My dreams were not pleasant ones, distant screams filled my ears, the landscape shifting colours and texture as I ran through an endless mansion cold sweat breaking out across my body. A great beast resided within my chest, clawing demanding to be let loose as it banged against its cage. Biting snarling at me thrashing around in its cage trying desperately to break free and feed, feed like the wild untameable beast that it is.
Through all of that I ran, not knowing where I was going through endless eerie corridors, through lifeless grey hallways and no matter where I turned or how far I ran the distant screams never faded and sometimes seemed even closer. Fear kept me going fear of what I could not tell, whether the beast within me or something else that I was fleeing from. Maybe it was myself I did not know all I knew was that I had to get out, had to escape because it was killing me the guilt the terror, strangling me into oblivion. Gasping with effort I slammed open a large set of doors and lunged for a staircase which seemed to lead upwards, panting as I raced up them three at a time.
Countless steps seeming to mock my efforts as I leaped up desperate to find any egress from this haunted damned place. The beast within me roared now, bashing against its cage and I could almost feel the bars bending, breaking as it fought for its freedom. I was almost sobbing with fear and effort as I finally saw an old iron door at the top of these near endless stairs. I latched onto the door knob, twisting it frantically before wrenching it ajar and running inside. As I bolted through the door I was greeted by yet another hallway as the door slammed behind me. Everything was darker, greyer then before chilling me to my core as I dashed onwards down, down the hallway.
Spotting another old iron door this one recently worked on by the looks of things I hurried to it and burst inside. To be greeted by a large darkened room with four figures standing by a stone table. My eyes darted between the figures taking in their details I floundered struggling to remember who they were, as if a veil had been placed over my sight. One of the figures stepped towards me and I moved back trying to go to the door. With a loud slam the door closed behind me as I whirled to look at it, the iron door seemed to meld into the stone becoming unmoveable.
Panic now set in as the figure neared me I felt powerless, blind unable to do anything but stand there shaking as they gained ground, step by step. I was about to shout out in pure terror as the figure reached out to me before a familiar voice pierced the veil. ″Lysander at last you are hear. We were beginning to fear you had fled again to avoid us. Please, come here so we can all get a good look at you before we begin.″
I knew her, yes I had known her for years, a woman seemingly in her early twenties stood before me her luscious black hair seemed to be alight with energy, with power. Her eyes were a startling mix of midnight blue and bright molten silver dancing with delight and hunger at me. The beast growled in pleasure, seeing the woma before us growling with want with need with acceptance. Now the cage was being bent, broken as it began to claw its way free, free to do what and go where I did not know. All that I knew was that I could not let it out no, not now not ever. I felt myself forcing the bars to mend themselves to strengthen them to keep the beast leashed and contained.
The woman before me noticed my internal struggle and reached out with her pale but firm hand. I recoiled from her touch at first, but she just chuckled and moved forward, stroking my cheeks and chin with her right hand. Purring in satisfaction she now clasped both her hands over my face to hold me still. I gulped forcing myself to try and look away but she held firm until I considered her eyes now fixed upon me. Understanding lay there but also an unwavering will and determination as she took me in, my scent, power, my very essence. She breathed I deeply smiling as I gulped down heavily reigning in my growing desire, the arousal that myself and the beast within now felt.
It growled at me, to let it out to touch and taste and so that I too would act upon my desires my needs. The woman clicked her tongue against her teeth he way I somehow knew she always did out of habit when considering a conundrum or when vexed. ″This needs to be done Lysander, you cannot just run and hide from it. But I am here, if or when you need me I am here to help you through it we all are.″ Her lips, I had just noticed those perfect smooth lips of hers dark, coated in tantalising black lipstick which made my fingers itch and my loins stiffen. She licked her tongue over them, noticing my arousal before stepping away.
Moving aside I saw her clothing, a rich business suit with an obsidian black jacket over a dark midnight blue shirt with matching obsidian black pants. She oozed professionalism along with desire and power as I turned my gaze to the other three figures in the room. The two figures on the left hand side of the stone table were also startlingly familiar, and I felt that I had known them for decades. A man and a woman both looking to be in their late and early forties respectively. The man was dressed in a smart gentleman’s jacket and accompanying attire worn my aristocracy throughout the late nineteenth century. His greying receding hair line sat combed and well maintained on his head while his dark grey eyes studied me.
The woman was like a statue unmoving and beautiful as if she were truly carved from marble. Her mousey brown hair was kept long and curled, a bright gem covered coronet resting atop her forehead. She wore a long formal gown, reaching down to her red heeled shoes with matching crimson colour. Her shoulders were covered and her bosom held up by the design and the corset bound tightly across her waist. She too studied me with her dark brown and hazel eyes nodding in affirmation as I took a tentative step closer.
″The time has come Lysander there is no need to make a fuss over this. It is perfectly natural and necessary and will take no time at all. Just remember that in the future you will be watched more closely and that you represent the family when you meet with the rest of our folk. Do not disappoint us dear child.″ My panic rose with her words and I felt even more terrified then I did before. I looked to the man but he nodded in agreement with the woman.
″It will be done today Lysander, no more delay no more excuses. We are here to observe and nothing more so long as you do your duty by yourself and the family.″ His voice seemed cold to me yet not unkind, as if giving a lecture to a child. Maybe he was for all that I knew. I nodded at these two figures who knew me so well even if I was not quite certain yet how that was the case.
I turned now to the right hand side of the stone table where a younger man stood, hands in the pockets of his dark green well tailored jacket. He greeted me with a wicked grin lifting his chin up at me in acknowledgement. I definitely knew him and he knew me. Two sides of the same coin as my beast also growled in acknowledgement to him, an answering growl echoing in the room from the man’s chest. I clutched at my chest now the cage rattling, the bars breaking, melting now as the beast began to laugh triumphantly as my defences crumbled around it.
