Thus I made my way up a number flight of stairs until I got to the top fifth floor where the largest and nicest apartment was. Opening the thick steel door to the top floor I was breathing heavily due to the unfit state of my body currently. It was something I was working on, through daily jogs and swimming. But I still had work ahead of me. But that was what I wanted and what I needed to improve my physical performance. Walking over to the front door I knocked in my usual manner a rhythmic manner to prove I was who I said I was, as well as out of sheer habit by this point.
Sounds of bolts and locks being removed filtered into my ears as well as the sight of the powerful wards across Camilla’s door slowly unbinding to allow my entry into her apartment. Within a few minutes all of the security measures had been disengaged and the door finally opened up. A downright chipper woman with frizzy short blond hair, a radiant smile and lapis lazuli blue eyes greeted me warmly.″ XANDER? God it feels like it’s been ages since we last met. How are you doing″. She embraced me warmly which for anyone else would make me uneasy but with Camilla it was reassuring and pleasingly familiar. I returned the gesture and hugged her warmly as well, unaffected by the push and feel of her breasts against my chest.
″We talked on the phone a a few days ago Camilla and I stayed over with Darren a fortnight ago. But it is damn good to see you to I will tell you that this night has been one shit show after another.″ I informed her, letting my formal mannerisms drop again as I felt my whole being relax. Eventually Camilla broke of the hug and smiled ushering me in and practically dragging me over to her large leather sofa (a twin to the one I had purchased for my own home which had now been torn by that damned aberrant t hellhound). Plopping down with an pleased and deliberately exaggerated sigh, I took of my shoes and socks wiggling my now free toes freely in the air.
Camilla smiled at that and sat down further along the sofa as I heard Darren fumbling about with cabinets in the kitchen. I knew that meant he was trying his luck with cooking again which surprised me at this time. I had thought by now they had eaten. Before Camilla could add anything else I asked her, ″Have you guys not eaten yet? It’s a tad late at night to be cooking now don’t you think?″
Turning to look back towards the kitchen she smiled again before responding, ″Oh yes we had takeout Indian. Darren just wanted to cook us up some tucker as a snack before it got too late.″ As if realising I was trying to move the conversation away from today’s events(which I bet she actually did) her smile faded and became a scowl as she chastised me like a naughty child as she often did despite me being a magical caster and nearly twenty years older than her.
″Xander. Don’t try and change the subject. Darren told me that today you were attacked. Attacked! In your own home by a hellhound of all things. I know that there are many creatures out there that do. But you never mentioned that hellhounds were a kind of aberrant.″ No I had not in fact mentioned that as I thought it might scare the crap out of you on top of all the other things that you know but should not Camilla. I did not say any of that out loud of course. I was clearly already in trouble with her and I did not want to escalate things. An angry magi or hellhound is one thing. But an angry Camilla is downright scary to me plus the fact that if Camilla got angry then Darren would get angry. So I decided to play things cool like a boss.
″Yes I did. But the hellhound is dead and dealt with. I am healed over see fine.″ I showed her my arms and waved them about kicking my legs up in the air for extra emphasis. ″Healed and up and healthy. Now could you call Darren over I have important shite of which to inform you. And I do mean important Camilla. Things are as bad as I feared.″
She nodded gravely, her scowl fading as she took in my words and yelled, ″Darren get your fit and fine ass over here now! Xander has important shit to tell us.″ Oh dear, I bet Darren feels a tad embarrassed about that remark. I let the smile building up creep onto my face as Darren looking somewhat red in the face walked over and sat down right next to Camilla. He clasped he hands together he rubbed Camilla’s shoulder fondly before speaking to her.
″Okay I am here. Also love, um could you perhaps not talk about my ass in front of my best friend please? I would like my bits and pieces to remain solely yours to comment on and know about.″ Hah, he was embarrassed. Awww poor Darren, he can be rather bashful sometimes and that I find endlessly amusing. Hell, I can be as well but it is so funny when Darren this tall, masculine man whom many women would I suspect describe as ‘stud’ material. Could get so uncomfortable and uneasy about reverences to his sex life with his girlfriend. The fact that on top of all of this that he was a troll as well was also amusing. Trolls in the community were not exactly known for their discretion for anything be that sexual or otherwise.
But then Darren was not a typical troll in the same way that I was by no regards a usual changeling. Both of us not being like the rest of our respective folk I regarded as a blessing for which I am most grateful. Clearing my head of thoughts once more I began to recite the nights events to them both and the hard truths I had learned about Patrick and the likely involvement of him in looking for me as well as doing the Assemblies dirty work. I further informed them of what I knew of Patrick, his mannerisms, beliefs and ways of dealing with non changelings.
By the time I had finished explaining events up to where I left the party and gave advice to Victoria, both of them were startled, impressed and definitely scared of the consequences of my actions. Their fear in part had a fair bit to do with the confirmation that a changeling was coming here and one like Patrick no less now that they knew what he was like from my own experience. Darren had his arms around Camilla, holding her for comfort as well as to be a reassuring presence to her.
Lifting her head up to face me Camilla said, ″Well Xander. You certainly had a right dangerous night out on the town. Who knew those posh spell throwers could be so dangerous. Especially to you. But I guess that is part of the reason why dealing with them has its drawbacks.″ I nodded in agreement at her words before speaking again.
″Yes humans with magic tend to be more, self involved is true but never doubt that anyone of us can be lethal in our own right.″ Neither Darren nor Camilla had any doubts about this as Camilla spoke up to ask.
″So, well, what do we do now? What happens now that we know that someone from the Assembly is heading out our way? And from what you have just told us he is a right bastard too. How do you even communicate with that guy anyway, I am surprised that he did not stab you or something?″ Her logic had its reasoning as I had no doubt that Patrick like so many of our folk (too many for my taste) had sociopathic or even worse psychopathic tendencies. However, Patrick did have empathy for certain people and shared interests and likes with others as I soon explained to her.
