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Snippet #4 for Chronicles of The Fae Princess

 

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Chapter Five

 

The girl stared at Cassia for a few seconds, blinking as if that was going to change what she was seeing. Perhaps she believed if she did it enough times, her eyelashes would brush away the words and she could simply replace them with ones she liked better.

“Are you all right?” Cassia asked.

“Tea,” the girl responded.

“Tea?”

She nodded.

“I drank some,” she rubbed her temples and wished she was in Kansas again.

“That’s lovely,” Cassia replied, unsure of why the girl felt the need to share that.

“Mia?” someone called from outside the stall where they were still hiding. “Where are you?”

The girl’s eyes widened, and she shot to her feet. “Becky!” she called out and scrambled around the side of the stall and back out into the street.

“What happened to you?” Becky asked.

Cassia rose up enough to watch their interaction. The new girl looked Mia over and grabbed her hands, holding her arms out to her sides to examine her further. Mia gave her a few seconds, then wrenched her hands away.

“Don’t worry,” Mia reassured the other girl. “All in one piece. Physically, at least.”

Becky stared quizzically at her. “What do you mean?”

Mia shook her head, then glanced back toward Cassia for a brief second. Becky followed her gaze but didn’t acknowledge Cassia’s presence.

“I think that old woman slipped something into my tea,” said Mia.

“What old woman?” Becky asked.

Mia turned slightly to look at the stall. She shook her head, then rolled her eyes as she glanced back at her friend. “Not her,” she said. “The old woman at the tea shop.”

“Not who? Who are you talking about?” Becky’s brows furrowed and she nibbled on her lower lip, wondering what in the world had gotten into her best friend.

Cassia leaned against the side of the stall, knowing Becky couldn’t see her. No human was supposed to be able to. Yet when Mia glance back again, this time almost turning all the way around to face her, it was obvious she was looking directly at Cassia. Mia glanced back at Becky, then closed her eyes tightly and squeezed the bridge of her nose.

Looping her arm with Becky’s, she steered her back in the direction of the night market. “I think it’s time to head back to the hotel,” Mia said. “A good night’s sleep sounds like exactly what I need right now.”

As they headed down the street, Cassia moved out from behind the stall to watch their progress. The thought of the boggart popped back into her mind. She’d been searching for the creature for too long to just let it go so easily. This wasn’t a game of hide and seek they were playing to amuse themselves. The boggart was a nasty, vile creature that had already proven itself to be dangerous to the children of the area. Finding him would ensure the young ones were protected.

Cassia retraced her steps to where she had last seen the boggart and resumed her search. Her tracking skills were strong and precise, the very reason behind her reputation as the best bounty hunter of her kind. Those abilities immediately drew her further along the street, but she had gone only a few steps when she felt something on her shoulder. It was a cool, gentle touch as if the wind itself had formed a hand to stop her. But the grip wasn’t that of the wind. Cassia knew it was her father.

For thirty-four years, the ghostly touch had been there to guide her. Cassia would have rather his earthly presence be there with her, but the transcended form brought her great comfort and helped her along her way, nonetheless. Flynn Tarran had been the greatest bounty hunter of his time, perhaps the greatest to have ever lived. It was that skill and devotion which had earned him the coveted role of protecting the fae princess.

And that devotion had cost him his life. He’d laid down his life to defend the princess, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. The princess had been murdered, and Cassia was left with only the lingering of her father’s spirit and the duty to take up his mission and carry it on. It was a duty she struggled to take seriously.

The stories her father had told her of the princess and the threats to her life had always been fantastical and had kept Cassia up long past when she should have been asleep. But she never actually believed them. Not until his death had she realize the significance of the responsibility that was placed at her feet. It didn’t matter what she believed, she had her assignment.

Her secret assignment.

Cassia would much rather stick to what she knew. She liked chasing the tangible threats, the creatures she understood, had seen, and even gone after countless times before. That’s what she wanted to do now. The urge to track down the boggart and dig him out of whatever hiding place he’d found was strong. She wanted to leave the brightness of the night market behind her and delve into the shadows where she was more comfortable.

But the touch on her shoulder stopped her. He didn’t often interfere with what she was doing. Usually his spirit watched over her from a distance, giving her a sense of being guarded rather than herded. Occasionally, as he would when he’d been alive, he encouraged her to take another path. It could be as soft as a brush of cool air on her cheek or a map unfolding in front of her. It could also be as unmistakable as this nudge, stopping her from going any further along the empty portion of the street, turning her back toward the market instead.

She had to follow Mia.

There were too many questions left unanswered.

