There are elves out there. And, mostly, they're the good guys. Oh, they drive too fast (they love hot cars) but we'll forgive them that since they also make a habit of rescuing children in peril.
But this time it isn't just the children who are in peril. Jamie's father has joined a fanatical cult that is in contact with a supernatural entity that is ancient, powerfuland unspeakably evil. And Amanda is an abused little girl who has unheard-of psychic powers. In he rpain, she might lash out and destroy Earth and Faerie both!
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By Mercedes Lackey
Baen BooksCopyright © 1992 Mercedes Lackey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneStreamlined shapes of bright metal hurtled across asphalt, machines that roared, whined and howled, leaving hot air and deafness in their wake. They were without a doubt louder than any dragon Alinor had ever encountered. But instead of scales, these monsters were covered with flashy, bright endorsement decals for Goodyear, Pennzoil-
And, since the sport of automotive racing was more expensive with every passing year, such other odd sponsors as pizza and soft drinks.
The cars were no longer just racing machines; now they were, in effect, lightning-fast billboards. While these machines used many of the products they hawked, Alinor could only marvel at some of the strange connections made between the sport of auto racing and the things humans consumed.
The decals flashing under the sun only emphasized the vehicles' speed; they moved too fast to be seen, much less read. As car after car flashed by Alinor's vantage point, he was left with a vague impression of shapes and vivid colors. Presumably commercials had imprinted those shapes and colors in the minds of humans vividly enough that there would be instant recognition.
Alinor marveled at the sheer power of these metal beasts. The only other creature that could approach those speeds was an elvensteed, and then only if one wore a car's metallic seeming.
Sun beat down upon the track, numbing the brain, and Alinor yawned, pulling a red SERRA cap tighter over his head. Last night's final preps had taken more out of him than he had anticipated. Even for one of the Folk, two hours of sleep wasn't quite enough. He stretched a little and glanced at his watch; the team had been out here in the pits since just after dawn, and even the workaholics would be wanting to pull the car in and break before too long.
I hope, anyway, he thought, combating the sleepglue that formed on the inside of his eyelids. That break better happen soon, or I'll fall on my nose.
In spite of his fatigue, he had to grin a little as he looked around, contrasting himself with his surroundings. Hallet Motor Speedway is not where you'd expect to find one of the Sidhe hanging out. Not even one who's a founding member of the South Eastern Road Racing Association. Strange days, indeed.
Not that there weren't more elves and mages in the pits and driver's seats back in SERRA territory than anyone could ever have dreamed. Roughly a third had some connection with magic, and there were a few, like young Tannim, who were known for wandering feet. But for the most part, the elven drivers and mechanics of SERRA never left their home states and tracks, much less traveled to the wilds of Oklahoma.
Quaint little state, he had thought during the trip in, though "little" referred more to the size of the cities, not the square mileage of this new land. In many ways this was refreshing to one of the Sidhe, seeing so much wilderness with so few humans around to destroy it.
He hadn't had any trouble adjusting; so far as the natives and pit-crew were concerned, Alinor was just another mechanic. No weirder than most, since mechs were a breed unto themselves.
If for some reason I had to hide, this would be the place to come. There's no sign of Unseleighe Sidhe, and I haven't encountered anything hostile. I could set up a woodshop ... maybe become a raving Baptist out here in God's country; that would really throw any pursuers off. He shook his head, pushing the dismal mental picture away. Eck. What a truly frightening thought.
Some of the Folk, the Low Court elves, couldn't go too far outside the influence of their chosen power-nexus, and most of the rest were content with the many challenges on their home ground. But Alinor prided himself on the fact that he was not ordinary in any sense, even by SERRA standards; the only other elven mechanic that could match his skill was Dierdre Brighthair, and she couldn't challenge his mastery of metal-magics. Even Sam Kelly had been impressed by what he could do.
Of course, I am a few centuries her senior, give or take a few decades. And I've been a mage-smith for a long, long time.
He wished, though, that he could work some other kinds of magery; a little magic that would loosen Bob's tongue, for instance. Excessive conversation had never been one of the man's character defects, not for as long as Al had known him. He knew Bob was no idiot, that quite a bit must be going on in the young human's mind. The problem was that what actually came out appeared to be carefully edited or just doled out unwillingly and uttered with extreme caution. If Bob had said five words since dawn, Al would be surprised.
