A Bolt from the Blue

by D'Artagnon

Chapter 5

Chasing Thunder


"Arooof!" Thud. Crash! Whine!

"That's what you get for chargin' me, beeotch!" A familiar voice shouted as Peter and Glen rounded the corner of the shop. Clearly lit in the cone of wan yellow illumination from an overhead security light, Chase lay on his side, crumpled against four or five dislodged trash barrels, one of which rolled to a stop against the cement wall between the shop and the row house. His fluffy white fur was stained with droplets of blood, a small trail of which began pooling beside his straining chest.

"Chase!" the boys screamed in unison, rushing towards the dog. Peter dropped to one knee beside the wounded pet, getting an almost immediate tail thumping reaction. Glen, however, turned to face the back of the shop. Standing in the shadows of the alleyway, partly hidden from view was the person who had shot the dog, still holding the chrome .45 towards the valiant dog and the two boys, the weapon cranked over, gangsta style instead of being held upright in a firm, commanding, steady grip.

"I told you to leave," Glen growled, squaring his shoulders to the shooter. Behind Glen, Peter turned to look at the shooter as well, his own eyes, rimmed with tears, widening in disbelief. "You shouldn't have come back."

"Do'dent matter, you little shit. Don't know where you got that Taser from, last time. Don't matter now. I come to take back what's mine, and take somethin' outta your hide." He stepped into the light, behind the bravery of his weapon. Giuseppe, wearing tight leather pants, expensive high top trainers with logo's done out in neon colors, a ski jacket two sizes too large for his scrawny frame over a dirty white wife-beater, and a sideways hat declaring his allegiance to the New York Yankees. "An' I brought some friends with me this time, too. You and that little bitch behind you and me, we're gonna go for a little ride. Ain't that right, big G?"

Behind Giuseppe, three more figures entered the light, although only their upper bodies, their legs were still cast in the deep, shadows behind the shop. Two of t hem were huge, hulking masses of muscle packed into cheap suits, one with his thin black tie loose around an open top button, the other forgoing a traditional tie in favor of a more southwestern bolo. They looked tough, and each easily outweighed Glen by over a hundred pounds. He couldn't see if they were armed, but with the casual sneer warping Giuseppe's face, he had to guess they were more than just window dressing.

The third one was a bit startling to Glen. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but the lady that walked behind the two muscle-heads wasn't what he expected. She stood slightly taller than Giuseppe, but was still dwarfed by the two pillars of strength that flanked her. Her long coat almost blended perfectly into the darkness, but fell open as she stepped forwards. Under the coat she wore a long, tight yellow cocktail dress that stood out starkly. A red scarf decorated her throat, also hanging out of the coat as one lapel flapped gently in an errant breeze.

"You weren't supposed to shoot, you idiot," the woman said dispassionately.

"You saw the dog comin' at me?" Giuseppe claimed, gesturing with the weapon. "That thing needed to be shot! Might have to do it again to finish it off, yo!"

"Yeah, cuz you such a lousy shot," Loose Tie said. "Betcha'd empty the whole clip, too. Just because."

"You want some, Ant'ony?" Giuseppe fired back, holding the gun out towards the Loose Tie guy, but with his wrist turned so the gun pointed up and away, like he was brandishing it for effect rather than threatening the bigger man.

"Oh yeah, little man. I'd like to see youse use that pee-shooter on me. Take your best shot."

"Enough," the woman with the diaphanous red scarf said, firmly yet with a sort of weariness that said she had experience in dealing with macho idiots posturing for each other. "Is this the boy that stole your cell phone?" she asked, nodding towards Glen. Glen, for his part, stood defiantly between Peter and Chase and the four adults in the alley.

"Yeah, that's the little punk that ambushed me with the Taser," Giuseppe said, pointing the gun back at Glen. He grabbed the center of his wife beater and lifted it, showing three branded marks burned into the lower left side of his abdomen. "You wont catch me again!" he shouted, turning the gun back towards the marks. The brands crossed each other, forming a rough triangle, tilted precariously to one side, right over the crest of the left illium. "I been blessed! I got the magic in me now!"

"A spell mark?" Peter gasped in awe.

"Geeze, kid, don't go flashing that around!" the Bolo Tie guy said, looking around. "Somebody sees you with that…" he left unfinished, but drew a line across his neck with a beefy finger.

"So," the woman said, stepping forward. "The famous Glen Bergeron. And that must make your friend Peter Johnson." She smiled sweetly. "I've seen so many of your films, the both of you. You've turned us a tidy profit, until recently. I have a few questions, you can answer now, or I can find more… interesting ways of stimulating your responses. Which will it be?"

"Oh no! Fuck that noise! You said I'd get to kill 'em!"

"Giuseppe, man," Loose Tie said, twisting his neck around to show how thick it was. "You don't really wanna cross her. Not in public and all."

"I'm talkin' to her , Ant'ony. You just watch the street and be a good thug. The grown-ups is talkin'." The smug look on the waiter's face suddenly went away when the Loose Tie man suddenly shot out his hand and had Giuseppe by the throat, pressed to the cement wall.

"Anthony, don't break his neck. The master may still have use for him."

As the drama plaid out before him, Glen waved his hand behind himself at Peter, signaling that he should get out of the alley while they were distracted. He risked a look back and saw that Peter was leaning over Chase, crying, petting the dog's face. Glen turned back around to find the guy with the Bolo Tie had produced a menacing looking pistol with some sort of extended barrel. A silencer, Glen realized.

"Don't even think about it, kid. At this range, I could change your religion with one shot and be ready to blow your brains out with the next before you could even get your little stun gun out. Just kee p it cool. And wipe your face, ferchrissakes. Looks like you're drooling from the eyeballs."

Glen raised his hand to his face and felt his tears as they tumbled out. A soft whine behind him reminded him of why he was crying. His dog was bleeding behind him, shot by the man who used to touch him in bad ways all the time, who now is threatening himself and his best friend with a gun, backed by three strangers who seem to casually dole out violence.

"I want answers boy!" the woman demanded. "How did you erase thousands of files like what Giuseppe made for us from all our servers at once? How did you know about our chantry in Bilerica? How are you getting the police their information without our informers finding out first?" She reached into her coat and drew out what at first looked like a revolver, but one of a much older design… until one noticed the three rods of glass bolted to the revolver by wrought iron bands. "You have three seconds to start talking or your little boyfriend dies."

