Mission: Magic, Book Three
The Pixie Job
Lucky Foot Press (August 2021)
Previously published in Dirty Deeds (January 2021)
When the going gets tough, the tough get their hands dirty. Join NY Times Bestselling author Faith Hunter, USA Today Bestselling author R.J. Blain, and National Bestselling authors Diana Pharaoh Francis and Devon Monk on a wild romp where the damsels bring the distress and what can go wrong will go wrong.
Venture into a thrilling spinoff tale from the world of Jane Yellowrock, join vacationing gods in what appears to be a quiet, ordinary town, visit a supernatural hotel where the bedbugs could very well eat you, and dive into the zany, deadly world of the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series.
In this Dirty Deeds Anthology collection of all-new urban fantasy novellas and other stories, no job is too big or too small—if the price is right.
The thing about taking a vacation is that you always feel guilty that you aren’t being productive, or someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do. Case in point: the ghost elf sitting on the lounge opposite giving Mal the fish-eye stare because she refused to go train.
“I told you. I’m on vacation. I promised Law and the other ghosts and So’la. I’m not supposed to do anything but relax for an entire month.”
Mal reached for her mimosa and sipped it deliberately. She wasn’t generally a drinker, especially in the morning, but Emily, another of her ghost companions, had encouraged her to try it out. She could have done without the champagne in the orange juice but whatever. She was on vacation, and apparently this is what people did on vacation. She wouldn’t know. She’d never actually taken one before.
Merrow’s lips twisted downward. She looked entirely out of place. Well, generally ghosts did look out of place among the living, especially since generally the living made sure that they were exterminated like vermin. Mal used to be one of those exterminators until she couldn’t stomach it anymore. Now she had her own family—collection? cult? hangers on?—of ghosts.
She had eighteen of them, now that Merrow had joined. They fed off her magical energy, which they needed to survive. Which was sort of an oxymoron but whatever.
Anyhow, Merrow had been an elf. A militant one, part of an elite fighting force. She’d been betrayed by her own and killed then joined Mal in order to get revenge. She’d achieved that and Mal thought maybe she’d have crossed over in whatever way elves do but she’d stayed.
Merrow was bored.
Law, Mal’s boyfriend and the blood-bound security witch of Effrayant where Mal was vacationing (just ass she’d promised after her most recent near-death experience), had arranged charging stations for the ghosts so they could go anywhere and find sustenance. This was not an unselfish act. He’d been motivated by a desire for privacy with Mal, but the ghosts were grateful.
Most of them.
Once Mal had recovered enough from her injuries, Merrow had dogged her, glaring silently when she wasn’t actively nagging at her.
Anyway, under ordinary circumstances, Merrow would have looked extra-specially out of place with her armor and elven looks. Since Effrayant was a supernatural luxury hotel that catered to the weird, strange, outlandish, and just plain bizarre, Merrow didn’t rate even a raised eyebrow.
“You should try relaxing,” Mal suggested. “It’s strange but oddly nice.”
She reclined in a chaise next to an enormous pool with various levels and waterfalls and surrounded by greenery, boulders, and a winding river. It covered an entire five acres all by itself and sat on top of one of the auberge’s towers. Effrayant was made up of several massive towers, some smaller buildings, plus about six hundred acres of land. It contained sixteen restaurants, a dozen coffee shops, and bunch of stores of all varieties.
Merrow’s lip curled. “I don’t think so.”
“Then maybe you could go rain on someone else’s parade?”
The elf frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re about as fun to be around as a plague.”
Merrow’s brow smoothed. “You waste my time and yours. You lack fighting abilities. You should be practicing.”
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Another frown. “Who’s Jack?”
“He’s this kid who went up a hill to fetch a pail of water and ended up bonking a girl named Jill. It didn’t end well. She got pregnant, was totally ostracized. He left her to deal with the baby by herself. Karma got him, though. He ended up with syphilis. Totally melted his brain.”
“Mal, that is unkind.”
Edna, a ghost with short, finger-waved hair from the forties, wearing a short cardigan and a tailored skirt, appeared sitting at the round table to the left. She’d been with Mal the longest. She looked at Merrow.
