A Bolt from the Blue

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 3

Lightning Crashes

The second week of September came and went without much further effort from Glen. Mom took him shopping and he got to pick out cool clothes. School started with the usual controlled chaos of learning schedules, locker combinations, class rules, that sort of thing. Glen found it oddly comforting to have that structure, all those names to try to remember and put faces to. It gave him something regular he could depend on, yet still had the constant challenge and diversity of school work.

The "walkies" with Chase got longer and more canine oriented. Glen got to see more of the town, occasionally waving at people he recognized, people who recognized the change in the boy. It got to the point that Glen was walking Chase twice: once before school and once after helping with the dinner dishes. Walking became running several times and Glen began to enjoy the feel of the wind in his hair, the burning feel in his legs and chest. It was almost like flying, running up and down the hilly city streets, and both boy and dog loved it.

Glen and Peter hung out together at lunch in school, which seemed to be all anyone social messaged about… for perhaps twenty minutes, tops. The new normal became the everyday normal. Became the "let's talk about something else less boring," normal. Glen began learning more about his friend. How his parents no longer believed in organized religion. How his mother had been part of the local native tribal culture until Peter turned seven and the questions about the difference between "white people's" spirituality and his tribal family's spirituality seemed to have similar base messages, but wildly differed on what was divine. Which lead to Peter explaining the significance of the Thunderbird and how when Peter saw the glows on Glen's chest, he knew something remarkable had happened.

Glen wasn't sure exactly what his feelings about Peter were. Certainly friendship, loyalty and respect were part of the mix of feels in his chest. He knew there was something about the dark haired boy's eyes that he could feel from across a crowded room. Anytime Peter looked at him, even with all the hustle and noise of the lunchroom, Glen could sense it. He knew there were dreams he had at night where he would wake up with the smell of Peter on his mind, that hint of his smile fading as the dream faded and the empty darkness of the ceiling above his bed melted into reality.

Glen also found himself day dreaming in classes at times. Sometimes it was just reliving something seen on TV, sometimes it was things he felt were fragments of memory but unconnected and incomplete. A few times, he found himself looking at various people in school and imagining them in sexual situations. Either alone, with different pairings, or, more often, with Glen himself.

Peter's face began to appear in more and more of those fantasies. Glen felt a little bit of shame when he began masturbating with Peter on his mind. It seemed to be happening more and more often, and felt far less gross to him than when he would start the process and find images of Giuseppe on his mind. At least he could take some comfort in the fact that it wasn't the scene of Peter he had seen on the waiter's iPhone.

Lessons began, homework assigned, life went on. The coach of Glen's gym class put up a notice that the school's sports teams were going to have sign up's at the school's Facebook. Hints were made that they could use new blood in the teams, and one kid who knew Glen from before, Simon, by name, gave Glen's shoulder a good natured punch at mention of that. Glen said he'd consider it. Simon simply replied, "Gotcha, dude. Must suck forgetting everything about yourself. Hope you still got game."

Glen made it a point to ask those he trusted what that might mean.

Glen had been initially barred from participating in gym class until his medical team had given him the okay. He felt exhilarated that he was allowed to join in during the second week of school. His body had responded well to Jasmine's training, and all the walks with Chase had helped get his legs back, strong and tight, bouncy even. At first he had been a little leery of dressing out. He quickly realized that most of the other boys were also looking around and comparing bodies to each other while keeping their heads down during changing and showers. It wasn't such a big worry for him, being seen, although proper etiquette demanded that he not be seen watching others, and ignore being watched himself. The pattern of quickly looking back and away became something he got used to, after the initial glances.

Those initial glances were slightly annoying at first. The scars clearly showed on his chest, despite some of his normal skin tone returning. The blue-almost-purple of blood vessels was still visible along the paths of the scars. Glen noticed the stares in the showers the most, but made a habit of not staying in the showers too long. Dr. McCoy seemed to think there wasn't much danger of electrocuting himself or others as long as he kept himself calm.

Which wasn't easy. Occasionally, Glen found himself getting what Peter referred to as "no reason boners" or just NRB's while in the shower after gym. He wasn't sure if it was just the feeling of the water and soap on his skin after physical exertion, some strange thrill at being nude with other people present, or maybe if there were some other feelings about seeing other boys without their clothes on. He did admit that he compared himself to others. Just human nature, he rationalized.

Part of him also realized that some of what excited him was the furtive looks, mostly at the scars that decorated his chest, and apparently across his back as well. One kid in the shower followed Glen to his locker and asked him how that had happened on his back. When Glen turned to answer, the boy saw his chest and exclaimed, "Both sides? That's mad awesome!" Glen wondered why no one had mentioned the fractals were on his back before. And why didn't he feel them on his back when he washed, or when the chest ones glowed? He resolved to ask the doctors on his next check-up.

Jason's crowd seemed to warm to Glen's new approach to life. They didn't desert in droves. They didn't really desert Jason at all, in point of fact. They just came to quickly realize that even if Glen wasn't part of their usual clique, that he wasn't an enemy either. When that pack were all together they were tight. But they were no less friendly bumping into Glen in the halls between classes.

Jason himself stayed distant, cool, aloof, where Glen was concerned. Glen got the feeling that Jason expected open hostilities over the whole situation with Jill. Glen decided that pushing the issue got none of them anywhere. If there was any hint of rivalry, it was on Jason's side. He couldn't remember their friendship still, despite all the pictures he'd seen, all the questions people asked him. That he'd asked in return.

Jill still couldn't meet his gaze in the hallways. Fortunately, their schedules seemed to be working to keep them from meeting between classes. Only in the brief moments before and after school at the bus ramp did they even seem to be remotely near one another. On those occasions when they passed or came face-to-face, Glen politely excused himself or simply moved to th e side. Jill had seemed a bit shocked the first few times this happened, almost as if expecting Glen to curse her, say things to hurt her. But the boy simply didn't have it in him to treat her the way she apparently expected to or actually did treat others.

Carolynn's lisp seemed to vanish. She was still Daddy's girl and made every effort to still be the center of attention. Her relationship with Glen seemed to smooth out. Glen made it a point to make time for her, chatting with her when he got home from school, play games with her before he took Chase out for his nightly walk. Occasionally, boy and dog would be joined by little sister, and on those trips in the evening air, they walked together, slowly, albeit under mild canine protest. Carolynn included Glen in her nightly hugs goodnight, warming both mother and father's hearts at the display of affection.

Peter showed up at the house more and more often. Those days he wasn't scheduled for work after school, he'd get off the bus with Glen rather than go the next three stops to his home. The two boys became close as Peter started showing Glen some of the cultural things that teenage boys share with each other. Bonding over anime, being silly while throwing the Frisbee around with Chase, and singing, badly, to music on the radio.

Peter also helped Glen learn the long history of the town, taking him around to local area landmarks, helping him learn the layout of the streets that Chase didn't select as marking territory. He learned of the places that kids go where a bicycle could reach, but a car couldn't. And Peter's favorite part, cruising through the trails in the forest, along the river, up steep hills and around ancient boulders. He showed Glen the Watching Rocks, where the best fishing places were, and the trails upland that led to the castle over the lak e.

Glen took an interest in Peter's job, spending a Saturday or two watching as Peter used a gas powered torch to cut and modify tubes of metal for customizing bicycles. Seems the dark haired boy had a knack for the mechanics and manufacture of bicycles. Peter confided that he wanted to go to school to be a mechanic so he could build things.

