I was smashed between two thick walls—one made of Mason's hot fury, the other of Uriah's cool outrage. It made for one hell of a storm. I clutched Mason's shirt as the emotions whipped around and battered against me. Neither of the men seemed to notice what was happening. I wasn't sure what was going on until I saw Noah move away from the door, his entire body tense and a strained frown on his face as he stepped up behind Mason and gripped the psychic's shoulder.
The emotions surging through the room ceased so abruptly I staggered back a step. "Sorry, Iz," Noah said, giving me an apologetic look. "Couldn't contain it fast enough."
I'd always known Noah could project as well as receive, but I didn't know he could do it at such a magnitude. I was beginning to see how it could be problematic, especially when in close proximity to such strong feelings. Noah was probably one of the best empaths out there, but even the best sometimes faltered. And, though our gifts were different, I could relate to what he struggled with; trying to keep everything under control, to not let a powerful talent explode all over the place like gremlins in a microwave. It was a constant battle of self-will against raw temptation.
"No problem," I said, though my voice was a little shaky. I took a deep breath, another step away from Mason, then looked at the psychic. "Are you calm enough, now, to tell me what you think is going on?" I asked.
Mason, after a deliberate nudge from Noah, jerked his angry gaze from Uriah. "I did some follow up on my research, made a few calls," he said, his voice tight and low. His eyes flickered toward Uriah again before his mouth twisted with annoyance. Clearly, he wasn't happy about having this discussion here. I crossed my arms over my chest and looked at him expectantly. "A colleague had a little more information on the Fae than I was able to find in my books. Apparently, they're collectors of rare and valuable things." Mason looked at me pointedly. I rolled my eyes; I may be kind of rare, but I was hardly valuable. "I think this one," and he gestured toward Uriah, a sneer pulling at his lips, "has slipped his leash."
"What do you mean?"
"I think he's a gopher, sent out to find...novelties."
"I thought you said he was in charge of the dead," Noah said.
"Yes, but the Fae have incredibly long life spans, so his sickle is probably sitting in a dusty corner," Mason replied. "I don't think he came here looking specifically for you, but I bet you'd be perfect for getting him out of whatever trouble he's in."
"Is that true?" I asked, turning to look at Uriah. I received a small shrug in response, as though it didn't really matter. I narrowed my eyes; it may not matter to him, but if he was bringing his fights onto my turf, it mattered to me. "That's not an answer, Mister Woolf," I said, uncrossing my arms and stepping toward him. "I want to know exactly why you're here, what you want from us, and—"
A violent tremor rippled through the castle. Books wobbled on the shelves before cascading loudly from the shelves. A bookcase teetered dangerously before crashing to the floor. Glass shattered in the kitchen. The windows rattled in their panes. I spread my arms out to keep my balance, looking wildly around and hoping the roof wasn't about to collapse on my head.
"What the hell is going on?" I shouted.
"Earthquake?" Noah suggested.
I gave him a harried glance and he shrugged. It wasn't impossible, but it seemed unlikely. Especially since Mason hadn't moved and was looking at Uriah again with a vindictive glint in his eyes.
"I unlocked the tower," Mason said.
I stared at him, disbelief and shock rendering me temporarily mute. "You what?"
I'd never considered myself a violent person. Oh, sure, I killed things, but those were things. Creepy, crawly things that most certainly went bump in the night and would quite possibly suck my brain out for a late night snack. I was a Guardian and the eradication of nightmares was my job. I kept the human race—at least, those in the Chicagoland area—alive and well, even if they'd never know it.
But standing there, looking at Mason as the castle sounded like it was falling apart around us, I felt my fingers curl into fists at my sides and the urge to strike him with the power so readily available to me was a very real temptation. A current of energy sparked and sizzled over me, spun up from my toes in a soft breeze and made my hair a blonde nimbus around my head.
I had to cut myself off, take a deep breath, quell the nasty things I wanted to say hovering on my tongue as the castle shuddered and groaned again. Cool fingers wrapped around my arm and grounded me, cleared away the taint of rage enough for me to see clearly. The energy licked the point of contact and I heard a sharp, painful gasp. I didn't spare a glance for Uriah, though. I put a glowing finger in Mason's face, the fury screaming inside of me somewhat mollified when his eyes widened and he jerked away. I wouldn't do anything to him physically, but I was more than willing to shake him up a bit.
