The grove is a large old fashioned kind of pub secluded in a country town in western Queensland. If you know where to look and how to ask it is easy enough to find. Sitting opposite of an almost derelict post office and old corner shop, it is a hub of magical folk who love to drink, gamble, bribe, fight, steal and pawn their days away surrounded by their own kind. Along with the comforts of the old world in the mix.
I felt the tingle of powerful wards in the door knob as I twisted it and walked inside suddenly slammed by a wave of cool air, sounds, smells and magical energy as I moved casually inside. The inside of the pub was made of brick and was both wide and long, with a tall ceiling more than eight feet high. Old Chandeliers with candles, gas lamps and coats of arms decorate the walls along side mounted heads, arms and torsos of things I really did not want to know of. And I immediately sighed in relief feeling much more at ease then I had for most of the day being in a safe, familiar environment. If anyone wanted to attack me out here, they would have to wait for me to leave the grove and go outside again. And I was fairly certain no one would out to get me would know I came here. Hell they might not even know this place even existed.
Celtic folk music was being played by a small band of what appeared to be humans at first, but once I felt the potent glamours coming off of them, I knew them to be of the fae folk. They prefer that name, or the Sidhe (pronounced shee like in ‘banshee’) among a few others like Daoine Sidhe, Daoine Sith (the Scottish Gaelic version of Sidhe but pronounched shee) Tylwyth Teg in Welsh or the Síoraí, Irish Gaelic for ‘immortal’ or ‘timeless’ as far as I am aware.
They were more common here then they were a few years ago, apparently Australia and the Americas have become prime real estate for the fae among other races. There was a group of shifters in hybrid form, Lycans or Werewolves they don’t really care, (just never call them dogs) sitting by the large cold blue fire burning in the centre of the pub. It is set up like an old camp fire or meeting ground like the Viking meetings held by Jarls and Kings back in the day. It is surrounded by iron forge din intricate knots and wards to keep it in check as well as manage its temperature. Metals such as iron can be sometimes tricky to imbue with magic but those with the knowhow and experience can pull it off easily enough given time.
Sitting in seats around two nearby round tables were a group of daemonkin, their more nefarious heritage left out in the open while at the grove, bright yellow, black, red eyes forked tongues scaly skin, horns and a few other obvious signs but they kept to themselves and did not seem to be up to any mischief. Yet. A pair of Asian vampire women looking no older than I did without my facial hair were cuddling up with a posh smug looking magi in his late 30s whom I swear I had seen before. I could tell he was a magi by the foci ring he kept on his right hand, glowing with pent up magical energy, and the way he sat, posture formal and somewhat uppity. Well, if he was planning a hot night out with a pair of ravenous, energetic vampires I wished him all the best. Hopefully there would be something left of him tomorrow.
Turning away from the potential threesome I headed over to the bar where my favourite bartender and the manager of the grove was pouring out a pint of whiskey (yes a pint) for a short haired daemonkin woman sitting up on one of the cushioned bar stools. The bar tender himself appeared to be a small, stout Indigenous man in his late 40s, with a small beard, calloused hands and a bald scalp. He had bright energetic eyes a mirth filled smile on his face and the smell of alcohol and figs about him.
I knew that is I used my arcane sight on him though I would see through his true appearance hidden under that complex and effective glamour. Underneath Gurumarra the smiling bar tender was in fact a small stout red skinned man, a Yara -ma – yha- who. These were the Indigenous folklores equivalent of a vampire. Though they were vastly different to the few remaining vampires of European and Asian ancestry. Yara – ma- yha- who have usually bald heads, large mouths with no teeth, had suckers substituting fingers and toes, and were usually stark naked. Gurumarra or Guru as I usually call him, tended to wear boxers underneath his glamour as to be polite and more formal at work. Though most beings would not immediately be able to see through his glamour. This time round his glamoured form was wearing a chequered black button up shirt, with red and white lines. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and he had a fine dark blue pair of jeans on and black enclosed boots to match the shirt.
Turning his smile to me Guru waved me to a seat in front of him and began grabbing a recently cleaned glass. “Xander, Xander, Xander when will I finally be rid of you mate. You walk in like you own the place, pay for drinks, steal from or bribe my customers for information. What is a man to do”? The words were tinged with a thick accent derived from the Indigenous people of central Queensland that Guru resided with. His smile widened as I sat giving him a petty sneer as I did so. I am not that bad a customer. I pay for my drinks, and usually for the drinks of many other patrons. Speaking of which I reached into on the pockets of my pants and pulled out my wallet. This day could get expensive. ’Guru, far be it from me to deny your weekly bitchfest to me. But I really could use a drink. Not too strong just enough to make me feel a bit happier about the shit show my life seems to be heading towards” I said as dryly as I could manage. Noting with approval that my wallet was for now fat and happy with notes and coins.
Soon that would change but I was glad that I had more money then I tended to when I visited the grove. I looked up to Guru and added “Also can you check to see if Snorri is in, I need to have a word with him. Business, not pleasure assure him”. Guru chuckled merrily, shaking his head and poured me a crisp, ice cold half a pint of pear cider for me. I handed him a twenty note and a blue coin (yes I did say a blue coin) and grabbed my drink to sip away not chug. I needed to be at least mostly sober for later at the dinner, and the conversations I anticipated to have here.
While Guru went to check for Snorri a familiar figure sat to the left of me as the seat to my right was occupied by the female daemonkin. A tall Indigenous man with thin gangly arms and legs, a long bony nose and chin peered over at me as even seated he was a good head and shoulders taller than me. Jarli Waa, was an Indigenous crow spirit, related to the original crow named Waa whos’ name carried over into a last name into the 20th and 21st centuries. Jarli was lick his ancestor a trickster, fond of shiny or powerful objects, liked but also feared fire. And had a very strange sense of humour. Overall I did like the man, crow, spirit. Shut up I am the magical expert, no really I am.
