Black Wolf

An urban fantasy novel


Steph Shangraw

Black Wolf Cover

Prysmcat Books


Black Wolf
Steph Shangraw

Copyright 2014 by Stephanie Shangraw

All rights reserved.

Free (site) version, complete text, html.

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends, as the author would consider it a compliment.

This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form.

If you enjoyed this book, please visit the site below to discover other works by this author, and consider leaving a review on your favourite site or contacting the author to tell her.

I appreciate your support!

Cover by Robin Collet

Cover images used under Creative Commons attribution license.

They have been modified and combined to create this cover, but the originals remain the property of their creators/owners.

Use does not imply that the owners endorse this work in any way.

Grey wolves by Ronnie Macdonald/ronmacphotos

Moon by turquoise field/turquoisefield

Prysmcat Books

Kingston, Ontario, Canada



It's impossible to list everyone who, over a lifetime, has helped to encourage my writing in general and assisted with this book in particular.

However, I do need to mention:

My parents
Jackie LaRonde
My cats

Of course, my awesome beta-readers:

Benita Burger
Brook True
DaraLynn Hill
Elizabeth Lombard
Jill Blanchard
Linda Mull

who made this a better book

And Robin Collet for the wonderful cover art!

A very special thanks

Charles de Lint, almost 20 years ago, encouraged me and taught me a whole new way to look at and refine my own rough work. That made all the difference.


Note on Time

The original version of Black Wolf was written during the mid-1990's. While it has undergone three or four major overhauls since then, updating it to take place twenty years later proved not to be a viable option. I realize younger readers may find concepts like the absence of cell phones and Internet rather alien.


Black Sheep


Jesse opened his eyes, and squeezed them closed again, tightly, against the bright sunlight. Blindly, he fumbled around in the inner pockets of his black leather jacket, found his sunglasses—the darkest pair of Nike sports shades rip-offs he'd been able to find and steal—and put them on. This time when he opened his eyes, the sunlight was only uncomfortable, not excruciating.

That only raised a whole new set of questions, though. Why was he under a tree?

Carefully, pausing a couple of times as the world spun under him in nauseating swoops, he sat up and looked around, squinting despite the sunglasses.

Trees, enormous ones, heavy on the evergreens, pine and cedar and whatever those other ones were called. Rocks, also enormous, smooth and almost flat, sloping up from the far side of the road at a gentle angle to a rusty wire fence and then more trees.

A road? Well, it was paved, and had a faded yellow line down the centre. No sidewalk or anything, and no signs or buildings as far as he could see from here—which wasn't much more than a hundred yards or so in either direction, because of the curves and the trees. There was no traffic that he could see or hear, either.

He sighed and buried his face in his hands. Must've had another blackout. God knew how far north he'd gone this time. Right out of the city entirely, from the looks of things, which was going to make getting home just heaps of fun. He remembered the party, the twenty or so other people who had made Michelle's small apartment feel even more cramped, remembered a lot of booze going around and that he'd had his fair share of it. More hazily, he remembered that as usual, as the air got rather smoky, it had made his too-sensitive sinuses burn far too intensely to ignore, and had finally triggered a violent sneezing fit. There was something there about feeling crowded, restless, trapped, an intense need to get away... Nothing else.

Great, I'm having blackouts at seventeen. Wonder if it's brain damage from getting smacked around too often. I mean okay, I drink sometimes, but not that much. Don't you have to, like, drink heavily for years before you get blackouts, or something?

Well, time to see how bad the situation was. He crossed his legs, and dug around in the pockets of his jacket to see what he had. Wallet with ID. The key to Shaine's apartment, nearest thing to home he had, sharing its ring with a miniature flashlight. Three twenty-dollar bills, which he didn't remember, along with a handful of change. Of the condoms Shaine insisted he always carry and always use, he only had one instead of three, which might explain where the money had come from, especially if he'd been hitch-hiking. And that was about it.

He swore softly to himself. It had been months since he'd tried to get through a day completely on his own, no pills to help him focus on something other than the despair and emptiness, no pills to help him sleep without the nightmares. He really had no desire to try again now, cold-turkey and off familiar ground. Possibly right off the bloody map. He was going to have to figure out where he was and get home as fast as he could.

He stowed everything back in his pockets and carefully levered himself to his feet, bracing himself against the tree with one hand. Once he was sure he'd stay vertical, he made his way carefully across the thick summer-green grass towards the edge of the road. A paved road meant there had to be people somewhere, in one direction or the other, right? He just had to guess at which direction.

At the very edge of the road, he stopped, closed his eyes, and concentrated. He was only half-conscious of his nostrils dilating, searching for any traces of human scent or the scents that came with human activity; he strained instead to listen for some kind of noise other than the incessant cheerful singing of birds.

He couldn't hear anything, but when he tested the idea of going to his left against the idea of going to his right, going left felt better. With nothing better to base a decision on, he went to his left.

Since there was no traffic, he walked right on the pavement. At least he was wearing his old well-worn comfortable black running shoes, and he'd astonished a number of friends and acquaintances before with how far he could walk—he just had to find that steady, ground-eating pace that took next to no energy. It was easier when he had music to concentrate on, but that wasn't necessary. He tucked his hands in the pockets of his jacket, and just walked, letting his mind toy with the possibilities of where on earth he might be until that got too scary, and he turned to imagining Shaine tearing strips off him verbally when he got home. At least once he was there for Shaine to yell at, he'd know things were back to normal.

The hum of an engine brought his wandering attention back to his immediate surroundings. He shielded his eyes with one hand, looked ahead and saw nothing, and turned to look behind.

Well, it wasn't anything large, but he could see something coming towards him, still quite some way off. Jesse shrugged to himself and went back to walking, rather than lose time, but he kept listening, and checked behind him periodically. Light-coloured car, no, mini-van, he decided. When it was close enough, he took a chance and stuck out a thumb.

The driver slowed down, and stopped just past him. The mini-van looked fairly new and in very good condition, nothing marring the antique-gold paint job. Preferring not to look too desperate, Jesse made for the passenger side quickly enough to look polite but without running.

The van's driver, and only occupant, was a woman in her mid-twenties or so with more vividly red hair than he'd ever seen as a natural colour—but given the lack of make-up and the simple off-white peasant blouse he could see, it just might actually be a natural colour.

She gave him a friendly smile. “Hi. This is an odd place to be out for a walk.”

Jesse spread his hands. “I was with a friend. At least, I thought he was a friend. We got in an argument about something stupid, he got mad and made me get out. If I'd realized his temper could be that bad…” He shrugged, let it go at that. Offering too many details would be more of a giveaway than acting reluctant to get into it. “Anyway, he left me kinda stranded.”

“Hop in. I'll get you at least as far as what passes for civilization.”

“That would be great.” He opened the passenger door, and the redhead leaned over to pick up a small cooler from the floor on that side.

“Here, just put that in the back out of the way. Help yourself to something to drink out of it if you'd like.”

“You must be my guardian angel.” He moved the cooler to the back seat, but couldn't resist, and chose one of the bottles of juice—grape came to hand first. “I'm Jesse,” he said, as he hopped up into the front seat and closed the door.

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Jesse. I'm Rebecca.”

“You live out here?”

“Oh, not too terribly far away. I'm on my way to meet a couple of friends for a camping trip.”

“Cool.” He fished around for something to keep her talking—most people were happy to meet a good listener, and Jesse was very good at listening. “I've never been camping, but it sounds like fun. Is there a campground or something?”

“No, just a place that we know of that no one really does anything with. It's a nice place to just set up a tent for the weekend and have a private party with a couple of good friends.”

He discovered, over the next ten minutes or so, that the friends in question were her two closest female friends and that she had the very sensible but unexciting job of being one of three employees of a small bank in an equally small town of a couple of thousand people. He was beginning to strongly suspect that he was much farther north this time than he'd been after his previous blackouts.

Why he always woke up to find out he'd gone north during those blank spots, he had no idea. South towards Toronto or someplace like that might have made some kind of sense, but north was just crazy. There was nothing up here.

He couldn't call the place they reached a village. It was just a little combined gas station and convenience store. Across the road was a house, as run-down as the store, the yard full of junk.

“I'm not sure if this counts as civilization,” Rebecca said, as they both got out of the van, “but it's the closest there is nearby, and at least there's a phone.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate the ride.”

“No problem. I enjoyed it.”

Jesse ventured cautiously into the convenience store.

To his intense relief, they had road maps for sale. He picked one up, chose a chocolate bar he hoped wasn't as old as some of the goods he could see in the store, and went to the counter to pay for them.

“Got your card?” asked the woman behind the counter, boredly. She looked about sixty, and that burgundy hair with the pale roots was definitely a home dye job. Somehow it fit with the frayed jeans and plaid cotton shirt.

Jesse gave her a confused look. “Sorry?”

“Your status card. If you want to skip the taxes, you need to have it.”

Status… oh. It wasn't the first time someone had taken one look at him and assumed he was Native—he'd been told it wasn't just the skin tone or the black hair, either, that something in the lines of his face suggested it too. Maybe he was. Who knew? Well, presumably there was a record somewhere of who his parents had been and what had happened to them, but he had no intention of dealing with the government any more than he absolutely had to, ever.

“Don't have one,” he said. “Don't worry about it.”

She shrugged and rang in the map and the chocolate bar. She shorted him on the change, but it wasn't by a lot and he didn't bother pointing it out.

“Can you show me on here where we are?” he asked her, tucking the chocolate bar into his jacket pocket for the moment.

She shrugged again and helped him unfold the map onto the counter. She scanned it intently for a long moment, toying with a red magic marker, then stabbed at the map, leaving a red dot that bled outwards into the paper. “'Bout here. There's the highway. We're not on there, but we're about twenty miles north from this one here.”

Jesse followed the so-called highway south with a finger. A long way south. And finally found the city.

“That's a bit over a hundred miles,” the woman said, watching him, and nodded to herself. “Yeah, about that.”

“I don't suppose anyone from around here goes that way very often.”

“Not on the weekend. During the week, y'get the odd one off the reservation goin' that way. That's about, oh, thirty miles north-east of here.” Helpfully, she showed him on the map. “We go down now and again for supplies, but we're not goin' again for a couple of weeks.”

Jesse groaned to himself. This was definitely not a good situation, no matter which way he turned it around in his head. That was a long way to hitch-hike on a road that didn't seem to get used much.

Behind him, he heard the door squeak open, and Rebecca came inside, followed by a man who was probably the husband of the woman Jesse had been talking to. They certainly looked like a matched set, although the man was largely bald rather than badly dyed.

“Oh dear. What's wrong, Jesse?”

Jesse sighed. “Getting home is going to be a bigger problem than I thought.”

Rebecca looked at the old couple. “How much for the gas?” She looked thoughtful while she paid, and when she finished she turned towards Jesse again. “You could come with me,” she suggested. “My friends won't mind, and the tent's big enough for one more. Maybe between us we can figure out a way for you to get home.”

Jesse hesitated.

Rebecca smiled. “Do you have any better offers than partying alone with three women overnight, having a decent meal, and maybe some help getting back where you came from tomorrow?”

Well, when she put it like that… “I think,” Jesse said, “that's an offer I can't refuse. Thanks.”

“Not a problem. C'mon, Moira and Avryl are going to wonder where I am.”

* * *

“Stupid moving shade,” Kevin muttered, looking up from his book to discover that he was no longer lying in the full summer sunlight; the tree that shaded Deanna was now casting its shadow across him as well.

He picked up his book and the lightweight green blanket he was lying on, and moved three feet or so to one side. With a sigh of contentment, he stretched out again in the direct sun, feeling it soaking in through skin so pale it was all but translucent, the warmth reaching right down to his bones and giving him strength, power, life.

“Happier now?” Deanna asked in amusement, the notebook she'd been writing in so intently still braced against one raised knee. No blanket for her; she no more liked having something between her and the earth below her than Kevin liked having anything shading him from the sun. She was far more comfortable leaning against the old red maple that, for her sake, brought them back to this clearing to camp, over and over.

She reminded Kevin more than a little of the maple itself, her skin soft brown, her long heavy mane of hair dark auburn, her whole body what he thought a perfect mix between muscle and softness. The comfortable pants and loose short-sleeved top he'd made for her, woven out of sunlight, were even various shades of brown, adding to the impression. It wasn't so hard to see where the idea that dryads were bound to a single tree for life had come from.

“Until the sun moves again, yep.” He opened his book back up, and crossed his arms in front of him, the book pinned in place. It was only mid-afternoon, and it was August; he should have time to absorb a lot more sun before it got too low to be helpful.

“Solar-powered elvenmage,” she teased.

“Hard to argue with the truth.”

He could feel laughter against his mind, and glanced off to his right, where a huge wolf with long dense chocolate-brown fur lounged in the shade of a smaller maple nearby.

*Too bad you aren't a bit more literally solar-powered,* he heard in Bane's thoughts, the laughter threaded through the words. *It would certainly help with the grocery bills.*

All they needed for this to be perfect was for their two absent coven-mates to be here. But Flynn was with his mother, who was under strict healer orders to minimize movement until her ankle had finished knitting back together; that would take far less time under healer care than it would without it, but it still needed to be looked after. Cynthia was wrapped up in something she and two other witches, close friends, were doing together, and had promised to come join them when she finished. Kevin let his eyes close, though he wasn't sleepy. He could never feel sleepy while the sun was on him, especially so strongly. But he could relax, let himself really feel it, as if he could just let go and melt completely into the heat and the brightness.

Unfortunately, it could only last for so long. The sun dropped ever-lower, and finally the trees blocked out the direct light.

Deanna stretched and got up. “Mm, that's better. Maybe it will start to cool off a bit now.”

“Yeah,” Kevin sighed. “It probably will. Well, time for food.”

Bane echoed Deanna's stretch, and shifted to human where he lay, tanned and brown-haired, his currently under-dressed state showing off all the muscle that came from spending so much time running the forest on four feet. “Imagine that. An elvenmage who wants to eat.”

“We did bring a ton of food,” Deanna said. “I don't eat all that much, and I bet at least half your meals while we're camping will be stuff you hunt. So I guess Kev gets to make sure we don't have to carry it all home.”

“It's a big responsibility,” Kevin said solemnly. “But I'll try to live up to it.”

They settled near the green nylon dome tent to each fill a plate from the wide range of foods that Kevin had prepared and packed. Nothing was going to go bad inside coolers that Kevin and Cynthia had worked on together—Kevin with his affinity for heat and light, Cynthia with hers for all four elements and all the natural world. Those coolers were every bit as good at preserving food as the fridge at home, which certainly opened up the options on what to bring.

Kevin held a hand over Bane's cold roast chicken and channelled a little of the sun's heat to it, warming it to the kind of temperature his werewolf coven-mate preferred. Bane gave him a quick smile of thanks, and bit into a strip of meat. Deanna preferred potato salad and fresh vegetables, which was typical for a dryad; vegetarianism came easily to them, though it wasn't a necessity. Kevin himself constructed a pair of sandwiches with a little of everything on them; a rapid metabolism forced elves to be aware of what they ate and keep meals balanced between what would digest quickly and what would keep them going for a while, and for a mage like him, it was all the more delicate a juggling act.

The prices of power didn't mean he couldn't use it for fun, though. As the sunlight faded, he wove an image in the air, a glowing butterfly with wings of emerald and amber, then another of ruby and amethyst, and more, creating them one at a time and keeping the earlier ones dancing lazily in the twilight as he crafted each new one. Finally, though, he had to stop, feeling his concentration beginning to stretch too thin; he let the ones already in action keep flitting around at random, brilliant in the dim light.

Deanna smiled, her pleasure warm and familiar against his inner senses. “That's beautiful, Kev,” she said softly.

“That's, what, nine?” Bane said. “That's a new record for you.”

Kevin nodded, still carefully keeping most of his attention on the illusory butterflies. “My control with little stuff is getting better all the time.”

“You're one hell of a mage already, phoenix. It would be scary to think how good you're going to be in a decade or three, if I didn't know you'll use it well.”

Kevin glanced at him and smiled, aware that Bane could see him perfectly well in the eerie illumination of the butterfly light though he couldn't say the same in return. “Thanks to my very forgiving and endlessly supportive coven.” He reinforced a sapphire and silver butterfly that was starting to fade, brought it back to full strength.

Deanna giggled. “With great power…” she began the quote.

She didn't get a chance to finish; Kevin sent the butterflies at her in a multi-hued cloud, all at once. Deanna laughed and ducked. “Attack of the killer butterflies!”

Kevin let go of the butterflies, and they melted into nothingness, leaving them in twilight that might just as well have been midnight to elven eyes. Being an elf, though, he could see his companions as thermal images, Deanna a bit cooler which was normal for a dryad. With the extra effort of invoking mage-sight, he could have seen them in yet another way, as well as the bright glittery cords of energy that bound a coven together, but it hardly seemed worth it right now. “Well, I guess I'm about done for the day. I never did get much reading done today, I'm going to just curl up in the tent with my book. You nocturnal types can do what you like.”

Bane chuckled. “I'm off for a run, then.”

“Summer evenings are wonderful,” Deanna said, “except for the mosquitoes. I suppose I could get someone to rub repellent in all over for me, but there's not much point if I'm going to be all by myself. I'll just come inside.”

“Don't wait up,” Bane said, and shifted back to furform—Kevin saw the heat-image flare briefly and then settle into an altered outline. He nuzzled both coven-mates affectionately before trotting off, probably to see if any of his pack or other potential hunting companions were out and about yet.

Kevin created enough light, in the form of a hovering glowing golden sphere, that he could see to help Deanna clean up, although there really wasn't much that needed cleaning up. No wildlife would brave both Kevin's wards and Bane's scent. Then they retired to the tent. Since it was intended for six, and had held their coven of five more than once, there was plenty of room for the two of them to get comfortable; Kevin sent the sphere to melt into the supporting ribs, causing them to glow with gold-tinted light. He'd done it so often that it didn't take much power to set up or sustain anymore.

There wasn't really any need to talk. They'd known each other practically all their lives, had been together through wonderful times and real-life nightmares. It was enough just to relax and enjoy the company and the peace.

* * *

Rebecca drove a bit farther along the highway, and then turned left onto a dirt road that must be just a nightmare in the winter. It wound its way through the trees and up and down slopes and once over a small bridge with a wide stream underneath.

Finally, she pulled over in a spot where there was a grassy area right next to the road.

“Moira and Avryl have the tent and all,” Rebecca said, pulling back the side door of the van. “All we need to bring is my sleeping bag and the cooler.”

Jesse hefted the cooler, which wasn't really all that heavy, and he was stronger than people tended to assume when they saw him, no more than medium height and less than medium build. “No problem.”

Rebecca slung the sleeping bag on one shoulder, locked the van, and led him into the forest.

He would have expected her lightweight, loose pants to be more of a problem in this than his jeans were, but somehow she moved through the brushy stuff without difficulty, while trees and bushes tried to trip, slap, and otherwise abuse him. Rebecca was sympathetic and did her best to help.

They stepped out into a small clearing in the middle of the trees. He could see a blue and white dome-shaped tent set up at the far side; closer, on a spread blanket, were two more women around Rebecca's age. One was very slender and probably very tall, with shoulder-length brassy-blonde hair and very white skin and the kind of high pronounced cheekbones that a modelling-wannabe would cheerfully commit murder for, looking quite out of place in a soft-looking long dress of multiple swirled shades of blue. The other was much more softly curved, with longer tawny-brown hair neatly confined in a long braid, rounder features, her eyes with a faintly Asian slant, and she was wearing khaki shorts and a well-worn white T-shirt with a faded picture of flowers on it.

“This is Jesse,” Rebecca said. “He's having some bad luck right now. Jesse, the blonde is Moira, and the brunette is Avryl. Have a seat, make yourself comfy.”

Jesse shrugged to himself and joined the women on the blanket.

As it turned out, it was past time for lunch but they'd been waiting for Rebecca, and Moira had a cooler that held an astonishing amount of food. There was also lots of orange juice and vodka, with Moira usually making the drinks, and no one asked his age. Avryl had a small compact stereo and apparently there was at least one radio station that could be picked up around here.

Compared to the parties he was used to, this was pretty tame… but the vodka was better than nothing at all, and the company was friendly and easy on the eyes. To say nothing of being his best chance not only of a place to sleep that wasn't under a tree and more to eat than a chocolate bar, but also of finding a way to get back to the city. At least with nothing but vodka, he was unlikely to have another blackout that would leave him up in the Northwest Territories or something.

By the time the sun began to edge down below the trees, Jesse was definitely feeling a lot more relaxed. Moira had started a small campfire in an area she and Avryl cleared of grass and then ringed with stones; Jesse didn't see how she started it, only that it didn't seem to take her nearly as long or be nearly as difficult as he'd thought campfires usually were.

Avryl, giggling, told them about something she'd heard about, that if everyone joined hands and concentrated on gazing into the fire, then they'd all see the answer to their greatest question. By that point, Jesse didn't much care whether it made sense, and would have gone along with weirder things to keep from disrupting the mood. He found himself across from Rebecca, with Moira and Avryl on either side.

Something about this felt wrong, though, as he joined hands with Moira and Avryl. There was something about it that felt vaguely familiar, and for some reason that created enough nervousness to reach through the haziness. Why was he so foggy, anyway? He hadn't had that much to drink all that quickly…

Before he could figure it out, Avryl began to speak in a kind of sing-song rhythm. “Just look at the fire, slow your breathing down, in, now out, in, and out… look at the fire, don't look away, let everything else just go away, relax and be open to whatever's going to happen, don't fight it… just breathe, in, out, and look at the fire...”

Automatically, Jesse obeyed, ignoring the sense that something was just not right about this situation. The flames seemed to twist into odd shapes that he could almost recognize, but they were always gone as soon as he focused, and he could never quite get a clear look.

With no warning at all, pain slashed across him, pain that was beyond anything he'd ever imagined. Avryl and Moira both tightened their grasp on him, kept him from pulling away, as every nerve in his body came screaming awake, and yet it ran deeper still, on some level that he couldn't even really identify, let alone name.

On the heels of the pain came the pleasure, the most incredible high he'd ever felt. Yet the agony was still there, twined around and into the high, a brutal reminder of mortality even while the ecstasy tried to convince him otherwise. Trapped between the two, all thought stopped, and the universe became an eternity of waiting for an end, yearning for it and fearing it at the same time.

Abruptly, Avryl and Moira let go, and the high vanished, leaving only the pain that made him want to scream except that too many muscles were locked tight, made him curl in on himself moaning.

“I wouldn't worry about getting home,” Rebecca said. “That's the least of your problems right now. But then, I hardly think it's going to make the world a lesser place, to no longer have someone like you in it, now is it?”

He heard them move, heard them simply walk away. Somehow, the blanket that had been under him wasn't there anymore, he couldn't hear the fire anymore, it was just him and the grass and the trees around him, and the overwhelming pain.

He heard something bark nearby, and hoped vaguely that it was someone's dog, not a wolf or something looking for an easy meal.

“Oh gods,” someone whispered; cool light fingers brushed his cheek. “Oh, Rebecca, what have you done this time?”

The pain went away, but it took the rest of the world with it.

* * *

Kevin woke sharply, heart pounding, with images in his mind of glass breaking overhead. It took him a moment to sort out that it wasn't his own dream; his coven-mate Flynn was still asleep, and dreaming, and was reaching towards him in fear. He felt Flynn jolt into consciousness, with no lessening of the sense of dread.

*Kev! Shield Bane! Heavy!*

Confused, but willing to trust the seer, Kevin scanned the area for Bane, got the mental echoes of creeping up carefully on a trio of sleeping male mallards, tension and anticipation. That was enough for him to pour sunlight energy into a bubble around Bane, one that would keep any kind of outside magic from reaching him.

The ducks sensed it and exploded into a flurry of escaping feathers and alarm quacks; so did Bane, who threw a wordless, irritated question at him.

Before Kevin could explain, pure raw energy slammed into the shields with dizzying force. Bane yelped, more in surprise than fear—not much frightened Bane—and crouched where he was, instinct telling him to get back to his coven-mates to defend them against whatever was attacking, reason telling him that if he moved it would be harder for Kevin to protect him.

Kevin threw more of the power he'd absorbed from the sunlight into the shields to reinforce them. Without Flynn's warning, his normal shields and the ones built into the tent would all have shattered like an egg under a hammer, but this one held, deflecting the attack away and scattering it harmlessly. Just in case, he poured more power into the shields woven into the framework of the tent. A second blow against Bane, the third targeted the tent…

“What on earth…” Deanna began sleepily, aware of the fluctuations in ambient energy levels even if she couldn't track them directly, and then her tone hardened. “Rebecca?”

Carefully, Kevin searched outwards, holding the shields steady; this was a lot harder than multiple butterflies, and could be a lot more devastating if he dropped any of the balls he was juggling. Anger surged—that was Rebecca, all right. Why couldn't she just leave them alone? Why did she have to wreck their peaceful camping trip? He pulled up whatever power he had left, shaped a window in the shields around him and Deanna just for an instant as soon as the fourth blow had been rebounded, and furiously flung everything he had back in the direction from which the attack had come, targeting it on Moira's very visible energy signature and Rebecca's unmistakable presence.

He didn't think it actually reached them; something else absorbed it before that. But the blows stopped, and right now, that was good enough.

He reached to Flynn, hoping the seer would have a better idea what was going on.

*In the forest,* Flynn said. *Get moving before he dies! I'll find one of the healers so you can use me as an anchor. Find him!*

Kevin winced. Running around a forest in what was, to him, utter darkness punctuated by heat images really wasn't going to be a lot of fun. Well, Deanna would help. *Dia, Bane, not sure if you caught that,* he said, mentally instead of out loud, so he could send it to both. As the only telepath in the coven, he tended to find himself the centre of communication. *Flynn says there's someone who's going to die if we don't find him.*

*Stay there until I get back to you,* Bane commanded. *I don't want you wandering around a night-time forest without me if Rebecca's in the area.*

*Hurry, then.*

*Already on my way.*

Kevin called just enough light along the ribs of the tent that he could see to find his shorts and running shoes; Deanna had already rolled to her feet, not needing the light so much, and was ready to go. By the time Bane ran out of the trees, they were out of the tent and Kevin had an approximate fix on which direction. If it weren't that he would have to create a gate to get Flynn and one of their healer friends there as quickly as possible, he'd have let dryad and werewolf go alone. Arguably, he could let them go, then gate himself to them, then gate the healer in, but two gates without even much moonlight would leave him too exhausted to walk. And creating light while in the trees would only cause disorienting moving shadows and interfere with Bane and Deanna.

So, instead, he gave his coven-mates what information he could about the direction of the lingering traces of power, and trusted them to keep him from walking into a tree. He wasn't expecting it to be all that far; there'd be too much power loss over long range.

It certainly felt like an awfully long way to go.

*Here!* Bane barked sharply, mentally and aloud both.

“Clearing, about eight feet ahead,” Deanna murmured.

They finally stepped out of the trees, and with intense relief Kevin called a floating sphere of light to hover in the air and give them all a reasonable view of their surroundings.

The clearing was small, and mostly empty. There were lingering traces of illusion, still strong enough that Kevin could see what it had been. Why had Moira created the illusion of a campsite? The only things real were the remains of a fire, which still shimmered with mage power—created by, extinguished by, and he thought manipulated by an elvenmage—and an impression under the one person still present that suggested a blanket woven by a mage out of light and then left to dissolve when no longer useful.

Deanna crouched beside the black-clad figure that lay on the grass, curled into a tight fetal ball, breath coming in rapid ragged sobs of pain.

“Oh gods,” she whispered, reaching out to run her fingers down his cheek. “Oh, Rebecca, what have you done this time?” She looked up at Kevin, and he didn't need to read her mind to know what she wanted him to do. No one should have to experience that much pain. Gently, Kevin wrapped his mind around the stranger's and thought sleep at him. His breathing slowed and evened out somewhat as he lost consciousness.

*Ready, Flynn?*

*Yes,* came the prompt reply.

Reaching to Flynn, using him as an anchor to spin a doorway of light and energy linking here and there, was one of the most tiring things he'd done yet tonight. Pixie-slight Gisela, her long honey-brown hair dripping wet and a pale summer dress clinging to her damply, darted through on bare feet. Flynn, his ever-present cards in one hand, followed her, and the gate imploded, leaving them in twilight. Not that Kevin really needed to see the redheaded seer, whose mother's Scottish blood showed in every line of his body.

Gisela dropped instantly to her knees next to the stranger, laying a hand on his cheek—about the only skin accessible with his arms and hands clenched tight against his chest. Her eyes closed as she concentrated on what healer senses could tell her about what was going on in his body right now.

Kevin studied him as best he could while waiting. Young, slender, probably no taller than Flynn. Black hair that didn't look like it had been cut or even washed lately, pulled back in a rough tail with strands escaping to frame his face. Dark skin, maybe Native, with one silver crescent stud bright through his ear. Features slightly delicate, very sensual... attractive, even streaked with drying tears and dirt, but not strong enough to be handsome, Kevin mused.

“I don't know everything that's happening, there's too much all at once,” Gisela said worriedly. “He's been ripped wide open psychically, and I think it overloaded his whole nervous system. He's already in shock, and even before this, he had an awful lot of stuff going on. Flynn's right, he's going to die unless I can do something...”

“Do what you can,” Flynn said softly, toying with his cards without actually pulling any out to look at. He wouldn't have gone to Gisela if she had no hope of saving the stranger, Kevin thought; he would never do that to her. So he must see a reasonable chance.

Gisela nodded, and tucked her hair back behind her ears. For a moment, by magelight, she looked less like the seventeen-year-old mostly-trained dryad healer she was, and more like she'd be in another couple of decades when both she and her gifts reached full maturity. She moved so she was sitting on the ground with her legs crossed, the stranger's head on her lap, and closed her eyes again.

Bane prowled, agitated but lacking a target, circling around them in wide loops—practically daring anything to attack again. Kevin, Deanna, and Flynn settled themselves near Gisela, not close enough to interfere, and Kevin let the light fade away, in case he needed that power for something more urgent. In the mostly-dark, his heat-vision came back into play, and unless the stranger was a dryad, his body temperature was definitely cooler than normal.

Gisela cried out, wordlessly; it sounded like denial.

Without a thought, Kevin scrambled closer to her, laid one hand on her shoulder to feed her whatever power he still had from his day in the sun, grabbed the stranger's hand in his other one and reached inside, tracking the mind/spirit/self that was preparing to leave. Jesse, that was the stranger's name. Rebecca should never have done this to Jesse, should never have used him like this, and Kevin knew far too much about Rebecca's charm and ruthlessness. That was something Kevin and Jesse had in common, even if there was never anything else, and it was something he could use to connect to that fading sense of self and call Jesse back, keeping him there while Gisela threw everything she had into healing the damage at least as far as non-lethal levels. He didn't have enough left to do this, and he knew it, but there was no time for anything else, and he was not going to let Rebecca kill someone who should never have been involved in their problems.

“Got it,” Gisela whispered finally. “He won't die now. He's not going to feel so great when he wakes up, which isn't going to be for a while, but he'll survive it.” She sounded exhausted. Kevin could relate; he felt cold and vaguely dizzy.

“All right,” Deanna said briskly. That was Deanna all over, Kevin thought: worried about her little sister and her best friend, her response was to go all practical. “Moving our camping gear here is probably pointless, there's no reason to think this spot was chosen for things like access to water. There's no way we're going to get a worn-out healer, a worn-out mage, and one unconscious body all back to the usual spot under their own power. I suggest we go get emergency supplies for overnight and stay here until sunrise. If Kev isn't recovered enough to gate yet, Bane can go get Bryan to anchor for Lori and she can gate here and get us all back to our own camp.”

“I agree,” Flynn said. “I don't get any sense of this being a particularly good spot to camp, and I think it's going to be a few days before going back to the house is a good idea. And I think it's probably going to be Lori doing any gates for a day or two. I'll give you a hand. Bane? Nothing's going to happen in the next little while. Come help us? You can run something back here for these two to eat before they go into shock, while Dia and I pack up some blankets and things.”

Kevin let himself more or less collapse where he was, wishing for moonrise, which would at least give him back a little; Gisela curled herself beside him, kitten-like, and he slid an arm over her.

“Gotta tell you something,” she said quietly.

“Hm? What?”

“He's a latent wolf. Well, he used to be latent. Now it all depends on how completely he heals from this.”



Jesse opened his eyes, and saw only green. After a moment of confusion, he identified it as the curve of a green nylon tent over him, which was followed by recognition of blankets under him and ground below that, and a lightweight blanket over him. He was dressed, though he wasn't wearing his shoes or his jacket.

What had happened, and why did he feel so awful—tired and achy and disoriented? Had he been in a fight? But he couldn't remember one.

Cautiously, he rolled onto his side to look around, pushing himself up with one arm, surprised at how difficult that simple task was.

On another set of blankets nearby, he had company: probably not much older than him, probably taller, with vividly golden-blonde hair falling loose to jaw-length and amazingly white skin. Hadn't he seen someone who looked something like that, with those high slanted cheekbones and slightly large, slightly tilted eyes? Someone associated with something bad? Or was it with something good? He reached for the memories, but they wouldn't come into focus, and he couldn't even decide whether they were recent memories or not.

The blonde guy looked up from the book he was reading, and gave him a friendly smile. “Good morning. Welcome back to the land of the living. I would guess that you feel pretty horrible, hm?”

Jesse shrugged, not inclined to give away information without knowing the situation.

“I'm not surprised. I'm Kevin. I already know you're Jesse, you told me that earlier.”

“Do I know you?” I remember the party, I remember leaving, I remember waking up, and somehow I found out that I'm like a hundred miles from home but I don't remember who told me that. It can't be another blackout like the last one, otherwise I'd be too far north for anything but an igloo. So what's going on and where the hell am I?

Kevin shrugged amiably. “No, not really. My friends and I found you walking along the edge of what passes for a highway around here. You didn't look so good, so we got the local doctor to take a look at you. She says you're okay, so we talked you into staying with us. You fell asleep and you've been out for about, oh, a couple of days now. We were getting worried. Does that pretty much cover it?”

“Yeah, I think so. Thanks for helping me.” What they were going to want in return remained to be seen, but at least right now he wasn't just alone in the forest he recalled seeing—and walking along a so-called highway through.

“No problem. You timed waking up rather nicely; it's about lunch-time. And you have to be starving. I know I would be after sleeping that long.”

At the mere thought, his stomach growled. He flushed; Kevin just grinned, sat up, and pushed Jesse's running shoes closer to him.

“Think you can get up?”

Jesse pulled on his shoes, then tried, carefully, and made it to his feet. Kevin rose in one smooth motion and unzipped the door of the tent.

Outside the tent was wild forest all around a circular clearing. The tent and what he assumed was assorted camping gear were close to one side, though not actually under the enormous tree that was nearest. In the shade lounged two other people.

The male of the pair was tanned dark and brown-haired, physically rather imposing under a tattered faded brown tank-top and cut-off denim shorts, even though all he was doing was leaning against a tree and working on a puzzle or something in a magazine braced against his raised knees. Even the lines of his face were strong—Jesse knew girls, well, mostly girls, who would have just drooled over him. He glanced up briefly, gave Jesse a nod that might have been a greeting, and went back to what he was doing.

The woman looked up from the book she was reading and smiled, and Jesse wished he knew how to do that, for charming people, just that way. Clearly tall and strongly built, long thick dark auburn hair pulled up and clipped off the back of her neck. She was wearing comfortable-looking loose lightweight shorts over wide hips and a halter that supported very full breasts, all dark green; out of nowhere he wondered what she'd look like dressed like a fairy-tale princess.

No, she wouldn't be some helpless air-headed princess. She'd be more likely to save the hero's ass a few times, and maybe get rid of a dragon or two on the side.

And even though she was every inch the opposite of what the self-starved bleached-blonde heavily-made-up girls he knew aimed for, no one would ever have noticed them with her in the room.

“Hi! I'm Deanna, in case you don't remember from before, but my friends all call me Dia. This is Bane. How are you feeling?”

Jesse shrugged again. “Confused.”

“I would be, too.”

“And hungry,” Kevin said. “What do we have for Jesse to eat? I wouldn't mind a snack m'self.”

“There's lots,” Deanna said, and grinned at Jesse. “You wouldn't know it to look at him, but Kev eats as much as Bane and I put together. When he's around, we always bring enough food for an army. Potato salad, cold meat sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, fresh veggies, fruit… hm, I think that's most of the selection, anyway. Does anything sound appealing?”

“Anything would be great,” Jesse said.

“So come look.” Deanna flipped her book over and got up, striding barefoot over to the trio of rather large coolers near the tent. “We don't exactly have bathroom facilities out here. If you need to do anything before you eat, well, basically you just step into the trees. There's toilet paper there,” she nodded to one side, to a pile of assorted stuff Jesse couldn't quickly identify, but with a basic white roll in easy reach, “but in that case, we generally try to bury it. Just to keep things cleaner.”

Made sense. Right now, it was enough of a reminder to reach through the mental fogginess and make him realize that he really needed to empty his bladder. He excused himself and headed into the forest at the nearest point.

Somehow, when he came back, Jesse found himself with a dinner plate of sturdy red plastic, bearing a generous helping of what Deanna assured him was potato salad made by her grandmother's recipe and a large fresh roll stuffed liberally with tomato and real cheddar and thinly-sliced roast beef, and a bottle of orange Gatorade. Kevin took more or less the same. Bane barely glanced up, only shook his head when Deanna asked if he wanted anything; she fished an apple out of another cooler and joined Jesse and Kevin.

Jesse noticed that while she sat in the shade, near its edge, Kevin sat in full sunlight close to her. That seemed odd; given the colouration, he would have expected the opposite, or at least both in the shade. He decided on the sun himself, hoping it would help bake out some of the achiness.

“So,” Deanna said. “Not that we want to give you the third degree or anything, but is there someone who's wondering where you are right now who might be worried? We can go back into town and find a phone, or give you a ride somewhere.”

Who would worry? Jesse found he had to stop and actually think about that. No family. There was Shaine, of course, who was probably fearing the worst by now. No one else would care, and only a few would even notice.

On the other hand, he had no intention of giving away any information like that.

“No one's expecting me anywhere right away,” he said. “I was with a friend and we had a… a fight...” He closed his eyes, feeling faintly nauseous, as odd things happened in his head. Déjà vu so strong it was almost overwhelming, but with it a sense of apprehension, warning...

“Jesse?” Deanna sounded worried. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” He blinked, forced himself to concentrate on here and now. “Just got dizzy for a sec there. I came up this way with someone I thought was a good friend. We had an argument and he got mad at me...” The déjà vu threatened again, so he just shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich and left them to fill in their own details. The sandwich was delicious, somehow all the tastes were stronger—it tasted right somehow in a way he couldn't pinpoint.

“Well, it's not like we have a regular bus service way up here,” Kevin said. “Why don't you hang around for a few days until you're feeling more like yourself and then we'll grab the van and give you a ride wherever? There's no hurry. The tent's big enough for one more person easily. We were planning to pack up in a couple of days, school's coming up soon, but we and our friend Cynthia have our own house.”

Jesse didn't answer for a moment. This was just too weird. These people admitted they didn't know him and owed him nothing, so why were they being so nice?

On the other hand, given how incredibly exhausted he felt right now, just from the minimal exertion, he really didn't think he was likely to get very far if he decided to leave. Even if he did accept the offered ride, he wasn't about to direct anyone right to the apartment he shared with Shaine—and for that matter, right now he felt so confused that he wasn't sure he could even find the apartment. It wasn't looking like he had a lot of choice in the matter.

“Yeah, for a couple of days that'd be great, thanks.” Had there ever actually been an explanation for why he was feeling like this? Kevin and Deanna were acting as if there had been, but he couldn't remember what it was.

“Not a problem. Hang around, make yourself at home. Unfortunately, it might get boring, unless you like either doing various sorts of logic and word puzzles, or reading some of the stuff we brought—mostly non-fiction and fantasy and science fiction.”

“I'm not sure I could concentrate anyway. That's okay.” Even just to lie in the sun and rest and try to let his head clear would be enough for right now. Once he could think again, then maybe he could get his life back under his control.

* * *

The disorientation lingered, and with it the odd flashes of things in his head—images and associations he couldn't identify as hallucination or dream or recent past or from his remote missing past before the foster homes.

Bane reminded him strongly of someone, or maybe multiple someones, but no one he could consciously bring to mind; whoever it was, he got an inexplicable sense of security when he was nearby. That wasn't often; he was far less outgoing than his friends, and once just wandered off into the woods by himself for quite a long time. When he was around, he either did puzzles or read, generally while lying in the shade; when he did speak up, he was friendly enough, so there was nothing Jesse could really complain about even to himself.

Deanna, well… it was hard to feel anything except welcome in Deanna's presence. He noticed when she leaned past him to get a drink that she even smelled good, somehow, even though there were hardly shower facilities out here. Sort of like cut grass and summer rain. She was probably the single least threatening person he'd ever met.

Kevin also reminded him of someone, and whoever that was, there was something unpleasant associated with it, but he was certain that it wasn't Kevin himself. Still, when had he ever met anyone else who looked quite so exotic? But Kevin always seemed to be around—always in full sun without the faintest sign of that white skin tanning or burning, to Jesse's fascination.

That evening, Bane suggested that they have burgers for supper. There was an area already pulled clean of vegetation and ringed with stones; Deanna brought an armload of dry wood of widely varied sizes, and Kevin knelt beside the circle of stones.

“Jesse?” Deanna said. “Could you give me a hand?”

While he was helping Deanna get out the burgers and tomatoes and cheese and what she said was homemade barbecue sauce, he missed how Kevin started the fire; next time he looked, the blonde was calmly feeding mid-sized sticks into the beginning of a decent-sized fire. Bane balanced an iron grate on top of a trio of large rocks around it.

“It'll burn down a bit pretty quickly,” Deanna said. “Then we can put the burgers on.”

Jesse gazed at the fire, wondering why it made him intensely uneasy. Something about pain… what was it? Why would something so simple make him so uncomfortable? It was just a campfire, no more than a couple of feet across, and Kevin was keeping a close eye on it.

He couldn't figure it out, and soon gave up on the puzzle. Especially when Bane actually put the burgers on to cook; he didn't think he'd ever smelled anything so mouthwateringly delicious.

Bane glanced at him, and grinned. “Local free-range beef. No chemicals, no additives. Just pure lean meat. With a bit of the best barbecue sauce ever invented and a slice of local cheddar on top.”

The taste of the burgers was beyond anything he'd really expected from such a basic kind of food. Something somewhere in his mind sighed contentedly that this was how food should taste, not the heavily-processed junk he was used to.

He ate two, Bane three, and Kevin a rather astonishing four, but Deanna had only one along with a tossed salad she threw together for herself that had an impressive number of vegetables in it.

Jesse, still wondering at moments why he didn't like the idea of sitting here with three other people, saw Kevin's expression go rather distant as he gazed into what remained of the fire.

Later, as it grew darker, Kevin went to bed and Bane wandered off somewhere, but Deanna added more wood to the coals and showed Jesse how to toast marshmallows, which was fun in a silly kind of way. When they decided to go to bed, he helped Deanna bury the fire thoroughly with dirt to make sure it was completely dead. Somehow, that was a relief—but he still had no idea why.



By the time Jesse woke up the next day, the tent was empty, but he found Kevin and Deanna outside, one in sun, one in shade, talking about something. They broke off when Deanna saw Jesse and called a cheerful greeting.

“Good morning! Help yourself to whatever takes your fancy for breakfast. And I do mean anything, and as much of it as you like.”

“Thanks.” He ventured into the trees for a few minutes, first, then came back to wash his hands in the bucket that got filled as needed from a nearby stream.

Afterwards, Kevin checked what Jesse enjoyed, and co-opted Bane's laptop computer, which had a few games on it—basic stuff like Solitaire, and some puzzle-type games, and a handful that Kevin said were strategy and simulations. Relieved to have a way to distract himself from feeling awful, Jesse settled himself in the shade on a blanket, with a bottle of Gatorade, to experiment.

Between one eye-blink and the next, it felt like, he went from partway through a simple puzzle game, with lots of time left, to the game playing a short optimistic tune and flashing a message onto the screen. He stared at it in bewilderment, unable to make sense of the words in front of him, unable even to remember what the point of the game had been. The odd moment passed, and he discovered that it was telling him that he'd run out of time and lost, and would he like to play again? Which meant he'd just lost something like six minutes of his life.

Maybe something really was wrong with him, and he should be trying harder to get home, maybe see about visiting a doctor. Did they have hospitals this far north? They must have something, people must get sick even if they did go camping and eat home-grown food and were nice to their neighbours and probably had a depressingly healthy lifestyle overall.

On the other hand, that would involve an awful lot of effort, and he really didn't think he was going to get very far on his own. It was safe here, food tasted the way food was supposed to, people even had the right scent, Bane and Deanna and Kevin were all friendly... If he was safe, then maybe just another day or two of rest would be enough for him to get over whatever was wrong with him…

He woke up to find that the laptop had turned itself off. Maybe it was a way of saving power.

Sitting with Kevin and Deanna and Bane was a newcomer—in the shade, which actually made sense for once, since he was a very light-skinned redhead. He didn't look at all imposing; he was a bit on the skinny side, and probably not all that tall. He did look comfortable, lounging on the grass in light brown cargo shorts and a white shirt with a mostly-blue short-sleeved cotton shirt open over it.

Kevin saw Jesse sit up, and waved him over. “Come meet Flynn,” he called.

Uncertainly, Jesse left blanket and laptop there and joined the quartet.

“Sorry, I must have fallen asleep. Was I out long?”

Kevin shrugged. “Wasn't watching, sorry, but you were asleep when Flynn got here about half an hour ago. Don't worry about it. Flynn, Jesse. Jesse, Flynn. Good friend of ours, who finally got away to join us.”

Flynn nodded. “My mom broke her ankle,” he explained. “I was helping look after her so she can stay off it as much as possible. But she's doing much better now, and her boyfriend's off work for the next week or so and he's going to stay with her. They might be just as happy to have me out of the house for a couple of days. So, I packed up clothes, food, and entertainment, and here I am. These guys have been telling me how they met you.” He looked Jesse over measuringly. “I bet my clothes would fit you, if you want to get cleaned up. After sleeping that long and then being up for a day, I know how bad I'd want to get into something clean.”

More than a bit startled, Jesse could only nod. He had no idea how long he'd been wearing these clothes even before he woke up by the side of the road, and pretty soon they were going to take on a life of their own. “That would be amazing.”

“Cool. C'mon, I'll show you where the stream is.” Flynn got up, and scooped up a bulging blue-grey canvas backpack; he dumped the last of the water from the pail, and brought it, too. “Back in a bit. Dia, you be good, no sneaking after us.”

“I would never think of it,” Deanna said primly. “Such a thought would never cross my mind. Well, unless it was someone I knew wouldn't mind.” She yelped as Bane ran a fingernail along the bottom of one of her bare feet, and jerked her foot out of reach. “Beast.”

Flynn rolled his eyes, and gave Jesse an expectant look.

The redhead led Jesse into the forest, choosing a route that showed signs of already having been in use, and helping Jesse avoid nasty traps like prickly things slashing at bare skin and tree branches that wanted to behead him.

“They're my best friends in all the world,” Flynn said finally, when they were some distance away, “but they've been living up here in the middle of nowhere their whole lives, and they really don't have much of a concept of life outside of here. We're admittedly a bit isolationist, we try to limit contact with the rest of the world. If you have any questions, I'd be the one to ask—I'm the most likely to be able to translate things into normal terms of reference.”

“Why you?”

“Because my mom and I, until I was about eleven or so, lived in Scarborough. My mom was a very young single mother whose family disowned her because she wouldn't give me up for adoption after she was raped, less than a year after coming to Canada.” He shrugged. “We're here and both very happy with life now, but I do remember. And I don't get offended at all easily.”

“So why do you try to avoid everyone?” Jesse asked cautiously, wondering whether he was going to find out they belonged to some weird cult and were going to try to recruit him.

Flynn glanced back at him. “Look at the rest of the world. War, Famine, Pestilence and Conquest are still here and as destructive as ever—those are the four horsemen from the Christian Book of Revelations. Haven, the village we live in, has been here for a couple of hundred years. We're on protected land right now, it belongs to the township and can't be used for logging or mining or building. There are folks from Haven who work really hard to try to fix things outside of here, but meanwhile, we have a good place to live. It's not Paradise, and it wouldn't suit everyone, but it works for us.”

The Bible reference made Jesse flinch reflexively, but a heartbeat later, the phrasing struck him as odd. Did that mean they didn't consider themselves Christian? And “fix things” could mean just about anything, given that Jesse had met people who thought the only way to “fix things” was to bomb everyone back to the Stone Age and start over, and others equally certain that if everyone just tried to act like happy little 1950s TV families with proper church morals, that would “fix things.” He mulled that over, and figured he'd better ask directly. “Fix things how?”

“Pushing for better environmental laws, better laws to protect animals, more money for education and health care and social services programs, stuff like that,” Flynn said promptly. “There are folks from Haven doing everything from animal rescue and wildlife rehab to environmental impact assessments to more efficient engineering. Ah, here we are.” He held a branch aside for Jesse, and they emerged from the trees onto a narrow strip of flatter green stuff that wasn't grass, running for a few feet along the side of a stream. It was wide enough that he knew he couldn't have jumped across it, and moving surprisingly quickly along a bed of more green stuff, but it looked clean.

“It's perfectly safe for washing, just not for drinking,” Flynn said, and handed Jesse the backpack. “There's clothes, a towel, and soap and all in there. There's nobody else around, take your time. Want me to come back in a bit and show you the way back to the campsite, or can you find your way?”

“I can find it,” Jesse said. He'd learned a long time ago not to tell people how he could always retrace his own steps; they never believed him that someone could follow their own scent trail while it was fresh. “Thanks, it's going to feel good to get clean.”

“No problem.” Flynn dropped to one knee beside the stream to rinse and fill the bucket. “And try to relax, okay? Haven's weird but harmless. No one's going to try to convert, recruit, bully, blackmail, or otherwise make you do anything you don't want to do. We're helping you out very simply because if any of us were in your situation, we'd hope someone helped us.” He grinned at what must have been an extremely startled expression, and headed back the way they'd come.

Not only was there soap and shampoo, but there was an obviously new razor, even, which was good—he tended to have little facial hair, but he preferred none. At the bottom was a small bottle of drinking water, a still-sealed toothbrush, and toothpaste.

Tucked between the lightweight burgundy knit shorts and grey T-shirt was an unopened package of three pairs of grey men's briefs and another of socks. He puzzled over how Flynn had known what he needed, but concluded that someone must have visited while he was asleep, or… if they'd taken him to the doctor, then obviously there were other people around who knew about his presence.

Mystery solved, he got dressed, and used the bottle of laundry soap—neatly labelled, like the rest, in flowing script in black marker—to get his own clothes as clean as he could. Not perfect, but it was an improvement, at least.

Feeling much better, his arms full of wet laundry and the backpack slung on one shoulder, he made his way back to the others, with great care for prickly things and scratchy things and the other discomforts the forest offered.

“Welcome back,” Kevin greeted him. “Hm, let's see what we can do about hanging up that much wet stuff.” He rummaged around in the pile of gear, and produced a length of rope and a small drawstring bag. “Here we go.” Bane got up to help tie the rope tightly between two trees; the bag held clothespins.

All that activity left Jesse feeling exhausted again, though it was certainly worth it. He stayed quiet while he joined the others for lunch, and fell asleep while lying on his stomach nibbling grapes for dessert.

* * *

The second night Flynn was there, Jesse woke from restless dreams to the darkness, and lay still, listening to the others breathing, all quite soundly asleep. His internal clock told him it was very late, past midnight.

What on earth was he doing here still? He was much less tired now, and the weird flashes in his head were getting easier to deal with. He didn't belong here. There was going to be a price on all this, and it was bound to be something he wouldn't want to pay. Tomorrow they were planning on packing up the tent and going home, and houses were harder to get out of than a tent was. There was no way anyone was seriously going to be willing to drive a hundred miles each way just to take him home.

He had to get back to the city, back to Shaine, back to where he had some control instead of being forced to depend on the kindness of strangers. Trust was a stupid risk to take and the consequences of losing the gamble were just too high. He'd learned that lesson well, too many times—even the people you should be able to trust, like foster parents, might be nice ones who treated you well, or might be… just the opposite. And even the ones who treated you well and seemed to care… they could leave, go away and leave you behind without a second thought, just when it seemed safe to relax.

A hundred miles was a long way, and it was going to be easier to do with a little extra money.

Sorry, guys. I do appreciate the generosity, like you'll ever believe that. But I can only count on me, and this has gone too far already.

Stealthily, he got up, picked up his shoes and his leather jacket. He slipped out of the tent silently, zipped it closed again behind him. He had some idea by now where to look for money; he found about seventy dollars. He hesitated briefly, then grabbed Flynn's canvas backpack and tossed in a mixture of Gatorade and granola bars.

There was supposed to be a village, that way. It had to be on a highway or at least have a road linking to it. He could get oriented from there, and it couldn't be a big trick to keep the bright moon in always the same place.

Nor was it. It was simplicity itself.

So why was he suddenly back at the clearing?

No big deal, he'd just gotten off-track somehow. He found a distinctive star-pattern—there were so many stars, out here in the country!—and oriented himself by that.

He was back at the clearing again, in short order.

Three more times he tried, with the same results.

He stared at the tent a moment. Had he been imagining the shimmering, as if the nylon had its own light, that he'd caught just out of the corner of his eye? When he looked straight at it, there was nothing special, but his peripheral vision always got that eerie glow. This was getting spooky.

Belatedly, he noticed a similar glow, gold and white and the red of sunset, on the ground around the clearing's edge.

He shivered. Real spooky. This would be a frighteningly easy time to start believing in a lot of things. Like God and Satan and people who seemed like angels...


But still...

Trying to quell rising panic, he tried different directions, away from the moon, angles to either side. No direction worked any better. He was completely trapped.

He wanted to scream, to have something solid that he could actually fight, instead of this unreasoning, unreasonable whatever-it-was confining him. Something he could hit back at. This was too bizarre, he was trapped inside a clearing in the middle of nowhere by something he couldn't even see...

The sky was beginning to grey, the quartet still sleeping in the tent could wake at any time—Kevin especially, since he was always up with the sun. If they found him up already, red-handed even, there was going to be trouble. Some small, still rational part of his mind counselled him to go back to bed and think about it later. Relieved to have some course of action, he decided to take it.

He returned everything to its place, and dug himself back in under his blankets.

Sleep took a long time to come, and he dreamed of invisible fences that kept him away from something he wanted more than anything.

* * *

Kevin smiled to himself, listening to Jesse's breathing slow as he attempted to get back to sleep. Thank Brigid he'd set those wards to work from either direction at night, and that he'd had enough warning from Jesse's thoughts to make sure Bane slept through it all. Deanna, beside him, had never moved, deep in normal dryad sleep, her breathing so slow that someone uninformed might have been alarmed. Flynn was probably awake, though Kevin didn't bother checking; Flynn tended to know a lot of things he kept to himself, so it didn't really matter.

It was so sad, though, the screamingly-strong surface thoughts he'd been picking up from Jesse just now. No one deserved to be so alone or so terrified of trusting anyone. The nightmares Jesse had had while unconscious, that Kevin had caught glimpses of while trying to soothe them away, they were just as depressing—psychic damage triggered nightmares but didn't provide the content. Haven was hardly paradise, but some of what he'd seen would never have been able to occur here; someone would have noticed and intervened. If only there were some way to help...

Maybe there was. It wasn't going to be easy, Haven had so many secrets, the one thing they all agreed on was that the outer world never know some things. He wasn't at all sure his entire coven would feel the same, either. Still... he remembered Rebecca, remembered the hurt and despair she could bring. He remembered, too, feeling alone and desperate, certain that there was no way out and that no one was going to help him escape the hole he'd dug for himself. But even at the worst moments, he'd had the absolute certainty that Deanna was there and always would be, no matter what. He knew that Deanna would back him up completely, even if he told no one what he'd seen in Jesse's nightmares—she'd trust him to have a reason. He had a feeling that Flynn would as well, for reasons of his own.

He wasn't at all sure he'd be able to help. But he was certainly going to try.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, September 1993
Nick 'Winter

Heya, gang! What do you think of the new layout Brittany came up with for the Sphynx? Isn't it great? Not least because I have more space than ever to play with! I can just see everyone bouncing with joy.

The biggest news of the month: Eleanor 'Moonstone and Darcy are getting handfasted! No news on whether Darcy will be joining Coven Moonstone or staying solitary, but everyone wishes you all the best either way. There's going to be an outside circle on the night of the full moon (for anyone not paying attention, that would be the thirtieth) starting just before sunset in the park, the rest of Moonstone is leading, everyone is invited. Okay, which witch is going to take responsibility for making sure the weather is good? There'll be a party after, of course, potluck-style. If you need more info, give Thera 'Moonstone a call.

Other upcoming highlights: Exotica have been working on a new play called “Wild Hunt.” I snuck in to see a rehearsal, and it looks downright fascinating. I don't want to give anything away, but Cari 'Dragonfire makes a wonderful Huntress. Cari tells me they'll be opening on Thursday the sixteenth at eight in the school gym, usual sliding scale, $3-10. Since they're doing it hands-on interactive (remember “Calliope”? Same idea) they're limiting the number of people, so they're going to run it for five nights, longer if there's demand. Advance tickets available, get in touch with anyone from Exotica.

I'm hearing rumours that we have our first new coven of the year already, although I gather none of the people involved are new at the college this year. I'll try to confirm, but I heard it includes a wolf, a dryad seer, a human telekinetic, and an elf, which is probably more than enough info to identify them if you know them but unfortunately I don't. What? No witch? What's a coven without a witch? (Eva, don't you dare say “quiet!”)

Katherine recently accepted Miguel Lioren as her newest student, which will give us a total of I believe 19 active mages in Haven. Anyone actually surprised at the idea of another Lioren mage?

Leif 'Artemisia tells me they have some new ritual tools in at White Stag, primarily metal (knives & cups, a few metal wands & pentagrams) but they're expecting some of the wooden kind soon (wands & pentagrams, a few cups). Sounds like you could pick up a nice set for someone who uses them.

Events for the equinox are fairly plentiful (wait until next month, for the Samhain activities!), there's a full list on the back page.

Historical notes for September: Morgan Dominique, honoured ancestor of virtually every witch in Haven, was born Sept. 17, 1767. Yes, Morgan of Coven Starluck which founded our fair village was born a full century before Canada's birthday. One year ago Sept. 19, Flynn 'Sundark got his first acceptance letter for a short story (thanks for reminding me, Cynthia). Fifty-six years ago, Haven College began its first year as a recognized private post-secondary school with our own schedule for holidays and various programs tailored to and practical for the abilities and needs of the mixed village population—my highest respects to those who pulled that trick off! How many of us would go noisily insane if we didn't have our own college to rely on, and to bring in our own kind from the other five Canadian mixed villages, they being not so fortunate, and occasionally from farther afield? Without it, we'd be more inbred than we already are, and I would never have come here from Ravenrock to meet my coven!

Have fun back in school, kids, and I'll get back to you in October. Ciao!



Aindry woke sharply, lay still to try to find what had disturbed her. The familiar musty smell of hay, loose ends of which they'd scraped together to make a bed, and the smells of the cattle below... the animals were stirring, though, and there was a human scent now, faintly.

“Oh, damn. Jaisan, wake up. Wake up!” she whispered.

“Mmm?” Coiled warmly against her, Jaisan opened his eyes. “What?” he asked drowsily.

“We overslept. The farmer's up.”

Immediately, he twisted away from her, sat up and brushed away as much of the hay as he could. “Let's get out of here.”

The barn was an old one, with a ladder down to the lower part, and two huge doors for bringing the hay in. Aindry thumped with the heel of her hand at the solid hook—over her head, and she was five-foot-six, why did they put them so high?—until the rust on it surrendered, and the door swung open. They slipped quickly out, and Jaisan found a rock to brace the door closed with.

There they paused, all senses alert, scanning the area. Aindry touched Jaisan's arm, indicated a cedar-rail fence liberally overgrown with brush and trees; he nodded acknowledgement, and they darted across twenty feet of open space to it. A short distance along it, they stopped and crouched.

“Near miss,” Jaisan whispered. “We should've been awake a long time ago.”

True, but not so hard to explain. Cold, hunger, and general fatigue made a powerful team.

“We'll just have to be more careful,” Aindry murmured back, putting all the reassurance she could into her voice. “Besides, what's the worst that could happen? We get thrown out. No one's going to catch us. We'd just have to move on a little faster than we would have.” She ran a hand over his hair, the long midnight mane forever getting in his eyes, but he refused to cut it short like hers. Given the strong resemblance between them, it wasn't unusual for strangers to get them confused. Even more common was being thought younger than her and Jaisan's twenty-one and seventeen years respectively.

He shifted under her touch, restlessly; she kept stroking, and slowly he relaxed.

“Let's go farther back,” she suggested. “Maybe there'll be a woodlot or something that will have prey we can hunt.”

Silently, he followed her along the fence. It opened into a tree-edged lane.

Some distance back onto the farmer's property, they found a possible hunting ground: large flat glacial rocks with trees growing between them, and places where dirt had piled up to provide footing for various sorts of brushy cover.

They shed their clothes and shifted to wolf-form within a heartbeat of one another. Their clothes and half-empty backpacks they left there, and they went in search of food.

Aindry startled a scrawny rabbit out in front of Jaisan, and he grabbed it neatly; they shared it, as they always did, and kept hunting. Each snatched a few mice, but nothing else offered itself. Still hungry, they gave up, and went back to where they'd left their clothes.

“So much for that,” Jaisan sighed, pulling over his head the oversized, once-blue sweatshirt they'd found in a thrift store.

“We have a few dollars, we can grab some fries in the nearest village, or something,” Aindry said, hoping human-type food might break Jaisan out of his slowly-deepening melancholy. Last time he'd gotten truly depressed, it had taken what felt like forever for him to come out of it. A couple of years of constantly moving, surviving by their wits, was claiming its due price.

Jaisan shrugged. “It might be better to keep it, and maybe we can find a fool begging to be parted from his money. It's not like they're a dying breed.”

“Maybe so, but I want something more to eat.”

“Sure, whatever.”

They backtracked, stealthily covering the ground between the last of their cover and the nearby road. They tossed the bags over the page-wire fence, scrambled over at one of the posts, and started walking along the road.

It didn't matter which direction; every road led somewhere, and one destination was as good as any other.

Some time and a few roads later, they spotted a small restaurant. They paused outside to count available funds.

Two cups of hot chocolate, a plate of fries, and a bacon-and-tomato sandwich, the food shared, did much to improve not only Jaisan's spirits but Aindry's as well.

One day at a time, she reminded herself. Tomorrow might never get here, and yesterday's gone. Think only about right now, and we'll survive somehow.

Jaisan felt so much better that, while they were lingering over the chocolate, he produced from his pockets three walnut shells and a small polished amethyst. Aindry played along, the two of them giggling over the game.

A shadow fell across the table, a man in his mid-twenties or so, smelling of car oil and gasoline.

“Are you any good at that?” he asked Jaisan curiously.

“What, this?” Jaisan looked down shyly. “I practice. Sometimes I can win.”

“Show him,” Aindry said coaxingly. “Come on, you're better than you think.”

“If you want.” He set the amethyst down—not for anything would he play this with anything else, insisting it gave his luck an extra boost—and placed one of the shells over it. He shuffled them around casually, looked at the man, who of course pointed out the right one. The second time, Jaisan put a bit more effort into it, but again the stranger chose the right shell.

“I have an idea,” Aindry suggested, putting all the charm she could into it. “Give him a reason to try harder.” She dug around in her pockets, found the single loonie left from paying for the food, and laid it down.

The stranger placed a second dollar coin beside it.

“Where does this highway go?” Aindry wondered aloud, timing it carefully. The man glanced briefly at her, and Jaisan's hands flickered faster than she could see, switching the shells. Bingo; some could find the stone if they kept watching closely enough, but as soon as someone looked away for even a heartbeat, it was hopeless.

He told her a name that meant nothing to her; meanwhile, Jaisan raised his hands from the shells and gave him an expectant look.

“I think... that one.” He tapped the one on the left.

Jaisan picked it up and showed him—nothing. The amethyst appeared under the centre shell.

Of course, Jaisan made a show of being surprised and delighted at his success; of course, once the man laid another loonie beside Aindry's, he just had to try again...

They won from him the amount they'd spent on the meal, and a few dollars extra, before the owner caught on and threw them out.

That being a fairly typical reaction, they shrugged, wished her a good day, and departed.



Jesse pretended to himself that he'd never tried to run away the night before, while he had breakfast with the others, then helped collapse the tent and stow everything back into backpacks and bags. In less time than he expected, there was little sign that they'd ever been there, only the well-buried fire ring and the flattened circle where the tent had been, not much else. He wondered how fast the grass would recover and spring back, hiding even those traces.

As it turned out, there was a dark green van parked on a narrow little road not too far away. The back of the van was entirely empty except for thick green carpeting on the floor and up the sides, with a few rings peeking through the carpet here and there. Everything was piled in the very back and then tied with silky-looking rope through the rings to keep it from shifting, which left the centre of the van for Deanna and Jesse and Flynn to sit in.

It seemed like an odd thing to do to a van, but on the other hand, there was enough padding under the carpet beneath him that someone could sleep in here easily, and you could probably pack either a lot of friends or a lot of groceries and stuff in here.

The house that Bane pulled up in front of was, well, it would be pretty big in the city, but seemed about average around here, from what he'd seen on the drive. It was all red brick, and seemed to have a lot of windows.

As Bane shut the van off and Deanna slid the side door open, the front door of the house opened. The young woman who emerged was tall like Deanna, but very slim; platinum blonde hair, almost silvery in the sunlight, fell absolutely straight to about jaw length and then turned into a cascade of loose waves from there to her elbows, completely unconfined as far as he could see—and it wasn't bleached, even her lashes were almost invisibly pale. Her skin was probably pretty light naturally, but it was somewhat tanned—less than evenly, he could see lighter areas where her cherry-red tank-top showed off territory that had previously been covered by short sleeves. She looked fragile and cool and aristocratic, and unlike Deanna, he could imagine her easily dressed as a princess, or maybe a queen or high priestess or something—weighing someone's fate, calm and impassive.

The impression shattered completely when she smiled. There was nothing cold at all about that. “Welcome home! Oh, hello.”

“Cynthia, Jesse,” Deanna said. “Jesse, this is Cynthia. Cynthi, we met Jesse while we were camping and he needs a place to stay for a few more days or so.”

Cynthia nodded. “Hi, Jesse. Sure, not a problem. We don't have any extra beds, but the couch is comfy and the kitchen's always full of food. Make yourself at home.”

Jesse managed a rather shy greeting, completely at a loss to explain why he found her so intimidating. After all, she was acting welcoming enough.

She also helped with bringing everything inside, demolishing the idea that she was in any way fragile. Those smooth slender limbs showed surprising muscle tensing under the surface when she added her own hands to theirs. She was the one who took charge, and even Bane obeyed her directions without hesitation. Everything was piled neatly at one side of the living room, to be sorted through properly later. Then Cynthia sent them off to shower, while she drove Deanna and Flynn home.

“Is there going to be enough hot water for three showers?” Jesse asked doubtfully.

“You shower first,” Kevin suggested. “I'll go last. I don't mind if there's no hot water left at this time of the year.”

Jesse considered protesting, then thought of how good a hot shower would feel, and decided to take Kevin up on the offer.

It felt every bit as heavenly as he'd expected. He fought the temptation to simply stand under the hot running water, and got himself clean and presentable as quickly as he could. Flynn had left him another fresh set of shorts and T-shirt, and once he was finished and dressed, he felt almost human again.

The sheer ordinariness of the rest of the day, other than his dozing off periodically and no one reacting to it at all, was almost surreal in itself. He made himself as useful as he could between naps, helping with the laundry and general cleaning up, and tried to ignore how good it felt to both be accepted and to be thanked.

The thought surfaced at moments, though: what was it that had trapped him in the campsite last night?

* * *

“You sure you'll be okay alone?” Kevin asked, scooping up his bag of books.

“Why wouldn't I be?” Jesse asked, trying to cover exasperation with patience and sure he was failing. “You'll be late if you keep standing here asking dumb questions.”

Cynthia, Bane, and Deanna were already waiting outside, with the van. Kevin sighed.

“You're right. Have fun. We'll be back about three.”

“You already told me that. Twice.” At least.

“Catch you later.”

“I'm not going anywhere.”

Jesse watched from the door while Kevin slid the side door of the van open and ducked agilely inside. In a moment they were gone.

He couldn't quite believe that they'd been naive enough to trust him in the house alone. Not that he intended to take anything, not after that weird experience the other night. But maybe he could find out a little. Information was a kind of power, after all, and feeling less powerless would be an enormous relief.

And information would be all the more welcome given the general strangeness around here. The evening after they'd come back to the house from the campsite, he'd been—gently, tactfully, but quite unequivocally—evicted from the living room for over an hour. Flynn's explanation was that it was a sort of spiritual thing that they typically did once a week, and that it was complicated to explain and the details would probably not interest him. Being asked not to interrupt them for that long seemed fair enough, all things considered, but he'd peeked from the kitchen while grabbing a drink. To him, it had looked like some sort of group meditation, the five of them in a circle on the living room floor close enough to hold hands, no one moving or talking at all. As religious stuff went, it probably beat a lot of lectures on what to do, but it was nonetheless odd.

He prowled the house, room by room, careful to return everything to its former place.

The kitchen was very ordinary, until he took a closer look in the cupboard that had neat hand-labelled bottles of spices. In front were ordinary things, like oregano and basil and savory. In behind those were many odder-looking jars of dried plants he didn't recognize the names of. Vervain? What was that? St. John's Wort? Sounded real appetizing. Lemon balm? Why would anyone without a cat bottle catnip? Or bottle willow leaves, for that matter? Hawthorn, red clover flowers, something labelled pansy that looked like small dry purple, white and yellow flowers. That was interesting, and not how he'd always used the word. Wolfsbane, which for some reason he thought was poisonous.

Maybe they were into making brews, or poisoning people, or something. Or expecting an invasion of werewolves.

Yeah, sure, Jess. Get a grip on yourself.

There was nothing else of note in the kitchen, that he could find, nor in the laundry room past the kitchen.

The dining room... he checked the cabinet, glanced briefly through the obviously old china. It was actually rather pretty, white with a border of green and gold and red leaves like a wreath.

Somewhat surprisingly, there was nothing of obvious interest in the living room. It was an ordinary kind of place, a couch, two chairs that matched each other but not the couch, a coffee table and two end tables that didn't match in any combination, a stand that held TV and VCR and the movie collection, a new-looking computer on a desk in the corner farthest from the window. All on worn wall-to-wall carpet, one wall almost entirely taken by what he thought was called a bay window. Dominant colours all earth-tones, greens and browns and greys and the russet of the carpet, which suited the plants hung in the window and in corners and standing absolutely anywhere they were unlikely to be tripped over. About the most unusual thing here was the collection of silky, lightweight blankets thrown over the backs of the couch and chairs, and they were most often in vivid primary and fiery colours instead. He knew they were warmer than they should have been, since they'd been abundant at the campsite and he'd been sleeping here on the couch under one of them; he also knew that they made his skin tingle faintly, in a not unpleasant way. They reminded him of stuff he'd seen around Shaine's, but he'd never felt that tingling before.

Where next? The basement was half utility room, half Deanna's irregularly-occupied bedroom, all green and russet and brown, plus a half-bath; he decided to go upstairs first.

He expected nothing in the bathroom, and other than a few hand-labelled bottles of what appeared to be bath oils, it didn't disappoint him. The oils smelled rather pleasant, actually, nothing musky or perfumy that irritated his sensitive nose at all.

Bane's room was, like Bane, utterly practical and organized. Bed, dresser, a small table beside the bed, a bookcase with glass doors, that was it. Jesse searched drawers quickly, found only clothes; searched the bookcase, found only ordinary books, mostly horror and fantasy and at least half a dozen on wolves and others that looked like the kinds of things he recalled from English classes.

Cynthia's room, the master, across the hall. Double waterbed, dresser, a larger open bookcase, a table on one side of the bed, a squarish wooden chest about the same height in the mirror position on the other side. A sturdy large basket near the door, where she could take it easily downstairs, held yarn and knitting needles and sundry mysterious objects; several bags in the closet, beneath her clothes, held more yarn. Only clothes, again, in the dresser, and on it a compact stereo and a collection of cassette tapes, mostly unfamiliar to Jesse. The books were lighter kinds of fantasy, and the rest on things like The Ecology of the Northern Canadian Forests and Mammals of the Canadian Wild, but also meteorology and weather and windmills and wind energy. One entire shelf was poetry. He pulled one at random, and opened it to the page marked. The poem was called “True Thomas” and looked long, the language old.

The drawer of the table held only a small flashlight, a notebook and pencil—the notes, all in a neat, elegant hand, were things like, “Register for class Thursday” and “Pick up milk and eggs” and “Call Naomi”—and stray odds and ends. The chest proved to be locked; a little searching, in Kevin's room in fact, provided a couple of paper clips he straightened while returning. Despite all Shaine's lessons and his own experience, though, he couldn't coax the lock open, and finally gave up before he could leave scratches that would be too obvious.

Kevin's room, on the same side of the hall as Bane's.

The walls were plastered with posters ranging from elves, unicorns, and forest-scenes to Depeche Mode and Queen; the floor was strewn with clothes, books, cassettes, and random objects. A wooden desk covered with books and paper and binders stood in one corner, and a few shelves above and beside bore a heavy load of yet more books; a dresser had ornaments and jewellery scattered on it and hung from the mirror corners. Through an open door he could see a closet piled knee-deep with unidentifiable stuff, clothes hung above in a bright-coloured blur of predominantly strong blues and greens and reds. A fairly expensive compact stereo sat on the floor beside the bed.

He gave up totally on the piles of paper. The books defied any classification, there seemed to be everything under the sun, though the non-fiction leaned towards psychology and related fields, which made sense. Kevin had told him he was starting a four-year program in counselling; well, nobody was perfect. Jesse had to admire some of his taste in music, at least, but it wandered, too, from something called the Pachelbel Canon to a group called Enigma who certainly had some songs with interesting names, through more ordinary rock like Aerosmith and Blondie.

In the bottom of the closet, he found a polished chest of rich dark wood. Carefully, Jesse dragged it out. About a foot tall, and a foot by two across the top.

Locked, but this one he managed to get open without much trouble or much visible trace. He raised the lid, wondering what he'd find.

At first all he saw was a considerable amount of bright-hued silky fabric much like the blankets in the living room. He reached in, found something solid, and pulled it out. The silk hiding it reminded him of water, shimmery blue and green and grey. Carefully, he unwrapped it, found a cup, shaped like a wide-mouthed wine-glass but made of some silvery metal, engraved around the outside with fish and wave-patterns and swans. It was so clean it caught the sunlight and gave the brief illusion that it actually held the golden light like water. He didn't touch it, kept the silk between it and his hands, but even that made his skin tingle intensely.

Feeling something akin to awe, somehow sure that he'd found something very old and special, he returned the cup to its place, and reached for something else.

Concealed by silver-grey and ice-blue and pale gold was a knife like nothing he'd ever seen, the blade something like eight inches long, the hilt wrapped in gold wire and set with a clear red stone on each side. Utterly unable to resist, he lifted it from the silk—the tingling grew stronger—and slid it free of the ornate metal sheath. The blade was shining-bright, he could see himself in it, and looked deadly sharp.

That prickling was getting worse, fast. It escalated sharply, felt like someone lashed him squarely across his shoulder blades; he dropped the knife with a half-strangled cry, and the sensation eased. Without touching it directly again, he re-sheathed it, wrapped it and returned it to the chest, then put the chest back in its place. He hadn't been down to Deanna's room, but that was definitely enough prowling. The skin of his hands felt hot and tight, the muscles of his arms and upper back throbbed a little, and there was a pressure behind his eyes that felt like the beginnings of a headache.

Snooping around here was dangerous. Things bit back.

Still, he definitely had a lot to think about.

* * *

Kevin stepped in the door of his bedroom, and paused. Something had disturbed the wards he'd automatically built into it. Disturbed them violently, in fact. He tracked the source, and pulled the chest holding his great-grandmother's tools out of the closet. Faint traces, on the Spanish steel cup; then he reached his knife.

He wasn't sure quite what he felt, about that. A certain amount of sympathy, for how much it had to have hurt Jesse in his present state; an uncharitable righteousness, that he'd asked for it; amusement and apprehension about what else Jesse had been into and what conclusions he was making; annoyance because only his own peculiar layered shielding had protected the spells on the knife, and they were going to need work to fix regardless.

He kept the knife out to start on later. It was going to take a while, since he was still recovering, but he rarely used them anyway, and really didn't need them at all; normally he only brought them out when helping Deanna or Cynthia with the ritual magic they were so much better at. His own abilities worked just fine without props. He returned the rest, and added an extra layer of protection around it. Although, he thought wryly, that was a classic example of locking the barn door after the horse was in the next county. He doubted Jesse would forget this quickly.

Had he gotten into Cynthia's or Deanna's? Cynthia's power was so much more subtle than his, she lacked the unique protections he'd built, and she used her tools more often than he did. On the other hand, he doubted that any amount of unauthorized handling could cause Deanna the slightest trouble with her tools. He left his room, the knife under his pillow and out of sight, and went to Cynthia's. The chest opened immediately under his hand. He checked each briefly, the crystal sphere that had been her grandmother's, the mostly newer tools, and found everything as it should be.

Then, just for now, he wouldn't mention this either, any more than he had Jesse's attempted midnight flight. He didn't think Jesse had meant any harm today, he couldn't be blamed for curiosity.

Still, this was getting a little out of hand.

He headed back to his own room, mulling over what he might be able to devise to keep Jesse out of things. For his safety and theirs. He was saying that a lot lately. Keep everybody safe.

Inner senses picked up Bane's presence; he turned around, just in time to watch his dark coven-mate lean against the edge of the doorway, arms crossed. Even from here, Kevin could see the gold flaring in his eyes and hear the low rumble of a growl.


“He was in my room,” Bane said, each word precise, reminding Kevin of the sharp edge of his knife. “His scent is everywhere. I want him out of my territory. Now.”

“Can we talk about this? Please? For my sake and Gisela's, at least?”

Bane didn't move for a long moment, then he nodded curtly and came farther into the room, turned the chair from the desk backwards and straddled it with his arms crossed on the back. Kevin glanced at the door, and it closed itself with a soft click.

“Why should I not chase him off?” It still held more than a hint of growl, but the edge was muted somewhat.

Kevin sank down on the bed, facing him.

“Lots of reasons.”

“Start listing them, then. And don't tell me again that it's dangerous to send him back to the outside world with no knowledge of what he is. He'll never heal completely, Flynn's cards are wrong this time. Whatever the unfinished business is he keeps getting on every reading, that isn't it.”

Kevin tried to put his tangled thoughts in order.

Okay, he's not going to listen to logic this time.

“There was a time, once, when Deanna and I ran away from Rebecca,” he said quietly. “And you were the only one in all of Haven who was willing to give me a chance. Remember?”

“You didn't take advantage of hospitality and trust to violate privacy!”

Oh, if you only knew about Jess trying to leave in the middle of the night...

“No, I had attacked Flynn for voicing an opinion—which was shared by just about everyone and was in fact extremely valid—and terrorized Cynthia when she came after me for it, and got in a fight with you when you told me that I'd be taking my life in my hands to go anywhere near them ever again. Among other things. I racked up a long list of sins in a very few months.”

The angry gold faded from Bane's eyes, and his expression softened. “That was a long time ago.”

“A couple of years isn't so long. Less than that, actually. A couple of years ago, around now we were all meeting Rebecca. You had stronger reasons to distrust me, but you took a chance. Please. If you don't want to, that's your choice, but don't stop me from making my own choice.”

Bane rested his head on his arms, silent for what felt like forever, then he sighed heavily.

“I'll be glad forever that I took that chance on you. For the moment, I'll let him stay. But he's running out of chances, phoenix. Put him on a leash if you want him around, okay?”

“I'll get Dia or Cynthi to help me put short-term specific wards everywhere and on everything we can think of,” Kevin promised. “But I bet he learned his lesson.”


“There are psychic fingerprints all over my knife.”

Bane grinned, showing even white teeth, the pointed canines just slightly longer than the rest. “Aw, poor baby, he got a shock?”

“A pretty good one, I'd say.”

“Good. Maybe it'll teach him to keep his hands off other people's stuff.” He stood up, and stretched. “For your sake, I'll put up with him. But you remember what I said.”

“I will. I'll keep an eye on him, I swear.”

“You do that.” He padded over to the bed, leaned down to give Kevin a tight hug, and wandered off.

Kevin sat quietly for a moment, shivering a little as he forced the old memories into the back of his mind and reoriented on what he could do at present. Wards, first.

And somehow, somehow, he had to get Jesse to trust them. He was sure Jesse was only there because he was responding unconsciously to the triangular connection that had formed when Kevin and Gisela healed him, an unanticipated little consequence that probably wouldn't have stopped them anyway. Without that, surely, he would have left days ago, and Brigid and Lugh knew how long it would take for the paranoia he kept sensing to win over the tentative power of that link...

The same link, he thought wryly, that had an equally strong effect on all three of them, aware of it or not.

* * *

The house was very quiet. Jesse lay still, comfortable on the couch, especially after some of the places he'd slept. Listening to the silence, wondering what secrets it was keeping.

How long had he been here? Days, two weeks, three. He had to leave. Nothing else spooky had happened, although he hadn't ventured any further exploring, but he didn't want to chance sneaking away again. He had to leave, and during the day, openly.

Damn it, Jess, you can't afford to care! Get back to Shaine, forget all this.

Caring would get him in trouble.

He'd have to leave. Tomorrow.

* * *

It took a messily long time to convince them that he needed to leave. He had to swear to call once in a while and to remember that he was welcome back any time. Flynn insisted on giving him a ride home; and Jesse surrendered without much protest. At least Flynn was more likely to be willing to compromise and drop him off wherever Jesse requested, instead of right on Shaine's doorstep.

“Take care of yourself,” Kevin said softly, just before Jesse escaped out the door. He sounded like he meant it.

Jesse had to grin. “I do my best. Always.”


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, October 1993
Nick 'Winter

Wow, Samhain's coming fast! Check out the list of Samhain-related events on the back page!

Anybody who missed Exotica's “Wild Hunt” deserves great pity. Covens Winter, Sundark, and Dandelion went together, and afterwards, being forever faithful to my readers, I quizzed them for opinions. Unanimous: Exotica has definitely recovered from “Maeve” and they're back on track. I even tricked... uh, talked Flynn 'Sundark into writing a review of it, it's on page 3. I couldn't have said any of it better myself.

The new coven I mentioned is actual fact. Coven Ailim (that's silver fir, for anyone behind on their Tree Calendar) has been born. Blessed be, cousins, and may you love one another long and well. And may you be only the first of many this coming year.

Eleanor 'Moonstone and Darcy's handfasting went marvellously. I'm supposed to thank whoever did the weather, and will whoever made that sinful chocolate cake kindly step forward and confess? Four covens (at least) would love to get the recipe. We'll run it here, if the guilty party doesn't mind. Other than one of Ambra 'Moonstone's cats deciding she wanted to be cuddled by Eleanor right in the middle of the invocation to the Goddess, all went smoothly. I don't believe I'll ever forget the sight of Eleanor swearing her love to Darcy with a grey and white furball in her arms.

