(This stand-alone short story is set right after the 2018 Christmas tale Fairy Knights. Minor spoilers for it ahead.)
Caldyr climbed from the car and stretched her legs.
“Morgaine’s not so bad,” Reynardine continued talking.
Caldyr hadn’t replied back, or even nodded, in a while.
Reynardine often rambled while driving and Caldyr found being quit was better than trying to keep him quiet. He’d often fade into a gentle background noise after a while.
“She’s always been decent to me, anyway.” He got out. “Never been perfect, but who is? Guin and Arthur are more like her Isengrim. Just they can’t deal with each other. It’s in the stories. But that doesn’t make her really evil.”
“A cŵn annwn almost ate me?” Caldyr said. “Did you miss that or?”
“She probably didn’t mean for that. Can’t control everything when you play a trick.
“Oh so she’s a trickster?” Caldyr asked.
Figures he’d vouch for one.
“More or less. She’s clever and driven, at least. You want a gingerbread latte or a peppermint mocha?” Reynardine asked, nodding to the shop.
“I’ll go in,” Caldyr said. “What did you want?”
“Large gingerbread latte. You should really try—”
“I like my vanilla ones,” Caldyr said. “I’m not into seasonal flavors.” She’d been hurt bad by a chocolate orange latte that hit all the right notes shortly after coming to Earth and never tried the short-lived drinks again.
No use in temporary love.
“You should try their fruitcake, at least. Got figs and those fake red cherries you like.”
Caldyr ignored him and headed into the warm cafe. The line started right near the door, and every table was packed.
She plugged in her headphones and focused on enjoying the sights of a different town than her own. The light tour had been nice, Reynardine found a ton of great houses to admire, and the city itself had been rather pleasant. Even waiting in line, wide windows showed off a giant department store with plenty of gorgeous scenery and—
A tall man wearing a baseball cap and clothed in all white pushing a woman into a dark alley.
Caldyr’s wing tingled, a quick blast of nervous energy signaling danger, and walked straight out the door.
Reynardine caught sight of her and raised a brow.
Caldyr pulled out her headphones. “Something weird,” she said. “Tall man, all white. Sound familiar?”
“Vaguely, but I’m not an expert in this sort of thing. Should I call Ursie?”
A scream echoed from the alley and Caldyr took off across the street.
She turned the corner and came face-to-face with the man in white. He wore a dark mask with steel lips. They split and blue fire shot out.
Caldyr ducked, dodging the flames and kicking for his knees, but the bastard danced backward.
The woman, farther down the alley, screamed again. Her hands clutched at her face.
“Fucking dickhead,” Caldyr muttered, attacking again.
He didn’t fight, just laughed fire and bounced backward on light heels.
Caldyr caught him in the chest with a hard right and he stumbled.
Something wet and hot blasted into Caldyr’s face. She coughed and hit her knees before diving backwards.
Reynardine rushed toward them, but the man in white laughed and bounced twice before leaping over a building and into the night.
“Person,” Caldyr choked out, nodding to the woman.
“Are you okay?” Reynardine asked.
“Pepper sprayed. Check on them, the injured person.”
Reynardine followed orders. She’d been pepper sprayed, too, it turned out. He helped her into a rideshare to the hospital and returned to Caldyr.
“Help me up,” she ordered, blinking against the pain.
Reynardine simply lifted her into his arms. “Still hurt?”
“The fuck? Yeah, still agony,” she grunted. “Milk helps, I think.”
“It does. We’re walking around to the other side of the mall and I’m going to get you a ton of milk, okay?”
Reynardine was true to his word, setting her down on the grass in front of a large store and darting inside. He returned with a half-dozen little milk cartons and poured them one at a time onto Caldyr’s burning face.
She sighed as the cool liquid melted through the heat. Pain ebbed, returning soon as the flow of milk stopped.
Another twenty minutes passed and she opened her eyes. “I’m going to murder that thing.”
“Spring Heeled Jack,” Reynardine said. “The hopping gives it away. And yeah, soon as we find it, have fun.”
Caldyr rung the milk out of her hoodie.
Reynardine shrugged out of his bright green suit jacket. “Take that off and wear this.”
She coughed and shook her head. “Or I could use it like a little tent.” Another cough, the pepper still clung to her lips and burnt worse when she moved. “That’s not gonna work, Foxass.”
“Just for a minute,” he said. “I’ll go get you a new shirt in the mall.”
