Adi has decided to remain in the Land of Shadows and help fight against the monsters that seek the sacred item hidden in those dark woods. Her choice is soon put to the test when more trouble creeps into Death's domain.
That problem comes in twos as Adi learns about the southern Points of the pentagram. Two of the Keepers have kept up a bitter feud, and their infighting has weakened the protective boundaries of the domain. The source of the problem lies deep in the past, so Adi and Duncan must dig through the skeletons, sometimes literally, to purify the bad blood before the feud leads to the downfall of the entire realm.
Adding to the troubles is the sudden appearance of a young puppy. The wriggly creature wandered through the Veil and winds up in Adi's unwilling arms. Now she has to babysit the unexpected visitor while helping Duncan to fight against savage monsters, fighting Keepers, and a mysterious shadow lurking in the background of all their troubles.
Vines crept around my ankles and climbed up my leg. I watched with rising fear as the green, slightly slimy plants inched their way up toward my throat.
“Eva!” I shouted as I kept both eyes trained on the trained plant. “I think your plant likes me too much!”
There I sat in Eva’s parlor like a spider caught in a web, only this web was green and growing. My hostess was gone, vanished into the depths of her stately home, and here I sat slowly being consumed by her houseplant. The top of the vine had a round glob that resembled a walnut, but this nut had jaws and sharp, pointy teeth.
Eva came into the room with a tray in hand and a tea set atop the glistening silver. She stopped on the threshold and glared at my captor. “Stop that at once!”
The vine turned its head toward her and snapped its jaws. Eva stomped a foot on the floor. “No! Bad Rasten! Bad boy!”
Rasten shrank back from her scolding and slithered off me.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the plant scuttled off to its large planter in the far corner. The creature stretched itself out on a trellis and let out a few whimpering sounds.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Eva apologized as she strode up to the coffee table that sat in front of me. She set the tray down and lifted up the lid to a sugar bowl before she caught my eye. “Do you like sugar with your tea?”
I cast a nervous look at the corner. “I like it better with an explanation.”
Eva laughed and went about pouring the pure-black tea into the two cups. “That is Rasten. He was one of my first successful attempts at magic after I came here.”
The subject piqued my interest. “How long have you been here?”
Eva offered me one of the cups. “About a hundred and fifty years, but I can’t be sure.” She took a seat in a chair on the opposite side of the coffee table with cup in hand. “Time, as I’m sure you’ve been told, is of little consequence here.”
“And it took time for you to learn what you could do?” I guessed.
She set her cup and saucer in her lap and her dark eyes twinkled at me. “You are rather curious, aren’t you?”
I gave her a sheepish grin as I shrugged. “I’m just trying to learn the ropes.”
Eva lifted an eyebrow. “To learn the ropes? That’s an expression I haven’t heard before. As for your question, yes, it did take some time to learn. The magic was in me at the first, but it took some time for me to master the skills that Mordra had granted me.”
I furrowed my brow as I thought back to my conversation with Lady Death herself about the gifts she’d granted to the Keepers of the Points. “So Duncan can turn into a dragon, you can control plants, and Julien can control, um, a pair of moons?”
She laughed and shook her head. “He controls the shadows, and what better shadow than one created by the light of the moon?”
I looked over my shoulder at the potted plant. “So, um, Rasty here is something you made out of your magic, but he’s not like those hedges I saw you create on the lawn against the arbiters, is he?”
Eva cast a soft smile at the man eater. “In a way, yes. He was sprouted from my magic, but I was so proud of his creation that I decided to keep him around.” At that moment Pomo the black cat sauntered into the room, and Eva eyed her cat familiar with amusement. “He’s survived, despite Pomo’s best efforts.”
The cat leapt on the arm of Eva’s chair where he took a seat and let out a proud yowl.
Eva frowned at her compatriot. “No, I will not take you for a walk through the halls. I haven’t finished cleaning out the portraits.”
I winced at the remembrance of my own incursion into her hallowed, and haunted, halls. “How’s that going?”
Eva took a dainty sip of her tea and shrugged. “Slower than I had hoped. I had forgotten how many errant arbiters I had stowed in the back rooms, and some of them are proving to be quite persistent in escaping.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “How can you go against so many at once? Duncan couldn’t even handle them.”
