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DarkShadow

The Druid

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Prologue

I don't know why I'm on my way to public school. I was perfectly content being home schooled. Why they would send me to public school baffled me. I couldn't let anyone know who or what I was. It felt like a predestined failure. I didn't like this place, and I didn't like these people. How does someone make friends when you have to hide who you are?

The flowers told me rain was coming, and the trees' whispers confirmed it. The leaves were turning because it was going to be a strong storm. These signs came to me so naturally I seldom gave it a second thought.

We raced down the road as I watched the stripes of the highway blaze past in a blur. We were almost there. How the hell did they expect me to fit in here? I knew I was special, more like 'Special Ed,' they might think. I had read enough to know I wouldn't fit it. I was not good in sports and didn't have a single athletic bone in my body. Botany and Biology had been my key forms of education. Yeah, this is going to suck.

I leaned against the door, hoping it might open unexpectedly and throw me against the pavement, to my death. I wasn't that lucky. We pulled into the parking spaces in front of the massive school.

Mixed emotions flooded my mind as I crawled reluctantly from the car. What was I to do? Just stop? I didn't want to be here. I made my way through the masses of people to the principal's office. I could feel their thoughts. They were all so very confused. Half truths and skewed reality were going to have to be my way if I wanted to blend in with these, people. It felt so strange to have to suddenly hide parts of me that had been encouraged over the last few years.

"You are special, Ty," Mark told me.

"Don't use your special abilities. You must blend in here! We've taught you all we know," Kent reminded me.

"Great, no pressure there," I thought as I stood amongst the throng of people pushing past me. I hated it. So many thoughts and feelings brushed against me that I felt smothered.

These people hurt too much for words. How in the hell would I ever blend in here? I tucked myself into the hooded sweatshirt that covered me, and sat on the plastic chair in the administrative office, waiting for my class schedule. I half-heartedly hoped they would forget me.

"Charles on, Ty, come into my office please." Mr. Kard announced.

I slumped into one of the two chairs that sat before his desk. "Yes, Sir," I whispered.

"I hear you have been home schooled, Ty," he said, almost indignantly. I could feel his disdain against my skin.

The school principal was a pudgy man with a crooked nose, grey hair, and a pedophile for a son. I could read his thoughts as if they were my own. He had also been skimming the school's books and I instantly despised him. He was a self important a**, as were most people, and I could feel his insecurity quickly replaced by a sick self-imposed authority. He was a bad man.

"Yes, sir," I answered.

"You turn seventeen this year, according to your file," Mr. Kard said.

I nodded my reply.

"Well, then, I'll assume you are ready for your Junior year," he said as he squinted his eyes in my direction.

It didn't help my worry, knowing this man hated me on sight. He thought that my family and our ways were strange. And I knew why. I could see it in his mind. He had had a tryst with my uncle Trent during his child hood. It flashed across his mind and I could feel his tension, among other things.

"You're already late for class," he said with a knowing grin. He didn't really care. He only hoped for my discomfort.

I nodded and made my way through the concrete halls to gym class. I stood in the doorway outside of the gym . Mr. Durgo finally noticed me, though I had hoped he wouldn't.

They had been playing dodge ball. I knew the game. I had read about it. I think there had even been a movie about it some time back, but I couldn't remember the name. I could feel the vehemence they shared. I couldn't explain it more than that. They hated and wanted to hurt each other. I knew that at least some of these people had to consider each other friends, so that puzzled me even more.

The red bloated balls all came flying toward me. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I caught each and dropped them. The ones I couldn't manage to catch, I dodged. This wasn't my way. I could feel Mr. Durgo's agitation at me for not being in uniform. I wanted to rush to the closeted space that I saw in his mind where they changed clothes. I could also see the sick pleasure he got from it.

What kind of man took this kind of pleasure from our embarrassment? I wasn't going to fit in here. I could feel his sadness from having divorced earlier this year. He had lost a daughter, too, and was sad and angry.

Welcome to Gym class. I was so angry with Kent and Mark for leaving me here. It didn't matter. I was here and I didn't have any choice.

"It's okay, you know," I whispered to him.

Durgo just stood, staring at me. His anger was building and I hadn't done a thing. I had only offered him the slightest bit of comfort. He was in so much pain.

The class ended at the tone of the bell. The speakers announced the end of our class and we had to rush to be ready for the next. There would be no time for showering today.

"I'm sorry." I told him, and I meant it. I guess I shouldn't have said it. I didn't know we weren't supposed to feel here. This was such a strange world for me.

I spent several classes buzzing about in my mind. English class had been the best. We had begun reading "Hamlet." A tortured soul to say the least, but no less tortured than these fools. I had read it ages ago and thought it was fabulous.

One body drew my attention more than most. His name was Brian. He was blond haired, average build, short, and cute. His world was a nightmare of pain, and he kept to himself. He didn't talk much with the rest of the guys, which made me like him even more. His green eyes flashed in my direction and I quickly hid myself behind my book. I had to keep quiet.

I looked into his memory. He had a full heart waiting to love. Unfortunately it had been toughened up by too much misery. These people had too much baggage. I knew from their thoughts that High School was not a place of fun and free love. Worlds hinged on perception. This place sucked! Even worse, homosexuality burned across their minds like a bull's eye. They perceived it as some detestable thing and, at the very least, prized information to torment you with. Here, they all thought it was wrong! How was I supposed to work with that!? I wanted desperately to go back to my world at home. Surely there was more they could teach me there.

By the end of the day I had reduced three of my teachers to tears. I hadn't meant to, but I couldn't control my sympathy. I am an empathic Druid. I feel. The 'Circle' had called it my failing. I had felt their disappointment. I knew it with their words, as much as their hearts. It wasn't my fault.

The day had finally ended and I stood outside the school, waiting. Kent pulled up in front of the school in our old black Chevy truck. I climbed in and slammed the door. I had hoped the sound would push away these people's pain. I could still feel it pressing against my skin.

"Get me out of here, Uncle Kent," I begged. The tears were welling in my eyes. I didn't want to feel for these people. There was so much despair and I hated this place. They had to have known what it would do to me.

"Why?" I asked as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

My heart ached and I didn't know what hurt me more, the fact that they knew, or that they didn't seem to care.

"This is the year of fire, Ty," Kent answered. He glanced at me like I should know what it meant. I did know, but I didn't want to accept it.

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Chapter 1 Beginnings

School had begun like so many times before. This year though, I was forced to attend public school. My first day had been horrible. I had alienated three teachers and, most likely, the entire student body.

It was August. The sun beat down, waning in strength. The days were growing shorter and the nights colder. It was the season of death, and the land was preparing for its long winter slumber.

It would have been easier if they had been honest with me. Kent and Mark were trying to acclimate me to my surroundings. I could see the plan in Kent's mind.

"Hey! Back off, Ty," Kent warned.

"Sorry, Uncle Kent," I said. I hadn't been subtle enough as I dug through his thoughts and he had felt it.

I listened as the gravel crunched beneath the tires of our old Chevy. I found my answer though. They wanted me to become accustomed to the real world.

"Look, I know it's hard, Ty." Kent said.

I doubted he knew how difficult my first day had been though. I was tempted to push the feelings of my day through him so he would really know. It was a side of him I hadn't felt before. He seemed shut off and absolute.

"You have to learn to cope with those around you. This is the real world, Ty," he said, as we turned another corner.

I watched as the corn blurred past my window. I wanted to think of anything but this day and he was pushing me. I lay my head against the glass of the window. I wanted a safe oblivious place to rest my mind. We hit a pothole and my head bounced against the glass. It hadn't been hard enough to cause a bruise or bump, but it was enough to pull me from my thoughts.

I felt the anger rising in me and I fought it. Anger is a useless emotion. It never served any purpose and their teachings read through my mind like a manual. I heard the words from previous lessons almost as clearly as if they had spoken them

"We have to leave you for a while, Ty." Kent said, in an even tone.

"Leave me? What do you mean you have to leave me?" I asked. My emotions ran rampant, surging through him. I could have probably stopped it, but I didn't want to.

"You're leaving?" I asked again. "How can you leave me?" I was nearly hysterical. My day at school had been bad enough, and now this?

Uncle Kent drove up the long dirt and gravel driveway that led to our house. He stopped at the top of the curve that wound around to our home. He shifted into park, but didn't stop the engine. He was serious!

I hadn't paid much attention to the bags in the bed of the truck. I plunged into his mind like a dagger.

"Stop!" he shouted at me. He sounded angrier than I had ever heard him. He had never spoken to me this way, and it hurt.

"All of the bills are paid and everything is taken care of. It isn't like we are going to be gone forever. We'll be back when you need us, Ty," he said, looking into his lap.

"I need you now!" I yelled. "Please don't go!" I begged, my eyes brimming with tears.

"Get out of the truck." Kent said, with no emotion.

What in the hell was going on? I looked into his eyes for some clue, but found nothing.

I grabbed my backpack from the floor and opened the door. I climbed out and let my backpack fall to the ground with a thud. Kent honked the horn and moments later Mark came through the side door of our home. I left my bag sitting beside the truck and ran to him. He pulled me into a hug.

"Please don't leave me here alone. Uncle Mark!" I begged.

He gave me a tight squeeze and released me.

"If you can stop us, then we might stay," he whispered. I could sense his mixed emotions.

Mark moved past me and to the truck. He pulled open the door and climbed in.

“Arawn, grant me your favor!" I yelled, raising my arms to the sky.

The wind picked up and pressed against my skin. Dark clouds filled the sky above us. Giant gray billowing clouds pushed away the red and gold of sunset. More and more clouds filled the sky as I concentrated. They coalesced and lightning built between them, echoing rumbles of thunder. I'd never attempted to invoke such power before, but I had never wanted anything so badly either.

Four bolts of lightning blazed down to the earth behind our truck creating a deep furrow in the ground. The smell of ozone and the deafening claps of thunder filled the air. The crashing noise broke my concentration and another bolt of lightning tore downward and struck the gravel road in front of our house. The impact sent rocks and dirt flying in all directions. The winds blew harder, making it difficult to stand.

"Control your storm, Ty!" Mark yelled.

I raised my head and took back control of the storm. Thunder and lightning were flashing between the clouds and I was afraid the next bolt might land where I was standing or even worse, on our truck!

"Thank you, Arawn, be at peace," I yelled, slowly bringing my arms back to my side. The storm calmed and dissipated as fast as it had come.

I looked at Kent. "Will you please stay?" I said.

"Ty, we love you, but you have to learn this on your own. You must learn control. If the 'Circle' were to find out that you possess this power, they would take you from us. We didn't push you like we should have in the past, and now you must make up for our mistake," Kent said, and then turned off the ignition and stepped out of the truck.

I ran to him and we hugged. It felt like I was saying goodbye forever.

"Do you have to go?" I asked.

"Yes, but we'll be here when you need us. Now, please listen to me carefully. You can't let the students in your school flood you with emotion. You are going to have to learn to close yourself off for your own sake. You can't talk to people as though you have known them their entire lives. They aren't Druid, you know this!" Kent said, giving me another tight squeeze before releasing me.

"Go hug your uncle goodbye and be careful," Kent said as a tear rolled down his cheek.

I ran around the front of the truck and into Mark's arms for one final hug.

"You lied to me," I said.

"No, Ty, I didn't lie. I told you we might stay, and we would have if you hadn't been able to call higher power. Practice every chance you get and don't let your fear control you. I love you," Mark said with a sniff and released me.

"I love you too, Uncle Mark," I said as I wiped away my tears.

My uncles got back in the truck and started it up again. They pulled forward and did a U turn through the yard and stopped. It didn't occur to me to place the lightning strikes in front of the truck.

"And fix the driveway!" Kent yelled, giving me a final wave. The truck started moving again and I watched as their tail lights traced the way down our driveway and onto the road. The sound of the rumbling engine of the old truck faded into the distance as they drove away.

I walked to the old rusted metal shed beside the house and got the shovel. I filled in the holes in the driveway and patted them down as best I could. I listened to the cicada as they called the night with their shrill song. The sun had finally set, and the cold damp air sent a small shiver through my body. My mind was numb and my body tired. It had been a long day. I put the shovel back into the shed and shut the rickety door with a creak.

The harvest moon had passed, and the local farmers had all but finished gathering their crops. The sweet smell of corn and damp earth seemed to permeate the air as the wind pressed against me. We had some hills in this rural area of Illinois, but it was mostly flatland. You could see for miles. There seemed to be a constant blast of wind on our hilltop, and I was glad. The hottest days of summer seemed to push away the breeze that now chilled me.

I entered the house through the side door, letting the weathered wood-framed screen door slam behind me. I had barely kicked off my sandals on the landing before I heard Shadow's nails clicking against the tiled kitchen floor. She ran up to me and bounced against my legs. I bent over and gathered her in my arms and carried her through the kitchen and into the living room while she covered me with doggy kisses. I sat on our old couch and gave her a tight squeeze before laying back. I rested my head against the arm of the couch and ran my fingers through her soft grey curly hair.

We had gotten her from the pound when I was twelve. I had begged and begged for a dog, and had driven Kent and Mark nearly insane before they finally relented. We went to the local humane society in Galesburg on a Saturday morning. I remember looking at each and every dog as they hoped for their freedom. I overheard two of the veterinary technicians talking about the poor cockapoo puppy that had contracted Parvo, and would probably not make it through the night.

I walked behind the techs and into a small dark room that had a single metal cage. The tiny curly grey haired puppy had been isolated from the others, to stop the spread of the killer virus. She was just lying there asleep in her cage. I had tapped on its edge to wake her, but she barely moved. Her little grey blue puppy eyes opened.

"Heya Shadow," I whispered.

This was definitely my dog. I felt her sickness and wrapped her in as much love as I could muster. Her tiny tail gave a weak wag as I opened the cage door. I ran my finger across the top of her head before picking her up and cradled her against my chest. She was so weak.

The techs had heard the creaking of the metal hinges, and had come into the room. They explained to me that she was very ill, and wasn't going to make it. They tried to take her from me but I had started yelling for my uncles. She was mine, and that's all there was to it. The veterinarian on duty came in with my uncles and reached to take her from me. Shadow gave the tiniest little growl in protest, before settling her head back against me. The veterinarian couldn't believe the sudden infusion of life this little puppy now possessed.

An hour later we were home and I lay on my bed with her on my chest. It was the best sleep I had ever had, as I felt her warm little body against my heart. We slept together and by morning she was up and about, licking my face.

She has grown a lot since then. I've snuck her too much people food over the last few years, and she has fattened up to almost twenty five pounds. She was a little overweight, but not by much. Shadow was spoiled in every way, and I loved her with all my heart.

I felt her nuzzle her cold wet nose against my chin as I ran my fingers through the soft fur of her back.

"I know, I know," I said as I yawned. "Let's get ready for bed."

Shadow hopped to the floor with a thump, before shaking her body from head to toe.

"At least I still have you," I said, rising from the couch.

Our back porch had been sealed in to make it part of the house, and it was now my personal garden. I had spent a lot of time in that room over the years, tending to my many herbs. I walked through the house, listening to the old wooden floor creaking beneath my feet, with Shadow close behind me. I entered my garden through the heavy wooden door. I flipped on the light in my make shift greenhouse and checked the soil of my nearby aloe plant for moisture. Watering them could wait until tomorrow.

I flipped off the light and shut the door behind me. I had almost forgotten to lock the door. It had become are cent and difficult to remember habit of ours. I made my way across the living room and into the kitchen and locked the side door and then, finally, the back door that we almost never used. It was still locked from the days before. The damp air, blowing through the windows, promised a chilly morning. I went through the house, in my nightly ritual, and shut and locked them all.

Finally, Shadow and I went upstairs. I passed the now empty bedroom that usually held my uncles. I entered the bathroom, stripped down, and took a long hot shower. After drying off, I gathered up my clothes and traipsed down the hall and into my bedroom. The drying moisture on my body gave me a slight chill as the wind tossed the thin white curtains around my window. The light from the hallway stretched across my bedroom floor, and made the curtains look like fingers clawing in and out of darkness.

Rain had started while I was in the shower, and I closed my windows all but the last inch. I loved the rain. It seemed to bring the scent of nature to the wind. I turned on the alarm of the small clock radio that sat beside my futon bed on the floor. Shadow had already climbed onto the futon and was waiting for me to join her. If lipped off the light in the hallway and slowly knelt down onto the futon. I crawled across it and pulled the covers down. I slipped under them and bunched them against the pillow beside my head. That was Shadow's spot. She tugged at them with her paws for a few moments, before finally fluffing them to her liking and settling down to sleep.

The alarm blasted me from sleep. I was dreaming and all I could remember was the earth cracking beneath my feet. I couldn't remember the image so much as the sound. It was like someone had taken a giant tree and broken it in half, right beside me. I sat up in bed and reached through the darkness to find the switch to turn off the alarm. It had already begun to annoy me. I normally woke up at this time anyway and I resented having to be placed on some kind of timer to make sure I could go to 'public' school. I wanted to bash the plastic thing into pieces, but resisted the urge.

It was chilly and I pulled the covers around my shoulders as I sat half awake on my bed. I stretched my jaws in a yawn, waiting for sleep to leave me. That ever present silvery feeling made me stand and pull the covers with me toward the door to my room. I chuckled, seeing Shadow sliding across the floor after me, unwilling to leave her spot. I couldn't blame her; I didn't want to get up either.

I reached behind the door and grabbed the robe from the hook. I let the covers fall from my naked body and quickly wrapped the cold damn terrycloth around me. Now, I really had to pee.

"Shadow, come on!" I called to her as I slipped on my house shoes.

I was half way down the stairs before I heard the familiar thud-thud of her following me. I trudged through the kitchen and to the side door of the house. After I unlocked and opened the heavy wooden door, Shadow nuzzled open the screen door and went trotting out before me. I followed her out and pissed in the back yard. I went back inside, started the coffee, and clicked on the furnace, while she finished her morning ritual. I could feel the cold creeping up from the tile floor, through the cotton of my now damp house shoes as I sat at the kitchen table.

I got up when I heard the familiar scrapes against the screen door that told me Shadow was ready to come in. I let her in, and then shut the side door to keep out the cold. The kitchen was strangely silent this morning. Usually the uncles were already awake and the smell of almost-sausage and coffee filled the air. This morning, only the quiet damp cold greeted me. Almost-Sausage was what I called the vegetarian soy substitute we ate as part of our breakfast. I was reminded time and time again how fortunate we were, that the modern world could now provide. We didn't eat meat, eggs, or fish. It just wasn't our way.

I threw a couple of slices of bread into the toaster and pulled the margarine from the refrigerator. The house had finally begun to warm up, and I thought that maybe I would leave the heat on tonight. It was only going to get colder, and it would certainly help me wake up in the morning. I liked it cold when I slept, but I didn't like the fact that my nose had been colder than Shadow's this morning. I would leave the thermostat at 60 from now on. It was my first executive decision. I liked the feel of it.

The toaster startled me as it popped up my newly browned bread. I threw in two more slices and buttered the ones I had placed on the counter. I slathered the first two slices with a thin layer of peanut butter, while the second two slices toasted. I had barely finished when the next two popped up. I buttered them and then let them sit so that it would melt. I carried our plates to the table and cut Shadow's toast into small pieces after sitting down. She did love toast, and I hated to eat in front of her. It just didn't seem right. One peanut butter and one butter for each of us. I got up, realizing I had forgotten my coffee, and poured me a cup and adding sugar. I didn't care for it black like the uncles.

I sat Shadow's plate on the floor and we both scarf fed down our breakfast. The rain had stopped early in the night, and the rising sun was doing its best to burn off the remaining raindrops. It peeked through the windows, almost blinding me. I took our plate to the sink and rinsed them off. The round white clock on the wall behind the kitchen table told me it was 6:30 and that I had an hour to get ready for 'public' school.

I filled the green plastic watering can with water from the kitchen faucet and lugged it to my herb garden. I watered my plants and then returned to the kitchen and placed it at the side of the kitchen sink.

It was time to assess the chaos of my hair and get ready for the day. I bounded up the stairs to the bathroom beside my room and looked at the brown mess of my shoulder length hair. It looked as though I had been struck by lightning. It was always like this when I woke. Clumps of brown stuck out, defying gravity, while in other spots it smashed to my head.

I brushed my teeth and got dressed, finally shedding my robe and returning it to the hook on the back of my bedroom door. I ran downstairs and washed my slightly curly brown hair in the kitchen sink hoping it would dry before I got to school. I reminded Shadow to be good, and left her trapped in the house for the time I was away at school. I waited at the end of our driveway before finally seeing the bus come to collect me. It was 7:30. I would have to remember that for the future, so I could better plan my mornings.

I climbed the steps to the bus. It was packed with kids and I didn't see anywhere to sit. I was only a mile from town, and it seemed I was their last stop.

"Sit down, please," John, the bus driver, told me.

I glanced at him and then back to the faces that seemed to dared me to even look at them. I felt their hate, but I wouldn't acknowledge it. Still, I was confused as to what to do.

"You can sit with me," a quiet voice said.

I followed the sound to find Brian six seats back, sitting alone in the ugly green bench seat. I moved through the aisle and plopped down beside him.

"Thanks," I almost whispered.

"No problem," he answered, and stared back out the window his shoulder rested against.

The bus lurched forward and soon we were in front of the high school, preparing to get off.

"We're in all the same classes," Brian said, staring at the floor.

"Oh?" I answered.

"I'll show you around if you want. Help you to class and all that," Brian offered.

"That would be great," I answered. "Thanks!"

We got off the bus and prepared for a brand new day. The group of jocks that leaned against the flagpole didn'tinspire me, and I knew there was going to be trouble.

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Chapter 2 The Dance

I walked beside Brian on the concrete death row, toward my new school, staring at the small colored pebbles that formed the sidewalk beneath my feet. I had hoped to make it past the flag pole and the jocks leaning against it.

I felt the one called Jerid O'Toole walking toward us and I braced myself.

"Yo, Brian!" Jerid yelled, shoving Brian's shoulder knocking him into me. I was ready for it, and stopped Brian from falling. I felt the aggravation in Jerid for not having succeeded in pushing him to the ground.

"What the hell are you doing with 'freak show'?" Jerid asked, while his friends followed, laughing.

I didn't mind a nickname, but this one was definitely not on my preferred list. I watched as they surrounded us. Jerid gave Brian's arm a strong pull, and threw him to the ground, leaving me in the center of them. I tried to go to Brian, to see if he was alright, but Jerid blocked my way and pushed me back. I could feel their hostility as it crawled up the center of my spine.

"So, I hear you live with those two old fags out on Orion Road," Jerid spat at me.

"Four against one, you must be pretty scared of me," I answered, ignoring his question, and let my book bag slide down my arm to the sidewalk. The fag comment didn't bother me, but the fact that he pushed so much hate behind it, did. I was going to get my a** kicked.

"I'm not afraid of any faggot!" Jerid yelled, shoving me backwards, causing me to stumble and fall into the dew soaked grass.

We were quickly drawing a crowd as I rose from the ground and brushed myself off. A breeze pushed through the area and the Uncles' wind whisper came to me. "Dance."

I began the slow fluid motions of the dance of battle. My feet planted into the ground for balance as my arms arced to the sky in slow rounding circles.

"Ooo, the fag thinks he knows Karate," Jerid yelled, and the growing crowd erupted into laughter around us.

It wasn't Karate, it was a dance! I hadn't learned to fight, had I? My heart was pounding and I felt sweat forming on my skin. I dove into Jerid's mind, picking out his most hidden secrets and insecurities.

"What are you doing you stupid fag?" Jerid asked laughing.

"The dance of battle," I said. "You still fishing through your mom's underwear drawer hoping your other testicle will drop, half-a-man?" I was angry and spat out the words.

The crowd stepped back in sudden silence as Jerid's face contorted from embarrassment to complete rage. I could feel Jerid's embarrassment feed a now blinding rage as it coursed through his veins like molten lava.

Jerid ran toward me with an almost inhuman yell as I continued the dance. I spun around him in a crouch and sent him flying into the ring of people with the slightest push to his upper back. The boy had no balance. The uncles had taught me to fight after all. I just hadn't realized it. 'Crafty bastards,' I thought.

Jerid's three friends ran toward me from the crowd. I danced my way through them, sending them to the ground. It was like a strange waltz that only I knew the steps to, as I ducked and weaved between them.

"This battle is over," I said, as the four of them lay on the ground moaning and bleeding.

I walked toward Brian as the crowd parted, giving me a wide birth. I wanted to see if he was alright. I felt Jerid running up behind me and knelt, extending my right leg behind me and into his groin. He fell to the ground with a vicious grunt.

"This battle is over," I said even louder, turning to look back at him. Jerid was in the fetal position, rocking back and forth, groaning in pain.

I know I hadn't done any real harm to him physically. Jerid's pride, however, had suffered a mortal wound. His mind was awash with astonishment at having been beaten so quickly and absolutely, by a supposed 'fag'. His embarrassment was growing exponentially and I could feel his tears pushing against the backs of his eyes. His withering ego brushed my heart like a fragile and tattered thing and I couldn't help the flood of pity that went out to him, from my heart.

I stood again and made my way to Brian. He was nursing a nasty cut on his elbow from where he had fallen. I pulled some cobwebs from the almost skeletal bushes that dotted the front of the school. I gently took his arm in my hand and carefully pressed the cobwebs against the gash, and placed a leaf from the bushes over the area.

"Hold this in place; it will stop the bleeding," I said as I knelt beside him, tending to the wound. I thanked the spider and bush with my thoughts.

"You okay?" I asked as I peered into his gold-flecked green eyes.

Brian sat for a moment looking at me wide eyed. "Uh, yeah," he finally stammered. His lips curled into an almost imperceptible grin. He was astonished and filled with triumph from what I had just done. He was overflowing with the sensation of vindication and I worried. He had enjoyed Jerid's humiliated too much.

We made our way to the front right pair of double doors of the school, when the principal, Mr. Kard, came bursting through the door. He grabbed my right fore-arm and sleeve, tearing my shirt.

"You'll come with me young man!" he growled.

"Get your hands off of me!" I said, brusquely, surprised by the lower tone of my own voice. I spun my right arm in an arc around his, planted my feet, and slammed my left palm into his chest. He flew backwards nearly three feet and shattered the glass of the metal door with his impact. Luckily, the window was made of safety glass and didn't follow him to the concrete below, where he now sat slumped, in a daze.

The disorientation was quickly leaving Mr. Kard. I rushed past him as I pushed Brian through the door, heading toward the principal's office. It took a few moments for me to grasp the severity of what I had just done. I was quickly filling with dread, still not sure how far I had crossed the line.

"You better make yourself scarce. I'm not sure what's going to happen now," I said to Brian, softly.

I went through the office doorway, past the unit secretary, and straight to Mr. Kard's office. As I was turning the doorknob to his office Ms. Sanders said, "Mr. Kard is not in at the moment. You're not allowed in his office."

"Trust me, he's going to want to see me after he gets back up," I mumbled and went into his office. I stood in front of his desk waiting.

It seemed like only seconds later that he came storming into his office and slammed the heavy wooden door behind him. He was seething with hate.

I changed my stance, sensing his desire to do more than just yell at me. Mr. Kard had been completely embarrassed and had lost any control over the anger he might have had moments ago.

"Who in the hell do you think you are!?" he bellowed.

The phone rang and he all but ripped it from his desk before speaking.

"Hello!" he answered with too much hostility.

The expression on his face changed almost instantly as I heard the words, 'arrest,' 'assault,' and 'son of a b****.' I didn't know who was on the other end of the phone, but they were tearing up his a**! Mr. Kard's once blazing red face was now quickly losing its color. I heard the word 'blowjob' and knew it was Uncle Trent. They were keeping a close eye on me, and it made my heart yearn for their company and the quiet of our home.

"Yes," he hissed into the phone and slammed it against the plastic base.

His eyes blazed with hatred as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his billfold.

"That's for your shirt," he grumbled, and threw a now crumpled twenty dollar bill at me.

"Now get the f**k out of my office," he growled.

If the man didn't calm down, he was going to have a heart attack. While he wasn't my most favorite person in the world, I didn't want him dead. I picked up the wadded bill, stuffed it into my pocket, and headed to class.

The bell sounded, signaling the three minute mark before class was to begin. The halls roared with noise as lockers slammed and whispers of this morning's events traveled from mouth to ear.

Euphoria choked the air as Brian walked up behind me.

"In three minutes, you are going to be the most famous student this school has ever known," he said in an excited but quiet voice. Brian was so timid.

"Try to behave yourself." The wind whispered Kent's message through the open classroom window as we walked to our seats.

Brian turned and gave me the strangest look. "Me? I think maybe you should try to behave before you get expelled," he said with a smile.

"What?" I said. 'Did he hear the wind whisper,' I thought to myself as the second bell sounded.

I sat in my seat and tried to sort out what was going on while Mr. Franks took attendance. Brian gave me a small push from behind and pulled me from my daze.

"Ty Charleson." I hard my name as my zoology teacher stood staring at me. I would bet this wasn't the first time he had called my name.

"Here." I answered.

"Ahhh, thank you for joining us," he said, staring at me.

"Thank you for having me, Mr. Franks," I answered sincerely.

A few giggles swept across the room as he peered at me through squinted eyes. He turned and continued taking roll.

"Man, you're really pushing it today, aren't you," Brian whispered into my ear from the desk behind me.

'What!' I thought. I was going to have to block out all of this emotional noise. It felt like half the school was climbing out of their skin with the new story that would have to wait another 45 minutes to tell.

I closed my eyes and pushed away the emotions that jabbed at me like a thousand needles. I imagined an impenetrable second skin around myself that sealed me away from the chaos. The room had become deathly quiet and I opened my eyes.

It didn't take any empathic skill to recognize the scowl on Mr. Frank's face. The brown haired girl, who I later found was named Krista, was handing me a stack of text books. I quickly grabbed the pile from her, took one, and passed the remainder back to Brian.

"Copy the notes from the board," he said, "and read Chapter 1. There will be a quiz at the beginning of class tomorrow."

Mr. Franks centered his dark brown eyes on me. "I will expect complete silence for the rest of the class."

My barrier was holding, but it was strange. At home there was still nature to feel in the silence. With this 'second skin' in place, however, it made everything seem almost fake. Everything had suddenly become tangible, but plastic. Even the breeze blowing in from the nearby windows didn't seem to reach my skin. It was like making a snowball with gloves on. You could feel the cold, and firmness of the snow, but you didn't experience the crunch and frozen bite as the flakes melted against your skin. Even though it was so foreign, I was thankful for the small bit of peace it brought my mind.

I opened my text book and stared at the first page of Chapter 1. I didn't really read the words; instead, I followed the curve of the black lettering as my mind wandered. I wondered if Jerid and the others were okay. I was also a little worried that they would seek some form of retaliation, and if this was going to become a daily ritual. I wondered if Shadow was okay. She didn't like being left home alone. Lastly, I wondered if Brian had actually heard the wind whisper, or if I had somehow imagined it. I was grateful I had missed this class yesterday. If it was this boring today, I can't imagine what kind of mind numbing experience yesterday would have been.

I had been lost in my thoughts when the bell rang, nearly causing me to jump out of my seat.

"Come on, time for PE," Brian said, slamming his book shut.

We stopped at his locker and he spilled his things into the bottom, without a care. A few lockers down we stopped at mine and I did the same. I was about to walk away, when I decided to give them a quick shove, giving them a little more order. I would have to get them back out eventually, and I didn't like the mess.

We walked down the hallway and into the large gym. This school had two. In the winter the girls would occupy one, and the boys the other, or so Mr. Durgo had explained yesterday. Only on rare occasions would there be coed gym class. It was fine by me. I didn't have any problems being around girls, I simply had no taste for them.

We trudged like cattle across the gym. The echoes seemed to bounce from every surface and back again. I could see the glances of the other students when they thought I wasn't paying attention. I hadn't noticed yesterday, but this group of boys seemed to revel in their own chaotic look. There were about thirty of us in all. There were a few well dressed young men. I have read it described as preppy. There were about eight or so that looked like they missed the class on personal hygiene, and the rest were in the darkest clothes. A couple even had makeup around their eyes and black painted fingernails. They were clean, but made an incredible attempt to look just the opposite. I had read about it. They were called gothic, and some articles called the style Emo. They didn't care what anyone thought of their appearance, but went to great lengths to look a certain way. It seemed a little hypocritical to me.

One of the darker, more painted boys walked past me, gave a small nod, and grinned.

