That night, I had the strangest dream. It was choppy and kept flashing back to images of the Caislean in flames. In the other images, I kept seeing Lee's face, though I couldn't figure out the significance. Maybe he was going to play a major role in saving the praeditus. There was something about him that still bothered me though. Something the Vampire man had said. What was it that Lee was so desperate to hide from us?
I also saw glimpses of Aodh and Ronan. Kari lying unconscious at the foot of a man I could only assume was Adrian. I saw Aodh working alongside us again, though I wasn't overly thrilled with that one. I wasn't anxious to work with that faery again. Not after all he'd done.
When my vision placed me right in the center of the battlefield and I saw all my friends dying around me, I forced myself awake. That wasn't a vision I wanted to see. If I had anything to say about it, it wouldn't be happening at all.
"Morning, Sunshine." Lee greeted with a smile.
I groaned and sat up. Lee and Kari had made camp for the night while I had slept. Kari was sleeping next to the fire pit, her bushy hair covered nearly her entire head. Lee was sitting up, poking at the slowly dying flames.
"How long was I out?" I asked, crawling over to sit next to him.
"Just overnight. Kari patched you up after you passed out and then we made camp. It's been fairly uneventful."
I looked over at where Adhartach was buried. It was creepy being so close to his grave and knowing he was still alive down there. I shivered and scooted closer toward Lee.
He looked uncertain for a moment before following my line of sight. Once he realized what I was looking at, he relaxed. He even covered my hand with his own in a comforting gesture.
"He can't come back unless someone digs him up." Lee assured me.
"I know," I tore my eyes away from the grave to stare into the dying flames, "it's just a little creepy being this close and knowing he's still alive down there."
Lee smiled. "Not that you'd have to be worried if he did manage to get out. You handled yourself like a pro. I'm not even sure what you were doing, but it was working. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed. You did what even I couldn't."
I couldn't help the grin that spread across my lips. "If only Ronan had been there to see it, maybe he'd get off my back about training so much."
"Ronan's always had an odd obsession with combat training."
"Tell me about it." I sighed. "Where do you think they're keeping him?"
Lee shook his head. He stared into the fire, his eyebrows furrowed in a frown. "I don't know. I doubt he's with Darcy. Ronan could fight through Darcy and his hoard of banshees with one hand tied behind his back. No, they'd keep him somewhere more secure. It's not easy to contain someone as skilled and hard headed as Ronan."
I breathed a laugh. "I believe that."
"If I had to guess, I'd say that Ronan is being kept close to Adrian."
Adrian. If I hadn't taken the bait that night, none of this would have happened. If only I hadn't been so self-centered, I never would have snuck out that night to meet with Adrian. I never would have been kidnapped and the others never would have been put in danger. Dylan wouldn't have almost died. Ronan wouldn't have been taken. Lee's mission wouldn't have been compromised. I had messed so much up with one selfish act. Now I had to try to patch everything back up.
Something occurred to me then. Something I should have thought of a long time ago and I kicked myself for not. "Dylan. Where is he? Didn't Kari say he was with Ronan at that camp?"
Lee shook his head. "Dylan was our runner. He was the one that relayed messages from the camp to the Caislean. We had to give him a job that allowed him to leave the camp. He was going stir crazy waiting for us to find you. He'd left for the Caislean the day before the camp was attacked. He's safe, for now."
I sighed in relief. I don't know what I would have done if something had happened to him. Dylan had always been like a big brother to me. He was one of the few people my age who had been at the Caislean longer than I had.
It was then I realized Lee's hand was still covering my own. I blushed and quickly pulled my hand away. Just as I did, Kari rolled over.
"Oh hey," she brushed her hair out of her face, "you're up. How are you feeling?"
"Better." I said honestly.
"I knew your physical injuries would heal quick enough, but I wasn't sure what would happen with the blessing from Mars." She came and planted herself beside me, falling back onto the grass.
