Goudy City, California, 2030
Echo stood at his BMW, hands shoved in his pockets as he looked from side to side, then back down at his boots. The cold bit into him from all directions, the autumn air chill though summer had only recently vanished. It would snow early this year, he could sense it, but he forgot the cold when he heard the footsteps. Gravel crunched as he straightened up, looking at his father with the respect eighteen years of living with the man had beaten into him – literally.
“Where is it?” he said. Echo nodded in the general direction of the darkened alley where he'd killed the creature. Not even a drop of its silvery blood stained his hands though it'd fought well. He'd been noticing that lately – the pixies and fae were no longer as vulnerable as before. They were learning to fight and use weapons; the society was no longer a small, underground compound. “Status.”
“Barely three feet tall, black hair, yellow eyes. Now deceased.” Suddenly a very rare look of pride crossed his father's features, lighting the usually cold winter blue in his eyes and adding a light sheen to his dark brown hair. There was a jagged scar across his left cheek from a particularly nasty pixie when Echo was six but even it seemed to light up with radiance.
“Well done Eckhard,” he said, clapping Echo on the shoulder. “We'll get rid of these no good hooligans soon enough, don't you worry.” Echo dropped his gaze, memorizing the expression and his father's few words of praise. Growing up in a compound with a brusque father and a deaf mother often doesn't fare well, but these rare moments made up for it completely. He smelled the heavy alcohol on his father as he walked away, toward the alley.
Grabbing for the torch on the driver's seat Echo followed his father, the light tracking across the small lane until it caught the reflective light of the pixie's wings. They looked like silk but were tough as diamonds, barely scratching when his father bent down and inspected it with the tip of a machete. The pixie looked anything but peaceful, her dark hair matted as it fell over unseeing yellow eyes.
Echo's father reached for his pocket, producing a black garbage bag that he deftly stuffed the body into. With the small body inside he tied the plastic and flung the weight over his shoulder, looking like a very macabre Santa Claus. He sauntered past, ruffling Echo's black hair before he disappeared. Echo moved forward with the torch, the pixie's silver blood glistening on the tar as he was left to pick up the remains. A four-leaf clover, some cash and a small silver locket were all that was left.
Curious, Echo opened the locket to find a young human girl staring back out. She didn't seem much younger than him, with curling blonde hair and soft orange eyes. She had a lovely face that would look mature in a few years time; for now she just looked sweet, like a child trapped in a teenager's body. Her air of innocence seemed to jump out of the photograph but there was something elfin about her delicate features, like she was somehow connected to the pixie he had attacked.
Stuffing the locket in his jacket he straightened, taking a vile of sour liquid from his inner jacket pocket. When he opened it he turned his head away, blindly splashing the substance over the silver on the ground until it sizzled and ate away. In a matter of seconds the vile was shut and replaced in his pocket, looking down at the tar that now showed no signs of the confrontation. Stretching, he flexed the sore muscles in his back and left, feeling odd as his fingers stroked the silver jewellery in his pocket.
Echo stepped inside, out of the cold, and shucked his jacket to the side. His keys clattered in the bowl and the mirror hanging in the short hall revealed the bruises and dark smudges below his eyes from lack of sleep. He moved to the kitchen, grabbing a microwave dinner that he promptly unwrapped and started heating up. The television on the wall was massive, three-dimensional without the need for glasses, and he flipped it on. A very lifelike version of the news presenter appeared, dressed in a red blazer as she read out the words behind the camera.
The microwave finished as Echo stepped inside his bedroom, discarding his jacket, T-shirt and jeans to the floor and he slipped into a pair of black sweatpants. He put them in the wash basket as he walked back out and he grabbed the dinner before launching onto the plush red couch. He placed his feet on one arm, resting his complaining back against the other as he ate and blindly watched the news.
For a moment he just sat there, pondering about the pixie as he ate. Before he'd killed her she had been partying with a group of adolescents in the club Divine that was run by Mayor Grimwood. The Mayor wasn't much different from his own father, tough and always focused on work. As far as Echo knew the man owned every establishment in Goudy City, aside from the Institute of Elementals.
Echo shuddered internally. Now that had been the wrong thing to think about. The Institute of Elementals was owned by an unknown source who the Pixie Maintenance Society was watching very closely, trying to learn whether it was run by humans or pixies and fae. Maybe it was all just a big conspiracy, a cult run by over-imaginative humans or a training camp for the supernatural.
