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   Chapter 5 Wildwood The Society Book 1

Wildwood: The Society Book 1 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 44166

Updated: 2018-03-13 11:32

Chapter 5

Ivy spent the rest of the day doing basic chores around the house. After her sandwich, she took down her winter linens and sent them through the washer and dryer. She then stripped the bed and put the heavier ones back on. She swept the floors, vacuumed the rugs, scrubbed the toilet and rinsed out the bathtub. As she worked, thoughts kept circling through her mind, keeping her antsy and unable to sit still.

She oscillated between thinking about the documents Albert had given her and worrying about her own fate in front of the Council. Were the documents that Albert had given her what the Council wished to speak with her about? Somehow she didn't think so. "Russell said it wasn't something bad, " she reminded herself. While she wasn't certain she could fully trust Russell, she didn't think he had lied. "And anything dealing with dead children sounds bad no matter how you look at it."

She sighed as she wrestled her ancient vacuum out of the closet. It sounded like a turbine engine once she hit the power switch and she felt free to mutter to herself as she ran it, knowing no one could hear her over the noise, magic spell or not. It was one of the reasons she had never bothered to upgrade to a newer model.

"Russell mentioned the mages might want something extra, which means that the summons probably deals with an issue that overlaps the clans and isn't just a mage thing." Ivy had no idea what that could be. The listed deaths in Albert's files would be of interest to the whole Council, but it would primarily be a mage concern and something settled with just their clan's involvement, not the Council. Ivy was hazy on Council protocol, but was fairly certain that unless people from other clans started dying it wouldn't be a matter for the Council to handle.

"So maybe Albert thought I ought to know the information before answering the summons even though the summons has nothing to do with the deaths." Ivy mused. "But what do they have to do with me?" She thought of the Chambers file, but none of her family, including herself, had been tested on the new system. They were all about thirty years too old to qualify for testing. It seemed plausible that there was some connection, but she didn't have enough information to feel confident in her assessment. Ivy frowned, finished her vacuuming and put the machine away. She thought about picking out a book to read from her shelves, but knew she wasn't ready to settle.

"Clean kitchen it is then, " Ivy said as she moved to begin.

By the time Ivy was prepared to call it a night and at least attempt to go to sleep, her apartment had been cleaned from top to bottom and her closet had been rearranged. Her warm weather clothes had been relegated to the back and her cold weather gear moved forward. The weather had steadily worsened as the day progressed and she had no trouble believing the city would get the estimated snow fall and possibly more.

She put on fuzzy pajama pants and a worn cotton t-shirt and slipped beneath the covers. Outside the wind howled and the snow piled up. Ivy closed her eyes and blocked out the random sounds of the storm. She similarly blocked out thoughts of Council summons and dead children, knowing she needed more information before she could do anything. She steadied her breath and counted sheep until finally managing to drift off.

She slept fitfully, waking partially up throughout the night as she heard the sounds of crashing noises outside as the neighborhood trees had a rough night of it. A large crash around two in the morning woke her completely as it sounded closer than the others. She lay in bed with her heart racing, ears feeling stretched as they listened to the darkness. The sound didn't come again and gradually she was able to convince herself to go back to sleep.

She slept late the next morning as the normal sounds of the world were muffled by the heavy snowfall. When she finally slipped out of bed and began her day, the snow had stopped. Ivy popped some toast into the toaster and went to look out of the window. The world was blanketed in a thick coat of white and Ivy saw that some of the trees had not survived the storm. One of the trees near her building looked as though it had been split down the middle with a giant axe.

"That must have been what woke me, " she thought, returning to the kitchen to butter her toast. This time she was able to enjoy her cinnamon raisin bread. She was also able to enjoy her coffee as it came from her coffee maker and was therefore uninterrupted by sleepy baristas or scheming water mages with twinkling blue eyes.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon she drifted lazily around the apartment, still wearing her pajamas and trying not to think too much about the events to come. For a while she tried reading a book, but thoughts of her upcoming meeting spoiled the usual pleasure she felt in a good story. She turned on the television and flipped between various news sites.

The weathermen were in their glory. Not only had their predictions come true, but they knew their viewing audience would be watching to see what came next. All other news seemed to take a side step away from the spotlight. When faced with over a foot of snow on their doorsteps, national and international news seemed irrelevant, after all who cared about events thousands or even hundreds of miles away when you couldn't make it out of your own driveway? Ivy chuckled as she heard someone use the term thunder snow.

