Castle Roland

Riposté - Werewolves

by D'Artagnon

In progress

Chapter F

Posted: 2 Jul 15

The Scent of Dreams Burning

I have always marveled at how accurately the cop shows on TV have it down. The way that police tape suddenly sprouts up around accident scenes. The way that one cop always seems to be directing traffic around the wrecks. Even that sort of bored with the universe look that a plain clothes investigator has when looking over the evidence with a Styrofoam cup of bad coffee in his hands. Hollywood writers must be critically anal retentive to be so detail obsessed.

But they get it right. Can't deny that. They get it right. Down to every brutal detail.

We were all a little bit shocked. After all, what we were looking down on wasn't just evidence of a plot to kill us, it was the death of Robby's parents. And it was about as brutal and direct as anything you can ever imagine. I'm not being paranoid here. One of the first things that you have to learn the hard way when you discover that you are supernatural is that there are no coincidences. Period.

Unfortunately, it was something that I was still having to remind myself of almost daily. It shouldn't have been. Not when I'd watched a unicorn pyre just 15 hours or so ago. At that time, I should have realized that we were up to our tails in serious business. Guess I just had to have the legs kicked from under me to make me remember. Pain will do that; make you stop and think and look around.

Robby was there, with us, but only physically. He had pretty much checked out. Kenny kept trying to pull him back behind the boulder we had taken up behind, but he was fixated. Can't say that I blame him. It was all so very surreal.

"Tha's the car?" Nick asked, mostly to Kenny. He said it with a sensitivity and quietness that hadn't characterized him of late. It was something I wasn't ready for. That simple sentence seemed to penetrate me, too. Like it was more than just asking for acknowledgment. It was almost as if he were saying it to make it more real for all of us, yet keeping his usual silver-tongued bite out of his words.

Then again, I think too much. Could be that Nicky was just respectful of the dead. It occurred to me that we'd just met them a few hours ago and now they were gone. Much like how I was "gone" for my own parents.

And yeah, that hurt a lot, too.

Kenny nodded, his face wet with more than just the occasional rain that would drip and drench us. I wasn't sure how to take all this, but I knew that there were answers below that we needed to investigate some ourselves. Robby was in no shape to do much and Kenny needed to stay with him. That left Nicky and me to go snooping about.

Nicky seemed to understand this as much as I did, and we both shifted forms and slunk down the side of the hill, looking like two drowned rats as much as young wolves. He whined in sympathy at me. It's a very subtle thing, a whine. Sometimes it means something totally different than what most humans tend to think. There are volumes of expression and meaning and context that we Garou can pull from a whine. We can even tell who's whining, if we know them well enough. In this case, Nicky was telling me to be careful.

Which probably has many people reading this going "no duh, smart ass!" He wasn't just warning me to be on my guard and not get caught by the cops, but he was making me understand that my talents for finding magic might be more important here than most other times.

I nearly replied "no duh, smart ass!" myself, but for the fact that we were about to tread where my new friend's family basically just died. Besides, it's not usually my place to make the wise guy remarks. I'm usually the doom and gloom type. Despite my haircut.

Besides, just because you can sense magic doesn't mean you are immune to it. In point of fact, it means that magic has a way of wanting to get your attention. Even when you don't necessarily want your attention wanted. Spirits are like that sometimes and they're like pure Gnosis. Which means that if we discover the ghosts of Robby's recently deceased parents hovering about down there, they might want to talk to me, leaving me open to whoever could be just lurking about.

Okay, so I'm healthily paranoid. Sue me. You wont get much.

The scents I picked up were strong and they mingled freely. Gas and oils and lubricants and fluids from the car (Gaia, I hope those were just from the car) had leaked and pooled and swirled together into a dark mess. The scent of it was enough to make me nearly gag. There was also the overly sweet smell of radiator fluid, a puddle of it dripping green and luminous in my sight from under the remains of the car as the men began the task of hauling the wreck off the highway.