And Glen finally figured out the final parts of his devious plan. Or not so devious, considering what his end game was. Three weeks into school, on a Wednesday, Glen put the plan into motion. He had opened Giuseppe's phone to the contacts list and used the "work" group, weeks before. There were fifteen names on there. Peter helped Glen put faces to the names, pointing a few out in the hallways and the lunchroom. Glen got a feel for some of the other boys on the list through observing them in school. He felt like he had a good plan, and a good idea how they'd react. He asked Peter what he thought of the plan he'd come up with. His reply was simply a broad grin.

They assembled a list of the boys with files in the phone. They assembled a list of things they needed to scrounge from family garages and tool boxes and such. Between the two of them, Glen and Peter gathered what they needed and went to the site of the event to come, preparing, planning. With a few days of actual work put in, by Friday they felt they were ready.

Glen sent each of the boys on the list a simple text. Peter helped with the wording, keeping it neutral yet also commanding enough to put enough impetus to the message to ensure the others would comply.

It read:

>Saturday, Noon, @ the Watch. Important. Secret. Make it happen. Be there.


Jason was on the list of boys receiving the text. As was Simon, who'd asked Glen about joining sports teams for the school. Three boys from Glen's academic classes, an d two others from his gym block were also on the list, bringing the total number he recognized by face and name to nine, including himself. And while he was sure he had all of the boys from the "work" list, he wasn't sure if some were older or younger, maybe old enough to be away at college.

He would just have to wait and see.

The white bird landed on the branch of a partly denuded elm tree, beside the Cardinal and the Blue Jay. It bobbed its head to the other two spirits. "Brothers, greetings!" the Cockatiel spoke. "What news?"

"My champion has called a gathering," Thunderbird exclaimed, some nervousness in his voice. "Much depends on this."

"Odd that Grandfather is not here to witness," Unicorn said, sensing the tension the blue jay's tone.

"He may have eyes on what occurs," Thunderbird said, bowing politely to the late comer. "But he has other issues needing his," and the blue jay paused, almost smirking, "delicate personal touch."

"Ah," Unicorn replied. "I feel sorry for whatever is about to get his wrath. What is the gathering below about?"

"Character," the cardinal answered.

"My champion…has a plan. Justice, trust, honor, is at stake."

"You are not worried, are you, brother?" Unicorn asked.

"I am," both the cardinal and the blue jay responded, apparently alarming each other in their shared concern. The cockatiel popped his crest up in surprise.

"These mortals are young, even for their kind," Phoenix said. "As a race they are petulant, arrogant, greedy, lustful savages, especially to each other. I have learned the hard way to be wary of their capricious natures. Giving them access to my power in the past has been…"

"Atlantis was not your fault, Brother," Thunderbird said, comfortingly.

"And Rome, Los Alamos and Hiroshima were not yours," the cardinal replied. "Yet we all bear the stain of what those given our powers do with that power. I want to see how your champion deals with this form of power as well as what you have awakened in him." All three spirits fell silent, in contemplation.

"Rome was my fault. Fulminata . I gave my power to a conqueror who I thought would change things for the better. Instead, that mortal's greed caused him to rape a continent, forge a personal empire and then left three continents in war, death and destruction for centuries, gave rise to religious wars, persecution, looting of artifacts and desecration of the planet for millennia."

"Grandfather had some hand in that as well."

"And Los Alamos and Japan…" Thunderbird began.

"We are powerful," Unicorn interrupted. "We have wisdom and knowledge that the mortals don't. And sometimes we inspire in them the true nature of what is without them coming to understand totally. It is their world as well. They must learn to deal with it and each other better. Your lessons might have given them the power, unleashed the power that we had left dormant for so long, but you aren't responsible for…"

"But I am responsible!" Thunderbird chirped, loudly, causing the other two to fluff feathers. "I gave him the gift, but not the knowledge of what to do with it."

"We agreed," Phoenix said softly. "Only if they are worthy, only if they are ready."

A few more boys entered the area below, approaching with great trepidation and caution, wary of what the other boys present might see in them, what might be understood.

"We must be right about them," Thunderbird agreed. "About the true nature of those we gift, else those who would lead the defense will instead twist into horrible tyrants."

"Yes. Much depends on this test. I want your champion to succeed, Thunderbird," Phoenix replied. "His continued success gives me hope I can find my own champions."

"Sometimes they are worthy, brothers," Unicorn asserted brightly. "They can be corrupt, but they can also rise to the occasion and surprise you." The three birds looked down, watching as the group swelled in numbers and tension. "I feel we may have found the right ones. But only through trials shall we know."

"Let us watch and see," Phoenix said, turning his head slightly. "And put our trust in our own senses."

It was a very uncomfortable situation. Aside from some halting nervous chatter, only the noises of birds fattening up for the long journey south and the skitterings of squirrels preparing their winter beds and larders could be heard.

Glen and Peter waited at the Watch, a well-known natural rock formation jutting out of the side of a hill on the south side of the Merrimack, literally looking out over the river through a screen of pine, elm, oak and birch summer foliage. It was a place that kids for decades had used as a playground. The multiple levels of rocky shelves, copses of trees, boulder falls and clumps of bushes formed a natural fortress of sorts. Some of the levels were easy to reach, some more challenging. The whole site was ringed in with ferns, the forest floor covered in an ancient carpet of pine needles and fallen leaves.

Popular local legends claim that the Pawtucket tribe used to use these rocks for rituals to the spirits, or as a place to keep watch on the river in case their enemies approached, or as a test of manhood for young braves – climbing up to the top while blindfolded. The legends changed slightly depending on whom you asked. Some of the old folks and town historians claimed it was a rallying point for the Minute Men during the early days of the Revolution.

They trickled in slowly, one at a time, seeming to flinch at seeing other kids there. A few would walk away, as if traveling to someplace else in the forest. One actually had fishing gear in hand, trying to look like he was just heading to the nearby fishing spot, a hook of rock that extended out into the river. But even he wandered back. Two younger boys, looking like brothers, wandered up as well. One looked 11 years old, the other barely 12. Peter kept a head count as the group got nervous waiting. None of them wanted to say why they were there, but they all seemed to understand that they needed to be.

A few seemed fearful of Glen, which made Glen sad. Glen-that-was still had a powerful negative influence on his new life, he realized. With any luck, that would change.

Jason showed up last. Glen had the feeling that he had seen the other boys entering the woods and had hung back, waiting to see what was going on. But when his cell phone alarm buzzed in his pocket at noon, Jason strode forward with as much false bravado as he could muster.

They all knew what phone had sent the text message. It seemed Giuseppe's hold on them was still strong, despite him being gone three weeks.

The casual sports talk and video game talk and talk about which girls were actually "doing it" settled out as Jason walked up, trading fist bumps with Simon and one other boy.

Peter spoke up, folding up the paper in his hand. "Greg Grisham and Ian Tooley are the only ones left. Everyone else is here."

"What's going on," Enrico, a tousled, dark-haired 13-year-old Dominican boy asked, seeing Peter fold up the paper and tuck it into his pocket. "I thought…" and he paused looking around.

"Thought someone in particular would be here?" Glen asked. Enrico nodded, looking unsure. He stuffed his hands into his jean shorts pockets and seemed to shrink into the valley of his own shoulders. Around the group, similar expressions and gestures could be seen. A few fleet ing glances around between the boys didn't seem to last long, and eyes quickly fled from eyes.

"Just wanted everyone to be here before we started," Glen replied, dropping his hand on Enrico's shoulder. The smaller boy let a brief smirk through, but his worried expression endured.