Turning his head and tapping on of his long talon like fingers onto the wooden table he shifted his gaze to my cider, “What up guvna, had a few too many close calls with that troll and his missus” he asked in his most obnoxious cockney accent. He loved to mock me from being from Britain most days, I let it slide as I knew that I was most fortunate that it was one of the worst things he did to me. Most were not so lucky. I sighed looked up to his wild gaze and replied curtly “No no, Darren is quite fine and I have not seen his uh, bits or anything in ages and he goes to his girlfriends place more often these days”. The troll in this case being Darren. Yes, beneath that tall muscular sensitive man was the body of a troll. The form he usually has is a sort of shapeshift one he adopts to be able to blend in and hang around his girlfriend without much abuse.
Jarli seemed a bit disappointed at my lack of recent misfortune, of course being attacked by a damned hell hound was a lot worse than accidentally catching my best mate and his girlfriend in the act. Although both were terrifying to me personally and made be very uncomfortable. Trying to pry more to get some entertainment perhaps Jarli continued “So no misfortunes none at all? Surely the great and magical Xander has had a tiny bit of trouble. Maybe trouble that he would pay to have information for.” He said all of that with a rather nasty gleam in his eyes though he did not smile thankfully, that would have been so much worse.
Mulling over what to tell him as I sipped more at my drink I spoke in such a way that hopefully only he could hear “There was an, incident at the house, magical one. And I have a feeling it may have been a warning or test by a heavy hitter”. That seemed to please him as Jarli in turn mulled over what to say next. He tapped near my drink again and I sighed before pulling out another twenty and placing it on the counter for Guru to pick up and get Jarli a cider. Nodding, pleased by my generosity or his ability to get free drinks he replied softly, sort of sending the words directly into my ears through some sort of wind magic I thought.
“I cannot think of anything right now, but I will ask about. Maybe someone has heard something. For the right ah, gift. I can look into it, pry out a few whispers, secrets see how I can assist you in this matter”. I grunted in acceptance and pulled out a shiny watch I had brought for just this sort of eventuality. Not one of the newer Rolexes, but a much older model from the turn of the century. Well kept, and made with actual gold in it by a small now long gone French clock worker, I carefully placed it into his right taloned hand. He gazed almost hungrily at it for a few moments before popping it into his chest pocket.
Crow spirits and various other kinds of magical folk tend to favour shiny, old or magical items as currency, more valuable than the currency of the mundane folk used by those who of us who tend to live by or in cities. With the transaction completed Guru returned to behind the bar eyed the money I had placed in front of Jarli, and then proceeded the pocket it and fill half a pint of cider for the crow. “Snorri is busy, said he would cast some runes and call you later” he told me as he worked on pouring the cider eyes focussed on Jarli so as to keep an eye on him. Snorri and his runes, well at least he would call me back.
I nodded in acknowledgement before asking him politely “SO, Guru how are you and your people. Going well enough I hope?” I did not want to sound as if I was prying, but I liked Guru and I was genuinely curious of how his people were going.
Guru handed Jarli his glass watching the crow carefully before replying “Yeah, well enough. Not a lot to do these days and we get our blood from donors or those blood banks controlled by your European vampires. Otherwise no issues. A family I live nearby was reunited with their daughter for the first time in some thirty years or so. Was a good moment, a little light in the dark of these modern days.”
Ouch, I thought I had forgotten about that. The former government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families until the late 1970s had a severe detrimental effect to Indigenous communities and families across the country. Families torn apart, some never reunited, traditional, languages, culture traditions lost. It had affected the magical folk native to Australia as well, those who lived as humans and could not protect their children from the authorities had lost their loved ones as well. Of course it was always easier for magical folk to then find their lost family members using various means even I am not fully aware of. But not all families were reunited soon, and some not at all.
It was a black mark on the history of this country I had adopted as my home, one that many European Australians do not like to speak of. Yara – ma- yha – who do not have children like many races do. They swallow and then regurgitate a victim/chosen offspring, doing this several times as the person becomes smaller, redder and obtains suckers instead of fingers and toes until they are a full Yara – ma- yha – who themselves. It had become far harder over the last century or so for them to do this however. Less trees and more people living in close proximity with weapons that can actually harm magical creatures has kept their population relatively small compared to the migrant magical races spreading quickly across the continent.
Guru claims to be over five centuries old and I believe him, many races have prolonged lifespans, and the fae as far as most can tell are either immortal or near immortal with tens of thousands of years of life in them. Vampires from Europe and Asia are not immortal, not even the undead ones from eastern Europe or China. They eventually decompose after one to two thousand years but the older they are the more magically and physically powerful they became. Gurus people live a similar amount of time according to him and a few others I have spoken to, so it seems those classified as ‘vampires’ have at least one similarity other then leeching of people’s blood or life energy.
Jarli, who was now very enthusiastically chugging his cider, was at least as old as I am if not a few decades older. Turning to my right slightly I took in the daemonkin woman sitting next to me. She had darkish red skin, short dark brown hair, shaved on one half and combed over the way I have seen a number of teens keep their hair these days. She looked to be in her early 20s though that is not saying anything really, I mean look at me.
She had snake like eyes but emerald green and gold coloured, long smooth legs sticking out of her dark maroon dress. Firm arms and shoulders with more muscle on them then I certainly had on mine. Along with an aquiline nose, plump pursed lips and a bosom I literally could not help but look at, she cut quite the figure. The only other sign of her heritage were slightly pointed ears in both the top and bottom halves. Otherwise she appeared more human than a lot of her kind sporting a catholic crucifix around her neck as was common amongst her people. Despite what one may think daemonkin are in fact often religious practitioners (though only in name and for show) and members of the Catholic or Anglican faiths in the New World. They are not at all affected by ‘holy water’ being in a church which they often sponsored to build, touching a sign of the cross or any form of prayer.
While I appreciated the daemonkin, Jarli finished his drink with a pleased gasp after having chugged it. He looked over at some of the other patrons of the pub, winked at me and then sauntered over there to try and find some answers for me hopefully, probably, maybe? I moved back to appreciating the daemonkin who now met and held my gaze. Her serpent like eyes boring into me, her faze gauging for a reaction from me. I simply smiled at her pleasantly and continued to slowly sip my cider. She kept her eyes on me licking her top lip in a thoughtful manner, though like with many things to do with lips I found it incredibly distracting.
