"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." Anton Chekhov


Friday, June 28, 2013

29. The Tale And A Truth

Daniel lifted the glass to his mouth, but the remnants of his shirt sleeve caught his eye before the rim touched his lips.  “For the love of…” he muttered before setting his drink on the coffee table and surging to his feet.  Lily was startled, Taurin snapped his head around, and Mickey took a quick step forward with a fierce scowl. 

“Sorry,” Daniel said, walking around the sofa to retrieve his pack, “but it seems I’m so used to having my shirts incinerated, I don’t even notice anymore.”  He returned Mickey’s scowl, then softly asked Lily where the bathroom was.  As he passed Taurin, he noted the wary look on the man’s face.  “What?  You think I’m going to climb out a window?”  Daniel shook his head.  “Not a chance in Hell, man.” 

Lily watched Daniel stride down the hall.  No one spoke for a few minutes, each mulling their own thoughts, then Lily took a sip from her drink and turned to look at her grandfather.  “How is it you know Taurin, Granddad?  I know he comes from…”  Hesitating as several thoughts collided in her mind—dreams, intuition, awareness—she took a deep breath and started again.  “Daniel told me about his life, and what he does in, ah, the astral realm.  I know Taurin is part of that,” she glared at the man lounging on the sofa across from her, “though how he could be here, chasing after Daniel, I don’t understand.”  Lily turned back to her grandfather.  “Why does he call you Micah?”  She narrowed her eyes.  “And why are you even here?” 

Mickey Donovan held his granddaughter’s gaze, then shared a long look with Taurin before lifting a large hand to his chin, the sound of his palm scraping roughly against whiskered skin was loud in the silence.  Before he could speak, however, Daniel was back.  He’d cleaned up, and it looked as if he’d dunked his head under the faucet, then finger-combed the unruly tangles, leaving damp patches where his hair touched the shoulders of the black tee shirt.  He looked more in control, Lily thought as he sat beside her, and somehow far more dangerous. 

“A very long time ago, I was a warrior in a strong, powerful army.  With my brethren, we fought demons and demigods, creatures that nowadays no one believes ever existed.  The monsters became nothing more than myth and legend.”  Mickey tipped his glass, finishing the whiskey in one deep swallow, then, his voice rough with memories, he walked toward the cabinet to replenish his drink.  “As the years lengthened and we remained undefeated from all challengers, humans continued to multiply, and we became complacent.” 

Daniel said softly, “I was right, you are Tuatha.” 

Mickey shot him a glare.  Daniel thought the look said it all.  “We didn’t realize until too late that when the mortals found other things to believe in, other gods to answer their prayers, their own enemies to conquer, we would fade, become nothing but stories to frighten children at bedtime.”  He filled his glass, brought the bottle to the coffee table and set it down with a sharp clunk.  “The Formorii, an evil, foul breed of demon spawn, rose from the sea and in that last great battle, I was killed.”  For a moment the only sound in the room was the crackle of the fire.  “I could have gone with the others, Tuatha who even now are living beyond the Veil, believing the glory of olden times will never truly wither, never die.”  His large fist struck the mantel.  “They live in a place of dreams, of fairy tales,” he said disgustedly. 

Shaking his head, he turned to look at Lily.  “My name was Micah Lughan,” his smile turned into a wide grin, “and I was fierce, lass.  Oh, but I was fierce.” 

Lily grinned back.  “Granddad, you still are,” she said softly. 

Thank you, my girl.”  Mickey took a swig of his whiskey, then said, I was wandering in the mists, certain of only one thing: I was not going to live in a dream world of fantasy and pretense.”  His thoughts drifted into the past.  “Syrus found me.  We talked about the universe, the stars and the moon, love and death, war and turmoil, demons and fiends.  Nearly half a century passed before he got to the point, told me his purpose in seeking me out.”  Quietly, Mickey added, “I became a Warden, second only to Syrus.  He recruited, I trained, and together we built the order.” 

“But how did you go from being a Warden on another plane, to being my grandfather in this one?” 

