Sneak Peek: Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free

Bigfootloose And Finn Fancy FreeIn Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, the sequel to Randy Henderson‘s acclaimed debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Finn Gramaraye is settling back into the real world after his twenty-five-year-long imprisonment in the otherworld of the Fey. He’s fallen in love with a woman from his past, though he worries she may love a version of him that no longer exists. He’s proved his innocence of the original crime of Dark Necromancy, and he’s finding a place in the family business–operating a mortuary for the Arcane, managing the magical energies left behind when an Arcane being dies to prevent it from harming the mundane world.

But Finn wants more. Or different. Or something.

Please enjoy the first three chapters of Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, coming out February 16th!

1

Once Bitten Twice Shy

Imagine the sweetest-smelling perfume, something candy-like, perhaps worn by tweenaged girls. Now, pour a bottle of that into your eyes. Welcome to the joys of fairy embalming.

I stood beside a stainless-steel worktable on which a fairy’s parakeet-sized body rested, in the familiar chill and antiseptic smell of our family’s basement necrotorium—a mortuary for the magical.

And by fairy, I don’t mean a true Fey. Actually, I’m not even sure what a Fey smell might be. During the twenty-five years I spent exiled in the Fey Other Realm, I don’t think I smelled anything that didn’t come from my own imagination. No, by fairy I mean the little flitting Tinkerbells you see in gardens, especially in a charming little waterfront town like our own Port Townsend. Well, that you’d be able to see if you were a human arcana gifted with magic, or a feyblood creature like the fairies themselves.

My younger brother Pete stood opposite me, his huge body hunched over the table as he monitored the embalming tubes that ran into the fairy’s body. Petey had always been a big guy—not fat, or all muscle, just big like a grizzly. His round baby face scrunched up in a frown of concentration that better belonged on a child trying to eat Cream of Wheat with chopsticks, and fit his nature much more than his considerable size did.

My girlfriend, Dawn, sat on a stool in the corner strumming her guitar, the incandescent lighting glinting off the silver rings that covered her every finger. Her hair, a springy cloud of fading turquoise with black roots, masked her eyes as she leaned over her guitar, but she occasionally paused to lift up the decapitated head of my old Six Million Dollar Man doll that hung from a cord around her neck and look through his bionic eye at the fairy. The toy head had a crystal jutting out the neck and a crown of rune-covered metal, an artifact my father created in one of his (more) lucid moments, that enabled mundanes to see the normally hidden world of magical energies and creatures. But Dawn’s mundy senses still made her impervious to the fairy odor.

For me, even the smells of embalming fluids and bleach couldn’t mask the cloying smell.

Pete removed the customized embalming tubes with the kind of delicateness one might expect from a Jedi manscaping his nethers with a lightsaber. Despite his size, Pete was one of the gentlest people I knew. Or at least, he used to be. Since being bitten by waerwolves three months ago, he’d cycled between reclusive and rabid as he struggled to control the Fey wolf spirit that now shared his body.

*I envy your brother,* a voice sounded in my head. *If a body must needs be shared, then a wolf seems a most desirable companion. At least a wolf spirit knows how to have fun.*

Alynon Infedriel, Fey knight of the Silver Court, former changeling for yours truly, and pain in my spiritual buttocks, gave a martyred sigh only I could hear, and fell silent. I wasn’t sure how a Fey spirit trapped inside my brain could sigh when he didn’t have actual lungs or breath of his own, but he did. A lot.

When I’d returned from exile in the Other Realm, I was supposed to inherit twenty-five years of catch-up memories from Alynon as he departed back to his own Fey body. Instead, an accident had caused me to be stuck with him in my head.

That had been a real lose-lose kind of day.

“Shut it,” I muttered at Alynon.

“I’m getting to it!” Pete said, the hint of a growl creeping into his voice.

“What? Oh, no, I didn’t mean shut the incisions,” I said. “I was talking to the royal Feyn in my Butt.”

“Oh.” Pete hunched in on himself a bit more and began stapling the incisions closed. Now it was my turn to sigh.

*Sincerely,* Alynon continued, *your nature could benefit from a touch of bestiality. I am certain Dawn would enjoy it.*

Dawn stopped her strumming. “What’d Aly say?”

“Nothing worth repeating,” I replied.

*Liar,* Alynon said. *You know I am right. Bright, but that I still had control of your body. Pax laws or no, I’d tear me off a piece of that.*

Really? I thought, focusing the thought on him so that he could hear it. “Tear me off a piece of that”? What does that even mean? I think you wasted your time in our world if that’s the kind of thing you filled your head with.

Dawn’s eyes narrowed slightly as she leaned toward me, exposing her cleavage.

*Mayhap,* Alynon said. *But speaking of my head, I know where I’d like to—*

Seriously?!

Dawn leaned back. “I can tell you’re still arguing with him about something.”

*Indeed, seriously!* Alynon responded. *I spent twenty-five years in this hormone factory you call a body, being bombarded with sexual images left and right, and I was forbidden by Pax Law to act on any—*

Wow, I really feel for you. That sounds so much worse than being without a real body and having your memories fed on by Fey.

*That’s not my point. I am merely saying, it may have made me a little sex-obsessed.*

Gee, you think?

*What I think is you’re crazy for not ripping her clothes off and—*

“There,” Dawn said. “Only Aly can make your eye twitch like that.”

I replied in a level tone, “We were just arguing about how the Fey keep pushing into areas where they don’t belong.”

“Uh huh.” Dawn resumed strumming. “You’ll tell me what he said when you’re ready.” She stated it as a matter of fact.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” I said. “Declare what I will or won’t do.”

Dawn arched an eyebrow. “You can pretend you don’t like how I’m always right, but I know it just makes you like me more.”

“No. Mostly, I like you for your modesty.”

“Yeah, I am pretty perfect.” Dawn winked.

But she was right about always being right. Damn it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she had a touch of clairvoyance. But really, she just knew me.

Or at least, she knew who I’d been before being exiled at age fifteen. I didn’t even know who I was now. Not in the sense that I had amnesia or anything—well, I had lost my previous memories of Dawn in exchange for knowledge from beyond the grave, but my memories were otherwise intact. It was more that I didn’t know who I was in the same sense that made people seek direction and identity through religion, or pyramid schemes, or by taking a passionate side in the cola wars. It was dangerous. It was the kind of path that led to Tammy Faye Bakker, secret societies, and New Coke.

*You’re not moping again, are you?* Alynon asked. *I can practically taste the ennui in your brain chemistry.*

I’m not moping! I’m trying to figure things out. I don’t want to just fall into—

*Bright, save me. If you’re going to play the sad philosopher again, can you at least pretend to be Kant? He knew how to party. I remember once—*

Remind me later to double my efforts on figuring out how to exorcise you.

*You already worked out how to exorcise me.*

You know what I mean. Without it lobotomizing me.

*Ah, fine.* Alynon was quiet a second. *Say, don’t forget to double your efforts—*

Hilarious, I replied.

I really did need to focus more on getting him out of my head. Not just for my own sake, but his. It was not his fault that my grandfather’s minions had attacked and disrupted the process that would have returned Alynon to the Other Realm. And it wasn’t until I’d died briefly, drowned while escaping my grandfather’s underwater lair, that I’d even been able to hear Alynon. But now that I knew he was in my head, able to experience everything I did but unable to exert any physical control, I could only imagine how difficult and frustrating that must be.

Well, I didn’t have to only imagine. He reminded me of it pretty regularly.

Someone knocked on the glass door behind me.

Our necrotorium filled the basement of my family’s old Victorian house. A wall with frosted glass windows divided it in half, with the traditional mundane mortuary equipment on this side, and the altars, protective circles, and other accoutrements of our family’s necromancy trade on the other. Through the frosted glass of the door, I could make out the blurry shape of a waifish sixteen-year-old girl a second before the door swung open and Mattie said, “Uncle Finn?”

“Yeah?” I replied, and coughed when I sucked in fairy stench.

“There’s a, uh, client here.”

“Where’s Mort?” I asked around my coughs. My older brother seemed to be easing up a bit on his paranoia that I was plotting against him to take charge of the family business. I wasn’t going to ruin that progress by greeting new clients without his permission.

“No, not for us. A client for you, for your dating service.”

Dawn stopped strumming and sat up straight, an excited smile on her face. I blinked.

