Ill Met By Moonlight

“Are you insane?  He’s a cop.  Put him back where you found him.” Elora glared, her eyes flashing emerald fire and her magic crackling around her, energizing the air in the hotel room with a pearlescent shimmer.  “We’ve got product to move.  You need to focus, not fool around.”  Her bare feet barely touched the suite’s plush azure carpet.  Luxurious red hair, the color of a glistening new penny, flowed lightly over her shoulders and down to her waist as if moved by a light wind.

Maeve truly loved to torment her.

“He’s pretty, and I’m going to keep him.”  Maeve said stubbornly, pretending to pout as she crossed the room to sit on the sofa beside her unconscious prize.  Her own honey-gold tresses flowed around her shoulders as well, thanks to Elora’s magic swirling about the room like a breeze.  She was tempted to ignore Elora, but it was so much more fun to antagonize her.  Maeve couldn’t help it.  Elora was so used to intimidating and commanding mortals that she all too often forgot how to conduct herself among her own kind.  Just because she carried herself like a queen of the fae didn’t mean she was one.

Maeve moved her hand in a graceful circle as she silently recited a simple incantation.  Sparkles of light danced around her hand and trailed behind it like a tail following a kite.  She touched her fingers to her lips then to the man’s forehead to ensure that he’d sleep until she returned.  “Sweet dreams,” she whispered.  Then she cast a spell of protection around him.  After all, it wouldn’t do for anyone to steal him from her.

She stood and regarded Elora waiting impatiently.  “All right.  Let’s go.”

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They didn’t want the police to interrupt their auction; even non-magical law enforcement officers could cause trouble if they came in great enough numbers.  And—rare though it was—sometimes cops even had magical help as they had had those months ago in Cleveland.  When magic battled magic, matters truly got exciting, and not in a good way.

The auction wasn’t fancy and didn’t use programs with photographs and descriptions beside lot numbers.  It was being held in a rundown warehouse that was strictly a makeshift locale.  All the participants knew that the merchandise was “as is” and what the buyer saw in the holding areas on either side of the stage was what he, she or it got.  Left of the stage, a wall of magical light confined every manner of homeless.  Four dozen of them huddled together looking dazed, confused, defeated.  They had no idea what was happening to them, but they didn’t care either.  They reeked, their filthy rags hanging on unwashed bodies and barely sufficing as clothing.  Maeve spoke a silent enchantment to repel the odor and the fragrance of roses surrounded her.

The pen on the right held a very different collection of goods, about the same in number.  They looked more scared but, in many cases, also still unbowed.  The fae had captured them to fill the requests, some specific, some more general, that Maeve and her cohorts had received.  Some of the werewolves wanted strong, resourceful prey to hunt.  Some of the vampires were persnickety as well and wanted specific ages, genders or nationalities.  Some customers even wanted a particular body- or blood type for their food or entertainment.  So Maeve thought of the captives in the second pen as much higher quality.

The auction had been put off twice already to avoid mortal authorities.  The fae had to keep moving to avoid being discovered.  But they could no longer wait.  Vampires got surly when their food was late and werewolves got cranky when they couldn’t hunt.  The fae provided the amenities, thereby minimizing exposure to all the fae when the messier members satisfied their needs.

There would be dire consequences all around if her people didn’t come through.  The supernatural predators would then act on their own and draw a great deal of unwanted attention to them all.  Plus the tentative peace that existed between the various groups would be torn asunder.  Even Maeve shuddered to think of that fallout.

Thus far, the sentries reported no sign of unwanted attention.  Yet it was urgent that they remained vigilant.  So they kept watch, and used mystical protection as well.  Maeve felt the power swirling around her:  magic to drive unwanted visitors away, charms to conceal the presence of the fae, hexes to warn them if anyone breached the perimeter.  No stranger would approach them unnoticed.

