Rainith the Red by Martin Millar

One

Rainith the Red had lived in the human world for three years. She walked among people quite easily. At one time it had been baffling. The young fairy had been born under a rose bush in a secluded forest. Her adolescence had been spent among the fairies who lived beneath the waterfall. Now she lived on a council estate in one of the busiest cities in the world. At first everything had been distressing and strange; even walking down a crowded London street could cause her terrible confusion. Rainith had grown used to it, over the years.

Rainith dressed carelessly, putting on whatever came to hand; boots, a dark pair of jeans and a nondescript jacket she'd picked up in a charity shop. Before leaving her flat she muttered the single word to activate the spell which hid the vivid scar on her face. The spell had been a parting gift from Origath the Herbalist, in sympathy for her disfigurement. It had been the only sympathy Rainith had received. The fairies blamed her for the incident that caused her injury, and the repercussions had troubled Talan, Fairy King of the Waterfall, for many months. Rainith had been banished and the King was not sorry to see her go. Ever since she was born, Rainith the Red had exhibited strange character traits. Everyone knew she was destined for a bad end.

Though she could use Origath's spell to hide her scar, Rainith was not a sorcerer. It was the only magic she possessed, apart from her ability to change size, hide her wings, and pass as human, which any of her tribe could do.

There was no lift in the old block of flats. Rainith walked down four flights of stairs on her way to the supermarket, a small branch of Tesco in the High Street, not far away. Once inside she picked up a basket, and carried it round the aisles. Most people ignored her, but a few shoppers glanced at her inquisitively. Her hair, thick flaming red, streaked with orange and yellow, was unusual enough, even in the city. And though Rainith took little care of her appearance, nothing could disguise the unearthly beauty of a fairy who walked in the human world.

Two

Henry noticed Rainith almost every day. He lived in his artist's studio, part of a very old series of railway arches which had long ago been converted into workshops and storage space. This cheap space was let out to local businesses, but as there was not much business left in this part of the city, they were mostly boarded up. Occasionally some men in a white van would arrive to load furniture into an archway, but the only light which shone regularly in the arches came from Henry's window. Though Henry was dedicated to his work, whenever he took a break, he would sit at the window and gaze down at the street, wondering if the slender woman with red hair might wander past, with her large eyes and delicate gait.

Henry knew nothing about her. He had never seen her with anyone. She didn't appear to have any friends.

'Maybe she's lonely,' he conjectured. 'I should talk to her one day.'

Henry was a reasonably confident young man. So far he'd had no success with his painting but he believed in it. Success would come. He looked at himself in the mirror. His hair was dull blond, rather spiky and untidy, and he was somewhat on the thin side. He supposed he could pass as artistic looking.

'She might be attracted to the artistic type,' he thought, idly running a hand through his hair in an unsuccessful attempt to flatten it. He watched the young red-haired woman walking by down below as she returned from the supermarket with a carrier bag in each hand.

'Next time I see her I'm going to talk to her,' he promised himself.

Henry re-applied himself to his painting. He was working on a picture of the electrical waves generated by his keys when he used them to open the doors of his car. It was part of his bluetooth series, paintings of various electrical signals. Henry was pleased with them so far.

Three

Rainith returned home with a few vegetables and two microwavable meals. Her appetite was always small. She was healthy enough but cared nothing for what she ate. She bought two bottles of cider though she knew it would be a disappointment. It would taste nothing like the drink the Fairies of the Waterfall made from apples.

The block of flats where Rainith lived was part of one of the oldest council estates in London. The red brick exterior had darkened with age and the grey tarmac between the blocks was cracked and uneven. Years ago the council had fitted new security doors at the foot of each block but these were all broken, and even the renovated windows didn't make the place look anything other than dilapidated.

Rainith climbed the stairs, then halted. The fairy in human shape was not pleased to find a man loitering outside her door. She knew the man, but Rainith did not welcome visitors.

'Duluth. What do you want?'

'We have some work for you.'

'I don't feel like working.'

Rainith made to pass him by. Duluth took a small purse from his pocket. It was an elderly looking purse, an incongruous item for a man to draw from his jacket. He shook it, producing a metallic clanking.

'Also, we owe you a little gold.'

Rainith halted abruptly. She liked gold.

'You owe me?'

'The last job you did for us, we underpaid you. You were due three more pieces of gold. Sorry about that, it was an accounting error.'

Rainith snatched the purse from Duluth's hand, moving so swiftly that her actions could hardly be observed. Her face lit up briefly because she loved gold but just as quickly she scowled at Duluth.

'What's the idea of not paying me right away? Were you trying to trick me?'

Duluth smiled, quite a large smile, matching his frame. He was a tall and strong man, with dark eyes, and dark hair just starting to turn grey.

'Her Majesty's Intelligence Service does not attempt to trick fairies out of their gold. It was just a foul-up in accounts. Anyway, I've made it up now. So can I come in?'

Rainith was still scowling. She took a step back and allowed Duluth to enter her home, though unwillingly. Fairies were famous for their hospitality but Rainith had abandoned the tradition. She didn't offer Duluth a cup of tea, or a drink, or even a seat, but stood watching him, still suspicious, though she had little reason to be. Rainith had worked with Duluth before and knew him to be trustworthy.

'Do you want me to kill someone?' asked Rainith.

'I hope it won't come to that. We've come up against some sorcery we can't get round. I thought you might be able to help.'

Rainith had assisted Duluth's Department on a few occasions when they'd encountered problems that fell outside their normal line of work. Sorcery, mainly, which the intelligence services found difficult to deal with. Rainith's fairy abilities had proved very useful. Rainith didn't care about their problems but she was very fond of gold.

Four

In the Western Marches of the Fairy Kingdom of Mercia, deep in the forest, close to the waterfall, Princess Sowena was worried. Origath the Herbalist had come to her with troubling news.

'Things will go very badly in the human world for Rainith,' said Origath. 'According to my dream.'

'What will happen?'

'She'll die in a cage.'

Princes Sowena shuddered to think of her childhood friend dying in a cage. She anxiously spun one long tress of her golden hair round her fingers and looked questioningly at Origath. The herbalist was old, though it hardly showed. He was famous for his wisdom, and his powers of fortune-telling.

'Have you not told me that your visions of the human world are not so accurate as your visions of our realm?' asked the Princess.

Origath shrugged. He didn't remember saying that.

'It was a strong vision. And really, would it be a surprise if Rainith died in a cage?'

The Princess supposed that it would not be. Very few tales of Rainith the Red had ever filtered back to the fairy kingdom of Mercia. Her activities were mostly unknown. But there had been a report once, from a young traveller, that Rainith used her sword to make a living. It was a distressing thought to the Princess, but again, it was hardly a shock. Rainith had always been unusual. There was a touch of wildness about her, even as a child, and a hint of violence in her huge green eyes.

Princes Sowena hurried off to see her father, King Talan. The Fairy King's wooden palace lay hidden behind the waterfall. Next to the waterfall, ancient oak and willow trees surrounded the clear pool where the fairies swam, and sailed in boats made of twigs, leaves and petals from the wild flowers that grew all around. King Talan had ruled in these woods for ages past, and never grew old. He was wise and benevolent, though forceful when necessary. The realms of the fairies were peaceful, but there had been times in ages past when they had come under threat. King Talan had successfully defended them against all intruders.

The King was fond of young princess Sowena and greeted her graciously. 'Have you come to discuss arrangements for the ball?'

The ball would be a splendid affair, and the King readily understood that the fairy princesses all needed to talk about it.

'I've come about Rainith,' replied Sowena.

The King's smile vanished and his eyes became hard. 'It is some time since that name has been mentioned within these walls.'

'I think she's in danger.'

Princess Sowena told the King about Origath's dream. Rainith the Red would die in a cage.

'Rainith is fortunate that she did not die at the hands of the Fairy King,' said Talan, rather grimly.

