Andre had put off leaving for the meeting as long as he dared. He stood by the window to his apartment, his jacket on, and looked out at the cold snowy street below. Nothing much moved there, except for a group of kids who still found winter fun. Their snowball battle moved off down the street and around the corner.
Most humans sensed the trouble in the air. They stayed inside.
Night was coming. He didn't want to be out there alone when the trolls came out of their dens and started hunting his kind. He scanned the park across the street, but if anything hid there, he couldn't see it through the fall of new snow and the shadowed branches of trees.
He made himself walk to the door and out into the hall, locking the apartment with both mundane keys and magical charms. The steps squeaked as he walked down them, an unmusical sound that always made his teeth grit. Human places rarely had any true beauty to them, especially in areas like this where the poor and unwanted huddled in their little holes, trying to survive the cold.
Reaching the street didn't put him in any better mood. He dared not use even a little magic to stay warm for fear of what he might draw. He measured the sunlight against the horizon and hurried towards the end of the street where the kids had disappeared a few minutes before.
They were waiting for him.
And they weren't kids.
Hidden beneath the bulky coats and woolen hats were pointed ears and green faces. The group cackled in joy as they spotted him and before he could even get his hands up to cast a wall of protection, they were in the air leaping at him.
So he ducked instead.
The frustrated squeals of pixies filled the air as they sailed over the top of him and splatted down into a snow pile. By the time they'd dug their way back up, snarling green faces appearing out of the snow, he was on his feet and had a ball of magic in his hand.
"You really don't want to do this today," he told them. "None of us like this weather. So go back to your warm little fires and I won't use magic to make you uncomfortably warm. I'm not in the mood to play. I suggest you disappear."
The pixies dove back into the snow.
"Good work. I despise the little pests."
Andre turned, the snarl on his face not lessening at the sight of Martinus standing with his back to the wall a few feet away. As always the younger elf looked immaculate and disdainful of everything around him. Martinus had never been one of his favorite people, even if they were on the same side.
"They're gone. Time to get to the meeting," Andre said with a slight bow of his head, the bare minimum of politeness. He was cold and snow snow caked the front of his jacket and pants. He brushed at it and then gave up when he caught the smirk on Martinus's face. It was all he could do to keep from shoving the pretentious bastard face first into the snow.
We're on the same side, we're on the same side.
Half a block later, they saw Cathia standing outside the door to the meeting room. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the two of them coming together but she said nothing. They were the last two to arrive and Cathia followed them in, sealing the door behind.
They sat through the meeting; new reports on troll activity, an uptake in Pixie movements, and more of the same. Andre learned nothing helpful, but he hadn't expected to. There had been no real change in the status of things for the last five years. Andre couldn't see any hope for change in the next five, ten, fifteen years . . . He saw an eternity of such meetings stretching out forever before him. He could almost sympathize with Martinus who was again complaining about the uselessness of this work as he stalked off to the door, the first to head out as usual. He threw open the door --
And was pelted with a hundred snowballs so quickly that in a half dozen heartbeats he looked as though he was half snowman on the front and half elf on the back.
Outside the pixies shouted and laughed with glee and disappeared quickly into the night.
Martinus slowly turned --
Andreas laughed. He couldn't help himself and a moment later the others were joining him. Martinus blinked and he expected a tirade -- but in a moment even pretentious Martinus laughed.
They picked up the snowball fight as they left, finding occasional pixies, but mostly throwing at each other while pixies, and maybe even trolls, stared on in shocked disbelief to see the ever-so-proper elves leaping around in the snow like human children on a school holiday.
Something changed that night. Later Andreas wondered if their darker moods hadn't helped create the problems they fought against in this reality. They were, after all, beings of magic. With the laughter came a brighter future. All but a few trolls left the reality. Pixies came and went, but seemed mostly to be drawn by the idea of playing jokes on the elves.
And with their laughter they gifted the humans with a better, brighter future. It had been a long lesson to learn, but they held to it and made a better future for themselves as well.
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