The auction began, with the rabble being sold off first.  Maeve watched dispassionately as the hapless abductees were carted off by trolls, goblins, and some of the cruder vampires in exchange for gold, services or other goods.  Those who were bought first would likely not survive until morning. 

Not all the slaves faced such grave fates.

Some were merely kept as servants, or laborers.  Many members of the fae didn’t like to waste magic on menial tasks.  Some slaves were kept for amusement.  Maeve had personally spirited away an exquisitely talented painter because the Erlkönig himself had wanted his work.  The same sometimes happened to artists of various ilks:  singers, musicians, composers, sculptors, writers.  Doctors, too, for those fae who didn’t want to waste magic on lowly mortal creatures any more than they did on menial tasks.  Other fae took a liking to athletes, or to people of particular wit, intelligence, wisdom or beauty.

Maeve’s thoughts wandered to her latest possession, and she frowned.  In her mind’s eye she saw that Elora stood over him, although Maeve had not noticed when the other fae left the warehouse.  Fortunately, the protections Maeve had left in place were holding.

Closing her eyes and summoning her magic, Maeve stepped through the veil and emerged into the hotel room.

“Elora,” Maeve said softly, and felt a rush of satisfaction at seeing the other woman leap away even as she whirled to face her.  Speaking in even more quiet tones, Maeve said, “Tread carefully.  You don’t have the right.  No one steals from me; not even you.”

“You’ll ruin everything, and we’ll have to move.  Again.”  Elora folded her arms across her chest and continued to stare daggers.  What had been a gentle shimmer around her before grew brighter, the crackling louder as her feet lifted an inch off the floor.  “You should put him back.  Too many people will be searching for him.  Or kill him and be done with it.”

“You worry too much.”  Turning her face slightly to hide a smirk as she strode past, Maeve went to the object of their debate and sat on the floor next to him.

But Elora wouldn’t be put off.  “Fire can burn even us, you know.  Quit playing around.  If we’re found out, a great many people—very powerful people—are going to be extremely upset.  We can’t afford that.”

Even from her position on the floor, Maeve regarded Elora with raised eyebrows as if she didn’t have a care in the world.  Elora did have a point, but Maeve wasn’t about to acknowledge that. 

He looked so peaceful asleep, Maeve thought, brushing a strand of black-as-night hair away from his eyes.  She’d been enchanted by those eyes, blue as the clear sky on a summer day.  And normally she was the one who did the enchanting.  But this time she intended to make an exception.  He was quite lovely, actually, with beautiful, fair skin and classically handsome features.  The jeans and black tank he wore showed off his athlete’s body, tall, slim and strong.  And he was so very young, even by human standards.  Just barely a quarter century behind him.  Unlike her.  She was still young, but by fae standards rather than human, having lived over a quarter of a millennium.

Elora’s sultry voice lowered even more to a growl.  “You’re being reckless.  It’ll be just like last time.”

She knew Elora was half right; Maeve was taking a risk, although she would never admit it.  But Elora was wrong about last time.  “I had nothing to do with that and you know it,” Maeve said calmly, still entranced by her new pet.  She laid her hand on his cheek ever so gently before glancing back up at Elora.  “In fact, the last two times, it was thanks to our intrepid leader that we had to relocate.”

“That’s his prerogative.”

“That was his mistake.” Maeve’s eyes flashed, although she still didn’t raise her dulcet voice.  “He knows it as well as we do.  And he left me to clean up the mess.  Which I did.  Quite efficiently.  Which is why,” her tone turned smug, “he will indulge my whim.”

She knew as well as Elora that their business, and even their existence, depended on secrecy.  The human population had grown far too large to be treated cavalierly, even if mortals did lack magic.  Humans would not take kindly to knowing some of their kind were being spirited away, literally, to serve the fae.

A tiny portion of humanity did know and actively tried to stop the slave trade.  Once in a while, they even had some small success—like they’d had in Cleveland a few months back.  Cleveland had been a major hub, where it was known that the fae could purchase anything, or anyone, they wanted.  But they’d nearly been found out there, and had had to flee.

