Though he didnt want to, Doon knew he had to flee.
With the pottery cup tucked safely in the lining pocket of his wool uniform, he took the form of a hooded crow and flew out the tower window. He knew he had only a few minutes before she realized the cup was moving. Power like that leaves a wake that even the blind can follow.
Above the forest that stretched out over the land like a vast ocean, he soared silently. Going past the trees with their branches reaching up to the sky like prayers and leaves melting from rich greens into honey and syrupy hues. The air was drying out and cool. The quiet sun was dim against a graying sky. It was Autumn in Tir Na Nog. The land was dying.
A wail like the unified lament of all the mothers of stillborn babies erupted behind him. The sorrow of the howl hit him like a fist and made his body pulse in convulsions. He wanted to throw up. To beat his head against anything. The despair that the cry had seeped into his pores, casting its spell of poison. His bird body crashed hard into the top of a tree and changed back to his true shape. The branches were not strong enough to hold up his humanoid form and snapped under his weight. Down he went.
For a moment he stopped caring about his fall. He stopped caring that from this height the impact would probably break his neck and kill him. For a moment he hoped that the crash would kill him and he would no longer have to feel anything any more. His heart was drowning in not only the spell but in his self loathing.
A flash of Marcus with his two tone eyes burst in Doons head. Marcus was screaming, screaming for the soldier to snap out of it. Then a vision of a tiny bookstore that sat in the heart of Angel came next. His beloved bookstore. Then of Marla with all of her ridiculous tarot cards spread out on a table in front of her. The loon was right. And then of his favorite whiskey being lovingly poured in a glass over a single cube of ice. Oh, he could use a drink right about now.
Dammit, he swore out in English as he shoved his arms out before him. His body switched back to that of a crows as he turned around in the air. The ground was coming fast up on him. He flapped his wings, stopping him from slamming against the land. Up he went back above the canopy.
He caught a glimpse of the great fort behind him. The stone towers stood still and proud like giant centurions. Doon knew that was where she would come out after him. Not through the front but through the upper part and into the sky where she was the strongest. A cloud like the dead of night began to stream out of all the tower windows. Filling the air, it swirled like a raging hurricane. Doon shook his head knowing that couldnt be. She was too weak to call forth such a storm. No, not a hurricane, a swarm. Crows. Thousands of them. A true murder. Each and everyone a piece of her. Fronting an attack on him. Loathing him for his betrayal. Screeching out for his blood.
The swarm filled the air, taking on the collective form of a black bird. Its wings spread out, engulfing the sky in feathered shadow. Below, the heavy fort doors swung open. Out charged General Cathal on the back of an enormous buck in armor. The soldiers silver hair was pleated in battle rank knots and a smear of royal blue war paint ran across his eyes making the sapling green of his irises boil. He was wearing the battle uniform rather than dress uniform of Doons coat. Behind him filed the Gererals army also in their battle coats with dozens of wolfhounds snarling to be let loose. From his leather satchel he took out a rams horn and blew out a call. The wolfhounds bolted moving like ghosts across the land. The black bird followed.
Swooping around again, Doon dived between the trees. His wings beat hard against the air, burning his muscles sore. Years had passed since he had last taken on his crow body. Decades had passed since he last flew this hard. It was a war that time when he flew like this. And another one about to brew was making him fly again.
A second cry filled the air behind him. Not of sorrow but of beckoning. A summoning spell. A bird screech that had twisted into his name calling him back. Doon plunged downward as the spell rattled in his brain. His muscles pulled towards the fort, aching against his will. His own screaming thoughts faded into the new command. Pulling his wings in tight, he smashed into the ground nearly breaking his right leg. His body went back to its humanoid shape as he climbed to his knees.
Dont he yelled as his hands scratched at sky towards the black bird. But his body refused to listen as it dug one heel deep into the dirt. No, idiot, shes going to use the cup as a weapon! He took one heavy step forward following the calling. And when she has done killing shes going to rip your flesh and make a suit of you! Another step. The command was so loud now the sound was shaking his bones. You feckin muppet! Stop!