"Someone woke up happy to get to use that term, " she decided noting the relish with which it was spoken. She imaged the weathermen sitting up in bed, giggling and rubbing their hands together in glee. For some reason her mental image put them in fluffy pink onesies and she shook her head to dispel the image.

Eventually, Ivy decided it was time to begin preparations. In addition to her normal bathing process, Ivy washed herself down with a neutralizing cream as though it were body wash. It would dull her natural scent so that her emotions would be less easily detectible. Combined with the body spray she used on her still damp skin when she stepped from the shower, the shifters present would have a hard time telling if she was lying or not. It would also help foil the vampire senses. The Fae, she knew, would be only testing her words rather than her scent. She had yet to figure out how to fool them and would have to watch her words. As the spray was scented lightly rose, it would not register as a deliberate shielding. At least, she hoped not.

"Not that I plan to lie, " Ivy reminded herself as she began to dress. Truth was always better when an official record was being taken. "But as I don't know why I was called, any help is a good thing." She might not lie, but she would however be carefully wording her answers to any Council questions. Hopefully the wording of their questions would allow her some wiggle room.

"I just wish I knew what they wanted, " she complained to herself. She would have felt infinitely better going into the council with at least some idea of what to expect. "Which is probably why they didn't feel the need to share." She sighed and picked up her suit from the hook, carefully laying it out on the bed to begin dressing. Somehow she could easily imagine the Council wanting to keep her off balance. "It's probably company policy."

Once dressed in her suit, she took care with both her hair and make-up. Satisfied with her efforts, she slipped her heels into a plastic bag and pulled out her big rubber boots. They weren't entirely professional looking as the black boots were polka-dotted with pink skulls, each skull sporting rhinestone eyes, but she figured that combined with her thick woolen socks, she might make it to the Council session without freezing her feet off. She knew there was no way she was walking five blocks on snow mounded, ice-slick sidewalks while wearing heels.

Ivy tugged on thick socks over her stockings, followed by the boots and then she frowned at her feet. While the boots usually made her smile, she had the feeling that the snow might be piled higher than the boots were tall.

"They should have cleared the sidewalks, " Ivy reminded herself. "In theory." She remembered the rain before the snow and thought there would be the possibility of a thick layer of ice underneath the snow.

"Snow and ice, " Ivy said glumly. "A fire mage's two favorite things."

Knowing the five block walk would no doubt take much longer than usual, Ivy left early. Leaving the Council waiting for her arrival would no doubt be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and she wanted to at least try to start out on the right foot. She made certain to slip a brush into the bag with her heels incase her hat made her hair look crazy and some extra make-up into her purse for touchups after the wind had taken its toll. Ivy then tugged on a hat, scarf and gloves. As the items were composed of multicolored knit, they sort of ruined the elegance of the cape like coat, but there was nothing she could really do about it.

"Maybe I'll look into getting a fancier hat and glove set, " she thought as she reached for her doorknob. She took a deep breath as a bracer before facing the world, and then opened her door. Her nose wrinkled at the light scent of burning she detected in the hallway, but she chalked it up to the building's heating systems coming on in the night and dismissed the scent as she locked the door behind her.

She took the stairs, not wanting to be trapped in the elevator and with another deep breath; she opened the front doors and stepped outside. The cold air dove down her throat and burned her lungs each time she inhaled. Ivy tugged her scarf up over her face and her hat down over her ears, leaving only her eyes to peer out of the colorful knit cocoon.

Most of the sidewalks had already been cleared of snow, but crackled with ice under her feet. Ivy found herself alternating between watching each step her own feet took and looking out for anyone who might be in a collision course towards her. She was unsurprised when she saw few people out and about. Those she did see looked preoccupied with digging out their cars and deicing their stairs and walkways in preparation for the morning. None of them paid her any attention.

As the day began to wane, the temperature started to plummet, refreezing whatever had managed to melt during the day and making each step somewhat perilous. There were only a few sections of sidewalk Ivy had to traverse that hadn't yet been shoveled and a couple of them spilled snow into the top of her boots, making her mutter behind her scarf as her socks grew damp and her toes cold. The wind picked up and she shivered, already dreading the walk home. It was with relief that she finally managed to reach the building housing the Shadow Council.

