The sign on my door reads Solomon Murphy and Co. Paranormal General Contracting. Monsters Mashed, Idols Trashed, Curses Lifted, Apparitions Evicted. No Magic Too Black, Weird Science a Speciality.
It’s an odd way for a wizard to make his living I admit, but things aren’t like they used to be. No hiding out in dungeons, caves, and castle turrets for us anymore. Magic’s gone and busted its way into the modern world with a vengeance and most folks don’t know how to deal. Too many of us who could help people adjust stick to the old ways, lying low, every practitioner for himself. Can’t say I blame them. Seeing the Normals burn their own wives and grandmas by the thousands to try and get at us during the Middle Ages didn’t have the most endearing effect on my spell-casting forebears, and they passed their paranoia, along with their powers, down through the centuries.
For the most part. Like I said, I’m different. Still, I don’t usually take contract work from cops.“Come on Sol, this is serious.” Detective Victoria Livingstone—dark skin, long legs, braided hair, annoying habit of showing up at my door uninvited. Take away the badge and I’d have made a move on her ages ago.
“All my service calls are serious, Vic. Every one.”
“Pulling gremlins out of people’s toilets is serious now?”
There’s a laugh from the desk out front of my office, just out of my line of sight. “Shut it, Gwen! You’re supposed to be on my side.” She’s never on my side. The woman’s a lousy secretary. Can’t think of a single reason why I still employ her except that I love her. But back to the matter at hand.
“You ever had a gremlin try and claw its way up your plumbing? Trust me, it’s serious. And you know I do more than that. People need my help, and I’m entitled to charge my own modest rates to deliver it.”
“Modest my ass!” she sneers.
I lean forward on the desk, bracing myself, ape-like, on my knuckles. “If the Commissioner didn’t want to pay my fee last time, he could’ve dealt with that leprechaun outbreak on his own. Not my fault the little bastards hog-tied him and paraded him naked through downtown.” I can’t hide my smile. Police Commissioner Aaron Ward is a prick. Soon as I told him most leprechauns were pranksters who didn’t actually kill humans he waved me off, said his people could handle it themselves, and screwed me on the consulting fee.
“And you and Eddie didn’t have to wait until after they’d finished their party to jump in and cast them outta there.”
She’s right, I didn’t. Maybe I’m a prick too.
“Fine. What’s so important?”
Vic sits back. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I have a lock-up full of people tripping balls at the station, none of them with anything in their systems that our toxscreens recognize. Some of them have been there for days without it wearing off.”
“And you think it’s magic?” I crack my knuckles, an old, bad habit that comes back around when I’m feeling impatient. “Couldn’t it just be something new hitting the streets?”
She gives me a little sideways grin. “It is. And that something new is making the freakers in my lock-up sprout wings.”
“Little bitty butterfly wings. Out of their shoulders.”
I’m up out of my chair. “Now we’re talking. Next time lead with that.” I throw my coat on and head for the door. “Gwen, where’s Eddie?”
“You sent him for a flea bath, remember?”
Eddie Lugosi is my assistant. He’s a werewolf, but he’s alright. Been a bit down in the mouth since the leprechaun thing though. Said they gave him indigestion.
“Right. Text him and tell him to meet me at the precinct when he’s done.”
A tiny crackle of static electricity moves through Gwen’s blue eyes and makes her blonde hair stand up. Her powers always tell me when she’s pissed. Not that I need the hint.
“Some reason you can’t whip out your phone and do it yourself?”
I try to be patient with her most of the time, but employing your ex can get heated. Especially when she has the power to fry your giblets just by waving her fingers.
“Other than justifying your paycheque? None at all.”
The ceiling lamp flickers and I’m afraid I’ve gone too far. The last time she and I had a real argument she blew the light fixtures and fried the monitor at her desk. Accidentally, or so she says.
Her hair falls back down to her shoulders as she pulls out her phone without a word. I’ve won this round.
Love is a battlefield.
Vic and I head for the door, down the stairs, and into the street.
“You wanna talk about that?” She asks as we leave my office door.
“Not really. Gwen’s my cross to bear.”
“We’ve been over this before Sol,” Vic says as the two of us casually dodge a horned cyclist barrelling down the middle of the sidewalk. Vic flips the demon the bird as she turns to face me. “None of this is your fault.”
“Maybe,” the memories boil back up, “but Gwen got her powers the same way all the rest of this shit happened. I ruined her life. I ruined a lot of lives.”
It was the night the Coven, led by my own dear grandfather, tried to offer me as a sacrifice to the Dark Gods, to keep this world safe from their wrath. It’s an ancient pact between wizards and demons of which I had been totally ignorant. I fought back, obviously. The Dark Gods were angry, and they took it out on the Coven, but they were amused with me. They decided to spare me, and the world I lived in. Sort of. Opening the gates of the Intercontinuum and letting every other kind of magical creature in existence loose on Earth was their idea of a good joke.
I look around me at the results. New York is a Gonzo Fantasia. A homeless dragon holds up a sign offering fire-breathing selfies to tourists for food. Skyscrapers magically transmuted to giant trees hold offices full of nymphs and dryads. Two crackhead zombies stand on the corner, obviously high, stabbing each other back and forth and giggling because they feel no pain through the nerve endings of their decaying flesh. Guess it helps pass the time when all you have to do is wait for your body to fall apart.
