As the pack settled into the safe house, half unpacking and half locking the place down with cameras, traps and sensors, Alfonse took one of the cars and drove away, promising to return as soon as he could.
Trina and Cherry were ensconced in a panic room, guarded by two pack members at all times. They watched the monitors from a comfortable sofa as everyone ran, walked or stalked around, often barking orders at each other, the chaos somehow slowly becoming organised.
When Alfonse returned just after dark, it was with three people, all of them dressed to stand out.
Nikolay, hair shaved up the sides and teased upwards, with a red streak drooping down over his forehead, wore dungarees and nothing else. Not even shoes. And the dungarees were a riot of colour, constantly moving and changing. His skin was similar to the dungarees, but more subtle, olive one moment, swirling to the dusky brown of the desert the next, to the white of the west, then the darker tones of the sun-kissed equator.
Sam, her buzzcut soft and dark, multiple piercings dotting down one ear, with a fine chain leading to a nose ring, wore a mix of black and red, dramatically juxtaposed against each other. Her soft brown skin was covered in swirling mehndi, which seemed to glow slightly, leaving faint trails as she moved.
Pearson had long, white hair, their eyes pale blue, skin seeming to glow in the darkening gloom of the day. They wore a flowing robe of deep blue, highlighted with lines of glittering gold, reaching down to their feet.
Alfonse brought the three mages into the panic room – which was, fortunately, pack-sized – and the five of them made introductions.
Nikolay, it transpired, was a master of deceptive magic. Illusions, delusion, glamours, and more. He would be both disguising the safe house, and casting false trails. This would make it take longer for the pixies to discover them. He was also going to place a lasting disguise on Trina and Cherry. Not permanent, not without being refreshed, but he could cast a powerful one that should last for a few weeks, and he could help to cover their trail as well.
Sam, eyes gleaming, explained in detail what the traps she was going to set would do to any unsuspecting pixies that crossed the barrier which marked the boundary of the wolflands attached to the safehouse. She also promised a few portable surprises that the two of them could take when they left: things to keep them safe while they rested, and things to use if caught up with.
Pearson smiled mysteriously when asked what they would do–at least until Alfonse rolled his eyes and poked their arm with one stubby finger. Then, he laughed, and explained that he would need some of their essence–preferably distilled from a small vial of their blood–in order to both counter the essence leading away from the safehouse, and to plant a lingering sense of them still being present. He would plant it inside the panic room, so any pixie smart enough to try and find out would come up against thick steel coated in thick concrete, held together by strong magic – which all three of them would also reinforce.
Intended to keep beings of supernatural strength at bay, the panic room was not going to be easy even for an army of pixies to open–even with their weapons of light and air.
Trina and Cherry listened to these three powerful mages, whom Alfonse and their Alpha had trusted with the safety not just of the two of them, but with the whole pack. With each sentence, they felt better about the pack addition to their plan–of convincing the pixies, for as long as they could manage, that they were here. All the while, having no idea where they were actually going.
Once the mages had set about their work, Sofia came in to see them.
Trina and Cherry still sat on the sofa, each now sporting a small cotton wool ball taped to their skin, thanks to the blood drawing.
“Everything alright here?”
They both nodded.
“You got the chance to ask questions, make sure you understand everything?”
They both nodded again.
“And one of them…I’m going to guess Sam, took your voices when you asked too many?”
Sofia grinned when they both stared at yer for a moment, then realised the joke and laughed.
“Sorry, Alpha,” said as Cherry continued snickering. “I’m clear on everything. Honestly just ready to get going, you know? The more I wait, the more anxious I get.”
“I get that, Trina. I’ve had some of the pack make you both a kit. Food, clothes, tent, sleeping bag. They’ve both got a little added magic to give them more space and take up some of the weight, but the glamours on you both will also cover what you take. That room starts to go or that weight starts to come back? That’s your glamour fading. That’s when you come home. OK?”
“But how will we know what we’re coming back to?” Cherry asked.
“In both bags are a couple of burner phones, loaded with some minutes. Use once, to call the number saved in the memory, then dump. It’ll call yet another of Alfonse’s friends–this one a tech genius of some sort–and you’ll be safely and indirectly connected to one of us, at least for a few minutes.”
“How long until it’s safe for us to go?” Trina asked, betraying her anxiousness again.
“Give us an hour. Lou is going to feed you up a bit, while the mages finish their stuff, then they’ll get you both ready to go.”
