It was Louie who woke Cherry & Trina, long after the sun had gone down and the moon, gibbous tonight, slithered between the stormclouds. It was going to rain, and rain hard.
Trina’s first thought was that the rain would make the burial easier.
Her second thought, catching up with the first, involved some swearing as she replayed the events of the day.
Cherry caught her face and turned it towards her own, eyes firm, “You did what you did to help me – and the rest of us. I’m grateful for you. For…everything that happened today…”
Cherry’s shyness resurfaced and the pause hung between them.
“Be out in a minute, Lou,” Trina responded to a second knock and gentle question. There was little point pretending to a pack of werewolves that she wasn’t in here, even if she’d wanted to.
Catching Cherry’s gaze again, Trina held it, letting a lopsided smile grow across her face. “I’m not sure about the killing part, but I sure would like to explore the bit where you were on top of me a bit further.”
Cherry laughed. To Trina it sounded like a running stream. It occurred to her that enough of that laugh might wear her into a new shape. It occurred to her that she might be OK with that.
“Maybe when the whole pack isn’t waiting on us,” Cherry suggested, but not before pressing a lingering kiss to Trina’s mouth.
Trina groaned. “Alright I’ll grab a new pair of sweatpants and be down in a minute.”
It wasn’t completely unheard of for members of the pack to return home to the scent of blood, or even a dead body. There was no panic when Trina arrived in the large dining room the pack used for meetings.
It looked like everyone was there. 22 werewolves, packed in around a table. Waiting for answers.
The Alpha, Sofia, spoke once Trina was seated, next to Cherry, who grabbed her hand under the table.
“Thanks for joining us,” she said. Her natural voice, modulated and enhanced by her Alpha powers, soothed the ripples that had begun around the table.
What Trina thought of as the Old Guard – a group of 5 men, old even for werewolves, sat in a huddle, glaring but saying nothing.
The rest of the pack were there to listen, and find out what was happening but them? They looked for a way to destabilise things. Trina ignored them and bared her neck briefly to Sofia, who smiled in acknowledgement.
Cherry, not being a werewolf, met Sofia’s eyes, and offered a friendly nod, which was returned.
“Cherry, can you tell us what happened?”
Trina opened her mouth, but Sofia held up a hand, “I’ll ask you next, I want to hear both your thoughts. But it’s a pixie down there, so I know Cherry is at the centre of it. Go on, Cherry, if you will.”
Cherry squeezed Trina’s hand reassuringly, and told the tale of how Barinta had interrupted them in the garden – stopping short of saying what was interrupted. At the end, she bowed her head, “Alpha, I’m sorry that Trina was involved, but her actions were only to protect me.”
“Noted,” Sofia nodded to Trina to begin.
Trina told the story again, filling in her side.”
“Can you tell me why you were so willing to kill this pixie, Trina?” Sofia asked.
“Cherry was in danger. She knows more about that than me – what I heard pass between her and Barinta is the sum total of my knowledge about anything. I trusted her, and I understood that she couldn’t bring herself to take the action herself, so I made myself willing to do it for her.”
Sofia nodded and looked around the table, “Now is the time for any of you to comment.”
The Old Guard grumbled, but the killing of enemies was actually something they favoured.
The age range of the rest Trina had only been able to guess at, as they aged much more slowly, but mid-twenties to sixties was her best guess. There were some unhappy faces, but nobody spoke. Killing someone wasn’t meant to be their first action, but they understood Cherry’s case to be different and, more importantly, trusted their Alpha.
Also, it was easy for the whole pack to see, to sense, to smell that Sofia was not angered, and that made it easier fir everyone to remain calm.
After receiving no replies, Sofia stood, “Cherry, Trina, I would like you to decide where Barinta’s final resting place should be. Fertiliser sounds like an excellent idea. Wait until morning, though, as we all need to gather our things. I hope the rain softens the ground.
“Pack, I want you to gather everything that can be carried onto the back of a large truck. Bring everything of your own, and as much communal property as you can. I will have two trucks here in the morning.
“Alfonse, to me please, I need some help from your magical friends. Everyone else, go ahead!”
The last sentence carried the crack of a whip, an order to be obeyed immediately.
The pack scrambled, noise shaking the walls of the old house as they thundered around looking for suitcases, bags, and anything else they could cram belongings into.
Trina wondered if she could just carry her desk and chest of drawers down, with everything packing inside. She had much less than the rest after all – in fact, she’d probably be able to offer some space.
Cherry tugged her hand as Trina automatically moved to obey the Alpha, and she stopped, turning back, “Sorry. I don’t really get a choice when she does that!”
“I know, and I will let you go, if you promise to come to my room when you’re done.”
Trina smiled, “The very second.”
Some distance away, through a small, well-concealed, entrance to an old, tree-covered mound in the middle of a forest, was a tunnel.