“The phrase means that taking time away from work rejuvenates the body and soul, and Mallory does need it. She pulled too deeply on her power and came dangerously close to death while trying to stop your two countrymen from their plot. But you know this.”
The last was gently chastising.
“It’s been three weeks. Her body is more than able.”
“Perhaps. But this is a request made by those who love her, and she is abiding by her promise to them.”
Mal snorted. “So’la does not love me. He went along because he knew it would drive me nuts. Joke’s on him. I’m getting the hang of this relaxing business.”
She raised her glass to an invisible So’la and drank half of it down. Bad idea. This was her second mimosa, and she was already tipsy. She’d always been a very cheap date.
She regretted it even more when hooves clacked on the pool’s wood decking, coming in at a rapid staccato.
“Shit,” she said on a long sigh and drank the rest of her mimosa before sitting up. “What’s he done this time?”
She, Edna, and Merrow looked for the maker of the hoof sounds: Elliot, a goat. He’d been gifted to Law by a group of Gwyll. The little people had powerful magic and an opinionated sense of right and wrong. Refusing would have been rude and exceedingly dangerous. Since Law was not stupid, he’d graciously accepted. Unfortunately, Elliot was immune to magic, and he could walk through walls. He was always getting into places he didn’t belong. For instance, he had a particular fondness for LeeAnne’s lingerie drawer and a penchant for tequila.
Drunk magic goats are nothing to laugh about.
Neither was one splashed with blood and carrying a severed hand in his mouth.
About the size of a golden retriever with liver-colored hair, white patches on his nose and between his eight-inch horns, white socks, and an adorably stubby tail tipped with a tuft of white, you’d think he was innocence personified. You’d be wrong.
He skidded to a stop in front of Mal, staring up at her, his slotted eyes wide, then stretched his neck out. Mal reflexively held out her hand, catching the dismembered hand when he dropped it.
It was warm. The cut severing it from its arm was ragged and looked as if someone had hacked at it. It was an oddly small hand, the size of a ten-year-old child’s, maybe, but with heavy calluses, thick fingers, and substantial musculature. The dark hair on the back was coarse, the nails dense, hard, and solid black. Not painted.
Mal’s gaze dropped to Elliot, who stood trembling. She dropped the hand onto her lounge chair and squatted in front of him. She stroked her fingers over him gently, looking for any wounds.
“Are you okay, pretty boy? Did you get hurt?”
He launched himself into her arms, knocking her onto her butt and pressing himself against her stomach, his hooves digging into her thighs, one horn poking into her chest.
Mal put her arms around him and held him, petting him and crooning soft nonsense in his ears.
“Edna, go get Law, please,” she said in the same voice. “Merrow, give me my towel.”
All the ghosts could do the poltergeist thing and influence things in the world. Merrow was particularly good at it and helped Mal clean Elliot off.
“We need to track him back to where this happened,” Mal said.
“If you cast the spell, I can follow it.”
Merrow still retained magic in death, but nothing like she’d had alive, and once she used it, it took a while to recharge.
Some of Elliot’s hair was stuck in the blood on Mal’s fingers. She rubbed the blood-coated strands between her fingers, tying them to the tracking spell she had spell-cut into herself. One of the great no-no’s of witchcraft was spell-cutting. Carving them into your skin and taking them into your flesh and bones made them easy to access without even having to think about them, but it made you a delicious target for magic harvesters if they found out.
Mal had had been worried she’d fail to remember the complex spells when she needed them most, and out of that fear, she’d cut many into herself. After all, if she was going to be bad, might as well go all the way.
The trail lit up in pearly gray. Merrow zipped away without a word. She could go through walls but not if they were warded, which most of the guest rooms at Effrayant were. The guests put up their own wards, and while Law could break them if he chose, it would require great need. Guests stayed at an auberges because it was safe and guaranteed privacy, and the staff didn’t interfere unless the safety of other guests was at stake. If the resident exterminator didn’t have an apocalypse-level reason for entering someone’s private space, there’d be hell to pay.
