Grandmother never was one for softening the blow. “Your aunt and brother are trapped in the Shadow realm. If they do not return to their bodies before the Shadows find them, their souls will be lost there forever. If the Shadows find a way to get to their bodies and infiltrate your realm, destruction and chaos will ensue.” Vivid imagery she presents but a touch extreme in my opinion.
Xandra’s face is a combination of shock, anger and fear. I wish I could wrap her in my arms and make this all go away. She has had so much thrown at her recently that it is hard to believe she is still sane. As for her aunt, I would like to shake some sense into her for playing with things she does not understand.
“How do I get them back?” Xandra asks Grandmother.
Grandmother’s explanation does not do anything to erase the worry lines from Xandra’s forehead. She wants her to go into the Shadow realm. Did I hear her correctly? Yes, I did. I believe she may have gone mad. “Grandmother, from the little I know of the Shadow realm that would be impossible. How is Xandra supposed to enter the realm without immediately being killed so her body can be used as a vessel?” Fear is starting to eclipse the other emotions on Xandra’s face. Everything except her determination. Great. She had better rescue her aunt simply so that I may kill the Cowan. This is ridiculous.
“It has never been done before. I am not sure.” Reassuring. Yes, she has gone mad.
“What do you mean it’s never been done before?” Xandra asks.
Grandmother sighs. “No one has ever wanted to travel to the Shadow realm before.”
“Is it really that bad?”
Grandmother explains the Shadow world to Xandra as thoughts scramble through my brain searching for another way. I would never suggest to Xandra that she not save her family members, but there has to be a better way than this. Unfortunately, I am drawing a blank as to what that could be. The only thing I know for certain is that she is not doing anything without my help.
I am brought out of my thoughts when Xandra says, “You mean, if I have a lot of darkness on my soul, I could come back as a dog or something?”
I cannot help but tease her. Maybe I can make her laugh a little. “Or a toad,” I say. She shoots a dirty look at me but I hardly notice because of the sharp pain that suddenly radiates in from the back of my head. “Ow!” Sure, my pain makes Xandra smile. I am not sure I like that. The conversation moves on while I rub the back of my head making sure Tabitha did not actually dent it.
“That is correct,” Tabitha nods ignoring my statement and answering Xandra’s question.
“So, these pieces of souls with darkness on them, they can still think and move around and stuff?” Xandra asks.
“They combine their energies and grow into fearsome entities of pure evil,” Grandmother explains. One of the stories she used to tell Kegan and me as children was about evil entities waiting to absorb the darkness on our souls if we did not behave. Kegan still likes to sleep with his closet door open.
“So, the Shadow realm is basically hell.”
Xandra is finally coming to grips with what she is facing. I expect her fear to increase but instead, resignation sets in. She also leans forward and bangs her forehead on the table and her head remains there. I am not sure what to say about this. Maybe Grandmother is not the only one who has gone mad.
“Xandra?” I finally say after a moment. “What are you doing?”
“Pondering my life.”
“And you have to bang your head on the table to do that?”
I try not to laugh because I know how stressed she is. “Okay. Do you think you will be joining us again anytime soon?”
Sitting up with a sigh, she says, “What do I do first?”
I do not like the fact that she said ‘I’ instead of ‘we’. “Xandra…”
She cuts me off before I can say any more. “I’m going, Kallen.”
I chuckle. I am smart enough to know that nothing is going to stop her from saving her family. “I know you are. I was simply going to say that you are not going without me.”
She smiles shyly. “You don’t have to.”
As if I could resist doing anything for her when she looks at me like that. Instead of admitting that, I say, “Alright, I will lounge back here soaking up rays on the beach while you go off alone to fight evil in the depths of hell.” Pain reverberates through my head again. Rubbing it, I give Tabitha a sour look. “I was teasing her.”
“This is no time for teasing,” she retorts with way too much amusement in her voice.
Grandmother ignores us and moves the conversation forward. “The first thing we need to do is contact your parents and then figure out a way to get them, and the bodies of your aunt and brother, through to this realm.”
Guilt breaks out on Xandra’s face. I close my eyes and shake my head. This is not going to be pretty. Grandmother’s eyes become stormy as Xandra explains that she and I can still pass through to the Cowan realm. As well as Cowans. Her sealing the gateways was only in one direction and only affects Fairies. I believe I will get out of firing range. I push my stool back from the counter with a grin.