″Patrick is many things, and he can and will do horrific deeds to most folk. But not to fellow changelings. To us, he is friendly and cordial enough. I mean, shite he was basically my friend or at least saw himself as my friend back in the Old World. ’Not that I was particularly proud fo that fact. Dealing and hanging out with Patrick as I had in the past was a dark stain in my memories and my life in general that I was not sure I could ever wash away clean. It was not as if I had much choice in the matter however. He had been the changeling closest in age to me and still likely was. We shared interest in history, philosophy and mythology, if for different reasons but it had been similar enough to help form a sort of mutual bond of sorts.
I felt my body trembling with such thoughts, memories flowing through me. None of us were in high spirits due to the news I had brought and I thought it time I lightened the mood somewhat. ″Well there is nothing we can do about any of this for the time being. Better that we try and enjoy ourselves for the night and try to sort things out tomorrow onwards. Agreed?″
They both looked at one another, Camilla raising her eyebrow at Darren who only shrugged at her. Now let us see how I can make them both laugh or cringe. ″Oh, by the way Camilla. You will never guess what I happened to see today with all else going on.″
Camilla gave me a puzzled look before I continued, ″When I got back from the Grove to talk to Darren about my findings I stumbled across a most interesting sight to behold.″ Pausing for dramatic effect I saw the realisation within Darren’s eyes and his attempt at subtly shaking his head at me as a form of discouragement, a pleading look in his eyes. Replying with one of my most dazzling of smiles I continued my recollection of earlier events.
″I stumbled across our Darren here, the mighty troll, tailor extraordinaire. Construction worker and maker of wards struggling with a zipper for his overnight bags.″ Grinning ear to ear now as I saw the look on Darren’s face as I brought to light his earlier slip of the words. ″And not only that Camilla. But when Darren here had at long last defeated the zipper in a mighty struggle he cried out heroically″ (and for this I put on a Danish accent and added more depth to my tone), ″ ‘Ha. Who is the master of the bags. I am’ now all may bow before my might″. I added that last bit just to add some extra effect and gravitas to the tale.
Darren was turning red faced as I saw Camilla’s grim face twitch to one side. And from there it split into a wide, very pleased grin before she began to chuckle. Her chuckling soon advanced beyond that into full blown laughter, snorting as she did so and slapping her thighs hard to control her amusement. Darren went completely beet root red, the gold of his eyes overcoming the gold as his embarrassment made it harder to control his shape shifting. As Camilla continued to laugh hysterically, now slapping Darren’s shoulder to try and stop her laughter he was able to get it under control. The death glare he directed at me unlike the guards at the Renault estate actually made me worried. As I had seen Darren angry only on a few occasions, and boy he sure was pissed off now.
Her laughter having died down enough so she could gasp out a few words, Camilla said, ″ Master…. Of….. the bags…. Did you really say that Darren?″Her eyes were watering and her face red, flushed a bright cheerful red from her mirth. Wiping away some tears still chuckling and snorting on and off to herself as she looked to her side at Darren’s till hugging her against him. Rotating his jaw around taking one last baleful look at me Darren eventually replied.
″Yes love I did, but not that last part. Lysander made that up for, for what dramatic effect?″ I smiled at him so he went on, ″Look now I was stressed, my overnight bag was playing up. So I may, have been a little over hyped when I finally zipped it all up. Can you please stop laughing at my expense now?″ He pleaded that last part looking sincerely into Camilla’s eyes. Now Camilla may the will of magic bless her, is a caring forgiving open minded soul who was good for your heart and a master of relaxation. But her sense of humour was as wicked as any I had seen and loved a good laugh at her boyfriend’s expense or mine. Taking any chance she could get to laugh or mock us for anything that she found even remotely funny.
So while she stopped laughing, nodding at him in confirmation, she kept snorting, grinning and chuckling. Re – telling Darren’s words over repeatedly as she went on with enjoying the escape from the reality of our plight which I saw as one of her many great qualities. Camilla was better than either Darren or myself by leagues with living in the now and loving, enjoying what you have. If I could earn to appreciate life, myself and the here and now as she did. Well, let me just say that my self esteem would be significantly greater then it is for me. And… and maybe I would stop having those memories. Maybe I could finally top hearing those screams in my dreams.
A sudden burst of force crashed into my shoulder, nearly knocking me of from the sofa entirely. I twisted to the side seeing Camilla evenly analysing me. ″Xander don’t. Stop, I know that look in your face and reminiscing about whatever horrible things you have seen will just make it worse. The past is well, you know, the past. It is done, fine to, gone by, was and now isn’t.″ She rubbed Darren’s shoulder and nuzzled into him to show she was there and for comfort as she continued, ″I swear of all of the people I have met you are the single most miserable man with the biggest self loathing problem I have ever seen. And that is despite you having work you find fulfilling. Having great friends like me and Darren and not having to deal with the Renaults too much.″
Ah Camilla, always looking to cheer me up. And punching me hard like a bastard when I am in a foul or mournful mood. Those punches bloody sting but she was making fine points, I did have her and Darren’s friendship, I did do work that helped people and felt fulfilling to me. As for the Renaults, well I usually dealt with them twice a fortnight or so, which was not a large quantity of time by many people’s standards. Sighing I looked over towards my two friends, the only people here who knew my last name and that I was a changeling from the start. And who did not judge me for it from the start.
But even they, my friends who I loved and trusted more than anyone, even then I had not told them all of my past. Not the darkest ones, the screaming, the hunger no, not that. Never that, no matter how open minded, forgiving they were. I did not feel as if my actions were something that could be forgiven. Or even if they were, that I even deserved to be forgiven. These questions, lingered in my mind. Doubts squatting in my head along with all the other dark thoughts, memories, eating me alive from the inside out. Clawing their way through my barriers, defences trying to break free and out to the fore destroying my sanity, my…. My happiness in the process.
Another savage punch smacked me out of these thoughts. I hissed in pain and recoiled so much that I fell off the sofa and plummeted onto Camilla’s black, fluffy rug. On the way down my right shoulder crashed against her wooden coffee table, causing pain to blossom across my bones and skin. I would have a nasty bruise there soon enough I bet as I rubbed hard against it, biting down hard to fight the pain I was experiencing. ″Camilla what the f#ck, he’s had a shit enough day as it is love please. Xander you okay mate?″ Darren asked in a worried tone. Camilla’s voice permeated through the pain and the rubbing and rolling around on the carpet ignoring Darren’s remark entirely.