Eyes flicking to where my hands clutched at my bursting pain filled chest the man said, ″F#ck Lysander you’d think this was the end of the world with the way you are acting. I do not understand why you make such a big deal over this but I am here all the same to see you through it. Cannot have you dropping dead on us now can we.″ He winked at me as he stepped more to the side. ″After all what are friends for.″
Friends yes, we were basically friends, so close in age for our folk and we shared so many interests. With our matching short dark brown hair, brown eyes and pale skin we could be mistaken for brothers, two sides of the same coin. His beast and mine so similar both hungry both roaring within us for release and to feed. The only difference was that I kept mine locked up where this other young man did not, he simply kept the door closed until he was ready, ready to merge with the beast.
A pained, strangled sound made me twist to look down at the stone table before me. Taking up a small section of the room it was carved from an ancient and sturdy form of stone and as gray as the world appeared to be. It was what lay upon it that truly caught my attention though. I recoiled again at the sight of a small figure, held prone and helpless through chains and straps upon the table. Not again my mind seemed to scream please no not again. The beast laughed again seeing what I saw, helpless prey who stank of magic, of fuel for my ever burning engine.
The small figure was very much alive their essence a clear force in the room as they lay their unable to move. I heard sounds, words which to me sounded unintelligible. I was not sure if I could not understand them or deliberately misheard whatever it was they had to say. My mind recoiled from it along with any sense of decency but the beast and other parts of myself drooled in hunger with need. Pain flashed through me and I clutched at me guy, the beast now breaking through the cage completely, lunging to the forefront of my being to seize control.
I fought, struggled, gasping in pain and effort as I used up all of my willpower to hold it at bay. For a few futile seconds I was successful until it simply laughed again and brushed through the few barriers that I erected. As I waged a losing battle within myself the man in the old fashioned suit spoke up once more. ″Come now Lysander, do not fuss. Do what you need to do, stop fighting yourself you are clearly in pain. Feed child, feed and be done with it.″
The young man spoke up as well mocking me with his now horrific hungry grin. ″Yeah Lysander come on buddy. Feed it is so easy come on let go and feed, fill your hunger with the sweet nectar before you.″ No, I thought no, please no.
I cast one last hopeless glance at the young woman with her life filled eyes of blue and silver. She shook her head at me, almost saddened as she fixed me with her gaze, eyes turning hard now. ″Stop hurting yourself. Let it go Lysander. Please for me. Enough with the fighting and the cursing and feed for me. Feed.″
Her words echoed through me, smacking hard like a bullet as the beast reacted, vindicated by her words and by the words of the men. It agreed tore through the last shreds of my willpower willing me stop fighting back as it wrestled control. It will be delicious it said to me, it will be a joyful experience. All I had to do was let go and simply gorge myself. Horror, disgust filled my mind as all semblance of control has handed over to the beast. Now in control it willed my limbs forward no matter how I pleaded begged it to stop, knowing what came next would destroy whatever was left of me, whatever I had tried to become.
The figure on the stone table was weeping now, their eyes fixed upon me not looking away so I was forced to see into them. Their fury, sorrow and fear was laid bare as if in punishment for what was about to occur, even though I had no control. That is no excuse, part of me said, you could have tried harder, you could have stopped it. I did not know if that was true but still I still found myself agreeing with the voice anyway.
Then with all the swiftness of a ravenous wolf the beast howled and leaped at the figure clamping down my hands over their arms. With my body now in its control my lips caressed the figures neck, feeling the heat of their body and the salty tang of tears. Grinning in satisfaction the beast and I both watched one in hunger the other in terror as the hunger the pain became overwhelming. Then as suddenly as it had leapt onto the figure the beast sank its teeth in and the fed, power, magic flowed through to my body quenching the ravishing hunger.
The figure thrashed as much as they were able, but it was futile they were bound and held tight by the restraints and my hands as every last wisp of magic was stripped from them and consumed by the beast and I. Then the screaming started and I tried once more to end it but by then I was too far gone and knew the feeding would only end when there was nothing left to consume. More and more of the sweet nectar that was magic flowed through me as I sucked the figure dry like a leech over a limb. After suckling and consuming the figures magic for what felt like an age, I felt the flow began to trickle and then finally stop all together. When the beast and I had felt around for any leftover traces and made sure every single last piece of it was gone, only then did it allow us to let go of the body.
For a body it now was pale, lifeless a look of unbearable pain and fear lay on their face and I knew deep down to my bones that those screams would never leave me. Shuddering in delight the beast smacked its lips and receded back into my chest releasing control back to me. No longer in a cage it slank back to a dark quiet part of me before lying down to slumber until it needed to feed again or take control.
I let out a tense and harsh breath gasping as my body started shaking as if I had been out in the rain under a cold breeze. Turning slowly to see the other figures still in the room I found various reactions. The young man was gifting me with a satisfied smile which made me even more disgusted and ashamed of myself. The older man and woman seemed pleased but only showed the emotion through their eyes, their faces being kept carefully neutral. And the young woman, her face had a pleased smile on it her eyes watching me curiously as if trying to guess at my thoughts.
I looked down again at the now lifeless corpse which I had made. And there it was, I had done it all that life, and potential gone. Because of me, because I had given in I had been to willing to give in to try and save her. Now I felt sick my whole body rebelled at the thought of it, shaking I stumbled back to make my egress but I barely made it a few steps as I collapsed to my knees. I recoiled from them as I had with the small helpless figure on the table. Looking up I could not hold back the sob now building up within me as the young woman dashed over to my side, kneeling down in front of me. Her eyes filled with what could be concern and some small degree of understanding.
I think she was the only one here that at least in part knew why I felt this way, why I felt so retched and sick after what I had done. Meeting her eyes as she reached out and held me I gave up all pretence of control and sobbed loudly, burying my face in her neck and dark luscious hair. Tears leaked out of my eyes streaming across my face and into her hair and across her jacket. She cooed and tried to comfort me, whispering kind, sweet words of comfort as I wept out all of my guilt, sorrow, rage at the injustice of it, over my own hunger over what I had been forced to do, had been expected to do.