“A hundred years ago, or thereabouts, a demon lord escaped from the Ethereal.  We knew immediately that a lord had disappeared--there was a jarring sense of wrongness in the very mists--and at first we assumed he had been destroyed in a power struggle with his own.  But then we discovered a door had been opened, and we found which lord had done it:  Razeph, a lord of immense cruelty and ruthless ambition. He was powerful, one of the True Evil, a breed of ancients who have dwelt in the Abyss for time beyond measure, ruling by torture, torment and agony.  We blocked his portal to stop others who might wish to escape as well, though that also meant he was trapped in this realm.”  Mickey shook his head, disbelief in his voice, “It is utterly inconceivable that he found a way to leave the Abyss, and we still don't comprehend how he did the impossible.” 

“Like stealing from the Library of Souls was deemed impossible?” Taurin asked, his eyes shooting daggers toward Daniel.  Ignoring him, Daniel smiled to himself when Lily glared back in his defense. 

“I was sent to find him and the hell-spawn dog he took with him.  I'd been following his scent for decades, always just one bloody step behind, when my search landed me in Ireland.  It was so good to be home again, to see the familiar hills, smell the sea on the wind, stop for a time to remember.”  Mickey ran a hand through his hair, a soft smile curling one corner of his mouth.  “I was in Dublin, tending bar on a raucous Friday night in a local pub, when the door opened and my woman walked in.”  He paused and shook his head as if still amazed at his good fortune.  “Some lucky few get to spend many lives together, some spend many lives looking. For my part, I had long given up.”  He laughed, eyes twinkling.  “But suddenly, there she was.  Wide-eyed, travel-worn, and beautiful.  She waltzed up to the bar like she owned the place, sat down and ordered a Guinness then confessed with a beguiling smile and a husky whisper that sent shivers down my spine, that she didn’t like warm beer.  I gave her a whiskey instead.  By the end of the week I knew there was no way I could live without her.” 

“How were you able to relinquish your wardenship?”  Taurin asked. 

“I went to Syrus.  We had to do some dancing with the Highers, but I had earned some time off, a reward for centuries of service.  I agreed to keep my eyes and ears open for Razeph, to aid when I could, but someone else had to take on the task of finding the bastard.”  He smiled gently at Lily.  “I also agreed to a mortal life.  When it’s time for my beloved Grace to leave this world, we go together.” 

Stunned, Lily asked, “Does Gran know all this?” 

Mickey snorted.  “Lass, this is your grandmother.  Do you honestly think I could keep a secret like this from her?  She even knows about this.”  He reached inside his shirt and brought out a peculiar locket with wings etched onto the center oval, the piece sparkling in the firelight as it spun from a long gold chain. 

“That’s how you’re able to travel?” Lily looked across the table to Taurin.  “And you?  Is that how you can locate Daniel?” 

Taurin nodded, exchanged a quick look with Mickey, then pulled his own medallion from under his shirt.  “We aren’t sure why it can’t track Razeph, maybe he can block the device somehow, though he's a master manipulator and skilled at disguising himself behind money and power.”  Taurin shrugged.  “I know the medallion works as I had no trouble finding Valentine.” 

“I’m going out on a limb here gentlemen, but if I'm connecting the dots in the right order, do I take it you now think Cantrell is this demon lord Razeph?”  He looked from the scowling face of Mickey standing like an avenging god to the betrayed and scornful glower he was getting from Taurin. 

“A demon lord you appear to be working for,” Taurin snapped. 

“I was not working for him!” Daniel snarled.  “I was set up and blackmailed!  More to the point, we should be trying to find out why he wanted Lily’s blasted book in the first place!” 

“You could have come to me, you knew I—” 

For the third time that night, the front door burst open.  Lily jerked to her feet, then Daniel shoved her behind him as the door slammed into the back wall.  “Can’t anyone just knock?” Lily muttered. 

“Lily!” shrieked Katy as she tried to get around the large body that blocked the doorway.  Dominic’s livid gaze met Daniel's icy glare.  Lily pushed against Daniel’s back, hissing for him to get out of the way while Katy tried to squeeze between the door frame and Dom’s legs.  In a rush of determination, both women managed to get within a few yards of each other before the two men strode forward and yanked them back. 

