Riposte. Chapter A

by D'Artagnon

A New Place

I used to be a morning person. I don't admit that to people because it's not cool. But when I still lived with my parents, I used to get up before my alarm clock could rouse me, before it even had a chance. And yet, here I am sleeping in until practically past noon. Blame it on the moon and all the strange turns of events that led me here, hundreds of miles from where I was born and raised. Well, at least raised until this point.

Life for the past few weeks has been a total reversal for me. Everything I thought was real or important or even thought I understood in my life is suddenly totally at odds with everything I have discovered since I died. I read somewhere that death is a very life changing experience. Boy, whoever wrote that certainly knew what the deal is.

The sun was about directly overhead when I stepped out from under the abandoned shower-house. It probably used to be a really cool place back when the state government actually took care of it. That was like 25 years ago, almost twice my lifetime. Atlantic storms, poor planning and just simple neglect have made the structure unsafe for the general public these days. This section of the public beach is all fenced off, marked with formerly brightly painted warning signs that have faded so much you can barely read "Danger, Do Not Enter, No Trespassing," et cetera, although the sand scored and faded signs are kinda cool to look at around dusk, making the place look a little spooky, a little sinister.

All of this makes the old shower-house a perfect place for a few scrawny coyotes to set up a den. At least that's what those few that actually have seen Nicky and me think they see. About twelve or fifteen of us werewolves, hard to keep count since the population is always kinda fluid, but a bunch of us have set up private dens in and around the bath-house. The others seem to gather closer together in clumps, mostly with their pack mates. Each to his own den, of course. For the most part, they let Nick and me be. We get to enjoy the benefits of being the youngest Garou at the caern. We do our tasks for the sept and basically we have a lot of free time. That and you are only truly alone around here when you want to be, and sometimes not even then.

This noon-time was no different. Nicky was out in front of our dugout, panting in the shade of a concrete picnic table. I padded up beside my boifriend and sniffed his nose and ears.

"Morning, Cody," he yipped as I settled next to him. Even in wolf form he had a deep Louisiana Cajun accent. He licked across my muzzle, getting a quick lick from me as well.

"Morning, Nicky. Why didn't you wake me?"

"Thought you needed the sleep. Ya'll were so tired last night." That was putting it mildly. The night before I had my "trial by combat," which isn't all as violent as it sounds. I'm not an ahroun, after all. I am a theurge and as such the formal acknowledgement of my status among the other werewolves, my trial, involved doing what theurges are good at, binding spirits. My task was to bind a spirit of the air into three arrows, making them into powerful weapons. That may not sound like such a massive feat, but considering it was the first time that I had to do it totally on my own made it very tough. Not everyone can bind spirits. It takes talent and a little savvy. It's a gift. Let's see any of you do it.

I can't explain the subtle details, and to be honest, it wouldn't really make much sense to you. Just know that it was tiring and required me to convince the air-headed elemental so as I asked, separate it's essence and give over it's power, for a little while, to my bidding. The sept elders, including my mentor, Joey, were all really impressed. I think Unicorn was impressed too.

"I did sleep well," I said, tail wagging. And I had, too. Sleeping next to Nick always helped me feel rested and whole.

"Ah know," he yipped back. "You snored so loudly you scared them sea gulls off all morning. And you hogged the blanket all night." His tone was biting but the tilt of his head and the subtle cast of his eyes hinted that he was joking, that sarcastic wit of his was just poking its nose out. So I pushed a paw on his nose, playfully.

"Joey-rhya was very happy. He said tonight he's taking us out for dinner."

"A hunt?"

"More likely to one of them lobster places along the coast highway, ah hope," Nick replied, licking his chops.

"I thought you didn't like lobster. I seem to recall someone barking and yipping like a stuck pig, calling lobster a poor substitute for crawdads and gumbo."

Nick snorted, lifting his muzzle slightly and grumbled something about "acquired taste," softly.

"Mornin', cubs," came and overly loud human voice from behind us. One of our tribal elders walked up, planting a surfboard firmly into the packed sand. He promptly sat cross-legged nearby, both me and Nick wagging our tails in greeting. Grinning widely, he gave us both a vigorous scratch behind the ears.

How can I describe Rolf to people who might never meet him socially? He's about 5'9"-ish, deeply tanned, sun-washed brown hair and dark eyes full of sun sparkles. His face is rugged, his cheeks high with squinty eyes from being in the sun and sea all the time. His hair is a wavy mass that looks salt-coarsened but is still bouncy, kind of floats around his head like an oak stained halo. He always has this hemp necklace on, a massive shark's tooth hanging from it with three dark metallic beads woven into the braid on each side. He usually goes around bare-chested, showing off his thin, wiry chest and his abs flat enough to iron shirts on, and those horrible shower shoes that Nicky insists on calling "flip-flops," which is exactly the sound they make. Rolf probably hasn't changed the maroon board shorts he was wearing then for at least four days, unless he just happens to have several pairs of them, which knowing him, very well might be the case.

In short, one of our tribal elders was a confirmed, lifelong beach bum. He is also an ahroun/warrior type of some serious fame among our kind. I personally didn't see it. He just doesn't fit the super-warrior patter of a lot of the other ahroun werewolves I've met. But as I was coming to understand, it's often the unexpected that defined the norm.

"Morning, Rolf-rhya," Nicky said, smiling. Yeah, I know, it's not usually possible for a wolf to smile, but if you know what to look for, you can see it. "Your shoe laces're untied."

"Hehehe, funny, Lil Dude. You boys gonna come down and play in the ocean today? Get outta this heat?"

"Maybe," I said, raising my hips and stretching out a bit as a yawn hit me. I triggered the change and switched back directly to homid form. I dropped back on my belly beside Nicky, who promptly decided that my back was a comfortable place for his muzzle to rest. I had taken my shirt off the night before, so his fuzzy face was a wiry tickle on my spine.

"Water's too cold here," Nick chuffed.

"Nah," the middle aged surfer said. "Now in January… THEN the water is too cold." He reached into his pocket and pulled out two zip-lock bags, dropping them beside me. "Well, if you ain't getting wet, then you can get to work on those. Smoky says that since you are now in the tribe properly, you should dress the part."

"What's in here?" I asked, picking up the bags to examine. My boifriend's curiosity was piqued as well, and he leaned over my flank to poke his nose at the bags.

