by D'Artagnon


4 days later

Ann and Dennis French watched as Robby and Kenny goofed off in the front yard. The mostly unused basketball hoop was now the subject of a surprisingly athletic competition between the two 13 year-olds. As the mother watched how her son had come completely out of his shell, the father had walked up behind her and embraced her, also watching with pride as his son seemed more alive than ever before. She leaned back into his embrace, her arms wrapped around his arms that wrapped around her middle.

"He's changed so much," she said, her voice carrying a certain poignancy.

"He's had to. But I sense it too. Something fundamental has shifted all around him. And it isn't just how those artifacts he wears are suddenly much stronger." The mother sighed.

"Do you think he's ready?"

"Ann," the father said, with some annoyance. "You know he is. I don't want to do this anymore than you do. Mitch is more than capable. And they have many other allies. He will be well protected." He kissed the side of her neck, taking the opportunity to whisper, "you know we cannot turn back now."

"I know. I feel so helpless, though. This is a path he has chosen, I know. But it's so far out of our depth. I don't know how to help. Damnit, Dennis, I don't even know if I should help. This is so..." she said, gesturing out the window to where Robby and Kenny were competing for the basketball, Kenny attempting to dribble past the blonde haired boy for a shot at the basket.

"So alien?"

"You know me so well," she smiled, but it did nothing to dissuade the worry in her heart. "He's still so young. He's still my baby."

"I feel the same way, my wife. Raising our son has been only the second greatest joy of my life. Second only to making him with you."

"Are we doing the right thing?" she asked, her hands holding her husband's hands over her lower belly, their fingers from opposite hands intertwining. "He's been our sole focus for so long. Is it right for us to..."

"Life finds a way," Dennis quoted. "We could probably time delay things for a short while, but once started, some things are automatic. How do you feel?"

"Different this time. Very different."

A tender silence drifted between them for a time as they watched their son and his friend playing in the yard. Joy and Light, he'd called Robby, and with a flash of insight, he realized that Kenny was Joy and Light for Robby as well. That they were for each other.

"They are good magic together," Ann said at length. "Like we were, in fact."

"I have noticed. I wonder how much of that they have noticed themselves."

"One more thing to talk to Mitch about," she grinned, sighing again.

"Oh, do stop with all the melodramatics, wife," Dennis chided, squeezing her through virtue of their combined hands and arms. "Just as everything else, things will play out how they were meant to. Even if we ourselves don't know that outcome."

"We have put so much faith in that. That the future takes care of itself. I still don't see the logic in sending us here to this time."

"Your father is a wise man, Ann. He knew what he was doing in putting us here in this time. I trust him, just as he trusts us."

The boys outside sat down in the grass, under the shade of the large elm tree near the corner of the yard. They seemed to be happily joking away, even as they were continuing some conversation that only two teenagers would have any sense of understanding. Two friends who although they'd only met weeks ago, seemed to have known each other for all the ages of the Earth.

"Should we tell them that we know?"

"About their other relationship?" Dennis asked. "I doubt we could affect that, even if we tried. They seem happy. They seem healthy. I see no need to interfere unless they come to us for help."

"Do you... do you wonder how it is for them, though?"

"I briefly thought about it, then gave up trying to figure it out," the father said. "What they do when they're alone together isn't a thought I really want to dwell on. It would be like if one or both of them asked about what happens in our bedroom."

"I guess. I can't help but think about it sometimes. I mean, the mechanics are, well, I can imagine that part, but which of them..."

"Ann, you don't really want to go down that path, do you?"

"You're right," she sighed again. "But a mother want's what's best for her son, even if that's another boy. I just don't know how to help them..."

"Ah, I'm sure they do fine in that regard," Dennis interrupted.

"Oh, I'm sure! But they didn't even date, or hang out or any of that. Just one day Kenny and Robby are suddenly best friends and secret lovers and changelings and warriors and... and... and God knows what else. And all of it is now out of our hands."

Again a comfortable yet ominous silence hung between the two of them as they watched the boys talking on the front lawn. Kenny had rolled over onto his stomach and was searching for something in the thickening grass while Robby was still on his back, tossing the basketball up over his own face and chest, catching it as it fell back again. They seemed so deeply involved in their own conversation, punctuated here and there with peals of laughter.

"They have no idea what's coming, do they?" Ann asked, one hand brushing up over the slight swell of her lower belly. Dennis' own free hand moved up to mirror her hand placement, tenderly cupping his wife's body there.