I heard the young man snort in derision and the older man and woman tut in slight frustration. I no longer cared, this was it I had been broken, whatever had been left of me was now gone, gone sacrificed to feed the hunger along with that poor person who now lay dead on that damned table. I let my grief poor out, over the loss of life and over the loss of myself as the young woman who smelled so perfect so welcoming held me in her arms. Her black coated lips kissing, caressing my neck as she held me close in the room that now began to stink of death and shame.
Thrashing into consciousness I jolted upright into the guest bed, sweat pooling off of my entire body. Eyebrows, shoulders, thighs all were covered in sweat as I panted eyes darting around in fright to check to see where I was. At some point or another I activated my arcasihtō in my panicked state so I now saw the strands of magic flowing through Camilla’s apartment as my mind adjusted to my new reality. Back, I was back here in Australia. Safe, and … and I was not a monster. Not yet at least, I could still stop myself from falling permanently, from loosing my humanity.
Of course I would have that f#cking dream with everything else going on because why not? Yes let’s kick the man while he is down and laugh while we do so that’s fun isn’t it? My face was soaked with moisture and as I rubbed my hand across it, I knew not all of it was from sweat. I hated that dream most of all, it was the one among them that I found the most unnerving the hardest to recover from. The one day of my life that I could never forget, could never forget and was not sure if I deserved it, and whether that was a fitting enough punishment for me.
Tears slid down my face once more and I hiccupped through the sobs which racked my body. I placed my head in between my knees and the sheets so that the sounds would not be heard outside of the room. I am not sure how long that went on for, but it was long enough that I bet most people would begin to question my masculinity. And if you are one of those people then you can shove off right now because I do not need that sort of judgement, not about this in particular. As I continued to breathe out ragged sobs I felt a presence once more, soothing calming me. I realised as my shame and sorrow began to dissipate that I had felt this before, in my bathroom the day of the aberrant attack and again I checked around me to see if anyone was there. However just like last time while I felt this presence I did not see or hear them.
My chest was on fire after hiccupping hard for what felt like half an hour, as if I had downed a gallon of lemonade and then tried to do a handstand or similar activity. Now having a sore chest from hiccupping, while you are crying your eyes out after the worst damned nightmare of your life leads one to be in a particularly foul mood. Especially when the soothing presence that accompanied me then began to falter and soon vanished altogether. Despite this, like a champ I got out of bed, dressed in the long blue jeans that Camilla provided for me and went out to make breakfast.
Technically it was brunch as it was 12:15 pm but none of us gave that much thought as Camilla and Darren staggered out of their room while I was in the middle of cooking up scrambled eggs, crispy bacon slices, whole wheat, multi grain bread and a fruit salad. I cut up kiwi fruits, strawberries, bananas, mango and added blue berries and some raspberries to the mix with apricot Greek style yoghurt.
My tears were now long done, all evidence of them washed and wiped away as my cooking set my in a rhythm which I slipped into. Feeling far better about life and myself I began humming a random Coldplay song out loud and in my head as I finished up with the bowl of fruit salad. Keeping an eye on the toaster I quickly dashed out of the kitchen to place the fruit salad wordlessly on the dining table in front of the sofa before gunning it back to the toaster. As the toast slices popped out I pulled out low fat margarine and began spreading it along with blackberry jam over the slices as I cut them up further. Darren walked over to me murmuring in delight at the smell of freshly cooked food that he himself did not have to make.
″Xander what would we do without you. Your food is the perfect thing to wake up to after a trying day and a growing burden of worry. It places you in a chipper mood as well, are you feeling better then?″ For his part he was in a very pleasant mood, probably as he and Camilla had been at it a good while last night if I had to guess.
I snorted at him and his fortunate sex life before I gave him my reply. ″Well I do like cooking. One of the few useful things I picked up down here over the last few years. Makes me feel better about myself, keeps me busy and there is a satisfying end product to my work for all to enjoy. Like my tonics I suppose and maybe my cooking skills helped me produce such fine herbal tonics as well.″
It was certainly a possibility as my herb lore and tonic brewing skills appeared to increase along with my growing skills as a cook and culinary do gooder. I only wished the rest of my problems in life could be battled with my culinary capabilities, and then I could just stuff Patrick and those daemonkin with food until they burst or left me well enough alone. What a peaceful world that would be. Not a world that wanted me in it anyway, even if I could cook that well. Maybe I could but enough of that time to feed myself and my ravenous sex filled companions.
Over the next two minutes, I took out three large plates and covered them in scrambled eggs, bacon and jam spread bread slices for general consumption. Placing all three plates on one area with the cutlery utensils provided this time Camilla and Darren began to tuck in as I grabbed glasses to pour apple juice into. One could never go wrong with apple or orange juice for breakfast, it was a pleasant drink to start ones day and tasted sweet and satisfying. As a fan of cider I am likely biased in my opinion but I made breakfast so no one can judge me for it.
We ate mostly in silence enjoying the food that I had prepared with gusto, even the fruit salad being soon devoured by three hungry mouths. Once we had all eaten our food, licking our plates clean Darren and I decided to head on home to try and come up with some sort of plan. Kissing Camilla goodbye Darren left the apartment first (taking that unfortunate bag with him) while I lagged behind to thank her for her hospitality and ingredients. She leered at me, saying that it was no problem at all and that she quite liked me cooking for her. Parting with an affectionate hug, we bid each other farewell before I set of with Darren to the alley a few streets away where I could transport us with the dime device.
″So, you and Camilla seem to be doing well then Darren, I am glad that there is no need of me to worry about any potential break ups in the foreseeable future.″ I gave him a knowing smirk and he blushed at the implication.
Coughing to clear away some of his embarrassment he said. ″Well I hope we did not keep you up too late or anything Xander. Just got carried away with the worry we both feel and that great meal you cooked up for us last night.″
Trying to use flattery to butter me up and make me forget the subject. Okay, for today I could let that one go, besides I could hardly begrudge the poor troll some coital fun with his girlfriend now could I? ″Of course you did who would not? My cooking skills place other culinary artists to shame, shame I say! After we have discussed some sort of plan and I have kept up with my orders of tonics, then I can make us some early supper, unless you want to eat out again?