"Just some hemp cord and some beads. Some are bone, some metal, some plastic, wood, shell, glass, stuff like that. You can use any of it or the natural stuff just lyin' around. Sea Smoke wants you two city brats up to dress code by the next moot." The surfer grinned. "You know how galliards are about handi-crafts and individual creative impulse and all that…shit." He grinned wider. "You can even bind spirits into the things you make if you want," Rolf said, giving me a meaningful glance.

"So she wants us to make lanyards or necklaces and stuff, like little kids at day camp?"

"No, Captain Obvious," Rolf said, giving Nick a gentle flick to the ear. Nick dodged it easily, but he got the point. A little less attitude was called for, and a little more thinking. "She wants you two to properly adorn yourselves for tribal and sept business, like two respectful and attentive cliath should. Besides, it's bad form to look like mangy flea bags all the time."

"Can we dedicate whatever we make?" I asked.

"As long as you know the Rite of Talisman Dedication, sure."

"Coools!" Nick said.

"Gaia's salty tears, kiddo! I'd be disappointed if you didn't dedicate them. Tell me if you need more materials, or ask Smoky or Joey. I'll show you some knots later, too."

"Thanks, Rolf," I said, Nicky barking a quick thanks as well, although his voice had a particularly nasty, sarcastic undertone. I started looking through the myriad bits in the bags. Not a great deal of selection in there, but enough to keep my imagination going. Nick shifted to human as well, his body shifting from four legs to two.

Rolf stood up, recovering his surf board from the sand. "Well, short dudes, sweet sister ocean is calling my name. Later, gaters!" He winked and headed down to the shore, striding out deep before crawling up onto his board to catch some waves.

"Great!" Nick exclaimed, watching as Rolf plunged into the icy seas off the rocky coast of Massachusetts. "Our adopted tribal elders are authentic wackos and into," he shuddered leaning on my back, "arts and crafts. Ewww! Ah smell a merit badge in the offing."

"You sound disappointed."

"Nah! Just painfully bored," he replied. I gave him my best Mr. Spock eyebrow arch, which, I'm sad to say, fails to impress. I just can't seem to make the arch go high enough, so I fake it with other facial contortions in support mode.

"Bored? Laying on me like you own me, you're bored?"

"Ah do own you, baby," he said, fluttering his eyebrows.

"Oh, really, now?"

"Yeah. But ya'll own me too, so it all works out."

"Is that so?"

"Yup!" He sighed loudly. "Ah just thought there'd be more adventure, ya know?" He pulled a strand of sea grass out of the sand, flicking his finger back and forth over the blade a few times, watching Rolf paddle out into the ocean, deeper. "Ah mean, after everything that happened during our rite of passage, the fire, fighting that pack of Spirals, freeing that caern of the curse, ah dunno," he said, flicking the piece of grass away, watching as it danced in the sea breezes for a moment and then was stilled against a slight rise. "Guess ah just expected more stuff like that."

"Nick, we nearly died," I pointed out. "Twice! Is that what you miss? The danger?"

"Idunno. Just feel like we're not doin' anything, and we should. Like, what is our purpose now?"

"To learn our jobs. Join a pack. Fight evil, protect the world. That sorta stuff, right? I mean, that's what werewolves do, fight against the bad things in the world. Cleanse evil spirits, all that."

"But Cody, we're the only young Garou here. Even Joey's like 30 and the rest are all much older than him. Rolf's pushing 40 and Gaea alone knows how old Smoky is. Joey's supposed to be our mentor, but he's the sept leader, so he can't go with us on adventures and stuff. Face it Glub-Glub," he said, using his own variation on my Garou name, Speaks with Water. "We're stuck."

I rolled onto my back, the side of his ribs draped over my middle as he reclined on his elbows over me. His eyes had a restless resignation to them. Clearly, something was disturbing my boy. His birthday was coming soon, as was mine, just 32 days after his. We'd be turning fourteen before summer was over. Which meant we'd have to re-enter human society, at least partially, and we wouldn't be fully together 24/7 like now. Even with our tribal and sept duties we were pretty much inseparable, and with no age mates around the sept, we had no friends, no pack. Just a bunch of old people that were happy to be aunts and uncles. We had no pack. For the last month, we had been each other's whole social universe. For werewolves, not having a pack was a bad thing.

And during that whole month, we'd never gone past third base.

We both knew we weren't ready for the big one yet. Sex was still sort of the great unknown. I know we both wanted it. We definitely thought about it, you know, going all the way. But so far all we'd done was touch and kiss and use our mouths on each other's skin and fur. It's not the same as being inside each other, I'm sure. But like I said, we weren't ready yet. And we didn't do stuff all the time, either. Maybe three times a week at most. But we did think and talk about it a lot. We were together. So much else doesn't matter when you aren't alone in the world.

I guess part of it was we didn't know any gay people. In werewolf society everything is taught only three ways: either you get direct, on the job training with an elder to guide you, or something bad happens and you have to learn the hard way, or the spirits teach you. Joey knew about how Nicky and I felt about each other, but that didn't mean he knew how to advise us. Heck, he wasn't even sure how we'd enroll in the local school system come the fall. The sept didn't really have what you might call a mailing address.

Besides, there is this rule in werewolf society that Garou should not lay with Garou. For the most part these days there are bigger rules to keep in mind, and the old folks that make up the sept at Black Rocks caern are a little more liberal. Thank God.

So, with all of this, we had serious things on our plate, aside from just dealing with the whole learning an entire new way of life thing. And no help from our elders seemed forthcoming. We were in unknown territory without a map. I guess this was a matter of figuring out a path for ourselves.

Last night had been a life-changing event all by itself, in a summer full of life changing events for me. Nicky had his cliath trial as well, a riddle/insult contest with the sept's ranking ragabash. I never laughed so hard in my life, and Nicky had been hard pressed to keep up. After that, I had my trial, binding the air spirit. It took me a long time. Air spirits are infamous for being, well, air heads. I nearly botched it, but the sept's rite master leaned in to me when I had done it and whispered, "It happened like that on my first time, too," and she smacked me hard on the shoulder, kind of a werewolf nod of approval.

But most impressive last night was when we were presented to our tribal totem spirit, Unicorn. When he stepped out of the ocean, totally glowing under the moonlight, I felt my jaw just hit the ground. He was so awesomely majestic, and powerful. Even more so than the water elemental I had met. We were presented to Unicorn directly, asked if he would accept us as his children. He tapped us on the chest with his horn and let us lay hand on him. That soft feel of his long mane trailing in my hands was like touching raw spirit energy, pulsing with life.

"These are my favored cubs," Unicorn said. "And favored of my brother, Phoenix. Raise them up with patience for they have difficulties ahead you cannot plan for. In their pack will the old ways merge with the new."