“Will you let go, you idiot!” Lily said as she struggled against the rigid arm that held her firmly against his chest.  “No,” barked Daniel. 

“Dom, it’s Lily!  I have to go to her!  Stop holding me back!” 

“No,” growled Dom. 

Taurin had jumped to his feet when the door flew open, and now he and Mickey stood shoulder to shoulder, tensely watching the confrontation.  Eyes narrowed, Taurin swept an intent look over the two men angrily facing off.  They were evenly matched, in height, stance, attitude and fury.  

In a moment of unbelievable clarity, shocking in its truth, Taurin gasped.  “By the gods,” he whispered hoarsely, “you’re brothers!”

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

28. A Tale That Needs Telling

    As Lily waited for Katy to answer her phone, she glared at Daniel until he took the hint and walked a few feet away to give her some privacy.  She eyed Taurin as he closed in, and overheard him say something to Daniel about…a dog?  Just as they began to argue, Katy answered, panic in her voice at the call.  She had just finished telling Katy not to call the police, when her front door slammed open, crashing loudly into the back wall. 

Daniel spun away from Taurin, grabbed Lily off the sofa and wrenched her behind him before the reverberation of the door’s rebound had faded.  As the phone flew out of her hand, Lily had shrieked, more from the dizzying abruptness of Daniel’s movements then the shock of her door being bashed open twice in one night.  In the startling silence, she tried to edge around Daniel’s back, but the hand clutching her wrist tightened as he drew her closer, shielding her with his body from whatever had just come thundering through the door.

The huge figure of a man filled the doorway.  His deep auburn hair was wildly tangled and just settling across broad shoulders from his sudden entrance.  Cold, hard eyes, the green of moss encased in ice, scanned the room in one quick sweep, and Daniel knew, without a doubt, the man had just noted every detail in that short glance.  A kernel of fear twisted through his belly.  This wasn’t just a man, this was someone else entirely.  An image rose in his mind of a drawing in a book Sister Mary Margaret had given him as a boy.  This fierce man--standing with tensed muscles and massive fists, anger rolling off him in waves of barely contained violence--could have posed for that sketch of the legendary Tuatha De Danann, the warrior gods of Celtic mythology.

He didn’t even consider taking on the guy himself, but with Taurin’s help, between them they might stand a chance.  He risked taking his eyes off the man for an instant as he flicked his gaze at Taurin, standing to his left.  And was amazed to see the Warden seemed more curious than threatened, his head cocked as he stared intently at the outraged giant looming in front of them.

When Lily again made an attempt to get around him, he yanked her sharply back and hissed, “Stay behind me!”

At his words, the frozen silence was broken. The man took a long stride into the room, heading straight for Daniel.  Their gazes locked, piercing green ice meeting resolute green jade.  “If you’re fond of that hand, boyo, you’ll be letting go of the lass,” the man growled.  Daniel had a moment to wonder if he’d fallen into an alternate universe.  The accent was Irish?  And he’d just been thinking about—

His thoughts scrambled when Lily yanked her arm from his grasp, elbowed him aside and flew into the giant’s arms.  “Granddad!” she cried.  The giant enfolded her in a tight embrace and glowering at Daniel with a lethal promise, backed away until he could face both men squarely.  “You the one brought a Hell-spawned dog to my granddaughter’s door?” he snarled at Daniel.

Taurin appeared outwardly calm, though as he stared at the man who had just claimed to be Lily's grandfather, there was an uncertainty in his mind.  He was looking at a man changed, and yet familiar.

Daniel felt like his head was going to explode.  Suddenly, everything was too much to comprehend.  This giant Celtic warrior was Lily’s grandfather?  How was that even possible?  And what was wrong with Taurin, shouldn’t he be acting all Warden-like?  And for Christ’s sake, why did everyone keep harping on about some damn dog?  Too tired to keep standing, he dropped to the coffee table and stared at Lily in the massive arms of her grandfather before turning his head toward Taurin, but as he opened his mouth to say…something, though he wasn’t sure what, the Warden suddenly smiled.  “Micah?  Is it really you?”

