Wolf In The Fold
Part 1: Chrysalis
This story is set in White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming role-playing game universe. While the characters and plot are mine, everything else is theirs.
Billy lounged in the tree, sitting on the biggest branch, leaning back against the trunk. He could hear Debbie looking for him, and had to suppress a snicker. The girl never thought to look up. She actually walked right under him and didn't notice. Billy waited for her to pass, and a bit longer, then dropped out of the tree. She heard that, of course, but by then it was too late. Billy didn't just tag her, he tackled her, knocking her onto the soft grass and rolling over and over with her, laughing. At first she shrieked in outrage, but soon, Debbie was also laughing.
"Okay, okay, you win!" she gasped.
"You're really no good at this game," said Billy, laughing as he let go.
"And you are too old to be playing it," she teased, grinning as she sat up and dusted herself off. "You're thirteen now, and I will be in a couple of months, and this is a kid's game. Besides, we're supposed to be raking leaves."
"But it's still fun," said Billy, his smile slipping a bit, looking puzzled. "And raking leaves gets boring after a while."
"I know what you're doing," she teased again. "You just like to cop a feel."
"Well, there is that," said Billy, his grin returning. "Wrestling's a lot more fun since you started to develop."
She play-punched him, then jumped to her feet and assumed a boxing stance.
"C'mon, c'mon, put 'em up! All you boys are the same."
"Your right shoe's untied," said Billy calmly.
She looked, and he jumped up and tried to tackle her again. This time she was ready, though. She dodged, Billy nearly falling as he missed. Laughing, they chased each other around the yard for a while, finally stopping from mutual exhaustion.
As they sat quietly in the shade, resting, though, Billy's mood turned somber.
"What's wrong?" asked Debbie, noting the change, and reaching over to rub her hand on his arm.
"Well... I'm just glad you let me help rake your leaves," said Billy. "My dad won't let me rake ours."
"Okay, for years, Dad used to tell me that when I got big enough I'd get to take care of our yard. Cut the grass, trim the shrubs, rake the leaves, that kind of stuff. Then, a couple of years ago, I came home from school, and there's guys working on the yard. Guys he'd hired. I asked him why he didn't let me do that, and he just smiled and said now I didn't have to, 'cause we were making enough money to pay someone else to do it."
"So? Looks like you'd be glad not to have to do that stuff."
"Well, yeah... but it's not the work. It's that Dad promised I could do it as soon as I was big enough. Then hired those guys. Like he was telling me I'd never be big enough."
"Well, you are small for your age, and a bookworm," Debbie said, though she smiled. "Guess he thought you just didn't want all that exercise."
"Yeah, maybe," sighed Billy.
But he didn't look any happier.
"Well, we better finish this quick. My dad's due home soon, and he definitely wants the leaves raked by someone he doesn't have to pay."
As they stood, Billy noticed that her left sleeve had pulled up a bit, and could see part of a bandage underneath.
"Did you hurt yourself again?" he asked, with mock sternness. "You are such a klutz."
"Yeah, well, it runs in the family," said Debbie, uneasily, quickly pulling the sleeve back down. "Now, come on and help me with the leaves."
For several minutes they worked at the task, with more energy than Billy felt it deserved. They were nearly finished when a car pulled in the driveway. Billy paused and waved, grinning, at Mr. Cooper. The man nodded but didn't grin back. Actually, Billy had noticed that he didn't smile much at all. Well, that was better than his father, whose smiles these days all seemed so fake. Debbie's father called her over. The girl seemed reluctant to go, but after a moment of hesitation ran to him. They had words, Mr. Cooper looking angry, Debbie frightened but resigned.
Billy wondered what was going on, and watched as he kept raking. Mr. Cooper took Debbie by the arm and led her into the garage. Billy stopped raking and wondered what to do. He was worried about his friend, but didn't want to butt in... And then he heard Debbie scream.
Not like she had earlier; this time she meant it. Without thinking, Billy dropped the rake and ran into the garage. The scene froze for a moment, and Billy saw everything in perfect clarity. Mr. Cooper, his belt off, arm raised, ready to swing the buckle end down at his daughter. Debbie, half-lying on the floor, one arm - the bandaged one - raised to ward off the blow. Mr. Cooper was looking at Billy, face a twisted mask of rage, something dark peering out from behind the human visage. Debbie was also looking at him, only her expression was one of fear... and shame.
Billy suddenly knew he'd failed his friend. All those bruises and cuts... and he'd teased her about them! Shame flowed through him, but also fear... and despair... and then a pure, white fury which washed away everything else.
Haldrin, Lord of Pellanterril Manor, was holding court. The nobles and commoners of his household appeared in full pageant, formally introducing themselves in preparation for the upcoming festivities.
Glomahr was in the middle of a flourishing bow, hat in hand and swept around until it was almost behind him, tail high, preparing to launch into his flowery, courtly, formal greeting to his Lord, when he suddenly jerked upright, and looked over his shoulder at nothing. His feline ears were pointed in the same direction as his gaze, and his slit pupiled eyes were wide with wonder.
"What in Danae's name was that?!"
Such a display would normally have been considered a gross breech of conduct, except that in this case many others in the court were likewise affected.
"A... Chrysalis?!" said Lady Bertil, advisor and cousin to Lord Haldrin.
"Glomahr, Berin, Turleigh. You know the drill," said Lord Haldrin.
The trio acknowledged the command, and left quickly, as the rest of the court resumed the ceremony.
"Of course I fuckin' felt it!" snapped Sudren. "How could I not fuckin' feel it?!"
"I wasn't questioning your sensitivity," said Glomahr, smoothly, "I was merely bringing the conversation around to our topic of interest."
The Knocker muttered irritably under his breath but allowed himself to be mollified.
"With that out of the way," said Berin, "perhaps you would see fit to share with us any details you might have on this matter which your devices have revealed to you."
A slow smile spread over the lumpy face.
"Oh, do I sure as Hell ever. And won't you be damn surprised at what I have to show you. You'll like to shit your britches. I know I nearly did."
He motioned them over to a crowded corner of the crowded workshop, and gestured to a glass-topped table. It resembled one of the horizontal public video game tables from years past, only much larger. A map of the region - centered on the Manor - was etched on the glass, showing mundane items - roads, legal boundaries, cities - in white, with fae sites in vague purple. Greenish-white light shone steadily at freeholds and similar places, with an occasional flash or slow rise to brightness followed by a mirrored decline at others indicating Glamourous or chimerical events. Sudren pulled a telescoping pen pointer out of his belt pouch, extended it and used it to tap the glass over a city a surprising distance from the middle.
"Are you sure?" demanded Glomahr, after a moment of stunned silence.
"Yep. And even that far away it damn near burned a hole in the screen. Fuckin' lit up the whole corner of the room."
A Chrysalis was a major event - basically the assertion of an individual's Changeling self over harsh, mundane reality - and having one produce a huge sign of some sort was not unusual, but this...
"Never seen one that damn big before, but I read 'bout 'em," said Sudren. "If my calibrations are right, that bastard is gonna be a Changeling of legendary stature."
Glomahr looked around at the others; obviously they were all thinking the same thing.
"Well, there's certainly no hurry," he announced. "There are plenty of Changelings in the area, and they're all qualified to handle something this trivial."
"Then we leave right away," said Berin. "I'll ready the car."
"It's still daylight," sighed Turleigh, in his whispery voice.
"Oh, just wear lots of sunscreen," said Glomahr airily. "You'll be fine."
The day was beautiful. Or at least it was outside. In their motel room - kept dark for Turleigh's benefit - things were even gloomier than suggested by the lack of illumination. Berin sat on the floor, arms crossed over his chest, while Glomahr paced.
Turleigh sat in a corner, at the tiny table, surrounded by stacks of books, magazines and newspapers. Many seemed to predate the founding of the city.
"A full day in this beautiful town, and well worth it," grumped Glomahr.
"If we find no signs soon, I say we return to the Manor and try something else," said Berin. "The few local fae we contacted have been no help. They are as much at a loss as we."
"Thank you for the review, Berin," said Glomahr, sighing.
"I found him," said Turleigh.
His whisper carried no special emphasis, and the Eshu and the Pooka needed a moment to realized the Sluagh had actually made a triumphant announcement.
"Found... who?" asked Berin, cautiously.
"'William Peabody, son of local business man and politician Harold Peabody, remains in a coma since his mysterious collapse...'" Turleigh read, from one of the newspapers.
He was nearly trampled as the other two hurried to him. Glomahr leaned over his shoulder, following down the indicated column with his finger.
"Wrong time. Wrong place. Completely explained by mundane means," said the Pooka. "Nope, not a chance."
"There are 3 people mentioned," said Berin. "Which one do you suppose is our Changeling?"
"The man can be ruled out, almost certainly," said Turleigh. "Too old. As for the girl... something tells me the boy is our candidate."
"Well, we'll check all four," said Glomahr.
The receptionist was obviously taken by Glomahr's charm. After chatting with her for a few moments, he said his good-byes and returned to the parking lot.
"No help at all, I'm afraid."
He sighed dramatically. "I found the other two, but the boy isn't here. He's up and around and doing quite well, back at his family's home."
"While you were flirting, I was busy speaking with one of my kind who lives in the basement here," said Turleigh. "The boy is in room 502. The man and girl found were also brought here, in similar condition, but they have since regained consciousness, and been released."
"So it sounds like the boy can't possibly be our target," said Glomahr, eagerly.
"And I spoke with a police officer, using the name of a kinain friend who is in law enforcement - and a bit of Sovereign - to encourage his speech," said Berin. "The scene where they were found displays extensive physical disturbance. The police are attributing the damage and injuries to an explosion, though nothing appears burned."
"And I have very little to add to that," sighed Glomahr. "The doctors suspect exposure to methane as causing the loss of consciousness. And the strange delusions the other two had."
"Delusions?" said Turleigh.
"Oh, you know," said Glomahr, waving his hand in a vague manner. "The father and girl reporting swirling, gibbering shadows, erupting from the ground and threatening them. The usual stuff. And the father confessing he'd been about to beat his daughter with a belt, and hysterically claiming he'd done this before and didn't know why. Nothing important."
"Hmmm..." said Berin, looking darkly thoughtful. "I wonder. Was the abuse caused by something exterior, or did the abuse simply attract something?"
"So I guess we might as well head back to the Manor," said Glomahr. "I mean, none of us has a prayer of getting into the room and seeing the boy."
The Pooka and the Eshu turned to look at the Sluagh. Who sighed and rolled his eyes. Which, since he was a Sluagh, produced an impressively disgusting display.
Turleigh approached the other two as they stood in the parking lot, near Glomahr's PT Cruiser.
"I did not get very close," said the Sluagh. "The boy is surrounded by strange chimera. I was able, though, to see that he has not yet acquired his fae seeming."
"Are you sure?" asked Berin, startled. "With the intensity of his Chrysalis..."
"I do not believe he has yet experienced his Chrysalis."
The other two stared in stunned silence.
"But..." began Glomahr. He stopped, frowning in deep thought.
"I have heard old tales," said Berin. "Sometimes, the flashes of altered reality which accompany the approach of Chrysalis can result in Glamour outpourings even stronger than those which normally accompany a Chrysalis. Especially if the Chrysalis is unusually difficult for some reason."
"A sort of hang-fire Chrysalis, eh?" said Glomahr, rubbing his chin. "Hmmm, yes. That would do nothing to explain why he is unconscious. And the presence of all those chimeras is just co-incidence."
"They're waiting for him to finish," said Berin, grimly.
"Do we intervene or wait and see if he completes the transformation himself?" asked Turleigh.
"Y'know, people used to say you should never wake a sleepwalker," Glomahr announced. "I don't think there's actually any medical evidence to support this, but better safe than sorry."
"In other words, since we don't know that interfering won't cause more harm than good, we wait," said Berin.
"Do you have any clue as to what kith he is?" asked Glomahr.
"Perhaps," said Turleigh. "The largest, darkest and most powerful of the chimera around him was a huge, black wolf."
"A wolf?!" said Glomahr. "Animal chimeras are never associated with Pookas, but wolf Pooka are very common."
"I suspect," said Berin, turning to look at the hospital, "that if he does not begin the Dream Dance soon, these questions will be moot."
"Well, he could hardly have picked a better time than tonight," said Glomahr. "Or have you forgotten we're missing the climax of the Samhain Festival, going on now back at the Manor?"
Berin was about to make some comment, but was interrupted by a sudden surge of Glamour in the area. The strength rose sharply, wavered for several long, tense seconds, then peaked like a nuclear pulse. To the accompaniment of a flash of light from the room, and the windows blowing out.
The fifth floor was in chaos. Half the lights were out, a fire sprinkler was spraying water to the accompaniment of an alarm bell, and people were running around, some in confusion, some with purpose.
"That's the room," said Turleigh, his whispery voice barely audible over the din.
As they approached, Glomahr stopped at the room just before the boy's, and pushed the door open. Inside, a gaunt, elderly woman sat up in her bed, crying hoarsely, staring into space.
"The glory! The glory lights! Did you see the glory lights!"
