All she could see around her were the signs of what daily life should have been. Preparations for a meal that had never been completed. Shirts on the line. A blade and whetstone resting on the table.
Moving cautiously through the farmhouse trying to find a trace of where her brothers had gone, Crystal had to wonder if there wasn’t some magic at play.
A creak from the front door made her turn and look at Juniper, who hesitated at the threshold.
“I’m not sure,” Juniper answered. “A woman came into town asking after some items. Ones I don’t keep around. A couple of the others told her to ask your brothers. It’s not unlike you to leave them some things when you’re away.”
Crystal nodded. “How long ago was that?”
“Three days,” Juniper said. “The day after she visited, I came up to see if they needed anything here. Found the whole place like this. Like they’d just walked out. I started asking questions.”
“And what did you find?”
It took Juniper a moment before she shook her head. “I don’t think it was a human who came in. She…she looked like a blood fae. And she gave the name Lucinda.”
Blood fae, Crystal had been told, were both inhumanly beautiful and yet, somehow monstrous. Hair black as night. Lips red as wine. Eyes as dark as their hearts. Skin so pale it may well have been snow.
The blood fae were beautiful, but they were still fae.
Some might have scoffed at the notion that perhaps it was nothing but a story. Her brothers had some reason for leaving without telling anyone where they were going or why. An injury, or sudden illness. Stress, perhaps.
Crystal knew better.
“Where would she have gone with them?”
“I don’t know,” Juniper answered. “It’s not something I’d ever thought we’d see. A blood fae in our home.
She stood there, looking about and wondering why. What reason did a fairy have to come bother her brothers? They were farmers. All six of them worked to keep the farm running—be that milking cows and shearing the sheep or planting and harvesting crops. The work went quickly between the six of them. The only remotely magical thing might be the little herb garden.
That was the key, she realized and tipped her chin. “She came looking for items?”
Juniper nodded. “A couple.”
“Which ones?” Crystal asked.
“She said something about needing an illumination. I don’t have the sort of things for it and it’s more than anyone else can do in the village.”
Crystal offered no response, going to the cabinet where the family had kept potions and medical supplies for years. Two were missing, and only two. One for illumination, one that was little more than a dye to be used on rocks.
“Illuminating and painting,” she murmured.
“An odd combination,” Juniper mused. “What could they need illumination for?”
She knew they did it on a couple of corners of the back porch to mark the stairs when they had to come and go in the dark.
And if it was meant to leave a trail, it would be best to leave one somewhere dark. The only place she could think that dark was the old mine. Cautiously she moved to the front door, scanning the area.
There, on the path, leading away from the house. A single rock glowed and she inhaled.
That path only led into the mountains.
“I’ll be back by sundown tomorrow,” Crystal said. “If I’m not, tell everyone to be careful. Make sure doors are locked at night and put some protective charms on our signposts.”
“Where are you going?” Juniper asked.
“To find my brothers.”
“Crystal.” Juniper caught her arm, but no other words left her lips. Crystal smiled and stepped closer.
“I’ll be back,” she said quietly. “I have my knife, my lantern and a few odds and ends in my bag.”
“Do you know where to look for them?”
She nodded and motioned out the door. With the sun almost down the glow had become a little more obvious. “Someone left a trail, and I think I know where it leads.”
“The caves,” she said.
Juniper hesitated and then hugged her. “Have care with your words. I’ll be looking for you.”
“So long as you’re waiting for me, I’ll find a way back to you.” She stepped off the porch with a smile and took a moment to lower the lantern’s wick.
Rocks crunched beneath her feet. The moon rose, fat and slow as it lumbered over the horizon. Most of it glowed, decorating the edges of the world in silver light. Any other time Crystal might have thought it was a pretty sight.
Tonight she only thought of it as worrying.
Here and there more rocks glowed, spaced every few dozen feet. Some of them only glowed in little splatters where some of the potion had been flicked. Twice she worried she’d lost the trail before she found the next rock just ahead.
About a mile past the town where the road split, the rocks veered off the path. They became a cluster instead of just one or two dots. The path here showed a little clearer as it wound up the mountain. Here and there she could see pinpoints along the meandering curves.
The caves, as she’d suspected.
Crystal took care to clip the lantern to her belt. Though the path wasn’t hard, it was still dim and there were plenty of rocks to trip over. It wound back and forth across the base of the mountain before it reached the old cave where the mine had been once.
This time, the line of illumination was right at the front and it moved clearly into the cave. Crystal exhaled slowly and lifted the lantern from her belt, holding it out.
Should she wait until morning, she wondered? She knew where to go now, and if any of the other stories were to be believed, morning would bring the sun and therefore a reduction in the power of blood fae.
That was only if it truly was a blood fae, she reminded herself. Fairies in general didn’t like to reveal themselves and she saw no reason for a blood fae to want to do so. For that matter she didn’t see why any fae would want to kidnap six brothers, two of whom were engaged and liable to be rescued.
She hesitated a moment longer before she started forward, taking care with her steps.
The cave floor became sandy as she moved down it, but she could see where footprints lead. She could even pick out Jasper’s prints—his one foot had been turned at an angle from an accident when he was little.
All of the marks wound deeper into the cave, passing through a narrow opening and down into the darkness. Her own steps followed slowly, not at all certain of what lay ahead. Was it possible they’d come down here for another reason? Any motivation to do so escaped her.
The sand gave way to a hard, rocky floor. Here and there patches of sand still showed in her lantern light.
Crystal took care as she stepped over the stones. Ahead, more rock, and the footprints pointed towards it.
Yet, she saw no trace of them anymore as she stepped into the hard flooring. No more glow, and no prints. They should have had a bottle of dye with them, she reasoned as she moved a little farther towards the back. Her lantern wasn’t doing much, only illuminating the stalactites around her.
Cautious she lifted the lantern in the hopes of spreading the light far enough to make a difference. Her steps eased forward as she moved the lantern back and forth in search of another clue. One more step forward, not certain she should leave the only path she knew her brothers had taken.
As she moved forward again, a rock she’d stepped on shifted and she yelped as she rolled forward. Her lantern bounced twice before it went out. The clatter of it falling told her roughly where it had landed and Crystal had to inhale slowly to calm her breathing. She could relight it, she told herself. She just had to find it again.
A soft breeze made goose pimples erupt on her skin and she heard a chuckle. The creak of the lantern’s door opening made her freeze. A click, and the lantern came back on.
The light however, illuminated more than rock formations however and Crystal looked up, seeing the wine-red lips against sickly pale skin.
“Hello, Crystal.” The voice was soft, a whisper almost. The echo of the cave made it seem louder.
“Hello yourself,” Crystal answered. “If it would please you to give me a name, I’d be honored.”
She hated that smile and the way it curled up, revealing needle like fangs.
“You may call me Lucinda.” The fae held a hand down. Her skin was smooth, but her wrist had dozens of tiny pin-prick scars on it. “And you’re Crystal Cleary. Third generation seventh child. You’re just the person I wanted.”
If you enjoyed the first installment in this serial, follow the blog to stay up to date on the upcoming parts!
You can also check out my books here or you can read some of the connected short stories The Spinning Wheel Trade and Season of Preparing.