Then she froze.
The last and the tallest of the vamps held her eyes. White blonde hair waved over his face, past bright red eyes and down his back. Purple veins forked from his jaw to his cheekbones. Bloodless lips curved. “You give a lot of trouble for a fairy.”
Hippy took a step back on the table. Superstitious terror made her hands shake so much she could barely keep a hold of the broken statue. “Rustam Badora,” she said, even though her lips had gone numb.
The other vamps stepped aside. He bowed. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Fairy.” He bared long, gleaming white fangs at her.
“Pierus!” Hippy’s voice rose on the word.
“Now!” Pierus roared.
Hippy threw the statue at the vamp king, vaulted backwards off the table and ran for the black curtain, the vamps right behind her. When she dived through, Pierus caught her hand. Lightning crackled in the shape of a star between
nine crystals. Shadows pulsed in the rip.
“Now.” Pierus ran for the lightning.
Hippy gripped his hand. Her feet only hit the ground twice before she hurtled through something cold and tingly for the space of three quick breaths. She landed on her feet in complete darkness.
Hippy couldn’t see her hand, even when she waved it right in front of her face. The air was stale and musty. Several large somethings landed with uneven thumps on the floor behind them.
Absolute silence. A quick, indrawn breath from Pierus. In the distance a rhythmic metallic clang, like a hammer striking rock.
Then, a whisper. “Where in Shadow are we?”
The words hadn’t come from either of them. Hippy and Pierus automatically went back to back. Neither of them had a useful weapon.
A deep, silky voice penetrated the darkness. “They’re in here somewhere. Find them. Kill them both.”
A female voice, with an edge that sent a shiver down Hippy’s spine. “But my Lord, don’t they say if he dies, Shadow dies too?”
Skin hit skin. A heavy form made a dull thud against a rock wall. “Anybody else have a question?”
Hippy stayed perfectly still. She hardly dared breathe. Vamps could see well in the dark, but this was really, really thick underground darkness, the kind that made Ishtar freak out. Maybe they had a chance.
Footsteps crunched on rocks. All five vamps must have followed her through the rip. But who had spoken first? That hadn’t been a vamp, she was sure of it.
Sparks danced. They flared, caught and became a sputtering fire held in an upraised hand. The bluish flames cast a sickly pall over Badora’s face, then turned red and flared up, lighting the inside of a small cavern.
The vamp’s lips curved into a thin line when he saw Hippy. “There you are.”
Another four vamps circled them. This was absolutely no time to be frozen with the primordial terror only the vamp king could inspire in a fairy. No time at all. Think. Pierus must have a plan. He must. But he wasn’t doing anything, Shadow’s sake, Ishtar was right, she had no more sense than a bearfly in winter and she wasn’t going to last a day.
Hippy slowly eased open Fluffy Ducky’s pouch. He ran over her hand and scuttled down her leg. She opened another pouch and took out a handful of fairy dust.
“Very quiet, aren’t you?” Badora advanced. The vamps closed in with him.
“I was just thinking about shiny things,” Hippy said. “You know. Moons and stars and crystals and vamps covered in fairy dust. Did you hear? Five sparkly vamps walked into a cave-”
Badora’s eyes flashed in the firelight. He bared his fangs. “Vampires. Don’t. Shine.”
“I didn’t say you were shiny, I said you were sparkly.”
“I don’t think insulting them is going to help us,” Pierus muttered.
“Are you crazy? We always insult vamps. It’s the best way to start a fight.”
One of the vamps screamed, clutched at something on his face and began a frenzied struggle before falling to the ground.
Hippy never took her eyes off Badora. “I wonder who Fluffy Ducky will decide to make friends with next?”
“I really hate Bloody Fairies.” The vamp leaped at her.
Hippy ducked. Behind her, Pierus went down low and took out another vamp at the legs. An arrow that came from neither of them whistled through the air and a third vamp dropped to the ground.
Badora crouched, poised to spring, just out of reach of any fairy dust she could throw. The scuffle behind her intensified.
Then an explosion shook the cavern. Hippy threw her arms over her head while rocks pounded the floor. Sunlight poured through a man-sized hole in the roof and the vamp Pierus was fending off screamed and burst into flames.