I am told that totem spirits rarely praise their newest cubs or even proclaim things about the future like that. So it was even more unusual for Unicorn to command Nicky and me to climb on his back and go for a ride. It was a fantastic experience, riding on the waves, diving in and out of the Umbra as if there were no barrier between the worlds of spirit and flesh. He spoke to both of us and gave us one warning.

"The old ways of you people, the Garou, are blessed and cursed, young ones. It will be for your generation to remove the poisons from these times and restore honor and wisdom to your Nation. The end times are near; for the Garou to survive in the new world to come, new paths must join old truths."

And being told we were favored by Phoenix was no minor thing either. Only great heroes were called by Phoenix. Only those called to the most dangerous, important and perilous tasks gained the right to form Phoenix's silver pack. So far, Nicky and I were each other's pack. Sooner or later, there would have to be others, even though we didn't know anyone.

"Thought I might find you here," a familiar voice said. A snout parted the Umbra, striding up in front of us as Joey, our mentor, stepped sideways onto the beach. It was like a pebble dropped into a pond, the ripples of Joey coming into the physical world, only the pond was sideways to gravity and the ripples happened in clear air.

"Hey Joey," Nick waved, leaning more of his weight on my stomach.

"Comfy?" he chuffed in wolf tongue.

"One of us is," I replied, which earned me a curious and slightly annoyed glance.

"Well, grab your sneaks and your shirts, cubs. We have a job."

"Chasing wyrm spirits?" I asked, hopeful.

"Pranking campers?" Nick offered, a look of devious delight coming to his eye.

"Oh, I know! Scaring sharks out of the swimming area?" I said, hoping to go do some Umbral stuff. Joey shifted to human as Nick and I went through a short list of possible boredom alleviating tasks.

"Ummm. Good ideas all, but this is more important, by far."

"Great!" Nick and I said as one, scrambling out from under the picnic table. "What is it?" Nicky blurted out.

"Grocery shopping!" Joey smiled brightly. I felt my smile fade to a blank, half open line. You see, Joey didn't own a car. In typical Silent Strider fashion, if he had someplace to be, he was going by foot. Which we had discovered meant that if he was walking and needed to carry things, as low wolves on the totem pole, we were the designated pack mules.

"Groceries? I thought we were eating out tonight?"

"We still have to eat in the meantime, Shadow," Joey replied, using part of Nicky's Garou name, Shadow Foot. "And Sea Smoke wants some fresh fruit." Nick and I simultaneously groaned. Fresh fruit meant we were going as far as the fruit stand in Seabrook, New Hampshire, about a twelve mile round trip over the state line, lugging about twenty pounds of groceries back each. I suddenly wished there was at least a little red wagon to carry the stuff in. I had a sudden image of Nicky and me tied to a harness line like sled dogs from Balto or Eight Below.

"You trying to build up our endurance, Joey-rhya?" Nick asked, resignedly, leaning back on the picnic table.

"In a word, yes," the older werewolf said. "And to answer your question, Cody, yes, we are eating out tonight. But not in a restaurant."

"Ah, going hunting!" Nick grinned, ferociously.

"Not quite. Going visiting. Dan and Keith got back into port earlier today. They invited us over for dinner."

"Oooh, an actual cooked meal, made by someone who can actually cook!" Nick exclaimed. Dan was a fishing boat captain from across the river in Newburyport, and one of Joey's best friends. Joey told us that Dan and Keith are both supernatural people like us, but not werewolves. We'd been over a few times before, dinner and movies kinda stuff. Keith is an awesome cook. And he tells some awesome stories. Mostly when we were at Dan's boat, the Tragic Nymph, for dinner, Nicky and I usually wound up running around in the near Umbra, exploring the wharf area and the various fishing boats. Mostly it was like a massive game of tag. Dan was always cool to us, kinda playful-rough, in a friendly, older uncle sort of way, or at least as close to how I imagine an older uncle would treat me. Keith is also notorious for his dirty jokes. He's got a gazillion of 'em. He's been everywhere. Real travel hound. You'd think he's a Strider like Joey, except he's not Garou.

At that point, no one had really told us what Dan and Keith were, so it was all still sort of a mystery, but one I knew could wait. If they wanted us to know, they'd tell us. We're just the junior leaguers here, anyways.

So hearing that we'd be having supper on the Tragic Nymph wasn't shocking news, but welcome nonetheless. After all, Keith cooks like a dream and Dan's cool and gives us wine to sip with dinner. Even if he calls us runts, Dan's a pretty okay guy. Good food and a break in the tedium, there are worse ways to spend an evening.

"I want you two on your best behavior tonight," Joey said, following us to our cubby holes in the shower house. It keeps our spare clothes dryer there than in the den, which can get rained in sometimes. Also, it was more convenient to wash clothes at the same place that we washed our bodies. Don't have to take them so far then. Never underestimate the power of positive plumbing.

"Why?" Nick asked. "Did we embarrass you old guys last time or something?"

"No, but we aren't going to be the only guests. There might be some important visitors at the boat tonight. Friends of mine. Practically pack mates."

"The ones from your dragon story?" I asked. Elders often told stories of their adventures to illustrate points of Garou law, the nature of our enemies or just life lessons in general. Joey was no different. But even his story about a fight with an ancient evil dream spirit dragon was hard to swallow. Funny, despite everything I'd seen, learned and done, I was still second guessing the elders and not totally believing them.

Then again, after everything we'd gone through, I wasn't about to totally discount anything.

"Yes," Joey answered. "Mitch called me when he and the boys got back from their fencing tournament last night. We're all getting together for a meal to swap stories and catch up. I'd like you boys to meet them."

"Fencing? Like puttin' up gates and stuff?" Nick asked.

"I think he means like sword fighting, right?"

"Yes, it's like sword fighting. Mitch teaches it and his son and his son's friend are his students. They are trying to earn spots on the Olympic team."

"So they must be good at it," Nick said gravely. "You still haven't taught us how to fight yet," he pointed out. I was pulling one of recently acquired and not yet beat up Baltimore Orioles t-shirts on. I still wasn't ready to give up my home town teams, even though I was technically living in red Sox territory. Nick grabbed one of our light gray pocket tees and dragged his head through the hole.

"Your combat trainer tells me you are not ready yet. He says that just because one of you speaks to water is no indicator that either of you is ready to walk on water, no matter what Unicorn may say."

"Aw, but Joey," Nick whined, "how can we learn to be heroes if we don't learn how to fight in great battles?"