Darren liked the idea of my cooking as it involved using whatever we still had at the house or buying a few ingredients and not spending large amounts of money on greasy junk food which he was trying to swear off. His official reason being he wanted to maintain his figure and impress Camilla with his fit healthy body. But I knew that junk food actually gave him atrocious gas. Hell, one night after eating some Macca’s he was unleashed a horrific gas attack which stunk us both out of the house for two days. I had to endure showering and squatting at Camilla’s as she bitched to us about our funky smell.
The pleasant memory made me smirk as we both glanced around looking and feeling for any magical traces before I activated the dime device and we were transported in an orb of golden light.
To remerge within a small cluster of trees in the mostly deserted park a few minutes’ walk or run from our suburban house. I say mostly deserted since as we were beginning to walk of a young boy who I thought to be no older than four appeared behind the trees, eyes wide with excitement and wonder. Darren cursed in Danish under his breath, realising that the boy had seen our spectacular and unorthodox entry.
We looked to one another and after everything that had occurred lately this did not seem at the top of our list of priorities. We swiftly established that there were no parents or other mundane adults around to have witnessed us. I decided to just roll with it as the boy was so young even if he did tell anyone what he saw no one would believe him. The only mundane folk who knew of the existence of magic were staff to the various families in the Assembly like Victoria and Kirsten working for the Renaults. Or special people or groups of interest who could be trusted to keep their mouths shut in order to maintain firm business relations with the various members of the assembly.
One young child though who had likely not even been born when I arrived in this country was no threat to us, he did not even know what we were. He had simply seen us pop into existence in a flash of golden light. Taking the old it’s a magic trick approach I informed him, ″Fear not we are merely humble magicians practicing our magic for our next performance. But keep it a secret you would not want to spoil the surprise now would you. Magicians always keep their secrets.″ I waved my hands grandly when I said ‘magic’ and ‘surprise’ to the boy.
Smiling broadly he nodded almost breaking out into laughter as he placed a ring finger over his mouth and shushed at us. Nodding at him as Darren and I shushed back, I felt relieved that the situation had been smoothed over. A man and woman’s voice were heard in the distance likely calling out his name as he dashed of back through the trees towards the source.
Turning to face me Darren quirked up an eyebrow. ″Magicians really? That is your go to line when you get caught using magic with the mundane folk. I swear I have no idea how you have not been caught out by someone if that is the best you have up your sleeve.″ I gave Darren the finger which made him go on a tangent about offensive gestures throughout history and cultures as we went out of the park once we had double checked for any members of the community.
″Why not? You can shape shift into a human form and are a ‘master’ eh get it at wards.″ I enjoyed taking a crack at him for his ‘Master of the bags’ line the other day. Continuing on before he could bark an angry retort I said. ″And I Darren, can wield magic like a boss and I have a device that lets me pop around this dimension of ours as we please. So yes, I do believe that magician does work, we just have a superior set of skills and bag of tricks.″
I moved on to continue pestering about his knowledge of offensive gestures as a distraction. We ended up bickering and debating over what defined an offensive gesture, and how one gesture may have no cultural relevance in one nation, but be extremely offensive in another. It was interesting really and a welcome respite from having to discuss any sort of plan which I knew we would have to once we reached home. The minutes we spent jabbering on whizzed by far to quickly for my liking but arrive we did at our as of yet unmolested house. I wondered how long that would last.
Taking a cautious feel around for magic, when we were both satisfied no one of the community was spying on us Darren unbinded the wards on our door so that we could open it. Once inside he skilfully bound the wards together once more, ensuring that our house was (mostly anyway since the hell hound incident) secure from the outside world. Giving myself a stretch I checked our kitchen clock to see that it was now twenty past one in the afternoon, giving us plenty of time to plan then bitch and eat later.
Darren shrugged of the overnight bag he had been carrying with him the whole time and placing it carefully onto our sofa. Even today after all the shit he received for that damn bag he was still as pedantic about not making too much of a mess or stressing out the sofa. The claw marks were still there of course so it was a moot point, but I was glad to know that some things never change no matter how dire the situation. Wolves howled, aberrants were dickheads, Bunyips stank like the most rank, funky arse and Darren was a neat freak. These truths would forever be true I hoped, even if the Bunyip smell was another source of my seemingly endless nightmares.
″Want me to let you take inventory on your stock while I check on any dishes that need washing? That way we can be doing something productive until we decide to hash out a plan of action.″
Now that did seem like a grand idea. Any way possible to procrastinate having to come up with some sort of plan for the day was a good idea in my book. Taking inventory of my stock however was still important. Making my tonics was my primary means of income and had to pay my half of the rent and bills somehow in this economy.
Just as I was going to go do that however the landline phone decided to ring. Raising an eyebrow to Darren I went over to answer it, curious to see who it was calling in the afternoon.
″It could be Jarli, Bart or Snorri. You were present at that gathering of politicians and backstabbers that Bart held, he may be curious to see how your day is and when he can squeeze you for more capital. As for the other two they know that you have been inquiring and putting out feelers on the Assemblies activities here. You did talk to them just yesterday, they may have new information for us.″
Darren’s brow was furrowed as he spoke, since neither Jarli nor Snorri called during this time usually and neither of us had expected Bart to call us so soon. Yes we both called him Bart when he was not around to hear us. He may have been my business partner these last two and a half years but he was still a right pain in the backside with an attitude to boot.
With these thoughts of Bart and the previous night in the forefront I went over to our wirless landline phone and answered it. ″Hello. Who is this speaking?″ I may have come across as more pissed of then I meant to. However after yesterday I was in no mood for sudden phone calls that I was not prepared for when I was this bloody jumpy and off balance.
For a second no sound reached my ears as I listened to the other end. I heard faint breathing for a few seconds and swiftly began to lose my cool. I was considering just hanging up the phone when the person on the other end finally spoke.
