Riposte Alpha

by D'Artagnon

Chapter M

Time Out

Kenny Rogers said it best. "Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man." I guess that works for teenage werewolves, too. Plus changelings and whatever Paul and Jack are.

It didn't take us too long to get around unseen. Seems there are places around town that actually go under the town. Kenny called them sluices. Tunnels that served as snow melt and storm drains in the times before modern snow removal techniques, largely forgotten now. If you want to move towards or away from the river without attracting attention, like, oh say a group of bandaged up teenagers secretly booting out the side of a hospital emergency room while major law enforcement figures in town are dealing with a pair of horrific structure fires, well, using these ancient tunnels is the way to go.

As it turned out, there was a sluice not far from the hospital that moved up towards the highlands part of town where Robby's house was. It took only a moment for us to open the sluice and take the ladder down to the ancient brick floor. Lichen and moss poked out of the joints for the bricks. Small puddles of moisture glistened darkly as we closed the heavy hatch overhead. Thankfully, as a werewolf, I have better than average low-light vision. Something that many of us seemed to have as well. Although I did notice that Robby stayed near Kenny. Kenny moved down there like he knew exactly where he was going and could have found the way blindfolded.

We moved in relative silence through the sluice tunnel, moving steadily uphill. We came to the end of the sluice and found ourselves at a series of bars across a concrete and brick work gate. It was angled into the side of the hill, more towards the top of the hill actually. The idea was, as snow melts, it drips into the sluice and rolls downhill to the river. And the several drain openings we passed along the way kinda backed up the idea that this was a well thought out system.

Later, I'd engage in a discussion where we'd debate if the word "sluice" was accurate in describing this tunnel system. I mean, it is basically a sewer without the sanitation implications. Apparently using that word for this context is archaic, so it goes back to when these were originally built, like almost 400 years ago. I wasn't around then, so I couldn't tell you.

Jack seemed very silent as we walked along. Silent and as sure of his steps as Kenny or any of us with actual supernatural senses. Still, the thin boy was clearly in a down mood. I made it a point to walk up beside him, keeping him under my nose, as it were. You always support your pack mates. It's a canine thing.

Anyways, getting past the iron bars wasn't much of a difficulty. We pretty much had five people with ridiculous strength and if nothing else, Robby could probably head butt the bars into submission. I'd seen his tiny horns in action and wanted no part of that!

We wound up just over the hill from one of the city's three fishing ponds. It was only five blocks up and two over from Robby's house. A glance at Robby showed his mood. He was certainly dealing with ghosts being back in his old neighborhood. I imagined for a moment how I would feel walking around my old stomping ground, back in Baltimore. My parents were likely still there. I wondered how they felt, looking around at my stuff, my clothes.

Part of me wants to believe that they pass my bedroom, the door closed, wishing that I'd be in there, listening to music as I pound through my homework. I couldn't stop the tears welling up thinking of Mom leaning on the doorpost, looking at my meticulously made bed, trying hard not to cry. I thought of Dad walking up behind her, his small, agile hand snaking around her tummy, drawing her back to his slight belly. "He's in a better place," Dad would whisper, his voice almost choking with emotion. She would nod. She would weep. He would hold her and be strong for her.

And eventually they would go on with their lives. Without me.

"Hey, you okay, Glub-Glub?" Nick said, walking back to me as I stood there just steps out of the tunnel, up the hill, facing the pond.

"Just thinking," I replied.

"Sumthin' you don't get frum me, Ah recon." His grin flipped seeing the tears running quietly down my face. I could feel my skin clearing behind the tears as the salty wetness pulled the last bits of soot and dirt from my cheeks. Hard to believe we were just in a fire a few hours ago. Guess I didn't wash too well in the hospital bathroom.

"What is it?" he whispered to me, loosening his Cajun accent entirely. His hand moved up to the side of my neck, a gesture of comfort that must look really odd to others but for some reason we both do to each other. I guess it focuses us. Puts us eye to eye, or lips to ear, depending on how we're positioned.

"Just thinking about what we're doing here. It's got to be killing Robby to be going back to, well, his home. Knowing his parents aren't there."

"He's been real quiet like the last 207 steps."

"You know how many steps we've taken?"

"Yeah. Don't you?" I must have tried to pop the Spock eyebrow, because Nick's smirk returned and he shook his head, ironically. "Point bein'," he continued, "same burr under your tail is rubbin' Robby tender-angry, too."


"If Ah don't know the fancy words, Ah push the ones Ah do know together. It's the feels that matter."

"Yeah, I know that much."

His tone softened. "What's buggin' you, babe?"

"Hey!" Paul called from the front. "You guys lost?"

"We'll catch up," Nick sang back. "Ah can smell Maggie's sweaty pelt half across town." Somewhere up ahead, Magnus snorted and cursed briefly in German. At least I guess it was German.

"Same to ya, twinkle-toes!" Nick replied. His grin deepened. "Gotta luv that guy. Ah think we're gonna be great friends."

"I can almost detect the sarcasm," I said, starting towards the tunnel mouth.

"Well, that would be awesome if Ah was usin' any. Ah think me an' the big guy have reached an un'erstan'in'. He's had it rough. We all have. Ah reckon that's a startin' point."

"Pack takes care of their own."

"You damn skippy!" Nick said, falling into step beside me. "So, lemme guess. Ya'll keep seein' how you an' Robby's sharin' orphan juice?"

"First, orphan juice? Gross. Second, am I that easy to read?"

"Well, we both been rubbin' off on each other," he said, shoulder checking me as we reached the opening. Both of us looked up, seeing the sky had darkened in the brief time we'd been traveling. Clouds seemed to have gathered, heavy, low, growling now and again as the thunder spirits and lightning elementals who lived in there prepared to engage in the time-honored ancient dance of storms. We both stopped and looked at the building thunderheads, unable to tell the difference between the sudden summer storm activity and the masses of clouds from the fires. Robby's parents' home was only about 9 blocks from the Y, after all.

"They talkin' to you?"


"The spirits," he said, pointing up. "Even someone dense as me can tell they's talkin' to someone."

"Not to me. To each other. They are excited. Seems two greater totems they are brood to are near."

"Oh goody," Nick deadpanned, tilting his head slightly. "Maybe we'll have a' audience."

We walked out of the tunnel, holding paws. The pond before us was dark, tranquil, a nearly glassy surface reflecting the clouds above and the setting sun, far to the west. Oddly, a beautiful mix of angry oranges and reds, fluidly highlighting the inky puffs flowing high over us, mirrored on the pond.

"Hard thinkin' it's so pretty, knowin' what caused all them colors in the clouds," Nick said softly, his accent sounding wistful. "We should catch up," he said, gripping my hand tightly. "Don't want to miss the surprise 'a whatever Robby dun got cooked up in his brain."

We hurried up the hill four blocks along Park Street pausing once as a car passed us, cornering. Nick looked up and swept his gaze through the trees for a moment, but he shook his head as if dismissing something he'd seen there. Probably birds huddling in the leaves, hiding from the thick smoke and heat that covered the town, giving a dirty, smoky feel to the air. I was reminded again of my nightmare, of the creatures caught on fire, crucified to flaming logs. The screams, the horror. I had a feeling that what we'd witnessed today was only a shake of salt on the feast of horrors yet to come.

We came up to Robby's house, and the others were standing outside, watching as Robby and Kenny stood before the locked gate across the driveway. It was only chain link, four feet high. Any of us could have hopped it with ease. Yet something in the way that Robby stood before that gate, with Kenny standing beside him, had the rest of us waiting. This was a big step for him. Not only was this where his family had made their life, this was where Robby had almost secured his own death, just days ago.

Granted, he'd had a bane riding on him, sucking the energy out of his spirit and the Tear. And he'd just suffered the worst loss a kid can take without dying himself, both parents dying in that horrible "accident" on the highway. It must have hit him pretty hard, all the things that had happened just today alone. And we all still depended so much on him to be our leader. Lot of weight on such narrow shoulders.

"Why do we stop?" Magnus whispered. Even he could sense there was something important happening here.

"Robby's parents were buried recently. And he tried to kill himself a few days ago in there," Paul replied, reverently, nodding his head towards the house. "Give him a minute."

"We understand," Sven said, looking around to see us join the group. The pack. Our pack. Which kind of reminded me that one member of who I thought was in my pack was not part of it. Or at the very least, confused, bewitched or just plain dominated by our opponents so he acted against us. Whatever was going on with JJ, our lost cowboy friend, was somehow bound up in the events of what we were about to get into next. Whatever Robby's plan is, it started here. Maybe getting JJ back would be part of this too. Maybe it would set the tone for whatever we might have to do after all this to get JJ back.

Or it could just be that he's already so far gone that we can't bring him back, save his soul, I guess. This hero thing was still new to me and Nick. We were just playing it by ear. In a way, we all were.

"Okay, Beloved," Robby sighed loudly. "Will you do the honors?"

"By your command, Milord," Kenny said, stepping forwards. As he did, I saw his body shimmer with the potency of his Glamour. And he changed. His tan became deeper, almost like old copper pennies. His clothing shifted to match, fluffing out and then shrinking back as it turned into a leather curias decorated with semi-precious jewels and ornaments of burnished copper and gold. His eyes were coated with black markings that highlighted the impressive brightness of his gray eyes. He stood before the gate fully transformed. And while part of me knew that Kenny was still in there, this was his true immortal form, Kay Neth, the Steel-Eyed.

"To enter here, for what Robyn has in mind," Kay Neth said, his voice a perfect match for Kenny's, but somehow fuller. Probably the Glamour and my sensitivity to it. "We must enter into the Dreaming. I will open the portal here."

"Awesome!" Paul exclaimed, side hugging Jack. "You're gonna love this, Babe."

"Aardvark," Jack muttered under his breath, but my ears caught it. "Abacus. Abaddon. Abandon. Abate." He kept going, mumbling the words softly, although I get the feeling they had a purpose. One that Paul seemed to understand, since he rolled his eyes and whispered softly in Jack's ear. Both grinned and the dictionary entries stopped as all eyes turned to Kenny.

Kenny pulled out his half-spear, half sword weapon thing with the long crystal business end, and concentrated. He held it out in front of himself with both hands, the shaft parallel to the ground. With slow, deliberate movements, he began twisting the weapon (which he's told me the name but I still can't pronounce it) in front of his body, mumbling. I strained to hear, eager to learn any Changeling magic I could.

Then it happened. I felt the Gnosis slash Glamour, that was very thick in this area, shift, alter direction and line up. It swirled in the opposite direction of Kenny's rotating weapon. I know that I could sense it, practically see the lines of magic force twist and shudder at Kenny's command. I imagined the others could as well. The dome suddenly sprang to life before us, semi-opaque and iridescent, like a soap bubble a child might blow, yet insanely huge, bigger than the whole yard and house, and visibly thicker, by at least half a yard. Kenny's voice grew higher in volume and pitch, the words seeming to be in two or maybe three voices all at once. The magic grew and flew, counterclockwise, twisting inwards. Then he stopped, raised the point high overhead with both hands and brought the spear point down hard towards the dome.

But he didn't smash the point into the dome. He paused his strike, just above it, around belly button height and then… Lightly tapped the dome with it. A short "Ding Dong" rang out. All the magic energy he had built up flowed through the spear point and into the dome, rippling it a bit. An archway grew up from the ground, native boulders and rocks rolling up over each other, locking into place into a rather sturdy looking archway, mostly symmetrical, occupying the same space as the garden gate entrance to the chain link fence still stood. Fae Sight is such a wicked thing at times.

