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December 05, 2022

Good Morning? 70

By Lydia Manx

As the smelling salts worked their magic, Stefan began to refocus on the situation at hand. He'd been knocked for a loop by his own magically enhanced staff. I didn't blame the rod for blasting him, because he had just rather forcefully declared "MINE" -- meaning me. So whatever had been talking through Stefan had some plans for my ass, apparently, and with the bounty on me, and let's not to mention that it was pretty much a death sentence, it was all more than a bit off-putting. This was way past pushing the 'run' button on my psyche, but hey, I was a thousand feet below the crust of Michigan.

Screaming my reluctance to be fully claimed by the actual puppeteer that was pulling Stefan's vocal cords was pointless, especially since I was so far from any possibility of successful rescue attempts. The three werewolves that had come down here with me weren't going to easily beat the Gatekeeper, because he was extremely powerful. Let us not also forget the little factoid that I had had Stefan's staff in my hot little hands when it blasted him. So naturally I decided to hang around and watch the fireworks. Worst case scenario, I was pretty sure that I could actually pop back to Sapphire's cavern and hide with the dragon amongst her treasures and vast array of weapons. There were enough swords and axes to keep me busy hacking any enemies for a good year or two. And I had to add in that if a dragon couldn't get my back I was pretty much doomed.

Gordon, ever the peacemaker, said, "While you were finger-tracing the words etched into the wall here in Nico's cell, your staff, in Esmeralda's hands, decided to send a nasty bolt of energy into you and that knocked you out cold. Emma took a vial of smelling salts she had in her backpack and snapped it beneath your nose -- and you woke up. All good now?"

Even I could hear the somewhat muted sarcasm. If it hadn't been for Gordon vouching for the now-dead Star bitch -- the Fey creature that had helped seal up this supernatural-creature prison -- I probably would really like Gordon. As it stood, I smiled nicely and tried to remember that Uncle Harry would soon be coming to my rescue. I wasn't sure how far away he was physically from me, but I knew for certain that he wasn't in California any more. Even without our connection at the moment I still could feel him coming towards me.

Kirk felt obligated to add, "Some nasty sort of creature spoke through you first. That was why you were blasted by your own staff."

Riley tried to redeem himself by adding to the conversation with, "Your eyes flipped to an evil red and you told Emma that she was yours in rather assertive language. It was right after you rolled your fingertip over the carvings in the cell."

Stefan shook both Gordon and myself off him; we'd both been supporting him after he nearly broke his nose falling straight for the floor. Shaking his head he said with a very tight voice, "I thank you both for assisting." He didn't sound in the least thankful but sounded rather snotty.

He snatched his staff off the floor rather decisively and bowed to me saying, "And I thank you for keeping her."

Without losing a beat, I quickly snatched up my silver blade that I'd dropped along with the staff when catching Stefan. It was funny that once I picked up the sword that Nico had owned, however many decades ago, that I felt whole again. It hadn't taken long for the sword to worm its way inside me. I probably should have been worried, but at this point I'd take any help I could get. It wasn't like Stefan's staff -- no offering of the universe, but just an assurance of safety and a finely honed blade to back my thrusts and slices. I well knew that a good blade was hard to find. The werewolves all glanced at me and sighed. I guess I must have projected my double entendre thought without any focus. I shrugged slightly, and they all looked away from me while muttering cautiously under their breaths.

I smiled, still thinking it weird that Stefan thought of his staff as female. I'd held it and just found it to be wicked, tempting and more than a bit beguiling. For me there wasn't a declaration of sexual orientation or any sort of preference, much less if it wanted to be addressed as she or he. Still, I could feel a tug in my tummy from the ashwood rod. It really wanted me to hold it and use it with some wicked and nasty strikes -- both physical and emotional. I thought that as the Gatekeeper, Stefan had to be constantly tempted by some ugly slices of the underworld. And he was much older than me by at least a few stray decades or more, and he still had to struggle daily against the temptation. The more I thought about the fact that Stefan had been locked down in the mines for decades, or even longer, with such voices hissing and whispering in his brain, the more his even temper was stunning. He didn't appear to be crazy, but I kept my council because nothing was ever quite what it seemed in the world, not down here in the mines or up on top. I didn't know what the rest of the universe played with, but I was more skeptical about what was versus what it appeared to be.

Another howl began filling the tunnels. It didn't sound like the creatures were close to us, but they were slowly approaching. Hell, who was I kidding? It sounded like the unseen creatures were stalking us with a nice predatory waltz. A death dance, with its own music playing in the background.

