Wolf In The Fold
Part 2: Dirty Laundry
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 looked over at the large plate of salad the other boy was eating and sniffed disdainfully.
"That's not food. That's what food eats."
"I hate you," said Gerrold, the rabbit Pooka, mildly, as he speared a chunk of lettuce with his fork.
Nearby a delicate and exquisitely beautiful Sidhe Childling looked up in wide-eyed alarm.
"S'all right, Lorace," said Toby the Boggan, smiling reassuringly. "Pookas lie, remember?"
"You mean... they really like each other?" she replied, quietly.
"Well, as much as a wolf and a rabbit can like each other," the pudgy kid chuckled. "Actually, my big brother used to have a rabbit who palled around with a neighbor's tomcat. So that could be a lot."
Billy grinned, happy as pup with an old boot to chew, as he looked around at the dozen and a half children and four staff members having their lunch together in the main room. Not only was he pack leader of a whole group of Changeling children, not only was he spending a good portion of his time in a special boarding school just for Changelings, kinain and enchanted humans, and not only was Debbie coming to visit tomorrow afternoon, but the special little cantrip he'd placed on Jerry's food should start working any moment now.
Sure enough, when the rabbit Pooka was a bit more than halfway through his food, he suddenly looked startled. And gave vent to a rather loud and noxiously odiferous fart.
"'Scuse me," he muttered, embarrassed.
"Must be all the fiber in your diet," snickered Billy.
Gerrold glanced at him, suspicion beginning to dawn in his eyes. Then went stiff, as another zephyr threatened to break loose.
"Don't clench," said Billy, calmly.
The rabbit boy tried to hold it in, but to no avail. And this time the result was not only noticeable aurally and olfactorally but was visible as a roiling purple-grey cloud, complete with miniature lightning bolts snapping inside it. The cloud was also giving off tiny, menacing rumbles.
"I will forgive and forget you for this," said Gerrold, in a deadly calm voice.
"Billy, what did I tell you about pranks at the table?" Sally sternly asked, as she dismissed the disturbance with a gesture.
"I didn't pull a prank at the table," Billy innocently answered.
Sally sighed the sigh of the much put-upon.
"Okay. Let me clarify. You will not pull pranks at the table. Neither will you set up pranks which are intended to come to fruition at the table. Meal times should be peaceful, for good digestion. Oh, and you will specifically not put small, squiggly things in my drinks."
"No, ma'am," said Billy, nodding and grinning.
Gerrold waited for a few moments, head tilted a bit one side, attention obviously on his innards.
"Oh, it lasts all day," Billy reassured him.
Gerrold returned to his meal, muttering dire blessings.
Lunch over, the kids started for class. Billy, however, was stopped by Sally.
"I need to speak with you privately," the Satyr told him.
"Oh, joy..." groaned Billy.
"It's not like that," said Sally, smiling a bit in spite of herself. "Come on; I'll explain when we're alone."
The principal's office looked like a cross between a 19th Century parlor and a Boggan's den. The tiny goat woman seated herself behind her special, short-legged desk while Billy sprawled in one of the visitor chairs in front of it.
"First, we have some information on the mastermind - if we can call him that - behind the attempts to kidnap you," said Sally. "Interestingly, our informant was an Unseelie squirrel Pooka, a rapscallion who calls himself Sciurus Rex..."
"'King Squirrel'?!" said Billy, startled.
"You know that much Latin?" asked Sally, impressed. "Anyway, once we translated from Pookaese, he apparently believes the culprit is a certain ambitious Unseelie Sidhe named Baron Seanleah, of House Leanhaun. We are checking into this, of course, but don't expect any additional information any time soon.
"The second matter is that we have another student joining us. He is just a year younger than you, so while you are still the eldest this semester he will be given some of the duties you now hold."
"What kith is he?"
"Troll," said Sally, with a slight smile. That quickly faded. "He is coming here because he is a problem. Too aggressive, too hot-tempered. I'm hoping that being away from court and around younger Changelings and kithain will take away the pressures which might be causing him to act violently, and encourage him to relax and be a kid. I'm expecting you to help me with this. So try to limit your pranks to those which you think are more likely to amuse him than anger him. And if he does go off, I'm counting on you to protect the youngsters and contain the damage."
"Yes, ma'am," said Billy, for once serious.
The two young wolves romped through the underbrush, enjoying the late-Winter Saturday weather. Suddenly, the male stopped and stiffened, having sighted a buck deer trying to scrape up some browse.
Thin, the female communicated, with a muffled snort.
Fat, the male insisted, directing her to the left.
Realizing that what he wanted was a combination of practice and play, she yielded, moving silently to flank the prey. She found a spot close the now nervous deer and waited. A quiet yip from ahead made the deer start, and also signaled the female to act. She jumped out and charged the deer. It wheeled around and bounded off, in understandable alarm. The buck quickly pulled away from the female, who cut left. Just as the deer started to slow, the male charged towards it from ahead and to the right, sending it off in the direction the female had gone.
The two wolves shuttled the deer back and forth between them for a few seconds. Then, as they approached the boundary of a small city park, they broke off, leaving the deer to slow and finally stop, panting, in better browse than he had left.
The wolves trotted happily back the way they'd come, occasionally nipping at each other. Twice, the male playfully tried to mount the female, but she good-naturedly shook him off.
As they approached the other side of the woods the female shifted through the five forms of the Garou with hardly a break in stride, finally stopping at Homid.
Debbie smiled down at the romping male wolf, batting him away when he stuck his nose in her crotch.
"Stop it, Billy! I don't want Basks In Sun to smell that we've been fooling around. You know that he and Sally think we're too young."
Bathe, the male communicated, with a lupine grin. He shoved his nose at her crotch again.
"No!" said Debbie, aggravated, shoving him away hard.
She started walking towards the school. Billy dropped back, then lunged forward and butted his nose right in her crotch from behind.
"Stop that!" roared Debbie, voice going guttural as she spun around and shifted to Crinos.
Billy yelped in alarm and jumped back. He stood a short distance away, warily watching Debbie. The Garou girl sighed, got her anger under control, and changed back to human, her dedicated clothing reappearing.
"Sorry, Billy," she said. She crouched and coaxed him to her, hugging him. "I warned you about this. Sometimes a little thing will set me off. You have to be careful."
Careful, the wolf agreed, giving her a forgiving lick to the chin.
"Now, don't you have to go change back to meet this new student?"
The wolf nodded, and the pair resumed their trip to the school.
"Hello, Debbie," said Toby, nodding in a friendly manner as he passed her outside Billy's room.
As Debbie returned his smile and nodded back she couldn't help but notice he moved to the far side of the hall to go around her. Even those Changelings who knew her tended to be unconsciously wary. And poor Gerrold was terrified! His reaction was almost funny; in fact, knowing he was a Pooka, Debbie suspected at least some of it was acting. But she could definitely scent fear on him when she was around...
The door opened and a human and clothed Billy came out. He grinned at Debbie for a moment, then grabbed her and swept her into a deep dip. He obviously intended to kiss her, but she had grown so much over the past few months that he nearly dropped her. Which caused both of them to laugh so hard they collapsed together the rest of the way to the floor.
They gathered themselves to their feet and walked arm-in-arm to the porch at the front of the school building. There were already gathered most of the students and staff. Even as Billy and Debbie took their places a large, expensive-looking automobile drove up and stopped. A chauffeur got out and opened the right rear door; a middle-aged and dignified woman emerged, followed by a very tall and surly-looking teenage boy. Only what the Changelings, the Enchanted and Debbie saw was a young troll, even taller than the boy appeared, and far more muscular. His skin was dark blue, and stubby horns decorated his forehead, with thick, shiny, black hair sprouting from his scalp just above them.
Sally stepped forward, shook hands with the woman, and was introduced to the boy. Sally, in turn, introduced the staff and students. Then the latter were dismissed while Sally took the boy and his mother on a tour of the school.
"Whaddaya think?" whispered Jenny, a Sluagh Childling and the school's junior rumor-monger, as the students drifted back to their Saturday activities.
"Looks like trouble t'me," sighed Toby.
