Due to overwhelming requests, I have decided to post an excerpt from Andromeda Rising.
It was just after dark when we started walking back to the condemned house. Despite the warmth of the evening, Mateo had me wear a hoodie with the hood pulled up and then cloak myself like we had practiced before we left the house so no one would see me going for a walk at dark. He was just a stray dog. Mateo was very worried about the Inquisitors that were still in the city, no doubt looking for me in the same area where I’d escaped them. My neighborhood. He was right. This was probably a bad idea.
It was weird walking down the street and knowing no one could see me. A man walking his poodle looked right through me, and I had to move quickly to avoid bumping into him. It was habit to think someone would move over on the sidewalk, but the man wasn’t going to move over if there was nothing to walk around.
It wasn’t long before we got to the property that housed the fairy tribe. We approached the opening in the fence where a beautifully paved walkway to the front door used to be. Now it was a badly overgrown path, littered with broken stones and exposed tree roots. Mateo gave me some instructions while we stood in the shadow of a tree.
“Keep your hood up but drop your cloaking spell and walk to the front door. Stop when you get halfway there. Set the basket down and slowly back away. We wait on the sidewalk until the guard comes to speak with us. When he does, you’re going to respectfully request to speak to the Chief. If we’re lucky, they’ll agree. If we’re not, be prepared to run. Fairies are suspicious of creatures bearing gifts.”
“Then why did we bring the basket full of stuff?” I asked with wide eyes.
Mateo ignored me. “Take the amulet Inari gave you out of your shirt. I’m hoping they’ll recognize you as someone who has protection. It may make things easier.”
“May?” I asked nervously.
“Most fairies hate humans,” he deadpanned.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “I’m not human according to you.”
He let out a low growl. “I’m very aware of that. I’m hoping they’ll think you’re an elf hybrid or something. Keep your hood up. If they figure out what you really are, we’re screwed.”
Well, wasn’t this fabulous? I took a deep breath, reminding myself I was the one that wanted to do this.
I dropped my spell and slowly picked my way through the broken paving stones towards the house. I heard some rustling in the dead bushes that served as a hedge. It sounded like a squirrel, but I knew better. I was being watched. The air around me was like an oppressive weight, the atmosphere the epitome of every scary movie I had ever seen, complete with the idiot girl walking to her doom. I was sure this was the house the neighborhood kids called haunted. My heart felt like it was in my throat. I knew a regular human would be scared and would likely not have gotten this far, and they would have no idea what they were walking towards. I knew what I was walking into, and the prickle of danger over my skin had raised the hair on the back of my neck.
When I got halfway to the house, I carefully placed the basket on the ground and slowly backed away. I really hoped none of the neighbors were looking out their windows because I must have looked like a nut case.
When I got back to Mateo, he pressed himself close in front of me. I took comfort in his protection but wasn’t sure how effective a dog would be against attacking fairies. Lord and Lady, I hoped it didn’t come to that.
I watched carefully and saw two shadows dart out from under the house to inspect the basket. There was a shrill sound like that of a bat and a third shadow joined the first two briefly before zipping back under the house.
“The Chief will have been alerted to our presence. Don’t make any sudden moves. They’ll be watching,” Mateo said quietly.
I held my breath as one of the small shadows came closer. The amulet on my chest began to vibrate softly, barely more than a hint of a humming—something to ask Mateo about if we lived through this.
It wasn’t long before I could make out a small man with the wings of a beetle. He was only about five inches tall with black hair, and he had gray skin that seemed to be stretched too tight over his small bones. His clothes looked like they were made out of dead leaves, cobwebs, and scraps of dark colored fabric.
Hostile black eyes narrowly appraised me, and I thought I saw him eye my amulet. “What do you want, human?” he snapped out in a harsh, grating voice.
“I respectfully request the honor of speaking with your Chief. I have some information I feel may be vital to the well-being of your tribe,” I stated with a respectful nod, happy to hear none of the nervousness I was feeling showed in my voice.
“And what do you want in exchange for this information,” he sneered, his voice clearly stating he didn’t believe I had any information the Chief would find valuable.
“I want nothing more than to pass it along and depart in peace.”
The guard snorted in disbelief. “I will pass along your information, should I think it worthy.”
“With respect, I would prefer to offer the information directly to your Chief.”
“Fine,” he spat and flew back to the house.
Several minutes later he came back, a small bow and arrow drawn and pointed at me. “You will be permitted to speak with the Baron. Walk to the steps. Any farther and we kill you where you stand.”
Mateo growled softly at the threat, and I put my hand on his head to quiet him. “We thank you for the opportunity and promise not to take any more of his valuable time than necessary.”
Mateo and I slowly retraced my steps back up the broken pathway, past the spot where I had stopped previously, to the ruined steps of the house, and stopped as instructed. A taller fairy flew forward out of the shadows of the dilapidated porch. He was maybe six inches tall and was wearing a suit made out of old black velvet. His shoulders were draped in spider webs, and his long silver hair was brushed back into a tidy ponytail at the base of his neck. His skin was olive toned but looked chalky, as if he were dead. With large, elaborately decorated, dusty gray moth wings and a small but wicked looking sword strapped to his hip, four other fairies flanked him, their large black beetle wings humming. Dressed in uniform, they were clearly his guards. Another small group of moth-winged fairies flew forward and seemed to hold some kind of status by the way the others deferred to them.
