The Fae man crept through the gap in the gate, a bundle clutched tight to his chest. It was only a shadowy walk of a few feet to the window from where he was and he should be able to escape detection and finish the job as long as he was quiet.
He slipped through the shadows, his dark cloak pulled tight over his shoulders as he carried his burden to the window, crouching under it for a moment before he peered inside.
Twin beds were pushed against the far wall with twin figures slumbering in them, only illuminated in part from the warm glow of a nightlight plugged into the wall. It painted a pretty picture, but the Fae man had no time to appreciate it; he had a job to do.
Slowly, he drew a dagger and slipped it under the window frame, sliding the lock out of place so he could push the window open enough to slip inside, making sure to protect the bundle he carried as he eased himself through the gap and slid to a crouch on the floor inside the room.
Standing up, and testing for creaky floorboards, he crept toward the nearest bed and looked down at the peacefully sleeping child who was unaware of what was about to happen.
A cloth carefully placed over the child’s face and he slept even deeper, a drugged slumber that would be peaceful enough for the Fae man to make the switch without the human child being any wiser until it was too late.
He bundled the sleeping human child up in his cloak and deposited the bundle he had been carrying onto the bed, and tucked it in, checking the resemblance one last time as he stroked the child’s cheek lovingly.
“Sleep, mo cridhe. One day we shall have what is rightfully ours. You and the other children are the beginning. Do not fail us.”
And then he turned and slid out the window again, closing it as if he had never been there; across the shadowed yard and away into the hills again, the human child tucked close to his chest, success filling him with a sense of accomplishment. Soon enough their plan would be realized, and the hills would open once again like they had in the old days. It was time for the Sidhe to rise again.
“Cass, is it really necessary we do these every month?”
I didn’t even bother glancing over at Rory as he voiced his tentative complaints, watching the road ahead and going over the list of things I had to do once we got back to Dublin. I didn’t really have time for wingeing interns at the moment, though I couldn’t exactly blame him, I didn’t want to lead the Safety for Selkies meeting either, but that was just part and parcel for the job. And to be fair, Rory was the best intern I had ever had; humble, did what I asked him, and learned from his mistakes. He just had the habit of complaining a lot.
“We will do this until they learn not to hide their skins in obvious places like someone’s beach bag or socialize with men they don’t know.”
Rory groaned. “That will be literally forever then. I swear, that is how I will die, at a SFS meeting.”
I cracked a smile. The kid was a bit dramatic too. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they don’t put it on your grave stone.”
I pulled my old Land Rover Defender into the car park of the town center in where this month’s meeting would be held, and breathed in the briny sea air, memories of childhood summers on the southern beaches coming back as they always did when I came down here. Good but bittersweet memories that made me want to instinctively touch the pendent around my neck, but I refrained. No time for that now, no time for it ever really. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself.
Rory ran around the vehicle to meet me, his coat folded over his arm and a coffee in his hand. His dark curls were whipping into his eyes from the sea breeze and he looked just as harried as ever. When he had first started working for BPAFF, I had thought he was overly high strung or maybe caffeinated, but I had soon come to realize that Rory always looked like that. It wasn’t that he was always on edge or anxious, he just seemed to run on a higher energy than most people.
He followed me up to the entrance of the town center before he halted, a horrified expression on his face as he pointed at something peeking from the sculpted bushes beside the walkway.
“Cass!” he squeaked.
I looked down and huffed a sigh as I caught sight of the mottled grey skin and bent to pick up the seal pelt. “Well, Rory, it looks like your worst fear might come true after all. They certainly haven’t learned since the last time.”
“I don’t like the empty eyes,” Rory said in a hushed voice, his own eyes cast down at the ground.
“I know.” It certainly hadn’t been the first time I heard that.
A little crash course on selkies. They’re girls who have the ability to shape-shift into seals, though unlike a typical shapeshifter like a phooka who can actually change forms at will and choose multiple ones, selkies are more akin to skinwalkers, and must have their seal pelt to change into their seal form. When they took the skin off they revealed their human form; that of a beautiful woman or handsome fellow though there were far more female selkies than male ones, always had been—and the males tended to stick to themselves. The old stories go that if a human were to find the skin of a selkie and hide it, she would belong to him, and have to be his mate. Easy way to find a bride for losers, let’s be honest. The problem was, selkies just weren’t the smartest fish in the sea, and their skins were so easy to find you can’t blame the sailors for stumbling upon them while entranced by the lovely maidens dancing on the beach in the moonlight as selkies are wont to do. So BPAFF decided to start a program to teach the selkies about how to be safe and to hide their skins better and all that, thus the Safety for Selkies meetings.
Granted, I didn’t enjoy this any more than Rory did. But I was picking up the slack now that Bree had gone and married the High King. She was the one who used to run the meetings, so much more patient than any of the other BPAFF agents, but with her gone, I had decided to simply do it myself, because there was no point in pulling good field agents off of missions to do this kind of thing, and most of what I did anymore was paperwork, so getting out of the office was enjoyable and refreshing. I just shared the pain with Rory because he needed to learn sometime. And besides, someone had to toughen the kid up.
