The werewolf regarded me with a slight smile on his furry face. The human form wasn't exactly his preferred shape; I could tell by the impatience that lined the little of his features I could see. It was more in how he held himself. I watched his nostrils flare ever so slightly as if he was testing the wind for something in particular. Then it dawned on me that he probably was checking on the rest of the pack that had wandered off once we got here and Star had tried to push me and dig a bite off my soul. My equally strong and decisive reaction was to slam down any way into my thoughts and to mentally toss a few of my least cherished nightmares at her. It had worked; she'd broken her gaze and fallen to the snowy ground. The werewolves she'd been fondling and draining had fled into the forest. Gordon and Riley were waiting a respectful distance from the man and me. Star was still glaring daggers at me that thankfully were only being supported by her nasty fey nature and not actual steel and fire. She really didn't like me, which was fine by me since the feelings were mutual.
Her eyes were still green and the sickly predatory yellow that had flashed through them had receded along with her flickering appearance. That had been more than a tad disturbing. I guess fey glamor takes some work and the werewolves didn't give her enough to fuel the illusion she held tightly to her twisted body. The brief glimpses I'd had when she'd flickered in and out of our landscape had shown me that the glamor was on her for a reason -- she would easily be noticed and recognized as otherly. Her need to feed her glamor was the only logical reason I could think of that would cause her to risk pissing off the pack and to try and tap my soul. I wanted her gone, but Gordon claimed she had to help us get to the mine. I wasn't so sure she'd be any use to me, but the werewolves adored her.
"Well, since we are here, shall we start?" Star hissed out, not bothering to introduce the new werewolf to me. Gordon had wrestled back some of his former manners and made a slight disgusted noise at her oversight. I noticed Riley glancing off to the snow-covered forest and wondered if the werewolves out there were somehow calling to him. It certainly wouldn't surprise me any, but I was relieved when he focused back on our little group instead.
"First, Esmeralda Meredith. Allow me to present you to Alpha Kirk Burnell. And this is Esmeralda Meredith from California under the protection of Harry." I noticed Uncle Harry didn't get any further introductions like 'nasty ass vampire' or 'leader of the fangs' or whatever he was called by the other supernatural creatures when he wasn't around to protest or suck the life's blood from them. Star's downturned cranberry-stained lips weren't quite up to the task of lifting in even a fake attempt at a smile. It seemed she'd realized that she had overstepped her boundaries. But then with her I wasn't sure what she did or didn't know. She certainly pissed me off at every turn, but last I heard, that wasn't a crime.
The Alpha tilted his head slightly towards me and didn't offer a hand. It struck me as odd, since most werewolves welcomed the chance to brush against humans and others alike. A wisp of a thought started to drill through my confusion; I knew instinctively that was Uncle Harry eavesdropping. I didn't push him out of my mind but carefully listened.
He said into my head, "Emma, he can't touch you first. You'd have to touch him or he would risk causing an incident since Gordon told him outright you were under my protection. Gordon wisely is giving you the option of having the control in contact."
I sighed and asked Uncle Harry, "What do I lose by being polite and exchanging a hand shake?"
"Nothing right now, my dear. But in the future it is unknown. How does the Alpha appear to you? Is he puffing up and trying to stare you down?" I could feel the concern lacing through his thoughts into mine.
"Nope, Uncle Harry, he's just thinking he wants to be far away from the whole thing and running in the woods from what I can tell." Which was the truth, and more than likely exactly the thoughts passing through his mind. I refrained from mentioning that Riley was ready to bolt since it would serve no purpose. I knew that Uncle Harry had already picked up on that from me since I hadn't been heavily shielding my thoughts from him. Just Star and the werewolves were shut out of my mind. Like always I felt comforted by Uncle Harry's presence.
Uncle Harry then said to me in my mind, "Do what feels right. I won't be far from your thoughts. You have my permission to pop out if it seems there are no other options. This little trip to the salt mines has taken on many more layers than when we talked about it a few nights ago. Be safe, Emma."
With that Uncle Harry pulled out of my mind, at least as far as I could tell, leaving me feeling bereft and a bit lost. I shook my mood clear and extended my hand to the Alpha saying, "Thank you for allowing me to visit."
I saw a genuine smile of pleasure from Kirk Burnell as he strode forward to receive my palm, while putting his other hand over mine, giving me a feeling of warmth and being sheltered despite the blizzard raging around us. I saw both Riley and Gordon visibly relax. Star wasn't so happy. I resisted flashing her a smile because I doubted she was tightly wrapped when it really got down to it, and if I provoked her I was pretty sure she'd snap. I could just hear her later apologizing, saying she hadn't realized I was anything more than a pesky human not even worth her spit.