″Hello Lysander. My my you seem to be in a foul mood on this fine summers day. Although it is much hotter and humid here then the Old World so I am not at all surprised if that were the cause.″
The world stilled, my mind went blank and for a few heart beats I did not breath, could not breathe. I knew that voice, from my dreams, the nightmare, my memories. The voice of a man so similar to me in age and physical features that we could be considered brothers. A man who knew me for years when I lived among my family, who was always so eager to get me to give into the hunger as he did to enjoy the experience. The man I had considered for years to be a friend, or the closest thing to one I had until I came here.
Patrick MacDermit heir of the MacDermit changeling family within the Assemblies upper echelons was on the phone talking to me through my landline phone. He was here, he was here in Australia just like the magi said he would be. And he had my f#cking phone number just to make things even better. Of course he would though part of me said, he did try to kill you with that aberrant.
″Hello Patrick. I hope things have been going well for you these last few years. I would hate to hear you lost all your money gambling and whoring since we last spoke.″ My bitterness may have comes across during that but quite frankly it was well justified in my opinion.
Laughter filtered through the phone, warm yet detached and somewhat inhuman all at once, just how I remembered it to be. ″Oh Lysander when did you get such a low opinion of me. We did both frequented the Le Jardin De Fées did we not? That rich centre of decadence and enjoyments of all shapes and forms.″
″Oh yes, but you do recall that I never paid for any services nor did I partake in any of the services offered by that establishment.″ I retorted feeling my indignation, my anger building just from the memories that Patrick was building up.
I saw out in my peripheral vision that Darren had not moved from when I said ‘Hello Patrick’ and was now keeping a wary eye on the phone. He was as tense as after the hell houjnd attacked if not more so, and I could see his eyes becoming more gold then brown as his troll form began to exert itself due to his tension. I gave him pleading look to try and keep calm as I attempted to sort through this bollocks with Patrick.
A chuckle this time from Patrick before he spoke again. ″True, now that you bring it up. I always thought you saw yourself as above it all initially as many of our folk do. In hindsight it is your.. softer nature that gave you that sense of self righteousness, though you cannot be blamed for that weakness it was built into you from a young age.″
The way he said ‘softer nature’ made it sound like a grave insult and perhaps to him it was. To me it was proof that then at least I had dignity and some humanity, enough to refuse to partake in what many younger members of the Assembly both magi and changeling saw as their rights as the elite few. I tasted bile in my mouth at the very recollection of those times trying to suppress a shudder from it all.
″Further recollections will have to wait however old friend. We have business to discuss you and I though there is nothing stopping us from doing so in a candid manner. I am currently residing in a residential area on the Gold Coast called Coolangatta I believe. Meet me here by four o’ clock pm I can make arrangements at a hotel for lunch.″
I wanted to smack him upside the head, Coolies was one of my favourite places to travel to in Queensland due to the beaches, fish & chip shops and cool sea breezes. It was a beautiful location and the thoughts of Patrick being there made it seemed corrupted, soiled almost by his mere presence. Damn it, if he ruined Coolies for me I was going to do something drastic despite how terrified I was. I was not certain exactly what I would do but it would be drastic I can assure you.
I clicked my tongue against my teeth becoming agitated the longer the conversation went on for. ″I have a better idea Patrick there is a Grill’d at Coolies right near the beach front. We meet there in public so neither of us can get any ideas of violence or open use of magic. That way I get to feel safe and you can get to experience human contact for the first time in years.″
A soft chuckle from Patrick, he was not becoming irritated by my refusal to play ball in fact it seemed to please him more that I was making a stand of sorts. Bastard, last thing I wanted was making him feel better but I cannot help it. If he accepted these terms at least I would feel more secure in my position. Patricks influence and school of magic was more Hawamancy and Terramancy despite air and earth being traditionally opposites. He had been born with a unique skill with both air and earth magic and was thus a treasured child among our folk as I was to my family.
In a crowded public building surrounded by walls, ceiling and concrete Patrick would be unable to use his Hawamancy or Terramancy with any lethal intent without causing a scene. If he did so anyway, not that I wanted him to but at least then the panic would give me time to escape. Hopefully, even though I felt wretched at the thought of abandoning people to Patricks nonexistent mercies.
″Very well Lysander we have an accord, it should be quaint to sit and eat with the mundane folk for a change. And at the tropical, well reported seaside of Gold Coast Australia no less. Do feel free to bring a bodyguard I already have one with me. The family insisted of course they could not stand the thought of their precious heir being harmed in this new land of yours.″
I found myself snorting in dismissal of that statement even through my anxiety and fear. Okay seriously Australia has been colonised by humans for millennia the Indigenous Australians were here long before Captain Cook. Before them there were the spirits also here for many hundreds of thousands if not millions of years before any human arrived on these shores. So this was hardly a new land nor was it mine. I was as much an immigrant as many other Australians living here these days.
″Glad you could be so accommodating Patrick what time exactly should I head on over then?″
″Oh, four o’ clock should be acceptable. I can meet you at this Grill’d establishment and then we can discuss what events you have missed the last five years and get to business old friend. I am pleased that we could arrange this like the civil being I know us to be. Someone needs to provide a good example to the rest of the folk now don’t we?″
A good example to what? Being psychopathic, murdering, racist, xenophobic magocratic arseholes with a hunger for innocence and other folks magic? If so then may the will of magic help anyone from the community that we may encounter while down at Coolies for nothing else will from Patrick. That was one of my fundamental issues with going to meet Patrick even with the layout and conditions being more in my control is that I could not fight him if I needed to. Regardless of nay mundane casualties if we did fight Patrick was over a decade older than me and had trained with magic from an early age with his family. This gave him and advantage in combat that I simply could not match unless I got quite lucky with redirecting his attacks back at him with my Aciesmancy.