"If anyone gets hurt because of this stupid little stunt, you'll answer to me."
Another violent tremor went through the castle, nearly taking my feet out from underneath me as I headed for the door. I told everyone to stay put—"Stay put," I shouted when Noah tried to protest—and took off toward the stairs. How had Mason made it through my wards? They weren't exactly my specialty, but I wasn't that bad...I pursed my lips and scowled, not sure if I was more angry at myself for not thinking to put up wards that would prevent people from getting in as well as the Hound getting out, or Mason, who had obviously made a small detour before seemingly coming to my rescue.
"Izzy! I'm invisible again!"
"Not now, Ethan," I huffed, taking the stairs two at a time.
"What's all the commotion abou—whoa!"
I came to an abrupt halt at the top of the stairs, watching with a little concern and no small amount of fear as the tower door bowed outward. The thick wood groaned alarmingly, began to splinter down the center. With a loud crack, it exploded into the hall. Chunks of wood jabbed into the opposite wall and skidded over the floor.
Mason was so paying for that.
"Need backup, Iz?" Ethan asked, his voice hushed as a large, white snout slowly appeared from the hole where the tower door had been.
"No," I whispered. "Make sure everyone stays in their apartments."
"I don't care," I said, not taking my eyes from the huge paw teasing the threshold. "Possess them, move all their furniture in front of their doors, just keep them away."
The warming air signaled Ethan's departure just as the Hound eased into view, testing its footing and snuffing the air. It turned with eerie slowness to look at me, its amber eyes narrowing and its blood-tipped ears standing at attention.
"Nice doggie," I murmured, in as sweet a voice as I could. For all the good it would do me. "Any way I can convince you to shoo?"
It shook, like it was ridding its fur of water, but I had the distinct impression it was answering me.
"The hard way, then?"
Its mouth opened slightly. I took that as a yes.
As it warily began to pad toward me, I put my hands together in front of me, like a benediction to the gods, then curved my fingers and slowly pulled my hands apart. The energy taking shape between my palms was the size of a marble—which was perfect if all I wanted to do was annoy the hell out of the beast. I frowned and concentrated harder, pumped more of the nexus into the tiny ball, enlarging it until I had to hold my arms out to either side. It wasn't fancy and it certainly wasn't pretty; it was clumsy and I wouldn't be able to hold it for long.
Luckily, I didn't have to.
The Hound coiled and sprang. I gave an unintelligible shout and staggered backward. Thrust my hands out. The revolving blue ball met the Hound at the apex of its leap, freezing it in midair.
A breath of relief gusted from my lungs and I closed my eyes—I hadn't been sure that would work. And I had no idea what to do now, but I couldn't just leave the beastie hanging in the middle of the hallway.
I whirled around to see Uriah eyeing the Hound with a skeptical expression. "A temporary solution," I corrected. "What are you doing here? I thought I told you to stay in your apartment."
"I can get rid of it," he said, ignoring my question. As he walked around me, I noticed he held a long, silvery blade etched with liquid writing.
I put a hand on Uriah's arm to stop him. "Are you going to kill it?" I asked.
"What else would I do?" was his retort. "Keep it as a pet?"
"No need to be snarky," I snapped. "And I can't let you."
Uriah turned cool eyes down on me. "Izzy, it's going to—"
I made a negating motion with my hand and shook my head to cut him off. "Doesn't matter," I said. "It's a sentient creature and I won't have its death connected with the castle. Makes for bad juju. Do it somewhere else, if you must. Otherwise, think of another way." I glanced at my shoddy work and grimaced when I noticed it was slowly sinking to the ground. "Preferably soon."
"Do you always make things impossible?"
"Only on a good day," I replied, giving Uriah a cheeky grin.
He looked exasperated, but I thought I saw a gleam of reluctant amusement in his eyes. "Fine," he said. "We'll do it your way." He scrutinized the Hound and the ball for a moment, then looked at me again. "How long do we have?"
I shrugged. "Until sunset, tops," I said.
A streak of brown and white shot passed my legs. Before I could lurched forward, Francine jumped into my bubble and perched on the Hound's shoulder.
