Having finally heard Parrot speak long enough and loud enough, I knew him to be most likely male. I wasn't stupid enough to say anything aloud illustrating my decision of the creature's sexuality, but in my thoughts I was referring to him in the masculine. The gargoyle-mixed creature that had nearly killed Riley was still squeaking and squawking to Parrot whose deep tones were answering in kind. The little thing was in awe of Parrot; I could tell by its features. The gargoylish thing had completely demolished the candy Uncle Harry had volunteered from my backpack into the creature's mouth. A few stray crumbs of nuts were pulled off the floor and nibbled quickly while ignoring the somewhat melted tattered bits of wrappers it had spit out. My emergency supply of Snickers and Payday bars had been sacrificed in order to save Riley, but still I shuddered at the look in the creature's eyes. I could tell it wanted more. Riley still looked pretty disturbed by the whole scene, but then I didn't blame him. That thing had major talons and some sort of poison-filled bite.
Parrot nodded and turned to Uncle Harry saying, "That nasty putrid Gatekeeper, Stefan, had many such tools created to carry out his dirty work. He took pleasure in causing different kinds of imprisoned supernaturals to mate and procreate. He claimed it was to purify the goodness that was buried by their crimes, and rid the creatures of hate by having young loveable offspring. It didn't work very well and often he killed the parents after the births -- dead or alive. There were many deaths over the years. This one here is an abandoned male, but without a name. He thinks of himself as Only, because he has found nothing like him anywhere in the mines. He has looked, while always making a point of avoiding the Gatekeeper."
After him having been so quiet for so long, other than the trace thoughts in my mind and a few whispers when I first freed him, I found that it odd to hear Parrot chattering so much. But after all, before he'd been imprisoned in the salt mines, he had ruled a large territory, so he had to be able to communicate to the locals during his rather lengthy and horrific reign. For some reason I hadn't really expected him to speak with such clear and well-focused words in English -- the mind thoughts weren't always in exactly English, but more like they were images and very specific visual impressions. But then I remembered that the dragon, Sapphire, had been equally aquainted with English at first meeting. It made me think that nasty old Stefan had wandered the tunnels talking to them and taunting them during their incarceration. I figured that was more than likely true and not some vague guess. Also I thought that if the creatures feigned ignorance of English it would keep the Gatekeeper from visiting them much. I concluded it was a sort of a protective coloration that the smarter supernaturals used to avoid more attention from the crazy warden. I sincerely hoped that the werewolves who'd remained back in the cell with the now-dead Kirk would tear Stefan limb from limb and bury his parts in far corners of the world after burning him. Because after everything I'd seen in the past few hours, I found that I didn't much care for that so-called Gatekeeper. Mentally shrugging, I looked around to see if anyone had overheard my dark thoughts.
Riley turned to me and said, "Emma, you certainly out did yourself this time."
Trying to keep my features still, I resisted responding to his teasing. He hadn't seemed to have heard me, but I was pretty sure Uncle Harry had a clue or three. Besides, all of this wasn't my fault. It wasn't like I had known what was down in the mines below Michigan. I had read books and seen pictures and illustrations of them, but I never knew it was a supernatural lock-down. The salt mines stretched for miles and miles beneath a huge area of the Northeastern side of the United States and up into the Canadian territories. How long the mines had housed the inmates was another question I was going to have to get a straight answer from Uncle Harry, since he had known it was a prison before I'd even been down inside. What was disturbing to me was that it was obvious the Gatekeeper had gone wild for so long, unchecked.
Ignoring Riley also, my Uncle Harry turned to the small creature and said, "Pleased to meet you, Only."
The small creature with deadly talons and toxins running beneath its skin looked back to Parrot who translated with the cheeps and chirps of the unknown almost birdlike language. Only then nodded back to Uncle Harry, then asked something at Parrot while looking straight at Uncle Harry. I knew it was a question because of the lilting sound at the end of whatever Only said. There was an eagerness to Only's face that I found sad. I didn't think the creature had spoken to many other prisoners during his time in the mines.
A slight chuckle, then Parrot said, "Vampire, the child knows there are ones like you who've been down here but they never last. He wants to know why."
Uncle Harry smiled with slightly exposed fangs, and answered, "Because we don't do well in confinement and tend to kill everything in our path in order to escape."
That made perfect sense to me. Parrot chittered away and Only looked up at Uncle Harry with huge eyes and took a slight step back from the vampire.
"Tell the little one that he is safe. It is not his fault I am here, nor do I wish him any harm. I am here by choice and will leave when I am ready. There isn't anything in this jail that can keep me." His words were louder than necessary and I wondered if he was making a point to some of the other creatures imprisoned out of sight in the mines. From the slight grin on his lips I gathered that some of the oddities had good hearing and he was giving them notice he'd kill anything that tried to keep him. I smiled inside and was happy that Uncle Harry had decided to come rescue me -- I couldn't deny it to myself even if I'd never confess to it aloud.
