Castle Roland

Riposté - Changelings

by D'Artagnon

In progress

Chapter 5

Posted: 11 Jun 15

Gathering Clouds

There are times when I count among my blessings that I was born into the modern age, when we have cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, voice mail, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, all kinds of social media platforms, wireless cable modems and plain ole land line call phones with answering machines. So many ways to send a message and have it wait for the intended audience. I put all of that communications gear fully to the test. Took me about two hours to go through my changeling network and tell everyone I could, in as many ways as I could about the presence of the dangerous Korbesh. Sounds like I was flying into a panic, but I was in a strange sort of calm. I guess that the action kept me focused.

Then, as a courtesy of the highest order, I summoned two kitts and two unicorns. This time, instead of ponies, I summoned full sized mustangs, one black and one gray. The kitts were more cat-like this time. Both silver striped tabbies, kind of on the bulkier side, both with muscular builds, full size rapiers and my colors on their chests. They were a little heavier than the usual kitts that just serve as messengers because I wanted to make sure they got through without becoming carnival horse hat-racks like the poor pair dropped on my doorstep this morning. I considered it Glamour well spent. Very well spent.

I wrote two quick, identical notes to Queen Mab and Countess Donna Trag. I sent them with my own seal, in blue wax, and I applied a quick Pyretics cantrip to the wax. Should anyone other than me or the intended addressee try to break the seal they'd find themselves on the business end of a short-range fireball. It may not be subtle or elegant, but it's an effective way to keep my mail going to whom I intend it to.

And if it's Korbesh that touches it, I programmed the cantrip to triple the blast. I wasn't in the mood to let the enemy intercept my messages without a serious penalty. Once again, I considered it Glamour well spent. James Bond letter bomb, indeed!

After all of that work, I still felt a ton of nervous energy. I expected at any moment that there would be tons of calls, that Daniel or Keith would call to tell me that the other Satyrs were warned. I hoped that the number I had for Joey got through and he was checking his voice mail regularly. I kept my instant messenger open so that if Juan or Bethy came online I'd be able to check things with them. Especially Juan. After all, Korbesh had cursed his existence when I exposed him as a traitor. Juan had to be a primary target on the list. Juan and I had become very close, and the friendly rivalry we shared was as important to me as my left arm. He was a bit of balance. If Kenny was my light and joy, Juan was a healthy dose of dark and cynical that helped keep me in line. I would always stand at his side in any battle. He had not only earned that right, he had proved his value to me.

But what caught my attention about the little lawn ornament that Korbesh had "gifted" us with was the weapon used to pin the kitt on the unicorn. It was a smooth blade, standard European cross hilt style sword like you see in all the Robin Hood movies, although the blade was more a double curve thing, oval at the tip, narrows and then goes back out a little before the hilt. Kinda like the sword Sora has a chance to select at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts (always choose the sword!). But the blade composition was perhaps the oddest combination I'd ever seen. Rough Cold Iron on one edge (what you might call ornamental or wrought iron) and silver on the opposite side. Clearly, it was meant as a weapon intended to cause lethal wounds to changeling and werewolf alike. Korbesh knew where my strengths lie, and he was preparing to counter them. I could barely sense the Cold Iron in the blade, which lead me to think that one of the reasons that the Dark Duke of the Redcaps was doing with all of these murders was collecting changeling blood, which masks the presence of Cold Iron if the weapon is tempered in our people's blood at the time of it's forging.

In other words, if there were more of these things out there, no changeling or Garou was safe. I shudder to think of the kinds of dark Glamour used in the creation of such blades, or what sort of personal weapon Korbesh had commissioned for himself with such knowledge. Scary stuff!

I sat back at my computer, my cell phone close at hand, holding SkyFire in both hands, staring into the crystal of the handle. The little spark of starlight and lightning twinkled gently in the handle, but instead of being the bouncy light that usually was constantly looking for a way out, the dot of power stayed very near the center, as if sensing that I might call upon it's blade at anytime. And the way things were looking, I just might need to do so.

The first one to send back any kind of message did so in the most unusual way. I was sucking on an ice cube from my tonic glass. It's just a habit I have. The internet wasn't giving me anything, and I kept worrying about Kenny. He was in an extremely public place. It would be difficult to use his abilities to their full potential should he need to defend himself. Granted, my boyfriend was smarter than most (some would say smarter than me) and a lot more alert than you're average kid. I just kept imagining all those stairs and ladders to get up to the top of the towers at the tops of those water slides. Bare feet, wet feet, lots and lots of feet. Lots of chances for some sort of convenient "accident."