I heard rustling overhead and glanced up to see several bats grasping onto the porch roof with small fairies perched on their backs. The fierce glittering of their small black eyes matched those of the bats. This was the aerial protection, I assumed with a faint shudder. My attention was brought back to the Chief when he spoke.
“My sentry tells me you have information for me, madam.” His voice was deeper than I would have expected for someone of his size, and I was impressed with the level of respect he showed me.
I was at a bit of a loss as to how I was supposed to address him but figured sir was safe enough. “I do, sir. I hope I do not offend you by presuming you don’t know what happens in your territory, but—”
The nasty little guard who’d escorted us here took offense anyway and erupted in fury, flying up into my face and threatening me with his own small sword. “That is Baron Blackthorn, leader of the coastal tribes, you are addressing, you worthless human! Watch your tongue before I cut it out of your useless head!”
Mateo snarled fiercely, his hackles rising as he tensed.
The Baron held up a hand to silence the guard. “Quiet, Nettle. While she has the sight, she has no knowledge of our ways. You will show her the respect she has shown us thus far or you will find yourself cleaning mole holes for the next moon.”
The guard fell silent at the admonishment, drifting slowly back to the porch and bowing low. “Excuse me, my Lord.”
The Baron turned back to a still tense but calmer Mateo and me. “Please excuse the rudeness of my sentry, madam. I would hear your information and then decide if it is a presumption or not.”
Goddess, the guy wasn’t just a chief, he was a Lord. The many ways I could screw this up were staggering. I remembered playing tea party with my mom as a child and the way we would pretend we were royalty, greeting others to our table. I had nothing to lose by being excessively formal. As my last foster mom liked to say, “Good manners never offended anyone.”
“My Lord Blackthorn, my friend Mateo and I were out walking this afternoon and overheard a human planning the destruction of this house and property two days hence to make way for a new block of human houses. I feared your tribe would be killed and decided to offer the warning.”
His guards grew restless at my words, the advisors to the side murmuring quietly amongst themselves, and the Baron was silent for a long moment. I started to get nervous.
“Why would you trouble yourself to warn us? What is it that you want in return?” he asked.
“The doctrines of the Lord and Lady require their followers do no harm, and I felt if I kept my counsel, then my inaction may cause your tribe harm. I want nothing in return for the information except that you do not reveal my existence to others. I have my own enemies and am taking a great risk to give you this warning,” I told him truthfully.
“What is your name, madam?” he asked.
“Jocelyn Matthews, my Lord.”
The Baron looked at me for a long moment and then switched his gaze to Mateo. “Have you nothing to say?” Obviously, he recognized Mateo as something other than a dog.
“No, Baron Blackthorn. She interferes against my advice. I am here only to ensure she comes to no harm,” Mateo said shortly.
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help it.
The Baron must have caught my expression because he smothered a smile, composing himself quickly. “I have several large tribes living in the area, Lady Matthews. The Chiefs and I are responsible for many.” He waved a hand towards the advisors, who I now knew to be the leaders of the tribes under Baron Blackthorn’s domain. “Where would you have us go? Especially if time is as short as you claim.”
I thought for a long moment. What did I know about fairies? I replayed the little bit of information that Mateo had given me earlier. “I admit, my Lord, I know little of fairies. However, there is a large park located behind my house only a few blocks from here. There is a series of hollow tree caves scattered in the darkest part of the park. Most are well hidden from the humans. I only know of them because I dug a tunnel out of my house as an escape route in case I am attacked by my enemies. The caves may be a safe place for your people to shelter until you can find a more suitable home.” It was the only suggestion I could offer, and I hoped he wouldn’t be offended.
I could feel Mateo stiffen in anger when I mentioned my escape tunnel, but I figured the show of trust might convince the Baron to believe in my good intentions.
“You surprise me, Lady Matthews. Not many would go out of their way to warn an Unseelie fairy tribe of impending danger or expose themselves in such a way; you are unique. I find your information to be vitally important. As you have said, you risk much to bring me this information and even more by revealing such information about yourself. These are perilous times, and I suspect we have a shared enemy.” He raised his voice so everyone could hear him. “Your identity will be kept within the tribes. None shall speak of you by name or describe you in any way.” His words held a command and all the fairies present nodded in response. He gestured behind him and a younger male fairy dressed in a similar fashion stepped forward. “I would ask that you take my son, Bracken, with you and show him the caves.”
He spoke to his chiefs. “Alert the tribes. Tell them to gather their belongings quickly. We begin leaving two hours before sunrise.”
The Baron turned back to me. “We are in your debt, Lady Matthews, for your timely warning. I always pay my debts.”
“No thanks are needed, Lord Blackthorn. I have done only what was right. We will leave you now to return home. Your son, Bracken, will be shown the caves so you may relocate your people as quickly as possible. I’m sure you have much to carry, so with your consent, I will take the gifts I brought and leave them in the caves for your arrival,” I offered.
“That would be appreciated, Lady Matthews. I will think on a way to repay your unexpected kindness.” He bowed slightly and turned to issue orders to an ever growing group of fairies.
I pulled my hood farther up, making sure my face was hidden, as I turned to follow Mateo. We left quickly with the small fairy, Bracken, following silently behind us.
“We will talk about this, Jocelyn,” was all that Mateo said to me.
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