″Let us hope it can stay that way Patrick. Okay then. Four o’ clock, Coolangatta at Grill’d I will be there with a bodyguard. Talking no tricks from my end or yours yes?″
I heard his derisive snort before he spoke. ″What do you take me for man a mundie? On my word and family name I will cause no mischief or undue harm to you Lysander. And to be frank why would I? We are all friends as I have said it will be good to recollect among other things when we meet. Until four o’ clock then Lysander I look forward to it?″
He then disconnected and I was left holding my landline phone as it beeped at me to place it on the receiver. I did so and slowly turned to face Darren, scratching the side of my head as I did so. Darren had heard everything that I had said and was still tense, though he had a questioning look on his face now as well.
″Bodyguard? I am so glad that you could deign to include me in your meetings most illustrious sir. Shall I also check your food for poison and wipe your noble changeling ass too after you have dined?″ He said this with a raised eyebrow and a voice that was a mix of anxious and excited all at once.
Huffing out an aggravated breath I replied. ″Oh piss of Darren. I had to stay in character, to be still me but as a slightly more distant, aloof changeling that Patrick new me as. What was I going to say ‘hey I am bringing my best mate with me please don’t be jealous and kill him’?″
″I had to say what he would expect me to say, I cannot appear to have any close ties apart from business partners, no friends, no lovers nothing like that which he or the Assembly could use against me. And f#ck it’s not like it has to be you who comes with me now is does it?″
″Of course it does Xander who else will put up with your shit and cover for you. And besides we are mates as you said. I, I know that this will not be a cake walk. Crap I never wanted to meet another one of your folk, I have heard what they do Xander and this Patrick sounds to be a typical psychopath with the power to back it up. But, I refuse to let you do this alone or without someone reliable you know watching your back. Who knows what that shithead will think to do.″
And again, that is why Darren is my best mate. He can keep his cool when he needs to in order to resolve a situation and he always has my back even when there is a magic filled, rich, psychopathic changeling royally messing with me (and almost certainly wish a sanction to do so). I raked my hands through my short, widow peaked hair contemplating what to do exactly. Certainly I had to go now as if I decided to ditch this whole scene Patrick and his goons would come after me, Darren and Camilla. I had enough stored up nasties in my subconscious without adding that scenario to it. So, I had to meet up with him and I had evened out the playing field somewhat by choosing a public venue (and thus limiting his magic use which required earth or air). Could I do more though that is the question?
Maybe, maybe I could indeed. ″Hey Darren we have some eyes and ears we can call in as favours at Coolies do we not?″
Darren’s eyebrows furrowed and his eyes became more golden in colour. ″Yeah we have a few who owe you or me a favour. Oh, oh shit no Xander. You cannot want to use those favours keeping an eye on Patrick. Please tell me that this is not your brilliant plan.″
″Oi! Give me some credit I was going to get them to spread the word that a bonifide changeling is rocking up to meet me at Coolies for lunch and business. That way there would be a great many neutral parties keeping an eye on the pair of us and reporting any funny business. After all even Patrick cares about his reputation amongst the community at large last I saw of him.″
″Wait, wait. If you do this then they will assume that you are an Assembly informant or correctly that you are also a changeling being checked on by the Assembly. If you do things this way Xander then soon the whole community across Australia will be hearing about how you are a changeling or otherwise Assembly member. That is unless the Renaults and other magi from that cursed dinner did not rat you out first the tattle tales.″
My mouth crooked to the side at the use of ‘tattle tales’ by Darren. I mean the Renaults and other magi at the dinner could likely rat me out though they were not the ones I was worried about. No, I feared what Andrea Redwood would do. Unlike the magi that daemonkin has no reason to keep quiet about me to the rest of the community. Hell for all I know she could scream it to the whole world just for threatening her or for not informing her of who I was from the start. Sighing I rubbed my hands vigorously across my face in order to try and clear my thoughts. It did not clear my thoughts as well as I would have liked but it was better than nothing I suppose and I needed to start prepping for going to Coolies.
‘’I am more worried about the daemonkin Andrea then the Renaults but fair is fair Darren. Okay enough pondering this. Look we can safely assume that the Assembly knows where I live due to that damned aberrant hell hound attack. The Renaults and by this stage a growing number of magi know what I am if not who I am so if the rest of the community finds out I am a Changeling then it hardly bloody matters. The worst of the damage has been done, now we can just use this to our advantage in order to keep Patrick watched and perhaps encourage members of the community to come out and want to do business and even help me out.’’
Not that I thought that likely, sure maybe some would but most of the community here were refugees that fled the Old World to escape my folk. If they find out that one of the beings they most fear is here in their little haven then they will run, hide or attack if they are especially vindictive or crazy. You would have to be a madman indeed to want to risk the wrath of the Assembly in assaulting a changeling but I could hazard a bet there would be no shortages of mad folk out here. So many folk had lost family or friends to the Assembly over the years that it is purely out of the magi here being well liked and separate from most of their folk in the Assembly that tensions are not high. Most of the magi families are upstanding and contributing members to the community and even intermarry with other folk.
I suppose that is part of why my folk continue to view magi as inferior, regardless of all that bollocks they spout at meetings and the propaganda they bring magi up with. Having two of the most xenophobic, magically gifted and hated folk in the world and known dimensions suddenly appear in this haven for the community will cause a stir to say the least. But that could no longer be helped, I may as well give them a warning and give them time to see Patrcik and choose to flee or hide as they feel the need to do. By the will of magic I wish I could just run and hide but even if I thought I could (which based on how the attack on my house and Patrick knowing my number I highly doubted by this point) I refused to leave Darren and Camilla out to be targets.
I shuddered at the thought of what Patrick could and would do to my friends if he got his hands on them. Nothing pleasant and all unspeakable I knew to be the answer. No, as much as it galled me to admit it I had to meet up with Patrick even though I had a fairly damned good idea of what he wanted to discuss. He would not be the only one however with matters of import. I still wanted to know why a damned aberrant was sent to invade my home and attack me without any kind of warning.
If Patrick was going to bring me back like I assumed was it some kind of warning then to not leave or a reminder of the Assemblies power over me? Both are possible if the Assembly was indeed behind it as I suspected. It was certainly a possibility that Patrick and my family were the only ones involved but again the use of the aberrant just seemed off to me as well as the timing of his arrival the day after the attack.