Now they were in Pittsburgh.  Pittsburgh, of all places, with its three rivers and history with steel.  Despite that, many of the fae had taken up residence, and Maeve’s group resumed preying on their inferiors.

Contrary to what many—far, far too many—of her fellow fae thought, Maeve did not for one instant believe that all humans were stupid.  Of course they’d want their family, their friends back.  Maeve’s new acquisition was one of those investigators, an undercover cop who had been trying to get a line on what human law enforcement assumed was a human trafficking ring.

Maeve smirked.  Little they knew.  And she’d make sure it stayed that way.

Elora obviously had no faith in her.  “You’ve lost your mind.  He’s dangerous.  People will be looking for him.”

That much, Maeve believed.  That was part of the excitement, after all.  “No doubt, but I assure you I’m in perfect control.  I’m not simply playing.  He was getting close, close to you and close even to our king.  It was necessary to take care of him, and this is how I chose to do so.”

Maeve could have killed him outright as she’d done to enemies often enough in the past.  Other times when someone had proven to be a particularly annoying thorn in her side, she’d given that person to the trolls, or ogres, or goblins.   Either way, the troublemaker was no longer a problem for Maeve.  And she collected favors that way, an advantage she found to be invaluable.

But this man she wanted as a trophy.  He’d be priceless in other ways, and not just pleasant to look at.  He could no doubt tell her a great deal about how his former coworkers operated and how close they were to finding out certain bits of information—and how to best fight them.  Humans could be terribly tenacious.

And there was no time like the present to find out what those irritating mortals were planning.  But she didn’t want an audience.

“Elora, since you’re so very concerned,” Maeve kept her voice mild, “perhaps you should go back to the auction and make sure all goes well.”

Maeve saw Elora’s lips tighten as she clenched her jaw.  A glistening fog surrounded her and she was gone without saying another word.

Maeve shifted her weight so she knelt squarely facing the figure prone on the couch.  She raised both hands, holding them palms down inches above his body.  Chanting silently, she moved her hands outward ever so slowly to the tips of his toes and the top of his head, leaning closer as she did so.  She brought her hands gradually back together and repeated the motion two more times.

Yes, his ring.  That was it.  On the third finger of his left hand was a source of magical protection in the form of a gold band.  After taking protective measures, Maeve removed the ring.  As soon as the jewelry left his hand, the magic vanished.  The ring lay cold in her palm.

Puzzled, she regarded it for several moments.  It had looked like a plain wedding band, harmless and very common.  She’d thought someone had bewitched it specifically because it did appear to be so innocuous.  In which case, the echo of the magic should have remained, but it didn’t.  The ring was completely inert.  Curious, she slid it back on his finger, and the aura of magic returned.

Her brows drew together in a deep frown.  Fascinating.  She’d never leant any credence to the human custom of marriage, but perhaps the ring was a powerful symbol after all, even a talisman.  When she removed it again, the magic vanished as completely as before. 

Fascinating. 

That boded study.  But not at the moment.

Maeve slid the ring into her back jeans pocket.  She smoothed the flowing deep blue tunic she wore and brushed her hair back from her face, concentrating in preparation.  At least her appearance wouldn’t inspire fear.  Fae and humans alike found her gamine features appealing, and not the least bit as intimidating as—she had to admit—Elora’s sharper, aquiline beauty could be.

She touched her fingers to her lips then his forehead, and his eyes fluttered open.  She loved the color of his eyes, although they were full of anxiety as he looked at her.

“Where am I?”  The alarm on his young face shattered into all-out terror.  “Why can’t I move?  Who are you?”

“You are in a hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.  You can’t move because I don’t wish it.  I’m Maeve.  And now, you will answer my questions.”

“What have you done to me?”

“You are unhurt.  Cooperate and you’ll remain so.  I wish to know if your people are close to finding us.”

He closed his mouth and glowered at her, anger replacing the fear in his eyes.