Caldyr wrapped the suit coat tight and carefully shimmied her hoodie off. She wore a threadbare tank top and a tight wing bandage underneath, but still felt awkwardly unclothed for a public space. “Hurry,” she told Reynardine. “Nothing I’ll hate, either. Got it?”
“I’m going into the diner,” she called, nodding to a bank of light in the lot with a familiar yellow-and-red sign.
“Order whatever you want. I’ll join you there in ten,” Reynardine said.
Caldyr crossed the parking lot, buttoning up Reynardine’s massive, neon green coat as she fought with the large door. She probably looked slightly less ridiculous than with the pepper spray and milk-soaked hoodie.
But Caldyr didn’t stand out nearly as much as the woman in the nearest booth wearing all black plate mail with a dented front.
Guin’s shotgun left a helluva mark on Morgaine’s cuirass.
She looked up, deep green eyes swirling with confusion.
Caldyr paused and backed toward the door. “Wrong diner,” she muttered.
Morgaine stood up and lifted both hands. “Wait,” she said. “Are you okay?”
The waitress stepped out from behind her little stand. “Want me to call someone, hon?”
Caldyr was more interested in the worried villain, to be honest. “No, I’m fine. Pepper sprayed. Random weird thing. I’ve got a friend on the way.”
The waitress nodded, face twisted into a sorry smile. “You’re the third woman that got hit at the mall this week. Freaks out there lately, I swear to god.”
Morgaine shuffled in her plate armor before gesturing to the other side of the booth. “Need someone to wait with?”
Caldyr looked to the door, then slowly sat down across from the Scourge of Camelot.
The waitress took their orders, Caldyr got a breakfast burrito and Morgaine ordered the fiesta platter. Both asked for extra salsa and iced sodas.
“I’m Morgaine LeFay,” she said after the waitress left.
“I know,” Caldyr told her.
“Uh, and you are called…”
“Oh, right. Caldyr Prayers.”
“Reynardine’s fairy detective?” she asked. “I’ve heard of you.”
Caldyr knew their story had reached a few ears, but being mildly famous always felt kinda weird.
Kinda right too, though.
“So you and Reynardine know each other?” Caldyr asked.
“Everyone knows Reynardine,” Morgaine said. “The General, he loved being called that. Although I served under Tyr. Not literally underneath him ever, unfortunately, but he was a good leader.”
Fair enough. Tyr is pretty… interesting.
“You were on our… on the Fated side?” Caldyr hadn’t even been alive during the war, but she still felt a connection to Artemis’ Army. Probably because their victory allowed her current way of life.
“The suffragette side,” Morgaine said. “And Artemis was an inspiration to me when I was a child, so I was only too happy to be part of her cause.”
Caldyr definitely understood that. Artemis had always been her favorite deity in the old stories. Her death at the pinnacle of the war just made the tales that much more inspiring.
“So,” Morgaine began in a low voice, “What’s the deal with the pepper spray?”
“Oh, uh, a Spring Heeled Jack. Bastard followed some woman down an alley and I intervened.” Caldyr looked at her arms. “Is my glamour okay?”
“Sure, looks pretty good. Damned Jacks are a nuisance this time of year,” Morgaine said. “They hate women, and women having fun is even worse. Christmas is like… well, bloody Christmas to the fucks.”
“Whose job is it to handle them?” Caldyr asked.
“No one,” Morgaine whispered as the waitress approached.
She sat down the trays of food and Caldyr checked her eyes on her phone’s camera. The glamour had cracked, actually, leaving what would be silver, if it wasn’t so bright red at the moment, in plain sight. Pain still echoed with every twitch or blink.
Fucking murder that fucking thing so damned hard I swear to Fate.
“That all?” the waitress asked.
“You got fruit cake?” Morgaine asked.
“Got a fruit cake shake,” the waitress offered.
“Close enough. One of those, please.”
“Milkshake for me too,” Caldyr said. “Vanilla.”
Soon as she was gone, Morgaine cleared her throat. “We can report it to Fate’s offices, if we have the number. I do, but I’m one of the few and you know I can’t share it.”
“Sounds like living in SF is kinda risky.”
Morgaine nodded. “But it’s a lot like—”
“Camelot,” Caldyr finished. “I’ve heard.”
“We even had a place there,” Morgaine said. “Us witches.”
“Why’d you turn on Arthur then? If things were so good?”
Morgaine snorted. “I said we had a place there, didn’t say it was a good one.” She picked up her fork and mixed her beans and rice together with some of the sauce from her enchilada. The meal came with a beef taco, too.