I’d started a dating service for magicals three months ago, inspired by how good it felt to help Pete and his girlfriend, Vee, find happiness together. It certainly felt better than the thought of spending my life around death, trading bits of my own life energy to Talk with spirits. But not a single arcana or feyblood had come seeking my help in those three months. My sister Sammy had even made me a website, and still not a bite.

I’d pretty much given up on the idea, which really depressed me since I had few other immediate career options besides necromancy. My skills coding video games in BASIC were, I’d learned, a bit outdated.

“I’ll be right up!” I said. “Show … him? Her?”

“Him.”

“Show him to the parlor. Please.”

“I did. But your client? He’s … a sasquatch.”

Pete growled softly.

A sasquatch. Oh, shazbot.

Sweat sprung up along my arms. I didn’t have a great history with sasquatches. In fact, my only real history was with a sibling pair of sasquatch mercenaries who’d been hired by my grandfather in his bid to be voted Arch-Villain of the Year. They’d attacked pretty much everyone around me, and the female sasquatch had died at the hands of blood witches while defending my grandfather—blood witches I’d sent against him.

If my grandfather’s extremist Arcanite buddies ever hired that sasquatch for another job, it would probably be to kill me for upsetting their plans to start a race war. Either way, I hoped never to see that sasquatch, or any of his relatives, again.

“And Uncle Finn?” Mattie said.

“Yeah?”

“This sasquatch? He says he knows you.”

Double shazbot.

“You said you showed him to the parlor?”

“Yes.”

Which meant she’d already let him inside the house’s protective wards. An understandable mistake, given the types of customers we’d had lately.

Dawn slid off her stool. “Awesome! I’ve always wanted to see Bigfoot.”

I shook my head. “Not awesome. Dangerous. I think he’s here to hurt me.”

Pete pulled off his apron and gloves, and strode toward the door. “Nobody hurts my brother.”

I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him to a stop—or more accurately, he stopped, preventing me from being dragged along behind him. “Hang on. Let’s play this smart and safe. We can’t afford to have the parlor rebuilt again like we did after that troll incident.” And Pete couldn’t afford to give the Arcana Ruling Council any excuse to lock him up as a rogue waer. “Let’s gear up first, and then I’ll try to lure him outside.”

I turned to Dawn. “It might be best—”

“If I go home?” she said. “Let’s see, who has saved the lives of every man in this room, raise your hand.” Dawn raised her hand. She had helped to save Pete after both a witch curse and a waerwolf attack. And she’d given me CPR after I drowned while escaping Grandfather’s lair.

Dawn lowered her hand. “So, you can give me a weapon, or a healing potion, or both, but I’m sticking around.”

Alynon chuckled.

Frak.

“Okay. Fine. You keep Mattie safe down here,” I suggested. Dawn might do something crazy on her own, but she wouldn’t do anything too risky with Mattie’s safety on the line.

“I don’t—” Mattie began, but Dawn put a hand on her shoulder.

“Really?” Dawn said to me. “And what if Bigfoot comes down those stairs? We’d be trapped down here. Shouldn’t we at least come upstairs where there’s all kinds of ways to escape?”

*No one puts Baby in a corner!*

Stick it. “Fine. Come on, let’s not keep our guest waiting.”

I threw a cover over the fairy, and we all crossed to the small basement area set aside for Father’s thaumaturgy experiments. Most of the stuff in his lab was harmless—being possessed by Mother’s ghost had left Father mentally unstable, so it was best not to give him objects that might cut, burn, explode, or, as we had learned too late to prevent a reverse mohawk, could be used to animate an electric razor—but I grabbed a can of spray adhesive, which could be used like pepper spray in a pinch, and handed it to Mattie.

Then I opened the small safe, pulled out an extendible steel baton, and handed it to Dawn. A wizard’s weapon, the baton had once belonged to Zeke, an arcana enforcer, and would inflict at least some pain even to a sasquatch.

“And a healing potion?” she asked.

“Still out,” I replied. Unfortunately they were crazy expensive, and nobody in my family had an alchemist’s ability to activate the magical properties of potion ingredients. In fact, of the five human branches of magic—alchemy, wizardry, thaumaturgy, sorcery, and necromancy—alchemy was the only one that hadn’t manifested somewhere in our family bloodlines.

“What about you?” Dawn asked, eyeing the revolver that still sat in the open safe.

“Bullets tend to bounce off sasquatch fur,” I replied, and closed the safe. “Worst case, I’ll threaten to rip out his spirit.” And hope he wouldn’t call my bluff.

Soul destruction was the ultimate necromancer threat, but I felt neither powerful nor skilled enough to actually do it—one of the drawbacks of having missed twenty-five years of necromancy training and practice. But I could at least give him one hell of a headache by trying.

Dawn tapped the small silver artifact hanging by a chain around my neck. A spirit trap. It looked like one of those metal puzzles where you have to figure out how to twist the pieces apart, except these were forged together. From its center peeked a tiny mouse skull covered in runes. “What about this thing,” she asked. “You’ve been ‘charging it up’ for weeks. Isn’t it supposed to trap souls?”

“Disembodied spirits,” I said. “I can’t use it as a weapon against someone living.”

*Not true,* Alynon said.

True enough, I replied.

Actually, it could be used to tear the soul out of a living being, but to do so would require the destruction of a spirit already trapped inside it, creating a kind of spiritual vacuum, and that would be one of the darkest forms of dark necromancy—the destruction of another being’s spirit to fuel my magic.

I led the group up the stairs: myself, Pete, and Dawn, with Mattie trailing last. We emerged into the mud room without incident. Gray Washington daylight glowed through the back-door window. On cloudy Pacific Northwest mornings like today’s, the sun was more a pale fluorescent apology than a glowing engine of warmth and life. Never mind that it was June.

“Okay,” I whispered to Dawn and Mattie. “You stay here, please.”

Dawn crossed her arms, the baton dangling at her side, but didn’t argue.

Pete and I tiptoed our way to the library, where I grabbed the silver-coated sword from the wall above the fireplace. At least the sword made for good show without the danger of accidentally hitting my brother with a ricochet, and better the sasquatch grabbed for the sword than my throat.

We continued to the front entryway, and the closed double doors for the viewing parlor. The sasquatch would most likely be just inside, near the ring of folding chairs where Mort liked to sit and do his business with prospective customers. Those chairs would make handy projectiles for the sasquatch.

I opened our home’s front entry door quietly, the better to flee through, and took a deep calming breath of the chill morning air before returning to the parlor doors.

“Ready?” I whispered to Pete, worried at the look on his face. Pete began to pant, and held his hands to his chest in shaking fists. His eyes went from dark brown to pale blue.

“Don’t wolf out on me, Brother,” I whispered. “Let’s deal with one problem at a time, okay?”

“I—I’m trying,” Pete whispered back, his voice harsh. “But I can smell the sasquatch, and—” His nails began to elongate. “No no no!” He shook his head. Tears sprang to his eyes. “I don’t want to change. I don’t want to go wolf, I don’t want to hurt people.”

Crap. “Breathe, Petey, just breathe,” I said.

He closed his eyes, causing twin tears of frustration to run down his cheeks, and he took several deep breaths through his mouth. The nails receded.

“Maybe you should sit this one out,” I whispered.

*You really are no fun,* Alynon said.

I ignored him as Pete replied, “No. I’m not going to let that sasquatch hurt you.”

“I’m just going to lure him outside, and I’ll run around to the side door and come back in before he can lay a finger on me. The house wards will keep him out until enforcers arrive.”

Pete looked dubious.

“Look,” I said. “You go back down the hallway a bit, keep him from heading toward the girls, okay? Keep them safe.”

My heart broke at the puppy dog look of hurt and frustration on Petey’s face as he nodded and shuffled off down the hallway.

Damn.

I really would have felt better with Pete watching my back. I eyed the front door. I could do this.

I counted to three, then threw open the parlor doors and gave a challenging shout, sword raised.

The sasquatch leaped up from a folding chair—nine feet of red-brown hairy muscle wearing combat boots and wielding what looked like bodkins or some other thin blades carved from wood. He let out a horrible … yelp?

“Is youself crazy?” the sasquatch shouted.

2

Looking for a New Love

As I stared at the sasquatch, I realized that a bit of cloth dangled from one of his thin blades and a tail of yarn ran down into a satchel propped up by the chair.

They weren’t blades. They were knitting needles.

