Stefan stumbled back; obviously, from the terror on his face, he was not seeing Parrot, and fell onto his ass while his arms flailed at Parrot, all the while not coming anywhere near the creature who easily avoided his reach. That Parrot had slammed into him with such force he was on the ground had stunned the Gatekeeper. The beak snapped at the staff and Parrot yanked the thin rod from his grasp and flung it away. A skitter, and the staff was resting beneath the etched words and face in the salt walls. Stefan was holding his arms up defensively trying to protect his eyes. Kirk gasped and looked around for who was attacking the Gatekeeper. Sapphire and I kept our mouths shut and waited to see what the other werewolves were going to do to help or hinder. From the past few hours it could easily go either way and I wasn't exactly sure if I should pop out of the tunnel back to the cavern where I'd found the dragon. Sapphire had her own way to travel but when teeth and claws were out I preferred my own style.
Riley snarled and hissed out, "What the fuck now? This place is haunted?"
Gordon turned slowly and looked at me, then somehow he was looking directly at Parrot. "Not haunted, but there are definitely creatures here unseen by us."
I would argue the not being haunted but I didn't feel like talking that much. They could work their shit out on their own time. My focus was on the here and now; I knew that something was rapidly brewing inside Stefan that could kill us all. He was still huddled on the ground trying to keep Parrot from snatching his eyes out. They were back to flickering creepy red, not his usual orbs. Yeah, that creature could cause us harm.
Parrot flittered off the Gatekeeper and completely out of fist range and soon perched up on the small edge of an outcropping of salt nearly at the top of the tunnel. Parrot wasn't done, I figured from the way its chest kept moving as if it was panting in excitement, crouched, watching everyone. I think if Stefan could see the creature he'd be even more terrified than before -- Parrot wasn't some small bird but an unnatural creature that had been sent to the prison for a damn good reason. Gordon's gaze hadn't followed Parrot's departure so it seemed that just Sapphire and I could currently detect Parrot. I thought it was like protective coloring of the supernatural nature. I'd seen into its thoughts, and Parrot most definitely could take a recognizable form -- and had. I shook my thoughts clear of that bloodbath.
"Emma? What are you seeing?" Riley had noticed my distraction.
"Nothing, just waiting to see what's going on," I answered with slight disdain in my tones.
His eyes rolled upwards and he sighed while saying, "Okay. So what do you think is going on with the Gatekeeper?" We weren't even bothering to whisper and Stefan didn't seem to care that we were discussing him aloud. He had other concerns that were distracting him. Parrot cocked its head and dipped its beak down to look carefully at the Gatekeeper. I wondered if it was going to reply for me, but Parrot shook its face at me, leaving me to answer.
"I dunno, maybe he ate something that disagreed with him," again I used casual bored tones trying to seem disinterested. I was actually hyper aware of the undercurrents that seemed to be lapping like large waves over us -- a tidal wave threating to drown us all. There was an intensity to Stefan that seemed to be going semi-nova, and none of the werewolves appeared to be in the least aware.
Ignoring us talking, Kirk walked over to help Stefan up when the Gatekeeper exploded off the floor. His hands shifted to claws and without any warning he slashed right through the were's black and gray beard and opened up his throat. A roar filled the tunnel, and both Gordon and Riley flipped to their werewolf shapes and ran towards Kirk. Kirk wasn't turning into anything but a quickly dying body. Stefan's face shifted not to a wolf's muzzle, but instead a shark-like mouth filled with rows and rows of huge jagged blue-white teeth. Without hesitation Stefan tore at the former head of the local werewolves and gobbled at Kirk's blood and meaty neck. The Gatekeeper was tearing hunks free from the Alpha while shaking his head and gulping down whatever morsel he could find. It was unnerving. The sounds were wet and I could hear the popping of sinew and muscles as Kirk bled out with an arc of blood that was not promising for any regeneration of life. I wasn't sure exactly how well weres could heal, but I was pretty damn sure arterial blood spewing wasn't exactly an ideal warm-up to further life. Mentally I checked the box for "Dead" and looked around the mine, trying to figure my options.
The other two werewolves were frantically trying to pull Stefan off the Alpha's dying body. I simply walked to the wall and picked up the Gatekeeper's staff. Without a word I turned it towards the mass of fur and blood and thought, 'Stop.'
Everything did. And by everything I mean the world below froze all around me. My eyes grew huge as I looked upon the bloody tableau of the werewolves as they were smack dab in the middle of Kirk's death scene. Kirk's body was still torn open, but his blood wasn't going anywhere. Stefan's mouth was open showing a gory chunk of Kirk's shoulder blade jammed between rows of sharp teeth. And Sapphire was by my side motionless with a bead of drool sitting on her lower lip not dripping to the floor like gravity would allow. Even Parrot didn't appear to be able to move.