Their car banked around a corner and screamed past them, kicking up a brief bow-wave of hot, dry, exhaust-tinged wind, motor howling like a Bane-Sidhe. Then the beast of metal and gasoline dopplered away, swinging around for another lap.
"Hot," said Alinor, strolling the few paces away from the edge of the track to where Bob sat on an oil-drum, his red coverall immaculate, despite the hundreds of adjustments made on "their" engine since it first went out this morning. He leaned up against a tire-barrier and pulled his cap a little lower over his eyes, so that the brim met the top of his Ray-Bans.
"Eyah. It's that," Bob Ferrel replied, without taking his gray eyes off the track or the frown off his lean, weathered face.
Al sighed. Bob was in full laconic Maine-mode. Like talking to a rock. Actually, I might get better conversation out of a rock. "Nice track, though."
Considering that this out-of-the-way track was a lush little gem, that was hardly an adequate reply. When I know people who would kill to work here.... "Guys back at Fayetteville would be green," he offered.
All right, new tactic. See if he's at least listening to me. Alinor tried the path of absurdity to get something like conversation out of his human partner. "I heard they're going to bring in topless camel races next Saturday."
Now Bob finally turned his head, just barely enough to give Al a hairy eyeball, despite the glasses. "There's a ping in number three cylinder I don't like," he said sourly. "I want you to look at it when they bring it back in."
Blessed Danaa, you might have said something.
Alinor stiffened and instantly became all business. When Bob said he heard something, a SERRA mech listened to him. Bob, like young Maclyn's mother Dierdre, could tune an engine by ear. "I can look at it now," he offered.
"Do that," Bob said, tersely. "We've got a reputation riding on this."
Bob took that reputation a little more seriously than Al did; after all, a High Court elven-mage like Alinor could conjure anything he wished to out of the molecules of the air and earth around him, just by studying it long enough to "ken" it. Bob, when he wasn't partaking of elven hospitality, had a living to make. The old-fashioned way, he once joked, in a rare instance of humor. And Bob Ferrel had every intention of dying a wealthy man.
Not that I blame him, Al thought absently. He's the kind that hates charity.
The elven mechanic lounged back again, but this time every bit of his concentration was bent on the car careening its way back towards them. Or rather, his attention was bent on what was under the hood; a cast-aluminum engine block of elven make from the "shops" at Fayetteville, another one of the Fairgrove facilities. Al knew this particular block so well he could have duplicated it in an hour. He should; he had kenned it himself.
Not that he wanted anyone outside of a select company of SERRA members to know that.
He set his mind ranging inside the inferno of the howling motor, wincing away just a little from the few parts of iron (not so dangerous now, but still uncomfortable), winding his probe into cylinder three. He gave brief mental thanks to Tannim for teaching him those human mageries that made it possible for him to probe through and around Cold Iron at all.
In a moment, he had identified the problem. As the bright red car rounded the far turn, he corrected it with a brief surge of magical energies. He pulled his mind out of the engine and looked up as the car roared by the pits.
Bob was smiling as he pushed his own cap onto the back of his head.
"What was it?" the scrawny mechanic asked, running a hand over his sandy hair before replacing the cap.
"Not the cylinder at all," Al replied. "Piston arm."
"Ah." Bob relaxed still further. It hadn't been a failure of the block, and so he was content. Bob's design had been the one used as a prototype for this block, and he took design flaws personally.
Now I'll get some conversation out of him.... Al waited, and Bob remained happily silent, contemplating the track with a smile instead of a frown.
Al burst out laughing, and Bob favored him with a puzzled stare. "You're incredible!" he chuckled. "Anyone else would have been throttling me to find out what the problem was and how I fixed it, when you know damn good and well the arm's steel and you know we don't handle Cold Iron happily or well. But you, you just stand there, and say 'ah.'"
"You'd tell me when you got ready to," Bob replied, unbending just enough to give Al a "man, you're crazy" look.
