Elf Boy's Friends - XI
The Snow Elves and their protectors the White Kodiak bears arrived in Elysion a few days after their rendezvous in the New Forest where the different groups had come together after separate adventures.
The lupine triplets Lobo, Lupo, and Brand had help locate a headstrong teenager who had gone off alone on his very first walkabout with entirely too little preparation. They had also met up with a fellow snow elf the unicorn Derry who had become a new member of their circle if not of their family.
Gulo was reunited with his new boyfriend Roland one of two wilderness guides traveling with a party of natural philosophers. Their leader Professor Scolari was a botanist of note and an old friend of the shape shifter Aodh, the spouse of their host Count Klarendes.
Leon and Brand, the spotted leopards of the bunch, had had the most exciting walkabout. In three separate adventures they had fought a gang of murderous poachers, helped foil a brazen bank robbery in a town on the Eastern Plains, and battled an anaconda to recover the body of a young boy it had killed.
As for the White Kodiaks, at the end of a visit to the brontothere reserve at the foot of the mountains they had been shot at by trophy hunters who deliberately targeted and murdered sapient species which walked on more than two legs. Their hunting lodges boasted the heads and mounted specimens of unicorns who were universally respected and centaurs who were just as universally hated. Their chief hunter had intended to turn the Kodiaks into bear rugs.
After cowardly wounding the bears by shooting air guns down at them from autogyros orbiting over head they hunters and their guards had set down near the wounded bears ready to finish them off at close range where their airguns could do more than inflict flesh wounds. Instead Bjarni and Bjorn had turned the tables, using their sonic weapon to kill half of their party. The others ran out of range only to crumple under the charge of forty brontotheres whom Bjorn had summoned via Mind Speech.
The constabulary had helped the bears keep the secret of their sonic weapon which hitherto they had not disclosed even to their proteges the snow elves. They made a clean breast of things at the rendezvous. The snow elves were gratified by the confidence the bears showed in their discretion.
Klarendes graciously extended his hospitality to the snow elves and Kodiak bears who had arrived suddenly to take him up on his standing invitation to visit any time. With all his other guests from the expedition of the natural philosophers, the resident druids and forest rangers, the manor house was packed. Extra provisions had to be procured to feed everyone, and hogs slaughtered to feed the huge appetites of the bears. It took a day or two to get everyone settled in. On the evening of the third day Klarendes invited his guests to one of his famous flame shows.
Their guests gathered on the verandah of Klarendes' manor house — a locale with room enough for everyone: the Kodiaks, the seven snow elves, most of Scolari's party of seven save only their cook and manservant, the Klarendes themselves father, sons, and spouse, the three druids in residence Dahlderon, Owain, and Meirionnydd plus forest rangers Lord Madden Sexton and Beast Master Dylan.
Even those who normally went sky clad had dressed in their best. Aodh wore a dark green sarong which flattered his dark hair and milky white skin. Derry wore his patterned green and white sarong while the twins wore sarongs color coded as always: green for Jemsen and blue for Karel. The druids were in full tunics and the forest rangers in their dress greens. Even the snow elves wore loose trews though the lupine triplets insisted on identical garment so no one except their family and the other shape shifters, Aodh, Sexton, and Derry could tell them apart by scent.
As the company relaxed after supper, shortly before dusk while there was still daylight to see by the handsome nobleman prepared his pipe for a post prandial smoke. Practiced hands went through the age-old ritual beloved of pipe smokers everywhere, tapping the turned down bowl to empty it of any remaining ash, filling the chamber with the count's special blend, packing the tobacco with the tamper of the well-worn pipe tool handed down by generations of counts of the Eastern March.
No need for tongs to fetch a coal from the fire which was burning in the hearth. With a flourish of his right hand, the count produced a flame at the tip of his index finger and applied it to the tobacco, kindling the pungent mixture instantly. Blowing out the flame on his finger much like a candle, the count puffed away contentedly.
Once he got his pipe burning properly the count reached out with his magic and morphed puffs of smoke into fantastic shapes: a rocky crag, a castellated tower, the head of a wolf, then that of a panther.
"I cannot achieve with smoke the level of detail that I can with flame," Klarendes explained. "Smoke is as much of earth as it is of fire."
The main event once darkness fell was to be stories told not just around a camp fire but by a campfire using fire magic and Klarendes' mastery of flame.
Professor Scolari smiled:
"I am sure you must have some great stories to tell. Just from what we heard from the snow elves and bears of their recent adventures, it seems that you and everyone in your circle is constantly going off on adventures and getting into scrapes. Their exploits make for good story telling around a campfire."
"Something you yourself are a past master at yourself, even if your listeners must sometimes wonder whether your stories are always strictly autobiographical."
"Maybe not, but around a campfire a certain latitude is allowed, isn't it. A good story has value in its own right not only as entertainment but also for the life lessons it imparts."
