Changed - A Lysander Corvax Tale

By Alexander Corvax All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Drama

Chapter 4

And there it was, out in the open for all to see, hear and touch. The bastard knew and I felt like I had been set up. There were genuine gasps of shock from several of the guests. El Sanguine and the Pavlovich cousins could not take their eyes off of me. And Andrea, I had seen her hungry looks and smiles a few times now, but never like this.

The way her now wide golden eyes locked onto me and seemed to reek with the desire to hold onto me and take in all that she saw. Her already shining golden eyes were now glowing I thought in a literal manner at me, which only added to my ill feeling but also added to her attractiveness as well. Wishing really hard now that my ring finger would stop misbehaving like it had all through the day. I shot a quick glance at Bartholomew, Clementine and their daughters. None of course were surprised in the least about this revelation as they had known the truth for almost the entire time that we had known one another. They kept their faces neutral and Bartholomew was finishing of this steamed lobster with contented lip smacking.

Ines, too was eating her lobster although while her face as a whole remained neutral her eyes were filled with a sort of possessiveness I thought and they were aimed at Andrea. Oh boy, it seemed Ines did not like her family’s little partner being given attention by the ‘she daemon’. I was not entirely certain I wanted her attentions either. I let out a tense breath to aid in collecting my now scattered thoughts. Changelings, High Casters, Ubermenschen, Homo Arcanus and the Cunning Folk, are among the more common names attributed to my folk in the west. Casters who were ‘born of magic’ as we explain it, who have an inbuilt connection to magic that other humans including magi simply lacked. The people who as families and individuals formed the entirety of the leadership and higher echelons of the Assembly.

And now some of the most powerful and well connected magi in Australia knew what I was, and what that meant by our standards within the community. Damn, and here I was hoping for a less tense dinner which was now as dead of a reality as the Aesir. With all eyes upon me I finally gathered my thoughts and sought to answer his question despite him answering it himself. “That sir, would indeed be an accurate assessment of my nature.” I answered in full honesty. There was little point of trying to BS shit way out of this situation now. May as well have my cards out on the table for what they were.

“Would this be an issue to you then Owain or are you trying to say something specific by bringing this up?” I asked trying to prod him for answers. Owain spread out his hands in a gesture of appeasement before stating, “No, of course not Mr Michaelson. I myself have nothing but admiration for your folk and have some small envy for your innate abilities. I was merely testing out a theory and lo and behold it was indeed proven correct.”

Indeed, it was you smug bastard but what does it get you I wondered, but why bring it up here now of all times. Unless.... Any further thoughts were interrupted by Ines speaking up since informing me of Andrea’s full identity. In voice that sounded far too pleased her herself for my liking she addressed those assembled. Her voice carrying both a sort of possessiveness almost but also a defensive tone “Mr Michaelson has worked well and in a close manner with my family for nearly three years now. His knowledge and personal skills with the arcane and with forms of herb lore are truly something to behold. “

Huh. She seemed to have spoken up for me there, well that and boldly proclaimed her family had a past monopoly on my attention and partnership. There were some among the guests who looked amongst themselves at this, but the key players, The Pavlovich cousins, El Sanguine, Andrea and Owain kept their attention focussed on my person.

No one seemed ready yet to comment on what Ines had brought up, so I took the presented opportunity to swiftly wolf down my own steamed lobster, washing it down with the last of my cider. Holding the glass out for a refill the magi identified as Raphael Dominic who I had seen at the Grove spoke up, “Sooo, Changeling that is. Very, very promising. That would mean you are older then you look. How old are you exactly then compared to the rest of us?” This came across as too smug by him although there was some trepidation and something else in his eyes. Was it, fear? No really why would he be afraid of me here surrounded my other magi?

And then the memories came, slipping through the cracks in my psyche as I was distracted by my nature being exposed out in the open. The rush of power, screams filled my ears, pleading cries from prostrated figures I and others stood over them. The mockery given to them, the commands that could not be ignored for no one ignored the words of a Changeling. “What fun, the little dears think that pleading and prostrating will help them escape their crimes. Of course. it does not work like that, you caused us insult and that, that cannot be borne.” One of the voices, figures to my side in the memory spoke this his voice dripping with glee and scorn for those humbled before us. No mercy no empathy just cold, natural, unwavering hunger.

And then I was back, beads of sweat slowly making their way down my back and neck. My heart hammering overtime in my chest demanding a work break from its increased efforts. I forgot, of course I did, I was trying to forget. But some things refused to remain buried and memories like that were among them. He was scared of me, and you know what for good reason, when one of the other folk dealt with a Changeling they had every right to be afraid.

Swallowing the bile rising in my throat I decided to provide an answer that was true but still vague enough as to not give anything that was exact to him or the other magi. “I am definitely older then you but not as old as Mr and Mrs Forbes”. That answer left them with the information that I was somewhere in between my early forties and early sixties.

Truth with enough of a gap to hopefully keep them guessing and many of them by the sounds and looks of their eyes on me, envy of my youthful appearance. Envy, so petty a thing yet one I understood quite well yes. I envied them with their shorter lives and ignorance of the realities the expectations of growing up among the Changeling. The raw need, the hunger that gnawed at us, which gnaws unapologetically within me demanding release nourishment. If they had lived through all of that, well. I did not think as many would look upon me with such envy then. But then again maybe some would all the more, power does that to so many of us, corrupts especially the intense primordial essence of magic.

It was Andrea who spoke up next as our dishes were being taken away and the third course being brought out. Her voice now made her previous moments talking seem like poultry attempts. Now it was as silk, yet still possessing that unwavering strength and control within that I remembered from the Grove, which reminded me of days I had left behind. “Mr Michaelson” she intoned in mock outrage but clearly enjoying herself. “How utterly wicked of you to keep such a secret why when we spoke earlier you gave me the impression that you were some young, lonely rather candid magi. You even addressed yourself to me so informally as to call yourself Xander. What am I to make of all of this then, were you trying to use me then?”

Uh – oh sphaghettio. Well damn that earned me some more eye bulging glances form a few people with the exception of Owain who probably theorised that I had met Andrea before based on how my eye brows twitched an inch up or eyes dilated. Or some similar BS of that nature, The Pavlovich cousins were looking at Andrea with was that distaste I saw? Mayhap the gentlemen do not approve of daemonkin trying to seduce their new favourite (and likely only) Changeling.

El Sanguine did not look overly happy with Andrea either barely suppressing what I thought to be a sneer. As for the Renaults, well they were not exactly happy with this latest revelation. Ines was practically fuming, her sister Beatrix was giving Andrea a well formed death glare. As for Bartholomew and Camilla, they were looking at me accusingly as if I had cheated on Ines or something. Whatever mates, I thought as I began sculling my filled glass of cider. As I had told them and proven with my actions I was not interested in their attempts at trying to form a relationship bond between me and their eldest daughter. Hey I was happy to do business with them and I liked Ines and did find her attractive.

This did not mean I wanted or could be in a long term relationship with her. None of this especially crucial information seemed to deter the Renaults from glaring at either me nor Andrea who seemed to bask in the attention and mischief she had caused. My glass was now being refilled by one of the waiters with red wine, signifying that the next course would be meat centred. Before that of course we were each treated to another delicious piece of Meyer lemon sorbet this time accompanied my sweet chocolate mints. The sweetness and starkness of the mints and lemon sorbet wiped away the traces of seafood from my taste buds. Preparing us gathered here for the third course of food which I knew from experience, would be of a different time of flesh indeed.

Sure enough as the third course arrived, plates layered with fillet mignon wrapped in crispy bacon and accompanied with roasted potatoes, pumpkin, carrot, rosemary and asparagus. I still held out hopes that I could enjoy the lavish food we were having and survive whatever shit storm my true nature’s revelation had swept up. Clementine placing her now filled glass of red wine back down addressed me somewhat sternly, her accent more distinct in her controlled anger.

“Is what the madam Redwood is saying true Lysander. And, if so how and when did you to meet to become so informal with one another”. There was clear warning in her words and I used my meat fork and knife to cut up and chow down on a few roasted vegetables with rosemary before choosing my response. Not looking at anyone in particular but still addressing Clementine I reasonably explained, “It was earlier today in fact at the Grove pub managed by Gurumarra of the Yara – ma – yha – who. Madam Redwood was sitting at the bar only a few seats if that from myself when I was addressed by the manager and a regular patron as Xander.”

Taking a breather and using the time productively, I began cutting up the beef wrapped in bacon which was making my mouth water again. I took a forkful and waited to chew on the well done meat taking in the crunch and crispiness of the bacon. As well as the tender and juice filled beef which tasted as if it had been marinated for an extended time within red wine. Mmmmm, superb in my humble opinion. Still feeling eyes some filled with baseless accusation on me I swallowed the beef and continued with my explanation. “Afterwards I we spoke, she said her and her compatriots were from Manhattan, I informed them of places to see while they were in Queensland. We spoke of other things including ahh. Desires and how one should approach them. I informed her I tended to repress such desires within myself for my own good despite the cost.”

Now in the open, Clementine seemed barely appeased and Ines was glaring harder at Andrea. With the former practically attempting outright murder against the latter using only her eyes in a death glare along with her younger sister. “As I have said, I am a free man able to speak to whom I will though I had no intentions towards madam Redwood then and now.” Looking at Bartholomew in the eyes now to make a point, as I still felt angered, set up by him even if at this point it was not true. So much gone awry so quickly over the last day that my caution built up over the last five years was being drained away to be replaced my older instincts. In this case, rage, indignity and the desire to show my own control over myself took centre stage.

“Remember dear Bartholomew, you and I are good partners and colleagues. I like you and your family quite well enough to want to continue to do business with you all in the future. However, you do NOT own me. I have since coming here been my own man through it all and I do not intend to let that change. Though I say again I met madam Redwood at a pub and we spoke nothing more”.

Andrea closed her mouth and formed a pout which I only ever half believed was real as some of the other guests tried to move away from me. I realised that while speaking to Bartholomew I had been gathering power around me, strong magical strands now encircling my body. Breathing in then out I released the gathering energies before continuing eating. Damn, I knew this would only get worse I should have bloody seen it coming. Barely enjoying the rest of the fillet mignon and accompanying vegetables as discussion slowly returned to the table although from what little I heard it was centred on me.

As my plate was taken away for the fourth course to be brought over, I felt the other guests become more tense around me if not more excited. My magical presence and the potential danger of angering me seemed to liven up their evening. At least some of us were enjoying all of this but for my part this dinner had proven thus far to be an utter disaster. Palate cleanser of meyer lemon sorbet and mints did not taste anywhere near as good as I knew that they did (though they still managed to make me feel better about this whole ordeal and removed the taste of the fillet mignon). Needless to say I readily consumed both carcasses leaving them devoid of almost all flesh and stuffing.

Hearing no obvious cues to dive into the conversation topic I wished for I decided to make one of my own as I let one of the employees take away my plate. Casting my gaze across the table hands displayed outwards I asked, “Well since that issue was cleared up why don’t we talk of another interesting topic one that I have heard a whisper of on the wind.”

I could not in all good conscience inform them of Jarli my good old information broker. A) that would not be fair on him and I did not really want to betray him to these magi. And B) I wished to leave a degree of mystery to how I came across this information since I was out of the magi community loop. Perhaps it would create yet more rumours on the power of my folk. We had become quite adept at misleading most of the magical community that our powers varied greatly and could use a whole swathe of resources and abilities.

“I am particularly seeking more clarity on this rumour of a VIP from the Old World. Since all of my itty bitty secrets appear to be out in the open well, why don’t you all share”. Pleased with my wording and that I had not come across as either too aggressive or weak when I had spoken all there was left to do now was wait for an answer. And lo and behold an answer did thus appear before me from Ines of all people. Keeping her hands under the table as she did so Ines focussed on me her anger having for now dissipated enough to be civil to another person.

“Lysander dear, I do believe I am aware of whom you speak of. The Assembly in its wisdom has allowed for a younger member of the higher echelons to meet with our magi community in South East Queensland.” Pausing for a moment she kept her eyes on me, filled not with anger now but worry as I felt her left hand rest on my inner thigh. Suppressing a vocal gulp I listened to her intently but now that I felt her my body suddenly remembered its unfulfilled wants, its needs. Wanting those lips of hers coated now in some stray bits of juices making them smell of the glorious food we had been eating. And with her having moved more towards me and actually well, touching me I could distinctly feel her magic, the natural energies flowing within her. And I found myself wanting that form her just as much my physical form demanded intimacy with hers.

Two potent hungers arose each trying to drown the other out as fought to keep focus to block them out, push them down in the dark where they belonged. Ines however, unlike so many others I had seen and met was not oblivious to this. Despite her cockiness and somewhat spoiled nature I still knew her to be a good person so when she saw and felt the internal struggle within me, she removed her hand. I wanted to grab her hand force it there or to more intimate areas but I clenched my fists gritted my teeth and said to my inner self, “NO! Not here not now, not with her. NO!”