“You’re, uh, not here to attack me?” I asked.

The sasquatch sighed, and sank back down on the chair. “Arcana be crazy. But Iself even craziest.” His head hung down, and he blushed. “Iself came here heart-hoping for love.”

I lowered my sword slowly. “Oh. Sorry. Let’s … talk.” I moved cautiously into the parlor, but remained standing.

The parlor contained rows of cushioned pews facing a slightly raised stage, which held the casket platform, speaking podium, and projection screen. During a viewing, the open area in the back where we stood held tables with pictures, artifacts, clan banners, or other meaningful items, but right now it held a half-dozen folding chairs and one sasquatch.

This was definitely the same sasquatch who’d worked for my grandfather. Not only was his coloring and face familiar, with that stripe of black that crossed the tiny black pearl of his right eye, but he was the only sasquatch I’d ever seen or heard of who wore boots. I’d nicknamed him Harry, but didn’t know his real name.

The sasquatch stuffed the knitting needles and yarn back into his satchel as I said, “What shall I call you?”

“Iself be named K’u-k’a Schken’ah Saljchuh,” he said, or as close as I could tell, making clicking noises as he pronounced his first name. He looked at me as though he expected me to make some comment. When I didn’t, he said, “Youself not talking words of Klallam firstmen?”

“No. What does it mean?”

He looked down at his booted feet, and his ears turned bright red. “Not important. Youself can call me Sal if youself want. Everyself call I Sal. Except youself’s clan-kin, Grayson, always calling I ‘Squatch’ and ‘boy.’” He growled. “Iself no like Grayson-mage.”

“Uh, yeah, I had my problems with him, too, as you know. That isn’t going to be a problem here, though, for us, is it? What happened before, I mean? I am very sorry about your … loss.”

“Sistermine was drinking Grayson’s badbright juice; made her crazy.”

I winced. My grandfather had apparently used some kind of mana-based drug to secure the loyalty of his feyblood mercenaries, both before and after stealing the body and identity of his apprentice (and bastard son), Grayson. Another black mark on the Gramaraye family name.

“Again, I’m very sorry.”

Sal shook his head. “Sistermine always trouble-looking.” The sasquatch’s voice thickened as he continued, “All of lifelong, Iself trying to keep her happy-safe. But herself in Great Forest now, beyond-beyond. Herenow, Iself can start making the happylife for I.”

“So … you really want me to help you find your true love, then?”

“Yes.” His ears turned red again.

“Okay. I can do that! If you want to wait right here, I’ll just need to gather some things. My brother Pete can grab you some water or something while you wait. Hey Pete!” I called. “It’s okay. Can you give me a hand?”

Pete peered through the doorway, then stepped into the room.

Sal sniffed. “Yonman is brightblood changer.” He seemed to expand in size as his fur fluffed up. “Shadow-sworn.”

“Yes, he is waer, and he does have a wolf spirit,” I said. “But he hasn’t aligned with the Forest of Shadows or any Fey demesne.”

“Wolf changers always go shadow-sworn,” Sal said. “Theyself always want a pack, and wolf-changer packs always go shadow-sworn.”

Pete shook his head. “My family is my pack,” he said. “And my girlfriend, she’s got a squirrel spirit.” Squirrel spirits tended to align with the Islands of the Blessed, not the Shadows.

As if on cue, Vee walked in through the open front door.

Violet Wodenson looked like a Viking warrior woman: not the Barbie-in-horned-hat variety, but a tall, broad-shouldered woman who could row a boat and pillage a village with the best of them. Or at least, she did in those rare moments when she wasn’t hunched in on herself, giving off an air of vulnerability, like now.

Vee took in the scene in the parlor with red-rimmed eyes. She blinked at Sal, but didn’t react to him beyond that. We’d had plenty of other feybloods come through here seeking our necromancy services, some more frightening looking than Sal. Particularly with the damage to our family’s reputation, first with my being accused of dark necromancy, then with Grayson/grandfather’s plot, we’d had to take some of the riskier clients just to make ends meet. But Vee did frown at my sword, and when she looked at Pete her face filled with worry. “Dear heart, are you okay?”

Pete nodded. “Fine.”

“You look … worked up. Perhaps we should take you out to your room and have some tea?”

Pete frowned. “I should be taking care of you right now.”

Vee waved a hand. “I’m okay. It was good, helping to finalize Zekiel’s display for the wake, especially after all of the ARC’s stupid delays to ‘debrief’ his spirit.” She sighed. “And as for ‘should,’ we take care of each other, kjære, that’s what partners do.”

Sal sighed. “Youself good mate,” he said to Vee. “I heart-wish I had mate like you.”

Pete growled, and the hair at the base of his skull actually stood up. “She’s taken,” he said.

Vee grabbed his arm. “Come on. You need to calm down.” She looked past him at Sal. “I’m sorry, he’s still adjusting to his wolf. Please excuse us.” She dragged Pete away as he ducked his head like a puppy caught misbehaving.

A throat cleared from the hallway. “Finn?” Dawn called. “Okay if I come in?”

I glanced at Sal. He did not seem to be in a dangerous mood, for the moment anyway. And Dawn’s enthusiasm for all things magical rang clear in her voice. “Yes, come in.”

Dawn poked her head around the corner, peeking through the plastic Six Million Dollar Man head. She opened her other eye, then let the head drop when it was obvious she could see Sal without it.

“Sal,” I said, “This is Dawn. She’s an Acolyte.”

“Greetings,” Dawn said. She waved, grinning like a six-year-old who’d just said hello to Mickey at Disneyland. One of the silver rings on her right hand held a ladybug suspended in amber. The ring was courtesy of Lila Drake Jewelry, the traces of spiritual and magical energy that charged it were courtesy of me, and together the amber and energy marked her as an Acolyte, a mundy with accepted knowledge of the magical world. But most feybloods would go to extremes not to be seen by mundies, Acolyte or not.

I watched Sal warily. He hesitated, sniffing at the air, then bowed his head. “Greetings, Dawn.”

Dawn stepped fully into the room. She held a plate with a slice of banana cream pie in one hand, the other hand behind her back—holding the baton, I assumed. “I took a peek in your catering book,” she said to me. “We didn’t have much that a sasquatch would like, but I had this.”

Sal sniffed at the air like a dog picking up a scent, and his fur fluffed up again, though this time he also made a kind of purring sound.

Our family’s catering book covered the diets of most common feyblood species that lived in the area, in case we needed to throw a wake or reception for any of them. I knew from memory that sasquatches enjoyed salmon, and pinecones, and mushrooms, and apparently could digest bark pretty well. But if you wanted to make a sasquatch happy, nothing worked better than banana cream pie. It was like catnip to cats, or brownies to brownies, a sure way to put them in a happy trancelike state.

Sal dropped his satchel and crossed the distance to Dawn in two steps. She didn’t even flinch, but just handed him the plate. “Enjoy.” Sal ate the pie in three fast bites, and began licking his hands and the plate.

“Big heart-thanks to youself, Dawn,” Sal said between licks.

“You’re most welcome, Sal,” Dawn said in a tone that said she was totally psyched to be talking to a sasquatch. “Killer boots. Do you have to wear them because of all the broken bottles and crap people leave in the forests? Or are they so you don’t leave those footprints everyone’s always making casts of?”

Sal’s ears glowed red yet again. I winced, and stepped between him and Dawn. She had a habit of talking to everyone like they’d been lifetime friends, no topic off limits. Most times, I was amazed at how she’d instantly bond with them. But sometimes, it got her in trouble. In this case, trouble could flatten us with his fists. “Dawn, can you do me a favor and ask Mattie to bring the Kin Finder?”

Dawn arched one pierced eyebrow at me, and a second later Mattie wheeled in the Kin Finder 2000. At least, that’s what I called Father’s invention. About the size of a microwave, it looked like half clockwork slot machine, half distillery, and half of a Transformer’s innards, three halves that somehow made a single whole.

“Uh, thanks,” I said to Mattie. Even at sixteen she was far more organized than I.

“No prob, Uncle Finn. I’m going to check on Dad and Grandpa G. Shout if you need anything.”

“Right. Good. Will do.” Way more organized.

“So,” I said to Sal as Mattie left. “Let’s find your true love, shall we?”

Sal picked up his satchel. “Iself am not having much for paying, but—”

I shook my head. “This one’s free, Sal. I owe you for what happened with my grandfather.”

