Trickster s Girl - By Hilari Bell


RAVEN HAD SPENT TOO LONG on the hunt. He cocked his head, beady eyes fixed on the sweating girl. In this form, his vision was sharp, but he'd perched near enough that even with weak human sight he could have observed the curious weave of the girl's black suit. The stark color wasn't becoming, but something about this girl spoke to senses that went beyond a bird's vision. She hadn't the luminous dimensionality of his own people, yet she was rooted in her reality. It wasn't much, but no human he'd encountered in this incarnation of the world had shown even that much promise. He'd already spent too long on the hunt. His time was running out. He had to try.


"FRIENDS, WE ARE GATHERED HERE to commemorate not the death of Jonathan Peter Phillips, but his life."

They even got the name wrong.

Though given how much else was wrong, Kelsa supposed she shouldn't complain about that. It was the name on her father's birth certificate. And his life did deserve celebration. She pushed her bangs off her sweaty forehead, wishing that the tempcontrol in her formal jacket worked better. At least she'd been able to braid her long, frizzy hair off the back of her neck. Her mother's stylish cut, the same kind of haircut she'd so often tried to talk Kelsa into, clung damply to her neck under the hot late-May sun.

Kelsa's mother had insisted on having the formal service at graveside - even though no one was actually buried anymore and as per the cemetery contract, the urn would sit on its granite pedestal for only sixty years. Her father wasn't there, so it probably didn't matter that his life was being recounted by a minister who might not even have met him.

It should have been a gathering of his friends, telling stories about the times her father had helped them or made them laugh. About his passion for the living earth he'd studied and taught. About the time he'd taken his nine-year-old daughter on a hike up a desert canyon to a hidden waterfall, where butterflies danced between the shining curtains.

The memory glowed, jewel bright. So many memories. Fifteen years of them. It wasn't enough.

Oh, Pop.

Kelsa had vowed to get through this without crying, but the tears welled up anyway. Her mother had been crying quietly since the service began, Joby sitting in her lap, even though his five-year-old body must have been both heavy and hot.

"...the many years he taught biochemistry at the University of Northern Utah," the minister droned.

Kelsa blinked hard and sniffed. This wasn't her father's real funeral, and she'd cried an ocean over the last few months. She was tired of grief, tired of the whole damned mess. The simple facts the minister recited, graduated from, worked as a park ranger, met his wife in, didn't begin to encompass the reality of her father's life. Any more than the graceful black granite urn held his real ashes.

Kelsa lowered her gaze, hiding a fierce smile that no one would have understood.


Eventually the service ended, with a modern blessing on her father's soul and all those he had loved. No words of ashes and dust; very little about death at all. Death wasn't fashionable. Kelsa had to admit that it was the ultimate grind, but when someone died you really ought to talk about the "dead" part. The minister had done his best, she supposed, given that the man he was eulogizing had never set foot in a church in his life.

"I like the churches God made better," he'd told Kelsa one autumn afternoon, gesturing to the towering peaks around them, the sweep of meadow and sky.

But none of this was the minister's fault, so Kelsa shook the man's hand and accepted his condolences with a polite mumble of thanks. He wasn't sweating, which either meant there really were miracles or the tempcontrol in his black coat worked better than hers.

Her mother was sweating, and she was so pale that despite the thorny wall of her anger Kelsa felt a flash of concern.

The minister must have shared it. He picked up Joby, handed him over to Kelsa, and had her mother separated from the crowd and headed toward the waiting cars of the funeral cortege in short order.

Their car had a driver supplied by the mortuary, which was just as well. Kelsa wasn't sure her mother was up to driving.

As soon as they were aboard, the repulsers lifted the car off the pavement and the