An orderly was already at the door to Billy's room, holding it open, staring. The sight inside made even the disorder in the hallways seem tame. The heavy hospital bed lay on the far side of the room, bent and battered. The wall above where it lay showed the marks of a violent collision. Nothing was where it should be, and most of the contents were damaged. Some items seemed to be completely missing. The floor, walls and ceiling were wet, and standing water ran out into the hall, taking hail stones along. The window was not merely broken, but shattered, the heavy center bar of the frame torn free and nowhere to be seen. Some of the glass was in the room, but more seemed to have gone outward. In summary, some enormous force had been released in the room where Billy had lain unconscious, and the boy himself was gone.
The big, blond tomcat sauntered down the alley, completely unconcerned about the large, dark, canine shape sleeping beside the dumpster. He paused briefly, sniffed at the furry form, then continued on his way. Moments later, Glomahr reappeared at the car.
"That's definitely not a wolf," he announced.
"Well, it's about time," muttered Berin. "We'd never have found him if that sewer Sluagh Turleigh spoke to hadn't suggested he might be staying in wolf form."
"Assuming that's really him," said Glomahr.
"And how many wolves are going to be eating out of dumpsters in the middle of a city?" asked Berin.
"More than you could imagine," said Turleigh, cryptically. "So. Do we confront him?"
"I don't see any other choice," said Berin.
"Confrontation is definitely the right approach," said Glomahr.
"Then what do you suggest?" asked the Eshu.
"Teaching by example never works," said the Pooka, firmly.
Moments later, the tomcat returned. This time he meowed. The wolf - for such it was - lifted its head and blinked. The cat winked, and sauntered around behind the dumpster. Moments later, Glomahr walked out, tugging his clothes into place, tail whipping in mild irritation at having to undress and redress so many times in such a short interval.
"Hello," he said to the astonished wolf. "I'm Sir Glomahr. I'm a Pooka, as I believe you are. Would you care to come with us, and learn more about what you are?"
The wolf was clearly alarmed, but just as clearly curious. After a moment of hesitation, he stretched his nose out and sniffed the proffered hand.
"Yes, I'm much the same as you are. My companions - over there, at the end of the alley - are a Sluagh and an Eshu. We're all nice folk. Completely trustworthy."
The wolf glanced at them, and back behind him, making sure he had a clear path out if he needed it. Then, cautiously, he allowed Glomahr to lead him.
Glomahr introduced the others, then turned to the wolf.
"And you are?"
The wolf hung his head, looking embarrassed.
"In case you haven't figured it out yet, you can only change when being closely watched," said Glomahr. "So, if you feel a need to make a public display out in the open, please do so."
Berin sighed and started to translate, but the wolf nodded and headed back down the alley.
"Well, he must be a Pooka, if he could understand what you meant," said the Eshu.
Moments later, however, the wolf returned, head again hanging low.
"What, do you need some clothes?" asked Glomahr. "Sorry; we rushed here and are completely unprepared with spare clothing."
The wolf shook his head. After several minutes of questioning, the three older Changelings finally determined that the young Pooka couldn't change, even when no-one was watching.
"Well, that's perfectly normal," said Glomahr, astounded. "Are you sure you tried right?"
The wolf snorted in irritation.
"Perhaps we should take him to someone who could help," Turleigh whispered.
"We need to get him back in human form, soon, by one means or another," said Berin. "There are too many questions we need to ask, and too many potential problems with having a wolf in a city."
"Well, we could just find a Garou and ask him to translate," said Glomahr.
"There is one Changeling, not too far from here, who could help us," whispered Turleigh. "Sally Goodin."
"Isn't she an actress?" asked Glomahr.
"I have heard of her," said Berin. "A satyr Grump. Quite old. Has her own, small freehold. There are rumors she might even have become a Síocháin."
Billy whined, pricking up his ears.
"Satyrs are the half-goat creatures described in Greek mythology," the Eshu explained. "Though prone to yielding to their sensual side, they are quite wise in their own manner. And often more powerful than their appearance or personalities suggest. And Siochain... well, that is something we should save for later."
Billy rode with his head out the window, tongue flapping in the slipstream. He didn't seem to need to, but was definitely enjoying doing so.
"You know, we found you easily," said Glomahr, chatting with the boy as the Eshu drove. "All we had to do was check for sightings of a wolf or large dog. Once we thought to. No problem at all."
Their destination turned out to be a beautiful, two-story farmhouse in a rural setting. The appearance of the property belied the fact that it was actually on a large lot in an upscale subdivision. Clever landscaping prevented any sign of the city outside from being seen once they were actually on the land. Billy was puzzled by this arrangement.
Though his eyesight wasn't as good in this form, he could still tell that the house and the several acres around it had to be worth millions. Yet, while it looked quite pleasant and pretty, the property appeared low-key, even modest. The house was painted in cheery but not garish colors; the blue-green lawn around it had many ancient sycamores, oaks and other hardwoods growing vigorously. The grass was neatly trimmed, if a bit tall. Flowers bloomed in beds and planters around the front porch, the walks and some of the trees. It looked like the home of someone of upper middle income who had retired to tend his property. And yet...
The flowers were out of season. The trees had full foliage, in spite of Fall being well under way and Winter not far off. And Billy kept seeing things out of the corners of his eyes. Odd, flitting shapes. The colors seemed a little brighter, here, the air a little warmer, the scents more welcoming. Billy stuck his head as far out the window as he could, eagerly taking in the fascinating smells.
They parked on the broad, curving drive, right at the end of the walk leading to the front porch. As the door opened Billy bounded out, excitedly sniffing the nearest flower bed.
"If he hikes his leg, I'm running for my life," said Glomahr.
Billy jerked his head around to glare at the Pooka. He was also embarrassed; he'd actually been thinking about doing just that. The strange quartet walked up to the door, Billy repeatedly falling behind to sniff at something then hurrying to catch up. Just as Glomahr raised his hand to knock, the door opened. At first glance, the person on the other side looked like a little girl... but a little girl with a chest out to here, and horns, and goat legs ending in hooves visible below the hem of her knee-length skirt.
"May I help you?" she asked, courteously enough, but with a slight edge to her tone.
"Good afternoon, Lady Goodin," said the Pooka, bowing with a flourish. "I am Sir Glomahr, of the court of Lord Haldrin, currently occupying the Manor of Pellanterril. This is Turleigh, also of the Court, and Berin, a bard of the Manor. The wolf is young William Peabody, not yet affiliated with any court or freehold. How are you doing this fine day?"
"Well enough," she replied, wryly.
"As for helping us, I assure you, none is needed," Glomahr continued. "We simply haven't seen much of you at court, lately, and were concerned about your well being."
"So what sort of trouble are you in?"
"Young William has never been to a Freehold, and yours was the closest," said Glomahr, smiling more broadly. "We were certain you wouldn't mind..."
"You tell me," she interrupted, looking at Berin.
"He is apparently a Pooka, and he is stuck as a wolf," said the Eshu, plainly.
"Just a moment," said Goodin, frowning. "Peabody... isn't that the son of a city councilman who had some sort of weird accident, then went missing from the hospital?"
She bent down to look Billy in the eye, which didn't take much doing, considering her height.
"Are the one whose Chrysalis I felt three days ago... and again night before last?"
Embarrassed, Billy hung his head for a moment, then nodded slightly. Goodin looked up at the others.
"Well, I can see why your Lord would be interested in him... but why come here?"
"Well, we were in the neighborhood, and you were much handier than going all the way back to the Manor."
"Essentially correct," said Berin. "Additionally, we have urgent questions for the boy, which he can't answer in his current state. Here we have access to all the benefits of a freehold, as well as your considerable abilities and experience."
She thought about the situation, hard, for perhaps two seconds. Then she nodded. She stepped back, opening the door.
"Come in, come in. My home is yours. As long as you behave yourselves."
Glomahr bowed again, and made a minor performance of wiping his feet on the doormat before stepping across the threshold. With less show but equal formality, the others followed suit.
The inside of the home was like the outside. Comfortable, homey without being cluttered, with furnishings which were of good quality but not ostentatious. The Satyr led them into the den, where she guided them to two couches flanking an antique cherry coffee table. In spite of the small stature of the home's owner, everything was of normal size.
"Would you like some tea and cakes?" Goodin asked.
"Yes, thank you," said Turleigh, surprising his companions by somehow managing to convey great eagerness with his whispery voice.
"That would be excellent, thank you," said Berin.
Even Billy whined his desire for the snack.
"Fine. You three can sit on that couch. Billy, you sit here across from them in front of the other couch. I'll be right back."
She brought the promised beverage and treats - actually small cupcakes - in a surprisingly short time, on an actual tea tray, complete with cups, plates, napkins and silverware. She set the tray on the coffee table and began serving, saving Billy for last. He looked at the cup and plate, and up at Goodin, and whined.
"What's wrong?" she asked innocently.
Glomahr started to say something, but suddenly felt Berin's foot pressing down warningly on top of his own.
"Oh, I see," said their hostess, looking at the wolf boy sympathetically, "you can't lift the cup or hold the fork. Well, you know, you could if you had hands."
Billy whined again, shifting position uneasily. Goodin sat on the couch beside him, leaning forward, eye-to-eye with the young wolf.
"If you want to join us, you need to change. Come on, all you have to do is want to. Just think about having hands and feet, and a mouth which can speak. You can change... it's as much a part of you as your fae nature. Just want to, and you can."
Her voice was low and smooth, almost hypnotic. Billy stared at her, and wanted to change. Seeing this, Goodin rose and deftly pulled the afghan off the back of the couch, draping it over Billy before he could move. She made sure he was completely covered by it.
"You may only change when no-one can see you," said Goodin, voice still calm and authoritative. "But now no-one can see you. And you want to change."
The muffled form under the afghan seemed to flow and reshape. And, with a cry of joy, stood, throwing off the afghan.
"I did it!" Billy cried, triumphantly. Then he realized something. "I'm naked!"
"Oh, my," giggled Goodin, with a sudden surge of interest, as the boy grabbed frantically for the afghan. "A bit young, yet, but in a couple of years you'll have to beat the girls off with a stick."
Billy carefully examined his naked self in the full-length mirror. This was after he finished examining the mirror. He was used to such objects being mounted on something, usually a bathroom door, and had never seen one free-standing before. The stand and frame looked antique, which fit the place; the whole house seemed to be furnished with an odd mix of old and new. Not to mention bizarre. But then, it was a Changeling's home, and a Freehold. One had to expect the bizarre. Such contrasts as flush toilets and Ivory soap in a bathroom with fixtures which were not merely gilt but solid gold, were to be expected. Billy had watched in amazement as his host prepared this room for him, she sweeping with a Kirby vacuum cleaner nearly as tall as she while tiny, winged fairies dusted. Everything in this house and on the land around it seemed to combine the mundane and the exotic. Like the boy looking at himself.
Billy liked what he saw. He seemed taller, now, and more muscular, not to mention more lupine. He had a wolf's ears, nose and tail. His fingers and toes ended in dark, blunt claws instead of nails. He feet were altered in shape, though still plantigrade. He even had a sheath, like a wolf. Yet he felt perfectly at ease with his new form, despite it's differences from how he'd looked a few days before. It seemed perfectly natural to him, just as his new speech patterns did. He wondered, though, how he'd ever be able to relate to normal humans again. Sure, the others had told him the vast majority of mundanes couldn't perceive his fae seeming, and would notice no physical changes. But still...
The door opened and his hostess walked in, carrying another bundle of clothes.
"Hey!" yelped Billy, grabbing something to cover himself with.
Sally Goodin snickered at his shyness, flumphing the clothes down on the bed.
"Well, if you don't want people walking in on you, lock the door."
"I'll nail it shut!" Billy threatened.
She laughed out loud this time, but turned and walked out without causing him further embarrassment, even closing the door behind her. Billy not only locked the door, he propped a chair under the knob. Nodding, satisfied, he returned to his self examination. His tail was a wonder. He could wag it, raise or lower it, even feel with it. Which was expected, since it was part of his new self. His senses were a bit keener, too, and he seemed stronger and faster. All-in-all his new body was quite fun. But not as much fun as this! Billy crouched and went to all fours. He reached inside himself, tapping his Glamour, and shifted, his body flowing fully into wolf form. He strrreeetched, and yyaaawwwnnned, and shook himself, enjoying the pure, simple, sensual reality of being a wolf. But in spite of his joy, Billy still felt a twinge of disappointment. According to the others he wasn't actually a werewolf. Billy wasn't sure he completely believed what the others had told him about the Garou. Not because he felt they were lying to him... well, except for Glomahr, who, being a fellow Pooka, always lied. Billy had a feeling they simply didn't know that much, and weren't sure about what they did know.