A single figure bearing a bright, bright light descended on a rope through the dust and debris. She landed on both feet in the middle of the cavern and flashed the light all around her. “Holy hell!” she yelled. She dropped the light, yanked a big metal cylinder from the pack on her back and mounted it on her shoulder. “Nobody move!”
The vamp king’s laughter filled the cavern with rumbling echoes and sent a spinning vortex of dust through the shafts of sunlight.
The woman whirled in his direction. “Who the hell are you people?”
Badora got to his feet. “A human,” he said. “Congratulations, Muse King, you have granted my dearest, longest held wish. The only thing I like better than fairy is the taste of human. You’ve just given me back their world.” He motioned to the one remaining vamp. They both leaped, clung to a ledge high on the wall and leaped again.
Hippy thought they were going to go through the hole in the roof and be burned up by the sunlight, but they veered off another way and disappeared. She said a bad word, bent to scoop up Fluffy Ducky, ran for the wall and scrambled straight up it.
The human yelled in fright. “How is she doing that?”
“Hippy!” Pierus yelled. “Get back here!”
Hippy clung to the wall and looked over her shoulder. “We can’t let them get into Dream!”
“My dear girl, you are no match for Rustam Badora!”
“You’re just going to let him go?” Hippy’s voice rose to a squeak.
“No you silly little fairy, we are going to get the Apple of Chaos and deal with all of the vampires at once!”
“But I want to fight the vamp king.” Hippy let go, dropped through ten feet of air, landed lightly on both feet and pouted at him.
The human yelled in fright again. “How did you do that?”
“What?” Hippy scowled at her, then walked over to one of the piles of ashes. She removed the slender metal arrow from it and placed it in her pouch.
Why were vamp spies killing vamps?
“Hey!” The woman’s voice rose an octave. “Don’t ignore me little girl! I’ve got a gun here! What the hell is going on? What are you people doing at my dig site?”
Pierus made a deep, disgusted noise. “Young woman, do you have even the vaguest conception of what you have just done?”
The woman pressed some kind of button on her metal thing. A loud click echoed through the cavern. “I’m asking the questions here.”
“Come here Hippy,” Pierus said.
“Don’t you call me a hippy!” The woman turned her metal thing on Pierus.
Hippy stared at the thing. “What does that do?”
The woman aimed it at the hole in the roof. Her finger moved and an explosion came from the metal cylinder. “That’s what it does.”
Hippy’s eyes shone. “It goes bang.” She took several steps forward. “Can I try?”
“Are you people completely insane?” The woman went red in the face.
“I think you need to calm down, young woman,” Pierus said.
“Stop calling me young woman! I’ve got more grey hairs than you have, sonny!”
“You mustn’t mind him,” Hippy said. “He’s three thousand years old.”
The woman rubbed her head. “This must be the most absolutely ridiculous conversation I’ve ever had.”
“You’re right, it’s a complete waste of time, which I’m afraid is a precious commodity now you’ve allowed the vampire king to escape into your world,” Pierus said.
“And you’re wasting our time.” Pierus peered intently around the cavern. “I’m sure the Apple was hidden not far from here.”
“Apple?” the woman said. “You’re here for an apple?”
“You, human woman, where are we?”
“At my dig site.” The gun, which had been dropping, raised again. “Clear off.”
“She’s worse than a fairy,” Pierus muttered.
“Hey!” Hippy scowled. “If you want my help you can just stop fairy bashing, alright?”
“Who’s bashing fairies?” the woman’s voice rose on a note that hovered somewhere between panic and disbelief.
“Pierus,” Hippy said.
“Pierus?” The woman tilted her head. “Funny, I came across that name a while back.” She gave Pierus a stern, hard look over the rim of her glasses. “Rather an obscure Greek myth. King Pierus had nine daughters and went around saying they were better than the nine muses. Ended badly.”
Pierus sniffed. “I never heard such rubbish. I assure you, nothing of that sort ever happened.”
She glared for a bit longer. Hippy began to fidget and wonder if she should let Fluffy Ducky sort it out when the woman abruptly lowered her weapon and returned it to her pack. “I suppose we really should calm down and remember our manners.” She grabbed Pierus’s hand and shook it. “Poppy Praeconius, archaeologist. Pleased to meet you.” She took Hippy’s hand. “And you are?”
