Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 31

It caught up with me right before I reached the house. This time I really should have brought my sword. There weren’t exactly a lot of witnesses here. Instead, I struck upwards at it with my bare hands, felt its talons dig into me.

“Bruce!” I screamed, but I was completely entangled with it. The best I could say was that it was now on the ground.

And starting to melt and shift into the far more dangerous horse form. I knew I was in real, deep, trouble.

I shouldn’t have gone so far. And I should have known it was stupid. I thought I heard another caw from the direction of the house, but seriously, the crow hadn’t gone to get me help.

That would be ridiculous.

All I could do was try to keep it off me, breaking free as talons turned into hooves was easy, but its shoulder struck me and knocked me to the ground, the breath going out of me. I rolled to the side, wishing for a sword again, but then realizing it was a good thing I didn’t have one. If I killed it, we would have to wait for it to come back again before getting rid of it.

So, no, I couldn’t, but I also couldn’t run from it. There was no way I would stay ahead, so I tried dodging to the side, trying to make it turn tighter than the equine body could.

It snarled at me, showing fangs that looked as much filed as natural. But I’d managed to get some distance. I really hoped this could be heard from the house, because I wasn’t going to last long. My lungs already burned from exertion. Thea could have done it, but Thea seemed to have almost superhuman endurance.

Or maybe she did. As for me? I was just some girl. Only these idiots thought I was special. Whatever training I’d had, it wasn’t enough.

A hoof struck me in the shoulder and I went down, my vision dimming for a moment from the pain. It was all over. Killed by a stupid shapeshifter…

And then there was a rush of wind above me, the air flowing away from me and towards the kelpie, exploding inwards, and then it was gone.


I couldn’t get up right away. I lay there, my shoulder throbbing, praying it hadn’t crushed the joint or anything permanent like that.

There was water and iron filings mingled in my hair, but the spell that had banished the kelpie had had no effect on me.

Of course not.

I was just…

…a girl.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 30

She’d given me something to think about, though. I also wasn’t looking forward to any more time in a car with Bruce. I decided, instead, that I wanted to go for a walk.

Which I did, along a leafy lane. There was almost no traffic.

I’d been in places like this before. No, what flashed into my mind was true wilderness. Mountains that reached towards the sky, valleys that glowed with wildflowers.

Things you never saw in cities. I stepped to one side and rested my hand on the bark of a tree. I could feel, suddenly, the life flowing within it from root to leaf. An awareness of treeness that might have been magic or might simply have been my own thoughts echoing back into my head. I finally understood why some people hugged trees. A crow flew out of one of the trees, or was it a raven?

No. It was a crow, but there was a sudden shudder of something that approached dangerously close to recognition.

Ravens. There was something…right. I remembered the book. Hunin and Munin, the two messengers of Odin. Thought and Memory. Or was it Foresight and Memory? Come to mention it, the book had listed both. Translations. Probably both equally correct.

Munin wasn’t much use to me, I thought wryly. I’d have to rely on Hunin. The crow cawed three times and flew past me on his way to wherever he was going. Making sure I noticed him, I suspected.
Crows were like that. Showoffs. Attention seekers. So were ravens. I shook my head and leaned against the tree.

Still that slight awareness of treeness and, fading, a flickering awareness of crowness. As if senses I had forgotten I had were awakening.

That was probably exactly what was happening. Dust coming off unused skills. So, maybe I was a witch? The runes fit that. The fighting skills didn’t.

Maybe I’d been trained by some kind of secret society of demon hunters, like that old TV show. That made as much sense as anything else.

Thea was another trained by them. A sisterhood. Why women? Why not women. We weren’t as big and strong as men, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t fight.

But another thought curled into my brain. Valkyries. Odin’s daughters. The choosers of the slain. I laughed it off as ridiculous and kept walking.

It was just…right to be out of the city, although I knew I had to go back soon enough. I needed this, though. I was able to forget, then, about cultists, about shapeshifting fairies, about weird old men.

I was able to forget everything and, finally, let myself recharge a little before what I knew would be the storm.

Then I felt it, wings in the air. I broke into a run back to where I’d left Bruce. I had to lead it to the witch. Then we could deal with it, but not if it caught me first!
The crow flapped past once more. Caw, caw, caw.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 29

Rather than the messy kitchen, we repaired to a comfortable lounge. Which was next to, no kidding, a ballroom. It didn’t look like it saw much use. It would, I thought, make a good salle.

