Children of the Birds Chapter 1
I sighed heavily, turning my gaze to where the horizon should have been. The human city, with it’s buildings of cement and glass and steel, loomed around me. The shadows of night, accentuated by the towering structures, grew longer here than they did in the world of magic. The sun was setting beyond the buildings in a fiery blaze of glory, unseen by me or the humans hurrying by.
It had been a long day.
With another sigh, I dropped my gaze and let it wander to the coffee shop across the street. Here was the real debate. Did I get more coffee and keep searching or give up for the day and return to the comforts of the House in defeat yet again?
My shoulders sagged as I watched the glow coming from the coffee shop windows, the silhouettes of the humans inside flitting across in shadow. What was the point? What good would a few more hours do after all the wasted, fruitless days that had already passed me by?
A low growl of frustration escaped me and I glanced both ways down the street before stomping across and entering the shop. I kept my eyes down, trying to lessen my scowl before I made it to the register and had to look up. I had managed to reach a simply tired appearance by the time I had to give my order and so I looked up, not bothering trying to smile.
“What can I get for you?” asked the young man behind the counter with a sympathetic smile.
“Large mocha. Double the shots.”
“Double?” he asked, surprise evident.
“You heard me.”
“This will make it longer, you know.”
I gave him a look that made him close his mouth with an audible snap. Then I fished in the pocket of my jeans for the money and counted out the bills, telling him to keep the change.
The House had begun doing more on it’s own lately. Sometimes I thought it was reading my mind. On the days I went out to search, there was always human money in the pockets of my jeans, when I was sure it hadn’t been there before.
Picking up my doubled shot drink, I hunkered down in a seat by the window and hung my leather jacket on the back of the chair, watching the sky darken. A storm was coming. Maybe I would just sit here all night till it passed. Why not? It was as productive as this search seemed to be.
I was searching for those blasted twins. The same ones my Master and I had seen almost two years ago now. The twins that NORTH was interested enough in to send MAGI, their Magically Armed Government Intelligence, inquiring after.
At first I hadn’t thought much of it. Aaron and his overseer, Prothos, had shown up on my Doorstep about a month after I had taken over as the Northern Guardian to ask me about the twins for the second time. Not that I’d had anything to tell. I’d only ever seen them once and I’d certainly never had any contact with them. So the two MAGI had left, only to show up again two weeks later, asking the same questions. They received the same answers.
By their third visit, I was getting annoyed. Again, it was the same questions and the same answers. After that, I started digging. The way I figured it, if NORTH was truly that interested in these two, then the Guardians should be as well.
By the time their fourth visit came, I still had no better answers to give them and wouldn’t have told them anything if I did, but I definitely had my feelers out. The other four Guardians were aware of what was going on and were keeping their eyes and ears peeled for anything that might be relevant.
Finding no real answers in the magical world, I began pounding the pavement in the human world with just as much luck. Regardless, I put more feelers out, making contact with the few people that knew of magic or were magic. They weren’t easy people to find either, but one led me to another and another and it became a little easier with each person I met. At the very least, I could only imagine that knowing people in the human world might be useful in the future.
Visit number five brought Aaron by himself. His overseer was beginning to test him to see if he was ready to work on his own and so had begun sending him out on assignments by himself.
Three more visits from Aaron and another month and a half went by with nothing changing.
Then this morning I had gotten a message from one of my human world contacts that had claimed a sighting. I had set out immediately, but after several hours of searching the area and the rest of the afternoon and evening spent widening the circle of the search, I was left frustrated with another dead end. If there was one thing that pointed to the twins being magical, it was their uncanny ability to completely disappear.
I sipped my coffee and closed my eyes for a moment as I heard the wind pick up outside.
Maybe the whole thing was hopeless. Maybe I should just give up and let the MAGI deal with trying to find them. Maybe I didn’t need to find them at all. Maybe the whole thing wasn’t really that important.
But no, I knew better. NORTH, the New Order of the Reformed Temple of Heparzat, was almost never up to any kind of good and someone they were this intent on finding probably needed protection from them. At least that was my theory.
I wrapped both hands around my coffee mug, soaking in its warmth as rain began to hit the window. Lightning cracked and thunder boomed through the sky. I saw three figures hurrying through the darkness towards the coffee shop. One of them was doubled over, as though in pain. Frowning, I leaned forward and set the mug down.
The next moment, lightning ripped through the sky again and the door to the shop burst open. Standing there were three figures, two of which I recognized immediately.
Their messy black hair was wet from the rain and their tan faces pale with worry, grey eyes wide and anxious. They both wore jeans and t-shirts while one supported the other. The one being supported was holding his stomach, face scrunched up in pain.
The third figure was one I had never seen before, but I knew what she was if not who.