"That was epic. Nice job," he said and continued to the area just before the entrance to the locker rooms.

The second bell sounded, indicating the beginning of class. We continued our stroll toward the rest of the boys now gathered. We finished the last few steps as Mr. Durgo walked through the locker room entranceway carrying a large cardboard box.

"Okay gentleman. Indicate your size, grab a lock, find a locker, and change for class. Now line up!" he yelled.

We merged into a single file line against the waist high wall of the stage that was the front of the gymnasium. Black metal framing and heavily varnished wooden collapsible bleachers lined the sides of the large basketball court. The far wall held a center hung blank score board, pennants of some kind, a couple of poorly painted murals, and a side entrance to the cafeteria.

"Size," he said.

"Size," he said louder.

I looked up to see Mr. Durgo staring at me.

"Size," he practically yelled.

"Huh? Oh, uh, 30 shorts, medium shirt." I answered.

A fatter man stood beside him. Mr. DePorter, the assistant PE coach/instructor, also taught the special education classes when not helping in PE. He rifled through the cardboard box, and shoved an ugly pair of green shorts, and a green and white shirt toward me.

"Medium," he said as I took them and looked around for Brian. He was waiting at the entrance to the locker room.

"You're really not with it today are you," he asked me.

"No, I've never been in a school before," I said.

"No s**t?!" he gawked at me.

"No s**t." I answered with a grin.

"Get moving you two," Mr. Durgo bellowed.

I followed Brian past the coach's office and into the last doorway that led to the locker rooms. Inside the door was a metal basket with a pile of used and somewhat rusty combination locks. Brian grabbed one and I did the same, following him. We went to the row of lockers closest to the entrance to the showers, but about halfway down the row.

"Quick in, quick out," he said to me.

I knew why I wouldn't want to be in here long with a lot of beefy naked men, but I didn't know why he would want to make it a quick visit. Now was not the time to try and feel what these guys were thinking. I was getting nervous. I couldn't do anything that would make these people think I was gay. Just keep my eyes to the floor and get the job done. I resented the idea that I should have to hide it. By the time I had resolved myself to changing my clothes, Brian was already pulling down his pants. Woah.. look the other way. I busied myself with changing my clothes and looked up to see Brian waiting.

"The combination is on the tape. Memorize it, and throw it away." He said.

"Oh, okay." I answered.

I pealed the old brown tape from the bottom of the scratched up combination lock and hoped that the sloppy scribbles in blue ink were actually the numbers I thought they were. I tested the lock combination and pulled it open on the first try.

"Looks like you've done this before," Brian said, popping open his lock.

"Nope, first time," I answered, stuffing my clothes into the small tan locker next to his.

I followed Brian into the gym. Over half the class period had been spent getting us situated. We had finally all gathered against the risers.

"Well, since you spent most of my class changing clothes, I think you'll run laps for the rest of the period." Mr. Durgo bellowed.

Several groans were heard and we began a seemingly endless jog around the gymnasium. Working in the garden and around the house had kept me in shape, but it wasn't long before I was panting like the rest of them and sweating up a storm. I was quickly beginning to build a dislike for Mr. Durgo.

"Okay, gentlemen, hit the showers," he yelled and disappeared into his office.

We filed back into the locker room and landed on the bench in front of our lockers. People were undressing and wandering through the aisles to the shower area. Okay, rinse off, and get dressed. I fumbled with the combination lock, not having the same luck as my first try. I was nervous and uncomfortable. Nudity had never been an issue at our house but it was an issue here. I finally got the lock opened and fished out my regular school clothes and laid them on the bench. I stripped down and walked into my first high school group shower.

The speed at which they rinsed was amazing. I learned the skill after watching for a few quick, covert moments. Walk into the spray of water, close your eyes, spin around a couple of times, and get the hell out. Fleeting glances told me Brian was a true blond, and that most, if not all, of these guys were circumcised. I was not, and reminded myself that this really wasn't the best time to think about it. Moments later I made it out of the locker room, clothed and without incident.

I found Brian leaning against the concrete wall near the locker room entrance as I walked out.

"Not bad for your first time," he said grinning at me.

It seemed strange to me. Yesterday he had felt so cut off and beat down, and today he seemed almost, happy.

"Thanks," I said, "Lunch time?"

"Yeah, they try to call it that," Brian said as we started walking toward the cafeteria entrance.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that this city doesn't have a single stray cat," he said.

"What!" I yelled, hearing my voice echo off the concrete walls.

"Relax!" he hissed at me, "it was a joke!" He stopped walking, flashed his green eyes at me and shook his head before starting again toward the line that was forming at the cafeteria entrance.

Yesterdays lunch period wasn't a happy memory. I had gone through the line and collected my tray and slid it onto the metal rail. I stood in front of Doris as she glared back at me. She gave me the image of a very unhappy Viking woman whose hairnet was missing horns. She is a short thick woman of about 5 feet and the shoulders of a linebacker. We didn't hit it off.

--------

"Lunch?" Doris barked at me.

"Yes please, salad," I answered.

She took her hoof of a hand, clenched the two pronged spit, and stabbed it into the stew of dead cow and some kind of brown sauce that swirled in a deep square metal pan.

"Look kid, we don't have salad here. You want lunch or not?" she asked, as her hand flexed on the skewer handle.

"I can't eat that!" I said.

"What, you too good to eat my cooking?" Doris barked.

"It's not that, I don't eat meat. I can see a head of lettuce on that table behind you. Can I just have some of that?" I asked.

The fat puffy lids of her eyes almost squeezed shut as she turned and snatched the head of lettuce from the table behind her. She slammed it onto my tray, sending out a small spray of shattered green leaves.

"There you go, one salad, now move it. You're holding up the line." Doris growled.

'A truly lovely woman,' I thought. 'I've seen more joy in a rotting carcass.'

I only ate a quarter of the head of lettuce and returned the rest to Doris after I had finished my 'salad.'

"Excuse me," I said softly.

"The names Doris, waddya want," she gumbled without even turning around to see who she was speaking to.

"Could you save this for tomorrow?" I asked.

"Huh?" she said, turning. "Oh, you. Yeah, sure," she said, snatching up the left over head of lettuce and chucked it into the large grey plastic trash can."

"Beat it," she snapped, turning back to her work.

'Oh yeah... I could definitely feel the joy.' I thought.

-------

I had my tray again, and stood before Doris, trying not to stare at a large brown mole above her left eyebrow. Is that a hair? Today she stood behind a large metal tray of flattened breaded slabs of something.

"Lunch," she barked, twisting a spear in one of the brown things.

"Yes, please, salad," I answered.

Those fat lids pressed again for a moment while she stared at me. She turned around and this time presented me with a large bowl of lettuce, cheese, and chopped meats.

'Well, she did try,' I thought.

"Thank you, Doris," I said.

"Move it kid, you're holding up the line," she snapped.

I looked out at the sea of tables and saw Brian waving me over to his. No one sat with him as he seemed to huddle in a nondescript corner of the room. That served me just fine. I walked through the ocean of students, riding their stares until I finally made my way to Brian's table.

"What is that?" Brian asked, his jaw gaping open, as I sat down across from him.

"It's a salad," I answered as I picked the chucks of ham and, I suspected, turkey from the top of the lettuce.

"Doris made you that?" he asked, staring at me.

"Yeah, I don't eat meat though," I said as I finished fishing through the remaining cheese and lettuce.

"No f****** way!" he said quietly.

"She's not very friendly, is she?" I said more than asked, as I began eating my salad.

"What?!" I asked, looking at him as he still stared.

"I'm waiting to see if it kills you," Brian answered.

"Eat your dead animal, Brian," I snapped.

We finished our lunch and the bell was due to ring soon. I stood up and started back toward Doris.

"What are you doing?" Brian asked.

"I need to talk to Doris," I answered him.

"I have to see this," he whispered.

We made our way to the serving area where Doris was busy at work at the table again. She was scrubbing on something. The movement from our angle was not very complimentary to her 'figure.' It reminded me of too many pilled up rubber toys in an earthquake.

"Excuse me, Doris," I said softly.

"What is it?" she barked.

"Thank you for the salad but," I paused as she seemed to hover and spin in place to glare at me.

"Well, I hate for you to go to so much trouble, when I don't eat meat," I said.

"Get the hell out of here kid," she growled and turned back to her scrubbing at the table.

The bell rang and the next few classes seemed to drone on with nothing of importance I cared to remember.

I walked out the front doors of the school, behind Brian, as the last bell of the day rang. I whispered across the winds to my uncles, "Well, I made it through another day."

"Barely," Brian answered.

I stopped walking. That was twice he'd done that. He shouldn't be able to hear. How could he be Druid and not know it? How could he be Druid and eat meat?

Brian turned to find I wasn't still following. "Hey, you want a ride?" he almost yelled.

"Uh, no thanks, maybe tomorrow?" I asked.

Brian shrugged and continued walking toward the parking lot.

I found my bus and rode back to my garden, Shadow, and a lot of questions.

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Chapter 3 Lilac

I found an empty seat on the bus that didn't look too sticky. Duct tape seemed to be the predominant color for the majority of the seats with the slight intrusion of the ugliest of dark greens. The seats had been carved up, written on, and taped several times over the years. I leaned my head against the window and watched the road blaze past in a blur of gravel and concrete. Each bump sent my head tapping against the window like Morris Code. Glancing up to the scenery of empty cornfields, I noticed we were getting closer to my house. I released the barrier from around myself. The emotions from the other passengers were dulled. There was something about the ride home on the bus that seemed to pull us into half-sleep.

I stood and hefted my book bag over my shoulder as the bus came to a jerky stop that nearly threw me off my feet. This was the only bus I had ever ridden and I was beginning to wonder how they held together. I wasn't as happy to be home as I normally would be. Part of my home was missing, the uncles. At least Shadow would be there to greet me.

I walked up our long driveway and unlocked the side door. Shadow must have heard the bus pulling up and driving away, because she was waiting for the door to open and began jumping against my legs. I held the door open and ruffled her curly hair as she shot out to take care of her business. She wandered around the yard before finding her favorite spots and then trotted back to the door.

"Hey, Shadow!" I said with an excited edge, and crouched down.

Shadow jumped up into my arms and gave me a couple of quick dog kisses as I stood. Juggling the book bag and her, and trying to open the door again wasn't easy, but I managed and entered the house. I sat Shadow down onto the floor and kicked off my shoes.

My stomach was giving me the hints of nausea, and I felt a little weak, I needed to eat. Either that, or Doris really had poisoned me. I chuckled at the thought. I think I'll give her a plant tomorrow, maybe something pretty.

"Well, Shadow, how about a grilled cheese?" I asked. She jumped and bounced against my thigh, knowing anything said in front of the refrigerator meant food for her. I pulled out some cheese, margarine, and bread from on top of the refrigerator. I clanged through the pots and pans in the cabinet below, finally finding the flat square skillet.. I started the stove and it lit with a thwoop. I placed the skillet above the low flame and buttered the bread.

The bread sizzled against the pan as I lay the four slices in place. I threw on the cheese and knew it would only be a couple more minutes before it was ready. I poured me a glass of milk in the meantime. I closed my eyes and pushed my gratitude out to the world that gave me these things.

I turned off the burner and carefully flipped melted cheese and toasted bread together. I grabbed two glass plates from the cupboard above me and scooped a sandwich onto each. The cheese was starting to ooze from around the edges. It looked and smelled buttery sweet. I'd have taken a bite right away, but knew the cheese was too much like molten tar. I cut Shadow's sandwich into little pieces and separated the bite-sized chunks so that they would cool faster. I placed our sandwiches and my milk at the table and finally sat down. I placed Shadow's plate on the floor and she proceeded to wolf down her sandwich.

The day had felt like too much effort. I've never had to be on constant watch of myself to such degree in the past. I don't know how these kids did it, day after day. It was so much easier to openly admire a thing of beauty, whether it was plant, animal, or person. I hated guarding my every word and having to think to such depth before speaking.

The students at my new school seemed to fight their individuality desperately, and the school seemed to perpetuate the problem. The smart kids, the jocks, the cheerleaders, all fell into pre-packaged categories created by the school itself. Then there was the army of darkness. The 'Goth' and 'Emo' clans, that seemed to rage against that conformity. Then again, these darkly dressed and painted people were a group of followers too. They were almost as cookie cutter as the rest of them.

A few of us were on the fringe. We just didn't seem to fit in with any of them. Brian was one, and now so was I. I know there are others, but when people try so hard not to stand out, I hate to speak to them and prove they've failed. It didn't seem to me that high school was intended to make individuals.

I had almost finished my milk and grilled cheese when I felt Shadow's stare. She knew I'd give her my last bite. I always did. She had trained me well. I washed down a bite with the remainder of my milk before putting the last corner of my sandwich on her plate. I never fed her from my hand. It just seemed demeaning to me. I doubted she would care. After all, she licked her own butt, and my hands had to be cleaner.

"All gone," I said showing her my empty hands.

I grabbed our plates and rinsed them in the sink and headed to my garden.

'I wonder what kind of flower or plant Doris might like.' I pondered the question in my head while my eyes centered on a small and upcoming lilac shrub I had been working with. Yes, I think Doris is a lilac lady. How would I get it on the bus, and into the school undetected? Looks like tomorrow I'd be walking. It was only about three miles. Gods know I've walked further than that before. I wanted this plant to be special though. Doris was definitely unique, her plant should be too.

I busied myself with the watering can, adding different amounts of water to the many herbs and plants in my garden. Some of my garden plants are medicinal, some for cooking, and some for the works of magick and ritual. Each had its purpose and I was grateful for them.

"So, Lilac, will you be special?" I asked.

"Will you share your beauty and fragrance with Doris?" I questioned, placing my hands on the sides of the black plastic pot. The six or seven bunches of flowers opened and seemed to sigh as they showed me their purple beauty and gave of their tantalizing aroma. The small lilac shrub had grown almost three inches as wood and leaves twisted toward the sky. New flower buds formed, threatening to burst open with their lovely scent. I had my answer.

I could see the sun setting through the windows that enclosed my garden. The red and orange stretched across the leaves and flowers of my many plants, reminding me it would soon be time for bed. Tomorrow I would have to rise early for my trek into town.

I walked through the door leading outside. I needed to speak with my uncles.

I took a few steps into our front yard. The fall winds pushed at me in gusts and the smell of earth and crisp leaves danced through the air. The moon was waxing and gave the fields below a deep blue glow.

I sent my whisper across the winds, "There is another Druid here."

Moments passed and the wind brought my feathery reply, "We know."

They knew? Why hadn't they mentioned it before? Why wasn't he trained?

I felt an icy shiver climb up the back of my arms bristling the fine hairs. It crept up the back of my neck and across my scalp. A feeling of dread flooded through me, and the air had suddenly become colder. Steamy puffs of air came from my mouth, making small clouds from my quickened breath. A chorus of a thousand whispers pushed a warning through the growing darkness.

I took a slow step back toward the house and into the weak light that stretched through the porch's windows. Opaque shadows seemed to devour the moonlight and sound as it crept toward me. They writhed across the ground like large black snakes, moving closer as they stretched through the enfolding darkness.

Shadow's barks and growls sounded like they were a mile away as the whirling black mass seemed to press in on the weak light from the porch window. There were hundreds of Shades. These angry spirits should not have been able to pass the wards. My uncles and I had created the protective barriers months ago.

I stretched out my left arm and lifted it toward the surrounding night. "Lugh, lend me your light," I whispered.

A flash of brilliant blinding white light erupted from my palm like burning magnesium. The racing black silhouettes stopped instantly and shattered against the light. An angry howl broke across the wind like a painful moan as blackened Shades cowered back to the Otherworld. The shadows receded, and I was left again in the dark blue light of the moon. Only the rustle of wind-swept leaves, and the song of insects remained.

My fear and confusion had diminished the wards of our land. The veil to the Otherworld was weakening, and I would have to strengthen the wards come morning. The night held many beautiful and terrifying things. Many creatures long since forgotten by man still lurked in the shadows. Normally we Druid did not interfere, but soon we would again be called to battle. In all things, there must be balance. The Shade's attack was another reminder that the 'Year of Fire' was upon us.

"Well done," the uncles whispered to me across the wind.

"You could have warned me," I whispered back a little indignantly.

"The land warned you, you did not need us," came their breathy whispered reply.

A few moments passed as the wind pressed against my skin with cold silken fingers.

"I'm going to train him," I whispered.

"It is forbidden!" came the harsh whisper and gust of cool wind.

"You can return and stop me, or leave me to my ways," I whispered.

The wind heaved a long sigh, "So be it," they answered.

I shrugged away the last of my fear and turned my back against the night. I went back into the house and locked the door behind me. I took some dried sage that I had hung a couple of weeks earlier, down from the ceiling, and lit it to purify and protect us. I made my way from room to room, drawing the runes of protection in the air. Shadow followed along, watching the strange ritual she had seen countless times before. I had come full circle through the house and finally finished the cleansing. I snuffed out the burning tips into the mortar on my work bench, and drew a line along the base of the front door. No evil would cross this line.

Morning would be coming quickly, and I needed to shower and sleep. I scrubbed down under the jets of water in the upstairs shower. The ringlets of water traveled down my body like little rivers of heat. Before long I was done and my mop of shoulder length brown hair would, as usual, greet me in the morning with chaos. Going to bed with wet hair had become a habit, and the morning battle to put it into place would begin. I suppose I could just sleep in my filth each night, and then wash in the morning, but that just didn't seem right to me.

I awoke before the dawn with Shadow curled into the curve of my body. She radiated heat like smoldering coals. I hated to leave the warmth of my bed, but I had a lot to do. I reluctantly climbed out of bed and pulled on the clothes that I had set out the night before. I wet my hair to beat down the unruly brown curls. How my haired defied gravity in the morning always amazed me. It stuck up and out in every conceivable direction except for the one I wanted.

I ran a comb through my unruly brown hair and went down stairs. I started the coffee and the furnace and Shadow finally followed. She wasn't an early riser. The cold seemed to bring us both to the brink as we relieved ourselves outside against the frost-tipped grass. The morning air was crisp and clean, as I renewed the wards in the corners of our land. Magick rode across the soil and sun tipped plants as they leaned in the breeze, waving hello. I gave Shadow a farewell hug before placing her in the house. I grabbed the small lilac bush and my book bag and started my hike toward school.

The lilac blooms seemed to curl in on themselves for warmth against the cool morning air as I listened to the crunch of gravel and dirt beneath my feet. I finally arrived at the school. It seemed desolate and unwelcoming. I walked through the entrance into the lobby where only a few students stood. They didn't seem to pay me any attention as I carried the plant before me to the cafeteria.

I placed it on top of the long silver grey metal table that was Doris' work space. I watched as the blooms opened their purple stars sharing their beauty and sweet scent. I hoped she would like it. I left a note on a scrap of paper.

"Doris, thank you for the salad. PS… No meat. The salad kid."

I made my getaway, and prepared for my first class of the day. I unloaded the books into the bottom of my locker, and gathered my Zoology materials. I found a quiet corner in the school lobby and reviewed the chapter I should have read the night before. I had covered this material years ago and made short work of it.

The school slowly clamored to life around me as more and more students arrived. I chose not to hide behind my emotional barrier today. I needed to adapt, and that wasn't going to happen if I didn't allow myself to feel. The pressure of mixed emotions smothered me as I struggled against their weight. Taking a deep breath, I calmed my mind and concentrated. I wanted to feel but not so strongly, and with control. I felt the rush of feelings diminish as if somehow muted. The emotions were still there, but less intense than before. I opened my eyes when I felt him sit beside me.

"How'd you get here so early?" Brian asked as his brow furrowed and creased just above his slightly upturned nose.

"I walked this morning. I had something to do," I said looking into his green eyes.

"Walked!" he said, looking at me like I had committed some mortal sin.

"Yeah, it's only about three miles. It didn't take long," I said.

He was so adorable with his cherub face and thin pale frame. A warm ache started in the center of my chest and crawled up my cheeks in a flush as I diverted my eyes.

A blast of hate scorched my skin and I rose, seeing Jerid walking through the door into the main lobby. Hate and fear coursed through him in a mix like oil and water, one always above the other. I walked toward him and watched as his friends gathered around him. They were braced to attack and defend, and I could feel their hearts beating faster with every step I took. I stopped ten feet in front of them.

"What the f**k do you want," Jerid spat. His left eye had a dark grey and purple bruise that looked like it was trying to climb across his long narrow nose.

"I wanted to tell you I'm sorry about yesterday. I don't want to fight you," I said.

"Oh, you're not half as sorry as you're going to be," he hissed.

Anger flared behind me and I took a quick side stop. I saw a fist sail past me with a body in tow. The forward momentum without me to stop the blow, sent the dark haired attacker stumbling into Jerid, landing on the floor.

"I don't want to continue this, but I will defend myself. I'm sorry about yesterday. I just wanted to apologize," I said, heaving a sigh.

I hadn't noticed, but it seemed as though time had stopped as everyone in the room stood staring at us. I turned and walked back to where Brian was standing. I felt another burst of rage behind me as one of them was preparing to tackle me from behind. He was gathering his nerve like a cat preparing to pounce.

"Don't!" I said in an even tone as I spun around and pointed at the dark haired muscular jock named Kevin. "It would be a shame for you to miss football season because of an injury. I hear the team needs you," I said and turned back to Brian.

"Ready for class?" I asked.

Brian stood staring at me. "How did you do that?" he asked.

"I can teach you if you want," I answered, hoping this might be my chance to get to know him better.

"Really?" he said. His blond eyebrows arched like he almost didn't believe it to be true.

"Sure, if the offer of a ride is still open, we can go to my house after school," I said.

"You'll really teach me how to do that?" he asked again, narrowing his green eyes in disbelief.

I chuckled and nodded. I smiled and started walking to class. The bell sounded seconds later and the stench of formaldehyde burned my nose as I walked through the door to zoology class.

Behind the thirty or so desks sat the lab area. Four long metal tables stretched from one side of the room to the other. Each table had four stations with a sink and gas spigot. The counter tops were lined with small trays at each station with a dead frog in each. The frogs were in sealed bags, but the chemicals seemed to find a way through the plastic. I fought the urge to throw up.

I felt a slight push from behind. "You're blocking the door," Brian whispered to me.

I went to my desk and sat, occasionally glancing back at the amphibian morgue that lay behind me. It was distracting, and I couldn't believe that they would have us do anything so savage as carve them up. I had heard about dissecting animals, but with all of the books and photos available, there didn't seem any logical reason why we would have to repeat this insanity.

The second bell sounded as Mr. Franks entered, closing the door behind him. I could feel my anger building. Someone had killed these frogs for the sole purpose of chopping them into small pieces. I could barely control my outrage. I could understand killing for food, but not for this. I stared daggers at the man. I searched his feelings and there was not even the smallest ounce of remorse.

"Butcher," I hissed as a violent gust of wind beat against the windows.

I felt Brian's stare before he spoke. "Hey, what's wrong?" he asked.

Hearing his voice soothed me as I fought to control my anger. There was absolutely no way I was going to cut up a frog, or any other creature, for the misguided sake of education. What use is it to know where the liver is located in a frog? Would we be performing some kind of transplant surgery later in the year to save some ailing amphibian?

'Kermit the Frog Saved by Ground Breaking Surgery at Local High School'

I don't think so.

"Someone killed all of these frogs," I snapped at him in a whisper.

"Yeah," he drug out the word like a question.

"Everyone, get a lab partner, and find an empty lab station," Mr. Frank said as I watched his graying brown mustache move with the words.

"Be my lab partner?" Brian asked.

"Huh? Oh, sure," I said after the words finally filter through to my brain.

Brian rose from his desk and I followed him to the back. I stood next to him, staring at the frog in its plastic coffin.

"Please grab a pair of rubber gloves from the boxes in front of you. Do not handle the frog without them. Formaldehyde is poisonous," Mr. Frank instructed.

I watched as Brian's small pale hands reached into the box and handed me a pair of the latex gloves. I slipped them on.

"Okay class, in the bottom right hand drawer you will find a scalpel and pins. The scalpels are sharp, and WILL cut you. Please be careful," he said.

"Take your frog out of the package and place pins in the arms and legs of the frog on your mounting tray," he continued.

Brian fished around in the drawer, pulling out the pins and cardboard capped scalpel.

"Please don't," I whispered to him while looking into his confused green eyes.

I took the frog out of the bag, turned on the faucet, and rinsed it under the cool water.

"Ty, don't rinse off the frog. The formaldehyde preserves it," he paused.

"This lab will not be finished until Wednesday of next week," he said louder as I ignored him.

I continued rinsing the rancid chemicals off the frog. Its body was stiff and long since dead.

"How did these frogs die, Mr. Franks?" I snapped angrily.

He flinched with the impact of my words and started walking toward me.

"They usually come from breeding facilities. They reach a certain stage of growth and are gassed," he explained as he continued walking toward me.

I shut off the water and carried the frog with me toward the door.

"Where do you think you're going Mr. Charleson?" he said as anger began to creep into his voice.

"I'm going to bury it," I answered, reaching the door.

It looked like a chase was developing as Mr. Franks began walking quickly toward me.

"Don't try to stop me, Mr. Franks," I said loudly, seeing him stop and stare from only a few feet away.

"You will fail if you don't complete the lab, Mr. Charleson," he growled at me.

"Did you plan to eat this frog, Mr. Franks?" I asked, feeling my eyelids press together in an uncontrollable glare.

"Of course not, you're being ridiculous. Return to your lab station," he said, raising his voice.

"We do not kill what we do not eat. We do not desecrate the bodies of the dead," I said just as loudly in response.

"Get back to your station right now, or you will be serving detention for the rest of the year," Mr. Franks yelled. The veins in his forehead were beginning to bulge and his face had turned a deep crimson.

"f**k You," I said in an even tone. I turned and walked out the door.

I don't know which made me angrier; that I was expected to crucify and disembowel this frog, or that Mr. Kard had placed me in this class knowing how I would react. I let my anger slip away. I heard Mr. Frank's footsteps echoing against the tile floor behind me as I walked down the hall.

"Care to explain to me what the hell this is all about?" he barked.

"What you are doing is against everything I believe, and a blasphemy against nature. The pictures in our textbooks are enough to learn the anatomy. I won't do it," I answered.

"Then why did you sign up for this class?" he asked, letting a little bit of his anger show through.

"I didn't, Mr. Kard put me in your class. He knows my family, and how we feel about this. He and I have already had one confrontation," I answered, exiting the school through the front doors of the main lobby.

"So I heard," he said quietly following me outside.

"The test is based on real frogs. You won't pass if you learn it from pictures in a book," he said.

"Why not?" I asked. A few moments passed before he spoke while I kneeled in front of the bushes.

I took a flat blunt rock and used it to start digging a whole.

"So, you don't care if your lab partner fails?" Mr. Franks asked.

"It isn't that I want Brian to fail. You seem to think it is impossible to learn without gutting an innocent animal, but I was taught this material years ago. What you are doing here is wrong. If it were humans instead of frogs, you'd agree with no question. A life is a life." I answered.

I pushed some of what I was feeling through him. It was the only way I could make him truly understand. Mr. Franks shuddered as the waves of emotion flooded his body.

I placed the frog into its grave. "Macha, welcome this creature into your arms," I whispered while covering it with the loose dirt.

Giving the fresh grave a light pat, I stood and brushed the grass and small bits of soil from my pants.

"If Brian and I complete our homework and pass the tests, will you still fail us for not having chopped up a frog?" I asked, looking into his brown eyes.

"Well, when you put it that way, it sounds a bit silly," he answered. "Let's get back to class. I'll think about it. You and Brian may sit at your desks and review the chapter.

The frog's funeral had been quick, but it seemed that there was some hope that Brian and I might pass this class without the gore. I followed Mr. Franks back to the classroom and sat in my desk.

"Brian, you may return to your desk," Mr. Franks announced.

Mr. Franks droned on through class while Brian and I sat reviewing the chapter.

"You're pretty serious about that vegetarian stuff aren't you," Brian whispered.

"It's more than that Brian. I'll explain it at my house after school," I said, trying to let the topic die for the moment.

The bell finally sounded and sent us to our next torment. Gym class was relatively painless and passed with its usual frigid outdoor torture for a game of flag football. I wasn't de-pantsed or decapitated so I considered the class period a success. Showering hadn't been any less uncomfortable but I hoped that that would change with time.

The bell rang and Brian and I were already in line for lunch. I caught the scent of lilac and what might be dead cow, as we moved closer to the beginning of the lunch assembly line. Doris was at the helm as usual.

I watched her squash greasy scrambled meat of questionable origin onto a bun and almost gagged, seeing the brown swamp she had taken it from. I watched her knuckles whiten as she clutched the slotted spoon.

"Lunch?" Doris barked at me.

"Yes, please. Salad," I answered, trying to hide a small grin.

Doris' eyes pinched shut and she pitched the slotted spoon forward in the trough of meat soup, striking the side with a metallic 'clunk'.

The space between the server table and the worktable behind her was barely large enough to contain her rotund shape. She seemed to hover in place as she spun around and returned with a bowl filled with salad and cheese. She slammed in onto my tray, sending a small spray of cheese and green into my tray's slots, but most of it remained in the bowl.

"Thank you, Doris," I said.

"You're welcome," she snapped, "Now get moving, you're holding up the damn line." I noticed her quick glance to the top of the serving line. A large hood with heat lamps and a sneeze guard was topped with a small but lovely lilac bush.

Brian spun around, "Did she just say you're welcome?!" he rasped, staring at me wide eyed. I saw him divert his eyes quickly and turned to see Doris shooting a look that could peel paint.

"Lunch!" she barked, causing Angela to jump and squeak as she stepped in front of Doris.

"Could I get a salad, too?" Angela asked, saccharin sweet.

"How about I bash your skull in with this salad spoon?" she growled, slopping a fresh stain of loose meat onto a bun and slamming it onto Angela's tray.

Yep… the very room lit up with the angelic radiance of Doris. Kind of like being locked in a room with a rabid Pit Bull while wearing a meat jockstrap.

Brian and I made our way to our corner table as usual. It was a desolate area of the lunchroom, and I was glad for the mild isolation.

"I can't believe Doris said that. I don't think I'd eat that dude," he said, pointing at my salad.

"Yeah, she was pretty rude to Angela wasn't she," I replied.

"No man, that's normal. I don't think I've EVER heard her say 'You're Welcome'," Brian rambled. "Maybe if someone was choking she might say it. She almost smiled!"

"Eat your dead animal, Brian," I replied.

I finished my salad and stood up to take my tray to the window that fed to the dishwashing area.

"I'll be right back," I told Brian.

I placed my tray in the window and walked over to where Doris was busy at work on her table again.

"Lots of light, and water once a week," I said to Doris' back.

She grunted something that might have been a word, but I didn't recognize it.

"The lilac needs lots of light and to be watered once a week," I repeated myself.

I saw her body rise and fall with a sigh as she spun in place to face me.

"It'll be dead in a week," she grumbled, staring back at me.

"Do you suppose we could have a tray of shredded lettuce and a small container of cheese so that people don't have to bother you with making the salads? It might be less work for you," I spoke the words faster than I should have. I couldn't help myself; she's scary.

I saw her eyes move across the metal counter top and land on the now clean slotted metal spoon. A violent surge coursed through her and disappeared almost as quickly.

"Have a good afternoon, Doris," I said and left. I was in too close a range of that spoon and it would probably be best not to tempt her for long. I could feel her softening though, and that in itself, seemed to anger her.

I walked back toward Brian. He had already deposited his food tray and watched me walk away from Doris unscathed, yet again.

"One of these days, you're going to disappear, and we'll be eating meat surprise," he said as we walked to our lockers.

English lit went along as we discussed the previous reading of Hamlet. Mrs. Carlson, who we all called Vic, was a nice teacher, and I enjoyed her class. She had that hippy middle aged spread, but was not an unattractive woman, though I thought her short cut blond hair didn't flatter her. She, like her daughters, had the air of a tomboy.

My US History class destroyed what was left of our battered attention span with page after page of note taking. Ms. Clark placed the transparencies one after another on the overhead enjoying our every groan and sleepy yawn. I could feel the satisfaction flow through her as she placed each new plastic sheet on the projector and discussed its relation to the material in our textbook.

"This is going to be on the test, blah, blah, blah," she rambled on endlessly. There should be a disclaimer on the classroom door.

Caution: This class has been known to induce a spontaneous comatose state. Do not operate heavy machinery while under the influence of this subject.

