Category Archives: Diary of an Accidental Sidekick

Diary of An Accidental Sidekick: Training, cake, and danger

I swear, faeries are sadists.

Did Alina take me hunting after my great fainting faux pas? No. No, she did not. Where did she haul my embarrassed ass? The gym.

“Are we warding gyms now?”

“This one is already warded or there wouldn’t be people here.” She jerked a thumb in the direction of the weight room where several men and women lifted hunks of metal. Their efforts made me want to eat a chocolate bar.

“Then why are we here?”

“You have a date with a treadmill.”

I scowled at her. “You’re joking, right?”

“Not in the least.” She examined her manicure, frowning at a chip on one of her nails. “You’re my responsibility, which means if you’re going to hunt with me, you’ll be fast enough, strong enough, and skilled enough not to get killed.”

“What makes you think I’m not?”

She smiled. “Punch me.”

“Now?”

“Yes, now.”

I frowned and then shrugged. Whatever. I hauled my arm back, swung at her, and went stumbling as I smacked empty air. Something collided with my ankles and I went flying face first toward the floor, stopping short of kissing concrete only because Alina snatched my shirt and hauled me upright.

“You have the mind and the will, but lack the training.” She leaned over my shoulder and grinned at me, her purple hair tickling my cheek. “I’d be a crappy superhero if I let my sidekick get killed.”

I huffed out a breath and stalked off toward the treadmills. She followed me, waiting until I picked one and then hopped on the one next to it. “We’ll start with five miles.”

“That’s not too bad. I walk that much—”

She interrupted, “Run.” She reached over and hit a button on my treadmill. “Go.”

I almost fell off the damn thing as I scrabbled to gain my feet and start running. Mile one wasn’t terrible. All the walking I did kept me moderately fit. By mile three I had dropped my pace by half and by mile five one could only call it running if I were a turtle. I collapsed onto the floor in a heap at the end of the run.

Alina hopped off with a bounce, not even winded. “Okay. Now we spar.”

“What?” I wheezed.

At least she handed me a bottle of water and gave me ten minutes to recover. “Your rest breaks will shrink as we go,” she warned.

I expected to get pummeled, but much of our so-called sparring involved her correcting my form, showing me how to properly punch, kick, and fall. By the time she dragged me off the training mat, I didn’t even protest at being zipped through dimensions to get back to the apartment. I hadn’t fought anything, but I sure felt like it. I crashed on the sofa, vaguely registering that Alina went out again, probably to hunt, but I was too exhausted to move.

As I drifted toward sleep, whole body aching, I debated giving up the idea of hunting, but letting a stupid treadmill beat me seemed pretty pathetic. UnSeelie were fast, very fast, and who knew how much territory Alina covered in a night.

That became our routine. Alina dragged me on errands, meetings and to the gym. She disappeared to hunt alone, came home and slept for awhile, and then kicked my ass at the gym.

I figured the torture sessions excused my new habit of chocolate cake for breakfast. Okay, I ate omelets and healthy crap too, but a girl has needs and I need chocolate. Besides, after weeks of running and learning how not to die, according to Alina, I almost enjoyed our morning routine.

I kicked back and streamed an old comedy series, waiting for Alina to get in as usual. Internet reception varied, as infrastructure suffered from this stupid war—although the government refused to call it that– but Alina’s net always worked. There were definite perks to this whole Faerie sidekick gig.

I surfaced from my binging when my stomach demanded food and my bladder bitched about my intake of soda. I got up to silence the bladder and realized it was nearly non and Alina hadn’t appeared. I went down the small hall after my bathroom detour and tapped on the door to her room, listening for any noise. I inched it open, peeking in, then opened it all the way. Maybe she had come in before I woke up.

Nope..

Her bed sat empty, still neatly made from yesterday. The bright happy colors on her quilt seemed muted, or maybe it was just me.

What was the protocol? 911, what’s your emergency? My Faerie roommate hasn’t come home. It sounded inane even in my head even if 911 worked. Police had their hands full tracking down violent killers and keeping some semblance of order. Missing people just stayed missing nowadays. Not to mention, she was a grown woman and a faerie who could shift dimensions. Surely someone kept track of her. She went out and hunted things that fought back. Wouldn’t they care if one of those things she hunted had been faster, stronger, deadlier?

I went back to the living room and searched the comm directory, which didn’t take long. It only contained a handful of names and numbers. The only two I recognized were Katarina and Zane Gratig. I was so not going to call the scary executioner dude. He looked at me as if he could see through me. It gave me the shivers.

