A chapter of Riding the Cursed Shoots
“Before we get into this, if it was you, thanks for saving my life and getting me away from Moroz. I don’t know how you did it or why, but thanks.” The backpack remained still.
“Good, now that’s over.” She picked up her backpack and threw it against her headboard. The pack made squashy sounds and crunched ominously when it rebounded onto the bed. The smell of an overripe banana, left over from lunch, filled the room. Her homework was probably slick with banana now. She gritted her teeth and said firmly, “Come on out. I know you’re in there.” Still no reaction.
Ambril toyed with the idea of dropping her pack out the window. No—with her luck, it would land on Feldez’s car and she’d be grounded for all eternity. “You’re just a lousy, stinking spy. Quit hid-ing.” She punched her pack as hard as she could.
That did the trick. fLit, her robot, emerged from the pack just long enough for the string around its chest to break. Then the robot slid back, a lifeless bundle, as an angry blur whizzed right at Ambril’s face.
Just as she suspected, a fairy had been hiding in her robot. He howled metallic, crunching noises then switched to piano destruction, layered over the sound of a dentist’s drill. After which, he poked her in the eye.
“Knock it off!” Ambril fended him off, but that only made him angrier. He swooped in to kick her, then he whizzed away again before she had time to react. All she could do was cover her face, which left a huge amount of real estate unprotected. Ambril raged inside, but forced her voice down to a whisper. She could not scream and throw furniture. If her mother heard any of this, she’d put Ambril in a hospital for the hopelessly insane. “You’ve been in the robot since the Dullaith attack, haven’t you? Watching everything I do—making my friends mad and getting me into trouble.” She winced as sounds of musical instruments being crushed in a trash compactor racketed through her head. “At least tell me why you did it.”
The fairy let go and was quiet.
Ambril cautiously peered through her fingers. The fairy hovered, inches from her face, quivering with rage. He had a crew cut and a face that was comfortable frowning. But he also had long, iridescent wings, which made rainbows every time they moved. His clothing glimmered as well, though his pants did look rather worn. In a flash, her memories of the Shoots, and the fairy who had pulled her out of Moroz’s cell came flooding back.
One minute Moroz had been strangling her, and the next, some-thing painfully bright was pinching her nose, and using it to drag her through some sort of tunnel. When she tried to wrench free, the pinching thing slapped her hand away.
A symphony of horns blared in her head. Stay still or we’ll never get out of here. An angry voice hissed, but just in her head.
She risked a question. “Oo are ou and whar arr ou taghing be?”
Bad idea—the thing viciously plucked a couple of her eyebrow hairs as a sonic boom blasted through her head. Look, you sorry excuse for an intelligent being, if they find us in the Shoots, we’re both dead. QUIET! This time, the voice sounded anxious as well as angry.
Ambril’s eyes watered from the loss of eyebrow hairs, but she shut her mouth and let him drag her up, down, and sideways while she tried to think of a way out of this. Her head felt fuzzy, like a cotton ball, making it difficult to get her mind around what had just happened. Somehow, this pinching thing had rescued her from a prison with no openings of any kind—not even a mouse-hole.
The nose pincher jerked her around until she nearly lost her lunch and yesterday’s dinner. She had to get away, so the next time the thing pulled her to the right, she swatted it like a bug, and rolled to the left. Oddly enough, she bounced off one wall then back off an-other, before she landed, in a tangle, on the floor. Every time her Ashera touched the walls, it lit them up like a second-rate hotel on New Year’s Eve. The tunnel seemed to be made of strong, stretchy tracery, which looked something like the tracery on her Ashera.
Donkeys brayed in Ambril’s head. Now you’ve done it! Every demon within a millennium will be here in half a second! That thing is a magical homing beacon. The bright light buzzed inches from her nose.
Her jaw dropped in amazement because the bright, pinching thing turned out to be an angry fairy. He grabbed her arm and wrenched her Ashera away from the tunnel wall. Everything went dark. But in the gloom, they heard a rumble. Not the kind your stomach makes when you are hungry but the, I’m coming to get you, kind of rumble.
Ambril shivered. The fairy kicked her in the nose with his sharp, pointy boot. If you want to continue living your sad, little life, you’ll do what I say. The rumble was louder now. It sounded as if herds of demons were stampeding their way. The question is where…The fairy peered through the webbing of the tunnel. Right, that will have to do. You’d better pray he’s still sleeping.
