Leaning against the door frame, Lily watched Katy lace up her worn, scuffed hiking boots. Katy had used this guestroom so many times, the closet was filled with an assortment of her clothes and shoes. Deciding to dress for a trek into an unknown landscape, they layered their clothes, wore sturdy boots and planned to carry a few essentials.
Standing, Katy shook down one leg of her jeans until it settled over the high top of the boot, then hands on hips, she glared at Lily. “How long have they been gone?”
Lily looked at her watch. “Twenty minutes. Granddad said he wouldn’t have any trouble tracking the creature, so it shouldn’t be too much longer.”
“That’s twenty more minutes Dom has been in Hell.” Katy absently wound her long braid around her hand. “What do you think is happening to them?” she whispered. Lily could only shake her head, afraid to acknowledge the nightmares that scuttled at the edge of her thoughts.
“I don’t know exactly what kind of experience Daniel has had in the Abyss, but he’s spent most of his life in and out of the Ethereal. Best case scenario, between the two of them, they should be able to hold their own.” She blew out a breath. “Worse case? They kill each other before we get there.”
With a snort, Katy grabbed a jacket and a small pack off the bed. “Let’s get something to eat while we wait for the bossy and rude Warden guy to show up.”
Lily smiled as they walked down the hall toward the kitchen. “I can’t believe you’re actually hungry.”
“It’s not that so much as I just don’t want to be tempted to eat any seeds or berries and end up stuck like what’s her name.”
“Persephone. But Hades had kidnapped her. I’m sure she didn’t really believe a few pomegranate seeds would be enough to trap her in Hel—” Lily abruptly stopped speaking. After a short pause, she murmured, “Good thinking. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to eat a little something before we leave, just to cover all the bases.”
They stood at one end of the table, staring down the length. Bizarrely, it looked as if everyone had just stepped away for a moment, mugs still marking their places. With a sigh, Katy began to clear the table while Lily took out some bread and the toaster. They worked silently for several minutes, each absorbed in her own thoughts.
Katy made one final swipe across the polished wood, then Lily brought a tray loaded with toast, jam, silverware, two mugs and a pot of tea and set them on the clean table. She went back for two small plates and they settled down across from each other. Spreading a thick layer of jam on her toast, Katy said quietly, “What do you think about all this, Lil? I can’t believe that just yesterday morning all I could think about was the Halloween party and being with Dom…” Her voice trailed off, eyes shimmering in the low kitchen light, toast forgotten in the hand half-raised toward her mouth.
“I don’t know what to think. There’s so much to take in, even about my grandfather, that I just can’t wrap my head around any of it.” She reached over and gave Katy’s hand a light squeeze. “Remember what my father used to say when we were kids?”
Katy frowned. “Vive la France?”
Lily laughed, the unexpected sound echoing around the kitchen. It only took a moment before Katy joined in, both women laughing until they were doubled over. “God, Lil, I really needed that,” Katy was finally able to gasp, “though I guess I don’t remember what he used to say.”
“Être aussi audacieux que le tournesol,” Lily said, picturing her father standing in a field of brilliant yellow giants, arms spread wide as he smiled down at two rapt little girls.
“That’s right,” Katy grinned, “he was always telling us to be as bold as a sunflower.” Then she added, “Though he also said Vive la France every chance he got.” They smiled at each other across the table, tension and anxiety briefly overshadowed by happy childhood memories. In the quiet, Lily savored her toast and jam, then as she poured tea into both mugs, she said wistfully, “Remember the year my father took us—”
Katy suddenly surged to her feet, staring toward the living room. “I can smell that foul dog thing,” she hissed. Without a second thought, she grabbed her butter knife and stormed out of the kitchen. Lily, one step behind, didn’t even pause as she wrenched the largest butcher knife out of the wooden block on the counter and followed.
Mickey stared in amazement at the two women and their impromptu weaponry. “What exactly was your plan then? Chop the beastie into wee pieces, then butter him?”
“More or less,” Katy replied. “Though I was thinking more chopping, less buttering.”