I hit Katarina’s number and the comm dialed. I okayed the holo projection, figuring she might remember me.

“Yes?” The scary executioner dude stared back at me.

I yelped and disconnected. I went back to Alina’s room, making a mess as I hunted through her closet, but finally found a stash of weapons in a box that looked like someone had gone nuts with a bedazzler. For all I knew that shit was real, but all I cared about were the nice dangerous grenades, shiny swords, and a stack of guns and ammo to outfit a small platoon. I grinned, geared up and headed toward the door.

Nearly seven feet of intimidation stood in the doorway. He looked me up and down. “You called.”

I gulped. I thought of Alina. She wouldn’t be intimidate. My knees shook. I wasn’t Alina. Seconds ticked past as he scowled down at me. I finally squeaked out. “Alina hasn’t come home.”

If he’d been scowling before, his expression turned into a deadly glower and pointed at the sword in my belt. “You’ll need more than that to find her, kid. Come on.”

He turned away and gray hazed my vision. I remembered to breathe as I locked up and followed the legendary Zane Gratig. I couldn’t afford to faint again. Sidekicks don’t faint and leave the hero in danger, at least that’s what I told myself as I got into the most badass aircar I’d ever seen. I maybe squealed like a twelve year old on a roller coaster when Gratig sent it straight vertical and forward so fast I think I pulled gs.

I squeezed my eyes shut and yelled at Alina in my head. I’m riding in an air car with a crazy alien executioner. You better be in trouble, Alina, and not on some other continent having magic sex or something. I will kill you myself if you aren’t in trouble.

Maybe I thought too loud, because as we zipped over Memphis, the crazy alien executioner busted out laughing.

 

 

Diary of an Accidental Sidekick: Meeting my Hero

On the plus side, Alina’s ability to shift space to wherever she wanted kept the fridge stocked with foods I hadn’t had in months, and some instances years or never. Climate change made real coffee and chocolate far too expensive. My mom had told me about life before Reaper, before all the violence that triggered a deep global recession. The fancy coffee shops closed or turned into budget diners serving imitation soy derived stuff with loads of caffeine and sugar to make it palatable. I’d never had the real stuff. I wasn’t missing much. After a sip of Alina’s espresso, I decided to stick to my sodas.

She served seafood at least once a week. The extravagance boggled my mind. I hadn’t had wild caught seafood since I was a little kid, as over fishing killed the industry. Living in Kansas, far from any ocean, seafood always cost too much, farmed or not. So Alina’s penchant for clam chowders and grilled salmon made me feel a bit guilty for anyone still alive back in Kansas, but didn’t stop me from eating my fill. What with so many humans gone, I figured I wasn’t harming the oceans too much, and who knew if I’d ever get another chance to eat like this.

The chocolate, which I gave me a stomach ache from gorging on, the seafood, and coffee were just starters. She dined in foreign countries on a whim and dragged me to stores that sold stuff that cost more than I imagined most people made in a lifetime. The contradiction though was that she was just as likely to stop for a street vendor and buy a chili dog. I never knew what to expect.

She didn’t take me hunting, as promised, but insisted I learned to ward better. So I followed her like a shadow for a week, watching her inspect wards, adding layers, warding repaired buildings. She quizzed me the whole time, probably because the first day I paid more attention to the cute doctors tending patients then to what she was doing.

By week two she made me copy her warding spells as instructed, usually on like a mailbox or doghouse or flowerbed. It seemed like a waste of time, but I guess better to screw up on a mailbox than a building where people relied on the wards for safety. As much as she flitted about the world enjoying its luxuries, she took the safety of people very seriously.

I didn’t expect that.

I didn’t expect the depression either. She hadn’t been kidding about wanting company. No one visited her. Almost every morning when she got home from hunting I found her hunched over a mug of coffee. Good days meant she had no kills and went to bed for a few hours before dragging me off on another round of ward the shit out of all the things. Bad days meant I sat beside her, offering awkward comfort as she told me how many she had killed. The humans turned ghoul bothered her, but the UnSeelie or occasional Seelie traitor angered her.

One day I walked in and found her with tears running down her face.

“I knew the bastard,” Alina muttered as I sat down opposite her, setting my soda and bowl of cereal on the kitchen table.

“I’m sorry.”

“Eric and I played together, grew up together, even fucked a few times. I thought I knew him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again.