Mal was pretty sure a severed hand and some blood didn’t qualify, but Merrow would circle the warded spaces until she picked up the trail on the other side, so eventually she’d find the scene of the carnage.
“Do you need any help?”
Mal looked up at a young Aidolon fairy. She was beautiful, as they all were. She had typical flowing silvery-lavender hair, pointed ears, and a fine-boned face. Her bathing suit was sort of a bark-leaf-cloth-silver number that of hooked around her neck and wound around her in a spiral.
Her lavender brows were crimped together as she looked down at Elliot.
“Is he okay?”
“He’s scared,” Mal said.
She couldn’t help glancing at the severed hand. The fairy’s look followed hers, but she didn’t react, her attention returning to Elliot.
“Did someone hurt him?”
“I didn’t find any wounds.”
Just then Elliot decided to let go a sad little bleat, lifting his head and shoving his nose against Mal’s neck in a heart-melting way. Little con artist.
“He might be hungry,” Mal said and Elliot turned and looked at the girl, bleating again.
“What does he like?”
Tequila. Mal didn’t say it. She did not need a drunk goat on her hands.
“Fruit and vegetables. Maybe some crackers.”
The fairy nodded and hurried off. Mal wondered if she was in the Twilight Zone. A bloody goat with a severed hand and now an Aidolon fairy. What next? A house dropping out of the sky?
Mal glanced around, wondering where the girl’s parental pod might be. She didn’t see any of them. They tended to bond in family groups of three to nine and to stick close together. Even at a place as secure as Effrayant, Mal was surprised they let the girl go off on her own.
Neither Law nor Edna had shown up before the fairy girl returned with a bowl of chopped fruits and vegetables. Behind her came two waiters with silver bowls of crackers and—Mal frowned. Was that Mountain Dew?
Did anybody not want to spoil the obnoxious, adorable, bratty little goat?
“He okay, Miss Mal?” asked Mardo, a slightly-built shifter from somewhere on the border between Mongolia and China.
“Nothing that a little TLC won’t take care of,” Mal said, adjusting so Elliot could remain cradled in her lap while eating, as he didn’t seem inclined to move.
“What happened to him?” asked Lucas, a big blond Swede with a lilting voice.
Mal knew he wasn’t human and that was about it. The big man babbled on.
“Is he hurt? Who would do that to such a sweet creature? It should not stand. It defies the heart and soul. Anyone who hurts Elliot should be—”
And the rest of what Lucas said was in a language Mal didn’t understand, but from his expression, whatever should happen wasn’t particularly pleasant.
The sound of fast, determined steps warned her of Law’s arrival. He looked steamed, and when he looked steamed, he was hotter than hell. He had a strong jaw covered in five o’clock shadow. His dark hair hung long around his neck and strands of it fell loose on his forehead. He had broad shoulders, narrow hips, and underneath his charcoal suit was a body made for sin. And Mal liked to sin all over it as often as he’d let her.
He took in the scene with a swift scan, his gaze raking over her, searching for wounds. Mal restrained herself from flipping him off.
They might have just a little bit of a trust issue. Specifically, he didn’t trust her to A) not endanger herself or her life, B) not disappear on him without a word, or C) not do both A and B together. Meanwhile, she didn’t trust that he wasn’t having some kind of psychotic break and at any moment he’d wake up, find her in bed with him, chew off his arm, and run screaming for the hills to escape.
Clearly things were going really well in their relationship.
“Thank you all for your assistance, but it’s time for you to go,” Law declared. His glance flicked to the severed hand, and his mouth tightened.
The two waiters hurried away. The Aidolon fairy hesitated, reached out, and stroked Elliot’s ear before reluctantly walking away.
“Is he hurt?” Law asked, squatting down to scratch around the knob between Elliot’s horns.
The little goat leaned into him and practically purred.
“I don’t think so. Scared, though. I put down a tracking spell and sent Merrow to see what she could find. She should be back soon.”
He nodded. “Good thinking.” He rubbed his hands across his face in an uncharacteristic gesture of tiredness and frustration, then straightened, reaching down to take Elliot from her.
