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Friday, November 14, 2014

A Queen's Guardian



R.T. Drake

An hour later Lynette was sitting at the end of a table finishing her breakfast. Though her irritation at Aidan was still present, what she saw before her continued to ebb it steadily. Around her was a magnificent dining wall, something conjured up easily out of any mythical or fantasy setting.
The vaulted ceiling had the same pattern of pink colored quartz that ran through her chambers spider-webbing everywhere above. Along the walls were carved images of other queens. The floor was highly polished to a high sheen and even the doors were beautifully carved with the Celtic Fire symbol running from the bottom to the top of its over sized height.
The table, easily twenty feet long, matched the high level of detail that adorned the walls and doors. Inlaid at each place setting was an intricate symbol representing who sat where. Hers had a crown with the Celtic symbol of fire passing through it. Though she knew it represented her office as queen, she had already associated it from day one as being Aidan’s.
On her right sat Aidan. The same symbol present etched in his place sitting. For Eurade, who was on her left, the symbol for Wisdom was where she sat. At the other place settings there were other symbols, and though she could make out what some said, some confused her for the translation made no sense.
The hot shower she had enjoyed had also helped to relive some irritation, even given the fact that he had been present. The water she had been told was from a natural hot spring set far down into the heart of Lirald. Piped through all sorts of stone cut conduits and water ways it ran to every part of the stronghold, literally hundreds of miles worth Ainsley had explained to her.
Her wash room as it had been referred to was made up of a mixture of rose quartz and stone, blending a sort of medieval atmosphere to a luxurious feel. Checkered patterned squares made up the floor, grey and rose, and everywhere items were either carved out of the quartz, stone, or wood.
Upon entering her dressing room she had been all but overwhelmed. The room was easily a hundred feet squared and two stories. All along the walls of the first floor were gowns and dresses of every shape, style, size and color set in a progression from the most modern on her right to the oldest, ones she had seen on museums and pictures, to her right.
The second floor she had been told was for undergarments, accessories, shoes, jewelry, anything and everything else. In the middle of the first floor, set a step up, was an over sized vanity area complete with a three sided mirror. Beside it were several full standing mirrors that allowed for viewing from all angles. Everywhere she looked dark stained wood polished to a high shine stood out. In short it was every little girls princess fairy tale come true.
She had wanted to put on one of the more modern outfits but Aidan made it very clear that she was to dress more formerly than modern times. A queen was expected to not only look her best, but to act her best as well. Given she was to be coronated in a much more lavish gown, as well as meet others like her and what she now was, it was best if she learned to handle herself in one of the older style dresses.
In the end she had chosen what she thought was a simple green day dress. But it ended up being an almost monstrosity of a thing which took entirely too long to put on as far as she was concerned. It was not only difficult but awkward making her inquire as to whether or not her coronation dress would be this difficult. Agata had merely said her coronation dress would be worse.
Right away she had been extremely grateful she had Agata and Ainsley. With practiced ease they had shown her where and how to hook, button, or tie what needed to be done. If not for them she would probably still be figuring it out.
Finishing off her morning drink, a mixture of berries, vegetables, and Orange Juice, she looked from Eurade, who was looking at her, to Aidan who was busy playing with something in his hands. The latter’s food remained untouched.
“When do I get the grand tour?” barely drawing a reaction from Aidan.
“Immediately following breakfast, My Lady. I will escort you around until midday. After which I will need to depart for a short time but I will return after a few hours.”
“But I thought you always needed to be by my side. Isn’t that what you said earlier?”
Lifting himself up from the device in his hands he looked at her.
“I will be with you almost all of the time. However I may have over exaggerated slightly when I need to be by your side as I do have other things to attend to, though almost all still involve you.”
“Like what?”
“Well for one making sure your appointments are properly set and that all is going as it should in Lirald. I am the main one who handles your business affairs, along with the help of your Ladies in waiting.’
‘Then there is the matter seeing to your Guardsmen as I am their Captain. I am in charge of ensuring to the safety of not just you but of all Banshee and Celts. Something I have done for a very long time.”
She could detect a level of sadness n his voice as he said this.
‘The main focus of today will be preparing you for your meeting with Lord Balor tomorrow. I need merely to double check a few things, which will not take to long. And then I will be at your disposal in any way you see fit.”
“Anyway?” she said trying to make a joke.
“Yes anyway you so desire, My Lady. Be it seeing your men, more of your kingdom, anything.”
She sat there aghast at how oblivious he was as he refocused on the device in his hand.
“What is that?”
“This?” he gestured with his hand.
“Yes that.”
“A Prism Store.”
“Which is what exactly?”
Holding it up she saw it was composed of two crystals, one blue and one white stuck together like a sandwich and about the size of a pack of playing cards.
“Getting back to our earlier conversation of crystals and quartz storing all manners of energy and frequencies, data is no different. You just merely link it to a specific frequency which can be than be stored in the crystal.’
‘Think of this as being a crystal version of a tablet or a smart phone. Save instead of a masses of electronic components and wires it relies on just the two main crystals, one for power and one for storage.’
‘Activating the power crystal, the blue one, emits a steady power supply, like a battery, which travels into the white one and activates the frequency that is stored there. That frequency then produces whatever is stored inside of it. In this case it gets displayed on the white one and allows me to make and save any changes to the data stored within that frequency. Touching it here,” he said tapping the top, “allows me to create a virtual display that I can work with.”
