The sound of feet pounding asphalt fills the air as Tam Linn runs on a empty southern German road adjacent to the Black Forest. He glances down, taking in Yowl’s slow, laboured breath, her red paw and her fur, which is matted and dirty.
Three days ago Yowl stepped on a caltrope. Two days ago she she showed the first signs of sickness. One day ago she started to breathe slower. He increases his pace. Tam Linn can’t heal. He holds mastery of light, of glamour, of illusions and searing illumination. But for all that power, he cannot heal. He could… he could ‘remove’ Yowl’s paw, and replace it with one of his illusions made dense.
But that is no lesser feat, and a healthy human in his prime might not survive it, let alone a small kitten not even full-grown. He glances up. A road beckons him inside a small town. He increases his speed even further and weaves a glamour around his figure that will make people see what they expect, and not a homeless man with a red-handprint on his face.
He halts at a buss-stop and grabs a young child. “Where”, he starts in ill-practiced German, “is the nearest veterinarian?” The child, perhaps sensing his inner conflict, answers promptly. “Ehrm, Merle Ganz lives maybe twenty kilometers”, and child points the same way he came,”that way”.
He curses. “The next nearest veternarian?” “Erich Auch sometimes checks on the horses.If you go right, then two blocks up, and then a block left you’ll find him.” Tam stares in the direction the boy described. His eyes scan through the houses; a family prepares to take their children to a kindgarten; two young lovers intertwines in a shower; a young man sits at a table, reading a book about the various anatomies of animals.
“Describe this Erich Auch to me”, he commands. “He is twenty”, the child starts, “I think, white and he has these really large glasses.” Tam nods. He fishes out a large bill and hands it to the child. Without pausing or caring for the child’s reaction he runs toward the house. On following the directions, he reaches a small house with a red door that has a horseshoe turned upwards. He smiles; a horseshoe would stop one of the lesser fae, but not him.
He knocks on the door twice, hard. When he can detect no sounds of footstep he stares intently at it, seeing that Erich Auch is wearing headphones. He knocks again, harder, and screams for help. As his scream reaches Auch, the man removes his headphones and bounds for the door.
“I need your help”, he begins, pre-empting any of Auch’s protests by presenting Yowl, who is barerly breathing. “Please”, he reiterates, as the man stares at him, a stranger coming out of the blue, asking for help. “S-sure”, Auch says and motions for them to come in.
Auch places Yowl on a table and scrounges with one hand for something. He brings up a stethoscope and listens to heartbeat. He frowns. “How long has she been like this?” “Three days”, Tam Linn responds, dutifully. “Did she eat anything out of the ordinary? Step on a particular plant? How old is she?” Auch’s questions fall like hail.
“I don’t think she ate anything strange.She is a month old, give or take a few days. She stepped on a caltrope.” Auch nods, deep in thought. “I can give her something that will empty her bowls, followed by another drug that will allow her to sleep, but without knowing if the caltrope was poisoned….” Tam grinds his teeth. He slaps more bills on the table. “Do it!”
While Auch administers his drugs, Tam focus on Yowl. At first he takes in her fur with his eyes. That’s the first step. After a few minutes he advances to the second step. He reaches the layers of her skin, dead and unshed, alive and moving. He peers through her bones, the blood that flows through the body. Eventually he can see the very fabric of her molecules. Straining his eyes on step further, he sees her atoms, the very constitutents that make up her being. Slowly, carefully, he looks through Yowl body, looking for something, anything.
He stiffens as he glances at her paw. It’s miniscule, but a trace of magic is dissipating. He nods to himself and closes his eyes. When he opens them again, his sight is normal, eyes albeit bloodshot from the strain.
He fixes Auch with a look that will not suffer denials. “I shall be back promptly. Wait here”, he says and then looks at Yowl,”and come back to me little one.” He knows about the particular brand of magic that has infected her. Should he become blind, deaf and dumb, he would still know that magic. It’s organic and anchored in the body. It’s fae magic. He shuts the door with enough force to rattle the small house.
His scruffy coat reforms in burst of light, taking the shape of a old huntman’s leathers. All through Northern Europe there are legends and tales about a lone hunter, one will never give up, never compromise. Those legends are based on him, and it’s the time for the denizens of the Black Forest to know why.
Stingstones applauds Morningsong; she has managed to bring down a big dog, and so the Tribe will get to eat tonight. Goblins, by their very nature, do not need to eat much, but with Hallowhack, Emeraldleaf and Nocker pregnant, their need is greater. They don’t often leave the Black Forest, but the Elders authorized a small forage to ensure that nobody would go hungry.
“And you”, Morningsong asks in their guttural native tongue,” did you find anything?” Stingstones won’t meet Morningsong’s green eyes. “Something or someone triggered one of my traps, but it got away.” “So nothing”, she adds with glee. He swipes at her with three fingers, a swipe she allows to connect. Otherwise he’d never be able to hit her.
He- a stranger suddenly manifests in front of them. They both stop; Morningsong gives him a glance,urging him not to do anything stupid. They can both tell when they stand in the presence of one of the Most High, the would-be rulers of Faery.
“What can we do for you, oh all-” “Who among you”, the stranger interrupts in a cold voice, “was it that placed a caltrope next to the highway?”
“It was I, great lord”, Morningsong lies.
“You lie, vermin”, the great lord answers, his eyes twinkling like stars. Before Stingstones has had time to form an answer, Morningsong’s head arcs through the air, and her hot lifeblood splatters his face.
He instantly kneels. “Great lord, we hunt only to bring food to the Tribe! Please, Most High, let whatever insult against your person pass, it was not intended, and I speak for the entire Tribe when I say that we will correct it.”
The great lord thinks on this. “No”, he states, eventually. “I swore that I’d keep her safe. And I do not have it in me to go back on my promises.”
Stingstones burst into motion, running away with all the might in his short body. He hears a blade being draw, and he glances back. The last thing Stingstones thinks of, is not himself, but his Tribe, and the ones who will go hungry.