Part 3: Hung Out to Dry
This story is set in White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming role-playing
game universe. While the characters and plot are mine, everything else
"So that's, like, a promotion?" asked Billy, after Debbie told him the good news.
"Sort of," she replied, grinning. "It's a recognition of my accomplishments and value to the pack, the Sept, the Tribe and the Garou as a whole. Among other things it means the spirits will show me more respect and teach me more difficult gifts."
"I love dealing with spirits," Billy declared.
"I'm not too fond of it, myself," Debbie admitted. "I'm an Ahroun, not a Theurge. But I still have to do it, sometimes. It's... part of what I am."
"Like ripping demons apart," snickered Billy.
"Banes," Debbie corrected. "And, yes, part of my duties is destroying the enemies of Gaia."
She grinned and gave Billy a brief, fierce hug.
"So you better be glad you're not one, little Pooka."
"Hey, I resemble that remark..."
They were in one of their favorite spots, sitting at the base of a huge, old cedar in the woods near Sally Goodin's school. This was their quiet place, among the fragrance of the needles and cedar wood. Even with the weather cold and blowy, they were both quite comfortable here, as long as they were wearing clothes or fur.
"So you're inviting me, right?" Billy queried.
"I can't," said Debbie, sadly, as she stroked Billy's hair. "Wish I could."
"Oh, c'mon!" he protested. "I'm sure Basks in Sun would hate to learn what a wolf Pooka thinks of your ceremonies."
"I'm sorry, Billy, but it just isn't done," said Debbie, exasperated. "It's a Garou-only affair!"
Billy muttered under his breath, but didn't press the matter.
"Well, anyway, too bad about your promotion," he said, forcing a smile. "I have no desire to be there, but the main thing is you're getting married."
Debbie snorted, then grabbed Billy and noogied him.
"Listen, Pooka, this is a serious event. Even the Ragabashi are going to be on their best behavior. Well, until the actual ceremony over. They'll be even more active during the celebration afterwards, I bet."
"Ragabashes," Debbie corrected herself. "The tricksters. 'Ragabashi' is what Basks In Sun calls them. I think Runs With Scissors gave him the idea."
"I've never met him," said Billy, nodding. "You didn't even tell me about the time with him and the vampire's skull."
"Don't remind me," snerked Debbie.
"Those Ragabashi sound like they wouldn't be any fun at all to play with," Billy remarked, seriously.
"Yeah, right," Debbie laughed. "I can just imagine you and a couple of our Sept's Ragabashes teaming up. The end of the world as we know it! Anyway, I have to leave soon and I'll be busy with the ceremony acknowledging my new rank all day tomorrow. Had to make excuses to my parents about the thing, told them I'd be at a slumber party with one of my school friends. Which won't be too far from the truth, since she'll be there, too. She's our pack's Theurge."
"Well, we better stay here a while longer, then," said Billy. "There's plenty of time to get back to the school and meet your ride."
"Already? Argh. Okay, we better get moving."
With reluctant sighs, the pair uncuddled and crawled out into the actinic
* * *
Sally sighed as she re-read the letter, making sure she had interpreted it correctly. The blow was unexpected, and while not catastrophic certainly was not desired. She reached for the phone.
"Ben? Good morning. Just confirming you got a copy of the letter from the school board. Yes, I know it's bunkum. The problem is that Soames' people are pushing all the right buttons to make the board take action. They're covering their asses, too, saying they have 'evidence' and 'suspicions' instead of accusing us directly. Why don't you and I get together later today and talk this over? Yes. Thank you. Good bye."
After she hung the phone up Sally sat for a while with her face in her hands. The problem wasn't one of money; she had more than enough salted away to handle any reasonable expenses, and even some unreasonable ones. The personal time and energy which dealing with this matter would take up was a greater concern, but still not a major one. What really worried her was that defending her school against these wild accusations without revealing what really went on here might prove impossible. If the choice came between closing the school and risking exposure of even a hint of Changeling activities, the school would close. Sally would hate that, but knew it was the best of two bad alternatives.
Soames and his crew had no concept of what the school was actually for, of course, since their banal minds couldn't seriously entertain even the idea that the supernatural was real. However, the fact that there really were secrets involved in the operation made the business vulnerable to investigation. Even if Sally and her people could satisfy the board - and the courts, when Soames appealed, which he would - that there was nothing improper occurring here, there was a good chance the school would be shut down during the investigation. The accusations being made were that serious, and the board that nervous in these hypersensitive times. If that happened she didn't see any way to keep things going. By the time the school was allowed to reopen - assuming it was - all the current students would be at other schools, the staff dispersed to other jobs. Her patrons were loyal, but she expected they would at least have their kids wait until the end of the school year before transferring back, just to avoid the confusion of moving twice in such a short time. The gap in time would be difficult to bridge.
Additionally, the taint of the accusations would make getting new students very difficult, not even barring a complete vindication. Many potential students would be sent elsewhere, "just in case."
Using magic to sway the board would attract unwanted attention from other quarters, and quite possibly could backfire anyway. No, they had to work through human channels on this. Even then, putting pressure on the board through political influence was also likely to backfire, since they tended to take offense at overt manipulation by anyone. Though that didn't mean she wouldn't get useful help from satisfied customers and allies.
The Satyr lifted her head as she thought of something. The school board
was without question a political entity, something she had complained about
repeatedly and fulminously. That political nature was the main reason they
were taking Soames' charges so seriously and acting so quickly on them;
they didn't want to be seen by the press, the government and the voters
as failing to promptly address charges of child abuse. But Soames actually
had committed offenses against children and their families, and had lost several
court cases over such crimes. Whereas the only accusations before the school
board against Sally and her staff were all from Soames or made at his instigation.
Sally smiled grimly and reached for the phone again. Time to dissemble
a bit. Sally didn't like playing politics but after nearly two centuries
of experience she was very good at it.
* * *
"She's a what?" said Bort.
"The Garou have nothing like our system of ranks," Billy explained. "No rewards or formal change in status in recognition of accomplishments."
"How typically unimaginative," sighed Jenny. "Rank One. Rank Two. Et cetera."
"Well, there aren't any names for the ranks," Billy informed her. "I know them well."
"Ah," said Jenny, nodding.
Billy's regular pack sat around the cafeteria table, enjoying their last shared meal before their month off. All students at the school would be going home for holiday visits with their families at the end of the day, as well as most of the staff.
"Seems kinda sad," Toby commented, after a few moments of silently stirring his corn.
"Don't let Debbie hear you say that," snorted Bort.
"I meant the school just sitting here, all alone, while we all go home."
"It's not that bad," Jenny reassured him, in her quiet voice. "There's the watchmen, and many chimeras, and Sally lives nearby. Still, the place does seem sad to see us go, and happy to see us return."