Keeping my cool on the outside I pressed her for more information needing to find out who this person was so I could at least know if I actually stood a chance against them. Or if they were of such might they could with the snap of their fingers wrench me aside and carry me back to the Old World, back to them. Back to my family. My family of Corvax. “Ines who is it, this may be another Changeling who got bored and wanted to come over here for some fun and games. But, this could also be quite precarious not just for me but for all present”. I cast my gaze over the table as I spoke that last part trying to convey my sincerity and the gravity of the situation.

No one else spoke up though El Sanguine looked as if she were calculating the risks versus the rewards of enlightening me any further. Meanwhile the rest of the Renaults, Andrea and Owain were either drinking or had their hands either side of where their plates had been. Eyes latched onto both myself and Ines as she continued and spoke the words which would change the lifestyle I had lived for some five years. The new life that I had forged for myself with new and good friends, good people that I had met and begun to trust. My life where I had done all that I thought possible to forget what I had been, what in some ways I was. To deny myself, the deep dark hunger I had been born with. The hunger that took, that fed that had caused pain to myself and others. All of that changed when Ines gave me the answer that I did not truly want but needed if I was to escape or survive what would come.

“Their name is Patrick MacDermit and they will as of tomorrow morning be in the Gold Coast making their way to here in order to meet with us and our guests. To discuss the future and our place within the Assembly and their plans for this country”. Her eyes never left my face and I saw in hear genuine fear, for herself her family, for the future. In the depths of her eyes though, I also registered deep excitement of something new and the possibility of great change and power. And hell, possibly even some fear or desire left over for me.

For all of her faults Ines cared about her family her community and me, despite her attitude and her words. She was afraid of what this man, this Changeling a higher echelon of the Assembly itself would bring to her. And whether or not it would send her and her family, community rising high or crashing down into oblivion as he could do either. The possibly that she and hers could be made greater than they were already filled with her the kind of need and excitement that only someone who had was ignorant of the cost of such power could be. And how in all good conscience could I fault her for that? I had spent the last five years trying to become as ignorant as her again, but it never went away and had no doubts about what this visit would mean.

She of course had every right to be afraid, as soon as that name left her mouth I knew. It was not as a hopeless situation as I had feared but neither was it a safe one either. The reaction on my face which I could not have stopped even if I had wanted to startled her and some of the others seated who saw it. Bartholomew asked before either Andrea, Owain or El Sanguine got the chance to speak. “Aleksander do you know this man. This Patrick MacDermit? Who is he?” Gone now was the indignation from earlier in the meal, replaced with his more usual curiosity but also gentle worry. It was far more skilfully hidden amongst a tone and the curiosity and his tone trying to remain more professional and in control. But all the same it was there even if this was what he and his had wanted, he was not certain if it would be entirely as beneficial as he might have hoped.

I nodded, it was mechanical now, slow, and meticulous but eventually I managed it. I knew. Of course I did, how could I not have known after all the years I had lived with the knowledge sitting unwanted in the recesses of my mind. That name and the memories that came with it. Patrick, one of the cold hunger filled voices from my memories, he who held neither pity nor mercy to anyone other than a fellow Changeling. The man who ripped the magic form any of the other folk he wanted without a second thought.

The Changeling’s who had a medieval sense of justice and fairness like all too many of our folk. The entity who was a cruel unyielding weapon used by the Assembly to keep things in order to their way of thinking. To keep the other folk magi included in line. Patrick MacDermit who was barely sixteen years my senior. Patrick who had been one of those who encouraged me to let my hunger out to stand above the rest of the world as one of the few those ‘born of magic’ where all others were not. Patrick, who had been my friend and the one who saw me at my worst who knew my secrets.

I clenched my hands together hard and locked them in between my legs to stop myself from shivering, if only just. I lifted up gaze up to Bartholomew who almost drew back from whatever he saw in my face. Despite the sudden rawness of my throat I managed to answer him. “Yes I know who Patrick MacDermit is. I know who he is and what he does, what he wants and what be believes. And believe me sirs and madams, he has not come here to aide you or your community. He has come to take control, to rip your freedom from you, your power.” I think then I shuddered slightly, too many memories writhing out making their way to the forefront of my mind wanting to play, to hurt.

My voice now grave and nearly hoarse I warned them all that, “And by the laws of the Assembly written in blood and magic by my people over these many centuries. There is not a single thing any of you can legally do to stop him. Mark my words well, tomorrow when Patrick MacDermit lands on these shores nothing will be the same again. And I do not know if you and your community will survive it.”

No one spoke, and only Andrea seemed to even dare breathe after my words filled the room. As I silence hung in the air like that one time I had been trapped in an elevator with a swamp spirit from Ulster and a Bunyip (an Indigenous Australian swamp, billabong, creek and waterhole spirit). Both had been in disguise as humans of course the swamp spirit as a middle aged man with dark, blondy brown hair and violent green eyes. The Bunyip had looked as older Indigenous man with a large hat on his head for outdoor living and a cane in the other hand. In their true forms which I saw by activating my arcasihtō beheld two beings I would have normally preferred not to see. Both stank something fowl of waste, decay, muddy water, rotting flesh and worse.

I was forced to gag by way through all five floors and it had been a nightmare. Witnessing their true forms had not done me any favours either. The swamp spirit native to Irisg bogs, had looked like vaguely like a tall nightmarishly proprtioned humanoid. Covered in grass, mud, reeds sporting a catfish like mouth but filled isntead of mostly muscle had row upon row of shark like teeth. Sharp, hooked talons adorned its mockery of a water birds hands and feet with its eyes and head resembling those of a particulalry violent toad.

While I remain in this pool of thouhgt, the Bunyip had not not exactly been a fun visit to the theatre either. Its haead and web feet were those of a duck billed platypus. However the sizes was many times larger, too big for even a humans body and sporting the long sharp tusks and body of a walrus. Though the body just as the head was covered in dark thick fur similar to that of a normal platypus. Its tail had been coverd in hair similar to the rest of its large body. However in shape and how it moved side to side, was close in function plus appearance to that of a crocodiles.

The fact that both of them had been proudly adorned with droplets of blood and I would swear upon it in court, chunks of flesh. Meant that for the ungodly amount of time we had shared a cramped environment for five floors of travel without trying to appear rude had been a herculian level task. My guts soon afterwards betraying me to empty themselves out in a bin once I was safe and out of sight did not take away from my courage and endurance of having stood against such horros of smell and sight. The entire experience had all in all made me almost phobic of elevators and I always checked now with my arcasihtō before I went into an elevator with anyone. Barring that I would have to avoid elevators entirelya nd take the satirs everytime I went into a builidng with multiple levels and large underground basements.

The clearing of the palate cleanser and the arrival of dessert finally broke of that trail of thought which had if anything only added to my foul mood. Smells that should not have existed were forever intertwined into my memory from that day and the ill thoughts that came with remembring them. What saved me from most likely snapping and either storming out of the dining room or, gathering a great nasty surprise of magic was the dessert. Rich adours of coffee and gillato pervaded my nostrils, banishing the lingering smell of that elevator brought back from my memories.

Taking hold of my coffee mug as if it were a steadfast rock in a wild rapids and I were a man sailing down them, being dragged under with its warm defined taste filled washed over me. Filling my senses with the coffee that I so rarely drank, all else within the dining hall seemed to fade away and for another few moments I could forget the revelations that this night had brought. Despite its heat burning my tongue and throat I continued to sip on it with enough frequency that when I next looked within only stains and the tiniest drops of liquid remained. Scrunching my face up at this I placed the coffee mug back down on its coster and then picked up my dessert spoon to scoop up the gillato. It was a dar cream colour with bits of chcocolate mixed within.

Whispers from the other tables occupants reached into my ears as I scooped up my first mouthful of dessert but for now I let it filter through as background. I was... processing the ifnormation that had been revealed to me. Patrick, coming here and now these magi and Andrea knew what I was. This had been one of the least favourable scenarios I could have imagined, bad enough that I knew for certain a changeling was coming here. But I had tried, truly tried to hide what I was. Not in no way simply because I wanted word of it to spread out amongst the community. It was more then that so much deeper to me then my reputation, I was … afraid. All these years since I left I had hidden what I was locked it away so onlya small few knew.

I was ashamed of what I had done, what I believed at the time I had neeeded to do as it wa sin my nature. Excuses, petty weak excuses from a man too afraid to stand up to his peers and tell them they were wrong. That what we as a people was doing was fundamnetally wrong on so many levels. And I had been afriad of how those whom I had come to respect outsid eof my few friends would react when they knew what I was. In me, through me, lived a true monster. Far more horrifying and powerful then any of the myths and horror stories most magical folk had inspired. No what I was was worse on a far grander scale for my folk my kind had fought and killed gods. Though it is said that there are no true gods just beings of magic from other dimensions who appear to us in such a way as to be divine. That is what I was always told, taught from so young to believe by my peers.

It did not change what we did, what occurred those centuries past. Two mighty races obliterrated into extinction and one hit with such a hammer blow as so they hmay never recover from. The Aesir, Vanir, Jotunn all three races from the traditional norse mythology sagas extinguished bar all but the smallest few of the Jotunn. Beyond even that we had robed them of their very essence the aspects that helped in part to make them what they were so unique so special. And we in our unquenching hunger had ripped it from their still dying, shattered corpses.

Their magic the old potent energies that were a crucial part of the norse folk had been devoured greedily by the changelings who had waged their war of extermiantion against them. It had not been done alone of course. Even we were few in number then we still were now comapred to so many others, and thus needed cats paws, cannon fodder. Humans, the Church was used as a catalyst for this to over time weaken the hold of the norse gods and their folk taking away their worshippers and hold on what they called ‘Midgard’. By the time that the Roman Catholic Church had called their ‘Northern Crusades’, the magi and changelings had become firm if unequal allies in rooting out the last of them.

Over the course of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries the norse folk had been forced back, their members captured or killed outright and their magic sucked dry. For that is what we did, what we always had done, sucked the magic right out of folk like damned parasites. It still sickened me that this hunger was apart of me, born along with my deep connection to the strands of magic. Truly the will of magic was strange, to give such humans so much power and then give them an ability from birth to take yet more. Madness, sheer utter madness, for I had seen where it lead. Patrick was slightly more excessive then he needed to be, but not my much for the standards of the changelings.

Noting that my gillato would melt if I left it as it was, I placed the spoonful in my mouth and closed my eyes to the senasation. Cold, chocolate flavour also new untested, untried flavours. Somewhat nutty, and another like coffee but not hmm would have to give my compliments to the chef. Vacuuming the gillato through my dessert spoon it was gone even as I had truly begun to enjoy it and appreciate its texture and numerous flavours. Such a damned pity indeed. Such a pity that now I had no distractions from the reality crashing agaisnt the walls of my mind. Go away, I wanted to say. Leave me here where I feel safe. Where I do not have to deal with you, where I can stay happy, ignorant of what is to come.

Reality as with everyother time in my life of course had very different opinions on the matter. Soon its harsh cries and bashing fists smashed through and I was greeted with Bartholomew standing up and inviting the men to go to another room for sturdier drinks and for smokes. Drinks? Sturdier, heavier drinks? Yes, yes I think I needed that. Just one or two, just to.. help me clear my head. Yes, that sounds logical that sounds like something I could do and get away with. I rose with the others, pushing my chair in politely, dodging the grasping hands of Ines to make my way to the kitchens. I would find my way to the mens lodge with relative ease. Even if I did not know the house well enough by now. I could likely just follow the damned smell of tobacco, snobbery and opportunistic scheming.

Streamlining towards where I knew in a sense where the kitchen was I moved with a vague sense of purpose to my movements. In all honesty by this point in the day I was not entirely certain I could hold onto what I would under ost instances call my ‘cool’. If there were any solid pieces left they were close to shattering or liquifying in my arms and drenching through the the vast emptiness of my mind. A manic grin began to work its way onto my face wondering idly what I would do if I did lose my mind, so many possibilities. Well some anyway, as I knew for certain that I would not give into my baser, darker needs. No. No never that, anything yes even if my mind finally left me but to give in now after all my work? Never.

These last five and a half years would not have been in vain if nothing else I would ensure that with all of my being. My grin left me then the corners of my madness being tucked away again into the recesses of my subconcious there to await another chance. Now without the creeping sense of insanity looming, my sense of stability shot to death brutally in the back of the head I felt hollow. Not only hollow but exhausted, mentally and emotionally more then I have in so very long. I mean what was there left to do but wait to confront Patrick? I would tell Darrena nd Camilla what I had learned, for all the good it would do us.