"Indeed. Anyway it is now time for my flame show. My staff has prepared a bonfire in that fire pit in front of us. I too have a yarn to spin but I shall not merely describe what happened in words, I shall recreate the events in flickering flames. This flame show is my favorite of the flame shows I put on every year at the spring festival. It recalls my spouse Aodh's celebrated rescue of six year old boy from the clutches of a slavering dire wolf."
Speaking to Lobo, Lupo, and Volf he added:
"Uh, no offense there boys."
"None taken." Lobo said with a grin, answering for all of them.
Klarendes nodded and went to work. With a flourish, the count set the wood aflame, the initial whoosh sending sparks high into the air. Combining alchemy with his magical gift, the count threw powders of mineral salts into the fire that turned the flames first green, then blue, then bright violet which he morphed into fantastic shapes including a castle atop a hill and a rampant lion. The best part came when the flames returned to their normal hue. That was when Klarendes really showed his mastery of fire.
Invoking his magical gift, the count morphed the flames into a pantomime depicting the boy's rescue. His characters were half-sized, rendered in three dimensions, and instantly recognizable,. First was the little lost boy himself, visibly forlorn sitting up a tree with shoulders slumped. Next the dire wolf who had waited hidden till thirst drove the boy from his perch up a tree. He stalked toward his prey lips bared and growling. Next the panther sprang between the wolf and boy and sent him running down the trail to safety. Then the two flame beasts reenacted their savage fight, pitting the massive wolf and his bone crushing jaws against the fangs and claws of his smaller opponent.
The fight ended with the wolf dead and the victorious panther prostrate from near fatal wounds. The pantomime skipped Aodh's convalescence, instead showing him and the count in a warm embrace. The couple made of flames reenacted the ceremony where the count had taken Aodh as his spouse and the celebratory dance which followed.
"Can my spouse entertain or what?" Aodh asked proudly.
Scolari allowed that Klarendes was a master storyteller himself with an absolutely unique technique.
"I intend to recreate some of the adventures of our white coated friends in new flame shows. I like to mix new stories with old favorites. I should add that I have an ulterior motive for all the work I put into these shows. The practice sharpens my perceptions and my precise control over fire, whether as flame or heat."
"Now some firecasters think only strength is important. That is one reason, besides decent pay, why they are so ready to accept part time employment in our refrigeration business, freezing the tops of ponds to make ice. But control and finesse count too. As for strength, I am already one of the strongest fire wizards on the planet and one of only a handful who can repeatedly throw a stream of white fire. [i.e. subatomic plasma]
<On a more serious note,> Bjorn send via Mind Speech, <Brand and Leon nearly had to break off from their fight with that anaconda. It was a close run thing. Brand got to wondering whether you druids would sponsor him and the others for power upgrades like those enjoyed by Aodh and Lord Sexton."
The druids nodded thoughtfully. Merry spoke for them.
"What did you have in mind, Brand. A sonic weapon like those of Aodh, Derry, and the Kodiak bears?"
"The Kodiak bears too?" Aodh interrupted. "That's the first I've heard about it."
"Merry, you and your big mouth!" Owain chided gently.
Count Klarendes chuckled and tutted: "History repeats itself, Merry. Today you blurted out the secret of their sonic weapon. Years ago you signaled that the druids had mastered the technique for creating space portals but hadn't yet shared it with our war wizards."
Owain could resist getting in a little dig of his own.
"Only this time Merry blabbed the secret in plain language. At least last time the revelation came in an off hand remark. It took a keen mind like yours Taitos to jump to the correct conclusion."
Scolari raised his eyebrows. "Care to elaborate Count Klarendes.?"
"I had asked why the druids preferred to operate from here in Elysion on the fringes of the Commonwealth and not set up shop in the capital. They shuddered at the thought of living in a big city, all stone and concrete and brick instead of being close to nature and the New Forest. All very reasonable of course, though I did point out that consultations with the government would require a lengthy and time consuming journey. Merry shook his head and said that was not a problem these days with the capital only steps away. That is what gave it away."
"You would think that a mind that had existed for over a millennium and was in its third incarnation would have learned discretion by now." Dahl said with mock regret.
"Hey, give me a break. Remember in this body, I am a thoughtless and flighty teenager."
The Kodiak bears asked everyone to be discreet about their sonic weapon. Klarendes pointed out that if the news spread only by word of mouth the secret was safe. Few would ever hear of it, and even fewer those farther away. The bears would be vulnerable only if the story got into the news-papers. He said he was sure that his nephew Corwin and Drew Altair would keep the information about the sonic weapon out of the newspapers.
"The story of the attack on the bears was news all right, but it was not their story to tell. The Capital Intelligencer can just reprint the story as it comes via heliograph from their own press service. So Brand, what is your answer to Merry's question? What about a sonic weapon of your own?"
Brand shook his head.