"Probably the first time anyone has ever been relieved to see this building, " she muttered to herself. The anger and fear she had swallowed down made her feel slightly nauseous. "At least I only have the toast in my belly if I throw up, " she consoled herself. She hadn't managed to convince herself to eat anything more.

The building didn't look particularly ominous. In fact it looked like any other office building on the block. She knew that if she stopped to read the office titles posted on the wall by the security guard's desk, she would no doubt see listings for a variety of companies claiming to be housed within, none looking out of place in the neighborhood.

In reality, each clan held a floor where internal business was processed. The top floor was held by the Shadow Council itself, with each councilor maintaining an office along with the main meeting chambers. In theory she could visit her clan's, or any other clan's, representative whenever she wanted. The likelihood of her venturing within the building's shadow without a direct summons was significantly less than a cow building a rocket pack in order to jump over the moon.

Ivy stepped into the building and heard her boots make squeaky noises on the Italian marble tiles. A gust of warm air made her feel as though she had just stepped into an open oven. She thought about taking a seat and changing her shoes before going upstairs, but saw no place to sit. She was disinclined to sit on the floor. Somehow she was sure the security cameras would pick up on it and didn't know if it would be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.

"No doubt they'll make me wait upstairs before meeting with me and I can change then." She thought remembering her last visit. According to the giant wall clock above the security desk, she had actually managed to arrive early giving her enough time to not only change her shoes, but sort out her hair and perhaps touch up her makeup in the bathroom before being called in. Ivy sighed with relief from being out of the wind and tugged the scarf down so that it merely hung on her neck instead of covering her face like a flamboyant bandit.

As the security guard was already watching her suspiciously, Ivy decided to look for a bathroom upstairs to set herself to rights later and walked over to the desk. She smiled politely at the guard. "Name, " he said, barking the word out like an order.

"Ivy Chambers, " she replied politely. He checked a list, found her name and nodded.

"Elevator to the left, " he told her. As she could see the elevator from where she stood, she thought the directions were unnecessary, but nodded anyway and dutifully walked to the left. She felt the guard watch her as she pressed the button and waited. She had the feeling he would watch the numbers indicating which floor the elevator stopped to make certain she went where she was supposed to and nowhere else. For a moment Ivy wondered what would happen if she got off the elevator on a different floor. Would the guard send a SWAT team to intercept?

The elevator arrived and Ivy stepped inside. As she rode upwards, she pushed all thoughts of the bad weather and potential SWAT teams aside and tried to make her mind a blank slate. She tried thinking of her head as a giant balloon, certain that any thoughts she might have would do nothing but get her into trouble. She promised herself she could wail and gnash her teeth later if she could just make it through this meeting projecting nothing but calm acceptance. The elevator dinged and let her out into the top floor of the building.

The last time she had been inside the building, there had been others lined up on benches waiting their turn in the chambers and she had been flanked by her siblings. Everyone had been dressed as though attending court and most looked as though they expected sentencing to be harsh. There had been many red eyes and pale, drawn faces.

Today the benches along the wall where the penitents were set to wait were empty. The polished wood gleamed under the overhead lights. The only person in the room other than herself was the politely smiling secretary behind the reception desk. Ivy walked towards her. The woman looked a bit like a mannequin. Her make-up was flawless and her face held no trace of any form of lines or creases. Her eyes were a bright, almost artificial blue and didn't seem to need to blink as much as Ivy felt they ought to, which made her own eyes water a little in response.

"You must be Ivy Chambers, " the receptionist said. Her voice was polite and free of any emotion.

"Yes, I am. Do I need to sign in?" Ivy asked, uncomfortable with the loneliness of the waiting room and a little freaked out by the barely blinking receptionist. She wondered if the other cases set to be heard today had been postponed due to weather.

"Oh no dear, " the woman said. "The guard called up and they are expecting you. Go right in." She lifted a hand and gestured to a large set of double doors as though she were a game show diva showing Ivy what she had won. Ivy frowned.

"I'm not late am I?" she asked, a small bubble of fear beginning to rise now that she didn't have to worry about skidding on the ice. Had she gotten the time wrong?

"No, " she was told. "You may go in now." Again the secretary gestured to the door using the exact same hand movement.

"Thank you, " Ivy told her stepping away from the receptionist and towards the doors. When she reached the doors she glanced back at the receptionist. The woman had turned back to face the front and was sitting quietly staring off into space as though awaiting the next arrival before once again moving. Ivy looked away, slightly disturbed and opened the door to the chambers of the Shadow Council.