But back to Gwen for a minute. When the gates opened up it didn’t just let all the weird beasties in, it set all sorts of strange mojo loose, and New York was ground zero. Gwen was one of thousands of ordinary people, in this city alone, who were changed against their will. She’s an electromancer now, a lightning elemental. Cost her a promising acting career. Hard to dramatize in front of a camera when a change in your emotional state can fry any sensitive equipment around you. A set of circumstances for which she, somewhat fairly, blamed me.
Vic is a friend, one of the few who knows my role in all of it. What would the rest of them say? I chose to save my own neck, like anyone else would, but would these poor saps forgive me? Gwen hasn’t.
“I know that look.”
“What look?” I scowl back at her.
“The ‘weight of the world on my shoulders’ look. Keep it to yourself Sol. How many times I gotta tell you. This guilt isn’t helping anything. It’s not your fault.” I start walking rather than getting that lecture again. “Hey, where the hell you going? Precinct’s the other way.”
“I know, we’re going to the park.”
She trails along behind me for a few seconds. “So, you have an idea what this is?”
“Not really, but if your freakers are tripping and sprouting wings I figure asking the Fairy King whether or not he knows anything is a good start.”
It’s one of the burdens of being me, even in the new world. I have to explain everything to the Normals. “Know those hippies that moved in by the lake?”
“Hell yeah, they smoke a lot of weed but we haven’t bothered clearing them out. Got bigger problems.”
I laugh at her.
“What about last week when they all got naked and went for a swim?”
She thinks about it. “That was a bit much, sure, but we were still doing cleanup from the leprechaun thing and … wait.” She blinks, catching on. “Why didn’t we arrest them?”
“Cuz that’s Oberon’s magic. Most fairy spells are about making humans look the other way while they cavort and act all mischievous-like. Here, let me help.” I pull out my wand. Vic jerks back. “Relax! I’m just casting a protective aura. The Clarity Charm’ll help you keep your head around Oberon.”
“Sorry. Cop training. You wave a weapon at me, I get jumpy. Maybe if you didn’t cast spells with a giant iron pipe-wrench you’d freak people out less?” She breathes. “It’s cool. I’m ready.”
Once upon a time, a big, bald, tattooed man in overalls waving a wrench at a lady in jeans and a blazer with a badge and gun on her hip while spouting mystical mumbo-jumbo would have attracted some attention, even on the streets of New York. Nowadays, people don’t even blink. But I suppose I’d better explain the wrench.
Every wizard or witch gets to pick an artifice when he or she grows into their powers. Traditionally, it’s a wand, a staff, an amulet, or something like that. Not me. I never knew my mother, and my dad had always gotten jumpy when I asked about her family. He was a plumber. He may not have been anyone magical or special, but when dear old Grandad and the Coven came for me he died trying to protect me. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that.
After the Dark Gods had done their Dark God thing, I chose one of Dad’s old tools to channel my gift through. Like I said, he wasn’t anyone special. He was a regular guy in over his head who fought to the death to protect what he loved. He’s why I chose to do what I do the way I do it. But Vic doesn’t need to know that part.
“Done yet?” she says, snapping me out of it.
“Yeah. You should be safe from Oberon’s mojo.”
“Then let’s ask the Fairy King some questions.”
The little magic hippie colony in Central Park is in mid-orgy when we get there. Passers-by don’t seem to notice. Two beat cops stand idly by eating falafel from a cart on the footpath, talking baseball.
“The new rules stink, how can they kick Rodriguez out and not Price on the Sox?”
“Rodriguez grew two extra arms. Gives him an unfair advantage. All Price did was grow a tail. Wasn’t even one of them tails that can grab stuff, what’s the word?”
“Yeah, like a monkey. Wasn’t one of them. Looks like a lobster tail. If anything it slows ‘im down.”
“So how come he ain’t off playing in the new Mutant League?”
“His contract ain’t up yet, dumbass.”
Neither seems to notice the pile of sweaty bodies in mid-coitus on the grass not a hundred yards from them. I can’t help but laugh. The Fairy Folk used to be subtle.
Vic is less amused. “You two! Idiots!”
The two uniforms drop their lunches and snap to attention.
“Detective,” says the taller one, “didn’t see you there.”
“Never mind me, why the hell don’t you do something about that!”
They turn their heads and their mouths open, noticing the spectacle by the lake for the first time. The pedestrians on the path stay oblivious.
“Don’t bother,” I tell her. “They’d only turn back once the spell took hold again. That or join in.”
“That don’t sound so bad,” says the shorter cop.
Vic shakes her head. “Then what, Sol?”
“Let me handle it. And call for some backup. We’ll need help sorting these people out when I’m done.”
I stroll into the midst of the piles of squirming bodies. A few try to reach out to me, but I dodge them easy enough. The rest don’t notice me. Except for Oberon. He isn’t hard to spot. Seven feet tall, green skin, antlers, and a tie-dye poncho with a peace symbol around his neck. Conspicuous even in this day and age, standing at the centre of the action, his fairy junk being stroked under his poncho by one male and one female admirer. At first he seems lost in it all, but he opens his eyes as I come close.
