Kit walked into the Pygg and Wassail, searching the crowded interior of the bar for Jackie. Despite the terrible service, the cozy Irish pub was one of the most popular hangouts in the Old Town, especially for the otherfolk. It had a large floor plan, but held so many heavy wooden tables it felt cramped. Wooden wainscoting covered the lower half of the walls and above that the pseudo-Celtic kitsch was so thick that you couldn’t tell the walls were painted dark green unless you knew where to look. To the right of the door was a tiny stage where a local trio blared out a folk tune, and to the left of the stage barflies two to three deep clamored for drinks.
Kit crept around the scarred wooden tables, mentally remembering where the empty chairs were but not taking any yet. She knew from experience that if one of the two waitresses wasn’t your close personal friend, your chances of getting served promptly were pretty sparse. Even then, it was hard to get good service unless she tracked one of them down first.
“Hey Kit!” Jackie shouted, walking forward with a tray of spiced wine in ceramic mugs, the bar’s eponymous drink. “Where’s Fenwick?”
“Out of town.”
Someone called to Jackie over the din of the live band. Jackie tossed her head and sighed at a rowdy group nearby. “You want your usual?”
Kit nodded. As Jackie flounced off, Kit turned towards the band. Enough people sang along to just make out the chorus, something about a young bride tragically dying. After the chorus the bodhran player hogged the microphone, and the frantic drumming rolled over the audience like a frightened heartbeat. By the time Jackie managed to come back with Kit’s promised beer, the band had finished their song, and the crowd erupted into applause.
Aisling, the other waitress, drifted by with a tray of empty mugs. She wasn’t much over four feet tall, and had long gossamer wings which, back when she was still immortal, had probably enabled her to fly. Aisling was one of the earth fey. She had enchanted herself to grow to human size, disguised her faerie features with a glamour, and embraced mortality in all its ugly splendor. Now she flitted among tables of thirsty patrons instead of flitting among the flowers or whatever it was that the earth fey did..
If Jackie, or anyone else for that matter, ever thought to try the knack for seeing through glamours on Aisling, she’d see the insectoid wings and pointed ears. Jackie claimed to believe in faeries, and Kit had taught her the knack to see them, but she never practiced enough to get it. The Pygg and Wassail was a great place to practice. Out on the street you could people watch all day and never see one of the otherfolk. Here, on a good night, a full one in ten people weren’t human. Tonight was better than average.
Most people didn’t believe in as many kinds of otherfolk as Kit did. Some believed in vampires, but not in faeries. Some believed aliens abducted people every night, but scoffed at the notion of werewolves. It was ironic, really, that the same people who swore that Elvis was alive would not realize that one of the Goodly Folk really had taken their car keys. Kit believed only in what she could see, but since her bindi let her see through glamours as if they weren’t even there, she believed in a lot.
Two undines sat together at table near the stage, chattering softly with an occasional liquid laugh spilling out. They had silvery blue hair and skin, and webbed fingers. Who knew that the river spirits liked the company of mortals? A middle-aged woman had the animal flicker that marked her as a lycanthrope. Most people wouldn’t catch that one, knack or no. One of the young men at the bar was trying to pick up what he thought was a beautiful woman. Kit thought she was too, until the red lips parted to reveal a mouthful of sharp teeth. What was she? There were too many kinds of otherfolk. Even Kit didn’t know them all.
A pair of clanfaeries pushed through the front door, sauntered to the back, and intimidated someone out of a table. When she turned back towards the bar, the changeling, or whatever she was, was gone.
“Kit! Hey, how are you doing!” Maya shouted over the din. She pushed back her wavy black hair with one hand while the other rested on her very pregnant belly.
“Fine. Have a seat.” Kit stood up to pull out the chair for her sister-in-law.
Maya sat down heavily, leaning back in the chair. Maya had wide eyes and strong brows, with dark hair that had gone from waves to frizz with her pregnancy. “How are the wedding plans going?”
“I guessed you talked to my mom?” Kit sighed. “I can tell by your grin that you already know.”
“She wants me to convince you to go with peach. She claims it’s close enough to orange that you should see the light of reason.”
“Come on, Maya, do I look like a pastel kind of person to you?”
“You don’t seem the kind to be getting married in a church with bridesmaids’ dresses and a priest and the whole nine yards.”
“What else would I do? Vegas?”
“I figured you’d be married out in the forest, with Silvara officiating.”
“Fenwick’s cousin is in a wheelchair and his grandma has bad hips. We need someplace paved, with ramps,” she said. “And Silvara’s a good friend, but I’m not Pagan.”
Maya raised her eyebrows.
Maya shook her head. “You need to come by the café.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t had time. I miss you guys too.”
“It’s more than that, Kit. There’s something going on, James wants you to have a cup of tea with him.”
Kit shook her head. “I’ll make my own future, Maya.”
“Sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.” Maya usually had an open smile, but that night she had faint vertical lines on her forehead.
“Is it bad?”
Maya shook her head. “I promised James I’d let him tell you. It might be nothing, anyway. It’s not as accurate if you don’t drink the tea yourself.”