"I think the school must have an embodied chimera of its own," said Toby. "Like the ship, at the end of that Kipling story."
"Sally doesn't worry me at all," said Billy. "I mean, it's not like Satyrs are gregarious, or prone to attacks of depression when lonely."
"You do know that she has... guests on most weekends," Toby commented.
"Only when she's off at one of their revels," Billy countered.
"Oooh, Satyr revels," cooed Jerry. "Not the place an innocent little Pooka wants to be."
"Figures a rabbit would find those interesting," Bort joked.
"We're getting off the subject, here," said Jenny. She nodded to Billy. "Next time you see Debbie, give her our congratulations on achieving Rank Two."
"I'll do no such thing," Billy agreed, nodding and smiling.
* * *
The holidays went smoothly and pleasantly for the Peabodys. While Billy missed his school friends, being with his parents and Debbie more than made up for that, especially considering the improvement in mood at the Peabody home these days. Debbie was also happier than he'd seen her in years, now that her own family had also turned around. The time off from their schools passed quickly, in a haze of fun punctuated by moments of joy.
Still, like childhood itself, the vacation couldn't last forever. And Billy's was interrupted near the end when Sally Goodin drove by for a visit. And not with Billy. Though he was allowed to sit in, as was his mother.
"So, I convinced them that Dr. Soames and his hospital were following the time-honored tactic of accusing their enemies of their own crimes," Sally related to Mr. and Mrs. Peabody. "With the documentation I provided about the lost court cases and out of court settlements, the board agreed to let the school stay open while the investigation is conducted."
"Boo!" Billy joyously exclaimed.
"I'm pleased to hear that," Billy's father added, smiling.
"Well, we still have to be investigated," Sally cautioned. "In the meantime, I'd like to ask a favor of you, Mr. Peabody. My lawyers say we have grounds to sue for harassment, and I plan to do so, on behalf of the school. I would like you to file a separate harassment suit, against Dr. Soames and his hospital, on Billy's behalf. Get an injunction to stop them from continuing or renewing or starting new legal action. Also, Mr. Peabody, could you use your connections to check on things about them my lawyer and I might have missed? I'm sure we haven't uncovered everything they've done wrong, and the more we know about them the more ammunition we'll have against them. Oh, and perhaps you could drop a few hints in the right ears that the hospital needs to be investigated?"
"Actually, I've already been working on learning more about that hospital," said Mr. Peabody, looking serious now. "After I learned how they treated Billy, and how they lied to me and Mrs. Peabody about what they were doing, I not only started asking around, I hired a private detective to look into things. He's already delivered a preliminary report, mostly interviews with other people who have had bad experiences with Soames and his people. I'll mail you a copy. I think you'll find it very interesting."
"That would be very useful," said Sally, nodding enthusiastically. "Thank you."
She looked appraisingly at the two adults before her. Billy's family life was far warmer and more interactive now than it had been the year before. His father was acting like a human being again, instead of a soulless politician. Billy, his mother and his father were all much happier, more at ease. The Satyr didn't know if Billy's mother would ever recall her Changeling nature on her own, but for now the situation was best left to develop without outside nudging. Mr. Peabody recalled nothing about the Fae natures of his son or wife, at least not consciously, but that was to be expected. The Mists protected the fae from mundane awareness, even when that was inconvenient or unfortunate for them. Sally rose and stretched, not minding at all either the surreptitious stares her chest was being given by father and son, or the reproachful looks they therefore received from the mother.
"Well, I'll leave you folks to enjoy the rest of your vacation. Billy,
I'll see you at school."
* * *
The second week in January was not going well for Sally or her school. Several members of the school board were waffling, reconsidering their agreement not to shut down the school unless clear signs of impropriety were found. This was entirely due to clever political manipulation by Soames and his associates. Sally had been astonished to find herself matched, and occasionally outmaneuvered, something she was definitely not used to. The Satyr was taking these social aspects of the affair more seriously, now, but worried that she had waited too late. Even the legal activities weren't going as well for her as she had expected; Soames had somehow managed to hire a major legal firm and get senior members involved in defending him and attacking Sally. On top of everything else, a heavy snowstorm had settled in the day before, and so far showed no sign of leaving. Some late-arriving students had barely made it in before the roads were closed. What particularly worried Sally about this development was that the storm was as much Chimerical as real. That could simply be a result of this storm being a bad one, but she suspected more was at work.
Still, things weren't all bad. Her efforts to defend the school had drawn support from a wide range of sources, and more was gathering. For someone her age, Sally had few enemies. She also had many friends, old and new. As she sat in her kitchen, relaxing before bed and enjoying a large mug of hot cocoa laced with a generous helping of bourbon, she waxed a bit philosophical. As much as she hated it when a friend died, she rejoiced when a stranger suddenly looked surprised, and asked if they'd met before. This usually meant she'd known the person in one of their previous existences. Several times in her long life she'd received unexpected help from someone who had been a friend previously in their cycle of reincarnation.
Sally's reverie was broken by the ringing of the phone. She shuffled across the linoleum in her fluffy houseshoes - specially constructed by a Nocker she knew to fit her hooves - and lifted the handset from the wall-mounted phone. The caller was Billy's father.
"I apologize for calling so late, but I just got some interesting news, here," Mr. Peabody explained, after their initial greetings. "Turns out Soames isn't the only one pushing for all these maneuvers against you. A major stock holder in the hospital is insisting 'every action possible be taken against that charlatan and her institution of depravity.' Name's - and I hope I'm pronouncing this right - Ewan Torethyl."
Sally was speechless for so long that Billy's father checked to see if they still had a connection.
"Yes, I'm still here," the Satyr replied. "I was just... surprised. I recognize that name. And it explains a lot. Thank you."
After she hung up Sally held very still for a long moment, hand on the
receiver. Then she screamed, yanked the phone from the wall and hurled
it across the room. Several other objects flew in scattered directions
before she regained control. Then she hurried downstairs, to the Balefire
* * *
The meeting was called unexpectedly and urgently, in the middle of a snowy weekday afternoon, classes being interrupted for an assembly in the cafeteria. The worried murmur of speculation quieted as Sally took the podium, her hooves making muffled thunks as she stepped onto the wooden platform. That she was short on sleep was obvious. She might even have been crying before making herself presentable for the announcement.
"I have finally tracked the troubles our school has been experiencing to their source," she announced. "Or rather, Billy's father has. Duke Torethyl, of House Leanhaun, is maneuvering behind the scenes to ruin me. I suspect he's also the source of this blizzard."
