Part 11

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The look the woman at the ground transit desk was giving me made me long for the perplexed suspicion of the TSA agents in the midwest. I resisted the urge to cross my arms over my chest, opting for the charming smile with easily-visible hands stance, hovering just high enough to see her eyes, but not too high.

"You said you were looking for what?" her forehead wrinkled, her sun-weathered skin plastered with enough makeup to make my own face itch. The brown eyes peering over her glasses at me were anything but understanding.

"We had a shuttle scheduled for 10:30," I explained yet again, "but our flight was delayed taxiing in. We'd like a cab to the downtown Radisson."

The cross in the center of her chest sparkled at me, and I imagined that her Jesus was up in their heaven sky-land laughing. "I don't believe there are any cabs around with the right... equipment for your kind."

Our baggage dropped on the ground when Caleb swooped upwards, perching in a way that was almost dainty.

"Marlene," he said softly, calling the woman's attention. I watched him, and for a moment was offended that he was butting in – but then I saw it, the faint sparkle when the light hit his eyes, a glow that had the quality of an intricately-cut jewel. Though Dy only rarely used her magick to curie favor with humans in my presence, I'd seen it enough times to recognize it. "It would be to your advantage to pick up that phone and call the nicest, Fae-friendliest cab driver that you can think of."

Marlene's eyes narrowed. "I don't believe in special treatment-"

"It would make you righteous," he continued, taking a new tack, "so much better than the lost Fae. So much more generous."

Marlene blinked, and I could see the muse magick taking. She paused, catching her bottom lip between her teeth, and finally went to pick up the phone. The light went out of Caleb's eyes.

"It will be just a few minutes. You can wait outside," Marlene said, as polite as could be.

Caleb flashed the woman a peace sign, and I couldn't help but snicker. Marlene didn't even seem to acknowledge it.

I picked up my bag, carefully sliding the strap over one shoulder where it wouldn't interfere with my wings. I stuck my thumbs in my jeans pockets and allowed Caleb to lead the way out the automatic doors.

A wave of heavy heat hit me in the face, and I coughed at the impact. Austin in the winter may as well have been Portland in the summer. I had been assured by the Granite glade that it should be "cooler" this time of year, but it was clear that our definitions of "cool" were somewhat different. It was sunny, warm, and just humid enough to be uncomfortable. The air here was nowhere near as clean as Portland's; I'd taken a prophylactic benadryl before we touched down, yet I felt that I would be needing another sometime soon. Even Chicago didn't seem to be as bad as all this.

I'd heard from several scientists that there was a crisis going on in the southern United States. They called it the second dust bowl – winters had effectively begun to disappear, and the pollution around southern cities seemed to be eating into the surrounding rural areas. The oil in the air here was thick, way beyond the usual Fae tolerance; we could handle hydrocarbons at the level usually found in nature, but this was several times normal. It was like breathing pure gas. It was no wonder that Houston's glade had been abandoned two summers ago.

Caleb leaned up against a concrete piling, tying his black jacket around his waist. He rubbed his eyes with one hand.

"Itchy?" I asked.

"Burning," he groaned. He drew a pair of rather dashing sunglasses from his backpack, looking so very out of place with his pale skin. "And you wanted to visit the south why, again?"

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