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The sun was just starting to get low in the sky when we pulled into Kinder’s driveway, staining the driveway orange and gold. I notice Jeff still in the window but he got up the moment the car came to a stop. I parked alongside Karen’s dark forest, staring into it intently.

“Has it changed?” Amber asked, getting out of the car. The sun reflected off her silver shirt, turning it gold as well. I was impressed with how clean she still looked. Other than the loose waves of hair around her face and the slightly red and puffy marks on her face, she looked like she could walk into work tonight.

“I think so.” I was pretty sure those red flower hadn’t been as plentiful when we left. The thorn bush that we’d used before leaving was now covered in crimson primroses, and they speckled the forest interior of the forest as well. “Has your hand stopped bleeding?”

She turned her hand over but before she could really investigate I heard the all too familiar voice of Dame Ashlynn from within the car. Amber sighed. “Let’s deal with food first.”

I nodded, opening the backseat for the cat carrier and my sword. Amber grabbed the pizza, needing both hands to carry the boxes and drinks.

“You really are at the peak of your annoyance game today, Dame Ashlynn,” I said as I followed Amber inside.

“Less talking, more pizza,” she replied.

“Is Sir Errok even alive back there?” I asked. I’d seen him in the back of the cage but he seemed oddly subdued for a fairy the entire trip.

“Don’t worry yourself with him,” Dame Ashlynn said. “He believes I sold him out for pizza.”

“In my experience, when you fae say not worry about something, that’s precisely when I should worry.” I didn’t hear the fairy’s response as I stepped over the threshold into Kinder’s house.

“I see you’ve been in the basement,” Kelcie said when I stepped inside.

I sighed. She couldn’t even let me get to the pizza before she was ready to pick a fight.

“I was,” I said. “I was all over town covering our asses. I brought you back a gift.”

She at least looked surprised when I dumped a cat carrier full of fairies in her arms. “What is-”

“Rachael!” Dame Ashlynn yelled.

“Yes, yes, I’m getting you a slice,” I said. “I just need to get to it before the ravenous hordes descend.”

“Rachael!” Kelcie yelled as I stripped off my jacket. “Why do I have a fairy?”

“You don’t,” I called as I walked into the kitchen. “You have two!”

‘Ravenous hordes’ had been only a mild understatement. Nate had finally woken up, and had loaded down his plate with at least half of the meat lover’s pizza. Jeff’s plate was no smaller, but he at least had picked a few different types of pizza. He made way as I helped myself to two plates, adding an extra slice of cheese pizza to the extra plate.. Amber was standing to the side with two slices, watching on in horror.

“I thought you were overestimating when you told me to get 6 extra-larges,” she said when I emerged from the fray.

I gestured to Nate with my head. “Healing makes you hungry. If we’re lucky, there will be leftovers for Karen.”

“Karen?” Amber asked, peering into the crowd. Her tellatale pink hair was not part of the moving crowd.

“She’ll be hungry too,” I said. Mark started walking away from the food and back towards the living room and I fell in step beside him.

“How are you doing?” I asked. He still looked tired to me, but magical healing was rarely a perfect science. It largely depended on the person doing the healing at the time. Nate’s healing had a tendency to work quickly but left both him and the patient exhausted afterwards. Karen, meanwhile, took more time to heal but the results didn’t come with the same level of tiredness when she was done.

“I already have Kelcie and Kinder fussing over me,” he said, clicking the pop tab on his can of root beer. “I don’t need you to start too.”

I snorted. “Well then fine. Is there any sign of Karen?”

Mark shook his head. “Still missing. Nate’s awake though.”

“I noticed,” I said. “Was he okay?”

“Just exhausted,” Mark said. “Like me.”

“Rachael!” Kelcie and Ashlynn’s voices overlapped on my name. “Why do I have two fairies?”

Kelcie was sitting on a chair in the living room, the cat carrier placed on the table facing her. Ashlynn watched my approach with excitement. Mark walked right past the carrier to the couch, flicking his root beer open and drinking it immediately. The look on his face spoke of great satisfaction.

“They were invading Amber’s apartment when we got there,” I said, handing Kelcie the second plate of pizza. “She decided they were too annoying to talk to and opted to bring them back for you. The top slice is for the fairies.”

“I can’t imagine why she thought that,” Kelcie said, sliding the cheese pizza through the wider space at the bottom of the cage. “Couldn’t you have negotiated with them?”

I scoffed at the same time the fae did, sitting down on the wide window ledge to look out Kinder’s window. “The last time I talked to the fae I initiated an eight year cold war. If I try to talk to them, they’ll just lie.”

“The fae can’t lie, Rachael,” Kelcie said, leaning back to eat her own pizza. “You know that.”

“They can and they have,” I retaliated. “Even if it’s just once a decade, they’d take that opportunity to use it on me.”

“So you trust a demon to heal you but you don’t trust a fae to tell you the truth?” Kelcie asked, gesturing at her own face where my cuts used to be. “You’re too paranoid, Rachael.”

“And you’re too trusting,” I said around a mouthful of pizza. It had gotten a little cold, which I was sure Ashlynn was about to complain about, but the combination of bread, sauce and cheese satisfied the hunger I’d barely noticed creep up on me. “But you’re also more likely to talk to them without causing another large-scale incident.”

“I’m glad you think so highly of me,” Kelcie muttered, staring into the cage. “Is the one at the back sick?”

“Sir Errok?” I asked. “He shouldn’t be.”

“He doesn’t seem interested in the pizza,” Kelcie said.

“Sir Errok, what’s wrong?” I asked, raising my voice a notch or two and turning to the table. I couldn’t see into the cat carrier from this angle, but I got back a tiny grunt back from it. I shrugged. “He’s been moody with me since Dame Ashlynn appeared.”

“Lover’s quarrel?” Mark suggested.

“Eww!” came Dame Ashlynn’s high voice.

“Evidently not,” Kelcie said, leaning forward. “Do you just not like cheese pizza, Sir Errok?”

“There was garlic bread promised,” he replied.

“Shoot, I forgot!” I ran into the kitchen to grab some, hoping it hadn’t all vanished. The remaining 3 librarians and Kinder all sat around the kitchen table, deep in discussion. It seemed that the prime topic was how Amber had gotten so many scratches just picking up pizza. I didn’t bother joining the discussion as I rooted through the bags to find the last piece of garlic bread, bringing it up for Kelcie.

As I walked into the room, the front window was an open panoramic of the dark wall of forest outside. The sun was finally setting, staining the entire forest in shades of red.

And walking out of the thicket like it didn’t even touch her was a very naked Karen.