Power such as what I knew Patrick to wield was greater then mine for he was older even if by sixteen years, which by changeling standards categorised us in the same age group. He had always been a fighter as well going out of his way to enter duels with other changelings and magi. Always pushing the boundaries just a little always eager to sharpen his fangs on another victim suspecting or no. Where as I, I had been more well... academic shall I say. I preferred the less violent aspects mof our way of life and traditions. Though of ocurse I had elarned how to duel and to fight using magic thatw as a necessity. Changelings did love to have their magical fights which were far more serious and hardcore then the duels set up by the magi community.

So long as you were careful not to openly break our laws in the process a battle between changelings could be quite brutal and savage. One of the few laws which changelings universally abide by is “Too never openly kill another changeling”. And that right there should give you a picture on the difference in atmosphere and attitudes in which my folk are raised in comapred to so many other folk. Even the more ambitious magi take their families seriosuly and can love and have open relationships with other folk in the magical community. Not so changelings at least not in any experience of mine. And these people in the days to come would soon see the result of such a luifestyle and upbringing made manifest in Patrick MacDermit. Something gnawed at my brain though, tingling on the edges. Why would the Assembly send of all changeling Patrick? He was neither one of the older, more diplomatic, nor one of the more subtle of agents who could have been sent out here. Especially if he was indeed being sent out to oversee the Assembly’s involvement in business here.

And then there was the hellhound, from what I knew of him Patrick had never shown much aptitude for either summoning nor controlling aberrants. Was Patrick in fact responsible or another party? Did Patrick know I was here or was this just business for the Assembly? Could it be both? I raked a hand through my shortened hair in frustration at this, I knew more then ever but I still had no firm answers to my questions. Why had the hellhound been sent for one? And for what purpose or purposes was of all people Patrick being sent here? Sighing as I rubbed my eyes, it would seem that this night still had a while to go even after I eventually left here. I needed yet more information.

A sudden bang and jolt of pain overhwhelmed my senses and I half jumped in surprise. Rubbing my forhead where I feared a nasty bruise may soon form upon it, I suddenly realised what had been the cause of my pain. So deep had I been in the revery of my houghts I had walked right into a doorframe. Scowling and uttering curses under my breath in more then one langauge, I looked around to get to grips on where I was. Familiar painted walls, a high coloured window and a closed door with the sign ‘Kitchen’ printed on a metal sheet lay infront of and around me.

Shaking of my dour thoughts for the time being, I straightened myself out before knocking on the door. I waited to here a reply before placing my hand on the door knob and twisting it open when I had not heard one after more then a minutes passing. Inside I was greeted to a fully stocked kitchen in both supplies, utensils and equipment. Large stoves were being turned of, pots, pans and plates were being washed while a team of professional cooks and waietsr buzzed around as if working overtime within a crowded hive. I

had to dodge fast moving waiters and cooks as I made my way inside, spouting apologies elft and right as I nearly tripped over my own feet going in. The employees gave me mixed looks of displeasure, curiosity and annoyance as I was clearly not meant to be here. I was not part of the team but one of those ‘fancy guests’ invited by their employers and thus had no right or need to be here.

Well too bad guys because I am here now, though not in the msot um, refined of ways as I could be. Hearing two commanding voices raised in what sounded to me like a screaming match, I zig zagged, ducked and slid my way to a back office. As I was able to amble my way closer the two voices only increased in pitch and volume. I had to cover my ears at one point through a few particularly aggressive back and forth angry sentences and rhetorts. I waited out this storm with not intention of walking in until it had at least in part blown over. I can pull of some hazardous and sometimes even brave feats, but going into a room with two powerful screaming voices engulfed in their own war of words was not on that list.

An old darker part of me muttered ‘Coward’ under its breath at my refusal to confront this issue as it knew I could. Having the power and experience that I had surely a little squabbling match between some lesser folk could only be a walk in the park it thought. I proceeded to internally thank that aspect of my psyche for its words fo wisdom. Before bashing it over the head and strangling it forcefully into unconciosuness for giving me both sass and unwanted reminders of my power. The bastard.

Removing my hands from my ears as the torrent of angered voices finally died down around me, I plucked up my remaining bravery and knocke dpolitelly on the doorframe. This had me facing two Renault employees who angled their heads to me, faces flushed and eyes wide, filled with a rollercoaster of emotions. Whatever expectations I had harboured of a portly battle hardened frenchman in a filthy apron and large moustache for a chef were immediately dashed, stabbed and then finally shot in the face. The tall muscular woman in her late thirties with her red stripped black hair tied up on a neat bun, focussed her widened, raging blue eyes upon my person.

I was not certain if I was dissapointed or just surprised to have exactly none of my expectations met. It would seem old Bart could shock me yet still even after our near three years of business. The other woman was younger with short, frizzy dark brown hair and eyes. She was of average height for most Australian women and had more tanned skin to contrast with the chefs pale white skin. Her brown mousy eyes focussed on me with more uncertainty then those of her colleague and was dressed in what I thought to be a waiters uniform though perhaps that of a senior or manager among the kitchen staff.

Turning her gaze briefly to the waitress woman, the chef lowered her previously screaming voice and intoned, “We will continue this … discussion later. But Rebeka we are not done. Not by a long stretch”. Her accented english sounded far too familiar to me then it should have for comfort and I knew I had never met her before. But the accent, that was familiar, threatening to aid in freeing yet more sealed of memories. I clenched my fists and bit my tongue hard again to prevent anything of the sort as the woman identified as Rebeka stalked out of the room. She carried with her an aura so hot and angry, that even I in my dark mood shied away to give her room.

Letting out the breath I did not know I had been holding in I moved back through and into the doorway after she has passed by safely. The office room was well furnished, modern and had several items of paperwork seemingly scattered acorss it in the cyclone of the womens argument. I coughed as a matter of being polite and pretended that I had neither seen nor heard any of their argument. Carefully pacing to the chef I stopped a good foot or two away to give her room before indetifying myself. “Um, yes evening madam. Aleksander Michaelson I am a guest invited over my the Renaults for this evenings dinner.”

My name seemed to register with her, as the growing whirlwind of emotions and feelings in her eyes, dissipated to a degree. She nodded her head an inch and held out her hand. “Yes Mr Michaelson I am aware, you have dined here on several occasions over the last few years. I have made sure to have your food be prepared as skillfully as my team and I can as per Mr and Mrs Renaults instructions.” Hearing her words confirmed what I had thought of the accent and its familiarity and I waited for her to continue as she seemed to be pondering my reason for being here.

“I certainly, hope that there was no issue with tonights courses” she asked me in a most lethal tone which seemed to dare me to make such an accusation. Of course that being exactly the opposite of the reason for my visit I replied with, “No of cours enot madam. As with all previous times this dinner was mangificent. I for my part have seen it as the only good thing to have occurred to me all day and I know that the other guests enjoyed it as enthusiastically as myself.” My words had a pleasant and swift affecr upon her facial expression. Her features softened and the growing scowl she had been wearing faded into obscurity as she took in my words.

Nodding again this time more enthusiastically she waved her hands at me with emphasis, “No no, Mr Michaelson it was no issue. I thank you for your words but, those courses were little more then trifles.” Trifles? Hmm, perhaps the previous argument had sapped her of self confidence and worth in her and her teams skills? It wa sfine if I was having a bad day, but seeing a hard working individual as this chef was not acceptable. By the way she carried herself and had sounded accusing when she asked if I had an issue with her food she was a proud woman and I saw no issue with that.

I reflected upon my own day and how a few well chosen words at certain points throughout could have made my shattered confidence if not survive but at least linger on could have done be a world of good. This woman who I had come here to thank needed something perhaps deeper, with more effort then my previosuly spoken words. Making a decision within myself I prodded the memories of my many lessons and the languages etched into my mind from a youg age. Switching to the language I had adopted as my second langauge growing up I addressed the chef again formally but with admiration and sincerity.

“Jeg vil gerne argumentere imod din påstand om, at banket , du behandlede os til var en ” bagatel ” . I virkeligheden ville jeg ærligt sige, at din mad gemt hvad lidt godt humør , jeg har tilbage. Og frue efter den dag, jeg har haft din mad er en dyrebar gave , som jeg ønsker at smage. Sideløbende min inderste af erindringer.” As I finished with my gracious thanks and appreciation for her food the chefs eyes widened into a mixture of surprise and some respect. She stood back and looked me up and down, as if only now truly taking me in. She hesitated for a few heartbeats before responding in the same language now, so I can translate for the sake of ease.

“You speak the language of the Danes? And so well at that. I am... somewhat taken back. Most people do not recognise the source of my accent if we speak and few that do are on any level familiar with the language. Even your accent sounds close to the real article to me.” More then twenty years growing up with that language being so prominent within the the household influenced me so that when I speak Danish now my accent switches from a faint British one to almost fully Danish sounding. Darren and Camilla thought it quite impressive and had tried to coerce and bribe me into teaching them how to do it. Of course that was not exactly possible my circumstances had been quite unique and learning a new language as an adult takes time.

Replying still in the same tongue for her benefit, “Indeed, I was raised in part by a Danish woman, and thus am well versed in this tongue. But of course ma’am I meant what I said. Truly I came here to personally thank you for the courses you provided. From entree to dessert you did not fail to impress and make my mouth water and stomach beg for seconds.” The chef furrowed her brow in thought, looking up to gaze almost longingly at the ceiling for a time. I waited, not saying a word but letting the background voices and noises filter in. I felt no obvious magical energies originating from her so I activated my arcasihtō to get a closer look.

Just like with my regular vision and feeling there was nothing really magical to this chef then any other mundane human being. She like 99% of the rest of the human race remained free from the burden of magic and the lifestyle that came with it. This woman whos food and passion for cooking had provided me with comfort on this wretched day was like so many others. Working msot days, trying to apy their bills and balance work with their increasingly complicated social lives. A tired woman whom my arcasihtō perceived to be wreathed in the remnants of strong feelings of anger, exhastion, worry and hurt. Perhaps the argument between the two which I had mostly let howl through one ear and out the other had been more personal then I had realised.

However in the face of all of this she still went on, doing what she so obviously loved to do and what she excelled and. And I hoped for the sake of the Renaults future dining arrangements was paid well to do. At last she looked down upon me, her eyes seeming now even more exhausted but now filled with more vigour, satisfaction then before. Turning of my arcasihtō to look her in the eyes more respectfully she once again addressed me this time in english. “Thank you Mr Michaelson. Your words, well. You are not the only one it seems who has enjoyed had better days. And your sincerity and choice to come and thank me personally well.” She looked away for a moment before turning to finish her trail of thought. “They mean a lot. Thank you as well sir. Thank you for your sincerity and for your appreciation for my work and the work of my team.”

I smiled then, not as heartily as I would have liked to I just did not have it in me to do so right now. But it had enough mirth in it to convey that I thought it was no issue to provide her with that. None at all. Turning to go, a thought sprung forth into my most obvious fo thoughts and I asked curiously, “My apologies but I never did ask you your name. What is it if I may so ask?” It was her turn to present me with a half arsed smile as she responded to my query, “Bak. Kirsten Bak Mr Michaelson. Happy to be of acquainatnce with you.” I continued to half smile at her and tipped my non existant hat at her before leaving the office room to let her get back to it. Feeling lighter and in a far more upbeat mood I made my out past to quizzical looks of the kitchen staff and out into the house once more. Moving with a new improved vigour from before, I began to stride towards the mens lodge. Where as I had bragged, I mostly needed to follow the smell of tobacco and the sound sof discussion and the use of a pool table were obvious.

I noted that the old double doors leading to the lodge room were opened to a degree and caught Andrea slinking around before I made it fully down the corridor. Cocking her head to the side as if to listen or sniff out, she turned towards me. Sucking in a harsh breath I went over to her and whispered in one of her ears. “I would advise you keep away from there miss Redwood. As well as from me for the time being. My mood is such that I am not certain exactly what I could allow myself to do to one who has vexed my patience.” Before you could reply I twsited around her and opened the double doors before closing them behind me with a slight bang.

Several pairs of eyes turned on me as I made my way inside the soacious room. It was impressive like the dining room with wide oval shaped circuit signifying the duel area, a long pool table on the left hand side. A thick oaken table on the right with bottles of various spirits and alcohol. Boxes of cigars two fo which now lay empty as the rooms occupants smoked, talked and drank away what was probably a small fortune in luxury goods. Ignoring most of the stares aimed at me I arrived at the large table decorated with purple slik and made to grab for a particular bottle. I saw the magi identified as Raphael Dominic and one of the older magi gentlemen snort in dirision as I poured myself a glass of port.

