Sticks and Stones
I woke up first that morning. More like afternoon. And I say this because all four of us had fallen asleep in a sort of heap. We'd taken as many blankets and pillows as we could from Robby and Kenny's water bed and the guest bedroom, even grabbed a few of the couch cushions, and made a sort of nest in the middle of the bed room. Snacks, drinks, movies, video games, jokes, and basically just laying around goofing off became the pattern for that night, punctuated here and there with minor making out with your own boyfriend. No swapping.
But we'd basically just taken the whole late night and early morning decompressing from the events of the last few days. When I think back on it, we'd accomplished and survived quite a bit. Deaths and funerals, insanity, self-doubt, demonic possession, exorcism, political unrest, internal squabbles, openly antagonizing a gang of supernaturally empowered evil kids, and then the reading of Robby's parents' will and Nick's inheritance.
And you thought your schedule was full. I still had to worry about if we were going to be enrolling in school in a few weeks.
Before you ask, yes, I did cry a couple of times that night. And I got hugs from both Robby and Kenny as well as my Nicky. Weird how we all have "y" sounds at the end of our names. For the record, I gave my share of hugs as well. They were needed.
So when I woke up, I had to pry myself loose from the guys, carefully stepping over outstretched arms and legs curled partly, wiggling myself out of a tangle of blankets. And yes, to complete the image for you, we were just in our various preferred underwear, because normally we all slept nude, but we were all feeling like being polite. It wasn't that kind of party.
After stumbling to the toilet and adding some yellow to the bowl, I smelled something… wonderful. Something aromatic and enticing. And no, just because I'm a gay werewolf with an astounding sense of smell, it had nothing to do with the bathroom. The smell in question was one that I'd not enjoyed in a long time.
Bacon. Orange Juice, fresh squeezed. Pancakes. Oh sweet Gaia. My mouth watered as I tucked things back into place and followed my nose up the stairs. Kenny's house was a split level, with the kitchen and other common rooms upstairs. Kenny's dad lived upstairs as well, which kinda fit since he was like Crinos tall as a Troll. I guess he wants to feel less than claustrophobic at home. I know I would.
"Thought I heard motion down there," Kenny's dad said from the kitchen. He was already dressed and wearing an apron as he worked the kitchen like a pro. I watched in amazement as he flipped a pancake from the griddle with a spatula, rolled a small army of little link sausages in a frying pan and then rotated the spatula through another frying pan full of scrambled eggs. "Hungry?"
"Starving," I heard Nick say from behind me as he passed by me. "Need a hand?" I hadn't even heard him come up behind me. I really should consider paying more attention to my surroundings.
"Yeah, check the oven, the muffins should just about be done."
"Muffins?" I asked, inhaling sharply. "Strawberry?"
"House specialty," Kenny's dad smiled. "Pot holders are in the drawer by the oven, Nick."
"Ah got 'em. Oh, man those look perfect."
"They smell amazing, sir," I said, heading to the kitchen as well. The scents of cooking food, brewing coffee, and that smell of clean dishes flowed and I was drawn to it. "What can I do?"
"Uh, get some dishes, set the table." He shifted in place and flipped the pancake from the griddle onto a tall stack, covering the stack with a kitchen towel before pouring another pancake from the last bits of batter he had mixed up. It was all like beautiful music to my nose. So many delicious intoxicating smells, drifting together, taking the center of my attention in solos, then blending back into an overwhelming orchestra of succulent aromas.
I quickly set five places at the broad banquet table, fork and knife, set out butter and real maple syrup, and even brought out ketchup for Nick because I know he likes it for his eggs sometimes. Thinking about it a moment, I also brought out the salsa, because Nick likes them that way sometimes too. He's fickle about his condiments. I also set out two sets of cups, one for milk and one for the orange juice. Mr. Tannagord also had a mug for coffee, which he was on about his third cup, I guessed.
"Awesome work gents. I thank you."
"Should someone wake the sleepin' beauties down stairs?"
"Might as well, we only have about an hour and a half before Jedi class. Robby is notoriously a slug-a-bed."
"Oh, don't worry. Nick can be loud," I said, then continued with, "Smelly. Obnoxious. Truculent." My grin slowly spread.
"Oh, ha ha," Nick deadpanned. "Leave the comedy to the professionals, Glub-Glub," he said, passing by me as he took the stairs down in loud, thumping steps. As he walked by me he pecked me on the cheek and then slapped me on the right butt cheek.
"Glub-Glub?" Mr. Tannagord asked, bringing serving plates loaded with food to the table.
"It's his nick name for me."
"I gathered that much. Kind of cryptic, though."
"Yeah, it's Nick's version of my Garou name, Speaks With Water. When I chose it he made a joke about most people who try to speak with water either sound like they're gargling or drowning. Glub glub glub, like that."
"He certainly has an ironic sense of humor."
"Yeah," I replied, "It's his thing, I guess, looking at things from the funny side."
From downstairs we heard a loud yelp of surprise. We both turned and looked towards the source of the sound. It was followed by a string of curses that had I been in wolf form would have folded my ears in shock and surprise.
"That would be Robby," Kenny's dad sighed. "I have the feeling a bit of a wrestling match is going on down there."
"If I know Nick, a wedgie was likely involved," I agreed. "Give 'em four minutes."
"Three, tops. Robby might have a short fuse, but he's lazy and usually takes a long time in the bathroom in the morning. He'll want to end the conflict quickly."
