Authors: Constance Barker
Bailey could feel her appetite waning. Just the beginning? Two murders, an attempt to cripple the caves… “What would happen,” she asked slowly, “if the caves failed?”
Aiden delivered his eggs onto a plate for himself. He seemed rather at home with the kitchen but Bailey supposed she didn’t mind, given that he’d gone out of his way to cook her breakfast. He sat down, and ate with the same meticulous care she’d noticed on their single ‘date’ some weeks before.
“I believe that it is possible the caves are already beginning to fail,” he said, his voice barely louder than a whisper. He had to clear his throat to go on. “It isn’t something that happens all at once. It’s very gradual. The ‘door’ that Professor Turner was looking for isn’t like a regular door; one that’s either open or shut. It’s more complicated than that. There is a veil between our world and every other one. Faery is like our next-door neighbor, you might say.
“The purpose of the spells that created the caves were, I believe, something of a lock and a security system in one.” He chewed another bite, and washed it down with coffee. Bailey hadn’t touched hers, but she did now; her mouth was dry. “But the spells serve to make the veil impassable by… you might say making it thick. So thick that nothing from Faery can get through.”
“I take it Faery is not like neverland, and it isn’t full of Tinkerbells and Peter Pans?” Bailey mused dryly, though she suspected she already knew the answer. Otherwise, why lock it down?
“The irony is,” he said, “it is, more or less. But the stories they inspired throughout the ages are of a somewhat rosy tint. Mostly started by the people that worshiped them.”
“Worshiped Tinkerbell and Peter Pan?”
Aiden shrugged. “Faeries; but, yes, essentially. They are, or were, creatures of pure magic. Wild and immortal and unthinkably powerful. If they were pleased with a person, they could offer them rewards, boons, if you will, for showing their respect and admiration. Faeries are vain creatures and crave adoration.”
“You don’t sound sure they exist,” Bailey said.
“No one really is anymore.” He finished his eggs, and his coffee followed. When he had finished, he clasped his hands in his lap. His expression was grim. “Some time ago, just a couple of years… I happened upon a set of caves very much like the ones here. They were at a place called Creswell, in England.”
Judging from the distant, haunted look in Aiden’s eyes, Bailey guessed that nothing good had happened there. “Go on,” she said. She had to know.
“It started with a series of deaths,” he said. “When I arrived, the local coven was… well, they weren’t available. I tried to understand the magic there, but these spells are ancient and complex beyond imagining. They must have taken dozens of individuals to complete. I didn’t have enough time. People started disappearing. Something happened, though. I think there’s a kind of failsafe inherent in the network of spells that ties all of the sites together.
“When the magic finally did fail in Creswell, there was a moment when I could… see them.” He whispered the words, and shuddered. “They were beautiful and terrible… their voices were like bells and flutes, and the power they exerted was awful and endless, each one of them a force of nature, and there were perhaps five or six… but the only one I truly noticed was the one in the middle.
“She had a crown of flowers and holly, but it was frosted over with ice. Her hair was long; pooling around her feet like ink, it was so long. She had a robe that might have been spun from moon and starlight, and her skin was the pale of a white rose under a full moon. No ordinary faery; not like the others with her.”
Aiden came back to himself, and his eyes flickered to Bailey as though he was momentarily surprised that she was there. He swallowed hard, and licked his lips. “I believe it was Queen Mab. Or, at least that is what we called her in the past. Her true name is likely unpronounceable, and possibly dangerous to speak. Names hold immense power in Faery. I doubt very much she has ever told anyone her true name.”
“It only lasted a moment, though?” Bailey asked. “What happened?”
“Just as it seemed she might bring her cadre across the veil and into this world the spells righted themselves,” he said. “But they weren’t the same. They were thinner. When one of the caves fails, I believe the others sort of… step in, to keep the locks in place.”
“So if they fail here,” Bailey said, beginning to understand now, “the other caves may help, but as a whole they’re weaker. Is that right?”
“Very nearly,” Aiden said; but he didn’t seem as optimistic as she felt it warranted. “There is a problem, you see.”
Bailey sighed. Of course there was. How could there not be? It was getting to the point where she was wary of cracking an egg lest it unleash some blight on the world she didn’t know about in time.
“I’m here in the first place because I believe that the Seven Caves may well be the last of the locks on Faery,” Aiden said. “If we can’t discover how to repair them, then our world will be open to theirs once more. And what’s worse—I believe they are very possibly already reaching across to influence the people in this town.”
“What took you so long?” Francis complained when Bailey arrived. “And what’s he doing here?”
Aiden hadn’t wanted to come with her, but Bailey insisted. Now, she stood her ground. “Aiden has helped us out before, and he can help us now. He’s my friend, and I trust him. You all can get along, or at least pretend to, because there are more important things going on than some old feud, or whatever your problems are.” She glanced at Aiden. “That goes for you, too.”