There's going to be a pet show in December, like the one last year, it'll be on the weekend of Dec 4th and 5th, in the Community Hall. There are classes for domestic longhair and shorthair cats, purebred cats, a few classes for dogs including obedience, and a class for exotic pets. Judges will include Samantha, Peter 'Blackbird, and Ilya 'Prism. If you want to register for it, stop in at Sam's, there are forms there to fill out. Like any cat in Haven could give Samantha's Alfari a challenge for domestic longhair if she ever entered!

Gardens grew passably well this year, not as well as last year, but everyone who uses herb-magic should be all right for the winter. There are half a dozen people selling a wide variety of herbs, more details of who has what are up at the White Stag and the other usual places.

Other news, and I'm going to try to keep my anger on a leash while I write this: Coven Whitethorn has pulled their most insane trick yet against Coven Sundark. I won't go into detail, because Sundark asked me not to, but they gained a new friend out of the mess. Mid-to-late teens, male, dark, slender, likes to wear black, his name's Jesse. Take it easy on him if you see him around, he's completely innocent of magic and badly torn up psychically. As for you, Rebecca... give it a break already! What are you trying to prove, anyway?

Historical notes: Lindsay opened Venus Alive, our very own store for the erotic arts, four years ago on the ninth, despite many people telling her Haven is too small to keep such a place open. Also in October, seven years ago the 23rd, Coven Artemisia took over White Stag, everyone's favourite place for all the necessities of ritual and ceremony. And last but far from least, Solomon's Seal, the best bookstore ever, was opened thirty-nine years ago the 25th. October must be a lucky month for opening new businesses! The nineteenth is the birthday of one of our Adepts, but I've been strictly forbidden to tell you which one or how old. I'm sure you can figure it out, you only have two to choose from.

I've been informed that Trista 'Merrymoon will be writing an article for us in November's issue about magic in traditional and historical blacksmithing. Sounds fascinating to me! Since some mages can work soft metals without needing a fire, would a mage blacksmith need a forge at all, I wonder?



Eight people made the living room a bit crowded, but the two covens present had shared the space cosily and cheerfully with a third coven and a couple of solitaries so many times that they hardly noticed. Bane sprawled in one of the chairs, his older brother Bryan sitting on the floor at his feet and leaning against the chair arm. Deanna and Cynthia shared the couch with blind witch Naomi, whose broad hips and large breasts combined with her long walnut-brown hair and fondness for full skirts made Bryan teasingly nickname her his peasant wench. The grey husky Gwyn who served as Naomi's eyes lay at her feet, to all appearances an ordinary contented dog—despite his mysterious origins as a gift from Bryan's absent roommate Samantha, whose origins were equally mysterious. Kevin lay on the floor, his oldest and favourite cousin Lori between him and Flynn, all three on such a mass of blankets woven earlier by the two mages from the fading sunlight that it would have made a comfortable mattress.

Even watching a movie was more fun this way, Kevin thought. The good-natured discussion did mean that sometimes it had to be paused for a bit, but the varying perspectives of his friends always fascinated Kevin—how people who were so close, and spent so much time together, could have such diverse viewpoints.

“Pause,” Flynn said suddenly. Lori glanced at him, and the VCR paused itself. Kevin's first thought was that Flynn needed a bathroom break or a moment to stretch, or possibly a refill from the array of drinks and munchies spread on the coffee table, but the thought vanished instantly when he finally picked up how serious his seer coven-mate was.

“What's wrong?” Bryan asked, probably catching Flynn's mood by scent.

Flynn shook his head. “I don't know, but something is. I can't quite get a grip on it, but it's really nagging in the back of my mind.”

“Then let's circle and see if we can give you enough of a boost to get a fix on it,” Naomi said practically. “Someone shove the table out of the way.”

The ring wasn't technically round, working within the space limitations, but it was good enough for all eight to be within hand-clasping range of those on either side. Deanna and Cynthia, working together with the ease of familiarity, cast a circle around them to contain any energy raised and protect them from outside energy; to Kevin's senses, it was clearly visible as a glowing rainbow line against the russet carpet, as easy to see as the webwork of strands that bound a coven together in or out of circle.

Hands linked all the way around, and Lori led them through a simple exercise they all knew well and used often, one to lower barriers and allow personal energy to flow into a common pool. Kevin tested it automatically, analysing and identifying the various sources: varied innate natures and learned skills, the true best strength of any mixed coven—or better still, more than one. The two wolves were part of it, wild and primal, but had little to add; this simply wasn't within their own abilities. Brilliant with fire and sunlight, his own gifts and Lori's were the most dramatic and, strictly speaking, the most powerful, though that came at a cost: they were restricted to that element only. Naomi and Cynthia's came from a soul-deep connection to all the elements, though Cynthia's strongest affinity was with air, and being inside, air's pale colours were much weaker than he'd seen them outside; Naomi's inclination was towards earth, especially with plants, and while its greenish-dark tones were more muted now than they were in warmer seasons, it nonetheless surged up into the circle with all the quiet vibrancy of spring growth. Deanna's own bond to the earth was very different, not so useful for summoning or manipulating power, but it ran deep as the roots of a tree and could ground and stabilize it at even very high levels. Flynn's contribution was a more subtle shimmer that danced into bright sparkles each time his inner sight gave him another bit of information—and currently, the sparkles were a cascade, surging and ebbing without ever entirely fading.

“Something's certainly trying to get through to you,” Kevin observed. “What would you like to try first? Your cards?” It was a safe bet that Flynn had his cards somewhere on his person; they were rarely out of his reach.

Flynn nodded, brought them out of somewhere, shuffled them, and handed them to Bryan. “Pick one, then give them to Cynthi.”

When they finished, there were eight cards chosen. Flynn took them, kept them in order, and started laying them face up in a matching circle before him on the carpet.

A wolf in silhouette, howling at the full moon. A skull. A simple pentagram of five lines in a circle, black on white. A grinning gargoyle, its hide a muddy brown-green, crouched with wings spread and claws extended. A tangle of thorny vines and bright roses. An androgynous elf standing in the midst of a rainbow halo of light, hands raised. A pair of crossed swords. A serpent coiled in an infinity symbol.

“Oh, hell,” Flynn breathed. “We've got lack of hope, magic, a predator involved, protection from a threat, conflict… Generally, kids, someone is in deep trouble and needs help.” He gazed at the layout for a moment, his eyes only half focused. “And y'know, I suspect that it's probably Jesse. We haven't seen him in a couple of months, and he hasn't even phoned in almost three weeks, but there's still enough of a connection there that it would make sense for me to pick up on serious danger—say, a predator. And that unfinished business card I keep getting whenever I try readings on him is in there, and the Wolf with it.”

“Well, what do we do?” Bane asked impatiently. Kevin doubted Bane cared about Jesse's wellbeing specifically, but protective behaviour came naturally to the wolves, and he suspected Bane had classified Jess as Kevin's pet project. Besides, a predator stalking a wolf, even one unaware and possibly permanently unable to change, would feel too much like an intolerable insult to wolves in general.

“I think we need a bit more info on the current situation before we go charging off to the rescue.” Flynn gathered his cards together, but kept them cradled loosely in his hands as he closed his eyes, sat up straighter, and slowed his breathing. Kevin watched the sparkles accelerate into a dazzling display of rainbow fireworks as Flynn's concentration deepened, swirling into the currents of power linking the circle and using that power to spread outside in a broad misty stream, towards the south.

The others waited patiently. Kevin and Lori were at a distinct disadvantage, with neither sunlight nor moonlight available, not even any reason earlier in the day to collect and store as much as possible. The witches, and especially Naomi, compensated for it, feeding power into the common pool, where the mages could monitor the currents and Deanna, simply by being Deanna, kept it steady and stable. The wolves stayed alert, ready for their chance to act when or if that came.

Flynn's violet-grey eyes opened, but they were fixed on something far away.

“Oh no… that's definitely a predator, and it's definitely stalking Jesse…”

“What can we do?” Kevin demanded.

“Working on it,” Flynn said distantly. “Right now, put all the power you can behind wishing him luck.”

* * *

Jesse scanned the street and the people moving about in the glow of the streetlights, sighed, and leaned back against the wall. By the clock on the church tower, it was past eight-thirty, Shaine was supposed to meet him here ages ago. He could be late for any of a number of reasons; Jess just hoped it wasn't trouble, and that he wouldn't be much longer.

“Hey, there.” A low voice, a man's. Jesse looked towards it—and froze. There was nothing visible to mark him, just a generally average brown-haired man of middle years in a sport jacket and blue jeans. Even past the city's background of odours, the stranger was close enough for Jesse to pick up his scent, and something about it was just not right, though it was nothing he could put a name to. Every instinct screamed Danger! at him and his skin crawled at the thought of those hands touching him.

“Yeah?” he said curtly.

“Up for a good time?”

“Nah. Just hangin' around waiting for a friend.”

“I could be a friend.”

“A particular friend, thanks.” He left the corner, and moved down half a block. That should take care of it.

He was followed.

“I don't like being turned down,” the man said, menace in the softness of his voice.

“That's your problem, not mine.” He moved again. Not too uncommon, this problem; his appearance was a mixed blessing, and a definite curse in a situation like this. No one seemed to believe that five-foot-five and one-twenty-five pounds of good-looking teenager could be any danger. Fighting was best avoided, since it led to trouble.

The little voice in the back of his mind urging him to stand and fight, he dismissed as some sort of death-wish, and a particularly stupid one at that.

The stranger followed again.

“Would you get off my fucking case?” Jesse snapped. “Not interested.” He evaded an overly familiar hand, decided to give up and clear out.

The man kept an even distance of about twenty feet between them, down the street.

Okay, other methods. Jesse's first rule: never look like you were running, someone would usually assume you were guilty, just on principle. Second rule: to lose someone, find people.

He found a store, one of a half-dozen close together, ducked inside, and made his way to the back where he couldn't be seen from the door. Height became an advantage: he effectively disappeared behind a tall magazine rack. Just for the sake of looking like he had a reason to be there, he picked up a magazine at random to glance through. Nothing he saw really registered; nervously, he replaced it on the rack, and wandered towards the front of the store. On a hunch, he glanced back, and his guts tied themselves into tight knots. The same man. Just reaching the magazine rack now.

Lucky. Jesse would've been right there waiting for him.

How in hell was he going to get out of this mess?

Fight him, whispered that little voice again, more urgently. It was no less moronic an idea now than it had been the last time he'd dismissed it.

He passed a driveway between two buildings, the taller of which he knew had apartments on the upper floors, and backtracked quickly, praying. A handy fire escape... yes! Agility was a bonus here; there was a large garbage bin close enough. All he had to do, tricky though it was in the poor light, was balance on the edge of the bin and reach over to grab the ladder. It came down with a groan, and he scrambled up and jerked it up after him. He was at the third story of five when his pursuer reached the bin. He looked up; Jesse looked down, frozen by sudden fear.

Watch him be an acrobat or something.

But he didn't even try to get up the fire escape; he turned and left in the direction of the street.

Jesse breathed a silent prayer of thanks to whoever was watching out for him, and finished the climb to the roof. With any luck there'd be another way down, yes, a fire escape on the opposite side. He climbed down into a different space, a cramped narrow parking lot, and looked around in case he'd been anticipated. All was quiet. He took a deep breath to calm himself, relieved.

Someone reached out of deeper shadows and grabbed his arm; another hand traced a line down his spine.

Jesse wrenched away and bolted. Being assumed guilty had just become secondary to being caught. Anyone so persistent had to have some way of making Jesse come with him, and he'd heard horror stories from more experienced acquaintances about some of those ways. After a few blocks he stopped to catch his breath, and glanced back. No sign.

Good. Should he circle back to where Shaine would be waiting for him, or go to ground somewhere for a while, just in case?

“Have you ever heard the expression, the thrill of the chase?”

Leaning casually against a pole, almost directly in his path, the same man gave him a smile that showed too many very white teeth.

“How the fuck...” Jesse didn't bother to finish the thought; heart pounding, he spun and fled back the way he'd come. A glance over his shoulder without stopping, narrowly avoiding running into a woman coming the other way, showed that man following at a sedate pace.

He's a Bad Thing, insisted the little voice inside. Dangerous to you, dangerous to everyone. Stop running and fight!

Against someone who does impossible shit? Oh, just shut UP and stop distracting me!

* * *

“Oh, damn,” Flynn said, sending a ripple through the intense concentration on willing fortune to work in Jesse's favour. “That's one of the higher ones. It's playing mind-games with him right now.”

Bane growled softly, and Bryan tensed visibly. Kevin and Lori, who had too much experience with occasional predators deciding that they were tempting enough to be worth the risks, winced in unison.

“Try to lure it away from him and to here?” Naomi suggested. “That would be simpler than a gate there, and would need less of a focus and less power. Could Jesse's nerves take that, do you think?”

“I doubt Jess could survive that, let alone avoid further nerve damage,” Cynthia said with a sigh. “Otherwise, that would be worth a try.”

“If Jess could handle that, he probably wouldn't need help with a predator,” Deanna agreed ruefully.

“Can you get me a clear fix?” Kevin asked.

“I'm trying,” Flynn said. “There's a lot of loss over this distance.”

Naomi nodded. “All right. Then let's see how much power we can gather up for you to use, hm?” Kevin felt her dig deeper, felt a surge in the flow coming directly from the earth below them; Lori, more used to her coven-mate, caught and channelled it neatly into the shared currents with scarcely a perceptible wave. Kevin gathered together as much as he could from the collected pool, grateful that he wasn't going to have to build a gate simply from his own reserves.

Silence, while seconds ticked into minutes, and the connection between Flynn and Jesse grew narrower and more dense.

* * *

Jesse zigzagged along the busiest routes available, figuring it would be harder for anyone to force anything with enough other people around. He needed to loop back around to where this started, and see if Shaine were there yet; with any luck, he not only would have arrived by now, but wouldn't assume Jesse wasn't coming and leave. While people tended not to find Jesse at all intimidating, the same couldn't be said about Shaine, and Jesse knew of nothing that had ever thrown him off-stride.

If he could just get there. He saw that same man again, in front of him, this time leaning against a parking meter, watching him with that smile, and detoured without slowing to cut through an unfortunately quiet walkway between two old buildings. His pursuer was somehow, impossibly, on the other side as well, blocking his exit. Jesse doubled back, hit the main street, and made it nearly back to where this had started before seeing him again—this time, stepping apparently out of thin air directly in front of Jesse, so close that Jesse stumbled to avoid running into him. He darted across the street, ignoring the honking horns, but kept going the same direction.

How the fuck did he do that?

How the fuck do I get away from someone who can do that?

Adrenaline was only going to go so far; he was already out of breath, heart thumping painfully hard. This enemy was simply going to wear him down and pick him off at will when he could no longer run.

But how could he fight back? Could Shaine help against this threat, anyway?

That annoying little voice inside told him that no, Shaine was no better able to fight this battle than anyone else in the city was. Except Jesse himself.

Which should he do? Get into the middle of a crowd and hope that would protect him long enough to catch his breath and think of something? But if his enemy could get close to him, extra bodies around him would be no safety, and that annoying voice yammered that it would put more people at risk.

An ambush, then? Get behind the businesses into the shadows, find anything he could use as a weapon, even if it was just a glass bottle?

It was worth a try. Continuing to run wasn't an option.

He spotted a driveway that he knew linked to the space behind a shoe store and a clothing store and a small drug store, and veered down it. Sawdust-scent, chemical-scent, metal-tang, someone had been doing work, maybe on one of the apartments above the businesses. That might be promising for finding something he could use. He slowed to a stumbling walk, headed for a more-or-less neat stack of what might be lumber or plumbing or both against one wall, near a back door.

This time, the hand groped his ass, and he had the eerie feeling that he was feeling skin-on-skin with no insulation by the denim that should be between.

He spun around with his full weight behind his right fist, a response too instinctive even to allow time to grab his keys to add to the impact.

His tormentor, with no apparent effort, no reaction at all to the force behind it, seized hold of Jesse's right hand in his own and squeezed. Jesse was sure he felt a joint pop, thought he cried out, but the pain was so bad it all blurred together. He felt pressure, the pain increasing as the other twisted his hand backwards, and his legs buckled without conscious thought; he barely registered the sensation of his knees striking the pavement, with the whole world a white blur centred on his trapped hand.

* * *

“C'mon, c'mon,” Flynn muttered. “We're running out of time, here... I'm so close but so's the predator.”

“Anchor?” Kevin prompted, knowing very well that it was useless to ask and Flynn was already doing his best. “I'll drag him back here through it if I have to.”

“Not necessary,” Bane said, standing up and stretching. As often as they could get away with it, wolves wore magesilks, which meant he didn't even need to waste time taking off clothes. Bryan followed suit only a heartbeat later, always right behind his brother and pack leader.

Kevin stood up, too, and felt Lori reach out to re-balance the power currents to accommodate motion. Whether the circle would hold across long distance was distinctly uncertain; he took what he could, while he could, just in case he lost connection. At least the combination of coven-bonds and Lori's presence provided a sort of insurance: she could create a gate to get him and the wolves back here if necessary, though using another mage's gate always felt a bit uncomfortable.

“You're safer here,” Bane objected. “We'll have to protect you, too.”

“I'm coming,” Kevin said flatly.

“I think Kev needs to be there,” Flynn said. “He didn't pull the mage card just to gate you two there and back.”

Bane sighed, shrugged, and his body began to blur around the edges, turning all over the dark brown of semi-sweet chocolate. In seconds, a huge shaggy wolf shook himself, and looked expectantly at Flynn and Kevin.

Bryan, in wolf-form, was a little smaller, more the colour of milk chocolate than Bane's darker fur. Together, they were an intimidating sight.

“Hold on,” Flynn said distantly. “Almost got it… there! Here, take it.” Kevin knew without being told, as the sparkling stream snapped itself tightly together into a cord that stretched off towards the south. Kevin reached along it, and found the other end. Clear and precise, more than enough so for him to build a gate safely and with minimal effort. Well, as minimal as effort could be across that much distance.

“Be careful,” Naomi said softly.

“Always.” Kevin gestured with both hands; a bright gate swirled into being, woven of moonlight and will. The interior cleared, leaving only the frame and a flimsy curtain of coloured light.

“You've got it,” Flynn said.

Bane darted through, Bryan on his heels; Kevin was right behind both, and as he stepped through, the gate vanished.

* * *

Patrick Lucian raised his head, all senses alert, straining to discover what it was that had just caught his attention. He spotted the brilliant glow of an elvenmage's power, and a strong one at that, fading in bright ripples. And now he could sense, faintly, the presence of another mage where a moment before there had been none.

Now that's interesting.

He abandoned the remains of his luxurious supper, cloaked himself in illusion that changed his sun-tawny hair dark and his fair skin to a deep brown, and simply walked out of the restaurant without stopping to pay. Outside, he released the illusion, paused briefly to orient himself, and started to walk in the direction of the shimmer of magic, toying with speculations.

* * *

Oh my god, I'm going to pass out, don't do that, DON'T!

As though that would make Jesse significantly more helpless than he was right now, with the pressure on his hand making his back arch as his body struggled to find some kind of relief.

His tormentor spat something that sounded like a curse, though it was unfamiliar, and suddenly Jesse's trapped hand was free. He scrambled backwards fast, not caring what he hit, his vision still full of red and black starbursts.

“Damn those wolves,” the stranger snarled. He brushed past Jesse as though he were of no further importance at all. Not in the direction of the street, but deeper into the back spaces, where there was another small access area and a driveway out the other side.

Sobbing for breath, his damaged hand cradled close to his body, Jesse staggered to his feet.

A cool arm slid around him, made him jerk away briefly until the scent reached him. Familiar, safety. Shaine. He looked up, blinking tears out of his eyes. As tall as Kevin, though even slenderer. Light-skinned, pale-blonde, uncut hair held out of blue eyes with a blue bandanna. Somewhat Jesse's senior, though by how much he'd never let slip.

“What the hell...? No, never mind, tell me later. I'll look at your hand at home.” He glanced past Jesse, then shook his head. “I don't even want to know. Come on.”

“How'd you find me?”

“Walk.” Shaine's arm around him urged him into motion. “At least half a dozen people told me they saw you running from something they couldn't see and you looked freaked. Obviously not a bad trip. Move. Home. Now.”

* * *

Kevin faced the predator, much more calm outwardly than he felt inwardly, especially without the reassuring strength of the circle to reinforce his own; the severing of the connection as the gate closed had been distinctly uncomfortable. The wolves flanked him on either side, both crouched with teeth bared and hackles raised, ready to attack. At least Jesse and his friend were leaving. “Back off,” he said coldly. “These two are both under protection of Coven Sundark and our friends.”

The other laughed, mockingly; Kevin blessed the fact that it was standing near enough to a metal-caged light over a back door that he could see it. “A pretty name. It has to be a children's coven.” Its appearance rippled again, to a much less ordinary man. This one looked perhaps thirty, darkly beautiful... if one could overlook the pointed teeth and clawed hands and eyes that were the flat black of oblivion, without iris or white. “The dark one should be quite a treat. To be able to have one who normally could fight me... delicious.”

“You'll have to go through us. I told you, they're under our protection.”

“Perhaps I'll have you first. Your silly little coven-link only protects against the lesser ones, you know.” It sauntered forward, reached towards Kevin.

Bryan snapped at the offending hand; had the predator's reflexes been less quick, he might have removed it altogether.

Kevin prayed that the wolves didn't have to fight; this predator was vastly unlike the nuisances he was familiar with, dangerous to the gifted but easily dealt with by a wolf.

Bane, his ears flat against his skull, advanced, snarling. An angry two-hundred-pound wolf was an intimidating creature; all the more so since his long dense fur, thickest around his neck, made him look still larger. Bryan angled his own approach to one side, to make it harder for it to track both at once.

The predator hesitated, fell back a step as though involuntarily, then another. Kevin thought it looked undecided.

It decided. It shifted its own shape to that of a tiger, grave-black stripes on the rusty-brown of dried blood, and lunged at Bryan.

He slipped agilely out of its way, and Bane attacked it from behind, teeth tearing a long scarlet stripe too shallow to hamstring it; it whipped around, hissing.

Kevin retreated so he had his back against the cool stability of a wall, watching the battle, switching alternately through various kinds of sight in order to keep track of it as they moved in and out of the light.

The wolves made a smooth team: one would distract it from in front while the other made an assault from the rear, then, when it turned, they traded roles. Claws raked down Bane's ribs, not deeply, but enough to make him yelp in pain; the yelp became a growl, and he circled around it, looking for an opening. Bryan ghosted in and was gone again before the tiger even had time to realize he'd scored another wound, just behind its ribs and low on its side. It spun around to go after him, chased him a few feet, and swiped at him with one huge forepaw; it connected with Bryan's shoulder, but the heavy fur deflected the worst of the damage. The blow knocked him off his feet, though, and the tiger paced towards him. Bane seized its tail in his jaws and crunched down, getting its attention and giving Bryan a heartbeat's time to find his feet and get out of reach.

Kevin reflected that it was obviously unused to dealing with multiple opponents: it allowed itself to be too easily distracted. The brothers, on the other hand, had a lifetime of teamwork behind them.

Bane, by skill or luck or more likely both, seized a foreleg in his jaws when it came sweeping towards him again. The sheer power pulled him off-balance, but he held on. Nothing Kevin knew of could make a werewolf let go unwillingly; the force of their grip was legendary in the mixed-race villages. The tiger, with rumbling growls of rage, snapped at him and shook its trapped foreleg.

Bryan slid up beside it, closed his teeth on the back of its neck, and bit down with his full strength.

The tiger made an untigerlike squeal, and went limp.

The wolves released it, and Bane sniffed at it to make sure it was dead.

It was: it faded to transparent, then vanished altogether. Back to whatever non-physical plane it came from.

Bane shook himself, gave his wounded side a few quick licks, then turned his attention to Bryan. Reassured that he was all right, he looked up expectantly at Kevin.

“Hold on. I know the usual predators wouldn't dare touch Jesse if they found him at all, and that the greater ones are rare... but I think I know a way to hide them magically. It won't hold forever, but maybe by then Jess'll heal enough to take care of himself. If we're really lucky, it might even protect Jess from ambient power so if he comes back to Haven, it won't hurt him. Are you okay for a few minutes?”

*Perfectly fine,* Bane assured him. Being a telepath was useful, Kevin reflected; it must be frustrating for wolves to be in a coven lacking one. *Nothing Gisela or Liam can't fix for us. Do what you can, I'd rather not repeat this. Moonwolf and Horned God, what a fight...* He didn't sound distressed, more satisfied.

Kevin turned his attention to tracking Jesse and his friend. He found them mentally, and followed them undetected with the wolves keeping pace docilely on either side. In the darker areas between streetlights, he tangled a hand in the long thick fur of Bane's ruff, trusting the wolf to keep him from walking into anything.

The pair stopped at a house, circled around to the side to unlock a door, and he heard a deadbolt snap shut behind them.

Something tickled the back of his mind; he scanned the street intently, looking for heat patterns. An elf, to show a body temperature that hot; a mage, to have cast an illusion of absence that could keep the wolves from noticing; not a strong one given how effortlessly Kevin had seen through it. And he or she was watching Jesse and his friend with far too much interest.

“Mage,” he murmured. “Across the street. I don't like how intent he is on Jess.”

*I know how to handle mages.* Bane growled aloud, low in his throat, a warning.

“I know you do.” Kevin collected power from the city lights around him, though it was a poor substitute for sunlight or moonlight or true firelight, and tossed it in the direction of the other mage. It landed neatly at the other mage's feet and shattered, the shards coalescing into a fiery phoenix visible only to mage-sight, the sparks dancing off the feathers spelling out his name.

* * *

Patrick recoiled sharply, then turned a dark look at the source of the flashy challenge. A Lioren; it figured, arrogant bunch that they were, so certain they ruled the mixed villages by right of strength.

The mage across the street glowed with power as though it were the sun itself he wore like a cloak of light, almost eclipsing the heat-image of his presence. Patrick scowled. Worse, it was all his own, not so much as a trace of any kind of outside power tingeing it anywhere.

What right had this Lioren to such dazzling brilliance, when he himself had been born with scarcely enough of the mage-gift to be noticeable?

He'd found ways to even the odds, however, and if this braggart thought to meddle with his life, he'd learn that quickly.

*Excuse me.* The mindvoice dropped into his head with the clarity of diamond, precise and calm. *Do you mind? The two you're looking at are under the protection of my coven, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd just forget they exist.*

Under the protection of a coven? Both of them? The fairer one was simply human with no hint of power, hardly worth wasting any effort on. The darker one, on the other hand, intrigued him. A wolf, with such heavy damage psychically that any touch of magic would be sure to be unpleasant for him... how had he gotten into such a state?

Curiosity wasn't really worth a fight, was it?

Curiosity alone, no, but the tone of that Lioren mage's voice was another matter.

He snatched up the lingering power from the phoenix image, rewove it into a dragon of crimson and saffron and sooty black, and flung it back violently.

*You do not command me,* he hissed. *Mind your tongue.*

The Lioren mage's shock was so strong that it spilled over before being firmly reined in.

*I asked nicely,* the other said evenly, after a moment's silence. *I'm asking politely once more. They are under Coven Sundark's protection, and if need be we will fight, although I would prefer not to.*

*I do as I please! If I want that crippled little wolf to study, I'll have him!*

*He's not crippled!* The shout made him flinch in discomfort, laced as it was with hot blinding anger and no more controlled than a shotgun blast. Patrick cried out, in outrage and surprise as much as in pain, and hastily flung shields around himself. The effort made his breath catch, as nerves damaged by the attack protested, but he willed them strong and steady.

Want to fight, do you?

He pulled at the light of the streetlamps and coiled it into a tightly focused whip, bound into that form by his own fury. Viciously, he lashed it outwards across the vacant street, to flay the upstart where he stood.

It snapped against glassy-smooth shields, which scarcely trembled, then far too much happened far too quickly.

The shields winked out. Patrick blinked, tried to trace where the power used in those shields had gone, but there was no sign of it... surely no one could draw that much power back into himself so quickly without damage?

Something seized the whip, jolting him roughly out of his distraction, to discover that the Lioren mage had coiled the whip's far end around his wrist and was holding it firmly.

What in all the hells...

No more than three rapid heartbeats after the disappearance of the shields, a scorching flood of sheer raw power surged back along the whip, forcing the flow of his own magic into reverse before it, pouring into him.

For the space of another three fast heartbeats, he realized just how dizzyingly high a tolerance for power the Lioren mage had and the utter ecstasy of it, then it collapsed into the shrieking pain of severe backlash shock. Only distantly was he aware of it when the power flow abruptly reversed again. He swayed, and stumbled backwards to lean against a wall, trembling.

*Leave. Him. Alone.* Each word came out tightly, with anger and deadly power coiled behind it.

“You've made yourself an enemy,” Patrick snarled aloud.

“So be it,” said the cool light voice from across the street. “Just don't touch our friends.”

He held still, watching, while the Lioren mage built shields around the dark little wolf and his companion. Clever shields, too, deftly created to deflect both detection and active magic, the shields themselves subtle and near invisible unless one knew where to look—designed to shunt senses and magic away, not counter them directly.

Light swirled and gathered into a gate; against it, he saw the silhouette of the Lioren mage and the two wolves flanking him, then they vanished through it, and the gate imploded neatly.

Showoff! No mage should be able to walk after pulling that, let alone be capable of gating!

Livid with humiliation and rage, he drew himself together and went in search of a place to sleep... one he'd have to pay for, he realized in disgust. His gifts would be of no use to him for some time to come. He didn't dare even summon his allies; in this condition, he'd be easy game for them.

I'll find you, Lioren and you'll regret ever starting this! Next time I'll be ready for you!

* * *

“Here they come,” Flynn warned, a heartbeat before Kevin's familiar gate coalesced in the centre of the circle to bring the trio home. Kevin sank to his knees in front of Deanna and buried his face in her shoulder, shivering.

Deanna wrapped her arms around him, hugging him close. “What happened?”

The wolves shifted calmly to human, and Cynthia and Naomi moved quickly to examine what wounds they had.

“Mage-fight,” Bane said.

“I lost my temper,” Kevin said, pressing close against Deanna miserably. “He wasn't very strong at all, I backlashed him, might have burned him out completely, I don't know if I managed to pull it back fast enough...” He looked up at her, tears in his eyes, but couldn't find any more words.

“He was threatening Jesse,” Bryan pointed out reasonably. “It's not like you just pounced him for no reason and with no warning.”

“I still shouldn't have lost control!”

“Kev,” Cynthia said gently, laying a slim pale hand over Bane's rib-scores; the bleeding gradually slowed, as she hurried the clotting process as much as she could. Not a lot, she was witch, not healer, but enough. “You are nothing like what you were when Dia hauled you away from Rebecca. You've done better than anyone expected at learning how to keep your temper under control, and you've done it much faster. One mistake, under provocation like that, isn't the end of the world.”

“Bryan said you warned him first,” Lori said. “And it's not like he could have been unaware of how strong you are. If he persisted, then he made his own choice and took his chances.”

“I might have burned out his gifts totally. That's kind of a steep penalty for being obnoxious, don't you think?”

“No,” Bane said, unruffled. “I don't. We decided to protect Jesse, and we did. Leave it at that, phoenix. You're tired, most of that power you were using was pure adrenaline and there wasn't much light to back it up. That's making things look worse than they are. Someone take down the circle.”

Deanna simply grounded the raised power directly into the earth, while Cynthia did a hastier than normal thanks-and-dismissal of the summoned elements. As the support of the circle faded, Flynn sagged forward, then let himself sprawl on the carpeted floor, clearly worn out.

“Dia, get Kev to bed?” Cynthia requested. “I'll call Gisela and Liam and then get Flynn into bed. Lori, can you find Kev and Flynn and yourself something to eat? Naomi, can you keep an eye on the wolves and keep doing what you can? You're better at healing than I am anyway.”

Lori headed for the kitchen, and Naomi only nodded, still examining Bryan with witch-senses for other damage. Deanna urged Kevin to his feet and up the stairs to his room.

“Stay?” Kevin said pleadingly, as she swiftly stripped his shirt and jeans off.

“I intended to.” She wriggled out of her own clothes equally quickly.

By then, Lori brought a couple of sandwiches, one of Kevin's home-made brownies and a glass of juice—she said nothing, but the support and reassurance and love she was radiating were clearer than words could have been, between two telepaths. Kevin looked at the food without appetite, but obediently ate, not really tasting it; his rapid metabolism made it too dangerous to sleep without a start on replacing what he'd just used. There was no way Deanna and Lori would let him risk it, regardless of how little he wanted food right now. Only once he'd finished it did Lori leave quietly with the dishes.

Deanna curled up with him in his bed, tucking the blankets around him, automatically making sure that her somewhat cooler body was less completely covered. He snuggled closer, resting his head on her shoulder, still trembling.

“I hurt him bad,” he whispered. “And I attacked first.”

“Shh. Go to sleep. We can talk about it tomorrow.” She stroked a hand lightly, repeatedly, over his hair and down his back. “I know, Kev, I know, but let it be for now, sleep.”

Even with Deanna's comfort, it took him a long time to fall asleep.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, November 1993
Nick 'Winter

Aha! The guilty party has been found! Josh Neumann made that chocolate cake! He even gave me the recipe, with permission to print it.

Lupe Ravenflight and her partner Gwenna Merilon are offering to teach classes in pottery and hand-weaving respectively over the winter to anyone interested, and they're willing to divide it into beginner and advanced groups. They'd like to get started soon, so give them a call.

Make sure you read Trista 'Merrymoon's article on smith-magic on the front page. If you find it as wonderful as I did, let us know, and maybe Trista can be persuaded to do more for us.

There's a personal peeve I really have to bring up. Over Samhain, I heard a hundred references to Alessandria 'Starluck's seventh child being conceived on Hallowe'en night. Not having been there two centuries ago, I can't say for sure, but would people please think? Alessandria, practically the founder of Haven, had six known children. Seven makes a nice round magical number, sure, but really, folks—a wolf as strong as Alessandria, bearing a daughter with the father variably a demon, a faerie, a predator, or something unknown, depending on which version you hear? A daughter no one knows anything about? If someone can show me some reference to any child but the six, from whom descend as we all know very nearly every Haven wolf of today, I will gladly apologize publicly and print the information. Until then, stop talking about it like it's history and keep in mind that it's a legend! Despite the fact that we all grow up hearing it, “Black wolf, demon wolf, Shadow in the night, Wild heart, wild blood, Born and die to fight,” does not count as conclusive proof of anything, either, so don't try throwing that at me.

I have been informed by our local guitar-god Alex that his new band will be playing for us on the solstice. They'll be at the school gym, and they'll be playing off and on all night, including the sun-setting and sun-rising. I guess not even they can play all the way through the longest night of the year! The cafeteria will have lots and lots of food (if you have something to offer, call Avery 'Prism), and the library will be open as quiet space. Wild-sounding party in the plans! Cari 'Dragonfire tells me Exotica are planning a Yule Mystery play for us, combining elements of just about every midwinter festival ever, it sounds like.

There's going to be a dance at the school on the full moon (the 29th) at 7 pm. Usual school dance rules: preferably students Grade Nine and up, covens permitted.

I'm told Coven Tabbycat are contemplating a role-playing game weekend in the near future, no experience necessary. Give one of 'em a yell if you're interested. I'd be going if I weren't working every weekend. Have fun!

Breaking news: Our mysterious Cinderella in the red and gold belly-dance dress, who had the amazing dance moves giving ideas even to those of us happily committed to covens, has let herself be identified. Yes she's new at the college this year, no she's not part of a coven yet (I've been asked that about fifty times), and her name is... Darik Albertine. Yes, the sexy blonde woman in fire colours is a male dryad. Genderbending may be normal enough but not like that! It's tricky to get noticed at the dance when everyone is trying for the same, but that worked. And cheers to those from Falias who knew and those with senses that let them see who “Sabine” was but played along anyway. Hm, I know someone who did something similar, not many years ago. I hope this works out just as well!



Gisela unlocked the kitchen door with the key Cynthia had given her when they'd moved in, and padded quietly into the silent house. She'd sensed Jesse's presence with increasing intensity since her second-last class, prompting uncharacteristic impatience to escape the school and come find him. His shoes lay carelessly by the door, a battered black canvas backpack beside them; she could hear music turned down low in the living room. She left her own boots and bag there, and crossed the kitchen towards the rest of the house.

When she reached the living room, she was glad she tended to move so quietly: he was curled up on the couch, one of Kevin's magesilk blankets tangled around him, his head pillowed on his arm and his other hand cradled close against his chest. He didn't react at all to her presence. Sound asleep.

She smiled to herself, and decided to let him be. There was nowhere she needed to be on a Thursday afternoon. The house would be empty until Sunday evening, so there'd be nothing to disturb Jesse. He could probably use the rest.

She prowled back out to the kitchen, and found what she halfway expected: a note.

Jess, Flynn had a hunch you'd show up this weekend. We left Thursday morning, we'll be back Sunday evening. You're welcome to stay. Unfortunately everyone you know is gone. If you need anything call Gisela or Evaline or Lori, phone numbers are on the wall by the phone. They know who you are. See you when we get home. Kevin. PS, this key is yours to keep.

The key in question lay beside it on an unadorned ring. Most likely, Sundark had simply left the door unlocked earlier.

Flynn had a hunch, huh? Like that was anything new. There were those in Haven who could see farther places in the world, see farther into the future, see things with no more focus than an item or two of information or an object; Flynn was, however, hard to rival when it came to matters close to home and of the immediate future and relevant to those he was familiar with.

She got settled in one of the living room chairs, her feet tucked up under her. Being barely five feet tall and willowy-slim had few advantages, but one was that she could get comfortable in places and positions her friends couldn't. She closed her eyes and let herself doze off, listening for Jesse to wake. The slow dryad metabolism was the opposite of the elves' rapid one: they were fine eating once or twice a day, but tended to need more sleep. Why pass up the chance for a catnap?

Motion roused her; she lay still, but opened her eyes to watch Jesse extricate himself from the blanket and stretch lazily.

Belatedly, he noticed her; she saw him tense like a startled cat, trying to decide between fight or flight.

She smiled, sat up and crossed her legs, combed honey-brown hair out of her eyes with her fingers. “It's okay. Only me.”

The wariness remained. “I don't know you.”

“I'm Gisela. I knew you were here so I came.” She made a face. “Dia'd yell at me if she knew. She'd say I'm invading when you wanted to be alone. So nobody knows.”

“No one ever tell you it's dangerous being alone with a guy you don't even know?”

The relevance of that she dismissed with a wave. “You won't hurt me.”

“So why did you come?”

“Because you hurt yourself, and I can help if you'll let me.” She got up and came to sit beside him. “Give me your hand.”

Jesse obeyed automatically, and let her take his bad hand in hers. She frowned thoughtfully.

“Can you stretch it flat?”

“It hurts, but almost.”

“Can you close it all the way?”

“No.” He showed her how far he could, about halfway, and his thumb was definitely not cooperating.

Gisela caught his hand again, held it between both of hers, and turned her senses inward, tracing the damage. Connective tissue, mostly, which was a nuisance to fix but better than bone, and most of it radiated out from the joint of his thumb. Once she knew what was wrong, she began to repair it, coaxing everything back the way it should be, easing the inflammation, rebuilding attachments. She felt the familiar warmth in her hands, felt it spreading into Jesse's, working its way through skin right down to the damaged muscle and tendons. Jesse felt it too, because he tensed again, poised as if he'd bolt at any instant.

She opened her eyes and released his hand. “Now try.”

He stretched it fully, closed it tight, a few times, with only one small wince of discomfort.

Gisela smiled when he raised wondering eyes to hers. “I'm a healer. I'm still learning a lot, but I help take care of my friends. I'm glad you came so I could fix it. Take it easy on it for a few days, though. Come tell me any time you get hurt and I'll always fix it. I promise.”

“That's... incredible. Thank you.”

She shrugged. “That's what healers do.”

“Can everyone around here do things like that?”

Gisela gave him her most guileless smile. “I'm the only healer you've met. Lots of people in Haven can do things the rest of the world doesn't believe in. That's why we stay here, so no one finds out and we'll be safe. Part of why, anyway. Dia says we can't tell you everything yet 'cause we don't know you well enough. I think that's crazy. You won't tell anyone. You don't like normal people either. And I don't think you'd have a very hard time getting used to it. But I'll behave. Usually Dia knows what she's talking about better than me, so I listen, but nobody's right all the time, right?”

“As a general rule, it's safer not to trust someone you don't know,” he cautioned.

“Maybe generally, sure. But you're safe.” Most likely her friends would tell her she was counting too heavily on the link that bound her and Jesse and Kevin like delicate strands of spider-silk. She doubted she'd have been able to make them understand that it wasn't the link that made her sure she was safe, only her own instincts telling her Jesse would attack only to defend.

Jesse shrugged. “Yeah, whatever.”

“Anyway. I did what I really wanted to do. I'll go away if you want me to, and I won't be offended. Or I could stay here or you could come home with me, it's up to you.”

He hesitated, then shook his head. “I don't think I want to go anywhere. But it doesn't matter to me if you stay.”

“Oh, good, 'cause it's much quieter here than it is at my house, even with Deanna away. She's home so much you can hardly tell she s'posedly lives here.”

Jesse gave her a confused look. “Deanna's your sister?”

That made Gisela giggle. “More or less. See, lots of people in Haven are part of a coven, which is a small group of people that are really intensely connected on multiple levels. It's so common that a lot of the time, people use their coven's name instead of their regular last name, it's just more useful. Our parents are in the same coven, and we all live in the same house. Four parents and three kids, me and Dia and our little brother. It's a big house but that's a lot of people.”

“No shit. Uh... would it be safe to guess that Kevin and Cynthia and Bane...”

“And Deanna and Flynn are a coven? Good guess. I'm not in one. I just hang around with Coven Sundark a lot. That's Kevin and everybody. And there are two other covens, Winter and Dandelion, and one other person who isn't in a coven, and we all tend to hang around together a lot. The thing they do every week that I bet you've seen, that's called a circle, it's a way of sharing energy. That's what makes a coven a coven and keeps them connected, and it's extremely rude to ever interrupt a coven in circle. It's about as intimate as possible. Because of that, covens tend to be very close on a lot of levels, and some things almost always happen just because they're so tangled up in each other. Like living together and sex within a coven. A lot of Haven businesses are run by one or two covens collectively.”

“Uh-huh. And... aren't covens supposed to have something to do with witches or something?”

That puzzled her, until she recalled that the outer world used the word differently. “You mean like the witches in Macbeth? Casting bad spells?”

“Sure. Or Satanists, or stuff like that.”

Satanists? Another word that confused her briefly. “Death magic, you mean? Or summoning demons?” She shook her head. “Death magic's revolting, and no one with half a brain will mess around with demons. And Sundark being that kind of witches is silly. Can you see Dia making brews in a cauldron out of eye of newt and tongue of frog or whatever it's supposed to be, to hurt anybody?” That made quite the image in her head, of Deanna in a black robe chanting evil spells over a huge cauldron, the rest of her coven dancing around her and it, and all sorts of demonic beings hovering around them; she laughed, despite the disturbing connotations of demons and death magic. “No way.”

Jesse relaxed a bit. “Just checking.”

Gisela lingered for a while, did her homework there, and they dug two of Kevin's frozen dinners out of the freezer. Reluctantly, she went home after they ate, with a promise to come over after school the next day.

* * *

Jesse spent Friday exploring. When he ventured into the village proper, he got a few sideways looks, but no one bothered him. In fact, some knew who he was; more than once he was greeted by name. He saw several very large long-furred dogs, in a variety of colours, wandering around with no collars visible, but no one paid any attention and the dogs showed no sign of aggression—if anything, the opposite—so he figured he might as well just ignore them. Dogs of any other breed, and there were several, always had collars and were sometimes on leashes. Cats, healthy-looking ones, were common, and always wore collars, lounging in the sun on any available surface or stalking bugs and leaves; people stopped at times to greet them, which the cats tolerated.

Haven was remarkably self-sufficient; it seemed to have everything conceivable, some of the businesses not what he'd expect in a village in the middle of nowhere. Even a pet store. He hesitated, but yielded to temptation and went in.

The front part of the shop was chaos, with no human in sight. The reason for the chaos was that the large cages against one wall were all open, and the puppies—three clear litters, none resembling the adults loose outside—and kittens—two sizes—had taken over the shop. Puppies were chasing each other and dozing under the fish tanks and chewing rubber bones; kittens were drowsing on the counter, in a basket, on top of small animal cages, or pouncing on each other. Enchanted, Jesse dropped to one knee and called softly to the puppies.

Like any other animal he'd ever encountered, especially dogs, they responded, frolicking over to jump up on him. One that looked like a sheepdog licked at his face; he chuckled, rubbed a spaniel behind its ears.

“They like you.”

Jesse glanced up.

The speaker was a woman he guessed at around thirty, leaning against the counter. Jesse's height, more solidly-built, coffee-brown hair pulled back. Smiling. Jesse liked her instantly, had to answer the smile.

“Animals tend to, for some reason.”

“I don't know you, do I.” Not a question.

Jesse answered anyway. “No. I'm not from around here.”

“Didn't think so. I know everyone in Haven. Well, you're no tourist, so I'm guessing you're Kevin's friend Jesse.”

“Good guess. That obvious?”

“Funny things are obvious in Haven. You have to have figured out by now we aren't just your average backwoods village.”

“I'm getting that idea, yeah. Should I ask how you and everybody else seem to know about me?”

“This isn't the big city, where a million people never look twice at each other. Everybody in Haven is related one way or another, maybe a step or three removed. Not a lot of privacy, however hard we try to stay out of each others' lives, but it's worth it. We all hang together, because we're different from everyone outside.”

“And you discourage outsiders?”

“Outsiders, yes. People who belong here but found themselves in the wrong place, no.”

An adult cat picked herself up off the top of a rabbit's cage, stretched lazily, and padded over to examine Jesse. The puppies dodged around her, never touching her. The cat, a fine-boned long-haired dark tortoiseshell with a startlingly white tail-tip, sniffed Jesse over, then rubbed her head against his leg, purring.

The woman arched an eyebrow. “Well. Alfari certainly likes you, and that doesn't happen often. You must be something special.”

Jesse snorted. “Hardly.”

Alfari stretched up to plant her front paws on his chest, an unsubtle hint. Jesse began to stroke her, and the vibrant purring intensified.

“I don't think she agrees. Come on back some time and say hi. Or if you need a little extra money, I have odd jobs around sometimes I can use some help with.”


She made a shooing motion, smiling. “Go on, classes'll be out for lunch at the school in a few minutes. I'm guessing Gisela probably found you, with Sundark away. If it was one of the college crowd, like Eva, they should be out already.”

Bemused, he turned to the door.

“Oh, Jesse...”

He looked back. “Mmhmm?”

“You don't look like you're used to belonging anywhere. You should give it a try. Don't turn it down so fast when you're given the chance.” She spun away, and disappeared into the back of the shop.

A blonde woman who reminded him strongly of Kevin—she said her name was Lori—hailed him on sight and told him that she'd seen Gisela getting pizza for lunch. He found her leaning against a window-ledge outside with a slice of pizza. She spotted him and called him over.

“You do have some interesting people around here,” he commented dryly.

“Oh? Who did you meet?”

“In the pet store. She didn't say her name.”

“Samantha. Mmhmm, she's definitely interesting. She moved here about five years ago. She started the pet shop and takes courses at the college sometimes. She's safe here. No family anybody knows about, no one even knows where she's from, unless maybe Bryan does—that's Bane's older brother, he lives with Sam above the shop.”

“Safe from what?”

“The whole outside world. It's pretty cruel to the kind of people who like Haven.”

“Pretty cruel to everyone. Life's a bitch...”

“Um... that means it's bad? It doesn't have to be.”

“If you say so.”

“Here, go get yourself some pizza. Maybe you'll be less pessimistic if you eat something.” She fished a handful of change out of her jacket pocket, and poured it into his hand.

He walked her to the school when she had to go back to class, then he returned to the house.

* * *

Samantha looked up from stocking a shelf with fish food when Gisela came in, and greeted the healer with a nod. “You can't be out of cat food already.”

“Getting there, with that stray eating half of it, but I think I found him a home. I wanted to ask you something.”


“What do you think of Jesse?”

Sam fell silent for a moment, as she meticulously straightened the fish food and took the empty box to the counter. “I think there's more to him than anyone has seen or will see for a long time. I think he belongs in Haven, and I don't mean because of what Rebecca woke in him. He's not your average stray out of the city, and I predict that anyone who forgets that is going to regret it. Beyond that, I can't tell you anything more.”

To Gisela's inner senses, Sam vibrated with a tangle of emotions, too many for her to sort out. She knew that, after Nick's mention in the Sphynx, Sam had asked Kevin a lot of questions—Kevin, puzzled, had been talking to Deanna about Sam's odd curiosity about everything he'd picked up. She came nearer, closed her hand around Sam's. “Something's wrong, you're upset. What is it? Something about Jesse?”

Sam sighed, and shook her head. “Just... wondering what that poor boy has been through.”

“You don't mean Rebecca.”

“No, I don't.” She pulled her hand away, and turned away to fuss with the jars of treats on the counter. “Just... take care of him, okay?”

“I was going to anyway. I'm a healer and I like him.” This was not at all like Sam; Gisela had never seen her shaken before. “Are you going to be all right?”

“Of course I will. How much damage did Rebecca actually do to him?”

“She got him into a circle somehow and ripped him open pretty roughly inside to get at the power she wanted. Then when she attacked Sundark and Kevin hit back, Moira or Avryl threw Jess in the middle. And you know what Kev's like when he's mad...”

“Is he going to heal?”

“Bane thinks no, Flynn says yes. I think probably, but it's going to take a while. This isn't the kind of thing a healer can do much about. I don't think there's going to be any permanent damage, but there's no way to be sure yet. Kev feels worse about it than he's mostly letting on. I hate to think how he's going to react if there is anything permanent.”

“Anything you need me for, tell me. You can pass that on to Sundark. Anyway. If you need cat food, take it, you can pay for it later.”

That wasn't a very subtle hint, but Gisela went along with it. She tried to remember whether she needed cat food right away, and decided it could wait. So she bid Sam farewell and departed for the house.

* * *

Jesse was alive.

That simple fact made it impossible to concentrate on the mundanities of the shop. Sam gave up, and perched on the windowsill to gaze outside, not really seeing the familiar street.

Jesse was alive. The faint thread of hope born when she'd seen Nick's brief description, nurtured by Kevin's account, hadn't been false; it really was him. It had been a considerable effort of will to throttle her first impulse to hug him; a good thing, it seemed, since he didn't recognize her.

Blocking off his memories made sense. To be suddenly completely alone, for the first time in his life, and not know if anyone else in his family survived the nightmare of storm and music that had killed an entire village... making himself forget might well have saved his sanity.

His sanity? His life. How could they possibly find him to kill him if even he himself didn't know who he was? There'd be no way to see it in his thoughts, no way for a seer to get a fix on him, no way to make him betray himself.

She sighed to herself. To tell him about his family, and that she'd lived with him and them for a few years around and after his father's death, was to place him in danger. All she could do, it seemed, was let Sundark take care of him, and be ready to get involved if necessary. Without giving anyone any reason to think that she had so much interest in his wellbeing.

He was alive, though. She couldn't recall any better news in years.

Well, she'd made a bad start on hiding her feelings with Gisela; she'd have to do better than that. She closed her eyes, reached inside to centre herself again.

The bells on the door chimed; she greeted the man who walked in, and smiled when the puppies converged on his black Lab.

Think about right now. Worry about Jesse later.



Jesse heard a vehicle pull in the driveway, and forgot about the game of Monopoly Gisela had coaxed him into, reflex putting him on guard.

“It's only Sundark,” Gisela said, a frown creasing her pixie's face. “Don't be so paranoid.”

Deanna was the first one in the door; she paused, contemplating the pair at the table, and glanced back over her shoulder. “Hey, the highlander was right!”

“So what else is new,” Bane retorted, from just outside. “Get out of the way, the rest of us would like to come in too.”

Deanna moved aside.

“What in particular was he right about this time?” Kevin asked, as he followed Bane in; he saw Jesse, and smiled. “Well hi there. How long have you been here?”

“Since Thursday night,” Jesse said. “Have fun wherever you were?”

“Visiting family in a village sort of like Haven only in Quebec. Yes, lots of fun, actually.”

Chaos reigned in the kitchen for a few minutes, then Bane left to drive Flynn and Deanna and Gisela home.

“So what's new in the city?” Kevin asked, absently fishing a handful of cookies out of the jar while Jesse put the game away. He'd been winning, which was typical: he only had good luck when it didn't really matter.

Jesse shrugged. “Nothing especially thrilling. Trying to keep warm and hibernate the winter away.” Cynthia disappeared with a canvas sport-bag slung over her shoulder.

“So hang around for a while, you can do both here just as well.”

“For a little while. Not long.” Had the need to be out of the city not been so overwhelming after that insane night of being chased, he didn't think he'd have come at all; Kevin and the others were friendly, but it frightened him, how much he was starting to like them.

“However long you like.” Kevin stretched, and yawned. “I hate to be rude, but I'm beat, I'm going to go catnap for an hour or two. If I don't wake up, then good night and I'll see you in the morning.”

“Sweet dreams.”

Kevin paused in the doorway, and flashed him a grin. “Probably.”

* * *

November in Haven was much prettier than November in the city, Jesse mused, wandering contentedly along the quiet road with Kevin. No slushy sidewalks to navigate, no mountains of plowed-up dirty snow, no yellow-orange streetlights turning everything ugly colours, and no people running over you in a hurry to return to their warm homes and a hot meal. Instead, there were trees glittering with icicles, yards spotted with snow sculptures and snow forts, dogs playing in the clean white drifts, and people who said hello and invited you in for a cup of hot chocolate—that last was, in fact, when they'd passed the home of Bane's parents. Kevin had declined, explaining that they were expected home for supper.

The darkness was more intense than Jesse was used to, with only the countless stars and the outside lights of such houses as they passed; it could have made him nervous, but it was hard to feel threatened here. There were no lights because there was no need for them, simple as that. So he could just relax, and enjoy the tranquillity, and be glad Kevin had suggested the walk. He knew that Kevin's night-sight was so bad he actually couldn't safely go for a walk like this alone; it felt odd, that Kevin trusted him that much, but right now, he simply accepted it.

Familiar lights ahead, their house.

Jesse paused at the end of the driveway, and crouched to take a closer look at a line of tracks. “Kev? What made these tracks?”

Kevin joined him. “What do they look like?”

“Four toes, I think I can see claws, and the pad.” He measured one against his spread hand. “Bigger than my hand.”

“Wolf, then,” Kevin said.

“That's got to be a damned big wolf.”

“Most likely. Don't worry about it, wolves won't attack people.”

“It has to have been by here since we left, this wasn't here before.”


Jess gave him a suspicious look. Was that amusement hidden in Kevin's voice?

“Stand up,” Kevin told him. “I'm betting that's your wolf I just heard.”

Jess whipped to his feet, and spun around to look where Kevin indicated. Shadowed by a grove of trees, a large dark shaggy animal watched them, very still. Then it trotted off in the other direction, and vanished into the trees that surrounded the yard.

“Wouldn't they go after the farms, even if they don't hurt people?”

Kevin shrugged. “There hasn't been a single domestic animal lost to wolves in this township in well over a hundred years. A couple to feral dogs, pets that went wild, but that's different. Even outside Haven area, most so-called wolf kills are feral dogs. Leave 'em alone and everybody can live in peace. They keep the other wildlife under control. C'mon, we've been out a while, Deanna will have my hide if you get sick. Not that much can stand up to her herbal remedies and Gisela's gifts. Besides, that stew I left in the oven should be just about done.”

Jess left the tracks, and went in the house with Kevin. Cynthia greeted them absently, intent on patching a pair of blue jeans, and told them Bane's brother Bryan had called and invited him to go out with him and a couple of other friends, he wouldn't be back until late.

Firmly, Jess banished the utterly silly thoughts that crept into his head, and went to hang his jacket in the hall closet.

* * *

“You're going to leave soon, aren't you,” Gisela said.

Jesse walked beside her in silence for a moment. The road to her house was very quiet in the darkness of winter's early sunset. “Yes. Probably the next day or two. I've been here over a week, I need to get back to someone.”

“I thought so. You'll come back, right?”

“Yes. Why wouldn't I?”

“I don't know. But I don't know why you leave, either, and you do that.”

“It's... not easy to explain. It's just... everything here's so different from everything I know, it's like heaven, but it scares me.”

“What does?”

“You. Kevin. Everyone. I've never seen anyone trust four other people as totally as they trust each other. I've never been able to trust anybody, nobody's ever cared.”

“Why do I scare you?”

“Because I trust you so much.”

She smiled. “Lots of people trust me. Healers don't hurt people, ever.”

“And because you trust me. Nobody's ever trusted me before, either.”

She thought about that. “That's hard for me to understand. But it makes sense, I guess.”

They were almost at her house, they could see it ahead.

“Jesse... sometimes when I heal someone, like I did you, it leaves a little of you in me and a little of me in you.” She smiled. “I like it, it feels all warm and wild and dark. That might be why you trust me. If you listen for it, you might be able to hear that little piece of me. Maybe it'll help you stop being scared of trust.” She laid a hand on the railing up the stairs, stepped onto the first, then turned to give him a quick, shy kiss. “Take care of yourself, Jess.” She spun around, darted up the steps and into the house.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, December 1993
Evaline 'Winter

You get me, this month; Nick came down with a nasty flu a few days ago, and he's in no condition to sit at the computer. Since Sonja is working and Liam is with Nick trying to help him get over this, and since this space has to be filled by tonight... (sigh) I guess it falls to me.

I don't have any gossip for you; Nick will have to catch you up next month. I do, however, have something I'd really like to bring up: a few days ago, I heard someone refer to a wolf killing a demon, to protect her witch.

There is a trick I would devoutly love to see, since 1) wolf abilities only work on predators, and 2) who on earth called a demon to kill this poor witch?

Kids, there are three, count 'em, 3, types of esoteric (Greek esoteros, inner; secret, mysterious, “unnatural”) beings out there, that is, three distinct categories into which fall those creatures not alive like the rest of us yet alive nonetheless. Granted, faeries and demons are scarce these days, but can we try to keep things clear anyway? Please? Just to humour one obsessive wolf?

Just so no one can say they don't know the difference, how about a mini-lesson to remind you of any details you may have forgotten?

Predator: (Latin praedator, a robber) These are the ones we usually see, looking for unprotected highly-gifted snacks. They come in a wide range of forms (I've seen all too many personally, like most wolves), usually ugly. They have no physical reality; they exist on the astral plane, though they can interact with ours in limited ways. These are the ones wolves kill, because wolves have neat abilities that let us do that, even when magical and physical attacks by the rest of you are a waste of time. This is why you put up with our various quirks and eccentricities, or so my coven tells me: so we'll kill predators for you. (Ah, yes, now we all remember!)

Demon: (Greek daimon, a spirit) Demons live on a plane of their own, a long way from this one. When called, and only when called, they can take physical form on this plane. Theoretically, that physical form could be killed, but I've never heard of anyone who knows how, or whether it would be permanent. Demon forms are reported to be incredibly strong, fast, well-armed, and either ugly or beautiful. That's not counting the shapeshifting, hypnotic, and other powers some are said to possess, which even wolves aren't immune to. If you figure out how to kill one, I'd love to hear it. Seriously. These things are bad news: they like to cause suffering and they like to play mind-games. This is why one of the very few absolute rules of our whole community is to not mess with demon-summoning, at all, ever, no excuses.

Faerie: (long history, from Latin fari, to speak, and/or Latin fata, the Fates, to most recently Old French faerie, enchantment) These are those beautiful (sometimes), capricious (always) immortal beings that our oldest legends tell us had a part in teaching us about magic and the cycles of life and death. No one has seen them reliably in a century or so, so most likely they've gone back to wherever they came from (theories include Underhill, Alpha Centauri and the sixth dimension; does it really matter?). I suppose seeing the mess that's being made of Earth might depress an immortal into heading for home.

Anyway, that makes three clearly-defined types of esoteric races. Please, no more tall tales about wolves killing demons, or elvenmages being adopted and trained by predators, or witches being drained psychically dry by faeries, or anything silly like that!



“Hello, Kevin.”

“Hello, Rebecca. I'd ask what I can do for you, but I probably don't want to know.”

The redheaded werewolf settled herself across from him at the table. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Why? Surely you have something better to do with your time.”

She shrugged. “Duayne's meeting me here for supper, and you look like you're waiting. Maybe we can talk until then?”

He sighed. “I'll have a drink with you, but I'll get my own, thanks.”

Copper-maned Sonja of Coven Winter came over, expression uneasy while she took orders—a refill on Kevin's ginger ale and a Bloody Mary for Rebecca.

“Relax, Sonja. We won't wreck anything,” Kevin assured her. “Tomas bawling me out once for it was enough for me. If we're going to fight we'll go outside.”

“Don't fight at all,” Sonja retorted. Her irregularly-cycling psychic gifts had her telepathy reasonably high at the moment—she flashed him a wordless image of her and her witch coven-mate Nick stepping in to back him up no matter what, followed by their healer coven-mate Liam scolding them all while repairing the damage, and her and Nick looking for new jobs.

“I didn't mean it literally. I have no intentions of starting a fight.” What Rebecca might intend was another matter, but it was highly unlikely she'd use anything but words.

Which were far, far worse. Why could he never seem to just walk away from her, even knowing that? Masochism?

Sonja regarded him measuringly for a heartbeat or two, then spun away to get back to work. Kevin decided to take that as meaning she believed him: not a given with everyone in Haven, but a reasonably safe bet in this case.

He had no doubt, though, that she and Nick would be keeping surreptitious watch in this direction. Nor that Tomas, who owned the Brewery and had been Kevin's teacher in magic, would be watching as well, though the reason would probably differ. Nor that others in sight would keep a wary eye out for any hint of anger. Haven remembered what he'd just as soon forget.

Rebecca leaned back in her chair, apparently completely relaxed. “So. How's your foundling doing?”

“In another couple of months he may be able to come to Haven unshielded without pain. He doesn't remember any of it, luckily. Which means we can take our time explaining about Haven without throwing him into shock. Are you happy that Gisela and I barely managed to save his life? And that he may have permanent damage that will never heal?” Although I did the worst of the damage, really. Once again, she got me to hurt someone who didn't deserve it.

She shrugged. “He's nothing special. His whole lifestyle appears to be built around breaking laws and avoiding being caught for it. I was curious about him when I found out he was still alive, and asked Duayne to see what else he could find out for me. Would you like to know?”

“No. Anything Jesse wants us to know he'll tell us himself.”

“What if he's a threat to your coven?”

“In what way? He wouldn't deliberately...” He caught himself mid-sentence.

“Wouldn't he?”

“No. He wouldn't. I won't say he doesn't have the potential to turn into a control freak, if and when he knows what he can do, but he'll have Bane and Eva to teach him. With any luck, he won't end up insecure and messed up like some wolves I know.”

The low rumble that came from deep in her throat didn't sound like threat, more like annoyance; despite it, she smiled, showing pointed canines that were barely longer than their neighbours. “You're so cute when you say rude things to try to keep me at arm's length. Like a puppy growling and showing his milk teeth.” She took a delicate sip of her drink as Sonja set it on the table; her eyes, two-tone like most wolves, velvet blue with a tawny starburst around the pupil, never left his.

“Maybe I say rude things because they're what you deserve.”

“You didn't used to think that.”

“No, and at that point, I was also pleased with myself for beating Flynn up. He's forgiven me for that but I haven't and possibly never will. So, y'know, it's a whole way of looking at the world that I think I'm better off without.”

“What a waste. A phoenix in a wicker cage playing at being a canary, and careful every instant to keep the cage intact. All for the sake of jealous pigeons and sparrows.”

“It's better than being the hawk that preys on them.” He'd heard her use variants of the analogy many times, and it was never comfortable; it struck too close to his own feelings at moments. “Isn't it lonely, Becky? With no one to trust or love or share with? No one as an equal, only rivals and subordinates?”

“I had an equal once. You left.”

“You didn't want a partner. You didn't want me. You wanted the strongest mage in Haven who was still young enough to be manipulated. Not Kevin.”

“You're so sure of that.”

He looked away, disturbed by the intensity of her gaze. No, where she was concerned, he was never entirely certain of anything and never could be again. All he could do was pretend he had steady ground to stand on, though. “I'm sure of your mind-games. Rebecca, it's over. It has been over for something like two years, which is a lot longer than it even lasted. What I'd like is for you to live your life and stay out of mine, and leave Jesse alone. That's all I ask. I really think you should leave before Deanna comes.”

Rebecca shoved back her chair abruptly and got to her feet, the growl much deeper now and her eyes narrowing, hands curling into claws.

“Have it your way. Have fun with your new pet. If you end up being sorry you ever let him in your house, it'll be your own fault.” She took a swallow of her drink, left it there half-empty, and departed.

He heard Deanna's cheerful greetings to Nick and a handful of other friends before Sonja could take the glass; her smile vanished instantly, muscles tightening visibly across her shoulders. “Rebecca's been here.”

“Been and gone,” Kevin said wearily. “And I think I've lost my appetite.”

“Come on, then. We can have supper some other night. Let's go home.” Her hand on his shoulder spoke worlds of sympathy and understanding, to him. “Don't pay any attention to whatever lies she was weaving this time. Rebecca always lies.”

* * *

“You and Deanna came in awfully early last night,” Bane commented, matching strides with Kevin easily as they walked down the country road. “Weren't you going out for supper?”

“Rebecca found me, first, while I was waiting.”

Bane winced sympathetically. “That would ruin my appetite, too. That explains why you've been so down all day when I've seen you around classes. Let it go, Kev.”

“It isn't that easy,” Kevin said shortly. “Even knowing her as well as I do, some of what she said I can't get out of my head.”

“Tell me?”

“Just... nothing.”

“About Jesse?”

“I'd rather not. You're already not sure you want him here.”

“You think I'd chase him off because of something Rebecca said? Please, phoenix. Give me some credit.”

Kevin was quiet for a time. “She said Jess is a threat, that he's broken a lot of laws, and we'll regret letting him in the house.”

“We agreed already, what Jess does outside of Haven is his own, only what he does here matters. As unsure of him as I am, I can see the sense in that.” He laughed. “Until the day he decides he wants my place as alpha wolf, anyway.”

“I thought you didn't believe he'd ever be able to shapechange.”

“I don't, but with Flynn and Gisela both so insistent, I pretty much have to concede the possibility that I might be wrong. And, honestly, for his sake I'm beginning to hope that I am. I'll give him that, that his behaviour on his second visit was a vast improvement over the way he acted when he first came. He might be worth the effort after all.”

Peace for a time, simply enjoying the company and the winter road.

Somewhere, a wolf howled, and was immediately answered by other voices, at first from the same direction, then from farther away. Bane took a deep breath, and added his voice to the mix. Kevin listened, faintly amused, but appreciating the wild beauty of the song. At least once or twice a week this happened, and no wolf who could possibly join in ever stayed silent; given that there were over a hundred werewolves in Haven, it could become quite a chorus. The density did cause stresses that some wolves coped with better than others, but those who could said there were good parts to it. Like this.

Bane had told him once it was to mark their territory and warn the predators to stay away; Kevin suspected that while that might be true, they actually did it mostly for fun.

A strand at a time, it faded away, down to a couple of voices, then one, then silence.

“Aren't you supposed to do that at full moons?” Kevin teased.

“Aren't you supposed to wear green and live under a hill?” Bane retorted.

“Good hills are getting scarce these days, and I'm an elf, not Robin Hood.”

Still teasing each other, they resumed their interrupted walk homeward, and Kevin stopped thinking about Rebecca. Mostly.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, January 1994
Nick 'Winter

Sorry about neglecting my duties last month, but anyone who knows me probably expected it. Once a year, every year, despite all Liam's best efforts I get sick... but I do it well!

Kisa 'Natesa is pregnant and due with our newest wolf in June. As far as I know no one in Coven Natesa could be the father, but if you open that up to Covens Prism and Blackrose and their associated solitaries as well, that offers by my count four possible fathers—biologically, since the whole bunch, regardless of sex, are acting like it's theirs. Whichever it is, congratulations!

Trista 'Merrymoon is popular! We got so many positive comments that we begged, blackmailed, and bribed her into doing a whole series for us on smith-magic and related subjects. Tentatively, that should give us articles for anywhere from the next three to six months, depending on continued interest.

Re: my challenge about Alessandria Kore-Tremayne and a seventh child: no dice, kids. An early-twentieth-century book retelling the legend doesn't cut it. I said proof. As in real, irrefutable (well, not easily refutable, at least), solid facts. Stop bugging me with stuff that isn't even convincing Liam—and he half believes the story anyway!

There are a few things planned publicly for Brigid, but so far it looks like most people are planning on more private or small-scale celebrations.

Solomon's Seal has in the new batch of never-before-seen (or, in a couple of cases, at least not-in-Canada-seen) books, thanks to our very own publishers in my hometown Ravenrock BC. There's a comparison and analysis and evaluation of various astrological systems, which includes a rather interesting breakdown by race and gift. One's on alchemy as a modern spiritual roadmap, with emphasis on the elements as witches experience them. There's a collection of short stories, including one by Flynn 'Sundark, and one that I think I'm going to have to buy for my favourite kitchen witch Deanna if her coven doesn't beat me to it, on suggestions for improvisation and substitution of tools, materials, and just about anything else.

The Winter Fair is coming up, the 29th and 30th, at the Community Hall. There's still time to get in on it, if you haven't yet! We're talking everything: quilts, dolls, food, hand-made clothes, stuff that's knitted and crocheted and hand-woven, carvings, jewellery, you name it and I bet you'll find it there. Liam can do the most wonderful things with a simple hand-loom, he'll be there, and Flynn 'Sundark and Glynis 'Artemisia will both be doing card readings, and Lori 'Dandelion will be there with her crystal jewellery.

Historical notes: the Fair has been going on for forty-nine years, the last weekend of January every year (the Summer Fair is as old as Haven). Twenty-eight years ago was the last confirmed report of demon-summoning and blood-magic in Haven. I don't mean the kind where you maybe use a few drops to bind a spell, I'm talking serious bodily harm or death to feed demons. All of Haven turned on the seer-mage-wolf team convicted of it; the mage and seer were stripped of their gifts and had other controls put in place, and justice was served on the wolf by the other wolves—I'll spare you the gory details. To get away from the morbid subject, Victoria Phoebe Dominique, Morgan's wife and the healer of Coven Starluck, was born in 1761 on the 14th. Nathaniel Lioren, noted artist and Adept, was born in 1913 on the 5th.

That's all for this month! Enjoy Brigid, and for those who don't like winter, don't despair... we're past the longest night, days will get longer now.



Jess kept pace with Shaine, catching him up on street gossip he'd collected that morning. Shaine only half-listened, more intent on not slipping in the icy mass of slush that covered the sidewalk and was now beginning to freeze as the temperature dropped. The sky, flat grey all day, was now merely a darker and more yellowish shade, lit from streetlights below rather than sun above; Shaine sent a silent entreaty to the clouds to just snow or go away, and not spend yet another day hovering low over the city, but they paid no attention at all.

Not that they really had any reason to do anything but ignore him, now.

For another month, the rent had been paid, and he could make sure Jess had a safe and tolerably warm place to sleep. Now they needed food to fill the empty shelves in his tiny kitchen, and though the grocery store they were headed for was a bit of a hike, it was the cheapest one in walking distance.

It helped, that instead of spending whatever money he could make on drugs, Jess was now helping with the rent and groceries and other necessities. Jess' wide dark eyes and charming smile were a definite advantage when he was out panhandling, and Shaine encouraged him to stick with that and opportunistic shoplifting. Sex for money meant nothing to Shaine, but he knew Jess too well to believe his young friend could do the same, and Jess' soul was already in enough shreds. And Shaine's other, safer ways of making some extra cash weren't something Jesse could do—even if Shaine had any intention of explaining, which he didn't.

Jess' rambling ended when they reached the grocery store, and the discussion turned to what to get. Neither had the skill or inclination to cook anything complicated, so for the most part their shopping trips consisted of food in cans and boxes, and food that went in the freezer. The strong tastes of instant food had, at first, made Shaine nauseous; he'd grown accustomed to that, as he had to the noise of the city that had assaulted his sensitive ears, and to countless other new experiences.

None of it mattered as much as protecting Jess as best he could. He'd adapted, and so well Jess had never noticed. Not that Jess had been in any condition to notice anything beyond his own misery, for most of the time Shaine had known him.

Paying always took a few minutes, since Jess' income tended to be in the form of coins; the woman at the cash didn't mind. They rarely did, unless it was extremely busy.

Between them, they could carry everything without much trouble.

They cut through a park, traded greetings with a couple of acquaintances, paused to compare notes on life for the last few days with someone they knew somewhat better—where they'd had luck in shoplifting or panhandling, who was doing what and the current activity levels of the cops, usual sorts of things.

Shortly after spotting Jess on the streets the first time, Shaine had decided that he had to stop wandering and settle down; accordingly, he'd found a single-room basement apartment, with all the utilities included, at a price he'd be able to manage alone. Unfortunately, the heat was controlled by the apartment upstairs, and the cement-tile floors and paint-over-plaster-over-cement walls tended not to hold a great deal of heat. Nonetheless, it was certainly better for Jess than sleeping outside, and cold didn't particularly bother Shaine. And the landlord had no objection to being paid in cash each month, without asking questions.

Shaine unlocked the door, flipped on the light, and both paused to remove slushy boots—Shaine was, by nature, extremely fastidious, and had simply laid down the law; that one, at least, Jess had never challenged.

A mosaic of second-hand throw rugs from yard sales and thrift stores covered most of the floor; they crossed it to the corner that held what passed for a kitchen. Jess stacked cold stuff in the freezer and fridge while Shaine put the rest away on the shelves above the sink.

“Going out tonight?” Jess asked, filling a glass with milk and heading over to sit on the bed. The room was small enough that the double bed dominated it, and left scant room for other furniture. Clothes were in the closet or a collection of stacked plastic milk crates. In one corner, under the window, stood a chair Shaine found comfortable, with a reading lamp and a stack of paperbacks on the small table next to it. On a pair of upturned milk crates sat an old fourteen-inch TV and a small stereo probably discarded because one of the two cassette decks no longer worked. The furniture had all come second-hand from one place or another, except the milk crates, which they'd filched from beside a store one night.

Shaine considered that, while he scooped a handful of cookies out of the bag and sprawled in the chair to nibble on one. “Nah, I don't think so. This weather is depressing, I'm really in no mood to deal with assholes tonight.” He probably should, there was February's rent to keep in mind, but one night wouldn't make any great difference.

“Good timing, then.” Jess leaned down, without spilling his milk, to grab his black canvas backpack and drag it over. One-handed, he untied it, and fished out a paperback, which he tossed to Shaine. “Forgot it earlier.”

Shaine caught it neatly. “Thanks.” Jess had figured out in a hurry that Shaine read voraciously, regardless of genre or subject, fiction or non-fiction; a week seldom passed that he didn't present Shaine with at least one, usually paperbacks, shoplifted from used or new bookstores. Any in good condition Shaine traded in at a used bookstore close by, and the others he donated. The library had fussed so much over Shaine's inability to prove his address or even his identity that he'd given up on getting a card.

Besides, he knew Jess liked being able to give him something, and he wasn't about to discourage anything that made Jess feel good, not when there was so little risk involved.

He'd had long enough to learn to recognize the way Jess dropped his gaze just a bit and shrugged.

Jess stretched out on the bed on his stomach, reached out to turn on the TV, and flipped through the three channels they could actually get relatively clearly. He settled on something, a sitcom from the sounds of it, and dragged a pillow into reach to cross his arms on, his empty glass on the floor next to him. Hardly mind-broadening... but, well, neither was some of what Shaine read, and if it gave Jess a chance to relax and escape reality for a while, so be it. Shaine switched on the lamp, turned off the overhead light, and got comfortable with the book he was two-thirds finished. Distracting as the noise of the TV was, there was something comforting in it, and in Jess' presence only a few feet away.

Hunger, later, sent him to the kitchen to toss chicken-and-broccoli-flavoured rice mix into a pot of boiling water; when it was ready, he split it between two plates, and gave Jess half, before returning to his book.

Sudden quiet made Shaine glance up; Jesse stretched lazily, and yawned.

“There's never anything interesting on after the late night movie. And I think I'm tired.”

“Sleep couldn't hurt,” Shaine conceded.

Not long later, they were curled up together in the bed, under the layers of blankets Shaine had hunted down here and there. Jess snuggled close, and Shaine slid an arm over him to keep him there. Sometimes, Jess complained that Shaine took more body heat than he shared, but that wasn't something Shaine could change, and these days Jess ignored it except on particularly cold nights. The company, Shaine thought, mattered more.

“Know something?” Jess murmured dreamily after a few minutes.

“Mmm?” Shaine said drowsily.

“We're gonna have somewhere nice to live someday. A whole house, and maybe we can make the basement into a couple of good apartments for people like we used to be. And we'll have a stereo with big speakers, we can play music all we want, as loud as we want, 'cause the cops never mess with real people, just with people they don't think are people. And a decent TV, with cable. And we can walk into a store and buy all the cool clothes we want, and we'll buy a really awesome car, a classic Mustang. Should we paint it black or red? Maybe a convertible. Anyway, then we can drive to a restaurant, a really good one, and we can order everything we want. A big steak and lots of fries. Chocolate sundaes with whipped cream and cherries. And after we're done, we can go home to our own house...” The words trailed off.

Shaine stroked Jesse's hair affectionately with one hand, forbore to ask where they were to get the money for house, stereo, TV, clothes, car, and dinner. He'd heard variations on the theme dozens of times.

“Yeah, Jess,” he said softly. “Someday.”

Someday maybe I'll figure out a way to get you there.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, February 1994
Nick 'Winter

The first-of-the-month Sabbats are really awful to write about, since while I'm writing this it's before Brigid, but by the time you read it Brigid will have been and gone. Therefore, I'll just say I hope we all have heaps of fun, and leave it there.

Welcome home and congratulations, Coven Kharis! And, Anton tells me, he's finally completed what sounds like an exhausting series of hoops to go through to get everything sorted out properly, medically and legally. In every possible sense, 'Nina' is entirely history. You've all been missed, through all that time away, and it's wonderful to have you not only home to stay but happy. Finding who you are and being that is hard enough without the extra complications! Congratulations from Coven Winter and lots of other people!

Donovan 'Sky-Drum will be opening a new shop on the 25th, selling hand-made clothes and similar by him and a few others in Haven. Partly conventional, partly magesilk. I didn't even know that it was possible to incorporate things like buttons and zippers into magesilk, although a wolf changing while wearing it will destroy that, and I never thought of sewing magesilk to create more complex effects. I can't wait to see what creative minds have invented for us! It's in the old lapidary shop near Venus Alive. Watch for Arachne's Loom.

My recommendation for the rest of the paper: on page three, there's a very interesting and rather funny article on the cultural mess in mixed villages: the blending of given names and surnames (surnames? who uses those, anyway? coven names are usually more useful!) from opposite sides of the globe, and some of the things we've adopted from those varying cultures, past and present.

Exotica is at it again—do they never stop? When do they find time to do anything else? They're already well on the way to creating a new work of art. My Exotica source Cari 'Dragonfire won't leak any secrets, but she says this one plays more with Egyptian mythology rather than the Celtic and Classical they usually do.

The Brewery, White Stag, Solomon's Seal, Venus Alive, the library, and The Everything Else Shop are all going to be involved in a major art display. Paintings, sculpture, and related sorts of things will be at the places I just named for a week, starting on the 20th. Some will be for sale, some won't, each piece will say. These are all Haven artists, so be supportive!

Deanna 'Sundark tells me she's helping out as part of a group of roughly half a dozen who want to try to put together a computer database of useful subjects, and they're looking for all the input possible. They're starting off with gems, crystals, and stones, and the various powers of each. Since they want this to be as complete as possible, they'll include all the information anyone can give them. Preferably written, and send it to Sundark, or to Covens Moonstone, Merrymoon, Dragonfire, Tabbycat, or Harpsong, or to Grant Londry.

Lindsay has some new toys in at Venus Alive, among them new scents in massage oils, and leather in various forms.

On to historical notes. February's been a pretty slow month in Haven history. Ananda Fedorov completed quite a useful book on worldwide magical correspondences in 1986, I can't think of anyone into ritual magic who doesn't have a copy. I've been told people are tired of hearing about Coven Starluck, so I can't tell you their mage Brydie Isadore died at the age of 87 of pneumonia.

Maybe March will have more interesting history.



Jesse wondered how he'd gotten from hitchhiking to Haven, to being in the back of Sundark's van.

Okay, granted, he'd arrived moments before Bane and Cynthia and Deanna left to pick up Flynn and Gisela; Kevin, it seemed, was already at Coven Winter's house. Okay, granted, he'd somehow managed to time his visit for Dandelion's anniversary as a coven, and found himself invited to join them.

It was still sudden enough to make his head spin.

Flynn first, who hopped into the back and greeted Jesse with a smile; then Gisela's house. Gisela saw him, and immediately pounced for a hug that might have startled her as much as it did him, because she blushed and retreated quickly to hide in Deanna's shadow.

“Good timing,” Flynn commented. “Tonight's going to be fun.”

“Mm. I don't think I've met anybody from Winter or Dandelion for more than a couple of minutes.”

“Don't worry about it,” Cynthia assured him. “No one's expecting you to remember names of people you've only met briefly.”

Coven Winter's house was medium-sized and well-kept, the nearest neighbours some distance on either side. Bane parked the van, and everyone headed for a door at the side. Cynthia tapped briefly, opened it, and shooed everyone into a warm, bright, and reasonably large kitchen. Haven seemed to be fond of big kitchens.

Lori, Kevin's cousin, who looked so much like him, turned away from the sink, wiping her hands dry on a dish towel, and smiled warmly. “Jesse! Hi!” In the background, he could hear a lot of voices, and music—Meatloaf, he thought.

“Jess?” Kevin, doing something at the stove, glanced back. “Get in here, you. It's cold out there. If you wanted to visit, why didn't you call? Someone could've come to get you.”

Jesse shrugged. “It's not that bad. Are you sure I'm not interrupting?” There was a truly astonishing amount of food on the go in that kitchen.

“The best possible time for you to come,” Lori laughed. “We would have invited you, if we'd been able to, but you haven't called since we decided to do this. Consider yourself invited.”

“There's no room in this kitchen for extra bodies,” Kevin said. “Take your boots off and go get comfy in the living room until supper's ready.”

Jesse saluted, but obeyed, left his snowy boots with the numerous others and added his jacket to the pile on the chest freezer behind the door.

“Find a spot, if you can,” Flynn said, claiming one end of the couch, which already had two people on it: a woman with shoulder-length copper-coloured hair, a little taller than Gisela but no heavier, and Samantha from the pet store. Bane crossed the room towards the one chair; the man sprawled in it, a leg draped over the arm, resembled him quite a lot. Aha, that was Bane's older brother Bryan. Bryan started to move, but Bane shook his head and sat on the floor leaning against the chair.