"Yeah," said Debbie, grimly. "Definitely trouble. I've seen that sort of look before. On young Garou who think they're too wild and fierce to have to follow the rules."
"Oh, joy..." groaned Billy.
Later that day, after the boy had been settled into his room and his mother had left, Sally had another visitor. Only this was at her home, a few minutes' drive away.
"More tea?" Sally asked, lifting the pot.
"Yes, please," said the tall, dark and rather feral-looking man, sitting on the sofa across the coffee table from her. "It certainly sits with me better than the fairy wine I tried once."
Sally chuckled as she moved the pot to his cup. Then fell silent, thinking about what he had just told her.
"That's an interesting theory," said Sally, slowly, as she poured. "It would certainly explain a lot. Like the boy's rapid healing and lack of instinctive fear of Garou. And Debbie's ability to see fae without being enchanted."
"This is more than just a theory," said Speaks For Trees. "If I have correctly interpreted the clues the coyote spirit I spoke to gave me, the exchange of roles is complete."
"Wait," said Sally, holding up a hand, pot still held in midair by the other. "You mean... Billy was originally the female Garou and Debbie the male Changeling?"
"I believe so, though I am far from certain," the dark-skinned man replied.
"Well, I'd appreciate it if you didn't reveal that particular bit of information to anyone else just yet," said Sally.
"I had reached the same conclusion."
"Why do I have to stay in here with the babies!" snapped Bort, the young Troll.
"There are two reasons," said Mrs. Hensley, patiently. "First, this is a small school, and we can't have a separate class for each age group. Second, the older students are supposed to help the younger students."
Bort muttered under his breath. Mrs. Hensley barely managed to suppress a sigh.
Billy also gave a silent sigh. He'd tried, Danae knew he'd tried. During this past week he'd kept his pranks under wraps, settling instead for using clowning and cleverness to express his Pooka nature. He'd tried to involve Bort in activities outside class. But the Troll wasn't having any of it. To him, anyone younger was a baby, anyone his age was a wimp or a sissy, and anyone older wasn't worth having a term for.
"All right, class," said Mrs. Hensley, turning to the board. "Today we're studying the Reformation, both its history and its effect on the Changelings of the time and period."
As she droned on Billy followed attentively, and not just because he found the material interesting. Joyce Hensley was kinain, a human with enough fae blood that she didn't need to be enchanted to see the Chimerical reality. She could even use a few Changeling abilities. Add to that the fact that her father was Sidhe, and her human mother had attracted his attention because of her physical charms, and you had an apparently human woman who was strikingly if delicately beautiful.
Billy glanced over at Bort, smiling, sure that even if he didn't have any interest in the subject he would pay attention to Mrs. Hensley. Only the smile faded into puzzlement. The young Troll was actually staring into his book, seeming to follow along with the lecture. He was scowling, making sure everyone knew he was doing this under protest, but he was keeping up. Without looking at Mrs. Hensley. Billy shook his head in confusion. He was glad today was Friday. Debbie would be by for another weekend visit tomorrow. A romp in the woods - hopefully followed by a romp in the hay - would do him a lot of good.
On the playground Bort was just as sullen and uncooperative as he was in class. He mostly just sat by himself, in the shade of a tree.
"Do you think maybe he's watched too much Dragonball Z?" Gerrold asked. "I mean, he doesn't look a thing like Piccolo..."
The two Pookas were leaning against the bole of another tree, resting after some vigorous chase play.
"Not a chance," said Billy, nodding.
He blinked, and sat up as Lorace approached the Troll. Smiling shyly, she presented him with a bouquet of wildflowers. (Where she got wildflowers in late winter was a matter of speculation, but she was a Sidhe.) Bort reflexively took her offering, and stared at it in stupefaction for a long moment. Then his bluish skin darkened. He jumped to his feet, threw the flowers on the ground and ruthlessly stomped them into mulch. And beautiful, fragile Lorace ran away, crying.
"That's the first straw," snarled Billy, lunging to his feet and charging across the playground.
The Troll was caught completely by surprise, still staring after the fleeing Sidhe, an odd expression on his face which might have been guilt. He was slammed back into the tree by the furious Pooka. Teachers were already hurrying towards the pair but Billy got his say in first.
"What is it with you?" he screamed, shoving Bort back against the tree again and again each time the startled Troll tried to move forward. "You think you're too good for anybody else's company? You think just 'cause you're big and strong you can treat people any way you want? Well, we encourage that kind of attitude here!"
Mrs. Hensley grabbed Billy and pulled him away. Mr. Hansen, the Troll physical training instructor, reached for Bort. Before he made contact, however, the younger Troll lunged forward and connected a roundhouse punch to Billy's jaw. There was a frozen moment. Then Billy slowly turned his head back around and looked at him. And smiled. Bort backed away, startled and perhaps just a bit frightened.
"He claims you started it," says Sally.
"Nope," said Billy, looking her in the eye. "All I did was throw the first punch."
"Look, Billy, I know what happened from Mrs. Hensley and Mr. Hansen," said Sally. "What I'm telling you is that Bort has convinced himself that you attacked him."
"I wasn't the least bit mad," Billy explained, "but all I did was go for his throat."
"Look, Billy, you don't have to defend yourself!" Sally snapped.
She stopped, took a deep breath, and visibly calmed herself.
"I'm telling you this because I think he probably has it in for you. I don't want to see either of you get hurt because of this."
"I'm sure you wanted to see Lorace get hurt," said Billy, heat in his voice.
"One of the mysteries I'm trying to solve is why Bort reacted that way," said Sally, gently. "I have Joyce - Mrs. Hensley - with her, calming her. But what I really need is to talk to Bort. Only he won't talk to me except to accuse you of attacking him. I'm sorely tempted to cast an Augury on the boy. Or maybe a Dictum."
"Can I watch?" Billy asked eagerly.
"No, gosling, either of those is entirely too potent a bit of magic for you to learn just yet," she chided.
"I... have no clue as to what to do about him," said Billy. "Having the two of us take some sort of binding oath just wouldn't work at all, would it?"
"That is a very good idea," said Sally, nodding thoughtfully. "I'll have to work on the wording, come up with something I can persuade him to agree to. But, yes... Thank you, Billy."
"Nothin' to it," the Pooka beamed.
"Want me to mess him up for you?" asked Debbie, grinning playfully as she mussed Billy's hair.
"Sure," said Billy, his head in her lap, happily staring up at the undersides of her bare breasts. "I couldn't take him by myself. I'm a year younger, and I've never been in a real fight. A rich boy like that has probably faced a lot of physical danger."
"Thus speaks the Pooka who kicked a Red Cap in the teeth," giggled Debbie.
"Something like that," Billy countered.
"So, did that oath thing work?"
"Not much," said Billy.
"Meaning that it's solved some of the problems but there's still others," said Debbie, nodding.
"It couldn't possibly mean that it's just a temporary solution," said Billy. "Sally says Oaths are the answer to all problems."
Their word play was interrupted by a knock on the door. They looked at each other, startled. Then Debbie dove under the bed. Billy rose and opened the door.
"Bort's gone," Sally announced without preamble. "I had a Chimera watching him, on a hunch, and he left the school grounds a few minutes ago. I want you and Debbie to go find him and bring him back. Use force if you have to, but only if you have to."
"Okay, you get dressed while I go find Debbie," said Billy.
"You mean you don't know she's under your bed?" Sally countered, with a very typical Satyr smirk.
Billy sighed, and Debbie reluctantly slid out into view.
"I'll scold you two for breaking the rules later," Sally promised, serious again. "For now, find that Troll before he hurts anyone, including himself!"
They found him not far from the school. Sitting on the side of an overpass bridge, legs dangling over a long drop, looking down morosely at the high-speed Interstate traffic below. He glared briefly at Billy and Debbie, then went back to watching the vehicles speeding by.
"If you jump, you'll make everybody happier," said Billy, desperately.
"I don't. 'Cause if you kill yourself, you help me," said Billy.
"You don't even like me!"
"Now how do you know that? You've given people every opportunity to let you know how they feel about you. But I digress. No, if you die, then I've fulfilled my part of the Oath we took. So it'll release me with no consequences."