Glen stared at the tears on his hand. Looked over that hand at the four persons who had chosen to ambush Peter and himself, and who had shot his dog, and slowly closed that hand into a fist, closing his eyes, deliberately.

Behind him, Glen could hear Peter softly telling Chase he was a good boy, with that tone that implies he was trying to keep the dog calm, let him know he is loved, as his life slowly slipped away.

High over the alleyway, perched on the tall, gaudily colored Victorian row house, an assortment of spirits watched, silently. They observed all below while in their true forms this time. Some standing regally while others hovered, impossibly still, looking on with intense interest. Phoenix, Thunderbird and Unicorn were there. As were Wolf, Cat, Falcon, an oddly perched F/A 18 Super Hornet jet fighter named Clashing Boom-Boom, Stag, Rabbit, Owl, Dolphin, and even tiny Flea. Fox sat on one of the eaves beside Mouse, both content to look on with the rest, although sitting slightly apart. High overhead, ephemeral, gauzy Lunes wove lazy patterns with their flowing tail-trails, back and forth, as Grandfather Thunder watched with feigned disinterest, although he was keenly aware of what was brewing below. Other lesser spirits flitted about, wanting so see what was occurring, but not wanting to draw the attention of the darker, powerful spirits sitting opposite Phoenix and Thunderbird and Unicorn and their friends.

Across from the row house, on the open rooftop of the shop, three floors above the alleyway, another contingent also watched. Whippoorwill, grown to enormous size, flanked by three deformed and mangy looking Garou, clearly of the evil Black Spiral Dancer tribe. The werewolves were scarred heavily, marks that only silver could leave permanently seared into their flesh. Marks of maddening whirls and twists, made at such an angle that they could only have been traced by the werewolf himself. One of the Garou seemed to be constantly giggling, although at what joke, none could say.

Other than the vile bird spirit and his BSD servitors, there were other spirits above the shop, watching events below. Smaug, Toxin, Manticore, Greed, Lust, Vermin, Carrion and Pride were in attendance, as were Green Dragon soaring overhead and Belladonna, Sludge and a large, shiny, spiney and razor covered psychomachinae wearing a collar like a pet attending the diminutive green spirit known as Envy, who toyed with the attached leash as though contemplating setting the giant mantis looking psychomachinae loose on the proceedings below. Numerous banes scuttled in the shadows, looking on with hungry intent, ready to devour the flood of dark emotions already percolating within the mortals and others below.

A gentle flash of light signaled the appearance of a new spirit from the tableau in the alleyway. A gentle rip as the Gauntlet let a spirit slip into the Umbra amongst the gathered spirits.

A joyful noise rose up between the two sidelines of spirits. In a whirl of white, glowing as if backlit by the sun with his fur fluffed out as the first coat of puppyhood, Chase ran into the open air over the alleyway. He ran up, pausing briefly to sniff at Whippoorwill before bounding o ff to play tag with one of the Lunes. A tinkling sound of the Lune's effervescent laughter sprinkled across the scene as the dog ran and twisted, giving chase, running on air as if it were firm ground.

And then the dog seemed to look down while twisting about to follow the Lune on a mad dash across the sky. He looked down and saw his human, his boy, standing with a fist, angry-sad smells coming off him. Then he saw Peter, his boy's boy. Also with the angry-sad smells. Leaning over a fluffy white dog whose scents Chase knew all too well.

Yes , Wolf said to the dog-spirit . It is over for you, little one, little Cloud Chaser. You are free now to run and hunt among the spirits and stars.

"Great one!" Chase chuffed in awe. "The All-Dog. The Wolf who we all were sired from!"

You are free, Cloud Chaser. No longer will you feel achy paws in the cold morning crunchies, nor feel the sting of Flea's children.

You were very generous to them, Flea spoke, his voice oddly deep in timbre.

You have lived a good life and deserve your reward , Wolf continued, sounding old and wise and strong all at once.

Chase looked down, seeing his human trembling with emotion. He saw the blood on his own coat, an unconscious whine escaping his lips.

"But great one… great ones… my pack needs me. My boy… he came back to me. He still needs me. I am not done yet. I cannot be."

What would you have us do, Cloud Chaser? Phoenix asked. All living things of Gaia must die. It is the Way.

"I am no coward!" Chase barked back. "I must defend my pack!"

Listen to them well, young Cloud Chaser, Whippoorwill called out across the chasm . Even they know that death and decay is the only way to complete the cycle. In dying, you replenish the eternal dog. You may cease to exist in the physical plane, you may even fade into the aether of the Umbra, but your body is dying as we speak. Nature's true course is happening. Even they know the truth of this.

The giant bird spirit seemed to grin a little, seeing his opponents across the alleyway cringe, realizing that the foul spirit was right. Whippoorwill continued. Your bravery and honor do y ou credit, little dog spirit, but every hound is just a tool for the humans. Just a bit of skin with talents they use for their own twisted ends. Did not your boy once abandon you? Hurt you?

"He… was sick. And I didn't know how to heal him. I failed him then. I cannot fail him now. Not when he's so close."

Close to what? Cat asked, sitting up straighter, tail wrapping around her legs.

"Close to being what he should be. Close to becoming his own star. Even one as lowly as I am knows this to be true, great ones." He turned to look back at Glen, standing protectively between Peter and his own limp body and the creatures that wore man-forms threatening his boy. "I must return to him."

It cannot be, Thunderbird said, sadly. It is not permitted. The secrets of passing beyond death are forbidden to one such as you. Even forbidden to one such as Glen.

Yet you choose to snatch him from me, nearly took his life from him and then returned it, all to gain a champion? To take a piece from my board to add to your ranks? Whippoorwill challenged.

"He is just a man-pup," Chase pleaded. His eyes turned towards the assembled spirits. "He has been hurt so much. He has been trying to do good-boy things. I have to help him."

I think he's about to decide for himself if he needs help, Whippoorwill said with a sly tilt of the head. Then he craned his neck around behind himself as something bumped into his left leg and tail. Looking down, Whippoorwill was startled at whom had arrived behind him. His retinue of BSD warriors and the dark spirits beside him backed away, giving the newcomer some space.

Did I miss the battle? I have gotten slow in my middle age, you know , the newcomer spirit said, wheezing slightly.

M-M-Master Turtle, Whippoorwill stammered in shock. How did you get here? Your side are all watching from over there.