“Solomon Murphy, I’ve heard so much about you from my kin amongst the Forest Spirits. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Come to join us?” He asks with a wink and an inviting smile. His voice is like music, and even with my protective enchantment I have to fight to resist its lure. C’mon Sol, I tell myself. You don’t like guys. Forget seven-foot green Fairy Kings. You got work to do.
I pull out my wrench and a pair of cast-iron handcuffs. Fairies, sprites, pixies, whatever, none of ’em like iron much. “Party’s over Oberon. Where’s Titania? I got some questions for you two. And that little henchman, Puck, where’s he?”
He waves off the two spellbound followers servicing him and takes a step towards me. “Stop there, mortal.” He says airily. “Who do you think you are? This is my realm now, and these, my people. You have no power to take them from me.”
I shake my head. “You Fairy types never did get with the whole consent thing. These people aren’t toys. You’re making them do this.”
“I’m merely helping them realize their innermost desires. I would gladly help you do the same.” He looks over my shoulder at Vic, standing with her arms crossed. The two uniforms are already back to baseball, and the half-dozen officers Vic’s called for backup seem to have joined them. Oberon’s clearly packing some strong magic. “She wants you, you want her. The conventions of your old world died when the Intercontinuum opened, when we came here. Just go with it man.”
Vic wants me? Cool. Wait, no, don’t get sidetracked Sol. “The conventions died? Bullshit. I got some fellas at Mutant Major League Baseball who would argue different. Things have changed, but this is still our world, not yours. You chose to come here, you answer to us.”
The hint of a frown crosses his face, but only for a second. “You don’t want to fight me, Murphy. You want to join me.” He’s waving his hands, casting at me. I can feel the pull of it in my mind, but it’s weaker than it should be. “You want to serve me,” he goes on, “you want to love me.”
I most definitely do not, and I decide the best way to get that point across is to brain him with my wrench. “Shut it!”
The Fairy King goes down hard. I knew coming in that Oberon was a powerful enough entity to resist just about any offensive spell I could cast at him. So, what with his vulnerability to iron and all, my best option was a good old-fashioned ass whooping.
As I put the cuffs on I hear a few screams. People are starting to snap out of it. A few are panicking, most of them just look disappointed, like they’ve just come down from a high all of a sudden. They start getting dressed, and Vic’s NYPD backup starts taking names and statements.
Vic walks over to me. “Oberon, King of The Fairies, you have the right to remain silent, anything you say—”
“Still gotta read him his rights,” she shrugs.
“Even though he’s out cold?”
On the way back to the precinct we talk it out. Only a few of Oberon’s “followers” were interested in pressing charges once it had all been explained. Most just wanted to keep their names out of the papers.
“He’ll probably get away with it.” Vic says, cocking her head at the unconscious fairy in the back seat of her cruiser.
“Maybe. He tricked them into it, but some part of them wanted to do it anyway. Take it to the DA, see what charges they can make stick. Statutory rape hopefully, public nudity and gross indecency at the very least. But let’s not get distracted. We still got the freakers to worry about. The iron cuffs block his powers. We’ll throw him in the lock-up with them and see what we get.”
Our suspect gets Vic some stares from her fellow officers at the precinct. So do I. The commissioner’s beef with me is public knowledge. Fortunately, his office is elsewhere. Oberon’s still out when we put him in the cell. Vic wasn’t kidding about the freakers. Wings sprouting from their shoulders, tripping, muttering to themselves, yelling.
“Mutation and hallucination at the same time. Definitely fairy magic,” I tell Vic.
“Maybe” she says “but I’ve been dealing with junkies for years. These guys are high on something.”
“They should be responding to Oberon. They’re not.”
“So what now?”
“I want a lawyer!”
We turn our heads to the cell. Our prisoner’s awake and shaking with indignation.
“You can’t make me say anything without a damn lawyer!”
Vic smiles. “Pretty quick on the uptake. Back in the park he was all high and mighty, now he sounds just like every other scumbag. How does an old forest spirit like you know so much about the modern world?”
He scoffs at her. “Modern world? Please. You mortals have had lawyers to bail you out of trouble since I was screwing with lovers in the woods outside ancient Athens. Now I want one.”
I raise my palms. “Calm down big shot, we’ll get you a lawyer. We just haven’t decided what to charge you with yet. After all, I just wanted to ask you some questions. You got all sex-witchy on me with that Fairy King ‘Halt mortal’ crap instead of answering me straight. Now you’re here.” I rap my knuckles against the iron bars of the holding cell. “And you ain’t going nowhere. So spill. What’s with the mutant deadheads,” I gesture to the cells around his, “and where’s your Queen and your little lackey?”
Much to my surprise he bursts into tears. Vic and I don’t know what to say. We’ve seen a some stuff together that would make most people run for the hills, and we’ve handled it pretty well. A powerful supernatural entity breaking into a crying fit is a new one. We let it run its course.
After a few minutes he calms down and starts talking. “She left me. She took Puck and she left me.” I throw a handkerchief from my pocket to him between the bars of his cell. He wipes his face and keeps going. “She said now that we were in the mortal realm she wasn’t bound to me anymore. She was tired of me. She had options. She and that little trickster bastard took off. Said they were going into business together.”