The goat protested, though Mal was pretty sure it had more to do with being taken out of reach of the food and Mountain Dew and less to do with her.
She stood as Law returned the goat to his feast. He looked at her, taking in her bikini and blood-smeared skin. His mouth tightened. He had to be raging mad that something like this—whatever this was—had happened on his watch. He picked up the dismembered hand, turning it over.
His dark brows furrowed. “Damn it.”
“Pretty sure this belongs to one of the giants who arrived this morning. Part of the prewedding contingent.”
Mal laughed, then stopped as she realized he was serious. “The hand is smaller than mine,” she pointed out. “It can’t belong to a giant.”
“You’d think,” he began then broke off as Merrow appeared.
“Did you find the attack scene?” Mal asked.
The elf nodded. “It’s ugly.”
“Law! Why haven’t you been answering your phone?” LeeAnne’s furious voice cut across the island-style courtyard. It was like a knife chopping through stone. She was pissed.
The Housekeeper’s heels on the decking sounded like gunshots. That was impressive.
“I have been calling you for the past ten minutes,” she said, then stopped, taking in the blood covering Mal, the stained towel, and the severed hand. She scowled. “What the hell is going on?”
“Working on it,” Law said in a remarkably calm voice, even though the waves of animosity coming off LeeAnne made Mal want to slink into a hole.
Not for the first time did she wonder just what the hell the other woman was. Definitely not human and definitely scary. Didn’t stop Mal from antagonizing her at every opportunity, but just at the moment, her instincts were battling with her worse nature to keep her from saying something stupid.
Unfortunately, the Force was strong with her worse nature. “What’s up, LeeAnne? Did Timmy fall down the well? Or did zombie cockroaches get into the kitchens again?”
LeeAnne gave Mal an icy glare, her gaze more purple than her usual blue, a sign that she was way passed pissed and Mal was teetering on the precipice of Really Bad Things™ happening.
Mal, being sassy but not crazy, chose to keep her mouth shut.
“What. Is. Going. On?” LeeAnne demanded of Law. “And why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“To answer your first question, I don’t know yet. It appears to be the hand of one of the giants from the wedding advance team.”
“Wedding advance team?” Mal echoed. “Is it a wedding or a state visit?”
“It’s a political wedding,” Law explained. “Between the giants and pixies.”
“Giants? And pixies?” Mal echoed.
Neither Law nor LeeAnne paid any attention to her, which was just as well because she didn’t need anybody noticing her little panic attack.
It’s not that pixies were particularly scary, though they had some serious teeth and claws. It’s that there was never just one, they had no fear, and they thrived on pranks. Only what they called “pranks,” others called mayhem, destruction, world war, apocalypse, and so on.
Pixies were the definition of insanity made corporeal.
And they were going to have a wedding at Effrayant. Which meant a whole lot of them. All together. Here. A freaking natural disaster’s worth of pixies.
What the hell was LeeAnne even thinking?
Before Mal could ask, the woman in question let out a short string of words that Mal didn’t understand but which literally turned the air red.
Maybe “pissed” was too mild a word for what LeeAnne was.
“We can’t worry about that right now,” she said finally, talking to Law. “We’ve got a bigger problem.”
He only raised one eyebrow as he waited for her to explain.
“There are two missing Leshiy children. They’ve been gone at least two hours, likely longer. The parents believed them asleep in their bower but found they were gone. They searched, thinking the kids had snuck away to play, but when they couldn’t find them, they came to me.”
Missing kids clearly took precedence over a probable corpse with a missing hand, who could obviously wait. Mal took the hand from Law.
“I’ll work on this. Go find the children.”
The flash of doubt and concern in his eyes set Mal’s teeth on edge. It probably shouldn’t have. After all, he was her boyfriend. He was in love with her and she was about to go check out the scene of a mutilation and likely murder. At the same time, Mal couldn’t help feeling that he didn’t think she was up to the job. That she would fuck it up or take “unnecessary risks,” all because of her no-killing policy.