Eva smiled and shook her head. “I don’t have such an issue with Pomo at my side, and a Keeper’s house will never attack them, so they can’t escape their portraits even when I set fire to them. Some of them have tried to get out when the frames are quite burnt, but Pomo keeps them captured until they’re dealt with.”
Her words brought to mind a conversation I’d had with Duncan. “Duncan told me a few days ago that his house might have secrets even he doesn’t know about.”
A pensive expression slipped onto her face. “That may be true. Unlike we lesser Keepers, he was not granted the home he had in life.”
Both my eyebrows shot up. “Lesser Keepers?”
Eva sighed. “As much as I loathe to admit it, he is the greatest of us. His power far surpasses any of ours, and in single combat none of us could defeat him.”
I cast a quick look over my shoulder again at the plant. “Not even with Rasty there, huh?”
She chuckled. “An army of Rasten’s couldn’t compare to the eternal fire that burns inside both Duncan’s mouth and his heart.” She nodded at my cup. “But you haven’t touched your tea.”
I cast a doubtful look at the drink. “Can I?”
Eva nodded. “Oh yes. This isn’t made with Pomo’s help, so you’ll find it won’t upset your stomach like most of our food here.”
A slight rumble from my stomach reminded me that my hunger, dormant during my hectic first night, had slowly begun making itself known. I set a hand on my stomach and furrowed my brow. “Shouldn’t I be really hungry after this long?”
Eva shook her head. “No. Your body, after all, is dead. It’s only your soul that craves some sustenance, and that can go several weeks without the ‘food’ of this land.”
My eyes widened. “That long?”
She tilted her head to one side and tapped her chin. “Yes, but one does get very weak after a few days. Death-that is, permanent death, may come sooner.” She waved away her words and shrugged. “But I’m not quite sure about that. None of us have really tried very long to starve ourselves.”
I dropped my eyes to the black tea and gave it a little stir with my spoon. My utensil had a hard time getting through the thickness. “What’s in it?”
She shrugged. “Oh, just a little bit of this and that. Mostly plants, but-” She smiled down at her furry pet, “-occasionally Pomo brings me a little special ingredient.”
A little bit of color drained from my face, but I lifted the cup to my lips and took a tiny sip. A pungent odor stung my nostrils, and the tea slipped down my throat with all the genteelness of molasses. I nearly choked on the thick concoction, especially its very earthy flavor, but I managed a tight smile for my hostess. “It’s very good.”
Eva’s face beamed as she took another drink herself. “I’m glad you like it, and I’m very glad you decided to visit me only a few days after . How did you fare yesterday?”
I rolled my neck and winced as a few bones cracked. “I don’t really remember much of yesterday. I slept through most of it.”
“Well, that’s time for you,” she mused as she cast her eyes to the fire burning in the hearth. The flickering lights cast long shadows on her face. “The days become years, and years become centuries, until you’re worn down by the length of it all.” My heart fell, but she shook herself and smiled at me. “But here I am being rather dreary. More tea?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but all that came out was a long, mournful howl. All of us froze, even the creeping vine. The next moment a whimper came from outside the window. Pomo arched his back and let out a hiss.
“What is it, Pomo?” Eva questioned her feline friend as she set her cup on the table.
I was only too eager to copy her, and both of us shot to our feet as the cat jumped down from the arm of the chair. Pomo raced out of the room with Eva on his heels and me close behind. The cat shot through the solid front door while Eva was forced to open it. We rushed outside where the glow of the early evening covered everything in a soft orange light.
Pomo stood before of a row of low bushes that lined the front of the wrap-around porch. He let out a couple of spat attacks and swiped a claw at the bushes. The plants shook a little and a whimper came from them.
“Pomo!” Eva shouted as she hurried up to the hissing feline. She scooped up her familiar and studied the bushes with squinted eyes. “What in the world is in there?”
Another whimper was her reply. I approached the bushes, and the whimper became a sharp bark of excitement. Eva lifted an eyebrow at me. “Whatever it is appears to be interested in you. Perhaps you should look in there.”
My jaw dropped as I pointed at myself. “Me? But what if it’s an arbiter?”
She shook her head. “Arbiters are not so subtle.”
With that very little bit of comfort I eased myself onto my knees in front of the bush. My hands shook as I stretched them out and parted the branches. A gasp escaped me.
A puppy lay among the leaves.