“What kind of business?” asks Vic. She and I share a look, coming to it at the same time. Titania and Puck have to be responsible for the mutations in the lock-up, we just need to know how. Unfortunately, the Fairy King’s found his balls again.
“No way. How am I ever supposed to get her back if she finds out I snitched on her?” He wipes his face one last time, throws the hanky to the floor, and stands up with his arms crossed. “I want a lawyer.”
Time for the ace up my sleeve. Ever since Oberon started blubbering I’ve been getting a whiff of Old Spice masking the pungent smell of wet dog. This means Eddie got Gwen’s text and he’s waiting outside. “Vic?”
“Time for you to play bad cop.”
She grins at me. We’ve used Eddie before when interrogating various creatures from the realms beyond. It’s always fun.
“Alright tough guy,” she says. “You want a lawyer? Too bad. You’re getting a werewolf.”
“Eddie!” I yell. “Show time!”
When he walks in it’s a bit of an anticlimax. What can I say, Eddie in his human form isn’t the least bit intimidating. Not to me anyway. Five foot seven of chubby, pimply, greasy-haired teenager. “Heya Sol,” he says with a little wave.
Oberon, on the other hand, is losing his shit. He backs up to the far wall of his cell. All the freakers have gone quiet and done the same. They’re just mutated enough that they can smell what Eddie is. “K-k-keep that thing away from me.”
See, werewolves aren’t one of the supernatural creatures that crawl out from other realms. Not originally, anyway. Wizards and witches created them for a specific purpose. They were meant as our guard dogs. They can sniff out other magical beings, and they have big appetites, with enchanted hides powerful enough to repel spells from almost any attacker. Think of them as the Alpha Predators of the Intercontinuum.
Eddie gives him a pout, trying not to laugh. “Aww, c’mon man. Don’t talk to me like that.” His eyes roll back in his head and start to turn yellow. He grins as his teeth grow, popping out as his jaw changes shape. “You’ll hurt my feelings,” he growls. He’s on all fours now, his spine elongating, his limbs swelling, getting muscly and growing fur. When it’s done he stands up, his ears pointed and his tongue lolling out of his mouth. “When I’m upset, I stress eat,” he slobbers, “you wouldn’t like that.”
The holding area’s gone quiet. Oberon and all the others can’t seem to do anything but sit there whimpering, pushing themselves as far away from Eddie as the cells will let them.
Vic shrugs and reaches for her keys. “You won’t talk to me,” she says, “maybe once I let Eddie in there you’ll talk to him. After he takes a few bites out of you.”
It’s more than Oberon can stand. He’s powerful, but that doesn’t make him tough. “Fine,” he shouts, crying again. “Titania and Puck went to open a bar together, The Bard’s Vice, in Greenwich.”
I want to gag. “So you went hippie and they went hipster. Figures. I guess our freakers here were their customers. Why are they transforming these people?”
“I don’t know. It’s gotta be Puck’s magic, he’s good at that stuff, but I don’t know why she’d have him do it.”
I tilt my head towards Eddie. He clutches at the bars and gnashes his teeth for effect.
“I swear I don’t know!”
Eddie backs off. It’s a start. We know where to look for answers now. Vic throws Oberon her phone. “You can call that lawyer now.”
The three of us huddle around the laptop at Vic’s desk. A quick Google search tells us that The Bard’s Vice opened up last month. Every review we read is a rave, and the website’s photo gallery shows crowds of young people in flannel, skinny jeans, and bad hats, hoisting bottles of gluten-free IPA and apparently having a great time. Their faces are all glossy, surreal. It’s an old trick—fairies have always been about luring humans into their lairs. Titania seems to have found herself some business savvy to pull it off in present-day New York.
“Look at this,” Vic shakes her head, “she isn’t even bothering to hide it.” Her profile on the site links to a Facebook page. They both read, Titania, Queen of the Fairies in big bold print. Clearly, she isn’t any more concerned with subtlety than Oberon was in the park. “Sol?”
“I don’t know what her plan is, but if we’re going in we better do it prepared.” I reach for my phone. “I’m calling in the big guns.”
“She won’t like it.” Eddie says, back in human form now, and very loudly chewing a stick of beef jerky. He’s always a bit testy when he changes but doesn’t get to eat.
“Fine smartass. You text Gwen. Tell her if she wants to keep drawing a paycheck she can get her ass down to Greenwich on the double.”
“She’ll zap me.”
“Better you than me, kid. You got the magic wolf hide, you’ll survive it.”
The ride over in Vic’s cruiser isn’t fun. There’s a troll-drawn rickshaw collision on 7th that’s got traffic backed up for blocks and, despite the morning’s flea bath, Eddie still stinks from the transformation. We use the time to strategize.
“I’ve done raids on clubs before,” says Vic. “It’s Friday night. It’ll be packed. Too many innocent bystanders. We should wait till they close, get some tactical backup, and hit the place hard with you three on point. Take Puck and Titania down before they know what’s hit them.”
“Sweet!” Eddie’s excited. Poor kid must be starved.