I could see the aura around her, pulsing with magical energy, making her see things all the time. She was what the humans referred to as asian descent, with her straight black hair, tanned skin, and slanted eyes. Her flowery pants and bright shirt were a shock to the eyes against the browns and blacks of the coffee shop, but her gaze immediately flew to me.
“Guardian,” she whispered urgently, just loudly enough for me to hear it.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I was on my feet and pulling my jacket on, halfway out the door. I grabbed the arm of the twin who wasn’t in pain and the three of them followed me out of the shop and back out into the rain.
“Where are we going?” shouted the Seer over the wind.
“What, you can’t see that?” I shot back with a cheeky grin.
I didn’t stop for a couple blocks and when I did, it was only long enough to pull them under an overhang and ask a few questions. All three were soaked and cold, I could tell. The twin in pain was shaking now, still keeping one arm wrapped around his stomach and one around his brother’s neck.
I was torn between asking the brothers questions, asking the Seer questions, and the elation of finally having an end in sight for my months long search. It took me a moment to gather myself and focus on what I needed to know. The Seer probably wouldn’t stay long. They rarely did.
“Why find me?” I asked the Seer.
“There are people after them and I can’t do anything about it, but you can,” she replied, looking me straight in the eye.
“How can I help?”
“That is not for me to determine, Guardian.”
I rolled my eyes and let it go.
“How did you find them?”
She gave me a rye grin.
“How else? A vision.”
“Alright, and what are they that there are people after them? Who’s after them? NORTH? Are there MAGI close by? Are they in danger here?”
She held up her hands to stop the downpour of questions.
“Whoa, whoa! I don’t know what they are and as far as who’s after them, I can only assume it would be NORTH, but I can’t say that with any sort of certainty. And, no. To my knowledge there aren’t any MAGI nearby, but staying here isn’t particularly safe for them.”
“Fine. And I assume you’ll leave now that you’ve delivered them?’
“Wait a minute!” cut in the healthy twin.
Both the Seer and I turned to look at the young man.
“Yes?” I asked.
“Why are you leaving?” he asked the Seer. “Who is this? Who are you? What’s NORTH? Why are they after us? Are they the ones we’ve been running from?”
“I am not the one to answer your questions,” said the Seer gently. “It’s the Guardian who will do that. I am leaving because my part is complete and I am no longer needed here. I have found you and delivered you into safe hands and that was my role to play.”
She stepped forward and gently touched each of their heads, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them again, she turned and disappeared back out into the rain.
The young man looked at me then.
“Who are you?’
I sighed and drew myself up a bit. I was about six inches shorter than they were, but I let my bronze gaze meet his grey one and noted the shock as he realized what color my eyes were. Clue number one that I wasn’t human.
Steadily keeping his gaze so that I knew he was watching, I reached up and pushed back my loose auburn hair, tucking it behind one pointed ear. His eyes went wide at that. Clue number two that I wasn’t human.
He swallowed hard, his eyes never leaving mine. I watched the fear and curiosity and awe surface and mix before he spoke again, quietly.
“What are you?”
“I am Etti Antti,” I replied, voice quiet but powerful. “Guardian of the Northern Gate, Mistress of the House, and Keeper of the Seals. And I, as you have guessed, am not human. I am half Elf, half Nixie.”
I smiled gently as a range of emotion crossed his face so fast and mixed that I couldn’t truly tell one from another.
“As for you two,” I continued. “I know you’re not fully human. What are your names?”
“I’m Alex. Um, Alexander,” he replied, still having trouble processing what I’d told him. “My brother’s Darren.”
“Good to meet you both,” I said with a small smile. “Now, we need to you get you two out of the rain and do something about him if we can.”
“Where are we going?”
I turned toward the rain, but glanced back and gave Alex a secretive smile.
“To my House, of course. Let’s go.”
With that I stepped back out into the rain. When Alex stepped out next to me, I took Darren’s free arm and looped it around my neck to lessen the burden and we set off. It was slow, cold, wet going, but we progressed nonetheless. By the time we reached the gates that led into the Garden, we were all soaked and shivering.
“Not much further!” I shouted over the storm as I pushed the gates open.
I made sure they closed behind me and headed up the white stone path toward the House. I had to tell myself to just keep moving and not wonder that the storm was actually effecting the Garden. In all the time I had been an apprentice and now a Guardian, the Garden had never been touched by a storm. There were showers occasionally when the Guardians of the Garden deemed it necessary, but those were all light spring showers that never lasted long. Nothing like this.
We stumbled onto the porch and paused to breath air without water for a moment. The twins stood beside me, panting and I reached out to pet Cahir. The Door responded instantly.
“Mistress! You’re back! Oh, but you shouldn’t go in.”
“What? Why shouldn’t I go in, Cahir?”
“Because, Mistress, he’s here,” replied my Door urgently.
I let a low growl escape me.
“Of course he’s here. Why wouldn’t he be here right now? I should have known he’d show up at the most inconvenient time possible. I swear he does it on purpose.”