"Wait a minute," said Bort. "You mean if I do jump, the Oath will think you've hurt me?"
"Oaths don't think," muttered Debbie.
Bort closed his eyes, and shuddered. Debbie glanced at Billy, but he shook his head. The young Troll gave a huge sigh, then climbed back over the railing.
"I wasn't gonna jump," he told them. "I was just... wishing I could be in one of those cars, going somewhere else."
"You'd make a good Pooka," snorted Debbie.
"So what's the problem, anyway?" asked Billy, sincerely. "You think you're a monster 'cause you're a Troll?"
"No!" snapped Bort. "I like being a Troll! It's what I'm supposed to be! I just... oh, the Hell with it."
He sighed again and walked over to them.
"Might as well head back, I guess. How did you find me so quick?"
"Wolves have good noses for tracking prey," said Debbie, giving him a tight, self-satisfied smile.
"So, she's a Pooka, too?" asked Bort, sourly.
"I certainly am not," said Debbie, with a giggle.
"Not bad," said Billy, nodding. "Not great, but not bad."
"Huh?" said Bort.
"She's a Pooka, alright," said Billy, solemnly. "No way she could be a Garou. Nope."
"A what?" said Bort. "What sort of Changeling is a Gar Roo? Sounds like a fish."
"Fish, huh," muttered Debbie, starting forward. "I'll show you..."
"Easy, there, girl," said Billy, grinning as he grabbed her arm. "I guess he's too smart to think of the fact that you don't have a fae seeming, so you have to be fae."
"Hey, that's right," said Bort. He peered at Debbie. "You aren't even a Changeling! Are you some sort of kinain?"
"Not a chance," said Billy, nodding.
"What he means is that some Changelings and other Awakened think Garou might be a lost offshoot of the Changelings," Debbie supplied. "There is some overlap in abilities, but personally I think that's just because of the way the world works."
"Ooh, I'd thought about that frequently before," said Billy, eyes wide. "The way magic works - whether you call it Glamour or Gnosis or whatever - would have nothing at all to do with similar structures in usage."
"And you claim I'm only good for my muscles," snorted Debbie, giving him a quick, firm hug.
"Will you two stop doing that?!" screamed Bort, agony in his voice.
They thought at first he meant the Pookaese. But then he sank to his knees, making a strange, strangling sound. And they realized he was bawling like a baby. Only, like a Troll baby. Billy and Debbie looked at each other, then back at the young Troll.
"I think we both need to be here," said Billy, quietly.
"Well, okay, but I'll be over there if you need me," said Debbie, not at all sure about leaving him alone with the Troll.
"Come on," said Billy, helping the still-crying Bort to his feet. "I'm sure we need to be out here in plain sight for anyone who drives by to see."
They made a strange pair. Billy was still a bit undersize for his age, while Bort was big even for a Troll his age. Yet the much larger boy was letting the smaller one lead him off without resistance. Billy nodded to Debbie, who was sitting under a tree to the left of the road, and led Bort to the right. He got the large boy seated on the grass past the shoulder, then stood back a bit, hands on hips, giving him an evaluating look.
"Okay," said Billy, after the Troll had mostly cried himself out. "Time to 'fess up. Sally says there's never a deep-seated, single cause behind depression, and that that's what you've got. So you're just upset over nothing. What is it?"
Bort looked up at him, and Billy noticed a strange, subtle change in the Troll youth's manner. Gone was the surly scowl, the stolid pose, the overly machismo posturing.
"I'm gay," he said, very quietly.
"Oh," said Billy, startled. He frowned. "So, you've been picked on because you're gay, so you act all tough to keep people from knowing?"
"That's part of it, but only a little part," sighed Bort. "I see people like you and Debbie... couples, who love each other, and I know I'll never have anyone like that."
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure there are no gay guys out there wouldn't swoon at the thought of a big, strong Troll lover," snickered Billy.
"Don't mock me, Pooka!" rumbled Bort.
"You do know that homosexuals are extremely rare, right?" said Billy. "I remember reading that 10% of the population was an extreme overestimate."
"Huh?" said Bort. "What are you..."
"Has someone been telling you that you're as common as crabgrass?"
"Look, I'm not stupid and I'm not innocent!" snapped Bort. "I know there are other gays out there; I've met some. But not many, and they were already partnered. I don't now how to contact any others. What am I supposed to do? Advertise?"
"Uhm, no," said Billy, uneasily. "Socialization of any kind - with straights or gays - is out of the question. You'll live the rest of your life alone."
"Why can't you just leave me alone?" moaned Bort.
"You were the one complaining about having too many friends and lovers," said Billy.
Bort looked away, not answering.
"I took an Oath to help you hurt people," said Billy. "That doesn't include yourself. And it was completely necessary. You'll never be part of my pack."
"So you're just not going to leave me alone..."
"Yep," said Billy, grinning. "And I'm the only one. There's nobody else on Earth who cares about you."
"Y'know, my first Changeling teacher warned me that Pookas could make people open up to them," said Bort, with a sad smile.
"That's 'cause even if we gossip about somebody, no-one believes what we say," Billy replied, grinning wider. "Now, c'mon. We need to get back to the school. Debbie and I need our sleep."
The delicate little elf shied back as the Troll approached, but something about his manner kept her from fleeing. His expression remorseful, Bort knelt before her - which left his head only half her body length above hers - and shyly presented a bouquet of wildflowers. (This being late Winter, where he got them was unknown. Billy suspected Sally had something to do with that.) Lorace's eyes lit up and her face took on an expression of joy which made all who saw it smile in echo.
"I'm sorry," said Bort, quietly.
Laughing, Lorace threw her arms around his massive neck, standing on tip-toe to reach, and planted a neat little kiss on his left cheek. As the stunned Troll rapidly turned a much deeper blue in surprised embarrassment, the Sidhe Childling ran over to show her gift to Joyce.
"Not bad," said Billy, after he casually stepped up beside the still-paralyzed Troll.
"Does that mean 'great' or 'really bad'?" Bort asked, as he rose to his feet.
"Yep," said Billy, grinning.
The Troll stared at Billy for a moment, shook his head, then wandered off.
"Very well done," said Sally, startling Billy, who hadn't heard her approach. "Now, are you going to tell me what was bothering him?"
"Yep," said Billy, winking at her.
"All right. If you are sure it won't jeopardize anyone's safety you can keep your secret."
"Well, I'm sure it will never have repercussions, but that's pretty likely," Billy judged.
"He still seems... sad," Sally observed, as she watched the big kid sit under a tree by himself.
"He's perfectly happy, now," said Billy, "no need for me to keep working with him."
"All right, then, if you're planning to continue helping him," said Sally. "Just don't be reluctant to come to me or one of the other teachers if you think you're in over your head."
"Oh, I'm never in over my head."
Billy was between classes, heading for his room to change books, when he caught a familiar scent. Scarcely daring to believe it, he hurried after the trail. It ended, not surprisingly, at the door to Sally Goodin's office. Impulsively, Billy shoved the door open.
"Glomahr!" he cried, charging in.
Only to stop immediately, hand still on the knob. There were four people in the office: Sally and the cat Pooka, plus a Sidhe Billy didn't know and a squirrel Pooka Grump who just had to be Sciurus Rex. That last individual looked unkempt in clothing and fur, his hair was wild, and when he turned to look at Billy there was a mad gleam in his eye.
"Close the door," said Sally, calmly.
Billy reversed, walking backwards and pulling the door with him.
"From this side," Sally added.
Billy nodded, slipped inside, and firmly pushed the door to. He walked over to stand beside his Pooka friend, on the side away from the squirrel. Which put him near the Sidhe. Who stared at Billy with unconcealed distaste.
"Danae protect us," the Sidhe said quite plainly, voice filled with a strained sort of disdain. "Three Pooka in one, small room."
"Better tread carefully, Seanleah," the squirrel chuckled. "We might reach critical mess."
At that name Billy bristled, literally, anger surging. He took a slow step forward, the beginnings of a growl forming in his throat. Glomahr caught his upper arm. When Billy turned to look, the cat Pooka shook his head, his expression grim. Reluctantly, Billy backed down. The Sidhe, looking at the squirrel Pooka and Sally, didn't seem to have noticed.