The two girls had already disappeared far down the street and into the market, and Cassia hurried after them. The same skills that had brought her to the boggart had put her on Mia’s trail. None of the humans she pushed her way past could see her, but they would be able to feel her. This meant Cassia couldn’t simply shove through with abandon. As much as the frustrating moments—when chatty women stopped, blocking the path to scrutinize a piece of fabric, or men paused to try the next snack—inspired her to elbow them out of the way, she held back.

She had seen before what could happen if she let herself run free. The chaos and fighting that might break out among the humans simply weren’t worth the time saved. Finally, Cassia caught sight of Mia. The same thing that stood out to her about the girl before was bold and impossible to overlook in the crowd. Wavy red hair hung past her shoulders, swept into swirls and tangles after running from the boggart and pushing through the crowd.

It was that feature, along with her scent, which made her impossible. Her scent was human. Cassia knew it well. Over fifty years of training with her father before his death had instructed her to easily differentiate between species simply by their scent. But it was her hair that truly stood out. To have so easily seen both Cassia and the boggart, Mia should have been fae. But the dramatic flash of fiery hair eliminated that possibility.

None in either the Seelie or Unseelie Court had naturally red hair. Those of the Seelie Court, like Cassia, had silver hair, while the Unseelie Court was marked by hair so dark and inky it appeared almost blue in the right light.

This knowledge spurred Cassia’s curiosity as she continued to follow Mia and Becky as they wove their way through the city. Mia was human by scent and by appearance, and yet she possessed the ability to see what only those of the mythical realm could see.

Could Mia possibly be another creature? She wanted to know who this intriguing girl was and what it was about her that was so important. Something about her was special, or Cassia’s father wouldn’t have guided her to follow Mia.

After a long trek through the city, Mia and Becky finally stopped outside a hotel. They chatted with several other people who looked to be about their age. A familiarity existed among them and in the way they spoke. This wasn’t an accidental encounter or people meeting for the first time. Aware that none of the others could see her, though Mia might, Cassia stayed back. She crept close to the hotel and inched along until she was able to wait in the shadows for the two girls to enter the hotel.

They paused in front of the elevator, and Cassia slipped into the stairwell. She rushed up to the second floor and peeked through the narrow window to check if they’d come out onto this level. Several seconds passed without the elevator opening, so she ran up to the next floor and the next.

On the fourth level, she finally caught sight of them. They strolled along the hallway until they reached a door. After a few words, Becky took out a key and opened the door.

When Mia paused and glanced her way, Cassia retreated from the doorway. When she checked again, the red-haired girl was no longer in the hallway.

Cassia hesitated in the stairwell. She had nothing left to do here tonight. Mia was staying inside, which would make it easier to keep an eye on her. So Cassia had time to go back for the boggart.

The crowds in the night market had begun to thin as she made her way back through. She could sense the boggart, but the trail was weak. It must be old, a route the creature had taken in recent days or weeks, but not tonight. Cassia focused harder and found another trail, but this one faded within mere moments of following it.

Her aggravation began to build as she found the fifth old trail that led her to nothing. The boggart could be anywhere. These things were fast and crafty. Their glamour could make them blend in with any humans, but the fae could always see past it. Even if she couldn’t see a boggart, Cassia would never miss one. Their rank scent was like a sewer.

This would all have been so much easier if not for that one little boy. Only eight years old, he’d believed the mysterious creature that had taken up residence in the attic of his home could be a friend. Naming it would have been meant to connect them, but that was the last thing anyone should do when encountering a boggart. Giving one of these beings a name took them from mischievous to truly nasty and cruel. This one left the house destroyed and the little boy hurt and barely hanging on in its wake.

But the creature hadn’t stopped there. As Cassia continued to scour the city for the boggart’s trail, she thought of the others who had fallen victim to it. No one knew if the creature went after toddlers and babies because a child had named it, but going after the most vulnerable only made it more reprehensible. Cassia was unfailing in her determination to find the boggart and stop it from making any more of the little children sick. So far, no one who had been stricken by the illness had died, but she wasn’t willing to test it. If the boggart was using a potion to make these children ill, it could make the concoction stronger and worsen the effect.

Then, she caught the trail again. This one was fresher, and Cassia felt a surge of optimism. She rushed after it, her hands tingling to reach for any of the daggers hidden among her leather clothes or the crossbow on her back. This thing had to be stopped.

She rushed along the narrow alleys and streets, blocking out everything around her so she could think only of tracking the boggart. Suddenly she skidded to a stop. Her feet were at the base of a sewer and the trail was gone.

________________

Uh-oh! Where’d it go? Find out this Sunday when Chronicles of the Fae Princess goes live!

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