The tunnel, in case anyone unwelcome made it past the door, led to an open area, constantly manned by crossbows and three armed guards. To proceed further, the newcomer must stand before the guards, state their purpose, and submit to a search. All weapons would be removed and kept safe. Only those who lived here were allowed to take their arms deeper in.
Once past the guard post, another tunnel led downwards into the earth, eventually opening out into a cavern.
In here, there was constant bustle and the gentle sussurus of wings as pixies flew back and forth.
The walls were dotted with tunnels leading farther in, and some rooms just carved right into the rock. Balconies surrounded each floor, but there were no stairs – flight was the only way to access these areas.
Down a corridor leading from the very top of the cavern, a room, carved from stone, and then smoothed until it gleamed before being painted with geometric designs, held 7 pixies of varying ages and colours around a circular table. The oldest, and therefore the leader, was stood, pacing up and down, her red wings were pulled back in stress.
“Barinta has left us,” one of the younger pixies said. She was a pale blue, and her face was lined deeply as she frowned. “ Our locators are working now on pinpointing the location. They should have it by morning.”
“Do Barinta’s family know?” the red pixie asked.
“Not yet, Deserina,” a pixie with an orange blush to his skin spoke, “We wanted to have the full details first.”
Deserina nodded, “I will speak with them myself. She died carrying out my command, after all.”
A pixie clad in hammered metal armour cleared her throat, “Ma’am, may I lead the warriors to the location myself?”
Deserina looked at Cobalt – who was, indeed, cobalt blue, rich and deep, where she was not armoured, and nodded. “I know you were close. Be careful not to follow her to her grave. Go, get your people ready. They can move the moment the location is sure.”
Cobalt stooped, made a short bow to the others, and left.
“I would like to go, too,” a pixie dressed in a dark, hooded cloak said. He spoke softly, but all turned to him. “I may be able to extract information, either from Barinta, or those we kill.”
Silence filled the room for a long moment, before Deserina nodded.
The hooded figure bowed and swept from the room.
“There isn’t much else we can do now,” Deserina said at last. “We must have Cherry back alive, at all costs. Her power is too important to let her waste it. She never saw the importance of putting the clan above herself…” she shook her head sadly. “So we must take by force what she will not give.”
Finished, she marched out of the door, leaving silence behind her.
The orange pixie sighed, “I don’t understand why she can’t just let her go.”
“She was born in darker times,” another, his face flushed with a faint yellow glow, said. “The clans fought, and those with power were needed to keep us safe. That’s her world. It doesn’t matter that the truce has held for years, she still demands that sacrifice.”
The orange pixie sighed again, nodding, and the rest of the table left, parting ways to attend to their various duties.
The manor house was almost empty by the time the sun had properly rose. Two trucks were packed with as much as they could fit, and were being driven carefully down the driveway by pack members.
The Alpha was in deep conversation with a mage, who had shown up at Alfonse’s request. He would cover the tracks, lay some false ones, and follow them to their new home to wrap them in a shield and alarm system which would alert them to any intruders.
Upstairs, Cherry and Trina still slept. The pack had left them to it, not wanting to disturb them until they must.
Cherry dreamt of her home. The underground pathways familiar even after so long away. But something was wrong.
There was nobody here but her. All was in darkness, save one lamp in the centre of the cavern.
Hidden in the shadow the light left, a hooded, cloaked figure spoke, “Cherry ‘Garcia’,” he spat the last name. “You took on a human surname but you will never be one of them. They will never see you as their equal.”
Cherry squirmed in her sleep, “I don’t need them to. I’m amongst those who do.”
“But we’re coming for you, Cherry. And you know me. I’ll do what I do. To Barinta. To those wou have shielded you. They will die, too, but that will not be their end. I’ve always loved having the power to bring the dead back to life. I especially love standing over their graves and listening to them try to get out. They talk, then. Oh, do they talk. The problem is getting them to shut up – but I can do that, too. I can even make them be the ones that bring you back to us.
Cherry rolled her eyes in her dream, “Your creepy shit din’t scare me when I was there, Onson. It’s not going to scare me now.”
Cherry awoke, finding herself snuggles in Trina’s arms. She pulled them more tightly around her for a moment, and then turned, gently waking Trina with a kiss.
Trina’s eyes opened, and she smiled blearily through a yawn.
“I think they let us sleep,” Cherry said.
“Probably had an idea how tired we were…can’t keep much from a pack of werewolves,” Trina shrugged. “C’mon, let’s help with whatever’s left to do.”
But downstairs, there was nothing to do except pick a car and leave the old manor house behind.
Travelling with Sofia, Cherry recounted her dream, eyes flitting across the worried faces around her.
“That’s worrying information,” Sofia said when Cherry was done. “It seems we need to be prepared for more magic than we expected. Alfonse,” she turned to the fourth occupant of the car, driving behind the rest of the convoy. “Do your contacts have anything that might help? If they get through to us, we’ll need more than claw and teeth to defend Cherry – and ourselves.
