The continuing adventures of a bounty-hunter pixie and his reluctant fairy princess. If you missed the first parts, look here for the links to them. Enjoy!
Bella hit a curve at a wild speed and I clutched tighter at her middle. With all the layers in the way, I couldn’t tell if I had waist, or something further up. Not that it mattered… I couldn’t appreciate it anyway. Damn my life. Up until this morning it had been all beer and skittles, or at least monster hunting with the occasional threat of death by dismemberment, and the rare evening by the fire with my pipe. Now I had a fairy princess to protect, and no way to do it. Until I got her safely back Underhill, into the thick of the conspiracies and politics of Fairy, shifting like quicksand. Dammit.
She shouted something over her shoulder I didn’t catch. I opened my eyes, releasing the Sight and re-engaging with the visible. My eyes teared up and I blinked rapidly to clear them. She was slowing down, and the reduced wind chill helped me get my eyes clear.
We were on the bank of the Tanana. She slowed almost to a stop and pointed. I understood that she was warning me it was about to get rough.
“Ok!” I shouted into her ear, and we tipped over the bank.
I leaned in the same direction she did. Same principle as balancing a motorcycle. The ice on the river was rougher than I had expected, and she slowed down as we crossed. I had a chance to look around.
The moon had fully risen, and it was almost bright as day now that we were out of the thick forest. It was a world of black and white, with shadings of grey. The river ice that had looked smooth from high up on the bridge earlier today was revealed to be as cracked and ridged as a crocodile’s skin. She slowed even further.
“I’m listening. When the water flows under the ice, sometimes it leaves hollow places that just have a thin skin over them. If I hear cracking, we change course.”
“Wouldn’t going faster be better?” I wondered if she could hear the concern in my voice. I felt like someone had just dumped a bucket of that ice down my back.
She’d heard it. I could hear the laughter in her voice. “You mean like the idiots that try skimming over open water? We wouldn’t know how big the hole was, and on this surface we couldn’t go fast enough to make it, more than likely.”
We were almost all the way across. I could see the trail opening in the trees above us, and the bank was shallower on this side. I breathed out… and then gulped for air as the ice gave out under us.
We were in freefall for a fraction of a second, just long enough for her to squeak in terror and me to tighten my grip on her. Then the machine hit bottom with a crunch. We had dropped perhaps three feet. I let go of her and stood up. Yep, I could see out of the top, we weren’t down far. She had let go of the throttle and the engine was idling.
Bella looked up at me. “We’re stuck?”
The way the pocket was shaped, it looked like it. Sheer ice, layered and banded with sediment, it curved ahead of us. I looked around. It was very beautiful. Where the headlight was shining into the ice I could see faint blues and cloudy whites. It wasn’t a perfect circle, rather a sort of pointed oval shape. And there was no way to drive out of it.
“We’re still about five miles from town?”
She nodded at me. Wrapped in her warm layers, only her eyes showed, but I could see her worry. It was night, it was very cold, and we had no chance if we had to walk into town. I looked up toward the distant bridge. It was only a half mile at a guess, but our enemies were expecting us there, and no guarantee of a neutral passer-by.
“Shut it down.”
“Turn it off. And get off, and stand over there.” I pointed at a spot well away from the machine.
She didn’t hesitate now, hopping off as she shut the engine down. I walked around the front of the snowmobile, kicking at the ice. It was really solid. The top edge curved in a little at neck height, where it hadn’t broken when we fell in.
“Ok, let’s get you up there.” I turned to her and waved her to come over.
“What are you doing?” she asked nervously, but obediently came to my side.
“I’m getting us out of here. Do you need a boost?”
“We cannot walk to town,” she told me flatly. Then Bella accepted my cupped hands and I gave her a gentle hoist. She scrambled up and stood looking down at me. I decided I had better start explaining. This was a good time to start teaching her, before the bad guys really caught up with us.
“You know why the Folke are different from humans, right?”
She peered down at me. I grabbed the front of the snowmobile and pulled upward. Heavy, but more awkward than anything, especially with a hot engine. I really didn’t want to burn myself, that smarts.
“We have special powers?” She sounded hesitant, like she didn’t quite believe it.
“We do. Magic, Bella,” her name tasted strange, rolling off my tongue. I would think about that later. “Magic that is linked to who and what we are.”