Doon could hear the wolfhounds barking in the hunt.
Tears started to swim in his eyes. Stop! he pleaded in sobs as his trembling body took one more step. Think of everyone! Think of what will happen if you go back!
One more step.
Doon! he screamed to himself, I command you! Refuse her. She is not your goddess anymore. This is your home no longer. In the name of humanity, stop! With that, he sunk his teeth into the pink meat of his tongue until he tasted copper.
His body halted. The bloodletting had broken the spell. His muscles were his own once more. Doon blinked and let out a childish giggle. A trickle of blood spilled down his lips.
There he is! I see him!
In the distance he saw a pack of soldiers on the backs of deer pointing him out. Their bows and swords drawn An arrow slid in flight past Doons face and hit the tree trunk behind him.
He eyed the arrow. Feck!
Leaping once more to the sky, Doon turned back to a hooded crow and left the soldiers and the hounds. Once he was over the trees again, he saw that the giant black bird was not that far behind.
Drawing his wings in close, he took another plummet towards the earth below. Only this time he snapped his wings back open and glided swiftly between the tree limbs. At this height, he would be hard to spot from either the ground or sky. The forest began to part until he came into a clearing. Ruins of a marble and wood shrine the color of rusted scarlet laid out before him. The grass and bushes all around it were yellow with fading life. A thick set of pillars made of petrified Ash trees marked the opening. He flew between them down the open air hallway to the back, towards a long mirror pool. One of the few mirrors in all of the land.
There was still water in the pool to Doons relief.
Landing on his own booted feet in the middle of the open ruins, he undid the top buttons of this uniform and dug deep into one of his lining pockets. The adrenaline in his system was starting to die out and he could feel his tongue pulse in pain. He wanted to kick himself momentarily for not thinking of his plan all the way through. What was it about living in the human world for so long that made him stupidly impulsive? Now it was down to one last thing. The key amulet. He pulled the very object out. It was shaped like a family crest and made out of ruby stained glass with gold symbols scribbled across the surface. He held it up to the light and allowed the amulet to casts a red shadow over him.
Marcus had told him that this was one of three in all of existence. Doon couldnt wait to tell the man that he had seen an exact duplicate in his goddess chambers.
The barking of hounds pricked up his ears.
He turned to the mirror pool and gazed over it. His reflection looked back at him. A beautiful creature with long silver hair that poured like water over his shoulders and naked blue eyes that in their seriousness and roundness reminded him of an owls eyes gazed back at him. This was his real appearance without the glamour as a Sidhe but this was not his true self. Closing his eyes tight in deep thought, his image in the water changed as he did. A new person smiled back at him as he examined the pool again. A messy dark haired, sleepy umber eyed with a scar running across the bridge of his nose man.
Ello, he tried to say but spat out more blood. Wincing, he concentrated on a healing spell as he covered his mouth with his hands, holding the amulet still. His tongue grew hot and then cooled as if he started to drink tea only to switch to iced water. Hello, he said again perfectly.
He pressed the amulet against the surface of the water.
A howl broke forth behind him. Close. Real close. He refused to look.
Marcus, if this doesnt work, I am coming to haunt you, he thought as he ran the spell over his mind. A fire ignited in his chest in the form of words. They spilled out from his lips in a cry as he recited the incantation out loud.
YaMai noch ni Shevolah!
The sky grew dark with storm clouds forming as a growl of thunder made Doons hands shake in surprise. The hair on his head began to stand on edge with electricity and a buzzing noise filled his ears. A dull aching fatigue moved into his muscles as if every ounce sleep he had in the past week was being bled from him. Vertigo followed making him question if he was still right side up. But Doon didnt move. He remained focus.
Cmon, please, he begged in a desperate whisper.
