01-11-2012 04:07 PM - edited 01-11-2012 04:08 PM
Miss Maude placed a fine boned, blue vein hand on her chest, clutching the lapels of her old robe together. "You didn't know, any of you." Her distress was plain to see. Three heads, two as dark as night, one the colour of molten flame, shook in tandem. Tears glowed in the corners of Henri's dark eyes; with a loud sniff he fought to control them. Pippa's bright gaze was heavy with sleep, while a renewed determination was clearly written on Isabella's angelic face. "I think we had better get in out of the cold and get a few things sorted out."
"First sensible words you've uttered all night, Maudie,” Old Claude interjected as he came chuffing up beside his sister. "From the look of things these youngsters have been through a lot tonight."
Bella's gentle smile ignited the wintry darkness. "You have no idea, but we are not done yet. We need to find the Broken Bird and a man known as Quinn. Do you know where we can find him?"
Old Claude nodded. “Sure do, Miss Bella. He’ll have all the answers you’ll no doubt be needin’. Follow me.”
Petticoats, stiff with ice and feathered snow, crinkled and crunched as Bella turned Rue in the direction of the village proper. The weary alpha huffed gently and broke into an easy trot, seeming to know where he needed to go. Raven and Sigh followed in his tracks. Miss Maude, Old Claude, and all the others who had rushed out to meet them, hurried to keep pace.
As they neared the road leading into the heart of South Kettering reality folded back on itself, revealing the true face of the settlement. Architecture spanning countless ages, buildings of brick, stone, glass, and even a few twisted out of trees lined a fantastic labyrinth of streets. Gardens, lush and heady perfumed the night air and lit the night with fae born light. The songs of Sirens and the calls of kelpies drifted up from the shore, the waves a steady, lashing accompaniment. Weather from all four seasons could be found within an hour's walk. It was a patchwork of fey, lore, and the lost.
South Kettering was a last refuge for Loreborns, half blood fey, faeries, pixies, witches, creatures of the Dark North, and more than a dozen other types of magical descent. Estates, walled and enchanted, could expand and contract in the blink of an eye. Castles nestled alongside faery rings and green life abounded from oak and evergreens to everything in between. It was a sight to behold, one rarely seen or sensed by mortal eyes. It was a fusion, a finite balance between magic and civilization.
Lanterns lined the cobbled thoroughfares, small glow bugs provided the light. The fog here was soft and amorphous. There were no harsh edges to be found; it was a dreamscape that had Pippa and Henri staring in wide eyed wonder. This was the source of the faery tales that had filled their dreams since the earliest days, the sights that had inspired countless bards and fable weavers. It was proof that some stories, inspite of their seeming impossibility, were indeed real.
It was the glamours, the cloaking spells, that shielded the Lore settlements like South Kettering from mortal eyes that kept a layer of doubt, of mystery, and not a little hope fluttering in the hearts and imaginations of the locals. The cloaking spells also provided a layer of protection for those sought not only be mortals, but those serving the Dark as well. The problem was that the glamours were beginning to fail. No longer did the fey habitations look like ubiquitous shops and cottages of a normal village, their true natures were on display for all to see. The spells, indeed, the magic itself seemed to be failing, not just the glamours shielding Talonstone.
If the spells collapsed completely, it wouldn’t be long before the few towns populated by Lores would be overrun, their inhabitants driven into the wild, or worse. It was a very real possibility that weighed heavily on the minds of all dwelling within the confines of the South Kettering veil. Whispers of the Talonstone glamour collapse had only fueled the fear gripping the lores and fey, but also with the rumors flowed a trickled of hope as well. A Bleeding Day was close at hand and if the signs and the elders were to be believed, so to was help.
It had come in the most unlikely form of all, a young Darkkin, believed to have perished nearly fifteen years prior in the attack that claimed the lives of her parents. Miss Maude was still having trouble trusting her own senses as she followed the road leading her to the ancient inn rumoured to have served various heads of state and royalty, both fey and non in centuries past. The Broken Bird was a legend in South Kettering; the same might also be said for Quinn, the current owner.