″XANDER! What did I just say? You look even more miserable then you did earlier, stop looking too deeply into your mind.″ She seemed not furious but, sad? Yes saddened and disappointed in me for dwelling and focussing on the darker recesses of my mind as she always tried to prevent of me. Sitting up against the sofa I looked up at her and felt like a shite. I hated worrying her, and the worry, sadness and worst of all disappointment on her face was too much for me. I nodded stiffly slowly sliding up back onto the sofa, reaching out to place my right hand reassuringly on her corresponding shoulder. Both her and Darren looked at me with sympathy and worry now, my face must have looked quite openly bleak again like before.
″Sorry Camilla. Really, and I am fine Darren. I have been trying believe me. To see the positive side, ignore or quickly analyse then dismiss what has been done. But, it is hard. Harder then anything else I have had to do.″ I could almost feel tears coming along but I forced that down fast and croakingly went on, ″I do not want to worry, or disappoint you or Darren. I try not to dwell on the past but it is always there. Biting nasty, horrid things reside in my head and I cannot always ignore it. But, for you two I will keep on trying. I will find a way to stop being so damned, bleak and try to live in the present I swear on the will of magic to that.″
Camilla sighed leaning over to give me a warm hug, ″I am sorry for hitting you so hard Xander. You know we worry, you seem so alone sometimes and pained even with us. We just want to let you know we care. That we can help you with whatever things you fear inside of you. We won’t judge you for it Xander how could we? You helped introduce us, we owe our relationships existence to our wingman skills with Darren.″
I cracked a weak smile at that. When Darren had first spotted Camilla at a club in Brisbane city back some three and a half years ago or so, I had helped him overcome his anxieties to go over and speak to her. I helped further by talking Darren up and coming across as the most awkward and weird bugger this side of the country. I made Darren seem confident, stable and a great friend that night through my marvellous diplomatic and awkward social skills. That day forward the two had remained in contact, and within a few months were in a relationship together. It would take another year afterwards before Darren finally told Camilla the truth about what he was. And despite everything, all our expectations of having to use magic and potions to remove the memory, an amazing thing occurred. She accepted him, even after seeing his troll form, she accepted him and loved him all the more for his honesty and the incredible man/troll that he is.
For that is what he is, incredible I thought as he looked upon me with genuine affection, concern for his best friend. Deciding to now make an effort tonight to keep my vow I stood up before asking, ″Well, how about I cook us up some snacks as a distraction. Some decent food should make it easier for the good humour to return and to keep my mind of darker thoughts yes?″ Despite the recent exchange of words I saw the effect the offer had on my closest friends. Their eyes widening, mouths seeming to water and look longingly over at the kitchen.
Though Darren had earlier been sifting through cabinets in order to prepare food, cooking had never been one of his specialities. Neither was it a skill that came easily to Camilla. As an IT technician Camilla specialised in installing software as well as monitoring processing systems. She excelled in those fields and seemed to know all the latest tech jargon and had connections which enabled Darren and I to have the most up to date and user friendly computer hardware and software for our individual needs. She worked with a small business helping to install software for private citizens as well as part time at one of the universities in Brisbane city. The pay from this work helped her pay for the rent on her apartment as well as her expenses, with enough left over to blow on movies and paying for he much loved Netflix service.
Walking over to the kitchen as I heard Darren and Camilla briefly discuss Camilla slapping me and my moods amongst themselves. I knew Darren wanted to drop it, as did Camilla but she held firm on her reasoning, she never wanted to let me get away with being in my own mind for too long around her. So if she needed to punch me to get me focussed on anything else besides it, then she would simple as that. It makes her seem more stern and cold then she really is, as I know she does those things as she truly cares. And I am not exactly the standard kind of self loathing man having a mid – life crisis. There is no precedent for what I have lived through, not with someone of my mentality and values. I wish they could help me like they wished to, that I could confide in them everything. But, I was afraid and the less I dwell on that the better.
Arriving at my intended destination, Camilla’s well stocked kitchen, I began to get to work on the skills I had acquired over the last five years. Back in the Old World the idea of cooking my own food never really occurred to me, nor would my family have encouraged it if I wished to. Living across massive estates some dating back to the 1700s in the Austrian countryside I was not accustomed to having to make my own food. All that I required had been prepared for me by staff members, though my parents had often referred to them by the older title of servants. But they were old fashioned due to their age, far greater then I despite their physical appearances. Blessed as they both were with the longevity and slowed aging of the changeling folk.
Coming here and not having the resources, the power of my name and the knowledge of my true nature revealed had forced me to adapt. It had not been easy, nothing worthwhile ever seemed to be, but over time thanks to a kind and selfless Indian – Australian family providing me cooking lessons in exchange for house and yard work. I had also helped them through the special tonics I had learned to make during my time here and my research back in the Old World. In my first year through much trial and error, heartache and unending frustration that I had honed my cooking skills and my desire to keep at it, to hone them along with my herbalist abilities.
Rifling through the kitchen cabinets I found a packet of pappadams, and another of garlic naan bread. This would be perfect with a small amount of rice and curry so I decided to cook up a small meal instead of a snack as I wanted to cook to help with cathartic and to give us all some damn fine food (if I do say so myself). Pulling out the pan for the pappadams, pot for the rice and turning the oven on I set about cooking a fine westernised Indian meal. Cutting up the chicken Camilla had in her fridge I found myself feeling better already, even humming my favourite Coldplay songs tune softly to myself. As I settled into the routine of cooking for myself and my friends, I felt at more at ease then I had since the hell hound attack as this work was something that always seemed to give me a feeling of purpose.