"It is my pleasure to have you here. I wish the weather was more accommodating. But down in the mines you won't have the chill. It is rather cool in the mines but that deep down not freezing. Has Gordon filled you in on what you may find?" Kirk's voice was deep and his tone was friendly, not as gruff as it had been at first. I wasn't so sure he was warming to me, or just figuring he had better help me with my backing. It was good to know Uncle Harry had that sort of power so far away from the West Coast.
Star didn't say a word or allow me to answer Kirk, but simply began walking away from us. She expected us to follow and naturally we did because Gordon had said we needed her. Her action caused both Kirk and Gordon to snort slightly, which I gathered was the extent of them expressing their discomfort at Star's lack of manners. I wondered if all the fey creatures were as disagreeable as her or if it was just her little brand of bitchiness. I shrugged to Kirk and shook my head in the negative, since Gordon hadn't gone into much detail, other than it could be really bad. Something was communicated to Kirk by either Gordon or Riley non-verbally because he looked at me with eyes slightly large and there was a noticeable stiffening of his spine. What exactly that spelt out for me I didn't have a clue, but began to follow the winding line with Riley behind me. Both Gordon and Kirk strode abreast, with Kirk very slightly in the lead. Their shoulders brushed every few steps which must have been pack behavior, since neither seemed to mind the other in their personal space. Riley wasn't stupid enough to get close enough to me to find out how pissed off I'd become over the high-handed behavior of Star. He knew I wasn't happy, but didn't ask me anything. I shoved the anger deep and figured I'd use it later when I got a chance. There were plenty more nightmares I had in my memories that I would quite happily share with Star if she pried again.
The forest was thickening, and we were walking on fresh snow as the path narrowed. Gordon slipped behind Kirk and said to me, "You doing okay?"
"Just peachy. Thanks for asking," I snarked back, feeling the winter storm burrowing into my very bones. The temperature couldn't be much over zero, and I wanted to be snuggly warm inside somewhere, not trudging through the mounds of snow. The blizzard hadn't lessened since we'd arrived, but the high trees and nearly impassable bushes were keeping the majority of the winds from further chilling me, not that it really mattered. Another heavily-coated bush struck me at neck level, punctuating the thought, and I muttered a little. Gordon spun to make sure I was okay, but the cross look on my face kept him from asking me anything. He turned back to the path and plodded on to wherever it was Star was taking us. We walked a good hundred or so feet and I couldn't feel my toes anymore when abruptly Star stopped.
There was a slight clearing in the trees, and lumps of bushes and plants formed a slightly imperfect circle. She pointed towards one of the larger lumps and said, "Riley, be a dear and clear that rock for me."
Riley looked eager to do her bidding and nearly bounded to the spot. I rolled my eyes at the hold this creature had on the werewolves and wondered if I was truly stupid for even still considering the journey with her in charge. Kirk sidled next to me and said, "She does know what she's doing. She's part of the group that sealed the mine at this spot."
Well, that was certainly impressive enough, but I still didn't like her. I didn't think Star had anyone's interest at heart but hers. And considering that she didn't like me, I wasn't sure that she wouldn't seal me inside with whatever was left if she was given half a chance.
From nowhere she suddenly held a large oddly-shaped light yellow candle. She mumbled something and a flickering flame appeared at the tip. I knew in my guts that the candle wasn't something she'd picked up in the mall, but had been crafted elsewhere with material other than bees wax. From the ugly scent of it, I was figuring something that breathed had lent a bit of their body and possibly soul to the ugly candle. The werewolves all had mesmerized looks on their faces and she began chanting and walking counter-clockwise in a large circle. We were slowly circled and she stopped at the rock where Riley had brushed off the snow. She tilted the candle and the wick flamed up, defying the winds and snow. Wax dripped off the end onto the flat surface. Then there was a huge rumble, and the rock split open and fell away, leaving a hole into the earth. Not a single snowflake fell into the space; it seemed like there was a bubble around the rock and beneath the broken bits.
"I will only be able to hold this portal open for three hours. After that, you are on your own." She said. She placed the candle on the side opposite us and indicated for us to head down. I couldn't see beyond the first dirt step. The hole appeared to be a black abyss without end. Riley and Gordon looked at each other and said, "You first."
Kirk laughed and walked past them both, leaving me standing in the snow wondering what was ahead. Kirk reached the edge and turned to me. "Are you ready?"
A flutter in my stomach. I wondered that also.