"Wow, you really know him well."
"Try taking him around the region to fencing tournaments. He's not what you call a morning person. Or pleasant company when he's grumpy."
Kenny came up the stairs, struggling to pull a t-shirt over his head as he turned the landing between steps. He smiled as he came up to the top of the staircase, scratching through his t-shirt over the right side of his rib cage. "Our boyfriends are having a friendly discussion about alarm clocks." Kenny patted me on the shoulder as he passed me. "At least I think they said clock," he mumbled.
Spock eyebrow, where is thy sting?
A loud thunk from downstairs caught all of our attention. We looked over and saw Nick rolling back to his feet on the front door landing. Which means Robby had knocked him out of the bed room, across the small hallway and halfway up the staircase. If the front door opened the other way, Nick might be somewhere on the front lawn in just his boxers and a smile.
"Hey! Watch with the head-butting, ya butt head!" Nick shouted down the stairs. He straightened up, rubbed his chest, where a red spot about the size of Robby's forehead was slowly fading back to normal skin tone. If you looked close, I'm sure you'd have seen a pair of double horn marks centered around Nick's sternum. "What?" he asked, noticing all the attention aimed his way. "He's awake. Mission accomplished."
"This is going to be an interesting alliance," I muttered, getting a smile from Kenny.
"Don't think too much on it, Glubber," Nick said. "If ya cain't rough house wit' your pals, who can ya?"
"He's got a point," Kenny conceded. "Orange juice or Milk?"
"Oh man. That's a tough choice," my boyfriend said, still rubbing over his breast bone.
"Why not both?" Mr. Tannagord said. "You're all still growing boys. And you will need your vitamins today. I intend to press you all hard at Jedi class. Some changes are in the works." Kenny's dad looked around the table and then got a chin stroking look, his thumb seeming to split right along the deep cleft of his wide chin.
"Something wrong, Pops?" Kenny asked, bringing over some paper napkins to the table.
"Yup. Gonna need three more place settings."
"Three?" I asked, stepping over to the silverware drawer. Nick moved to the cabinet where the plates were stacked. Kenny went to look for more glasses.
"Yes. I think it wont be much of a surprise."
"Ah get the feelin' ah know at least one, and ah can guess the other two. But why?"
"Why what?" Robby yelled from downstairs, his words punctuated by the flushing of a toilet.
"Breakfast guests," Kenny called back down.
"Ah! Gotcha. Hey woofers!"
"Whut?" Nick shouted back to Robby's challenge.
"Catch!" and he let go with a loud wolf whistle. And as we watched, our t-shirts from last night bolted up the stairs like a pair of puppies hearing the can opener spin. From across the room, the shirts leapt at Nick and I, but it was the wrong one going to each. It resolved itself quickly enough when the t-shirts, still acting like puppies landed on Nick's and my chests, seemed to lick us profusely around the neck and face before leaping back to their actual shirt owners, and curling up in our arms before going limp like normal shirts should.
"Show off," Kenny said as Robby walked up the steps, his own super baggy t-shirt hanging on him like a flag without wind to fluff it. We slipped into our shirts, my mind still struggling with how easily the changelings dealt with magic.
"Our guests are probably running a little behind, so we should dig in," Mr. Tannagord suggested. Which is all we needed to dive at the table. Food got passed around, plates loaded up, glasses filled. Fortunately, we had forks to deal with or the food would have vanished faster. I have this weird image that came to mind of Nick in wolf form lapping maple syrup off his plate, ignoring any stares sent his way.
"So, boys," Kenny's dad said, buttering a muffin. "Have you considered joining our Jedi class?"
Nick and I exchanged looks, him with a fork sticking out of his face. He shrugged and chuffed a single syllable at me. He wasn't passing the decision off to me, he was acknowledging what we both already had decided.
"We're in. Nick has a new toy he needs to learn how to use, and, well," I shared a glance with Kenny, "exchanging ideas and techniques only helps us when we have to fight as a group."
"Wise choice. Then my plan for the classes makes even more sense," the elder Tannagord said.
"What plan is that, Master?" Robby asked.
"I've split your class up. You two and Juan and Bethy will stay on this time slot, while Jesse and the twins are going to a different class time. That way both you fellas and the other group will have some experienced fencers to help with new members to the classes."
"Cool! That means your classes are getting more popular, Poppa." Right after Kenny said that, I saw Robby's face go slack. Almost immediately Kenny noticed and realized that Robby was missing his parents. His arm draped over his boyfriend's shoulders, drawing their heads together with a soft bump. That made them both smile a bit.
I hope one day Nick and I are like that.
"Yes, and out of necessity," Kenny's dad said, covering the moment. Nick was face down shoveling a forkful of pancake into his muzzle. "With you two, that makes the number of new students to today's class six."
"Six?" Robby said, counting on his fingers. "Nick and Cody only make two."
"Our mystery guests?" I guessed. And almost as soon as I'd said that, there was a knock on the door. Kenny jumped up and ran to the door. Kenny greeted the newcomers and led them up the half flight of steps. It was Joey-rhya and Magnus and Sven. Joey wasn't the surprise for me, but seeing the Get boys with him filled in certain blanks.
"Morning," Joey beamed, "I see the feasting began without us."
"Please, pull up a chair and dig in," Kenny's dad said, standing.
