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Some humans are born with powers. A touch of the Sight. A knack for finding money. Seductive beauty. Luck. Nothing truly powerful. Just little gifts that set them apart from other humans.
These tiny powers are like a sip of water to a dying fae.
A chill breeze curled around me, ruffling the leaves of the lemon tree I crouched beneath, wrapped in glamour so that I appeared to be nothing more than a clinging shrub. The breeze continued down the gentle slope to whisper through the ancient olive trees. Under their dense canopy darkness prowled, and other things not born of this world.
I shifted on the stony soil, shards of chalk and flint scrunching beneath my boots, feeling the weight of the sword at my back. There was a fae in the olive grove below, a dryad I suspected, lost and starving. So far I hadn’t been able to pinpoint her hiding place.
I caught movement at the edge of my vision. The family who owned these fields drove up, packed into the back of a rusty old truck, well wrapped against the dry winter cold. They piled out in a bright, chattering crowd. One girl ran ahead of the group, laughing.
Ayla, ten years old, suspected of having the sight by the old women who gathered and gossipped while minding the children. I had heard this, and much more as I perched on the roof above them, ruffling blackbird wings. Ayla was my bait. I trusted her gift would draw the attention of the dryad in the grove.
I shifted again, loosening up joints stiff from waiting. Today I would find the lost fae. What happened after that depended on how far gone she was.
Something moved deep in the olive grove, darkness shifting and taking form. My fae senses stirred at the touch of magic. This wasn’t my lost dryad. I curled my thumb and forefinger into a circle and put it up to my eye.
Through the impromptu faery lens, the world seemed to speed past me until I stood beneath the olive trees. I turned in a slow circle. What was here that had drawn my attention? The dim, cool shade of the grove contrasted with the bright hillside where I stood. A darker shadow moved, and another. A third oozed out from between two gnarled trunks, opening a maw ringed by yellow teeth. The hound crouched low, nose to the ground. Chaos light churned in the empty sockets.
I snapped my hand closed and the hillside rushed in around me. Corrupter hounds. No doubt also drawn to the faint touch of fae in the grove.
I sprinted down the hillside, slipping and sliding on the loose ground. The family looked up at the noise of my descent. But they would only see stones trickling down the slope, and maybe a flash of something on the wind.
I dove between the trees. In here I had no need for a concealing glamour so I ran in my own shape, a fae warrior in hide armour, bronze sword strapped to my back, hair the colour of a walnut shell braided down my back, feet in goat-hide boots thudding on the cool earth. A whiff of decay reached my nostrils. They were close.
I slowed and drew my sword, the hiss of metal on the scabbard loud in the silence. Not that I wanted to be silent. If they had followed the scent of the dryad here, then my own power must be a clarion shout echoing through the trees, hopefully distracting them from their prey.
Seconds later they appeared, oozing between the trunks. Where their foul bodies touched, the moss curled and died, and the little herbs growing between the roots withered and collapsed.
They spread out in a circle. I put my back to rough bark. The trunks offered plenty of cover for me, but also for them. And these were no mindless animations. There was human intelligence behind the empty eyes.