached up, touching her index finger to one of the golden sparks and winced as the spark disappeared, static crackling up through her hand. It made her hand go numb for a while and sensation came back as a dull throb. She’d been electrocuted!

Maeve caught her hand before Aimee could reach for more. “Curiosity is a mass murderer,” she warned as a cluster of her sparkles winked out of existence. “You don’t want to fry your circuits...?”

“Aimee Grace,” Aimee said, withdrawing her hand warily.

Aside from the eyes and the gun, Lorcan was normal. This girl could have been from another world entirely. Her eyes were brown and cat-like but shone with a pure, raw energy that was unique to her, and this mad energy leaked out into everything she did. She was girlish, boyish and neither simultaneously, and even sitting still there was something about her that made her look like she was in a perpetual state of movement. The jumper that swallowed her curvy form ultimately did little to hide her keen embonpoint, and her tight blue jeans – with a shamrock embroidered onto the pocket – highlighted it splendidly. Her short blonde hair was artfully mussed, and her age could have been anything from young to adult. Everything about her screamed ‘otherworldly’, but she presented herself with a confidence that made all around her aware that she knew precisely who she was, exactly how eccentric she was, and that she was not going to hide it for a second. There was a certain kind of finesse to that.

A familiar red had spattered this girl’s jumper and Aimee forgot all that was interesting about Maeve, reminding herself to be afraid.

“I didn’t kill anyone.”

“You’re hardly a fairy,” Aimee said. It came out as a squeak.

“You… should explain,” said Conn, torn between awe and scepticism.

The ‘fairy’ girl clapped her hands together and inclined her head deeply in a respectful bow of a nod. “It’s all magic! Our eyes are a jumble of cat and human anatomy, so we can see as well at night as we do during the day. We are physically stronger and faster, though that can vary depending on who’s who. We all have different magical abilities, so we all feel special.” She chewed on the sleeve of her jumper in thought. “Aside from that, I suppose we’re just like everyone else.”

“Magic?” said the three.

“That’s the word. I have sparkles. I can see the future too, but that’s a far less... sparkly business.”

Aimee shook her head as Maeve chuckled, but her eyes were wide and lacked the disbelief she’d clung onto a minute ago.

“Stupid kid. Sparkles are everywhere now,” Lorcan grumbled as he climbed into the van, strapping himself into the driver’s seat. His arrival broke the spell Maeve’s had cast and the three teenagers looked at each other in the hope that someone would start spouting words of reason.

In the blink of an eye, Maeve catapulted herself across the floor and climbed into the passenger’s seat, pulling the seatbelt across her chest. “I hope you aren’t talking about me, boss.”

“You wish.”

“Shh-shh,” Maeve hushed him, pushing his shoulder playfully. “I’m two thousand years old. I have a reputation to uphold. Lorcan? Manners? Give me attention!”

Two thousand years old? Aimee had the woozy feeling that something had broken inside her. She couldn’t tell what exactly it was (sanity, at best bet) or if it had been important. Fairies were not something that happened. And since when did they have guns?

In their own warped reality, Lorcan batted Maeve’s head out of his driving space as the van groaned into life, ambling shakily out of the car park. The little red car followed, the other woman... fairy... at the wheel.

“Hey,” Cairid piped up hesitantly, catching Lorcan’s gaze in the rear-view mirror. “Alpha fairy, where are we going?”

“We’re getting rid of the van,” Maeve chirped helpfully as Lorcan took one hand off the wheel to smack his forehead.

*

Panting out puffs of icy breath that plumed in the air before them after pushing it to the edge, Lorcan and Maeve watched as the van toppled off the grassy cliff, into the sea far below. It tumbled once. Twice.

Splash! Along with the general sound cars make when smashed to bits.

Maeve sighed, folding her arms. “No explosion.”

Lorcan shrugged. “It made a nice sound.”

“Yes, like a bag of screaming cats, but you promised me an explosion. I’m disappointed.”

Aimee stared at her, eye twitching. “YOU’RE KINDA INSANE!”

The Donnellys took their turn to peer over the edge, shaking off what was left of their daze. The wind clawed at the group as they gathered on cliff, watching as the frothy waves tossed the remains of the van into the depths.

“Ahem.”

They turned.

Della tapped her heel against the ground, stabbing the soil. Once she had their attention, she climbed into the driver’s seat of the tiny red car. This isn’t a taxi. Hurry the hell up.

Luckily, the three newcomers had their backs to Della when she spoke telepathically and wouldn’t have to compute that shocker until later. Lorcan sighed and growled all at once. After putting up with this lot for forty-five minutes anything more was too much of an effort.