"Great battles alone don't qualify someone as a hero, Shadow Foot," Joey said, sadly. "Being heroic is a lot different than being a hero. Heroes happen by accident. Proper Garou should learn the difference between heroes and fools." Joey sighed as if remembering something or someone from long ago, staring off into space.

He snapped back to reality, realizing that Nicky and I were staring at him. "get your stuff together and meet me out front, he said with a subdued tremor in his voice. We watched him walk away and transform to human shape. Both of us were a little worried at what was going on in Joey-rhya's head Normally, he was so upbeat, almost bouncy. To see him suddenly pensive made me worry for the cause. A glance to Nick told me he was thinking much the same.

But we knew it would be a bad time to press Joey for details about what was troubling him. We laced up, grabbed hats and sunglasses and joined Our mentor above the high tide line and headed out, walking along the beach until we got to the area right in front of the boardwalks of Salisbury Beach Center. From there we got trucking northwards on Route 1A, heading into Seabrook. Along the way in to Seabrook, we asked Joey about his adventures with the three fencers and the dragon. Sure we'd heard parts of the story before, but this time we were asking questions. After all, if we were going to meet these people and be on our best behavior, knowing a little of what we would be dealing with just made good sense.

The heat of the day got to be pretty intense. It was a partly overcast day, but the sun beat down just the same. Breezes from the highway traffic and being so close to the ocean weren't enough to keep us from sweating. Well, I say us, but Joey didn't seem fazed at all by the heat and humidity. Nicky's shirt had spots on the chest and back, and I could feel that my own shirt was just sodden, as my Mom would say. We picked up quite a bit of stuff at the fruit stand, and stopped along the way for a few towels and sunglasses from a roadside vendor, picked up a few bits of pipe and such from the hardware store and were back on the way.

The heat wasn't the only thing on my mind, however. Nicky had changed lately. I mean, he was just the same as he always was, as I'd always known him, but now… It's not an easy thing to do, pick out parts of my boyfriend's personality. In all honesty, I hadn't known him all that long. We had clicked in the midst of some pretty intense situations. We'd bonded a lot in the time since our rite of passage, when I had to purge an ancient curse and he had to orchestrate something really sneaky to trick some seriously bad dudes into doing themselves in. I mean, we were talking about being each other's first. And only. A lot of trust comes from that. A lot of love, too, but a lot of respect.

Lately, though, I'd begun seeing different sides to him. Like he was showing off more and more. Not that I minded. And I guess I can understand that some. Being in a household full of overachieving females and being the only male probably had him on the receiving end of a lot more torment than he'd probably care to admit. Not that I have anything against females. I just get the feeling that he was being held back in that family and now, without any restrictions, he was going a bit crazy with his freedom. Part of me was wondering if that was a good thing or not.

On the way back, Nick and I played a sort of werewolf version of I Spy, only in this case we were forcing each other to remember specific details along the way instead of just calling out colors and shapes and such to see if someone else sees. It turns out that our version of the game is an old trick to build memory. Stuff like identifying certain rust patterns on the back of a road sign, the number of cars in a parking lot, the dots on a strawberry on a billboard ice cream ad, which light was out on the sign over the drive-up restaurant at the state line, how many colors of wildflowers in that one median strip near the ugly pink house. It was our way to break up the tedium of the trip. Joey didn't participate because he's a "Silent" Strider. That's okay though, because it was our game, not for the "old ones," and we liked it that way.

And while Joey didn't participate in our game, I know I saw him sneaking glances at us as we went through the whole litany of stuff every time we added one more item. Maybe that was one of the lessons that Joey was teaching us by making us walk everywhere: take the time to be aware of your surroundings. I mean, the stuff we were picking to stump each other with and add to the growing litany was the sort of things that you'd totally miss from a speeding car.

Then again, it could just be like Nicky said, and he was trying to build up our endurance. I was a yuppie, preppy city kid before my Garou brethren took me away from my previous life. Might could be he thinks I'm soft. My body had become leaner and stronger since I "died" and took to living at the sept, no doubt there. And after all, I'd seen our enemies, up close and personal. I definitely needed to toughen up if I expected to survive. Perhaps this was one way that Joey was doing that, teaching us to endure in patience, observe the truth of things around us and keep on the path until the journey is done.

Nicky still thinks it is just that the elders like ordering us around for the slave labor aspect. either way, we managed to get a mild work out and a little info out of the trip, along with some mental gymnastics, and got to take care of the sept's little errands well before we'd have to leave for our dinner invitation. We made good time, even with a full load of apples, bananas and citrus

We stopped at a hardware store on the way back. Joey grumbled something about having to keep a technology spirit happy and where were all the Glass Walkers when you needed them. Glass Walkers are a technology friendly werewolf tribe. They know their tech stuff. Joey was going to have to make do with what he knew and could get help from inside. I think he had to repair a faucet at the caern. I wouldn't have been much use to him. My Dad was about as gifted with plumbing as he was at soccer, which is to say he wasn't. I didn't learn that much from him on hardware stores and the wonders contained inside.

"Whutchu thinkin', Glub-Glub?" he asked as we waited outside of the hardware store. Joey knew what he needed and Nicky and I just leaned against the building in the shade of the Coke machine, sipping at a shared 20 ounce of cold water.

"I think?" I asked, sarcastically, a talent I'd picked up from Nicky. Which was weird that I answered that way, because I thought I was worried about him doing much the same too much. So why did I think I could do it if it was odd for him to?

"Leave off the jokes, ah saw the look on your face."

"Just worried about you."


"Yeah, Shadow. Lately it's like you're all a lot more sneaky and sarcastic and," I paused, sensing him slowly turning his head to look at me. "I guess I'm not sure what I'm worried about. I know you're the same you. It's just a little weird seeing you do more of the ragabash thing all the time."

"Cody, ah," he started, then stopped, as if thinking over something. He pressed the bottle into my hands, looking back at me, and for once, his smile wasn't the sure, easy thing it normally was. There was something hidden this time, but ironic, too. "Ah don't really know why ah'm changing. Ah see it though. And ah know it scares you. It kind of scares me, too, sometimes. But its necessary. Ah cain't explain it better'n that. Maybe that's what growin' up is. Changin' but stayin' you, ya know?"

"Maybe. Just don't forget who you are, Nick. I fell in love with you because you are you. I don't want to wake up next to a stranger who's more standup comic and spy then my awesome guy."

"Awe, you're makin' rhymes," he teased, bumping me on the arm with his shoulder.