Aria and Chloe were there, but didn’t immediately offer anything to the matter. They both looked exhausted. After a night of manipulating their way into the sheriff’s department and then doing whatever magic they thought would work—and, it seemed, encountering some difficulty on that front—they were probably taxed to their limits.
Francis huffed when she didn’t get support from her coven sisters, but rather than continue to argue the point she resigned herself to grumbling under her breath about ‘slick wizards’ and ‘disrespectful tarts’. Bailey made a point of not taking offense, but it took effort.
“So what happens now?” She asked.
Now Chloe did speak up. She seemed almost shy about it, though. “Now, we wait. The notebook will show up. The spell is subtle, it’s a fate spell.” She looked like she might say more but she eyed Aiden and closed her mouth on the details. “You’ll still have to prove that whoever has it actually killed Professor Turner, though.”
Well, it was a place to start, anyway. Magic visions and the results of spells were not admissible in court. They would need something truly incriminating to make it seem like there was another suspect, much less to exonerate Ryan all together.
“In the meantime,” Bailey said, “there are other problems we should all discuss.” She emphasized ‘all’.
Chloe caught her eye for a moment. She looked pained. Bailey was, too, still. She probably always would be; or at least it seemed that way now. But it still wasn’t time. Bailey waited for Aria and Francis’ attention as well.
“Aiden tells me the caves were once connected to Faery,” Bailey said. She looked at Chloe. “You seemed to know that was what Professor Turner was looking for. What do you all know about the veil between our worlds, about the other caves failing, or about the spells that brought these caves and others like them to life?”
“Failing?” Aria asked, alarmed. “What do you mean, ‘failing’?”
Bailey let Aiden speak. He did so with more deference, or perhaps caution, than she’d seen him display before. Did he really fear the Coven that much? “I’m sure you know that there are other caves like these in the world already,” Aiden said. “But my understanding is that there has been no witch to sit on the Throne of Medea in some five hundred years.”
Francis, Chloe, and Aria all became impassively stone-faced. None of them answered.
“The Throne of Medea?” Bailey asked. She tried not to tap her foot or pull her hair out. “How does Aiden know more about our history than I do?”
“Because he stole it,” Francis muttered. “Probably from some swooning little witch. Am I right?”
Aiden didn’t take the bait, though Bailey suddenly had to wonder. Did he have a history with witches? The sort that he and she almost had?
“I’ll take that as confirmation,” he said. “Wizards never had a governing body in the first place. We talk with one another only when we have to, and otherwise keep to our own devices. The last remnants of a coven that I encountered didn’t know the caves were failing either. They didn’t even know where the others were located.”
“We tend to mind our own business,” Chloe said, “and take care of our own individual duties. We trust everyone else to do the same.”
“In this instance,” Aiden said, “that has created a flaw which the denizens of Faery have begun to exploit. I fear they have been for some time.” He related to them everything he had told Bailey.
“Do we have the spells to fix them?” Bailey asked when he was through.
She knew when she saw the three women trade those flat, emotionless looks that they didn’t, and called them out on it.
“So we have no way to fix the caves,” Bailey said when Aria finally admitted it.
“That’s not entirely accurate,” Chloe said. “The… the mothers, Rita and Anita,” she obviously hated saying their names in front of Aiden, “can possibly commune with the Genius Loci and retrieve some of the spells.”
“Some of them?” Aiden asked.
“The construction of the caves was a group effort,” Aria explained. “Not all of the spells are witch spells. Only about a third.”
“Some of them are wizard spells,” Aiden said thoughtfully, tapping his chin. “But, again, only about a third. What are the other third, then?”
“They are,” Aria said, hesitantly, checking with Chloe and Francis before she completed the thought, “faery spells.”
Aiden and Bailey both were bewildered.
“Faery spells,” Aiden repeated. “They locked themselves out?”
“Not exactly,” Chloe said. “But in a way. The caves tell the history of the initiated but they don’t reveal the details of the spells themselves. When they were made the first tribe was… assisted by something like rebel faeries.”
There was thump behind the door to the bakery that drew everyone’s attention. The bell over the door didn’t ring, but it shivered from where something had apparently hit the door.
There was a beat. A pause in the world. Then, someone was running off the porch and toward the street.
It was so early that it was still mostly dark out. The first hint of light only barely lightened the sky from the endless blue-black of night to the deep ocean blue of pre-dawn. Bailey couldn’t tell who it was. She didn’t wait to identify the person, though. She was the first to the door, ignoring the calls behind her to wait.
Whoever it was, they were supernaturally fast. Bailey was no track star, but she was swift—this person was positively fleet footed. Bailey unleashed her gift, unable to go for fine control while she focused on pushing herself to run faster down the street after the interloper.
