Reeling backwards it gave a squealing roar, the more animal part of the skinshifters mind taking control in self defense. Claws curled up, tusks bared ready as I scrambled rolling aside from the sudden charge as it tried to gore me. I backed away quickly almost tripping on the thick coating of seaweed washed up from the sea and gave myself about two or three meters before the skinshifter turned face and charged once more and I froze in panic.
Magic flowed through me but I could not use it, I was hyperventilating, barely able to stand. “Move you dolt, move,” I roared to myself but my appendages seemed rooted to the spot as death by goring seemed in my near future (I bet a fortune teller would never have predicted that). An ear splitting roar forced me backwards and onto my arse in the sand as like an overgrown tractor Darren slammed the Were – Boar aside, tackling him with all the viciousness of a professional rugby player at a game.
“Stay down and calm down friend we did not mean to startle you but calm the f##ck down.” Darrens scream filled the air and almost shook the ground with its ferocity and volume. I lay down dazed like the hero I was staring in appreciation and pants wetting terror as I waited for the moment to pass. Breath coming out in ragged gasps the Were – Boar looked around as if dazed, body trembling with adrenaline as its heart rate slowly began to drop along with the rest of ours. As the minutes passed the animal form was dropped leaving behind a panting middle aged man lying beneath Darren.
With a not so subtle cough Darren received the message to remove himself from on top of the man so he could also sit up and compose himself. Offering a hand the man nodded and was assisted in getting up, clutching at his chest as he did so. “Blimey you’re a tough one aren’t you? Must be all that food you troll folk eat up in Scandinavia land, did a right number on me you did and all.” His thick Scouse accent reminding me of Liverpool along with his mannerisms and pale skin, I placed him as a relatively new arrival to the country which is important to note. More Were kind were leaving the Old World for the new means it must be getting worse there I pondered whilst I walked over to speak up.
“I sincerely apologise for scaring you sir it was entirely unplanned. I like an idiot walked into your machine so I take full blame for that. Though I will say for your sake, perhaps a tad less of a violent reaction to such things will get you ahead further in life here no?” I tried going for amiability in a thick Brumie accent as I stopped just half a meter from him rubbing my still sore nose over my sleeve. Darren nodded at this, keen eyes locked on the man who had only minutes ago had been having a wild fear induced rage.
“Ah I’m right sorry about that yeah, not my finest moment I will say. Look if it’s any consolation it was not just you I have been having a bad week, news of Changelings being round and all you know how it is.” He dipped his head respectively at me as he spoke the words freely flowing as he explained the situation. I looked over at Darren whose frown had deepened further at these words. More Changeling talk, wonderful.
Plastering I smile on my face I replied, “Do not sweat it friend we all have off days and even we freak out on occasion. And no I agree if I had heard anything to do with Changelings being around here I’d likely shit myself right up I would. Just take care of yourself and maybe you can let us know if you hearing anything else later on okay? Also can I have a look into your sand bags? I think a sprite may have ended up in there.”
Grinning ear to ear he nodded his head deeply at us both, “Oh yeah sure sure, take a quick look and thank you kindly. Not a worry, glad to see that there is some chivalry and polite company to be had in this hot hell hole.” Hmm, in all fairness I would agree that compared to the Old World Australia is hot as balls as some of the locals would say, I would say it’s hot even some days to barbecue someone alive but hey it’s all part of the down under charm.
I went over and with the aid of Darren was able to open up the bags where the sand was being filtered through, seeing nothing but sand at first, yet I felt a pull coming from within. I decided to dig through it using my hands to scoop aside large clumps of wet, dirty sand until my fingers brushed across what felt like a small leg and a startled yelp made me recoil. A loud splutter and small tremor in the sand preceded a small figure bursting forth from within. A thin androgynous figure with golden glass like eyes stared up at me, twinkling in the light. I waved down at it as a broad smile spread across its face and its wings fluttered excitedly. “Free, Vazrath is free!” it yelled, beyond excited at this turn of events.
Before I could get even a word out the sand sprite zipped out of the bag and twisted and turned in the air for a few laps in what I assumed was a triumphant dance for it. We all waited patiently (the were – boar with mouthed amazement) for the sprite to calm down over its newly found freedom. After five victory laps and a deep cough on my part the sprite dashed over right up to my face and buzzed, “Vazrath thanks you for freeing it yes this one is nice thank you.” I nodded at the sprite and informed it where its companion Kreelak was waiting and so we waved our goodbyes to the were – board now in his gruff human form who went back to working through the sand trawling machine as we made our way back.
