Gran refused to answer more questions while shopping, so Cat had to wait til Fiona came by with a rental. They packed up the car and were on their way home before Gran would tell her anything.
“I’ve known Rosaria for a while,” Gran said. “She has strong magic, and she’s been here for centuries. She’s traveled the world a lot, stirring up trouble if you ask me, but she settled in town about ten years ago to be the queen’s right-wing woman.”
“Is this her first time doing something like this?” Cat asked, glancing from the steering wheel to Gran.
“Well, there are rumors of her causing trouble,” Gran said. “Nothing proven, of course. Especially since mythical creatures are strongly discouraged from engaging in the military, politics, or media in this realm. Eyes on the road, dear.”
“Why?” Cat glanced at the road again. “I mean, why can’t mythical creatures do those things here?”
“It’s unfair to the humans,” Gran replied with a shrug. “I mean, think back to the Crusades long ago. It was supposedly instigated by some vampires who wanted to feed on the masses. So they persuaded the right people, and voila! After that, the Guardian made an edict that non-Humans couldn’t participate in military or politics. That was given certain leeway, though, during World War One, as that war needed to end, and the Guardian saw no harm in allowing only a small percent of non-Humans to engage in that.”
“Who was it?” Cat asked.
“My father,” Gran replied. “He was the Guardian before my sister. She didn’t have the heart to contradict him, and by the time I took over, the Mythics fought me tooth-and-nail over it. So I tried to restrict it to a ‘no use of non-Human powers while engaged in it’ policy, and that sort of worked.”
“Until now,” Cat guessed.
“Opening a portal to let in a werewolf while fighting an election against another werewolf certainly doesn’t follow the policy,” Gran replied with a shake of her head. “I’m just trying to figure out what she thinks she’ll get out of it.”
“Mayorship?” Cat guessed.
“It has to be something bigger,” Gran said. “Fairies and werewolves have never worked together.”
“Are they usually enemies?” Cat asked.
“Not enemies, exactly,” Gran replied. “More like most Mythics don’t interact well with other Mythics. Fairies have a reputation of being cunning, taking what they want through magic, and that’s made them generally distrusted. Just like vampires got the reputation of being mindless bloodsuckers and werewolves being unstable once a month and, no pun intended, usually lone wolves. Banshees see death all the time, so they aren’t exactly popular with the general public.”
“So they’re all basically in different cliques.”
“Basically,” Gran agreed. “So there must have been some sort of giant payout these two are expecting in order to work together. Especially Silverfur.”
“You really don’t like him,” Cat said. “Are you going to tell me why?”
“Not yet,” Gran said with a shake of her head. “It’s a story I hate to tell… and we’re already home.”
Cat pulled into the driveway slowly. She unbuckled her seatbelt and moved to open the door, but Gran grabbed her arm and gave her a searching look.
“I need to ask you again,” she said. “Are you sure you want to be involved? It was dangerous enough when it was a werewolf I was after. Now, there’s a fairy, possibly even more, involved. We’re beyond dangerous now. Fairies have strong magic. And they hold a grudge.”
Cat swallowed nervously. As much as the thought scared her, the thought of Gran having to fight them both alone scared her even more. She saw Cart Boy’s smirk in her mind and felt anger burn inside her. He would have stolen her name and ruined her life without a single regret. Fairies might hold grudges, but so could she.
“Absolutely sure,” she said. “I want to fight a fairy.”
Gran sighed, but she nodded and let go of Cat’s arm.
“Well, then,” she said, unbuckling her own seatbelt. “Then the only thing to do is prepare you for it. Brace yourself, dear, I’m going to put you through hell.”
Gran wasn’t joking, Cat guessed. She took the groceries in and put them away before Gran called her to one of the locked rooms. Gran unlocked the door and beckoned Cat inside. It was a large library, stuffed with old-looking books that could use a dusting.
“There’s a chair over there,” Gran said, indicating a red leather armchair. “Make yourself comfortable.” Gran cleared her throat. “We need The Basics of Poisons, Hand-to-Hand Combat 101, Signs of Enchantment, and 100 Common Mythics and How to Spot Them, please.”
Cat screamed as four books flew from the bookshelves and directly at Gran’s face. Gran looked unphased as she held out her arms. The books stacked themselves neatly into her arms, and she dropped them on the table next to Cat.
“Cool,” Cat said shakily. “How’d you do that?”
“I asked nicely,” Gran responded. “Now, here’s your first homework, dear. Read these carefully by tomorrow.”
“These are the basics,” Gran said. “You’ll need much more than basic level knowledge to go up against even an elf, let alone a fairy.”
Cat nodded and opened the first book.
“I’ll come get you for lunch,” Gran said. “After lunch, I’m going to show you how to fight, so I’d start with Hand-to-Hand Combat 101 if I were you.”
Cat took a deep breath and nodded. She wondered what she had gotten herself into.
That was a question, it seemed, that Cat asked herself repeatedly over the next few days. Gran had gone from zero to one hundred almost immediately. Cat could feel her body tense all the time. Partly because Gran insisted on testing her all the time. Like “hope you know the signs of poison before you try drinking that coffee” kind of test. Or “ambush in the hallway with my cane so hope you can defend yourself” kind of test. Actually, Cat traced back most of her stress to those tests.