She sighed and closed her own eyes, reciting to herself, then touched him gently on each temple.  He refused to look at her, staring resolutely at the ceiling.  Surprisingly, it took several seconds—his willpower was considerable—but eventually he succumbed.  His eyes lost focus and glazed over with a faraway look, and the deep creases left his face as he relaxed.

She began with something easy.  “Tell me your name.”

“Sean O’Mara.”  She detected a hesitation before he spoke.  Impressive.  On some level he was still fighting her.  But she’d taken his wallet and, having examined the contents before making them all vanish in a puff of flame, she knew he’d told her the truth.  She’d destroyed his cell phone as well.

“Sean, where do you live?”

“Pittsburgh.  Just west of the city.”  Still a slight pause before he answered.

“Tell me about your family.”

A loving smile lit his face as if he envisioned them as he spoke.  “My wife is Kaitlyn.  We just had a baby.  Patrick.”

“What work do you do?”

The tender expression vanished from his face and he sounded businesslike.  “I’m a police officer.”  The delay, infinitesimal as it had been, was gone.

Maeve grinned broadly.  Finally to the matter at hand.  “Tell me about it.  What are you working on now?”

She continued the questions, gradually coaxing the information out of him.  They were more aware of the disappearances than she had thought.  They—the PPD, he called them—had devoted a dozen people to stopping the kidnappings.  A half dozen more officers had come in from the Cleveland Police Department (thanks to the recent fiasco there) to lend assistance.  Amazingly, the departments deduced they were fighting a common foe and were cooperating.  As the case now crossed state lines, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved as well and had also sent a team of six agents.

The humans still had no clue that the fae were involved, or even believed that they existed.  That much was good.  What was bad was how close they were getting anyway.  They were watching several warehouses that Maeve’s people used.  Only magic prevented them from seeing.  And somehow they had still gotten wind of the auction to take place tomorrow night. 

At least they hadn’t found out about the one presently taking place, but they planned a raid to try to stop the one tomorrow.  Of course they wouldn’t be able to actually capture any of the fae, and likely wouldn’t be able to free any of the slaves.  But the attention would be horrendous, and it would force the fae to defend themselves.  Which meant that far too many humans would see what they were.  That was unacceptable.

There was nothing else that Sean could add.  He was undercover, not among those planning the assault.

“Thank you, my lovely.”  She snapped her fingers and the truth spell was broken. 

He blinked a few times, then blanched.  “How did you do that?”

She smirked and regarded him with a tilt of her head.  “Would you believe magic?”

His eyes narrowed.  “Did you drug me?  Is that what’s going on?  What now?  It won’t matter if you kill me.  We’ll catch you anyway.  It’s just a matter of time.”

She admired his bravery, if not his grasp of his situation.  Of course, like most humans, he simply didn’t believe.

“Oh, don’t worry.  I’m not going to harm you.”  She could have told him what she was about to do and watched his reaction, the helplessness.  But Maeve wasn’t often that cruel.  Better to simply proceed with the enchantment and have done with it.

Her lips moved as she spoke the incantation to herself.  It wasn’t a spell she used often.  She held her hands in front of her, palms toward each other, and a blue swirl of light appeared between them, very faint at first then increasingly bright.

“Nice parlor trick,” the cop snapped.

Maeve ignored him.  She finished the invocation then blew on the swirling globe of light even as she spread her hands as if presenting it to him.  It floated over and hovered above his head.  Then with a silent flash like fireworks, it exploded and rained light down on his face.  The glittering illumination enveloped his whole body in a soft glow before it faded completely.

She released him from his paralysis.

Sean lay there a moment then studied her face, a faint frown on his own.  “Who are you?”  After she repeated her name, he looked around the room, disconcerted.  “What am I doing here?”

“You’re here at my pleasure, my friend.”  She rose to her feet in a single, smooth motion and reached down a hand to him.  “But we have someplace to be right now.”  He was hers.  She was staking her claim and making sure that all her own people knew that he enjoyed her protection.  Plus, more importantly, she needed to warn the others of the impending danger.