“Wondered if you’d remember me.  Been gone nearly a century.”  The giant grinned.  “And nowadays I’m known as Mickey Donovan.”  Lily frowned in confusion as she looked up at her grandfather, but then Taurin was there and the two men clasped forearms, their smiles broad and easy.

“Where have you been?” Taurin asked.  “What happened?  One day you were there, second only to Syrus—”  He stopped, then narrowed his eyes as he stared at one of oldest Wardens in the Ethereal.  “You,” he said, “you’re the one Syrus contacted, the one who insisted on lending a hand.”

“Aye.  Syrus and I have stayed in touch over the years and once he knew who belonged to the stolen book, he had to tell me.”  His voice hardened as he glared at Daniel.  “It’s good you caught the thief so quickly.  Not so good you caught him before I did.”

Daniel had dropped his head into his hands as the conversation swirled around him.  Nothing was making any sense.  The giant was apparently another Warden, and friends with Taurin, but also Lily’s grandfather, who wanted to kill him at the first opportunity—and that was the only thing that actually did make sense.  Raising his head, Daniel saw that all three people were looking at him with varying degrees of intensity.  Sighing, he stood.  “Does anyone care that I have an explanation?  That I didn’t just steal Lily’s book for fun?”  He met the Irishman’s glare with one of his own. “Don’t you get it?  What it means that I’m the only one who could have done it?  The only one who can truly protect her?”

Ignoring her grandfather’s snort of disbelief, Daniel approached Lily and reached for her hand, turning it palm up.  He kissed the tender, soft skin of her wrist.  “I know you, I have always known you.”   Falling into the deep brown haven of her eyes, he kept his eyes locked on hers as he kissed her palm, then gently curled her fingers as if to capture the kiss in her hand.  “And you have always known me.”

“Stand away, thief.”  Mickey Donovan put his hands on Lily’s shoulders, tugging her away from Daniel.

“Granddad,” Lily said softly, “he’s right.  There’s more between us than you’re aware of.”

“You can't know that!  He’s nothing but a swindler, my girl, turning your head for some wicked purpose of his own.”

Lily moved to stand in front of Daniel.  She gave him a questioning look, and at his brief nod, lifted one side of his burned and tattered shirt, exposing his chest.  “Here’s how I know.”

Both Taurin and Mickey stepped close, bending closer to peer at the barely discernible shadow of a book under his skin.  “Daniel has already told me what led to borrowing my book,” she emphasized the word, “and he’s paid a steep price for it.  Twice now he’s been put through agony, once when the book was taken, and then just a few minutes ago when he gave it back.”  Lily swallowed audibly. “I was here for the last part and believe me, it was terrifying and excruciatingly painful.  But I saw my stories.  And he was there.”

 Taurin reached out and gently touched a finger to an edge of the outline.  Both Daniel and Taurin felt the slight tingle that rippled over his skin.  “That didn’t feel so bad,” Taurin murmured.  Daniel grunted.  “Trust me, you wouldn’t be saying that if the book was still inside me.  This,” he pointed to the shadow,” is nothing more than a fading echo of the real thing.”

The two Wardens straightened.  “But, where is it now?” Taurin asked, looking at Lily.

“Don’t ask me, I was unconscious.” Lily said.

When all eyes settled on Daniel, he sighed, then went to the sofa and carefully lifted one of the seat cushions.  The emerald green book, with “Lilith” written in a florid, golden script, lay deceptively innocuous next to a set of fireplace tongs.  “I came to before you did,” he said to Lily.  “You were sprawled across my lap with the book in your hand.  I didn’t want to touch it, but I had to make sure you were…weren’t…” he faltered and had to clear his throat before he could speak. “I shifted you enough that I could get up, grab the fireplace tongs and pull the book out of your hand.”  He took a deep, shuddering breath.  “But when I was shoving it under the cushion, you sort of convulsed and jerked off the sofa to the floor.”  Raking a hand through his hair, he whispered hoarsely, “I thought I’d killed you.”

