Personally, I have never seen what the big deal is about guys asking for directions.
Aside from the fact that neither of us had ever been to Robby's house before, neither Nick or I had been to Canterbury yet either. I mean, it's one thing to pass some place on the highway or see signs with mileages listed out in green and white reflective stuff, but totally a different experience to know where you're going inside the town once you get there.
And in typical Silent Strider fashion, Joey-ryha didn't own a car. I might have mentioned that before, but was still true. If we were going to get to Robby's place, we were going to have to walk. Or if you happen to be a werewolf, there is always the option of running. And running in the Umbra at that, so you basically dodge traffic. And buildings. And landscaping. And lots of things really.
For those of you that don't know, we werewolves, and wolves in general, can run for like massive distances without tiring out. And I don't mean just trotting, either. Maybe not full burst speed running, but we can cover some ground. We shape shifters just get into that super cruise mode and go for speed. Nick can get around 15 miles and hour and do that for a long, long time. I'm not quite up to that speed, but if we have to cover ground and time's a factor, we're up to it.
Joey gave us directions, both in the Umbra and in physical reality, that way we knew what to expect when we step-sideways back into the world that you all know. That and so that we could navigate if we ever get lost. Trust a Strider to think in maps while the rest of us think in pictures and words.
Directions and landmarks weren't all that Joey gave us when we told him about the message from Robby. It was sort of an odd and awkward moment. You see, we sort of busted in on an informal meeting of the sept elders.
Okay, it was a cookout, but when the whole caern is one roving beach party away from being a hippy commune and a bad surf movie all rolled into one, you have a lot of cookouts. Telling when it's just a meal from when it's serious stuff is not such an easy thing to do. After all, Black Rock caern's unofficial motto seems to be "come as you are."
"So, the grommets return!" Rolf hailed as we walked up. His perpetual grin, so unlike most Ahroun, made me grin as well, despite the urgency of our news. Also, it gave the other elders fair warning enough that they could stop their discussion. Joey hopped up at once and moved to intercept us from entering the council circle. Rather hurriedly so.
"Joey-ryha! We need to contact Robby. There's been a problem."
"I can't leave to take you there now, Cubs." He'd said it with the gentle finality of a drill instructor giving a last piece of hard earned wisdom to his charges. "There are things that need the elder's attention right now."
"But it's important!" Nick whined.
"Robby said it's urgent," I answered, knowing that Joey thought highly of the changelings. I'm not really sure what sort of actions I was hoping he'd take, but I felt that letting our teacher know how we felt about things might somehow sway him.
Joey guided us away from the council circle, a firm hand resting on both of our shoulders, right at where the neck meets the back. To Garou, this was not only a gesture of parental love, but of an elder enforcing his authority on a youngling. Neither Nick or I choose to challenge it. Joey loved us, we knew that. He was a good teacher and we trusted him.
"And so is this. I can't talk about all of the things going on right now, but there are problems that we must attend to at once. It's time you two started taking matters into your own paws more often and not run to the elders for help every time the wind stirs your fur."
"Well," I said, glancing at Nick. "Can we go to him then? Find out what's got an ally so upset that he sends a message like this," I asked, pulling out my cell phone.
"I got the same message you did, Cody. I know not to take any warning from Robby lightly. This is your time. Your pack and your mission. Go and find out what the situation is and deal with it as best you can. If things go badly or the information is really urgent, let me know. In the mean time, I have to get back to council. Many things must be dealt with, and quickly.
"And boys? Give them a message for me. Tell them that I am safe, for the moment. I still have his gift so I can at least deal with anything from the Dreaming long enough to get our people out of danger, should anything arise. I'll get into contact with them soon enough, but for now I have things that need my attention."
I noticed that his native accent, from his far away birth-land was coming back. He rarely spoke anything that sounded like that lilting and staccato Arabian accent that you hear in movies or on the TV news. He seemed to just have a non-accent most of the time. His word choice was sort of formal, like someone who didn't speak English like a native, but he didn't have any of the regional inflections, either.
Anyways, he gave us directions and told us to get to it. And that was basically it. I thought that there'd be more pomp and circumstance to the so called chosen ones going on their first solo gig. Shows what thinking alone'll get ya.
We stopped by our place long enough to change shirts, since we'd gotten a little bloody in the last fight, scored a mouthful of water and switched forms, jumping into the Umbra. It didn't take long to follow the path to Canterbury, Robby and Kenny's home town, and the run there seemed to relax me somewhat. I was anxious, I guess. It was the first time I'd gotten to go do something so far from home without an adult watching my every move. Made me a bit nervous.
But Nicky was with me. That alone made it worth the run. I'm not saying that I was all running stiff or anything, but the fact that we were doing something together and it was just us alone, well… it was kind of amazing to me. Strange in its own way, but still, just an awesome feeling. Like the two of us against the world, and we're actually the ones favored to win.
I guess that's what it feels like to win at sports.
Looking back on it, I think we made the wrong choice in clothing for our "mission." We were hoping that we'd just blend into the background. I mean, who pays attention to a couple of guys walking around together. More than four guys might have drawn some notice, but usually two dudes just walking and talking doesn't add up to trouble in the "old folks" minds. I should have realized that with both of us having the shirts and hats of different baseball teams on, and neither of those teams being the local favorite, that we'd stand out like turd in a punch bowl.
That being said, we got on our merry way.
The Umbra can be a strange and beautiful place. That's especially true when powerful concentrations of energies pool. Dark, evil places in the Real World tend to attract dark, malevolent spirits in their echo in the Umbra. The same is true for dark, nasty people. Not dark skinned mind you, but those who have dark emotions. You know, people who are always angry, or frustrated, or driven by unhealthy urges and hungers.
The point of all this is that whole dark feelings attract dark energies, the exact opposite is true. Establishing that, you'd think that the Umbra around Robby's house would be a calm, serene, happy place. And in many ways it is. Just goes to show that I really didn't know Robby all that well yet, I guess.
It was radically weird. First off, there's like an additional bubble of energy around the place. You sort of bump into the outer layer and find yourself having to push through a thickness into the main yard. Once through that, the yard itself jumps and seems to have, like, an extra three or four hundred yards of space on all sides of the house. You can only see the extra space as you get into the barrier.