Leaning against the couch, on a pillow on the floor, was a curvy dark-haired woman whose hazel eyes focused on nothing, but who cocked her head a little to listen. A grey husky hovered near her, like always. Jesse had never heard of a seeing eye dog that wore nothing save a collar, but Gwyn did help Naomi get around somehow, so he filed it as one more small mystery. Everyone else, he counted seven more including the other newcomers, found space on the floor, a few with cushions to sit on, most not.

The oval coffee table bore a heavy load of bottles of pop, pitchers of juice and one of water with ice in it, and a collection of mismatched glasses and mugs; some of those present had obviously already helped themselves.

Against one wall were two women. One had hair so pale it was practically blue-white, cut to shoulder-length, an interesting contrast to her tanned skin; she was petite, but nicely curved under the simple blue and silver short-sleeved dress she was wearing. He thought he remembered meeting her briefly at some point, and that her name was Evaline. She nudged the woman beside her with one bare foot, and both moved aside to make room between them.

“There's not much room,” the second woman said cheerfully. “But we can make some. Come have a seat, gorgeous. You have awesome timing, this is going to be a great party. But then, we always have great parties when we're all together.” The dark red silky stuff she was wearing, a cropped tank top with a ribbon tie gathering the bottom and calf-length pants so loose they resembled a skirt, showed off her athletic body nicely; Jesse thought he wouldn't want to mess with her. Thick chestnut hair had been cut to jaw-length, around a tanned face that was too strong to be called pretty. Still, they both seemed friendly, so he shrugged and accepted the offered place. Anywhere he sat, he was going to be right next to someone, so why not?

“Calm down, Caitryn,” Bane said, amused. “You can be a bit alarming when you get excited.”

“Oh, I'm not scaring Jesse. Am I?” she asked Jesse.

He shrugged. “Not particularly.”


Bane simply looked at her, expressionless; it took only a couple of heartbeats for Caitryn to look down and to one side, and Bane looked away. Jesse had the feeling he'd just missed something he wouldn't get an explanation for even if he asked.

“So, how's life been treating you?” Deanna asked.

“It's life,” Jesse said, with another shrug. “It's winter. Everyone in the city is broke and stressed out 'cause they spent too much over Christmas, and now they're depressed 'cause it's cold and grey and slushy with short days. Doesn't make for the greatest atmosphere.”

“Sounds it,” Samantha said. “Also sounds like a good reason to be here, not there.”

“How 'bout up here?”

“Fairly pleasant, now that we've finished exams,” Cynthia said. “It was kind of tense around here not too long ago. College exams, high school exams...”

“To say nothing of my needing to keep the library open extra hours,” Bryan said dryly. “I thought Coven Winter were going to collectively collapse from sheer nerves, all four of them trying to work and get through third and fourth year college exams.”

“We survived,” laughed the copper-haired woman Jesse thought was Sonja.

“And then there was Kevin freaking out over his first college exams,” Bryan finished.

“We just couldn't convince him that they aren't that much worse than high school ones, and that he should treat them the same way,” Bane sighed. “It was not a pretty sight. I think Lori kept half the people in this room fed for a good couple of weeks. I've never seen so much stew and curry and such, stuff she could make in big batches.”

“Thank all the gods for the Lioren family's love of cooking,” Cynthia said.

“And everyone's willingness to chip in on the groceries required,” Naomi added, her hand never still, always stroking Gwyn's fur or playing idly with his ears. Gwyn, Jesse thought, looked completely blissed out. “Not that Bryan and Lori and I wouldn't do it cheerfully under conditions like that, but the three of us just don't make enough to feed a dozen or so people.”

“It's your anniversary?” Jesse asked Bryan.

Bryan nodded. “Lori and Naomi and I have been a coven for four years today.”

“While parties are fun,” Deanna reflected, “we'd be doing nothing else if we were to celebrate holidays, and coven anniversaries, and birthdays. So we have a party for each coven's anniversary, and birthday parties for our solitaries. That would be Gisela and Cait and, when Bryan can talk her into it, Sam. Plus holidays. We don't do presents often, either, otherwise the rent would never get paid and Kev and Lori would starve to death. So we all have a feast and rent a couple of movies and just hang out for the night.”

Jesse thought of birthdays and Christmas mornings when he'd gotten all the presents his well-off adoptive parents could afford, but which he'd nonetheless spent wishing he didn't have to be there. “I like your way.”

“So do we,” Sonja laughed.

For a little while, Jesse stayed quiet, simply listening in on one or another of the ever-shifting multiple conversations in the room. It wasn't really so hard to allow himself to be drawn into a debate between Deanna and her cousin about a current movie. Liam had much the same smile Deanna did, and similar colouring, though he lacked her height and was much slenderer. Long dark brown hair was, as usual, held out of his eyes by a colourful woven headband. Caitryn got involved, too, and all four lost track of time in the animated discussion.

“Somebody want to set the dining room table?” Kevin called.

“Hear and obey, milord,” Evaline answered. Caitryn rose a heartbeat later. “We've got it,” Evaline said. “Any more than two and we'll be tripping over each other.”

“There are too many to sit at the table,” Jesse said, puzzled.

“Very true,” Samantha said. “Which would be why we're all going to get a plateful of food and come back here, once everything's on the table.”

“Ah. Got it.”

“Come and get it!” Lori called.

“And the stampede begins,” Flynn chuckled. “Don't worry 'bout hurrying, Jess. We'll all be able to stuff ourselves senseless and still have leftovers. Kev and Lori tend to get a bit over-excited in the kitchen when they're together.”

“Stay, Gwyn,” Naomi said, getting to her feet and tucking her hand around Bryan's arm. “Mm, I smell that honeyed chicken Kevin makes.”

The dining room table was heaped with more food than Jesse had ever seen in one place before. Chicken, ham, steak, rice dishes, noodle dishes, vegetable dishes, potatoes. At one end of the table was a stack of mismatched plates, and beside it, a pile each of forks and knives. Everyone simply picked one up and started choosing foods, with some degree of good-natured squabbling when someone grabbed a spoon someone else had been reaching for, or got in someone's way.

Classically tall, dark, and handsome Nick from Coven Winter slid an arm around Naomi's waist and leaned past her to scoop up a couple of still-warm rolls from the basket, then retreated to put one on each plate that Evaline held. The pair retreated, like others, to the living room. There was an awful lot of casual physical contact, with total disregard for relative sexes or covens or anything else Jesse could see. That was something he was beginning to get used to, but currently it was highlighted in neon by the number of bodies in close proximity. Somehow he couldn't quite work out, they managed to keep uninvited contact with him to a minimum without giving him the feeling that they were avoiding him.

Jesse had trouble deciding what he wanted, since everything on the table looked and smelled good. He took a little bit of each, and found his plate full before he'd gotten to everything.

“Come back for seconds,” Caitryn advised, and waited for him before going back to the living room.

That Kevin was an excellent cook, Jesse already knew. Kevin and Lori together were phenomenal.

The whole evening was a lot of fun. Jesse volunteered to help clean up; they didn't take all that long, with Bane and Bryan clearing the table and packing up leftovers, Nick washing the mountain of dishes, Jesse and Deanna drying, and Gisela putting everything away. It didn't feel like so much work, with the radio on and all the laughter and gentle teasing in the kitchen.

Only once they could all relax did Flynn turn on the TV. The first movie sent the entire room into fits of hysterical laughter; Jess couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so hard, or with company he could simply share the moment with. The second was a well-done science-fiction action adventure. There was a third one, a truly bad '60s B-movie, but by then everyone was so worked up and tired both that it was more funny than terrible—or was it the commentary from the people around him that was funny?

“Oh, man,” Lori yawned. “I think it's about time we all headed home to bed.”

“Wish parties never had to end,” Gisela said wistfully, but she looked like she was having trouble staying awake, her head resting on Deanna's shoulder.

“They end so we can get all rested up for the next one,” Liam said. “So. How are you all getting home?”

Jesse saw a number of glances flicker in his direction, then away again; only Kevin's stayed, thoughtfully.

“Why do I get the feeling I'm stopping you from something?” Jesse asked, through a yawn.

“Just do it,” Sam said, and Flynn added, “I was going to say that.”

Gisela nodded, and yawned something that sounded like agreement.

Kevin and Lori looked at each other, and Kevin shrugged. “Oh, why not. I don't think anyone's awake enough to drive. Just don't freak when you see how, okay, Jess?”

“Okay,” Jesse agreed. “Can't be any weirder than some of what I've seen.”

“Mine's straightforward enough,” Lori said. “One gate to my focus in Sam and Bryan's living room, one to our apartment, and Cait can come with Naomi and I, she doesn't live far away. Yours could get tangled.”

“Nah,” Kevin said. “I'm still wide awake, and there's lots of moonlight. I can do three. Hmm. Would be easier to do the other two from home, though. One to our place, then one to Flynn's house and one to Gisela's house and Dia can make up her mind by then where she's sleeping.”

“Show-off,” Deanna said affectionately. “Brace yourself, Jess.”

Sleepy good-nights were said, and hugs traded—Caitryn gave Jess a bear-hug that left him slightly breathless and grateful she'd left his ribs and spine intact, but it felt good.

The silver moonlight pouring in through the windows began to visibly gather itself in front of Kevin. With both hands he gestured, outlining a rough doorway. The light strengthened, and formed into an archway covered by a filmy curtain of rainbow light; through it, he could see Sundark's familiar living room. Jesse couldn't help staring. Cynthia just laughed, took his hand, and stepped through the glowing door, drawing him after her. A couple of steps later, they were home, and the others were following. Kevin came last, and the bright doorway imploded in a shower of silvery sparkles.

“Nice trick,” Jesse said. “I'm impressed. Can you do that anywhere?”

“No,” Bane answered, while Kevin repeated the whole process twice more—once to send Flynn somewhere, once for Deanna and Gisela. “He needs a very clear link to the other end, which can be done in a few ways. There aren't many who can do it at all, but the ability tends to run in that family.”

“Right. I'm getting the feeling a lot runs in that family that I don't necessarily want to know about. I'll ask some other time. Can I go to sleep now?”

Kevin chuckled. “Go ahead. You can have my bed, I'll steal Dia's or crash with someone.”

“Sure,” Cynthia yawned. “If you're quiet.”

Sleep, Jesse thought dreamily, getting comfortable in Kevin's bed between silky sheets. What a wonderful invention sleep was...



Rebecca trotted on four feet along the snowy road, enjoying the clean scent of the wind, the winter's peace. This was how a wolf was meant to live all the time, not fenced in on all sides by buildings and roads, people who took for granted you'd risk your own life to protect them, too many other wolves all compressed into one too-small territory like animals in a zoo...

A tantalizing scent caught her attention, and she paused to investigate. Hare, and the trail was fresh. She considered going after it, a fresh kill would be the crowning pleasure, but decided against a hunt just now. There'd always be another, and she did want to see the art displayed in the village. Despite, or perhaps because of, their weakness, humans and elves and dryads could be fascinatingly creative. And it went without saying that of course any wolf who chose to make the effort could turn wild spirit into physical form, although the others would never truly comprehend what they saw.

Like her own coven... She turned her thoughts from them in disgust. Why ruin a pleasant day?

Maybe this art show would take her mind off it.

Haven was fairly quiet for a Sunday. Today was the first day of the show, and the only day she'd have free until the next weekend; nine-to-five jobs were such a nuisance, but someone had to do them, and better her at the bank than many she could think of. At least it was better than the college, which she'd abandoned as pointless frustration around the time Deanna and Bane had stolen Kevin from her.

The library was the first she reached of the places housing the art show. Just outside the door, she changed back to human, twitched her bright magesilk skirt into place, and went inside.

The hall just within was lined with paintings, some of them fairly pleasing to the eye; one in particular she liked was of a moon rising full behind winter-bare trees. She wandered along the hall, contentedly evaluating each painting, and deciding that mostly they were tolerable but not outstanding.

Not until she reached the end of the hall did she recognize the two other voices that were speaking counterpoint with Bryan's: Kevin and Gisela. Bryan was shelving books, while Kevin straddled a chair backwards and Gisela perched on a second. Library must be empty, otherwise they wouldn't be talking full-volume. Discussing the art show, in fact, and a few ink drawings Sonja was offering for sale that were at White Stag.

Rebecca hesitated a moment; she hadn't planned on confronting anyone today, even Kevin. Yet if she left, she'd never get to see what was inside.

Head high, she stepped into the library.

All three glanced towards her. Bryan greeted her with a neutral nod, Gisela with a wary expression, and Kevin with, “Heya, Becky, checking out the art?”

“Yes. I assume it doesn't stop in the hall.”

Bryan indicated the far end of the room, down where there were chairs and a couch for those who felt like staying here to read. “There's another half-dozen or so there.”

She inclined her head in acknowledgement, and wove her way between the shelves. Behind her, she head Gisela whisper, “How can you be so friendly to her?” but no reply followed.

Almost-silent footsteps, Kevin's familiar scent.

“That one's neat,” he commented. “All the faeries hiding in the forest, and you can't see them unless you really look. Maybe one time the forest really was alive like that.”

“Maybe,” she agreed.

“Jesse's back in Haven, he has been for a week or so.”

“I know.”

“But you've been leaving him alone. Thank you.”

That was too unexpected; she had no reply ready. “Why should I care about him?” she asked disdainfully.

“I don't know. Do you care if he's ever whole and healed?”

“No wolf is whole in this time,” she hissed. “I hope he never heals, I hope he can never shapechange. Then he'll never have to know half-freedom.”

“Freedom's in your mind. Putting chains on other people because you feel like there are chains on you is crazy.”

“I don't recall asking what you think.”

“True, you didn't.” He sighed. “I just wanted to thank you for staying away from Jess. Enjoy the art.” He turned away, and went back to his friends.

It wasn't fair! Kevin was meant to be hers, to protect from all the bad things drawn to mages and to watch over and love and to love her, and he'd been stolen away from her. By Deanna first; his present coven kept him away; now that little thief and that damned healer, they had what should be hers. And he went along with it, instead of choosing to stand by her.

Anger welling up hot and strong again... she leashed it firmly, concentrated on what she was here for. The last painting was of a man on his knees, eyes closed, in the middle of a field being reaped by women with sickles; given the sun and moon overhead, the garlands that were all he wore, she judged it to be the Green God dying with the harvest. Attractive, but imagery for farmers, not hunters.

Without acknowledging the presence of anyone but herself and Bryan, she left the library, tried to decide where next while shifting back to fur. The Brewery and Venus Alive were both fairly close, and after them she could do the others.

Much later, she loped home. She shifted to human on the back porch, and went through the warm kitchen to the living room.

Karl was watching TV; he looked away to greet her, and his nostrils flared, catching some scent.

“What have you been doing with Kevin?” he growled.

“Is that any of your business?” She was growing more than a little weary of his possessive attitude of late.

“Yes! I thought we decided that August was the last revenge we'd think about!” He rose, and came to face her. He was only a little less than a head shorter than her, more solidly built; he'd taken to wearing unrelieved black which, given his sandy-blonde colouring, made him look like the walking dead. “Bad enough that you waste calling demons on telling you things about that new pet of his, but now you're off socializing with him? After he betrayed us?”

“Stay out of what you don't understand. And don't you ever question me or anything I do. Is that clear?”

He challenged her, holding her gaze for longer than she expected, but in the end he looked down and said sullenly, “Yes.”

“Remember it. Go on back to your TV and your video games. Some of us have real lives to live.”

“As long as that life doesn't include Kevin Lioren,” Karl growled, but he kept his eyes down.

“It includes whomever I wish it to include.” She swept by him towards the stairs, up to her own room where she could close the door, sprawl on the bed, and let the bittersweet memories flood over her.

She'd come here to go to the college, of course. It was a given for the highly gifted who needed to be part of a coven with a wolf to keep them safe from predators, and for elves and dryads who could only interbreed with humans for so many generations before their children became gifted humans instead, and for the wolves who were responsible for that safety. For anyone else, it was optional, but who would really want to go to school surrounded by humans who thought they were all there was and that magic was superstition, unless it were absolutely unavoidable?

Her third day of classes, walking back to her aunt Sylvia's house, she'd seriously wondered whether it could possibly be worth it. People everywhere, wolves everywhere... she'd been miserably tense for the past three days, watching every direction at once, though encounters with other wolves had been carefully neutral on all sides. High emotions everywhere, making the air thick with scents and driving voices up to levels that made her wince, anxiety and optimism, excitement and homesickness.

Perhaps the most disheartening was that as far as she could tell, everyone around her was perfectly happy to swallow everything they were told without question, willing sheep, even the wolves who tamely accepted leashes and muzzles. Probably she should never have expected that to be any different here than it was in Endor, though. After all, much of Endor had been through the college as well, and had been instilled with the same dogma. Presumably it was conducive to the harmony and mutual support of the mixed villages in a hostile world, but it strangled. Couldn't anyone else feel that?

She'd just skipped her final class, in fact, unable to bear it and hoping to walk home without being part of a crowd.

Near a corner, she'd paused, overhearing voices.

“Not a great way to start off the school year,” a very young female voice said in exasperation. “Getting everyone mad at you and making one intramural team look bad?”

“Oh, come on,” laughed a male voice, also young. “I was doing it so obviously that no one could possibly claim that Red Team won on skill. And you have to admit, my way it was a lot less boring to watch.”

“A bit trickier to play, however,” said a different male voice, dryly. “More of a challenge, but it was already too much of a challenge for half my team-mates to begin with.”

“Which is why I did it. There was no way you guys were going to win, and it was boring watching Blue keep scoring over and over and over. What's the point of being a mage if I'm not allowed to use it to keep my brain from oozing out my ears and running away in self-defence? C'mon, Dia, I heard you giggling when Alan slipped and I made the little birds around his head. He wasn't hurt. He's a wolf, paying attention to a couple of bruises would mean losing face anyway, and I distracted him.”

Curious, Rebecca resumed walking, and within a few more steps, could see them. The trio was coming from the direction of the high school, and she could see the strap of a backpack on the shoulder of each. One male, who was grinning, was an elf, tall and bright golden-blonde and white-skinned, all in colourful magesilks; he was playing with a handful of sunlight, turning it into a bird, then a flower, then a long ribbon that danced around the three of them before coming back to his hand. The other male was somewhat shorter, a duller sandy blonde and tanned, his build more solid, and also in magesilks but they were muted brown shades. Probably a wolf. The one female was very likely a dryad, curvy and dark, in an oak-green magesilk dress that fit and flattered her perfectly and a matching ribbon braided into her long auburn hair.

“All right, it was funny,” the dryad conceded. “But it wasn't at all funny for everyone in range trying to grab control of the ball back. And he wouldn't have fallen at all if you hadn't added an illusory ball too.”

“Then they shouldn't be trying to fight me directly, now should they?” the elf said. “Right, like one half-trained mage who's nowhere near as strong and a handful of telekinetics are going to be able to go against me?”

Now that was an interesting statement, delivered in a completely matter-of-fact tone—coloured now not by amusement but by creeping frustration.

“To be fair,” the wolf said, “it was better than being bored for another half hour and being thoroughly beaten. If a few people got annoyed, well, it's not going to kill them. They should be used to the idea of Kev being ridiculously strong by now and know better than to try brute force. I'm not sure asking nicely would have made him listen but it would have had a better chance of success than trying to overpower him. I mean, how stupid is that?”

Thank you,” the elf said. “ At least someone has some appreciation.”

“Excuse me,” Rebecca said, offering them her best smile. “I gather there's a restaurant around here with no sign, just in case of tourists wandering through? I can't seem to find it.”

All three paused.

“You're about four blocks from it,” the dryad said, gesturing in what Rebecca assumed was the correct direction—she hadn't paid much attention.

“We can show you where,” the elf said. “We're, um, out a bit early and we've got time. I'm Kevin. That's Deanna, that's Karl. You just started at the college?”

“Yes. I'm Rebecca. And thanks. Maybe when we get there, I can buy you a snack and you can tell me about Haven.”

“Snack, the magic word to an elvenmage,” Karl said. Nostrils flared as he took in her scent; well, she was investigating his, too, though both played the civilized game on the surface. Wolf dynamics showed in the details of body language, though: this was his territory and she was new, but she was older and had the confidence of an alpha, and he chose to drop his gaze and turn very slightly away in respect. “This way, milady, after you.”

Comfortably seated in the Brewery, each with a drink and with a shared appetizer platter to nibble on, they talked: about Haven, about Endor, about how being in French-speaking Quebec made Endor different from Haven despite the pragmatic emphasis on bilingualism, about the trio who already considered themselves a coven and were unsure whether to bother with the college.

“An elvenmage needs a wolf around,” Karl said. “Especially a really strong one, obviously. But Kev's already got me. And where Kev goes, Dia goes. That's just a given. Why look for more than that?”

“Sounds practical,” Rebecca agreed. “What about the actual educational side of it?”

“I'm probably going to take some of the horticulture and herbalism classes,” Deanna said. “I'm good at kitchen-witch stuff so probably I'll watch for a job that uses that. I've got another year after Kev and Karl are done, to make up my mind. Karl can't sit still through high school classes, I don't think college classes are likely to be any better. And Kev would have to actually take something seriously long enough to make up his mind, which is probably not going to happen in the next two years before he graduates.” The affectionate tone took all the sting out of the words, and Kevin just grinned at her.

“I can be serious,” Kevin said. “I just find it hard to take the same things seriously that everyone else does. I don't know what I want to do. I mean, it's kind of a given that I'm eventually going to be considered Adept. I'm really strong and really good. But everyone expects Adepts to be all responsible and, y'know, pillars of the community with sensible jobs. One runs this place, and the other is our local psychotherapist who also teaches humanities classes at the College, and that's around the expectation of teaching magic too. That doesn't sound particularly appealing. What's the point of being a mage if I'm not supposed to use it to have fun and show off a bit, and I have to devote my whole life to everybody else?”

“That is not what anyone is saying,” Deanna sighed.

Rebecca figured that was, in fact, exactly what they were saying, or at least what lay underneath everything that they were saying.

A couple of years wasn't so big a difference, really, not when in front of her was a kindred spirit, one who was no more comfortable fitting into the role ordained by their culture than she was, one who wanted to be free.

She could show him how, or at least as far as she'd managed to get, and maybe together, they could find the rest of the path.

The other two might be inconvenient, but which one, ultimately, was Kevin going to listen to? An earth-bound dryad who was the voice of convention, wanting him to act in ways that clearly chafed, or a wolf who was trying to show him how to escape the cage and fly? Deanna could safely be ignored until Kevin outgrew her. Karl's views were clearly more flexible, and it was possible he could be swayed. Breaking down the other connections that confined him shouldn't be all that hard; though Kevin laughed it off, she was beginning to suspect that many people were uneasy with a strong mage-gift in the hands of someone they saw as impulsive and unreliable. That would be predictable and normal, and he didn't need them or their approval as much as he currently believed he did.

Maybe coming to Haven hadn't been such a mistake after all, she'd thought.

Until Deanna had forced him to choose, and Kevin had chosen Deanna over Rebecca, a cage over freedom.

Her current coven and, to the best of her knowledge, Haven in general all believed that it was some sort of relentless and irrational desire for revenge that drove her. That was only further proof of how little they understood her.

Duayne's dream about the stranger sleeping by the side of the road had seemed like a godsend. Driving to the general area, she'd investigated furform, confirmed the noxious smells of the city and a fainter scent of wolf. With more time to think, she would probably have been less willing to risk Jesse's life, but how could she pass up such an opportunity?

Some gifted could get away with staying solitary and trusting to the density of wolves in Haven protecting them from predators. Not elvenmages, and least of all strong ones. Without Bane, Kevin would have no choice but to find another wolf. There were few solitary wolves, and none of them were at all likely candidates; no existing coven would accept him. Haven had had too clear a glimpse of what Kevin truly was, and their little sheep souls remained terrified of it. Possibly Bryan would try for the sake of Lori's fondness for her cousin, though two elvenmages in one coven was asking for trouble; possibly Evaline might, even though adding Kevin to a coven already in precarious balance because of Nick's moods and Sonja's odd gifts would be an equally bad idea. Without Deanna, it was all the more certain that he'd turn back to Rebecca.

Then they could go away, just the two of them, and leave Whitethorn to Karl and the remainder of Sundark could do whatever they liked. She could get back to work on undoing the damage caused by Kevin's struggle to convince everyone, including himself, that he was a tame little caged songbird instead of a wild raptor that could shatter those bars just by spreading his wings fully.

The whole plan had failed, had increased the friction within her current coven, had led to her losing face with the Haven wolves and to a warning from several alphas that she was once again venturing into behaviour they wouldn't tolerate. Had even led to a lingering trace of guilt that she'd been so willing to sacrifice Jesse or condemn him to a miserable life of fences and walls, though she remained unconvinced that the world would particularly suffer for it. Probably, it had ultimately reduced any chance of future success, adding an extra barrier between them.

Maybe she should try to be content with what she had.

An elvenmage who depended heavily on feeling useful to and accepted by her coven—at least it was only her coven and not Haven in general, but she'd proven resistant to Rebecca's attempts to break her of it. A witch, lifelong friend of the mage, who was obsessed with books and pushing magical boundaries. An elf seer deeply fascinated by old and often forbidden knowledge. At least those two made a good pair, and Moira and Duayne got along well since he had the tact to thank her often. A wolf who increasingly believed that he wasn't beta to her alpha but was her equal and entitled to opinions about what she did. All of them often reluctant to grant her the respect and obedience she needed in order to best protect them, without constant wearying reminders.

Well, it could be worse.

But given the choice, she'd walk away from them without hesitation if she could just have Kevin back.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, March 1994
Nick 'Winter

Spring is coming! Don't lose hope, even when it feels like the wheel of the year got stuck in the snow, it keeps turning, and spring approaches. We're less than a month from the equinox.

Well, let's see what's happening. There's not a lot planned, towards the end of the month, other than equinox stuff listed on the back page. There'll be a healer's convention in mid-April, and a witches' convention is being tentatively planned for early May.

Candace 'Honeybee gave birth a week and a half ago to a healthy son. Reports are that he has very blue eyes and bright blonde fuzz already, so his biological father is presumably Davin 'Honeybee. His name is Marten Gabriel. Congratulations, 'Honeybee!

Article of the month: I recommend two, actually, I couldn't decide. One is by Samantha, about familiars—which types are best for what, the nature of the bond, how to strengthen it, things of that sort. Excellent information for everyone who has a familiar or is thinking of getting one. The other is by Nils Moreau, his speculation on the role elves, dryads, wolves, and human gifted played in creating the very mythologies we now use as a source of symbols. There are places where no evidence is available, but it's certainly enough to make one stop and think.

There's a dance, at the community hall, on the 25th, the Friday before the full moon Sunday. It's open to all, there'll be the usual potluck table so our elves can stay their usual energetic selves, I'm not sure who's DJing. It's 8pm to 1am, sliding scale $3‑10.

Coven Natesa are looking for short stories, poetry, black and white art, cartoons, or anything else that can be printed—they're putting together a book of Haven's creative talents, and we do have a lot! Submissions aren't guaranteed to be in it, but chances are good. They'll be printed, spiral bound, and sold in a few local places.

The White Stag folks tell me they have a whole collection of new Haven-deck, Tarot, medicine, and similar cards. Several are brand-new sets by artists in Canadian or other mixed villages. I don't even do cards but there's a water-slanted witch set that's calling to me!

Coven Starluck's house has found an owner—Coven Sundark! One of Haven's first houses has been abandoned for a decade or more, since even with all the well-off families in Haven no one's wanted the amount of work involved in (not to mention the cost of) fixing it up into habitable condition. Yes, Cynthia 'Sundark promised to let me at the attics (I can hardly wait!), but I swear to behave myself. Besides, Brittany won't let me get out of line!

Historical notes. Sixteen years ago March was the height of the “ghost craze”: someone found out about a nasty accidental death (which I'm not going to describe) and wondered if the ghost of the woman in question might still be around. That got things started, and for a while everyone was seeing ghosts everywhere. The problem is, with the levels of psychic activity in Haven, the “ghosts” could be any of four things: over-active imagination; real ghosts still walking; real ghosts or something else, pulled back by all the excitement; or something created by all that energy focused (sometimes hysterically) on one thing. Eventually, all the “ghosts” that could be found were laid to rest by a group that formed for that purpose, consisting of Haven's more mature and stable mages, witches, mind-gifted, a couple of wolves, a healer, and the three Adepts here at the time.

Enjoy March, see you in April!



Caitryn, as a chestnut wolf, bounced into the yard of Coven Sundark's house, paused to look back and check that Gisela was still coming, then frisked off.

Gisela watched her greet Evaline respectfully, crouching slightly and turning away, ears back and tail down. Pale-furred Evaline rubbed her cheek against Caitryn's affectionately, and both bitches bounded away in a mad game of tag.

Well, so much for her companion. Gisela circled the house to the back yard, towards the general noise and merriment.

Most of her friends were here already, perched on the back porch and the picnic table. Bane and Bryan were poised on either side of a stick, daring each other to try to pick it up, growling in what an outsider might have thought was fierce threat; Evaline, with Caitryn almost close enough to bite her tail, ran by and feigned cowering behind Bane. Caitryn greeted Bane the same way she had Evaline earlier, before getting back to the puzzle of reaching the alpha bitch.

“Heyla, 'Sela,” Liam greeted her. “How's it going?” Liam was the only other healer in this circle of friends, the only healer she felt especially close to other than her mother. Absently, he tucked an escaping lock of dark hair back under the bright-woven band Gisela had rarely seen him without. He said it kept his hair out of his eyes; she thought it was just to be different.

“Pretty good,” she answered. “I wish Jess were here, I bet he'd have fun.”

Liam shrugged. “It's up to him.”

“Oh, I know. How are you doing with your mother's horse?” She leaned against the porch railing, watched all four wolves now chasing each other around the yard. Evaline was smallest, dwarfed by the two males, but she was also lightning-fast and agile; no one could catch her, but she excelled at getting close enough to the others to nip at them and race away again. She was alpha bitch for a reason, and it wasn't only her quick mind and ability to take control of a situation.

“She'll be okay, the cut's healing nicely, and meanwhile she's getting spoiled hopelessly.”

“Listen up!” Liam's coven-mate Nick shouted.

Everyone quieted, and gathered around the picnic table; the wolves all shifted to human, quite sensibly all in the magesilks that changed with a wolf instead of needing to be removed, each in appropriate colours.

“Okay. Now. We're starting before sunset because there's stuff hidden all over the place and there are some people who are at a disadvantage in the dark.” While Nick spoke, Flynn and Lori brought a considerable collection of baskets and large bowls to the table, spreading them all over the top. “Certain people who are prone to getting overly competitive in games are forewarned not to.” He gave the four wolves a stern look; Evaline made a face at him. “No one's allowed outside the yard or in bedrooms, but anywhere else there are things hidden. Keep it fair, no magic. The only exception is that since Kev and Lori have no night-sight to speak of, if we're out here long enough that you start to have trouble, you two are allowed to use just enough magic that you can see, but play fair, okay? Any questions?”

“Can we start?” Bryan asked.

“Other than that.”


“Then grab a bowl and go!” Flynn declared.

Instant motion, everyone reaching for the nearest bowl and scattering in different directions.

It must have taken ages for Flynn and Nick and Lori to hide all the treats that were found: eggs painted glorious colours, pine-cones decorated in endless ways, candies of a dozen sorts. In the crotch of a tree she found a small object wrapped in bright cloth and tied with a ribbon; she'd seen a few others find such things, but they seemed to be rare.

Lori finally called everyone back. From what Gisela had picked up, they'd divided the grounds in thirds and each hid the treats in one, leaving them free to help hunt the other two thirds.

“Everybody should have a present,” Lori said, once everyone was back at the picnic table. “If someone has two, be nice and give one to someone who didn't find one. We hid exactly enough.”

There was brief confusion while that got settled.

“Everyone got one?” Flynn said. “Open them.”

Gisela set her basket on the ground, untied the bow and unwrapped it.

Within was a delicate glass flower, the petals tinted amethyst-purple and the leaves rich jewel-green, the whole thing of a size to fit comfortably cupped on her palm.

“Okay, gang,” Flynn said briskly, “That's enough messing around outside. There's water hot for tea et cetera, getting warm won't hurt any of us.”

The kitchen became a flurry of activity. As usual, the chaos resolved itself into some version of order, everyone settled with hot drinks in the living room—more bare than usual, since Cynthia and her housemates were packing up to move April first.

“Everybody warm now?” Nick asked. “And feeling pretty good?”

General agreement.

“Good,” Lori said. “Then get comfortable, and let's look for answers, shall we?” She placed a globe the size of a basketball, shimmery iridescent glass, probably hollow, in the middle of the floor. “For those who prefer to have something solid for scrying. Get comfortable and let's go.”

They tended to use more ritual at holidays than they did for everyday; the circle was properly cast, by whoever felt inspired to call each quarter.

Gisela relaxed into the easy rhythm of Nick's voice, leading them all into a light trance. Not that she expected any spectacular visions, she'd never had one. Her gaze dropped to the glass flower cupped in her hand, and stayed there, focused on the purple and green. Lori's voice joined Nick's, softly, weaving a counterpoint to his, then Flynn's twined into theirs. The voices braided into each other, until it seemed like all one voice, only she couldn't understand the words, they were a different language...

She found, in some surprise, that she was on a hill beside a lake, the brilliant moonlight making silvery ripples on the dark water; one path curved down to the water, another led down the opposite face of the hill to a meadow where wolves played, chasing each other around in the wildflowers. A third path led to one side, up a higher hill.

She wavered, and decided to go upwards.

The top of the hill was flat and grassy; from here, she could see far down into the wolves' meadow.

To her surprise, Jesse was here, as always in black, kneeling beside a black wolf that sat unnaturally still. Crying?

She dropped to one knee beside him. “Jess?”

“It turned into stone,” he said tearfully. “Because I wouldn't come down the hill. Now it's dead because of me, when it should be free...”

She laid a hand on the petrified wolf, concentrating hard, praying. Deep within, she felt warmth, the faint rumble of a heart beating.

“It isn't dead, Jess. Not yet. You still have time.”

He raised his eyes, tears making their darkness shimmer, to hers. “But I don't know what to do, I never know how to fix things. Just to mess them up.”

“Try asking if it wants to go down with the other wolves. Tell it you'll come, since it seems to want you to.”

“I don't belong there.”

“If this wolf thinks you do, and the other wolves accept you when you go, then you do belong there.”

Shivering, he bowed his head, hugging himself. After a moment, he reached out, and placed one trembling hand on the wolf's head.

“Come on,” he said softly. “Let's go.”

The moonlight danced over the stone wolf, and the hardness melted into full dynamic life. It greeted Jess joyfully, licking away his tears, and Jess wrapped his arms around it, burying his face in its fur.

The moonlight brightened and shivered again, around the pair, and two forms flowed into one. The black wolf shook himself, cocked his head to listen to the howls of the wolves below. He threw back his head and answered the song, and trotted away towards the path down. Gisela followed him, got as far as the lower hilltop by the time he reached the other wolves. She smiled to herself, watching them welcome him.

Something glittering caught her eye, and she turned. Snagged on a short jutting tree branch was a rope of dark sparkling stones and silver links, about long enough for a wolf's collar. Too high up for her to reach, though she tried.

A narrow-winged falcon dived out of the starry sky, snatched the collar, and despite Gisela's cry of protest vanished back into the night.

Gisela blinked, focused on the glass flower cupped in her hand, heard the braided voices gradually coming apart. She smiled in satisfaction. That could only mean one thing: Jess was going to be okay, Rebecca hadn't done any permanent damage.

Except... what had the collar and falcon been?

No matter, she'd find out in due time.



The two black wolves sniffed warily around the edges of the large yard. The landscaping, just slightly wild, worked in around ancient trees, had the kind of whole look that usually meant a dryad or an earth-oriented witch had a hand in its care; the trees, whether the gardener knew or not, bore scent traces of a wolf claiming this as his residence. The house was medium-large, well-kept without being overly fancy, though the wooden ramp that doubled back and forth in front of the house made them pause briefly. Aindry could smell wood-smoke on the breeze, a warm and homey kind of scent.

Overall, this was probably a good place to try. If not here, well, there were lots of other houses in Falias.

They faded back into the woods to where they'd left their packs; a few minutes later, human-form and dressed, they walked up to the wide front door, and Aindry knocked.

The woman who opened the door had a distinctly dryad scent, the dark brown in her short curly hair nearly eclipsed by the grey. She over-topped the two wolves by a good six inches, and out-massed either by half again, but she greeted them with a friendly, if curious, smile.


“We were wondering if you had any odd jobs around that we can do, for, say, a meal?” Aindry said tentatively. This never got any easier. They dared not spend too much time in the mixed villages, or anywhere for that matter, terrified that if they did Unity would be repeated all over again. So, in a long circuit, they visited once each Falias in Newfoundland and Endor in Quebec and Irminsul in Saskatchewan and Ravenrock in British Columbia and Aralu that was the newest, up in the Northwest Territories. By unspoken mutual consent, they never went within a very broad circle around Unity, and Haven was within that range, much too close for comfort, close enough to stir memories neither wanted to bring back to the light of day; they passed through Ontario as quickly as they could each time. Never the same house twice, and sometimes they had to knock on more than one door before someone decided to be generous.

“Floria?” A man came into the broad hallway behind her. “Who is it?”

Aindry instantly dropped her gaze and went very still, almost before consciously identifying the scent and the casual confidence of an alpha in his own territory; she didn't need to look to know that, half a step behind her, Jaisan was doing the same.

“Don't worry about earning it right now,” the dryad said briskly. “You both look like you've gone about half feral. Come on in, don't worry, Ian won't bite you, not unless he wants me to deal with. Take your boots off there, and we'll see about a hot bath.” She backed up to let them in, and closed the door behind them. “I'm Floria, he's Ian, and our coven-mate Wren is around somewhere.”

Aindry looked to Ian for confirmation, before moving.

Ian simply smiled; there were a lot of laugh-lines there, Aindry thought. “I learned better than to argue with Flor a long time ago. Consider yourselves welcome. The house has been quiet since the kids moved out, and we have an extra room upstairs where you can sleep if you need it. I'm sure we can find enough around here to keep a couple of strong young bodies busy.”

Hospitality had always been a tradition in the mixed villages, or so Aindry had been taught; it wasn't universally honoured these days, but the ones who did, did it properly, she thought. Gratefully, she slipped out of her heavy worn coat, and started on the laces of her boots; Jaisan, waiting for her to decide, immediately followed suit. “I'm Aindry. Jaisan's my brother.”

Floria nodded, took the two coats to hang on a set of hooks on the wall, and moved farther into the house to yell, “Wren! We have guests!”

“Do they need a healer?” a pleasant baritone called back, from somewhere Aindry thought was on the same floor but towards the back.

“Not immediately, I think!”

“Then I'll meet them in a few minutes.”

“He has a rabbit back there that had a passing encounter with a car,” Ian explained. “Why he won't just let me eat it, I will never understand.” He shrugged, and sighed. “Healers.”

“Healers are usually pretty softhearted,” Jaisan said timidly.

“And I suppose we'd all be in trouble if they weren't, but that doesn't mean I understand them. So. We only have one full bathroom. Who wants to get warm first?”

“Jais,” Aindry said without hesitation. “I can wait.”

Floria nodded again. “And we'll see if we can't find something clean for you to put on while we throw your clothes in the laundry.”

Aindry suppressed a twinge of apprehension as Ian led Jaisan upstairs; being separated while outside hunting was one thing, but inside, with walls and doors around them, it made her nervous. But there were no scents of treachery or hostility or demon influence here, only kindness and concern. With her backpack slung once again over her shoulder, she followed Floria to a large bright kitchen at the end of the hall—around the rather cluttered counters, and an island in the centre with a ramp to a raised area on one side, the linoleum floor was obviously kept deliberately clear. Even the three chairs at a table to one end were all carefully pushed in all the way.

Floria headed immediately for the fridge, and produced a large pan; once the plastic wrap was off, Aindry caught the wonderful scent of homemade lasagne. “Kids your age need to eat like elves of any age,” Floria said. “Supper won't be for a while yet, so I think we'll just microwave a couple of slices of this to keep the two of you until then.”

“We can't...” Aindry began, badly torn between the tantalizing scent and her own pride and honour.

Floria turned around to look at her. “Your brother needs it,” she said calmly.

Aindry recognized the direct appeal to her wolf instincts—she was alpha, it was her responsibility to take care of Jais—but recognizing it didn't lessen the power of it noticeably. She lowered her eyes again. “We both do,” she admitted.

“I won't ask why the two of you aren't living with your family somewhere, instead of wandering around with next to nothing, that's your business. It won't cost us any great amount to feed you for a day or two and give you a warm place to sleep, and I hope that if my two daughters were in trouble, someone would do the same for them. No more arguing, understand?”

Aindry smiled, hesitantly—it felt like an expression she rarely used, these days. “Understand.” She resolved to find something she and Jais could do to pay them back for the charity, though. There must be something around—wood to chop, maintenance on a car, housecleaning, something.

“Good.” Floria fetched two plates from the cupboard, deposited a large slice on each, and put one in the microwave on the island.

Unexpected sounds of motion behind her made Aindry spin around; she relaxed immediately, as a light-skinned man with a lion's-mane of silvery hair joined them in the kitchen. He must have been in a truly terrible accident, Aindry decided, to have been hurt badly enough to need a wheelchair—healer gifts usually worked extremely efficiently on their own bodies. It certainly explained all the little oddities about the house.

“Wren, Aindry,” Floria said. “Ian just took her brother Jaisan upstairs for a bath.”

“Hi,” Aindry said shyly.

Wren wheeled the chair all the way into the kitchen, and nodded amiably. “Be nice to have kids around the house for a day or two. Make yourselves at home. I'm the resident healer, let me know if you need me.”

The microwave beeped, and Floria handed Aindry the plate and a fork and knife. “Table's right there, honey, go have a seat and eat. I'll get you a glass of milk. And no silliness about not eating until your brother does,” she added sternly, as Aindry hesitated. “I'll make sure he gets some as soon as he gets done. Sit, eat, I'm going to go track down clean clothes. You make sure she does, Wren.”

Hours later, warm and clean and well-fed, Aindry and Jaisan snuggled into the twin beds in the room that had belonged to Floria and Wren's daughters.

“'Night,” Jaisan said drowsily.

Aindry smiled to herself, suddenly remembering this same day, eighteen years before. Remembering slipping quietly into her mother's room, once the healer left, and peeking into the old-fashioned wooden cradle next to the bed, to see the two sleeping, rather funny-looking creatures that she'd been told were her new little brothers. Remembering her mother's eyes opening, and her warm, if exhausted smile. Intent on finding them a meal and maybe a bed, she hadn't thought of it until now.

“Happy birthday, Jais,” she whispered.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, April 1994
Nick 'Winter

Well, we all survived winter, I think. Ever notice that everyone in Haven seems to be in higher spirits after the spring equinox? Beltaine's coming! Check out the happenings on the back page! Beach bonfire with live music and the usual potluck? That's hard to beat!

Drua 'Windstorm and Morey 'Rowan are having a baby! It's due in June (how come nobody told me until now?). And Haven gets another Aurelian-Lioren elf!

Camilla Fitzgerald is moving away from us, to go to Falias in Newfoundland. Why is anyone's guess, (don't hit me, Sonja, I'm joking, Falias is a great place!) but I gather it has something to do with a newly-forming coven, possibly. I suppose we can stand to lose her for a good cause, and they don't come any better than that, but Exotica won't be the same without her there to play wonderful villains, right from lecherous human princes to angry faerie queens to vengeful ghosts.

There's a healer's convention the 23rd and 24th (Saturday and Sunday). Don't ask me about plans, Liam won't tell me; if you're a healer call Mandisa, she's organizing it.

There's a witches' convention coming up, too, the 14th and 15th of May (another weekend). If you're a witch, call Dion and he'll tell you what's going on.

The database idea is going well, Deanna 'Sundark tells me, and I'm to thank everyone who for the last two months has given them so much information on gems and crystals. They're going to put it on the library computers and they're working on an effective way to put it on our very own BBS, so anyone who wants to access it can. The next subject is herbalism, so all you herbalists out there, sit down and list every kind of herb you use and what you do with them. Obviously, there's more to the art than can be crammed in, but the idea is to get a wide range rather than extreme depth. Again, give it to Covens Sundark, Merrymoon, Moonstone, Dragonfire, Tabbycat or Harpsong, or to Grant Londry. In two or three months, I'll let you know the next topic.

We're coming quickly up that time when Bryan keeps the library open extra hours for couple of months, and he has no one lined up yet to help out. If you're interested, stop in and see him.

And now, what everyone has been dreading: historical notes. Brydie Isadore was born April 18th, 1763. Morgan and Victoria were married April 23rd, the day after they met. No, not love at first sight. Victoria was born into a mundane family, almost condemned as a “witch,” and Morgan married her to get her out of there. He brought her home to Alessandria and Brydie, and a few months later Victoria was part of Starluck. She even left the most awesome sketches of her coven and their friends, and she signed them all, and they were still in the attic of their old house! Okay, Brittany's standing right behind me so I have to be good. April 11th is the birthday of our other Adept, the one whose birthday it wasn't back on October 19th. However, I've once again been forbidden to tell name or age. What is it with our Adepts, anyway?

In April 1989, one of our standing mysteries occurred: a recently-founded village north-west of here, called Unity, died, apparently overnight. There've been rumours of survivors but nothing confirmed. Government investigation was inconclusive. Ours turned up the strong scent of werewolves but no elves or dryads, bizarre as that is. No one knows anything about who the wolves were, only that they died too. Nothing else gave any answers at all, despite all attempts with various scrying, seeing, and related techniques. At this point, it's unlikely we'll ever know.

Enjoy spring and Beltaine!



Jesse made his way up the driveway to the door, hoping he was remembering the right house, and knocked.

Zarah, who was, Jess thought, Deanna's mother but he might be wrong, opened the door, and smiled. “Hello, Jesse. Come on in, I'll call...”

She didn't need to; Gisela came racing down the stairs and narrowly avoided hitting Zarah.

“Hey, Jess! You're back! Took you long enough.”

He couldn't help grinning. “Well... despite things trying to keep me busy, you're irresistible.”

“No I'm not, just crazy.”

“I went out to the house, but there's no one there. They moved?”

“Mmhmm. Cynthia's been working on it for months trying to get a loan on her inheritance from her grandmother to buy it. She died a couple of years ago, but Cynthia's not supposed to get it until she's twenty-one next year. Nobody said anything 'cause they wanted to surprise you. Wait until you see this place! And it has lots of bedrooms so you get your own room. Bye, Zarah. Let's go, Jess! She really wanted this one because it was built like two hundred years ago, it was one of the first in Haven, and it was built by her ancestors and Kev's and it's made to be perfect for the kinds of magic they do.”

She kept on, telling him the historical reasons why Coven Sundark deserved it, and the practical reasons why they wanted it—it had been designed to house an entire substantial coven and their children, among others. She refused to describe it, though.

Outside the village proper, of course. It seemed like most houses were, around here, like everyone valued the private space. The village itself was primarily devoted to stores and schools and library and similar such public places.

Gisela stopped in front of a six-foot grey stone wall. Or, actually, a greenish metal gate in it with a high arch overhead. The archway was large enough for the van to drive through and then some.

“Here,” Gisela pronounced.

“You're kidding.”

“Nope. Go in.”

How long must that wall be, if it surrounded all of this, and how much stone had it taken? Snow covered the ground yet, but he could still see trees in clusters, with clear space around them. Straight ahead, there was another sizeable arch, framing a view of the lake; there was another to the left, with trees beyond, but smaller and the gate was closed. There may have been to the right as well, but the house blocked that. The house belonged perfectly, huge and grey and sprawling irregularly across the landscape, in some places only one story, in some places three or possibly four, all porches and balconies and windows.

“See?” Gisela said in delight.

“Good god. Just how much is this inheritance of hers?”

“She won't tell. Not even her coven, I think. But it paid for the van and now for this, and I don't think it's all gone. Aren't you going to go in? Or just stand here? Wait until me and Cynthia and Dia and Naomi and Nick and Liam get to work on the yard once the snow's all gone!”

“Where's the door?”

“Follow the driveway.”

Past a two-car garage of similar stone set apart from the house, up onto a porch the size of the apartment he and Shaine shared. Double doors, of course, rich tawny wood, each carved with a crescent moon, horns facing outward, the two crescents flanking a six-armed star.

“Just open it,” Gisela urged.

“I feel like I should be expecting ghosts or something.”

“No ghosts. We checked.”

He glanced at her to see if she were serious. She was.

The door was heavy, he found, pushing it open.

There was a hallway right inside, with hooks for coats. He kept going without stopping, and stepped through a doorway into a larger hall with rooms all around it. The doors, all wood-trimmed glass, French doors he thought they were called, were all closed.

“Hey, guys!” Gisela called. “Where are you?” It echoed eerily.

“Upstairs,” Kevin called back. “Stay, I'm coming!”

“Jesus. You could get lost in this place, I bet,” Jesse said.

“I have a couple of times,” Gisela admitted. “It took me a while to find my way out. We'll get used to it.”

“In a hundred years or so.”

Kevin came around a corner, paint splattered all over him, and grinned. “Hi, Jess. Thought I felt you come in. So. What do you think?”

“Can't you guys ever do anything on a normal scale? I mean, a big house, okay, but this is ridiculous!”

“Does that mean you like it?”

“That means I can't believe it.”

“Oh, it's real. Nobody's lived here for eleven years. It needs too much work to not be real. We started with right here, but the rest is still like something from a ghost story. Except bedrooms and a bathroom and a kitchen. We did those already, too, between everybody. Well, five bedrooms, one's yours.”

Gisela laughed. “Just wait 'til you see it!”

Jesse shook his head. “This place is unreal. Even more than the rest of Haven.”

Kevin echoed the laugh. “Help us work on it for two days and you'll never think again that it's not real. It's going to take us months to finish it inside.”

“Good. At least you didn't just step into a perfect mansion.”

“It will be. Grand tour?”

“Sure.” He shed backpack, jacket, and shoes, and followed Kevin. Gisela trailed along behind.

He got lost quickly. Everything was old-looking, and dingy with disuse, but he thought that the house must once have been beautiful. There was surprisingly little dust.

Kevin saved the bedrooms for last. Deanna's was on the ground floor, with an enormous window that had a red maple outside that might be as old as the house. Bane's second-floor room had its own small balcony, Bane's familiar belongings not entirely filling the space. Cynthia's, a short distance away, was bright with windows on three sides beginning two feet off the floor and continuing to the ceiling.

“And, of course, yours and mine. You weren't here to choose, so we thought about which one you'd like best and set it up just for you.”

Up to the third floor. A broad hallway that went straight ahead, with a door at the end, and a doorway on each side.

“Our territory,” Kevin said. “As in, our own bathroom, or it will be, right now I keep thinking something will come to life and try to drag me down the toilet, and there's nothing else here but it and two rooms. Mine's the right one, yours is left.”

Jesse touched the handle of Kevin's door. “Can I look?”

“Sure. But you might want to see yours first.”

Jesse hesitated, and decided to take the advice. He opened the other door.

Kevin's hand steadied him when Jesse dropped back a step in sheer disbelief.

“You're not serious.”

“Completely. We've had a wonderful time. What you're seeing is the contributions of a lot of people. This coven and 'Sela, Covens Dandelion and Winter, Sam and Caitryn...”

“Well? Go look around!” Gisela prompted.

The room seemed like it should have been a small dance studio or something—well, other than the slanted ceiling that reduced the headroom along the far third of the space, broken by two windows that each had an honest-to-god window-seat. The walls were painted, he was sure freshly, in a plain soft creamy not-quite-white, a contrast to the dark shining wood floor and the dark curtains and the black-and-glass furniture.

In the far end, head to the wall under a smaller window, stood a double bed; two small tables flanked it, a lamp on one and a clock-radio on the other. On the inner wall, overlooking the bed, were three shelves, and on one sat an expensive-looking compact stereo. At the nearer end, built out from the wall, was a sizeable closet of wood that almost matched the floor and near it a free-standing full-length mirror. Even the addition of a loveseat, more or less balancing the bed, failed to make it look crowded instead of comfortable.

Everything, the rugs, the blankets on the bed and thrown over the loveseat, the curtains, was black or dark purple or grey or silver or combinations of them. Anything not upholstered was black metal and glass and silver. His favourite colours.

“Jesus. That the size of our whole apartment!” And what was in it would have paid the rent on that apartment for at least two or three months, he was sure.

“Like it?” Gisela asked.

“Like it? It's even more unreal than the rest! Let me believe it first! I've only been gone for four or five weeks, how the hell did you manage to do everything you just showed me? And why the hell would you...” He ran out of words.

Kevin chuckled. “Because you're special and we wanted to do something special for you. It's absolutely and totally yours, everything in there. As for how... a dozen or so people working together, with a little magic thrown in, can accomplish a lot.” He gave him a gentle push into the room.

“This has to have cost a fortune!”

“Not as much as you think. Money wasn't a big consideration anyway.”

Jess collapsed on the loveseat, sinking in deeply, trying to assimilate this.

“You don't like it?” Gisela asked, frowning.

Kevin laughed again. “I think he's overwhelmed. Maybe nobody's ever given him any good surprises before. Mine's a mirror image, more or less. Tell you what. You stay here and come to grips with the fact that this is really truly yours, and I'll get back to painting the bathroom downstairs.”

“And I'll go get your stuff,” Gisela said, darting away.

“Why?” Jesse repeated.

“It's not an attempt to bribe you into staying, although the thought crossed a mind or six. Just to do something nice for you. You deserve it. And since you don't have anyone else to do it for you, we did.”

“That doesn't make sense.”

“We wouldn't've done it if we didn't want to.” The blonde departed, and Jess heard him on the stairs down.

Gisela came only long enough to deliver his backpack before she was gone again.

Jesse ran a hand over the blanket under him, thoughtfully. There was a lot of the silky stuff in the house, used for everything from clothes to sheets to curtains, like in this room... his room. It still made his skin tingle faintly, less so now than on his first visit to Haven; not an unpleasant sensation, but a little unsettling.

What was it, anyway?

More calm now, he explored more closely. Behind the closet doors that folded back like a curtain of dark wood, there were hooks and shelves and drawers and bars and hangers—and clothes. A few things he knew he'd left here on his last visit but others he'd never seen, made of that silky stuff in the wild styles he'd seen Coven Sundark and others in Haven wearing, all black, purple, or silver-grey.

He hesitated, but temptation won. He shed his jeans and T-shirt, and tried on a pair of loose black pants made of the silky material. They fit perfectly, unsurprisingly, though a drawstring waist did leave a lot of leeway. He found a grey shirt, with loose gathered sleeves, and pulled it on. Whisper-light, and totally seamless, like the pants. And a vest, also black. He gazed at himself in the ornately-iron-framed mirror, smiled at his reflection. It made him look abruptly younger, really seventeen. The slight tingling of the material was a distinctly sensual thrill, all over his skin...

If he wanted to, while he was here, he could forgo his usual clothes entirely, stay entirely with the new stuff...

Could, except he lacked the courage to even leave it on long now. It felt too much like deception, trying to pretend that he belonged here.

I could be like them. I could learn, if I stayed here always.

Damn it all, even though I've been telling myself over and over not to care, admit it. I care. Very much. They're my friends, even if they don't know everything about me. Well, I don't know everything about them, either. That's fair.

He liked the Jesse looking back; that was the Jesse that should have been. He laid the fingertips of one hand against the glass, wishing with all he was that he could step through and trade places.

Could you wish on a mirror? Maybe it was a magic mirror.

“Hey, mirror,” he whispered. “Do you grant wishes? Can you make me like that Jesse instead of me?”

The other Jesse just gazed back, but his dark eyes, grey-blue-green with a blue starburst around the pupil, looked very sad and lonely, and much older than the face they were in.

Jesse shook himself. “What am I doing, talking to a mirror? I'm losing it. The insanity around here is getting to me.” He started to turn away; motion in the mirror made him turn back. Somewhere in the shadows behind the other Jesse, something was moving. Startled, he glanced behind him. Nothing there. Only in the mirror, a night-coloured wolf formed from the shadows, and pressed its head to the other Jesse's thigh.

Although Jesse stood frozen between fear and surprise, the other Jesse glanced down, laid a hand on the wolf's head, and met Jesse's gaze with a smile utterly and quietly content. His other hand he reached out to lay flat against the glass. Jesse, instinctively, feeling tears in his eyes, laid his own over it.

It wasn't his new bedroom behind the mirror Jesse, but a hilltop, with a dark lake visible behind it. A place that turned up constantly in Jesse's dreams, though he had no recollection of ever having been anywhere that looked like that.

“God,” he whispered, and it was a prayer. “Please...”

The wolf whined. Jesse could hear it, not quite audible, like a memory, but very clear. It stirred restlessly, then turned and ran off to one side.

“Can I hear you too?” Jesse whispered. “Can you talk?”

The other shook his head slowly, still with that gentle smile, but the contentment was gone, with the wolf. His eyes were sad again, as he bowed his head, and let his hand fall.

The reflection shivered, like a stone dropped into a pond. When the ripples stilled, it was a perfectly ordinary reflection of him and his new room.

“This,” he told the mirror, “is getting freaky. And part of why it's freaky is that I've been around this weird place so long that a mirror that does what it wants isn't enough to make me want to run screaming back to the city. Can you show me Shaine? Are you that kind of magic mirror?”

No response.

“Guess not. Should I ask Kevin about this, I wonder? Nah. If he doesn't know already, then it can be my secret.”

He spent another moment just gazing at his reflection. As oddly natural as it looked... He sighed, switched back to jeans and T-shirt. It simply wasn't him.




Kevin raised his head from his math homework, knowing it was Jesse hesitating in the doorway even before he looked. “What's up?”

“Can I ask you something? Without you getting mad at me?”

“If it's that touchy, I won't promise to give you an answer, but I can promise not to get mad about you asking it.” He sat up, an invitation for Jesse to come sit on the bed. His desk rarely got used for homework; sprawling on his bed was both more comfortable and easier than trying to clear enough space.

Jesse stepped around the not-yet-unpacked boxes, and perched on the edge of the bed, running a hand over the silky blankets. “It's about this stuff. It's not... natural, is it?”

Kevin winced inside, old fears rousing. He ignored them resolutely. “That depends on what you mean by natural,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “But if you mean did we buy it somewhere that made it by conventional industrial means, then no, it isn't.”

“Then what is it?”

“Most people call it magesilk. Because only a mage can make it, and the parallel has been drawn before of a spider spinning silk. Besides, it generally turns out feeling a lot like silk.”

“You made all this.”

“Lori and I did, yes. In a sense, it's more natural than anything you could buy. Woven out of sunlight or moonlight, purely with a mage's gifts.”

“Out of light? But light's not...” He stopped short.

Kevin smiled, despite the effort to keep his voice steady and his body relaxed. “Light's not supposed to make gates that cover forty minutes' walk in a few steps, either. That's what a mage works with, light and fire. Witches like Cynthia and Naomi and Nick, they can do a little with all the elements. Mages can do a lot more, but only with our element.” He got up, and moved to one window-seat. There was plenty of electric light in the room, of course, but sunlight and moonlight were always easiest to work with. “The moon's bright enough. Come here.”

Jesse came. Absently, Kevin glanced at the lamp by the bed and turned it off, then flipped the switch near the door that controlled the overhead, so the only light was that of the waning moon and stars—not enough to allow him to see, but he didn't really need to be able to. It was one of the first skills he'd mastered under Tomas, how to catch the light in his hands so it pooled like water, then use hands and will to weave the delicate strands of pale moonlight into a piece of whisper-light magesilk a foot square. Jesse's fascination tickled against the edges of his mind. Kevin offered it to him.

“See? That's too flimsy to last long, I didn't put much effort into it. Or I can make it dark.” He ran a finger over the silk in Jesse's hands, turned it black. “I could change the shape, or make it heavier, or make the colour anything I choose. Because it's my will influencing the light. And when it's not needed anymore...” He passed a hand lightly over the cloth, and it melted back into moonlight.

“It only comes from a mage?”

“As far as I know, yes. Why?” He glanced in the direction of the lamp, and it switched itself back on, followed promptly by the overhead light. Poor night-vision was just part of life for an elf, but he wanted to be able to actually see Jesse's reactions. Missing subtle body language, important in anyone but especially in a werewolf, could have big bad consequences.

Jesse shrugged. “Nothing. It's just... I'm sure I've seen Shaine sell scarves and stuff that feel the same, when we're really low on cash. I've asked him a couple of times where they came from, but he won't give me a straight answer.”

“Shaine's no mage,” Kevin said. “A mage living in the city is more likely than a healer or a witch, but Shaine isn't one.”

Jesse blinked. “And you know this how?”


“Um, well, I gated to the city to chase off something nasty that could sense you'd been in Haven and was attracted to that?”

“Uh-huh. And this happened when?”

“Way back in November.”

“Back in... that freaky night I had, when I just couldn't lose that guy?”

“Mmhmm. Flynn had a hunch, got a focus, and I gated.” He hated leaving out the part of the wolves in it, but that would lead to longer explanations he wasn't quite comfortable getting into. “At the time, I didn't think hanging around to say hi was a good idea.”

“Probably just as well, I was less used to weirdness. Thank you forever, I was getting really scared.”

“That was what it intended. I did get a look at Shaine, and he shows as perfectly ordinary ungifted to mage-sight. Jess... we didn't think you'd mind the magesilk. Lori and I make things for friends, all the time. That's one of my favourite parts of being a mage. If I'd thought you'd mind...”

Jesse shook his head, slowly. “That's not it. I'm just... trying to figure things out.”

“You're always welcome to ask.”

“I don't think I know the right questions.”

“Not about everything, true. Some things it's better to find out in your own time.”

“Would you tell me if I asked you to?”

“I don't know. I'll tell you anything you want about mages, but most other things I'd be more likely to send you to one of the others to ask. Like Cynthia for witches, or Flynn for seeing. Just like they'd send you to me if you asked about mage stuff.”

“That makes sense. Why do mages only work with light? What about the other three elements? Is there something like mages for them too?”

Jess had been picking up magic theory, hm? “There is for earth, healers like Gisela. Wind and water, none we know of. As for why we're limited to fire...” He hesitated. Should he tell Jesse that not all of Haven was human? Even if he told of only one of three? Or should he let it slide? “Mages aren't human, exactly.”

Jesse gave him a wary look, but didn't react in any of the myriad panicky ways he could have. “Not human?”

“Someday I'll learn to keep my mouth shut.” It felt like walking a knife-edge, one where he didn't know what lay on either side. “'Human' is a rather tricky word to define, but we aren't, quite. Or maybe it would be better to think of us as a human subspecies. Although most of the stories about us are, uh, highly exaggerated.” Pure nonsense. “The name we use, currently, is elves. Any elf can do a few things. There aren't many mages, although it does tend to run in my dad's family. Elves have a natural affinity for fire and light, although a few other things, like telekinesis and telepathy, tend to go with it to varying degrees. And a high metabolism, that's why I eat so much. Mages are even worse than other elves for that. Elves also have no night-sight to speak of, but we can see heat patterns—infrared, basically. And mages have something called mage-sight that lets us see anything that's living or magical.”


“Well... like I said, the stories are warped seriously. Elves are always light-skinned and blonde and usually average height or above, and there's no such thing as an overweight elf—unhealthily skinny elves, yes. You going to try to tell me you didn't even notice how Lori and I and most of the other tall blondes you might've seen in Haven look?”

It took all his self-control to be still and wait for Jesse's reaction. He was so deathly afraid of being mistrusted and feared, he'd had enough of that for a lifetime. Even if he'd brought it on himself.

And if Jesse stopped trusting him?

That he couldn't do anything about except hope.

Jesse sighed, expression one of resignation. “I should've expected something weird like this, after what I've seen. I've definitely been hanging around here too long. The urge to do something drastic and hysterical isn't even very strong.”

Something inside released. Truth rang below the words, and Kevin could pick up nothing on the surface suggesting deception. Jesse really saw nothing to fear.

Kevin had to fight a sudden urge to hug him. “That's good. My coven would be less than impressed with me if you did that.”

“Weren't supposed to tell?”

“Not exactly, it's only... it's a risk, on our part. Most of what keeps Haven safe is that we make sure we aren't noticed.”

Jesse snorted derisively. “Not much risk. Who'd believe me? I'm not exactly a reliable source. Elves and witches and healers... yeah, right, like anyone would listen to me. So. Are healers exactly human? Or is there something for earth?”

“We call them dryads. The stories about them are just as messed up. However, if you want to know more about dryads, you can go find Deanna or Gisela and ask.” He just hoped neither would be mad that he'd told. Although given Gisela's oft-repeated opinion that they should just tell Jess all about Haven, she at least would probably be delighted. “Dryads are a bit harder to spot, but think in terms of shades of brown, usually darker rather than lighter, and about two-thirds of them are female. There are human healers, though, and not all dryads are healers. And like I said, water and air, there's nothing we know of. Witches are human and work with all four elements, although they usually have tendencies towards one. Elves and dryads can both interbreed with humans, but not with each other, which is part of why no one's figured out precise definitions yet.”

“Elves and dryads and witches... lord, what a place. Anyway. You have homework to do. Thank you for the honest answer, I'm going to go rethink my view of the world. Again.”

“All right. We didn't know what to get, by way of music, you're welcome to borrow anything of mine you want.”

“What, Flynn's cards couldn't tell him? Maybe later. Good luck with the homework.”

“I need it.”

Jess departed, but he left Kevin feeling like a hypocrite. Lying by omission, not telling him about wolves, was still lying. The three covens and their friends had discussed it, and decided Jesse deserved answers when he started really asking questions, but disagreement remained about how far to go and what to let him discover himself.

It will be so nice when all this is over, he thought wistfully. When Jess knows what he is, and there are no more secrets. I really don't like secrets. Maybe soon.



The phone rang; Jesse abandoned his painting, and raced downstairs to get it.


“Hi, Jess.”

Gisela's voice. “Hi. Nobody else is around, if you're looking for someone in particular.”

“I'm looking for you in particular. Busy?”

“Just painting Kev's and my bathroom. I can leave it if something's up.”

“Will you do something for me?”


“Come meet me in the village? I'll wait for you in front of the library, okay?”

“Yeah, I'll be there shortly. Just let me get cleaned up, I'm all paint. Everything okay?”

“Just... I need you to come. Please? I'll explain when you get here. Don't kill yourself getting here, you better take a shower if you're that much of a mess, but don't take all night.”

“No problem.”

“See you in a little while, then. Bye.”


Puzzled, he had a quick shower, getting rid of as much of the pale-blue paint as he could—he'd never claimed to be neat about painting—and changed into his own clothes instead of the older jeans and T-shirt Flynn had given him for messy work. He left the house and headed for the village proper at a fairly rapid walk, clean, if perplexed.

Gisela was perched on the wooden bench in the middle of the library's grassy yard, waiting impatiently.

“It's about time. Come on, I'm thirsty, I want to go get a drink.”

“Why did I have to come down here right now?”

“Oh, relax. I'll tell you in a minute.” She got up, and started down the sidewalk. He fell into step behind her, around the corner, and to the end of that block.

“There's a cool place called the Brewery,” Gisela said. “Kevin told me it's a bad pun on witches' brews, but I don't know if he was teasing me or not. That might actually be it, 'cause the owner is related to Kev and Lori and he was Kevin's teacher in magic. There's no sign, that way no tourists wandering through can find it.”

“So why are you telling me?”

“Because you aren't an outsider any more. And you won't tell anybody else. You can see it from here, any guesses?”

Jess considered the street. There was a post office, and a garage, and a store with a sign that said Venus Alive, and a hairdresser, and otherwise only a few huge old-looking houses, most with impressive yards, some with small signs visible suggesting that they were now at least partly businesses rather than homes.

“No idea.”

Gisela bounced up onto the porch of the house at the corner, the one with the privacy fence around the back yard. “This one.” The porch was large, spanned both outer faces, and all along the top were carved fantastic animals: dragons, strange-looking birds, hybrids, something he seemed to recall was a gryphon. Just over the door was a carved cauldron with a bird with a long trailing tail flying out of it. A bench was built along the wall, the arms and legs and the ridge along the back similarly adorned. The steps up at the corner led to double doors. Beyond them was a second set of doors.

Within lay a wild cross between modern and medieval. The floor was hardwood, wooden beams and pillars supported the ceiling, the tables and chairs were all made of genuine heavy wood. The room was L-shaped, with a bar along one of the walls diagonal from them, patio doors on the other showing only the last traces of snow at the moment. Winter in Haven was milder than he'd expected so far north; he could only assume some kind of supernatural influence. Although Cynthia would probably say that everything a witch did was within nature.

“Come on,” Gisela insisted when he paused to scan the room warily. She caught his hand, and led him to the back part of the L-shaped room.

“Well, hello there,” a familiar voice said teasingly from one of the larger tables. Kevin waved to the two empty seats between him and Flynn, the only ones vacant at the crowded table. “Do join us.”

“I'm getting the distinct feeling this is a set-up,” Jesse said, but took the seat beside Kevin when Gisela took the other.

Deanna laughed. “Y'see, you weren't here for your birthday, which we found out was exactly two weeks ago, so we decided to celebrate it today.”

“Better late than never,” Gisela said. “How old did you turn?”

“Uh... eighteen. I didn't even remember my damned birthday!”

“Well, we did for you,” Flynn said. “Happy birthday belatedly.”

“Gotcha,” Gisela said gleefully. “And you thought I was in trouble.”

“So, let's party,” Cynthia said. “Money's no problem.”

Nick came over to deliver menus.

“Finally got you here, huh? Want me to get drinks right away?”

Quick decisions, and he left to get them while they spent more time on choosing food. Most of the appetizers on the menu, to be shared between them, before the range of entrées.

After supper, they went for a lengthy walk in the cool spring night, and stopped to rent a couple of movies. There were presents, when they got back to the house.

His mind offered up images of Christmas mornings and birthdays, of expensive presents that for the most part he didn't want and yet was expected to be grateful for. He winced away from the memories. He'd be just as happy to forget holidays altogether.

Except here he was sitting in a circle with six people who each had a present for him, and he had no doubts at all that this was utterly different.

Flynn's was a single silver earring, he said to replace the old silver crescent stud through Jesse's left ear; the new one was a crescent moon on a short chain. There was a necklace to match, the same crescent on a silver chain. He switched immediately, and clasped the necklace into place. Moon symbolism had always appealed to him, maybe because of his natural tendency to be nocturnal, and these were simple but just right.

Kevin's was silver and bronze in a very different form: a dagger with a six inch blade, and interestingly, the minimal adornment on the graceful hilt and sheath was all lunar.

*It took me hours to fix the spells on my knife, y'know.* Jesse started, found Kevin watching him, grinning. The words formed clearly in his mind, unmistakably Kevin's voice. *If you ever, ever touch any of my tools again...* There was laughter behind the threat.

“Why are you blushing?” Deanna demanded. “Kev, what did you just say to him to make him blush that red?”

“Oh, nothing,” Kevin said innocently. *Since you were so interested in mine, I thought I'd get you one.*

The dagger felt good in his hand; he drew it, half expecting another painful shock, but nothing happened. Only metal. It felt... almost familiar. Comfortable. He slid it back into the sheath, and laid it beside him on the floor to see what was next. Doing his best to get his blushing under control. He should've expected Kevin to know, after everything he'd seen the mage do!

Deanna's was a length of wood, bent so the ends were crossed and lashed together, with what looked like a silvery spider's web woven in the middle, small beads shimmering like dewdrops in it, and feathers dangling.

“It's a dream-catcher,” she explained. “You hang it by your bed, and the good dreams are funnelled through the hole in the middle to you, and the bad dreams are caught until sunrise when they die. I made it.”

“Hey, that's cool. Who invented them?”

“They're a Native tradition.”

Cynthia gave him a new Walkman, which delighted him—his old one had gotten beyond all repair a month ago, and he hadn't had a chance to steal a new one yet. This one was better than any he'd ever had, she'd even included an upgraded set of earphones, and he decided instantly to keep it out of sight when he went back to the city.

He opened the box that held Bane's, discovered a new pair of black jeans, and a black leather vest. The jeans were the right size; he stripped off the sweatshirt he was wearing so he could try the vest. Why wasn't he surprised it fit?

“You look good,” Deanna told him.

Gisela lingered on the fringes until he was done the rest, then handed him a small box. Inside was yet more silver—a ring, shaped like a snake holding its tail in its mouth.

“That's a promise-ring,” Deanna said, plainly surprised. “What promise, kitten?”

Gisela looked down, and blushed. “Just... friendship. And truth for truth, always.”

“That's about standard,” Kevin said, flashing Gisela a quick smile. She returned it, tentatively.

Jesse tried it on. It fit perfectly on the ring-finger of his right hand. How did they manage things like that? It was one thing for clothes, easy enough to check anything he wasn't wearing, but ring size? Truth for truth... that was something to think about.

“Now I'm all set,” he laughed. “C'mere, you.”

Uncertainly, she came. Squealed when he hugged her, but she hugged him back before escaping.

Eventually, they did get to bed.

Jesse left the silver-and-bronze dagger in reach, on the table by the bed, and hung the dream-catcher above him, in the window.

No nightmares troubled him, but his dreams were a confusion of trying to choose the path through a forest that would take him where he so desperately wanted to go, when the map he held showed him only a path that led the wrong way into a desert.

* * *

All the world seemed dark and quiet, sleeping peacefully; Sam sat by the living room window, gazing out over the vacant street below her. Alfari lay on her lap, relaxed and alert at once the way cats had mastered beyond any other creature, purring while Sam stroked her. The sky was bright with stars, but this was the night the moon hid her face from the world.

Things were not as serene as they seemed on the surface. Out there, somewhere, just on the fringes of her awareness, something searched that meant only evil to the one it sought. How it had come here from the demon plane to this, whether called for some purpose or lucky enough to slip through a crack between planes, mattered not at all; it was here.

Its presence stirred old memories in her mind: the wolves descended from Alessandria's seventh child Cassandra and her Native shaman mate; the community that had formed a century and a half before, at first to support Cassandra's line when they felt rejected and misunderstood by Haven, then they'd found that it brought good to them all; Unity that had been built on hope and love to be their own home, bringing them all together physically.

A terrifying night of unearthly music from the lake, a storm like nothing she'd imagined could be real, and by morning she was alone and feared only she had survived.

Unity, she had realized much later, had died at the hands—or whatever—of the bad sort of demons and of something unknown that lived in the deep lake Unity had been built at the edge of. Demons like the one that now hunted in Haven for Jesse.

Surely here, amidst so many other wolves and other races and seeking a target who didn't even know himself, it would be unable to find one wolf that still carried demon blood and thus was still a threat to any hostile demon who manifested on the material plane.

“Sam?” Bryan said softly. She didn't bother to glance back as he padded barefoot across the carpeted floor to lay his hands on her shoulders. “What is it?”

She started a bit, then realized he wasn't asking about the presence outside, only about what kept her up at this hour.

“There's something out there that shouldn't be.”


Only to Jess, only if it finds him. I don't matter, no matter what I know, I'm only human. “Not as things stand right now. I don't think it'll find what it wants. Then it'll go away.” For a while, at least. They must suspect something, to look here.

Absently, he began to rub the muscles of her shoulders and upper back; she hadn't known until then how tense she was. “I have a hunch I shouldn't ask.”

“I can't tell you.”

“All right. Are you going to sit here all night?”

“Until it leaves, I think.”

“You'll be too sleepy to open the shop tomorrow.”

“I'll be okay. You can go back to bed.”

“Call me if you want me.”

“I will.”

Bryan gave Alfari a good-night rub under her chin, and went back to his room; Sam listened, noticed in affectionate amusement but no surprise that he didn't close his door. She'd been lucky a thousand times over when he found her, she could ask for no truer friend.

Alfari resettled herself more comfortably, quite content to hold vigil with her. It couldn't stay past dawn. Only a few more hours at most, before she could relax and know that once again Jesse had escaped.



Here in the city, with countless lights, there was no way to simply look up and know that tonight was the night of the dark moon.

Patrick knew it anyway. Keeping track of details like that ensured that he was never caught by surprise by his demon servants. They'd turn on him in a heartbeat, given the opportunity, and the night of no moon was a time of demon power. Much better to have it used for his benefit, rather than against him.

He walked the streets of downtown, studying those around him measuringly. What kind of prey should he choose tonight? Power or pain? Maybe he'd just leave it up to chance, and see which he spotted first.

“Spare some change?”

Patrick glanced at the girl huddled in a doorway. Occasionally, he chose a homeless teenager deeply mired in despair and self-contempt and shame; it left them vulnerable to a kind word and an offered meal, even at a cost. Each had willingly suffered to feed Patrick's demons, pathetically grateful for praise and approval. It was much easier than needing to hunt once a month, and he'd found uses for them the rest of the time.

Of course, they never survived past the death-offering the demons demanded once a year, at the winter solstice, but then, it wasn't as though their lives were worth anything anyway. It was probably a mercy, really.

This one, though, she still had a core of strength hidden beneath the raggedly-cropped hair and the tattered layered denim and the faded army blanket. She was no use to him. He shrugged, tossed her a couple of quarters, and kept walking.

He walked past a bar he knew was friendly to the leather and bondage crowd. The concept of domination and submission and all its layers had seemed like a godsend when he'd first encountered it, but he'd discovered quickly that, for the most part, it was the worst possible place to look for someone with the mindset of a victim. The so-called submissives in those circles tended to have too clear an idea of who they were and what they wanted, which made it much more difficult to tie them into emotional knots. Why go to all the extra effort, when he could find prey that was so much easier to break? At least he'd picked up some useful ideas, though he saw no reason for the great care for safety that obsessed that whole group.

Power tickled the fringes of his awareness; he scanned the area, tracking it. It was quiet, muted, he would never have noticed it at all had he not been searching for exactly that sort of clue. That was a dryad aura... there, coming from a young man with café-au-lait skin, mahogany hair drawn back in a tail. In Patrick's experience, dryads came in two basic types: small and slender, or tall and solid. This one was the latter, but life in the city, where contact with the earth and the trees was scarce, had turned what would otherwise have been the sturdiness of an old oak into an illusion—this one was hollow inside. Probably his mother had a brief relationship with a male dryad, and this one had grown up never knowing why he was chronically ill and depressed.

Patrick followed him, twining light mental fingers into the dryad's mind. Yes, the emptiness he'd expected was there, a sense of something missing, a weariness from yet another battle with poor health. He'd won, had recovered, but was beginning to wonder whether it were worth it—hm, that he was doing as well as he was implied that he might be healer-gifted, which would make it all the better. Somewhere, he'd come across the idea that he must have done something in another life that he was paying for in this one, and while he only halfway believed it consciously, some deep part of his mind had latched onto it—any explanation was better than none at all. Even now, he was wondering again what he could have done that was so very terrible.

This would be almost too easy.

He followed the dryad, reaching deeper into his mind, encouraging the fantasies of atrocities he might have committed in another life. While he was in there, he picked up his name, as well: Troy.

The dryad left the busier streets, making his way through a quieter area. Around them were offices, for the most part, all closed for the day; there was no one in sight.

Patrick wrapped an illusion of absence around himself, and nudged Troy's mind with apprehension, enough to make him stop and look around, checking behind him. That gave Patrick a chance to get in front of him. As soon as the dryad faced him, the mage traded that illusion for one that wrapped him in white and gold light, turning his everyday clothes to blinding white, with a suggestion of bright wings.

Troy cried out, shielded his eyes with an arm.

“Peace, Troy,” Patrick said, pitching his voice to gentleness. “There's nothing to fear.”

Cautiously, Troy lowered his arm, eyes watering from the brilliance. “What... who are you?”

“I've come to help you. Nothing ever goes right for you, does it? Somehow, no matter what, you always get sick again, or you stop feeling that anything matters, and your life falls into pieces again.”

“How do you know that?”

“You did something you shouldn't have, in your last life, and you never paid for it. The universe demands balance, so you've been atoning for it in this life, right from your birth. But you know that already, don't you? Something inside told you that was what was happening, that was why the world and even your own body seem to turn against you every time it looks like something might work out.”

Troy lowered his gaze. “Yes,” he whispered.

“I've come to give you a chance to free yourself from that. A chance to do your full penance all at once, so you can be free of it for the rest of your life, and continue on from here with no old business outstanding. What happens then is entirely what you can make of it. But it's your choice to make. It's no easy thing to do a lifetime of penance in a few hours. And once you choose, there's no turning back.”

“All at once?” Troy looked up, hope dawning in his eyes. “Then everything will stop going wrong all the time?”


“Anything! I don't care how hard it is, I'll do it. Please, tell me what I have to do...”

Almost too easy. But that was just as well. He had no stomach for dragging people off by force if he could possibly avoid it.

“Go home,” Patrick said. “I'll come to you there.” He switched illusions again, from brightness to invisibility, and waited while Troy's eyes adjusted to the twilight again.

The dryad lived in an apartment building; small wonder he was sick so often, half a dozen stories up from the earth. Patrick stayed near him, unseen; it took only slightly more illusion to slip in the door past him.

“Now what?” Troy asked the empty apartment.

Patrick let himself appear—still haloed with light, enough to blur his features, but not enough to completely blind the dryad. “You're certain?”

Troy nodded mutely.

Patrick smiled. “Strip.”

He bound the naked, shivering dryad with chains made of fiery light, and turned his imagination loose, describing for Troy in ruthless detail the supposed crimes for which he was being punished. His primary demon, Sikial, came at his call, in the form of a slight, white-clad, blonde youth of about twelve, and watched avidly, drinking in the dryad's guilt and shame and fear.

When Patrick decided Troy was ready, he turned to more physical forms of penance. There was a certain satisfaction in this, in the control it gave him over another person's body and mind and emotions; this aspect of his bargain with Sikial's kind he'd taken to eagerly.

Hours later, near sunrise, Patrick looked down at the sobbing, exhausted dryad. He'd done nothing that wouldn't heal—physically, at least. It would be months before he recovered from Sikial and the others feeding on his healing gifts, but even that would pass. The odds that Troy would ever tell anyone about this were low at worst, and even if he did, who would believe him?

Patrick sighed, and strengthened the illusion of light, backing it with sunlight warmth.

“Troy,” he murmured. “You've done well, and you've atoned for what you did, the balance has been restored. Leave the city, move to a place where you can get back in touch with the earth and the cycles of nature, and go on with your life. You have no further debts to pay. Your life and your future are in your own hands now. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Troy whispered. “Thank you.”

Patrick laid a hand on his forehead, and sent him into a deep sleep. By the time he woke, the edge of the pain would be gone.

“Sikial, go. Wait back at the motel.”

Sikial nodded, and vanished.

Patrick let himself out, laid a hand over the lock and gave it a telekinetic nudge so it snapped shut, and began the walk back to his motel room.



A dream shifted, led Jesse back to the waking world; he opened his eyes on moonlight.

The dream had been very vivid, his dreams often were in Haven, but the nature of it now escaped him, leaving only the memory of intense joy.

He uncoiled himself, regarded his own hand against the white sheet in the bright pale light. He'd never, he felt sure, truly looked at himself before. His body... what was it? Bone and skin, blood and muscle, but what made it his, made it obey his thoughts, made it exist in this form? Slowly, he closed his hand, relaxed it, entranced by the subtle shifting under the skin. He kicked off the blankets, sprawled on his back, stretched languorously; without conscious thought, his hands caressed his body, and somehow his own touch brought him pleasure that made him sigh to himself, eyes closing again. Yet it was easy to imagine he could feel the moonlight, cool fingers playing over his skin, calling to him.

