Her little fellow kicked like a mule, and Jinny winced, pausing a moment to hold herself. “I know, I know,” she said. “This isn’t any sort of circumstance for a little guy to be born into.”

Another kick, and Jinny reached for one of her altered bullets. “Yes,” she said, “you make a good argument, love. Killing people that attack is the only proven way to keep them from coming back. And I’m not opposed to that, at least not at my greatest need. But if I kill them, that means that there’s revenge in the mix, and for all that folks say about the elves out east being too soft and too rich, the ones out here hold grudges measured in generations.”

“But these,” she said, tapping the newly cast bullets. “Holy water, garlic cloves, and white oak shavings, crystallized and hardened with elemental sap. It’ll give a nasty but most likely not fatal surprise to anybody that gets hit with one, so long as they’ve got violence in their heart.”

One last, much gentler and almost half-hearted kick from Jinny’s little fella. “Okay, little Witchazel,” she laughed. “I promise not to shoot myself with it, love. I promise.”

When dawn was just a few degrees below the valley’ landscape, Jinny emerged from her hiding place. She’d stocked it with extra bullets and food, so it could serve as a last refuge, but if Sally had been right and the wild folk knew that she had been hiding there, it could wind up a shooting gallery.

Jinny brewed some tea over enchanted blue flame, anointing it with a wakefulness spell based on coffee beans that had been soaked in agave and pimento. Then, repeater slung over her back with a rude rope made of twine, she shut and barred all the downstairs windows and doors. A sleeping poultice knocked out her one remaining chicken and goat, and she buried them both gently under some straw in the hopes that they might survive.

All that done, Jinny took up a position on her second floor. She set a scrying sphere made of magicked water and brambles at each window in the four cardinal directions, and twinned them with four others that she set in front of her at the north-facing window, directly above the door. With that, and a meal of milk, eggs, and pemmican set out beside her, Jinny waited for the arrival of the wild folk, all the while hoping that she had made her preparations for nothing.

When she saw the first wild folk filtering through the trees at the far end of her homestead, she knew she’d hoped in vain.

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