We got home with plenty of time to get the groceries stored. Nick and I had a quick shower and changed into some not so sweaty clothes. We had to be presentable for later on tonight, and we decided to make a quick trip out to the candy shop at Center to get something to bring. Dan had a sweet tooth, and Nick and I had discovered maple flavored fudge. The candy shop made it's fudge, and ice cream, on a big marble slab, right in front of you, matching flavors to whatever you could possibly ask for. I know this because Nicky once dared me to get them to make the weirdest, grossest flavor I could think of. Pineapple – peppermint-mocha actually tastes better than it sounds.

We still had hours before we'd be expected at the docks. Most of our sept duties were done for the day, and in truth we weren't asked to do all that much. The caern was mostly Umbral and out past the shoreline anyways. And since our tribe, the Children of Gaia, basically ran the sept here, there was a tolerance for the humans that visit the beach. We're all about harmony and improving life for all Gaia's creatures. Even the smelly humans that seem hell bent on destroying this paradise we call Earth.

So, bored, and more than a little anxious to avoid further conscription, Nicky and I walked from the state reservation part of the shore up the coast to Salisbury Beach Center. The place was buzzing with vacationers. There's a small carnival style amusement park and three different arcades, a temporary and permanent tattoo place, a few bars, some weird lady who claims to read palms, and the glorious candy shop. From time to time there were musicians and karaoke contests in the long median park in the center of the cul de sac. It was just a great place to hang out and watch people. Since realizing I'm a werewolf, I've found humanity just simply… fascinating.

We stopped by the batting cages, after acquiring some maple fudge with walnuts, just watching. Nick had taught me how to hit, which made me appreciate baseball all the more. All the cages were full, though, so we just watched. Nick critiqued swings, fashion sense, facial expressions, and just about anything he could to me in snide little remarks whispered out the side of his mouth. I have to admit that it kept me giggling a lot.

Since our change, our rite of passage, Nicky had become more vocal, letting more of his barbed wit and cutting insights out. He has a sarcastic sense of humor, and this ability to make almost anything into a joke. He can be cold with that ability sometimes, but he usually keeps it friendly.

That is until we were heading towards one of the arcades to get out of the heat and play some foosball. Near the soda stand is a spot between video games, right near the entrance. It creates a shadowy area just big enough for a couple of kids to stand in. There were enough people moving by that the few kids standing there were basically ignored unless you're equipped with werewolf senses. The noise of the arcade and the crowd just drowns it out for the rest of you, but for us it cut through clear.

Nick stopped and pointed out the group. "What's wrong with this picture?" he said, focusing on the area. I looked over and saw a group of guys, a bit bigger and taller than Nick and me, crowded tight into the spot. Must have been four or five of them, all surrounding a kid about our age. And they weren't acting friendly.

Nick decided to move towards the scene, me trailing him slightly. I distinctly heard someone in that group grunt. It was a familiar sound to me. The sound of someone getting punched in the gut, hard. Got to admit, that made me angry.

Nick got close enough that when the biggest and fattest of the older kids raised up his fist to hit again he could tap any of the older boys on the shoulder. Which of course he did, to the big boy's lifted arm, poking hard.

"Shove off!" the bulky leader said without looking back. But Nick was having none of it, and tapped again. Harder. "I said fuck off!" the kid shouted again, louder this time. "Or you're next, shrimp," he followed, finally giving Nick a cold glance.

"Didn't ya'lls mommas teach you to pick on someone your own size?"

"This isn't your business, southern trash boy," the big kid replied. "Take a walk before I pound you too!"

"Guess when ya get to be your size, Tubby, it's hard to find an equal." Nick was goading this bully on purpose. My mind shifted into focus, my body said prepare to fight. "Why don't ya take a swing at me instead, tough guy?"

I risked a look at the kid trapped in the corner. He was mostly in shadow with most of his face hidden. But when I saw the way the tears had streaked his face and the red mess that was the kid's nose, well that was all it took. Outnumbered or not, Nick and I were going to help this kid.

The big guy swung on my boyfriend, and he hit. Hit hard.

Nick took it, hard. His whole head snapped around with the force of the bigger kid's meaty fist. The sound of the hit was mostly blunted by the roar of games all around us, but I heard it, a solid thwack to Nick's cheek.

Nick slowly turned back to the kid, smiling. "That the best ya'll got, chuckles? Shit, ya'll hit like a girl!" One of the big kids gave my shoulder a shove, practically bouncing me off his buddy's chest as he moved up behind me. The kid in the corner looked about ready to bolt if given a chance. I heard more than saw the next punch hit Nick, a whooshing sound of air rushing from his lungs.

My gaze tracked back to where my boyfriend uncurled, a weird stuttering cackled coming from him. "Ah take it back. Ya'll hit like a little bitch!" Nick said, grinning up at the bully. The fat kid's face turned red.

"You gonna take that, Charlie? Fuck this punk up!" the guy behind me said. My own anger was a cold, heavy thing, controlled, but just barely. We were committed now. Not that I minded. Nick and I have the same low opinion of bullies. And after all, what is the use of being a werewolf if you can't use your powers for positive change?

Apparently Charlie, the one pounding on my boi, wasn't used to using language without fist gestures. He began with a quick three shot punch combo, face, gut-gut, the last one more of a rabbit punch to Nick's kidney. Nicky grunted with each hit, getting madder and madder. And he wasn't the only one. I felt the Rage in me too.

I was grabbed from behind, just above the elbows, almost in a hammer lock or reverse nelson or some weird wrestling hold type thing. The kid in front of me was cracking his knuckles, showing his teeth in a big, arrogant grin. Big mistake to challenge someone who has wolf blood in him by showing those puny human teeth.

Nick had had enough. He looked up, grinned with bloody teeth and waited. He didn't have to wait long. Charlie, his face livid, swung again, a hard haymaker aimed to tattoo Nick's already bruised left eye.

But Nick's left hand shot up, capturing Charlie's fist in a claw-like grip. "My turn," Nick said, spitting blood in Charlie's face. That was my cue. The guy in front of me, knuckle boy, never saw how fast my foot smashed up between his legs, nor how I ducked forward and tucked my head and legs, effectively makgin myself a dead weight in the arms of the kid holding me. The guy behind me suddenly found himself smashing his face into the face of ole knuckles, stunning them both.

Nick slammed his forehead up into Charlie's nose, smashing it almost instantly. Charlie sat down and stayed down. The last of the bullies turned to face Nick and swung a tight punch for Nick's chin. Still grinning like a vampire, my Nicky ducked the punch and stepped forward, right into the other kid's close range, bring his face level with the bully's. Nick was just moving far too fast for the big bruiser. "Boo!" he barked out and then snapped an uppercut into the kid's open, gasping jaw.