"I suppose it makes sense they would hire the creepiest receptionist possible, " Ivy thought as she stepped into the chambers, the door swinging shut behind her with a muffled thump. She pushed the thought aside and saw the Council had already taken its seat and was waiting for her.

Sitting in place at the semi-circular desk were the five councilors. The only one she knew by name was the councilor for the mage clans, Hamilton Bridges. He was an earth mage and came from a well-connected political family in both their hidden shadow world and the world of the norms. She had heard rumors that at least five of the non-mages married into the Bridges family were governors, senators or something else of the sort. She had no idea if they meant historically or concurrently in different states.

Hamilton looked to be in his fifties with hair that, according to rumor, was professionally grayed at the temples to enhance his respectability. He wore a three piece suit and Italian leather shoes, which as the council table was set up on a low dais, she got to see as if they were on display. As she let her eyes scan the other councilors, she irreverently wondered if they realized that the elevation of their desk put their crotches at her eye level. Ivy also wondered why no one had thought to put a solid front on the desk. She doubted the crotch display was intentional and was thankful that everyone was wearing pants. She tilted her gaze upwards and her thoughts away from their positioning, and the horror should they decide to wear kilts as they did not seem the sort to remember to keep their knees together.

The shifter councilor she thought was a wolf, as he gave off the same sort of energy as Russell. Ivy found herself vaguely relieved that he wasn't a cat like David. The Vampire clan's representative was wearing sunglasses even though the windows in the room had been tinted with a film to block the ultraviolet light they found so harmful. Through the windows she could see that the sun had started to go down and the streetlights far below began to flicker on.

The Fae's representative was cloaked in some sort of illusion to make him seem human. Ivy sensed something long and lean beneath the illusion, but thought it would be a bad idea to pry for the sole purpose of figuring out what he actually was. The Fae tended to be insulted when a mere human managed to peek under their illusions without permission. Antagonizing him did not seem the smartest of first steps. The final councilor was the representative of the Seer clans.

The seer was a reedy looking man in his thirties, only a few years older than herself. He looked innocuous enough with his sandy hair, pasty skin and somewhat ill-fitting suit, but Ivy could feel the small licks of anger flare up inside her at his presence. Luckily, he was not the same representative from her last council visit. That Seer had cast the final vote splitting her family. Ivy turned away and swallowed her anger back down. As she waited for the Council to say something she caught the shifter representative studying her. She hoped he had not noticed her anger.

"You may put your belongings to the side Ms. Chambers, " Hamilton told her with a smile. He gestured towards a small bench. "There is a hook above for your coat as well so you need not worry over wrinkles."

"Yes sir, " Ivy replied, wrinkles being the least of her worries at the moment. She stepped over to the bench and remembered that her package contained the shoes she had hoped to change into and the brush she had planned to use to fix her hair. The Council chambers were carpeted so at least her wet boots didn't squeak as she moved. As she didn't think pulling off damp woolen socks in front of the Council would look good, Ivy merely set the bag with her shoes down on the bench next to her purse. She pulled off her hat, gloves and scarf, hoping that her hair didn't look too bad. On the protruding hook, Ivy hung her coat.

"At least I'm presentable from the neck to the knees, " she thought as she turned back to the waiting Council and stepped into the center of the half circle. She glanced down at her boots before looking back up at them. "Maybe I'll get lucky and they'll think the rhinestones are pretty."

"Thank you for your prompt attention to the Shadow Council summons, " Hamilton told her formally as though she had some sort of choice. Ivy nodded. Now that she was here, her nerves and the knot of dread in her gut were combining to make her feel slightly nauseated.

"Before we begin, there is one matter that needs to be cleared up. I refer to the matter of David Lindgren, " Hamilton continued. "Will you please relate to us your version of the events that transpired, Ms. Chambers?"

"All right, " Ivy said slowly. As she didn't know a David Lindgren, she assumed it was the David that came to her apartment with Russell. As the shifter representative leaned forward, she thought her assumption was correct.

"I walked back to my apartment from the coffee shop. Russell walked with me." With a start Ivy realized she couldn't remember Russell's last name. "He left me at the front door and I went upstairs. Once inside I took maybe… two steps from the door before he knocked. I let him in and David arrived a few momen

ts later. They searched the area around my door. David destroyed my vase and the flowers it held and poured the water on the floor." Ivy frowned in remembered irritation, but shrugged it off.

