Sapphire looked at the werewolves and smiled, revealing that her quick snack of Star actually had cleared out the other assorted body parts that had been littering her teeth when I first met her. I guess a Fey creature worked as dragon dental floss. Given the green mist Sapphire had burped after gobbling up Star, I had to think that there definitely was a magical element to chowing down on that particular bitch.
Riley finally said, "What is it that you are trying to tell us?"
I laughed and said, "Sapphire is telling you that the Gatekeeper is here. What, does she need to draw you a picture or something?"
Gordon chuckled and said, "Fair enough. So Miss Sapphire, do you perhaps know precisely where the Gatekeeper is?"
She nearly purred at Gordon calling her 'Miss Sapphire.' He really did have a way about him. She seemed to appreciate it and cooed to him, "Very close."
Kirk looked at her and asked, "Is there something we can do to reach the Gatekeeper right now?"
I loved that they knew enough to ask precise questions without giving up anything. Politics of being a supernatural, from what I have seen over the years, involved knowing how to weave and bob whenever necessary or else end up as just a vague memory like dear old Star. (She didn't even have a corpse to bury. I resisted gloating -- barely.) Sapphire didn't immediately answer, but instead went back to glancing at her reflection in the hand mirror I'd given her.
I'd lowered the silver blade that Sapphire had gifted me, but the three werewolves weren't exactly jumping out of their skin to get close to me. Something to do with the silver, I took a wild guess. Go figure -- like I was going to hurt them? They could tear me apart before I could even fix a spot to pop over to -- they hadn't relaxed that much since the Fey creature had pushed them into the cavern. But then there was an awful lot of silver around, and there were still howls in the distance.
Finally Kirk asked me, "Esmeralda, how did you know that Star was actually going to decapitate Riley and that she was not just threatening him?"
I laughed, "Because she was, like Sapphire so elegantly said earlier, a total bitch. I watched her suck the life force from you all in the past few hours more than once. None of you seemed to even flinch while you were getting drained. And she laughed at you when you were frozen in place while she slurped you down like a free shot at an upscale yuppy bar."
Riley growled and bit out, "Okay, so now Star is dead and the Gatekeeper is still somewhere down here in the mine. Miss Sapphire," I was impressed that Riley had finally gathered he had to be nice to huge dragons in their own lair and he continued with, "I want to say thank you for letting us into your home."
He really was getting smooth. He added, "And is there something you need that we lowly werewolves can offer to make you more comfortable?"
I mentally had to close my mouth. I'd never known Riley to be so eloquent. He was sincerely waiting for Sapphire's reply. I guess old werewolves could learn new tricks. I kept that to myself, seeing no need to poke the irritated large were. Riley would only put up with so much crap from me in front of the other two werewolves, and that did make me a tad more cautious. Uncle Harry would be very proud of me.
I still felt strange not having any connection to him. I knew it was deep into the night in California and there was no way he hadn't noticed that I wasn't tapped into his mind. I hoped I could get topside before he called out the vampire equivalent of the National Guard -- they were beyond frightening and I knew that he had more than enough connections to get a few to command with no questions asked. I sighed and waited with the others for Sapphire to let us know what she wanted.
Nobody said a word while Sapphire nodded and huffed, coming to some sort of decision. Finally she stopped glancing into the mirror long enough to look at him and say, "No, thank you for offering, Werewolf."
It was then that it dawned on me that I hadn't taken the time to introduce any of them. And here I was the one thinking Riley had no manners. I felt myself flush with embarrassment and quickly rectified my error. "Sorry, Sapphire please allow me to introduce Riley, Gordon and Kirk." I didn't bother with last names because I didn't think it mattered.
Sapphire nodded and graciously said, "Pleased to meet all of you."
All three of them sketched deep bows. I was further impressed. They were elegant with old-fashioned charm and very sincere in their demeanor. Thankfully Sapphire recognized it and seemed to relax on her haunches. She looked off into the cave near where I'd been hiding when the werewolves had arrived. She nodded her head again and then said, "The Gatekeeper will meet you out by the place in which Esmeralda let free the one but not the other."
With that she flew up to the ceiling perch, her chain still attached to her collar. I really wanted to look through the pile she'd allowed me to dig in, but I didn't think the weres would wait for me. I knew where Sapphire was and I was pretty sure that I could easily pop in from other parts of the mines if the need arose. That I had been able to pop across the room gave me hope that the magic that contained the various creatures wasn't aimed directly at me. Though that could have been what the man like me had thought before he died. Sapphire had implied that he'd had the privilege of being able to flee from the mines at times. I wondered what changed that caused him to die down here. More than likely it had been a change of politics, and whoever had been in power when he'd first been sentenced to his cell had given him a day time get-temporary-out-of-jail card which was revoked once the new regime took over the mines. That had to suck. I threw a look around the treasure room with regret that I couldn't delve further into the hoard of items just now.