"It is done," Kay Neth proclaimed, re-sheathing his weapon over his shoulder with a satisfied smirk on his face.

The dome was the same as before. Still shimmery with the stuff of magic, still had that flavor to it that was different from Garou rituals and gifts. Everyone paused. The Changelings and Paul and Jack walked right up to the bubble's newly opened gate and passed through it. Nick tried to follow but was repulsed. The others turned to look at us as we four werewolves pressed paws on the bubble's elastic yet unyielding surface. Despite the gateway into the Dreaming, we still could not pass.

"We encountered this before," I explained. Nick got that "oh yeah," look. "I talked to one of the pattern spiders that were working on keeping the dome up. We," and I gestured down my body and then to the other Garou present, "are the wrong shape to pass through. I guess as a means of keeping the quote-unquote evil werewolves out."

Nick and I shifted forms down to lupus next to Sven and Magnus. "Foller us, fellers," Nick woofed as we pushed our noses through the Umbral bubble, into another space of reality entirely. I saw them switch forms to follow and grinned, stepping through to the other side, through into the Dreaming.

It was as I saw it before, a bright massive space divided in three parts. The homestead, the Victorian garden and maze, and the vast open sward whereupon stood a herd of magnificent unicorns. Nick and I had stopped as we entered, setting our tails down. Magnus nearly ran over Nick as he came through the barrier between Umbra and Dreaming, and then he practically fell on his face trying to stop as the vision of his eyes registered. Sven had taken three steps between Nick and I, slowly, his mouth open in confusion and awe.

"He… he has conduct with greater spirits," Sven asked, clearly mystified.

"His parents were time traveling mages. He's a changeling legend. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that he has relationships like this," I said, raising my hips. Nick moved to follow me and as we moved to catch up with the others, he let his tail bash Sven in the chin.

"Pick up yuir jaw there, Fulcrum, a'fore ya step in it. Last one there's a formori's uncle!"

We caught up, after a brief run in the tall grass of the unicorn fields. A few young unicorns, so much like regular ponies but with extra pointy parts, ran with us, apparently for the fun of it. It felt good to stretch my paws out a bit and race with the unicorns. In legends, these creatures once ran all over the Earth, steeds to demi-gods and sorcerers alike, protector of virgin's dreams. Somehow, it felt so right. So much like the magic of the world, contained within this tiny sphere of Dreaming and Umbra mixed was how things truly should be.

Perhaps that's part of our destiny. Something that prophecies never seem to give you a straight answer on. Which made me think on the weird, poetic ending to the video Robby's parent's left him. More puzzles. I shook my head to clear it and was bumped sidewise by a unicorn pony. A soft whinny and a twinkling of flute like notes from the unicorn told me it was just in play, and a warning not to get trampled under hoof.

Jack, I noticed, was completely silent as he walked beside Paul. He had a look on his face of absolute wonder. As we reached the unicorn herd, I saw he reach up and tentatively touch the side of a dappled mare. Her skin twitched and rippled as he drew his hand back, almost fearfully. But then Robby gently took Jacks hand and set it on the unicorn's flank. Both boy and 'corn seemed to be uncomfortable at first, but when Robby withdrew his touch, Jack's hand stayed against the unicorn's skin, gently rubbing.

"It's… It's real?!" he breathed.

"Stranger things between heaven," Paul said, also patting the unicorn's long, muscular neck.

"And hell," Jack completed. "This changes so much."

"Belief is a hard thing to come by," Kenny said, squatting on a large rock with a baby unicorn laying its head in his lap for some pets. "It's probably why your sword broke in the gym battle."

"Because I couldn't believe in things that shouldn't be?" Jack asked.

"No. Because sometimes things that are of the Dreaming, like the lightsabers I built for our group, are powered by belief. Science often has trouble with going on faith alone. But they're getting there," Kenny winked. "We will build you a new one. From the shards of the old one if you want."

"I will think about it. Perhaps, with your help I could build my own."

"With some slight modifications?" Kenny asked, grinning, the unicorn baby hopping up to go join some game others of its kind were starting. Unicorn version of tag, I guess.

Sven… seemed lost in the sights and smells. So much so that he missed Magnus, Nicky and I reverting to human form. Sometimes you just gotta follow your nose. It's a canine thing.

Robby was standing by one of the taller unicorns. A huge gray and green stripped version with a very thick horn. We're talking Clydesdale size horse, only beefier, if that's possible. This powerful creature was like a Marvel Comics superhero unicorn. I don't know what they were talking about, but I saw a glint of light pass from the Tear on Robby's chest to the unicorn's eye. I had the feeling he was unconsciously tapping into the Tear's vast powers to facilitate the communication.

Paul, looking around, turned his eyes back to Jack. "Whaddaya think?"

"Is it always like this?" Jack asked, looking around. "If not, this is one highly detailed hallucination."

Kenny sighed, and sadly shook his head. "This is not really what the normal Dreaming is like. Robby's parents were Mages, and he's carrying two very potent magic items."

"Do magic items alter here?" Magnus asked, drawing out his lightsaber. The wooden blade was gone, replaced by an ornate handle that looked sculpted just for Magnus' rather large paws. Viking style, with a pair of dragon heads poking out to either side in a thick cross bar. As he held it, the blade shimmered and spat forth with an evil hiss. The red glow seemed almost angry, hungry perhaps. "Fenris' bloody fangs!" he called out in awe. With a subtle hand shift, the blade retreated into the handle, the eyes of the dragons on the cross guard and the two headed one in the pommel glowed the red of his blade, waiting for him to call it to action.

Kinda wondered what mine looked like here, but I had another thought.

"Kay Neth, he needs to know," I said, indicating with a nod in Robby's direction which "he" I was referring to. "They all do." I met Kenny's eyes and I could see there was a struggle behind them. In the end, he simply frowned, nodded and sighed.

"Needs ta know what?" Nick asked, as Sven shifted back to Homid.

"Yeah, what do we need to know?" Paul asked, running his hand through the mare's mane. The mare, for her part, was thoroughly enjoying the attention.

"He deserves to know. We all deserve to know what we're fighting for." Kenny's eyes grew hard, staring at me. Their inner glow seemed to be mixed with a swath of emotions. Anger, worry, trepidation. But deepest among them was a sense that he agreed with me, despite not wanting to spill the beans. I think he felt the same as I did. A terrible truth now was better than a terrible surprise in battle.

"Settle in," Kenny said, gently. "This may take a while."

"Do we have awhile? The countess will be organizing her troops waiting for us," Bethy said, reminding us of our imminent attack on the freehold.

"Time works differently in here," Kenny explained. "Robby and I would sometimes go in here and practice fencing for weeks on end, and only a couple of hours would have passed back in the Waking World."

"Yeah, right," Nick blurted. "All ya'll did wuz sword play?"

"It wasn't always swords we crossed," Kenny smirked, getting a loud "woooooo!" from Nick and Paul. Jack and Sven and Magnus seemed to get the idea and the three of them blushed formidably. I just giggled and dug an elbow into Nick's ribs. Bethany, however, got a different look. It spoke to me of her sense of dread over Juan's condition. I pulled her against me sideways and cradled her head on my shoulder, so the others wouldn't see the tear she quickly wiped away.

Robby walked back up to see us all pairing off, sitting beside our mates in the tall grass, and his eyes shifted to Kenny's. A spark seemed to pass between them, amplified by Kay Neth's body language, almost slumping under Robyn's gaze.

"Uh, guys, the unicorns are talking it over. But I think they want to help." He looked around at us and then looked back to Kenny. "Is it my breath?"

"Beloved," Kenny began, sighing, "sit down. There are somethings you have to know. That everyone needs to know."

"I'm not gonna like this, am I," Robby said, sliding his butt against a boulder and crossing his arms. "I'm not pregnant, am I?"

"Not this time," Kenny replied, smiling. "It's about that," he said, pointing at the Tear of Cerulean hanging at Robby's collarbones.

"Yeah, Korbesh wants it and he's willing to kill anyone within three states to get it."

"Yes and no. You only have a hint of what it's able to do," Kenny explained.

"It's the last trod to Cerulean, our original kingdom in Arcadia," Robby blurted out. "And it can fuel all kinds of Glamour stuff and cantrips."

"Tell him," I urged. "Tell them all. All of it."

Kenny turned towards me and glared. "This isn't easy, ya know," he spat at me. "We've known you a little while now. The other two werewolves we've only just met and in that time one of them tried to turn my boyfriend into a shishkabob on our first day of group training. Now the frickin' Y burned to the ground around our ears! We got Dauntain, Formori, monsters and who knows what else vicious enemies coming out of the wood work to try to kill all of us! My best friend got run through by his own father with a weapon that could kill any of us and freeze the wound closed, and, oh yeah, my own father nearly died on the way to the hospital from all the blood loss and his fuckin' leg being ripped open like a warm donut! Am I missing anything?"

"Nope, got it all in one, hoss!" Nick called back, rolling his eyes.

"So now, before we go headlong into some cockamamie Satyr foolish battle plan, weakened and beat up as we are, I have to tell my boyfriend, the one person I've loved across more centuries than any of you will even see in history books, that I've been keeping secrets from him all along."

The silence is sometimes referred to as deafening. In this case, it was deafening with blowing wind sound effects. I think I blinked as a twisty ball of tumbleweed went passing behind Kenny's back. His face, normally radiant, seemed to dim slightly. He looked down at Robby's feet, unable to raise his eyes to meet those dark blue depths.

"Secrets?" Robby said, sounding suddenly much more like the thirteen-year-old, scrawny shouldered, thin boy I saw before me. The saber fell out of his hand. "What secrets?"

"It was for your own good," Kenny said, the image of Kay Neth fading around him, showing his own thirteen-year-old self, completely on the verge of tears.

"Kenny?" Robby said, stepping towards his one true love. "Kenny!" But still Kenny didn't raise his eyes. The rest of us stared at the brewing confrontation between lovers. I felt so very guilty suddenly for forcing the issue. I had the feeling that Kenny would hate me forever, just as our friendship was starting up. I mean, I instigated this revelation, out of necessity, mind you. But I still felt like that cat poop I'd stepped in what seems like years ago but was just earlier in the week.

Like before Rolf died. Before JJ got monkeyed with in the brain. Before Unicorn himself tossed Magnus' dad across the ocean. Before the queen got attacked. Before the Y and the fire and the dreams.

Before I became aware that a mad Changeling lord was seeking a tiny bit of crystal around a squirrely teenager's neck, and he was willing to kill his own son to get it. I had to shake my head and remind myself that even though I felt like scat on a greasy ham sandwich served in a dirty ashtray, the rest of them needed to know what we were really up against, and why. And Robby needed to know it the most.

Yeah, not one of my better days.

"Kenneth Nigel Tannagord!" Robby thundered. "What secrets?" I think all of us shuddered at that. I mean, Robby just used that parental power, middle name authority. If we'd still been in wolf form, I know my ears would have laid back, submissively.

"I've been keeping the whole truth from you, milord," Kenny said, sinking to one knee. He lay his lightsaber on the ground before him, head bowed low. "The truth about the Tear of Cerulean. It is much more than that which I told you."

