Blanche Walmund, the Justice of War, was old school. Old old school. The decor of her office wasn’t an anachronism or a throwback to tradition; it had just been the same since she was elected more than a century prior, back when she was young.
That, to Maggie, probably should have been scary. You didn’t get to be in office amongst the fae for a hundred and fifteen years without having serious self-preservation skills and savvy. Back in the day, she’d won her share of honor duels to stave off political rivals. Now she just held onto her title with grit.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You want a truck.”
“I want a replacement for my truck,” Maggie said. “And all the equipment I had loaded onto it, and cash compensation for the job I couldn’t finish.”
“And in exchange, you’ll kill the creatures that have been plaguing the digging and expansion efforts to the north of the city, not because you have any civic duty, but because you want to ensure Mich doesn’t get the credit.” She pursed her lips, thinking about it. “How long have you been living with humans?”
Maggie raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see why that’s relevant.”
Blanche’s face was unreadable. “You’re not a warrior.”
“I have the steel to kill them, unlike your team of sharpshooters,” Maggie said. “And I’m no slouch in a fight. I already took down one. With armor, and the time to prepare, I shouldn’t have any trouble.”
“I’ve already got a team,” Blanche said. “Some freelancers, some on payroll. I’ll put you with them.”
Maggie shook her head. “I don’t need a team to help me.”
“Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but if you slip up and get hurt, you’ll want someone to drag you to safety. This isn’t the kind of work you do solo, no matter how good you are.”
“If you’ve got a team, why would you take me?” Maggie asked.
No response, except that Blanche raised one eyebrow.
“Never mind.” Getting to her feet, Maggie extended her hand. “Do we have a deal?”
Blanche stood, but instead of shaking, she gave Maggie a simple salute, raising her hand and extending her ring and index fingers. “My team will be in touch with you. Clear out the monsters, you’ll get your truck.”
The quickest way to get between Kansas City Below and her home came up underneath Union Station, and from there it was only a short walk back.
A short walk, but one that made her fume, because she should have been driving.
Maggie didn’t think about what she’d committed to until she was back home, in her conjoined auto body shop and house. She slumped against the wall in her garage. Adrenaline, and then fury, and then a deep, grumbling resentment, had all been fuel while she was moving, but now that she was home, there wasn’t much left to keep her going.
Putting a hand to her face, she rubbed at her eyes, then tore off the bandana that she wore around humans to cover the points of her ears.
She hadn’t been afraid, not when she was fighting the monsters, not afterward, especially not when she was committing to fighting them. Only now, taking a moment to consider the weight of what she was up against, did she allow herself a moment of trepidation.
Don’t be a coward. It’s just exterminating some vermin. You’ve handled worse, and you can’t afford to not do it.
She looked around her shop. It wasn’t a big garage. The front space, the entrance, where she had a desk and her coffee maker and some chairs for customers. Beyond that, her main workstation, with room enough for one car and her work bench.
Behind that work space was an enclosed area. Nominally, it was a paint room, and that’s what it looked like from the outside, though, in truth, she never painted cars. It was where she hid her forge. The sealed doors made it impossible to peek inside, and nobody questioned the large ventilation system she’d installed to keep the work area clear of fumes. Beyond that was the space she kept all her magical supplies and products which she sold on the side, and if you went any further, you’d end up in the basement of her house.
Setting aside her worries, Maggie walked towards the forge, stepping through the steel door and shutting it behind her.
In the course of her career, she’d made dozens of swords, which sold for exorbitant prices. She could have made them faster—if she wanted, she could have ditched the rest of her career and done nothing but forge—but she took pride in the fact that only masters could wield her blades. Every person who she’d sold a blade to, she knew their name, their face, their style. She tested their skills against her own, and only if her customer could beat her handily would she even consider putting them on the waiting list.
If Maggie had come to herself as a customer, asking to buy a blade, she would have turned herself down. She didn’t live up to her own standards. Being the smith, though, she owned five.
Her little knife barely counted, but it was the first piece of proper starmetal that she’d ever forged. Taking it from her pocket, she set it down on her anvil.