There was a rumble of confused agitation in the room, but even the newest students had a good idea of the background behind this announcement. Satyrs like to share, so all at the school had been kept informed about the troubles. Also, school policy required even the youngest students to learn about Changeling politics, both local and overall.
"I have sent several messages, reporting what Torethyl has done against Billy, me and this school," Sally continued, once she could be heard again. "One to Lord Haldrin, the closest Court to here. One to Duke Torethyl, formally requesting that he check into the 'rumor.' One to the Court at Queen Mab's Freehold. A few others. Plus I spent precious items of dross to produce enough glamour to reinforce my protections here and at my home."
More rumble, this time with a definite tinge of anger and outrage.
"I had received formal replies from Haldrin and the Queen's court by breakfast this morning. Lord Haldrin, as expected, promises support but is not in a position to provide any immediate help, in large part due to this storm. The Queen's Chancellor promised to look into the matter, but I don't hold out any hope for a quick or decisive response. I have not received a direct contact from Torethyl, but his response to the Queen was just relayed to me."
"What did he say?" several in the cafeteria chorused.
"'I have no knowledge of these matters.'" Sally snarled and slammed her fist against the podium, making it jump with a loud bang. "Even swore an oath to that effect."
She sighed and shook her head, anger receding, but frustration and grief running rampant.
"I have no Court, no retainers! I've spent decades avoiding such trappings, because I wanted my school to be a neutral place, with allegiances to no-one except where the education of children was specifically involved! Now, I find myself having to beg for help from others, because I have no influence or recourse among the nobles of Changeling society. And they don't care! I have nothing, no way to protect what is precious to me!"
That last was a shriek of pure rage and despair. A long silence held. Then Mae stepped forward and put her hand on the Satyr's shoulder. In the silence following Sally's outburst her whispery voice was clear and firm.
"You have us. Your friends."
Others joined the Sluagh, teachers and students alike, affirming what Mae had said. At first their words were reassuring, sympathetic, but then they began to express discontent at how Sally - and through her, the others at the school - were being mistreated. Soon everyone - faculty and student body alike - was crowded around the podium, offering encouragement and expressing anger at Torethyl.
"Thank you, thank you," sobbed Sally, as the tumult quieted. "My friends...
thank you. We will survive this. We will prevail. There are still measures
available, steps to be taken. Be assured, I have not given up. But be warned
that the actions against us will likely both continue, and escalate. I
would not exclude additional covert measures or even overt acts of violence.
So, all of you, be alert and careful."
* * *
The situation that evening was perfect for creating a mood of mass depression. The region was experiencing one of the worst Winter storms on record, with the whole of New England snowed in. In spite of this life went on more or less as usual at the school. They had their own auxiliary power, so when the lines collapsed there was hardly a flicker in the lights. Phones and cable TV were, of course, another matter, though thanks to cell phones and a satellite dish they weren't completely cut off from civilization. The dorms for teachers and students were part of the main building, so there was no need for most to even go outside. Still, an undercurrent of tension, nervousness and even fear was quite distinct. When Billy and his cohorts were called out of class and sent to the principle's office, everyone knew it wasn't for misbehavior. At least, not theirs...
As they entered Billy was overjoyed to spot Debbie already there. With a cry of joy he tackle-hugged the Garou, almost knocking her chair over.
"I got worried about you and your friends, ran all the way here in wolf form," she explained, grinning as she fiercely returned the hug.
"Yes, and the janitor was rather distressed when he found a wolf in the foyer at the main entrance, shaking snow and ice from her coat," was Sally's dry comment.
There was more up than that. Sally began searching through her desk for something as she explained. Two pieces of vellum - of the chimerical sort used for formal documents by the Fae - already lay on the blotter.
"I need you Goslings to do something for me," Sally stated as she dug through the drawers, occasionally pulling out some minor wonder so as to look under it. "One of the measures I want to take is to confront Duke Torethyl directly with evidence of the actions being taken against me in his name. However, I need to stay here, to guard my home and the school. So must the other adults. So you must do this for me, if you will."
All the young changelings agreed, some with enthusiasm, some with determination, some matter-of-factly.
"Debbie, I know this doesn't directly involve you, but if you will go with them I would be much assured."
"Of course," the werewolf replied, seriously.
"Thank you," sighed Sally, smiling. "There is a very real chance of physical danger, from the weather if no other agency. With you along, that danger will be greatly reduced."
"There is one... problem," said Debbie, hesitantly, as if not sure how to explain it without revealing Garou secrets. "You know how you Changelings use Glamour for your magic? Well, we Garou use Gnosis. And - well - I've just about used all mine up."
"Ah, now that I can help you with!" was Sally's pronouncement. She turned and opened her small office refrigerator, fished around inside, and turned back to the others holding a small, Technicolor mushroom cap. "This is a Dream Stone, a form of Dross. I believe that it will give you at least some Gnosis. Just eat it."
Debbie took the mushroom cap and looked at it uncertainly.
"Oh, she just loves fungus," teased Billy.
There was some subdued amusement at the notion of a werewolf who didn't like eating mushrooms. Debbie ignored them, made a face, and popped the thing in her mouth. She quickly chewed and swallowed, then looked startled. A slightly silly smile spread slowly over her face.
"You're not stoned, are you?" Billy asked, shying back in mock alarm.
"No. Just... warm and fuzzy all over," said Debbie. She must have realized how un-Garou that remark sounded, for she quickly sobered. "Thank you, Mz. Goodin."
Sally grinned back at her, but the Satyr's levity quickly vanished, and in a moment she was all business again.
"Now! There is a Trod which connects a location in the woods near here to one near Bathurst, in southeastern Canada. From there you can travel through the mundane world a short distance to another Trod, which leads to a location near the Freehold of Duke Torethyl. A roundabout route, but quicker than any other means currently available to us, baring major use of Portal Passage or Flicker Flash."
"We'll get to see Lorace!" was Jenny's happy whisper.
"I... doubt they'll let you, but you can ask, just in case," Sally cautioned.
The Satyr finally found what she wanted; an old-fashioned quill pen with white feather and gold nib. She stacked one of the sheets on the other and wrote quickly, without bothering to even find a bottle of ink to wet the nib. No writing appeared on the Chimerical vellum but she seemed not to care. Finally, she folded the top sheet and used sealing wax - stamped with a signet ring on a chain around her neck - to hold it closed. The arcane symbol thus produced practically glowed with Glamour. As she worked she described the Chimerical signs marking the two Trods, the landmarks for how to find their way between them, and what to expect on the Silver Paths. Finished, she handed the document to Billy.
"I want you to present this to the Duke himself. Only he or his designated heir can read the message. Make sure he gets it."
"What... is it?" Billy asked, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
"A petition. Not the modern definition; something older. Basically, I'm explaining that someone is using his resources to harm me and formally requesting his aid in ending the problem."
