A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 2
I glowered across the table at him. He remained impassive, smirking at me.
“I hate you.”
“What, you don’t hate me?”
“It’s more of an annoying dislike, and that only about ninety-eight percent of the time.”
I sank further down into my chair. We both knew I was backed into a corner, but that didn’t meant I was going down without a fight.
“Are you ever going to forget about the Clock-tower Guardian?”
His smirked widened.
“I will when NORTH does.”
A low growl escaped my throat.
“I hate your government.”
“It’s your government too, you know.”
“Guardians have no government,” I shot back.
Aaron nodded, clearly thinking he was humoring me.
“You can think that if you like.”
“And I’m sure NORTH will keep thinking what they like.”
“But then things like this happen when you let such a big misunderstanding go.”
“Shut up. I’m not doing it. I swore I’d never go back to the Elven Kingdoms.”
“Sounds like a personal problem.”
I growled again.
“You can’t just force me to go. Might I remind you that you’re in my house. It’s neutral territory where NORTH has no sway and if you try and make me leave, I’ll call every goblin lawyer within a hundred mile radius of Kerdur down on your head for assault and overstepping your bounds as a MAGI.”
He sat back in his chair, as much as he could anyway, and raised an eyebrow at me.
“Really now? It’s true you could,” he said, his smirk reappearing. “But you’ll still owe me.”
I matched his smirk with a scowl.
“Maybe so, but it’ll be worth it.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Yes. If I do this for you, you’ll be the one who ends up owing me.”
“Indeed? I didn’t realize your life was worth less than a simple liaison mission.”
I clamped my mouth shut to stop another growl. This guy really knew how to push my buttons, and the worst part was that he knew that he could. Just one of many reasons I’d grown to hate him. When I knew I had my voice under control again, I replied.
“If you’ve read the file NORTH has on me, then you should know perfectly well how much a trip to the Elven Kingdoms would cost me.”
“Yes, but that’s rather sad, don’t you think?”
I looked at him sharply.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s rather sad that someone you hate so much clearly puts more value on your life than you do. I know how Elves are about mutts, which is clearly the reason you left, but you can’t possibly believe that would be a real problem with NORTH backing you.”
Oh, if only he knew. There were far more reasons than the Elves’ general dislike for a mutt like myself that made me leave. If any of the royals recognized me it would end in disaster. Not that I wanted to go explaining my past to him of all people, so I closed my mouth and starred at my empty coffee mug for a long moment.
Finally I sighed and stood up, refilling my cup. I felt Aaron’s eyes on me as I moved around the kitchen. He was trying to read me, probably to see how much more convincing he was going to have to do. However, it wasn’t a matter of convincing. It was more a matter of me giving into the inevitable. I knew how this would end, but I didn’t like it and things I didn’t like I tended to fight tooth and nail.
Slowly, I retook my seat and sipped on my coffee, refusing to meet his eyes. When another half a cup was gone, I spoke.
“So you’ll do it?”
He sounded surprised and perhaps a bit happy? I met his gaze and held up a finger.
“One condition. If you can’t agree to it then I won’t go.”
His expression went from pleasantly surprised to wary.
“What’s the condition?”
I held my mug tightly in both hands and took a deep breath.
“You have to promise me that no matter how this turns out, I won’t owe you anymore. Nothing, you hear? We’ll be square. Not a thing left on the books for you to hold over my head.”
“Is that all?”
“That’s my condition. Either agree or get out.”
He snorted and held out his hand.
I shook his hand, mine completely disappearing in his, and then pulled away to sip my coffee.
“How soon do we have to leave?”
“Well I was supposed to leave at dawn this morning and it’s already several hours past that, so pretty much right away.”
I looked over to the kitchen clock. It read 9:08. With a nod, I took another sip of my coffee and stood.
“Right. Leaving by noon it is then.”
I didn’t wait to hear his protests and instead walked straight upstairs, trailed by Itzel. I glanced over my shoulder at her as I made my way down the hall to my room.
“You’ve been awfully quiet. Usually you’d be butting into the conversation and adding your two cents. Something on your mind?”
