Pronunciation guide:

Sidhe: (Shee)

Daoine Sidhe: (Theena-shee) I swear

Elwyn: (El-win) I've heard people say El-ween which I disagree with

Puck: (puck, like a feking hockey puck)

That's all I guess…

Chapter Three: The Key and the Guardian

It wasn't so much hot out as it was bright. The air was thick with humidity and the blinding light of the summer sun only added to the discomfort of being outside. Had there been even a light breeze the day might have been tolerably. Cicadas buzzed loudly in the trees, creating a din that nearly drowned out the sounds of the busy roadway. As cars rushed past there would be a quick backwash of unpleasant smoggy air that at least offered a small relief from the heat.

Hailey paused at a light and put a hand to her brow, shading her eyes from the sun for a moment as she stared intently at the red light. Cars continued to wiz past her, the wind they created caused her slight form to sway back and forth as she attempted to correct herself with each sudden wash of air. She sighed and turned up her music player a little louder attempting in vain to cover up all the oppressive sounds around her.

Though it was both hot and muggy she was wearing jeans so long they bunched around the top of her shoe and a long sleeved shirt. An occasional line of sweat would trickle down her back, reminding her how uncomfortably hot she was. Having only recently moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois she was still adjusting to the weather differences. Winter was just ending while they were moving into their new apartment and the spring weather had been pleasant but that quickly changed. Everything about the move had started out good but quickly ever little aspect was souring. At least in Hailey's point of view.

In Pennsylvania she lived in a huge house, made even larger by the fact it had just been her and her parents. There wasn't even a cat or a dog to at least enjoy the many rooms and hallways. Now she lived in a cramped one bedroom apartment with her mother. Her bed was usually the couch in the living room since her mother snored, loudly. Back in Pennsylvania she had numerous friends, not as many as the more popular girls in school but certainly closer friends than the cheer leader types enjoyed. Since moving to Jacksonville she hadn't met anyone her age. She hoped it would be better when fall came and she started going to collage.

The light finally turned green, she glanced at the cars then carefully entered the crosswalk and strode purposefully across the street towards her destination: the library. It wasn't the most happening place around but it got her out of the house, had a really powerful AC and free internet. Sure she had a computer back at home but without any internet it was just a really big, really expensive word processor. Her dad had taken all the games in the divorce along with the larger of the two hard drives so unless she was planning on writing the next American novel it wasn't very entertaining. The lack of a TV also meant she had been doing a lot of summer reading.

Like clockwork she'd show up every Friday afternoon to return the last batch and pick up a new one. She adjusted the backpack she was wearing, heavy with the various books from her visit last week. As she walked through the doors the head librarian smiled and nodded to her, she may not know her by name just yet but it was only a matter of time. Hailey politely returned the smile, trying not to make it an unhappy grimace.

She stopped by the book drop and shrugged off her backpack, letting it fall to the floor with a loud thud. The straps had been digging into her shoulders for the last mile of the walk and there were ugly red marks peeking through the wide neckline of her shirt. She stood there for a long moment, enjoying the cool air circulating around her and rubbing the soreness away.

"How was your week?" The middle aged woman behind the counter asked with a pleasant open smile.

Hailey opened her eyes and gave a weak laugh. "Oh… you know… the usual."

The librarian chuckle softly. "I swear, you're one of the biggest readers I've seen come through here."

"Well, I don't have much else to do with my time," Hailey shrugged, "and at least this way I'm learning something, right?"

"Better than rotting your brain watching TV all summer!" The lady laughed her voice quiet but the silence around them made it seem loud.

Hailey emptied out the books from her bag, checking quickly to make sure a book mark wasn't still hiding in one before putting it into the depository. She shouldered her now empty and limp bag and walked towards the non-fiction section. It was only a month into the summer break and she'd already had her fill of romance, sci-fi and fantasy, at least with some dull fact filled books she had the illusion of doing something productive with her time.