“Who’s he?” That’s all Ambril got out before the fairy grabbed her by the collar, slashed a hole in the tunnel, and pulled them both into a raging blizzard. As the fairy banked into a howling wind, needle sharp ice crystals stung Ambril’s face as she bounced through one snowdrift after another. Since she wore only jeans and a T-shirt, her body numbed with cold and she had to clamp her jaw shut to keep her teeth from chattering to pieces.
The fairy now barreled toward a craggy tower of stone. It looked like he planned to smash right into it. She was already stiff with cold, but now she went rigid with fear. “Maybe fairies can bore through rocks but—”
Snarling beasts raged through her head. Quiet you little wart hog, or I’ll drop you here and let the jackals eat you!You are the sorriest Ashera EVER. He flicked his wings as if ridding himself of some-thing nasty. It was a point of honor that brought me to your aid, nothing more. As you are merely human, honor is meaningless, but to the Tylwith Teg, it is everything. He frowned down on her. Even though he was only six inches tall and looking up, he still made Ambril feel small.
She decided to change the subject. “Where are we?”
We are at a place that can’t be found.
“Not if you found it, others might too.”
Not likely, this sanctuary is protected. One of the ancient powers watches over it.
Ambril looked around. There was a sense of peace there. It contrasted nicely to the thunderous storm outside. “What were those tunnels?”
The fairy folded his arms. They are Shoots, and so much more than tunnels. We must wait until Moroz’s minions stop searching them. They have short attention spans, so it won’t be long. The fairy didn’t move his lips, though she heard him clearly in her mind. To prevent you from doing anything stupid again, I shall modify your memory. He flicked his hand and her head immediately filled with fuzz. Who was he? More importantly, who was she? The fairy smirked, You’re drooling, did you know? Then he flitted over, and took a firm grip on her nose.
“Nod by doz, by hand peez!” But the fairy had simply taken a firmer grip, and dragged her back to the Derwyn Gardens.
Back in her room, Ambril slowly put her hands down—but not too far. The fairy spoke, this time, in a long cadence of chimes with just a few screeches thrown in.
“Shhh! You’ll wake the dead, I mean Feldez, if you keep that up. Besides, I don’t speak fairy.” Ambril tapped her head. “Talk to me in here, like you did just before you rescued me from Moroz’s cell.”
The fairy appeared deeply disgusted, but after a long pause, Ambril heard a torrent of bells followed by clangs, but this time it was just in her head. Then the fairy screwed up his face and Ambril clearly heard, Donkey—clang, ting, screech, butt—in her head. Then, You’re the Butt of a Donkey!
“You called me a Donkey’s Butt.” It was doubly humiliating to be insulted inside her own head. Ambril thought some choice words back at him.
The fairy jumped, then he punched her in the nose.
So there, we’re even. Besides, it’s true. You are a pain in the b’ass ackwards, Ambril thought at him.
The fairy flitted away, the picture of a sulking child, as the sound of a car being dropped from a great height boomed through her head. Unlike human-kind, we take our obligations seriously. You saved my life—I repaid the favor as I am honor bound to do. He dipped into an elaborate bow, and looked as if she should be impressed. She wasn’t, so he pulled her nose.
Ambril composed herself. As rewarding as it was to trade insults with the fairy for the rest of the night, she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Thanks, again for pulling me out of Moroz’s cell because that makes us even, right? You saved my life—I saved yours—so leave.
The fairy stayed put.
Ambril snorted, This is the part I don’t get. Why are you still here? Then she had to duck when what was left of the robot slammed into the wall behind her.
Sounds of a runaway elevator thumped through her head. You know nothing! You silly, plodding, HUMAN-KIND! He said this, as if being human was worse than being a dung beetle, slimed by a slug, then sat on by a baboon. The fairy flew in tight circles around her head. There is nothing more loathsome for a fairy than to be indebted to another being, but to a human? it’s unthinkable. The fairy slowed enough for Ambril to see the frustration on his face. Of course, when the fairy caught Ambril observing him, he landed a smashing blow to her head.
It was one blow too many. Rubbing her forehead, she marched to the window and opened it wide. Out, get out!
The fairy stayed where he was, watching her. It’s not that simple.
Ambril scoffed. It is simple. I get it. You’re embarrassed because you think saving a human’s life is beneath you.