Caldyr looked at her own, an open ended burrito teeming with crispy chorizo, fluffy eggs, and potatoes. Greasy salsa and melted cheese leaked from a small tear in the browned tortilla. She grabbed her fork and dug in.
They munched in silence for a moment before Morgaine opened her mouth slowly. “So, you’re friends with Miss Prissy.”
“Guin is… is a decent enough person, okay? But no, we’re not super close. Guin hired me through Reynardine to find Arthur.”
Morgaine rolled her eyes. “He runs away. Did it when we were kids, too. Back at Uther’s. He used to disappear for days at a time. Just sit in the woods by himself. Meditate, or masturbate, whatever boys do when they hide from the world.”
“Suffering from some serious nervous depression is what it looked like. Brought on by someone attempting a coup.”
“C’est la vie.” Morgaine poured salsa on her taco. “I’m ambitious. I won’t apologize for wanting power. Men are venerated for what I’ve done. Look at Perseus. Right little git and I have to see his dangles all over Greece.”
“Fair enough,” Caldyr said. “You’re still evil but good point.”
“Evil is subjective. Especially when it comes to matters of life or death.”
“Wouldn’t be life or death if you didn’t start it from what I hear.”
Morgaine bit into her taco and sighed. “This era has the best food,” she said around a mouthful. “Just period, it’s brilliant.”
Caldyr had to agree, but she pulled the conversation back. “Life or death. Much like tonight.”
“Oh, like I could kill either of them.”
Caldyr gestured to herself. “A cŵn annwn did almost eat my pretty face.”
“And you ran down an alley to defend a stranger a few hours later. Don’t tell me you aren’t a risk taker.”
“Doesn’t mean other people are. Or should be. Setting cŵn annwn loose—”
“After Guin,” Morgaine cut in. “I didn’t think they’d bother with anyone else.” She took another bite of her taco and chewed slowly.
The waitress dropped off the milkshakes.
“For what it’s worth,” Morgaine muttered around her straw, “I’m sorry about the cŵn annwn.”
Caldyr sucked at her shake, but the plastic straw collapsed. She reached for a spoon. “Apology accepted.” Caldyr decided to change the subject. “San Francisco is packed with… odd beings.”
Morgaine nodded. “A little lawless, but it’s a nice place to hang your hat and oddities get ignored easy. You could probably get away with dropping the glamour on holidays. Especially in the right areas. We kinda take over the beach nearest the edge of town.”
Morgaine smirked. “It can get that way. Also kinda nice to let your hair down. Or glamour.”
“I’ll see about checking it out. Reynardine would probably like to know.”
“Great, the Fox is always a good time.” Morgaine looked around. “Is he with you?”
Caldyr tugged on the coat collar. “Picking me up new clothes. Should be here—” Caldyr’s phone beeped. She pulled it out and tapped the unlock button.
Reynardine’s number, but the text speak alarmed her right away. <cum alone if u want the fox back. Baker beach.>
“Oh, that’s a trap.” Caldyr shook her head.
“What?” Morgaine stood up to lean over the table.
Caldyr shielded her phone. “It’s just a thing. Probably a kidnapping. Foxnapping. Whatever.”
She texted back to Reynardine’s number. <new phone, who dis?>
<spring heeled jacks United bish>
<fuck you how do I know you didn’t just steal Reynardine’s phone>
Picture mail. Reynardine, stripped to the waist and tied to an old steel door.
<he took his own shirt off,> the accompanying message informed her.
Morgaine had come around to Caldyr’s side of the booth to peek at her screen. “That’s Reynardine all right.”
Caldyr rubbed a palm over her face, but had to agree.
“Can you forward me that picture?” Morgaine asked.
“No, I’ve… just ewww, no.” She stood up and started rummaging through her pockets. “I’ve gotta go beat some Spring Heeled Jacks back into the Victorian era—”
“I’ll cover the check,” Morgaine told her. “You know he’s immortal, right?”
Caldyr snorted. “The Jacks aren’t… right? I mean, I’ve gotta rescue Foxbutt. He’s a friend. But the Jacks, they’re a problem. Harassing people. I’d rather fix that if I can. Two birds, one heavy ass stone. Or probably a sword. I like blades—easier than blunt weapons, although admittedly not quite as satisfying.”
“You don’t even live here.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Caldyr said. “If people are in trouble, I’ve gotta help. It’s what I’m here for. And it’s just the right thing to do. I’m strong enough to make a difference, so I will.”
