“Ugh, this is so lame,” Mina said, simultaneously slumping down into her chair and folding her arms over her chest. She wouldn’t make eye contact with Agent Berg, and she smacked her gum in the noisiest, most nerve-grinding way possible. However, the pulse jumped at her throat like a trapped prisoner, and her right knee bounced up and down; a physical manifestation of her nerves.
Agent Berg sat back, relaxed, a calm presence amidst the miasma of teenage insubordination, like a Zen master watching a bull in a China shop. I reckon after dealing with supe criminals, one teen was more like a molehill than a mountain. I could only inwardly writhe with embarrassment at her behavior, but I also understood where she was coming from—though that didn’t mean I condoned it.
He was calling me, her guardian, into question in her mind, and she was doing her best to slam the proverbial door in his face.
“It’s okay, Mina, he just needs to know if you saw or heard anything,” I said to reassure her, though she leveled a look my way that plainly said; ‘Are you really falling for that?’ Authority figures in Drakken clans tended to do major wrong toward half-kins, and the feelings of resentment sometimes bled onto authority figures in other areas. It didn’t help that Agent Berg was a double threat: full-blood and government agent.
She turned her gaze from me back toward Agent Berg, who patiently waited for her reply. Mina scowled, sat up, and leaned forward, her hands moving to clench the sides of the chair.
“Erryn told you we didn’t see or hear anything, we were watching cartoons. That’s the story and it’s not going to change no matter how many times or ways you ask me. Capiche?” She nearly yelled in his face and stood up, fast, almost knocking the chair over. Her jaw was clenched and her cheeks were flushed.
Resentment and enmity burned through the air hotter and faster than a backdraft, while her sclera and iris bled to the color of rubies illuminated by firelight. The pupils widened to draw in more light, and unlike Meriel’s they were not slit, but remained round. Tendrils of smoke curled from the corners of her mouth and nostrils, like lazy, noxious snakes.
The speed at which the situation intensified took my breath away, and I quickly moved to stand between Mina and Agent Berg. Since we were the same height, the shorter side of six foot, we were eye to eye. The bones shifted beneath the surface of her slightly rippling skin, ready to make the full transition to her dragon form—ready to fight and kill the threat to her territory and guardian.
She was scared, emotional, and still learning to control her powers, but if anyone got their face torn off tonight the only acceptable option would be mine. I kept my arms loose at my side with the palms of my hands turned toward her, and made no move to ward off an attack—a complete surrender to her choice.
“While we may not agree on many things, Mina, I can promise you this man has made no threats to any of us, or our home,” I said, voice low, neutral, and reasonable. It was a hard line to walk, landing somewhere between condescension and overly authoritative; either one of those might provoke an anger, instead of fear, response, and merely compound the situation.
“He will take us from you!” she growled and hissed, the terror of what the situation might yield finally bursting to the surface like pus bursting from an infected wound. Mina clacked her teeth back together, and clenched them against the pain of her jaw on the verge of elongating to accommodate a different jaw structure, and bigger, sharper, deadlier teeth.
“Then I will fight for you, Mina, all three of you!” I replied vehemently enough that it rocked her back a moment and she blinked, long and surprised. “I love you girls with everything in my soul, and I will go to the ends of the Earth and beyond to see you happy and healthy, in mind, body, and heart,” I softly continued, but my voice remained steely and heartfelt. “I would darken my soul and bloody my hands to keep you safe, but let that be my burden and not yours. Please, Mina, you have a whole life ahead of you filled with joy, sorrow, laughter, and tears. Don’t throw it away here, like this,” I finished, the words leaving me like a final prayer spoken on a person’s last breath.
She slowly relaxed her shoulders, until they slumped like a person who just got out of an actual knockdown, drag out fight. She closed her eyes and kept them that way for what was an eternity to my adrenaline heightened senses, but in reality was only ten to fifteen seconds. When they opened again, they were the usual dark brown of roasted coffee beans, and full to the brim with tears.
“I’m so sorry, Erryn, I—” she choked, and let out a sob. I moved forward to hug her, but she stepped back and shook her head. “I’ll completely come apart if you hug me, and I’ve embarrassed myself enough for one day.” Her cheeks flushed once more, this time from chagrin, and moved to stand where she could see Agent Berg. I turned to look at him as well.
He’d known better than to draw our attention during the crisis, and hadn’t moved a muscle. I don’t know if he fixed his face before we turned, or if his balls of steel disseminated the triple threat of cool, calm, and collected throughout his body like a drug, but his expression hadn’t changed, either. Then the realization that I’d thought of him and his balls in the same speculation made me blush, again. What is it with this guy that he can make me react like a schoolgirl with a crush?
“I apologize, Agent Berg, for my poor behavior. However, my story is the same: we saw and heard nothing until the police searched the back area,” Mina said, chastened.
“I appreciate the apology,” Agent Berg said, his smooth southern accent lending a heavier sense of sincerity to the words. “However,” he said, mimicking her with a small smile at the corner of his mouth, looking much the same as he had when he complimented my apron, “I still need to speak with Talitha, then Meriel.”