*

“We three are fairies. I’ve told you what that means, and though you might not understand it the truth is, we don’t know why we’re here anymore than your kind do. We just are.

“Our power comes from lifeforce. What that is and why we have so much of it, we don’t know. We didn’t have the chance to advance like humans – instead we have to hide. What we do know is that lifeforce extends the years we have in this world. The more fairies there are, the less time we have. The fewer there are, the more time we have. Therefore, we have to conclude that there’s a quantifiable amount of that lifeforce and fairies share it.” The car jolted over the stones on the ground, interrupting Maeve and sending the four in the back knocking into each other and the windows. “Are you following me?”

“Why d’ya have to hide?” asked Cairid, righting herself from where she sat between Maeve and the window, an utter sardine with what little space she had. “And why’s there so few of you? And are you the Maeve?”

Aimee drew her eyes from the grey scene outside the window, looking to Maeve instead. The fairy stared at the back of Della’s seat and saw through it, lost to another place outside of herself. Abruptly, she returned and exchanged a small look with Lorcan ahead.

“There were many of us, once upon a time. Some left. Some were taken. They’re all gone now, we’re the only ones left… the Magic Hunters have seen to that, but that was a long time ago.”

“And the Magic Hunters? Who are they?” asked Conn, one three of four squashed into the back seats struggling to breathe. The fourth was gesticulating wildly and showed no signs of discomfort. Cramped as the others were, they did their best to pay it little heed, absorbed now by this wild story of fairies and magic.

“You’ve already met one, though from what I hear he wasn’t very good. Magic Hunters are within all of human society, as scary as it might sound, and from time to time they control it. Long ago they weren’t an organised community – just an idea that kept popping up, spreading its poison wherever it could. Today they deal mostly in information control – they’re everywhere, a mostly-secret society. They always work closely with the power-holders of society, and make it their business to instate their people in powerful positions. When they officially began all those years ago they worked as and within Church and ended up calling themselves the Ministry of Silence later on, but now they go where the money goes and they cover their tracks with financial experts and agents in the media. The killing’s just a side-hobby of their organisation.”

Aimee and Cairid exchanged a look. This would have sounded more of a wild conspiracy theory in any other setting, but coming from a fairy it was almost believable, mainly because they had little belief in fairies in the first place.

“The few real fighters left train for years, though it goes to waste these days because most of the fairies they hunt down are new and don’t have any idea about how to fight.” Maeve swung a punch at the air for effect. “The biggest threat they face is finding a way to fight against magic, but they’ll be in too deep when they come after us. We’ve avoided them for years, so we might be a little rusty, but we know more than they do, and we’ve near-abouts two thousand years the better of them.”

The girls were awed. “You know how to fight?”

“Yes.”

“Deadly!”

“Wicked,” said Aimee, grinning despite the return of the stomach aches.

Conn’s thoughts were on a different tangent altogether and were rocketing onwards at the speed of a bullet train. Aimee suspected he’d listened to little of their ‘Magic Hunter’ talk. “You would all have to have different metabolisms; if this ‘magic’ is energy, your bodies would have different ways of adapting to convert it into a usable form, as in electricity or… telekinesis, maybe. That you share any physical features with each other at all seems scripted. It’s incredible!”

At that point he stopped, realised what he was saying and all colour flushed from his face. Aimee and Cairid rolled their eyes.

“That is, if you believe any of this. Not that I do; it’s ridiculous,” Conn amended hastily. His eyes met Maeve’s serious gaze and cherry-red colour swiftly returned to all his face. “It’s impossible that evolution would be so conveniently perfect.”

“And yet here we all are.”

Aimee gave another sigh, this one twice as dramatic as the ones before it. Her eye was drawn to the fairies in the front; Lorcan was reading a map and Della was driving, unhappily following his directions. Every now and then she would catch Aimee’s eye in the rear-view mirror with a gaze so piercing and knowing it felt as though she could see into Aimee’s head, and that self-satisfied smirk said it all. Increasingly paranoid, the more Aimee tried not to think about anything condemning the harder it became not to.

Could she really? she wondered, looking out her window before Della could catch her again. Since Maeve had said they had different powers, she didn’t see why not. She sneaked another glance.

Bingo, said a voice.

Della hadn’t opened her mouth. It must have been her imagination. Must have.

She cleared her mind, then thinking that couldn’t possibly work for long she listened to Maeve as she drew a detailed diagram on her arm with a blue pen she’d pulled from nowhere. An ‘anatomically correct fairy eye’, she called it, and Conn and Cairid were eating up each word she spoke. She labelled a layer behind the retina as ‘tapetum lucidum’. Conn looked as though he had been won over. Cairid supplied the ’oo’s, ’aa’s and low-keyed whistles.