"What are we waiting for? Grisham and Tooley ain't gonna show," one of the older kids, a 15-year-old named Kevin Pollard, Glen realized, putting a name to the face and voice, whined. "They graduated last year. Tooley joined the Army and Greg…" Kevin paused, as if just saying the name had awoken a memory in him. "Greg killed himself two months ago. Shot himself under the chin with his dad's police pistol." That seemed to stun the group of kids. Looks of surprise and dismay passed between them.

Glen walked to Kevin and touched his shoulder as well, the older boy seemed to break down then and started crying. Enrico moved to the older boy and whispered to him as well, wrapping his skinny arms around the older boy's waist.

"Enough of this shit!" Simon called out, looking a bit freaked out. "You seem to be the only one who knows what's going on, Bergeron! Why'd you call us all here?" Several others, including Jason nodded or grunted in agreement. Peter kept his head down. Glen nodded and reached into his pocket.

And pulled out Giuseppe's iPhone, holding it up. The distinctive white phone with the gold metallic case caught every boy's attention, and the gasp and silence that followed felt like the world jumped back, leaving the small gathering in the void.

"I'm guessing you all know what this is. Who's it was, and what is on it," Glen said, softly. "I have it now."

Peter walked to the next parapet ledge above where they were gathered. All eyes went back and forth between Peter and Glen. Jason's eyes went hard, pained but angry. Clearly he recognized the power that holding the phone had over all the boys gathered. What that power meant to their lives, the damage it could do. Glen also recognized another emotion bubbling in Jason at the site of that phone.

Jealousy that overflowed into raw lust. Lust for power.

"I sent the message to all of you. I sent it with the hope that all of you would come," Glen said. "Thank you for doing that." Peter walked back down from the upper ledge, bearing a back pack. He frog-squatted beside his friend as Glen continued. "We all know what was done with this phone. With one exception, I've only watched one of my files on here. Peter wanted me to see what was in his files. I could barely watch."

"You didn't watch mine, did you?" A voice called from the back.

"I could not watch any more of them."

"But you know!" another boy said, his eyes streaked with angry tears. "What do you want from us?"

"Jason will tell you all," Glen said, feeling a little nervous and shaky himself, "that I don't have any memories of what's on here. I don't remember anything from before this summer. So for those of you who knew me before, I'm sorry if it seems like I've ignored you. I just don't remember."

Several boys turned to look at Jason, who simply nodded, his face a mask of stone with flaming eyes.

"I took this from Giuseppe. I sent him away." Glen let the truth of that sink in a moment before continuing. "He wont be hurting any of you ever again. Nor will what's on here. I agonized over what to do with this," he said, wiggling the phone. "I thought about giving it to the police." Several of the boys gasped, realizing what that might mean. The younger ones seemed to only worry about what their friends might think or what their parents might do. The older ones realized what legal and social implications might come about from those files. Some looked to each other realizing that they weren't alone in those fears, or in their guilt.

"But that would just keep the hurt going. And I'm not going to use this against any of you. We're all hurt by what is on here, what he did to us, made us do. All of us. And while he's gone now, and we can't get back at him for what he did, how he held power over us, how he… took from us something he had no right to," Glen said, shaking slightly himself. He took several deep breaths to control his feelings. He felt a slight tingle in his chest, and was glad he'd worn the thick black hoody. He didn't need his chest scars to start glowing, didn't need the others see them showing through.

"But we can end this threat," Glen said, holding the phone up. He powered the phone up, and showed the glowing face to all the boys. Peter, still crouched beside Glen, handed him up a hammer. A big, shiny carpenter's claw hammer with a few spots of rust dotting the metal. Glen took the hammer, handle first, and held it up. "We can end it."

Glen dropped to his knees beside Peter, bringing the phone down on top of the thick, half yard of pine two-by-four that Peter laid out on the edge of the rock ledge. The onlookers rushed forward to get a view of what Glen did next. Two boys, Enrico and Kevin, came up behind Glen and bent over to watch.

Peter held the wood steady as Glen lay the iPhone face down on the plank. The edges glowed around as the light from the face of the phone continued. Peter then handed Glen a stout ten-penny nail. Glen placed the nail's point in the center of the board, right over the back of the phone and held the hammer high overhead. With a teardrop falling from his face, he said "I plant this first one for Greg, and for anyone else who Giuseppe hurt but isn't here."

The hammer became a blur, slamming into the nail head, driving the shaft into the plastic and metal of the phone, piercing the distinctive case and puncturing down into the wooden plank. Glen struck the nail no less than fifteen times before the rock beneath the plank started to resist the strikes. Breathing heavily, he wiped one hand under his nose, before turning and handing the hammer, handle first, to Enrico.

The smaller boy didn't know what to make of it at first, until Peter also held up another three-inch long, slender nail. Enrico took the nail and the hammer, as Glen moved to the side. The smaller boy grinned at Peter, both of them with tears on their faces, and he choose a corner over the battery, set his nail, and hammered it home. On his fifth strike, the nail head bent, but the damage was done. Enrico's nail had penetrated the face of the phone and into the plank. That cell phone was not going to move or be useful ever again.

"Give the center one a hit, Enrico," Peter suggested. "For Greg."

"I didn't know him."

"Do it because he can't," Glen said simply, many of the others nodding and saying "yeah," softly at the notion.

"There's one for each of you," Glen said, as Kevin stepped up to take the hammer from Enrico. He needed no prompting to smash the center one as well. Glen had to assume that Kevin and Greg knew each other. Perhaps that was a question better left for another day, he thought, brushing his fingers under his nostrils.

One by one, sometimes with a friend behind or beside, the boys each came up and planted a nail through the cell phone. Peter stayed beside the board, holding the right side down as each boy took his turn. Each drop of the hammer full of emotion. Often the emotion expressed was rage. Sometimes it was anguish filled tears. Glen suspected there was not a little shame being exorcised in this way as well. While he hadn't looked at the contents of the files, many of them were of extended length, which indicated to Glen that they didn't all take place at the restaurant. After all, at that summoning text, none denied, nor made and excuse not to be here. And most of the names had over thirty files associated to them. In a few cases, much more than thirty. Glen's alone accounted for 42.

Each boy ended their turn with one directly into the middle, saying softly "For Greg."

Jason was last. In the line up to have some hammer time, Glen had lost sight of where his former best friend was. It seemed fitting that the last would be Jason. As he knelt beside the board, he looked to Peter as the dark haired boy held out the nail. Glen felt a wiggle of tension at his former best friend and Peter being that close. The boys stared directly at each other for long seconds before Jason simply nodded and took the ten-penny from Peter's outstretched hand.

Jason planted the last nail right beside the one in the center. He struck it hard, penetrating into the mostly destroyed outer casing with ease. His next blow went down even harder, and the nail sank into wood, scraping rock on the other side. His third blow, the nail head bent over, trapping two others. He kept on striking, and a string of curses began to come out of his mouth, growing louder, each punctuated by a hammer strike. Eyes wet with tears of rage and pain and shame, Jason continued to strike for nearly half a minute, his invectives giving way to a continuous scream, that sounded a little high pitched near the end.

Finally, Simon came up and grabbed the hammer from his hand, seeming to snatch it away just as it lifted to its highest point. Jason stayed bent over the plank, now permanently attached to the iPhone, his chest heaving. Peter reached out to lay a hand on Jason's shoulder, but the bigger boy just shoved it off. Looking around, he stood up, whipping his nose with the back of his hand, daring with his eyes for anyone to call him out.

