There was a certain trick to hiding amongst mortals. If you played it too close to the chest, they assumed you were just as frail and near death as they all were. If you showed your hand too thoroughly, they either started fearing or worshipping you. And personally speaking, he was about sick of worshipping. Some of the perks from the worship were nice, but all in all, it was just too much of a bit much.
More than any of that, though, Faraday disliked hiding amongst mortals because they smelled like shit. Sometimes literally. The one-eyed bastard next to him wasn’t too bad, but some of the others at the poker table? If they had bathed a day since their mothers pushed them out into the world, he would be shocked. The one with the wild eyes and bad hat, the one who smelled so much of blood, he might not have even been bathed that day.
“These cards are shit,” he complained loudly, rather than let himself say what he was thinking. If he opened his mouth to say what he was thinking, after all, it was all going to end in tears and blood and someone dead. Again. Live long enough, after all, and these things did tend to start repeating themselves. Corpses had a way of coming home to roost.
He degraded his fellow players a bit more, dealing the cards out with a bit more flourish than they strictly needed. The off-key music on the rickety piano stuttered to a stop, and he followed everyone’s eyes to the batwing doors as they opened to admit a black man dressed all in black. He could smell the amount of iron and silver on the man from here, and that really summed up everything anyone needed to know as to the man’s profession: monster hunter.
Speaking as a monster his own self, this should prove to be most interesting.
A quick series of rapid gunshots took out Powder Dan’s friends. Most interesting, indeed.
Now, he’d had his eye on Powder Dan himself. Fire elementals weren’t exactly common things, and it paid—he had found—to keep a weather eye on the unusual. It was, after all, impossible to say if and when the unusual might come calling to his door, in a manner of speaking. And depending on if Dan was affiliated with either of the Faery courts… That could potentially spell some trouble for him.
Even in the hush left after the gunfire that disabled but didn’t kill Dan’s friends, he didn’t think a human would be able to make out what the human in black was saying to the fire elemental. He could just make the words out himself… and he might have gone at a bit pale hearing the name of July Bully. He’d heard that name before, usually in regards to a wendigo. If this warrant officer had managed to to do what monsters had trouble doing and put down a wendigo—and live to tell the tale—that was… Well, that was something. After all, monsters had trouble killing wendigo and living to tell the tale. This might well be the first human he has heard of to date who has managed it.
Given the number of years under his belt, he had heard of any number of humans and monsters try taking on a wendigo for whatever reason. There was a reason why groups were deployed against them—the Wild Hunt, groups of monsters, even angels—when more often than not it meant death.
And this human might have managed it all on his lonesome? Well, now this was interesting news.
The saloon was clearing out now, and Faraday had to grin, even as he chided the humans at his table to leave his winnings. His amusement only grew when one of them grumbled, “He’s gonna kill you, Faraday.” Because if he had a shiny coin for every time he had hear that, he would be the richest, most well respected Fae on the planet… and he damn sure wasn’t that.
“Dan, you dead?” he called out on a lark. In return, he got a look of amused tolerance from the human, and the smile on his face grew dangerously pleased. “Pity. I was just about to order a drink from him.”
The monster hunter pushed the untouched drink down the bar towards him as he gathered up his money. “Help yourself.”
“Money for blood’s a peculiar business, monster hunter,” he offered, not making a move towards the free alcohol. Been a while since anyone had gifted him alcohol. That was a nice thing. It was nice to be given offerings, even—or maybe especially—without the worship.
“Just trying to do right by folks,” the hunter returned, and Faraday raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“Human folks or everybody?” He didn’t give the man long enough to answer before asking another question. “You really kill July Bully?”
“That I did, Mister…?”
Names had power, even names made up. But there was less power in a name that he had invented than in his actual one, so he shrugged and answered, “Faraday.”
“I did indeed put July Bully in the ground,” the man in black answered. And Faraday was noting that he hadn’t offered up his own name. Rude. “Why do you ask?”