We proceeded into the town center and I left the lost seal pelt at the front desk where several others had been stashed. I could hear the giggling and girly banter from here before Rory and I even got to the auditorium where we would hold the meeting. Rory looked like he was bracing himself or getting ready to bolt as I opened the door.
We were greeted by the sight of beach blond girls in sundresses and sandals, standing around, holding nonsensical conversations and twirling their hair. I could see several more seal skins draped over chairs or stuffed under them, others hanging out of the beach bags the girls carried. One was even draped over the podium at the head of the room.
As soon as we entered, they looked at Rory like catnip, and he promptly tried to hide behind me—my brave intern. “Take a seat, ladies,” I told them.
“Hi, I’m Aileen!” One girl said, bounding up to Rory and practically falling against him. “Will you hold this for me?” Rory froze as a seal skin was plopped into his arms and a whimper escaped his throat.
“No, you keep it—here,” he said quickly and tossed it back at her, before beating me up to the podium, biting back another whimper as he found more skins scattered around and performed a strange hopping run as he tried to avoid them.
“Ladies, please take a seat,” I said again and this time they did with disappointed sighs that I was interrupting their enlightening conversations. They shuffled around a bit and finally seemed to find a position they liked so I started talking as Rory set up the easel and diagrams.
“I’m Director Cass Whalen of BPAFF, thank you for coming to the Safety for Selkies meeting, this is so we can help you all be more safe with your habits so you don’t fall prey to those who would take advantage of you. Specifically how to hide your skins well so no one will find them.” I cast a meaningful glance around the room. “That’s the one I think you all need a little work on.” I turned to the chart Rory had set up and motioned to it as he pointed to several overly simplified pictures with green check marks or red x’s over them. “As you can see, leaving your skin out on your beach towel is not a good idea, however, hiding it under a rock is much better.”
One of the selkies in the front row raised her hand. “Miss Whalen, what if we don’t want our skins to get wrinkly. If you put them under a rock, they will get, like, creases.”
“Ew, creases,” her friend said with distaste.
“But isn’t it better to have creases in your skin than to be captured by a man of ill repute?” I very nearly pleaded.
She frowned, thinking about it. I let her do so, and continued on. “And you can’t just hand them over to anyone like one of you did with Rory when we came in. That’s literally giving someone a way to control you.”
“But he’s so cute!” said the girl who had given Rory her skin. “I like him!”
“He can control me any day,” another said with a suggestive look.
Rory blushed bright red and busied himself fixing the easel, which only made it fall over to the girl’s concentrated giggling. I closed my eyes briefly and shook my head. “Just because someone is cute doesn’t mean they don’t mean you harm. Now we’re going to do some exercises; I’ll show you some places and you’ll tell me whether they are good or bad hiding spots.”
It went on like that for another hour, most of the answers to the questions incorrect. I already had a headache starting but it was almost over, so I wasn’t going to sweat it.
“That just about wraps it up,” I said finally. “Any questions before we leave?”
Many hands shot up and I picked one at random. “Yes?”
“Can I have his number?” the selkie asked, smiling at Rory who was inching behind me again.
“I don’t think so,” I told her.
“Ooh! I want his number!”
“He can have my skin!”
“Can he come to our party tonight? It will be awesome!”
“Cass,” Rory pleaded, his hand clutching a handful of my coat.
“No to all of that,” I told the ladies. “Now please, girls, try to do a little better at hiding your skins in the future; remember, pick the safest places you can find out of plain sight. We’ll see you again soon.” Or not if they kept up as they had been. First fishing vessel in from the Orkneys and they would all be taken as sailors’ brides. I ushered Rory ahead of me as he fumbled with the charts and grabbed the easel myself.
“Where’s my skin? Lindsey, have you seen it?” a voice called.
I probably should have helped, but I don’t have that kind of degree. I’m just the Director of BPAFF. We beat a quick retreat out to the Land Rover again and Rory loaded up the stuff while I removed a seal skin someone had stuck under the windscreen wiper. Sometimes I wondered why we even bothered doing SFS meetings anymore.
“Come on, let’s get some lunch before we head back to Dublin,” I said to Rory.
I drove down through the town to the docks, where there was a pub, The Captain’s Daughter, which was good. I had helped the owner several years back with a boggart problem and always made a point to stop in for a visit when I was in town.
We were sitting at the bar, waiting for our meat pie when I got a call from one of my BPAFF agents.
“Hey, Connell, what’s going on?”
“Hey Cass, I was wondering if you could send an agent my way. I’m currently trying to roust out a kelpie, and I just got a call about what I think is a changeling case this morning.”
I frowned; changeling cases were rare outside of the Border towns. It wasn’t a common occurrence in any case, since people were generally good with the protection procedures. This had been the second one to happen that I had heard about in as many months, which was a bit strange. Usually you only saw three or four a year if that.
“Another changeling case? You sure?”
“Like I said,” Connell replied, “I haven’t really looked into it, but that’s what it sounds like. Either way, I’ve got my hands full and could use the assistance.”
“Okay, give me the address, I’m actually not far so I’ll check it out myself before I head back to Dublin.”
“I appreciate it.” He gave me the address and then hung up. I turned to Rory as our meals arrived.
“Looks like we’re taking the scenic rout back home,” I told him.
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