Al shook his head. He was far too used to the volatile temperaments of his hot-blooded Southern compatriots. Any mech from the Carolinas would have been foaming at the mouth by now and describing my parentage in terms my mother would take extreme exception to. Not Bob. Not even close. This cold fish from the rocky coast of Maine was just as icy as the elven Nordic-derived "cousins" who'd settled there. About the only thing that got Bob's goat around here was the area itself: landscape and the climate. Al thought the rolling hills were marvelous-and the heat was a nice change from the mountainous country of home. Occasionally the residual magic left over from the times when the Indians flourished here came in handy. Though-in fairness, he wouldn't want to live here for very long, even if it was a nice change.
Not Bob. He couldn't wait to get back to "where I don't bake and I don't have to look at so much damned sky."
"''E's pinin' for the fjords,'" he muttered.
"Eh?" said Bob.
"Never mind. I was just thinking you're a lot like the liosalfar that fostered you."
"Ah," said Bob, his icy gray eyes softening a great deal. "Good people, your cousins."
Al sighed. Another typical understatement. At the tender age of eight, "Bobby" had been rescued by one of the alfar from freezing to death in a blizzard. He had been running away from a father who had nearly beaten him black for failing to come immediately when called. It wasn't the first time a beating had occurred, but it was the last.
Acting on a tip from a human, Gundar, Bobby's foster father to be, had put the house under snowy owl surveillance for several weeks, waiting, at times in agony, for the right moment to intervene. The beatings had become more severe with time, coinciding with an increased consumption of straight bourbon whiskey, chased with cheap grocery store beer. Even at that age, little Bobby could see the correlation between Daddy's "joy juice" and being beaten; when Father was on a roaring drunk, Bobby made himself scarce, which further angered the old man.
Granted, the father had been under a severe strain; the fish cannery, which was the town's sole employer, had just closed. Daddy must have suspected something going wrong with the company long before that, for the start of the layoffs had been when the drinking started as well.
Ultimately, though, Bobby neither knew the reasons nor cared about them. All he knew was that Dad was drinking, became a frightening, crazy man when he drank, and Mother was just as afraid of him as Bobby was.
In the end she stopped trying to protect him, instead fleeing for the shelter of her mother's house when Bobby's father became "turned on." That meant leaving Bobby alone with him, but perhaps she had trusted in the frail hope her husband wouldn't hurt his own child.
The end came on a bitter December night, when Joe Ferrel was at the end of his unemployment benefits, the cannery closed for good, and at the end of the month they'd be out of a home as well when the bank foreclosed on the mortgage-
But that's no excuse to half-kill your son, Al thought angrily, his blood still running hot at the memory, as would the blood of any of the Fair Folk at the idea of mistreating a child. Good thing we got him out of there when we did. After the foreclosure, there was no telling what would have happened.... "Bobby" probably wouldn't have lived through it. How can they act like that? Treating their own offspring like possessions to be used and discarded at their pleasure-
He forced himself to calm down; most humans loved their children, treated them as any elven parent would. And for those that didn't-well, there were other possibilities, not all within human society.
Like what had happened to Bob. Bob was grown up now, and safe-had been safe the moment Gundar found him. The situation had been perfect for a changeling-swap: take the boy and leave a lifeless, frozen simulacrum in his place. Easily done, and the exchange left no traces in the human world, for why run a tissue analysis on a frozen corpse when it was obvious why the "boy" had died?
And Bob found a new home with those who loved and cherished children, even those not of their species. A home where the rules were strict, but never arbitrary, and punishment was never meted out in anger. A place where intelligence was encouraged to flower, and where his childish delight in mechanical things was fostered, nurtured and educated, even if the liosalfar were sometimes baffled by the direction it took. Clockwork and fine metal-work they understood-but cars?
Still, he was given free rein, though he had been asked to keep his engines of Cold Iron somewhere where they wouldn't cause disruption to fields of magic, and physical pain to his foster relatives.
So things had continued, until as a young man, he eventually got a real job in the human world-for no human could live forever in the elven enclaves. Even Tam Lin had known that. The job had been at a human-owned garage whose proprietor knew about the liosalfar and approved of them, an American Indian of full Mohawk blood that considered them just another kind of forest spirit.
Excerpted from The Otherworld by Mercedes Lackey Copyright © 1992 by Mercedes Lackey . Excerpted by permission.
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