Outside, there'd be no glass between him and the moon.

He got up, wrapped a black magesilk blanket around himself like a cloak, and opened his door quietly. As soundlessly as he could, he made his way downstairs. It was late April, the air was cool, but he didn't care; he spread the blanket near the fountain, and sat down on it. Curiously, he began to explore himself, as one might a new lover, every touch and every sight new and fascinating. The wind brought him tantalizing new scents he'd never imagined, couldn't identify, yet some stirred deep instincts. Earth and wind and moon were one, and he was one with them, everything around him and inside him had always been there yet he'd been blind to it.

He laid back, hands never still; the moon was his lover, the ultimate partner, this wasn't the quick sexual release he knew, this was loving the moon and in the doing loving himself, which was another matter entirely...

The sharper pleasure of climax, he heard himself cry out. Delicious peace wrapped around him, and he relaxed utterly into it, nothing in him prepared to resist.

The only disruption was the wind and his shivering because of it. The thought of going inside and getting dressed made him wrinkle his nose in distaste; he curled up, bare back to the wind, mind busy with the problem.

A simple thought made muscles tighten or loosen, changing shape. Surely, in the magic of the moon, thought could create greater changes? His instincts told him yes, that was the way, the best solution. All he had to do was close his eyes and reach deep down inside to the place where his instincts dwelled, and wish with all his being and feeling and needing.

Pain shuddered through him, but pleasure as well, he accepted both joyfully as his body warped itself into a different form, a form it had never taken yet which it knew right down to every cell, it was agony and it was bliss and it was for this he'd searched, for the incredible feeling of being finally truly whole...

He writhed around, got his feet under him, all four of them, and though he swayed a bit he stood up, shook himself. Much better, the wind could ruffle his heavy black fur without chilling him. The sounds and the scents were so dizzyingly strong, calling to him, how could he ever have not noticed them before?

Walking on four feet took practice, but he caught on, then tried lengthening his strides into a run, and discovered another joy: the easy strength of lupine muscles, tensing and releasing, four feet hitting the ground in a rhythm that carried him at a speed all out of proportion to the effort involved. He raced madly all over the yard, his body zigzagging to avoid obstacles before his mind consciously registered them; he gathered himself, lunged over a lawn chair without touching it and caught his stride again on the other side.

Under a tree, he picked up a stick, pranced a few yards away to fling it skywards with a toss of his head, then chased it to repeat the game. After a number of tries, he grew quick enough to sometimes snatch it right out of the air. Playfully, he snapped at his own bushy tail, chased it around and around until he collapsed giddily to the muddy ground, panting. After a moment, he loped back to the fountain, jumped up to place his front feet on the rim and lap thirstily at the cold clean water. Then off he went again.

This time he investigated scents. One he found over and over his instincts identified as alpha wolf, but he knew too that he had permission to be in the alpha wolf's territory. Other scents wended their ways across the yard, ended at trees or holes. By sniffing at the picnic table, he could pick up so many scents, surely if he knew them all he'd be able to know everyone who had touched it for days.

Following a trail, he hesitated at the gate. Here in the yard it was safe; out there, anything could happen.

The moon wanted him to go, to run far and free, to explore this new world he'd been given. No walls, he didn't need walls to protect him, or his leather and denim, or anything else, only himself.

He wavered a moment longer, turned away from the yard, allowed the enticing scent to lead him out into the wild woods.

Eventually, he lost that trail, but that didn't matter. So much lived in the woods, he'd never dreamed half of it! Scurrying things and flying things and prowling things, a neighbour's cat he came across dining on something she'd caught... suddenly everything was alive, and he belonged here as part of it. He stalked a hare, wriggling on his belly in the mud, but when he pounced it fled and he couldn't catch it.

He wandered blissfully until weariness caught up with him. A little searching found him a place to curl up, half-under a fallen tree and out of the wind, and he slept.

* * *

Kevin came down to the kitchen, found the kettle plugged in and the inner door open, and no sign of Bane. That was uncommon: though Bane, like most wolves, had learned to need only a few hours of sleep, he was also frequently up late enough that Kevin was out of bed before him. And what was so interesting outside at this hour? He pushed the screen door open, and stepped onto the porch.

Hanging over the rail were Bane's robe, worn more for warmth than modesty and soon to be discarded for the summer, and a black magesilk blanket, a colour he'd done only for Jess.

Growing concerned, he sought out his lupine coven-mate mentally, and sent a query.

*I'll be back in a minute,* Bane answered; he sounded satisfied over something. *Nothing's wrong, go have breakfast, I'll be in soon.*


A silent laugh echoed in his thoughts. *I do believe the moon was running high in someone's blood last night.*

Oh? Now that was interesting! Contrary to popular belief, the full moon was unrelated to wolf shapechanging. However, if the moon were bright and a wolf in the right emotional state, it could have a powerful effect. Some called it moon-madness; wolves called it making love with the moon, and rarely discussed it in much depth.

Cynthia joined him while he took cups from the cupboard, no more awake than he had been until he repeated his brief conversation with Bane.

“He's okay?” she said excitedly, eyes widening.

“Would seem so.”

True to his word, not long later Bane came in, naked and mud-splattered, but he looked pleased as he sat at the table across from Cynthia. Kevin pushed his usual cup of tea towards him.

“So? Where's Jess?” Cynthia asked.

“Beats me,” Bane laughed, reaching for the sugar. “Anywhere in the township, by now. I was out trying to track him. I know one wolf-cub who had a hell of a time out in the yard last night—scent trails go every-which-way so much I can't untangle them. One trail matches a hare's, he followed it out the north gate, then it doesn't come back. I tracked him for a good half-mile or more, and it goes all over the place.”

“He changed?”

“Yes.” That explained the intense satisfaction. “Jess is out there on four feet somewhere, I predict thoroughly worn out and asleep by now.”

“That's wonderful! The key part is 'somewhere', though. How are we going to find him?”

“We don't.”

“Oh, come on,” Kevin objected. “He doesn't know how to hunt, or anything else, really. And you want to leave him out there?”

“Yes. He'll be fine, he can find his way home when he wants to. I'll pass on the word to friendly wolves to keep an eye out for him, just in case he does need help, but I doubt it. He's even more of a survivor than most wolves. Let him go.”

Cynthia sighed. “This must be a wolf thing, because I don't understand. But all right. You'd know.”

“Everything's all right,” Bane assured her. “The moon wanted a lover last night, and it happened to time itself with Jess being ready to run. Everything's completely new, there are as many new things to explore as there are stars in the sky, and he's just been given all of it. Would you be in a hurry to come back to everyday life?”

Kevin echoed the sigh. “No, I suppose not. It's just second nature to worry about Jess these days.”

“Don't. He's probably happier than he's ever been.” He looked down at his cup, and smiled. “I almost envy him. He gets to find everything for the first time, instead of just growing up knowing it. Ah, well.” He stood up, went to the phone, pressed one of the memory buttons, and waited. “'Morning, Liam. Is Eva around? I have something important to tell her. No, I can't tell you to tell her—get her. She'll forgive you, I promise.”

* * *


Jesse woke, untangled himself from his bed, and stretched lazily before relieving himself a short distance from his den. He was hungry, he had to find something to eat, that was of primary importance right now.

He saw hares, learned to identify their scent, most often at the edges of the wooded areas, but he lacked the skill to catch the swift creatures. There were largish birds that liked to run around on the ground but they were hard to spot and tended to explode noisily into the air, disturbing everything in range. He had better success with a few mice and a squirrel, much to his delight, and devoured each. That wasn't enough, so he kept searching. He came across a stream, paused for a long drink, that helped a little.

Where could he find food?

He had more sense than to challenge the porcupine he met up with, after it bristled its quills and turned its tail towards him.

There must be something he could catch!

He came to the stream again, and a patch of tender green grass; instinct gave him a nudge, and he snatched a few bites of that. Tasteless, but it helped fill his stomach.

He laid down there in the grass, pondering this dilemma. Food was all around him, now how could he make use of that? Since he didn't have experience or a teacher, he'd just have to use his wits.

There was one highway of note that ran through the township. Maybe he could find a meal waiting for him?

He wasn't sure how he oriented himself and found the right direction, but the one he went in he was certain would take him to it. Deer trails and people paths let him lope at a more or less steady pace most of the distance.

He skirted around houses and farms, finally reached the highway, followed it. When cars drove by, he flattened himself against the ground in the shadow of a bush or rock and effectively disappeared, thanks to his black coat. He ranged some distance, was about to give up when he smelled something. All was quiet; he darted across the highway to inspect it. A groundhog, he thought, and not long dead, perhaps sometime that afternoon. He carried it farther from the highway, tore into it ravenously, ate everything except a few noxious-smelling innards and the bones.

There, much better.

The sun was creeping over the horizon by the time he finished. On a hilltop he found a huge flat rock, unshaded by trees, and laid down to lick away what he could of the mud and bite at the burrs tangled in his heavy fur. The sun felt good, black absorbed the heat and carried it to his bones. He finally gave up, rested his head on his paws, and drowsed away the afternoon in pleasant dreams.

* * *

All right. I'm not settling for road-kill tonight. I'm going to have real proper fresh meat.

He'd had to resort to that again the prior night, after even less success than he had during his first night completely on his own. It worked, and his body didn't object, but his pride did. He was a wolf, he shouldn't have to eat what was already dead!

Determinedly, he prowled the woods, as stealthily as he could.

Everything had to drink, right? He oriented on the lake, stayed near the shore where he could, except where there were houses to avoid.

Aha! A raccoon, fishing around in the shallow water, and as yet unaware of his presence.

He circled so he was downwind, and dropped to his belly, inching his way closer. That was a respectably large animal, if he could kill it he'd have an excellent meal. If he could only be careful enough, remember every detail he'd learned in all his failed attempts for two nights...

Closer, and closer, and... pounce at it, grabbing for its neck.

It squealed and moved; his teeth tore deeply down its side without killing it. As it ran for the nearest tree, he jumped at it again, the taste of blood overriding any logic and putting pure instinct in control. This time he seized it by the back, shook it violently until he heard bone snap and felt it go limp.

He dropped it, panting—that was heavy. Triumph surged as he nudged the now-dead raccoon with his nose. He'd killed it! All alone, he'd hunted and killed and could now enjoy the rewards.

Intensely pleased with himself, he flipped it over, pinned it with one foot so he could rip its underside open and give himself access to the hot innards.

Quite some time later, very full and satisfied, he had a drink and gave the remains a last sniffing-over. Not much left, but it had been the most delicious thing he'd ever eaten.

He sought out a place that would be sunny later, on another glacial rock, and stretched out on his side contentedly. Now he knew he could do it, surely he could do it again when he needed to.

He felt no hunger when he woke the next night, thanks to the heavy meal he'd had.

That meant he could explore without that nagging at him.

Where was he? Still in Janicot Township, he thought, or at least near it. Some distance from Haven and home, though.

Maybe he should head back that way? There must be other wolves around, he'd caught traces here and there, and it would be both dangerous and discourteous to intrude into the territory of another pack. He could turn back towards Haven, that would be better.

It felt marvellous to be out and running. He used the roads, slipping away and out of sight from headlights and people when necessary, but that happened rarely. The moon above was waning yet still bright enough to call to him, to add to the thrill of the exercise.

There, he was getting close to Haven. He circled around the village proper, let his homing instincts lead him to a high stone wall by the lake.

This was home. If he stayed near here, all would be well. That was all he had to remember. There was plenty of room to hunt.

He sniffed around the gate, picked up the alpha male's scent, and that of the alpha bitch and others. Automatically, he marked the ground by the corner, letting anyone else who came along know he'd been there, and spun away.

* * *

Lazily, he stretched in the afternoon sun, enjoying the feel of it on his bare skin. It had taken him a few nights, but he'd mastered shifting back and forth between both forms, to take advantage of each. His wolf body might be better adapted for living this way, including in that it didn't need to be fed every day if he ate well enough, but his human body could do things like climb trees for eggs—or get the feathers off a bird so he didn't have to taste the vile things. He was becoming quite adept at shapechanging, in fact.

It would be time again soon to go hunting, so he turned his thoughts towards planning that. What trick could he devise for tonight?

He rolled over on his stomach to let the sun warm his back, grateful for the other stones acting as a windbreak. It was so wonderful here. He couldn't remember ever being so completely content. There was nothing to hurt him, no one telling him he was bad and would never be any use to anyone, no confusion or mysteries. Everything was finally fair, he ate if he was clever and quick enough to catch something, and around that he could play or explore, learning about all the new things.

Then why did he sometimes feel just a little lonely? This would be even more wonderful if there were someone to share it with... wouldn't it?

He tried to dismiss that, to concentrate on planning tonight's hunt, but it persisted with increasing strength. Wasn't there more to life than simply running around the woods wild, avoiding everyone? Maybe, a life where he was some use to someone, and a life where he had a pack to run with, instead of all by himself?

He wrestled with the problem without arriving at a solution, long past shifting back to fur as the air began to grow chill, on into the twilight he'd always loved and now only felt more at home in. He visited the nearby stream for a drink, and went prowling for his meal.

Not so very far away, a wolf howled, and a moment later in ragged order three others replied. He listened, and a few minutes later heard them repeat it, this time all closer together. He recognized them, though he wasn't sure how.

He could go join them, stay with them...

No! That was crazy! He could survive on his own, he didn't need anyone else! He didn't have to give anyone a chance to hurt him, ever again!

Except that the blissful happiness of the first days had faded, and he knew there was still something missing.

Uncertainly, he turned in the direction of the last set of howls. Maybe he could have company, just for tonight, they must know a lot more than he did and maybe they could teach him. He didn't have to stay, he could always come back, the woods and wind and moon would always be ready to accept him without question.

He got near where he thought they must be, but couldn't find them. Shakily, he sat back and coiled his tail around his feet, and concentrated hard on throwing back his head and howling. It wasn't as musical as theirs, but it carried.

Immediate response, it didn't take long at all for four large furry bodies to come racing through the forest to him. They greeted him joyfully, everyone trying to welcome him at once, alpha wolf and alpha bitch and the other two, telling him so much all in one confused tangle that he couldn't understand anything except their excitement and delight.

The alpha bitch finally began to snap at the others, driving them off far enough that he had room to breathe, while she shielded him with her own pale-furred body. Affectionately, she licked his ear—the one that had been savaged by a groundhog some time before.

Hunt? she asked, quite clearly, though the human part of his mind couldn't figure out how. He thought it was in large part body language that his instincts translated for him.

Hunt, he agreed. Hungry.

Teach, promised the other male wolf, not the alpha one. Hunt.

The alpha wolf, large and dark brown, paced back and forth a few times, thinking. He must have reached a decision, because he spun around and loped away. The rest followed.

The older wolves showed him how to hunt sleeping ducks, brown ones with bright iridescent heads, as a team: they found a trio of them sleeping under a tree near a pond, and the alpha male nudged him into following the other male and alpha bitch around between them and the water. The alpha male and the chestnut bitch stalked them, and while the alpha male seized one, the chestnut bitch missed and the third took off as well—directly towards the three waiting wolves. He snatched at one in vain, but the other two caught the escaping birds. The five of them shared the three ducks amicably, the alphas claiming less of the best bits than they could have. All four of the older wolves, in fact, let the young black one eat what he realized belatedly was more than his share.

He liked having the company, being able to smell the other wolves all around him, even more than the food.

Bellies full, they got down to the serious business of fun.

The alpha bitch dropped into play-position: chest low, ears forward, tail waving. He obligingly pounced at her, and she darted away, inviting him to chase her. The chestnut bitch jumped out of nowhere to attack him and send both of them into a sparring match of playful growls and snaps. The alpha wolf pursued the chestnut bitch in and out around the trees, until the black wolf crouched behind one and leaped out at him, startling him; the alpha wolf knocked him down and pinned him, not hard with his greater mass, and licked mischievously at face and ears and throat while his captive squirmed halfheartedly.

In someone's deserted pasture, the alpha bitch shifted to human, picked up a stick to throw as far as she could, and the others raced after it. After a time, the alpha wolf traded with her, so she could have a chance at the game too. The black wolf was smaller than all save the alpha bitch, much the same size. That gave him a little more manoeuvrability, enough so that a reasonable number of times he was the one who snatched up the stick and ran back with it before anyone could take it from him.

It felt like too soon when the other wolves said farewells and scattered home, yet he had to admit he was exhausted. The alpha wolf waited for him, and together they loped back to a grey stone wall, and in a gate, and up to a porch that looked over a fountain.

There they curled up together, sharing warmth, and slept.



Her belly full for the first time in days, Aindry left Jaisan to guard the rest of the deer they'd brought down, and trotted back to collect their belongings. The ground was clear, no snow at all penetrated the thick conifers to whiten the rusty needles below.

A sharp cr-rack was the only warning she had before the tree fell; she lunged forward, and it missed her, though not by much. Instantly wary, she spun around, searching the still air for any scent of danger.

Shadows detached themselves from the rest, drew themselves together into a solid form. The upper body was grotesquely humanoid, yet with four clawed arms; at the waist, its body trailed off into that of a massive snake.

Another one. Once, attacks from the demon plane had long intervals between them, so long they'd wondered sometimes whether they'd been forgotten or dismissed as not important and maybe they could settle down somewhere. They always turned up eventually, though, even if it took a while. Presumably it wasn't easy to get themselves called here and then choose their own prey, or to find cracks between the planes that they could slip through alone. Lately, the frequency had been increasing, not at all a good sign.

This demon advanced towards her, baring teeth that put a wolf's to shame. She crouched, growling a warning, her ears flat against her skull; she could feel the rhythm of her heart speed up, the rush of adrenaline...

It darted forward with surprising speed, all four arms extended to snatch at her. Aindry slipped away to the right, tore at its side with her teeth, but they glanced off metallic scales. It thrashed sideways, and she barely escaped being swept off her feet.

She circled around it, tried to decide how to attack. She doubted she'd be able to get her preferred grip on the back of its neck, so something else. Even demons had to follow some rules when they took physical form. She just wished she'd had longer with her mother to learn all the tricks of killing demons.

It came at her again—how did it move so quickly with that awkward-looking tail?—and again she ducked sideways. This time she snatched for one of the arms, and closed her teeth on it with all her strength. The claws of the other hand on that side raked across her hindquarters shallowly, but she crunched down harder, chewing at it. The demon shrieked and whipped around to bring the other claws into play, and she backed off, noting in satisfaction that she'd half-severed one hand from its wrist. Still screaming, it drew its arms in close to its body, and the whole shape fluxed. A huge snake reared above her and hissed. Blood dripped from one side.

All right, how was she to get through those scales?

She grinned to herself. Easy: don't. She turned and fled, back towards Jaisan.

It couldn't keep up with a running wolf in that form; it had to shapeshift again to follow her, as she'd hoped. It took the form of a black wolf half again her size, and ran after her.

Aindry watched her surroundings closely for a place she'd passed a few minutes before... there! She thought, hoped, she had enough of a lead to pull this off. She crested a small hill, reached the bottom in three more strides, and slewed to a halt to hide herself in the shadow of a tree to one side.

The demon came over the hill, passed her; five feet later, it halted, finally realizing something was wrong.

Too late. Aindry flung herself at it from behind, ripping with teeth and front claws, doing as much damage as she could before it could shift back to its snake form.

Not quite enough damage, though it was now blood-streaked in a number of places. She fled again, and again it went back to wolf to pursue.

She had yet to meet a demon that would fall for the same trick twice in a row; trying had gotten her and Jaisan both hurt a few times. She'd have to think of something else.

A sudden yelp echoed off the trees from behind her; she skidded to a stop, spun around. Two black wolves were tearing at each other savagely. Not surprising that Jaisan had heard the demon's screams. She backtracked to help, adding her own teeth and claws and fury. Some of the blood she smelled was hers and Jaisan's, but the scent was overwhelmingly that of the demon's; it couldn't even seem to muster itself enough to return to snake-form.

She finally got a firm grasp on the back of its neck and crunched down until she felt bone shatter under the pressure of her jaws. With a last wail, the demon melted away, back into shadows and silence.

Both panting, the wolves stood still a moment, waiting for the demon-rage to pass. They needed to get clean, they needed somewhere they could sleep for a few hours while their bodies worked on the demon poison... Wearily, she forced herself to move, prodded Jaisan into motion. No snow to roll in, no open water to splash in, it looked like getting clean was going to have to wait a bit. Back to the clearing where the small pile of their belongings was, and no farther; they curled up heavily, a little apart, and endured. The poison had already worked its way in deeply, spreading its cold fire through every cell; gradually, Aindry felt it fade, as wolf resistance to poison came into full force.

Ravenous, she'd have liked to get back to the waiting deer, but she curled herself around her little brother to wait for him to get past it, licking his ear reassuringly.

Finally, he struggled to his feet and shook himself, then licked in disgust at the acid-tasting demon blood that matted his fur. Aindry sympathized, she wanted very badly to get it out of her own coat. She shifted to human, scraped at the caked blood with her nails, then called Jaisan over while she dug in her pack for the brush they'd stolen from a pet store. She brushed out as much dried blood as she could, checking at the same time that none of the wounds he'd taken were too serious; she decided they'd have to go slower for the next few days, but what difference did it make? It wasn't like they were going anywhere.

Once she finished, they traded forms and places and Jaisan returned the favour. More than once Aindry growled at him when he got rough; he'd been oddly distracted for the last few days, though generally in a more bright and high-spirited mood than she'd seen in much too long. Each time she complained, he apologized and was gentler for the next few strokes, then drifted off mentally again.

At least it got rid of the worst of the mess. She twitched away, and shifted back to human long enough to return the brush to her pack.

“Come on, let's go see if anything stole the rest of that deer. I'm starving.”

Jaisan nodded, shifted to wolf and seized the straps of his backpack between his teeth. He tossed it so it rested across his shoulders, waited for her, then together they made their way back to their kill.

A few ravens were feeding happily; they paused long enough to give the wolves wary looks, but when neither wolf attempted to chase them off they went back to their meal, all eating contentedly. Aindry wished the ravens would stay; she remembered a family of ravens that had lived near their house, remembered playing with them. But any creature that came with them was likely to die, and she cared too much for these feathered friends to want to see that happen.

Once full, they curled up to nap a bit and let that digest. Aindry thought they could get another meal from it before they moved on, even sharing with the ravens and anything else brave enough to approach.

The ravens squabbled over the meat, then perched in the trees around them. Aindry couldn't help but think they were offering to stand guard over the sleeping wolves in return for the meal...



Light spilled out the window above them; he heard someone moving inside, heard the door open, heard a voice say Bane's name questioningly.

The alpha wolf raised his head, whined an answer, and the screen door opened as well. The scent was familiar, though stronger and richer now, but he couldn't immediately place either it or the voice that laughed softly. “Wolf-cub's home, hm?”

The alpha wolf untangled himself, stretched lazily, and shifted. “After an adventure or twenty, I'd say,” he said, amused.

“Looks it. He doesn't even look black, there's so much mud.”

“Go back to sleep, Jess. I have to go to class.”

He shrugged to himself, rearranged himself more comfortably. Whatever; sleep was what he wanted to do anyway.

He heard the van pull out, but registered it as a harmless sound and paid no attention.

When he next woke, everything was quiet, and the sun was far enough to the west to be creeping under the porch roof.

He got to his feet, shook himself heavily. It made sense to change to human and go inside, but somehow that felt so final, like he was making the choice of houses over woods. He had a drink from the fountain, went out of the yard to relieve himself, and prowled restlessly around. What should he do?

The other wolves had been so happy when he'd called to them, when he'd joined them... wasn't this where he belonged?

He looked longingly towards the north gate that led out to freedom and wildness, but sighed and shifted to human, and opened the unlocked door. That made him smile: it was certainly safe to leave the door open: who was stupid enough to venture it with a big black wolf lying there?

The kitchen was warm, welcoming; he got a glass of juice, noted impersonally that his hands were a mess, his nails cracked and dirty, small cuts decorating them. Come to think of it, the rest of him was a mess, too. Not at all good for his vanity. He finished the juice, set the glass in the sink, and made his way through the house to his and Kevin's bathroom.

His reflection in the mirror made him wince. He'd definitely gone wild, although at least Liam's trick for stopping hair growth meant it wasn't as alarming as it could have been. He could think about things after he was clean.

The hot shower felt wonderful, washing away the mud and grime; his hair was more of a problem. It took considerable amounts of shampoo to get it clean, then even more conditioner and a lot of muttered curses to comb the tangles and the burrs out.

Still naked but feeling much better, he went to his room, crossed the floor to the mirror. A decided improvement, although his left ear was torn, the silver moon earring Flynn had given him missing. Probably lost beyond all finding out in the forest somewhere. Yet the silver ring Gisela had given him remained on his right hand, and the chain around his neck; where had they been while he was a wolf? Lost in the depths of his fur? His skin was mottled all over with bruises and scratches and small cuts, none of them more than superficial, but they made him look like...

Like I've been living in the forest for... how long, anyway?

Back in civilization, the balance was shifting, away from his wolf instincts and the inclination to live entirely in the present.

I can change into a wolf. I just spent god-knows how long mostly as a wolf. I really did.

Whatever I am, Bane is too, and they knew, they never told me...

Whoa, cool it, Jess. How exactly did you expect them to tell you? “Hey, Jess, by the way, you're a werewolf”?

Jesus. I'm a werewolf. I'm a fucking werewolf.

Funny, the movies never mention how much fun it is. I guess they weren't made by anyone who would know.

Well, I don't feel any different, really, other than sort of stunned, which I guess makes sense. How are you supposed to feel when you find out you're a werewolf? I know I don't feel particularly evil, and I didn't get any overpowering urges to kill anybody, so werewolves are probably about as evil as witches and gays.

Wonderful. All in one house, a witch and an elf and a dryad and two werewolves.

Full moons obviously aren't necessary. Silver isn't bothering me any. Hm, if Bane and Bryan are both werewolves, and I know very well they both are although I don't know how I recognized Bryan, does that mean it's hereditary? One of my unknown parents was a werewolf? And it isn't the usual half-man, half-wolf thing, it's all the way into a wolf. The same as a normal wolf? What do I know about wolves?

Please, please, somebody come home so I can get some answers!

He glanced at the clock: over an hour before they'd finish classes.

Okay, I guess I'm going to have to see what I can figure out by myself, now that I'm thinking. That was really weird, I was still me, but I was thinking such a different way. If that's always going to happen, I'm not sure I like that. I'd rather be able to think the same always.

Only one way to find out.

He sat down in front of the mirror, took a deep breath.

Come on, Jess, you've done this a hundred times in the last few days. You can always change back. Do it!

He closed his eyes, concentrated on the feeling of four feet and fur.

This time, he was more conscious of the sensation, of pain and pleasure twining together into a single feeling, neither one as powerful as the first time. He'd felt something like that, sometime before venturing out of the house in the moonlight; when?

He chickened out of looking, kept his eyes closed until he was completely wolf.

Cool, I'm a black wolf.

It really does feel neat, kinda strange but neat. Having a tail is really weird. I'm not going to think rude jokes right now.

Hey, I'm not thinking different this time.

He contemplated his own reflection. Very shaggy fur, and it looked heavier yet around his neck and shoulders, something like a lion's mane. That would make it awfully hard for anything to hurt him there. Not absolute black, though, there were lighter markings, mainly on his face. His eyes looked strangely gold, was that just because his colour sight worked differently? It faded, slowly, even as he watched. Maybe not.

He stretched, watching himself, and decided he made a very attractive wolf, midnight fur shining in the sunlight now that it was clean. Right now, though, he had some thinking to do. He shifted back to human, got up—he'd have to puzzle out position equivalents later—and went to the closet. His jeans and a T-shirt made him feel a little more normal. He curled up in one corner of the loveseat, trying very hard to track down the elusive memories of that sensation. So strong he'd thought he'd be torn apart... a glimpse of a woman with red hair and a mocking smile... it had to be during his missing days, the time immediately before waking up with Kevin there, because he didn't think it came from his missing early years.

He was still worrying at that when he heard the van pull in—not that he'd ever been able to hear it before, but then, his senses were still almost as keen as they were when he was a wolf.

Not long after, Bane knocked on the open door. “Can I come talk?”


The alpha wolf perched on the window-seat nearer to Jess.

“I'm guessing the first thing you want to know is if anyone knew and if so why no one told you.”

“I think I figured out part of the story, but that piece I'm missing. I have a hunch it has something to do with the redhead with the attitude, and that it's connected somehow with the fact that someone broke an addiction for me that I couldn't make myself shake alone, and to something Gisela said once about sometimes healing someone like she did me leaves side-effects. I don't think she meant fixing my hand. I think there's something in my missing couple of days that you've all known all along and not told me.”

Bane smiled, and Jesse picked up a scent that the back of his mind translated as approval and affection, though he was too on-edge to really respond to it. “You do a good job, for a puzzle with missing pieces. And you're right.”


“Slow down, let me explain. We were truly trying to do what was best for you, Jess. I'm not sure we didn't make a mistake, but we had good intentions.”

“The road to hell...”

“I'm aware of that. Well. Being a wolf has nothing to do with being bitten, in a literal sense.”

“I think if you're being bitten by a wolf you've got worse things to worry about.”

Bane chuckled at that. “True. Wolves are another race, like elves and dryads. However, wolf blood can be passed on latent, asleep, indefinitely. What wakes it is power-sharing with a fully active wolf.”

“And this thing the redhead wanted me to do, sitting in a circle with her and some other people, that was like the circles you do every week. Power-sharing. And someone there was a wolf.”

“I suppose technically it's much the same,” Bane said distastefully. “Although it might be better to say it's the difference between rape and love. The redhead is Rebecca, she's a wolf, and the elvenmage and the witch from her coven were there too. Rebecca has a long-standing grudge against Sundark, the reason isn't currently relevant but she seriously hates us. When a latent wolf's wolf side is awakened, it creates incredible amounts of power for a short time. Rebecca used that to attack Kev and Dia and I while we were alone.”

“I don't think I like her. What happened?”

“Flynn warned Kev in time for him to shield us. Kev lost his temper, which he fortunately rarely does these days, and hit back with everything he had. Rebecca threw you in the middle, which protected her and her coven but damned near killed you.”

“I would imagine so, I've seen what he can do when he's just messing around. This is where Gisela comes in.”

“Yes. We weren't about to leave you to die. We tracked you down, and Kev gated Gisela and Flynn there fast. Gisela lost you briefly, I figured that was it, but that fool mage jumped in, in the middle of the night after already mostly draining himself, and somehow the two of them managed to drag you back. That is what left you linked, all three of you. Not the way a coven is linked, it's pretty faint and pretty deep, but I rather doubt it's going to break.”

“Uh-huh. Suddenly I understand a lot of little things. That still doesn't explain why nobody just told me all this. Maybe not when I first woke up, I would've been out of there awful damned quick, but you've had like over six months of me in and out. Christ, this time alone I've been here for a month or more.”

Bane was silent for a moment. “Rebecca hurt you very badly, I just told you that. Even Gisela with Kev backing her couldn't mend the damage much beyond getting you back to safe ground, and there was no reason to think any other healer could do more. We weren't sure if it would ever heal completely, and we were afraid we were going to have to tell you, well, sorry, Jess, you could've come run with the wolves except there's too many psychic scars, you won't ever be able to. I, at least, was quite sure you'd never heal.” He chuckled softly. “Which at first I saw as a good thing, but Kev talked me into putting up with you past the day I picked up your scent in my room, and at some point I started hoping you'd heal, instead. I didn't realize at first just how guilty Kev felt about it, or how upset he was over the idea of you never healing completely. Actually, I'm not sure it completely hit me until I saw just how relieved he was when I told him you'd changed. So. We waited. I suppose we should've told you at the very least that there are wolves around, and I think I would've soon since you already knew about pretty much everything else. That's what I meant about good intentions.”

“If you'd told me wolves existed, I would've figured it out for myself.”


“Lots of hints. Dreams... stuff like that. I couldn't possibly have not put the two together. I'm good at lying to myself sometimes, but I'm not that stupid.”

“Nobody thinks you're stupid.”

“I suppose half of Haven was in on this. I'm not sure if I'm flattered everybody thought it was worth the effort or supremely pissed off at the whole bunch of you.”

“You do have a perfect right to be.”

Both fell quiet again.

“So,” Jess said. “I'm a werewolf. Wouldn't that freak Shaine out something fierce. What don't I know about being a werewolf?”

“A lot. That's going to take some time to learn.”

“Major points.”

Bane shrugged. “Our first responsibility is to protect. There are things out there that feed on psychic energy, and even Kev can't protect himself. Wolves can fight them, though, and we do, even though it means getting hurt sometimes. I can't think of any incident of a wolf smelling a predator in range and not attacking it. That was how I met Flynn, in fact: he'd just come to Haven, had no clue, was out wandering around. He almost got munched, but I killed it and then scared him half to death by changing to human.” He grinned. “He smelled like a seer, he was in Haven, how was I to know he'd never seen a wolf before?”

That was a fun thought, especially since nothing ever seemed to surprise Flynn. “There can't possibly be enough wolves to protect everybody. And you can't be with everyone at once.”

“The coven-link protects. If they killed me, Kevin would be first, Cynthia second, and Deanna and Flynn for dessert. Mages and very strong gifted and witches tend to attract, and any coven with that kind of concentrated power will always have a wolf in it. Weaker covens might not, though, and solitaries aren't taking an insane risk by staying solitary. You're right, it wouldn't be possible to protect everyone individually. Mostly we defend the area. Haven is collectively the territory of every wolf who lives here, and predators are intruders—there's a whole lot more I'll need to explain about territoriality. That keeps them too wary to venture in very often. Once in a while they get someone, but it's very rare, and usually they have to be begging for it like Flynn was. Predators aren't as common these days as they apparently used to be, either. I think I could live with it if they became extinct.”

“Then they wouldn't need wolves anymore,” Jess pointed out, with a hint of mischief.

That made Bane laugh, and lean back against the wall. “There's that. They'd never put up with all our quirks if they didn't need us. Of course, we wouldn't have so many if we could live like we're meant to. There are a crazy number of us living in what for wolves is very close quarters, a territory of a few dozen square miles, whereas one pack of wild wolves can have a hundred square miles. Tame food is fine, but without wild food once in a while we get sick, so we have to be always careful about hunting—it helps that no one else can hunt around here and the witches and dryads keep things healthy and wildlife filters in from farther away to fill the gaps eventually, but still. Having to deal with so many other wolves can get extremely stressful. The price of keeping our friends safe is that we get forced into behavioural patterns that just aren't natural for us. Some deal with it better than others. Mostly, we learn not to need a lot of sleep, and we spend days being civilized and go play at night. Some people are more understanding than others, too.”

That conversation continued for quite some time, Bane obligingly answering every question Jess could come up with, until Bane told him Kevin said supper was ready.

Mage and witch greeted Jess with undisguised relief that he was home, as the two wolves joined them at the table.

“Were you having fun for the last two weeks?” Kevin asked.

“I was gone that long? Shit, Shaine's going to kill me, that means I've been here for over six weeks. Yes, actually, I did have fun. But I think I'll stick with civilization for now.”

Bane chuckled, and handed Jess the plate of steak. “You were gone right through Beltaine and on into May. There's a reason we let them halfway tame us. Hot showers and food you don't have to catch and clean beds being important points.”

“So I discovered. I think maybe this is really home.”

“We've been trying to tell you that,” Kevin said.

“I didn't say I'm staying here for good.”

“Oh, for... how much more proof that you belong here do you want?”

“The fact that I'm a werewolf and there are wolves in Haven does not mean I belong here.”

“Cool it, phoenix,” Bane growled.

Kevin heaved a sigh, and reached for the pitcher of fruit punch. “So what is it going to take?”

“I think maybe I'm going to go back to Shaine for a while. I always come back, you should know that by now. But I need to think, and he is my friend. I guess... there's too many loose ends.”

“It's your choice,” Cynthia said. “Your room's always here waiting, but this isn't a prison.”

“No. It's just the only safe place I know, where anybody actually cares. I'll go in a couple of days, once I feel a bit more grounded in reality.”

“Not until Gisela gets a chance at the mess you made of your ear,” Bane said. “She can fix it, healers get used to fixing ears for us. And not until we have the party to end all parties. We can't have a party to celebrate your being fully wolf without you here, can we?”

Oh, good god, not another party! Didn't they ever stop?



Gisela wondered how people had picnics without witches.

Cynthia, Naomi, and Nick, between them, were holding a shield over the picnic table to keep ants and bees from being drawn to the lavish selection of munchie-foods Kevin and Lori had made—everything from fresh fruit and vegetables through cold meat and devilled eggs to cookies and tarts. The witches had also talked a couple of barn swallows into hanging around to take care of any biting flies and the mosquitoes that would soon start to show up as the sun dipped lower; there were bats living in a bat house that could be coaxed into taking over after dark.

Okay, so bugs have their place, ‘specially the bees and ants because they're helping with the yard, but having a picnic with them? That'd be annoying.

The sun was pleasantly warm without being too hot, and the ground was dry enough that they could all simply lounge on the grass. Not far away, the fountain they'd had to pay a plumber to fix played cheerfully, glittering in the sunlight; all the other improvements on the yard, she and Deanna and Liam and the three witches had done. Beds of plants with bright flowers and pleasant scents would continue to bloom in sequence right through until fall—Naomi, who grew houseplants and spices to sell, was especially good at that, except with the colours, obviously—and vivid little green hummingbirds flitted around them right along with the heavy bumblebees and graceful butterflies. The rock garden was well on the way to being repaired, though she couldn't see that from here. It would take them years to do everything they'd thought of, but for the moment, they'd made a satisfying beginning.

“I would not, for anything, be a wolf,” Nick said idly; sprawled on his back with an arm over his eyes, Gisela thought he looked like a contented cat. “Off running around and introducing Jess to the other packs is not my idea of fun, when I can be right here.”

Sonja giggled, and fed him a green grape before eating one herself. “Lazy.”

“He has a point,” Flynn said. “Between lying in the sun with the elvenmage idea of a light snack and friends to whom you have nothing to prove, or running all over Haven and having to worry about who's alpha and who's got more status than whom and all the rest of that junk, I'll take being right here any day.”

“We'd be in an awful lot of trouble without them,” Deanna pointed out, just a bit sleepily, leaning back against Cynthia's raised knees while the witch braided and unbraided her dark hair just for the sake of playing with it.

“Nobody said anything about not appreciating them,” Naomi said, and gave Gwyn another bite of mock chicken. “Just being glad not to be them. I don't understand how they can put up with it, either.”

“Within one pack, it isn't so bad,” Sam said. Alfari sniffed at her plate, and helped herself to a slice of ham, dragging it off onto the grass. Sam just sighed indulgently, and glanced at the bowl of water that had been left in the shade of the table for Alfari and Gwyn, probably making sure it was still reasonably full. “It's only with so many all in the same place that it gets crazy. Packs become groups of friends instead of family units, and family members are in different packs. All the really complicated stuff keeps them from fighting every time they come within scent range of each other.”

“We all know they have to do all that, and why,” Flynn said. “And unfortunately, no one has come up yet with a better alternative. If there are lots of elves and dryads and gifted humans together, there are going to be lots of wolves, too.”

“We certainly hope so,” Kevin muttered, as he got comfortable again near Lori with another plate of food for them both to nibble on.

“Spread the elves and dryads and gifted humans out enough to give the wolves lots of space, and what do you get? No Haven, no college, just a lot of hiding from the neighbours and isolation from others who can understand.”

“Without the college, finding a coven would be almost impossible,” Nick said. “You'd get small groups with minimal contact.” He'd come here to the college from Ravenrock in British Columbia on the west coast, Sonja had come from Falias in Newfoundland on the east coast, and Evaline and Liam were both native to Haven; Bryan and Lori were from Haven, but Naomi had come here from Endor. Gisela could definitely see his point. Sundark was the closest she could think of to a coven all from a single village, but Flynn had come from outside the villages, and Cynthia had lived here with family only since high school: her parents had an extraordinary chance at working in renewable energy research but taking their witch daughter to live in a Toronto suburb would have made her sick and miserable. Of course, her highly perceptive parents being in Scarborough worked out just as well for Flynn and his mother...

“We need the villages and the college,” Lori seconded. “Even the covens that live on their own in other places keep at least loosely in contact, and a lot of that is through the villages being the core of the whole network. It'd be nice if it weren't so hard on the wolves...”

“But they've adapted,” Sam said. “That's the whole point of all the elaborate rules about social status and behaviour. Most wolves have no trouble with that. Adult wolves spend the majority of their time with pack and coven, encounter each other mostly on neutral ground, have clear rules on how to handle those encounters, and everything is fine. No particular stress. It's just the odd anomaly... 'Fari, leave me some, would you?... the odd anomaly who can't make that adjustment, and then you get all the stress and irrational antisocial behaviour and such.”

Gisela saw Kevin and Deanna both wince.

“I am still,” Nick said, “glad I'm not a wolf.”

“I suspect the wolves are glad they aren't anything else,” Liam said quietly; he was sitting as still as only a dryad could, watching a small pale yellow butterfly that had landed on his arm. “I've heard Eva say things a few too many times along the lines of, I wish you could come run with us, it's too bad you can't. While we're all lying here being glad we're here instead of there, they're probably feeling sorry for us for exactly the same reason.”

It was an interesting thought; Gisela considered it seriously.

“Point,” Lori conceded. “To us, it looks complicated and restrictive, but last time I said something about it to Bryan, he shrugged and said, That's just how things are. Okay, so Bryan's the world's most easygoing wolf, but I've never heard him complain. And he has made comments like Eva's.”

“Diversity is a wonderful thing,” Flynn laughed.

“Jess didn't grow up with all this, though,” Sonja said. “Is he going to be okay with it?”

“Not right away, but give it some time. He's learned to deal with everything else.”

“Besides,” Kevin said, “you obviously haven't actually seen Jess come home from a run. He's bouncier than Cait, and happier than I've ever seen him. That'll help a lot. I wouldn't worry about it. The others will make sure he learns what he needs to.”

“And hopefully they'll finish up the grand procession eventually and remember that there's still a party here,” Deanna said.

“Miss a party?” Nick laughed. “Not likely. They'll be back. And by then, the dryads'll be well-rested, the elves'll be well-fed, and we'll all be ready to party all night.”

“They won't take a chance on missing out on the food, either,” Cynthia said. “Not if I know our wolves.”

The conversation meandered aimlessly, comfortably, and shortly before the sun vanished below the horizon, Flynn said, “Here they come.”

Those who were dozing—Gisela among them— roused themselves and stretched, and Kevin got up to check how much food was left.

“Watch it, they're...” Flynn began.

Five large bodies poured in through the gate at high speed, eliciting various yelps and a lot of ducking as the wolves variously dodged around or jumped over obstacles, people included. Jess cleared Nick and Sonja easily, and skidded to a stop next to Gisela, panting, but with his ears forward and his tail waving.

“Don't do that,” Lori scolded. Bryan just gave her a wolf grin and ran his tongue up her cheek in a sloppy kiss before collapsing beside her, sides heaving. Lori made a square of magesilk out of sunlight and wiped her face with it, then whapped Bryan with it before letting it dissolve. “Don't do that either.”

“Who won?” Naomi asked.

The chocolate-furred heap next to Cynthia and Deanna changed. “Not sure,” Bane laughed breathlessly. “But I think it was Eva or Jess.”

Evaline changed, too. “Less mass to move,” she giggled. “By the time you guys get into motion, we're long gone.”

“If the two of you hadn't been zigzagging all over the place, Bryan and I would probably have run right over you.”

“I almost did,” Caitryn said, and paused to scoop another handful of water from the fountain.

Gisela laughed, and rubbed Jess behind his ears. “Good one, Jess.”

“That little brat there,” Bryan said, “is going to lose that pretty black tail next time he gets it in my face like that.” He didn't sound any more serious than the other wolves did.

“Only if I don't bite it first,” Caitryn retorted.

“No biting the wolf-cub,” Evaline said sternly, and actually managed to hold the expression for a couple of seconds before starting to giggle again.

Gisela picked up sudden shyness from the wolf under her hand.

“Change,” she said softly. “It's easier to talk and stuff.” She moved her hand, so it was only resting reassuringly on his shoulder.

Jess' ears went halfway back, briefly, and he looked down, then he shifted to human. The shyness didn't go away, though; he stayed near her, and quiet, though she could feel the joy singing inside him. She smiled, let her hand fall so she could close it around his and squeeze.

“Now that we've got the rest of the gang here and all in a useful shape,” Kevin said, “let's get on with this party, shall we?”



Jess dropped the required change in a pay-phone, dialled a familiar number, and waited patiently for someone to answer.

Caitryn did. “Hello.”

“Hiya, Cait. It's Jess.”

“Hi! How's it going?”

“Could be better.” There was an understatement. “How 'bout you?”

“Ah, things are pretty quiet 'round here, you were here for so long last time that we got used to you. Besides, we're all still recovering from that party.”

No kidding. “Is someone from Sundark around?”

“Why on Earth would you want to talk to Sundark? I'm much more fun. Go away, Kev, you can have it when I'm done talking to Jess.”

“Please? This is serious.”

“Oh, all right, if it's something serious. You take care.” She moved the phone, and he heard her say in the background, “It's Jess.”

Kevin took it from her. “Heya, Jess. What's up?”

“Can I ask a favour?” Jesse said quietly.

“Of course you can.”

“Can someone come get me? Like today?” And get me out of here?

“Sure, there has to be someone around who isn't studying for an exam or working on a major assignment, or attempting to recover from all of the above. I'll find someone, watch for either van. Directions?”

Jess described how to reach the apartment from the highway into the city.

“Okay, got it. Somebody will be there as soon as we can manage it. Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Just... there isn't anything here for me anymore. So I may as well come home and get down to learning everything Bane says I need to learn. And find a job.”

“Worry about that when you get here. Something will come up, that's how Haven works. I'll go see who I can round up. Want to talk to Cait again?”

“I'd better go get my stuff together. What there is of it.”

“See you soon, then.”

“Yeah. Bye.”

Two hours after that call, Jess was sitting on the steps that led down to the apartment, the few belongings he cared to keep at his feet; a familiar green van pulled up. He scooped up his backpack, and opened the sliding door.

Flynn was driving, Liam had the other front seat, and Naomi and Gwyn were in the back.

“It would've been boring to come alone,” Flynn explained.

“Well, come on,” Naomi said, as Gwyn got up to greet Jess affectionately. Jess chuckled, still not used to being able to understand canine, and scratched him behind his ears before tossing his things in and settling himself across from Naomi.

“You're upset,” Liam observed quietly.

Damned empathic healers. What had Evaline said? Healer gifts were the only magic wolves had very little resistance to? “I just had a fight with Shaine that I'd rather not talk about. I'd far rather just leave this damned city somewhere far behind and start over.”

“Wish granted,” Flynn said, turning the van around in a nearby driveway. “And that may be the most honest thing you've ever said to any of us.”

Jess leaned back against the carpeted wall; the bewilderment and hurt were fading a little, here with his friends. Gwyn gave him a hopeful look, so Jess smiled and stroked his soft grey fur. I think I like having friends.

“Liam?” Naomi said. “Will you read me the rest of that article?”

“What article?” Jess wondered.

“There's a newspaper that comes out once a month, called the Quicksilver Sphynx,” Liam explained. “Nick and another friend, Brittany, do most of the work, and the last thing written every month is Nick's space to tell everyone the gossip and what's coming up. June's just came out a couple of days ago.”

“How come I've never seen it?”

“Because it covers topics like...” He lifted the paper in his lap. “Historical blacksmithing magic, the origins of the Haven deck of not-really-Tarot cards, the witches' get-together in May, a humorous—hilarious, actually—description of werewolf dominance, uses for magesilk...”

“I get the picture. I take it this stays inside Haven.”

“A few always end up in the other mixed villages, and a few of theirs always reach us, but usually.”

“Uh-huh. So which one were you reading?”

“The Tarot one.”

“Go back to the beginning,” Naomi suggested. “So Jess can hear it. Then you can read the dominance one. We can all use a laugh, I think.”

Liam complied.

Jess listened in fascination, still petting Gwyn, and stopped thinking about hurting and about Shaine.

* * *

Shaine, sitting on the mattress hugging his knees to his chest, listened to the sounds of the van stopping, then driving away. Taking Jess off the streets to somewhere he wouldn't need Shaine to watch out for him anymore, somewhere he had more of a future than living day to day.

The tears inside were frozen in ice. When was the last time he'd cried? Sometime before he found Jess roaming the streets alone at fifteen and knew he could at least make amends in a small way.

No more Jess rambling on about street gossip, no more curling up together to sleep... things were going to be so lonely and cold.

Didn't matter. Jess would be safe, surely they'd never find him now, he'd have a home and a family and be happy. That mattered.

Did he really have any right to ask for more? Even to ask that it not hurt so bad?

There were things to do. The rent wouldn't appear out of nowhere, and if he was going to eat he had to go find it himself.

He rested his head on his knees, searching inside for some reserve of strength to take him through this. It wasn't altogether surprising that he found none. Maybe he'd just stay right here until he felt like he could face the world again...

* * *

Intent on trailing a hare, Rebecca wriggled under a cedar-rail fence into a woodlot, and followed the scent-trail across the rusty-red needles blanketing the ground. Right through the woodlot, and to another fence. More wriggling.

The wind brought her familiar scents; hidden by the brush along the fence, she paused and crouched flat.

Bane, furform, stalked a hare grazing peacefully on the lush June clover—quite likely the one she'd been tracking. Watching intently, a little to one side, was a smaller wolf, midnight-black.

So. Jesse had healed after all, had he? And been accepted as part of Bane and Evaline's pack. Poor whelp, he had no idea what frustration lay ahead, knowing that he had the potential to live wild and must make choices that would bind him. Either live here, strangled by too many wolves, or go somewhere else and have to hide always...

Jesse gathered himself, and pounced mischievously at Bane just before the alpha wolf attacked. Bane growled softly as the hare bolted, bit him lightly over his muzzle in reproof, then licked his ear. The larger wolf bounded a few yards away, looked expectantly at Jesse, and heartbeats later they were chasing each other around the pasture, hunting lessons forgotten. Jesse yelped and stumbled—a rock, a groundhog hole, any of a number of traps that lay in wait—and Bane circled back to check that he was all right. He was; he began to dig energetically. Groundhog hole, then. He'd certainly never catch it by digging.

Then again, given the high spirits both were in, he might not be at all serious about it.

Bane watched, plainly amused, while his black shadow turned black-and-brown; Jesse glanced up at him, tail thrashing at the air, then went back to his digging. Hopefully no one would be putting horses or cattle in this pasture soon.

Jesse tired of that, and frisked away, with Bane right on his heels. Halfway across the pasture, Bane stopped, and howled to the blue sky, to the sun just beginning to throw long shadows.

Uncertainly, Jesse paced back and forth a couple of times, then added his voice. It wavered, then steadied, though Rebecca thought he might consider pitching it differently. From farther away, other voices answered; what wolf could resist joining in on a howling session if at all possible?

She could, at the moment, though briefly she entertained thoughts of yielding to the temptation. But it would be better if they never knew she was here.

All right, so her last desperate attempt at reclaiming Kevin had failed so spectacularly that she could no longer deny the truth: she'd lost him forever and nothing was going to get him back. The whole situation was infuriating, yet it was so utterly absurd she couldn't help but see the irony in it.

It would, by now, be pointless and stupid and pathetic to do anything but accept that, let go of the hurt and the dreams and get on with her life.

Let the little black wolf-cub learn for himself what it meant to be wolf in this age.

Let Kevin keep pretending, if that was what he was so determined to do. If the approval of his current coven-mates mattered so much to him that he was willing to be less than he was, then he was no better than Moira. Less, in fact, since the wariness of the rest of Haven still made him feel bad enough that he tied himself into knots in the attempt to reassure them. Tragic, when he had the potential to be so much more, but there was nothing further she could do. He'd chosen, and he hadn't chosen her.

The song trailed off, one thread at a time, down into silence. Brown wolf and black trotted towards the lane that led out of the pasture.

Rebecca retraced her path there, back to the far side of the woodlot, and began to search for other potential prey.


Interlude: Samantha's Journal

June 5, 1989

Gods, it hurts, having to start a new journal. It would be easy enough if the last one had just gotten full and was still here, that's just a continuation. But my old one was only a few months old. It's back in Unity, or maybe it's gone like everything else.

I need to write down what happened. I don't know why, because I'll never be able to forget, but I think it'll make me feel a bit better. And I think I'll start way back at the first thing I can ever remember understanding about the past. I may be the last one left who remembers it, so at least if I write it down it won't be completely lost when I if something happens to me.

Alessandria, the wolf of Coven Starluck which founded the first mixed village in Canada and called it Haven, had six wolf children and a seventh child who was fathered by a demon. That seventh child was Cassandra, who grew up and fell in love with a Mohawk shaman, and they had five children. From them descend the Cassandra wolves, the demon-wolves, who can fight demons on the mortal plane the way most wolves fight predators.

Haven has always had an absolute categorical antipathy towards all demons, with no acknowledgement of the immense variation among the residents of an entire plane. That prejudice made the early Cassandra wolves and their nearest feel extremely unwelcome, and they had some very unpleasant experiences that finally led to their leaving Haven entirely. The Cassandra wolves disappeared into Haven legend, just a story.

But not just a story to everyone. Some people saw the importance of their existence, and others supported them for more personal reasons. They rallied around them, at first for the sake of the Cassandra wolves, but before long, they discovered that it was beneficial to all involved. Or at least almost all. The numbers of elves and dryads and witches were too low to be sustainable within such a small pool. A few human gifts continued to appear, healing and psychic gifts, but most of the magic of that community centred around, appropriately enough, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with peaceful and well-intentioned demons. That would have been impossible in Haven, with the assumption that all demon interaction can only be based in blood and pain. The presence of the Cassandra wolves ensured safety during the years of experimentation and refinement: an occasional mistake wasn't really such a risk.

As a result of feeling rejected by Haven and thus by the other mixed villages, and not living with those who particularly need the protection of a coven-bond with a wolf, the Cassandra wolves developed their own structures. They lived in small family packs that included non-wolf mates and close friends, but not covens as such. Thus they tended to live more spread out. That made mutual support more difficult in many ways, and the broader community did its best to bridge the gaps. The community maintained a tenuous contact with the mixed villages, keeping track of events there and occasionally recruiting new members, but taking care always to stay invisible. The existence of the Cassandra wolves and the magical system used by the community and the special friends that help us with it, these would, it was firmly believed, be anathema to Haven and the villages, and would trigger at best more stringent ostracism if not an outright crusade.

For a hundred and fifty years, the dream that grew ever stronger within the community was that of a village of their own.

My parents were both born into that network, and I was raised within it. A couple of years ago, the dream came true: by pooling all resources, we'd managed to buy land and have houses built, and could now move in. It wasn't easy, because we had to rely heavily on the nearest town, but that would only be until we could make ourselves more self-sufficient. The village was named Unity.

There are some on the demon plane who have always seen the demon-wolves as a threat and an abomination. And, although only fire and earth are thought to have children, water does as well. Those children of water allied with the demons for some reason—were we seen as trespassers, perhaps? In April this year, on the night of the dark moon, Unity died. I can't remember the details clearly, that damned song made everything all confused and dreamy while we were running. The cats, our special friends, gave their lives in the effort to warn us, instead of escaping as I'm sure they could have. My Uri woke me and then demanded to go out, and he went towards the village. I don't know how many others they managed to reach. United, they might even have tried to stand off the attack. I'm sure I'm As far as I know, I'm the only survivor. If nothing else, I failed in my primary responsibility, I failed my families, both of them. I don't see how a thirteen-year-old, even one as smart as Jess is, could have survived after we were separated in the storm. I don't know what happened to Dena and her other two children. I don't know if my parents even made it out of their house. How could I have lost Jess? I don't think I can forgive myself for that. Ever.

Jesse's name, and those of his family, are hidden in the forest somewhere around Unity, I don't remember exactly where. It doesn't matter. They're safe there. The residue of all that demonic and magical activity will make it impossible for them to be found and misused.

I'm in Haven, now. I was found by a wolf, Bryan, who took me home and put me in his own bed, and waited while I slept off the shock. I woke up with days missing in my head, I don't remember getting here. Bryan got me this book so I could write down the nightmares I've been having, and maybe take some of the venom out of them. I don't know what I'm going to do now. What's the point of

This hurts too much, I'm not writing any more right now.

June 5, 1994

Five years ago, I made my first journal entry after I lost everyone I cared about. I was sure Jess was dead, and that it was my fault because I let him get lost.

At least one Unity demon-wolf survived, though. It's so good to have Jess here and running happily with Bryan and his pack, even if he still doesn't remember anything from before. Nick and Sonja talked Tomas into giving him a trial period at the Brewery waiting tables, and Jess passed with flying colours. It's part-time, true, but he doesn't need to pay rent or anything, so it'll be fine. Besides, I'll keep finding work for him here. Maybe next fall I'll see if he'd be willing to watch the shop for me so I can take a couple of daytime classes at the college without needing to close.

Things are looking brighter than they have in a long time. So bright, in fact, that I have to put this down and go meet Bryan at the library: I'm taking him out for supper at the Brewery to celebrate being friends for five years, just because.

Black Wolf



Of the entire year, December gave Patrick the least freedom.

Not only did he have his usual dark-of-the-moon hunt to see to, but he needed to find a life to offer on the night of the solstice. And all this during the time of year when the sunlight was fading, a time elves generally found either wearying or stressful, according to individual temperament. Patrick, personally, tended to tire more easily, this close to the longest night, with sunlight in short supply.

His demon servants had no sympathy. They expected him to complete his side of the bargain, as he had each year for a decade. And, as unpleasant as he found this part of it, he intended to do so.

He'd arrived in this city yesterday; the dark moon was past, and he had a week still before the solstice to choose an appropriate sacrifice. Probably one of the street kids, they had no one to miss them except each other. Living like animals the way they did, what were their lives really worth? They had no possible future anyway. It was a mercy, ending it quickly.

A flash of bright gold caught his eye; he glanced in that direction, and paused, attention caught. The girl couldn't have been more than sixteen; she was certainly not mage-gifted. She was perched on the steps of an ancient limestone church with three humans of around her own age, sharing two pasteboard cups of fries between them; they could all have used a bath and some decent clothes, Patrick thought in distaste.

The girl looked in his direction, and her eyes narrowed—picking up on the presence of illusion, though unable to see through it, most likely. Very briefly, Patrick let his current human disguise slip, just long enough for her to see it.

Unsurprisingly, she left her companions, and came towards him; he waited.

“I'm not going back,” she said firmly.

“Back where?”

“Oh, come on. Like someone didn't send you to find me and drag me back to my family?” She tossed one lock of hair, dyed vivid magenta, out of her eyes; the rest of her hair was its natural blonde, but cropped short.

“I have no idea who your family might be or where you might have come from,” Patrick assured her. “I'd be the last to try to make anyone go back to one of the villages, anyway, since I left Falias a decade ago and haven't been near any of them since.”

Blue eyes widened. “For real? You don't like all their rules and shit either?”

“Their rules,” Patrick said dryly, “are at the top of the list of what I don't like about them, along with their two-faced set of values that claims everyone is equal while giving special status to some.”

“Like the damned wolves,” she commiserated. “Think they rule the world and can get away with anything.”

Pity she wasn't a mage, but an elf would be a new flavour for his demon servants regardless. Obviously no one would miss her, and it should be easy enough to win her trust.

“What would you say to some supper?” he asked. “My treat. Then we can talk somewhere more comfortable.”

He wasn't at all surprised she accepted the offer instantly—the high elven metabolism must be extremely inconvenient living on the street, with chancy meals at best, especially with her body struggling to compensate for the winter cold.

She wouldn't survive the whole winter homeless. She'd starve or freeze or a combination of the two. Why let her suffer?

* * *

Wynne was where she should be, waiting outside the small restaurant where he'd bought her supper every evening for the past week.

Patrick went along with it—well-fed, her life would be stronger, would feed the demons better and give him more power. To stay casual and friendly grew harder with each passing day, though. More and more, she reminded him of Irina. Brilliant sixteen-year-old Irina, who had challenged him to a game elvenmages commonly played with illusions, all innocent smiles. Half-trained Irina, who had defeated her twenty-two-year-old cousin so thoroughly, so effortlessly, that he'd walked out of Falias, unable to bear that final humiliation of countless others. Deceitful Irina, who had feigned such distress over his rage and embarrassment, who hid her contempt behind a mask of concern that fooled everyone else.

And Wynne's mother had been a Lioren, like that arrogant showoff he'd encountered a year ago and not yet gotten around to tracking down. That meant she was a Lioren, by blood though not by name.

This year, he didn't think he'd find his task nearly as disagreeable as he usually did.

He encouraged her to eat as much as she could, and ate well himself—he wouldn't be able to grab quick snacks tonight, his mind would need to be on what he was doing.

“Tonight's solstice,” he commented, while they lingered over tea.

Wynne shrugged, carefully neutral. “Yeah, so?”

He gave her his best, most charming smile, and backed it with just a hint of magical suggestion. “The longest night of the year isn't a time I enjoy being alone. I don't know any elf who finds it a comfortable night. Maybe if we spend it together, it won't be so bad.” He left it up to her to interpret what he might mean specifically.

Briefly, Wynne hesitated, then nodded. “Solstice always makes me feel all tense,” she confessed. “I don't want to be alone either.”

He paid, and they walked back to his motel room.

Sikial was waiting, sitting in mid-air, legs crossed. It saw Wynne, and licked its lips.

Wynne stopped, suddenly uncertain. “What's that?”

Patrick closed the door. The lock snapped shut, and light coiled around the knob, sealing it in place so it couldn't be turned. With a thought, he ringed the entire room in light, soundproofing it—or rather, creating an illusion of silence from within, which amounted to the same thing.

“Let me tell you about my cousin Irina, Wynne,” he purred. “And about the new friends I found after I left Falias.”



Rebecca settled herself more comfortably on the large cushion, while Avryl and Moira fussed over preparations. She gazed distantly out the window, where some time before the sun had set in a glory of colour and only stars remained.

Within, the only colour lay in the designs painted meticulously on a large black square of pure silk, some five feet on a side. Avryl, Moira, and Duayne had spent many hours and some expense on it, but Rebecca had to admit that in any number of ways it was preferable to coloured sand or chalk all over the wood-tiled floor. The entire coven was, of course, in black. Karl, like Rebecca, was sitting out of the way, though he looked indulgent rather than bored; technically, there was nothing stopping a wolf from being involved in this sort of magic, but neither had much interest in doing so. Being present through it was, for the most part, tedious enough.

Avryl set a black candle in a clear glass holder at each point of the star, while Moira busied herself with the incense. Rebecca wrinkled her nose, but resigned herself to enduring it.

Personally, she thought they spent much too much time worrying about finicky little details; most magic was simply will and so-called “spells” were merely to help focus will, so why should this be any different? Duayne, however, insisted that there was power inherent in the actual symbols and the ancient words in Sumerian or Arabic or whatever it was.

If they wanted to do all that extra work, well, why argue?

Hopefully midnight would come before she fell asleep.

She amused herself by thinking about the past few months. Kevin's black wolf pet didn't seem to notice any fences or chains; perhaps, she mused, this was to him freedom in contrast with what he'd known before. The unspoken truce between Whitethorn and Sundark did make life a little calmer, and it made matters peaceful between the members of Whitethorn.

More peaceful, at least; the demon-summoning games were becoming more and more of an obsession with her non-wolf coven-mates. Karl made it very clear that though he considered it a waste of time, he also considered it their right to waste it that way if they so chose. Calling demons had taken over from plans of so-called revenge as the new issue of heated discussions within Whitethorn. Certainly it was useful, and kept her coven happy and busy, but this was perhaps being done too often for the reasonable safety of all concerned. The many stories of the dangers involved were probably not all exaggeration by frightened sheep.

Midnight, finally.

Avryl and Moira and Duayne spaced themselves evenly around the pentagram and began the calling. Rebecca found it extremely difficult to concentrate on words she could make no sense of, words that sounded to her like they were mostly consonants, but she focused her gaze on the nearest candle and disciplined her thoughts into the proper quietness.

As the invocation ended, the demon came, stepping out of air as though through a door they couldn't see. It chose this time the form of a tall blonde man with great golden wings for arms. It examined its prison, determined that it could not escape, and turned its attention to its captors.

“What do you seek?” it demanded.

“There is a book,” Avryl said. “Written by Zayda and Isak Maridas. The Transcendent Wisdom of the Elementals.” Though her back was to Rebecca, the wolf could envision easily enough the glow in her eyes at the thought of yet another book to feed her hunger. “I want it.”

“There will be a price, mistress.”

There always was, and usually it involved the death of some animal; it had progressed, as the tasks grew more difficult, from mouse to chicken to rabbit.

“What price do you ask?” Moira said.

“There is one who interests me, mistress, yet he is well protected and my curiosity remains unsatisfied.”

Rebecca frowned to herself. One thing to turn over an animal or two, already destined to be food, to a demon, but to hand over a person? That seemed like a lot of risk and trouble over a book—and cold-blooded murder was an uncomfortable thought.

“Who?” Avryl asked calmly.

“I cannot speak his name. He is that one about whom you have asked many questions of me, mistress.”

This she liked less. Break the truce between Whitethorn and Sundark?

“What exactly do you want us to do about him?” Avryl sounded not at all disturbed by the thought.

“Drive him from this place, out where I can see him clearly. Drive him from those who shield him. Swear this to me, mistress, and you shall have what you ask.”

“That's not going to be easy,” Moira said doubtfully.

Avryl made a dismissive gesture. “Yes it will. It will, however, require a way to neutralize wolf immunity to poisons without letting him know.”

“This I can do.” The demon looked just a little too eager to help. “There is a way. I can fetch for you wine from... elsewhere, mistress. Wine which will affect him as strong wine of your world reaches a human, and reduce his resistance greatly while it remains within his body.”

“No wolfsbane taste?”

“None, I promise. The wine and the book, and you will drive him out of this place, mistress?”

“Maybe we should think about this,” Moira cautioned. For the first time in a while, Rebecca agreed completely with the mage.

Avryl, though, was too caught up in the fire, the hunger for ever more knowledge. “The wine and the book in return for our best effort to chase Jesse out of Haven without his friends,” she said. “Sworn.”

Rebecca felt a cold chill shiver along her spine. Breaking bargains with demons was a distinctly unwise thing to do; Avryl had just bound them to it.

Anger surged. Just who led this coven, anyway? How dare Avryl make a commitment like that for all of them? For Rebecca?

“May I go, mistress? The wine will take a short time. The book may take longer to find and bring to you.”

Avryl nodded curtly. “The wine tonight. The book as soon as you can.”

The demon bowed as best it could, and slipped away through its unseen doorway.

Seething, Rebecca held her tongue until Avryl and Moira and Duayne had completed the ritual.

Then she rose and advanced on Avryl. The witch spun around when Rebecca slapped a hand down on her shoulder.

“How dare you,” Rebecca hissed. “I lead this coven, or have you forgotten? Who gave you the power to make such a promise in the name of all Whitethorn?”

Avryl blinked at her in confusion. “It's only Jesse. You weren't terribly concerned about his wellbeing when you tricked him into a circle with us. I can take care of this, you won't need to do anything. What's got your tail tied in a knot?”

Rebecca shoved the witch hard enough that she stumbled and fell on the couch. Fists clenched, Rebecca stood over her.

“Don't you ever, ever, swear anything for all of us again, is that clear? Or do you have a problem with that, human?”

Duayne laid a hand pacifyingly on Rebecca's arm. “Come on, Becky, calm down. It's not a big deal. There's no time in the middle of a ritual to stop and hold a coven discussion.”

Rebecca whirled, and slapped him hard. Duayne retreated a few steps, one hand flying to his abused cheek.

“It is a big deal! This is my coven! I risk my damned life to keep you safe, and I get no gratitude other than lip-service thanks! I stay here in this cage instead of going farther north, somewhere I can run free, and you try to add a leash as well as the cage!”

“You're making an awful big fuss over Kevin's little pet,” Karl said lazily. “You wouldn't be going soft on us, would you?”

“This isn't about him! This time, we will do as her royal highness Avryl swore us to do. If anything like this ever happens again, I'll stand back and let predators eat the whole lot of you. Unless, Karl, you really think you stand a chance alone?” Silence. “Do whatever you have planned, Avryl, just don't expect any help from me. Then you'd better enjoy this book it brings you, because it will be the last until I say otherwise. Is all of this getting through?” She glowered at Avryl until her eyes dropped, did the same with Duayne and Karl and Moira.

She strode to the kitchen door, and flung it open, not caring that the January wind swept into the house and the warm air made its escape while it could; she shifted to wolf, and trotted out to the road. On its cleared surface, she lengthened her strides to a run, then pushed herself faster still, pouring all her fury into the smooth rhythm of the exercise, her joy in her own body. She rounded a corner, and a hare looked up in surprise, without even time to bolt before she was on it, tearing at it.

The hare's hot blood and flesh were a cleansing of sorts; calmer, she loped away, still reluctant to return to the house just yet.

For that matter, maybe she'd just sleep outside. She was wolf, she'd be fine, she'd spent colder nights than this curled up with her face between her hind legs and her tail over her head, more comfortable than any human would understand.

Not just yet, though, she'd run more first, work off the extra energy, then later she'd find a place to sleep. If her coven—she would have laughed in derision if this form allowed it; her coven—wondered where she was, that was their problem. She did whatever she pleased, and answered to no one. That was how things were meant to be.



Damn school anyway.

Jesse dumped the supper dishes in the sink with more violence than he intended; one of the plates cracked in three.

Somehow that fit his mood. Swearing fluently, he fished the pieces out from under the other plates and dropped them in the garbage.

I am not washing these god-damned dishes right now! If they're still here when I get a minute, which they probably will be, then we'll see. He rummaged in the cupboard for dishes for leftovers, turned back to the table to toss the rest of the spaghetti noodles in one and the sauce in the other. Both he deposited in the fridge hard enough to shake the shelves.

It wasn't that he was angry over seeing so little of his friends; he remembered his own high school exams before he'd run away and sympathized with the stress, and surely college was worse. Nor was he angry that his four housemates had come home, found to their relief that he had supper ready, eaten quickly, and scattered again to studying and evening classes; that was why he'd done it, to save them the hassle. He didn't really mind working a lot for Sam, to give her the study time for the classes she was taking, he liked spending time there, or doing extra hours for Tomas at the Brewery to take up the slack for Sonja who was dealing with January exams, it was interesting meeting people. In the six, almost seven, months he'd been living in Haven full-time, both jobs had come to mean a lot to him, and his friends certainly did. He didn't mind taking over virtually all the care of Cynthia's young white-footed, white-chested black cat Hob, a gift last summer from Sam; Hob was actually quite appreciative. He could understand Caitryn's sudden absence from his bed; she'd made it very clear that sex between packmates wasn't considered to involve any particular strings, only meeting mutual needs, and besides, he had no reason to think she wouldn't go back to showing up a couple of nights a week again once everything calmed down. Anyway, Cait was a considerate and creative lover, but she was also enthusiastic, and he wasn't sure he'd have the energy to keep up right now. And, okay, so there was no time for the pack to play and hunt and run together.

All that he could handle, maybe not happily, but resignedly, and waiting for exams to end and things to go back to normal—down to more reasonable work hours, and generally enjoying life with his friends, and continuing to learn all the countless things about Haven life that he still didn't know.

What was frustrating him was completely irrational. It was all little things. Like at supper. Not once had any of the other four said anything not purely functional—pass the butter, Jess?—or comparing notes about, what else, exams. Not a word that indicated that they were really aware of his presence, and barely an absent-minded thanks from Deanna before they left. Little things like no one seeming at all to realize the effort he was making to help.

Come on, Jess, these people saved your ass and they've given you a decent life, which you were sure you'd never have. Aren't you being just a bit touchy?

No, damn it! It wouldn't have cost them anything tonight to talk about something else for a little while! At least Sam checks in once in a while that I'm okay. All Tomas says is, Jess, can you work Tuesday night, I need you.

Damn it all, people, I'm still here!

Feeling the urge to hit something, but refraining, he wiped the table off, threw the rag in the sink, and left for work. His usual way, running four-footed along the road—it wasn't a problem wearing just his magesilks to work, if he so chose.

“You're late,” Tomas greeted him mildly. No scent of anger, only distraction, impatience.

“Huh? It's ten to seven.”

“Jess, Claudia had to take today off. I asked you yesterday...”

The memory finally registered. “To be here for five-thirty. Shit. I'm sorry. Would you believe I forgot?” Oh, that sounded wonderful.

“Figured it was something like that. When I called it was busy.”

“One of the phones is probably off the hook.” This was the finishing touch to his black mood.

“Everyone makes the odd mistake. I'm not going to throw fits over it. Just please, Jess, I really need to be able to count on you right now...”

“Won't happen again. I promise.”

“Go on.”

“Where have you been?” Nyssa demanded, meeting him between tables. “Here, take this to sixteen.” She shoved a laden tray into his hands, and swirled away.

The pace began to pick up within the hour, leaving him with no time to indulge himself in frustrated thoughts.

A tall redheaded woman sauntered in, and sat down near the back, well into his territory. He debated begging Nyssa to take care of her anyway—he'd met her once before and though she'd been civil enough, he'd found it a less than comfortable experience given that she'd nearly killed him—but decided not to push his luck.

“What can I get you?” he asked her.

“Just a drink. Bloody Mary.”

“Sure thing.” Why did that choice not surprise him? He passed on the order to Tomas, took care of another, got it and brought it to her. “Give me a yell if you need anything else.”

“Something bothering you, Jesse? You smell a bit off tonight. Things turned sour in paradise?”

“Rebecca,” he said tightly, choosing his words carefully, “with all due respect, what goes on in my life is my business, not yours, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd remember that.”

“All due respect. I like that.”

“I really need to take care of some other tables. Excuse me.” No way was he going to let her see what it cost him to stay in control, when everything in him screamed for a fight to release all the tension locked tight in his guts.

She ordered wolf-style steak the next time he came by, but she said nothing else out of line; he served her with as few words as possible and tried to stay away as best he could. She left him an oddly large tip, which puzzled him; why had she done that?

He worked late, until one, so Nyssa could leave early. He could think of no other way to make up for leaving her alone for an hour and a half earlier.

Kevin's light was still on when he got home and upstairs, having paused on the way only long enough to feed Hob in the kitchen. He brushed through the half-open door to turn it off. Probably Kevin had fallen asleep like a couple of nights before, sprawled on his bed with his books.

But Kevin was still up, and didn't even notice him.

“It's past one. Maybe you should go to bed.”

“Mmhmm.” Distractedly. “As soon as I finish this chapter.”

Maybe Kevin would have some insight into what Rebecca was thinking with the strangely generous tip. “Kev?”

“In a minute, Jess. I really have to figure this out. Why don't you go get ready for bed, and once I get through this I'll come over?”

That was fair, he had to concede. He left his magesilks across the afghan-draped wooden chest that now occupied the space at the foot of the bed—found in one of the still-empty rooms and refinished, it had gone to him for storage as his actual possessions increased. Still feeling not quite clean after his encounter with Rebecca, he had a quick shower and nestled into bed, head on his arm, waiting. Hob hopped up to join him for some attention, but wandered off, possibly after the elusive kitchen mice.

At two o'clock he gave up, and turned the lamp off. For as long as he was still awake, he could see the light from Kevin's room.

By morning, the blankets were tangled around him, one on the floor, and two of his pillows on it, and a new bruise showed on one arm that he thought was from the head of the bed. Vivid nightmares lingered in his mind, something involving Rebecca and his adopted parents and Shaine and his real parents. And, for once, Kevin hadn't intervened and banished them.

He tried to concentrate on working; there was always something that needed doing at Sam's. Making sure the shelves were well-stocked didn't help, though, it only kept his hands busy and let his mind dwell on how much he hated everything right now.

The bell on the door chimed softly. Relieved, he straightened and turned to see who.

She was vaguely familiar but he couldn't place her at all, which surprised him; between his two jobs he thought he could recognize most of Haven on sight, even if not by name. She looked a little older than him, not as striking or exotic as so much of Haven seemed to be, but not unattractive either. Short brown hair, medium build, a faintly Asian cast to her features... and smiling at him shyly.

“What can I do for you?”

She looked down, bashfully. “I've been trying to find the courage to say this. Would you like to maybe do something some night? I mean, just... supper or something.”

“I don't see why not, except that I don't know how much free time I have right now.”

“Everybody's busy, I know. I'm lucky, I only took two classes this semester and one doesn't have an exam. I've seen... you've been working an awful lot. It isn't very fair for everyone to dump everything on you.”

He shrugged. “It'll stop soon. I have to work tonight, but not tomorrow night.” Yet. So I'll just say no if Tomas asks me at the last minute. I'm allowed to have a life, damn it.

Smiling, she raised her eyes, not quite to his. “That'd be nice. Maybe... you could come over and I'll make supper...?”

“Sure. When and where? And I'll bring dessert.” That evil chocolate cake Kev taught me how to make. “Do you like chocolate?”

“Who doesn't? Around six?” She gave him directions to the house. “I'll talk my coven-mates into leaving for a while. Some will be out anyway.”

“Tomorrow at six it is. Hey. I don't even know who you are.”

She blushed. “Sorry. I'm Avryl. I know who you are.”

By her scent, human and witch. Something about it was vaguely familiar; he must've run into her at some point and just couldn't place it.

“I have to go,” she said. “I have some things to do.”

Jess bid her farewell, and went back to stocking shelves, happier now. At least one person in Haven knew he existed!

* * *

He had to stay two-footed to carry the cake, which meant it took him longer to get to her house after he finished his hours at Sam's. He found it easily enough, though, and knocked on the door.

It was opened by a male elf—not a mage, mages had a distinctly different scent—who greeted him amiably and invited him. The first, overwhelming impression was of how clean everything was, the scent of the natural cleaners common in Haven and the gentle scents of cooking and a mild herbal air freshener washing out even the scents of the residents, not a trace of clutter or disorganization in sight.

“Avryl's in the kitchen, I was just leaving. Have fun.” The elf took a jacket from the nearby closet, and departed.

Avryl appeared at the other end of the hall while he took off his wet boots. “Jesse? Oh. Hi.” Her gaze dropped again, and she coloured just enough that he could see it. “It's nearly done.”

“There's no hurry. I came for the company, not the food.”

That made her smile. “That's dessert? Here, I'll take it...”

He went with her to the kitchen. The delicious food-scents he'd picked up from the hall were stronger here. “Smells wonderful.”

“High flattery, from a wolf.”

It was a pleasant evening: they had supper, talked about music and movies and similar sorts of things—none of them the sorts of topics that sent him into defensive mode. She was delighted by the cake, which they had in the living room while listening to the stereo; he helped her with the dishes, despite her insistence that it wasn't necessary. Afterwards, they returned to the warm cosy living room.

Why wasn't he surprised that no one even noticed when he came home late that evening?



“Where are we going?” Jesse asked again.

Avryl just smiled. “Wait and see.”

He shrugged, and decided to go along with it. So far, the only person in Haven who had meant him any harm was Rebecca, and during the considerable amount of time he'd spent in Avryl's company over the past few days, she'd done nothing to suggest she was another exception. She'd asked nothing of him save the same attention she gave.

She led him through the forest unerringly, under the bright round moon, along a rough path through the snow, and that took them to...

A small house or cottage, limestone-walled, cedar-shingled.

“Come on,” she urged, opening the door.

Witches couldn't do spontaneous foxfire like mages, but it was possible to spell an object to glow on command; Avryl activated three chunks of the quartz he'd been told worked best.

The interior of the building was all one room, the walls panelled with unfinished wood, the three windows with glass intact, the floor rough cement. On that floor, though, were two large pillows on a spread sleeping bag, and between them a bottle and two glasses. The temperature was quite reasonable inside; more witchcraft, most likely. Wasn't that within the range of a witch's abilities? He was so used to both Cynthia and Kevin being around and working as a team that sometimes it was hard to recall exactly where the line was between their gifts.

“We've been friends for a week,” she explained. “I thought we could celebrate.”

“Sounds like a good idea.” He settled across from her and opened the bottle—red wine. Avryl laid a hand against it briefly, and the temperature of the wine dropped swiftly. Jesse filled the plain clear glasses she held for him.

“To friends,” she said simply, touching her glass to his.

“To friends,” he echoed.

The wine had a stronger taste than any he'd encountered. He ignored that, more intent on joking with Avryl.

He realized after the second glass that he was feeling a little light-headed, which should have been impossible. Wolf resistance to poison, including alcohol, was mind-bogglingly high, only wolfsbane reducing it; he knew the taste and scent, Evaline had made sure of it, and he detected none in this.

“What exactly is that?” There was no label on the green glass bottle.

“It's home-made. One of my coven-mates made it. Don't you like it?”

“No, it's wonderful, I was just wondering what could be strong enough to affect me.”

“Oh, that. It is pretty powerful stuff. Be glad you're wolf, I can't make the room stay still.”

It occurred to him that he should stop, not drink any more, he'd had too much experience with mind-altering substances. But Avryl was already refilling his glass, and it would be extremely rude... After all, it couldn't really hurt him, and he deserved a chance to relax after all the stress lately, and, well, just this once...

* * *

The phone rang.

Kevin heaved a sigh, and abandoned last-minute cramming to answer it.


“Kevin? It's Samantha. Is Jesse there?”

“Huh? No. It's past noon, he's supposed to be working, isn't he?”

“Yes, he is! He's not here, and it's actually quarter after. He's never been late before.”

“Tomas mentioned that he was late at the Brewery the other night. Wanted to know if something was bugging him.”

Is something?”

“Sam, I haven't had time to keep an eye on the wolf-cub lately, not with all these exams.”

“Neither has anyone else.”

“Oh, gods. And something could be really wrong, that no one's seen...”

“We might be over-reacting, but being late isn't like him.”

“I'll see what I can find, and let you know.”

“Thanks, Kev. Talk to you later.”

“Later,” he echoed, and hung up.

Kevin closed his eyes, gathering his gifts. If Jess were outside his own range, he could always ask Flynn to find him, but Jesse couldn't be all that far away. The connection left long ago wasn't as strong and clear as a coven-bond, and he couldn't reach along it to make direct contact, but he should be able to at least track where Jesse was.

He found him, deep in the forests surrounding Haven. Mental senses told him Jesse wasn't conscious, but there was someone with him who was. Not a mental pattern he'd ever touched before, he could tell only that it was a witch. He stretched farther, checking Jesse, trying to ascertain if he was just over-sleeping after a particularly exhausting night, perhaps with this witch, or whether there was something else going on.

Something was definitely out of place, and this needed investigation in person. Immediately.



*Meet me on Morgan's Road, by the lane. Fast. And don't ask.*

Bane acknowledged that.

Kevin left the house, long swift strides covering ground quickly.

Bane must have been some distance away: Kevin beat him. The wolf ran to him furform and stopped in front of him, panting.

*Why can't I ask?*

“Just try and find Jesse's trail.”

Bane obligingly began to search. Some distance down the road, he found it; from there his path was visible.

It didn't take them long to come to one of the old cottages scattered around Janicot Township.

“In there,” Kevin said tersely. He had to be wrong, didn't he? His senses couldn't have picked up what he thought they had.