Alfonse was quiet for a moment, his eidetic memory clicking through an inner rolodex, then he nodded, “Definitely a couple. They won’t come cheap though – especially if they’re facing pixies.”
Sofia nodded, “That’s fine. I’ll take over driving at the next rest stop, and let you handle negotiations.
Alfonse nodded his understanding, already calculating in his head where to begin haggling.
Cherry leaned against the car door, watching the motorway pass by.
Trina rested a hand on her knee, frowning to herself. Would protecting Cherry hurt the rest of the pack? Should it? Would it be better to not be anywhere that the pixies might look? Where might that even be?
“Cherry,” Trina spoke softly, indicating her phone.
Looking, Cherry saw a note typed, and read:
I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, but could we, maybe, go and be elsewhere? If the pack is going to be attacked for having you, maybe they’ll be left alone if they don’t – or at least it won’t be as bad. Could we get away? Is that the worst idea ever? I don’t want them to hurt, but I don’t want you to hurt either.
Cherry looked thoughtfully at Trina for a moment, “You would do this for me?”
Sofia glanced back, “I sense a plan arising. Tell me.”
Cherry told her, with Trina chipping in occasionally.
“You want to go on the run, with just Trina for protection, in the hopes that the pixies won’t hurt us so much if we don’t have you anymore? Did I get that right?”
Cherry and Trina nodded.
“Let me think about it,” Sofia said eventually.
Cherry turned herself into Trina’s body, where she was held snugly, and the two of them dozed.
At the next rest stop, Alfonse got out and Sofia took his place in the driver’s seat, but instead of returning, Alfonse was replaced by Brute.
Brute – real name Brutus – was one of the few older werewolves who supported the change in leadership, and Sofia’s role. He advised her, and his opinion was well-received. It seemed his opinion was needed here.
Sofia told him of the plan, and Brute spent a long, silent time, as they set off again, considering it, before he spoke.
“It might work – temporarily,” he said at last.
Sofia glanced over at him, “Go on.”
“Well, if the pixies think she’s with us, and we don’t disabuse them of this notion, we can keep them occupied long enough for these two to be well away. Then, when the pixies find out we don’t have her, they’ll either leave or try to wipe us out. We can deal with either of those, and then we bring these two back.”
“It’ll need magic,” Sofia said, deep in thought. “We could keep a part of Cherry’s essence with us, keep the charade going longer. We’ll also need something ongoing to keep their real essence off their radar.”
“That can probably be arranged with Alfonse’s friends – I hear he’s got a couple more coming to jon us for a bit.”
“It seemed wise,” Sofia explained Cherry’s dream.
Brutus grimaced, “Ugh. Necromancers. Hate those bastards. Dead things should stay dead, y’know?”
“And this one apparently likes to torture the dead, so extra points for being a creepy sociopath there.”
“Are there many pixie necros, Cherry?” Brutus asked, turning around.
“No, they’re really rare. Other magic we see a lot, but a necromancer…clans can go generations without one, and then one will arrive.”
“Same as yourself, then,” Brutus grunted. “Well we got the better end of that deal!” His big, scarred and grizzled face, smiled through his grey-lined beard, his dark eyes twinkling.
Brutus was the one who had found Cherry, fleeing for her life, pursued by members of her clan.
Her foresight had put her directly in his path, and she begged for his help.
She was wounded, weak, and almost grey. Even her wings drooped.
Brutus had put her gently into a hole in the bole of a nearby tree, and stood at the door. Calling for his pack, he had stood off three pixies, taking gashes from their magical swords, until others arrived to chase them away.
Cherry had then been gathered up and taken to the house they had lived in then. It had been much more of a scramble that time, to get out. They took what they could, piled into card and a couple of vans, and left. Only Sofia knew where their safe-houses were hidden. The Alpha looked after this for the pack, and the memory of this and all of the little things the Alpha needed to know were passed down by drinking the blood of the defeated, previous Alpha.
She had taken them to the manor house and used Alfonse’s magical friends to conceal them. It had been years, but it was always going to happen – somehow they would eventually find Cherry. She shut down the complainers, and gave Cherry a home, and a promise to protect her as long as they could.
Now, the contingency plans would be activated, and this new branch of it might give them a good shot of continuing to keep her safe.
Cherry had quickly become a pack mascot. She could tend to their wounds – she could see when infection would set in and head it off, she would know when to load the big spit-roaster outside with wood and set it alight, ready for whatever large animal the pack occasionally hunted. She kept them fed and nourished, and she reminded them that they had a purpose. Her presence, Sofia and Brutus agreed, was what kept the Old Guard from rebelling.
Sofia knew she needed a plan for that, now, but she wouldn’t discuss it in front of Cherry. It wasn’t her responsibility, but she would try to make it that way if she knew.
Sofia drove through the rain, keeping close to the rest of the convoy, wondering how much time they would have before pixie warriors landed on their new doorstep.
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