Castle Roland


by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 10

Published: 8 Apr 14

Destiny's Shadow

Copyright © 2011 - 2015 by
Kyle Aarons

Cinder glanced over as the cashier came from behind the register and pointed at Avery's stocking feet. "Problem?"

The young woman pointed to Avery's feet, "I can't have him trying on shoes with socks that have walked across the pavement.

"He didn't. I carried him to the door." His eyes cut into the woman, "Of course if you would clean your parking area better I would not have had to."

Avery shot Cinder a look, clearly embarrassed by the way he was acting. Unfortunately for the clerk Avery's brain had not quite processed everything he had seen, heard, and been though yet. So other than the look, he said nothing. Instead he sat on one of the benches while he tried to figure out what he had done so wrong for the seemingly way the whole world to turn on him the way it had. At the same time, there was something just plain off about Cinder.

The guy was clearly a spy or something. He was deadly, highly trained, had contacts, knew computers, was built like a steamroller on steroids and even stranger, the man seemed to really care about Avery's safety. It didn't make sense. Part of his mind went back the "Hellboy" movies. He actually wondered if there really was a BPRD or Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Maybe there really was something like it in the real world. Sure, it might not have been called such a stupid name, but if there really were such creatures coming through some weird gates, surely the government would have a secret department to deal with it.

At the same time, this didn't quite make sense because the man didn't seem to be working within a set structure and the idea of having to go live with werewolves; was it a joke or was being serious? He glanced up as Cinder continued to belittle and browbeat the clerk. Avery quickly shook his head. Nothing about the man so much as suggested he had any kind of humorous streak, nor did he seem to be the kind of person to lie. If anything he was so driven, the thought of any kind of humor in his life just didn't seem possible.

After several minutes, Avery finally stood and walked over to Cinder. He really wanted to tell the guy he was being a giant asshole again, but the warning about not doing it in front of others was still very fresh in Avery's mind as was how strong the guy was. To this end he quickly decided to take the polite, yet firm route. "Mr. Sabre?"

Cinder turned away from the very embarrassed and red faced clerk with a sharp jerk. As his eyes settled on Avery, he noticed the boy clearly flinched but didn't back down. Once again he liked what he saw. "Avery, just call me Cinder."

"Alright, but if I can get the keys to the truck I'll go grab another pair of socks so the lady doesn't lose her job, or whatever. It's not her fault they have the rules they do and it's not my fault all my shoes and most of my clothing burned up in the fire."

A slight smirk played across Cinder's lips as he suddenly understood, the boy had actually blamed him for everything without actually saying it. He was not used to this kind of verbal sparring. It had been nineteen years since he had been around anyone who could be so subtle and yet forceful…" Cinder let out a sigh as he fought to suppress the memory of his friend. Finally, to distract himself he picked up a package of socks off a display next to the counter and tossed them to Avery. "Here. You are going to need more anyway."

"Can I get the ankle ones instead?"

Cinder quickly spun the rack, found some ankle socks, and tossed them over. "You'll need both since we need to get you regular shoes, some hiking boots and some really comfortable shoes so you can start learning to fight. The hiking boots should be worn with real socks."

The lady at the counter spoke up, "Sir he can't open those until…"

Cinder slapped down four, one hundred dollar, bills. "The only thing I want to hear out of you is when you are talking to Avery and it better be confined to 'yes sir, I can do that' or something very similar. Consider the socks paid for and there is plenty more if this doesn't cover the shoes he wants and I approve of."

Cinder moved back and browsed the store while the rather shocked woman looked at the cash and moved to help the boy.

Avery had already picked what shoes he really wanted, and it didn't take long for him to find a pair of high end hiking boots, but for the last set, Cinder moved up, bent, twisted and scrunched five pairs, destroying two in the process, before giving his approval on a set Avery liked and he considered flexible and durable enough.

As Cinder backed off again, the woman looked over at the boy in front of her and down at the shoes the man had literally ripped apart with his bare hands. "Is he your dad?"

Avery pointed to his slender arms, "Do you really think he would let me have these kinds of arms if he was?"

The woman once again glanced at the shoes, "Who is he then… I mean are you safe with him?"

Avery gave a small snort. "Lady I'm beginning to think I would be less safe if I was in Black Panther main battle tank. As far as who he is, well, I think the legal term is guardian, although for him, the term seems to mean a great deal more than most… maybe anyone." He picked up one of the mangled shoes and handed over to the lady as he stood. "Believe me when I say he was being nice to this compared to what he does to those who might hurt me."

Cinder had to contain a burst of laughter as he heard the words and smelled the woman's body shift from concerned to afraid while Avery's smell changed from a bit nervous to much more calm and even a hint of aroma that only comes off of someone who knows he or she is getting the best of the person being talked to. Cinder grunted as once again the image of his long lost friend played across his mind. Avery was way more like Cinder remembered himself at the age of twelve than Avery would have found comfortable.

Cinder paid for the shoes, including those he destroyed while watching Avery race out to the truck to look for the box with the coins and trinkets the boy had found in the old tomb, or whatever it was.

As Avery got out into the lot, however, he saw a man and woman getting out of a real rust bucket of a car with a boy and girl a year or two younger than he was. He slowed as he saw the fat lip and black eye on the boy as the kid shoved open the rusty door. Avery's eyes quickly scanned the scene again, noticing the man wore a rather resigned look as he struggled to stand up on what was clearly a bad leg. At the same time the woman reached around to the back seat and cuffed the boy hard enough for the kid to let out a yelp while yelling at him to get the door open.

The boy, who looked a lot like the man, rubbed the back of his head and stepped out; looking to the man for some help, but none was forthcoming. The guy just let out a sigh as if to say 'deal with it'.

Avery stopped, all but having forgotten about the amulet, ring and ivory box. With the large bag full of new shoes and socks hanging down firmly clenched by his right hand he glared at the woman.

A moment later the girl got out and tripped, fell, ripped her pants and skinned her knee. With tears in her eyes her small fists hit the ground as if it was the ground's fault. Unlike the boy, the girl looked almost exactly like the woman.

The woman snorted at the girl, seemingly finding it funny before smacking the boy's head again. "Git yer sis'r up." She then noticed Avery and spoke with a very strong southern accent as she tried to stare him down. "You gotta prob', there, boy?"

Cinder exited the store and watched the exchange. He started to move forward, but decided to let things play out for a few seconds. If the woman really did make a move toward Avery he could get there before any serious harm was done. Besides, he kind of needed to see exactly who the real Avery was. It didn't take him long to find a great deal about the boy he respected.

For Avery, the mental wear and tear of the last several hours of being nothing more than a puppet to be pushed around had left him feeling powerless and his brain hadn't really been able to find a way to do what it did best, fight back with intelligence. The closest was the exchange in the gas station bathroom, but, Avery's inner core needed to strike back at something he could really take some kind of control over. Seeing and hearing the events in the parking lot changed this feeling of being helpless and Avery decided to take it with a vengeance.

Avery's mind quickly took in the fact the woman was every bit as stupid as she was uneducated. Even as he knew his mouth and razor sharp wit were about to get him in some degree of trouble he couldn't help himself. "Yeah, you're thinning out the gene pool."

The look in the woman's eyes showed her total confusion. "Huh?"

"You're breeding." He pointed to the girl. "She's yours." He then pointed to the boy. "And he's not." Without breaking eye contact and with a wicked smirk, Avery raised an eyebrow, "You're bad for the gene pool. You need to stop breeding."