The rainbow eyes blinked slowly at me and she waved a little from side to side like a head shaking no.
“I was just thinking.”
“Thinking what?” I asked as I entered my room and closed the door.
“Thinking that it was inevitable. You were bound to have to return someday and no amount of ranting on my part would have changed the outcome.”
“Can’t even let me try and blame him for it?”
“It’s not his fault the royals dislike you so.”
I pulled a face at her.
“Gee, thanks for taking my side.”
Itzel chuckled and I gave her a reluctant smile. I paused to look at myself in the mirror and winced. I looked rough. My long auburn hair was a mass of tangles and my bronze eyes squinted back at me, as though my reflection knew better than me that I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning. Though I was half elf, it was my mother the Nixie that I took after. The only things I had inherited from my father were the color of his eyes and slightly pointed ears, but those were usually hidden by my voluminous hair.
Turning away from the angular face starring back at me, I went back to the door.
“I’m going to take a shower. A long one.”
I spent the next hour trying to steam away any thoughts of the royals or my family or the Elven Kingdoms. I really did not need to be dwelling on any of them. Unfortunately, the harder you try not to think on something, the harder it is to avoid the thoughts.
It seemed I was unable to help the flashes of memory. My father’s face, smiling, frowning, worried. Sefron and Taliya as children, as teens. Sefron defending me against Taliya and the King. The King sending Sefron away. Watching Sefron’s back as he rode out of the capitol to the border post his father had assigned.
With a sharp hiss I drew myself up short before I could think any further along that line. No. No more. It was all in the past and I didn’t need to be thinking on it. Shaking my head to rid myself of the thoughts, I turned off the shower and wrapped a towel around myself before heading back to my room.
I towel dried my hair quickly, slipped on a pair of jeans, and loosely tied my favorite blue-green robe around me. The silky material never failed to make me smile as it slid over my skin. On any other day, I would have curled up with a good book and a cup of coffee until noon, but that would not be my fate today.
For now, I had other things I needed to do. I opened my door once more and poked my head out.
There was a crash from the Salamander’s room down the hall followed by his door slamming open and closed. He appeared around the corner a moment later.
“Get the Yellow Room ready.”
He nodded and scampered off as Lolani came up behind me.
“Set up my materials, will you?”
“Yes, Mistress,” she replied, following after Hewney.
Mentally, I started making a checklist of the books I would need as I headed back down to the kitchen. Ignoring the bewildered and abandoned MAGI still sitting at my table, I poured myself another cup of coffee.
“Shush. She’s busy,” Itzel cut him off.
“Busy? Doing what?” he demanded.
But by then I was out of the kitchen and taking the downward spiraling stairs to my library. It was by far the room I loved the most in the house. It always smelled like worn bindings, old pages, and well read books. I paused at the bottom of the stairs and took a deep breath, closing my eyes as I reveled in the scent for a moment. With a sigh, I opened my eyes and shook my head. Time to work.
I stepped lightly through the the long aisles, eyes scanning the multitudes before me. The library was always kept fully lit, even in the middle of the night, so that I never had to worry about finding a light switch or lighting a lantern when I needed a book. The lighting was magical, of course, because I never wanted to risk a fire in the most precious room in the house. The whole ceiling glowed and brightened or dimmed depending on how much light each reader needed.
Pausing to select one, I turned down another aisle and grabbed a second. This continued until I had all six books I needed.
“Itzel, will you drop these in the Yellow Room for me?”
Holding up the pile for her, I waited as the Aether Spirit swooped down and swallowed them. They disappeared and I headed back upstairs, Itzel in my wake.
Coming up the stairs, I spotted Aaron poking around the main room of the house. He was looking at a precociously stacked piles of books and reaching to take one of them.
“Don’t touch that,” I said.
He jumped back, head whipping around, startled.
“In fact,” I continued. “Don’t touch anything. With my luck you’ll go wandering into the chimera’s den or set off a Gate Spell.”
“What do you think I am? Stupid?” he demanded indignantly.
“No,” I said evenly. “But you showed up at my door this morning so clearly I have terrible luck today and it would be just that luck that I would have to go save you before we even left.”
