Children of the Birds Chapter 3
I sat in Etti’s kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee that was slowly going cold, lost in my thoughts, which at the moment seemed to be mostly self berating.
This is what I got for my one little white lie. Not even a lie. A pretense to come see Etti because she never would have let me in the Door otherwise.
Prothos had passed the case off to a subordinate months ago because he thought it was cold. All my solo visits had been nothing but a pretense to see Etti, though she clearly hadn’t believed me when I’d hinted at it this time. They had just been social calls.
Elliandra had warned me and been right, of course. It was a bad idea to come under a false pretense. When she found out what I was doing she took me to task and told me exactly what a terrible idea she thought it was and how much trouble it would land me in, somehow, someway.
Well, here it was. Etti had had the twins dumped in her lap by a Seer after she’d gone and seriously started looking for them, because of my visits.
The problem? Now I had to figure out what I was going to do.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to come down to where my loyalties were, how much trouble I felt like getting into, and with whom.
I could very easily contact NORTH right now and tell them everything, passing it off to the MAGI above me. That would completely take any control of the situation out my hands.
The downside was that the moment MAGI descended on the House, Etti would know it was me who had told them and she would hate me. That was the last thing I wanted.
However, word of some or all of this was bound to get back to NORTH. I was sure the repercussions would be severe. How much was I willing to do? Lose my position? Be kicked out entirely? Or just get a slap on the wrist? Or a minor demotion?
Would it be better to keep close mouthed about this entirely and risk losing my job? Or would it be better to contact them now? Or should I wait and contact NORTH when I knew more? And should I tell them everything I knew or just part?
As I mulled it over, I realized that I had to tell NORTH at some point, not because I was afraid of losing my position as a MAGI, or because the moment we stepped out of the House they would find out that I knew something and trouble would follow, but because this had been their territory from the start. I didn’t know what NORTH wanted with the twins, but whoever their father was had broken more laws than I cared to count by crossing over to the human world. He had to be punished somehow, because if everyone got it into their heads that they could do that and there wouldn’t be repercussions, the chaos would be unthinkable.
I frowned down at the mug as I thought.
“That’s a new face for you.”
I looked up, my thoughts scattering as Etti walked into the room and headed for the coffee maker.
“New face?” I repeated with a grin.
She filled her mug and turned to look at me with a frown.
“No, not that face. The other one you had on. With the frown.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I replied, still grinning.
Etti scowled at me and I did my best not to laugh. She really was too easy to poke, but that was part of the fun.
“Find out anything from the other Guardians?” I asked, changing the subject, but continuing to grin.
She scowled at me a moment longer before moving to the refrigerator for her creamer.
“Why should I tell you?”
I shrugged, even though she wasn’t looking at me.
“Because what if I can help?”
Her scowl darkened as she glanced over her shoulder at me. Then she took her time pouring her creamer and stirring it in before she looked at me again, her scowl just a little bit lighter. Then she sighed.
“The short version? They don’t know anything more than I do.”
“And what’s the long version?”
Etti sipped at her coffee and sighed again.
“Sar has no idea and his specialty is anything water so we can safely rule out any creatures that are water related.”
“Sar?” I repeated, not familiar with the name.
“Oh, sorry. You remember Lotan’s second apprentice? The one who helped me?”
“He was Dos but now that he’s taken over as the Western Guardian, his name is Sar Setal.”
I was glad I hadn’t been sipping on my cold coffee or I would have choked.
“Lotan’s apprentice?” I half-rose from my seat in surprise. “You made Lotan’s apprentice the new Western Guardian?”
“Well, yeah. We didn’t have anyone else to take over for him.”
“And you all thought that was a good idea?”
I was trying my best to keep calm. How could they let the psychopath’s apprentice take over as Guardian?
Etti frowned at me and put a hand on her hip.
“Not that it’s any of your business, Aaron,” she snapped, clearly annoyed again. “But he was only an apprentice under duress. He’s a Selkie.”
I suddenly felt very foolish. That did explain a lot. A Selkie under duress meant that he was trapped in his land form until he found his other skin, which Lotan must have hidden to keep him bent to the maniac’s will. The Selkie were peaceful people and hated causing harm.
“I see,” was all I said as I retook my seat. “My apologies. Please, go on.”
