Authors: India Drummond
Tags: #Fantasy, #urban fantasy
Copyright © 2012, India Drummond
Editing by Susan Helene Gottfried
Book design by Trindlemoss Publishing
First Trindlemoss Publishing electronic publication: December 1, 2011
EBooks are not transferable. All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorised reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organisations is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United Kingdom by Trindlemoss Publishing, 2012
ebook ISBN (epub): 978-1-908436-19-1
ebook ISBN (mobi): 978-1-908436-11-5
paperback ISBN: 978-1-908436-12-2
In order of appearance:
Huck Webster sat back in the wooden chair and watched the other Amsterdam bar patrons with a smile. He enjoyed the occasional evening away from the Otherworld, being around humans from time to time. The other druids he worked with had lived in the Otherworld for six months before Huck came along. Even though he joined them willingly, certain he was ready to accept his new identity, the human realm continued to draw him back. Magic and wonders made up every part of his life in the Otherworld, but returning to the human realm grounded him.
Of the druids, only Huck had never touched the Source Stone. The ancient artefact had put the others through dramatic changes when they first encountered it. Munro was barely distinguishable from a faerie with his golden skin and pointed ears. The artefact’s essence altered each of them enough that they were reluctant to approach its resting place in the Halls of Mist casually. Although enthralled with his developing magic, Huck didn’t particularly want to have swirling eyes like the fae.
Huck had undergone some changes from his exposure to the Otherworld air. He became stronger, had more stamina. He had clear night vision, and the spark of his fire magic had come alive. With the sudden awakening of his druidic powers, the other druids hadn’t needed to persuade him to leave behind his life working for a Texas oil company.
But even with the positive changes, Huck missed some things about human life. The others had changed so much that they didn’t seem to appreciate human food or culture. Huck liked to sneak through the Otherworld gates to go to a movie or visit an art gallery or a park. He liked the way humanity buzzed. Faerie life moved at a snail’s pace, and its political and social goings-on meant little to him.
After paying his bill, Huck left the bar and walked out into the spring drizzle. He had some time before he planned to meet the owner of a local coffee shop, so he took a meandering path.
He strolled through the narrow streets and peered into shop windows, listening to the sound of passing trams and the occasional trill of a bicycle bell. Amsterdam suited him for a lot of reasons. Most everyone spoke English, and he easily blended in as a tourist. He enjoyed the museums and galleries, which reminded him of the good things about humanity. Sure, faeries created some incredible things with their magic, but for him, that didn’t compare to a work of art formed by nothing but bare hands and raw materials.
At the same time, Amsterdam showed him a seedier side of life: readily available drugs, drunken tourists, and in a certain part of town, women displayed in windows like merchandise. Without thinking, Huck found himself drifting towards the red-light district. The idea was civilised: make prostitution legal, and the women would be protected and the industry taxed. He liked the European attitudes, in general, but reality didn’t quite live up to the ideal.
He walked by a set of fluorescent red windows, inhabited by young women standing and posing in sexy black underwear. What bothered him about the scene wasn’t the women themselves, but the men standing around in the orange glow of the street lights. A small cluster of men in their twenties stumbled up, obviously drunk. Likely on a stag night, they jeered at the prostitutes and took a few photos. Before long, brothel security came out of the tall, narrow house and challenged the group. Huck shook his head and moved on before things got ugly.
He’d never paid for the company of one of the local working girls. Since moving away from the human realm, his attempts at relationships hadn’t gone well. He'd met a wild girl with blue streaks in her hair in a Berlin night club and invited her back to his hotel room. Later, he found her rummaging through his wallet while he took a shower, and he kicked her out unceremoniously. She’d protested that she was merely looking for the room key because she wanted to dash out for some beer, but Huck didn’t buy it.
recent failure was with an American woman who worked as a translator in The Hague. He’d quite liked her.
. But when he’d gone to visit her after their first encounter, she’d been incensed that he hadn’t called for three weeks. She didn’t believe him when he explained that where he lived, he couldn’t get mobile telephone service.
Huck sighed as he thought about his situation. He missed sex. Not the act so much as being close to and touching another person. But trying to explain his lifestyle wasn’t conducive to a relationship. After the second encounter, he’d never spoken to Erica again.
The drizzle turned to a bona fide rain, and Huck headed towards the coffee shop. Once inside, his senses were assaulted by the heavy smell of cannabis, and soon the expected headache started. The magical awakening the druids experienced when they came in contact with the faerie realm made them intolerant to certain foods, alcohol, and, he discovered recently, weed. Fortunately, he wouldn’t have to stay at his meeting long.