I rolled my eyes inwardly. Couldn’t remember first grade math, knew what a good salle was. Maybe I had fallen out of a fantasy novel or…a fantasy realm. Or faerie.
Was I a fairy? No. My gut said absolutely not. “It’s a kelpie. Thea called it something else, something unpronounceable, but…”

“Each Uisge.”

“That was it. Gaelic, I guess, or something.” I thought I could pronounce it. Maybe. It did hover on the edge of my consciousness.

“Shapeshifters. Feed off of magic, psionics, human flesh, human souls if they can get them. Which is more common lately.”

“Easier to steal somebody’s soul if they aren’t particularly religious.”

The witch…who’s name was Rose…tapped her nose. A black cat wandered in and hopped into her lap. She petted it absently. “Exactly. Yours is in…” She tilted her head for a moment. “…no danger at all.”

“It could still kill me. I thought a couple of times it was going to.”

“Probably afraid of who might come after it if it did.” Rose let out a breath. “But it’s mad with you?”

“Definitely. One of Thea’s friends kicked its butt and I stole prime prey from under its nose. I’d say it hates me right now.”

“So it might well come after you. Easy enough, then. Wait for it to come and get you and…might be easiest if I gave you something to throw at it. A potion, of sorts.”

I nodded. “I don’t need lots of detail. I’m not a witch and I don’t want to be one. Just as long as it works.”

Witch grenades? The image was vaguely amusing, but if it worked, if it was what needed to be done, I’d do it. Throwing something at it. “But I thought we’d need some kind of massive ritual.”

She grinned. “First of all, iron filings. Cold iron. That alone will repel most fairies.”

So, I definitely wasn’t one. “I’ll bear that in mind. Thea doesn’t seem to know that.”

“I don’t know her, but I have an image in my mind. Tough, no nonsense…and likes to see the whites of their eyes.”

I thought about Thea. She was right. But at least Rose didn’t seem too bothered that I knew a stone cold killer. Which Thea was. Which I was, if I was honest with myself. Or could be if I let myself be. “Subtle isn’t her, that’s for sure.”

“But killing these things just banishes them temporarily. You need a binding spell to do it permanently. And yes, there’s a ritual, but it’s not going to stand still for it. So you do all but the very last part of the spell, and tie that last part into an object or an action or a word.”

I nodded. “And if you use an object it doesn’t have to be the same person?”

“Right. Come back in a few hours and I’ll have what you need.”

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 28

Bruce drove like he’d learned from a New York cabbie. And his car showed it. It was a junker and it took me two attempts to close the passenger side door, thanks to the dent in it. It also smelled faintly of herbs.

He drove like a maniac out towards Falls Church, out onto fifty. I tried not to double check my seatbelt too obviously. I felt considerably less safe than on Thea’s bike, and then felt even less safe when somebody passed us who was driving even worse, not staying in his lane, weaving to and fro. I pulled out my cell phone, bent on calling 911 and getting the guy pulled over, then decided against it.

Cell phones were traceable in the movies. They were probably traceable in reality too. Besides, I didn’t want to talk to the cops. A moment later, sirens arced past us. I relaxed. Looked like it was going to be dealt with.
As long as they didn’t pull us over too, which as Bruce cut off an SUV with about eight kids in it to take a right exit I hadn’t even seen coming seemed frighteningly likely. We made it safely, though, and I had to grudgingly admit he knew what he was doing, and on the side roads it didn’t seem quite as scary as it had on the highway.

And side roads, and smaller side roads, until eventually he pulled up outside a huge house with a huge yard. Whoever this specialist was, she wasn’t poor. True, house prices weren’t as crazy here as they were in the city, but this thing was a young mansion.

With some beautiful mature trees in the yard. I wasn’t the tree hugger type, but they were gorgeous. Being a city girl, I didn’t get to see big trees very often, and I stopped for a moment to appreciate them as we headed to the house. Which seemed a little…less than well kept as we reached it. The yard was fine, the house?

Somebody enjoyed gardening and hated housework. Somebody also did not lock her front door. The place smelled slightly of litter trays not emptied quite as often as they might be. A silver grey cat padded up to me and sniffed in disdain, then headed up the stairs, tail bouncing behind her.

“How many?”

Bruce held up four fingers. Which wasn’t as many as I’d have expected. A voice came from the kitchen, “Get your butt in here, Bruce.”

I didn’t ask how she knew. Magic or, more likely, she was expecting us. I still thought she should lock her door. Even behind us. It would have made me feel more safe.

Bruce, for his part, laughed and headed into the kitchen. Which was messy, but not in an unkempt sense. She was in the middle of canning something. There were cans and bowls of berries and stuff everywhere. “Let me get you some tea. This is the young lady with the problem?”