Ah, what difference does that make. I have a great view from here , he said settling down. Now now now, what have we here? Two boys and a wounded dog, minus his spirit. Oh! There you are, little Cloud Chaser, Turtle said. What mischief have you gotten yourself into this time, eh? Make some room for the elderly, boys. This should be good.

Glen opened his eyes staring at his fist, still wet with his own tears. An aquamarine glow began to grow in intensity on the skin of his fist. A glow that emitted from Glen's own eyes. He felt the scars on his chest, and on his back as well, begin to flicker and grow warm. He knew that the pulsing of light was strong through his chest scars now. He could feel the power rippling around inside him, growing, feeding on his anger.

"What the hell?" Bolo Tie said, watching as Glen's eyes grew brighter, flickering in intensity as the electric power within him sought a way out.

"Huh?" Loose Tie said, letting go of Giuseppe's neck, his own snapping around to see what his partner was upset about.

"Shoot him! Shoot him before he…" Giuseppe called out, his voice hoarse from the recent abuse. His own weapon had dropped to the ground and he ducked under Loose Tie's arm to try and retrieve it.

And that's when Glen let the lightning sing.

His first bolt popped off his outstretched hand, the tears melting away as it penetrated the Bolo Tie guy and cooked him from the inside out. The man's gun went off, firing two shots in rapid succession. The first one ran into the torrent of electrical energy aimed his way and evaporated in a blur of orange, scorched metal slag, burning bright in the much brighter stream of Glen's fury. The second shot ricocheted of the bricks of the alley wall. Something smacked into Glen's left calf from behind, but he barely felt it. He was too focused.

Loose Tie dropped to one knee, screaming something, likely the name of his friend, Bolo Tie, as the latter shuddered in jiggled in place, forked on the stream of Glen's continuous burst of energy. The whole of the alleyway lit up with dancing arcs of blue crackling energy as he drew his own heavy pistol and fired. His shot was on target. At such close range, it couldn't help but be, especially for such an experienced gunman.

But the heavy slug rebounded before it could strike Glen. The Loose Tie guy swore profusely as Glen's light show settled down and Bolo Tie d ropped to the ground, desiccated, scorched and crispy, his clothing smoking, his weapon a charred hunk of molten metal slowly cooling around what was once the man's fingers.

Glen looked around recognizing the sound of a gun blast from television and movies. To his faulty memory, he didn't know if he'd ever been around weapons before, or heard one fired in real life. But the sound was immediately recognizable, and he would never forget it. Nor would he forget the stunned look on the gunman's face as the bullet simply bounced off. Glen felt the slug push on him, but the bullet never touched him, didn't even impact his clothing. It simply stopped, flipped up in the air like a deformed mushroom cap, spun and landed on the ground two feet from Glen's toes.

Boy and gunman stared at each other in disbelief for a moment, the gunman's arm going slack at the sight. Behind himself, Glen could hear a soft chanting. He turned to see that Peter was kneeling on the ground, his finger wet with Chase's blood. As Peter chanted, his body shook rhythmically back and forth, words of power spilling from his lips even as a flickering orange light poured from his eyes, trailing a faint orange mist with the slight breeze that followed Glen uncorking that bolt. Peter's finger slowly traced and retraced a simple pattern on the ground, using Chase's blood as the medium for his art.

The simple pattern that Glen recognized almost at once. A doodem turtle image drawn with one continuous line, looping back in on itself.

"The little native is a shamen!" the woman shouted.

"Kill the little freaks!' Giuseppe shouted, recovering his weapon and he began firing, unloading the clip in a burst of rapid, inaccurate trigger pulls. Half of his shots actually would have struck either Glen or Peter but for the spell Peter kept drawing and redrawing. Glen tested the barrier protecting him from the lead storm with a short burst from his right hand. It scattered around on the inside of some invisible energy field, concave like a turtle's back.

"He can't keep that up forever," the woman shouted. "Soon as he falters, both of yo u are dead. My Master will just have to take his vengeance on your corpses." And she fired from her odd weapon while Giuseppe tried and failed to release the spent clip from his weapon, cursing loudly.

Her shot was not of metal, but seemed to be of some liquid substance. Purple with oily shimmers, the spray struck the shell with considerable force. Glen immediately brought his hands up to cover his face as the acrid smell of the liquid spray washed over his sense of smell. Burning vomit covered in equally burning crude oil would have been preferable. The liquid splashed one of the rolling trash barrels that Chase had collided with, instantly corroding and melting away the plastic of the barrel like hot kettle water falling on powdered sugar.

Glen started to panic. They couldn't leave without Peter breaking the spell. They couldn't fight through the shell either. Peter couldn't keep the shell shield up forever. There had to be another way. The woman sprayed again from her weapon and the acidity of the smell almost made Glen gag, as the air swept the scent around the alleyway.

In a moment of inspiration, Glen turned and fired a bolt at the wall to his left, bouncing the bolt around the corner like a billiards shot. The shot had much less power, but it did frighten the woman enough that she sought cover. Loose Tie backhanded Giuseppe and took the other gun. Now doubly armed, he stood and began shooting at Glen, using Giuseppe's weapon to test the edges of the shield. Seems he had the same idea Glen had: if you can't go through it, you gotta go around it.

Glen blasted towards the corner again, but this time his spray of lightning went off in an unexpected direction. A quick glance showed that his first shot had dislodged some of the bricks, screwing up his deflection angle. About that time, he also noticed he wasn't standing on the ground anymore. His feet were nearly a foot and a half into the air, his whole body surrounded by a twisting, bouncing wavy pattern of lightning.

I can fly? he thought, awestruck. Oh, right , he thought, remembering earlier levitations since awakening.

"Fuck, the kid can fly?!" Loose Tie said, aiming both weapons but holding his fire. "What the fuck!"

"Get the other one!" the woman shouted, aiming her gun to arch over the shield. Glen put away his wonder for the moment. His powers were working, time to use them. Emotion is the key , Doctor McCoy had said. Focus on your emotions for control. The ripples of energy in his chest and back scars were so intense now that they shone through his shirt and jacket, literally burning through the fabrics. His eyes shifted focus, showing him the little purple spidery lines around electrical devices. He could make out the flickering lines in the adults' clothing where he would suspect their cell phones would be carried. He saw the fainter traces of the same lines following their skeletons, inside their heads. And he could see the massive amount of those lines dancing just inside the frame of the shops structure. He followed that up to the powerline coming in from the street, which caused his gaze to drift up higher still, to the distant clouds of a growing storm.