The woman still couldn't quite grasp what the kid standing next to the big truck was saying, but the fact the man she was with was snickering, she did figure out she was being insulted. "Boy I'm gunna smack dat grin right off-a yer face."

"Just like you like hitting on the boy?" Avery fired back, "He must be too smart for you too. You need to take birth control before the world ends up with any more of you. Having you and the girl in it is bad enough."

This time the woman finally understood enough to figure out it was her blood line being insulted. Her eyes went wide as she stamped her feet.

Avery couldn't help but giggle, "Oh, the dumb mother cow getting ready to charge!" He tossed the bag with the shoes and socks well behind him then pulled off his wind breaker and held it up like a matador. He even flapped it up and down then glanced over to Cinder and nodded in the direction of the truck door.

Cinder couldn't help but grin as he instantly understood what the boy was going to try to do. Without any hesitation he hit the automatic locks on the key chair, unlocking the doors.

Avery took a step back and made a couple of mooing sounds while continuing to wave his wind breaker up and down.

This was the final straw for the woman; she screamed and ran right at Avery.

Avery felt his heart racing, but he held out till the last possible second. Finally he yanked the door open, slamming it directly into the woman and jumped to the side.

The window exploded into hundreds of safety glass pellets and the door slammed shut, showing a huge dent in the middle of it. The overweight woman fell back hard, landing on her butt and ripping the seam of her overly tight pants, while her face bled from where half a dozen bits of safety glass stuck out. Her hands raced down to her exposed crotch area as she screamed a score of unintelligible nasty sounding, probably curse words at Avery.

Avery took a step back to the back passenger side door of the truck and smiled. "Yeah, keep it covered we don't want any more babies coming out of there."

At this point Cinder couldn't help himself, he burst out laughing.

This only enraged the hefty woman more. She jumped back up and launched herself toward Avery.

Avery rolled his eyes and duplicated the exact same maneuver. Only this time he used the back door. This one was even a bit more spectacular since the woman had rushed him with her head down. The top of her head slammed into the frame where the glass and the door met. The glass again shattered while the edge of the door's window frame left a wicked gash clear across her head. This time she fell back and bounced, her pants all but shredding as her fat blew out all the seams.

She tried to stand but only staggered and fell. At the same time the girl ran over, "Mommy!"

Avery glanced over at the man, "You really want your kid to be around," He pointed at the woman, "a cow who thinks she's a bull?"

The man looked and shook his head then pointed to the boy, speaking in every bit as bad of a southern accent as the woman had. "Let's go Cletus. Me's thinkin' we need's ta find ya a better ma."

By now Cinder was clutching his sides as he continued to laugh. He managed to motion for Avery to get into the cab while he walked by, hunched over from laughing, and dropped a trio of hundreds on the woman and her daughter.

Avery glanced at the money as he hopped in the truck, "Don't use too much of that on a cab ride, you need to buy a good portion of a blanket aisle somewhere to cover the mega-butt and thunder thighs."

Cinder climbed in and undid the seatbelt Avery had just put on while ruffling the boy's hair. "It's been over nineteen years since I wanted to do this, but I just got to!" He wrapped his arms around Avery and gave him a huge bear hug, then re-buckled the boy's seat belt before starting the truck. He was still laughing as he pulled back into traffic.

Even as he drove, Cinder couldn't help but think back to his 10th birthday party, the last birthday he had spent with his friend…

The day of February 20th, 1995 had actually been a fairly nice one, especially as far as Fort Kent, Maine was concerned. The sun had warmed the air to a very pleasant forty degrees Fahrenheit and in the sunnier areas there was even a bit of snow melt. The shady areas didn't seemed phased by the warmer than normal temperatures and there was almost two feet of it lying around. His birthday had been on a Sunday, but his dad worked pretty much every weekend and wanted to be around for the 'double digit' party, so his parents decided to allow him to stay home from school on Monday and do whatever he wanted. This actually worked out pretty well since the actual day of his birthday had been cold and snowy and he got to play outside all day in the snow while the kids coming to his party had to go to school.

The party would start an hour after the other kids got out of school. This way his dad would still be around before his night job and his mom would be back from her job at the local courthouse.

As was normal for Cinder's parties, he was not expecting many to show up. There would be a few. The kids of the parents his parents were good friends with would come, they always did. His mom was the clerk for the only judge in town, so there were a few who didn't really want her pissed off. His dad's boss' kids would be there too, which sucked because they were some of the biggest braggarts and spoiled little shits in the whole town. Cinder knew whatever he got for a present; they would soon have a better version and then stick it in his face to prove just how rich daddy really was while rubbing his nose in the fact their dad was his dad's boss. There would be a few others, the kids who had parents who forced them to show up out of respect or the very few who actually wanted to be nice to the school outcast.

It was no surprise when his only real friend was the first to show up. The two of them finished the snow fort Cinder had started then went inside to dry off and change. So close was their friendship and tight the bond, the two shared everything, including wardrobes. This meant Cinder often times wore things a bit too tight and his friend wore stuff that needed a belt or were baggy, but the size differences was not enough to where the two couldn't interchange clothing and this was just one of the hundreds of times they did so.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how one wanted to look at the situation the next kids to show up were the two slightly older twins of his dad's boss. As was totally normal for the small town, the two boys entered the house without knocking. Instead they just shouted they were there and made their way up to where Cinder and his friend were changing and roughhousing.

The first one to enter the room saw the two totally nude boys laughing and pushing each other while they used the remnants of the snow found in their boots and pant legs to have an impromptu inside snow fight. The first boy, Sidney spoke up loudly, "Seth take a look at the fag boys!"

Seth bounded into the room and pointed in semi horror. "Ew! They are playing with each other!"

Cinder shot Sidney a nasty look, "Jealous?"

Cinder's friend was only an instant behind, "No, Cin, they play with each other all the time."

Cinder responded with a wink to his friend, knowing they were basically fighting a battle of wits against two unarmed opponents. "Yeah, true but they don't have anything to play with. Ours have got to be bigger than theirs."

His friend snickered. "I know we have bigger balls, cause without Mr. Harris' money they wouldn't even know how to put their pant's on."

Seth moved forward and threw a fist only Cinder's friend was more than ready and much faster. It was almost like the boy knew before Seth did that a fist was going to be thrown. He yanked up the wooden base of a model he and Cinder had been working on and let the wild untrained punch land squarely in the middle of the thick block of wood. Seth howled in agony as he backed off shaking his hand.

Cinder gave his friend a quick thumbs up while mouthing off. "Are you two trying to rape fourth graders?"

This time Sidney lost his temper and charged. Once again Cinder's friend seemed to expect the move. He pushed Cinder out of the way and somehow unlatched the window and opened it all in the matter of moments. The next thing everyone else who was arriving saw was Sidney sailing out the window with his arms and legs failing like he was trying to fly. The boy's high pitched screams could easily be heard blocks away as he plummeted out of of the third story window then landed in the deep snow pile right below the window to Cinder's room where Cinder's dad had shoved most of the driveway snow from the prior two storms….

Once again Cinder had to shake off the memory so he could focus on safe driving. Seeing the boy next to him looking considerably happier and calmer helped to push the unwanted thoughts out of his head. Finally he handed his phone over to Avery. I've never been here; find us a mall."