An hour later, and they were both fed, glamoured, and ready to move out. Only they could see through their glamours–even the pack weren’t given that ability. To them, Trina was now short, plump, with lightly tanned white skin, and mousy brown hair in a high ponytail. Cherry, meanwhile, was human–her wings and pixie shadings gone, replaced by dark skin and eyes–though she had kept some of her green colour, threaded as beads through box braids. Their features had been carefully crafted to be as nondescript as possible. People might remember the box braids and the ponytail, but they wouldn’t be able to describe the faces.
Brute and Sofia helped them both with their packs–lighter and roomier, as promised. They had all the camping equipment they could need, lots of food, changes of clothes, even a tablet each, loaded with books, music, movies and games. Sofia also handed over an envelope each, both thick with bills, all below 50s: nothing to make them memorable. If they needed more, she told them, just use one of the burner phones and something would be discreetly arranged.
Thus loaded and prepared, Nikolay and Pearson added on the best spell they could create between them, to keep Trina and Cherry unseen for the next few hours–enough time to escape the wolflands and be deep into the woods beyond.
Farewells were made, and fierce hugs given to them both, then they set off through the back door, and were quickly lost to sight in the woods at the bottom of the garden, that would take them far away from the wolflands before releasing them into the world beyond.
Onson stood in the shadows of the main cavern, watching the warriors form up. Cobalt was in full armour, now, shining blue and steel in the lamplight, as she walked up and down the lines, inspecting. Occasionally she would point to something needing tightening, or buffing, or a posture that was wrong. But for the most part, she seemed pleased with the warriors she had chosen for this particular mission.
Her final check was to have them, one by one, produce their weapons.
Out came dual blades, bows, crossbows, flails, bladed ropes, and broken down staff weapons. The light danced off each of the blades, making them flicker in and out of visibility.
Cobalt nodded, satisfied, and the weapons disappeared in a moment. She looked up, searching for Deserina’s face, and received a nod when she found it. Nodding back, Cobalt gathered herself and spoke.
“Friends, you know what’s happening. Cherry, the traitor, took her ability from us–an ability that belongs to the clan. To the collective. To all of us. Barinta discovered her, and died, but in doing so she showed us where the traitor was. I say was, because the traitor knew we would come, and has left that place. But we have sniffed her out. Your siblings amongst the trackers know where she, and her pack of mongrels, went.
“We are going to get her back, and we will remove any obstacle that lies in our way. There is no return, without the traitor bound and carried with us. Is this understood?”
There was a loud chorus of agreements. They all knew the drill: once they left the Hollow, they could not return until their task was complete. To do so, would mean their death at the very first guardpost. There were no excuses, and no mercies.
Cobalt moved her people out, a glamour cast across them all to remain unseen by non-supernatural humans. As they exited to the night sky, she looked up and swore, on every star she could see, that Cherry would return with her, in chains.
Clouded in shadow that now followed him, Onson trod silently just behind her.
Back inside the Hollow, Deserina returned to the council chambers and resumed her pacing. She was alone in the room, without a meeting called, but an unofficial meeting was happening elsewhere.
In a disused cave, carved out when there were more clan members than there were today, four pixies huddled together in the dark, the only light their natural hues or yellow, pale blue, turquoise, and amber.
The turquoise pixie, Tethyn, spoke once the noise of the Hollow had resumed following the departure of the warriors; “I agree, we can’t do this anymore. Deserina…she’s always been a little out there. Succeed or die, clan before everything. It’s old-fashioned, and it’s keeping us from making friends with others, holding us back. And I’m sick and tired of her bloodlust. I didn’t know what to do until you three came to talk to me, I…I just can’t. It’s been too much. Grave after grave after grave. I’m tired of burying my friends, or of not knowing if they’re even alive because they weren’t allowed back.”
There was silence, while the others nodded their agreement.
“Those werewolves who have Cherry,” mused the orange pixie, Dormand, “I don’t want to lose more of us to them, but they’re going to tear Cobalt and her people apart!”
“I’m not sure we can stop that now,” sighed Lelan, the pale blue pixie, “But we can certainly stop Deserina.
“If you’re suggesting what I think you are,” Ceserina interrupted, her yellow glow pulsing a little, “I’m not sure I can agree.”
“And what is it you think I’m suggesting?”
“Killing her, I presume.”
“Not necessarily,” Tethyn broke in before the two of them bega squabbling. “We could convince her to step down, maybe.”
