As we followed Stefan deeper into the salt mines I noticed there were less and less cells lining the tunnels. Kirk noticed the same thing and directly asked, "Why aren't there as many cells this way?"
Stefan stopped and said, "Oh, they are here but magically cloaked. With all of the talk of reopening the mines soon there has been a concentrated effort to keep the mines looking as normal as possible until we can figure a way to stop the invasion."
That made sense to me, because some poor idiot seeing a bolted door would naturally want to find out what was behind the thick wood and silver-lined entrance. Thinking about what psychotic sorts were warehoused a thousand feet below Michigan gave me the willies and I had a way out. I could pop out of phase and be far far and away before becoming dinner. Some old man finding a green-yellow striped harridan with a mouth full of a hundred or so wickedly sharp teeth designed to rip into flesh would not be an ideal situation. Goodness, and if the man was actually able to bolt the door back before he was devoured whole, I know perfectly well that he'd run to the nearest boss to show him the creature. That would go bad for everyone involved, to say the least. If anyone survived the massacre (in the worst case, their loved ones topside would only know when they noticed that the man who brought home the paycheck hadn't arrived for Sunday dinner) -- the tales they'd tell would really screw up the works.
"Esmeralda, come join me for a second. I want you to see something." Stefan waved me towards him with his free hand, his right hand still holding the rather scary staff he'd wielded with immense power and deadly results. I guess all in a night's work for the Gatekeeper.
Slowly I walked through the three werewolves, Riley shied away from my silver sword automatically and Gordon chuckled and coughed out, "Wuss."
Riley bristled, but he didn't venture any closer to me. The silver blade I held confidently really unnerved him. But then admittedly, he did just see me clobber Star, that bitch, with the hilt of the sword. But in my defense that was right after the Fey had tried to separate Riley's head from his body with the silver sword that she'd pulled out from one of the treasure piles in Sapphire's cave. The way she'd swung that sword, it was obvious that she had every intention of killing him. I'd parried her strike, and had to go on the offensive. I couldn't go home knowing I'd let Riley be slaughtered by that evil bitch, so I conked her pretty well in her face before calling Sapphire down for some Fey chow. But Riley also knew that Uncle Harry had extensively trained me in self-defense, and that I really liked swords. I kept the point of the sword down and actually wasn't feeling scared or even nervous so I didn't see why he was being -- like Gordon so elegantly put it -- a wuss.
Stefan had stopped at an unremarkable part of the salt tunnel as far as I could tell. The magical illumination was still keeping pace with us. I'd finally glanced up and noted that the tunnels did in fact have actual caged lights strung along the top of the tunnels, but they weren't lit, and I wasn't even sure that there was still any power running through the caves. That itched at my thoughts, and I really hoped that Stefan had another portal available for use so the werewolves could leave, because there was a rather distinct possibility that the elevator wouldn't even work once we found it. I hadn't much thought of that when planning my visit. I kept those stray thoughts to myself. Besides, human beings wouldn't trigger the effect of our silvery lighting, since it seemed to feed off our magic. They'd be forced to power up the mines again before any of those lights above lit.
"I found it funny that both you and Kirk noticed the lack of cells lining this particular passage way. Yes, Miss Esmeralda, I realize that Kirk spoke, but I saw your eyes flickering back and forth and noticing the change." He smiled again at me and I felt the warmth of his charisma flooding me. He didn't try to poke into my mind for a change, but he did smile with his eyes dancing. After he'd revealed earlier that part of being the Gatekeeper allowed him to gather bits and pieces of talents from the creatures when they passed away meant he had one hell of an arsenal. I wondered what new bit of the supernatural he'd gathered from the creature he'd fried back by the dragon cave.
With a tap from the tip of his silver- and ash- wood staff, he hit the wall directly behind him on the right side of the tunnel. A blink, and then there was a hardwood doorway with a bolt on the outside. There wasn't a silver screened window into the room like the other cells I'd seen, but a slot to slide food through at knee level. There was no way for anyone inside the cell to push the bolt up to free themselves unless they had extraordinarily long limbs. Without much ceremony, he slid the wooden bolt back and pulled the door open. There wasn't a single sound as the thick door swung open, but there was a faint aroma. It took me a moment to identify the odor -- it was cinnamon and vanilla -- something that I remembered from when my foster mom used to bake for the holidays. Instinctively I smiled and felt a flood of good memories from my childhood.
Stefan waved us inside the cell, saying, "This is where Domenico Rosso was kept during his sentence. Nico lived here for over fifty years." I looked around stunned. It was exactly how the miner had described the room.
Gasping softly I said, "But I thought it had been cleaned out once it had been discovered by the dead miner and his buddy."
The Gatekeeper laughed loudly and said, "Esmeralda, this is our territory."
