Nightshade Page 39

“You’re wrong,” he said. “I’ve known Bosque almost my whole life. He may not have been around much when I was growing up, but he’s definitely human.”

“I’m not wrong,” I said. “Keepers look human, but they’re not.”

The veins in his neck stood out. “If they aren’t human, then what are they?”

“Old Ones. Creatures who embody both the earthly and divine; full of magic. They are witches.”

“Witches aren’t human?” He stared at me. “I mean aren’t Wiccans witches?”

“Humans are relatively new occupants of this world. And there are some who keep pagan rites, call themselves witches, but it isn’t the same thing.” I kept my eyes on him as I spoke. “The Old Ones have been in power much longer. Humans are mortal, fragile. The Old Ones are not. They were here before humans kept time or wrote histories. They move between worlds, this one and the spirit world. The Keepers are the wardens of the earth; they have the power to protect it. The witches rule the world, keep it from falling apart; they just let humans think they’re in control now. The interests of the Old Ones lay in different places than human pursuits.”

Shay braced his hands against the glove compartment. “Okay. For the sake of argument, I’m going along with this. You’re calling them Old Ones, or witches, but you said my uncle is a Keeper. What’s the distinction?”

“Keepers aren’t the only witches. The war broke out, and still wages, because aeons ago the Old Ones split into factions. Keepers and Searchers.”

“And the Searchers are your enemies?” He opened the glove compartment and began rifling through my CDs, as if seeking something normal to counter this strange conversation.



“When humans entered the world, the Old Ones were asked to protect them.”

Shay dropped the Sea Wolf disc he’d pulled out. “Asked by who? God? Is there a God?”

“I really don’t know,” I admitted with a frown. “Theology isn’t a big part of a Guardian’s training. Maybe God . . . maybe gods or goddesses. All I know is that whatever force brought humans into being set up the Old Ones as their protectors, to guide them, help them thrive on the earth as part of creation.”

“So the Old Ones were angels?” He sounded skeptical.

“No, not really. We’re not talking choirs of heaven here. The Old Ones move between the material and spiritual dimensions, but their origin is a mystery . . . at least to most of us. Whatever religious traditions humans have invented throughout history, none of them can pinpoint the Old Ones and their place in the world.”

“I’m not really buying this, Calla,” he said, picking up the CD. “It sounds like muddy religious fantasy. Smoke and mirrors.”

I reached up to toy with the seat belt. “I’m just telling you what I’ve always been told. And isn’t this stuff always kind of murky?”

“If you say so,” he grumbled. “So what was the problem? Why did things go badly?”

“Some of the Old Ones didn’t want the job,” I said. “They had other ideas about how they should use their power, and babysitting human beings didn’t hold much appeal.”

His brow furrowed. “See, this is exactly what I meant; that sounds biblical. Fallen angels, big egos, jealousy, and retribution against God—I know this stuff. Some of the boarding schools Bosque sent me to were Catholic.”

“You already said you like Eve, which means you weren’t a very good Catholic.”

“I said he sent me to the Catholics.” Shay went back to examining my music collection. “I haven’t converted . . . yet. So fallen angels, war on heaven—am I on the right track?”

“I didn’t say that humans haven’t had some close ideas,” I said. “But it’s still speculation. I’m trying to tell you what’s actually going on. And the war is here, not in heaven.”

“So the Old Ones who didn’t want the job . . . those are the Searchers? That’s what the war is over?”

I glanced in the rearview mirror, still paranoid that we might be watched. “The Keepers watch over the sacred sites of the Old Ones. The sacred places of the earth grant the Keepers their power, and they use it to protect humanity. The Searchers want to control the sites, to take that power from the Keepers for their own gain. If they managed to win, humans would be subject to the whims and cruelty of the Searchers. They would be slaves while the Searchers dominated the earth, and the natural world would no longer be held in balance. All the good intention, the hope of creation would be unraveled and the world would be destroyed. The sites must be protected.”

“And Guardians like you fend off the Searchers.” He shut the glove compartment. His features were etched with weariness.

I touched his face in the dark cabin. “Shay, are you all right? Do you want me to stop talking about this?”

He shook his head. Stubble on his jaw rubbed my palm. “No. I want to know this, but honestly, it doesn’t make sense. I sort of wish I could believe you were crazy or lying. And then I remember that I’m looking at a girl who can turn into a wolf whenever she wants.”

I offered him a weak smile.

“So the Searchers are trying to get to the sites.” He took my hand from his face, twining his fingers in mine.

It was easier to speak when he was touching me; I felt safer.

“Historically, yes. But they haven’t been successful. About three hundred years ago there was a major turn in the war. We refer to it as the Harrowing. It was the last time that an army of Guardians was called upon to fight for the Keepers. We won, barely. Then the Searchers were hunted down and almost annihilated.”

“Then why are you still here?”

“Our numbers are smaller now; the Keepers don’t need an army of Guardians. But the Searchers represent a threat even though they are weakened. They attack in guerrilla fashion, ambushes, hit-and-run.”

“Do you have to fight them often?”

“They actually hadn’t made an attack on this site for almost twenty years.” I bit my lip but forced myself to continue. “Until three nights ago.”

“Three nights ago?” My fingers tightened around his and he took a deep breath. “You mean on Friday?”

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