'It's a terrible punishment to be banished to the lands of the humans,' said Sowena. 'To be huge like them, and have no wings.'

'She will become used to it,' said the King who, in his youth, had once visited a human town himself. It had been part of his education, and while it was not something he would ever wish to experience again, he knew it could be done.

'Besides,' continued the King. 'Rainith is still alive. Unlike the unfortunate Alavasti, Elvish master of sword.'

'The Elvish master dealt her a terrible scar.'

'He did nothing of the sort. Rainith was scarred because she lost her temper during practice and leapt onto his blade in her fury to attack.'

The King paused, thinking back to the incident.

'She could not bear her sword master continually besting her, and she lost control. So she was injured in her mad fury to defeat him. And then, when the Elvish sword master saw her injury and dropped his blade to help her… she killed him.'

The Princess remained silent. There was no disputing it. The shocking incident had been witnessed by many of the fairies. Rainith had killed her Elvish instructor.

'It took a great deal of effort to pacify the Elves,' said the King. 'Alavasti was a very important Elf. When they sent him as ambassador to my court they did not expect him to be murdered.'

The Princess lowered her eyes. 'I still fear for Rainith's life,' she said.

The King regarded her for a while, without expression.

'Do you know how Rainith makes her living?' he asked, eventually.

'I heard she lives by her sword.'

'Do you know what that means?'

The Princess admitted that she didn't know exactly what it meant. King Talan knew. Rainith was an assassin. She killed for money. In all of the King's long experience, he could not recall a fairy who'd ever done that before.

Five

Duluth sat on the couch, uninvited.

'I see you haven't decorated,' said the agent. Rainith's living room, like the rest of the flat, was almost empty. The room was uncarpeted and the walls were the same faded cream colour they'd been since the council renovated the apartment many years ago. Rainith hadn't painted, decorated, hung pictures, or made any attempt to make her living space more comfortable. She had an old couch and one wooden chair. There was a small television on a small wooden table, and that was the extent of her furnishings. Duluth had never seen her kitchen or bedroom but surmised, correctly, that they were equally stark.

'Tell me what you want,' said Rainith.

'Your conversation hasn't improved either,' said Duluth, and though he spoke lightly, his good humour was wasted on the fairy.

'Tell me about the business or get out,' she said.

Duluth shrugged. He'd noticed that as Rainith spoke, her hand often drifted to her face, though he couldn't see any reason for it.

'We have a problem with a criminal cartel that's shipping in guns, probably through the port at Southampton. We can cope with that, probably, but it's their funding that's bothering us. As far as the Department can learn, the cartel is backed by a group in the city who've been making their money through illegal insider trading. Insider trading means - '

'I know what insider trading is,' said Rainith, interrupting him. 'I've seen it on the news.'

Duluth paused. He hadn't expected Rainith to know that. It was difficult to guess exactly how much she knew about life in a human city. She was a fairy, after all. Duluth had seen her in her fairy shape, less than nine inches tall. He'd seen her flying, with her tiny wings carrying her over tall buildings.

'Well then, you know what insider trading is. This group in the city is well-connected and we can't get to them because their offices and computers are protected by sorcery.'

'You should hire some sorcerers,' said Rainith.

'We have. But they're not good enough, apparently. We need to get into that office quickly. You might be able to get through the magic protection, and then switch it off.'

Rainith the Red nodded. She seemed a little more interested.

'I can probably get through. Human sorcery isn't strong against fairies. But turn it off? How?'

Duluth admitted he wasn't sure. 'They may have something set up in their office - a magical artefact, perhaps, that you could destroy.'

'Possibly,' agreed Rainith. 'Or it might be a spell that can't be removed without removing the sorcerer.'

There was a moment's silence. Rainith's hand strayed again to her face.

'I can remove the sorcerer,' said the fairy.

'I'm sure you can,' said Duluth who, in the course of his own employment by the Department, had removed several enemies himself.

'But it will cost you more gold,' added Rainith.

Duluth nodded. Abruptly he felt tired of Rainith's inhospitable nature and the bare walls of her undecorated flat. He rose to his feet, drawing out another purse from inside his jacket. He stood more than a foot taller than Rainith, and she suddenly seemed much slighter than she had before. Duluth held out the purse.

'One third in advance, as always.'

Rainith the Red snatched the purse eagerly and looked inside. She smiled as she saw the gold coins. Duluth gave her the address of the sorcerer's office, then left swiftly. His distaste for his surroundings quickly extended to the whole shabby council estate and he suddenly wanted to be as far away as possible.

Every time Duluth encountered Rainith, a moment would arrive when he wanted to be far away. Why this was, he didn't know. Duluth was a very experienced agent. Faced with a gang of deadly opponents, he knew what to do. But faced with Rainith, a fairy from another realm, he found himself confused, and subject to unfamiliar emotions.

Six

Rainith made herself ready for her mission. She strapped her sword round her waist. She checked her destination on a map while microwaving a platter of vegetable stew, bought pre-prepared from the supermarket. Rainith ate quickly, standing up in the kitchen, then threw the plastic tray in the bin.

As night fell, Rainith shrank to her fairy size, then fluttered to the window sill. She launched herself into the twilight gloom, flying high above the street lights, using the distant, illuminated face of Big Ben to navigate. Rainith was heading for a tall tower in London's docklands, home to various banking and investment companies, including the office which the Department was paying her to invade. The night was clear and cold. Flying over the city, Rainith could smell the fumes from the traffic below. When she'd arrived in London she'd found the stench of human pollution almost unbearable; like everything else, she'd grown used to it. As Rainith approached her target, she slowed, hovering on the faint breeze. She studied the tower block, counting the levels. Mainwrith Investments was on the fourteenth floor. Rainith focused her attention on the windows in front of her. They were dark, but she could sense something behind them.

'Sorcery,' she muttered. She was in the right place. Her fairy senses were picking up powerful magic behind the fourteenth floor windows.

'Powerful enough to keep humans out,' she thought. 'But not me.'

Rainith approached the building, preparing to land on one of the small ledges that ran below the huge plate glass windows. Abruptly, one of the windows opened. Rainith halted, very surprised. Her senses hadn't warned her that the office was occupied. A figure appeared at the window, difficult to make out in the darkness. A man, Rainith thought, though not one who looked at home in an investment office. He wore a long robe, and a cowl which hid his features.

'Welcome fairy,' called the stranger. 'I've been expecting you.'

Rainith remained still in the air, and silent.

'Did you think I wouldn't know you were on your way here?'

'How did you know?' said Rainith.

The dark figure in the window chuckled. 'I'm a very talented sorcerer. Much too powerful for an inquisitive fairy.'

He lifted his hand. Rainith, expecting a spell, swooped to attack, confident that the human's magic wouldn't harm her. She would cut his throat with her blade as she passed, and if that didn't work, she'd land behind him, transform instantly into her human shape and strike him down. As she hurtled towards him she saw something in his hand, something she wasn't expecting. It was a small crossbow. There was a sharp twang and Rainith shrieked in pain as a steel bolt tore through her body. She plummeted towards the ground, bright fairy blood pouring from the huge wound in her torso.

Seven

King Talan sat on an oaken throne, smiling benignly as one fairy after another arrived for the twilight ball. Fairies congregated around the daffodils which flanked one side of the glade, while others danced, or fluttered overhead, excitedly greeting their friends. Almost the whole tribe was there. The ball was held every year, one of a number of events marking the annual gathering of nectar. This was an important substance for the fairy clan, and the best of it was currently stored in the King's warehouse. Talan had blessed it, and declared it good.

The King's smile widened when his eldest daughter Princess Mellyn walked daintily into the glade. She was a fantastic beauty, and all eyes turned as she arrived in her shimmering evening gown, with her hair piled up in ringlets and her wings as white as snow. Though the Princess had many suitors she had arrived at the ball unaccompanied. The King nodded in approval. With so many eligible fairy princes to choose from, there was no need to make a hasty decision.