The band started a drinking song, and grew so loud that Kit leaned back in her chair and listened instead of trying to continue the conversation with Maya. She loved her brother, but they disagreed on the supernatural. James, a practicing witch, felt that any brush with the supernatural was a gift. Kit felt the supernatural was as potentially useful and potentially deadly as a loaded weapon. She was grateful for the scant abilities she’d gained, but she knew what they had cost her. Once you learned about this second world, once you started spending time in it, you couldn’t easily go back to being a normal human, even if you wanted to.
Jackie came by with a tray of empty glasses and cups, rolling her eyes at a table of frat boys who were trying to get her attention. With her long legs, short skirt, and cloud of reddish curls, Jackie never lacked for attention. When she was the gateway to beer, she was well nigh irresistible.
Kit was getting some entertainment out of watching the latest kamikaze suitor ready to crash and burn when she did a doubletake. The guy looked like one of the Realm immigrants from Paisey Cypress’ apartment.
Kit got up from her chair and wended her way across the crowded room, limboing to get behind chairs pushed into the walkway and stepping carefully to avoid tripping over sprawled legs and backpacks. With any luck, he would speak more English than the other guy, or at least he might speak more of the pidgin common tongue.
The faerie kept staring at Jackie every time she came into his line of sight. He looked away every now and again, as if some inner voice were reminding him not to be a creepy stalker, but whenever Jackie came by again bearing a tray of drinks, his head swiveled around as if of its own accord. Kit pulled out a chair next to him and sat in it before he noticed her.
He was a clanfaerie, a human sized faerie from the Realm of either the Vargel or the Indel race. The Realm had other cultures, but she’d never seen one of the Pilell or one of the elusive Brondel on earth. These clanfaeries seemed to crop up all the time, forming their own little immigrant enclaves in Seabingen.
Kit smiled as brightly as she could and stuck out her hand to introduce herself. “Hi, what’s your name? I’m–”
“How do you—”
“You were my ex-girlfriend’s roommate,” the clanfaerie said flatly.
She searched her memory, trying to recall his name. Elaina had dated so many faeries that it was hard to keep them straight. Out of some vast long-forgotten bin in her memory, she dredged up his name, along with a memory of Elaina engaged in a screaming, public, post-break-up fight with him. That’s right. He was going to move to Alaska, but the job fell through. He came back to Seabingen and found Elaina finding consolation for the separation in the arms of one of his friends. She never had a very high opinion of Elaina’s boyfriends, and he was no exception, but she had to admit that Elaina had been at least half the reason for that breakup.
“Vax, right? You speak very good English,” she said. “Better than the other guy. Did you immigrate earlier?”
He lifted his beer and sipped it, gaze sidling to where Jackie had bent over to mop up a spill off a chair.
“I want some information about Paisey Cypress.”
Vax kept his eyes on Jackie. “She’s dead. There’s nothing to know. Why do you care?”
“I’m more interested in Miriam Rosenkranz, who is also dead, but since she and Paisey knew each other, I thought I might ask about Paisey as well, to see if there was some connection. I thought you could help.”
“I can help. Here’s free advice. Stop looking. You won’t find what you’re looking for, and you won’t like what you find.” He turned to Kit’s direction, but he wasn’t looking at her, but at Jackie, who approached the table with another beer.
“Here’s you go,” Jackie said, extending the full mug.
Vax reached for the beer as she set it on the table, like he was trying to “accidentally” brush her wrist as he did so, but Jackie had been at the ‘avoiding contact’ game before he had been in the ‘accidental touch’ game, and she neatly dodged him. Vax stared at her face instead of at the two half-full beers and the full beer on the table next to him. Damn shame to waste good beer like that.
Jackie put her hand on her hip. “Hey Kit, you want another?”
“No thanks, I’m good.”
“I’m off Saturday, wanna hang?”
Vax watched Jackie saunter off, and then turned back to Kit, seeing her as if for the first time. “You know her?”
“What’s her name?”
“I know that. What’s her last name?”
Kit smiled placidly. She hated this guy already. Stupid fucking Vargel. She didn’t want Jackie to date him, she wanted Jackie to crush him beneath her heel like a dying cigarette butt. “You aren’t the first to bark up that tree, and you won’t be the last. She doesn’t date customers.”
Vax stared at Kit silently for a long pause, moving his teeth around behind closed lips as if working himself up to something distasteful. “Paisey was unbonded. Tali Willow was friends with her. She hadn’t been living at that apartment when she died. She moved out three months ago and didn’t tell anyone where she went. Tali might have known where she moved to.”
“Her name is Jackie McLean. She’s single. She loves to dance. She’s studied ballet, tap, jazz, hula, flamenco, Irish step dancing, pretty much everything. Right now she’s dancing with an English folk dance troupe called Black Dog Morris.”
“Where does the group meet?”
“Was Tali Willow a Vargel too?”
“No.” He sneered as if she’d asked a stupid question. “Willow is an Indel clan.”
Kit leaned back and folded her arms.
“Tali recently converted to Paganism. She’s been learning witchcraft.”
“Tuesday nights, Glenn Activity Center.”
“You didn’t hear about Paisey from me,” Vax said.