A second later a white screen, the size of a medium television, appeared in thin air looking like something straight out of a science fiction movie. From her vantage point she saw notes, times, several different symbols, as well as a keyboard. Raising his finger he pointed to today’s date and touched on it in midair.
“Selecting this entry here will bring up whatever it is I have planned for you or I.’ he said as a second later the white screen turned to a green one with times written on the one side and events on the other. Still regarding it she heard him speak again.
“I hope you didn’t think we were still using chisel and stone, My Lady. We may be from separate worlds but we have achieved the same level of technology, just in different ways. In many ways Celt technology is simply older and not as intrusive to the world. I will not say it is more advanced so much as I will say it is simpler to use.’
‘For example this,” he said holding up the Prism Store, “represents one of the few technologies that managed to escape from Celtius where Crystal and Quartz technology was the very base of technology, much as your computers are today. It is a shame that a lot was lost with it.”
Pressing the top of the Prism store, the display went away. Once it was gone he made sure he had her attention and then continued on.
“On a personnel note, My Lady, I do need to take care of personnel matters of my own, at least from time to time, like training and even bathing. That is unless of course you want a smelly and untrained Guardian around you all the time.’
“In any event I assure you that on those rare occasions I am gone, there will always be half a dozen of my most trusted Guardsmen to protect you. I have hand selected them myself and should the need arise, though it will more than likely not, they will protect you to the very end, even if it means with their own life. DJ is the Officer in charge of them, and she is one of my…sorry forgive me, one of your best Guardsmen, My Lady.’
‘So having said all that and having shown you a small bit of how Celt Technology works, is there anything else you would like to know, My Lady?”
“What is Celtius?” she asked catching him slightly off guard.
Looking over to Eurade she merely shrugged as she spoke.
“She will learn eventually, best to tell her now and get it over with in case Lord Balor broaches it tomorrow.”
“Tell Me what?” she asked, curious.
Placing the Prism Store on the table Aidan sat back and crossed his arms.
“Celtius was the first great Celtic Stronghold, though in reality it was more a thriving, living, city. One that I have been told has yet to see its equal, even in today’s modern world, by the handful still alive who lived in it and remember it.”
He watched her eyes go up in surprise.
“It was located in the middle of what you know as Pangaea, back then they did not have a name for the land mass, however your histories know the city by another name, Atlantis.”
If she was surprised before she was all but astounded now as she leaned forward intently.
“Atlantis? As in the Atlantis, the one that sank?”
“Yes, My Lady, however it did not sink so much as it exploded, though the whole sinking is somewhat true given what remains of it are beneath the sea and sand. The explosion is what triggered the breakup of Pangaea.’
‘Celtius’s massive caverns of crystal and quartz that for centuries had stored energy tore through the earth, creating the great divides which would become the seas and oceans. The effects of which are still being felt today.”
“How so?” she asked beyond intrigued.
“Your own scientists have said the continent’s keep drifting, moving, and that one day they will eventually all return together as one land mass. That is all because of Celtius.”
“Have you been there?”
“I have been to what remains, but I never set foot on the original Celtius. I was not alive at that time and the Celtic Fire did not exist.”
He saw the look of pure confusion come over her eyes, eliciting a smile from him, as she tried to wrap her head around what she was being told. Eurade, also seeing this, spoke up.
“As I said earlier answers will come, Lady Lynette. There much you need to learn and precious little time so we do not want to overburden you with it all at once. For now trust in us and your Guardian, and be patient. You have the rest of time to learn everything that is needed or not needed I assure you.”
She was still digesting what she said when a man dressed in ornate golden and red armor, came walking in, through the large double doors. The only part visible on him being his face and even that was halfway covered. Stopping just a few feet shy of Aidan he bowed deeply before all three of them.
“Guardsman Krie what is it?” asked Aidan.
Standing back up the Guardsman responded.
“Guardian Sioda has arrived, Guardian Aidan. I placed him in Her Ladyship business room for now.”
Lynette heard Aidan give a sigh of grief.
“Thank You Krie. He is early. I should have guessed he would be.”
Bowing a second time the man turned and headed out while Aidan turned towards her, his face showing he was not he was not enthused.
“Is there a problem Aidan?”
“Not exactly My Lady. I was just hoping to have more time to prepare you for the meeting with him.”
“Why would I need time to prepare to meet with this Sioda, and who is he?” she asked narrowing here eyes for a second.
Looking from her to Eurade then back Aidan’s smile was humorless.
“He is like me, My Lady, a Guardian.”
“There are more than two Guardians?”
“There are many Guardians, My Lady. Though in our world and our realms there are but four. Sioda is one of them and he is the Guardian for Lord and Lady Balor.
She swore she felt a head ache starting to come on.
“Why is he the only one, and who are they?”
“Almost all the Lords and Ladies of the different realms have but one Guardian. You are one of the very few, if not only, that had two, and that’s because you are mortal. Most other beings that have the same responsibilities as you are not. As far as who they are, they are the Rulers of the Underworld.”
Closing her eyes hard for a second she sat there, trying her best to keep the headache at bay. When she reopened her eyes she looked directly at him.
“As you said I have a lot to learn. That aside is there something I need to worry about in regards to this Sioda? Do you not trust him or something?”
“On the contrary, My Lady, I trust him with my very life, just not much more than that.”
Her confusion escalated at his words and he did nothing but compound it with his next question.
“Tell me My Lady, what do you now of demons?”