Apparently they preferred champagne or some such. Or they possibly did not consider me a port drinking man and on most days they would be right. But here recreationally after a fine banquet surrounded my posh men with cigars and my mind still yet racing. Port was the drink that my body felt it needed right at this moment and who was I do deny my body anything it so asked for right now? I certainly had no real wish to do so at any rate and I hardly cared what any of these magi had to think on my choices in beverage this instant. Port being a fortified wine with distilled brandy or other such spirits added had a higher alcohol content then more common wines. This particular bottle from the early 1920s claimed to be 20% in alcohol content.

Even in my current (if more at ease state of mind now after speaking with the chef Kirsten Bak) state of mind one should never rush when it comes to drinking fine wine. That was a lesson etched and drilled into me from when I had began tatsing wine along with the rest of the family back in the Old World. This had been beofre I was legally allowed to drive in most european nations but my family of Corvax had different traditions and priorities. Wine tasting and the proper etiquette when it came to drinking ones wine was one of such lessons that they had expected me to learn and accept as law. Such as I was beginning to recall had been much of my later childhood and adolescence at the Corvax Manors and country estates. Eyeing the magi elite around me they carried a similar air about them as those I had grown up around. Although the changeling I knew had always had this air of inbuilt superiority and certainty of purpose that even these men before me did not.

A changeling was always meant to be certain that they were the pinnacle of what it meant to be human. Long lived and magically gifted in such ways as to be like demigods compared to the mundane folk it was to be expected that such mindsets would form. Hell I had thought like that too for a time I had been exposed to as much of what it meant to be a changeling as Patrick though I was not necessarily expected to take part in those activities. I had been fortunate enough to have had some shelter until after my adolescence from certain aspects of our folk and how we lived.

The magi Raphael now walked over to me as I breathed in the smell of port, swirling the dark red liquid around slowly in my glass. I took a dainty sip and sloshed it around in my mouth as he stopped just outside of my personal space. He waited puffing on one of the finely crafted cigars from some South American nation I assumed breathing smoke from his mouth and nose. I stepped back further away having never appreciated the stench of any sort of smoking impliment. Whether it be pipe, cigar or the cheap cigarettes so many were addicted to in within the mundane community. Speaking of pipes the older gentleman Mr Forbe was using one of his own, puffing away happily as he spoke to that bastard Owain.

Owain for his part had one coveting a half used cigar and the other cradled a glass half filled with whiskey I assumed fromt his distance. Around me I could feel the magical auras and anergy within and around these men, just as assuredly they could feel mine. Which from what I have been told is far more noticeable and potent then that of any magi when I am not making an effort to conceal it. Since the dinner I was not even trying to conceal my power not that I had ever been the most stealthy when it came to such work at any rate. Raphael addressed me as I gulped down my wine and began swirling it gently in its glass once more, breathing in its aroma. “Mr Michaelson, this certainly has been a more interesting and lively evening then I have had the fortune of attending in quite awhile. My uncle would normally see to these events, but in this case? I am glad I was the one who ahd the schedule open.”

His smile reminded me of that of a pirahna, not a smile with any emotion to it but simply what a predator appeared as when it parted its lips. In this case there was the familiar greed, desire for power and knowledge I had seen before. Now knowing what I was he had a clear intent in my for coming over to speak to me. By the looks I was getting from many of the other magi men, Raphael would not be the first to talk to me of such matters. “Bloody grand of you to be so interested in me now”, I thought bitterly. Magi could be truly terrible in their lifetime search for magical knowledge, understanding and power. Magi coveted the presence and attention of changelings as they lived so long in comparison (this was if you were not aware due to biological trait of magi sharing the same lifespan of mundane humans base don their lifestyle, diet and location of course) and could thus acquire a vast array of knowledge and artifacts by comparison. Having a natural lifespan of usually seven centuries but in certain instances eight or more, we were comapred to magi essentially near immortal. This was a part of the reaosn why the Assembly had always been dominated by and run for chaneglings.

Inspite of the growing number sof magi over the centuries and their forming of their own communities outside of europe, chanelings lived for so much longer they tended to look in terms of long term gain. That is long term gain for changelings and their folk of course. For who else deserved to profit from their works but their own kind? Magi had reaped benefits by association and by working within the Assembly as members and agents for changeling in the past certainly. But the most valuable and crucial resources had always been coveted for changelings and the laws passed and revised ever few decades by the higher echelon members were always to the overall benefit of my folk and the partial at least short term benfit for magi. Great effort was placed in keeping the magi appeased however at least for a few decades so as not to try and dislodge the balance of power so meticulously created.

I took another sip of my port, took my time in having the taste wash over my taste buds before slowly swallowing and responding to Raphael. “Well I am certainly most pleased that you have enjoyed yourself Mr Dominic. Or do you prefer Raphael?”. At this his pirahna smile grew to be painfully splitting across his face as he responded with, “No of course to you I am Raphael, so long as I can call you Lysander.” His sheepish and self satisfied smile and voice were grating on my already wavering nerves, but I sucke dit up.

“Of course you may call me Lysander my dear Raphael. I was hoping to ask in fcat before matters seemed to take a turn if you were interested in perhaps some future business with my humble person?” Raphel was evidently pleased with this line of conversation and vigorously rubbed his hands together after he placed his cigar between his lips. Taking a deep puff of it he breathed out in a pleased gasp before removing the mostly depleted cigar again allowing him the baility of speech.

“Business yes that was what I was hoping to discuss with you. I have heard that are able to create some truly effective and fast acting healing tonics. I have in the works a deal to bring in rare herbs which are known for their healing properties. I was hoping to form a sort of agreement or contract with you in order for us both to earn a prfot from your end product and my provided ingredients. I am in the position to offer a fairly lucrative deal to you Lysander.” He gave me the time to think this over. I took a deep sip of my port as I let that all seep in. I could never mass produce my work as that would also take away the qaulity of the end result even if I did have the means and power (which for the record I did not have. And if I did I would be in far nicer straights then I am now thank you very much).

Making further business deals within the magi community even with such a man as Raphael Dominic was still better then no business. I could increase by income and be able to afford the more potent ingredients for tonics and other magical items I would need. More incomn would also ease the pressure off Darren for rent , bills and grocery money so he could pursue his growing tailoring passion. It would also give him much needed free time to be with his love Camilla so he could wind down, enjoy life some more. Camilla after all was still human, they desrved to little time they shared together and I wanted to do my part in making that a reality.

Thus I seriously considered this business offer and informed Raphael so, “I will consider this offer Raphael. If you could provide me with your contact details or those of one of your companies, then I can discuss this further when time and circumstance allows.” Raphael was not entirely satisfied with my answer my but seemed good enough for him at this point. His pirhana smile still thankfully wilterred enough to make me feel more comfortable and less willing to knock his arse onto the ground.

“Of course, of course Aleksander. I shall provide you my phone and email for my personal office. This should speed along the deliberation process somewhat no?” I watched as he pulled out his wallet and amid a see of green plastic hundred dollar bills, he pulled out a shiny card with his name, office phone number and email address. Placing down my port on the nearby table, I took the offered card and felt it for any magical energy that could have been placed on it. Just in case of course. My paranoia in this instance simply informed me along with my magical senses that there was no trace of magical energies within or over the card. My security needs now satisfied I placed the card into my own wallet.

This piece of initial business mongering now complete, I picked up my port and felt for magical energies as I had for the card. Despite having barely taken my eyes off of the glass for the entire short time I had palced it down. One could never be too careful when in a nest of magical vipers. And this particular nest was one of the worst I have had the misfortune of falling into in five years or so. Which was never by any stretch of the imagination a good thing, these men may not be changelings but they were as opportunistic and potentially dangerous to me in the current situation. I did not help that I wanted to maim or otherwise injure Owain, smack Bart and unleash a blast of magical power so severe that I was not sure the room would survive.

All of this indictaed to me that I needed more port and proceeded to more quickly down my class. Smacking my lips after finishing the last of my drink, I simply poured myself a second glass as Owain began to speak up to address the room. “Gentlemen, while this has been a fine evening for certain and this room and conversation is most comfortable. I find that the overall enterainment to be well, dull. I mean no offence to you or your efforts Mr Renault. I am simply stating my opinion that as men of our class and experience, that perhaps tonight a different sort of post – dinner entertainment could ensue.”

Most of the room erupted into excited muttering and hastily nodded agreements upon awains words. I downed my port quickly, I was beginning to think that Owain was working his way to some climactic point. One I could be assured would do my no damn favours. Bloody hell, could I not for one part of this day catch a break with these people? As if in answer to my question the will of magic seemed to allow Owain to continue with his little speech. Sometimes, I truly did not like the will of magic and its ineffable plans.

Seeing that his audience was under his thumb Owain went on, “Tonights most engaging of converstaion pieces of course has been the reveal that our Mr Michaelson here is in fact a changeling. Such a rarity and knowledge must be put to use. What I mean to say to you all and you to course Mr Michaelson. “ He bowed his head formally at me as he addressed me and it did not appear to be ina mocking way. I’d betetr watch that, as Owain seemed a tad full of himself but also a changeling/Assembly fan boy. Never a healthy combination from what I have seen and heard.

“Duels are a vaunted tradition amongst both magi and our changeling brethren and there has been a sore lack of such events in the last several months. I propose to you the guests and Mr Renault our host. That we hold a friendly (and the way in which he said friendly, ironically did not sound at all friendly to me) duel amongst ourselves. With the acceptance and confines of our host of course.” Owain spoke most of that to Bartholomew who was alarmingly appearing to consider it. What is his game? Does he what want me to duel someone? Show off my power and see what a changeling can do? What in the bloody hell is he trying to accomplish, sadly enough for me I bet nothing well.

Silence held the room as we all watched Bartholomew chew this over. He could refuse, it was his right, by so was allowing a duel within his hearth and home as well. I was becoming fidgety while waiting and the alcohol I had consumed wa sstarting to effect my overall concentraion making the world slightly fuzzy around the edges. With an effort of will and magical energy I forced it away for now. A trick I had elarned from Patrick of all people, “Using magic and will like this can help you drink more and feel it later Lysander. We deserve as much an advantage as we can over them was we can get.”

To Patrick them had always been everyone else who was not a changeling, mundane humans, magi, spirits, fae, vampires, lycans the whole shebang. In some strange ways thinking like that had made me feel safer. If there was an us and them, it meant I had someone to clearly trust and sistrust people whom I could direct my anger towards. I suppose in hindsight that had been the entire point really, but that was done and gone and infront of me Bart seemed to have reached a decision. The jury it seemed, was in. Turnin his head to take me in and then face Owain and a few of the other assembled magi before he finally spoke up.

“As host of this dinner and owner of the residence in which we are gathered, I permit a legal, competitive duel to take place within to accorded boundaries. I secondly nominate Lysander to be one of the duelists for tonights event.” F**k! I knew it, I should have bloody known this would occur! I swore internally trying to maintain a facade of neautrality at this announcement and my nomination. The lulling effect the port was having on me suddenly burned away, replaced my a more primeval rage. I am being set up, these magi they dare to try and control me! I felt the dark hunger rise within me again as I realised my old instincts and habits were clawing back to the surface.

Looking away from all present I mentally slammed the safe shut and locked it before the hunger and other dark thoughts could fully resurface. Keep it calm, control, breath, in out, in out just like Cmilla taught me. Breathing out stutteringly, I clecnhed my jaw as Owain spoke up again the bastard. He was eyeing me cautiously but intrigued, as if I was someone dangerous yet exotic animal. Perhaps he had seen my effort in fighting myself, or maybe he just knew more about changelinsg then most. Owain on the surface made it look as if he was quite good at reading people after all and knowing things. Perhaps skilled modern arcane professors required these skills.

“I accept this nomination Mr Renault and I further wish to nominate myself as a duelist for tonight. It is a rare thing seen perhaps only every few of our lifetimes when a magi and cross magical blades with a changeling.” The very notion of dueling with me seemed to give Owain an extra spring in his step, an energy to the way he carried himself. Strange bloody bastard. Laughter made our eyes turn to confront Raphael Dominic clapping his hands and laughing with tears in his eyes.

Wiping away a few stray tears and bearing his teeth in that nasty pirahna smile of his Raphael informed us, “Indeed one of our folk so rarely gets the chance to show our stuff to our high caster brothers. I too if you are willing would like to participate in this duel. At the very least to show off the skills and power I have acquired through my eyars of hard work and study”. He did not sound sarcastic when he mentioned hard work and study, but I could not be certain he was not trying to pull our legs. However, I activated my arcasihtō upon him and he was for a fact more powerful at least in his own connection to the strands of magic then Bartholomew.

Gazing over at Owain he was even more powerful and of course had years of arcane study and training behind him to back up the PHD he carried. I kept my arcasihtō activated as Raphael continued. “Afterall I am also a winner of several dueling matches and competitions over the last decade. I am sure I could put in a good word for myself.” I am sure you coould but addressing Bartholomew I wanted to make clear my opinion on all of this. I was fairly confident in the answer I was going to receive but I needed to say it all the damn same.