She looked up at me. “Why? Why would he choose that?”

“I don’t know.”

She downed her cup of coffee and retreated to her room for the rest of the day. As I spent the day reading a book she’d given me to study, I realized she needed a real sidekick, not just one that played tag-along and dress up. I sighed and looked at the closed bedroom door, wondering if all sidekicks felt as totally useless as I did.

Alina appeared a bit before sundown. “I have to attend a meeting.”

I turned off the television and set the popcorn aside. My horror movie marathon could wait. “Want me to come with you?”

She shrugged. “I’ll be out hunting after, but I can drop you back here if you want, so whatever.”

I shoved my feet in my boots. “No need.”

She turned, misinterpreting my response. “Later then.”

“Alina, no, I meant no need to drop me back here. I’ll hunt with you.”

She turned and frowned at me. “Sure? I thought you said hunting ghouls was stupid.”

“Oh yes, very, but someone has to, right?”

She flashed a grin. “Right.”

Instead of poofing us to the meeting, we walked. “This is novel.”

Alina laughed. “We’ll be sitting at a table listening to people complain for the next hour. Better to walk and burn off any twitchy energy before as I don’t want to piss off the Queen by bitch slapping her brother or something.”

I bit my bottom lip, realizing I was about to meet a whole bunch of other Fae. Before I could ask her if I needed to curtsy or kneel or something, she marched us up to a nondescript brick house. A one-armed guard with scars streaking his face glared at us, but said nothing as Alina waved and said, “She’s with me.”

He looked like the offspring of a grizzly bear and a mountain, and I wondered what the hell had managed to get the drop on him, because the shimmering eyes said he was Fae. I maybe sidled closer to Alina as we walked past him. A small tricycle stood off to the side in the hallway and a forgotten doll sat on a side table alongside a vase of fake flowers.

I tapped Alina’s elbow. “Whose house is this?”

Without looking at me, she answered. “The Queen’s house.”

I frowned. “I thought the Fae Queen lived in Fairy.”

This time she glanced at me. “Honey, you do know what caused the UnSeelis uprising, right?”

“Uhm…” I hated to admit it, but no, not really.

“The reigning monarchies were assassinated. The emissary, Katarina Gratig is now Queen. Not everyone liked that.”

I made an oh with my mouth. A half human running Fairy? Now I got why some of the Seelie had defected, well sort of, if I pretended I was some uptight race purist. I followed her into a dining room.  A good half a dozen people already occupied the room.

“This isn’t a full council meeting. We do those at the Judgement Council facility. This is a Memphis status report meeting. If you have anything to add from what you’ve seen of the city, feel free to chime in.”

As Alina walked up to the other people in the room she morphed from subdued and upset back to the chipper grinning person I first met. I realized now it was mostly a facade. She shook hands with two very tall, blond, male faeries. I sighed in appreciation and my hormones said, “Hello!” as I stared, at least until I noted the petite woman beside one of them glaring at me. I coughed and a red head smirked at me from beside blond number two. Oops. Way to make an impression, Christine. I did a double take looking at the red head. Absolutely no whites showed in her eyes and instead of the iridescent glow of Fae eyes, hers were dark fathomless pits. Looking closer, I realized the oddities didn’t stop at her eyes. Her limbs were a shade too long and face too angular to be human. I had no idea what she was, but she smiled at me, which I figured was better than the glares or disinterest of the others.

“Who’s your human pet?” blond number one asked.

“Sidekick,” Alina corrected.

Blond number two snickered. “I didn’t know you were a comics fan. Did she draw the line at spandex?”

I felt my cheeks heat as everyone stared at me, especially since blond two wasn’t far off the mark. Alina patted my arm. “Don’t mind them. They’re just mad that they don’t have a helpful sidekick.” She took a seat and proceeded to ignore blond one and blonde two, instead patting the seat beside her. “Sit. So, do you want a sword or a modded laser gun?”

“Laser gun?” I asked, suddenly forgetting all about the audience.

“I’ll take that as a yes. They’re modded to take out ghouls and UnSeelie, but you have to be sure at what you’re aiming at, because there won’t be anything left if you hit the wrong target.”

The thought of that kind of fire power sent a delicious thrill down my spine. My dad taught me to shoot as a kid and I hunted with him sometimes. I loved the power of a well-made firearm and red-neck enough to admit it. Of course, what with all that had happened, I hadn’t noticed anyone bitching about guns of late.