“That is quite the little detail you forgot to mention,” Grandmother says evenly.
Kegan chooses this moment to come into the kitchen. “What are you all doing up? I thought you went to bed a couple of hours ago.”
Xandra pats the stool next to her and says, “Have a seat and I’ll fill you in.”
Kegan looks from Xandra, to Grandmother, and back to Xandra. I may tell him he is stupid from time to time, but he is too smart to take Xandra up on her offer. Instead of sitting on the stool next to her, he picks it up and moves it next to me. Sitting down, he asks, “Does she know that the more teeth you can see, the madder Grandmother is? What did she do?” And then he starts laughing. “Do not tell me you already have to move from being left hand-fasted to right hand-fasted.”
“I wish,” I mumble with a grin.
Perhaps I should have not responded so loudly because Xandra has pulled magic and it is coming towards Kegan and me. I try to move but I am not fast enough. Both Kegan and I find ourselves on our backs on the floor. It is a good thing I have a thick scull considering the abuse it is taking.
I am no longer amused. “Was that necessary?” I ask her as I stand up and pick up my stool.
She smiles. “Yes. Yes, it was.”
Grandmother clears her throat, bringing our attention back to her. Her cheeks are now flushed in anger. “Getting back to the topic at hand, since it is possible for Witches and Cowans to transverse realms, perhaps we should proceed with contacting your parents.”
Kegan sits back on the stool he just put upright. “Witches and Cowans? I thought Xandra…”
“We all did,” Grandmother practically growls. Kegan moves his stool even farther back from the counter. I may have to stop telling him he is stupid altogether.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I just wanted my family to be able to come here if they wanted. You know, in case there’s ever a reason…” Xandra hesitates and bites her bottom lip. I am extremely curious as to what she was about to say.
Grandmother’s eyebrows travel up her forehead and she looks at Xandra expectantly. Xandra’s cheeks are redder than I have ever seen them. Realizing that Grandmother is not going to say another word until she finishes her sentence, Xandra finally says, “Fine, in case Kallen and I do get right hand-fasted.” A warm glow spreads through me as I catch her eye. This is definitely in our future.
“Aw, that is so disgustingly sweet,” Kegan says. Without hesitation, I punch him hard in the arm. He glares at me as he rubs the spot that I hit.
“Xandra,” I have rarely heard Grandmother use this tone of voice. It is her voice that says I am counting to a thousand in my head and then I will decide if I am still going to kill you or not. There were a few times when we were younger that Kegan and I prompted the use of this voice. The most memorable being the time we blew up an entire wing of the house because we tried magic we were too young to perform. If Grandmother had not been so tired after restoring it, we would have been killed way before she reached a thousand.
“After you.” Grandmother does a sweeping motion with her hand. Xandra looks leery to walk in front of her but after a moment she relents. She has nothing to worry about. Grandmother would never attack someone’s back. She would want to make sure her target knew it was her.
Kegan and I follow the two of them. At a safe distance. We do not want to get caught in a backlash of anger. Kegan slaps my arm with the back of his hand and asks, “Is she really going to open a gateway?”
His awe of Xandra gets on my nerves. I still have not forgotten his attempt to steal her away. “Yes, with the sole purpose being to send you through it,” I smirk. Now it is me rubbing my arm. Kegan has a mean punch when he is really pissed.
I am about to make a scathing comment when Tabitha says, “Boys, you behave or I will shove you both through and let you stew there for a few years.” Out of fear of her smacking us in the back of the head more than anything, Kegan and I put on our best innocent faces. This earns us an eye roll and a chuckle from Tabitha.
Grandmother on the other hand is not nearly as amused. “Shall we get on with this?” she says impatiently. I am definitely keeping my distance from her today.
Xandra nods and closes her eyes. Reaching her hand out and then back, she tears the fabrics of the realms until her childhood home is visible. It will never stop amazing me that she can do this. Kegan, seeing it for the first time, is dumbstruck.
“Mom, Dad!” Xandra calls out and in seconds her parents are in front of her in their transparent glory. I think Kegan may pass out. I am tempted to prop him up against the terrace just in case.