I arched an eyebrow and pointed out, "But they found Nico's body and saw his room. I mean the one miner, Simon Chase Harrington, wrote about old soon-to-be dead Jeremy Cobb blowing open the wall over there, and how they'd chipped away and found Nico's room." I pointed to the opposite side of the tunnel directly across from the room we were now looking into, "Mr. Harrington said when he came back it was all gone. The man and the signs of his ever having lived there. Everything had been taken and the hole closed up. The man checked thoroughly and then gave up. How could he not see the body?" I was truly puzzled.
Sighing, Stefan shrugged. "Mistakes were made. I wasn't in the mines when the human miners unexpectedly broke through that wall. When I found out, we shifted the space over, so when the humans came back there was nothing for them to see. We added more wards and protections to try to avoid it happening again."
This time Kirk called him on that and said, "Stefan, give me a break. 'Try to avoid'? I mean really, my friend, you were stranded down here because of an escaped, violent psycho creature, and the rather memorable slaughter of quite a few human beings. Doesn't sound like you exactly prevented events with supernaturals and humans meeting up, now does it?"
Stefan said, "You are right. Part of the reason we shut down the mines was precisely because humans were getting far better at ferreting out the weaknesses in the thin wall between the human world and ours. Not to mention that miners are superstitious and more than willing to believe in the usually unbelievable. They built salt rooms of worship with saints and assorted emblems of their religion. Most carry some religious medals or touchstones they used to ward off the 'evil' eye. Not exactly the average human. So we hid the cave once he was found, but this was Nico's cell. I removed his body a few years back and buried him elsewhere."
It took me a second to process that Nico's body had stayed in his cell for years before Stefan moved it. I also noticed that he didn't offer to tell me where that was now. So instead, I drank in everything in the room. It was exactly how the miner had written in his journal -- minus the body of poor old Nico, dried up like a dead mule, according to the miner, Mr. Harrington's, narrative. His description had given me a rather good picture of Nico, with his long dark hair and dark mustache, a light beard, and not to mention, fancy leather boots that both of the miners noticed right away as not belonging to anyone working down in the mine with them. Mr. Harrington had also said that the body was a husk, dried out by salt and time. The books bound in leather were still in a hardwood bookcase and the bedding was lush and though dusty, still easily recognized as expensive. Without any insects down here, the moths hadn't destroyed the linens. I saw a small table in the corner. To my amazement there was a single set of fine china set out as if someone was ready to plate for a formal dinner. There was ornate silver flatware placed on a thick linen napkin and the salt and pepper were in small crystal bowls with very tiny silver spoons. Nico had been dining in style right up until his death. The Gatekeeper had taken good care of the man, despite sealing him in his cell to a certain death.
With wide eyes, I walked past the men and went to the wall with the phrase 'Good Morning' etched deeply into the salt walls and a smiley face beneath it. My heart stopped. This was something that kept following me through my life. And from what I was seeing, it wasn't just my life.
Tracing my finger through the words and the smiley face on the wall I felt a flicker of something. I could have sworn the etching was briefly glowing a nice sky blue. I shook my head, and taking my forefinger out of the salt grooves, I didn't see any color other than white and not so white.
"Stefan, can you come touch this for me?" I hoped one of the creatures he'd absorbed would help him figure out what was going on here. After all, this was his home, not mine. There had been some odd sort of energy pushing back when I had touched the salt engraved letters. That blue was more than a bit familiar also.
Stefan nodded and handed me his staff while he approached the wall so he could touch the etchings in the salt. I felt a jolt of power jump from the rod into me. It wasn't bad, just peculiar. He caught my gaze and grinned. I now had both hands full. I smiled back weakly. Then a calmness flooded me from his proximity, and also from the ashwood staff. I didn't envy the Gatekeeper's life at that moment. I understood quickly that the cloak of power he wore wasn't something easily withstood. He may have had some perks from the absorption of skills and talents from his crazy cast of dying inmates, but at the same time I easily recognized that it hadn't come to him without some pain and some losses. I empathized with him, but damn well didn't want to take his place. His staff held more than just a source to direct his magical power; it had this truly terrifying amount of sorrow. I glanced back to Stefan to see he was watching me carefully.
"Miss Esmeralda, thank you for taking care of my staff. And I am happy to meet you." There were more layers to his words than I could immediately understand. There were layers of undercurrents that had a riptide pull of energy and temptation.
"Thanks, I think." I honestly answered.
Laughing Stefan said, "You aren't easily swayed by temptation are you?"
Smiling back I said, "Just bright and shiny things. Not so much power and the ability to destroy the world and all of the inhabitants. Your job is not so simple Stefan; it's rather frightening to me."
Looking at me with huge eyes he said, "Truly amazing."
Defensively Riley snarled, "What do you mean?"
Gordon reached over and slapped the back of Riley's head, causing the werewolf to flinch, and said, "Shut up, man. Can't you see that the Gatekeeper just gave his staff to Emma? She could feel his power and he knows it. This is very remarkable."
I looked at Gordon and said, "Thank you."