"Do you really think this will make him do something?" asked Debbie, voice carrying doubt.
"Doesn't matter," said Sally, firmly. "If he refuses, I can present that refusal, with the evidence of my claims, to the Queen's Chancellor, who will then have to take action. This storm alone is outrageously in violation of the rules. Someone is manipulating it, and the source is either Torethyl or someone in his Court. Which means it's his responsibility, either way. A refusal means he's confirming that he's doing this, or failing to carry out his duty under the Escheat."
"And what if he simply kills us and denies we were ever there?" was Jenny's quiet and depressing query.
"His actions in regard to the petition are echoed to this other piece of vellum, here," said Sally, triumphantly, holding the other sheet up. "As long as he knows I have this, he won't do anything to harm you. Even if he breaks the enchantment on his end, that will be registered on this duplicate. And that is considered a major violation of etiquette."
"So it's our safe passage, as well," Bort nodded.
"Quite. Now, you must hurry. I don't know how much longer we can hold
out here! The storm is bad enough, but strange Winter chimeras are gathering
around the borders of my land. So for all our sakes, be careful, and be
* * *
Even dressed warmly, the way was hard and cold. For a particularly bad stretch Debbie shifted to Crinos and took the lead into the fierce wind, and for once none of the Changelings shied back from her. Perhaps her being in this form as they struggled through the woods beyond the protections of the school was the reason they saw none of the chimeras Sally had warned them of. Finally they found the signs, invisible to mortal eyes but plainly visible to the Changelings. The markings were designed to be obvious to those who were supposed to notice them, and even Debbie could see the glowing symbols, faintly. Another time she might have commented on how much Changeling and Garou ways of working magic overlapped. However, none of them wished to remain in this wind and cold any longer than they had to, including those with home-grown fur. Toby opened the Trod and they stepped onto the silver path.
"Wow," was all Debbie could say, at first, as she and the others looked around, wide-eyed.
"Ah, you see one, you've seen them all," Billy remarked.
Only Billy and Toby had been on Trods before. Toby, being the most experienced at such travel, led off, Billy taking the rear. Debbie, with her ability to switch to the huge Crinos form and reach over the heads of all but Bort, was in the middle, with the Troll just in front of Billy. The air was crisp and cool, but not cold, and there was no wind and little snow falling. They made excellent time, pleased to be out of the harsh weather.
"This is nothing like the Umbra," stated Debbie, once they were well started. "I mean, when I heard you folks talking about the Dreaming and Trods and such I figured you were just using different words for things we Garou know about, but..."
"Most likely they are different aspects of the same things," whispered Jenny. "Said aspects possibly affected by the nature of those viewing them. Since most of us in this group are Changelings..."
"And here we are," said Toby, as he led them off the path and back out into the mundane world.
The air was colder, here, in these Canadian woods, than it had been back at the school, but the wind was far milder and there was only a little snow falling to add to that already present. The sun was visible through the light but solid overcast, already closing on the horizon. The temperature in these woods would be much lower soon, a warning for them not to dawdle on their mission lest their return trip be even harsher.
"That way," said Toby, reading the chimerical signs others had left for new travelers on these paths.
The trip through these woods was also quick, but not without incident. Several times someone thought they saw something lurking in the gathering shadows. Debbie was convinced it was spirits, tasked by Garou to watch these lands. Jenny stated quite firmly that they were ghosts. The others decided the barely-seen creatures were just shy chimeras, and hoped they were right. Fortunately the path was quick, direct and easy, and they found the next Trod in less than half an hour. Again, the Silver Path through the Dreaming was smooth, mild and short. They reached their final terminus with no trouble, and returned to the physical world. And back into the storm.
"Ack!" gasped Billy, as the icy wind seemed to cut right through them. "Maybe this storm is a plot against Sally, since it's here, too!"
"One way to make weather magic easier it to have it affect your place of power as well as the target," Jenny said, barely audible over the rush of wind.
Whirling snow made both travel and keeping in the proper direction difficult.
Fortunately, three of their number had one or more ways of telling where
something was. After twenty minutes of struggling through gradually deepening
snow the path suddenly opened up into a wide space, with an old well in
the middle. They stopped, peering around in puzzlement.
* * *
"We're in a Glade," Toby announced, after a few moments. "An old place of glamour, left wild."
The air was quiet here, most of the blizzard's effects going around the glade. The place felt peaceful, in an old, quiescent sort of way.
"Odd how Torethyl would let such a precious resource lie unused," whispered Jenny.
"Well, he's never really been one with a love for the wilderness," said a new voice.
A short, plump man - clearly a Boggan Grump - walked into the clearing from their right.
"Welcome. I'm Hobart. Would you come in for a while and get warm, before continuing your journey?"
"Certainly!" Toby enthusiastically responded before the others could react.
The little man's home was not visible until they were almost on top of it. Then they could see the warm hearth glow through the windows and smell the wood smoke. Hobart held the door open against the wind as the youngsters filed inside.
"I know you must be on important business, to be out in weather like this," he announced, firmly shutting the door. "So I won't insist on you staying for supper. But I won't let you leave until you've warmed yourselves and had some hot cocoa!"
"Thank you, sir," said Toby, by unspoken consent their representative for this situation. "We are indeed on business both important and urgent, but some hot cocoa - and some directions - would be most welcome."
The Boggan busied himself with fixing their cocoa while the group removed their outer clothing, moving carefully in the tiny room, filled as it was with neatly arranged clutter. Debbie and Bort both had to stoop to avoid the low ceiling. Hobart timed things perfectly, returning with a tray loaded with large, steaming mugs just as they finished getting seated. Even Debbie found herself gratefully accepting the fragrant beverage.
"You've added a touch of vanilla," Toby commented in appreciative surprise, after a sip.
"Just a hint," Hobart acknowledged, smiling with pleasure at having his extra measure noticed and approved. "Something I learned from the Aztecs."
As the two Boggans chatted the others quietly finished their cocoa. Only Jenny seemed as at ease with the situation as Toby and Hobart, which was understandable. However, they all could tell there was an odd touch of melancholy in the older Boggan's words and manner. Still, he kept on in the way Boggans do until, finally, Billy had to interrupt. This was mostly because he could sense Debbie getting antsy.
"Excuse me, I love offending my hosts, but we've got all night," he said, apologetically. "Our business is trivial, and we need directions for the longest path away from Duke Torethyl's Freehold."
"Ah," said Hobart, with a touch of regret. "I recommend you not go there. There is a pall upon the Household of Torethyl. Something which is not the Duke's direct fault, but results from his not properly overseeing those under his rule. It is an old thing, involving treachery and murder, and taints his lands still. Since the death of his wife, a decade ago, he has grown much worse."
