A damp wind rolled off the river and rustled the fringe on Chelsea’s duster as she studied the art installation at the bottom of the stairs. A garden of sorts, encased in painted concrete, but there were few plants. Instead, there was… a mish-mash of color and spectacle. She couldn’t quite focus on any one thing. Everywhere she looked, more… stuff was crammed into walls and shelves and hanging from the trellis at the bottom on the stairs.
A group of Santas caught her eye, and she shuddered at a memory. “I’ve seen something like this before, in Nevada.”
One of her partners-for-tonight grinned. George wasn’t quite old enough to be her grandfather, but he was definitely older than her father. His gray hair and stooped shoulders belied a wiry strength and solid quarter decade of hunting experience. He was also good at teaching without making her feel bad about her lack of knowledge. He waved at the rainbow painted buildings around the garden. “There’s something about some spots. They draw a certain person. Some of them can control it, like here. It’s bright and eclectic, but beautiful. You want to stay here.” He eyed her. “The place in Nevada?”
She fought down goosebumps. “There was a beauty to it, but it was raw and it made me feel… exposed.”
He nodded. “Don’t know why it is, but these places exist. They move too. Sometimes, you’ll come across an old one. It’ll be crammed full of… things, like this, but you don’t feel anything.” He studied the visual cacophony below them. “This is one is huge, and it draws people. This here is the heart of it, but well…” He gestured towards the street. This neighborhood was famous in Pittsburgh for its colorful buildings and outdoor artwork.
She’d skipped this specific spot on her tour of the place because of all the people. “And our fairies?”
George gave a rueful nod. “Yeah, hidden down there.”
She sighed. “And I bet their glamour means they can look like anything, huh?”
“Not at all.” He tapped her shoulder. “That was a smart guess, though. Just as much trouble. These look like typical fairies, tiny, pretty, winged women. And there are more than a few such fairy statues and whatnot down there.”
“Why are they always women?”
George laughed. “Because we expect them to be women. This is a glamour. It’s meant to get past our defenses. If we thought of men as fairies, these little fuckers would look like men, too.”
A perverse desire to paint nothing but male fairies for the rest of her life flowed through and out of her with her breath. “And how are we keeping the tourists away?”
“Rita’s kin have a blockade set up, roadwork. All legal, even.”
Chelsea shook her head. “Maybe I should move here.”
George chuckled. “You and Bentley can crash with me if you need to.”
Her mutt perked up at his name and stretched to his feet. He nosed his enormous head under her hand, and another question came to her. “So I know we have the nets, but the mermaids, the ocean fairies, were poisonous–”
“Venomous.” A yellowed smile met her ire. “Technically, they’re venomous.”
Some part of her wanted to be annoyed, but George’s easy manner smothered annoyance. “Are these poi… venomous too?”
“Yes.” He studied the aesthetic madness below. “Like we said back at the bar, winged, flying spiders. Guess we forgot to mention the barbs that shoot a paralyzing agent that can stop your heart. And there’s at least five of them down there.” He rolled his eyes and snorted. “Some idiot wanted ‘real fairies’ for his daughter.”
“That’s so… stupid.”
“And yet, it happens every few months.” George leaned against the railing. “Rita keeps cracking down on the bastards, but someone else always pops up ready to sell real monsters.”
Bart huffed up to them, a little out of breath, long, greasy, grey hair tucked behind his ears. “Okay, we got the last few buildings evacuated. If anybody dies now, it’s on them.”
George snorted a laugh and gathered their supplies. He handed out the heavy duty-looking nets and instructions. “Deal with one at a time as much as possible. Net it, get it to the ground, use that hatchet.” George mimed catching a butterfly, and snapped his net to the ground. He stamped a foot on the net. “You’ll destroy your net, and the edge of your blade, but we have extra of both down there already.” He nodded to Bentley. “He still fight with you?”
“Unfortunately.” She gripped the loose skin at the dog’s neck. “Don’t worry about Bent.”
The two older hunters exchanged looks and shrugs before starting their prefight check. Chelsea did the same. Her knife was secure and her boots tied tight. She hesitated before deciding to keep her coat on. Roomy, thick leather, and basically a second-skin at this point. It was very nearly armor, but it was also black against the rainbow madness around them.
Bart started the generator. It growled to life, flooding the subterranean space even in the setting sun. Chelsea grabbed a few nets and headed down the stairs with Bentley.
The old hunters had planned well. The bright lights nearly rendered the space mundane in their sterility. The rainbow cacophony had been muted. Shadows were minimal. Chelsea walked around, getting a feel for the space. Much of the floor had cleared, well, hastily pushed aside, leaving a large t-shaped place to fight.
Movement from the trellis froze her even as Bentley growled. Chelsea dropped all but one net. She barely heard the others hit the ground. All her focus was overhead. The floor of the garden had been cleared, but everything else was crammed full, including the trellis. Musical instruments and fake flowers were the most normal things up there.
Bart’s voice intruded. “What you see?”
“Nothing yet.” A breeze seemed to ruffle the fake vegetation above her, except no fringe moved on her jacket. “There’s something up there.”
Bart and George eased up beside her, their net held at the ready. The three of them were so focused on the trellis overhead that they missed Bentley, stalking to the right. His snarl broke Chelsea’s concentration. There was no thought behind her action. Before Bentley could growl again, she was at his side, ax out, eyes focused on beyond his pointing snout. On a metal latticed table danced a tiny, winged woman. Just like with the mermaids, Chelsea felt a moment’s pang of wanting, but Bentley’s upright fur banished it. She swung her net, but caught only air.
Luckily, Bart stood right behind her, easily capturing the fairy. He snapped his net to the ground, and she followed it, already swinging her ax. She barely winced as the blade hit the concrete. Her ax was a gift, custom made for her left-handed grip. She hoped repairing the blade wouldn’t be too expensive.
The little woman’s head fell off, and the glamour disappeared. The giant spidery thing left in its place oozed something purple on to the concrete.
She spun around, eyes searching for fairies. Bart grabbed a new net as George dispatched a second fairy, leaving only a monster.
Bentley prowled by her side, his low growl never ceasing. He jerked his head towards a wooden sign, where a life-size picture of the garden’s owner waved. Chelsea swung her ax on instinct. Wood splintered, and a fairy buzzed away.
Bart seemed to teleport to her side in only two casual steps, his net lazily swimming in the air over the fairy, and trapping to the ground. Chelsea chopped it in half.
A bubbling giggle came from above her. Heart in her ears, Chelsea waved her net overhead, not even looking. The slight weight and tug told her finally managed to catch a fairy. She slammed her net to the ground. George’s ax appeared and sliced through monster and net with only a whisper of air.
She glanced towards Bentley, but the big mutt sat, scratching at his ear. Confused, Chelsea turned to Bart and George. Bart had the final fairy on the ground already, and George stood over it, purple goo dripping from his blade.
Suddenly exhausted, Chelsea flopped on the ground beside Bentley. “See, this is why we work with professionals.”
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