Lord Blackburn opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled a small writing case from its depths. Grace watched him place it onto the desk’s shining surface before his hand slipped under his collar and pulled out a fine silver chain from beneath his shirt. Attached to it was a small, rusty key, the metal pitted from age. Blackburn quickly unlocked the small case and tucked the key away again, giving Grace a grim smile before he lifted the lid. The little hinges gave a slight squeal.
From within Blackburn pulled a battered book, bound in vellum cracked with age. She could see signs of water damage on the cover and wear along the spine. Several pages were loose and threatened to fall to the floor. Blackburn silently regarded the little tome in his hand, then gave a sharp huff as he handed it to Grace. As she reached forward to take it from his hands she could smell the old paper, calling up memories of her time spent shut away in her father’s library.
“This is a most sacred document, my dear,” Blackburn began. “It is the records of the lucht siuil, or as much as has been saved. They rarely wrote down their accounts, always fearing discovery, but some record was made to instruct future generations of Travelers in the importance of their task.”
Grace ran her fingers over the vellum as she listened. She still felt as if her world had been suddenly overturned. Not two days ago she had met a stranger who claimed to be one of these mystic “Travelers,” and now she had been ordered to leave her home in London and to act as a guardian to a young girl who was in grave danger.
“I shall leave you to read in peace, my dear.” Blackburn took a step toward the door, then paused and added, “Ring for tea if you need some, and I shall come back in an hour’s time to answer whatever questions you may have.” He then paced over to the heavy library door, giving her a sad glance as he stepped through and shut it behind him.
Grace settled back into her seat. Her fingers swept over the cover of the little book once more and she could just discern a beautiful celtic knot engraved into the soft leather. She slowly opened the cover and began to read.
Her eyes were strained after puzzling out the several hands and the scrawling scripts. She looked up at Lord Blackburn where he was leaning against his desk in front of her, and he regarded her silently.
“And so the Travelers are in danger?” she finally whispered.
Lord Blackburn slowly nodded. “They have always been in danger. But with the rise of this Consortium, that danger has grown exponentially.”
“And you and your family have been aoire for generations past?”
“Yes. We have always served as the guardians, the shepherds, of the lucht siuil. It is our honour to protect them and their gifts.”
Grace nodded slowly and looked down at the battered book resting in her lap. So much had changed in just the last hour. She had learned the story of the lucht siuil and those who guarded them, the aoire. She had read of the Travelers’ journeys through the Nethereal Realm and their great power. Her mind was still reeling, trying to adjust the world of an hour ago to include this new knowledge.
“Am I to understand, then, that the Travelers have truly directed the course of human history?” Grace’s eyes widened and she looked at Blackburn, confusion and disbelief playing alternately across her face.
“Yes, my dear. Behind every major battle you will find a Traveler inflaming passions. Behind every great work of art you will find a Traveler acting as a muse. And behind every scientific leap you will find a Traveler who has sparked imagination at just the precise moment necessary. From the Nethereal Realm they can whisper into a man’s thoughts and weave a web of influence. They have the ability to guide a human mind gently, help a man achieve his potential and bring about great new changes to the world. But they can also drive a man to mad ambition, causing him to wage war and trample on his fellow human beings.”
Grace shook her head, trying unsuccessfully to order her thoughts. “But now there are only a few left?” she whispered.
“Yes, only a small group remain. After they were discovered, they were hunted. Many men coveted the power that could be wielded through the Nethereal Realm. And so the Travelers were hunted, captured, and forced to enter the Nethereal Realm to do their captors’ bidding.
“This is why we must hide Roisin from the Consortium. They are a deeply secret group of scientists and politicians who seek to bring about a new world order by seizing control of human minds through the Nethereal Realm. Roisin is one of the last of the lucht siuil, and her father believes she may be the most powerful of those left.”
“Do the Consortium know about her?” Grace gasped.
“No, and that is why we are hoping sending her with you will completely cover our tracks. They are hunting Conall unceasingly, and if they capture him they may be able to create the bridge they have been planning between our world and the Nethereal Realm.”
“And if that bridge is built?” Grace felt her body tighten as she awaited the answer, one she knew would not be pleasant.
“If the Consortium finds a way to enter the Realm, they will be able to influence anyone. We will all be at their mercy, with no real way to fight back. How does one fight against an enemy within one’s own mind?”