"Certainly. Oh, these are Sven and Magnus," Joey said, by way of introductions. "Boys, you know Nick and Cody already," Joey continued. Nick raised his fork without raising his head, no doubt taking in the aroma of the bacon on his plate. "At the head of the table is fencing master Mitch Tannagord, and beside him are his sons, Kenny Tannagord and Robby French."
Nods and grins passed around as the breakfast guests picked seats and were offered food. True to teenage code, the Get boys dug in like it might be their last meal. It suddenly made sense to me why Kenny's dad had cooked so much food. Six teenagers can polish off a lot of food if given a chance. I know I took in my share!
We ate in companionable silence for a while. I finished first. To be honest, while I did grab a lot of chow, I didn't pile my plate as high as others. Another hold over from my parents, I guess. They didn't want me getting fat like so many kids in schools today seem to be. I glanced at Robby and saw his face still a little less animated than normal and remembered our shared kinship in loss. I gave him a grin which turned into him grinning back.
"So, you two would like to join our fencing class as well?" Kenny's dad said, getting all of us to look to our guests. Magnus put down his fork, quickly squeezing a mouthful of scrambled eggs down his throat and washing it down with moo juice.
"We are to be students here soon," Sven said as Magnus regained his composure. "And we think that learning new skills for fighting is always good for people of our kind."
"You are Satyrs?" Magnus asked, looking at our changeling buddies.
"Only me," Robby spoke up. "Master is a Troll, Kenny is Eshu."
"Like different tribes?" Sven asked.
"Like different Fera," I said. Both the Get boys understood that word, Fera. The fast and dirty explanation of that goes like this. Werewolves are only one race of shape changers. I have heard of werecats (lions and tigers and such), werebears, wererats, wereravens, werespiders, weresharks, werecoyotes, werelizards (of many types) and even whispers of werefoxes.
Now before you go thinking that this is all way too much, I should point out that in one of the darkest periods of Garou history there was this thing called the War of Rage. Shape changers fighting each other, and it went on for centuries. There were other were-races as well, from what I understand. The War of Rage drove many of them to the point of extinction, and in quite a few cases, well past that point. Genocide. It is rumored that a race of werebats was finally extinguished in the late 1800's. Also it is rumored, with much fear, that there once was a race of were-serpents that went around "cleansing the sins of the Fera from the face of Gaea."
Each of these races has their own names, sub-tribal structures and such. For example, the general word for werecats is Bastet, although their tribes reflect their different cat genetics. I actually met an American Bastet named Arthur Traveller, and he's from a tribe called Pumonica, which are descended from mountain lions. The werebears are known as Guhral. And while I don't know the name for the weresharks, yet, it is something that I probably should look into. After all, I am Speaks With Water, I probably should learn what voices to listen to from the water as well.
Someone asked if I'd pass the butter, which helped to focus me back to the discussion.
"Well, I am happy to say that today's class will be completely made up of you young gentlemen, and four others. All supernaturals," Master Mitch said, smiling broadly. Somehow, I got the impression that this sort of class was the stuff of his own dreams. Openly training warriors who are more than just the normal run of humanity.
"You're dropping Jesse and the Berube twins?" Robby asked, a bit quickly. Fast temper on that one. I'd have to keep that in mind. I don't know if changelings have anything like Rage, but if anyone was a candidate for it, my money'd be on Robby. Especially since the exorcism.
"No. They will be moving into another class slot, with several new students. That way they can help the new students, just as you and Kenny and Juan will be helping Bethy, Nick & Cody, Sven & Magnus here, and two others."
"Ah! I see." Kenny said, nodding as he put down a glass of orange juice. Robby reloaded his own OJ glass as I watched. He practically inhaled the stuff!
"Ah don't. Who all else is joinin' the team?" Nick asked.
"Two young men we helped earlier this year," the elder Tannagord replied. "Paul Carver and Jack Thomas. Both asked to join, together. I see no reason not to have all of you train together."
"Yes!" Robby and Kenny said at the same time. They shared a quick high five, punctuated by a quick peck on the lips. Sven and Magnus blushed almost instantly. Nick gave me a short elbow jab at that and grinned profusely. The implication was clear. We'd be having some more frank discussions with the Get boys soon.
"Ten is a perfect number," Kenny explained. "Means if we have to split up on a mission or a fight, we can split by pairs or go with two groups of five."
"Would not 12 be better?" Magnus asked.
"Er, well, yeah, I guess. Means we could separate into groups of three or four. Hum, that could be cool too. But who would we find to make up the other two?"
"Strategically, anythin' much over 12 is difficult to handle," Nick asserted, stroking his chin. I had to do a double take at that. My Nicky, being tactical? When did that happen? "But Ah agree. We got four werewolves, four changelings, and two, well, whatever Paul and Jack are. Who could we find to fill in the last two places? Vampires? Ah think not. They got that problem with daylight."
"And we have problem with being handy blood snacks," Magnus nodded. His English was very good, even if his "w" sounds occasionally had a "v" edge to them.
"Well, I think we'll find some new people to fill in your remaining slots eventually," Mitch supplied. "In the meantime, once we get you guys outfitted for class, we'll get started with turning you undisciplined boys into fighting men." His broad grin almost lit up that end of the table.
"Which means you four cliath," Joey said, pointing to we young Garou, "will treat Mitch as if he were an elder giving you direct orders. Clear?"