The guests looked uneasily at each other, shifting their positions. Something which did not escape the Boggan's notice.
"You still wish to go."
"We have a friend there," said Toby. "We just want to see how she is."
"I figure there's more to it than that, but that's your business so I won't press you. I also figure this other business is important, so I won't be offended at your not telling an old Boggan what it is. But if your duties allow I would be much pleased if you stopped by again on your way back."
All the youngsters readily affirmed a desire to again enjoy his hospitality, which considerably mollified the Grump. He gave them clear, simple instructions on how to reach the Freehold. Then, helping them on with their coats, he opened the door and bid them a safe journey.
"That is the saddest Boggan I ever saw," said Jenny, even quieter than
usual, once they were underway.
* * *
The Troll guard muttered sourly under his breath as he responded to the pounding on the door. Bad enough he had to walk patrol in this cold, drafty part of the castle, now he had to open the door and let what little warm air was in here out! He was even less pleased when he saw that those making the ruckus were a bunch of kids.
"What do you want?" he growled.
"We have a formal petition to deliver to His Grace, Lord Torethyl," the Troll youth among them declared, barely managing to keep his teeth from chattering.
"Why don't you Childlings go home, and save your games for another day."
He started to close the door, but suddenly found it being pushed back open by the Troll, the human girl and the dog Pooka. All of them were quite strong - two of them surprisingly so - and quite determined.
"This is urgent and important business," said the Troll. "I am Bort, of Lord Hunter's court, and I swear this to you in the name of my Lord and my family."
Lord Hunter's court was a small one, but by no means minor. The guard hesitated, then sighed, stepped back, and let them in.
"Now, what is all this about?" he demanded, after shutting and barring the door against the wind.
"We have a formal petition for His Grace from Lady Sally, of the School For Gifted Children," said Bort. "By law and by custom he is required to read it and formally reply."
"Return receipt guaranteed," snickered Debbie, quietly.
Billy elbowed her.
"I don't know about this," muttered the Troll. "Court has already ended for the day and His Grace retired for the evening. Maybe you should come back tomorrow."
Someone was coming down the hall towards them, a Sidhe woman who seemed familiar. Billy suddenly recognized her; Countess Chelaise, the mother of Lorace. The Troll guard quickly turned and bowed towards her. The youngsters followed suit.
"Really, Torvald, you should know better," she chided with a distinct French accent as she approached. "Even if delivered by youths, such a message is important and to be taken seriously."
She turned and smiled at them.
"I welcome you to our Freehold. Please, come with me. I'll see that you have a warm room to wait in while His Grace reads this and decides on his reply."
"Your Excellency, may we please see Lorace while we're here?" Jenny asked, speaking with surprising volume for a Sluagh, as Chelaise led them down the hall.
"Well, for a short time. I remember most of you as her friends from her previous school. However, this is a school night and she - and all of you, for that matter - should be in bed soon."
"Oh, I'm sure there will be school tomorrow, head-high snow-drifts and all," said Billy.
"Actually, she goes to school here," Chelaise responded. "We found a rather unusual and talented tutor for her."
Minutes later they were led into a large, warm room which appeared to be part of the living quarters.
"I'll tell Lorace you're here, then take this to the Duke, my father," she promised, slipping out another door.
"Do you think we can trust her?" asked Debbie, uncertain and out of her regular circle.
"Not a bit," Billy replied.
"She seemed nice every time I saw her at the school," whispered Jenny.
"She comes from a very good family," affirmed Toby. "I hear she spent most of her childhood at her mother's ancestral home, in the Pireene... Pyro... Peerine... those mountains in France."
"She smells sour," sighed Jerry, smiling wistfully, smitten on sight.
Just then the same door opened, and Lorace - already in her warm Winter pajamas - shyly entered, followed by a tall human who gave the others a quick but very thorough once-over. The reception the young Sidhe received was quiet, but deeply emotional nonetheless. Somehow, from somewhere, Bort even produced a bouquet of mixed flowers for her, an act which brought tears to the little Sidhe girl's eyes. Billy noticed that the strange human had relaxed, and was now smiling in approval.
"How have all of you been?" Lorace asked, in a voice nearly as quiet as Jenny's. "I really miss you and the others, even the teachers, but my family wanted me here, and they found a very nice teacher for me."
She turned and smiled at the human, who beamed back at her but said nothing. Lorace turned to the others and gave a smile and a conspiratorial wink.
"That's Tiger. He's not really what he looks like."
"We're all fine," said Jenny. "How are you? We haven't heard anything much about you."
They gossiped about the school, avoiding mention of the troubles with her grandfather. In turn, Lorace spoke of her new teacher, some sort of tiger-man according to her, pronouncement which made Debbie give him another - and more appraising - look. Even Billy had to admit that Lorace seemed more cheerful, less tragic than when he last saw her. Maybe being brought here had been the right thing to do. Her teacher - the enigmatic Tiger - seemed to have worked wonders with her.
All too soon their reunion was interrupted by the return of Chelaise. She did not look happy.
"I'm sorry. The Duke, my father, has denied your petition," she told them. "He said... said for you to return to your own place and tell your mistress to stop bothering him with absurd accusations."
"Did he make a formal reply?" asked Billy.
Chelaise shook her head, looking upset.
"What about the petition?" queried Bort.
"Well, once delivered it was his, anyway," Jenny instructed him.
"He... did not wish to return the document," said Chelaise.
"Tore it up, didn't he?" said Tiger, speaking for the first time, his mild baritone startling the others.
Her Excellency flushed, but nodded.
"Well, Lorace, looks like we can stay," said Billy, sadly. "You might as well be up all night."
Chelaise took the hint.
"Lorace, dear, you need to get to bed. We can't keep your friends here any longer; they have a long, hard road back and it will only get worse the longer they stay."
"But... but... can't they stay all night?" she asked, eyes wide and shining with incipient tears.
"I'm sorry, no. Your grandfather doesn't want them..."
"Grandfather is a sour old elf," said Lorace, quite clearly and firmly.
That caused several subdued snorts, and even her mother smirked, just briefly.
"Now, that's not how you speak of your own kin," Chelaise gently chided. "You run off to bed. I'll see that your friends get on their way safely."
The young Sidhe hesitated for a moment, then quickly and fiercely hugged each of her friends, lingering with Bort. Breaking away with a sigh, she turned and left, not looking back. Tiger trailed protectively after her, pulling the door closed behind him. Just before it shut, he caught Debbie's eye, giving her a quick grin and a wink.
"Your Excellency," said Bort, after the odd pair had left, "our school..."
"I know," said Chelaise, tiredly. "I've tried convincing the Duke of the problem but he's already decided his mind on the matter. I... really don't know what else to do."