“I would not suppose that I have any say in my nomination at all? If so I blatantly refuse to duel with either of these men. I am in neither the mood nor the right set of mind to do so. Nor will I add the inclination to do so.” Though Owain could possibly use a nice thumping in my personal opinion. Owain and Raphael faced Bartholomew who met their gazes before addressing me directly this time. “Though you may not be in the right mind set or have the inclination as host I must ask you to accept this nomination and take part in this duel. It will be competetive but fair. And I will give you some time to prepare and shake of any lingering effects of alcohol that you can.”

I clicked my tongue against my teeth before replying with, “How thoughtful you are in your duties as host Bartholomew. Pray do give me but a few minutes to gather myself.” I spoke this in I think the driest tone I can possibly produce, one thatg I am quite proud of working on over the last few years. He gave me a slight glare but nodded and went to move objects and furniture to either side of the room. The dueling oval while large, was still not likely going to be alrge enough for three combatants hurling magic atone another. Especially as two of them were powerful and experienced duelists. And the third was a changeling, that always added to the level of perparation of things.

I sat down in one corner thinking and gathering more will to push away the effects of the alcohol further down. I accepted a sudden glass of water from one of the Pavlovich cousins who simply nodded at me and said, “We can speak after this duel. There are already bets being made on who will win. I believe that the other two will as they say gang up on you.” His accent was thick and definitely Russian if my past experiences were of any judge. Drinking the cool soothing water after checking it for any energies, I considered his words. I agreed that Raphael and Owain would try to attack me both at once trying to upstage the changeling. I had no idea what forms of magic they specialised ion, but they did not know in turn where my skills lay.

“I appreciate the warning and yes, it seems there will be much talk of business in one form or another after this duel wahtever the outcome.” Finishing with my glass, I handed it back to him which he accepted and walked of to join his cousins and to place the now empty glass down. I closed my eyes, clearing the last vestiges of my darker thoughts before reahing to another part of me. I felt the magical starnds, energy around me in the room and eminating from the magi dwelling within its boundaries. I let it enrapture me, surround and comfort me in a way I believed few other beings could really understand. Others of my folk I had discussed magic too had different reactions to tis presence. While I for my part found magic to be ancient soothing and something to be in awe of, others found it addictive in various forms or otherwise as a tool.

It had been one of those issues that I had never settled with my peers, none seemed to agree with my views on magic and how it could potentially be used. Seen as more of a beloved eccentric, the only one who had come close to understanding had been... her. I stood up swiftly feeling the air and magic encircle me as I did so, preventing my mind from wandering further. I began to curtain, to garb myself in magic seeing with my eyes still as well as feeling with my senses the strands, the connections of the starnds around me. Exercising my will I flexed my magical ‘muscles’ within my mind and stretched my arms. There tended to be a a degree of vigorous arm movement and gestures when changelings slugged it out magically in duels or otherwise.

Skirting along the edge of the dueling oval now I noted that Owain now had his foci wand out and was waving it about him, moving along magical strands. Where as Raphael was doing stretches of the legs and arms building up magic around his ring foci and discussing bet wagers with two other magi men whos names I had mostly forgotten by this point. I grabbed Bartholomews arm as he walked by me towards the centre of the dueling oval. Hissing venomously into his ear, “What is this Bartholomew? Getting back at me for some perceivced insult on Ines and your hold over me, is this you trying to reassert some degree of control? If so you chose a piss bloody poor day for doing so.”

I let him go and he straightened his tuxedo jacket before turning to face me and responding. “No Lysander, this is about testing you power. About showing to us all what a changeling a high caster can do that others cannot. It is about selling you to these men proving you to be a wise investment. And about empowering my position for having worked with such a being for so long successfully in the process.” He smiled at me not necessarily viciously, but it was still mean and satisfied enough to worry me. “Now. Go and show us all what Lysander Michaelson can do. Perhaps by the end of the duel all of these men will be grovelling at your feet. Who knows maybe even I will see you in a new light?”

He passed me then, sauntering over to the centre of the oval dueling ring and waited for the participants to be ready. By now all of the furniture and non – participants/combatants had vacated to the extreme left or gith of the room. With there being a void of space on the front and back end of the rooms with the fireplace being at the back and the double doored entrance at the front. Keeping an eye on the other two I was directed by Bartholomew to a section which set us up in a vague triangular shape.

Providing all three of us combatants with space to manoauver in this way and all line of sight with one another. I felt the building up of magical energy from three points including my own, strands being gathered around the mens respective foci and across my entire body. My ability to see magic and its connections to objects and beings is another innate ability we changelings possess along with our longevity, power and hunger. And as far as I am aware no one outside our part of the magical community even knew we possessed this ability. If this was still the case it gave me an advantage over these other two men. I may not have been involved in a duel for a few years now, but when I had they had usually been swift and dangerous.

Speed in an actual fight, and especially with magical ones was quite often key with any advantage potentially meaning the difference between life or death. This match was supposedly professional and only competitive but I never trusted that, no matter if these men even believed that for themselves. I waved my hands in smooth yoga like gestures as I built up the power around me and eyed my fellow combatants/participants. Rapahels hands twitched just enough to mark him as under nerves, whilst Owain like myself appeared on the outside as stoic as a mountain. What he was like on the inside I could not even imagine, nor did I think I truly wished to. Bartholomew held up his left hand high for silence (he held a laced handkerchief in the other) and waited until the conversations faded away filling the room once again in silence. Although this was a distinctly different sort of quiet, an almost reverent sort like how the mundane folk sometimes were in their cathedrals and churches.

Confident that he now had our full attention Bartholomew spoke to us all now “As this evenings host I acknowledge this duel to be legal and shall referee it to the best of my abilities. Let there be no undue injuries provided to one naother unless it is in self defense. May the will of magic watch over and guide you gentlemen in your works and strengthen your efforts.” Bartholomews voice did not appear to have increased in volume yet it still carried across the room with ease in such a way as I immediately suspected magic at work. Occupied though as I was with handling my own building up power I could not clarify this in the time I had left.

Conluding his address to us Bartholomew finished with, “I wish gentlemen well and let this duel test your wit, knowledge and magical might. On my mark you may begin. Non participants would you pleae raise the barrier.” Assembled a few feet outside of the oval shaped ring the remaining male guests had brought out their respective foci and had began to form a protective barrier around the outsid eof the ring. This was to minimise any potential damage done to their persons or the room once the duel broke out. Always a sensible safety precaution in my experience. Bartholomew stepped outside the ring before the barrier fully enclosed around us and trapped him inside. Still holding the laced handkerchief in his right hand, Bartholomew raised it above his head as a tracer.

With the air itself bubbling over with magic, tension and a great mixing pot of emotions Bartholomew after what felt like an age finally commanded, “MARK!” Now it was began, I slammed Raphael with pent up power as he tried to utter a foci word and aimed by mother hand down the end at Owain. Just as the wave of magical energy rushed over to his location he barked with his wand raised high, “Dimetiri!” and a flash of light encircled him. The magic I had flung his way smacked hard into the barrier with Owain noweher in immediate sight. Realisation hit me as I felt a surge in magical power near my flank. Damn. He is a bloody Dimetirimancer.

Owain reappered only a few feet away already barking a foci word at me in latin, “Immobilis” in a matter of two or three seconds. If I had not set up so much magic around me and my body the way I had that might have caught me off guard. Having my arcasihtō activated enabled me to see the strands of magic used in the spell, and the all the ties that allowed the spell to be formed. As the magic made to effect my physical form, I manipulated the magical strands around me. Timing it to just as the spell impacted against my magical ‘shields’ I made a small gesture with my hands in a scissoring motion. I saw as well as felt it as Owains immonilisation spell became entangaled with my own magic and glanced right of and around me, or dispersed.

Bet you did not expect that you smug bastard Owain. Once I felt the magick either glance off or disspitate I hurled a strand of magic like a whip at Owain but once more he cried out, “Dimetiri!” and vanished in a glowing orb of energy. Just as my magic would have made contact with his form and my whiplash instead struck the barrier around the oval ring hard. I felt it shimmer and wrench in protest and the magi audience maintianing the barrier had to reinforce it where I had struck. I looked over at Raphael who was already lurching to his feet and gathering magic around himself and his ring foci to strike back. We sqaured off daring the other too make the first move. I would not allow myself to be baited like some amateur. I could wait and be pateint while hbecame more panicked and more eaisly provoked.

And from my expereince, once you could be easily provoked you could be that much easier to control by your opponent. My heart kept up a steady beat as I made my body keep on the move, slwoly surely building up magic around me and feeling out for Owain to return. Each second feels like minutes or hours depending during certain magical fights so I was not certain how much time passed before I both felt and saw Raphael move. Wanting to get a feel of his power, to test both him and myself as well as to provide an opening in which to encourage Owain to strike. I thus allowed Raphael to aim his foci at me, its metal surface gleaming with magical energy as he bellowed, “Fulmine!”. A thunderous bolt of electrical energy forked out from his foci and spiralled directly to my chest and neck area.

He was playing for keeps it seemed that much energy could do serious damage to an unprepared or underclassed duelist or caster. I did not however bother to check in on Bartholomew as the duel was in full swing and I could afford no distractions now. Every second was crucial, and could make the difference between victory and defeat. In the time it took me to think this and process the oncoming attack I was already moving my hands and arms into position. I saw the connections of the energy as it raced towards me its intent clear as I reached and pulled at the magic within and around me. I flattened my ahnds out breathing in and swayed both of my arms to the side as the fulmine spell hit my magical ‘shields’.

Following through on the movements of my arms I changed the magic around me to be more flexible, more charged as the bolt struck into it. Instead of trying to repel, or devour the energy as other of my folk would have done I used a different tactic. Instead I used the flexibility of the magic around me and the movements of my body to be more fluid and thus the assaulting energy neither harmed me nor was harmed in turn. But upon impact it spread over my own energy, mingling with it and spreading it across like the surface area of a rounded helmet when a sword struck. The energy was spread out and glanced around me, fizzing out to make the air buzz with power as it faded back into the background magical strands.

Of course it was then that Owain chose to reappear in the oval through his dimension magic. What I had not predicted was exactly where he would appear which was right above me as I struggled to move out of the way fast enough. He landed ontop of me whil I attempted to scramble aside and we collided with a loud smack as I was knocked to the floor. We thrashed and struggled as I attempted to remove the wand from his hands but he kicked at my fingers hard. Cursing profanities I rolled over and leapt to my feet in order once again gather strands of magic around me to end this three way duel (or as it appeared to be more of a two on one duel).

By the time I had leapt to my feet to avoid Owain I was now in the exact position Raphael wanted me to be. Too late I felt his power build up and release as he triumphantly rorared, “Lumidae!” as a gust of powerful frosty wind and ice blew at me in a beam. Without my barriers up and the energy required to redirect or otherwise manipulate the magic coming at me I was forced to avoid it the old fashioned way. And by that I meant by yelping in surprise and throwing myself down to try and avoid the worst of the assault. Pain and a terrible unbending, unforgiving cold penetrated right through my right arm and shoulder, but my last ditch movement had saved me from the worst of it.

I slammed again onto my left shoulder and mere moments after the icy gust made contact and for now made my right arm useless. Pain flooded my body and I could barely see whilst I tried to push past the pain and summon forth more magic. Whilst I was shaking to clear my head, working overtime to put a pin on my pain receptors and get up. I heard Raphael gasping for breath seemingly in effort at the attack levelled at me. As I rose to my knees and struggled to stand I heard a further if slighlty pained this time “Dimetiri!” intoned and I was able to feel the energy of Owain vanishing again.

As Raphael gathered to cast another spell I reached out and used a few strands of magic like a whip and lashed at Rapahels legs, to pull them out from under him. I felt the enrgy connect and I tugged hard, grunting and cursing through the frozen pain and numbness in my right shoulder and bruise on my left shoulder. The strands connected sharply and dug in wrapping around Rapahels right leg as he tried to get a last spell off at me. He managed a startled “Lumin-” before he was cut off with the sudden fall he took and a loud THUMP! His head smacked ahrd against the floor so, enough to make his head rock forward in a whiplash effect before slaming back down onto the tiled and rugged floor.

As I opened my eyes and winced as I stood up to my full height I witnessed many a stunned face behind the barrier. Even the Pavlovich cousins seemed either pleased or uncomfortable at the current score. I bet none of them had thought that even with the advantage of two on one (totally unfair on their part in hindsight but the sneaky bastards ahd not said explicitly that it was illegal) that I could hold my own against these two men. I bet they were thinking there was something to the rumours about changelings, even young ones like myself. I bet my inherent ability to throw around magic without words or a foci was still a novelty to these elite casters.