“Because ain’t many humans—monster hunters or not—who can take on a wendigo and live to tell the tale. Most monsters I know wouldn’t go near one if you offered them every little thing their hearts desired. How did you kill him?”
But before the man in black could answer, there were noises stirring outside, the nascent beginnings of a mob coming with the sheriff in tow. Too bad for the monster hunter, he figured, but it wasn’t like the man was asking for his help, and he wasn’t sure he would give it, even if he was asked; the gift of alcohol was nice, but a monster helping a monster hunter? Now there was a thing unheard of.
Might even be worth it to try, just for the novelty of it all.
Well, if the monster hunter was still alive and breathing after he retrieved his horse… He hadn’t seen Jack hitched outside the saloon when he’d come in, so he might well have done something stupid. Hopefully, it was the kind of stupid that a judicious application of the boring kind of human money—the paper kind that mortals so loved and he just found dull—there was no shine to it at all!—could get him out of.
Of course, he did end up walking right out the back door of the saloon and into the less than tender, loving arms of the Babington brothers… who promptly took his guns off of him. He liked his guns, damn it. He had had a lot of special work done to them so that he could use them safely. There weren’t a lot of Fae of any sort that could stand to use guns, given the amount of iron to be found in them, but these had been his for a long, long time—as humans reckoned time—and he didn’t tolerate people touching them.
He wowed the brothers with a card trick or two, anything to prevent having to go into that mine. Even from here, he could feel the iron cart rails, iron latticing throughout the entire structure. Even if it wasn’t fatal to him, as a Fae, it was uncomfortable and painful, and too much of it would leave him weakened. Not as much as it would for some, thanks to years of carefully doled out exposure to it, but it still wouldn’t be a good thing.
But he did have the third gun, the little banker’s special he kept tucked in a small holster at the small of his back, hidden between his shirt and his vest. He didn’t like using it. There was no pearl-inlayed handle. There was no wooden grip. It was nothing but the cold iron and it burned with a frozen fire, but it sure as hell put a bullet between the eyes of Dickie Babington, who had been thoroughly entranced with him plucking the King of Hearts out of thin air. If he’d had his Ethel or his Maria, he might have been more inclined towards mercy for Earl Babington. As it was, he was pained and rapidly losing his temper, and it was easy to give into the urge to show Earl Babington a new trick: one called the Amazing Disappearing Ear. After that, Earl Babington was more than willing to never cross paths with him again.
That promise secured, he tucked that little banker’s special into the back of his pants, letting his shirt hide it from sight. He rapidly unloaded Earl’s shotgun and tossed it aside, gathering Ethel and Maria and returning his girls to their proper places, before stalking back into Amador City, inspecting his hands as he went. Now he wasn’t the typical Fae, not by any stretch of the imagination and he might have built up a tolerance of sort to iron, but that didn’t mean that the stuff wasn’t uncomfortable as hell. A regular Fae would be burned black from holding onto iron that long, and their hand likely would have been rendered permanently useless; Faraday’s hand looked red and angry, but with a few days—maybe a week or two—of babying it, it’d be just fine. For right now, there was no need to waste his water or energy on healing it. It took a lot of water and energy to heal iron burns, after all, even if this was little more than an iron scald.
All the same… Fuck Amador City. It was time to go retrieve his Jack and get the hell out of here.
Walking back into town, listening much more carefully, he could hear his Jack bellowing his annoyance, and that made it easy to track him down to a corral near the center of town. As he walked, he wrapped his hand in the bandana that had been around his neck. Following the sounds, he had to grin at the poor mortal trying to get his hands on a Fae horse like Jack and the leprechaun sitting on the fence urging him on. And damn it, he recognized that voice. Of all the leprechauns in the West, it would have to be the one—one of the ones—who hated his guts who currently had possession of his horse.
“You aren’t trying to feed humans to my horse, are you, Fergus? You know Jack’s killed men for less than that.”
The shorter Fae turned on the fence to face him, a dark look spreading across his face as he jumped down off the wooden rail. “Faraday,” he returned, and it wasn’t friendly. “And just what do you think you’re doing?”