The Broken Bird lay at the very heart of South Kettering, situated on the main thoroughfare directly across from the common, kitty corner from the harbor and the market streets; it was a hub of activity at all hours. Stone built with a steeply pitched slate roof, countless gables, and leaded glass windows with two wings jutting out of the north and south ends, it looked more like a prosperous manor house than an inn. The two end wings formed courtyards in both the front and the back. The front court boasted a circular cobbled drive leading to the main doors and the huge common room. Two other drives spliced off the main road at either end of the structure, no doubt leading to the stable block at the rear of the premises. Old Claude motioned toward the first turn off, the northern most one. Bella nodded. Going in the back seemed like a wise idea considering their current mode of travel. It was bound to inspire prying questions she wasn’t quite ready to deal with at the moment.
Lights shone from several upper windows, while others were dark, drapes drawn against the night and bitter sea winds. The song of the sea drifted up, the bark of seals issued from the direction of the harbor, while a haunting refrain floated with the mists that were stealing in. At this hour of the night, the inn wasn’t abuzz with activity, but there were still signs of life, especially as they passed beneath the arch into the walled courtyard housing the stable block. No one came to greet the new arrivals, but it was no great surprise given the hour and their unconventional means of arrival.
The wolves entered the courtyard like wraiths, careful to remain in the shadows. They were out of their element here. Raven and Sigh cast longing glances in the direction of the expansive woodlands they had left behind. Rue glanced back at Bella as he sat back on his haunches, allowing her to slide to the ground in a rustle of frozen velvet and flannel. She smiled knowingly, foundling the old alpha’s ears affectionately. “Thank you,” She murmured as she pressed her face into his fur, before releasing him.
Old Claude had lent a hand in getting Pippa and Henri settled on the ground again while Miss Maude had made her way to the kitchen door, beating an urgent tattoo against the wooden panel. With their passengers safely deposited at their destination, Rue woofed to the youngest members of his pack and made his way back to the archway, Raven and Sigh at his heels. With a finally wave to the departing wolves, Bella turned her attention to Henri and Pippa who were now being ushered through the open kitchen door into the welcoming warmth of the Broken Bird.
02-27-2012 07:11 PM
In the deep gloom cast by the door and the cavorting fire of the kitchen’s hearth, Isabella spotted a huge figure. Clad in what could be classified as a merchant’s best, a stained apron covering much of his broad chest and taut waist was a man both Henri and Pippa recognized instantly inspite of the bushy beard concealing a square, stubborn jaw line. “Papa!” Pippa shrieked with the joyful abandon of a child, who had discovered an unexpected piece of heaven.
Henri held back, unsure of how to proceed. Having several more years in his dish than his adored little sister he was possessed of memories and experiences no child should have seen. His natural reserve came to his aid, but a quiet fury still glowed in his eyes as he addressed the bewildered man trying to extract himself from Pippa’s pincered grip. “Watcher.” The single word was laden with unspoken questions and resentment.
Miss Maude drew in a fortifying breath before she marched into the middle of this tangled mess. “There is no time to waste on beatin’ about the bush, Quinn, we need your help.”
Bella’s brow shot up in surprise at Miss Maude’s words, addressing the man, who had hefted the trusting Pippa in his arms. “So you’re Quinn and Watcher and Henri and Pippa’s father?”
The big man looked down at the group before them, his dark eyes a mirror image of his young son’s less the pent up rage. “Yes, I am, my lady,” he replied without preamble, “But no one here calls me Watcher, or with the exception of Miss Maude, knows about the moniker. I left it behind, taking, instead, the name my mother bestowed on me, Quinn. So it is Quinn I have been and will remain from here on out.”
Henri looked away, his shoulders hunched as if to ward of a coming blow. His words were barely more than a whisper as he stared into the fire. “Changing your name doesn’t change the past, Quinn.” The subtle stress on the last word drove a flaming spike of guilt through Quinn’s already knotted innards.