And one thing I had learned from our family business was that word of mouth made the best advertisement. If I could find true love for Sal, him being a sasquatch mercenary and former enemy, then hopefully word would spread that I could find love for anyone.

Before Sal could argue, I went to work setting up the Kin Finder 2000. I moved the cart to a spot on the floor marked by a small piece of electrical tape, a set home-point from which the results could be accurately measured, and aligned the machine to true north using the compass on its top.

“What does itself do?” Sal asked as I next extended a mechanical arm and adjusted it to the right extension and height.

“It uses the spiritual resonance between two living beings to locate one using the other,” I said. “Normally, we use it to locate next of kin. But I can also use it to locate a person’s soul mate.”

“Soul mate? Iself have heard speak of this. Itself is being human brightstory.”

“Brightstory?” Dawn asked.

“Myth,” I translated, and slid a pen into a small ring at the end of the mechanical arm.

Dawn smiled at Sal. “Well, they say you’re a myth, too, right, Sal?”

Sal shrugged. “Some say Iself are myth. Some say gods are real-real. Some not always be true-right. Dawn, has Finn found youself’s soul mate?”

“Yep,” Dawn said. “Though sometimes I think he wished he hadn’t.”

I looked up from the machine. She’d said it in a joking manner, but a note of something more serious had crept in. “Hey, that’s not true,” I replied.

Dawn gave a quick shake of her head, as if admonishing herself, before her mischievous smile returned. “Well, maybe you should explain to Sal here just what it means to find your soul mate…?”

I raised my eyebrows at her. She raised a single pierced brow back. I sighed.

“Well, for one, it doesn’t guarantee instant love,” I said. “You’ll still have to get to know your soul mate, Sal, and fall in love. But it should be easier with the … being who is your soul mate than anyone else, and once you find love it should last forever. Well, as long as you don’t take it for granted.”

“Should, huh?” Dawn asked, and crossed her arms.

Sal appeared to waver for a second, as if a heat wave passed in front of him. Like many feyblood creatures, sasquatches had a natural glamour that shielded them from mundy view, and could even mask them from casual arcana sight. To the unaware, they might appear as bears, or heavily bearded woodsmen, or death metal band members.

“Dawn,” I said, “I think we’re making Sal uncomfortable.” He probably wasn’t even aware the glamour was activating, he’d just picked up on some subtle threat.

I wouldn’t mind knowing why it had activated, either.

“Well,” Dawn said. “We wouldn’t want to do that. I think we’ll go fix us second breakfasts.” She looked to Sal. “Sorry if I really did make you uncomfortable, Sal. With Finn and me, joking’s just how we show our love. Which is one of the many reasons we’re perfect for each other: nobody else could stand us—right, oh love of mine?”

“Uh, right,” I said.

“Iself understand,” Sal said. “Iself hope to find a mate who is perfect also.”

“Good.” Dawn smiled. “Well, I’ll leave you boys to it. Have fun.” She swept from the room.

“Uh,” I said, turning back to Sal. “Okay. I’ll need a small bit of your fur.”

Sal plucked a tiny tuft of fur from his arm and handed it to me. It felt like steel wool. I put it into a metal bowl with some water and inserted it into the machine’s interior, then lit the Sterno beneath the bowl.

I pointed to a small crystal ball at the back of the machine. “Place your hand here, on this ball, and think of your desire to find love.”

Sal put one huge finger on the crystal, covering it.

“Good. May I place my hand on yours to work the magic?” I asked. Sal nodded. I placed my hand over his finger and the crystal ball, and focused on the bright locus of magical energy within me. I summoned up a portion of the energy and formed a summoning. But instead of summoning the spirit once attached to a body, I summoned the spiritual match to Sal. The machine began to hum lightly.

It didn’t take long for the water to begin boiling, sending steam through a complex series of tubes within the machine. It began to ping and clank and sproing. The mechanical arm lowered and drew out a straight line, then lifted. The machine quieted, and I blew out the Sterno.

I took the sheet of paper, and said, “Please wait here. I need to consult my maps to determine the exact location of your true love.”

“That be all and done?” Sal asked.

“That’s it,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

Sal looked skeptical, but sat back down and picked up his knitting.

I closed the sliding doors on the parlor, and with a slight exertion of will backed by another trickle of magical energy from my core, I activated the ward that had been built into the doors for just these types of occasions. Not that I expected trouble, but I’d learned the hard way not to trust my assumptions about people, or beings. The ward wouldn’t stop Sal if he decided to smash his way out of the room for some reason, but it would give him a shock and, more importantly, would set off an alarm. It used to also release a powerful sleep gas, but a key ingredient in sleep gas is nightmare urine, as in the pee of an actual Fey equine-of-the-night. Worse even than cat urine, the smell was as difficult to get rid of as a preconception wrapped in a rabid skunk.

I went to find Mattie. She was in Father’s room, at my mother’s old desk, wearing headphones and typing on her laptop computer. I still had a hard time believing the incredible power of modern computers compared to my trusty old Commodore 64. I had tried to get up to speed on the Internet and everything that had changed while I was away, but it was just overwhelming. I’d felt like a kid transferred from the fourth grade into an advanced high school class mid-semester and told there was a quiz on Everything next week.

Father sat at his own desk, beneath a window overlooking Mother’s garden, or at least the wild tangle it had become now that nobody tended it. Bits and scraps covered his desk, including pieces of broken watches, a variety of crystals and stones, a small collection of polished bones from creatures both mundane and magical (purchased legally, not taken from our customers, of course), and the pieces of an old Robotix set. I’d donated or purchased a lot of the materials, and borrowed the rest from the piles of junk left in Dawn’s yard by her artist ex-boyfriend.

Once upon a time, Father had been a skilled thaumaturge, an inventor and creator of magical artifacts. Married into a family of necromancers, he’d used that skill to create many artifacts that allowed our family to compete with other necromancer families who had more money or influence, artifacts like the Kin Finder 2000, or the Podium of Politeness, which enhanced a speaker’s ability to say nice things about even the most wretched or boring deceased with full (if temporary) sincerity and belief, making the speaker feel rather good about themselves. He’d also made a number of smaller, non-magical objects he would sell to tourists in the shops on Water Street.

Once upon a time. Before Grandfather used Mother’s ghost to forcefully possess my father and make him do horrible things, driving him mad in the process.

Three months since Mother’s ghost had been exorcised, and no signs that it had helped Father’s madness. But he still had his ability to imbue artifacts with magic, and occasionally the inventor or artist in him peeked through the madness. I was doing everything I could to bring him out fully.

“Finn!” Father said, looking up from his desk. “Finn Fancy, learn to dancey.”

At Father’s loud greeting, Mattie quickly shut her laptop and looked at me as if caught looking at pornography—something her father apparently did on a regular basis according to our sister, Sammy, who refused to fix Mort’s computer any longer.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

“Okeemonkey,” Father said.

“Yeah,” Mattie replied. “All good. I was just checking Tumblr.”

“Tumbler. Right. That’s not, uh, something inappropriate for a young lady, is it?” I asked.

Mattie rolled her eyes. “No.”

I’d have to ask Sammy about it. “Okay. Well, I was hoping you could help me with this?” I held up the sheet from the Kin Finder with the line drawn across it. I could use the line in conjunction with Thomas Guide maps to identify where the line pointed to, but I’d never been good at it. “You said you found a better way to do it?”

“Sure!” She took the sheet from me and scanned it using the printer on the desk. “Uncle Finn?”

“Yeah?”

“Could you talk to Dad? I’m worried about him.”

“About what? His fashion choices? Because they worry me, too.”

“No, for reals. He’s been seriously moody lately. And sick a lot.”

“He’s not always like that?” I asked, surprised. In the three months I’d been back, I’d never seen Mort look particularly happy or healthy. The one time I’d tried to ask him about it, he’d told me to mind my own business.

“No. Well, he used to be better, anyway. But it’s been getting worse lately. And he didn’t used to stay in his room all the time. I tried to get him to tell me why, but he won’t.” Mattie finished scanning the document and then began doing something on her laptop.

I could think of a number of possible reasons why Mort would hide in his room. He probably still resented my being back. Or maybe he was afraid Pete would bite him again now that Pete really was a waerwolf, in retaliation for all the years Mort pretended Pete was a waerwolf as a prank.