So anyways, I was just sitting there, with assassination plots and conspiracy theories just spilling about in my head. I felt all the small hairs on the back of my neck ride up, lifting like someone was running a wet comb over them. It was like someone had just decided to grab my already overactive imagination and pull it through the bony part of my neck, backward, and then thrum it hard like a guitar string.

I stood, whirled and commanded SkyFire to appear in the real world, summoning my blade. It sprang forth, bathing my bedroom in pale blue light. My stance was compact, centered, balanced. But I couldn't see an enemy. I felt someone's eyes on me, but I couldn't see anyone.

"Show yourself!" I thundered.

"Okay, but put that thing away, wilya?" a familiar voice said. "Ah don't wanna end up a throw rug." And the air in front of me rippled like the surface of a lake after a stone plops in. Two snouts poked through the ripple into my bedroom, stepping out of thin air, forming into two young wolves, one a dusty gray and the other a white blonde.

"Nick? Cody?" They shifted in front of me, dressed like beach bums, complete with shower shoes. I felt a moment of irritation at seeing that Nick had on an Astros cap and Cody was sporting his Orioles colors on his chest and head. My room isn't decked out in sports stuff, but I do have my local teams well represented. Besides, it's baseball season and my boys have a title to defend.

"We came as soon as we got your message," Cody said, reaching out a hand. I extinguished SkyFire and shifted it into my left hand. After gripping his wrist and then Nick's, I nervously gestured to the bed, sitting back into my computer chair.

"Is Joey safe?"

"He said he had something you gave him that would allow him to fight off the bad guys," Cody replied.

"As if he needs it. He's pretty tough all on his own," Nick supplied. "Gotta admit, Ah was a little shocked at hearin' from ya'll so soon.

"I'm glad you guys came. I could use your native talents." Partly, I was just glad that they were safe. If Korbesh was throwing red flags to see which ones I'd chase, at least having our newest allies nearby meant that I'd have one less group to worry about.

"What d'ya mean?" Nick asked, his accent clearly out of place here in New England. But a welcome bit of out of place.

"I want you guys to see what we're up against and, well… how to put this? I need your noses."

"You want us to track something?" Cody asked.

"Actually, I want you to see if you can get a scent of our enemy, or his agents. And I think you should get a look at what we're dealing with."

"Something new?"

"In a word, yes. Apparently, they have weapons that combine both our racial weaknesses. You guys have a severe allergic reaction to silver, right?"

"When we shape shift into some forms it causes hideous wounds that take a long time to heal," Nick said.

I grabbed the hem of my shirt and lifted it up over my head and off in one quick move. The pinkish scar over my left shoulder was still easily apparent. It was about six weeks since my brush with the black kiss of Cold Iron. I no longer felt the deep aches and pains of that wound, but there were times it gets itchy and some nights I wake up reaching for the scar, remembering the pain of getting struck there.

Nick and Cody gasped. I dropped my shoulder some and moved my head to the side so they could see it better. "This is a month and a half after the blow that struck me there. I got hit by a staff of Cold Iron. It nearly killed me."

"Looks like a deep burn mark," Nick said, looking over at it. "Cody?"

"I can try," he said, and looked over to me. "If you'll let me. Can I try to heal you?"

"Heal me?"

"He's a gifted healer," Nick smiled, obviously with a lot of pride. "You've proved to us that you're a great warrior and a leader, but we haven't had much of a chance to show off our skills."

"And if this Korbesh guy is as bad news as you say, then we need to have everyone working at full strength." Cody stood up and moved up next to my chair. I nodded, trusting what I saw in his eyes. "This may tingle," he said, laying his palms on my shoulder. His head dropped and I heard him take a deep breath that lasted almost ten seconds on just the inhale.

Light shimmered around from under his hands, penetrating into my skin, firing my nerve endings. I felt like icicles and flaming hot metal skewers were crushing into my shoulder muscles. Then his hands pressed firmly onto my shoulder. My skin moved in ways I just haven't adequate words to fully describe. My left hand trembled as the power shuddered through me. Cody opened his eyes and suddenly the sensations stopped. I looked up into his eyes and saw him visibly shaken.