The bell finally rang as our day ended and I was starting to feel anxious about what was to come next. How was I going to explain to Brian that he was Druid without freaking him out? Looking at his perky little butt reminded me of something else I needed to keep in check as well. This wasn't going to be easy.

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Chapter 4 Matricaria Recutita 'Red Heather'

Brian drives a 1998 Mustang convertible that is in less than mint condition. The convertible part is what sent my shoulder length brown hair whipping my face. The car isn't new, but immaculately maintained. The rust spots around the doors and fenders had been sanded away and covered with an ugly grey primer.

"Nice car!" I yelled as the wind thundered against my ears.

A grin crept across Brian's face as a feeling of pride centered on his chest. "Thanks," he said.

We didn't get into the details most guys would regarding engine size and such. My knowledge of automobiles is limited to where the oil and gas go. I know this much because, once I manage to open the child proof hood, there is a cap that says 'Oil'. I was thankful that the music playing on the radio filled in the gaps of our conversation.

I would have given more notice, but my attention had been drawn up his blue jeans to his thin chest and finally to his green eyes that quickly glanced away from me.

"Hey, better slow down," I said, pointing to the reflectors at the end of my driveway a few hundred feet ahead. "That's my house."

Brian hit the brakes harder than I expected and I nearly made a meal of the tan colored dashboard as we swung around and up my driveway. The dust from our race up its curved length, billowed and curled around us like brown fog, causing me to cough as we exited the car.

"Nice place!" Brian said eyeing my house. With a flick of Brian's wrist the song was cut short and we were left with the whispering of leaves.

"Thanks! I have to let out Shadow, you want anything to drink?" I asked.

"Sure, got a Pepsi?" he asked.

His blond hair was a wreck, and I knew the gale had made a mess of mine as well. "Well," I shrugged, "How about some cider?" I asked with an awkward grin. I made a mental note to pick up some pop for visitors.

"That'd be great, thanks," I turned my head back at Brian's reply. His eyes jerked upward. Was he just checking out my a**?

I felt my face flush as I turned and jogged to the door. I knew the different sounding engine that had driven up to our house would confuse Shadow. She was already barking and I could hear the rhythmic thud of her bouncing against the door.

I fumbled with my keys and unlocked the door. I pushed my keys back into my pocket before pulling open the screen door wider and pushing in on the heavy door. Shadow leapt into my arms and gave me excited licks as her curved tail promised to throttle anything within its five inch length.

"Okay, Shadow, go pee," I said, letting her back down to the ground. She wandered around the yard and finished her business faster than ever before.

"Does she bite?" Brian asked.

Shadow and I both turned our heads in his direction and she charged Brian. I watched as his eyes opened wide. He backed away, raising his hands. Within seconds she was upon him and bouncing against his legs.

He crouched down and nervously put out his hand for her inspection. "Heya Shadow," he said, petting her and sending her tail into another frenzy of motion.

"You pass," I said, chuckling, watching him glance up to me with a questioning look.

"Dogs are an excellent judge of people. She would have mauled you if you were evil," I answered with a smile.

The puzzled look on his face didn't reassure me, and I felt the fleeting confusion echo through his chest. He was nervous. I suppose everyone is the first time you visit a new place. His curiosity was winning though as he stood.

"You're placing him in great danger," the uncles whispered to me across the wind.

"Huh?!" Brian furrowed his brow looking to me for an answer.

"Stop it! You know he can hear you," I snapped back. My anger flared and subsided with the gust of cool air. I waved Brian over to the door as I opened it in front of me and stepped in.

"You coming?" I yelled, poking my head out the opening.

Brian lingered before he finally started towards the door with Shadow leading the way.

I held the door open for them and kicked off my shoes on the small landing that led into the kitchen. I continued in and watched as Brian walked through the doorway, beneath the Betony and Mandrake roots that lined the top of the doorframe.

"The Mandrake is for prosperity and Betony for purification and protection," I explained pointing to them. Brian passed beneath the herbs with ease and it made me smile. I opened refrigerator to pulled the jug of cider from its shelf.

I heated our cider in a pan with a spoonful of 'Red Hots'. I set a very low flame as I continued the tour of our home. The sweet scent of earth and herb seemed to draw him to my garden on the front porch.

"You have a garden inside?" he asked, walking toward the front porch.

"Yeah, that's my garden." I smiled and followed him through the doorway onto the porch.

I watched him finger the leaves as he walked up and down the short aisles of plants. I had made the wooden tables myself. The tops were waist high and only two feet wide. Another level below held the plants that required semi-shade. There were five rows of tables total in my make shift greenhouse. Brian was gentle with his touch and leaned down to smell them as he moved between the rows.

"That's Woodworm, it's poisonous, but only in mass quantities, and good for bringing about divination. To the right is Mugwort, and to the left is Meadowsweet," I explained.

I continued to rattle of the names and uses of the two tiers of plants. I watched as he moved between the rows breathing in their aroma.

"Each has its own purpose," I said, blushing. The Meadowsweet is for love. I watched the sensual way his fingers played across the small white flowers. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose drawing in the scent of my garden and smiled.

"This place is too cool," he announced, smiling back at me.

His eyes locked onto the Marijuana plants I had growing in the corner.

"Is that what I think it is?!" he whispered.

"Yes, it's weed. Man made beer, Gods made Marijuana. I trust the powers that be more than man," I answered with a grin. "Lets keep that part of my garden a secret okay?"

"You're the first person I've ever invited into our house, so you also have my trust." I searched his eyes and feelings. Brian was nervous, and his chaotic emotions were ravaging every thought.

"You can trust me. I won't narc you out or anything," he tried to reassure me.

"What do you do with all this stuff?" Brian was fingering another flower.

"Well, the chamomile you're touching smells good, it's beautiful, and can also be dried and made into a tea that helps you sleep. They all have their uses," I explained.

I picked a leaf of Red Heather and carried it back toward the kitchen. I gave my mental thanks for its offering.

"Cider should be almost done," I grinned.

I placed the leaf in the cider and left it to simmer for just a little longer as we sat at the table along the wall.

"What's that you just put in the cider?" Brian asked me warily.

"It's Red Heather. It's for protection," 'and passion,' I added mentally, trying to look at anything but his beautiful green eyes. I sat at the table again and let the day's tension leave me.

"That Lilac bush in the cafeteria, it's from you isn't it!?" Brian's eyes seemed to gleam with realized truth.

"And you gave it to the lunch lady?" he scrunched up his face in disgust.

"Doris," I corrected him, "and yes. I carried it to school the other day. She needs it."

"To cook with?" Brian's eyes narrowed in disbelief.

"No. She needs something pretty. She needed a gift, and she needs something to take care of." I answered.

"More like something else to kill," he muttered back.

He didn't understand Doris. She was lonely and desolate. A hard life seemed to have beaten our her joy, and she had learned her lessons too well. I decided to drop the subject.

"Care to stay for dinner?" I asked pushing back my chair with an audible screech against the linoleum floor.

I grabbed two coffee mugs from the cupboard. Avoiding the leaf, I ladled our cider into the mugs, and placed one before him, taking a quick sip of my own before sitting back down.

The cinnamon sweet smell permeated the room. I could feel his mind filing away our conversation as we sat taking small sips of the cider.

"Sure!" he finally answered, trying to hide a weak blush. I chuckled to myself and took another sip of my cider. He looked so innocent some times. I had noticed on several occasions how his green eyes would look like a child's seeing their first snow.

"How did you know Kevin was getting ready to jump you the other day?" Brian picked at the lip of the cup while staring into his cider. His curiosity had finally gotten the best of him.

"I felt it." I took another quick sip of my cider nearly burning my lip.

He sat there analyzing me trying to comprehend my answer.

"What are those voices I keep hearing when I'm around you? It never happens around anyone else." His green eyes were now staring at me.

I took a deep breath and prepared for the worst.

"You aren't like most people, Brian," I told him.

Brian's breath caught and I could feel the wall of emotion burst within him as tears fell from his sad emerald eyes. A complete devastation erupted from him that overwhelmed me with sorrow. I was going to continue until I felt his sorrow chased away by anger. I had botched it, and he had misunderstood. His pain welled within him like a fresh water spring of sadness.

I stood and took the few short steps around the kitchen table and wrapped him in my arms as he sobbed.

"I'm.. I'm.." he choked out between the sobs. "Gay!" Brian whispered with anguish.

I would have laughed at the misunderstanding but Shadow's low growl caught my attention as she stood bristling at the doorway to my herb garden. The hairs on my arms stood on end as a chill raced up my spine and centered in the back of my neck.

"Brian get down!" I yelled as the werewolf burst through the wall into my garden, sending a spray of wood, glass, and plaster exploding into the room.

The werewolf let out a deafening roar and debris fell to the floor. The smell of smoldering flesh permeated the room. The werewolf's clawed feet were blistering and burning as he stumbled forward. I recognized its piercing amber eyes. They belonged to David. This werewolf was my godfather. I called the limbs of the oak to reach into my house and wrap around him. He thrashed wildly against the growing branches, tearing at the limbs as wood and leaves snaked their grasp about him. The coiling branches pulled him backward and lifted him from the ground as I slowly made my way forward through the hole in the wall and out into our front yard.

Smoldering fur, flesh, and branches fell like rain to the ground as he thrashed wildly against the wooden restraints which continued to writhe about his neck, arms, and legs. The wards of our land were working as intended, but were only providing him a slow searing agony.

Tears stained my face as the werewolf's mournful, defeated howl shattered the darkness. I didn't know what to do! I couldn't bear my godfather's suffering and finally called the lightning down. Three blinding white flashes struck the center of his chest leaving the scent of burnt flesh and ozone. The oaken limbs relaxed and set his lifeless body gently to the ground in a cradle of wooden fingers. The branches receded cracking against the night and righted themselves as I stood staring at the devastated creature that was my godfather.

David had been my father's best friend and confidant, and later accepted the title of my godfather when I was born. After the accident that took my parents, it was decided that my uncles, Mark and Kent, would see to my education in the Druid way. The four of us had spent many happy meals and holidays together, and I had just killed him.

"Well done," a voice spoke from the moonlit darkness to my right. I spun around, sending the lightning down yet again.

The dark figure raised his hand, batting away the thunderous flashes of lightning as if they were mosquitoes. His eyes widened in surprise as a single oaken branch plunged through his chest with a hollow wet crunch. The wooden talon retreated slowly, blood-slicked, and back into the tree as he fell to his knees, finally toppling to the ground with a soft thud.

A gust of cold air pushed against my skin like a stranger. "What have you done!" the uncles raged at me through the wind. I had killed, not once, but twice this night. Something inside me shattered beyond repair. The last vestiges of my innocence had been brutally snuffed out within horrific moments.

I turned my back on this latest horror to see Brian staring back at me from the cave shape destruction that was once the front door to my garden. The light behind him hid his expression in shadow, but I could feel him. I had forgotten about him. He stood transfixed, frozen in terror and confusion, with Shadow at his feet. His mind was wrenched tight like too many rubber bands pulled beyond the breaking point. There was nothing I could do for him now.

A small light in the corner of my eye drew my attention back to the front of our property. I watched the tiny headlights move down the hill in the distance drawing closer to our home. I recognized the sound of the old engine in the distance. After long moments the wheels bit into the gravel as the uncles made their way up to the house. The headlights of our truck lit the side of the house and then blinked into darkness. I wanted to run to my uncles for comfort, but the feeling of betrayal kept me in my place. They had promised to be here when I needed them. They lied. I glanced over as I heard the metallic creak of their doors open as they climbed out of the truck.

I walked up the steps to Brian and placed my hand against his forehead. 'Sleep,' I commanded as he followed me into the living room and lay on the couch like an obedient zombie.

I climbed the stairs and made my way to the shower. The stench of death was still on me, and recent events left me feeling numb. The uncles were downstairs, whispering their thoughts to each other as I let the spray of warm water mingle with my terror.

Shadow waited patiently on my bed as I walked into my dark room and crawled beneath the blankets. I sat upright, waiting, as I heard their feet climb the stairs and move up the hall toward my room. A soft rap against my door reassured me that it was them.

"Come in," I answered. Instant sorrow flooded my soul. I don't know where it came from, but I had no control as my eyes welled with tears and the light from the opening door stretched across my room.

I held Shadow in my lap for comfort as I ran my fingers through her soft hair. Uncle Mark came in, took the few steps between us, and wrapped me in his arms. I needed the hug desperately.

"We're so sorry, Ty," Uncle Mark whispered in my ear.

The light behind Uncle Kent hid his face as he spoke. "You killed an emissary of 'The Circle,' Ty. It won't be long before they come for you." He still hadn't come into my room and it was unnerving. His voice held absolutely no emotion and I could feel nothing from him.

"How could they? I saw the sigil burned into David's chest. They made him attack me. How can they justify such a thing? They couldn't pick someone besides my godfather? It goes against everything we believe!" I had so many questions.

"They are 'The Circle', Ty. They act with impunity. They look at the world with a bigger scope of balance. You have no right to question them," Uncle Kent said flatly.

"BULLSHIT! No one is so perfect that they aren't subject to review," I watched his silhouette shift in the back drop of light from the hall. I felt a strange satisfaction pulse through him at hearing my reply.

"You're right," Uncle Kent answered, stepping across the threshold. The sound of sizzling flesh in reaction to the wards at my door confused me.

I felt Shadow stiffen as she sunk her teeth into Uncle Mark's wrist. I couldn't believe she bit him! I felt the rod of willow plunge through my chest and into my heart with a sickening but too familiar crunch.

"Uncle Mark?" I looked into his sad hazel eyes as I whispered the words. Darkness crept across my vision. I watched with the last remnants of light as a tear crawled down Mark's face leading my eyes to his hand. Clutched between his blood soaked fingers was the other end of the wooden willow rod that stuck out of my chest obscenely. He had killed me.

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Chapter 5 Salix Alba 'White Willow'

I was shivering as my eyes opened. I knew where I was, but not why, as the last fleeting memories of my murder returned to me. I sat up, wrapping my arms around my knees, shuddering as my body tried to warm itself. The hard granite altar felt like ice against my skin but I didn't think my body was going to cooperate until I got something to protect me from the bitter cold.

I sat atop the large granite alter at the base of the giant oak, naked and freezing. I looked out as the stars trimmed the dark branches of our grove of sacred trees. The acre sized clearing is home to eight trees. Seven of the trees, a Willow, Apple, Ash, Elm, Yew, Birch and Alder formed a giant circle with an eighth tree in the center. The center tree is a massive ancient oak that now stretched its limbs to the sky like skeletal fingers in the night.

I let my hand wander down my chest, fingering the ashy sealed wound. It looked as though it had been melted and burned, but strangely, wasn't painful to the touch. I felt Kent wrap a large heavy black cloak around my shivering body. It helped, but only slowly. It felt like I had been frozen to the bone. Thoughts of me ended instantly as I saw Brian lying on the ground, motionless.

"What have you done!?" My roaring voice leapt from me like a chorus of anger. This wasn't my voice. The impact sent Kent and Mark stumbling backwards as I climbed down from the altar, and rushed over to Brian.

I knelt at his side and pulled him against me in an awkward embrace. He was alive but unconscious. I could feel his heart beating, and the inklings of his mind rushing to wake. A sob shook my chest as happiness flooded my heart. We were okay. I felt his body rouse as his arms wrapped around me, pulling me in closer.

"Bummer," Brian said groggily, giving me a firm squeeze.

I pulled back from him and studied his face. He was grinning.

"What?" I gave him a curious look.

"I knew it couldn't last forever. You found some clothes," he grinned.

I brushed some of the hair out from of front of his beautiful green eyes and was met with a flash of memories that weren't my own.

"Please Brian, if you feel anything for him at all, we need your help to save him," Kent begged.

Moments passed as the soft autumn breeze hissed through the leaves on the trees.

"What do I need to do?" I heard Brian answer.

I felt a rush through my heart. It was love, though not my own. These were Brian's memories. It was as if I were him, seeing and watching what happened through his mind. Seeing my dead body on the altar made me shiver. It was like watching a movie through someone elses eyes. None of the feelings, voice, or perception were mine.

"I need you to focus Brian, and repeat my words. I need you to picture, in your mind, the joy and love you feel when you see his face. This is not a time for silly inhibitions. If you cannot do this, tell me now." Kent instructed.

I watched as Brian's eyes traveled up the length of my naked body, pausing a few moments on the wound at the center of my chest, and then taking note of my manhood, ever present, in his field of vision.

Hmm... I guess when your dead, cold weather doesn't have the same affect.

I felt Brian smile and heard him speak, "I'm ready."

As soon as Brian spoke the words a great cracking and crunching sound drew our eyes to the ancient oak that was some ten feet behind the blackened granite altar. The great mass of trunk and root system writhed like some strange wooden liquid as it enveloped and totally encased a willow rod at its base. The bark and wood of the tree took on a luminescent white glow that traveled up its branches and through the giant limbs to its smallest parts. Buds formed and grew into the fresh leaves of spring as we watched amazed.

All around us, the circle of sacred trees performed the same strange transformation. The trees awoke, stretching with a yawn at their anticipated winter slumber, and grew to life. A thousand soft whispers echoed through the night as they spoke. 'Hurry... hurry with your work'

"Kent, we better do as they ask," Mark said moving to the position near my head.

Kent moved to my left. "Brian, I need you, just opposite me, on the other side."

Brian walked shakily. to my right, and waited. Kent reached out his hand and clasped it to Brian's and Mark's. They both took each others hands as well, forming a circle around me. "Repeat my words, and mean them. Let your heart reach out to what you mind cannot understand." Kent instructed.

"We call upon all the gods to aid us in this night's work"

"We call upon all the gods to aid us in this night's work"

"We give offerings to open the circle of life and death"

"We give offerings to open the circle of life and death"

"We beg your guidance in this ancient ritual"

"We beg your guidance in this ancient ritual"

"We ask that you return to us what is needed for the battle ahead"

"We ask that you return to us what is needed for the battle ahead"

Dark clouds rolled across the sky obscuring the light of the full moon as the wind roared to life around us, sending spirals of leaves whipping through the air. The great tree limbs swayed, lashing at the sky like age old wooden whips.

"We ask the gods to return Ty to us, and grant us this favor for the world" Kent called out.

"We ask the gods to return Ty to us and grant us this favor for the world"

"Fill this void of life and spirit so that we all might live" Kent beseeched the gods.

"Fill this void of life and spirit so that we all might live"

The wind stopped, leaving only the brief soft sounds of debris settling against on the ground. Complete silence surrounded us like death's tomb.

"So mote it be!"

"So mote it be"

With the final words spoken, a branch of the great oak tree plunged into Brian's chest. His sharp intake of breath broke the silence as he stood watching it rip out just as quickly. A blinding flash tore down from the sky striking Brian and me.

I jerked my hand away as though I had been burned. I was breathing heavily and felt dizzy and nauseous.

I dropped my eyes to Brian's chest, noticing the burnt whole in the fabric of his white and blue t-shirt. Dead center was burned ashy flesh much like my own. Brian's emotions were muted, and he seemed to be taking it extremely well. I wasn't feeling quite myself either. There was something extra that hadn't been there before.

"Are you okay?" Brian asked.

"I saw you die. I saw the ritual. I saw your memories," I stared into his eyes. He had helped to save me, and I felt my heart swell. It wanted to scream and smile at the same time. Brian loved me.

"You have some explaining to do," I said, turning my head in the uncle's direction.

"Yes, you most certainly do," a stranger's craggy old voice announced from beyond the circle of trees.

I rose to my feet and helped Brian up. "You are not welcome here," I responded, coldly.

The moon's pallid light peaked through the clouds enough to reveal the members of 'The Circle'. There was one member several feet behind each tree in the ring that surrounded us. They totaled seven members in all. Mark and Kent made quick work of the remaining distance that separated us, and soon stood beside Brian and me.

"Be very careful what you say and do, Ty," Mark whispered, earning a less than pleasant look from me. He had killed me, and that left a strange sad bitterness in my heart.

"Your uncle advises you wisely, young Druid," the old gruff voice answered from the shadows.

"I will allow you entrance into this circle, Galen, but not the others. Come speak with me, please," I retorted sharply, hearing the abrupt intake of breath from my uncles. "Yes, I know your name, though in earnest, I have only heard it spoken in whispers."

"Why the audacity! No circle is forbidden to us!" a somewhat younger, higher-pitched voice spat from the shadows on our left. Each word seethed with anger.

"I would like to see you try," I challenged, as I struggled to keep my voice steady.

The younger man moved forward, only a few steps, before a large heavy branch of the Elm swung hard and low against him, sending him flying backward through the air before he landed with a sickening thud. A torrent of whispers flooded the darkness as I felt the push of the remaining six members against the circle. The trees began to glow and sway, thrashing in response to their advance. The wood creaked and groaned with increasing volume.

"Except for Galen, you may not enter!" A strange mix of voices came from me and crashed against the night, as I raised my hands to the sky. Dark clouds rolled in, covering the moon with amazing speed, as lightning streaked between the rolling black masses. Flashes of light illuminated the area with a strobe of white, as thunder roared in the distance. The trees of our circle glowed even brighter before a myriad of lightning tore down through the sky to my hands, and then outward, striking the earth in front of all the members of 'The Circle' but Galen.

"STOP!" Galen shouted harshly over the howl of the wind and thunder. His voice tore through the night like a chorus, much like my own had. He was directing the command to the other members of 'The Circle.'

I lowered my arms and let them rest at my sides, pulling back the forces of nature. I don't know how I knew I could control these things, but nature was now a part of me. It was as easy and as natural as wiggling a toe. Plush grass beneath my feet, feathery wind across my cheek, and cool moonlight that previously lit my face, were all parts of me, but felt strangely and deeply familiar when I knew they shouldn't. Everything connected in my mind like a thousand tiny silken spider webs.

The blaze of tension increased in Kent and Mark, as Galen made his way toward us. The closer he came, the more I was able to make out his features. He was, indeed, ancient. In his left hand was a long wooden staff that bore too much of his weight as he labored to cross the distance between us. Finally, Galen stopped several feet in front of us. His face had been worn with the passage of time. He was older than what was natural, but still there was the fire of life behind his crisp blue grey eyes. His dark robes hid his fragile form, but it was a deception. There was nothing helpless about this relic of a man.

"Good eve Kent, Mark, Ty, and Brian." He indicated each of us with a nod as he spoke our names and rested heavily against his gnarled wooden staff. I could feel no malice in the man, only a bizarre intrigue.

"Tell me, were you able to call the elements without your voice before your rebirth?" Galen eyed me curiously.

I was preparing to answer 'No', when Brian interrupted.

"Yes, he did that when he killed the werewolf. He never spoke. The tree obeyed him without words," Brian answered softly. I hadn't forgotten Brian was there, but the sound of his voice startled me. His ease and acceptance of what had happened this evening was unsettling. Brian was strangely calm, and it was starting to really worry me. I could feel the contrast in my uncles. Their tension intensified, nearing the level of sheer burning panic.

I hadn't realized it at the time, but it was true. I didn't need the words. It had happened so quickly I didn't noticed. Before I had had a chance to analyze what had happened, I was dead. The dizzying thoughts confused me. Just what the hell is going on?

"Interesting," Galen's voice rasped his reply.

"So, tell me. Were you the one who gave the final order that forced the killing of my godfather?" I took a step away from our group towards Galen.

"Regretfully, yes," he answered, never faltering in his intense, grey-blue eyed gaze.

I took another step toward Galen. "You owe me a debt, old man, but one I will not collect tonight."

Galen stepped even closer, with a stumble, and righted himself with his ancient worn wooden staff. I could now sense that the staff was oak. It was a very, very old piece of wood that supported his weight. I felt his mind seize and his muscles tense as he began to swing the staff forward, in a killing blow, toward my skull. He had moved so fast that it was a blur of intensity. I would have blocked the blow, but Brian moved with incomprehensible speed, and now stood in front of me. The staff struck loudly into Brian's upraised hand, but didn't move through it.

I placed my hand on Brian's shoulder, instantly sending the signal to pause. It was a feeling more than a suggestion, but he didn't advance, though every fiber of his being raging to lash out against the attack.

"Interesting," Galen said for the second time.

"Perhaps you are the one," Galen whispered as his mind and body relaxed, nodding toward me. "Perhaps you are the one as well," he nodded again, indicating Brian, before gently pulling the staff from Brian's hand, and lowering it to his side, letting his weight fall against it.

The illusion was meticulous. The feeble frame, the offset of weight, and the weathered appearance were all deception. This ancient man was anything but fragile or defenseless.

"I will pay my debt when the time is right," he answered before turning and trudging his way out of our sacred circle of trees.

"Yes, you will," I whispered across the wind.

As Galen made his way slowly out and beyond our circle, he turned. The movement was barely perceptible, but I felt it just the same. It pressed against me like the beam of a lighthouse, warning unwary sailors of a dangerous reef behind too much fog. I felt the uncles' eyes watching during this past week, but never as strongly and completely as the gaze Galen now focused upon us. It made me nervous.

"Kent, Mark, tell them the truth. Tell them what you know," were Galen's final words. Just as abruptly, they all seemed to fade from existence. 'The Circle' was gone and there were too many unanswered question.

We headed back home, with both Brian, and me, in the back of the truck. The bumpy ride did little to lighten my mood. Once we were finally in the house, we sat in the living room. It felt good to finally have a little heat against my skin.

"Care to explain just what the hell is going on?" Brian and I sat on the couch in our living room, looking to Kent and Mark for answers.

There were no answers as they glanced at each other, and then back to us.

"Why did you kill me?" Tears formed at the corners of my eyes and started their hot trail down my cheeks. I couldn't get past the betrayal without some kind of explanation. It hurt me deeper than any physical wound ever could. It was the ultimate betrayal of a parent to a child. Even though they were my uncles, they were the only parents I could remember.

"Us," came Brian's muted words as he placed his hand on my knee. His palm felt hot through the long dark hooded cloak that I still wore, but it soothed me. His emotions were rolling through him, but he still had the same unwavering calm. It was beginning to seriously disturb me!

"How can you sit there so calmly?" I searched Brian's emerald eyes for answers.

"I'm alive, you're alive, the werewolf is dead," he said with a weak smile. "What else is there to be frightened of?"

"The veil, and the darkness it keeps from entering this world," Kent answered, reaching out to clasp Mark's hand across the end table that separated them. They sat in their recliners as they had on so many nights, but tonight they sat peering back at us, the TV was off, and I wanted answers.

I was preparing to throw a complete raging fit when Mark finally spoke.

"Ty, your parents were once friends with Brian's. They had maintained the balance throughout their lives and were inseparable. Through them, Kent and I met and fell in love. Kent is your blood uncle. I am Brian's."

"There was an accident during a trip to mediate between the Vampires and Lycanthrope. Late at night, during their second day of travel, there was a head-on collision with a semi, killing all four of them instantly. Kent and I burned their remains, in accordance to the old ways, on the altar we just came from."

"We moved here to the ancestral land, and this house. We tried desperately to get custody of you, Brian, but the law wouldn't have it. We are two gay men who practice an obscure and unacceptable religion. Kent had been stipulated as guardian to Ty by his parents. Paul and Sarah, your birth parents; Brian, had left that bit of work undone. Paul was my brother."

"So, Kent and I cast the spell that would keep you here. The court ruled that your Uncle John and Aunt Laura would be your guardians until you were of the age to choose your place. They are good people, and it was the best we could do," Mark paused, taking a deep breath.

I felt Brian's hand move to mine and grip it firmly. A fleeting glance between us shared volumes. This story had waited too long to be told. I felt the eyes of 'The Circle' peering in from the night as the whistle of wind pushed through the plastic that now covered the gaping whole to my garden.

"This story is not for you," I whispered across the wind. I closed my eyes and concentrated, building the barriers around our house. I felt the warmth of Brian's mind joining mine, as we created an impenetrable wall surrounding our home.

"They won't appreciate being excluded, Ty," Kent finally spoke.

"Then they should have asked," I snapped back.

"Please, continue," Brian asked, meekly. His warm quiet voice calmed me.

Mark continued. "The rebirth ceremony is performed during each Druid's 16th year, when the veil threatens to fall. The select few of age, during that time, are killed and reborn. The veil will fall, and soon. The great ward has run its course, and wavers in strength with each passing day. Darkness is going to cover the world unless you can stop it. You won't be able to do it alone. Yes, you've been granted great power, but you two are not an army, and it's an army you must build. You have one year from this coming winter solstice to complete your task."

"The fact that you two were taken, and returned, in a single ritual, is unheard of. 'The Circle' would never have come. Galen would never have come, had it not meant something paramount. The members of 'The Circle' are not your friends. They are over and above, and used to watching the goings on of the world. That you have caught their eye is not a good thing. The last people 'The Circle' showed such interest in, were your parents. It did not end well for them."

I watched Mark rub a tear from his eye and carefully begin to remove his shoes. He peeled his socks off his feet with a hiss. They were badly burned. I watched as Kent did the same. Their feet were in ruins. My confusion must have shown on my face.

"You warded your room," Kent answered as he dropped his socks to the floor.

"Serves you right you know," I frowned, thinking back to the moments of my murder.

"We didn't intend you harm, Ty. We killed you. It was necessary," Kent answered sharply. Apparently he didn't like my disapproval.

"I'm so sorry, Ty," Mark sobbed.

"You should be!" I felt my anger flare.

"You have no right to speak to your uncle that way, Ty!" Kent barked.

"YOU KILLED ME!" The chorus of voices roared from me. The house shook, causing pictures and nick knacks to fall to the floor. It startled me, but not enough for me to lose my anger.

"We saved you too, Ty. I woke up. You were lying naked on the altar." Brian grinned. "I turned to run, but your uncles asked me to stay and help them save you. So I did."

An instant blush, more anger than embarrassment, flooded my cheeks. "I know Brian, I saw your memories." I snapped at him and regretted it instantly.

I wanted to scream, but the heart wrenching sobs and sorrow that emanated from Mark tore at me. I glanced down to their feet. The flesh was horribly burned, leaving raging blisters, and raw red infection. The ward on my room had done its work well.

I hadn't always been so proficient with wards. I remembered a time when I was barely six years old when Uncle Mark had placed a freshly baked apple pie on the kitchen window sill to cool. I warded the pie against bugs and anything else that might take it from me. A ward is a barrier. It is used to deter or stop whatever may harm the object protected by it. I was young and inexperienced and completely devastated when we discovered we couldn't get to the pie either. Uncle Kent was forced to push the pie from the sill with a broom handle. We buried it in a small grave below the sill, where it remains undisturbed to this day. I had been heart broken. When you're six, dessert means the world. My sobs ended an hour later as Uncle Mark pulled a second freshly baked pie from the oven. That second pie cooled atop the stove, safe from harm.

Remembering the kindness and the love they showered on me over the years, defused my anger. Both Uncle Kent and Uncle Mark were in so much pain. I stood, pulling my hand from Brian's. I had forgotten it was still there. Now it felt so empty. I took a step forward and kneeled at Mark's feet. I reached for his foot and he flinched away from me.

"May I have a look?" I waiting until he gave me a short unsteady nod.

As carefully as I was able, I took his blistered left foot into my hand. It was hot and wet with sickness and pain. I felt ashamed for my outbursts and spiteful words. This was my Uncle Mark. I loved him. I felt the flesh throb in my hands as I delicately turned his foot from side to side. I reached out with my heart through my fingers, and touched the wounds.

I watched as the skin lightened in color from the blistering red, to pink, and finally to its natural color. The blisters were gone and his foot completely healed. I took his right foot and let my love pour out again. In no time at all, I felt Mark's pain completely leave him, as I sat his foot back down to the floor.

I stood and started moving toward my place on the couch beside Brian. I missed the feel of his hand in mine.

"Thank you so much, Ty, but aren't you forgetting someone?" Mark gave me an intense stare, and then an obvious glance at Uncle Kent's feet.

I let my eyes move to Kent's blistered flesh and answered, "Nope," and turned again, taking another step back toward the couch.

"Tyyyy!" Mark growled in that reproaching tone only a parent has.

"Gotcha!" I turned back toward them with a grin.

"He must get that from your side of the family," Mark added.

I repeated the process and healed Kent's feet. "I'm sorry," I rose to my feet and held out my arms. Kent stood and quickly took me in his arms. I felt his chest shudder, and knew if I drew back, I would see tears forming in his eyes. Mark's arms closed around me from behind, as made no effort to hide his sobs. We finally parted and I went back to the couch where Brian was still sitting quietly.

I bent over and whispered into his ear, "Thank you." I drew back far enough to place a quick kiss on his ample lips, and then took my place by his side.