"There is one thing left," Glen intoned, stepping forward to the plank. "Follow."

The boys trooped behind Glen and Peter, who both carried opposing ends of the plank. They followed a winding trail through the woods down to the river's edge, along the path there to the fishing spot. Concealed behind a large fern and with some leaves kicked over it, was the plywood topped raft that Peter and Glen had built just for this event. They had the other boys pull it down to the fishing spot, secluded behind the stone outcropping that jutted into the river. The plank was laid into the simple one square-yard raft, and covered it with wood chips and leaves, pine straw and cotton balls.

"What is this for?" Simon asked.

"Closure. After this, it is finished," Peter said. "All the evil will be swept away, cleaned in water," and he produced a long stemmed camp lighter, "and fire." Peter bent to light the cotton balls, soaked in kerosene, and adjusted their position. Soon the materials on top of the raft were ablaze, and swiftly consuming themselves in the dance of burning.

The boys pushed the raft out into the flow of the Merrimack, where it was quickly pulled by the current out to the center. It seemed to be stuck on a sandbar for a moment, but the gentle rush of the water lifted it out. By now, the entire raft was a blaze, shooting flames three feet into the still Autumn afternoon air. Crackles and smoke drifted lazily from the burning raft as it drifted down stream. The boys watched, a few still sniffling tears, all clearly moved.

"We are free now," Glen said. "He can't hurt us anymore, and the things he did to us are gone, left in the past."

"Forgotten memories," Peter nodded.

"Thank you for coming," Glen concluded, and he started to walk away. But a small hand stopped him, reaching out to grab his wrist.

"Gracias," Enrico said, as Glen turned to see who had taken his hand. The smaller boy hugged Glen, then hugged Peter and started to walk off.

"Rico, wait," Kevin said. The smaller boy stopped and looked back. "I'll walk you home." Kevin then turned to Glen and Peter, giving them both a hug simultaneously. "Thank you. Greg would be proud to know you both." He gave both the younger boys a back slap to end the hug and then caught up to Enrico, dropping his arm around the smaller boy's shoulder as they walked off, both crying but feeling enormously happy.

Each boy came up and thanked Glen and Peter. Most hugged, some just bumped fists. Simon was next to last, and he smiled as he turned to walk away. "The old you woulda been a real cock about all this. I'm glad you don't remember him. He was a bastard," Simon said, his New England accent making "bastard" sound like "baastahd."

When all the other boys had left, it was just Peter, Glen and Jason.

Jason stood alone at water's edge, still staring at the point on the horizon where the smoke from the raft lingered. The burning cell phone had long since rounded a corner of the river and was likely sunk now, charred wood at the bottom of the muddy, murky Merrimack. He turned and looked at where Glen stood, Peter close by.

"Viking funeral?" Jason asked, his eyes still red from his own tears.

"Seemed appropriate," Glen shrugged. "Some things need rituals to give them meaning. I thought that giving everyone a chance to be part of destroying the evidence, then burning it and watching it go away would be a big step in getting past it."

"Yeah. No one likes to admit they were made someone's bitch," Jason agreed. "If I were you, I'd have kept it. Downloaded all the files and used it on every one of them here. Show the whole school who the fags are."

"Wouldn't that put you in that group, too?" Peter said, finding some strength in his voice.

"Maybe. Then again, if I had that stuff to use, I wouldn't out myself."

"There's lots unsaid in that truth," Glen said, inhaling deeply. "Guess you should be glad I'm not you."

"Guess so," Jason agreed. "This don't change shit between us."

"Didn't do it just for you," Glen replied. "We may not be friends anymore, but I'm not at war with you, Jason."

"We'll see." He started walking towards Peter, to leave the fishing spot. Glen stepped in front, however, preventing Jason from pushing his shoulder into Peter.

"I said , I'm not at war," Glen said, letting a little bit of flash come to his eyes. "But I'm not going to let you just bully anyone weaker than you. Do that, and we will be at war."

"Is that a threat or a promise?" Jason said, finally feeling like he was in a situation he understood.

"A warning," Glen replied, letting enough flash come to his eyes that it actually bathed Jason's face in aquamarine radiance. Jason's eyes widened when he realized his own eyes weren't deceiving him. "Just let it go, and move on with your life. We'll do the same."

"Yeah," Jason said, softly, stumbling up the slight slope from the fishing spot to the riverside trail. His eyes stayed focused on Glen until he had to turn and face the trail itself, at which point he hurried off, suddenly feeling the need to use a tree.

Leaving Glen and Peter alone.

"You think he'll tell?" Peter asked, packing things back into his backpack.

"Who would believe him? Besides, part of me telling him to let it go was to clear the air between us."

"Did it?"

"I don't know. He'll have to think about it more. I think what he said here was more for his own benefit than to try and stir up shit."

"Saving face, huh?"

"Why else wait until everyone else was gone? If nothing else, he should have shown off in front of Simon, just to have a witness."

"But we did have a witness," Peter smirked.


"I hid my cell phone under the rocks up where we hammered. Recorded the whole thing."

"Why you sneaky, underhanded…" Glen grinned, and reached out to ruffle Peter's hair. "Why'd you do that?"

"Because I knew I'd be holding the board down while everyone else hammered. I wanted to be able to see what was on their faces when they let Giuseppe have it."

"What will you do with it?"

"Treasure it always. Keep it safe, keep it hidden."

"See that you do," Glen said, sagely. "Keep it precious." Glen started back up the trail as Peter slung the pack over his shoulder.

"That's not the only thing precious to me," Peter mumbled under his breath, following Glen back out.

Having heard what Peter thought was said too low to be overheard, Glen grinned, and continued up the trail.

Several branches away, a pair of furtive figures had also witnessed the end of the ceremony, but from very different vantages, literally on opposite sides of the wide place on the path that marked the fishing spot. Neither observed the other as both observed Glen, Peter and Jason alone.

The one observer, he was still, quiet. At one with his surroundings high in the yellowing canopy boughs of an ancient elm tree, he looked down on the proceedings below with the attentiveness and sly cunning of a fox lurking in tall grass. At one point, during the burning-burial-at-sea part of the gathering, he allowed himself the luxury of pushing his gold wire-framed glasses back up his nose, carefully using the same hand to tuck a strand of hair back behind an ear, safely back in the folds of his hoody's hood.

The flash in Glen's eyes did not go unnoticed by the sly one. Nor the overconfident boy's hasty retreat from the same flash. The watcher above made note of it, and waited until the boy with the newfound confidence problem finished spraying a nearby wild hawthorn bush with the contents of his disturbed bladder.

So , the sly one thought, looking back to where Glen and Peter were packing up and heading back to the Watch proper along the multiple switchbacks of the forest trail. Another pair to keep an eye out for.

On the other side, closer to the ground, clothed in shadows, a second figure watched all as well. The flash from Glen's eyes nearly sparked a similar display in the shadowed one, but a will of iron kept that impulsive display of emotion firmly in check. Well, what have we here? the second figure thought. More to play with!

"Have you thought about Halloween yet?" Mom asked when Glen got home from school that Monday. Peter had work at the bicycle shop, complaining mildly that Old McMillian was pushing hard to get ready for Christmas, even with more than fourteen weeks before the holiday. And while his friend seemed slightly bummed out by the added work hours at the shop, there was a reluctant smile from Peter about it. The more hours he worked, the more he learned, the more money he made.