It didn't take Avery long to pull up the needed information. He glanced over. "If we are wanting to drop the truck at the airport then Woodland Hills Mall is a good bet. We just have to take Memorial Drive straight there. I guess you are hoping the drug guys will think whoever survived the fire came here to the airport in dad's truck and flew somewhere or something, huh?"

Cinder nodded, somewhat impressed to find Avery had been paying attention and seemed to be fully on board with what Cinder had in mind. "Such is the plan. They will definitely find whatever your dad drove to the drug house still parked close by and then go to the house. They will certainly know everything about your dad, and even before they check to see what body or bodies are in the fire, they will look for this truck. Chances are they will never find it, but if they do, it will lead them on a serious wild goose chase as they check for flights out. The damage to the side may actually help you out though, because even as uncaring as most cops are, the fact there are broken windows and dents will all but insure it gets impounded. This, in turn, will make finding it a great deal harder for the cartel.

"For now, get me directions to the mall and then speed dial Braeden or Drake for me. Tell them where to meet us."

A couple of seconds passed before Braeden's voice came over. "We are about twenty minutes out, Cinder. We had to stop for some food and drink."

Avery responded. "Um, Cinder is driving; he wants me to tell you where to link up with us."

Braeden's voice became cautious. "Look, I am supposed to watch out for Drake. I need to hear this from Cinder not someone who sounds like a kid."

"I am a kid, and you don't sound too much older than me."

Cinder snickered as he reached over and grabbed the phone. "Braeden, it's me. Do what Avery tells you. We are in a dark blue huge Ford pickup with both full front and rear seats and four doors on the cab and my bike is strapped in the back. I'll park well out away from other cars in the lot and away from all cameras, so we shouldn't be hard to find.

"Oh, one other thing. When you get here, look at the passenger side of the truck before you look at Avery. Understand I had no part of it. It might help you decide which head to think with, because I know which head you will want to think with." He handed the phone back to Avery without further explanation.

Avery frowned as he took it back, "I'll guide you in to where the mall we are going to is, but I want to know what Cinder is talking about."

"Nothing," Braeden grumbled. "Don't worry about it. I'd never lay a hand on anyone under Cinder's protection even if I did want to do something."

"He'd probably cut it off like he did to a guy earlier this morning." Avery responded while eyeing Cinder.

Braeden snorted, "It wouldn't be the first hand he removed this weekend from what I've been hearing."

"Oh, so you really do know him."

"Sounds like you do to."

Avery once again glanced over to Cinder as he noticed the guy could clearly hear the whole conversation even though it was not on speaker and he looked quite satisfied by what he was hearing. "I'm going to be interested in comparing notes when I meet you."

"Me too." Braeden concurred, "Just don't let him take you down into any sewers. There are some very hot and gross things living in them and they are not nice at all."

For a third time Avery eyed Cinder, "If this has anything to do with fire and dogs, I think I'll pass for now. I like dogs I can pet."

"Yeah…" Breaden's voice seemed to catch in his throat. "We definitely need to talk. By the way, if he is sitting next to you he is hearing every word of this, and his eyes and nose are just as good if not better than his hearing."

"I already noticed."

Braeden chuckled at the very cautious tone of someone he had not even met yet. "OK, get me to where we need to meet you. I am getting to the outskirts of the city now."

Avery gave directions and hung up, handing the phone back to Cinder. "Why do I get the feeling almost no one who gets to know you, even a little, is ever the same?"

The left side of Cinder's mouth twisted upward into a grin. "Because they aren't the same after they get to know me. On the other hand, the only ones who get to know me are already a bit off when compared to the average moron walking down the street, so all I do is speed up the process."

Cinder let Avery think it over as he pulled into the mall lot. "We'll stay with the truck until Braeden and Drake get here. Then you can go with them and go shopping for the three of you while I move the cash and stuff over. If you want to check on your doodads, this would be a good time, since I have no idea how far away Braeden is."

Avery leaned into the back and pulled out the box. This time, however, the necklace with the pendant of Odin, and the ring held even more of a draw than normal. He reached in, and as soon as his hand touched the pendant it sparked, not much, just a little stronger than a static shock, but as he yanked his hand back, the triple horn of Odin was instantly tattooed into the skin between the thumb and the index finger of his left hand. The first was a deep dark blue, the second was a stunning red and the last was copper and even glinted like it was metal. Even though the mark was less than half an inch in diameter, it was extremely clear.

Avery yanked his hand back, but as he did so, the necklace came with it, only as it did so as it flashed and disappeared, only to reappear around Avery's neck. At the same time the ring also blinked out of existence for an instant before appearing on his right ring finger. Below the band, a tattoo of square knots appeared and the band of the intertwined square knots slowly started spinning.

Cinder heard, felt, and saw the flashes. At the same instant he could have sworn his inner wolf let out an almost triumphant howl. He shook his head as he grabbed a very stunned and still reeling Avery. "What the fuck! Are you OK?"

As he dragged the boy fully back into the front seat, he could see the slightest of glimmer to the pendant hanging off the necklace and there was no doubt the inner band of the ring was very slowly spinning. He reached out to take the necklace off, but as his hand clutched it his Inner wolf seemed to rebel at the inclination to remove it from around the boy's neck, so he went with the gut feeling and let go.

For Avery everything seemed to slow way down. His eyes watched Cinder react with incredible speed, but as the man's hand raced down to his chest to grab the pendant, it slowed, till by the time it was only a couple of inches from the medallion it seemed to stop, but that was not all that stopped, so did the car pulling into the lot, so did the family piling out of their car to go to the first showing of a movie across the street, as a matter of fact as Avery glanced around he could see the yellow light on the corner switching to red. The yellow was still fading and the red just starting to glow, but that is where it stopped. The only thing moving at all was Avery, and he was finding the going sluggish to say the least.

Suddenly he felt a sharp tug, not like someone was grabbing him, but someone or something was ripping a part of him out of his body. He tired to resist, but the pain grew exponentially. With tears pouring down his cheeks, he finally gave up and let whatever it was take what it wanted. The instant he let go all pain stopped. Not only did the pain cease, but all the bumps, bruises, and even the knot on his head seemed to vanish.

The next thing he knew he was being lifted, yet as he looked down he could still see his body below. At the same time a glowing hole appeared above him. Around the hole were all of the letters Norse alphabet and in the center was the symbol of Odin. The image of his body below faded as a second hole opened below him, this one surrounded by archaic Celtic letters and a dog like symbol, Avery instantly identified as belonging to Nodens, the Celtic god of hunting and healing. It was this symbol that had led to the excavation of the mound he had entered just over two and a half years ago.

As he floated between to two glowing holes they both formed vortexes and closed in on each other. As they closed around him, Avery could feel his very core split. Half went in the vortex of Odin the other into the vortex of Nodens.

At this point Avery had to concentrate to focus in on one half or the other. The half in the vortex of Odin, Avery found himself on a battlefield. Thousands of men clashed with horrid beasts and wickedly deformed human-like forms. He tired to turn and run, only to find a huge bearded man blocked his path. Avery stopped as the man shook his head and knelt. At the same time, a young boy, no older than Avery himself came forward and handed him a huge bow and a massive quiver of arrows.

Not knowing what else to do, Avery accepted the both items. The man then spun him around and knelt behind him. He then grabbed the bow out of Avery's hand and put it on the ground. At the same time the boy moved up and held Avery's hands out and spoke, "An archer need not know what hand is best but what eye is best. Hold your hands out fledgling knight, and leave a hole. Pick a target and bring your hand back until it is over one eye or the other. This will tell you which eye is the archer eye."