"None of us snow elves needs a sonic weapon. We all have some kind of standoff weapon already. Aodh didn't have that in the past but Leon and I can snap electrum sparks which serves much the same purpose, that is to distract the foe so badly he cannot continue his attack or offer any real defense. Similarly the wolves can Call Light to englobe the head of a foe to scramble his brain circuits, and as Gulo has shown with the slash bear he can set clothes or fur alight."
"What Leon and I want are poison glands like Aodh's. Also increased strength and stamina plus the ability to see heat in pitch darkness the way Lord Sexton can. I wonder though why he himself did not ask for a stand off capability when he had the chance."
"Different circumstances, my friend. Although I too am a shape shifter, a wolverine like Gulo, I am not on perpetual walkabout unclothed and unarmed. As a forest ranger I spend most of my time in my human form fully clothed and armed. Between my bow, my airgun, and my throwing stars I have all the stand off weaponry I need. Besides as a wolverine I like to mix it up close and personal whether with natural weapons or with my Morningstar and as savage as I can make it. Right Gulo?"
"You said it, sir!" the youngest snow elf enthused.
"All right. Let's sleep on it. You boys need to be crystal clear in your minds about what you want us and the New Forest to do for you. Remember, we are mostly catalysts for your own transformative magic which makes the changes you envision.
Snow elves didn't carry weapons and had no real training with arms such as blades, axes, maces, or war hammers. That was why they all trained in unarmed combat in case they had to fight in their two legged forms. Most of the time though they morphed into their animal forms which were physically more formidable. They needed upgrades which would potentiate their physical abilities. Entirely separate capabilities such as telekinesis, firecasting, lightning bolts, and such, though more powerful, were anyway were not within the gift of the New Forest.
Derry of course did not need an upgrade to his powers. He already well provided with those of both a shape shifter and a unicorn including two stand off capabilities: his so-called killer neigh and Calling Light.
A few days later the druids took the six snow elves to the location of the closest of the three semi-crystalline living matrices which housed the soul of the New Forest and were the seat of its consciousness. In that locale its magic was strongest.
Already nude the snow elves lay down atop a bed of moss. The druids joined hands and invoked their magic, which manifested as a pearly white nimbus which engulfed the nude boys lying in front of them. The crystalline matrix extended a nimbus of its own, only bright green, the color of growing things, which settled over them. A wild riot of plant life grew up around the supine boys and covered them completely, wrapping shoots and runners around his limbs and even penetrating his orifices: nostrils, mouth, ears, and even those of their nether regions.
The air crackled with electricity as the nimbus of the forest merged with that of the druids, pulsating and cycling through all the colors of the visible spectrum plus some in the infrared or ultraviolet ranges which only druids could see. After ten minutes the magic faded away, the plant life withdrew from their pale bodies then withered and crumbled into dust.
In all cases their bones were stronger, now knit together with tensile fibers. Same thing for the tendons and ligaments plus their muscles were denser. Also their hearing was more acute, and they could sense body heat so as to detect a foe or a predator lurking in the dark or behind concealing shrubbery or even a thin wall. Their reflexes almost matched those of druids who could snatch arrows out of the air.
The leopards got their poison claws. The others did not want that particular enhancement. All of them were were already satisfied with their existing stand off capabilities. The lupine triplets opted for stronger and sharper claws which they could morph from standard wolf claws to something they had already experimented with themselves. Their new claws were shaped like a wolverine's claws not a cat's hooked claws. Wolves had no business climbing trees, and the triplets were not interested in arboreal adventures.
The improved claws on all four feet would still let them run as before but also let them fight like a cat if necessary, either rearing up and swiping with just the fore paws or rolling onto the back to present all four paws to a foe and maybe disembowel him from below. In a fight then the wolves could do more than just bite. However powerful their jaws or however sharp their teeth, stretching their necks out to bite put their throats, heads, and vulnerable sense organs entirely too close to their enemies' offensive capabilities.
Now that might be something natural wolves never realized consciously, but that was why they always tried to make their prey flee. An animal running for its life could not bring its horns, antlers or hooves into play in its own defense. Wolves preferred to attack the hindquarters to bleed or hamstring their prey. Another tactic was to bite the belly. There or four good bites out of a moose's or elk's belly would cause so much blood loss that it would founder.
The best tactic then for prey species was to stand their ground and not give in to panic and run. In most cases wolves will not attack an animal that stands its ground. Instead wolves will give up and go looking for easier prey.
The lupine shape shifters knew that many of their future fights would not be against natural prey which they could chase after but foes on two legs or four whom they could expect to fight it out. That was why they needed the capability to attack head on.
Gulo wanted the ability to climb trees so he got claws which could morph as needed between their familiar blunt shape for fighting and running and new style hooked claws for climbing. Next time a slash bear charged at him, he would just climb to safety. No point risking life and limb if he were alone and did not have to stand his ground for the sake of others.
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