"I came here to check on my cousin, after hearing of some unpleasant events taking place here, recently, involving a Sidhe child," Seanleah huffed. "I had also heard rumors that my name had been connected with some foul activities, of course, but they are Pooka lies and I did not expect anyone to believe them. Then I learn that the slanderer is not only here, but meeting with the school's mistress! That is intolerable, and I will not permit such tales to be given credence through being endorsed by such an authority! I tell you plain I have no interest in this boy."
"Of course you're not interested in the boy," said Rex, smiling. "We all know where your predilections... lay."
The Sidhe started, then lunged to his feet and reached for his sword, snarling.
"Not in my school!" shrilled Sally, leaping to her feet. "I know this is no Freehold, but there are treaties - to which your uncle, the Duke, is a party - which forbid bringing adult Fae conflicts onto this ground!"
Seanleah froze, white fingers clenched around ivory grip. Slowly, he took several deep breaths and relaxed.
"I will not fight here," he acknowledged, releasing his sword. He jabbed a finger at Rex. "But you, Pooka, are now an endangered species!"
He surged towards the door, barely giving Billy enough time to dodge out of the way. He tried to slam the door behind him, but it whuffed closed with a mild thump instead. Billy relaxed, and felt Glomahr do the same. Sally, though, did not. She stared at Rex as she slowly seated herself.
"You'll have to forgive him," said the squirrel Pooka. "He's quite new at this."
"How... new?" Sally asked.
"Oh, he knows nothing about the original situation which has resulted in our young wolves being reborn to challenge him."
"Huh?" said Billy, who understood the other Pooka's words, but not what he meant by them.
"A long time ago a Changeling and a Garou met and fell in love," Sally related, sighing. "From what Rex has told me, they were betrayed by a Sidhe, who had learned of a prophesy regarding the pair which he was determined to see thwarted. And that's about as far as we got before Seanleah interrupted."
She gestured to the older Pooka, who grinned maniacally and winked at Billy.
"This story is, of course, as true as you want it to be," he began. "That among the first white settlers into the new world were a young man and a young woman, unknown to each other until they happened to meet, by accident. Well, perhaps it wasn't such an accident. They had common interests which led them to a common destination. The man, a young Garou of the Fianna Tribe, was seeking Gnosis; the woman, a Sidhe noble of such great ability that despite her youth she was trusted with such things, Glamour. And the need of both was great.
"For the Garou needed the new lands, to cleanse themselves of the taint they had brought upon themselves in the old. And the Fae needed the new to survive the rise of Banality in the old. And to accomplish these goals they each would do whatever was required of them. On their honor, for the survival of their kind.
"Both had been dealing with the Nunnehi, the strange Fae of this new land. Those worthies were understandably wary of the newcomers, but willing to let them prove their good intentions. But first they wished to test what one stranger said against what the other said. They contacted some of the local Garou and had them waiting in reserve, and set a meeting time and place where both the strangers, each with no warning of the other, would come to speak with the Nunnehi.
"The meeting got off to a bad start, with both of the strangers certain of betrayal. But then... something odd happened. Each could sense that the other was not what lay on the surface, which was part of the reason for their alarm. But they could also sense something else, something they couldn't put a name to but which appealed to their own nature. Warily, they settled down, on opposite sides of the meeting area, cautious but willing to wait and see rather than attack or flee.
"The native fae and Garou were impressed by this display of restraint. They entered the meeting area, introduced the strangers to each other, and opened negotiations. This was not an easy task; the strangers were asking for much. However, they were also willing to give much. After many days of talks, a four-way deal was struck.
"Much work remained, of course. Before the rest of their clans could move in to the areas they were allowed, those areas had to be prepared. And the pair were tested, each by both of the native groups. And through these trials and all this work and effort, they kept thinking of each other.
"Finally, more of the Europeans arrived. Though they now helped with the work, they also had to be taught about the deals struck by their representatives, and swear oaths to abide by them. Some of the newcomers balked, but eventually all but a few agreed, those who didn't leaving to try their own hands somewhere else.
"And finally - Finally! - the first pair of the newcomers were able to deal with the strange attraction they felt for each other."
He paused for a moment to clear his throat.
"Would you like some water?" said Sally, helpfully.
"Lacking something stronger, that will have to do," sighed the Pooka.
"Well, this is a school," said Sally, grinning.
She produced a fancy silver pitcher from the small refrigerator beside her desk, and matching silver mugs from a cabinet. Soon, all present had a dewy mug of spring water. Billy appreciated the drink, but really wished Rex would get on with it instead of flirting with Sally.
"So, a couple more years went by," Rex finally resumed, "and no-one who knew them was surprised when they announced they would be married. Which isn't to say that there weren't objections. But when the bride is a high-ranking Sidhe with a talent for Primal, and the groom is something which can shred three adult Trolls in the time it takes them to start their attack, well, the objections were subdued ones.
"Which didn't mean that some on both sides didn't plot against them. When strange signs and portents began to be associated with the couple, those plans became more urgent and more desperate. None of the plotters planned violence against the member of the couple who was of their own kind, though some did think about killing or otherwise removing from the scene the other member of the marriage. None planned against their own, that is, except one young noble, who knew something which made him take the prophesies personally.
"Perhaps this noble loved the Sidhe woman, or merely lusted after her. Or sought her for other ambitions. But the prophesies made clear that any of these goals was not to be. And that the offspring of the union posed a personal threat to him. How or why only he knows, but from his actions and the remarks he made afterwards, he certainly felt threatened by both the couple and what their union would produce.
"So he arranged an elaborate and very thorough death for the pair. Making sure they remained asleep while their log cabin burned to ashes around them. And they burned to ashes, as well, inside, without ever waking."
"Oh, no..." said Billy, unusually pale.
"How glorious," said Glomahr, softly.
"What the murderer didn't know - what no-one knew aside from some of the native Garou - is that said Garou had petitioned Wolf itself for the couple to be placed under its protection," said Rex. "That petition was answered too late, but answered it was. While their deaths could not be undone, their lives could be started anew, in another generation. When the murderer learned of this, he panicked. Risking all, he stole a treasure and a store of dross, using them to bind the spirits of the lovers to the place of their death. He then fled, back to Arcadia, deliberately shattering the gate behind him."
"That saint," snarled Glomahr.
"Who?" asked Rex, looking at him with mild curiosity.
"Not Seanleah," muttered the feline Pooka.
"Yes, he is," Rex confirmed, nodding.
Glomahr eyed the squirrel, a suspicion forming in his mind.
"In the story..."
"It's just a story," Rex replied, shrugging and spreading his hands.
"But..." began Freddy.
"Time out," said Sally. She actually smiled. "I can't believe I'm seeing two Pookas having trouble determining what part of a tale told them by another Pooka is real."
"Well, he's Seelie," huffed Glomahr, tugging his vest straight. "And he has already explained how he knows all this."
"Nunnehi still gather in some remote areas," the Pooka spoke softly. "They rarely check every squirrel on every branch to see if one is an eavesdropper."
"Rex, I thank you for this tale," said Sally. "You are welcome to stay a while and rest. I understand you came a long way very quickly to get here today."
"Just a minor use of Quicksilver," he replied, smiling wanly.
"Well, you could at least use a good meal," Sally proposed, rising. "Come along. I'll show you where the cafeteria is."
After they left, Glomahr and Billy simply stared at each other for long moments, before they burst out laughing.
"So I wasn't a Garou," said Billy, smiling thoughtfully as he and Glomahr walked towards Billy's room.
"Maybe," said the cat Pooka, cautiously.
"Well, I couldn't of been," laughed Billy. "Otherwise I'd have been a boy."
Grinning, he glanced up at his older friend. Who looked resolutely ahead. Billy's smile faltered, and he stopped.
"Wait a second... you mean I wasn't a girl?"
"It's all known for certain," said Glomahr, reassuringly. "Even if Rex is being completely false with us, it's something he directly witnessed. All the details are known, correctly."
Billy nodded and resumed walking, but did not resume his gleeful attitude.