I also picked up the scent of fire, which seemed out of place in the rain, and faint wisps of rubber scorched by friction. I tried not to pick out the smell of death that hung in the air, but it practically filled my nostrils as I nosed around where the car had come to rest.

Nothing too out of the ordinary, I remember thinking, as if I were some kind of CSI expert or something. I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, yet, but I knew that this would be our one chance to check it out. I had to push deeper and try to find out what I could. Anything we find out now might wind up being crucial to finding out exactly what happened here, and who did it. Part of me was pretty much sure we already knew. But I'm the kind of guy that has to know for sure. The mystery had to be solved.

I moved in silently, trusting my small frame to the shadows cast by all the flickering lights of the police and emergency vehicles and slipped up close to the car. There were three policemen in the way, but they were talking to each other as if preparing for the paperwork to come. Writing in the rain was pretty much out of the question and I think they were all getting their stories straight. The attendant next to the wrecker stood from his work and pulled out a cell phone. He stepped into the cab of his truck to answer the call and I seized the opportunity.

I hopped up onto the flatbed of the wrecker and set my nose to work, going around the car and sniffing as much of the outside as I could before gingerly lifting my snout over the broken glass of the window to look and sniff about inside.

Smell is overpowering to canines. It's our most powerful sensory organ, even more powerful than our ears and eyes, both of which are proven to be many times more sensitive than human ones. My nose was twitching with too much information, and I was feeling overwhelmed.

They come at you in bunches, all the smells of things that one might expect at a crash site and more. I got traces of Robby's mom's perfume. The faint and dusky odor of masculine sweat as it hangs about in hair, probably from Robby's dad's head. The sharp and dark tangs of burnt and scorched fabrics from the car seats and head liner. The flat smell of scented wax, probably from melted cosmetics. The wet smell of an umbrella, hastily closed and tossed into the back. That nasty, teeth grinding flavor of roasted plastic that just makes you want to back away and find some water to wash your nose out in. All of these flavors and odors and scents floated in to me as I poked my nose into the ruined car.

That and the smell of death. It's not just some literary thing. There actually is a smell associated when an animal or human dies, especially when it's a violent end. Part of it is the unmistakable scent of blood, even as awash as the interior was becoming with the falling rain, the coppery tang of it hung on everything in the car. Contrary to popular belief, you don't always void when you die. It does happen, though. I didn't smell any of that, but I could smell the acidy gasses that escape the throat after death, as the stomach does it's thing and relaxes it's muscles.

There was fear-scent as well. A combination of adrenaline, pheromones and sweat shocked out of the body by trauma or the feeling of being in danger. Those are darker smells, mostly salty and tangy, but with a heaviness to them, and they layered in with the blood and stomach acid stench that drifted around.

I saw places where the blood had been diluted into the fabric of the seats and the carpeting of the car and couldn't help but feel a twinge of guilt. My parent's didn't even have that much confirmation that I was dead. But the situation didn't allow me time to feel sorry for myself and wallow in all that… stuff. Robby was likely to be a wreck after this and at least I could give him the truth. That might not seem like much comfort, but at least in knowing, in really knowing, he'd be able to get through the days to come and move on.

Still, I almost vomited from all of it. The scents were powerful, fresh and deep, despite the downpour. I whined softly, in sympathy for what my friend must be going though, even as I pulled my snout back out of the ruined window.

I trotted back up the hillside and leaned my shoulder in at Robby's chest. Kenny held him from behind, just gently rocking him as they both sobbed in silence. I felt Robby's hand grip into my fur and twist, holding tight, guiding me against him more. So of course I leaned in still further, practically laying in his lap. I heard Nicky come up the slope from the other direction and whined a question his way.

Nicky morphed back to boi form and collected up the lightsabres. "We need to go," he said simply. His accent seemed to fade out in the somberness of his voice.

"Trouble?" I yip-growled.

"Yeah. I smelled something down there. Two somethings."

"Like what?" Kenny asked, blinking tears and rain out of his eyes.

"Cordite and something that smells a lot like that twisted sword somebody left on Robby's doorstep."