“Are you not going to introduce yourself there ma’am?” I said in the British fashion, not the American one.
Her eyes briefly shone a little brighter as she spoke “I would but that would mean introducing myself to a man I have just met. In a pub. On a Thursday. With no idea what his intentions are or what he may or may not do”. Her voice was not quite soft, but had a distinct feminine tone, almost velvety but carried a sense of command about it.
Similar to another woman’s voice I used to hear on a daily basis. Yep, that needs some repressing. I downed the rest of my cider a good third or so of the whole glass before responding. “Fair enough, as the crow and bar tender beside me stated, my name is Xander. Magical practitioner guy of impressive knowledge. How about you then ma’am?”. I am hoping my shortened name does not ring any bells for her, and deliberately did not state if it is my first or last name in its entirety.
She squints her eyes a fraction, “I am 38, not quite old enough to be called ma’am yet. And is Xander your whole first name or a shortened name? I am called Andrea Mr practitioner guy. My companions and I on that table over there are here on an extended vacation”. Well she is quick to ask sensible questions. Holiday, meaning that they are tourists.
I ignored her question and instead focussed on sifting through the various tells on where she was from. The way she said ma’am pitches her as an American to my ears, not sure where the accent is from. But, if she is from the Americas maybe calling myself Xander to her was not so bad. To be fair most daemonkin are from the Americas both North and South. They got in early along with the Spanish and Portuguese in order to carve out communities and spheres of influence outside of Assembly control. In fact both famous conquistadors, Hernán Cortés Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca, conqueror of the Aztec Empire and Francisco Pizarro González, Governor of New Castille and conqueror of the Inca Empire were both daemonkin themselves obscure daemonkin.
The legacy of this and with other daemonkin accompanying later French, English and Dutch settlers, meant that to this day most of the New World in the Americas is in fact under Daemonkin influence apart from the traditionally southern and republican parts of the United States (which sadly enough have for most of their history have been part of the Assemblies sphere of influence and habitation).
In light of this information I decided to try for polite inquiry and to check my theory on her background, “Holiday in Australia. Nice place for it, I assume you are from a big American city? Then yes, here in the outback of central Queensland is a great place for a holiday. I imagine though you and your compatriots would find the Sunshine and Gold Coasts to be quite beautiful and … scenic”.
Her eyes studied me further seeming to consider what she wanted me to know and what to keep to herself. Flicking one of her reptilian eyes to her companions further down she finally replied “Yes, we are from Manhattan originally and many of us wanted to visit the Sunshine Coast at least for the beaches and hotels. We are here as we were told it was a safe and respectable establishment where we could be ourselves for awhile.” Her voice seemed to become slightly less tense and controlled as she spoke she finished her drink, some strange blend or red and blue I had probably never heard of. She licked her lisp appreciatively before asking” You are a resident I assume? I notice from your slight accent and pronunciations you seem to be British, although I am no expert in linguistics and accents. I also note that you do not seem to be much of a drinker”.
“Hah, you and me both and no I prefer the lighter beverages, keeps me sharp when I need to be, and anything untoward to the intelligent men and women I converse with” I replied. She seemed to find me sipping slowly on my cider while she had already finished her pint, yes pint of whiskey. I saw her order another and wondered how was she not drunk already. She was soon sculling that back as well like I would a can of soft drink. Damn I assumed that was her heritage allowing that. I certainly could not pull that off, magic or no. Even Darren kept his drinking more modest then that most days.
Keeping an eye on me as she licked some stray whiskey of her chin, which I may have taken as more sexual and predatory then it actually was. Andrea started up a new line of conversation. “Well we do not all have large constitutions now do we. I am surprised to see more than one human around in this establishment. I was under the impression your kind preferred to be around your own.” She sort of had a point though that was mostly true in the Old World and Asia. Outside of their human casters tended to be more open minded members of the magical community. Of course there were still prejudices, but I had few of those myself. I tended to dislike the groups were known to consistently cause harm and issues for others, and even then I tried to judge on a case my case basis.
Looking over at the magi with the vampire women practically glued to his sides I replied, “Well there is truth to that. But many of us still enjoy the company of the magical folk and like being a part of the wider community. Take that gentlemen over there, he certainly wants to be uh, intimate with his magical neighbours”. Turning her head to see the magi I was referring to Andrea smiled a bit although whether in amusement or mischief I had no way of telling. Facial expressions were not always something I was great with even with mundane humans let alone daemonkin.
Slowly turning back to face me she asked, “So are you one who mingles with the community like that. Have a female or male magical companion waiting back home for you after your daily visit to the pub”. Hey, not all Australians or casters visited the pub every chance they got. I was genuinely offended, I had to bite back a nasty retort about her mother and copulating with snakes. See this is why I am not good with women of pretty much every race. I can get irritated far more easily then I should be simply through stunts like that. Calm Xander calm, control just like you were taught. Control, yes, control. Trying to keep my face as neutral as possible I replied cordially, “Well in fact these last few years I have been regrettably single. And my visits to this fine establishment are on a more weekly or fortnightly basis. As I said I am not much of a drinker, but I do like to see how everyone is going and check in when I can.”
She moved her left hand up and stroked two fingers across her chin and lip in thought. Making a slightly loud clicking sound with her tongue the way I sometimes did myself she decided on her next response. “That is a shame and I, believe you on the drinking. You seem more of the type to ask and brose more than shop around. No companion but have you friends then to keep you company?”. Hmmm, I was not sure why she seemed to be wanting to ask that. Was this standard talk between men and women who met at pubs? Buggered if I know, but I am cautious enough to find it a wee bit suspicious at least. I tapped my left ring finger on the bar table slowly, trying to decide quickly if I should outright lie or tell a vague half truth. Lying could get me caught out and draw more attention then I needed to, I had heard daemonkin were good at spotting lies.
Maybe they could sense them, smell them? I was not certain on that, but I did know I was not in the mood to deal with any fallout from one. So I told her a vague truth, “I have few friends but we get along, keep one another company and all of that. I imagine you are pretty close to your compatriots over there. Most folk have someone they are close with and I have friends and for now that is enough”. I maybe gave away little too much personal detail there. Damn, I tended to do this when talking to women like this. It is part of the reason I avoided conversations with women.