"This was," said Billy, grinning, "an entirely mediocre President's Day weekend."
"Well, I'm sorry to see you leaving again so soon, Billy," said Mrs. Peabody. "Still, it's not everyone who has a son in such a prestigious private school!"
"The school's not so great, but I never miss being home," Billy agreed, as he helped his mother force the large suitcase closed.
"My, you've gotten strong," said Mrs. Peabody, smiling as she took Billy by the shoulders and held him while looking him over. "And you certainly seem happier. But I can't help thinking I'm... forgetting something."
That would be her own fae nature. Billy was tempted to expend some Glamour to temporarily restore her to her true self, but knew it wouldn't last. Worse, until they could get her away from this hole of Banality for a while, the switching back and forth could be harmful. Sally's advice - which Billy had learned was usually good - had been to leave well enough alone for now. Meanwhile, Billy and some of his friends and fae acquaintances were working on his father, trying to bring back the open, imaginative mindset he'd had as a young man. Those very characteristics which had first attracted Billy's mother to him.
"Oh! There's your ride!" Mrs. Peabody exclaimed with a slight start, as a horn beeped outside.
Billy gave his mother a brief, fierce hug, then grabbed his bulging suitcase and crash bag, and hurried down the stairs.
Turleigh was alone in the SUV, which disappointed Billy.
"I see Glomahr's here," he announced, as the Eshu heaved the last bag in the side door.
"He had some family obligations," Turleigh explained, sliding the door shut.
In the mundane world the Eshu was the cat Pooka's chauffeur, a professional driver. Though only slightly older than Glomahr, he was seen as much more responsible by the Pooka's family and friends. In the Changeling world they were equal partners, adventurers of different but complimentary natures and talents. With a start, Billy realized he was developing a similar relationship with Bort. Though from what he'd seen of Turleigh and Glomahr, they both much preferred females. Billy just hoped Bort wouldn't get the wrong idea about their friendship.
Billy leaned out the window and waved to his mother, who was standing on the front porch waving back. He watched until he could no longer see her, and a bit longer. Then, with a reluctant sigh, sat down and rolled his window back up.
The trip to the school was quick and efficient. Turleigh, as one of the wandering Eshu, had a talent for making journeys short and fast. Billy felt a mixture of happiness and sadness as they pulled onto the school grounds. He was glad to return to a place where he could openly be himself, and recognized as such, but sad at leaving his family for a while. Of course, Debbie would be visiting this weekend, a thought which made his smile widen, and become a bit less innocent. He hadn't seen much of her the past three days; she and her dad and mother were spending the time while she was home from her "exclusive school" in family counseling. Her father was looking less haunted these days, and her mother as well. Billy was disappointed at not getting together - that is, roughhousing and having sex - with Debbie over the weekend, but glad her family was doing better.
His smile faded as he exited the van. While Turleigh moved around to the side door to retrieve the luggage, Billy noticed that the few students and staff he could see were obviously disturbed by something. Billy started out of his distraction as he saw Turleigh walking towards the steps, carrying his stuff, and hurried after the Eshu.
"Hey, I'm completely unable to take that myself," said Billy, trying to get the other to put even one of the items down.
"You lead the way, and open the doors," said Turleigh, calmly.
Billy sighed, and did as requested.
"Thank you," said Billy, feeling awkward, as Turleigh put the luggage on the bed.
The Eshu placed his hand on Billy's shoulder, looking him earnestly in the eye.
"I have a feeling that your trials are about to resume. I just want you to know that you have friends who will stand by you."
"T-thank you," Billy stammered, now feeling even more ill at ease.
The tall, dark young man nodded, turned and left.
Billy sighed, looked around his small room, and decided to put his stuff away later. Right now, he wanted to find out what was going on.
"But that's great!" Billy exclaimed, on hearing the news from Jenny. "How could her parents do that?!"
"She's their daughter," was Jenny's whisper-quiet response. "If they want to take her out of one school and put her in another, that's their business."
Billy fumed, actually jumping out of his seat and pacing the library floor. He wasn't the only one upset. Everyone loved beautiful little Lorace, the rare and precious Sidhe child. Her mere presence brought smiles. Her exquisite, fragile beauty was perfectly balanced by her innocent, friendly manner. And they knew that she loved being here, among other fae children, in a place where the harsh Banality of the mundane world was kept at bay. Why would anyone take her someplace else? That was just plain cruelty.
The Childling's absence had hit Bort especially hard. After his apology he had become devoted to the little girl. Lorace riding on the Troll's shoulders around the grounds had become a familiar sight. Now, she had been taken away, by her own family.
"We can't do something!" snapped Billy, smacking fist into palm.
"It is not our concern," said Jenny. "Let me restate that. It is right for us to be concerned, but taking action to bring her back is none of our business."
"Did you ever think it might be a trap, to lure you and your girlfriend into Seanleah's clutches?" asked Toby, the Boggan.
"Of course I did," said Billy, looking startled.
"I really hope she's not being used as a pawn in some corrupt Sidhe's schemes," rumbled Bort.
"So, we gonna just leave her there or what?" demanded Billy.
They began to do some scheming of their own. They selected the coming weekend as the time; Debbie would arrive Friday night and they could certainly use a werewolf's muscle. Toby had been working on a flying machine big enough to hold six people, and was sure he could have it ready by then. Jenny promised to learn what she could of where Lorace was being held and the layout there. Billy did some of the planning, but mostly coordinated the others in developing their plot.
They were just adding the finishing touches when they were distracted by a disturbance at the library door. Mae, the librarian - and another Sluagh - was trying to ask a group of five men - two in business suits, three in hospital uniforms - what they wanted. One of the suits shoved a piece of paper briefly in her face, then turned and joined the others in spreading through the library. A handful of Chimerical constructs evaporated or ran screaming, but since the school was not a Freehold of any sort it was pretty much the same to Changelings as to mundanes, and the presence of banal mundanes had little direct effect.
"Did they learn about our plot already?" blurted Billy, though quietly.
The men scoured the room, briefly glancing at each student. Meanwhile, the hush-voiced Mae sent a library aide to get Sally. One of the suits and one of the uniforms carefully looked over the group of four sitting at the table. Then they moved on.
"Whew!" said Toby. "Guess they aren't after you, after all, Billy."
The suit whirled, staring back at them.
"Uh-oh," said Toby, shrinking under the table.
Billy realized immediately what had happened. The men had been given an old description. He'd grown a lot the past few months - not so much up as out, putting on muscle more than height - and was cutting his hair differently. He also wore button shirts during the school day, instead of his preferred turtlenecks.
"Are you William Peabody?" the suit asked, after briefly glancing over the others at the table.
"Yes," said Billy, quickly, so used to people knowing he as a Pooka that he figured telling the truth would deceive the man.
Unfortunately, the man was completely unfamiliar with Pookas.
"You are coming with us," he stated, grabbing Billy's arm.
He got a foot to the kneecap for that. While Toby and Jenny ducked under the table, Billy and Bort proceeded to disable all five adult men in rapid sequence. Billy thought it odd that they simply kept coming, as if what had happened to cause their companions to be rolling on the floor screaming didn't matter. Then they had the nerve to look surprised when the same thing happened to them.
The Pooka and the Troll were just finishing when Sally arrived, several of the teachers in tow. She took one look at the mess, sighed, and immediately moved in to check on the children, while directing some of the staff to tend the wounded.
"Well, these papers look in order to me," said the police officer, doubtfully, handing them back to Sally.
"The papers may be in order, but the men who brought them here are not!" she snapped, taking the documents. "Poor Billy and his friends thought he was being kidnapped again. What kind of an idiot just barges into a private school - court order or not - without meeting with at least a teacher first, and grabs a child without warning?"
"Well, you've certainly got grounds for having them arrested," the officer acknowledged. "I don't know if you'll get them convicted or if it will even go to trial, though. Two of them are agents of the issuing court, and judges don't take kindly to their people being hurt on the job. And this document is valid; legally, the boy was supposed to go with them."
"Well, right now they're on the way to the nearest emergency room," snickered Sally.