Avery did as instructed, finding, much to his astonishment the small hole he was looking though, when brought back ended up over his left eye.

The boy spoke again. "This is your archer eye, and knowing this has told my owner everything he needs to show you how to shoot the bow, take it back up and let his hands be your guide." The boy then stepped back out of view.

Avery reached down and grabbed the bow and held it in his left hand. The bearded man shook his head, took Avery's right hand and had it grip the bow. He then, without an arrow, wrapped Avery's top three fingers of his left hand around the bow string and guided his hand back. This was repeated seemingly a hundred times. The man then pulled and arrow and took Avery though the nocking of it, and the hold, using his index finger above the arrow and his two lower fingers below. Once again the man moved as one with Avery as he drew the arrow back another hundred times.

It seemed strange to Avery that all the while men and creatures seemed to fall by the hundreds, but the man ignored all except Avery and when Avery became distracted, the man lightly, but firmly smacked him on the cheek to refocus him on the bow, the arrow, the draw and finally the release. The first few arrows where shot for the feel of it. The next hundred or so were directed at specific targets, and once he was comfortable with the bow and getting good enough to hit, the man picked out more and more difficult ones. Finally, he centered on a small cluster of human-like creatures who were biting and seemed to be feeding on the wounded.

These blood sucking men didn't fall to any arrow hit, they only fell to a heart hit, although an eye hit seemed to send them reeling. The man behind him focused on this aspect for the rest of the battle, showing Avery how to predict the super human speed and movement of the vampires. He showed Avery how to target an eye once the Vampire had its mouth on its next victim, to knock the vampire off, and how to go for the kill shot as they reared back to plunge their fangs into their next victim. For at the moment before their first bite, their motion stopped and their chest thrust outward, allowing an archer a single shot before their teeth sunk in.

The battle faded from around him as a mist seemed to surround him. As the sounds of battle became more and more muffled the sounds of a village, with children running and playing, men working in a forge and women singing become more and more pronounced. Finally he found himself in the middle of a small cluster of huts, and in the center of the village was a circle of stones.

Inside the circle men practiced the arts of armed combat with swords, shields and axes while kids, some much younger than Avery, watched and occasionally spared with each other using wooden sticks and the remnants of broken shields discarded by the village warriors.

The boy from the battlefield appeared again as a massive man yanked Avery to his feet and handed him an Axe and shield. The boy spoke, "This could get painful, but even the best archer needs to know how to fight when the battle grows close. Let one of the older boys be your hands and show no fear or pain. Either is a weakness easily spotted by your enemy."

And so it began. An older teen moved up and took Avery's hands and guided him though a day of training, showing him how to hold a sword, shield and axe, how to use the shield to deflect the blow, not take it dead on, an how to use the weapons to counter attacks.

Days led into weeks as the practice continued, half a day with a bow the other half on sword, axe and shield. Then it happened, one of the warriors came at him and he deflected the axe blow, Avery then spun, slamming his own axe into the thick back armor of the much larger man. The man fell and Avery leapt, bringing down the blade to the man's neck, stopping only inches from killing the man.

The huge man who he had come to know as his archery teacher stepped forward and pointed to the campfire in the center of the village. The fire flared and left a giant circle surrounded by the flaming letters of the Norse alphabet. Beyond the circle he saw his body, with Cinder's hand once again moving toward the amulet.

The other half of Avery found itself in a thickly wooded area. This part of Avery looked around and shivered as felt a very cold rain hammered into him. He tied to pull his thin windbreaker over his head, but it did little good. Suddenly a man wearing heavy furs came out of the trees and motioned to Avery to follow him.

Avery hesitated, noticing the man had an axe at his side and a crossbow in his hand.

The man frowned and shook his head. A few seconds later a boy came out from behind a nearby clump of evergreens and spoke. Had Avery's two halves been able to communicate with each other they would have seen this was the same boy from the battlefield. Even though this half of Avery didn't know about his other half or the boy on the battlefield, but for some reason seeing a boy his aged calmed him some.

The boy moved up and took Avery's hand. "My owner cannot help you to learn the ways of the hunter and healer if you do not join us. Come; get out of the cold and the rain."

Avery let out a bit of a sigh, but allowed the boy to lead him over to the man. The weathered face looked down with an almost disapproving shake of his head and pointed to the trees, showing how they were blowing in the cold freezing drizzle. He them pointed to a set of hills and moved toward them. Once they were behind the hill opposite of the wind, the rain had less of a bite and the trees above did a better job of protecting them.

The man nodded as he noticed Avery realized this. Next the man dug under the wet leaves and pull up some much dryer wood. He used flint and steel to make a spark on some of the dryer leaves and started a fire. Before it got well established he handed the flint and steel over to Avery.

Avery quickly found himself frustrated, but the man was calm, he once again pointed out how drier leaves and twigs could be found under the wet leaves and how the position of the body could further shelter the fledgling fire from the wind and the rain. Finally Avery go one started, only to see the man put it out and point to a new spot. This went on for several fires until Avery had gotten one started quickly.

The man waved his hand the sky cleared and the air warmed. At the same time Avery realized the startling transformation had also left him dry. He looked around, realizing he was actually no longer in the same forest. This one had trees with leaves on them and the ground was a great deal less rocky. This time the man knelt and pointed to tracks in the ground.

A moment later the boy once again appeared. "Deer."

The man weaved through the forest, following the trail, pointing out how to track. When a verbal explanation was needed, the boy seemed to materialize at just the right time to fill in the details. Once it was to point out the attached broken twig pointed in the direction them animal had moved, Another time it was to show how to stay back from the stream edge, so tracks couldn't be disturbed while the man moved down stream then back up until he picked up where the animal had come back out.

This was repeated with dozens of animals and always followed up with making Avery track it further. The last set were human footprints and this time the man pointed out many more details, small things like how the heel dug in could show how much a person weighed or how much weight he carried. Different terrains, weather conditions, and types of human footwear were all shown to him.

Lessons started branching outward as well. Finding water in a desert was followed by lessons in surviving on the tundra. Eating bugs and raw fish, nuts, berries were all parts of the lessons drilled into him. Days and nights seemed to pass, as Avery learned how to make shelters, how to shoot game of all sizes, how to gut and skin animals, how to identify plants that could be eaten, and what could not, and even how to make a needle and sew furs together to make everything from a shelter to a coat.

Finally he was taken to a small encampment. The small cluster of stone buildings became home for him and he quickly found out this is where others came to find healing. Avery was shown how to care for injured, how to set bones, how to treat burns, stop bleeding, and even care for sick with a wide variety of herbs. Still, twice a week he went out in to the wilderness to learn more survival and practice the arts of the hunter. After seemingly a year with the man, Avery emerged from the stone hut and wiped blood off his hands. Inside was a little girl who had broken her arm. He had taken care of it without aid, setting the bone, stopping the bleeding with the proper herbs to prevent infection and splinting it firmly.

The hunter, his teacher, moved up and placed a hand on Avery's shoulder and for the first time gave him a real smile. The man then nodded and pointed to a circle of stones. As he did so the glowing hole surrounded by Celtic letters reappeared and beyond the hole he could see Cinder's hand had moved to within a millimeter of the Amulet around his neck.