*In there what? Is this dangerous? I'd better go first.*

“If you want.”

Bane pawed the door open, and stopped cold in the doorway, Kevin right behind him.

Avryl looked up, fast, from where she was sprawled half-naked beside Jesse on a sleeping-bag spread on the floor. Jesse's midnight magesilks were in a pile nearby; both were semi-covered by a striped blanket.

Bane growled, the fur on the back of his neck rising.

Avryl blanched, stumbled to her feet, backing away, but there was only the one door. Nowhere to go except right past the threatening wolf.

“I don't suppose,” Kevin said coldly, “you'd care to explain.”

“No,” she retorted. “I wouldn't.” A gate formed, right beside her, with Moira on the other side; she stepped through, and the gate closed.

Kevin crossed the room to kneel beside Jesse, and rolled him over onto his back. No reaction, from someone who usually woke the instant anyone even came close.

No indication of injury. It would've taken wolfsbane to reduce his resistance enough for anything to take effect, and since he knew Jesse'd been taught how to identify it, it could only have been voluntary. Followed by... what? Probably not wine alone. His mind was so unnaturally deep in unconsciousness Kevin couldn't even reach him.

Bane scouted, found a small plastic bottle with Avryl's and Jesse's scents both on it. Found an empty green glass bottle with a somewhat peculiar wine-scent on it, and two glasses. He reported as well the heavy scent of strong arousal, but not of outright sex.

“Let's go home,” Kevin said, getting to his feet, just the thought of all this making him feel more than a little ill. That they'd trusted Jesse so much to have changed...

*He'll know we were here.*

“So? Maybe he won't come home and we won't have to deal with this.”

*You don't mean that.*

“I don't know what the hell I mean, wolf.” He gestured a gate into being, back to his anchor-point in the living-room. Bane hesitated briefly, then crossed ahead of him; Kevin stepped through, and the gate collapsed.

* * *

Jesse was mainly aware of how badly he ached, when he woke. That, he discovered, was probably because of what he'd been sleeping on, at least in part. But he had a headache, too, one intense enough to interfere with his vision. This felt remarkably like a hangover.

What the hell had happened?

His magesilks were nearby, he found when he sat up carefully. Avryl's skirt was still there, too, discarded on the floor in a corner, but no Avryl. He tried checking for scents. Avryl's. An unfamiliar elvenmage's, faintly.

Kevin's and Bane's, both liberally laced with the acid smell of disappointment and anger.

Gritting his teeth against the pain, he willed himself wolf. It didn't hurt so bad then, something to remember. Slowly, he tried to piece together what had happened. With Avryl, that too-strong wine, that much memory gave him before it failed. They'd started flirting, had gotten at least as far as cuddling and casual messing around, but his nose confirmed that it hadn't gotten past that. His nose also found the plastic pill bottle, and his own scent on it with hers. The angle of the light suggested mid to late afternoon, he'd been out a long time. Maybe someone had finally missed him...

Sam! I was supposed to work!

And Kevin and Bane had come looking, and found him here stoned unconscious.

And that was why the anger scents.

He changed back to human, and sat in the middle of the sleeping bag, hugging his knees to his chest and trying to think as calmly as he could.

While something inside was crying, now I've lost this, too, just when I was happy...

No one's going to believe me that I didn't mean to do anything. Did Avryl set me up? Even if she did, no one would believe that either. Everything is totally fucked up. They won't listen. They won't understand not being able to stop...

So there's no point in going back.

Back to the house. But I can go back to the city.

That voice inside wept at the thought. But what else could he do?

Still, there were things he needed, and he wasn't going to take anything given to him by anyone in Haven. Maybe the house would be empty? Kevin would sense him passing the walls anyway, but Jesse could be in and out in no time.

By some chance, the entire house was dark. His housemates—ex-housemates—could be anywhere. Still, he stayed wary while he darted to his room. He shed the magesilks, and reclaimed one of his own old black T-shirts and his jeans and leather jacket. Everything else he'd actually brought with him he stuffed into his old black canvas backpack, pushing Hob aside when the cat tried determinedly to drag things back out. Nothing from Haven. None of his birthday presents, not even the Walkman. He removed the silver crescent earring Flynn had bought him to replace the one he'd lost in the woods, laid it on the shelf beside the stereo, and the necklace with it, and the silver promise-ring. Hob twined around his ankles, miauwing at him urgently, but Jesse pushed him away and stepped over him.

In less than ten minutes, he was outside the gates again.

Trying to ignore the tears that insisted on streaking his cheeks.

On two feet, but still at home in the dark, he got oriented, and started for the road that would take him south, back to the city.



Wishes are dangerous, Kevin vividly recalled Jesse saying once. Be careful of them.

They'd all assumed Jesse was still in the area, when he hadn't come home the next night, although he'd been due at the Brewery and hadn't showed up. When he missed work at Sam's again the next day, a renewed, increasingly frantic search couldn't find him anywhere inside the borders of Janicot Township. A closer look at his room made it quite clear he didn't intend to come back.

Even Flynn couldn't find a wolf who didn't want to be found, outside the immediate area.

The elf slumped on the loveseat in Jesse's room, guilt gnawing at him ceaselessly. It was his fault their wolf-cub had run, he could have done a thousand things other than leave Jess alone and with scent-traces of his automatic reaction. Jesse had too much sense to have anything to do with Avryl had he known that she was part of Rebecca's coven. Who could blame him for turning to someone who was willing to pay attention to him after how much the rest of them had been ignoring him?

The worst ache of all was that he'd done to Jesse what all of Haven had done to him for so long, even after Deanna and Bane got him away from Rebecca: assuming that he hadn't really changed, that he was still capable of old behaviour.

He rested his cheek against the arm of the couch, eyes closed, wishing memories would just stay buried.

* * *

“Hey, Lioren.”

Kevin ignored the deep growl until he'd finished what he was saying to Karl, and only then turned to see who had the nerve to interrupt. With the elementary school, high school, and college all within a couple of blocks of each other, all near the library they shared and that also served the community as a whole, there were a lot of people who could easily be around, just after high school classes had been released for the day. He hadn't thought there was anyone who would take that kind of tone with him, though.

Bane faced them both, the growl still rumbling in his throat, almost subliminally low. Every line of his body broadcast aggression. “Flynn is black and blue from one end to the other, thanks to you, and we had to stay with him last night so he could fall asleep. For that matter, I don't think Cynthia would've been able to fall asleep alone, either. Whatever you did to her didn't leave marks but it was just as bad.”

Kevin shrugged. “Yeah, so? He shouldn't have said what he did about Rebecca. And she shouldn't have said what she did about me defending her. So how about you talk to them about thinking about what they say, instead?”

“What they said wasn't even a fraction of what everyone in Haven thinks of you two and Rebecca. The only reason more people aren't saying it is because you've made it quite clear that you consider it grounds for a temper tantrum and most people are too sick of dealing with that to bother. You feel tough now? Big bad elvenmage, beating on a seer two years younger than you and half your size?”

Karl pulled his lips back from his teeth in a snarl of warning. “You're on thin ice.”

“What, shut up or you'll pound on me, too?” His voice dropped about an octave and half its volume. “You go right ahead and try. If you can manage to make a decision without Rebecca here to do your thinking for you, that is. You don't even have to decide which of you, I'll take you both down right here.”

Bane couldn't seriously believe he had a chance of winning, not against the two of them together.

But then, he deserved whatever he got, for that challenge. What was wrong with people, that they couldn't see Rebecca for what she was? Unlike the rest of Haven, she wanted him to live up to who and what he was, not try to keep the fire dimmed and contained because that made everyone else feel safer. Unlike the rest of Haven, she questioned all the expectations and demands and assumptions that surrounded them on all sides. Why was that so threatening to everyone that they criticized her and insulted her and twisted everything she did?

Kevin understood her, though, and loved her and that wild spirit that couldn't bear cages and collars. She'd told him often enough that he was the only one who did. And that meant it was his job to defend her, no matter what it took, against enemies in any form.

And Bane counted as Rebecca's enemy.

“Oh, beating you is going to be fun,” Karl spat.

The school board discouraged wolves wearing magesilks at school, which meant both wolves had to strip in order to change. Kevin glanced at the early November sun, still high enough to give him plenty of light, and began to gather it together. Let Bane get all the way to furform, it made no difference.

Both wolves kept a wary eye on each other, and shifted virtually simultaneously. Instantly, Karl flung himself at Bane—he could keep Bane busy while Kevin used magic, and this would be over in no time.

Bane wasn't so easily distracted. Mage shields fell under werewolf claws, as did the sandy-blonde wolf, how badly hurt Kevin didn't know, but his fur was streaked with blood, most of it his own. He was on his own now, and unfamiliar fear was waking; though he knew Bane would accept a surrender, knew it was the sensible course, his pride wouldn't allow it.

The battle had drawn an audience; he heard Bryan say, “Should we stop it?” and Lori answer scornfully, “Let them go, maybe Bane can beat some sense into Kevin. Gods know, he won't listen to me anymore.” No way could he surrender with others watching, especially not others who expected him to lose or give up.

Bane was limping, but still on his feet, when he turned on Kevin. Shield after shield he tore down methodically; attack after attack he evaded or destroyed before it could hurt him. He knocked Kevin's legs out from under him, stood over the fallen and exhausted mage, and changed to human form, both hands curled into fists.

“You're a bully, Kevin Lioren, and that's all you'll ever be, and everyone knows it. Stay away from Flynn and Cynthia, got it? If you go anywhere near them, I'll make this look like nothing.”

Bryan pulled Bane back. “Enough, Bane. You won.” He didn't move when Bane turned on him with a warning growl, only dropped his gaze submissively. “There's no point in anything more.”

“He deserves worse for what he did to Flynn and Cynthi.” But it lacked the full force of anger, now, and he let Bryan draw him away.

Kevin wondered whether he had the strength for one last attack, while Bane's back was turned.

Lori strode over to stand next to him, looking down, arms crossed. “Do it and I'll ram it right back down your throat. Give it up, it's over and you lost. Damn it, Kev, I'm one of the last few who believed there's more to you than what you've turned into in the past couple of months, but I'm not even so sure anymore.” There was contempt in her voice, and anger... and pain? No, couldn't be. “Take a nap while I get Mandisa.” He had no defences left, couldn't keep her out of his mind or keep her from shoving consciousness aside.

The world returned in the form of hard ground under him and Deanna kneeling beside him, tears running freely down her cheeks, whispering something. With a little effort, he made out the words. Damn you, wolf, over and over. Yes, Bane definitely deserved that fate.

“I'm okay,” he told her hoarsely. “Becky?”

“Oh, forget Rebecca for two minutes!” she snapped. “You need a healer more than you need her!”

Mandisa, the dryad healer who was Haven's official doctor, was giving Karl a cursory examination and healing, on his far side. She finished with the wolf, and turned to Kevin, her expression devoid of any emotion. She wasn't exactly gentle, her mahogany-skinned hands roaming swiftly down his body, mending anything actually dangerous, overlooking anything less, and she said not a single word to him.

Deanna helped him get home to bed, and curled up beside him.

She cried herself to sleep, and wouldn't tell him why, and wouldn't let him in her mind.

* * *

Invariably, Karl was late for circle; Deanna slumped in the chair, her knees drawn up and her arms wrapped around them, listening in silence while Kevin told Rebecca how he and Karl had challenged a trio of classmates who had made offensive remarks about her.

Rebecca smiled and cupped a hand around his cheek. “My champions.”

“They had no right to say anything like that about you. I bet they won't again,” Kevin said. Rebecca was happy and knew she was appreciated. That was what mattered.

“Tell her the rest,” Deanna said without moving, the first thing she'd said since they'd arrived at Rebecca's apartment.

“It doesn't matter,” Kevin said dismissively.

“The rest?” Rebecca said. “What does she mean?”

“We just got suspended.” Kevin shrugged.

“With a final warning,” Deanna said. “That next time, they will be expelled, and that at that point, it will be up to Katherine and Tomas what to do about Kev, and up to a meeting of the alphas to decide what to do about Karl. Although Kev's mom was already nervous about his gift being so strong and is now so scared of him that she'll probably throw him out of the house before it gets that far. She might do it over this, even. It was in plain sight of a lot of people.”

Rebecca frowned thoughtfully, running a hand absently through Kevin's hair while she reflected on that. “Would it be so bad to just leave here?” she said softly.

Deanna uncoiled, her gaze fixed on Rebecca. “Is that what you had in mind all along? Completely destroy their lives? Destroy every connection to family and friends that they have, so they're absolutely focused on you and only you with no room for anything else? Then what? Gods, Rebecca, what kind of sinkhole do you have inside, that you can only fill by turning a pair of teenage boys into your zombies at the cost of their own futures?”

“Dia, what...?” Kevin began, utterly taken aback.

“Shut up,” Rebecca said, more than a hint of growl in her voice. “For your own sake, Deanna, shut up now.”

“No,” Deanna said. “I've been watching this for four months now. I can't just watch this any more. I want to know. What is wrong with you, that instead of protecting your coven, you abuse them instead?”


“Shut up,” both Deanna and Rebecca snapped at him, so close together it was nearly a single voice. Kevin looked from one to the other, at a complete loss for what to do. He'd known that Deanna didn't really understand Rebecca; neither did Karl, but he came closer. Dryad nature was, well, what it was. Rebecca's demand for obedience so that she could best protect them, above all protect her too-tempting elvenmage, made sense but more and more lately, Deanna had obeyed only with obvious reluctance.

This kind of outright defiance was something else altogether.

“I already can't reach Karl any more,” Deanna said, sitting forward in the chair. “We grew up together, but you've turned him into someone I don't even know. You're killing everything that's genuinely Kevin, all the laughter and the playfulness and the kindness, by inches, and he won't listen to me because you've got him so convinced that he's your soul mate and your knight in shining armour. And you want me to keep going along with this? Not on your life, Rebecca.”

Rebecca's rising growl alarmed Kevin increasingly. Deanna was his best friend, he couldn't let Rebecca hurt her, if Rebecca lost her temper she'd attack, but he couldn't go against Rebecca either...

“That is enough!” Rebecca stood up and took a step towards Deanna, threateningly.

Kevin saw Deanna shiver, but she refused to lower her gaze, kept her eyes on the alpha bitch's. “No.”

Teeth showing in a snarl, Rebecca untied the ribbon-drawstring of her skirt, and let it fall; her blouse followed immediately. They were all magesilk, Kevin had made them himself, but it underlined the warning and the countdown until...

Rebecca was going to hurt Deanna... no!

An eye-blink before the red wolf lunged, a wall of shimmering crimson spun itself out of the light of the setting sun. Rebecca couldn't stop in time, hit it and was thrown back.

Hackles raised, teeth bared, she turned on Kevin.

“I can't let you hurt Dia,” he told her shakily.

*I do as I please! Now and always!* She advanced on him menacingly; the sunlight was fading fast, but there was enough for him to use for a moment more. What should he do?

He looked at Rebecca, looked at Deanna, and decided, though something inside him screamed at him that he was insane.

He spun the last of the sunlight into a cord, and flung it at Rebecca; it tangled itself around her, and she lost her footing. Snarling in fury, she clawed at it. It wouldn't hold her long.

“We have to get out of here,” Deanna said, bolting to her feet. Kevin slammed the door shut behind them, and threw as much magic into sealing it as he quickly could; that might buy them an extra minute or two. “The pet store's close,” Deanna said breathlessly. “Sam and Bryan will help. Rebecca won't mess with them.”

Kevin nodded mutely.

From inside Rebecca howled, wildly, a summons to Karl. The door shuddered as she threw her full weight against it.

“Quickly,” Deanna added.

They fled across the yard, through ankle-deep snow. Kevin glanced back, as he heard the door give way. Rebecca was racing directly towards them, and he had no illusions about what she might be capable of in this kind of rage. They couldn't possibly reach the pet shop before she caught up. There was probably no one who would let him in the door or who would care if Rebecca killed him—but that wasn't true for Deanna.

“Dia. Get out of here.”

“I can't leave you!”

“Then find help! We can't both outrun her! I'll hold her! Go!

She hesitated, unwilling to leave him, but she knew as well as he did what their chances were. She ran off across the lawn; he saw her trip on something under the snow, catch herself with a hand on the ground. Then Rebecca got there.

He hated this time of year. Edging up on the winter solstice, night fell so early; there was a waxing moon up there somewhere behind the clouds, but scant light made it through to the ground. That left only electric light to use, and that never worked as well. And the cold, even had he been dressed for it the bitter December cold was an enemy.

Well, at least Deanna would be safe.

Karl's solid shaggy bulk knocked Kevin off his feet. Kevin scrambled to get at least to his knees, threw all he was into weaving the glow of streetlights and outdoor lights into a shield around himself.

It won't hold, it won't hold, I'm having too much trouble concentrating and there's just nothing to use and it's so cold... have to give Dia time to get somewhere safe!

He bowed his head, trying not to think about the snapping teeth held back only by an all-too-fragile barrier of light. They were going to kill him, he was sure of it; there was no hope of anyone being willing to intervene between him and the consequences of his own choices. Possibly, the intense cold would kill him first, which might be a mercy. But the longer he could hold on, the more time Deanna had to find sanctuary.

“Can't we even watch a movie in peace?” someone growled.

Kevin looked up fast.

Bane, with Flynn and Cynthia—and Deanna.

“You've scared them badly enough,” Bane said shortly. “Face it, Rebecca, half your coven just mutinied, you've lost them.”

Rebecca rounded on him, snarling, tail up and ears forward in pure aggressive threat.

Bane sighed. “One on one, then. You and me.”

She hesitated, then abruptly wheeled and raced away, Karl at her heels.

“Thank you,” Kevin whispered.

“I can't believe I just helped you.”

“Leave him alone,” Deanna said fiercely. “Rebecca's been messing with his mind. Kev isn't a bully.”

“Does a damned good impression of one, then.” But his expression softened a little, as he regarded the drained elvenmage still kneeling on the ground. “Still, you know him better than anyone and you're still looking out for him, so I guess there's a chance he's not a completely lost cause. I predict she's going to be waiting for you. So I guess you'd better stay with us for tonight. By tomorrow maybe she'll have cooled down a little.”

Immediate protest from Flynn and Cynthia, both of them watching Kevin as they might a large dog of uncertain temper.

“For one night,” Bane over-ruled them. “If you'd rather, I'll take them home with me, I'm not her to force anyone into anything. I don't blame you, but she's not rational enough to think about what she's doing, she'll kill them.”

Flynn yielded first. “Deanna doesn't deserve that,” he muttered.

And Kevin did. He couldn't have been angry, even if he'd had the energy. He was too surprised help had come at all, and even less would he have expected it from this quarter.

Cynthia sighed, and nodded. “For one night. I suppose if we don't get him inside and fed in a hurry, it's going to become a moot point very quickly. But you,” she glanced at Deanna, “keep him on a leash, would you?”

“Kev won't hurt anybody without Rebecca,” Deanna said stubbornly.

“All right, all right. Come on, then.”

This was Flynn's house, and it was wonderfully warm inside. The seer darted upstairs briefly to warn his mother Isleen of the extra company, and returned to say only that she knew. Kevin interpreted that to mean she wasn't entirely pleased. Flynn did give them his own bed, but left when Kevin came in the room, edging around him and trying to keep as much distance as he could.

Deanna wrapped the quilt from the bed around Kevin, hugging him close against her; he could feel her shivering. She felt warm to him, which was generally not a good sign. “I don't know what to do now. After what happened earlier today, I had to do something but I couldn't think what until I was doing it. She's not what we thought she was at first. Bryan was right when he warned us, there's something very wrong in Rebecca's head, but we couldn't see it.”

“You did.”

“I didn't want to. I wanted her to really be all brave and independent and revolutionary. But she isn't, she's just... broken, somehow. And I think she's broken Karl too and she got awfully close with you and now I don't know what to do and I'm so scared.”

“I couldn't let her hurt you. When she attacked you...” He trailed off. “I don't know. I don't think I'm thinking very clearly, everything feels very slow and sort of foggy. I think I got awfully cold. Most people will help you, anyway.”

“I'm not leaving you. We'll find someone, until we're both okay again. Together. Somehow.”

Bane tapped on the door-frame and handed Deanna a plate with a considerable stack of peanut-butter sandwiches, a couple of bananas, and a large bottle of water with condensation on the outside. “Here, before he dies in Flynn's bed. Kettle's on, I'll bring you hot chocolate in a minute.”

Deanna and Kevin slept snuggled together, finding comfort in not being alone. For tonight, just for tonight, they were safe. Tomorrow, maybe things would seem less dark.

* * *

“Where now?” Kevin wondered. It was morning; Bane's promise of protection had expired. He gave Deanna a crooked smile. “I'm not much use. On top of suddenly not knowing who I am anymore, that temperature drop last night was pretty bad. Makes it hard to think.”

“So I'll do the thinking for both of us, and you'll have to live with the consequences.”

“Sounds fair.”

“What's Rebecca actually likely to do? I really don't think she's going to just lie down and let us go easily. Or, actually, I don't think she's likely to let you go easily. I doubt I really matter much. I bet if I'd just abandoned you and walked away, she wouldn't have cared at all. The problem is, we could find ways to keep me safe from her, but you're the one she's going to come after and that's a problem.” She pulled her knees up to her chest, and wrapped her arms around them. “Face it, Kev, in the last four months you've managed to give yourself a reputation from hell, and no one's going to buy it if we try to blame it all on Rebecca. She was manipulating you something awful, but she was building on what was already there. Just... twisting it.” She sighed. “We all fell for it, not just you, you were just the one she put the most effort into. Will Tomas help you?”

“I rather highly doubt it. He's mad enough at me that he's not likely to disrupt Dmitri's training to bail me out.”

Bane didn't bother to knock, simply pushed the door open.

“Kevin. I want to talk to you. Alone.”

Apprehensively, Kevin got up from the edge of the bed, and followed Bane downstairs to the vacant living room. Where were Flynn and Cynthia and Isleen? Bane settled himself on the couch; Kevin chose the floor, conscious of how sensitive wolves were to non-verbal communication and unwilling to take any chances on antagonizing.

“What are you planning on doing now?”

“Dia was trying to figure that out when you came in. Rebecca's not really going to care what she does. Just what I do. And I have no idea.”

“Do you really think you can stand up to Rebecca alone?”

Wearily, Kevin shrugged. “No. Doesn't look like there are any other options. I've managed to alienate pretty much everyone in Haven really quickly, no one will help me. She won't kill me if she's calmer. She was just madder than I've ever seen her, last night.”

“Half a dozen senior alphas are talking to her this morning and warning her that she's going too far, and that she's about to have most of the wolves in Haven come down on her for it. Non-interference has limits.”

“Well, that might slow her down for a while.”

“How long are you seriously likely to stay away from her?”

“I don't know. She's very good at saying things in ways that are extremely convincing and by this point, she knows an awful lot of my buttons that she can push to get reactions. And what am I going to do anyway? Wander around Haven with no coven until a predator notices the completely unprotected elvenmage and decides that it's worth the risk? There's no wolf in Haven other than her and Karl that's going to want me around. At least Dia will be safe.”

“Deanna's loyalty to you is common knowledge—it's protected you from more consequences of your actions than you think. Do you really think she'll stand back and let you go back to Rebecca?”

“I don't know, probably not. I don't know, I don't have answers for any of this. What do you want, anyway? You helped us, the rest is our problem.”

“What I want,” Bane said calmly, “is to know just what's left of you that's really you, and if there's enough of who you were before September to be worth trying to save. Frankly, I'm not sure either way, but don't ask my coven-mates that question, you won't like the answer.”

Kevin stared at him. “Why would you care?”

“I have my reasons. What's left of you, Kevin Lioren?”

That conversation lasted a very long time. Despite his brusqueness, Bane wasn't entirely unsympathetic, which made it easier to talk.

Words wound down into silence. Kevin waited, empty inside of all feeling, completely numb.

Bane slid off the couch to kneel in front of him, and cupped a hand under Kevin's chin to raise his head so he could meet him eye to eye.

“You've managed to dig yourself into one hell of a hole, mage,” the wolf said gently. “And despite my better judgement, I don't have the heart to leave you in it. If you promise me, no more bullying, you'll try to get yourself all untangled, then I'll do all I can to help you.”

Caught completely off-stride, Kevin whispered, “I promise.”

“Up until now has been the easy part,” Bane said. “Now comes the hard part.”

* * *

Oh, so true, Bane, Kevin thought. The hard part. And it's never ended, in some ways. I'm such a hypocrite. I came down hard on Jess, but I'm the most like him. If Coven Sundark ever broke, would I go back to Becky? I'm not sure I'd have a choice. And I'm certainly in no position to say anything about irrational behaviour. I set new records. Gods, why they put up with me then I'll never know, I don't think they do either. He got up, wandering restlessly. It had taken so long to persuade Flynn and Cynthia to even be around him without Bane or Deanna or Lori present, though he'd been careful every instant not to do anything that could be threatening, and he'd failed spectacularly at that last a time or two. It had taken even longer to learn to think for himself again, and learn what was him and what was Rebecca's manipulation. He'd tried so desperately to reassure everyone that he wasn't what they thought he was and prove himself worth the faith Deanna and Bane and Lori placed in him. He and Deanna had healed, and Coven Sundark was born of the bonds woven in the doing.

Jess had been dragged, all-unknowing, into their war; he'd survived and in doing so made himself another target for Rebecca's revenge. The one person who should best know, had walked neatly into Rebecca's trap and closed it for her.

Gods, Jess, I'm so sorry, please please come home. Anyone can change, and I really believe you have, I was such an idiot... You're my brother, you're the little brother Mom never gave me, and you need a brother so bad...

A brother you can count on, anyway.

Wearily, Kevin turned away, and went back to his own room.



Sam settled herself comfortably on her bed, and propped a silver-framed mirror against the headboard facing her. For a moment she gazed into it, then closed her eyes, concentrated on slowing her breathing and centring herself.

Once she felt ready, she opened her eyes and focused on the mirror again.

“Show me Jess leaving Haven,” she murmured to it.

The mirror clouded; she kept her eyes on it without looking away, and gradually the mistiness cleared to show her Jess walking along the road south. She watched, her heart aching, as every step took him further away.

The image grew increasingly hazy as he neared the edge of the township, and finally blurred to such a degree that nothing could be seen.

She'd been afraid of that. To find even a wolf willing to be found, outside the borders of the township, would be some trick; to find an unwilling one would take a minor miracle.

That was no reason to give up. She'd never forgiven herself for losing him once; she couldn't let it happen again while there was still anything she could possibly do.

She reached out to lay the fingertips of both hands against the ornate frame of the mirror, and whispered a name.

The mist shimmered in a rainbow of hues, then cleared to show her the image of a moon-white tiger with stripes of midnight shadows. It looked at her, yawned, and stretched.

“Help me,” she said quietly.

*If I can,* the tiger said, words forming in her mind with the clear silver purity of windchimes. *What seek you, human sister?*

“Jesse. I need to know where he is, what kind of danger he's in, what I can do about it...”

*Peace, be slower. The young one is difficult for me to find, as well. This, though, I will tell you: there are those on my plane who grow ever more certain that he is of Cassandra's line, and there are those who seek ways to simply kill him so that the question becomes irrelevant. Those ones begin to involve those who summon them.*

Sam shivered. “Then he's in serious danger.”

*He is.* The tiger washed one forepaw meditatively, and resumed with a thoughtful note in its voice. *And yet he is not. Demon-luck is powerful indeed, and his will to live is very strong. To kill him would not be at all an easy thing to do.*

“There has to be something we can do!”

*There is. Wait. This much I know: this tale has not yet ended, too much remains unresolved, and the universe dislikes unfinished business.*

“Waiting won't help him!” She heard her voice beginning to climb in volume, lowered it again.

*The greatest danger to the young one is danger only he can fight, and that only when he is ready. Let the game play itself out. The time will come when you must act, but for the present, there is nothing you can do. Could I find him for you, I would tell you where he is, but what then? He would not hear anything you say. Be glad I cannot. If I could, then others could as well.*

Sam shook her head stubbornly. “I can't accept that. I can't just sit back and hope Jesse decides to come home someday before the less pleasant residents of your plane kill him. There has to be something I can do.”

*As you will. Call him by his true name for all the world to hear. Tell your friends and his the full truth. Then your wait will be over.*

“I can't do that either, and you know it.”

*Of course you can. You must simply be prepared to accept the consequences.*

“If you aren't willing to help me, then I'll ask others until I find someone who will.”

The tiger laughed, not ungently. *You will not find any who is more your friend than I. You will get less help from some, and misdirection from others.*

“I have to try! Maybe someone can at least give me something to go on. Anything is better than doing nothing.”

The tiger's form blurred, shimmered fluidly into that of a white falcon with midnight markings. *You are well matched with your soul-bird, human sister. I wish you all good luck in your quest.* The image broke like a rock had been dropped in a mirror of water, and cleared to show only rainbow mist.

Alfari pushed the door open, and jumped up on the bed. She sniffed at the mirror, then curled herself into Sam's lap, purring softly, watching the mirror intently.

Sam stroked the cat with one hand while she called upon other demon allies, and some less friendly ones she knew only by name. Some of them she thought were as restrained in their mockery as they were only because of Alfari's presence and obvious loyalty; if nothing else, the moral support was worth a great deal, while demon after demon scorned her search or told her brusquely that no demon could or would help her.

Finally, exhausted, she gave up and leaned forward to turn the mirror face down on the bed, then picked it up again. Connection broken; it merely reflected her and Alfari. She got up, draped Alfari over one shoulder, and went out to the living room.

Bryan gave her a weary smile. “Any luck?”

“With what?”

“Looking for Jess. Don't tell me you aren't, I won't believe you.”

“I didn't find out much of anything that's any use.”

“You and everyone else. Maybe he'll change his mind and come back.”

Sam shook her head slowly. “Do you really think he will?”

“No, not really. Evaline and Caitryn are trying to track him, but I don't think they're going to get anything useful either. He headed south, he went back to the city, I'd bet a lot. We can't find him there. Flynn's willing to relocate indefinitely to search from there, and Kev's willing to go with him in case that helps, but that's dangerous and pointless. There's much too much noise from too many other people for Flynn to get a fix, and he does know it, he just doesn't want to admit it.”

“Nothing's impossible,” Sam said softly, stroking Alfari absently. “Demon-luck's pretty powerful.”

“His life takes him on enough of a roller coaster ride that I guess you could call it demon-luck, but I'd rather not place much faith in luck.”

“Neither would I.” Not even demon-luck.



Gisela had been lingering on the fringes of Deanna's covens for as long as she could remember, a pattern broken only for the time Deanna had been with Rebecca.

Not since she'd first heard it proclaimed that Coven Sundark had been born had she seen anything more than the usual disagreements within any close-knit group.

Certainly nothing like what she was faced with now. Not wanting to be alone, she'd walked out to Sundark's house to wait for them to finish their usual once-a-week circle.

Curled up on the couch beside the woodstove, soaking up its heat, she could hear the voices from the next room, loud and angry. She winced; it might give them a chance to release some of the tension, but doing it this way was only going to leave bad feelings behind. In a sense she could understand it: worry for Jess was gnawing at her, too, though she did her best to maintain the calm serenity a healer should show. She just wished they'd find a different outlet.

On second thought, being alone might not be so bad after all; she wasn't sure she wanted to be here when this circle ended.

Wearily, she uncoiled herself and made her way back out of the house. Tomorrow she'd see what she could do about the chaos; no one was likely to be very receptive tonight.

She trudged home, not even the bright moon she normally loved walking under doing much to dispel her gloom. Her family was concerned, but she fled to her room and closed her door. She knelt by the window, petting the fluffy grey-brown tabby sprawled full-length on the sill. He raised his head, began the low thunder of a purr.

“You've got it lucky, furball,” she murmured. “You have people to pet you and feed you and spoil you, and you don't have to worry about much of anything. The people who spoil you have all kinds of things we have to worry about.” She rubbed his pale gold belly, and he twisted over on his back so she could reach more easily.

“Jesse can't be gone forever. We're bound together, me and him and Kev. Something'll happen, he'll be back.”

* * *

The next day didn't go precisely as she hoped.

What she wanted to do was talk to Sundark, and try to get everyone to see that attacking each other wasn't going to undo the damage, while working together just might find Jess.

She walked to the village proper, letting the internal pull guide her towards Kevin—too bad they couldn't use that same link to find Jess, but that would take more than a spider-silk thread.

She found him, and she also found Rebecca and Moira. The latter pair were leaning against Donovan 'Sky-Drum's store Arachne's Loom; she didn't think Kevin had noticed them yet, too tangled in his own depression.

“Dear me,” Moira said loudly, with blatantly false solicitude. “Poor Sundark. Should've been more careful about who they called a friend.”

Kevin whipped around, his melancholy melting into anger. “Damn you, Becky, you did this! You sent Avryl to vamp him! Why? I thought all that was finally over!”

Gisela saw a dark look flicker across Rebecca's face, then she smiled charmingly. “You should never take me for granted, you should know that. Anyway, Avryl set up the trap, but you closed it. It was a transparent trap, and you walked right into it. I don't know whether he can change, but apparently you can't.”

Kevin whipped a ball of scarlet mage-fire at her; Moira deflected it. Gisela watched most of the people on the street turn wary, many of them edging away or leaving the vicinity outright. She knew Kevin would notice, too, despite his current focus, and that it would only feed the fire.

“Come on, Becky,” Kevin hissed. “You want a fight? Let's have it out. You and me, right here, right now. Come on.”

“Why should I?”

“You a coward, wolf-bitch? You a dog under all that red fur, killing chickens by moonlight? How are the wild male wolves? Better than I was? Do you have to dominate them first?”

Rebecca bared her teeth in a savage snarl. “You little...”

“Stop it!” Bryan commanded, interposing himself, Deanna a step behind him. Gisela released the breath she'd been holding; they wouldn't let Kevin fight. “A fight here would endanger too many innocent people. I thought you'd learned better by now, Kevin.”

“Leopards can't change their spots. Why should I care if others get hurt?”

Deanna stepped in front of him, and met his gaze with hers; Gisela felt the fringes of it as Deanna mentally threw the full force of her anger at him. Much like a physical slap, it rocked him back a step, and brought tears to his eyes—of shock as much as pain, Gisela thought. “Damn you, mage, you're doing this on purpose! Punishing yourself! Now grow up and get a grip on yourself or so help me...” She trailed off, tears on her cheeks. “Oh, hell. Let them go, Bryan. Maybe they'll hurt each other badly enough to learn something.”

“Not here,” Bryan insisted. “You want to fight, you go elsewhere. Alone.”

Rebecca regarded them all haughtily. “It's not worth the energy. Come on, Moira.”

Rebecca and Moira left in one direction; Deanna strode furiously away in another.

“There's only one way you'll find Jesse,” Bryan said. “And that's together.”

“There'll be a fight right here if you don't get out of my way,” Kevin said savagely. “Take care of your own coven and leave ours to us!”

“Jesse's my friend too! There are a lot of people worried about him! Haven't you realized yet just how many lives he's become a part of? Coven Sundark does not have some exclusive claim on him! Sam's frantic trying to find him!”

“Then I wish her best of luck and she can talk to him when she does!” The mage whirled away.

Gisela went after him, had to run to catch up. Kevin barely glanced at her. “What do you want?”

“A hug?”

He stopped, actually looked at her this time. After a pause, he offered both arms. She hugged him hard, resting her head against his chest, and tried to send him as much love and reassurance as she could.

“We'll find him,” Kevin told her firmly. “When and how I don't know, but we'll find him.”

“Not this way we won't. Sundark all together maybe could...”

He pulled away, the walls coming back up. “Teamwork is a bit hard when everyone is more intent on calling names.”

“So stop calling names.”

“Go home, 'Sela. Let us worry about our own coven.”


“Stay out of it.” He turned away from her, too, and she let him go.

She tried Flynn, and got a similar reaction; despondently, she gave up, and detoured to the pet store to get hamster litter so she could clean their cages.

Sam's eyes were red from crying; mutely, she rang in the litter, and accepted the money Gisela gave her. The healer fled, unable to stand yet another bout with intense grief just now. She went home, found Deanna there asking their parents if she could have her old room back for a while.

This was too much. She closed her bedroom door, and lost herself in playing with her hamsters on the bed while the cat slept on her pillow and completely ignored them.

* * *

Usually on Thursdays, she went out to Sundark's house, had supper with them and Jess, and afterwards Jess walked her home on his way to the Brewery.

This Thursday, she stayed in her room, and the only ones who were happy were the cat and the hamsters who were getting more spoiled than usual.

She jumped when someone knocked on her door.


Samantha opened the door, closed it behind her, and came to sit on the edge of the bed. One of the hamsters ventured over to investigate.

For a change, Sam looked more determined than depressed.

“This nonsense has gone on long enough. The only way we're going to find him is to use everything we've got. Which means you and I are going to have to go beat Sundark over the head until they behave themselves. Up for it?”

“They won't listen. I've tried.”

“This'll be both of us. We can't give up. We'll make them see.” She stroked a hamster with one finger as it climbed onto her denim-covered leg. “Are you going to make me do this alone?”

Gisela sighed. “No, I'll come, but I don't think it'll do any good.” She got up, and started catching hamsters to return them to the complex of cages and tunnels that covered one corner of her room. Sam helped, and they left the house together, Gisela calling to the first person she saw—her little brother—where she was going.

Sam, interestingly enough, had Coven Winter's dark-plum van; a good thing, though, once she thought about it, since otherwise Sundark might finish circle before they ever got there.

The front door was unlocked, as it generally was since the wards had been reactivated in the outer walls. They went in, found Sundark in the usual room, all sitting on the carpeted floor; they paused in the doorway, and no one noticed. Under normal circumstances, interrupting a coven circle was unthinkably rude, but these weren't normal circumstances—and this was, very obviously, not a normal circle.

Kevin and Deanna sat in sullen silence; Bane and Cynthia were quarrelling, interrupting each other so much it was impossible to make out what the problem was. Flynn surveyed them all with a weary expression.

“Do something,” Cynthia demanded of Flynn. “You're supposed to be leading right now.”

“Why? Face it, no one wants to be here. Kev, I'm sure, would rather be off challenging Rebecca. And Bane would rather be killing something out in the forest. Personally, I think I could be getting farther at home with my cards and my runes and a bowl of water. What about you, Cynthia? Dia? Where would you prefer to be?”

“Anywhere alone,” Deanna said tightly.

“I don't give a damn about Rebecca,” Kevin said angrily.

“Then where would you like to be?”

“Back in time about two weeks.”

“To hurt Jess all over again?” Cynthia asked.

“Like you would've done anything else!”

Gisela flinched. What a mess. Why did they have to act like this, trying to hurt each other?

“All of you be still,” Sam commanded.

They all froze, turning as necessary to track the intrusion.

Samantha strode out of the hall; Gisela followed her. “This is truly pathetic,” Sam scolded. “Dia, I know you went home to Helix. Bryan tells me, Bane, you're back with your parents, and that according to Lori, Kevin, you've been at your grandmother's for the last week. What exactly is that supposed to accomplish? What is all this fighting supposed to accomplish?”

Gisela wondered why Sam wanted her there, since she seemed to have Sundark's full attention on her own. Moral support, maybe?

Only silence answered Sam's demand.

“Do you really want to find Jesse and leave all this behind?”

More silence.

“Yes,” Flynn said. “What did you have in mind?”

“I want full agreement. That it's irrelevant who did what and whose fault it is and that what matters now is finding Jesse and convincing him to come home.”

“I definitely agree.”

“Me too,” Deanna said unwillingly.

One at a time, grudgingly, so did the others.

Sam nodded curtly. “Remember that. Then right now, we are going to get to work looking for that wolf-cub. Kev, 'Sela, you two are the best chance we have of getting a fix on him. So help me, we will try every night until we find him.”

The circle shifted, left space for Sam and Gisela.

Ah, so this was why Sam had wanted her along.

It was intensely frustrating, though. Her abilities useful only at immediate range, Gisela could only sit still and be patient while they used the bond between her and Kevin and Jess as a starting point.

They searched for an hour, took a short break, spent another hour hunting. After the third hour, Kevin objected.

“That's enough for tonight.”

“He's right,” Cynthia admitted reluctantly. “We'd better call it quits for now.”

Samantha nodded. “Tomorrow night I'll meet you here at six. And every night until we find him.”

* * *

Gisela bolted awake in the middle of the night. Heart pounding, she tried to calm herself and sort out where the rush of fear came from.

She heard Deanna's bed groan, heard her scrambling around. The healer slithered out of bed, and darted down the hall.

“Dia? What is it?”

“I think we've got a fix on Jess. Nightmare that caught the whole coven, and Flynn's cards say it was real. Hang on, Kev's going to...”

She didn't even have time to finish the sentence before Kevin's gate exploded into the room. Deanna sent Gisela across, and followed her. A second gate swirled into sight, and Lori sent Sam and Flynn and Naomi with Gwyn across ahead of her before following—Flynn must have gone to Sam's to give Kevin an anchor, and found Lori and Naomi there. There was no sign of either Bane or Bryan, though.

“Wolves?” Gisela asked.

“Out for a run,” Naomi said.

“They're on their way back,” Kevin added, “but they can't do much anyway and we can't wait or waste the power right now for another gate. They'll be here.”

The house had a definite chill at this hour; most grabbed for magesilk blankets to throw over various combinations of day and night clothes, and they settled in a ring close to the woodstove.

All things combined, nightmare and triangular connection and all the power they could muster, gave them just enough that they could gain a focus of sorts after days of coming up empty. And once Flynn had that much to work with, it was a matter of time, and not much of it at that.

“Oh, hells,” Flynn said. “Kev, you need to get there, now, with as much power as you can grab from us fast.”

“Without Bane?” Lori protested. “Kev a hundred miles from Bane...”

“... will still be close to a wolf, if Flynn hits the right spot,” Kevin interrupted, already getting up. “Worst comes to worst, you gate so I can get back here. If Jess is in danger now, then I'm not waiting.”



A curious red squirrel nosed around in the underbrush, rattling in the soggy leaves kept snowless by the dense evergreens above. Something caught its attention, something out of place, which of course meant that investigation was in order. It sniffed at the pile of soft stuff, and smelled something that wasn't quite like the scent left in a campground nearby, but wasn't quite part of the forest either; it smelled something tasty, too, so it began to gnaw at the soft barrier, which yielded delightfully easily.

A large black rock, mostly invisible in the shadows cast by the light of the setting sun, stirred, and divided into two smaller mud-splattered black shapes. One raised its head, snarled, and lunged to its feet, directly after the squirrel.

Indignantly, the squirrel bolted up a tree and sat on a branch to scold the wolf, tail flicking.

Aindry yawned, got up and stretched languorously, while Jaisan padded over to examine the damage. He shifted to human, growling in annoyance.

“You're breakfast,” he called to the squirrel above them. “You set one paw out of that tree and you are food.”

The squirrel, unimpressed, chattered at him a little longer, then went bounding away through the tree branches.

Aindry changed to human, and came over to untangle her clothes from the pile. “That's what you get for leaving a bag of trail mix where they can smell it,” she commented.

“How many animals are stupid enough to come that close to two wolves? And it chewed a hole in my backpack!”

“So fix it, just like you fixed the other holes in it. Come on, get dressed and let's move.” She tossed him his faded, many-times-patched blue jeans, his ragged navy sweatshirt. Still grumbling to himself, he caught them neatly. Her own camo pants were under that, and an equally tattered sweatshirt she thought had once been red but was now a sort of dull pink. Winter coats and boots lay beneath.

Looking more or less human again, they scooped up the two packs that held everything they owned, and made their way back to the highway.

Occasionally, a car drove by, a brief blinding glare of headlights, then the distant glow of tail-lights. Otherwise, the highway was silent, bathed in silvery light by a moon just past full. They didn't bother trying to hitch a ride; at night, on a mostly deserted stretch of road, who was going to stop and pick up a wild-looking pair like them? They just walked quietly, not talking much. The next town would still be there, whenever they reached it.

She saw Jaisan toying with something in one hand, but didn't have to ask what. He'd bought the cherry-sized amethyst in a lapidary shop for a dollar a few weeks ago. It wasn't the first, and she doubted it would be the last; amethysts were simply irresistible to him. He said they gave his luck an extra boost, but that wasn't what she figured the attraction was. She had to get his mind back on the present; left too long to brood, he'd slip back into that frightening depression.

“Jais? How are we doing for money?”

“Hm? Oh. We've got the twenty that guy gave you a few nights ago for fixing his car, and some spare change.”

“Maybe we can find a bar between here and Falias that won't ask for ID,” she suggested. “Complete with the usual fool who, in all his macho confidence, just knows I can't possibly drink him under the table.”

That got her a quick smile. “Maybe so,” he agreed. “Or maybe something else will come up. Even if nothing does, at least we won't be wandering into Irminsul as broke as usual. I don't care how good an actual meal tastes, I hate begging for it.” His expression turned distant, wistful. “Maybe, one of these days, we'll find him...”

No need to ask who he meant by “him”; she heard the prayer at least once a day.

“We'll find him,” Aindry assured him, as she always did. “Demon-luck is weird stuff, it might take us a while, but we'll find him. And you know Jess. One of these days, we'll come around a corner and he'll be there. Probably asking what took us so long.”

“Maybe.” He shook himself out of that mood, back into the here-and-now. “Wonder how everything's going in Irminsul. Should be interesting to find out what we've missed since we were through Endor.”

Aindry hugged her brother with one arm. “Just think, another day or two, and we can have a warm bed, and hot showers, and real food, something other than fresh-killed and junk food. Hey, I think I see lights up ahead. Look.”

Jaisan looked. “I think you're right.”

Quiet again. Aindry relaxed. Jaisan would be too busy thinking of ways to part fools and money, he'd be all right now. For another night, at least. It was growing harder all the time to keep him out of the melancholy, though. What was going to happen when she could no longer help?

I wish I still believed in something I could pray to, that Jaisan's right and Jess is still alive, and that we'll find him before Jais goes too deep for me to reach him. I don't even want to think what being apart is doing to Jess, too...

The lights proved to belong to a village of reasonable size. They scouted around it, and found it generally average. There were, in fact, three restaurants, and one advertised a bar on the sign.

“Still too early,” Aindry said; the clock on the bank said it was only a little past nine. They'd be more likely to find the kind of sucker they wanted more towards midnight.

Jaisan nodded, counting through a handful of coins. “What've you got?”

She turned up two tens, a toonie, a loonie, three quarters, two dimes, and a few nickels and pennies.

“If we use the change, we can get fries and a drink to share at one of the other restaurants, and we'll have twenty dollars to bet,” Jaisan suggested.

“Sounds good.”

* * *

Morning found them some distance farther along the highway, with forty dollars between them, thanks to a farmer who couldn't believe that a slender girl would be able to out-drink him, and his friends who had been more than confident about making bets with Jaisan.

They left the road, wandered into the woods, and found a comfortable-looking place to strip and shift to wolf. Together they hunted a porcupine, enough meat to give them both a heavy meal, then they returned to where they'd left their belongings and curled up into a single heap of black fur to sleep the day away.



Shaine prowled the streets, all senses alert while his mind mulled over possible sources of money for rent. His luck was no longer as good as it had once been. He knew why: his lack of purpose in life without Jesse to watch over was eroding the carefully-erected self-control that made it possible for him to function in what was, to him, an alien environment. If Jess only knew what it had cost him, to provoke that fight to drive Jess away to Haven to stay...

Any cost was worth it. Jesse was there and had the life he deserved, finally. However lonely that left Shaine. There seemed little point now, no more reason to try.

Yet he continued to fight for survival.

A well-dressed man of about forty caught his eye. Shaine contemplated walking up to him and asking for money, backing it with just enough charm to make it sound like a perfectly reasonable request... he'd gotten anywhere from ten dollars to fifty by doing that on other occasions. He took a few steps in that direction, planning out not only words but inflections and tone as he moved.

A familiar sensation tingled up Shaine's spine.

Suddenly losing interest in money, he left the area swiftly, let himself disappear into the darkness of a back alley. What was going on? Jesse was supposed to be in Haven!

It took time, too much time. He couldn't track Jesse properly, there was something interfering, making him lose his focus repeatedly. His frustration increased, held in check only by firm self-discipline; it was taking so long...

The feeling of the interference was familiar, nagging at him. Something beyond the fact that Jesse was full-healed and aware of himself now.

He found a name for it, abruptly, and that name was elvenmage.

He all but stumbled across Jesse with no warning. Jesse, in a back alley, huddled in a corner, eyes closed, breathing alarmingly fast and shallow.

Jesse, with an elf coming unhurriedly closer.

With no hesitation, Shaine stepped between.

“Get out of my way,” the elf commanded.

Shaine folded his arms across his chest, feet spread for balance. “No.”

The elf blinked in surprise. “What? I told you...”

With a powerful magical suggestion behind it, at that. “I heard you. I'm not moving. Leave him alone.”

“I promise you, I'm not someone you want to mess with.” Light shimmered around the elf, blurring details, making it hard to look at him directly; Shaine focused a little to one side. Who needed to actually see, anyway?

“I'm supposed to be impressed? Go ahead, take your best shot, elf.”

The light gathered around the mage's hand, and he threw it.

Shaine held quite still, forcing himself to stay calm, but only with difficulty. Gazing at the ball of fire intently, he called the moisture of the air around it tightly, suffocating it and dampening it. Before it touched him, it vanished.

“That was your best shot?”

The elvenmage backed off a pace, warily, the halo of light fading away to only a faint outline. Shaine grinned to himself. Yes, the elf would be uneasy: to all appearances, it was an entirely ungifted human facing him so coolly. No mage survived long if he were foolhardy enough to challenge something he had no way to judge.

Cautiously, the elf gestured, and coloured light swirled around Shaine, coalescing into a dome-shaped cage.

Shaine shrugged, offhandedly. “Yeah, so? What next?”

To judge by the elvenmage's growing annoyance, he was used to his theatrics provoking more of a reaction. Another gesture, and the cage began to constrict.

Shaine sighed, and closed his eyes briefly, reaching inside. Using anything but the most basic of his gifts was hard, after so long and after having locked everything down as ruthlessly and absolutely as possible. He could do it, though, he just had to find the place inside where the magic came from, and...

The elvenmage jumped backwards, alarmed, as the light-cage exploded outwards like shattering glass. Shaine dropped to a crouch, one arm up to protect himself from the shower. The elvenmage threw up a shield of fire around himself, just long enough for the deadly rain to pass.

“What are you?” he spat.

Shaine straightened and smiled. “Wouldn't you like to know.”

“Whatever you are, you won't have a chance in a real fight against me.”

“How sure of that are you? Sure enough to bet your life on it?” He reached upwards into the few clouds he could sense above, coaxing them together, summoning more. He was going to be exhausted for days after this. Still, if he could stand off this elvenmage...

The elf gestured, and light formed into a long fiery whip. He swung it menacingly back and forth a few times, as though testing its balance.

Though not at all sure he could counter that, and very sure that he didn't want even brief contact with it, Shaine simply waited, still with that smile calculated to irritate.

The elvenmage swung at him, with the full force of his anger behind it. If that thing wrapped around him as intended, the damage it did would not be at all pretty...

Please let this work!

The bright lash whipped through where Shaine was standing without slowing. The elvenmage, off-balance, spun in a full circle and dropped to one knee. The whip disappeared.

Shaine laughed mockingly. “You wanted to try.” No way was he going to let the elf see what phasing had taken out of him, or how frighteningly close he'd come to not being able to reverse it, but he resolved not to do that again. Ever.

The elvenmage got to his feet, expression dangerous. He flung out a hand, and a beam of cold white light shot from his palm towards Shaine.

With no time to think, old training took over. A mirror of clear ice spun out of the air's moisture, caught the light-beam, and bounced it back. At an angle: it hit a nearby building instead, and lanced straight through the brick.

Just over the head of another, much younger, elvenmage who had just stepped through a gate of light; he ducked, reflexively.

The first mage frowned. “You again.”

The newcomer placed himself between the first mage, and Shaine and Jesse. “Leave them alone. I'm not scared to fight to protect my friends. You know that already. Are we really going to have to go through this a second time?”

The second mage had to be Kevin. Shaine remembered Jesse's vivid descriptions of him, and who else would show up from nowhere to protect him? Shaine decided to let him handle it; he retreated to crouch beside Jesse, ready to defend them both if necessary with whatever he had left. He glanced up at the sky, at the ominous clouds darkening the stars. The air was getting heavy with static; that should mess up magic of any kind a little.

“I warned you I'd be ready for you next time,” the other mage said coldly. “You won't be pulling dirty tricks again.” Light swirled and thickened around him; Shaine looked away, but Kevin didn't appear to have any trouble with it. Light gathered around Kevin, too, but the shield before him was visibly more fragile, and only a semi-circle, not a full ring.

Wait a minute. There's not very much light in this alley. Where the hell is that mage getting the power to do this stuff?

A closer look at the other mage's shields answered that question, but he didn't like it at all. The shields were dark heavy crimson and syrupy saffron, with threads twining through it of no colour meant for the mortal plane: demon-power laced into his own, tainting even his birthright gifts. Kevin's held only the pure gold of the sun at dawn, the white of noon, the red of sunset.

Shit. This is not good.

Just as well for Kevin he has an ally, too, even if he doesn't know it.

And so help me, nobody who deals with demons is getting anywhere near Jess while I'm alive!

The other mage gestured, and sent a cascade of... fireballs? No, these weren't balls, they were flat disks, and they were coming edge-on, which struck Shaine as a bad sign.

Kevin muttered something that sounded a lot like, “Oh bloody hell,” and raised both hands, palm out. Most of the cascade shattered against his shields; the rest spun out of control and flung themselves uselessly at the walls around them. Kevin's shields trembled; Shaine couldn't see his expression, but he could see the tension in his posture—and the other mage had followed the attack, closing the distance between them. Before Kevin had time to strengthen his shields, the other mage shaped a sword made all of fire and swung it in an arc that, by rights, should have removed Kevin's head from his shoulders; Kevin's shields winked out, reappeared much smaller and much more condensed, and deflected the sword away even as Kevin ducked. He flung back a handful of blue-white fire that wrapped itself around the fire-sword and ate into it; the other mage slashed at him again, kept battering away at the weakening shield with the sword, and was coming alarmingly close when the sword finally disintegrated in his hands. Shaine saw Kevin release a breath he'd been holding.

“This doesn't make sense,” Kevin said, frustrated and confused. “There's nowhere you can be getting that kind of power from! You certainly didn't have it last time!”

Some mage: he couldn't even recognize what was right in front of him. “Demons,” Shaine said. “He doesn't need a light source anymore. You must've caught him by surprise before.”

The other mage glanced at Shaine, clearly surprised that a mere human knew that, but shrugged. “And?”

“Oh, wonderful,” Kevin sighed. “Bane's going to kill me.”

“Give me the wolf and the human who challenged me and there will be no fight.” Somehow, Shaine didn't believe him.

Kevin spread his feet for balance, took a deep breath, and raised both hands again. “Right, like I'm going to let you near my friends so you can give them to a demon, or something. Hardly.” Shaine wasn't sure whether to call it determination, stubbornness, or sheer bravado, but whichever it was, he had to give Kevin points for it, considering that he could have escaped easily to somewhere safe.

The demon-mage grinned. “I had a feeling you'd say that.” He threw another laser-like light-bolt at Kevin, who reflexively shielded against it, even though there was no chance it would hold. Hastily, Shaine cast a mirror just outside Kevin's shield. The light-ray hit the mirror, deflected back. A second mirror turned it directly at its source.

It scored glancingly across the other mage's chest, and vanished into another wall.

Kevin did a double-take, and shot Shaine a measuring glance, but had no time for more. His opponent let out a howl of pain and rage, and threw a flurry of ordinary fire-daggers at him in quick succession. The static in the air crackled, connecting with the mage-fire, making sparks dance around the daggers. Shaine frowned at them, calling together every trace of moisture he could reach from the air around them, from the garbage bins ten feet away, anything he could find, to wrap around the daggers before they could reach Kevin. Even had Kevin been paying attention, which he wasn't since he was too busy doing something else, what remained of his shields couldn't have stopped them. It wasn't enough; he had to reach upwards, into the clouds, for more. It gave the static within them a path downwards too, which was at this point likely to hamper Kevin more than the other mage, but there was no help for that.

The ambient light of the city, intertwined with what Shaine was alarmingly certain was the last of Kevin's personal reserves, gathered and grew brighter, some twenty feet above the ground. Brilliant wings spread wide, beat once, twice, and the phoenix dived at the other mage, the static striking even more sparks around each fiery feather, talons that glinted hard and cold as diamond extended as it stooped.

Even as the phoenix formed, the other mage gestured imperiously with both arms, frowning in concentration, and a kind of storm coalesced. Shaine had no name for it, but he doubted being touched by any of those intense streaks of coloured light would be healthy even had it not been created with demon-power.

And the channel Shaine had formed, directly from the clouds above to the battlefield below, remained in place.

Phoenix and storm met fifteen feet above, and joined with the improbably heavy static charge in the air.

Beams of light exploded in all directions, although they seemed to do little true damage; the air glowed with something strongly reminiscent of the aurora borealis, that certainly didn't belong in a city alley; swirling shapes of coloured fire spun randomly in complete disregard for gravity; raw power made the very air shiver and shimmer. Shaine ducked, covering Jesse with his own body, shielding as strongly as he could with all the power he had left. As an afterthought, he rerouted some into a shield around Kevin, aware of Kevin also, somehow, finding enough reserves to shield all three of them.

It seemed to take forever for the storm to calm.

Shaine raised his head cautiously, surveying the alley.

Kevin was on his knees, head down, as small a target as possible.

The other elvenmage was gone without a trace.

“You okay?” Kevin asked hoarsely, stretching carefully. His eyes weren't really tracking much, Shaine noticed, though he'd had no perceptible trouble during the fight. Must be something to do with being an elf.

Who's asking who that? Shaine thought ironically, straightening. “Yeah, I'm all right. You?”

“I think so. Blessed gods, I've never seen anything like that happen before. Where'd the natural storm go?”

What natural storm? “Got me, you're the mage. What brought you here?”

“A hunch that Jess was in danger.”

“Really. And what's Jess doing here?”

“Uh, that's kinda hard to explain...”

“Speaking of Jess...” Shaine turned around, and swore. “Where the hell did he disappear to now?”

Kevin echoed the curse, and went quite still—presumably attempting a search his own way. Shaine did likewise, and wasn't surprised that he hit only a blank. Whatever Jess had been high on had to have left him briefly open to being tracked; since that had apparently worn off, natural defences were back in force.

“I'm dead,” Kevin groaned. “I lost him. And I haven't even got the strength left to find him at close range.”

“We might still be able to track him,” Shaine said. He doubted it, but it was worth a try. “He's only had like two minutes.”

“Where do we start? And now that I can concentrate, a friend of mine is going to be here as fast as my cousin can build him a gate, and he can probably help with that, which might distract him temporarily from ripping my hide off. And, before I go into shock and collapse into a useless heap, is there somewhere I can grab something to eat while we look?”



Jesse ran blindly, not caring what direction, certain only that anywhere was better than where Shaine and Kevin were. Not completely carelessly, though. It would be very easy for Kevin to get one of the other wolves here to follow his trail, and Shaine knew him much too well. He'd survived by being able to vanish effectively; having to break a scent trail was new, but he was sure he could do it. The scents of the city had been overwhelming to him when he'd come back fully wolf, and they were nonetheless familiar to him; to the Haven wolves, who were unfamiliar with them, that background would make it much harder to follow a single trail. He zigzagged across busy streets, cut through a gas station and scrambled over a fence at the back, went straight to the doors of a busy nightclub that never checked ID and then backed along the same path until he could use the hood of a car that was just pulling out as an alternate route.

He slowed down as he came to a busier street, and let himself blend in with the others in the area, mostly pleasure-seekers. When a park offered itself, he cut through that. He knew this park, this was the strange one, all hills and trees and rocks with a sundial and fountain in the middle, like no other park he knew of. Except the one in Haven, on the lake.

That didn't bear thinking about.

He found a spot by the fountain, hidden by the curve of the hill, and settled there, hugging himself.

His thoughts were crystal-clear, now. The LSD he'd taken had worn off completely. It had been about six times the most he'd ever ventured, deliberately, and he didn't think much time had passed between losing the real world and coming back to find both Shaine and Kevin there. Pure proof of wolf resilience; it hadn't even been much of a trip.

He couldn't, though, quite shake what he had seen, a thunderstorm, a black wolf howling in grief, but most vividly a silver dagger that had danced just out of his reach.

His mind flitted away, to a memory of another dream of a dagger, one that had left him restless and unable to get back to sleep. Prowling the silent house, he found Bane coiled into a corner of the couch reading; the alpha wolf looked up immediately.

“Can't sleep?”

“Bad dreams.”

“Will telling someone help?” He turned over the book, and patted the couch. Jess sat beside him, described the dream. Bane, listening attentively, began to stroke one hand over Jesse's hair; Jess winced reflexively from the touch, but Bane didn't stop, and despite his resistance he found much of the tension easing away.

He woke the next morning curled up against Bane, and the alpha wolf was dozing leaning against the arm of the couch. It was the first time he'd truly recognized how much power Bane had to influence his emotional state; it had taken some time for him to come to accept that Bane was far more likely to use it to comfort and protect than to abuse and hurt.

It led irresistibly to another memory, coming across Kevin and Bane in the living room, Bane furform, Kevin brushing him. They'd coaxed Jess over and into furform—he'd been so shy about changing in front of anyone for a long time. Between the two, once Bane got the other brush from the kitchen, they'd put Jess in utter bliss for an hour or more.

The memories hurt; he pushed them away. He had to think about right now, instead of wandering around in the past.

What was he going to do now? He could probably avoid Kevin now, despite the soul-link and the nearness, and he had no idea what Shaine had been doing there. He could keep his eyes open and survive.

Was it really worth it?

He was too much of a coward to just kill himself. He'd have to just stumble through this however he could. Somehow he'd survive, just like he'd always survived.

* * *

Patrick, as soon as he was alone in his hotel room, spat, “Sikial, come!”

His primary demon materialized in its usual form, and cringed into a corner as the mage whirled to face it.

“You said he'd be alone and unprotected! I would hardly call that alone and unprotected!”

“Sorry, master, so sorry... others were not supposed to care now...”

“Obviously they do, if they were willing to stand up to me to protect him! If it hadn't been for the storm-clouds and the static, I could have killed the mage and taken the other two. And they still stayed!” Dark visions formed behind his eyes, of sending one of the demons to take out all three of them... no. There'd be little satisfaction in that, compared to something more personal, and the power of their pain and deaths would be lost to him. Chance had played a part in this one, but still he'd lost, had been thwarted a second time. “That human is infuriating enough, but that Lioren mage... how dare he interfere with me again!”

“Yes, master. What gives him the right to tell you who you may or may not have?” Sikial raised its head, but kept its eyes low.

“Everyone is equal in the villages, they say, over and over,” Patrick snarled. “If everyone is equal, why are strong mages catered to and indulged, until they come to believe they can do anything they want, regardless of who they walk all over? He'll have it easy his whole life, with everyone bowing down to him, like strength makes him superior to everyone else.”

“They care more for that than for anything else,” Sikial whispered. “Intelligence means nothing to them. Original thinking means nothing to them.”

“Oh, original thinking means something to them! It's the ultimate crime! Right up there with daring to not kiss the ass of a strong mage!”

“This one expected you to, master. He expected you to obey him, and surrender immediately. He would not have come here, at night with so little light, if he'd expected any challenge to his authority.”

“He hasn't seen a fraction yet of how I intend to challenge his authority!”

“Yes, master, show him. Show him that being born strong doesn't make him special, that being clever and inventive matter much more! We will help, master. We won't be so careless again. No more mistakes.”

Patrick glowered at the demon coldly. “You're right. There will be no more mistakes.”

He hadn't escaped the battle unscathed; he'd been carelessly lightly shielded at the moment that storm of chaos was unleashed, and to gate himself out of there he'd had to open himself to it yet further. It would take time to heal, and time to plan something suitable. Especially for that interfering Lioren, the obvious product of a value system that gave special status to a strong mage.

The first time he'd seen the young wolf, he'd been intrigued by the psychic damage, the nature and extent of it; when Sikial had told him the wolf was back in the city—alone and undefended, ha!—his curiosity had won out. At least he could learn how well the damage had healed, and with a little effort, he was sure there was more research he could do. Wolf resistance didn't apply to demon power.

Now? Fury overwhelmed anything else. All three were going to pay for this. They were going to die, and they were going to feed his power as they did.

The only remaining question was, what would be the most satisfying way to do it?

* * *

For the first time in an uncommonly long while, the entire group of three covens and their solitary friends gathered, in the living room of Sundark's huge house.

“Well?” Bane prompted, gazing expectantly at his brother.

“That's twice now that the same mage has shown an interest in Jess,” Bryan said. “At least, Kevin says it's the same mage...”

“It is,” Kevin said firmly. “Change in power level aside, the signature was definitely the same.”

Bryan nodded. “And he's threatened Kev. I think we need to figure out how much of a danger this guy is.”

“He has to have come from somewhere,” Deanna said. “He can't have just appeared from nowhere.”

“What do we know about him?” Evaline asked. “Kev?”

“According to his response to my initial challenge,” Kevin said, “his name is Patrick Lucian.”

Sonja's forehead furrowed. “That sounds familiar. Keep talking.”

Kevin shrugged. “He's obviously an elvenmage, I'd guess he's in his thirties, give or take. The first time I ran into him, I got the distinct impression that he wasn't very strong—I was terrified I'd burned him out completely instead of just backlashing him when I lost my temper. The second time, he tore my shields into shreds in a matter of minutes, in a city alley with hardly any light, and he was throwing stuff at me that I suspect would've tired me out even in full daylight if I could figure out how to do it in the first place—serious combat-magic stuff I've never seen before. I still don't know how I got out of that in one piece, there was some sort of bizarre reaction with a storm that was building, or something.” He kept his suspicions about what Shaine had been doing to himself—it wasn't relevant, and he had no proof. “How Shaine would know, I have no idea, but he said it was demon-magic. That's as good an explanation as any, I guess, there were some severely strange colours in his shields. He seems to get in a snit as soon as someone interferes with what he wants to do.”

“Or when you interfere with what he wants to do,” Sonja said thoughtfully. “There was a Lucian mage in Falias, I can't recall his first name, who left the village ten or twelve years ago with no explanation. I wasn't all that old at the time, and I was rather distracted ‘cause my gifts were starting to wake up and drive me nuts...”

Nick closed a hand around hers. “Anything you can remember is more than we have.”

“He was a mage, but not a very strong one. We're talking, say, with the average elf a one, and an Adept a ten, and Kev and Lori around eight or nine, he was about a four or five.”

“Unlikely to ever become Adept, but still, respectably strong,” Lori observed.

“He never thought so. He was convinced that everyone looked down on him for it, and that stronger mages had special status that he'd been cheated of. The Lucians in Falias are a lot like the Haven branch—they turn up reasonably strong mages fairly consistently, but not very many Adepts.” She frowned. “I can remember, vaguely, bits of major scenes he started, claiming that the villages have a hierarchy based on family and power. Some junk about wolves believing they're the master race, too. Really warped stuff, my parents kept me out of hearing as much as they could. Mostly it was the strong emotions catching my attention, before I had much control.”

“Which would certainly account for the reaction to phoenix telling him what to do,” Bane reflected. “It's not like you're subtle, magically speaking, Kev.”

“Yeah, and thrashing him so easily the first time probably didn't help,” Kevin sighed. “How was I supposed to know?” Oh yes, being strong has made my life oh-so-much easier. My own mother's terrified of me!

“You couldn't have known, and I'd've done the same,” Lori said firmly. “So. It does sound like the same person. Which means we have an extremely unstable elvenmage running around, possibly making pacts with demons to give him the power he feels he should have had by birth, and he has a grudge against Kev for being strong and daring to tell him not to do something. We have no idea at all what his interest in Jess is.”

“Demon pacts always have prices,” Samantha said quietly. “Given that it sounds quite likely that he is making bargains with demons and appears to be asking for power, the price is highly likely to involve blood and pain and possibly death, depending on how deeply into it he's gone. Be very, very glad you kept him away from Jess, Kev.”

A kind of unanimous shudder ran through the room, as the thought occurred to each of what that could have meant to Jess, had this other mage gotten ahold of him.

“As for the change in power level, I would hazard a guess that you caught him by surprise the first time, before he had a chance to draw on power through his allies. Without them, he has only what nature gave him, and it's a shame you didn't burn him out completely at the time, while he was vulnerable—although, again, there's no way you could have known. With them, well, the lowest prices are on enhancing what's already there. Did he do anything that you would consider outside your element?”

Kevin shook his head. “I've never met a mage who bothered with combat stuff that heavily, but it was all fire and light.” Now where on earth did Sam learn all this stuff about demons? Not that I'm ever going to find out, I bet.

Sam nodded. “Then he probably hasn't gone so deep that he's killing frequently, but that power has to come from somewhere. And the most readily available source, if you're into quick gratification and a lot of power, is the gifts and emotions and energy of others.”

Bane growled, and the other wolves all tensed. “He's turned himself into a predator.”

“Essentially, yes, except that instead of feeding to stay alive, he's feeding for the sake of power.”

Evaline made a disgusted noise, deep in her throat. “That's worse than predators.”

“I would say so.”

“And he's a little too interested in Jess,” Naomi said slowly.

“But we don't even know where Jess is to warn him, let alone to help him stay safe,” Gisela said miserably, all the colour gone from beneath her honey-tan skin.

“There's another thing to consider,” Sam said, though she sounded as though she were weighing every word. “I've been reluctant to bring this up because I can't explain how I know, but I... have reason to believe that there's one coven in Haven summoning demons. I think it's still only experimentation, but it could get very bad, very quickly, if they call the wrong demon or make even a small mistake.”

“Who?” Bryan demanded. “Who's that insane?”

Sam sighed. “Whitethorn. Which is another reason I don't expect to be believed outside this room.”

Kevin didn't think he'd ever heard a room go so quiet.

Oh, Becky, what the hell are you doing? Nothing's worth that...

“Other than the coincidence of both summoning demons and both having gone after Jess,” Lori said, “is there reason to believe that there's a direct connection?”

Sam bit her lower lip. “It... I... It might be just this Lucian after Jess for his own reasons and Whitethorn for, well, whatever actually goes through the minds of Whitethorn. But it... it isn't impossible that there's some degree of demon interest in Jess underlying both. What I do know for sure is that I would feel much safer having Jess right here, because no hostile demon is going to get through the protections Starluck built into the outer walls, ever. I'm not sure it matters, because there's nothing we can do about it that we weren't doing anyway.” Black and white Hob climbed onto her lap; automatically, she began to rub his ears.

“And you're right, there's no chance Katherine and Tomas would believe an accusation about Whitethorn from this direction,” Lori said unhappily. “We'd have to tackle them ourselves.”

“I'd really rather you didn't. I prefer you alive. I'll let you know if I have any reason to believe they're placing anyone else at risk, and we can re-think what to do.”

“And you seriously can't tell us how you know this?”

“I really can't. I'm sorry.”

Though Sam's reticence about her past was something they'd all accepted long ago as her own choice, Kevin wondered whether he were the only one finding it considerably harder to take at the moment; he doubted it. Still, it would take extremely persuasive evidence to convince the Adepts, or most of the rest of Haven, that it wasn't an attempt at retaliation.

He couldn't find it in him to doubt her, though; for her to bring it up, she'd have to be very sure.

“Great,” Kevin muttered. “Bane and I screw up, now Jess is out there in very bad danger he doesn't even know about, and alone unless Shaine finds him. I didn't think I could feel worse.”

“Not useful,” Lori told him firmly. “We've been over that. Back on track. Knowing this, now what?”

“I think,” Flynn sighed, “we're going to have to just hope like hell that he comes home on his own or that we find him again and can convince him to, and meanwhile trust to whatever luck has kept Jess alive this long to keep him that way a bit longer.”



On four feet, Jess sniffed around in the small patch of wild weeds and stunted trees behind a mini-strip-mall of half a dozen stores. He could smell raccoon, was certain that it was close, and coon would certainly taste better than rat or skunk or squirrel. Now, where was it? He lifted his head from the tangled trails on the ground, searching the air for any clues as to which direction he should try.

A combination of scents that had nothing to do with coon tore a growl from him and raised his hackles even before his mind consciously registered it: human terror, and the acid-sweet smell of a predator.

No way! I'm obviously a failure as a wolf, too, why should I bother risking my life? He fought the overwhelming need to hunt it, kill it, protect, but wolf instincts regarding predators ran too deep for mere depression to bury. It clawed at him mercilessly, worse than the memory of need for the uppers and downers he'd once used to pretend his life was under control.

He spun around and raced off in the direction of the predator scent; dinner would just have to wait.

Not far away, in a sheltered corner behind a laundromat, he found both predator and prey. The human girl he recognized—she was about his age, and spent a great deal of her time in the summer sitting on various stretches of sidewalk with coloured chalk and her own fertile imagination, creating fantastic designs. That explained the interest of the predator: creativity, passion, fear, were all acceptable sources of nourishment.

The predator itself was different from the only one he'd actually encountered in Haven, and he couldn't recall anything like it in the descriptions his packmates had given him of various types, but so what? A predator was a predator. This one was eight-limbed, four of the limbs wide-pawed feet, four of them spindly long-clawed arms, the whole thing massing probably roughly what he did; the glossy dark hide gleamed unpleasantly like oil in the scant light.

Two hands held the girl's arms, and the other two were exploring her body. Adding to her fear, Jess thought in disgust. Spicing up the meal before feasting.

All that took only a second or two to assimilate; without a pause, he lunged directly at the predator, aiming for the back of the neck—there were very few creatures, according to his packmates, that could survive having their central nervous system severed.

The head of the predator swivelled around like an owl's, more than ninety degrees from front, and three huge oval eyes fixed on him.

The lipless slit that passed for a mouth opened, and it began to keen, a high-pitched sound that made Jess whine softly even as his full mass connected with the predator and flung it aside, off the girl. It writhed, and wrapped arms and legs around Jesse's torso, still keening.

Jess turned his head and snapped savagely at it, but missed; all four paws planted firmly, he shook himself, struggling to think past the keening that abused his sensitive ears and made his skull feel like it would split. It hurt, oh god it hurt, Bane had never told him about a predator that used sound to attack, and the limbs wrapped around his ribs were beginning to constrict, not being able to breathe was not helping him clear his thoughts.

Come on, Jess, get it together, or you're going to die, and going down in your second ever predator fight is too pathetic even for you!

He shifted back to human, bare skin crawling at the greasy feeling of the hide against him; the predator, confused, didn't adjust its grip sufficiently, and the keening didn't cause such acute pain, though it was still uncomfortable. He twisted around, and slammed the heel of his hand into the bottom of its jaw.

The mouth closed with a small snick, and the keening faltered.

Thank god. He hit it again, aiming for the throat this time; dazed and silenced, the predator's hold loosened, and Jess pried both pairs of hands apart; he squirmed his way free, with only a couple of shallow scratches to show for it. Panting hard, he shifted back to wolf, and attacked, praying he could kill it before it started that keening again.

He had to tear one arm off to get it out of his way, which took time, but then, all four hands were pawing at its throat and it was making hoarse rasping noises, so it didn't matter, because it didn't appear to be able to breathe properly, let alone hurt him. His jaws closed, covering nearly the entire neck, and he braced himself and jerked sideways and up, bringing the powerful muscles of his neck and shoulders into play.

Head nearly severed from body, the predator went limp, and in a matter of seconds, dissolved into nothing.

Jesse shook himself, pleased with his success—and he hadn't even gotten hurt doing it, not really. Bane would be proud of him, when he told...

Except that he couldn't go tell his pack all about it and celebrate the kill with them and tell them about this new sort of predator. He couldn't go to his pack at all.

The satisfaction turned to pain, an aching sense of emptiness; he heaved a sigh, and turned to check that the girl was going to be all right.

She was huddled against the wall, watching him with wide eyes, tears streaking her cheeks and her breath coming in half-hysterical sobs. The fear scent was overpowering, he could pick up nothing else.

She's as scared of me as she was of the predator, he realized. This wasn't Haven, where she'd have thanked him and been concerned about the blood streaking his sides, even if it wasn't deep. To her, he was as alien and terrifying as the thing that had attacked her, regardless of his having protected her.

He whirled away, and bolted, not caring where he was going, as long as it was somewhere else.

Instinct took him to a little-known baseball field, tucked in behind a couple of huge government buildings. He stood in the middle of the field, and howled his anguish and confusion to the stars, until a couple of strangers came into the park and yelled at him; he fled again, back to where he'd hidden his backpack and clothes under the seldom-used back steps of a coffee shop. In the shadow of the garbage cans, he curled up as tightly as he could, too miserable to care about hunting. What difference did it make? What difference did anything make, now?

* * *

Jess sank down on a bench in a different park, under a moon that had passed from near-new to full since he'd seen Kevin and Shaine, grateful for the shadows that concealed him.

This was killing him by inches. Living like this wasn't worth it—sleeping furform in hidden corners, hunting the small wildlife of the city or shoplifting chocolate bars, hating the thought of being around anyone. It was a twisted version of his blissful days alone in Haven's forest, and that only made him loathe himself and his life more.

He wrapped his arms around his knees, shivering. He should've known better. Every time life began to look brighter, every time he was happy, his feet got kicked out from under him again, usually followed by a kick to the head. Being adopted after so long being bounced through foster homes and waiting for his real parents to come and find him, only to have what seemed at first like heaven turn into a worse hell than that younger Jesse had ever dreamed could really happen. Now it was happening all over again, except that this time, the heaven was still real, only he'd exiled himself from it. Shaine had made it quite clear that he was tired of babysitting him and he was no longer welcome. That left nothing but surviving the streets alone, with no hope of any change. Not even the temporary escape of acid or alcohol or anything else; he knew enough about wolf physiology to know that it would take drastically more each time, and not long for his body to build up a complete immunity to it. And it just might have something to do with Kevin and Shaine both being there last time, and he desperately didn't want that.

Wolf. He could shift to wolf, run far from the city and lose what was Jess in the animal mind...

No, he'd still be running alone, and the memories would never lie completely quiet. He could no more be entirely wolf than he could be entirely human. Better just to get it over with, save himself all the pain between now and the inevitable anyway.

He took his knife out of his jacket, shrugged out of the jacket itself, and pulled out the largest knife-blade. The ragged sleeves of his worn sweatshirt he pushed up out of his way. Now, which way was best? Across? No, wolf blood would clot too quickly, he had to do more damage than that to kill himself.

He didn't notice the footsteps, but he caught the scent; only that saved Shaine from getting the knife in his guts.

“Don't be such a fucking idiot. Put the knife away.” Impassive as ever, Shaine sat beside him.

“Go away. You don't want me around. No one does.”

“I never said that. I said I was tired of taking care of you. It would've been more real if I said I was tired of seeing you need somebody to look out for you. You were s'posed to stay in Haven and get your life straightened out. So why the fuck are you back here?”

“Because nobody trusts me. They said they did, but they don't. They lied and you lied and everybody lies and nobody's even going to notice when I'm dead.”

“Give it a break, Jess, you don't want to die and we both know it. Get the jacket back on before you freeze, put the knife away before I take it, and come on. We're going home.”

“I don't have a home,” Jesse said halfheartedly, but he obeyed anyway. He went with Shaine, back to the apartment. Nothing had changed.

After his room in Haven, it was awful, but at least it was familiar and trustworthy.

“There's probably something edible around,” Shaine said.

Jess shook his head. “I'm okay.” Though it was out of place to say it, he wasn't going to eat if he wasn't hungry. Bane had told him true wolves could survive for over a week without food and python it when they could; werewolves tended to be tougher than true wolves. The coon he'd devoured last night would keep him comfortably until tomorrow.

He didn't want to think about Bane.

Shaine shrugged. “Your life. Go have a shower, you've obviously been sleeping rough and you need one. Badly.”

Too empty inside to care, one way or the other, Jess obeyed. Memories stirred again, of trying to get clean after two weeks in the forest, but he buried it ruthlessly. He just couldn't cope with that right now.

The clothes in his backpack weren't noticeably cleaner than the ones he'd been wearing, but he could figure out what to do about that tomorrow. Right now, he left the bathroom, to find that all the lights were off, leaving only the glow of the streetlights outside through the two small windows, and Shaine was in bed already, waiting. He curled up against Shaine under the blankets, shivering a bit; Shaine slid an arm over him, sharing warmth. Well, what physical warmth Shaine ever had to share; with a body temperature that reminded him more of a dryad's, Shaine was certainly no elvenmage. But the other kind of warmth, that was another matter.

“Shaine?” he said, after a few minutes.


“I really really need to tell you something.”


“I'm a werewolf.”

“Oh. I was scared maybe you were gonna say you're back on those fucking drugs again.”

“I mean it. I can be a wolf when I try.”

“'Least I won't have to worry so much about whether you're safe.”

There was that.

“Drugs are no good. They don't work anymore.”

“All the better,” Shaine said. “Shut up and go to sleep.”



Rebecca left the bank at five, and decided to wander the village rather than going home. The increasing tension within Whitethorn wasn't something she really wanted to deal with just now.

Hm, it might be worth it to see what was new at Donovan's shop. She walked the three blocks to Arachne's Loom deep in her own troubled thoughts.

Evaline and Liam were there, Evaline holding up a rather attractive blue and orange dress against her and waiting for Liam's opinion.

“I think you should try...” He broke off, and glanced towards Rebecca. Evaline echoed it, and growled low in her throat.

Rebecca ignored her, and swept past them towards the back of the shop. She stopped to look at a rack of bright-coloured vests, some magesilk, some made by more conventional methods.

Evaline came up behind her.

“We're going to find him. We'll get him home somehow. You aren't going to win.”

“I really don't care,” Rebecca said disdainfully. “Find him, forget him, it makes no difference to me.” She considered telling Evaline how interested the demon plane seemed to be in Jesse, but decided against it. Why should she give them free information?

“Y'know, Sam said something the first time she saw Jess. She said that he's a lot more than a stray out of the city, and anyone who forgets that is going to regret it. I wouldn't blame him if he decided it's his turn for a little revenge once he comes home. And he will. That bond between him and Kevin and Gisela is too strong.”

“I'm sorry, I must not have made this clear.” She spun around, and met Evaline's eyes levelly. “I do not care. At all. I do not need your pathetic attempts at threats. I do not care what Samantha said. And truthfully, given how easily manipulated that black wolf of yours is, I am not especially worried about whether he hates me. Excuse me.” She stepped around Evaline, and stopped at a rack of long skirts.

Evaline made a disgusted sound. “Kevin's right. You are a coward. You've lost face with every wolf in Haven for this.”

Rebecca gritted her teeth, acutely aware of that fact and hating it. Had she challenged Jesse openly, beaten him in a fair fight and driven him away from Haven, that would be acceptable behaviour. Not that it would have endeared her to the other wolves, but she would at least have not lost face. Being implicated as the voice behind Avryl's treachery, however, was another matter, and it damaged her standing with the Haven wolves badly. The opinions of non-wolves didn't matter, but her status with the wolves did.

There seemed, however, to be no way to negate it without making it worse.

“Evaline,” she said. “Surely you have something better to do with your time. Are you really so bored?”

“You're not a wolf,” Evaline spat, turning away. “You're a dog pretending to be a wolf.”