"Just where did those boys learn to fight like that?" asked the officer, obviously impressed.
"Well, as I said, Billy's been kidnapped once before, and treated pretty roughly. He's been training in unarmed combat the past few months to keep that from happening again. And Bort was bullied for years, until his growth spurt hit, so he learned how to fight from experience."
"They still did a Hell of a job on those guys," the officer stated, shaking his head. "Broken bones, dislocated joints, and neither of them had a scratch."
"Isn't that the whole idea of self-defense training?" said Sally, smirking.
"Well, it's not my job to take him away," the officer commented, smiling. "I imagine you'll get to keep the boy until they can send someone else."
"Which give me time to work on keeping him past that," said Sally, nodding.
Sally sat with Billy and his parents and the school's attorney at one table in the federal courtroom. The attorneys representing the hospital where Dr. Soames worked sat at the other. Everyone stood at the bailiff's call, then sat back down when the three judges filed in. The preliminaries were begun. Then immediately interrupted.
"Excuse, me, Mr. Hoffen, but where is Dr. Soames?" asked Judge Bearns.
"He is at work, your honor. Since this is a legal matter rather than a medical one, his presence is not necessary."
"But what if we ask for medical testimony?" demanded Judge Searly, the only woman of the three.
"We have documentation here, your honor," said another of the attorneys, raising a stack of manila folders.
"Hmph," said Judge Ewarts, the oldest. "You brought three lawyers, no plaintiff and no experts. The defense brought one lawyer, a psychologist, the defendant and his parents. Are you deliberately trying to prejudice the case against you?"
"Certainly not, your honor," said Mr. Hoffen. "It's just that Dr. Soames and his staff are very busy people and can not spare the time from their work helping those in need to attend."
"And what if we subpoenaed him?" asked Judge Ewarts. "Would he find time in his busy schedule for a mere legal matter then?"
"Certainly, your honor," said Hoffen, though he didn't seem certain.
Dr. Soames - or rather, the lawyers for the hospital where he worked - had needed several months to counter the legal action which had released Billy into his parents' custody, going through a new judge, bumping things up a level to the state court. Soames had then promptly persuaded the same judge to issue the court order returning Billy to his custody. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on which side is being considered - the men he chose to execute the court order hadn't been given any background information, but simply told to fetch a problem child back to the hospital. And they had botched the job, all winding up in hospital themselves.
Sally, on learning these details, had worked with her attorney to go over the heads of the local courts, taking it to the federal level. Judge Henderson, who had issued the original decision releasing Billy, supported this, being very unhappy to see a can of worms he thought closed reopened by another judge, and one with less seniority if a higher bench. During the three weeks before the hearing, all other matters had been put on hold except the routine of school and home visits. Billy really hated to be the reason for Lorace still being away from Sally's school, but all the conspirators had agreed this was for the best course of action for all of them.
Both sides presented their positions. Then the hospital's team began presenting their evidence. Something which they obviously felt to be a primary part of this was a tape of Billy being forcibly restrained.
"You can see how violent the boy was," said Hoffen, pointing to the screen as the tape played.
After the fight was over and Billy had been subdued and left alone in the room by the staff members, the attorney motioned for the tape to be switched off. However, the school's attorney - Mr. Benjamin Dobney - asked for it to be left running, at Sally's whispered request.
"But nothing else happens," Hoffen protested, mildly.
"Which is exactly our point," said Mr. Dobney.
The tape ran for several more minutes, showing Billy sitting on the bed, knees to his chest and arms wrapped around his legs. Those in the courtroom become increasingly restless. Finally, Judge Ewarts shifted.
"Dr. Goodin, is there a reason for this?" he asked.
"Yes, your honor," she replied, standing. "I want you to have a taste - just a slight taste - of what Billy was being put through. You can turn this off, but he had to live it. He had been locked in that bland, blank, sterile room for over a full day at the start of that tape. No friends, no family, no word that they even knew where he was. Only brief, intermittent contact with the staff, and they treated him like a lab animal, rather than a scared boy. Under those circumstances, wouldn't you fight for your freedom at the first opportunity?"
"Point made, Dr. Goodin," said Judge Ewarts. "May we please turn it off, now?"
Sally nodded, and sat. The tape was turned off, to a round of relieved sighs.
The next two hours passed in much the same way. The prosecution would present cold, clinical evidence that Billy should be returned to Dr. Soames' care. The defense would refute this with better evidence, seasoned with emotional appeals. At the end, even the hospital's attorneys were not surprised when the order was overturned.
"Given the evidence presented here," intoned Judge Ewards, "and the fact that several of the claims in Dr. Soames' statements about the early legal measures taken in this matter are in obvious contradiction to what was passed on to us by Judge Henderson, we see no reason for Judge Tolliver's order to stand."
"We will appeal," huffed the hospital's chief attorney.
"You have that right," said Judge Searley. "However, before you do so please inform Dr. Soames that if he thinks appearing here would have taken too much time from his work, an appeal to a higher court would be an order of magnitude more time consuming. And more expensive."
"One final word, Mr. Hoffen, which I expect you to relay to Dr. Soames," said Judge Ewarts. "He hurt his case by his absence. If he really felt that this matter was important he would have been here."
Hoffen started to reply, but Ewarts held up a finger, silencing him.
"Don't try to justify his actions. Just tell him."
Court was adjourned, and the defendants hugged all around. Billy was surprised to see that his father was as joyous as any of the others.
"Dr. Goodin, I am very glad Billy was at your school when those men came for him," Mr. Peabody announced, vigorously shaking her hand. "If he'd been at home or a regular school, he'd have spent the last three weeks in that horrible room."
He looked down at his son.
"Billy, I didn't realize how bad that place was until I saw that movie. I'm sorry I wasn't more sympathetic before."
"S'okay, Dad," said Billy, a catch in his voice, as he grabbed both his parents in a hug.
"Oh, Billy, how strong you're getting!" his mother laughed.
"Yeah," said Mr. Peabody, nodding towards Sally. "Your place certainly agrees with him."
"Well, that's the idea, isn't it?" said Sally, beaming.
"Last chance for a pit stop before we leave," Billy's Dad announced, as they finished their business at the courthouse.
"Guess I better," sighed Billy.
"I'll see you folks later," Sally called, waving as she headed for her own car.
When he came out Billy hooked back up with his parents, and they headed to the parking lot. Only, as they left the building, Billy frowned. Something was wrong.
"That isn't the side where we left the car," he announced.
"It's all right," Mr. Peabody stated, calmly.
Billy looked back and forth between his parents, still frowning. There was something nagging at him, despite his Father's reassuring words. He was still trying to figure out what was wrong as they walked into a small, empty garden beside the courthouse, warmed by the late Fall sun and screened from the nearby street by a high security hedge. A number of armed Changelings were waiting there.
Billy shook off the Fuddle, and now saw that "Father" was actually a dog Pooka and "Mother" a female Redcap. He tried to run back out the way they'd entered, but that was already blocked. Snarling, Billy positioned himself in the middle of the surrounding attackers and prepared to fight. He noticed, among other details, that one tall, hooded figure held back. Obviously Sidhe, obviously in charge, and obviously concealing his identity.
On a street nearby, a scruffy, unshaven, shabbily dressed man walked along, muttering to himself. At one point, he stopped at a store window and glared at the smiling manikin inside.
"What're you staring at?"
People were avoiding him, diverting around him like a stream around an oily boulder. Abruptly, he stopped, frowning, looking at something only he could see. His hand suddenly snapped out, seeming to pluck something from the air.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he told whatever invisible thing he had pinched between his fingers. "Just tell me what's going on and I'll let you go."
The man listened for a moment, nodded, and opened his finger.
He turned and hurried away.
Billy was surrounded by a tight ring of at least 15 Changelings. They all had blade weapons of one sort or another, some more than one, but none of those were drawn. Instead, some carried nets or ropes, while the remainder seemed content to use their fists. Billy grimly determined he was going to make his capture memorable.
A sudden disturbance made Billy and several of the others start, and turn. The scruffy-looking guy had hopped over the tall hedge and was looking around at the scenario. He seemed inordinately pleased.