And in his mind, he made a connection.

And after that epiphany, he made another choice. One that defined him.

"Lay down your weapons and leave."

"We ain't leavin' with you alive, kid." Giuseppe pulled out a second, smaller wheel gun. "You were a good fuck but you ain't gonna put me down, or take us down or whatever."

"Giuseppe, shut the fuck up," Loose Tie said, looking to the woman. "What do we do?" he asked her.

"Kill his little friend. I'll take the Master's prize, myself."

"Last chance," Glen said, his voice sounding hoarse with emotion. "Leave and never come back, or die."

"Fuck…" Giuseppe said, raising his weapon to fire, but the woman turned her weapon on the punk and let fly. The torrent of corrosive liquid landed on the space between Giuseppe's neck and chest, blasting through with force and then melting the flesh outwards. The former waiter and child rapist tried to scream, but his lungs and throat no longer connected, his jaw melting backwards under the acidic assault. His spine folded in on itself as his ribcage crumbled and h is head, eyes wide in pain, terror and surprise slid into the melting goo of his internal organs. His body, what remained of it, crumpled to the ground, quivering. The liquefied pile of Giuseppe's flesh gurgled and oozed, sizzling and popping.

Loose Tie had managed to get around into the corner of the alley, and leveled his weapons at Peter's head. Peter didn't seem to be able to see, the stream of orange glowing mist still flowing from his eyes, but his head did whip around in Loose Tie's general direction as the gunman leveled his weapons. That was as far as he got. Peter began chanting louder and instead of drawing on the ground, his fingers curled in the image of drying blood and he dug into the ground with his bare hands, penetrating the asphalt as if it were sand. Loose Tie's footing faltered and he stumbled trying to seek solid ground as he sank to his knees into the ground in less than a second.

Glen flexed his biceps, arms stretched outwards and shot into the air like a glowing bird of prey. Tendrils of electric force slid along his body, out and away, like the feathers of some massive hawk taking flight. In the crackle of his passing, he flew up level with the tops of the two buildings forming the alley, and the concrete retaining wall behind. Holding that position, he screamed in anger, pain, frustration, loss, every emotion he thought he could put a name to, and others that felt too big to just be one word. He focused it, grabbed it in his hand, high over his head and with a javelin like motion, collected all the energy of the growing thunderheads, miles above him, and channeled it into one instant bolt.

The woman never knew what hit her. The power of that single blast leveled half the shop, penetrating so deep into the basement that it cooked off the heating oil tank, blasting brick fragments nearly 400 feet around the neighborhood. Her body was incinerated almost instantly. As was Loose Tie, the only parts of his body surviving the maelstrom of electrical discharge and the intense heat of the explosion were his calves and feet, ensconced as they were in the pavem ent.

Peter and Chase seemed to be spared the effects of the blast by virtue of Peter's spell. Peter lay back, exhausted by the effort to cast the shield ritual. Glen slowly came back to the ground, steam billowing off his body, his shirt and jacket burned away, the bright blue tracings of his Lichtenberg scars still rippling with energy, but slowly resuming their normal colorations.

"Pete!" Glen cried out, rushing to his friend's side. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Peter said, feeling winded. "No new holes. They didn't touch me." He opened his eyes to look at Glen, both of their eyes still showing slight glows. Glen's remained dim but steady while Peter's eyes lost their orange mist, resuming their normal dark brown depths.

"Was that..." Glen asked. Peter just nodded. "When did you learn how to do that?"

"Just now. No, that's wrong. I think I always knew, I just never tried it. Never had a reason to try it." Peter looked to his friend and then reached down to the back of Glen's leg. His hand came away with blood. "You're hurt!"

"Just a scratch. I think a bullet nicked me on a bounce."

"We gotta get you to a doctor."

"I think we know which one to call," Glen said reaching for his cell phone only to realize it was in his jacket pocket. "Aw crap. Mom's gonna tear me a new one."

"Lost your phone?"

"I think it burned up when, well, you know," Glen said, flexing his chest muscles. The scars let a slight glow dance around on them. "I think I'm out of energy for a bit."

"You okay?" Peter asked.

"Yeah, just feel a little light head…" he trailed off, slumping to the ground. The world whirled around him and he succumbed to the bliss of sleep.

"Glen, can you hear me?" a voice beyond a light in his eyes asked, loudly.

"Yes," he squinted up. The light switched off, replaced by Dr. Marcus' face.

"You had us worried, young man. Good thing I was walking past your spot." The doctor held up his hand before Glen's face. "How many fingers?"

"You still got all five. How many do I have left?"

"Humph, wiseass!" the doctor grunted. "Just answer the question, please."

"Two. And your thumb."

The doctor tur ned towards a waiting crowd. "He's fine. I don't think there's any concussion. Just the same, bring him by the hospital tomorrow and we'll do a cat scan on his noggin' to see if all his marbles are still there."

"Good, cuz he's been missing some lately," Peter said, seated at the dinner table at Glen's house. Glen looked around seeing his mother and sister beside him.

"Pete!" Glen said, sitting up quickly. His equilibrium swam, forcing him to reach out for support. "ooh, not doing that again," Glen said.

"Are you feeling better, Glen? You can hold my teddy if you want to," Carolynn offered, holding up a bedraggled looking bear that had seen better days.

"I'm good, thanks." Glen shook his head to clear it, just in time to see Dr. McCoy and a lady that Glen assumed was his wife walk in from the kitchen. Mrs. McCoy handed glen a tall glass of something that smelled absolutely horrid. "Where's Dad?"

"He's helping with Chase, dear," Mrs. McCoy said. Glen's eyes turned down at that. "Now you and you, young men, must drink this all the way down to the bottom." Peter looked at a matching glass of milky green liquid. It still spun in the glass from the stirring spoon, Mrs. McCoy had used. An occasional leafy bit flicked at the sides of the glass like sea creatures trying to escape.

"What is it?" Glen said turning his nose up a bit. It definitely was part some leafy green thing in a former life, the color and the smell told Glen that much.

"Just like Simba said, it's slimy, but satisfying," she smiled. "A little home brew I make sometimes when Dr. McCoy over does it on the squash court."

"I am not the athlete I used to be," Dr. McCoy offered loudly from across the room, offering the same looking drink to Peter.

"Go on, it'll put hair on your chest," Mrs. McCoy suggested, giving a little grin.