The look of sheer pleasure and then total shock played across Brian's face comically. To which I answered, "Me too," and took my seat beside him again. This whole ordeal began with his admission of homosexuality and it only seemed fair to admit my own.

"So, how is it that I can now heal with a touch, call down nature without words, and see people's memories? How was Brian able to move so fast when Galen attacked me with his staff?" I asked.

As always, at times like this, Mark let Kent do the talking. It seemed odd the way they took their places as man and wife though both of them were very obviously men. It made me wonder how it would be if Brian and I were together, and which role I would play. I would rather be an equal; though, I supposed the uncles were equals in a fashion. Mark had a different kind of strength than Kent. After all, Mark did kill me. I can't imagine what that would have been like, and I hope I never find out. They seemed to balance each other so well.

Kent's voice snapped me back from my mental wanderings. "There are six known gifts given to those that are reborn from nature. A person reborn is given three of these gifts. It is rumored a fourth has been given, but there is no record of it in our families history."

"It seems you've been given Life's Hand, Natures Voice, and the Mind Touch. The healing ability is obvious. Natures Voice, gives you the ability to control the elements without words. Mind Touch, as you have already seen, gives you the ability to see into a person's mind and into their memory."

Kent shifted in his seat before continuing.

"Brian seems to have been given Nature's Fist, Balance, and I suspect Death's Hand. Nature's Fist is what made him able to react so quickly when Galen attacked you. His uncanny calm seems to indicate the gift of Balance. The sixth known gift would be Death's Touch. It is said that this touch starts decay and almost instantly renders the victim dead."

"Each gift is two fold, but until we begin training, I'd rather leave that for tomorrow." Kent yawned and settled deeper into his chair.

Further explanation was going to have to wait until tomorrow. My adrenalin had long since worn off and I was exhausted. I had killed two men, died, been resurrected, met Galen and 'The Circle', gleaned memories, and just healed my uncles by touch alone. A yawn escaped me as I stood up and looked at Brian.

"Ready for bed?" I asked and paused, surprised by my own words. That wasn't what I meant. My face flushed for the third time tonight.

"You know what I mean," I sputtered, seeing a grin stretch Brian's lips.

I glanced at my snickering uncles and smiled. Brian followed me upstairs. I removed the heavy cloak. Yes, I was buck naked, but apparently Brian had already seen all of me, so why bother with modesty. Nudity had always been common in our home. Modesty only seemed to exist for me when I was attracted to the one looking, and right now, I didn't have the energy for it. I climbed between the cool sheets. Wearing only his briefs, Brian climbed in beside me. Had I even the slightest ounce of energy, the last thing on my mind would have been sleep. Brian nuzzled into the back of my neck, and wrapped his arm around me, as I pressed against his warmth. I felt safe, and exhausted. My questions would have to wait until morning. I pulled Brian's arm in tighter around me, and drifted off to sleep.

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Chapter 6 Dicentra Spectabilis "Bleeding Heart"

"David!" I shot upright in bed, nearly throwing Brian to the floor.

The dream had been so real. In my mind I could still hear the echoes of David's cries for help. I glanced around, frantically trying to understand my surroundings. Taking note of the shadowed dresser in the corner and the window at the head of my bed, I found my bearings. I was in my room but I didn't feel safe anymore. It would never be the perfect safety that it had once been. Recent events left this place tainted somehow.

My Godfather's dead body haunted my mind with a flash of memory. His amber eyes showing me pity as the bolts of lightning struck his chest. I had killed my own Godfather. Tears rolled down my cheeks and sobs shook my chest.

I felt an arm wrap around my shoulder and I nearly jumped out of the bed. I heard Shadow's collar jingle as she shook awake from the foot of the bed.

"You're safe, it was only a nightmare."

Hearing Brian's comforting words seemed to fuel my sobs and the ache in my chest. His comforting made the pain seem so much more real. My world was no longer safe. I had been killed in my own room by the people that I loved the most. Yes, I had been brought back, but the safety I used to feel here was now gone. The smell had changed. The memory and comfort of my bed was now stained by recent events. How could I ever feel like this place was home after all that had happened?

I felt Brian run his fingers along the long hairs that scattered along my forehead. He brushed away my tears as my door opened. I could tell by the shadow-muted features that it was Mark, and that Kent stood behind him.

"You two okay?" Mark's voice was filled with concern.

I felt a sudden rush of anger. It wasn't because of them. I loved them. I took a deep breath and let it out with a hiss and sniffed. Brian strengthened his embrace around me. The gentle pressure of his arms seemed to push away my pain. I felt Shadow curl up against my other side as if protecting me from what Brian might miss. I was sandwiched between the two of them.

"We're fine. It was just a nightmare," Brian told them.

"You sure you're okay, Ty?" Mark's voice almost burned my skin. I really couldn't take any more consoling right now. It only reminded me of my pain.

"I'm fine, Uncle Mark. Sorry I woke you up." I answered.

Was it true? No, I wasn't fine but I knew they couldn't fix my problem. How can you ask someone to take back the past? How do you ask them to make it disappear? Oh, I'm sure there are spells... but the damage was already done. A spell might take away memory, but it wouldn't take away the scars.

I watched the silhouette of Mark's shoulders drop as he relaxed. He pulled my door closed behind him and I heard wood creak as they made their way back to their bedroom.

I thought about my Godfather, David. The wind had surely taken his ashes by now. That was one thing that was never absent on our small hill of the world. There was a constant breeze. The subtle hills and now harvested cornfields of Illinois did little to slow nature's breath along the landscape.

I leaned into Brian. I needed his warm touch and the company. He gave me quiet comforting and I appreciated the silence. He was comforting in a way I wasn't really familiar with, but was happy to feel.

I leaned back against my now cold, damp pillow. I rustled about and turned the sweat soaked cold toward the sheets beneath. The fabric was cool and fresh and pulled me back into slumber. Brian seemed to follow me, keeping his strong warm arm wrapped around me. Shadow kicked and remade her bed on my other side before finally settling in. I remember thinking how soothing the feeling was, as my mind drifted.

I woke to the feel of Brian running his fingers casually through my hair. As his fingers trailed to the base of my skull, I felt a pull back into sleep. It eased my mind so much. I felt as though I could have slept forever. He was so gentle. The rise and fall of his chest and the steady beat of his heart gave me a strange sense of belonging.

I nuzzled against the heat of Brian's skin, not wanting to break away from my dreams. It was morning. I knew it in the back of my mind but didn't want to wake. It felt so perfect.

"Good morning, sleepy head," Brian announced, shifting his weight in the bed.

"Good morning," I gave my flesh-mumbled reply. My mouth was pressed against the curve of his body below his ribs. I had nestled myself against his upper hip during my sleep. I didn't have the will to bother with a more discernable answer. Besides... I was totally content.

I felt Brian slowly rise from the bed, letting my arm and leg slide to the body-warmed sheets below. The lack of warm skin to snuggle against wrangled me from my sleep as I peeked out from under the covers. Shadow still lay curled in a knot of blankets at my back. unwilling to rouse from her sleep. She was not a morning dog.

Dawn had snuck up on me. I could smell the coffee downstairs, waiting to be poured. I heard the water's hiss from the shower down the hall. I mentally kicked myself for not being more alert to watch Brian's near naked body leave my bed. There would have been morning 'tension" to be seen. I had missed it, and now noticed my own. I was preparing a mental reprimand when I shrugged it off. I'm sixteen Of course I'm 'frisky'. It's natural. With that I kicked my self again for having missed the opportunity.

I fought against the covers and sat upright in bed. The cool air and blinding sunlight through my bedroom window were quickly taking care of any 'tension' I had moments ago. I listened as the hiss of the shower stopped. With a shiver and cat-like stretch, I slid out from under the covers and trudged to my dresser. I grabbed fresh socks and underwear, barely opening my eyes to see what I had selected. I went over to my closet and stood staring with sleepy eyes at the cluttered organization of my clothing. I finally decided on a heavy black sweatshirt and a pair of worn, comfortable blue jeans. Depending on how the day went, I wanted to have the ease of movement. Restrictive clothing didn't seem like a good idea, considering all that had been going on lately.

Brian pushed the door open and entered as I prepared to make my exit. I yawned as I looked into his eyes. I watched his attention drift down my body and then flash back to my eyes.

"Morning." Sleep hung lazily in my voice. I smiled, seeing the flush of pink in his cheeks as he grinned back.

"G-Good morning," Brian stammered, dropping his gaze again and then lifting it sharply. His habit of staring down to the floor when he got nervous was adorable and all too inconvenient, considering I was standing in front of him naked.

"Wear something loose. I'm not sure what the uncles have planned, but I bet we'll be training."

I gave Brain a mischievous grin and made my way out the door and into the bathroom. I stood under the spray of hot water, letting it take the last remnants of sleep from me. I needed coffee. I toweled off and pulled on the clothes I had selected and went downstairs.

I paused at the bottom of the stairs and looked at the destruction David had made of my garden and porch. My heart ached with the memory as I turned toward the kitchen. I didn't want to dwell on past horrors. I concentrated on the aroma of fresh coffee and let it lead me to the kitchen.

It seems like Kent, Mark, and Brian were in a heated discussion and, as I entered, the room was left in complete silence. Their eyes pressed against me as I fixed myself a cup of coffee and turned to see them staring at me.

I took a small sip, nearly burning my lip, and studied them. They had been talking about me. I could feel the tension between them.

Mark interrupted the silence. "Ty, are you okay?

"There is nothing wrong with me that any of you can fix," I answered, taking another sip of my coffee.

My answer had been matter of fact and flat. It seemed to sting them as they flinched at the words. A thoughtful look passed Kent's eyes as I felt the resolution of his thoughts. He understood it would take time.

Mark had already opened his mouth to speak when he stopped, feeling Kent's hand on his shoulder. Mark looked into Kent's eyes and let out the breath he was going to use to further the discussion and stared, in stead, into his coffee with a look of defeat.

"I'm okay Uncle Mark. I love you. It's okay." I smiled at him before taking another sip of my coffee.

Mark lifted his eyes to mine. They were glassy and threatened to let loose a torrent of tears. I felt his flood of sadness drift away as he smiled back at me,

I caught the smell of 'almost' sausage piled to my right on a towel-covered plate. I picked one from the pile and started eating. Conversation wasn't really what I wanted right now. We ate our breakfast in silence.

"John and Laura are coming, Brian," Kent said quietly. "They'll be here very soon."

The terror in Brian's eyes didn't reassure me as I watched him stiffen. Fine time to spring this on us! I had to suppress my anger. Kent's announcement was less than subtle or kind. That had always been his way. He never sugar coated the truth. Seeing Brian's hurt reaction, fueled a small fury in me. Hadn't we been through enough? Why does everything have to be so damned hard?

"I think it would probably be best if you two went outside while we talk," Mark announced.

I could hear the distant sound of an engine and tires running against the pavement toward our house. I was going to object when I saw Kent give a nod. This wasn't going to be a pleasant encounter and they were trying to spare us. I glanced over at Brian and was swallowed by his feelings of impending doom. He was worried.

"Come on," I reached out my hand to Brian.

He rose from his chair, clasped my hand tightly, and I led him through the side door of the kitchen. We walked around the side of the house and sat in the swing that hung from the large oak tree.

We watched as Laura and John drove up our dusty driveway. They barely paused to glare in our direction before barging into the house. They were people with a purpose. Two intense hours of arguing finally ended with John and Laura slamming the screen door behind them and walking back to their car.

"Brian Alexander, get your a** in this car right now!" Laura screamed.

I felt Brian rise, defeated, and pull his hand from mine. He was leaving. He was leaving me! Brian turned away and walked toward the car. He opened the back door and climbed in, staring at the floor, never looking back. I could feel his anguish, yet he obeyed.

John glared back at the uncles as they stood solemnly at the side door. At about the time Mark was going to speak, John cut him short by slamming his car door shut and starting the engine. He tore backwards, sending a spray of dirt forward, and turned in the yard. Their car jerked forward, taking Brian down the driveway

My heart felt like it was dying. The sky erupted in a shower of lightning as black ominous clouds rolled in and blocked the sun. A small tremor was felt through the ground. The shaking earth only slightly slowed John's escape before the car turned away from our driveway onto the gravel.

Lightning flashed across the sky and the earth shook again under our feet.

"Ty! Stop!" I felt the back of Kent's hand blast across my cheek. I hadn't seen him walk in front of me.

I flooded every ounce of pain and anguish I felt into a single burst, and focused it upon Kent. He screamed and fell to his knees in front of me. A sound was squeezed from him that was barely audible. It was a slow, compressed exhale that hissed passed his lips. Only complete devastation can cause that effect. I wanted him to feel it. For a split second I wanted someone to hurt as badly as I did and Kent had become the target.

The absolute horror in his eyes brought me back to reality. I pulled the pain back, almost violently, as I watched his body topple to the ground. The recoil of my own emotion crashed against me like knifes as I screamed my frustration to the sky. Lightning tore down and struck around us in blinding flashes, too many to count. I fell to my knees and sobbed. They had distracted me long enough for Brian to leave. I could have forced Brian and his parents back, but that wasn't our way. I yearned for that small piece of selfishness we could be afforded by our gifts, but remained constantly out of reach. I let them take him from me.

I stood and watched Mark cradle Kent in his arms. A piece of me broke, watching them cling together. Each was there for the other even in the worst of times. They supported each other even if the only thing they had to offer was their touch.

I remembered the feel of Brian's skin against my face this morning when I awoke, feeling his fingers stroll through my hair. I stood up and walked past Kent and Mark. I headed to the back of the house and toward the lane which led to our sacred circle of trees.

I turned and whispered across the wind, "I love you, Brian," and then started my way down the lane. The turmoil in my heart was reflected by the wind and darkness around me. The black ominous clouds blocked the suns rays, giving everything a grey cast. The breeze violently pushed through the trees and threatened to freeze my tears as they rolled down my cheeks.

It didn't take much longer walking to get back to the circle than it did riding in the truck. I was now entering the circle and moving toward the altar. I pulled my hands into my sleeves of my sweatshirt and crossed my arms to help fight the frigid air. I wasn't sure how much time had passed and I didn't care. Misery always feels like an eternity and this pain was fresh.

I slumped down and sat on the ground in the space between the altar and the giant oak tree that was the center of the sacred circle. I leaned my back against the altar and lowered my head to my knees and cried. Everything had seemed almost bearable when I thought I would have Brian by my side. Now he was gone.

The sound of air hissing through the bare branches mixed with my sobs, made somber music. The trees whispered with what seemed a thousand quiet voices. "Galen," the voices said.

I lifted my head from my knees and pushed my hands back through the sleeves of my sweatshirt as I scanned the circle from where I sat. I didn't see him.

"You're much too hard on people, Ty." I heard Galen's gravely voice behind me.

I jumped up and spun around, backing away toward the oak tree. Galen was perched atop the stone altar, resting his hands and chin atop his staff.

"What the hell would you know?" I spat out the words.

"I loved once, a long time ago. I remember the feelings of loss as much as I can taste them from you now." Galen studied me as he had the first time we met. "Judging by the expression on your face, you don't believe me. I can assure you it's quite true."

"What are you doing here, Galen?" I felt my body tense in preparation for a battle. I didn't know him, and I surely didn't trust him. Everything about him was a deception.

"I'm not here to fight, so please be at ease. Come and sit with me." He lifted his head enough to move his wrinkled hand and patted the space on the altar beside him.

I took a step backward and he frowned.

"Don't be silly, young druid. Had I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. You didn't even heed the tree's announcement of my arrival. Come sit with me."

His voice was somewhat warmer this time, and pulled me to him with its comforting hoarse tones. I took a few slow cautious steps toward him before moving the short distance at an even stride. I sat on the altar beside him and cupped my head in my hands as my elbows rested on my knees, mimicking his pose.

"I did hear the trees announce you. I just didn't see you." I offered.

"You only looked at what was in front of you. The world is not only what is in plain sight. You must learn to grasp the larger scope of life. You didn't look above, below, or behind you," he said earnestly.

"Whatever," I snapped at him. I was angry and he was as good a target as any.

Galen slid forward and stepped down from the alter to stand in front of me.

"Brian didn't leave you, Ty. He was taken." Galen's steely blue eyes stared into mine. His voice had taken on an angrier tone.

"He could have said no!" I countered.

"Oh? Had the roles been reversed and your uncles came to collect you, would you have fought them?" he asked. "You must learn to temper your emotions."

I supposed Brian felt the same about John and Laura as I felt about Kent and Mark. He loved them and they were the only parents he knew. I knew Galen was right, but I didn't want to admit it.

"No matter whose fault it is, he's gone," I said finally and looked off to the side at the sound of a snapping twig.

"Is he?" I heard Galen's voice seeming to come from the oak tree.

He was gone. I jumped off the altar and ran behind the tree. He had vanished. I made my way around the tree and prepared to brood a bit more when I saw Brian running toward me. At first I thought I had lost my mind, but it was him! I don't know how long I stood, dazed. I finally gathered my wits as his arms wrapped around me and pulled me into a tight hug. I pulled him tight against me before we broke from the embrace.

"I don't understand," I said, staring in disbelief.

His face took on a jilted look of sadness as he spoke, "I told them."

"That you are Druid?" I wasn't getting something here.

"No. That I'm gay. They could love me if I was part of a 'cult' so long as I didn't practice. They wouldn't stand for a pervert being around her children." Brian's voice choked out the words and I could feel the sharp pain that flooded his chest. "I told them when I heard you say you loved me."

"They kicked me out of the car and I walked back. Brian and Kent said I could live here. I've got nowhere else to go." His eyes were red and swollen from his recent tears. I am sure I had a matching pair.

"You're not a pervert, Brian. I love you." I meant the words. "I hope you stay here with me forever." I pulled him into my arms and gave him a gentle kiss. I relished the warmth of his body against mine. We finally separated and smiled at each other.

"So, what was the light show I saw when we were leaving?" he asked.

I felt my face flush with embarrassment. "I was upset that you left me," I mumbled in reply, staring down at my feet.

"The earthquakes too?" he asked.

I could only nod my head in reply. I had completely lost control. Had Kent not snapped me out of it I might have been responsible for some serious destruction. What frightened me most was trying to understand the limits of my new found power. I raised my hand to my cheek where Kent had struck me. It didn't sting or even feel swollen, but the memory made my skin tingle. It was the kind of fleeting memory you get from a special smell.

"Is Kent okay?" I didn't want to fill Brian in on all of the embarrassing details, but I did hope he would be able to give me good news.

"He seemed fine when we spoke. He and Mark were in the kitchen when I got back. They told me I would find you here."

Brian looked a little worried when I lifted my eyes to his. I could feel his concern. He had enough to think about right now without worrying about my little tantrum from earlier.

"I never had anyone shake the earth for me before." He smiled so wide it seemed to reach his eyes.

"Keep that in mind when we have our first fight!" I said, sticking out my tongue.

We both burst into laughter and I felt the sun shining against my face. The weather had cleared along with my mood.

"So when do I get to learn how to do that talking thing you do?" Brian was nearly bubbling with excitement.

"Well, I don't really know. Let's go talk with Kent and Mark. You can practice on our way back."

Our hands reached for each other's and clasped as we found an even, slow stride.

"It's called Wind Whispering. What you do is push the words out across the wind and then let it carry them to their destination."

Brian looked back at me and whispered, "I love you."

"I love you, too." The words made me smile. "But it isn't really whispering. Stop for a second. Now hold your hand up to your mouth, palm side to your lips. Face into the wind and feel the air pushing against the back of your hand." I paused as Brian followed my instructions.

"Now, blow on your palm until the pressure feels the same as the wind hitting the back of your hand."

Brian listened intently and faced into the wind, blowing onto the palm of his hand.

"When you Wind Whisper, you turn so that your back is against the wind. Go ahead and turn around, and try to match the breath on your palm with the pressure of the wind on your neck. The idea is that the wind carries your words to their destination. You aren't really whispering. The wind becomes your voice."

Brian turned with his back to the wind and practiced a few times. Nodding, he stared at me waiting for more. You could practically see his excitement and I was glad to distract him from thoughts of John and Laura.

"Okay. Now, put your hand down, close your eyes, and imagine who you want to hear your message. Picture Kent's face in your mind and, when you are ready, blow out the words and picture them riding on the wind and brushing past his ears. Nature will take care of the rest."

I watched as Brian took several deep breaths as he focused. After a few moments he pushed the words out with the wind. "Thank you, Kent."

A few seconds later came his reply. "You're welcome, Brian."

Brian's eyes shot open and he danced around me. "I did it, I did it!" I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

His expressions darkened slightly and he stared at me, tapping his foot. "Just what's so damn funny?"

I could feel he wasn't truly angry but it still made me laugh.

"You've died, come back to life, saw a werewolf, and protected me from an attack of the most powerful of all Druid's, and THIS is what you get excited about?" I doubled over laughing again.

"I can't help it. This is cool!" Brian protested.

I pulled Brian into a quick, tight hug. then let him go, after giving him a peck on the lips.

"I think it's cool, too, Bry. You certainly learned it faster than I did. One warning though, don't try to hold a long conversation over the wind. You'll hyperventilate."

"Bry, I like the sound of that," he said, grinning.

I don't know when I had started referring to him as Bry in my mind, but it just seemed to fit. Bri and Ty. We started walking toward the house again as he whispered a 'thank you' to Mark. A quick 'you're welcome, Brian' had him nearly hopping in place. I struggled to suppress my giggles. He was so cute!

We finally made it back to the house and walked into the kitchen. I walked over to Kent and gave him a hug. I whispered 'I'm sorry' into his ear and felt his arms pull me in tighter. I then walked over to Mark and we hugged.

"So, can I keep him?" I asked.

"Is he potty trained?" Kent asked.

The look of confusion on Bry's face was priceless.

"He's potty trained. I promise to take good care of him!" I begged.

"Well, so long as you feed and water him every day, and clean up after his messes, then you can keep him. If he starts to chew the furniture he's going outside," Mark announced with a wry smile.

I turned to Bry with a wide grin on my face. "It's settled, you can stay."

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Chapter 7 House Guests

Bry continued to stare at me with a confused look on his face. I felt a mix of longing and regret rush through him like ocean waves striking sand. The pain would recede, only to be replaced again with a stronger onslaught of sorrow. I guess the gift of 'Balance' only worked when he was in battle, because now I felt only the turmoil in his broken heart.

"Well, that's if you want to stay." I diverted my eyes to the floor, because I didn't want him to see my fear. He had enough on his mind.

I began kicking myself mentally. I've been so selfish lately. I didn't stop to think how his adoptive parent's reaction might be affecting him. They are his parents, after all. It must be awful to be so easily thrown away like unwanted trash. Admitting his homosexuality had been so traumatic for him. For an empathic Druid, I sure was missing the mark these last couple of days. The fact that we'd been killed and I had murdered someone probably didn't help the situation either.

I took a small step toward Bry and pulled him into my arms. I pulled him as tight as I could as sobs began to shake his body.

"They'll come around." My lips brushed his ears as I whispered to him.

I rubbed my hand along the curve of his shoulder trying to sooth him. As sympathy often does, the action only reminded us of what we're feeling and made it all the more real. We stood there in each others arms for several minutes before I heard the subtle creak of wood as the uncles moved closer to where we stood.

The mood had suddenly shifted, and I didn't know what to do to help him. If I squeezed him any harder he wouldn't be able to breath. I would have done it, if I thought it would have taken away his pain. I felt his tears wet my neck as his chest heaved against my own. The anguish that rolled through him ate at my heart.

"Please don't be sad. We're here. I love you," I whispered to him.

He pulled back and stared into my eyes. The sorrow had snuck up on him and now bored into me like a dagger.

"They hate me," he sniffed and I felt a slight pull within him. He was trying to collect the shattered pieces of his heart.

"They don't hate you, Brian." Mark's voice was gentle as he cupped his hand against his flushed cheek. "They just don't understand. Give them time." Mark ran his thumb through the trail of tears.

Bry sobbed and buried his face into the nape of my neck. At that moment, I almost wished his foster parents harm. For a single second I struggled with my beliefs. I could see how people might kill out of love. I knew it was wrong, but my heart wanted retribution. They had hurt Bry so deeply his sorrow enveloped the room. How do you console someone you love when their soul has been shredded by those closest to them? How do you repair a soul?

The burning rejection was flooding into me and my tears climbed down my cheeks. My heart ached for him as much as if it was me who had been so heartlessly cast aside. His loneliness and despair swallowed me. I felt alone in the world like I had fallen down into a deep, dark well. I knew these weren't my feelings, but they felt just as real. My mind reminded me that I wasn't the one who was cast off, but my emotion prevailed.

I didn't notice the sun's light wane, or the delicate drapes billowing from the harsh wind that blew in through still open windows. I was in a place of shadow, and the world mirrored my feelings of loss, or rather Bry's emotional reflection through me.

Thunder roared with the pain I felt and vibrated the glass panes of our windows. It hadn't started out as my emotional wound, but it was mine now. It coursed through my body like a white fire fed by my heart, and it consumed me just as easily. I felt darkness falling around me and fought against it, but I was lost. A continuous barrage of fleeting images blurred my vision. They were snippets of joyous and bitter memory from Bry's past. The visions continued from his earliest memories as a toddler, to learning to ride a bike, and on and on, until a more recent memory flashed across my mind. It was the memory of coming back to me, when we stood in each other's arms sharing a precious sweet kiss. It was that shared instance in our past, when we stood wrapped in each others arms, thinking nothing could ever make us happier.

*****

Wait!!

I felt myself merge into the memory and animate the body that was mine.

'Let's focus on this memory, Bry. This single perfect moment'. My voice had a strange resonance that seemed to echo back upon itself. It was the difference between how my voice sounded to me, and how it sounded to him.

The image became more vivid and an almost luminous world formed around us. Every detail was intact, vibrant, with each image edged with a fuzzy aura surrounding it. It was as though someone had taken the world and turned it slightly out of focus. I could smell the earth beneath my feet, and the water of my tears cooling from the feathery brush of the wind. I knew then, that the strange hue I saw, was the life energy in all things. It was dazzling.

'Where are we?' I watched Bry's eyes widen upon hearing the strange dual tenor of his voice.

'We're in a memory, though I don't think we should stay long.'

'I like this memory,' The wind rustled his blond hair as his dimpled cheeks pulled back into a smile.

I wanted to stare into his emerald green eyes forever, but could feel the heat of worry pressing against me.

'We have to go back, Bry. Kent and Mark are worried about us.' I tightened my arms around him and savored the rhythmic beat of his heart against mine.

'How do we wake up?' There was a hint of tension in Bry's strange new voice.

I was beginning to worry about our current predicament too, when Galen's familiar gravely voice answered.

'You open your eyes.'

*****

I found my self being pulled back to my physical body as if thinking made it so. I opened my eyes, to see Bry smiling back at me.

"Are you two alright?" Mark's laid his hand gently against my shoulder.

"We're fine, I think." I couldn't seem to stop smiling. The residual warmth I felt from Bry was almost intoxicating. "You okay, Bry?"

"Yeah, I'm good." It seemed he was having the same problem. His smile also appeared etched across his face.

"Teenagers!" Kent shook his head and looked at us as if we were some strange creatures.

"You're always welcome here, Brian. s**t on the floor, and you're welcome to the shed." Kent glanced over to me, smiling. "You did say he's potty trained right?"

"Language." Mark gave Kent a poke in the arm and an admonishing look.

"Well, you didn't seem to have a problem with swearing when you spoke with Thad last week," Kent grinned.

"Oh, you're really pushing it aren't you. You know I despise that fucker!" Mark cupped his hand over his mouth as soon as he had said it.

My eyes were wide with shock as I stared at Uncle Mark. Swearing wasn't such a big deal at our house, but we usually chose other words.

"Fucker. Nice one, Mark." Kent poked him back.

"Fucker," was said a third time and followed by a small giggle from Bry.

I took a step back and looked at the three of them smiling at me.

"Who the f**k is Thad?" I was totally confused. I stood, hands on hips, staring back at the three of them. I was glad the mood had taken a turn for the better, but I had fallen out of the conversation somewhere.

The three of them burst into laughter. I heard Shadow's nails tapping the linoleum floor as she padded through the doorway. She sat and stared at us with as much confusion as I felt. I guess the noise had woken her from one of her daily naps. Well, at least now I wasn't the only one wondering what the hell was going on.

"Thad Kard, your principal," Mark spluttered through stifled chuckles.

Then it hit me, the phone call when I was in Mr. Kard's office after the fight. Someone had called and ripped him a new a**. I thought it had been Trent, but it was Mark! I couldn't help but grin back at them and shook my head.

"Welcome to the family, Bry." I gave him a small poke in the arm.

"Thanks, uhh.. Do you think we could have an early lunch? I kind of missed breakfast." Bry looked almost sheepish at having to ask.

"Here are the rules, Brian. If you can find it, you're welcome to it. You're family now, you don't have to ask, so please don't consider yourself a guest."

We watched as Kent's expression changed a little, and I sensed a shudder of inspiration roll through him.

"Also... we share duties in this house, and I think I know just..." That was the last word Kent spoke before Mark cut him off.

"Oh no you don't, you're not getting out of laundry duty, mister." Mark folded his arms across his chest and tapped his foot. It was the look he wore when he meant business, and was not going to budge on the issue.

"But... but... I was just thinking..."

"I know exactly what you were thinking." Mark's voice changed from reprimand to tenderness almost instantly. "The month is half over, and a couple more weeks aren't going to kill you."

"It might..." Kent grumbled back, pouting at his latest defeat.

Mark shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"You two share chores for the next few months until Brian is familiar with our routine." Mark paused a moment to peek out of the corner of his eye to see Kent still pouting.

"Now that that's settled, there's still some 'almost bacon' in the fridge if you want to fix yourselves a BLT."

"So are you guys going to stay?" I had been wondering ever since their return, and I couldn't stand not knowing for certain. I didn't think I could handle it if they left again without some warning.

"Huh?" Mark looked at me as if I were crazy. "Oh! Of course we're not leaving you again. Why would you think we'd be leaving you?"

"Well you didn't exactly give me any notice the first time you know." I glanced from Mark to Kent and then back again. It still wasn't a fond memory.

"Ty, we did that because it was necessary. You needed contact with other people your own age. We had hoped the two of you would find each other, but we never dreamt that it would work out so quickly, or as well. We promise, no more disappearing acts."

Mark turned and walked over to where Kent stood sulking. "Come on you big baby. You know I always help you with the laundry anyway."

The smile on Kent's face was almost instantaneous. I began to wonder if this hadn't been his plan all along, and chuckled at the two of them as they went to the basement to begin the dreaded laundry duty. It isn't that it's difficult to throw the clothes in the washer and dryer. It's the seemingly endless trips up and down the steep stairs that make it such a chore.

"I'll toast the bread if you want to slice the tomato and shred some lettuce." I pulled the bread from the top of the fridge and manned the toaster.

Three glass plates for three people. Well, one dog and two druids, but I wasn't going to quibble. Before long we had thrown our BLT's together, and sat down for a small lunch. I noticed that everyone's BLT seemed to be missing the 'T'. I cut Shadow's bacon and toast sandwich into pieces and set it on the floor.

"You don't like tomato either, 'eh?" I nodded, indicating his sandwich.

"Nope, can't stand the seeds. You too?" Bry raised his eyebrows and tilted his head in my direction.

"Nahh, just don't like the taste of them. Never have. We can save the tomato though, Kent and Mark like them."

I handed Shadow the last bite of my sandwich and stood up from the table. I rinsed off my plate in the sink and set it to the side. I heard Brian scoot his chair back. I looked back to see him hand Shadow the last of his sandwich, too, and then walk toward me. I held out my hand and took the plate from him and rinsed off the crumbs and shattered specks of bacon that didn't make it to his mouth.

I heard the dull thumps of Mark and Kent's feet climbing the stairs behind the hiss of water blasting down into the sink against the dish I held. The wind blew lightly through the kitchen window and tapped the small metal tubes of the hanging wind chime against each other. Shadow barked and ran toward the door.

The uncles were just barely in the living room and practically threw their baskets of clothes to the floor. They spun around as I spoke.

"Good afternoon, Galen."

"Good afternoon. May I enter?" His voice sounded like it had been around so long it had become riddled with cobwebs.

I glanced at Bry and watched the tension of his muscles play across his body. He gave me a curt nod signaling his readiness. I smiled at him to let him know this was not the time for battle. His body visibly relaxed. It was as if his muscles let out a subtle sigh when he heard my next words.

