Thell arched her wings too late. The slight updraft that should have slowed her fall didn’t come. Her feet smacked into the rough brick and she flung forward. She threw her hands out, pumped her wings furiously, and grappled with her boots for solid purchase. The words streaming from her mouth matched her limbs in their inelegance. In one final thrust of her wings, Thell came to a standstill.
Congratulations cupcake, A+ landing!
Thell closed her eyes, took a deep breath and sighed it out. She meant for it to calm her nerves, but really, nothing would do the trick today. She was exhausted and angry and that damn gash in her bicep wouldn’t stop throbbing. This ridiculous excuse for a landing hadn’t helped matters; Thell could feel fresh blood welling up beneath her makeshift bandage, and she wasn’t sure how much longer it would hold up, but that was a problem for later. She took in another deep breath and sighed.
Why felines had such a vendetta against fairies, Thell did not know, but she wished they would get over it already.
Or maybe they could all just fall over and die.
Thell took a moment to register the morbid nature of the thought. She was meditating, was supposed to be finding her calm center, but honestly, it felt like a waste of time. Thell had never been particularly good at meditation and on a day like today she wasn’t even sure she had any calm to find. Maybe murderous thoughts would serve her better for the task at hand. She wasn’t going to be facing off against cats this time, but murderous was murderous, and Thell would take what she could get.
Thell opened her eyes.
She had landed on a window ledge. The grime buildup was many years old and a musty smell permeated the stone. A thick stench rose up from a dumpster in the alley below. That was Thell’s target. She had visited a lot of dumpsters today, but unlike the others, this bin was devoid of life. A black and white feather sat atop the lid.
Fairies had not been displaced when humans set up their towns. They had adapted to urban life quickly and it soon gave rise to a new profession. Those known as Divers made their livelihood digging through human garbage and selling their wares at Market. It was dirty work and dangerous. The profession attracted fairies out on their luck, willing to get dirty, to take the risks, and to shoulder the prejudice of the wealthier Fae. Because it also attracted the worst kind, diving encouraged the formation of gangs, mob bosses and underground dealings. Thell had firsthand knowledge; she used to be a Diver.
Used to, Thell. You got out of this life, remember?
Thell gave the feather one more look before craning her neck to survey what little of the roof she could see. No Magpies, but they wouldn’t be in plain sight. That feather was a challenge. The Magpie pair had long ago claimed this dumpster as their own and no rodent, bird nor fairy would dare take from it. Thell inched as close to the ledge as she could and stretched her neck out just a little bit further; a bit of sky dusted with afternoon orange, but nothing else. Thell backed into the cover of the window ledge.
They were probably watching her, their beady eyes glinting in anticipation.
“You don’t have to do this Thell.”
The words rung hollow. Taking on the Magpies was as good as signing her own death certificate, but this dumpster was her last hope. If she came away empty handed she could wave her new life goodbye. A new life that was starting to look horribly similar to her old life…
Thell knelt down, and taking dirt from the ledge, muddied up her wings; their iridescent nature was as good as yelling “I’m here! Eat Me!”
Thell looked at her reflection in the window. The doll’s clothes were dirty and bloodstained. Her face was a mess of sweat and grime. This was not how a house servant was supposed to look.
But non of the other house servants had ever been Divers.
Thell had thought that Madame Hersh hired her despite her background as a Diver, but it was becoming perfectly clear that Thell had been hired exactly because she had been a Diver.
Madame Hersh had a strong craving for human things. She was a powerful fairy and she did not take kindly to failure.
If I fail…
Thell had accepted that morning’s shopping list knowing her maid’s uniform would need to be put aside for the Diver’s. Three items on the list had not been available at Market; better odds than Thell had hoped for. The first two items had been challenging, but doable. The last item, Thell muttered it like a curse word: “Organic, pasture-raised Camembert.”
The Magpie dumpster belonged to an eco-conscious, French Restaurant. If the Camembert was anywhere, it was here.
Thell took a steadying breath. She stepped from the ledge and dropped. At the last second, her wings flared out; Thell’s feet were feathers on the ground. She dashed across the alley, careened around the dumpster and slammed hard into the back of it. Her heart beat furiously; her fists clenched tight against dagger hilts.
Thell peered around the dumpster. The alley was as silent as before.
Damn those Magpie! Where were they?
Thell pulled a ball of fairy light from her pocket. It rose and came to a rest beside her shoulder. She turned to face the dumpster. It was overfull and the lid hovered, leaving an easy entrance.
Thell swallowed her fear and rose; in a matter of seconds she was through the gap and wading knee deep in half eaten croissant. The aroma of soured food stung her. Garnish, baguette, snails, and then… there it was. The silver wrapping sparkled in the fairy light. Thell waded closer. She blinked once, twice, but the words remained: Organic, pasture-raised Camembert.
That was too easy.
Thell sniffed the cheese; pungent, but fresh.
Much too easy.
A chill ran up Thell’s spine. She shook it off. Fairies did not need much and soon Thell had scraped together a fist sized ball and wrapped it in a corner of foil. She tucked it in her pocket and turned. A shadow passed over the exit.
Thell extinguished the fairy light. The shadow passed over once more, slow and taunting. Cautiously, Thell made her way toward the exit, stopping just short of the light. She crouched behind a wilted lettuce leaf and waited. Minutes passed. Thell waited. An eternity.
And then her moment came. A beady eye peered through the gap. Thell launched herself forward, pulling her twin daggers free as she sprang. The blades landed first, a meaty squelch and caw of alarm. Thell slammed into feathers. Black wings flapped. Thell was flung sideways. She gripped her daggers and pulled them free with a “PLOP”. Blood gushed from the socket. The Magpie screamed in fresh anguish. Thrashing feathers blocked the exit. Thell tucked her wings tight to her body. She ran and arrowed into the mass. With a screech and tumble she was out of the dumpster and falling. She crashed to the ground, landing on her bad arm. Thell cried out and rolled. She was barely on her feet when a beak slammed down. The second Magpie. Thell had barely evaded the attack when it came again. She sidestepped, but a taloned claw was waiting and caught her wing. Its tear was audible.
Thell flapped her wings. She tried to rise, but the pain swallowed her. The Magpie was advancing, slowly now. It had already won.
Human noise blared into the alley, Thell turned. The kitchen door had swung open and a busboy was hauling out garbage. Thell stumbled toward the door. The promise of freedom filled her with adrenaline. She flapped, lifted. The door was waiting. The Magpie shrieked. Thell whimpered and pushed on. The Magpie threw itself after her. Thell cried. She was so close…
A sudden blending of yells and caws made Thell pause. She glanced over her shoulder and laughed, the Magpie had collided with the busboy.
Thell took a moment to savour the sound of victory before stumbling to safety.
Dusk was settling across Heritage Park when Thell finally arrived back at the Mansion. She deposited her goods in the kitchen and was just making her way down the hall, dreaming of the very long, hot bath she was about to have, when Madame Hersh’s voice drifted in from the living room,
“…how embarrassing. If I hadn’t heard from Toyanne this morning… Camembert is so last season. It’s all about the Chèvre now, goats milk you know.”