“Rachael, the pizza is getting cold.”
I rolled my eyes for what I was sure was the eight billionth time. “Yes Dame Ashlynn, it is.”
“I don’t think you quite understand me.” The fairy was right up against the gate of the cat carrier, thin arms folded on the wrong side of the grate. “The pizza is getting cold.”
“That is unfortunate, isn’t it?” I said.
“Why is the pizza getting cold?” Dame Ashlynn asked again.
“Because thanks to somebody, we now need to drive past every librarian’s house on the staff and make sure they aren’t also being invaded by fairies,” I explained for the nine billionth time, drumming my fingers against the steering wheel..
“Surely there are more important things!” Dame Ashlynn said. “For instance, the pizza is getting cold!”
Amber sighed. “Can I just give them a slice of pizza?”
“Yes!” Ashlynn cried.
“They’re like cats, Amber,” I said. “If you reward their annoying behaviour, they’ll never stop doing it.”
“I do not have annoying behaviour, you lying wrench!” the fairy yelled from the backseat. “I was promised pizza for moving to the back of this foul cage and now here I am, in your infernal jail, with no pizza as you taunt me by placing it just out of reach. And it’s getting cold!”
In response I turned up the volume on the radio. The loud dance music could hardly drown out the indignant yelling but it was slightly preferable.
Thankfully, we only had one more stop on our itinerary. Text messages with Mark had confirmed who had and had not remembered to activate their wards before leaving the house yesterday, but there was one last stop we hadn’t been able to confirm. Karen’s house.
I parked on the road, several houses away from hers. The fae probably knew where she lived, but there was no point in making it easy on them. Everything looked normal from here, but looks could be deceiving. I turned down the music to concentrate.
“There are no fairies on this block, can we eat now?” Ashlynn said as soon as the volume was down.
“Like I trust that,” I said sarcastically. “Be quiet unless you want this to take longer.”
Ashlynn sighed loudly, flopping against the grate like a ragdoll.
“What are you going to do?” Amber asked quietly.
“You hush too,” I said, reaching across to the glove compartment for my swiss army knife. I flicked out a blade far sharper than average, running my thumb across the edge. Beads of red sprang up from my finger. I closed my eyes to focus.
“Rachael, the pizza is getting cold!” Ashlynn complained from the backseat.
“Right, this isn’t going to work,” I said, opening the car door. “Watch them, Amber.”
“Me?” She gave me a desperate look and I smiled at her.
“If she starts really annoying you, just use her to practice your wind gusts.” I shut the door on her before I could hear her protests.
It was blissfully quiet outside of the car. I could still see Amber arguing with the fairy, but at least I couldn’t hear her anymore. Blissful, peaceful, silence.
I smudged the droplets of blood between my fingers, trying to send out telepathic feelers for my past spells in the area. It had been 4 year since I had activated the wards in Karen’s house, but hopefully I could still find them.
At first I almost couldn’t sense them. The blood connection had been almost wiped out beneath the constant green of her magic. But they were there, right where they’d been when I refreshed the carvings. Unfortunately, I could also sense they were inactive.
“Fuck,” I said, staring at her ivy covered house. It was nearly out of sight from the road, sheltered away behind unruly trees and bushes. I really hoped the fae hadn’t paid her a visit like they had Amber, but just in case, I needed to go inside.
I knocked on Amber’s window and she gave me a desperate look. “Please tell me we can go.”
“Afraid not,” I said. “I need to go inside. I’ll be back soon.”
From the back seat, I heard Ashlynn yelling.
“Rachael! Rachael! The pizza is…”
I walked away before I could hear her finish that sentence, buttoning up my trenchcoat.
Of all the places I wanted to be today, outside Karen’s house was the lowest on my list of wants. Of course, first place would have been taken up by ‘At home on my day off, waking up in my own bed,’ followed closely by ‘working another ordinary day as an ordinary librarian who doesn’t need to save the basis of modern society from a fairy queen.’ But as low as today had already scored, I really didn’t want to be standing outside her door, ringing her doorbell.
