It was the end of autumn, and the social workers and emergency crews fluttered and flocked to make their preparations, volunteers setting up aid stations and clinics as the first moonroads came down, spreading faded flowers and fresh pine needles among the threadbare cots, stocking up on spring water and rose hips. No one ever knew quite when and where they would come, the great shafts of pale faerie light, or what sad creatures would limp down them...refugees from the Fey Wars, civilians of the baen sidhe and the walking wounded, changelings and halflings, old spirits oddly bodied.
They marched along the moonroads and shadow paths, and those who could not stand the touch of time crumbled, so they grey glittering dust rained over the city, and set the whole place in twilight. The glamours slipped as they set foot on earth, to stare around them as with new eyes and ears to the coarse and blocky city - where, if they were lucky, they would be met with warm smiles and blankets that smelled of the forest under the snow, to be taken to doctors and bound with names and told of their rights and protections. Elftown swelled in those days, as the families stretched to accommodate their newfallen kin - tenements swollen past all capacity.
Some of them fell too fast, or found a world too strange to their eyes. There had been veterans among them, half-mad with pain and slow-dying from their wounds, who yet wielded terrible weapons. Revolutionaries fired with the idea of a new kingdom beyond the twilight. Mad changelings, stuck between shapes, that had to be hunted down like mad dogs. Halflings stuck between worlds, protected by their families, feeding off the breath and dreams of babes to sustain themselves in their half-lives. Then there were the war criminals, the tainted fallen who had slipped their traces, one step ahead of a cold iron bullet or a formal beheading. The ones that knew they would be sent back, if they were caught.
They were caught, eventually. The police maintained a Thorn Squad, to hunt them down, though every street kid and newspaper knew them as the Prickers. To wander the cold streets and alleys on those full-moon nights, and watch for the shadows that fell too soon from the procession; to hunt with willow wand and thrice-blessed copper, to bind with flint and mistletoe, to drag back, in their thorn nets, the true monsters and toss them back through the moondoor. Visa denied.
So Detective Jack Bastard waited, and he did not smoke, nor did he have a thorn net. No, tonight was special. The Prickers knew, what others seldom guessed, that there was nothing special about the moondoor. No guarantee of justice. The villains they sent back, their hands gory with fabulous blood, could try their luck again. Repeat customers, they were called.
Some of them were organized. The ones who made it kept in touch with their fellows on the other side, and set up places, like this one - skull beacons on a rooftop, around a pile of mattresses. An inviting place, if you knew to look for it.
Above him, a pale streamer of moonlight stretched out to touch the earth; and a congregation of shadows shuffled along it, dust falling from the sky as age took hold of mortal flesh too long from mortal worlds. The Pricker blinked as some of it got in his eye, and when he looked up again he saw a shadow fall towards him, getting bigger. He thought he recognized the outline of a crown of horns.
Then the Bastard smiled, and reached for his gun.