I finger the cast-iron cuffs in the pocket of my overalls. Vic’s a good cop, a real professional, and normally I’d agree with her. But something here’s bugging me. I’ve gotten to know how fairies think. If Titania were deliberately up to something shady she’d be trying to hide it. Or at least using her magic to make people look the other way, like Oberon with his brainwashed followers. Everything we saw at online makes it seem like she’s trying to play straight, run a legit business. Or as close to one as a trickster sprite can pull off.
Vic and Eddie look at me like I’m nuts.
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
“There’s something we’re missing here. We still don’t know how or why those people are getting changed. We go in low key—Eddie, Gwen and I. We talk to the people at the bar. Maybe scope out Puck and Titania. You call in your backup, have them waiting down the block if you need to, but we play this quiet until we know the whole story. Maybe I can figure out how to cast those people back to normal without ruining anyone else’s day.
We pull up around the corner from The Bard’s Vice. Gwen’s waiting for us, an annoyed expression on her face.
“You can’t even text me yourself?” she asks.
“Vic and I were working.”
Eddie laughs. “Weak-shit excuse, Sol.”
Vic nods her agreement and I feel the back of my neck turn red. For some reason I always think it’ll be easier telling Gwen what to do by proxy. It never is.
She shakes her head at me. “Whatever. Why am I here?”
“So I can apologize for being a dick by buying you a drink.”
She cocks a blonde eyebrow. “Why am I really here?”
I shrug. “Because there’s some seriously powerful fairy folk in that club round the corner who I may need you to zap. Happy?”
Strangely enough, she is. “The Bard’s Vice? Seriously? Dope! Enrique’s been raving about that place all week.”
I turn around to give Eddie a wink, then her words catch up with me. “Wait a sec. Who’s Enrique?”
Gwen screws her face up and I know I’ve put my foot in it. Vic saves me by sticking her thumb and middle finger in her mouth and whistling. “You two lovebirds get to work now, sort this shit out later.”
She’s right. We head around the corner. While we’re waiting in line I bring Gwen up to speed. She may not like working for me, but she gets how serious it is, and she knows I don’t call her in to help for without good reason.
“So don’t fry them unless you have to. We need to find a way to change those people back.”
“Do I ever use my magic if I don’t have to?”
“Only to blow up my light fixtures.”
She looks like she’s going to argue, but instead she shakes her head, smiles, and turns away. Eddie makes an exaggerated retching gesture. For a kid who uses his powers to hook up with supernatural romance fangirls he sure does get judgemental about my love life.
“You two,” says a big bouncer in a black suit jacket, pointing at Gwen and Eddie “IDs.” He doesn’t ask me.
Gwen pulls her driver’s license out. Eddie gets booted from the line for trying to pass off an obvious fake. “C’mon Sol, magic the bouncer up so he’ll let me in.”
“Sorry kid. I’ll holler if we need you.” What kind of boss would I be if I encouraged underage drinking in my employees? Eddie sulks off, muttering, and lines up at a hotdog stand run by an irritated looking centaur in a stained white shirt and hairnet. Probably best not to ask what kind of meat he’s serving. Eddie’s got a strong stomach anyhow. Long as it keeps him happy till we’re done here, or I call for him.
Back to business. Gwen’s a lot more stoked than I am to be here. Clubs aren’t my thing, but I have to admit Titania’s done a number on the place, and the customers. The small dance floor is packed. Fog machines, flashing lights, and a diminutive DJ, who looks suspiciously like one of the leprechauns that attacked the police commissioner, spinning dance beats from the booth. He gives me a sly nod, and I give it back. I won’t blow his cover if he wants to stick around the city for some honest work. He might be useful.
There’s a haze in the air. A quick sniff confirms what my gut tells me. “Fairy Dust.”
This is why I hate clubs. “Fairy Dust, Gwen.” I shout. “Titania’s getting this whole crowd high. Must be pumping it in through the fog machines.”
My protective aura from earlier means I’m immune, and Gwen’s not exactly human anymore. The stuff doesn’t affect her like it does the rest of the room. Not that she needs it, she’s loving this place. “Nice! C’mon, let’s dance!”
I hate dancing, but we need to blend in, so I grab us a couple drinks and give it my best. My best stinks, but everyone’s high enough on the Dust that they don’t notice or don’t care. Add that to the fact that the twenty minutes we catch of the leprechaun’s set is the longest Gwen and I have spent together without arguing since she got her powers, and I wasn’t feeling too bad about it. I move around, keeping an eye out for anything suspicious. Then my gaze turns to an open door leading to a storeroom. I see a small, lithe figure in woven hemp pants, a waistcoat, and a slouch beanie with little pointy ears poking out. Puck.
The little sprite bastard’s rolling joints, lacing them with his own dust before he spins them up and hands them out. Concentrated stuff. The customers he passes them off to are heading out back through the fire exit to spark up.
“I’m gonna get some air,” I say to Gwen. “Be right back.”
I poke my head out the door and everything starts to make sense. In small doses, Fairy Dust isn’t harmful. Ever wake up feeling like the night before was just a dream? That’s about it. But in the kind of quantities these club goers are smoking …
They’re all spaced. There’s one guy in a white linen shirt, taking long tokes. He’s sprouting antennae. None of his buddies seem to care. They’re laughing it off. My hand moves down towards the wrench in my pocket. I’m still not sure how to cast the residual effects of the Dust out of them, but I can at least blast them to knock them out and stop them from transfiguring themselves.