Holding her growing anger firmly in check wasn't easy, but this was neither the time nor the place to fight Evaline. It would only make her look even worse.

Damn this whole mess. She was sorry now she'd ever laid eyes on Kevin Lioren and thought she could have him to herself. Directly and indirectly, he was the ultimate reason why she was now standing in quicksand and had to hunt for a way to escape it. Elves were more trouble than they were worth.



For the hundredth time, Kevin settled himself on his bed with his homework; for the hundredth time, he read the same paragraph, but it still made no sense to him. For the hundredth time, he gave up, went back to pacing restlessly around the room.

Deanna knocked quietly on the door, and crossed the room to hug him.

“Are you okay? You're broadcasting pretty strongly...”


“That isn't what I mean, and you know it. What's wrong?”

“I don't know. Something's wrong, but I don't know what, or where, but I can't get it out of my head.”

“Jess?” she asked gently.

He sighed. “I was trying not to think that.”

“Give up on the homework. Come on downstairs.”

“Well, I'm not accomplishing much up here.”

Past Jesse's empty room, a constant reminder of something rarely far from anyone's thoughts anyway. The equinox was just past, it was less than a week to Jesse's birthday...

How under the sun had he made everybody love him so much, that two months later they were still worrying about him all the time?

He found no more peace in the cosy dining room with his coven-mates, Flynn intent on a jigsaw puzzle on the table, Cynthia curled up in one corner of the couch with her current knitting project, Bane dozing furform on the rug by the woodstove. Restlessly, he picked up the brush from the ledge by the woodstove, and sat cross-legged beside Bane; he had to smile when the wolf woke at the first touch and helpfully rearranged himself so Kevin could reach him more easily. Deanna claimed the other end of the couch and retrieved an oversized book lying open and face-down beside her, revealing a notebook under it—research for something, apparently. Kevin concentrated on brushing Bane's heavy fur tangle-free and shining-soft, always a popular pastime for both wolves and friends.

Even that couldn't calm him as it usually did. He laid down the brush, and got up. “I'm going for a walk.”

Bane growled halfheartedly, and went back to his nap.

He made no effort to decide where to go, simply let instinct lead him where it would, trusting to his own deeper self to take him where his conscious self couldn't.

A wolf snarling, somewhere ahead... he knew wolves well enough to recognize it as defensive, not aggressive.

He ran down the rest of that hill, up the higher one in front of him, and found a small black wolf—with two unnaturally large grey wolves at his heels. The black wolf staggered, all too obviously exhausted, but he still spun around clumsily to attack. The grey wolf slipped to the side, got around behind him and snapped at his flank, and the other mirrored it. Jess tried again, with no more luck; the grey wolves weren't going to let him stand and fight. They drove him back into a faltering limping run again, matching his speed without letting him slow.

Kevin felt pure heat surge along every nerve—a sensation he recognized, the wild mad ecstasy of power, stirred and fed by strong emotion. He'd learned the seductive joy of it along with the satisfaction of taming it under Thomas, surrendered himself to it with Rebecca, and mastered it again.

This time, he was in control of it, not the other way around.

He crossed the road so he was directly in their path.

Jess almost hit him; he stumbled again, this time fell and simply lay there, sides heaving.

Kevin stepped between Jess and the grey wolves. They were neither werewolves nor true wolves, mage-sight told him, they were constructs, mage-made, something that he'd only ever heard of as a theory since it took immense amounts of power and a high level of skill.

“Come on,” he told them, his voice dangerously quiet. “Try to get him now.”

They hesitated, pacing back and forth; their programming probably didn't include what to do if they were confronted directly by someone other than their prey.

Gisela darted out of the trees, and made directly for Jess. Somehow, he wasn't surprised she'd felt the same call that had brought him here. The healer dropped to her knees beside the collapsed black wolf.

Kevin reached into the sunlight, let that combine with the rage, felt the brilliant heat of more raw power than most mages could hope to survive unscathed.

Part of it he used to shield Jess and Gisela; he heard Gisela whisper, “Uh-oh, brace yourself, Jess.”

The rest, with no attempt at shaping it beyond directing it to its targets, he turned loose on the two constructs. The intoxicating strength of it washed over him; what he knew would have put most mages on their knees in agony was to him an electric high.

The constructs, with yowls of protest, melted back into the formless solid-energy masses they'd been made from, then even that disintegrated back to its natural state.

The power was still there, begging to be used, there wasn't anyone who could stop him if he chose to take what it offered...

“Kev?” Gisela said softly, her voice shaky. Not afraid, exactly... but not far from it.

Grimly, he leashed the power, channelled it away, back into the sunlight. It obeyed; it was himself he had to fight to do it.

He turned around, and scooped Jesse up carefully, using enough of the lingering power to lighten his weight. “I'm okay, kitten,” he said, surprised at his own hoarseness. “I'm not going to lose it.”

“I was starting to wonder, for a minute, but I didn't really think you would.”

“Near miss, but not quite.” That faith felt better, in a way, than the ecstasy of being at the heart of so much power. With his arms full of a weakly-struggling wolf, he had to shape the gate with his mind alone. He waited for Gisela to step through, then followed. The road vanished, replaced by the solid familiarity of the living room.

The rest of Sundark were in the dining room still, but everyone was talking at once; when he and Gisela came in, abrupt silence fell, then came a dozen questions all over-top of one another.

“Be quiet for a minute,” he told them sharply, and laid Jess down on the now-vacant couch. “Is he okay, 'Sela?”

She perched on the edge, rested a hand on his side, and closed her eyes. Hob jumped up to investigate, unsurprisingly, but Cynthia picked him up and held him in her arms where he could watch without being in the way.

“I think so. He's hurt in a few places, but nothing really bad... there's traces of some kind of poison, it did an awful lot of damage before his body recognized it and countered it, I don't know what it was, they must've had poisoned teeth, these look like bites. Mostly just exhaustion. Kev, they must have chased him for hours! It's a wonder he made it here at all!”

“Who chased him?” Bane demanded, more than a hint of growl in his voice.

“I'll see what I can fix, but mostly he just needs to sleep. And not do much when he wakes up. At least he can't run away again for a while, I don't think he'd make it out of Janicot.” More silence, no one willing to break her concentration while she was intent on healing.

“That's all I can do,” she pronounced finally. “Can you take him to his room?”

Wordlessly, Kevin gathered him up again. He heard Gisela tell the others to stay there, then she joined him.

Gisela flipped back the blankets, so Kevin could lay Jesse down again, this time in his own bed. The wolf stirred restlessly, and his form fluxed to human, Kevin didn't think he was even entirely conscious; he nestled into the blankets Gisela drew over him, and relaxed completely. Hob darted in the door, launched himself onto the bed, and curled up next to Jess, glaring defiance of anyone who might dare try to move him again.

On some level, he knows he's home safe. Gently, Kevin brushed raven-dark hair away from Jesse's face. I promise, Jess, I'm not going to make you sorry ever again for trusting me, just please give me a chance...

“Your turn,” Gisela said, and motioned to the loveseat. Kevin decided not to argue, sat down and let her examine him.

“No more stretching for a couple of days,” she told him. “You've got a mild case of backlash, it's been a long time since you used that much power all at once. Why don't you stay here and catnap a bit? I'll explain to your coven and make sure someone brings you something to eat.”

“Okay.” He coiled himself so he could rest his head on his arm, his arm on the loveseat. Gisela settled a magesilk blanket over him, kissed his cheek fleetingly, and left the door ajar a couple of inches for Hob behind her.



Gisela made her way back downstairs, to the dining room. Sundark hadn't calmed down noticeably; she was all but attacked.

With proper healer composure, she leaned against the doorway and waited for them to stop all talking at once.

“There were two constructs shaped like wolves chasing Jess,” she explained calmly. “Kev and I got there at almost the same time. He destroyed them. Better yet, he did it without losing control. He's pretty badly shaken up, though. They're both up in Jesse's room, I'm going to get Kev something to eat, and after that, don't even think about disturbing either one.”

The phone rang; Cynthia picked it up. “Heya, Lori. Here, ask 'Sela.”

Gisela crossed the room to take the phone, repeat the story for Lori—she'd felt the disturbance, she said—and ask her to explain to the other Haven mages.

“I'll tell Katherine and Tomas,” Lori promised. “Everybody else will be calling them to ask, only Tomas and Moira and I would be familiar enough with Kev's signature to identify it that fast from a distance. Naomi picked up the fringes of it too, so it was strong enough for at least the witches who know Kev to sense.”

“I'll call Winter. Any other witches who noticed can find out on their own.”

“He's all right?”

“They both are.”

“Leave it to Kev... Right. I'll talk to you later.”

Gisela hung up, dialled Coven Winter's number. Liam answered.

“Is Nick okay?” she asked him.

“He and Sonja are cuddled together on the couch and I'm not sure which one is more shaken up. What's going on?”

Typical that hypersensitive Sonja would also catch it. She repeated her account yet again.

“Why am I not surprised at that being the source? Need me for Jess?”

“Wouldn't hurt, but it can wait until you take care of Sonja and Nick. It'll be mostly trying to clear out the fatigue poisons faster than his body can plus some overextended muscles. Other than that, there are a couple of bites, that's about it.”

“I'll be over in a while, then.”

“Right. 'Bye.” She returned the phone to its cradle. “It even hit Naomi and Nick and Sonja,” she told Sundark.

“Typical,” Bane growled softly. “When phoenix gets angry, he has to let everyone in Haven know.”

“You know it's going to hurt Kev if you say things like that in his hearing. If I could, I would've done the same thing, after what they were doing to Jess.” Just the thought was enough to put unhealerlike visions in her head. What depths of cruelty did it take to try to kill a wolf by running him until he collapsed?

She got her feelings back under control firmly. “I'll be up in Kev's room. Liam will be over sooner or later.”

She detoured to the kitchen to fill a plate with Kevin's ever-present homemade cookies and a large cup with juice, added a hasty sandwich of leftover roast beef, delivered it, and roused Kevin enough for him to start automatically eating.

Kevin wasn't going to mind if she sat here on his bed across the hall, legs crossed tailor-fashion. There were prices on being a healer and helping her friends, and one of them was self-discipline. Less than two months shy of nineteen, she was no longer an apprentice with the luxury of letting her feelings show; she was a healer, finished the basic training every healer had, and near the end of the somewhat more complex training necessary for a healer who routinely dealt with all four races, if nowhere near to the height of her power.

Self-discipline was as important to a healer as it was to a witch or an elvenmage: to the witch because loss of control made the elements respond, the mage because loss of control could be extremely destructive, and to a healer because if her feelings ruled they would hinder her in what her first priority must always be.

She closed her eyes, slowed her breathing, reached to the earth to ask it to give her energy and accept her chaotic feelings.

A gentle psychic touch, the equivalent of a knock at the door: Liam letting her know he was there and asking her to come back. There was no hurry, she could take her time coming out of the trance.

“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.


“Don't lie to the healer, 'Sela.”

“Really. Just a lot of feelings hitting me all at once. Anger at whoever did this, relief that Jesse's home... but I'm scared of what'll happen when he wakes up. If he sees this as a betrayal... Liam, I'm the only one that won't make either one throw up all shields.”

“You'll talk them through it, if you need to.”

“Sure, if I don't mess up. You know as well as I do how hard it is to judge Jess.”

“I know.”

Evaline and Bryan had done as much research as they could on runaways and homelessness, and shared the results. The most common theme was that they were fleeing home situations that made even street life a better option, and that most of them were frighteningly trapped by the system, and mistrust became a survival trait. That made it easier to understand Jesse's sometimes erratic behaviour; it was enough to make Gisela certain that she truly didn't know nearly enough.

Liam leaned forward and hugged her. “Trust your instincts, and don't forget loving them both, and you'll do fine.”

“Right. Let's go see what we can do about the easy part.”



“Master?” Sikial said tentatively.

Patrick turned his head, not otherwise inclined to move—his latest acquisition gave extremely enjoyable backrubs, and given all the stress in his life, it was wonderful to be able to relax. “What?”

“I... have a report.” Sikial fidgeted restlessly. It looked worried, Patrick thought, which was not a good sign at all.

With a sigh, Patrick said, “Stop for the moment, Jake,” and sat up. Jake immediately shifted out of the way, his attention never moving from the mage, the presence of the demon unimportant. Convinced absolutely by his religion that he was damned beyond hope of salvation because he felt no sexual attraction to females, only to males, the lean-muscled high-school track star had been open to an amazing degree to a combination of kindness and firmness with very little magic. “All right, report.”

“The constructs you sent after the black wolf...” Sikial hesitated.

“Out with it.”

“They've been destroyed.”

Anger surged. “What do you mean, destroyed?” he demanded.

“Completely unmade, master. There's nothing left of them anywhere for me to find.” It was even odds whether Sikial or Jake looked more frightened. “But the trail leads towards Haven.”

“Haven,” Patrick repeated slowly, and spat a curse. “Damn it! There should have been no possible way for him to reach any kind of useful help!” Those constructs had been works of art, carefully designed to run the black wolf to death, then use his life-energy to kill the annoying human, and finally, when strongest, go after the mage. “Did you not tell me that the wolf would not go to Haven? Something about a combination of feeling betrayed and guilty?”

“He ran away from the ones who tried to protect him,” Sikial whimpered. “We don't understand why he went towards Haven, or how he made it so far.”

“And I personally have driven him right back into the arms of that damned Lioren. No, don't bother answering that. And the human?”

“Still in the city, master.”

“Total waste of time and power,” Patrick concluded in disgust. “I am not at all happy with you, Sikial. Your information about that wolf and his ridiculously loyal friends has so far been extremely inaccurate. I'm going to have to think of a way to punish you for that, although nothing comes to mind just now.”

“Yes, master,” Sikial said meekly.

“Now get out of here. I don't want to see you until I call you. Is that clear?”

“Yes, master.” Sikial vanished.

“How does that fucking little wolf do it?” Patrick growled. “Right back to Haven, so that Lioren could stop me a third time.” He sighed. “I'm not going to take it out on you, Jake.” The boy was only human, and belonged to him; furious as Patrick was, he could wait until he had an appropriate target.

Eyes wide and worried, Jake inched back into reach. “Is there any way I can help?” he asked tentatively.

“Finishing that backrub would be a good way.” He stretched out again, and gradually began to relax once more under Jake's hands. He'd been in this city for some time now; he toyed with the idea of taking Jake with him when he left. That might actually be best for him, get him away from the people who made him believe there was something wrong with him for simply being who he was. He was intelligent, personable, and athletic, with no innate emotional difficulties that Patrick had been able to find; his fear of damnation over the single so-called sin of orientation, and the accompanying sense of isolation and alienation, was the only vulnerable point Patrick had been able to find.

Reluctantly, he had to admit that, fond as he was of Jake at the moment, he'd get bored in time, and it would hardly be in the boy's best interests to be abandoned in a strange place. It would be better to leave him here, but disabuse him of this idea that his parents' God had any power over him. A suggestion that he take a serious look into the real history of the religion, definitely. He could use gentleness, simply show Jake his power and tell him to think for himself... or would fear leave a stronger impression, a new terror to combat the old one of hell, proof that his parents' God had no ability to protect him?

Maybe he needed to pay a visit to the parents who had inflicted this on Jake in the first place.

For now, he kept his attention on that, while deep inside, rage and frustration simmered quietly. Luck couldn't keep the wolf and his protectors safe forever. He'd find a way, sooner or later, but it was obviously going to take a great deal of thought and planning—and information more accurate than he'd so far been given. Better to go slow, than to give that Lioren a chance to show off again.



Silky blankets, a soft bed under him, familiar scents...

Haven, his own room, Jesse realized sleepily. It must have been a wilder party than usual...

He stirred, felt the pull of partly-healed wounds on his hips and sides. That woke him up completely, brought back the memory of running, trying repeatedly and vainly to fight off his tormentors, long past the point of instinct taking over from reason.

Those same instincts had taken him back to Haven.

More hazy was a memory of seeing the two wolves that had been chasing him with impossible endurance melt and vanish, of Kevin with power swirling around him in a blindingly bright aura, of Gisela crouched beside him with her hand tangled tightly in his fur.

No wonder he felt so awful.

Carefully, he untangled himself, and got shakily to his feet. He was glad the bathroom was close and there were no stairs to navigate; he barely made it that far before he had to stop and lean against the wall.

Shit. There's no way I'm going to make it back to the city. I'm stuck here. Damn it.

He turned on the shower, and stepped under the hot water. By letting the wall take much of his weight, he stayed on his feet until he'd gotten rid of all the sweat and mud from his nightmarish run.

I am really getting sick of having to be rescued. I'd give a lot for something I can actually fight back against for a change.

Clean, he paused to evaluate his condition. One of the healers had been at the bites; other than them and feeling like... well, he'd been roaming some distance north of the city to hunt, but still quite a long way from Haven... he was in reasonable condition.

Christ. If anyone ever wondered just how tough a werewolf really is, I think I just proved it. Of course, I don't think I was going to make it any farther than I did... And damn it all, I bet I wouldn't've stayed on my feet that long if I didn't know there was someone at the other end of the road that would help.

All I want is to stay with Shaine, and not have to feel anything anymore... Shaine's going to freak...

They can't have been really wolves. They didn't get tired at all.

Reluctantly, he went back to his room—why wasn't he surprised that no one had touched anything? Waiting for him to come back.

Leave me alone, stop messing with my head, stop making me feel!

He found a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, and got dressed—pausing more than once when weakness made the room spin wildly.

Someone knocked softly on the open door; he identified Gisela's scent even before he turned around.

She set a plate of food and a glass of juice on the chest. “Thought you might be hungry. Feeling pretty rough?”

“You could say that.”

“Well, you did the highly improbable again, by getting here still alive. Evaline says she's never heard of such a thing. You must have the purest demon-luck ever. Liam thinks you have nine lives like a cat.”

“Then I'm probably running out fast.”

“Sit down and eat. I won't let anybody bother you.”

“But I can't get rid of you.”

She didn't get mad, simply shrugged and smiled. “If I go, there's no one left to keep everyone else away, so you'll have to put up with me.”

His stomach growled at him, so he picked up the plate and sat down on the bed to eat. “Like anyone cares.”

“Everyone cares. You could have come to me, or to Sam or Eva, y'know, instead of running away.”

“Yeah, right. If I thought I'd make it past the gates, I'd be out of here by now.”

“Back to where nobody cares?”

“Back to where nobody tells me they trust me and lies!”

She sat on the floor, legs crossed, facing him. “Haven't you ever made a mistake, Jess? Kev can make mistakes too. Kev feels so awful that for about two weeks Sundark was in serious danger of falling apart.”

Jesse stopped mid-bite. No way. They'd never break, they'd be together as long as any of them were alive.

Gisela, watching him closely, nodded. “They really were, and nothing I did helped. Jess, Kev gated to the city to stop that mage from getting you, remember? For the second time, actually, apparently he had to chase off the same one back just before you met me. He really cares. We all do. It was only that everybody was so stressed out, and Rebecca used that...”

“Rebecca? What does she have to do with this?”

“Avryl's in her coven. Rebecca set up a trap. No one talks much about her and Kevin, or you'd know just how evil it actually was. Believe me, she managed to hurt you and Kev about equally badly, and everybody else through the two of you.”

“What do you know about hurting?” he flung at her, suddenly wanting to do just that, make her hurt like he did.

“You aren't the only one who's ever been hurt. Listen to me, Jess. Your life is your own, you can do whatever you want with it. As soon as you get your strength back, no one can stop you from going back to the city, that's your choice. But if you do, you should at least think about all the consequences. Like the fact that Kev will never forgive himself—and I'm not exaggerating. Like the fact that Sam hasn't ever been happy like she is when you're here, and she's been miserable ever since you ran away. Like the fact that Bane has been alternately moping and snapping. I could keep going for a long time. But I'm not going to, because right now you need to finish eating and then rest. I'll come back in a while.” She got to her feet, left the room.

Gisela wouldn't lie. Anybody can lie. No, not 'Sela, she wouldn't lie, and however tired I am my nose still works, I would've smelled it.

Sort of like I smelled Kev lying when he told me we're friends?

So either they're both lying or both telling the truth.

Damn it all! How come I have to get hurt every time I trust somebody? Nobody else seems to. How come I can't have a family? Any family except Shaine, anyway. And even Shaine lied to me, when he told me to get out.

He finished the food, gulped the juice, and curled into a tight ball on his bed, everything inside spinning in confused tangles. Shaine had lied, made him stay in Haven, so Shaine was part of it... for all he knew, Kevin might have sent the grey wolves to chase him back to Haven... except that if Kevin really didn't care, why would he?... how should he know? He didn't know why that mage was after him, either, or for that matter what the real source of Rebecca's grudge against Sundark was, no one would ever talk about it... was that supposed to mean he could trust Kevin and Shaine and Rebecca all about equally? And what about his faith in Bane and the rest of the pack, but Bane had been there too and felt the same as Kevin and had abandoned him... Nothing made any sense anymore!

Hob hopped up next to him and snuggled close, purring at high volume. Jess rubbed his throat and ears absently, grateful for the friendly company and certain that at least this member of the household had no ulterior motives.

He must have dozed off; when he opened his eyes again, the sunny windows had turned dark, Hob was gone leaving only black fur that wasn't Jess' own, and Gisela was beside him though he hadn't heard her come in.

“Suppertime.” She smiled when he growled in annoyance, the sound rumbling deep in his throat. “Jess, you wore yourself out thoroughly. Expect not to do much beyond eating and sleeping for a few days. Even for wolves, and even for the wolf that other wolves are calling tough, there are limits. You reached them and then some.”

“Great. First Shaine's going to be glad I'm alive. Then he's going to kill me.”

“Any way to get ahold of him?”

“There's no phone, if that's what you mean.”

“I could tell someone to go find him. Even bring him here, if you want.”

Jesse weighed that, risks against benefits. “Yeah, sure, why not. Flynn's been there, but I doubt he remembers.” He rolled over to grab the pad of paper in the drawer of the table, tried to clear his thoughts enough to give directions that would work in a car, and then put approximate times on the points in their usual daily routine when Shaine might actually be there. “That's where the apartment is, and more or less the times you might catch him there.”

She accepted the sheet of paper he handed her. “I'll find someone. Do you want him to come?”

“Doesn't matter what I want. Shaine does what he wants.”

“How careful do we need to be?”

“He knows I'm wolf, never even blinked.” I'd love to know why elvenmage battles and werewolves don't throw him at all...

“Okay. Supper's on the chest.”

Alone again.

He ate without even tasting the food. Wonder what Shaine's going to do. Other than tear strips out of my hide, 'cause I promised I'd be back within a couple of days. Shaine in Haven. Poor Haven.

* * *

“Jesus, Jess, can't I ever take my eyes off you for an hour without you getting into trouble?”

Jess jerked awake sharply, out of restless confusing dreams—something to do with a silver dagger lying under water, but every time his hand touched the surface the dagger disappeared in the ripples like a reflection. He rolled over to find Shaine standing there, arms crossed, expression dark.

“Stop yelling at him!” Gisela protested. “He's in bad shape!”

“The hell he is. You've never seen him in bad shape.”

“He needs rest, not lectures!”

“He needs the common sense god gave seaweed!”

“Chill out, 'Sela,” Jesse said, and managed to sit up with a reasonable amount of grace. “I'm used to it.”

“It wasn't your fault, what happened,” she insisted.

“Of course it was,” Shaine said. “Everything is Jesse's fault. Ask him sometime. If you get him in the right mood he'll give you detailed reasons why he is directly responsible for some of the most amazing things.”

Well, that's really Shaine, all right...

“Give him a chance,” Shaine added. “He'll figure out how it was his fault.”

Jesse decided he needed to visit the bathroom. It was sunny out again, he noticed. Shaine settled himself calmly on the edge of the bed; Gisela shadowed Jess out to the hall.

“Why do you let him say things like that?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

Jesse shrugged. “Because Shaine is Shaine.” He didn't really have a better answer to offer; she wasn't going to understand if he tried to explain. “Don't worry about it.”

She didn't look like she liked that idea, which meant she was deliberately letting him see her dissatisfaction, but she shrugged, and sighed. “All right.” He heard her footsteps on the stairs while he closed the bathroom door.

“You're an idiot,” Shaine said bluntly, when he returned.

Jess sat on the bed, facing him. “Why this time?”

“You left a room like this, in a house like this, with meals like that,” he gestured at another plate of food on the chest, “in a place where you aren't being abused in any way I've heard you mention. And you came back to my one room apartment, and eating what we can afford after the rent's been paid by me fucking strangers and you begging spare change and shoplifting and occasionally helping me, in between cleaning out the local urban wildlife. Did you have a short circuit in there somewhere?”

“I had a reason!”

“Oh? What? This I've got to hear.”

“They lied.”

“And of course you've never told a lie in your life.”

“I've never called someone my friend and then hurt him.”



“I'd put myself on the list a dozen times or so, except I know you too fucking well to bother getting hurt when you do something stupid. There's Kevin, starting when he came to the city to challenge an elvenmage to defend you and we turned around and you were gone. The fact that you're always complaining that no one ever listens to your side of things when at the moment you've got a lot of people willing to listen and wishing you would listen.”

“He's the one who judged without asking!”

“Which is exactly what you're doing.” He pitched his voice to a childish whine. “He hit me first, mommy, so I did it back to him!”

“It's a bit more complicated than that. I trusted him.”

“And he made one mistake, he was stressed over school and walked into a trap, and you're going to punish him and yourself and everyone else who got busy and stressed for a couple of weeks for it forever. Christ, Jess, for once in your life, would you get your fucking act together?” He got up, picked up the plate of food and held it out to him. “Here. Eat. Then go on back to sulking. I'm going to go back to talking to Flynn—he actually makes sense, which is more than I'll get up here.”

That only made the chaos inside worse.

Later, he came half-awake and opened his eyes on darkness when Shaine coiled against him in bed.

“Thought you're mad at me,” he mumbled, snuggling close anyway.

“You expect me to sleep with Kevin maybe? And it's hardly the first time I've ever been mad at you.”

“Mm. 'Night.”

He might have imagined the gentleness of Shaine's voice when he said, “Good night, Jess.”


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, April 1995
Nick 'Winter

Heya, folks! Isn't it great to have spring back? Not that this was much of a winter.

Aaron Fitzgerald and Josh Neumann are getting handfasted! Ceremony, I'm told, is going to be relatively quiet, for close friends and family only, but it's going to be followed by a huge party to which everyone is invited. Magda 'Dragonfire being Josh's sister, I'm told Dragonfire are doing most of the plotting for the handfasting and the potluck, dance, and general celebration to come afterwards. They're doing it on the full moon, which is Saturday the fifteenth.

Exotica update. About a third of Exotica, rather alarmingly, is graduating this year at the college and some are scattering back to their home towns. Those remaining are planning to organize a production of the Rocky Horror Show. Anyone interested in being in it should contact one of the Exotica folks. We're going to miss the true Exotica performances, though. You'll be long and well remembered.

There's a Renaissance Faire being planned for August, tentatively in the park in and around the trees. I'm told that all ideas are welcome, and the organizers are hoping to arrange food, entertainment, a market, costumes, and all manner of other things. Get ahold of Covens Prism or Shadowstar if you're interested in being part of it rather than being a visitor.

Coven Sky-Drum is organizing an Earth Day celebration (Saturday the 22nd) in the park. Partly Native, including drumming, partly Wiccan/Druidic, with other stuff tossed in. Apparently there'll be some tree-planting too, and a healing circle for anyone who feels they need it. They plan to start around noon and run past sunset, until everyone goes home.

As usual, Bryan has some temporary help at the library until all school is out for the summer, although it's starting a bit earlier this year. This means it will be open more hours, for the use of all those who are busily studying for exams and scrambling to finish major assignments. He already has someone, so don't get hopeful. His name's Shaine, he came back to Haven with Jesse.

Dion found some interesting new witch techniques of water magic he'd like to share, I gather he came across an old book by Morgan 'Starluck himself. Some he says works better than the rest, but water magic isn't his strongest area, and he'd like to see one of the water-oriented witches try it, along with any other witch who's curious. Morgan appears to have learned it from a Native shaman, who appears to have had some kind of kin or coven connection with him, but the exact nature of it remains unstated. If I get a chance, I'll comb through it and maybe try a couple of things, and give you another opinion.

Historically speaking: Giovanna Albertine, a healer to whom we should all be grateful for her many contributions to healing knowledge, died 23 years ago the 12th. Among her accomplishments, she researched and proved the disease-transmission odds between human, wolf, dryad, and elf. Her theory was that the bubonic plague, syphilis, tuberculosis, and... well, you get the idea... were in large part responsible for our present low numbers. If you haven't been paying attention, we have had HIV cases in Haven and the others, six in fact, two human, two elf, one dryad, and a latent wolf—at present it looks like full wolves are immune, like they are to almost everything else, but they might be able to carry it. Let's not make AIDS the one that wipes us out. I'm sure Giovanna will forgive me for using her death as an occasion for saying this:

Long live sensuality, but PLAY SAFE so you live long enjoying it!




Kevin looked up fast from cursing silently at his homework for his inability to concentrate. He found the last person he expected hovering in the doorway. “What's up?” he asked, keeping his tone carefully neutral.

“Can we talk?”

“'Course we can.”

Jess came all the way in, and joined him on the bed, hands tangled together in his lap and eyes low.

“'Sela said something... that I don't know just how evil a trap Rebecca set because I don't know what happened with you and her.”

Kevin winced. “Evil. Good word.”

“I know someone or other told me you and Deanna were in Rebecca's coven once, and that has something to do with why she hates you so much, but that's about it.”

Not something he particularly wanted to think about, but all things considered, Jess had a right to know. For that matter, he'd have faced worse if it would help Jess forgive him. “Originally, it was Dia and I and a wolf we grew up with, Karl. You know Coven Helix, Dia and Gisela's parents. My parents apparently fell in love while he was here at the college. He's a mage, although not a remarkably strong one, so he pretty much had to join a wolf coven, but my mother wanted to stay solitary. Which is normally just fine, because with that whole complicated genetic compatibility thing, there's no one in my dad's coven he could have kids with anyway. When I was twelve, my dad's coven moved out of Haven to Ravenrock, combination of reasons that made it pretty hard not to, but my mom wanted to stay here, which was okay with me. Usually with mages, our gifts wake up over a few months around fourteen or so, but sometimes, especially in really strong mages, they wake up in a matter of days or weeks early. Karl decided it was his job to protect me, and where I was, Dia was, of course, so even in high school we were effectively a coven.

“I had a wonderful time showing off, playing games. Most mages do, to some degree. Most mages outgrow it before long, a lot of it is novelty. Sometimes they were more like pranks, and okay, sometimes they were kinda mean, just because I could, and sometimes it annoyed people, but not anything really bad. More brat than bully. If I could show off and get attention by doing something useful or helpful instead, that was good too. Just as well, because my mother pretty much lost or gave up on any control over what I was doing around the time it became clear how strong I am. She was nervous about trying to discipline a mage to begin with, and when I started refusing to obey her, she got outright scared and started giving in more and more. Tomas kept me more or less disciplined while he was teaching me, but training doesn't take all that long, since so much of it is instinct and practice anyway. So at sixteen, I was a newly full-trained mage, and I was excessively proud of the fact, and there was really nothing to stop me from being a royal pain except that I never liked doing any real harm.

“Along came Rebecca, she moved here from Endor to start at the College. She was a couple of years older, you know how beautiful she is, and we had no idea what she was capable of. Bane must have told you how some wolves get extremely unstable because of being forced to live in ways that go counter to natural instinct? She's a perfect example. Bryan warned us a time or two, I think he got it from wolves from Endor, but we didn't listen. We let her join us. Big mistake. Yeah, there's the understatement of the year.” He looked down, and sighed. “Rebecca is fixated on the idea that mixed-village culture sacrifices individuality and personal freedom for harmony and safety. To a teenager who was being told constantly that I should act more responsible and was more interested in playing and exploring than in a future as an Adept with a boring sensible job and a series of teenaged mages to teach... well, someone telling you that you shouldn't listen to anyone else and you should only do what you want to do is pretty tempting. For a little while, we saw her as a kind of martyr to free thought, someone telling a brilliant truth that no one else understood, just us, and they were trying to silence her. I started seeing myself as her champion and defender, and she encouraged it to the point that I came within a hair of getting expelled for fighting and intimidation. Karl, well, you have some idea by now what kind of power an alpha has over the rest of the pack, it's all in how it's used.” He knew Jess knew that, had watched him struggle with the concept and eventually come to terms with it, under Bane and Eva's extremely protective and patient—if not always comprehending—care.

Jess listened quietly to Kevin's tale of everything that had happened and how Deanna had forced a choice and Bane had taken a chance, his expression betraying nothing. Kevin made no effort to hide anything or excuse anything, simply told the truth.

“I've been really acting like an idiot, haven't I,” Jess sighed, when Kevin finished.

“No,” Kevin said. “You've been acting like someone who's been hurt too many times, and as soon as you let your guard down you got hurt again. Believe me, Jess, I am in no position to yell at you. I did a few spectacularly stupid things while I was trying to get my life put back together.”

“Like what?”

Kevin sighed to himself, but now was not the time to leave things buried, not if it could possibly start rebuilding the trust he'd lost.

So he told Jess about the scar that still marked his left arm, about halfway up. He'd gone to Deanna's, found her and Cynthia talking in the kitchen, and Cynthia mentioned needing to find Lori. Kevin asked if he could help, since he was right there. The whiplash pain when Cynthia had simply looked at him, wondering if he'd attack her for saying no, stayed vivid in his memory, even now. He'd grabbed the knife Deanna was using to chop vegetables, slashed his arm open and sworn to Cynthia on his blood that he'd never attack her or her coven-mates again.

Deanna snagging a clean dish-towel to wrap around his arm. “Idiot. Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“As if anyone but you cares!” And gating himself home.

He'd refused to let Deanna call a healer when she showed up at his door moments later, or to leave the house, so she'd done her best and stayed there to hold him while he spent the next hour crying. For days, he wouldn't go out, not for school, not to go to Deanna's, not for anything, and only for Deanna would he open the door; his mother, who hadn't yet reached the point of physically throwing him out but had already largely dissociated herself emotionally, had tried only once. The phone he ignored or left to his mother to answer. When Bane had asked and Deanna answered, the result was everyone mad at everyone.

Out of the anger and the pain and the fear, though, some good had come.

Opening the door, expecting Deanna, stunned to see Flynn—alone.

“What are you doing here?”

Flynn giving him a tentative smile, violet-grey eyes meeting his shyly and then dropping. “I thought maybe we could see if my cards can turn up anything useful. If you want to try, anyway.”

Kevin looked down at the scar, and held out his arm to show Jess. “I never did let a healer touch it, even though Dia thought it needed stitches. I told her I was going to make sure I never forgot how much it hurt when everyone believed I could never be anything but what they thought I was.” He smiled ruefully. “It didn't work, I guess. Sometimes I need things pounded into my skull.”

“Sometimes we all do. Except I've got Shaine to do the pounding for me.”

What did he mean by that? From what Gisela said, all Shaine did was pour more verbal abuse on him than Kevin would take from anybody, and Jess just let him.

Then again... he'd already come to the conclusion that there was more to Shaine than Shaine wanted anyone to see. On many levels.

“I think,” Jess said slowly, “that's sort of like why I ran. Panic reaction, get away from something that hurts. And... there's...” He closed his eyes, struggling visibly with something. Kevin decided to stay quiet and let him choose what he wanted to do. While they'd been talking, the room had turned to twilight; he glanced at the lamp at the head of the bed, undecided, not wanting to startle Jess, but reluctant to continue this conversation all but blind to anything but the heat-image of Jess himself.

Wolves use body-language too much, I'll miss something if I can't see. He reached out physically, and switched on the lamp. Jess paid no attention at all, beyond his eyes narrowing briefly until they adjusted.

“I know I messed up by running. But I always run.” He stopped again. “I told you I don't remember stuff, my life basically starts in the summer of '89, and no one can do anything.”

Kevin likely could, but not without heavy damage. “Yes, and that you were in foster homes.”

“For a while. Then I got adopted, by this lawyer and his wife, that was really cool. Except... he didn't want me, he wanted an instant model family that would make him look good. He started complaining about my hair, I wanted it too long, and about my clothes, I liked black too much and denim and leather too much, I liked moon stuff and pentagrams and daggers and things, I always have for as long as I can remember. But I was just an ordinary kid then, I did reasonably good in school and stayed out of trouble, and none of it meant the kinds of things he thought it did. One night... he had both his partners and their wives over for dinner... and I messed up, I said something I wasn't supposed to... and... “ His voice broke. “He... hurt me...” He shuddered. “I can't,” he said pleadingly. Behind Jesse's dark eyes, for a heartbeat Kevin saw a child, terrified and bewildered. Tentatively, he closed a hand around Jess'.

“I get the idea,” he said gently.

“I lost it. Grades started to drop, I started talking back to teachers when they asked what was wrong, I started getting into fights. I was sometimes depressed and sometimes crazy and I kept doing things I never did before. They said I had a behaviour problem, and I couldn't tell anybody what was really wrong, that it was just because he was trying to control every thought and every word and every action and make every choice for me and he punished me bad when I did anything else. I ran away, I was fifteen I think, and the cops took me home, they never asked me why I ran. I kept running away. Shaine found me, he taught me who and where to stay away from, everything about surviving. He let me stay with him.” Another pause.

“Jess, if it's too hard to say, don't. I'm not expecting anything.”

“I have to tell you why. There were these people I was hanging around with, a bunch of runaways and throwaways and whatever, and one of them offered to let me try what she was on, one night when I was feeling really bad. And it helped, it made me feel better. So I started using it more and more often, uppers to make me feel better and downers so I could relax and sleep, and sometimes LSD just for the hell of it. I tried stopping, once, I can't remember why, but... after a couple of days of having my feelings completely out of my power to control them... I didn't have much by the way of physical withdrawal symptoms, maybe a little bit of being wolf even before it was awake. I just couldn't stand it, having to feel everything, knowing there was a way to stop it if I chose to. You haven't ever felt anything that awful.” He paused to reflect. “Maybe you have.”

The wild joy of being at the heart of a storm of purest power, knowing he could form it into any shape with nothing but his own will, the wrenching transition back each time... The aching gnawing self-doubt every time he saw Rebecca... Yeah, Jess, I think maybe I have. Kevin saw a single tear escape, saw Jess bite his lip hard; he reached for the box of Kleenex without comment, sent a silent request to Deanna not to let anyone come upstairs for any reason until he said otherwise. She acknowledged without asking why.

“I survived. Some don't. Most people don't have Shaine watching their backs, either. At least somebody cared that I was alive, even if he was mad at me a lot. Only, even more, I just got called bad and useless and stuff like that. When Rebecca found me... I hadn't been home in days, and I know he had the cops keeping an eye out for me. I missed some family thing he'd told me I had to be there for, and it would've been bad. I went to a party a friend invited me to, Shaine didn't come, and sometimes when I used to drink a lot or whatever, I'd black out for a while and wake up north of the city. Always north, so I think it was more than just trying to be somewhere the local cops wouldn't spot me. Maybe part of me always knew more than I think I remember, I dunno.”

“I had sort of wondered about that.”

“When I went back, Shaine said I could live with him all the time, and we survived okay. I really truly tried to stay clean, but sometimes on the street things can get so bad, you don't know how bad... I didn't slip too often. It helped that it was harder every time. And then I was wolf, and nothing worked anymore, which has to be the ultimate way to stay clean. Only, I was so frustrated and Avryl had this bottle of wine, and it did work on me, and I wanted to not drink any more but I couldn't, and I don't remember anything after that. I tried, I really did...” A couple more tears got away, matching the urgency of his voice, and his hand around Kevin's clenched tight.

All the power of fire and sunlight, waiting for him to call on it...

Carefully, ready to pull back, Kevin slid his free arm around him; Jess resisted briefly, then sagged against him, and Kevin wrapped both arms around the shivering werewolf.

“All I could think was, I fucked up again, nobody'll believe me...”

“Jess. You aren't bad or useless. I'm damned proud of you for what you have managed to do, and the more I find out the more proud I get. I think I know what you mean. I can call more power than most mages, and it's an incredible high. It gives power-tripping a whole new dimension. I came so close, when I destroyed the constructs that were chasing you, only Gisela reminded me there were more important things to do. We aren't quite as different as you think.”

“Maybe not.” It trailed off into a sob.

Kevin just held him while he cried, wondering how long it had been.

“I promise,” he whispered to Jess. “I'm not ever again going to let you down when you need me, wolf-cub. I promise I'll be here always.”

It took a very long time for Jesse to finally quiet, still sniffling and trying to catch his breath.

“I'm sorry...”

“How did I know that would be the first thing you'd say? Don't be. You needed it.”

“I'd tell you everything if I could,” Jesse said, voice low. “Only I can't, there's some things I just can't say...”

“It's okay. I'm here if you ever need me, but take it easy on yourself, would you? Old pain that goes that deep takes time.”

“I think I'm about to fall asleep.” He pulled away.

“I'm not surprised.”

Jess got up, swayed briefly, then caught himself. He paused by the door. “Hey. I know Gisela's mad at Shaine for how he acts with me, and I bet she told the rest of you he treats me really badly or something. Leave him alone. I know him too well for it to hurt. If he didn't care I'd be dead a million times, and lots of those times he would've been safer staying out of it.”

Kevin thought of Shaine standing alone between an unconscious Jesse and an angry demon-summoning elvenmage. “I hear you. Sleep well, Jess.”



The sunset ahead of them was gloriously colourful. Aindry watched it with a lingering sadness that it was only she and Jaisan to appreciate it.

There were no cars on this road, so little known, to disturb the peace of the moment. They could simply walk quietly, each lost in their own thoughts, Jaisan toying with his favourite amethyst.

Ahead, she saw orange lights blinking.

“Jais? Look.”

He pulled himself out of his daydreams to obey. “Looks like a car.”

“That's what I thought, too. It has the hazard lights on.” A number of times, she'd picked up extra cash by being in the right place at the right time when someone was stranded by car troubles.

Both quickened their strides to a walk that was just shy of a lupine trot.

It was a mini-van, in fact. A blonde woman in a stylish skirt and blouse was busy with two children, one about twelve and one a few years younger; she didn't notice their approach at first.

Aindry called a greeting; the woman spun around, panic flashing across her face briefly, then relaxing into wariness.

“Not a good road to be stranded on,” Jaisan observed.

Aindry gave him a dark look, then smiled at the woman. “Anything we can help with?”

The woman hesitated, then shrugged and said, “My car just up and died on me.”

“Can I take a look? It might be just something simple.”

Another shrug, this one followed by a helpless smile. “Please. I unfortunately know nothing about how cars work.”

“Do you have a flashlight?” Her night-sight was good, but not quite that good, and even if it were she wasn't about to give it away.

“In the glove box.” The younger child, Aindry thought it was a girl, tugged at the woman's hand, sniffling, and the woman made a gesture Aindry interpreted as, “Get it yourself.”

She found it, in the cleanest glove box she'd ever laid eyes on, and swept it over the dashboard. Still half a tank... she wasn't out of gas, at least.

It took only moments of looking under the hood to find the problem.

“I can fix this pretty easy,” she called to the woman. “The wires to the distributor cap are loose, that's all. Jais? Can you grab my backpack?” There were a few tools she kept in it for such purposes, stolen from various hardware stores.

He brought it to her, but leaned close and murmured, “Something doesn't smell right.”

“What do you mean?” She sniffed, found only the strong familiar scent of oil and metal and gas. Jaisan had been edgy to the point of paranoia lately, constantly tense; was he going to start jumping at shadows now?

“Them, I mean. Something's not right. I can't get close enough to really smell them. But I can't find any scents on the car, either.”

Come to think of it, he was right: even inside the car, she'd noticed no particular scent. Maybe this time it wasn't just nerves.

“I think we should get out of here,” Jaisan whispered urgently.

Aindry hesitated. She didn't like the idea of abandoning a woman and two children over paranoia, but in order to survive the increasingly frequent and tricky demon attacks, they had to suspect everything and everyone.

“Hey, lady?” she called. “Could you come here? I need someone to hold the flashlight.”

The woman started towards them, then the older child burst into tears, and she had to turn back. “I'm sorry,” she said apologetically. “They're just so frightened...”

“Let's go, Aindry!” Even at low volume, Jaisan sounded really alarmed.

Aindry nodded, and retied the knot she'd just managed to get undone on her backpack. Warily, they retreated away from the car and the woman and the two children.

“Where are you going?” the woman said. “Is it fixed already?”

“No,” Aindry said. “I was wrong. I can't do it. I'll call a tow truck when we find a phone.”

“At least let me thank you for that much. I don't have a lot of money with me, but...”

Aindry shook her head. “No thanks. It's no problem. Really.”

The woman strode forward, her children at her heels, with much more speed and force than either wolf expected. “Oh, I couldn't think of letting you get away without expressing my gratitude.” There was something grim in her voice now.

“Jais, change,” Aindry murmured, making sure she was between the strange trio and her brother. She heard his pack fall, heard him start to strip quickly.

“Oh no you don't.” The woman reached forward; Aindry grabbed her wrist before she could touch Jaisan, suddenly aware of the long stylish nails that gleamed blood-red and looked wet.

The woman tore away and growled, her form rippling and changing.

A creature that bore a superficial resemblance to a horse, save the clawed feet and tarnished-gold scales, reared above her and screamed a challenge, showing carnivore's teeth that did not belong in an herbivore's mouth.

Aindry held her ground, determined to keep it off Jaisan long enough for him to shapechange. She kicked off her boots, let her pack slide down her arm to her hand, and shrugged her jacket off her shoulders, without ever looking away.

The horse-like creature dropped to all fours, and snaked its head towards her, mouth open to grab her.

Aindry swung her pack at its head, and heard a rather satisfyingly meaty thunk as the tools inside connected and slammed the monstrous head violently aside, drawing a grunt from it and leaving it visibly dazed.

Jaisan darted forward from behind her, ears back flat and teeth bared, to crouch in front of her and return the favour. He snapped at the demon's neck, and it jerked back reflexively. Aindry abandoned her pack and peeled off her clothes as fast as she ever had in her life, and willed herself wolf, while Jaisan held off not only the demon-horse but two smaller demon-ponies as well.

Aindry launched herself directly at one of the smaller ones as it reared. It toppled over backwards, and by the time they hit the ground Aindry had her teeth clamped tight around its throat. It squealed and writhed madly, clawing at her. Jaisan raced over to help, and got a mirror grip on its spine from behind.

In seconds, it stopped struggling and melted away.

Aindry whipped around to face the other two, and they halted just out of reach. Jaisan shook himself, and turned to stand beside her.

Deadlock, each pair waiting for the other to move first.

The smaller demon broke it, by lunging at Jaisan. He evaded its attempted bite, but his own attack glanced off the hard scales. Aindry gathered herself, ready to go for its open side if Jaisan could just get it to turn a little more...

The other demon raked its claws down her side while she was distracted. She yelped, and had to leave Jaisan to his own fight and concentrate on her own.

Stupid, Aindry, very stupid. You are not doing well today. Get with it before you get both of you killed!

She and the demon-horse circled one another, never looking away. It darted towards her again, that deceptively long neck extended, and teeth penetrated fur and skin on her left shoulder, shallowly, scarcely damaging the muscle beneath at all.

Inspiration struck: she yelped in more pain than she really felt, and stumbled; when she caught her balance, she kept her left forefoot tucked up under her body. It would hold her weight still, but the demon didn't need to know that.

Clever though it was, the demon fell for it. She retreated, her tail between her hind legs, snarling defiantly.

You think you can drink this wolf's wild blood, do you? You're about to learn otherwise!

The demon feinted to her right, then attacked from the left.

She evaded it, made a point of staggering as she came down on her left foreleg, and the claws missed her with no room to spare.

With a high-pitched growl that made her wince in discomfort, it reared, the obvious intent to come down on top of her.

Aindry waited, praying to Cassandra and the Moonwolf.

At the last instant, she writhed her body out of the way of the descending forefeet, and twisted upwards to clamp her jaws on its throat. The scales were finer there but still tough, she couldn't puncture them but pressure alone should suffice if she could hold it long enough. She bit down harder, grimly resisting all its attempts to fling her off. The forefeet tore savagely at her, and she felt claws score more than once, but if she let go she'd be in worse trouble. She put all her strength into holding on.

Slowly, the demon weakened, and finally went limp.

She didn't let go even then; one of the first demons she'd ever fought had pretended to be dead, and she'd barely escaped alive.

Sure enough, after it laid quite still long enough that it realized she wasn't convinced, it began to thrash again.

Jaisan limped heavily over, favouring his right foreleg for real; as with the first, she held it and he crunched its spine.

It melted away into nothing.

Aindry shifted to human, checking her wounds. Only one shallow bite, mostly claw-marks, and since the faint cold fire she could feel was centred around the bite on her shoulder, she suspected only the teeth had poison.

Jaisan also changed, on command, and held still to be inspected. He, unfortunately, had a much worse bite on his right forearm, but otherwise like hers they were all claw-wounds, and none were serious.

“Get dressed,” Aindry said. “Once we reach a gas station or something we'll get cleaned up. Right now, since we can both walk, let's get out of here.” Two demon attacks ago, or maybe three, they'd had a narrow escape when another demon appeared on the battleground just when they thought they were safe. Better to get away from here.

They followed the road in the direction they'd been going, in hopes that civilization might be closer than they knew it was behind them. Exhausted, injured, though at least they'd escaped with little poison this time, even a short distance was going to feel like a very long way.

Aindry prayed that they'd have enough time to recover before the next attack; the intervals grew ever shorter. If they came much more quickly, the demons would soon win simply by exhausting them and wearing them down by inches.

That can't happen, she vowed to herself. We'll survive. This can't go on forever. Maybe we'll find Mom or Jess soon...



Footsteps on the stairs drew Jess' attention away from a rather interesting novel Shaine had handed him in response to yet another growl of boredom—he was, at least, capable of functioning for brief periods, but he tired annoyingly easily, which made it difficult to do much. Those weren't Gisela's footsteps, or Shaine's, or Kevin's, he thought, frowning.

Gisela's voice was audible, with the door ajar to let Hob in on his frequent visits. “Bane! Get back down here! Jess is off limits!”

“Not to me, he isn't,” Bane retorted, and there was just enough growl in his voice to be a warning, though not actual threat. “This is pack business. Back off.”

Jess closed the book with hands that trembled, and set it carefully on the floor next to the loveseat before sitting up, legs crossed, facing the door.


“This needs to be taken care of.”

Pack instinct howled at him that the alpha wolf was certain to be angry at him, that was bad, almost anything was better than that. Reason utterly failed to silence it. Shivering, he laced his hands together in his lap and tried to slow his breathing down. At least he was in magesilks, if Bane showed any signs of aggression he could change and show his throat...

Bane went so far as to rap lightly on the door before opening it, which was a good sign; as soon as he came in, Jess dropped his gaze, and heard Bane close the door. He'd resented it, for a while, the power over him wolf instinct gave Bane and Eva, and to a lesser degree the rest of the pack; he'd resented it only until he'd realized that his trust in Bane, as simply Bane, as a friend, even as a teacher, was something else, something all his own that had nothing to do with respective pack status. Once he'd stopped fighting it, stopped seeing it from a human interpretation of pride and strength and superiority, fitting into the pack and knowing his place in it—even if it was at the bottom of the hierarchy—felt right and safe and somehow comforting. He couldn't remember ever, even in his most frightened and angry moments, truly believing Bane might hurt him.

At the moment, he wasn't sure what to believe, so he stayed very still, eyes fixed on the rug in front of the loveseat, not daring to do anything that might possibly look like a challenge.

What difference does it make? a small, logical part of his mind asked coldly. You ran away from the pack, cut yourself off from them. So what if he thinks you're challenging him? You aren't part of the pack anymore.

Pack instinct completely disregarded it. That part desperately wanted reassurance, approval, to be part of the pack again, and didn't care what that meant to Jess' self-respect.

There are definite drawbacks to being a werewolf... shapechanging is way cool, and so is healing fast, but all this instinct shit makes it awfully hard to figure out what's going on in my head sometimes. Harder than usual, even, which is saying something.

Still, he was pretty sure it wasn't entirely that instinct wanted the forgiveness of the alpha wolf; partly it was yearning for the sense of belonging again.

“Jess, relax.” He couldn't remember ever hearing the alpha wolf sound so weary; he took a chance, looked up just enough to watch Bane walk over to sit next to him, though he carefully avoided eye contact. “Honestly, between Gisela acting like I've only been trying to get up here to eat you alive, and now you acting like I'm going to...” Bane sighed. “I have enough trouble apologizing at the best of times, let alone all this.”

“Apologizing?” There was no scent of anger, nothing aggressive in Bane's body language; if anything, what he was picking up was... distress? That helped the almost unendurable tension, but not much. God, what is with me today? Reacting to the alpha wolf is one thing, but it doesn't normally make me this wired. “But I'm the one who screwed up.”

“Funny, I could've sworn Kev mentioned you two spent a while talking yesterday. He didn't mention details, but I know him well enough to know that he told you that it wasn't your fault. You admittedly didn't react in the smartest way, but you had reason for the way you did react. Much better reason than Kev and I had, not staying with you or bringing you back here.” His tone turned gentle. “What's scary is how very much pain was caused, to you and to Kev and to all of us, by a few hours of none of us thinking rationally. I had every reason to know better, but somehow I completely failed to think through the consequences. In other words... yes, you made a mistake, but it was hardly the only one made that day, it was just part of a whole series of mistakes and misunderstandings. And one of them was mine, I failed in my responsibility to the members of my pack, and my responsibility as a friend. And I'm sorry.”

“Oh. Does that mean you aren't going to chase me out of your territory for real this time?”

“I'm not in the habit of chasing my pack out of my territory.”

Which means I'm still part of the pack! wolf instinct sang joyfully. Everything is okay now!

Learned reflexes of paranoia and insecurity weren't banished quite so easily. “For real?”

“I apologized. Don't push it, wolf-cub.” There was no anger in it, though. Bane leaned back, pulled Jess down against him—the playful-rough, dominant-affectionate kind of behaviour Jess had adapted to readily as soon as he'd accepted the way pack structure functioned. Jess curled up against his side willingly, closing his eyes as Bane began to stroke his hair and back lightly—that tension inside, knotted almost too tight to bear, loosened and faded, leaving behind a powerful sense of release.

Alpha wolf's accepted me home, so all's well, Jess sighed to himself in resignation. Well, if that keeps all the wolf instinct stuff settled down, maybe I can figure out the rest in peace.

He didn't really believe himself, even as he thought it, that that was all there was to it.

“As for this mage who is much too interested in you...” There was a definite growl in Bane's voice now, but it wasn't directed at Jess. “If I'd known he was going to be a danger to you, I would've ripped his throat out the first time, while phoenix had him backlashed.”

“Seriously?” Jess said sceptically.

Bane considered, then chuckled. “Well, if I'd known he was going to be a danger to you and that I'd start to value having you around, instead of being tempted daily to chase you off. You're right, at the time, I didn't know you'd be worth it. But I still rather wish I had. He's dealing with demons. If you see him again, don't mess around. For all intents and purposes, he's chosen to make himself into an extremely dangerous predator. Treat him as one. If you're absolutely sure you can kill him fast, do it, but otherwise, run.” His tone turned thoughtful. “Sam seems to know an awful lot about demons, she might actually be a good one to go to. Or Kev or Lori or one of the Adepts, since he seems to be using heightened elvenmage abilities. Or to me—I know how to take out a mage.”

“Practised on Kev?”

“Yes. Did you pay any attention to the rest of what I just said?”

“Mage calling demons, extremely dangerous predator, kill him or run to you or Sam or Kev or Lori or Tomas or Katherine. Yep, got it.”

“Remember it. Sam thinks he's paying for power with either gifts and emotional energy, or possibly blood and pain, at this point, and I'd rather they weren't yours.”

Jess shivered, instinctively huddled closer. “That was what he wanted...?”

“Probably, yes.”

“Oh. Trust me. I'll run.” He sighed. “I'm good at that. Run away from absolutely everything.” He brightened. “Well, maybe not absolutely everything. I killed a predator.” He wasn't sure whether it was himself or Bane he was trying to prove himself to, and had a hunch he wouldn't like the answer.

Bane glanced down. “When?”

“In the city. I dunno, three or four weeks ago? I kinda lost track of time.”

“Tell me.” Not exactly a command, but more than a request, which was okay, since he wanted to anyway.

Jesse described the whole encounter, from first catching the scent through to killing it and running.

Bane listened quietly, asked only a couple of questions.

“I'm impressed,” he said, when Jess finished. “And I'm not exaggerating. You took out an unfamiliar predator that had a form of attack I've never heard of but that sounds extremely nasty, and you did it with minimal harm to yourself and no apparent harm to the one it was after. Very well done.”

“No apparent physical harm to her, anyway,” Jess sighed, though the praise felt good, made the whole encounter feel finally complete. “She was so scared of me. I know why, I mean, I would've been pretty freaked too, but...”

“But you've been taught here, where we're appreciated instead of feared,” Bane said softly. “Which you automatically expected, and didn't get.”

“Yeah. And my first thought was to come tell you, then I remembered I couldn't, or thought I couldn't, or something, and everything just went to pieces. But I killed it.”

Bane's arm tightened around him, briefly. “Yes, and once Gisela decides to stop guarding your door, you can tell Eva and the others all about it, and we'll make sure every wolf in Haven hears. I should probably stop calling you wolf-cub, you're anything but.”

Jess shrugged. “I'm used to it, now, don't worry about it.”

“Want me to get out of here and let you rest, now that we've managed to get important stuff sorted out?”

“No.” That took no thought at all. While Bane was here, that took precedence, forcing everything else away somewhere into the back of his mind. Once Bane left, all the confusion would come back. He was quite willing to postpone that for a while. “Tell me what's really been going on? Gisela's been kinda uninformative.”

“We've all been told on an hourly basis that no one is to do or say anything that will cause you any extra stress, or else.”

“Not knowing is causing me stress,” Jess pointed out.

Bane chuckled. “Brat. All right. What do you want to know?”



There, that was the last one. Shaine slid the book into its place on the shelf, and returned to the desk quietly. Towards the back of the library, the tables were surrounded with high school and college students, some studying, some doing research for projects; the carpeted floor held the overspill, leaning against the wall or lying down.

He didn't need to look at the clock to know that he'd be here for another hour and a half yet, before he could lock up and go meet Jess at the Brewery. Not that he was in a desperate hurry; he'd spent a lot of time here even before Bryan recruited him as a temporary assistant. So many people needed the library that apparently the budget allowed for Bryan to recruit help twice a year for extended hours; who got the job varied depending on who was available. Much to the surprise of many, not only did Shaine always show up on time, but he knew his way around the library reasonably well, and improved quickly. True, after school was out for the summer the job would disappear, but he didn't expect to be here long enough for that to be a problem. Just long enough to make sure Jess was settled, then he'd vanish before anyone could unravel any of his secrets. Haven had far too many traps waiting for him to step into them.

Gisela and Caitryn came in; Caitryn paused to greet him on her way to the side room that held all the encyclopedias and reference books. Gisela slid her backpack off her shoulder with obvious relief, and came directly over to him.

“Heya,” she said cheerfully, though not loudly, while untying the knot holding her backpack closed. “How's it going?”

He shrugged. “It goes.”

Gisela piled a half-dozen books on the desk. “Thanks for helping me find them. They had exactly what I needed.”

Why did she persist in trying to be friendly, no matter how coldly he treated her? He simply shrugged again, slid the pile of books towards him and reached for the box of cards. “That's good.”

“I asked Jess to come have supper with my family tomorrow night. Would you like to come too?”

“I don't think so.”

“Are you sure? Zarah's a great cook, she told me she was going to make steak...”

“I don't think so,” he repeated. He returned the cards to the envelopes in the backs of the books, and stood up with them. Gisela obligingly moved out of his way so he could go shelve them. Maybe she got the hint: she went to join Caitryn.

Between Gisela being determined to make friends with him, Kevin being equally determined to get answers about what he'd seen during the fight in the city, and Samantha throwing covert murderous glares in his direction at every opportunity, he was growing tired of Haven rather quickly.

Ah, well, if he could just put up with it a bit longer, he could leave. As soon as he was sure Jess would stay this time. Things certainly looked promising.

He spent most of the remainder of the evening reading, around helping one high school student track down some information and signing out books for a few people.

Afterwards, he checked that the lights were off and the door locked, and walked to the Brewery.

Jess appeared almost as soon as Shaine sat down.

“I really can get home by myself, y'know. You don't have to wait. I told you that already,” Jess said, his tone pure exasperation.

“And I didn't pay any attention then, either.”

Jess sighed. “Pepsi?”


“I'll be right back.”

The Brewery was fairly empty for nine o'clock on a Thursday. Shaine closed his eyes, listening to the murmur of voices from the few tables occupied. The quiet was rather soothing, in fact, it was like wind teasing the waves, voices singing harmonies to it and each other...

“Want anything else?” Jess asked, drawing him out of the fantasy before he could sink into it any more deeply.

Shaine shook his head, took a swallow of the glass of cola in front of him, and banished the brief flash of longing and homesickness. “I'll yell if I want you.”

“I'm sure you will.” He left to see to another table.

He concentrated on his drink, on the ice cubes and the bubbles, and tried hard not to think about anything else. Haven was very different from his home, and yet, in some sense it felt very similar. That was another reason why he'd have to leave, it was too hard to keep the memories away here.

Someone slid into the chair across from him; he looked up, ready with a retort that would cut like an ice-frosted whip, but it died unspoken when he recognized Samantha. Now what?

“Yes?” he said coolly.

“What are your intentions towards Jess?” Samantha asked bluntly.

“My own business, and his.”

“Jess has been hurt enough. I don't want it to happen again.”

“We're in agreement on one point, then.” How much did she know? He couldn't recall ever seeing her before, but that meant little; it was possible, barely, that she was another survivor. Did that make him responsible for her too?

He decided it didn't. Just trying to get Jess straightened out took enough effort.

“It's hardly keeping him from being hurt to encourage him to stay on the streets.”

Shaine reached out and pinned both her wrists to the table. “Don't you dare tell me how to look after Jess,” he told her, matching the coldness of her voice as well as the low volume. “I helped him in the only form he could accept by the time I found him. I've put myself through hell you can't possibly understand in order to do it. I chased him off the fucking streets, and you and your friends chased him right back onto them. So I'd be real careful who you're accusing of what.”

She jerked her hands free. “A threat?”

He didn't have a chance to reply; Jess slapped a hand down in the middle of the table, startling them both.

“Somehow I don't think this is a friendly chat,” he said quietly. “I'd rather two of my best friends didn't argue at all, but if you really must, don't do it here.”

“No one's arguing, Jess,” Samantha said, getting to her feet, her eyes never leaving Shaine's. “We were just... confirming where we all stand.”

Jess growled, low in his throat. “On the same side, I hope.”

“So do I,” Samantha said. “See you later.” She turned and walked away.

“Was it an argument?” Jess asked Shaine.

Shaine shook his head. “Just a slight difference of perspective.”

“Uh-huh. Will it help if I ask you not to fight with her?”

“Fine by me, as long as she leaves me alone.”

Jess sighed. “I thought I was supposed to be the one who's messed up and paranoid. I guess that's the best I can hope for.”

At eleven, Jess finished work, and they walked home together. Jess told him all the local gossip he'd picked up tonight; the Brewery tended to be a focal point for the whole community, and its employees always seemed to be the first to know things. Most of it meant little to Shaine, who didn't care about those few whose names he even recognized, but he listened anyway, out of long habit. Besides, it filled in the silence between the village and the house, and kept Jess from asking any further about the brief conversation with Samantha.

The house was, for the most part, dark and quiet; they saw no one on the way upstairs.

Light glowed from Kevin's open door, brightening the way up the final flight of stairs more than either of them really needed. Shaine hoped Kevin would just keep doing whatever he was doing and leave him in peace for once.

No such luck: Shaine hardly had time to get comfortable on the window-seat, and Jess not even enough time to choose music to put on, before Kevin knocked on the door.

“Heya,” Jess greeted him amiably. “Queensryche okay, Shaine?”

“Sure, whatever.”

“What's up, Kev?” Jess perched on the arm of the loveseat.

The elf leaned against the doorway, and held up a trade paperback with a bright circular design on the cover. “I found a book you might want to read, since you're always interested in magic history. Someone took a long look at the myths and legends and folktales of mundanes and magic-folk, and is trying to make a case for there having once been more than four races, and other forms of gifts that we no longer see. Or at least recognize. Especially air and water, to balance earth and fire. It's really fascinating.”

“It sounds it,” Shaine said dryly, resolutely ignoring the clenching in his stomach. Kevin was too persistent and too intelligent, if he kept trying he was sooner or later going to figure it out. “So why don't you go read it?”

Kevin crossed his arms, and looked at him thoughtfully. “Y'know, one of these days you might actually say something civil. I will probably faint from sheer astonishment when it happens, but I am optimistic enough to believe that it isn't impossible. As it happens, I also wanted to pass on a message to Jess, that Evaline is trying to get the whole pack together to go out for a night and you should call her.”

Jess nodded. “Thanks, I'll give her a call tomorrow.”

“You're very welcome. There are fresh cookies down in the kitchen, get 'em while you can. And, if I don't see you before tomorrow night, have fun at supper with Helix.”

“Thanks,” Jess repeated.

“Good night.”

“'Night,” Jess echoed, and Kevin left.

“Can't you relax just a bit?” the wolf said wearily. “I swear to you, it's safe, one mistake aside. No one's going to kill you if you act a little less hostile.”

Relax? Oh, it would be so sweet, to be able to relax. “Your friends are your friends, not mine, and I'd prefer to leave it that way. Tell them to get the hint and back off, and I'll be less hostile. If they'd stop asking me nosey questions that are no one's business but mine, I might even be able to go as far as polite, but I don't think it'll happen this century.”

Jess sighed. “That's probably the best I can really hope for, I guess. I'm going to go for a run.”


“Yes, alone. I won't go far, all right? I'll be back within an hour or two. I just need to stretch.”

“Look what happened last time you said that.”

“Here, I can have plenty of help in no time flat if I need it. Would you cool it?” He strode over to the door, and Shaine could hear rapid footsteps on the stairs down.

Shaine switched off the light, and went back to the window-seat overlooking the fountain. Below him, Jess stretched lazily, shifted smoothly to wolf, and had a drink from the moon-silvered fountain. He loped out the gate and became merely another bit of the darkness.

For a long time Shaine sat still, gazing distantly at the fountain that shimmered in the silver-blue light.

* * *

Sam stalked up the stairs to the second floor porch at the back of the pet shop. The door was locked; she dug in her jacket pocket for her keys, opened it, and stepped into the kitchen. Automatically, she closed it behind her and turned the deadbolt; she was ever more paranoid these days.

She turned away from the door, narrowly avoided tripping over a chair, and crossed the kitchen to the living room.

Bryan was curled up comfortably on the couch with a book, Alfari snuggled contentedly against his legs and sound asleep; he looked up immediately. Alfari raised her head, eyes opening halfway, and yawned delicately.

“What's wrong?”

“Shaine,” she spat.

“What about him?”

“Just... oh, never mind.”

“Tell me? Please?”

Tell him to get the other wolves and chase Shaine far away from Haven, tell him Shaine's kind killed in cold blood, tell him he'd be safer trusting a viper... But how could she prove it? She settled for, “I don't trust him.”

“I don't see why. He's not exactly summer sunshine, but that's his right. I'd've thought you'd like him for being so protective of Jess.”

“Except that no one knows why he is that protective. Even Jess doesn't.”

Bryan considered that, stroking Alfari absently. “Don't take this the wrong way,” he said finally, “but no one knows why you're so protective of Jess, yet no one doubts you have good reasons of your own.”

She flushed. “That's different!”

“Not from here.”

“You know me. You don't know anything about him.”

“There was a time I didn't know you, but I decided it was worth trusting you anyway. I know that Jess trusts him absolutely, and did when he didn't trust any of us, and that Jess knows him better than we do, even if he only knows as much about Shaine as I know about you. And as far as I'm aware, Shaine doesn't have a whole lot of information about demons that should, by rights, be extremely worrying, or use an otherwise unknown system of non-innate magic that he won't discuss with anyone, or give chosen friends rather unusual animal friends with a few peculiar instructions.” He looked at her quietly. “Just how well do you think you're hiding, Sam? Did you really think that after so long living with you and Alfari that I wouldn't start making some guesses? You know something about Jess and Shaine that for whatever reason you won't tell. Shaine knows it too. And Jess would if he could remember. I've figured out more than you think. Including where you came from.”

“Don't say it! Don't say it out loud, please, ever, for Jess' safety...”

“I wasn't going to. Anything that you've gone to such lengths to not say, I assume you have a reason for it. In my experience, you usually have a good reason for anything you do.”

She sank down in a chair, hugged her knees to her chest, her anger draining away. “I can't tell,” she said helplessly. Oh, gods, it would feel so good to tell him everything, to share the still-powerful grief over her murdered family. How much had he truly pieced together on his own? If only she dared...

“I know.” Alfari stretched, padded over to Sam, and jumped up on the arm of the chair to rub her head against Sam's arm, purring softly; Bryan watched, not moving. “I've never said anything to anyone, I won't say it, and I won't ask. You've never given me any reason not to trust you, really, not even with the demon stuff. But I also have to trust that Shaine generally has good, or at least neutral, intentions, because I've seen nothing to indicate anything different.”

Sam rested her forehead on her knees, unable to bring herself to accept the offered comfort from either friend. Bryan couldn't understand, and she couldn't make him see; Alfari and the other three knew, but didn't seem to acknowledge the threat at all, Hob even accepted Shaine living in the house with complete equanimity...

She sighed, and got up. “I'm going to have a bath and go to bed,” she said tiredly. “See you in the morning.”

Alfari gave her an exasperated look, and rejoined Bryan, curling again into her place at the back of his knees.

His expression was troubled, but he let her go. “Sleep well.”



Rebecca shook mud off her paws, stepped up on the front porch, and shifted to human. On still-muddy bare feet, she went inside. It had been a short run; it wasn't nearly as much fun when the moon was dark.

From the living room, she heard Moira's voice, chanting. Rebecca frowned, trying to make out the words. Neither English nor French, she realized in sudden anger.

She strode into the living room, and jerked the terrified white cat out of Avryl's hands an instant before Moira's knife descended—the blade came away with fur on it, but no blood. The cat yowled, scratched her arm, and bolted for the shadows behind the couch.

Within the pentagram painted on the black silk stood a tall woman whose delicately-scaled skin was covered only by her own golden hair; her expression of anticipation turned utterly neutral, impassive.

“What are you doing?” Duayne demanded. “We're right in the middle...”

“I told you no more! I don't care what you're right in the middle of! Is this why you've all been so cooperative lately? Because you've been doing this behind my back?”

Moira winced away, but Avryl stood very still, arms crossed, lips pressed tight together.

“It isn't at all reasonable for you to be giving commands that don't relate directly to you,” the witch said. “We aren't promising the coven to anything, we've been taking care of everything ourselves.”

Rebecca snatched up a glass of what smelled like wine, and flung it at the large mirror on the wall. Both shattered dramatically, spreading bright shards and red liquid all over the floor. “I lead this coven. You do as I say!

“We're going to keep doing it. We just have three options how. You could see the logic in it and agree that it's our choice, or we can do it behind your back, or you can go find another coven to bully.”

Rebecca stared at her, shock driving the anger away, turning it into ice. “Excuse me? Find another coven? I formed this coven!”

Duayne shrugged. “It would amount to the same thing if we all left you. Don't make us do that, Becky, please.”

Again. This was all happening again. Rage surged, hot and blinding: she'd kill them all for this insult!

No. She'd lost her temper completely the first time, in fury at the sudden betrayal. It had gained her absolutely nothing, and in fact she suspected it had been a major factor in Bane's decision to intervene long-term, costing her Kevin permanently. She'd be stupider than a human to make the same mistake twice.

Very likely, the consequences of their own actions would turn out be sufficient revenge. Clearly, there was nothing further she could do to influence matters. It seemed they'd chosen their course and very likely would only accelerate along it, passion and zeal overwhelming any caution or reason, until it came back to bite them.

But she didn't have to stay here and watch it happen, or be part of it.

“Fine. I don't know how long you think you're going to last with only Karl to protect you, but have a good time with your demons. May they eat the lot of you.” She turned away, and climbed the stairs two at a time to her room. Her large, bright-patterned shoulder bag was in the closet; she stuffed into it such things as she'd need right away, closed the door behind her, and went back downstairs.

“Please, Rebecca, don't go,” Moira said entreatingly.

“Since my authority apparently counts for nothing anymore, I'm hardly going to hang around and be insulted.” She reached behind the couch, caught the cat by the scruff of the neck, and dragged it struggling out. She wasn't about to leave it here so they could finish their ceremony in peace as soon as she was gone. Without another word, she left the house, grabbing jacket and shoes on the way.

Outside, it was harder to hold the cat. She finally wrapped it tightly in her jacket.

Though her reputation was bad in certain circles, she still had a few friends. One was her aunt Sylvia, with whom she'd lived for a time when she'd first come to the college.

Sylvia opened the door, wrapped in a fuzzy brown robe almost the shade of her hair; she didn't look like she'd been in bed.

“It's late for visits, Becky. Is something wrong?”

“Can I stay here? I just had a rather major fight with my coven. I'd rather get away from them for a couple of days.” Not even Sylvia would she tell the truth, that if Whitethorn still existed, it was without her. She'd have to think of a way to hide the fact that she wouldn't be celebrating Beltaine with her coven in a few days.

“Of course you can.”

The white cat squirmed madly, and mewed plaintively.

“Gods,” Sylvia said, startled. “What have you got in there?”

“Just a cat. I'm going to take it to Samantha tomorrow.” She hadn't even realized she intended to, but there was a certain sense in it. This cat would never become a sacrifice to a demon once it was safely in Sam's hands. In that small way, at least, she could triumph.


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, May 1995
Nick 'Winter

Wasn't the weather amazing for the Earth Day celebration Coven Sky-Drum organized? No one could've asked for a more beautiful sunset! It was even natural, as far as I could tell, there didn't seem to be any witchy influence involved.

Aaron and Josh's handfasting party was worlds of fun, and I've never seen either of them happier. Beautifully done, Dragonfire. As for that improvised elvenmage fireworks display... the party couldn't have had a better ending.

The usual witches' get-together is being planned for the full moon in June this year. The weekend of the 10th and 11th, actually, which is a little before it. As always, call Dion if you want info. As for the healers, I haven't been told anything and neither has Liam, so if there is one at all, you'll have to find it alone.

Coven Amrita is doing another astronomy session. Come out to the pasture beside Coven Blackbird's house at dusk on the 12th, there'll be lots of hot water and the bakery is providing some snacks but bring whatever else you want and expect to be sitting on the ground some of the time. Coven Amrita and the college are providing telescopes. I'm told it will be the usual mix of science and mythology.

July and August are sounding more and more fun all the time.

One of the events coming up is, gods save us, Werewolf Wargames (I was told I had to capitalize it). It's being organized the same weekend in all five villages, the evening of Friday July 14th to the evening of Sunday the 16th. Each pack has a territory and a flag, and has to defend them against all opponents while attempting to steal other flags. Or something like that, I got the feeling I was being laughed at while certain wolves attempted to explain this to me.

The Renaissance Faire is progressing well, but there's still plenty of opportunity to get involved. Get in touch with Covens Prism or Shadowstar for more info.

Number three big event: the folks at Pan's Flute have been helping to organize another inter-village event, this one in August and I'm told new plans are now for it to overlap with the Faire. Haven is playing host to a musical competition that apparently once happened every five years but hasn't for nearly thirty years now. All traditional Celtic instruments, and the judges and audiences will decide who's the best with each. I've heard speculation about a Native version, a rock version, and gods know what else. Maybe we can have one yearly and just rotate the type?

Vesta's Hearth has done so well selling us handmade candles and pottery and such made by that improbably creative Coven Shadowstar that they're expanding. Well, that's sort of why. They also found a new coven member, that Renata met while in Ravenrock to check out The Sun Crown (for you barbarians who haven't been there, it's the Ravenrock equivalent). She also happens to be my cousin Chandra. Just wait 'til you see what new magic she's going to be bringing to Vesta's Hearth! She makes candles with the most incredible colours and scents, and no two are ever precisely alike.

If you aren't aware of this, you should be. All witches sure are. The lake, and for that matter the water in wells and springs, appears to be rather disturbed about something. No one has managed to track down the source yet, although the most common reply to any search is to the effect of, feelings of great loss and loneliness. We'll keep trying, especially the water-oriented witches, who don't even dare try the new techniques in the book Dion found, not under conditions like this. As far as anyone can tell, there's nothing actually dangerous, at least.

I'll see what kind of update I can give you for June. Ciao!



Sleepily, Patrick opened his eyes, and smiled in contentment. Gently, he ran a hand down the curved side of the woman lying next to him. Human, ungifted, much too strong-willed to break easily, she was no use to him as prey, but he'd noticed her anyway, the strong sensuality she broadcast in every gesture, every shift in her expressive features. She carried somewhat too much flesh on her bones to fit society's current opinion of beauty, but any man who couldn't see what this woman had to offer a lover deserved to miss out on it. The light of the setting sun washed over her tanned skin, her shoulder-length brown hair, tingeing it all with crimson, picking up highlights not present in artificial lighting.

He thought she might even have been willing, even for only the few days he'd be here in this city; he might not have needed the mental suggestion that had ensured she couldn't reject him.

She stirred, moving towards his hand with a small contented noise, and rolled onto her back to look up at him with a warm smile. Patrick lowered his head to kiss her, hand caressing her ample breasts, the soft roundness of her belly.

“Mmm... oh, god, I wish I could stay here with you, but I'm supposed to be at work, I'm on the night shift this week. After tonight, I have the weekend off, though...”

He considered charming her into forgetting about other obligations, but he'd enjoyed the day so much, she didn't deserve that. He could make sure she kept coming back to him until he moved on, though.

“Tomorrow?” he murmured. “I'll take you out to dinner, and afterwards we can pick up where we left off.”

“Sounds wonderful.” She stretched, which did fascinating things to her profile, and after a last kiss, untangled herself. “You can stay here, if you like. It'll save you looking for a hotel.” She smiled again. “And I'll know where you are.”

So generous, so trusting... it took almost no power to nudge her into the offer.

“Thank you.”

She vanished into the bathroom; he stayed where he was, uninterested in the details of her personal hygiene, no matter how much he appreciated the results. He watched her dress, noted the flirtatiousness of every move, the sexiness of the black lace underwear that no one else would see but he would know was there. Vivid, fiery red would suit her, too. He made a mental note to see about getting her some, so he could see her in his colours.

Only after she left did he bother to get up and find his clothes.

“Master?” Sikial said tentatively, peeking in the door.


“I have a message for you, master, from a greater one than I. It asks that you call it here to speak to you. It has an offer for you, and says it would be best to discuss it with you personally.”

This was a new development—he couldn't recall any demon ever initiating an exchange before.

“I need its name.”

“I've been given that, to give to you, master.”

More and more interesting. What could a demon want so badly that it would give him its name, and thus a great deal of power over it?

Normally, he didn't bother with trivialities like pentagrams, but given the irregularity of this situation...

He headed for the kitchen, and rummaged around. The first thing that came to hand was a bag of flour; not ideal, but it sufficed to create a thick line on the linoleum; he checked that it wasn't broken anywhere, before he set the flour aside and positioned himself next to the circle.

The words of summoning were a formality, a way to focus and make sure he invited the proper demon into this plane.

In the centre of the circle it took shape, as a classical satyr; it inspected its prison briefly, and a frown flickered across its face, but it turned a smile to Patrick.

“Thank you for allowing me the chance to speak with you.”

Patrick nodded. “You have my attention. What is it you want?”

“A bargain, which will be to the benefit of us both. I know of a way to give you the power to control electricity.”

Patrick's eyes widened. “That isn't an elven ability.”

“Normally, true,” the satyr conceded. “But there is sufficient similarity to elven power that, I believe, it would be possible to give you a great deal of influence over electricity. Lightning would, I suspect, be too strong to chain, but in smaller amounts...” It trailed off suggestively.

Patrick licked his lips. All his bargains with Sikial and the others had done is reinforce natural elven abilities and free him from the need for light to draw power from, as long as he had the opportunity to draw it from Sikial instead; nothing he could do was impossible for another elvenmage. To have a power no other elvenmage had, though...

“There must be a high price.”

The satyr smiled. “Free me for one night, to hunt as I wish. This is a thing which will require the power of death, and I know the right ones to choose, that will allow me to gather that power. A sister and brother, and their other brother and his friend. The lives of these four will be enough.”

“What do you gain from this?”

“The deaths of those whose lives will give you this power.”

Patrick considered asking why, or who the people in question were, but he decided he was probably better off not knowing exactly what they'd done to annoy a demon to that degree. And he really didn't want to know their names, if they were just going to die anyway.

“For one night,” he said slowly, choosing his words with care. “For this coming night, I will give you the freedom of this world, to take what prey you choose, anyone except myself. And in return, you will give me the power to manipulate electricity, to the greatest extent you can.”

“You have my gratitude,” the satyr said, and that grin showed very sharp teeth. “I will come tomorrow night, and fulfil my side of the bargain.”

“That will do.” Patrick nodded in satisfaction. “Go.”

The satyr immediately vanished from the pentagram.

Patrick looked down thoughtfully at the flour all over the floor, then sighed and fetched the broom to clean it up. He had no desire to keep walking through it, from now until Pamela came home, and it was less effort than convincing her to do it without asking questions.

A shower might be nice, he decided once he'd finished, long and scalding hot, and allowing him a chance to reflect on what he could do with his new ability.

Somewhat belatedly, he wondered whether he should have declared the Lioren mage, the annoying human, and the black wolf off limits as well. He considered that, while he turned on the water and stripped.

No, he concluded, as he stepped into the steaming water. What were the odds, realistically, that of the six billion people in the world, any of those three would be among the ones this demon wanted? And if, by some astronomical chance they were, well, it would be disappointing to be denied a satisfactory revenge, but knowing that their deaths had contributed to his power so directly would go a very long way towards making up for it.



Wearily, the two wolves loped along the deer-trail, each carrying a backpack. They could make much better time furform, and after the alarmingly frequent demon attacks of late, they wanted to keep moving as much as they could.

Although where it was they were running to, Aindry had no idea.

She couldn't recall ever having been so very exhausted, right down to her bones. All too often she was certain Jaisan was going to lie down and not get up, and that only the lingering hope of finding Jess kept him moving.

The deer-trail came to a lake, a rocky shore that sloped sharply down to the water two feet below. Aindry let go of her pack, and scrambled down to the edge for a welcome drink. Jaisan plunged his muzzle into the water beside hers, lapping fast as a cat with cream. She nipped his ear to remind him to slow down before he made himself sick, and he reluctantly obeyed.

She caught a glittering out of the corner of her eye, and raised her head again to look. No, nothing that she could see. It was only the glint of starlight and cottage lights and the thin crescent of the very young moon on the ripples farther out on the lake. She lowered her head back to the water.

Jaisan yelped in pain and shock; she jerked her head up once more, barely in time to see him being dragged into the water by something dark and glistening wrapped around his ribs. She lunged towards him, plunging under the water after him, frantically snapping and clawing at the thing that held her little brother. Jaisan's thrashing only made it harder.