She glared darkly at me for a long moment before she took another sip of her coffee. The Guardian continued to glare at me as she went on.
“Sar doesn't know anything. Grundur and Razana have no clue and Quir said he was going to send me what help he could.”
“What does that mean?”
“No idea. Maybe he’ll send a person or a book or a rock that will glow when I’m headed the right direction. That’s all he said and he didn’t have time to say more. He was... busy.”
I didn’t let my face change at the odd pause and she pushed herself away from the counter, heading toward the hallway. I stood and followed, leaving my cold coffee behind.
Etti frowned over her shoulder at me.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Helping,” I replied with a grin.
“By being a pest?”
“If you’d like,” I said, the smile never faltering.
She shot me a glare, but chose not to reply as I followed her down the spiraling staircase into the library once more. Apparently the books she had pulled earlier weren’t going to be enough for the job ahead.
The Guardian seemed to know exactly where she was going and so I followed. She began grabbing books off shelves that we passed and was soon loaded down and trying to reach for yet another. I rolled my eyes behind her back, doing my best not to laugh even though I was grinning, and stepped in front of her, relieving her of the stack.
With a grudging look of relief, she moved on, adding several more books to the stack I was carrying. Finally, when both our arms were full, she led the way back up the stairs and into the kitchen.
She dropped the books on the table and I was surprised it didn’t break, though it did let out a small groan of protest. I set my pile down a bit more gently.
Etti took a seat and grabbed the first book that came to hand, opening it. Without looking up at me, she jerked a thumb at the stack I had brought up.
“If you’re gonna insist on being here, be useful and get cracking.”
“As you say, Mistress,” I couldn’t help replying.
I could feel her glare, but didn’t meet it as I picked a book for myself and sat down across the table from the Guardian.
Lolani flitted in and out of the kitchen for the next few hours, making food and coffee for all of us. Meanwhile Etti and I read, in search of some clue about who the twins’ father could be.
Finally, well past midnight, I closed the last of the books from my pile and pushed it away. I leaned back in my chair with a heavy sigh and stretched.
Then I looked over at Etti, who was stubbornly staring at the last page of her final book. The lopsided frown of concentration was cute and I felt a grin tugging at my own lips as I watched. She unconsciously fingered that last page, lost in her thoughts. It was rare that I got to simply stop and watch her so I didn’t speak, deciding to enjoy the moment while I had it.
Sadly, it didn’t last long.
“Mistress?” called the Door.
Etti sighed heavily, pulling herself out of her thoughts.
“What is it, Cahir?” she asked wearily.
“There’s someone here for you.”
The Guardian shook her head in confusion.
“Who’s here at this hour of the night? It’s still pouring out there.”
“He says Guardian Quir sent him.”
Etti’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“That was fast,” she said to herself as she rose and headed for the Door.
I stood and followed as far as the kitchen doorway, pausing to cross my arms and lean against the woodwork. This was Guardian business, but I still wanted to know what was going on. It wasn’t my job to interfere, but nothing said I couldn’t be a spectator.
The Door swung open as a crash of lightning lit the sky, revealing a soaked to the bone Salamander. Like all Salamanders, his eyes were the reverse of a human’s. In this case, his irises were white and the rest of his eye was blue. His silver-blue hair was sopping wet like the rest of him and he stood about five feet tall with a cherub quality to his face; very innocent and round. His robes were the plain blue ones of someone who was probably an apprentice.
“Mistress Etti Antti?” he said.
When Etti nodded in confirmation, he grinned brightly up at her.
“Master Quir sent me. I’m Hewney!”
“Why did he send you?” Etti asked, a bit surprised before she recovered herself. “Sorry, please come in. You must be freezing. Lani!”
The Bird of Paradise flew lightly down the stairs.
“Dry clothes please?” Etti said.
The Bird nodded and went back up the stairs. Etti put a hand on the Salamander’s shoulder and led him to the kitchen. I backed out of the way, matching Hewney’s friendly smile.
“I’m Hewney!” he announced again, this time for my benefit.
“Yes, so I heard. I’m MAGI Aaron Baerandor.”
The friendly smile dropped to a look of worried surprise, his eyes going big and round. His reaction wasn’t surprising. Guardians and MAGI didn’t get along usually, so finding one in Etti’s kitchen either meant I was causing her trouble or she was already in trouble.