The werewolves just looked at each other and sighed as one. Nobody flipped to their furry side, but simply met each others' eyes with unspoken thoughts. I was naturally excluded, and Stefan wasn't included either in the intense snatches of glances between them. I kept from giggling, because I knew it had more to do with my absolute nervousness than the simple reality that the werewolves were silently connecting. I felt bad for Stefan, because I'd thought he was an accepted werewolf, but given what had happened in the last few minutes, I figured out that once he'd been stranded in the mine, he had given up his pack connection and become otherly. He wasn't part of the pack any more and he held far more secrets and mysteries than the average fur boy or girl.

Kirk looked to Stefan and simply asked, "Are they yours?"

Stefan laughed and waving his hand loosely out towards the tunnels said, "Nope, have at them."

With that, all three of the werewolves bolted out of the cell to chase down the source of the howls. I looked over to Stefan and asked, "Did you just call some expendable creatures to pull the werewolves out of here so you could simply talk to me?"

His head bowed, and not meeting my eyes, he answered, "Yes. How did you know?"

Shaking my head I said, "Because I was able to handle the staff. I heard the temptations and felt the need running through the grains of wood aimed right for every possible weakness. It isn't easy doing your job. What is it you found when you touched the words?"

He looked at me and hissed, "You really aren't human. There are so many levels to you that defy logic."

I was just happy he hadn't said layers. Levels I could live with; it sounded more prestigious while layers always reminded me of onions and party dips -- nothing I care that much for in my life. Shrugging, I waited for him to continue. There was no need to fill the silence, since he'd sent the werewolves away, not me.

"I found that there are many seeking you. Your choice of Harry as your protector is probably what's kept you alive for so many years. The creature that etched into the walls is not like you, but in a way it is. Unlike Nico, that creature not only wants you dead, but wants to suck your soul into its body dead or alive. It seems to have an idea that it can pull you into it even after you are dead -- which is disturbing, but there are creatures out there that can do such sorts of necromancy. That is why the bounties keep showing up. It fears you, but at the same time it is overly confident that it will easily be able to suck you down once you are delivered dead or alive. It is not a vampire, but something similar." He paused and added, "There's no goodness it this creature. It is fueled solely by hate and revenge."

It was my turn to sigh, "I figured as much. I could feel that when you shouted. Your eyes were red and you weren't you."

Hearing Stefan keep saying dead or alive made me think that whatever had pushed through him to speak to me wasn't that far away from his soul. I worried that he'd been marked for a far worse fate if he didn't help deliver me. Mentally I opened the slice of energy between Riley and me and risked a quick, Come back. He's sending you away to get to me.

This wasn't a guess but stone cold certainty. I still couldn't reach Uncle Harry, but Riley would get my back -- if he could. That was something I wasn't positive could happen. After all, this was Stefan's maze of death and hell. What also was unspoken was that he was the prison warden for scary supernaturals.

I felt the flood of absolute confusion from Riley for a second, then he spoke softly into my mind, Okay, Emma. I guess you mean to tell me that the creatures howling so temptingly are trying to lead us further into the mines. I was starting to suspect something was wrong. And we'll talk later about this little mind trick of yours. I could feel the trace of fear behind his words along with the slight humor. I guess he was okay with me mind-speaking now, but I would more than likely pay for not answering his earlier pleas when we first got separated in the mines. Uncle Harry wasn't going to be thrilled that I let Riley into my thoughts, but I seriously was worried that I wouldn't be alive to be scolded if I didn't get some help here soon.

That brought another stray thought into my mind. I was in for a penny, I might as well be in for a pound. I whispered open my mind and found Sapphire's thoughts. Her mind was dark and complicated; her life hadn't been easy, but then she was a dragon. I needed her firepower probably quite literally.

Emma, you are in here. Why?

The Gatekeeper has been taken over by something darker than dark. I need you here. Can you leave your cage and not leave the mines and still be keeping within your sentence? I could hear her chortle as she replied, Certainly.

Do you need help getting out from the cavern?

Again I could hear the train wrecking laughter of Sapphire inside my thoughts. I've only stayed here because in this time, dragons aren't welcome up topside. I wanted to be respectful and keep to the current ruling party's mistaken rules until the climate changes. And I don't just mean the global warming shit. I have been able to leave for many years. With that in her thoughts she showed me what she had planned. I was impressed. In her years she'd been sheltered in the mines, she'd been preparing for the night she decided she was done playing nice.

It seemed that over the years, she'd been slowly digging up from the top of the cavern where she had her perch. She was easily able to take her collar off, she revealed to me by her thoughts, and eventually dug her way through the salt with her claws and teeth. She slowly worked her way into another chamber that had held a long dead creature. It took her another few years to dig through various walls and find a tunnel, not another cell. It had all been long dug out and ready for her decide to leave. Hearing my plea, she mentally showed me her route, and told me she'd follow the arrows I'd put in the tunnels and come to help. I knew she meant it.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-01-27
Image(s) © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
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