Part of the reason anyway the rest are, complicated. There was a darker part of myself, one which I acknowledged but tried to keep tame, safe had a burning desire, no a need for power. Not the political or economic power most people are after. No I meant magical power, old power, energy the kind that makes up and is a part of all magical folk from daemonkin to magi to fae and beyond. Even the spirits were magical beings, that is how they were able to exist at all. The same kind of magical power or energy that was an essential part of Andrea, I could feel it inside of her, like a living in, swirling around yet remaining stable, constant at the same time part of her. I felt it more clearly than others would, more than many would feel comfortable with if they knew. And the need I had, for that … power was not one I wanted out, not one I could let out.
I had a brief flash of memory stronger than usual, even more so then earlier at the mirror. A woman all too familiar pressing her black coated lips on me, our hands exploring one another bodies. Sweet, honeyed words being exchanged deep meaningful words, true words. Her eyes a perfect sapphire blue, shining like a star filled sky. And then the memory twisted, a dark room, pain screams a pair of cold satisfied smiles. One coated in black smiling at me eager, hungry. And then it was gone, I snapped back to reality, and had to work hard mentally and physically to suppress a shudder form breaking out.
Andrea caught something in my gaze as I did so, perhaps also reading my body language. “One should be careful when denying their needs. If left untended to, those needs could become more dangerous, more eager to be fulfilled. Do you not agree on that Xander. Surely all should feel safe to satisfy their.... urges?” Now she gazed at me in a far more dangerous manner, hunger, desire clear in her eyes. To have me or to kill me only she would know. I was now starting to realise I had probably bitten of more than I could chew in deciding to interact with her.
I nodded almost painfully slowly in affirmation not wanting to go any deeper than this. This was twice in one day I my memories had wormed their way out of my subconsciousness. Usually they had become few and far between. It must be from worry, from the attack from earlier that was getting me riled up. Unearthing things that should stay hidden, out of sight, out of mind. She leaned over now, face now only a few inches away.
I felt her breath on my sweaty skin, it smelled of something ripe, sweet and sour, also whiskey. My heart sped up rapidly, partially from fear, and partially from some deeper primal need of mine. Part of me wanted her, to hold her, be with her as I had biological needs just like any other human. And it had been more than five years since I had been intimately with anyone. I wanted intimacy, to feel close to another being, to feel their body with mine, caressing, biting and writhing to completion together. My ring finer began to itch so I had to was forced to scratch at it to prevent aggravation while still focussing on Andrea.
And there now in the forefront again, was the darker part, the deeper part of me the magical side that wanted her magic, her power, to take it, posses it. Absorb it into myself to make it mine, mine, mine, MINE. As soon as I thought that, I bit my tongue hard enough to draw blood, clenching my fists until my nails dug harshly into my palms. I inched my head back slowly, breathing hard ragged breaths. Andrea did not take her eyes of me and only smiled as I pulled back, it only seemed to encourage her more and she leaned over, making our bodies almost come into full contact. Our elbows and wrists touching. I swallowed the phlegm and blood in my mouth before speaking in a slightly raspy voice, “Some desires, no matter how much they need fulfilling. Must be kept under control, for the sake of all the people involved. Even if it hurts, even if it can isolate you.”
Looking beyond her now to help calm myself and reign in my deeply rooted urges, I felt a few pairs of eyes boring into me. From their table three of the other daemonkin, two males and one female were glaring at me, along with at least one of the lycans. I could guess that they lycan was jealous I was talking to an attractive woman while he was stuck drinking and bitching to his furry mates. As for the daemonkin, well I was not sure on that one. Maybe they did not like outsiders chatting to one of their own? I was not even flirting with her, not properly anyway so I saw no harm. But, that did not mean that they saw things that way.
I indicated with my chin at the ones staring menacingly at me, “Your uh, compatriots do not seem to like me talking to you. Should I be stopping, worried? Not exactly my evenings plan to be attacked by a group of defensive angry daemonkin. No offence intended”. I said that last part to assure her I was not stating that ALL daemonkin were violent arseholes looking for an excuse to beat up some poor magical entity. Especially the human ones.
Her mouth quirked up the one side, a sort of half smirk, half smile sort of thing. She turned to her compatriots, waved affectionately as three of them continued to give me what I assumed to be a death stare. If looks could kill or injure, I would likely have a leg injury and a chest wound from those looks. Turning back to face me Andrea then smiled properly now it reeked of mischief and knowing as did her eyes, “Oh only three of them want to hurt you. And we are all protective of one another. Comes with the territory. I will say you should probably bounce as quickly as you are able once you leave this ah, pub”. That last one seemed to be sated so as not to offend Guru still behind the bar, filling drinks and cleaning glasses, if so he did not openly seem to notice.
I snorted in annoyance and resignation, likely I would have to teleport myself out as quickly as I could. If not, well I did not like my chances in a fist fight with daemonkin. Not even one of them. I would not use my magic, no, not unless I used up all of my other options. Handing my now empty glass over to Guru I met Andrea’s gaze and went with, “Okay, well. Lovely to speak with you then Andrea. I do hope you and your, friendly compatriots have a great holiday. Good to talk and meet you, however if you will excuse me, I am going to go and try not to antagonise anyone else. Do enjoy yourself though, plenty of fun things to do out here. Just try to keep away from some of the older spirits here. They are not overly fond of foreign folk spending too much time in their midst.”
Standing from my chair, pushing it in politely, I thanked Guru for the drink and Andrea for the charming conversation who replied with, “Do not worry Xander, we will talk again soon”. Trying not to read too much into that I proceeded to excuse myself to further down the pub. Moving away from the daemonkin and towards where Jarli was seemingly hypnotising or chatting up one of the fae musicians who was on break. As I headed down both Andrea and her group followed me with their eyes, all watching me with varying colours of frightening eyes. Much like how I had seen other folk watch a particularly tasty more sol just before they devoured it. In the case of Andrea, I was hoping that gaze was more sexual then hungry for my sake. With my luck though they had all decided to trap and cook me up once I left the pub. Ah, sometimes I hate the folk who I meet out here.