“Fairy problem. Bruce said you might be able to make it go away.”

“First we have to find it.”

I smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 27

Bruce told me he was at the Alexandria waterfront. It was Saturday afternoon and a warm day – I knew it would be busy.

It was. The plaza outside the Torpedo Factory was full of people watching a juggler perform, tossing him coins and notes. Another group were walking their dogs, and half the berths at the marina were empty, sails drifting up and down the river.

I felt like I was on the edge of it all. Ordinary people leading ordinary lives – or perhaps one step above that. Many of these people were, after all, rich. Certainly rich compared to me. Some of them rich compared to most. Not true one percenters, but people who didn’t really have to worry about money.

I saw two men sitting on a bench looking out across the water, and tensed. One of them was Bruce. The other was Mr. Otter.
I stopped for a moment. Seriously, I considered fleeing, or at least hiding until he’d left. I wanted to talk to Bruce, not Mr. Smarmy.

Then I sighed inwardly and headed over towards them. As I arrived, Mr. Otter offered me a cone of chocolate ice cream, which he’d clearly bought seconds before – it was still frozen. I accepted it. “Thanks.”

I supposed he knew I was coming. Well, there was really no way he wouldn’t have known. But I did sit down next to Bruce rather than him. “We’ve got a fairy problem.”

“I heard. I also heard somebody put it down.”

“For a few days, by Thea’s guess.”

“Thea.” Mr. Otter pronounced her name oddly, and with an amused cant. “But, of course, she doesn’t know how to do anything other than stick it with pointy things.”


“Oh, come on. You know her limitations. Or should. She does, at any rate.”

I had to admit he was right. Thea was very much about sticking things with pointy things. So was I, for that matter. “And I know mine. I was hoping Bruce would know an expert.”

“You need a specialist,” Bruce said, a little grimly. “I know one, but you don’t want to trust her.”

“Meaning she’ll do it, but count your fingers afterwards. Almost as bad as dealing with him.” He jerked his elbow towards…where Mr. Otter had been two seconds previously.
“As long as she doesn’t do that, I can deal with her.” I glared at the empty bit of bench. “I didn’t know the two of you knew each other.”

“For my sins. I have no clue what you’ve done to get his attention, but he seems to like you.”

“I have a feeling that’s not a good thing.”

“It depends. Now…I’m going to take you to a witch. Just remember what I said.”

I did and, just in case he meant it literally, tucked my wallet further down into my pocket.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 26

Thea showed up at the safe house later. “I got him out of town. By the time the kelpie wakes up, he’ll be out of range.”

“Good. Of course, that means it’ll come after me. I need to talk to Bruce.”

Thea nodded, as if she knew exactly who I meant. Maybe she did. “Good idea. He’s one of the few you don’t have to worry about involving.”

“Because he already is.” A flat statement, there, knowing it might well be my fault he was.

“Has been for years.” Thea smiled. “He probably can’t do it, he’s better at divination, but he might well know somebody who can.”

“I’ll talk to him tomorrow. How long do you think we have?”

“A few days. Probably no more than a week.”

I headed inside, headed for my sword. I still wanted to use it on the monster. Or on something. Maybe a spar would get the tension out of me, but instead I touched it once before moving to the fridge to get something to eat.

Cold pizza. It would do. I’d eaten plenty of cold pizza in my time. Had come to almost prefer it over fresh, hot pizza. I tugged out a slice, munching on it even before I was sitting down, leaving the box out for Thea.

She indulged, settling down next to me.

“So, that kid’s a telepath?”

“Something like that. It’s pretty rare. But kelpies feed on magic and psychic abilities. And flesh when they can get it.”

“Poor guy.” I didn’t envy him. “He’ll be…”

“…better off in nowhere, West Virginia. I sent him somewhere he’ll get what he needs. A small town where he won’t be as overwhelmed. He’ll learn to properly shield and with luck he won’t take any more drugs.”

“I suppose it’s lucky he bumped into me.” If it was luck. But no. I wasn’t sure whether I believed in fate, but I wasn’t about to let it believe in me.

I wasn’t going to be anyone’s pawn. Even gods. Which was, yes, the kind of attitude that got a girl smited, but I really didn’t care. If they were going to smite me for not being meek, then they weren’t gods I was interested in. “So, what else is real? Everything?”

“Depends on your definitions of real and everything.”

I freed a hand to swat her. “Gods. Fairies. Monsters.”

“Gods, definitely. Does that bother you?”

“I don’t want to grovel and worship. Anyone.”

“There’s the Old Man.” She didn’t explain and I didn’t push.