And the longer time he got to stay away from the ever evolving war zone in his own home.

"Not really," Glen sighed. He knew that it was coming, of course. Up and down the streets of the town decorations switched from the traditional summer red, white and blue patriotic theme to the more orange and macabre settings of the spooky season. One house down by the school had an oak tree decked out with what seemed to be the results of a one vehicle witch on a broom accident. Jack 'o lanterns and fake spider webs began flourishing, as well as signs bes peaking the untimely demise of certain sports franchise rivals and stars.

But despite all the gathering excitement of the coming event, Glen didn't seem to connect to it. Part of him had been curious enough to research the traditions and background of it all, which was interesting, and led him down several internet rabbit holes. He simply felt it was more of something he would watch happen rather than participate in.

Even more importantly, he wasn't sure how he fit into the holiday. On the one hand, he had survived an insanely deadly freak of nature event, which had turned Glen himself into an oddity in plain sight. He'd pretty much died and come back from the dead, which technically either gave him undead zombie status, or relegated him to a religious figure, Glen reasoned. Every cultural message and convention he had researched led directly to those two conclusions.

Yet he didn't feel unalive, nor somehow moved to gather followers with some new cosmic truth. There were times he wasn't sure how he felt. Mostly, he found that living in the shadows of lost memories left him wondering if the paths he chose daily were right. If Glen-that-was was somehow still influencing his decisions.

"Did I like Halloween before?"

"What kid doesn't?" his mother replied, typing at her laptop. "Free candy? You get to scare your friends? Caramel apples? And you get to dress up? Who could turn their nose up to that?"

"No one, I guess," Glen replied. But his voice showed he was clearly not feeling it.

"Still bummed about Jill and Jason?" his mother asked, folding the computer up and setting it aside. She smiled at him and patted the side of the couch next to her. Glen moved to sit beside her, sighing loudly as he sat down.

"Did Dad tell you?"

"No, but I was a girl once, and a teenager. I know how some girls think. And it's pretty obvio us that you and Jason aren't hanging around anymore. Even more obvious that your phone isn't blowing up with texts from Jill all the time."

"I didn't feel comfortable around them," Glen admitted. "It's like, they were disloyal on one level, but more like they seem better together." Glen slumped a little. "I don't remember things we did together, and, to be really honest about it, they really aren't nice people."

"That'll happen," Mom said, as if dishing out the wisdom of the ages. "I can see it does bother you a little bit."

"Some," Glen admitted. "Jason more so."


"Well, I see him more in the halls. And he just seems to have gotten over it and moved on. Which I guess is how those things work."

Mom shrugged. "Tends to be the way."

"Jill… I dunno. It's like she thought more of us as a social thing. Like being with me made us important and thus her important. But they both treat other people so badly. It's not awesome," he finished, his accent carrying and lengthening the pseudo rhyme in the last phrase.

"Girls can be like that. Boys too, come to think of it. I think you'll find that growing up is often a case of learning these things about people."

"Dad once said that this part of life is about trying people on. Seeing who fits your life, and who isn't a good fit."

"Well, your father is a wise man to have learned that from me," she grinned, sitting up straighter, her hands poised together over her crossed knees. Glen didn't get the joke. "But I see you are rather wise yourself, lately. To be honest, I didn't see you staying with Jill. The old you was…"

"Not awesome?" Glen asked.

"You had your moments," she said, a wry expressions twisting her face. "But I always had hope."

"Thanks Mom."

"For nothing," she smirked back. "Hope is a mother's greatest gift. Her most powerful weapon."

"Not guilt?"

"That's just a tool," she said, slyly, standing from the couch. "It's up to you to learn my arsenal without me giving you the owner's manual. And that too is a tool." She walked to the front door as a deliveryman arrived with a package. Glen, still seated, pondered a moment his mother's words. She deposited the package and returned to find the boy still lost in thought.

"Getting deep in there?" she asked, resuming her place.

Glen's mouth worked a few times, as if he were trying to order his thoughts on the way to his mouth, but pausing before saying anything.

"You and Dad. It's more than just love or sex or wanting to have kids, isn't it? It's about trust."

"All relationships are about trust, Mr. Wise Guy," she grinned.

"And love?"

"It's all essential. Love can exist without trust but it won't grow, won't last. Trust without love isn't a relationship, it's more of a business deal."

"I think I understand now. Thanks, Mom."

"Oh, you don't get away that easy," she said, folding her arms across her chest. "What have you figured out?"

"Well, Jill didn't love me because she's too busy loving herself. She didn't trust me either, because everyone she knows doesn't trust each other too. I think that she needs other people saying how good she is to feel good about herself, because she thinks everyone is judging her. Like it matters more to her that people think highly of her, so she does things to appear bullet proof, but the whole time she's constantly scheming. And I haven't figured out what she's scheming for.

"Same with Jason, but backwards. He didn't trust me, probably because of something I did to him before. Some stupid competition thing that stung him deeper than he wanted anyone to know. So he didn't love me either. Even as just a friend. I was convenient to them both. But with Jason, I think he did have friendship with me once. So maybe that was love, but something got in the way. Competition. Jealousy. I dunno," Glen sighed, gesturing with open palms. "I was probably a real dick to him, doing the same thing Jill does."

For a moment after Glen gave his answer he kept his eyes down, occasionally looking up to see his mother's expressions, but always flicking his eyes back to a spot of carpet a few feet in front of the TV.

"Wow," she nodded, "that is fairly impressive."

"And I think Peter loves and trusts me."

Her face remained passive as the deeper truth of that, of how small Glen's voice sounded as he said it, but how clear and confident he sounded. He wasn't singing that truth, he was nearly praying it.

"When you say that, is it the love of a brother or friend?" she asked. Glen, eyes still flitting between carpet and mother, shook his head with a sad expression. "I see. And how do you feel about that?"

"I think… I dunno what I think. But he has been loyal to me, he's trusted me with his worst pain, deepest secrets. He stood by me when those who were supposed to be my best friends had abandoned me for dead. And…"

"And?" his mother prompted.

"And I'd do anything to protect him." Glen's head came up, meeting his mother's gaze levelly.

"That sounds an awful lot like love and trust to me. More than best friends or brothers. Do you think he… uhm?"

"Do I think he's gay?" Glen asked, cutting to the point.

"I guess that is a two-sided question," his mother said. "It implies that you might think you are gay yourself."

"There are… some things I'm not ready to talk about. Not yet. And not because I don't trust you, Mom. It's some things I have to work out about other people. Things that I thought I'd just ended, but might have more parts still… tangled."

"I can appreciate that. Since your memory loss, it is like you are starting many things over."

"Well, it's like this. I don't know if I am gay, but I feel things around him that don't happen around other people. Boys or girls."

"Okay," Mom said.

"I think Peter might be gay, but kids at school have treated him like crap for a while now. Part of that is my fault, you know, from before." Glen sighed, his hands opening in his lap and flopping palm up on his knees. "And us being friends after all this…"


"Kids talk, ya know? In the hallways. In the locker room. In the cafeteria. They call him names, and I guess I used to be part of that. I probably started it. Old me, I mean. I seem to hear really well since waking up. They think that Peter is maybe trying to make me gay. But he's not. He's not like that."

"Oh, I know, honey. He's not manipulative like so many of the other kids you used to hang out with are. Sorry, mothers can sense things."

"Yeah, Pete's not that kinda person."

"Besides," Mom said, shifting her position on the couch slightly. "I don't believe anyone can turn someone else gay."