King Talan looked for his daughter Princess Sowena. As he caught sight of her, moping by the daffodils, he felt a slight dampening of his spirits. Though Sowena was herself looking looking very splendid in her pale blue dress, she was not joining in with the festivities. The King sighed. Sowena was in a bad mood, and had been since he'd refused to help Rainith the Red. He'd forbidden the Princess to send a messenger to Rainith, warning her of Origath's dream. The King did not want any of his subjects to visit London. That could be a hazardous these days, and the King was not prepared to endanger one of his loyal subjects. The King had rebuked Origath the Herbalist for upsetting Princess Sowena with his grim tidings. The rebuke was quite mild, as the King liked Origath but even so, he was not to raise the subject again.

As twilight advanced into night, torches were lit and the musicians picked up the tempo. The fairies' dancing became more energetic. Mead and cider were drunk, songs were sung, lovers embraced in the shadows and the glade was a scene of great fairy joy. Apart from Sowena, who would not join in, no matter how many suiters pleaded with her to dance. Sowena remembered Rainith more kindly than most because they had been childhood friends. Rainith might have been a strange fairy, but they had formed a bond in their youth which had never fully waned, no matter how badly Rainith had behaved later. So the Princess fretted, and wondered if she could somehow help Rainith, far away though she was, in a strange and terrible city.

Eight

Rainith passed out during the descent but woke as she crashed through the trees that were landscaped around the tall building. She bounced of one branch, slammed into another, and landed on a third. Though Rainith had plummeted from the fourteenth floor, in her fairy form she weighed no more than a large bird, and she survived the impact.

Rainith was badly wounded. She knew she'd be unable to defend herself if the sorcerer pursued her. Even if she escaped pursuit, she'd die of her wounds soon enough. Bright fairy blood still poured from her side. Though the situation was desperate, Rainith was thinking clearly. She had never been prone to panic. As she lay panting on the branch, she spied a night bus approaching. She knew the bus would travel towards the centre of the city. When it passed under the branch, Rainith dropped off, flopping onto the roof. She had an anxious moment as the bus halted only a few yards along the road to pick up passengers, but as it pulled away from the kerb she looked back towards the office block and saw no one in pursuit.

The large, red, double-decked vehicle ran quite smoothly over the city roads but each time it halted or started up again, the jolt would send a wave of pain through Rainith's body. Stretched out on top of the vehicle in a pool of blood, Rainith gritted her teeth, and hung on. The journey didn't take long but as the bus reached its last stop in Trafalgar Square Rainith knew she was in dire trouble. She was still a long way from home and she didn't have the strength to fly.

For a second Rainith imagined herself dying right there, on top of a bus in the centre of London. She dismissed the thought.

'I can heal myself at home. If only I can get there.'

There were other night buses in Trafalgar Square. Some of them would take her close to home but Rainith doubted the had the strength to find the right stop, or even wait till a bus arrived.

Trafalgar Square was home to many pigeons. Though it was late, a few still flapped lazily around the statues, looking for scraps of food. Two large pigeons dropped onto the roof of the bus. Rainith looked at them. Urban pigeons were not particular friends of the fairies, but neither were they enemies.

'Help me home,' she said to them.

The pigeons studied her without much interest. Rainith knew they weren't going to make the effort to carry her home, far away over the river.

'Lift me up,' said Rainith. 'Take me high in the sky, and the fairies will owe you a favour.'

The pigeons shrugged. They had fed well that day. They could spare a little effort, they supposed. The pigeons picked up Rainith and carried her into the air, past the top of Nelson's Column, up into the darkness till Trafalgar Square was far below them. That was as far as the pigeons could lift her. Rainith gasped her thanks, and they let her go. She pointed herself south, then spread her wings, though that caused her great pain. She would glide home, using the warm currents of air that drifted up from the city below.

'I'll heal myself at home,' she thought, quite desperately. It was true that in the forest, a fairy would start to heal in the enchanted safety of her fairy dwelling. Whether that was still true when the fairy's home was a small apartment in the south of London, Rainith wasn't sure.

She glided on, crossing the river Thames and heading south, though losing altitude already, and still dripping blood.

Nine

Henry had spent his evening talking to an artist he'd known at college, a sculptor who'd just been commissioned by a bank to install two of his works in their foyer.

'I should talk to his agent,' mused Henry, making his way back to his studio in the early hours of the morning. 'Maybe a bank would like some of my pictures.'

The back streets that led to his studio were quiet and he knew he'd have no trouble parking. He stepped out his car, still musing on his nascent career. Henry looked up, appreciating the beauty of the full moon above, pale yellow against the clear black sky. Suddenly a bird flitted across the moon, which was unusual. Even more unusual, it seemed to be falling. Henry watched, quite puzzled as it plummeted towards the ground. Henry took an anxious step backwards as the bird veered in flight and headed straight for him. Fearing he might be the target for an obviously crazy bird, he attempted to get out the way. He was too slow. The bird headed straight at his chest and caught him quite a heavy blow. Henry put out a hand instinctively to catch the bird as it bounced off.

Henry looked down. He blinked and his mouth fell open. He felt his whole body go rigid. There in his hands was a fairy. A fairy which lay twisted and bleeding.

Henry didn't believe in fairies, of course. No one did. Fairies didn't really exist. But now he had one in his hands. A fairy with long red hair. Henry frantically reviewed his day, wondering when he'd fallen asleep and when he would wake up. As far as he could tell, he wasn't sleeping. Hallucinating, then? Henry looked round but everything else seemed to be normal. And he could feel the weight of the fairy in his hands, and some warmth from the body. Moisture too, from her blood. Henry didn't know what to do. He stood with the injured fairy in his hands, feeling helpless. The fairy stirred, and raised her head.

'Take me home,' she said. Henry would have been startled at the strength of her voice, were he not already as started as it was possible for him to be.

'Where do you live?'

'Michelin Street.'

The moment he heard the words Michelin Street, Henry had his second staggering revelation within the space of a minute. Firstly, he'd learned that fairies existed. And secondly, he knew who this fairy was. She was the woman with red hair he'd often admired. She lived in lived in a block of flats in Michelin Street. Henry had seen her turning into the entrance several times. This was her, lying wounded in his hands.

Henry set off. He ran as fast as he could towards the flats in Michelin Street. By the time he got there he was completely out of breath. He had a moment of despair as he came to the security door at the entrance to the block, but was relieved - and not surprised - to find that the lock wasn't working. The door swung open and he hurried inside.

'What number do you live at?'

'I'm OK,' grunted Rainith. 'I can make it from here.'

Without warning, Rainith transformed, changing from her fairy shape into human. Henry, now startled almost beyond endurance, wailed as she crashed to the ground. He hadn't been expecting her to turn suddenly into a fully-sized person.

Rainith dragged herself to her feet, and lurched towards the stairs. Blood still oozed from her wounds. She looked near to death, and Henry squirmed in frustration at not knowing how to help. Rainith groaned as tried to climb the stairs.

'I'll take you home,' insisted Henry.

'I'll be fine,' snapped Rainith.

The fairy sagged, and leaned heavily on the wall.

'Turn back into a fairy and I'll carry you,' urged Henry. Rainith scowled at him. She didn't want to accept any more help than she had to.

'You're not carrying me,' she muttered, but she leaned on Henry's shoulder and allowed him to help her up the four flights of stairs. Henry supported Rainith as she staggered along the concrete walkway towards her apartment. Rainith struggled to open her door. When it swung open, she lost her footing and stumbled inside. She swore as she hit the carpet.

'Should I call a doctor?' cried Henry. Now that the shock was wearing off, he was becoming more and more agitated about Rainith's condition.

'Go away,' snapped Rainith. 'Leave me alone.'

'I can't just leave you here on the floor.'