He allowed her to pull him to his feet.

“Where am I?  Where are we going?” He jerked his hand out of hers and took an abrupt step away, just avoiding falling back onto the sofa.  “What’s going on?  What have you done to me?”

She waited, allowing the shock to run its course as realization dawned.  He went to the door but she’d ensured that it refused to open.  He tried the other doors as well, but they led only to the two bedrooms and to the bathroom, none of which had an exit.

Still watching her distrustfully, he went and picked up the phone, then stopped, receiver halfway to his ear.  He snarled as he slammed it back down.  “Why don’t I know who to call?  What have you done to me?”

Still she waited.  She could have made him completely obedient and docile, but where was the fun in that?  His spirit was part of his appeal.  “Why do you say I’ve done anything?”

“Because you’re the only one here,” he shot back.  “What am I doing here?”

“You are about to come with me,” she told him amicably.  “All you need to know is that you belong to me, and shall do as I say.”

He looked askance at her, and his expression didn’t change as she conjured a gateway of roiling fog in front of her.  He no longer knew he wasn’t supposed to believe in magic, so it didn’t faze him.

“Come,” she said, holding out her hand again.  This time he didn’t clasp it.  “Come,” she repeated with just a bit more force, “Or I will compel you to.”

He moved closer but made no effort to walk through the mist, just stood as if studying it.  Maeve removed the gold bands she wore on each wrist and put them on his.  “These will tell others you’re mine,” she explained.

She saw his jaw tighten for a moment but he didn’t remark on the bracelets.  Nor did he look any more enlightened.  “Where are we going?”

“Where there will be a crowd.  Stay at my side, just to be safe.”  Her hand on his arm, she guided him through the veil with her.

He looked even more lost as he took in the new surroundings.  The pen that had held the crudest merchandise was empty.  Maeve wondered idly how many of its former occupants still lived.  A great many of the trolls and goblins had departed, presumably with their goods.  Of those humans who remained for sale, many of the younger ones were in tears.  Some of the adults tried to shield others as they were hauled out of the holding area and up onto the stage where they were kept in place by a magical circle inscribed in the wood.

When the former police officer saw that the people were being sold, he looked ill.  “How can they do this?  It isn’t right.”

Her mouth twisted in a humorless, tolerant half-smile.  “It’s the way things work,” she told him.  He didn’t look convinced, but that wasn’t unusual.  His memories were gone, but his essence, the core of the kind of person he was, remained unchanged.

“Can’t we help them?”

That did spark amusement.  “Help them?  Dearest, I brought many of them here myself.  In order to help those who are purchasing them.”

He recoiled.  “Why?  Why would you do something so awful?”

She chuckled.  “It’s what I do.  You’ll get used to it.”

Wide-eyed, he watched more of the auction.  Most of the people in audience now looked perfectly human.  Maeve knew better.  Many of the fae were vampires of various sorts.  Others were like her, sprites and spirits.  A tiny minority were humans with magical abilities of their own, wizards and sorcerers who felt no particular loyalty to their own kind.  A bigger minority were demons or changelings or were-animals, not necessarily wolves.

His voice was brittle with self-control as he asked, “Are you selling me?”

“No, I’m keeping you.”

“Did you buy me at a place like this?”

Maeve gave a wry smile.  “No, I kidnapped you.”

“And it’s because of you I can’t remember?”  He kept his voice down, but the tone was hard.

“That’s right,” she replied, matter of fact.

“What are you going to do with me?”

“Don’t worry, you’ll be well cared for.”  She tweaked his chin with her finger.

A long silence followed as he gazed around, his mien full of sympathy for the other victims.  He also couldn’t have failed to notice some of the attention directed his way.  Hungry, covetous attention.  He made no move to distance himself from her, evidently sensing that whether he liked it or not, he needed her protection at the moment.