I looked around, all the bullies lying on the floor, moaning and holding various parts in apparent pain, bloodied and bruised, but essentially unharmed. Mostly Nick and I had wounded their pride. And Nick wasn't finished, letting go with a stream of cussing like I've rarely heard outside of a Bruce Willis movie. I went to check on the kid in the corner, stepping over groaning masses.

"Hey, buddy, you okay?" He nodded, his hand covering his bloody nose. "C'mon, lets get outta here and get you cleaned up," I said, offering him a hand up. We left, the small crowd that witnessed the fight laughing and giggling at the pile of bullies in the corner. Nick had done his job well, ridiculing Charlie and company. It was a great distraction as we made our escape.

Once out in the sunlight we banked for the beach, collapsing under the rotting remains of an old pier. Nick switched to the more cave-man-ish form, Glabro, in order to heal up. Didn't take him long to recover and in the bright light and deep shadow pattern from the pier overhead he could stay pretty much out of sight until he was fully back to normal. I distracted the kid we'd rescued by subtly using Mother's Touch to fix his broken nose. Aside from the blood on his shirt, you'd never know he had even been hit after I got finished with him. The elders are impressed with my ability to heal others. They say it's a special gift, and so far, it's come in handy.

"I'm Cody," I said, releasing the kid's now restored nose. "Mr. Foul Mouth over there is Nick," I smiled as Nicky stepped out of the darker part of the shadows, his face fully healed up as well and back in his human skin.

"Hey," Nicky smiled, the blood gone from his teeth.

"I'm… JJ," our new friend answered, a little awed. "Thanks for helping out back there. I thought I was a goner. You guys're awesome."

"We don't like bullies," Nick said, sitting cross-legged. "What was that all about, anyways?"

"They wanted… more money," JJ answered. My mind started picking out details in his voice. He spoke with a western accent, but not a south-western one. Definitely not Nick's Cajun accent or my mid-Atlantic flavor, and certainly not the local New England one either.

"More money?" Nick asked.

"My Dad is loaded. They usually get me every other day, empty out my pockets and rough me up a little."

"Oh that is so not right," Nick breathed out, laying a hand on JJ's shoulder. He seemed to jump as if attacked for a moment and then relaxed, realizing that Nick wouldn't hurt him.

"So, your dad doesn't mind you paying off the bullies?"

"He don't know about that. He gives me any money I ask for. He doesn't ask why."

Nick and I traded looks. Charlie and company suddenly had a lot more to answer for. And we'd just decided on our immediate job.

"How long have they been…" Nick began.

"About two weeks," JJ said, shrugging his shoulders. His blonde hair took on an eerie cast between the shadows and lines of the sunlight drifting between the boards and decaying rafters of the pier above us. "We came here on vacation. My dad has a ranch out in Montana, but he graduated from a school out here and wanted to go to the reunion."

"So you guys're rentin' one of the beach houses, huh?"

"Yeah, down the beach, by the state park," he said, pointing towards the row of tall, expensive rental houses fronting the ocean. "Never seen the ocean afore." He had a wistful look to his eyes, like he was impressed by what he saw, but was really missing the vistas of his homeland. I have to admit, as beautiful as it could be here, I still missed my old home. Even as anal retentive as my parents were, as dedicated to the yuppie puppy ideal and keeping up with the Jones', it was the only place that I ever truly called my own. The only place that really was my retreat from things. Don't get me wrong, I love living with Nick and I've accepted the Garou way or living in harmony with nature and all that, but there are just times when a guy needs his own private space to have away from the world. And, yeah, I guess the familiar skylines of Baltimore and the Maryland landscape are things I miss.

And my parents. But that's another story.

"look, JJ," I said, licking my lips against the drying salt air, "if Charlie and his gang bother you again, come tell us. Okay?"

"Yeah," Nick put in. "No one should get beat up for money."

"I mean, if you give in to the bullies, then they just ride you like they own you."

"And put you away sore and wet," JJ said, staring at the sand near his knee. Something there made a connection with me. I wasn't sure what it meant, but there was something about what JJ wasn't saying that was monumentally important. Something I knew I could find out in time but for now was confident that I could wait it out. If he wants to tell us, I thought, he will, in his own time.

"I… I should get home. It'll be supper time soon," JJ said, getting to his feet.

"Hey, JJ," I blurted, starting to stand with him, to keep our eyes at the same level. "You wanna hang out some time?"

"Uh, we're only here another week. Ten days at most. Dad has to get back to the ranch."

"So?" Nick asked. "We've got like no friends here. None our own age, least ways. Ya'll got no one here to be with. We could just hang out together, ya know? Be friends for each other." Then Nicky dropped that dopey grin on his face, his bright white teeth against his tanned face really stood out in the hash-marked shadows and light under the pier. "If ya'll want, that is."

"I'll think about it. It'd be nice not to have to worry about Charlie's gang finding me alone."

"Well, here," I said, pulling my cell phone out of my pocket and flipping it open. "What's your number? I'll text you and they we'll have each other's phone numbers and we can call and plan or whatever." We traded digits and then watched him head off down the beach. Nick and I silent until he was far enough away we were certain the ocean noises and wind would cover our voices.

"You thinkin' what ah'm thinkin'?" he asked, gauging how far down the beach JJ went before turning to walk up the boardwalk of one of the more expensive looking beach houses.

"I'm thinking we have a task," I agreed. "But we should proceed with caution. Can't reveal who we really are. We should talk to Joey and Veronica and Rolf about this."

"Guess you're right," Nick replied, raking his fingers through the cool, sliding, coarse beach sand. "Either way, ah say we keep a' eye on Charlie and his pack. Somethin' tells me we haven't seen the last bit of trouble outta them yet."

"No doubt," I agreed, again. "We should really learn how to fight instead of just letting Rage flow like that, though. I mean, sure! We were outnumbered and needed that speed of rage thing working for us…"

"But next time we need to make it look more like karate and less like kamikaze?" he finished for me.

"Well…" I said, raising the pitch of my voice. "Did you really need to do that Hollywood tough guy bullshit? I mean, it was cool and all and I think you made Charlie wet himself…"

"So that was that smell!" Nick interjected, clearly pleased with himself.

"But that kinda drama is going to call attention to us. We need to do things more… subtle. Below the radar."

"Yeah," he admitted with a smile. "But he did need a public humiliation."