“Fair enough. Good luck,” Morgaine said, clenching the empty air as if searching for a sword hilt. “Bellona’s light guide you.”
“Nah, it’s late. I’ll give her the night off. She’s a busy war goddess.” Caldyr headed for the door. “I’m not the one who’s gonna need the help anyway.”
Three Spring Heeled Jacks guarded the entrance to the state park.
Caldyr flew over them. She’d shrunk to fly here in the first place so she simply skipped the front and headed straight for the tall trees on a hill overlooking a series of squat stone bunkers. Waves from the Pacific ocean sparkled just yards aways and Caldyr felt their power in every watery muscle. This close to the ocean, she would be unstoppable.
Beneath her, an old entrenchment and gun battery leftover from the world wars stood as a sandy sentinel. Caldyr had watched a documentary on San Francisco once and remembered that they never saw use.
Least not from any military action. The out of the way beach and dark stone alleys were perfect for clandestine lovers, drug deals, and, apparently, supernatural kidnappings.
Caldyr squinted into the dark spaces, and recognized the glow from a cell phone. She grew to full size and then texted Reynardine’s number. <Omw. Where r u?>
Listening close, she caught the faintest hint of Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man. Reynardine did seem to like that song.
The screen lit up and she could barely make out the white face of a Spring Heeled Jack as he texted back. <by the guardhouse up front>
<gotcha> Caldyr sent the text right as she dropped from the tree.
The song started again, as both of her feet connected with the spring heeled Jack’s hat.
He slammed chin first into the sandy concrete floor with a satisfying crunch.
Caldyr stepped off the smashed skull and picked up Reynardine’s phone. “Bet he’ll feel that for a while.”
“Not sure he’ll live to, Bluebird,” Reynardine said from behind her.
“Oops. Probably shouldn’t fuck with my friends if he wanted to do that.” Caldyr shrugged.
“Want me to untie you?”
Reynardine shook and then stepped away from the rusty old door. “I’d have left, I just didn’t want to miss you when you came to beat these fellows senseless.”
“I know how my friend’s amazingly impressive mind works.” Reynardine picked his shirt up and pulled it on, adjusting the collar to a rakish angle. “So, what’s the plan for getting out of here? I could transform and carry you.”
Caldyr raised a hand toward the west. The ocean was only a hill away…
With a slight shudder, like a sudden gust of cold air in the bright sun, the ocean answered.
Gallons of water streamed over the hill, wrapping themselves around Caldyr. They locked together, creating a suit of chain mail and a plate skirt. A bubble formed around her head and tightened.
She made a small hole to speak through, but layered the magic, so that she could seal her mask instantly to protect against more pepper spray. “You can go. I’ve got some parting words for these jackasses.”
Reynardine changed to his fox form. “I’ll be careful to stay out of your way.”
Caldyr shaped heavy, dual sabers from the sea water. “That would be for the best.”
She charged down the alley, sliding low at the crossroads between two bunkers. A flat, wooden bat smashed into the wall just above her.
The Jack that swung the weapon coiled for another strike. Caldyr swung her blade upward, slicing through his upper arm. He yowled, an inhuman screeching whine, before Caldyr slit his throat.
“More on your six,” Reynardine’s voice carried from somewhere above her.
A sound like cracking thunder broke the night and a whip slapped across her armored back. No pain, but the force carried through to stagger her.
Caldyr spun, twirling her swords over and blocking another attack from the whip. The Jack, a tall one with a simple top hat, slashed again. Caldyr twisted her swords, clipping the tip of his whip in one smooth motion.
The whip’s severed end thunked to the concrete. Weighted with some coins duct-taped together.
With a giggle, the Jack swung again. Caldyr blocked with her right sword, and threw the left.
The blade sunk deep into the Jack’s shoulder. Caldyr grabbed the whip with her free hand, yanked hard, and slid forward. The wounded Jack stumbled, she caught him with her sword tip and impaled the bastard.
One last bloody giggle and the Jack faded.
His buddy, a shorter man with an old bowler hat, pulled a pistol as Caldyr drew her sword from the Jack’s chest.
Bowler hat raised his gun, Caldyr leapt forward and to the right. He fired, but she rolled across the narrow path. Another bullet whizzed by as Caldyr closed the gap and slashed underhanded.
Her sword cleaved him in two, but Bowler hat still managed a trigger pull.
The bullet cracked Caldyr’s armor, ripping through the left sleeve to her skin.
Reynardine landed beside her. “Are you okay?”