Finally, with a sigh so soft it was only audible to her fae ears, he asked, “What’s my name?”

Her eyes met his and she debated.  She could tell him any name she wanted.  A different name might even be safer than his own.  Finally, she said, “Sean.”

He seemed to consider that for a moment and weigh her reaction to his question.  “And is that really my name?  Has it always been, I mean?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can we leave?  Please?”

“Not quite yet, my pet.”  She still had to warn the others.  Elora would be a good one to tell.  As would their king.  They would have to announce that the auction for the next night was postponed indefinitely.  If only so many hadn’t left already.  It would be more difficult to reach everyone now.

Maeve didn’t have to search; Elora found her.  She spared a scowl for Sean then rounded on Maeve.  “You are a menace.”

“I have important information.”  Maeve told her what she’d learned.  “We need to make sure everyone knows.  Otherwise it’ll be a real mess.”

Elora closed her eyes for just a moment in exasperation.  “Understatement.  You have a wonderful talent for understatement.”  The timbre of her words showed she thought the “skill” was anything but wonderful.  “Still, I must admit, you actually did well this time.”

“Where’s the Erlkönig?”  Their king had a name, of course, but everyone referred to him by the title.

Elora waved her hand in the general direction of the back of the building.  “If he’s not still there, you should be able to find Dirk.”

Finding the king’s favorite confidant would be the next best thing to the king himself.  Not only did he have the ear of the king, Dirk was powerful in his own right.  Keeping a light hand on Sean’s arm, Maeve wound her way through the throng of people.  At least it wasn’t as overcrowded as earlier.

She saw no sign of the king.  But she was still in luck.

Dirk, standing a head taller than most others present, was easy to spot among the press of bodies.  His fearsome appearance—huge, muscular, and with a full beard the same brown as his long, unruly locks—always gave her a thrill.  He always looked out of sorts in the well-tailored business suit as if someone were trying unsuccessfully to camouflage a barbarian from bygone years.  Which was, of course, basically what he was.

He leaned close so he could hear Maeve without her having to raise her voice as she told him what she’d learned.  The crowd ebbed and flowed around them as interested parties milled about, haggling for various slaves.

As Maeve finished, the last of the humans was claimed and about to be taken away.  Elora jumped lightly to the stage.  Her voice, augmented by magic, reverberated through the warehouse as she asked for everyone’s attention and told them there would be no market the next night.  “This venue is no longer safe; we won’t be using it again.”  Her words rang with authority.  “We will notify you when the market will reopen, and where.  Please spread the news that there will be nothing here tomorrow.”

The echo died away, leaving an uncomfortable silence in its wake as Elora floated lightly down to the main floor.  Maeve saw her making her way swiftly toward them.

“What are we going to do?” Elora directed her question at both of them.

A speculative glint came into Dirk’s eyes, then a ferocious grin spread slowly across his face.  “Some of us like a challenge.  Others even like dangerous prey.”  His deep voice rumbled, and the feral smile grew even broader.  “Perhaps we should ensure those two dozen officers and agents get to see the market first hand.  You know who they are, correct?”

Maeve nodded.  “I can find them.”  She felt Sean’s arm tense under her hand.

“Then do so.  Make sure they accept the invitation.”

Maeve waited for an outburst from Elora, but it never came.  Yet Maeve had absolutely no doubt what her cohort thought of Dirk’s suggestion.  And she didn’t want an earful of it later.  “What do you say to that, Elora?” Maeve asked pointedly.

Elora caught her breath then favored Maeve with a sour look.  “As if you can’t guess.  Your Lordship, do you think it’s prudent to provoke them like that?  Won’t it bring even more trouble down on our heads?  Attract their attention in even greater numbers?”