Floating all around the barrier was just a flowing bunch of strange geometric patterns in wild and changing colors. There was just such a raw, potent scent of Gnosis to it that made me try to keep my distance from them. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, because apparently they were linked to the dome of energy and we'd have to pass through them at some point to get inside.
The bubble actually let us get only our faces into the space inside when it decided to kick us back out. Hard out. Imagine bumping a spoon on top of a Jello mold as tough and spongy as a bicycle tire. It was kinda like that. Nick managed to keep his balance, but I didn't. I looked at Nick and he looked back at me, equally dumbfounded by this strange turn of events.
"That's a new one," Nick deadpanned. "Never had somethin' Umbral kick me like that."
"Me either. Time to do something unmanly and informational." I dusted myself off as I retook my feet, casting my eyes about and then staring at the bubble again. I swear that one of the geometric shapes was practically laughing at me.
"Like what, Glubber?"
"Like ask for directions," I replied, looking around. I easily found a spirit I could talk to and approached it cautiously. It was a certain fairly common type of Weaver spirit called a Pattern Spider. Think of them as a web spinning-type spider about the size of a house cat. They help "calcify" reality in the Umbra. It's a difficult concept to grasp, one that I don't actually have a firm understanding of myself. The easiest way to think of it is that they more or less make reality more solid, more static. They are the workers of the Pattern Web of Reality in the Umbra.
As such they are the ones that would understand Umbral mechanics and weirdness like this bubble slash space warp thingy. I walked over to one, squatted beside it and casually stroked a single finger down one of its back legs. I've seen other Weaver spirits do that to get a Spider's attention. This one stopped its spinning and turned its beady eyes up my way.
"Excuse me, little friend," I said, using my gift of Spirit Speech. "Do you know how we can get in there?" pointing at the bubble surrounding Robby's house.
The Spider regarded me for a moment as if I'd just asked him what blue tastes like and then said. "Shape wrong. Pattern wont allow."
"Do you know what that is?"
"New patterns. Strong patterns. Good patterns," the spirit replied, practically cooing, turning back to its previous weaving, spraying webbing on a house across the street from Robby's "domain."
"Well, what'd he say?" Nick asked. I gave him a quick recounting of the spirit's words.
"I've never seen a Spider almost happy about someone else putting up stuff that they don't put webs on," I said. "But this one seems to like the bubble."
"Weird." My boi turned and gazed back at the quixotically luminescent dome in wonder and puzzlement.
"But, they said we're the wrong shape?" Nick asked.
"That's what I got."
"Well, which one? Ah don't think Crinos is a good idea."
"Maybe Lupus?" I guessed, standing beside him, both of us looking at the shifting kaleidoscopic dome. "Less threatening that way?"
"Too bad you cain't never get a straight answer out of a spirit."
"It's not the spirit's place to translate its thoughts into our limited understanding. We must adapt to the world, not enforce changes to it, or the Umbra."
Nick turned just his head, very slowly, my way. I glanced over and had to double-take at his expression of slightly confused, slightly amused surprise and incredulity. Like I'd just told some 80 year old nun she'd look hot naked and drizzled in honey on a bed of flower petals.
"What?" I asked.
"Jeeze, Glubber, you're getting scary like that."
"Uh, yeah," I responded, triggering my transformation, not sure where all this fountain of knowledge crap is coming from. I scare myself sometimes with it. Perhaps it's a past life or ancestor coming through. We Garou put a lot of faith to such things, so you never know. Could be some truth to this whole "chosen one" stuff the elders aren't telling us about. Nick shifted to Lupus as well and we stared at the dome for a second, side by side.
"Well, if the little buggers like the redecoratin', guess it's not somethin' we need to worry too much about, reckon?" I turned my head slowly in imitation of his move and was startled to see him doing it back to me. He'd done it just to get a reaction out of me, and I'd fallen for it. I guess you'd have to be there, but it was sort of funny at the time.
"Reckon?" I asked back.
"It's just a word, Cody, sheeze. Don't have a cow, man." And with that, and not even a backward glance, my boyfriend walked into the bubble, nose first, passing through it as easily as if he were stepping past a curtain.
Took me a few seconds of staring at the patterns with my Lupus eyes before I followed Nicky in. It's not that I didn't trust what the things were, I have to say. It was that I was curious about them. If this was what the Umbral echo of changeling or mage magic was, I was sort of curious as to what it did. I mean, it had to have a purpose, like maybe blocking certain people from entering or maybe some kind of mystic alarm system. I hoped it wasn't a wolf-eating magical booby trap.
I stepped through and nearly bumped into Nicky's tail. He was standing there marveling, his mouth hanging slightly open and his nose just twitching away. I almost didn't see what had him so dumbstruck because of how close he was when I penetrated the bubble. I walked up beside him and woofed something that would have started to be "what's got your tail in a knot?" when I saw what had his tail in a knot.
The other side of the bubble is perhaps the most bizarre place I've ever been. Well, so far, anyways. The distance to the house suddenly jumped. It had looked like we were just staring at his house through a hazy membrane before. Once past that barrier, we found ourselves looking at his house, although a much more fortified and majestic house, with another good three miles of distance to go to the front door. It's like the space inside the bubble was stretched.
Stretched and filled. Nearest us, in about a third of what we could easily see, was a long rolling meadow of waving grasses, the occasional copse of birch and maple trees and a few boulders passed about for effect, jutting up from the landscape. Very movie-like and sweeping. In the far distance was a dense forest, fading far into the distance to the left. At first that's what I thought I saw Nicky staring at. The forest.
And then I could see them, moving slowly, just grazing lazily in the warm summer sunshine: Unicorns! Hundreds of them. All colors and sizes. Manes lifting and stirring in the breeze, their long horns stretching up and catching brilliants in the glorious daylight of the unblemished sky.
At the time, I didn't catch the fact that it was daylight here, in the Umbra, which never has daylight, only moonlight. But the sight before me made me completely forget about that little technical point. I mean, Unicorn (with a capital "U"), is our tribal totem spirit. We're lucky if we get to see one or two manifestations of Unicorn in our entire lifetimes. To see so many of them, all gathered together, at the house of a guy we met a few days ago…
Well, let's just say it bordered on a religious experience for us.
