(a prologue to Mom's Last Stand, told from Melissa's point of view. This scene occurs right before chapter 1 of the book.)
"Are you sure he can't see us?" my daughter Regan whispered, clutching my sleeve.
It was a fair question, given that we were standing only a few feet away from a nasty-looking, dragonfly-winged pixie. He had a scar running across one blind eye and a set of sharp daggers, one in each hand. He scowled as he peered in our direction...and looked right through us, presumably seeing nothing.
"Ida's got an illusion shield up," I said as the pixie wandered slightly away from us. "It must be working."
I was thankful for that too. Our band of merry Stronghold misfits had been holed up inside a rental house outside Redmond, Oregon for only a few days. It had been a production to move us from our last hideout. Moving again would take a lot out of us.
It would have been better if we could strike our enemy first, but Archbishop Idris of the Blessed Order had gone into hiding. He wasn't our only problem. We also had a bunch of bounty hunter fae gunning for us. The pixie was the second one in so many days that had shown up at the remote rental house.
"What are you two doing out here?" a voice growled behind us.
We jumped, not having heard Gabriel Alston approach the outskirts of the ranch that overlooked a set of hills in the distance. You'd think a stone monster gargoyle would make a lot of noise, but sometimes when he glided in the air, he only created the barest whisper on the wind.
I folded my arms in self-defense. "We're staying within the illusion shield perimeter. We're perfectly fine."
"I'd rather you stayed in the house."
"We're too cooped up in there. We needed a change of scenery."
He scowled. "You could have least warned the rest of us that someone else was snooping around."
"We were about to go find you," I said. "We just got distracted by the pixie's scar."
"It's very intimidating," Regan added. "But kind of misleading, don't you think? Scary as it looks, it probably messes with his depth perception."
"I haven't thought of that," I replied. "Do you think that's why he compensates with two daggers instead of one?"
"I think it's a distinct possibility."
Gabriel growled. "This isn't funny."
I wagged a finger at him. "I don't see you doing anything to stop the pixie, you big bad gargoyle."
"That's because I'm a big bad gargoyle who delegates."
"Delegates to whom?" I asked.
Before he could answer, the pixie shrieked, raising his hands above his head and whipping around. He flailed for a few seconds before something smacked into him, and he crumpled to the ground.
Henry, our resident sasquatch with invisibility powers, towered over the pixie's unconscious body. I knew the moment he became visible because Regan flinched in surprise.
Henry waved in Gabriel's general direction. "Got 'im!"
Gabriel stepped past the illusion shield line. We followed on his heels.
Henry blinked in confusion as we came into view. "What are you two doing out here?"
"That's exactly what I asked," Gabriel grumbled. "Talking with them is like asking a pair of cats for directions."
"I'll have you know that most cats have a much better sense of direction than we do," I shot back.
"Yeah!" Regan agreed before she realized I'd insulted us. Then she glared at me.
Henry rolled his eyes, focusing on Gabriel. "What do you want me to do with our little winged pest?"
"I'll take care of him, like I did the last one," Gabriel said.
Regan gasped. "You're not going to kill him, are you?"
"As tempting as it is, no," Gabriel answered. "He's just following orders from Queen Mab. But we do need to get him out of here. I'll fly him a decent distance away so he'll have a hard time finding his way back."
"But he might return, along with more friends," I pointed out.
"That's why I plan on starting a rumor among the fae that we've moved on," Gabriel said. "If I visit a fae hangout relatively close by, perhaps in Nevada at one of the fae-run casinos, I could create the impression that we've split up and are leaving the area."
"You're going to go gambling alone and convince a bunch of fae that you're not with us anymore?" I asked skeptically.
"I agree," Henry interjected. "At least take one of us with you."
"Not just one of us," I argued. "Me. I'm one of the people Queen Mab is looking for."
Gabriel frowned. "That would put you in harm's way."
"Then I could go," Regan volunteered.
"No," Gabriel, Henry, and I said in unison.
She folded her arms across her chest and glowered in defeat.
I nudged the leg of the unconscious pixie at our feet. "These guys are persistent. You're going to need good bait to make it convincing."
Gabriel didn't look happy, but he finally said, "Fine. You and I will go after I dispose of this trespasser. Be ready for a long flight when I get back or get left behind."
The three of us stepped back as Gabriel grabbed the pixie by the waist, threw him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, then spread his enormous bat wings and took off into the air.
"Gabriel needs to find his chill," Regan muttered.
Henry shook his head at her. "He's just scared for Melissa."
"He should be scared for all of us," I said. "We might be able to stop the fae from sniffing around the ranch, but we have bigger problems beyond that. If the archbishop gets his way, everyone is in danger."