Or perhaps Mort was just busy breaking his computer again.

Whatever the case, I couldn’t simply ignore Mattie’s request. And if something really was wrong, I couldn’t ignore that, either. Damn it.

“I’ll talk to him.”

“Thank you. Here you go,” Mattie pointed at her screen. A little red dot showed on a map. Thankfully, it wasn’t on the other side of the world—a possibility I’d dreaded. Rather, it was right here in Washington State, and even on the Olympic Peninsula.

“Elwha River. Great! Can you print that for me?”

As Mattie fussed with the printer, I went over to Father. I knelt down beside him and put one hand on his shoulder. “Hi, Father,” I said.

“Look at that!” he said, his tone irritated, and pointed out the window at the wild remains of Mother’s garden. “Where are the flowers? All the flowers have died.”

“We had to prune, remember? So that Mother’s ghost couldn’t be used against you anymore?”

“Your Mother’s going to be mad when she sees what happened to her garden.”

“Mother is—here, look at me, please.” I leaned over to catch his eyes. “What is my name?”

“Phinaeus Gramaraye,” he said with a touch of his old humor, and I saw recognition in his eyes, like I’d suddenly come into focus. “Why, did you want to change it again?”

“Again?”

“Yes, you wanted to change it to Door at one point, remember?”

Oh. That. I’d read several Xanth novels when I was around eleven, and for some crazy reason I’d briefly wanted to change my name to Dor. I’d also wanted a tattoo of Pee-wee Herman when I was fifteen. Thank the gods my parents had forbidden both. “Yeah, I remember that. I had my nose stuck in those books that whole summer. Remember when we went camping out by Forks that year, and I tried Talking to the spirit of all the inanimate objects—”

Father thrust my old pocket-sized Simon electronic game into my hand. A plastic circle with four different colored push pads, it had been MacGyvered, or as I liked to call it, MacFathered. A small spirit trap sat secured in the center—another twisted metal puzzle that had no solution, with what looked like a bird’s skull in the center, all covered in runes—and crystals protruded from the push pads with copper wire attaching them to the spirit trap.

Father’s eyes found mine, and I could see him making the effort to truly focus on me. “A gift.”

“What does it do?” I asked as I took it.

The left side of Father’s face twitched, and he said, “Over there, other there, criss-cross spirit sauce.”

I sighed. I couldn’t make sense of his words, but Father had a small touch of prophecy, and when I’d returned from exile he’d gifted me the ring that made the Kin Finder locate true love. That gift, and a few seemingly mad words, had helped me to put an end to Grandfather’s plotting. So I held on to a growing collection of Father’s gifted objects for fear that the one I chose to dismiss as just a product of his madness would be the object that could save my life somehow.

“Thanks, Father.

Father blinked one eye spastically several times. “Edwin?” he said. “Where’s Father?”

It was like a steel shutter slamming down over the window, cutting off the light. For a brief moment, my father had been back. And now, he was lost to me. Again.

“I’m not your brother,” I said, my voice thick with sudden emotion. I cleared my throat. “I’m your son, Finn. Father, concentrate. Please.”

Father waggled his finger at me. “Please and thanks, or you’ll upset the ranks.”

He turned back to his desk and began picking up random objects, turning them over and pressing them together as if trying to fit puzzle pieces.

I patted him on the back. “I’ll bring you some food.” I took the map printout from Mattie with a quick nod of thanks and left the room.

I gently closed the door behind me and stood for a second, my hand resting on the doorknob.

“You okay?” Dawn asked behind me.

I turned, and put on my best smile. “Do bears bare? Do bees be?”

Dawn’s eyes narrowed. “Uh huh. Want to try that again?”

“Weren’t you making second breakfasts?”

“Weren’t you about to tell me what’s wrong?”

“Really, I’m fine—” I said.

“Sure. Get your stubborn man butt over here.” Before I could protest, Dawn pulled me into a hug.

I gave a resigned sigh, and returned the hug as much to humor her as anything. But as I stood there holding her, being held, tears leaked out.

“I understand, you know,” Dawn said. “Well, kind of. It wasn’t easy, watching Dad fade away.” Her own voice took on the edge of tears. “But at least your father is healthy. And you have Vee to help read his memories. And potions, and all kinds of real magic I don’t even know about yet. I’m sure you’ll find a way to help him.”

I kneaded my fingers into her shoulder in acknowledgment, then took a deep breath of her candy and coconut scent, exhaled slowly, and stepped back.

“About our date today—” I began.

“Oh no,” Dawn said. “Don’t go trying to sneak your way out of our plans now, it was hard enough agreeing on a time to begin with.”

“That’s because you have twenty-seven jobs.”

“I only have one job, sir,” Dawn said. “And I’m well on my way to being named café queen in charge of making all the granola, thank you very much. Who needs more than that?”

“Well, you have the animal shelter, and reading Tarot, I consider those jobs. And—”

“Yeah, yeah.” Dawn put her hands on her hips in a dramatic manner. “And don’t forget that I keep the streets safe at night as Awesome Girl, too.”

“Hey!” I said. “You’re not supposed to tell me that! You’re supposed to protect me by keeping me ignorant of your identity. Well, until I’m kidnapped to use against you that is.”

“Damn. You’re right. And you would look adorable in a short skirt and wet T-shirt, tied up and oh-so-helpless, waiting for rescue.” Dawn got a mischievous grin. “Hmmm. If you don’t have something better planned, I think I have an idea of what we could do later.” She waggled her eyebrows at me.

“I’m not sure I have a skirt that would work,” I replied.

“Are you sure? Don’t lie on my account, I’m totally fine if you do. I seem to remember you wearing eyeliner and dangling earrings in high school.”

“That was the eighties, and it was cool,” I said, crossing my arms.

“Uh huh,” Dawn replied. “Well, I have plenty of skirts for you.”

“And a superhero costume for yourself?”

“Are you kidding?” Dawn said, thrusting out her chest and lifting her chin. “I have three.”

I laughed. “Of course you do. Okay. The date is still on. But I’m not sure how long this thing with Sal will take.”

“That’s fine. I have an appointment with Dewanda anyway.”

Dawn’s hair appointments were never a quick thing. There were no places close to home that knew how to deal with her natural hair and passion for colors, and the process itself was time consuming.

“I forgot,” I said. “And you have the gig tonight. Are you sure—”

“It’ll be fine,” she said, and I caught that momentary flash of sadness I’d seen all week whenever the topic of her gig came up. Then she punched me in the shoulder. “Jesus, make a girl feel wanted why don’t you?”

“What? No! Sorry. I’ll try to be back here and ready to go no later than, say…” I glanced at my Pac-Man watch: Almost nine A.M. “Two o’clock?”

Dawn scrunched her hair between her fingers. “That should work.”

“I think you’re going to like what I have planned.”

“Is it gonna be frickin’ classy?” Dawn asked. “’Cause I’m a girl with refined tastes, you know.”

“Oh, it’s going to be classy like you won’t believe,” I said. “You’re with me, baby, and I only fart through silk.”

“Wow,” Dawn said in a most unimpressed tone. “I am a lucky lady. I can already tell this date’s going to be hotter than Jake Gyllenhaal nude sunbathing on the Sands of Time while drinking a double-hot spicy chai.”

“You know it,” I replied. I wasn’t sure who Jake whats-his-name was, but I waggled my eyebrows anyway.

Sadness drifted briefly across Dawn’s face like the shadow of a swift-moving cloud.

Damn it.

I knew what that meant—there was some response she’d expected from the old days, or some word game we used to play, perhaps, that I’d forgotten when I lost my memories of us.

Another reminder that maybe I wasn’t really the guy she thought she was in love with.

“Dawn, I—”

She waved a hand dismissively. “It’s cool. I’ll get some food for your dad, you go back to your matchmaking, Emma.”

Her Emma reference caused my own pang of sadness as I remembered a similar joke Zeke had made. I didn’t want to end the conversation on a down note, but I didn’t know what more to say. And I did have a sasquatch sitting in my parlor.

I gave Dawn a quick kiss on her cheek, and headed back to the viewing parlor.

Sal looked up when I opened the doors; he was still sitting awkwardly on the folding chair and knitting away.

“Youself know who is my heart-love?” he asked.

“Not yet. But I know where they’re at. On the Elwha River.”