Avery felt the two halves of his body combine and jump back into his body. He sat back and blinked his eyes. His head spun and he had to fight the desire to puke. Even as he struggled to recover from the weird bursts of energy, he suddenly found himself knowing how to do a few things he had never done before, well not in real life… Or was it real... His mind spun as it picked up bits and pieces of the last year, of the last quarter of a second. He just wasn't sure and the two experiences happening at the same time really had his memory all screwed up. However, there was no question he suddenly knew how to do a few things. The first was by far the most clear in his mind. For some reason he knew how to shoot a bow… any bow… all bows. So maybe it was all real, but even as part of his brain accepted the new skill set, the other half of his mind said it was not possible.

He didn't know how or why he could life a full year, or maybe even longer, in a moment of time, but he was certain this knowledge had been given to him by the pendant. It was all such a jumble. Still, there was more he realized he knew as things settled. This was not quite as clear, but was still there, the ability to fight with a variety of hand held weapons had been drilled in to him.

Finally, he realized he also knew some healing arts and had the ability to track, to hunt, and to live off the land. All this had been thrust inside his head. This knowledge had come from the ring, but there was so much there it was still trying to sink in.

At the same time his eyes snapped back into the world he actually lived in he felt or saw, he wasn't really sure which, a need to expose the pendant and ring to moon light. They held some kind of protective powers, but were in need of an infusion of power or recharge by the light of the moon. Avery gripped the sides of his head and pulled them forward over the top of his head and down over his forehead. He held up his hand to let Cinder know he was pretty sure he was OK then took a couple of deep breaths to help his stomach calm enough to speak. "What… what just happened?"

"It was something from the spirit realms, but what I haven't a clue." Cinder's voice showed nothing but the utmost concern for Avery as he continued. "Out of any of my kind, I am the least qualified to answer or even investigate. Still, the wolf seems to tell me you will be better off with those on, than off, so I will go with it. As soon as I can get you back to the Sept, I will let them help you with this since they will have some who will be much more knowledgeable than I ever want to be. However, right at the moment I can smell a great deal of confusion coming out of you, which is not really the thing I would expect. Fear, concern, maybe even some kind of opposite emotion, but not confusion, at least not in the way I am smelling it."

Avery's brow crinkled some, "Well, I would sure like to know if I really can suddenly shoot a bow like I think I can, or track, or gut and skin a deer like my brain is telling me I can. I also want to know why… or maybe how… I suddenly know how to shoot a vampire though the heart with a bow or why I feel even more safe around you than I did before…" Avery's face suddenly went a bit pale, "Wait a minute… there are really vampires in our world today, real ones, with fangs and sucking blood, the whole works, aren't there?"

Cinder's eyes brows shot up, "Wow, those are quite the objects."

Avery shook his head as all the skills he had learned in a year or in an instant all seemed to start falling in place. Still he was more than annoyed with Cinder's responses "Um, you are not exactly answering my question… again…"

"Yeah, well I am not really one to talk or tell the average person about the unseen, let alone all the horrible things out there. I told you what you asked about and you mentioned the death of a vampire who was the son of Kane, so I really didn't plan on telling you more. From the way it sounds the last kid to have nightmares in my house took out a wall and a section of my floor. I really don't need a second kid having nightmares around me, or I am going to need to take out another drug house just to keep up with the damages."


"I'm not sure. Ask Braeden and Drake when they get here. At the moment, I am way more concerned about your health!"

"If anything I feel better than before and I seem to be getting a bit stronger or something too, not much, but a little. I think the jewelry is doing it. But it marked me." He held up his hand, pulled up the ring some so Cinder could see the silver marking under it.

Cinder reached out and touched the mark on the boy's left hand and he could have sworn he heard his inner wolf give a bit of a contented growl. "Well, I think you are spirit marked, but again it is just a guess. There is someone in the werewolf pack who can help. She is pretty good with understanding the things in the Umbra. Whatever happened, let's keep the ivory box shut for now. We can look at it later, once we are sure you are going to be alright."

Avery shook his head and glanced over at Cinder. "OK. Yeah, the box can stay right where it's at for now, but let me get this straight. Vampires, Werewolves, Hell Hounds, and monsters under the bed are all real, they all still exist and I am supposed to be OK with going to live with a group of mindless beings who can shift into a monster?"

"Avery, werewolves are one of the greatest protectors of humans left in this world. Werewolves are not mindless killing machines." Cinder grinned, "Let me clarify; killing machines yes, mindless no. The battle between werewolves and vampires goes back to the very beginning of history. When I say I want you to go live with a werewolf pack, it is because there is nothing better to teach you what you need to know since it appears to me and those I just contacted you have been chosen as a possible Spirit Knight, and as I already told you, we need all the help we can get."

"Me? You think I am some kind of protector? Oh come on!"

"Not yet, but with training, guidance and some spiritual crap I don't understand, you could be. You are already spirit touched and it appears spirit marked and gifted as well." Cinder gently grabbed Avery's hand and pointed to the mark of Odin.

Cinder let out a deep breath and looked out the window. "Look, if you really have been selected, as young as you are, there is a chance you could become a great defender of humans. If you do, you will be standing with those of us on the losing side and the rest of your life, no matter where you are, you will have a bit of a target on your back. The malignant forces will be able to sense you just like you will be able to sense them.

"The question is, do you want to explore this and are you willing to defend humanity from the encroaching darkness? If you say no, I understand… I'll be disappointed, but I will understand. It is a hell of a burden and other than those fighting the war with you, it is pretty thankless."

Avery slammed his head back into the seat and clenched his small fists, "You know you are not one of the best motivational speaker or recruiters for your side."

Cinder once again chuckled. Once again he thought of his friend and knew he had found someone of the same mold, which was something he never thought he would again. He reached over and put an almost caring hand on Avery's shoulder. "Not everyone is cut out for it, but I think you are."

Avery gave it some thought as he kept tapping the slowly spinning band on the ring, only to find he could stop it but the second he took his finger off, it just started turning again. "And if I go live with these werewolves they won't bite me and turn me into one?"

"Hollywood crap." Cinder stated with an annoyed growl. "Werewolves don't carry a disease capable of infecting others. If werewolves had such power the war would not be going as badly as it is. Vampires can create more vampires, werewolves are born with the wolf, and a very few, very special people can become one, but it is a hard and dangerous journey."

Avery fiddled with the necklace for a few seconds. "Can I at least meet a werewolf before I decided?"

"You already have."

"Huh? When?"

"Think about it a minute, Avery, I think you already know the answer."

"No way…" Avery's voice lost a great deal of volume as he looked over and met Cinder's eyes with his own. "Wait a minute… so why didn't you go all wolf or whatever when you hit the drug house, do you need a full moon or something?"

"No, werewolves can all change at any time, at least once werewolves learn how to. The first time just happens and the next several take some work."

"So you can change… can you show me… I mean…" Avery's voice faded out as part of him struggled to fully grasp what the other part already knew to be true.

"How about an answer to my question first? Do you want to become the Spirit Knight we all think you can be?"

Avery twiddled his thumbs nervously for a few seconds, "And if I say yes, I live in the shadows the rest of my life?"

"The war is fought in the shadows, Avery, and we who fight it all live on the fringes of it. I have a job, I walk around like normal person…" He stopped and snickered as he saw Avery fire him a sharp look, "OK, I am way less normal then most, even for those fighting the unseen, but I still own a house and walk the streets. How much in the shadows you want to live is up to you, but the war itself needs to stay there. We cannot afford a panic, or we lose and so does humanity."