A blue light started to crawl across the surface of the pool until it shone bright as the noon sun. Doon shielded his eyes as a moment later the glow vanished, replaced by a yawning opening where the water had been. He could not see what was on the other side but that did not matter now. A glance over his shoulder told him that the wolfhounds were coming out into the clearing. A smattering of birds that made the head of the giant black bird was starting show over the tree tops.
If this was hell he was about to crawl into, it would be a better place than this. Standing up, he placed his left hand on his chest where the cup was and fell forward.
The opening swallowed him up and went back to being a normal mirror pool.
Wolfhounds surrounded the pool, barking, howling and scratching at the fallen leaf covered ground. A few jumped in, splashing water on the others. The giant bird above had broken up and returned to being a swirling cloud of smaller birds. Down they dived towards the pool, in close formation like a whip being smacked from the heavens. As they touched the earth, they transformed once again. First feet in thick deer hide boots, then a cream colored wool dress with embroidered knot work that hugged a thin gaunt body that stretched tall like a does, then hands, weathered and dry, shoulders, wide but still boney and finally the head of a woman. But not a human woman. Her eyes were too round like a birds and the irises which were the color of the stormy sky above laid too large against the slight slivers of white. Her hair which was turning brittle with streaks of weak gray upon a harsh fire of red, was tied in a series of braided pleats. Soft creases lined the ivory of her exquisite face. A gold tattoo of Sidhe symbols ran across the bridge of her delicate nose. This was a her rank. Queen. Goddess of War.
Lady Morrigan, called out General Cathal as he dismounted from his buck. The rest of soldiers stood their ground behind him, silent as a winter. He approached the goddess as she knelt gently besides the mirror pool. Her hand grazed the surface so lightly that no ripples gave birth.
Someone gave you a key, my Captain, she whispered in a voice that came out more like a song. Who?
My Lady, please, forgive my failure, Cathal said bowing, not daring to look her in the eye as she rose to her feet.
She touched the crown of the Sidhes head. Running her fingers through his silver hair, her mind drifted to visions of Doon. Her mouth frown for an instant before she turned away, This is not your fault, General. It is but my own. Thinking a crow would still be loyal after wearing the stench of humans for so long. No matter. Captain Doon has run with the cup but he is still tethered to me. In my flights of fancy, even I took precautions.
Looking past the Generals shoulder she motioned to one of the men. Captain Tadhg, you will return to the fort and go into my chamber. There you will find an amulet made of red glass and gold. Bring it back to me. Make haste.
The soldier nodded and rode off on his buck.
General, she began as she held out her left arm to him. The skin of her palm bubbled and peeled away from the rest of her hand. It turned black as charcoal and shook until feathers grew and became the shape of a raven. The hand underneath it healed with new flesh. The bird ruffled its feathers and eyed the General. Take this. I have planted a tracker on the Captain. This bird will find it no matter where the Sidhe goes. Let the raven be your eyes.
The soldier held out his arm. The large bird hopped on and inched to Cathals shoulders.
The amulet will allow you to follow the Captain into the Realm of Mirrors.
The General blinked in confused shock. The Realm of Mirrors?
Yes, there are still places in this universe that even you do not know about. Her face went slack with seriousness. I want you to bring back the cup as well as the Captain. He is the only one in Tir Na Nog whose touch the vessel will tolerate. But once you have captured him, do not tell him this. He thinks I had him steal it for me because he is a talented little thief. No, we need him more than he knows.
And if he loses a finger on the retrieval, my Lady, asked General Cathal seeing how far the Queen wished for the complete return of her former soldier.
Then he loses a finger. But despite your history, General, let it go no further than that. Take two wolfhounds to help you should the Captain protest. If any humans get in the way, least they be under our protection clan, slaughter them. She bent over and picked up a dried up leaf with the hue of pumpkin. Her eyes narrowed in focus as the leaf became soft and green again. I am needed here to keep order.
She raised the leaf to the soldiers eyes so he could see how small it was against the background of Autumn.
Our home is dying, Cathal. We are dying. Find him.