"Who wants that?" Glen asked, taking the glass closer to his mouth. "Are you sure this is fit for human consumption?"

"Such big words, and who's to say you're even human at this point. From what I remember, all teenage boys are just bottomless stomachs and hands for video games. Drink!"

"Okay, okay, a lright." Glen took a deep breath, blew it all out through his nose and brought the tumbler to his lips. The initial thought that this might be some kind of witches brew designed to kill him off didn't dissipate at the questionable liquid sloshed thickly down his throat. His teeth filtered some of the fluid as it surged into his mouth, leaving a greasy feeling behind. The flavor hinted strongly of boiled spinach, possibly kale, and at least one pureed radish, based on the snappy aftertaste. How all that produced a thick milky beige color without turning to sludge was beyond Glen's capacity for reason.

"Ewwww, gross! That stuff could gag a maggot!" Peter exclaimed, shaking his head to clear the flavor. "Water, please! I'm dying here!" he complained clawing at his throat. Carolynn's giggles showed that she understood the joke. Peter offered her the cup and she ran screaming, her high pitched squeal echoing through the house.

"We'll this one fine," Dr. McCoy said, patting Peter on the shoulder.

"For the record, that was all electrolytes and protein. To help balance you out after that nasty crack on your head. How do you feel?"

"Surprisingly good, Mrs. McCoy. Thanks for not poisoning me."

"You were right, Dr. Marcus," she said, turning to the physician as he was putting his bag in order. "Definitely a wiseass."

The door opened and Glen's Dad came in, shortly followed by Peter's Mom and Dad. His parents rushed to Peter's side, gathering him into an embrace as he sat in the chair. Glen's Dad looked over and smiled, nodding in Glen's direction. Dr. McCoy walked over and shook hands with Glen's father, talking briefly in the hallway. Glen's Mom got up to go find her daughter and get her squared away for bed.

"Here, this should help with the mouth," Dr. Marcus said, getting Glen's attention. He looked up to see the doctor offering him a red lollipop. The doctor shrugged as Glen looked from the candy to Marcus' face. "Sorry if you like the green ones. Your..."

"Sister likes the apple ones," they finished together. "You did well tonight."

"How much does anyone know?"

"Only what Peter said. Yo u were walking Chase and heard a gunshot. The dog took off to investigate and more shooting happened. One of the bullets set off an explosion at that shop. Do you know what they did in that shop?"

"It was a dry cleaners, right? I mean, that's what the sign said."

"Indeed, but that business had been closed for years. Someone was running a meth lab in there." Glen's eyes shot open at that revelation. "A lot of volatile chemicals involved in that stuff. Nasty business all around, if you ask me." The doctor winked. "I'm sure the truth is beyond all of our capacity to fully know. We're just happy that Peter managed to call us after the explosion. He sounded the alarm, got everyone out of the three-family unit next door. Got you to safety after that bang to the head. Even stopped that bleeder in your leg. We stitched that up for you. Probably be feeling that in the morning."

"Wow, I miss a lot when I'm unconscious," Glen said, watching as Peter rapidly talked with his parents, animatedly. They seemed genuinely worried about him, for a change, and noticeably sober.

And then Glen remembered what precipitated the attack in the alleyway. His eyes misted over. The doctor got a quizzical look to his face.

"You do know what really happened there, right?" Glen asked.

"More than you might imagine. Let's just say, I saw most of it and alerted help to come to you. But by the time we had gotten there, things were, well, as they were."

"Poor Chase," Glen mumbled.

"Yeah. Heroic mutt. Genuine friend to the end."

"Yeah," Glen mumbled, trying to hold back his tears. True, Chase running in there had led Peter and Glen into the trap, but he'd been trying to prevent the trap in the first place. The doctor noticed Glen's situation and handed him a tissue.

"You just better take better care of him in the future."

"What?" Glen said looking up.

"Perhaps a better grip on the leash would have helped avoid all that unpleasantness. Something to think about for when he comes home."

"Chase is alive?!"

"Yeah. He'll be weak as a puppy for about ten to fifteen days while his body regenerates all the blood he lost, but we managed to dig out the bullet and stop the bleeding in time. Dr. Kaplan, the ER vet from Andover Animal Hospital said he should make a full recovery."

"My dog's okay!" Glen said raising his hands high overhead. The sheet slid off his bare chest, revealing the scars, which pulsed brightly with Glen's excitement, lighting up the bird of prey across his back and chest. The doctor, acting quickly, brought the blanket back up to Glen's chest and with a slightly reproving smile, eased him back down, his scars fading back to normal under the cloth.

"Now why can't we bottle that kind of medicine," Dr. McCoy asked his wife.

"A boy and his dog, never the two shall part," she replied, melting against her husband's side.

"Thank you, wife," Dr. McCoy said, softly.

"Anytime, husband. May Light always shine."


Somewhere underground, the walls of the chamber reflecting light unnaturally like only vitrified granite can when the torches burn bright orange, the crowd chanted softly. Their words, if such sounds could be called words, rung with an eerie alien-ness to them. Words of madness, words of power. Words that pierce even as they are spoken, nearly forgotten in the rush and undulation of energies moving within those speaking, only to go through the cycle again, building in intensity and concentration.

"Oohbah cha'a'ah ehnoibrea, mirichari ehnoibrea! Acha thishna kocherurugah! Oohbah cha'a'ah ehnoibrea! Ko Ko Che Karrooh!" the ritualists chanted, locked in some sort of self-hypnotic trance, swaying in thrall. It flowed, alien, ancient and aliteratic, from them, barely a space for breath between phrases.

Leading the ceremony, spaced around the large flinty boulder in the center, they chanted in closest unison. Six robed figures, slight in stature, their hoods drawn over their faces, hiding all but their softly glowing eyes and chins in shadows cast by the orange flicker of torches. The room was filled with dozens of others, similarly dressed, all chanting. But these six were different. Their movements, the undulating waves that traveled through their bodies from the base of the ir spines to the whip action at the top of their necks, were identical. Too precise for even dedicated practice.

No, these six were identical to each other, yet unique among the throng chanting rhythmically round the rock. These six were special.

"Masters!" they cried out in pain, as one, with a singular voice, tone and emotion.

Seated before the cultists three figures looked on, annoyed.

"Speak," the lanky Spaniard intoned, standing from the right side throne, holding his hand out for the others to drop their chanting to a murmur, barely heard, yet never loosing time on their reciting, undulating.