She walked slowly through each section, running her finger along the plastic covered spines, her eyes quickly looking over the titles and authors of the books. For the moment she was just enjoying the cooler atmosphere, she wasn't ready just yet to start her search. While she was in the religious history section, amusing herself with the fact that there were several different versions of the bible tucked away beside books filled with historical facts she felt something. Hailey lifted her eyes from the King James Bible and found herself catching the gaze of someone on the other side of the book case. The brown eyes grew wide with either shock or embarrassment and quickly disappeared behind a book. A bit caught off guard she walked quickly to the end of the bookcase and peered around the corner just in time to see a well dressed man walking away hurriedly. Before she could get a better look he disappeared around the corner hall leading towards the bathrooms.

Shaking her head in puzzlement she went back to looking over the books, quickly forgetting the odd man. She hadn't seen enough of him to guess his age but his eyes seemed young and oddly innocent. There was something about them that was different and she couldn't quiet put her finger on it and at the moment she wasn't concerned enough, nor bored enough to try to figure it out.

Hailey finally started pulling books off the shelf, piling them up in her arms till they reached her chin. She walked into the small tech lab and dumped the stack on the table next to one of the three PCs, being a creature of habit it was the same one she always used. It wasn't really any different than the other computers, the keyboard was slightly older and had louder keys but that was really the only distinction it had. She logged into the computer while examining the spines of the books she'd picked out. There were a few on evolution, plants, ancient religions, mythology and just to spice things up psychology.

After a few minutes she realized she wasn't alone. Sitting directly across from her at one of the other computers was the man she'd seen earlier. He was much younger than she first suspected, probably in his mid-twenties. His hair was dark and curly and his features were angular with a propionate nose, she suspected he was Greek or of Greek descent. The man was looking very intently at the computer in front of him and not her. Hailey smirked and focused back on her screen, contently jumping around multiple websites, everything from the latest online comics to the BBC and a few of the forums she frequented. She didn't stay on the computer as long as she usually did, after only a half hour she logged off and grabbed the pile of books, headed to the front desk. Out of the corner of her eyes she noticed the man watching her, trying to be subtle. Again she got that sensation of something being off about him and the way he acted. She shrugged it off though and went to check out.

Igor Stravinsky's Rites of Spring played from the surround sound speakers, the harsh yet oddly lyrical notes pulsing through the decently sized living room apartment. Sitting on the plush couch enjoying the music and reading a newspaper while absently petting his large hound was the man known to most people simply as Elwyn. He was dressed down for the day, wearing a pair of jeans which was strictly atypical for him and a white undershirt, also out of character for the usually crisply dressed monochromatic man. His bare toes occasionally curled up and dug into the thick carpet while he distractedly flipped through the New York Times. It wasn't his favorite newspaper but it was delivered to his door step daily, making it one of his sources of news.

The white dog stretched across the couch, most of his massive frame all but spilling off of it nuzzled his large narrow head into the man's stomach. He scratched behind the beasts red ears, the only spot of color on the dog. After a moment one of his ears twitched and the dog sat up, turning his muzzled towards the door with a curious expression.

"There isn't anyone there Garm." Elwyn said, not bothering to follow the dog's gaze.

Garm whined and looked at him dejectedly, tail wagging slightly. Seeing his master's disinterest he hopped off the couch and trotted over to the door, pawing at it, his nails scratching against the wood loudly.

Elwyn sighed in annoyance and folded the newspaper, dropping it onto his glass coffee table. He scooped up his empty mug and walked into the kitchen, giving his dog a dark look. The hound stopped scratching and flopped down on his belly, nose pressed against the tiny crack at the bottom of the door.

"I told you Garm, no one is there." The dog's ears twitched as he spoke but otherwise he refused to move. Elwyn shook his head and poured a new cup of coffee, breathing in the fragrant aroma with a sound of contentment. "Ahhh, the best vise this world has to offer."

