A story written to showcase the Faerie Apocalypse setting. If you find terms that I missed that are not accessible to the non-Addergoole reader, please let me know.
There wasn’t a safe time to go into the old city — other humans liked the day time; natural animals liked the dusk and dawn, and the strange things slunk along in the dark — but Kelvin and her team had discovered that the stretch from about two hours after noon to about two hours before sunset were the least likely to be dangerous. There was still enough light to maneuver through the ruined buildings, but the teams of raiders that still lived within the city limits had done their raiding and retreated to their lairs, wherever those might be. As long as they didn’t stumble right into the lair of either a raider or a creature, they’d be relatively safe.
They’d done that, once, walked right into the lair of something Sully had called a wyvern. It’d gotten Sully and taken off Yonner’s leg at the knee, but they’d managed to take it down. Turned out wyvern made pretty good eating – tasted like chicken, but greasier.
Yonner was taking lead, now, on a prosthetic leg made out of scavenged parts. Yonner insisted — said “if they’re gonna bite my leg, they’re going to get a mouthful of steel and some hawthorn for good measure.” Kelvin wasn’t going to argue with anyone who wanted to go out in front, not when point could be so deadly. She followed along at his slow, rolling pace, taking tail while Boffin and Gee took the middle.
Four was about the perfect number. More than that, and they woke up people — or things. Less than that, and if they came across something, they had a very high chance of losing someone. Kelvin didn’t like how she’d learned all this, anymore than she liked knowing that there were creatures in the city who would pick off individual humans if they strayed too far from the pack. But she had to know it all, so she could lose as few people as possible on any given raid.
Yonner gestured, his movements sparse and just big enough that those behind him could read them clearly (Some of the worse things in the city were drawn to noise). They hadn’t been in this section of the city since the fall, but he was suggesting they go over the crumbled rock pile and into the four-story building behind it. It looked like it had been a school. Kelvin was dubious, but Yonner’s instincts were usually right on these things. She tapped the go-ahead onto Boffin’s shoulder, and Boffin passed it on to Yonner.
The metal leg was stiff in the knee, but it got Yonner up onto the rubble pile just fin. Gee clambered up, staying low, rifle out and sharp eyes scanning the horizon. Some of the raiders that lived here posted sentries. Sometimes, there were flying monsters on the roofs.
They got over the rocks with no attacks. There was a bad moment where Gee’s foot got stuck between two rocks, but it was an easy fix, and they were at the door to the building.
The door was closed and still locked. That was either a good sign or a very bad one; either way, Kelvin was up.
She had practiced with lock-picks around their compound until she could handle everything there, and then she’d started bringing home locks when they went on raids. That was a year ago; by now, she could open anything they’d encountered that didn’t require electricity, and with a little gadget she’d pulled together, she could manage half of those, too. She got to work while Gee stood back-to back with her and Yonner and Boffin watched the sides.
The former school had some impressive security; this had been an expensive lock when it’d been installed, and that probably hadn’t been more than five years before the End. It took Kelvin nearly five minutes of careful work before she managed to get the door open.
She went in first, her gun pointed into the darkness, the flashlight taped over it sending out a thin red beam thanks to a jury-rigged filter. You didn’t want to be the bright light in a monster’s eyes, and you didn’t want to ruin your darkness vision if you didn’t have to. The place looked, at first glance, like it hadn’t been touched since the end. They’d come in through a back entrance, into the administrative wing, and the place looked as if it had been locked up and left just yesterday — if you ignored the heavy layer of dust everywhere.
She raised her eyebrows at Yonner. They didn’t really need old school records, and, while paper was good, it was heavy. But he was already ducking into one of the offices, his bag open.
All right, records it was, or whatever else his instincts was sending him for. She followed him in to find him opening drawers. On the third drawer, he pulled out two pens and a stash of snack food, almost all of it the preservative-laced stuff that lasted forever. It was in a plastic box in the drawer; the whole thing went in his bag.
“Women in offices,” Yonner muttered quietly. “They do this. They stash food. Did, I guess. Will again? When we have office jobs again. Crackers and candy and coffee. Everyone in my old office did that. Tums, too.” He dropped a bottle of said antacids and a pile of other painkillers into his bag. “And, look, needle, thread, hem glue. Need something? Ask the woman who’s been there the longest.” Yonner smiled sidelong at Kelvin. “You’d probably know that, though.”
