Since I had revealed to Mom and Dad that I was a changeling, (something that is rarely done in changeling society) things around my house started making a little more sense. My parents are both Mages. And yes, the capital "M" is there for a reason. If changelings use what normal mortals would call magic to enact our special powers through the Dreaming, then Mages must be the human equivalent of a changeling. They don't use the power of the Dreaming like we do. Mages use the same magical energy as we do, they just call it different names. We call that sublime energy that comes from raw wonderment and creativity Glamour. Mages call the same energy Quintessence in its raw form or Tass when locked into a solid object/form (which is where you get the word tassel from, something special or magical added to proper vestments for ceremonial or magical use. See, you learn something new about what you thought was reality every day).
Anyways, the point of telling you all of this is that since my parents knew that my own magical nature had "awakened" they had begun using their own native magical powers around the house. Routinely, objects would shift position in the house as my mother would direct them to. My father would just rest his hand on the telephone and have whole conversations with other people without saying a word out loud. They would do things together, like cooking Sunday dinner, from across the room. Remember that Disney cartoon film, The Sword in the Stone, or like Ron's house from Harry Potter? My house was beginning to look like that. And to be honest, it felt more natural to me. I guess before my Chrysalis I was basking in the glow of their restrained magic powers. Now that we were all open about it, I got to drink in the pure daylight of their relaxation.
Besides, its just wicked cool to not have to do dishes anymore.
I woke up and went downstairs, smelling coffee brewing. I never drink the stuff myself. I have too much of a sweet tooth. But it's still the smell that I associate with morning. I pulled on some fresh underwear, a pair of shorts with oversize pockets and an over-sized black T-shirt with Yoda on the chest looking mean. I took the stairs two at a time and bounded down the last five.
Dad sat at his desk, next to the kitchen. I always marveled at how a man that had such an important job as my father had such a small desk. I bounced to a stop behind him and planted a kiss through his thinning hair right on top of his head. He looked up at me and smiled. "G'morning, Dad."
"Well, seems there is life after death after all."
"Depends on how friendly you are with Death," I replied.
"Okay, smart-ass," he countered, swatting me on the butt as I walked into the kitchen. I wrapped my arms around Mom's waist and hugged tightly.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't my darling son, the sword master."
"Morning. How is Kenny?"
"I dunno. He seemed fine last night."
"Bad dreams?" she asked, the concerned mom bit coming to the front. She was witty, wise and wily, and gifted with the ability to detect bullshit a few kilometers off. Not much slipped past her. Which was why I was generally cautious about how I answered her questions. Not that I usually had much to worry about, but let's just say that some secrets still hadn't been totally revealed to my parents yet. Like the fact that Kenny and I were more than just friends.
"Yeah, we sort of remembered this argument we once had with this Greek kid we knew of."
"One of the Apostolopolis kids over on Lowell Ave?"
"No, this kid's name was Alexander. As in, the Great. Of Macedonia, 338 BC."
"I wish you had time to write all of this experience down, it would be a hell of a best seller. Like a thinking, fighting, mage-warrior version of Forrest Gump."
"Changeling is as changeling does," I deadpanned.
"Well, changeling can set the table and get the juice out."
"Yes Ma'am," I said, saluting and bouncing over to the fridge to get the OJ out. I'm kinda addicted to good orange juice. The more pulp, the better. I was in too bouncy a mood to not bounce back to the table with the juice, shaking it with my whole body as I went. Okay, so I'm goofy sometimes. I got the right to be, I think. Hey, I'm 13 and already I saved the world. I earned the right to be a goofy, geeky, spastic nerd kid when I want to.
We did breakfast together, Dad taking a few calls briefly and then activating the answering machine. Yes, answering machine. How old school is that? Mom kept looking at Dad and I know that they were doing that silent communication thing again. Since I'd heard that they were Mages I'd pretty much come to the conclusion that there was some kind of psychic thing going on with them. All I knew was that they had human magic working for them, not precisely what their abilities were, or like, if they had to get out a cauldron to cast spells or stuff like you see in Harry Potter books (yeah, and the movies, too, but I like the books more, so far). I mean, it's one thing to see stuff around the house moving on it's own, or to see post-it notes on things these days that tell me not to touch because there's some effect hanging on said object. These things were the norm now.
I was still more than a little curious about what this great destiny thing was supposed to be. They'd come back in time apparently (don't ask me, I still don't understand how that's even possible) to give birth to me here, at this point in time for some sort of cosmic, mystical event that I'm supposedly key for. They're not giving me any clues though. Doesn't seem fair. They want me to tell them everything about my mystical adventures, but I can't get one little hint about what their agenda is, aside from being my parents.