"Go on," Robby said, his arms crossed, fists pushing his biceps up to make them look bigger. From his kneeling position, Kenny glanced my way, nearly in tears.

"It is one of seven treasures, each tied to a separate kingdom in Arcadia. Each with a violent history. Each so unimaginably powerful that I thought it best you didn't know of all that it can do."

"Like fuel powers and cantrips I shouldn't have?"

"Yes. And grant you power to craft all manner of spells, enchantments, conjure spirits, and shape, gather and compel Glamour in amounts far more vast and powerful than any single changeling alone should be able to. It can warp the very fabric of the Dreaming and the Waking."


"One for each major color… and…"


"And one other. One that used to be a source of light and life and joy, but now simply sucks the energy and light and Glamour out of everything near it. It cannot even be seen directly unless you are close enough for it to ensnare you. The seven are called Vergence Philters. The Tear of Cerulean is the blue one. High King David in New York holds the yellow, the Caliburn. The red one, known as the Philosophers Stone is recently back in the hands of a powerful mage in our local area. Both of those are well protected."

"I'm really not gonna like this, am I?"

"Rumor has it that Mab holds the green one, although if she does have it, she's not showing it." Kenny glanced up, his face in tears. "That's why Korbesh attacked her and us. He didn't just want to kill us. He wanted to take a shot at as many of the Philters as he could."

"So he killed my parents… for this?" Robby asked, tears running down his own face as he clutched the faceted crystal at his throat.

"He wanted to kill you anyways. He always does. The Tear appearing in your hands was just an added incentive."

"What haven't you told me yet? What am I missing here?" Robby said, angrily.

To his credit, Kenny laid it all out for Robby, and the rest of us. He told of the Tear's powers, how it was used in the past, how it got that name. I personally felt a cringe at the story of the village well raining down acidic salt water from its depths. He was told how his father had been the one to bring the jewel back into the light. Then he told the story of the Empty, how Pryzm was corrupted, stolen by one that would murder his own family for the power of the Philters. Kenny still would glare at me while he explained the history and abilities of these powerful artifacts, but as the storytelling went on, he seemed to be coming to grips with it.

And he laid out his fears about Robby keeping and using the Tear. How that kind of power corrupts those who use it for their own greed. How the fact that Robby didn't have ambitions beyond his own life and training for Olympic fencing had been one of the things keeping the Tear safe. And both Kenny and I came clean about the banes that had been riding Robby after his parents' deaths, and our exorcism ritual. Jack's eyes bugged out at that. Robby's eyes smoldered, momentarily, as if he might erupt into flame. Magnus gave me a head twisting look and then one of his small smiles, complete with shoulder clap. He whispered that he'd like to hear that complete tale sometime. I simply nodded grimly.

Robby, for his part, was stunned. Not only by the revelation of what he actually wore around his neck, but at why Kenny choose to keep that secret. A secret he had gone to great lengths to research and understand himself, without telling his boyfriend. The exorcism combined with his own bout of Bedlam seemed to shake him. I looked at Nick in that moment, my own one true love, and knowing what his personality and tendencies are, what his Ragabash auspice within Garou society means, I had to wonder if I'd take it so well if someone had withheld critical knowledge like that from me. Much to think on for later. This love and relationship stuff keeps getting more and more complicated.

Paul broke the silence, shifting to lay out on his elbow behind Jack, who promptly used him as an elbow rest. "So if Korbesh gets his hands one of these, he becomes uber-powerful?"

"I wish you people would stop abusing our language in that manner," Sven said, groaning. "Uber-this. Uber-that. Uber Aunt Sarah. That's not how it's supposed to be used."

"Well I hope my Aunt Sarah doesn't do Uber. I've seen her drive, and it's a wonder the town's still standing," Paul deadpanned, causing a break in the conversation. "What, she's really bad at driving. She tried to tell me that the stop signs with the white borders were optional."

"Do not all stop signs have white edges?" Magnus asked, his brow knit with confusion.

"Exactly!" Paul replied. Dead silence followed.

"The question still stands," Robby said, trying to pick up the thread again, his expression was blank, granite, unreadable. All business Robby. But I could tell he was really hurt by all of this. "If he gets one, he has access to all it can do. What if he gets his hands on two?"

"Or more," Sven said, thinking out loud.

Then it hit me. Why did Korbesh want the maps so badly? It wasn't just to chase the portals through the Dreaming or to find pathways back to Arcadia, or even to track down enemies to wipe out. "Gaia! He needs the maps to find the other stones!"

"By golly, I think yuir right, Glub-Glub!" Nick said.

"That makes perfect logistical sense," Jack pointed out. "If you know where they are, you can figure out how to get them and separate them from their wielders. If only we knew how they worked."

"The maps or the stones?" Paul asked, which gave us all another uncomfortable silence. Kenny, already hunched over in shame, seemed to diminish slightly more. I had to keep the conversation going, draw some of the heat off Kenny.

"Pyrious thought he had figured out the maps, like, some of the more arcane symbols and stuff," I replied. "And now perhaps that knowledge has led to his death as well. And we sort of figured that the maps work in conjunction, like layers."

"Or an XTML document," Jack put in. Not sure what that meant, but it sounded computer. Robby seemed to understand that completely, though, because he nodded Jack's way, getting a slight smile from our cyborg brain buddy.

"Another mission for another time," Robby said. "Focus. We need to take the freehold from him tonight, let him know that he's lost much more than just the pawns he sent against us at the Y." Then Robby seemed to space out, glancing behind where the rest of us were sitting, even past where Nick was lazily chewing on a long strand of grass.

But before anyone could continue, I felt a presence approach me. Just a powerful Gnosis and Will that could not be denied. Struck me like a giant pillow to the, well to all of me at once. If that sounds like a religious event, that's because it pretty much qualifies as one. A very powerful spiritual being was suddenly very near to us. And then the feeling of being in the presence of much more powerful spirit seemed to double.

Unicorn strode past us! And then…

Unicorn did it again, on the other side! I almost questioned my eyes, but I caught the distinction right away.

The first one was White Unicorn, the keeper of peace, the purifier. The guider and gifter of prophecy. The totem spirit of our Garou tribe, the Children of Gaia.

The second one that walked past was also totem of our tribe, but this one was the battle master, the bringer of righteous fury and swift, pointy justice. The second one was Black Unicorn. And where he chose to walk, battle always followed.

Kenny and I sat back in awe at being in both of their presences. Magnus dropped to his knees. Sven simply clutched Magnus' shoulders for balance, standing as if he might fall over any moment. Two aspects of a Totem spirit appearing at the same time usually does not bode well. For Christians, it would be like if Baby Jesus and On-The-Cross Jesus both showed up at the same church fish fry.

"Sweet Gaia," Nick breathed out, the grass falling from his lips, the one end thoroughly chewed. "Is you seein' this, Glub-Glub." All I could do was nod.

Jack and Paul looked up with jaws hanging open. Even these two could tell something powerful was happening. Black Unicorn strode up behind Robby and turned behind the short Satyr boy, looking back at all of us assembled. White Unicorn walked up and sat in the grass between me and Kenny, seeming to regally recline, glancing at both of us in turn before looking at where Robby stood.

"Speaks with Water!" Black Unicorn whinnied. Robby seemed startled by the sound, but somehow knew I was the recipient of the message.

For my part, I stood up, quickly. When something this powerful calls you by name, you take notice.

"Yes, mighty spirit of Black Unicorn. I am here."

"And thus do you hear ," He whinnied back, with emphasis. "Give my words to those of your pack as I speak them. Let them know these are my words."

"I will," I said, gesturing. "This is Black Unicorn. He asks that I give you his words. He also called us a pack, which among Garou is a sacred brotherhood. I believe it means he thinks we are a pack at his disposal and at the disposal of White Unicorn," I said, nodding and gesturing to the reclining spirit, "who is the totem spirit for our tribe."

"Wait," Robby said, looking between the two greater spirits and then at how we Garou reacted to them, his hand unconsciously going up under Black Unicorn's neck to rub at a spot on the other side. "These two are like… religion to you four?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. We are creatures of spirit and flesh, equally. So many that live in the real world are separated from their spirit sides. To we Garou, spirit and flesh are one and the same."

"As much as we Changelings are equal part mundane and chimerical, of the physical world and of the Dreaming?" Bethy asked. I simply nodded.

"So these two being here is like gods walking among you?" I nodded again. Robby quickly pulled his hand away, getting a slight whickering sound from Black Unicorn.

"Uh, he said don't stop," I translated.

"Like ya needed ta explain?" Nick asked, getting a tinkling of flute notes from White Unicorn, who found it rather funny. Robby's hand gently went back and found the spot, getting Black Unicorn to close his eyes in equine bliss. White Unicorn gave a gentle grunt, and a sigh whistled up through its horn, clearly reminding Black Unicorn that there was a reason for the visit. For a moment, they almost sounded like a couple instead of avatars of True Unicorn.

Black Unicorn tilted his horn to White before continuing. "They are here to give their blessing to our endeavors," I spoke, translating to the others. White whickered briefly, which I translated to "And a warning." I looked around, waiting for questions. "Apparently something beyond just what we're facing now."

"So there's more?" Jack said, his tone neutral and matter of fact like. I guess he was overwhelmed by all this metaphysical stuff. He was processing it well, I thought, for having his entire computer brain paradigm turned upside-down (and yes, I had to look up the word, after Kenny suggested it).

"We got time," Nick said, looking around.

"How do you know this?" Magnus asked, also doing well recovering from the shock of who was actually talking to us. After all, these two beings higher level self just flung his father across the ocean a short time ago. Funny how so many things can happen so quickly, and then how other things seem to drag on interminably (knew that word already).

"B'cuz, fur fer brains," Nick said, gesturing wildly about. "This place is out of time anyways. And the spirits wouldn'a be wastin' time layin' down on the job if they had stuff to really get us ta goin' ta do."

Paul opened his mouth to say something but closed it, audibly. Jack seemed to pick up the thread they were both sharing, though. "Nick, you have the most profound way of looking at things."

"Indeed," Sven intoned, nodding sagely.

"Well, he is right," Robby and Kenny actually said at the same time. They shared a look. Well, shared is probably too generous. Robby glared, Kenny looked like a whipped pup. But it was Kenny that continued the thought. "In the Dreaming, time is relative and mutable. Some events happen very quickly; others happen over an extended period."

"And in this particular private demesnes within the Dreaming, apparently my parents created what is called a Bygone. A place where anachronisms exist as in their original state." Robby's hand left from under Black Unicorn's neck and stroked the long ebon mane beside his own shaggy blonde mop.

"Hence the unicorns?" Paul asked.

"Exactly," Robby and Kenny said in unison, again.

"Whoa, that's gonna be annoyin'," Nick said, sarcastically.

"The unicorns of our world, Arcadia," Robby began, with a far-away look to his eyes, "were as wild and free and plentiful as the horses of this world. My father's father's father, Galvyn of the North Sea, was the first to make a pact with the high unicorns. We trained them, protected them, helped them hone their talents at an earlier age so that they could work their unique magics nearly 300 years younger. In exchange, they became our mounts in time of war or strife. It was a beneficial partnership. One that neither side felt disagreeable with."

"For thousands of years was it thus," Kenny said, glancing at the two before them. "In times of trouble, all the peoples and creatures of Cerulean would come together. The unicorns were a prime example of that."