And it pretty much impressed upon us how important it was to not screw up things with Robby and Kenny. I mean, they had Unicorns as pets! How truly powerful were they, compared to us? Did this mean that they were on the same level as the spirits? Or possibly higher? And they were physically younger than us, as well. It was humbling.
"Woooff!" Nick exclaimed softly. I'm not going to translate what that exactly means, but it's something John McClaine might say.
"Don't cuss," I said softly, gazing around.
"Ah might say it again if this place gets any crazier," he woof-whispered back.
"I might too. I mean, if what we're seeing is real," I started. But neither of us needed to finish that statement. It's not easy having your whole cosmology turned upside down by things you see with your own eyes. Nick had lived the Garou way his whole life, and was steeped in the lore and knowledge of the spirits. I'd only come to understand it a bit in the last few months, but I'd embraced it for the reality and truth that it is.
Clearly there is something I'm still not quite getting.
Not to skip out on the details, but the unicorns pretty much had Nick's and my attention. The other two wedges of the property were equally as awesome, if not as religiously significant to me and my significant other. Left of the pasture land, and going off as far as the eye could see, was a tall forest of local trees, save that they were every one of them enormous. Some probably topped out at over 150 feet. Animal noises and bird song drifted faintly from over there, and not a single pine needle or leaf lay on the ground. Berry bushes, flowering plants and even grass lay about, with a flagstone path leading into the forest. I almost expected to see a little girl with a red hoody and a picnic basket go skipping about into the woods.
To the right, believe it or not, was a garden. But to say that is to say that the Taj Mahal is just a grave site. I've seen pictures of like English gardens and French gardens, like the royal estates have, with the elaborate fountains and statues, the carefully manicured lawns, the rows of cultivated plants and such, all done to the most impressive style. They fairly matched what lay before us. There were small structures of stone and wood dotted about, like park benches, tables, a few veranda or gazebo like buildings and something that looked like a green house made of glass. There was even what I can only guess was some kind of maze in the distance, made of tall hedgerows carefully groomed with whimsical topiaries depicting heroes, gods and mythical beasts locked in mortal combat. A series of small waterfalls passed over some tall lentil stones surrounding a round reflecting pool, as if they were some re-invented version of Stonehenge.
"Well, damn," Nick woofed softly as we took it all in. "Somebody's got a green thumb around here."
"You think we're in over our heads?" I whined.
"Naw!" he replied, scrunching up his nose a second as we both tried to catch as many scents as possible. "So what? They got exotic Umbral landscape. If'n we was magical, thousand-year-old, body jumping immortals from another universe, we'd probly have a somethin' like this as just our summer place."
"No doubt!" I snorted.
We walked up to what appeared in the Umbra to be a small Victorian inspired palace. We were careful not to disturb the unicorns. Or anything else for that matter. As we respectfully walked past the herd, a few of the stallions giving the two half grown wolves that had appeared in their domain a close watch, we kept our noses open and our eyes peeled for glow-echoes.
Now, this is probably the first time anyone's ever explained Umbral mechanics, so I'll do the smart thing and show how dumb I am about it as well. The Umbra is the spirit world. Every living being in nature casts an echo of itself from Physical Reality into the Umbra. For the most part, these shadow echoes are faint and they just sort of fade into the soft background gloom that is the Umbra. Creatures with more spirit energy or what we call an "awakened avatar" cast bright echoes that Garou have learned to see. Some Garou can even track people's echo scent in the Umbra, or follow their glowing footprints. It's almost a Scooby-Doo sort of thing.
Joey taught us that all supernatural creatures have very distinct glow-echoes. Even vampires, but theirs glow black. Yeah, I didn't get that either until we tracked one for a while. Freaky.
Joey said that Robby and Kenny both had bright blue echoes, so it shouldn't be too hard to spot where they are. That's what we were looking for as we slipped down to the front of the house. A blue glow.
So imagine our surprise when we found two spiraling red-golden glows in the downstairs part of the house. Nick and I exchanged looks again. Him with arched eyebrow. Even in wolf form.
"Fascinating," he deadpanned with an elongated grrrr-woof.
"Okay, you have officially seen too much Star Trek," I replied, a bit snappishly. And then I peeked. Yes, just like poking through a curtain to look out a window. It's just that simple. I looked out from the Umbra directly into the Physical world.
"Two adults. Looks like Robby's 'rents."
"Wonder what they are. Their glows are stronger than Rolf and Sea Smoke's combined," Nick observed.
"Well, whatever they are, let's not piss them off, okay, Shadow?"
"Yeah, let's not."
We crept upstairs, me sensing an undercurrent of Gnosis or more likely what the changelings call Glamour in every part of the house. It was sort of making my nose tingle. At the top of the stairs we spotted Robby's echo. His door was opened so we went in. He seemed distracted, working at a computer. We know because little Net Spiders were continually going in and out of the house on a single spider line. If the Pattern Spiders were the glue that keeps the universe in place, the Net Spiders were the workers of the World Wide Web.
Try saying that five times fast.
Did I say before that his echo was blue? Yes, that's a good way to describe it. But Joey neglected to tell me that it was also bright. Like police car warning lights on a dark night. He was relatively easy to spot.
We peeked in on him, and for a moment I was struck by that sense of homesickness that overcame me at JJ's rental house. Robby had posters on the wall, held up with push pins. Back home, with Mom and Dad, my posters and school artwork was promptly put into neat frames with slender black edging so as to coordinate with the flow and ergonomic design of the room. In here, though, the walls were fairly pincushioned with stuff, all at odd angles and colors. A lot of Robby's wall hangings were sports pictures from the local teams. Some were joke posters, two looked like art projects from school. All of them were jumbled around, only a few of them were level or spaced equally. It looked awesome.
But it did make me feel a slight tremor. Going with the Garou life, you give up a lot of the little things that make you just a human kid. The trade-off seemed a bit harsh sometimes. For that first glimpsing moment of looking into his room, I wished I could make things go back to how they were before.
So, as I was saying, we peeked in on Robby. He was sitting at his computer and some music was playing in the background. Nothing loud, but man, do his tastes in music need an update! He turned a little in the chair, and based on the position of his hand, I almost thought that maybe we'd caught him in the middle of something… personal. Alone time. But I realized that he'd left his door open, and his parents could walk in at any time. If I were doing that, the door would be at least closed, preferably locked.
