|She wandered through darkened streets, winding her way through the
cluttered maze of Bordertown. No matter what she had told Berfert,
she had only visited this place once before, and then she had been in Farren’s
company without a care in the world. This, however, was different,
and she feared that she was lost.
Morena had always been good at lying to everyone else, but she had never quite mastered the art of lying to herself. And in the darkened hush of Bordertown at night, the lies sounded more hollow than ever. The muffled pound of bass pulsed at a level almost below audible, sounding like a heartbeat in the darkness. Morena’s eyes jumped between the dark holes in the buildings as she sought to bend her steps toward the thudding promise of rock and roll, and people.
Here and there a muffled noise or an unexpected movement from a formless bundle of clothes or paper reminded her that she was not alone. Morena forced herself to stand still for a moment, breathing in the sharp smells of Bordertown, and willing her heart to stop jumping like a Jack Russell terrier. And it was in that moment of silence that she heard them: voices screaming and howling above the half-obscured sounds of Soho. A gang.
The voices increased in volume even as she stood silent, listening. Praying that the gang was bound elsewhere, she moved toward the curb, picking her steps carefully, and desperately trying to make herself invisible in the empty street.
She was almost at the curb when she heard the increase in volume that told her the gang had entered the long, straight stretch of street on which she stood. Glancing back over he shoulder, she saw a cadre of leather-clad bikers, clutching the chrome handlebars. Their machines glinting in the witch-light that glowed beneath the smooth chassis as their bikes floated wheel-less and eerily silent on the darkened street.
“Shit,” Morena breathed to herself, “Dead Warlocks, just what I did not need. Fuckers are probably high on fairy dust.”
She scanned the street in front of her, and, predictable as a bad movie cliché, the buildings on both sides of the cracked asphalt stretched unbroken for a good two hundred feet on either side. She glanced over her shoulder at the rapidly approaching spell bikes. Gauging their speed, she decided her best option was flight. If she could make it to the next side alley, she might stand a chance.
Praying her luck would not choose the worst possible moment to give out, Morena ran for the dark slit of alley that separated two buildings, her feet drawing ambition from the whoops behind her as the lurid comments that mingled with them alerted her that she had been seen, and that she had been marked as a target by the gang behind her. She could hear the hoots from behind her. They were coming faster than she had expected, and the dark line of the alleyway seemed to recede even as she neared it.
“Akkash bait… Here pretty lady, we’ll ring your doorbell…fairy lords don’t like you tonight, babe, but I do….”
The blow came unexpectedly, winding her and knocking her to the ground. She rolled, adrenaline dulling the pain in her back. Just as her shoulder came in sharp contact with the curb, she heard a scream from behind her, followed by a moment of eerie silence, and a loud crash.
Turning her head, Morena saw two of the Warlocks’ bikes smashed in the street, their spell boxes flickering dimly. Beyond them sprawled a pair of dark shapes that she could only assume were the Warlocks themselves. The remainder of the pack milled about, circling back toward their fallen comrades. As they neared the flickering bikes, however, yet another of the bikes blinked and fell, catapulting its rider to the ground. A strange keening arose from his fellows as they turned their own machines and sped off down the street. Morena watched them go, the lights of their spell boxes catching in the puddles gathered where the street sagged. The Warlock who had fallen of his bike at the reconnaissance staggered to his feet and spat onto the asphalt at his feet. He screamed after his comrades, threatening them with several incoherent fates and then lurched off in their wake.
Morena laid her head gently against the hard cement and breathed a sigh of relief. Her back throbbed where she had been struck, but she was alive and not that much the worse for wear. Breathing a prayer of thanks, she took a deep breath – and stopped. Mingled with the scents of the street was a heady strain of masculine cologne.
“Well, well,” a slow drawl sounded from above her. “Will you look at that, a dead Warlock. Always a nice sight for an evening stroll.” Opening her eyes, she traced a pair of cowboy boots and worn blue jeans up to a dark suit jacket over an equally dark shirt. Above the shirt hovered a pale face sporting a bright smile. The man squatted beside her, extending a hand, and the streetlight glinted red on his hair. “And I certainly hope you are all right, young lady.”
Pulling herself to a sitting position, Morena favoured the man above
her with a half smile.
“Canis. Erick Canis.” The man flashed another heart-stopping smile, and in the glow of the streetlamp, Morena caught the flash of disconcertingly golden eyes, an off match against the red of the long hair pulled over the collar of his jacket in a ponytail. “Aren’t you…” He pulled her a step closer to the dim light of the lamp. “You’re Farren’s lady. What are you doing so far from the civilised part of this town?”
“I’m looking for Farren.” Morena shook her head. “He seems to have cooked up some sort of spell to get me here, but he landed me in the middle of a field outside of town.”
“Well, you can bet that he isn’t here.” Erick shook his head. “And you can bet that it isn’t a good place for a sexy lady like you to be wandering around alone. Let me take you over to a friend of Farren’s. Bet that’s where you were supposed to be headed anyway.”
Morena looked up at her companion warily. He seemed nice enough, and his tall presence beside her was certainly comforting in the wake of her encounter with the Dead Warlocks, but in reality she knew no more about him than she did the gang. “Thank you, Mr. Canis, but if you could just give me directions, I’m sure I can find my way.”
Inserting a hand protectively around her elbow, Canis shook his head. “Can’t do that, Miss. All sorts of bad folks out tonight. You ever step awry of an elf lord before? Didn’t think so. You need to get to a safe place and let Farren find you before you go off trying to find anything else.”