Which kind of brought a thought to my head. If they're from the future and know everything that there is to know about what happens to me already, do they know I'm gay? Do they already know about Kenny and me? I thought about last night, how Mom knew that it was Kenny I was on the phone with. Then again, he and Juan are my only friends, but only Kenny calls me at night.
God, did they hear us? While Kenny and I were on the phone and, um, talking? That thought frightened me a little more. My changeling nature was an open subject, but I was far from out about other things. Would they understand if I told them? Would they be pissed about me and Kenny being over at Kenny's house all the time? If they found out about what me and Kenny do alone together, you know, sexually, will Mom and Dad go ape-shit?
It must have registered on my face. Mom looked at me for a moment with what I was beginning to understand was a piercing stare, but she said nothing. I don't know exactly what that might mean. But just the same, I decided to school my thoughts a little more, play things closer to the chest.
"So what's on the agenda for today?" I asked, pouring myself the last of the OJ. I'd already had three glasses. No milk though. Guess I'm just weird like that.
"Well, we have tickets for the train, so once we get into North Station, it all depends on you and that black hole in your gut. What do you want to do?" Mom said this while clearing dishes away. I only mention this because I saw her hold her hand in an awkward way and watching as the dishes lifted and stacked themselves in the sink.
"Well, we've done Science Park and Old Ironsides and the swan boats all before. I like the aquarium."
"Not any of the museums?"
"Well, there's supposed to be a few new exhibits at the Fine Arts."
"I checked on that already, they're closed for maintenance today," Dad said, leaning his elbows on the table.
"Red Sox are in town," I said raising my voice hopefully.
"So are the Yankees, not much chance of getting tickets to that game," Mom said, standing to put things back in the fridge. Weird that she'll levitate plates but wants to handle the food directly. I wonder if that's a critical thing about how human's deal with magic rather than how changelings use it.
"Well, we're definitely doing Regina's," I said. It's the name of an awesome little hole in the wall pizza joint a couple blocks from North Station. My mouth started watering just thinking about it.
"Maybe on the way home," Dad replied.
A thought occurred to me. "Um, well, I'm outta ideas. You got any?"
"Funny you should ask, son?" He called me "son." Not kiddo, not champ, not lil' geek, not even Robby, Rob, Robert or young man. Son. It sounded so formal, but not coldly so. Something was going on here that I couldn't figure out just yet. Something significant.
And before I could consciously stop myself, that damned autopilot engaged mouth and tongue. "Uh oh," I said. "What did I do wrong now?"
"Wrong?" Mom asked, looking at me curiously. "Why do you think you did something wrong?"
"Uh, no reason," I said, trying to backtrack. But Mom was fully on her game. I knew I wasn't about to get away with some simple explanation. Sooner or later, she'd get it into her head to weasel things out of mine.
"Actually, we were kind of hoping that you might like to look at some schools in Boston." Dad said it casually, which since Mom was on the mark made me suddenly on the alert from him as well. Something was in the works here, something unusual for this family. And I should, know; I've been in this family all my life. Well, all my life this time around, that is.
Mom sat back down. Her expression seemed to almost sink a little. Now I was worried.
"Robby, I don't want to upset you. There is a chance we might be moving to Boston." I could barely believe that she had said that. Leave Canterbury? Why?
"Your father has been offered a job on Beacon Hill," she said. "It means that he'll have to be closer to the city."
"It's an opportunity I can't easily ignore. The government has asked me to be a spokesman for the State Attorney General's office. This is a chance to make a difference for all of Massachusetts."
"But… what about school? What about fencing?"
"We'll find a good private school for you, possibly even try to get you into Phillips Academy in Andover if you want."
"What about Kenny?"
"Kenny has a father, who has a job here in town. Son, I know this is a big change…"
"Big change? Fuck, Dad! I've had to slay a dragon, one on one. I've had to deal with political crap and people dying because of me. There's a guy out there right now that wants to take my head off with his own friggin' overbite. I know all about big changes." I have never, ever said anything remotely that dirty to my Dad before. Even in jokes. I was mad. I mean totally hot and angry, fit to be tied, mad.
"This isn't an easy decision, Robert," Mom put in. "This is an opportunity for all of us."
"And what about my so-called great destiny? My mystic event that's supposed to make things better for your whole future? Huh?"
"Robby, we don't know what your great destiny is." And that one hit like a metric ton of bricks. Until now I had assumed that they knew the future. That they had all the answers and just weren't telling me any of them. I dunno why I thought that, maybe just a hold over from my sci-fi geekness days, thinking that any knowledge of future events might throw those events out of whack and like totally distort the time-space continuum, or some junk like that.
But they honestly didn't know. In the space of a few heartbeats I realized that and felt even more confusion wash over me. As uncertain as things in the future had been before, now they were twice as murky.
"We know you have one. We know that you do something that makes a lot of other events fall into place. We just have not been told what that might be." Well, that took the wind out of my sails. "We were told that things will happen naturally if we simply let them. We aren't here to engineer your life for you, Robby," Mom said. "Whatever your future holds, it's still yours to create."
"I wanna know," the autopilot let out. "I wanna know what you know."
"Robby… we don't know." He looked me in the eyes. Deep in the eyes. "And we can't go back so you can ask those that do know."
"Can't or wont?"
"Can't. We don't have the ability. Time magics are very much restricted when we're from." He looked at me and his eyes softened. "I know it's frustrating for you, caught between so many extremes, stuck with expectations all around, some of them that you didn't choose. But that's life, son. It's not about forcing a destiny. It's not even about guiding your life to specific moments. Life is about dealing with the hand you're dealt."
"But why do we have to move?" I whined. Yeah, whined. They were talking about moving for Dad's job as far as they were concerned, but to me, they were talking about separating me from my boyfriend. Boston and Canterbury aren't all that far apart, but I can't just walk across the stone bridge over the Merrimack and up five blocks to Kenny's house if we're in the city. The train alone takes an hour. Then there's the fact that I'd have to take the train back. Another hour. That's not even talking about whatever I have to do to get to North Station from where ever we live in Boston, should we move.
"It's just something we're looking into right now. We all know that magic is an active part of our lives now. You can be here with Kenny anytime you need to be," Mom said. Little did she know how much I needed Kenny.
"And my title?" I said, playing my trump card. Their whole purpose in coming to the past was to put me into position for some destiny that they didn't even know the exact nature of. Maybe I could find a little leverage in pushing my current position in the mystical world. If nothing else, I could push on their sympathies.
"I thought you were through with the dragon," Dad said. I was about to snap something else when this little voice in the back of my mind sucker punched the autopilot, preventing me from dropping the heavy end of the hammer on my own foot. Maturity, they say, is learning a sense of timing and acting in a timely fashion. It was as if something in the back of my mind had to remind me that my father was a word resource for politicians. In short, in any war of words, my old man was a H-bomb fired from a sniper rifle with a laser scope. And my own verbal repertoire consisted of pro wrestling slogans and snappy one liners from bad MTV reality shows.
And I was about to open up a lot of things all at once. I decided that with Dad's razor sharp wit and methodical mind combined with Mom's keen intuition and just plain ungodly ability to push my buttons I needed to practice some of Kay's restraint and savvy.
"There's been an… incident. Several, actually. There is a dissenter running around in the Kingdom. He's killing changelings."
"And this affects you how?" Mom said, getting the deep emphasis.
"He's challenging me," I said, the autopilot fighting to regain its position, and partly succeeding. Almost instantly I regretted it. Restraint? Where?!
"Challenging you? Specifically?"
"Yes, Mom. He's the same one that tried to kill me a month ago, who sicced the dragon on everyone."
"Oh, that Korbesh fellow," Dad said, very calm and relaxed.
"Yeah. He's responsible for about 40 murders, that we know of."
"And that's a challenge to you?"
"Mom, I'm the Lord Protector, the Texas marshal for the whole kingdom. It's more or less expected of me to take him down, mobilize the militia, things like that."
"And you can't do these things from Boston?"
"Dad, you know that things like that take a direct hand. I can't just let things go and expect other people to do my job for me."
"Wow. Are you running for office, too?" Mom said, getting that argumentative streak going.
"You don't understand. This isn't something I can just walk away from." I was starting to get mad, but kept pushing the autopilot out of the driver's seat. I didn't need to make them angry. "This guy wants to kill me and he's not afraid to kill other people to get at me."
"Son, we aren't asking you to give up your changeling life. We just want you to be safe."
I threw my hands up and left the table, prepared to head upstairs angrily. But Dad stopped me, just lightly putting his hand on my belly to stop me. I stopped and stuck my lip out about three meters, trying hard not to look at him. I could feel the tears building up.
"Robby," he said, softly. "I don't want to fight with you. I don't want to upset you. But this is important for me. If you ask me not to take this job, I wont take it." That pretty much was a hard shot. Now I was responsible for Dad's life too. It was too much. I just pushed his hand off of me and ran for the front door. I was just so conflicted.
This was supposed to be a day just to be a kid again. Just to be Joy and Light for my Dad again. Just to be held between them and let the cares of my other life slide for a day. Just to be Robby.
Now, here I was, having to deal with them turning my whole world upside-down. Leaving Canterbury meant leaving Kenny. How could I tell them exactly what that meant? How could I tell my parents that my best friend was also my boyfriend, betrothed to me millennia before they were even born? How could I explain that nothing in their world even mattered to me as much as he did? It was like I was being asked to choose between my family and my love. Between my past and future and my present.
This love stuff isn't as simple as it looks.
I just had to get out, had to leave the house and get some air. Okay, so I was venting and being a lousy teenager, running away from the problem instead of dealing with it. I was definitely acting like a little bitch instead of like an immortal warrior-poet with Glamour on my side. Yeah, well, fuck you! Have someone turn your whole world on its ear and see how you like it. If I overreacted a bit, in your subtle interpretation of my deep emotions, I don't care. I just couldn't deal with things all at once. My parents, the demands of the kingdom, thoughts of losing my Bright-Eyes… all of it coming in at me at once, it was just too much.
I needed to get out and think. So much for a happy day with the family.
But as I ran for the front door, my mother using my full name in that angry tone that only a mother can achieve, I was stopped by a sight of insanely cruel horror and depravity. I opened my front door and nearly gagged at the sight that greeted me. I know that I sat down suddenly, the front door still wide open. I heard my parents coming to the door and felt them kneeling beside me as they saw the look of utter terror on my face as I stared at the thing before me. I bet they expected me to just run out, slamming the door behind me. None of us expected to see either me staring in abject horror at something on the doorstep, nor all of us gathered there on the floor. I know I was sort of bleeding Glamour when they came up next to me, so I must have inadvertently gave them a temporary charge of fae sight, because they reacted with shock and horror as well.
Now what any normal member of the so-called human race would see would be a simple painted hobbyhorse, about a meter and a half tall, maybe a little taller because of the gilded, spiraled pole that ran up from the saddle area. Just like what you'd see on any old and ornate carousel. A gallant unicorn stallion, caught in mid canter, legs stepping high, mane tossed sideways to illustrate the wind. And it was done perfectly with a sort of artistry and attention to color, carving and craftsmanship that is rapidly fading in the modern, digital age. In mundane reality, it was a spectacular thing to behold.
But for those of you following along that know I see things in two levels of reality all the time, it was a sight to inspire horror and gather my anger. For while your kind saw this rather odd little gift as a charming but befuddling object reminiscent of the Trojan horse, I saw what it really was. It was a warning, a threat and a challenge all at once. For in the Dreaming, it was clearly a pony from my unicorn herd, with the kitt that had brought Kenny and me the maps and the message from Mab riding on the pony's back. Doesn't sound all that macabre, does it?
Well, it would if you could see the sword of Cold Iron and silver that plunged into both kitt and 'corn, holding them together in gory agony, impaled into the doorstep, both of them with expressions of pain and terror locked onto their faces.
"My God!" Mom exclaimed. I simply clung to her, my father's hand on my back. He closed the door, hugging both of us.
"Robby, what was that?"
"One of my unicorns. And a kitt, a messenger chimera. Slaughtered for my benefit," I responded, softly, crying.
"It's a challenge. Korbesh is showing his power. He's telling me he knows where I live, and that I'm not safe here. That no one is safe." I then told them about the maps, how the kitt had arrived to call me to court and then about how we'd compared notes with my advisers. About how we'd figured out that the murders followed the highways. About how we'd figured that Korbesh was heading back this way.
I looked at my parents and hugged them tighter too me. "I can't walk away from this, Mom. He wont let me. Something in the past is driving this. It's more than just the succession of Cerulean at stake anymore. There's something deeper going on."
"You know this?" Dad asked.
"You know it too," I replied. "People are dying. How can I do nothing?"
The phone rang, and we all jumped a bit. Dad patted my back twice and got up to answer the phone. Mom held me and I could feel her tears soaking into the sleeve of my shirt, right over the Cold Iron burn mark on my shoulder.
"Robby, it's for you."
I got up and went to the phone, taking the receiver from my father. He nodded at me as I looked up to his face. He looked very serious. I brought the phone up to my head and listened for a heart beat before speaking.