"Then they searched me. When they found nothing, they left." Ivy concluded deliberately not thinking about Albert's flash drive. She stared at the council who seemed to still be waiting expectantly.

"Tell us what happened next, " Hamilton prompted. Ivy frowned.

"I did my laundry, made bread, cleaned the apartment and went to bed, " she told him somewhat puzzled as to why they wanted to know her personal habits. "It was snowing out so I stayed in for a quiet night." She had taken care of all of the tracking spells in her apartment and unless they had been peering in her window there was no way they could have known she had even turned on a laptop. Given the weather, she doubted that was even a possibility.

"And when David returned?" he asked noticing she was at somewhat of a loss.

Ivy blinked in surprise. "He didn't return." She told them.

The Councilors exchanged a look she couldn't quite read. "Tell us about your shielding of your apartment."

"It's tied to the deadbolt, " Ivy said unsure what exactly was going on. "After they left, I slid the deadbolt for the door which engaged the shielding… Oh, " Ivy said. She blinked three times in rapid succession as a thought hit her. "There was a burnt smell in the hallway this morning. I thought it was from the building's heaters. They kind of smell burnt the first time they kick on for the season."

"You heard nothing in the night?" Hamilton asked.

"A tree right outside my building was split by the storm, " Ivy said wondering if it had been the tree's destruction or David's return that had in fact woken her. "Did David try to force my shields?" she asked before she could stop herself.

"He did, " Hamilton confirmed.

"How badly was he burned?" she asked unable to help herself.

"He will recover, " Hamilton told her. He turned to look at the shifter representative. "Well Hackett, are you satisfied?"

The shifter, Hackett, nodded slowly. "I would still like to see this deadbolt and shield for myself as a number of those from different packs and clans have been inside her apartment on several occasions and none have detected a shielding before. However, for the moment I am satisfied it was not deliberate retaliation."

"The shielding is only active when the deadbolt is in place, " Ivy told them when they both turned towards her again not too happy about the words deliberate retaliation.

"Then when this session is over, we will inspect the shield and make a final determination, " Hamilton said. "Now, on to more pressing matters." He shuffled his papers importantly and Ivy felt her nerves return. She swallowed hard and struggled to look calm and composed.

"Over the years we have gotten a fair number of reports regarding your activities, " Hamilton continued. "Good reports, actually. You have shown an aptitude for dealing with a multitude of issues and a willingness to work with assorted clans outside of your own. Many of these clans and indeed families within the mage clan as well, have filed positive reviews of your work."

He paused and favored her with a smile like a pleased uncle before continuing. "In fact the only detriment to your efforts has been that as you work as an independent contractor, many of the clans and families contact you only when there is an emergency situation. The complaint is that many of the unguents, concoctions and remedies, to name a few items, that you have come up with over the years are ones people would like to have access to on a more routine basis." He stopped and stared at her as though waiting for a reaction.

"I see, " Ivy replied realizing she needed to respond, but having nothing to actually say. "I am glad they are pleased." She felt as though she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Indeed, " Hamilton replied. "The matter was discussed and it was determined that we have no general availability for such concoctions as you create and would find it beneficial to The Society to have a more steady supply of such things. Therefore, it was the decision of this Council that a way should be found to provide such items on a more regular basis. You have been designated for this task."

Again he paused and Ivy realized she was supposed to say something. She blinked hard in surprise. "Oh, " she replied, not knowing what else to say.

She noticed the shifter, Hackett was staring at her with a strange half-smile on his face. Ivy wondered what exactly it was they wanted her to create. Did they want her to simply make a bunch of creams, oils sprays and other things to have on hand if someone needed them as though she were a drug store? As many of them would expire within a given time, it didn't seem like a feasible plan to simply stockpile the items in her closet. She had been involved in a wide variety of things over the years and didn't think her closet could even hold one of each of the concoctions she had created over time. Hamilton seemed to be deliberately vague on what he and the council seemed to expect from her. When no other response was forthcoming from Ivy, Hamilton cleared his throat and continued.