The narrow building was deeper than it appeared from the outside. The shop nestled between a bookshop and a sculptor’s studio, just down from a bakery. Because it was a couple of blocks away from the red-light district and out of the normal tourist loop, it boasted a healthy number of local customers. He also liked that the place wasn’t as crowded as some similar establishments.
Huck realised he had no idea what day of the week it was. Faeries kept time by the number of nights to or from the solstice, or sometimes a particular festival or holiday. They tracked the time by the stars, and their stars looked nothing like the small, dim points of light over the human world.
He nodded to Maarten, who was showing a customer their house blend of marijuana called Golden Djinn. When he’d concluded his transaction,
the tall blond man approached the door where Huck hovered. “What do you have for me today?” Maarten asked. “More than last time, I hope. I can’t keep your hot-rocks on the shelf.” He pointed to a table near the exit.
The dull ache in Huck’s temples spread down to his jaw. He tried to blink the pain away, knowing he’d be fine as soon as he got some fresh air. Sliding his backpack off his shoulder as he sat, he pulled out a kidskin cloth. Unfolding it, he laid ten rocks on the table. “I added some runic art to these,” he said. The runes were empty and meaningless, but the lack wouldn’t mean anything to the customers, who seemed to like the designs. The rune that gave the stones their magical properties was invisible, even to his own eye. It disappeared into the heart of the talisman as he crafted the piece.
Maarten nodded. “Nice,” he said. “My customers will like these. Can you bring more soon?”
Huck shrugged. “The process takes time.” The truth was, the other druids didn’t know about his little enterprise. He crafted the stones in secret, partly out of embarrassment for using empty runes for aesthetics. The problem wasn’t so much that he worried they’d disapprove, although he figured they would, but more that he wanted some little corner of his life to be his alone.
“Same price?” Maarten took a piece of cigarette paper from his pocket and held it up to one of the runed rocks. Within moments, its edges blackened. Pulling the paper away before it ignited, he asked, “May I?”
Huck nodded. “Five euros more for each of the carved ones.” It didn’t take any more time to make them, but Maarten wouldn’t baulk at the higher price. Hell, Huck could probably double his asking price and not worry the coffee shop owner.
Maarten picked up the rock. “I still don’t understand why they don’t burn my hands. Nice and warm though. I held back two for myself, and I keep them in my coat pockets. You’re sure they’re safe? Not radioactive or anything?”
With a chuckle, Huck shook his head. “They’re safe. I have one other. Not sure if you’d be interested.” He reached into his backpack a second time. “This one’s just decorative.” He pulled out a fist-sized piece of pink quartz he’d picked up from a shop that sold polished stones as healing crystals. He had managed to imbue a flame inside the heart of the rock.
Maarten took the rock and turned it, holding it up to the light. A flame flickered within, and the coffee shop owner whistled. “Beautiful,” he said. “How much?”
“Fifty euros,” Huck replied.
Maarten put the rock down. “A lot more than the others.”
“Harder to make too. I broke four crystals trying to do that.” He didn’t mention the crystals only cost him a couple euros each.
“So what’s your secret? Some trick of the light?”
With a small smile Huck said, “I can’t give away my techniques. Then you wouldn’t need me anymore.” Maarten always asked, but every time, Huck gave a similar answer. Part of him worried that Maarten suspected the truth, but he shrugged off the niggling worry.
“Okay,” Maarten said. “I’ll get your money.” His chair scraped against the wooden floor when he stood. He disappeared into the back room as a young woman walked into the shop. She smiled at the man who’d taken Maarten’s place behind the counter. “Is Maarten in? I’m here about the job.”
“He’ll be right back,” the man replied.
She nodded and turned as though she planned to take a seat at Huck’s table, and she appeared startled when she realised the table was occupied. “Sorry,” she muttered, stepping back, but she froze when she saw the stones on the table. “Where did you get these?” Her accent didn’t quite sound Dutch, but then Huck was never very good at placing accents.
Huck looked the woman over. She was pretty, strikingly so. Her mid-toned skin and oval eyes made guessing her race impossible. Her delicate eyebrows arched over chocolate-brown eyes with flecks of gold
, and she nibbled on her full lower lip as though unaware of the habit.
“I made them,” he said.
She extended a finger and ran it over the runes on the sides of one of the carved stones. She yanked her hand back when she felt the warmth of the stone. After a beat, she reached out again, then ran her whole hand over the rock’s surface. Still she frowned, as though frustrated by the runes. But that wasn’t possible. Nobody without magical ability could read faerie runes because most of the meaning didn’t come from the lines and shapes of the characters, but from the intent of the creator.