"Yes, Joey-rhya," we said, almost as one.
"And if you are smart, you'll listen to the changelings about weapon combat. They are usually not as gifted as we at natural combat forms, but put a blade in their hands and they become the equal of any Garou. I'm sure you'll find this out after your first class today."
Nick nudged me again with his elbow, this time with a double raised eyebrow, nodding towards the other end of the table. I looked at him a bit confused. He opened his eyes wide, making his mouth go wide as well, as if a sudden inspiration had happened to him, then made an exaggerated head bob towards the other members of the breakfast table. I still wasn't getting it.
"Onions," he whispered in Garou tongue.
"What about onions?" Joey asked.
"Uh, I think we have some, if you want some for your… eggs?" Kenny asked, halfway standing up from the table.
"Glubber," Nick said, with a rising tone.
"The maps?" Nick suggested.
"Oh. Oh! Right!" I said, standing. "I think I have an idea about the maps. You know, the ones with all the moving images and stuff."
"The Harry Potter Maps?" Robby asked. "The ones that Keith said he'd try to decipher?"
"Yes. See, so far, we've been looking at them as separate things. I think they're part of something bigger."
"We've all thought that," Kenny said, resuming his seat. "They came to us together, so we always assumed they were somehow connected."
"We still have no idea who really sent it to us. Damnit!" Robby said, dropping his fork on his plate, angrily. "Kay, when the maps came to us, they were sent by a kitt who was riding one of my unicorns."
"Your Unicorns?!" Sven blurted out, his eyes wide.
"Uh, yeah. He has a herd," I said.
"A large herd," Nick backed me up, beaming broadly.
"It's a long story," Joey said, holding a paw up in Sven's direction. "Continue, Robby, please."
"Well, when the kitt brought us the maps, he also bid us to come to court, personally. The summons came through Donna Trag, but it was from Queen Mab herself, basically." Robby lifted his glass of OJ up onto the edge of its base, looking inside. "We've seen both Donna Trag and the queen since then, and we never brought up the maps to either of them."
"Uh, well, we have had other things on our plate, Robert," Mr. Tannagord said.
"Yeah, but we can't keep screwing up. People are getting hurt because I'm not doing my job," Robby said, easing the glass back into place. "Nick was right to get on my case yesterday. People are dying, and I'm not doing what I should."
"Robyn, you can't take responsibility for what Korbesh does," Kenny said.
"No. I can. And I should."
Silence reigned at the table for several tense heartbeats. Nick glanced around the table, sensing a lot of tension. He leaned in my direction, his eyes squinting, and squeezed out a loud, wet-sounding, fluttery fart. It was long and deeply sonorous. My eyes flew open wide as the fart seemed to go on forever, rising in pitch and tone as he reached the end of it, closing his eyes in concentration.
All eyes turned towards Nick as he sighed in relief. He opened his eyes and looked around, innocent-like.
"What? Better out than in, right?"
"Whoa!" Robby exclaimed, waiving his hand over his face. "His are worse than Juan's!"
"Worse than Bethy's, you mean!" Kenny commented with one hand pinching his nose shut.
"I'll take that as a compliment to the cook," Mr. Tannagord said, rising and reaching past Kenny to grab a piece of toast. I couldn't help but think he was rescuing the toast before the smell of Nick's discharge could somehow pollute it.
"Perhaps you should tell us your thoughts about the map, Cody," Joey said, "before Nick has need of the bathroom. Or the rest of us need to open every window in the house."
"Oh, Ah can clear a room if'n Ah has to," Nick beamed proudly. And despite him forcing his Cajun accent a little sloppier than normal in saying that, I knew not only was he joking, but he could likely do it. Ragabash boy on steroids!
"Anyways," I said, reaching for two pieces of toast. "Up until now, we've thought the maps were separate, like this," and I laid the two pieces of toast side by side. "What if they're meant to be seen like this," I explained, and put one piece of toast over the other, lining up the edges. The other guys around the table all leaned forwards, gazing at the toast stack.
"But, you would only see what is on the top, no?" Magnus asked, looking over towards me.
"If they were normal maps, probably. But these are magical artifacts. I think they're layers of something bigger. There may be more parts to this," I said, holding my paw over the stack.
"Like layers of video editing in a computer," Robby said, glancing my way. "Like CGI and stuff."
"Exactly. We've got part of it, but there's more we're not seeing."
Mr. Tannagord stroked his chin, deep in thought. Joey nodded, his gaze focused on the toast stack. Kenny had this weird head twisting expression, almost looking canine in how he looked on my stack of toast. Sven actually reached out to the stack and shifted the top piece of toast, angling it slightly on the bottom piece. Clearly, he and I were on the same page.
"Pop?" Kenny said, looking up.
"I think I'll call the Tragic Nymph after our class today," Mr. Tannagord replied. Just as he finished stating that, the doorbell rang.
"More guests for breakfast?" Joey asked, gnawing on a bacon and grape jelly sandwich, the two pieces of toast crunching sharply under his teeth.
"Kenneth, would you get that please?"
"Sure, Pop," the dark haired changeling boy replied, leaping up from his chair. I watched him slide in his socks on the hardwood floor to the edge of the stairs and nimbly hop to the front door. Part of me felt jealous that his dad let him move about like that indoors when my own parents would have grounded me for a month for even dashing to the bathroom when you really gotta go. Almost instantly, I was reminded that being a werewolf sometimes meant you didn't even get the luxury of a roof, much less being grounded under one.