As I was fantasizing about blowing up ghouls with lasers a familiar woman walked into the room. Everyone who had turned on a television, comm, or computer in the last decade knew that face. She’d spearheaded the fight against Reaper, created a vaccine for it, and more recently a cure, and then to top it off ended up smack in the middle of the Fae and alien shit storm. I stared, well aware my jaw went sort of slack and that I didn’t hear one word anyone said.

This was my childhood hero. That super smart girl, now woman, was the reason my family survived. She was the woman my mom pointed at as proof I could be or do anything I wanted, and I was sitting in the same room with her.

Alina leaned over and whispered, “Breath.”

I sucked in air, realizing that’s why I felt dizzy. I have no idea what they discussed because shortly after I started breathing again, it sank in that blond one, blond two, accompanying women, and the scary dude at her left were all family. When the meeting ended, Katarina smiled in my direction.

I fucking fainted. I will never live this down.

 

 

Diary of an Accidental Sidekick: Spandex Not Included

I’m not going to lie, I half expected her to take me to the bat cave, or fly me off to the Fortress of Solitude where I’d freeze to death while Alina perused her spandex sidekick costume collection. I mean, no one thought Faeries were real until a few years ago, so I figured anything was possible.

Turned out she lived in an apartment. The only improvement I could gauge over the place I’d been staying in was a fridge with fresh food and wards so strong I thought I stuck my finger in a light socket when I went through them. I still felt oddly charged.

“I didn’t think wards were supposed to hurt people unless they are breaking through them,” I groused even as she passed me a can of soda, the oh-so-bad-for-you good kind.

“Humans are so whiny.” She picked up an apple from a basket off her kitchen counter. “You’re still breathing.” Alina took a bite out of her apple, crunching for several seconds before saying, “It didn’t hurt you, it charged your powers. I designed it to do that. Enemies get drained. Friends get a pick-me-up.”

“Naps and caffeine are little pick-me-ups. That was…intense.”

Alina just laughed and finished her apple, leaving me to poke about the place. It seemed so ordinary. She had a computer, a comm unit, a pile of dirty laundry in her bedroom, and an empty spare room. Unlike the homes I had squatted in, her apartment had no decorations, no pictures or knick-knacks.

“How long have you stayed here?”

Alina glanced up from the computer, “I’m not good with time.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Not as long as the war, but not that much less either.”

A few months ago I would have laughed at that response, but I got it. After the UnSeelie unleashed zombies everywhere infrastructure went to shit. Humanity went from just shy of launching an interstellar space program to just trying to survive. Not everywhere got hit that bad, but the areas spared weren’t the centers for technological marvels either. Sundown and sunrise became the only really important times. It wasn’t that you were guaranteed safety during the day, but the ghouls and especially the UnSeelie preferred the dark. You had the hours in between to find food, water, and whatever else you needed and the rest you stayed in whatever safe haven you had. Wednesday or Sunday, it no longer mattered very much anymore, at least not to me.

I walked over to Alina and looked at the news video she had pulled up. The nice looking blond dude smiled at the camera as he babbled about supply depot hours and shuttle rails resuming service. I suppose time always meant more to some people. I jabbed a finger toward the screen. “Mr. News Anchor there has a job, but how do they expect people to pay for supplies or rail tickets?”

“Computer, deactivate.” Alina yawned, turning toward me. “Don’t know. I’m a Faerie. I hunt and I play. I leave the running of things to other people.”

I wasn’t sure if I was appalled at her lack of concern, or unnerved by how much that sounded like my existence up until I took off that ghoul’s head, well mostly took off.

Alina clapped. “Speaking of which, time to play!”

“Uhhh.”

She snatched my hand and pulled me into her bedroom, toward the closet. Visions of horror movies ran through my head. Maybe she had a dungeon behind a secret door and planned to tie me down and do evil things. My eyes unfocused as I started to panic. I yelped when something hit me in the face.

I pulled the material off my head. I held a frilly pink skirt. “What is this?”

“I told you I’d get you a costume.”

I stared at her. Was she serious?

“Costume. Clothes. To WEAR.” She said the last word slowly, as if I were possibly demented and couldn’t understand her.

I held up the skirt which probably wouldn’t even cover my ass. “Wear doing what?”

“Accompanying me, of course. I have some errands to do.”

“What sort of errands?”