"Thank you for your hospitality." I shouted up to her. She rumbled her amusement and stayed out of sight. I guessed our visiting time was over.
The three werewolves bounded out of the cave, being careful not to brush against any of the piles of silver chain mail and the various sizes of swords strewn haphazardly around the floor. Looking at the treasures, I took a second to pull a long silver chain from the pile that Sapphire had told me I could plunder from -- the werewolves were already to the door and nobody saw me take the two feet of silver. The links weren't thick -- not much thicker than my pinkie finger -- so the chain fit easily into my back pack. I figured it may come in handy.
Once we were outside, Riley slid the bolt back in place, closing the room and he asked me, "Why didn't you let the dragon free?"
I answered what she'd told me, "Because it isn't her time. She was perfectly content to serve out her sentence."
"But with Star devoured, doesn't that mean she's got nobody to tattle on her if she leaves?" Riley seemed perplexed and disturbed by the dragon's imprisonment. Werewolves weren't overly fond of cages, not that I blamed them. I was momentarily distracted by his question. It was a good one.
Then Gordon answered for me, "Because the Gatekeeper is still here. Her sentence is probably written somewhere and she doesn't want to be shoved into a worse place for not serving her full sentence. And there are many much worse holes to be stuffed into than her treasure room."
That made sense to me and Riley kept his mouth shut so he must have agreed. Silently I led the way, and we all walked back towards the cells I'd marked. It didn't seem to take as long as when I'd come down into the salt mine. The walls still had that odd way of illuminating as we walked and dimming behind us. I noticed with the four of us the hallways were much brighter than when I'd traveled alone. It made me wonder if the magic fed off us to light the way. My stomach flipped over at that notion, and I shuddered at the idea I was unintentionally feeding magic without my consent. But it was a supernatural prison, so maybe simply being here implied permission.
As we approached the cells I could see a tall figure leaning against the now-empty cell where Parrot had been stuffed inside to die. He was thick bodied and wearing a robe like a monk or priest of a dingy brown color. His hair was long, nearly to his shoulders -- a dark shade of brown laced with gray-white strands -- it flowed straight, parted in the center of his head. He was holding onto a wooden staff tipped with six or so inches of silver. The rod came to his shoulder and the silver on the top part appeared to have been hammered onto the ash wood staff. He kicked off the wall and turned to us, not speaking. He had strong features and icy blue eyes. He looked first at Kirk, who instantly fell to his knees and bowed his head. Both Riley and Gordon framed either sides of the kneeling werewolf and quickly dropped to their knees with their heads tilted like Kirk's. The Gatekeeper swept his free hand over all three of their heads, brushing their hair slightly. He murmured something and they all bounced up, all smiles. I stood back and waited.
"This is the one that has stirred up the world down here, I gather." He directed his comment to Kirk while looking at me with a bemused expression on his face. He seemed to realize I wasn't going to be dropping to my knees any time soon. He saw the sword I held loosely in my right hand and smiled widely.
"Ah, I see you have met Sapphire, and it appears that you've gained her trust," his voice was like rich chocolate. It was all I could do to keep back and wait to see what was going on. I wasn't comfortable with the flex of power I felt in his voice. He wasn't trying to poke into my mind, but rather had an amazing amount of personal charisma that I didn't much trust.
Instead of answering his comment I simply smiled.
Kirk stepped a bit closer to the Gatekeeper and said, "I am happy to see you are alive."
He laughed and replied, "And I am happy to be alive."
Nobody else laughed. There was something about him that was slightly off. But then heaven only knew how long that he'd been locked down here with the undesirables and the totally psychotic.
As if just thinking about psychotic called attention to me, the cell behind me began to thump and the creature inside screamed with a bone chilling sound of craziness. Yeah, I'd been smart in keeping that one locked up. The Gatekeeper simply said, "Silence."
The prisoner shut up instantly.
We all waited for the Gatekeeper to speak.
"So why did you risk your lives coming down here?"
All three werewolves looked at me pointedly and stayed quiet.
Clearing my throat I said, "That would be because I found some information about a previous occupant of the mine, and wanted to double check the cell he'd been kept in during his ah -- well, stay."
Shaking his head the Gatekeeper said, "Either brave or foolish. We will see which."
A whimper and then the evil creature in the cell behind me hissed, "Foolish very foolish." The Gatekeeper raised his staff and a bolt of silver streaked through the tunnel into the room. The smell of burning flesh quickly flooded the area as the creature screamed. I breathed softly through my mouth and tried to keep from choking on the smell. It seemed the Gatekeeper had some serious magical talents. I hoped that he would be on my side because if he was against me I was seriously screwed.