"Oh, yeaaaahhh!" he cried, grinning like a maniac. "Music time!"
He jumped, impossibly high and far, changing in mid-air, long, bushy tail trailing behind him. Sciurus Rex landed beside Billy in all his manic, squirrelly glory.
"Rex!" gasped Billy. "Man, I hate to see you here!"
The attackers were momentarily taken aback. Before they could regroup, Rex began dancing and singing*.
The Sidhe leader suddenly had rain flooding his hood. Music, instrument and voice, swelled around them, drowning out everything but Rex's own singing. Billy's attackers, now faced with two opponents, one an adult, began drawing their previously sheathed blades. Rex danced up to one of the lesser Sidhe, put his thumbs to his ears and waggled his fingers and tongue at the man. Then ducked as the Sidhe swung the sword at Rex's head. And hopped as he swung again, lower. Then ducked as the Troll who had snuck quietly up behind Rex swung. The Sidhe yelled in alarm and dodged back as the Troll's sword nearly took out his throat.
This was a way of magic Billy was unfamiliar with, but it sparked a response deep inside him. He grinned, caught the beat, and reinforced what Rex was doing, adding his own Glamour. More, he impulsively called upon the Wyrd, multiplying the effect. On the street beyond the hedge people began to hear strange, wild music, and colors became oddly vivid. A minor panic began as - clearly visible thanks to Billy's action - the Chimera which had fled the coming battle now flocked back to the site.
Billy kicked a confused Redcap in the crotch, and slammed an elbow down on the back of his head when he tried to curl around the pain. He turned to the Troll to his left and feinted another kick then instead spun around and punched the Satyr behind him right in the face. And on the sidewalk outside, a curvy young blond walking by, oblivious to the disturbance to her left, was not at all oblivious to her figure suddenly becoming far more curvy. She screamed as her chest, hips and rear achieved cartoonish proportions.
Rex and Billy weren't actually beating their opponents - there were too many of them, too well trained - but they were winning the fight. Even the dog Pooka on the enemy's side was too confused to effectively act. Billy and Rex, without obvious signaling, returned to the center and circled, back to back, Rex dancing and singing, Billy merely stepping to the music. And in a fancy restaurant across the street the waiter dramatically lifted the lid off a platter to reveal a head... of cabbage. Raw and whole. And singing.
The Sidhe in command, nearly drowned, finally gave up trying to stop the rain and threw back his hood. Revealing an older man Billy had never seen before. And on the street beyond a baffled, middle-aged woman out walking her toy poodle stared at the hysterical blond. Then became hysterical herself when she noticed her dog had turned hot pink and was growling and foaming at the mouth.
"Everyone, back to the vehicles!" the senior Sidhe roared.
That was obviously a welcome order. And as they fled, the leader turned to briefly give Billy and Rex a look which promised dire consequences in the future.
"That wasn't fun at all," said Billy, watching the last of them leave, and feeling a bit sad as the mayhem faded.
"Of course it wasn't," snickered Rex, knuckling Billy's scalp.
"Why could I see his true form immediately?" Billy queried Sally, as they rode back to the school.
"Because he knows a way to hide it from others," she replied.
"Oh," said Billy, nodding. He gave a fierce grin. "I hate the way he uses magic."
"Don't," said Sally, firmly, looking worried. "He's touched with Bedlam. Insanity can bring power, but it also brings more insanity."
"Oh," said Billy, again, looking more sober.
Billy had finally traced his confused parents with the help of Rex. They had noticed he was missing after reaching their car, and were worried about the fact this awareness took so long to arrive. Billy explained he'd stopped to tie his shoe on the steps, and they'd simply walked off. Rex, wisely, kept in the background.
"I recently figured something out," said Sally, smiling in pride. "After talking with your parents while waiting for you to get back from Debbie's."
"What?" demanded Billy, exasperated.
"You were almost two months premature, but very well developed. That's part of what made your delivery so hard on your mother. Debbie was a little late, and the doctors had to induce labor. "
"And the point is?"
"As near as we can figure, you and Debbie were conceived on the same night."
"No luck, I'm afraid," said Glomahr, grinning. "Not a clue as to who that mysterious Sidhe was."
"Too bad," said Billy, eagerly.
"Can you, for once, just tell us, straight out?" asked Sally, exasperated.
Glomahr sighed, took a deep breath, and tried.
"He is Sir Erelsthaene, long time chief aide to Duke Torethyl."
Sally jumped like she'd been shot.
"That's Lorace's grandfather!" she exclaimed, eyes wide.
"That's news to me," said Glomahr, nodding.
Sally spent several seconds swearing, many of the words and phrases archaic but still potent.
"Okay," she announced, coming to a sudden stop. "Here's what we do. Glomahr, use your contacts to find out why Lorace was withdrawn from the school. The real reason. I'll put Mae to work on getting background of her parents and grandparents; that could be helpful if an intervention is required."
"I'm currently free to follow whatever whim I choose," said Glomahr. "Lord Haldrin has no call on me."
"Ouch," sighed Sally, actually wincing. "I'm sorry, Glomahr. I got ahead of myself. Would you please request from Lord Haldrin, on my behalf, that you be allowed to pursue this?"
"Not a chance," the Pooka replied, grinning.
"I'll be glad to stay here and do nothing," said Billy, eagerly.
"Which is exactly what you will do!" said Sally, firmly. "The last thing we need is you and your little coterie charging into a trap! Or, worse, rescuing someone who doesn't need it. Am I clear on this?"
"No, Ma'am," sighed Billy.
"Now that doesn't mean you can't help," Sally explained, putting a hand on the dejected boy's shoulder. "However, you need experience in how to handle a problem with something besides direct action."
"Concentrating on my school work while Lorace is out there, suffering, will be easy."
"Who says she's suffering?" snapped Sally. "See, that's exactly the problem. You only consider how things affect you. Yes, we're all sad she's gone, but what if her parents found some place better or just as good, only closer to home? Then they wouldn't have to do without seeing her for long periods."
"Oh...," said Billy.
"Billy, you will keep away from Lorace, her parents, Duke Torethyl, and anyone or any place associated with them until we know more. And you will focus more on your classes. Danae knows you need to."
That last was said with a smile, but there was some seriousness behind it.
Ali tramped quietly through the snow-covered woods, smiling contentedly. Though born and reared in a much warmer climate, he had become used to colder temperatures during his travels, and come to appreciate Winter's beauty. Especially since he was beginning to sense something beyond the pale here. Yes, there it was, growing stronger. He could feel the Banality of the mortal world weaken, and the local Glamour increase. Not a true Freehold, which made sense; Changelings did not age in Freeholds, and it would not do for parents to wonder why their children were not maturing. But still a literally magical place.
There was noise ahead; muffled, by the fresh snow and forest growth, but noticeable to one who was alert. Ali froze. Then relaxed. It was a pair of dogs, playing in the snow. He had little to fear from dogs, even those which had gone feral. And from the sounds they were having far too much fun to bother him. Smiling, Ali gave the animals a wide berth as he continued on, never even seeing them.
Billy and Debbie were, indeed, having much fun, but they still both paused as the wind shifted and brought a strange scent. They broke off their play fight and shook the snow from their pelts. All business, now, they trotted towards the scent, losing it when the wind shifted, then picking it up again from the tracks in the snow.
Like Berin, Billy communicated.
Not Berin, Debbie agreed.
Towards school, Billy signaled, as they began following the tracks through the snow.
Debbie gave a brief, low growl, and increased her pace. She liked the school, and many of the people there. Which made her protective towards it. In a Garou, that could easily lead to violence against even a potential threat. Billy rolled his eyes, and hurried after her.
From behind they could tell little about the stranger's appearance, given his bulky Winter clothing. He did carry a staff, which he used to help him through the underbrush and over irregular ground, but so did many Changelings. There was no obvious menace to him. He appeared to be making no effort to conceal his approach, and carried no scent - physical or mystical - of a suspicious nature. Debbie began to relax. Billy, though, caught another scent which was both familiar and friendly.