"Mars' blessing," Lee said, "that's what he placed on you at the camp. It's what allowed us to escape Adrian's men. But that kind of a blessing is dangerous. Essentially, he was giving you a small taste of his own power while promising to keep you alive. But a god's power is so strong, it can kill a human if they are given too much. It was draining your energy, making you weak. If he'd given you any more than he had, you probably would have burnt up. Literally."
"It's an honor to receive the help from one of the gods, but it comes at a price." Kari agreed.
"Remind to kindly refuse next time he offers me help." If I had known all of that when I'd met Mars, I wouldn't have been so willing to accept his help.
Lee smiled. "Their help isn't easily obtained. You have to earn it. Either Mars saw you as an exceptional warrior, or the gods need you alive. He must have seen only one way out of that situation and he stepped in to prevent your death. I doubt he'll be offering up his services again any time soon."
"So we take his advice and find Aodh? I mean, it makes sense, but I'm not thrilled to see that faery again." I blew a stray piece of hair out of my face.
"Why not?" Lee got to his feet and helped me up as well. "He's your family's grogoch."
My jaw dropped as I stared at Lee's retreating back. He was joking right? I was stuck with him? Why hadn't I known about this before? Where had Aodh been all my life? Better yet, why hadn't he said anything when we'd met? And the most important question, why would he turn me in? Suddenly, I couldn't wait to find the faery. There were a few questions I had to ask him and his answers had better be good.
Aodh was surprisingly easy to find. I told Lee about the cave on the side of the cliff where I'd first met the faery and he knew where to go. Apparently we weren't far from the place. We'd reached the cliff by midday. Lee led us to the edge and peered over. I made sure to keep my distance and my heart nearly stopped when Lee practically hung off the edge, looking for the cave.
"Found it!" He announced, getting back to his feet. "This is the place alright."
"Great," I said, "can we just call him up here or something? I don't like the idea of going back down there."
"It's safe inside the cave. I won't let you fall." Lee promised.
I shuddered. "No thanks. I'm good here."
He studied me for a minute, like he was trying to figure out what I was thinking, and then told us to stay put. Then he jogged off into the trees, in the opposite direction of the cliffs edge.
"Where's he going?" I asked Kari.
She shrugged. "Who knows. Maybe he's getting us some vines so we can propel down."
My stomach did a few acrobatic flips at the thought. "I really hope that's not the case."
A few minutes later, Lee emerged out of the tree. To my relief, he wasn't carrying any vines.
"Stubborn faery almost refused to come." Lee grumbled. "I had to threaten to wring his neck if he didn't help out."
"Where'd you go?" I asked.
"Down to his cave." He answered like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"But the cave is this way," I pointed at the cliff, "and you ran that way."
"Didn't Aodh tell you about the magic entrance? The portal from the stone? It's so much easier than climbing."
I stared at him in disbelief. "He made me climb the cliff! You're telling me there's an easier way out? I'm going to kill you, stupid faery."
"Is he coming then?" Kari asked.
"He's here." I glowered at the two little imprints in the dirt next to Lee.
"Where?" Her head shot back and forth so fast, she would have given herself a head rush if I hadn't grabbed her head and directed her sight next to Lee. "Please tell me I'm not the only one who can't see him."
Lee cracked a smile. "Grogochs usually prefer to remain invisible around other people. Only those they deem worthy are granted the ability to see them."
"I don't think 'worthy' is the right word." Aodh grunted. "Normally, a grogoch will reveal himself to his assigned family. It is rare to have anyone else see them."
"Have you seen him then?" Kari turned to me with big eyes.
I nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. I've had the pleasure of seeing the hairy little traitor."
"Traitor?" Lee frowned. "Aodh's on our side."
"Is he?" I took a few steps forward. "Why didn't you mention that you are my family's grogoch?"
"I thought it would have been obvious, human. As I've only just mentioned, my kind only show themselves to their families." Aodh said impatiently.
"Alright, so answer this. If you really do serve my family, why'd you turn me into Darcy?"