"Please come in, Galen, you are welcome here." I dried my hands on the nearby towel and took the few steps it took to get to the door and open it for him. I followed his bent body into the kitchen and pulled out the chair I had sat in earlier when we enjoyed our lunch.

"Please, be comfortable." I walked past Galen and then stood at the refrigerator.

"Would you care for a drink, or a sandwich?"

There was a knowing flash that seemed to roll across the shine of Galen's distant sapphire eyes, and he smiled. He almost seemed giddy.

"You know, young man, I think I'd like that very much." The wood of his staff scraped the linoleum as he drug it to a spot between the wall and himself. He rested it carefully against the wall so that it would not fall.

Bry, Kent, and Mark just stared as I prepared our guest a sandwich and then placed it in front of him. Though he had not asked, I placed a glass of ice water in front of him, and he seemed grateful.

Galen took his time eating his lunch as we looked on expectantly. It was, to say the least, odd that he had come to visit us. That he ate in our home was inconceivable. You have to remember, this is the head of 'The Circle'. The oldest druid, and the 'Eternal'

Galen finished, rose from his chair, and bent slightly at the waist. "Thank you for your hospitality."

No sooner than his words were spoken, Galen grasped his staff with lightening speed, and swung it against Bry's midsection. The blow sent him through the wall that separated the kitchen and the living room. Wood and plaster splintered into a white powdery combination of destruction as he fell to the living room floor.

Galen was now standing, staff in hand, his eyes shining with delight. "You should be more careful who you let in your door," he rasped.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bry standing at the threshold to the kitchen. He was alright, though I could see the pain in his face.

"Your rebirth might have made your bodies more difficult to damage, but your training is still severely lacking." He staggered visibly and then looked at me in shock.

"And you should pay more attention to what you eat." It was my turn to smile as Galen dropped to his knees.

"Very good, young druid, there may be hope for you yet." Those were his last words before he fell to the floor, unconscious. His staff clamored against the linoleum.

Several hours later we sat in the living room around Galen as he rested on the couch. The sun had set and I had taken the last of the damage away with my healing hands. The Ricin, Belladonna, and Strychnine I had mixed into the mayo on his bread would have been enough to bring down a buffalo. Without care, his internal organs would suffer from the poisonous mix. All three were nearly without flavor except the Strychnine. Luckily, the mayo and strange taste of fake bacon had hidden the weak almond flavor of the poison. Separately they would never have been enough to slow Galen down but, combined, it had been just enough.

"I can't believe you poisoned a guest in our home." Mark was still pitching a fit about what I had done.

"Serves the old goat right, if you ask me," Kent grumbled as Mark shot him a warning look.

"Nobody asked you!" Mark snapped.

"He's quite right," Galen answered as he struggled to sit up.

We all jumped, hearing his words. Mark rose from his chair and went to Galen's side and helped him up. Bry and I were now on our feet as well, but not with any intentions to help the old man.

"My staff, please." His gravely voice was weak, but quickly regaining the strength I was used to.

"It's outside, leaning against the door. You can collect it on your way out." My voice was flat and without remorse.

"Ty!" Mark screeched my name and glared at me.

I looked at the hole in the living room wall and then back to Mark. "I don't think so. We're running out of walls. He can get his staff on the way out."

Galen chuckled and then rose from the couch without the slightest waver and walked to the kitchen doorway. His movement was graceful and a complete contrast to the facade he normally displayed when he trudged along with staff in hand.

"No more tests tonight then. Tell me. How did you know of my deception?" Galen paused and turned to look at me.

"It was the same lack of feeling you showed before you brought your staff down to bash in my skull after my rebirth," I said flatly.

"Was it only that?" His blue eyed intense gaze reflected his true interest. He was curious.

"No, Shadow barked when you arrived."

"And if you were wrong?" Galen shifted his weight and tilted his head.

"Then I'd be apologizing right now."

He chuckled at my reply and gave a small wave. "I'll show myself out. I'll return tomorrow at noon to begin your training." Galen paused to look at me and then Bry. A wry smile stretched his lips before he spoke. "Enjoy the rest of your evening."

He turned his back to us and I listened as the kitchen door opened and then shut and the screen door slammed against the frame. I heard the muted rumble of a gust of wind buffet the windows, and knew he was gone.

Mark gave me a brief hug and kiss against my forehead. "No more poisoning the house guests, Ty. It's rude." He smiled and ruffled my hair before holding out his hand to Kent.

"If someone hits my boyfriend, they'll be lucky if I don't feed them Shadow's dog food."

I chuckled as Shadow popped her head up at the sound of her name. She had slept beside me for the last couple of hours, warming my right leg. It didn't seem like much ever really phased her and I envied that.

Mark turned to Kent and leaned against him. "Gets his manners from your side of the family, too. Let's go to bed, it's been a long day."

As they made it to the stairs Mark paused to look back. "Get the lights before you two come up, okay? And don't stay up too long, I have a feeling you'll need your rest." He gave us both a knowing look and I felt a blush warm my cheeks.

"Goodnight!" Bry and I looked at each other, embarrassed.

As I heard the uncles climbing the stairs, I saw the pink of Bry's cheeks. He was grinning back at me and I suspected, like me, sleep was the last thing on his mind.

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Chapter 8 Celastrus Scandens "Bittersweet"

My mind shifted in a dreamy state as my senses crawled to life inside my skull. I saw the light pushing against the back of my eyelids. I listened to Bry's rhythmic soft breath and refused to open my eyes. I let the weight of my body press against his warm smooth skin. I couldn't remember when I had slept better or felt as happy to wake. We lay spooning in a mutual fetal position. My left arm was wrapped around his chest as if pulling him closer, with his arm's weight against mine. He seemed to want to keep it there, and I wasn't of a mind to object. Some time in the night, after our activities had ended, Shadow had crept up onto the bed and now lay against the back of my legs. The morning ache in my legs begged me to stretch and awaken. I stretched out and Shadow gave a weak disapproving growl as Bry grunted. It seemed neither of them wanted to wake up just yet, and I felt Bry pull my arm tighter around him as if it were a blanket.

"Good morning, sexy." I whispered the words, letting my lips brushed the back of his neck.

Bry grunted and pressed into the curve of my body. "Morning, sexy." I could almost hear the smile in his groggy voice.

I slid my hand down to his morning tension as I gave the back of his neck a few light kisses and pushed my feelings into him.

"Don't even think about it you two! Wash up, get dressed, and come down for breakfast." Mark's voice came through the closed door and shattered the moment completely.

I froze and felt my face burn. Had we been that loud last night? How the hell did they know what we were up to now? I rolled onto my back reluctantly and sat up as Bry fought against the sheets and sat beside me, blushing. I leaned over and gave Bry's neck a quick kiss and then rested my head on his shoulder. I pushed another wave of joy through Bry and felt him shudder.

"I mean it you two! Get moving!" Mark's words tore through the wood of my door and caused both of us to jump. I looked around, wondering if he was somehow in the room, but found only Bry staring back at me.

"Okay, okay, we're up!" I growled at the door. I listened as the weight of his steps and the creaking wood moved down the hall.

Bry's shock melted into a smile as he leaned into me for a quick kiss. Grinning, he hopped out of bed and stretched. The light from the rising sun through my window seemed to warm his nude body as his arms reached to the ceiling. The golden hues from the dawn climbed up the backs of his legs and to his slender mid section. My eyes crawled along his chalky white flesh and up his wraith-like form as he arched upward. Atop his grinning face and emerald green eyes was the scariest looking blond mass of chaos I had ever seen. His wavy shoulder length hair stuck out in so many directions it didn't just defy gravity, it mocked it. I glanced at myself in the mirror on the wall. I stared, amazed that anything could be even remotely as bad as the rat's nest Bry's hair had become, but found my own hair a near exact copy.

I am used to my own hair being a little scary in the morning, but the rigors of the night gave a whole new meaning to the term 'bed head'.

I looked back to Bry and chuckled. "Nice hair."

Bry's breath seemed to burst out a quick laugh and he nodded his head. "You too, or is there something living in there?" He squinted and seemed to study my head, waiting for something to erupt from the brown mess.

"Oh you're a funny one in the morning, 'Porcupine Head'," I joked back.

I climbed out of bed and let Shadow have a few more minutes of peace as I trudged over to my dresser. The floors were cold in autumn. I pulled out a fresh pair of socks for both of us and motioned for him to follow. I opened my bedroom door and Bry's gasp caught my attention. I looked back to see him leaping into the bed and covering himself with the tangle of blankets. Shadow was nearly thrown from the bed and she let out a loud growl. She was not at all happy with the sudden man-made earthquake that forced her from sleep.

"Shadow! Quit!" She was so temperamental in the mornings it made me chuckle. Her head popped up at hearing my voice. The hair about her nose was mashed and jutted out like some strange doggie-style handle bar mustache.

I looked over to see a very red faced Bry staring back at me.

"Hello?! We're naked!" He whispered the words in a hushed frenzy.

The realization of what he was saying made me laugh as he sat there hiding behind the tangle of sheets in his hands.

"The Uncles are downstairs. No one is going to see you but me." I smiled and wiggled my eyebrows at him. "Besides, we don't much care about nudity around here."

Bry just sat there staring back at me.

I chuckled again and shook my head. "How can you shower with thirty other people in school and have this bother you?"

"Those thirty people didn't know I was gay!" He seemed only slightly more embarrassed than he was annoyed.

"Well, if you didn't already know, we're all gay here, but if you really need something, there is a pair of shorts in the top drawer that you can wear until we get to the bathroom." I grinned and waited for his decision.

Bry slowly relaxed his grip on the sheets and smiled as something settled in his mind. He seemed to accept the idea as his body relaxed and his hands released the covers. He climbed out of the bed and walked toward me. A weak smirk showed me his dimples. "Nahh.. that's okay."

He walked up beside me, opened the door, took my hand and pulled me into the hallway with him leading the way. We were only a few steps away from the bathroom when the door opened and Kent walked out, completely nude. He had a dopey expression on his face as though he had just woken up. I felt Bry's hand grip mine like a vice as Kent made an obvious visual assessment along the length of Bry's body.

Kent glanced at me and grinned. "Lucky you." He turned and gave us a view of his rear as he went to his room.

"I kno-" I hadn't finished the words and I was pulled into the bathroom, with Bry slamming the door behind us.

"I thought you said they were downstairs?!" Bry's face flushed the deepest shade of crimson I had seen on him yet.

"I'm sorry, I thought they were. Bry, I know it's not going to be easy. If you need to wear clothes until you're comfortable around us I'll understand. We just view the body as a thing of beauty. In your case… a thing of extreme beauty."

I grabbed his hips and pulled him into me. The smell of sex and sweat lingered on his skin as I gave his neck a gentle nibble. "Let's get cleaned up, 'Shy Boy'."

I tossed both pair of clean socks to the floor and pulled fresh towels out from underneath the bathroom sink. Water blasted from the shower head as I twisted the knobs to what I considered the perfect setting. The water would be hot enough to relax and warm us, but not enough to burn. After a few moments I stepped into the shower and Bry followed.

It was a tight and intimate fit as the water pushed against us and trickled down our bodies. I grabbed the shampoo and handed it to Bry as he ducked his head into the spray of water. He squeezed out a dollop and handed the bottle back to me. Placing it aside, I grabbed the bar of soap and lathered him from head to toe as he kneaded the shampoo in his hair. I turned him by the shoulders and he began to rinse his hair and the front of his body. I soaped up his back and worked it down to his ankles. Giving a final turn, he finished rinsing and we changed positions. As my mind began to drift from the sensations his fingers were giving me, my eyes began to burn. The soap stinging my eyes brought me back to reality and I turned to rinse away the pain. I felt Bry's hands finish their seductive journey from my shoulders to my ankles and turned again to finish rinsing.

Shutting off the shower, I reached out to grabbed the towels and handed one to Bry. Finally dry, I wrapped the towel around my waist and fought with my socks, tugging them up over my still somewhat damp feet. Bry followed suit and I could see a small shudder roll through his body. It was a little brisk this morning. It was as if autumn had somehow snuck into the house and was winning the battle against the furnace. We slipped through the hallway almost covertly until we were back in my bedroom.

I grabbed us each a pair of jeans from the closet and tossed them onto the bed. Finding us both a hooded sweatshirt, I handed one to Bry. He stood shivering in the middle of the room, fighting to get the jeans over his shaking legs. Shadow watched us dress knowing her time to rest in the warmth of the blankets would soon end. Having a layer of fabric between my skin and the cool air of morning, I grabbed the comb from my dresser and raked it through my wet hair. I had worked out most of the snarls and saw Bry's lips smiling at me in the reflection of the mirror. I turned and handed him the comb and moved over to the bed to give him room. I watched as he made quick violent work of his unruly blond hair until it looked like it might dry into something more orderly.

I stood and picked the damp towels up from the floor. "Come on Shadow."

She stood, gave a lazy shake from head to toe, and flopped down onto the floor as I opened the bedroom door and walked into the hall. Shadow, Bry and I went down the hall. I paused at the bathroom and hung the towels on the shower rail so they would dry. The three of us bounded down the stairs like a herd of cattle and headed into the kitchen. The smell of 'almost bacon' and coffee drifted past my nose as I made my way into the room.

"Morning Kent. Morning Mark!" My voice was almost sickeningly happy. I smiled in spite of myself as I reached the door.

"Morning lover boys." Kent's voice had lost the sounds of sleep. I turned and watched him sip his coffee with a weak grin on his lips.

"Kent!" Mark was not quite as flippant when it came to intimacy.

My face burned. I could feel the rush of embarrassment coming from Bry as I pushed open the door and we made our escape. I glanced at Bry as Shadow went about her morning business and felt the curl of a smile press my cheeks.

"We could always skip breakfast and just leave the state." I gave Bry a light weak nudge with my elbow.

"There's a spare set of keys in the glove box." He grinned and elbowed back. "Might need to stop for gas though."

"The 'almost bacon' smells good, and I have to have my coffee first though, okay?" I gave Bry another jab in the side.

"Yeah… breakfast would be good. I'm starving!"

The wind brushed against my damp hair and a few dried strands of brown fluttered against my cheek. The morning chill was being replaced by the heat of the sun as it danced along the remaining dew. A landscape of sparkling diamonds stretched out before us, and the warming air promised a beautiful day.

"Well let's go back in before they think we're out here doing something we aren't." I chuckled and opened the door for Shadow.

I followed her in and Bry came after me. I went straight to the coffee pot, pulled two cups from the cabinet, and poured. I turned to Bry. "Coffee?"

He shrugged and seemed preoccupied with the floor. I poured him a cup and added sugar. I gave both our cups a final swirl with the designated 'community' spoon that lay on the counter, and handed him his cup. I watched Bry take a small sip and grimace. He choked down the brown liquid and touched his fingers to his burned lips. I chuckled and the sound of Mark clearing his throat drew my attention.

"Get yourselves something to eat and come sit, you two." Mark smiled, but I could feel something else milling about the back of his mind. Kent stared at his coffee as if locked in a trance. He was avoiding eye contact with anyone and everyone, but I could see the smirk that curled his lips.

I fixed Shadow a plate with bits of toast and broken 'almost bacon' and sat it on the floor. Then I grabbed a couple of slices of bacon and toast and handed the plate to Bry before making my own. He sat his coffee on the counter beside mine and stood next to me concentrating on his breakfast.

'All right Uncle Mark, what's up?" I stood facing him as Kent giggled.

"Well, uhh, you see," Mark said. Kent chuckled and quieted himself as he hid his eyes, "anyway. Well, what you two do is your business, and we're happy that you love each other, but,"

Kent burst into laughter and half choked on his toast. I felt the heat from Bry's embarrassment pressing against me like a furnace as Mark's cheeks blushed red. A quick glare in Kent's direction had him again preoccupied with his coffee. </SPAN>

"You see, you need to gain more control of your new abilities, Ty. Especially when you push your 'feelings' outward to other people." Mark let out a long breath having finally spoken the words.

My eyes opened wide and I felt my jaw drop. "Oh…" The realization that the emotional push I had given to Bry during our 'activities', had apparently traveled beyond him. I felt my face burn so completely, that even my ears felt warm against the cool morning air.

"Sorry about that." I mumbled.

"Don't be. We had a wonderful night." Kent was laughing again. "Little tired though, Mark doesn't seem to have the stamina he used to."

"Kent Lee Charleson! So help me…" Mark's face was blushing as much as I had ever seen.

I pinched my eyes shut, wanting to disappear more than ever before. I wasn't ashamed of our previous night's activities. That it had slipped out beyond our room and had affected the uncles, however, was too embarrassing.

I felt the sun warm me and the wind brush my skin as the world seemed to shift. I felt the sensation of movement as Kent's laughter faded into the distance. I opened my eyes and saw only a strange amber glow that surrounded me. I panicked, ran forward, and a sudden burst of daylight blinded my eyes. I had barely taken a few steps when something caught my foot. My body flew forward and twisted in the air causing me to land on my back. The sudden impact against the ground knocked the wind out of me. I lay dazed, struggling for air, and finally began to breathe again.

The feathery touch of damp grass tickled the back of my neck as I looked up into a canopy of tree limbs. The wind brought me raucous laughter that I knew belonged to Galen. I sat up and looked around. I was in our grove of trees. I whispered the words across the breeze. 'Very funny, Galen. Good morning to you too.'

'This was your doing, Ty, not mine.' The wind hissed between the leaves and I rose to my feet. I looked behind me and saw a root jutting from the ground a few feet before the trunk of the giant oak that resides in the center of our sacred circle of trees. Somehow, I had ran from the center of the tree, and tripped on the root. It didn't make much sense to me, but I couldn't really see any other possibilities.

"Well, I'm glad I can be such an endless source of entertainment to everyone," I grumbled out loud.

I was about to whisper to the uncles when I decided to let them stew a bit, and I began walking back toward the house. I heard their words traveling along the breeze, searching for me. I was at the edge of our back yard when I felt the pull of Bry's heart against mine. He had just come out the back door and stood staring at me.

"I'm okay… just took a small trip I guess." I felt his heart swell and then calm again, having found I was okay.

My socks were getting soaked with dew as I jogged back toward the house, where Bryan stood smiling. The uncles came tearing out the screen door, nearly ripping it from its hinges.

I stood in front of them as Mark walked up to me. "What happened to you?" He busied himself with brushing away the leaves and grass from my clothes.

"I fell," I answered flatly. I was still a little put out from my previous embarrassment but I didn't really want them to worry, much.

Mark stopped his fussing, took a step back, folded his arms and stood staring at me as he tapped his toe.

"You should have let us know you were okay, Ty. That was not funny." Mark's eyebrows pushed to the center of his forehead as he frowned.

"Well, someone seemed to think this morning was funny." I glanced at Kent as he diverted his eyes to the ground.

"Sorry about that, Ty, I couldn't help it. I'm sleep deprived." With that I heard a small giggle from Bry.

Mark scoffed and shifted his weight shaking his head. A smile crept across his lips. "I swear, it's like raising 3 twelve year olds. You're all grounded." He turned and went back into the house as the three of us followed, laughing.

There haven't been too many dull moments in my life lately. Laughter seems to ease the tension in a way only a family can share. We may laugh with our friends or acquaintances, but it's just not the same caliber of peace that comes from the feeling of home. I'm really glad that Bry's a part of that now and I couldn't stop myself from smiling from the thought.

We walked back into the house and I stripped off my filthy wet socks as I entered. I expected to see the beginnings of a fantastic bruise on the top of my foot but there was barely a scrape. Dying and rebirth definitely had its advantages. I hadn't noticed at the time, but I didn't even limp on my way back. I stood beside Bry, as I had earlier, and we finished our now-cold breakfast.

"So, how did you like rooting?" Kent glanced over to me, ignoring Mark's stare.

"Is that what it's called?" My confused look didn't seem to surprise him.

"Yes, it's called Rooting. Your essence travels along the roots of plants in the Earth to wherever you want to go."

Mark interrupted. "Yes, and it's very dangerous. You could have gotten lost or come out hundreds of miles away."

"Why didn't you teach me this before? How come I've never seen you do it?" It kind of bothered me they had kept something so useful, a secret from me.

Kent leaned forward and smiled. "You're not supposed to see it happen. The art of Rooting is not just the movement from place to place. It's moving seamlessly from place to place. People aren't supposed to notice you come and go. It is one of your final lessons, and we thought it best left to Galen, now that he has said he would train you two."

I looked from Kent to Mark and then decided there was no sense in pushing the issue. They hadn't taught me this yet for a reason, and I couldn't argue their decision. It did make me wonder how much more I had yet to learn about the Druid way.

"I'll be right back," I mumbled, raising my wet socks.

I needed a fresh pair and then had errands to run. I put my socks in the laundry hamper and grabbed a fresh pair from my dresser. I tugged them on and went back downstairs.

"We're going to head into town and run a couple of errands, okay?"

Mark looked at me suspiciously as I pulled on my shoes. "Just don't be too long. You may not have to go to public school, but you both still have your studies."

I smiled at Bry. "Well… got your keys?"

He ran his hands over his front pockets and shook his head. "They're upstairs, be right back."

"So, what are you up to, Ty?" Mark's voice was even, but the edge to his words told me he wouldn't take silence as an answer.

"I want to visit Doris. I want to see how the Lilac bush is doing, and I'm going to invite her to dinner if that's okay. She's lonely." I gave Mark my most pleading look, hoping he wouldn't mind the last minute invitation.

"Quit with the eyes already. You know it's okay. How about a picnic out in the grove?"

"Thanks, Mark, a picnic sounds great! I don't know if she'll take me up on the offer, but I thought it would be nice to offer." I turned my head to the sound of Bry bounding down the stairs, keys jingling as he hopped down each step.

It was nearly 7:30 and Doris would already be preparing for the onslaught of hungry teens. We could catch her before the majority of students arrived.

Bry followed me out the door and toward his car. "So where are we going?"

"To visit Doris." I climbed into the passenger seat and pulled the door closed before he could respond.

Bry stood outside the door for a moment before opening it and climbing in behind the steering wheel. "You're serious aren't you?" He sat staring at me as though I had suddenly grown a second head.

"Yes, I'm serious. She's a nice lady, and she's lonely. Besides, I want to make sure the lilac bush is okay. Then, after that, there's another stop we need to make.

Bry put the key in the engine, started the car, and drove down our curved gravel driveway. He turned onto the main road and we were heading toward town. We rode in silence for about five minutes, finally entering town.

"I know she's not the warmest person in the world, Bry, but give her a chance?" I shifted in my seat so I could face him as he drove. The wind from the open gap atop his side window caused his blond hair to flutter at the temple.

"She freaks me out, Ty. She scares me!" I saw a shudder roll through him.

"I think you can hold your own." I chuckled at the thought. "After all, Galen knocked you through a wall and you didn't even bruise."

"Yeah, but Galen used a wooden staff. Doris has knives!" Bry took the last turn that led down the block toward our previous place of torment.

We rolled to a stop in a parking place in front of the school, usually reserved for visitors, and I climbed out of the car, shutting the door behind me. Looking back, I could see Bry shaking his head and not showing any sign of exiting the car. I waved him out but he didn't budge. I gave up and shrugged and walked toward the school. I didn't mind going in, now that I knew I would never have to return. I suppose that is the difference between having a choice in something as opposed to having it forced upon you.

I pulled the heavy metal door and felt the weight of it shift as the threshold scraped loudly against the base of the door. The sound seemed to echo on forever in the empty lobby as I entered and made my way to the cafeteria.

As I expected, Doris was jiggling away, her back to me, intent on her work. I walked up to the counter behind her and reached up to the bush to feel the delicate lavender floweret's that were still in bloom.

"Touch it and die." Doris grumbled and spun around as if she somehow hovered in place.

"Oh! It's you." Her voice warmed the tiniest bit and I think she almost smiled. "What're you doing here?" Her fat eyelids squeezed almost shut as she looked at me suspiciously.

"Well, I won't be attending school here anymore." I felt a sudden flash of sorrow pulse through her steel resolve and then disappear just as fast. "I'd also like to invite you to a picnic this evening. Say 6 o'clock?"

"I don't think so kid," she paused "but, uh… thanks for the offer." Her look of suspicion cut me a bit.

"Come on, Doris, just think, someone making a meal for you for a change, and cleaning up after! It'll be good food I promise! Please come."

For the first time I heard a gruff chuckle erupt from her and shake her round body as a half smirk puckered her left cheek. "That would be a nice change. 6 o'clock, you say? Okay kid, you're on. You're out on old Orion road, right? The Charleson place?"

How the hell did she know where I lived?

"Don't be too surprised, kid, it's a small town. Now get the hell out of here, I got s**t to do." That said, she turned her back to me and busied herself with her daily routine.

"Take care of yourself, Doris." I said my quiet farewell and was rewarded with a not so subtle grunt.

I walked out of the school happy with the slight change of demeanor in Doris. I think she likes me!

"So, lived to tell the tale I see." Bry stared at me shaking his head.

"Doris is coming to dinner." I blurted it out almost too loudly. I was excited and pleased with myself.

Bry sat across from me staring again.

"Okay, look, I like her. Please give her a chance, okay?"

"You've got strange taste in people, Ty."

I poked him in the ribs, "Yeah, I know," and leaned over, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "Okay, let's go get your clothes."

"What?!" Bry's eyes widen and the look on his face most resembled a deer in the headlights of an approaching 18 wheeler.

"You need your clothes right? It's not stealing when you have a key to the house, and well… they are your clothes right? Isn't everyone gone now?"

"Well, yeah, they should be." Bry squirmed in his seat and I felt a slight sorrow roll through his heart.

"You need your clothes, Bry," I gave him a gentle nudge in the side.

"I know." His words were almost harsh as he interrupted me and then his voice softened, "I just.. I guess I didn't want to think about it."

Bry started the engine, backed up, and drove past the growing parade of cars, as students and faculty made their way to school. We wound around several corners and city blocks before Bry pulled into the driveway of a bright yellow ranch style home. The yard was immaculately groomed and the house promised three bedrooms and two baths. It was one of those square homes that looked smaller on the outside than it truly was.

We drove up the driveway that led to the back of the house and got out of the car. Bry led the way into his previous home and paused only a second as he entered the kitchen. It was a bright peach color. It was immediately obvious that his foster mother had an obsession with chickens. Everywhere you looked, there were chickens. Whether they were in décor, or utensil form, they lined every shelf, countertop, and stretch of wall.

We went through the kitchen and Bry opened a door that led to the basement. The stairway was nestled between the kitchen and living room. As he twisted the knob and opened the door, a sound of something being flung against the wall traveled up the steps.

Only a second passed. We leaned forward to hear what might be going on downstairs when a Werelion leapt up the steps. It seemed to close the distance in a single bound as Bry dropped. I was left facing the Werelion as it soared through the air obviously intent on killing me. I was f*****.

The Werelion's hideous growl stopped short as I raised my arms to shield my face. Bry plunged his open hand, like a knife, into the chest of the Lycan. The creature crashed against my chest but only threw me backwards. There was no sensation of teeth, claws or tearing flesh. I scrambled backwards and watched as the animal changed from Lion to man. A fire burned along the edges of the creature like grooves of a puzzle completed, and then set ablaze. Seconds later, there was only ash flickering down to the carpeted steps leading to the basement and Bry's room.

"Ouch," a strange squeak erupted from Bry. He lay, legs out in the splits, where he had dropped and struck the Werelion. He fell backward and slowly brought his legs together rocking in the fetal position.

"That was amazing!" After last night I knew he was flexible, but that was incredible.

"Uhh.. I think I hurt something important." Bry's voice squeaked out his pain.

I reached out with my senses and found we were alone. I crawled over to where he lay and curled around him. "Thank you."

I pushed my love and healing through him. I felt his body relax into mine and his breath slowed.

"It should be safe now. I don't sense anyone else in the house." I pushed my nose into the silky blond hair at the nape of his neck and gave a small peck.

Bry turned back to me and gave me a quick kiss. "Thank you," and then he rose cautiously to his feet. He seemed to be worried about impending pain, but none came. He left me and returned with a broom, dustpan, and a small garbage bag.

"You clean, I'll get my things." Bry handed me the broom and dustpan and bounded down the steps to his room into the descending dark of the basement.

I swept up the charred remains of our attacker, and watched as Bry rushed back and forth taking his things from the basement to his car. He went back down the stairs and, finally, climbed back up from the darkness. His final climb from the stairs was slow and quiet. I could feel the hollow of his heart ache. I finished spooning the rest of our attacker into the trash bag and paused to watch Bry walk slowly past, carrying a picture frame as though it were a lost treasure.

I put the broom and dustpan by the counter and leaned against the counter top. A few moments passed and I was going to go check on him when he entered, nearly ripping the screen door from its hinges. He stared at the floor as his blond hair hid his expression. He took a couple of slow steps forward and stopped. His shoulders and head were dropped as if he had been beaten by life and left defeated. His head hung low and his shoulders rounded against the weight of his arms as he stood before me. I could feel the anger pouring from him.

"What if they had been here, Ty." He spoke the words quietly. "They would have been killed." The usual amber tones of his voice had become hollow and stern. I knew he didn't want an answer. In that instant, I also knew he blamed me.

"Then they would have died. If we hadn't met, you would be dead, too. Don't fill your world with 'what ifs' Bry. You're Druid. Whether or not we ever met, you would still be that. Had we never met, you and your previous 'family' would now be dead." I didn't hide the anger behind my words. I couldn't help it. I spat out the venomous words and felt each bruise him with their attack. "So, before you blame me for this, think about that."

I threw the broom and dustpan to the floor, walked past him, and out the door. I let it slam against the wooden frame as I headed down the driveway toward the street.

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Chapter 9 Reunion

Finally reaching the end of the driveway I felt for the familiar lump in my front pocket. Like many things I carried with me, my pocket knife was always there. I used it for trimming the plants of my garden, but now I had other work for it.

I pulled out the blade and placed it against the fat of my palm and gave a quick jerk. The bite of metal into my flesh was a sudden flash of pain, but I endured it. I folded back the knife and pushed it back into my pocket for safe keeping. Clenching my fist, to promote the flow of blood, I took one final deep breath and began casting the ward. I watched my blood fall from my fist as I circled his house envisioning the barrier that protected it. Each drop was a pillar that held aloft a great impenetrable dome. Nothing that might harm Bry’s parents would ever pass this barrier and survive. There would never be conflict within this circle. I willed it to be as I took each step, and spoke the incantation in my mind.

Blood magick is all but forbidden except for the most extreme situations. It is also the most powerful. As far as I was concerned, this was one such moment. Bry was angry with me and his adoptive parents were in great danger. The problem with blood magick is that you give a little piece of your soul to it. Performed too often, the caster is left an empty withering shell. I closed my eyes and let nature guide my steps. The silken touch of wind pressed against my skin and led me as I walked the circle. As I met the spot where I began, an electric current surged through me. I knelt down, pushed my open palm against the ground and completed the circle.

A clap of thunder rolled overhead and a harsh breeze caught my hair creating little feather like fingers that tickled my neck and cheeks. The ward was complete and the smell of vanilla filled the air.

“What was that?” Bry’s voice came from behind and startled me as I fell to the side.

My body felt heavy and I was exhausted. I suppose shaving off pieces of your soul had more immediate side affects than I realized.

“Ty? TY! Are you alright?” Bry’s voice wavered and I felt the pressure of his hands grip me through numbed flesh.

“They’ll be safe now Bry.” The weak tenor of my voice surprised me, but I was too tired to care.

“Ty!” Bry shook me and my vision blurred.

“Bring him to the grove immediately.” The wind brought what sounded like Galen’s ancient voice, but the words echoed strangely as sleep took me.

“Ty, wake up.” I was content with my dreams, but the words were urgent.

“I said GET UP!” The command exploded in my mind as my eyes burst open and I shot upright.

“Damn! What the hell is your pro-“

“Fool boy!” I had only begun to speak when something struck my side and pushed me off the altar. Do you have any idea what would have happened if the ‘Sanctuary’ failed!”

“Back off old man!” Bry stood between Galen and myself. He moved so fast I never saw it. One moment he was at my side and the next he was yelling at Galen while giving me a cute view of his rear. “He did it for me. Leave him alone!”

I struggled to my feet in time to see Galen’s staff soaring toward Bry’s head. A crackling and crunching sound erupted from behind me as a limb of our sacred great oak blocked the attack. A mist of bark and dust erupted into the air.