Strangely, the most extraordinary things seemed the most believable. That the true werewolves could not only change from human to wolf, but to a huge other form, something so horrible that humans ran screaming. Billy shook himself again, and decided that such thoughts were for later. Now, he had wolf things to do. He re-explored the room, sticking his lupine nose everywhere, since his sensory world now centered around his sense of smell. His vision wasn't nearly as good as before, his hearing was a bit better, his sense of touch much worse, except for his nose and lips. But his sense of smell... It wasn't just that his new nose was more sensitive. It was also more discerning. Sniffing the socks Sally had found for him and which he'd worn only briefly before taking them off to change was an education. He didn't just smell feet, but the things he'd walked on, both wearing the socks and barefoot before he'd put them on. The scents weren't strong, since he'd only worn the things for a couple of hours, but he realized the foot smell - even though quite noticeable to his new nose - didn't revolt him the way it would have normally. Well, he'd seen dogs sniff worse things. Scent revulsion must be species-specific, or maybe partly learned.
Billy's lupine ears perked up and he raised his head as he caught muffled sounds. He realized that some of his new friends were approaching, coming down the hall. He distinctly heard the clack of Sally's hooves on the hardwood floor, and thought he heard Berin's boots, perhaps Glomahr's soft tread. The Sluagh might be with them, but even wolf ears couldn't hear one of those unless that was intended. Billy sighed, and shifted back to human - or rather, his fae true form - then quickly dressed. This took more time than he liked, since he had trouble getting his tail through the slot Sally had cut in the pants she'd given him. He was just pulling the chair from under the door knob when someone knocked. Billy quickly unlocked and opened the door, and was mildly surprised to see the whole crew there. He wondered if this meant they had something special planned, or just all happened to be curious at the same time.
"Having fun?" asked Sally, grinning in a way which made Billy blush with guilt, even though he knew he'd done nothing to be guilty about. Well, not since she'd left...
"Hi," he said, grinning especially large at Glomahr, the cat Pooka. "I suppose you're wondering why I called you here."
That got a friendly laugh.
"Actually, we're all going to stay right here and not go into town, since Sally has plenty of food for unexpected guests," said Glomahr. "We figured you'd like to stay here with us."
"Oh, I'd love to just sit around here doing nothing," was Billy's enthusiastic reply. "Especially since I enjoy having my family and friends worrying about me."
That last comment brought an odd chill to the group. Billy blinked, looking from one to another. To his surprise, Sally stepped forward and took his hands.
"Child, while it isn't certain, you must accept that you might never see your parents and friends again," she told him, softly. "You have changed, become something different from what you were. They have not. Your world and theirs may no longer intersect."
"But... but..." Billy stopped, took a deep breath. "I'm only a bit interested in seeing them again, but they probably aren't concerned in the least about what's happened to me."
"We will look in on them for you," whispered the Sluagh, Turleigh. "But for now it will be best if you avoid contact with those who knew you from before. If for no other reason than to avoid them asking awkward questions."
"Old slimy and disgusting has it completely backwards," agreed Glomahr. "If they wanted to know where you've been you'd have to tell them the truth."
Which he could never do. Or, at least, not all at once, and not to all of them. Billy knew his father would never accept even the concept of Changelings. His mother might. And Debbie. But even they would have questions he couldn't answer. Some of them because the answers involved secrets which weren't his to tell; some because he simply didn't know the answers.
"Besides your duty to your true kind, there's simple kindness to consider," observed Berin, the Eshu. "Is it better to see them again, only to tell them you can't stay? And perhaps have to become physically forceful when they try to restrain you? Because remaining completely in the mortal world would be the same as death to you, now. You would be undone."
"Banality," sighed Billy.
He'd already experienced it, before the others found him. He clearly remembered several locations and people from his days of eating out of dumpsters. People and locations which had been physically painful for him to approach. Which seemed to drain something from him, either life itself or something just as precious. And he had vague memories of something before that, at the hospital, tempting him, taunting him, offering to rescue him.
from the change which he felt coming. Billy shivered and shook his head, aware that the others were watching him.
"Trust me, you will become stronger, and better able to handle it," said Sally, comfortingly. "But for now you are newly born into your Changeling self, still raw and tender."
"What an attractive simile," said Glomahr, grimacing. That brought another laugh, and lightened the mood a bit. "You have much training to accomplish," said Berin. "Much to learn, about yourself and this new world you have entered. We will prepare you for entry into Changeling society. Once that is done, others can teach you more."
He turned and smiled briefly at Sally.
"Though for most of what you must learn I can think of few who are more qualified to instruct you than our knowledgeable, experienced and wise hostess."
"Flatterer," snickered the Satyr, playfully bumping her hip against his thigh.
The Eshu stiffened a bit, and though it was difficult to tell due to his dark skin, might have flushed.
Sally Goodin sat quietly in the stone-floored basement room, staring at the firepit in which her Freehold's Balefire burned. The flame was small as such things go, but bright and steady and pure of color.
She was startled, slightly, by a timid knock on the door, which was followed by an equally timid query from Billy. She called for him to enter, grinning as his eyes went wide with wonder on seeing the Balefire.
"What can I do for you, gosling?" the Satyr asked, patting the stone bench beside her.
"The others were telling me not to be curious about Changeling history," said Billy, settling down as invited, lupine tail drooped over the back edge, but glancing uneasily at the strange flame. "They were experts on all periods, and said I had no need to talk to you about anything between fifty and a hundred and fifty years ago."
"Well, that's understandable," she replied, smiling. "I personally experienced much of that period, and knew Changelings who were older than I, during that period, as well."
She turned her gaze back to the firepit, her expression softening.
"I was born in a time and a place where Changelings were very rare," said Sally, quietly, staring into the lambent flame of the Balefire. "I thought I had gone mad, after my Chrysalis. So did many others. But madness was common, during and after the war, and mine was a harmless sort, so they let it go. Nearly twelve years passed before I encountered anything like what I had become, and that was a Nunnehi. These are Native Changelings. They taught me much, but little of my true nature. Being gallain - outsiders to our kind - they could not help there, no matter how dear they were as friends."
She turned to look at Billy.
"A digression, for an important point. Always value your friends. Don't judge them by how much they help - or can help - you. Judge them by their intent and their situation.
"One thing I had learned by this time," she continued, turning back to the Balefire. "I aged much more slowly than humans. I used this, making long-term plans which most people considered absurd. Which is how I came by my wealth, and how I have kept it.
"Finally, nearly 30 years after my Chrysalis, I met other European Changelings. And learned. That was a wonderful time, and not just for me."
Sally grinned, and looked sideways to wink at Billy, her stubby goat tail twitching impishly where it stuck through her short skirt.
"They don't call them the Gay Nineties for nothing," she said, with a giggle.
Billy started. He'd known Sally was older than she looked, but if she'd spent thirty years as a Changeling before the 1890s...!
"Oh, my stars, we had fun!" she continued, apparently unheeding of his reaction. "I spent most of my time in Freeholds, where my already slow aging stopped completely. But I noticed something. As the new century approached, old friends went missing, and the new ones varied from them in trivial details only. Wilders began to seem shallow, and Grumps old and sour. I spent more of my time with the precious Childlings, only to see them grow up. Well, most of them. Occasionally, I'd find a true gem, someone who could hold their wonder into adulthood. But even they aged and died, while I went on.
"We should have seen the Spanish-American War as a harbinger, but it ended so quickly... Well, when your world is filled with dewshine wine and cakes frosted with pixie dust... I'd been through the War Between the States, and knew what horrors such conflicts could bring, and assumed that others shared this awareness. There'd be no more great wars, and the little ones would grow smaller and fewer. Oh, how wrong I was!
"The Great War was a horrible thing. I think only my tempering from the War Between the States kept me from yielding to Banality, or Bedlam," Sally gave a sigh, her eyes gleaming with tears. "Then came the Roaring Twenties. These brought a return of Glamour, but it was strange, cynical and sarcastic, with an odd, desperate tang. Still, many - even I, at times - thought this period was a return of the Nineties. And I wanted no part of that.
"I found this place, then a sylvan glade, well away from the city at that time. I bought the land, built this house, and began the creation of my own Freehold, a Mew just for me and a few others." Sally leaned back and stretched, arms going up, over her head, and behind. Billy found himself staring at her impressive chest. "I intended it as a place for training and teaching Childlings. Only, by the time I felt myself ready, the Great Depression hit."
"That must have been a really great time for Changelings," Billy ventured, speaking for the first time in several minutes.
"Actually, no," said Sally, favoring him with a gentle smile. "It was more a needed catharsis. We purged ourselves of the illusions of the Twenties and the psychological and spiritual injuries of the War. People suffered, yes, but people have always suffered. And as the nation forced itself to pull together, work towards the common good, attitudes changed. Children became more valued, and tales of wondrous fantasy more accepted. The Glamour was scarcer than during the Twenties, but it was healthier, sweeter. It grew from human attempts to deal with the Banality of their world, rather than the denial of it."
"So the Second World War didn't come next," Billy prompted.
"You say that as if it were a bad thing," chided Sally. "I think it was something as necessary as the Great Depression, and for many of the same reasons. Evils long lurking in darkness came into the light... and to a head. And were lanced, drained and healed. World War II largely resulted from issues left unresolved in or created by WW I, and served to resolve many of them.
"The postwar years were another matter. They were stark times in some ways, but also times of great wonder and potential." Sally stretched again, and sighed again. "The bad seems to me to have been caused by people and institutions clinging to fragments of a world made obsolete at the end of the Great War. The good came largely from people trying to put all that behind them, and work towards the future. It was the efforts of the second group which led to the Resurgence; and the efforts of the first which halted the Resurgence at its height."
"The others didn't mention any Resurgence," said Billy. He looked at her, and now his eyes brimmed with tears. "We went to the Moon... and stayed! Why?"
The Satyr eased her arm around Billy's shoulders and hugged him to her, gently rocking them as she considered her reply.
"Some people are afraid of dreams," she said, softly. "Some - the Autumn People - are completely devoid of dreams, and don't believe in their importance, or even their existence. Some people are so greedy and self-centered that they steal the dreams of others for their own use. And some have different dreams, which may even be good dreams, but they fear that the dreams of others will overshadow or starve their own."
There followed a long silence, during which both of them stared into the flame, deep in thought.
"You and I have much in common," Sally told him, finally, reluctantly releasing the boy. "We both treasure the wonders of the mundane world while appreciating the value of the chimerical. This home is nearly identical to both mortal and fae senses. Because that's what fills me with warmth and comfort. Many Changelings don't understand that, and criticize me for not making it into a fairy castle or a gingerbread house. Don't let anyone talk you into putting more emphasis on the chimerical than the mundane. Because the chimerical is often harsh and brutal, and the mundane often gentle and full of wonder. We Changelings are creatures of a dual nature, and balancing those is the secret of happiness - or, at least, comfort - for us."
The cat and the wolf sniffed around the garage, using more than just their physical senses. As they checked the large, recently repaired door at the front, both their hackles rose. The wolf whined softly, and made a half-hearted scratch at the closed door. The cat made a warning sound, and when it had the wolf's attention turned and walked away. The wolf followed. Minutes later they were back in Glomahr's PT Cruiser, and back in their fae seemings. The two Pookas dressed, Billy quickly and Glomahr with care. To mortal eyes the cat Pooka's clothing was a well-tailored three-piece suit, with a somewhat startling tie; to fae perception it was an elaborate outfit combining the most flamboyant features of Renaissance and Disco fashions, the tie becoming a tie-died scarf. But then, to mortal eyes Glomahr was a handsome but otherwise unremarkable young man, while his fae seeming was leaner, furred and possessed of feline features. The clothing of the vehicle's other two occupants, while more sedate, likewise had this strange, double identity, and their appearances likewise were of two natures. However, though Billy looked like a young teenaged boy to mortals and had lupine features for his companions, his clothing was identical in both aspects: navy pants and a charcoal turtleneck.
"Look at you!" the feline Pooka chastised. "Wrinkle your pants more, and twist your shirt around further! People will completely ignore your appearance and have a wonderful opinion of you regardless of how you look!"
"I care a lot about people who judge me by my appearance," muttered Billy.
"We need to make sure you never get a proper voile," humphed Glomahr. "Something with no style and a complete lack of panache, which completely deceives people about who and what you are."
"Stop talking about fashion and tell us what you found," snapped Berin.
"Nothing," said Billy.
"Well, nothing out of the ordinary," added Glomahr.
"There's definite signs of ancient Indian magic," said Billy, as Berin threatened to erupt.
"Definitely Native," Glomahr countered.
"If not, then what?" whispered Turleigh.
"There's not a chance in the world that some Mage or Changeling botched a great work there at some time in the undetermined but recent past," insisted Glomahr.
"Could it be some great Changeling treasure?" asked Berin.
"Unlikely," said Glomahr, frowning thoughtfully. "I already considered that possibility and dismissed it."
"It's definitely not in the garage," Billy added, "probably on the roof."
"So we'd have to dig to get close to whatever it is," said Berin, sighing.
"Most likely that is not important at the moment," said Turleigh. "Whatever it is - or was - has already discharged its function, in awakening young William."
"I love being called that," said Billy, petulantly. "So, can I go see my parents, now?"
"No," said Glomahr, grinning.
"Too bad!" cheered Billy.
"Well, you can look at their house, from inside the van," said Berin.
"But..." protested Billy.
"They're completely wrong," said Glomahr, putting a gentle hand on Billy's shoulder before moving to the driver's seat. "I mean, we just got dressed!"