"Oh, you stupid cat," I swore, trying not to shriek. "Get out of there!" Francine turned a baleful glare on me. With deliberate ease, she sprawled on the Hound's back and began to bathe. I looked from her to Uriah, panic in my voice as I asked, "How the hell do I get her out of there?"
Uriah shrugged a shoulder, the blade of his sword winking with blue light. "The better question is, how did she get in?"
As I tried to come up with an answer, a bawdy jig wove through the hall and Brogan appeared in a spray of rainbows. His cheeks matched his holly slacks and he had his blazer thrown jauntily over one shoulder while his other hand tried to smooth down his mussed hair.
Great. A drunk leprechaun. That's all I needed to make this situation better.
Brogan grinned cheerfully up at me, slid a wary glance toward Uriah, then swore furiously when he saw the Hound, ending with what sounded like, "Me feckin' Mother Goddess," under his breath. He turned wide eyes on me. "Is this seriously your idea of ri-ra?" he nearly shouted.
I stared back at him, not understanding what he was asking. I didn't know if it was anger or his drunken state, but Brogan's native accent seemed to have returned. Thickly. Next to me, Uriah let out a low chuckle. I decided to ignore him and watched the leprechaun, who was walking over to the Hound and inspecting it with one eye closed.
"Don't touch it!" I said when he reached a hand toward the bubble.
Brogan flicked his fingers in a dismissive gesture. "Get on with ya," he said. "I'll be fixing this." He cast me an irritated glance. "I don't know why I didn't do this in the first place," he muttered. "For not being entirely human, you still have a knack for makin' things more difficult than they strictly need to be."
"That's what I said," Uriah commented, smiling when I glowered.
Brogan looked Uriah up and down, then sniffed disdainfully. "Don't know what your excuse is," he said with a shake of his head. "Soft as shite." He hung his blazer on a protruding piece of wood, rolled his sleeves up, then clapped his hands together. Francine rolled an amber eye toward him. "Now, let's get to work. Kitty—"
"Her name's Francine," I interjected, helpfully.
"—if you would please remove yourself?" Brogan continued, ignoring me.
Francine yawned, her pink tongue curling insolently at the leprechaun.
He sighed. "Unless you want to be sent to another plane of existence, I suggested you get down from there."
Francine licked a paw, unconcerned.
"Can you get her out?" Brogan asked, looking at me.
"Yeah, right. She hates me."
"What's going on? Everyone okay?"
I let my head fall back in frustration at the new voice. "Noah, I thought I told you to stay," I said, turning around.
Noah barely glanced at the floating beast as he climbed the last few steps. "I figured if fairy boy gets to be here, so do I," he said with a shrug. Uriah frowned at the nickname. Noah's eyes twinkled with humor as he added, "That and I'm not very well trained."
It almost brought a smile to my lips. "Where's Mason?" I asked, leaning to peer around him, expecting the psychic to be behind him.
"In the doghouse," Noah said with a chuckle. "What are you guys up to?"
"Trying to get Francine out of here."
Noah eyed the feline. "Have you asked nicely?"
"Now, why didn't I think of that?" Brogan scoffed.
Noah gave me a light nudge with his shoulder. "You try, Iz."
"She hates me," I reiterated.
"How could anyone hate you?" Noah asked, looking appalled. "Just be your normal, charming self."
With a sigh, I walked up to the blue bubble and put a pleasant, if somewhat strained, smile on my face. The cat's eyes narrowed. "Now, Francine, I know we've had our differences," I began, "but I really need you to get down from there. I'll bring you all the cream and fishies and—This is ridiculous," I groused, looking back at Noah.
Brogan was smothering a laugh with his hand, Uriah looked amused, and Noah grinned. "I don't know, Iz," the empath said. "Talking to a cat probably ranks in the top three of hilarious things I've seen you do."
Since I felt infinitely silly acting like Francine could understand me, I didn't want to imagine what held those top two slots...Although, one probably involved me running around the backyard, screaming like a banshee with fairies clinging to me liked winged piranhas.
I turned back and eyed Francine. "You know what, you miserable cat, stay there," I muttered. "I'll go get Miss Millie and have her drag you out."