He was actually just staring down into his palm. I couldn't see anything there at first. The way his hand was positioned, like with his elbow on his thigh, suggested he was holding something with a bit of weight to it. My eyes flicked up to his face.
His eyes were focused on his palm, but his mind was clearly elsewhere. The look of concentration and worry on his face looked way outta place on a kid younger than me. That struck home with me, too. Whatever had him sending out "Urgent" messages was something really serious.
I saw his jaw muscles tense almost before I noticed his shoulders gather and a tremor run through his thigh muscles. Before Nicky could even come up with a smart-alecky warning, our enigmatic changeling buddy was on his feet, ready for action. He was spooky fast for a non-werewolf. His stance was like automatically balanced, centered and bouncy, ready to move in any direction.
And he was suddenly armed as well! Some kind of light beam shot out from his right fist, looking for all the world like a lightsaber blade. He turned his gaze directly to where we were looking at him from the Umbra as the blade snapped out. The whole room got kinda blue colored with the light he was kicking out. Man, did that ever look impressive!
"Show yourself!" he commanded. Nick and I gave each other a quick glance. He could sense us even in the Umbra! Color me shocked. I'd never heard of even Garou that could do that. Then again, I'm still new to a lot of this.
In typical Nick fashion, it was my smart-alecky boyfriend who tossed back a snappy comeback. He tapped his nose against the gauntlet, the separating membrane between the spirit world and the flesh and blood of physical reality, and, with some effort, spoke in perfect Cajun accented English, even while in wolf form.
"Okay, but put that thing away, wilya? Ah don't wanna end up a throw rug." His hip popped against mine, with a tail wag, and he started through. I stepped with him, stepping sideways back into the real world. Once on the other side, we moved a bit apart and triggered our changes back to human form. I still haven't asked Nick how he was able to pull off that trick. Wolves can't speak human. Our throats just can't do the sounds right and the lip movements just aren't there. But at the time, I remember telling myself that I'd have to find out how he did it.
"Nick? Cody?" Robby said, sounding slightly unsure. Well, he'd said that just after we stepped through, in wolf form. So when we finished getting back to two legged walking, he just stared in mild wonder.
"We came as soon as we got your message," I said, smiling and reaching out my hand. He hadn't turned off his lightsaber weapon, that I could now see had a handle of blue crystal that looked like a Japanese cartoonists animation nightmare. It kind of reminded me of some of the blown glass animals that Mom had on the small mirrored shelves around her vanity.
Another memory I'd have to suppress for the moment.
He turned off the blade, somehow, and shook my hand, gripping me by the wrist instead of the palm. He did the same with Nick.
"Is Joey safe?" he asked, taking back his seat. I was kinda caught looking around his room. Nick gave my thigh a subtle knuckle thump and sat on the edge of the bed. I followed suit.
"He said he had something you gave him that would allow him to fight off the bad guys," I replied. Nick gave me a slightly curious, slightly worried look.
"As if he needs it. He's pretty tough all on his own," Nick added, bragging on our mentor. "Gottah admit, ah's a little shocked hearin' frum ya'll s'soon."
Robby broke into leader mode as easily as a fish takes to water. Our enemies had just upped the ante in the supernatural arms race. While he was setting up the explanation and showing us how much he knew about the only real weakness we were folk have, that being silver, he showed us the scar on his shoulder.
Now, I've mentioned before that silver is nasty stuff for us Garou. Wounds caused by the moon-metal take a long freaking time to heal. And they burn. And they drain out spirit energy. It's a high price to pay for being able to heal just about anything else, lickity split.
Seems the changelings have something equally as nasty. Cold Iron. Robby whipped off his T-shirt and shows us this very disturbing burn scar on his left shoulder. Looked like he'd been splashed in a straight line with battery acid.
Nick and I booth were shocked. I had a flashback upon seeing that scar. Just a quick one, but one forever locked by horror into my memory. It was a brief flash of seeing Gene at the RV park, six weeks ago. That moment when the pack of young Black Spiral Dancers had Nicky and me cornered behind the camp store. The marks on Gene's chest, those horrible, spiraling burns that looked like melted skin; Robby's shoulder wound looked much like that. But where as the BSD's do that as a way to prove how tough and demented they are, this mark on Robby's shoulder was a battlescar. And a nasty one.
A few things made tremendous sense to me, just in that memory flash. Like Rolf's behavior when Skeeter reached for that iron club. Robby'd said that he'd gotten that wound from just getting hit by a "staff" of Cold Iron. I began to wonder if JJ's tormentors, Charlie's bully pack, were more than they'd at first seemed.
And if they were, how much more dangerous did that make the whole situation for JJ. And Rolf and Skeeter, for that matter. Or any of the Satyrs called our beach caern home.
"Cody?" Nick said, snapping me back to the moment. He twisted a sideways non at Robby and softly growled "Mother's Touch?" to me.
"I can try," I said, looking over to our host. "If you'll let me. Can I try to heal you?"
Nick's smile filled his voice. "He's a gifted healer. Ya'll've proved ta us ya'll're a great warrior an' a leader, but we hain't much chance to show off our skills."
"And if this Korbesh guy is as bad news as you say, then we need to have everyone working at full strength." I walked over behind him, getting a cautious but trusting nod. I smiled to him, trying hard not to think about what was going to happen.
I'd never tried to heal another supernatural being before. This was unknown territory. I'm not sure which of the several x-factors here were changing how things normally go when I perform Mother's Touch, like all the weird confluence of energies around the house in the Umbra, or the fact that he's practically an immortal, or even that maybe it's just the nature of the wound itself. All I can say is, it was the weirdest healing I've ever done. Ever.
Oh, sure. By this time I'd only been able to do if for six weeks, so I'm pretty sure I didn't know it all when it comes to Gnosis Gift healings. Thing is, when I touched him, touched that scar, I felt it.
I felt the shock of pain from when the Iron bar smashed his shoulder. Feel the deep burning and leeching of strength that the wound caused in him. I felt the power of a potent cleansing ritual used on his body shortly after the attack. It was pain as true to my body as it had been to his.