Most of the world in her range was full of the sleeping minds of the people of Coven Grove, their thoughts dreamy and disjointed, a random regurgitation of brain activity that made no obvious sense. She expected the runner’s mind to stand out, but somehow it didn’t at first.
When she took the same left turn the runner had, she saw just a hint of leg disappearing between buildings. Behind her, Bailey sensed the static of Aiden’s mental shields, and the odd, repulsing pressure of the Coven ladies’ protections. She didn’t have time to call out to them, so instead she kicked off a shoe of her own and left it on the sidewalk in front of the two houses. She kicked the other off on her way between them and hoped for the best.
The runner vaulted over the fence between the houses, and Bailey heard a feminine grunt when she landed on the other side. It slowed the woman down just enough for Bailey to focus on her.
Her thoughts, though, weren’t thoughts. Not actual thoughts, and not in her own voice like most people’s were unless they were remembering something. No one would be reflecting on a story during an escape like this—but nonetheless this woman’s mind was filled with a dozen different chattering voices all telling stories.
One was about a rabbit that became a man, who became in turn a butterfly, who became a little girl and was eaten by a wolf who became a man who became a king. Another had to do with a farmer who offended one of the green folk, who then replaced his cows with enchanted goats who gave rye instead of milk, and drove the farmer to drink himself to death. There were other snippets of these stories, all told in a different voice, and behind it, all was a fiddle, playing discordant music at a pace that seemed to be getting faster and faster.
Bailey had to scramble over the fence herself, and she landed on her feet on the other side though she very nearly lost her balance. The woman was already almost over the other end of the fence. There was a dog, barking, but keeping its distance from her. When it saw Bailey, however, it charged.
Bailey reeled, threw a hand out, and commanded the thing to stay. Sharp pain lanced through her right eye, just like before, and the dog’s backside hit the ground. She stumbled toward the back fence, nearly blind in the eye that had hurt.
Over the fence she went. There was a slope on the other side, though, that became sandy as it blended into the coast. Bailey wasn’t expecting it, gave a startled shout when she saw the slanted ground rushing up at her, and then did her best to tuck her chin as she lost her footing and tumbled down the slope. Sand got into her nose and mouth as she rolled, but she managed to keep it out of her eyes by squeezing them shut. She hit a small hunk of driftwood on her way down that was just enough to knock the breath out of her.
When she stopped, she pushed herself to her feet, struggling to breathe, and looked frantically around her. There were tracks in the sand leading south, toward the caves. She took off after them, and soon saw a figure leading her by a ridiculous distance. The woman almost certainly had some kind of magic.
Bailey shouted for the woman to stop, and tried to summon the same forceful sensation from before. Either she was too far away to be heard, or whatever triggered that aspect of her gift had been spent on the dog. Instead, she was forced to run until she felt her heart might give out.
Almost the moment she had the thought, her legs did give out. She stepped wrong, stumbled, fell and plowed into the damp sand of the beach.
She sputtered out a mouthful of sand as she rolled onto her back, heaving, her muscles burning and her chest pounding painfully. It was no use.
By the time Aiden, Chloe, and Aria caught up with her—Francis had apparently stayed behind—Bailey was just recovering herself. “I lost her,” she growled, dejected. “I should have just let her go.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Chloe said. She was smiling, for some reason. Bailey frowned at her, and Chloe pointed to the sand. “It looks like she dropped something that you managed to fall on.”
Bailey looked around her, and then where she had fallen.
There, mashed into the sand, was Professor Turner’s notebook.
“See?” Chloe said, a little smugly, and perhaps more to Aiden than to Bailey. “Subtle magic.”
“It wasn’t particularly subtle to me,” Bailey complained.
“Well, in fairness,” Aria said, “you didn’t cast the spell. We did.”
“And,” Aiden added, “You said ‘she’ got away? So, we know it was a woman?”
“I’m just about certain,” Bailey said. “But there was something wrong. Her thoughts… they were a bunch of voices telling stories, and there was music. The faster it played, the faster she ran.”
Aiden grimaced. “I was afraid of that.”
“Share with the class,” Bailey begged.
“If you were hearing her mind accurately,” he said, “then I believe events are more advanced than I feared. Our culprit may already be deeply in the thrall of faeries. If that is the case… they will act to protect their asset if they can.”
Like helping their ‘asset’ run much faster than humanly possible. Bailey groaned as Aiden helped her to her feet. “Wonderful,” she said. “Well at least we have the notebook.” She reached for it, stopped, and then asked Chloe for the apron she’d run out of the bakery wearing.
She knelt, and picked it up with the cloth. “And who wants to bet that the whole time she had this on her, she touched it with her bare fingers at least once?”
It wasn’t victory yet; she’d have to have a criminal record to show up in the crime data banks. But it was something and, more importantly; it might well place someone else at the crime scene that wasn’t Ryan. Bailey wrapped the journal, and let Aiden support her as the four of them made the long walk back up the hillside and into town.