“Wasn’t in an office, not exactly.” She wasn’t going to tell him what’d been in her glove-box and console box, though. “Anything else?”
“Stale peppermints, I suppose they’re good for the little ones.” Yonner froze. In the next office back — presumably the one that the secretarial-looking desk’s food-stasher had been admin to, since it didn’t have its own door to the hall and, for some reason, not having your own door was a sign of status in these places — something had just fallen down.
“Mouse?” Boffin mouthed. Kelvin shrugged: could be. It also could be someone else hiding out here. She gestured them into positions and they headed for the doorway: Kelvin low and Yonner high, the others behind them, ready to take over.
The door swung open into a sunny office, the late-afternoon rays illuminating a wide mahogany desk and a knocked-over file cabinet. There was nobody obviously visible, and the place looked much like the rest of the office, like someone had run out years ago in the middle of their day and never come back.
They stepped into the room, Kelvin taking left, Yonner taking right, Boffin and Gee covering them from the doorway. Kelvin was almost all the way around the room when the commotion erupted from behind the desk.
“Don’t shoot!” Yonner’s voice was tight but he held up his gun and, very slowly, holstered it. “Nobody shoot. She’s not going to hurt anyone. Are you?”
She? Had Yonner found a feral dog? A cat? He stepped back slowly, like he was trying not to spook whatever was under the desk. “Come on out.”
As Yonner moved, his nobody shoot became more and more clear. The horns were visible first, two blue, curved protrusions like nothing seen in nature. One of the creatures that had destroyed the city had sported horns like that.
Next were the wings, little bug-like blue-and-green iridescent wing shapes that were covered in dust and cut open in at least two places.
Then they saw her head, a skinny face, dull brown-and-blue hair, a couple bruises marring her left eye and her cheek. She didn’t look much older than mid-teens – although the fae had been known to look far younger than they were, and Kelvin knew one or two who could make themselves look injured when they weren’t/.
Gee hissed and took a step back. The girl froze.
“No, it’s fine.” Yonner kept coaxing gently. “Come on, darling. Nobody here is going to hurt you. You might be fae but I can’t imagine you’re the assholes who burnt down the city, are you?”
She shook her head. “N-no. I was, I went to school here.”
Just a kid, then. Or a good liar. Kelvin took a step forward. “You’ve been here since?”
“Hiding. Not here, over in the cafeteria. I go out, looking for food, for… things, but.” Her wings flapped sadly. “It’s not safe.”
“It’s not safe for anyone, kid.” Boffin’s voice was rough but not particularly unkind. “Thought your kind could hide that stuff, pretend to be human.”
Kelvin didn’t think anyone noticed her tensing up. She slipped forward a little closer and holstered her weapon. “The kids can’t.” She was the expert on everything. Let them take what they would of that. “They have to be taught it. When did you Change, kiddo? When did the wings grow?”
“The horns came first.” She touched her horns gingerly. “When the things attacked? I was in class, and then, uh, something came through the wall. Over on the other side,” she pointed. “It’s technically another building. Something came through the wall and, uh,” she gulped loudly. “It smashed Tommy Bryant, I, uh.” She ducked her head and covered her face with both hands. Seven fingered-hands, Kelvin noted. “And then,” she was muffled by her hands, “my head started hurting and Tonya Hauser started screaming that I was one of them, that I was a monster.”
“You are.” Gee took another step forward. “You’ve seen what the monsters did to this place. To us. To your friend Tommy.”
“That wasn’t me!” The girl flapped her wings loudly and glared up at Gee, at all of them. “I was in school, I wasn’t doing anything. I was just an ordinary kid. And then there I was, and people were throwing rocks at me, and they were saying that I killed Tommy, that I killed Mr. Yangler, and I didn’t do any of that!” Her voice got louder and louder and her wings flapped, seeming to amplify the sound. “And if you’re going to kill me, then just do it. Don’t yell at me anymore.”
Kelvin’s heart twisted in her chest. Boffin had moved forward too, wooden knife out. “Hold still, then, and we’ll do it.”
She had stayed hidden so long. She had kept her head down through so many worse things than this. She’d survived. She’d… She looked up at Yonner, who was frowning.
“Now, come on, then,” he scolded. “I told her we weren’t going to attack her, and now you want to make a liar out of me? No, thank you. We’re not going to hurt the kid.”