The fairy dipped until he hovered inches from Ambril’s face. The Tylwith Teg, as you humans call fairies, are an advanced species and normally don’t associate with lower life forms, but I have reasons for staying.
Then it dawned on Ambril. The fairy wanted her Ledrith Glain. It was a huge magical power source. She pulled out her medallion, hanging on a chain around her neck. She watched the gem, which was bigger than her palm, twinkle in the light. This is about my medallion isn’t it?
The longing on the fairy’s face said it all. It is called the Ledrith Glain, you Llama turd. Show it the respect it deserves.
As if fairies knew anything about respect. Ambril wanted to laugh before she remembered her mother’s ability to hear socks falling short of the hamper.
You have no idea how hard it is to see something so magnificent hanging around your scrawny neck. I have to stay and protect it, you silly sub-species. Today is an excellent example. You practically gave it to Moroz.
How do you know what happened down there? Ambril hadn’t felt the fairy’s presence until just before he pulled her out. But then again, she hadn’t known he’d been in the robot either. And you think I didn’t put up a fight? I almost died fighting him off.
The fairy sniffed. ALMOST is right. Your signal was so faint, no one but a fairy could have found you.
Signal? I didn’t signal anyone.
The fairy seemed surprised. Your Ashera put out a distress signal.
Ambril pulled out her Ashera. It looked the same as always. Its twisty wood shaft was covered with glowing tracery. Images of the Cerberus, flower, a legged house and a fairy were etched around the top. Sure enough, the fairy image glowed as if it had been used recently. So her Ashera had saved her. She squeezed it in thanks.
The fairy shot her a hateful glance. You must know Moroz was the last human-kind we fairies ever trusted. We paid a high price for that. He fooled us with flattery, then he betrayed us. The Tylwith Teg hasn’t dealt with your kind ever since. The fairy’s shoulders sagged. But then you HAD to save my life, steal my boot, and get tangled up in all of this.
I FOUND your boot. I didn’t steal it. Ambril flashed back to her first night in Trelawnyd and the tiny cloth boot she had picked up. She remembered leaving it on her bedside table. After that, she must have forgotten all about it. So what’s my Ledrith Glain to you?
THE Ledrith Glain. It is ancient and priceless, but to a fairy, it is sacred. We once thought better of human-kind and shared it with you, specifically, with Moroz.
Brilliant. You shared a supremely powerful artifact with a dark magic wielder? And you call us humans stupid?
The fairy scowled. He hadn’t turned to dark magic at that point. We learned how untrustworthy you toady, little humans are the hard way. His tiny eyebrows bunched into a rumpled line. So you see, I must take back the Ledrith Glain. It belongs to my people.
Ambril’s hand closed around her medallion. It belonged to her She had found it in her Ashera.
The fairy now looked puzzled. For some reason, this precious, powerful thing has chosen you as its bearer. It’s been centuries since it has chosen anyone, but a lowly human-kind? Though you bear the Sign of the Four, many others who were far stronger and wiser with your lineage were not chosen.
The Sign of the Four. Ambril had heard this before. What did it mean?
It means your ancestors came from all four magic kinships, you half eaten sausage. You know them: Magic Wielder, Tylwith Teg, Earth-kind and Anamalfia.
Ambril shuddered when she realized how easily he had read her thoughts. She was beginning to hate fairies. You mean I’m the first human to own this?
The fairy flew at her in a rage. You don’t OWN the Ledrith Glain, you banana slug. You are merely its bearer. Why you, a nasty human child? There is absolutely nothing remarkable about you. He almost sounded jealous.
Ambril had heard this so often it didn’t hurt anymore. By her calculations, she should have been slashed to ribbons by a monster at least half a dozen times, give or take a slash. But it was only a question of time before her luck fizzled, and she’d become the secret ingredient in monster lunchmeat. If only she could find someone who would teach her how to use her tools.
The fairy half-heartedly pulled her ponytail. Ambril sighed, she didn’t want to give up, but she saw no other way. It’s not true my medallion belongs to you fairies. It chose me, you know. They let silence fill the room. But we both know you can protect this better than I can. Her hands shook as she took her medallion off and held it out. Even in the low light of her bedside lamp, the jewel warmed the entire room. She almost couldn’t bear it. Take it and go.