Sal’s eyebrows rose. “Iself grow up near Elwha. And a Silver Court steading is yon-there.”

“Well, there you go. Maybe your love’s the, uh, sasquatch next door.” Like Dawn. Being the girl next door, not a sasquatch. “So I can meet you at the river in, say, about two hours?”

“Iself can fastwalk there much sooner,” he said, with the tone of a child asking if he can open a present on Christmas Eve.

“Unfortunately, I can’t,” I replied. Humans couldn’t walk the fairy paths without going mad. “It will take me some time to get there. But I’ll bring the Kin Finder so we can confirm—”

The doorbell rang.

“Now what?” I muttered. “Sal, I’ll be right back.” I closed the parlor doors, and crossed to the front door. I swung it open, and froze.

A man stood on the porch, easily identified as an enforcer by the black suit and tie also popular with the FBI, missionaries, and hip movie stars, and by the handlebar moustache that held a silver bead braided into either side. He held a small white television dangling from one hand, and a piece of parchment in the other, with a suitcase leaning against his leg. A silver ring glinted on his right hand—a persona ring, the arcana world’s equivalent of government issued ID—and its red stone identified him as a wizard, but that was unsurprising as most enforcers were wizards. I noted, however, that his suit stretched to accommodate his ample belly, his face appeared lined more with weariness than wisdom, and he had that aura about him seen on police officers forced to choose between inventory duty in the basement or midnight guard duty at a downtown grocery store.

The two women who flanked him were another matter. The one on the left stood a head taller than me and wore a leather jacket that was more biker gang than New York fashion, and with her short-cropped red hair she looked like Red Sonja gone punk. The Hispanic woman on the right wore a fitted suit and looked like a district attorney ready to put away the city’s major crime boss for life, even if she had to go vigilante to do so, damn it.

I did not see persona rings on the women’s hands, which meant they were likely feybloods.

Frak.

“Uh, hello,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“We’re here to speak with Paeteri Gramaraye and Violet Wodenson,” the enforcer said.

I glanced back in the direction of the parlor. The doors were open, but Sal was nowhere in sight. Just as well.

“Can you come back later?” I asked. Pete wasn’t exactly in top form for stressful company. “We—”

“This cannot be put off any longer,” the enforcer said, and held out the piece of parchment. “They’ve ignored three summons from the Arcana Ruling Council already.”

I gave a whatcha-gonna-do shrug. “Those must have been lost in the mail. I’m sure if you call later—”

“Hilarious,” the enforcer said without the slightest trace of humor. “But I’m sure if they do not speak with us now I will put out a warrant for their arrest and they’ll be handled as rogue feybloods.”

Double frak.

3

Don’t You Want Me Baby

Pete and Vee sat on one side of our long dining room table, holding hands on top of the polished oak surface, and the three visitors sat on the other facing them. I sat at the end, ready to intervene as best I could. I wished our sister, Sammy, were here. She was more used to dealing with legal issues, since her job often brought her into conflict with the Arcana Ruling Council. But I could at least stand witness, prevent any abuse or coercion. And Alynon, as a full Fey, might give me some unique insight or edge—

*I warned you this day would come,* Alynon said. *But you would not heed.*

Or not.

“Paeteri Gramaraye and Violet Wodenson,” the ARC enforcer said. “I’m enforcer Vincent, knight lieutenant for the Department for Feyblood Management. This is Minerva, representing the Forest of Shadows”—he nodded to the Red Sonja wannabe on his left—“and this is Zenith, representing the Silver Court.” He waved at the lawyerish-looking woman on his right. “And we are here today because neither of you have declared your loyalty.”

I laid my hands flat on the table, my persona ring with its black stone clicking against the wood. “That’s because their loyalty hasn’t changed. They are arcana, and Pete is a member of this—”

“They are not arcana,” Vincent said. “Not anymore. With respect, they are feybloods—”

“Brightbloods,” Minerva, the Forest of Shadows rep, growled.

Brightblood was apparently the name the feybloods called themselves now, just like they called magic ‘the bright.’ Having been stuck with a Fey in my head for only a few months, if I were fused with a Fey spirit for life I could easily see the attraction of trying to put as shiny a spin on it as possible.

Enforcer Vincent grunted and continued in a passionless tone that suggested this was a discussion he’d had countless times. “While I sympathize with the fact that this is not by choice or birth, that doesn’t change the fact that you each now have a Fey spirit bonded with your human spirit. So I’m afraid you are feybloods under the rules of the Pax Arcana treaty last established with the Fey, and by definition of ARC Law.”

I waved at Vee. “She’s been a waersquirrel for a couple of decades and nobody’s complained before about her loyalty.”

Vincent shrugged. “Miss Wodenson avoided declaring her loyalty until now because she was under care at the Haven House facility—”

“The Hole,” Pete said with an angry edge to his voice, and squeezed Vee’s hand. “And she’s not going back.”

“That’s entirely her choice,” Vincent said. “For now. But make no mistake. If you do not declare a loyalty, then you will be classified as rogue feybloods.”

“Fine,” I said. “They’ll be rogues, and continue living here, not in a feyblood steading subject to feyblood restrictions. No offense,” I said to the two women. “But this is their home.”

Vincent didn’t even look at me, but just sighed and recited, “As rogues, you wouldn’t be protected or supported by the ARC or any Fey Demesne. Should you find yourselves in danger, with a magical illness, or in need of mana, you will be on your own. Should you expose your nature to the mundane world, we may cover it up but you will be held fully accountable for the costs. If you should lose control of your Fey spirit, or present any danger to yourselves or others, you will be put into an ARC holding facility. And you will be magically inhibited from having offspring.”

Pete and Vee looked at each other on that last, as if both trying to read the other’s thoughts, and I could tell they both were thinking the same thing—they did want to have children, together.

*Holy Aal, a Pete and Vee baby,* Alynon said. *Could the world survive that level of cute?*

I don’t know, but I’d like to find out, I thought back.

Minerva leaned forward. “I’m sure you’d father strong children.” She smiled at Pete like it was five minutes to closing in a singles bar and he’d just strolled in looking like a naked Robert Downey Jr. covered in chocolate.

“I’m confused,” I said. “What’s the Forest of Shadows even doing here? It was a Shadows waer that infected my brother against his will. By Pax law they can’t recruit Pete, right?”

Enforcer Vincent frowned at Minerva, and said, “The waerwolves involved in infecting your brother were all declared rogue before the attack, having left the service of the Fey to work for Grayson.” He didn’t sound any happier about it than I was.

“In fact,” Minerva replied. “I’d argue that your brother shouldn’t be allowed to stay under the influence of your family, given that his attackers were loyal to Grayson. Magus Grayson was practically your brother, too, wasn’t he?”

“Grayson studied with us, but he was not part of this family,” I replied in a sharp tone. “And I nearly died fighting to end his plot. As did Pete, and Vee.” I looked back to Vincent. “They’ve earned the right to live free, as arcana.”

Zenith, the Silver Court representative, tugged on the jacket of her suit and said, “I object to the implication that our brightbloods are not free.”

Our brightbloods? She must be a changeling, a true Fey spirit temporarily inhabiting a human body under some arrangement between the ARC and the Other Realm. Alynon had been a changeling once, granted use of my body during my exile, before becoming stuck in my head.

“I meant no offense,” I said with a nearly sincere tone.

Do you know her? I asked Alynon.

*Right, because all of us Fey know each other.*

That’s not what I meant. But she is another changeling from your own Demesne. And I know the ARC thinks you were communicating with other changelings during my exile.

*Oh, absolutely. We plotted to replace George Lucas with one of our changelings and have him create movies so terrible they would destroy all hope. We called it Operation Pandora’s Jar Jar. And it almost worked.*

I gave an exasperated exhale through my nose. You’re deflecting, avoiding the question.

*I’m deflecting? What of you? Grayson did turn out to be your uncle. And possessed by your grandfather’s spirit.*

Minerva doesn’t know about that, though.

*Doesn’t make it less true.*

Fine. If you don’t have something useful to say

“Maybe you did try to stop Grayson,” Minerva said, and I realized I’d completely missed Zenith’s response. “But the way I heard it, he was just trying to complete the work of your grandfather, to start a war for arcana supremacy, so either way it was your own family who are responsible for Pete receiving the bright blessing. If—”

“Blessing?” Pete burst out. Vincent’s hand jerked to the silver-plated baton at his side, while Pete’s hands curled into fists on the tabletop. “You call this a blessing? I feel like I have this big mean monster inside of me always trying to burst out and hurt the people I love. I have these feelings, these … urges—” He stopped, his round face red and eyes brimming with tears. Vee put her arm around him, pulled him close.