Billy muttered under his breath, but sat back. As they approached the Peabody home, though, Glomahr slowed, and not because he wanted to give Billy a good look.
"Blessed Dana," whispered Turleigh.
Dark chimera swarmed around the home, menacing and mad. Yet, none actually approached the house, much less entered it.
"What..." Billy swallowed and tried again. "What are they doing here?"
"Possibly looking for you," said Berin. "Odd, though, that they don't enter."
"Not so odd," said Turleigh. "I can feel the Banality of the place from here."
"Well, we know Banality attracts chimera," said Glomahr, "so his parents are in great danger from them."
"We... can just go ahead and leave them there, then," said Billy, voice strained.
"For once, you speak truly," said Berin. "Humans are not directly harmed by Banality, and their Banality protects them from chimera. Also, for now this situation serves as an important distraction. For those... and whoever sent them."
"Huh?" said Billy.
"Then you suspect what I suspect," said Turleigh. "That there is another hand in this."
"Yes." The Eshu turned to Billy. "I believe that your lupine nature, combined with the first stage of your Chrysalis, woke something with a similar affinity. Something old, dark and powerful. Turleigh saw it, at the hospital."
"The wolf chimera," said the Sluagh, in more of a whisper than usual.
"Similarly, I believe that someone investigating your Chrysalis - from a distance, through skrying or some similar means - sent at least some of those other chimera to block the wolf from reaching you. And failed."
"He must be quite pleased," snickered Glomahr.
"Who?" demanded Billy.
"No telling," said Glomahr, shrugging.
Berin put the car back in gear and began driving off.
"Guys, we should park right here so they'll follow us," said Glomahr.
"There are several potential villains in this piece," said Berin. "And, yes, I mean villains. Someone of a nature to help would not associate with such dark creatures. So, more likely, this is a power-hungry individual who wanted to capture the dark wolf for him or her self. But who lives far enough away that physically getting here took too long."
"So what happened to that dark wolf?" asked Billy, tension in his voice.
"It finished waking you to your fae existence," said Berin, shrugging. "After that, who knows?"
"Maybe it left me!" Billy exclaimed, suddenly frightened.
"I don't think that's what happened," said Turleigh, soothingly. "If nothing else, the wolf was not the cause but a result. An agent of whatever lies under your friend's garage."
"So," said Berin, thoughtfully, "we have a mystery and a menace. And possibly more than one of both."
Sally and Berin watched, impressed, as Billy juggled a ball of chimerical flame. The grinning young Pooka deftly tossed the glowing ball from hand to hand, in a variety of ways of varying difficulty. He finished with a flourish and a bow, grinning as he extinguished the fire. The Satyr and the Eshu applauded. A sextet of chimera - looking like short, pudgy bulldogs, standing upright and wearing the top parts of tuxedos - joined in, restrainedly chanting "Bravo, bravo" in perfect chorus as they also applauded.
"You are quite good at Eldrich Prime, especially for someone who learned it only two weeks ago," Sally remarked. "Most Changelings only use it for starting or extinguishing fires, or creating entangling roots and such."
"He's a Pooka," chuckled Berin. "Of course he would use it to show off."
"I hope I can never do that for my Mother," said Billy, smiling sadly.
"Have you been teaching him about enchanting mortals?" Sally asked, looking at the Eshu, who nodded. "What about Calling Upon The Wyrd?"
"I saw and see no reason for teaching him that, since I can see no reason for using it," muttered the Eshu.
"What is it?" asked Billy.
"Well, you know how you can transfer Glamour to a mortal to allow them to see our world for a while," Sally explained. "Calling Upon The Wyrd works the other way. You can force your chimerical nature to be real in the mundane world."
"Which is incredibly dangerous," huffed Berin. "You risk not only revealing your Changeling nature to someone who should not see it, but also that he or she might remember it in spite of the befuddling powers of the Mists."
"I think Billy is responsible enough to avoid misusing the ability," said Sally. She smiled at the boy. "Aren't you?"
"Oh, sure," said Billy, smiling, distracted by the possibilities.
The young wolf romped in the snow, digging and rolling in it, occasionally shoving his nose into it and tossing some into the air and biting at the white clumps as they fell. Sally Goodin looked on, grinning. She was wearing a heavy knit sweater which hung to just above her knees, and a knit cap on her head which covered her horns and pointed ears. Below the sweater, however, she was bare, except for the natural covering on her woolly goat's legs.
Nearby, Glomahr crept up on the unsuspecting wolf, a large snowball in each hand. He stopped and drew back... and a snowball struck him square in the face, thrown from under the cover of a nearby willow. A group of Chimerical snowmen held up score signs: 9.8, 9.7, 3.6, 9.5. The wolf looked around, startled, at Glomahr's outraged cry. Seeing the older Pooka momentarily helpless, Billy ran over and began licking the snow off Glomahr's face.
Sally laughed out loud. When she stopped, Berin was standing beside her. She looked at him,
startled, then back at the frolicking Pookas.
"Thought that sneak snowball soak was your work, but you couldn't have gotten here that quick without using Wayfare, and I'd've felt that," Sally commented.
"Turleigh is in the shadows of the willow, where he has a quite comfortable little nest," said the Eshu. "At least, until Glomahr is able to retaliate."
They both laughed as the Pookas wrestle-rolled against the base of a heavily laden evergreen and were buried in dislodged snow.
"Looks like that may not be for a while," said Sally, wiping tears from her eyes, "if he even remembers after he finishes tussling with Billy."
"This snow is not Chimerical," said Berin, casually.
"That's right," said Sally, nodding.
"There is some snow on the ground outside your property, but not this much. And here the air is warmer."
"That's due to a mix of natural weather patterns and the way the surrounding trees sort of hold stuff in here," Sally explained.
"I see," said Berin, though he didn't sound convinced.
Sally looked at him.
"Listen, there's major trouble brewing, and it may take a while to settle. I figured we could all use a refreshing spell of play before things get too serious."
"I see," repeated Berin, nodding. This time his mien was quite different. "'A refreshing spell of play.' Quite a revealing bit of phrasing."
Billy had managed to break away and run around behind a stone wall before Glomahr could get free. The cat Pooka spent a few seconds tracking Billy, finally figuring which set of tracks were the most recent. As he approached the wall, however, Billy, in human form, naked and shivering, popped up over the wall with a giant snowball more appropriate for the base of a very robust snowman. Straining, he heaved it at Glomahr, who squawked and dove out of the way. Billy promptly ducked back down, but Glomahr hurried to the wall and leaned over it.
"Hey!" yelled Billy. "Look at me! I can change, and I'm overheating!"
"You should have thought of that before you took advantage of a human's natural insulation," was Glomahr's mild reply.
He rested his chin in his palm and put his elbow on top of the wall, staring down at the boy the others couldn't see. After several seconds Sally heard Billy say something, but couldn't make it out.
"What was that?" asked Glomahr, cupping a hand to his ear. "I think the others heard you quite clearly."
"Okay, I win!" yelled Billy. "Aunt! You're the slave! Just let me change before something important thaws loose!"
Glomahr looked a bit longer, rubbing it in, then turned around, winking at Sally and Berin. Smirking, he half-leaned, half-sat against the wall. Moments later the wolf stepped around the corner, head and tail low.
"Good dog," said Glomahr, patting him on the head.
Billy snorted, but took no action. Together, the Pookas headed towards the Eshu and the Satyr.
"Well, are you two finally all played out?" Sally asked, grinning.
"For the most part," said Glomahr, still breathing hard.
Billy, naturally, said nothing, but the way he panted and hung his tongue out of his mouth spoke volumes.
"Good. Let's go inside and get changed. I have something special I want to do before supper."
A sort time later, with Billy back in nearly human form and everyone in dry clothes, Sally assembled them in the living room. The mood started out jovial enough, even Turleigh smiling and jesting a bit. Soon, though, it turned more formal.
"We are faced with a problem," said Sally. "Something which goes beyond Billy's family, though that is serious enough. I have spoken with Lord Haldrin, and he has asked me to help you deal with it."
"We are at your disposal, my Lady," said Berin, nodding, almost bowing.
"I hold no formal titles, Squire Berin," Sally chided gently.
"Nevertheless, you are the mistress of this Freehold, and you are the senior Changeling here," Berin said. "You are... entitled to be called Lady."
That brought a brief round of groans and snickers.
"To get on with this, we five are in a difficult position," Sally told them. "We must track the source of these chimera and determine whether their master can be successfully challenged by us. If not, Lord Haldrin will send some of his Knights to help, but they cannot be here for some days."
"I have heard word there has been trouble, back at Pellanterril Manor," Turleigh whispered. "Nothing overt; more a matter of portents and warnings."
"Yes," said Sally, nodding. "And since we are, for the moment, alone in this, we need to do what we can to strengthen our group. And one of the best ways for Changelings to gain strength is through formal Oathtaking."
"What sort of oath?" queried Glomahr.
"That for as long as this current trouble lasts, we will be a motley," Sally explained. "That we will support and defend each other, until such time as we see fit to disband the motley."
"As you say, Lady." Berin inclined his head, this time actually bowing a bit at the waist before he sat in the high-backed chair.
The others were in similar agreement.
"Then we should adjourn to the Balefire room," said Sally, rising gracefully.
Downstairs, in the stone-lined chamber, they assembled around the firepit. Already there were a number of curious implements placed on the wall around the pit. Berin noted that all Chimera had been barred from the room. Sally gestured for them to gather in a circle around the flame, with herself standing before the items. She waited for them to settle in place, then removed the lid from a small crock. A pinch of glittering powder from the crock was tossed into the Balefire, which blazed into glorious fury, filling the room with both light and Glamour.
"There are two purposes for this ceremony," said Sally, her manner quite formal. "First, and foremost, we must perform Billy's Saining. If he agrees to it."
"I know all about that," said Billy.
"We have explained only the basics to him," said Turleigh.
"This ceremony is normally performed as part of a newly-awakened Changeling's formal introduction into fae society," Sally told the boy. "I don't think we can wait for that. For what lies ahead Billy needs to be sure of who and what he is, and one function of a Saining is to reveal the newcomer's true name."
"Well, I have no intention of telling you what it is," Billy replied.
"The ceremony reveals it to you," whispered Turleigh.
"I don't already know it?" asked Billy, confused.
"Billy," said Sally, quietly, looking at him oddly, "would you come with me for a moment?"
"No way," said the wolf Pooka, moving towards her.
The pair left. The others glanced around at each other, but said nothing. Sally and Billy returned a few minutes later, both looking thoughtful. They resumed their previous positions.
"Ritual is important, but can be lessened through casual repetition," Sally began, as if her previous false start had not occurred. "This is something which the Sidhe, especially, ignore. Performing ceremonies too often, or for the wrong reason, or at the wrong time can actually lead to an increase in Banality. Some people criticize me for not participating more in Court matters or for not going to every festival. That is my primary reason. When I call someone 'my Lord' or celebrate an important event, I want it to mean something.
"With that in mind, I want to hold an Oathswearing, among us five. The oath will be to act as members of a motley, supporting and aiding all other members for as long as the motley lasts. Does anyone have any objections to that?"
There were none.
"Excellent. For my part, I offer my home, my Glamour and whatever Treasures may be needed, as well as any small wisdom I might have."
She looked at Glomahr, to her right. The cat Pooka swallowed nervously, and took a deep breath.
"I offer my life and my skills as a scout and a warrior."
"I pledge my stealth, my safety, my knowledge," whispered Turleigh, who was next in line.
"I... I pledge my..." Billy stopped and steeled himself. "My life, my valor, my loyalty and my Glamour."
There were nods of approval at this.
"I pledge my arm, my sword, my eyes and ears and my self," Berin stated.
"Good. Very good," said Sally. "Now, here is the oath I propose."
She said it aloud, slowly, then repeated it, this time the others following silently along. It was simple, short and covered the situation thoroughly.
"Any questions or suggestions?"
There were none. For a third time she recited the oath, and now they all spoke aloud together. They could feel the Glamour gathering around them, and growing within them. When they finished there was a brief pause, then a flare of light, which filled the room and then consolidated around each of them, soaking into those present.
"It is done," said Sally, still formal but now smiling.
"Wow, that was fun!" exclaimed Billy. "Can we do it again?"
"I suspect you will, all to soon," said Turleigh, even more morose than usual.
With the Oathtaking completed, Sally moved on to the distribution of treasures. To Berin, who was already well-armed, she gave a scarf, enchanted to make the wearer unnoticeable as long as he stayed still or moved slowly. To Turleigh, who already could fit into spaces nothing human sized should be able to, she gave a strange-looking object which she explained was an antique stethoscope, and which was enchanted to make faint sounds audible, muffled sounds clear. To Glomahr, who was already nearly unnoticeable in his feline form, she gave a set of silver claws, which would fit over his fingertips and were enchanted to change shape with him. And to Billy, still new to all this, she gave two gifts. One was a straight, double-edged sword just his size. The other was a band of braided yarn, with ties on the ends, woven in a Celtic knot pattern.
"It's ugly," said Billy, puzzled. "What is it?"