“Um is that door talking?” asked Alex, chattering just a bit.
I glanced over my shoulder at the twins.
“Yes, he’s a magical Door.”
“And who’s here?”
I glared through Cahir, wishing I could make him disappear with a thought. Of all the times for him to show up for another visit to grill me about the twins, now was the last one I would have picked.
“A very annoying person, that’s who’s here,” I finally replied.
With one more glance at the twins, I made up my mind. They couldn’t stay out here. We would all freeze to death and Darren was looking worse for the trip than any of us.
“Alright, here’s what’s going to happen,” I said to Alex, catching his eye. “When we go in, you two can’t make a sound. There’s a stairway to the right that leads upstairs. Take your brother to the second floor and walk to the end of the hall. That’s the guest bedroom. I’ll get you clothes to change into and then we’ll see what we can do for your brother. But remember! Do. Not. Make a sound. Understand?”
Alex nodded, teeth chattering, and I lifted Darren’s head as I leaned down so that our faces were level.
“Darren,” I said gently.
The twin groaned and cracked his eyes open.
“We’re getting you help as fast as we can, but I need you to stay absolutely silent for a while, okay? You can’t make a single noise. This is important. Do you understand?”
“...Yeah,” he croaked.
I nodded and let his head go back to resting on his brother’s shoulder.
“Alright,” I said, looking back to Alex. “Let’s go and be silent.”
I turned back to Cahir.
“Where is he right now?”
“In the kitchen with Lolani, Mistress,” said the Door.
With a nod, I motioned the twins to follow me as I opened the Door and led the way into the House. The blue walled hallway stretched out in front of me, sitting room to the left, staircase to right, and kitchen straight ahead. I gestured to the twins to get up the stairs and Alex moved he and his brother as quietly as possible towards them.
I closed Cahir and braced myself.
“Mistress?” came Lolani’s voice from the kitchen.
I sighed and headed to the kitchen, leaving a water trail behind me. Smelling fresh coffee, I ignored the inhabitants of the room and headed for the coffee pot. I poured myself a cup with a generous amount of creamer and took a sip of it before I turned to look at the other two people in the room.
Lolani, the Bird of Paradise, had taken up a residence in the House not long after my Master’s death. In her human form now, she had shoulder length brown hair in hundreds of braids with every color feather imaginable woven into them. Her profile was sharp and her eyes a brilliant blue. Tonight she was wearing a pair of jeans and a blue t-shirt but went barefoot.
He was sitting next to her at the kitchen table.
MAGI Aaron Baerandor.
Standing, the Dwarf was a wall and certainly didn’t look much like a Dwarf in stature. I had asked him on one of his earlier visits why that was and was told very shortly that there was Giant blood in his family line. He must have been at least six and a half feet tall and was very broad. As always, he wore a perfectly pressed pinstripe suit, was clean shaven, and had pristinely kept black hair. He was about my age and had black eyes and an annoying smile that always showed off his too-white teeth.
He used that smile on me now and I automatically scowled.
“Should I even bother asking why you’re here?” I asked.
“Why wouldn’t you ask?” he replied. “After all, what if I’m here just to be friendly and social?”
My scowl turned disbelieving.
“You. A MAGI. Making a social call. On a Guardian. Do pardon me if I don’t jump right to believing that explanation.”
His smile widened a bit, darkening my scowl.
“You know, you really are much prettier when you smile.”
“How would you know? You’re the reason I scowl.”
“Call it a hunch then,” he said with a shrug, smile never faltering.
“What do you want, Aaron?”
“I thought you knew why I was here.”
“And I thought you were just here to be ‘friendly and social’,” I shot back.
The MAGI chuckled and leaned back in the chair, picking up the mug in front of him and sipping from it. I drank my own coffee as I watched him, eyes narrowed. Finally, he set his mug down with a sigh.
“Do you have anything new I should know about?”
“Would you tell me if you did?”
“As I thought. I keep telling Prothos it’s a waste of time to keep asking you, but he insists. So, how have you been, Etti?”
“Wait, you’re actually going to turn this into a social call?”
“Well, I’m certainly not going anywhere just yet with that storm howling outside,” he replied, getting a little comfier in his seat.
Oh great. Now I had a MAGI sitting in my kitchen and the two people he was looking for hiding upstairs. This could only end well, right?
A shiver ran up my spine as my body reminded me how wet and cold I was and I set my mug down on the table.
“Mistress, you should--” began Lolani.
The sneeze came from upstairs. Aaron sat up, confused, and Lolani looked around, equally so. I hid my wince and prayed they didn’t make any more noise.
A groan of pain issued from the same origins as the sneeze and I turned to the hallway, about to dash for the stairs, but didn’t make it out of the kitchen before Aaron’s voice stopped me.
“Etti, what was that?”
Inwardly, I cursed. Phyre.
A/N: Chapter 1, done! Always love your thoughts guys! :)