Walking behind the sofa, Mickey leaned over the back for a closer look.  “So many people never see their books, not in all their many lives.”  He smiled at Lily.  “Yours is beautiful, lass.”  He raised furious eyes to Daniel.  “And you stole it from my precious granddaughter for an evil demon’s endgame.”

Shocked, Lily stared openmouthed at her grandfather.  Demons?  Seriously?  Had everyone gone crazy?  “Granddad,” she said slowly, “what are you talking about?  Daniel told me the whole story—a story you and Taurin need to hear before any judgments are made—and believe me, a demon wasn’t mentioned.”

“Sit Lily, Warden, you too, thief, and let me tell you a grim little story.”

Striding to a tall oak cabinet, Mickey opened the doors, selecting a whiskey from an assortment of bottles on the top shelf.  As he quickly poured a measure into four glasses, Daniel refreshed the fire, then replaced the cushion, covering the book.  He pulled Lily down next to him at the opposite end, ignoring the scowl from her grandfather as the drinks were handed around.  Taurin sat on the facing sofa, across from Daniel and Lily, and Mickey chose to stand with his back to the hearth.

      Slaintè,” the Irishman said, taking a deep swallow, as if to fortify himself. And with the fire crackling, the whiskey’s heat seeping through cold misgivings, they waited to hear Mickey Donovan’s tale.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

27. Links In The Chain

     Lily had a vague sensation of floating, dimly realized she was being lifted, held in strong arms for a moment, then gently lowered to the sofa.  Her head felt fuzzy, her thoughts muddled and confused, but the queasy rolling of her stomach concerned her most. Had she gotten some weird strain of flu? Her heart raced as the Halloween party came into focus, clearing some of the fog from her mind. What if it was food poisoning? There were so many people at the party, this could be a disaster! When she moaned, the two voices talking above her abruptly stopped. Two voices?

     “Lily?” At the sound of one she recognized, a maelstrom of pictures, thoughts and emotions began to swirl through her mind. What was happening?  What had he done to her? In the flickering images she saw herself--though not the self she was now--but a different self at other times, older times.  And through it all, as the past rolled behind her eyelids, he was there.  Always there.  Daniel Valentine.

     “Here.”  Now the other voice, gruff, deep, then a murmured thank you, and a cool, wet cloth was carefully laid over her forehead. Lily kept her eyes closed. Once she opened them, acknowledged that this was real, there would be no going back, no pretending this was a nightmare or mistaken identity; she wouldn't be able to deny that her life had just blown apart.

     “I'm sorry, Lily,” Daniel whispered near her ear, “so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t know the book would do…whatever that was. I need to explain how—”

     “Why don’t you explain to me while we wait for her to regain her senses?”

     “Taurin, I knew if anyone was coming for me, it would be you, but I can’t deal with that right now. I have to tell Lily—” Daniel’s voice broke. Lily heard him swallow, then he said, with an unmistakable menace, “I must speak with Lily, I have to protect her, and I will fight you, Taurin, with everything I am if you try to take me before I can do that.”

     Feeling the growing tension in the silence that followed Daniel’s words, Lily opened her eyes before things could get any worse.  She didn’t know who this Taurin guy was, but until she knew what was going on, nobody was going anywhere. The first thing she saw was Daniel, kneeling on the floor next to the sofa, one hand gripping the edge of the coffee table, the other in a fist next to her hip as if he were about to rise to his feet. His head was turned away as the two men scowled at each other, but when the stranger's gaze dropped and met hers, Daniel's head swung back around.

     Eyes roaming over her face, Daniel was more than pleased to see Lily was awake, alert…and it seemed very angry. Glaring, she snatched the cloth off her forehead and made as if to sit up. Before she could move however, he held her in place by running the back of his hand down her cheek as he softly murmured, “God, Lily, I was so scared.” Leaning over, stealing just a tiny moment in time, he touched his forehead to hers, his relief that she wasn’t hurt, or worse, making his head swim.

     Lily knew this man. He was familiar and comforting and oh, how she wanted to just let him take care of—

     “Get off me,” she barked, pushing at his shoulder. Daniel moved to the coffee table and sat facing her, unwilling to go too far. Lily sat up, shot him another irate look, then raised her head to glare at the other man, who looked like some kind of ancient warrior. “Who are you?”