"In all fairness, neither do we."

"Should we tell them?

"No need to worry them now. Sooner or later we wont be able to hide it. Let them have this time to grow stronger. When the time comes, and Robby's brother and sister are born, he'll need the strength and skills he builds now. We will have our hands full."

"I remember," she smiled, suppressing a giggle. "If he was such a mess, imagine how much the twins will run us ragged."

"Let us just enjoy this moment," Dennis suggested. "They have that tournament tomorrow at Exeter. Mitch seems to think they'll do well."

"Against those blue bloods up at Phillips Academy, no less. I hope they do well. I've never seen him so alive as when he's doing all that fencing stuff. Have you watched the two of them at Jedi class?" Ann asked.

"Oh, I've used far sensing a couple of times on them. They are amazing together. And from what I understand, getting even better."

"I took a lunch break from the library and watched them at the end of a class. They go off, just the two of them. It's like watching a movie. And it's all spontaneous!"

"I've also noticed his shoulder. In the Umbra, he's bleeding quintessence through that partly healed wound." Their conjoined hands tensed together in unspoken worry. "It is not anything I've ever seen before. The Tear seems to be sustaining him with raw magical energy, despite that the wound is constantly sapping his strength."

"What can we do? If we bring him to a modern doctor and tell him our son is not really human, that he's not physically dying, but he has a magical wound that is draining his life force slowly..." she turned in his arms and buried her head on his chest. "I've tried to heal him three times, Dennis. My magic isn't working on him anymore."

"I know, Beloved. All my research efforts come up blank as well. This may be something that only changeling powers can deal with."

"Yet another thing to ask Mitch about. Do you think that they know about it?"

"I am unsure. I don't even think Robby realizes how dangerous that situation is. For the moment, he isn't showing signs of distress, and the quintessence bleeding isn't worrisome yet. Still..."


"It is something we need to address, and soon. Kenny seems to manage him well enough."

"I noticed that."

"Yes, well, get your game face on, my dear. The boys seem to have hit empty on the teenage fuel tanks. Looks like they're coming inside."

"I'll do some kitchen magic and find them something to devour. It'll give me a chance to clean my face up." Dennis looked down, saw the silent tears on his wife's face and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead.

"I'll give you a couple of minutes," he said, releasing her. As she moved to step away, he brought her around into his arms once again, wiggling his eyes. "And then I'll give you a couple of hours later," he whispered, giving her a kiss on the lips, tenderly, but with a touch of hunger. She moved away, slapping his right butt cheek as she went. The front door opened of its own accord and Dennis turned, bent halfway over and charged out, sweeping both boys under his arms as he went out.

Three houses away, looking down from the roof of a violently pink Victorian home, a young boy watched as Dennis wrestled with the changeling boys. He watched and took note of many things. How the blonde boy favored his left arm. How the two boys coordinated in the roughhousing at almost a militarily precise level. How the mage used subtle aspects of his own native powers to keep up with the energy level of the two youngsters.

Filing away that information, the watcher took three steps away from the scene and leapt sideways onto the spreading branch of a nearby four hundred year old elm tree and vanished.

Many miles away, something bubbled and churned deep in the center of the lake. The overlooking castle, high on the hill, seemed to shimmer and shake in the reflection of the lake. The surface broke and steam hissed forth. A figure rode up through this eruption of the lake surface, mist and fog issuing forth all around. The figure was soon followed by several others, hulking figures, some on four legs, some on two, trailing behind their leader, a tall, rail thin Red Cap with broad shoulders. The parade made it's way up to the surface of the lake, striding on the waves like snow covered ground, sinking only slightly through the surface as if stones lay just below view to form a path.

The leader drew a weapon from his side. A long, hideous blade, formed it seemed of a dark metal twisted with bright. The look of the blade was of two snakes, each distinctly of separate metal, yet intertwined and then beaten into cruel edges. The Red Cap slashed the blade forwards, its tip ripping into the water before him. The waves created lifted as water does when struck, but then seemed to freeze into place. Icy particles from the spray splashed back into the lake, in places causing more freezing to occur.

"Take back the castle and all the caverns beneath," the Red Cap lord commanded as his army reached shore. "Leave none enchanted alive in our wake. From here, we shall unleash hell."

With a roar only audible in the Dreaming itself, Korbesh's forces invaded the former dragon's lair and established it as their own. That night, Korbesh and his shadow court feasted, and many in the countryside felt the beginnings of nightmares new.

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