"Okay, Emma, this is your dance -- you call it," Gordon broke into my suddenly solitary mental ramblings. "I need to know if we should go through the new door before us or right back through the portal?"
My stomach still was queasy from our magical trip through the portal minutes ago and the thought of going right back up without having done any exploration around the chamber and beyond didn't sit well with me. The roar that had come from the other side of the closed door rang in my ears, but nothing else. There was no sense of Uncle Harry in my thoughts for the first time that I could remember in years. He'd been tracing my life with touches of mental contact since I was a teenager, and now nothing, not even a hum of static. It was disconcerting to say the least.
I looked at the three werewolves, all of whom were nearly touching me with their warm bodies, and considered what Gordon was asking. We were roughly a thousand feet below the surface of the earth in a massive salt layer that stretched from up in Canada, through the state of Michigan -- where I thought we were still but wasn't positive any more -- then also in Ohio, New York and many other states. All because I'd found a link to me and how I lived my life -- with a dead man. The information that had been found by men who worked in the mines written in local diaries and assorted news stories were what made me journey far further than I'd ever popped, all on a somewhat desperate whim. Everything I'd discovered led me to believe there was a possible clue to others of my kind, or at the very least the site where one of my kind had died in the chamber that caged him. I wasn't completely convinced that he was one of my kind; I'd yet to meet another like me but from what I'd read, he seemed to be a link. If I was honest with myself, what was really freaking me out was that I couldn't find Uncle Harry in my thoughts, which was pretty much totally wrong. But the werewolves were with me, so that meant Star hadn't screwed me over yet. I wasn't overly confident about the fey creature.
Looking at the three rather large werewolves whisper close to me, I wondered and quickly figured out that after all, if I'd traveled this far, what did I have to lose? Okay, realistically there was a more than a possible chance that maybe I was going to be trapped below the earth with some unknown horror, but I could run and pop forward if threatened -- I hoped. Sucking in a gulp of surprisingly fresh air I said, "Let's go."
The three weres spun towards me with nearly a choreographed motion, and each their faces were frozen with some expression they thought would convince me to do whatever it was they were thinking. But nothing on any of their faces rung true. They were all trying to push into my mind, but it wasn't even happening. I could see them all struggle with their inability to work me, and out of the corners of their eyes they noticed each was trying to influence me. I missed Uncle Harry, but it was easy for me to block them. I marked it in my mind that each of them had their own independent agenda. Not like it was a shock, but I kept it in my thoughts to deal with it later.
Supposedly Riley had been sent at Uncle Harry's bidding to protect me. But I wasn't one hundred percent certain, given his links to Gordon. Then I had to add into the mix that Gordon was tied to the local werewolves, and that had sucked Riley into telling me to trust them. I'd only met Gordon a few hours ago, and Kirk even less than that. That wasn't even taking into consideration the fey creature that Gordon had invited into my rental. Kirk Burnell had met us at the turnoff in the middle-of-nowhere Michigan during a blizzard. Star had taken us to the spot and I wasn't overjoyed at her from the start. But both Riley and Gordon said Kirk was the Alpha for the territory. I instinctively liked him, but then, he had a very strong personality. I'd yet to ask Gordon if he was the last puzzle piece for the trip or a quickly filled-in substitute. Ever since Star had come on the scene life had whipped past us at nearly lightning speeds.
Focusing back on the present I said, "Onward. Do we need to do anything special first?"
I thought it was a good question, since none of them even knew if there was a Gatekeeper behind the door or just monsters. Having basically grown up with monsters, I wasn't given to automatically thinking they were necessarily bad. I mean it sounded to me, from what I'd been told, that the creatures locked up magically hadn't been given much of a chance to tell their side of the stories, but rather the monsters in charge decided their fates. Like any sort of historical tale, it was told by the victors, who always painted the other side as totally evil and deserving of whatever punishments were done. Me, I wasn't so sure.
The doorway was thick planks of wood, and there was an elaborate bolt and latch system that Gordon made short work of with seemingly little effort. He was muttering what sounded like Latin to me, and I wondered if he was doing a bit of preventative magic against some unseen wards. When Kirk walked next to him and began muttering his share of foreign words, I was pretty sure that they were doing some counter-enchantments. Riley didn't move, but instead reached into his pocket and pulled out a rather large gold cross I hadn't realized he had brought with him. With his very macho appearance and his rugged looks, I bet that went over well at the various airports he'd hit on his way to Michigan. I certainly doubted anyone questioned him during the TSA proceedings -- he was formidable to say the least.