“Fucking fantastic,” Caldyr snapped. She pulled the armor back together as another wave of white clothed Jacks stepped from the darkness.
“We can run,” Reynardine said.
“Or, I can kill the rest and feel like I’ve done my part for the community.”
Reynardine sighed and disappeared again.
The first of the Jacks closed the distance waving a machete.
Caldyr called her second blade, it twirled through the air into her hand, and met him with everything she had. He blocked one swing, her other blade took his head cleanly.
Another Jack, the one in the baseball cap from earlier, raised his pepper spray.
Caldyr sacrificed one blade, turning it into a wall of water to catch the spray. She closed her armor’s vent and wrapped the pepper spray soaked wall around the Jack. Just enough to feel the burn, before she drove her sword through his chest.
She kicked the corpse off her sword.
“Suck on this, you bitch,” a voice yelled.
Twenty feet away, in the shadows of an old tree, a Jack raised a hunting rifle to his shoulder.
“Shit,” Caldyr said.
Morgaine dropped silently from the tree above and landed on the Jack’s skull. The bastard crashed into the ground, neck snapping and head popping off.
“Guess I weigh a bit more with the armor and all,” Morgaine muttered. “Wow, that was about as satisfying as it looked, though.”
“I know, right?” Caldyr said, letting her armor flow off. “Nice timing.”
Morgaine shrugged. “I wanted to get your number. Good detective is always useful.”
Reynardine dropped from the sky, landing as a human in a superhero style crouch and then standing up with a smile. “Morgaine! Lovely to see you,” he said in a terrible British accent. “Absolutely spiffing. It’s been ages.”
“Reynardine,” she answered. “Surprised you remembered me.”
“I never forget a friend,” he said. “You two know each other?”
“She bought me a breakfast burrito,” Caldyr said as she looked up. “Were you flying?”
“No, I just stumbled real hard,” Reynardine said. “Thanks for that, Morgaine. Saving Caldyr and the burrito and all.”
“Anytime,” Morgaine said. “Don’t suppose you all want to split a Care-ed and get out of Baker beach, though?” She looked around. “Pretty sure we just wiped out the Jacks and I don’t feel like catching a ticket. Illegal to be here at night and we did get a little noisy.”
Reynardine made the order while they walked to the park entrance.
If the Care-ed driver thought anything of Morgaine’s armor, he kept it to himself. They got dropped off at the corner near Caldyr’s car and Morgaine climbed out with them.
“Nice meeting you,” she said to Caldyr. “And it’s always nice seeing you,” she said to Reynardine’s lips.
They parted a bit and Reynardine raised one eyebrow to manho level. “Stockton ain’t so far, Miss LeFay. Anytime.” He winked.
Morgaine chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind. And San Francisco isn’t either. It’ll be safer, too.” She looked around. “I’m… I’m not a good person, but I can help keep my own little Camelot safe. At least keep groups like the Jacks from fucking with my ladies. If Ares approves, of course.”
Reynardine winked again. “I’ll put in a good word. Good with my mouth, I’m sure I’ll work something out.”
Morgaine bit her lip.
“Okay,” Caldyr said. “I’ll drive myself home—”
“No,” Morgaine said. “Later, Reynardine. Call me. And post that picture to your LifeTrees, Caldyr knows the one. Long day. I’m going to catch a few beers and hit the sack. Merry Christmas, friends.”
“Merry Christmas,” Caldyr told her.
“Happy Christmas, poppet,” Reynardine said, British accent back in all its horribleness.
Morgaine LeFay faded into the night, literally, with a tiny smile.
Reynardine sighed. “She was always gonna be a good guy—” he looked at Caldyr— “Person. She was always bound for the light.”
“And here I thought my sunny personality did the trick.”
“Seeing good in someone else can help,” Reynardine told her. “Ice cream? Or more coffee?”
“Cocoa,” Caldyr said. “All the marshmallows.”
“Heroes create heroes,” Reynardine whispered, looking at the moon. “Beautifully done, Butterscotch, really. Just perfect. Merry Christmas indeed.”
Caldyr yawned and stretched. “What? Never mind, ‘weird as fox’ should be a thing. But don’t forget about my marshmallows! I’m gonna warm up the car.”
“Sure,” Reynardine said. “All the marshmallows.”
“And a piece of that fruit cake,” Caldyr said. “Doesn’t sound horrible, I guess. And don’t grin like you’re winning something, Foxass!”
“Nothing winning about it. Happy to treat a friend is all.”