Busted. I turn around and there’s another bouncer staring down at me, flanked by three more. Their black suits are flecked with moving, twinkling stars, and seem to melt into the darkness around them.
“Boss lady wants to see you.” He’s big. Really big. He’s got antennae too, but doesn’t look the least bit high. Real-deal Fairy Woodland Spirit, not a mutant.
“And you are?”
“Cobweb. Servant of Queen Titania. Head bouncer. These,” he jerks his thumb back, “are Peaseblossom, Moth, and Mustardseed.” He puts his palms up. “No worries man. She knows who you are. She heard about Oberon and she just wants to talk.”
It takes me a few seconds to make up my mind. Fairies aren’t generally the most rational and forgiving of the magical creatures. On the other hand I don’t really want to take on four heavies right here. Resolving this whole situation peacefully would be a big win for me. It’d be nice to collect a payday from the NYPD and not have to spend half of it paying off property damages for once.
I give them a nod. Cobweb and his pals don’t so much walk as float back into the club, gesturing for me to follow them. They lead me upstairs to a windowless, soundproofed office. Titania’s sitting there, behind her desk. My leprechaun DJ friend is with her, but that’s not what catches my eye.
The Queen of the Fairies looks nothing like I’d expected. She’s a cute, olive-skinned brunette, dressed in blue jeans, t-shirt, and blazer. There’s a pair of big hoop rings through her ears and a gold bracelet on her wrist. She’s so normal. Excepting the fact that she’s barefoot, filing her calluses and tossing what comes off into a chute behind her the wall. She notices the look on my face.
“Leads to the fog machines,” she says.
“That’s gross.” is the best I can manage.
She pouts at me. “Look pal, normal dust comes mostly from dead human skin cells. Where did you think Fairy Dust came from?”
“Touché. Still gross.” I nod toward the leprechaun. “Seamus here give me away?”
“I did. And I’m Sean,” he says in a squeaky brogue. “Seamus and Rylan were me brothers. Your wolfie chum ate them.”
He doesn’t seem upset. “I told them it’d be trouble. Plenty of good work for those of us what know how to have fun in this city, no need to be causin a ruckus. They didn’t listen.”
“Now that you two are caught up,” says Titania, “I assume you’re here about my estranged husband.” Before I can answer she rolls on. “Let me assure you that I had no part in his actions. We split up because I couldn’t condone the way he did things. We’ve always drawn our strength from luring mortals to our bacchanalia, but now that we’re here in the 21st century his way just seems so …”
“Creepy,” I offer.
Her face tightens as she nods in agreement. “Yeah.” She starts playing around with the papers on her desk. “So, after hearing about today’s incident in the park, and on the advice of my legal goblin, Mr. Grimsby …” there’s a puff of smoke and a two-foot tall, grey-skinned creature in a blue three-piece suit pops into the room.
“Yo,” he says, waving a clawed hand at me.
“’Sup,” I nod back. Lawyers these days.
Titania keeps going. “… I’ve decided to file for divorce from my husband of the past two thousand four hundred and eighty-one years.” She laughs a little to herself. “Gods, it seems like so much longer when I say it out loud. Anyway, I’m leaving him. That coupled with my personal guarantee that I’ll keep my magic limited to the Fairy Dust in the fog machine to help my customers get a buzz should be more than enough to satisfy the NYPD, the liquor board, and the health inspector.”
The goblin clears his throat. “I would just like to add, Mr. Murphy,” he says, “that Fairy Dust is not currently considered a controlled substance by any legislative body, and is therefore perfectly legal to dispense free of charge in this establishment.”
For a moment we all just stand there blinking at each other. Clearly Titania and the crusty lawyer figured that speech of theirs would be enough to send me on my way. “I’m sorry guys, but you both have the wrong idea.” It takes a few minutes, but I fill them in on the situation back down at Vic’s lock-up. Their faces get longer and darker as I tell the story. Sean picks up the file and starts on his nails, clearly bored.
“So that’s the deal. I got NYPD SWAT and my werewolf pal waiting outside. Whatever weirdness your and Puck’s Dust is pulling on these people needs to stop. You two are coming downtown.”
Grimsby turns to Titania. “As your Infernal Counsel, I strongly advise you to comply. We discussed the legality of the Dust, but we didn’t count on side effects. This is serious. Even if you don’t get jail time, the victims or their families could sue, and if they do they’ll probably win.”
“I don’t understand,” Titania says, head in hands, “I’ve only been feeding my own Dust into the fog machines. It’s euphoric, not transformative.”
We’re all staring at her, wondering how long it will take her to get there. Sean gets tired of waiting. “Bloody hell woman, don’t be thick” he says, setting down the file. “You bring a trickster woodland spirit on as yer floor manager, he hands out weed to your customers, and you’re surprised when he’s up to something?”
Grimsby gulps down his fear and vanishes in another puff of smoke. Titania turns toward Sean, her eyes glowing bright yellow.