Sioda stood at the large window looking out, waiting for her ladyship and her Guardian to arrive. He knew Aidan had to be thrilled to finally have outwitted his brother, though how he had done so, he was very curious to find out.
Lasair had proven over the centuries a far greater opponent than any of them had ever thought possible, troubling even his own Lord. This in its own right was an incredible accomplishment for the fallen Guardian considering who his lord was, and what he had seen.
The mortals of this realm had given his lord many names over their small time in the universe. Lucifer, Satan, the devil, though in truth none of these bothered his lord. He always accepted that he would be the less favorable one amongst their lore and he loved them just the same. His Lord along with Lady Lynette and Lord Cicolluis were sworn to their protection always and forever. And despite what the Mortal lore said, his lord would have it no other way.
Seeing the gray sky and green laced mountains before him he admitted that in some ways he could appreciate the beauty of this realm. It was in its own sense astonishing even though he would never want to live here.
It was to clean, too pure, and too fresh for his liking. He much preferred the sulfur smell upon the air of his own realm, the rolling mountains of red, and the valleys of purple and brown trees instead of this green foliage that seemed to spring up anywhere and everywhere.
It was the same with the temperature of this realm. With the exception of its desert areas, which represented the temperature of his homeland the best, this realm was to cold. His realm, the Underworld, offered higher temperatures and drier air, not at all like this Oregon weather where it always seemed to either be cold or raining, or both. Luckily Lirald had responded to him and had raised the temperature for him a bit. Not a lot, but enough that it provided some relief.
A sound from behind brought his attention back. Turning he looked first upon Aidan, who nodded in a behave manor, and then the person he had been sent to see, Lady Lynette. She was as radiant as it was rumored. Her fair skin, green eyes, and fiery red hair were a sight to behold, especially in the green dress she was wearing. The latter instantly reminding him of his home and at once let him know that behaving would be difficult.
As the two came in he took a knee before her, lowering his head down. Tradition and custom only demand he bow, but he and his Masters felt beyond elated that the middle Realm would once again have a queen. And as such she should be treated with extra courtesy giving it had been so long.
“Lady Lynette, I am Sioda, Guardian to Lord and Lady Balor, protectors of the underworld. I have come at their request to confirm your council with them tomorrow, and to present to you this token of friendship.” pausing he produced a baseball sized ruby from a large pouch at his side. “This gift, called a Blood Tear, comes from my Lord and Lady in hopes that the bonds between our two worlds can once again come to pass, thrive, and continue as they once did so long ago.”
Lynette stood where she was, still coming to accept what it was she was seeing. Aidan had warned her but even then it paled in comparison. She was suddenly grateful Sioda’s head was down otherwise he would have caught her staring quite intently at him.
Even though he was kneeling, had he been looking straight ahead they would have been eye to eye. He was much not only taller than Aidan and nearly twice as wide. And though she got over this within seconds, it was the rest she saw that would take her a few more visits to do so.
His skin was redder than the worst sunburn she had ever seen, so red in fact that everything else around him seemed to simply vanish from eye site. His eyes were a deep screaming yellow when she had seen them and if that were not enough, he had long black horns that extended out from the front his head easily a foot. He was the very epitome what she had always imagined a demon would look like.
Dressed in nothing but a black leather kilt, with a strap going up and over his right shoulder, his enlarged and bulking torso looked like something out of a comic book with muscles bulging everywhere. Most women she knew would be drooling over six pack abs his size, but for her it was simply too much. She always had preferred natural strength and definition rather than muscle upon muscle. Instead she found the contrast of his black horns and kilt against the red of his skin taking front stage.
“Sioda,” began Aidan interrupting her thoughts. “Her Ladyship thanks you and your lord and lady for their gracious gift. She also would like to assure you, and them, that she will meet with them on the morrow as planned.”
“That is very wonderful to here, my old friend.” Said Sioda as he stood back up, reaching easily eight feet in height. “Both Lord and Lady Balor will be extremely pleased.” He said flashing a smile revealing rows of sharp teeth.
Without realizing it Lynette’s eyes drifted back to his horns, there black sheen almost mesmerizing, I mean they were horns.
“Do you like them, My Lady?” Sioda asked her, catching her completely off guard.
Looking downward in shame she realized fully how rude she must have come off.
“Please forgive me, Sioda, I was raised better than to stare. I admit I find them fascinating but that is no excuse for my behavior.”
“No doubt you do My Lady, and I assure you I take no offense. After all it is not every day a mortal, a Celt, such as you meets one of my kind.” He paused stepping slightly closer, “Would you like to touch them, My Lady? I assure you it is a very ….intimate experience, matched at most by only three other equally satisfying experiences, I assure you.”
Lynette could not help but notice the emphasis on the words. Blinking several times she suddenly wondered if she had just been hit upon by a demon. Before she could answer it for herself Aidan’s voice once again filled the room.
“I assure you, Sioda, her Ladyship has no desire to touch your horns.. Save such questions for others.”
Taken back somewhat Sioda bowed slightly as he feigned being hurt.
“You mistake my intentions Aidan. I merely wanted to ….maximize her ladyship’s first experience with a demon.”
“I’m sure you would like nothing more, however as we are pressed for time, I will ask is there anything else you needed to deliver, Sioda?” his tone already implying he knew the answer.
“Not at all, old friend, save I look forward to seeing the two of you again tomorrow.”
“As do we, allow me to see you out.” said Aidan directing Sioda towards the door with his hand.
Bowing towards Lynette, Sioda bid farewell before allowing him to be walked out the door. Once there Aidan told Lynette he would be but a moment, saying he had to discuss some final plans regarding tomorrow’s visit with his fellow Guardian.
An understanding nod from her and a door closed later and Aidan was wheeling on his life time friend. Even though Sioda was the larger of the two it was Aidan who seemed to suddenly grow in stature.
“She hasn’t been out of the Binding Ritual for more than a few hours and already you are trying to woo her?”
“What can I say old friend,” started Sioda shrugging one shoulder and leaning against the nearest wall. “It’s the devil in me.”
Letting out a low moan and shaking his head from side to side Aidan responded.
“That was horribly bad Sioda, even for you.”
“Well what do you expect Aidan. She is a remarkably beautiful woman. Even Lord Cicolluis, being the prude he is, would have a hard time not seeing it.”
“I will never understand your kind Sioda. Do you always think with your lower half?”
“Most of the time, but not always, besides your kind stumps me just as often. How can you possibly look at her and deny such beauty? Granted our tastes are as diverse as we are yet it has never once stopped us from being the greatest of friends and not just comrades in arms. We accept and look past those differences, Wynne’s included.”
“I never once denied how beautiful she was.”
Pausing Sioda removed himself from the wall and walked towards his friend.
“I do wonder though, Aidan, how did you gain the upper hand against your brother? I have been thinking on it since I heard there was to be a queen again, yet I cannot figure out for the life of me how you did it.”
Aidan looked to the side and physically exhaled before speaking.