Just as he put the near scalding liquid to his lips the doorbell rang causing him to start slightly. Garm leapt to his feet and issued one soft bark, an almost 'I told you so' sound. Elwyn pulled put the cup on the kitchen counter and licked the hit coffee off of his lips; he'd nearly spilled it but had managed to compose himself in time. Looking suspiciously at the door he checked the small of his back to assure himself that he still had his back up gun on, it was a simple Beretta .9 mm, nothing fancy. He walked over and Garm moved aside, staying close beside him but giving him plenty of room to move with. There wasn't a peephole in the door since Elwyn never needed, he never really got company and this was a first for him, normally he felt a guest from down the hall or even further away. Keeping one hand behind his back, close to his gun he opened the door and leaned against it, peering into the hall.

At first he didn't see anything and was beginning to suspect someone was playing a trick on him, always a possibility with the over energetic children he had. A moment later a head leaned in from the side, a smiling face peering up at him. Elwyn groaned and stepped back, swinging the door open wide.

"Puck," he said with a derisive sneer. "What do you want?"

Robin, or Puck as Elwyn called him, laughed joyfully and breezed into the room patting Garm on the head affectionately. The dog barked and followed the colorful man into the living room, his tail wagging excitedly.

"I'm happy to see Garm hasn't forgotten me!" Robin said falling to his knees to rub the dog's head grinning at him. "You're such a good puppy!"

Elwyn scooped back up his coffee cup, giving the door an annoyed psychic push closed. Robin's head perked up at the feel of power, his smile wavered for a moment then doubled. "Or you for that matter dear Elwyn."

"You aren't exactly the forgettable type." Elwyn pointed out, gesturing to the man with his cup. "What you are aside you do leave an impression."

Robin rose to his feet and glanced down at his clothes. He was wearing tight red pants of unknown fabric, a long two toned shirt, black and white respectively, white gloves missing the forefinger and pinky, a long red tattered scarf and a slender red ribbon tying back his long white hair into a ponytail. This left his long pointed ears clearly displayed.

"Well, I've never had the fashion sense of my father." Robin remarked with a wink. "How have you been?"

Elwyn shrugged. "I'd say I can't complain but well…"

The gaily dressed fellow flinched and shrugged. "Well, despite it, you've done well for yourself. Wife, kids… all you're missing is a white picked fence." Robin held out his hands and a traditional white picked fenced appeared between his hands, he tossed the glamour over his shoulder and it vanished before hitting the carpet. "I'd say you're doing very well actually."

"Puck." Elwyn stated in a cold hard tone. "What do you want?"

"Want? Want!? Why would you assume I have any wants any needs any desires!" Robin said in a singsong tone, walking across the room to Elwyn's side. He peered up at the taller, darker fae and grinned.

"Because in all the time I've been trapped in this hell hole you haven't visited me so I have to assume you're here for a reason. And what is that reason?" He stared down harshly, his solid black eyes giving away nothing.

"Well…" Robin wilted slightly and drew back, crossing his slender arms over his chest. "I myself want nor desire anything of you dear Sir Elwyn!... However there are those who do…" his voice trailed off as he stared into the apartment, his smile wavering.

"Don't tell me your father sent you…" Elwyn chuckled softly and sipped his coffee. "If that is the case I'd have to say hell is frozen over and Satan is ice skating as we speak."

"Well, luckily for Satan, no my father didn't." Robin looked back to him, his smile returning.

"… then who?" Elwyn asked in puzzlement before a look of realization came to his face. "I see… the Council of Nobles?" Darkness passed over his features and the room seemed to dim to match his sudden black mood. "What do those bastards want."

Robin stepped back, pressing his shoulders against the wall, his face didn't register any fear but he certainly looked ready to flee. "They need you."

Elwyn threw aside the coffee cup which crashed into sink, shattering and spilling its cargo. He surged forward and pinned the slender elfin man to the wall by his throat. A low soft growl started deep in the sidhe's throat then trickled out of his snarling lips which were pulled back far enough to show his petite but sharp fangs. "Need me? I'm not their lapdog anymore, they can't whistle and expect me to come running, tail wagging."