"Ohmigod, that must have hurt like hell," he said, slowly pulling his hands off of my shoulder. I looked down, under his hand and it was my turn to be impressed. Kenny once told me that some Cold Iron wounds never fully heal. That I'd likely bear the scar from that strike my whole life as Robby. I looked down and the skin was totally normal. It looked a little lighter than the skin around it, but I had been outside a lot more lately. My normal geek complexion had been getting more tan of late. The only difference I could see with how it looked before the Cold Iron fell on me was that I didn't have freckles there anymore.

"You could feel my pain?"

"I could feel what was done to you, so I guess I can feel your pain."

"Thank you," I said. Awed much! I never realized how much I had been compensating for that hit.

"No probs," he grinned back. Nick looked equally pleased. They completed each other, I could see, probably more than they even knew themselves.

"I think we should tell you now," Nick said, as Cody sat back down next to him on my bed. "Cody and I, we're…"

"I know," I said, smiling. "I see how you two are together. Don't worry, Kenny and me are the same. Well, we've got a few dozen centuries together more than you guys do, but, I know what you mean."

"You knew?" Cody asked, a little surprised.

"And it's okay with you?" Nick added.

"It should be, or else Kenny'd be kicking my ass about it."

They looked at each other, both a little relieved. "We never met other guys like us," Nick said, almost afraid. "Now to find out ya'll're like us two ways… it's kinda just a big thing for us."

"We were gonna tell you about us the other night, but I didn't know if you were ready to tell in front of everyone."

"So, Juan and Bethy know?" Cody asked.

"Everyone who was with us the other night knows. And Mitch is Kenny's dad."

"Shit! You mean everyone's alright with it?" Nick asked, taking Cody's hand. "Even Yoseph?"

"Yeah, even Joey."

"Wow, that's so cool. That's just sooo cool." Cody looked over at his boyfriend and kissed him quickly on the lips in front of me. (Attention perverts: this is not about to turn into an orgy scene. Put it back in your pants and step away from the hand cream!) "We can relax, a little," Cody said.

"Look, we can talk about our various love lives a little later. For now, we have some serious business to deal with. Just remember that Kenny and I want to be friends with you guys. Not just because you're gay as well, or because you're Joey's students. We got a good vibe just being with you two the other night. We may all be gay and supernatural, but, and I think I speak for Kenny on this, we just want to be friends as well as allies."

"We want that, too," Nick smiled. "And we want to pull our own weight in this crisis."

"Crisis is about the right word for it." I stood and motioned for them to follow me. I lead them downstairs, completely forgetting that my parents were still home.

"Um, Robert, who are your… friends?" Mom asked.

"Uh, Mom, Dad, this is Cody and Nick, they're werewolves. Guys, these are my parents, the Mages. I'm gonna show them that thing we found this morning, see if they can find some clues we missed." I said this casually as we walked to the front door. I could almost feel everyone giving their respective partners a quick look and then a look back. I saw Cody wave at my parents out of the corner of my eye and my dad wave back.

"How did they get past the wards we have on the house?" Mom asked, beginning to sound worried.

"Oh, don't worry. We talked to the spirits on the way in, they understand we aren't here to harm anyone," Cody chimed in.

"Yeah, the pattern spiders love what ya'll've done with the place, Ma'am," Nick added.

"They do?"

"Why wouldn't they?" Cody asked. I put a hand on both of their shoulders and started to push them out the door.

"Robby, where's your shirt?" I actually saw Cody tense as Mom said that. Then Mom gasped. "What happened to your scar?"

"Cody healed him," Nick said, softly. "It's okay that he did it, right?"

"Okay?" Dad asked, rising to come stand next to me, giving my shoulder the once over. "Of course it's okay. I don't know how I can repay you for helping Robby like that." His hands found my shoulders and he rubbed over the spot where the nasty, long path of twisted, melted skin had been. "Are you alright, son?"

"I'm good," I said, looking into his eyes. He patted my head and then shook Cody's hand.

"Thank you so much," Dad said.

"Glad to help, sir." Cody wasn't used to getting praise from grownups. His face flushed pink under his fair skin.

"Can you boys stay for lunch?" Mom asked. She had been doing something magical while Dad checked my shoulder. I guess she was satisfied with what she found.

