Naturally Riley glared at me. Even though Stefan had given me his staff of power, and temptations that were wickedly imbedded in the ash wood, somehow I gathered that it was now my fault that I hadn't freaked out or tried to suddenly take over the supernatural world and possibly the known human world. Shoot the messenger, not the poor gal holding the stick. Really mature on the werewolf's part to blame me. I really missed Uncle Harry's presence in my mind at that moment. I didn't need his help but respected his wisdom. So while Riley was shooting daggers at me with his eyes, I stepped closer to Stefan and nodded. Given both of my hands were full I didn't have many other options. Again I felt the wave of charisma flowing off the Gatekeeper and stiffened my barriers. He chuckled and said, "I really need to meet this Harry fellow someday. He's trained you very well for just being a vampire."
Laughing I admitted, "If I survive this mess I'll let him know. He would like you, I think." What I kept to myself was that the talents the Gatekeeper had would more than likely enhance Uncle Harry's power base if they came to some sort of arrangement. Had I not been such a 'wuss' in my own way, I knew without asking that Stefan would share with me his power base. I could feel the staff trying to weasel through my defenses and become part of me. That was disturbing.
Coughing abruptly, Stefan said, "Your 'uncle' Harry just tried to tap deeply into me from one of the vampires I'd absorbed. I let him know that you were okay." His face winced in obvious distress then he added, "And if you aren't alive when he arrives, I won't be lasting much longer. He really is your guardian."
Riley laughed and said, "You think I wanted to be in Michigan during a full-fledged blizzard? Harry definitely takes Emma very seriously. He knows her and adores her. If you like your skin you'll respect that."
I was shocked on more than a few levels. Gordon stepped closer to me and felt the need to fill the space stretching out as we all looked at each other. Finally he said, "You are safe. Harry knows that now from Stefan's helper. But I doubt we have much time left. He isn't a patient vampire, is he?"
It was cute how Gordon referred to one of the Gatekeeper's soul minions as a helper. I wasn't under any such illusions after holding the staff. What shored up Stefan's strength were the bits and demented pieces of creatures that had died in the mines. While holding the rod, I found out some wicked nasty whispers of temptation, and the not so delightful offerings and promises of unknown power -- that naturally led to the well-trodden road to perdition readily available to anyone foolish enough to believe the scattered promises and outright lies. I mean if those souls could deliver anything they offered, they'd have escaped the prison long ago. There hadn't been much offered from the angelic set, but I didn't think many nice sorts remained once they had sealed the mine. It made me wonder what else Parrot had to offer that I hadn't asked about when I'd set the creature free. But Parrot had saved me, so I shrugged and sort of responded to Gordon's question.
Smiling I said, "He's my Uncle Harry. I have known him forever." There was nothing more I was willing to offer. Gordon sketched me a slight bow and I went back to watching Stefan.
Riley snarled, "Esmeralda, this isn't a fucking game, you know!"
Spinning back to the angry fluffed werewolf, I was stunned by his outburst. I mean really, who had peed in his cereal? Both Kirk and Gordon flared up in my defense and growled at Riley with very deep werewolf anger. Even the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at the perceived threat. Riley put his hands up and said, "Come on. She's not a werewolf. She's well ... her!" His hand sketched out towards me, but pulled back as he found himself within blade distance of Nico's sword. I didn't raise my weapon above my waist, but instead stared at him with huge eyes. Part of me was thinking that if I hadn't known Riley so well he'd be sporting a fatal injury. Aching, I kept the sword down, but it would just taken a flick of my wrist and he'd have been skewered.
Part of it was that I was more than a bit taken back by the venom-laced words coming from Riley, but then it dawned on me that he was worried about me, and the delicate human aspects of me. We all knew that I didn't fur out and get lovely claws and teeth that could pulverize small mammals and bits and pieces of the larger ones with predatory snaps and gulps. But Riley knew that I could pop out of phase and end up yards or miles from danger. Reluctantly I had to admit to myself, at least, it would all be useless if I was ambushed. I kept that buried and watched the other three carefully. Stefan was not part of the mix at that point. He was watching us all carefully. Again I had the perception of unknown layers involved.
Gordon stepped into Riley's personal space and said, "Shut up, Riley. Can't you see that she's handling it? Stop panicking. Harry knows her and he'll be here soon from what Stefan was told. To use a common phrase, chill!"
Riley gulped and looked at me saying, "Sorry. You know I didn't mean anything by that right?"
Holding Stefan's staff, I could hear the honesty in his words along with the harshly-barked plea. I never thought of Riley as weak or in any way submissive. As werewolves go he was literally a monster. He was strong and very skilled in rendering any opposition into nothing more than a memory. I knew he was trying as best he could to protect me, but at the same time the salt mine had brought about some rather odd challenges and unexpected twists.
"It's okay. I know." I didn't add any more words because that would just be demeaning to Riley. His sincerity was flooding me from the grip my left hand had on Stefan's staff.
