One guard was heading for the slave factor’s house; the other was heading for Mélanie’s distraction.
Mélanie trailed back from the stalking slaver-guard enough to whisper a Working that would shake the grasses and make a lot of noise in a slowly retreating stream and then one that would throw her own voice all over the place. Then she followed Neil into the house to the side of the slave pens, swallowing the bile in her throat. She hated this place, even if she’d never been in it.
He let himself in — probably not fae; she wouldn’t give someone like this an open invite to her house if she had him in her employ, but humans weren’t limited by thresholds the way the fae were — and headed upstairs. She waited on the porch, since she couldn’t go into the guy’s house without an invitation, and focused on making the noise outside the gate distract Neil’s partner.
The slave factor came down the stairs several minutes later and out the door, trailed by Neil and a slave. The factor was buttoning his pants; the slave was wearing a blanket as a sort of wrap, a collar, and a nervous expression.
Mélanie threw her voice to the slave’s ear. “Get a little space between you and him if you can.”
The woman’s head jerked up and she looked around. Seeing no-one, she trailed back, following at a much slower pace.
Human or fae?
It would matter, because a fae would be bound to the factor and a human could just run if the collar was off.
If the collar was off and she had something to wear, Mélanie amended.
She followed at a distance, murmuring her next set of Workings.
She’d asked Jasper what he intended to do about the fae slaves, since they were all bound to the slaver, a creep of a man with just enough fae blood to hold an Owning and little to no magic of his own.
He’d gotten a grim expression and told her “best you don’t ask about that.”
She had a better idea, for a definition of better. The slaver’s pace didn’t slow, but it steadied. He didn’t look angry anymore. He looked almost happy.
It was a rather creepy expression on his face, one Mélanie would be fine never seeing again.
She threw her voice off to the side of the market area, well away from the pens, just a little “hey” in her deepest voice, and then, in a whisper, over to where Jasper ought to be working at eliminating cages and chains: “Incoming.”
Another gruff “Hey,” from a small distance and she began to aim the slaver’s emotions — and Neil’s creep that he was — towards fear. She needed him to get there; if he ran, they’d have to hunt him down to release the Ownerships. But there was absolutely nothing saying he had to be comfortable about it.
“I thought you said it was a little disturbance,” the slaver hissed. “Just because you’re frightened of the ‘bitey one’ doesn’t mean you need to bring me in.”
“The bastards listen to you! They don’t bite you. And you won’t let us muzzle them or beat them,” Neil whined.
Mélanie wished she was good enough at Working animals to fill his pants full of bugs. Biting bugs. Biting bugs. Biting, stinging bugs.
“Well, no, we want them to sell, now don’t we, Neil? And that means they can’t be cowering or in bad shape or muzzled like a rabid dog.” The slaver shifted a little away from Neil as another shout came from the gate. Mélanie was starting to really have fun with this. “Did you hear that?”
“That one is rabid,” Neil muttered.
“Did you hear that?” the slaver repeated.
Mélanie added another shout from the other side of the facility, just for good measure. Neil jumped.
“It’s just the slaves,” he muttered. “They’re starting trouble because we shorted their food today.”
“You did what?” The slaver huffed. “What did I tell you about that?”
“I got bit, man,” Neil complained. “I don’t like being bitten.”
“You are the most incompetent guard I have ever hired, and the job only requires being able to stand still and poke a stick at anyone who tries to enter! And yet, you have me awake in the middle of the night looking out for–“
Darn it, he got angry when he was scared. Mélanie threw her voice as far away as she could and murmured another Emotion Working on the man, trying to aim for more compliantly terrified than angrily worried. She checked on the slave – still trailing along behind, almost halfway back in the yard. The slaver hadn’t noticed. He was staring at the barn.
Staring at the barn and shuddering. “You go in first.” He shoved Neil ahead of him. “See if someone has gotten loose. If they have, well, put them back in their cages.”
That, Mélanie mused, was just mean, even if she did want to see the man with pants full of wasps. But it worked.
She sent another whisper to Jasper and one to Kearney, hoping they heard her, and followed the slaver to the edge of the slave barn. Stage three: goWant more?