She looked sad, and tired, and very much like an older version of Lorace.
"Well, it's all hopeless, anyway," said Billy, encouragingly. "There's no chance Queen Mab will ignore the situation, with all the evidence there's no connection."
"I hope you are right, Pooka," said Chelaise, firmly. "I think someone needs to shake him out of his doldrums, and Queen Mab might just be the one to do it."
The travelers were allowed to refresh themselves, then shown by Chelaise herself to a main exit. Here they could take a longer but easier path to the Trod than the one at the side door they had entered by.
"Are you certain you do not wish an escort?"
"Thank you, Your Excellency, but it's entirely necessary," said Billy, with a flourishing bow. "We would love to bring someone else out into this balmy weather for a while."
"Very considerate of you," muttered Bort.
Billy elbowed him.
The massive door was opened and they quickly filed out. Once it was closed they were almost lost in swirling snow.
"Can you believe it?" demanded Billy, sounding exasperated. "Not only is it warmer, it's snowing less!"
"Yeah," grunted Bort, as he began breaking trail through the drifts. "I thought it was supposed to get warmer when it snowed harder."
"Maybe this is warmer!" gasped Debbie. "So, what do you folks think is actually going on, here?"
"I think the head of the house knows exactly what's happening," said Jerry.
"He's the mastermind, all right," said Billy, in agreement.
"What?" countered Bort, confused.
"I'm telling you, it's him," Billy. "He's much too young and vital not to be."
"So, who?" mused Debbie. "His son-in-law, or Lorace's mother?"
"Doesn't seem likely to be either of them," judged Toby. "Besides having a good reputation, His Excellency Casimier is too busy trying to cover his father-in-law's failings and tending to the problems of his wife and daughter. Same with Chelaise. We already know of a couple of Sidhe in their Court who are involved; maybe they're all there is. They're just getting away with treacherous acts because their Duke isn't in any condition to stop them."
A hard blast of biting wind sent them staggering, and snow whirled around them in a blinding cloud. When Billy finished blinking the tears out of his eyes he could see only one other person.
"Debbie?! Where are the others?"
"I don't know!" the werewolf cried, alarmed. "They were right here!
And now they're gone!"
* * *
They searched frantically, calling the names of the others, but could find no trace. Neither could they find the castle.
"We've got to get out of this wind!" Debbie cried, finally. "We're both half-frozen."
They tried, but in the dark and blowing snow were not only lost but unable to tell even if they were going in circles.
"Let's hope the others had worse luck finding shelter," gasped Billy. "At least we can get bald if we have to."
"Speaking of which," said Debbie, shifting to her Crinos form.
With her in front and Billy trailing closely behind they traveled in what they hoped was the right direction to reach the Trod. After several cold minutes they finally found a familiar landmark: The side door they had originally entered Lord Torethyl's home by. Debbie pounded boomingly, but could neither get a response nor force the door.
"It's Enchanted," Billy yelled in explanation. "Even you can open it easily. And I think that Troll is helping us deliberately, 'cause Chelaise caught him trying to let us in."
"I think the path back to the Trod is this way," Debbie snarled.
They started off again, hurrying, now. Oddly, the storm seemed to be weaker, the path easier. The blizzard dwindled away to mild wind and flurries as they proceeded. Neither thought anything of this... until Debbie screamed. And screamed again, this time in pain rather than anger, dropping to her knees, to reveal an arrow buried deeply in her right shoulderblade. Billy crouched beside her as she shifted back to human.
"Silver!" she gasped. "Get it out!"
Billy grabbed the shaft and pulled but the arrow was stuck in the bone. He put a foot against Debbie's back and heaved... and the shaft snapped off short, the stub of wood not even projecting beyond her clothing. More arrows were flying; only their posture, erratic movements and the remaining wind and snow had kept them from getting hit. Billy crouched down and helped Debbie into the bushes, where they were momentarily out of sight.
"Find something shiny," Debby told him in quick gasps. "I can step sideways, take you with me."
Billy tried, but didn't even have a knife blade. But he did have a memory.
"We can't possibly use the mirror at Hobart's! Or maybe stop there instead of just heading for the Trod!"
Debbie nodded. He helped her to her feet, and they ran.
Debbie could not change from human or the silver would burn her. Which
left her without the strength and resilience of her other forms. However,
she was still a Garou, with vitality enough to shame a Troll. She pulled
ahead of Billy, in spite of the blood soaking through her clothing. But
their enemies were gaining...
* * *
It was at the old well that their pursuers cut them off. As the pair entered the glade the wind dropped to a mere breeze, and the snow to occasional flakes. Billy gasped in surprised and angry recognition as Erelsthaene, with three Sidhe knights, stepped out of the trees ahead, directly on the path to the Trod. When Billy and Debbie tried to turn back, there was Seanleigh, closing in from behind. Likewise, every other direction was blocked. They backed to the well, Billy unable to change because he was being watched, Debbie because of the silver arrowhead. Seanleigh smiled.
"And so, the plans and plots of children come to naught."
Debbie snarled, then astonished the Sidhe by throwing back her head and howling. Billy knew enough Garou speech to recognize a call for help. Unfortunately, in the stunned quiet which followed there was no reply.
"So simple, really," Seanleigh resumed, as if the strange cry had not happened. "Your motives were known, and therefore your actions easy to predict. The wonder is that you took so long to follow the obvious clues. Ah, well; it never pays to accredit too much to simple minds."
"Nobody knows where we are!" Billy snapped. "You can kills us and no-one will ever find out!"
He didn't expect that to deter them, but he did expect that they would have a surprise when they attacked. Unlike most Changelings, he knew how Garou could use their Rage to move faster. Even in human form, and wounded, Debbie was a formidable foe. Billy himself had repeatedly proven a better fighter than his opponents expected. Without words, without even looking at each other, the two teens shifted positions slightly, preparing to fight. Their enemies did likewise.
"We've been through all this before," said Erelsthaene, speaking for the first time. He sounded weary. "No reason it should turn out any different this time."
"Oh, there's reason aplenty," said a new voice. "Mainly, being forewarned."
Everyone started, and turned to watch in disbelief as Hobart the Boggan walked calmly up to the beleaguered pair at the well. He puffed on his pipe as he considered the youngsters, clouds of pleasantly scented smoke drifting lazily in the cold air.
"Yep. Thought so." He turned to Erelsthaene. "Returned to the scene of the crime, I see. You don't remember me. No surprise. I've changed a lot since the last time we saw each other. But I remember you."
His manner altered instantly. He snarled and turned to jab his pipe at the Baron.
"You betrayed your Liege! You betrayed me!"
"Aesthlene," breathed Seanleigh, paling.