Once the chicken was cut up, I added chopped vegetables, tandoori chicken sauce and a splash of red wine for flavour as I mixed it around in the heated pot. I placed the garlic naan bread in the oven to keep them warm and heated as I prepared the rest of the dish. While I was boiling the rice within a second pot in the now crowded stove and oven area Camilla came up to me eyes focussed on me despite her nostrils flaring, sniffing at the food I was preparing. It was always pleasing to know that my cooking was appreciated by both Darren and Camilla, to hear their appreciative groans of delight when they sink their teeth into the food. Whatever kind of day I have had, however badly the memories return, when I cook for my friends and I experience their enjoyment for what I have made it warms and eases my pained broken heart.
Camilla walked over to me and gave me another hug as I moved away from the stove, embracing me warmly. I felt her tense muscles and body practically smelling the worry on her and returned her hug as we both stood there in silence for a time. Eventually I said, ″You know if we hug for too long Camilla the curry will burn. Such a waste that would be, and how could you live with yourself for being responsible for wasting fine cooking such as mine.″
I felt her grin against my shoulder just as she began to pull away and looked at me again properly. At 178 cm or 5.839 ft in height, Camilla was shorter than me at 6ft and Darren at 6ft 4 in his human form but she was well built and brimming with a kind of energy neither Darren nor I possessed. Camilla may have been mundane in the magical sense, but her own powers were just as exceptional in my mind. She had this ability to care about life and people that made her shine above and beyond most folk I had met or heard of over my forty four years of existence. Camilla had her own sort of beliefs about reincarnation as she was Buddhist influenced and it was her who taught me the breathing exercises that had kept proving time and time again today to be of excellent use.
She worried like anyone and could get quite anxious when it concerned me or Darren but otherwise she tended to be high spirited, relaxed and content to live at her own pace. And I respected all of that and wished there was more I could do to help the woman I respected so much, who was so dear to Darren, who had been one of the brighter aspects of my life these last five years. She rubbed my shoulder where she had hit me earlier saying, ″Xander I’m sorry about hitting you so hard earlier. I just… you looked so out of it, so miserable in your own thoughts. I hate seeing you like that as much as Darren does. You don’t deserve to keep doing that to yourself and I wanted to just knock you out of it at least for tonight″.
I knew she was sincere in her apology, in my experience she always was when she did apologise. She could be proud and stubborn in her own way, but she truly did care. Which is why I replied with, ″I know Camilla, you did it with the best intentions in mind. And for what it is worth you are right. I am stuck in my own head and it is doing me no damned favours. But it’s bad this time and I don’t know what we are going to do.″
There it was my admission, I did not know what I was going to do, what we were going to do. I hated letting those words leave my mouth but, leaving a bile nasty taste within but I had to be honest with her in this. But I was scared because while I had always looked out for this exact kind of situation, had always been trying to prepare for it. Now that it was actually here I realised that I had no bloody idea of what to do next or where to go. Knowing how hard it had been for me to admit not knowing what we needed to do Camilla said, ″Xander we don’t expect you to have all of the answers. They don’t exactly provide step by step instructions for these sorts of situation. ‘Have a changeling send a hell hound after you? Well follow these five easy steps to resolve the conflict’. If it were that easy none of us would be on edge like we are.″
″ You will do what you need to do Xander we all will. Together the three of us will find a way out of this. This Patrick might be the scariest son of a bitch I have ever heard about but he is still a man. Not a god, not an all powerful spirit. But a nasty, sociopathic nasty little man with a lot of magic.″
She folded her arms and raised her eyebrows as she spoke, ″If we have to run, then we all pack and get the hell out of here. If we stay then we all stay. I mean it Xander don’t keep us in the dark on this, we are all in the heat on this so let us help you. Let us support you okay. And if that includes letting you cook us up your delicious grub then that is a worthy sacrifice we are willing to make.″
I snorted at her, shaking my head as I went back to stirring the curry, frying the papadams and boiling the rice but Camilla in my peripheral vision. Though it was silly her last words had helped me ease much of the tension out of me and I was now almost entirely relaxed between the cooking and being around my friends. This particular day had done all it could to knock me out of my comfort zone and make me feel as anxious and insecure as I had in many years but I had made it. With my own efforts and the efforts of those around me I had survived the machinations of magi, daemonkin and the darkness of my own thrice damned mind. We had survived this day and would get to see tomorrow, which is more than others could say in a similar situation.
″Again, thank you Camilla. I don’t want either you nor Darren harmed. But you are right, you both deserve and need to be involved in this. I need all the help I can get regardless and you both would not leave me be anyhow. We shall do what we must, but we lived through this day, and we will live through tomorrow.″ I had nothing else to say beyond that so now focussed my whole attention to the preparation of the meal. Camilla bobbed her head at my words a smalls mile on her face as she breathe din deeply at the fine aromas wafting in the air before hopping back to the living room to be with Darren.
Going back to the cooking it took me several more minutes until it had mostly been prepared as I poured out the water with the rice and let the rice drip through a sifter in the sink, I took out the naan bread from the oven after I had removed three large blue and white plates from Camilla’s cupboards. Dividing the naan bread between us so that we all had two pieces each, I also flipped the pappadams of the large but still overfilled pan and onto our plates again dividing them into twos over and onto the plates. When the rice had finished dripping I removed a large spoon from the cutlery drawer and scooped out large bundles of rice onto the centre of each plate. Dumping the spoon into the dishwasher, I then used the plastic pot mixer to scoop the tandoori chicken curry along with the vegetables and wine hinted sauce onto the plates on top of the rice.
Now a fine display on westernised Indian cuisine lay displayed before me, pappadams and garlic naan bread on the sides of these gigantic plates. In the centre a healthy topping of tandoori chicken curry and white rice as the main display of the dish. Practically grinning at my handiwork I took out the dishes one plate at a time to the glass table Camilla had within her dining room just opposite her sofa. Placing a plate first in front of Camilla as being the host and owner of this apartment, then Darren as he was my best mate and Camilla’s boyfriend, I saved my own plate for last before bringing it out and setting it down on the glass table.
