Slowly, the swirling air slowed, and his grip eased from the permanent indentations of his paw into the door frame. Cracking open an eyelid, he waited for something to impale his eye, but the room was once again calm, and the wind gone. Opening his eyes the rest of the way, he narrowed his gaze on the far corner but the strange shimmering didn’t reappear.

“So, what’s next?” Émilien asked. “Who would have taken her and where could she have gone?”

“No one would have dared remove her from this room without my permission.” The Fae inched around the room, intently gazing at everything and even seemingly sniffing, which would have amused Émilien, if he wasn’t so worried about Hel.

Fer-Diorich paused before turning his eerie silver gaze on him. “Do you smell that? It’s vague...” his nostrils spread as he inhaled. “I know I’ve smelled it before.”

Émilien moved closer to where the Fae stood, near the room’s center, and stopped. Raising his face, he, too, inhaled, his chest expanding with the effort. “To me, it smells citrusy. Like chilled limes?” He shook his head. “Strange.”

“It reminds me of something...” Fer-Diorich strode from the room and disappeared into the hall’s darkness. “Follow, wolf!” he commanded, his voice fading as he hurried through the house. Before Émilien could move, the Fae yelled again. “Wolf—move!”

“My name is not wolf,” he hollered back. “Idiot Fae,” he muttered.

“I heard that!”

With a soft chuff, Émilien left the room. Listening to the Fae’s louder-than-usual footsteps, he caught up with him just as he exited the building. Fer-Diorich turned and glared at the man standing to the right of the front door. “Where is the woman you brought here?”

The guard swallowed. “In the room where we locked her, my lord.”

“No, she isn’t. The room is empty, so I’m going to ask you again. Where is the woman?”

The poor guard’s eyes widened, fear swirling through their green depths. “My lord, I locked the door myself and came straight here. I have not left my post, and no one has entered or exited through this door.”

The Fae leaned back, his eyes narrowed. “Is there a side or back door? Are they guarded as well?”

“Yes, my lord,” the guard behind them said.

They turned to find a burly man standing on the other side of the door. He, though, did not seem afraid. “Other than Felix here, I placed my four best guards on them. Two at each door. You said no one was to enter, and the woman was to remain locked in the room until your return. Your orders have been followed to the letter, my lord.”

Fer-Diorich scowled. “It does not explain why she is currently missing, now does it?”

“Sir,” the guard named Felix all but whispered and cleared his throat again. “One thing stood out. Not long after the door was locked, we thought we smelled fruit, but it disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared.”

“Fruit—like limes?” Émilien asked. The guard nodded.

Fer-Diorich turned his gaze on Émilien. “Does your wife smell like limes?”

Émilien shook his head. “No, she smells like fresh, frozen ice. Did you cast a ward or repulsion spell on the room?”

The Fae shook his head. “No need. We’re in the Unseelie realm. No one would dare breach our main wards.”

“Well, what do you think about that decision now?”

The Fae gave him an evil glare. “Watch yourself, wolf. You are here, alive, by my mercy. That can be changed.” With a flip of his long cape, the black material whirled in an impressive flare before returning to swirl around the Fae’s boots. He spun on his heels and headed back in the same direction they’d come.

Just before they reached the castle, the Fae sharply turned and headed toward the back, skirting unkempt bushes alongside the stone wall. Turning once more, he led them into a small garden. Unlike the areas he had seen so far, this place was pristine. Every type of plant imaginable grew in side-by-side, square plots, forming many small squares within a single larger one in the center of the garden. Surrounding the plots was a second circular flower garden bursting with so many colors, his eyes ached.

“You should give your fellow Fae some pointers on how to tend their land.”

Instead of a response, Fer-Diorich grabbed Émilien’s forearm with a tight grasp. Using his other hand, he drew a circle with his finger, the tip lighting up in a fiery golden light, much like a candle wick. Before he could do anything, the Fae stepped into the circle and dragged Émilien through after him.

The strong bitter aroma of pine and the more subtle musky scent of rotting vegetation told him they were in a forest, but nothing was visible. A gray mist swirled around them, its elongated tendrils wriggling as it flowed out like skeletal fingers, spreading out over the ground.

When the mist faded, they were surrounded by a thick forest. In front of them stood a very familiar castle. One he recognized from ancient times and more recently, the recently fought war on Midgard. From the sounds coming from the interior, he would bet they had just traveled back in time, but still held hope that they had not.

A frisson of dread settled in his gut as he stared at the last place he ever wanted to return to. Wewelsburg Castle. Himmler’s military school and where he worshiped everything magical, the darker the magic, the better. Its location was perfect for Himmler to keep his extracurricular activities a secret from Hitler and the other members of the Führer’s inner circle. He was able to send out mercenaries and historians all over the world to find and retrieve any mythological object believed to be magical.

This was also the place where he had stopped the further creation of creatures like himself by destroying Fer-Diorich’s alchemical notes, which Himmler had hidden deep in the castle’s underground vault. It hadn’t been easy to achieve such an almost impossible feat, but he had.

Tags: Heidi Vanlandingham Fantasy
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