Their biology lesson came to an abrupt end as Della swerved the car round a hairpin bend in the road. The car jolted and Aimee was catapulted into Conn. In turn, he apologized as he slammed into Maeve, who ended the chain by head-butting Cairid. Aimee suspected the last bit was on purpose.

“Your sparkles – how do they work?” asked Conn as Cairid rubbed her forehead sorely, an eager gleam in her eyes.

“Yeah, please! Do that glitter magic again.”

“Sparkles, please. ‘Glitter’ is not the word.” Addressing Conn, and more coherent speaking on intellectual terms, she explained, “Their charge decreases the more I use them. I have to wait for a recharge if I use them all up, which I have, so sadly there’s no more glitter magic.”

“How do you recharge?”

The car found another bend and shook its occupants, bringing the two closer together. “Stick around and I might show you. I told you I can see the future, didn’t I?”

Lorcan had been drawing a course for them to follow on his road map with a red marker, and Aimee thought he hadn’t been listening to the four squashed together in the back, since all they were doing was bickering and complaining. It was really more of a case of trying not to listen on his part.

Now that he had her attention once more he wasn’t getting away from it, especially since Cairid had decided to wake up from rest mode. “Lorcan, what sort of magic can you do? Do you sparkle too?”

He was so unsettled by the question that he turned almost one hundred and eighty degrees in his seat and gave her the most unappreciative stare Aimee had ever seen in her life.

“What can you do then?”

Lorcan opened his mouth to speak and was cut off by words that were not spoken aloud, but were still heard loud and clear.

It makes me want to throw up any time I see you interacting with the inferior model. Della’s eye twitched as Conn and Cairid started. Even though she hadn’t opened her mouth, she might as well have spoken directly into their ears.

“That’s telepathy,” Maeve muttered, as Della accelerated over a volley of potholes. “She can read your minds.”

“That’s so rude!” exclaimed Aimee.

“I’m polite in Japanese. English is just a rude language, I guess.”

“Della, there’s no such thing as a rude language, just rude people. Argue with a child and I’ll kick you out of the car,” Lorcan warned.

Conn spoke to Maeve, as spooked as Aimee. “Ignoring the social Darwinist for a sec, she said ‘inferior model’. Models can get upgrades.”

Della snorted and leaned against the window at her side as though she’d prefer to jump outside than to spend more time in this company. Her eyes met Aimee’s through the rear-view mirror again. What she had said unsettled the girl, along with that mean look and the – well, the mind-reading mostly.

Maeve said nothing in reply to Conn, although her smile had been gone since Della had entered their minds.

“Will you just tell us why we’re here?” snapped Aimee.

“Why am I here?” Cairid moaned.

“Because you’re a busybody,” Lorcan muttered, busy.

Raising her hand for silence, Maeve dropped it like a bombshell with no warning whatsoever, which was also, most likely, nothing new. “You’re becoming a fairy. You, Aimee.”

Aimee stared at her blankly. “I’m becoming a what?”

Conn and Cairid looked on in shock, not entirely sure they’d heard it right. “She’s what?”

“Della sees fairies as an upgrade, even though she’s married many a human in her time –”

“Hey, it’s not my fault all men love Asian women.”

“– and while Lorcan and I don’t believe this, the point still stands: fairies are not born; they’re made. It’s called the Change.”

“Changeling. That’s what the new ones are called,” added Lorcan before directing Della down a road enclosed by trees that blocked what little light there was in the sky. He might as well have done it to set the mood.

“And when a new changeling begins to Change, there comes the Tug which is an inbuilt alert system that full fairies have. If anyone begins to Change the fairies receive the signal, all of them. It reveals the location of the changeling, or at least tells us what direction to go. It’s the same as when a microwave starts beeping; all you need to do is follow the source to get what you’re microwaving... which in this case is Aimee.”

Maeve frowned and slapped her knee, pondering over the metaphor for a moment until she was satisfied with it and said, “Humans become fairies. Aimee is becoming a fairy. Aimee is a changeling!”

She beamed at them all as though she deserved an award.

Aimee blinked. Her mouth hung wide open, and had been that way for Maeve’s entire explanation. “I’m becoming a what?”

Maeve’s smile vanished.

Imagine a train crashing into a building. Imagine debris flying everywhere, the terrific and terrible collision of metal and rock. Aimee’s reaction to what Maeve had said was like that.

“I’M BECOMING SPARKLY?!”

“No way!” Cairid shouted, absolutely livid as she threw herself over Maeve and Conn, wiggling out of the seatbelt she and Maeve were sharing (safety first). Once free, she ogled Aimee from over her brother’s knees as he did the same.

