Ashes were all that remained of the once grand manor of the Dalrymple family. William could still smell the traces of fire on the air, as if the barrier surrounding this site froze it in time. Glancing over to Aiden and Daniel he noted how pale the Medium looked, well paler. William could never remember seeing Aiden with a tan.
“It’s not here,” Edmond called out from the center of the ash pile.
They’d come to this site of ruin in the search of a Mirror Bowl, a magical tool used to communicate over long distances by mages. The only way it worked was if you had the twin bowl. They had the first one—retrieved by Marcus and Edmond two months ago during their search for Aiden’s stolen books—and were presently ruling out the four locations it could be. This was the first place they were checking.
“I could’ve told you that,” Aiden snapped. William couldn’t remember ever hearing the Medium sounding so irritated. Of course they were trespassing on what was essentially a mass grave for his family. “Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry,” William heard Daniel, his cousin and their leader of sorts, whisper to Aiden as he wrapped his arms around the Goth man. “We had to rule this out though.”
Aiden didn’t say anything else.
William followed behind the pair, giving them enough room to allow Daniel to talk with Aiden in private. Ever since Queen Rebecca declared Marcus, Zachary, and him Daniel and Aiden’s guardians he’d taken it seriously. Even if that meant giving up what he wanted.
Around the time of the queen’s prophecy William had received a job offer from a company on the other side of the world. He’d been seriously considering it too. He also had a lover at the time.
He had neither now.
He’d turned down the job offer as soon as he could. As for his lover, well they’d drifted apart. It was hard to keep a relationship going when you had to keep so many secrets. What with his position as his cousin Daniel’s bodyguard, and the fact they were mages he had a lot of secrets. He couldn’t blame the guy for not sticking around when he had to cancel at the last minute to rush off to be with Daniel and Aiden. Anyone would be upset. Especially if they were given no explanation besides “it’s family.”
“Where are we going to check next?” Marcus asked coming up alongside William with his lover Edmond.
“The Library of Records,” Zachary suggested. William noted a hint of unease in his voice. Why his cousin was on edge William couldn’t guess. Zachary was a weird one.
“Okay,” Daniel agreed.
It wasn’t uncommon for Zachary’s advice to pan out so they often listened to him. This time though something felt different. Maybe it was because of the way he was looking at William? Like he knew some important information but couldn’t figure out how to say it.
“What?” William finally asked when they’d reached their vehicles.
“Huh?” Zachary blinked going to his car and opening it. “I didn’t say anything.”
“But you want to,” William frowned.
Zachary looked around to the others. William noted that the other four were locked in conversation. No doubt making some kind of plans. Jealousy sparked within William at the happy sight Marcus and Daniel made beside their lovers.
When Zachary stepped up to him he startled. His cousin was pressed close, his mouth grazing his ear. “He’s coming soon. When he does, don’t run from him. Embrace what’s yours.”
Before William could ask what the hell Zachary was talking about Zachary stepped back and climbed into his car. He shouted a quick goodbye to the others, and pinned William with a fierce look before taking off.
Thoroughly confused, William unlocked his Range Rover and opened the door. He waited for Daniel and Aiden to get into Daniel’s car before following them out. Marcus had driven off first, Daniel behind him. William brought up the tail. As they drove he watched as Aiden laughed in the passenger seat. Daniel reached over and grasped Aiden’s hand, bringing it to his mouth and kissing it.
“Damn it, watch the road,” William griped. He knew Daniel was a safe driver, but this was asking for something to happen.
The drive back to Shady Forest took three hours. They could’ve easily transported themselves there using magic, but due to Aiden’s inability to use the craft normally Daniel had opted to have everyone drive. William saw it as a huge risk personally. Powers only knows what could happen on these back country roads.
Finally arriving back at Daniel and Aiden’s house William got out of his vehicle and stretched. He hated long car rides, always preferring to use magic to travel long distances. This time though it wasn’t like he had a choice.
The call of an owl drew William’s attention away from his sore muscles. Smiling at Vesta, his family, William held out his arm for her to land. She hooted in irritation. “Sorry to make you wait for me.”
Vesta ruffled up as if in disagreement with William’s apology. There wasn’t anything he could do about it though. All of their familiars had stayed behind for this trip. They figured it would be safer and less suspicious if they traveled like mundanes—humans without magical abilities.
“Hey William, you staying for dinner?” Aiden called over to him.
“Sure,” William answered. He needed to talk a few things over with Daniel anyways.
Motioning for Vesta to move to his shoulder, William headed for the small cottage but froze when the wind suddenly picked up and swirled into a small twister in the yard. He didn’t remain stunned long though. Moving fast, he rushed to Aiden even as Daniel moved to protect him.
Standing beside his cousin, William readied himself to attack whatever or whoever appeared. He stilled when a young man, covered in blood from injuries fell from the torrent and landed unconscious on the ground.
“Who the hell?” Daniel gaped.
“Nevada?” Aiden stepped around them. “Nevada!” he shouted upon getting a closer look at the man. “Daniel, call a healer.”
“Okay,” Daniel hesitated a second before going inside to make the call.
“Who is he?” William asked going to the man’s side and picking him up. He looked down at a face that probably was extremely beautiful when it wasn’t bruised and smeared in blood. The injuries probably also were why William was having a hard time placing the man’s face.