"Better take her up on it, guys. She's an awesome cook."

They looked at each other and I swear to you they both grinned exactly the same way. "Sure, sounds great, Ma'am. Joey can't cook all that well."

"Yeah, he tends to like stuff as rare as possible," Cody said, almost breaking out in chuckle fit. "Even grilled cheese."

"Ann, we should let them get to what they're up to."

"Okay, but Robby, you put a shirt on before you go out. I don't want you getting sunburned."

I sighed, rolled my eyes and spun around on my heels like a break dancing soldier. My arm shot out and I snapped my fingers and hopscotched my shirt from the floor of my room down the stairs like a slinky. "Here, boy!" I commanded, like it was a dog, and it leapt across the room to my hands.

"Ya'll gotta to teach me how you do that!" Nick exclaimed.

"I've tried to get him to show me how he does it too, young man," Dad said, walking past us to help Mom in the kitchen. "Good Luck!"

"Be careful out there, Robby," Mom warned.

"Hey, I got two werewolves with me and two mages in the house. This is the absolute last place anyone wants to attack right now." A sudden booming sound that I perceived starting in the Dreaming shook the house. Almost on the heels of the sound, though, was a crash of distant lightening. I tugged the shirt over my head and gave my hair a quick pass with my hand. I have an image to live down to, after all.

We stepped outside and I showed them both the carousel horse. They stared at it and then looked at me like I was insane. I didn't get it for a second, until I realized that their fae sight had faded from last time.

"Are you guys ready?"

"Fer what?" Nick asked.

"I need to boost your fae sight again."

"Oh, okay. Yeah, we're cool." Cody and Nick clasped hands like Kenny and I do when we are alone. I suddenly wished that Kenny was there next to me. It was cool to know there was another couple around. We had met other gay kids nearby, recently. It would be interesting to see what things we had in common.

But that's another story.

Anyways, I tapped into the Tear. It was getting easier and easier to draw Glamour off the Tear. I guess practice makes a difference. I just didn't like that the practice I was getting was out of necessity instead of from simple learning. A simple twist of the will and me tapping their chests at the same time allowed me to infuse them both with a quick burst of Glamour.

They both blinked a few times, adjusting to seeing things in the Dreaming and in physical reality at the same time. And then they saw the kitt and the unicorn for what they were. And the weapon stuck through both poor creatures.

"Gaia!" Nick exclaimed. Cody seemed stunned to silence. He just stared in awe and horror.

"I've never seen anything so foul," Cody replied at length. "These creatures were no threat. This was done just to be cruel."

"Do you see the weapon?"

"Yeah, pure silver and some sorta rough iron," Nick asked. "Is that Cold Iron?"

"Yeah. Can you sense the silver?"

"Not really. I see it now, and feel it now that I'm looking at it." He nudged his boyfriend. "You feel it Nick?"

"Only while Ah look at it. When Ah look away, it fades."

"Yeah," I said. "It's the same with me. I can't sense the Cold Iron unless I actually look directly at it. Even just looking at the silver instead causes the feeling to fade out." I knelt beside the unicorn's head and stroked his forehead near his horn. "Among my people, carrying Cold Iron is a crime, a lot like walking around with Plutonium in a peanut butter jar. It's just too deadly. There's a technique to hide the presence of Cold Iron though. It involves tempering the weapon in changeling blood during forging."

"That's disgusting!" Nick said.

"I guess it hides the presence of silver from us as well," Cody nodded. "Hey, if this Korbesh guy is responsible for the killings, do you think he's used the blood from the changelings he's killed to make more weapons like this?"

"It would stand to reason," I replied.


"Cody, if this is what Ah think it is, we're in worse trouble than that."

"Whatchu mean, Nicky," Cody said. Nick got down close to the twisty, merged metal of the blade piercing the two chimerical creatures.

"Right here, in the blade itself. Carved in, you see, through both sides of the twin metals." He picked up a twig from the grass (yeah, I know, I gotta get busy raking the lawn), and traced out what I at first thought were just hammer marks and melty spots and twisting striations in the blade from the forging process. "You see these?"

"Glyphs?" Cody asked. "Can you read them?"

"Yes, but Ah daren't speak it in wolf tongue. It translates in English as a curse! A blood curse!"

"So it says 'fuck you' in written Garou?" I asked.

"Not that kinda curse," Nick said grimly. "This was forged by someone usin' Wyrm spells, spirit powers and bindin' rituals. Probably a few other kindsa magic Ah never heard of."

"What's it translate to?" Cody asked.

"Okay, Ah'll read it into English." Nick cleared his voice a moment and then started reading. "The twilight of souls am Ah, the drainer of Gnosis and Rage. The flesh of your bones may it drain of your blood of life. Consumer of all Ah am. The power of your spirit strengthen me shall." Nick looked around and stood up. "It's a soul drinker."

I stepped back from the blade some. Cody switched directly to wolf form, his fur a creamy color with whiter patches around his face and paws and down his chest and on his tail tip. He sniffed around the area, his nose twitching back and forth, walking around the entirety of the front yard. He walked around the cars a few times, Nick watching carefully but remaining in human form.

"Cody's nose is better than mine about magical stuff. Ah'll let him sniff around first." He looked me over as I stared at the unicorn and caressed it's horn, following the spiral.

"You know, it's my fault that these creatures died. Sure, the kitt was a mere chimerical thing, only given enough life to perform a task and then fade back to it's freedom in the Dreaming. Because of me, it was targeted. And this pony is part of my herds."

"You own unicorns?" Nick asked.

"Not all of them, but this one is one of mine. Part of the few that we brought to this realm. Well, a descendant of those few."

"Ya'll can't blame yourself for what some nut job does," the sandy haired southern boy spoke. I think I have them figured out a little better now, but back then I thought that Cody was the reactionary one and Nick was the deep thinker. What I had to realize was that Nick is better with the one liners and letting his emotions out. Cody, it seems, is the deep thinker, he just needs to verify his facts a lot. It gives him a chance to look at things from more sides. It's a combination that works. Just in case you haven't figured out, Kay is the deep thinker in our mix.

"I know, but I still have to think that if I'd taken care of business already, we wouldn't be in this danger now."

Nick looked over at me and I could see the worry in his eyes. "Ya'll ain't the only one with enemies lookin' to cap you. We threw in together 'cuz we all can see the benefits of workin' together. It's about more than survival."

"I know. I just feel so responsible for all of this."

"You know what Ah think?"


"Ah think ya'll Yankee's talk funny," he grinned.

Cody bounded over and bounced around Nick, barking.

"What is it?"

"He says he found somethin' he wants me to go sniff, right now." And his body flowed like water, transforming directly to wolf form. The two wolves trotted off to the edge of the property line, sniffing at the post of the chain link fence. They came back over a minute after and switched to human form. Well, not directly, they paused to get a good whiff of the unicorn and kitt and the cursed sword that pierced them both. Then they switched back.


"Ah never smelled anything like that before," Nick said, frowning. "It's like death stench and Wyrm taint and a lot of other things all mixed in. And sand."


"But not beach sand. The smell doesn't have salt on it," Cody said. "This is more like, I don't know, maybe like concrete powder mix."

"Yeah, that's kinda what it smells like," Nick nodded. "Liked powdered concrete. Although not so finely ground up."

"Like maybe glass?" I asked, feeling a connection.

"It could be, Ah guess. Rough glass maybe." Nick looked at me and his face tightened like he was trying to figure out something. "You know something?"

"Yeah, but we're not going to investigate it just the three of us. The last time I was someplace that smelled like what you're describing, I had to kill a dragon, one on one. And I nearly lost Kay in the process."

"Sounds like an awesome story," Cody replied. "You think that the place that you fought the dragon might match the smells we picked up here?"

"Yup. But first thing's first. These two deserve better than to be stuck on that weapon, but I don't want to touch it. I say we give them a proper funeral." I looked down and closed the eyes of the unicorn. Such a small one, so young. I stood back and gestured for the woofers to back up too. "Goodbye little ones," I said, held my hands out over the combined corpses and made claws of my fingers. The combined corpses caught fire and slowly began to burn, a pale blue smoke lifting from their bodies. The unicorn's horn released a series of musical tones as the fire pushed air through the horn (didn't think that the horn had a dual purpose, did you). It was a sad series of notes, but just the same, I was feeling a little better. Something reminded me that I was also lighting this pyre to purge the soul of my slain kinain. The blood that had been used to temper this unholy weapon would burn as well, releasing his soul, I hoped, into the revolving door of the changeling way. I hoped that in harvesting the blood, that Korbesh hadn't totally Undone my cousins, but somehow I know that they were no longer in existence or in the Dreaming. Still it seemed fitting to me to cleanse things with fire.