Henry was horrified by Rainith's wounds. Her torso seemed to have been ripped open by some huge weapon, and there was a terrible scar on one side of her face. He helped Rainith into the living room but by the time they reached the couch she had lost consciousness. As she did so, she shrank again to her fairy size. There was a tiny sound as something shiny dropped on the floor. A fairy brooch perhaps, thought Henry, picking it up in one hand and Rainith in the other. What could he possibly do now? Phone an ambulance? For a fairy? They'd laugh at him. Henry stood over Rainith hopelessly.

A shrill cry came out of nowhere. Henry spun round in alarm to find another fairy hovering in the air, glaring at him accusingly.

'What have you done to Rainith?' cried the fairy.

'I rescued her!' said Henry.

The fairy flew to Rainith's side.

'Can you help?' asked Henry, but she ignored him. With her blond hair and pale blue dress she looked much more like a traditional fairy than Rainith, with her jeans and boots.

'Step back!' cried the newcomer. She took a tiny jar from a bag that was strapped to her waist, a bag which, as far as Henry could tell, was made out of leaves. The fairy poured several drops of golden liquid down Rainith's throat, the sprinkled the rest of the liquid over her wounds.

'Will she be all right?' asked Henry.

The fairy looked up at him accusingly.

'I really did rescue her,' said Henry.

The fairy looked at him for a while, as if judging his trustworthiness.

'I am Princess Sowena. Are you a friend of Rainith's?'

'Yes. Well not really. I found her outside and brought her home. Is she going to be all right? What was that liquid?'

'Fairy nectar. It will heal her.'

Rainith opened her eyes.

'Sowena? What are you doing here?'

'I brought you nectar,' said the young Princess.

Rainith looked down at her body. Her wounds were healing. She looked up at Henry.

'Why are you still here?' she demanded.

'I just wanted to see you were all right…'

Rainith's hand flickered to her face. She felt her scar and her expression changed to one of fury.

'Get out!' she screamed at Henry.

Henry couldn't help feeling a little offended. He had rescued her, after all. He shrugged, and walked out the living room. Behind him Rainith stretched out on the couch. Though angry, she could feel her health returning. Sowena sensed it too.

'You should sleep,' said the Princess.

Ten

Gizlik the sorcerer looked with distaste at the security guards who had escorted him to the company car. He turned to the smartly-dressed man at his side.

'When you hired me to protect your investment house, Mr Canvey, I didn't expect to be sharing my duties with a bunch of trolls.'

Mr Canvey smiled. As the public face of Mainwrith Investments he was a well respected figure in financial circles.

'Trolls? You exaggerate. Well, perhaps there's a little troll blood in there. Maybe a little demon too. But we need them, Mr Gizlik. Last night's event shows us we can't be too careful.'

Gizlik had reported Rainith's attempted intrusion. Mr Canvey, head of the investment house, was concerned. As a man familiar with the powers of sorcery, it was not an astounding piece of news that a government intelligence department had sent a fairy to breach his security. It was troubling, however.

'We must keep things quiet for at least another two days, Gizlik. It's unfortunate that we've attracted the Department's attention, but in two days we'll have wiped out every trace of our recent dealings. And we'll have cleaned out the warehouse.'

Gizlik and Canvey sat in the back on a limousine that was taking them to one of the company's warehouses in the west of the city. The warehouse contained an array of illegally traded weaponry that they really could not afford to have discovered by the authorities.

'When this transaction is done we'll keep quiet for a while, till the Department backs off. But we need two days of complete security.'

'I repelled the fairy, didn't I?' said Gizlik

'You're not sure if she's dead. She might try again.'

'I hope she does.' The sorcerer reached inside his robe and drew out a long strip of silver metal. He muttered a word. The metal strip abruptly expanded in three dimensions, forming itself into a small cage.

Mr Canvey looked questioningly at the sorcerer.

'You can make a lot of powerful spells from fairy blood. Normally it's very difficult to get hold of.' Gizlik looked at the cage. 'I hope she comes back.'

Eleven

Rainith slept on the couch and woke next morning to find Princess Sowena looking anxiously over her.

'How do you feel?'

Rainith stretched, and frowned.

'I've never felt so healthy. Which is strange, as I almost died yesterday.'

Sowena smiled. 'I brought you the best nectar. The King's own.'

'Did the King give it to you?' asked Rainith.

Sowena shook her head, and her smile vanished. She knew she was going to be in trouble for taking the nectar without permission.

Rainith flapped her wings a few times, checking that all was well. Then she changed into her human shape so that she dwarfed Sowena. Sowena tried to hide her look of distress.

'You're so big.'

'You can be big here too if you want.'

'I don't like to,' said Sowena. But as Rainith stood up, she suddenly felt foolish fluttering after her gigantic figure. The Princess shut her eyes, concentrated for a few seconds, and became as large as Rainith.

'I did it!' Sowena frowned. 'I don't like it.'

'You get used to it,' said Rainith. She looked at former friend. 'Why did you come here? And how did you find me?'

'Origath the Herbalist told me how to find you. And he…' The Princess's voice tailed off. She looked around. 'These rooms are so bare. At home you had flowers and pretty decorations all around. What happened?'

'I lost my appetite.'

'For nice things?'

'For everything. What were you saying about Origath?'

'He dreamt you were going to die in a cage!' blurted the Princess. 'A sorcerer is going to put you in a cage and you'll die!'

Rainith stared at Sowena. There was a long silence.

'Origath's visions are never that reliable,' said Rainith, finally.

'Rainith you're in terrible danger!'

Rainith shrugged. 'I'll be fine.'

Sowena was frustrated by Rainith's apparent unconcern.

'You won't be fine! You'll die! Don't you care?'

Sowena's frustration turned to anger. She hated being here in the human world and she hated being such a large size, and having no wings. She couldn't understand why Rainith had dismissed her warning so lightly.

'Rainith, you have take this seriously! Don't go near any sorcerers!'

'Too late. Who do you think wounded me last night?'

'Well don't go near him again!' urged Sowena.

'That would be difficult,' said Rainith. 'As I'm planning on killing him tonight.'

Sowena stared at Rainith, aghast. 'Killing him? Why?'

'Because that's how I earn my living.'

'By killing people?'

'Sometimes,' said Rainith. 'Sometimes I'm a spy, sometimes a thief, and sometimes I kill people.'

'That's terrible!'

Rainith shrugged again, infuriating Sowena even more.

'Rainith, what do you think the fairies at home would say if they knew?'

'I don't care what they'd say,' muttered Rainith.

'Rainith, please listen. Origath's vision was very strong. You must never go near the sorcerer again.'

'Too late,' said Rainith.

Princess Sowena shrieked. 'Is he here?'

'No, but the man I work for is. He's outside the door now. With plans for killing, no doubt. You should probably hide.'

'Hide? Where?'

'You're a fairy,' said Rainith. 'There are hundreds of places to hide.'

Sowena shrank to her fairy size, and flew rapidly out of sight. Rainith opened the front door before Duluth had a chance to ring the bell. He hurried in, looking concerned.

'I heard you were wounded.'

'I was. How did you know?'

'We intercepted a message from the sorcerer. Are you all right?'

'I'm fine. I'm going back tonight and this time I'll be ready.'

Duluth studied Rainith. He knew she was tough, but the message they'd intercepted had spoken of a severe wound. Apparently she had strong powers of recovery.

'What happened?' he asked.

'The sorcerer was expecting me. I wasn't prepared and he shot me with a crossbow. Tonight I'll kill him.'

Duluth looked at the fairy, still concerned.

'Perhaps you shouldn't get back in action so soon,' he said. 'Are you sure you're all right?'

Rainith was annoyed. 'Stop asking me that. What do you care anyway?'

'I don't care at all,' said Duluth, sharply. 'Well, if you really are fine, we could use your help again. But you won't find Gizlik at the investment house. He's gone to guard their warehouse in Acton. They're trying to clean everything up before we can get to them. We need you to negate that sorcerer.'