Her skin crawled as she felt a cold, questing touch against her side. She twisted away and broke the surface, panting. No time to catch her breath, Jaisan was still under there.

This time, she went after the thing a few feet past Jaisan, and sank her teeth into something rubbery and acidic. Grimly, she bit down with all the force of a werewolf's jaws, wishing she had solid ground under her feet to give her leverage.

A scream made her head ring, and it snaked towards her—releasing Jaisan, blessedly. Both came up for air at the same moment, dog-paddling towards shore with more energy than she'd believed they still had. Jaisan slipped on the slope up, his breath coming in ragged gasps; Aindry dug in all four feet and blocked him from a fall back into the water with her own body, barely.

Bitter cold coiled around her rear leg, and wrenched her back towards the water. She yelped as she felt something tear, but it was choked off as her head went under again.

Oh, gods, they're going to do it this time, we're going to die. We'll never find Jess or Mom or Sam.

No! No damned demon's going to kill off the Kore-Tremaynes that easily!

Fear and pain went a step away, left her thoughts cold and clear as a bright winter day. She had to get ahold of it and make it let go before she drowned.

She writhed around, felt the extra damage she was doing to her hip, but she found her target and snapped. Even the water couldn't make her miss at that range. The rubbery stuff squished unpleasantly, as though there were no bones, but she ground her teeth together, pretending she was trying to sever a particularly tough bit of meat from a kill.

It screamed again, but held on.

She sensed more than saw Jaisan, his teeth clamped down right beside hers. It screamed, on and on, and abruptly went limp. Together, they scrambled towards the shore again, and this time they made it.

Jaisan stumbled, but kept his feet under him as they turned to face the lake.

That long dark tentacle snaked towards them again, no, two of them, one badly chewed and dripping watery pale blood, the other intact.

Jaisan wavered, then flung himself at the damaged one. He evaded its attempts to seize him, and on the second try buried his teeth in it. Then he dug his feet into the rocky ground, and held on for all he was worth.

Aindry understood. Dodging around the intact tentacle, she limped heavily over, and bit the damaged tentacle again right where it was already weakened. She had to keep moving, but really, the thing wasn't that hard to evade now she was watching for it and could see it. Between her efforts and the tension Jaisan was creating, made worse by its attempts to pull free, the tentacle parted. Jaisan let go of the piece he held, as the demon let out another shriek and flailed the amputated stump.

Trying to watch two at once took more concentration than Aindry had left, even with her present clarity of mind; the bloody stump clubbed her on the side of the head while she was ducking around the whole tentacle. She fell, vision blurring into stars, and saw Jaisan run to stand over her, growling savagely. She had to get up, or it would kill him, he couldn't fight it alone. She battled the spangled haze before her, and drove it off enough to struggle to her feet again, though swaying a bit. Her left rear leg couldn't take any weight, she discovered. Why hadn't she noticed until now?

Could they run? No, if they didn't neutralize it now, it would simply come after them, perhaps with the advantage of surprise that had almost been their deaths this time. Biting off the other tentacle would probably not kill it.

They had to lure the body out of the water.

Slowly, she began to back away, a step at a time, still throwing snarls and feints in the direction of the threatening tentacle. Jaisan mirrored it.

A large, dark shadow loomed under the surface of the lake, then broke out into the air. If its form were based on anything real, it wasn't from this plane: it had a tail like a whale's, the tentacles were its version of arms, and above the tentacles were two large round eyes and a mouth that held teeth that would have been terrifying had she not encountered and defeated things with more and larger.

They kept retreating, and it kept following, drunk on the taste of anticipated victory and counting on its greater reach to keep it safe. It couldn't get up on the shore, but it beached itself as close as it could.

Aindry nudged Jaisan with her nose, sent him circling to the right, and she echoed it to the left. Neither could move quickly, both were hurt, but if they both attacked at once, one should be able to get in while it tried to deal with the other. The doubtful part was whether they'd pull off the manoeuvre with both of them still alive.

The demon watched first one, then the other, rotating its entire body since its octopus-eyes could stare only directly ahead. They closed in, matching speeds.

Now. Aindry lunged at the demon, and stumbled—she'd forgotten briefly that her left hind leg couldn't hold her weight. Jaisan took that as his signal to attack, and he did somewhat better. The tentacle whipped towards him, trying to grab him and duck him in the lake again. Aindry ran at what speed she could manage on three legs, and launched herself off the shore at the unprotected body; she landed on its tail and dug in her claws, hoping to hold the position at least for a moment. She slashed at its eyes with her teeth, raked directly across one, and opened a rip above the other that let blood spill into it, blinding it. With a violent convulsion, it threw Aindry off and into the water. Instead of trying for shore, she assaulted it from there, with her teeth and foreclaws—no leverage, but no weight on her hind leg either. Jaisan attacked it from the shore.

By some miracle, Aindry found a vital spot just as the tentacle whipped itself around Jaisan's body. The demon let out a final shriek that made Aindry wince, and melted away into nothing.

She splashed heavily up on shore. No open wounds, this time, so no poison, but the damage was severe. They could only pray they wouldn't be attacked again tonight. There'd been two the night before last, and two three nights before that, but only one the night before, so there was a chance.

Jaisan shifted to human, and sat down clumsily, blinking tears of pain and despair out of his eyes. “Oh, gods, Aindry, what are we going to do?”

She willed herself human as well, and lowered herself carefully beside him to hug him. “We survive,” she said, as firmly as she could. “Somehow.”

He shook his head, still struggling to catch his breath around the words. “We're hurt real bad. I think I heard ribs crack, it hurts to breathe, and your leg's messed up bad. You're lucky your jaw isn't broken. They haven't ever been this serious before. They won't stop until we're dead.”

Aindry sighed, and looked down. As much as it galled to admit it, they were no longer holding their own, they were losing.

“Let's go back to Unity,” she said quietly.

“There's no one there.”

“I know. It's possible there'll be enough interference still that they won't be able to find us as easily there. And if there isn't,” she shrugged. “It's melodramatic, but if we're going to die, let's do it at home. At least there won't be any innocent bystanders hurt.” She dredged up a tired smile somewhere. “Besides, maybe there'll be enough demon-luck in Unity still that something'll happen. And, if nothing else, at least it gives us a direction to travel in.”

“I guess it's better than just lying down and letting them have us.” He didn't sound altogether certain he believed that. “Not right now, though.”

“No,” she agreed. “Sleep now. We can start moving when we wake up.” Given the condition they were in, it would take them a while to get there, though it wasn't actually all that far away.

Given the condition they were in, they might never get there.

No point adding to Jaisan's gloom, though. She simply shifted back to wolf with an effort, and waited for him to join her. If another attack came tonight, they'd probably never even wake up enough to notice.



Gisela walked along a path through a forest, her mind as passive and receptive as the trees around her that dripped water to the soggy needle-carpeted ground. Her feet squished softly as she stepped around the many fallen branches. It was utterly dark, neither moonlight nor starlight gleamed through the heavy clouds, yet she could see reasonably well. Not that she could bear to look to closely at the battered trees, the long ragged scars where boughs had been wrenched off. Though the woods were spring-green, it was bitterly cold, and some of that dripping water was melting ice.

The wind picked up, howling eerily, and twined into it were inhuman voices. She didn't understand why, but pure panic sent a surge of adrenaline rushing through her veins, and she bolted. There was something behind her, something terrible, and if it caught her she would never escape it...

She stumbled over something in her path, fell painfully, and scrambled to her feet; her heart was pounding so hard that surely the bad thing would be able to track her on that sound alone. She looked down at what she'd tripped over, and pressed her hand to her mouth to strangle a cry: it was a small black wolf with its throat torn out, lying limply beside the path, eyes open and staring. Beside it lay a chain of dark glittering stones and metal links; she snatched it up and fled again.

With her back against a steep hillside of glacial rock, she paused to catch her breath and look at the chain. The links were tarnished silver; the stones were deep purple. It was about the length of a collar for a medium-to-small werewolf, but one link was broken, it was no longer a circle. Amethyst and silver on a black wolf that size... That could only be Jess, Jess was dead...

The menacing presence drew near again. She looked around wildly, spotted a deep nearly vertical crevice in the rock a few feet above her. She climbed up to it and wedged her body in with little difficulty.

It went much deeper than she thought. She edged carefully sideways along it, the collar tucked safely down the front of her shirt. Somehow, she was sure, it was more precious than anything made of metal and gems should be.

The crevice opened abruptly into forest again, and another path. The sinister thing was somewhere on the far side of the hill; it had lost her temporarily.

A sudden weight on her chest made her cry out... Then she recognized the thunderous sound as her cat purring...

She opened her eyes, shivering. The grey-brown tabby cuddled against her, purring hard; she stroked him with one hand, fumbling for the reading lamp with the other. The glare was bad, but the terror of the nightmare was worse. Another few seconds and it would have come over the hill and found her.

Gradually the panic faded, soothed by the dense soft fur under her hand, the vibration of his purr, the brightness and warmth of the room. Before the memory could fade as well, though, she reached for her notebook and wrote it down in detail. Tomorrow she could find someone to talk about it with. Kevin, or Liam, or Samantha.

Right now, she switched off the light, and went back to sleep listening to the tabby's purring.

* * *

Gisela knocked on Kevin's open door, quietly. “Are you busy for a few minutes?”

He looked up from the books spread on his bed. “Nothing that can't wait. Something wrong?”

“I don't know.” She came in, shifted enough books that she could sit down, and settled herself with her knees hugged against her chest, her notebook on her lap and pressed against her body. “I've been having a lot of very odd dreams lately, and since a phoenix turns up in some of them, I thought they might somehow involve you. The one last night was the clearest and most intense yet, but it didn't have a phoenix.”

She watched his expression turn thoughtful. “Chase dreams?”

“Mostly. You too?”

“About every other night. A few things keep repeating, although I can't make any sense out of them. There's a silver and amethyst key, and a black wolf I think is Jess, but he turns up howling a lot and doesn't usually notice me. Sad howling, or to call someone, not singing for fun. I can never see what's chasing me, but I know it'll be the worst thing possible if it catches me. Where it happens varies every time, but there's usually water around or involved.”

“I see a collar, like a wolf might wear for decoration furform, but it's silver and amethyst, and it's usually broken. And a black wolf sometimes, but not always. Most of the time I'm in a forest that looks like the mother of all storms just ended. A northern-type forest, mostly conifers.”

“No one else in my coven has been having them. I asked a while back, because spill-over dreams that refract back and forth can get intense like that.”

“Well, I asked Jess. He just says he has the usual kinds of dreams he's always had in Haven.”

“There aren't all that many all-black wolves in Haven, it could only reasonably be Jess. And the two of us are linked to him... it has to be connected somehow.”

“How is the question. I really hope they're symbolic and not prophetic. I've seen Jess, or at least whoever the wolf is, dead a couple of times.”

“Flynn checked and didn't get anything except that same unfinished-business thing he always gets with Jess. I'll ask him to check again, just in case. Sam apparently warned him that direct demon involvement could interfere with his ability to pick up on even immediate danger, and lemme tell ya, that's a thought that seriously unsettled our seer. And we are of course not going to ask how Sam would know that. Have you been writing them down?”

She nodded. “You?”

“Yes. Maybe we should take a closer look and compare notes? We might be jumping at shadows, but I think there's something to this. If nothing else, maybe if we bounce some of what overlaps off Flynn, it'll trigger something by association.”


“If it works for you.”

With more books cleared away, they settled down to see what they could find.



Shaine glanced up only briefly when Jesse sat beside him on the grassy bank, then went back to his contemplation of the sun on the water.

“What are you thinking about?” Jess asked quietly.

“The lake,” Shaine said truthfully. “How many things are living in it, right now, and how much simpler life must be. Maybe if you lived in water cold enough, you wouldn't be able to feel anything... Maybe you could even go to sleep, and not feel tired anymore...” It occurred to him belatedly that he'd said more than he meant to, that he'd done the forbidden and let his shields down, but he couldn't find the will to strengthen them again.

Jess hugged him, hard, and didn't let go. “Tired from what?”

“From being alone. From being so completely totally fucking alone.”

“I'm here.”

“Until they figure out if you are who they're so scared you are and get really serious about trying to kill you. Even if you aren't, they might kill you anyway for the hell of it. And I'm all out of tricks to keep you safe. And when they do that, I may as well kill myself, because I can't go back, the water's still all blood...” He buried his face in Jesse's shoulder, felt the walls crack for the first time in years, felt the tears come.

Jess whispered something too soft for him to make out, but otherwise just tightened both arms around him and waited.

It felt as though all the pain he'd denied so long suddenly demanded acknowledgement, all at once; like all the waters of Niagara Falls lived inside, and the pressure had finally eroded the walls past any hope of holding them together. In a way, though, it was such a blessed release...

“Feel better?” Jess murmured, once Shaine quieted.

“No.” That was a lie; on some level he did. The deep depression remained, though. He pulled away, struggling for some version of self-composure.

“Why is there blood in the water?”

Haven had done something to Jess; the boy Shaine remembered finding would have taken it literally.

Done something. Now there was an understatement.

“Because my family fucked up your life. My family killed a whole village, your family included, just because they were there and too close to finding out that water has children too. My family and a bunch of demons, actually, and nobody would tell me why in any way that made sense.” The rising wind blew Jesse's hair into his eyes; Shaine reached out automatically to brush it away for him, gave him a sad smile as any number of emotions crossed those dark eyes in rapid succession. “I managed to make myself human enough to walk into the middle of Haven and never get a second glance.”

“Protecting me.” Jess growled softly. “I wonder if I know anyone who hasn't been keeping things secret from me trying to protect me. Now it's not just some psycho mage throwing tantrums and an unstable wolf bitch with a grudge, now there's a bloody conspiracy behind it all? It would've been real nice if you'd let me know this before now.”

“I know. But all it would've done is help them find you. I wasn't about to finish the job my family started.”

The anger faded, and Jess sighed. “You didn't do anything to me. Whatever your family did, that wasn't you. And even if it was you, you've helped me more than enough times to make up for it.”

“You should never have been on the streets! That bastard should never have had a chance to hurt you! You should be with your real family.”

“Well, I'm with the next best thing, so things haven't gone too badly. I'm still alive, and I'm damned well going to stay that way. Especially if I have information, for a change.”

The wind danced around them, made them both shiver. Shaine glanced up, and frowned. He'd spent quite some time watching the reflection of the clear sky in the water; where had all the grey heavy clouds come from, and that too-cool wind?

Alarmed, he closed his eyes, reached deep inside, forcing awake senses long dormant.

Those senses gave him a fuzzy impression of power at work, shimmering tendrils of it running through the waves and the wind...

“Oh, shit,” he breathed. “No wonder I started thinking about that so much all of a sudden.” The demons were too cautious, they didn't want to mess with Jess just in case, but the merenai were another matter...

Practicality took over; he got up, and held down both hands to Jess. “We can finish this conversation later. We have to get back to the house.”

To his relief, Jess simply nodded, and accepted the help in getting to his feet. “So let's move. Which direction are we watching for danger?”

“The lake and the sky.”

The sky kept darkening; Shaine cursed at himself. If he'd been paying attention, instead of giving in to feelings that did him no good at all, they could've been safely back inside the walls by now.

Power surged, and the water rippled, as though something large had made a dive just below the surface. A surface that quivered, then collapsed, drawing itself together and up into the form of a huge snake.

“Ah, hell. Jess, stay behind me, got it?”

“Right,” Jess said, his voice shaking only slightly. Well, he must be getting somewhat used to magical shocks by now, although they weren't usually spreading cobra-hoods overhead and weaving back and forth in a threatening dance. “What if we get away from the lake? Into the forest?”

“They just might switch to calling the lightning,” Shaine said grimly. “Water itself I can fight. Lightning is way too advanced for me, it'll get us both quite dead.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Shaine spread his feet, and braced himself—this was going to hurt, might very well kill him, but if he could keep them from getting Jess anything was worth it. He turned his attention inside, to the channels where power had once run freely. The little he'd used since blocking off those channels had been a narrow stream, just enough to keep them from drying up completely. Except that now, he needed far more than that stream, he needed the full river to flow again. The spring at the source remained, he knew that, the challenge was to clear the way and set the power free...

The water-serpent struck at them; Shaine let himself be distracted long enough to shield, and the serpent was bounced harmlessly away.

He had to reach it, whatever it cost him, or Jess would die, this construct of water would drag him under and drown him...

Deep inside, something shuddered, and something shattered, and power surged along the dry channels, power so cold it burned, raw against his nerves... but it was there, waiting for him to use it.

He took a deep breath, and sang cold and ice and winter.

Somewhere not far away, but far enough away to keep the singer out of immediate danger, he heard a second voice raised, calling summer and warmth. Doggedly, he fought it, and slowly the water-cobra stilled, hardening into ice.


“Yeah?” the wolf answered instantly, alertly.

“There is no way in hell I can beat a fully-trained mage. You have to get Kevin, he and I together should be able to. I'll keep him from noticing you aren't here, just don't take forever, okay?”

Rather helpful that Jess was only in the magesilks wolves liked to wear; without even a pause to reply, he shifted, and faded neatly into the forest on four feet.

An amusing thought flitted across his mind, the scene when Jesse appeared, quite possibly with Sundark already in circle, to haul Kevin away for a mage-battle—of water, not fire.

Then the water-serpent thawed again, dipped low to threaten him, and forced his attention back to the battle itself.

It couldn't actually hurt him—what could it do, pull him in and try to drown him? He kept fighting it anyway, pretending Jess was still behind him, struggling to freeze the serpent into rigid ice.

The other voice quavered, fell briefly silent; the snake hardened promptly, and the other voice returned with a different song. Shaine reached frantically for the power of the lake beside him, and flung it into a shield as the huge ice statue fell—directly over him. Shards of ice exploded in all directions with alarming force; instinctively, Shaine crouched, lost the thread of the song, but his shield held and none of the ice touched him.

Round one's over.

He searched outwards for the signature of the mage facing him; if he or she were from his family, from the colony he'd grown up in, he should be able to recognize it.

Familiar, oh yes, it took no effort to identify.

Oh, hell. That was Lew... how could he fight his own cousin, once his dearest friend?

No matter who it was, he had no right to attack Jess, and no matter who, Shaine was going to be in the middle.

Lew waited, granting him the next move. Between equals, it was a courtesy; at the moment, it felt like condescension.

Shaine gathered together what power he could, and wove it together with his determination. He began to sing again, pouring into it all the darkness he could, all the pain and fear and despair he could call up from his memory. The song forced it on Lew, made him live it, more vivid than the most realistic nightmare, drove it into his senses and memory mercilessly.

It must have been sheer shock that won him the long few moments before Lew fought back; that wasn't exactly a conventional weapon for a mage-battle, even between merenai. He felt the shiver of power as Lew attempted to protect himself from it; he lashed out harder, caught him off-balance and Lew lost the half-formed shield.

Lew's voice twined into his, reflecting it back at him, locking them both in same reality. Shaine winced, but he'd lived through it already, so it couldn't affect him as it did Lew; he twisted the song, gave him huddling with Jess in the cold, gave him hunger, gave him kneeling in front of a stranger unbuckling his belt.

He sensed power near him, not shadow-shifting and fluid but brilliant heat. He fell silent, breathing hard.

“Where and what?” Kevin asked.


“The others won't let him out of the house. Where and what?”

“Full-trained mereni-mage, out in the lake, not far away—maybe out on the island. He has to be after Jess, thinks Jess is still here.”

“Great. Nothing like fighting blindly.”

“Tell you what. I'll defend, you attack. There are things you can't shield from.”

“Can you draw enough of an attack to give me a focus without letting on I'm here?”

“I bet there's one coming any second now, as soon as he gets over what I just dumped on him.”

Shaine counted heartbeats, waiting, praying that he could counter anything Lew might send at him. He reached twelve when he heard Lew singing again—a gentle song, one of home and the waters and playing in the waves, chasing fish and dozing in the shallows under the warm sun, an invitation and welcome...

Nails digging into his palms hard enough for the pain to distract him, Shaine took a deep breath and answered the song with one of his own. It was shaky at best, all it did was deflect the power in the calling away from him and Kevin, but maybe Kevin could get that focus and attack quickly enough.

“Damn,” Kevin muttered to himself. “All that water's really going to mess with anything I use. Let's try this.”

Lew's song broke, with a sharp cry.

Silence, straining to find some indication of the result.

It came—the wind picked up, whipped viciously around them; lightning danced across the sky, and thunder crashed at a deafening volume.

“Great, now he's getting mad,” Shaine said.

“He's not the only one who can get mad.”

“The storm will give him more power to call on—and if you hadn't noticed, you've got less sunlight to play with.”

Kevin flashed him a feral grin. “He's not the only one with an extra power-source to call on. Mine's sitting in the living room in a circle right now. And even though they're inside, the windows are open in that room and the wind is going to feed Cynthi. And won't the storm help you, too?”

“True.” A half-trained mereni-mage and a full-trained elvenmage with his coven behind him, against one full-trained mereni-mage. Why did the odds still feel like they were in Lew's favour, despite that? “I suggest you hit him with something before he starts calling the lightning down on us.”

“Hmm.” Kevin frowned thoughtfully, expression briefly distant—consulting with others, maybe? He spread his feet for balance, shook his head to get his hair out of his eyes, and stretched skywards.

Lightning flashed again, but Shaine felt a surge of power. Much of it was the rapid multi-tonal staccato of fire, but there were other threads twined together to create the whole, the slow drumlike pulse of earth, the high crystalline chiming of air, and a fainter rippling cascade of water, others he couldn't identify.

“Come on,” Kevin murmured. “Try that again.”

This time the lightning hit the lake right in front of them, disturbingly close. Shaine threw up an arm to shield his eyes; Kevin didn't move.

Another flash, again close. Shaine glanced at Kevin, had to squint to see past the ball of bright-coloured light balanced between and slightly above his palms. Gathering the light from the lightning? That was some trick of timing, Shaine had to admit.

“I'm going to be pretty open for a minute,” Kevin warned.

“Right.” Which meant watching doubly closely for the next attack to come.

It wasn't lightning. It was another song.

This one called his name, begged him to come home, back to the waters and his own kind, he hadn't done anything wrong, he could still return. No more loneliness, no more pain, no more hiding...

He knew he had to counter it, but he faltered, felt the power in it coil around him like a loving caress.

Come back and dance the waves with Lew, as once they'd loved to do... all he had to do was leave behind the land-bound world, come into the lake, and Lew would welcome him, they could go home...

Water splashed around his ankles; he looked down, startled, he hadn't meant to move. Water on his cheeks, too, but that water was salt. There was too much strength in that song, Lew truly believed it, truly meant it and wanted his lost cousin to come.

Shaine wrapped both arms around himself, fighting his own anguish. He couldn't go, he didn't belong there anymore, in some ways he never had. And he couldn't leave Jess...

Jess. That was something to hold on to.

Somehow, he found his voice, and called on all the depths of his feelings for the black wolf. The seductive luring lost strength, and he backed away, up onto dry land, to stand beside Kevin.

Pure power exploded; Shaine closed his eyes and turned his head until light levels returned to normal.


“Is he...?”

“He's alive,” Kevin said gently. “I just gave him one hell of a case of backlash shock, from what Flynn can get, but otherwise he's okay.” He smiled. “Major advantage of being able to channel more power than most mages: I can pull overload tricks.”

“That's... good.” He couldn't bring himself to want Lew really hurt.

“Come on, let's go back.”

With the threat over, adrenaline began to fade.

By the west gate, overlooking the lake, Shaine halted. He couldn't seem to make the tears stop. That was crazy, he was a mereni-mage, he was supposed to have some control over water...

He looked for the blood in the lake, but there was only water, the clouds breaking up and allowing patches of blue sky to glimmer through and be reflected.

“I can't ever go home,” he whispered.

“Then find a new home,” Kevin said softly. “Come on. You're backlashed too. That's enough to mess with anyone's emotions.”

I can't go home. Oh, god, I want so much to go home...



Jess deftly avoided running into someone, without dropping the tray he was carrying. Her apology he acknowledged with a quick smile, as he stepped around her to deliver the plates on the tray.

“One hot chicken sandwich, one lasagne. Give me a yell if you need anything else.”

The female elf and male human thanked him, and Jess spun away to another table.

At the bar waiting for drinks from Tomas, he was joined by Nick, who passed on his own order.

“Not bad for a Saturday,” the witch laughed. “Feel like coming over for a couple of hours after we get off?”

Jess hesitated. “Shaine...”

“Will wake up when he wakes up, and whether you're sitting with him worrying or not isn't going to make a difference. Liam thinks the sleep's best for him.”

“Well... okay. You've got Dungeons and Dragons in mind?”

“Mmhmm. I think Eva has evil new ideas for us. She was reading the Monster Manual and chortling to herself.”

“Sounds fun.”

“It'd be interesting to see what you'd come up with in a campaign.”

“Hey, slow down, I haven't been playing that long. Wait until I'm sure I've got a grip on the rules, would you?”

“No hurry.”

Tomas set the required drinks on the bar, left them to take the ones each needed while he went to deal with someone else.

“Back to work,” Jess sighed, flashing Nick a smile.

The kitchen closed at eleven, so although Tomas would keep the bar open until one, Jess and Nick and Sonja were free to leave at midnight.

They stopped on the porch to decide what they were doing.

“Stop and grab munchies?” Sonja suggested.

“Good idea,” Nick said. “I bet Liam ate all the popcorn again. Don't know what we're going to do with that boy.”

“Love me?” Liam said innocently, from behind them.

He looked distinctly satisfied that he made all three jump and whip around; grinning, he got up off the bench. Evaline bounced to her feet, tail waving and ears forward—laughing.

“Gotcha,” Liam chortled.

“What are you doing?” Sonja demanded.

“Waiting to surprise you. It worked, too. Munchies would be a good idea, but no, I did not eat all the popcorn. Just most of it.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “So let's move already, time is passing that we could be using to get our hands on that bloody Ice Diamond talisman.”

They turned towards the all-night convenience store, some two blocks away, four discussing strategies, Evaline frisking around them laughing to herself visibly.

Jess paused, losing track of Liam's idea, checking the breeze for scents. Something was tickling the back of his mind with danger... He caught the scent clearly, finally, and something inside came awake, demanding that he do something about it.

He stopped where he stood, and tried to identify which direction. He didn't know what that scent was, but it was maddening...

“Jess, what...” Sonja began in confusion.

“I don't know. Something smells wrong. Not a predator, I know that smell. Eva?”

Evaline left off her playing, came to hover close to her coven-mates, but she expressed her confusion, she smelled nothing out of place.

“This is not a fucking acid flashback, all right? Something is wrong!”

“Calm down,” Liam said. “No one said we don't believe you. I'm not picking up anything. Nick? Sonja?”

Sonja shook her head. “But I'm pretty low-sense at the moment.”

“Jesse's right,” Nick said distractedly. “Something's not balanced... Oh, damn, it just felt me searching...”

Something tall and inhumanly skinny, with a long heavy tail, stalked menacingly out of the shadows between two buildings.

“That's a demon,” Liam whispered. “It has to be. Oh, gods.”

The demon bared finger-long teeth in a grin. “Meat. Coven of wolf and witch and healer and gifted. My meat.”

Evaline snarled, ears back and tail low, crouching defensively between the demon and her horrified coven.

Jess stepped around her, to place himself between the demon and his friends. He heard Sonja cry out, and heard Liam say softly, “Wait. Let him go.”

His heart felt like it was pounding three times its normal speed, the adrenaline rush was powerful enough to make him light-headed, but on some level he knew with crystal clarity what to do.

The demon laughed shrilly. “More meat, wolf meat, tastiest kind.”

“Back off. You're not killing anyone.”

It had to look ridiculous, a slender youth in black magesilks, standing calmly before a creature twice his height and so well-armed.

The demon paced back and forth, angrily, but didn't try to get by him. “My meat!”

“Go back to where you belong!”

“No! You are alone, a child, you cannot win.” It made a dash to the right, clearly intending to go around him.

Jesse moved sideways, and it scrambled to keep from hitting him. While it fought for balance, he changed and advanced, hackles raised, growling.

It hesitated, spun towards the four watching frozen.

Jesse gathered himself into a tightly-wound crouch, lunged at its back, and knocked it sprawling on the street. He tore savagely at it, while it twisted around, trying to reciprocate. Claws raked down his side, across the fading scars from the construct-wolves, and they hurt worse than predator claws, but it left its throat open. Relentlessly, Jesse bit down. It struggled and shrieked, thrashed madly, vainly seeking to escape the merciless grip.

He felt the spine crunch, and the demon vanished.

Jesse stumbled, and changed, panting.

“Nobody ever tell you wolves can't fight demons?” Nick asked weakly.

“Guess not. Can somebody check this? It's too far back for me to see.”

Liam immediately came close to examine the freely-bleeding cuts across Jesse's lower back. “They look okay,” he reported. “Three lines, none of them very deep or long.” He laid a hand over them, and the wetness slowed.

“Jess, by rights you should be in small pieces all over the street, and the rest of us with you.” He hadn't seen Evaline shift to human, in her blue and silver magesilks. She hugged him, and he leaned against her, grateful for the support—with the adrenaline rush fading, he wasn't sure he could stay on his feet without help. Gradually, his heart was slowing to its normal rhythm. “How did you do that?”

“I don't know,” he told her. “I smelled it and something in the back of my head told me what to do.” The world tilted sideways, and his stomach turned inside out; the area around the cuts felt so cold it burned, and it was spreading, slowly. “I don't feel so good.”

“I'll go get the van,” Evaline said, and raced off on four feet in the direction of Winter's house, not far outside the village proper. Sonja took Eva's place at Jess' side, helping him stay on his feet. Other voices that felt rather far off but probably weren't, all talking at once, they couldn't have missed that scream; Liam, calmly suggesting that it had simply been a particularly reckless and foolish predator. That wasn't going to last past the wolves catching the scent, Jess thought vaguely, but it seemed to ameliorate some of the chaos for the moment, which was probably good enough, until Evaline returned with the van.

In the safety of the warm bright living room, Sonja coiled herself into a chair, shivering; Nick perched on the arm and hugged her, but whether for her comfort or his was an open question. Nick's new familiar Malta scrambled up onto Sonja's lap so both she and Nick could reassure the frightened young cat—gift from Sam though she was, and likely as uncanny as Alfari, the grey-and-white ball of fur and purrs was still not entirely out of kittenhood.

Jess paid little attention, more intent on the fact that he could curl up on the couch, rest his throbbing head on his arm, and not move anymore. “It's poison... isn't it,” he asked, hearing the words slur.

Liam knelt beside him, and laid a hand just above the cuts. “Looks like,” he agreed after a moment. “Your body's a bit freaked by it, but it's starting to fight back now. Know something, Nick? You wanted proof that Alessandria had a seventh child that was half demon? Proof is lying here getting wolf blood and demon blood all over the couch, and reacting no worse to demon poison than any wolf to predator poison. That's the only explanation I can think of, because otherwise this is not possible.”

“Does that mean if I fall asleep I'll wake up?” Jess wondered.


“Good, 'cause I'm really really tired... Only if I sleep here I'll be in the way.”

“That's okay,” Evaline said, one hand stroking his hair gently. “You can sleep if you want.”

Gratefully, Jess closed his eyes and surrendered to the exhaustion, not even the slowly-fading pain enough to keep him awake.



Kevin laid his book beside him on the loveseat, and got up to check on Shaine. He and Jess and Gisela had been taking turns keeping an eye on him, waiting for him to wake up; over two full days and heading towards the third, and this was starting to feel endless.

Nothing like a little déjà vu.

No change, other than that Shaine had been thrashing around again and had the blankets tangled. Kevin had done what he could to ease the psychedelic dreams that often came with psychic damage, as he had with Jess once, but there were limits on how effective it was.

Gently, he straightened the blankets, freed them from one hand that now showed delicate webbing between long fine fingers, reaching all the way to the first knuckle—he'd love to know how Shaine had managed even minor physical shapeshifting, and whether that was a natural talent of the children of water.

He'd done it a dozen times; this time, however, Shaine stirred, and opened his eyes, blinking in the sunlight.

“Good morning,” Kevin said softly.

“Where's Jess?”

Kevin stifled his sigh. “He's at Coven Winter's house, he was there overnight.” I'm not going to tell you he's sleeping off demon poison from that fight last night that Liam called to tell us about. “It's late Sunday morning, the healers don't think you did any permanent damage.” And they were more familiar with over-extended mages than they were with forcibly-awakened wolves, so they should be right—even if they were familiar only with mages of fire, not water. “Gisela called Bryan, you're off sick until a healer tells him otherwise. Healer's advice is that you're to spend the next few days inside the walls so you're shielded, and you're to rest and eat a lot.”

Shaine rolled over, and contemplated one hand resignedly. “Damn. I don't even know how I made myself human the first time, there's no way I can do it again. Just what I need to make life a complete mess.”

“You have to be the most pessimistic person I've ever met.” Kevin sat on the edge of the bed, and leaned back against the foot-bars. “Turn it around the other way and look at the bright side. There's no more reason to hide.”

“No, now I get to be a fucking freak. The only meren who could never figure out why mass murder was better than being discovered.”

“Unity,” Kevin said softly. Liam had offered, along with a report, a rather interesting hypothesis, involving Jess, Sam, Alessandria's seventh child, demons, the children of water, and a mysteriously-destroyed village that smelled of unfamiliar wolves but no elves or dryads and resisted all investigation attempts.

“I don't know what name they called it. North of here. They took a couple of years to build it, it had less than a year, then they got too close. Are you absolutely totally sure nothing else has gone after Jess while I've been out?”

“Jess is fine.”

“That isn't what I asked.” Shaine twisted around, sat up. “Tell me,” he demanded.

Kevin didn't hide this sigh. “Coven Winter had a demon set on them last night. Jess killed it. He's sleeping off poison after-effects, and Liam's keeping a close eye on him, but apparently his body's dealt with the poison already.”

“Oh, shit.” Shaine closed his eyes, and cold despair flashed across his face. “He is one. And they found him. They'll kill him.”

“Who will?”

“The demons who helped kill everyone else. They made a deal, the mereni-mages would take care of about sixty wolves that the demons had a problem with, and use that blood to call three demons and give them enough power on this plane to kill all the rest of the village. They found Jess and they're going to keep trying until they kill him.”

“You know as well as I do, Jess is hard to kill.”

“He'll lose this time. You tell me. The nastier sort of demons who like to fuck around on this plane, are they going to be real thrilled that anyone can stop them? I don't hardly think so.”

“Liam,” Kevin said, choosing words carefully, “is very good at putting together pieces the rest of us miss. He noticed that three things happened, all in April and May six years ago: a village called Unity, where there were apparently wolves but no dryads or elves, died, Jess' memory ends, and Samantha showed up with nothing except what she was wearing.”

“Her too. I think. She's been just waiting for me to hurt Jess so she can freak out all over me. Try asking her anything else. I just told you everything I know.”

“Do you have any idea who might have sent that particular demon?”

Shaine hissed impatiently. “Probably not a meren, I can't see them thinking it's worth much effort after this long. Only reason I can think that Lew'd get involved at all is that one of the demons convinced them Jess might remember something.”

Lew, presumably, would be the mage they'd fought by the lake. “Why would a demon bother?”

“Think about it. Easier than trying to act directly on this plane. Less risk for the demon, too. If Lew killed Jess, that would be the end of the problem, no longer matters if Jess can kill demons or not. If Lew died, oh well.”

“Got it. But that failed, so they tried something more direct. You said there were three.”

“Sure, but whatever Jess killed last night was almost definitely a minor one meant just to test him and find out if he'd give himself away to protect friends. Anybody's guess who actually summoned it or whether it slipped through alone. It doesn't much matter. Three demons in particular want Jess dead, I'm sure they'd be happier if it's before he can leave any little demon-killing wolves behind. Take out the summoners, and it'll slow them down until they find a new puppet, but they'll be back.”

Kevin chewed a thumbnail thoughtfully. “Sure. Problems never go away that easily. But maybe if we can buy Jess some extra time, that phenomenal luck of his will kick in and bring something new into the picture.” The term demon-luck, for improbable fortune both good and bad, had a whole new dimension now.

“You're really reaching,” Shaine said sceptically.

“Better than letting the wolf-cub die because we don't think we can do anything.”

“Can you seriously take that mage we messed with in the city in a fight under any conditions?”

“Well, I thumped him good the first time, but the second time he would've thumped me just as soundly if you hadn't been there. The constructs he set on Jess have to have taken a huge amount of power, and worse, a lot of skill, which is a bad sign. He's definitely spent more time on offensive stuff. I never got into the heavy combat techniques even at my worst. Unless I could duplicate the circumstances of the first time, which I doubt, then about the best I could hope for is daylight or a lot of moonlight, and then I could at least hold my own without him shredding my shields on me like he did last time. I couldn't let a little thing like minimal light stop me when he wanted to hurt Jess, now could I?”

Shaine gave him a wry smile, which was reply enough.

“We do have another likely factor as far as summonings. Sam thinks Coven Whitethorn, the ones who set the trap before, are screwing around with demons, and she doesn't think they've gotten in deep. So if they aren't expecting it, maybe we can deal with just them and not with demon backup. Moira, the Whitethorn mage, I'm fairly sure I could wipe the floor with, but that would still leave the rest. Sam asked us not to attack them head-on, and I can see her point, I suppose we'd probably have to try to take all of them at once to keep anyone from having a chance to escalate things, which sounds, well, tricky, and I don't know what we'd have to do to stop them permanently. I wonder if there'd be the slightest point in my trying to talk to Rebecca. This other mage, now...” He fell silent, thinking, then shrugged. “I'll call a meeting, as soon as everyone can get here, and we can think about him. The more brains the better, andt here seems to be more brains in this family all the time.”

“What makes you think I'm part of it? Or that I'm staying here past this mess being over one way or the other?”

“Because you need a home,” Kevin said softly. “And the best home you'll ever find is...”

“Here? Oh, please.”

“Is where Jess is. You'll break his heart if you tell him you're only with him because you feel guilty and you'll be leaving once the guilt loses its power.”

Shaine stayed silent.

Kevin shrugged, and got up. “Jess will be home whenever. I do have a suggestion, meantime. When an elvenmage is backlashed, light and heat help us heal faster. Water might help you more than being inside shields. It's your life, though, do what you want with it.”



Shivering, though not from the faint cool breeze on his bare skin, Shaine stood on the very edge of the lake and gazed at the bright sunset. The light played across the ripples on the water, rosy and purple and orange...

And bloody... came the reflexive thought.

But of the blood that had terrified him, and driven him from the waters onto the dry land scorned by his kin, he could see not a trace.

Jess knows. He doesn't blame me. Even Samantha told me today she doesn't hold me responsible.

The blood isn't in the water, it's on the hands of my family. The ones who were involved, and the ones who knew what was happening and yet did nothing to stop it...

He tried to ignore how hard his heart was pounding. The waters were his home, the only home he'd known for the first fifteen years of his life. The few years since were no barrier against the powerful longing—and the equally powerful fear.

Little waves splashed around his ankles as he stepped off the shore, then took another step, deeper. Soft sand squished under his feet, brought him the painfully vivid memory of him and Lew, both fascinated by this new concept of legs and feet, the two of them endlessly amused by how sand and mud and weeds all felt so different to walk on.

He forced himself to take another step, and another. Nothing could happen to him, even with his nerves in shreds there was still nothing in the lake that could harm him, the merenai had to have given up by now.

Water up to his waist, up to his ribs... this beach couldn't possibly be natural, but why should that be any surprise?

He had to swim to reach the raft—Sundark and friends had it out already, though the water was too cold for even the more hardy among them to take more than an occasional quick plunge. He hauled himself up to sit on the edge, got unsteadily to his feet, and crossed it to the edge that faced the open lake.

I've been around land-bound for too long, he thought wryly, when he noticed himself taking a deep breath.

Before he could chicken out, he dove off the raft.

The water welcomed him, closed cleanly over him. The switch from breathing air to breathing water was instinctive, and took no thought at all; the change from legs to tail took only a moment's effort, not even the damage to his gifts could take that ability from him.

It took no time at all to leave the shallows far behind, to lose himself in the depths. A joy he'd been sure he could no longer feel shivered through him; poor land-bound races, living all on one plane, up there at the mercy of the weather, needing their buildings and their clothes and all the nonsense that went along with them! No wonder merenai had always found it so easy to sing humans away from the land-bound world!

A turtle swam by; he twisted around to chase it, but it wasn't much interested. A large pike was a better game: he teased it by grabbing its tail, deftly avoiding its increasingly annoyed retaliation. He had even more fun with a beaver, once he talked it into playing tag with him, until it wandered off to forage. When a large-mouthed bass of reasonable size came too near, he snatched it before it could escape, slashed it open with a knife formed from the water before he even thought about what he was doing—only belatedly did he realize that he was supposed to be unable to use his gifts. The ice-blade was very sharp, and it took him only a moment to skin, gut, and debone the bass. The remains he left to scavengers, while he bit into the fresh raw meat: a large part of his diet for his first decade and a half.

Nothing had ever tasted more delicious.

He discovered that he was near an island, and surfaced to take a look around.

An otter on a nearby rock, a female who must be only from last year's litter, raised her head from her meal and looked back at him, wary but curious and not alarmed. Shaine called to her, asked her to come play with him.

Unperturbed, the otter finished eating, then slid into the water to join him. Otters understood playing better than fish or even beavers; they had a merry time chasing each other all over the lake, usually near the shore as the otter preferred, and frightening everything else that lived in the water. Even some that didn't; a deer that lowered its head for a drink snorted and fled when a cat-sized otter and a meren seven feet long breached the surface not five yards out.

Shaine helped the otter catch a few fish, when she began to tire—otters had to eat frequently for all that energy, something like elvenmages—and he sprawled in the shallows of a different island, waiting for her. Next year, he figured, she'd breed; for the time being, it was unusual enough that a female so young had found herself a prime territory uninhabited.

The otter, belly full, came with him on a more sedate exploration. Because of that, Shaine stayed near her territory rather than heading out into the depths of the lake; that was fine, no way could he explore the entire lake in one night. He ducked under when they neared buildings and lights, otherwise alternated breathing water and air at whim. Every so often, they stopped to fish and rest, and wandered on.

Haven's lake was pure heaven, rich in every sort of marine life that could flourish at this latitude. He could happily spend the rest of his life here; there was only one of him, there'd be no need to hunt other lakes as a full colony of merenai had to do. No need to have anything more to do with the madness of the land-bound world...

For the first time that night, he thought of Jess, though before coming to the lake he'd waited until he'd seen Jess alive and not much the worse for wear.

Jess still needed him.

It took some time to find the beach again, even with his new friend's help. In the shallows, he switched back to legs, and stood up.

On a sudden whim, he called the otter to him, coaxed her up onto the shore and inside the walls, promising her that she'd be safe. Right up to the kitchen door they went, she making worried noises at the smells, but trusting him.

Everyone else was up, having breakfast; nice timing. He opened the door, greeted them absently, and started digging around in the fridge. “Is there any chicken left from last night?”

“Third shelf, in the white container,” Deanna supplied. “Why are we having a sudden need for leftover chicken?”

“Present for a friend.” He found it, and closed the fridge door. “I don't think I can get her to come in, but you could come out and say hello.”

They were lucky none of them were cats, Shaine decided, because they'd all be out of lives by now.

The otter growled, scooted off the porch, but no farther. Shaine sat on the grass, held out a piece of the chicken to her, reassuring her in the language of the waters that no one here would hurt her, they simply wanted to admire her, she was so handsome and graceful and clever...

She came to him, took the chicken in her forepaws, and chewed on it contentedly. When she finished, he gave her a second.

“Will she get scared if I come closer?” Deanna asked softly.

“Not if it's just you, and you don't move too fast.”

Slowly, the dryad approached, and sat beside him. Shaine assured the otter that it was all right, and she sniffed warily at Deanna's hand, then accepted a piece of chicken from her.

“She's so beautiful,” Deanna whispered, and reached out carefully to run her hand down the otter's back. The otter started, but allowed it. “And so soft, softer than silk...”

“Easy,” Shaine cautioned. “She's getting pretty nervous.”

Deanna immediately drew her hand back, and reached for the chicken.

The otter devoured all that was offered, then spun around and darted back to the lake.

Deanna raised her eyes to Shaine's, smiling. “Thank you.”

He wasn't used to being thanked, definitely not by anyone as... the only word he could think of was alive... as Deanna.

“You're a lot like her,” he said, without thinking.

“I don't think I've ever had a nicer compliment. Last night did you good, y'know. You look considerably healthier and more relaxed than you did.”

“I feel a lot better, too. It's like...” He paused, searching for some analogy that might give them some idea how it felt. “Like living on bread and water for years, then being given your favourite food, and finding out that you haven't forgotten how to taste it after all. I can't put it into words any better than that.”

“In poetic and Christian terms,” Bane said. “Like someone certain he's damned to hell for all eternity, after spending some time there, then discovering that heaven is right there waiting.”

Shaine smiled. “I wouldn't call this hell, although there have been times...”

“So what are you doing up here?” Kevin demanded. “Go, beat it, go catch up with your furry little friend.”

“No. Not until this is over.”

“Until I'm dead or these demons are,” Jesse translated. “Oh, relax. Go on. Sam left this morning to do god-knows-what and gave me the day off, I don't even have to go outside the walls all day if it'll make you feel better about it.”

Shaine shook his head, and got up. A nice thing about Haven being used to werewolves: bare skin didn't cause panics. “I'm going to get some sleep. It's been a long week.”

“You're telling me,” Jess muttered.

Everyone wandered back into the house. Uncomfortable with the unaccustomed feeling of actually belonging here, Shaine retreated to Jesse's room.

Jess kept telling him to stop calling it his room...

Exhausted as much by exhilaration as exertion, he curled up in Jesse's soft bed, and fell asleep.

For the first time in recent memory, his dreams were peaceful dreams of wind and wave and song, with no trace of blood.



Even in the warm sunlight, Samantha shivered while she parked Katherine's 4-wheel-drive Jeep Cherokee and got out. Alfari bounced across the driver's seat and down to the ground before Samantha closed the door.

Nothing dwelled here now except ghosts and wild things; no one wanted to take a chance on a place where two hundred thirty-three people had all died or vanished, abruptly and with no official explanation. Some fifty-odd households, one morning full of life and the next silent. Buildings were boarded up, yards wildly overgrown... she felt tears sting her eyes as the thought found its way into her head, this isn't Unity, this is the corpse of Unity, what was Unity is dead.

She left the car, and walked along the empty street, Alfari staying at her side without even wandering off to investigate. There was the store that had everything from groceries to hardware, books to pet and farm animal supplies; there the community centre that had held the first incarnation of the library on the second floor. Most of the money and energy had gone into building the houses, knowing and accepting that for some time they would still be dependent on the nearest town.

What mattered was being together: fifty-eight demon-wolves, Cassandra's descendants, from cubs to elders more grey than black, and their friends, with their dream of their own village finally real.

A village with a sense of community so powerful that it made Haven look uncaring and fractured.

She paused in front of one house, set back from the road, the rectangle that had been an herb garden still recognizable. The long grass rustled as she made her way to it, measured steps along the edge, and dropped to one knee to search. She picked up the strong scent, smiled, and broke off a few sprigs of catnip. Too bad she hadn't thought to bring something she could dig the plant up with... But that wasn't why she was here.

“Thanks, Dad,” she whispered to the wind. “Alfari and Malta and Hob will love this, later. I hope Rasputin's with you, wherever you are. Give Mom a hug for me.”

The catnip she stored in her jacket pocket while she returned to the street, and followed it farther. Each house called to her, in the names of those who had lived there. It was altogether too easy to imagine spirits held here by the lack of a resolution to the whole story, needing to be set free.

“Jesse is still alive,” she told them out loud. “He can't be the only one, you know him and Jaisan, if one's alive the other must be, somewhere out there. Jess might still survive, and kill the demons that did this. And I know I don't entirely trust Shaine, how can I? He's one of the children of water, they call themselves merenai. But he's helped Jess so much, he even fought one of his own kind to keep Jess safe, even though he didn't have a chance of winning. Doesn't he sort of make up for the rest of them? There's still a chance that the story will have a reasonably happy ending. Maybe if you wish Jess good luck as hard as you can, that'll do some good.”

She half-expected some ghostly reply, but none came.

Her feet found, without conscious thought, the overgrown driveway of a larger house, on the other side of the road, this one with more land around it. The chicken coop didn't look like it could shelter much of anything anymore, the chickens probably long since food for the wild things. The elm nearby was dry and dead, but two platforms still rested in its branches, the rope ladder to the lower one no longer there.

Sam sat on the top step leading to the porch, and leaned sideways against the post. Alfari climbed onto her lap, pressed against her, and Sam curved an arm around her to steady her there.

Here, the memories were too strong to block.

Dena Kore-Tremayne's mate died when Aindry was thirteen, the twins nine, over two years after his initial diagnosis—two years of deteriorating ability to function, increasing pain that in the end lay beyond the control of magic or modern medicine. The nearest members of the community did what they could, and got word around.

Sam, recently graduated from high school, offered to stay with Dena's family for a while and take over some of the household responsibilities.

She hugged herself, smiling. Even in the grief of knowing her mate was dying, Dena had greeted her warmly—a determined woman who looked much like her offspring, the Kore-Tremayne blood running true, very clearly an alpha bitch graciously accepting Sam into her territory as a subordinate pack member. She apologized for her mate's absence, explaining that he tired easily and was already asleep. With grave courtesy, she acknowledged the introduction to Sam's sleek orange feline companion Uri, which Uri had returned, cautious but receptive.

Then there were the kids...

When Dena called them to the kitchen, they came promptly; Sam's first reaction was to wonder how on earth she'd be able to tell the twins apart.

“This is Samantha,” Dena said calmly. “That is her friend Uri. These are Aindry, Jaisan, and Jesse. You three are to do as Samantha tells you, is that clear?”

Immediate agreement, eyes kept submissive-low, but as soon as Dena looked away all three forgot their gloom in curiosity and bounced over to quiz Sam on everything they could think of about her life and meet Uri, who batted away excessively importunate hands forcefully but with velvet paws. After an hour or so of that, Dena sent them off to bed.

“They can be a handful,” their mother admitted, amused. “At least only Aindry was born actively wolf, I can hardly imagine the mischief the twins would be into if they had both forms to use.”

“How are they doing?” Sam asked tentatively.

Dena smiled, sadly. “As well as one can expect. We've talked about it, they understand what's happening.” She reached across the table, closed one hand around Sam's. “Thank you,” she said softly. “Knowing there's someone else here is a considerable relief. We have nursing help through the day while I'm at work, Phillip talked me into finishing out the school year, but the kids and the house and so much else to be done...”

“I'll stay as long as you need me.”


Sam followed her upstairs.

To Aindry's room, first, the walls plastered with posters of wolves, rock stars, dinosaurs, and sports cars, in bewildering confusion; dark fur showed betrayingly on the garnet-red bedspread.

Dena leaned down and kissed her daughter gently. “Say good-night to Sam.”

“Good-night,” Aindry said dutifully. “Can we go to the beach tomorrow?”

Sam looked questioningly at Dena.

“I think it would be nice for all of us to go to the beach,” Dena said. “Maybe your dad will feel well enough to join us. But get some sleep, so you'll be awake for it.”

“I hope so. Okay.” She snuggled down under the light blankets. “Have nice dreams, Sam.”

“I'll try,” Sam promised. “You too.”

The room across the hall belonged to the twins.

Sam was a little surprised to find only one bed, a double, with two small bodies nestled together in the middle of it under a blanket with a pattern predominantly amethyst and sapphire.

Dena glanced in her direction, shrugged, and smiled. “We had to put them in the same crib, or they'd scream murder and never settle down. We tried, about a year ago, getting them twin beds, but every morning we found them both in the same bed, so we gave up. I've had the other teachers at the school tell me they think they're too dependent on one another, that it isn't healthy...”

“Obviously they have no idea what a twin-bond can be like for wolves.”

The smile became a grin. “Many people throw fits at the thought of a gay teacher. Imagine if they knew they had a demon-werewolf teaching a class of seven- and eight-year-olds.”

Sam had to chuckle at the thought.

Dena gave each of the twins a kiss.

“G'night, Samantha,” one said sleepily, and the other, “We'll show you our rock collection tomorrow, 'kay?”

“Okay. I'd like to see it.”

Dena closed the door part-way behind them.

That night was the first of many the two of them spent in the kitchen, sharing a pot of tea and talking.

Samantha stayed long past Phillip's death. When Unity was finally declared inhabitable in June, and Dena's family moved in July, she went with them, choosing her offered room with them rather than returning to her parents' household, with her parents' blessings. She helped them build the tree-house, and as often as they could get away with it the twins slept there together.

Everyone in Unity knew, to make this work they had to lean on each other, make this a sort of extended wolf pack with everyone contributing something to the whole and in return being assured the support of the whole.

By March, they were sure it was going to work, that they finally had their dream, a place of their own. Latent wolf blood being relatively common among the Cassandra wolves, the tradition had formed of a Beltaine ceremony of sharing power to a level that woke it; the twins turning thirteen that year, they were to be included for the first time, an event that had both of them wildly excited—and their sister as well, though she teased them mercilessly about it.

Then came April...

The happy memories shattered.

Her recall of that day was like that of a nightmare, twisted in ways that made no sense, only the feelings remaining clear. Uri had woken her, crying urgently and pawing at her; her first reaction was to bolt for Dena's room and tell her they had to get out of the house and away. They'd roused the sleepily-confused kids; Sam left Dena to hurry them into their clothes while she ran to her room to grab her canvas backpack and dump the contents out. Uri howled from the front door, the shriek of an alarm siren, and Sam detoured to open it for him; he took off running, not into the woods where he could hide, but towards the nearest house, and farther off, she could hear more feline voices yowling frantic warning, the sound echoing eerily around the village. Lights were starting to come on here and there, others responding to the unprecedented clamour. Virtually every household had a cat, and she rather thought that none of them were currently considering their personal safety; some fifty cats, all gathering in force and clearly determined to wake everyone in Unity, created a considerable cacophony. She wished Uri and the others luck, and darted back to Dena's room. From under the bed she pulled a carved wooden chest, very old, and opened it; the magesilk-wrapped contents she stuffed hastily into her pack, tied it and slung it over her shoulder.

She found Dena hanging up the phone when she came out in the hall.

“I called your parents,” the wolf explained. “And two others. They can call others, but I think most people have heard the cats by now. You got...?”

“Yes. Let's go.”

The five of them fled, out into the forest, under storm-clouds gathering to hide the stars, with the agitated hue-and-cry of the cats a surreal soundtrack.

They didn't, couldn't, flee far enough to not hear the inhumanly beautiful song echo its way through the trees, twining itself into the rising wind, warping her perception of reality beyond recognition; Dena and Aindry were less affected than her and the twins, but what power must be in it to reach full wolves at all? Dena reported that she could smell demons, and the same sort-of-fishy scent the wolves had picked up traces of around the lake many times. Almost, Sam turned back to the village, in terror for her parents, their friends, the other wolves, the brave cats that she could no longer hear at all, but she stopped; her first responsibility was to see to it that Dena got her children to safety.

Try as she might, she couldn't remember how she and Jess had gotten separated from the others, sometime after the full fury of the storm broke, no more than she could how she'd lost Jess, only the blind panic that she'd failed and Jess was out there alone somewhere... She hid her backpack close to Unity, and searched and searched, the music still ringing in her ears until she thought she'd go mad, all her senses suddenly unreliable...

The next clear memory was of waking up in Bryan's bed, with the wolf who became her dearest friend hovering anxiously near—with nearly two weeks missing in her head.

“Dena,” Sam said softly, hugging Alfari close; Alfari purred and reached up to rub her cheek along Sam's. “I tried, I really did, and I'm sorry I messed up. But demon-luck brought him right to me, and I haven't forgotten, even though he has. It's been so tempting to tell him, but he's been safer without his memory, until now. They've found him, and it's just him all alone against the same thing that killed everyone. I won't give up, I promise. Maybe demon-luck will keep working and you and Aindry and Jais will turn up at the last possible moment. Maybe one of the demon-wolves that we lost touch with when they moved to the States and the UK, or maybe a wolf from another line like the legends say, will show up on the doorstep and help.” She rested her cheek against the top of Alfari's head. “Uri, I'm sorry, we only survived because of you waking me in time, all of you tried so hard, and you died and I wasn't there for you.”

A chipmunk ran out from under the porch a short distance away, gave her a wary look, and scurried off on errands of its own. Alfari's tail flicked, but she didn't move and her purr never faltered.

“Thank you,” Sam told the chipmunk gravely. “I needed to be reminded that I came here for a reason other than the ghosts. I don't have infinite daylight, and finding what I left here is not going to be easy—and no way am I staying here after dark. Not even with 'Fari.” She stood up, and stretched. “I can at least give him back his name, Dena. That's about all I can do, but I'll keep trying. I promise.”



Rebecca watched the clock on the wall tick slowly closer to five o'clock. She'd been without a coven for something like two weeks now, and had discovered it to be oddly liberating: no one she needed to scold to do things properly, no one she was responsible for. She was giving serious thought to not creating a new coven at all, and certainly not right away. She hadn't felt this free in years. She could hunt when she pleased, stay home when she pleased, sleep in on the weekend with no one demanding her attention... Perhaps it would be better to find an apartment of her own. Certainly she earned enough that she didn't need to live with others. Yes, it was a wolf responsibility to protect, but if no one particularly wanted her protection, then simply being here and contributing to the general safety of Haven was sufficient. Perhaps she'd start making plans to leave entirely, go to much smaller Irminsul in Saskatchewan or Aralu in the Northwest Territories, or even to some more remote place where she'd be the only wolf. But even being in Haven just might be more tolerable under the right conditions.

The clock inched its way closer and closer. A few people came in, but this was a Monday, and the second week of the month, so the always-slow stream was more like a puddle. That was why she was one of three people who kept the entire bank functioning.

Finally! Time to close up. She crossed the floor to throw the bolt on the door, and turned back to the routine of closing. The couple Adam had been talking to in his office emerged; Rebecca let them out, locked it again, went back to her tasks.

Adam came out, and they chatted for a few minutes while she finished what she had to do. He'd take care of the rest. She slung her bag onto her shoulder, and left, calling a farewell behind her as the door swung shut.

She got down the steps and out onto the sidewalk.

It took her a few seconds to register what it meant when five bodies in magesilks, black and silver-blue and scarlet and forest-colours, surrounded her, cornering her between them and the wall.

Rebecca crossed her arms, and leaned against the cool bricks calmly. “What can I do for you?”

“Coward,” Evaline spat. “You won't fight fair. You let others fight your battles for you, while you stand back and plan more tricks and lies. You've gotten away with it for far too long. Now stand and fight like a wolf, or run away like a dog!”

Rebecca's thoughts darted in rapid loops, analysing this. The most likely possibility was that they believed her still part of Whitethorn, and the demons had lured Whitethorn into some other stupid attack on Jesse.

“I don't have to fight you,” she told them.

“Coward,” Bane echoed the taunt. “You've been refusing to fight me fairly for years, because I'm bigger than you. You can't use that this time. Anyone in this pack will fight you, here and now, one on one. Or are you only brave when you've got Karl beside you and when you've had time to cheat?”

They certainly had attention; everyone on the streets was drawn over. Rebecca hesitated. If she refused to fight, she'd lose face yet again, and it would be even harder to regain any kind of standing among the other wolves. On the other hand, why should she fight for Whitethorn?

Then she smiled to herself. Jump to conclusions, would they? Assume that it was her personally who goaded her coven into attacks, breaking the unspoken truce. They deserved anything they got.

If she fought, and won, they'd be no more wary of Whitethorn than they were now, and she'd regain a little face. If she fought and lost fairly she'd lose no face, and they'd believe Whitethorn neutralized as a threat...

Either way, she gained something, and to not do it would lose her something.

Moonwolf, but she hated being trapped into doing things.

Certain that her eyes were hot furious gold, Rebecca moved away from the wall.

“My choice,” she said. “I can choose who I fight.”

“Yes,” Evaline agreed.

“Then, since I imagine this is once again related to him, I choose Jesse.” He was limping slightly, looked tired, and of the pack facing her, he was the most inexperienced at wolf-fights; not the best for gaining face in that sense, but to confront him directly after their history would more than make up for that.

She saw him wince, very slightly, but he stepped forward away from the others, shifted to wolf, and waited for Rebecca to do the same.

Everyone else moved back, left them in the centre of a large ring.

Red werewolf and black circled each other measuringly, then both lunged at the same instant, tearing with teeth and claws. Rebecca threw Jesse entirely off his feet, slashed at his stomach. Jesse writhed away, got ahold of her ear and tore. Startled, Rebecca yelped in pain, and redoubled her attack, but Jesse got his feet under him and darted around behind. Though she whirled to keep facing him, Jesse kept moving, kept circling, and she had to keep turning, keep watching him. He feinted to one side, came in quickly on the other, was in and out in a heartbeat. She felt teeth dig into her shoulder through the heavy fur. Reflexively she struck out in return, and he didn't get clear quite fast enough: Rebecca's claws raked the side of his face, over his eye, and blood blinded his vision on that side.

Such a shame. Whatever else he was, he was certainly easy on the eyes. Ah, well, either Winter's healer or that little dryad girl would fix it.

Rebecca darted into his blind spot; he spun to keep her in sight, but Rebecca used his own trick against him, stayed in the same relative place. Jesse whipped around in the other direction, answered her earlier yelp with one of his own as Rebecca's teeth scored shallowly on his flank. He stumbled as she tore across half-healed wounds there; already hurt, was he? She pressed the attack; desperately, he twisted out from under her and scrambled to his feet, whining softly in pain, but obviously not about to give up.

Her next attack left the side of her neck exposed, and she recognized it a fraction of a second too late to do anything about it; her jaws snapped shut on his foreleg, but he stretched awkwardly and sank his teeth into her already sore shoulder, right through the thick ruff. The red bitch went down, though she held her grip on his leg; he let go, closed his jaws around the underside of Rebecca's throat until the red bitch surrendered her hold on his foreleg, stopped thrashing and just laid still, struggling for breath.

Damn him! How had a whelp who'd only known for a year that he had a second form managed to defeat her?

Jesse released her, and turned away. Rebecca didn't move until he'd changed to human, and then she only rolled to her belly, gazing up at him in a mixture of submission and resentment.

“Get out of here,” Jess told her wearily. “And leave me and Kev and the rest of us alone.”

Rebecca whined, shifted heavily to human. “You won,” she conceded, as graciously as she could manage. “And you have my word as a wolf, I will do nothing at any point in the future against you or Kevin or the rest of your friends.” She gathered her dignity around her, scooped up her bag with her good hand, and walked away in the direction of Mandisa's office, cradling her other arm against her body to keep from jarring her shoulder.

* * *

Bane slid an arm around Jess' waist, steadying him. “Beautifully done.”

“Shorter than I expected. I sort of thought we'd end up fighting until one of us couldn't get up.”

“She's still a wolf,” Bryan said quietly. “Whatever she's done, whatever's wrong in her head, some things still run too deep for even her to go against.”

Jess decided to think about that later. Meanwhile, Gisela was there, her hands finding each wound deftly and making the bleeding stop.

“She had it coming, but did you have to get hurt doing it?” she grumbled.

“It's just a few bites,” Jess said. Although, they were increasingly painful bites, now the adrenaline was fading...

“Our place is closest,” Evaline said.

“Déjà vu,” Jess muttered to himself. Finally fighting back instead of letting others rescue him all the time felt good—but was he forever going to have friends taking him home afterwards to put his hide back together?


Come to think of it, that was much better than not having friends there to do it.

He submitted meekly to Gisela, and didn't argue when she sent a rather startled Nick to make a wolfsbane-and-painkiller tea for him. It made the world fuzz out, but it effectively dulled the pain.

Bane demanded a report.

“She cracked one bone in his arm and bruised both of them nicely,” Gisela said. “The other damage you can see for yourself, none of it hit anything vital. It's a good thing wolves mostly don't scar permanently, though. I think I've got the bleeding completely stopped. Somebody grab me something I can use to clean some of the blood up?”

A moment later, something wet gently wiped away the blood on his face.

“Ouch,” he mumbled.

“I'm trying not to hurt.”

“How bad's that one?”

“She got you with two claws. It starts in the middle of your forehead, skips over your eye luckily, and ends on your cheek. It's going to look a bit wild until it heals.”

“Huh. She would.”

Time got blurry, too, but sometime after dark he found himself in Coven Winter's van with Gisela and Bane, and Nick was driving.

Kevin appeared from somewhere to steady him into the house.

“I beat her,” Jess told him.

“I know, Bane told me. Everyone knows by now.”

“She won't bug you anymore now, right?”

“Right,” Kevin said softly.

“Man, whatever Nick gave me's real cool. Somebody tell the world to stay still.”

“I told you it was too much, 'Sela,” Nick sighed.

“He's okay,” Gisela said. “He's hurting bad enough that it'll wear off soon.”

Dark coolness became bright warmth. He coiled himself into a corner of the couch, vaguely aware that the scents were those of the living room, and rested his head on the arm, listening while Bane described the fight for his coven and Shaine. Hob, inevitably, appeared from somewhere and joined him, a warm purring mass cuddled against his stomach.

“What on earth possessed you to let Jess fight Rebecca, when he was already hurt?” Deanna demanded.

“He wanted to, he had a right to, both blood-debt and as part of the pack. Don't argue, he won. For the time being, at least, Coven Whitethorn is no longer a threat.”

They argued for a while. Jess lost track of the thread so often he gave up on even trying to follow along, though he did notice Shaine's opinion of his common sense hadn't improved any. He kept finding peculiar things in his head: a black wolf much larger than him, that smelled female and achingly familiar; a silver dagger with something engraved on the blade, but he couldn't quite read it; an impossibly beautiful song, twining into a rising storm; darkness and a soft warm bed, snuggled against someone comfortably, perfectly content, and the other whispered, “Good night, Jess,” but it wasn't Shaine or Caitryn; morning sunlight and the rich scent of bacon frying and the sounds of laughter, the feeling of a fierce good-morning hug.

The vivid images faded, disappointingly, leaving behind an emptiness that had nothing to do with the pain of his abused body.

He raised his head, and blinked in confusion at the room. Sundark and Gisela were still there, he decided, it was just that they were doing quiet sorts of things: Cynthia was knitting, and Gisela was tossing multi-coloured toy balls for Hob to bat out of the air, and Kevin and Deanna were brushing Bane furform, and Flynn was writing something on the clipboard he usually used for short stories. That Shaine was absent was hardly surprising.

“Good morning,” Deanna greeted him. “Our hero returns to the real world.”

Jess made a derisive noise. “Hero. Yeah, right, there's a new one.” Cautiously, he untangled himself, and flinched; the muscles of his lower back and right upper thigh felt like they'd been completely shredded. “Let me guess. I get to spend another week in bed eating and sleeping. This sucks.”

“As long as you're very careful, you're allowed to go back to real life probably in a day or two,” Gisela said. “You just won't be able to do anything too active that might pull the cuts open again.”

“Anything active like killing demons?” Jess said impatiently. “How fast can you fix this?” He examined his left arm, the purpling bruises, the shallow holes where Rebecca's teeth had broken the skin. It hurt, but he still had most of the strength in it. “Not this, just the ones on my back.”

“I can't,” Gisela said calmly. “I've already done everything I can. I've told you before, if healing is pushed too far, it can do more harm than good. You're going to have to let your body's own resources take it from here.”

“Great.” Unsteadily, he made his way to the kitchen, wishing he could muster the energy for a more dramatic display of frustration. A cold glass of juice helped him compose himself again. He visited the nearest bathroom briefly, grateful that it was on the ground floor—and groaned to himself at the thought of climbing the two flights of stairs to his room later.

For the moment, though, his friends were waiting, so he went back to the dining room and his corner of the couch, and settled down to hear what he'd missed.



Aindry sniffed around the base of the tree, evaluating the scents that pooled here. Anything left by passing carnivores she discarded immediately; those of deer, raccoons, squirrels, birds, a lone porcupine, she considered more seriously. There were plenty of deer around, enjoying the open ground around the abandoned houses, but she and Jaisan were too badly injured to hunt one; most of the rest were fast or fierce or both. She might be able to take that porcupine, though, since that took primarily skill and experience and she had those in her favour. If, of course, she could find it on the ground. The scent was fresh enough that she thought it might be possible.

Nose to the ground, she limped in pursuit. Her left hind leg was badly damaged, enough so that she doubted it would ever heal right without help from a doctor or a healer, but leading demons into Haven or into a mundane settlement that had no idea what really existed, that was unthinkable. Given how talking and chewing felt, it might be just as well there was nothing to talk about and there'd been little to chew, only a few mice swallowed more or less whole.

There'd been no further attacks, not in the couple of days it took to reach Unity, not in the days they'd been here. Could the demons not find them here? Or was there something else? Either way, they weren't going to heal at all unless they actually ate.

So she'd left Jaisan, who was trying so hard to pretend that he wasn't in pain with every breath, to see if he could find anything edible in the long-abandoned gardens. If they were lucky, maybe something had re-seeded itself; it was early in the year yet, but a few garden plants, and some wild ones, were edible or even better at this time of year. If not, he might at least find a few snails—they were vile, but better than nothing. If they dared the shore itself, they might do better, find amphibian or crustacean life, might even be able to improvise a fish trap, but first they'd have to conquer fear of the lake itself and what lay beneath those calm waters she glimpsed now and then from high ground.

The porcupine's trail took her to a creek, burbling its way cheerfully between the trees, and along it. She slowed her pace, taking care with each step to make no sound: even if she didn't find the porcupine, she might be able to surprise something drinking.

She found where the porcupine entered the water, and some disturbed creek-bed where she thought it ate some of the plants growing there, and then the place where it left the water and went up a tree. She looked up, spotted it high above.

There was no way she could possibly climb after it, even if she were stupid enough to try.

With a sigh, she went back to following the creek.

From the village itself, she heard Jaisan bark: a call to her, but without urgency. Probably he'd found something edible.

Well, she wasn't accomplishing anything here, and her leg hurt abominably. She turned back in his direction.

He was waiting for her, in a garden being gradually reclaimed by the wilderness, closer than entirely comfortable to one of the outermost buildings. If she let herself, she'd probably be able to remember who had lived here and then died here.

They'd ripped up clothes to improvise a sling that held Jaisan's right arm firmly against his body, since that helped with some of the pain. Even though that meant staying human-form, it was worth it, since putting weight on that foreleg was unbearable anyway. The dark livid bruising, purple-blue and red shading towards black with highlights of greenish yellow, bled through under the edges of the sling; it made Aindry flinch every time she saw it. Pulling a shirt over his head hurt, so with his own worn track-pants Jaisan was wearing only Aindry's stained grey zipper-front hoodie, unzipped to allow room for his arm.

Unfortunately, they'd failed to come up with a way to moderate her own pain at all, but at least it reduced Jaisan's a little.

“Nothing good,” he said apologetically. “But it's something.”

She changed back, and sat down awkwardly on her own sweatshirt that he'd spread there. The weight of two full backpacks had been just too much; they'd kept one set of basic clothing each, but almost everything else had been discarded. She hadn't realized until much too late that Jaisan had left behind all but one of his amethysts, keeping only his favourite tucked into the sling; that had made her want to weep. Her little brother knew as well as she did that they weren't going to live long enough to recover. And after what felt like forever struggling to protect him, there was nothing left she could do.

He'd used her t-shirt to gather green things, leaves and shoots, things she recognized by scent as at least safe, and possibly even appealing under some circumstances, fiddleheads and green onions and young dandelion and others.

“More than I managed,” she pointed out.

“Don't talk, silly, it makes you hurt.”

“Hurts you too.” She could see him wince, see the catch in his breath.

“No dinner conversation over salad, I guess.”

She shredded as much as she could and swallowed it without chewing. Her stomach grumbled, wanting something more substantial, but she ignored it. Be grateful for what you get.

Both heard the sounds of movement, footsteps coming rapidly in their direction, not quite at a run.

They traded glances wearily. No one should be here, in a dead place. That could only be one last demon that had tracked them down.

And any fight was going to be an extremely short one, with no doubt at all as to the outcome.

“Guess that was a waste of time,” Jaisan said sadly. “Oh well. So much for ever finding Jess. Hope this doesn't hurt him much.” He let the hoodie slide off his shoulders, began to fumble with the knots holding the sling.

“Wait,” Aindry said, puzzled. “Don't smell demons. Smell... human, with wolf and elf scent. And... cat?”

“What?” Jaisan raised his head, inhaled as deeply as his damaged ribs would allow. “You're right. Smells... familiar? But...”

Aindry took another breath. Yes, familiar, from somewhere deep in her memory, if she could just place it... Associations there of safety and love and comfort...

Around the building the source of that tantalizing scent came into sight: a woman, not tall, sturdily-built, her brown hair pulled back, in jeans and a denim jacket. She saw them, and quick walk turned into all-out run across the broken ground. A much smaller four-footed shape, deep vivid tortoiseshell with a brilliantly white tail-tip, raced along beside her.

“Samantha?” Jaisan said uncertainly, head tilted to one side, and looked to Aindry for confirmation. “Can't be Sam. Remembering wrong, right? Or a ghost?”

“No,” Aindry said in disbelief. “Really Sam. Alive.” She scrambled to her feet, but her bad leg brought her sharply back to reality; with an involuntary whimper, she fell hard enough to bring tears to her eyes. Jaisan, more successful, hesitated.

And then Sam reached them, and there were tears on her cheeks too.

“Mother of wolves,” she muttered. “Are you two sure you're alive? I've seen dead things in better shape.” She cupped a hand around Jaisan's cheek, eyes scanning his face. “I've been desperately hoping you dying wasn't what made Jess block off his own memories.”

Jaisan whined softly, every muscle suddenly tense. “Jess?”

“He's in Haven, more or less safe and sound, finally. Damn it, I don't dare even give either of you a hug, I might break you.” Sam looked like she was fighting the urge to start crying; she conquered it with pragmatism. “Right. Damage control first, sloppy reunions later. Dena would flay me for crying all over you instead of feeding you. Alfari, we just found Jaisan and Aindry. This is my special friend Alfari.”

Aindry remembered the “special friends” of that school of magic, and Sam's father's big shaggy black-and-white cat Rasputin who was fierce to strangers but always gentle and affectionate with Aindry's family. Even more, she remembered Sam's lithe orange Uri, who had adopted Sam's charges as his own and patiently endured hugs and tears and playfulness. He'd often slept on Aindry's bed when she envied her brothers their bond and their certainty of never being alone.

She'd stopped envying it forever, not long after they'd been separated.

This couldn't be Uri, back for another life: Sam couldn't possibly have found his body in time. Nor would Uri have needed the introduction.

She offered a hand, and Alfari came nearer to rub against it, purring thunderously. “Hello,” Aindry told her. “I'm glad Sam has a friend.”

Shyly, Jaisan leaned down to echo it, following her lead, with only a quiet, “Hi.” Alfari went up on her hind feet to meet him part way, and rubbed her cheek against his fingers. Did he remember Uri and Rasputin? Aindry wondered.

“What do you have with you?” Sam said briskly. “Back to the car with both of you. I'll come back and look for your names once you're there with something more to eat than wild greens.”

“You do better on four feet,” Jaisan told Aindry. “So you have three that work.”

“Just clothes,” Aindry said. “Nothing else. Our names are here?”

“I hid them,” Sam said, shooing Jaisan away to gather up clothing herself. The tortoiseshell cat circled around the trio. “Anything else? Good. I remember it was by a creek and there was a hill with a crack in it that I hid them in, but I don't remember exactly where. I just followed one creek from lake to source with no luck and I was looking for another one when I heard you.”

“Just saw one,” Aindry said. “Hunting. Will show you.”

“You will do no such thing! Just point.”

Reluctantly, Aindry pointed the way she'd come.

“Good. I'll try that one. Once you two are at the car!”

Aindry changed to wolf and limped along with them; Sam took the one remaining pack firmly from Jaisan's good hand, and he surrendered meekly, letting her help him pull the hoodie back on.

They only got as far as the road, which wasn't paved and was the worse for six years of neglect, before Sam commanded them to stop.

“Change of plans. I'm going to get the car, you're going to stay right here, and 'Fari's going to stay here with you. Don't move. Understand? Not an inch.”

“Yes,” Jaisan said, eyes low, and Aindry dipped her head in assent.

Sam regarded them both measuringly, and strode off along the road. Alfari reared up to swipe her cheek along Aindry's reassuringly, and climbed onto Jaisan's lap when he sat down heavily. Cautiously at first, then with more confidence when she responded with arched back and purring, Jaisan stroked her.

Sam returned before long in a newish red Cherokee, clearly well-used but nonetheless in good condition; she parked, hopped out, and circled around to the back to swing the spare tire aside and open the hatch. The inside smelled strongly of elf and wolf-bitch and human, with a thin overlay of Sam and Alfari, and fainter scents of other wolves, other elves and humans, dryads, cats and dogs: living scents, natural homey ones that should be there. Inside, anchored by bungee cords to bolts in the side, was a sturdy-looking cooler that Sam opened.

“If I know elvenmages... yep. Jerky, dried fruit, crackers, pop-tarts, sports drinks... dog biscuits, must be for Lindsay. Under the circumstances, no one in Coven Firedrake is going to mind. Interior's spelled to stay at a steady moderate temperature, so the drinks aren't exactly cold but everything's safe. Can I trust you to go slow and not overeat and kill yourselves?”

“Food?” Jaisan said hopefully.

Aindry changed to human. “We'll be good,” she promised. “Why our names, why now?”

“Because Jess needs to remember who he is and given what I had to work with, that seemed like the best bet.”

“Jess is in Haven,” Jaisan whispered, and started to laugh hysterically, but it dissolved into sobs. “The one place we've been avoiding.”

Aindry whined, slid an arm around him carefully. “Jais, don't, your ribs... we couldn't know.”

“For what it's worth,” Sam said, doing something in the cooler. “I've been there all along but Jess hasn't, not until recently.” She handed Jaisan a plastic bottle of bright-coloured liquid. “Here. Take a sip. Calm down. Not remembering protected Jess. All three of you remembering, staying still, but too young to defend yourselves might have gotten messy. I don't know. It doesn't matter right now. Don't cry now, wolf-cub, you're really going to regret it if you do. Drink. Don't choke.”

Jaisan struggled to obey the voice of compassion and authority. At the first swallow, instinct took over, short-circuiting the emotional storm, and Sam had to stop him from finishing the whole thing without a pause. He took a couple of breaths as deep as he could currently manage.

“It's perfectly understandable that you'd be scared,” Sam said, watching him sip it more slowly. Reassured, she wrapped an arm around Aindry's waist and urged her over to sit on the back of the Cherokee. Sam smelled of many animals of many kinds, and of Alfari, and of a male wolf, and catnip, and faintly of salt. “Get your weight off that leg. Here.” She gave Aindry a gentle kiss on her forehead, reached past her to the cooler, and gave her a matching bottle. Sunlight caught the thin wet track down her cheek, but it didn't reflect in her voice. “I found myself in Haven without meaning to, and by the time I reached any state of being able to decide, there was someone who felt like an oasis in the desert, so I stayed. Obviously, some inconvenient knowledge about demons hasn't been enough to make me worth the effort. I've been harassing every new class of students coming to Haven for the college for any news of black wolves—subtly, of course.”

“We stayed on the edges,” Aindry said. The simple drink made her body scream for more of it, and she could understand why Jaisan had found it hard to stop. “Mostly between. Visit each village, keep moving. There was... in Falias last year, a coven wanted us to stay. Were there two weeks, longer than usual. Wanted to stay, but scared to. They were very sad when we left. Coven in Aralu, not long ago, they were worried about us, wanted lots to help. If we stayed they'd be dead.”

“Demon attacks?” Sam asked gently, pausing with one back door open.

Aindry nodded tiredly. “More and more.” She'd have liked to assure Sam that they were okay, that she shouldn't worry and didn't need to feel so bad, but didn't think she could make it sound even remotely plausible.

“Want Jess,” Jaisan said, visibly torn, perching beside Aindry. “But don't want demons in Haven.”

“We've already got 'em,” Sam said grimly, reaching inside to fiddle with the catch that held the rear seat in place upright. “There we go.” She folded the rear seat forward and down. “And I suspect we need all the demon-wolves we can find to stop it before it gets worse.”

“We can't fight right now. Can't even hunt food.”

“Of course not! The coven Jess lives with have a house with massive and ancient shields, it was Alessandria's house. You'll be safe there, and we can get a healer to look at the pair of you. Now. Are you okay if I go look? Eat what you want but go slow. If Alfari tells you to stop, pay attention to her.”

Aindry gave her a faint smile. “Been hungry before. Know what happens.” The thought of how painful it would be for either of them to start throwing up right now was enough to counter any drive to stuff themselves indiscriminately. “You can prob'ly search faster with help.”

“I'd rather have her here. I hate letting you out of my sight at all and I wouldn't for anything less important. Just in case I really am seeing ghosts and there's no sign of you when I get back. Hop inside out of the wind and I'll close the door, I'll leave the tire out of the way so you can open it if you need to. Stay together, stay with Alfari, and all of you stay here with the car for anything short of hostile demons showing up, okay?”

“We will.”

Clumsily, Jaisan crawled up into the carpeted back, lying on his less-injured left side, and Aindry joined him, keeping her weight on her right.

“I'll be back as fast as I can,” Sam said, as Alfari leaped up on top of the cooler. “Eat something. If you fall asleep, it's okay. I'm going to get you to Haven and Jess and a healer as quickly as I can, I promise.” She heaved the back hatch down, but as promised, didn't replace the tire holder.

Aindry watched her walk away, long rapid strides, in the direction of the creek.

“Really Sam?” Jaisan whispered, raising his eyes to hers. “Really Jess? Not a demon trick? Not dreaming?”

“Yeah. Real. Demon-luck. Last-minute rescue.” It was so improbable that she could feel mad laughter trying to bubble upwards, but forced it away ruthlessly. “Food, please, Alfari?”



Kevin retrieved the now-finished sheet of chocolate-chip cookies from the oven with one hand, replaced it with the next batch, and set the former on the table next to Deanna. While he went back to contemplating possibilities for things to make that might help with Jesse's frustration as well as his healing, Deanna started transferring cookies off the hot sheet so they could cool.

Even though Kevin had made sure, through most of the previous winter, that there was always a pot of soup on the dining room woodstove for random meals and warming up, he strongly suspected that at the moment, soup would only make Jesse feel like he was being treated as an invalid. The wolf was going to need to eat more than usual, though, and that was more likely to happen if there was something easily available.

If he'd had any idea what the wolves had planned to do earlier, he'd have done this last night, to make sure Jesse got a balanced meal before being helped up to his bedroom. But then, if he'd had any idea, he probably would have done his best to prevent it and keep Jess from ever leaving the house.

Wolves and their status and fighting and rules. If they had to challenge Rebecca, couldn't someone else have done it? But oh no, that's not part of the challenge conventions.

Damned wolves. The more you love 'em the more you want to grab them and shake them sometimes.

Aha, chili, and I'll get someone to run to the store tomorrow morning and get fresh rolls.

He set the big old cast-iron pot on the stove and rummaged in the freezer for ground beef. It was going to be a lot easier to make now, with Bane out running, Flynn with Cynthia asleep in her bed and Gisela in Deanna's and Shaine with Jesse, than it would be while the kitchen was a high-traffic zone.