The male wolf made a confused sound, part growl and part whine. Debbie looked at him, puzzled, but this was a matter too complicated for wolftalk. Billy glanced at her, gave the lupine version of a shrug, then resumed following. They soon left the woods and entered the large, open lawn around the school. Students and staff were used to seeing a couple of wolves roaming around, and the only stranger present was the Eshu. Who apparently didn't notice he was being trailed.
Of course, when some of the students playing in the snow began to point and laugh, he did realize something was up. After puzzling over the strange actions for a moment, he turned and looked behind him. The wolves stopped as he stopped, watching. The stranger stared for a moment, blinked, then smiled tentatively. Billy began wagging his tail; Debbie followed his lead, though reluctantly. Reassured, the stranger turned and resumed walking towards the school. At the door he stopped and looked again, and this time was startled to see one wolf and one young woman.
"I suppose I should expect to see wonders and mysteries in a place such as this," he said in his mildly accented voice, smiling.
"I'm Debbie," said the young Ahroun, noting that the stranger was younger than they had guessed, appearing barely older than them. "This is Billy."
She waited, expectantly.
"I'm Ali Hardy," the Eshu replied, giving a smile and a slight bow. "I'm here with news for the master of this school."
The door opened, Sally peering out.
"That's her," said Debbie, helpfully.
"Ah. Good. You're early. Please, come in."
Debbie started to follow, but the door closed. When she tried it, she found it to be locked. Irritated, she growled, deep in her throat. Billy whined and gave a little yip, trying to draw her back to their play. Debbie sighed and turned, shifting to wolf as she went back to her friend.
Billy was at supper that evening, feeling a bit melancholy because Debbie had gone home, when he noticed a sizable group of adult Changelings enter. At the lead was Sally. Immediately behind her was Lord Haldrin, whom Billy had met once before, during a visit to Pellanterril Manor. Behind him came Ali and several members of Haldrin's court, including Berin, Glomahr and Turleigh. Billy waved at his friends, who smiled and nodded back, but made no move to approach.
Sally led the guests to the staff table, then motioned for the chief cook - a Boggan named Rawleigh - to start serving. The food which appeared before Sally and her guests was definitely chimerically enhanced, but obviously had also been of excellent quality even before that. Billy, who had just eaten a good meal and was having hot cocoa for desert, felt his stomach growl as the scents washed over him.
Every student and staff member in the dining hall was immensely curious about this assembly and craned their ears to overhear. Frustratingly, Sally and her guests spoke only of polite, social matters. Billy grumbled under his breath, downed the last dregs of his cocoa, and rose to take his tray of dirty dishes to the bin.
"What do you think that's all about?" asked Bort, who had seen Billy rise and timed his own departure to meet him.
"Who knows, when Sidhe are involved?" the Pooka countered. He eyed the group, and suddenly felt a surge of hope. "Maybe they're here to tell Sally that Lorace is coming back!"
Bort was obviously doubtful, but simply shrugged instead of trying to rein in his friend's optimism.
Billy was sitting in the student lounge, watching TV, when one of the teachers approached.
"There you are! Shouldn't you be in your room, doing your assignments?"
"I always save those for the last minute," said Billy, absently.
"Well, Miss Goodin wants to speak with you. She's in the conference room."
Billy jumped up with a hurried thanks and ran out. The conference room, as he half expected, was occupied not just by Sally but by all the guests he had seen earlier. Trying not to appear too anxious, Billy calmed himself and entered in a sedate fashion. One of Lord Haldrin's aides not only closed the door behind Billy, but worked a complicated bit of magic to make sure the meeting stayed private.
"Lord Haldrin," said Billy, bowing what he hoped was the prescribed amount.
"Good evening, youngster," said the Sidhe Lord, smiling a bit. "I, however, am not in charge here."
Billy turned and bowed to Sally.
Sally flushed and smiled, obviously flattered and a bit flustered by the honors Billy and her guests were paying her.
"Oh, sit, Billy," she scolded, waving him toward a chair reserved for him between Glomahr and Turleigh.
The young Pooka dropped into the chair, smiling at his friends. Glomahr patted him on the arm, while Turleigh put a hand on his shoulder, both smiling in return.
"I called you here for several reasons," said Sally, her tone abruptly more formal and serious. "Squire Ali has brought news both of our former student Lorace and of a larger matter which seems to be connected to both you, Lorace and her family, and... other problems."
She looked expectantly at Ali, who smiled, rose, bowed, and began.
"I have only recently seen the charming young Sidhe" said Ali. "I was at her grandfather's Freehold as an entertainer, for her birthday party. She is well, and reasonably content, though in the few moments I was able to speak to her privately she admitted she missed the school and her friends."
Billy nodded, attention completely focused on the Eshu, except for a brief pang at the thought he'd missed Lorace's birthday.
"I also saw, while there, Sir Erelsthaene, and Seanleah, Baron of House Leanhaun."
Billy started, and growled, startling some of those who did not know him well.
"What was that b... Baron doing there?!"
"He is a long-time ally of Duke Torethyl," said Lord Haldrin.
"Huh?" said Billy, forgetting his court manners. "But he's not Unseelie!"
"As are Duke Torethyl, his son, and even young Lorace."
"Remember, gosling, Unseelie does not equal evil, any more than Seelie equals good," Sally cautioned, finger wagging. "Being Unseelie is more a way of looking at life than anything else. Unseelie Changelings can love their children and their mates as much as anyone can."
"I knew that," said Billy, startled. "But Lorace... Unseelie?"
"It shows in her air of tragedy," said Sally, sighing. "Now, as to why Lorace was taken away from here, the information our network of spies has uncovered implies that Sir Erelsthaene suggested it. Claimed the child needed to be educated in a more traditional - read, courtly - fashion. Others in Torethyl's court agreed, though a few dissented."
Billy nodded, sighing.
"So she is well and being properly cared for," said Sally, firmly. "I don't want any rescue missions, and no visits without invitation!"
Billy scowled briefly, then relented, again nodding.
"I'm sorry, youngster, but that's not enough," said Lord Haldrin. "I know you mean it now, but you could easily convince yourself otherwise later."
He looked at Sally, an eyebrow raised. Sally nodded, but didn't look happy.
"I want you to swear to the following oath," she told Billy.
It was simple, direct, and covered all the bases, though some rather generally. Basically, Billy was now foresworn to not contact Lorace or encourage or aid anyone else to contact her, barring strong evidence of immediate danger. Even then he was to consult an elder if at all possible.
"Excellent," said Lord Haldrin, nodding. "Now, for the rest of it."
Sally looked up at the still standing Ali and nodded.
"Shortly before the mysterious and sinister disappearance of High King David, one of the greatest Eshu seers had a vision of the event," the traveling entertainer related. "He tried to warn the court, but was unable to make contact through any means available to him. Part of his vision involved a large, menacing, dark wolf, holding the Moon in its jaws, bounding across the Earth, leaving ruin and Winter in its wake."
Billy's eyes went wide, remembering the wolf spirit - according to Debbie, a jaggling of the Wolf totem itself - which had aided his Chrysalis.
"We don't know if that is connected to you," said Sally, softly. "There are other wolves, and other wolf spirits."
"But you are one of the few wolf Pookas known to exist," said Haldrin, "and the darkest of those known."
"We do not believe you were directly involved with the High King's disappearance," Lord Haldrin quickly added. "You were locked in a room under video surveillance when that happened. However, one analysis of the vision is that you may be involved - at some time in the indeterminate future - in finding and perhaps rescuing the High King, or avenging him if that is too late."
"Oh," said Billy, overwhelmed.
End Segment 2
Ali Hardy is my first Changeling character. He's an Eshu, from Saudi Arabia. His family owned a movie theater, and he grew up watching various movies. He fell in love with many of them, especially some of the old silents, and began emulating some of the stars, such as Douglas Fairbanks. His parents wanted him to become an accountant. He wanted to be an entertainer. The conflict sparked his Chrysalis. Now he travels the world, working as a street performer, using a name constructed from that of one of the great comedians.
In terms of personality, manner and dress, think of the guy who stayed a kid in the Kick the Can episode of the first Twilight Zone movie.
This document is Copyright 2002 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to post or reprint this story may contact the author at: email@example.com