"That hybrid weapon? The one made of silver and Cold Iron?"

"The very same," Nick replied. "We have to get going. We aren't safe here. Can he ride?"

"He can," Robby said, rising to his feet, with Kenny's help. His eyes were vacant, though. Like a pale glow of light that couldn't decide if it was orange or yellow dwelt in the deeper part of his eye and was looking through the porthole of his irises at the world beyond.

We got Robby seated across my back and, by linking Kenny and Nicky's belts together, we made a quick strap to keep him pressed across my back as I shifted to hispo. It was almost like putting him across the back of a small pony that way, and I could run easily without fearing for him falling off. Two of the lightsabres got tucked in as well, so I could quickly arm myself if necessary. Mostly they were for Robby, since I had almost no idea what to do with them aside from whack whoever was in range as hard as I could. Werewolves often don't do subtlety.

Kenny hopped onto Nicky's hispo form back and we set off. At first I wasn't sure where we were going. Nick took lead, since he was in a better fighting position than I was with Robby strapped to me like a backpack on a Chihuahua. But I did run close enough that Nick and I could exchange a few growls.

"What was that stuff you were talking about smelling?" I asked as we bolted back towards Canterbury.

"Cordite?" Nick asked back, the word sounding foul and gross in Garou.

"Yeah. What is it? What does it mean?"

"Gunpowder," Nicky responded, accenting his growl with the rolling tongue sound that indicates extreme anger in our species.

"Were they shot?"

"Shot at, I think. If the cops thought there was gunplay, they'd be more into investigating it. From what ah overheard, they had no clue that there was guns in use."

"Mage powers?" I asked, taking a guess.

"I don't rightly know. What I do know is that the smell wasn't old and the car doesn't show any hits. If someone did shoot at them, it was probably just to scare them and make this thing happen."

"They were set up," I yipped, happy for once that Kenny and Robby didn't understand our language.

"Set up an' killed. Like fish inna barrel. Only these fish didn't get shot, they got scared inta jumpin' out the barrel on their own. Ah got a bad feelin' about this, Glubber."

"Woooff," I breathed softly, agreeing.

"Don't cuss. Ain't the right time fo' it."

We ran on in silence and managed to get to Kenny's house. From there, things took on a more conspiratorial bend. Kenny's dad made a few phone calls and set us about on small errands. For the most part, I was to help Kenny take Robby down to the downstairs bedroom and get him comfortable. Nicky was sent to check out the area around the house, patrol about and make sure no one followed us. It wasn't a good time, and a lot of it was just sort of mundane.

Kenny took care of Robby, mostly. I was just extra arms and legs when necessary. We got him undressed and into the shower. Kenny did most of that, stripping down and getting into the shower with him. Several times I heard them both break down, crying almost hysterically. Can't say that my eyes stayed dry either.

That night, we had to make a show of things. Kenny's dad drove over to the French's house only to find that the police were there, sealing the door with yellow tape and knocking on the door. Small towns have the tendency that most people of a certain age tend to know each other. Kenny's dad and the police officer in charge at the French house had gone to school together. He put in our cover story and set the ground work for the great cover up that followed.

According to our quote-unquote official version of events, Robby was sleeping over at Kenny's house and realized he had forgotten his sports bag for the fencing class at the YMCA the next day. Kenny's dad went to go pick up the bag, leaving the boys together for the few minutes it would take to get the bag. Supposedly, the sports bag had Robby's inhaler for his asthma medicine, something he hadn't needed since the changeling equivalent of his first change. That was enough to alleviate the police's question about how Kenny's dad was over so early in the morning.

Mitch didn't have to act to show his sadness at hearing of Robby's parent's deaths. Or to genuinely ask the officer if it would be okay for Robby to stay with him until the police could settle things out. The officer was happy to pass on the recommendation and told Mitch that Robby could stay where he was for now, but naturally, he'd have to come down and identify the bodies. He was the only living relative after all. It was mostly a formality. The police were pretty sure who was in the car at the time of the wreck.