Lee looked like someone had just slapped him across the face. "You what?"
I heard Aodh shuffle uneasily. "I needed you to get him out of there, which it appears you accomplished."
"Get who out of where?" I demanded as my anger grew.
Lee's face was turning red as he stared down at the spot next to him.
Aodh sighed. "Are you really that slow? It was no longer safe for Lee to be a part of Darcy's ranks. You needed to get him out of there before Darcy found out who he truly was. You also could not do this quest without him."
"We're on a quest?" Kari's voice rose in excitement. Leave it to her to get so sidetracked.
"Yes," Aodh confirmed, "a mission from Mars himself. Save the world, end the war, protect the fey. Not necessarily in that order."
"No way. This is so cool! I'm part of a quest sent from one of the gods. I'm gonna be in the history books!"
I punched her lightly on the arm to get her mind back out of the clouds. "How do you know about that?" I demanded.
"I'm fey." He said, as if that explained it all.
"If you'd let me try to find my team like I'd suggested, none of this would have happened."
"Human, might I remind you that it was you who got herself captured in the first place? I was only playing my cards the best way I could. You don't deal out an easy deck."
"I should have known it was you." Lee said, his voice low. "You sent Brigid into that place."
"It was for your own good." Aodh scoffed. "Why are you complaining?"
"She could have died! What were you thinking?" Lee shouted, making Kari jump in surprise. "Do you realize what would have happened if she had died?"
I heard the faery shuffle a few steps away from Lee. "I didn't have a choice. I had sources that told me Darcy was becoming weary of you. Brigid was the only one I knew I could get in there and close to you. You were one of Darcy's top ranked men. It was obvious you'd be one of the few put in charge of guarding her. It was perfect, and Brigid played her part well."
"I can handle myself." Lee growled. "Sending Brigid there was risky and uncalled for. I don't think you fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. What if she hadn't been able to get out? What if I hadn't been there?"
"I knew you would be." I wondered how he was able to sound so sure about it. It was obvious he had no doubts about his statement.
"Do you even know what Darcy put her through? It's your fault she was put through that. If you weren't tied to Brigid, I would tear your hairy head off."
I stepped up and laid a calming hand on Lee's shoulder. "It's ok. The important thing is that we all made it out of there alive."
"What's it to you, anyway? I've never known you to care so much about the praeditus." Aodh grumbled.
I kicked him in what I hoped was the shin, but judging by the high-pitched squeak, I may have aimed a bit high. "Shut up, Aodh, before I lost my temper."
Aodh grumbled and muttered to himself, but otherwise kept to himself after that. Kari and I managed to calm Lee down enough to think about other things besides bashing in Aodh's head. I wasn't sure what the faery had been talking about earlier. Since I'd first met him, even before I knew who he was, Lee had been protecting me. His actions toward Aodh hadn't been all that surprising. At least not to me. That was just the boy I knew, but it appeared that the others didn't know him like that. Kari looked wary of Lee too, like she hadn't expected him to lash out and was worried he might do it again. I knew he wouldn't. I also knew he wouldn't hurt us. He was loyal. That I knew for sure.
I smiled to myself. Whether Lee chose to show that protective side of him to everyone was his choice. I was just glad he was on my side. It was comforting to know that someone like Lee had my back, even if I didn't know everything about him. We all had our secrets, why shouldn't he? I was still curious, and someday I would get it out of him, but for now, I didn't mind trusting him.
We were an odd group. There was no denying that. A grogoch faery, the boy with the dark and mysterious past, a jabber-mouth and a girl given a quest by one of the gods. Anyone with half a mind would laugh if they saw us coming, but I knew better. We were a force to be reckoned with. We may have looked a little odd and out of place, but we each brought essential skills to team. Working together, there was nothing we couldn't do. Finally, things were starting to look up again. I had no doubt that Dylan would join us again soon. All we had to do was find Ronan and we'd be unstoppable.
Watch out, Adrian. We're coming for you and we won't be holding anything back.