“I’m sorry, Henri, but I did what I thought was best for all of you. Pippa and your grandmother. They would have found and killed all of us if I had stayed.” Running his free hand through his dark untidy hair,
Quinn heaved a frustrated sigh. “What would you have me do? Let you and your sister die?”
Henri whirled about, his fury erupting like a sputtering volcano. “Gram’s dead!” He bellowed, striking out with an expertly balled fist. “They found us and killed her anyway. So what was the point of abandoning us when it all came to naught? Did you even think to come back, to check?” The boy’s recriminations lashed Quinn; the bitter truth leaching in slowly as Henri hammered his thin fists against his father’s chest.
“I’m sorry, Henri.” Quinn murmured. “I had no idea.”
Now the emotions were flowing there was no stopping the flood. “How could you know? You weren’t there. They tortured her, endlessly, trying to find you. They made us watch.”
Scrubbing his fisted hand across his stinging eyes and streaming nose, Henri drew a tattered breath. “But Gram never uttered a single sound, never said a word until just before she died. Watch after your sisters, Henri, watch after them.”
Pippa sniffled softly from her father’s shoulder, before mimicking the dead elder’s words with eerie precision. “Watch after your sisters, Henri, watch after them well because it is family that will save us in the end.” The little girl paused briefly before switching back to her own voice. “And then Gram was gone and we went with Mr. Headington to work in the mines.”
Quinn sank down onto a nearby stool, pulling both of his children close. Henri, buried his head in his father’s lap and finally wept, releasing the tears he had hidden away since Quinn had left them in his mother’s keeping. While his son purged his festering emotions, Quinn turned his attention to his youngest child.
His tone was gentle. “What mines, Pippa?”
But the child didn’t get a chance to reply as Isabella found the opening she needed. “They were taken to the mines that warren out beneath Oban and Talonstone Glen. It’s the reason we came to find you. Talonstone and South Kettering are in a bad way. We need your help.”
Quinn drew a sharp breath, settling Pippa more comfortably on his narrow hip. “How can I possibly be of help to anyone, especially in light of what I subjected my own children to?”
Isabella’s patience slipped a notch. “I wasn’t pointed in your direction by accident, Quinn.” Bella’s skirts shifted slightly, revealing a glimmer of metal concealed by the folds of her cloak. Recognition flashed in the innkeeper’s eyes.
“What have you got there?” He asked. Bella pulled out the sword and handed it to Quinn. His brows contracted into a furious scowl as he studied the weapon, its ancient weight a ghostly memory against his hand. “How did you come by this blade?”
Bella’s eyes glimmered with curiosity and caution. “It was loaned to me by a friend, the same man who told me how to find you.”
Quinn glared at the young lady before him, completely uncowed by his furious expression. “Does this friend have a name?”
02-28-2012 01:18 AM
I like the character interactions here. The only thing throwing me off is the use of Isabella and Bella for the same person. Kind of confusing, and for a minute I thought it was more than one person.
03-30-2012 10:31 PM
Bella nodded. “He is possessed of many, but his true name I dare not utter here, for he is among the oldest of the Lores and his enemies numerous, myself among them until very recently. Now he is known merely as the Honourable Nicholas Ellingsworth of Greydon.”
“Tristan called him Nog,” Pippa added from safety of her father’s shoulder.
The huge man went deathly still, his face leached of color. “He of Three Faces?” Watch demanded. “You accepted the aid of the Dwundio?” His voice incredulous, laden with wrath as he lurched to his feet, almost knocking Henri to the ground. “You risked not only your own life, but those of my children as well in this foolish stunt.”
Roughly seizing Bella’s fragile arm, Watch gave into the urge to shake some sense into this mirror eyed child as he continued to rant. “What in the name of heaven possessed you to do such a stupid thing?” He bellowed.
Bella tried to break free of Watch’s hold, but to no avail; he was pure Darkkin, ancient and unyielding. He was one of the few creatures she could not escape and he was in a flaming rage. She felt the bruises rising as her head snapped back. Pain etched itself into her face as Henri rushed to her aid, aiming a punishing kick at his father’s shin as he yelled. “Let her go!”