It was a tough day after that. Police experts came and told Robby about things, but he was pretty much out of it. Everyone was very concerned about him, but we all knew that he was just in the worst kind of personal hell imaginable.

I stayed with him at night, as did Nicky. We all took turns keeping an eye on him. It wasn't easy, because he just mostly did things as asked. His spark was gone, missing in his grief.

Joey wasn't able to come over yet. Important sept business kept him preoccupied. We were given permission to stay with our new packmates while things fell into place among the humans. I didn't put a whole lot of importance on that at the time. Well, on any of it. It's like Joey knew we were thinking of forming a pack with the changelings and was okay with it. It's also like he knew that we were safer there than getting involved in whatever he might be up to his neck fur in back at Black Rocks.

That first night after, while laying with my head on Robby's chest, I had a horrific nightmare. In my dream, I was surrounded by a thousand, thousand funeral pyres, each as tall as an oak tree and as wide at the base as a school bus is long. The logs in the fire, burning brightly with a hellish array of oranges and yellows and reds, were huge and blocky, as if some industrial tree milling machine had slipped into the forest, Wolverine-like, and slashed the trees into rough, cubic sections before they even had a chance to shed a single drop of precious sap.

But each pyre was more. I could hear screams, unearthly and melodic, all sounding in some minor key. It was almost as if someone were playing a funeral song on an organ made of human and animal throats screaming out in pain and horror. I felt the hair on my cheeks raise up and tingle, and my one hand unconsciously raised halfway to my mouth to prevent the rising ash and smoke from suffocating me in the oppressive heat. I raised my hand to my eyes to shield the harsh glow and simmering waves of searing air, peering beyond the smoke and fire to see who or what was screaming.

A unicorn looked up from the pyre, its eyes streaming and steaming as I watched. It was lanced into the center of the pyre, its blood caking and baking on its flanks as it struggled to get free. The pure Gnosis of the animal-spirit was fueling the fire around it, burning the creature horribly while it was still alive. It struggled against the lance that pierced its shoulder, but it could not get free. It howled in pain and frustration and agony unimaginable.

I felt my own tears falling as I watched the gallant creature try to free itself. Hot air was rising through its horn and joined its voice as a cacophony of musical tones. I felt powerless.

"Help us!" came a voice from above the unicorn. "Please?! For pity sake!!"

I looked above the unicorn, just as flames danced into its mane and the poor creature howled. I'll never forget that sound in a million years. I looked up, almost afraid to, tracking the voice calling for help.

It was a middle-aged Satyr, one of Robby's kinsmen. His body fur was rippling in flames. The man's face was wreathed in agony. A spike of metal had been driven into the spaces under his clavicles, one near each shoulder, pinning him to a massive stake in the center of the fire, directly above the unicorn. He was badly burned, and as I watched, his right leg succumbed completely to the flames and fell off. The fires roared a bit louder, but not louder than his cries of excruciating pain and despair.

I looked around and saw that the other fires were set up similarly. Different spirits and changelings, werewolves trying in vain to free themselves from the fires and the silver that bound them to the burning logs. Creatures I couldn't even put names to were all bound in the flames, crying out, cursing, screaming in frustration and Rage and pain. All about was the smell of the fire, of roasting flesh, of smoke and ash. The heat was overwhelming, and I dropped to a knee, scooting backwards away from the scene of the unicorn in flames, my hand up protecting my face from the blazing firestorm all around me.

And in that moment, I felt my hand close upon the unicorn horn. The one that I had taken when Robby had given the young stallion a proper burial on his front lawn. I clutched the holy object to me like there was nothing in the world that could matter more.

"You must prevent this," a voice said into my mind. It was a voice I remembered well. It was Unicorn.

"How?" I cried, feeling my tears turn to steam even as I cried them out. My throat closed in painful spasms as I watched ash drift on the ethereal winds of this hell-world.

"You have already begun. You cannot stop in your quest now, Cody Speaks With Water."

And an image swam before me, blocking out the screams of the thousands of unknown beings and spirits in torment, replacing them with two screams I also knew well.