"Funds will be provided to set up what is necessary. The operation, so to speak will need to be located away from prying eyes and of course once set up will need to be self-sufficient as we will only provide a one-time funding. You will of course need to produce as many of the components on site as is feasible in addition to making it blend with the environs so as not to draw suspicion from the norms. The venture will need to not be tied to the Shadow Council, but function independently. We realize that this will curtail your current consulting business quite a bit. As incentive for taking on this task, we have voted to remove the restrictions placed upon you and your family."

Ivy blinked in surprise, unsure at first that she had heard correctly. She had been wondering what sort of operation they wanted her to set up and hadn't been prepared for the curve. "Remove the restrictions, " Ivy repeated slowly.

Hackett chuckled to himself, but seemed disinclined to make a comment. Ivy looked over the other councilors. The Vampire and Fae representatives looked bored by the entire conversation. In fact, they had looked bored since her arrival. Now she detected a faint air of disapproval from them before they returned to their looks of studied indifference. The Seer merely looked curious.

"Yes, " Hamilton confirmed, his smile stretching broadly across his face like a politician who knew his opponent's dirty secrets. Ivy found it unsettling. "The restrictions will be removed. You may speak with and get together with the others freely. You can even arrange weekly dinner parties if you would like. In fact, you may find that several of your …siblings, have skills that you might find useful as you move forward." The five men stared at her for a moment and as the silence stretched, Ivy realized she needed to say something.

"Thank you sir and my thanks to the rest of the council as well, " Ivy added feeling dazed. Hamilton's smile seemed to have sharp edges.

"Excellent, then let the records show that Ms. Ivy Chambers has accepted the commission of the Shadow Council and the restrictions regarding her family have been removed." He looked at her and again smiled. "I realize that this is a lot to take in, but do you have any questions?"

Ivy realized simultaneously that they weren't going to let her out without agreeing to do what they wanted and that there was a trap inherent in the question. "Do you have the contact information for my family?" she asked, sensing the immediate pitfall.

Hamilton chuckled. "Of course dear, we will make certain that information is delivered to you. Anything else?"

"Will my family be informed that the restrictions have been lifted before I try to contact them?" she asked carefully.

Hamilton laughed openly. "Yes I can see how it might cause issues if you were to contact them independently. We will notify them of the lifting of the restrictions. They will be aware of the changes no later than…" He looked down at the papers in front of him. He appeared to shuffle them as though looking for something, but she had the feeling it was just for show. "The twenty fifth of this month. That way you may confidently contact them on the twenty-sixth."

Ivy realized that gave her three full weeks to work on the Shadow Council's project before publicly contacting her family.

"Is that all?" Hamilton asked looking up from his papers.

A question swam into Ivy's mind and before she could stop herself she opened her mouth and asked. "You said it was voted that the restrictions be lifted. May I ask what the vote count was?"

Hamilton lifted an eyebrow in surprise and the vampire looked at her as though she had finally done something interesting. "The vote was three for and two against, " Hamilton told her. "Although I can't tell you who voted what."

"Of course sir, " Ivy said. She filed the information away and deliberately didn't think about it at the moment. She also looked only at Hamilton, never letting her eyes slide towards the Seer, although she was curious as to his reaction to her question.

"Any further questions?" he asked.

"I'm certain I will have many as I move forward, but the only one I can think of at the moment is whether or not there is a list of the items people would like to have on a more regular basis so that I may begin my planning."

"A list will be given to you and an adjunct will be assigned so that as your questions arise they may be addressed quickly and efficiently."

"Thank you sir, " Ivy replied. She felt somewhat dazed by the conversation and was unsure what else needed to be said at the moment. As if sensing her mood, Hamilton declared the session at an end and the various representatives rose from their seats. The seer, vampire and Fae, exited the room leaving her alone with Hamilton and Hackett.

With a start she remembered there had been mention of her shield being examined. Unsure what else to do, Ivy moved to her things. She swung her coat to her shoulders and fastened it into place. As she pulled her hat onto her head, the two men walked over.

"We will inspect your shielding now if that is all right with you, " Hackett informed her. It was not a question. "I will meet you at your apartment."

"That's fine, " Ivy told them. "I walked though, so it may take a bit longer for me to get home."

"You may ride with me, " Hamilton told her. Hackett looked as though he wanted to object, but couldn't find an appropriate reason. Instead, he merely nodded and left the room. Ivy swung her scarf around her neck and picked up her packet of shoes. As she dressed for the cold, a well-tailored, non-descript man brought in a woolen overcoat, and gloves for Hamilton. He was the sort of person one would forget the moment he was out of sight and Ivy had the feeling he did more for the Council than fetch winter coats.