Within ten minutes Vazrath and Kreelak were reunited in a buzzing dance of glee and shouting in their native language which sounded like a wasp which was gargling sand to me, but to them was clearly words of adoration. Once thay ahd both calmed down they flew over to me and Darren hand in hand both beaming. “Kreelak and Vazrath thank you caster, these ones thank you very much, a boon we owe you which we will repay yes.” They seemed most earnest in this as favours given out such as this are a powerful thing to hold over someone, it was no wonder they wanted it paid back in full.
“No I did not do that for any fee or want anything from you. I am sure if there is ever any issues that I have hear at the beach you will feel like returning the favour to mein your own way, but I want no debt between us. I hope you enjoy your happy reunion and make the most of things. Try not to lie down while a sand trawler is coming through in the future.” They both looked at me as if were the monster from Mars but they eventually nodded at me sagely as if I had spoken wise words indeed before they bowed once and flew off into the sand dunes. I snorted in exasperation and shrugged at Darren before I decided to lead us off so I could use the dimesphere to get us back home.
All in all this day had been one weird or distressing incident after another, though I was at least able to help someone at least I thought to myself as Darren and I emerged back at the park (thankfully no mundane folk in sight) and began a slow ponderous slog back to our house both lost in thought as we wrapped our heads around what we had learned. It was not until I unlocked the front door and the wards to get inside that I chose to speak up, “Darren I …. I do not know what to do. I think I might just have to go with Patrick, you do not know what that man is capable of when denied, and the Assembly, my family are backing him. I I need to go with him.”
I turned up to look at Darren chuckling bleakly at my situation as he walked straight into me and wrapped me up in his huge arms for a bone shattering hug. The breath was squeezed out of my lungs due to the sudden shock of this embrace and the force of it and I began to cough and gaga until Darren released me enough so I could breath. Spluttering and clutching my chest I eyed Darren warily as he firmly placed his hands over my shoulders and looked me dead on right back at me. We stared at one another for one long pregnant pause before he took a deep, soothing breath and told me his thoughts.
“Xander, do not get me wrong I do see what you are talking about. The Assembly, Darren and your family, this is the worst possible scenario for all of us, you especially. I know that you had to do things with them, for them that you still hate and make you hate yourself and I know you are scared. But I mean shit mate we all are. I was raised on bed time stories about how your kind hunted nonhuman folk and fed upon their magic or enslaved them brutally. This is not going to be pleasant for anyone but I do not think going back is the answer. You do not want to go, I do not want you to go and I am sure as hell Camilla does not either nor anyone else who gives a single damn about you”.
Genuine worry was creased all over his face and filled his golden eyes as he stared down at me and continued on as I was unable to get a single syllable out in my current state. “This Patrick wants to take you off to the assembly as if you were some lab experiment and we cannot do that simple as that. But, I know both of our strengths and our weaknesses Lysander. From what I have heard from rumours alone I know neither of us can stop him, especially with a Fomorian guarding him while he can sling magic at us. We need to talk to our friends, allies anyone who can help us and offer us any sort of advice or resources to get out of here and away from the Assembly. We do not need to stay.”
An infectious smile snuck its way onto my face at Darren’s sincerity and intensity, though I did realise a few problems with his stratagem. “Darren you and Camilla will both be running for a good while for her maybe the rest of her mundane life. The Assembly is worried, worried enough to come after a misfit like me by sending their prized war hound after me so they are in this for the long game. I can’t I won’t let you both lose what you have here in this bloody strange and good country for that. I do however agree in asking any friends and allies but I do not know what any of them can do at this point. If word has not already spread about what I am and Patrick being here then it sure as shite will soon. “
“Even if they agree to help us it’s a few magic folk against a member of the Assembly who can and might call in others here to drag me back heckling and screaming with a neat little dust pile of my friends they have just drained dry!” That last point was a sore spot for me and Darren both and my hands trembled with anger as memories unbidden began to creep and crawl from the trap door of my mind trying to break the chains as I struggled for control.
