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The note read: "Cassie, Meet us at Mystic Keep, 10:00 a.m. We need to talk." Stormy
The words disappeared the moment she finished reading it. For a second, Cassie stared at the blank paper in disbelief. She had solved the murder mystery. Last she checked, the protective wards swirling around the portal were in good shape. Why the mystery? What was left to talk about?
Cassie knew about The Keep, which perched on a narrow finger of land jutting out to sea, but she hadn’t been there. From a distance, it looked old and frail. Why would Stormy want to meet there? And who the hex did “us” refer to? Why did she use parchment paper? Did she not have a phone? After the first sip of her brew, Cassie no longer cared.
An hour later, Cassie drove her mustang rental to the Keep. Sid sat in the passenger seat, chewing on a witchy brand of catnip. The higher they climbed, the greater the view. The rugged cliff fell hundreds of feet down to the water. The surf pounding into the rock on both sides, and seagulls screeching above them. The crisp, salty breeze had a nip to it, but she didn’t want to put the Mustang’s hood up. She wanted the full, maritime, meal deal.
Halfway up she saw a signpost with eagle feathers attached to it. A warning symbol? Although it had no words on it, she could feel a “Keep Away,” message.
Feathers never hurt anyone, she told herself.
The last kilometer was nothing but bare rock. She parked the car by the door. It was 9:55 a.m. and there were no other cars.
Sid meowed long and loud.
“What do you think, Sid?”
The cat raised her back and hissed. Cassie ran her hand slowly along her cat’s curved spine to calm her mood. When her familiar acted this way, it was a warning. There were things, supernatural things, Sid could sense, that Cassie could not. A chill ran down her spine.
Cassie couldn’t leave. There were too many unanswered questions. Maybe Stormy found out something about the poisoning. The old sea-witch had told her about Ophelia, her inheritance and the darned curse, but Cassie would bet her favorite chocolate brownie that Stormy hadn’t told her everything. The woman was a drama queen. She enjoyed tossing pieces of the puzzle out one at a time, like many older people who want attention. Cassie opened her car door and got out. It was time to learn the whole truth.
The weather was turning. A ceiling of low clouds blocked the sun and pressed down on the land flattening the landscape. The salty wind blew her hair in all directions. Sid jumped on her shoulder and nuzzled her ear. “It’s just weather,” Cassie said.
The stone structure of the Keep called to her. Of course, it wasn’t a real Keep. Real ones, were fortified towers built by the European nobility during the middle ages, to act as safe houses if enemies took over their castle. This stone tower had been named the Mystic Keep by the locals because it was old, not medieval old, but old, and it resembled a keep. It stood as a sentinel in the harbor.
Cassie had looked it up before she arrived in town because it was listed as one of the main tourist attractions. The Keep had a mysterious past, according to the lore of the Internet. No one knew who built it. The first mention of the Keep was in a land document dated 1610. The local indigenous people claimed strange things happened here, things best left unspoken.
Why did Stormy want to meet her here?
Taking a measure of the place, she walked around the outside as far as she could. Half of it bordered the cliff. Bare rock skirted the other half. It stood a hundred feet tall, and she guessed its diameter to be about twenty feet. It looked much like a lighthouse made of old worn stones.
Stormy could have talked to her at The Perfect Brew.
The Keep’s weathered and haunted appearance gave her goosebumps. Moss grew on the west side, and salt left white marks on the rocks.
Cassie looked up. A balcony had been built at the very top where there was a large bell. In the days before modern communication, the wives of sailors would climb the stairs of the Keep to the top to watch for their men returning. If they saw a ship coming to port, they would ring the bell. The women had named the building, Mystic because it made them feel closer to heaven.
But today it did not feel the slightest bit mystical. It felt cold and forbidding. Cassie checked her phone. No messages. 10:00 a.m.
“Stormy,” she called out, but no one answered. Cassie walked around to the front again. The stone entrance led to an arched hallway. As she entered, Cassie set a protection spell around her and Sid, her own version of Teflon. Sheltered from the wind, the inside of the Keep felt warmer. It smelled earthy as if the stones had been pulled from deep in the ground that day. The first floor had two rooms, both cavernous, dark and empty.
“Stormy?” Cassie called.
A crudely hewn, circular staircase made of cedar planks spiraled upwards from the center of the building. Cassie climbed to the second floor. Water ran down the stone walls, and dampness seeped into her bones. The air smelled musty. She shivered. Of all the places to call a meeting!
On the second floor, there were three open doorways. The smell of sage emanated from the first, so Cassie, with Sid clinging to her neck, entered."