In for a penny… “I require my horse. That horse.”
“Two days ago, your… horse against my Irish whiskey, behind the saloon, playing dice.”
Well, hell, that sounded like something he would do at that. Hopefully, Jack would forgive him for it or he was going to be in for some very uncomfortable rides in the near future. It galled him, but he instead offered, “In that case, I would like to buy my horse back… though I am light of funds at the moment.” That was true enough: all he had was that ratty paper money from the saloon, which was pretty much useless as far as either of them were concerned. “So it seems we got ourselves a Mexican standoff, only between two Fae, and I’m not sure how that ends.”
Fergus rolled his eyes. “With you walking away without your… horse.” At the last word, his hand settled on his gun, the threat loud and clear.
Faraday’s eyes followed the movement, his eyes narrowing in annoyance. “Now why did you have to go and touch your gun for? We were in the middle of a gentleman’s negotiation.”
A long beat… two… of silence, then…
“How much for his horse?” And that was, unexpectedly, the monster hunter’s voice.
Glancing up and to the side, Faraday could see the man in black astride an—unsurprisingly—black horse with two halflings riding up on horses behind him as Fergus set out his terms: twenty-five for Jack, seven and two bits for the saddle. It was highway robbery, even for a leprechaun, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit perversely cheered by the other Fae taking a hunter for all he was worth.
“Our paths cross again, monster hunter,” he greeted the man in black, just barely holding back a smirk. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Took a job, looking for some monsters to join me,” the other man returned easily enough, and this sounded interesting. So this time he was asking for help? Granted, in a roundabout way, but still…
“There any money in it?”
The halfling woman grabbed up a leather mailbag and tossed his way. It jingled pleasingly when he caught it and even more so when he shook it. Even Fergus was starting to look interested in the contents of the bag. “Who’s she?” he demanded first, though, nodding at the woman.
“Joan of Arc,” the man in black returned dryly, and he nearly gave into the urge to snicker.
“Emma Cullen,” she answered instead, “and this is my associate, Teddy Q.” The other halfling nodded at him.
“Well, I do have an affinity for shiny things,” he offered, and he tried not to smirk at the look of relief that crossed Miss Emma Cullen’s face as he tossed the bag back to her. Unless he missed his guess—and he didn’t think he was—the woman was part Fae. Maybe there had been a changeling in her family and not that long ago, as Fae reckoned time. The boy, he was a bit harder to pin down. While the woman was more human than Fae, he seemed to be half and half, human and something else, something that felt like the earth and trees. Elemental, maybe? Not from his area of the world, not precisely, but maybe closer to the Aegean? A dryad? Well, if they were both halflings, it was no wonder they knew well what to offer to a Fae to tempt them along. He approved. “Is it difficult?”
“Impossible,” the monster hunter fired right back, and if it were actually possible for his heart to skip a beat in sheer joy, it might have.
“How many you got so far?”
He turned to eyeball Fergus, not liking the interest in the leprechaun’s eyes. No, this was his shiny new sandbox to play in. Fergus could keep Amador City. More than that, he didn’t like the considering look the other was shooting the halflings. At least one of them was part Fae, and since they seemed to be attached at the hip, that made them both as good as Fae so far as he was concerned. It was an unspoken covenant that Fae walking the world should take care of any changelings and children of changelings that they might come across just as they would any other full Fae that they met. Speaking of which…
“What, them?” he nodded at the halflings as he asked.
“You and me.”
And yeah, Faraday couldn’t help being impressed. A monster hunter, willing to partner up with a monster? It must be some kind of job in that case, especially if he had used the word ‘impossible’ to describe it. There was no way he wasn’t going to agree in that case. And maybe this could do a bit to satisfy his curiosity as to how a human managed to kill a wendigo. Ride off, do a job with a monster hunter, find out just how he went about doing the impossible, and keep a couple of halflings from getting their fool selves killed. Yep, there was no way he was turning this job down. Back in the saloon, he might have debated the merits of it, but this time, it was a foregone conclusion: he would be helping.