Camilla beamed at me before suddenly turning a teasing look my way and saying, ″Um Xander are we supposed to eat with our hands then? Was the formalities of the dinner with those magi so bad you want to go drastically the other way? I mean sure, I am all for it but I thought you liked using cutlery to eat.″
Blushing at my own forgetfulness I murmured an apology as she and Darren poked fingers at me, I sat up again and made to grab the cutlery. Opening the drawer I found the usual plain array of several knives, forks and spoons of similar size and designed for general usage not a specific dish or food. Like at the home me and Darren resided in Camilla’s house was filled with an assortment of equipment and tools used by the majority of working and middle class Australians. Nothing like the grand and perhaps over the top display at the Renault estate from earlier in the evening and for that I was most glad. Camilla had been right earlier when she jokingly remarked about eating without hands as I was exhausted by the dinner’s formalities and the damned scheming of magi elite.
Grabbing us all a knife and fork each, I strode over the glass table again and placed the utensils before my friends as I then allowed myself to sit down into the sofa and start to gorge myself. The duel with Owain and Raphael must have drained me more then I had realised as I was soon forking down curry and rice, placing rice and chicken over a slice of naan bread before chowing down on it. I did the same with the pappadams, placing curry and rice over the top as I crunched down, devouring them in a few bites. As I wolfed down my own food, I heard the appreciative moans of Darren and Camilla as they tucked into the curry as well. Camilla almost drooling in delight as Darren tried not to make any mess as pedantic as he was with cleanliness in Camilla’s apartment as he was in our house.
Darren was the sole reason why Camilla’s two bedroom apartment remained nigh on spotless most of the time, as every time he stopped by and slept over he would mop, vacuum, do the dishes and take out the rubbish bins all in the first few hours or two. Camilla was not a slob by any means but she was self grounded enough not to bother too much with appearances in her own home and her work between clients and the university kept her quite busy. Camilla tended to rely mostly on a solitary fork and her hands then other utensils, having also been raised in a more stuffy manner centric household, as soon as she was out on her own she promptly forgot those table manners and went on eating as she did now. Not that I minded at all, it just worried Darren sometimes as she could make a mess over her face and table sometimes. It was why when we ate Darren often begged her not to eat directly on the sofa so a mess was not left there. Slurping and pleased lip smacking echoed in the living room as my friends enjoyed the meal I had prepared for them. I had said I would prepare a snack but seeing us all eat so greedily I was right to make a meal out of it.
Flicking my gaze around the room now I took in the furnishing of Camilla’s apartment once more. The rub she had by the sofa was black thick and shaggy and I knew from past experience that I could fall asleep on it. There was a copy of a Van Gogh painting, of the artist himself I had purchased for Camilla’s last birthday. A wide plasma screen television took centre stage in the living room, held up my a newer wooden desk Darren had made for this exact purpose. It had cost her in the are of two and a half to three thousand Australian dollars to purchase. But it had been worth it in our eyes. The television was wide, spotless and the sound system was quite frankly bloody amazing.
Camilla was connected to foxtel through monthly payments Darren and I helped with as we watched her television as much as she did when we visited. SO many channels on that plan alone but when Camilla had heard that Netflix was now available in Australia she simply had to get it. So now when we all sat down together or with Darren and Camilla lounging on the sofa, they had their pick of dozens of films, programs and television shows from free networks, foxtel and now Netflix. Many hours had been used up with the three of us lounging around enjoying one program or the other, from old classics to the newer (at least to me) American ones such as Firely, South Park or Vikings which was well loved by both Darren and I.
Now looking down at the table which held the television I once more took in the wood carvings Darren had placed upon it. Scenes of old hunts with nobleman and hounds chasing after boars and wolves decorated the sides, forests with dancing fae folk and stout trolls in others. It was a fine piece of craftsmanship, showing of Darren’s talent for this sort of work as much as my formal attire showed off his skill at tailoring. Just as I noticed Darren and Camilla finish their meal, laying back into the sofa with pleased, satisfied sighs the phone began to ring. A puzzled frown appeared on Camilla’s face as she looked towards Darren, ″Who the heck would be calling at this time of the night?″
Darren looked over a frown on his face too as Camilla sat up and walked over to answer her wireless home phone. Picking it up she placed it to her ear and asked cautiously, ″Hello who is this?″ A few moments passed as whoever was on the other hand answered the question. Camilla relaxed slightly, the frown melting off her face as she turned to me and held the phone out to me.
″Xander, it’s Snorri on the phone said he promised to call you sometime tonight about some divination.″ Ah, yes I had all but forgotten about Snorri with everything going on. I thanked Camilla and went on over, taking the phone from her hand politely before answering.
″This is Lysander, how are things this evening Snorri?″ I asked cautiously just in case, there were folk who could mimic the voices of others so I wanted to be as sure as I could be who was on the other end of the phone. A loud dismissive snort echoed across from the other end before a clipped, thick Icelandic accent responded on to my query.
″Aye, I am as well as can be expected in this hot country Xander. Promised you I would call, I was waiting until after you had your koori or whatever it is called first.″ Well that certainly settled who was on the other end. Only Snorri could have known when I was having a meal and what it was, even if he got the name wrong as he usually did when speaking in English. Icelandic was his mother tongue, the same language nearly as the Old Norse had spoken in the day, the language of the Aesir and other Norse folk.
″It is actually called a curry Snorri but yes, it is good to hear from you. And it has actually been cooler this year but we can bypass the semantics fo the weather. I suppose you are calling about any inquiries I may have, some divination to help me out of this situation?″ I said this assuming that Snorri knew exactly what I did but based on his track record using divination he usually did. There were many different ways across various parts of the magical community and across cultures to sue divination magic. Snorri’s form was derived from centuries of tradition dating back to the time when the Aesir ruled over Scandinavia as gods.
Snorri tended to be more accurate with his predictions then most folk of course as he was not some regular human casting wands or trying to predict the stars and reading animals guts. No Snorri Akison was not entirely human, similar to myself actually but his blood was different in many ways. Snorri was not technically like me though as he did not count as the one percent of humans who were casters. Instead Snorri was an older branch of people who had broken of from the rest of humanity many thousands of years ago. Having an innate ability to commune and see spirits in their true forms, as well as a very different understanding of the world and his palce within it. Snorri was a shaman, an honest to goodness shaman born in the mid 1200s from what he claims, in what is now Iceland.