She rummaged in her closet. “Feed Norm, check wards around the city, pop into Marseille for a manicure, get some chocolate from Ghana. The Queen likes it and is too busy to go herself.”

My jaw dropped. “Marseille? Ghana? Those aren’t errands. Those are round the world trips.”

She paused, holding out a black sheer blouse. “I forget. You humans are stuck in your little three dimensional existences.”

“Yeah, oops, silly me, plodding along in three dimensions.” I tossed the skirt back at her. “This three dimensional being doesn’t do pink or frilly.”

She held out the black blouse. “As I thought, Goth?”

“Don’t you have jeans and t-shirts in that abyss?”

She wrinkled her nose. “No. They are so plain, so lacking in style. “

Great, my faerie keeper was a fashionista. I suppose the mention of a manicure should have clued me in.  I took the blouse and layered it over the black tank top I was wearing. I glanced down. It looked decent, if perhaps a bit snug across the chest. I had a fuller figure than Alina. “This will work.” I raised my head only to have black pants shoved at me. “No, I’m good.”

She tsked. “No. Those jeans are threadbare.”

“They are comfortably broken in.”

“They have holes in the knees.”

“It’s a fashion statement.”

“They are light colored. Blood will ruin them.”

I opened my mouth, but had nothing to say in argument. I took the pants, mumbling, “They probably won’t fit. My ass is bigger than yours.”

She grinned at me. “Honey, I’m a faerie. I can manage a bit of alterations.”

Of course she could.

By the time she finished playing dress the human, I felt like a life-sized doll. She insisted on doing my hair and somehow managed to make it sit in some braided twisty thing on top of my head. I felt oddly grown-up, not that I wasn’t an adult, mostly, but my last normal day had been spent in a college classroom frowning at calculus equations that made my head want to explode. The most important responsibility I’d had at the time was showing up for my work-study job on time, and that just consisted of answering a phone. I went from that to surviving. All the other stuff, getting a degree, holding a job, going on dates, learning to dress like an adult and do something with my hair other than shove it in a ponytail…sort of derailed when the world turned into a zombie apocalypse.

I didn’t know what to expect when she grabbed my hand and poofed us out of my comfortable three-dimensional existence. I wanted to hurl and scream, explode and implode all at once, but could do nothing. Having one’s body and mind translated across space was not the least bit fun. The moment reality became familiar again, I wretched, barely avoiding my clean clothes.

Alina patted my back. “It’s always disconcerting the first time. It gets better.”

She wanted me to do that again? I was about to argue that when a lizard looking creature with large pointed teeth and double spinal crests waddled up. It looked like a dinosaur, kind of, but not quite. “What the fuck is that?”

“Norm. Finn’s busy. He asked me to feed him.”

I looked at those teeth. I wondered if he ate goth girls.

Alina walked right up to him and patted his head. His fat tail thumped the ground and he waddled after her as she went through a sliding glass door into a huge well-furnished house with lots of leather, real wood, and rustic nature décor. A smashed computer lay on the ground. Someone had a temper or really didn’t like electronics. I couldn’t particularly judge. I’d felt like smashing a few computers now and again.

By the time I quit gawking, because whoever lived here had to be filthy rich, and joined Alina in the kitchen. Norm was munching on a pile of raw ground meat. My stomach heaved, threatening to bring up whatever was still in there, but Alina grabbed my hand. “Done here. We’ll get the chocolate and the manicurist should be open by then.” She popped me back into that quasi-existence before I could protest and I resigned myself to a day of hurling.

I’m not even sure where exactly we popped to, as she left me to retching and popped us off again before I could take a look around. The smell of acetone and polish hit me like a wall, doing nothing to help my stomach.

A gentleman in a flamboyant lavender suit waved Alina into a blush red chair and prattled at her in French. I plopped down in the small row of chairs arranged in front of the counter, as far from the smell of nail crap as I could get.

“Paul says he’s happy to do your nails too.”

“No, thank you.”

I dozed off, exhausted by all the dimensional yanking about and hurling. I blinked, wondering what woke me when a moan answered that question. I expected to get blinded by the sight of naked bodies. Instead Alina sat drying her nails with a smug smile on her face. Beside her Paul writhed, fighting bonds holding him bound to the chair.

“Uh, did Paul piss you off?”

Alina laughed and waved bright purple nails at me. She leaned down and whispered something and he jerked in the chair and then relaxed. She laughed again as I watched the bonds disappear and Paul grinned up at Alina like she was a goddess.