“It’s not their fault Galen. Bry isn’t trained, and we never told Ty the old legends.” Mark’s voice was calm and soothing. He spoke with his heart. It was the same tone I heard during my sorrow, and calmed me when I woke from nightmares.

Galen took a deep breath, sighed heavily, and brought his staff back to the ground beside him. The crunch and crackle drew my attention as the great oak pulled back its limbs and rested. It seemed to be soothed by Mark’s gentle words, and let the press of wind sway the ancient branches.

“Well then, I suppose that will have to be today’s lesson.” Galen leaned against his staff, made his way to the altar and sat down.

“Long ago, there was a city called Alantia. It wasn’t a city so much as a meeting place of the oldest things within the multiverse. Advancing cultures came, went, and studied there. It was a crossroads of sorts. This world was new and had become a common ground for problems and solutions. It was a place of ascension, and the stepping stone beyond what we were then.”

Galen’s eyes seemed to glaze over as he recalled the ancient past.

“This world was unstable, and a volcanic eruption was eminent. In the meantime, a foolish young man found his hearts desire in a beautiful woman within the city. They spent many fretful days and nights together until the dangers became too great.”

Galen paused for a moment as a small smile stretched his lips. I could see the city within his mind and it was amazing. Towers of white light stretched to the sky that looked to have been built by the sun itself. Stars traveled about between the pillars of light like our modern day traffic, but Galen’s memories told me those pinprick of floating light were ancient beings.

I felt a nudge and turned to see Bry’s skepticism furrow his brow. I nodded to let him know what we saw in the old man’s head were not delusions, but memories of days long past. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it would have been like to exist in that time.

Galen continued. “The oldest things of that time would not intervene. Many left to allow the natural progression of this world. One young man however, did not.”

The images suddenly flare to life in my mind. Ash rained down from the sky choking the air as the earth shook beneath my feet. The smell of sulfur and burning wood filled the air. A young brown haired man circled the city as he trudged though the now foot deep layer of ash. Droplets of blood fell from a clenched fist as he made his journey. His steps were labored but he continued. Finally finishing the circle, he placed his hand against the earth, but something went wrong. An explosion of bright white light blasted me back to reality.

“I failed.” Galen’s shoulders rose and fell as he took a deep breath. “By the time I had finished the circle, I was too weak to control the magick.” His chin dropped at a snails pace as his eyes studied the ground. “My mistake was more destructive than the volcano could ever have been. The order on this world was disrupted, and all was nearly lost. Nature has a funny way about it though. Many decades later, the dust settled. The world was reformed, and new life began.”

“So then, my love and I stayed as penance.” Galen’s eyes lifted to the clouds and seemed to search the horizon.

“So Alantia was destroyed?” Bry stood slack jawed and stared as though he were trying to bore holes into Galen with his eyes.

“There.” Galen pointed to the sliver of white moon that shone in the afternoon sun.

“That is what remains of Alantia. It is a constant reminder of my failure.” His shoulders sank as he rested his weight against his wooden staff.

“Well, at least you get to spend eternity with your love.” I smiled at the thought of it.

“Not quite.” I saw a haunting emptiness in Galen’s eyes as he spoke the words. The wind shifted and a thousand breaths whispered. “Doriana”

“It’s Doris you stubborn weeds. Gods! Why do they never listen?” Doris emerged from behind the giant oak as if she crawled from the shadows themselves. I had never seen anything like it.

There she was, in all her rotund grandeur, picnic basket in hand, walking toward us. Doris passed Galen and her hand swept outward, popping him against the back of the head.

“Hello again you old fool.” Doris didn’t even turn to see his reaction.

Galen jumped up as if struck by lightning. I watched his eyes widen as she turned. For a fraction of a second I saw and felt the most desolate aching need. It was if someone had opened a door with a tornado of yearning just outside. An absolute fury of longing clutched my heart like a vice. Then, just as quickly, it disappeared as if the door had been slammed shut again.

“You could show the slightest bit of respect woman!” He shook his staff as he spoke.

“No one respects a fool Galen.” Doris placed the basket on the ground and pulled out a small blanket. She gave the blanket a quick shake, a snap, and let the air catch it. It settled against the grass like a falling cloud.

I don’t know what surprised me more. That they knew each other, or that she could possibly be his betrothed. I needed more time for my slightly shattered mind to grasp hold of the bigger picture.

Galen raised his staff off the ground and then slammed it into the earth. A white light burned from his center and consumed his entire body. He was transformed as if the blaze of white ate the age from his body. A young man now stood where he had been only seconds earlier. The one thing that hadn’t changed about him was his deep blue eyes. Though now, his back was no longer bent with the weight of time. His white hair was now thicker and a medium brown as it curled down from his angular square face and rested against his shoulders. His body was taut with lean muscle. He was beautiful.

“Oh… so we’re going to do that then. Fine!” Doris stood and a bright blue light burst from her core nearly blinding me.

When my vision returned to normal, I saw a supple young woman standing next to the picnic basket. Doris’ green eyes contrasted her red hair like precious jewels. She stood, seeming almost too thin, barely covered in a sheer gown. The amber glow of the setting sun behind her traced the contours of her delicate body.

Looking at the two of them was like seeing some form of twisted art. The only way I could describe it would be as lustrous hate. I can’t ever remember seeing something so beautiful and yet so frightening.

I watched as they clashed. I’m familiar with the dance of battle, but what they performed was a ballet of power. The way that their forms played against the bend of nature around them amazed me. A limb would fall, and a root would emerge to counter. A giant dirt covered boulder erupted from the earth and sailed toward Doris. She remained still as a massive lightning strike cracked it in two sending the rubble to either side of her. They moved between it all as though the elements were simple extensions of themselves. Instead of the clank of metal swords or gunshots, the wind, thunder, and crunch of wooden branches filled the air. I watched as their white and blue aura flared with each strike and counterattack.

I felt Bry’s arms fold around me from behind as he rested his chin against my shoulder. “I suppose it’s okay to waste time when you have been here for so long.”

The air stilled and the battle halted.

“What did you say?” Doris appeared before Bry and me with Galen beside her. The light shining around them dimmed until only the pink remnants of sunset shown behind them.

Her words weren’t angry as she studied us, but I felt the tension in my own muscle threaten to react as Bry’s arms tightened around me.

“I always knew there was something different about you Doris.” I reached forward and brushed an auburn chock of hair out from in front of her eyes.

Another flash tore trough me as violently as it had when Galen laid eyes upon her. It was that same vicious consuming need. A hollow beneath her chest seemed to pulse and threatened to devour me. ‘He never asked.’ I heard the words in her mind. I pulled my hand back slowly and looked into her beautiful green eyes. It made me smile to think what beauty hid beneath the hulk of a woman I met in the lunch room.

“Doris?” I felt something at her core shake. She turned her head away slightly and diverted her eyes to the ground as she walked toward the still waiting picnic dinner.

“Mind your business boy.” Her voice shook with the threat of tears as she sat on the blanket and began pulling out food.

I was going to push for an answer when I felt her shut off completely. I could only see her form as if she were any other inanimate object or piece of furniture. There was no more emotion.

“So that’s it?” Bry didn’t hide the confusion in his voice.

A much younger Galen patted him on the shoulder as he walked toward where Doris busied herself straightening the windblown blanket. “This is how it has always been since that day.”

“Well, are we going to eat or not?” She was pulling the food from the picnic basket. Her familiar but angry demeanor was a strange contrast to her newly revealed beauty.

I didn’t notice Mark leave, but saw him emerge from behind the giant sacred oak with his arms full. He walked over to where Doris sat and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “Like macaroni salad?”

She gave him a weak smile and a nod. “It’s been some time.”

Kent went to join them and Bry and I followed. We sat around the blanket and looked at the spray of food before us. Doris removed the lid from a final bowl and placed it in the center of the many salads. In it was a pile of fried chicken.

I watched in horror as Bry plucked out a chicken leg and tore a thick chunk of meat from the bone with his teeth. He moaned as he chewed and dabbed at a bit of fried batter at that clung to the corner of his lips.

“Well at least someone appreciates my cooking.” Doris grunted with satisfaction before grabbing a piece of the fried chicken corpse and placing it on her plate.

“How can you eat that?” I didn’t mean to say it so loudly, but I was shocked.

Doris tipped her head back and laughed into the coming night. “It is natural boy. You have incisors and canine teeth. They are in your mouth for a reason. Man is omnivorous. You are meant to eat meat and plants. Why would you ever think eating a plant is okay, and eating meat is not? Have they taught you nothing?”

Galen gave a short huff as he dipped a spoonful of coleslaw onto his plate.

“I raised that chicken, fed it, gave it a good home, and then cut off its head. Is it so much different, than growing a cabbage, ripping it from the earth and shredding it under a knife? It is easier for you because there is no spray of blood and no scream?” Doris shook her head and pushed a fork full of pasta salad into her mouth.

I watched Kent’s back go rigid as the words met his ears. I could feel the conflict in him before he finally settled. “She does have a point.”

Slowly, he reached into the bowl of fried chicken, grabbed a finely battered thigh, and brought it to his lips. He closed his eyes, sniffed, and took a bite. I watched him chew and listened to his quiet sounds of pleasure as he savored the taste.

“It’s great Doris, thank you.” Bry dropped his eyes to the ground and blushed.

I suppose his diet had changed drastically since he arrived here and I couldn’t begrudge him his enthusiasm. I gave him a soft elbow to the ribs and smiled. He lifted his green eyes to mine, and the smile on his face was precious. I couldn’t imagine my world any longer without him at my side.

Mark lit a bon fire from the debris and aftermath of Doris and Galen’s battle. I felt the heat brush my skin as I leaned against Bry. We all ate chicken that night, and it was good. We sat in silence for a long time watching the yellow-orange flames lick the sky and listening to the crack and snap of wood as it was eaten by the fire. The smoke rose above us, and the sweet smell rode the air like incense. We were gorged on wonderful food and nestled against those we loved most. A cool breeze brushed our skin but the fire kept the chill at bay. A lazy ache rested in my bones, and I was happy to have Bry to share it with.

A hiss of wind caught our attention as two daggers plunged into Galen’s eyes. He fell against the earth like too much dead meat. A bright blue light flared around Doris and the fire from the pile of wood shot toward the sky like a pillar of anger.

“GALEN!” Her shriek was felt as much as it was heard. Doris rose into the air with her arms outstretched and the earth trembled beneath our feet.

She became a blazing pinpoint of blue light as though a piece of the sun had been cast off and now hovered above us. The entire grove could be seen in the pulsing glow. At each tree of our sacred grove, stood a member of ‘The Circle’.

“We follow someone else now b****! Finish them off. I need to report the good news.” The shadowy blue silhouette disappeared into the shadows, but I knew the voice. It was the bastard from my first contact with Galen. It was the pompous, too shrill, voice from the shadows that had visited only a week ago.

“I will destroy you all!” Doris’ words crossed the darkness like rolling thunder as giant blue tendrils wound their way outward to the remaining members of the circle..

The blue bands of light writhed and searched out each member of ‘The Circle’ and struck the intruders like a snake. The blazing tethers broke free from her and then wrapped around them completely. It strangled them viciously and I could smell the stench of burning flesh. Their anguished screams filled the night until there was only silence and small piles of ash where they once stood.

“Will you join me?” Galen raised his hand to the stars.

I watched Doris’s waning light drift down and become form as she knelt beside him. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask. Why did it take you so long?” She finished her question as she placed a delicate kiss on his lips.

Galen lay there blind and fading. “I suppose; we all suffer our ego. You should not have given so much of yourself to revenge my love.”

He played his fingertips along her jaw. “I love you.”

“And I have always loved you, old fool.” Her tears crawled down her cheeks as she ran her fingers through the blond hair at his temples.

“Young druids, come quickly. As Bryan has so aptly put, we have no time to waste. You must know what we know. Take my hand.” Doris helped Galen to his feet. He was a horror to look upon as the daggers still stuck out obscenely from his eyes.

“Bry. Ty.” Doris indicated as she took our other hand. “Let’s finish this my love.”

“I could heal you!” My voice shook as sadness gripped me.

“This wound cannot be undone Ty. There are limits.” His breath was labored and I felt him fighting to shield me from his agony.

“My debt to you is paid Ty. Please accept my apologies for your godfather’s death.” I felt Doris and Galen’s grip tighten. They tipped back their heads and let out a long sigh that echoed along the wind.

I stared at Bry as a bright growing ball of swirling light formed in the center of our circle. As the sphere grew and pulsed their forms faded. I could still feel the weight of their hands in my grasp, but it was quickly fading. Suddenly the spheres convulsed and a winding thread of light surged outward and into our chests. With it came a flood of memories that weren’t out own. Many lifetimes passed in a blur as knowledge filed away in our minds. A bright flash of light nearly blinded me. My arms were still outstretched, but Galen and Doris were no longer standing beside us. Between us were two glowing orbs of light. One was white, and the other blue. They circled each other and rose to the sky.

“Farewell and good luck.” Their voices spoke in unison and the two orbs shot upward to the stars.

There’s a responsibility that comes with knowledge and I felt the weight of it on my shoulders. It’s heavy and obtrusive. The sudden realization of the bigger picture worried me and gripped my mind. I busied myself with picking up the mess that was our picnic dinner in some useless attempt to preoccupy my thoughts. I didn’t want to think about the task ahead of us. We now knew the path we had to follow. It wasn’t going to be easy. How were we, teenagers in the throws of puberty, going to unite these creatures for the upcoming battle?

Yet again, too much had happened too quickly. I was numb. The night wind chilled the trails of tears on my face, but I could only feel muted pangs of sorrow and loss in my heart. There is a limit to how much a body can feel and I was well beyond the line. I finished gathering the bowls and containers of left over food and wrapped them in the blanket that had been our table. I knew Galen and Doris were somewhere else now, but I didn’t find any consolation in that knowledge.

“Ty? Bry? Are you okay?” The question touched a tender spot in my heart and my eyes threatened more tears.

I heard the soft foot falls of Bry’s feet as he approached me and placed his hand on my shoulder. I turned and looked into his eyes and was met with the same horror I felt. The last vestiges of our innocent had been snuffed out and we mourned the loss. We saw the world differently now. The memories of too much suffering and sorrow threatened to choke me as I gazed into Bry’s haunting green eyes. There was much to do, and our time to do it had just dwindled to a matter of weeks.

“I’ll see you back at the house. I need to let Shadow out.” I moved through the darkness with only the embers of the dying fire lighting my body. I moved through the sacred oak.

The world shifted effortlessly and I emerged from the tree in our front yard. I was a few feet from the front porch that still housed the remnants of my herb garden.

“Damn you Galen.” I muttered the curse as I carried my make shift hobo’s bag and the remains of our picnic to the side door of the house.

Shadow was barking and I could hear the rhythmic thud of her weight as she jumped against the door. At first it worried me. She seldom barked without a reason. I reached out with the fingers of my mind, but didn’t feel anything unusual. There was nothing other than the urgency Shadow felt to get out. I opened the door and watched as she raced into the yard. She barely finished two full strides before she squatted. The poor girl had to go. She was being neglected compared to how I usually doted on her, and I felt guilty for it. I would have to take more care from now on that she got the attention she was used to, and I thought she deserved.

I didn’t see it so much as I felt Bry and the uncle’s arrival. The trees told me of their travels and images flooded my mind as they moved like thoughts along nerves toward their destination.

Shadow finally finished her business and I held the door for her as she trotted passed and into the kitchen. Following her I placed the blanket and its contents on the kitchen table and began putting the leftovers away in the refrigerator. I was nearly done when they walked through the door. Bry was first and Kent and Mark were close behind. Each face seemed as weary as the next and I knew it was going to be an early night to bed.

“We’ll talk in the morning, but for now, I think we’d all best head to bed.” Mark’s voice was weak and worn as though he had spent too many hours cheering for the winning team.

There was nothing I wanted to do more at that moment, than to disappear in the sheets of my bed and Bry’s warm embrace. I was exhausted mentally and physically like some wash cloth that had been wrung too tight and then tossed aside to bake in the sun. I nodded to Mark as Bry helped me place the last of the dirty dishes in the sink. We gathered up the empty blanket and finished our clean up duties.

Kent made the rounds in the house making sure every window and door was securely locked while the rest of us trudged up the stairs to our beds. Shadow led the way with surprising energy. I suppose it was the company of those she loved that added that extra spring to her step.

We made our way to our rooms and I heard the final clicks of light switches as Kent climbed the stairs. I heard a barely audible tap against the bedroom door and then Kent’s muffled voice.

“Good night you two.” The creak of wood followed his steps as he moved down the hall and I heard the thud of their bedroom door close.

We stripped off our clothes and all but fell into bed. I reached out and shut off the lamp on the bedside table. The bedroom window was cracked open an inch or so and I watched the soft breeze play against the sheer white curtains in the moonlight. They almost looked to be waving goodbye as they billowed with the wind. The air was cold and urged me to sleep. Shadow made her final preparations and found a comfortable place near my head on the pillow. Her curly hair tickled my skin, but I reveled in the contrast of cold night air and her radiated warmth.

Bry’s arm snaked around my chest and pulled me in closer. “I love you.”

I gave his strong arm a squeeze and pulled it tightly against my chest. “I love you too.”

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Chapter 10

Dark Horizon

The morning sun blazed against the back of my eyelids and the chill of the autumn morning made me want to dig deeper into the warmth of Bry’s body. The frost filled air caused an involuntary shudder in my chest as I yawned.

I pulled Bry’s arm around me and tried to squirm deeper into the covers to hide the small bits of flesh that were exposed to the cold during my night’s slumber. He let out a gasp as I twisted around and buried my face into his warm chest. The tip of my nose felt like ice, and I tried to hide from the frigid air and memories that threatened to tear me permanently from my sleep.

“Morning Ty.” Bry’s fingers trailed through my tangled hair, pulling against the night’s work of knots and pillow-made curls.

I responded with a grunt.

“Rise and shine beautiful; we have to pack.” I wanted to cry. That piece of spoken reality destroyed any illusions I had of sleeping later into the day.

Sliding up the length of his chest in a stretch, I looked higher and found his loving deep green eyes staring back at me. I couldn’t help but smile, and trailed my fingertips along the curve of his jaw. It tapered to his chin but promised a prominent square line in adulthood. He was beautiful, even now, with his crazy mess of blond hair and warm emerald eyes. Dusting the line of his jaw with my lips, I kissed him gently on the parcel of skin beside his ear.

Sitting up, I let my head hang and breathed a heavy sigh as the blue comforter gathered at my hips. I was happy with my wraith-like body and took a moment to admire my narrow waist. I’m not packed with muscle, but my work around the house, and my diet, keep me lean.

I needed a shower and a hot cup of coffee. Shadow kicked her legs out and I felt the sharp ends of her toenails graze my back. Our movement woke her and she didn’t seem any happier at finding the dawn than I was.

The last remnants of my morning ‘tension’ withered as I threw back the covers and let the cool air assault my flesh. I crawled out of bed and heard Bry follow. The crunch and creak of bed springs told me I wouldn’t spend my morning misery alone. I liked the cold weather when I slept. The brisk air would make me burrow so deep into the covers I might never see daylight, but I always rose with the sun. Climbing out into the crisp surroundings, however, was another thing. Fall mornings in Illinois are not your friend.

It was November; the smell of earth, dried leaves, almost sausage, and coffee filled the air. ‘Thank the gods, they were already up.’ A smile spread across my cheeks with the thought. The uncles had already started breakfast.

We shambled, zombie-like, down the hall to the bathroom. I turned the shower knob labeled ‘H’ as far as it would go, and gave the ‘C’ a barely perceptible nudge. The hot spray of water gradually changed the bathroom into a mist-filled sauna. We stepped beneath the raining torrent of heat and came to life under the cascade of steamy rivers flowing down our skin.

My mind told me we were clean, but my body seemed to have other ideas. Bry’s rigid manhood mirrored my own as we slowly pressed against each other in a lingering kiss. Our hips ground together in a slow rhythm as our mouths danced against each other. At one point I thought I might suffocate, but let my worries go as a strange burning sensation erupted along the skin of my neck beneath my ears. My lungs filled with a fresh breath of humid air. I ran my hands along the silk-like skin of his back and pulled him into me even tighter. Our frenzied embrace continued until release. I felt him shudder against me as we spilled new warmth between us.

At that moment, I felt my heart open and touch his. The rhythmic beating in our chests filled my ears as our souls joined. We were one being, complete, and I knew we were now in another place. The sweet smell of lilac filled the air and I felt the blaze of heat from the sun shining overhead.

“You lost the bet!” Doris’ voice echoed in the wind. It was something spoken from far away, but found me as if the words had been whispered into my ear.

“Later, my love.” Galen’s voice resonated with the same hollow echo.

I reared back as if stung by a bee, and marveled at our surroundings. Bry and I stood in a field of waist high grass that swayed in a gentle breeze. Looking out, it reminded me of the ocean. The lazy plants bent away from the warm breath of wind like currents of water. It was a landscape of rolling green lit by the blazing warmth of the sun. We stood atop a hill, across from Galen and Doris. The wind pulled my shoulder length brown hair behind me and the feathery touch tickled my back, as the earth seemed to breathe in and out.

‘Doris!” I couldn’t contain the joy in my voice, and didn’t want to.

Blue light trailed along the edges of her petite form. Her fiery red hair and piercing green eyes were the same as when she and Galen had battled. I don’t know why, but seeing her comforted me. I missed her. They both continued on, and it put my mind at ease.

Galen stood beside Doris in a different but equally bright white light. He was as young as I remembered seeing him, and he was smiling. I can’t remember seeing him do that before and it warmed my heart. They were together at last.

Their forms seemed to wink out of sight and draw closer. They were crossing the distance between us without taking steps. It wasn’t the covert movement of rooting. They simply shifted closer as we watched them blink in and out of sight, drawing closer and closer. Soon they stood before us. Their forms were a strange contrast to what I had become accustomed to in the past. There were no illusions.

“We come with a warning and a gift.” Galen’s voice echoed across the landscape as if bouncing back from the sky itself.

Galen and Doris clasped hands. Together they reached out with open palms toward us. A small white sphere emerged above their fingertips and lingered in the air.

“Your time is short young druids. This will speed you along your way.” Doris spoke the words in a sure and level voice as the balls of light shot forward and into our chests. A gust of wind buffeted our bodies, as the spheres seemed to grow and merge with our souls.

“I’m sorry to pass this burden on to you.” Galen looked to Bry and continued, “But, if you cannot dissuade Asher from his search for his brother Lucif, you must destroy him. You cannot risk the balance.”

“WHAT!?” Even with our new abilities, I didn’t believe we could destroy Slegna.

It had never been attempted and I wasn’t about to try. Even with our recently acquired knowledge and abilities I knew it was an unthinkable act. Who in their right mind would ever consider killing the oldest of things? That is what and who Asher and Lucif are. They are Slegna: beings beyond time.

“You have a destiny, and there is a price to pay if you invoke free will. Choose wisely.” Their forms wavered before us and a white blast of light pushed us back to our reality beneath the less than warm spray in the shower.

The water heater failed in its task to keep up with the demand, and we now stood shivering in the tepid spray. I reached down and gave the knobs a few quick turns to staunch the flow.

“We can’t kill him Bry.” I stepped out onto the cold tile floor and steadied myself by grabbing the towel holder.

“You can’t… but I can.” Bry stepped out behind me and held my shoulder for balance.

The low hollow tone of his voice made me pause, and I turned my head to look at him. His ominous words worried me. I had seen his darker side once before. It was after I fought the bullies during my brief stint in ‘public’ school. He absolutely reveled in their defeat and there had been an almost sinister glint in his eyes. The expression on his face now, was the same as it was then. A dark, resolute wave of emotion pulsed through him and subsided.

“By the way, you might want to lose the gills.” I jumped hearing the words.

I was lost in thought and his statement startled me. He turned to look at me and a grin dimpled his cheeks. My sweet Bry emerged as if someone had flicked a switch in his mind.

“We’ll talk about it later. How about some breakfast?” I wanted desperately to change the topic.

“Gills?” It took a moment for what he said to register in my mind.

Standing in front of the fogged mirror, I ran my palm over the glass to get a better view of myself. My dark brown, and almost black eyes stared back at me. Normally, my mess of wavy coffee brown hair would be my first concern. I spent many mornings staring at the thin line of my nose above my square jaw and imagined how I might change it. I suppose it is a person’s nature to pick out flaws that do, or do not, exist in our own appearance. Today something new stole my focus.

I brought my hand back and trailed my fingertips along the delicate ruffles of skin. There were five slits of flesh, like open wounds, on either side of my neck. They flared and relaxed with each breath I took. Well… now I knew what caused that burning sensation while we kissed. My awe quickly turned to worry, and I felt a lump begin to form in my throat. Bry chuckled as he watched my terror unfold.

I calmed myself with a deep breath. ‘No longer required.’ I thought the words and my worry faded as the slits sealed. Pink lines were all that remained, and they quickly returned to the natural tan color of my skin.

Bry gave me a quick peck on the cheek and chuckled. “I would have told you sooner, but we were kind of interrupted.”

I wanted to protest, but couldn’t fight the growing smile on my face. It wasn’t his fault I had become part fish. I suppose I should have been a little less zealous during our embrace.

After we finished toweling ourselves dry, we skittered down the cool hallway. Finally in our bedroom, I shut the door quickly as though it might give us some higher degree of warmth. ‘Our bedroom’ The thought made me pause. Everything was moving so quickly. ‘We’ and ‘Our’ had replaced ‘Me’ and ‘Mine’, but I couldn’t remember exactly when it had happened. It felt natural, but the realization was a bit unsettling. He had slipped into my heart, and my world, and was now a part of me. I felt a strange and petty emotion flood my chest. I suppose it is silly, but in some strange way I mourned for the loss of things that were only mine. The emotion was short lived as I watched the one I loved.

Bry shivered as he hunched over the drawers, rifling for clothes. His legs were pressed together and his arms clung to his sides, giving an image of some frenzied ancient T-Rex. Every few seconds I’d fail in my attempts to stifle giggles as he slung a sweatshirt or other piece of clothing backward, without care of where it fell. He was getting clothing for both of us instead of just covering himself to escape the cold. He thought of me before himself and it warmed my heart.

My giddy thoughts were pushed away by worry. Bry was such a polar being that his mood shifts frightened me. He went from darkness to light at a moment’s notice. We’d have to discuss it later.

Bry finally finished slinging clothes this way and that, and began to dress. Taking his queue I began to dress as well. More necessity than ritual, I pulled on socks and underwear first, and then the bulkier stuff. In the summer I went without underclothes. During the autumn months every layer was necessary to protect my nether regions from the cold.

I moved to the door and rested my hand on the knob. Turning, I found deep teal eyes staring back at me. I had heard of people whose eyes changed color, but had never actually seen it first hand. His eyes seemed to shift from the greyest tint of jade to the exotic depth of emerald and sometimes the oceanic blue-green that stared back at me now.

“Hey. Promise me something okay?” Bry stood looking at me as though I had just grown a second head.

“Sure, anything.” His eyes lifted and he tilted his head forward as if bearing down and preparing himself for something ridiculous.

“Promise we will take time to talk before we go to meet Asher.” I felt worry furrow my brows as I asked.

Bry’s shoulders lifted and fell with a shrug as he smiled. “Okay.” It wasn’t a flippant reply, but one more of confusion. He didn’t have the burden of my concern, and I suppose the request seemed a bit odd.

“Thanks Bry.” I twisted the doorknob and walked into the hallway.

“C’mon Shadow.” I slapped my leg to get her attention and to let her know I meant ‘Now’. We spoke with as much body language as we did words. She knew me and my ways as well as I knew hers.

The three of us tromped down the stairs like a herd of elephants. Our heavy footfalls echoed along the stairwell and announced our impending arrival, like a stampede. I went straight for the side door as Bry squeezed into the chair between the wall and the kitchen table. I pushed against the frosted glass of the screen door and let Shadow out to go about her morning business. She would scratch when she was finished. Giving the yard and sky one last glance, I turned and walked back into the kitchen. There were no threats that I could sense. She would be safe for the time being. I didn’t close the heavy wooden door and left the storm door as the only barrier against the cold of morning. I wanted as little as possible blocking my path should Shadow need me. I was going to miss her and hoped that we wouldn’t be away from home for long.

I sat down at the table across from Bry and we began loading our plates. The clink of metal against glass filled the air as we skewered our breakfast of choice. The coffee was already poured and sat steaming only inches away. This was definitely a special morning. Normally, I was elated with the simple fact that the coffee was brewing. To have it already poured was just over and beyond. Something wasn’t quite right.

I chewed tough crisps of almost bacon while studying the design on the ugly yellow and brown tablecloth beneath my plate. Paisley could keep a mind busy, but not enough to deter my thoughts from our recent visitors or the pre-poured coffee I sipped.

I heard the scrape of Shadow’s nails against the door and left my place at the table. The scratch of metal seemed to catch Mark and Kent’s attention as I stood. They looked up from their plates, and then quickly down again, and continued to fiddle with their food. I let Shadow in the door and then put her breakfast on the floor. She ate leisurely as I ran my fingers through her grey curls. Giving her one last quick scratch, I went back to my chair and stood against its back.

“Okay you two, what’s up?” I wasn’t in the mood for more mystery and I couldn’t help the angry tone of my voice.

A strange burst of air erupted from Kent as he coughed and hacked. He had nearly choked on his latest mouthful of bacon.

“Nothing. Why do you ask?” Mark’s voice wavered and was less than convincing.

Tapping my foot, I shifted my eyes to Kent and then back to Mark. “Bullshit.”

My one word reply drew everyone’s attention as I watched Mark’s eyes widen. He sighed in defeat and looked to Kent. Finding no help there, he released another deep tension filled breath.

“You’re going to be leaving us for the first time, and we’re worried about you two. It won’t be the same as when you went to school. We could keep an eye on you then.” His uneven voice did little to hide his concern.

Mark’s forehead was creased with worry and his eyebrows furrowed together above his hazel eyes. His short-cropped blond hair seemed to lighten as I noted the beginnings of grey at his temples.

“We’ll miss you too, Uncle Mark. We’re not going to be gone forever. We’ll be fine.” I smiled, hoping that the words might comfort him.

“We’ll take care of each other. Please don’t worry.” Bry reached out and gave Mark’s shoulder a light squeeze.

I walked around the table and gave Mark a hug from behind and felt a small shudder roll through him. Kent had that ‘What? No hug for me?’ look, so I walked over and gave him a squeeze and a peck on his forehead.

“Let’s finish breakfast before you two have us locked in a dungeon for our own protection.” I watched Mark’s face change expression as his mind wrapped around the idea. There was a subtle tug on his heart as I pulled the chair back and sat down.

“Don’t even think about it.” I chuckled and snatched the last remaining piece of ‘almost bacon’ from my plate.

After finishing our breakfast, we made short work of the morning dishes. My mind wandered as I watched the small flecks of dust float in the sunlight. They hovered lazily in the sun’s rays shining through our kitchen window. Kent cleared his throat, pulling me back to reality, and I turned to see what he wanted. It was a familiar sound that meant you were to give him your undivided attention.

“Ty, Bry, come sit, and bring the coffee pot. We have a few things to discuss.” Kent’s voice was steady and held a serious tone.

Bry rounded the table and squeezed into what was now his spot between the table and the wall. I filled our cups and sat the coffee pot back onto the burner on the counter. Adding a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, I brought the spoon with me as I rested my cup on the ugly paisley tablecloth and sat down at the table.

“You know we are well off and money is of no concern to us. Our family’s investments during the past few generations have been more than fruitful. We will need to book you both a flight to Orlando, and get you each a debit card from the bank.” A smile crept across his face as he watched the realization of what he said sink into my mind.

“How’d you know we were going to Florida?” Bry apparently found the meaning in his words before I did.

“It’s been your every thought since you came crashing down the stairs. ‘Asher and Florida’ We weren’t prying, it’s just that you were thinking it so loud we couldn’t help but hear.” Mark grinned and took a sip of his coffee.

“We won’t be booking a flight. We’ll blink there. I’d rather not leave a paper trail for anyone to follow.” It was my turn to grin as Mark and Kent were left wondering.

Mark leaned forward and squinted his eyes. “You’ll ‘blink’ there?” The tone of his voice told me he expected an explanation.

“It’s a different form of travel, but we’ll need to practice before we go. I don’t want to accidentally emerge in a wall or something worse. Galen and Doris gave us the knowledge and ability.” That we gained the ability after our coupling in the shower, was a tidbit of information I thought they could do without.