I pointed to a nearby chair.
“Sit and don’t move.”
The MAGI crossed his arms and looked down at me. I raised an eyebrow.
“Oh. So you didn’t want my help after all? That’s fine.”
We starred each other down a moment longer before he gave me an annoyed look and sat. I nodded.
Turning away, I swept upstairs to the third floor where all my special rooms were. They were kept separate from the rest of the house just for safety’s sake. Some of the things Guardians had to do, magically speaking, were not very safe and so it was best to keep rooms specifically warded for such things.
The Yellow Room was for transformations and anything therein related. By far, it was the most commonly used room, at least as long as I had been Guardian of the Northern Gate. Truly, I should have used the Black Room most often since it was the Room that coincided with the powers of the Northern Gate, but transformation had far more mundane uses than storing did. So even though storing and sealing were some of my most powerful magics, I really preferred not to use them nearly as much.
The Yellow Room, as it’s name suggested, was done up in a variety of yellows, many of them earthier tones, but just as many bright and happy tones. Hewney had set a variety of cushions for me to sit on around the circular table in the center of the round room and checked that everything was in it’s proper place. Lolani had set up my materials on the table and Itzel had dropped the books next to the cushions for me.
Glancing around, I nodded in approval.
“Thank you both.”
“You’re welcome, Mistress!” said Hewney, beaming.
Lolani just smiled and nodded.
“Lolani, I need you to pack our bags. You’ll be coming with me. Make sure you pack my best robes. Can’t be appearing before a King and a Duke in my house clothes.”
I waved them both out and they closed the trap door behind them. With a contented sigh, I seated myself in the midst of the cushions and began sorting through my materials. I opened the second book in the pile and flipped through it until I found the spell I was looking for. The bottom book on the pile provided the various indicators I would need to fine tune the spell and I left the two books open side by side.
This shouldn’t be anything complicated. When it came to any sort of spell, the simplest ones were always the best because it made them easier to get right the first time. Often they were the most powerful as well because it let the caster pour more power into it rather than having to concentrate more on what had to be said or done to complete it.
I plucked a basic, flat, gray rock from the bag of stones I kept for things like this. Setting the bag aside, I began sorting through the spell paints I kept. Plucking silver and gold from the line, I then chose a small brush. The paints were already infused with dormant magic. All I had to do was direct the magic as I painted.
This amulet, when done, would made me appear to be someone completely other than myself. It would not do to have King Malyon or Princess Taliya recognize me. Though I was sure I had changed enough in the years I had been gone that they wouldn’t make the connection, it never hurt to be on the safe side.
Focusing my will and catching the power laying dormant in the paint, I formed it as I held the picture of what I would look like in my mind. My auburn hair would be black and straight. My bronze eyes would be round and brown. My pointed ears would be rounded and my angular features would be softened.
The Duke of Yetts ruled a land of Wizards and King Malyon ruled the Elves. It wouldn’t do to look like I was one or the other since I was supposed to be a liaison and impartial. Also, I had to make sure that whatever species I was masquerading as didn’t have powers that I wouldn’t be able to reproduce. Therefore, the safest bet was to claim to be a wolf-girl. I could easily make a second amulet that would allow me to change into a wolf if it became necessary to prove myself genuine.
Tying a cord around the first finished stone, I set it aside and selected a second stone, this one flat and black. I flipped through a third book for the indicators I needed and set it beside the other two. Concentrating on the wolf transformation, I began painting again. In a few minutes I was done and tying a second cord around it like I had for the first.
Satisfied with a job well done, I laid back in the cushions and plucked one of the remaining three books from the pile and turned to where the bookmark was. I sipped my coffee and read up on the Duke as I waited for the paint to dry. Most of the information I was already aware of. Yetts shared a border with the Elven Kingdoms so I knew plenty already. What I was not enlightened of was just what the problem between the two might be to require a government liaison.
With a shrug, I set the book aside and checked the amulets. Seeing they were both dry, I slipped them into a pocket in my jeans and headed back downstairs.
I sighed. I was not looking forward to this at all.