“I sought her out ten years ago.”
“You?” astonishment came to Sioda’s face and voice. “You broke the most sacred of the Middle Realm’s Guardian Oath? The same one you have lived by since the Celtic Fire gave you life?”
“The same.” Aidan said simply, already tired with where this was going.
“A Guardian does not interfere with a Queens’s choice, she alone must choose. That is what is written Aidan, yet you broke that?
“So has Lasair hundreds, if not thousand’s of times. Don’t forget also is it written that a Guardian’s first and last duty is to the queen, that they must always do whatever it takes to protect her. And of all people to throw the Guardians code in my face it should not be you Sioda.”
Raising his hands slightly Sioda became more passive.
“I meant no offense. I just never thought you capable of doing such a thing. I admit I am proud of you for doing so, especially as I am inherently the rule breaker between us, have the scars in some cases to prove it. But for you to do so, that dear friend, is not like you at all.’
‘Everyone knows that of the two guardians of the Middle Realm the most resolute about the code, the one who could always be counted on to not break it was you. Lasair mighty and once honorable as he may have been did not give two scones about the code as you did. And yet you broke it of your own free will.”
“I didn’t break it.” interjected Aidan. “I merely bent it.”
“Bent it? How Exactly does one bend something that is written?”
“I told her that if someone, I didn’t say who, ever asked her to say there name in exchange for help or aid of any kind, to say mine instead. I then told her my name. Had I mentioned Lasair’s name, then yes that would have been breaking it.”
Sioda stood before his old friend, looking at him as if for the first time.
“Why this one when there has been so many others?” Sioda asked his eyes narrowing awhile he crossed his arms over his chest while Aidan all but avoided looking at him. “You could have helped any of the other would be queen’s this way, yet you did not, why her?” his tone almost demanding.
“I did not think of it until her, which sits squarely on my shoulders for failing the ones that fell to Lasair. Additionally as all of the Etheral’s know my, our, brother has a master plan. It’s just no one knows what it is. In order for him to reveal his plan, we needed a queen. Hence I did what I did.”
Sioda’s look said he was not convinced.
“A good excuse. And one I’m sure most would believe. But I know you and I know there’s something more, something you’re not saying.”
Aidan rolled his eyes and turned to head back into the room.
“I have to get back to her ladyship….”
“She’s the one Eurade spoke of isn’t she?” Sioda blurted just above a whisper.
Aidan stopped dead in his tracks, letting Sioda know the answer.
“She did say you would find love again this century. Is that what this is about? Was that old spinster right? I mean Eurade has yet to be wrong so is she the one?”
Aidan reached for the door handle while Sioda continued.
“Aidan, you know I love Eurade as if she were my very own mother. Hell she’s the closest thing any of us Guardians of the three realms has to one. But please tell me this, would be queen, is not the one. Please tell me that for once she is wrong.”
Aidan’s head lowered slightly as Sioda’s gut hit the floor. The air between them changed filling with a sadness neither wanted to speak of
“Aidan, I am so sorry.”
Without turning Aidan spoke.
“It matters not. Eurade’s vision has come to pass. I found love again. But I will not be blinded by it like I was last time, with her. That was a mistake.”
“Her?” Sioda’s tone increasing as he spoke. “Is that what you call Queen Lirald now, is simply her? How dare you tarnish her memory, what you two once had. And since when in all the realms is love a Mistake?”
Turning and looking directly at Sioda, Aidan’s eyes were hard and set.
“Love is a mistake when it costs you almost everything, when it almost destroys your realm. When it blinds you to what is happening right in front of you. But most of all love is a mistake when it makes you fail to protect the one thing you swore you always would.” Pausing he looked at Sioda and let out a deep breath. “But as I said, it does not matter. A Queen is what Lady Lynette will be. And her Guardian is what I will be, nothing less, and nothing more.”
“Enough Sioda.” said Aidan, silencing Sioda with his tone. “With what is at stake for all three of our realms she cannot afford to have a Guardian who is incapable of doing his job, who is blinded like last time. That’s what almost destroyed the middle realm and all of us to begin with. I will not let that happen again and as such she can never know how I feel.”
“And how is that Aidan?”
‘That I have watched her repeatedly since that day ten years ago bordering that fine line between obsession and madness. That I can recall every single line and crease of her face, determine her very mood by the look of her eyes, whenever I see her.’
‘She cannot know that she is in my dreams every night. That to simply breathe in her scent sends me through the highest of clouds I ever thought possible, even more than with Queen Lirald. To do so would be condemning her to certain death. And one queen, let alone love, lost in even our lifetimes is more than anyone should have to bear. But to do so twice would kill even me.”
“But it is love, Aidan, one of the two most powerful forces in the universe. For you to deny yourself is unimaginable. We all strive for it, even I do. Granted I have felt it many times, usually with several ladies at once, but I am pretty sure it is love I feel at those times. Whether for me or them I am unsure, I admit.”
The joke garnered a snicker out of Aidan before he his face got somber again.
“I have never asked anything of our friendship Sioda, save this. You will say nothing to anyone.”
Watching as Sioda threw his head to the side he could see his friend was not happy
“Aidan how could you? As your friend and another older brother mind you, how can you impose that on me?”
“With a heavy heart. For it is that connection that I am counting on to ensure you say nothing.”
Sioda regarded his friend, shaking his head sideways in the process before speaking again.
“Have you told Wynne yet?”
“No. But when I do I will ask the same of him as I do of you.”
Breathing in deeply Sioda looked off to the side before exhaling heavily. When he faced Aidan again his face was stone.
“A good friend and brother you are Aidan, but a better Guardian there is not. You would forsake your own happiness for her?”
“That is what a Guardian does. There are more important matters at stake here than how I feel. More important matters than how an Oracle, who I love and respect the same as you do, says I should feel.”
A silence fell between them, one that Sioda had never experienced before. He had always known that Aidan would do whatever it took to make right what he blamed himself for. He had just never expected the cost to be so high.
“I understand. And though I do not wish to, I shall honor your request… for now. But I reserve the right to not do so later. You may be inclined to make yourself suffer for all eternity if need be. However those of us who care for you are not so inclined. Having spoken my brief peace, I will say I look forward to seeing you and her ladyship tomorrow.”
After some words of farewell and with a bow Sioda was gone, leaving Aidan wondering upon the words spoken between them. He had no doubt that Sioda would keep his word, but he also knew that in the history of the True Celts no one had ever been able to defy what an Oracle had prophesied. And of all the Oracles, Eurade had yet to be proven wrong in her visions, even once. Aidan had a feeling this is what Sioda was banking on when he said for now.
He would be the first, Aidan thought, turning back to the meeting room and thinking on who lay within. Other Oracles had been known to be wrong. Though it was so rare you had a better chance of breathing water, but still they had been wrong. And surely by now Eurade was due to be wrong at least once, preferably soon he hoped.
Focusing his thoughts on how he was a Guardian and would never be anything more to Lady Lynette he reached for the handle and entered the room. It was difficult to near impossible to keep thinking this when he saw her warm smile at him.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Grave Pledge