He quickly looked at Etti, who had caught the exchange, and she rolled her eyes with a small smile.
It was nice to see it.
“Nothing to worry about, Hewney,” she told him airily. “He’s been pretty harmless so far.”
“Harmless?” I repeated and winced comically, putting a hand to my heart as though stung. “Ouch.”
Etti snorted and busied herself getting the Salamander a cup of coffee.
“Take it and be happy. That’s the only reason you’re still here.”
I struck a dashing pose and spoke in a mock serious tone.
“And here I thought it was my rugged good looks and charming personality.”
My grin widened she turned around, clearly about to take a crack at me, but I winked at her before she could and added, “Not to mention my humble attitude about it.”
I saw a smile tugging at her lips as she turned away again with another derisive snort to hide the fact.
“Keep telling yourself that, you mammoth lug.”
She looked to the Salamander then, setting the coffee in front of him and taking a seat next to me. I tried to focus elsewhere as I enjoyed the proximity of her right by my side.
“What did Quir send me?” she asked Hewney.
He wrapped his hands around the mug of coffee, gratefully taking in it’s warmth, and sipped on it a couple times before replying.
“Just me, Mistress. That’s all I brought for you.”
Etti nodded, surprised, but moving on.
“Alright, better question then. Why did he send you?”
The Salamander sighed and set the mug down, looking at her seriously.
“Mistress Antti, can I be completely honest with you?”
“Please do,” she replied, gesturing for him to go on.
Hewney took a breath and let it out, drawing himself up a little.
“Well, you have to understand that Master Quir has a lot of apprentices and would-be apprentices waiting to be chosen. And it’s a great honor to be chosen, but not everyone who wants to be an apprentice wants to actually be a Guardian. In those cases, Master Quir still trains them, in case they change their mind and because they do have such great potential.
“In my case, I knew almost from the start that Guardian life wasn’t for me and Master Quir was well aware of it. I’m one of his oldest apprentices now and it’s really time I moved on. My training has been done for a while now, but Master has been looking for somewhere suitable to send me. It’s not usually his job to find us positions since former Guardian apprentices are snapped up whoever they want to offer themselves to, but he took a more personal interest in me I guess.
“Anyway, when you called, I volunteered to go and help however I could. He doesn’t have any use for me right now that the other apprentices can’t do just as well. It frees up a spot in his home for a new apprentice and, if we get along, I thought, and Master Quir agreed, that I could offer myself and my services to you in a more permanent fashion.”
Etti was nodding slowly, a small smile on her face now. She was pretty, regardless of her expression, but her smiles always brought it out the best.
“In other words,” she said slowly. “If we get along, you’d like to stay?”
Hewney nodded and grinned brightly, looking like a small sun suddenly coming out from behind the clouds.
“Exactly! Master Quir says I’m one of the best assistances he’s ever trained. I can do a broad range of tasks, both mundane and magical, and I’m willing to help however I can.”
Etti kept nodding, her smile growing just a bit in response to the Salamander’s.
“I think I would like that very much.”
She reached across the table, extending her hand. Hewney jumped up to stand in his chair and shook her hand enthusiastically, making the Guardian chuckle.
“Welcome to the House, Hewney.”
The Salamander was positively beaming.
We all looked up to see Lolani standing in the kitchen doorway, the dry clothes for Hewney in her arms. She looked a bit uncomfortable and was glancing up only to look back down at the clothes again.
“Yes, Lani?” Etti asked gently, clearly sensing her companion had something important to say, but was reluctant.
“I’ve been thinking, Mistress,” she said slowly and quietly. “And the more I think about it, the more I think I’m right. Mind you, I’m not a hundred percent sure because it is different for each one, but all the signs are there.”
“What are you talking about, Lani?” the Guardian prompted gently and patiently.
Lolani stopped fidgeting with the clothes, took a deep breath, and looked Etti squarely in the eye.
“Mistress, I think I know who the twins’ father is.”
A/N: Dun dun Duuuunn!! Lol. Sorry I'm kinda writing back and forth on both Clock Tower Guardian and this one. Hope it's not confusing anyone and I hope you all enjoyed this! :)