A loud but polite cough forced me out of my thoughts as Darren stood there with a questioning and anxious look on his face. ″Well Xander what are we going to do apart from spread the word that there will be a changeling gathering to the community?″
″We Darren old buddy old pal. Are going to grab any magical trinket we can stuff into our pockets, bring tonics and place defence wards over ourselves before we head off. That should give us some protection and leave us partially defended at least from a magical attack. If he simply chooses to use a gun then that will be of no use. But. If I know Patrick, which I think I do. He will find guns distasteful and far too mundane for the likes of him to use.″
Darren saw the merits of this and seemed pleased to have a way to protect himself from changeling magic apart from his natural resistance to it which could only go so far. Trolls were some of the few folk who were born with a sort of natural resistance to magic apart from: the Svartálfar (Which were short, hairy, smiths of great renown across the realms and dimensions. They did not in fact look like dark skinned elves of popular culture but in fact were essentially the dwarves of Norse Mythology); the Mesoamerican Quetzalcohuātl, (feathered more serpentine kin of the dragons); the Chinese earth dragons called Dilong; Asanbosam, Ashanti West African vampires/ogres with iron teeth and talons; the Australian Bunyips and the Caribbean Loa spirits.
″Of course he will have some form of bodyguard with him of as of yet unknown capabilities. It could be another troll such as yourself Darren. A cabal of vampires, pack of lycanthropes or a mob of brownies, we simply have no way of knowing. So I am going to grab my gear while you do your prep so we both have ourselves armoured in wards when we meet with old Patrick.″
″I definitely like doing wards. I am pretty good with them don’t you think Xander? As for gear I strongly recommend that you take some wolfs bane for wolves. Fertile earth for vampires and I will check to see if we have any rabbits intestines to distract brownies. Those little fae love the stuff.″
I scrunched my nose up at Darren bringing up that lovely topic of rabbits guts. While true that brownies loved the stuff I did not particularly like thinking about it. ″Do not bother, I sincerely doubt he would have even a few mobs of brownies. He is too full of himself and his appearance. A trait though sadly shared by all of my folk bar yours truly. Is a flaw that we can take advantage of. He will not want to start a fight with me in public as it would hurt his image and from hopefully the Assemblies if two of their own go at each other’s throats in front of the mundane folk.″
With that all out in the open Darren and I went to our rooms in order to prepare for a confrontation and/or conversation with Patrick MacDermit on this cloudy Queensland day. Once in my room I went straight to Pandora’s box and pulled out one of the runes Snorri had provided me. I was loathe to use another one, but the threat of attack was far too real for me to ignore I told myself as I retrieved a glowing green rune from within. Next I went to my top shelf within my cupboard pulling out a box labeled ‘Druidic and Thaumaturgy equipment’. Tenderly removing the lid carved in Ogham inscriptions with a carved design of an antlered alder tree in the centre.
The story of how I ended up with this old wooden box with Ogham inscriptions is rather dull compared to most others. I was in the Grove with Darren two years ago when Jarli came up to me wanting to gain a favour from me. After some negotiation the bet was that Darren (who represented by humble interests of course) could out drink Bamapana,a more malevolent trickster spirit, originally of the Yolngu Indigenous people. Both sides of course cheated throughout with Jarli and his temporary ally being spirits they sent much of the alcohol to another dimension. While I on the other hand used some good old Thaumaturgy or ‘miracle work’ in Greek. I had to drink a herbal tonic beforehand to enable my mind to more easily fit into the mindset of that aspect of magic. As an Aciesmancer other forms of magic require more effort so I sometimes use herbs and tonics in order to fit into a different mindset easing the flow of whatever aspect of magic I am attempting to use. Of course magic is magic but not all people can use all of the various aspects or forms of magic which is why when it comes to offensive forms of magic I am more limited compared to many of my changeling peers.
In any case the Thaumaturgy transformed the cider Darren was to be drinking into Sarsaparilla or discoloured water allowing him in his full Troll form to drain an ungodly amount of fluids. Even with the cheating done on Jarli’s half the Bamapana still had to drink alcohol unlike Darren and was eventually drunk under the table. All of this with not a single drop of alcohol within Darren’s blood stream, although he did have to deal with a sudden bursting bladder. While Jarli begrudgingly allowed me to choose one of two objects he had (one being a monkeys paw which I chose to stay the hell away from) I promptly chose the wooden box, already filled with various old do – dads, a voodoo head, and wolfsbane.
Darren of course required spending the next twenty minutes or more relieving his bladder and the Bamapana was thrown out of the Grove after vomiting over a lovely Penanggalan (the detached head and organs of a female vampire entity form the Malaya region). Guru had been chatting her up until projectile vomit had ruined her lovely midnight blue hair. Guru while enraged did not want death or potential death in his pub so he personally threw out the trickster before beating him silly and binding him into one of the dream time dimensions.
Trust Guru to follow his own policy of keeping violence to outside of the pub when he had to resort to violence at all, something that other folk could learn a few things from. After attending to the upset Penanggalan he went to the back so he later claimed washing her hair and having a deep, meaningful conversation. He never did say what words passed between them, but as they returned they seemed more at ease and chipper. The two are currently dating and when his new girlfriend is present within the grove Guru gives Darren and I half price for our drinks in the part we both played in bringing the two together. Jarli of course still has to pay double price for all drinks due to the mischief he has caused, but he never seems to mind that the wealthy bastard.
Shaking off the old memories now I set about removing the packet of wolfsbane I had in black plastic bag, earth from a volcano, a small branch from a Yew tree, Morgen tears (Morgen being a Welsh/Briton water sprite who drown men) and a plucked feather from Jarli. Once I had retrieved these items I took out my dark grey duffle coat, placing the objects within the various deep recesses of my pockets. Patting the pockets and left to wait for Darren in the lounge room hoping he would not take as long as he usually did to prepare for heading out. While Darren was great at keeping calm during a crisis then freaking out after the immediate threat was passed, he was nearly as paranoid as I am the rest of the time with Obsessive compulsive disorder. Meaning everything had to be just so in his room before he left usually or he would nervously debate over what he needed to bring.