Keeping my head down without trying to look sullen or afraid I zigzagged my way over and found an uncomfortably beautiful fae male chatting with my crow information broker. Both seemed to be enjoying the exchange and I could almost feel the layer of sexual energy, building up between them. I really hated Jarli’s ability to talk to people, he always seemed to know exactly what to say and when. It was infuriating to one such as myself. The conversation I had just had with Andrea outside of Camilla and Ines, was the most successful conversation I had had with a woman in my entire stay in this country.
I gave Jarli a rather salty look as he looked up to me after continuing the conversation in my presence for a good minute or two. His smile was even wickeder then usual and he seemed to be very much enjoying himself. So did the fae by the look on his face, and the uh, bulge in his tights? Pantaloons? I did not know what to call them. Either way I was still shitty at how easily Jarli did that with people, to me he was a bit blunter and slightly more antagonising. But to others he could be as sweet and charming as the heroes from the old stories. He could probably have seduced a princess into giving him her virginity, and convinced her father to give him the crown all in the same evening if he tried.
Now there was a thought. I was suddenly very glad that Jarli did not seem to have any political ambitions. That would certainly NOT be a good thing. Oblivious to my internal bitching and worries, Jarli waved a hand at me to be seated and then introduced me to his new friend. “Xander, be welcome. This is Nuada my, gracious new information buddy, and likely new intimate partner”. He said with emphasis before continuing. “On the matter of business, I have had little time, but as ever I get my results quickly. There has been a, stir shall I say among the magi community. Apparently they are starting to prepare for something big. Various families are gathering in their strongholds to discuss an upcoming event or decision, not fully sure on the details there.”
I nodded, despite him being an irritating trickster, he was my best information broker. Snorri could cast runes and see potential events and futures, but Jarli could seemingly pull the information I asked of him out of thin air. Hell for all I knew maybe he could, he was a crow spirit. And they when they wanted to had some major pull with the other spirits native to this country. Deciding to acknowledge his ability and effort I smiled in a semi awed manner, “Well shite Jarli. You truly never cease to amaze, you got me something at least. The magi don’t start gathering like that for no reason. You even made a new friend in the same time frame”. I acknowledged the fae with a slight bow of respect, which he returned.
Jarli rubbed one thin taloned hand over the fae’s arm, eliciting a slight shiver of pleasure and a pleased smile from the musician. Keeping his hand stroking along with his attention now on the fae Jarli continued to update me, “That is not all, though it is VERY interesting that those old European casters are gathering like that. Could be connected could not be.” He paused smiling at the fae who gaze he was now holding before continuing his trail of thought. “But what is even more interesting. Is apparently a special VIP from the Old World is visiting the South East? Right out of nowhere almost and they will be there in the next day or two so I hear.”
Now that set of almost all of my alarm bells. A special guest, from the Old World? That, that was not good nooooo not good at all. That could be connected to why the magi were meeting and maybe it was. But, it also confirmed what I had told Darren. If someone was coming to the South East where I LIVED for goodness sake, only a day or two after a hell hound found its way into my home. It simply could not be a coincidence. However, or whatever, this VIP was, they were likely somehow connected or responsible for that. Could they be from the Assembly? Damn I hoped not. That would be one of the worst case scenarios for me.
It had been more than five years since I came here now. I was hoping that maybe I was being forgotten, overlooked. But, that fear that overlying fear of someone coming to find me. To take me back. And now it might even me coming true. Damn, I did not need this. Not now, damn it damn it DAMN IT. I breathed out through my teeth in frustration and anger. Hating this feeling that a box was being built around me, entrapping me. This was bad. It also made it that much more necessary to check out what the magi were up to. I was definitely attending that dinner with the Renaults now. I had to see what was going on, even if it meant becoming involved in magi community politics.
Seeing that Jarli was becoming more and more preoccupied with his new fae buddy I decided to let them enjoy themselves and head out. One of us had to enjoy ourselves at any rate. I thanked Jarli for the information and promised to let him know if I needed more business in the near future. Jarli waved me of as me had to nudge his tall wiry body closer, more snugly to the fae’s. I said a final farewell to Guru and told him I would try to come back soon. He looked me over before saying “Be careful now Xander. I fear if you push too hard too fast in one direction you may miss the bigger picture. And stumble along the way. I don’t want to hear you got yourself killed now. Be well and come back a healthy paying customer you hear”.
I nodded in assent to him secretly pleased he did not go on about the will of magic. With magical butterflies still bouncing around in my gut (well hopefully not literal magical butterflies) I promised him I would try. I then turned and somewhat rigidly headed to the front door. Grabbing hold of the doorknob and looking out of the corner of my eye I caught some of the daemonkin stand from their table. Shite, I knew the bastards would try something. Always count on a bloody daemonkin to pick on someone who seems weaker than they are. I gritted my teeth and headed outside, trying not to move to quickly as to tip them off.
I walked out at a pace between casual and speed walking fisting out my Dimetitimancy device as I headed out around the side of the grove. As I stopped to use the device I heard a bang, of a door closing and turned to see four of the daemonkin setting up a few feet away. Great, they had picked up another buddy for a slug- fest yay me. I clenched my fists, trying to go for calm and not reach out to the strands of magic around me. Or the magic deeply entwined with my own self. I kept my eyes on them on my right hand on the device as I spoke diplomatically, “I apologise if my talking to your friend caused offence. That was not my intent. I was merely striking up conversation at a pub. If, you think it, necessary I can arrange for weregild to be paid to you for the grievance.”.
The new comer with them seemed to like the idea as his eyes shone greedily in the night, more golden and snakelike then Andrea’s had been. The other three seemed to consider it for a moment. They looked to one another and spoke quickly in their ancestors tongue. One I did not speak and it sounded like an archaic form of language from the Fertile Crescent possibly, but with over emphasis on the s’s and r’s. I could leave now, but that could cause greater insult. And I certainly did NOT want to have to deal with this at a later date. I had enough on my plate as it was.