Years ago, when she and he’d been partners at Acadia, a sort of supernatural policing organization, they’d been exterminators—the highest level witches in the organization, meaning they had the power and authority to put other beings down if necessary, including and especially ghosts. For whatever reason, vampires and ghouls were perfectly acceptable in society. Even zombies raised by necromancers didn’t get a lot of flak. But ghosts were seen as unnatural vermin by most of the human and inhuman world and, therefore, required extermination.
She and Law had become lovers during that time, but he hadn’t been able to see or understand Mal’s growing anguish as they were assigned more and more exterminations. Eventually she’d reached her breaking point and left, walking away from the job and him. She loved him but believed she didn’t mean anything to him. She didn’t much like herself then and saw no reason he should.
After that, she’d become a fixer, helping people—human and not—with their supernatural problems. The only caveat was that she would not kill. That was a line she refused to cross again. A line that Law still couldn’t understand. As far as he was concerned, some things just needed killing. Maybe they did. Mal was willing to concede that, but it didn’t mean she had to do it. That attitude made him see her as weak, broken, vulnerable—in a word, incompetent. And that’s why she resented his look of doubt and concern.
“Good plan,” LeeAnne said before Law could reply. “Consider yourself on the payroll. I’ll notify the staff to give you anything you need. I would appreciate it if you would ask your ghosts to help search for the missing children,” she added crisply.
Mal stared. LeeAnne hire her? LeeAnne? Hire her? Nope. She could not have possibly heard that right.
“Close your mouth. I’m quite aware you’re excellent at your job, if a bit unorthodox and occasionally messy. The wedding is scheduled for tomorrow, and we’re not going to let it get derailed. Not on our watch. We need to sort out whatever’s happened and prevent anything from interfering with the completion of the nuptials. Now, Law, if you please, let’s go.”
She strode away, a study in grace on her six-inch heels. Even Mal was impressed, and she’d trained to run and fight in heels just like them. All the same, LeeAnne made them look like she’d been born wearing them.
“Here,” Law said, pulling off his jacket and holding it out.
Mal slipped it on. His masculine scent wrapped her and melted the edges off her irritation.
“I’ll let you know what I find,” she said.
He nodded. “Good. Here’s the nutshell on what you need to know. This marriage alliance is not widely accepted on either side of the aisle, and many giants and pixies actively want to see it prevented. For the giants committed to the marriage, it’s a matter of survival. They’ll do what it takes to see it through. The advance team of giants were bringing a magical talisman—the same as worn by every virdana, the female giant who leads a clan. The wedding contracts stipulate that the pixie bride will become the virdana. Having an outsider as virdana is a sacrilege to many among the giants, and they’d kill to stop it. Without that talisman, the wedding doesn’t go on. They were sneaking it in so that no one could steal it before the ceremony. If their entourage was attacked, that’s probably why. It also means someone close to the heart of the planning has betrayed them, and more trouble could be in the works.”
He grabbed Mal’s hand. “Take Merrow with you in case you need backup.” He tensed, waiting for her response.
This time Mal didn’t take offense. Given the situation, she’d have wanted him to have backup as well. She nodded agreement.
He relaxed slightly. “Let me know what you find. I’ll be in touch as soon as I find the kids.”
“Have Elliot help. If anybody can find them, he can. And magic won’t stop him.”
Because if the children hadn’t wandered off, if someone had taken them, then certainly the kidnappers were using magic to hide them.
Law’s lip curled back in a snarl. “Magic won’t stop me.”
Mal’s mouth twisted in a crooked smile. “Effrayant has rules, remember? You can’t break those. Your oath won’t let you. Elliot doesn’t have that problem. He doesn’t have to care about ethics or privacy or whether or not anybody is a guest. Take him.”
Law’s mouth worked like he wanted to spit and he nodded. He swept Elliot into his arms and pressed a kiss to Mal’s cheek.
As he walked away, Mal watched the play of muscles beneath his crisp navy shirt. That last was uncalled for. She was going to look at a crime scene, for cripes sake. She wasn’t walking into an ambush or a war zone.
She glanced at Merrow.
She hoped she wasn’t, she amended to herself. But she wouldn’t put it past the elf not to warn her. It would be one way to get Mal to practice combat skills, at any rate.