Somebody Thea would grovel before, though, was a scary idea. Even more scary than the thought of Mr. Otter showing up.

I pretended great interest in my cold pizza.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 25

Whether the thing was dead or not, we made it to the kid’s house. Such as it was. If there were parents, they weren’t in evidence.

“I’m getting out of here,” he informed me as soon as he arrived. “Out of DC. Take the greyhound, get off wherever.”

I wondered if it would help him. “There are worse plans.” Staying here certainly wouldn’t. Staying here hadn’t helped him so far. “Go somewhere where there aren’t as many people.”

He nodded, heading inside. Thea pulled up next to me, no doubt clued in by her friend. “I’ll make sure he gets to the station.”

“Your friend killed it.”

“Nah. Those things don’t die. She slowed it down. For long enough for it to lose him. Then we’ll work out how to send it back. Need a witch.”

“Is that all we need? I think I know where to find one.” Bruce. I hated to involve him, but I bet he knew somebody who knew how to banish fairies.

“Just be careful.”

I smiled at her. “When am I not?”

“Most of the time.”

I scowled at her, but it wasn’t that serious. What did she expect? I was a kid, for all that I was accusing other people of that. “I’ll make sure it’s somebody we can trust.”

“That’s all I ask.” And then she was offering the back of her bike to the junkie. He accepted, and the two roared off.

He had to be desperate. Taking rides from strange women. But then, Thea was easy to trust. She gave off that air of being a woman who wouldn’t hurt anyone. I now had to get out of the hood without being beaten up for being the wrong color.

Couldn’t blame them, really. They could honestly blame so many of their problems on white people. I put on my best ‘don’t mess with me’ walk and headed back towards the Green Line. It worked, at least to start with, but it kept me from relaxing. My muscles stayed tense.

People did get shot in this neighborhood. Bad things happened here, and very few good things, and at least I was better off than them.

Better people trying to kill you than the sense of no prospects that flowed around me. Small wonder there was violence, and drugs, and kids younger than me getting pregnant. What else did they have?

Nothing, that was what. At least Kanesha was trying. Or maybe she was just luckier. She’d called herself lucky. Lucky to be away from her parents.

I made it safely to the metro, but didn’t really breathe easily until I was on the train.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 24

“What is that thing?” he asked.

“Trouble. That’s why I’m staying with you.” I glanced around for the biker. Saw her, got an acknowledging nod before she tugged on her helmet and mounted the vehicle.

She wasn’t offering us a ride. I knew that. “Where do you live?” I asked.

“You won’t want to go there.”

“I can look after myself. And my white skin.” I offered him a smile. “I’m taking you to safety.”

“That monster’s real, isn’t it? I’m sober. I think I’m sober.”

“Why did you start the drugs in the first place?” I steered him towards the Metro station. Underground, we were safer. It could only get down there in human form, not giant bird or murderous horse. But it would take us a while. We were almost a mile from Brookland Metro by the shortest route.

“To stop the voices. I’m schizo. I couldn’t…I can’t…I still can’t. I tried to tell them.”

“You’re not schizo. It’s something else.” Telepathy? Magic? Both? I didn’t know. “Come on.”

“You and your friend. You’re…you’re…” He fell silent. A moment later the bird swooped. It didn’t touch us, but the wind from its wings was enough to stagger us.

Attacking with witnesses? But there was almost nobody around.

Well, except for Thea’s biker sister, who had been scouting ahead. She turned the bike across the road, the engine rumbling like some kind of predatory beast. I pushed the kid behind me.

“You’re going back where you belong.”

It touched down, turned into the fanged horse, pawing the ground, staring at us. “You don’t know how.”

“I’m pretty sure I can work it out.”

The biker had knives. She drew them, hopping off the bike to walk towards us.

“Or I’ll just let her deal with you.”

It reared, striking towards me with blade-like hooves. I ducked, rolling to the side.

A bit of talent. Hearing voices. The kid was shivering, though…I kept thinking of him that way, even though he was likely older than I was. Older, but weaker.

Then he drew himself up. “Go home,” he said in a weak voice.

Its front end came down, it started to move towards him, teeth bared, bent on destruction.

“Go home!”

And then the biker was on it from behind, darting towards its shoulder. When it snaked its head round to bite her, she thrust a knife into the base of its skull.

It…disappeared. I felt the breath go out of me. “Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet. It’s not dead. It’s likely to come back. Get that guy home.”

With that, she hopped on her bike once more and rode off.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 23

I wasn’t reassured. Martial arts wouldn’t save her against guns or monsters, but I also knew the only thing that was going to keep her from poking her nose in my business was for her to get a major fright. Major enough to scare her off, without her ending up in hospital, dead, or grounded for life.