As the healing force flowed through me, reshaping and renewing the flesh of Robby's shoulder, I felt his other pain as well. The stiffness in that shoulder. The numbing of sensitivity and the growing loss of physical strength that had seeped into that part and which had been slowly spreading, both down the arm AND into his body.
This would looked for all the world like it had been a sealed over scar. And I guess to normal eyes and regular human medicine, it was. But as far as we supernatural types are concerned, that wound was a festering, bleeding, soul-leeching cancer. To be perfectly honest and blunt, I don't know how he'd even survived for six weeks.
"ohmigod," I remember saying as I lifted my hands off his bare shoulder. "That must have hurt like hell."
Robby looked down in awe and then ran his opposite hand over where the scar had been. The skin underneath was pink and smooth, a little paler than the surrounding skin, but no trace of the wound remained. "You could feel my pain?"
"I could feel what was done to you, so I guess I can feel your pain."
"Thank you," he said, rolling his shoulder about as if he were experiencing having a shoulder for the first time.
"No probs." Couldn't help but smile.
Then came an odd moment. We sort of stared at each other a bit and I realized that Robby was starting to put things together in his head, although about exactly what I wasn't sure. Nick broke the awkward silence, though.
"Uh, ah think we should tell you now," he said and I went over to sit beside him. "Cody and I, we're…," and I could tell that this was sort of the moment. That make or break moment when little secrets either become big problems or just minor bumps in the road.
"I know," he smiled. He'd figured it out already, about Nicky and me. Seems we'd figured about him and Kenny right as well. He also told us that pretty much all of his social circle, aside from his parents, what was going on.
It was sort of a relief. Nicky and I could be more relaxed and free about our relationship with each other in Robby's company. I leaned over and gave Nick a quick peck on the cheek, just to test things out. It felt good to not have to worry about what people think about me and Nicky being together as a couple. Actually, I think I did like that they all knew and all didn't make a big deal of it. In the end, I guess, as long as people are happy with their own situations, why should anyone else give them grief about it.
Well, you know, unless the other part of a partnership is like a total loser or an abusive asshole.
Robby instantly went into that "take command" mode we've all come to expect from him. "Look, we can talk about our various love lives a little later. For now, we have some serious business to deal with. Just remember that Kenny and I want to be friends with you guys. Not just because you're gay as well, or because you're Joey's students. We got a good vibe just being with you two the other night. We may all be gay and supernatural, but, and I think I speak for Kenny on this, we just want to be friends as well as allies."
"We want that, too," Nick smiled. "An' we want ta pull our own weight in this crisis."
"Crisis is about the right word for it."
He said, stood and motioned for us to follow downstairs. Which kind of had Nicky and me worried. We'd completely bypassed his parents on the way in and they had Umbral avatars unlike anything we've ever seen before. As a theurge, I am so very naturally curious about the nature of magic, either the kind we Garou use or any other kind. I just didn't want to be on the receiving end of fireball tossed my way because we startled something uber-powerful.
We descended the stairs, barely keeping up after Robby, who seemed to take them two and three at a time. His natural grace and agility seemed to make me and Nick look like plodding hippos on land by comparison. Then again, he lives here, so he ought to know how to take the stairs like a monkey off the leash.
We got to the bottom of the stairs and saw both of his parents look up startled. I don't think Robby saw or noticed.
"Um, Robert, who are your…friends?" his mom asked.
Robby didn't miss stride, though, and headed straight for the door. "Uh, Mom, Dad, this is Cody and Nick, they're werewolves. Guys, these are my parents, the Mages. I'm gonna show them that thing we found this morning, see if they can find some clues we missed."
Robby's dad stood up from his desk and I felt the pressure of his gaze. He was obviously scanning me and Nicky deeply. His mom shifted her weight from one hip to the other and I sensed her gathering gnosis or Glamour or whatever mages call that wonderful magical energy. I got a little anxious, so I waved, hoping she might see it as a friendly gesture and not something… hostile.
"How did they get past the wards we have on the house?" his mom asked. There was menace and worry in her tone.
I think Nicky had his eyes going around between the two parents, looking for a way to get out from between them and get the both of us out of the house. I knew if Robby's parents wanted to lay us out, we'd both be Garou skin rugs before we had a chance to even have change or jump into the Umbra. So I decided that instead of even THINKING of overmatching them, I'd best try diplomacy, hopefully before Nick did.
"Oh, don't worry. We talked to the spirits on the way in, they understand we aren't here to harm anyone." I hoped I sounded convincing.
"Yeah, the pattern spiders love what ya'll've done with the place, Ma'am," Nick added.
"They do?" she said, sounding a bit confused.
"Why wouldn't they?" I asked. Always compliment the lady of the house, especially when she is likely able to wipe the floor with you.
Robby dropped his hands on Nick and my backs and tried to push us back towards the door. That's when I felt and smelt a change in the room. Someone inhaled sharply, and it sounded like it came from the direction of his dad.
"Robby, where's your shirt?" Part of me clenched hearing that. Something about a mom asking about a shirt brought me back to that RV park before I had to leave my parents. It wasn't the same tone as my Mom would have used, nor the same sound of voice, but the fact that a mom said it kicked me in the memory equivalent of the nuts.
Then his mom gasped again. "What happened to your scar?"
"Cody healed him," Nick said, reverently. "It's okay that he did it, right?" Cody often brags on my healing talent, but I'd never heard him say it quite like that. Not the asking permission part, but where he said it with such profound…respect. I guess it's hard to understand.
"Okay?" Robby's father asked, rushing to check out my work. "Of course it's okay. I don't know how I can repay you for helping Robby like that." He deep scanned his son's shoulder, and I could feel the waves of relief and respect coming off of him, and almost at once, I felt his mom relax her gnosis gathering. I don't know how, but somehow these two had done some kind of unconscious communicating thing and they were like instantly on the same page.
"Are you alright, son?" Robby's dad asked, with a tone that I wished my parents had used with me while I was with them. I could see Nick smiling, and knew that we'd just gotten really good street cred with Robby's parents.
"I'm good," Robby said. His dad then turned and extended his hand. It was perhaps the best handshake I've ever had from an adult. Strong grip, warmth and respect in the shake, completely unusual for so much respect from someone so obviously higher up the food chain than me.