In the blink of an eye Titania’s changed. Up out of her chair, she’s not the hip, demure businesswoman anymore. Her skin’s gone green and there’s a pair of ram’s horns sprouting from behind her ears. Her eagle’s wings spread out, filling up the whole room.
She leaps over the desk, talons flashing. Before I can get to my wand she’s on top of Sean. “We may be in the mortal world,” she growls at him, drawing a trickle of blood from his ruddy cheek, “but I am still your Queen! Tell me of Puck’s treachery.”
“It’s like I said,” he blubbers, “the little bugger’s out there handing out weed laced with his dust. It’s him who’s changing them, I thought you knew, I swear!”
“He’s telling the truth,” I say, wand up. “I saw him downstairs. I came up here thinking you were in on it. Just chill the hell out and we can all deal with this.”
For a second here I hope she’s more businesswoman than ancient forest spirit, and that reasoning with her can win out. Stupid of me really.
She screams a harpy’s scream and jumps into the wall. Pieces of debris explode outward and rain down on the dance floor. I cast as quick as I can, blowing the larger pieces off to the sides of the room, into the walls. Gwen, beautiful, wonderful, Gwen, she does the rest. She’s fast when she wants to be. A few flashes of lightning and she’s moved all the dancers out of harm’s way. Most are glad to get away, others pull their phones out to try and get pictures. Cobweb and his gang of bouncers, obviously embarrassed by their boss’ lack of chill, are doing their best to clear the crowds from the room.
“Robin fucking Goodfellow!” She yells, flapping her wings a few feet above the centre of the dance floor.
“Yes my Queen,” says a sly voice. Puck emerges from the back room, a girl under each arm, obviously under the effects of his own dust. “Have I done something to displease?”
“These women,” she snarls, “and the others. Did I give my permission for you to change them?”
He cocks his head, a smile on his face. I run for the stairs. I need to be down there when shit pops off, or this is going to go bad.
“I had thought to serve you,” says Puck. “We’re far from home, Oberon is no longer with us, and our numbers are so diminished. I only wanted to create a new Fairy Realm for you, here on Earth. What fools these mortals be, to smoke anything a stranger offers. They’re mine now. Ours if you like.” He leers at her, his eyes shining. “For as I said, Oberon is gone. You need a new King, my Queen, and I bring with me an army.”
He gestures around and I can see he’s not kidding. The bouncers are looking helplessly at Titania as dozens of Bard’s Vice patrons force their way back in, reverent, vacant smiles on their faces, their wings and antennae almost fully formed now. I know then we haven’t got long. If we can’t stop Puck soon, the change’ll be permanent.
“In your dreams! I don’t need a King you little shit!” she yells. “I left Oberon because I wanted to run my own life. This world is a new start for me. I didn’t come here to make it into a parody of the same crap we left behind. Change these people back right this second and maybe, just maybe, I’ll let you keep your job when the NYPD is done with you.”
There’s the sound of shattering glass as a hairy shape drops through the skylight. It’s Eddie, with a police radio in one paw and a half eaten hotdog in the other.
“Sol!” he shouts through a mouthful of meat. “We got a SWAT team outside. They want to start grabbing the mutants. Vic’s telling them to hold off. What do we do about these idiots?”
“Chew your damn food, kid. I’m working on the rest.”
Puck waves his hand at me. “Stay out of this, wizard. This is between me and her.” My protective aura blocks the worst of his Sleeping Spell, a fairy speciality, but I’m so weak I fall to my knees and can’t get up. He turns to Titania, the hipster facade dissolving, giving way to a tall, green-skinned fawn. His true self. “I’ve served you for a thousand years, is a little gratitude too much to ask?” His brainwashed mutants are getting as angry at her as he does, smashing up the place, attacking security and the few customers stupid enough to stay behind and gawk.
“Eddie, Gwen! Stop them from hurting themselves.” It’s all I can do to croak out the order. I haven’t been hit by anything that powerful in a while. My two friends are moving around the room doing everything they can to restrain Puck’s minions, but they can’t hurt them too much, they have to rein themselves in. Eddie’s pissed at taking a beating and not being able to hit back for real. Gwen could fry them all if she had to. Instead she’s casting webs of electricity around her to try and cage the attackers, but she can’t hold them forever. One thing at a time Sol. I turn my attention back to Titania.
“You served Oberon, not me.” She grabs Puck by the shoulders and hurls him across the room. “I was always a plaything to him in our world, and to you. How many times did you use your magic on me at his command?”
Puck stands up and brushes himself off. “I followed my King’s orders, like I followed yours. But no more of that,” he sneers. “There are hundreds in this city who have started to change because of me. I don’t need you and I don’t need Oberon. I’ll carve out a Fairy Kingdom of my own right here.”
He jumps with all his strength and tackles Titania into the wall. It crumbles but doesn’t give way. Sparks and shockwaves are coming off the two of them as they duke it out, throwing one another around the room. They’re shattering lights, bottles, and furniture as they go, knocking down Puck’s mutants, the bouncers, and bystanders indiscriminately. I need to stop this. These are two powerful, ancient, and very pissed off magical beings having a free-for-all in the middle of the Village. If this spills out into the street, innocent people are going to die.