Dirk appeared to give her question serious consideration rather than taking offense.  It was Elora’s lucky day.  No one with any brains wanted to be on Dirk’s bad side.  “Only if we fail,” his said with his sonorous rumble.  “If we succeed, we’ll deal them a blow that it will take them a long time to recover from.  We won’t just capture the personnel, we can ensure that data is lost.  And that whoever comes after them is not so enthusiastic about the investigation.  So, Ladies, do not fail.  And if the subsequent market goes well, we won’t need to hold another for months.  Plus, we can move it outside the city proper.  I’m trusting you to keep the situation well in hand.”

“We’ll take care of it,” Maeve said.  “The others can meet us here tomorrow evening.  We’ll figure out how to snare all our targets.”

Elora gave a dubious nod.

The warehouse was half empty now.  Many had taken to the sewers, stepped through the veil, flown away, or simply strolled outside.  Maeve summoned the fog again, or rather the rift it indicated, and returned to the hotel room on the river.  She liked looking out over the water.

Sean jerked his arm away as soon as they stepped through.  “Why?  Why not just leave?” he demanded.  “Why do you have to hurt anyone?”

She admired the passion in his plea, especially considering he had no idea he was talking about former colleagues of his.

“We like it here.  Why should we leave?  Go rest now,” she gestured toward one of the bedrooms.  “You’ve had a long day.  And I need to plan.”

He obviously wanted to say more, wanted to persuade her to change her mind.  But something must have told him his efforts would be fruitless, because he didn’t waste the time trying.  He retreated to the room she’d indicated.

In truth, she was weary herself.  After securing the suite, she went to lie down in the other bedroom.  The key would be organization.  They would have to lure as many of them as close together as possible.  Then perhaps something as simple as a sleep spell could do the trick.  They would have to be careful to gather up any stragglers as well.

Her acute hearing detected the human moving about, trying all the windows and doors, and the phone—to no avail.  Thus far he remained stealthy, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d pounded with all his might or screamed at the top of his lungs.  She had made the rooms not just escape proof but soundproof.

She murmured calming words, the incantation more suggestion than command, and heard him return to the other bedroom.  The bed springs creaked as he sprawled out onto it.  He tossed and turned for a few minutes, the movements growing less and less frequent, until all Maeve could hear was his deep, steady breathing.

Good.  She could set her mind fully to the task at hand.  Twenty-four members of law enforcement.  Well, twenty-three if Sean O’Mara should have been included and they’d replaced him already, which she doubted.  They might not even realize he was missing.  Would they trust that that was enough for their raid?  Or would they call in SWAT and all sorts of other firepower?

In the end, it didn’t matter.  Maeve had an idea that would address either contingency.  Or any contingency, she hoped.

.

.

.

“This is what we’re going to do,” Maeve told the motley group assembled around her in the warehouse.  Although it was eerily empty now, the sense of despair and the raw smells lingered.  Maeve forced herself to ignore them.  “We have no idea how many are coming, but that won’t matter, not with what I have in mind.

“Elora, I need your power of illusion.”  Maeve didn’t like her all that much—not at all, really—but she had a healthy respect for Elora’s abilities as a sorceress.  “It must look like the market is taking place as normal, as if we have no idea at all that they will be attacking.  I hope to eliminate the task force itself, but I’ll settle for a like number of people.  The effect will be the same.

“When they make their move and enter the warehouse, I will seal off the building.”  Maeve was rightfully proud of her own abilities in creating magical barriers.  Such barriers could be used to augment the physical perimeter.  No one would get in unless she allowed it.

Maeve regarded the rest of her resources, a few of the more insane goblins and quite a number of werepeople.  They would distract the reinforcements who would surely be waiting outside for their fellow cops and agents.  “Remember,” she admonished them, her voice brooking no contradiction, “don’t get caught.  That is your priority.  You can create your diversion from a safe distance.  Target their cars.  Harass them.  If you happen to catch one of them alone and can snatch a person or two, I won’t object, but don’t let that hinder you in your true mission.

“You’ll all know when the building is secure.  You’ll sense the magic.  Then cause as much chaos as you can.  That is all we need, that disruption in communications, the confusion, so that no one will be able to say for sure what happened when they get inside and find no one there.  Do you understand?”