"Do you think Pete's gay?"

"If he is, then he's just as he was meant to be." Glen smiled a bit at that. "You two are both still rather young. Plenty of time to explore how you feel about sex and other people. Take your time and figure it out. There's no hurry."

"But everyone says…"

"Everyone says," she interrupted, her voice declining dismissively. "Everyone isn't always right. Even if this great mystical everyone thinks they're right, doesn't make it so. Quote-unquote everyone has been wrong before. Horribly so."

"So what do you think?" Glen asked.

"I believe that you are exactly as you are meant to be. And that figuring out what and who that is, that journey, it can take a lifetime to figure out." She grinned. "So, if that question was more about how I feel about you possibly being gay," she paused, getting a solemn nod from Glen. "Then my answer is this. Since you've been back, everything you've done has been about trying to fix the problems of the past. About not liking the person you were and trying to make a better self out of you."

Glen nodded. "I was kinda an asshole," he said, drooping his head again.

"Glen," she said, softly, lifting his chin with a curled forefinger. "You are as God meant you to be, as you have learned to feel to be right for you. So if you are gay, or suddenly sprout feathers or decide you want to become a Yankees fan…"

"Never happen," Glen interjected under his breath.

"If anything like that ever was to happen, I would love you no less. Ever."


"Always, my son. You are a gift to me. One that I celebrate and rejoice in daily."

Glen felt the corners of his mouth deepen into a scowl. "Mom, I have to show you something."

"What is it?"

Glen stood up from the couch, turned to face her and inhaled deeply. Almost reluctantly, he crossed his arms over his abdomen, gripping the hem of his t-shirt, and lifted the shirt up over his head, exposing the fractal scars. The motion of his shoulders as he brought them back by his sides, the shirt dangling from his left hand, gave the scars the appearance of a bird of prey lowering its wings from a fully outstretched position.

His mother gasped. "From the lightning?" He nodded. "Does it hurt?" He shook his head slowly, keeping watch on her face. "I remember Dr. McCoy and Dr. Marcus said the scarring might be extensive and permanent, but this…" she said, her eyes misting.

"There's more."


"Don't freak out, okay?"

"Can't guarantee that," she replied. "What else is there?"

"This," Glen said, simply. He closed his eyes and reached inside, calling to the power inside him. Glen's eyes opened, the normal green color back-lit with radiant aquamarine. He concentrated on his breathing, keeping control of the raging storm of energy inside him. He pushed it slightly and felt the warmth of the scars, the tingle as electricity from within lit them up.

Seated, one hand held to her mouth in wonder and surprise, his mother watched as the scars began a rippling pattern of scintillation, gradually increasing in brightness until a small crackle and pop sound could be heard, clear blue-white flickers of light chasing around on Glen's chest like Christmas tree lights. His eyes, too, emitted the bright blue light, lantern-like in intensity. His hair stood up, rising like the wings of a strange alien bird, perched on his head.

"Mother of God!" she gasped. "My poor baby," she said, standing slowly. "Does that hurt?"

"No. It actually feels good. Like a whole body exercise feeling."

The back door opened and slammed shut with the usual banging noise as Glen's dad came in. he stepped to the living room in time to see his wife touching Glen's chest. Her fingertips traced the glow cautiously, following one of the longer Lichtenburg scars from the center of his chest towards hid left collarbone. She could feel the pulse of the energy under Glen's skin, the pattern of warmth trickling around in time with his heartbeat.

"Son? Grace?" he asked. Glen's mom pulled her hand back, startled by her husband's appearance. The spouses shared a moment, eyes locked in silent communication. Glen could sense them reassuring each other, sharing their concerns with their eyes only.

"I'm okay, Dad. The lightning…"

"Changed you?" his father finished. Glen nodded. "And… you are controlling this?" Again his son nodded. "Guess this explains the fire in the hospital room."

"Allen, do you… do you think this is dangerous?"

"I don't know, Gracie. Can you turn this off for now, son? And throw a shirt on before your sister comes down."

"Yessir," Glen said, inhaling deeply and letting out his breath slowly. The glows running in circuits under his skin subsided, the beams from his eyes relaxed back to his normal green eye color. Sheepishly, he turned his shirt right-side out and slipped back into it. As his arms emerged he turned to find himself engulfed in the embrace of both of his parents.

It felt weird to Glen. Not that he was complaining. But there were emotions attached to this hug that he wasn't sure he could put full and complete names to. Love, certainly, above all else, that was ever in any touch his parents ever gave him. But there seemed to be more to that. Worry. Wonder. Questioning. Fear. Hope. All of these seemed to mix with differing feels, differing consistency and movement within the simple act of that parental embrace. He could feel his father's hand on the back of his head, gently tugging Glen closer for a paternal kiss through the crown of his hair.

Hearing his mother's soft tears, the motion of her breathing as her arms gripped him, protectively yet cautiously, brought a tear to Glen's eye as well. He realized in that moment, no matter what else happened in his life, these two people would never desert him. He also realized that he wasn't the son born to them, not anymore. He had become the son they really wanted. The one that parents dream of. They would let him follow his own path, but they would never bar him from returning. He would one day fly from this roost, but it would always be a nest he could perch on again.

"Okay?" the father asked. Odd movements within the hug amounted to nods. The family broke the group hug. They separated, the father sinking to the couch, his wife soon to sit beside, leaving Glen standing. With a flick of the eyes, the father indicated that boy should plant his b utt in the nearest seat, facing them.

"I wanted to tell you," Glen said, finding the matching chair behind him and collapsing a leg under his thigh, foot poking out behind a knee. He sat close to the edge of the chair, leaning his elbow on the thick cushioning of the arm rest.

"Were you afraid?" Grace asked, leaning forward, he hand reaching out to rest on her son's leg.

"Yes," Glen said, dropping his eyes in shame. "I asked the doctors not to tell you. Don't be mad at them."

"Why?" she asked, tilting her head slightly.

"Because they did as I asked."

"No, I think your mother wanted to know why you didn't want them to tell us about this. We understand the doctors keeping their word to you."

"Oh. Uh, well, I didn't understand this," he said, holding a hand away from them and letting a small spark pop up with a snap of his fingers, "yet. The doctors didn't either."

"And now?"

"Last check-up they did some tests. We figured a lot out. I've been learning to control it. To use it."

"Use it?" Grace asked, pulling her hand back.

"I kind of tapped into it a few times now. I wouldn't believe it if it didn't happen to me. Remember the party? When Jamie almost drowned?" His parents nodded. "I didn't know I was tapping into it, but, like…" and he sighed. "I just knew I had to do something. I think I shocked Jamie back, like they do in the hospital shows, with those metal pads on the coily wires."

His parents exchanged looks.

"That explains much," Allen nodded. "But this concerns me."

"I'm getting better at controlling it," Glen whined, an expression of worry coming to his face.

"Honey, we are a little worried about this electrical thing, but we're more worried that you felt like you couldn't trust us with this," Grace said, her eyes glistening a little. "Were you afraid we would reject you?"

"I… I don't know," Glen replied, slump ing back in the chair. "Glen-that-was was a real jerk. He was mean to Carolynn, mean to Peter, mean to friends and enemies and family alike." He looked across to his parents, tears starting in his eyes. "I didn't want to be like him. I didn't want to be all assholy like that."