″You could suppose correctly youngling I have conversed with this lands spirits and cast the runes to look into your fate.″ Well shit. Snorri certainly had not been messing around while I had been out dealing with the Renault dinner. Of course he had been conversing with spirits, I would not at all be surprised to hear if one of them had been Jarli Waa either.
Those two had conversed before and the crow spirit had proven as useful to the shaman as he had to me as apparently crow spirits seemed to know everything that was going on in Australia. Perhaps that was an exaggeration, but not by much as spirits especially curious and well connected ones like Jarli were not bound to the world in the same way like other folk. I had even heard rumour that some spirits could traverse the other dimensions that overlayed this one if the rumours could be believed.
It also meant however, that whatever Snorri had to tell me was more accurate than almost another form of divination and if it spelled bad news for me and my friends then I was not certain how I would react. Regardless of how I felt about the information I was going to receive I needed to hear it, to give me some sense of what to expect and where to go from here. Because right at this moment I sure as hell had no idea what do now, no matter how vexing that was for me to admit after five damned years of fearing this situation.
″Go ahead Snorri what have the spirits and the runes divined.″ I dreaded knowing, but kept quiet as I waited for Snorri to respond. He did so promptly his voice somewhat distant, disjointed as he spoke.
″Blight is coming, a dark twisted hunger that has been the bane of many folk. A test to find answers for a desperate folk now afraid of the power that was so freely given that is now taking all. Choices will be made. Will the abyss arise to devour? Or will a new distinct path be chosen? The voices will scream the fires pour through burning, burning. Lips, I have seen black coated lips which will speak once more, a woman’s wrath and then you will be changed″
I felt a chill slither across my body with those words, what the hell was the first part supposed to mean? And black coated lips. My ring finger began to itch and I fought the urge to scratch it vigorously as I took in and digested these words. The blight and hunger I thought was obviously Patrick. The choices could mean absolutely bloody anything and as for the voices. The only voices I had heard that screamed were in my memories, were in my dreams. Breath harshly escaping my mouth I was able to ignore the cold unnerving feeling within me from these words.
″Was there anything else? Nothing more specific that could possibly provide me with aide? If you’ve communed with the spirits Snorri then you damned well know what is coming here, what that blight is. I can’t, I can’t fight that. I am not a warrior Snorri and I sure as bloody hell am not placing my friends in danger over a lack of information.″
Instead of answering me Snorri rather casually asked, ″How is Dagfinnr these days then? I so rarely hear from him and it eases the pains of my heart to hear good news from his side of things.″
I winced upon hearing Darren’s birth name. Coming from Scandinavian troll stock, Darren’s mother had been Danish/Norwegian and his father one of the Finnish trolls from Lapland. So when Darren had been born in his father’s homeland his mother had named him Dagfinnr which according to him combined the elements of ‘day’ and ‘Laplander’ in old Norse. Trolls tended to respect the old ways and that included with how they named their children and where they preferred to reside. Well, at least until the Assembly had began to take over the magical community across Europe and Asia at least. After all of that began they soon forgot those traditions and readily fled, scattering themselves across the four winds.
Now to a troll and many other magical folk the name Dagfinnr would seem appropriate and respectful. But in this day and age trying to live quietly in suburban Queensland Australia, one had to ‘go local’ as they say and drop the old words and names. Despite the multiculturalists development Australia has undergone since the end of the White Australia policy (I know isn’t that a doozy of a name) people here had become more open, accepting. However Australia remains quite monolingual and such a foreign sounding name as Dagfinnr would cause more stir and attention then he would like. So he went with a more Anglicanised version to sound as Australian as possible and now goes by Darren.
″You know he hates that name Snorri. It is Darren in this country and he is as well as can be expected considering the what we all know. I cannot say I rightly blame him for it either.″ I was in no way certain of what would happen to me, let along Darren or Camilla if they were dragged into this. That is if they had not been already.
″There is nothing wrong with Dagfinnr. It is a strong, masculine nordic name for which he should be proud of. Odin’s eye Xander some of us have to maintain the old ways. The troll are among the only folk left who speak old Norse like myself, who remember the gods and the old legends.″ His voice, so old and knowing was riddled with an intense sorrow, burdened by centuries of lonely existence as one of the only survivors of the nordic folk.
There had been others, many others who were native to this world or had visited to and from the other nine Nordic dimensions over the millennia. But as Snorri tells it after the conversions and crusades from the Church and Christian kings they had all been weakened with many fleeing from this world. When the Aesir, Vanir and Jotunn had fought the Assembly they could have fled any time they wished but stubborn pride and a desire to be masters of their own destiny prevented that.
″Rangnarok came in the end, the twilight of the gods.″ Snorri’s voice was trailing off lost in memories of an age now long since passed when faith and steel had ruled over mankind. ″ Just not in the way the stories had foretold. Not through Fenrir, Loki nor the Jotunn did the god folk fall. But by magic, numerous changelings and magi duelling them with their magic, binding it to them. Devouring the life-force the power of the god and giant folk until nothing but husks remained. In the end even the gods enemies and rivals fell to the Assembly, until there were neither giants nor pantheon elf on Midgard.″
″When the god folk and the giants died they came for the rest of us. So many were slain or taken. The few that were not fled, either to the other nine realms of Yggdrisil before the bifrost was shattered. Or to far flung lands such as this one.″
I sighed, he always gets so caught up in what happened eight centuries ago that he was barely living in the present. I mean sure, I had plenty of issues with my past but I do not let it fully consume me. Though admittedly I do have plenty of issues when it comes to dwelling in my memories and past events in my life I still work at living each day in the present. But then I was not certain Snorri was fortunate enough to have friends as I did. I did not think he let anyone in not truly.