He ran his hands through his hair, getting up with a groan as he discarded the package in the garbage and shuffled through his jeans. He placed the cash and four-leaf clover on the bedside table, keeping the locket in the flat of his hand as he walked back out. His phone sat on the bench, dancing in circles as it buzzed. Scooping it up, he stashed the necklace in his pocket and opened the message.
Institute of Elementals confirmed. Target: Malaika. Exterminate at will.
There was no caller identification, just a private number that never answered when he tried calling. He shut the message, grabbing his jeans and he shuffled from his sweatpants into them. He put on a black shirt, sleeves tight where his muscles strained the fabric, and he shoved on his boots with a grunt. The pixie had jabbed him between the shoulder blades, the pain searing as he straightened up and grabbed his keys.
The cold pressed down on him the moment he walked outside, his jacket back in his hand as he made his way to the BMW. It was a Z4 M model, a convertible with two doors and a whole lot of power under the hood. The inky black paint shimmered as he climbed inside, the engine revving the moment the key slid in. He reached for the gear change, speeding off to the Institute that was conveniently a few blocks away.
Pulling off to the side of the road, in the darkest part, he crept through the gate and into the thick bushes. Looking at the branches he realized that they weren't meant to grow there; the climate was always too hot and pressing through summer. His suspicions rose and he crept inside the main courtyard. He heard footsteps nearby as a group of girls chatted on their way to evening classes. They didn't notice him but he noticed one of their names.
“I still don't see why you have to do it Malaika,” the first girl said. He thought she was a fae but he couldn't be sure; her crimson hair was too long and thick for him to see her ears. The shorter girl – Malaika – tossed her wavy dark brown hair over her shoulder, looking curvy and dangerous despite her 5'3” frame. A dagger shone in its sheath where her long black coat billowed open to reveal full body fighting gear. It was leather with little patches in a crisscross against her chest where she held spare ammo. Her buckled combat boots alone probably held more ammo than a U.S. Military soldier. He didn't doubt she'd have a .9mm gun somewhere ready; he crept further into the bushes until he could barely see the taller girl.
Malaika didn't notice; she peered at the girl with the hood pulled low over her face. He couldn't see her face as the shadows captured it. He cursed silently and opted for another angle but they had already started moving away. He could see Malaika walking away; back turned with the coat billowing like it was personally taunting him. The red-head followed, trying for an answer. Finally Malaika stopped and faced the red-head but he couldn't see her from so far away.
“Think about it Rose,” she said. “You can't get her for obvious reasons.” Suddenly there was a flare of light, bursting into the night and Echo almost gasped; the girl just caught on fire. Her hair turned to flame, eyes burning and twines of ribbon-like tattoos wound down her arms where they knotted into roses around her wrists. He could feel the heat of her body inferno like sun rays against his skin.
Rose looked at Malaika defiantly, eyes narrowed as she returned to her human form. Echo was wrong; Rose was a Constituent, an Elemental in the specialty of fire. Constituents were of five elements – fire, water, air, earth and heart – but Echo hadn't actually seen one before. Malaika was unimpressed, standing unmoving as she gazed at Rose.
“That is exactly why I've been chosen – I can hold my temper and my human appearance better than you. I actually look normal.” Rose snorted.
“Don't kid yourself, Cardiff,” she sneered. “You might be four hundred and sixteen years old but that doesn't make you any better. You're only chosen because you're partial to their kind. I won't be surprised if, when she comes, that they discard you.” Even with her face shadowed Echo could practically hear her eyes rolling in her head. She put her hands on her hips, elbows jutting from the sides of her coat.
“Now who's kidding themselves?” she muttered, turning on her heel. Rose leered at her fading form until she disappeared into the shadows completely. Her skin glowed inward, her arms and clenched fists shaking at her sides as she fought to keep her human appearance. Soon she stormed away, leaving the courtyard in quiet. Echo moved out of the shadows, brushing leaves from his hair and shoulders.
The autumn dark was pleasant despite the cold, biting at his cheeks and probably leaving them baby-blush pink. He crossed through a quad, trailing under a stone archway where it was darkest; the bulb had blown, leaving it in darkness. It opened into a smaller courtyard, stone benches surrounding a fountain with a fallen angel statue leaning over a pedestal. Water trickled into the pool of water, spilling like clear blood from the V between the wings that crumbled down its back.
Morbid, he thought, tracing the rim of the stone pool with a fingertip. The small square of cement surrounding the fountain and benches branched off in four directions; where there wasn't cement sat white rose bushes and carefully manicured lawns. A few shady trees dotted the lawn where students could sit and enjoy the calm of the tree spirits, taking energy from them and storing it in their solar plexuses. Echo shuddered at the thought of pixies and fae gathering more energy; wasn't it as if they already had enough from their half-demon origins?