Clutching my still quite frozen right arm in my left I began to rebuild the magical barriers, ‘shields’ and other strands around me. Still being able to see the strands and magic around me as I did so. Feeling the magic flow throuhg and around my form I was able to now dull the pain at least for now as I turned to focus the rest of the oval ring. I neither saw nor felt Owains Dimetirimancy magic yet but I knew that I could expect him to reappear soon. His irritating but effective use of dimension magic was most probably one of the reasosn why he was considered formiddable by his peers. And it was impressive he could speak and manipualte the starnds around him faster then any magi I had ever seen, he could also feel it betetr then most. His inability to not be able to see the starnds of magic connecting everything did not prevent him from being a major pain in the arse thus far in this two on one duel.

Casting my gaze through the barrier I found Bartholomew looking well bloody pleased with himself, as if this was all apart of some elaborate plan. To Bartholomews mind it likely was, for all the good that did me. I snapped my gaze away back to around me, reaching out with my senses and the starnds around me for any stray pieces of magic, any hint of Owains imminent appearance. Seconds ticked by, I felt beads of sweat build up then slide down my neck and back. ‘Don’t get impatient Xander just watch, wait, listen. He will come’ I said to myself, trying to keep calm. Nothing was worse then an enemy you could not see, could not predict as I had been unable to tell so far where Owain would drop in like a starving Yara – wa – yha – who on its unsuspecting victim.

Keeping myself calm, breathing in and out (Thank the will of magic for Camilla and her breathing exercises. They had saved me on multiple occasions today alone) allowing my mind to clear and my will to extend along with the strands of magic I controlled. Together I felt around the oval feeling for any disturbances, any potential change so that this time I would be ready. This time I could end this thrice damned duel on my terms. Hmm, best remember to keep an eye on my cursing. It would not do to sound too old fashioned and please my parents in the same sentence. My parents were old fashioned as one might expect being from an elite group of magical casters who had already lived for centuries.

I was distrcated enough by my thoughts that I almost did not feel the sudden twist in energies, build up on the other side nearer the fireplace then had been a moment ago. There! Owain would appear there, thus I soon gathered up my magic and focussed to strike as soon as I was able. Moments ticked by almost in what felt like a heartbeat until that twisting sensation grew, followed by a sudden flasha nd burst of energy Owain appeared falling to the ground. His foci wand already out energy built up around it he spat, “FULMINE!” at me hoping to strike me out with lightning magic in a single blow. But I had predicted him and had already struck, sending out a potent blast of energy striking at his wand.

What I had not counted on was our magic striking into one another and cancelling itself out in a fizz and a loud BANG! Cursing in three different languages like a salty, crotch itching seaman. I gathered up more starnds around my defensively as Owain prepared for another assault. This one felt like a doozy, appaprently he had saved up enough energy before casting his previous spell in case I blocked or countered it. A large swathe of magical energy had built up ina nd around his foci, I could see the starnds of magic that made up the oncoming spell. I looked into his eyes and saw resolution, determination and a will of unmoving chromium (which by the by, is a much harder element then iron. In fact I was never certain why people still said ‘will of iron’ we have so many elements these days which trump it. Must be a mundane folk thing, they always seem to be both innovative and yet horribly traditionalist).

I wonder what he saw in my eyes? Whatever it was it had the effect of forcing him to react, he pointed his foci at me and willed the magical energies to folw through it. His voice dropped noticeably a few octaves, becoming cold, calm and dangerous as he cast, “Ignis”. And like that suddenly a spiralling torrent of dark red and orange flame bust forth from his foci aimed right at me. In my peripheral vision I saw many of the magi holding up the barrier react, shaking their heads or trying to speak up. Apparently Owain had been a naughty little magi and cast a more dangerous spell at me. Well shucks don’t I feel honoured.

But this was dangerous, I saw and felt the power built up all the interconnected starnds making up the spell and propelling it to bathe me in fire. Cold sweat broke and slid down my afce and neck as I realsied I could not simply disperse this, not with only one useable arm. Not with the time I had as it spiralled towards me. I was thinking so quickly that the world seemed to slow down for me, giving me the chance to think and react fast enough to succeed. Damn, if I could not disable it, scatter it and I sure as hell could not dodge this attack. Then there wa sonly one feasible option left.

I gathered my will and the magic around me making it spiral, twist like a tornado as I twsited and spun my left hand in a similar fashion. As you may have gueesed by the way I have been fighting in this duel what I said earlier about mostly being skilled at slugging power around is not quite true. I mean I still do that frequentlya dn am skilled at it do not get me wrong. But it is the my inherent ability nor the one I am most skilled at. No the baility I was born most fluent in magically the way I use magic is not as simple as that.

To me I can do so even with one hand and it has won me more then one duel against other casters when I was forced into them at a younger age. Keeping the oncoming firestorm in my vision I knew it would be the only thign that would or could save me from taking a hit form that. There are many ways to use magic for thats what it is. Magic is magic but we give names to the various ‘types’ of ways we manipualte and ‘command’ magic. Dimetirimancy -dimension magic, Pyromancy/Ignimancy – fire magic, Ferrumancy – steel/metal magic, Terramancy – earth magic, Hawamancy – air magic (from the Arabic root word Hawa meaning air) etc. The way I use magic is not as blunt or powerful as some forms of magical use but it works for me. And has done the job on many an occasion such as this.

I felt it as well as saw it when the firsestorm of magic reached my own energy spiralling around my form. With a further effort of will motion with my hand I neither absorbed nor tried to disperse the spell. No instead I caught it. My spiralling energy and effort of will snagging it up and away from my body to twist around with the rest of the magic surrounding me. The spell funeleld around coming close enough to contacting my skin that I broke out in further sweat and my outside body temperature skyrocketed. Ignoring the heat, the sweat and the slight strain on my mind I bent the spell around to keep it in the air twisting, turning round and round she goes. For their parts Owain and the magi audience were stunned, they had clearly either not known I could use magic in this way. Or had assumed the spell to be so powerful as to make it nigh on impossible.

Well guess what guys, I was right you were wrong. Ha – Ha, neener neer, game over. I grinned sadistically at Owain as I made one final lap with his spell before thrusting my left hand directly out at him. His shocked and slightly terrified face made me grin so ahrd my face hurt. My name is Lysander. I am a changeling. Now hear me roar you stuck up prick. And roar I did as I sent his own spell hurtling back at him with a further effort of will, my own speciality of magical usage. Mine is called Aciesmancy – redirection/glancing off of magic. And I had just redirected his own spell right back at him while he was still trying to take in what he had just witnessed.

Owain made a desperate attempt to get a spell off but he knew even as he did so from the pained and now shit scared look on his features that it was too little too late. He was able to let out a squeeked, “Dim-” before being completely cut of as his own redirected spell slammed into him with a whush. He screamed in pain and frustration as it battered and engulfed him making his hair and jacket burst into flames. The spell hurtled his body into the barrier with such force that it held him but a moment before shattering under the power and the impact. “He really meant to hurt me”, I mused as the sheer force of the spell kept him going until he slammed into the top half of the fireplace with a loud CRACK! I heard at least two or three bones crack even over the sound of flames, Owains screams cut off as he then bounced off the fireplace mantle and crashed onto the floor.

For a stunned few moments no one moved. They only gasped in shock, horror and some envy at what had just unfolded. The Pavlovich cousins recovered first and went over to heal and check on Owain, and like that the moment was over and the room burst into cries of shock and worried voices going over to Owain. Some others began openly criticising him for having unleashed that spell upon me as they stood back to let others check up on him. I was too busy sweating and gasping inexhertion, barely able to think straight as a small headache began to form. Damn, I was out of practice, this was so much easier five years ago.

Still I ahd just triumphed over two experienced and relatively powerful magi on my own when it was two on one. Not bad really by my standards. The Pavlovich cousins had now taken off Owains jacket and shirt and were assessing his burns and putting out the remaining flames. They would likely try healing magic on him. With treatment from healing tonics, creams and magic he should be fine in a few weeks or so. Burns were harder to heal then most wounds but it was still possible in the magical community, even for human casters.

As I made my way over to Bartholomew I pondered whether or not I should feel more concern for the man I had struck with such power. Possibly, but my rearing and earlier life had not exactly helped to nurture such feelings for magi. And even now he had done nothing to endear me towards him. Besides, he had thrown that spell at me first. He knew damn well what it could do but seemed to want to triumph over me more then follow any guidelines or health and safety measures. I turned when I heard a groan, seeing Raphael attempt to stagger up, shaking his head and wincing as he did so. Must have a nasty bump on his head. Still just in case. I gathered some stray magic and gave Raphael a powerful zap for good measure. He yelped in pain and surprise, cluthcing the metal ring on his hand where I had sent the energy. The pain forced him to bring his arm into his body as he curled up in the fetal position. That should prevent him from getting any ideas. This duel was over. I had won.

Strings of curses erupted from my mouth as I went over to Bartholomew, still clutching my mostly frozen over right arm. Stopping right in front of him so our eyes were roughly levelled. I held his gaze for a few moments trying to read his possible thoughts through his eyes of expression. He seeemd pleased a small smile was spread on his face, his eyes alight with mischief and triumph. Bloody hell I was right. I had been set up, by none other then Bartholomew Renault, patriarch of the Renault family and host of this dinner. He had set it up so Owain at least would want to challenge me I bet he bloody knew Owain would do almost anything to not face defeat at my hands.

He had arrnaged in some way this duel and wanted to show off my his changeling business partner. He would likely rise in status due to this night, having proven to come out well from dealing with me exclusively for nearly three years. Me, Lysander (allegedly) Michaelson. A changeling from the Old World who had won out against two experienced magi in a duel. Both of which renowned within their respective fields it seemed. He had made me his step ladder into further prestige and influence in the magi community. And I, like the trusting cretin that I was had walked right into it and allowed him to do it. Well played Bart. Well bloody played.

I clicked my tongue against my teeth loudly before finally speaking up. “So Bartholomew. That was well played of you. Setting this up so I knocked these two a peg or three.”

“I imagine that your prestige amongst your peers will greatly increase in the weeks to come. As the man who oversaw this duel and who had dealt exclusively with the Changeling responsible for years.”

Bartholomew just smiled back at me, it now covered his whole face. He stepped back a few paces to pull of a curteous bow at me. “Of course Aleksander I would never admit to setting you up. We are friends, business partners. If by chance certain prestigious figures wished to challenge you in a duel. Well. That is hardly my fault no?”

I ground my teeth together noisily. “Indeed not. No could rightly lay blame for that with you surely.” I ushered this in my driest most sarcastic tone I can manage.

Bartholomew merely smiled at me in response. His face turned thoughful as he took in my frozen arm. “My friend should I ask one of the others to come and see to your arm? You may have frost bite already from the cold”.

I considered this, I likely could have frostbite and it was damn uncomfortable. Peering over at Owain though I noticed he was battered and had bruns on his arms and neck. Snorting dismissively I finally informed me. “No. Not yet, elt them deal with Owain. His burns look serious. It is about the only amount of sympathy I think I can muster for the prick”. Bartholomew nodded in agreement and wished me well and a “Congratulations on your victory Lysander. The story of this night will soon spread across the Australian coast line”.

Turning towards Owain he plastered a look of concern over his face and strode over with an air of worry about him. Well the man could certainly act, I would give him that. I wondered what I felt about word of this night spreading across the populated coast line of Australia? Nothing good, as it would likley bring more trouble then business and be a gigantic pain in my arse all the same. As if I did not have enough shite going on in my life right now. Pushing such thoughts aside I sat down on one of the nearby chairs now that the barrier was gone and been destroyed (by my own efforts of course but eh) in order to nurse my poor valiant arm.

Closing my eyes and snugglin up in the cushioned seat I allowed myself to drift of. As I did so I thought I heard noises coming from the front door but I was now too tired and sore to care enough to check. I allowed my mind to drift off as cool, comforting darkness found me.

I awoke with a sudden jolt. My eyelids felt far too heavy as I forced them to stay open. The cold pain surrounding my right arm was still there but I noticed a glowing hand now laid upon it. Waiting until my vision cleared I looked up to see one of the Pavlovich cousins, the one who had spoken to me earlier. He was manipulating magical energies to undo the frrezing effecton my arm with rapid success it seemed. I frowned and asked him, “Why.. why are you healing me?” It was an honest question, as far as I knew he had no reason to do so. Maybe this was about this business we had spoken of earlier?

“You are a guest in this residnece as much as I am.” Came his reply. “ As well as the winner of the duel. It could be.. impolite of me to let you suffer permanenet injury over this.”

His reply made sense, and I heard a thick slavic accent amidst his words as he spoke to me. At the same time he continued to funnel magic from his foci to my arm. Using my arcasihtō I could still clearly see the magical energy being used. It was a sort of deep, earthy green, with strands of gold woven in. Colours of life and energy I suppose. I was not as familiar with healing magic as I was with the more combat or ‘traditional’ forms of its useage. What I did know about it was that with enough training and power oen could heal even fatal wounds with enough time.