Shaking his head Darren made me focus on him holding my left arm tightly so I let go of my near death grip on it, “No Xander, I do not want it either, and yes we could end up all being Changeling chow but we need to try first. Otherwise what have these last five years of soul searching and life been then a delay of the inevitable, a rebel sons gap period between studies and genocide? Damn it you’re a person as much as anyone else I know here and whatever you have done, whatever you think you deserve because of what you are not defined by it. I’ve seen who you have chosen t be, a decent hard working man with a terrible sense of fashion and humour, and my best friend who will hopefully agree to be my best man when Camilla and I finally tie the knot”.
I choked down a laugh at that, hands now slack at my sides as soon both Darren and I were both laughing our arses off at what we were doing and thinking. So much so that I found it hard to breath and nearly fell over at the absurdity of it all and how happy, genuinely grateful I felt at having someone as good as Darren here now on my side. You don’t know how valuable a friend is until you either lose them or realise they are all that is keeping you afloat in life. By the will I was glad I had realised that a long time ago now, or I would not even have made it this far alone for Patrick to try and manhandle.
“Well looks as if we have some people to call and offers to make because this is going to be hard to sell.” We both nodded in affirmation of this and then began the long and tedious process of gradually crossing names of our list of potential allies and friends who could or would assist us. Guru fairly offered us a quick way out of Australia and plenty of supplies should we need to but could not risk open conflict with a member of the Assembly and was not confident he could do anything else. Snorri did not pick up which was typical of the damn shaman, never around when you really needed him, various others upon being enlightened to the true state of things quickly blathered an apology and hung up on us.
By the time we went around to calling the Renault household all other names had been crossed off the list apart from Jarli who was our last resort and Raphael Dominic. After a few rings the familiar cultured voice of Bartholomew picked up. “Hello Renault residence, this is Bartholomew speaking.” His accent was not as thick as it was when he was around the community as he wished to blend in more with the more Anglo centric culture of Australia.
“Bartholomew it’s Lysander, I had an urgent need to speak with you should you have the time, but this is serious.” Perhaps judging from my tone he seemed to pick up on my desperation as I had earlier pulled out some of my own hair in an anxiety attack about how little we had to face what was coming. So I told him plain and simple what we were facing, about the risks and rewards involved though mainly risks as I for at least his family’s sake I had to tell him who we were dealing with and the potential consequences for doing so.
Once I had finished I gave Bartholomew time to process and consider my offer and weigh any and all of his options. “May I be frank with you Lysander as we owe each other to speak plainly about such matters.” I gave him leave to do so as I was curious and even a little hopeful I admit to hear what he had to say. “I have been aware of your plight since this morning Lysander. Most of the magi families have been informed about who and what you are by the Assemblies representative and that no interference in Assembly affairs would be tolerated. Any acts of sedition would be seen as treason and treated as such, and we both know our governing body well enough that this would mean a death sentence for my entire family Lysander, both here and in France. “
I sighed in frustration and rugged my knuckles over my temple as I tried to get the nervous sweat out before it ran down my face. Of course they had planned for this, of course they would. I should have seen that coming before I bloody called them. It would be the same for all of the other magi families of course, meaning they would wish me well but their hands were tied due to legal procedure. “You know how this goes Lysander, it seems your family wants to collect their heir back and no family of the upper echelons is ever denied what they want, especially when family is involved. I am sorry, had things been different I had hoped you and Ines might end up together and perhaps we could be family to you, alas that is now just a dream in the wind like the rest. If it is any consolation my family and I are more than happy to recommend you to be an official Assembly liaison here in Australia and to continue to do business with you.”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries before saying our goodbyes, for me it felt like for the last time and even Bart who was normally more optimistic than I am, seemed unusually fatalistic about things. Apparently meeting Patrick had opened his eyes to just how different I am from other changelings and how little my kind cares for ‘lesser’ humans, even ones in the Assembly. I hope no pan magus dreams of his were shattered in the process of his reality check.
Seeing my frustration and despair, Darren suggested that we hold off on calling Jarli or Raphael for a while and just sit back, watch some TV highlights and chill to get the stress out of our systems.
A good two hours passed and with some cola and chocolate ice cream spiders inside of us we were both as content as bears in a beehive when my phone began to toll and I went and answered it as by the tune of “Ravens Thunder” it was Jarli calling. “Jarli, just the spirit person I was wanting to speak with today. I was going to call you earlier in fact but needed a bit of a rest.”