Rainith's mouth curled into what might have been a smile, but the expression in her eyes was hard and violent.

'I'll negate him all right. No one fires a bolt through me and gets away with it.'

'I'll be waiting near the warehouse with some agents,' said Duluth. 'If you can let us in, we can do the rest.'

'Have you brought me gold?'

Duluth nodded, but as he reached inside his jacket he paused.

'Do you only do this for gold? Does it make any difference to you that we're on the side of the law, and we're fighting criminals?'

'Not much,' said Rainith.

Duluth stared at her. He shook his head. 'Try not to destroy the place. And don't kill everyone like you did last time.'

'Are you going to give me that gold or not?' said Rainith.

Duluth handed over the gold. 'We'll be there about midnight,' he said, and left very quickly.

Princess Sowena fluttered back into the room. 'Rainith?' she cried. 'Why are you doing this?'

'I need to make a living.'

'I'm sure there are plenty of other ways to do that!'

'It's not like the forest,' said Rainith, a note of contempt in her voice. 'People in this world work.'

'But they don't all kill people!' cried her friend. 'How can you do that? And for money? It's disgraceful!'

Rainith's short temper began to fray. 'I don't see anything wrong with it.'

'If you weren't so fond of gold you'd see what was wrong with it!'

The fairies faced each other angrily.

'What happened to your honour?' demanded Princess Sowena.

'It disappeared when King Talan sent me away with this!' yelled Rainith, and snapped her fingers, removing the spell and revealing her scar.

'The King did not give you that,' said Sowena, more calmly.

'But he could have healed it.'

'Perhaps. But the King was angry. You killed the Elvish master of sword. If you'd shown remorse it might have gone differently.'

Rainith laughed. 'Remorse? I wasn't feeling any remorse.'

Sowena put her hand gently on Rainith's arm. 'Rainith, you can't go on this mission. Remember Origath's dream. You'll die in a cage.'

'I don't believe in Origath's dreams,' said Rainith. 'And I'm tired of this conversation. It's time for you to leave.'

Princess Sowena was shocked. It was exceptionally rude for a fairy to ask a guest to leave her house.

'We used to play in the trees together. I can't believe you would ever eject me from your dwelling.'

'I can't believe you never asked your father the King to help me.'

A tera trickled from Princess Sowena's eye. She changed back into her fairy form, and flew out of the window without another word. Rainith stared after her, then slammed the window shut.

Rainith felt an overwhelming rage which she struggled to control. She'd almost managed when she remembered Henry. It was bad enough that she'd been forced to accept his help but Rainith was incensed that he'd seen her scar. Her anger rose again but she didn't quite have the energy to sustain it. The anger turned into depression, and she suddenly felt lonely. She missed her fairy forest, and wondered what she would be doing now if she'd never been banished. Probably talking with Princess Sowena about outfits for the next ball, or playing in the reeds around the river, flying in and out of the undergrowth, laughing with the other fairies.

There were still hours to fill before she could set off on her mission. Rainith decided to practice with her weapons. This brought another crushing blow. Her sword was missing.

'Where is it?' she cried. Then she remembered that Henry had picked it up. She'd been in her fairy size then, and so had the sword. He'd probably mistaken it for a brooch.

Rainith seethed. Her precious sword had been forged by the Elves and it was irreplaceable..

'The painter better still have it,' muttered Rainith. 'Or there will be trouble.'

Twelve

Rainith stormed out of her flat, looking for Henry. She didn't know his address but, having once met a person, a fairy could always locate them afterwards. When she drew near to him she'd sense his presence. On the walkway that let to the elevator, paper and food scraps were spilling out of the rubbish chute. The chutes in the old estate were unable to cope with the volume of garbage. They were often either jammed or overflowing. Rainith wrinkled her nose at the unpleasant smell before hopping up on the balcony, changing into her fairy shape, and taking off. She flew over her estate in widening circles, trying to sense Henry's presence. She located him quickly, and hovered for a moment over the old railway arch.

'That's an odd place to live,' she thought, before landing nimbly on the pavement and becoming big again. She rang the bell, keeping her finger on the buzzer till she heard a voice protesting inside. Henry answered the door looking harassed. He was surprised to see Rainith but smiled broadly and welcomed her in.

The interior of Henry's arch was much more pleasant than Rainith would have guessed. Though it was a little messy, and smelled of oil paint, it had comfortable-looking furniture, a lot of blue and green cushions, and prints on the walls. There were shelves full of books, and more shelves with small sculptures on them.

'I'm really sorry I offended you,' said Henry, quickly. 'I was only trying to help you.' Henry stared at Rainith's face, and looked surprised. 'Your scar has healed already.'

Rainith glared at the painter. 'It never heals. I hide it with magic.'

'Oh… Well you were pretty anyway, even with the scar.'

'I didn't come here to discuss my scar. I came for my sword. You took it.'

Henry looked puzzled, before realising what Rainith meant. He hurried over to his coat and fished in the pocket.

'You mean this?'

Henry held out Rainith's sword. It was only two inches long. Rainith took it from him and as soon as she touched it, the sword grew into a full-sized weapon. Rainith smiled, very briefly, and slid it safely into her belt. She turned towards the door.

'Don't go yet,' urged Henry. 'I'll make you some tea. Would you like to see my paintings?'

Rainith scowled. She had no urge to be sociable. But her mood was less grim now that she had her sword back, and she still had some hours to fill before she could begin her mission.

'All right. I've got nothing better to do.'

Henry grinned, and led the fairy through into a very small kitchen.

'I live on this floor,' he said, filling the kettle. 'I paint upstairs. There's a really big window, I get a lot of light.'

Rainith liked tea. It was similar to a drink she'd drunk in the fairy world. She was starting to dislike Henry a little less. He was polite, and she appreciated politeness in others, even if her own manners had virtually disappeared in recent times. Henry led her up a narrow staircase to the studio. He noticed that Rainith made no sound when she moved. Her steps landed silently, even on the old wooden stairs.

Rainith emerged into Henry's studio. She'd known some painters in her own realm, including the great fairy artist Lewinis. He'd painted the splendid picture of King Talan which now hung in the King's throne room. Lewinis was widely regarded as the finest fairy painter of his generation. The grandest fairies vied to have him paint their portrait.

'I've been working on these,' said Henry, indicating a canvas on an easel. Beside it, two other canvases were propped up on the floor.

Rainith looked at the painting. As far as she could see it was nothing more than a series of small white lines on a black background.

'What is it?'

'It's the electrical signal generated by turning my Playstation on.'

Rainith looked completely blank. Henry suddenly realised that Rainith, as a fairy, might not know what a Playstation was. He swiftly pointed to one of the other canvases.

'This is the signal from my car keys to open the car doors.'

Again, it was a black background with a few white lines. It looked almost identical to the other painting.

'I'm doing a series,' said Henry, proudly.

Rainith finished her tea swiftly and put down the cup.

'I have to go now.'

'Already? I have more paintings…'

'I've seen enough.'

Henry frowned. He couldn't help but feel dissatisfied with Rainith's response.

'Don't you like them?'

'Why would anyone like them? They're boring.'

Henry was appalled. Even when talking to a fairy he was strongly attracted to, with long red hair, beautiful green eyes, and fine cheekbones, he didn't like to hear his paintings described as boring.

'They're not boring,' he said. 'I'm recording the repetitive and mundane processes which make up our lives.'

'Isn't that the same as being boring?'

'No. It's completely different.' Henry was offended. He started to regret any notion he may have had of being attracted to this fairy.

'Don't you paint pictures of people?' asked Rainith.

Henry waved his arm dismissively. 'I've never been attracted to portraiture.'

'Why? Is it too difficult?'

'There's no need to be rude,' said Henry, raising his voice. 'Obviously you know nothing about art. Fairies must be deficient when it comes to painting.'

'We are not deficient! I've met the great fairy artist Lewinis. Everyone says his portrait of King Talan is the finest picture in the land.'

'Sounds boring to me,' said Henry, pointedly.

'Well I'm bored with this conversation,' said Rainith. 'I'm going home.'

She walked out without another word, leaving Henry furious.

'How dare that ignorant fairy come in here and insult my paintings,' he said. 'I detest her. She should go back to fairyland.'

Henry swore to himself that he'd never even think about Rainith again. He was still muttering about how much he disliked her as he removed his current painting from the easel and propped it against the wall.

'Who'd have thought a fairy would be so rude and unpleasant?' he asked himself, as he prepared a fresh canvas for a new painting.

'I hope I never meet her again,' he said. Then he began working on a his new picture, because while he now hated Rainith, he suddenly felt a great urge to paint her portrait.

Thirteen

Sowena was summoned to the throne room where she found the King in an unusually bad temper. His wings shook with anger as he regarded the errant Princess.

'Explain yourself, Princess Sowena. Why did you leave the ball early?'

The Princess knew that it was pointless lying. The Fairy King could not be deceived by lies.

'I went to warn Rainith of Origath's dream.'

The King's wings trembled a little more, though his voice remained calm.

'And how did Rainith take this warning?'

The Princess looked downcast. 'Not very well.'

'Was Rainith pleased to see you?'

'Not really,' admitted Princess Sowena.

The King rose from his throne. He was a tall fairy and towered over his daughter.

'My warehouse-master reports that a portion of our finest nectar is missing. Do you know anything about that?'

'I took it to Rainith,' said Sowena, and stared resolutely at the floor.

'You stole nectar!' roared the King. 'One of our most precious treasures!'

'I thought she might need it,' mumbled the Princess, by now very intimidated. 'She did. She was injured.'

'Injured by fighting, no doubt.'

King Talan controlled himself, with an effort. He'd never had cause to be angry with Sowena before, and furious though he was, he was not enjoying this interview any more than his daughter.

'Tell me about your visit,' demanded the King. He listened impassively while the Princess related the tale of Rainith's current employment, and her defeat at the hands of the sorcerer, and her wounds, and how she blamed the King for her disfigurement, and how she had finally ordered Sowena to depart. At the end of her story the King remained silent for a long while and the only noise in the throne room was the distant rumble of the great waterfall.

'So,' he said, eventually. 'Rainith the Red has not lost her love of fighting. Nor her love of gold. Was she grateful for your help? Are you still full of pity for her?'

Princes Sowena looked miserable, and said nothing.

'You were foolish to visit her,' said the King. 'And as for stealing nectar, words fail me. Rainith is beyond the love or pity of her fellow fairies. Never visit her again, or mention her in my presence.'

The Princess looked at the King. 'What is my punishment?'

'Your punishment is that I am extremely displeased with you. And I will remain so.'

Princess Sowena slunk out of the throne room. The King sat motionless on his throne, deep in thought. His courtiers crept past the room in silence, careful not to disturb him, because it was a long time since they'd seen the King in such a foul mood.

Fourteen

Rainith the Red hovered over a warehouse in Acton, in the west of the city. She was healthy, angry, and eager for action. Rainith was alone in the sky and the streets below were quiet. There was nothing to distract her concentration.

'You won't catch me unaware this time,' muttered Rainith, hovering easily on the current of warm air from the buildings below. The warehouse was surrounded by a small yard. There were tall gates at the front, and Rainith noticed some figures standing behind them. Security guards, she thought. She'd deal with them later.

A small patch of light appeared at the side of the warehouse as a door opened. A figure emerged. Rainith drifted lower. The figure looked up. It was Gizlik, the sorcerer. He stood silently, gazing into the sky. Rainith was still high up, probably too far away for Gizlik to make out clearly in the dark, but she knew he was aware of her.

'He's confident,' thought the fairy. 'I'll make him regret that.'

With a great beating of her wings Rainith the Red dived from the heights. Her long red hair streamed out behind her as she swooped down, her sword in her hand. As she came within fifty feet of Gizlik she folded her wings around her, pointed her sword and raced like an arrow towards his throat. Rainith felt the aura of defensive spells around the sorcerer but the fairy crashed through them as if they weren't there.

Gizlik didn't move. He watched Rainith descend. When it seemed too late to do anything, he spoke a word. Six dark shapes, previously anonymous in the shadows, erupted from the ground. Six great black ravens flew directly into Rainith's path, clawing and biting at her. Each of the huge ravens was larger than the fairy and she found herself fighting a desperate battle to keep them at bay. She sliced off one ravens's head and stabbed another in the breast but the four others dragged her down, biting and shrieking. Rainith slew another as they crashed to the ground in a tumbling mass of feathers and blood. She was on the point of taking her human shape when Gizlik stepped forward and struck her from behind. Rainith lost consciousness immediately. The sorcerer looked down at her.

'You weren't expecting that, were you, you foolish fairy?' he said, and sounded very good humoured about it. The sorcerer drew the metal bar from his cloak, and spoke his spell. It expanded into a cage. He picked up Rainith, put her in the cage, and fastened the door. He glanced at the three remaining ravens.

'Thank you,' he said. 'Off you go now.'

The birds flew off. Gizlik walked back to the small side door which led to the office he'd been using as a base for his sorcerous protection of the premises. As he entered, Mr Canvey was coming in from the other door.

'Is that the fairy?' The head of the operation looked at Rainith in the cage. 'Delicate little creature, isn't she? Can she really fly?'

'She can,' said Gizlik. 'But she won't be doing it again.'

Mr Canvey knew that Gizlik planned to drain her blood but didn't care about it. Gizlik was welcome to carry on with his sorcerous side projects as long as he attended to his main task of protecting the operation.

'Is everything else all right?'

Gizlik nodded. 'There have been a few prying spells from the Department's sorcerers but they're too weak to bother us.'

'Good. We only need a few more hours to get the warehouse cleaned up. We'll be out of here by morning.'

Fifteen

Princess Sowena sat alone in her private room at the top of an ash tree, feeling sad. She was in disgrace. Everyone knew that the King was annoyed at her. His displeasure would be enough to make her life very uncomfortable. There would be no invitations to pleasant afternoon picnics by the river while it lasted, and no fairy princes would come to pay suit.

Worse than the King's displeasure was the misery she felt about her old friend Rainith. The Princess could hardly reconcile Rainith's behaviour with the bright young fairy she used to know. Rainith had always been wild, by fairy standards, but not savage, and not without honour. Now she was killing for gold, and apparently enjoying it.

The princess sighed, as she had done many times, and folded her wings around her for comfort. She tried to put Rainith out of her mind, so she wouldn't have to think about how unlikeable she'd become.

Sixteen

Henry painted for a long time. He painted till his anger had gone. When he finally stepped back from his easel, he was satisfied with the results. He'd captured her hair perfectly, with yellow and orange streaks highlighting the brilliant red.

'It's going to a be a great picture of Rainith,' he thought. He felt a little more kindly towards her. She hadn't liked his bluetooth paintings but could he really blame a fairy for having deficiencies in artistic taste?'

'No doubt she'd have found Picasso confusing too,' he mused. 'I should have brought her up to date with the last few hundred years of art before I showed her my paintings.'

Suddenly he remembered how very rude she'd been, even after he'd made her tea, and he started to dislike her again. Henry sighed. Whether he liked or disliked her, he still had an irresistible urge to paint her. He picked up his brush and got back to work.

Seventeen

Rainith the Red woke up in a cage in Gizlik's workroom. Though she was in a modern warehouse, Gizlik's office resembled something from a former age. It was lit by candles and there was a tapestry on the wall. Rainith's cage had been placed on an old wooden table and piled high on the table were old books manuscripts. Gizlik had made his room comfortable for a working sorcerer.

Rainith fluttered around the cage, examining it, but the metal bars were too strong for her to break. She tried to transform into human size to burst out of her confinement, but nothing happened. She could not change shape. The sorcerer's cage was shutting off her magic. Rainith growled in frustration and realised, too late, that Gizlik was much more powerful than she'd given him credit for. She hadn't expected him to control ravens. She hadn't expected him to put her in a cage that negated her magic. In her mission to kill him, she'd failed, and now she felt helpless.

Gizlik entered the office. He still wore his robe but his hood was down and for the first time Rainith saw his long dark hair and his heavy brow. Though he looked old, he moved like a young man.

'It's centuries since I saw a fairy,' said the sorcerer. 'I never cared for them much.'

He smiled, or rather sneered. It was hard to tell which.

'You're rather a tough fairy, aren't you? With your sword at your hip. What's your name?'

Rainith drew herself up and looked him in the eye, though he was many times taller than her.

'Rainith the Red. Fairy assassin.'

Gizlik laughed. 'Assassin? You don't seem very good at it.'

'I'm going to kill you.'

'That's not very likely, fairy. Not likely at all.'

Gizlik picked up a large pair of metal tongs. 'Fairy blood,' he said, as if making idle conversation. 'Very powerful in magic. Very hard to come by, unless a stupid, careless fairy blunders in where she's not wanted.'

Rainith, alarmed, flew around the cage, trying to avoid the pincers. Gizlik grunted in anger as she eluded him, dashing this way and that. Finally Gizlik used the tongs as a club, catching Rainith a blow and sending her spinning into the metal bars. Rainith was dazed and before she could recover she found herself grasped firmly by the tongs and drawn toward the side of the cage. Gizlik pinioned Rainith to the bars, fastened a test tube below her to catch her blood, and picked up a scalpel. He made an incision in the small fairy and blood spurted from her forearm.

'The power I can extract from your blood will make me the most powerful sorcerer in the country,' said Gizlik. 'You can take that thought to your grave. At least you'll have done something useful with your life.'

Eighteen

King Talan sat on his throne late into the night. He was troubled in a way he hadn't been for a long time. Everything had been going well recently. King Talan was widely love by his subjects. The kingdom was in fine shape. Even so, the King was troubled by the matter of Rainith. She had undoubtedly deserved to be banished. But Princess Sowena had said that Rainith blamed him for the scar on her face. Of course, the scar had come about through Rainith's own rashness and aggression. She just couldn't resist trying to defeat the Elvish master of sword. She'd refused to back down. It was entirely her fault that the training session had progressed from a mock fight to a deadly duel.

The King sighed. It was true that he might have done more to heal her scar before sending her away. But there had been so much to think about, with the Elves outraged about the murder, and the palace in uproar. The King had been so furious at Rainith that he just wanted her out of his sight.

'Oh well,' muttered the King. 'She has the spell to hide it.'

Origath had slipped the spell to her discretely, just before she left the kingdom. King Talan knew of it, and had not prevented it.

The King still didn't feel like going to his bedchamber. Eventually his head nodded, and he fell asleep on his throne. King Talan was not prone to nightmares. Fairies very seldom were. But the King slept uncomfortably, and mumbled in his sleep. Vague shadows pecked at him from the darkness, like evil crows. The King shuddered. Suddenly a huge blade cut his body. In his dream, the King cried out in pain and fear. He saw his blood rushing out, and with it went all the blood of his fairy tribe.

The King woke with a jolt, covered in perspiration, and greatly alarmed. He leapt from his throne and swiftly lit the nearest torch. He shouted out for his attendants, and two courtiers came rushing in.

'Bring Princess Sowena,' cried the King. 'Quickly. Immediately. Bring her now.'

Nineteen

Henry kept very irregular hours, often working through the night. He was working assiduously on his portrait of Rainith when Princess Sowena flew in through his upstairs window. Her long golden hair was tangled and she looked like a fairy who'd dressed in a hurry.

'King Talan had a terrible dream! Something dreadful is happening to Rainith. We have to find her right away!'

'Isn't she at home?'

'Of course she's not at home or I wouldn't have come here!' cried the Princess. 'Are you going to keep asking questions or will you help me find Rainith?'

Henry snapped into action, which he was capable of doing when the occasion demanded.

'Fine, I'll get my car.'

Henry threw on a coat and led the fairy princess along the street.

'Wait,' said Sowena. She looked into the air and spoke a few words. Moments later a bird appeared. A nightingale, Henry guessed, though he wasn't very good at recognising birds.

'Have you seen fairy with long red hair?' she asked the bird. The bird whistled.

Sowena got into the car. 'No luck. Drive somewhere and we'll try again.'

Henry looked at Sowena. 'This is your plan? We go around asking birds?'

'A bird might be able to point us in the right direction. If we get close to Rainith I'll sense her. Drive somewhere.'

Henry set off, heading for the centre of London.

Twenty

Mr Canvey was supervising the removal of the last of the weapons from the warehouse. He was satisfied with their progress. It was annoying that the Department had located this building, but they had other hideouts. It was awkward too that the Department was investigating his investment house, but again, there were other companies.

'We'll be needing your services for a while yet,' he told Gizlik. They watched as a forklift hoisted a container onto a flatbed truck. There was something strange about the driver.

'Part demon, I think,' said Mr Canvey, in reply to the sorcerer's unspoken question. 'Would have seemed strange at one time, before our business took us in a certain direction. I'm used to it now. How is your fairy?'

'Almost dead.'

'Did you get what you wanted?'

The sorcerer nodded, and gestured with his hand. A spout of blue flame erupted from his palm.

'I got a lot of power.'

'Good,' said Mr Canvey. 'Well be needing it. Duluth and his Department get everywhere these days.'

Twenty one

'Here we are,' said Henry.

The were parked in a side road, beside a large warehouse. According to Sowena, Rainith was inside.

Despite Henry's scepticism, the third bird Sowena asked had seen Rainith, flying westwards. Henry headed in that direction and soon enough Sowena had sensed Rainith, and brought them here. Henry opened the car door.

'Time to go.'

Princess Sowena hesitated. 'I'm scared.'

'It'll be fine,' said Henry, confidently. 'You've got fairy powers and I'm tougher than I look.'

Sowena smiled. 'I knew you'd be painting her.'

'How?'

'What else would a painter do if he falls in love with a fairy?' Sowena looked dubiously at the warehouse. She produced a small jar from her dress. 'The King gave me his best nectar for Rainith.'

'I thought the King didn't like her?'

The Princess didn't reply. They approached a small side window which was protected by a fence. Henry scrambled over while Sowena changed into her fairy shape and flew. Henry would have liked to enter quietly. He was certain that there were cunning ways to open a window from the outside. Unfortunately he didn't know what these might be so he picked up a rock and smashed the window, desperately hoping that no one heard. He climbed inside, followed by the princess.

'Rainith!' cried Sowena, and flew swiftly across the room to the cage on the table. Rainith was lying face down in a pool of dried blood. Henry wrenched open the cage and picked her up. Her body felt cold. Blood was congealed around several deep gashes in her arms.

Princess Sowena forgot her terror. 'Lay her on the table,' she cried. Sowena produced her tiny jar of nectar and held it to Rainith's lips. Sowena poured as much of the nectar as she could down Rainith's throat, then sprinkled the rest on her wounds. Nothing happened. The Princess began to flutter her wings in agitation. Her agitation was shared by Henry, who feared that Rainith might already be dead.

Abruptly, Rainith convulsed, and then sat up. She shook her head and clambered to her feet.

'What happened?' she asked.

'I brought you fresh nectar from the King,' replied Sowena. She hugged Rainith. 'I thought you were dead.'

'I feel fine,' said Rainith, and she meant it. The King's nectar, the richest in the land, had again miraculously revived her.

Rainith suddenly changed into her human shape, although this time she retained her wings. For a fairy who'd been close to death only moments before, she looked vigorous and healthy. And ferocious, noticed Henry. Rainith's expression was murderous and her hand rested on the handle of her sword. Her scar wasn't hidden. It glowed bright red in a diagonal scrawl right down her face.

'How did you get here?'

'I drove,' said Henry.

'Then go back to the car and hide.'

Rainith drew her sword. The Princess flew onto her shoulder.

'Can't you leave with us?' she asked. 'Don't fight any more.'

Rainith laughed, a very grim laugh, and didn't reply.

'Who put you in the cage?' asked Henry.

'Gizlik,' replied Rainith. And then, as if to demonstrate her hatred for the sorcerer, she took a candle from the table and used it to set Gizlik's papers alight. The old documents burned easily.

'Leave while it's safe,' said Rainith, and headed for the door.

'Don't kill anyone!' cried Sowena.

Rainith paid her no heed, and marched out the office with her sword in her hand.

Twenty Two

Rainith the Red stormed down the corridor, looking for someone to kill. Though she was human size she had retained her wings. Rainith could not fly while in human shape, but she felt like reminding the world that she was a fairy and it was a bad mistake to mess around with a fairy. She turned a corner and ran straight into two warehouse workers. Rainith cut them down mercilessly. Anyone she encountered in this warehouse was working with Gizlik, and was an enemy, and she would kill them. Everyone was going to die.

The nectar from the King had been so powerful that a new strength was now coursing through Rainith's body. Her injuries were forgotten. Somewhere behind her a fire alarm went off as the blaze she'd started took hold. Rainith broke into a run, eager to come to grips with Gizlik. Her eyes were wild with blood-lust and her long red hair streamed out behind her, trailing over her delicate white wings. She burst into the main expanse of the warehouse where several employees were still loading a truck. She let out a fierce war cry and charged the enemy.

The largest of her opponents, one of those workers who did not seem quite human, appeared to welcome the diversion.

'An angry fairy!' he laughed, and hoisted a huge crate above his head. He threw it at the onrushing Rainith but she rolled under it easily. As she leapt to her feet the troll-like creature took a huge swing at her with a gigantic stoney fist. Rainith cooly stepped inside the blow and ran him through with her blade. Rainith saw the other two men bearing down on her with crowbars and felt a momentary pleasure at the prospect of killing them. She slew them both before either could swing their weapons.

More fire alarms were going off and the air smelled of smoke.

'Where is Gizlik?' wondered Rainith, and looked around her, desperately hoping that he hadn't left the building. Another office door burst open and the sorcerer appeared.

'What's happening?' cried Gizlik. 'Why is the fire alarm - ?' He halted as he spotted Rainith, but reacted quickly. He raised her hand and fired a bolt of sorcery. Rainith was quicker. In an instant she'd changed into her fairy size, avoiding the attack. She flew at Gizlik, twisting in the air as his sorcerous bolts, enhanced by her own fairy blood, passed close by. Rainith slashed with her tiny sword, cutting Gizlik's face and making him yell. He flapped his hands furiously, either trying to use a spell or else simply swat the fairy. Rainith nimbly avoided him, and slashed his hand, producing another screech of rage. Suddenly Rainith sensed movement behind her. She rose in the air, just in time to avoid a crowbar swung by another factory guard who'd run in from the courtyard outside.

Rainith muttered the word to take her back to human size and then savagely cut her adversary down.The guard's crowbar clanged noisily on the concrete floor as it slipped from his lifeless fingers. Before it bounced Rainith had already dealt with another opponent, another of the not-quite-human personnel favoured by the company. He came at her with a knife but Rainith parried the thrust in a swift circular manoeuvre which ended with her own blade in the guard's throat. Rainith spun round to confront Gizlik, flapping her wings to dispense some of the smoke which was now filling the warehouse.

Gizlik no longer faced her. Whether from fear of Rainith's rage or the advancing flames, the sorcerer was running towards the entrance. Rainith raced after him. Her eyes were murderous. They reached the main door almost together. Gizlik, knowing she was behind him, spun round and raised his hand. His palm glowed bright red but the bolt of energy was never launched. Rainith stabbed with her elvish sword. Gizlik cried out. His body sagged and he hung for a second, pinioned and suspended on the blade. Rainith withdrew her sword and he sank slowly to the ground.

The fairy smiled in satisfaction. Then she walked to a panel of switches at the entrance to the warehouse and pressed every switch. The outside gates opened, as she hoped they would.

Rainith thought she had killed everyone in the warehouse and was surprised when another door opened. By now the building was full of smoke and flames and the figure that staggered towards her was in some distress. It was Mr Canvey. He lurched to a halt, taking in the sight of the dead sorcerer, and the human sized fairy with red hair, wings, and a sword that still dripped blood.

'Don't kill me,' he croaked.

'Why not?' said Rainith the Red, and raised her sword to do just that.

'Because we'd like to take him into custody,' came a voice from behind them. Duluth had arrived, with a large group of agents, some with bullet proof vest and guns. Two of them grabbed Mr Canvey and dragged him outside. Rainith took a last, satisfied look at the destruction she'd wrought, then followed them out. Duluth walked with her. Rainith realised that her scar was visible, She hadn't spoken the word to hide it. She was angry at herself. Duluth must have seen it. She muttered the required spell, then realised Duluth was speaking to her.

'...I did ask you not to destroy everything.'

'You asked me to get rid of their sorcerous protection,' said Rainith. 'I did that.'

Princess Sowena flew from the darkness outside to perch on Rainith's shoulder.

'Rainith are you all right?'

'I'm fine.'

'Henry is outside in his car. The men wouldn't let him in. He'll drive you home.'

'OK,' said Rainith, who suddenly felt too tired to fly. Sowena settled on her shoulder and they headed towards the car.

'Rainith, wait,' called Duluth.

Rainith looked back. 'What?'

'I…' There was a long pause. Behind them the warehouse was now engulfed in flames. Sirens blared as two fire engines raced into the street. Duluth struggled against the commotion.

'I'm glad you're all right,' he said eventually, then shook his head, dissatisfied, and walked off.

Twenty Three

Rainith the Red put her sword away, took off her coat and her boots, shrank to her fairy size, then sat on the couch. Princess Sowena sat beside her.

'I have to go now,' she said.

There was a long silence. Rainith stared at the floor. She wanted to tell Sowena how lonely she was, and ask her to stay longer, but the words wouldn't come. They sat there silently, two small fairies in the midst of a huge concrete city.

'If I'm not home soon the King will be worried about me,' said Sowena.

Rainith looked as if she might be about to cry. Princess Sowena wondered what she could say to comfort her.

'Plenty of fairies loved you. They still think of you.'

'I doubt it,' replied Rainith.

'It's true.' Sowena smiled. 'And that man Duluth is in love with you too. I could tell.'

'He hates me,' said Rainith.

'Perhaps,' agreed the princess. 'But he's also in love with you. He just doesn't know how to say it. And the painter Henry is besotted with you. He's painting you right now.'

'Henry doesn't paint portraits,' said Rainith.

'He's already painting yours. I saw it.'

Rainith refused to be impressed, or comforted. 'He's a terrible painter.'

'His picture of you is lovely. Really, it's beautiful. I'm sure he'll visit you again.'

'I don't care if he visits or not,' said Rainith. But she felt slightly more kindly towards Henry. At least he wasn't painting a picture that would make her look bad.

'Why did the King send me the palace nectar?' asked Rainith.

Princess Sowena shook her head. She couldn't answer.

It was time for the Princess to leave. She embraced Rainith, then soared off into the sky, to the place where she could travel between realms.

Rainith sat in silence. It was strange that the Fairy King had sent her nectar. She wondered why he hadn't just let her die. She wished that Princess Sowena could have stayed longer. She wished she could see the fairy realm again.

There was a knock at the door. Outside stood a courier, carrying a small package. Rainith signed for the delivery. It had come from Duluth's Department; payment for her recent activities. Her mood lifted a little, and her eyes shone with pleasure as she opened the package and looked at her gold.

END

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