Somehow Ivy wasn't sure being alone with Hamilton was an improvement over walking home. However like Hackett, she couldn't find a reasonable objection and when he motioned her towards the door, she immediately followed.

Instead of leaving by the side entrance as the other councilors had, Hamilton led her back out into the reception area. The secretary was sitting exactly as she had before, which Ivy found intensely creepy. She tried not to look at the woman, but noticed Hamilton favored her with a warm smile.

"I'm quite proud of her you know, " he said as though confiding a secret to Ivy. Ivy thought it a strange thing to say about another person and turned back to look at the secretary. The woman barely registered their presence, instead continuing to focus on the door and potential arrivals. Ivy blinked in surprise, realizing she wasn't a woman at all, but a golem, a creature crafted out of earth and then imbued with earth magic.

"You didn't realize she was a golem did you?" Hamilton said proudly. "The greatest compliment of all, having someone think your creation was the real thing." Ivy smiled wanly at him.

Two of her brothers, Max and Alex were earth mages. As she followed Hamilton to the elevator she found herself greatly relieved that Max used his skills to keep livestock healthy and to assist in his capacity as a veterinarian and that the only thing Alex created was furniture.

Hamilton remained quiet during their elevator ride to the lobby, but seemed pleased about his golem's performance. They crossed the lobby and he waved carelessly to the ill-tempered guard. As they stepped out of the front doors, Ivy barely had time to shiver in reaction to the cold before a black sedan was pulling up to the curb.

Hamilton opened the door and Ivy slid into the warm car. While she met with the council, night had fallen and she took a moment to be glad she did not have to walk home in the dark. She had the feeling there were several patches of near invisible ice that were waiting for her to attempt crossing them. As the distance wasn't great and could be accomplished quickly in a car, Ivy figured it wouldn't be too bad a ride, especially if Hamilton maintained his silence for the duration. Hamilton sat down, pulled the door shut and gave his driver the order to move.

Once they were in motion, Hamilton turned towards her. "I understand Albert reached you yesterday, " he said, dashing her hopes for uncomplicated silence. "My compliments to you on managing to hide the information he gave you from the shifters. Both Russell and David are known for their abilities to ferret such things out, yet each reported you had nothing suspicious on you. Did you have time to read the information?"

"I did, " Ivy said. Apparently Albert had not been working independently or run into her randomly. She wondered if he had seen her going to the coffee shop or had gotten lucky on his way to her apartment. The thought that he might have been watching her since she had first received the summons was something she didn't even want to think about.

"Good, " Hamilton said, apparently needing no further information from her. "You will keep the list of requirements Albert deems necessary in mind as you set up your official Council designated project. As you will no doubt need a substantial herb garden at the very least it should not be too much of a hardship to make certain that garden is far from prying eyes." He took out a business card from his pocket and handed it to her. It contained only a phone number, nothing else.

"This number will get you to Albert. Should something be needed that wouldn't be on your approved project list, let him know so it can be dealt with. The clan funds will cover the expense. You may be honest with Albert and your family should they become involved, but you will mention nothing of this to anyone else."

"Yes Sir, " Ivy said, trying not to think of the implications. She got her family back and was encouraged to work with them only to put them all in possible danger. Anger and annoyance mixed with happiness and relief, making her feel slightly off balance.

Hamilton looked angry and jerked his gloves off, slapping them against his leg. "That someone is killing our children is intolerable. That someone seeks to handicap our entire clan's future by taking out our best and brightest is completely unacceptable. It will be stopped."

There was a fire in his eyes and for a moment, despite her less than warm thoughts of the Shadow Council and her conflicting emotions about the day's events, Ivy found herself actually proud of her clan's leader. On this point she agreed with him. No one should be killing children.

The car pulled up in front of her building and Hamilton washed all traces of anger from his face, slipping the pleasant politician's mask on again. It seemed a very easy transition for him and Ivy wondered if the anger had been any more real or just another type of mask. She made a mental note to remember how quickly his appearance could change and to trust none of it.

They exited the car and it pulled away to wait wherever it was that chauffeured cars went when they weren't needed. Hackett was already waiting in front of her building. To Ivy's surprise, he was not alone, next to him stood Russell. Russell winked at her and stepped aside to let her ascend the front steps as she led them all inside the building.