Even JJ had that simple pleasure. I thought briefly about JJ and hoped I'd have a chance to talk to Joey about him. I got the feeling we were in a lot deeper than we'd first thought on that count.
Kenny bounced back up the stairs with a briefcase in his hand. One of those leather kind that seems made to expand as you stuffed more stuff into it. He handed it to his father and my sharp ears heard the phrase "from Mr. Apostolis' office."
"So, what is required for these Jedi classes?" Sven asked. "Are there really lightsabers?"
"How can such be?" Magnus said, scoffing. "If de humans had such, Gaia would not need us. Yes?"
"Ah, but not all is as it seems," Kenny said, looking at the much taller boy. "Follow me, guys. You've got a choice to make."
Robby stood up and walked towards the hallway, following Kenny. He waved in Nick and my direction, so we got up and followed as well. Reluctantly, but we did.
"But… but noms!" Nick complained as we got up.
"Don't worry boys, we'll take care of the dishes. I have some things to talk to Joseph about," Kenny's dad said. Reluctantly, and stealing a few bites and gulps on the way, we filed towards the hallway, the Get boys looking sort of confused by events but at least going with it. Takes a lot to be outside your comfort zone and not freak out, so I gave them credit for keeping their cool.
One of the bedrooms up on this level had been converted to a miniature workshop, complete with a small spray booth built into one of the closets. On the big work bench in the work room was a rack that had four of the lightsabers displayed, shiny and new.
"Brand new lightsabers," Kenny said, gesturing like a TV game show host. "I made them a little long for you guys. The handles are large enough that you should be able to use them in full werewolf form."
Nick and I looked on grinning at the craftsmanship. I've had one of those for a week or so now. It was kinda cool, with all the plumbing parts and other hardware bits painted and shaped and who knows what else Kenny does to build them. The blades on the display before us were green, yellow, orange and red, all of them with a metallic finish to the color and glistening in a thick layer of clear coat. Kenny had gone all out on these. In the corner of the room were a few other blades he'd made, but those looked assembly lined. These were custom crafted, balanced and beautiful. I never thought someone could turn junk bits and pipedream leftovers into something so cool.
"These… are the lightsabers for the Jedi class?" Magnus said, looking on, slightly dubiously. Sven's paw reached out and stroked the smooth surface of the orange blade. He seemed to be focused on the color and the subtle shifts of light and shadow, reflections and such, in the glossy clear coat finish.
"Yup!" Robby said, grinning broadly. "And we got your protective gear as well. Might take some fitting adjustments, but, well, it's a start. And you get to pick the blade color you like."
"These are… are just wood poles painted," Magnus gestured, his voice bordering on disgust. Nick and I looked over at Magnus like he'd just slapped a baby with a sock full of tuna tins, still full ones.
"Uh, Maggie, you might wanna tone back that level of dip-shit in yuir voice. It's about to piss people off. Plus, ya'll have this bad habit of tawlkin' without wearing yuir thinkin' cap."
"These might appear to be just made of wood, but they are stronger than steel," Robby said, his eyes shining with pride. Sven picked up the orange one and held it almost reverently in his hand. "They're infused with Glamour. Magic, if you will. They can beat on physical things and things of the Dreaming."
"Schatzi! These practice weapons are remarkable. De balance is so close to the top of the handle. Amazing!" Later I would learn that "schatzi" is a German word meaning "treasure" and it's the kind of word that lovers use with each other. Sven, it seems, was opening up around us a bit.
"Ya, but still just practice weapons," Magnus replied, almost with contempt. He thumped his own chest, saying, "we have had legitimate weapons training, in combat forms. We fight to survive, not to win at sport!"
I actually had to grab Nick's elbow to prevent him from jumping on Magnus. It was cool knowing he had Robby and Kenny's backs, but it wouldn't do to have a brawl in this room. Especially over something as dumb as Magnus shooting off his mouth. See, I kinda figured out that Magnus is the kind of guy that has to challenge everything. He wont accept things at face value or give over respect based on someone else's say so. He has to test it for himself. Too much of his father in him.
"They don't have fae sight," Kenny reminded Robby. I saw the look pass over my Satyr friend's face, like gleeful mischief in the making. Remembering how things went for Nick and me, I felt a warning was necessary.
"You are about to be rewarded with a mystery of changeling ritual magic," I intoned to the two Get of Fenris boys. "Remain calm and let the Gnosis flow. Do not be alarmed with what your eyes will show you. And do not panic at what happens next."
Sven nodded. Magnus looked on me with dubious curiosity. That's about when Robby slapped them both on the back, hard. The Tear of Cerulean, partly hidden by the loose neckline of his t-shirt, flashed with brilliant blue light. That radiance penetrated his hands and entered both the Get boys, seeming to tingle them from the inside out. Actually seeing the Enchantment happen from the outside, I got a great insight as to the difference between changeling and Garou magic use. I filed away that experience for future meditation.
The change that came over Sven and Magnus when Robby brought them into alignment with seeing the changeling way was nothing short of dramatic. Sven looked like his whole world just got brighter. Magnus got at first frightened, then confused, and then amazement. Sven moved the orange blade in his hand and with a bit of an effort, I could hear the subtle hum of the enchantment on the blade. Magnus reached out and picked up the red blade. They grinned and then were surprised when Robby picked up the green one and bashed into both the red and orange ones with one bouncing move. Sparks flew. Nick made some snappy reply and the four of them got into a conversation about the functionality of the weapons.