″Snori I am well enough aware of what went on back in the damned middle ages, but now here in the 21st century others have more pressing matters. Such as myself so are you as certain as you possibly can be that the runes were showing everything? There were no hiccups, no rune left out or I don’t know fell on top of another one obscuring a miraculous solution to all my current dilemmas?″
Snorri did not seem to like that I was questioning his casting of the runes, since I distinctly heard a hoarse spit of phlegm on the other end of the line. In a tone that reminded me of a senior teacher addressing a particularly ignorant pupil (such as one of my older tutors from back in the day)Snorri said, ″Nay! The runes were cast true as they always were Lysander of the changeling folk. In fact this casting was clearer than many I had have cast in the last two centuries. This is all that they have to say and it aligns with what the spirits informed me of.″
Neither of us was concerned with anyone tapping into our conversation and overhearing us. Whoever could be listening in would either think we were mad and dismiss us, or if it was overheard by a member of the community it would be covered up in case of any unwanted mundane folk attention. A thought popped up into the forefront of my mind at the mention of the spirits so I took a gander and asked Snorri, ″Snorri about the spirits what did they say. Do they know for certain that a changeling is coming here? And if so when? I need time Snorri some time to plan and prepare more before shite hits the proverbial dragon burning me to cinders.″
It was true I certainly did need more bloody time, and if the magi had been correct about Patrick arriving tomorrow. No, no no and double no. Please by the will of magic may it not be tomorrow I needed more time. Darren and Camilla needed more time than this, if this went as badly as I feared it would all this time then they had to get their assets in order. Damn, could I not catch some kind of break today after all of the stupid, nasty shite I have had to slog through.
″Aye, the spirits and I convened. They heard on the wind and felt through the world that something very different from the other folk is coming here. One of your folk they are led to believe from the power within him, his connection to magic. And his… hunger.″ A pause then as if he was reluctant to continue but at my urging he said, ″As for when they will be arriving. It is tomorrow, tomorrow in the hours after the cockcrow in the dayspring he will appear through magic with others. He will come in the company of a few but it will be a dangerous few.″
Okay. So apparently they answer to my plea is a big fat NO! Sorry Xander no break for you because right after dawn Patrick will be in Australia with some lethal mates of his ready to ruin your bloody day, week, life. Groaning quietly to myself at what I would be facing I thanked Snorri for his time and asked him to keep me posted for any further developments with the runes or the spirits. He agreed to and parted with, ″Xander. For what it is worth young one. There …. there is no shame in flight from your enemies. Especially when it is one such as your folk. To defend those whom you love and cherish if need be flee boy flee. For the love of Midgard and Freyja boy do not start a fight you cannot win. Not with him, not with the Assembly. Your powerful, more so then many folk but to them you’re a apprentice in training.″
Thanks for filling me with confidence you old prick, but I guess he means well with the warning. I was going to reply when I heard him try to go on. He seemed, of this time like he was at a loss for what to say which for Snorri was, unusual to say the least. I was truly beginning to hate how this situation continued to mess with those I cared for and respected, or at the very least made them act differently to how I was damned used to. Taking a deep solid breath as I often did with Camilla’s breathing exercises Snorri finally spoke.
″I was not saying that to try and dampen your spirits Xander or to imply in any form that you were weak. You are not but you have never fought your kind, never had to, never seen what they can do when no holds barred. I have, truly seen them at their worst when they were at war when they held nothing back with their magi allies and pawns. I saw my gods die Xander, fed upon like chattel, drained and misused. I saw giants cry out in fear and agony with even with mighty Loki trying to flee for his life until he was cut off and devoured after all of the rest.″
″When they were finished with my gods and the giants they came after the rest of us, the shamans, Svartalves, dwarves all of us. Those of us here in Midgard were slain, captured or fled and I saw some of the oldest and mightiest of my own folk stand and fight. And you know what Xander. For all their experience, power, they died. They were broken, held down and sucked dry right in front of me. If I were not a boy myself at the time they would have done so to me as well. Instead they only fed on me partially bit by sodding bit over years because I had stayed and fought them like a fool.″
Speechless I was speechless at what Snorri was admitting to me. I mean what the f#ck are you supposed to say to that? That a man who has always seemed more cold, powerful and unbending, untouchable was weak once. Was not only vulnerable once but made powerless by your own people who did to him what I myself was terrified to repeat. I felt nauseous, I wanted desperately to hang up right then and there, to rush to the bathroom and purge myself of the vile feeling within me. No, I had to listen had to face what he was telling me because of what he was telling me.
Snorri the proud old shaman was letting himself open up to me in a way I never thought possible in order to warn me. He was revealing probably his greatest shame in life so I would listen, truly listen to what he was saying and understand it. It was one thing to see what your people did, but to have been fed upon. In the corners of my mind a distant echo of screams could be heard, so young and afraid. I snapped out of that, shaking my head like a wet dog to keep focussed to listen to Snorri. Gulping down heavily a few times I listened in to Snorri and let him know that I was still paying attention.
″Thanks for the warning Snorri. I uh, appreciate that it would have been uh difficult to speak about that.″ I bet that was the bloody understatement of the year but it was all that I could say now. Snorri grunted in acknowledgement on his end and wished me good tidings and bid me anon. Hanging up the phone I rubbed my hands along my temple cursing fluently in Danish and English as I made my way over to Darren and Camilla, plopping myself down beside them.
Darren coughed politely before asking, ″So what did old Snorri have to say and how is he doing these days anyhow?″. He seemed concerned once more and I likely had yet another miserable look on my face which I would have to wipe off soon lest I give Camilla good cause to wallop me yet again.
″I did not ask him how he was doing, but he essentially said shite is coming here and whatever we do NOT fight with Patrick. But shite I knew that already as far as changelings go he may be young but is still older and more experienced with handling his magic then I am. As well as being the norm among our folk and not worrying over little technicalities such as politeness to non changelings and being a ruthless git about achieving his goals.″
Groaning pathetically to myself Darren sighed and I saw him rub Camilla’s arm protectively as well as to ease the tension he too had building up within him. Just get through tonight Xander, tomorrow I can deal with when it happens, tomorrow I can wait to see what occurs when bloody Patrick bloody MacDermit saunters in. As I was considering this Camilla looked quizzically at Darren then towards me, biting her lip gently before she spoke.