"Thank you so much," he said, and gave my hand a slight increase in pressure before letting go. I felt my ears go glowing red.
"Glad to help, sir."
"Can you boys stay for lunch?" his mom asked.
"Better take her up on it, guys. She's an awesome cook."
Free food!? Like you had to ask. "Sure, sounds great, Ma'am. Joey cain't cook all that well," Nick said. I had to stifle a giggle.
"Yeah, he tends to like stuff as rare as possible. Even grilled cheese."
"Ann, we should let them get to what they're up to," Robby's dad said.
"Okay, but Robby, you put a shirt on before you go out. I don't want you getting sunburned."
And then he did something I still wish I could do. Exasperated, he did some kind of break dance move, stuck out his arm, and like snapped his fingers. It did the slinky walk down the stairs. I kid you not. "Here, boy!" he commanded, like it was a pet, and it leapt across the room to his hands.
"You have got to teach me how you do that!" Nick exclaimed.
His father chuckled softly. "I've tried to get him to show me how he does it too, young man. Good Luck!"
"Be careful out there, Robby," his mom warned, as they went into the kitchen together.
Robby was totally cocky about things, though, as he struggled into his shirt. "Hey, I got two werewolves with me and two mages in the house. This is the absolute last place anyone wants to attack right now."
A loud boom of thunder outside traveled through the house, giving me a little shiver. I really didn't want to go home walking through a rainstorm. Wet fur is not as much fun as it might sound like.
He opened up the door and before any of us could step out, Nick and I exchanged a quick look. I'm not really sure why we did that, but it's kind of weird that we both did at the same time. I guess we were just checking to see if we were both on the same page, like Robby's parents were.
We looked out and saw, sitting there on the front step, a cool, antique looking carousel horse. Robby tensed beside us at the sight, and I smelled a familiar odor. That of a human struck with sadness. It's a very specific scent, hard to miss. I didn't see anything that could be the source of that emotion. Robby took a deep breath and let it out with great drama.
"Are you guys ready?"
"Fer what?" Nick asked.
"I need to boost your fae sight again."
"Oh, okay. Yeah, we're cool." I said and took Nick's hand. Robby grabbed the crystal hanging from his neck and my magic-feeling instantly started tingling. He must be tapping into powerful magic through that crystal. I made a mental note to trade magic secrets with him later. It might be cool, at least from the point of cross training.
Gnosis flooded me, with that slight difference from the magicks I knew how to toss that let me know it was changeling Glamour. I felt my eyes grow simultaneously warm and cold and had to blink several times. Seeing things in the Dreaming and in physical reality at the same time is such a kick. My fae sight hadn't totally passed yet, but the boost did bring the Dreaming stuff into sharper focus. So sharp that I didn't have to concentrate to shift my focus from real world and Dream.
And then I saw the carousel horse for what it really was. Or rather, what they really were. A small cat-like cartoon animal and a Unicorn stood there, impaled together by some evil looking sword like a giant push pin holding two pieces of paper together on a corkboard. Their blood had mixed and congealed on the blade and on step and all over each other.
"Gaia!" Nick exclaimed. I couldn't bring myself to speak. I felt like I was having trouble breathing.
Unicorn is a sacred spirit to us. He is our archangel to our tribe, for lack of a better term. To see one of Unicorn's gafflings turned into blood-splattered lawn art was profane and obscene to me. On far too many levels, it was wrong.
When I could draw breath and will enough to speak, all I could say was, "I've never seen anything so foul. These creatures were no threat. This was done just to be cruel."
"Do you see the weapon?" Robby asked quietly. It was the way he said it that made me suddenly realize that while Robby was younger and scrawnier than me or Nick, part of him, the Robyn the Blue part, was far older. He had that ancient general on the battlefield, surveying those who had died under his command sort of feel. Deep sorrow and worry combined.
"Yeah," Nick said, awed and angered at the same time, but sort of subdued by what was before us. "Pure silver and some sorta rough iron. Is that cold iron?"
"Yeah," Robby said. "Can you sense the silver?"
"Not really." I responded, my own voice feeling very far away. "I see it now, and feel it now that I'm looking at it. You feel it Nick?"
"Only while ah look at it. When ah look away, it fades."
Robby nodded. "Yeah, it's the same with me. I can't sense the cold iron unless I actually look directly at it. Even just looking at the silver instead causes the feeling to fade out." He knelt beside the unicorn's head and stroked his forehead near his horn. "Among my people, carrying cold iron is a crime, a lot like walking around with plutonium in a peanut butter jar. It's just too deadly." He looked up at me, his eyes so old in that moment. So tragic. "There's a technique to hide the presence of cold iron, though. It involves tempering the weapon in changeling blood during forging."
"That's disgusting!" Nick blurted, angry. I felt upset as well, but in that moment, my theurge mentality kicked in, giving me a kind of clinical detatchment. I guess I was still in shock, and my instincts simply took over.
"I guess it hides the presence of silver from us as well. Hey, if this Korbesh guy is responsible for the killings, do you think he's used the blood from the changelings he's killed to make more weapons like this?"
"It would stand to reason."
"Insane!" I breathed out.
"Cody, if this is what ah think it is, we's in worse trouble than that."
"Whatchu mean, Nicky."
Nick got down close to the twisty, merged metal of the blade piercing the two poor creatures. He snatched up a stick from the lawn and pointed at some grooves carved into the steel.
"Right here, in the blade itself. Carved in, you see, through both sides of the twin metals. You see these?"
At first I didn't see or understand what he was talking about. Then I remembered that not all writing is as human's know it. We Garou use scent, claw marks and a very specific form of scratch-with-a-claw writing called…
"Glyphs? Can you read them?"
"Yes, but ah dare not speak it in wolf tongue. It translates in English as a curse! A blood curse!"
"So it says 'fuck you' in written Garou?" Robby asked.
"Not that kinda curse," Nick said grimly, shaking his head. "This wuz forged by someone usin' Wyrm spells, spirit powers and bindin' rituals. Probably a few other kinds'a magic ah never heard of."
"What's it translate to?"