I didn’t have to wait long for a response. A tall man with a mohawk answered the door quickly. His face fell when he saw me.
“Oh, hi Rachael,” he said, sounding disappointed.
“Hey Corwin,” I said, giving him a half smile. “Sorry for not being your wife.”
“It’s hardly your fault,” he replied. “What the excuse this time?”
“Some pipes burst, we’re doing an emergency inventory,” I said confidently. Emergency inventory was close enough to the truth. “I just came by to pick up some extra clothes.”
“Mhm, and I bet you want to check all the windows while you’re here,” he said.
“Rachael, you’ve worked with Karen for nearly a decade now, right?” Corwin asked.
“About that,” I said with a smile. “She’s a great librarian.”
Corwin nodded. “And we’re on pretty good terms too, right? You’re over fairly often for drinks?”
“Yeah, we’re cool,” I said, already worrying where this was heading.
“If my wife was a secret agent for the government, would you let me know?” he asked.
I laughed, but it sounded a bit forced to me. “Probably not. Seems like it would defeat the point.”
He looked disappointed. “Well, go do your sneaky check then while I go get her some clean clothes.”
“Thanks,” I said, stepping inside. He closed the door and walked to the bedroom. The moment he was out of sight I did a quick run through the house, pressing my bleeding thumb to the runes at the corner of windows. They were all conveniently hidden beneath curtains, but having helped create them, I at least knew where they were.
“What are you doing?” a young voice asked behind me. I closed my eyes momentarily before turning around to face her kids, Hunter and Alicia. I always hated lying to kids, and I’d known Hunter nearly since he was born. The rest of the world did that quickly enough without me needing to speed it along.
“I’m making sure evil creatures don’t attack you while your mom is away,” I said lightly. Alicia rolled her eyes but Hunter seemed to take me seriously.
“Is she coming back soon?” Alicia asked. She was getting too old for fairy tales, but I told her one anyways
“I’m sure she will,” I said, moving to the next window and activating the ward. “Mothers are magical.”
Alicia snorted at me. “You don’t know, do you?”
“She might be a tree right now,” I replied. “I’ll make her call when she’s can.”
“You can just say you don’t know,” Alicia pestered. “Is she having an affair or something?”
I gave her a stern glare. “What have you been watching?”
Alicia rolled her eyes at me. “I’m not a baby anymore.”
“I still think you’re a bit young to ask that,” I grumbled. “But generally coworkers don’t show up to check the windows if that’s the case.”
“So then what?” Alicia asked.
“Let’s just call it magic,” I said. Alicia scoffed and walked away. If I was really lucky, she’d believe me. Her mom could probably use any extra power she could get at this point.
I finished up the rest of the wards quickly, meeting Corwin back at the door. “A change of clean clothes for her,” he said, handing me the small bag.
“Thanks,” I said, pausing for a moment before leaving. “Don’t suppose you noticed anything suspicious in the last night?”
“Other than my wife leaving for an emergency at the library and not returning for 24 hours or calling?” he asked.
“Other than that,” I said, fake smile plastered on my face.
“Nothing,” he said. “She is alright, isn’t she?”
I didn’t want to lie to him either.
“I think so?” I hedged. “She might be a tree right now.”
“I can never tell when you’re being serious,” Corwin said. “Should I be worried?”
I sighed. “I clearly misstepped in this conversation at some point.”
“Wasn’t you,” Corwin said. “Karen just used that excuse a few times too many. Either you guys really need to look into the plumbing, or something else is up. And people having affairs don’t come home just to check the windows.”
I was going to have to give Karen a talking to about setting wards when she got back. Assuming she got back.
“Sorry,” I said. “I sort of have pizza in the backseat getting cold. Any chance we can raincheck this conversation if I promise to explain later?”
“I thought you said you wouldn’t tell me,” he retaliated.
“I might have changed my mind,” I said, backing out the front door. “We’ll talk.”
I flopped back into the front seat of the car with a sigh of relief.
“Was there trouble?” Amber asked.
I grunted. “Don’t have kids.”
From the backseat, Ashlynn chirped up.
“Rachael! The pizza is getting cold!”