They all grunted, or nodded, or said something in the affirmative.

“Good.  I’ll cast a sleep spell.  It will immobilize them instantly.  Then Elora and I will send them through the veil to the holding area we use for dangerous subjects.  The weather nymphs will use lightning on their offices and destroy all their files.  Paper will burn and the computers will be fried, then burn as well.  It will give us a reprieve that might very well last years.  Does anyone have any questions?”

No one did, so Maeve sent the were-creatures and the goblins to hide in adjacent buildings.  “Whenever you’re ready,” she said to Elora.

In her mind’s eye, she saw the false images Elora was creating inside the warehouse and out.  Ostensibly furtive, people entered the building alone or in groups of at most three.  Car traffic increased noticeably, but not to such a degree that anyone not already observing would be aware of it.  Not that she saw anyone out in the middle of the night.

The inside of the warehouse began to appear to be as full as it had been yesterday.  Then, with impressive subtlety, one figure after another joined the current of potential buyers.  Only because she was fae, and aware of the spell, could Maeve tell them apart.

Five came in, then ten.  As with the “others” they were mostly solo or occasionally in pairs.  Then fifteen.  They were, quite wisely actually, positioning themselves near windows and doors in case they needed speedy egress.  Maeve snorted to herself.  Little did they suspect.

She could sense the iron of their weapons, and the fit of some of their clothing indicated body armor underneath.  Not that it would do them any good.

Fifteen became twenty, twenty became thirty.  Then the influx stopped.

As if she were floating high over the city, Maeve could see police cars and other cars, likely unmarked police vehicles or F.B.I. autos, converging on her location.

She spoke a word, and all the doors and windows slammed shut.  Elora’s illusion evaporated as if it had never been there.  A deathly silence fell as the police and agents drew their guns, but found no targets.  Then outside came the roar of explosions and the sharp report of gunfire.  Unoccupied cars caught fire.  Those still moving inexplicably collided with each other.  Pandemonium reigned.  Maeve blocked out the bedlam and cast her spell and the thirty would-be rescuers fell as if one.

Dense fog erupted out of nowhere and vanished just as quickly.  When it did, the warehouse was empty except for Maeve and Elora.

Then all hell broke loose.  Literally.  A blast of hellfire exploded in the center of the warehouse, flinging Maeve backward onto the floor and shattering her barrier spell.  Windows shattered inward and all the doors flew open.  Their weapons firing, police surged inside.  Had she not already been flat on the floor, the iron would have torn through her.

Maeve tried to summon a rift through the veil, and nothing happened.  Nothing!  It was as if an invisible body of water surrounded them, inhibiting her abilities.

Then lightning flashed from the fingertips of Elora, lying a few yards from her.  Maeve could barely see her despite her being so near.  The smoke from the magical fire concealed them both, but not for long.

Maeve couldn’t see what Elora was aiming at, but after a moment she sensed the other presence. 

A mage.  The humans had magical help. 

Maeve knew that Elora also sensed the wizard by the way she focused her full fury in that direction.

Maeve knew she couldn’t equal Elora’s power, but she did have a gift for barriers.  If they just had a few seconds reprieve from the magical assault, they could flee to safety.  Closing her eyes and keeping her head down, Maeve concentrated on spellcasting.  There!  An invisible bubble formed around her then expanded outward to envelope her and Elora.  The external pressure vanished, then a whirlwind of fog swept them away.

It was done.  They’d won for now.  Miraculously, she and Elora had escaped unharmed.  Of course, the new prisoners wouldn’t be nearly as lucky, but that was the way of things.

And whatever sorcerer was helping the humans, Maeve intended to find him.  Now that he’d revealed himself, it wouldn’t be difficult.  The battle may have been joined, but she’d see to it that the war was a short one.

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Be sure to visit The Infinite Bard for the rest of the stories in the library:  tales in all different genres from an international bunch of wonderful writers.