"Okay, ah'll read it into English." Nick cleared his voice a moment and then started reading. If I didn't know he was actually reading it in front of me, I'd have claimed he was making it up and trying to sound like a bad horror movie.
"The twilight of souls am ah, the drainer of gnosis and rage. The flesh of yuir bones may it drain of yuir blood of life. Consumer of all ah am. The power of your spirit-dreams strengthen me shall." Nick looked around and stood up. "It's a soul drinker."
"Woooff!" I said under my breath, and I switched directly to wolf form, and sniffed around the area. Nick chuffed softly, and I don't think that Robby heard it but he'd basically told me not to cuss.
I took off, chasing scents around the yard. It would be almost impossible for me to tell you about the millions of scents that I smelled, or that any canine smells when going into track by scent mode. There's just too much information in every inhale, to much spirit energy and olfactory stimulation in every little sniff. The next time you see a dog chasing his nose around a room or a fence line, and you don't understand why he doesn't respond to the first time you call his name, just remember that he's in a sort of sensory overload that you can never fully appreciate.
What I can say is that several scents immediately caught my attention. Three were normal, natural smells. Earthworms, residue from a skunk that had walked through the area about 3 days ago, and the slightly metallic and wet smell of lawn fertilizer, the kind you have to attach a hose to and spray all over the yard. It's a very tangy smell, and it tends to cover some other scents, unless you're sharp enough to discern it from other organic smells.
The other scents that caught me were unfamiliar. More so, two of them were unnatural. The scents were layered, in the way that suggest the owner of one scent either wore or carried the other scent owner. And there was a foulness to it. It's hard to describe. I guess you'd say there was a rotten stench to whatever these things were. All I could say for certain was that they were not things I was familiar with.
Then again, before everyone starts jumping to conclusions, there are a lot of things I've never sniffed with my wolf nose. I haven't had it available my whole life like a true wolf, so I haven't had all that on the job training with it. Still, it's better than nothing.
And I smelled Gnosis. But it was Gnosis of a type I've never encountered before. Tainted and dark. It was almost like the reverse of Gnosis. And on top of all that, the smell of silty powder or hot sand. I got the impression I was sniffing something near a construction site. I wasn't sure if I'd caught that right, so I decided to get a second opinion.
I bounced back over in time to catch the tail end of a conversation, to hear Nick say, "I think ya'll Yankee's talk funny."
I barked quickly, telling Nick that I found something I wanted him to catch scent of what I'd smelled.
"What is it?" Robby asked, clearly not able to understand my yipping.
"He says he found something he wants me to go sniff, right now."
"Well?" he asked?
"I never smelled anything like that before," Nick said, frowning. "It's like death stench and Wyrm taint and a lot of other things all mixed in. And sand."
"But not beach sand. The smell doesn't have salt on it," I said. "This is more like, I don't know, maybe like concrete powder mix."
"Yeah, that's kinda what it smells like," Nick nodded. "Liked powdered concrete. Although not so finely ground up."
"Like maybe glass?" Robby asked.
"It could be, ah guess. Rough glass maybe." Nick looked at Robby with that penetrating stare he gets sometimes. The one that says his spy instincts are coming in to play. "You know something?"
Robby grimaced and gazed forlornly at the gruesome display left on his doorstep. "Yeah, but we're not going to investigate it just the three of us. The last time I was someplace that smelled like what you're describing, I had to kill a dragon, one on one. And I nearly lost Kay in the process." He got a far away look to his eyes.
We needed more information, but dragging it out of an immortal was likely going to be a matter of some tact. So I remembered the things that I'd learned watching my mother sell flowers when I was young and on summer breaks.
"Sounds like an awesome story. You think that the place that you fought the dragon might match the smells we picked up here?"
Robby sighed. "Yup. But first thing's first. These two deserve better than to be stuck on that weapon, but I don't want to touch it. I say we give them a proper funeral."
There was such a profound gentleness to what he did next. He closed the unicorn's eyes. The small cat creature, which I later learned was called a kitt, already had it's eyes closed. He gestured for Nick and me to step back and made a clawing motion with his hands over their evilly joined corpses.
"Goodbye little ones," I said, held my hands out over the combined corpses and made claws of my fingers. The combined corpses suddenly caught fire. The fire burned slow and deep, but consumed both creatures completely to ash. All, that is, except for the Unicorn's horn. The wind and heat rushing from the blaze pushed air through the horn, and it made a sad series of musical tones, as if the death song of the Unicorn. I felt hot tears streak my face, evaporating in the heat.
The tears and the recharging of my fae sight seemed to merge. My vision got the sort of distorted softness that anyone's eyes get while crying, but in my own vision, I saw the spirits of the kitt and the Unicorn drift into smoke. They were lost now; not free to ride the winds, but free of their terror and pain. Watching that Unicorn pony burn hurt a bit, but it was liberating in a way. At the same time, I feared that it was just the first of many deaths we were about to face, head on.
We stood by and watched the pyre until it was gone. Even things of the Dreaming seemed to notice what we were doing and remained respectfully silent. As the bodies were consumed, drifting away as little gray wisps dancing in the bluish smoke, that sword slipped out and fell to the ground.
The weapon was red hot, but apparently its shape was calcified into reality as is. I could sense no pattern webs on it. I was having a hard enough time detecting the silver side of the thing alone, so I doubted that my meager senses would be much help. Regular fire wouldn't be able to destroy this thing. Only magic and truly undo foul magic. And as of yet, none of us knew what to do with it.
Robby figured out at least a temporary solution, however. none of us wanted to touch it. He went into what I guessed must be the side door to the garage and came out wearing yard gloves. He carefully picked up the hybrid weapon, not wanting to touch it for its heat as well as its nasty magical effects against our kinds and hid it back in the garage. Hopefully under a few engine blocks and three dozen bags of concrete.
Nick and I stood beside the embers. I saw the Unicorn's horn fall to the bottom of the pyre and roll slightly towards me. I looked at Cody and he nodded. So I picked up the horn, reverently. It's a holy relic to us. I wasn't sure what the protocol for such a thing was, but I held it anyways. It was already cool to the touch when I picked it up.
"It's a sign, Cody. Unicorn is tryin' ta tell us sumthin'."
"But what is he trying to say?"
