This is continuation of a story that started as a writing exercise, My Scene. It is coming in flashes, both literally and figuratively.
Note: I deliberately skipped ahead one scene here. The skipped scene involves mostly dialogue which is difficult for me to write in a flash. Since it will be so critical to the end of the story, I thought it best to separate it out and spend some extra time on it. I hope you understand and are not too angry with me. So with that in mind, I move on to the next “island”.
A quick background: I am Derek Nantan, a North American Marshal in the service of the Wizard King. My territory ranges from the continental divide in the west to roughly Chicago in the east. I was tasked with helping Amy Hatcher, an Oscar-winning actress, by ridding her of a stalker that a local shaman suspects of being a warlock.
The sun set before Amy and her staff had finished telling their stories. Amy dismissed them for the evening which left the two of us sitting alone in the living room. I stared into the fire, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amy was looking at me. We sat that way for several minutes before Amy spoke.
“Are you really a wizard?” she asked. “I mean, can you perform real magic?”
I smiled without taking my eyes off the yellow flames that danced above red coals. For an instant I thought about waving my hand and extinguishing the fire or creating a glowing ball of light in my hand. However, magic uses energy and wasting it on needless displays is never an intelligent move so, I turned to meet her gaze. My smile faded as I saw the worry on her face. This was no place for a smartass comment.
I simply said, “Yes.”
Large brown eyes continued to look at me, urging me to go on and explain. I did not. Amy squinted for an instant as if making a decision. Then she sighed heavily and looked to the fire.
“The sheriff said there wasn’t anything he could do until a crime was committed. Deputy Torres was the one who recommended I talk to Puma.” Amy’s shoulders slumped as she continued. “The old man came out and hung those skulls on the fence and gate but the animals kept appearing.”
Amy covered her face in the hands and shook her head. “Those poor animals.” She looked up at me and worry was etched in her face. “And now they’re showing up near the house. If you can’t stop this, I don’t know what I’ll do if anyone who works for me gets hurt.”
“I won’t let that happen,” I said. I hate making promises I’m not sure I can keep. But, right now she needed some hope, something to hang on to. “I’ll find who’s responsible and put an end to it.”
She looked back to the fire nodding her head, “Thank you Derek. I’m glad you’re here.”
I looked out the large windows. Dark was rapidly approaching. The cloud cover would make any light from the last quarter moon non-existent. I needed to get a lay of the land and determine what I was actually dealing with. No time like the present.
“Amy,” I said drawing her attention away from the flames. “Try and get some rest. I’m going to have a look around. make sure your staff stays inside until I get back.”
“Okay,” she said as we left the chairs. “Please be careful.”
“Absolutely,” I said as I headed back to my room.
I pulled on moccasins to replace my boots. They were quiet and comfortable. More important tonight, they did not disturb the flow of energy between the earth and my feet. My grey wool shirt went on over my flannel one. Layers worked best to keep the desert night chill at bay. The revolver went into my dufflebag and was replaced on my hip by a six-inch fighting knife. No self-respecting warrior would be caught dead without his knife and my father had trained me basic knife-fighting before I learned to read and write. Lastly, I grabbed the large Apache Tear stone, that was my power orb and headed out into the night.
The last few streaks of light disappeared behind the San Juan Mountains to the west. The remaining clouds covered the stars and the coming new moon was not going to add much light to the landscape. It was going to be a dark night.Only the security light on the six-car garage and the lamps at the drive-way gate broke up the blackness that tried to envelope the countryside. I slid into the shadows and headed out along the south fence line.
Amy’s ranch kept the natural landscape instead of trying to grow high maintenance grass everywhere. The smoked buffalo hide moccasins provided good protection for my feet against the sharp rocks and thorns of the prickly pears. Toe-heel steps allowed me to keep my eyes on the fence. As my feet felt for obstacles that might make noise or trip me, I reached out with my senses, reading the magical energies that flow through all things.
After about twenty minutes, I turned north at the fence corner. My internal alarm went off and I froze. An instant later talons brushed the top of my head as the owl sailed over. Even then, I never heard it. That’s why owls are the supreme nocturnal hunters. If I had been a mouse, my death would have come swiftly, without warning. As it reached the third post, it swerved and flared its wings as if attacking something in the air. Something squealed as the owl then plunged to the ground. Its wings spread and its head was down in a typical mantling posture over whatever it had taken.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch. Those things are sharp,” said a high-pitched voice as I approached.
The owl’s meter-wide wingspan blocked my view of its prey. But, I could clearly hear a voice that sounded like a child’s after taking a hit from a helium balloon.
“Aw, c’mon. You don’t wanna eat me. I don’t have much meat on me.” The voice squeaked again as the owl shifted its weight. “Ow. You’d only need to puke up my bones later.”
I stepped around the owl’s wingtip and couldn’t help but smile. Firmly pinned to the ground by the owl’s talons was a very rumpled sprite. Though larger than the owl’s normal prey, the sprite was still outweighed by several ounces. That and the fact that one of the owl’s talons was poised over its throat kept the sprite from struggling.
“Well, well,” I said as I squatted down next to the owl. “What is it that you have there, Lola?”
The owl turned its head towards me and then turned back down towards the sprite.
“Yeah, it must be ready slow for you to catch it in mid-air.”
The sprite looked up at me with a serious frown.
“Can you get this bird off of me?” the sprite asked.
The sprite’s eyes went wide. “But…but…you know her.”
“She is a creature with free will. She is hungry and you were too slow to escape her,” I said, my smile now gone. “It is her right to decide what to do with you.”
The sprite looked up at the owl and then back to me, clearly unhappy with the situation.
It looked so pitiful trapped underneath Lola, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. But, laughing at a fey can have repercussions as they have very long lives and they hold grudges.
“On three conditions.”
Somehow the sprite forgot about the owl and put on its game face. Negotiating a deal was very serious business to a fey.
“First, once Lola releases you, you will not disappear or fly away until the remaining conditions have been met. Second, you will answer my questions relating to the evil that is affecting the inhabitants of this place.”
I paused to see what reaction I would get. The sprite simply raised its eyebrow.
“And…?” the sprite asked.
“Lastly, you will hold neither Lola nor myself responsible for your current situation and take no action nor cause action to be taken by another, that might bring harm or mischief to either Lola or myself.”
The sprite winced at the last condition. Clearly, it was already plotting its revenge.
Just then, Lola shifted her weight again and a talon dug into the sprite’s side.
“Ow. Okay, okay, I agree to your conditions. Now get this beast off me.”
I reached out and stroked Lola’s head once. She looked at me and then hopped off the sprite and flew up to roost on the fence post. Her long ears came up and her head turned around as if checking to make sure the coast was clear.
The sprite sat up and straighten its wings.
“Okay, what’s your questions?”