As I turned on my heel, I heard a soft thump. With smug satisfaction, I watched Francine walk quickly toward the stairs, her tail stiff with indignation and her chin tilted up with feline hauteur. Whether she'd really understood me or not, I wasn't sure; I always snickered to myself when Miss Millie referred to the cat as her familiar. But I was beginning to wonder if there wasn't more to tubby calico than I'd originally thought.
It took hardly any time for Brogan to clean up the mess of the bubbled Hound. The leprechaun worked his magic so smoothly even I, usually sensitive to the smallest fluctuations of energy, barely felt the spell weaving around the canine. When it vanished, I felt some of the tension in my shoulders ease.
"Don't think I'm always going to clean up after you," Brogan warned as he retrieved his jacket. "Next time, plan ahead."
I looked properly chastised, which satisfied him but didn't stop him from demanding a proper bottle of Irish whiskey as payment. Noah retrieved a broom and some garbage bags from my apartment, and we spent the next half hour cleaning up the mess in the hall. Uriah inspected the empty frame and said, if given the right tools, he could replace the door.
"You're a carpenter, too, huh?" I commented a little doubtfully.
Uriah shrugged. "I've had time to pick up a few different skills in my life," he replied. He grabbed one of the full trash bags from under my fingers. "I think Noah and I can take care of this," he said, gesturing for me to proceed them down the staircase.
I eyed him suspiciously, glanced at Noah, who shrugged, then returned to my apartment—where I found a very sheepish looking psychic.
"Izzy," Mason began, rising from the couch. "I'm sorry. I didn't think—"
"That's right, you didn't think," I said. I was still angry, but couldn't muster the energy to properly snap at him. "What would you have done if that creature had gotten loose in the castle proper? Or if someone had wandered up there?" Mason looked infinitely more guilty than when I'd first walked in, which made some of my ire toward him fade. I sighed, dropped onto the couch, and patted the cushion next to me.
"I was afraid he was here to hurt you or take you away," Mason said, sitting down gingerly.
I contemplated the psychic for a moment, then asked, "You really thought he was here to kidnap me?" Mason nodded. "Why?"
He gave me an incredulous look. "Why wouldn't he?" was his answer. "You're remarkably unusual, Iz, something never—or rarely—seen. Above all else, the Fae are a curious race. To them, you'd be like...like the Ninth Wonder of the World."
I chuckled a little. Unusual I may have been, but probably not remarkably so; surely there had been others like me, the product of a forbidden union. Or maybe not. One of the reasons I was so secretive about my how my family tree forked was because I'd been led to believe I'd be hunted down and killed on sight, no questions asked.
The front door swung open. Noah and Uriah walked in, the former with a suspicious twinkle in his green eyes.
"I take it dinner's off for tonight?" Noah commented.
I scrunched up my face apologetically. Really, there was nothing I'd like more than to sprawl over Noah's couch with a full belly and watch the exploding action movies he was fond of, but I wouldn't be able to relax until I had a clearer picture of what the Tuatha Dé Danann reclining in my living room had dumped on my doorstep.
"I'd like a thorough explanation of what, exactly, is going on," I said to Uriah, as soon as everyone was settled.
"Nothing that concerns you," Uriah said, averting his eyes.
"Wrong answer," I replied, a warning note in my voice. I leaned forward and tried not to grind my teeth together in irritation. "Your business became mine as soon as you brought it under my roof. So, I'll ask you one more time; what are you running from, Uriah Woolf?"
He pushed up from the chair with a frustrated sigh and paced toward the windows, running his fingers through his hair in an aggravated motion that only made the blond strands more disheveled. In the light from the afternoon sun, I could see his face draw into tense lines, echoing the tightening of his back and shoulders.
"Your psychic is only partially right," he said. "I was sent out to retrieve artifacts, but it wasn't a random search. My task was to find and bring back six swords my people created."
"Why?" I asked.
"Ever since their defeat by the Milesians, the Tuatha have longed to fully reenter this world. They believe the six swords they created will help them."
"What are these swords? Was that one of them?" I asked, referring to the weapon I'd seen him with earlier.
"No, that belongs to me."
"Retaliator," Mason murmured. "I thought it'd be bigger."
A faint smile touched Uriah's mouth. "It's not the size of the blade, it's the skill of the wielder that makes it formidable," he said.
"Guy's always say that when they're trying to compensate," Noah interjected drolly.