"It's called a Knarl. I made this one in the form of a collar. So if someone sees you in your wolf form, they will know you are not some wild animal."
Billy thanked her formally, and put the collar on. With his customary turtleneck pulled up, the collar was unnoticeable. Sally then buckled on her own prize: an antique cavalry saber.
"My Lady," said Berin, curious, "is that not a mundane sword?"
"Originally, yes," she replied, nodding. "It was my husband's. They brought it to me, along with his posthumous medal."
She said this casually, but Billy caught a deep, old pain behind the words. He put a hand tentatively on her arm. She put hers over it and smiled sadly at him.
"I don't mean to question your judgment," Berin continued, "but is it wise to carry a weapon which can be seen by mortals? That could cause... complications."
"No-one will see this who isn't supposed to," said Sally, firmly.
That seemed to settle the matter.
Sally next took up an enameled metal box, made sure the lid was on tight, and put it in her purse.
"That should do it," said she, smiling, obviously satisfied.
"So you intend to accompany us?" asked Turleigh, surprised. "Who will guard your Freehold?"
"Well, someone's got to look after you kids," smirked Sally. "I've already put the guard chimera on alert, and notified some friends of mine in the area."
And that seemed to settle that.
The ride into the city was an uncomfortable one, not so much because they were all tense, but more because they dealt with the tension differently. Berin by driving like a maniac. Glomahr by manfully refusing to say anything critical about this, but covering his eyes with his hands every time he thought Berin was about to get them killed. Turleigh by curling up under one of the seats and pretending he wasn't there. Billy by excitedly bouncing around the cabin. And Sally by singing and humming old hymns.
Finally, they approached Billy's neighborhood. Dusk was well underway, which suited all of them quite well. The fading light and dropping temperature brought privacy. Billy was glad he'd added a heavy jacket to his usual pants and turtleneck.
"I still say we should deal with the chimera first," humphed Glomahr.
"No, we can't risk investigating whatever is buried under the garage until we remove those chimera," said Sally, quietly but firmly.
They crept up on foot, and were dismayed to see nearly a dozen vehicles parked in the broad, sweeping drive. Lights were on throughout the ground floor, with only one showing on the second.
"Looks like Dad's having a meeting at the town hall tonight," said Billy, a note of sadness in his voice.
"This is a meeting and not a party?" asked Sally.
"Oh, the parties are much smaller and quieter," Billy informed her.
"This is to our benefit, actually," mused Turleigh. "The added Banality of a business meeting should further restrict and frustrate the chimera."
"None of those cars have city plates," Glomahr observed.
"So it's probably not a city council meeting," said Billy, nodding.
"Better and better..." murmured Sally. "Let's go around back."
Once they found a place to set their trap, Sally brought the decorated tin box out of her purse. She then performed a small, clever bunk, to conceal the presence of all but Billy. Crouched behind the fence to one side of the back gate, ready with the box, the others behind her, she nodded to the wolf Pooka. Billy took a deep breath, quietly opened the gate, and crept in. He was almost halfway to the back patio when a chimera - a funny little thing, like a mutant chipmunk with a thyroid condition - noticed him and chattered in alarm.
Almost instantly, chimera swarmed towards the spot. Billy gave an involuntary yelp of alarm, jumped around, and ran back to the gate. He literally dove through the gate, lupine tail streaming behind him, landing on his stomach just beyond. Sally immediately stepped into the portal and opened the box, holding it out to the onrushing chimera.
"Have no fear, Billy's in here. I open wide, you rush inside," Sally chanted.
The chimera, given a false trail to follow, rushed towards the box. By the time they realized something was wrong, they were caught in its effect. More was at work, here, than a simple bunk; far more. Sally's little charm was intended only to lead them into the range of the box. In lumps and clumps and gobs and streams, the assorted chimera poured into the box. The last, a small bat chimera, saw the fate of its fellows and desperately tried to fly away. It was still drawn to the box, but on an erratic path which Sally followed with her treasure, until the bat, too, was sucked inside. Sally triumphantly clapped the lid on.
"Wow!" gasped Glomahr, eyes round with wonder. "The quicker picker-upper!"
"There! All are in the Near Dreaming, spread out over a wide area. By the time any of them find their way back we'll be through here."
The others nodded, turned and headed for Debbie's house. Billy rose and started to follow, but Sally caught his arm.
"I saw you looking at the single, lighted window on the second floor," she said, softly. "Your Mother is there, isn't she?"
"That's her sewing room," said Billy, even more quietly. "The lights are only on when she's not there."
"We don't need you for this," Sally told him. "As long as you are quiet, and only she sees you, there shouldn't be any harm in you visiting her."
"Go to her, boy," whispered Sally, smiling encouragement. "Show her that you're well. I have a feeling about this. It's something you need to do."
Billy, grinning excitedly, gave the Satyr a quick hug, then ran to the old maple tree under his bedroom window.
Sally watched him go with a smile and a sigh, then turned to follow the others.
With the ease and confidence of long practice, Billy climbed the tree and crept along the branch to the window. It wasn't even locked. Maybe his Mother thought he might come back home this way. If so, she was right. Once inside Billy spared his familiar possessions a sad look. Everything was still where he'd left it. His bed, shoved hard into a corner so the things which came out from under it at night couldn't creep up behind him. His posters on the wall. His desk, with his school books, the history text still open to the assignment he'd never completed. There was no dust; his Mother must clean in here often. Billy felt a pang of combined affection and sorrow. He knew he'd hurt her with his disappearance, but he also knew that he would have hurt both of them more by staying. He also knew he couldn't return after this brief visit; not until this business with the master of the chimera was settled, and probably never.
Billy sighed, steeled himself, and went to the door. The hallway outside was dark, and quiet. He could hear muffled voices from downstairs, and see light coming up the stairway. The only other source of light came from under the door of his Mother's sewing room. She didn't like business meetings, especially those having to do with political business. Carefully, quietly, timidly, he opened the door. There she was, staring dreamily out the window, sewing forgotten in her lap. She hadn't even noticed him, yet. She looked so frail. She'd never been a particularly healthy woman, and his birth had been hard on her. She hadn't been able to give him a brother or sister, no matter how much Billy wanted one, or how much she wanted a large family. Her soft, blond hair fell around her shoulders, blocking her view to the sides, and concealing her face from Billy. Yet even so, anyone could tell she was beautiful.
"Mother..." said Billy, softly.
The woman looked up, startled. She stared, then shook her head, and stared again, as if afraid to believe her son had come home. Billy went to her, kneeling to hug her.
"I'm... so glad to... see you," said Billy, struggling to say only the truth, afraid that if he spoke as usual she might not understand. "I'm sorry that I have had to stay away for so long, but... it was necessary. For all of us."
"Billy... Billy... Oh, where have you been?" she desperately hugged him back, thin arms strong in the emotion of the moment. "I was so worried."
"I can't stay long. I have friends who need me. And we're going to stop the people who are causing this. I just wanted to let you know I was all right, and happy."
He knew he wasn't being exactly coherent, and didn't care.
"No, Billy! I won't let you go!"
They were both crying, now, but Billy had learned much in the few weeks since his Chrysalis, and a large part of that was duty. He knew leaving was the best thing he could do, for both his Mother's physical safely and her psychological health. But...
"Mother, I'm going to show you why I had to leave, and have to stay away," he said softly, summoning his Glamour, struggling against the Banality welling up from below. "You won't remember this for long, not the details, but you will know something wonderful happened and I was involved."
He Enchanted her, sharing some of his Glamour, letting her see the world as he saw it. Letting her see him as he really was. She leaned back, open-mouthed in astonished wonder. And for a moment, one so brief that afterwards Billy wasn't sure he hadn't just imagined it, she changed. Her golden hair spread over her skin, forming a long, luxurious coat; her ears moved up on her head and cupped; her lower face extended forward, her nose darkening. And for that brief moment, Billy's mother looked like a cross between a beautiful human woman and a beautiful Golden Retriever. Then it was gone, and Billy was shaking his head, not sure what he'd seen.
"I have to go, now," Billy whispered. He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll look in on you, when I can, and have friends watch over you. And I'll visit if I can."
"Don't leave me, Billy," his Mother sobbed. "Not you, too..."
"We're going to try and help Dad, too," Billy told her, in sudden understanding of what she meant. "He should be better, soon."
Billy didn't know if that last was a lie or not.
Billy slipped back out his bedroom window and stepped onto the branch. He walked carefully back to the trunk, hands free, then began climbing down. Satisfied not only by his visit, but at his own stealth and agility, he moved away from the tree. He ducked through the gate, closed it behind him, and as he turned to follow his friends almost ran into Debbie.
"B-Billy?" she stammered, wearing an expression not unlike the one his Mother had worn on first seeing him. "What happened to you?! Where have you been?!"
"Oh, no," groaned Billy. "Listen, Deb, I've got plenty of time to explain everything to you! I can stay all night!"
"Huh?" said Debbie, confused.
Before either of the teenagers could do or say anything else a sudden disturbance erupted from the nearby hedge. Billy didn't know what Debbie saw, but what he saw was half a dozen Redcaps charging through the hedge, yellow, pointed teeth bared. Billy froze for just a moment. Then a strange rage flooded through him. He yanked free the Chimerical sword Sally had given him just that morning, and charged the Redcaps, screaming shrilly. They slid to a stop, and for a moment Billy thought his boldness was the cause. Then he realized they were staring past him. Not being an experienced fighter, he naturally turned and looked. And froze as well.
Where Debbie had been now stood a monster. Half again as tall, much bulkier in proportion, the lupine creature still wore the shreds of her clothing.
"Oh," said Billy, stunned, as the creature threw its head back and howled in rage, "of course my best friend would be a werewolf."
Anything else he might have said or thought was interrupted by a hard blow to the back of his head.
Billy awoke to throbbing pain, sound and motion. He lay, dazed, for long moments, gradually becoming aware of voices in the background. He thought about groaning, but decided against that, at least until he knew whether the voices belonged to friend or foe. Above the noise of whatever vehicle he was in came an argument.
"That he's still out is a bad sign," snapped a cultured, resonant baritone. Its owner sounded worried. "Why'd you hit him so hard? In fact, why did you hit him at all? You could have killed him, you moron!"
"Hey, with that thing busy rippin' half my guys t' pieces there wasn't time t'be subtle," snapped a respondent, in a somewhat higher but gravely voice. "Never seen anything like it. Guess it makes sense, though, that a wolf Pooka would have werewolf friends."
Okay, Billy thought, definitely foe.
"Listen, he's doin' all right," the second voice continued, placatingly. "The Boggan says he should be up and around in a couple of hours. Kid must have a hard head."
"Well, see that he's searched," the first voice directed. "He may have other treasures besides that sword. I won't have him bringing anything to my safe house which could lead others there."
"Hey, Buzz!" the second voice commanded. "Search his pockets!"
"We're not supposed to use names," a somewhat whiney voice protested.
"Just do it," muttered the second voice.
Billy waited until he felt hands on him, then came up swinging. Besides the members of his Motley, Billy had seen a few other Changelings, mostly folks briefly visiting Sarah's Freehold. This guy was, indeed, a Boggan, and Billy felt a bit guilty at sucker-punching him. Still, his going down left room for Billy to surge to his feet. He took a quick look around, and saw he was in a large SUV, in the back, where seats had been removed to make room. He could also see that night still held sway outside. Billy lunged for the rear door, grabbing at the handle. He was almost thrown off his feet as the driver braked hard.
"Don't stop!" ordered the first voice, which belonged to an obviously Sidhe man, dressed in black, silver and red.
The driver responded by flooring the gas pedal... just as Billy got the door open. The boy yelled, clinging desperately to the door as it swung outward, carrying him with it. He stared for a moment at the pavement speeding by under him, until he realized someone was moving towards him.
"I got him!" yelled the second voice.
Billy looked into the van at a Redcap lunging over the seat at him. The poor Boggan, just rising groggily from where Billy's punch had laid him, was flattened again as the Redcap swarmed towards the door. Billy watched the Redcap approach feeling strangely resigned. As the horrible little man reached for him, smiling a ghastly smile with all too many pointed yellow teeth, Billy kicked him in the face as hard as he could. Then let go. Billy screamed as the tumbled along the pavement. He tried to curl into a ball, but the forces at work on his body denied this. After a blurry eternity of bouncing, banging and sliding, he finally came to a stop. He lay there for a moment, not sure of his condition, dimly aware of screeching brakes and blaring horns. He was roused by the nearer scream of the SUV's tires as it slid to a smoking stop. Immediately, the backup lights came on and it reversed towards him, accelerating hard.
Too stunned to feel much pain, Billy climbed to his feet and staggered towards the shoulder. He vaguely noted that he was on a multi-lane highway of some sort, probably an Interstate route. Despite the late hour there were several vehicles traveling in both directions, though most of those heading the same way as his captors' vehicle had stopped. He stumbled as he stepped onto the grass, fell, and screamed as he tried to catch himself; his left hand had been scraped raw in his tumble. Faint, the world greying around him, Billy still fought to stand, knowing they were coming after him.