"My lords!" one of the six said, drawing back her hood. The flash of a scarf, capturing the light in its silken green flow, stood out from her open cloak, tied loosely about her throat. Her hair stood out in the firelight, flaxen and shimmery in the cavern's wan glow. Her hand reached up and snaked around a lock of her own hair, as it changed from black and shimmering to a brilliant scarlet, the color seeming to flow like paint into an artist's brush. Or like blood seeping into cloth, darkening the color yet giving liquid trails of shine to the eye.

Each of the other seven likewise pulled back their hoods, revealing identical features, down to the same still fluid saturated lock of red slipping like a wound through their hair, and in exactly the same place, just left of the temple. The only thing that could denote any of the identical women was the differing shocks of colored scarves drifting down their necks and across their collarbones. Here one was violetly scarved, there another with a wisp of orange, a third with mustard yellow seemed to be searching for the cause of her pain with one hand, while touching the reddened part of her dark tresses with the other. The identical one wearing aqua curled her legs under her chin and sat in shock, while the sister with the white scarf seemed caught between an inhale and a scream.

"You have been called upon, Verdita," the lanky female seated in the left throne spoke with a haughty power that only those who teach and command obedience use. " Speak for your sisters. What dismays you?" But the green scarved sister could only close her eyes, gathering more tears to match the ones decorating her cheeks. Her sharp inhale was enough to display the shivers of her body as if she were dealing with some immense loss, suddenly felt.

"Great ones," the yellow scarf spoke. "Scarlett is no more!"

"She has ceased to be. Instantly!" the sister with the orange scarf cried out, her body seemingly wracked with twitches of some previously felt agony, slowly fading from the memory of the flesh.

"Gone. Gone-gone-gone," muttered the blue bearing sister, her hand unconsciously twisting her newly red locks around one finger, rocking back and forth.

The white sister seemed to relax from her rapture of pain. "One has called upon the ancient powers of the sky and another upon the ancient powers of the earth," she said, almost in a dreamlike, foggy trance.

"Two touched by the ancients, one through blood, the other through knowledge long lost," the violet scarf-bearer spoke, looking to her sisters, as if to confirm. "One that knows the old ways. Who might break us."

"So. One of the eight has been vanquished," the shadowed figure in the center seat said. And although his stature was less than the lanky woman to his left in the gown of brilliant gold hue, or that of the black leather clad Spaniard, his clothes strapped in tight lines with metal rings, he seemed to be the most powerful one present. Light seemed to flicker and twist around him, drawing in so that details of his person could not be easily seen. The light reflecting off of himself seemed to somehow wrench away and filter down into some vacant space out of time, out of memory, out of existence.

"We shall find who has done this and shred their soul!" the Spaniard proclaimed, oathfully.

"Not yet," the center-seated smaller figure said. "Sisters, two tasks lay before you."

"Name them and they shall be done, Master," they chanted in unison.

"You must bring another into your circle. Only with eight hues can Polly Chromatic's powers be complete. Our great work depends on it. Verdita!" he cal led, getting the green scarved sister to look up, eager for a command despite feeling the loss of their red scarved sister. "Violet! Cloud! Sage! Azura! Ember! A new Scarlett must join you. Only then will your powers be complete."

"Yes, Master," the six remaining colors bowed as one.

"And you must find the one who could destroy your holy union, and end his existence," the hidden master spoke.

"What of the one who has destroyed my Scarlett?" the lanky female spoke, tugging back her own hood to reveal a black scarf around her own neck, her own dark hair flowing with the colors of the sisters below, yet absent the red locks the others now bore, a dull raven lock in the red's place. "What of him?"

"He must be made to pay as well. But as a sacrifice," the hidden one spoke. "If he could dispatch one of the sisters so suddenly, before she could defend herself, he must be very powerful. An example must be made. We end the threat of old magic from the earth, and we consume the old magic from the sky."

"It will be as you command, great one," Polly said, bowing deeply.

"It is time to make use of the assets we have assembled. Our enemies have grown since our last encounter," the hidden one said, seeming to turn towards the Spaniard. "It is time they grew to know our displeasure of that last meeting."

The Spaniard smiled. His strong hand drifting to the thick sword hilt dangling from his belt. The chanting continued, growing again in power and volume.

"Oohbah cha'a'ah ehnoibrea, mirichari ehnoibrea! Acha thishna kocherurugah! Oohbah cha'a'ah ehnoibrea! Ko Ko Che Karrooh!"

"And when all accounts are settled, this time!" the hidden master said, his voice taking on a gleeful darkness, "and our foes are no more, it will bring Him to us all the more quickly, and we shall rule all." The master looked to the others and simply said, "No mistakes this time."

Somewhere after midnight, in some wild fantasy, Glen awoke quite suddenly. It was a sudden feeling of falling, like he was dropping and dropping and dropping, pulled earthward spine first. He sat up, his bed sheet and blanket pooling aroun d his hips. Beside him, back turned towards Glen, Peter slept on.

The dream had been so real just moments ago. Some connection to Glen-that was, he felt. Something just beyond his reach was somehow looking back to him. But like thunder far overhead, all he could perceive now was the echo of it, rolling through the clouds of his memory. Such is the nature of dreams, that upon waking, they often find the darkest places of our minds to slither to, away from the light of wakefulness.

He couldn't explain the need, where it came from, why it was so specific. He just knew that he needed to be outside. He scrambled into the pair of soft fleece sleep pants by his bed, scooped up a tee-shirt from the ground by the laundry basket, and slipped down the stairs, silently. He looked back once, just to make sure that Peter was okay, only to find his friend still soundly asleep, drooling slightly.

Down the stairs, one at a time, hand automatically drifting to the polished hand rail and then staying on top of the flat wooden disk topping the thick post at the bottom as he rounded from the stairs towards the kitchen. Sharp right, bang through the mud room. He didn't bother to slip into boots or sneakers, just stepped through the back screen door and then the outside door. Three steps down and his feet were on the grass out back.

He shuffled forwards, letting his feet "squench" in the dewy crisp softness of the lawn. A full moon decorated a mostly cloudless sky, which seemed weird to Glen because there was an odd, soft fog hanging around. The wispy foam of the fog hung around no higher than ten feet, leaving the air above clear and brightly lit, yet and almost opaque gauzy thickness wrapped around all else, masking the backyard and the lower floors of nearby houses in diaphanous, slowly swirling mists.