We sat in stunned silence for a few moments. Kenny looked around, appraising the situation. "No seriously!"

"We don't doubt it," Nick said.

"Just hard to wrap our heads around the fact that your allies are part of our cosmology," I replied. "It's kinda humbling to think how old you two actually are," I finished.

"We're not THAT old!" they protested together, again. This time, instead of looking at each other in mild annoyance or even directed hostility, they were on the same page. A unified front. Magnus's eyebrows rose in surprise at that. I watched as Nick, Paul and Sven exchange a knowing look. I just smiled.

"Okay, so, we have big, powerful supernatural friends. Gods, I guess," Paul shrugged. "What's our plan?"

Black Unicorn whinnied and I had to look back at him and ask, "Exactly like that?" Black snorted at me, mildly annoyed that I questioned his word choice. "Okay, just like that." I looked at Paul, and in meeting his steady gaze, found myself almost giggling. "Black Unicorn says to the young godling," and I had to stop as a look crossed Paul's face that I can only describe as "say whuuut?!". I continued "Is it not obvious, young godling?" again, I had to stifle giggles. "You need an army. Our children will aid their ancient allies. Your warriors, combined with ours."

"Cavalry?" Jack asked, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. "Unicorn cavalry?"

"Exactly!" Kenny and Robby said as one.

"Now THAT," Paul said, clapping his hands together loudly then pointing with both index fingers, "is a hell of a plan!"

"Glad we could count on you, Unicorn," Kenny said, bowing, doing that fingertips to the forehead, lips and heart gesture I came to realize is the Eshu equivalent of a proper Eastern bow.

White Unicorn gave a soft whicker and turned his eyes to Kenny. I felt a slight sense of apprehension at having to translate that. Kenny seemed to realize my trepidation.

"What did he say?" Kenny asked, softly.

"White Unicorn says… you wont have to go into the fight alone. Old friends of yours are here, awaiting you."

The sound of thundering hooves approached us, coming up a slight rise in the hillside. The tall grasses at first hid the appearance of two young unicorns, one a dappled gray and white in color, the other a solid black with gray socks. Kenny and Robby seemed to recognize the approaching unicorns.

"Goszymer?" Kenny called out, as the dappled gray mare came his way.

"No way!" Robby said, as the dark unicorn came up beside him, the Black Unicorn moving to give the youngster space. "Onyx!?"

"Perhaps they are knowing each other?" Magnus said, deadpan, as the changelings reacquainted themselves with their old friends.

"Ah'd say ya got that in one, Maggie."

"I will be wanting to know the whole story later," my taller Garou buddy replied, sighing.

"As a proper Galliard should," Sven agreed with a short series of wolf noises. "This changes many things."

"And with any luck, should put things to rights," I growled back.

We bathed in the pool at the base of the waterfall, which was sort of our unofficial camp. I know I waited on Robby's say-so before moving towards the house in the middle of the spirit bubble. I remember the night Robby's parents died, how nice it was to be sleeping in a bed again, even if only curled up at the end like the family pets while Kenny and Robby snuggled at the other end. It's little things like that you miss.

But I knew that Robby was missing a lot more than that. His childhood had lived and died in that house. He'd nearly killed himself in it too. Having it sit there, protected, close enough to go back to, yet further away than ever, must have been a sharp spike of pain for him. I can imagine it, share it to some degree thinking about my own parents, now eternally lost to me.

However, living outside had taught me several important things about how to be comfortable in more… rustic circumstances. And being Garou, I had sort of shed my body modesty, at least most of it. Still, being naked around a girl our own age was a new experience for me. If Bethy had been Garou as well, I don't think it would have been a big deal at all. Still, she didn't fuss about it. Got down to bare skin as well.

She's a tough one, but it was easy to see that she was still thinking of Juan and how messed up his body was. Not just his body I guess, but his whole life. Can't imagine my father hating me so much that he'd use me for political maneuvering, shun me publicly, then cram three feet of Cold Iron and silver up the gut without even pausing to consider it. And despite my healing ability and Jack's quick thinking, I still don't know how Juan survived that strike.

Speaking of Jack, that first night in the pool was an eye opener for the little guy. I mean, he's about Nick and my age, but he's physically about the same size as Robby and Kenny. And yeah he's super fit by any standard, apparently has no body shyness either. Paul, on the other hand, blushed like a plum when he had to strip down in front of Bethy. He got over it quickly, probably based on how cool everyone else was about it. But Jack was in kind of a trance. Like he was taking in every minute detail of his surroundings. I can relate. When I discovered magic and first realized how much actual magic affected what I knew of as reality, prior to realizing I was a teenage werewolf, I must have wandered about looking at everything around me in a new way as well.

So, before we got into the water, while we were all stripped down and naked, I offered to perform a ritual of cleansing. We'd all gotten monster gunk and blood and who knows what fluids all over us during the battle, and some tainted smoke from the less than tame flame spirits let loose in the fire at the Y. Fairly unanimously they agreed. I think Jack wasn't sure, but instead of balking at it, he just participated without comment.

After the ceremony, and the group bathing at the foot of the waterfall, we all just sort of goofed off a bit. Garou have to be mentally tough. Bad things happen. When it's spiritual or something that harms the natural world, it is our job to deal with it. It's also our job to not fall into a state we call "harano" which is a despair that nothing you do matters, that the world is falling to corruption and decay without any hope of renewal. There are stories of Garou heroes who fall to harano and lose their connection to the Gnosis, the Rage, the very spirit that makes us who we are. To lose the Wolf within. And part of that is to not let losses, setbacks and worry take your mind, heart and soul away. So yeah, we goofed off. We formed closer bonds. We took time to become a pack.

At one point we had discovered the path up the hillside beside the pool, up to the top of the waterfall. It was a three story drop from the main fall, but there was a second path that water at the top followed down, through a smooth set of rock surfaces like a park slide, running with the cool water that gushed from the spring at the top of the hill. Isn't magical geology impressive? So we, being happy to be alive, spent a lot of time going up to the top and either jumping down or sliding down the rocky flume.

Later on, we separated into one-on-one situations with our respective partners yet still bunched up together around a friendly campfire, just laying down to catch some sleep under the undiminished stars of long ago. Bethy wound up in the middle of us all, sort of holding her legs to her chest, alone, until Sven took the lead. He shifted to Lupus form and lay down beside her, his hips mostly beside hers. She noticed and laid down on his chest. The rest of us werewolves picked up the hint, and moved to lay down around her, in our wolf forms. We didn't know her all that long, but we understood her grief. She hugged on Sven's furry neck and sobbed gently. At some point, we were all crying a little bit. You'd have to be a heartless prick not to.

The next morning, we woke early. After a quick breakfast, we got to work. Kenny took the lead, running us through sword drills. It was similar to our training the day before, at the lightsaber class, at least in the format, but Kenny was not gentle and supportive in his training. He wasn't teaching us how to get simple touches in a sport based on combat. He was teaching the art of war as only a changeling warrior with centuries of experience can. He had us stand on the soft grassy sward to the side of the waterfall, putting us through movement drills, going through the motions over and over again, trying to build in us a sense of muscle memory. He would walk between us, standing in rows as we performed the movements, correcting our stance, the angle of the strike or block we were practicing. It was more about fighting than fencing. He showed dirty tricks we could do, taught us the hard way not to cross our legs in steps nor our wrists in blocking attacks.

Throughout Kenny's training, Robby stood on the large flat rock overlooking the sward. The rock was huge, like a slab big enough to build a medium sized house on all by itself. He looked down on us, as if surveying troops of an army. It was unsettling seeing him watch us like that, as small as he was, yet still the sense that he was some great ancient general evaluating our training. Part of me felt like his distant blue eyes were drilling into us at an individual level. Deciding how we could best be used on the upcoming battlefield. I was a little unnerved.

From time to time I would look up from Kenny's drill sergeant routine to see that Robby was looking off towards the house in the middle of this mystic grove, wistfully. I knew what must be going through his mind at those times too. Here he was, our leader, stuck between the worlds of being a still grieving 13-year-old kid, missing his parents, and a knight tasked with saving the realm from a murderer with his own army of monsters. So much rested on those narrow shoulders. I just hope he knew he didn't have to bear it all on his own.

After lunch, Kenny had us break into pairs, having us stand back-to-back with our assigned partners, and then had the rest of us surround and attack the two in the middle. It sounds brutal and we all got hit several times. But we started to learn what he was teaching. Not just defending against multiple attackers, but also trusting your partner to defend your back. We went through it enough that each of us got time with each other person in the group. Then Kenny shook it up again and made it three in the middle. It sounds like that would have made it easier, but the reverse was actually true. It crowded the center, so we had to become more aware of where our partners were at all times. More than once I struck one of my partners with an errant swing. And I got hit by accident a few times as well. We cycled through this a few times.

I got the feeling that Kenny was rushing our sword training and group training. We didn't have much time, but what he was teaching seemed to be a quick and dirty form of ancient small group sword fighting. Through it all, Robby looked on from above, going through sword drills of his own when he wasn't watching us, intently. His movements above were slow, to the point of looking slow motion. He seemed to be going through a complicated series of attacks and blocks, moving as if he were pushing his blade through wet concrete. It was oddly graceful, fluid, yet it looked like he was getting more of a workout than we were.

Dinner was a simple matter. Kenny had summoned a small army of kitts and sent them to raid the nearby Market Basket grocery store. Apparently, they had a rather simple list, but they brought back all manner of things not on the list. So we had sandwich meat, cheeses, bread, cans of soda (or tonic, as Robby, Kenny and Jack routinely called them), fruit, boxes of cereal and crackers, and all kinds of snacks. Sven seemed almost like a little kid with a bag of goldfish shaped cheddar crackers, a box of animal crackers and a fistful of Swedish fish laid out on the paper plate before him that night, lined up as if on parade.

We swam again that night although with less goofing off. More like soaking in the lazy river than jumping in the pool this time. Kenny might be short, but he was a task master, and not afraid to strike hard in demonstrations to make sure we got the point of his lessons. He even knocked Magnus, the largest of us even in human form, right on his butt and putting the point of his weapon right under the tall German boy's chin. That shocked Magnus. Shocked all of us, really. A not-so-subtle reminder of just how important it was for us to know what he had to teach. It was just training, but Kenny took it very seriously. We all did.

That night, Robby and Kenny got up from the group sleeping pile and wandered off, alone, together. I saw them get up and walk off, hand in hand. I looked over to see that both Nick and Paul had seen as well, Nick glancing back to me and making the "finger in the hole" gesture. I stifled a giggle, realizing that if they were up to that, their relationship had survived the necessary deception Kenny had been keeping up. And while the gentle cascade of the waterfall wasn't overwhelming like thunder, I was happy that whatever noises they would make while being alone wouldn't be overheard by everyone.

The next morning, after some pop tarts, donuts and orange juice, we got to work again. This time we split into two groups. Robby, Kenny, Paul, Jack and Bethy trained with the unicorns. I should say that Robby and Kenny trained the other three how to ride and fight from unicorn back. It drastically changes how you swing a weapon. Bethy seemed to excel at it, and even taught the others how to fire arrows from the saddle as well. Jack took to the bow like it was second nature. His aim was precise and unerring, while Bethy's talent with the bow seemed more natural and instinctual. Yet still, knowing that we had that kind of artillery going for us was very heartening.