After we watched the last of the slain creatures fluff away as ash, we still had the problem of the sword. The weapon was red hot, but apparently its shape was calcified into reality as is. Melting alone wouldn't destroy this thing, and none of us wanted to touch it. I stepped into the garage and came out wearing a pair of my Mom's garden gloves. I stowed the thing in the garage, laying it on my Dad's workbench and covering it up with a tarp.

Cody and Nick stood beside the last vestiges of the pyre, Cody holding the unicorn's horn. It was untouched by fire, and while the rest of the 'corn's body was consumed in the fire, the horn was magical and chimerical and potent still. He held it with a great deal of respect and care. This touched me, and I can't really say how. All I know is that I felt suddenly so very homesick and sad at once.

Rain started to fall. The thunder that I had heard before was joined by its brothers and I invited Nick and Cody inside. Mom had the stove cooking something (don't you wish you could cook from across the room while doing a crossword on the couch?) and Dad was busy writing something on his computer, probably just answering e-mails from his clients. Suffice it to say, I discovered that the three of us had something else in common as well. Bottomless pits all! Mom makes awesome (magical?) grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I still can't figure out how she put the pickles in the middle without ripping the cheese up. We each had three sandwiches, Nick alone had three bowls of soup.

We went upstairs to my room and checked to see if any of my various communications had earned a response yet. So far nothing. We spent time playing yahtzee and watching TV. We even played PS2 for a while, swapping turns on Final Fantasy X until the storm outside intensified. And strangely enough, we were getting sleepy from it. Hey, a full belly, coming down off a serious fear trip and listening to rain usually would put anyone to sleep. Well, add to that the repetitive sounds and battle music on FFX, too. For such a cool game, it can get boring pretty quickly.

The wolves curled up together, changing shape to wolf form. I gave them a few spare blankets from my linen chest and climbed into my own bed, alone. And as a courtesy, I did keep my shorts and underwear on, although I tugged off my shirt and socks (I just can't sleep with socks on, go figure). We settled in and let the rain lull us to sleep, me occasionally opening my eyes to look at the buddy list on my computer to see if anyone I needed to warn was online. Sometime during all that, I rolled onto my side and dozed off.

I woke up enough to roll over and realized someone was in bed with me. Someone I had been missing sleeping beside. I had rolled over under his arm and opened my eyes only to be totally surprised. But in a good way.

"Hiya, stranger," Kenny said, smiling. "I see the wolves came by for a visit." I couldn't believe how relieved I was to see him, alive, kicking, and okay. I was suddenly just totally overcome with the fact that he was safe and in my arms. Or rather, I was in his. I drew his body closer to mine and just hugged tightly, so happy that he was okay. "Hey, you alright, Bu?" he whispered.

"Had a bit of a shock today, that's all. I'm so happy to have you back with me."

"I never really left," he said, laying his head beside my ear.

"You know what I mean."

"Yeah, I do," he admitted. "Mom said it was okay for me to stay awhile. She was a little confused about seeing Cody and Nick just show up. Apparently they made a good impression, though."

"I'm glad they're here. We have problems."


"I'll show you later. You wont like it."

"Why not show me now?"

"Because I'm still not ready to completely wake up."

"Lazy bed hound!" He smiled at me. "You'd sleep all week if I let you."

"And we know you don't let me just sleep."

"Robby!" he hissed. "Not in front of the werewolves!"

"It's okay. They're a couple too."

"Yeah, but it's bad manners to… uhmm…"

"I wasn't thinking about that. I'm just so glad you're okay. How was Water Country?"

"Started out good, but the weather turned so fast. And there was an accident."

"Ohmigod. Serious?"

"Nah, just a fender bender in the parking lot." He leaned back enough to talk to me comfortably. "You know how distracted people can get with a minivan full of screamin' grade schoolers who don't want to leave the water park early."

"Yeah, I can see that." I leaned back, staring at the glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. I could make out the constellation Orion, but just barely. I had put them on the ceiling when I was six, with some help from Dad. I just never noticed how much the lightning was flashing outside if these stars were picking up enough light from it to glow dully in the darkness of my room.