There were more sounds of tires sliding, and now angry voices added to the bedlam. Rough hands caught Billy under the arms and lifted him into the air. He tried to struggle, but this was a giant, who not only held Billy completely off the ground but far enough out that his flailing feet could find no target. Billy dimly saw that the hands which held him were not only huge, but green, and knew he was captured by a Troll. He sighed, relaxed, and allowed oblivion to come.
When next Billy regained awareness a grey, dawn light was seeping through his eyelids. Again, he had the sense to lay quiet. Strangely, he felt better, now. He had an impression that a considerable amount of time had passed, which made sense if he had been captured around eleven, made his escape attempt about midnight, and the current time was around eight. He could hear no voices, but sensed the presence of others. For one thing, someone nearby was snoring softly. Billy seemed to be laying on the floor, again, and felt that his hands and feet were tied together in front of him. He tested the bonds, gritting his teeth as this brought some pain. They resisted, quite stubbornly. Whoever had bound him had cleverly passed the rope through his belt loops, too, so he couldn't even move his hands away from his body. Sighing, Billy relaxed, deciding that for now he should wait, and recover some more.
Soon after, the sport-ute slowed, and turned. Billy risked a peek through slitted lids, but could see little of what lay outside. Still, something told him they must be nearing their destination. Billy began trying to twist his bonds, wincing as the cords - too small to be rope - dug into his injured left hand.
"That's enough of that!" snapped the voice of the Redcap, just before Billy's hands were given a rude jerk. "The boss wants you alive. He didn't say nothin' about whole! You keep still or I'll start biting parts off."
Billy sighed and stopped struggling, opening his eyes. He was rewarded by the sight of the Redcap looking down at him from over the back of the seat ahead. Billy winced.
"You sure are a tough one," the little man said grudgingly. "Takin' a tumble like that, then gettin' up and almost makin' it to the ditch. And just a few hours later you're recovered enough to start tryin' again'!"
"I've always been a quick healer," said Billy, quoting a line from one of his favorite movies.
Billy wasn't sure, but he thought the Redcap's nose looked damaged. Maybe his kick the night before was responsible. The vehicle slowed, then crossed something quite bumpy, continued on a bit, and entered some sort of enclosure. Billy tried to sit up and look,
but the Redcap shoved him roughly back down. The outside light cut off as a door rattled closed. Artificial lights came on, and Billy was allowed to rise. The Boggan, napping nearby, was roused by the Redcap shaking his shoulder.
"C'mon, lazy. We're here."
The Boggan yawned, rubbed his eyes, then moved to untie Billy's feet. His bonds were some sort of nylon cord, thin as twine but strong. He wondered where it came from. The Troll - a female, and the driver - opened the back door and motioned for Billy to exit. They were in some sort of large building, mostly empty. Billy couldn't see much; only a few lights were on and the windows were painted over. He was directed to a door in the left wall, noting as they crossed the distance that their shoes gritted on the concrete floor. The place looked long abandoned. Yet on the other side of the door was an elegant room, well lit and comfortably heated. The Sidhe man was already there, seated on a chair upholstered in red velvet. He motioned to the others, and they moved Billy to the couch. The Troll stood to one side, the Redcap the other, while the Boggan went off to the back of the room to do something.
"You have caused me a great deal of trouble, young man," said the Sidhe, obviously irritated. "I am out of patience. You will answer my questions truthfully and completely. Now, who was the Garou with you?"
Billy was confused for a moment, then remembered that was a name some used for werewolves.
"I've known her all my life," was his sincere reply.
"Very clever," said the Sidhe, with a small, cold smile which made Billy shiver. "But your hesitation tells me you actually don't know her. So, why was she there?"
The last question didn't seem to be directed at Billy, but was more a thoughtful musing. He decided to take advantage of the Sidhe's mistake.
"It couldn't have anything to do with all those Chimera you put around my house," said Billy.
His captor looked at him sharply for a moment, obviously taking the comment seriously. Then he shook his head.
"This is taking too long." He made a curious gesture with his right hand. "As I say, you shall do. What I say, is tell me true."
Billy sensed a gathering of Glamour around him, then a sudden surge of Glamour rebounding back at the Sidhe. The elf cried out, jerking away so hard he nearly toppled his ornate chair. The Troll moved quickly to him.
"You okay, boss?" she rumbled.
"Damn! Didn't you search him?!"
"We got his sword," said the Redcap defensively, looking frightened. "We kinda forgot to check his pockets in all the..."
"Strip him! No, wait; untie his hands and stand back while he empties his pockets."
The Redcap produced and opened a switchblade and slashed at the rope. Billy squeaked in alarm, but the ugly little man knew what he was doing. Billy stared for a moment at his abused hands, then clumsily began rubbing the life back into them.
"Get on with it!" the Sidhe snapped.
"I can do a good job with numb hands," muttered Billy.
The Redcap moved a bit nearer, raising the knife in a threatening manner. Billy sighed and stood.
"Remove your jacket and throw it to her," said the Sidhe, indicating the Troll.
Billy complied, noting that his jacket was badly scuffed, as well as being blood-stained. He also noticed that his captors were still being very careful to avoid using names. That was encouraging; it meant they probably were planning on keeping him alive. Billy continued massaging his hands while she searched the jacket. All she found were his gloves, which caused Billy to wonder where his cap had gone.
"That should be enough," said the Sidhe. "Empty your pockets. Slowly."
Billy sighed, and carefully reached back to pull his handkerchief out, shake it open, and drape it over the arm of the couch. He then turned the pocket out.
"Listen, I've known what I am all my life," said Billy, nervously, as he turned his left back pocket out to show it was empty. "The group I was with trust me completely and gave me all sorts of great treasures."
He was looking toward the Sidhe, but indirectly, eyes downcast, as he said this. The elf seemed unimpressed.
"I mean, my pockets are just loaded with Chimerical objects," Billy continued, as he emptied his right front pocket, producing a Swiss Army knife and some change. He reached into his left front pocket. "All I have to do is pull out the right treasure and I..."
Billy blinked in surprise, and pulled his hand out, looking into it with a baffled expression on his face. The others reflexively leaned closer. Billy, noticing, got a defiant look on his face, and cupped his hands together, close to his chest, turning slightly away from his captor. The Sidhe, suddenly alert, motioned to the others, and they each took a shoulder. The elf stood and moved to Billy, towering over him.
"Show me," he grated, with the air of someone accustomed to being obeyed.
Billy hesitated for a moment, then sighed. He held his clasped hands out, raising them above his head, putting them just below and in front of the Sidhe's face. Billy opened his hands... and ducked his head down between his shoulders as he produced a ball of flame. The fire ballooned quickly outward, more blinding than burning, and rose as the others drew back from it, startled. The Troll and Redcap didn't let go of Billy, but their grips did loosen. He quickly kicked the blinded Sidhe between the legs, then twisted free from the other two. Billy dashed towards the door, noting that the Boggan was simply standing in the back of the room, staring, mouth open.
Before he could reach the knob the door was kicked open. Banal reality came crashing into the luxurious room, shattering the Glamourous construct built there. It was now a shabby office, not as grimy as the larger room outside, but far from the beautiful hideaway it had been. Billy had time to feel a pang of sadness at this, before a pair of rough hands grabbed him and yanked him out of the line of fire. The other State Troopers, weapons drawn, covered his captors.
"You are all under arrest," said one of them, in a strong, firm voice.
"Why can't I see my son?"
"Because, Mrs. Peabody, it would upset him too much," Doctor Soames told her. "After the psychological trauma he has experienced over the past few weeks, to be suddenly reunited with you and your husband would simply be one shock too many."
"You should listen to the doctor, Carol," said Billy's Father, patting her hand.
"Even when he's spouting absolute nonsense?" she snapped, jerking her hand away. She turned to - or perhaps on - the doctor. "How can keeping him locked up alone in a room possibly be helping him? For all he knows, he's traded one set of captors for another. And for all I know, he has!"
"Dear, he's the expert..."
"Don't you 'dear' me!" she declared, whipping around to stare at him. "All the time Billy was gone, all the time I was tortured and tormented, not knowing what had happened to him, you carried on with business as usual! You wouldn't even believe me about him visiting night before last, until the neighbors called the police about that disturbance! Don't you care for your own son?"
"Now you're talking nonsense," said Mr. Peabody. "I offered rewards, I held press conferences, I spoke with the police repeatedly. How is that business as usual?"
She looked desperately back and forth between the two of them, completely exasperated but at a loss as to how to make her point to these two uncomprehending men.
"Am I the only one here who has any concern for the boy?!"
"You are upset, and understandably so," said Dr. Soames, nodding. "You can't possibly make an objective decision on this matter. That is why it would be best for you to stay away from your son until I judge that Billy is ready to see you."
"Like Hell I will!"
She jumped up and stormed out of the room. Once in the hallway, however, she broke down, sobbing, tears streaming down her face. She staggered into the restroom. Later, cried out and her face fixed, exhausted but still wanting to see her son, Carol Peabody left the restroom and returned to Dr. Soames' office. It was empty.
Carol stared through the door. How long has she been in the restroom? And where had they gone? To look for her?
"Excuse me," she said, catching the attention of one of the male orderlies, "do you know where Dr. Soames and Mr. Peabody went?"
"I believe they're speaking with the press, ma'am," the orderly informed her.
Carol stared at him in open-mouthed disbelief. Then she shook herself, a sudden determination forming. She marched to the receptionist's desk.
"I am Carol Peabody," she said, firmly. "Since Dr. Soames is more concerned with talking to the press than seeing me or treating my son, is there anyone else here I can talk with about Billy?"
The nurse stared at her oddly, as if Carol were speaking in tongues.
"Would you please answer my question?" Carol demanded, after a brief wait.
"Ma'am, Dr. Soames is the chief psychiatrist, and he decides who speaks with whom."
"All right, then, tell me what room my son is in." Again that look of incomprehension, and again Carol had to repeat her request.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but Dr. Soames is the chief psychiatrist, and he decides on who can visit patients and when."
Carol was about to start screaming at the woman, when she felt a light touch at her elbow.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Peabody. I'm Dr. Preston. I think I can help you."
"Dr. Preston, only Dr. Soames can authorize patient visits," said the nurse, showing emotion for the first time as she became quite obviously angry.
"Yes, but he's busy," said Dr. Preston, smiling. "My office is this way, Mrs. Peabody."
He was as handsome as he was charming, and Carol found herself smiling at him in spite of her internal turmoil. The office was nearby. Carol was grateful for the opportunity to sit down. Dr. Preston seated himself behind his desk and began absently playing with an odd strip of braided yarn, looking quietly thoughtful as he waited for Carol to speak.
"Doctor, am I the only one who thinks something is wrong with keeping a boy who's just been rescued from kidnappers separated from his parents?"
Dr. Preston's smile vanished, and he looked as tired as Carol felt.
"No. But Dr. Soames is very influential, and has seniority here. He has - some theories about child behavior which are unconventional but are finding increasing support among professionals in the field."
"You're good at talking around the heart of a problem," observed Carol, sternly.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Peabody," said Preston, sighing and running a hand through his hair. "I'm junior staff psychiatrist, here, and I don't have much authority. I can tell you that I plan to quit as soon as I can get a position with another hospital. And I'm far from the first staff member to do this. A lot of people disagree with Dr. Soames' methods and approaches, but he's the man of the hour and what he says goes."
"How do I get my son away from this man?!" Carol demanded.
"A court order would do it. But for that to stick you'll need a diagnosis from someone with at least as much pull as Dr. Soames."
"Well, give me a list of names," said Carol.
"Ah, 'list' may be too strong a word," said Preston, shifting uneasily in his seat. "If you're talking about local people, there's only two or three who qualify. Most of them would be reluctant to go against the opinion of another doctor, and the rest are proponents of Dr. Soames' views."
"There has to be somebody!" gasped Carol, on the verge of tears again. "I just... to be so close and have him kept from me... I don't know if I can stand it..."
Dr. Preston got a strange, glazed look in his eye, as if hearing an internal voice. His hands still, gripping his odd plaything tightly.
"Sally Goodin," he said, quietly.
"'Sally Goodin'?" Carol repeated.
"What?" said Preston, seeming to come back to reality.
"Oh, I'm sure she's dead by now," said Preston.
"Then why did you recommend her?"
"I didn't," Preston denied, looking confused.
"You said her name. How else would I know it?"
"So who is she and how can I contact her?"
"She's a psychologist - or she was - specializing in education and child behavior," said Preston. "Used to have a school not too far from here. Published a lot of revolutionary papers in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, though her views have fallen out of favor now. I doubt she's still alive, but her school may still be in business. I think I even have one of her books here, somewhere..."
He found the book - a twenty year old reprint of a forty year old work - and there on the back dust jacket flap was the information.
"Well, if the school is still in business, you can probably get Information to find the phone number," mused Preston.
He held the book out while Billy's Mother wrote down the name and location of the school.
"Thank you," said Carol, relieved at finally having a lead on a way to help her son. "Do you see Billy at all?"
"Not really," sighed Dr. Preston. "Dr. Soames claims that Billy is a special case, and should only be approached by people Soames himself has trained. Though I was one of a group of doctors Soames escorted through Billy's room as part of our continuing education. This is a teaching hospital."