He paused, watching as his breath sang gently in and out, curling into the mists as if joining them. There was movement ahead of him. A shape, low and unhurried, melted out of the fog. The creature walked with its nose low, its yellow eyes bright in the misty da rkness. It raised its head and looked Glen over with a neutral expression. The boy felt an unusual intelligence in the creature's gaze. Something far more than the wolf it appeared to be. The wolf was joined, in short order, by a cat, sleek and dark, that sat beside the wolf as if the two were the best of friends instead of nature's most storied rivals. The cat wrapped its tail around its feet as he took station beside the now seated wolf. Two birds also came out of the fog, falling in line beside the cat and wolf. One of the birds being a rough looking, dark as night raven, the other some white bird Glen couldn't identify, but had seen on TV, with a crest of feathers on its head that it could lift and lay back as it liked.

Glen thought it was very odd that such creatures would tolerate each other's company, much less be lined up as they were, apparently watching Glen as intently as he cast his eyes on them. Oddly, he felt no fear. Caution, certainly; curiosity, definitely. Yet no fear. In fact, although he couldn't be sure of it, but Glen had the sneaking suspicion that somehow, impossible for him to perceive, these beings were communicating with each other.

Another shape swooped out of the curtain of fog. A bird, but much larger than any bird Glen had ever seen before. After coming home from the hospital, Glen's family took a day trip out to Walden Pond. Just a picnic and hike in nature. Glen had marveled at the size and majesty of the American Bald Eagles he saw at the pond. He watched as they wheeled overhead, streaking over the water to pluck out fish, then the aerial ballet as they chased each other, rolling over to defend or steal fish. This bird seemed much larger than even those enormous birds.

The enormous raptor was easily three times Glen's height as it came into view. White chest, belly and throat , bright blue feathers fading to paler blue decorated the wings and tail, growing paler as they approached the white spaces. The beak and talons were bright as well, some mixture of dark metal with coppery tints and glints. The creature flew directly at Glen, spread its wings out full and stopped three feet from the boy. The wings remained opened, no flapping, just the barest flutter of movement in the feathers to show that the wind affected them. The talons were held out, spread wide, ready to strike.

And still Glen felt no fear. Something about the powerful creature before him felt familiar. Like his very skin recognized it. His very blood and bones.

The creature hung mostly motionless in the air, looking directly at Glen, its aquamarine eyes locked with Glen's sparkling greens. It floated backwards a short distance and then, with a pop and crackle, the bird burst into light. Cascading waves of blue-white lightning flared around the bird, filling it, penetrating it, becoming one with it.

"You must be the Thunderbird," Glen said feeling his scars beginning to twitch and flow with electrical power, sympathetically matching the display of energy before him. "A totem spirit. My friend talks about you with respect. He draws you, ya know. I think he sees you in his dreams. Is… is this a dream? Or is this real?"

Life could be a dream, a voice said inside Glen's head. Dreams are no less real than the dreamer who conjures them.

"Then, are you conjuring this dream?" Glen asked. "Is all this happening just in my head?"

It is part dream and part real, just as all creatures are part flesh and part spirit. Most only know the flesh, reject that which is spirit, which is truth. And thus they cannot be whole. The giant Thunderbird before him seemed to shift its head slightly, regarding Glen closely. But to answer your question, Glen, this is part real, part dream, part flesh and part spirit. You are actually standing in your back yard, yet you are very far from it.

"I don't understand," Glen replied, "but somehow, I feel like what you say is right. That all of this is somehow… right."

I wanted to tell you three things. First, that we, and Thunderbird gestured with his wing to the other creatures gathered inside the circle of fog, have been watching you, and we are most proud of how you have handled this second chance at life, and the greater gift bestowed upon you.

"You gave this to me?" Glen asked, feeling himself lift off the grass, his rippling energy field stretching out around him.

Part of it you had all along. I am sorry for the pain you endured Awakening to my gift. It is the way of all living things that growth comes from sacrifice, effort and occasionally pain. It is the way of flesh.

"So when the lightning hit me in the ocean, was that actually you?"

Again, it is part my effort, part a potential that already existed within you.


The second thing is a warning. Evil is coming, something from outside this world. There are evils in this world already that would welcome this approaching evil and His hosts. He that approaches is of the elder gods, a destroyer of worlds. One that dreams in evil and even those dreams are powerful enough to reach your world and cause great suffering.

Images appeared, circling around. Glen got the feeling that these images were sent by the other beings surrounding Glen as well as the Thunderbird. The scenes were of devastation. Most were unclear, just swatches of motion, fire, blood. Nature unleashed in torrents of rain, the pounding of the surf on rocks, wind colder and faster than rockets, boulders flung with casual ease over impossible distances. And the monsters in such images were wild, often difficult to truly see things. Some of them huge, bulging with unnatural muscles, sharp spines, fins with burning protrusions, horns springing from limbs in odd places, massive tentacles with toothy bits, massive suckers, and tipped with biting mouths.

Glen turned slowly in midair, his head awash in the images flickering around him. His breath caught in his mouth as he watched graceful ships which rode on the air ripped down with brutal force as tentacles crushed their hulls. Creatures used the earth as if it were ocean, diving in and out of soil, grasping giant stones from the underground to throw with punishing force at castles made with crystal walls. Foul beast-men walked in loose formations, swinging crude weapons made of stone and metal, spewing fire from their mouth, leaving wounds from their weapons that froze the blood as it was ripped out of the bodies of humans and beasts alike. As he watched, a kid no older than himself stood atop what looked like a pyramid, swinging a blade that seemed to be made of light, slicing through crab-like beings by the dozens, and yet still the hordes attacking him pressed onward.

"Is that why you… why you gifted me?" Glen asked.

Yes. While we of spirit do not know death in the same way as you of flesh do, this is our world as well. We, even some of those of evil, would rather defend this world than see it destroyed.

"It's too much," Glen said, looking on one image as he saw a creature that looked part man and part fish ripped the arm off of a soldier in uniform, and then opened its maw wide and bite off the man's head. "I'm only one kid. How can I fight all that?"

You will not be alone, Thunderbird thought softly. We will aid you as we can. And there are others whom you shall meet soon. But you are, and will always be, among the strongest. T hese are desperate times, and such times require desperate measures. Your kind aren't ready for the power we can grant them. Not all at once. Sometimes they need to be shown the way.