"Dunno. But the fact is, this colt belonged to Robby. Imagine what that means. He owns Unicorns!"
"Yeah, I kinda caught that." I turned the horn over in my hands, examining it. There were dark marks on it from the fire, smoke stains and such, places where the floating ash had brushed on it and disintegrated, and the stuff it fell into before rolling my way. But the flames had not damaged it. I felt the tiny holes and striations of the horn, the way the pearly material of it grew in an open cone.
Robby came back out and saw me holding the horn. He nodded as well. Something about me having the horn made sense to him, I guess. We didn't talk about it, but it was pretty much understood.
The thunder earlier turned into rain, quenching the last of the embers from the pyre. I tucked the horn up under my shirt and we went inside. We went upstairs for a few moments, passing by the kitchen as we did. Robby's mom was across the room, looking through things in a magazine, but the stove was busy. All by itself it seemed to be in the process of stirring soup and flipping sandwiches on a griddle.
I stared in what must have been open mouthed surprise.
"C'mon, Cody," Nick called as he took the stairs in Robby fashion, two at a time. I nearly tripped as I started going up, forcing my attention away from Robby's Mage mother cooking from across the room. I have got to learn some of these tricks, I thought to myself.
Robby did a quick check of all his communications resources. So far things were fairly quiet. I know that there was one he was dying to check up on, but he held back. I don't think it was because he was afraid of showing us how he felt for Kenny over the phone. But I think he had respect that Kenny could take care of himself and that if something happened, he'd just know somehow.
Robby's mom called us down for food and we headed the call well. Soup and sandwiches and chips and pickles. It was awesome. I drank three glasses of homemade lemonade and felt like I was in heaven. I had forgotten how good a "Mom cooked" meal could be. But I was enjoying it too much to feel homesick.
Outside, I couldn't help but notice that the sky was getting dark far too early. We were in the building stages of a nasty thunderstorm. The earlier rains were just a precursor of what was to come and watching the drops splatter heavy and fat against the windows only made me want to leave there less. Like I said before, I'd forgotten the simple comforts of four walls and a roof.
We played games, messed around on the computer some, even watched a movie. All the while Robby kept checking his information networks for signs of his allies in trouble. So far no responses had come in though, good or bad. The rain did eventually get to us and we got sleepy. It was one of those things were you realize that time flies and I didn't know how late it was. I was about to suggest that Nick and I head home when Robby pulled a few blankets out and offered them to us.
"You're more than welcome to stay here. I don't think you want to go running off in that mess, and I wont force you out into it."
"Thanks, man," Nick said. Then we looked around. There wasn't much room in there. Robby had a lot of stuff and it tends to take up ground space. Of course, that wasn't such a problem for us.
We made a sort of nest at the edge of the bed, using the thick blankets as both palate and raised edge. Nicky does this accordion file fold on the one blanket so we can tug it up over us, like we normally do on cold nights in our burrow. Then we simply swapped to wolf form and curled up together. Robby shucked his clothes, mostly, and climbed into his bed.
And you'd think that would be the end of it. I mean, Robby had his boyfriend, who wasn't present at the time, and Nick and I were basically guests in Robby's house. Which meant we weren't about to finally get to do things doggie style, either for his amusement or ours. We aren't like that.
However, something did happen. Dreams. A lot of times, young werewolves have dreams that are based on their more feral natures, or at least the ones that I remember are. So many times I can remember dreaming about running through a forest, tracking something and catching it, then killing it and eating it. There's this thrill of the chase aspect to it that makes my heart beat faster.
Don't get me wrong. I don't feel a need to constantly kill anything I run across. But that's what dreams are for, I guess. You get to let your mind play out the stuff you know better than to do or that you have more control of your life than to do. It's the place where things that are just wild, crazy, obscene, awful and glorious can happen without making the man having the dreams into a monster. The dream and the act are separate things.
Well, unless it's a prophetic dream or one of those de javu things. Come to think of it, I've had a lot of those lately, too. But the point is, those sorts of dreams are normal. Just a way for the brain to let off steam.
What I had that night was a Dream. And the difference is this. Instead of just dreaming of being with Nicky, I felt him. Yeah, it was kind of wild, and parts of it were really nasty sexual. There was a bunch of times we'd shift shapes while doing sexy things to each other, including that all important thing we haven't done yet for real. It was such a powerful experience that I woke up from it and found myself staring into Nick's eyes over his muzzle.
He licked over my nose and whined softly so we wouldn't wake Robby up. Little chance of that, since the storm was really rolling outside. The rain and wind were playing songs of their own out there and I was grateful that we were safe in the house, warm and dry.
"Did you just dream about us doin' stuff?" he whined.
"Yeah," I licked. "You?"
He looked down and my eyes drifted down with his. We were laying sort of chest to chest and our canine "lipsticks" were hanging out, pulsing against each other. I looked back up at him as he continued to look down.
"Not at all," he yowled softly. "Dunno what you're talkin' bout."
I just licked his ear and laid my head back down. His face soon joined mine and we drifted back to dreams. I woke up twice more, once for a big thunderclap that preceded all power in the house going off. The storm outside was raging like I'd only seen back home in Baltimore. I laid in the darkness, staring at my Nicky and drifted back to sleep. At some time during the night, Kenny came in and joined Robby in bed. I dragged our blanket up there and I followed, making a spot at the foot of the bed. Nick jumped up with me and we curled up, all four of us together.
"No farting in my bed, guys, okay?"
We answered with some half hearted tail thumping and then got down to the business of just sleeping. It was a bit of a bonding moment. We'd spent a lot of the day with Robby, after spending a lot of the day with JJ. I pondered briefly about JJ, hoping he was alright.
Outside, the wild winds blew and the rains fell in stinging sheets. But in that room just then, all was right with the universe. Two weary young Garou and two tired young changelings spent the rest of the storm just being a couple of couples.
The last thing I remember thinking before totally fading to sleep that night was of the Unicorn horn I had wrapped up under the bed. I kept thinking about the symbolism of the horn and the fact that it was partly from our religion and partly from Robby's possessions. I wasn't sure what that connection fully meant, but I do know that it was real and it had meaning. And that it was up to me to figure out what that meaning was.
Several hours later, all hell broke loose.
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