As for we four Garou, we spent our time practicing our own native advantage. Shape shifting in combat and using the Umbra. We'd practice group attacks on a boulder, leaping at it from different angles, using both our Changeling enhanced weapons and our own claws. Timing on those group tactics is the most important thing. We needed to know what all of our Garou packmates were when moving to attack, in combination. And we used our ability to jump into and out of the Umbra to change the direction of the attack, to support our allies.

Oh, and we fought each other. Think of it as a Garou version of tag. Well, you know, without using claws and fangs on each other. We'd jump though the Umbra and shift forms, change angles of attack, watch and wait for opportunities to make attacks. It was fairly brutal, but necessary. We had to toughen each other up, fine tune our own responses to the kinds of things that we might face on the field, and still keep our advantage over the monsters we were likely to have thrown down against us.

During a break, we watched the unicorn training. Robby was riding, showing Jack and Paul how to strike from the saddle, at a run. They had poles set up with watermelons mounted on them at about adult head height. The dusky unicorn that Robby rode bore in on ten poles, set up offset, like a giant croquette course, at great speed. Our buddy would lean from side to side as the unicorn moved in, and… they would slash at opposite sides, both spearing or slashing through the target melons at full stride.

The unicorn slalomed through the posts, setting up angles of attack, and at one point the unicorn teleported. He literally bounced between two targets, giving himself and Robby clean slashing hits and then seemed to flicker from one direction and come out several yards away, still in step, but moving in a totally different angle, making a final attack each on the last set of targets, just behind where Paul and Jack sat on their own mounts. It was so unexpected, Paul actually raised his skateboard, held on his arm like a shield, as if to fend off an attack.

Monsters notwithstanding, I began to see hope that we could win this fight.

We broke for a late lunch and watched as the unicorns grazed in the sweet summer sunshine. Talk tended to move through ideas about how we would use what we'd been training. Nick had many ideas about flanking the unicorn riders with a Garou running beside, how that might be able to multiply how effective the combination might be. We sketched out ideas in the dirt, making tactical plans. In the end, we had a lot of ideas, but only settled on three movements as groups like that, realizing we had very little time to actually practice.

We trained again with swords under Kenny's tutelage in the afternoon sun. Shadows grew long, but we worked hard. Kenny was brutal as he had been the day before, but this time Robby went through the ranks, attacking us in the midst of the repetition, giving direct instruction and corrections. We ended up doing groundwork. That is, learning how to move if you get knocked down. Sounds intuitive and dumb, but Robby and Kenny seemed to know a few dirty tricks to turning being on the ground into an advantage you can exploit. They demonstrated how to get back to your feet without getting holes punched in your back or claws raking your limbs. Good to know stuff that I hoped to never to need, but somehow felt would be a life saver.

That second night, we again were less rambunctious in the pool. We let Bethy have more privacy this time, the rest of us pairing off with our partners so she could shower under the waterfall. We boys pretty much had an unspoken plan to go skinny dipping after dinner, so it gave us time to wander.

Nick and I moved towards the vast field where the unicorn herd was at graze, bouncing along in Lupus form. We were playing the wolf form of tag, mostly running side by side, hip and shoulder checking each other. Sometimes it turned into a race, sometimes it was just us sightseeing, or rather scent tracking. It's a canine thing.

We came up over a small rise in the rolling grassland that the unicorns owned and could see the further edge of the bubble around the expanded pocket dimension. We could not see outside of the bubble, at least not what was outside right now. We could see smokey, rippled images that looked very old timey, like in style and technology. Images from the past of this small New England town with a history stretching back to the 1640's. Nearly four hundred years. And some from before then. Back even before the memory of the native tribes that called this area home before the coming of European settlers. Possibly as far back as the culture that once built and used the ancient port near where our current caern was, out at Black Rocks Jetty, at the beach.

"We really got a rough spot ahead, ain't we, Glub-glub?" Nick chuffed my way. We shifted to Homid form and held hands, watching as different things went on in the flicker of images blending one into another. "Like, we got friends that have truck with greater spirits, with mages that mucks about with time itself, even with folks willin' to kill they own kin just ta get power. What next? Alien invasions? Earthquakes an' lightning? The return of clog dancin'? Or worse," he said, pausing dramatically. "Sixties beach movies?" he shuddered.

"I can't tell if you're being serious or just trying to make me laugh."

"Ah'm serious as a heart attack. Last thing this world needs is an updated version of Beach Blanket Bingo," he spat out with exaggerated emphasis. He started mock singing the opening song to that movie, apparently, doing a floppy version of some butt wiggling dance. I snickered and fake punched him on the shoulder.

"Silly fluffy brained ragabash," I chided, as we watched the image blend from some form of sailing ship floating in the sky over the river, to the scene of a small parade of boats lit up with Christmas lights traveling the other way in the Merrimack River, passing under the equally lit up stone bridge. He grinned back and faked being knocked over. I knelt down behind him and we both watched as the forest that had once covered this hill in ancient times showed a fox hunting a rabbit, the two of them making short dashes back and forth around a small copse of white barked birch trees and wild hawthorn bushes.

"Still, we got a rough ride comin' up, huh?"

"You know we do," I said, my hands resting on my thighs. "Robby and Kenny wouldn't work us so hard if they thought it was going to be easy."

"Not just tha' fight," Nick said, looking up at me, his hands going behind his own neck, laying back. "That's gonna be a full-on shit show, too. Ah mean afta' alla that mess. Da mess yet ta come."

"Idunno," I replied. "Seems like everything we do now is building to something."

"Like with JJ?"

"Yeah, JJ, too."

"Taint gonna go easy fer him, ya'll know that, right?"

"I get the feeling that JJ may not survive this, Nick. Whatever is riding him, controlling him… it's eating me up. I should have seen that he was more in their thrall."

"We all make mistakes, Cody Speaks-With-Water," Nick said, his accent fading for a moment. "You could not have known he was gonna be under their control. That kinda blindsided everyone."

"I wish we had some way to fix him."

"Sounds like you already know he cain't be fixed." It was the flat, final way he said that which caught me off guard.

"Are you saying he can't be fixed."

"No. Yes. Maybe." He gestured with splayed fingers over his head. "I dunno, Cody. Just seems like this is a bit beyond our ken, ya know? We got no idea how they scrambled with his eggs. Fixing him might not be so easy as rippin' that bane outta Robby's chest was. Plus, we don't even know where JJ is right now. We gotta survive this thing before we can hunt him down. An' after what they said went down dockside, Ah feel like the trails gonna run cold."

"I just don't know what else to do," I said, crashing backwards, staring up at the thick part of the dome beside us.

That's when Sven and Magnus plopped down beside us, laying back on the grass so we all were laying sort of head-to-head, staring up, like the points of a compass.

"You should know exactly what to do," Sven said, getting comfortable, kind of above me, well, as we were laying. Magnus and Nick were fake battling as if they were brothers, their hands moving playfully in mock combat. Magnus actually cracked a smile.


"Yeah, how, o keeper of the ways?" Nick said, switching from battling hands with Magnus to just reaching out and giving him a nipple twist. Which led to the two of them wrestling and rolling away from where Sven and I remained.

"Isn't it obvious?" Sven said, craning his head around to face me. "You are a theurge. When you don't find your answers in nature or the human world, then you must seek guidance from…" he trailed off, his hand gesturing openly above our heads.

"From the spirits," I said, finishing his thoughts. "I guess."

"No guess. Exactly that. You should always stick with your strengths. That is the way."

"Just like it's your job to keep us on the way?"

"No. It's my job to know when we are not on the way. Is slightly the difference."

"And are we on the right way now?" I said, sitting up and gesturing towards the dome and the Bygone contained under it.

Sven sat up and adopted a thinking pose, his hand going to his chin. His face seemed very composed, almost serious. It was something I had noticed about him before, that he was always just a moment from being lost in thought. As if he were purposefully distancing his own perspective from what was going on around him in order to examine the situation from different angles. That revelation sort of hit me, that Magnus was all emotion and Sven was all mind. Eros and Psyche, from Greek mythology came to mind. I wondered in that moment what others thought of Nick and I, if there was some similar analogy.

"Our enemies are using nature in dangerous ways. We are not. Our enemies are attempting to attack without care of the innocent. They make war in order to cover the truth of their goals. We do not. And while we now exist outside the flow of time within this place, I do not sense the scent of the Wyrm here. If anything, this place is a celebration of Gaia, not an abomination of it. So what we are doing, what we are learning, and those we ally with, all of this is wise, helpful and good. This is the right path."

I must have been staring at him for a moment with a stunned look on my face.

"Surely you must know all of these truths, Cody Speaks-With-Water?" he asked, tilting his head.

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, I know. It just feels odd to have someone else agree with me. Nick tends to look for holes in my logic rather than reinforce it at first pass."

"That is what ragabash are to do," Sven shrugged and looked up at the far distant roof of the dome. "This place… it is powered by magic and dreams. And love, much love. Surely you can feel this."

"Stahp callin' him Shirley!" Nick shouted from where he and Magnus were goofing off, only to make a loud "oof!" as Magnus tackled him and they went down in a pile of limbs, struggling for dominance. It was like they were brothers that had known each other forever, both of them swearing, at least I think it was swearing, in different languages: Nick in Cajun accented French and Magnus in German.

"Yeah, I feel it. Robby's parents really loved this place."

"More than that. Dreams may have shaped this place, but love itself gathered it, strengthened it." He twisted his head about, gazing at the house in the middle. "Made it grow. Beings of spirit know that this is a powerful place of love. Perhaps it is a caern as the Mages or the Changelings know them. It is a sacred place and should be protected. We shall keep the secret of it, even when we leave here to engage in battle."

"Yeah, now that you mention it, it was only after Robby wasn't here all the time that the bane managed to attach itself to him. When he was suddenly adrift in grief and sadness. Not only was the bane drawn to him and to the power of the Tear, but by being outside the protection of the family home he left, he basically was the freshest of meat for all the suffering placed on him."

"Easy prey. What happened to the bane you removed from Robyn?"

"I stabbed it with a unicorn horn." Sven's eyes shot up and I pulled the small unicorn horn out to show him, explaining the way the horn came into my possession. I also described the details of our exorcism to pull the bane spirit out of Robby's flesh, how Nick and Kenny defended the room from other attacking spirits, how the bane tried to bargain with me, threatened me, and in the end tried to kill me even as I was pulling him free of Robby's body.

As I was telling the story, I realized that Nick and Magnus had wandered back over and sat on the grass beside Sven and I. When I finished, and it wasn't a long story, Magnus bowed his head in shame.

"I attacked someone recovering from bane attack. I am such a fool."

"Maggie, stahp it. Ya'll didn't know. Ya'll couldn't a' known."

"Nick speaks truth, Schneki," Sven said, using their pet phrase for each other. It still made Magnus blush, hearing it so openly.

"Well, there is one thing I do know as certain," Magnus said, putting Nick in a side headlock. "Working with the Changelings has given us new skills."

"And new ways to fight the Wyrm," Sven agreed.

"Yeah, about that, " I said as Nick squirmed out of Magnus' grasp, leaving the tall German boy wondering how. "I have an idea to add to our advantages. I got a bad feeling we're gonna need every edge we can get."

"Wise, " Sven said. "What is this idea?"

"I wanted to run it by you guys before I tried it. I mean, we're operating without Yoseph's guidance here, so…"

"Oh, babe, just spill it."