“Xandra, thank god! Zac and Aunt Barb aren’t waking up,” her mother says. That terrified look in her eyes is about to get worse when she finds out where her son truly is.
“I know. Aunt Barb came to me a little while ago. They’re trapped in the Shadow realm and Kallen and I are going in after them. But, Mom, we need to bring Zac and Aunt Barb’s bodies here. You and Dad, too.”
Completely ignoring her daughter, Xandra’s mother says to Grandmother, “What is she talking about? I’m not bringing my son’s body anywhere. Or Barb’s.” I barely withhold an eye roll. How does she think she will be able to protect them in her non-corporeal form?
Xandra tries again. “Mom, the Fairies can better protect their bodies while Kallen and I look for their spirits.”
I want to groan out loud. Her mother is prideful and stubborn. She does not want to hear that she cannot protect her child. I know this from experience.
Grandmother shoots Xandra a dirty look before turning back to her mother. “What your daughter is trying to say is there are many Fairies here to watch over them. You will be here to make sure that they are fine, but if the Shadows escape, it will take more than a couple of magical beings to stop them. Letting them loose in a Cowan dominated realm is too dangerous.”
Xandra gives her mother a pleading look. “Please, Mom. I know you’re worried, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing that a bunch of people are helping you look out for them?”
With less effort than I thought it would take, Xandra’s mother relents. The next hiccup is her father’s concerns about Dagda. Well founded concerns unfortunately. He will be just as displeased to have her parents here as they are to come. Tabitha assures them that Dagda will not be a problem but that may be a difficult promise to keep. Dagda is not easily tamed and he is King of the realm.
When it is finally settled, I follow Xandra through the gateway and into the cold Cowan winter of her realm. The snow is knee deep so my shorts and t-shirt are not quite compatible with the weather. I do not plan to be here long enough to bother changing though.
Xandra opens the front door and leads me to the far end of the house where the garage and her aunt’s lab is. I had not been in this part of the house during my brief stay. Mostly out of lack of interest but also to respect her aunt’s work space. Assessing the room, I have to say that her aunt has some rather clever looking machines. I have no idea what they do nor do I care enough to ask. All I know is that they helped make this mess that Xandra now has to fix. I am tempted to take my frustration out on them but I somehow refrain. Mostly because I believe it would anger Xandra.
Her brother and aunt are sitting peacefully on reclining chairs. It is hard to imagine that their bodies are just empty shells right now. They are still breathing on their own and they do not seem to be in any physical distress. There are simply no souls in their bodies.
“I can’t believe Aunt Barb let Zac be in here when she tried this,” Xandra says shaking her head.
Her father, whom we did not know followed us in here, startles us when he says, “We thought the same thing, but I believe she was tinkering and it just sort of happened. She hadn’t said a word to your mother or me about doing any experimentation today.” She should not have been doing any type of experiments at all on things she does not understand. I wisely keep that thought to myself.
Xandra looks up at me. “I’ll take Zac if you’ll carry Aunt Barb.”
That is already a given. I smile to myself at the thought of Xandra carrying a woman taller and a bit stockier than herself. Scooping her aunt up into my arms, I wait for Xandra to lift her brother. It takes her several attempts to find a position where she can carry his unconscious weight. I keep my face schooled the entire time. With the way her nerves are stretched at the moment, she would probably draw enough magic to toss me over the mountain if I laughed at her expense.
I walk slowly to make sure that she can keep up with me. I wait outside the front door for her to pass and then I pull the door closed after us. Xandra and her parents would be greatly displeased to have their house invaded by animals seeking shelter from the cold. I use magic to turn the door lock as well.
Stepping back through the gateway, I gesture to Kegan with my head and he takes Zac from Xandra’s arms. With a quick nod to Xandra, Kegan and I bring her aunt and brother into the house. We carry them upstairs to one of Grandmother’s many guest rooms and set them both down on the large bed. Neither of their bodies has shown any sign of life this whole time other than their soft, shallow breaths. Eerie is the best word to describe them at the moment. Their skin is deathly pale which is emphasized by the forest green comforter underneath them. That is definitely going to up the worry quotient for Xandra and her parents.