The last thing Dafdd wanted to do was attend Gaelan's funeral services. The Ettarian had been like a father to him after his own parents were massacred in a mistaken hunt for vampires. The need for blood to sustain them may be similar, but the need to kill strictly belonged to the Vampires. 

Unfortunately, the humans didn’t understand that difference. They often mistook one of his race for the hated and feared Vampire. He twisted his neck relieved as some of the pressure released with the audible pops. He shook his hands out releasing the bent up energy swirling inside just waiting for a moment to be let out. Dafdd had never thought this day would come.

The sounds of mourners mixed with the rapid beating of the devices that kept the Ettarian graveyard above the clouds in the dark midnight sky. For a split second he thought about the humans below in the city of London and wondered if any of them had ever glimpsed the floating City of the Dead. He highly doubted it. His race kept their presence secret.
One soft voice separated itself from the rest. A female. Human. The words were indistinct but the husky timbre pierced straight to his stomach. Daffd frowned. What would a human be doing up here? It wasn't uncommon for an Ettari to invite humans into their homes, though it was usually as servants and rarely as friends. To bring one to the secret of this place was unthinkable. The appearance of a human, any human, on the City of the Dead had to have all seven Councils approval and the approval of the Seer. He’d never heard of a human allowed to attend one of their funeral rituals.

He glided over the mechanical ground covered with grass. Just one of the many mysteries of the place. The large stone and metal mausoluems stood guard against any intruders. Gargoyles peeked from the top of several. A wing tip moved guiding the way to the most current event.

Daffd nodded his acceptance. Despite popular human thought Gargoyles were real beings. They hid in the shadows where they watched and recorded history. It was unusual to see so many in one place. But then again, Gaelan had had many connections within the borderworlds.

"Daffd. It is good to see you. Come. We shouldn't keep everyone waiting."

Daffd looked to his left and smiled slightly. The soft gentle voice belonged to the Seer. She still looked young, well youngish, considering her great great age. The rumors going around put her at the scene when the first Ettarian was created by the Gods. Of course he didn't believe it anymore than the creation myth they were all taught as children. She slipped her age spotted thin arm around his and led him deeper into the city.

The hum of the floating disk below them reverberated against his feet. The white marble statues mixed with the black granite headstones and the large dark iron crypts. He paused as they approached the crowd of mourners.

Gaelan hadn't skimped on his mausoleum. The gleaming copper edifice stood taller than a three story house with a crystal dome encased at the top. The black iron filigree decorations along the edges gave it an elegant look among the stone statues. A large group of people stood around the entrance to the mausoleum. Like the red sea the group parted to let him and the seer pass through.