With a sigh, Morena acquiesced, falling into step beside her companion. As she stepped beyond the circle of the streetlamp, she slipped her hand into her pocket to reassure herself that Berfert was still safely curled up there. Her hand, however, encountered only fabric and a smattering of pocket lint. Instinctively, she separated her arm from that of her companion and turned back toward the wreckage on the street.
“And just where do you think you’re going Miss?”
“I’m going to find a friend,” she tossed over her shoulder, “And my name is Morena not Miss. I’m surprised Farren didn’t tell you that since the two of you are such good friends.”
“Now when,” Canis caught up with her in two long strides, “did I say Farren and I were good friends? I just offered to take you to his friend. I just thought it would be better for us both if you were tucked away someplace safe.”
Giving in to her instinct, Morena avoided the dark puddle of splayed limbs and moved toward the dark forms of the bikes. She bent over the wheel-less forms, willing her eyes to make sense out of the web of shadows that lay heavily over the wreckage. After a few minutes of searching, she noticed a small, oval object between the handlebars of one of the machines. Tentatively, she closed her hand around the object, and was relieved to feel Berfert’s rubbery fur press against her palm. Turning, she began picking her way back toward the sidewalk. Canis kept pace, leaning in to examine the small, purple object in her hand.
“A glitch. Well, not only are you mightily pretty, you’re a resourceful woman as well. I wondered what made those spell bikes crash so nice and neat. Now I know. You threw that little glitch under their spell bikes, and I haven’t seen a spell yet that can stand up to a good glitch.”
“I didn’t exactly throw him,” Morena shrugged her shoulders experimentally,
wincing at the bruise she could feel developing between her shoulder blades.
“They hit me; I fell; and Berfert here evidently bounced out of my pocket
and into their path.”
Tucking Berfert back in her pocket, Morena looked up at the tall man beside her, “So how do you know Farren anyway. I assumed you were his friend, but since you’re not…”
“Now wait a second, did I say I wasn’t his friend?”
“Well, you said you didn’t say that you we –“ Morena shook her head, “yes, you did.”
“No,” her companion shook his head, his copper ponytail hissing along his collar, “I said I’d never rightly told you either way.”
“Here we are.”
They had turned a corner from a dim alley into a much more brightly-lit street lined with buildings decorated with dragons and Ying-yang symbols. Here and there a terraced awning protruded sharply from a building and silk banners fluttered from long staves set at uneven intervals.
“Dragontown?” Morena asked.”
“The same,” Canis smiled, pulling her onto the thoroughfare. “Your Farren doesn’t have a lot of friends around these parts, but the friends he does have are good friends indeed. And I do believe this is it.” He paused, peering up at the elaborate lettering that danced along a dragon-shaped sign hung over a small storefront.
Morena squinted up at the lettering, and then, abandoning hope on that front, turned her attention to the small, dark red door below. There, below another line of Chinese characters, in neat blue characters were the words “Fu Mar’s Fireworks Emporium. Pyrotechnics for all occasions.”
Canis cocked an eyebrow at her, “perhaps you should ring the doorbell, as they seem to be your forte.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“That’s up to you, I guess. Take it as you wish, just don’t be taken in too easily.”
Behind her, Morena heard the rattle of a lock and felt the change in
air pressure that indicated the opening of a door.
“My name is Morena, and this is Mr. C..”
“Ahh,” the man took a step into the light, his lined features illumined by a brilliant smile, “Farren’s girl. He searches for you. It is good you come here. You can wait here for him.”
“Well,” Morena looked up at the golden eyes of Erick Canis beside her, “it would seem that you were telling the truth. Thank you for your help.”
Canis touched his forelock in an almost absurdly archaic gesture, and favoured her with a wry half-smile. “Always a pleasure to help someone out. Now you take good care of Farren and that glitch, not to mention your own sweet self. Don’t let anyone steal anything from you. I hear those fae lords are good at that, especially that bastard Akkash. You just watch yourself, hear.” Leaning down, Erick Canis kissed her on the cheek, turned on his heel, and sauntered off into the shadows of the night.
“You lucky woman.” Fu Mar shook his wizened head. “Not every woman Coyote guides safely through the night to my door.” He sighed, “Ah well, come in, come in.”
Morena followed him through the shadow of the doorway and up a long flight of stairs that smelled of incense and faint smoke. At the top, she found herself in a clean-swept room filled with cushions, silk draperies and screens. At one end of the long rectangle, a beautifully preserved suit of Samurai armour stood guard, glinting blackly in the light, flanked by a stunning display of swords and staves.
“This,” Fu Mar turned to her, “is my home. You are welcome here. Anything you desire is yours.” He bowed deeply and, uncomfortable, Morena bowed her head in return. Looking down, she noticed the black streaks criss-crossing her clothing, and the numerous bits of skin showing through tears in both jeans and blouse.
“Could I wash up a bit?” She asked hesitantly.
Another brilliant smile spread its way across Fu Mar’s face. “Of course. Come.”
Slipping off her shoes, Morena followed the diminutive man across the polished wood floor and through an archway secreted behind one of the screens. In the small, curved room beyond, was a small tub carved from some indeterminate material. Telling her to wait for a moment, Fu Mar disappeared through another obscured doorway, only to reappear a moment later carrying a small pair of white linen pants and a silken robe.
“You clean up here.” He patted her shoulder paternally. “You want to
be comfortable and look nice for Farren. This is important to him.”
Fu Mar turned and bowed deeply again with a silken rustle. Then, turning back, he moved silently into the next room.