Bit by warming bit, the Pavlovich magi removed the frost from my arm and began to undo any damage caused by frostbite to my flesh and nerves. My whole body felt noticeable warmer, with magical energy pouring into me, reviving and healing all that it touched. My body felt tightly strung now as despite the majority of the healing magic being burned out with healing me. There was some of it being absorbed, devoured by my body which I could not stop as it was a self defense mechanism inbuilt to changelings in case of injury. Our bodies could devour any magic it needed once we found a source when wounded allowing us to if exposed to enough energy to be able to heal fromw ounds no normal human would eb able to.

I wanted to ell the magi healing me to stop early, but my arm was still partially frozen aand I sw the tell tal signs of frost bite on certain pathces of skin. So I sucke dit up and resolved to break of the flow of magic he was pouring into me once I was healed enough. Minutes passed until all of the ice had been removed from my arm and the frost bite had been healed over. My body hummed in delight at being able to feed on the energies but I could not let the hunger take me. I had fought it for years and even though I was not feeding directly off of the man next to me, I could not allow myself to slip. No matter how much I felt I needed to, no matter how I felt the hunger beg me to.

“Enough. Thank you I am healed. You may cease now sir.” I said this through gritted teeth and I only then noticed that I my hands were all but clawing into the armrests of the chair. Unclenching my hands as I felt the pool of magical energy pouring into me cease. My hunger ached and desperately tried to take hold, pleading, demanding that I feed on and on until there was nothing left until I had taken ALL of it. It was with the msot supreme of efforts that I was able to hold it back long enough to look into the magi’s eyes. They were a deep blue and were wary yet curious as they looked into mine.

“You are fighting yourself there Changeling. How curious. However from what I see in your eyes I am glad of it, since I am fairly confident that whatever you are holding back wished no good will upon me.” The Pavlovich spoke with a degree of mirth to cover up the fear withih him and I honestly did not blame him. What I had inside me had wished nothing but ill will upon him, draining him of all his energy, esence his magic.

His fear made it that much easier however to push the hunegr down and lock it back up in my subconciosuness. Clearing my dry, raw throat before speaking I turned to face Pavlovich again and said, “I thank you once again for the healing. Your logic makes sense and I am sure Raphael’s frost magic was an illgeal move against me”.

Looking back over to Raphael (who seemed to have recovered from earlier), was being heatily scolded by several of the other magi including Bartholomew causing Pavlovich to nod in agreement. “You are correct on that. It is disgraceful and a shame to their names but it seemed that both Professor Owain and Raphael Dominic preferred victory over keeping face.”

He seemed bothered by that fact as his jaw clenched when he brought up the name sof the men I had defeated. Owain was no longer in the room, I assumed he had been transported out of the room to where he could be treated more ably for his wounds. A part of me regretted causing so much harm to another person, even that prick Owain. But he and Raphael had left me with few options left in which to handle the situation with my arm having been frozen and Owain jumping around the place using his damned dimetirimancy.

While the dimetirimancy may be excused his last ‘Ignis’ spell could have killed me if I had been unable to redirect it back at him. Which made me wonder. Why would a respectable and experienced magi professor and a young duelist expert deliberately attcak me with potentially fatal spells? They had as Pavlovich said chosen to hold victory against me over keeping face. But their attacks had been uncalled for and I had still defeated them both. Now their reputations would be harmed as something like this could not be hushed up. No matter how much their peers might wish it so.

Deciding to take a stab and voice my thoughts outloud I asked Pavlovich, “Did either of those men appear to you as the type to place their reputation son the line over a duel? Even one against a chanegling such as myself? As truly I do not know”.

Pavlovich stroked his well manicured right hand over his chin which was coated lightly in black stubble. He was in his late thirties with pinkish cream skin that had a hale and healthy look to it. His hair was cut in a clean ‘Falttop’ style and shone in such a way that he must have used gel at some point. The saphire ring on his hand shone brightly, reflecting the light off of it as it roatated with his hand. I thought it to be quite a well forged foci, with the gem and the ring itself carrying latent magic within them. It would allow for faster and smoother casting of spells and would make it harder for someone to remove it without him noticing. It was layered with fine strands of magic as well, set out in a sort fo web. Could that be a form of detection against magical probing or theft of the ring?

Before I could continue along that train of thought however Pavlovich spoke up once more. “Once his wounds have been taken care of Professor Owain will have to answer to us and Bartholomew as he was the host who was insulted by the actions of him and Mr Dominic during the duel”.

That sounded just like how changelings handed out justice I thought. At least until he added, “After we have spoken to him properly we will have a hearing and form of trial for both of these men. You will have to partake as a witness and one of the offended parties.” Not seeing my surprised expression he went on, “And in this way a sentence can be carried out as this was a severe breach in hospitality and an assault on a fellow member of the Assembly”.

My eyebrows skyrocketed at this. Hearing? Trial? Witnesses? Punishment? None of these measures the Changeling folk considered taking. If fault could be proven and the insult was grave enough then their needed to be no real trial. There would be weregild paid and services rendered to the offended party by the guilty party. The absolute worst that would be done to a Changeling is having their power sealed off and kept under strict house arrest with therapy if required. Though, there were, exceptions to this rule. However only under the most dire of circumstances was this ever carried out.The way in which the magi members of the community carried out justice was (as far as changeling standards for justice go) severe and for just.

Changeling justice if involved between parties of changelings was about proper compensation provided by the guilty to those they have offended. It was not about justice but of keeping all parties relatively civil and maintain the community bonds between the various families. As all changelings were either through adoption or birth members of the Assemblies elite families. Our society such that it was engineered to keep the peace between our folk and to maintain our prestige amongst our fellow casters.

Political, magical, economic and social power was what mattered in the world of changelings along with your connections within the community. If you thought our sense of justice was unfair amongst our own folk, well when legal matters spring up with other folk it is worse. If the individual one of the other folk and they cannot be in the future useful or beneficial to the Assembly they are either killed or essentially enslaved as recompense.

Yes. We, the mighty high casters who live for centuries and ‘command’ the magical energies of the world more easily then most are involved in slavery. In fact it is because of our great magical power, wealth, influence, longevity and anti – anyone who is not us beliefs that we do partake in it. I firdt hand had seen a poor member of the fae folk stripped of their freedom, financial assets and had some of their magic fed upon all in the same evening.

And their crime had been one of insisitng that the changeling members of the Assembly cease rounding up growing numbers of their folk across the old world. This attitude was not acceptable to the Assembly and they judged him to be an individual who could be a nuisance long term as well as short term. So they removed him from play. The last I knew of the poor sod he was being sent to the Jardin Féerique in southern France. A place many of the male and female sexes of changeling society had frequented over the decades. In order to find pleasures and earthly delights no other group of people in the world could boast.

Shuddering at the mere name of that establishment I returned to the scene before me which consisted of Pavlovich standing to my right trying to gauge my inner thoughts. Today seemed to be memory day for me sadly enough. When all the memories liked to rip up and out of the floorboards to come and say ‘HI XANDER!’. I really, truly hate my subconsciousness on occasions. It provided me with plenty to cringe over along with the many other mixed feelings and emotions trying to elicit a reaction from me. Or to just try and f#ck with me I never know.

“I will make sure to attend. You had another p[urpose for healing me I presume? Not simply out of curtesy to my victory and injury.” In my experience when a member of the community does something for you and you do not know them well. Then they are asking for something or trying out some other angle on you.

Not bothering to hide this fact Pavlovich explained, “But of course. With the result of the duel I expect that you will not be doing business with Mr Dominic as he wished. Why he even offered you business when he planned on that I have no idea.” He took a business card out of his right pocket before continuing. “

“Unlike Mr Dominic my cousins and I follow the laws and guidelines of the Assembly seriosuly. We further take our business quite seriously compared to most. And as you have demonstrated both respect for our traditions, values and proven to be a formiddable caster. We believe doing business with you in the future will prove reliable and benficial to us. And to you.”

“Raphael Dominic told me doing business with him would be beneficial as well. How exactly can you show your good intentions and what do you think you could provide me?”. My questions I htought were valid and fair as I was not in the most forgiving of moods and was now tiring rapidly of magi machinations against me. However one of the main reasons that I came here was to find potential allies, and even if all of the magi I encountered came across as treacherous gobshites. I would still very much require assistance in the future especially when dealing with Patrick.

“As a beginning. We can provide information and resources if you were to deal in a less... civil manner with this Patrick MacDermit. It is no secret amongst us here that my cousins and I are more about expanding our own control over resources and new fields. Having this man come in and begin to run things as he wills it is not in our best interests.”

“Among other such matters, we can also offer you sanctuary should you and any friends and companions of yours require. With a reasonably generous offer for the tonics and potions I am sure that you can conjure up. Does this sound to you as a fair business partnerhsip?”. Well. He had me there, it caterred more towards what I was requiring or could require in the future. Havinga means of sanctuary is shit went down badly with Patrick was definitely a plus in their favour. Damn. I do not really have many options at this point do I?

“Very well. I will contact you in the next few days. We can arrange a meeting and sort out all of that irritating legal jargin beforehand. Is this acceptable?”. He said that it was and I accpeted the business card which was more practical then the fancy inscribed show of Raphael’s. Hearing noises from the doors I turned to see a few pairs of eyes peeking through briefly before dissapearing. Ah, I wonder who these naughty little mice could be? No doubt the members of the fairer sex who had gone to a seperate area away from the mens lodge.

Slowly lifting myself out of the chair. I shook hands with Pavlovich to confirm my intentions and to say farewell. Now for many different folk a handshake can do and mean many things. To some it is a greeting, a show of respect. To others it is used only enemies. And there are those who often employ a handshake to gauge one anothers power. This hand shake incorporated two of these and I felt the firm grip of his and the latent energies flowing through him for a breif moment. As I knew he would feel mine.

Despite having seen my work during the duel Pavlovich likely wanted to have a closer more personal look at my power while he still could. This brief contact is employed by casters and other folk but one has to deliberatley feel out for the other persons power. Pavlovich seemed controlled, kepeing his power hidden away not strutting it about. I could respect tha, I was not exactly one to show my own powers off due to the unwanted attention it would inevitably cause. Such as with tonight.

Finally releasing one anothers grip we exchanged a final nod at one another before I turned and strode over with a purpose to the doors. I heard mumbled voices and the movement of heels on the floor as I pulled the doors outwards and walked into the hallway. Confronting me was several figures now standing either to attention, in a defensive stance or cautiously relaxed before me. To no surprise at this point to me Andrea stood in a more relaxed but predatory pose. Her eyes were as golden and bright as ever I had seen them and they were locked onto me.

That hungry smile of hers I was being accustommed to seeing was splayed across her face and her magical energies seemed to be more active. Oh that’s right. I still had my arcasihtō active since the duel. I should prbably turn that off at some point. But, not right now. Could still prove valuable to have on. And what it was telling me was that Andrea’s internal energy was more active for possibly a number of reasons. Daemonkin and their magic is tied to their emotions though they do not tend to use it like casters but through illusions, glamours and other such magic.

Since her energy was more on the fritz, it meant that she was posisbly agitated in some way. Or, by the way she was taking me in. She could be aroused. I was actually hoping she was agitated as right now that would be the less disturbing of the two options to me. Moving on from Andrea and her looks, I evaluated the other women who looked at me with either shame at being cuahgt, fear or excited interest. Beatrix and Ines were both present of course and they were of th eexcited category. Both had seen me duel beofre having won against Bartholomew. But that had been a brief affair in comparison to this and I had (ratherly amazingly if you ask me personally) triumped over two powerful if cheating magi.

I had likely gone up a few rungs in their minds as badass young looking caster whom did business with their family. Ines was mightily pleased and gave me a celebratory hug and quick peck on the cheek for my efforts. “Aleksander that was... that was amazing. We always knew being what youa re that you had power. But I had not truly known how much. And now so many know. This will truly bring many rewards to you and my family”.

I imagined to her perspective on things this was a very positive outcome and how could I see the downside. The downside from my perspective being now a group of powerful and rich magi knew what I could do as well as what I was. One great way to always defeat an enemy is to make sure that they underestimate you. Well shite, now after tonight I could not pull that off with these people. If word did not spread amongst the magi community about tonight and my role within it, I would truly be surprised.

Her words did make me realise that she truly thought that tonight had been a good thing for me and she did not wish me any ill will. Ines beamed at me like I was a popular sports hero of hers or some such role model. Maybe to her I was a sort of authoritive figure and the will of magic help her if that was true. Imagine, me as someone who is looked up to and respected by younger casters. I pursed my limts together to stop from myself from frowning at the thought. There were others things that required addressing and not how terrible a person I viewed myself to be.