Seeing his master's wrath Garm slinked into the bedroom and nosed the door firmly shut before climbing under the bedcovers shivering. Robin watched the dog go with a look that suggested he'd love to follow. He slowly turned his face back to the enraged sidhe and attempted to smile though it was more of a prolonged flinch.

"You remember… the gates… right?" Robin asked, his voice unstrained but meek.

Pushing his body weight into the much smaller man Elwyn nodded, a deep burning fury visible in his dark eyes. "How could I forget them… They crammed me through them, it was like a million years of pain and when it ended…" his voice trailed off and he looked away, the rage in his eyes faltering, replaced for a moment by sadness so great few words could accurately describe it. "When it ended I was greeted by a world so empty… so devoid of pleasure it was like the pain I felt before was infinitely preferable."

Robin tried to nod and made a strangled sound as he attempted to speak. Suddenly realizing that he was no longer just holding him to the wall but outright strangling him Elwyn stepped back, releasing him. Robin fell to his knees and gasped for air, once he'd calmed down he remained kneeling, head bowed, the long tendrils of his hair hiding his face. "I'm sorry… about what they did to you… but… we need you."

"We? Who is this we?" Elwyn demanded, his voice returning to its customary bitterness. "The Council of Nobles? The Sidhe? The Daoine Sidhe!?"

Rising to his feet Robin reluctantly lifted his gaze to again meet the hostile look in Elwyn's eyes. "Everyone Elwyn. Not just the fae… but Earth as well."

He scoffed and turned away from the jester, walking into his kitchen to clean up the spilled coffee. Picking up the shards of ceramic he tossed them into the trash under the sink as he spoke. "What could possible be such a threat as to endanger Tir na n-Og and Earth all at once? And if such a threat exists, how could I possible combat it?"

Robin crept over and watched him wash out the sink, silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke his voice was so quiet it was barely audible over the running water: "The gates Elwyn… they shouldn't be…"

"I know that Puck… ever fae knows that. They're the closest thing to a sin that we have."

"There is a way to open them though," Robin went on, his voice louder. "There I a key."

Elwyn turned off the sink and griped the counter, stared intently at the vanishing water. "A key?"

"The only living descendant of the one who sealed the gate. The only one who can open the gates. Think about it Elwyn…"

"Yeah… I get it, the gates would be open and the world would be a better place blah, blah, blah, what does this have to do with me." Elwyn asked, turning his head to stare intently at him.

"The Counsel… wants you to find the key and use them to open the gates, if you do this… they'll let you back in. They'll wipe the slate clean and pretend that it never happened. You'll be able to go back-"

"Home…" Elwyn finished for him, his face slack with shock.

Robin nodded and patted his shoulder, quickly stepping back before the volatile sidhe could react to the brief touch. When he didn't immediately get struck or glared at he moved closer again and touched Elwyn's bare arm. The sidhe looked down at his hand and visibly relaxed.

"Did they give their word?" He asked in a voice.

"Yes." Robin nodded.

Elwyn shudder as if his legs were threatening to give out. He gripped the marble counter tight enough that small cracks were forming. After a long moment of silence he pulled back and shoved aside the flimsy fae, stalking into the living room. He paced around for a moment then looked up at Robin. "Alright… what do I have to do?"

Robin smiled and climbed up nimbly onto the counter, sitting on it, facing into the living room. "First you need to locate the key, then you need to bring them to the gates and have them open it. That's all."

"That's it? Just that and I'm in?"

He nodded. "Yep, that's it."

"There has to be a catch." Elwyn said in disbelief.

"None that they mentioned." Robin shrugged. "I can't imagine it'll be very hard, its just you're the only one who can do it."

"Why just me? What about the other outcasts or you for that matter."

Robin nearly fell off the counter as he laughed, clutching at his sides. "Me!? I all but have ADHD! Do you think they'd trust me with something so important?"

Elwyn got a wry look. "True… all someone would have to do is dangle some tinsel in front of you."

"HEY! I'm not that easily distracted!" Robin exclaimed, pouting.