Finally, they all turned to me eyes, shining in the dark like fireflies, but you know evil looking. Red, gold and a sort of reflective black pairs of eyes focussing on my person. The woman amongst them spoke up, her voice somewhat like that of Andrea’s but more firm, hard as if broking no BS. “We do not like others particularly not young magi, engaging with our members separately from the group. It has caused us some, concern but your apology and offer of wergild is accepted. In exchange for letting this pass and forgiving you, we require a cache of healing tonics and herbs or a guarantee of future service to our group. To be completed when and where we see fit. These terms are not negotiable young magi.”
First of all, ouch, that was a big ask. A guarantee of service was binding among the magical communities. If I broke my word, I would be cast out and maybe even killed. They took this stuff very seriously even the younger ones like these daemonkin. But a cache of healing tonics and herbs was also an issue. It would be expensive but, ultimately less likely to prove dangerous to me in the long run. I had no idea what they would need them for, but if it got me out of this mess I would happily go for it. Secondly, they thought I was a magi, which was good actually. It meant they did not see me as a threat, and they did not know what I was actually able to throw around.
Letting out a tense breath I finally accepted, “I accept the terms of wergild of a cache of tonics and herbs. To be presented to you or your chosen representative when I am able. This I swear on my power, word and the will of magic in the presence of these witnesses”. And now it was done, I had an obligation to pay them the wergild or lose face.
The woman seemed quite pleased, her sharpened teeth and red eyes lighting up her face in the dark. She took out a card from her purse she was carrying, as her dress was so tight on her I was not sure where else she could have placed it. She tossed it to me, which I barely caught. It was a heavy kind of plastic, with three sets of phone numbers and emails on them. “Use this to contact us as soon as you have the payment. I am glad we could all resolve this like sensible members of the community”. She did not need to threaten me with the consequences if I did not follow through, we all knew what that would be. Ushering her compatriots along they moved of back to the groves entrance and disappeared.
Sighing in relief, I stopped clenching the device as hard as I was, it had left a deep bruise and indent on my skin. Shrugging off any more thoughts on this for now, I pocketed the card and turned the clockwork mechanisms, picturing myself back at the park. The familiar feeling engulfed me, a bright golden light shone all around and with a slight wrenching of the guts I was suddenly back in the park. It was still bright out as I had not been at the grove for overly long and summer days lasted for quite awhile.
I quickly started to listen out and visually scan the area, making sure no random mundane human had seen me use my magic. The park was empty bar an elderly couple further off in the distance facing the other direction, and they did not seem to have noticed me. Good, then I felt around for any magical presences and opened my sight for good measure. Methodically eye balling and sensing the surrounding area as best I was able I thankfully sensed nothing out of the ordinary.
Content now that I was indeed secure or for now anyway I turned off my sight, pocketed my Dimetitimancy device. Man I need to shorten that, maybe teleporter, Dim sphere or something like that? I would come up with something more convenient later, right now it was still well after three pm and I had to prepare for what could be a dangerous dinner party with some magi. Well it could be safe and an actual sensible dinner. But with the Renaults seeking to up their influence and connections in the magi community I had my doubts about that.
Wiping away some idle sweat from my forehead I casually strode from the park to head back home, hoping that Darren would be there still to let him know what I had found. Also to get his opinion on any formal dress I needed, he was actually quite good at all that. Darren was a tailor’s apprentice and a skilled one at that. He had recommended and even helped to create many of my clothing over the last five years or so. He also worked in construction but hey I was not going to give him shite over either occupation. My own work was bits and pieces of selling magical goods I scrounged up, money I received in exchange for services with the Renaults and begging, borrowing or magicking up the rest of the money I needed to live.
I mean I could not actually create money using magic but I could create for a brief time that I did have cash on me and often resorted to such means to purchase goods. It was not something I was exactly proud of, but I needed to pay my half of the rent and help pay of the bills and other expenses I had whilst living in South East Queensland. I looked more closely at the houses around the area, most double storied and made of brick, they still cost somewhere in the upper half of a million onwards to buy. This neighbourhood was quite peaceful and had easy access to various locations and shopping areas making it sort of prime real estate for mundane humans.
As I walked I continued to keep an ear out while feeling around the strands of magic around me, waiting to pick anything untoward up. All the while my thoughts bouncing around darkly in my head, many possible scenarios and worries coming out to play. Even when I was only a few streets away from home I did not relax fully, as if a hellhound could attack me in my own home, then what was stopping another Aberrant or magical folk from assaulting me outside of it. That still grated on me, I had genuinely no idea how an Aberrant could have just appeared in my home like that. The ward should have stopped that, they should have. Neither Darren nor I are exactly light weights in our areas of magic compared to most. But that still left a large proportion of beings in a much heavier magical category then either of us. I had seen plenty of them back in the day when I lived in the Old World.
Still maintaining my vigilance, I continued along home passing houses and pedestrians along the way seeing only one magical folk I had seen regularly before on a jog. They were not human but I had not checked them with my sight in quite a long time so I had all but forgotten what they were apart from harmless to me. Nodding to them as they jogged past me I turned a corner and continued to up on the pavement and then on the grass until I was on the front yard of my house.
Taking one final check around with my standard senses and arcasihtō, I then went to unlock the wards on my front door. These wards took several pain staking days to set up with Darren and they were pretty solid. We were both good in our fields, Darren with heavy lifting and wards. Myself with throwing magic around like a boss and seeing its connections to people and objects. Did I just think ‘like a boss’ in my head? Wow. I was really spending too much time with younger mundane people and magical folk. I sound more like the university student type that I looked like not the 44-year-old caster that I actually was.
I will need to rectify that, would not want people to think less of me now would I? Finishing with unlocking my doors wards, I fished out my keys and proceeded to unlock my door carefully. I closed the door behind me and I felt the wards go back into place once I had done so. Inside I heard Darren cursing as quietly as was able when stressed and headed in to check up on me and report what I had discovered. Darren all 6ft 4 of him was tense and fiddling with a large overnight bag I had seen him take over to Camilla’s frequently. As I smirked soundlessly mouth twitching upwards he continued to let out a string of old Finnish curses as he tried to close the bags zipper.