An amused and self satisfied chuckle filled the other end of the line as Jarli replied to be in turn, “Yes yes so happy to be appreciated changeling. Looks like the cats out of the sack and into the coop with that secret now aint it? Sorry for that but these things never stay hidden forever, especially when your Assembly is involved”.
I responded with a few curt and well earned insults to which Darren helpfully chimed in before Jarli finally shushed us both. “Now now, no need to be all offended and childish ey? I have heard down the spirit line that you have been making inquiries, trying to call in favours and such with no success. Why would they want to help of course, no one wants to get involved between two changelings after all? Have no fear though old Jarli is here to help you along your path and I have the people and means to do it. All you need to do is sit back and listen for the doorbell.”
Raising my hand as I was about to ask him what he meant by that when wouldn’t you know it, the doorbell chimed through the stillness of the house. I got up warily as Darren leaned over, ready to spring into action at the sound of trouble as I tread slowly to the front door. As I arrived I tried to listen out for anything suspicious but could hear nothing so after half a minute I unlocked the door and opened it up.
Standing there in a well fitted black and white suit and shaded glasses was Jarli Waa himself one hand on his new phone the other waving around as if touching the wards guarding and enveloping my house, a pleasant smile on his face as his nose was pointed directly at my throat. “Ello there mate, lovely to see you again. We can chat on the way don’t have long if we are going to do this right. Grab Darren the loaf and we can kick-start the proceedings into action.”
Meaning to speak up his hands quickly covered my mouth as he spoke over me before I could so much as blink, “Now don’t go arguing this is valuable time of mine your both wasting already I really am going out of the way to help you both so no buts no issues and no arguing. Meet me in your backyard and I will take us all where we need to be so chop chop.” I frowned but accepted this and told Darren to get his shoes on and follow Jarli out to the backyard for whatever it was he was cooking up this time, hopefully not another scam. I really was not in the mood for that crows wiley ways.
Five minutes later we were both standing and waiting in anticipation for Jarli to hurry it up and reveal his plan or plot to us so we could get back to bumming around and eating ice cream with TV for company. He seemed pleased with himself as he kept making these shrill cawing sounds and whispers on the wind while we stood there perplexed looking like idiots in our own backyard. Hopefully no one looked over the fence and assumed anything shady was going on.
Crossing his legs over one another in a meditative position Jarli proceeded to float over a meter of the ground as he finally deigned to give us the information he had for us. “So, things are not good no no not good at all for any of you. Got a Changeling who does not understand ‘no’ in any language; a giant bodyguard from the Gaelic folk and not much time, allies or options left to you. Best case scenario so far is you run away and spend the rest of your long lives running from a desperate and highly resourceful group of organised casters who live as long as you do with more money and resources. In short, you’re up shit creek without a paddle and a hole in your dingy”.
He gestured to us if we wished to add or deny any of this but it was a truthful summary of how we all saw it so we did not interrupt and he continued. “Based on all of this I being brilliant as many spirits and mortals will undoubtedly attest to have an idea or solution to assist you. Snorri and I may or may not have some direct resources say artefacts which can be used to assist you though that is no guarantee. We both agreed there is a sixty five percent chance what we could give you will not succeed at all, a twenty five percent chance it will only partially succeed and a ten percent chance it will succeed as you hope it to.”
“Though, I personally do not see as if you have any real choice. If you don’t wanna spend your lives running around dodging this and that not to mention dragging poor Camilla along for the ride I think this offer is a once in a lifetime deal for you both. Come with me and us four, by that I include the old shaman himself in that number discuss, this and work out any brief semantics or details. Well am I pitching what you’re both wanting eh?”
Darren and I both tensed or flinched when Jarli reminded us both that Camilla could end up in the thick of it with us as she would never abandon Darren nor he her regardless of the risks involved which was yet another factor to consider for me simply leaving with Patrick. It would be so easy, so bloody simple and yet I don’t think I was brave enough to do it. By the magic I am a damned coward but whatever plot Snorri and Jarli had cooked up sounded a thousand leagues better than willingly going back to before, back to my family with Patrick leading me there like a prized pig.