I took a shallow gulp of air and found that I could move. There was a silver glow around the staff that hadn't been there the last time I handled it. Something had shifted, and I didn't know what happened, or how much time I had before the world flipped back to normal. Well as normal as I saw it. No way was this in the least the typical day in my life, but sadly it was starting to seem unremarkable. I really needed to change some things soon, or one of these days I would find myself inside the bubble of hell rather than on the outside looking in. I let out an audible sigh that nobody heard from what I could detect.
Uncle Harry's voice came into my thoughts unbidden. A flick of awareness then, "Well, Emma, my dear, there you are. You certainly keep yourself entertained."
"Uncle Harry? Are you here?" My thoughts trembled slightly but nothing surrounding me moved. My eyes looked past Sapphire trying to see if my vampire was in the cave. With Uncle Harry, I wouldn't be shocked in the least to see him stroll in with a smirk and a hug.
"Almost. You just did something didn't you?" There was a puzzled tone to his thoughts, but also my much-needed gentle hug in his words. He wasn't accusing me, but consoling me. I found it refreshing to know this freaky freeze-frame action I was observing was something he was aware of, otherwise I would have been thinking I'd finally lost my mind!
"I have the Gatekeeper's staff. The werewolves are having some major issues. The Gatekeeper went crazy and just slashed open the Alpha Kirk Burnell's throat. I don't think I can fix it or anyone else can, because he looks really ripped apart. That werewolf is in pieces right now. Some of Kirk is most definitely in Stefan's mouth and probably his stomach." I was concentrating on keeping calm even though all I wanted to do was run the hell out of the mine and get out of Michigan as fast as inhumanly possible.
"Ah, I had heard that the Gatekeeper wasn't responding well to his handlers." Uncle Harry said, revealing that he had known more about the salt mines than he'd told me before I went inside. Part of me shoved that tidbit into the 'later' vault, and it also clarified why he sent Riley to me. Vampires played games like no other creature I'd ever come across in my short life.
Chiding him, I thought back, "Would have been helpful to know."
I heard his answering chuckle and then he went darkly serious. I could feel his tension. "Emma, dear?"
"Yes?" I wondered if the world was frozen up top but didn't think I wanted to know how far the reach of the staff went. It was bad enough from what I could see, and my thoughts were working overtime trying to puzzle out how Uncle Harry could reach me and not be affected by the spell of the staff.
"You are going to half to wake them all up before I can join you."
Damn vampire answered my question. I thought back, "Are you stuck waiting nearby?" I thought it was a valid question, given there wasn't going to be some way to help Kirk and save us all if Stefan wasn't quickly brought under control.
"I am very nearby and not alone. You can't comment when we arrive. You are only touching my thoughts and mine are guarded well, as you can imagine." Uncle Harry mentally tweaked my nose.
"Do they know I have this area under the control of the staff?" Another important thing, given I didn't know if Uncle Harry was bringing vampires or werewolves or something else with him.
"No, we are still ten or so feet away from the boundary that is why I reached out. But once you release everyone the noise will pull us quickly to you. I can't promise what will happen with the Alpha or Stefan but you and Riley are guaranteed to be secured and safe."
I didn't even have words for the flood of relief I felt at that, but then added, "I kinda have some help with me."
A chuckle, "Yes, you do. The dragon named Sapphire and the soul-eater called Parrot." It wasn't a question but a statement. "Quickly now, Emma. Release them all. We are a step away from the boundary."
He left my thoughts and I mentally shouted, "Release." The staff flared and it was like I hit the play button on a recording. Everything went back in motion and Riley roared while tearing at Stefan's thick thighs with heavy claws.
Sapphire turned to me and asked, "What just happened?"
I shrugged and edged further against the wall as I heard an answering roar and five figures flew past the dragon into the small quarters. Four werewolves and one vampire to answer my question about Uncle Harry's companions -- naturally Uncle Harry left the werewolves to deal with each other and instead was grabbing me up in his arms.
One of the largest werewolves I'd ever seen had his arms around Riley and literally swung him away from the melee as if Riley were no larger than a toddler. Riley's eyes were feral and he roared, until he found me in Uncle Harry's safety. And like that he simply stopped struggling and the monster let him free to stumble towards us. Sapphire snorted and burped another round of greenish vapor. She didn't seem to see the need to interfere either. Parrot was suddenly gone. I never saw it move. From the look in Sapphire's eyes she wasn't planning on staying either. Uncle Harry nodded to the dragon, and she slipped out nearly as quietly as Parrot. Nobody furred seemed to notice or much care.