I leaned against the door frame, suddenly grateful for the distraction from my disturbed thoughts. An indefinable amount of time passed before Darren emitted a triumphant “Hah, who is the master of the bags. I am.” Master of the bags? Okay even in my current mood seeing him act like that and say those words over a stupid bag was far to amusing to let go. I started chuckling to myself in the door frame, seeing Darren suddenly spin to face me.
Surprise filling his eyes which soon turned to frustration and anger as he saw he chuckling up a storm over his choice of remarks and issues with the bag. Wiping some drool from my bottom lip as I finally finished my merriment I took Darren in with my gaze and finally tittered sheepishly, “Master of the bags indeed. What will your next trick be oh Darren master of bags and zippers. Maybe you will open a jar of pickles? Iron the clothes? No wait, don’t tell me. You. Will. Master. The. Suitcases!”.
Clearly not enjoying my merriment at his expense, he pulled his face into a snarl and growled deep from his chest at me. A truly monumental sound you have to understand. Trolls like Darren have deep powerful lungs in which to take in oxygen. Rubbing my ringing ears, I quirked an eyebrow at him before asking, “So I take it you don’t want to hear what I discovered at the Grove? Well your loss, it was really quite interesting.” Darren stopped snarling and crunched his face up in a sort of questioning, disgusted manner. He toned down his hostility, breathed in and out like Camilla had taught him.
After a few deep breaths he finally got his cool back and then finally looked at me gravely. “What did you find Xander, I imagine it was interesting. But for us, interesting usually means dangerous.” Yeah, he was right about that. I ushered him over to our still damaged leather sofa and sat down. Once I felt my end of the sofa bounce up due to Darren’s weight I collected my thoughts, blocking out what was not needed now and kept what would answer Darren’s likely questions.
Releasing a tired, anxious breath and clicking my tongue against my teeth I looked Darren in the eyes again. Out of both courtesy and respect, as well as to help keep my nerves down. I began to recite what I had learned from Jarli at the Grove. The entire time which took some twenty minutes or more to explain in any real depth, Darren sat quietly and took in the information keeping his face relatively neutral as well as his body language. He did not say a word until I was finished and then sighed himself, seeming to shake slightly. It was never good when Darren was anxious, it made me more anxious as I was a skinny beanpole compared to him. Darren had a kind of mental strength I have not seen many folks have in spite of his troll nature which could get quite violent and temperamental.
He always worked to keep his cool even in situations which would have your average, mundane Joe shitting himself in fear or rage. It made me respect him more than anyone else apart from his girlfriend Camilla, who was in my books just as strong as either of us. She emitted a sort of field of calm which was soothing to both me and Darren, she was open minded, thoughtful, caring and a loyal partner. But she was also fierce in her defence of those she cared about, had an almost unyielding will and stubbornness which put both me and Darren to shame. It was one of the many reasons Darren loved her so much, and why now he was worried, truly worried. He was worried for her more than himself. Camilla knows of what Darren and I are, but she has little defence against the realities of the magical community accept for us and the wards we placed over her apartment.
But if an Aberrant could appear in our house, even through our wards, then that meant Camilla could be in real danger as well. The magi gathering was one thing, but a VIP from the Old World of Europe was the kind of situation he and I had been dreading. Fiddling now with his hands at his sides Darren finally worked up the courage to ask, “Xander if, if this VIP is what we think they are and they are from the Assembly? What do we do then? Are you going to run? Fight try to talk to them? Usually I would be all for talking to a member of the community. But in this case I... I really do not know what to do.” He turned his bright golden brown eyes to me and held my gaze, they were filled with fear and concern. “What happens if they know you are here and they sent the Hellhound? What happens if they are going to take you back?”.
I wanted to look away from Darren, coward that I am, I could not stand the look of fear and helplessness in his eyes. But I grit my teeth and desperately strangled the rising tide of fear and anxiety in myself. If this VIP was what I feared them to be and they had come from the Assembly, there was little to nothing I could do about it. It would mean they had the kind of political and legal sway in the community that I could not hope to compete with.
Grabbing hold of the vestige of a plan I was beginning to form like a lifeline. Speaking without really considering what I was thinking beforehand I explained to him, “Look, this is bad, really bad. But, I have a plan, sort of. I am going to the Renaults dinner Ines mentioned to get a look into what is going on with the magi. Maybe I can find out who this VIP is and what the magi are going to do about it.” I said that more quickly and with less confidence then I meant to, but it was out now all the same. I looked again at the overnight bag he had at his feet and went on, “You are heading out to check on Camilla good. Stay there a night or two and I will try to come over after this whole dinner thing is sorted one way or the other.”
He reached out a hand I grabbed onto Darren’s shoulder affectionately, I gave him my most reassuring half smile and continued to hold his gaze. He nodded somewhat rigidly and put a hand over mine. We sat for a few minutes thinking, Darren likely about Camilla and how this was going to go. Myself I was thinking about how the Renault dinner could go, and if I did indeed know this VIP guest. If I did, I was not certain I could get away, let alone fight them. I suppressed an oncoming shudder from the fear and gave Darren one last reassuring pat on the shoulder before standing up.
Deciding to try to give him something else to worry about I decided to bring up my conversation with Andrea. “Hey Darren, while I was at the Grove. I talked. To a woman. It was weird. More than a little scary at one point. But it was nice. Nice to talk to someone again right of the bat.” Darren’s eyebrows shot up at this and a proper smile formed on his face, the worry leaking out of it for a time. Yes, plan successful. He leaned back in the sofa more, less hunched and tense already, “A woman Xander. Well I will be darned. And it was nice. You hardly ever say that about talking to women. What was she like? What was she also? Not a vampire I hope?”.
I gave him what I hoped to be my most malicious smile possible, teeth and all before replying with, “No Andrea is in fact a rather interesting if somewhat intense daemonkin. Her compatriots did not like me conversing with her though she seemed to enjoy my company. I had to promise payment to them of wergild for tonics and herbs. All in all, not a bad night”. The look on Darren’s face when I said this was absolutely priceless, his bright golden brown eyes bulged out of his head almost. He half got out of the sofa and tried to stutter a reply but failed. I continued to smile as I knew for awhile at least he would be more worried about the wergild price and my conversation with a group of daemonkin then the potential threat in the future.