The pain coupled with the fuming command broke through Watch’s red hazed mind. As quickly as he had grabbed her, Watch released her again, but Henri wasn’t done. His dander was up now and he was spoiling for a fight. The boy lashed out with his most lethal weapon. His double edged tongue. “You great bully! Let her alone. You don’t know anything.” Henri roared, his dark eyes spitting sparks.
Henri firmly inserted his lanky frame between Bella and Watch. His black eyes locked with his father’s, which were now shuttered and unreadable. “You left us alone with Gram and never returned. You allowed us to thing that you were dead. We were taken to the mines and put to work. Day in and day out we toiled in the dark and the cold. We watched as others died there in the darkness, knowing it could be us.”
This boy was no Zoot. Henri was of Darkkin blood, powerful and potent, and he had the temper to prove it as he stood toe to toe with his father, coming to the defense of Bella and Nog, whom he had come to like very, very much.
Drawing a deep breath, Henri tried for a measure of control, and to his surprise found it. “We would be there still or worse if Nog hadn’t found us. Miss Bella and Nog risked their lives to save ours, which is more than can be said for you…” Silence engulfed the room, a heavy uncomfortable blanket as the weight of the boy’s words sunk in.
Watch retreated to the stool, after depositing Pippa on the floor next to Bella, who was still at a loss for words. Never in her life had anyone other than the bumbling Ravenhurst Twins and Tristan, when he was irate, had dared to handle her so roughly. Fire burned in the depths of her eyes, her Darkkin heart barely leashed. The dying embers on the grate flared to a bright blaze as Bella’s symphonies gathered.
Outside the sea lashed the stony shore, latent with fury, its thunder a drummer of war.
03-30-2012 11:27 PM
The innkeeper fought to find words of understanding, apology, anything to gloss over the moment. But there was nothing to be found. Anguish rushed through him in an icy torrent as he took in the furious, protective stance of his son and the element glory infusing the steel backbone and eyes of the young lady before him.
He knew the hallmarks that offered proof of a Lady’s power; Isabella Miri Moncreiffe had them in spades. Even in the face of his rage, she had held her ground trying to break free. Not since Aurora, his wife, Henri and Pippa’s mother, had anyone dared to stand against him. She was a true Lady in every sense of the word and as a Knight of Drake, he owed her his allegiance not his anger. Unfortunately before he could voice his thoughts the kitchen door burst open.
A pair of Elven Wanderers and a handful of other tavern patrons of questionable origins and character came charging into the kitchen, weapons drawn and ready. The light of battle warmed their eyes and heated their blood as the call of the banshee and the ghostly echo of the bagpipe wove along the cove, drifting with the freshening wind. Talonstone’s need was great; its call to arms stretching far and wide, but the name of the elusive Chimaera carried with it the thrill of the legendary unicorn hunts so loved by mortals. Bella had spoken knowingly when she had said there were many who had a score to settle with the wily three faced Lore.
Watch also knew that some of those same enemies were not above exploiting a lady, clearly in Nog’s favor, just to even the score. The dark eyes of one tall, lean Wayfarer, fixed on Isabella, vibrant and lush in her Darkkin glory. A wintery smile sliced the man’s face. “A Darkkin consorting with the Chimaera? Watch, what travesty is this that you bellow about?”
“Let it alone, Hector.” Watch ground out as he rose, interposing himself between Hector and the belligerent Henri, who still stood guard over Bella. “It was a long time ago. Too long ago to bring up now.”
Hector, his soiled great coat flaring about him like a bat, sniffed. “Says you, Watch. Your family is still alive. Mine is gone, stolen, like so many others caught in the wake of that beast.” Hector’s ebony eyes locked with Bella’s molten silver gaze, her star bright glow dimming just a bit as she quelled at the emptiness in the Wayfarer’s lazy stare.
04-13-2012 05:24 PM
“Nicholas saved my life this night.” Bella stated flatly, her eyes shimmering in the rippling shadows.