The impromptu visit was special, though not exactly timely, and I didn’t know if the uncles would understand. We were linked with Doris and Galen in a way that I didn’t understand myself, and I didn’t want to offer details about something I couldn’t explain.

“At dusk, we’ll need to cast ‘The Call’.” My eyes rested on Kent as shock raised his eyebrows.

“Yes, we know there are quite a few things you neglected to explain to us, but they are not what’s important now. We’re running out of time.” The surprise on Kent’s face melted into one of worry as he looked away from me and now focused on Mark.

“I’m so sorry. We had hoped the old legends were only stories. I...” Mark’s shoulders rose and fell with a heavy sigh.

“It’s alright Uncle Mark. You meant the best.” Bry’s dimpled smile chased away some of the oppressive gloom that slithered about the room.

A gnawing at the back of my mind made me pause and twist in my chair as if expecting to find something or someone behind me. There was still hope, although the ominous feeling seemed to grow and press against me like ants crawling along my skin. Our dark mood was neither natural nor accidental.

“s**t!” My chair slammed against the floor as I jumped to my feet.

“Extraké!” With my arms raised, I pushed the light of my soul outward in all directions.

A blinding white flash burst from my chest and an anguished cry echoed through the room from some far away place. It was much closer than that however. The question now, was how long had it had hidden in the shadows? I could only assume the worst.

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Chapter 11

Brethren

“What the hell was that?” The surprise and worry in Mark’s voice did little to settle my nerves.

“I’m not sure, but it was strong enough to get past the wards and can still move about during the daylight hours.” At first I would have thought it a shade, but the sun had already risen and this thing was much more powerful.

I leaned over, collected my chair from the floor, and sat it upright. Usually, I would have trusted my instincts to know that it was safe, but I wasn’t sure anymore. How long had it lurked in the shadows? The skin along the back of my neck tingled and I could feel the tiny hairs stretching outward as if to fight off some impending attack. I’ll never forget that feeling or the day that followed.

The sudden weight against my shoulder made me jump. If I were part cat I’d be clinging to the ceiling. What surprised me more was that Shadow hadn’t noticed our dark visitor. I had become accustomed to her acute senses as an early warning to what might be coming our way. She had always barked in the past. Whatever it was had even fooled her.

“Ty? You okay?” I turned to see Bry staring back at me.

The emerald green of his eyes calmed me enough that even the muscles in my arms and legs relaxed. The dull ache faded, but didn’t disappear completely, as I twisted my neck to relieve the built up tension.

“Yeah… you just startled me. I don’t understand how that thing got in here.” I muttered the words more to myself than as an answer.

“It was a Shadow Keeper, a man-made servant demon. It’s a cut off portion of one’s own soul infused with equal parts of good and evil. They can be as dangerous as a major demon or as benign as a rock. It wasn’t here to do harm. That is how it passed beyond the wards. It was probably here to gather information for its master.” Kent breathed a heavy sigh and settled deeper into his chair.

Kent and Mark stood. Their eyes met for only a moment and the knowing looks on their faces frightened me. The moment they shared haunted my thoughts. It wasn’t just a look of loss, but more of regret. They raised their out stretched arms toward the ceiling and spoke in unison.

Let the circle that binds us be a sphere of protection.

Let no one without a place in our hearts cross this barrier.

Let the four corners be infinite with only two sides.

We and those we love are inside, all else are outside.

Let the walls remain unbroken!

A sphere of white formed between them as their voices echoed against the walls of the kitchen as if it were a giant stone chamber. It grew steadily in a growing bubble of energy and slid through them and the walls of our home. It surged outward to what I imagine was the size of our land. The supernatural pulse pushed through the room like a violent wind.

“I summon the creature that darkened our doorstep only moments ago. Let him appear now so that we would know its name.” Mark shouted the words over the violent gale.

“No!” The roar of quaking earth beneath us swallowed Kent’s voice.

The foundation of our house shook, and the uncles fell away from each other, barely able to keep their balance. The walls rattled as knickknacks and pictures dropped from the walls and dishes spilled out from the kitchen cupboards, shattering against the tile floor. Shadow raced into the living room and, I suspect, to her favorite hiding place… under the couch.

A black flash of lightning tore through the ceiling and scorched the spot in front of where Mark grappled with the countertop behind him to keep from falling. Black lightning meant only one thing, the presence of evil. Few ever see such a thing, but the bright white fringes make it impossible not to notice. It was as if the life light was swallowed leaving only the edges of color in the room to contrast it. Billowing clouds of grey erupted outward from the scorch marks on the floor like a rolling storm taking shape. A dark, featureless, humanoid figure stood before us and leisurely bent its neck to gaze upon Mark.

“Thankssss for the invite Druiddd… Nowww… DIE!” The creature’s voice sounded as if it held the tone of too many lost souls, all screaming the same phrase.

The Shadow Keeper’s body bent backward like a flame in a gentle breeze and then snapped forward plunging its spear like arm into the center of Mark’s chest.

Mark’s scream was cut short as a haunting laugh escaped from the Shadow Keeper. The need in Mark’s eyes scared me. He was trapped. Kent scrambled over the table to attack the creature from behind, but was knocked back by a powerful sweep of its other amorphous black arm. Mark clutched at his chest where the oozing grey slid through his sternum, as he tried to gain control of his frantic breathing.

“Give me your name, Keeper.” A renewed vigor found its way into Mark’s words, but was wrung away by a twist of the things semi-solid arm.

“Myy nname?? Yesssss… Ddruidd.. mmy nname…” The chorus of anguished voices erupted from its featureless face

“Mmmy nname… is Raven.” The multiple voices converged into a single tone and I recognized it.

It was the same voice I had heard the night of Galen’s death. “You, however… may call me your undoing.”

“Not today, Raven.” Mark spoke the name with such venom that it made the Shadow Keeper pause.

Kent leapt across the table and they clasped hands. I rushed through the chaos and held his other and Bry took our hands completing the circle.

“SO MOTE IT BE!” We shouted the words in unison.

The spell was complete and white bolts of lightning struck the Shadow Keeper from every direction merging at the creature’s core. It howled with an anguished rage and ripped its amorphous tendril out of Mark’s chest. The lightning continued until the Keeper withered into nothingness. Small grey tendrils shot outward and withered back into the dark cloud that was its center. Soon… there was only silence.

We slumped to the floor, exhausted, and I crawled over to where they lay. Kent cradled his love against his chest in a protective embrace and I watched Mark struggle for each breath.

“Mark… you okay?” His face was ashen, and he looked as though he had somehow aged years in the few moments the creature and he were connected.

I placed my hands on his chest and abdomen and let my love spill out into his body. This lesson I had learned, if nothing else. Healing came with love and I gave him as much as my heart could manage. No matter how much I gave, it didn’t seem to be enough. I could tell by the steady rhythm of his breathing that he was doing better, but something was wrong. The aged look on his face as he stared back at me didn’t change, even though a healthier pink now colored his skin.

“Thanks Ty, that’s much better.” Mark’s weak smile did little to fight my fears.

“What in the hell were you thinking?! Are you out of your mind? It could have killed you!” Kent was nearly in hysterics as he asked questions faster than could be answered.

Though Kent was angry, all I could see was the love they shared. I’ve seen the same reaction when parents find lost children in a department store. It’s an immediate anger for their fear, and relief in the knowledge that the one they love is safe. It seemed strange to me in the past that someone could feel so angry and happy at the same time, but I understood it now.

“We needed a name, Kent, and you know it. Besides… I’m fine. Now help me up.” Kent grasped Mark’s hand and helped him to his feet.

Finally standing, we took a moment to survey the damage. The kitchen was a shambles. I was beginning to think that more dishes were on the floor than in the cupboards but found that only a few had fallen. It’s amazing how something small can break into so many pieces.

“I have to say... this is the first time I’ve ever been glad to be on laundry duty.” Kent chuckled as he clapped his hand on my shoulder.

I couldn’t help but grin. Even after all this, Kent was still Kent and he made the avoidance of housework an art form. Soon we were all doubled over in laughter.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I finally caught my breath and looked around. We had a lot of work to do, but an idea was forming in my mind. I glanced over to Bry and grinned as I called a subtle wind to blow the cabinet doors closed. I couldn’t move things with my mind, but I could control the air, and I was about to test out how much control we really had.

Bry smiled back at me knowing what I had in mind. I loved his smile. It seemed to stretch all the way to his emerald eyes and shine back at me. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Dust devils.” Bry didn’t miss a beat.

“It’ll be good practice.” I chuckled and nodded as I set the wastebasket upright and stood beside him. “Let’s get to it.”

We focused our thoughts, called the winds, and several miniature tornados formed in the room and lifted the debris from the floor. You couldn’t really see the spirals of air except for the dust, dirt and broken glass that were trapped within them. The first couple didn’t deposit their contents quite on target but we were able to gather the mess up with subsequent dust devils and within minutes the kitchen was clean. Sure, we’d have to straighten up and finish the breakfast dishes, but the bulk of cleaning was finished.

“HEY! That’s cheating!” Kent’s jaw dropped as he stared back at us.

“Don’t you have some laundry to do?” Bry smirked, and elbowed me in the side as he looked back at Kent.

“What?! Huh? No, we just did laundry yesterday. What did you two do? Put on a fashion show?” Kent looked around like a trapped animal searching for a means of escape.

“Come on you big baby; it’s only a couple of loads. I’ll help you.” Mark smiled but I couldn’t ignore the tired look in his eyes. He leaned too much against Kent for support, and again my worry for him swelled in my chest.

“Tell you what; we’ll do the dishes and then Bry and I will do the laundry. Why don’t you two rest? You bring the clothes downstairs and we’ll do the rest. How’s that sound?” Mark noticed my gaze and diverted his eyes. He was hiding something.

“That sounds like an excellent idea!” Kent’s answered so quickly that I never had a chance to rethink my offer. They turned to go upstairs but I caught Mark’s shoulder with my hand. “Hey… you sure you’re okay?”

“Don’t worry about me. You’re the one with extra chores.” Mark grinned back at me but didn’t answer my question and that scared me all the more.

The Uncles went upstairs, and Bry and I picked up what wasn’t broken and put things back in place. The kitchen wasn’t big, but still looked as though a cyclone had come in and found a new home. The sink had finally filled with hot water when I heard a single set of footsteps tromping down the stairs. Something grey caught my eye and I watched as Shadow nudged out from beneath the living room couch. If she thought it was safe to come out.. then I wouldn’t argue. She’s always had an excellent sense for that kind of thing.

Kent came through the doorway, holding an overfilled basket of clothes and sat it on the floor.

“Hey… where’s Mark?” I already knew the answer but needed to hear him say it.

“He’s upstairs taking a nap. We have to cast ‘The Call’ and he needs his rest.” Kent’s words were filled with concern even though he tried to make it sound as though nothing was wrong.

“He’s not okay is he?” It was more a statement of fact than a question and I couldn’t shake the feeling of doom that crept up my spine.

“He’s tired. You two better get back to it… you’ve lots to do. I’m going to take a nap too. It’ll take everything we’ve got to cast tonight.” With that he turned and bounded up the stairs and out of sight.

We finished the dishes in silence. I suppose Bry was as preoccupied as I was, but I couldn’t focus on his thoughts. There were too many of my own whirling about in my head. I know it was selfish to think about how my world would be affected and how much I would miss the uncles if anything happened to them. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the thought of a world without them. So… like so many things that worry me, I pushed it to the back of my mind and moved on. Like Kent said… we had much to do and idle thoughts would only slow us down.

After our second trip down the stairs to the basement, we threw the last load of clothes into the dryer and thumped our way back up and into the kitchen.

“So what do you want to do now?” Bry’s voice startled me, but the smirk that curved his lips let me know what he had in mind.

“Nap?” I couldn’t fight my smile and elbowed him in the ribs.

“Ohhh… I didn’t know you liked it rough!” Bry chuckled and leaned into me and brushed his lips against mine.

“Come on, you perv.” I chuckled and ran as quietly as one can up the steps toward our bedroom.

We bounded up the steps like two soft-footed cattle and slowed as we got to the uncle’s bedroom door. I placed my finger against my lips to let Bry know to be quiet. I thought I heard something. Only a moment passed before I knew they were doing anything but sleeping. From the sounds they were making, Mark had definitely recovered from the earlier attack. I had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing out loud and waved Bry back down the stairs. We would have to find another place.

We made our way down the steps as quietly as we were able and Bry followed me out the side door. I held it open and gave my thigh a slap letting Shadow know I wanted her to follow. Listening to the click of her nails pad across the living room floor, I watched her trot around the corner. A little exercise would do her good and I knew how much she loved to run. For a chubby dog… she can haul a**. ‘My little grey blur… My Shadow.’ The thought made me smile as she padded out the door and into the sunlight.

Shadow went to the healthier and the more vibrant ‘fertilized’ grasses and did her business. I knew that the vibrant taller grass and her choice of ‘rest area’ was more than a coincidence. Watching her finish, we started toward the back of the house and walked down the path that led to our sacred circle of trees. It was fall and, even though it was a sunny day, the constant breeze made it feel almost chilly. Fall is my favorite time of the year and I took in a deep breath to savor the sweet smell of drying leaves. This was a day where you could wear long sleeved shirts and pants and yet be comfortable as the sun warmed the fabric pressing against your skin. There was just enough chill in the air to keep a body from sweating, but not so much that you had to wear layers of clothing.

We took our time meandering down the path as we walked arm in arm. We leaned against each other lazily and stole kisses in the swaying shadows of branches beginning to lose their leaves along the path. Days ago the plants and trees had slipped back from their impending winter slumber, but nature again painted them with the reds and golds of autumn.

Shadow led the way as though she had made the trip a thousand times and only stopped occasionally to sniff the ground or a suspicious clump of grass. As we entered the clearing, Shadow ran at top speed, hopping about through the tall grasses like a jackrabbit until she got to the center altar. She waited patiently for us to catch up before finally circling several times and laying down for a nap. She felt safe enough to sleep here and, even though her intuition wasn’t perfect, I did too.

I tugged Bry’s arm as I lay down in the shade of the ancient oak that towered above the stone altar. The blanket of grass made a perfect mattress to lie upon and the cooler temperatures had sent most of the insects to sleep weeks ago. As always, I marveled at the scenery. The hills looked alive as the grass swayed back and forth in the wind like flowing water. I couldn’t imagine any other place I’d rather be than here, with the warmth of Bry’s body against mine.

We lay in each others arms and cuddled. I reveled in the feel of his arms around me and lost myself in the sound of his heartbeat as it thumped through his chest into my ear. The wind brushed across my face like a silk sheet dancing along my skin.

A shiver tore me from my sleep. It was past evening. Shadow was curled up beside me in the curve of my legs and I gave Bry a squeeze hoping to steal away some of his warmth. I couldn’t remember the last time I fell asleep outside. It was like a little camp out without the tent, fire, and much needed blanket. The sound of footsteps approached and I heard the rustle of grass brush against denim as I sat upright to see who it was.

Now was as good a time as any to practice our ‘blink’ ability and I pulled away from Bry and did my best not to disturb Shadow. Once standing I concentrated on a clearing behind the approaching sound and moved. A split second later I was standing where I hoped I would be, but nearly fell to the ground. I was dizzy and realized that this form of travel was going to take some getting used to. ‘Rooting’ and ‘Blinking’ are two different things. At least with rooting there was the sensation of movement as you traveled along the lifelines of trees and other plants. This was instantaneous and felt more like a hiccup of movement.

I couldn’t be completely sure, but I suspected the two forms I saw in front of me were Kent and Mark. As quietly as I could, I closed the distance between us with every intention of scaring the s**t out of them. Just as I was ready to yell my surprise, they both spun around and yelled “BOO!” I was so startled I fell flat on my a**.

“Very funny, you two!” My whining reply did little to hide the disappointment in my voice at having failed in my attempt.

“Serves you right!” The uncles were both snickering. “You shouldn’t sneak up on an old man. You could have given poor Kent a heart attack.”

“Yeah… Hey! I’m not old!” Kent poked Mark in the ribs as he protested.

“What’s with all the noise over there?! Some of us were trying to sleep!” I watched Bry’s form rise in the darkness and Shadow barked in agreement. She wasn’t fond of waking and so long as she had some place warm to hide herself, it didn’t seem to matter if it was in bed or out here in the grasses of our grove.

“Okay you two, we need to prepare and cast ‘The Call’ before anything else happens. You’re running out of time.” Mark’s tone was serious and stole away what levity that remained.

It was only now that I noticed the satchel draped over his shoulder. He pulled a sharp, curved blade that I had never seen before out of the bag. It wasn’t our normal black handled athame, but a silver blade with a hilt that most resembled wings stretching outward from the pommel, and looked to be made of bone. It appeared ancient even in the moonlight, and I wondered why I had never seen it before.

“Great oak, I beg the offering of wood this autumn’s eve.” Mark raised his arms, blade in hand, and shouted the words into the darkness.

The great oak that is the center of our sacred circle gave a violent shake and several cracks and crunches were heard as limbs of all sizes broke away from the main tree and landed before us.

“Bry… Ty… gather the wood and stack it around the altar.” Kent didn’t bother to turn and face us as he pointed at the stone base.

We busied ourselves with gathering the fallen limbs and stacking them against the altar. The uncles faded into the darkness as they moved out into the circle. They primed the trees with their blood and I watched each glow to life as they passed. Soon the circle was lit with the life of each tree and we watched their backlit forms walk back to where we stood.

“Light the fire.” Mark nodded toward our make shift pyre.

I am not sure why I did it, but I called down the lightning and it crashed with a blinding white flash into the stack of limbs. The pyre was lit and I watched the orange glow dance along the forms of Bry and the uncles. Whether it was by design or by nature, we stood across from each other on opposite corners of the altar as the flames stretched toward the sky.

Shadow found herself a safe place several feet away and I caught the shimmer of light in her eyes. She watched as anxiously as I did, but didn’t make a sound. On another night we would have warmed ourselves by the fire, but tonight was different, and I couldn’t help wondering if she somehow knew.

“This is my life’s blood and I give it freely.” Mark cut the fat of his palm above the wrist with the strange blade and balled his hand into a fist. Drops of his blood fell into the fire and sizzled against the burning wood. This was Blood Magick. I couldn’t count the times that the uncles had told me this type of casting was forbidden save for the most desperate times.

“This blade has been in our family for centuries. Legend says that the Slegna forged it. It’s name is..”

“Brethren…” A haunting echo of deep harmonic voices flowed from the blade as it lifted from Mark’s hand and floated over the center of the altar.

The blade spun leisurely above the altar and pulsed with each word that was spoken.

“Druid, are you and your partner prepared to pay the price for this favor?” The flashes of light did little to hide the glint of the blade as it spun faster and faster.

“We are,” the uncles responded in unison.

“What is our task?” The reverberation of voices filled the night and Brethren became a blurred blue aura.

“The Call!” The uncles yelled their answer into the darkness.

“So Mote It Be!” The multi-tonal voices spread out across the land.

A low hum filled the air, and a strange smoke-like wisp danced out from the uncle’s chests and toward the blade. Brethren sliced the air so sharply that the hum grew in pitch and was soon a hollow reed like whistle.

I watched… unable to move. I’m not sure if it was the flashes of light that held me in place or some other power, but I looked on as the wisps of smoke-like tendrils drifted to the blade. Soon, the uncles faded and I could see through them. I wanted to scream for them to stop, but I couldn’t speak and, before my eyes,... they faded into nothingness.

The blade stopped and a light burst out from the tip up to the clouds. Thousands of pin points of light gathered and then exploded outward filling the sky like a diamond dusted black cloth. It was the single most beautiful thing I had ever seen and the breath I didn’t know I was holding finally burst from my lungs. I could speak, but the only thing that passed my lips was my mournful cry into the night.

“They are not lost young Druid; they are now Brethren.” The harmonic voices filled my ears, and I watched as the blade stopped and plunged into the altar.

“It is done.” The sound of the uncle’s final words filled the air. Then there was only the hiss of the cold wind as it swept across my ears like the echoing wash of the sea against the shore.

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Chapter 12

Lost Innocence

The ground seemed to shift under my feet and I fell to my knees. An ache filled my chest as deeply as if the uncles had plunged a blade into my heart yet again. They were gone. How could they leave us? I should have known this was going to happen, but I didn’t, and that frustrated me even more. With the knowledge that Galen and Doris had given us, how could we not know of this ritual? What in hell was going on?

“Galen!” I screamed his name into the darkness, as hot wet tears streamed down my cheeks and cooled in the night air.

Bry rushed to my side, knelt, and threw his arms around me as I sobbed. “It’s okay, I’m here. You’re not alone.”

I welcomed his embrace, but it only made me feel my anguish that much more. “They knew this was going to happen. They hid it from us!”

“Probably, because they knew we wouldn’t have allowed it. They knew what had to be done.” Bry pulled me closer and nuzzled his face in the crook of my neck.

Even though it made perfect sense, the last thing I wanted was reason or logic. I knew that he was as devastated as I was, if not more. The searing darts and arrows of pain I sensed beyond the loss of my fathers belonged to Bry. Now we only had each other and were alone in the world.

I jumped to my feet and screamed. “Give them back! You can’t have them!”

The smell of ozone filled the air as I called down a bolt of lightning upon the dagger. There was no spell or incantation needed, I called the elements by will alone. A blue-white flash of light blinded me and the explosion of sound was deafening. The air around me was electric and every inch of my flesh was blanketed by heavy static.

“Get down!” Galen’s voice called, but I could barely hear him over the ringing in my ears.

I felt Bry’s embrace fade like the delicate tickle of a feather’s touch and the world slowed. The only two things moving at regular speed were us. The lightning I pulled down upon the dagger, Brethren, was absorbed completely. It stopped spinning and plunged into the rock-face of our altar to the hilt. Then, the dagger’s handle pulsed with a red light and a blaze of white-blue erupted outward in our direction.

I danced around Bry’s attempt to throw me to safety with a spin of my arms and body, and threw him to the ground in front of me. The lightning struck my chest and I was thrown back by the impact. Even these events seemed to linger as I glanced downward and watched the lightning bolt rage through my heart. An eternity passed before I felt my body hit the ground and roll like some ride at an amusement park.

“Men are so stubborn!” Doris cradled my head in her arms as she knelt beside me.

“You’re breaking the rules again lady.” I spoke, barely above a whisper, and each breath pained me. She wasn’t allowed to have physical contact with this world any longer, and I wondered how she had managed such a thing.

My physical body was trying to recover from the devastation, and yet I knew I was dead. The last sparks of my life faded as my energy rose upward. Flashes of the world filled my eyes as hiccups of time cascaded through my consciousness. A bright light enveloped and comforted me, while speaking soft whispers to my soul. It was a peaceful place, yet I could sense urgency in the words.

I felt an open-handed slap burn across the skin of my left cheek and my eyes fluttered opened. My vision was blurred, and I struggled to focus on my surroundings.

There was no way to know how long I had lingered in that place, but it only seemed like seconds. To be honest, I preferred oblivion to the nightmare I woke up to, and longed for the serenity of the place I had just been.

I struggled to remember the message I was given, but the voices had faded and were a jumble in my mind. Two words remained at the forefront of my shattered memory however… ‘Death’ and ‘Forever’.

A cold wet nudge prompted me to lift my elbow. Shadow settled herself against my side and laid her head on my chest. She stared at me with eyes that seemed to know more than any creature should and, in them, I found a simple intelligence that I envied. What perfect creatures dogs are. They offer only love and protection.

“We must go now. We’ve overstepped our bounds and there is always a price to pay. Many will come. Use the place that ‘Brethren’ has provided you.” Galen’s words drifted past our ears, in the chilled autumn winds, as he pointed to the stone altar.

Galen and Doris faded into nothingness, and the first hints of dawn were peaking over the horizon. Bry rushed to my side and held me so tight that it made me wonder if he thought I might somehow escape.

A pulse of sorrow flooded my chest and it burned with such intensity that I squirmed in Bry’s arms. I felt him convulse against me and heard the muted staccato of his strangled sobs. Wave after wave of relief and despair washed over me like a heavy blanket and I looked up at his tear streaked face.

“Why did you do it?” Bry begged, each word edged with sorrow. “How could you leave me here, all alone?”

I was still weak, but felt my strength returning. I didn’t know what to say. Guilt and shame filled my mind and heart, and there was only one thing I could say. “I’m sorry… It just hurts so much.”

“I know it does, but we have each other. Do you really think so little of me that you didn’t want to live?” There was more than hurt in Bry’s green eyes, and I had to look away.

“I’m here ain’t I?” I felt cornered by the conversation, and I hoped that this might be enough to end the discussion.

“Yes… but is it by design, or by chance?” Bry rested his chin on my shoulder and loosened his grip on me.

“All I can tell you is this. I’m not perfect, and I love you. I would have thought you knew that by now,” I said, as I snuggled against him and ran my fingers through Shadow’s curly grey fur.

“Trust me, I’ve seen your hair in the morning. I know you’re not perfect.” Bry ruffled my hair and chuckled in my ear.

I giggled back, but it was forced. I still couldn’t fight the despair in my heart for the loss of the uncles. Beyond that, there was the message that I couldn’t remember. A feeling of dread was creeping up within me, and I couldn’t grasp the reason for it. It was like the shiver you get suddenly, that just sort of happens, but doesn’t have a cause.

“We need to find Asher, tonight, and speak with him. We’re running out of time, and we’ve got a lot to do before people start showing up. First though, I think I need a nap. I’m so tired,” I whispered, and sighed thinking about the unfathomable amount of work yet to be done.

I sat up and pulled myself from the comfort of Bry’s arms. Shadow took my movement as a hint that it was time for her to get up and head back to the house, and she lifted her head from my thigh. The sun had finally crept over the horizon, and now painted the morning sky with orange and pink hues, and I tried to wring the sleep from my eyes with my hands.

Bry stood up behind me and offered his outstretched hand. Being the stubborn person I am, I ignored his offer and struggled to my feet. It was less than graceful, but I made it. The world seemed to tilt and I fell against Bry. I guess I should know by now that being killed doesn’t exactly leave you in the best condition.

“Hey, take it easy! You okay?” Bry gripped my shoulders and stared back at me with worry-filled eyes.

“I’ll be fine.” I felt my strength returning and smiled back at him. “Just a little dizzy is all. Let’s head back to the house.”

Pulling away from Bry, I turned, and we headed toward the path that led home. He stayed close enough to catch me should I waver, but I knew I would be fine now. As usual, Shadow loped ahead of us as though she knew our destination. Each time she paused to look around, or smell some clump of dirt, it made me nervous, but I didn’t stop. We couldn’t live in fear, and the wards should now keep us safe, even from prying eyes.

Shadow lingered in the taller grasses beside the house and fertilized them once again as we walked. She had finished her business and reached the door before we finally arrived and pulled it open.

“Bed,” I mumbled, as I trudged through the kitchen and toward the stairs leading up to our room.

“What? No breakfast?!” Bry stood in the middle of the kitchen, and I could feel his gaze pressing against the back of my neck.

“You go ahead; I’ve got to sleep,” I answered as I paused in front of the stairs and looked over at my shoulder at him.

“I’ll make us both something, and be up in a few minutes.” Bry’s grin seemed to animate his whole face and I couldn’t help but smile back at him.

“Give mine to Shadow. I’ll get something to eat when I wake up. I’m so tired I can hear our bed calling me,” I answered, and watched Bry’s grin morph into a look of poorly disguised concern.

“You sure you’re alright?” He started to walk toward me, but stopped when I raised my hand.

“I’m fine. Just tired is all. You get something to eat. Just climb in close when you come to bed. I want to feel you beside me.” I smiled, hoping to dispel his doubts, turned, and began the slow arduous climb up the staircase.

“I’ll be up in just a little bit,” he called after me.

It made me chuckle that he raised his voice. I wasn’t deaf, just recently dead. I had barely taken three steps, and was beginning to wonder if I’d make it all the way to the top. I hung my head, and studied my feet, as I steadied myself with the hand rail that was on the wall. A fleeting temptation to blink to the top crossed my mind but, considering how my day had started, I figured it would be best not to tempt fate any more than I had already.

When I finally scaled the last step, I stopped and took a deep breath. My room, and the bed within, was only a few more steps away. But seeing the uncles’ bedroom door renewed the feelings of sorrow in my heart. There was so much to do, and I couldn’t imagine a world without them in it… and yet… they were gone.

I let out a deep sigh and walked passed their room, making an extra effort to move as quickly as possible. Once in our bedroom, I stripped off my pants and shirt, threw back the covers, and fell into bed with a thud. I don’t remember pulling up the covers but, when I roused from my sleep some time later, I was sandwiched between Shadow and Bry and nestled comfortably beneath the blankets.

The sun was shining through the window and I moved only enough to pull the covers over my head to hide from the light. As sleep overtook me, the dreams began again. First, there were visions of our home and the yearning to come to this place. Then, as consciousness threatened to take hold, I dreamt of voices. Again, there was the message I was given after the lightning strike, but it was muffled and I couldn’t make out the words. Shattered images flashed through my mind. ‘must not…death… forever.’ The last of the words seemed to have been screamed in my ears, and I awoke with a start. It seemed so loud that I wondered, if I had been awake a moment sooner, I might have heard the scream echo off the walls.

My hair was wet, and a cold sweat covered my body. I felt as though I was stuck to the sheets, and the close proximity of Bry and Shadow became a stifling pressure from which I was suddenly desperate to escape. I blinked to the floor beside the bed and felt the itchy fibers of the carpet against my skin. For the moment, it was an improvement, but I sat up as fast as I was able, and then stood. Every sensation and feeling irritated me, and I wanted to crawl out of my own skin. It was that feeling you get if you step into a warm pile of squishy dog crap while running barefoot in the back yard. There’s simply no escape.

I didn’t risk opening the bedroom door, for fear that it would wake one or both of them, so I blinked into the hallway. I crept toward the bathroom and cringed with every creak and moan of the wooden floor. Finally, I arrived. I sighed as I entered and closed the door behind me. I turned the knobs slowly and started the flow of warmer water up the pipes to greet me. At least I now had a wall between me and those I loved. I needed a shower, and I needed to get the hell away from the world, even if only for a few fleeting moments of wet solitude.

After stepping into the shower, I pulled the curtain and held my breath as I entered the cascade of water. There never seems to be a comfortable temperature. It’s too hot or too cold, and the sudden blast against my skin always takes my breath away. For once, the water was nearly perfect, and I reveled in the sensation of small rivers traveling down my body. I leaned forward and braced myself against the wall with my outstretched hands, and let my head hang as the torrent of water tried to burrow through my skull. Tension, I didn’t know I possessed, seemed to unravel in my chest and I cried.

‘They’re really gone.’ The realization hit me as if it was breaking news, and I knew it was irrefutable and horrible truth. Mark and Kent were now a part of ‘Brethren’ and we were alone in the world. Bry’s parents had abandoned him, and mine were taken. Galen and Doris were in ‘time out’ for breaking the rules, and there was little chance we would benefit from their intervention any time soon. I leaned against the wall of the shower, and wept until the water cooled and drove me to turn the knobs to staunch the flow.

I climbed out of the shower and looked at the foggy, mirrored medicine cabinet that hung on the wall across from me. Stepping closer, I ran my hand across the heavy mist that collected there, and stared at my streaked reflection. The skin on the center of my chest was white where the bolt of lightning had struck. and was surrounded by angry red flesh. I watched as I slowly traced the damage with my fingertips, and felt the strange sensation of skin that no longer mine. I was healing from the inside out, and the flesh on the surface was dead. The pressure of my touch, and the tactile sensation in my fingertips were the only indication that anything was in contact with my body, other than what my eyes told me was true. There was going to be a scar, I was sure, but it would also be a souvenir of that day and I welcomed it.

It didn’t seem like much time had passed while I showered, but I could hear movement downstairs, and knew that Bry was awake. When I opened the door, I found a pair of pants, a shirt, socks and underwear waiting for me. How he knew that I didn’t already have a change of clothes, I don’t know, but the simple kindness made me smile. I only hoped that the spray of water hid my sobs during my little breakdown.

The cool air bursting through the open doorway made me shiver and reminded me to rub down with the fresh dry towel that was stowed away beneath the bathroom sink. Hanging it over the shower rod, I snatched up the clothes and struggled to pull them over my semi-damp skin. Even with the rush of air coming from the hallway, the humidity in the bathroom kept me from drying completely, and made every effort to dress a battle.

