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."
"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.