Seeing that Darren agreed to give it a shot in the look he was giving me and his more tense body language, I turned to Jarli and gave a reluctant nod of acceptance. “Very well Jarli, it seems you have us beaten. Let’s meet Snorri and see what god awful plans you both have for us.” Grinning like a child who had just made off with a box of sweats he clapped his hands, made some unintelligible cawing sound before his form began to shift and change before expanding, great crow wings surrounded Darren and I. Feathers danced around us as Jarli’s human like form shifted into a mighty crow and soon engulfed us in light and strange almost ethereal feathers before our bodies lurched and the world turned.
The world turned as did our stomachs Darren gagging on his own bile whilst I being the mighty man that I am keeled over and emptied my guts out beside him. Vertigo clouded my vision as a pissed of voice with crow like qualities squawked, “Now look what you’ve gone and done, those were some of my favourite feathers. Take me weeks to get the unclean human bowel stench out them now pwaahhhh.”
For my part I barely understood what was being said as my mind and head spun and my vision was clouded further. Until it wasn’t, and suddenly I could think and all was still both in my mind and my body. Warm earth lay beneath me, grass and dirt in equal measure trailed my skin with the faintest touch like a lover in a dream or a ghost on a subway train. Potent scents of flowers and herbs both familiar and alien to me filled my senses as my now still head allowed me to begin to rise up above the soft earth and take in my surroundings.
Darren was standing there shaking his head in confusion and Jarli had returned to his human form with a new vomit stain over his suit and pants for which he was hurling insults at me like never before though I was not really bothered by that. We were inside a magnificent underground chamber filled with glistening lights, gems, wards and undergrowth. Fauna of all varieties and colours were growing in controlled bunches and bushes across the area and filled the space with sweat and flavourful scents.
“At last we are all gathered this day. Good now we can speak you and I Lysander Corvax grandson of god killers and murderers of countless ancients, heir of ruin and death. Perhaps we can change what is planned for you by these same people and forge a better path together. What say you friend to this?” Snorri’s booming voice filled the space as he strode from darkness into the light provided by glowing wards and fungi his tall and barrel chested form made to look mightier than it was by the light and the giant shadow he cast over us all.
Snorri , the last known scion among the shamans on this world stood at a foreboding 190 cm in height with a straight back and shoulders which could easily carry an anvil on either side and still not bend from the weight. Hair which included a full set over his head the back of which reached down past his neck was as white as pure snow in a winter’s storm and his beard which sparkled with embroidered silver rune totems and gems was grown to his belt. All in all he wore clothing reminiscent of designer medieval remake of yeoman from the 13th century, a thick red and blue tunic with dark blue pants and shoes accompanying and a hat from the same period sitting on an angle on his broad scalp.
He could not blend into a crowd at least not outside a Dungeons and Dragons session or Medieval tournament or cosplay but he was far more human in appearance than most others who attempted it. Physically he was still human he just had a certain aura or the like about it, something that if looked at too closely made him stand out amongst the flock.
We all greeted one another as Snorri began to address us and get to the topic at hand. “I will be brief for time is not on your side of the river. I have the means via an artefact I picked up in Cambodia which using your aciesmancy Xander will enable you to bind Patrick and any other Changelings magic within themselves so they will live out their lives but will be unable to bring their magic to bear from outside or interact with magic around them”.
The still silence was answer enough for us all as I processed this in and the gravity of what Snorri was offering me. I could quite literally render Changelings helpless but still allow them to live out their long lives so I did not actually harm them or need to kill them. This was, big very big and many folk would kill or pay a great deal for what Snorri was offering, to finally have an out from under the toe of the Assembly’s giant boot.
I could not answer so Darren slowly asked another question on our behalf. “Good, but um what about the Fomorian I don’t think it will just let us use this artefact on its master no matter how much it fears him initially.” Snorri concedes the point and then looks back to me.
“Xander has the means to help you both there. The magi who owes you a favour and dealings Dominic, his family is in possession of an artefact which will undoubtedly tip the edge in Darren’s favour in glorious combat. That will make him if not on even footing with the Fomorian then mightier still so you can weave your magicks to bind Patrick. Keep in mind like all such things there are negative qualities to this artefact. For example you need to be within a meter or less of your opponent to be able to begin binding them at all and the process takes a few moments as you must weave the magic with the artefacts aid”.