A smile cracked my stern expression and I had to press my lips together to keep from echoing Mason's laughter. "So, your search brought you here?" I asked, trying to keep us on track.
"No, I came here because I heard Chicago's Guardian is used to dealing with the unusual," Uriah said.
"All Guardians are," I corrected. "It's on the warning label, right before 'may be hazardous to your health.' You could have gone anywhere and any one of them would have helped you."
Uriah shook his head. "That's not what they say about you," he said. "They say you find...unique...solutions to impossible problems."
"Izzy does tend to think outside the box," Noah said.
"Only to make up for my lack of knowledge," I added, not out of false modesty, but because it was the truth. I tilted my chin, wondering who "They" were and why They were talking about me—and how much They really knew about me. One mystery at a time. "So, Uriah, what's your impossible problem?"
"I'm being hunted," he said, looking out the windows again. "My people don't like having things stolen from them." He turned away from the view of the Drive and reclaimed his seat. "I've found five of the six swords and have yet to hand them over."
He sighed and ran his hands through his hair again. He looked suddenly weary and, as much as I tried to stop it, I felt my heart go out to him. "My people...they've become dark shadows of what they once were," he said. "I stayed as long as I could, trying to talk sense into the more powerful of them, but they'd stopped listening to reason ages ago. When they first sent me out to find the swords, I was just grateful to get away. After I'd acquired two, I made the decision not to hand them over."
I looked to Mason for confirmation of this and the psychic nodded slowly. "It makes sense that he wouldn't want to have any part of it," Mason said. "He was the one to set up the laws for the Tuatha after their defeat by the Milesians. One of the legislations was that, although they could cross over to our side of the Veil, they couldn't stay for any real length of time."
"Most of my people are relics of days long gone," Uriah said. "They wouldn't understand this place as it is now. But their greed for the glory of former years drives them. They will take this world back or they will destroy it," he concluded, his voice soft. Alarm tingled up my spine at his words.
"And these swords will help them accomplish either?" I asked. Uriah nodded. "So...you need me to keep you hidden?"
"Actually, I'd hoped you'd hide the swords."
I sat back in my seat and stared at him. These weapons he'd collected were a mystery to me, but it would stand to reason that, if the Fair Folk were desperate to have them, they were insanely powerful objects. Did I want the responsibility of being their keeper? Not really. But would I agree to it? Maybe.
"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?" I asked.
A wry smile touched Uriah's lips. "Honestly? Because I was surprised to find out you were...well..." and his eyes drifted away from my face, slipped down to my feet, "...you."
"What's wrong with Izzy?" Noah asked, defensive on my behalf. I gave him a grateful smile.
"Nothing," Uriah said. "Quite the opposite, in fact. But like her solutions, I believe she's unique."
"I'm beginning to suspect you know more about me than I'm strictly comfortable with," I said, my voice laced with dry amusement, but my eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"I don't know if you're possible," he replied. "Or how."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Noah shift. I couldn't look away from Uriah,though, who stared back at me as though he'd find the answers he was searching for somewhere in the depths of my gaze. Thankfully, despite what people said, the eyes weren't the windows to the soul.
"In most cases, flattery would get you everywhere," I said. "But I get the feeling your compliments are a diversionary tactic. So..." and I gestured for Uriah to continue.
"The swords are very powerful," he said, confirming my suspicions. "I think this place, positioned over the exact center of the nexus as it is, would be able to hide them, though."
"It didn't hide you," I pointed out.
Uriah's mouth pulled down on one side. "I don't think the Hound actually knew I was here," he said. "I think it just got lucky." He paused, then sighed. "This is only a temporary stop, you know that, right?" When I glanced at him questioningly, his mouth tensed. "Brogan getting rid of the Hound is only delaying the inevitable. It's been gone long enough that the hunting party will know it's found something. They will show up if only to investigate an...abnormality."
I closed my eyes and blew a breath out. I loved hearing bad news right before dinner. "I guess we're having company, then," I said, opening my eyes. "Put the tea on, Mason. And make sure to sprinkle it liberally with iron."