Even after his flipping to fur and back, Riley still looked queasy at having nearly been drained to death by Only's toxic talons. Only squeaked some more, looking back and forth between me and Riley while he was making conversation with Parrot. Parrot answered in kind then finally said, "Werewolves -- he says that he's seen many of them down here in the mines, but he has never seen one like you Esmeralda. I know you came down here to see if you could find others like yourself, but with what I have seen and heard, he agrees with me, and says that he thinks you are an Only like him in your own way."
That shut me down. I knew they'd said more but I didn't see the point in asking any questions. I had still been hoping there was something in the magically protected prison to lead me to my kind. Only looked sad and came closer to me and made a cooing noise as if to offer comfort. Given his rather wicked talons I nodded my head, and didn't edge a step closer to him.
"So can we leave now?" Riley's words bit through my thoughts and reminded me we really did need to leave before some unseen creature decided to see if we were part of the dinner menu.
Parrot looked at Only and they spoke a few more minutes before he said, "We will stay. Only has never been in sunlight and he may not be strong enough survive. I know other creatures similar enough to Only that won't be disturbed when he appears and disappears."
Before Uncle Harry had done some sort of magic, it had been just me that had been able to see Parrot; and while none of us had seen Only, I figured that Parrot knew what he was talking about when it came to the mines. We looked towards the way we had been heading when Only had fallen onto Riley. Nodding his understanding, Uncle Harry asked, "So do you wish to part here, or up ahead?"
"Here would be best." Parrot nodded to all of us and met my gaze.
"Esmeralda, do not hesitate to contact me should you need help in the future. I won't remain down here forever and you can easily find me." I smiled weakly, not sure if that was a good thing or not.
Instead of screaming aloud at the horror of the idea of Parrot running around Michigan and various areas supping freely on stupid humans, I nodded and said softly, "Thank you."
I moved forward into the tunnel slowly feeling that my simple thank you was inadequate, but not knowing what else I could say. Riley just looked happy that we were moving again, and even happier to be leaving the two prisoners behind. From Parrot's words and Sapphire's thoughts earlier, I wasn't so sure that it was a prison for them. They had ways of leaving, and that wasn't necessarily a good thing. Parrot's taste for souls apparently matched a vampire's need for blood. Parrot didn't seem to be overly picky about what he sucked down, and knowing that Michigan had enough trouble without an angry sort of ancient god running around terrorizing the frozen masses definitely made me wince. Now if Parrot wanted to do some good for humanity, I could direct him to a few political sorts and nasty humans the world could do without quite easily. Instead I kept my head down and followed Riley, who had taken the lead while Uncle Harry had my back. I trusted Uncle Harry to keep me safe and I wasn't sure Riley could take another round with Only.
The motion sensor somewhat-magical lights continued to roll along with me and soon there was darkness behind us. I resisted turning for a final look, not sure if the magic Uncle Harry had used to expose Parrot and Only was still effective or if there would be just Parrot for me to see. We didn't talk but kept a brisk pace until there was a large cavern with a choice of three routes.
Uncle Harry stopped in the middle of the cold white salt mine and nodded to the left hand branch. The tunnel wasn't as large as the other choices but he seemed sure of the direction. From Riley's face it seemed he had a comment.
"What?" I bit out while Riley obviously was trying to figure out the most diplomatic way to ask something.
"Emma, that's down where we were ambushed earlier," he said while putting his hand palm up, pointing to the right side tunnel, "What's wrong with that one, Harry?"
"Nothing, unless you want to head back up top. That is an endless maze of cells that link back into each other and from the smells, some rotting corpses." Uncle Harry said dryly. I wasn't so sure about the mention of rotting corpses being a dissuading bit for Riley, but it was for me. Without waiting for Riley to dither any more, I walked past him and headed away from them both.
"What the fuck!" Riley practically ran to catch up with me.
"Uncle Harry won't let me get hurt, so chill, Riley." I said while lengthening my stride to keep the lead. I was freaked out when I saw the purple and green spatters on the very white salt crystal walls. A few hunks of gore and some fur let me know that the fight had been pretty rough. The tunnel abruptly turned and as I rounded the corner Riley tried to yank me back.
I dipped down and spun from his grasp. The motion sensor lighting -- man-made or magic it didn't matter -- served to illuminate the battle ground. There were a half dozen or more shapes along the now growing space. We'd come back around to spot where Kirk, Gordon and Riley had been ambushed by some of Stefan's oddities. Looking at Uncle Harry, I waited for him to explain what was happening.