"If I say yes, do I get to fight it with you?"

Cinder shook his head. "I have a second war to fight. Until I win it, I will never be able to fully devote myself to the unseen war."

Avery saw a weird pain in Cinder's normally unflinching eyes. "If I live with this werewolf… pack… and I learn… will you let me join you so we can fight both wars together?"

"This is my fight, Avery…"

"But you saved my life this morning and if I am going to do this I want to be able to do it with someone else, not alone. Like it or not, through no fault on my own, you are all I seem to have left."

Cinder glanced up at the roof and the truck and slammed his fist into it, causing a six inch dent to suddenly bubble up on the top. "OK, fine, but it could take years for you to get to the point those in the pack will be comfortable with you taking on the big nasties. Even if you become a full Spirit Knight, I want them to be comfortable with you taking on such things before I will let you join me full time."

"Alright, but I want to see some real proof."

Cinder took a deep breath and within moments his arm changed and is dewclaw burst out. He swiped it downward, shredding the glove box before he forced it to go back. He cringed slightly as the bones popped and snapped back into his human form.

He glanced over to the clearly stunned Avery. "One of my gifts is my ability to quickly do a partial change. Most of us cannot. If you really want to see a full change, I will show you when we are someplace out of the sight of everyone else. I'm sure he will soon figure it out, but I don't think Braeden has managed to fully grasp what I am yet."

Avery wiped some sweat off his brow while the rest of him shook as a cold chill shot down his spine. "OK, fine, I'll go live with your pack." He then glanced back at Cinder, "But once I start getting good enough to go out I want to go with you sometimes, whatever war it is you are fighting you can't do it alone."

Cinder nodded and pointed to the jeep he had just bought for Braeden, "Alright, but this fight means you will have to meet the rest of my basically unwanted but newly forming pack, and you will need to understand that even those you think are weaker than you may conceal a very hard and unexpected punch."

Cinder jumped out and motioned Braeden to pull very close to the truck. At the same time he leaned in and spoke to Avery, "Help them transfer the money and guns into the back and cover it all up with the tarp I used to cover my bike with."

While Avery jumped out to meet and talk with Braeden and Drake, Cinder pulled the tarp off his bike and tossed it down. He then grabbed a couple bundled packs of twenties and hundreds and stuffed them into his vest. Finally, he moved around and looked down at Drake. "So I hear you had a bit of an accident."

Drake gulped, "Me didn't mean too…"

"Hey, the important thing is you are safe and unhurt. But we need to find a way for it not to happen again. Maybe Braeden and Avery can help you."

Drake nodded and almost told Cinder about the old diner, but volunteering information was not something Drake was used to and he wasn't sure if Bray would get in trouble for him getting a bit of a headache, so he decided to not mention it. "Me'll try Uncle Cinder."

Cinder let out a long breath, "Look Drake, I know you can learn to control it, so you have to do better than try, OK?"

Drake lowered his head, "Uh huh."

Avery came around the side, "Mr. Sabre?"

Cinder glanced up, "Avery, my last name is Than, the name you are using is part of my spirit name given to me after I completed training in my Sept. Now call me Cinder, which is my real given name in case you are interested, alright?"

"Sorry Cinder, but I was wondering what to do with the guns and your blades."

"You can touch the guns to move them into the back of the jeep, just keep one of the nine mills and the .357 out…" Seeing a blank look he snickered. "Avery this is Drake. Why don't the two of you get to know each other a little while I go help Braeden?"

Cinder moved around and noticed everything was in the back of the jeep. He dug out his vest and took off the Katana's then strapped on his Desert Eagle. As he adjusted his vest, he pulled out the captured machete and jumped back up to his bike. He strapped it on to where it was all but hidden behind one of his saddle bags, with the handle just barley visible if one really looked closely. Once satisfied with his own setup, he jumped back down and handed Braeden the .357 and one of the nine millimeters.

Braeden glanced around nervously, making sure there were no bystanders taking special notice, before accepting the weapons. "What did you do; take out half the drugs in Joplin or something?"

"I could only hope, but this was a full week's take for several areas and I destroyed a load of drugs marked for Springfield." Once again he held out to two pistols. "This will give you some better fire power if you need it. I checked them out, and neither has been fired before. Someone took care of them, though and they are cleaned and oiled. My guess is they were guard weapons for the house I took out, so they were more for show than anything and they probably never expected to need them."

"You are freaking me out again, man."

"Relax, Avery will be able to talk you though most of it. Just make damned sure this all stays covered up till we get it back to my place and drive nice and safe. You get caught with this shit and you will spend lots of hard time in an adult prison, and as young as you look…'

"Dude!" Braeden took a step back, clearly horrified by the thought, "Man, I ain't going to even get to the speed limit with all this shit in the back!"

"Good, and make sure Avery and Drake are buckled in and if you get tired stop and rest. Nothing is more important than the three of you staying safe."

"I got it Cinder, really I do. So now what?"

"Now, you get to take those two shopping for clothing and whatever else they need." Cinder stopped as another thought occurred to him, "And do me a favor and stop at a sporting goods store somewhere with an archery range. If he is as good with a bow as I suspect he might be, buy him the one he feels most comfortable with and get him a quiver with thirty hunting arrows and an equal number of practice arrows. At least half of the real ones need wooden shafts, not fiberglass."

"How am I going to find a store with a range, I have never even been out of Joplin area until today!"

"The same way you got here. Google it. There has to be one somewhere between here and K.C. I want him to have a bow if he knows how to really use one. Also let Avery know I'll have a phone for him once we meet up in K.C."

"So I now have another brother to take care of?"

"He may end up taking care of you."

"Oh, come on…"

"He's part of the unseen too, Braeden, and he has been touched by the same kind of spirits Todd and his pack fight for. As a matter of fact he will be going to live with them once we get back."

Braeden shot a look over to where Avery was talking to Drake. "Damn…"


"You sure know how to find some kids who are way too cute to be as dangerous as they are."

Cinder's eyes narrowed for a second then he shrugged and calmed a bit, "You know what, if you want to try something with Avery go right ahead. But don't come crying to me when you end up with your balls ripped off or worse."

Braeden took a step back and held up his hands, "Man, I ain't touchin' neither of 'em, OK? Besides, I'd never hurt Drake, man, he like a little bro to me already!"

"Hopefully you will be able to see Avery the same way soon." Cinder pulled out a slip of paper. "This is the hotel in Kansas City where the kids are going to be staying at. Call me when you get to the parking lot and I'll see if they won't give you guys a separate room or something. Avery's pretty damned smart and can help guide you in. Just remember if you get lost you can use the GPS, but once you know how to get there your GPS gets turned back off."


"Good. It might be best if head back to Joplin drop off most of the cash and guns then head up to K.C. It should only take you about five to six hours go do so, seven if you find a bow range, which does need to be a priority. Just make sure you keep enough cash to be able to handle any problems, and keep Avery out of sight in the Joplin area. I am sure he will be more than happy to tell you why. Oh, and my blades stay in the back of the jeep. I never know when I might need them."

Braeden managed to smile, "Just don't go hunting without them."

"I don't plan on it." Cinder snarled, "Unless you do something that gets one of these other two harmed, then I just might have a use for them when I get back."

Braeden swallowed hard, "Not gunna happen. I want those blades on my side, not in my side."