She looked to me and I gave her a reassuring nod, and she walked away. The only way she could have looked more dejected is if she had a tail to tuck between her legs like a chastised dog.
Teenagers. A constant source of excitement.
The two of us remained silent, though I did move back to my original position, and we waited for Talitha. Her story was much the same as Mina’s, though more hesitant and worried, rather than defensive and full of ire. She fidgeted and squirmed, as though she’d been placed in front of a classroom by the teacher for doing something wrong. He asked her a couple of additional questions beyond what he’d asked Mina, but didn’t pressure or coerce her. The answers remained the same and, satisfied, he asked for Talitha to send out Meriel.
Being so young, Meriel realized something was wrong, or amiss, but was more confused about the ruckus than scared. She proceeded to go on a lengthy dissertation on the cartoons they were watching when my doorbell rang.
I jumped, again, and looked toward the clock. It was still a little too early for Danika, though it could be them.
Meriel and Agent Berg both gave me questioning looks of, ‘Are you going to answer that?’
I blew out a sigh and headed to the door, and proceeded to do the same ninja approach to looking out the side window, just in case. Another sigh, and I opened the door to a well-dressed Lord Kieran, snazzy business suit-clad Danika, and an older gentleman that looked as though he stepped out of a library cared for by monks. Slightly hunched in the shoulders and holding a dark-stained wooden cane in his left hand, he benignly smiled and held out his age wrinkled right hand.
“Lovely to meet you, Claviger Erryn,” he murmured, his voice meant for the quiet hush of rooms filled to the ceiling with ancient tomes. The title surprised me, as I generally only heard it at formal gatherings and rarely even then. It was another name for a warden, or one who keeps keys. For Drakken, it was the title given to half-kin guardians. “My name is Voss, and I am the Keeper for the blue clans,” he finished.
I reached out and shook his warm hand, soft from turning pages instead of calloused from physically intensive activities. He was that washed out beige coloring that people with naturally tan skin had when they stayed indoors too long away from sunlight. Keeper was short for Keeper of Knowledge, and they were clan historians and lore masters.
“The pleasure is mine,” I returned, and moved back from the doorway to allow them entrance. I nodded to my other two guests; “Lord Kieran, Provost Danika, welcome.”
They moved beyond me into the foyer, and waited for me to close the door and lead the way into the kitchen. When we entered a few things happened at once: Agent Berg and Meriel twisted to watch us as we came through the doorway; the adults behind me stiffened in surprise, which was mirrored by the look of astonishment on Agent Berg’s face, and Meriel let out an ear-splitting, “Papa!”
No one moved as the little girl ran toward him, and he collected her in a hug and rushed out of the room as though it had suddenly caught fire. As everyone remained still as a statue, I glanced between the two and Agent Berg in utter confusion.
The soft wrinkles around Voss’ mouth gathered as he frowned in regret, and his bushy white eyebrows lowered in sorrow over watery, pale blue eyes. A fine tremble came over his hands as they tightened ever so slightly on the curve of the cane, and though it sent a flash of agony through his eyes, he did his best to straighten to his full height. It gave the dark gray suit he wore a less frumpy look now that it was stretched out a touch, and the man gave one slow, deep nod in Agent Berg’s direction, but offered no more than that.
Danika simply had the deepest loathing in her eyes, like a bottomless pit of venom. “We do not interact with the Nameless! Why is he here?!” She turned that look to me, the one I had seen released especially for me on more than one occasion, and my confusion morphed into an odd sense of over-protectiveness for a guest in my house.
“Because he works for the DSR and they were called in after the bakery incident. I have no idea what this Nameless thing is, but he is my guest and I expect better manners than that from you,” I spat back, though my words were far braver than the intense beating of my heart.
She is going to kill me, I inwardly squeaked as she took a step toward me and my mouth dried out. My breathing was shallow and fast, and I almost moved back a step until Agent Berg’s calming presence moved up behind me.
“I came over to get a statement and nothing more, Danika. I was performing my duties as a DSR agent and liaison, and Erryn was merely cooperating,” he said.
“You dare speak my name? You are defiled, unclean, and Nameless! Drakken everywhere are made lesser by your existence,” she hissed out, low and mean.
It was just the slightest of movements behind me, but Voss must have seen something in Agent Berg that I could not, because he lifted his cane and slammed the bottom of it on the tile. The sharp sound caught Danika’s and Agent Berg’s attention enough to stop whatever might have happened, and they looked toward the Keeper.
“That is enough. Danika, we are here as guests and shall behave as such,” he said, voice intense but never gaining in volume, and it brooked no argument.
Danika looked as though she’d bitten down on something slimy, but closed her mouth and nodded. Though Voss had not addressed him, Agent Berg murmured an agreement. The old man smiled and looked to me.
“Help me to the table, child, and we’ll see if we can pick an old codger’s brain to figure out what mischief is going on,” Voss said, and held out an arm.
I respectfully obliged and helped him over the table. While Danika and Agent Berg went to opposite ends of the table, like enemies setting up camp on different sides of a river, I hurried into the kitchen to finish cooking dinner.
Who knew? Maybe if I hurried we’d get through the meal without having to clean blood and body parts off my floor.