"Language, son," Allen said, softly. "I…" he began looking to his wife for confirmation, "believe we understand though. Coming back from memory loss can't be easy. Living with the expectations of who you were and seeing how that doesn't match with who you feel you are now, that can be troubling enough. Dealing with this… gift…"

"It's a little outside the lines," Grace finished. "But we'll work through this. Together. And I think a meeting with your doctors is on the agenda now."

"Please don't be mad at them. They only didn't tell you because I wasn't ready yet."

"It's okay, son," Allen said. "We're not angry. Concerned. Understandably so. But this is something we all need to be on the same page about. We want to help you."

"Okay. What about Carolynn?"

"She may be too young to understand, completely," the mother said.

"Maybe," the father agreed. "But she will want to know, eventually. I have to say, watching the two of you lately, it's been like the two of you reconnected."

"I want to protect her. Especially from Glen-that-was," the boy said. "Weird. I keep talking about my old self like he might come back. Like I'm constantly fighting to keep him from coming back."

"You don't feel like that's the case, do you?" Grace asked.

"Sometimes. I don't think the old me is like, i dunno, lurking behind my thoughts or takes over when I'm sleeping or anything crazy like that. But he's got a long shadow."

"Indeed," Allen said. "Good to see you've found the parts of old Glen that enjoy the light."

"Or at least the lightning," Glen replied. "I have more secrets," he said, again looking down in shame.

"Important ones?" his mother asked.

"At this age, they're all important," his father deadpanned, grinning. "Let's make this compact now," the father began.

"What's a compact?"

"It's like an agreement. A contract."

"Oh, okay. Sorry."

"If it is something you think you need to bring to us, we will listen without judgement. But we want you to know that you should bring to us anything serious. Like your scars and this ability you have."

"I'm sorry. I just… so much of what I am learning is about how people work. And why the old me understood all that so much better than I do now. He… he used what he understood against a lot of people. And he had a good teacher at how to hurt and manipulate people."

"Another secret there?" Grace asked.

Glen nodded, sadly. "One that I think I've dealt with. One that wont be a worry anymore."

Something in how her son said that connected with Grace. Allen too. They gave each other a look that the boy noticed. Something odd passed between the parents there.

"We'll talk more about this later. Why don't you go see what your sister is up to? We'll go out to eat tonight," Allen said. "Anyplace you want."

"Friendly's?" Glen asked, his eyes lighting up at the prospect of food.

"Sure, kiddo. Hop to it." He got up and raced towards the stairs, skidding to a halt as his hand instinctively found its way to the round disc at the bottom of the railing. He turned, took several quick steps back and launched himself at his parents, hugging them both quickly before bolting back for the stairs and up them.

The parents waited until Glen's footsteps pounded upstairs before they turned to each other and embraced.

"Do you think?" Grace asked, whispering in her husband's ear. "Could it possibly be?"

"Not sure," Allen whispered back, clutching his wife with careful str ength.

"Do you think the others..."

"Not sure, either. Maybe, with all the other crazy things going on this summer, perhaps it's time we found out."

"I'll call Jean and Dex. That'll get the ball rolling," Grace said, turning her head to make the most of her husband's shoulder.

"I'll drop Mitch a line. I hear Carol is back in town as well. Over at Ryan's aunt's place in the Avenues."

"It's a start. I just pray we're over-reacting," Grace said, closing her arms tighter behind her husband's neck.

"You and me both, Gracie," Allen said, enjoying their closeness, worried about their future.

Down in Jack's basement tech center, the Eight Pack had gathered. Ostensibly, they were studying. Something they seemed to do a lot with school ramping up. The two German werewolves were doing well, catching up with their academics. With October approaching, the change coming to the air and the decorations in town, things seemed to be settling down.

So naturally, all of them were antsy to do something other than just hit the books or train. Jack's plan had come through, and quickly. When he called the others over to witness the results of his recent activities, they were only too happy. The werewolf boys chose to lay about in canine form, which Robby and Kenny quickly exploited as an easy place to sprawl out. Robby leaned back on Nick's flank even as Nick's head lolled against Cody's turned hip. Kenny simply plopped between Magnus and Sven, using their backs as arm rests.

Paul had thought about joining the pile, as they had so often done in the past. The eight of them had become a pack in just about every way. A pile of puppies just completely comfortable in each other's company. Each stayed with their own boyfriends for intimate matters, but they were closer than brothers in just about everything else. Many mornings found them all tangled on the floor after a marathon movie night, simply falling asleep where they lay.

But, at the moment, Paul had a lap full of Jack, who was physically manipulating several computers at once while his computer brain was directly controlling the systems feeding to the main screen. It just felt right for Paul to be holding the smaller boy. Showing how proud he was of what Jack had accomplished.

"So, how did you do this, exactly?" Kenny asked, craning his head around to look up at Jack perched on Paul's lap.

"When we overheard the conversation, it seemed to indicate that a specific cell phone was the focus of the conversation," Jack replied. "So I hacked all three cell phones, determined which one was pertinent, and then copied everything from that particular iPhone 8. Whoever owned that one was really lax in their password architecture. It took me less time to get past his security than it takes Nick to wolf down a bowl of cornflakes."

"How's that?" Nick woofed. His English was very Garou accented, but still seemed to carry a Cajun flavor to it.

"I've observed you eating breakfast," Jack responded evenly. "You swallowed an entire bowl of corn flakes with milk in seven point eight-two seconds once. Then went back for another bowl."

"Impressive," Robby grimaced appreciatively. "In human form?"

"Oddly, yes," Paul answered. "He just lifted it to his lips and slurped it down, poured it right down his throat."

"Bet that's not the only thing that pours right down his throat," Kenny grinned. Under Nick's muzzle, Cody's tail thumped the beanbag chair he'd sprawled across.

"But, that's not what we're here for today," Jack said, taking control of the meeting. "The action is about to begin."

"What are we looking at?" Robby grinned, turning back to the huge flat screen that dominated the wall. The screen fractur ed into three sections, a primary area in the center flanked by two narrower columns on either side, which were each split into three smaller panels.

"Massachusetts State Police Task Force agents have surrounded a large, single family home on the outskirts of Bilerica. Through tips I've released to them, anonymous posts on various social networks and linking different financial records, file transfers and missing children reports, they have not only managed to track down Giuseppe Zerata, but have managed to tie him to a network of those who deal in illegal images involving children."

"So, this is where he is right now?"

"Yes, Robby," Jack replied. "Without implicating any of the boys who appear as victims in that cell phone, I've tied this person to several others who engage in such activities and sell them. Law enforcement doesn't know who is spoon feeding them this intelligence, or how they can't seem to trace me," and Jack grinned in self-satisfaction, "but they have acted on it. In the last three weeks, they have prepared cases against fourteen suspects in this state, and alerted enforcement agencies in twenty-eight other states."

"Now that's impressive," Kenny said. "So this…" and the dark haired changeling indicated the screen before them.

"I have direct live video feed from police body cams, surveillance drones, one helicopter camera and three squad cars dash cams. I'm cycling through them as they become pertinent. The MSP group is about to raid the Bilerica home of Chester Rumsfield."

"And that's where…"

"Yes," Jack answered. "That is where Zerata is. And he, and anyone else in that house, are about to be raided."

"Justice, without having to get our hands dirty," Paul said, giving Jack's neck a quick kiss. "I like it."

The boys watched in rapt attention, as the various police cameras moved in around the house, readying weapons, hearing the communications over the radios the police officers wore. With careful, practiced ease, the officers surrounded the house, blocked off the streets to prevent innocents from getting too close to the action. When they were ready, the lead investigators, plain-clothesed officers wearing bullet proof vests and helmets that clearly said POLICE in large letters, moved to the front door, weapons drawn.