Hector snorted and pushed through the thickening crowd with shocking ease. In three smooth strides he had covered the distance, snatching Bella off her feet before she had time to protest. Tucking her up like a stray kitten, he bundled her through the overcrowded kitchen and out into the main common room. Making his way between the hastily abandoned chairs and maze of tables, he at last came to the one fronting the central fireplace. With a debonair flare he set Bella on her feet once more, only this time on the table top instead of the floor.
With a cynical smile he whirled as the crowd from the kitchens followed him out to the common room and reclaimed their seats. Quinn trapped by the press of bodies could only watch and pray that no harm would come to the young Darkkin at the hands of the mercurial gathering. Bella’s spine stiffened with reckless bravado; she wasn’t backing down.
Wicked fire ignited in the depths of Wayfarer’s black eyes, his smile a white blade cleaving the gloomy interior of the taproom. “The last words out of your mouth, child, I believe need to be shared with everyone here. Would you care to repeat them?”
Bella’s temper flared and the fire behind her roared in response to her rising emotions. “The Lore known as Nog, He of Three Faces, saved my life this night.”
Raucous laughter greeted this bald statement. “And who are you to know of the wily old Tri Face, poppet? You ain’t even old enough to be dry behind the ears.” The fire and Bella’s eyes flared brighter and hotter.
“Says you.” She bit back.
More laughter and a hooted. “She’s a fire biter, all right, ain’t she, Helios?”
Helios, who happened to be the taller of the two Elven Wanderers, threw back the hood of his cloak and tried staring Bella down. “A fire biter, indeed, Milo, but we still don’t know her name or origins. We have no proof of anything, just her ridiculous proclamation. What reasons do we have to trust her, even if she is a taking little thing?”
Hector bit back a mirthless laugh. “What do we have is right, Helios? Some trickster or a very foolhardy miss desperate for attention?”
“Fools! One and all. Darkness and Damnation! How can you be so blind?” Bella demanded, her foot coming down with a sharp clack against the aged wood of the table.
“Here now, poppet…” Milo, the second of the Elven Wanders, remonstrated. “There be no call for such colorful language, ‘specially not from a lady like yourself.”
Bella vented a very unladylike snort. “What would you know of the matter, you idiotic goon?”
The flabbergasted Milo fell silent, his mouth open and flapping like a beached fish. “Truly a fire biter worthy of a bit of steel…” Helios added, a considering look in his green eyes. “Tell us child, what is your name?”
Bella’s lips quivered with sudden wry humour as her eyes began to dance. “That is the first bit of sense I have heard from this motley lot, sir. It is good to know there is still a little hope to be found in the world. With that being said, my name is Isabella Miri Moncreiffe of Talonstone Glen. Some of you may have known my parents. Count Hector and Lady Arabella.”
Stunned silence and chagrin greeted Bella’s simple statement. Many of the Broken Bird’s patrons had been visitors and friends of the Moncreiffes of Talonstone Glen. It was rumoured that the entire family had fallen to the hands of the Claymores as no trace of them was ever found after the massacre in Norfolk.
04-13-2012 08:00 PM
“Damme, Quinn.” Milo swore, turning to the innkeeper. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Quinn shifted uneasily. “Because you hotheaded fools rarely listen to anything other than the sound of your own voices. Would you have believed me when you didn’t want to believe her?”
“Point taken.” Helios interjected, having overheard the conversation.
With her identity now established beyond all doubt the questions began to flow in earnest; Hector’s was the first. “What brings you to the Broken Bird, little fire biter?”
Bella’s mean was somber. “Quite simply a desperate call for aid. We are in a very bad way up at the Glen. The glamours that shield us from mortal eyes and protect us from the Claymores are failing. The whole of my vale has been laid bare and unless we act quickly it will be razed to the ground, the woods and the Witching Tree with it.”
Hector’s head wagged back and forth in disbelief. “Not possible, Fire Bit. The magic steeped into the bone and earth of that glade is ancient and very powerful. There is no way the Witching Tree can fail.”