“I understand, cousin,” Minerva said. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m just surprised you would remain loyal to a family that has caused you so much pain.” Her hands reached toward Pete on the tabletop. “I can help you, like no other here can. Join my pack, and I will teach you what it means to be free, to embrace—”

Vee’s eyes narrowed. “You try to embrace any part of Pete, wolf girl, and I’ll spay you with a plastic spoon.”

So Minerva was a waerwolf.

“Enforcer,” Zenith said, “the Shadows representative is speaking out of turn, trying to influence—”

“Yes yes,” Vincent replied. “Everyone, enough arguing and posturing. Minerva, you know the procedure. I have to finish giving them the Department’s official line, then you’ll get to make your case.”

He picked up the remote and turned on the small television. As he did, I asked, “Where are the other Demesnes? Shouldn’t there be at least a dozen representatives here?”

“They chose not to come,” Vincent said, pushing play on the remote. “They did send brochures and written offers, which meets their obligations.”

“Why wouldn’t they come?” I asked.

Vincent shrugged. “If you wanted to meet them all, you should have attended the Feyblood Job Fair at the high school gym last night.”

The static on the screen ended and the video began, with the title SO, YOU’RE A FEYBLOOD NOW in neon letters cued to a song that was a bad synth knockoff of the Beverly Hills Cop theme.

“Hello,” an enforcer said, wearing a Miami Vice-style uniform, feathered hair, and extremely bushy moustache. “So, you’re a feyblood now. I imagine you have a lot of questions and concerns. And I’m here to give you some answers.”

What would you do? I asked Alynon with some reluctance.

*If I had that hair? I’d kill myself.*

Hilarious. Which Demesne would you choose if you were Pete or Vee?

*I am no brightblood in need of patronage,* Alynon said. *I am an Aalbright of the Silver Court. You were in the Other Realm more recently than I. What do you think?*

I wasn’t exactly on a world tour, I replied.

My twenty-five years exiled in the Other Realm had been spent in the wildlands outside of the shaped Demesnes, confined to a pocket of space not unlike a holodeck where I could re-experience any memory but not create anything new, not control my own appearance or apply my imagination. Fey would come from all of the Demesnes to experience my memories directly, to incorporate them into their own being and feed on the emotional energy, but they rarely offered anything in return. So while I learned a lot, matured a bit, and gained sympathy for most of my teachers by reliving every school lesson and significant experience of my first fifteen years over and over again, I learned very little about the Fey while there.

The enforcer on the video didn’t offer much help either, going over the same basics I’d learned in Arcana Summer School before exile.

“The Other Realm is the place from which all raw magic flows,” he said, “and to which some shamans, dreamwalkers, and early arcana found their way, spiritually or physically, in the long ago. The first true Fey took their shape and identity from the memories, dreams, and fears of such visitors. Those Fey became sentient individuals over time and gravitated toward others like themselves in nature, grouping together into clans, and shaping areas of the Other Realm into the Demesnes that reflected those natures.”

Alynon snorted in my head. I wondered if that ever left spiritual snot on my brain. *’Tis a damn shame that Hugh Hefner or Bugsy Siegel weren’t shamans in the way back. Then mayhap I’d be a knight of the Feyboy Mansion, or the Las Feygas Strip, and those self-righteous bastards in the Court would not have—*

He fell abruptly silent.

My eyebrows raised. Weren’t you just bragging about being an Aalbright of the Silver Court? Is there something I should know about them, a reason for Pete to avoid them?

*There are many things you should know. But I’m not here to instruct you.*

I sighed as the video continued. “And when the early Fey spirits began following human visitors back into our world, many joined with people, animals, even plants, forming the feyblood races of myth.”

*And that is just embarrassing,* Alynon said. *I mean, how would you like it if I kept bringing up that your cousin slept with a horse or married a tree?*

You clearly haven’t met my cousins, I replied. That would be the least embarrassing thing you could say.

“Then the Fey demanded recognition as true beings,” the narrator said, “and fair compensation for the magic drawn from their realm.”

*Damn straight.*

“The arcana refused for generations to acknowledge them as more than manifest memories parroting real thought and emotion. There remains debate as to whether they may be considered true living beings.”

*How rude!*

I don’t know, I thought at Alynon. I still question if you have any real thoughts or emotions.

“The resulting wars eventually led to barriers being erected between the worlds, cutting off the free passage of spirits or magical energy, and finally the Pax Arcana was established to formalize the rules of interaction and exchange. The Arcana Ruling Council took on some of the responsibility of protecting and managing feybloods in exchange for magical energy from the Fey. And the feybloods in return each swore loyalty to a specific Fey Demesne in order to enjoy the benefits of that arrangement, as well as further the interests of their Fey patrons in our world.”

Why wouldn’t the other Demesnes send representatives then? I asked Alynon. I’d think they’d jump at the chance for two arcana recruits.

*Arcana who are given the bright blessing against their will, especially so late in life, often have the hardest time accepting the rules and restrictions of brightblood life, and continue to treat their cousins as of a different class from themselves,* Alynon said.

Still, to not even show up, how can they know if Pete or Vee would be cool or not?

*La, ’tis also true your family has not garnered much love among our kind, between your grandfather’s actions, your own battles against the brightbloods, and the Fey wardens who died in your transfer from exile.*

That wasn’t—

*Your fault. Mayhap. But not all Fey believe that. And the truth, that it was the actions of your grandfather and Grayson, does little to recommend your family regardless. I’m afraid Pete and Vee may have very few options indeed.*

“And so,” the narrator concluded, “In order to maintain the careful order and balance of the Pax and ensure the safety and happiness of yourself and others, you are now about to embark on a thrilling new phase of your life by declaring loyalty to one of the Fey Demesnes. Choose wisely, and enjoy the exciting adventure that awaits you.”

Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. More like being pressured to become indentured servants to the Fey.

Pete looked at me with worried, pleading eyes as the video ended. I could tell he was hoping I’d find a way out of this for him as his big brother. I gave him a reassuring smile. We’d figure it out. Somehow.

Vincent clicked off the television. “Now, Zenith, you may make your offer on behalf of the Silver Court.”

Zenith gave him a nod, and said, “Simply put, there is no better Demesne for a brightblood to pledge than the Silver Court. Our brightbloods enjoy the most freedom of movement, the greatest number of options for working among the mundanes, and more offspring allowed than any other brightblood clan.”

Not surprising, since the Silver Court had remained neutral on the Fey side of the last Fey-Arcana war, while their feybloods had actually fought beside the arcana. They had benefitted from the ARC’s favor ever since.

Zenith smiled at Vee. “A waersquirrel would feel right at home in our local brightblood community, as long as she was able to control her compulsion to take others’ possessions. Our local brightbloods roam the Olympic National Forest with great freedom, and are great stewards of the land.” She cleared her throat, and looked much less happy as she regarded Pete. “While your strength would also be most welcome, I am certain, waerwolves most often go with the Shadows. The Silver Court rarely seeks out your kind. If you wished to pledge to the Silver, we are prepared to hear your argument for why we should accept you, of course. We do not seek to separate you one from the other, but neither do we suggest that pledging the Silver is best for both of you.”

*Of course not,* Alynon said in a bitter tone.

Do you think she’s lying? I asked.

*No. Your enforcer would detect it. I’m just being cynical, pay me no heed.*

“Is that all you wish to say?” Vincent asked.

Zenith gave another tilted nod of her head. “The advantages of pledging to the Silver Court are well known, I am sure.”

“Very well,” Vincent said, and looked at Minerva. “The Forest of Shadows may now make its offer.”

“If I might be so bold,” Minerva said, “I believe the Silver’s making my case for me. Not just here, but for months now.” She looked at Vincent. “It’s true, ain’t it, you enforcers been having all kinds of trouble from Silver brightbloods, all over the place lately?”

“Whether we have or haven’t isn’t a matter for discussion here,” Vincent said.

“Yeah, okay,” Minerva said. “Suffice it to say, the Silver Court may not be teacher’s pet much longer, and—”

“I hardly think—” Zenith began sharply.