Suddenly, I was back in the RV, with my parents and the pack of Black Spiral Dancers that had come to either recruit me or end me. The pack's bitch was using her claw to punch holes in the soles of my father's feet. I cried out, reaching forwards, hearing my mother call my name.

Then the RV was in flames, the power of the blast knocking me to my back. I felt scorched and greasy, my whole body shaking with terror and the heat. I tried to sit up, to look around and find my parents, to find the enemy werewolves, hell, even to just find traces of the RV. But it was all gone, hidden and consumed in the constant burning, burning, burning.

But the heat vanished, almost as suddenly as it had arrived, and the fire-noise of the roaring blaze all around me subsided. It was as if my ear drums had ruptured and all sound was just gone, all heat sensation burned from my skin. Everything went glowing golden white and calm, and I felt weightless, disconnected from the things my senses should be telling me but staunchly refused to give over even the faintest glimmer of sensation.

"You must finish what you began. What all of you have begun," a voice echoed in my mind. Somehow, I turned and was confronted with a spirit even grander than my beloved Unicorn.

His wings were spread, half open, half forward, as if to embrace me. His body and feathers were fire, but golden fire, somehow pure Gnosis given motion. His eyes were as cool and sapphire blue as a mountain lake fed by snow melt. I was dazzled by his presence and felt so very, very small.

"You are my hope. You are my instrument. You are the destiny of this world and it shall live or die because of your actions."

I get the feeling he was talking about more than one "you."

"Phoenix?" I chuffed, speaking in Garou.

"My child, you and those of your pack are the anvil of fate. Much must be done, and it will not be easy. The fate of your world, your Gaia, rests in your claws and in your hearts. I will be watching."

"But how? How do we save the world?"

"The how is important only in the moment."

"Why me?" I ventured to ask. I couldn't think of anything else.

"The messenger is not as important as the message, little Speaks With Water. But the messenger must get the message through."

And with that, I felt the world rise up around me, grab the back of my spine and yank hard, pulling me completely out of my dream. I sat up with that feeling of falling and had to take a moment to figure out where I was.

I was awake, of that I was fairly certain, but I was in the Umbra. Which is weird in and of itself. I've heard of sleepwalking, but I don't think it is even possible to cross the Gauntlet in your sleep. For one thing, it's a difficult enough task. In some places the Gauntlet is thicker and tougher than in others. Usually, you have to focus your eyes on a bright or shiny object to even begin the process of parting the veil of the Gauntlet and then do the whole "stepping sideways" thing. So you can imagine that I was suitably worried about where I was.

I looked around Kenny's bedroom in the Umbra. The echo here is surprisingly a lot like it was in static reality, but things are a bit more, well, active. Posters on the wall showing fencing positions taught by ancient masters of the sword actually go through their paces. Another sword on the wall, set up as a display is so gaudy and grand at the same time that you feel like you should be impressed and then laugh at it. I mean, how many jewels on the handle is too many? Obviously whoever built that weapon didn't even try to calculate it, he just kept adding them on.

I glanced over and saw Robby's spirit glow, that intense blueness. But it wasn't so intense at the moment. There were a trio of banes sitting on his chest, each one sucking loudly from wounds they had chewed into his flesh.

A bane, for lack of a better term, is a type of demon. Yeah, I know, not really a descriptive of the thing itself, but they are a kind of psychic vampire spirit that roam the darker places of the Umbra. They are attracted to suffering and evil, which seems to be what they are made of and what they exist off of. Kinda like walking bread mold like that, I guess. You know, attracted to the yeast and of a similar place in the animal kingdom.

Put simply, banes are bad news. They can fight, they can have the same powers as almost any spirit of similar strength and they love to cause further misery to someone already in misery. Someone like Robby.

