Erinne glared into the darkness, eyes hungering for anything, a hint of shape or shadow, but there was nothing. Why had she been sent? Why not Joy? Joy knew when the phone was going to ring, knew about things before they happened, knew everything. Joy could have found Birog. Ann would have been a better fighter to send. Why does it have to be me, she thought?
Erinne walked. She was tired. Her new expensive boots were tearing her feet to ribbons. She'd been wandering for hours, probably, hoping that some intuitive feeling would seize her and drag her in the direction of Birog.
She stood near a patch of trees and braced her hands on her knees. The mist was starting again, spider-fine; it tingled on the tip of her nose and on her cheeks. Her eyelashes felt heavy. She rubbed her eyes and the word exploded from her, in exasperation,
Erinne cursed, wiping her face. She raised her face to the sky.
"I need you," she muttered, sniffling in cold rain, "Please help me,"
The rain came down stronger, the drops growing. Erinne shivered. What had Aunt Willow said? They were unpredictable, druids. No reaching them unless they wanted you to. End of list.
"I've come to get my parents," she announced, into the wet, "And I need your help. Please,"
The rain began pelting sideways. Erinne grimaced and turned wearily. She headed back for town, fighting the sinking sensation of failure. This wouldn't have happened to her mother. Her mother would have figured something out, would have lasted longer, would have been more aggressive. Her mother would have succeeded. Erinne could never seem to win, when it came to her mother. What was it? They never seemed to be on the same page. When her father left Erinne had known that her mother would go after him, that there was no other option, but still she'd been angry, as if the whole thing had been her mother's fault. It was no one's fault that the change was coming on him, it had been coming for years, they knew for some time that it would be dangerous, they'd been warned. No one knew exactly how it would turn out, only that his body was ready to release the demon, and that he had been getting sicker and sicker. He was supposed to be better now; he was supposed to be home under the protection of his wife and daughters. That was all Erinne wanted, her father home and safe. And her mother, too. She sighed with disgust.
You're too hard on yourself," they'd say. It was the refrain of her entire life; even her teachers had said it. She couldn't see it. Her mother said it, too, her mother who never spoke harshly, who was stronger than anyone she'd ever met. She never abused her strength, she made cookies and cried when goldfish died and read bed time stories and then went out and kept the world safe. Her mother was important and respected, she was needed, she was a hero to so many people, and she always did the right thing, she always cared. Erinne had never seen her mother fail. It was a nearly unbearable weight.
Town was a relief. Just one beer, and then bed. Erinne loved the tiny, ancient pubs, the lush smell of the Guinness, the unpredictable variety of music. She wedged her way to the bar, wrinkling her nose at the smoke, the one thing she hated about Europe in general. But, just one beer. She wrapped her hand around the glass and pushed her nose almost into the foam. She drank, savoring, and looked up at a drunk American.
Erinne stared at him, unable to find words. She grimaced.
"Come on," he chided.
Erinne blinked. "Please leave me alone," she muttered.
"Come on, now," He squeezed closer; his yeasty breath blasted across her face, "You're all wet. Been chasing the wrong guy?"
Erinne stood. She took her beer and began to maneuver away from the bar through the crowd. He seized her by the wrist. Erinne twisted her hand quickly, gripped his forearm, and pushed. He fell against the bar and to the floor in a flood of people, many of whom began to laugh at him. He rose, bristling, and Erinne set her beer down on a table with a quick apology, turning to face him. He swung. Erinne ducked, grabbed his hand and twisted his arm around his back, guiding him out of the bar and onto the narrow street. She thrust him against the plaster wall of the bar face-first and spoke quietly into his ear.
"I can hurt you and get away with it. I don't want to. Please leave me alone,"
"You're right. Will you please leave me alone?"
"Let me go, you-"
Erinne released him and stood back. He panted for a time as he bent, holding his arm.
"Being on vacation doesn't make it OK," said Erinne.
"What?" he grimaced.
"You're on vacation; it's almost like a licence to do anything, that's the way you see it. That's crap. No matter where you are, you're responsible for what you do. You assaulted me. I should press charges, but I don't have time for all of that. But I'm around. Act like a jackass again and I'm going to hear about it, and I'll make you're vacation Hell. Behave,"
He glared at her and shuffled off. Erinne sighed. In her mind her father smiled at her. She looked up at him and reached for him. His arm went around her.
"I should have been more patient," she said.
He craned his neck a little to beam at her as she nestled under his arm. "I'm certain,"
"So I did OK?"
"He didn't leave you any other options. You did the right thing,"
Erinne's eyes stung. The wind was tearing at them. She was on the cobblestones with no coat, staring up a the sky. The wind whipped around her, pulling her off-balance. That wouldn't happen if he was really here.
Erinne retrieved her coat from the pub and started for the estate. Daddy, she thought, Why aren't you here? I can't do this alone.
"Sorry, Mo Chrige," he said, "I'm sorry, Erinne. It's something I can't help you with, now. You have something to prove to yourself. That's what this is all about,"
Erinne froze in mid-step.
This is about me???