They both looked like spies, but from completely different eras.
The one at the end, the one who was already seated, looked out of place to begin with. He was wearing a tie, which stuck out like a gangrenous limb in this small-town diner, and behind him was an incongruous coatrack upon which hung his 1940s bowler or whatever the hell it was called.
The other one? He looked scary. He looked Eastern European, like a Russian mob enforcer from a nineties action movie when they didn’t know what was really happening behind what was left of the Iron Curtain. He was large and awkward, but more awkward about being in the South than about being in a diner.
Ironic, since both of them were natives.
Welcome to Trinity’s Field, NC.
Ceridwen Entwhistle, who was also a native (but didn’t like to admit it) knew her targets from before. They had been ageless fixtures even when she was a child, which made sense, since–she now knew–both of them happened to be Elves. She had never yet had the pleasure of speaking with them, but she knew them by sight. Everyone did. And everyone knew that they were connected. They just didn’t talk about it.
The one at the end saw her and looked like he was going to stand up, but the other one was in the way, so all he did was straighten himself up in his seat and smooth down his tie. The big one looked at him, acknowledging, but didn’t actually “give him a look”, as such.
Ceri slid into the seat across from them. “Is this seat taken?” she asked.
“So you are the one,” said the one with the tie.
“We were expecting someone…” the big one thought about it.
“Older,” the other supplied.
“Yes, older,” said the big one, in the same silky serial-killer voice that didn’t work with his Russian mob exterior.
“I’m plenty old enough,” said the twenty-six-year-old agent of the Order of the Oak, who had seen more in the last eight years than most people saw in ten lifetimes.
“We do not doubt it,” said the big one.
Not caring which game they were trying to play, Ceri cut to the chase. “Where’s the girl?” she demanded.
The twitch that betrayed their surprise at her candor was almost imperceptible, but she caught it. They didn’t like her game, but now there was no getting out of playing it. Unless, of course, they switched games again.
“The girl?” said the one with the tie.
“The girl…” The big one had a more pensive tone.
“Remind us a moment,” said the first, “Which girl is this that you’re looking for–”
“Carly Elgin,” said Ceri. “Carly Mae Elgin, of 456 East Pine Street. Last seen in the company of Rowan Galveston. An Elf.”
They looked pensive, now.
Fine, she thought. I guess I’ll have to play by their rules, first.
“Which one of you is Lester Charleston?” Ceri finally took the bait. “And which is Charles Leicester?” She said it like “Lester”, like the British.
“Lee-sester,” they corrected her.
She frowned. “Is that seriously how it’s pronounced?”
They shrugged, as though they were the same person. “Some people say it one way,” said the tie, and the big one, “Some people say it the other way.” And the tie again: “We argue either way.”
“So which is which?”
They both shrugged.
It was odd how, the more she looked at them, the less she could distinguish between the two. Each individually looked completely different from the other, but their movements were so attuned to one another that it became difficult to think of them as two different people. Two different Elves, she corrected herself.
“Where’s the girl?” If they weren’t even going to play by their own rules, why should she? “We know that you have her; why? Elves don’t take human children, it hasn’t been in their programming for thousands of years. Why now?”
“You are correct,” said the one; and the other, “We do not take human children.”
“We know that you have her!”
She said this loud enough that some few people in the diner turned their heads towards her, so she muttered a quick Telepathy-bolstered incantation of Lethe to bring bliss back to their ignorance.
“We know that you have her,” she repeated in softer tones.
“Carly Mae Elgin is with us,” one of them confirmed.
And there it was!
Just like that?
“I thought you said you didn’t take human children,” Ceri reminded them.
But their response was completely impassive. They didn’t say a word. They didn’t have to. They just sat there and let her figure it out.
“Carly Elgin is…” But no, that was absurd.
“Her birth records were falsified,” said the big one.
“Her birth mother, this Janice Seymour?” said the tie.
And the other, “She never existed.”
“But that’s not–” Well, but of course it was, and Ceri could see the way that it was possible, the way that it could happen, even before they interrupted.
They told the story so seemlessly, it was like they were one person. “An egg was stolen from the Willow Grove fourteen years ago. In it was a female gene-sequenced to be a mate for our Rowan. But there was a crash while the egg was en route. The rituals had not been completed. The egg was not fully programmed. This was why the child was able to be raised ignorant of her true heritage by the man who had found her.”
“Nigel Elgin,” Ceri supplied.
They let this sink in for a moment.
“We will not return the human child,” they said with a single voice.
“There is no human child to return,” said the big one.
“Carly Elgin has at last been returned to us,” said the one with the tie.
And there was nothing Ceri could do now to change that.