Bella met Hector’s steadfast dark eyes, the fire of her heart burning in her own. “It has before, thrice. Each time Talonstone was reduced to ruins, but the vale always managed to rebound because of the blood and bones of the Darkkin interred there. However, since the last breach of the glamour there has been a fatal weakening of the magic flow. The Witching Tree is dying. Already it is more than half dead and the glamours grow weaker with each passing tide. There will be no return from this burning.”
Milo went still. Helios caught his breath. Quinn merely waited. “You’ve been there, recently?” Hector pressed.
“Yes. Just this morning with Tristan…I mean…that is with Lord Tremaine, the Viscount Ettlesworth.” Bella said her cheeks pink.
Milo laughed and hooted. “Fire Bit has a gentleman on the line.”
“Milo,” Helios snapped, “Curb your rattle pated tongue and allow the child to finish her tale.”
Bella’s cheeks and eyes were still suspiciously bright as she picked up her slightly frayed thread. “We went to the Witching Tree to discover the location of the Echo Shard the Claymores have been feverishly searching for. What we uncovered was enough to make one physically ill. A web of thievery and murder, instigated at the hands of Nog, He of Three Faces.
The Chimaera was responsible for the fire at Heart’s Flame that took the lives of all but two of the Tremaines. The songs he stripped from those children are now in my possession. Tristan and I came face to face with Nog at the Witching Tree. He tried to stake a claim upon my hand, but lost his temper and attacked. We were forced to take to the skies, despite warnings. The Claymores know that the Darkkin have returned to Talonstone. They move to strike us soon, but there is more to the story.
With threats closing in from two sides, Tristan and I continued with our search for the Baksheesh. According to the Witching Tree the Law Keepers are the only ones who can help us set the magic flow back in balance. We sought the first on Uamh Bhin and in so doing discovered the dark secrets buried beneath Oban and its blighted cathedral.”
Hector nodded, knowingly. “So the rumours about Oban, the mines, the missing children…They’re true?”
Bella nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. There are hundreds of children trapped down there, slaving to uncover the buried Echo Shard. Luckily for us, unbeknownst to the Claymores, Quinn’s children, Henri and Pippa, discovered the location of the Blood Lock. And this is where this story takes a twist that blindsided me. “
Drawing a deep breath, she fought to control the tangled emotions swamping her. “When Nog attacked Tristan and myself at the Witching Tree, he was knocked over the edge of the cliff. Somehow he managed to survive the fall and found a path leading up from the shore into the heart of the mines. He found Henri and Pippa, and spirited them out of the mines, bringing them to Talonstone.”
The young Darkkin’s eyes were a maelstrom of tormented emotions, not untouched by shame and anger as she continued. “The Chimaera’s return to Talonstone sent me over the edge, triggering a Rage.”
The faces of the gathered listeners went pale at the mention of the elemental fury. “Damme…Fire Bit,” Hector muttered, voicing the fear that rippled through the hearts of everyone present.
“Tristan stayed with me through the entire thing, finally forcing my hand. I had to chose between him or my Rage. Tristan won. Nog revealed what he had discovered and introduced us to Henri and Pippa, who in turn shared their findings with us.”
05-08-2012 10:49 PM - edited 05-08-2012 10:50 PM
She is standing on a table in a taproom. The eyes of a few dozen shady strangers staring up at her as she weaves a tale taller than the moon. War looms, a battle that must remain hidden from mortal eyes, behind glamours that are growing weaker by the hour. The heat of the razing fire can be felt as the Glen braces for an attack, hoping to buy Bella time...And Writer's Block...
06-09-2012 08:38 PM
Bella fell silent, her words pulsing in the air, as she turned to face the fire.
All eyes were now fixed on the little figure standing on the table. Something rare and exceptionally powerful had transpired near Oban today. The ripples and aftershocks were still sweeping through the magic currents and tides. The very foundations of the world were shaken to their deepest reaches. The petite fury before them was the face of an elemental, and if there was a creature alive that could detect an abnormal flux in the magic fields, it was this young lady.