These particular banes were about the size of your average 6th grader, but they were built like little football players. They were mostly gray, with bits of greenish glowy stuff oozing around their mouths. Their eyes, all three of them, had a sallow, yellowy look to them and the pupils were dark red. None had hair, although two had bristly beard stubble, dripping with their mouth goo. Although naked, they didn't really have what you'd call gender. Their legs and arms were twisted a bit and looked simultaneously weak and brittle but strong and inhumanly flexible. Their hands had only two fingers and a thumb, but they could combine them to use as claws or like bird beaks.

"Get your filthy, donkey raping paws off my friend!" I said with a low voice, backing it with my growl. My Rage flickered to life, not only because the banes were chewing on my buddy like leftover pizza, but from the waking up intensity of my dream-vision. Kinda like the Rage version of a pee hard-on after waking suddenly.

"Kaw!" they called in unison and sprang at me. I shifted to crinos and jumped over the first one, doing a hand plant on his forehead. He was a shifty thing, though, and I had to work to regain my balance once I'd leapt over him.

This put me sort of in the middle, but both myself and the banes were positioned in opposite directions. So I threw out both arms, and then raked forward with my claws, catching the back two with shallow scratches across the neck. They both dropped and I turned to face the one I had vaulted.

But he was quick too. He leapt up and dug both the beak-claws on his hands into my chest fur, gouging my skin but doing nothing more than rasping the surface. I looked down and was about to wrap my fists around it's neck when the crazy thing bit me. Pain flowed in, stronger than the bite of anything that small had a right to give from just its teeth. I howled in Rage and tried to pry it off, but it bit harder.

Then one of the ones I'd clawed already jumped up and tried to bite my ear. The third was getting to his feet, holding onto the wound in its neck. How tough are these things? I remember thinking, and then just got busy with trying to get them off me before they could do some serious damage.

The one perched on my shoulder trying to do a Mike Tyson impersonation was my priority. It hadn't bit yet but I could feel it trying to get leverage for a bite. Not this time, Bunky! I thought. I put my crinos sized hand around its middle and pushed it out away from me. Then, I squeezed.

The bane howled in pain, trying like mad to tear my thumb off, even going so far as to try and bend double to bite my arm. It didn't have the strength or position, though and I jumped. I swung my arm in the air and rammed the bane into the ground as I came back to the floor, squeezing the whole time. It split into a slimy green substance, screaming like a stuck pig and then simply vanished into a green mist.

The one on my chest bit harder still, as if realizing that I'd already done in its brothers and was ready to peel his leech-ass off and do the same to him. Pain spiraled around in my body and for a second I wondered if this bane had poison in its bite. If so, he'd already had time enough to give me a whole lot of injections of whatever toxic, noxious stuff roamed what passed for his mouth. I had to end this, quickly.

So, I grabbed both of his flailing little legs and pulled. My crinos arms were long enough that I'd be able to pull him completely free without having to shift my grip above his… I guess that was his knees. Idunno. I pulled hard, feeling his little teeth snag in my flesh. They were hooked, and a lot of them, from the feel of it, but I kept pulling. Either his grip on my chest would fail, or he'd be needed the services of a dentist real soon.

But he wasn't going without a struggle. He kept trying to get his hand claw-beaks to penetrate my skin, give himself a better grip in this life and death tug-of-war. And while the little bugger wasn't strong, the pain from his bite was making me more and more furious. I finally just let my Rage flow and bit down hard on what passed for the small of his back. I felt the satisfying snap-crunch of bone, felt his flesh shred and give way. As soon as my jaws had a significant grip on him, I changed my pulling out and away to pulling his legs apart. He opened up like a zipper and his guts and whatever tumbled out. It was gross and glorious at the same time.

I howled in victory and pried what was left of his head off my chest, wincing at the length of the fangs he had embedded in me. I looked around for the last one, tossing the head of my last opponent away in disgust.

I looked over in time to see the last one sink his fangs back into Robby and then fade into Robby's body. I tried to go forward, to reach him, to haul that little bane back out of him, but the toxins running wild in my body exploded into even more pain. I closed my eyes, hurting like I'd never hurt before and felt myself slipping back into the Real world. As I felt myself losing it, I heard Phoenix and Unicorn speaking in my head, together.

