“Lady Elf! Lady Elf, need’a guide? I know the city real well Lady Elf, I can take ya anywhere.”
Summer regarded the teen before her coolly, taking in the mended clothes and the hungry, predatory gleam in his eye. She folded her arms in front of her chest – protected, as the rest of her was, by deep emerald dragonhide – and quirked one blonde eyebrow.
“Can you take me to Kestrel Moonheart?” the elf asked.
“Do not have to,” Kestrel interrupted, from a nearby roof. The Ragged Angel’s wings bent protectively in front of her. “You’ve come a long way, lady…?”
“Summer,” the elf said obligingly, turning to look at Kestrel. The urchin, wise enough to guess where this might go, ran up the street and towards the cliff. “Summer Moonheart, in this tongue. And you are my granddaughter, yes? Your accent is…strange.”
Silence descended over the citizens that heard Summer’s innocent, questioning statement. Kestrel’s bright blue eyes were icy with checked fury.
“Who are the others with you, Summer?” Kestrel asked in a low tone.
“That’s no way to address your grandmother, young lady,” Summer scoffed, but she took a step back when she found her granddaughter suddenly right next to her, Kestrel’s face in her own.
The Ragged Angel’s eyes ran with silent tears that shimmered with faint motes of witchlight.
“Who did you bring to my city, Summer?” Kestrel repeated, softly.
“Just some retainers,” Summer answered. “Their names are theirs to share, if they care to. They agreed to see me to the city and to aid in searching for you.”
Kestrel stared into the other elf’s eyes for a long, silent moment. When she spoke, her voice wavered with pain.
“They stay here, in the docks, on whatever ship brought you here. You’ll come to the Money Pit if you want to talk to me, and you’ll come alone. Don’t think it’s a threat. If you don’t want to do this my way, I’ll leave. I’ve got all the time in the world and no desire to waste it on you.”
Summer regarded her granddaughter and then nodded, once. “It will be as you ask. Though we will have words about your attitude, Kestrel.”
“I’m sure we will,” the Ragged Angel agreed. She vanished as quickly as she came, in a crack of teleportation. A single brown feather floated towards the ground; when Summer reached her hand out to catch it, the feather sliced her palm, leaving a thin trickle of red blood to drip onto the docks.
* * * *
“Kestrel! Did you – aw hell, stop.” Jack held his hand up at the advancing elf, giving her a serious look. “You told me to remind you in times like this. I dunno what’s made you mad or how bad but the bottle ain’t the answer.”
Kestrel stopped in her tracks, wings still manifest on her back. Her body shook with barely restrained anger. “She chided me like some, some infant! Like she had any right. Years of silence and nothing, not a word, and suddenly she expects me to act as though I owe her respect? Where does she get the gall?”
Jack stayed between the Ragged Angel and the bottles behind his bar. “Trouble with your sister again?”
“My grandmother,” Kestrel spat.
“Bar’s closed,” Jack announced to the room. “Everyone the fuck out. Don’t have to go home but if you stay here I’ll stab you repeatedly. Yes, even you Karl. Out! There’s serious business afoot!”
With the help of the waitresses, the other patrons of the Money Pit were ushered out the door. Kestrel unbuckled her claymore and laid it on a table before sitting heavily, witch-tears still streaming down her cheeks.
“Get a pot on,” Jack murmured to a waitress, before coming around from behind the bar and laying a hand on Kestrel’s shoulder. “What’s your plan?”
“Asked her to come here,” Kestrel murmured. “We’ll see when. I wasn’t gonna come behind the bar.”
“I know you weren’t,” Jack agreed, squeezing his friend’s shoulder. “But you said to remind you anyway.”
“I’m sorry, Jack.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that you ain’t gotta be sorry about me?” the old human said, shaking his head. “We’ve got a pot and a hot meal comin’. I’ll send Jess upstairs to get your books and you can just relax until this woman shows her face in my bar. We’re here for you, Kes.”
It was more than an hour before Kestrel moved; she sat with her head bowed as the door to the Money Pit was shut and the tables and common room cleaned. The pot of chai and warm meal were left to cool until, at long last, her wings faded away and the tears on her cheeks stopped flowing, leaving the top of her tabard soaked.
Kestrel poured a cup of chai, picked up her book, and waited.
The sun had set by the time Summer opened the door to the Money Pit. The older elf was almost Kestrel’s spitting image; her hair was shorter and tinged with red in places, and her eyes a deep forest green rather than Kestrel’s piercing blue, but the two could have been sisters. To the human eye, Summer didn’t even look older.
“Took you long enough,” Kestrel said quietly. “Wearing the armor was a wise precaution. Elves are rare in Asheholm, and novelties tend to be stabbed by the reckless here. They equate their ignorance with advantage.”
“I’m shocked you expected me tonight. I thought to arrange a more formal meeting,” Summer admitted. “Perhaps -“
“Sit’cher ass down,” Jack said from behind the bar, his voice hard. “Y’done made the girl wait long enough.”
“And who is this?” Summer asked her granddaughter, not moving her eyes to acknowledge the old bartender.
“His name is Jack. He is my closest and most treasured friend. And once upon a time, I killed everyone he ever loved.” Kestrel’s voice was hard; she still had not looked at her grandmother. “You have no idea, do you? What happened to us? Aisling and I waited more than a hundred years, Summer. More than a hundred years in this pit. Killing to live. For profit. For pleasure. We went to elven lands, you know that? And we were banished. A century of misery and now you break your silence. Why? What do you want from me?”
“I -” Summer faltered. “Kestrel, we didn’t know anything was wrong until nearly a year ago. A crow came to me and said I would find my granddaughters in Asheholm and Shatterdown.”
“That would have been just after the Wolfbrood incident,” Kestrel murmured to herself. “Why didn’t you leave sooner?”
“This is sooner. I had things I wanted to finish.”
Kestrel stood, whirling on Summer with hate in her gaze. “Get used to living faster,” she hissed softly. “You abandoned us and thought nothing of it. You left us for humans to raise because of your neglect. Surprise, Summer. Now Aisling and I think like them. Were you going to go see her next?”
“I – your grandfather went to Shatterdown, Kestrel.”
Kestrel blinked. “I. Summer, tell me he’s as good in a fight as you seem to be.”
Summer shook her head. “We felt that a gentler touch would be better for your younger sister. She’s more likely to be shy and gentle, after all, especially with you to protect – why are you doing that, with your hand covering your face?”
“He’s gonna die.”
* * * *
“BlackgodsoffuckinghellletmegoI’llriphisearsoffandwearthemasagoddamnednecklaceIsweartofuckAnajustgivemefiveminutestoharvesthis,” Aisling took a deep breath without really thinking about it, thrashing in the grip of Anastasia, Duke, and Margrave while a tall, thin elf in silk clothes cringed in terror before her, “FUCKING ORGANS AND EAT THEM RAW LET ME AT HIM!”
“Why is she angry at me?” the elf wailed.
“Oh man,” Contessa said from one of the tables of the Protection Racket, where she was playing at cards with Mister Greene. “You have no fucking idea.”