"Hello," I said, not sure if I was talking to a friend or not.
"I see you found my gift." The voice was gravelly, had a slight Spanish accent to it, and was totally familiar to me.
"Korbesh, you fuckin' bastard! If you want me, then come get me you cowardly prick!"
"Oh, don't worry, little lord. You'll be seeing me very soon. But I still have a lot of fun to have before you and I meet."
"I'm on to you, traitor. I know what you don't want me to remember now." I totally was faking it there. Bluffing, hoping he'd tell me some piece of information that might help me. I listened carefully and could hear some sort of musical tones in the background, and the sounds of traffic.
"Don't want you to remember? Oh, you poor little idiot. I want you to remember everything! I want you to remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday!" That line kind of caught my attention. Something about it sounded familiar, like something in a song or something. "That way, when you finally do meet up with me, and I get to taste your soul, it will be so much sweeter. I'm going to have a lot of fun taking you down."
"Don't sing it, punk! Bring it!"
"All in good time. By the way… how's the little boyfriend?" And then the line went dead.
"Fuck!" I shouted and quickly dialed up Kenny's number. It rang. And rang. And rang. "C'mon, Bright-Eyes, pick up, please!" I said, practically hopping in place. Then the answering machine at their house picked up the line. I didn't even wait for the away message; I just started screaming into the phone. "Kenny, Mitch, anyone, pick up! Please! Gods, please be okay!"
Mom was at my side in a second, taking the phone out of my hand. I looked up shocked but she simply took my hand and started towards the garage, towing me. Dad already had the car running. We got in and Dad drove us over to the Tannagord household. Mitch's SUV wasn't home. I slipped Mom's cell phone out of her purse and started dialing Kenny's cell phone. Mine was still back upstairs in my room on recharge. There was a long tense moment when there was no answer.
And then his sweet voice sounded on the line. "Robby?"
"Ohmigod, Kay. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, we're stuck in traffic though. The line to get into Water Country is going slowly. I don't know how long it'll be before we get inside. How's you, Bu?" I heard the wheels in his head turning as he realized something was up with me. "And why are you on Mom's phone? Is something wrong?"
"Korbesh was here."
"He left a message on my doorstep, then called me, so he obviously knew I saw his message." I quickly explained about the kitt and the 'corn run through with the strange weapon.
"He's getting more and more like some mafia Don all the time. Do you need me?" he asked, not even taking a second to think about it.
"I'm okay. I just thought… he made it seem like he was hunting you. I just didn't want you to be in danger."
"Robby, I've got my Pop here. I don't think Korbesh wants to take us both on without a full scale army."
"I know, but I worry."
"I know, Robyn. I'm safe, okay. We'll be watching each others backs."
"Will you be okay?"
"I'm with Mom and Dad. There's some stuff you and I gotta talk about later though."
"Okay. I love you, Robyn."
"I love you, too, Bright-Eyes." And that's when I realized that I said that with my parents in the front seat of the car. Listening in. My cheeks flushed. "Stay safe, okay?"
"Yeah, I will. Better give Juan and Bethy a heads-up, too."
"That's next on my list. We'll get through this."
"Hey, just focus on you for the moment, okay. Try to relax a little."
"No, but we can't let him get to us. We can lose to him only if we let him win, if we give in to fear."
"Yup." I didn't know what else to say. Actually, I didn't know what else I could say without arousing my parent's suspicions more. Things had taken too many quick turns in just the last hour for me. I was feeling that caution was more than just a thing to consider.
"Okay. Love you, Bu."
"You too, Kay."
"I'll call you tonight when we leave here, okay?"
"See ya," he said, jauntily.
"See ya," I replied and folded the phone up, handing it back to Mom.
"Bright-Eyes?" Mom asked, a slight smile on her face.
"Kinda an inside joke," I said. "It's a changeling thing."
"Umm humm!" Clearly she wasn't satisfied with the answer. Either way, I wasn't in the mood to talk more just yet. "I have to make some calls. There's people that need to be warned that Korbesh is here."
"Let's go home then," Dad said, looking back at me. "And I want you to take whatever precautions you think are necessary." I nodded. We drove back home in silence, my mind going through a million and one things all at once.
The war was on again, and not only was I losing battles without even getting the chance to fight, I didn't even know where the enemy was, or what he was up to. All I did know was that everyone I loved and considered a friend was now in immortal peril. And something in the back of my mind kept telling me that it was my fault. If only I could remember how…