Riley didn't chant anything in Latin, or English; he just kept his eyes focused on the doorway. The last latch was being undone and the roaring began again, sounding much closer than before. Or I just thought it did, with the entry to the mines now steps away. The chamber we were in began to flicker slightly with the illumination that had greeted us when we stepped through the portal into the mines. I still didn't have a clue how it was done or what was in the walls that sparkled.
Shrugging, I decided to ask. "So what's in the walls other than the salt crystals?"
Riley looked at the walls and arched an eyebrow to Gordon who said, "Silver."
Wide-eyed I asked, "Is that making you guys itch?"
Silver and werewolves didn't go well together in any way. All three of them fidgeted and Kirk said, "We've all experienced far worse. It's uncomfortable, but not deadly to us. We can touch it and it will burn, but not kill us."
Lots of information from a pretty quiet guy who then added, "It's magically enhanced to keep the chamber invisible from above and to keep the creatures inside from leaving. If the Gatekeeper is alive, we've been given permission to enter."
Naturally, a follow up question or two from me, "So what if the Gatekeeper isn't? How is it we are here and not having problems?"
Gordon fielded those saying, "Then the mine is letting us in."
That caused me to shut up.
Taking one last look at the shut door Gordon asked, "So, you ready?"
He was looking directly at me. From the resigned looks on the other two werewolves' faces, I gathered they'd already discussed in some manner that it was up to me to decide whether we went on or went back up.
"We've come this far. Of course I'm ready. How about you boys?" I grinned at their faces. I guess none of them had been called a 'boy' in decades if not longer. I thought I was being good in not mentioning we were on a tight schedule. Three hours to explore and then get back up through the portal, or they'd have to travel up the elevator. Werewolves didn't like losing control,, and Riley was a tad claustrophobic and for all I knew, it was a werewolf trait, not just him.
Kirk opened the door and said, "Ladies first."
Riley didn't jump in and volunteer to go ahead of me, which I mentally noted in my growing list of things to later deal with -- if I survived. I pretty much figured he'd be in major trouble with Uncle Harry. Then something dawned on me, maybe he was protecting me from the other two werewolves, in case they decided to try to double-cross me. Trying to keep positive, I took a deep breath and headed for the door.
Bracing myself, I went through the dark doorway and the wall directly in front of me illuminated like the chamber I'd just left. Obviously this part of the tunnels still held the enchantment from the past. Reassured by this, I stepped to the left and waited for the other three. The door slammed shut and I heard the three werewolves howl. I gulped and saw that there wasn't any handle on this side. Riley screamed to me, "It's not opening. Gordon's going back to ask Star what to do. You stay there -- we'll be there soon."
Knowing perfectly well that wasn't going to happen I reached into my backpack and pulled out one of the spray cans I had of glow-in-the dark tagger paint. Detroit made youths show a driver's license due to all the gangs tagging, but as an adult I went to the nearest craft store and bought half a dozen spray cans. They didn't even blink an eye at my purchase.
Quickly I shook the first can I grabbed, and hearing the beads inside the paint can rattling and mixing the liquid, I was really thankful that I'd been smart enough to pop the safety caps on their tops with a flathead screwdriver before I'd left home. I did have a mufti-purposed tool in my full backpack, but it was much easier to be prepared before I journeyed into the mines. I sprayed in iridescent ink the word "EXIT" on the door, and then I added a huge arrow pointing in the direction I was going. When I'd packed for the journey I wasn't aware that there would be a time limit on my trip, but I had long ago learned to be prepared. While facing the door I'd made a decision; I went to the right because my tummy was tugging me that way. The roars from a few minutes ago had stopped once the door had slammed behind me, and there was a watchful feeling pulsing over me like something was observing me. It seemed the mine had welcomed me. I didn't bother trying to go back for the werewolves, since it appeared that they weren't going to be allowed inside just yet. I didn't try to pop out, either, because after all, this was my trip. So to speak.
Happily I continued down the tunnel, not hearing any more roars close or in the distance. Riley would probably be pissed that I'd wandered off from the now-posted exit, but I had limited time and I didn't know if they'd even be able to enter. I didn't even have to use my battery operated lanterns, so I was happy. I had one in my backpack and a few sets of batteries, so I could potentially stay down at least a full day, if not two.