"I want us to combine magic in our weapons."

The other three looked on at me in abject silence, passing looks back and forth to each other.

"Like, in a moot blessing?" Nick asked, arcing his eyebrow.

"Yes. We ask for the spirits to bless all of our weapons for battle and Robby and Kenny do… do whatever it is that Changelings do to magic stuff up."

"Like what they did to the sabers and to Paul's skateboard."

"Exactly," I replied, tapping Nick with the back of my hand. "Look, we all know Jack's a great guy, and he's stronger than a lot of regular humans."

"And tougher," Magnus pointed out.

"Okay, yes, he's tougher than most other normal boys. But he's not in the same class as us. Not for raw strength, endurance, and he has no supernatural advantages."

"Have ya'll seen his aim with a bow? Cody, he's a fuckin' surgeon with dat thing. He could shave the beard off a' bull frog at fifty feet."

"From full gallop," Magnus asserted, leaning an elbow on my boyfriend's scrawny, tanned shoulder. Their goofing off had mostly ended, but it was clear that the two of them had reached some kind of deeper understanding.

"My point is," I said, getting a bit annoyed, "physically, he's our weakest link. And like you said, the bad guys are trading secrets to make their side stronger, why shouldn't we?"

"So, do you mean to make our pack official? Call a pack moot and hope a spirit will adopt all nine of us?" Sven had a way of making questions into statements of the obvious.

"If the others want to, sure. And then we combine our abilities. Maybe charge up Jack's saber so it wont break on the first strike."

"And I thought Robert had the evil mind," Magnus grinned.

"Well, ya'll know whut Ah think about that hairbrained scheme," Nick said, shrugging from under Magnus' bulk. "Count me in."

"It is the Way," Sven said, simply.

"Okay. Then let's bring it up tonight. We can perform the moot tomorrow night before we go to battle."

"One thing," Sven said, holding up a finger. "We four are pack, no matter what. We should respect if the Changelings have their own arrangement."

"I hadn't thought of that. But you're right. They've been through some things together already, so there might be some kind of, idunno, Changeling pack thing already going on. You think it will mess up their thing if we ask them to join us?"

Nick lay back in the grass, hands going up behind his head, one leg braced up on the opposite knee. "Cody, muh luv, Ah don't know all what makes them different frum us Garou, but Ah do know this about our strange and powerful friends. They ain't never done nuthin' but right by us. An' they never turn away when folks got needs. If that don't just plain smack of our adopted Tribe's philosophy, then Ah ain't know whut would."

Looking around, I got nothing but nods.

"Okay. We best get back to the falls and talk to the other five."

"Yeah, as long as Robby and Kenny ain't banging like there's no tomorrow," Nick giggled, which got a blush from Sven and Magnus. "Say, 'pears to me that this whole thing with de fire and fight from the Y would be ya'lls rite o' passage, innit?"

"We had not gone through such yet," Sven said, haltingly. "Not among Father's Tribe, anyways."

"We were not deemed worthy enough to stand on our own. More of my Father's stubborn pride," Magnus sneered.

"Then the moot will serve as yuir naming among Children of Gaia," Nick declared. "Ah shall choose your names accordingly. Let's see… Blushy," Nick said, pointing to Sven, "an' Big Butt!" he said turning to Magnus. I actually saw Magnus' ears twitch at the mild insult. Sven glanced at Magnus' butt. And in that second, Nick shifted to Lupus and bolted back for the campsite, the rest of us also transforming to the wolf form to give pursuit.

It was decided pretty quickly.

We got back to the pool below the waterfall to find Robyn and Kay Neth sparring, their sabers ringing out and scattering sparks in the twilight. Pure, silver white and dark, vibrant blue: blades lit up as if performing on stage. And while it was clearly a competition between the two of them, seems more like it was just them doing an exercise, not trying to beat each other. I noticed they would repeat the same sequence and then, as if on their turn add something to the back and forth blade conversation.

Like some supernatural fencing based version of Simon.

Kay managed to score the last point it seemed, because they stopped and noticed the rest of us were watching. Jack still had an almost blank expression, but I had come to realize that's his passive observer face. Anytime he wore that look, it meant he was looking deeply at whatever was going on, analyzing and such.

With the battle over, Kay and Robyn shifted back to Kenny and Robby. We got down to the fine art of outdoor gnoshing. Vienna sausages, Ritz crackers, Squeeze Cheeze, Smart Food white cheddar popcorn, mixed nuts, the left over sandwich guts, pond cooled soda cans and individually wrapped snack cakes. Sure, it was junk food, but none of us knew the rules about cooking in this dimension. Besides, not like we had any pots to cook in.

Well, we might have, if we'd gone to the house. But that's another story.

"So, uh, guys," Kenny said, after a prodigious belch. "We kinda wanted your input on something."

"Okay," Paul said, tossing a handful of cashews into his mouth for a mighty chomp.

"Robby, Bethy, Yoseph, my Dad and Juan… we're all what you call a motley. Basically, a group of Changelings who work together for some goal, take on an oath unto the Dreaming for that goal. We are an oath circle, in fact. It's a simple ritual that binds a group to a purpose, gives each of us a slight edge."

"Like a pack," Nick spoke up.

"Probably very like that. Oath circles can be very specific, but motleys tend to be closer than friends. We'd like to make an oath circle with you guys. Just not sure how that would work for any like, Garou stuff you four already have."

Nick chuckled softly and spoke to the rest of us in wolf chuffs, "Great minds think alike, yall."

"Are we missing something?" Robby asked, seeming a bit annoyed. I held up my hands to calm him.

"No, just Shadow Foot being ironic. We had much the same idea. We should combine enchantments and spirit blessings before the battle. Before major events like this, werewolves will often have a ceremony called a moot. To reaffirm our pack ties, strengthen our connection to each other and our totem spirits. With your permission, we'd like to perform that tomorrow before the battle. We," I said, looking around to the other Garou in the group, "would like you to be Pack, with us."

"It is the way," Sven said, nodding sagely.

"I think that's an excellent idea," Kenny replied, grinning. "A moot and an oath circle."

"Where do Paul and I fit in with this?" Jack spoke up, his voice sounding very small yet clear around our crackling campfire.

"You are one of us," Magnus said, simply. "We would be incomplete without both of you." Which got a smile from Jack and a knowing nod from Robby.

So, with that bit of business done, the next words out of Nick's mouth sort of echoed what was on all of our minds.

"Okay, day two o' trainin' is in de books. Where do we stand on actual plans, boss?" All eyes looked to Robby, who seemed to be mesmerized by the campfire. He picked up a stick from our small fuel pile and idly scratched at the edges of the fire before speaking.

"We are going to offer Korbesh a battle. His ego wont be able to refuse. Plus, with all the losses he's taken, he can't give Donna Trag the chance to consolidate more power to retake the freehold. He'll want to take her out if he can, publicly discredit her through force of arms, make her look weak. He doesn't even have to kill her to do it, he just has to make her lose retaking the freehold."

"Doesn't sound very free to me," Paul chimed in.

"Either way, it will be up to her and whatever commoner army she can raise to keep Korbesh's forces, whatever monstrosities he has at his command, and hold them to the outside while we invade the fortress."

"Fortress?" Jack said, giving his head a subtle twist. "I've accessed maps of that location and the only thing that qualifies as a fortress remotely near where you are talking about is that old monastery about half a mile to the northwest. Fieldstone structure, large grounds heading down towards the river. There's one open field and a lot of dense woods around there. Unless you mean Watching Rocks."

"In the Dreaming, there is a glade behind what we all know of as Barnie's Burger Barn. It's tucked in behind the playground area with all the park benches. You pass between two birch trees and you can walk right into the grand hall's outer entrance. But, the actual freehold and the Balefire within are just part of the larger castle complex. It covers about as much square footage as the high school. Both the junior and senior high schools."

"That's a lot of ground. Is it all fortress?" I said, simply accepting it as truth.

Kenny stood behind Robby and closed his eyes. He cast his hand forward suddenly and in a flicker of pearly fairy lights, an image appeared, hovering over the campfire. As we watched, entranced, Robbys words became that image. A large seven-sided wall grew up, capped with battlements. The walls formed a faceted heart shape, and were broadly built so that troops manning the wall could move easily and defend against incursions. It seemed to be cased in alabaster and dark granite, shining brightly in the flicker of firelight. As we watched, the outer wall turned, showing us the three gates.

There were several buildings within the walls, things that seemed like store houses, barracks, stables, workshops. Three buildings sat near the middle. One was clearly a well house, heavily guarded, with a windlass to pump water from below to a copper tank perched five stories up. It seemed that the elevated water tank also doubled as a watch tower, rock legs and casing guarding the copper tank. The other two buildings seemed to be a grand hall, that Kenny identified as the county court, and a castle like keep which was where the actual Balefire, the center of the freehold, was kept. That would be the most heavily defended.

"No. Much of the freehold grounds are open land, partly wooded," Robby said, staring at the glowing ember on the end of his stick. "That's where we'll get the bulk of Korbesh's army to commit. Here." He used the glowing ember to point to the open field and the massive front gate, set in the middle of the two most forward walls, which angled back towards the keep in the middle. "Red Caps aren't known for their ability to hold back in a fight. He'll lose control of them quickly and it will break down into a large scale brawl. He'll let that happen, knowing he can pick off clusters of resistance from the sides, plus it will give support to whatever monsters he's got held back."

"If he has more Formori with him, they will likely attack in small groups, choosing to overpower smaller groupings. Pinch off the weak ones," Sven offered.

"That's what I'm counting on. The Dauntain will try the same, if there are any left. They'll try to inhibit active magic use, overwhelm, entangle," Robby said, his words sounding flat, like he was seeing the things he spoke of in his mind's eye. "That's where the unicorns come in. From elevated positions, mobile, and with a partner that can attack as well as move, the commoner's will stand a better chance. Most of them aren't warriors. A lot of them…"

"Wont be coming back," Bethy finished, getting a grim nod from Robby.

"Which is where we come in. The Countess directs the ground attack, we lead the main thrust and invade the castle, go right for the head of the snake. He wont be able to outflank the unicorns, and he wont be able to ignore the threat of a unicorn cavalry on his doorstep. I was kind of stupid in showing them off in front of him before. He may have something to counter them, but it's the only real shot we have right now."

"What magic defenses can we expect?" Paul asked, surprising us. But he was only saying what we were all thinking.

"The walls themselves are four feet thick in most places. Fire resistant stone, warded against Changeling cantrips," Robby spoke. "Even using Flicker Flash is very difficult in there."

"That's a teleport effect," Bethy explained. "And Korbesh is very good at using it. He's one of the few people I've ever heard of being able to use Flicker Flash behind the walls."

"Will that limit the unicorns?" Jack said, leaning back on Paul's chest where they sat together.

"It shouldn't. For us, using magic takes training, skill and not a little talent," Beth replied, her eyes shining in the firelight. "For them, teleporting is as natural as breathing."

Sven shifted uncomfortably, and I knew that what he had to say next was something he kept turning over in his mind, forming it in his mind before he spoke. "What of their offensive abilities?"

"Well, chances are he's raided the armory, even in just the few hours he's had," Bethany spoke up. "Meaning they will have Icicles and Hellspikes."

"Do what now?" Nick asked.

"Magical arrows. About four feet long, almost an inch thick. Some cause freezing upon impact," Beth began.