"True," I grinned. "Still, Charlie is human. And a disgraced pack leader will need to regain face in the eyes of his pack. Even a human pack."

"Retaliation?" Nick said, but he said it in the Garou language, and the particular word he used meant more than just a matter of face. It mean getting even, and then some, and then some more. Not quite retaliation in the formal sense. More like retribution, like what a victor is due at the end of a war.

"He's not used to losing. Especially with such an advantage as two on five. I'll bet he's scheming revenge even now."

Nick chuckled. "Boy don't know who he's messing with!"

"Neither do we. And we need to keep him in the dark about that. And if we're going to help JJ against Charlie and his crew then we need to find out what's what."

"They're just humans," Nick replied, getting a little bit annoyed with me, I could tell.

"Yeah, well, that's true, but there's things I've learned since the spirits started talking to me: never take anything for granted or face value, ever."

"Hmmm," Nick said, thoughtfully. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Like, well," I started and looked away from him, pausing, trying to figure out the right words to say. I felt a lot of what I wanted to say, but was uncertain of how he'd take it. I didn't want to upset him, but it was kinda important.

"Like what?"

"Like how your accent has gotten a lot thicker lately. You didn't talk so… so… southern before. Maybe I didn't notice it, but you sound a lot more like you're, idunno, somehow forcing it. Just to sound different."

His look at me was at once so many things and I thought to myself, uh oh, now you've gone and pissed him off.

Then he suddenly leaned back in the sand and started laughing his fool head off, like I'd just told him the biggest joke ever.

"Is that's what's been buggin' you lately?" he squeaked out before switching to a more stodgy New England College Professor sort of voice. "My accent!" He howled with laughter, holding his sides. I personally couldn't see the joke. "Oh Sweet Luna, Glub-Glub! All this time ah thought you were havin' second thoughts about us! And you've just been worried about how ah talk. You had me worried."

"Nicky," I said, sitting down in the sand opposite him. "You've changed since we've been here. I don't know if it's this place or not having your family around you all the time…"

"Cody," he said, his voice suddenly devoid of all humor. "There are some things ah'll talk with you about, and some things ah need to talk to you about later, but there's stuff I just cain't share with you yet. And stuff about my family… that's just a big no-no right now."

"But you will talk to me about it?"

"Ah don't know. I want to, Cody. Ah do. Just being here, well… ah can't forget who ah am and where ah come from. All these Yankees here, they're all proud of their place and their ways. And ah'll live with 'em and be friendly and all. But ah can't turn into them. Ah know it sounds weird and wrong, but like… ah found myself startin' ta say 'wicked' alla time. And that just ain't the south, Cody. Maybe Baltimore is different, but where I'm from ya got to keep it real."

"Is that part of your other changes?"

"What? Bein' more southern while among the Yankees? Maybe Ah'm over doin' it, but ah think so. Ah have to, leastways. Ah'm not like all culturally flexible like you. Ah've been a Cajun and a Garou my whole life. You've changed everything, ah've just relocated. Ah guess… ah guess what it comes down to is ah see so many changes in you that ah worry about the changes in me, and like maybe how ah talk is just one way to hold on to what me ah know."

"Shadow," I said, leaning over to face him more, putting my hands on his shoulders. "We're both changing, a whole lot. Sure, I've changed everything, even my last name, just to adapt and survive as a Garou. But that doesn't mean we aren't who we are. We are all the people we've ever been, as much as we are the people we are now."

"Yeah, ah know."

"Hey, listen. I know that I'm not the same boy you met in that RV park a month ago."

"Six weeks, but who's countin'?" he joked.

"Okay, six weeks. You're not the same boy either. We've had to do some pretty nasty things just to keep breathing. And we did it together. I don't know where all our changes will take us. I don't know what kind of Garou hero I'll be, if anything like that happens at all. All I do know is that anything I do I want to do with you, either by your side or whatever." My wonderful pre-planned speech was un-writing itself as I spoke, but it sounded better this way, I think.

"Fact is, Shadow Foot, I worry that I'm changing too much for you. I worry that with you changing and me changing that we're changing apart from each other. And that scares me, because I just found you. And I don't want to lose you."

"Ah don't want to lose you either, Glub-Glub."

"So promise me, please, that if something gets too weird from me, you'll jump on my ass about it."

"Oooh, baby!" he grinned, wiggling his eyebrows.

"You know what I mean, " I said, a little too sternly. Sweet spirits, was I turning into my mother now?

"Ah, know, Cody. And ah understand. You do the same for me."

"Okay," I said, bumping my forehead on his. In the relative privacy of the under-pier shadows, I felt safe enough to express my relief to him that openly.

"So," he began, after a comfortably silence. "Was this a Nicky wake up call?"

"Yeah. A minor one. We're a team, though."

"More than that, I think."

"Yeah, much more," I agreed. "Hey, what happened to your accent?"

"Shut up!" he said, giggling. "Been thinkin', Glubber, about you and me."



"About what about us?"

"About… the next level."

"In which video game?" I joked, but I could tell he was getting serious about something. My stomach was suddenly all full of butterflies and they all wanted to whip up a hurricane in China by morning.

He drew in breath to speak but he was cut off by a short series of barks and howls, in a voice we both knew well.

"Veronica wants us back at the caern," I said, translating what he already knew. He nodded, sighing loudly. "We'd better get back. We have to go to Dan's boat tonight anyways."


"Hey, can we pick this up later. I know you want to tell me something."

"We can talk about it when we get back. Race ya to the caern?"

"Which form?" I asked, slyly.

In answer, he switched straight to wolf form and bolted, leaving me slightly off balance as I began my transformation and gave chase.

He beat me back to the caern and slipped into the Umbra just ahead of me, making it easier for me to slip in behind him. Now much of what goes on at the caern is in the Umbral side of things. We happen to share much of the physical world space with the state reservation, camp grounds, beach, all that, so whatever we do in our bawn is usually Umbral. Oh, and bawn is just the territory around the caern center, kinda like our version of a state reservation. It's the house grounds of the Garou frat dorm, you might say.

Veronica was waiting for us there, with Rolf and Joey standing behind her. She was sitting, regally, in her Hispo form. That's sort of the transition between the giant werewolf shape and the wolf shape me and Nicky were in at the time. It's a massively powerful looking wolf, with huge front quarters and head, and compact hips. Built for speed and ripping things apart with powerful grasping jaws. And, yeah, she's very intimidating in that form, which according to Garou courtesy meant that we should call her by her Garou name of Sea Smoke.