From this section of the courtyard he moved at a brisk yet eerily silence pace through a white rose arch and past a birdbath, a small Cupid angel with his bow hung over his shoulder as he tipped a pot of pretend water into the basin. He heard something shift through the bushes nearby, dropping himself into a protective stance as he reached for the gun in the holster strapped to his waistband. It took him moments for his gaze to focus but when it did he could see a frightened cat looking back at him. Its slitted yellow eyes retracted, graceful black back arched as it hissed and skittered away. He straightened and moved closer into the shadows.
Convinced with what he'd found Echo moved toward the large iron gate, swung open as its night students came in and out freely. He moved with purpose, his breath a white cloud that blew back in his face as he walked. Almost to the exit, he felt sudden iciness thread through him as an unholy shriek split the night. Feeling a new urgency to move he burst into a sprint and left through the iron, the imprisoning bars swinging shut with a loud clang! He unlocked his car from a long distance, surprised the key could reach it from so far and he leapt inside. The vehicle rocked on its suspension as he slammed the door and veered away as fast as he could.
Cold sweat tingled the back of his neck as he drove; his hands slipped on the wheel more than once from the moisture in his shaking fingers. Who was Malaika in charge of? From what he could gather from his limited knowledge she was dangerous and unlikely to go down as easily as a normal pixie. She was taller than normal by about two feet and with an hourglass figure, unlike the twig-thin figures most pixies had.
He felt fear deep inside but put on a hard front as he veered into a park behind a Lamborghini in the car lot outside the club Divine. Holding his breath for a moment he let it out with a sigh and headed from the BMW into the building. The bouncers didn't even question him despite being just eighteen; he knew they were both part of the Pixie Maintenance Society. He walked past them and through the cool metal door, almost knocked down by the influx of heat, bodies and heavy bass music.
He pushed through a group of writhing teenagers to the bar where he took a seat in the furthest corner. From not so far away he could hear laughing, people dancing and others making stupid drunk jokes. Fleck – the broad-shouldered manager – moved across to where he sat, wiping a glass dry. His balding head shone with purple and blue lights as they flickered over the bar, his dark brown eyes black in the lack of adequate light. He passed Echo a pad of paper and a pen, looking around everywhere else as he reached for the pen and Echo wrote a message in dot code. When he was done he put the pen down and slid them back to Fleck.
With a nod the broad guy grabbed the items, tearing the paper from the pad as he slid it into an unmarked envelope and disappeared into a back room. A few moments later he returned with another unmarked envelope. Opening it Echo found a wad of cash – $3000 for his latest pixie. He stuffed the cash in his pocket and left, moving through the dancers like a black panther.
When he got back to his apartment he took a warm shower, washing away the chill and the steady ache that had settled between his shoulder blades. The water was soft for once, not the usually heavily chlorinated jet of water that left his body tense and his hair stiff like straw. After drying himself and climbing back into some clean clothes he settled onto his bed, looking at the cash he'd dropped there. The silver locket was in his palm, the sharp etchings biting into his fingers as he gazed down at it.
He wondered idly what the pixie was doing with the photo. He didn't remember them ever having particular ties to people; it was true that they helped people sometimes but they didn't develop strong relations with them. The girl in the picture looked similar to the pixie; maybe, somehow, the pixie was related to the girl. Maybe a sister, if such a thing was possible. His forehead creased the more he thought about it.
The girl didn't have the black hair that the pixie had, or the eyes for that matter, but it just seemed unusual. He looked back at the cash, his frown deepening. He'd spent cash before, but this? It felt so wrong that it made him physically ill to even think about using it. Grabbing the notes he got up from the bed and moved to his closet, opening a sock drawer that he deftly hid the cash in. He placed the locket beside it, thought differently. He grabbed the silver, shutting the drawer before he moved back to the bed.
He collapsed against its softness, switching off the light. Faint swathes of street light came through the cracks in his curtain and he rested the thin silver chain against his chest. The photograph inside was vaguely visible, the girl smiling under a cherry blossom tree as the image was frozen forever. He gently stroked the glass over the photograph, noticing the feel of worn away glass under his fingertip. The pixie had evidently done the same thing a lot.
Who was this girl? Echo sighed, feeling consciousness evade him and the locket clanked against his chest the moment his hand fell.
'Autumn Eventide' is the direct copyright © 2012 of M.S. Watson. Any infringement of this copyright including copying, borrowing, lending and using her work for personal use without written and signed knowledge of the author will result in legal action undertaken by the author. Respect her rights as an author.