After watching Robby work that little bit of magic with the Tear, I thought back to the conversation we had with Kenny prior to the exorcism. It brought a question back to my mind, something I meant to ask at the time, but the conversation had turned to more immediate matters. So I pulled Kenny to the side while the others were marveling about their new lightsabers. He gave a nod towards one of the guest bedrooms and we stepped inside, the door still open.
"What's up?" Kenny asked.
"Remember when you were telling us about the Tear, and the other, uh, what did you call them, ver… verge…"
"Vergence philters," Kenny supplied. I nodded. "What about them?"
"Well, you said there were seven known. And Robby has one, the blue one. You also said that history talks about the red one, the Philosopher's Stone."
"Well, you mentioned that there was one for each main color, so blue, red, yellow, orange…"
"Green and purple, yes."
"Okay, but that only accounts for six of the seven."
"So is there information about the seventh?"
"Not sure what good knowing that will do you. I don't even know if Garou can use the philters. Much less if you could find them most of the time. I mean, our magic uses similar sources but works in pretty much different ways."
"Well, I have this bad feeling that our enemies are mixing their knowledge of different magics to use against us. We probably should look into ways of sharing knowledge and abilities as well. I mean, I get the feeling we're already far behind the curve here as it is."
"Wow," Kenny said, grinning at me. "You said that so fast I almost thought you were speaking with a New England accent."
"Don't change the subject. I hate when Nick does that."
"Okay. It's just that there's a story about that last one. It's called the Empty. It was heavily perverted."
"Long ago," Kenny began, sitting down on the bed. I took the overstuffed chair. "Long ago, the seven philters were held by the seven high kings of Arcadia. The philters were their source of power and their crowns. To hold a philter literally gave the kings the power of life and death. And for a long time, only those worthy were entrusted with the philters' care."
"Okay," I said, nodding.
"Eventually, after many millennia of peace, some things began to go wrong. Rivalries between the high kings, jealousy, desires to expand their domains into other territories and even to other realms, led to conflict among the high kings. This started a brutal series of wars as the high kings fought with each other. Terrible powers were unleashed. Monsters from other realms and nightmares were set free. The minor lords and kings chose sides among the high kings and were made to wage war on each other. Chaos raged for centuries. During this time, the philters changed. They began to take on aspects of their wielders."
"You mean, they took the personality traits of those that held them?"
"So it is said. The colors represent that to a degree. The red one, for example, famously was used to purify blood and thus extend life. It also is said that it created chemicals that could be used to create monsters, and could transmute base metals into gold."
"And the blue one?"
"There was a time," Kenny sighed, "when the Tear of Cerulean earned its name. The king before Robyn's father used it to… to use water to kill his enemies. Floods, killing rain. There was a battle where an avalanche was brought down on an enemy city. He once caused all the wells in a town to rain upwards after turning the water into salt acid. The old king held the Tear for centuries. He killed thousands."
"I wondered how it got that name. How horrible."
"When Robyn's father slew the old high king and took the Tear, he spent many years learning its secrets, resisting the madness of the old king. He was a good Satyr. A true noble being. He helped bring about the age of peace that lasted for 700 years before Robyn was born."
"So, you were immortals in your homeland?"
"We rejuvenated. Stayed young once we reached maturity, and even then, it took almost 80 years or more to reach adulthood. But I digress. This is why I was so worried when I saw Robby had the Tear. When he could draw SkyFire as well, I was convinced that the old king's legacy and faith were restored in Robyn. That he wouldn't misuse the Tear's power."
"And then he went to go raise the dead, and you had to stop him."
Kenny looked away, and I saw a tear of his own come to his eye. "Even if I had to Undo him myself. And I'd have Undone myself right after that as well. I don't think I can live without him, but I could never live with myself or him if he succumbed to that level of madness again. The recent brush with Bedlam aside, the things that someone truly evil can do with the Tear, with any of the philters…" he trailed off.
"Could destroy the world?" I asked.
"Worlds," Kenny said, sadly. "Plural. And any hope we might have of ever returning to Arcadia depends on the possessor of any of the philters being sane, sound and centered."
"So, you're hoping to go home?"
"Not me, not anymore. I've grown to love this world, with all its faults. I have hope for its people. If there's a chance to go back to Arcadia, I can't say I wont go, especially if Robyn wants to return. But I would rather stay."
"So, I imagine there are many stories about the other ones, but the Empty is something you truly fear, isn't it?" I asked.
He sighed again. We heard a giggle and some whooshing sounds across the hall, so I knew the others were having a good time, playing about with their "practice weapons," as if anything changeling made were merely a toy.
"The Empty was once clear. More than just clear, it sparkled like none of the others. In the legends, it once had the name Prizm and it was said to be able to bring light into even the darkest shadows. The king who held Prizm was a good person, wise in the ways of magic and Glamour. He had reached into the void of space between worlds and realms and established contact with other races, including the creatures just forming and growing here on the Earth realm. It was a glorious time of exploration, learning and peace."
"The king's thirteenth son, a jealous and twisted soul who rejected the love offered him by family and country, sought to slay his father and claim the Prizm for his own. Instead of waging a war against his family with armies and weapons, however, he sought to destroy them from within.