"I feel we should have some popcorn for this," Robby said, getting tail thumps from the four canine members of the group. The officers knocked on the door, announcing their presence. The apparent response was a shot gun blast through the door from the inside. The officers galvanized into action, entering the house from three points weapons tracking for any hostilities.

Jack switched the central image on the giant screen to one of the lead investigators as he rounded the front entrance of the house. His partner could be seen briefly stepping to the right in front of the investigator, her camera showing as she scanned a side room off the main hall, her weapon tracking as she looked in. Her cam feed briefly blurred as she came to a shooting stance, sweeping the room.

"Oh jesus," she muttered. "I have bodies in here!" The camera feed showed several young people, boys and girls, spread out around the room, their bodies ripped open and laid out as if in some sort of ritual pattern. Pools of melted tallow and piles of ashes lay scattered among the corpses.

The Eight Pack all sat up, peering in at what they were seeing. The depravity, the absolute atrocity of it. Cody switched all the way to human form, his mouth hanging open in horror.

The lead investigator heard calls of "clear" from different parts of the house as the police swept the structure. Occasionally, there would be an exclamation of disgust and horror. He was turning to walk towards his partner's position, relaxing his weapon stance when the sound of his partner vomiting could be heard.

That's when the shot rang out and the lead investigator tumbled to the ground.

Several of the other police body cams pivoted towards the direction of the gun shot, weapons tracking as they moved. One rounded a corner to see three men standing over the body of the lead investigator, all three armed, the center one chambering a fresh round for his pump shotgun. The other two, had each a child under one arm, a pistol pointed at the kids' heads. The threat was clear.

"Drop the weapons and release the kids!" one officer commanded on screen. There was much screaming, crying, threats, expletives, and the sound of the shot officer wheezing and calling out in pain from his wound.

"You can all go fuck yourselves!" the center gunman shouted, and then he began muttering rapidly in a strange language.

Cody's ears perked up, his eyes opening in surprise. "Gaia, no!" he whispered. "That's a spell!"

"A what?" Robby and Kenny asked as one.

On the screen, the other two gunmen stood a little taller, chanting along with the central one. Then they, simultaneously, with ritual precision, fired into the heads of the dirty, emaciated children in their grasp.

Jack inhaled sharply, clasping his hand over his mouth yet unable to look away.

The gunman in the center seemed to finish his ritual as the two children were dumped to the side. The stunned police opened fire on the three ritualists. Bullets clearly impacted the gunmen, their clothing moving and limbs twitching, yet they remained standing. Magnus sneered, realizing that the evil doers were actually grinning as they chanted.

And then there was a flash of brilliant incandescence followed by the cameras of all those inside the house going to "no signal" fuzz. Then silence. The cameras outside showed a different story however.

The house, anyone standing close to it, any cars parked either near or on the street adjacent to it, went up in a powerful explosion. Timbers and brick went soaring, the roofing lifting off in a giant mushroom shaped eruption of flame and smoke before shredding and scattering, raining down on the police waiting a block away. A second explosion touched off from somewhere under the remains of the house, blasting the foundation and scorching the falling debris. A human hand landed on the hood of one of the police cars, missing its body.

Jack gasped. Paul quickly pulled his boyfriend's head to his shoulder, holding him as the smaller boy began to cry.

"What have I done?" Jack asked in the silence of the room. The live feeds continued, police calling for rescue services. Other police radio traffic indicated that some of those in the house were calling for help in panicked, pained tones.

"This is way more than any of us could have predicted," Kenny said, soberly. "What have we stumbled upon?"

"I don't know, beloved," Robby replied. "But clearly if we mean to deal with this threat, we're going to need help. It's too big for just us alone."

"I killed them," Jack sobbed into Paul's shoulder.

"The fuck you did!" Paul said, holding the smaller boy tightly. "You did the right thing. So did those cops. No one knew those jokers knew magic. Or that they'd kill kids, even sacrifice themselves to cover shit up. We went after scumbags and found magical terrorists. You didn't lead anyone to their deaths, Jacky."

"Paul is right," Sven said. "It hurts how we have discovered this new threat, but it is revealed to us now. Our question is what do we do with what we know?"

"We set things right," Kenny said, simply. "Because this is not just a threat to kids anymore. Magic like that just isn't done here. That kind of power doesn't feel local." Cody nodded at that. He'd heard those words of power in his nightmares. Heard them and couldn't remember them. But Cody knew the tingle of magic when he heard those words over the body cam feed.

"You mean, not of this Earth?" Nick asked, transforming. His accent had softened in his shocked state.

"Whatever it means," Robby said, drawing himself to his full height, "we have to get ready. I get the very bad feeling that this," he said, gesturing to the screen, "was not just a small, one-time event." His blue eyes locked with Kenny's steel gray ones, getting a nod. "This was a message."

"A message? Message about what?" Paul asked, looking slightly perplexed while comforting his sullen boyfriend.

"It is a lure," Magnus said, his deep voice sounding darker and more ominous. "It is a proud one showing that he no longer fears detection, no longer fears being exposed."

"Magnus is right," Kenny said, rising to go and rub Jack's back. "This is a warning, a challenge and a statement of power all at once."

"But a challenge ta who?" Nick pointed out. "Jack knows his stuff. Ah'm guessing this weren't a call back at us. Not directly."

"A challenge to everyone. To any authority figure," Cody nodded, sagely. "It might be a lure, as Magnus says, but it's also a deception."

"How do you mean?" Robby asked.

"A show of force, covering up the evidence? Okay, I can buy that. I've seen enough detective shows on TV to know how investigators think in these situations. But I don't think this was meant for any one particular audience. This was done to show they don't care who they have to fight, or what they have to do to win." Cody turned and looked straight at Sven, getting an agreeing nod from the skinny blonde boy. "This was to prove they don't care who you are, they're ready. That they're the biggest, meanest dog on the block."

"Ya'll know whut Ah think?" Nick began, stretching his arms high over his head. "Ah b'lieve we all got part of this right. But there's more parts to it. Yer average kid porn dealers don't know blowin' up the house magic, much less the ritual murder stuff we saw neither. An' who's ta say that weren't staged, knowin' the cops was about ta bust in? Ah didn't see that scumbag Giuseppe guy on any of the cop cams. Did ya'll?"

The boys contemplated the question in silence for a bit. Once again, Nick's keen mind for deception had opened a possibility the rest of them hadn't considered.

"It's my fault," Jack said evenly, but with a level of self-recrimination none of them had ever heard from the computer boy. His confidence had taken a heavy blow. "All those deaths, all those kids…"

"Shhh, Toothpick," Paul said, rubbing Jack's back and chest.

"But I'm responsible!" the younger boy almost shouted. "If we'd just given the whole information to the authorities directly instead of trickling it out, leading them by the hand, they'd have struck sooner than this. It was my plan, my fault," he finished, weakly, sagging against Paul and turning his head under to hide his face.

"No, Jack," Robby replied. "These guys, whoever they are, whatever we're dealing with, they are responsible for putting those kids' lives in danger. They are the ones doing horrible things, making videos like with poor J.J. We didn't start this fight, but I swear to you now, we'll end it."

Off in the distance a blast of thunder shook the sky, rolling through cloudless heavens and storm scorched firmament alike for hundreds of miles. Umbra and Dreaming alike shook with the rumble of it.

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