Hippy shook her hand vigorously, since that seemed to be expected. “Hippy Ishtar.” The woman was only a little taller than her, so she didn’t have to crane her neck like she did with Pierus to see her face. Poppy looked as though she were in her forties. She had a few lines around her grey eyes, and otherwise rather stern features, which were currently smudged with dirt. Her glasses were crooked and her long, sandy, grey-sprinkled hair was pulled back into a severe bun. She wore the most curious trousers and tailored dress, all in khaki. “You’re the first human I’ve ever met,” Hippy added.
“Really? You’re the first lunatic I’ve ever found in a cave. I’m sure we’ll get along famously.” Poppy shouldered her pack.
“What’s a lunatic?”
“Someone who believes in fairies.” Poppy scanned the cavern.
a fairy.” Hippy’s lower lip trembled.
“Of course you are, dear.”
Pierus put a hand on Hippy’s shoulder and bent down to her level. “Humans don’t know about us,” he said in a low voice. “Try and be a little more circumspect, my dear.”
Pierus sighed. “Never mind. Come along, we’ve wasted enough time. If my calculations were correct, we shouldn’t have far to go. You, human, bring me your bright light, would you?”
“Why not?” Poppy picked up her light and followed him to the walls.
Hippy trotted behind while Pierus studied the rock. She was far more interested in the human. Really, she could have passed for a fairy if she was shorter, or a muse if she was a lot taller. But something bothered her. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
“Here,” Pierus said.
The light stopped over a series of markings on the wall. Next to the markings, a tunnel branched away.
“These are fascinating.” Poppy leaned forward. “This is a Greek script, but I’m not familiar with it at all.”
“Of course you’re not, women have no place reading the ancient texts,” Pierus snapped. “Would you keep that light steady?”
Poppy glanced over her shoulder at Hippy. “Is he always this pleasant?”
Hippy barely heard her because underneath the unfamiliar letters, she saw an etching of a lady with snakes on her head. “Hey, that’s like the statue in your tent! The little one. I smashed the big one over a vamp’s head.”
“You broke my statue?” Pierus scowled.
“That’s Medusa,” Poppy said. “She could turn men to stone just by looking at them. You’re very small to be smashing heads, aren’t you?”
Pierus strode down the tunnel. Hippy hurried to keep up. Poppy walked beside her, her light bobbing around their feet.
“He your boyfriend?” Poppy whispered.
“Ew! He’s way too old.” Hippy screwed up her nose in disgust.
“No, he’s a muse. My dad’s fighting vamps.”
“A muse?” Poppy flashed her light at Pierus’s silhouette. “In what respect? Are you an artist?”
“Don’t be silly, I’m a Bloody Fairy.”
“No need to snap dear, you could be a bloody garbage collector for all I care, I’m just trying to understand how a pack of lunatics came to be in a cave that’s supposedly been sealed off for thousands of years.”
“We came through the rip.”
“Through the what?” Poppy’s question was cut off when they followed Pierus around a bend in the passage and almost stumbled into him.
“You, human woman.” Pierus motioned her forward.
“Call me Poppy,” Poppy said. “It makes you sound less like an ass.”
“How many years have elapsed since the sorcerers separated the dimensions?”
“How many years since who did what now?” Poppy pushed her glasses up on her nose and shone the light on Pierus’s face.
He put a hand up to shield his eyes and squinted. “Would you stop that, you dreadful creature?”
“Didn’t you say she doesn’t know anything about Shadow?” Hippy said.
“Oh, yes of course.” Pierus sighed. “What number do you put on the lapsing of time?”
Poppy blinked. “Are you asking me what year it is?”
“One thousand nine hundred and eighty two years since what?” Pierus scowled. “I know for a fact Dream is older than that. From which catastrophic event are you counting?”
“The birth of Christ,” Poppy said. “Where are you people from?”
Pierus walked up and down the tunnel. He counted on his fingers and muttered to himself.
“What’s he doing?” Poppy whispered.
“I don’t know.” Hippy decided not to admit she’d lost track of the conversation
. She wasn’t that good with numbers.