A/N: Sorry for the delay! I became lost in the labyrinth of fanfiction (quite literally) for a bit. Also, I've recently joined a writing group, which may or may not be detrimental to my writing...I haven't really decided, yet. I've read the first chapter of this story to them, and most of them are telling me I should be giving the reader everything right away (i.e. what Ethan looks like, why Uriah wouldn't be allowed in the castle, what Izzy looks like, what she does/is, who/what Uriah is, etc.), which has made me one very confused author. So, my question for you, my readers (if I have any left after all this time!), is are they right? Should I be giving you all the information as quickly as possible? Am I essentially committing a writing faux pas by only giving you bits and pieces here and there? Are you more aggravated than interested in the way the story is progressing? Let me know! I create stories that interest me, sure, but what's the point of sharing, really, if no one else is interested?
In other, more exciting news, Skylight Castle was added to the archive at ADoR! Such an honor! Now, quick review replies:
Kat: Thank you!
Nightwalkr: Uriah's Trouble, capital T, for sure. But the Hound seems to be the least of their concerns...
Madame Jenn: I'll try my best to answer all your questions! Hope you're still reading!
CrazyChickadee62: Kill Uriah?! Hmm...No, I'm joking! I don't foresee any character death...I don't think... :)
the Pearl: I'm always trying to think of new summaries for my stories because I'm really bad at them (if anyone out there has any suggestions, I'll take 'em!). I'm glad you're enjoying the story, though! Thanks!
skysthelimit: Not as soon as I, or anyone else, would have liked, but I'm glad you're enjoying and hope you're still reading! Thank you!
dani-sgga: Ah, there are mistakes all over the place in this, but I do try to keep them to a minimum :) So glad you're enjoying the story! Thanks!
LetoSai: Hopefully this chapter gave you a little more insight on Uriah and what he's about :)
BringAFriend: I don't want the story to drag, and I never really intended to keep Izzy such a mystery, but I haven't really found an appropriate place to get into an explanation of her. I think it'll come out soon, though! It's great to hear you're enjoying the story—hope you continue to! Thank you!
pbgurl: Reader views on pairings between characters sometimes do sway me one way or another, but I can't say I'll make any promises about who will end up with who! I'm glad you like Izzy—she sort of took on a life of her own from the beginning, which was great. Hoep you continue to enjoy! Thanks!
xtina: I don't, actually, have a beta—I spend a long time in the wee hours of the morning squinting at my computer reading, re-writing, re-reading...scrapping everything and starting all over again (a tedious process, to be sure). Ah, "never disappoint" kinda makes me nervous that now I will! :) But I'm glad you're enjoying this story, too! It's always such a great compliment when people who don't normally review take the time—thank you so much!
jlr: I hope to get Uriah more into the story—whether he becomes more interesting or not remains to be seen :) I'm glad you like this story as well! Hopefully when more is explained, you'll be able to give me that critique (I truly do appreciate them!). Thanks!
CrazyAngel94: Ah, my intention wasn't to offend with the rum comment! But Brogan is Irish, you know, so he's a little picky about his liquor. Sorry the update was so late! Hope you're still reading! Thanks!
Miss Bitterbiscuit: Your review made me giggle :)
xxPetitexx: Izzy isn't quite adorable, she has too much attitude and sarcasm, but I enjoy writing her so it's great to hear you enjoy reading about her! Thank you!
Jacklyn: I can, actually, believe not liking a character because of a name (I have this whole thing about names, so your comment made me smile). Izzy's appearance...this was one of the things my writing group told me to do, but I'm not sure how to relate her appearance when writing in first person—it seems unlikely she'd give a laundry list description of what she looks like. There are references to what she looks like scattered throughout, though. Something planned for the pent up sexual energy? Maybe :) Glad you're enjoying the story! Thank you!
sunshine423: Thank you!
Weevees: I did want this story to be thick with the supernatural and yet remain solidly in a believable realm. There have been many late nights spent cross-referencing different myths and legends, which is fun even though it's time consuming—it's good to hear it's payed off, though! Thanks!
shallow is as shallow does: Not a very quick update, but I hope you're still reading and enjoying! Thanks!
Munchlax: I'll try to work out all the confusion as soon as I can, promise! Thank you!
GuitarMaiden: It wasn't my intention to confuse everyone, but everything should start unraveling within the next few chapters. I'm glad, though, the story has caught your attention, though! Thanks!