I heaved upward and got the machine up over my head, the skis on the edge of the hole. I ducked out from under it. She had backed off from the edge a little.
“Are you using magic now?” she sounded a little nervous now.
“A little. Pixies are also quite strong. I don’t have full access to my magic, I’m an earth being. All this ice is…” I tried to decide how best to describe how it felt. “Muffling my magic.”
I looked up. She was near the edge again. “Back way up, the machine’s coming up.”
She retreated to safety, and I got to the rear of the machine and breathed deeply. I reached out with my senses and could feel the resonance of the thin layers of sediment trapped in the ice. That was all I could access, the ice under my boots kept me from tapping into the earth fully. It was enough. I heaved upward, and the machine caught a little on the ice, breaking more of it as it left the hole and landed above me with a crunch.
“Heh.” I panted. “Not bad for an old man.” Bella hadn’t heard that, I realized, she was still way back from the edge. I grinned and looked at the ice layers. Using the sediment as toeholds, I got up and out faster than I’d hoisted her up.
Her eyes were very wide. I couldn’t see their color in the moonlight.
“Ready to get going again?”
She nodded and approached the machine slowly. “Lom…”
“Yeah?” I waited for her to mount before I climbed on behind her.
“What else can you do?”
“Lots. And yes, you have magic. I will teach you how to access it once we get somewhere and settled.” I answered her unspoken question and evaded having to explain too much about my abilities.
“And is mine… earth magic?”
“No, Fairies have air magic. Some of them also have an affinity for fire.”
She nodded, which I felt more than saw, and gunned the engine. We were off again. I hoped for a smooth ride into town. Now, I had other things to worry about. We couldn’t just swing by her place and pick up her travel documents. I didn’t even know if she had a passport. I wasn’t going to ask her about it now, though. We were back up to her favorite speed level: insane, and that was going to make talking impossible over the whine of the engine.
The trail broadened a bit here, and we were now riding on a trail that was beaten down by other snowmobiles, it no longer felt like water under us. She did something I didn’t think was possible and opened the throttle even further. I went back to my safe position behind her shoulder and pondered her reactions while I opened my sight again. This close to town, enemies were more likely.
Bella hadn’t said anything about being afraid, but her need for speed was telling me loud and clear she was worried, and feeling unsafe out here in the woods. I didn’t really blame her. This had to all be a shock, the Troll, my revelations, and now a pell-mell flight through a frigid winter night. I may have impressed her with my snowmobile toss, she was impressing me with her fortitude. All this would come at a cost, though. I was worn to the bone from my magic use earlier, and she was going to hit the end of her endurance eventually.
Properly grounded – literally, that is, bare feet to the earth – I could go on almost forever. I had come close to my limits once, and it had kept me alive through a Hunt that would have killed anyone, anything, else. But on the ice, with only a little sediment to draw from, I had drained my own reserves. I hadn’t told Bella that because she didn’t need to know. Not where my weaknesses were, only that I was a lot stronger than she would have been.
What it meant was that I was going to need to rest, soon, and refuel. Hopefully there would be food at the airport. We zipped past a house, making the sled dogs tied in their yard start barking uproariously. She didn’t even turn her head. I could see the dim glows of their life, seven of them, then we were turning. I kept my eyes closed. She knew where we going, and I needed to See more than watch the road. So far, only ordinary lives were visible.
She turned again, and I guessed that we were following a road now, from the feel, and the corners rather than curves. We must be getting close, there were more people around, although we were moving fast enough I was just registering and letting the glows pass, like the lights of oncoming traffic. When the really bright one showed up directly in front of us, like a lighthouse beacon, I opened my eyes quickly.
Breaking out of the Sight can be a little disorienting. For all the times I have had to do it in a hurry, it has never gotten any better. I opened my mouth to shout a warning at her, and then realized she was slowing. We were at the airport.
“Bella, wait,” I spoke into her ear, sure she would hear me now. She came to a stop, just outside a small building with the grandiose sign “Tok International Airport” over it.
”What is it?” She turned to look at me as I let go and slid off.
“There is…” I wasn’t sure how to explain it. The door opened and two men walked out. One was wearing brown coveralls, the other was in a parka and jeans. Both were heavily bearded, something I had come to expect of Alaskan males.