Despite what the humans might think, their bodies did not turn to ash when they died. If left in the earth, their bodies decayed the same way as anything else. But up here, in the sky, the bodies remained very nearly the same as when they had lived. His heart clutched his ribs when they stopped at the opening. Gaelan lay in all his glory, an Ettarian Warrior of renown, his claymore clutched in his clasped hands over his armor clad chest. The grey of his once alive skin and the stillness of his once vibrant body permeated Daffd's disbelief.
His knees almost went out from beneath him. Only the hold of the Seer on his arm kept him upright. The dull gleam of Gaelan's sword bounced candle light around the room. Daffd's gaze narrowed focusing on the play of the golden rays. Blackness swallowing one such light drew his gaze to the huddled form on the floor. Black taffeta day dress with a tiny black top hat with a veil over her face. The standard funeral wear. Movement near the sarcophagus drew his attention to the Seer as she readied to proceed over the ritual. Grief unlike anything he'd felt before filled him. Tears clouded his eyes. His heart stopped.

His gaze returned to the woman who huddled on the floor. No sound emerged from her but the agony pouring out of her told him she had meant more to Gaelan and he to her than anyone else on this moving death disk. Possibly even more than him and Gaelan had meant to each other. The woman's head lifted.

Daffd froze. The breath caught in his lungs. The air between them charged with static electricity. Her vibrant turquoise eyes speared straight through to his very soul. Oh Damn! He shook his head, dragging his gaze away from hers. There was no way she was his soul companion. Who the hell was she? Where had she come from?

The others gathered around anxiously waiting to present their offerings for Gaelan's journey to the next world. Daffd clutched the small glass jar of tears he'd bottled upon hearing of his death. He glanced at the woman to see what she had brought. Her pale hands clenched tight to her stomach.

"As Gaelan lived so did he die. With honor, integrity and love." The Seer's voice, though hushed, boomed across the silent tomb. "Who sacrifices for his journey to the next world?"

"I sacrifice my coin so that he may buy whatever he may need." Madam Levoy spoke pushing her way to the front. She laid the large bag of gold coins near the bottom of the sarcophagus.

"I sacrifice grain from my land so that Gaelan may have plenty to eat." A sheaf of wheat stalks were laid next.

"I sacrifice my candle so that he may have light to see."

Grief welled up choking her. Was this what the rest of her life would feel like? A hazy mix of despair and numbness?
Mallory crouched on the cold metal floor. Drafts floating around the room were nothing more than fingers of fog around her already freezing body. Gaelan stood in the shadows his translucent form barely visible in the darkness. If only her voice would work. She snorted. Like anyone would believe her. No one believed she saw and communicated with spirits, even the people among Gaelan's race didn't believe her.

As if knowing what was going through her head, Gaelan slid his haunted blue gaze to the man standing in the shadows of the doorway. Her eyes followed. The stranger was very handsome in a rugged sort of way. Of course being an Ettarian his skin was a flawless coppery tan. His crystal blue eyes held the same sadness that echoed in her chest. A transparent woman stood just behind him to the left. Her soft brown eyes never leaving his continence. He must be Daffd.
Drawing her gaze away from the man who was destined to be her caretaker, Mallory tried to concentrate on the ritual before her. Chills chased across her skin. The sense that someone was watching her threw her off. She peeked through her lashes running her gaze across the group of mourners lining up with their sacrifices. Her gaze stopped on Daffd at the end of the line. Her stomach clenched. Her heart pounded. Finally, emotion pried its way into her chest. Her breath puffed an erratic staccato. Her knees trembled, barely holding up her weight.

Warm arms slipped around her corset and taffeta clad waist. Inhailing deeply, the scent of cinnamon poured into her very soul. The weakness in her legs grew less and less until she was able to stand on her own. She turned to whisper a thank you to her rescuer and found herself face to face with Him. She felt a blush of heat stain her pallid cheeks and let her lashes drift down.

"I sacrifice my tears so that he may know sorrow, but not feel the loneliness of his passing." Daffd spoke slowly releasing her.

His words blew heat into her and electricity sparked through her body as his hand scraped hers. She shivered. He settled a small clear glass bottle within the other offerings.

She stared at the long line of offerings ringing the bottom of the crypt. Hollowly she wondered when she passed if anyone would know or care. She was human after all, so it wouldn't be long before she moved on to the next world. She believed there was a next world with every beat of her heart. She saw it every time she looked outside her bedroom window. Would Daffd mourn her death as much as he mourned his mentor and father figure? Would any of his people accept her into their world as Gaelan had? A slight nudge against her arm turned her attention back to the Seer. She held her hand out over Gaelan's ashen body.

"I sacrifice my blood so that milord Gaelan will be nourished in the next world." She pushed out barely more than a whisper.

Mallory drew the little pen knife she always carried across her palm. Lightening fast pain speared her hand up through her arm. Blood gushed from the wound covering Gaelan's hands and sword. The room filled with a collective gasp. Ignoring the whispered words of shock, she concentrated on the blood sliding down the silvered blade to drip onto the metal floor. Each drop echoed within her pounding head.

"That's enough little one." The Seer's whispered compassion surrounded her.

Mallory blinked. Gaelan nodded his approval. She clasped her handkerchief over the wound and stepped back. Daffd and another man she'd only seen once moved forward. The harsh grinding of stone against stone rumbled through the mausoleum as they slid the top closed. She gasped. The room closed in and grew so dark nothing but a tiny glimmer of blue illuminated the space. She blinked and the room was once again filled with soft gas light.

"Thank you Seer for leading this farewell ritual. Gaelan would have liked it." Daffd's voice broke over the crowd like a wave on the seashore. Everyone's attention turned to him and the Seer.

"I am honored as always to perform such a sacred ritual. I was asked to perform another ritual as well."

The room hushed. Mallory kept her head down fearing the repercussions of the next few minutes. Could she convince Daffd to forgo this decision for another few years? No. she shook her head. That would be asking him to give up his livelihood and the respect his fellow Ettarians had for him. Daffd ran his gaze across the crowd before stopping at her. She couldn't pull her gaze away from his crystal blues. Would Daffd treat her as well as Gaelan had? Gaelan had been her whole world since she was five. Only Gaelan and the Seer had been able to teach her how to interact with the spirits she saw everywhere.

