“The first thing you need to know is that magic is real, and it’s very, very dangerous,” Nixie said. “There are two worlds, one for humans and one for magical creatures, and the places where those worlds meet have to be guarded.”
“This castle and the forest around it is one of those places,” Baron said. “Your aunt is the Caretaker, and the fence is the border. So long as the fence was intact, the magic of the Otherworld was contained. When it was broken, a path between the worlds was opened, and magical creatures started coming through.”
“They can’t stay past dawn though,” Nixie said, “not without a blessing from the Caretaker, at least. But they’ll be back when the sun goes down, and if they ever get in here they won’t need the Caretaker at all.”
“It’s a good thing you were able to get here before the others,” Baron said. “Only the Caretaker can open the room from outside, but if you hadn’t been able to lock the door again, or if you’d unlocked it…”
He trailed off, but he didn’t need to tell us what would have happened for us to be afraid of it.
“Where’s Aunt Pen?” Macey asked, and Baron flinched.
Nixie glared at the ground, and she spoke like the words pained her. “Amos took her.”
“The guy who came to yell at Aunt Pen after Dillon broke the rules?” I glared at Macey, but she ignored me. Nixie crossed her arms and huffed, but Baron nodded.
“Yes, but he was threatening her, not scolding. We’re fairly certain he was the one who tried to lure Dillon over the border.”
“Aunt Pen said I was glamoured?”
“Yes, it’s a kind of magic used to trick mortals,” Nixie said. “It makes things seem different to mortal eyes, changing the way magical creatures appear or luring mortals into danger. If you’d crossed the fence Amos would have used you to force your Aunt into letting him pass between the worlds freely.”
“Is that how you can look like crows?” Macey asked.
“No, we actually become crows,” Baron said, pride filling his voice once more. “We and our brethren help the Caretaker guard the border. We’ve lived here for centuries since the first fence was built.”
“Can all crows turn into people?” I asked, and Nixie snorted before shaking her head.
“No, but there are others around here who can do it. We can introduce you later, when the fence is back up,” Nixie said. “But before we can do that we need to get your aunt back. In order for the fence to hold power, it needs a Caretaker, so we need to get her back in order to fix it.”
“Okay,” I said. “How do we get her back?”
“You two need to stay here,” Baron said, though he looked apologetic. “Without a Caretaker here there must be someone inside to lock the door, to keep out intruders. Your aunt keeps many powerful artifacts in this room, and they must be protected, as must the two of you.”
“We came by to explain what was happening, and to get a few things to help us rescue your aunt,” Nixie said, hopping off the table and walking to the wooden cabinet. “We just need something to heal Alexei, and maybe something to threaten Amos with.”
“Who’s Alexei?” Macey asked, and I gaped at her. How was she okay with just being left here?
“Alexei is another shapeshifter; he broke his wing last night and can’t shift until it’s healed,” Baron said. Nixie crowed in victory as she got the cabinet open, though I couldn’t see what was inside of it.
“Was he the one who got thrown through the window?” I asked, forgetting to be mad in my concern.
“Yep,” Nixie said. “He’s lucky it wasn’t his neck, taking on a troll all on his own.”
“Troll?” Macey squeaked in fear.
“Don’t worry, you’ll never meet one.” Baron was quick to reassure her. “Nothing can get into this room unless you let them in. Just keep the door locked and close the curtains at night.”
“And when it rains,” Nixie added, turning back from the cabinet with an amulet, a wooden box, and several glass bottles that glowed different colors. “Or if it’s cloudy. Really, any time the sun isn’t out. The candles will light whenever the sun isn’t bright enough to keep away uninvited guests. We won’t come back when they’re lit, so don’t let anyone in when they are, even if it sounds like us.”
“Is that everything?” Baron asked her.
“Everything we can use.” Nixie sighed. “We’d need a human for most of the really useful stuff, and unless someone brews a mending potion Alexei will just have to sit this one out.”
“We’re human,” I said. “Let us help!”
“You’re children,” Baron said. “Your aunt will not forgive us if we put you in danger.”
“What about the potion?” Macey asked. “Can we make that in here?”
Baron and Nixie shared a look before Nixie turned back to Macey. “Yes, but it’s very complicated.”
“As long as there’s a recipe, Macey can make it,” I said. “She’s the best at cooking.”
“Potion making and cooking are very different,” Nixie said, frowning.
“Eh, may as well let her try,” Baron said. “Lilith can bring Alexei up here when she gets back, and he can keep an eye on them.”
“Alright,” Nixie said. “You can brew the potion if you think you can do it. Just be careful.”
Macey nodded, then walked to the workstation to start looking through the recipe book.
“What about the artifacts you said would be useful? I could use those to help you, right?”
“Dillon, those artifacts are very dangerous,” Baron said. “We don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’ll be careful. Please?” I gave him my best puppy dog eyes, perfected over years of begging for things. My parents had gotten to where they could resist it, but Baron clearly had no experience with children, and I could see it the moment he caved.
“Alright, we’ll show you a few things.”
I beamed at him, ignoring Macey’s eye roll and Nixie’s muttered “Pushover.”