“It may indeed though I am still sore from my confrontation with that git of a professor and the duelist supreme. I imagined that you all enjoyed the show then ladies?”I asked this knowing the answer already, from fear to excitement all of the women gathered out here had seen the duel unfold and what I had done. Or at the very least heard it and had the rest described to them.

The magi women El Sanguine spoke up, she being one of the women who was more relaxed and excited/intrigued by my victory. “Mr Michaelson. Your status as a penultimate and honourable duelist has grasped our collective imagination. Clearly Profeesor Owain and Mr Dominic were in the wrong with their underhanded strikes.” She seemed to deliberately overplay my skill in a way as to be flattering, seems like her reasoning was to fan my massive Changeling ego, which was a fair call.

“The tale of your victory here will spread and I imagine many a young magi will look to you as a sort of celebrity in your own right. Perhaps now you and not Professor Owain will be teaching and tutoring magi children and teenagers the fine arcane arts”. Her voice seemed to hold more disdain for the Professor now, and her praise while still meant to enflame my ego was in some ways honest.

I then mulled over her words carefully. Tutor and lecture the arcane arts, me? Well there was a thought. Which I quickly locked up with many of the rest. Even if that was going to occur I did not have the time nor the resources to deal with it adequately just this minute. Returning to the issue at hand I said, “One can only hope madam. And now if you would all excuse me I do believe that I shall take my leave for this evening. Ines please pass on my regards to your mother and I will speak to your father and her soon.”

Ines was surprised by this, her eyebrows shooting up her head in high, pristinely maintained arches. “But the night is still young Aleksander And if you are done lounging and dueling with my father and the men. Then perhaps you may wish to be entertained along with us. I can assure you that we have many activities in the works.”

I am sure that you do and that is aprt of the reason why I am going to leave now. Hanging out the with the prominent magi women here would be a major distraction and I could potentially let my guard down around them which I could ill afford. Plus there was the simple fact that now I just wanted to relax with my true friends and lounge around Camilla’s apartment with her and Darren. To for now compartmentalise then forget the truths this night had lain upon me. Enjoying entertainment with these women may distract me in the short term but it would delay seeing Darren and Camilla to fill them in on the situation.

“Alas I must decline your offer Ines. I am quite weary and sore after the duel and wish to retire for the evening. I am also quite sure that I am full of magi hospitality and politics for one day.

Before she could protest further I took a gamble and lifted up her right hand before kissing it smoothly with slow movements. That made her perplexed face transform into a surprised one, causing her cheeks to blush as I kissed her hand almost intimately in fron of an audience. Finally breaking of my slow kiss on her hand I met here eyes once more, with my body reminding me (much to my chagrin) that I still found her to be a well meaning and attarctive young woman.

“Not tonight dear Ines. I have learned what I wished and it would seem there are things I must do in the days to come. I will contact you and your family soon, but for now I am going to return to my own devices.” Turning and smile at Beatrix who seemed pleased at her sisters embararsment at my display, she winked at me and wished me well.

“Be well and enjoy the rest of this evening dear ladies. May the will of magic guide and preserve you.” With that I squeezed by way through the ensemble of magi women (plus one daemonkin)and began to make my way towards the front entrance. Bypassing a few wandering staff members along the, way soon enough I found myself at the large warded front doors that lead back out to the outside world. Opening the double doors I carefully strode out and saw Bricks and Sticks still on guard duty talking quietly amongst themselves.

In the mood for some cheering up I gathered my will and used what little skill at Hawamancy I had gained over the years to conjure up a strong gust of wind right behind the two men. This made Sticks jump more then two feet into the air emmitting a very feminine shriek and caused Bricks tense up, hunching in on himself. Spinning rapidly despite his form being so hunched in on itself, a baton held firmly in his right hand. His appearance seemed to have a strained almost constipated look about it as his eyes registerred who had caused him and his companion such stress. When Sticks too spun clockwise to face me I waved and smiled jovially at them.

“Gentlemen. Great to see you so swift on your response. Why it would be simply criminal to have men guarding the premices who were not actively watching out for potential threats. I commend both of you for your vigilance this night.” Delighted by their glares which if could harm me (like many people seemed to try and do with their angry glares lately) I would seriously concerned about. But their glares were about as threatening to me as a dying frog was to a Djinn in a desert. Humming to myself in a far betetr mood now that I had once again been able to torment my favourite thugs for hire I felt that I had a spring in my step as I walked on by.

Passing through the gates leading directly into the property I spotted a woman smoking by the hedge which bordered the wall of the Renault property. She was Standing on the grass with her gaze looking up the sky which was now dotted with the occasional star, light pollution rendering sight of the cosmos a near fantasy here. Her uniform marked her out to the kitchen staff waiter I had seen arguing with the chef. She had a nicotine patch on her left arm now but this did not seem to prevent her from puffing away angrily at her self rolled tobacco death stick (as you can probably tell I am not a fan of cigarretes).

Shifting her gaze towards me she asked, “Leaving so soon then? What was the nights entertain ment not exciting enough for you?”. She had what one might call a thick British – Australian accent from someone clearly used to living in a more middle class area of suburbia. Her face had more lines on it then earleir, marking her out as stressed and exhausted. I could relate and replied, “No madam. In fcat quite the opposite. I fear that I am too well entertained and must return to stave of exhaustion before I collapse.”

She snorted at this but did not add any further comments. I saw her reach into her pockets as she took out the last of the cigarette and put it out under her shoe. Interrupting her before she could place another in her mouth I said, “You know, those who have had much experience and heartache in the matter advise that the best and longest lasting relationships are all about compromises made by both parties. Proper use of communication, trust and mtutal respect from both parties has from what I have seen and heard lead to longer happier lives for all involved.”

Spinning her head to face me she looked me up and down a look of distaste and unease coming across her features. “I am sure they do and they can also mind their own damned business if I may speak frankly sir. Did you overhear our argument then? Wanting to be a good samarritan and offer your advice. Well with all due respect I dont want it or need it.”

I nodded at her, understanding where her agression was coming from. From her point of view I was some rich snob who had just dined and drank well with more rich snobs where her employer lived. And now I had the gall to tell her how to make her relationship work. Perhaps I needed to be more tactful in the future. Something to consider.

“Fair enough, I did hear it from reputable sources of course. And in the many years I have lived and seen couples come and go I would happen to agree with them. Life has enough shite to lob at us all in the short time most us have without having to do it without our better halves to support us.”

“It can be small things so simple as simply talking to one another when you have an issue. Getting it out into the open ealry so you can discuss it rationally. One party can never have their own way forever as any meaningful relationship never works or lasts that way. It may not be my business but I am sure you are both intelligent enough women to realise that a relationship needs work and commitment made by both parties.”

“Take it from me madam.” My voice took upon a deadlys erious and grave tone. “A lover, a person whom you can truly trust, love and be yourself around. Your other half, that is worth talking for. It is worth the compromises. Arguments will occur but it is how they can be resolved that matters. All couples fight, but resolving them peacefully and with maturity is what will make your bond strenghten and endure.”

She was about to retort but my tone and whatever she saw in my eyes caused her to make pause. She looked me over again this smaller Australian woman. Lifting her eyes back up after a few minutes again to peer inot my eyes she finallya sked, “You really mean that don’t you. Your.. your eyes you seem older. And you talk as if you have dealt with this for years. How old are you anyway you look barely in your twenties to me.”

I smiled sadly at her, “I am forty four in truth. Raised amongst parents many years older then I am within a conservative and aloof culture. Trust my words when I say that I know what can make a relationship work and what can doom it. And I say again, talking, being honest to one another and finding compromise. That is the path to take from my knowledge.”

She would have laughed in my face I thought under most circumstances, but she looked again into my eeys, listening to my words and maybe felt my aura somehow. “You really are that old. How do you still look so young and slim. Especially after eating all of that?”

I quirked an eyebrow at her. “How do you think madam. You are aware of your employers nature yes? What he is and the unusual forces he can call upon, the community he is apart of?” For emphasis I drew upon my will to call forth another potent gust of wind at her by recahing my ahnd out towards her. The cigaretet tumbled out of her hand and wa sblown a few feet away. Her mouth forming a wide O shape at me as I smiled wanly at her.

“You know. Magic.” Looking down at the ground and then to the sky, beofre returning her gaze to me, an astonished lok cam eot her face. But it was soon replaced by dawning realisation. Smacking her right pam into her head before shaking it in a manner which suggested that she was somehow ashamed ebfore she responded.

“Of course. Magic. Duh, how could I have forgotten.” She laughed to herself then, the sound spilling out of her both amused and annoyed at once. Despite it all I found it rather contagious considering the night I had experienced thus afr. I soon found myself laughing as well until both of our throats felt dry and sore. Soon letting the laughter die down the waiter finally said. “So magic keeps you young. Damn I hate you people even more now. I won’t tell Kirtsen any of that. She already thinks you gusy are spoiled enough with your wealth and magic. Let alone your young looks.”

I shook my head at her words, “No not all of us can dot his. Only some and be glad that I am the only one of my folk you will likely ever meet. But if I may.” I chose my next words quite carefully taking my time with speaking.”What if I may inquire is your name madam?”


“Well Victoria I can honestly say that Kirtsen is a lovely woman from what I learned through speaking to her. She works hard and cares for her staff. And by the sounds of your argument you both care deeply about each other but need to work on your communication and conflict resolution”.

I realised how to those who knew of the details of my past life, what I was saying would be viewed as hypocrisy most extreme. Well those people can shove it as they try and find me over here (which they might just yet). Furthermore what I was saying was true conflict resolution, communication worked when used properly. I realised that I had been growing more and more silent so I continued. “You care for her and I think she cares enough about your health to weather the storm of your wrath. All I will say now is that some time after this night maybe later in the evening or tomorrow. Or whenever you have a good free moment in comofrt and privacy. Talk to her, and seriosuly now, tell her what about she is doing bothers you. Let her know why you feel the way you do. And ask her in turn why she feels so strongly and what then could you both do in the future to smooth disagreements like this over.”

Folding my arms and holding her gaze as I had been the whole time, I finished with, “Something to ponder. I am older then some. Older then you defintiely I know what it is like to argue and be at odds. But truly, it could mean all the difference. Would you truly wish to risk losing Kirsten over a matter such as smoking and substance abuse? Would you rather be alone with only those to keep you company for the rest of your life?”

I splayed my hands out questioningly allowing my words to sink in before I began to pull out my dime sphere. Starting to spin the clcokwork wheels on my sphere Victoria finally replied, “I cannot promise anything profound. But I trust what you were saying enough to believe you were telling me the truth. And it is not too bad of advice if I really think about it.”

Sighing she placed the cigarette pack away into a bag I had just now noticed at her feet. Once she was back to her full height she said, “I will talk to Kirsten. I think she at least deserves a proper conversation about all of this. I would thank you for the advice but I will wait to see if it is any good first.”

I accepted that and told her she was free to do so. Focussing my will again and drawing upon my power and the strands of magic around me Victoria asked one final thing of me before I allowed the energy to envelope and transport me. “So the way you talk. Do you or did you have a better half back in the day then too?”

She was answered with my silence, I did not think I could answer her and my thrice damned ring finger started to itch again. I allowed the magical energies to surround me in a sphere of light, blocking out the sight of Victoria and the Renault estate before I was transported to another location. Away from the question and the dinner which had brought me an unwanted duel and news of a calammity waiting to happen.

As the energy and sphere of golden light dispersed I found myself in a dark lifeless alley reeking of takeout and rotting garbage. This alley was well familiar to me now, it being the stopping point from which I would walk to Camilla’s apartment. Setting off I went to a local 24/7 gorcery store ‘Night Owl’ while keeping my arcasihtō active to detect any magical threats, before walking briskly up a street crowded with parked cars. Heading down a slight hill I came across the building where Camilla’s apartment resided. Pushing a button on the intercom I waited for someone to answer.

Within short order a familiar and pleasant female voice answered, ″Hello, is that you Xander?″ I smiled at that, I was the only person who would show up at this time of the night even if Darren had not already informed her of my likely visit. It warmed my heart and soothed some of the tension within me to be reminded of the people who knew me so well that to them I was a predictable and easy to read as an open book. These were the people I trusted of course, a being like myself does not open up and to allow myself to become vulnerable for just anyone.

″Yes Camilla it is me. Could you let me in sooner rather than later? I am finding tonight of all nights to be rather taxing on my person and would so dearly love to sit down and relax.″ I could practically feel her smile from across the intercom as she assured me she would and promptly there was a beep opening the entrance for me. I thanked her and made my way to the staircase bypassing the elevator entirely. Due to that horrific earlier experience of being trapped for an extended time in an elevator with both a Bunyip and an Irish Bog Spirit with smells that murdered my sense. I could no longer feel comfortable or safe when travelling in elevators. You never know in my world that you may be stuck in there with.

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