     With an elegant bow, Taurin introduced himself. “Taurin Galatius, my lady, at your service.” At Lily’s snort, he grinned broadly. “You appear to be recovering well from your ordeal,” he remarked.

     Before Lily could respond, she noticed her front door, which was not only wide open, but had a distinctive crack in the wood around the knob and lock mechanism. Eyes narrowed, she hissed, “What happened to my door?”

     Taurin walked into the little foyer and quietly closed it. “It will need to be repaired, but look,” he said helpfully, “it still latches.”

     Lily fought the urge to just walk out of the room, crawl into bed and pull the covers over her head, hoping her life would be back to normal when she woke up in the morning. She looked from one man to the other, then said calmly, “Would one of you please hand me the phone?”

     Taurin took it out of the charging station and gave it to her. “I hope you’re not thinking about calling the cops,” Daniel said quietly, “because that would definitely require some serious explaining.”

     Ignoring him, Lily punched 1 on her speed dial. Two rings, three.  If she needed anyone right now, it was Katy.


     Dom was still standing at the window, his thoughts murderous, when two small arms encircled him. He smiled, the darkness receding.  For now.  Turning, he pulled Katy up into his arms, and after she’d wrapped her legs around his waist, he nuzzled into her delicious, intoxicating neck before gently biting the sweet spot where her shoulder began to curve.

     “Did you miss me, Red?” he murmured against her skin.

     “The bed got cold.” She kissed him. “You said you would be right back.” She pouted.
     Sucking the pouting bottom lip into his mouth, Dom began to walk toward the bedroom, but before they had made it across the living room, they were both startled at the overwhelmingly loud rendition of the William Tell overture that blasted into the quiet, early morning silence.  It took Dom a moment to realize what it was.

     Katy unwound her legs and slid down his body. “That’s Lily,” she said, walking quickly toward the phone. “Why would she be calling this late?”

     As she answered, Dom stood close, curling his hand around the back of her neck, not just for the contact, but to hear the conversation. Knowing the Hound was here and his father was no doubt on the way, it was imperative he stayed ahead in the game.

     “Lily? What’s happened? Is something wrong at the store? Are you sick? Is it your par—”

     “I need you to come,” Lily interrupted, not sounding like herself at all.

     “What is it?” Katy was already moving toward the bedroom, Dom at her heels.

     “I’ll explain when you get here, but I need you. Now.”

     Katy heard something odd in the background. “Is someone there?" Stopping so suddenly Dom almost ran her over, Katy cocked her head, listening intently. “Lil, why am I hearing two guys arguing?” Her voice dropped and with a tight whisper, she asked, “Lily, I’ll be there in ten minutes.  Should I call the police?”

     “No!” Lily cried.  Taking a deep breath, she said quietly, “No, I don't think that will help at all.  I'm fine, really.  I just need you to—”

     There was a sudden burst of noise that Katy thought sounded like Lily’s front door had just crashed open, then Lily shrieked, the two guys yelled, and the phone went dead.

     Staring wide-eyed at Dominic, Katy’s voice trembled. “Oh god, oh god, Dom.” He tried to gather her close, but amazingly was thrust aside as Katy ran into her bedroom, threw on whatever clothes were handy, and was heading toward the door while Dom stood naked at the threshold of her bedroom, still wondering how such a tiny woman had managed to shove him out of her way.

     As Katy reached for the doorknob, Dom shouted, “Stop!” Katy turned in surprise as he said brusquely, “Stay right there. Do. Not. Move.” Dancing with impatience, she opened her mouth to argue, but he said roughly, “You will not leave this apartment without me. There are…things that prowl the night. You will wait for me, Katy!”

     “Okay, but please, Dom, hurry,” Katy begged. As he rushed into the bedroom, she quickly braided her hair, heart pounding with anxiety and fear, though in a matter of moments, Dom was back. He yanked her against him, gave her a possessive kiss, then took her hand and they raced down the stairs.