"Finish what you began…"

And that's when my lights went out completely.

I came to what felt like hours later, Kenny holding a cold towel to my face. It was dark out. I could tell because the crickets and cicadas were making music. The fire under my skin had vanished, but my whole face and body felt wet with cold sweat. My hair was damp to the tips and I felt like I hadn't eaten in weeks. Nicky leaned over my face and smiled, saying something that was probably dopey, but for some reason I couldn't make out his words.

"What?" I asked.

"Ah said, don' go doin' that no more, ya hear? Crazy yankee boi!"

"Ah'm no yankee, suh," I slurred back, trying to joke. I felt weak as a kitten. I tried to sit up, but Nicky quickly sat beside me and held me down.

"Easy, babe. You need time to heal."

"What happened?"

"Dunno. You woke up three feet over the waterbed and then crashed down, actin' like you'se all snake bit."


"He's fine. You didn't land on him," Kenny said. "You had me worried."

"Me too, Glubber."

"No, something's wrong with Robby." I forced myself to sit up and they stuffed a pillow behind my back. I explained the whole thing, the dream, the fight with the banes, even the message from Phoenix and Unicorn. It took me almost half and hour to explain the whole thing. Kenny was good about not interrupting, but my Nicky kept giving explanations. It took some time.

"So this 'bane' is riding him?" Kenny asked at the end.

"Yeah, sorta. We can get it out of him, I promise you. We just have to do it in the Umbra. And we're gonna need Joey's help."

"You're the healer, so you stay here. I'll go get Joey and we can kick this thing out."

"It wont be that easy," Kenny said. "You said that the thing went into his body here?" Kenny said, indicating his chest.

"About there, yeah."

"Then it's feeding on more than just his body and spirit. That thing must have latched on to the Tear."

"The what?" Nick and I asked as one.

"Robby has an artifact. It's a powerful magic filter and energy source called the Tear of Cerulean. You've seen it. His necklace, the crystal. The Tear is a royal treasure and it funnels the last trod back to our homeworld, the dimension called Arcadia."

"So, if the bane has infected Robby…" Nick began, thinking out loud. "What, he can open changeling portals?"

"Worse. He can do with it almost anything he wishes. Look, the Tear was ancient when it was in Arcadia in the first place. Its powers are not entirely known. But if this bane is feeding on Robby's powers, and he's in this mental state…"

"Then the bane could grow into strange powers we can't even begin to comprehend," I finished.

"Or it could just get super boosted beyond anything you guys know a bane could normally do."

"Ah don't like the sound of that."

"Me neither," Kenny said, looking back to where Robby lay on the bed, eyes closed in dreamless sleep.

"I swear to you, Kenny," I said, taking his shoulder in my hand. "We'll find a way to get the bane out of him. I promise."

"Anything I have to do to help, I'll do," Kenny replied. A distant peal of thunder rang against the distant hillsides, rumbling down the length of the valley.

"Okay," Nick said, tossing me my t-shirt. "We'll be back as soon as we can. Keep an eye on him and keep him from doing too much with the Tear. If it's as powerful as ya'll say, anything he does with it while the bane is on him might corrupt whatever he tries. No telling what'll happen then."

"We'll be quick," I said, struggling into the shirt and giving Kenny a quick hug. The quick hug turned into a longer one, with Nick joining in as well. It took us a few minutes to finish that hug. Things had changed for all of us, and we knew it. More than that, we accepted it without questioning. Best friends are like that.

We separated, Nick checking his own eyes for tears. My tough guy wasn't going to let his emotions out to where those that didn't need to see them could do so. It's a ragabash thing. My own face was marked with tears, but I didn't care. That's not a theurge thing, that's just a Cody thing.

"Good hunting," Kenny said, smiling even though a tear passed over his cheek.

"Stay strong, pack brother," I said, triggering the change to lupus. Nicky and I switched forms and then parted the Gauntlet together, racing back to Black Rocks and the information we'd need to save our packmate, and start saving the world.

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