"He set about stirring up trouble between his kin, even between his father and the lesser kings under his banner. For centuries he plotted and manipulated. The goal was always before him, just out of reach. It is said that this son, whose name has been scratched from the texts and artifacts, was the one that instigated the war. He turned noble house against noble house, plunged entire territories into economic ruin and famine just to drive his overall goal. Eventually, he managed to weaken his family to the point where he could slide back into their good graces. Through cunning manipulation and treachery, he managed to slaughter most of his remaining kin, until only he, his eldest brother and the king remained.
"By this time, the war had grown to epic proportions. Robyn's father had just seized the Tear. Other high kings were establishing order, quelling uprisings, establishing peace where unrest had settled for generations. The six who held the colored vergence philters held a conference. The great high king who wore the Prizm was supposed to attend as well, with his loyal children and honor guard beside him.
"That's when the traitorous son struck. While at camp, the traitor spiked the king's wine, twisted it with dark Glamour. He set up a moment where the high king got into an argument with and struck down his own eldest son, and while the high king was lamenting what had happened…"
"The traitor killed him? His own father?" I guessed. Kenny nodded. He was visibly shaken from telling this tale.
"He took up the Prizm from his father's corpse, but as the crystal lay in his cold, merciless hands, it felt the evil in his heart. The gem turned from a diamond giving off light and purity into a darker crystal that sucked in light and hope and happiness. It drained Glamour from the world around it, giving the wielder the ability to use the energy as it saw fit, or simply consume it. Imagine it! He drains Glamour from others at the same time he uses it for his own twisted Glamour killing purposes. It gave unnatural life and great powers to the traitor son."
Kenny looked up to my eyes and the sadness had a hint of long held terror as well. "On that day, the Dauntain were born."
"You've mentioned that word before. What are Dauntain?"
"His followers. At least the original Dauntain were. Changelings turned from the path of the Dreaming. They have powers that cancel magic, drain life, drain light, even drain heat and other energy. They are empty soulless beings who seek only to destroy, never to create. They are self-destructive, powerful, dark, Dream-leaching beings without any mercy or forgiveness."
He paused, arms wrapped around his waist, as if suddenly cold, just at the thought of them, or the memory of having met one personally. "On the night that Robyn's parents and my… Kay Neth's parents were killed, the night we had to flee Cerulean and Arcadia forever, it was Dauntain attacking, with monsters, savage, brutal and remorseless. Swarms of them. Led by powerful changelings of like mind who hadn't yet fallen into the Empty's way, but desired the treasures it promised." Kenny's face pinched for a moment and the tears started flowing. He tried to fight it, but his gray eyes simply couldn't contain the emotion and memories any more.
I stepped to him and drew his head to my chest. I don't know why, but it just felt like the right thing to do. Kenny was almost in physical pain telling me this story. I ached to help him in some way, even though I knew that I couldn't undo centuries of history. Still, to think that something that happened thousands of years ago could still affect my changeling friend so put things into perspective for me. Werewolves might have more life than normal mortal folks, but changelings were immortal in a way I could never imagine or even hope to be. And after seeing how this tale of woe affected him, I'm pretty sure I didn't want to switch places.
"I… I still have nightmares about that night. And I wonder if the traitor son was there that night, with the Empty in his hand. The fact that Robyn even has the Tear, much less his father's sword SkyFire, may well mean that our high king sacrificed himself to save Robyn and me, and many other refugees from Cerulean that night. Only one philter can counter another, and I've never heard of a battle between philters working out well for either wielder."
"So, did the philters come across here in the exile?" I said, awkwardly stepping back to the chair and just perching my tail up over the arm instead of sitting down properly.
"I've only heard of three showing up in this realm, including the Tear. And one of them was gone for quite a while. The yellow one showed up on July 20, 1969," he said, grinning. I thought for a moment before the reason for this date became clear to me.
"The moon landing?" I guessed. He grinned back.
"People all over the world watched that event, live. They stayed up for hours. Back then, there had been so many space disasters, rockets that blew up on the ground, rockets that blew up in space, experimental stuff that the US and Russians were doing, competing with each other. It was the space race, and it was everything. The fact that they'd even gotten to the moon was a huge event. But to land there… safely?"
"Yeah, I read about that in history."
"Well, when that happened, and the whole planet pretty much was watching, Glamour flooded the Earth. The power of human imagination, ingenuity and spirit of adventure was reborn, even out of the cold, sterile stuff of science. It was a huge wake up call to changelings all over the world. And, it served to reveal one of the lost treasures, the yellow vergence philter known as the Crystal Kaliburn."
"I've never heard of it."
"In the Arthurian legends it had another name. Can you guess it?"
"Well, if Merlin had the Philosopher's Stone," I began.
"And he still does," Kenny smirked. "After he lost it for a while."
"Then I'd have to say, maybe the sword in the stone? Excalibur?"
"Yup! Now held by High King David, Lord of Concordia, or what the mortals call North America."
"So, by having the Tear, Robby could technically outrank most of the other changelings around here?"
"If he pressed his claim. But, only because he has it now. He's still crown prince of Cerulean, and still Queen Mab's Lord Champion. He was born to the first title, and earned the second. The hard way."
"What's that title make him?"
"The sheriff, pretty much. Which is why him having the Tear has kept it safe, until his recent brush with insanity."