My recovery from death was quick, but I wondered if the emotional damage would ever heal. They say it takes time, and I know it’s true… but sometimes… I wonder just who the hell ‘they’ are and if ‘they’ ever faced the torments I have in these past few weeks.

I stumbled down the steps to the kitchen and found a plate of food waiting for me. Bry was tending to the last of the cleanup, and brought me a cup of coffee as I sat myself at the kitchen table. The darkness behind the curtains made me wonder if I had slept through to the next morning, or if it really was just early evening. I glanced at the clock above the stove and saw that it read 6:15. Had it been digital it might have helped, but as it stood, it could have been morning or evening. Not knowing was disorienting.

The room became silent as Bry turned and looked at me. I heard the cicada buzzing in the distance and knew then that it was evening. In a way, I was grateful that I hadn’t missed out on an entire day. But then, again, I wasn’t looking forward to what we still had to do. We needed to confront, and talk with, Asher.

Lucif and Asher are from a race known as Slegna. They are creatures, of nearly immeasurable power and ability, who were placed here as punishment for things they did in the far distant past. Some would call them fallen angels, but, from the memories we possess from Galen and Doris, I knew that they were anything but angels. All druids are part Slegna. That fact was given to us, but the actual ‘how and why’ remains a mystery. If we were going to win this battle, we would need them both on our side. As I picked at my almost bacon with my fork, my mind wandered and contemplated what could be so powerful that it could imprison a Slegna.

“Is it done yet? I’m hungry!” A young black haired boy peaked around the corner of the doorway leading to the living room.

I was so startled I jumped from my chair, throwing it to the floor behind me, and bound the powers of the elements around me in a pulsating aura of light. A young woman appeared in the doorway, crouched, and shielded the boy with her body.

“Ty! Stop!” Bry yelled, and appeared between us.

“They’re here because of the call. It’s okay.” Bry’s voice wavered as he tried to quickly explain the intrusion.

“I will not allow you to harm my family.” A third but yet strangely familiar face emerged.

They were obviously brother and sister to the youngest. It was almost as if nature had made clones of these people. They shared the same black eyes, hair, curve of chin, and olive complexion. It was as though each of them was a duplicate of the other with only sex and age as some form of differentiation between them. The oldest of them, and the one I suspected of being the protective brother, began the dance of runes and prepared to attack. They were Gypsies, witches of a different sort but still, people that were on our side.

“I apologize for my reaction. I didn’t know we had company,” I said, as I nodded to the oldest while keeping eye contact.

He continued to dance and prepare his magic, but seemed to relax if only just a fraction.

“You’re welcome here but, please understand, if you harbor any ill will toward us, the wards we have in place will kill you where you stand.” I smiled, and listened, as thunder echoed in the distance.

The oldest boy laughed, as he finished his magic, and stood poised to cast. “My name is Daniel. I believe that Druids are only a legend. How can I possibly trust you?”

“I’ll meet you in the field beyond the street. Daniel.” I chuckled, and blinked away.

A few seconds passed before they shifted into existence before me. They materialized in waves, like swirling water, and slowly became solid. As soon as Daniel’s form coalesced a surge of power burst out from him and struck me in the chest, sending me flying through the air. It wasn’t so much a destructive blast, as it was a mammoth push of energy that launched me away from them.

“Please stop this, Daniel!” the younger female version of him begged, as she clutched her younger brother to her side.

It was a strange sensation. I searched their minds, and knew her name was Aurora and that the youngest was named Kevin, but any other attempts to delve into their thoughts left me reeling in an endless circle of random images. The wind raced across my skin as I flew through the air, and I felt it catch against my arms as wings sprouted. I soared gracefully to the ground and drew the feathers back into my body and waited.

“You’re going to have to do better than that…. Witch,” I said and chuckled, knowing it was the ultimate insult to their kind.

Aurora gasped, and stared wide eyed, as Daniel created a circle of runes with his dance, much like a martial artist might while preparing for battle. It was a strange combination of the Dance of Battle, which I knew, combined with something undeniably foreign.

Daniel let loose a burst of destructive energy that ripped at the earth like an invisible plow, speeding in my direction. He wasn’t holding back any longer, and I knew he had every intention of killing me.

I remained still and batted it away with a simple gesture of my hand, as if it were no more than a nuisance. I hoped that this would make my point clear, but it only seemed to fuel his rage as he began another dance of destruction.

“Calm yourself Gypsy!” I yelled, as, in a frenzy, I ripped roots from the earth that gripped him where he stood.

The wooden talons pulled him to the ground and wrapped completely around his body. He was immobile and struggled against them like a butterfly trying to escape its cocoon. I walked toward him and gazed down at his encased body.

“Do you give?” I smiled, in spite of myself, and waited for an answer. I had a lot of pent up frustration at the moment, and I was really hoping he wouldn’t tempt me further.

“Never!” Daniel spat at me in disgust, and I could sense his bruised ego.

“Pity… it gets pretty cold out here at night, but if this is where you choose to sleep, then who am I to argue? Goodnight Daniel.” I waved, turned, and paused.

I felt, as well as heard, the gurgle in the youngest boy’s stomach. He was hungry, and worried about his brother. He was on the verge of tears, but fought them valiantly for one so young. There was already too much turmoil in the day, and we hadn’t even set out to meet Asher yet. To top everything off, I now had house guests. Great!

“Daniel… I’m going to release you. Supper is waiting, and it’s getting cold. I let out a pent up breath, and waved away the roots that bound him.

Bry was there, though I couldn’t say for sure when he arrived. I heard him jogging up beside me as I walked toward the house. He wrapped his arm around my waist, and I leaned my head on his shoulder.

“They’re fags!” Daniel hissed to his sister.

I don’t remember turning around to face them, but I will never forget what happened next. Lightning raced across the sky and blazed downward toward them. Daniel threw himself at Aurora and knocked her out of the way as the white light struck the youngest.

I felt it in my heart, and it shattered my soul. The young boy, Kevin, was dead, and there was nothing I could do to bring him back. I knew instantly that it was beyond my ability and a horror gripped me like never before. It felt as though someone had emptied my insides out onto the ground and only a vacant space remained. I had killed in the past, but it was always necessity. It was a matter of survival, and it’s difficult to regret living. This time I had killed an innocent. There was no control. The pain and sorrow had lashed out from my heart and struck him dead. The smell of death and ozone filled the air, and the cool crush of earth met my body as I fell to the ground unconscious.

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Chapter 13

Hey Mister

“Hey Mister! You can wake up now… I’m okay.” I felt the feather like touch of young flesh against my hand and a tug on my arm, trying to pull me upright.

“Get up! Dinner’s waiting!” The voice was familiar, though at the same time strange, and I had a hard time lifting the weight of my eyelids. I didn’t truly want to wake up.

“Ty!” Brian’s voice echoed through my mind and my eyes shot open.

A feeling of dread engulfed me as the memories of those last moments of consciousness filled my mind. Somehow I had called the lightning without thinking, and had killed an innocent. To be honest… I didn’t want to face it.

Shadow’s cold nose nudged me from sleep as I felt its cold wet roughness nuzzle against my chin. I guess I couldn’t sleep forever, though I was suddenly willing to give it one hell of a try.

I sat up and blinked away my exhaustion, trying to find the voice that called to me.

“He’s okay… He’s half Fey,” Aurora said reassuringly.

Aurora’s voice filled my ears, and my mind was struggling to understand. ‘Kevin is half Fey.’ It took a moment for the words to register in my brain but, once they did, I was elated and relieved.

The Fey are what most mortals call or identify as faeries. Mention an elf or faerie and most people instantly envision pointed ears and winged creatures of the forest. Actually, there are many breeds and varieties of Fey, just as there are Lycan. The Fey have a talent for manipulating energy, specifically electricity. They were created by the tears of the Slegna, and have diversified just like the other races, mortal and immortal.

My memories from Galen and Doris told me that the Gypsie were a branch of what most humans would today call Dark Elves. That knowledge has either been lost, or so closely closeted away that, should anyone ever suggest such a heritage to a Gypsie in this day and age, it would be an instant invitation to battle. No one wanted even the most remote affiliation to that Darkness… but that is another story.

“Aurora!” Daniel gave her a reproaching look, but she stared back at him, with her onyx eyes and unruly black hair, in defiance.

“It’s your fault this happened; now sit there and shut up, Little Brother,” Aurora snapped as she glared at Daniel.

“I’m so sorry.” I finally spoke, and it was the only thing I could think to say.

“Don’t be…. I am the one that called the lightning.” I felt Bry’s body stiffen against my back as I tried to make sense of where I was.

His touch was cold and rigid, and I shivered against him. For the first time, I felt Bry’s arms and body against mine, and they seemed like something foreign and unfamiliar. I could just as easily have snuggled against a cemetery statue, on a late fall night, and found more comfort.

In that instant I understood. It wasn’t me who had called the lightning. It was Bry. His heart and emotions had closed off so completely, to me and everyone else, in that moment that I assumed it must have been my doing. I didn’t know what to say, or how to feel. Emotions were running rampant around the room and, strangely, I still could sense nothing from Bry.

I was lying on the couch in the living room, with Shadow to my side, and Bry was behind me, propping me up with my head on his lap. Kevin knelt beside us with his brother and sister behind him. Kevin stood, lifted his arm, and rested his hand on Bry’s shoulder. If I thought Bry felt cold before, he seemed like absolute granite now.

“I thought you were dead.” Bry’s voice words were cold and cruel.

“I was, but I’m not now. Galen and Doris told me to tell you, ‘Save it for later.’” With that, Kevin grinned and stepped away.

Bry’s chest shook with an almost imperceptible tremor and suddenly I felt heat rise within him. My Bry was back, and the cold thing that had been beside me moments ago was gone.

I had felt this coldness before, on two occasions in our short past. The first was when I started ‘public’ school and I had dealt with a group of bullies. The satisfaction he felt then worried me, but I dismissed it as something that had been a long time coming. A small vengeance fulfilled via my actions, but now… I feared it was something more. There was definitely a darker side to Bry that was beginning to surface, more and more often. It frightened me. I suspected then what I discovered later… but I was in love, and it was so much easier to dismiss in those days.

As I sat up and pulled away from Bry’s support, Shadow hopped off the couch and waited. It was if she knew it was time for dinner, and she stared back at us, waiting. I turned and hugged Bry, and felt waves of terror and shame flood out of him.

Leaning forward, I whispered in his ear. “When I am perfect, I’ll judge you. Until then, let’s try to remember we’re human.”

I gave Bry a quick peck on the cheek, leaned back, and smiled at him.

“So… even the mighty Druids aren’t perfect!” Daniel sneered, and a satisfied grin formed on his face, only to be replaced by a look of shock as a loud slap sounded from the back of his head.

“Owww! What’d ya do that for?!” Daniel whined as he cowered away from Aurora.

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I watched him brood, but I didn’t mean it to add insult to injury. His pride had been bruised, and I felt it as surely as if it were my own. The sensation was of a small battered thing, throbbing within my chest and aching from its latest injury.

“Please accept our apology and stay with us. Dinner is on the table, and we’d love to have some company.” I smiled, and hoped they’d follow as I stood and pulled Bry up from the couch.

“We’d love to,” Aurora announced in a tone that was more a command, than a reply.

I made my way toward the kitchen, with Shadow leading the way, when I heard Aurora clear her throat. I turned and saw that she and Daniel hadn’t moved from where they stood.

She was glaring at Daniel. “I’m sorry.”

Daniel’s words were barely above a whisper and resembled a moan as he stared at the floor, idly picking at his sleeve.

There was strength in Aurora that I hadn’t noticed before. She looked as though not even an earthquake could have dislodged her from where she stood. Their Gypsie life must have been a difficult one. They were alone, with only one another to depend upon, and I suspected that she held the reigns to her family. Still, behind her dark eyes, I sensed tenderness. She loved them. It wasn’t until then that I understood the true meaning of family, and the harsh realities that bind them together. Before meeting them, I suppose I took too much for granted. By comparison, until recently, I had had it so easy. It’s a harsh lesson to learn.

“We’re sorry, too. Now let’s eat.” I watched as Daniel glanced at Aurora and then quickly back to the floor. She seemed to soften and relax as she walked past her brother and toward the kitchen.

They didn’t trust us completely… that little tidbit, I could still sense, but we were making progress. I smiled at Aurora, and turned to see Kevin already seated at the table, scooping a generous helping of Macaroni and Cheese onto his plate. A few of the yellow macaroni seemed to jump from the spoon and land on the table, which he quickly scooped up with his hand and then fed one by one to Shadow.

She was so gentle with him that it made me smile. It was as though she knew how fragile he was, and took great care to gently take each delicacy from his fingers like some great prize. Her reaction to the boy surprised me. Had I fixed her, her own plate as usual… she would have completely wolfed it down with abandon. Yet, here she was, completely content with the smallest of morsels.

“Seems you’ve made a friend.” I chuckled as he raised his head and grinned at me.

We ate quietly. I had questions, and I knew they did too, but it seemed we had all decided they could wait until later.

Kevin finally finished his second helping of dinner and sat staring at Bry. He seemed to be waiting for something.

“Are you going to kill him?” Kevin asked innocently, but the words carried a depth and truth that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

The room grew deathly quiet, and I gave Bry a warning glance. “We are druid.” I spoke before Bry could answer, and hoped that he would listen as well.

“They said that you should. You should do it fast, before it’s too late.” Kevin picked at a lone piece of macaroni with his fork as Shadow watched, perched calmly by his side, hoping that it might be hers.

“We are creatures of free will. What good has ever come from death?” I asked Kevin and waited for an answer. It seemed strange to be asking someone so young such an adult question.

Kevin shrugged and then fed his last piece of macaroni to Shadow.

“When are you leaving?” Kevin smiled and twirled his fingers through Shadow’s grey curls.

“Later tonight… when the moon rises, we’ll be heading out. I think we’ve had enough of death today.” I smile and ruffled Kevin’s hair with my hand.

As my fingers wound their way through his hair and down his cheek, I felt his magick travel up my arm, like a thick mass clinging to my skin. It was dark and heavy, even though I couldn’t see it.

One thing I had learned, above all else, is this. Regardless what symbols are used, candles a person lights, or any other object for focus, it is the visualization of a thing and the focus of energy that is the true backbone of casting. Knowing that it’s there, and directing the energy, is real magick.

I concentrated and peeled away his power from my flesh like one might shed his clothes, but it was a struggle to push it free of myself and back into his aura. He was searching, however innocently, for an answer. He seemed so innocent with his questions… but they weighed heavily on my mind.

I stood and cleared the table, and my thoughts drifted back to Bry. I suppose my mind has always been pre-disposed to consider the worst possible scenario. While I’m always hoping for the best, I have learned lately to expect the worst. It is the way of things when you are subject to fate. Lately.. I’d discovered that fate is one hateful b****.

Bry and I stood side by side, as I washed, and he dried the dinner dishes. My mind traveled along the reflections that slid across the suds that surrounded my hands. It felt as though an ocean divided us, and loneliness gripped my heart.

The Gypsies, as I had started referring to them in my mind, had settled in the living room, listening to music and lounging on the worn and frayed furniture. I would have to get a television, soon. There was no way I could expect these people to face what was coming, without some simple mindless distraction.

“I can’t promise you I won’t kill him when we arrive.” Bry broke the silence and his words ripped me from my thoughts.

So…. It was going to be like that. This was going to be the talk. I had made every effort to let him know my feelings on the issue, and he was telling me that he would do as he pleased.

At first, I didn’t know how to react, but finally decided on an answer. “So mote it be.”

To you mortals, that is translated. ‘So be it’ or… ‘Fine... do whatever the f**k ya’ll want.’

Bry didn’t say much after that. We stood side by side, and I rinsed the last dish and handed it to him. I pulled the drain from the sink and watched the water sink lower and lower with each metallic belch.

“Promise me that you’ll give Asher a chance. Let’s hear his side of things before we do anything rash.” I tensed, and dreaded his answer.

“Anything for you, Ty,” Bry whispered, as he leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the cheek.

I turned to see him smiling back at me. There was love in his green eyes, and I felt it rushing out to cover me like a warm blanket. Had we more time, and if it wouldn’t have drained us of our energy, I would have raced him to our bed. Now wasn’t the time. My head said no, but there were parts of my body that were suddenly screaming yes. I wanted him, desperately. Bry trailed his fingers down my spine, slowly drifting from my neck down to my waist. My back arched and a weak moan escaped my lips.

“Later Bry… besides they’re in the next room!” I elbowed him in the side and giggled, hoping that we hadn’t drawn any undo attention with our play. Just thinking about it made the heat rush to my cheeks, and I knew I was blushing.

“I suppose we should get the sleeping arrangements taken care of. I’m sure they’re tired and would like to rest.” I turned and looked through the doorway to find Daniel staring back at me.

He had such an ominous look on his face. I couldn’t sense any hate or anger, but there was confusion. He seemed to be boring holes into my body as he stared back at me. It must be his European heritage that gave him his dark look. The sharp curve of his jaw line promised a strong, square chin when he grew to full adulthood. His olive skin was more than a weak tan. It was like something earthier, that time and lack of sunlight couldn’t take away. His rich black hair seemed to hang and fall about his face with a mind of its own, daring anyone to comb it or place some order to the mess. And yet, it fit him perfectly. It was long and shaggy, and almost reached his shoulders, with bangs nearly the same length, but it seemed the perfect length for his face.

Daniel spun around and tried to hide his eyes and feign interest in a piece of frayed material on the couch beside him as we walked toward the living room. As we entered, Kevin and Aurora turned to look at us and smiled, while Daniel sat desperately trying to ignore our arrival.

“We need to work out the sleeping arrangements. I’m sure you’re tired from your trip.” I looked at them and tried to figure out just exactly how we were going to house a growing army in the days to come.

“I suppose now would be as good a time as any to explore the place that Brethren has given us,” I announced and turned to grin at Bry.

He chuckled, and nudged me with his shoulder. “Up for a little exploring, you guys?”

“COOL!” Kevin jumped up from where he was sitting on the floor, and almost ran the few steps it took to stand beside us.

For someone who had died at Bry’s hand, he was quick to treat it as though it had never happened, and I was awed by his ability to forgive and forget. People say it all the time, but seldom do they actually make it a practice.

“Maybe I should go, and Kevin and Aurora should stay here until we know it’s safe.” When Daniel finally spoke, I think it caught us all by surprise.

“I assure you that it’s safe. All we have to do now is find the entrance, but something tells me that it’s in the basement. Come on, let’s go,” I said, and waved them over to follow.

I’m sure that, on some level, we all sensed the power emanating from the basement, but the Gypsies had been too polite to ask, and I was glad for it. Neither Bry nor I had an honest answer. We simply hadn’t had the time to find out, yet, how the new power, pushing from the floor below, was connected to the stronghold Brethren had created for us. I don’t know for sure how I knew it was out there either, other than Galen’s words… ‘Use the place that Brethren has provided you.’ With it came the knowledge that something was there, but he had left out one small detail... how to get in.

Bry and I turned and walked through the kitchen to the steps that led down into the basement. I paused at the top of the stairs, half tempted to go through the door that led outside. I could hear Kent’s complaints about having to do laundry, so loudly in my memory, that I could almost see his pathetic puppy dog look as he moped down the steps, laundry basket in hand.

I felt Bry’s familiar touch on my shoulder, and wondered how long I had lingered there in that memory. “You okay?”

“Yeah… just old ghosts. Let’s go,” I said, as I flipped the light switch on the wall and started down the stairs.

I had only gone down a couple of steps, when I realized it was only my feet I heard shuffling along the wood. I looked up to find them all staring back at me with a strange wide-eyed terror.

“Memories… just fond memories… now come on.” I chuckled and started back down the stairs.

There was no missing the energy in the air. The magick was so thick it was difficult to breathe, and I paused with only a couple of steps to go before I reached the bottom. Warmth swirled around and pressed in on me as though we had somehow changed the air pressure. I forced myself to take the final steps down, and moved a couple of feet forward to make room for the others. Glancing back, I saw that they seemed as affected as I was by the dense magick in the air.

“Wow… it’s sooo pretty!” Kevin was the first to speak as he walked further into the basement, gazing around in awe like someone might at an elaborate fireworks display.

Seeing aura and seeing magick are two very different things. Everything has aura, be it a rock, plant, or person. Even a mortal human can learn to see an aura if they give it enough effort and practice. Magick, or the direction of energy, is quite different. I am not Fey, and I know it is their talent to sense and perceive power in this way. At some point Galen, or Doris was given the explanation eons ago, and I had the memory of it. Somehow, I suspected that witnessing it was completely different from the explanation. I guess you could liken it to explaining what cheese tastes like to a four year old.

The basement, for lack of a better word, was more of a cellar than anything. It seemed an afterthought that bricks had been laid and they bowed in slightly here and there as tree roots claimed space in the earth just outside. It had been refinished some time back, but still the ceiling lay exposed and you could look up and see the water pipes and electrical wires that serviced the rest of the house. The concrete floor was covered with a nice, ambiguous, brown speckled tile that did more to hide the dirt than it did to accent the décor.

The walls were bare and old red brick surrounded us on every side. To the immediate left, after coming down the stairs, was a seldom used bathroom and shower sectioned off by dingy brown paneling and matching trim. It was functional… but not pretty by any means. Further ahead were the wash area and furnace.

Beside the furnace stood our washer and dryer and the place of Uncle Kent’s torment. I could almost hear the subtle bitching that accompanied every day that he found himself in front of it.

It was clean, for a basement, but definitely not what I would have ever called pretty. Now the room swelled with power, and I was reaching out with my own energy in search of an entrance.

Kevin continued to walk ahead of us and stood staring at the far wall. “Where’s this door go?”

He leaned forward and, before any of us had a chance to call to him or warn him away, a section of brick the height and width of a door slid open without a sound. As it opened outward, we all rushed forward to Kevin’s side. Aurora was the first to reach him. She pulled him back as if saving him from an oncoming car.

Before us lay a long, lit corridor that went in the direction of our sacred circle of trees. I know the passage was underground but what amazed me was that it was lit. Orbs of power lined the ceiling every few feet and the corridor seemed to slope downward for a quarter of a mile.

“Well, let’s go.” I started walking down the long corridor and marveled at how smooth the stone surfaces were.

This area of Illinois is known more for it’s remnants of coal than it is any vast deposit of other stone, yet the walls, floor, and ceiling were lined with the smoothest stone and were completely seamless. The place didn’t seem built at all. Somehow, it had grown here, if such a thing were possible. With magick however, I suppose nearly anything is possible. I’d seen too much, these past few weeks, to believe otherwise.

Bry rushed to join me and walked by my side. We would explore this place together. I reached out my hand to hold his without thinking, and the sudden touch of his skin surprised me. I hadn’t really thought about reaching for him but the sudden sensation of his flesh against mine was a welcome addition. I’m sure it was a little odd for the Gypsies to see our display of affection but, if we were going to be living together, they would have to get used to seeing a lot of strange things. This place was going to be filling up quickly and with such a wild assortment of creatures and people that it boggled my mind. The idea excited and scared me at the same time. How would we feed them? How many bathrooms are there down here? Are there bathrooms down here? The endless questions almost made my head hurt.

Suddenly, a doorway appeared on the left. A pinpoint of light started at the top, in the center, and grew outward in both directions as if drawing it on the grey stone. It continued outward, and then down until the door’s shape was finished and a handle appeared. We stopped and just stared for a few moments, until Kevin squeezed through us and grabbed the door handle.

“Sorry, I gotta go.” With that, he turned the knob and pushed the door open. It looked like stone, but yet modern, and I wondered how he had the strength to push something so heavy with apparent ease.

Magick… it was simple… Or not so simple. Somehow this place had sensed Kevin’s need, and provided for him. A few minutes passed, and the door opened.

“Anyone else gotta go?” Kevin smiled as he wormed his way back through us to his sister’s side.

We each took our turn in the ‘facility’ before we continued on. I suppose at least one of my questions had been answered. The plumbing was modern, but again there was no real sense of electricity. The light source was a ball of power overhead, floating motionless against the ceiling. The toilet, sink, and shower/bathtub were all white. Normally they wouldn’t have stood out, but the grey and white marbled stone walls, floor, and ceiling accented them in such a way that it looked almost too modern. It was immaculate in every sense of the word, but… not home. There were no personal touches to the room and it felt strangely foreign.

My thoughts instantly turned to regret, as a framed picture appeared on the wall above the toilet. It was of Kent and Mark, arm in arm, leaning against each other in front of the family truck they had bought so long ago. They were younger and, of course, even more handsome with the energy youth can bring, but it tore at my heart. I stared at the photo and felt my chest tighten. When could it have been… ten years ago? I remember the day Kent came barreling up the driveway, with a big grin on his face as he sat behind the steering wheel. He seemed to think that truck could climb the tallest mountain. I missed them so much. A familiar burning started in my eyes, and I took a deep breath to fight the sorrow. The picture started to fade away.

“NO! I want to see them!” I spoke the words aloud. I suppose I was talking to Brethren as much as anyone. As fast as the picture began to fade away, it reappeared.

There were too many memories, and I loved the uncles deeply. I always will and, strangely enough, Brethren had gotten this one touch of home perfectly. I suppose it was just too close to my heart, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I stared at the white and grey swirled stone floor and smiled. We had such a long way to go, and so much to do that I couldn’t help but chuckle and shake my head. What else is there to do, when you are swept up in the currents of life and racing toward your future? In my opinion… hold on tight.

We finished, and continued our way down the hallway leading to what I figured would be a much larger chamber. I knew that, if there were going to be that many people coming, we would need a massive hall to meet in.

What we found wasn’t what I expected. I had a coliseum in my mind. It was anything but. There were no rising rows of chairs like you might find in a theatre. Instead, there was only one raised balcony, upon which someone might address the masses standing on the flat floor below.

I had anticipated an area devoid of even the first traveler, but instead found a throng of people growing in size by the second. As we stepped out from under the ancient arch overhead, the people paused, and a sweeping silence surged through the crowd. I recognized many of the faces, but most were complete strangers.

Galen and Dorianna’s memories told me who the oldest of the crowd were as we continued forward. The many creatures of time stepped back and let us pass, as though we were a parade and something to be stared at.

The space into which we stepped was so large I had to stop and stare. It was massive. It seemed as though someone had dug out a cavern for the largest football stadium, then tripled it and set it beneath my feet. The ceiling rose so far it was out of sight and disappeared into shadows without shapes. An ominous black covered the ceiling as if darkness itself had found a home.

The crowd parted as we passed, and then seemed to swallow our retreat as we continued on. So many creatures and beings were present that I didn’t dare try and catalog them all as we moved toward the raised balcony ahead. I felt their gaze against my skin like weights, dangling and pulling against me, as we walked.

From this distance, the balcony looked like a small stone shelf jutting out from the far wall, barely set above the crowed below. It was at least a mile or more away, and I knew that the distance hid its true dimensions.

They were all here; the Troll, Goblin, Vampire, Gypsie, Nephillim, Lycan, Grigori, Fey, and so on. Each race was arriving, and with them the crowd grew before our eyes. A large orb of light sat in the center of the throng of people which pulsed and spit out another creature with each flash of light. A bright blink of white light surrounded us and, moments later, we found ourselves standing on the balcony staring out at the growing mass of creatures.

Looking out, I could barely see the stone walls that surrounded us, as every set of eyes stared up, searching for something or someone I wasn’t sure existed. I had to wonder… what ever made me think we could lead these people to war? This had never been my intention, or even my slightest concern, when I took my first unsure steps to public school only weeks before. Now…. we stood on a stone ledge, in front of hundreds of eyes begging some form of guidance. The weight of their stare seemed to press against my chest, and I couldn’t breathe. Part of me wanted to run, while another wanted to plant my feet on the floor and make some grand speech. I suddenly felt as though my feet had been nailed in place.

Bry stepped forward, and spoke.

“Good eve, good people. I am Bry. The one I love, who stands beside me, is called Ty. The three dark haired ones are Aurora, Kevin, and Daniel.” Bry indicated each of us with a raised hand as he announced our names.

“We are the Fey!” Bry yelled, and raised his arms to the ceiling. A cheer roared out from the crowd.

“We are the Lycan!” Another cheer shattered my thoughts, as arms raised and I stared out at the throng of people.

“We are the creatures of the ‘other’ world.” The masses roared and cheered, to the point I feared a riot might break out.

It was then that I stepped forward, and words I didn’t know found their way past my lips.

“Welcome to Brethren. Here…. we are all equal and one people.” A low murmur traveled into the darkest corners of the room.

I knew a hierarchy existed amongst the clans. It has always been that way. One race has always thought itself better than another.

“You have answered ‘The Call’. Many of us will die, but on the battlefield we will die as equals. No one life is of more value than another. If you wish to leave, that is your choice,” I announced loudly. Thankfully, the acoustics of the area didn’t require me to yell. It seemed as though this stone amphitheatre was created specifically for the purpose of public announcement and rallies.

Several gnolls, giant-kin, and other varied members of different races turned toward the portal to leave.

“Listen to me!” My cry sounded almost desperate, and I wanted to kick myself for the weakness and desperate tone I couldn’t hide. “Please consider this. You may turn your back on me, and these other fine people, but you also turn your back on your homes. Without everyone’s help, the Earth will fall. There will be nothing left of the homes you race back to now. Your friends, families, and all that you have strived for over the millennia will be destroyed. Turn away now… and you turn on them as well.” Those that had started to leave stopped and turned.

“I am not so foolish to think that we will all come out of this alive… but if we pull together, some of us may be lucky enough to return to our lives and loved ones, knowing we made the difference.” I continued on, knowing I had everyone’s attention.

“There is room enough here for everyone. Brethren will provide for your needs and the needs of your families. For those of you who choose to stay, the lower levels are off-limits. Berserkers and creatures from darker times reside there.

Beserkers are difficult to describe. I haven’t honestly seen one before, but Bry and I had Galen and Dorrianna’s memories, or at least a good portion of them. Beserkers are frightful beasts and the remnants of older times, before man became the dominant species on the planet. While coming face to face with a lion might scare the piss out of you, meeting a Spiked Trokis or a Slithering Weka would probably cause most to die on the spot from sheer fright. Even if you had the strength of will to turn and run, your life expectancy would only be a fraction of a second longer.

I’m sure my inherited memories do little justice to how fearsome and horrible these things truly are. Some still ask why all of these creatures weren’t moved behind the veil, along with the darker things of those times. The answer is simple. Some were, but some were not. They are wild things, and have no true malicious intent. It would be the same to ban all bears or elephants to that place. Sure, they could kill you just as easily, but that generally didn’t happen until they decided you were their next meal. If it had been decided that creatures were to be put behind the veil based on their ability to kill, man would have been put away with the rest of them long ago. I can’t think of a more ferocious, malevolent being, than what we have become in this day and age.

I wasn’t sure how long I was lost in my thoughts, but hearing Bry speak nearly made me jump out of my skin.

“Please use tonight to settle into your new home. Bring those you love and trust to join you. Be warned… we are not sure what wards are in place to safeguard us, so try to keep your actions as peaceful as possible. Have a good night, and welcome to Brethren,” Bry called out to the people, and then made a slight bow, as if to signify that we were finished speaking.

“What gives you the right to lead?” A low but strong voice called out from the crowd below.

There was a strange sensation. It wasn’t so much what the creature said, but the power that rushed up with the words, and crawled along my skin like a thousand pin pricks. Each was warm and sharp, and threatened to steal my breath away. A sense of dread filled my being like some dark cloud had just blocked out the sun.

An area opened in the crowd below, and grew wider by the second as creatures of every race backed away from a small woman. Her skin was pale, beyond the color of someone lost from the sun. It was opalescent, and seemed to dance with rainbow colors as the light and shadow shifted. Her hair was white and hung low below her waist. She stared up at us, and I felt her power pour over us like nothing I had ever experienced. She was a petite and frail looking creature, but I knew instantly that she was much more than she appeared. There was something familiar about the large, almond shaped, gold glowing eyes staring up at us that triggered a memory that I couldn’t quite grasp. Something in the back of my mind started screaming, but I couldn’t find or place the memory. My thoughts were clouded, and I knew that the magick pouring out of her was the cause, though I couldn’t seem to do anything to fight against it.

“I, Lillith, invoke the old law. As is the right of anyone within these walls, I challenge you, Bry… to a duel for the leadership of Brethren.” Her voice was sharp, like broken glass and delicate bells, but sounded so much more shattered. My skin became a rush of goose bumps, and I shivered.

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