"What about the other outcasts? I know I'm not the only one and there were those who were trapped outside the gates." Elwyn shrugged. "Why me?"

"There were no nobles lost on the other side, ganconer, kitsune, brownies, pixies, elves? Do you really think a sidhe noble would trust any of those?"

"Good point." He conceded reluctantly.

"And despite all… you're still a noble and a knight! They don't doubt your loyalty Elwyn… they just doubt your sanity." Robin shrugged, crossing his legs under him.

"I'm not insane." Elwyn sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping. He ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head. "And I'm not guilty!"

"Guilty, innocent, it won't matter Elwyn! They'll let you back in! I'm sure you miss your family… your brother?" Robin offered, getting a sharp glare for his efforts.

"I'm not going to say no." Elwyn growled. "I'm just…"

"Upset, confused, lost, worried, unsure." Robin rattled off and shrugged.

"Alright… where can I find the key?" He asked, looking at the jester whose expression caused him to frown. "What is it?"

"I don't know." Robin said in a high pitched child like voice.

"What do you mean you don't know?" Elwyn demanded.

"Well.. I don't know where the key is."

"What? Does the Counsel?"

Robin shook his head and Elwyn gaped at him. "Alright and the gates? Do you at least know where they are?"

Again, Robin shook his head and Elwyn cried out in frustration. "So I have to find the key, though I have no idea who they are, then I have to find the gates, which I have no clue where they are… this is insane."

"Well, if it was such an easy task then they wouldn't have offered you full and complete amnesty!"

"You have a point." Elwyn sighed and rubbed his face. "Ok, I can do this, I'll just have to call in some favors. It shouldn't be that hard and I've got plenty of time to look."

Robin nodded and said cheerfully. "It'll be at least another hundred years before the magical build up explodes and rends reality asunder."

"Wait… what?" Elwyn started, staring at him intently.

"You didn't know?" Robin asked, canting his head to the side with an innocent look.

"No, what the hell are you talking about?"

"Well you see, the world of the fae and the world of mortals was never supposed to be separate, when Manannan created the Veil it wasn't so bad because the worlds were only slightly separate, but when the mortals sealed the gates, they sealed away the magic as well. Can't you feel it Elwyn?"

Elwyn thought about it for a long moment then nodded slowly. "That explains why the mages are so selfish with their magic."

"Yep, on Earth its finite."

"But on the other side of the gates…"

"Its building up, like a dam with no way of easing the pressure." Robin nodded, happy Elwyn was following along.

"And if the gates aren't opened, then reality is destroyed? You have to be kidding Robin." Elwyn shook his head skeptically.

Robin grinned, pleased to be addressed by his real name and not his nickname. "Nope, no joke."

"Then why doesn't your father do something?"

He shrugged. "My father doesn't care, even if reality goes poof he and the others are fine."

"What about you?" Elwyn asked, giving him a slightly concerned look.

Robin thought about it for a long moment and shrugged. "I'm only half Daoine Sidhe… I'm really not sure how I'd handled it. Besides," he went on. "If my father realized he missed the rest of the fae he'd just make them again."

"Its always comforting to know we're his play things." Elwyn said.

"Well, when you have all the powers of reality at your finger tips! What do you expect?"

"Pity the Christians aren't right, an omnipotent all caring god is certainly more pleasant than a bunch of petty childish fae."

Robin shrugged, not giving his view on the matter. Elwyn sighed and glanced around, realizing the record was skipping. He walked over and turned off the stereo, though the music had ended a while ago he was only then aware of the silence in his apartment.

"At least I have plenty of time to work with." Elwyn commented, glancing over at the jester who grinned and shrugged at him, vanishing in a puff of light. He sighed. "Going at it alone… sounds about right."

Notes: Anyway, horay the return of Elwyn! Horay for foreshadowing! Horay for beating you on the head with a mallet! Horay for the spelling errors I'm SURE are in it! Horay for my having gotten better at this! Horay just for HORAY! I'm hungry....