Next was her rapier. A delicate weapon, light and quick, perfect for puncturing enemies. It hung on a rack against the wall, and she took it down, swishing it through the air, making a handful of practice stabs at imagined opponents.
With care and precision, going for the weak points of the carapace, she could pierce flesh without having to force steel through the hardest points.
Her next weapon of choice was the most visibly impressive, a wide claymore that tapered to a razor point. A forty-five-inch blade with a foot of handle, it was almost as tall as she was, with mass and power that could sheer through… well, just about anything. Reach, power, and sheer intimidation came at the cost of speed, which could be dangerous against creatures as quick and reactive as she’d encountered.
She moved the sword through the air in a few guarded poses, using both hands to control the heavy tool. The blade rippled in the light, shimmering with a beauty that contrasted with its deadly power.
Maggie frowned. She didn’t want to get flanked by a quick enemy and left exposed.
The last two blades on the wall were a matched set; one long, one short, designed to be used together. The short blade served a similar function to a shield, parrying away attacks and warding off enemies, while the longer option could hack and cut with greater reach.
Using both at the same time was hard, and Maggie hadn’t kept up practicing with both weapons, but they seemed the ideal choice for general purpose combat.
Speed, power, or flexibility. Frailty, lethargy, or inexperience. Advantages and tradeoffs, no matter what she went with.
She set the blades aside. The decision could wait until morning, and there was other work to keep her occupied. Replacing her cell phone, for one—another thing she’d left in her truck.
That, at least, was simple. Her old flip phone still worked, even if it was a bit slow, and she had it in a drawer somewhere. After a bit of poking around in boxes filled with obsolete cables and technology she didn’t use much anymore, she found the old phone and a charging cable for it. Plugging it in, she just had to get on her computer, contact her service provider, and activate the old device.
After it was on for a few seconds, it chirped, filling in the messages and emails she’d missed since her phone was turned off.
Or, probably, ripped to shreds.
Nothing too major. A bill payment reminder that she could cover, but which would leave her bank account looking pretty thin. A couple newsletters she’d subscribed to. The only thing that she might make some money off of was a text from a human she knew, a journalist who called himself Levi.
‘I need another big cleansing crystal and some of that souped up pepper spray ASAP, do you have any more in stock?’
She paused. He’d texted her a few hours prior, but she hadn’t seen it on account of the whole ‘my phone was eaten by monsters’ problem. The cleansing crystal was easy, but the self-defense spray she’d made was a homebrew mix of chemicals that could repel most things supernatural, and she had to make it to order. It wasn’t ‘cover all her bills’ expensive, but it’d keep her in the black for a little longer if she could upsell the product and get it sold quick.
Besides, she liked Levi. If he needed something urgently, she could make time.
Typing was difficult using the old number pad, but she wouldn’t stoop to using chatspeak or abbreviations, even if she couldn’t do any punctuation besides periods. ‘I can set the crystal aside for you now spray I can mix tomorrow’. Then, thinking she could make a couple extra bucks, she added, ‘Do you want me to make a couple so you have spares’
He responded quickly. ‘Yes, please. What are you doing up?’
Maggie frowned, checking the time. It’s past midnight. When did it get so late?
‘Working on a project’ she sent back, not going into details. Levi wasn’t in-the-know with fairy affairs. Noting the irony, she sent a second message. ‘I could ask the same of you’
‘Can’t sleep. Someone’s trying to kill me again.’
Maggie read the text and rolled her eyes. Not that she wasn’t worried for his safety, but knowing Levi, this was danger that he’d brought onto his own head. He had less in common with a victim and more with a big game hunter who was having a close encounter with the story he was hunting.
Don’t forget, you’re literally going hunting soon, she reminded herself. Stones, glass houses.
She looked back at the door to her forge. Despite the late hour, she didn’t have any plans to sleep for a while.
So, she typed out a message to him, mostly on a whim. ‘Do you want to come by’
He responded a minute or so later. ‘Sure.’
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