“Got no doubt about that,” Minerva replied.

Zenith’s eyes nearly flashed lightning as she glared at Minerva. “You would insult an Aalbright, you childish half-bright?”

“Enough,” Vincent said. “Keep the peace, or suffer the consequences.”

“Crap, yeah, okay,” Minerva replied, then shook her head. “Apologies, Bright Lady, I’m more used to putting down challenges from my pack than being all polite and political, or in the presence of such exalted company.”

Zenith gave a curt nod, though her expression was anything but forgiving.

“So let’s get right down to it,” Minerva continued. “The Silver’d bond you both to unhappiness just to swell their ranks.”

“Ware, brightblood,” Zenith said, her tone dangerous.

“I’m just speaking truth here, “Minerva replied, and looked at Petey. “Dig. She told you right out you wouldn’t be welcome among the Silver. Yet she dangles your woman there like a fat bloody steak over a trap, trying to tempt you to throw away real happiness and freedom for a mongrel’s life of bitterness and regret, and makes you actually beg for the privilege.”

Vee’s face grew red. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means if Pete goes with you to the Silver he’d be treated with suspicion if he’s lucky, or like some feral dog if he ain’t, and he’d never truly feel part of that clan anyways. With the Shadows, he’d be free to follow his wolf nature, be among his own kind, know the joys of running and hunting and … bonding with the pack.”

Pete shook his head. “I don’t want to let the wolf out.”

Vee nodded, putting her hand on his arm. “And I wouldn’t be any more welcome with the Shadows than you say Pete would be with the Silver. Or safe.”

“Maybe,” Minerva said. “And that’s why you should each go your own ways now.”

Excuse me?” Vee said.

“No!” Pete said at the same time.

“That’s your offer?” I asked. “You’re not exactly making it tempting.”

Minerva shrugged. “I’m just speaking the truth, even when it ain’t pretty, which is what you’ll always get from the Shadows. You both say you want the other to be happy. Well, you’d each be happier with different patrons. If you pledge together, then one of you will be placing your own happiness over the other’s, while one of you will be sacrificing their happiness. You really think that’ll lead to a long and happy relationship?”

“I’ll be happy so long as I am with Petey, period,” Vee replied.

“Seriously?” Minerva asked. “How long would you really be happy seeing Pete all miserable if you both go Silver? Or how long you think before you get all bitter and resentful about sacrificing your happiness if you both pledge the Shadows? Better to end it now. You have no children, no bond of marriage or even of years between you.” She shrugged. “But should you be determined to stay together, the Shadows will of course welcome you both. Pete, you would be honored for your strength. And I’m sure we could find some arrangement for the squirrel-bright to keep her … safe..”

Pete and Vee looked at each other, their expressions troubled.

*She’s right. They’re both right,* Alynon said, and his voice sounded strange. *Most waerwolves declare for the Forest of Shadows. Pete is not likely to be welcomed with open arms by the Silver.*

So what does that mean? I asked.

Alynon was silent for several seconds, then said, *It means I will help you as I may, where their fate is concerned at the least.*

I blinked in surprise. I refrained from asking what made him suddenly willing to help. I didn’t want to jinx it.

How? I asked instead.

*I will put in a good word for Pete with the Silver Court,* Alynon said. *For whatever that is worth. And help as I may otherwise.*

I don’t suppose you’ll tell me what swearing loyalty to a Demesne actually means? What do the Fey really get out of it? How do you enforce loyalty?

*That I may not do, no,* Alynon responded.

I sighed. As much as we were stuck together, Alynon remained a Fey in the end, with Fey interests first and foremost in whatever passed for his heart.

“Well,” enforcer Vincent said when it became clear Minerva had finished. “There you have it. And now, Mr. Gramaraye and Miss Wodenson, you may make your case to either of the representatives here as to why you feel they should accept you, or you may ask questions of any of us.”

Pete and Vee both glanced at me. Vee cleared her throat. “I think we just need some time to think about it all. We—” She paused, and looked at the empty seat beside her for a second. She was, I knew, listening to Sarah, her Fey squirrel spirit. Or an imaginary projection of Sarah, nobody really knew for sure. She said in a low voice, “Why? We don’t need—” She shook her head. “Fine.” She looked across the table again with an embarrassed expression, and said, “I’m sorry, Sarah really wants to know if we would have easy access to peanut brittle?”

A frown passed across Zenith’s face, and a smirk across Minerva’s.

Enforcer Vincent sighed. “I’ll answer this to save time. Every Demesne has feybloods who live as wild, or as close to civilization, as their desire and nature allows. As you clearly have no problem blending in and dealing with the human world, and the ARC would not consider you an exposure or safety threat, I’m sure you would be allowed to live in whatever housing they maintain within town limits, and would have access to all of the amenities you are used to.”

Sure, and prisoners have free food and television and recreation yards. Doesn’t make prison a resort spa or mean the prisoners had freedom. And I noticed he didn’t look at Pete when he said that, regardless.

Both Zenith and Minerva nodded agreement with Vincent’s assurance.

“Okay,” I said, standing up. “Well, thank you all for coming, it’s been lovely. Now if you’ll excuse us, Pete and Vee have a lot to think about.”

Enforcer Vincent ignored me again and looked between Pete and Vee. “Do you have any further questions or arguments for the representatives?”

“No,” Pete said, and Vee shook her head.

“Very well,” he stood, and everyone joined him with the sound of several chairs scooting back across the wood floor. “It is just short of ten a.m. now. You have until Tuesday at ten a.m., three days from now, to make your decision. Should you fail to declare loyalty to a Fey Demesne at that time, you will be classified as rogue feybloods by the ARC.”

Nobody said anything in response. Vincent pulled a stack of envelopes out of his briefcase, which I assumed were the offers from the other Demesnes, and tossed them onto the table. Then I led him and the representatives back to the front door, leaving Pete and Vee holding each other, their heads leaning together.

Vincent exited last, and as he stepped out onto the porch he paused and turned back to me. “Look, arcana to arcana, of course this sucks for all involved, but in the end the Laws exist for good reasons. Do what you can to encourage them to declare loyalty to a Demesne. I’ve seen what happens to most rogue feybloods, and trust me, whatever they think of feyblood clan life, it’s better than the alternative.”

“They’re doing just fine here,” I said. “Maybe you’re just not used to feybloods having supportive families.”

Vincent shook his head. “Whether pledged or rogue, their arcana gifts will be blocked, and their memories of training in those gifts removed. If they stay here, what purpose will they have? What kind of life? They will not be arcana, and they will be feybloods unable to express their feyblood natures. Let them go, Gramaraye, for everyone’s sake.”

*He has a point.*

Not now. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks.”

“Uh huh. And one more thing. I agree that they should think about splitting up, declaring for separate Demesnes. It will be better for them in the end. Especially her.”

“What the frak does—”

Vincent turned and followed after the feybloods to a minivan parked on the road.

*I don’t think he likes waerwolves.*

You think? I responded. I shut the door, and returned to the dining room.

Pete and Vee still sat holding each other, his round baby face pressed into her white-blond hair. Mattie stood behind them now, a worried look on her face.

“Hey guys,” I said. “We’ll figure this out. I’ll talk to Reggie, and—”

“Thanks, brother,” Pete said, looking up. “But I think we need some time to think about stuff. And aren’t you supposed to be helping that sasquatch?”

“You two are more important than finding Sal a girlfriend,” I replied.

“Pete’s right,” Vee said. “There’s nothing you can do here right now. You shouldn’t pass up this chance to finally get your business going. We’ll be okay.”

I sighed, and glanced at my watch. Ten minutes to ten. “Okay. I can call Reggie on the way to Elwha, see what he can do. In fact, do you guys want to come along? Sal said there was a Silver Court steading in the area. It might help you make a decision one way or the other.”

“No, thanks,” Vee said. “We’ve visited several steadings already.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “Oh. Well, uh, if you guys need anything—”

“Thank you,” Pete and Vee both replied.

I nodded, then headed upstairs to where most of the bedrooms were. I needed to change into my Woodland Adventure Finn outfit.

The hairs on my arm stood up, and I felt a familiar tingling between my eyes, resonating from down the hall.

A spirit was being summoned in Mort’s bedroom.

Copyright © 2016 by Randall Scott Henderson

Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free releases February 16th. Pre-order it today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iBooks | Indiebound | Powell's Books