The Land of Shadows has been partially restored thanks to Adi and Duncan's efforts, but two parts of the pentagram remain covered in rot and weeds. Their efforts, however, are stymied when they find themselves up against a powerful and mysterious foe who's intent on capturing the Urn of Immortality.
First, though, Adi has something personal to handle as she stumbles upon a familiar face at the southern edge of the Land. Her old boss Billy has arrived at Death's door, dazed and confused but with all his usual crusty wit intact. His soul can't pass on, so she offers to help him discover his unfinished business so she can get along with her business as a Keeper.
Her cheerful offer of help, however, is set against a background of looming darkness. Another uninvited guest arrives in the form of a playful imp, and this one is an unwelcome face to the older Keepers. The imp's arrival heralds a series of phantom problems, each different from the last as the waves crash toward a crescendo of trouble that threatens the safety of the Urn. Now Adi must discover Billy's unfinished business while keeping the Urn safe from the onslaught of phantoms.
Shadow and light collide as the Keepers fight against time to discover the true culprit behind the encroaching darkness before they're all swallowed in its cold embrace.
I ducked one tree branch only to get a face full of the next low one. My cheeks were stung by and my mouth was filled with leaves. I sputtered and spit out the foliage, and glared down at the creature that dashed madly through the forest with me on its back.
“Pup! Slow down before you kill me!”
The gray furry creature beneath me was indeed the transformed Pup. He panted hard with his tongue flying out one side of his mouth, but his eyes shimmered with glee as he ducked and dodged beneath every tree in those woods.
I gripped his mane tighter and gave the large tufts of fur a hard yank. “Pup! Back home! Now!”
A poor choice of words. Pup turned so sharply I nearly slid off his back. I clambered back aboard just in time to avoid being yanked off by a bush.
“How did you ever convince me to climb on you?” I grumbled to myself as I dodged another branch.
The soft sound of a river reached my ears, and my heart skipped a beat as I saw the flowing waters ahead of us. The werewolf gave a great cry of glee as he galloped faster. My jaw dropped and I stared in horror at the oncoming wide river.
“No. Don’t you dare! Don’t you-”
My words fell on deaf pointy ears as he reached the shore of the thirty foot wide stream and sprang into the air. I had just enough time to debate whether I should abandon him on splash down or hold tight when all four of his paws landed perfectly on the far bank. My relief was quickly pushed aside for the rerun of fear as Pup hit the ground running. Literally.
In a few more seconds we broke through the trees and found ourselves back where we started, at the bottom of the hill below Leana’s home. My new friend sat amongst her flowing puddles watching the waning sun above us approach the horizon. At our exit she looked at me and burst into laughter.
“How do you get this thing to stop?” I yelped as we flew past her.
She climbed to her feet and turned to face us with her hands cupped over her mouth. “You have to show you are the master!”
“Pup!” I yelled as we shot past the house. “I’m the master, and I’m telling you to-” I leaned down close to his ear and raised my voice to a scream, “-WHOA!”
The werewolf yelped and skidded to a stop to a stop. His claws skidded across the cobblestones of the cleared pentagram, but we finally came to a stop some thirty feet down the arm. I slumped over the back of my werewolf as he turned his head around and whimpered at me.
I patted his head with one hand. “It’s okay. We’re both learning this stuff.”
“Are you well?” Leana spoke up as she hurried over to us. Her snake familiar Cory slithered to the edge of her Point and swayed from side to side watching us.
I slipped off Pup’s back and tripped over my feet for a few steps before I caught myself. “I think so, but I need to install seat belts on him.” The blank expression on her face made me laugh. “A harness to keep me from falling off.”
Realization dawned on her. “Oh, I see. That would be quite the thing, wouldn’t it?”
Pup plopped his butt down, and as he did so he shrank back down to his cute form. The pup pranced about us as I brushed a few loose bits of leaves out of my hair. “So how long did it take you to learn to work with Cory?”
Leana half-turned to her companion and smiled at the snake. “Longer than it should have. I’d never liked snakes since I was a lass, and he frightened me for a good year before I got used to him.”
“We have that going for us, Pup,” I called to my familiar as the dog sniffed the ground. I paused and furrowed my brow. “Except the first time we met. I still don’t know how he crossed the Veil.”
“Perhaps he wasn’t dead then,” Leana pointed out as she studied the pup. “Perhaps he isn’t dead now.”
I blinked at her. “Don’t familiars have to be like you guys? I mean, that’s how there’s a bond, right?”
She laughed and shook her head. “I can’t say I understand half of what Mordra told me about our familiars, but they are attached to us.” Her good humor faltered a little and she winced. “That’s how that daemon was able to take over all four of us.”