“Nevada Gallo,” Aiden said, brushing Nevada’s black hair aside. “He’s the third son of the Gallo family, and an ally to my family.”
William went on high alert with that. An ally of the Dalrymple family turns up out of the blue, wounded and unconscious? That didn’t bode well.
He also felt a bit confused at the knowledge that this was Nevada Gallo. William recalled seeing the young lord a few times at gatherings, but never really paid him any attention.
“Where’s Melody?” Aiden suddenly asked looking about frantically.
William stood perfectly still as Aiden started searching through Nevada’s clothes. A small, pitiful chirp sounded from his inner pocket and Aiden quickly reached within, pulling out an azure winged magpie. The bird was in just as bad condition as her master.
“Oh, by the powers, what happened to them?” Aiden whispered as he cradled the bird to his chest and headed inside.
With nothing else to do, William followed Aiden inside carrying Nevada with him. Daniel motioned for him to set the injured man on the couch while Aiden got a basket from a closet and made a makeshift nest for the familiar. He placed Melody, now in the basket, on the table beside the couch.
“I need to call my family,” he said though he made no move to do so.
William watched Aiden as he watched Nevada for a few minutes before sighing. “I’ll do it.” He didn’t get a response. Shaking his head, William reached for his cell and made a call he just knew was going to lead to trouble.
* * * *
Voices, far off at first but slowly growing in intensity, were the first things Nevada processed. His pulse instantly spiked as memories of pain and blood flooded him before his eyes opened and he bolted up ready to defend himself against an attack.
“Easy there,” a kind, motherly voice soothed him as a firm hand anchored him back down to the comfortable softness beneath him. “You’re safe Nevada. We’ve sent people to check on your family.”
“No! Call them back,” Nevada panicked. “They don’t know. They can’t know! I need to find Natalie Dalrymple. It’s urgent.”
“Hey, it’s me.” Nevada finally looked over to the woman holding him steady and felt himself fill with relieve upon seeing the matriarch of the Dalrymple family. He’d made it. “What’s going on?”
“My family doesn’t know I’m here, or that I was attacked,” Nevada spoke quickly. “They can’t know about this. They’ll be a target to.”
“Targeted by who?” Mathew, Natalie’s husband, asked. He wasn’t an intimidating looking man, but Nevada knew he was a powerful mage in his own right.
“Eirik Gunvald,” Nevada answered.
The gasps and curses he heard were followed by the sound of someone giving orders to a group of people. Nevada looked over his shoulder and quickly looked away when he saw the four princes looking at him. One in particular, Prince William, seemed pissed by his news. It wasn’t that Nevada wanted to be the messenger. He was just the only one that knew.
“What do you know?” Natalie asked, her voice hard but her touch gentle.
Nevada shook his head. He wasn’t even sure what he knew. All he knew was he’d been patrolling his section of the Nether, like routine, and he’d stumbled upon something new. Before he could get too close though he’d been attacked by a man fitting the description given by Lord Edmond and Prince Marcus during their time in the Nether two months ago.
“I think I found one of their bases,” Nevada said, uncertainty lacing his words.
“You think?” It was Prince William that spoke, his voice filled with rejection.
“Why else would I be attacked?” Nevada demanded as he stood up in defense. Instantly he regretted it. His head swam and his vision blurred before he fell back down to the couch. “I heard people talking, something about pulling someone out and not having contact for a while now,” he continued.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Aiden said, stepping forward and kneeling in front of Nevada. He smiled up at him.
Since the Dalrymple’s had revealed themselves to still be alive Nevada and his family had renewed their bond with them. Both the Gallo and the Dalrymple families worked to protect the Nether. The Gallo family, the House of the Rooster, were the watchers of the Nether. It was their job to keep an eye out for any negative influences and act before something could happen.
When they failed to stop an incident, it became the Dalrymple family’s job to quell and contain the threat.
Due to their intersecting responsibilities their families had always been close. The loss of the Dalrymples had been keenly felt by the Gallo family. Of course now a few things made sense. Like how certain issues were dealt with without outside involvement. Even in hiding Natalie had continued her family’s work.
Nevada admired her for that.
“Tulia said you need to rest,” Aiden continued. “You and Melody both were severely injured.”
That’s right, his familiar. Looking around the room, he spotted her sleeping in a basket with blankets in it. Reaching for the basket, he pulled it to his chest and cradled it to him. Melody had tried to protect him when one of the men attacked, taking the brunt of an ice spell directly. One of her wings were bandaged and the other was in a splint.
“She’ll be flying again in a few days’ time,” Aiden spoke softly. “Tulia also said you should take that time to recover. William’s agreed to let you stay at his place until you’re cleared and back in good health.”
Dread filled Nevada’s stomach as he looked over his shoulder to see William still glaring at him. Something told Nevada that the prince hadn’t offered his place because he was worried about Nevada and his familiar. No, he wouldn’t doubt if William was suspicious of him.
“Um, a hotel will be fine,” Nevada said, hoping to avoid the uncomfortable situation of staying with a man that obviously didn’t like him. Not that Nevada could understand why. He couldn’t remember ever having a conversation with the man, let alone doing anything to cause him to distrust him.
“No, you need to be protected,” Daniel said, shooting him down. “If what you say is true, and you do know where Eirik and his group are staying, then you are an important witness for us. William will guard you while you heal.”
But would he guard him from danger or would he be guarding Aiden and Daniel from Nevada?