"Aye. It's been six hundred years for both of us, and many lifetimes for me. And now's the time come for me to make things right."
Their confrontation was interrupted by Erelsthaene's harsh laugh.
"You must be mad, Boggan! What can you do?"
"Oh, it's not just me," said Hobart, his again-quiet voice filled with grief and anger. "You've made many enemies, and some of them have long memories. The Nunnehi have a sizeable bone to pick with both of you, as do more than a few others. But I'm the one has to make delivery. The one who wants to make up for his mistake. The one who has been coming back here, over and over, life after life, since this young fool of a Baron flattered him into giving you, Erelsthaene, all that fire starting powder. To prepare for this day."
"There's no-one here but us!" cried Seanleigh, looking around frantically. "You're bluffing!"
Erelsthaene started angrily forward, sword ready, obviously planning to cut the Boggan down. Hobart drew deeply on his pipe and blew an impossibly huge and dense cloud of smoke at the Sidhe. The Knight coughed and waved ineffectually at the smoke, his form becoming increasingly obscured. Then his coughing faded to silence. And when the smoke cleared there was only a trampled patch of snow...
The Boggan sighed, taking no pleasure from this act but obviously satisfied. Seanleigh gasped, and began backing away. Hobart turned and fixed him with an awesome glare.
"He did the deed. You made the plan, but at his prompting, his scheme being to enhance his position by advancing yours. He was truly evil; you are merely weak. So your punishment will be less. Still, it must be severe, both because of the nature of your crime and the length of time you have gone unpunished. Not to mention your lack of repentance, even after all these years."
Seanleigh broke free from the Boggan's gaze, and tried to turn and flee. His men - and Erelsthaene's - tried to come to his defense. But they were all unable to move. As they struggled, the reason for their immobility gradually faded into view. They were strange creatures, obviously Changelings but of a sort unfamiliar to most of those there. One had hold of each arm of each Sidhe. They said nothing, but their manner spoke volumes.
"Nunnehi," whispered Billy, shivering.
"That they are," Hobart acknowledged. "They, too, were betrayed. Once I convinced them I was an innocent dupe - and that task was neither easy nor quick - they decided to let me help them arrange this little bit of justice. It's mostly their power at work, here, though I am directing some of it, and adding some of my own."
He walked over to the struggling, terrified Seanleigh.
"We argued long and hard on what to do with you. Since you Sidhe don't normally reincarnate the way we commoners do, we couldn't just kill you. You don't deserve the final death, most of us agreed on that. But something almost as extreme. Fortunately, we had time to choose something fitting. Something like what we commoners go through. A starting over. Since you act like a child, a child you shall be."
He again drew on his pipe and blew. The smoke enveloped the Baron, whose scream of terror abruptly changed to a child's shriek. Then the smoke cleared, and a mewling infant lay on the snow, lost in the Sidhe's clothes. Hobart sagged, suddenly looking 600 years old.
"And so the prophesy which has been so long held in abeyance comes true," he announced, tiredly. "The union of the young lovers lead to the demise of one, and the return to innocence for the other."
He turned to the Knights.
"None of you were involved in the original crime. Leave now and you won't be included in the punishment. Go to Duke Torethyl and tell him what has happened. And you, take the infant with you; tell the Duke that he has a new son to raise. That's his punishment, for failing to stop any of this."
The Nunnehi faded. The Knights, finding themselves free to move, hurried off, the designated member of the former Seanleigh's retinue pausing only long enough to scoop the crying baby into his arms. They hurried, all of them, back towards the Keep. Hobart and the youngsters watched them go. Then the Boggan dropped his pipe, staggered to the well and sat. Billy and Debbie moved quickly to check on him.
"No, no... I'm fine," he assured them, pushing them away. "I'm just... glad it's over."
He looked up at Debbie.
"Girl, you are the one who needs help. Come into my home and I'll get that silver out of you. And explain just what happened. I'm sure you have questions."
"Our friends..." began Billy.
"They have already been through here, and are safely waiting at my place," Hobart reassured them. He gave a tired chuckle. "I had to lie like a Pooka to get them to stay there while I came looking for you."
A short time later Debbie was lying face down on a blanket in front of Hobart's hearth, wearing only her sport bra from the waist up. While the others looked on, and Billy filled them in, the Boggan Grump set to work. He expertly dug into Debbie's wound with a weird looking little tool which, magically, caused no pain.
"I've heard you folks know the basic story," Hobart muttered absently as he probed. "And from what you heard tonight you certainly have figured out more. I was new in the area, just arrived by Trod from across the Atlantic to join the others who came here to escape the spread of banality in the Old World. I was trying to make a place and a name for myself, and thought I'd get in good with the nobles by supplying Seanleigh with some flammable powder he said he wanted for burning down a patch of woods. Never thought about what the Nunnehi or native Garou would think of that."
He put his tool in a bowl of alcohol and grabbed another one, which appeared to be a fancy set of needle-nosed pliers. He worked this into the wound. Again, Debbie barely reacted.
"When I found out that you two had been killed - that is, your previous selves - I almost killed myself. Was actually sitting on a rock ledge contemplating jumping off. Eventually, I decided that not only was that cowardly, it was lazy. That my part in the plot - however unwitting - meant I had to help make things right. So, I hunted for some Nunnehi and began persuading them to let me help. Took a while. Three lifetimes, in fact."
Bort winced, as much from the manner of suicide contemplation as from what was being done to Debbie. The others were also variously affected, some watching in horrid fascination, some in simple curiosity, some trying to ignore the operation. The fact that Debbie obviously felt only a mild discomfort made the situation all the stranger.
Hobart suddenly gave a sharp yank, and Debbie a sharp yelp. The Boggan held up the bloody arrowhead for a moment, smiling the first genuinely warm and happy smile they'd seen on him. He tossed the arrowhead and pliers into the same bowl and began stitching the wound closed.
"Just leave it," growled Debbie. "I'll change and heal."
"No need for that," the Boggan chided. "This will kill the pain and encourage healing; you'll barely have a scar by morning. Besides, I don't think you'd fit in here, especially with all the others crowding around."
"I want a scar!" Debbie snapped. "I think I've earned one, from all this!"
"All right, then, just lie there for a moment," said Hobart, rising and leaving the room. He returned with a small box and resumed his position. "Never let it be said that I don't go out of my way to make my guests happy."
The box proved to contain an odd, sparkly grey powder. Hobart took a pinch of this and spread it into the wound with a single, sharp puff of breath. Debbie gave a sudden, surprised yell.
"There," said Hobart, mildly, as the werewolf turned to glare at him. He resumed stitching. "That will produce a distinct and very colorful scar, which won't inhibit your movements in the least. And it will still be healed by morning."