As her grandfather smiled with approval, Lily frowned, waving her hands in front of her face. “Granddad, you reek of acrid smoke and rotten eggs.”
“I had to hold the filthy git until Taurin caught up. He fought like a rabid dog and now my clothes will need burning and it will take more than one scrubbing to rid myself of the stench.” He sighed regretfully. “I had hoped to postpone the inevitable confrontation with your grandmother, but that prayer won’t be answered.” He looked down at the dirt and grime. “She’ll smell me coming before I get within a hundred yards.”
“Where’s that Warden?” Katy asked with a scowl. “He’d better be coming back.”
“He returned the creature.” Mickey had a devilish look in his eye and a smirk curled his lips. “He was heading for the rim of the Abyss, and I believe his intent was to drop the fiend in…er, off and then rejoin us.” But then his mood dampened. Somberly, he looked first at Katy, then at his beloved granddaughter. “I’ve been rethinking this scheme, lassies. There must be another way to—”
“There is no other way,” Lily said. “I’m the only one who can return the book, and I’m not leaving Daniel to suffer a horrible fate because he was tricked into stealing it, or for trying to help his new brother.”
“And I’m the only one who can find Dom.” Pacing, Katy muttered, “If we can get that blasted Warden back here before Hell freezes over—”
“A good portion of it is already frozen,” a strident voice barked from the broken front door. Taurin stood at the entrance, angry, disheveled and possibly reeking worse than Mickey. It was clear his centuries-old calm and orderly demeanor had been replaced by a surly, belligerent attitude. He glared at Katy, who returned the look as she snapped, “Well, at last, the taxi has arrived.” Taurin narrowed his eyes and took a step toward her, but Lily quickly intervened.
“Warden, did you see or hear anything of Daniel, or Dominic?” she asked.
He continued to stare at Katy for a tense moment, then turned to answer Lily. “No, but I wasn’t there long. I just dropped the hound and came back.” He looked at Mickey. “I should have gone to Syrus, but if we’re continuing with this foolishness, I’m counting on the element of surprise to divert his wrath.”
“Syrus will see reason,” Mickey said, “though I reckon it will take some convincing.” He swept his hand out in a gesture encompassing Katy and Lily as he smiled broadly. “Let them do the talking.”
“Great,” Taurin muttered. Resigned, he asked Mickey if he was prepared to leave. At the affirmative nod, he stood in front of the man and placed a firm hand on his shoulder. “I’ve never been to your home Warden, so you must guide us. Touch the medallion when you’re ready.”
“I would love a hug, Granddad, but under the circumstances, if you don’t mind I’ll wait until we get back.” Lily smiled at her grandfather, suddenly feeling a bit uneasy without him guarding her back.
“Keep your head, lass, and don’t take any unnecessary risks. Syrus will not fail you, you have but to listen to him.” Mickey winked at Katy. “That goes for you too, my girl.” He raised his hand toward the medallion, but before he touched it, he said softly, “I love you both. God speed.” The instant his fingers made contact, both men vanished.
Katy dashed into the kitchen and retrieved her small pack. Wrapping the last slices of toast in a napkin, she stuffed them inside a side pocket. Wordlessly, Lily handed her two water bottles and a handful of bandages, then lifting her shirt, she picked the book up off the table and tucked it into a pouch that was buckled around her waist. After checking the other items inside, she zipped it closed and shifted the pouch into a more comfortable position. As prepared as possible, they walked out to the living room and waited nervously for the Warden's return.
“Are you scared?” Katy asked quietly, adjusting the shoulder straps on her pack.
“No. You?” Lily murmured, fidgeting with the zipper tab on her jacket.
They looked at each other, then laughed.
“Terrified?” Katy asked, grinning.
“I’m glad you both find this so amusing,” Taurin growled, appearing without a sound at the front door. “We’ll see how funny you find Syrus.” He stalked toward them with a certain satisfaction at their impending doom and gripped a wrist in each hand.
The front door shifted gently in a nebulous breath of air, then only a hushed stillness remained to fill the empty, silent rooms.