"Hence Icicles," Kenny offered.

"And the Hellspikes become molten glass upon impact or penetration," Beth finished. "Neither is usually a recoverable experience. Fortunately, most Red Caps aren't good archers. But those are more for the ballistas than for actual bow use."

"Ballistae?" Jack asked, eyes going wide. "They have Roman siege tech?"

Bethy shrugged. "Let's be glad they don't have cannons. But I wouldn't put it past them to have some kind of hot oil or Greek Fire at the gates."

"That's liquid fire," Jack responded when Paul and Magnus both get a confused look. I didn't know what it was either, but I definitely didn't like hearing that there was flame throwers arrayed against us, possibly.

"Fuck me running!" Paul breathed out in awe, and not happy awe.

"Other than that, there could be Sidhe cataphrax armor. But the Red Caps wont wear it," she shrugged.

"Why not?" Sven asked.

"Because it's crystal and leaf thin. It's too pretty for them. Red Caps are tough boys, not pretty boys. Although any weapons in the arsenal, they might use. Or give edges to the Dauntain and Formori."

"Changeling weapons," Paul sighed. "And we know how tough those are."

"Yeah," Jack replied, eyes down cast. If I had to guess, he had to be thinking about when his saber broke in combat. He was still blaming himself for his lack of belief in the power of Kenny's Changeling built practice swords as actual weapons. Jack was a creature of science, so by his nature "magic" was not a rational force he could readily accept. I mean, he faced off against a supernatural powerhouse skilled swordsman in Korbesh. It had to be like Pinocchio facing Darth Vader. Fortunately, Jack was not only beginning to believe in powers beyond science, I feel he was struggling with ways to incorporate it into his understanding of the universe.

"Okay, so, we find the sunabitch in de castle, den what. Hold him fer trial?" Nick asked. Kenny lowered his hand and sat behind Robby, the image of the freehold grounds fading as the sparks of our fire lifted up into the night sky.

"We funnel whatever kind of guard he holds back and take them out," Kenny said, poking his chin out. Clearly, he didn't like the idea either. "It will come down to just us against his inside people. Whatever thanes he doesn't commit to the outer defense. In the end, Korbesh will seek out Robby."

"We are both sworn through oaths to the Dreaming to end each other," our diminutive leader said. He stabbed his stick into the fire. "One way or another, it was always going to come down to him versus me, to the death. But this time… it's final death. Undoing."

We all sat around in stunned silence for a moment. "We will be with you, pack leader," Sven said, simply.

"Remember the first rule," Paul said. "We all come home after this. We finish the mission, end this motherfucker's threat, and we all go home."

"If only it were that simple," Robby said, grinning but in a sad way. His eyes swept briefly towards his parent's home in the middle of the bygone, wistfully, eyes flickering briefly in the firelight. "When he does come for me, I need all of you to stay out of it, but keep his people out of it too. Even you, Kay Neth. With him busy with me, the remainder of his forces and surprises should be no match for the eight of you."

"I can't guarantee that, milord," Bethany said. Every eye turned her way. "I would dearly love to wet my blade in Korbesh's hide for what he did to Kroacker."

"I understand," Robby said, reaching over to clap her on the shoulder. But nothing more was said on that. I could see that Kenny was uncomfortable with that situation as well. Then again, if it had been Nick impaled like that, left for dead, I'd want my pound of flesh as well. In an already dark patch of thoughts, that one pulsed darkly in a deep, hidden part of my soul.

"If I may ask," Magnus began, seeming to search for words. "How are we doing in our battle training?"

Kenny immediately spoke up. "I wont lie to you. Despite any training you've already had, a lot of you are still raw. I'd really like a month to train you better. But… that being said, I've seen enormous improvement in form. We've really taken things away from sport fencing into more real sword combat stuff. Like techniques and practices thousands of years old. When we get back, I'm gonna have to talk to Dad to make the class more into lightsaber stuff than Olympics style stuff."

"Oh, quit dodgin' the question, Kay Neth," Nick admonished playfully. "Ya'll fence as much with words as ya'll does with a blade."

"Kenny's right," Robby spoke up. "You are still raw, mostly untested in your new skills. But you are warriors, one and all. Unique, with different skills, different styles. Yet each of you is more than up to this task. The few skills we have given you now are just edges to an already potent weapon. Korbesh's goons wont know what hit them, and they will definitely know they are overmatched. We will likely be outnumbered. Certainly, they will hold the high ground and will have that advantage the whole time. But you guys… you fought your way out of a burning building, wounded, poisoned, bleeding. Attacked on all sides by horrors from outside this world. And you survived.

"I'm proud to fight beside you, each of you." There were tears streaming down his face, captured in the flickering firelight. "And I swear to you, I will not let you down." And I kid you not, an echoing series of three trumpet notes seemed to sound distantly.

We sort of cleaned up our impromptu dinner and made our way to the pool under the waterfall for some light goofing off before bed. I saw Kenny and Robby sitting with Bethy talking over things. At some point, I noticed that Paul and Jack had vanished and Magnus and Sven were sitting together up on the large rock slab that looked over the pond.

Nick and I climbed up to the top of the waterfall, intent on taking the plunge from the top. It was a stiff climb and we used our shapeshifting to help scrabble up the rocky hill side. Gave me a great view of Nick's naked butt, in different forms, as we ascended. It was sort of inspiring me, if you know what I mean.

His tail slapped me in the face a few times on that climb and I playfully bit at it, grazing his fluff with my canines. Which got a subtle glance back, with the short chuff that was a canine version of a mild threat. All in good fun.


"Yeh, Glubber?" he huffed back, shifting from wolf form to war form to get back his hands for a particularly steep chunk of rock blocking the path.

"You noticed Robby's been looking at the house again?"

"Yup," he replied, his Crinos voice sounding deep and ominous despite the light tone to his word. I could hear his breathing getting heavy with the exertion of climbing. I hadn't noticed but my own breathing was rather harsh as well. It was a challenging climb, after all.

"You worried about that?" I asked, taking my turn on the blocking rock as he got up to the other side of it. Why do they grow rocks so big in New England?

"Yup. Cain't do nuthin' bout it, though."

"Why not?"

"Whatcha gonna do, grab him by the dick an' drag him back in there?"

"I dunno," I whined. "I just think he needs to go back in there, face what happened. Deal with the ghosts of the place. Gaia, I hope there aren't any ghosts in the place. I mean, he needs to deal with it, but I don't know if he can handle dealing with his dead parents right now."

Nick shifted back to homid, waiting while I pulled myself up over the last bit of rock. "Well, truck with spirits is your stock in trade, muh love. Robby needs ta deal with it, but we need Robyn in command right now. Must suck for them living in two worlds at once."

"We do that too," I said, resting against the rock I'd just climbed over, crossing my arms and legs. "Garou society, living on the fringes of human culture, sidestepping into the Umbra. More than two worlds, I guess."

"Tain't the sames fer us as it is fer them. We might move through different worlds. The Changelings are stuck between two. All the time."

"You're accent is slipping a little," I teased him, getting an exasperated eye-roll. "But I see your point."

"Look, as much as Ah agree wit' ya on this, we cain't force his hand. Robby and Robyn both have ta figure it out. We can help him, we can point out he needs ta do it. An' as old as half of him is, Ah'm sure he knows hes got ta deal with it."

"I know," I sighed. "Should I talk to him about it?"

"Ah think," he said, with great southern accented gravitas, standing and approaching me, "that ya get wound up in thinkin' too much about stuff that ya should trust yuir instincts on." He put his hands on my shoulders, drawning me up to my feet. "When the time comes, you'll know what ta say. Yuir a great friend, Cody Speaks With Water."

I embraced him, kind of like we were two sixth graders at our first school dance when a slow song came on, practicing the "six inches of daylight" rule.

"I kinda like this. Almost like dancing in the moonlight," I said as he sort of led our dance, taking steps around, moving me more towards the clearing at the top, where the waterfall sprang out of a depression in the rocky hill top before going over the side.

"We ain't the only ones in a romantic mood lately," Nick said, turning me around, making me giggle. "Paul and Jack have the cave tonight, though. Robby and Kenny snuck off to it last night."

"I had a feeling that Jack and Paul were off somewhere. Wait, what are you saying about a cave?"

"Through de waterfall, to de left side as you face it. They's a cavern that's hidden by the undergrowth and the water. Goes back pretty deep. Apparently, it's a nice place to uh… get personal," He said, his voice getting gravelly and sexy. He leaned in and nuzzled the side of my neck.

"I'm glad. Damn, Shadow, you're gonna make me hard."

"You already are," he whispered against my ear, nibbling along my skin. His hand on my hip gripped tigher, getting a similar response from me. And I was hard, and getting harder. We pulled against each other and I could feel his boner push up against my hip, mine sliding against his groin.

"Too bad Paul and Jack are in there. Might be nice to get some privacy," I purred hugging his head close so our chins popped over each other's shoulder.

"Cody," he said, kissing my cheek, "muh love," and another kiss, bringing his face closer to mine, the sound of rushing water going down the waterfall, seeming louder in my ears.

"Yes, Shadow Foot."

"Ah got something ta tell ya. It's a secret."

"Oh, yeah," I said, breathily as we kissed, just a short peck on the lips, as he continued maneuvering us through slow dance steps. "What secret?"

"Ah love you, ya silly head theurge."

"That's no secret. I love you too, you goofball."

"Well, that wasn't the secret. The secret is… uh, hey, you should take a deep breath."

"A wha?" But I didn't get to finish the question. He moved in and applied his lips to mine tight, gripping my body and he pushed himself backwards off the top of the waterfall, dragging me over with him by the, well, by the kiss. We hit the water with a stinging sideways entry and crashed into the rocky, silty bottom, not more than fifteen feet deep. Coming back to the surface, we separated and swam into the shallows. He moved in closer and I punched him on the shoulder. Which started a splash war. He moved in against me as we scooped water at each other and collected me into his arms, giggling.

"How's that for a secret?" he said, moving in for a kiss. I grabbed him around the neck and planted one on him, really throwing myself into the kiss, to the point that I actually hopped up and had his hips wrapped up in my legs.

"Not bad, you jerk," I whispered.

"Well, that wasn't the secret, exactly."

"What, that you were going to toss me off the waterfall? You kept that pretty secret," I said stepping back from him, but staying close enough that our boners were still touching.

"The secret," he grinned, stepping away from me and patting my rump, "is that we get the cave tomorrow night. That is, if ya'll ain't got nuthin' else ta do after the moot." And he winked and strode out of the pond, leaving me there with my limbs suddenly feeling numb.

Was this going to be it? The big IT? The no going back ultimate virginity busting act that we hadn't done yet but both really wanted to do? I mean, was this going to be the moment when I let Nicky put his dick into me? Because we both already knew that was how the first time was going to be. The first time, Nicky was going to take me, and while I was okay with that mentally and emotionally, I was still a little bit afraid of it.

Don't get me wrong, I wanted to know what it was like to be inside of him as well. And I definitely wanted to try some of the things that Kenny had given me information about. And we hadn't really had a chance to be alone and spend time having sexy fun together. I longed to have him hold me with his face beside my neck. I missed the feel of his hand on my cock, on my knot in wolf forms. I missed the taste of his boy parts, the sounds he makes when we're moving against each other. We excite each other and do things that lovers do and get lost in everything but being there to tease each other.