"Is that what you want from me?"

No, Glen. For you yourself don't know the way yet. They need someone to find the way, even as the darkness comes for them. They will follow the light bringers, only if there is light to see.

"And that's what you want from me?"

Yes. We have been patient and watched you. We have seen how you have become much more than you could have been before. I did not change you. I Awoke what was in you. I helped heal you. I have given you access to all of my gifts, some of which you will have to discover on your own. It is up to you now, to fly or fall.

"Like a baby bird pushed from the nest," Glen said, wryly. "Are you a god?"

That is… not far from truth. There are other spirits of greater power than we, Thunderbird admitted. We aren't like the person worshiped by your religions as a single all powerful god. But we are enlightened. Awakened. We may ask favors but we generally don't seek worship. In turn, we may ask favors of you, in exchange for what your science would call the secrets of the universe.

"Secrets… like my powers?" the boy asked.

Yes. We know of many ways to do things such as your gifts, and many more. Others who follow us also gain such spirit gifts. Yours are unique, however. There may be others similar to you, but none with quite your blessings.

"Like Peter," Glen said, his words a statement, not a question. "He knows how to do magic, and yet he doesn't know."

He channels the spirits of his ancestors, those who once were gifted with knowledge and faith to perform what you view as magic. He calls upon the spirits of those before him and the power, wisdom and understanding of the primal forces which shape and flow within our Gaia, our Mother Earth. Thunderbird paused, as if looking deeper into Glen. When the time comes to call champions, he may be tested, as I believe you will be.

"What tests?"

A ceremony, ancient and honorable. Many may hear the call, few are worthy to bathe in brother Phoenix's flames. Those who do emerge unscathed by the blaze are called to only the most difficult and desperate of actions.

"I do not understand," Glen said, slowly. The idea of bathing in fire didn't sound like a lot of fun to him. Then again, he was floating several feet above the ground, swarmed by his own lightning and speaking with an otherworldly being who transmitted his words directly into Glen's own head. "But this power in me is real. You are real. What happened to Peter and me is real. And…" Glen closed his glowing eyes a moment, focusing on his breathing, focusing on feeling EVERYTHING around him. "And I know what you say is true."

I cannot tell you what you must do to be ready for the ceremony. Even now, others are being called. Others are being tested. When the time comes, you will know.

"Thunderbird?" Glen asked, his face twisting around slightly. "Will… will my memories ever come back? Of the me that was before the lightning struck me?"

You worry, Thunderbird implied, shaking its head sagely. You worry that the old memories of your life before Awakening will somehow change you back. Make you the shallow, vindictive, spiteful miscreant you were before.

"Ya didn't have to put it that way," Glen mumbled, blushing.

Every creature of your kind must choose their own path. The past does not always dictate where that future goes. Your memories may return in time. I am not keeping them from you. Perhaps you are keeping them from yourself.

"Perhaps. I don't like who I was. I think I didn't l ike who I was when I was who I was."

Then be you who lives in the moment. The past is only where you've been. You now choose where you will be, and how you get there.

"Okay, I can deal with that. How soon?" Glen asked, gesturing to the images of violence and depravity around him. The ghosts of future horrors began to melt away, leaving Glen hovering in the fog, facing Thunderbird.

All too soon, childe.

Glen nodded. "I don't know if I will be ready, but I will try."

That is all we ask of any who stand with us to defend Gaia. Not all efforts are successful, but all efforts are necessary.

Glen nodded, looking down at the roof of his house. He hadn't realized how far above it he had arisen. "And the third thing?"

A fair warning. Even as there are spirits that ally with you, there are spirits and beings of flesh given spirit gifts that surround you and seek to do you harm, stray you from the path, even those that would seek to change you back to the ways you do not remember and wish to bury in the past. There is a balance to things, which must be maintained. Some would say the balance has already been cast askew. So even as you are Awakened, shown spirit powers and gifts that have not been seen by your kind in ages long past, so too will those arrayed against us sow their own agents and pawns.

"Bad guys. Like that Giuseppe and that lady with the acid spitting gun."

Be wary. You are powerful, but not perfect. Use your gifts wisely.

"I will try," Glen said, feeling himself slipping back to the ground, as if gently pushed back by Thunderbird's will. "One more thing," Glen shouted suddenly. "Does my sister have this power within her as well?"

You will find that those with power sometimes do not know. And those that wish for it often find something else instead. As for your sister… Thunderbird's voice trailed off. Glen felt the air suddenly rushing around him, as if he were falling. He thrashed his arms out, kicked his knees up, almost into a sitting position…

And promptly fell out of bed.

Peter giggled looking over as Glen blinked back from a stray ray of sunshine peeking under his window curtains. "Morning, Grace," Peter chuckled, "How was your trip?"

"Weird dream," Glen muttered, then looked over to Peter. Truly looked deeply, seeing the electrical patterns of Peter's nervous system, the mild electromagnetic aura that pulsed around him, strangely brighter than at other times Glen remembered seeing it. That revelation shook Glen a bit. He'd been seeing the energy pattern that pulsed and flickered around Peter all this time, but only no realized what he was seeing. Something felt like Glen-that-was never saw this. And even though Glen consciously recognized it now, he'd been seeing it around people ever since his Awakening.

"Pete, I need to ask you some questions. Have you ever actually seen one of those totem spirits you draw?"

"You too?" Peter asked, his voice going soft in shame. "Thought I was going crazy. Like maybe whatever screws up my parents' heads was in me too. Like maybe my grandfather influenced it somehow."

"Yeah, but last night," Glen said, gesturing to the side, hunching his shoulders.

"Yeah," Peter responded, his own shoulders sinking. "Last night."

"I think you and me need to talk. I have a bad feeling something is going to get crazy. And we'll need to get ready for it."

"I'm scared, Glen. I know what you're going to say. Like, I don't know what the actual words are, but I know that shit's about to get real."

Glen nodded. "We come this far together. No point in going back now."

Peter smiled. They talked quietly about their dreams, both of their own future and of things mystical, long into the morning hours. Somewhere along the line, Peter reached out and took Glen's hand, and Glen felt no need to pull away.

By the time breakfast was called, something fundamental had shifted between them. They'd already been on the path to something new, different and unexpected. Now they took those steps together, realizing what those steps really were, what it would lead to. And despite the looming danger, the warnings of the spirits and the unknowns that lay before them, neither boy would have it any other way.

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