She waved and left him without a second glance as she came to retrieve me. “What did you do to him?”

“I traded one service for another, silly.”

“You weren’t even touching him.”

Alina grabbed my hand.  “I don’t have to. A bit of energy applied with just the right intent and humans turn into mindless puddles of orgasmic bliss.”

“What was with tying him to the chair?”

She shrugged “He likes that sort of thing.”

Reality poofed again and this time I managed not to hurl, perhaps because I was a bit preoccupied with wondering what sort of crazy freak I was now associated with. As if reading my mind, the moment we were solid again she winked at me with a grin.

“You’re associating with a Faerie, honey. We invented freaky.”

Great. Just great.

Diary of an Accidental Sidekick: Be careful who you save

If you’re reading this diary I probably got eaten by a ghoul, or maybe I just lost the damn thing. I’m not good with keeping up with stuff, so it’s even odds.

**

Filled with pilfered canned goods and a squashed candy bar, my backpack thumped against my back as I walked down the litter-strewn street. I sipped soda, wrinkling my nose at the fake sugar after taste, but all the good sodas were gone. A police car zoomed by overhead, but I gave it no heed. Petty crap like looting fell off their radar months ago. Cops were busy with undead, murderous Fae, criminal magiks, and maybe even aliens. I glanced up at the rose-colored sky. Puffy white clouds dotted the horizon, reminding me of the sheep in the mattress commercials that used to be on television. I wasn’t sure the alien stuff was for real. I never saw anything. Of course, I lived in nowhere Kansas at the time. If aliens had tried to invade, they gave Kansas a wide berth–can’t blame them. I didn’t make it to a city until after the shit hit the fan with the Fae.

I scanned the sky one more time and then turned my attention to the alleys as the sun sank lower. Little green men were the least of my worries. I kept my eyes and nose tuned for the sight and stench of zombified men and women. The UnSeelie were equal opportunity employers when it came to creating ghouls.

Whistling a tuneless melody, I counted the blocks until I reached my place. A major perk of civil war and insane amounts of death was that no one came around collecting rent. People that still had jobs and families tended to huddle together in clusters around the city. “Stupid sheeple.” It just made it easier for the undead to find their prey.  When I could no longer find food or water within a reasonable vicinity, I moved on to a new residence. Sadly, there were plenty.

A block away from the cute little picket fence number I had co-opted I heard the scrape and scrabbling sounds of a scuffle. An empty garbage bin clattered and rolled out of the next alley. I stopped in my tracks and a moment later a flash of black and purple whooshed past. A woman let out an oof, but kept her chin tucked so her head didn’t crack against pavement. Her elbow, however, smacked hard and the sword in her hand clattered to the ground. Before I could decide if I should say something, a familiar stench heralded a streak of pale, bloated flesh and shredded clothes. In one motion I dropped the soda and snatched the sword up, swinging in an upward arc that fell a couple inches short of chopping the thing’s head off, so it sort of dangled there, still alive and glaring at me from its askew position. Blood a nasty, greenish-black hue bubbled out of the stump.

“Eww.”

A knife spun through the air and severed the remaining bits. The eyes on the ghoul quit glaring as the head thudded and rolled toward my boot. I backed up a step.

“Thanks for the save.” The woman got up with a wince, rubbing her elbow. Her purple, chin-length bob somehow fell neatly into place without her touching it. The corset blouse, black leggings and pleated skirt seemed more suited for a date, but the boots coated in dust and dried blood, not to mention the sword, suggested she was one of those who went around hunting the undead.

I realized I still held the sword and handed it back. “No problem.”

As soon as she took the sword, I stepped over the dead ghoul, anxious to get home.

“My name’s Alina. What’s yours?”

I wave a hand goodbye, ignoring her. Anyone crazy enough to stalk death could stay far away from me. I heard the pop and sizzle of mage fire, more reason to keep walking. Power drew them. Not that I was a nonmagik. I wasn’t that lucky, but I figured the more magic you used, the easier it was for the ghouls to locate you. I kept my stuff to warding my home of the week or passive stuff, like listening to the trees talk.

I waved at the pin oak in the front yard of my current home and the leaves rustled back. Best thing about this city were the trees. They couldn’t really do anything beyond warn me of an approaching ghoul, but I didn’t mind. I could listen for hours to their stories of rain and winds and sun, such a different view of a parallel existence.