He is by no means a coward, in fact when we first met he was close to being considered foolhardy. But he has mellowed out more and become more protective since he found Camilla wanting to remain alive, whole and be with her as long as he can. Poor bastard, Camilla is the best soul mate he could wish for but she was a human, a mundane human. Like the magi mundane folk had the life expectancy of eighty four to eighty seven depending on gender in Australia. Whereas Darren and I lived for a similar amount of time and aged slowly with both of our folk becoming more powerful either physically or magically as time went on.
No sooner however had I finished that thought then Darren strode in looking more confident considering wearing his own deep blue duffle coat to more discretely carry his own gear. Sitting on his knees beside the sofa I placed a pillow down and copied him. Nodding at him that I was ready we both began to weave the strands of magic around us. I activated my Arcasihtō to make the process transition more smoothly as I wove the strands surrounding us into ward form and palcing them over Darrens magical aura and clothing as he did the same to me.
This process may sound easy to a casual reader or observer but boy, let me inform you that no, no it is certainly not easy. Darren is a natural the words and motions come easy to him, guidng the process of forming the starnbds of magci into the shapes and figures of wards. For me, it takes a great deal of self control, calm and time as I clearly picture the forms in my mind, binding the magical starnds into these chapes with my will over several minutes if not hours on occasion. Through this effort of will and concentration after what my body seemed to think was an age and a half, the wards were finally formed and placed over our bodies and clothing.
Darren finished with the wards well before I was finished with the ones I palced over him. Due to the extensive and unrelenting training I had received from Darren and my old tutors over the years my wards were well formed and stable mirroring Darrens wards over my person. I simply took far longer to create and bind them then he had as again I am not a natural at this way of using magic as he is.
Still once it was done we both felt a sense of relief, letting out tense breaths as I tried to sit up once more, much to the protests of my abused knee caps. Hearing cracking sounds from my legs and arms I stretched my body wide as I once again adjusted to standing up. My legs were numb and my knee caps were protesting most vigorously, throbbing despite the pillow I had palced beneath them. Darren on the outside seemed as comfortable now as when we began our preperations which was a good sign. He may be more nervous and outright terrified within himself but at elast he was not letting it show. I hoped when the time came that I did not show my true feelings either as that could help with my destruction.
″Well, let us not beat around the bush now. That took longer my end then I thought but the wards I placed on you are as sturdy as the oens you placed over me. I hope.″ Darren gave me the evil eye when I said that but I waved him off smirking. ″Besides you are so large and strong even in human form. Where as I am far more fragile Darren. I mean look at me, I am like a twig, a thin dainty twig which could snap with even the slightest bit of tension.″
I dramatically covered my right hand over my afce as I had seen ‘actors’ do in theatres from when my younger days living with my family. Darren snorted loudly and flipped me the bird. ″Bloody changelings. If Patrick is as fragile as you act sometimes then we should be fine. I just need to break some especially abd wind and he will kjeel over and die”. He grinned at that as I went over and opened the door ushering him outside.
As I closed the door and restored the wards over it I leered. ″Darren the Troll, breaker of winds, slayer of changelings and fair aromas everywhere. Along with master of bags you seem to be obtaining a grand set of titles mate.″ I smiled at that even after Darren poked me uneccesarily hard in the ribs in revenge. I cursed at him calling him an oath as we made our way to the park so I could use my dime sphere and rift our way over to Coolangatta. As ever I kept my guard up checking for any magical presences as Darren kept his senses keyed to any sights, sounds or scents that were not usual in a suburban area.
Though he caught one scent that stood ought he could not place it and it soon vanished as we entered the park. That did make my hairs stand on end but hopefully it was nothing serious, nothing that would later rear its ugly head and come to bite us in the arse. Empty as ever I thought when I looked about the park. Even in the afternoon during a weekday this place was ahrdly ever used or visited and while I thogutht hat somewhat strange I did not question it as it always suited my travelling requirements.
″Let the lightshow begin”. I said blandly, taking out the dime sphere and moving the clockwork wheels which was accomnpanied by the usual bright dome enveloping both Darren and I. To reamgerge in a flash of light on a more deserted section of the beach at Coolangatta. The sand was white and soft if hot and I was glad we both had shoes on. Not that Darren would mind much, his feet even in human form were tough underneath so he hot sand or glass would do little more then aggravate his skin. The sky was as bright, cloudya nd blue as one could hope for a stark change to the previous few days of bad weather although this was further south then where Darren and I lived.
Knowing we were early Darren and I pissed some of the time away walking silently across the beach simply listening to the sound go gulls, distant laugher and the waves. The smell of the sea right near me was more soothing then I cared to admit, and the sounds quited the restless thoughts in my head. I had always liked the sea and the seaside/beach as it gave me a place to just walk around and be msyelf. It was one of the few truly happy memories I had from my earlier lfie, visiting the seaside to relax, practice my magic and feel the primal forces of nature around me. It was liberating in a way that nothing else in my life back then ahd been or could be.
After more then half an hour we slowly began to make our way to the shop front across the road from the sand and the waves in order to get to the restaurant I had chosen to meet Patrick at. It was easy to find once we had crossed over, aftre several minutes of walking we came across the circular red ‘Grill’d’ sign and went over to wait, not knowing if Patrick too would be earlly, on time or late. Thirty minutes later I realised that Patrick liked to be just on time for his appointments as a large black SUV pulled up near the restaurant.
I held my breath as I recognised the magical aura emminating from the car due to years of exposure to it and the person it belonged to. A huge beast of a man wearing a tightly fitting formal jacket and vest stepped out the drivers seat to open the back door. Darren and I looked over at one another more then a little nervous as the man of the hour stepped forth onto the gravelled road. The bastard had not changed a bit in five and a half years.