I looked around and noted that things looked clean and apart from the lingering traces of magic and the torn sofa, it was as if the hellhound had never even been here. Deciding I had done enough worrying about things outside of my control, I turned back to Darren and informed him pleasantly, “Well, I have a fancy magi dinner to prepare for. Go to Camilla and tell her what is going on. Be there for each other mate, and I will get to you as soon as I can. Better get on that tuxedo and pants you got me a few weeks ago Mr. Tailor’s apprentice”.
I smirked as I said that last part, both amused and impressed at his skill at tailoring and growing dedication to the work and the profession. Also I was still finding his reaction about talking to Andrea to be genuinely funny. He tried to smirk back, but it came across as too forced and almost pained on his face as he shook his head as if to say, “Damnit Lysander what have you gotten into now”. He was probably worried about if I wanted to meet Andrea again or something as well as I seemed to have enjoyed my last encounter with me for the most part.
I gave him one last wave; glad he had not asked me if this was all a part of the will of magic as I did not think I could nor wanted to answer that. Before heading to my room in order to pamper up for what I assumed was going to be a long night of politics, magic and potentially lethal events. I stopped at the doorway to my room and instead considered having a shower and deodorant spray first to freshen up. Hell, it has been awhile since I bothered to dress up so well, but I intended to make a good impression, one that could hopefully prevent any conflicts from arising.
Turning on the shower I proceeded to bask in the glory of hot water, before thoroughly shampooing my hair and cleaning all the sweat from my body using my personal herbal bar of soap. It was made with actual herbal ingredients and was good for my skin and far superior at removing grime and sweat then most kinds of soap. What? I can appreciate cleanliness too. I just do not dress up most times when I head out or speak very politely very often. Unless I want to, then I can be candid as I was with Andrea.
Thinking about Andrea that rather intense daemonkin and our talk, the closeness of our bodies and the hunger I saw in her, the hunger she brought out in me. Well, it made certain parts of my body stiffen shall I say. If it had not been so long since I had been in anyway intimate with a woman this would likely not be as bad. At least it stopped me from thinking about Ines. That was, wrong I think, she was barely half my age and that would be taking advantage I kept telling myself.
I knew her parents certainly would not mind me courting her. Bartholomew or Bart as I referred to him sometimes in my head, had left some hints he would be pleased if I were to become part of the family. Our duel had cemented that idea in part, along with his knowledge of what I was and that any children Ines and I possibly had would either be as I was or incredibly powerful casters besides. Sometimes I hated the calculating minds of Bart Renault and his wife Clementine Renault. They reminded me too much of my old life sometimes. The plotting, the lessons, languages, traditions, smiling, the … marriages. I shuddered then even under the hot water unable to stop myself that time. Too many memories too much baggage. Well at least that helped with the stiffness problem I was having. I sighed, finished up with my shower before turning the hot, then the cold water off.
I stood in the shower until the water clinging to my hair and body made my teeth begin to chatter. I got out grabbed a clean towel of the railing and dried myself as thoroughly as I was able. Not having long hair I did not need to apply a blow dryer to it as some men and women I knew needed to. Why don’t I just use magic you may ask? Well I could but that sometimes send the smoke detectors of and once I was not paying attention and burnt of a clump of my hair. I was not willing to repeat that just quite yet.
Once I was comfortably dry I turned to see myself in the mirror. I still seemed tired but definitely cleaner then I was and my skin appeared to be just that little bit brighter and smoother as well. Satisfied I had done a well enough job I grabbed a can of deodorant and generously applied it across my body until I all but reeked of chemicals and fake floral scents. Opening the bathroom door, I did not hear Darren around and did not want to confront him nude even if he was, so I went straight to my cosy bedroom. Inside it was nice enough, room for a queen sized bed, a small desk and a wardrobe with enough room to walk around if just barely. My bed was made if crinkled and my small antique clock which sat on my desk informed me that it was five thirty pm. “Well that went by quickly”, I almost said aloud.
Opening my wardrobe, I moved close hangers out of the way until I found hung up, the tuxedo, white undershirt and dark formal pants that Darren had hand crafted for me. Taking them out of the wardrobe I placed them delicately onto my bed and unfolded the clothing. I then went about finding a clean pair of socks, always an issue even in our house (sock gremlins were a nightmare to bargain with). It took me close to five minutes before I emerged triumphant pulling out a clean ironed pair of black socks of Darren’s making. Carefully sliding them over my feet I looked around the top half of the wardrobe for my shoebox. Seeing nothing resembling it immediately I tugged on a clean black pare of briefs before rummaging in the top shelf for my shoes.
Cursing my decision to keep them on the upper shelf, I had to stand on the edge of my bed to finally get the leverage to see up properly. Finally seeing the slightly dusty box, I carefully brought it towards me, opened it up away from my face, before pulling out the formal, black, enclosed shoes I used for events such as this. When the rare time occurs that I actually attend them anyway. Placing them on the ground as I got of my bed awkwardly. I tugged on my formal pants before going to look for some shoe polish. I was going all out for this one, it would be best for me if I did make a good first impression with these other magi from the community I reasoned. Discovering a half used container of shoe polish I began to use my cleaning rag to polish up my shoes as I remained deep in thought. It could prove to me invaluable if I actually made allies of a few of them.
And as I had though earlier, I may also be able to find out who this VIP was from the Old World. That was the best case scenario. The worst case? Probably a show down or it turned out that at least one of the magi who would be guests in fact worked for the VIP and would know who I was. That was the worst case of course, it may not in fact go down like that. But it was a possibility I could not ignore. Finishing of the polishing, I went out to the bathroom again to wash of my now grime covered hands. Returning to my room I kept the undershirt and tuxedo on the bottom end of my bed.
As I scrambled onto the top half. I sat down cross legged and began breathing exercises as I was taught. In and out, steady breaths as I calmed my mind, focussed, felt the magic around me, inside of me, calming soothing. I let these feelings engulf me, needing the escape from my darker thoughts, feeling my entire being relax, grateful for the escape, the soothing breathing, the magic flowing around me. And for a time, I was content.