The Darkkin themselves were born of the elemental songs. They were the incarnation of magic and dreams. And now the Mange was once more threatening to silence the songs, rending hope and dreams to ribbons in the process. A Fading was building, preparing to break across the Lore settlements with all the violence of a maelstrom.
A stifled tension gripped the room as Bella fought to rein her whirling emotions in, lest she lose what little control she still possessed. While the tavern patrons digested her tale, she scrambled to find the words, the right words that could bring this ragtag allotment of Lores together. It was the moment of reckoning. Bella was finally understood what it meant to be a Darkkin, it was more than just wings and songs, fire and stars. It meant having the strength to take a stand and face down the demons that would have sent mortal men fleeing into the night. It was holding onto hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and finding a path when all seemed lost to chaos.
Over the cacophony of the crashing waves, the cadence of muted breathing and the crackling of the fire, a savage, spine chilling roar broke the through the preternatural stillness that had settled over the contingents of the Broken Bird. “Damn.” Milo muttered. “That him, isn’t, Fire Bit? He of Three Faces.”
Bella whirled, skirts and eyes flaring. “You believe me.”
Watch nodded, seconding Milo. “It is hard not to, Bella.” Bella blinked. “We have seen the stain of the spreading fire against the clouds. Smoke hangs heavy in the air and the Dire Wolves have returned, bringing you with them. Now the screams of hell hounds and the Chimaera ring like trumpets in our ears. Tell me now how we cannot believe you.”
A flicker of hope, as fleeting as a butterfly’s pulse, stirred in the heart of the young Darkkin. “You believe me now.” She said. “It is a step in the right direction.”
Helios suddenly looked up, a wry smile on his face. “They say the first step is always the hardest.”
Bella’s smile ignited a glittering beacon of true joy within the smoky confines of the taproom. “You’ll help?”
Helios’ smile spread to a devilish grin. “It has been far too long since we’ve joined a likely fray. Going head to head with these beastly Claymores should prove interesting. Talonstone and your parents have saved more than one Lore on occasion and it is time we returned the favor.”
“Finally something worthy of Elven steel.” Milo added his eyes bright with excitement.
“Count me in, Fire Bit,” Hector replied. “I want to meet these gentlemen of yours.” With a saucy wink, he said. “I want to see if these fellows have what it takes to toe the line with a fire biter like you.” Bella, in a flash of unladylike rebellion, poked her tongue out at Hector. “Baggage.” The huge man laughed.
Tension leached way as hope began to spread anew. From the whispers of stolen youngster to the fading of the Witching Tree, all creatures of Lore blood knew times were changing. The shields and glamours that had protected them for centuries were becoming dangerously fragile and until now no one had been able to discern a cause simply because no one had dared to ask why. Isabella was the first to stir waters that had grown placid, nearly stagnant.
With the backing of the Broken Bird patrons Bella’s mirror bright gaze locked with Watch’s dark, fathomless eyes. She knew what she needed to do. “Quinn the Watcher, you are the oldest of the surviving Darkkin,” she began. “You have seen and forgotten more than most of us will ever know. Nog pointed me in your direction for a reason. He told me you held the answer to a question all of us were too afraid to ask.”
Quinn nodded. “Nog is uncannily perspicacious, and you, Isabella Moncreiffe, are a bold faced hoyden charging in where no sane man would dare to wander.” Traces of a reluctant smile appeared at the corners of the old Darkkin’s mouth. “Now ask your question before these fools expire from the suspense.”
Bella flashed a faery’s grin, but quickly sobered. “What is causing the glamours to collapse and furthering the decay of the Witching Tree?”
“The answer lies within you, Isabella,” Quinn replied, “Within your blood and heart, tracing back to Lady Anne.”
“The legend of the missing bones?” She asked.
Again Quinn nodded, but his features were tight with latent pain. “It is no legend, Isabella. Lady Anne was the last of her kind, the last of the Darkkin able to complete the misting. She was captured in 1585. Tried for heresy and witchcraft, she was condemned to death. She was burned at the steak before the Cathedral of Oban in October of 1586. Her remains were never returned to the Moncreiffe family.