Be brave sweet Mallory. And trust me.

Gaelan's whispered words breathed cold air across her cheek. She spun around only to see him standing in the shadows near a bright blue portal of light. He was waiting to see things through before he crossed. The Seer grasped her uninjured arm gently pulling her back to what was about to happen. A piece of her wanted to shout to the world that she wasn't a piece of jewelry to be handed off, but the anger couldn't break past the knowledge that it wouldn't matter what she said. It never did.

"It was Gaelan's last wish for his charge, Mallory Iverness, and his long time friend, Daffd, to bond."

"What!" Daffd's startled exclamation filled the room.

Daffd couldn't believe what he was hearing. The Seer must have mistaken what Gaelan had said. Gaelan knew he'd never again connect with another woman. He'd lost the only woman he'd ever love many years ago. He took a step back shaking his head. No. It didn't matter how much he'd loved and respected Gaelan. He wasn't going to do that again. He couldn't. The last time had destroyed him. He still wasn't the same.

He froze when the Seer approached him. He could do nothing against her hazy white eyes that saw more than anyone cared to admit. Her cold, thinly skinned hand took his own and led him back to the human. The Seer motioned for the female's hand. Without hesitation the woman, no Mallory, put her wounded hand in the old woman's. He stared down at the bloody cloth dread filling him. He tugged back like a reticent child. The Seer snapped around to him as Mallory's head dropped. A crystal stream fell like a waterfall over Mallory's delicate pale cheeks.

His heart clenched. A piece of the wall he'd built up after Ishma's death shattered. He grabbed his chest uncertain what was happening here. What were the odds that her grief would break through the barrier he'd erected? Daffd shook his head. He wouldn't give in to the need to comfort her. Even if Gaelan had cared for her, it didn't mean he had to.

"I have seen into the soul of each of these young people and have found a future to be proud of." The Seer looked at Mallory who raised her gaze slightly. "Do you honor Lord Gaelan's last wishes?"

"I willing put myself into the custody of Lord Gaelan's most trusted friend."

Her voice was soft, so soft only one of his kind would be able to hear it. The Seer turned to him but the words were ash in his mouth. He shook his head. He couldn't. Could he? What did the seer see that he was oblivious to? He looked down on the small woman. She barely reached his chest. Her thin bones could snap so easily under his hands. Her pallid skin told him she didn't get out much. Why? Was she dying already and Gaelan had only needed someone to care for her in her last days? Yet, that delicate aura brought out his protective instincts. She was beautiful in a lost soul type of way.

Daffd shifted. The Seer stood next to Mallory compassion on her wizened face. The Seer knew everything about everyone. She had told him that Ishma wouldn't be there for him. He hadn't believed her then. If he'd been able to convince her to transform into Ettari she'd still be with him. The Seer believed Mallory would fit him. She must believe Mallory was his soul companion or she wouldn't match them. Had Gaelan known? 

No. Only an Ettarian will know the other half of his soul. He ran his gaze over Mallroy again with a more critical eye. Most of her body was covered by the black taffeta mourning gown. Her black hair was pinned tightly to her head allowing the tiny hat to sit like a crown. It was her turquoise eyes that always drew him back to her face.

Her gaze shifted to look behind him to the right. He turned his head and though he didn't see anything in the physical space the atmosphere was different. Colder and more dense than the rest of the building.

"What do you see?" Daffd asked.

Mallory whipped her head to stare up at Daffd. Could she really tell him? Expose the secret Gaelan and she had worked so hard to keep? Her body trembled. Bile pushed its way up her burning throat. He looked so honest. And scared. About as terrified as she felt. She swept the room of people lingering. If she told him here, now, would it ruin his future? Would it ruin his standing in his society? Gaelan had constantly told her the Ettarian society respected the gifted, but there had been incidents in the past that threw her into trouble for what she did. His hand on hers sparked energy deep within her. She turned back to him surprised to find his intense gaze completely centered on her.

Gaelan had told her a little about Daffd's past. She knew he had lost a love one many years ago. Gaelan had often compared her to Ishma, but despite what Gaelan had thought she wasn't Ishma reincarnated. Ishma, as that must be the spirit who stood just behind Daffd, nodded to Mallory as if to encourage her to confess the sin of her black soul.

Chills raised goosebumps along her exposed skin. She glanced back at Gaelan to see him nod as well. Mallory had learned that the spirits had the knowledge of the cosmos within their grasp. She'd learned to trust the spirit's guidance. Taking a deep breath and trusting in their knowledge, Mallory poured the deep darkness of her soul to the people standing witness.

"Lord Gaelan. I see Gaelan waiting to continue on his journey."

The room gasped and whispers echoed. Each astonished voice going round and round until the only thing holding her steady was the Seer's grip. Daffd turned to look at the corner where her gaze kept straying. His black brows pulled down in a frown creating lines in his forehead. She had the insane urge to reach up and smooth the expression away. Her heart thudded against her rib-cage. Was this the emotion Gaelan had spoken about? Her hands tingled as the whispered words bouncing around them settled into the pit of her stomach.

"I don't see anything but shadows."

"She's lying."

"Why would she lie? She was already given blessing. You can't deny a deathbed request."

"She is human. Humans lie and cheat. It's their very nature."

"She's ill. That must explain the visions."

"Poor poor thing. She's delusional."