“What if you actually kill me one day?” Cat asked crossly, dumping her coffee into the sink one morning.
“Oh, please, I know all the antidotes to the poisons I use,” Gran replied, handing Cat a cup of non-deadly coffee. “Worst case scenario, your body feels like it’s on fire for an hour max, and then you’re back to normal.”
“So you want me to suffer?”
“No, I want you prepared,” Gran replied. “Fairies know Guardians have protection against their magic. So they use poisons, or weapons, or other crafty ways to fight us.”
“But you’re fine eating out at restaurants,” Cat said. “Why aren’t you worried about being poisoned there?”
“Bree’s a Banshee,” Gran replied. “Banshees are very good poison detectors, and I trust her enough to warn me. Since I saved her life.”
“When Fiona needed to escape Ireland, she found Bree living on the streets,” Gran replied. “Bree’s parents were found to have some sort of magic, and some Humans killed them. Bree escaped but had nowhere to go, so I arranged for her to come here and get adopted by a couple that wanted a child and didn’t seem as close-minded as most Humans.”
“So you saved her from homelessness and now she’s your poison detector?” Cat asked.
Cat nodded and sniffed at her coffee. It had a slight scent of almonds. She wrinkled her nose at Gran.
“How am I supposed to know if this is cyanide or coffee creamer?” she asked.
Gran shrugged her shoulders.
“You tell me,” she responded.
Cat groaned and moved to dump it in the sink.
“I’m going to just start drinking bottled drinks and eating chips,” she said. “Then at least you can’t tamper with them.”
“Resealing those packages is so easy,” Gran said. “Don’t put your guard down because you think you’re the first person to open it. By the way, it’s just coffee creamer.”
Cat sat down with a huff.
“Why are you so intent on poisoning me?” she complained. “How many times have you actually been poisoned?”
“Three,” Gran replied, leaning over and taking a swig of Cat’s coffee. “And about… I’d say two dozen attempts of poisoning.”
Cat gave her a wide-eyed look.
Gran shrugged in response.
“Who doesn’t want to see me kick the bucket?” she joked.
Cat gave an unamused look.
“Those who want to live out in the open,” she said. “Even though it was made clear when they came here what the rules are. Or those who are tired of waiting for their loved ones to be approved to come her and blame me. Oh, once was from a mermaid who was salty that I rejected her offer of marriage.”
“I can’t spend all my time at sea,” Gran said with a shrug. “And she certainly wasn’t planning on living on land. Besides, I barely knew her, and she thought she could have claim over me. All in all, it never would have worked out.”
Gran stood up with a stretch.
“Well, whenever you’re ready,” she said. “I thought I’d show you the weapons’ room today. It’s about time you did more than just punching.”
Cat drained her coffee and stood up. Gran chuckled and led her to another locked room.
Inside, Cat could see rows of swords, knives, bows, arrows, and even a few spears. There were also some freaky animals that looked like they were alive and staring at Cat.
“Ummmm,” Cat said slowly.
“They’re all dead,” Gran said soothingly, leading her further inside. “And I didn’t kill any of them. They’ve been in the family for centuries.”
“Are they hunting trophies?” Cat asked.
“Oh no,” Gran replied with a wave of her hand. “Guardians don’t hunt Mythics.”
Cat pointed to one of the creatures.
“Then what’s that?” she asked.
“Sasquatch,” Gran replied. “And over here is a hippogriff and a chupacabra. That’s a—”
“But if you didn’t hunt them,” Cat said. “How did they die? And why are they here?”
“For company,” Gran replied with a twinkle in her eye. “And as for their cause of death, how am I to know? They were passed down to me, and I couldn’t exactly donate them to Goodwill, now could I?”
“I guess not,” Cat replied slowly. “It’s just a bit weird, you know?”
“Believe me, I know.”
Gran clapped her hands together.
“Now, let’s worry less about my furry friends and more about which weapon you’ll use,” she said. “Do you have a preference?”
“Well, I’ve never used any of them,” Cat said.
“Fair point,” Gran replied. “Well, the best way to know is to ask the weapons, no?”
Gran winked at Cat and grabbed her hand. She turned Cat’s hand to face palm-up.
“The next generation is here to defend the gate,” Gran announced. “Temporarily. Who will help her?”
Cat recalled the books that flew from the bookshelves and closed her eyes tight. If a spear was about to impale her, she’d rather not see it coming. She waited, but nothing seemed to happen.
“You’ve been chosen,” Gran said softly after a few moments.
Cat opened her eyes, but there was nothing in front of her. She glanced around. A glowing green light flickered in the corner of her eye, and she turned to look at it. There was a long dagger with a golden hilt and a single emerald shining in the middle of the hilt.
“Go ahead,” Gran encouraged. “It’s volunteered to help you.”
Cat took it from its hook carefully.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, looking from it to Gran. “But… it isn’t exactly subtle, is it? How am I supposed to carry it around?”
The dagger grew warm in her hands, like it knew what she was saying. She watched it slowly curl and twist. She held it up to show Gran, and it was a yellow headband with a plastic-looking green gem.
“That’ll do,” Gran replied with a nod of her head. “Now, let’s learn how to use it.”