Greed lit the fairy’s face as he darted over, grabbed the chain and flew toward the window. The chain played out to its full length and then jerked to a stop. Like a dog on a chain, the fairy flattened out, with both hands clamped to the chain. Impossibly, the Ledrith Glain remained undisturbed on Ambril’s open palm. Reversing his flight, the fairy strained and pulled, but Ambril felt not the slightest tug. After a few minutes, the fairy gave up. The chain swung back until it dangled from Ambril’s hand with the fairy attached. He flapped up and threw the chain down on her palm in disgust. I thought if you gave it to me it would work. But it won’t leave you. Believe me, eve-ry night I’ve tried everything, over and over.
Ambril’s cheeks grew warm. He’d tried to steal her medallion. She had almost given this beautiful thing to a common thief. But even as she formed these thoughts she discounted them. Didn’t she have to trust him? The Ledrith Glain was the worst kind of monster magnet. The fairy might be her only hope. She looped her medallion around her neck. You’re rude and your boots are painfully pointy, but I can’t carry this around attracting monsters everywhere I go. I need to learn how to protect it. She looked at the hateful fairy. You know how my Ashera and the Ledrith Glain work, right?
A farting sound plowed through her head. They are simple tools and come with instructions. Even to a weevil like you, that should be obvious. He pointed to the tracery on her Ashera.
Ambril resisted the urge to go after him with a fly swatter. Can you teach me?
A look of rage flashed across the fairy’s face as a lengthy cascade of breaking dishes resonated through Ambril’s head. Ambril let him think it through. You can teach me and guard the Ledrith Glain at the same time. What have you got to lose?
The fairy drifted toward her amid a chorus of blaring car horns. Just the respect of all Tylwith Tegs. Associating with a human-kind is worse than bringing home a flatulent toad for tea.
Though it might be social suicide for a Tylwith to train a human, Ambril didn’t spend too much time worrying about the consequences. This particular fairy didn’t seem to have friends anyway.
The fairy caught her looking and tweaked her ear, but not very hard. He frowned at the twisted, ancient stick in her hand. Hold it lower, like a wand, not like a tube of toothpaste.
Ambril adjusted her hand.
The sound of a chain gang hitting rocks banged through her head. If we’re to do this, you’ll have to work hard. We’ll start with protective wards, move on to Sighting and finish with fighting moves. You’ll never be able to take Moroz on yourself, but you can learn how to take down lesser demons. You must also learn magic methodology—Visualize, Focus, then Will It To Happen. This is hopeless, of course. Most humans can’t create a half decent ward, even after years of training.
Ambril ignored this. She pointed at the heap of broken metal, which had once been her robot. Hiding in that isn’t an option now. How will you get around?
I hid in the robot because the Morte Cell had weakened me, but I have recovered enough to make myself invisible for short periods of time. He eyed Ambril’s hair with disgust. When I tire, I will have to hitch a ride in that mess, so keep it clean.
You should talk! Your clothes look like you’ve been sleeping in them for about a century.
The fairy scowled but let this pass. One more thing. You cannot tell anyone about me—NOT ANYONE.
Ambril hesitated. How would her friends take it when they found out she had allowed a fairy to spy on them?
NOT ANYONE, the fairy was clearly enjoying himself. He was forcing her to do this and loved doing it.
Finally, Ambril nodded.
The fairy flew over to the window. From time to time, I’ll leave you on your own. You are safe here and at school. Both buildings are heavily warded. He paused. I’ll be back by morning.
Wait, what’s your name? Except for four letter words, Ambril had nothing to call him.
The fairy laughed as he sent a complex cadence of bells rollicking through her head.
She couldn’t begin to make those sounds. I’ll just call you fLit now that the robot is toast.
The fairy rolled his eyes, before he bee-lined out the window.
Ambril gathered up the remains of her robot and stowed them in her closet, then she headed for the bathroom. The fairy wasn’t so bad. After all, he had risked his life to save her. Thinking about having fLit as a teacher turned her insides to lead. He was the rudest little snit she’d ever met, yet a part of her felt sorry for him. From the look of his worn clothes, he must have been on his own for a long time. What a lonely life. How had he become ostracized from his other fairy friends? She wondered about this as she finished brush-ing her teeth, and stared at the mirror until her eyes refused to blink at the same time. Back in her room, she threw on her PJ’s and fell into bed.