I wasn’t about to set anything like that up. I could pray, if I had any clue who to pray to. After fighting fairies I wasn’t going to dismiss the idea of gods.

Then again, I never really had. But no sooner had I left the group home, than I felt the presence of the bird again.

“Go away.”

I heard its voice in my mind, wrapping around my brain stem. I gave it a bit of a shove, and it withdrew, but the words were still clear. “Let me have the kid and I will.”

“Why is he so important?”

“He’s got some talent. Wasted, of course, washed away by the drugs.”
Talent for? I didn’t ask, instead I gave the thing a massive shove, forcing it out of my mind, turning to walk away. It was still around, but it didn’t try telepathy or whatever the heck that was again.

Telepathy. Maybe that was the kid’s talent. I was, though, going to send that thing back where it came from. Except Thea couldn’t. If she could, she’d have done it. I trusted her that much, enough to be sure she wouldn’t let it stick around if she could get rid of it.

Which probably meant she didn’t know how. I almost seized on that. It was a good reminder that she wasn’t perfect.

Maybe Mr. Otter knew. I had no clue how to ask him about it. He showed up when I didn’t want him, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to appear when I did.

Which meant it was up to me.

The kid has some talent. I found myself heading towards the hospital. He was supposed to be being released this afternoon. I could offer to walk him home or something. Give him some protection. When I got there, one of Thea’s biker friends was loitering by the door. Red hair, heavy makeup, chains on her jacket. She nodded to me with a slight, knowing smile, as I headed inside.

They all carried themselves like her, I’d noticed. Sisters under the skin, perhaps. Sisters beyond blood and DNA. Inside, I loitered in the reception area, waiting for the kid to appear. Hoping they wouldn’t, for some reason, hustle him out the back door.

He showed up. Pale, thin, clearly in withdrawal from something. “Hey.”

Sullen eyes turned towards me. “…hey.”

“Relax. I’m just here to make sure you get home. After you passed out I was worried.”

“‘Cause I’m crazy and care for people, that’s why.” As we stepped outside, the bird circled overhead.

Episode Two: Monster Hunting: Scene 22

Coward he might have been, but I was sure the kelpie would show up again, sooner or later, in some form or other. For right now, I had a different problem.

Named Kanesha. She seemed suddenly determined to work out what was happening with me, and as the summer went on, I knew I’d have to go back in the fall. Or drop out of school and anything resembling a normal life.

If I could have such a thing. I was pretty sure no force in heaven or hell could grant me such at this point. Except maybe myself, and I didn’t know how.

No, that wasn’t true. I didn’t think I wanted it. Now I scowled at her. She was standing on a corner. Between her and hoodie guy? I wanted to worry about protecting one person at a time. I’d managed to find out that he was going to end up back on the streets. No room in rehab. Plenty of room in jail, but the hospital was managing not to send him there.

In a perfect world, it would have been…no. There was no perfect world. “One person at a time,” I murmured. At least Kanesha deserved it in a way hoodie guy didn’t.

She’d been good to me in her own way and she was in danger because she insisted on still being good to me. She could tell something was wrong and she wanted to help.

I knew I had to cut her off, to be absolutely rude to her, but I couldn’t. Instead, I stood facing her. Our eyes met.

“Jane, whatever’s going on, it’s eating you alive.”

“I…don’t need your help.” I couldn’t say it more harshly than that. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her even to save her life.

I wasn’t cut out for this. Not this part of it, anyway. Not the telling people to go away before they got hurt or killed.

“Bull. You do.”

“Kanesha, you need to stay out of this and stay away from me.” She was burning my bridges behind me. She was making it so I couldn’t go back. “You hear about what happened to Barry Clark?”

“He took drugs.”

“They kidnapped him, forced drugs on him, and left him like that. To get to me.” It was safe to talk. She was the only one who could hear me. Upstairs in the group house, us the only people there. The first time I’d been back. “As bait. Can you imagine what they might do to you?”

I was envisioning things you only think about happening to females.

“Jane…how well do you know me?”

“Well enough.” I did, though, search my memories. She’d always been the only one to reach out to the white girl.

“I’ve got a black belt in aikido, for starters. Heading further up.”

My eyes widened. “You…do?”

“What, didn’t expect it from a kid from the hood?”

“…no.” I didn’t. I didn’t know what I expected, but my image of somebody good at aikido was, well, not Kanesha, who was short and a little on the plump side. “But martial arts won’t do you much good against guns.”