Elaine 26: "Secrets"



        I was waiting at the top of the stairs when Rapahel returned, and he stopped, staretled.
        This subterfuge did not sit entirely well with my brother. It was one of those moments where the extreme differences in our upbringings became suddenly apparent. I had no wish to cause him further discomfort, but being trapped here with both Harlan and Justin had frayed my nerves.
       He looked down at me, his expression something of a mix of guilt, resignation and resolve.
        "Do I even dare ask what is going on?" I regretted the slightly acid tone of my voice instantly, for his expression suddenly saddened. He gave me a long look before replying. "It is Eve's secret to tell, not mine."
        And he walked away.

       After retrieveing a mosty-healed Joaquim and passing along Kier's message, Harlan and I continued on with Jero and Celia. Despite the recent renewel of or relationship, there was still an underlying tension between us. We spoke little as we rode, each wrapped in our own thoughts. He seemed reticent n the subject of the years that had passed for him, and so much of what I had experienced in the time he was gone involved Justin, I was loathe to speak of it. It didn't help that any thought of Justin reminded me of his recent behavior, which still rankled deeply.
        So for most of those four days Harlan and I rode in deep silence, Jero and Celia speaking quietly behind us. I knew that that the light-hearted bond between us would never be again; too much happened, too much had changed. But I wondered if we would be able to surmount the powers of circumstance and fate enough to recreate a new bond.
        My sense of forboding did not help the situation any. I spent mst of the time waiting for attack or ambushEmma had rpoven far too adept for me to relax and think we might have outwitted her this time. And by the time we reach Harlan's shadow, still unmolested, I was a bundle of nerves.
       But Harlan placed the stone in its new home, and our task was done. Even then, I still could not relax. Too easy that ever paranoid corner of my mind muttered over and over, and I could not help but agree.

        We had been riding only a few hours when a swirl of snow settled about us. It soon turned into a blizzard, and Harlan and I were forced to try and shift away, only to discover we could not. I was considering other options when Jero pointed out a large, dark form ahead. We soon discovered a tall tower, warm and inviting light splling from an open door in the base.
       I scanned it as Gillian had taught me, and discovered not only two rooms blocked to my magical probe, but a number of my cousins as well.
       Later, as we warmed ourselves at the large fire in the main room, Eve would explain to me how they too, had been driven to this place by the storm, and become trapped, just as we just had.
        Resigned to stay until our host arrived, we went about investigating our indefinate home. Eve and I examined the doors to the warded rooms, while Christoph tested the magical shields around the tower itself. Eve eventualy sent Celia and Jero to the stables below, where we had fisrt arrived, in hopes of warning off any other unlicky travelers.
        We found that they were unsuccessful when Justin came up the stairs.
        I do not remember what words if any passed between us, only that it felt as cold as if out in storm, in that hallway.
        The sudden thought that I was trapped for an indefinite time with both Harlan and Justin together...

        Unwilling to stay there with Justin's stony gaze on me, nor Harlan's sudden withdrawl at the mention of Justin's arrival, I went to the stable in hopes of some distracting conversation with Celia and Jero. But they sat at their checkerboard, not speaking, and studiously avoiding each others gaze, and starting guiltly every time I spoke. So I left them to their contemplation of whatever had passed between them, and spent the time grooming each of the horses thoroughly, including the blood bay mare, who proved a much more enchanting companion than any of my human counterparts.
       Eventually, some small commotion from the room upstairs drew me back, and I was astounded to see Eve speaking with my brother. We all sat down to a quiet and tense dinner, Raphael saying nothing more than pleasantries. After, he escorted Eve downstairs and into one of the warded rooms.
       I paused at the top of the stairs, mulling over the implications of my brother's sudden foray into subterfuge and secrecy. And I did not like any of the possible consequences that came to mind.