If pressed, he wouldn’t even have been able to name the city he was in. The architecture and time of day allowed him the probable answer that he was somewhere in Fairyland, but beyond that…nothing.
Just one more area of ignorance. One more subject in which he was deficient.
The fairy woman shot over the last ring of suburbs approaching the city.
Jonathan tried to apologize for bleeding on her, but rushing air ate his words, so he kept silent.
She banked to the right, dipped a little, and their destination became obvious – a transit center – one set on the edge of a lake, both busses and watercraft arriving and departing as they descended.
Her speed slowed a little as the traffic in the air around them grew more dense, but some combination of the look of an injured man and the hard set of her face kept most of the other flyers out of their path.
As they got closer to the ground, he began to see signs for the fairy stairs, but she seemed to ignore their directional arrows, flying over the tops of the shelters and long-distance coaches.
He stirred in her arms. He’d asked for Earth, for the stairs, and-
‘Chipchip,’ she said, their flight slow enough now to allow some words to be heard. ‘I know where I’m going.’
As little as he knew of the fairy language, he was vaguely aware this was something in the area of “there, there” or “hush”. Gentle. Reassuring. Not Victor slapping him and demanding silence.
After the final row of rain shelters, there was a wide plaza of pale stone, filled with a mixture of people running for transport and those taking a more leisurely approach.
The smell of street food, warm, sweet, comfort that had always been seemingly beyond his reach, filled his senses for a moment before chiller air replaced the warmth of the open sky.
They’d entered a large enclosed space. A garage. Suddenly, ignoring the stairs made sense.
Though many were, most fairy stairs weren’t strictly staircases – most had some form of elevator or escalator to account for accessibility and convenience. That did, however, especially in areas like this, lead to bottlenecking.
An elevator at a transit center could mean waiting for long minutes on end in a queue.
This garage was a way to skip it.
Ahead of them, there were two lines to access the vehicle and flight transport tunnels, and while the car line moved steadily but slowly, there was – and he sent gratitude to the gods – no line for the flight tunnel.
A curtain of water halted their progress, one which coalesced into a nymph wearing a security jacket, who stared at his injured form, eyes wide. ‘Do you need help?’
‘The agent needs their people, not ours.’ The fairy woman pressed her watch against the terminal, which beeped green, and the security guard waved them through, muttering words Jonathan couldn’t hear over the rush of air.
After a few seconds of slow flying, they reached a vertical shaft the circumference of a grain silo, with both strip lighting and informational boards running the height of the space.
The woman adjusted her grip on him, then they shot up. Now that they were inside, there were no natural currents or thermals to help with the flight, and there was nothing but the sound of her wings working to send them skyward.
The bright artificial lights and clean shopping mall aesthetic of a local court greeted them as they emerged from the shaft.
‘How’s your signal strength?’ she asked as they landed, and she rested him on an empty table.
Jonathan stared into his HUD. Like the Marches, Local Courts had some System connection, but it varied depending on your exact position. Here, the indicators told him that he could require, but it would take a moment to process, and that shifting was absolutely not recommended.
And as he had to take a fae with him in the shift, the low signal strength wouldn’t work.
He laid his hands in his lap, and could still feel Victor’s hands on him.
‘Concentrate,’ he muttered to himself and stared at his hands.
The requirement processed, slowly enough so that for a moment, it was semi-transparent and weightless, a packet of tracking blue appeared.
‘Drink this,’ he said, handing what Vincent had called a “Capri-Blue” to the woman, who tore it open and messily downed the contents. ‘And. Outside would be best. If you can.’
The fairy’s handsome face was kind. ‘Arellya covers a few more meters, Agent.’ Again, she lifted him like he weighed nothing, and flew down the wide concourse of the Local Court.
Signage with gray circles pointed them out into a garden and play area, where, hidden amongst the sculptures was what amounted to a signal repeater, something that brought his System connection back up to full.
‘I’ll be shifting us now,’ he said, targeting Paulson’s lab, and the world – in a much more gentle way than the clap bracelet – folded and reformed.
‘Can I- Here, bring him over here!’ Paulson said, and the fairy carried him a few more steps, before gently depositing him onto a bench.
A shift override appeared in his HUD, and he sank into a tank of blue.
Jonathan immediately opened his contacts and looked for Vincent. Safe. In the gym. He set a lock on Vincent’s location, something that would alarm if he tried to leave the building, or if someone tried to shift him out or otherwise abscond with him.[Vincent.]
His HUD indicated there was no active comms, and that the automatic command to require a headset into Vincent’s hand was underway.
A slightly out-of-breath voice answered. [Ken Doll here.]
By default, the voice you projected from your HUD was your default, it took on your emotions easily, but it tended to stray towards neutrality, just a little. A little modulation to ensure clear communication, and to avoid sounding peeved at your colleagues unless you really meant it.[Vincent,] he said, and he knew the recruit would hear all the relief and terror that his soul had to offer. [Stay inside. Don’t leave the building. Don’t go onto a balcony. Don’t go on the roof. Stay inside.]
Ten more horrible seconds of silence. [Where is he? I’m going to kill him. I was already going to kill him, but now I’m going to skip balloon animals out of his entrails and jump straight to burning his corpse and pissing on the ashes.]
Tears floated up, strange pockets of clear amongst the haze of blue.
Agents were supposed to protect recruits, even if in reality that wasn’t always how it played out.
Joel hadn’t been a recruit, but he had been someone who had trusted Jonathan, and that had led to his death.
He couldn’t let the same happen to Vincent.[Director,] he sent to Wraith, the text appearing in the Vox window, [I need a favor.]