"Okay, I think I get it. I'm sorry I made you tell me all that stuff about the Empty. I hope we never have to worry about that thing, or even finding any of the other… wait, did you say Merlin STILL has the Philosopher's Stone?"
"Oh, yeah. He's had it for years. He kinda screwed up with it when the Glamour flood hit in 1969. And since he's not really a changeling, its powers worked kinda screwy with his. But that's a story for another day."
"You tell some pretty wild tales, Kenny. Wish I knew the books you get this from."
"I don't. I can travel into the Dreaming and see visions of the past."
"Sure, most changelings can, if they just know where to look. I'll have to take you and Nick into the Dreaming sometime."
"Whoa! So it's a physical place?"
"I'd say it's as close to the Umbra as most mortals will ever be able to touch, but they're all connected through it. Probably werewolves and other supernatural types as well."
"Wow. My head's gonna explode."
"Yeah, well, we got Jedi class today, so don't let it explode just yet. I get the feeling training Magnus and Sven is going to be a whole 'nother animal. And we still have Paul and Jack in the early stages of their training too."
"Guess we'll meet them today too, huh?"
"Yup, one big happy sword swinging supernatural family."
"Hey, there ya'll are," Nick said, poking his head into the room. "Ya'll about ready ta head out. The van's gonna be packed pretty tight. Ya gotta reserve a lap now."
"You goof ball," I said, standing up. Kenny was right behind us.
"I'm just glad the Empty isn't here," I said to Kenny as we headed downstairs.
"I don't know if it is or isn't. But if it is," Kenny said, trailing off. We exchanged a look and he didn't need to finish.
"Am Ah missin' sumthin'?"
"Just that if Korbesh ever gets his paws on Robby's Tear," Kenny said as we getting down the stairs, "it could be game over for all of us."
"That's a lot of swing for his bling," Nick quipped, moving ahead of Kenny and me. We stepped into Kenny & Robby's bedroom and got the whole socks-pants-shoes situation dealt with and then followed Kenny to another small room in the downstairs. I got the feeling the downstairs was Kenny's domain, even though the paint shop for the sabers was upstairs. Anyways, this room seemed to be Kenny's storage area, and he had several new looking sports equipment bags, each with our human names stenciled on the sides.
"A gift," Kenny explained, "and the necessary equipment for the class. Y safety regulations." We picked up our sabers and gear bags and headed for the door.
"So, we're gonna need all this stuff?" I asked, shifting the gear back on my shoulder. Nick bounced ahead of us, shouting something about "rotten eggs" over his shoulder.
"Yeah, unless you like having people poke you in tender places with magically enhanced 'wood poles, painted,' a few dozen times," Kenny smiled. "We'll show you how it goes on. Pretty simple stuff."
"Yeah, well," I said, stepping out the lower side door, "we've seen you and Robby in action with these things, so I guess I'll trust you know what you're doing with them."
We stepped up to Kenny's dad's SUV, and it was already crammed in the back end. Magnus and Sven were deep in the backseat, both still holding their new lightsabers. Sven had a look like he was still watching the world through enchanted eyes. They both looked sort of uncomfortable in the back seat.
Robby was in the middle seat with Nick, who was telling some kind of joke that had Robby and Magnus giggling, despite Magnus' apparent discomfort. Looking back, I don't think he was really physically uncomfortable, despite how tight the back seat seemed. He had Sven leaning on him. Which I guess was something they didn't get to do often. I know that I love having Nick lean on me.
Master Mitch and Joey-rhya were outside by the car, talking as we put our bags in the back end, adding to the pile. Sven and Magnus had bags as well. We moved around to the front and I got in, thinking Kenny was going to have to cram in beside me. Master Mitch called out, however. "Someone can sit in the front, you know. The old man doesn't have cooties."
"Where will Yoseph sit, Poppa?" Kenny asked.
"I have someplace else to be today, boys," my mentor replied. I noticed he was wearing a tailored business suit and had the leather briefcase in his hand. Not sure what that was about, but for a werewolf to need paper in a human legal way kinda caught my attention. I mean, Yoseph's tribe are the Silent Striders. They pretty much don't have or need land of their own. Joey barely owns more than three sets of clothes. For him to have a briefcase, and be dressed kinda more formally like a Glass Walker, well, there was a mystery there that drew my thoughts a bit.
"Sept business?" I asked.
"Something like that," he smiled at me. "Have fun, guys. Learn, show off. All that." He waved at us, shook hands with Mitch and then sidestepped into the Umbra and was gone.
"Guess I'll ride up front," Kenny said, closing the back door. He hopped around into the front seat.
"Ya'll ready for this?" Nick asked, looking back to Magnus and Sven. "Ah seen how Yankees drive. Ya'll might wanna fasten your seat belts. Less'n you want yuir breakfast to see daylight a second time."
"You know," Mitch said, taking the driver's seat, "I've never had to give out wind sprints to first time fencers, Nicholas. But there's always a first."
"Duly noted, Suh," Nick replied, giving a jaunty salute towards the rear view mirror.
Mitch started the car up and we were off, six adventure prone adolescent supernatural beings. The trip wasn't long, but along the way, I got the creepy feeling that the clouds building along the river weren't just a precursor of rain. I kept my impression of the skies quiet. After all, we were about to be learning ancient secrets of combat. Some trepidation on my part was something I sort of expected.
I really need to listen to those feelings more.
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