"What do you know about... us?" Billy queried, quickly and nervously.
"You know - as I said to Seanleigh - that Sidhe don't normally reincarnate. But the Garou had petitioned Wolf itself to protect you two, due in part to your roles in important matters, and in part to the fact that you had both gained friends among them. After your murders the Nunnehi also worked behind the scenes, doing things I'm not at liberty to divulge, and don't really understand. The upshot of all this supernatural activity was that your natures were changed. Debbie was reborn as a Garou with a few traces of Fae ability, and Billy - just to keep things in balance - was reborn as a Changeling with a wolf affinity."
"Took long enough," muttered Debbie.
"Some plans need time to mature," said Hobart, finishing the suturing and tossing that equipment, too, into the bowl. He handed Debbie a blanket and moved to the table where he'd lain her clothes. "Several things had to happen. Families about to have children at the same time at the place where the spirits of the murdered lovers were bound. The completion of the preparations the Nunnehi and I have been making at the well. And a few other ingredients."
"What did you do to Erelsthaene?" demanded Bort. "I mean... there are bound to be repercussions, and some of them will be directed our way. We deserve to know."
"He was the one who fled, Shattering the gate to Arcadia behind him," said Hobart, grim again as he began working on the tear in the blouse. "Some of us knew he was behind the young lovers' deaths, you see, and others suspected. When it became clear we planned vengeance on their behalf, he panicked. He'd expected Seanleigh to receive approval for removing those two, and that even if he didn't, his lord would be the one blamed. Well, he was, but there was plenty to share with Erelsthaene, as well. He covered his tracks well in his escape; a few suspected it was he who destroyed the gate, but only the Nunnehei and I knew that for certain."
He gestured vaguely towards the clearing.
"That gate was where the well is, now, dug down to where the gate was then. We drained all his essence from him, to purify it, and then use it to strengthen the glade, which formed here from the spilled magic of the gateway's destruction. Maybe, someday, it will even again be a gate back home..."
"And, since he's a Sidhe, with no glamour or chimerical essence left, there's nothing left of him," breathed Jenny, shivering.
"Exactly," said the Boggan, nodding.
"Serves him right," muttered Debbie.
Hobart handed Debbie her blouse. Not only had he mended the tear to invisibility, there was no trace of blood.
"I can remove the stain from your underwear if you take if off," he offered, blushing a bit. "You can use the blanket..."
"No need," said Debbie, her tone grudgingly appreciative. "It doesn't show, and is dry now so it won't soak through."
"So what's our connection with the disappearance of High King David?" asked Billy, determined to get as much from this source as he could while he could.
"None, that I know of," said Hobart, shrugging. "There's lots of wolf spirits. Probably just a coincidence. Or maybe one wolf spurred the other into action. No telling. But..."
"'But' what?" asked Toby, anxiously.
"You know the High King disappeared while visiting one of his kings, the mentor of his chosen High Queen," said Hobart, shrugging as he worked. He gestured at Billy and Debbie. "There's old tales that King Meilge was in this area long ago, about the same time the predecessors of these two were here. So there very well could be a connection."
"Thatís not much of a connection," judged Bort.
"As I believe I said," Hobart replied.
In a few more minutes the Boggan had Debbie's jacket mended as well. He sat back and sighed, looking truly happy.
"Six centuries is a long time to work on one project," he remarked. "I think I'm about due for a vacation! May even go south, to the Kingdom of Willows. Check with the Nunnehi there, see if they can supply any more information on that connection you were asking about."
"Well, you can be sure you'll be banned from Sally Goodin's home or school, if I have anything to say about it," Billy announced; then, more seriously. "Thank you."
"Yes," said Debbie, prompted by Billy's show of manners. "Thank you. For our lives... and our pasts."
"You are quite welcome," said Hobart, smiling. "And, really, there's
no need for thanks. You were owed this. And I am glad to have been
part of seeing you get what you were due."
* * *
The wind was already dying, the snow down to a few flakes per second. The air felt different. Hobart good-naturedly shooed the youngsters along, then closed the door. Even standing this close, with the air nearly clear, they could barely see the hidden entrance to the Boggan's den in the gathering shadows. With an odd mixture of emotions, the troop of young Changelings set off.
"You seem awfully sad," said Billy, noting that Debbie was cheerfully whistling some popular tune.
"And why shouldn't I be? What a tale this will make when I get back! And what an interesting scar!" She grinned fiercely, revealing long, pointed canines. "We Ahrouns earn much honor from this sort of thing. And the fact that I was shot with silver, and my enemies are dead and I not only live but have the arrowhead as a souvenir will add to the score!"
Billy started to retort, but shut his mouth quickly when he realized that those ahead of them had suddenly stopped. When he and Debbie came up even with them, he saw why. There, on the lip of the old well, sat Lorace's tutor. He smiled in greeting. He was dressed just as they had seen him before; in slacks, long-sleeved shirt and athletic shoes. He seemed perfectly comfortable so lightly dressed, despite the cold.
"Hello. Nice night for a walk in the woods, eh?"
"Don't you know that curiosity killed the Kahn?" muttered Debbie, almost growling, as she pushed through the others, only stopping when halfway to the stranger.
"Oh, I'm not a Bastet," he replied, with a shrug. "Though we share enough traits that the mistake is quite understandable."
"Then what are you?" demanded Billy, who had only a vague idea of what a Bastet was and none at all about what Debbie had mentioned.
"I'm not anything from either set of your mythologies," Tiger replied amiably. "I'm not even a shapeshifter. Though I'm honored that some have counted me as friend. So, for now, I'm just Tiger."
He stood and stretched, hands together going up and over and behind his head in a catlike demonstration of flexibility. He grinned and winked at them.
"You kids are good to and for Lorace. Far as I'm concerned, you can see her any time. I'll even help you sneak in, or her out."
Before any of them could form a reply he turned, and leapt completely out of sight in a single, awesomely powerful bound.
* * *
"That is simply amazing," said Sally, smiling in wonder. She looked at the others. "Thank you all. If I had known I was sending you into such danger..."
"Billy and I wouldn't have found out who we are," said Debbie, flatly.
"Well, you probably would have, eventually. And you also put a quick end the actions against the school. I could tell when you succeeded; the chimerical storm broke immediately, and the mundane one shortly after. Again, thank you."
"So, does that mean we get tomorrow off?" Billy asked, innocently.
"Well, of course not!" snickered Sally. "It's a Friday. So! Off to bed, all of you!"
"Oh, boy!" yelled Billy, grabbing Debbie's hand and leering comically at her.
"Separate beds," Sally stated, firmly.
End Part Three
This document is Copyright 2003 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to repost or reprint this story may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org