Stefan focused back on the salt cavern where Domenico Rosso had perished. The salt walls still held the words 'Good Morning' with the smiley face. I was glad that Stefan had accepted my request and offered to explore the scraping for me after I had asked him. He could have simply dismissed my request. I couldn't explain why, but I knew there was something off about it. There was this odd energy that defied my understanding, and with Stefan's job he had some special perks. The Gatekeeper got to suck down the power of those that died within the prison. From what I gathered he'd been here a long time and there had been some crazy, psycho inmates with dark talents and forbidden gifts. That had to be very odd. At that thought I felt a pulse of energy from his staff. Again there was that odd temptation-feeling lapping at me along with whispers of promises that nobody in their right mind would believe. But then they had been lunatics and sociopaths -- at least from what I'd been told. The thought of Parrot nudged at me, reminding me that it appeared that not all the inhabitants of the cells had been damned creatures, just supernaturals who'd pissed off the powers that be. Another creepy voice came from the staff asking me if I wanted more power than I had. A hissing voice inside my skin was asking -- hell, insisting to know -- if I wanted to control the world, a feeling slithering up and down my spine. I seriously needed a hot shower and to bleach my brain from the images cascading through me.
"Stefan, your stick is trying to play with me." I declared.
All of the men laughed, then I recognized the other possible meaning. Dang, I was losing it. I didn't growl but raised Nico's blade in my right hand reminding all of them I wouldn't hesitate to poke them to death. Given they weren't immune to silver that was a serious threat. They all stopped laughing and Stefan said, "Sorry about that. She's a cruel weapon."
I kind of liked that his staff wasn't male. Probably the only stick around me that wasn't. Stefan grinned, obviously catching my stray thought. After all I was holding onto his staff. I resisted responding, but still knew I was treading in dangerous waters.
"Miss Esmeralda, not to worry. She's just testing you. What is it you think you felt when you traced your finger through the chiseled letters?"
Looking at him I said, "A weird energy."
"Okay, I will see what I am able to detect." He breathed in deeply and took his left forefinger and began to trace the letters. Again I could see a slight playing of sky blue while his finger trailed the words. Nobody else seemed to notice it so I kept silent.
Exhaling deeply he said, "You are absolutely right."
I waited and then he added, "The message wasn't engraved by a human, but another supernatural. And the creature that created the words used their fingertip, not a chisel or a blade to carve into the salt. Now salt isn't an extremely hard surface, but this one flexed their personal energy through the wall and made their mark. It is scented with danger and challenge."
Stefan looked at me and said, "And the message wasn't just for Nico. It was for someone to find -- for you to find from what I am feeling. I don't know why. It wasn't anybody imprisoned here, but someone who had knowledge of Nico's talents and was looking for a creature like you. Somehow after Nico's death this was carved. I never saw it when we cleaned up. It was hidden from my eyes."
I didn't bother to shut my mouth as it fell open. That was beyond creepy.
"Stefan, the human miners saw it. That was what made me want to come here." My voice quivered a bit. He could see it now -- once I came inside the cell.
The werewolves weren't chiming in, so I knew they were equally unnerved by Stefan's comment. Probably mine too. I'd fought my whole life to stay under the radar and unnoticed and in the past few hours it had all been flipped upside down. Hearing that I had a fan following with posting of sightings of me on Twitter and in other social media spots was more than just freaky.
Finally Kirk broke the uneasy silence and asked, "What's that mean to Esmeralda?"
Turning to Kirk, I watched Stefan's eyes flip to an unnatural red color, and his voice seemed to come from his chest, not his mouth as he bellowed out, "It means she is MINE!"
I jumped back a good foot as the Gatekeeper's staff flared silver-white and shot out directly at the man. Instead of sizzling him to a crackly crunch, it made his eyes roll back into his head; and then they went to his natural shade and his head slumped to his chest. I dropped both the sword and the staff without thinking and put my hands out to catch him as he fell face forward. Gordon was right behind me, and together we eased him to the floor without injury.
He wasn't conscious, and I was feeling more and more flowing from the staff I'd dropped. I didn't need to touch it because it sought me out and tried to tell me things. Not just warm and fuzzy bits of life, but darkness and promises of power and absolute devastation of the known world and other unknown worlds. Had I been at all inclined towards such nastiness, it would have sung to me a symphony of promise of reward and deliciously evil power. Thankfully the rod didn't know me well, and I was buffered from the temptations by my friends, who I considered family.
Stefan mumbled something and tried to speak unsuccessfully. Scary, since he was the Gatekeeper and we were standing in the territory he was in charge of, and he wasn't even conscious for all practical matters. A very large slice of me was more than a tad concerned. This could really shift to the dark zone easily. The murmuring from his staff pals wasn't helping me at even a bit.
All of us were still inside the cell in which Nico had died, and the creepy energy was flowing in and out of the space with green and blue rushes of power. I had yet to pick up either my sword or the staff. I pulled my backpack off my shoulder and yanked out some makeshift medical supplies. Frantically searching through the kit, I found a small vial and snapped it beneath Stefan's nose.
His arms jerked and he sat halfway upright, waving his hand quickly beneath his nose.
"What the hell is that abomination?" His voice was raspy and I yanked my hand back in order to resist being struck.
Smiling a little, I said, "Smelling salts. They seem to work on supernaturals as well as humans."
Coughing roughly he waved his hand in front of his face asking, "What in tarnation just happened?"
Looking at each one another, we hesitated. Kirk finally said, "We don't know."