She turns to me. There’s sweat beading on her forehead. She’s powerful, but the strain of holding back so many mutants for so long is getting to her. “What dammit!?” She’s screaming at me, but I can barely hear her over the din around us. Eddie’s underneath a pile of fairies, and they’re beating on him pretty bad. The bouncers are trying to pull them off, but it’s not going well.
“I need you to zap me with everything you have.” I really wish I could come up with a better plan, but I’m still drained from Puck’s spell and a bit pressed for time. I start to cast, muttering the formulas to cast a Conducting Charm and a Stunning Spell under my breath.
“Are you crazy?! I’ll kill you!”
“Just trust me!”
Her gaze meets mine. We’ve had our differences since she got her powers. She said I ruined her life. There have been times since when I’ve been pretty sure she wanted to kill me. She shakes her head. She knows what I’m thinking and she doesn’t want to take the chance.
Her face screws up with as she focuses her strength. She drops the electric net holding the changelings back and spins towards me just as I finish casting the Charm. There’s a light brighter than the sun as the full force of Gwen’s elemental power courses toward me, channelling through my wand. All the motion in the room stops, and every head turns in my direction. I let the juice go, and in one big blast the lightning arcs out and sends Titania and Puck flying. They hit the walls, both unconscious, and all of Puck’s followers go down with them. Eddie staggers to his feet. Gwen isn’t fazed. She got hit too, but it was with her own power. She’s fine.
I’m not. My hand is burning. My wand is seared to the flesh in my palm from the voltage. My chest feels like its exploding. The last thing I see is Gwen rush toward me as the room fills with cops in tactical gear, led by Vic waving her badge. My face hits the floor, and the whole world goes black.
“… and if your client agrees to cooperate with the testimony against both her ex-husband and her former business associate, my office might be able to work something out.”
“Anything you want counsellor. My client has expressed a sincere interest in making things right so we can get back to business. She feels awful about everything that’s happened. She hopes casting those poor people back to normal and paying Mr. Murphy’s hospital bill is a good start to her reparations.”
Through the haze I recognize Grimsby, the legal goblin, talking to a pudgy woman I’ve never met. There’s a whole bunch of other shapes in the room that I can’t quite make out yet.
“Just who’s paying for my what?” I grumble. There’s a whole lot of heads turned my way. Grimsby, Vic, Gwen, and … “Sorry, who are you?”
“Helena Bergstrom, Assistant District Attorney.”
“Oh good. Are you a Goblin too, or just a regular bureaucrat?”
“I work for the City Mr. Murphy.”
“Doesn’t answer my question.”
Gwen walks over to my bedside. The room comes into focus around her smile. I’m in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV and a few beeping monitors.
She takes my hand. “You scared me there, big guy.”
I smile back and give her palm a squeeze, then I wince. I turn my hand over and see a long black electrical burn and it all comes flooding back. “What happened in the club?”
“We won, you dummy,” says Vic, “despite you almost killing yourself. Was that really the best you could do?”
“I was rushed. At least my spells targeted the right Fairies. Gwen would have hurt too many people trying to throw that kind of voltage around in such a tight space. What happened to Puck and Titania?”
Grimsby gives me a little wave and nod. “My client is currently in custody, and is cooperating with the authorities in building their case against Oberon, as the three of us discussed in her office.”
“We should have no problem making the rape charges stick with her help,” says the DA. “Apparently he’s been up to this sort of thing for centuries, and she’s willing to testify to that.”
The three women and the goblin all point to my left. I turn my head and see Eddie lying in the bed next to mine, his stomach swollen to an absurd size.
I manage a laugh through the pain. “You didn’t?”
He rolls his eyes and grins back at me. “I did.” There’s a muffled cry and a kicking noise from inside Eddie’s gut that makes his face go a little green, “but I wish I hadn’t. Tasted good going down but he ain’t sittin’ right.”
Grimsby shakes his head. “Puck’s going to be whole and healthy, if a little worse for wear, when the kid craps him out. I’ll be working with Ms. Bergstrom here on my client’s plea, and she’ll figure out what to charge him with. There’s going to be quite a few former customers out for blood now that they’ve been changed back to normal.”
I turn back to Gwen as she waves something in my face. “Check this out, Sol.” It’s a copy of the Post with my picture on the front page. Wizard Contractor Busts Magic Brawl in Village. “The phone at the office has been ringing off the hook. I’ve got a dozen clients lined up as soon as you’re on your feet again. I’ve been doing what I can in the meantime but—”
“Hold it!” I say, sitting up in bed. “You’ve been seeing clients? Of your own free will?”
She pouts at me. “I’m not going to let good press go to waste. Don’t worry, I saved you all the good ones. Toilet Gremlins for days, I promise.”
The DA steps forward, offering me her hand. “Mr. Murphy, on behalf of the City of New York, I’d like to thank you for your help in resolving this crisis. We’ll be happy to call you in on future consults, and I guarantee you won’t meet with any resistance from the police commissioner from here on. My office is very grateful.”
I prop myself up on the cushions and move to shake. I think about thanking her, then the burn on my palm starts to ache again. “Yeah?” I say. “Wait’ll you get my bill.”
By James A. Conan