"Yes, I remember that," Carol replied. "Can you tell me your impression of him?"
"Well, not really," said Preston, again looking very uncomfortable. "Professional ethics require all such information come through the physician in charge of the case."
"Dr. Soames," said Carol, her mouth puckering as if the name left a bitter taste. She sighed and shook her head. "Please, doctor. I have to know how my boy is doing."
"Ah, well, my impression is that he's physically very healthy," said Preston, yielding. "But he's uncooperative. To attempts at treatment, I mean. I understand that when he first came in he was happy, excited, asking about you and your husband, and wanting to know when he could see you. But as time went on he became less communicative, and now sometimes refuses to speak at all. Lately he's even become violent. One of the orderlies showed up with his arm in a sling this morning, and told me his shoulder had been dislocated. He said Billy had tried to make a break for it yesterday. That when he and two other orderlies restrained him, all three were injured far beyond what you would expect a 13 year old boy to be capable of. Oh, and he was pretty sure he didn't think Billy was deliberately trying to hurt them, but just seemed desperate to get away."
"And what did Dr. Soames have to say about this?" said Carol, coldly.
"That Billy was so traumatized by his experiences he was unable to realize he'd been rescued, or to recognize those trying to help him," said Dr. Preston, again looking uncomfortable. "That until he understood he was safe and was willing to accept help, he not only could make no progress but was a danger to himself and those around him."
"I see," said Carol. She sighed. "I still don't understand why they brought him here instead of home."
"Well, when the police found him he looked like he'd been treated pretty roughly," said Preston. "His clothes were in terrible shape and covered in blood, and the officers said his left hand was scraped raw. Combined with reports from witnesses who say they saw him fall from the back of a van driving down the Interstate, that was enough to have him brought to the emergency room. While he was being examined the police took his statement. What the physician on call heard him say was enough to cause him to notify the psychiatric staff.
"Billy had no significant physical injuries," Preston continued. "However, he claimed he had jumped from the back of a van to get away from his kidnappers. And before that he'd been hit over the head and knocked unconscious. There was certainly enough blood on his clothes and in his hair to support these claims. Yet there were no signs of associated injuries, even on x-rays. The psychiatrist on call decided to hold Billy, for observation and for his own safety. The chief of the psychiatric staff there knows Dr. Soames and called him in to consult. They decided to transfer Billy here, for... special care."
"The police notified us he'd been rescued, and we got to the hospital as quickly as we could, but he was already gone and no-one seemed to know where," said Carol. "We had to call around all night to find him."
"You probably arrived after a staff change, and the paperwork hadn't come through," said Preston, sympathetically.
"Thank you, Doctor," said Carol. She stood. "I just hope this woman or whoever replaced her can help me. Help us."
Note: This part of the story was inspired by a combination of plot suggestions from the Changeling game book and several real-world situations. Note that this is not in any way a blanket condemnation of psychologists or psychiatrists. Most of them do good, valuable work. However, for some reason psychiatry and psychology seem especially vulnerable to influential individuals promoting their own ideas in the face of contrary evidence and at the expense of their patients. A prime example is the belief held for decades by many mental health professionals that autism is caused by "cold" mothers not showing enough attention to their child, and that autistic children can be cured by the mother showering them with affection. This despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including brain scans revealing that the autistic brain has distinct physiological differences from the non-autistic. Even today, some professionals persist in this belief. Thousands of women have been driven to despair at the thought that they were responsible for their child's autism because they were unable to show enough affection to bring them out of it. All needlessly.
Contrasting with this was the movement from the Fifties and Sixties, the proponents of which stated that children didn't need affection, that giving them this made them lazy and dependant. Dr. Soames is trying to revive this attitude, treating children - and all humans - as organic machines with simple stimulus-response behaviors.
"Who do you think those people after your friend are?" asked Basks In Sun, Debbie's pack leader.
"I have no idea," said Debbie, who didn't have a Garou name yet. "But if those funny little men who attacked me are any indication, Billy's got some serious enemies."
Basks nodded, then cast a questioning glance at the older Garou beside him. Speaks For Trees was a respected elder in the Sept, a Theurge with both impressive battle scars and impressive trophies. Debbie found him firm but fair, and had developed a strong affection for the spiritual werewolf.
"I am still puzzled by your description of those others," he said, finally. "Not only the ones with the large mouths full of teeth, but Billy's friends who helped you fight them. What you described sounds like... what they actually probably are."
"Why should I see them any other way?" she asked, puzzled.
"Because, child, the fair folk keep their true natures hidden from all but a few mortal friends," said the Athro. "They have to grant you the ability to see them as they really are."
"Well, maybe Billy did that," said Debbie, shrugging. "I mean, you said that based on my description of how I saw him he was some sort of Changeling and not a werewolf, so he could have."
"Perhaps..." said the Theurge, looking at her in a strange, penetrating way.
"Anyway, I think we should break Billy out of that horrible place as soon as we can."
"This is not Garou business," said Basks. "He's not a pack member, or formally connected to a pack member."
"He's my friend!" said Debbie, fiercely. She noticed Basks bristling a bit, and quickly lowered her gaze. "And... I think he did something to trigger my First Change."
"Yes, you've mentioned this," said Speaks. "And if he is a Changeling that could definitely be connected."
"I hear a 'but' in there," sighed Debbie.
"Oh, most definitely." Seeing her expression, the Athro chuckled and rubbed her hair. "Don't worry. I believe Billy has enough friends working in more mundane ways that our
help will not be needed to get him released."
"I'm the great-granddaughter of the original Sally Goodin," the satyr lied. Then she spoke the truth. "And I am certified as an educational psychologist. In fact I have a doctorate in that field."
"Good," said Carol, almost sagging from relief.
"From what you say, I believe Billy most definitely needs to be home with his family and friends right now," said Sally, firmly. "I'd have to examine him, and talk with Dr. Soames, to make a declaration which would have any legal weight, though."
"I... doubt Dr. Soames would let you see Billy," said Carol.
"Well, getting a court order to force a second opinion would be trivial," Sally told her. "That judge you spoke with on the phone - Henderson? - should probably be willing to help us. Especially with all the complaints which have been filed against Soames the past few years."
"Complaints?" asked Carol, startled.
"Oh, my, yes," said Sally, shaking her head in disapproval. "The man has been responsible for ruining not only several individual lives, but for causing the breakup of a number of families. There have been a many lawsuits against him and those who follow his methods."
"Oh... oh, my..." gasped Carol.
Sally considered her for a moment.
"Where's your husband?"
"He... doesn't approve of this action, but won't oppose me." Carol made a face. "That would be bad for his public image."
Again, Sally gave the woman a long, evaluating look.
"I have a hunch... let's go see that judge. Right now."
"I'm perfectly happy with that," said Carol, "but why the rush?"
"I have a nagging feeling that time is of the essence. I'd rather not say more. It's just a feeling, and if I'm wrong I'd be slandering some people by voicing my opinion. Now, just let me get my coat..."
When the two women arrived at the clinic with the court order the staff was quite uncooperative, not so much deliberately as from confusion.
"I'm sorry, but only Dr. Soames can authorize patient visits, and he's..." the head nurse repeated, for the fifth or sixth time.
"Now you listen to me, you inflexible bed pan counter!" snapped Sally. She shook a slim sheaf of papers in the woman's face. "This is a court order. A legal document. Even if Dr. Soames told you specifically to ignore it, you can't, without risking arrest. And if you don't let us in to see Billy, right now, I'll call the police. And if that happens there's a very good chance you will be arrested!"
Something about her manner seemed to penetrate the layers of officiousness insulating the woman's mind. Looking panicked, she backed away a step, staring at Sally. Still, she made no move to do as told.
"Mrs. Peabody, do you have a cell phone?"
"No," said Carol. "I'm sorry, but I can't stand the things."
"Well, there's a pay phone in the lobby. Let's go."
The head nurse made an odd gasping sound, her mouth continuing to move afterwards, so that she looked rather like a fish out of water. Sally looked back at her.
"I'm not bluffing. Either you take us to Billy or we call the police."
"I... can't..." the woman squeaked, faintly.
Sally, swearing under her breath, stalked from the office and towards the lobby, Carol trailing behind.
"This is bad," said Billy's Mother.
"Actually, no, it isn't," said Sally, as she stopped in front of a pay phone. "The fact that they refuse adds weight to our case. Any judge or jury would see this as evidence that Dr. Soames and his staff are hiding something."
"Oh," said Carol, startled. "What could it be?"
"That they're incompetent, for one thing." Sally finished dialing, and waited for someone to pick up.
Fifty minutes later Carol and Sally walked out of the clinic, Billy in tow. The boy was ecstatically happy, and continued to hold his Mother's hand long after their hug of greeting had parted.
"I can't believe you got that Lieutenant to make them just give Billy to us," sighed Carol, smiling tiredly. "The expressions on the faces of the staff when he returned with half a dozen uniformed officers was almost worth the trouble!"
"Well, after he saw what was going on there, how uncooperative the people were being, he was quite willing to listen to my suggestion to call the judge," said Sally. "Judge Henderson impressed me as being the type who takes his law and order very seriously, and expects others to do so as well. I'm not surprised it was easy to persuade him to take action.
"Don't rest easy, though," Sally continued, as they approached Carol's car. "We still have to go through at least a hearing, and maybe a trial, unless Soames gives in. Which I doubt he will. Fanatics of his ilk just don't do that, they're so convinced they're right."
"I'm just so glad to have Billy out of that terrible place," sighed Carol, beaming down at her son.
"Yeah, it's pretty bad," Sally agreed, nodding. "It's so sterile, and lifeless. It's less a hospital than a mausoleum. I thought that sort of place went out in the Sixties."
The adults continued to chat as Carol drove to her home, Billy on the seat between them. For his part, the boy was just glad to be away from there and with his Mother and friend. However, he wasn't talking much. He was wondering at this situation. Since his awakening to his Changeling nature, he hadn't spent much time around non-Changelings, and was still marveling at how they couldn't see him as he really was. He saw Sally as a small, female satyr, complete with horns and hooves, though the latter were currently hidden in normal-looking shoes. His Mother saw a small woman in her late Twenties. She also saw Billy as a normal human boy, instead of as something half wolf. Billy sighed as he considered his Mother's appearance. She looked the same as always, making him wonder if that brief moment in the sewing room had been a product of his imagination, or perhaps a side effect of his use of Glamour. Billy wanted to ask Sally about that moment, but so far hadn't been alone with her.
"And here we are," sighed Carol, as she pulled into the three-car garage.
Until this moment she hadn't really felt like Billy was back with her. Now, though, they were home. She started to relax, almost to cry with relief. But, no, that would wait for later. She still had things to settle with Billy and Dr. Goodin.
"You husband is out?" asked Sally, noting that between the junk and Carol's car there was an empty space.
"Yes. He's at a town council meeting. Guess I'll have a pleasant surprise for him when he gets back."
"So it's a happy ending," said Billy, as they entered the kitchen. "The people who kidnapped me are in jail, and..."
He faltered as the expressions on the two women's faces changed.
"They didn't escape?!" he exclaimed.
"I'm afraid so. Some of them never even made it all the way to jail. The troopers somehow lost track of them." Sally gave a wry grin. "There were several people there; I guess the cops just got... fuddled."
Billy nodded, his own expression now serious. "Fuddle" was a Changeling ability which could be used to confuse someone, Changeling or human. A more advanced version, Veiled Eyes, could even make someone or something effectively invisible.
Any further conversation was postponed by the sound of tires squealing, followed by a muffled crash. The trio exchanged startled glances, but before they could react, Billy's Father came storming in.
"Dear, look! Billy's home!" said Carol, hopefully.
"I know he's home!" snapped Harold, throwing his coat and briefcase onto the counter with far too much force. "Some reporters ambushed me as I was leaving the council meeting. I thought they were asking about him going missing from the hospital the night of the explosion. Made me look like a fool!"
"But, dear, aren't..." Carol tried again, desperately.
"You!" Harold exclaimed, focusing on Sally. "You're that psychiatrist!"
"Psychologist," Sally corrected, with deceptive mildness.
"What the Hell do you think you're doing, meddling in this?" Billy's Father roared. "What could you know about children that an expert like Dr. Soames doesn't?"
"I've raised some of my own," Sally supplied. "He hasn't."
"Harold, please, calm down," said Carol. "We have company."
"Not for much longer," the man snapped. "I want you out my house, now!"
"Dad!" exclaimed Billy, scandalized.
"Harold!" snapped Carol, giving up on trying to salvage the situation. "She helped me bring our boy home! After all he's been through, with the kidnapping and..."
"He wasn't kidnapped! Dr. Soames said he ran away, because of what he saw at the Cooper's!"
"But... but those men he was with..." sputtered Carol.
"He fell in with bad company, and was lucky to be seen," snapped Harold, glaring at Billy. "So this is all his own fault!"
"How dare you!" hissed Sally. "How dare you accuse this wonderful boy..."
She stopped, as she felt Billy's hand on her arm. His grip was not gentle. Neither was his expression.