“Her? Who never met a rule she didn’t like? When the traditions say the oldest rules, until they die or are no longer capable?” Lelan laughed quietly, “I doubt it. ”
“Then we force her to abdicate,” Ceserina suggested. “New age, new rules. If enough are against her, she has to listen, surely.”
“And how, exactly, do you plan to check who would take our side, without her finding out before we’re ready?”
Dormand cleared his throat, “I could help with that, I think.”
“You can’t read minds that deeply, Dor,” Ceserina reminded him.
“Maybe not, but I can read the top of a mind, and offer a suggestion to see what comes back.”
“So,” Tethyn went on, thoughtfully, “You test each one by giving them the suggestion that Deserina abdicate, and see how many positives we get. Then maybe we can talk to them.”
“It’s a start…” Lelan nodded. “Use this cavern, Dor. One of us will be here to stand guard so you can focus. And if anyone comes asking, I guess…I dunno…we’re meeting for sex?”
Dormand laughed, then covered his mouth to quiet it down, “With all of you? Sure, why not, I could do with a boost on that side of my reputation.”
The four of them sniggered into their hands.
“Anyway, may as well start now. If any of you find a suggestion arising that you really need to talk to someone about Deserina. Or if you feel a sudden urge to show up here. It’ll be me telling you to do so. Don’t do anything if you’re not sure–I’d rather be safe than get caught–but I’ll be as solid as I can.”
“Got it. I’ll stand first guard, I shouldn’t be missed,” Tethyn nodded to the other two, “Ceserina, relieve me in four hours for another four hours, or as long as Dor can go for. Dor, don’t exhaust yourself, there’s a lot of us to get through. When you start to tire, you’ll rest and eat, and make sure people have seen you around, then Lelan can guard the start of your next shift. And we’ll just circle around like that until you’ve tried everyone.”
With the beginnings of a plan in place, and something solid to do, all four felt easier, and Lelan left with Ceserina, going separate ways, to attend to duties and ensure they were seen around. It wouldn’t do for Deserina to get suspicious.
At the safehouse, the three mages had left, with envelopes of cash, and promises to return daily to refresh their work.
The pack prowled, restless. Some were in human form, some in wolf form, but all of them paced the house. Occasionally soft growls came from their chests and hackles rose with tension.
It was a clear night, a gibbous moon moving through the sky, pulling their blood like tides, and they reacted. Howls rose from human and wolf throats, and figures stretched in the moonlight, ready.
The cameras, it seemed, were useless. Whatever glamour they had cast apparently fooled the equipment. All they had were the alarms and traps set by themselves and the mages.
When the first peal came, high and piercing, it was with a flare that shot up into the sky, marking the spot. The side of the wolflands had been breached.
Brute led three pack members to the location, finding nothing. Their noses smelled pixie, but it seemed they had retreated at the barrier’s signal.
A second peal and flare rose as Brute took his team back, and he saw Alfonse leading another three out to the front, where they found nothing.
A third peal took Brute back out, to the back. Once again, nothing.
A fourth peal rose, but Sofia halted them both, eyes narrowed, “They’re testing the barrier. Let them. When they give up and come on in, they’ll be trapped with us. Each step they take will show them traps, and more walls to trap them further in.
“We’ll attack when they’re closer to the house. When they have nowhere to run, but around and around and around.” Her smile was sharp in the dim light that came through the windows, fangs showing her eagerness to reach battle.
She began to sleep the wolves in shifts, bedding them down in the living room where they could easily be woken. But it was difficult to sleep with the regular sounds of pealing alarms and traps going off. But at least the traps meant fewer pixies. They hoped.
Sofia had been prowling by the back door, certain–though unsure why–that they would try to enter that way. The front was too far from any cover, and far more visible than a pixie would like. The side door was bolted and trapped, so any attempt there would be doomed to failure or a very quick death.
But the back. She would be tempted by it, too. She could almost feel them approaching, and woke the current sleepers, preparing everyone.
And, sure enough, the sliding doors at the back were smashed inwards, a battle cry arcing over the sound of shattering glass.
Cobalt entered, her greatsword drawn, eyes blazing, and immediately locked eyes with Sofia, who growled. Already naked, she made the shift into full wolf form as she leapt at Cobalt, aiming her jaws to her neck.
Around her, the pack finished shifting and leapt to their own battles with the pixies that had begun to pour in the doors.