Jessica spent most of the morning sketching. The stack of filled sheets had grown. Near the bottom they were neatly stacked, and held roughs for scenes or portraits, none of them satisfying. Towards the top, the stack sprawled, and the sketches degraded into doodles. Patches of hatching, and bouquets of swirly lines.
After lunch she went for a walk, and to pick up a new sketchpad. Following an impulse, she bought some paints.
Back at home she grew frustrated with the small sheets. Should have thought of that earlier, darnit.
She wanted to call it a day, but... Go on. You know you want to. Do it!
The desk was light and easy to move.
Some hours later the wall was decorated from the ground to as high as she could reach with flowing lines. Tentacles, or vines without leaves. It was a chaos she might have called beautiful if it had not been her own work. And it made her bedroom smell of paint. At least she had not bought varnish that truly stank.
That had been a bad idea. What had ridden her to actually go through with it? The house was not hers. She'd have to paint the wall white again, and who knew how many layers that would take.
Certainly not today, though. She wiped the paint drips off the floor before they could dry completely, and left her window and door wide open while she cleaned the brushes.
My grandfather told me this happened when he was little.
Alarm spread through the village, in short warnings the grown-ups didn't bother to explain to their children. The children were gathered in the homes together with the old, while the able-bodied armed themselves and went out in groups to warn anyone scattered.
Cooped up indoor in broad daylight, the children heard the stories about this particular threat for the first time. A pale spirit of sorts, as calm and shining as a cloud-free and wind-still midwinter night. And as deadly.
They were interrupted by calls of a returning search party. They brought one of the older girls home, dead and cold. Not a mark on her.
Everyone waited out the day and night, fearful or mournful.
By mid-morning the next day, some parents decided the children should see, and took them to the place where the hoofprints had been spotted.
Most fae were capricious, but my grandfather never forgot, the unicorn was most dangerous of all.
Ron wondered how much the tall girl's nonstandard healing process would complicate matters. She sat in the back of the police car, holding her side. If she'd been unclaimed, and their story true, she should be bleeding, but a green growth had closed the wound. The smell, somewhat like freshly cut grass, was odd in this context, but unmistakable.
Her companion caught Ron's eyes in the rear-view mirror, and held them.
"So, what kind are you?"
The assumption he had to be claimed, too, just because he had not sided with the locals whom she accused of taking pot shots at her and her friend, irritated him. However, he cut the lecture, on the basis that she'd had a really bad day. Besides, her assumption was correct.
"So, do you turn into a big shaggy monster on fullmoon nights?"
"He's not that insistent." Well, if she wanted to talk... "What about you? Dragon?"
She rolled her eyes a little. "Wyvern."
"So, do you turn into a venom-spitting flying lizard on occasion?"
She rubbed her cheek self-consciously. The scales had faded to something resembling giant freckles, her eyes to an unspectacular hazel. "I try to avoid it."
Light played on the iridescent feathers of the Kingfisher mask. The huge, dark glass eyes looked strange. An enticing danger, a challenge. Or mockery?
Nico shook her head and looked around her room. It was small, the mask was bulky, and she was foolish for not re-selling it. Though she wasn't so short on either cash or space she couldn't afford a bit of sentimentality. That was all there was to it. Right?
There were people in town she could consult to find out if the mask was enchanted or haunted. But quite apart from the cost, she didn't want to. She was quite sure the feeling of being someone slightly different when wearing it was all in her head. It was the same in other situations where she had to, or wanted to, pretend.
And if she was wrong? Well, it would be rude poking into the mind of anything with a personality, particularly if you liked him. It. Whatever.
That was a better reason than, I like the little thrill of this doubt.
The door was wide open. It led from the old cellar to a corridor whose one side was all windows, with blue light filtering through. There was a faintly glowing threshold dividing the dirt floor on this side from the carpet on the other.
Nicolas took a deep breath and stepped through. The door collapsed to a fading point of light immediately after.
Angus didn't like it. He hadn't liked much of anything since Nicolas had found him—well, that was unjust. After the initial worry the human would cause a stir, it was nice being able to talk to him openly. For a while. Until he had turned more or less to blackmail. His secrecy in exchange for knowledge. If it had been anyone else, things would have been different, but Angus couldn't work against the rightful owner of the house.
Hopefully he had paid attention and didn't cause any messes. Or run into any dangers too big to handle.
On the other hand, if he stayed disappeared, this might solve the problem. They just had to take care whoever inherited or bought the house didn't spot them.
That might be Nicolas' sister, at that. She should arrive any day now, invited to watch the house.
Considering that affront, Angus decided he didn't want Nicolas to come back. As if a house spirit couldn't do the job.
Nico ambled away from the main hubbub of the party, and found Daaren on the veranda, apparently watching the gardens. She propped herself up next to him, and asked conversationally, "So, why'd you leave?"