"Father," said Billy, his voice strange, "I've got something to show you."
Sally went wide-eyed as she felt the boy's Glamour rise. He didn't have much, most of it drained away by his stay in that terrible hospital, but there was a bit left, and he was using it. Only not to Enchant. Instead, he called upon the Wyrd, which allowed him, for a brief moment, to make his fae nature part of the real, mundane world. This was a draining, risky act, but would be remembered long after an Enchantment faded.
Harold Peabody stared in blatant incomprehension at the altered scene. His son was now part wolf, the strange little woman was part goat, and his wife...
"'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your noble philosophy,'" Billy quoted. "I ran from the hospital because I was chased from the hospital. I found friends, then my enemies found me. And then I was rescued and brought - eventually - home. Only I cannot stay, because my enemies know where I am."
"Oh, Billy, don't go," whispered Carol, large, brown, canine eyes tearing.
"I'm sorry, Mother. It's best for all of us if I leave. For now. But I will come back."
"No, Billy," said Sally, gently but firmly. "You stay here. I've already arranged for a watch on this place. A watch obvious to those who are after you. So for now I doubt they'll try anything. And if they do, well, you have many friends willing and able to fight for you.
"But I do want you to come outside with me, for now," Sally continued, reaching for the coat she had just doffed. "I have something I need to discuss with you, in private. I also think your parents have a lot to discuss between themselves, in private. And I want to meet this Debbie you keep talking about."
Dragging the reluctant Billy behind her, Sally headed for the back door.
Billy and Sally walked and talked, mostly about Billy's parents but also about what had happened to him while he was held captive.
"You have the Knarl I gave you to thank for that," Sally told the boy, when he related how the Sidhe in charge had failed with dramatic effect to charm him into telling the truth. "Too bad they took it off you at the hospital. No telling what happened to it."
"They kept acting like they expected me to be in much better health than I was, which kept me from taking them by surprise."
"You do seem to heal rapidly," said Sally, nodding. "That's a gift some Changelings have. It's rare and valuable. Not to mention useful."
"Nah, didn't do me any good at all," chuckled Billy. "Oh! When I was in the sewing room with my Mother I didn't Enchant her and nothing weird happened."
"Eh?" said Sally, not sure how to untangle this. "I noticed that she looked different when you summoned the Wyrd, but..."
"Well, she certainly didn't turn in to a golden retriever," Billy amplified.
Sally was startled. Then thoughtful.
"It could very well be that she's a Changeling herself, and even a Pooka," the Satyr speculated. "If so, she may have been Undone, overcome by Banality and lost to the mortal world. If that's true, we could revive her fae self, through Enchantment or..."
Their conversation was interrupted by a piercing yell, followed by a shout.
Debbie Cooper vaulted the low fence and hurtled across the yard, leaping into a flying tackle which carried her and Billy a considerable distance through the air, and an additional distance sliding on the grass.
"Billy! When did you get back! Why didn't you tell me you were home!"
"I don't think he can answer you until he gets his wind back," Sally informed the young woman.
"Oh!" Debbie immediately released her friend and helped him sit up. "I'm sorry, Billy. I just got carried away."
"I think they'll be carrying me away next," wheezed Billy.
Debbie gave him a brief hug, then looked up at Sally.
"You're the goat lady," she announced.
"When did you Enchant her?" Sally asked of the rapidly recovering Billy.
"All the time," the boy gasped.
Sally frowned, looking at the girl more closely.
"I've known several Garou, but only one could see Changelings for what they truly are without being Enchanted," she said, quietly. "He was a Fianna, and had a lot of fae blood himself."
"I'm Fianna," said Debbie, brightly. "Or that's what they tell me."
She suddenly sobered.
"Oops. I'm not supposed to talk about Garou stuff with people who aren't Garou."
"It's okay," laughed Billy, mussing her hair. "She already knows about them, and told me. Congratulations!"
"Interesting..." mused Sally. "Billy, didn't you say something about your family being Welsh?"
"There's not a trace of Welsh blood on my Mother's side, yeah," the boy replied.
He stood, and offered his hand to Debbie to help her up. She took it, and pulled him back down. Sally rolled her eyes as the two teenagers rolled across the lawn.
"All right, you two, break it up, or I'll have the police after me for corrupting minors."
The two stood, flushed from a combination of exertion, excitement and embarrassment. Sally could tell that what they were doing was definitely more than child's play. They both had matured a great deal since learning of their true natures, and their relationship was rapidly changing from friendship to something more sexual. Even now, they were holding hands.
"Listen, I hate to spoil your fun, but there are still some serious matters to take care of."
"Like who's after Billy," said Debbie, almost growling.
The change in her demeanor was startling. She had gone from a young woman playing with a friend to a Garou defending one.
"I'm glad you're willing to help him, but don't get cocky," Sally warned. "They know, now, he has a Garou on his side. If they come for him again they'll be ready for you."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure they'll be completely prepared to handle a seven-foot tall raging wall of fur, fangs and claws," chuckled Billy, grinning at Debbie with a mixture of affection and pride.
Sally frowned. Most Changelings, even those who often associated with the Garou, were not nearly as casual - as comfortable - around them as Billy was with Debbie. And this wasn't simply due to ignorance on Billy's part of what they could do. The normal reaction towards Garou was instinctive. The shapeshifters tended to make other supernaturals - and normal creatures, including most humans - nervous. Their Rage showed through, even when they were peacefully socializing in their Homid form. But Billy seemed to enjoy the fact that his friend was what she was. Could that be due to his own lupine nature?
"Billy," said Sally, gently, "there are many ways to hurt or kill a Garou. The simplest being silver bullets."
"Oh," said Billy. He looked stunned for a moment. Then grim. "They better not touch her."
He was obviously telling the truth. Which said much to Sally.
"C'mon, Billy," said Debbie, nudging him. "You haven't even introduced me yet."
"Well, that's not really necessary," said Billy. Debbie elbowed him again in the ribs, harder. "Okay, okay. This ugly young creature is Sally Goodin. She's the lowest ranking member of the Motley I formed."
"In case you haven't figured his new speech patterns out yet, that means he thinks I'm pretty, and respects me as an elder, and that I'm the leader of the Motley, which he helped form."
"Oh," said Debbie, looking a bit confused.
"It's something Pookas do, unfortunately," sighed Sally, putting a hand on Billy's shoulder. "They impishly and compulsively lie almost exclusively. They must make a special effort to tell the straight, unvarnished truth."
"Oh, that's what he is," said Debbie, looking at Billy. "We weren't sure."
"'We' who?" asked Billy.
"I can't tell you any details," said Debbie, looking uncomfortable. "They're the Garou who took me in and are teaching me."
"Well, please tell them that," and here Sally made a series of odd, lupine sounds, growls and whines and a snap, "who knows and respects their ways, would like to speak with them. About Billy, and about you."
"All right," said Debbie, nodding.
"Huh?" said Billy, looking back and forth between them.
"That's a Garou name I was given a long time ago," said Sally, smiling in remembrance. "It means 'the goat who knows wolves.'"
"Oh," said Billy, "gotcha."
"Like Hell you do," snickered Debbie.
Billy grinned. She always had caught on quick.
"She speaks Garou?!" exclaimed Basks.
"Well, she has a Garou name," said Speaks, shrugging. "She may have just memorized the sounds."
"Oh, and she said some Fianna can see Changelings without being Enchanted," Debbie added.
"Curiouser and curiouser," murmured Speaks, absently stroking his chin. "Yes, I definitely want to talk with this one. And to meet this Billy of yours."
"If anybody asks, we are having a therapy session," said Sally, absently, as the trio walked through the woods. She smirked back over her shoulder at Billy. "Which should be pretty close to the truth."
The meeting place had been determined by Debbie's "we." Almost certainly it was not in the Sept's Bawn, the protected area around their sacred caern. However, Sally decided it was probably close to there. Probably close enough for a single howl to summon quick and furious help.
"What are you so nervous about?" Billy asked, peering at Sally.
"Child, you just aren't capable of feeling what most people feel about Garou," sighed Sally. "You somehow don't have the natural instincts which cause even those who have lived with Garou all their lives to be uneasy around them."
Debbie stopped, and the others with her. Ahead a pair of men faded into sight. One was old and scarred, perhaps in his fifties. The other was much younger, little older than Debbie or Billy. Both had a spooky, feral look about them. Something which Debbie had to a lesser extent.
"Greetings," said the oldest. Debbie stepped forward, her behavior an odd mixture of excitement and timidity. Sally couldn't help but think of a puppy greeting pack seniors.
"Honored Athro Speaks For Trees, leader of my pack Basks In Sun, these are my friends, Billy Peabody and Sally Goodin," said Debbie, all but the Changeling's names in the Garou tongue. She switched back to English for the rest. "Billy, Sally, this is the Sept Theurge Speaks For Trees, and my pack leader, Basks In Sun."
"We are honored to meet you," said Sally, bowing. Billy watched her, and followed her lead.
"Basks, why don't you show these youngsters around the woods," said Speaks, easily, most of his attention on the Satyr. "Debbie needs to learn more about being a wolf, and I imagine Billy would enjoy your instruction, as well."
"Oh, boy!" yelled Billy, his excitement momentarily overriding his Pooka penchant for not speaking the truth. But only momentarily. "Uh, I have to be completely in view before I can change."
"He means he has to hide in the bushes so he can take his clothes off," snickered Debbie. "Pookas don't have Dedication for their clothes like we do."
Sally noted that neither of them had revealed that Pookas cannot change when someone is watching. She wondered if Billy had told Debbie about that little quirk of theirs, or the girl was just good at picking up on things. Well, if he had, Debbie obviously knew better than to tell others, so Sally wouldn't chastise him for it. Much. A few minutes later Billy, in wolf form, came bounding excitedly out of the bushes. He ran up to Sally and sniffed her ankles, then did the same with Basks. The Satyr was relieved to see the Garou grin and shake his head at Billy's antics. Billy gave a soft "wurf" and performed the play bow, inviting the others to join him. Sally winced involuntarily as the two Garou shifted through their forms - from Homid to the brutish Glabbro, the fearsome Crinos, the dread Hispo, and finally Lupus. Now they were about Billy's size, and quite his shape. The three wolves trotted into the underbrush, the two young ones play-nipping at each other as they went.
"I have the oddest feeling about those two," said Speaks.
"So do I," Sally nodded. "Like they're taking up where they left off."
"Soul mates," Speaks agreed. He looked at Sally. "You do know that many Garou not only believe in reincarnation, but have memories of past lives."
"Changelings don't just believe in reincarnation, they depend on it," Sally told him. "So, yes, it is entirely possible. But where that dark wolf chimera comes in is a mystery to me."
"Ah, something you don't know," said Speaks, smiling. "That is not a chimera - if that word means what I think it means. It is a representative of Wolf, itself. The totem."
Sally stared at him for a moment, then shook her head.
"Those two... are part of something very much larger than them."
"Or perhaps we just do not know how large they are," said Speaks.
"Are we gonna keep trying to out-enigmatic each other, or shall we just wait for them to get back?" asked Sally, grinning.
"My head hurts already," the werewolf assured her, also grinning. "Let's just wait."
They sat in contemplative silence for a while, listening to the subdued sounds of the woods. In the distance they could occasionally hear indications of activity. After perhaps half an hour Basks, still a wolf, trotted back to the small clearing where Sally and Speaks sat. He shifted smoothly to human form, looking thoughtful.
"I'm making it official," he announced. "That boy is an ally of our pack."
Speaks nodded, and Sally straightened, surprised.
"He is a natural," Basks continued, on seeing Sally's expression. "He's more at home in the woods than most Homid Garou that age. If he were Garou I'd say he was a Lupus Ragabash. He knows when and where and how to prank and when and how and where to be serious. The two of them are over that way, finishing a rabbit the boy caught. He's less squeamish about eating it than Sally is!"
"Don't leave them alone for too long," said Sally. "Those two are starting to get interested in each other, if you understand what I mean by interested."
"So?" said Basks, shrugging. "That means they're old enough."
"Perhaps not, in this case," said Speaks. "I agree with Sally. There are reasons to have them avoid moving too far, too fast."
Basks shrugged, shifted back to wolf form, and trotted off in the direction he had previously indicated. Sally turned to give Speaks a quizzical look. He also shrugged.
"Sometimes, fate works best when not hurried," was all he'd say.
End First Segment
Name Title Kith Rank Role
BerinEshuSquireTroubleshooter for Pellanterril Manor
Bertil LadySidheBaroness Cousin to Lord Haldrin
Glomahr SirPookaKnightFeline aide to Lord Haldrin
Haldrin LordSidheBaronLord of Pellanterril Manor
Sudren KnockerSquire Gadgeteer at Pellanterril Manor
Turleigh Sluagh Squire Aide to Lord Haldrin
Peabody, William Pooka Newcomer
(aka Billy, aka Bilyeah Oakeshott)
Peabody, Harold HumanBilly's Father
Peabody, CarolPooka Billy's Mother
Cooper, Debbie Fianna GarouBilly's best friend, a Homid Galliard
This document is Copyright 2001 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to post or reprint this story may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org