I set a hand on her shoulders and offered her a smile. “That’s in the past, remember? How are you liking your sigil back?”
She cast her gaze at the marker at the end of the pentagram. The little droplet had transformed into a winding river. “I’m liking it very well. I’d forgotten how comforting that river is, both in the mark and in my back garden. But what of your sigil?” she wondered as she cast her eyes toward the center of the Land. “Have ya seen anything?”
I glanced in the same direction and shook my head. “I just checked this morning. There’s nothing there.”
“Perhaps because your work here isn’t yet finished,” Leana suggested as she set her eyes to the east. A wilderness of woods still occupied that Point that faced Julien’s abode. “You still must discover what is amiss with Julien’s home. He told me he’s been having a touch of trouble with his rear garden.”
I wrinkled my brow. “Yeah. The border grew bigger, but I think he said it wasn’t growing anymore.”
Leana folded her arms over her chest and sighed. “What troubles we’ve had. It makes one wonder if there isn’t something else skulking around yonder trying to get the urn.”
“What about the urn?” The call came from Eva who strode over to us in the direction of the center of the pentagram. She grasped a notebook of loose, yellowed pages against her chest, tucked safely underneath her crossed arms.
“I was just saying someone might be out to get it, and they’ve been stirring up a heap of trouble to do it,” Leana replied.
Eva stopped at us and frowned. “That may not be far off from the truth. I just came from the two labs, the one in Percy’s armory and mine, and there’s something amiss.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “What is it?”
She drew the notebook into one hand and flipped the pages with the other to a certain point at the back. “According to my count I’m not missing a single beaker or vial.”
Leana shook her head. “What’s that matter?”
Eva pursed her lips. “That means Percy, under the influence of the daemon, scavenged his supplies from what I threw out. He never had any reason to come into my lab.”
I blinked at her. “I don’t follow.”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Sir William told me that he was captured by something sneaking around my lab. Something dark and cold, like the daemon, only I can’t find any evidence the daemon ever came into my house. Besides, if he could have entered he would have tried to take over me, not been rummaging through my supplies.”
A dark realization dawned on me. “So if it wasn’t the daemon who attacked Sir William, then who was it?”
Eva shook her head. “I can’t even guess, and Pomo never felt anything, either.”
At the mention of her feline familiar, a question struck me. “Speaking of Pomo, is there something wrong with our familiars? I mean, neither of them can talk like the others.”
Eva looked at Pup and furrowed her brow. “To be honest I’m not sure. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get Pomo to speak, but he has yet to utter a single word.” She lifted up her notebook in front of her and frowned at the cover. “That aside, this still worries me.”
“Why don’t you go ask Julien about it?” Leana spoke up as she nodded in the direction of his home. “He knows quite a bit about shadows through his own power.”
I furrowed my brow. “What can he do again?”
“He can create an encasement that traps arbiters and crushes them,” Eva answered as she tucked the notebook under one arm. “And you’re quite right, Leana. I should ask him about the intruder. He may know which arbiter could have invaded my territory while I was distracted with Pomo’s bath.”
I snorted. “Is that what you were doing when Willy was trying to hide?”
Eva sighed. “Yes. He refuses to stop rolling in the grass, and I despise clippings on the rugs. If you’ll excuse me now, I’ll see Julien right away.”
“Let me come,” I pleaded before I looked to Leana. “If you wouldn’t mind me leaving.”
She smiled and shook her head. “I won’t keep you from doing your good elsewhere, and Percy’s expecting me soon, anyway. Our familiars are cooking a meal for us and we’re to eat it on the riverbank.”
I grinned and winked at her as I followed Eva-. “Don’t have too much fun.”
Her eyes twinkled. “I may.”
Pup followed on my heels as I hurried up to Eva’s side. She watched the dog race to the front and sniff to and fro. “I do envy your familiar’s ability to go anywhere it pleases.”
I snorted. “That can be a curse at times. He doesn’t give me a moment’s peace.”
She furrowed her brow. “Perhaps he senses danger.”
We had hardly made it past Leana’s house when Pup’s head shot up and he let out a sharp bark in the direction of the woods at the bottom of the hill. Eva and I stiffened, and both of us stared in the direction he indicated.
“What’s the matter?” Leana shouted as she hurried over.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I think he sees-”
Just as I spoke those words I saw what Pup had noticed. A lean, lanky shadow with a broad-brimmed hat stumbled out of the shadows of the woods. My jaw hit the ground as the figure stopped at the bottom of the hill and looked around in a daze.