Once inside the building, all three men turned to the elevator while Ivy opened the door to the stairwell. They turned to look at her. "The elevator is unreliable and has been known to get stuck between floors." She told them. While getting stuck between floors was never a fun time, she thought it would be worse with the three of them stuck with her. As it was not a large elevator to begin with, even without getting stuck the four of them would fill the small box. While she may have fantasies about Russell, she had no desire to get that up close and personal with either Hackett or Hamilton.

"Ah, " Hamilton said affably. "The stairs it is." They joined Ivy at the stairwell and followed her up the necessary flights to her floor. She unlocked her apartment door and invited them inside, pleased that she had her burst of cleaning frenzy the day before. Once inside, Ivy stepped out of the way and after setting down her still bagged shoes and purse, she began to remove her coat, hat, scarf and gloves while the three men began inspecting the door and its surrounds.

"I don't sense any shielding at all, " Hackett said after a while. Russell and Hamilton both agreed.

"It is on the deadbolt you say?" Hamilton asked.

"Yes, " Ivy replied. "But it is inactive until the deadbolt is thrown."

"Fascinating, just fascinating, " he said sounding impressed. Russell flashed her a smile behind the two councilor's backs and mouthed the word "Sneaky, ' at her. She couldn't help but smile back.

"Does it require anything else to set it into place?" Hamilton asked. "An extra charge to get it functioning?" The two shifters took turns sniffing the deadbolt, neither apparently able to detect anything. As Ivy had taken great care to melt the metal around the shielding so that it was fully encapsulated, she was pleased with the lack of scent. Hiding it from shifters hadn't been the plan, but it was a nice side effect.

"No, just locking it sets the shield up." She answered. She didn't mention that half of the spell was in the deadbolt and half was in the lock itself, the two connecting was what activated the shield.

"Interesting." Hamilton reached for the deadbolt and slid it home, locking the door. All three men jumped as they felt the shield become active. "The lock was a little warm at the moment of activation, but nothing else, " he said, almost as if talking to himself. "I can see why your skills are so in demand." Hackett and Russell seemed to be sniffing the air as the shield came on. Hamilton slid the bolt back and the shield was gone.

"I can't smell it at all, " Hackett said he looked to Russell.

"Nothing, " Russell confirmed.

"Very impressive. What is seen from the outside, I wonder." Hamilton opened the door and he and Hackett stepped into the hallway ordering Russell to close the door behind them and throw the bolt. Ivy wiggled her toes and realized her socks were still unpleasantly damp. She sat down at the kitchen table as Russell closed the door and threw the deadbolt. She pulled off her boots and set them to the side.

"Don't any of your socks match, " Russell asked as he waited for the order to unlock the door. Ivy looked down at her feet. One sock was a dull olive green while the other was a bright kelly green.

She shrugged. "They are both green, " she told him. "And I had planned to take them off with my boots and put on my heels for the Council session."

"Really?" he asked. She picked up her plastic bag and pulled out a heel. "Wow, " he said mockingly. "They even match the get-up you are wearing as well as each other."

Ivy frowned, but before she could comment, there was a knock on the door and Russell unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door. The two councilors stepped inside. Ivy dropped her mismatched soggy socks into her boots hiding them from view.

"Very Impressive, Ms. Chambers, " Hamilton said. "And I believe we are both quite satisfied that there was no intent to retaliate against David for his actions, but that his injuries were a well-deserved result of an ill-fated attempt to gain forced entry into your residence. I doubt he will try that again, especially not with a fire mage in residence." He chuckled and looked at her with pride.

"Forced entry?" Russell said, the humor fading from his eyes. Hackett put a hand on his arm and he quieted. Ivy was surprised he hadn't known. Usually she was the last to know anything.

Hamilton reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a piece of paper folded lengthwise to fit in his jacket's inside pocket. "Russell is of course your council appointed adjunct and will be bringing a more in depth file along with your family's contact information, but this is a basic list of some of the items you will need to think about as you move forward." He held the still folded page out to her and Ivy walked over in her stocking-ed feet to take it from him.

"And again, should you find you have further questions, do not hesitate to send them along." Hamilton concluded. He turned to go before she could answer. Hackett followed and even though Russell looked as though he wanted to say something, he kept his mouth shut and followed his clan leader out of her apartment. They closed the door behind themselves and after a brief second, Ivy moved to the door and threw the deadbolt.

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