″Hey Xander, I know that this is backtracking heaps but did you say earlier you say Jarli flirting with a fae guy? You never told me that Jarli was gay, I could have invited him here if I knew that his flirtatious nature to women was just an act.″
That got me laughing, actually laughing as I lifted my head up and whooped in delight at what Camilla had just said. Apparently my cackling randomly like some giddy psychopath was somewhat off-putting as Camilla turned to Darren asking him what the hell was wrong with me now. I did not hear his response as I set out on another torrent of loud cackling laughter, my shoulders shaking and chest contracting with the force of it. Once the laughter had died down enough for me to take a few gasped breaths, I wiped away a stray tear and looked over at Camilla and Darren grinning for the first time in hours.
″Oh Camilla that is the most amusing thing you’ve said in a good while. No, Jarli our old resident Crow spirit is not gay. He is in fact attracted to all beings, all folk regardless of gender, race, mundane or magic it does not matter to him. He is as pansexual as I think it is physically possible for any folk to be. Hell I saw him flirting with an asexual earth spirit when I first met him, and then hitting on a lesbian magi couple the next time.″
To her credit Camilla stifled any outright reaction or shock at this revelation, though she did bite down on her lower lip again. Darren nodded in agreement, ″If that crow was with a female it would be the usual sort of thing with him. Asks them how they are, talk them up, purchase their drinks before asking them out on a date. He has fun for a few weeks then splits and goes on to the next person to have his fun with.″
″What a pig, uh I should have known that dickhead was genuinely hitting on me. If he does that again I will knock him onto his bony ass and kick him until he shits feathers.″ Camilla spoke with a rather indignified tone and both me and Darren knew from the fire now in her eyes that if Jarli ever tried his wily ways on her again she absolutely would try to make him shit his own feathers. However she would even be able to make that work only the will of bloody magic can know but it would be damn fun to watch.
My vision blurred for a second and I realised now how sore and tense I had become from the day’s exertions. By using my magic like I had today fighting off the hell hound and duelling the magi I had pushed my body to near its limits. Yawning to emphasise the point I slowly stood up from the comfortable sofa in order to excuse myself.
″Well Darren, Camilla all things considered I am exhausted and need to rest my mind and body for the days ahead. Would I be able to use for tonight your guest room Camilla?″ I was hoping quite fervently that she would say yes, as I really did not want to use my dime sphere and walk home from the park.
She considered my request for a time, taking in my features again from my widow peaked head to the tips of my enclosed shoed feet. Huffing out a breath she finally agreed, ″Sure Xander I am sure it would suck for you to walk back to your place after today. Just try to be quiet. Oh, and if you hear any muffled screams or groans, that will be me while Darren pounds me into heaven.″
Darren choked on his own salvia and I turned bright red with embarrassment, both for myself and for him after picturing that in my head. Camilla gave me a devilish grin as I coughed an excuse to take my leave. Darren stared after me wide eyed as if to say ’Please do not listen to her Xander that will not happen and please do not make a joke about this.″ As if I would joke about my best mates sex life, they could perform the whole Karma Sutra for all I cared about that. What those two did in the bedroom was their business and I would stay as far away as I possibly could from that.
It was only polite and common courtesy after all and had nothing at all to do with my own inner anxieties about relationships and sex. Stopping off at the bathroom I had a quick hot shower managing to not have any more memories or thoughts disturb me before coming back out to go to the guest room. Once inside I found a spare set of clothes my size Camilla had placed in the top draw of the cupboard. Since I was the only friend of hers that used the guest room semi frequently I was not surprised to find the clothes there. I popped on the clean shirt and underwear as I lay on top of the queen sized bed which took up a good third or so of the room. The sheets were freshly cleaned and ironed, soft under my legs welcoming as the two fluffed pillows under where I lay my head.
Despite how exhausted I now felt I lay awake staring at the cream coloured ceiling in the now dark room. My mind turned back to the events of the day and I realised many things could have gone better. I also was not sure about some of the details, such as why shortly after making an attempt to deal with me Raphael agreed to duel me with such zeal. Him and that prick Professor Owain trying to outright maim me with their magic disturbed me more then I showed at the time, as I could not fathom what drove them to want to triumphs over me. Was it truly magi pride? Or was there another factor involved that I could not see, a detail that I had missed with my interactions with either of the men? Shite I did not know, and being in the dark like this terrified me. I always did my absolute best in maintaining my pool of what was going on in this part of the country.
Through that and my ongoing paranoid nature I had thought that when or if the Assembly ever sent someone after me that I would be ready. I sure as hell did not seem nor feel ready for this, for Patrick and whatever magic damned tricks he had up his sleeves. I did not know what would come tomorrow nor the day after that, but I would do whatever I needed to keep Darren and Camilla safe. They at the very bloody least deserved whatever time together they could, considering the vast gaps between troll and mundane human lifespans. I knew neither Darren nor Camilla talked about it nor was it my place to bring it up.
What I could do was to help give them every day that I could of them living life with and for one another to be happy and fight and console. So what if then the only way to give them that would be to go with Patrick give him what he wants, a darker part of me asked? Would you then still fight to give them that or would you turn and flee like Snorri suggested, like you know you want to? I slapped that part down hard, slapping myself in the face as well to make it hurt. Yes, yes if I had to, if there was no other way then yes I would do that for them you bastard. I would, I would because maybe then it would be a genuinely decent thing I could do for those I cared about. Maybe then I could start to think that I was in part at least a semi decent bloody human being.
That other part of me laughed merrily inside its cage, echoing in my mind as it said, ″But you aren’t a decent human being Lysander. You’re as nasty and twisted as the rest of our folk, we like to be nasty and you know it. We will see what you really will do when the times comes. And won’t that just be dandy then Lysander, maybe then we can finally let loose and feast till we burst.″ I snarled in response as the voice faded back into my subconsciousness laughing mockingly at me wishes and desires to help my friends, at my indignant rage.
I continued to stare at the ceiling unable to sleep still and after what felt like another hour or two I eventually started to hear muffled squeaking, moaning coming down the hallway from the master bedroom. Groaning in frustration I grabbed one of the pillows and covered it over my face to try and block the sounds. I began reciting my old language and behaviour lessons to myself in order to bore myself into sleep if exhaustion and trying to clear my head did not work. Within several minutes the reciting had worked and I at long last drifted off to sleep.