“If we don’t,” Gee pointed out, “someone else is going to, and they’re not gonna be quick about it.”
“And it we done,” Boffin sneered, “what’s to say she’s really a kid, hunh? What’s to say she’s not some sneaky old creature hiding under there?”
Boffin had scars that Kelvin had never asked about, but she knew Boffin and Yonner had been in the group rescued from one of the local monsters, a creature who looked like a nightmare version of a 12-year-old. This was going to be worse than a hard sell; it might be impossible.
Yonner glanced at her again and cleared his throat. “Come on, Boffin. You remember the rules, right? She promises she’s told us the truth, promises she really was a high school kid when she, uh, Changed, promises she’s not going to attack us. She can’t break that, they can’t break their word.”
“And then what?” Gee frowned repressively. “We can’t just leave her here, and we can’t bring her home with us. Someone else will kill her right off.”
“You can leave me here.” The girl flapped her wings cautiously. “I won’t attack you, I promise it. And I’ve been here for ages. I’ve gotten away every time someone found me – ’till now, I mean.”
“And what about the next one?” Gee glared. “What about the one that finds a way to use you? To aim you at us? We know how dangerous creatures like you can be.”
“I’m not a creature!” Her wings fluttered, showing how torn they really were, and she glared at all of them, despite the weapons pointed in her direction. “I’m an American citizen, same as all of you.”
“Ain’t any America left, kid,” Boffin muttered. “No citizens, neither. We’re just us.”
“And I’m just me, then. I was here. I was in school. This creature, it killed my friends, probably my family, too. I’m not its friend. The creeps that live around here, I’m not their friend, either.” She wrapped her arms around her knees. “Look.” She was trying to sound brave, but it was clear she was losing the battle with her fear. “Just do it, okay? I’m trying hard not to panic, and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if you don’t kill me soon, I’m going to freak out.”
“You heard her.” Boffin took a step forward, lifted up the long machete usually used for clearing brush… and paused, swearing. “Shit. It’s a kid. Come on, kid, do something monstrous or something. I can’t just….”
Kelvin let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. “She needs a teacher. And I… I can teach her. We won’t attack the camp. We won’t endanger anyone but ourselves.”
Everyone was staring at her. “What’s this ‘we’ shit, boss?” Yonner’s eyebrows were up, but Kelvin had a feeling he already knew. He didn’t look surprised enough, not really.
“It’s me. And her, the pixie girl. I can, uh. I can train her well enough that she can hide, at least.”
“…Boss.” Gee was looking at her cautiously. “Fae teach fae. It’s all, like, stuck in their brains. Integral.”
Kelvin straightened up. “Yeah. I can teach her. And I won’t let her endanger the camp — nor will I let myself endanger the camp.”
They were all looking at her. Gee actually swung the big gun up to aim at her. Yonner took a step to the side, not aiming at anyone at all.
“Put the gun down, Gee.” Boffin sighed. “Damnit, boss. How’re we supposed to cover this? How quick can you get her learning that cover-up thing? ‘Cause ‘Boss is just toodling around the city alone’ isn’t gonna pass, and if it’s longer than a day, nobody’s going to believe you ‘just found’ the girl.”
Kelvin knew her eyebrows went up. She opened her mouth but no sound came out. Probably best, some cynical portion of her brain suggested, then they know you’re not doing magic.
The rest of her mind was still trying to figure out exactly what was going on.
Thankfully, Gee asked for her. “Boff? The fuck?”
“Look. It’s Kelvin. She’s been working by our side for years. She’s fought alongside us, starved alongside us. If she were… were the sort of maniac that would torture us, she would’ve done it already. Seriously.” Boffin’s headshake was more tired than angry. “All this time, and we never knew. And you blew it for a kid?”
Kelvin let her breath out slowly. “I almost blew it this winter, when we ‘found’ that food we really needed. And uh, in June, too.”
“The creature.” Boffin nodded slowly. “You could probably be more help if you were out… But someone would probably put a bullet in your brain. So. How quick can you teach the waif here to hide her flittery bits?”
Kelvin studied the girl. The girl studied her. “Half an hour.” She let a smile cross her lips. “Plenty of time for the rest of you to ransack the building.”
The old city wasn’t safe for fae or for humans, but if she could train this kid, maybe she could make living a little safer for everyone.
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