"Good to see you and I have an understanding, but I can sense it in your eyes and even smell it in your breath. Avery is not a toy to be played with. Besides, the dents in the side of the truck came from the last person who tried to mess with him and if you are going to take care of Drake for me, I need your skull intact." He hopped in the truck without further explanation, but did shout out, "I'll see all three of you in a few hours."

The trio of boys watched Cinder jump back in the truck and pull out of the mall lot before they turned to look at each other. Avery was the first to speak, "Well, I kind of am getting to know Drake and I know you are Braeden, but um, well I'm Avery and um, he said something about you taking us shopping?"

Braeden nodded, "Yeah… So you don't have much clothing or nothing either?"

"Nope." Avery stated and nodded in the direction of the rapidly disappearing truck, "He burned it all."

"OK then…" Braeden couldn't help but look over at Avery with a questioning stare and a bit of lust, "Well, we are at a mall and we seem to have plenty of cash so let's go shopping and get to know each other."

"Then what Bray?" Drake asked.

"Well, then we go back to Joplin, drop a lot of stuff off at Uncle Cinder's and we head to Kansas City." He paused and glanced back over to Avery, "And somewhere along the way we need to find a bow store and a range for you."

Avery's head dropped to his right side slightly and his lips pressed together tightly for a moment, "Huh, cool, I get to find out if I really do know how to shoot one then."

"You don't know?"

"I think I do, but no, not really."

Drake's eyes went wide, "Can me shoot a bow too Bray?"

"I'll call Uncle Cinder and ask, but knowing him, he'll say yes." Braeden responded with a sigh, "but we need to spend some more time working on your ghost stuff."

"Me will if you want, but me still kind a tired Bray."

"We don't need to push it, just get you some more control, so you tell me when you are ready."

"Ghost stuff?" Avery interrupted while eyeing the other two.

"Uh Huh!" Drake smiled with a bit of a gleam in his eyes. "Me can make ghosts do stuff."

Seeing the skeptical look, Braeden grinned, "If you are going to hang around Cinder at all you will have to get used to some really strange shit, Avery."

"I already have."

"Well, whatever you have seen, it's only going to get weirder, cause just when I think I have seen everything there's like something new and I only met him Friday night." He let out a deep breath, "Let's pull up closer to the mall so there is less of a chance of someone trying to steal the jeep. Climb on in Drake."

Avery glanced over at Braeden as Drake closed the door. "So you know about the unseen and the spirits and stuff?"

Braeden nodded but then shot a glance over to Drake, "I kind of do, but I don't' think Cinder wants him to know yet, so let's not talk about it when he is around."

"OK, fine, but is there really a such thing as a Hell Hound?"

Braeden shivered slightly, "Yeah, and trolls and believe it or not werewolves."

"Yeah… I kind of got the whole werewolf thing already. I guess I am going to go live with a pack of them or something."

Braeden made a forced chuckling sound, "Hey at least their leader is about your age and, man, are they awesome when they fight." He nodded to the jeep, "We can talk more later and with any luck you can see what Drake can do."

"So Drake is part of this?"

"I am still trying to figure out what is what and how it all links or doesn't but he is… Hell I really don't quite know. You'll just have to wait and see."

"Wow, this is going to be an interesting trip."

"Yup." Braeden agreed as he jumped in and double checked Drakes' seatbelt then looked back, "Man, seatbelt, even just to get closer to the mall. I do not want any chance of Cinder finding out I am not doing everything possible to keep you two safe."

Avery pulled the belt over his lap and grumbled. "Is keeping us safe all he really cares about?"

Drake shook his head, "No the detective guy who came over said something during dinner about still finding nothing on his missing friend."

"He has a missing friend?"

"He has mentioned a few things to me, Avery." Braeden confirmed, "From the way it sounds he has been looking for a very long time, close to nineteen years, if I heard him right."

"But he would have just been a kid back then!"

"Yeah, younger than the two of us and slightly older than Drake, at least I think so. He really doesn't seem to like to talk about it."

"Maybe I can use my ghost thing to help…"

"Maybe in a couple of years buddy, He said I need to learn a lot more before he would let me help, so I am sure the same will go for you."

Avery shrugged, "He just gave me the same maybe in a couple of years' speech. So did he save your lives too?"

"He stopped me from being sold."

Avery felt his jaw drop a little, but noticed Braeden nod so he figured he would hear more over the next few days. "What about you, Braeden."

"He saw something in me and took me in to help take care of Drake, but he took me out, to look for one of those beasts you wanted to know about. I ended up seeing the pack you are going to stay with and Cinder fight. He is an animal with those blades."

"Yeah, I saw him fight with the blades too." Avery kind of shuddered, "and he saved my butt in more ways than one. Actually, he probably saved me twice this morning. I think we ought to try to help him find who he is looking for if we can."

"I think the thing in K.C. is somehow linked to whatever happened to his friend and is definitely part of what Drake can do, so I think we already are."

The three boys spent some times shopping, but quickly decided to head out, get the money stashed at Cinder's house and then head to Kansas City, stopping once to show Avery what Drake could do and a couple of more times in an attempt to find a range Avery could shoot, at, but without an adult, they had almost no success. Seven hours later the trio of boy pulled into the parking lot of the Great Wolf hotel. Avery whistled slightly as he nudged Drake out of his slumber, "Wow, this place is like a resort! How can a public school afford a trip here?"

"Cinder says someone else if footing the bill, I really don't get it all yet, but you've seen what Drake can do and we think there is a kid here who can do the same kinds of things as he can."

Drake rubbed his eyes and yawned, cutting off the conversation. "Where are we?"

"At the hotel Uncle Cinder wanted us to meet him at." Avery responded. "You OK?"


"I think he needs to drink more after he does his ghost stuff." Braeden responded as he handed over a bottle of soda out of a cooler he had bought a couple hundred miles ago. "The same thing happened earlier, and he went to sleep shortly after too, so it must really drain him."

"My head didn't hurt this time Bray." Drake eagerly reminded the teen while he all but inhaled the twenty four ounce bottle of soda."

"Yeah, which is good, and you started to really get some good control, but we're are going to find out how far you can go without needing to guzzle a soda truck or get too tired."

Drake looked a bit disappointed, but Avery quickly chimed in, "Hey, you did great. It took me like fifteen minutes to be able to talk after you bent the stop sign pole and showed me you could tie a knot in it."

Drake managed a bit of a grin, "Me wasn't sure me could make the ghost do it. It was real hard."

"You did a great job." Avery stated as he patted Drake on the shoulder.

Cinder came out of the door and made a bee line toward them, "So you all set?"

Braeden let out a huge sigh, "No one would let Avery onto a range without an adult, but one guy heard us talking and let Avery take a few shots with his son's bow."


Avery shrugged, "The feelings seem to hold some truth."

"Some?" Braeden shouted, "Dude, you fired four shots. All four were basically dead center in the bull's-eye and the last one embedded in the shaft of the first one you shot!"

Drake giggled, "Lots a guy's started whistling and stuff!"

"It was fun." Avery stated with a great deal of embarrassment, "But it was a low strength draw, and for some reason I think I can do much better."

"We'll find you a range tomorrow before the kids get here." Cinder paused as he looked in the cab of the Jeep and noticed half a dozen soda bottles and even more junk food wrappers in a plastic baggy. "Ah, come on. Look, I'm not good with kids and to be honest I'm really not great with anyone, but this…" He reached in and picked up the sack, "This will destroy you from the inside out. You guys have got to eat better than this. This crap is full of stuff you don't want in your bodies, stuff your body can't break down properly, and stuff that will add fat and no muscle."