Mallory gulped back the vile unrespectful things she wanted to hurl at the whispers. The once brave part of her began to crumble. The woman stepped around Daffd sympathy in her pale brown eyes and soft smile. Mallory let her hand slip from the Seer's grip. Mallory's stomach tightened with every second of silence from Daffd. Her world, once secure and somewhat safe, crashed all around her. Just like the day her parents had died in the steamship crash. No one wanted her. No one believed her. More scalding hot tears fell free from her closed eyes.

A warm hand cupped her chin. Had a plate in the floor malfunctioned? The power of the touch shot through her. Her body sang like an electrical wire put directly to her veins. Her chest rose with her inhailed breath and stopped. It wouldn't release. Oh god, she was going to die right here. Her chin rose on the calloused hand until her gaze collided with Daffd's. His face showed just as much shock as she felt.

"I do not see him-"

"No one ever sees them. Just me."

"That must be very terrifying." His soft words held tenderness. Almost as if he was talking to a child confessing a broken heart.

Mallory shrugged not sure how to voice the bone chilling fear that had crept into every crevice of her life. At first it had just been the nightmares. Then the nightmares had morphed into night terrors, and then sleep walking had taken over. Then they'd started to happen during the day time when she was awake. This was the most peaceful she'd felt in ages. The dead here were definitely the dead. It said a lot about their ritual.

"You're human." He made it a statement, not the question she knew he was fishing for.

"Yes, milord. Pure human all the way back. No fairy blood or otherwise in any of my family tree."

"Hmm... Are there any other spirits here?"

Mallory looked down. She really didn't want to have this conversation here. She didn't want to bring up his past, a very personal past, in front of other people. She would rather bring Ishma up in private.

"Our people respect those with abilities. Do not be afraid to say what you see." Daffd's gentle words and the slight squeeze of his fingers against her chin encouraged her. Taking another deep breath and clenching her fingers tightly together she nodded.

"The City of the Dead is relatively quiet, milord." She squeaked out, avoiding his gaze.


She swallowed the lump rising in her throat. Peeking through her lashes Mallory tried to hide the shivers coursing through her. The dead almost always left a visible coldness in her. It was so constant now that she didn't know how to be warm anymore. Ishma smiled and nodded, gliding close to her. Mallory felt her heart rate grow rapid. Darkness tinged the edge of her eyesight. Her gaze locked on to Ishma and her sultry voice echoed in her mind.

Tell him. He is a good man, but there was nothing he could do. I wasn't his soul companion. I never would have been.

Sadness slid over her like an oily substance. Her lips trembled. She shook her head. He tightened his fingers enough to bring him to her attention again. His fingers let go on her chin but slid a caress over her cheek. Mallory didn't think he even knew he was touching her so lovingly. A little of her anxiety melted with the touch.

"What is it?"

"A woman. She...she...she..."

"Who is she with?"

Mallory looked up at him hoping he'd see the honesty in her eyes. "You."

He gasped, his hand dropping to his side. He looked around but just as before he couldn't see her. "What did she say?" He choked.

"She said you are a good man. And there was nothing you could do. She says she wasn't your soul companion."

Daffd shook his head tears sliding freely now. "No, she wasn't. She always told me that, but I didn't listen. Do you know what a soul companion is?"

Mallory nodded. "Gaelan explained it to me. A soul companion is the other half of your soul. You cannot be a complete person without her. And she can't be whole without you."

"Now you see what I saw." The Seer spoke taking their hands again.

Mallory felt his gaze all the way through her soul.

"Who witnesses this couple in the bonding ritual?"

One lone voice sent an "Aye" in the now silent tomb. Daffd pulled her closer as if wanting to protect her from the prejudice of his people. Which was ridiculous. He didn't even know her. He only knew a tiny portion of her secret. Not even Gaelan had been able to guess how alone she felt. The Seer gripped her hand tenderly. Mallory looked into the old woman's gaze. The Seer had known. And she was gifting her with a future. How strange it was to think she could have a future. Especially a happy one.

"I willingly put myself into the custody of Lord Gaelan's most trusted friend, Daffd." Mallory's voice came out stronger though not by much.

The room went silent anxiously waiting for Daffd's response. "I willing accept into my care, Gaelan's charge, Mallory."

The room breathed again. The Seer unwrapped her wounded hand. Taking the pen knife from Mallory, she sliced a line across Daffd's palm. She set Mallory's still bleeding palm on top of his.

"I present our newest bonded couple, Mallory and Daffd."

The room rumbled beneath their feet. The crowd screamed and scrambled to the safety of outside leaving them alone. Daffd collected her close to him trying to protect her. Heat filled her chasing the chills away. Hot air whipped around them like a hurricane at sea. Her hat flew off. Her hair thrown out of its many pins cocooned them. Her heart lurched out of her chest reaching for something only he seemed able to give. They both clutched at their chests, their eyes large in their faces. Waves of fire washed over her sliding into all the crevices that had been cold for so long.

Just as sudden, it stopped. The room was just as it had been, yet everything was different. Mallory looked to the back corner. The woman now stood with Gaelan. They both looked happy. The blue light of the portal widened and pierced the darkness of the death chamber. Daffd covered their eyes. A split second later it was gone. And with it Gaelan and Ishma.

"What was that light? That wasn't part of the bonding ritual."

"The portal to the next world. Gaelan and your Ishma just passed through."

"Is it always like that?"

"The light? I'm usually the only one that sees it."

"You are bonded thoroughly and for true. You aren't alone in this anymore child." The Seer spoke, kindness gleaming from her faded gaze.

"No. We're not alone. Ever again." Daffd spoke softly looking down at their still clasped hand.

Joy and a hint of sadness poured through him and through her.