"Hey, where are you?"


"You're so far away right now. This thing really shook you up."

"Kay, this thing with Korbesh, the vendetta, it's a lot deeper than just what we've seen in this lifetime. I can't fully understand it yet, but it's something huge."

"Would almost have to be."

"We never do anything small," I said, smiling ironically.

"What brought this on? The dream the other night?"

"It got me thinking," I admitted. "It makes we wonder about everything that we lost, all these times. I mean, even a sadist like him wouldn't have impaled two creatures just to get my attention."

"Perhaps it's not your attention he wants so much as your attention in one place."

"What do you mean?"

"Robyn, think about it a moment. If he's trying so hard to get you to look one way, maybe it's because he doesn't want you looking in another place." I looked into Kay's fathomless eyes. See what I mean about deep thinking? I completely passed on seeing deeper into this than as a distraction.

"Well, damn, that's deep, Kay."

"Thanks, it just occurred to me, too."

"Yeah, but still! I've been so focused on just the maps and the dream and the tournaments." I leaned my head back and closed my eyes a bit. "I just haven't been thinking of his strategy, I've just been looking at tactics."

"Time to step it up a notch then."

Yeah, I thought, easier said than done. How many notches do I have left? I know I'm not even all the way into full on crisis mode right now. But the fact is, so far, I'm doing nothing more than sitting still and spinning my wheels. Some Lord Protector, huh?

"Hey, where's your scar?"

"Cody healed it up. He's like mad gifted at healing magic. I got a Glamour chubby from it," I grinned.

"Never takes you much!" he whispered back, giggling.

A slight noise in the room caught both of our attention. We both locked eyes for a second and then looked over to where Cody and Nick were under the blankets. Nick was stretching out under the blanket, partly rolled away from Cody, both still in wolf form. He looked up at us, one ear partly flopped over, and licked his lips. It was just comical. That's the thing about Nick, he's great for lightening a mood. It's his gift I guess. He's not like a conventional comedian or anything, but he just has this instinct for what makes people relax a little.

Cody leaned his head up in that canine way of being alert but lazy. He looked around, saw Kenny and he jumped up, dragging the blanket across the floor as he walked to the edge of the bed and jumped up. Nick followed a second later, the two of them just bunching up at the end of the bed, more or less just laying there with each other.

The simple truth of that caught me and made me smile. We haven't known each other long, but we were all in this together. The storm outside was picking up intensity and the lights from the hallway flickered briefly. But we were all just napping, feeling comfortable enough with each other that we could just relax utterly. The world was getting a little darker, a little more dangerous outside, but just on that bed just then, the four of us were that much closer to being a pack.

I hadn't intended having two corpses dropped onto my front doorstep turning into a sleep over, but I wasn't exactly arguing either. Kenny slipped off his shirt, kicked off his socks (so he could put his cold feet on mine), and climbed back under the sheets with me, pressing his back to my chest. I could feel someone's fur at my feet and someone else rested a canine head on my calf muscle. And just like that, with absolutely nothing sexual going on at all, we slept. Lightning and wind and rain assailed the house outside, rattling the windows and making the trees in the yard sigh and sway, but we were just four kids feeling safe and together.

"No farting in my bed, guys, okay?" I said. As if in answer two tails wagged, thumping against the bed. Kenny chuckled beside me and pulled the blanket and sheet up over his shoulder more.

And no, before any of you start getting ideas, we never fell together into some kind of group-grope sex pile, paired off into corners or even just stood up to do shows for each other. Stuff like that might happen in lame Internet sex stories (ones not featuring werewolves and changelings), but it's not the kind of thing that really happens, at least not in my experience. Well not since ancient times when people weren't so hung up about stuff. I wouldn't mind if it did happen, but I'm not really the kind to push people where they don't want to go, at least not without a seriously good reason. And while I might be a Satyr, I'm not a total sex fiend.

It would prove to be the last moment of peace we'd know for a while. Much later that night, I woke up and looked around. It was totally dark in the house and even the light from the street lamp seemed to be out. My alarm clock was dead, too, and my computer screen was dark. At the time I didn't feel that anything was wrong. I didn't see any need to be worried more than I already was.

If only I had known.

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