But were we ready to go all the way? And which way? In reading this you probably have figured out that we keep our genitals in all of our various forms. And I find Nick's body sexual in all of his forms. It's hard not to, since I love him enormously. And yes, we've done sexy things in different forms as well, which many of you might find weird, but for us, it's just who we are. It is difficult to explain. I don't get turned on by other animals, even other canines. Just other werewolves and human types, I guess. And with Nick, its love, not just passion attacks. This love thing can be very confusing sometimes.

I sank up to my chin in the water and let its cooling influence wash over me. My boner had deflated, not from lack of excitement, but from a sense of wonder and confusion. This whole event since breakfast that morning had been a series of life altering moments and adjustments. And we still might die in combat two mornings from this moment. It is no wonder Nick left me to think alone after dropping that bomb. He knows me well enough to realize I was going to need a couple of minutes to process it, and all the implications of what we would do in that cave.

And yeah, part of me wondered what Jack and Paul were doing in there. Hey, I'm a horny boy, surrounded by a bunch of other horny boys who don't mind that I like looking at equally naked, equally gay boys. And what's not to like. Magnus is tall, broad shouldered, nearly a man already. Sven is slender, tightly sculpted like a swimmer and a show-er, if you know what I mean. Paul is wiry and cut like a Greek statue. Jack might not be sculpted like the others, but his body is compact, slender, not a drop of fat on him. Kenny and Robby are much the same as Jack, just slightly shorter, the three of them looking like 13-year-old athletes about to hit growth spurts. Just that Robby seems to have a bit more in the abs department, like it was hidden under a lack of muscle for a long time and his summer of awakening brought out his potential or something.

And yes, they all seem a little above average in the penis department. Especially Paul, who seems to be the biggest hung of us outside of Magnus and Sven. Just in writing that, I got enormously hard, picturing them naked in my head. I have to seriously consider how hot my friends actually are. And yeah, Nick is about perfect in my eyes. We're much the same, in the organs department. Mine maybe a little longer, his maybe a little thicker, when we're hard. And he's got huge balls that bounce a lot when my hands are working him into a frenzy.

Wow, that got me really hard. I should get back to the story.

That night, my sleep was troubled by dreams of battle mixed with dreams of sex, all with the feeling of spirits watching us. Like, not just watching us training, but watching us doing everything. Watching us walking around at the caern. Watching us goofing off around the waterfall, chasing each other around the beach, dealing with Charlie and his gang. Spirits of all different kinds. I found myself waking up and looking around to see if anyone was actually watching me. It was, disconcerting. But it made me think of how many times I thought I was alone and private with Nick about how many spirits might be paying attention to us. And not all of the spirits in my dreams were friendly. I got the feeling that several aligned with the Wyrm were watching as well.

Suffice it to say, I didn't sleep well, despite being very comfortable in the Garou pile. Next morning, after dressing and a brief breakfast, it was back to training. Sword work, fighting with different partners, defending in small groups, calling plays, even though we only had three. It was a lot of coordination, and this time Kenny and Robby were part of the mix, not just watching from the outside and coaching.

Jack made some progress and Bethy took extra time to show him some up-close combat tricks with the bow. Her personal weapon had cutting edges mounted before the bow arms, so she can strike as with a short sword or staff and still be able to pop arrows into enemies with the lethal accuracy worthy of being in a superhero movie or epic dungeons and dragons adventure.

Paul also got extra training, learning from Kenny how to use his skateboard like an ancient Greek warrior behind a shield. He learned to punch, smash, open and stab, charge and foot slash with the shield. And that's a lot to learn in a short time, but most of it is fairly simple. Apparently, it's all about timing and angles. Like so much else with sword play. He seemed to be learning it well, but as I've come to learn with Paul, physical things come easy to him. By no means is he dumb, but he plays down his own intelligence, sometimes even to himself.

And that was all in the morning hours. We stopped for a late lunch and did something that seems counter intuitive. Instead of going back to sword drills or practicing movements with a werewolf running beside a mounted warrior on unicorn, we went through a series of long, slow sword exercises, as if we were pushing the blade through thick mud instead of thin air. Robby and Kenny went through the line as we went through the simple movements, making equally slow movements against us. The idea was they wanted us to be thinking about our options as attacks were coming at us and using our muscles in contraction to perform the right counter moves. It was a lot harder than you think. The term muscle memory came up many times.

We worked like that for a few hours, before Robby had us go faster, keeping that tension. And he encouraged us to use our native gifts, powers and tendencies. We got to flash into the Umbra to counter the attacks, change shapes to avoid or overpower. Kenny smiled many times seeing our responses. Bethy showed that while she's not a great swordsman, especially compared to Kenny and Robby, but she was every inch as capable a warrior. It was clear, that she was putting her anger into her training. Controlled, to be sure, but her efforts showed she wasn't holding back, despite still training Jack.

Paul was the one that surprised us the most during those slow-motion attacks. It was like a switch had been flipped inside our skateboarder buddy's head. He took one of Robby's attacks on his skateboard, his golden saber going back like a scorpion tail, and he just rushed two steps behind the shield and knocked Robby twenty feet in a flash of golden light. He looked positively shocked at what he's done. We rushed over to Robby's side, only Jack and Sven staying beside where Paul stood, his eyes wide in surprise.

Robby himself was unhurt, rolling in the tall grass laughing his ass off. Paul was so shocked by what happened he was actually apologizing long range, pacing, clearly out of sorts with himself. We walked back to the training area and Robby slapped Paul on the back, saying "That was the best hoplite shield smash I'd ever had. If you do that in combat, your enemies wont know what hit them."

"Okay, but… how did I do that?" Paul replied, clearly baffled.

"It's not a function of the enchantment we put on your board," Kenny speculated, his hand tapping at his tiny chin. "I would have to guess it's your own innate powers coming out. We've been training pretty hard. You've been very focused."

"And this is something like what you said happened in the Y during the fire," Jack pointed out. "When you broke through the rock climbing wall and the back of the building. And it matches what I saw when you fought… my father. That flash of yellow energy. Perhaps your body is actually producing that energy as either a way to repel contact or as some form of energy barrier?"

"As what?" Paul said, deadpan.

"Shields up, Spartan," Nick answered, getting a hooked thumb and nod from Jack. The realization seemed to sink in and Paul got this mixed expression of wonder and confusion. Nick gave Paul a shoulder pat and handed him his golden saber.

"I still don't know how I did that," Paul muttered.

"How did you feel when it happened?" I asked.

"Focused," he returned, looking down to the skateboard. "Like, I had to prove that no one was ever going to stop me."

"Then remember that feeling. That is the key to fueling your power. Focus and determination. It is the same with all of us, at least for our innate powers. The magic stuff takes a little more, but, if I want to change shape, I focus my mind, and…" I looked to the other three werewolves, "this will sound weird, but I channel my Rage."

"Yes, the same for ignoring hurts," Magnus nodded.''

"And for moving with Rage speed," Sven added.

"Rage speed?" Jack asked.

"Ya'll better demonstrate that one, Maggie," Nick said, tossing a small rock to bounce off Magnus' cheek. Magnus, still in human form, growled and burst into Rage speed. He literally covered the distance of about twenty feet in less than a heartbeat, had picked Nick up and moved another fifteen feet, firmly grabbing the back of Nick's underwear and giving him a werewolf atomic wedgie, so fast that it made a slight breeze pass between Jack and Paul.

"And all of you can move that fast?" Jack asked as Nick pleaded for mercy.

"Yes," Sven answered, stifling a giggle as Nick's pleas and gyrations became more pronounced and comical. Did I mention that Magnus was tall? Poor Nick was nearly two feet off the ground, wriggling like a worm on a hook. "It can be used for Rage strength as well, making us temporarily many times stronger than normal."

"You keep saying Rage, as if it's a thing unto itself," Jack noted.

"Because it is," I replied. "It literally is the energy we possess based on our emotions. It can be deadly, it can be useful, it can be miraculous. It can also be blinding, uncontrollable, a force of raw carnage. The legends of werewolves being ravenous, bloodthirsty monsters are born out of times when some Garou somewhere lost control of his Rage and it drove him into acts of savagery. But it is the energy that powers our transformations, our rapid healing, strength and speed. Raw brute force."

"So, it's biological?" Jack asked, but his nod told me he had found a way to make the supernatural line up with his scientific understanding of reality.

"After a fashion, yes," Sven agreed. "Perhaps we shall have to discuss this more later."

"I think I'd like that." Jack said. "So much of what I know has changed in the last several weeks. Magical, psychic, biological powers that even my crazed father could not have predicted entirely. If only he knew what was really going on…" A dark look passed over his face, getting to a moment of almost tears.

"He can't hurt you anymore," Paul said, gathering Jack into his arms, the smaller boy almost vanishing in his boyfriend's tender embrace. And in that moment, I knew that despite Jack not being supernatural, like most of the rest of us, he definitely was one of us. Computer brain or not, Jack had a huge heart. He had been a support to Bethy in her grief, he had been quick to find us a way out of the fire, and he had been there to help Juan without hesitation. And he trained as hard as any of us to prepare for the battle to come. Compassion, fortitude, courage, determination, and ingenuity; that New England ideal. He was definitely one of us. He was pack.

I looked over and saw Robby staring off towards the house, again. Something was going on behind his eyes. I thought about going over to talk to him, but Kenny was already moving towards him, his hand reaching out to rest on Robby's back. I swear I saw Robby's ribs shaking in time with his heartbeat just before Kenny's touch. And then when Kenny's small hand pressed through the sweat-soaked fabric of Robby's YMCA tee-shirt, the shaking stopped.

Magnus and Nick walked back to the campfire circle, my boyfriend unselfconsciously adjusting his underwear and the parts they contained after Magnus' assault. Magnus himself was grinning at having the chance to return some of Nick's good-natured abuse. Oddly enough, Magnus got a fist bump from Bethy in passing, and he grinned at her, but in a different way. Less smug satisfaction, more recognition of lessening tension for everyone. About that time, Robby and Kenny walked back over, and it was clear that something had passed between them.

Lots of emotion. Lots of energy building, both positive and negative.

I looked up and cast my gaze towards where I knew the moon should be. But my lunar time sense was off in this altered-time space. I looked at the dome of iridescent energy above, hoping to see through, to gain some strength from Sister Luna's pale, bright light.

Instead, my Gnosis-tuned, Glamour-charmed eyes pierced through the color of the dome to see the dark clouds, echoing with the red tinged laughter of the fire spirits, still dancing in the air after the fire downtown. I had to remember that while it had been days for us in the dome, scant hours had passed since our escape from the Y and our subsequent sneaking out of the hospital. So, in the physical realm, the sky still had angry, reckless spirits released from the destruction.

One of those spirits, heavily corrupted by the Wyrm, glanced towards the dome with hungry eyes, reaching for us. The claw of smoke, wickedly lit from within by savage, crimson and coppery light, struck the dome and recoiled in pain. My own magic feeling senses winced at the strike. The dark spirit, drawn to our location by my sensing gaze, backed off, shaking its cloudy paw in irritation. The dome held, but I knew it was just a matter of time. I had to do something to preserve this place.

No, WE had to do something to defend this place.

But first we had to take back another magical place from a megalomaniac, murdering sociopath with a plan, a private army and no compassion or restraint. Which meant taking on that mad Changeling lord at the possible cost of many lives. The things we do for love and Gaia…

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