Seeing three rather dejected faces looking back at him he sighed, "Look, you are all kids. I get it. You like junk, but from now on, breakfast will be something I authorize and so will either lunch or dinner, your choice. Also, snacks have got to be natural, fruits, chicken sandwiches, even beef jerky is better than this."

Still getting a trio of very glum looks he lowered his head and shook it. "Guys, I can protect you all from almost anything and if someone or something ever hurts any of you I will rip them apart, but I can't go taking out food processing companies, no matter how badly I would like to. The other thing to consider is, once you eat something, I can't reach down your throats and yank it back out… But after seeing this, I'd kind of like to…"

This at least got some semi-smiles and a giggle out of Drake so he continued, "Tonight we eat a meal I approve, and the same for breakfast tomorrow. I'll then work up a list of things I want you to eat more of and a few things I just can't let you eat. It'll take some time, but I am sure you can all find things you can deal with and I'll spend as much as it takes to make sure you all have the healthy things around you all like even if I have to buy a fridge for each of you or something."

An idea came to him as he pointed to the entrance, "Guys I want you to spend the next fifteen minutes watching people who come out of there and tell me if you can see a couple of key things. Talk it over, have some fun, joke about them whatever, but I want you to really pay attention."

At first the three seemed a bit annoyed by the rather odd demand, but it was equally clear none of them were in the mood to argue with him over it. They were afraid of him, and Cinder was glad to see it. As long as they feared him, keeping them safe and in line would be a great deal easier.

He leaned back and watched and listened as the three boys openly talked and even joked about a couple of those entering or leaving. He continued to hold back and observe well after the fifteen minutes were over. He found it rather interesting to see all three had bonded a great deal better and faster than he could have ever had hoped. Friendship was not really his thing, but given the age and social differences this was not something he expected to see. There didn't seem to be many barriers, other than Avery occasionally prodding Drake about saying 'me' all the time instead of 'I'. It was clear Avery was bothered by it for some reason. However, Drake seemed to accept it and was already starting to work at changing it.

While Cinder found this a good thing, the next part was somewhat surprising. Both the younger ones clearly saw Braeden as a leadership figure and while the younger two were quite content to talk to each other, when Braeden reminded them of what they were supposed to be doing both boys dropped the conversation and returned to the task at hand. Braeden didn't seem alienated though as he was quick to joke with them and point out what the other two had missed.

Finally he moved up and took a seat on the jeep's bumper. "So are you all putting the pieces together yet?"

Cinder was surprised when Avery answered first, "Yeah, fat kids have fat parents, and thin parents never seem to have a fat kid. Sometimes a skinny kid has fat parents but not very often."

Drake nodded, but it was clear he didn't see the connection as clearly as Avery did.

Braeden on the other hand looked a bit disgusted, "It's what they eat, isn't it. The reason some kids are fat are because their parents feed them stuff they shouldn't. You know what really makes me sick, though?"

"What?" Avery and Drake asked at literally the same instant.

"It pisses me off to know there are this many fat people in the world when every kid in my neighborhood would offer their bodies for the crap these kids are getting fat on."

Cinder listened for a few minutes as this started a conversation about hunger, a feeling Avery never remembered having while the other two were all too familiar with it. For a few seconds he thought he was going to have to break up an impending fight, but Avery was quick to not only feel sorry for them, but also apologize for not knowing what the other two were taking about. Avery even ended up with a couple of tears coming out of the corner of his eyes as he heard the other two talk about digging into dumpsters to find something, anything to eat.

Figuring this was a good place to break up the conversations he cleared his throat. "So, now you've all seen what I wanted you to, the next questions is, who do you want to look like. Him," Cinder pointed to a thin very athletic looking blond haired, brown eye teen of about thirteen, "or him." This time Cinder nodded in the direction of a very large, almost round, boy with brown hair and hazel eyes who was about fourteen who was huffing and puffing just trying to walk up the stairs. The second kid had a waist size big enough to fit both Avery and Braeden combined with possibly enough room for Drake as well.

"The blond." Braeden said without hesitation.

Avery nodded, "Agreed, but I think he was asking which on you wanted to look like, not which one you wanted."

Braeden turned bright red and slugged Avery in the shoulder.

As the punch landed the ring stopped spinning and Braeden's fist stopped a centimeter before making contact. The force of the somewhat playful blow was enough to knock Avery over, but the actual point of contact seemed to be spread over his entire side so he didn't really feel it. Instead he felt like he got a shove. He bounced up and looked as he saw Braeden clenched his hand. "Bray, are you OK?"

Braeden winced and shook his hand, "I think so. What did I hit, though it felt like a steel wall."

Avery held up the ring. "It was this. It put up a barrier or something." He looked down, "Now it is spinning even slower."

"Where can I get one of those?" Drake asked.

"I don't know. I found this in a burial mound in Scotland…" He glanced over to Braeden once again, "Are you sure you are OK?"

Rubbing his fist the teen nodded, "I'll be fine, but I'm with Drake. I want one of those!" He paused and fired a clearly annoyed glance at Avery, "How'd you know?"

"I didn't know about the ring till right now."

"No about… well about what I like. I never even hinted…"

"You didn't have to Bray." Avery cautiously moved a bit further away, "Cinder kind of started it, but I really didn't think much about it. The first place I started to see was when we were at the range. All you wanted to do was watch me and the kid who let me use his bow and in the burger hut you were way more interested in the two boys in the soccer uniforms than the girl the next table over who was trying to get your attention."

Drake started to say something but stopped and shrugged.

"What?" Braeden shot Drake a look, "Did you see something to?"

Drake glanced over to Cinder who looked a great deal more amused than angry so he spoke up. "In the mall place, you made us spend more time in the stores with the boys."

"Busted." Cinder snickered.

Once again Braeden's whole face turned red, "But I wasn't like tryin'…"

"Hey, I don't care." Avery snickered, "You seem to be steering clear of me other than to look, and like it or not I've had guys, adult guys, looking at me for months. I must be kind of cute for some guys or something. There's nothing I can do about it, and you've made it pretty clear you have every intention of protecting me when Cinder isn't around so I don't really mind. If you want some help to set up some pictures or something, I'm betting I can play along so you don't even have to be sneaky about it.

"Me…" Drake looked over to Avery and gulped, "Um, I can help too!"

Avery ruffled Drake's hair, "Much better." He then turned back to Braeden, "See, what or friend's for?"

Cinder's left hand crashed into his head with a slapping sound, "Why me?"

Avery grinned with a truly wicked twinkle in his eyes. "Because you like us sooooooo much!" He then darted out of reach before Cinder could backhand him, surprising both Cinder and all three boys with his deft maneuver.

All three boys could have sworn Cinder's eyes glinted red as he growled, which only caused all three to start laughing as they hustled to catch up to him as he quickly made his way up to the resort hotel. The name of the place suddenly struck a nerve with both Braeden and Avery as they got to the door. Maybe it was the twin totem poles at the entrance or the fact the huge wooden sign started to swing as they walked under it, but whatever the cause they both glanced up and felt a shiver go down their spines as the name Great Wolf struck them. With images of werewolves fresh in their minds, the two exchanged glances. Both gulped as they wondered if this was a good or a bad omen for the next couple of days.

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