With that sobering thought he wove his hands around his neck and delicately removed a wooden necklace with a silver amulet at its centre with an unfamiliar Sanskrit symbol. I felt an unusual pulse emanating from the amulet and it seemed for lack of a better term, pulling me towards it, reaching out as if a child wanting its mother’s breast. Not at all a comfortable thought as Snorri neared me holding out this tremendous boon and information still lingering in the air. “It’s called among other things the Chng Kar, the ‘Lifebinder’. Aptly named for what it can and does do though most cannot use it unless they can weave magic in a more subtle way such as a group of Shamans or aciesmancers can do. In your case Xander you as an individual have the capability to wield this due to your knack with your kind of magic.”
He held it out towards me and I reverently took it into my hands even as they trembled in awe, excitement and fear. The drawing feeling eased and soon dissipated from the amulet as I held it in my hands replaced by a feeling of dare I say contentment like a purring cat finding its favourite spot or human. My arms tingled with pins and needles as I looked to Snorri for answers. “Snorri… I don’t care so much how you have this but why only reveal this now and why are you just giving this away to me and not calling in a favour for it?”
Regret sunk in almost immediately as vulpine smile spread through his long beard and he wagged his index finger at me. “I never said this was for free Xander no not even for you. A price for your assistance will be agreed upon after you have sorted this Irishman out and returned to me here in fine health. As for why I am giving it to you now? I had to be sure Xander, ever since I heard of your existence here Jarli and I have been keeping close eyes and ears on you. On the surface you seemed to me a reformist a vagrant among your kind but we could not be certain”.
“That was until not so long ago you willingly aided a sand sprite dear to us both who required aid but asked for nothing in return. That you willingly aided sand sprite who could not really offer much in aide to you at all was astounding and you calmly handled the were boar and did not even then lash out and feed upon him as so many others of your kind do on a daily basis. No recompense, no bargains and no favours just out of a desire to help even with the meeting you had just had which spelt the end of your freedom here. That was when Jarli and I decided that we could give you this because you had removed any misgivings and doubts we had”.
I gave Jari and Snorri both the stink eye for that as did Darren though he seemed impressed that they had kept tabs on me for the whole five years without me suspecting a thing. Hindsight is always a right arse that way, only ever appearing when he’s neither wanted nor needed and never when he is needed. Utter bastard, just like Snorri and Jarli for this scale of manipulation and secrecy. But, did I really blame them? I am what I am and even I have slipped, and fed though I have not since I came here it was a possibility. No matter how much I do not want it to be.
“All things considered I understand your motives and reasoning. Thank you for at least being upfront about that, it makes me feel as if I am special or something. Now though that I have at last earned your undying trust can we move along to how I use this ‘Lifebinder’ to remove Patricks magic. He will notice fairly quickly if things go sour so Darren will need to hold off the Fomorian whilst I try and use this on him. You have a plan for this you two?”
Jarli and Snorri both agreed that they did indeed have a spanner in the works but it would reveal itself when the moment best suited and not a moment before or afterwards. Typical, so I don’t have their complete trust yet wunderbar. Jarli glided over to at me on the head like one might a pet they are fond off and I snarled as he dodged my swing at him for that.
“Hey hey guvna no need for any of that. We have your back the two of us, three if you include old Darren the loaf over there. We just got to get you right and close to Patrick of the clover and bam you have your window to bind his magic. Sure he could still throw some nasty stuff your way but hey we all know you have dodged magical attacks before and can do so again.”
Arms outstretched and reaching for the heavens Jarli painted a rather dramatic figure which I was far from being in the mood for. Thus I just went with it and for all of our sakes as did Darren, most especially for our sanity as well. We hashed out a reasonably fair plan, though the risk was high and none of us ultimately came out happy in the discussion but that’s what meetings and compromises do sometimes, they make you feel like shit.
Once the agreement for our plans implementation or at least mine and Darren’s theatrical role was made clear, I dialled Raphael’s number and caught him on the third ring. “Good afternoon this is Raphael speaking how may I help you today?” He seemed quite weary from all the exertions and fright of today no doubt. Poor bleeder will get worse after I was done with him. Oh well, a favour is a favour and oh by the magic did he owe me a few.
“Raphael how are you today? I must say I am doing quite well now myself. Now listen I am calling in about that favour you owe me. Yes yes this is a big one but I did say anything and anytime. Well, now it’s time to pay the piper.” I could practically feel the life drain out from him on the other end of the line. Good, he was going to enjoy this as much as I was what fun.