So it was only a few moments later when he was finally putting Amador City to his back, riding with two halflings and a monster hunter. They didn’t speak until the city was well to their backs, and that was him moving Jack up closer—but not too close, for her safety’s sake—to the woman and prompting, “Sending out a woman to gather guns isn’t very chivalrous.”
“I volunteered,” she answered, pausing a moment before correcting herself. “Insisted, actually.”
“And just how much monster are you and your… associate there?” It was rude, but right now, he didn’t give much of a damn. He was curious, damn it, and he had waited long enough for an answer. “You’ve got Fae in you, and him?” He turned in his saddle briefly to examine the young man. “I’m guessing… elemental?”
The boy sat up straighter, his entire demeanor as serious as could be, like he had never been caught out as elemental before, but of course, it was the woman who answered. “My grandmother was a Changeling. She always said, if we needed anything, we should call upon the Fae for help.”
“Sounds like a smart lady” was all he commented, before turning his gaze back to the young man.
“My mother was a dryad.”
“So, earth elemental,” Faraday confirmed. He certainly didn’t need Teddy’s helpful nod in confirmation. “Any other halflings involved in this?”
The pair of them exchanged glances, clearly debating their answer silent between the two of them, before Emma replied, “There might be others in town. We never really… talk about this kind of thing. That’s why we asked Mister Chisolm to help us gather an army of monsters.”
Well, there was nothing else to say to that. He made a soft encouraging sound to Jack, urging him forward to catch up with the man in black. Once he was riding abreast with the hunter—Chisolm, if Emma was to be believed, and he thought she was—he commented, “Lotta fire in those two. Begs the question, whose execution do we seek?”
“Bartholomew Bogue,” Chisolm returned blandly.
He was shocked enough that he leaned back in the saddle, confusion writ large across his face. “Bart Bogue? You mean that uppity witch who fancies himself a robber baron?”
Chisolm turned dark eyes on him, gazing at him implacably. “I do believe the man calls himself a warlock.”
He waved a dismissive hand. “And I don’t doubt that he’s a lying, scheming witch, but he’s still just an uppity witch. Still, means there’s gold in the equation, but gold don’t do you much good when you’re buried with it.” Not that would be a long term issue for him or many other monsters, but halflings? They were as mortal as the next human. That would be a issue.
“You want out? Feel free to leave,” Chisolm returned. “Just leave my horse, ‘cause I paid for it.”
You couldn’t handle Jack on a good day, he thought with no small degree of personal amusement. He would eat you alive. Literally.
“Just speaking out loud,” he countered.
Chisolm favored him a look that said he wasn’t nearly as amusing as he thought he was… which was a bit of bullshit, because he was exactly as amusing as he thought it was. And then came his marching orders. “Twenty miles east of here, Volcano Springs supply station. You look for a demon, name of Robicheaux.”
“Goodnight Robicheaux?” Because he had only heard of one demon using the name of Robicheaux, and that had been one who came topside for the War, one that had even served in the War as a Confederate sharpshooter. At Chisolm’s affirmation, he continued, “The Angel of Death…”
“Meet me outside of Junction City in three days. I ain’t there, means I’m dead and… you can keep my horse.” He turned his attention briefly to Emma. “Let’s go.”
Faraday exchanged a glance with Teddy, the young halfling looking more concerned than he was strictly comfortable. “Three days,” he called back to Chisolm, both confirming the information and as an unspoken reminder to keep the halfling traveling with him safe.
Wherever the hunter was heading, clearly it involved gathering more monsters. Personally speaking, Faraday didn’t think a monster would hurt a halfling, not intentionally, not unless they thought she aimed to hurt them first, but it was hard to say. He didn’t think that would happen, but it was hard to say. He was old and he had traveled most of the world in his time, but he didn’t know every kind of monster. He suspected he didn’t know close to every type of monster. Maybe if they thought she was a monster hunter too…
There was no use worrying about it. He would have to trust the monster hunter to keep the Changeling safe, and he would do his part to keep the halfling with him safe… and collect the demon called the Angel of Death.