Wards brushed my skin, making the hairs on my arms and neck stand up as I walked through the front door. I kept mostly to the living room. It didn’t matter that the occupants were never coming back. It was just too creepy sleeping in someone else’s bed. I pilfered clothes from time to time and used whatever else I could find, but not sleeping in their beds was the only respect I could offer the dead.

I checked the tap in the bathroom and grinned when water still flowed. I never took that for granted. Some places the pumps no longer worked, but I lucked out in finding a house with running water. It made me want to linger simply for the surety of clean water. I kicked off my thick soled boots, shed the black tank top, jeans and undies and soaked in a hot bath.

Sooner or later, whoever was fixing shit would take note of what places were occupied and which were empty and they’d cut the power and water to conserve resources. Until then I planned to enjoy it.

I thought of the purple-haired girl and sighed wistfully. She’d had amazing hair. My own hair, a nondescript blondish-brown tangled if I looked at it crosswise. Hair like hers probably cost a ton of money. Money came from jobs that didn’t exist anymore. Ergo, I had crappy hair.

“Hair like that? Probably magic.” I said aloud as I rinsed suds out of my own. “A big fat purple bulls-eye for the undead. Probably why it found her.” It made me feel better about my non-magical hair.

Toweling off my hair and donning clean clothes, I stretched out on the couch. I didn’t like using electricity too much after dark. An UnSeelie or smarter ghoul might notice. I put her out of my mind and fell asleep to the music of trees, waking to a halo of purple hair backed by morning sun.

“Hi!”

I screamed and hit her with a pillow.

Her hair whooshed in front of her face as she dodged, and then went right back to its perfect bob. “I should have expected that.”

“Damn right. How’d you get in?”

She let out a laugh that was heartier than a giggle, but high and fluty. “You mean the wards? Oh sweetie, I could do wards like that before I could write.”

I punched my pillow back into place with a scowl.  “Yeah, well, good for you. You know what they are. They mean stay out. So out.”

“Not a morning person are you?”

“I’m not a person person. Go away.”

“You handled that ghoul well.”

“Yes, well, I majored in ghoul killing in college.”

Alina kept smiling, unfazed or maybe oblivious to my sarcasm. She glanced around the room. “It has running water and electricity. Most don’t, so I see why you like it.”

I felt trapped, a strange woman meandering around my living room, with me under a blanket in little more than a tank top and panties. “Are you a stalker?”

Alina glanced over her shoulder. “Only of my enemies.”

“Is this because I killed that thing? Do you have a ghoul fetish or something? Did I interrupt?”

Alina laughed. “No, no. You probably saved my life. I’d like to repay that with a favor.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Seriously. Train with me, hunt with me, and I’ll give you a safer place to live.”

I scowled. “Hunt? You mean voluntarily find ghouls?”

“Among other things, yes.”“That sounds like the height of stupidity.”

She shrugged. “It’s either we hunt them or they hunt us. I know which I prefer. Do you?”

I clenched my teeth. She was right. I knew she was, but I didn’t want her to be. I wanted a safe, tree-filled corner of the planet to hide in, which was cowardly, but I didn’t want to die. Everyone I had loved already had. I wasn’t in a hurry to join them.

“How about this? Train for a bit. You don’t have to hunt right away if you aren’t good at it. You still get the safe living space and I get company.”

“I’m antisocial.”

“I won’t throw parties.”

In spite of myself I snorted. A change in the tree song outside caught my attention and I listened to the new subtle harmony aimed not at the world at large, but at the woman standing in front of me. It recognized not the who, but the what of who she was, an ancient.

I scowled at her,realizing as light played over her face, that her eyes shimmered and glowed opalescent. “You’re a fairie.”

“Yes, I am. And you, human, what’s your name?”

I expected more than simple affirmation, but it wasn’t like she’d been trying to hide it. I probably sounded stupid, as if I’d looked at a dog and been shocked it was a dog. Lacking any real reason to hold onto animosity, I told her my name, “Christine.”

“So is it a deal?”

The most powerful sort of being on Earth stood in front of me, offering safety, a commodity in shorter supply than clean water. That sort of opportunity didn’t happen twice. “Okay, but this doesn’t make us buddies or partners.”

“Of course not. You’ll be my sidekick. If you ask nicely, I’ll even get you a costume.”

I just stared mutely as she wandered off to the kitchen, images of spandex dancing through my head. What had I gotten into?

***

Visit HC Playa’s Amazon author page for more stories in the Crossroads of Fate universe and other works.