She was sitting in front of a hibachi with roasting hot dogs cooking over the coals. I saw Nicky lick his chops at the wonderful smell. You wouldn't think that were wolves would go in much for processed meat, but here they were, engaging in beach front barbeque.

"You called, Sea Smoke-rhya?" I asked. In wolf form, running isn't very tiring. Even though my heart was racing, I could still talk easily enough.

"I did, Speaks with Water. You and Shadow Foot have done well today. All of your sept chores were done early and you brought back some much needed supplies. I am suitably impressed."

"Thank you, honored elder," we replied, thumping tails in the sand.

"I have heard that you were part of a disturbance further up the beach, about an hour ago."

"Yes, Sea Smoke-rhya," I said, then related the tale of our encounter with the bullies and JJ's story about what was going on when we intervened. Which is to say that the elders, all three of them, grilled us relentlessly about it. Several other elders came to sit and hear our tale and the questions we answered. I was beginning to get that feeling that there was someone watching over my shoulder, like when Mom would check to make sure I was doing my homework, or when Dad would critique every word of a letter to my cousins in Omaha. Not exactly something you like, but you have to live with it, while you're the low wolf on the pack.

Rolf, for his part, was very impressed with how we handled things, even outright laughing when Nicky told them how he goaded Charlie into hitting him. Joey seemed distant. It was like he was watching, and a bit proud of his protégés, but that he was concerned about the path we had started down without him there. It's like he seemed to be thinking back over some other event and comparing. At least, that's the same sort of face Mom used to get when she had thoughts like that.

Damn, why can't I just forget her face? Why does that hurt so much now?

"You showed a great deal of intelligence in getting your friend out of the way of those you fought. And a lot of courage and compassion in sticking up for him. I commend you both." We Children of Gaia have a soft spot for helping the weak and oppressed. It's just a tribal thing. It's gotten us into a lot of trouble in the past, as I understand it, like when we get in the middle of two warring tribes and try to mediate the dispute while they're trying to tear each other a new asshole. It makes us tough, but with tender hearts, and the other tribes grudgingly admit that sometimes we show a lot more practical wisdom than their hot heads would ignore.

At the end of the questions, she lifted her muzzle and stared down the length of her nose at us. "I am told you received the bags from Rolf?" she asked. It's weird how she talks that way, making statements into questions. Why do adults do that?

"We have," I replied, keeping my nose down.

"And Have you cliath begun your adornments?"

"Not yet," Nick barked back, slightly annoyed. I shot him a sudden warning look, but he seemed to be locked in a stare down with Veronica. It's a lupine custom. Once two start a stare down, none else should interfere without good reason.

"You disapprove, young one?" she growled. "You feel my task is beneath you, Shadow Foot?"

"Ah just don't see the point," he muttered, casually. "wont it make my four-feet forms as easy to identify as my two-feet forms? Seems kinda foolish to mark yourself so that you can be found out." Ouch! My boyfriend had balls, and had just shown them, more or less challenging her order. I was now worried that Nicky was going to take things too far.

But she sighed, deeply, as if she were tired of dealing with whelps all the time and just wanted to go back to barbeque mode. "The Veil of the human's disbelief protects us from their casual notice. Our own actions protect or expose us, little cub. This you know well. But other's of our kind will recognize us by our outward signs and tribal ornaments. This is not busy work that I assign you. This is a test of both of your personalities and characters."

Nick snorted at that, and I felt a sudden, very lupine urge to step away from him. This was a challenge he had initiated on his own. And as much as I stand by my boi, there are times when we all must stand alone for what we believe in. I just didn't feel that this was a time to make a battle of it. Pick your fights, I was always taught. Don't rock the boat, especially when you're in it.

"It's also a test of your pride, cub," she said, lifting her hindquarters off the sand. "If you have any, or any pride in the tribe that took you in when we could just as easily have left you outside," she said. Now the word she used for "outside" doesn't mean out of doors. It means outside the group. As in left without a family, a home, or a place. Wolves don't run outside the pack, at least not happy and sane ones. She was threatening him with sending him "outside" of the tribe and the sept.

"Shadow," I cautioned, with my wolf voice a rising whine. Nicky dropped his nose and flicked his eyes to me, and then to Sea Smoke, a signal of honorable submission.

"Consider it a challenge, then," the elder said, regaining her sitting posture. "Neither you nor your pack mate shall receive any acknowledgement until you have completed the task to my satisfaction."

"Do what?!" I blurted out. Almost at once, I dropped my muzzle, hoping she didn't take offence at my lack of manners.

"Ears not working, kiddo?" Rolf asked, sitting down and taking a hotdog off the hibachi with a stick. Elders, I've found, tend to stick together, especially on tribal matters that they all agree on anyways.

What she basically said was that Nicky and me would receive no more teachings in the Garou way, no honors for accomplishments, no gifts and no help other than the rights of food and shelter until we finished making our "arts and crafts" stuff. It was basically putting us on probation. In a society as tight knit as our tribe and sept, your status and place in the pecking order were determined by your renown and your perceived honor, wisdom and glory. The native American tribes know this as counting coup. It's a measure of how proper you are within Garou traditions and whether or not people will follow you or believe you in crisis situations. Nick and I were now on a short leash, culturally and metaphorically.

Joey stepped forwards and bowed to Sea Smoke. "With your permission, elder, I'd like to take my young cliath with me. There are allies of mine I'd like them to meet. If they are to be a pack for Phoenix, then they had better get an education of the world beyond just our ways."

"You speak wisely, Yoseph the Ankh Wind. They may go with you. I trust you shall inform me of when these two have conformed to my task so that I may take the scent of their efforts?"

"It will be as you say, Sea Smoke-rhya," he said, bowing again.

"Go with the spirits blessing, and my Luna shine on you favorably."

"I thank you," Joey said, turned and motioned us out of the tribal circle. Once we were far enough away, we switched to human form. "Boys, go get ready, we need to leave very soon if we are to get to the boat before the other guests arrive."

"Other guests?"

"You'll see, Cody. Some friends of mine will be there. I think you're going to like them."

I took a moment and looked at our mentor. He looked anxious, but giddy. A weird mix for his face. But I was more worried about making sure we got things settled in other ways. I suddenly had more to talk to Nick about, especially about why he choose to directly challenge Veronica like that. But I'd have to wait until later to find out. More pressing matters were at hand and I decided to ask Nick about things at our next alone time.

We changed shirts, used a little deodorant and basically got presentable. Joey led us as we shifted to wolf form and ran down Route 1A, over the bridge to Newburyport and the fishing pier where the Tragic Nymph would be docked.

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead