Just the Beginning
Flipping the open sign to CLOSED, Soleil Blackbird locked Writer’s Block, the resident idea shop in Elkwood. Carrying a variety of ideas, from great to horrible, the little shop was always busy. The majority of clients were authors, but several game designers, playwrights, and film writers frequented the shop as well. Mr. Gould, the owner, hired her when she was 16 as a part time employee, organizing shelves and cleaning up after school. When she graduated high school, he had offered her a full time position. Now, four years later, she ran the shop most days.
“Ready to head home?” Soleil asked. Dai, a greenery fae, popped out of her shirt pocket and said in a sing-song voice, “Yeah, I need some quality plant time.”
If you weren’t paying attention, he might appear to be just a stray leaf. Though on closer inspection, the fae appeared more like a humanoid leaf man with wings folded down his back, like a butler’s coat tails.
“What about the pothos on the counter top? He’s not good enough for you?” Crawling up and onto her shoulder, Dai found a comfortable perch.
“Are you kidding me? He’s always spouting nonsensical ideas,” the greenery tittered as he gripped a strand of her short black hair for balance. Soleil chuckled.
Unless they wanted to be seen, one couldn’t see or hear the fae. Most of the world thought the fae were just ancient (and extinct) mythical creatures. Soleil was one of the few exceptions to their unseen power. She could see, hear, and touch them even if they were cloaked. A trait passed down through her family, but for whatever reason, only women inherited the ability. A few males in her family could sense the presence of the fae but they could not see or hear them like Soleil could.
Listening to the evening sounds as the sun set, Soleil looked around for the fae that usually littered the streets at this time of day. Some fairies and a few sprites danced in the golden light. But not nearly as many as usual. Several of the usual creatures were missing too, like the kesle and tresnel that always waved as they passed on the way home. An uneasy feeling filled Soleil’s gut.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing,” she whispered to Dai.
“What?” he whispered, head swiveling from left to right.
“There are less fae out tonight. And less creatures too. Doesn’t that seem unusual?”
“No. Not really. Maybe there’s a celebration. You know how the fae like to party.”
“Yeah. Maybe,” Soleil muttered as unease knotted in her gut.
“Uncle Jamie! I’m home!” Soleil called to the back of Inks tattoo parlor as she entered the neat little space. The space was split in two, divided by the countertop: the lounge and the needle work space. The lounge consisted of two comfy chairs, a couch, and little bar height table with four stools. Side tables bookended the couch and chairs. Tattoo catalogs and binders sat on every available surface. Large posters of designs intermingled on the walls with album covers and photographs.
While the lounge was cozy, the needle space was a sterile, clean freak heaven. High backed black leather chairs that could be positioned in a number of ways for easy tattooing lined the left wall. A couple of swiveling stools sat next to various high chairs. Behind the chairs was a curtain that lead to the private rooms, a kitchenette, Uncle Jamie’s office, and stairs that led to the apartments on the second floor.
Classic rock played over the radio. Disguised as Great Danes, two fae hounds lounged lazily on a huge dog bed next to the counter top. One black and one faun colored, they were nearly inseparable. The faun, Lacey, lifted her head and whined in greeting. The black, Tuck, huffed at Lacey’s movement, repositioning his head for comfort.
“Heeey, Sunshine. How’s your day?” Uncle Jamie’s husky voice rolled over her as he walked through heavy black curtains. Herculean in stature, he stood at least eight inches taller than Soleil. Caramel skin complimented his close cut dark brown hair and vivid green eyes. Her green eyes.
“Same as usual. You?” Soleil replied.
“Good. Lots of customers asking for your designs. They are quite popular, ya know.” Recently, Uncle Jamie had her to market her drawings of fae and magickal creatures as tattoo designs. Per her request, he had inked many of her drawings onto her arms. Weaving vines and small fae completely covered her left arm. Ancient creatures wound over her right forearm. They were so beautifully crafted that they almost appeared alive, rippling with her muscles. Sleeves of magick and protection Dai had once called them. Combined with her medium bob, raven black hair, porcelain skin, and striking green eyes, her unique look attracted plenty of attention.
“That’s good.” She replied. “I’m gonna go change and then head back down.” In addition to Writer’s Block, Soleil worked nights in the tattoo parlor.
“Be quick, you know our rush will be starting soon.” If you can call your friends coming over after they get off work “the rush,” she thought taking the stairs two at a time.
Once inside her small studio apartment she hung her bag on the hook next to the door and placed Dai on the plant that hung right above.
“How are they?” she asked him as she began to changing into a plain dark blue t-shirt.
“Just dandy,” he said flitting from plant to plant.
In contrast to the space down stairs, Soleil’s room was like a jungle. Plants hung from the ceiling, sat on tables, took up corners, and perched on window sills all around the room, like an indoor garden. Plain wood furniture took up the rest of the space. A queen bed to the left, a small table and two chairs next to the kitchenette, and a couple of arm chairs facing the large window to her right that looked out over the river and the eastern forest beyond.
“Umm excuse me,” said a trilly voice near the large window. Whipping around, Soleil snatched a pocket knife off her bed side table.
“Ummm, my name is Miki. I’m a wood sprite” said the disembodied voice.
“Where are you?”
“Down here,” which wasn’t terribly helpful when she knew that they could blend into any of the woody surfaces that filled the room. Scouring the furniture in front of the window she spotted movement as the nervous sprite hopped from foot to foot. Defenses dropping, Soleil replaced her pocket knife.
“And why are you in my room?”
“Ummm well your window was open and you are a Blackbird and umm I was hoping you could help me,” he said in his high pitched trilly tone.
“And how can I help you?”
“W-w-well my mate has gone m-m-missing. He hasn’t been home since last n-n-night and I-I-I-Im getting worried. I was h-h-hoping you could help me find h-him.”
“He’s probably just run off with someone he fancies more,” Dai bit out in a harsh voice as he landed near the sprite on the side table.
“Dai!” Soleil scolded. She understood his skepticism and his dislike for wood sprites, but that didn’t give him the right to be rude.
“Noooo, he w-w-wouldn’t! W-w-we made p-p-promises,” cried Miki, shrilly. Promises between fae were sacred and binding, meaning his mate probably hadn’t left of his own free will.
“Ok, ok. Deep breath,” she said to the sobbing and hiccupping wood sprite.
“We’ll figure this out. It’ll be ok. Calm down and tell me his name,” Soleil said soothingly.
“M-m-murn,” sniffled the distraught sprite.
The next day, Soleil sat in her tall chair behind the display case in Writer’s Block, a large volume of Ancient Creatures: Habits, Homes, and History lay sprawled out on the counter. After calming Miki down, they had talked about Murn, what he looks like, where he was last seen, where he would have gone if he were scared. Then Soleil had ushered the little sprite out the window. She had promised to investigate and he had promised to keep her apprised of any more disappearances. While Dai was skeptical about the whole situation, she couldn’t help remembering the lack of fae on the street as they had walked home last night.
Now, in the spirit of keeping her promise, she was doing research while the shop was empty. Dai sat on the rim of the pothos vine’s pot next to the cash register and watched quizzically.
“You know you could just ask me about all this stuff, right?”
“I didn’t think that you were going to help since it involves a wood sprite,” she said peering at him through the hair that had fallen loosely out of her ponytail. “I know how you are about wood sprites.”
Dai grunted and avoided her gaze. His past with a wood sprite was a delicate subject. She had been a pretty little thing, but being half gurgrul, some of the greediest fae alive, she was never satisfied. Soon after she began a “serious” relationship with Dai he had found out that she was letting other sprites and fae court her too. Dai had felt so betrayed that he had sworn to never trust another wood sprite. Though, he probably should have blamed the gurgrul side of her.
Soleil jotted some notes down about where wood sprites liked to frequent.
“Just cause she broke my heart doesn’t mean I’ll let some other wood sprite break another guys heart,” Dai spouted into the silence.
“Alright. What’s your theory, then?” Soleil asked as she turned the page.
“Well, I still don’t think that this Murk…”
“Murn,” Soleil corrected.
“…Murn was taken. That’s just ridiculous. But maybe…” the sound of Dai’s voice trailed off as Soleil’s focus zeroed in on the bottom left-hand corner of the page.
“What is this?”
Glaring at her, Dai slid down off the terra cotta and walked across the pages of the book to the fancy text box she pointed to. The heading read, “Potion to Make Ancient Creatures visible.” Dai gasped and backed away quickly, tripping over her hand and falling back onto the counter.
“That is dark magick, and beyond cruel! I thought all of the books containing that recipe were destroyed years ago,” his voice trembles.
“This is a Blackbird volume. Passed down through the generations of my family.”
“If anyone got their hands on this then they could make fae visible without their consent. The effects wear off eventually but still, it could be disasturous.”
At that moment a customer burst into the shop, shattering the delicate atmosphere. “Miss Blackbird!! I need an idea, quick!”
Soleil sat behind the counter of Inks, sketching in her notebook. After Mr. Barker had burst into the store, it had suddenly become very busy. With customers in and out the rest of the day, she had had no time for research. She even had a few rushing up to her as she locked up at five.
As they walked home, Soleil noticed even less creatures then yesterday. Even Dai admitted that it was strange. He had hidden in the pothos’ leaves for the rest of the day after reading about the visible potion, using the time to recuperate and gain his head back. When they had gone upstairs, Dai and Soleil had been surprised to find Miki and three other fae. They all reported missing friends or family. Now, watching the front of Inks and ringing up the occasional customer, she was thinking over all that she had learned.
“You ok?” her uncle asked as he strolled past her and plopped down in an arm chair. The last customer had left ten minutes ago and the rest of the employees were taking a break in the back.
“Yeah just worried.”
“About what?” he asked as he picked up a magazine, flipping through absent mindedly.
“Well I don’t know if you’ve noticed but there have been less fae on the streets the past week.”
“Yeah I’ve been wondering what’s going on. Their presence has diminished considerably.” Lacey padded over to Uncle Jamie and plopped her head in his lap. Dropping the magazine, he leaned back to pet her head.
“Well, several sprites and other fae have come to me with news of missing friends and family members. Some of them think that they’re being kidnapped.”
“How could that be?” he asked.
“Well, that’s what I wondered, but today I found this entry in the one of the books that mom left me, and it said that there is a potion that can turn fae visible to the human eye. I think that someone got a hold of the potion’s recipe and is using it to capture fae.”
“Damn,” he offered.
“Do you still have connections in the Dark Market?” Over the years, Uncle Jamie bought several bottles of rare and magickal inks off the Dark Market to use for Soleil’s and other family members’ tattoos. Using magickal inks in their tattoos was a family practice that went back generations.
“Why?” he asked warily.
“Cause I need you to ask around and see if there is any odd activity going on.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. And that’s saying something, seeing as you work in an idea shop.”
Soleil rolled her eyes, “Good idea or not, I still need you to ask around.”
Nodding he got up from his chair.
“Really, Uncle Jamie. Please just ask.”
“Yeah,” he replied, avoiding eye contact. A few customers entered and the subject dropped.
Uncle Jamie sat on a stool next to a young man almost in tears from the growing tattoo on his bicep. Soleil chuckled; he was one of those customers usually dragged in by an overzealous friend and dared to get a tattoo. Another young guy sat on a stool in front of the teary dude rubbing his hands in eager anticipation. She just hoped that the guy hadn’t let his friend pick the unicorn-pooping-rainbows tattoo that was currently being etched onto his skin. Oh yeah, he would regret it later, if he had. Most did.
“Alright, you’re done for now. We’ll schedule for the rest next week,” Uncle Jamie said as he wiped the guys upper arm off and then proceeded to clean his needles. Five minutes later, the guy, tears still misting his eyes, and his giddy friend walked out of the shop with an appointment scheduled for next Tuesday.
After a few minutes of Uncle Jamie cleaning his workspace and diligently avoiding her, Soleil broke the tension.
“So… what did you find out from your contacts in the Dark Market?” he hesitated, as if trying to decide how much he should share. “Just spill it,” Soleil said impatiently, irked that he would even consider not sharing.
“Well, the guy your most likely looking for is known as Rattler.”
“Why most likely?”
“Well, rumor has it he is selling rare exotic creatures for outrageous prices to rich people. There was no mention of Magick but his product is the only thing that could be possibly be fae related. And his operation is very secretive. Lock and key,” Uncle Jamie said.
“And?” she asked impatience growing.
“He’s dangerous Soleil. You can’t go after him. Too risky. You could get hurt! Or killed! I can’t lose you too. I can’t. I won’t let you go.” Sighing, Soleil’s impatience evaporated. She could understand his impulse to protect her, but he couldn’t stop her from going. She wasn’t 12; she was 20.
“You can’t stop me,” she said. “All I can do is promise that I will be careful. But I am going.”
“Then I’m going with you.”
“Fine,” she breathed.
“And we’re taking Lacey and Tuck,” he said glancing at the hounds.
Soleil peered down at the two, their true form flickering momentarily while an ethereal voice whispered in her head, Yes, take us.
“Did you find any info on Rattler’s location or where the fae are being held captive?” Soleil asked her uncle, still staring at the hounds who stared right back at her.
In her head, she heard the ethereal voice again, we can find them. Bring us one of their mates, it sang.
You’re not going to eat them, are you? she asked in her mind. Tuck’s huff mingled with laughter that echoed in her head. The voice must be Lacey then, Soleil thought as the laughter died out. No, little one, we won’t eat them.
“What’s going on,” Uncle Jamie said to Dai, who sat on her shoulder observing.
“She’s having a conversation with Lacienda,” he said nonchalantly. Lacey growled at Dai. “Oh, sooo sorry, your highness,” Dai said rolling his eyes. Apparently Lacey didn’t like her full name being spoken aloud.
“Dai, contact Miki.” “Don’t need too. He’s in your room. With about six other fae,” he said, fingers grazing along a leaf edge of the only plant in the shop, lucky bamboo. His ability to hear the plants never failed to amaze her.
“Alright,” she said, standing. “We leave in five.”
Their footsteps pounded on the cobble stones as Soleil, Uncle Jamie, Tuck and Lacey ran through allies and streets. Lacey and Tuck lead the way, their sleek, midnight colored bodies undulating effortlessly as they ran. Before they had left Inks, Miki had bravely stood on a side table in the parlor while Lacey and Tuck both inhaled deeply, snouts millimeters from the wood sprite. After several long seconds, the hounds had bolted out the door and ran, changing form as they flew through the city. Uncle Jamie and Soleil close on their heels.
Suddenly the hounds made a sharp left turn and disappeared down an alley. Turing Soleil spotted the hounds at the end of the narrow passage way staring out into a large quart yard. Dead ahead was a large mansion with elaborate molding and large pillars. Coming to a stop next to the hounds, Soleil asked, “In there?”
Yesss, Lacey hissed in her head.
Is there anything else you can tell me? Soleil thought.
There are six men and three pit bulls. The creatures and fae are in the cellar, a deep voice she didn’t recognized answered. Glancing down she watched Tuck twitch his ears and them look up at her. What?
Nothing. Just haven’t heard your voice before. Tuck huffed as if exasperated with her.
There are two in the cellar, one behind the front door, and three on the second floor. Sleeping I think, Lacey’s familiar voice sounded in her ears. There is one dog per group.
Uncle Jamie whispered, “So what’s the plan?”
“Jamie, you take Lacey upstairs and take out the three men up there,” Dai said as he landed gracefully on Soleil’s shoulder…
“Ok, everyone ready?”
“You know this isn’t a very good plan right?” Uncle Jamie commented. “What are we going to do once we get them? And what if they have guns?”
“You have your gun. And it not like I’m helpless.” Soleil had taken mixed martial arts all through high school and had been one of the top in her studio before she quit two years ago. She still trained to keep fit every week, but the studio just hadn’t been challenging enough anymore.
“Besides I used some herbs from my room to enchant these,” she handed Uncle Jamie an Inks button. “Pin it to your shirt. It should deflect up to three bullets.” She had dug the spell out an old book. While she didn’t have real magic, she could create simple things with plant and herb based spells.
Buttons now pined to their shirts, they ran for the front door. Lacey jumped and crashed through the door. It splintered where the bolts were and then flew off its hinges. Smack into a man. Standing on the downed door, Lacey ordered Soleil and her team down the stairs.
As their feet padded on the stone steps, Soleil heard a commotion form upstairs, followed by barking and shouting. Ignoring it, reminding herself that her uncle was a capable man, she kept descending down the spiral staircase. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only two or three minutes, she and Tuck slowed, the bottom of the stairwell appearing. Slowing even more as they neared the bottom, Soleil strained to hear movement over the wild beating of her heart and sound of her shallow breaths echoing off the walls.
A voice bounced through the little window of the large wood door at the bottom of the stairs and echoed off the spiraling walls, but before she could make out any words, a shrill shriek violently drowned them out. That must be Murn, Soleil cringed as the noise reverberated through her bones and made her ears sing. Wood sprites were known for their docile nature, but they were also known for their ear shattering warning cries that could be heard from a mile away if out in the forest. Unfortunately, so deep underground, Murn’s cries wouldn’t likely be heard beyond 20 feet of the house.
Waiting for her ears to stop ringing, Soleil strained again to hear voices. “God Dammit! Someone shut that thing up.” One voice said, clearly angry at the wood sprite for possibly fracturing his ear drums. A bit of shuffling and the sound of a lid slamming followed the order.
The men are standing in the center of the room. And the dog… Tuck’s words were cut off by a low growling sound coming from right behind the door. The dog is behind the door, Tuck finished sarcastically. As soon as Tuck finished, silence rained on down on them like a cold rain. Moving defensively, Tuck took the lead, head low, his answering growl filling the space around them. NOW! Tuck shouted to Soleil and she opened the door.
The door swung away from Soleil and her companions, bullets ricocheting off her magick barrier. Tuck pounced on an angry pit bull as if it was lunch and he hadn’t eaten in days. The screams of creatures and fae mingled with the shouts of the men as they tried to figure out why their guns were no longer firing. Soleil darted for the men who now held weapon shaped plants instead of deadly guns. Silently thanking whatever had immobilized the weapons, Soleil rammed her shoulder into one man’s stomach. Air whooshed out of him, but Soleil didn’t have time to think about that. Ducking, she spun as the taller of the two flung his gun and her and charged. The gun-planty-thing flew other her head and collided with something behind her. Based on the grunt that followed, it had probably hit the man she had just rammed into seconds ago. Using the momentum of her spin, Soleil lifted her leg and her heel made contact with bone, splintering what was probably the charging man’s left cheek bone and nose. He crumpled to the floor, knocked out by the force of her kick.
“You bitch,” the other man said as her recovered from the flying gun-planty-thing’s attack. She twirled out of his reach as he made a running pass at her. Suddenly, blue streaked through her vision, and the man screamed. Whipping her head to the man she had just avoided, Soleil took in his futile struggle. Tuck was on top of him, his gigantic claws digging into the man’s shoulders. A scream started from the man’s throat but turned to a burble as he choked on his own blood. Getting off of the dead man, Tuck spat something out onto the stone floor.
Averting her gaze, her eyes landed on the shining metal blade that was now clutched in the dead man’s hand. Tuck must had noticed the danger she was in and leaped in to save her.
“Thanks,” she said glancing at the hound who now calmly sat cleaning his paws.
No problem, he replied in her head. Lacey says that the house is clear now, and that they managed to tie all the remaining men up.
As if on a time delay, sounds and voices from the captive fae and creatures hit her like a blow to the stomach. She had never heard so many talking at once, and it was giving her a headache. “Shut it!” Dai shouted, reminding Soleil of his presence. He must have been the one to jam the guns, she thought.
“Thanks,” she said as the loud chatter faded to a murmur.
“No Problem. They were getting annoying,” he said, brushing her thanks to the side. Knowing that he hadn’t fully understood her thanks, she made a mental note to thank him again later and started to free the caged. When she found Murn in a cage inside of a wood chest, she informed him that Miki was waiting for him at Inks. Eternally grateful, Murn and promised her a favor to be redeemed at any time.
Within twenty minutes the men had confirmed that the man Tuck had killed down stairs was Rattler. They had also informed them that it hadn’t been all his Idea, and that an unknown backer had supplied the potion to make the creatures and fae vulnerable through visibility. Uncle Jamie had promised to take care of the men, whipping out his phone and calling an “old friend” from the Dark Market. Remembering Murn in her pocket, Soleil had left the creepy house behind and followed Lacey home. Back to her usual faun color and Great Dane appearance, Lacey had padded silently beside her as she led Soleil through the city, back to Inks.
Once there Miki and Murn had had a tearful reunion and quickly left to seek the comfort of their own home. Soleil had gone straight to her room, showered, and flopped down in bed to pass out, in a heavy dreamless sleep. Six hours later she was finally waking up.
"Morning Sunshine,” Uncle Jamie said, holding out a cup of tea for her as she descended the stairs.
“Morning,” she said gripping the mug of tea gratefully. They moved to the lounge at the front of the store and sat on the sofa, Uncle Jamie’s arm draping over her shoulders and she tucked her feet under her. “Did you get any more information about the backer?” Soleil asked as she sipped her tea.
“No sorry, Sunshine. He’s like a ghost. But we’ll keep looking, I promise,” he said reassuringly.
“What I wanna know is how you disabled those men,” Dai butt in.
“What?” Soleil said confused. “I thought you did that, Dai.”
“Nope that was all you. I even asked the captives last night before they left to make sure.”
“No way,” she said in total disbelief. "I didn’t do that.”
"Then how do you explain the mug in your hands?” he said pointing. Sure enough, grass and small flowers covered the outside of her mug. What the heck, she thought as she got this feeling that the grass on her mug was just the beginning of whatever was happening to her.