“This is so cool! So, I’ll have magic and stuff? How does that work? No wait, turn the car around – my mum’s at work, so we can go talk in the kitchen or something. And there are leftovers in the fridge if anyone wants them.”

Maeve stifled her nervous, manic laughter unsuccessfully as the car went silent. After an awkward beat, Lorcan came to the rescue and put an end to Maeve’s hysterics.

“Shut your mouth, Maeve. Aimee, we can’t take you home – don’t talk, listen.” Lorcan didn’t take his eyes from the road map, but he was not to be argued with. He was the authority of the three when they ran out of solutions, and though his temper was quick he commanded respect beyond it all.

Aimee kept her silence as he explained. That she was already feeling the effects of ‘the Change’, that she was sick and it was only going to get worse, and if she came out the other side she’d have magic like them, yes, but she’d stop aging too. She couldn’t go home, because the doctor had tipped off the Hunters, and they’d already be sending people to get rid of her. Her only chance was to run, and even if she escaped the Hunters, he said, it wasn’t possible to stop the Change.

He might have heard Aimee crumble into dust for the effect his words had as they sank in. Without pause, he turned on Maeve, jabbing the air between them with the red marker. “And you – stop acting the fool. You had one job.”

Maeve kept on with her unhelpful laughing.

“But I don’t get it – how am I that sick? I’ve just got a cough and a hangover.”

“They’re, um, telling the truth,” said Conn, and he passed her Maeve’s hand mirror. He was apologetic when he looked at her, like a doctor breaking the news of a terminal illness.

Aimee looked at her eyes. She liked her eyes, usually. They were caramel, she always thought: a rich, warm brown. But today they’d decided to do something strange. If she looked closely, she could see they were changing.

“The black’s leaking into the brown. They’re all messed up,” whispered Cairid.

“If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” Della added superciliously. “Only the strong survive.”

Only the strong survive, Aimee repeated, or perhaps it was Della meddling with her head. She didn’t want to run away or survive, or any of this nonsense. She wanted parties and homework and detention.

Maeve had laughed so hard she was almost weeping.

Conn looked from Aimee to Maeve in a robotic fashion, as though he was trying to work out how one could possibly become the other. “You don’t age.”

“True, true. We can be hurt and killed, but we don’t age.”

Aimee looked into the mirror again.

“But that’s after the Change. It could take years. It could take days. And you won’t be sparkly. Sparkles are mine, not yours.”

“No. It’s not true!” Aimee said viciously, tearing her face from her hands so abruptly she tore out the few strands of hair her fingers had caught. The three looks of concern made it worse. She caught apprehension from Conn as well; she must have looked rabid.

“The black’s leaking into the brown, pupils into irises. They’re reforming, developing a new structure, or, or...” Conn trailed off under Aimee’s glare.

“Bottom line,” Lorcan said, interrupting before things could get ugly again. “Magic Hunters – bad. Fairies – good. You, changeling – middle. Now let’s all do our best not to get shot to death and be civil.”

“But it’s not really as black and white as –”

“Maeve, shut your mouth.”

As Aimee looked up from her hands, Della looked away from the road, making contact once more with the sixteen year old through the mirror. They’re leaving out things. There’s a lot they haven’t told you.

Like what?

I can show you.

Just get out of my head. Now. Aimee looked away from Della and prayed she was gone from her mind. She was beginning to feel dizzy, though. That couldn’t be good.

“Don’t over-complicate things on her first day,” Lorcan was saying to Maeve. “We’re already up to our necks in trouble as it is.”

“That’s not fair, tell her the whole story!” snapped Cairid.

Maeve made a pitiful whining noise that Aimee hardly heard as her vision lurched and blurred. She fumbled for the handle of the door, feeling herself keel over. She blinked. The back of Lorcan’s seat had gone fuzzy. She blinked again, but her vision stayed blurred.

“The king wants to speak with you...”

“Conn,” Aimee whispered, touching the side of her head. She heard people speaking. She was seeing them, too. They came and went in flashes when she closed her eyes. “Something’s wrong.”

He didn’t hear her, but luckily someone had taken notice.

“Aimee looks like she’s about to throw up,” Cairid warned.

“Are you alright?” Conn asked, touching Aimee’s shoulder gently when she didn’t reply. She assumed it was gently. In truth, she couldn’t feel it.

“No,” she slurred, her tongue leaden in her mouth. “Not alright.”

“Stop the car,” Lorcan ordered after taking one look at her. “Stop it now!”

As Della slammed her heel onto the brake and the car skidded to a halt, fireflies crowded Aimee’s vision. The last thing she saw was Lorcan as he turned on Della, yelling, “What have you done?!”
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