“This is going to do it for the chocolate chip,” Deanna said, her voice breaking the quiet. “I assume you have more cookies in mind. What kind?”

“Peanut-butter, I think. Head for bed, Dia, these days you never know what's going to happen tomorrow and someone needs to be alert.”

“You think I'm leaving you here to be up until sunrise?”

“I'm just going to throw some chili together and leave it on the woodstove and do one more batch of cookies.”

“And I'm sure you believe that. But that isn't what you actually do when you're all restless like this.”

“I admit I'm tired. I just need to feel like I've accomplished something, then I can try to get my mind to slow down so I can sleep. I have no intention of being up until sunrise.” He dumped two pounds of frozen ground beef in the pot, put the top on, and rested both hands on the rim, touching both parts and thinking heat into them.

If he did that enough, his coven would find him passed out and hypothermic on the floor. Energy didn't just appear from nowhere on demand. Lose enough to drop his body temperature, and sleep would no longer be optional, it would be a fact.

Not the most pleasant way to get to sleep, however.

“I know you don't, but you don't watch the ti...” She halted mid-word as his attention turned elsewhere. “What is it?”

“Someone just came inside the walls. No Dandelion or Winter resonance.”

“At this hour? It's nearly midnight.”

“I know.” He let go of the pot—it was warm enough to begin thawing the meat anyway—and left the kitchen in the direction of the front door. Deanna followed.

“That's Sam,” he said in surprise, as they reached the big open hall just inside the door. “And someone with her?”

Deanna shrugged, passed him in a couple of longer quicker strides, and pulled the door open.

The pair with Sam cringed back instantly and in unison, and Kevin thought they might have bolted had Sam not laid a hand on the shoulder of each.

Startlingly like Jess, especially the longer-haired one on Sam's left who had his right arm in a makeshift sling; the shorter-haired one had an alarming-looking bruise on her jaw, and was keeping her weight carefully off her left leg. Both were dressed, more or less, but in dire need of both a bath and clean clothing of better repair and better fit.

Both looked intensely anxious, nostrils flaring to pick up scents—though the one in the sling flinched with every breath—and eyes flickering everywhere except up to meet Kevin's or Deanna's. Something in their body language, their expressions, screamed that they'd been living wild for so long it probably felt more normal to them.

“It's okay,” Sam said reassuringly, urging them back towards the door. “I promise, I promise, you are absolutely safe here from everything. No one in this house would ever hurt you. These are two of Jess' closest friends. He trusts them.”

The one in the sling whined plaintively. “Smell Jess...”

“He lives here,” Sam said patiently, and looked at Kevin and Deanna—Kevin wondered if they both looked as flat-out astonished as he felt. “No, you aren't imagining things. Jaisan is Jess' twin, and Aindry's their big sister.”

Deanna braced the door with her hip, and smiled at the two frightened wolves. “And here we thought our wolf-cub was one of a kind.” She offered a hand. “I'm Deanna. This is Kevin. Yes, Jess lives here, he's upstairs sleeping, although after the day he's had it would take an earthquake to wake him up.”

“I bet,” Kevin added, pitching his voice much the way he might to a nervous animal, smooth and gentle, “some real food that you don't have to catch first and a hot shower would feel wonderful.”

Both hesitated, gazes going back to Sam.

“I trust them,” Sam said. “Jess trusts them. Go on. Nothing can reach you while you're inside the walls. No demons, nothing else that would mean you any harm. Don't start asking questions right now, there's nothing so urgent that it can't wait until you're feeling more alert. Let Kev and Dia and their coven help, just like they've been helping Jess when he needs them for a while now. Okay?” She gave them a small push towards the door. It didn't take a genius to see that both remained uncertain, or that they were responding to Sam very much as they might to an alpha. “They've had demons making more and more attempts at killing them, so they've been avoiding people even more than before to keep bystanders from getting hurt, they're exhausted and badly injured and haven't been eating regularly. And from the sounds of it, they didn't have a home even before that.” She handed Deanna a canvas backpack with something inside; the attention of both wolves flicked towards it, following its location. “Protect that. It's more valuable than I can explain right now, and absolutely irreplaceable.”

Deanna nodded and passed it to Kevin. “We will.” She stepped through the doorway, and Kevin retreated a couple of steps; the two young wolves, with a last uneasy look at Sam, obeyed her gesture and went inside.

So they didn't see Sam watching them, or the sorrow in her eyes.

“It's been a very long and draining kind of day,” Sam said wearily. “I seriously need my bed. Look after them for me, okay? Please?”

“You don't even need to ask,” Deanna said gently. “You know we will, just like with Jess. Go get some sleep. 'Sela's here, I'll go wake her up and we'll get them fed and into a hot shower and a warm bed.”

Sam nodded and turned back to what Kevin thought was his second-cousin Katherine's car. Somehow, he suspected that the amount of faith she was placing in Sundark, to take care of Jess' lost siblings and that backpack in her place, was greater than he could readily grasp.

Deanna closed the door, careful not to let the heavy old wood make any loud thumps.

Both wolves, Kevin thought, were straining for every scent they could possibly pick up, normal wolf reaction to being on new ground but the anxiety behind it was less typical.

“There's lots of smells,” Aindry said apprehensively. “Lots of people. Wolves.”

“All the wolves you smell are Jess' pack,” Kevin assured them. “They'll be very happy to have you here, they aren't going to see you as intruders.”

“Water-people!” Aindry's head snapped up, and she backed towards the door, wild-eyed. Jaisan spun to catch her before she fell, his breath catching in a thin whine as her weight shifted towards him.

“That's Shaine,” Kevin said. “He ran away from the lake because of what his family did to yours. He spent a long time pretending to be human, and Jess wouldn't be alive right now without him. He might be the one person Jess trusts the most, to tell you the truth. I know he'd never in a million years do anything to hurt you, and I'm pretty sure he'd probably do crazy things to protect you. Sam knows him and she brought you here anyway. Would she do that, or would Jess live here, if he wasn't safe to be around?”

“Probably not,” Jaisan said uncertainly, looking to Aindry for a decision.

“Of course not,” Deanna said briskly. “So that's enough of that. It's chilly out. Come on in the dining room by the woodstove. I'll be right back with a couple of blankets and I'm going to wake up our healer. Kev will find you something to eat, and afterwards we'll start looking at that shower, all right?”

Deanna, apparently, had found an approach that worked: they went in the direction she indicated without protest. She gave Kevin a quick glance, and strode off rapidly deeper into the house—Kevin thought he knew where she was going after rousing Gisela.

Both dropped, awkwardly and with too-obvious pain, to the thick rug near the woodstove, eyes closing as the warmth wrapped around them—which didn't mean they weren't still hyperalert. Kevin set the canvas backpack on the big old oak dining table.

“Stay here,” he told them. “Sam's right, you're absolutely safe. I'll be right back.”

He removed the sheet of cookies from the oven—they were slightly overcooked, but not so much so that they wouldn't be eaten anyway—and left it on the table, then filled a plate with still-warm cookies. Figuring odds were very high that Gisela was going to want Deanna to make painkiller-and-wolfsbane tea, he filled the kettle and put it on to start heating. Then he took the jug of milk from the fridge and grabbed two mugs from the dish-rack, and returned to the dining room. He heard one or both talking, voices very low, but they stopped before he was near enough to make out anything said.

He set plate, jug, and cups on the hardwood floor beside the rug. “Help yourselves. I'll find something more substantial, but that'll do for the moment, I think.”

Jaisan's nostrils flared. “Fresh cookies?”

“They can't get much fresher. There are more in the kitchen, so don't worry if you finish those ones.”

Deanna joined them with two crocheted afghans filling her arms—one grey and white and two shades of purple, one black and deep purple and two shades of grey. She draped one around each of the wolves.

The reaction was subtle but immediate, and to anyone used to wolves, it was unmistakable. Both relaxed, Jaisan pulling the afghan closer around him and higher—where he'd smell it with every breath, in fact—and rubbing against it with one cheek.

“Really Jess,” he whispered, with a faint smile.

*'Sela says to make painkiller tea,* Deanna said silently. *She's getting dressed and getting herself together mentally, she'll be here in a minute. Shaine's going to move so he's not upstairs at all when we get these two up there, so they can meet him with Jess awake enough to help. I'll figure out beds somewhere for everyone.* Kevin nodded, and perched on one of the wooden chairs.

Mandisa would be forgiving about being hauled out of bed for an emergency, but Gisela would probably be much less frightening. Better to let Gisela do what she could and make the call on whether they needed more expert assistance.

“Really Jess,” Kevin confirmed. “But you aren't going to want to tackle all the stairs up to where he's sleeping until you're ready to stay up there. In hindsight, we should probably have given him a room on the ground floor. And I don't think we can wake him up just now. Long day.”


“Soon. I promise.”

Demon Wolf



Jess opened his eyes halfway, saw sunlight; drowsily, he nestled closer to the warm body against his. There were so many confusing things to deal with when he got up, nothing made sense anymore, but he didn't need to think about that right now. He could just relax for a little longer, and enjoy the wonderful feeling inside.

“Good morning, Jess,” his bedmate murmured affectionately.

He mumbled acknowledgement of some sort, rearranged himself a bit more comfortably; the other helpfully shifted position to make it easier, stroked his hair gently.

“Sleepy Jess. I don't mind, you can wake up whenever you want. I'll just lie here and wait and be deliriously happy as quietly as I can.”

That sounded like a fair bargain.

He wandered in and out of vividly realistic dreams; more than once, he was sure he'd already gotten up and gone about the day, and wondered why he was still in bed.

At some point, his mind decided to orient itself back on physical reality, much to Jesse's disappointment; he could have been quite content to stay in that pleasant state much longer.

Only then did it occur to him to wonder whose body it was that was coiled against his. The scent was strongly familiar, teasing at the edges of his memory, but he couldn't put a name to it; it whispered to him of love and trust and safety.

A soft chuckle. “You smell all confused, Jess. Here, I'll help you remember.” Motion, a chill briefly as whoever-it-was moved, then settled against him again.

A hand that might have been his own, slender and dark, though the nails were broken and rough, reached across him to lay a badly-tarnished silver dagger in front of him.

That same dagger had been flitting in and out of his dreams with increasing frequency, never letting him read what it said on the blade.

He sat up, wincing as stiffened muscles protested, and picked up the dagger. It fit into his hand like a part of himself; he knew, though the tarnish and dirt masked it, that the dark stones set in hilt and sheath were amethysts. The sheath stuck; he wiggled it carefully until it came free, and he laid it on his lap. His fingertips found a rougher spot on the blade, just below the hilt, and with shaking hands he rubbed at the tarnish, turned the dagger to the light so he could see what was engraved in small neat letters.

Jesse Alexis Kore-Tremayne.

How had he forgotten his own name? It didn't matter how long it had been, he knew it was his true name, the core of himself.

The perfect mirror of himself lying beside him, watching, offered a second dagger wordlessly. It didn't fit as well in his hand, but nearly so; the blade came out of the sheath more easily.

Jaisan Alastair Kore-Tremayne.

Which meant the stones in that one were sapphires.

Which meant, too, that this was Jaisan lying next to him.

Which meant... far more than words could ever explain...

“Know something Jess? If we could go far enough back, there wouldn't be two of us anymore.”

Jess raised his head, looking at him in confusion, the elm tree whispering around them and the rest of the world far away. “Huh?”

“We're twins, right? Which comes in two kinds, I checked in the library. There are fraternal twins and identical twins. Fraternal twins is when two eggs get fertilized at once. Identical is when just one egg gets fertilized and then it divides in half and each half grows into a baby. And we're identical twins, so if we went far enough back, we wouldn't be both of us at all, just one single cell.”

There was a mind-twisting idea, everything that became both of them contained in one tiny thing like the teacher showed them in the microscope in science class...

Without Jaisan, without his name, so much of him was gone, that was what the aching cold emptiness inside had always been, made all the worse because he couldn't even remember what the void was.

“Jais,” he whispered.

Jaisan smiled. “Really truly all of me. What do you remember?”

“Nothing. Sort of. I mean... there are memories there, only I don't want to look at them.”


“I'm scared.” It was out before he even thought, but it was truth.

Jaisan laced his fingers through Jesse's. “Don't have to be scared. I'm here. I won't let you get lost.”

Shivering, Jess curled up against him again, the silver daggers left at the side of the bed. The memories were there now, and he didn't think any of the awful things the counsellor had told him could happen were going to happen.

Warm soft darkness, familiar arms around him, “Good night, Jess,” utter peace...

Rough wood under him, wind and sunlight through leaves, “We can see the whole world from up here!”

“Names have power for those of demon blood. The daggers hold our names, and that both protects us and gives us one weapon outside our own bodies we can use to fight demons. Always, always keep your name safe.”

Wind and sunlight, on the beach, with Aindry and Mom and Dad, learning how to swim, Aindry teasing them and telling them to just dog-paddle.

Intense grief, Dad wasn't supposed to leave them, where was he? Samantha was fun and they loved and trusted her, but that wasn't the same, Dad was supposed to be here with them...

“Jess, Jais, wake up, right now. You have to get up and get dressed, no arguments, just do it.” The strong scent of fear, their own/Mom/Aindry/Sam, as they fled out of the house and into the forest. A song that made his head feel strange, made things unreal like in a dream, and the thunder from above, the increasing panic, realizing suddenly that he was alone with Samantha... All alone, with a grey-haired woman kneeling in front of him, it occurred to him that she'd been talking to him for some time now but the words hadn't made sense, the world didn't feel quite so fuzzy.

He looked up at Jaisan. “Mom? And Aindry?” Tears stung his eyes, made wet paths down his cheeks.

“Aindry's asleep across the hall. Mom... I don't know, Jess. The demons followed us, and we kept running. When it started to get cold, Mom found a place to leave us with friends, and she led them away. About three years ago, the demons came back looking for us. We ran away so nobody else would die.”

“Damn. That doesn't sound good. Where were you for three years?”

“Wandering all over Canada. We've been scared to stay still. We've hardly even been into the villages, and we were avoiding Haven 'cause it's so close to Unity and we thought you would be too. Otherwise we would've found you ages ago.”

He could well imagine the kind of life that would be, even with the company. “So how did you get here now?”

“We both got hurt—I've got damaged ribs, and Aindry's leg is messed up. The demons have been really running us hard lately, and we were sure we're finally hurt too much to win a fight. So we decided, if we were going to die, we'd do it in Unity. We were there I think four or five days, then yesterday we ran into Sam. She went to get our names from where she hid them, she wanted to give you the best fighting chance she could. We thought she was a demon at first and we were going to die and I'd never find you. I think Sam thought she was seeing ghosts.”

“Who knows you're here?”

“Sam was pretty tired, so she brought us here and told Kevin and Deanna to take good care of us and went home. They're very nice. Very calm about having two exhausted scared hurt paranoid wolves left on their doorstep. Very smart, too. Deanna gave us blankets that smelled like you, and we weren't as scared then although we weren't thinking about why. And we had two big bowls of chili each and we started to relax some more and Gisela made it not hurt so much to breathe and made Aindry hurt less.” He smiled. “She kept grumbling at us that you keep her busy and with three of us she'll have a full-time job, but she smelled happy and worried but not angry.”

“I don't get hurt that often. Just, well, shit happens. But I guess she does kinda spend a lot of time putting me back together. Just like Kev spends a lot of time saving my ass. I would be so screwed without them...”

“Smelling so many people around and so many wolves made us really nervous, but they kept telling us the wolves are your pack and won't see us as intruders and that the others are all friends who are going to be glad we're here. That's a lot of friends.”

“Yeah, well, they were friends with each other before I fell into the middle of things. And yeah, there's a lot of people who always seem to be around, but they're great, and I bet someone's going to want to throw a party first chance we get.” How would Bane and Evaline feel about Jaisan and Aindry being here? They'd welcome them, right?

Jaisan smiled again, then his forehead furrowed. “Can smell someone here from the lake, but didn't meet him, and I don't get how anyone from the lake can be good but Kevin and Deanna say he is and he's your friend and helped you.”

“Mmhmm. He is. Wonder how he managed that, since he usually sleeps here.”

“Anyway, I don't think it was more than, mm, hour and a half? maybe less, then Kevin brought us up here and made sure there were lots of towels and stuff in the bathroom. So we got clean, the hot water felt so good, and Aindry went to sleep in Kevin's bed and I snuck in here with you where I'm supposed to be and you never even woke up.”

Jess drew back a bit, took a closer look. Not quite a perfect mirror anymore: his own hair was long, but not that long or that wild; Jais of course lacked the claw-marks over his eye, though both ears showed signs of having been torn a few times—definitely a recurring problem for most wolves. His lower ribs had been tightly wrapped with a long strip of magesilk almost the colour of his skin, but dark livid bruising showed below the bottom edge. A liberal scattering of shallow damage and fading scars; judging from the extent, he'd been living wild so long it was a wonder he hadn't gone entirely feral.

“I want to go pounce on Aindry, and then find some food.”

Jaisan closed his eyes blissfully. “There are real honest-to-god home-made chocolate-chip cookies down there.”

“There's better stuff than that once Kev really gets going. I know the feeling, though. I haven't exactly been sitting here and happy for six years.”

“Sam wouldn't tell us. She just said you're here and you forgot and there are bad demons around.”

“I'll give you all the gory details later. I went from foster homes to getting adopted by an abusive asshole to running away and living on the streets, and luckily I tripped over Haven.” He saw Jaisan's expression turn sad with sympathetic pain, an echo of how little he himself liked to think of Jais and Aindry half-feral. Reluctantly, Jesse untangled himself from Jaisan, and went to the closet. “Real clothes, or magesilks?”

“Whatever. If it's clean, I don't care.”

“I definitely can relate.” He tossed Jaisan black magesilk pants and a silvery top, one of the few non-black ones Kevin had eventually coaxed him into accepting. “Sorry, no blue, we'll have to catch Kev later.” He got dressed, too, in black and dark purple, and found all black to take Aindry. He knew he'd gained a bit of weight since coming to Haven where he had regular healthy meals, and running with the wolves had made sure it was mostly as muscle; magesilks were generally designed loose anyway, since magesilk didn't stretch, but they weren't meant to be as loose as his were on Jaisan. Jaisan had a sling, made out of black magesilk, that supported his right arm against his body once he was up and about. At Jess' questioning look, he shrugged.

“It hurts less if I don't move that arm much.”

“Then don't move it.”

“That's what the sling's for. But it hurts much less than yesterday.”

Jess felt the wounds on his lower back pulling tight as he moved; it wasn't a limp exactly, because neither leg entirely cared for taking his full weight. Stairs were an uncomfortable thought, and he planned not to tackle them again until bedtime once he was down them.

They crossed the hall, traded glances and grins, and Jaisan circled around to the far side of the bed. As a pounce went, it lacked quite a lot, but it was still enough to make the springs groan in protest and wake Aindry with a startled yelp. A heartbeat later, all three got tangled into fierce hugs and a few tears. Jess buried his face in Aindry's bare shoulder, wary of the ugly bruise darkening her jaw, struggling still to accept the fact that they were here and real and alive.

“Leave it to you,” Aindry said, “to end up living in a house like this.”

Jess groaned. “Sure, for as long as I manage to keep living, and if present trends continue, that ain't going to be long.”

“We're a mess,” she admitted. “Doesn't matter. We get a fair fight, finally. What more can we ask?”

“No fight at all,” Jaisan grumbled halfheartedly. “Get up. Get dressed. I want cookies, but they're down there and we're up here getting each other all wet.”

“You have lots and lots of people to meet, too,” Jess told them.

Jaisan sighed. “Just forgive us if we get shy, okay?”

“Believe me, if they can put up with my behaviour, they can handle anything.”



This was becoming entirely ridiculous, to say nothing of frustrating.

The demon that had sworn to give him the power of lightning had never returned. Worse still, Sikial had been driven so incoherent by whatever it had seen that Patrick gave up trying to make any sense of its ravings and sent it back to the demon plane.

Which left him badly weakened, since it was through Sikial that he drew power. For days now, he'd been forced to rely entirely on his own wits and his own power. What use was a hysterical demon? He'd tried recalling it once, a week ago, only to be treated to more of the same; he'd banished it within minutes.

Maybe if he called Sikial back, the demon would finally have recovered its wits? His patience was rapidly running out.

He sat cross-legged in the middle of the motel bed, closed his eyes, and centred himself. Since Sikial was on the demon plane, not the human one, it would require the full invocation to make himself heard.

His pet demon materialized looking distinctly nervous, its eyes darting everywhere, but it didn't panic as it had before. Who ever heard of a demon panicking?

“Are you prepared to behave more appropriately than you were last time?” Patrick demanded.

“Yes, master,” Sikial said eagerly. “Will obey, master. Have been searching for a gift for you, master, to offer you if you decided to call me back.”

Oh? This sounded much more like what he wanted to hear. “A gift?”

“Yes, master. The ones you sent the constructs after, all three are in the same place. You could go, you could have all three.”

Patrick frowned. A pleasant thought, but he didn't like the odds of such a battle. “I assume you have a solution to make quite sure I win?”

“Yes, master. Three of the more powerful demons than I, they wish very much to help. I am to tell you for them that if you call them for that purpose, they will swear not ever to do anything to harm you, and will give you the power of lightning that you hunger for.”

“They want the mage too?”

“No, master. The wolf. If they can have the wolf, they will help you to get the other two. They offer an ability they believe will be of use in that, a more enhanced version of elvenmage telepathy than any demon you have yet dealt with has been able to give. You can already see more deeply than others. This will allow you to build on that to twist internal perceptions.”

Hm. A tempting offer. Sikial seemed too intimidated to be pulling any demonic tricks, and the proposed oath seemed sound. To see those three suffer and die, especially that Lioren mage, and to have the lightning as well...

“Why do they care so much about the wolf?” he asked.

Sikial writhed, but reluctantly confessed, “He has demon blood, master. He is a threat to all demons. Him and his brother and sister.”

A part-demon werewolf? That was interesting. “How does that make them a threat?”

“They kill demons, master. Like other wolves kill predators. The brother and sister killed the demon you demanded the lightning from.”

Ah, so that was why it didn't return: it had challenged greater prey than it had any right to, when it should be thinking about fulfilling its bargain with him.

Which meant it had intended to kill that little black wolf and possibly either the Lioren or the annoying human, if it had succeeded with the brother and sister. He made a mental note to discover later whether Sikial had been aware of the identities of its targets, because it certainly knew Patrick wanted his own revenge on them.

It did explain, as well, why Sikial had gone hysterical: it wasn't a great demon, and was prone to strong reactions, and something like watching a couple of wolves kill a demon stronger than it would certainly affect it.

Simply to get his hands on that mage, and teach him a lesson about taking for granted the power fate had given him, that would be enough, without the extra gift to make it even sweeter. And surely the demons were overreacting to the danger posed. Three wolves couldn't be everywhere, and couldn't be much of a threat against a truly powerful demon.

“Where?” he asked Sikial.

“All in Haven, master. The greater ones would have me ask you to wait until the moon is past full.”

That was only three nights away, he could spend that much time plotting and daydreaming of the pleasures to come.

Right in Haven... he hadn't set foot in any of the villages in a decade or more, since leaving Falias. There shouldn't be any problems, though, no one would get involved in something that wasn't their immediate concern. It would be simply him against the Lioren mage, and he could have the human afterwards. Watching the wolf die, with his sister and brother, killed by a trio of demons, would be enough; at least the damned wolf would actually die this time.

No matter which way he turned it in his mind, he saw no real possibility of losing.

“I believe I'll leave in the morning,” he mused aloud. “And stay closer to Haven, but in the city so I can build up my power. From there, with you to focus, I should be able to gate directly to Haven when I choose... That will work. I'll need to gather more power between now and then. One tonight, here, and I'm sure I can find another once I'm closer to Haven.”

“Not the dark moon, master,” Sikial murmured.

“I need a lot of power in a hurry,” Patrick said bluntly. “I'll feed you every night for the next three nights, if I can have it.”

Sikial licked its lips. “Fair bargain, master.” It knelt, bowed low enough to touch the floor with its forehead.


Patrick smiled to himself. He'd take no chances, this time. He'd go with all the power he could gather, with the aid of three powerful demons...

Perhaps life had not taken such a terrible turn after all.



This, Gisela thought despondently, had to be what Damocles felt like with a sword hanging over his head by a single hair. How had he gotten into that predicament anyway? Maybe Nick would know; she'd ask him when he got here.

Caitryn, lying furform on the floor beside the bed, shifted position and sighed heavily; she'd been hovering close to Gisela lately, the healer wasn't sure why, but she'd accepted the offer of company, or perhaps the request for it, and her parents didn't mind Caitryn being around.

Coven Winter would be there soon. Liam said he needed to talk to her about something important. He'd sounded too emotionless; he'd been covering something, she was sure of it. That didn't help her gloom. The two of them had done all that could be done to heal the demon-wolves, and the healing circle that had been built into the wall along with the wards helped speed the process... but it wasn't enough, she was sure of that. The injuries put them at too much of a disadvantage. Despite that, no one had the slightest doubt that as soon as the next demon appeared—and it was only a matter of time—the trio would abandon the safety of the walls to tackle it. Aindry was still limping and Gisela doubted her bite was at anything close to full strength; it took little exertion to make Jaisan's breath shorten in pain and his left foreleg still couldn't take his full weight. Jess was in the best condition, but the demon-damage Rebecca had re-opened on his lower back hampered him still, and his injured arm remained weak. They might beat a minor demon or two, together, but the odds of further injuries were much too high for anyone's peace of mind.

Worse, Sam reported, from sources unknown, that the three powerful demons that had been responsible for Unity were actively moving to take advantage of the situation and finish this personally. Despite Aindry's clinical evaluation that they had a fair chance this time, whether or not they all survived it, Gisela wasn't the only one who expected to have to mourn all three.

All the more with Aindry's fierce vow still lingering in her mind: Even if I have to die, I'll damned well take them down with me for what they've done.

The way the three of them clung together, and Sam with them, looked to her like desperation: trying to steal every moment they could before they could be torn apart again, this time more permanently.

And she was a healer, and she had to watch all her friends hurting and afraid, and she couldn't do anything!

Finally, she heard the van pull in; the door was atypically locked, so she got up to open it, waited for whoever was downstairs to send them up.

Evaline was furform, too; it was a frequent lupine reaction to stress, and for the last... gods, it was only the space from early Tuesday to mid Thursday, it felt like so much longer... since Sam had found Jaisan and Aindry and those silver daggers that gave her such a strange feeling, they'd rarely seen any of the five “true” wolves human-form. The pale wolf greeted Caitryn, was greeted submissively and despondently, and curled up with her head resting on Caitryn's chestnut flank.

Liam and Nick had their hands linked, tightly, and for once she wasn't at all certain that it was healer steadying witch.

“I had an idea how we might be able to help the demon-wolves,” Nick said quietly, after only the briefest of greetings. “Only the solution is as bad as the problem, and I devoutly wish I'd never thought of it.”

“Nick,” Liam said reprovingly. “Stop.” He looked at Gisela. “Do you remember Clarissa Albertine?”

Gisela thought. “Giovanna's maternal grandmother. Didn't she come up with the general ideas that Giovanna proved later?”

“Yes. She also did the highly improbable. The situation is irrelevant, but she brought together nine people, mostly highly-gifted, including a full coven and a few solitaries, and with her as the focus they completely healed one of her children who would otherwise have died.” She saw his hand clench hard in Nick's. “She destroyed her gifts doing it, but she did it.”

No wonder Nick was so upset at thinking of it.

“You're thinking we could do it,” she said, as calmly as she could, but she heard her voice tremble. “All of us together, with you and I as the focus, could heal them the rest of the way.”

Liam nodded, his expression impassive. “We've got very little chance of coming out of it in one piece, given the amount of power we're talking. The wolves aren't going to be much use in a circle like that, so we're talking twelve to heal three—we're also talking extremely concentrated power in that dozen.”

“But right now,” she concluded for him, “it looks like we've got a choice between a near-certainty of one or more dead demon-wolves, and a near-certainty of two burned-out healers who'd still be alive.” Might wish they were dead, but that was another matter.

Silently, Liam nodded again.

“They won't let us if they know. The wolves, I mean.”

“Then we don't tell them what the price is likely to be. We can think up some kind of reasonable excuse until it's over.”

“Nobody else will buy it. What if someone decides to stop us? Dia, especially?” She tried not to think of a silver ring and a promise of truth always.

“If we aren't trying to keep Liam from doing this, who will interfere?” Sonja asked quietly. She was past fighting tears, Gisela thought, resigned to hurting and being unable to do anything about it.

Evaline whined plaintive agreement, and Caitryn licked her face sympathetically.

“At the house?” Gisela said. “The shields will help. Now, before I have time to really think about this. Sundark will all be there, they should be done circle by now. We just need Dandelion, and they shouldn't be hard to find.” Trivial matters like school and jobs had been impossible to concentrate on for the last few days, and would be until this was resolved; Sam's shop hadn't been open since Saturday, the retired librarian had returned temporarily, and Gisela wondered how the Brewery was doing. None of them were having any luck keeping their minds on anything else.

Nick reached for the phone on her desk, dialled a number, waited, hung up, tried a second.

“Hiya,” he said to whoever answered. “We've got a plan to give the demon-wolves an extra edge. We'll stop and pick you up on our way to the house, okay?” A brief pause, then, “We're leaving now.”

Gisela called a brief farewell to her parents on the way out.

Coven Dandelion was waiting outside Naomi and Lori's apartment—Bryan was, unsurprisingly, furform. It was a bit crowded, three wolves and Gwyn, three humans, two dryads, and an elf, but they fit.

Gwyn. “Wait,” Gisela said suddenly. “Don't go to the house yet, Sonja. Stop and get Malta and Alfari.”

“For what?” Lori asked.

The healers explained, while Sonja backed out of the driveway and turned towards their own house.

“I don't like this,” Naomi said unhappily, stroking Gwyn.

“Who does?” Nick asked harshly.

Malta and Alfari greeted each other and Gwyn, and each in turn found a lap to settle down in—Malta in Nick's, Alfari in Lori's. Gisela had her doubts about whether Sam's special friends were actually real animals; there were times—like now—they certainly didn't act it.



“What was the story with the sword of Damocles?”

“I'm not sure, I don't think I've ever seen the whole thing.”

“Bryan says,” Lori relayed, “that he was a philosopher invited to have dinner with the king. He found the sword over his chair when he got there, and recognized it as a symbol of the insecurity of the powerful.”

“Oh.” Like the insecurities of demons...

They hedged a lot while explaining all over again, to everyone else involved. More than one person recognized the danger, Gisela saw expressions turn troubled... but no one challenged.

Trusting them to know what they were doing, and acknowledging it as their choice to make. Even Deanna, treating her not as a little sister but as an adult. That might have felt good, without so much else to think about.

The Kore-Tremaynes were uneasy, especially Jess after the number of times she'd told him about the limits of healing—but then, Aindry and Jaisan usually looked like they wanted to run and hide in a corner. Nick was the one who thought fast enough to spin a reasonable-sounding explanation.

Aindry held up both hands. “Please. I have no idea what half of that means, but I see no reason not to believe you.”

They shoved furniture out of the way in the living room to create enough open space for a large circle, one that would have ten plus three cats and a dog forming the outer ring, five the inner. The other wolves could only settle themselves outside, unable to offer anything beyond moral support this time; Gisela figured they'd have preferred to be in a single pile, for whatever mutual comfort that might offer, but instead, playing along with the pretense that this was nothing to worry about, they spaced themselves around, protective and alert.

This might not burn out their gifts completely, there was a chance they might get through this with just heavy backlash...

Didn't matter. They were healers. They had to do this, at any cost.

She took a deep breath, and looked at Liam. He nodded and said, “Let's do it, gang.”

Lori took the lead, until the circle had been established, shallowly at first; even that much additional power abruptly flowing into her and through her took a moment to get used to. It was something like when they'd been searching for Jess, but not quite, since the intent and therefore the process differed. The mage paused, perhaps to let the solitaries adapt, then started one of the trance-paths to take them deeper.

It made her head feel strange, but she thought it would be a pleasant sensation if one were familiar with it. Especially in a close intimate group like a coven.

The amount of power waiting for her to use it was dizzying, pulsing through her like the blood in her veins, but it was the blood of the circle as a whole, all of them joined into a single being for the moment. Somewhat to her surprise, a part of it was dark and wild, barely restrained by the rest; she'd forgotten that the demon-wolves would be fully in the link as well. Parts were tense... to her inner senses, it was like sunlight through dark water, the water trapped and stagnant. That was Shaine, still suffering from the psychic damage of re-awakened gifts and a fight, though he was recovering rapidly. Gently, she reached to him, willed the waters to run freely again, willed the channels that carried them to be as they should. She was aware of Liam mirroring her, adding his own will to hers.

There, Shaine was healed, and that made the power of the circle flow brighter, cleaner. Tensions remained, but they weren't the kind she could fix, and gradually they were being washed away, lost in the whole.

She had the power of the circle behind her, three mages and three witches and four others; she had Liam's mind touching hers, not exactly joined, but matching her—or was she matching him? She couldn't tell. Didn't matter; it was time to seriously get to work.

Liam was holding her hand and Aindry's, she his and Jesse's, Jaisan beyond; they started with Jaisan, for no better reason than that. Together, they reached to him, deep inside, channelling the energy to the right place. His body knew how it should be; the power wanted to make him that way again; she and Liam were only catalysts and transformers, hardly needing to think, vastly unlike normal healing that took such concentration.

There, Jaisan was done. The power surged, struggling to get loose like a live thing; she and Liam leashed it, directed it towards Aindry. She was beginning to feel raw inside, she'd never had to deal with so much power before, the nearest was when she and Kevin had pulled Jess back when his heart stopped, and even that had left her sore for days.

But past the increasing discomfort, there lay such a fierce exhilaration, lost in the interplay of shadow and brightness, in music that resonated with her very soul and called to her to come farther within, in the sensual caress of the lover she had yet to choose/of sunlight and wind/the warmth of her parents cuddling her.

Something jolted; she drew herself out of the sensations enough to become aware that the torn and displaced connective tissues of Aindry's wrenched hip was going to take some amount of attention to repair properly. Delicately, she worked at the damage, Liam in perfect counterpoint. The power smoothed away the last of it; briefly unfocused, it attempted again to escape. In Gisela's mind, it was alive, a phoenix, a wolf, a dolphin, a great cat, everything wild that should always live free. She wavered, Liam faltered...

Someone else reached down the faint link inside her, through the bit of brilliant passionate fire that she treasured next to the dark wild bit that was Jess, seized the power and caged it; almost, she cried out in protest, but the abrupt lessening of the pressure gave her space to recognize Kevin, understand what he'd done, and she blessed him silently for it.

Only Jess left. She asked wordlessly for the power back, and carefully Kevin released it to her. Liam helped her catch it, and they directed it at Jess.

Gaia, but that was starting to really hurt... Nerves were coming alive with every sensation at once, heat/cold/pressure/pain. She made herself keep breathing, keep her attention on Jess.

They had not even a heartbeat after Jess was healed before the power lunged for freedom. The healers grabbed for it desperately, but healers simply didn't have the capacity, and they were both hurting; it slipped by them and away...

Kevin caught it, held it alone briefly, until Lori jumped in, then Shaine, and together the mages contained it.

Which was great... but Gisela abruptly understood what had made Clarissa burn out. It wasn't the channelling, she was sure she and Liam had only backlash shock to contend with at the moment.

What burned her out was getting out of the gestalt she and her circle had built.

Something nudged its way into her lap, and her hand found soft fur. That was Alfari... from Liam she picked up the echoes of a smaller shape, Malta was with him. She felt the entire circle shiver, as the same comprehension reached them, one by one: they still had a chance to get their healers out of this intact.

How could they possibly?

Instructions, from Samantha, telling Kevin to catch Gisela, Nick and Sonja Liam, Deanna to start grounding, and everyone else to not move.

Alfari's thunderous purring gave her something to anchor herself; she knew Kevin wasn't trying to hurt her, but the bright heat of his mind coiling around hers, like a cat around her kittens, was a pain she had miserably little doubt was only the beginning.

Gradually, the pressure faded.

“Take it down,” she heard Lori say. “Carefully.”

Something shattered, made her flinch, but she was only her again, hugging Alfari.

“Got it,” Lori said.

Gisela's shoulders were grabbed roughly; she blinked dazedly at Jess—and he was furious, something she couldn't recall ever seeing.

“You fucking knew that would happen! What the hell were you thinking?”

“Yell later, Jess,” Kevin said. “We have to get some food into these two before they go into shock.”

Deanna hugged her gently, and Gisela leaned against her, shivering violently. Alfari hardly moved.

She gagged on the glass of too-sweet fruit punch Bane handed her, but obediently swallowed it; she'd told others often enough what to do.

Just as obediently, she chewed and swallowed whatever she was given, but the taste didn't register; she only hoped fuzzily that it had a lot of carbohydrates, she'd need them.

“My room, Kev,” Deanna said.

Warm arms around her, scooping her up like a child; Alfari slipped off, and the pain spiked.


“Here.” That was Sam, settling Alfari back into her arms. “Let her stay with her, and Malta with Liam. They can help.”

“Considering that I'd swear Hob and Gwyn were helping me ground, I'm not surprised,” Deanna said.

Motion, careful hands helping her lie down with Alfari curled against her.

“Just you wait until you wake up,” Jess growled at her softly, and kissed her lightly. “Get some sleep, crazy healer.”

She smiled without opening her eyes. “It worked...”

Her last thought, before the world blurred out, was, hey, it isn't Jess in awful shape this time...



Sam reluctantly tore herself away from the pile of black fur—Jess and Jaisan—and black-and-garnet magesilk—Aindry—in the corner of the breezeway linking two parts of the house. That it had been transformed, over the past year, into a deliberately cosy hideout mattered less to her poor half-feral wolves right now than the fact that it was quiet and out of the way.

She had something to do, although it hurt to sacrifice even an instant when she might soon lose them all again. Flynn was certain the demon-mage who had already made attempts on Jesse's life was in the area, though none of them could get a more precise fix; Sam's own sources said that the demons that had killed Unity were in a panic, with the three Kore-Tremaynes reunited, and they'd arrange an opening to attack personally before long, probably via that same demon-mage. The tension in the house was almost unbearable, but the possible consequences of the end of that tension...

At least the Kore-Tremayne trio were whole and healthy now, thanks to the mad pair of healers who had risked everything to give them the best odds they could. Three demon-wolves at full strength could accomplish a lot, she was sure, but against the demons that had engineered the attack on Unity? She'd have been much happier if they were a few years older. Although the thought of any of them going through their respective nightmares for a few more years, the twins separated that much longer... well.

The healers were tucked into Deanna's bed with Alfari and Malta helping as much as they could; Hob was staying near to spell the other two at need so they were never, even for a moment, lacking a feline companion each. Nick was using everything he'd learned from his coven-mate to watch over them, and Evaline and Sonja and Caitryn were at hand to assist in any way that offered itself; Cynthia and Deanna had done a turn earlier, with the rest of Sundark available at need, and would again when Nick tired. That was all any of them could do for the two dryads, until they were recovered enough to go outside and let contact with the earth and trees speed their own healing along.

Shaine could be anywhere, including back in the lake. Not running away, she had to admit; he had a lot of catching up to do, getting reacquainted with his own abilities.

Sundark, she suspected, would all be in a single cluster somewhere, relying on each other to make the intolerable pressure less so.

As would Coven Dandelion.

“I'll be back soon,” Sam promised.

“We'll be here,” Aindry said, and shifted to furform, nuzzling herself into the knot with her brothers.

Sam wandered around the house, searching. Sundark were in the ground-floor sunroom, near Deanna's bedroom, that had become primarily Deanna's workroom; the door was open, so she simply established who was present and went on without disturbing them. Not so surprising if Deanna felt torn between her sister and cousin, and the comfort of her coven. The room that was rapidly returning to its original function as a household library was vacant, as were the dining room and living room, which were normally high-traffic areas. She found Coven Dandelion on the second floor, in the enclosed bright south-facing porch that the two elvenmages had filled with fiery-coloured magesilk. Lori and Naomi each had a brush, Lori brushing Bryan furform, Naomi Gwyn.

“Bryan?” Sam said quietly. “Can I maybe talk to you?”

Bryan raised his head, and shifted to human. Of all the wolves, he was the most prone to wearing colours that fit his mood; he was wearing darker silks than she'd ever seen, brown just shy of black. “Sure,” he said equably. “Gwyn won't mind two sets of hands spoiling him.”

Lori got to her feet, crossed the floor and hugged Sam. “Once all this is over, now that you aren't trying to hide tons of secrets that must have been miserable to keep, we're expecting you to start getting more involved instead of saying no all the time.”

Sam returned the hug, snuggling close against the much-taller elf. “You're supposed to be mad at me for keeping secrets.”

“Why? I don't think you wanted to, you had reason.” Lori pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You've been almost part of Dandelion for years. Consider yourself an honorary member. Until we can get you all the way into the coven.” The elvenmage released her, and sat down across from Naomi. The gesture made Sam blink a couple of tears from her eyes, but she didn't mind these ones.

“Thanks,” she said, hoping she could put into her voice at least a little of what it meant to her.

Naomi smiled. “Go talk. We'll be here.”

“Bane isn't going to mind if we borrow his room for a bit,” Bryan said, inclining his head towards his brother's room. That was probably easier than going downstairs, so Sam went along with it.

“If you're going to do something silly like apologize, don't,” Bryan said, perching on the edge of Bane's bed. “You heard Lori. Everyone understands you couldn't say anything.”

Sam sighed, and sank down on the desk chair, not quite sure how to put the tangle of emotions into words. “I feel like I've been lying to you, or letting us be friends under false pretences.”

Bryan shook his head. “I knew a long time ago that I might never know anything about your past for sure. You're special enough to me that I chose to accept that and be your friend in the present.”

“It really... really matters to me. I don't know how many times I would've just drowned in it all and slit my own wrists, except that you've been there. And I don't know how well I've ever let you know that, or said thanks...”

Bryan leaned forward to hug her. “Well enough that I knew. You're yourself. I've always felt extremely flattered that you tell me more than you tell anyone else, and trust me to keep it safe for you. That alone is enough that I could've figured out that you care.”

She let her head rest on his shoulder. “Thanks,” she said simply.

“Sam. Everyone's feeling pretty edgy and raw right now, too much has been torn wide open. Let's just all survive this and afterwards we'll see about getting on with our lives.” She drew back, wiped a stray tear out of her eye, and he smiled. “And Lori's quite right. You've been staying on the fringes too long, and you no longer have any excuse.”

She must've done something right, to get a friend like this one. “It'll be over soon. Sunday night, the moon's full, and the moon's on our side. I just hope it's over in the good sense, not the bad one. Gods, having to wonder every minute what's going to happen to them...”

“You've already done more than most of us.” He got to his feet, held down both hands to her. “So do whatever you reasonably can, which I'm guessing at this point is primarily information you have and no one else does, and otherwise, stay with them. It makes you and them all happier. Anything else can wait. Give them all the love you can, and maybe everyone will still be alive when this is over.”

* * *

Aindry waited until Sam came back, then pleaded restlessness and went prowling around the house. Such a huge house, much of it still unused and, for that matter, with repairs unfinished after long neglect.

She decided on a run in the yard, and found the nearest external door. Magesilks were such a joy, being able to change without the need to dress or undress; elves and dryads and even witches had been extremely scarce in their first life, being generally bound to the mixed villages they'd been hiding from.

Had they tried to integrate, put the effort into educating the other villages about the realities of demons instead of into further isolating themselves, could things have been different?

Not a question that had an answer. Right now, she was simply grateful for the comfortable clean magesilks in her own proper black and silver and garnet that Kevin had made just for her. She shifted to wolf on the porch, then trotted once in a full circle just inside the walls to warm up.

For the second circuit she pushed herself, flashed past the fountain again racing at full speed, letting the rush of adrenaline wash away her fears for a few minutes. A third lap, now truly into the smooth rhythm of four feet connecting with the solid ground, the counterpoint beat of her heart. She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt this good, well-rested and well-fed and entirely uninjured.

Finally, winded, she slowed to a walk, but kept moving in the same circle. By the west gate she paused, gazing out over the lake and the sunset. Another day past. How many more did they have to wait, hiding inside the safety of the walls, not daring to plan for a future that might not exist?

She picked up the pace to a trot, intending to come back around to the east gate and the breezeway.

As she passed the north gate, she saw a flash of red out in the forest. She stopped, heart thudding hard. Was it a demon lurking out there, ready to attack any of Jesse's friends who might venture beyond the safety of the walls?

Even though it might be a trap, she had to get close enough to find out, and to challenge it if necessary.

Warily, straining all senses, she ventured out the gate, directly towards the glimpse of red she'd seen, placing each foot carefully to make as little noise as possible. There, she'd reached the cover of the brush; she had to devote a little more attention to silence here, though.

After a few more feet, she stopped, catching a scent. Not a demon, a wolf bitch.

But what was she doing here?

Aindry advanced, more confident now. She doubted there was a wolf born who could beat her in a fight.

The red wolf noticed her, growled softly, ears flattening in defensive threat and tail dropping... then her ears came forward again, in sheer surprise. Expecting Jess, perhaps, and startled to smell a bitch instead?

Aindry came closer, still cautious, but the red bitch wasn't giving any aggression signals. They sniffed at each other, nose to nose, then both growing a little bolder. Aindry smelled blood faintly, noticed that the red bitch was careful not to put her full weight on her right foreleg; she'd been hurt recently.

Instinct wanted her to drive this intruder away, or to bolt back to the safety of the walls. What she chose was a somewhat more dignified retreat into the yard, turning around and simply walking back.

The red bitch didn't follow her. Aindry passed the gate, looked back, and saw the red bitch watching her in puzzlement.

Then the other spun around and loped off, favouring her foreleg but not greatly slowed by it.

Aindry made herself breathe more slowly. No threat after all, just one of Haven's other wolves, possibly coming to see if one of Evaline's pack wanted to come hunt. Not everything had to be a demon-sent danger.

The adrenaline rush certainly felt good, though.

She backtracked to the fountain for a drink, wishing whoever had installed it had thought to include a low basin for wolves; jumping up to put her forefeet on the rim was such a nuisance. The water was delicious, though. She shifted to human there, and made her way barefoot across the grass around the house to the front door facing the eastern gate and driveway. Back to her brothers and Sam.

* * *

Rebecca crouched in the shelter of the trees, not at all sure why she was here. What difference did it make to her what happened to Sundark and their friends?

Still, she found herself drawn back, curious about why the entire group appeared to have pulled back behind the walls of Starluck's house and had been seen in the village only in brief glimpses since Monday when she'd fought that black wolf-cub. Her shoulder still ached from that.

This was insane. She was truly free for the first time in years, had a dozen better things to do with her time than sit here watching a house.

She heard a door open, and a moment later a black wolf trotted by, then a second time much faster. Jesse, of course, he was the only black wolf at all likely to be here, and the others were all visibly larger.

The black wolf moved freely, though, weight coming down evenly on each stride, and Jesse should be limping still from the damage she'd inflicted. No healer, or even the two dryad healers Jesse hung around with so much, could heal it away completely.

Intent on the puzzle, she stopped paying attention to the view through the gate, and didn't notice the black wolf coming quietly closer until they were only a few feet apart.

Rebecca reacted automatically to the wolf that had defeated her so recently... then got the scent... and forgot anything but her surprise. That wasn't Jesse, that was a bitch! One with a similar scent, but certainly not Jesse, not one she knew at all!

Black wolf, demon wolf, she thought. They have to be kin, to smell so alike. The demons are very interested in Jesse.

Is there some truth in the legends?

The mere thought created a rush of glee. Oh, her erstwhile coven were going to get a surprise like nothing they'd ever dreamed, if they yielded to the demonic encouragement and kept harassing Jesse! So, for that matter, would the demons.

This black bitch, she judged as they examined each other warily, smelled decidedly wild, wilder than any wolf Rebecca had ever met, as much like an ordinary wolf as a werewolf. Right on the edge between reasoning and feral, and not one to be tangled with casually. Since she had no desire to fight, she stayed carefully neutral.

The black bitch left her without causing trouble of any sort, simply turned back to the yard, putting her back to Rebecca and leaving herself open to attack.

Rebecca wondered if it were an invitation to make the first aggressive move; she decided it didn't matter, that she'd seen enough and wanted to go back to Sylvia's house and think this over. There was something distinctly strange going on behind those walls, strange even for Haven, which was no mean thing to accomplish; she was better off staying far away from it and not involving herself any further.

Besides, she was supposed to go look at an apartment in an hour or so, one that sounded quite pleasant, one that would be her own private space where no one else could come. She could then reclaim her belongings from her former home, and proceed to get on with her life.

Although, she'd still love to learn someday who that black wolf-bitch was, and where she'd appeared from so suddenly...



*Jess?* Kevin said softly. *Planning meeting, or maybe council of war, in the south second-floor sunporch. Maybe you could come join us for at least a few minutes?*


Jaisan paused in the middle of describing the strategy he and Aindry had used on a demon some time before, watching him. “Your attention just went away for a sec.”

Jess relayed the message.

Aindry stood up from Jess' loveseat and stretched. “They've been at it all morning. It's about time they remembered us, instead of Sam slipping off early and leaving us to fall back asleep.”

Jaisan sighed, wriggled off the bed and offered Jess his hand as he followed suit. “I hope it isn't everyone all together. I mean, they're all very nice and very understanding, and it's really very sweet of everyone to want to be here to help any way they can and they're worried about you...”

“Us,” Jess corrected. “Believe me. It's not just me. They're all bonkers that way. It's all three of us and Sam.”

Jaisan shrugged. “Worried about us and all. And the healers certainly need to be safe and inside the healing stuff in the walls and have people look after them, I wish we could be more useful for that after what they did for us. And no matter what Sam says about night-time we have been attacked during the day a couple of times so I could see being cautious although no one's mentioned that...”

“Because I doubt anyone's actually thought it. Seriously.”

“I can't remember not thinking about that. Anyway. For good reasons and all, but there are a lot of people in this house right now.”

“Which is why I bet it isn't the whole gang. You're no use in planning stuff if you're too scared to speak up. I really hope this means we can get things moving soon.” Jess waited for his siblings before starting down the stairs. “We can't just hang around forever and wait for someone to walk up to the gates and yell, hey you, come fight! I'm sick of waiting. I'm sick of running. I'm sick of other people rescuing me. I just want to fight these damned demons and get it over with so I can get on with my life. I did have a life, at some point.”

“Are you about done?” Aindry asked patiently.

“Probably not,” Jaisan said cheerfully, with an impish grin at his twin.

As tense as things currently were, having Jaisan back beside him meant more than he could ever have explained to his friends. Jess was pretty sure they hadn't separated farther than necessary to use the bathroom alone since he'd woken up with Jaisan there, and the majority of the time they found themselves instinctively within arm's reach if not actually touching. There was something intensely comforting in it, even though they'd been apart for a third of their lives. Differences had developed, and Jess figured it was going to take a long time to learn all of them, but it didn't matter. Together, they were both whole again, that empty spot inside that he'd forgotten even existed was no longer there, and all was right.

Other than worrying about whether they had a future of any sort ahead of them, anyway.

The second-floor sunporch on the south face of the house was, as always on clear days, brilliant with sunlight, the windows on the ends catching every last bit of the morning and evening sun. Though the space wasn't large, it had accumulated an old double mattress resting on wooden skids a few inches off the floor, the whole thing draped in bright magesilk, more magesilk layered so thickly over the worn linoleum that Jess couldn't remember what it looked like, and a considerable collection of pillows that were mostly magesilk cases with conventional stuffing. In theory, there were magesilk curtains, but Jess had never seen them drawn closed. The whole space was a riot of vivid colours, mostly fiery ones with hints of strong blues and greens here and there.

Not that it was the favoured hang-out of a couple of elvenmages, or anything.

Shaine, on one cushion in a corner, looked more resigned than appreciative, his own swirled water-coloured magesilks—the cut of which more than passingly resembled jeans and a T-shirt, though obviously with no metal hardware—glaringly out of place. Sam's faded blue jeans and burgundy T-shirt weren't much better, but her expression showed less discomfort with the colour scheme, as she shared the mattress with the two elvenmages. And with several plates of cookies, crackers and cheese, and similar munchies, most of them showing significant inroads.

“This room is ridiculous,” Jess told Kevin, not for the first time.

“Elvenmage space,” Kevin retorted. “Deal with it.”

Lori just smiled. “Sorry. Can't please everyone.”

“Sit,” Sam told them. “This does rather involve you so getting your thoughts on it would be good. We don't have forever to work out a plan to act on. The moon is full day after tomorrow.”

“Black wolf, demon wolf,” Jaisan sang softly. “Hunt by silver light, Wild strength, wild soul, Blessed by goddess bright.” He blushed, and sank down next to Jess on a pair of cushions against one wall; Aindry dropped down on Jess' other side.

“Very good,” Sam said, both surprise and approval in her voice. “And yes, that's the most relevant verse. For the most part, demons have less strength while the sun is up, and moonlight is reflected sunlight—not as effective, but it helps. Something odd happened when demon blood mixed with the wolf affinity for moonlight. Demon-wolves, at least Cassandra's line, are at a perceptible advantage in moonlight. So, the best possible conditions for fighting demons include doing it in the open while the moon's bright.”

“Okay, sounds good,” Jess said. “And it's only a couple of days, I might not squirm totally out of my fur and everyone in the house right now might not get fired or fail classes. So how do we get the bad guy's tail in gear so he shows up on Sunday night, and why am I thinking this part involves Kev?”

Kevin leaned back against the wall, arms crossed over his raised knees. “What, you figure I'm crazy enough to outright challenge a mage with combat skills I've never heard of and who can draw an unknown but probably very high amount of power through demon allies?”

“Do I think you're that crazy? Um, you might not want me to answer that one.”

Lori muffled a snicker behind one hand, then looked innocent when Kevin glanced in her direction.

“But, um, yeah, you're kinda pushing your luck with him and I'd really rather you didn't get creamed. So is there a way to do it that's, y'know, a bit less crazy, maybe?”

“Challenge this mage by Sunday?” Kevin said. “Yes.”

“Without getting creamed.”

“Alone, no.”

“Since those fool healers very kindly healed me along with you,” Shaine said dryly, “I now have my gifts full-strength for the first time in years. Not that a day and a half is enough time to relearn even what I knew before, and I was only half trained to begin with...”

“But neither will this mage,” Kevin concluded for him. “Considering that we were in an alley where I had minimal light to work with, and Shaine still had his gifts buried, we didn't do half-bad last time. We can do better now, even if it does have to be at night so the demons will come so you can kill them. At least we'll have lots of moonlight.”

“And two elvenmages are better than one,” Lori pointed out.

“Didn't we just talk about that? I don't like the idea of you being in danger unnecessarily. If something goes wrong, I'd rather he had nothing to make him go after you.”

“I'm going to be there, and nothing is going to go wrong,” Lori said firmly. “Short of trying to lock me in the house or tie me up, neither of which you can do since I'm more or less as strong as you, if a tad less obvious about it, and I have a few extra years of experience using it, exactly what did you have in mind to stop me?”

“Logic?” Kevin suggested. “For my peace of mind?”

“Right, whatever.” Lori shrugged dismissively. “You'd be more useful thinking of ways we can use lots of fire magic and some water magic against this Lucian.”

“Sort of like surprising a meren with fire magic. Only it'll be surprising an elf with water magic,” Jess said. It struck him as a good idea to derail this debate right now—the odds of Kevin winning were slender to none, god only knew why he was still trying. Or why Shaine or Sam hadn't already settled it.

Possibly Shaine was enjoying the show, actually. That would be like him. Sam more likely just figured Lori didn't need any help.

“Exactly,” Lori said.

“What if these demons tell him about merenai?”

Shaine shook his head. “They hadn't told him last time, or he would've figured out what I was doing, and that I was relying mostly on attitude. It's possible they've told him since, although I doubt it, I'm not a priority as far as I know and demons don't like giving away information they don't have to. Even if they do tell him, that'll take away the advantage of surprise but we'll still have abilities on our side that he can't match.”

Jess gave him an impressed look. “Wow. Strategy.”

“It isn't an ability unique to wolves,” Kevin pointed out.

“Didn't really think it was. What kinds of abilities?”

Shaine shrugged. “Like last time, when he was throwing light-beams around, I can do mirrors and bounce them.” A round disk of shiny ice materialized in front of him.

It was going to take a while to get used to magic from Shaine.

“Probably the most useful thing is to throw a siren-song at him.”

Aindry brightened. “And mess with his head? The way ours got messed with?”

“Something like that.”

“I haven't been able to find out any details about the bargains he's made,” Sam said. “Although what I have found corroborates what we suspected about the sort of demons he's making bargains with, and they're the ones that give the rest a bad name. The three that targeted Unity fit right in. However, since he has to pay for everything he gets from them, and the prices are probably not nice ones, it's unlikely that resistance to mythical types of magic has been high on his list of priorities. I doubt he'd have added it since even if he now knows about Shaine.”

“Believe me,” Shaine said, “whether he knows or not, I can seriously piss him off. Time to practice and get more of my skills back would be nice, but we don't have it, so we'll go with what I've got by Sunday.”

Jess frowned at him suspiciously. “Are you sure you're Shaine? You don't sound like Shaine.”

“Get a fucking grip, Jess. I did come from somewhere before I picked you up, and you're hardly one to talk about secrets.”

“Hey! I never...”

“Bullshit. Last May you came back after two weeks running around on four feet, and you didn't exactly come bouncing in the door to tell me you're a werewolf. If I hadn't thrown you out, you'd still be hopping back and forth trying to make up your damned mind where home is.”

Jess blushed. “Oops. But you had way more secrets than me.”

“If you dare start counting, you're going to get cuffed up the side of the head.”

Yep, that was Shaine all right, and it was a good time to change the subject. “So, this demon-mage isn't going to know what hit him.”

“Pretty much. We're trying to figure out ways to actually combine both kinds of magic, which would really be a bitch for him to deal with.” He stopped, looked at Aindry. “Sorry.”

She grinned at him. “Make it as hard to deal with as this bitch is going to be, and I'll be more than happy.”

“I'll do my best. “

“There's... something else,” Jaisan said uncertainly. “I'm not sure how much you can count on anything.”

“How so?” Kevin asked.

“Demon-luck. It's more real than you think. I think... that might be what happened to Unity, too many demon-wolves together, so the luck went crazy...”

Aindry sat forward to stare at him, wide-eyed, past Jess. “You've never said that before.”

He shrugged, eyes low. “I thought it a long time ago. It's just... if we're around, it might have an effect on things.”

Kevin bit his lip, mulling that over. “Sam?”

“I haven't the faintest idea,” Sam said, small creases appearing between her brows as she considered that.

“The string of unlikely coincidences,” Lori pointed out, “that have kept Jess alive, intact, and in Haven has been rather long. It obviously has a positive aspect.”

“True. Demon-luck is unquestionably real, although I think it's probably been strained to the limit keeping you three alive and getting you back together, and yes, usually it's a positive force. I don't know of any other situation involving a concentration of demon-wolves in one area on a sustained basis, so I don't know whether it's possible to overload it into negativity.”

To Jesse's considerable surprise, Shaine moved so he was kneeling in front of Jaisan and reached out to close a hand around his. “Look at me,” he said softly.

Shakily, Jaisan raised his head and met Shaine's eyes. Both of Jess' siblings were particularly wary of Shaine, though they were doing their best.

“Demon-luck might have played a part in it, but that is not what killed everyone. The warped mereni paranoia that makes them believe they have to protect themselves at any cost from any discovery, and the insecurity of a bunch of demons over anyone who can interfere with their fun, they killed Unity. You and the rest of your kind did not. It was not your fucking fault, understand?”

Unable to look away, Jaisan nodded meekly.

“Saying it was your fault is like Jess saying it was his fault that bastard beat him, or like a woman who got raped saying it was her fault for being in the wrong place. You can only be so careful of possibilities before you stop living and start just existing scared of everything, like the other merenai, and then it isn't worth it. You and the rest reached for what you wanted and you lost. It happens. You go on with your life with what's left. Sunday night we'll finish this, and then we can all get on with living in the present and leave the past where it belongs. Okay?”


Shaine released him and went back to his corner, sliding down the wall to cross his arms on his raised knees.

“So that's the current plan,” Kevin said briskly. “Full moon, I call a challenge on this demon-mage after moonrise, he calls his demon pals so you can kill them, then Lori and Shaine and I thump him, and we all call it a night and go back inside for cookies. Sound good?”

“Sounds good,” Aindry confirmed.

“Good. Then we're going to get back to mage talk and some experimenting, which is probably going to be extremely boring for anyone not directly involved. Especially 'cause we have a lot to do and not much time and can't slow down much to explain. You three go figure out useful approaches for killing demons or something, okay?”

“We can take a hint,” Jess said, getting up; his siblings followed his lead. “Don't overdo it.”

“We won't,” Lori assured him.

Jess ushered Aindry and Jaisan out ahead of him, musing about how he should be past being surprised by Shaine but couldn't seem to get there.

“Where did that come from?” Kevin asked quietly, behind Jess.

Shaine laughed, but it didn't sound like amusement. “Someone who's still trying to practice what he preaches. Can we get back to work today some time?”

With much more to think about—which he hardly needed—Jess went after his siblings.



If I get wired any more tightly I'm going to start howling... Please, let something happen soon!

Jess fidgeted restlessly, his silver name-dagger cool in his hands; he could imagine it begging for demon blood. Just like the sunset over the lake had turned the water to blood...

My imagination is in overdrive. I swear, though, we'll wash the blood away. By sunrise the water will be clean, and everyone can rest peacefully. Us included, I just hope it's in this world.

Sitting with him close to the wall, Jaisan and Aindry were just as anxious. He was sure they must look more than a bit fey, a dark trio in magesilks black and silver and each their own proper colour, his rich purple, Jaisan's vivid blue, Aindry's deep red. Kevin had grumbled, while making silks for Jaisan and Aindry, that at least they were willing to wear more colour than Jess was, otherwise they'd look like they stepped out of a bad ninja movie.

In sharp contrast, Kevin and Lori looked about as unmagical as possible. The former was leaning calmly against one of a stand of birches with his arms crossed; who ever imagined a mage in jeans and a ragged, ex-red T-shirt? Lori, in equally prosaic green cargo pants and a creamy-coloured tank-top, a strand of quartz beads in countless shades circling her throat, had seated herself with her back against the same tree, arms draped casually across her raised knees. They certainly didn't look like they had just in some inexplicable magical way called challenge on an opponent they could lose against despite all precautions.

Inside the walls, where he wouldn't be sensed or seen, Shaine waited, ready to step in as soon as he was needed. Which would, if things went as planned, be immediately after the Kore-Tremaynes kicked three demons' tails up into their throats.

We should never have asked them to do this, Kev and Lori and Shaine are going to get killed over us. Enough people have died over the demon-wolf line, haven't they? We should've run away, Jais and Aindry and I, and at least then it would be only us dying.

Shut up, Jess, you aren't helping. And running away is hardly any more intelligent, haven't you learned that by now?

“Heads up,” Kevin murmured. “Someone just swept the area to see who's here. I didn't get a clear look, but...”

But who else could it be?

A long pause, then Lori said, “There he is. Watch your eyes.”

This wasn't a gate like Kevin and Lori made them, shaping them quietly out of the available light on each side; this gate exploded violently into existence, the glare from the noon-white light throwing shapes into sharp relief. Jess shielded his eyes with his arm, waited for it to fade back to comfortable darkness. Even then, sunspots danced in front of him.

Sure, blind us and hope it helps.

He could smell the demon-mage, and see him vaguely while his eyes struggled to clear themselves.

“Afraid to challenge me alone?” the demon-mage asked Kevin mockingly.

Kevin shrugged. “Against you alone, no problem, but you never face anyone alone, do you?”

Lori stood up, brushed grass off her pants, and gave the demon-mage a disdainful half-bow. “Lori Aurelian.”

The demon-mage frowned—confused, Jess thought, because as he understood it, the Aurelian bloodline rarely turned up mages, more often pure telepaths or telekinetics. “I have no argument with any Aurelian.”

He must not have looked close enough to see how strong Lori is, and she's too smart to waste power or give away unnecessary info by doing a proper signature thing.

“This Aurelian has a serious problem with you, for a long list of reasons, beginning with the fact that my father is a Lioren, Kevin is my favourite cousin, and I'm getting a tad sick of you threatening him and our friends.”

As soon as she said 'Lioren,' the demon-mage's expression turned to anger. “Another fucking Lioren,” he spat. “Fine. And you two have the nerve to formally challenge me?”

“A very particular kind of challenge,” Kevin said. “We have three wolves. You call three demons, and we can see which of them is still standing at the end.”

“That could be amusing. But it won't help. I let you off, before, Lioren. I won't this time, you or your cousin.”

Let him off? He and Shaine kicked your ass, last time! Look which side ran away!

Kevin shrugged. “That's fine, because I'm getting extremely tired of you messing with my friends. Why don't we take care of that afterwards? I'm sure among your demon, um, allies, there must be three who would like fresh wolf blood.”

Dinner for three, come and get it...

The demon-mage looked at Kevin thoughtfully, mood changing again. “You think a lot like I do. You know what you want and you do what you have to in order to get it.”

“I am nothing like you,” Kevin said, his voice so level Jess thought he was trying to control his temper. “I fight to protect the people who matter to me. You fight because you're too insecure not to keep trying to prove how strong you are.”

The other mage spat a curse. “You know nothing about me. You're just like the rest, so sure you're above everyone else and can do what you want. Arrogant self-centred uppity damned mages...”

“Arrogant I've been called before, but the rest is new.”

“You can't even be bothered to take this seriously! That's outright insulting!”

“Really? Awesome, I was afraid I was out of practice, it's been a while. Are you waiting for something in particular? Summer solstice, total lunar eclipse, the magnetic poles to shift...?”

“If you're in such a hurry to watch your pet wolves die...” The demon-mage backed away a few steps, held out both hands in front of him, palm-up and slightly cupped. The moon was just rising over the house, spilling silver light over them.

Hunt by silver light, born and die to fight...

If you want any of this wolf's wild blood, you can damned well try and take it!

The demon-mage began to speak, unfamiliar words that seemed to be mostly consonants, and the moonlight pooled in his hands, coalescing into a ball that grew steadily brighter, until Jess had to look away. Kevin and Lori didn't, but then, to them it was probably preferable to semi-blindness with only the moonlight.

The demon-mage clapped his hands together sharply, and the light vanished.

Replaced by a trio of shadows too dark for the clean moonlight to disperse.

Aindry rose smoothly, drew her now-shining dagger and left the sheath there. The twins echoed it, and all three paced out to face the demons that had killed Unity.

Well, okay, so the merenai were a rather large part of it. But who cares? The merenai haven't hunted us all this time either.

The demon-mage gestured towards the Kore-Tremaynes. “Those three. Kill them.”

They shaped themselves from utter blackness into vaguely dragonish things all huge bat-wings and three long scaly necks and too many dagger-like claws, the colour of all the filth Jesse had ever seen. And big, their shoulders were easily above Jesse's head.

How the fuck do we fight those? he thought numbly, then, The way we were taught. Go for the central nervous system or the heart, keep moving and don't let it hit you, and pray to Cassandra.

The scent of the demons stirred something that lay somewhere deep within, waking a cold rage—and something more, a peculiar doubled awareness, of himself and of Jaisan at the same time. Even as he circled left, he was conscious of Jaisan circling to the right, an echo within his own body of the sensations his twin experienced. He had to look sideways to know that Aindry was still between them, gaze locked on the centre demon.

Funny, I don't remember anything like this from lessons. I wonder if Jais gets it too.

The nearest demon struck at him with all three heads; he evaded them, with little room to spare, and lunged at it. The razor-sharp knife left a long bloody stripe down one side of its chest, unfortunately only shallow. Enough to sting. He dodged a swipe from a massive paw, wincing at the thought of what those claws could do to his body.

He felt the shock as Jaisan drove his dagger home, felt it hit bone and glance off. That demon shrieked and the ground quivered.

Anyone in Haven still asleep isn't now! I bet that made the house shake!

Jesse took advantage of the distraction, plunged his own hilt-deep into the left-side neck and twisted it, wishing the demon would stop screaming like that right in his ear. The dagger touched bone, and he thrust it in that direction, sidestepping so the teeth of another head missed him. Between two of the vertebrae, demons had to follow some rules of biology, and he twisted again, forcing them apart; that head effectively died. Limp and useless, anyway, and better yet, it interfered with attacks from the foreclaws on that side.

One flailing wing caught him squarely, flung him a dozen feet away. He scrambled to his feet, struggling for breath, lack of oxygen and the adrenaline—and that godawful screaming!—combined were making the world spin alarmingly. Through moonlight-coloured fog, he saw the demon coming at him, hissing in rage, saw the two heads dipping towards him...

Frantically, he twisted away, and willed himself wolf.

It didn't take the few seconds it normally did; a detached part of his mind took note of that as another adaptation to fighting demons. He scrambled to his feet, less his dagger now, but at least the doubled strike missed him.

He slashed savagely at a wing, shredded part of the membrane, restraining an urge to vomit from the taste. It shrieked, and its voice joined in with another—must be Aindry's target, he hadn't felt anything from that strange echo-effect. Warily, Jesse circled, feinted in, retreated before the teeth, ducked to the right and came back to the left, and dug his own teeth into the underside of its centre throat.

Still shrieking, it flung its head up, leaving behind a mouthful of flesh in the process. Jesse spat it out in revulsion.

Ha! Take that, beast! Bet that hurts a bit!

He felt a flash of pain from Jaisan, felt his brother's dagger fall and the instant response of shifting to wolf, and hoped he wasn't hurt too badly.

He seized the centre throat again, this time got a better grip and held on for all he was worth. The teeth of the right head scored down the length of his side; he whined in pain, but dug all four feet into the ground to anchor and tightened his grasp grimly. The centre head fought to throw him off, the right head and right claws struck repeatedly at him, but he could evade the claws.

The centre head went limp, everything inside crushed.

Two down, one to go.

The demon's form melted into darkness again, and reshaped itself.

This form wasn't physically impressive; in fact, it was simply a human man in his mid-forties, hair cut short and neat, dressed for the office though the dark-grey jacket had been shed, white sleeves rolled up to forearms. From one hand swung a doubled length of computer network cable, the outer sheath partly stripped to expose the eight wires within...

Jess whined again, flattened himself on his stomach, wriggling backwards away from him, tail tucked between his legs. Don't hit me, don't hit me, oh please god don't whip me with the cable again! I didn't tell... oh, god, yes I did, I told Kev, he said never to tell anybody ever or he'd...

“Jesse,” the man-demon said reprovingly. “Where have you been? Your mother and I have been worried sick about you. You've been misbehaving. Which means you have to be punished, you know that, and yet you keep right on doing things you know you aren't supposed to do. Come here, right now, and we'll get that out of the way, and then we'll go home and find you a better counsellor this time.”

No! No more punishments, no more counsellors, please no...

He hit something, couldn't retreat any farther; he cowered as the man approached him, smiling tolerantly, the cable swinging in his hand.

“Jess!” Jaisan screamed at him. “Kill it! Before it can kill you! Now!”

Wasn't Jais furform...?

Kill before it killed him.

He'll kill me if he catches me...

Killed everyone, killed Mom...

Will kill Jais and Aindry and the mages and everyone waiting in the house...

All the different threads of terror blurred together, melted back into rage.

You fucked up my life and you never paid for it, I'm the one who's gone through hell and you stayed nice and cosy in your fancy house/on the demon plane/in the lake...

He gathered himself, launched himself directly at the demon in human form.

The demon, anticipating victory, was caught completely off-guard as a hundred and forty pounds of black wolf collided with its chest. The cable flicked across his back, once, twice, but his fur muffled the stinging, and he had the demon down, could claw at its chest until he reached the ribs, crunch a couple of ribs out of his way and dig deep for the heart... His teeth closed on it, and he tossed his head sideways, ripping it out.

With a last ear-tormenting shriek, the demon disappeared, leaving only a bloody stain on the grass.

Panting, Jess shifted back to human and found his dagger, a bright gleam against dark grass, then turned to see which of his siblings needed him more.

Easy choice: both were working on the same demon, so one or the other must have been a little faster than him. He ran over to join them.

The demon seemed uncertain, alone against all three of them, its compatriots dead. Jaisan furform and Aindry with her dagger had already wounded it badly, though two heads remained active.

Jesse's dagger sliced along the side of one neck, and in the instant after Jaisan grabbed that throat, holding on relentlessly, though it shook him entirely off his feet, briefly right off the ground. The other head snaked towards him, but Aindry slashed at it and kept its attention on her, while Jesse thrust his dagger deep into its chest, stopping only when hilt met hide, and then twisting. Both heads shrieked, attempted to twine back towards him, but couldn't; Jesse's dagger was torn out of his hand, though, before he could free it.

He saw silver shining faintly nearby—Jaisan's dagger. Was the twin-bond strong enough to make it more than mere metal in his hand, though it wasn't his own name? Worth a try. He darted back, circled around to get it, then watched for a chance.

The dragon-demon clawed vainly at its tormentors, and Jess felt Jaisan's pain again, shallowly down his stomach; it left an opening, though, and he bolted in, praying devoutly to whatever had kept him alive this long. His own dagger he used as a step, and vaulted himself up on the dragon's back. With Jaisan's dagger he dug into its backbone, prying vertebrae apart.

They separated, and the body collapsed; Jess jumped clear, landed the wrong way, and stumbled to his feet unsure how long his right leg would bear his weight.

Jaisan let go of a limp head, backed off a step, gulping air heavily.

Aindry retreated a few feet as well, just out of the reach of the last head, watching it intently; abruptly, she moved forward and straddled the neck from behind, seized the head in both hands, and put her full weight behind twisting it sharply sideways. Bone crunched, the demon screamed, and its body melted away.

We did it! We killed all three and we're still alive, all of us!

Jaisan raised his head, let out a howl of pure triumph; Aindry and Jess both shifted to wolf, added their voices to his, and they sang the victory to the silver moon above.

The demon-rage began to fade, taking with it that strange echo of Jaisan, and the adrenaline keeping them on their feet. One at a time, they staggered and collapsed.

“Impressive,” someone said, from not too far away. “I wasn't sure how much I believed them about the danger. It would seem they had a reason to fear after all.”

“Never doubted it.” That was Kevin. “Now, you were saying something about not letting me off this time?”

Please be careful, guys... don't make me have to cry for you, when everything should be wonderful now... Bone-deep exhaustion made it hard just to stay awake, but he was going to watch, he had to watch...



Kevin forced worry for the wolves and fear for himself and Lori and Shaine into the back of his mind, and activated his shields, gold and white and sunset-red. The world had narrowed considerably as the sun vanished and the sky darkened; he had the solid presence of the shields in the walls to orient himself against, but otherwise, everything was a grey and black blur. Except the three exhausted demon-wolves—moonsilver and shadow with hints of amethyst or sapphire or garnet, or slightly too-cool heat-images, depending on which sight he used—and Lori who was just raising her familiar summer-green and tawny-gold shields, clearly visible in their light, and the Lucian mage, who at some point had raised his own, crimson and saffron and demon-coloured.

At least he'd be able to see anything created by elven magic, when it came, and it helped to know that the Lucian mage—what was his name again? Patrick?—was probably no better able to see than he and Lori were.

“Will you die happy knowing that your pet wolves are safe?”

Kevin shrugged. “If I have to die, it may as well be for a good cause. They aren't, however, safe from you yet.” Lori moved closer to him, slid her hand into his, warm and steady. Shields shivered where they touched, then melded together into a single whole without difficulty.

“You're smarter than you look. Not that it will help you.”

Kevin smiled. “We'll do our best to make it interesting for you.” May your life be interesting... And it will be. If you only knew what's waiting just inside the walls...

Brigid, Lady, be with us... by Brigid and Lugh, by the Moonwolf and the Horned God, by... oh, Tiamat and Poseidon, maybe... let us get through this!

“Count on it,” Lori muttered. “So. Since we challenged you, that would give you the right to begin.”

The demon-mage gestured, and the stars fell.

It felt like it, anyway: countless tiny silvery lights rained down over them. They slid off the shields, but each left a dark streak in the shimmer, eating at it. One got through, began to burrow into his arm like a live thing; Kevin gritted his teeth, held very still, trying to ignore the increasing pain. It had to be an illusion, his shields would have put up more of a fight against anything directly dangerous. All he had to do was disbelieve it. Another made it through, hit his shoulder, and burrowed in as well, and he heard Lori's breath hiss between her teeth.

*Illusion,* she said.

*I think so.*

*I know so.* Her tone left no room at all for doubt.

This isn't real. It's only illusion. Don't believe it and it'll end and you can get on to the next round.

A sensation that made his stomach twist, of something inside his arm and crawling along the bone, both of them working their way towards his pounding heart.

Please, Brigid, let them be illusion...

Agony shuddered along every nerve... and the pain stopped, the crawling sensations fading away.

Patrick's eyebrows rose. “I was right. You do have an incredible amount of nerve.”

“I've heard that one before.” He had a brief exchange with Lori, too fast for either to bother formulating thoughts into words, and together they wove will and moonlight into a winged serpent of green and gold and white, and sent it at Patrick. It coiled around the other's shields, but could go no further.

Patrick gestured scornfully at it, plainly expecting it to dissipate.

It didn't; it grew.

Patrick paused, re-evaluating, and threw another attack at it. Again the serpent absorbed it.

“A pretty trick,” he commented. He cast something different, Kevin thought it was actually negative energy, probably drawn from his demons, and the winged serpent cancelled out.

Too bad; he was rather pleased with that particular invention, adapted from something Shaine had shown them.

Mage-fights are so civilized. Not like wolf-fights. You take turns and you can even chat in the middle...

I'd give a lot for something as straightforward as a wolf-fight right now!

Moonlight gathered, shaped itself into a massive saffron and crimson dragon, all horns and spikes. The whip-thin tail lashed towards them, slid off their shields, but left a darker streak where it had gouged them. Lori poured energy into fixing it, while Kevin created his phoenix, hovering in the air above him, all the colours of the sun at dawn and noon and dusk. He sent it spiralling higher, had it stoop towards the dragon's eyes, diamond talons extended. Sensory input doubled; he closed his eyes, concentrating purely on what the phoenix could see, rather than trying to analyse two different images.

The dragon turned its head upwards, orienting on the phoenix, and launched itself heavily into the air. The phoenix was less than half its size, but intensely brighter, dancing fast and agile around the dragon.

Lori's green-eyed tawny lioness lunged upwards at the dragon from beneath, claws and fangs of emerald tearing gaping wounds in the dragon's belly, wounds that bled moonlight.

Patrick snarled something Kevin couldn't make out, and the dragon folded its wings; the lioness barely got out from under it before it landed. The ruby talons of the rear feet dug themselves deep into the ground, and the tail slashed at the lioness, even as the gaping jaws snapped at the phoenix. Kevin pulled it back out of reach, losing only a few fiery feathers in the process; the lioness crouched, and leaped over the tail just before it reached her, going straight for the dragon's throat. Through phoenix eyes, he caught a glimpse of himself and Lori, hands still linked, his own eyes closed, but Lori's green eyes were open, watching both ways at once, her expression alert and fiercely focused.

Maybe we should've warned him that Lori's beaten almost every mage in Haven and some from elsewhere at this game. Me included. And we've won as partners before.

Usually, though, it was only a game, a way of refining one's skills and using one's wits and imagination.

The lioness' emerald fangs tore a long gash down the dragon's throat, though she failed to get a grip on it. More moonlight bled away, the dragon's colours beginning to dim.

Kevin sent the phoenix down again, into a dive directly at the dragon's eyes, while it was clawing and lashing and snapping at the lioness. Diamond talons struck, raked across one eye, and it looped up and over the dragon's wide forehead and spiky crest to drive its talons deep into the other eye.

Patrick let out a cry of rage; Kevin wondered briefly who Irina was and why Patrick was cursing her, but getting distracted would be bad. For example, Patrick had just gotten distracted, and the lioness had caught the tail-whip in her teeth and chewed it off.

Phoenix and lioness tore ruthlessly into the dragon, making more and more wounds to bleed light away, but Patrick dissolved it back into nothing.

Lioness and phoenix melted away, as well.

* * *

Hidden by shadows, Shaine ghosted out the gate, intent on the mage-battle in front of him. Kevin and Lori appeared to be doing well, but that would only last for so long.

The thought flitted through his mind that he could stand back and wait, let the demon-mage exhaust himself on the two elvenmages, then Shaine could step in... He banished that idea. In the last few days, despite his best efforts, he'd learned far too much respect for the pair, and not solely in magic. He couldn't do that. Besides, Jess would never forgive him.

Now would be a good time, he decided, and threw darkness over the entire area, singing as softly as he could.

He was unhindered, used to the perpetual night at the bottom of the lake; he used other senses to make his way to the cousins and slip himself between them, holding one hand of each—they'd be better able to protect him from the fire-based attacks to which he had little resistance. Kevin's hand tightened, told him gratitude more clearly than words; Lori, always the calmer of the two, was shaking just a little, and gripped his hand with enough force for discomfort.

The demon-mage was drawing power from elsewhere, calling light, cancelled by the darkness; elves being what they were, Kevin had told him wryly, little except extreme cold was more uncomfortable than absence of light, and not even a demon-mage was going to be able to ignore that. The other mage's light began to brighten the blackness towards grey. Kevin's power surged, and Lori's right behind it, backing Shaine's, and the darkness steadied again.

Slowly, the demon-mage won, even against all three of them, and the blackness dissolved. Shaine let go of the song, not wasting effort on it any further.

The mage did not look impressed. He glared at them, then took a closer look at Shaine and the frown deepened. “You again.”

Shaine gave him a charming smile. “Me again. Just thought maybe I could even up the odds a little.”

“Just as well. You're as much of an annoyance as this other whelp.”

“Oh, come on, now. I'm much more annoying than Kevin.”

The mage flung pure fire at them, and it wrapped itself in a spiral around them, drawing ever tighter; he could feel the scorching heat, and cringed inwardly. The fire reached the boundaries of the glowing shields, and could go no farther. He gathered himself to throw the cold of the depths of the lake at it.

“It's illusion,” Kevin murmured. “Don't counter it. Ignore it.”

“Like you can ignore total darkness?” Shaine retorted, but he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. All he could do was believe Kevin, that the heat couldn't really hurt him, that the grass around them wasn't burning.

“Try,” Lori said softly. “We wouldn't let it touch you even if it were real, I promise.”

* * *

This illusion had to be meant to frighten Shaine; simple fire, even mage-fire, couldn't frighten another elvenmage. At least Shaine trusted them enough to not waste power on it, but the meren's hand was clenched hard around his—it was successfully scaring him, anyway.

The illusion-fire melted away, and Shaine relaxed.

“Do your stuff,” Lori said quietly.

Kevin felt Shaine reach for power, gave it readily, felt the intense concentration as the meren shaped it and began to sing. The same channel that allowed them to share power gave him and Lori access to other things, and to this Shaine had already consented while they were planning: mereni senses being infinitely better suited to a night battle than elven, he borrowed Shaine's, careful not to touch anything else, though he was aware of Lori doing the same.

Merenai certainly have some odd senses... I'm going to have to ask about some of this stuff later. No wonder darkness doesn't bother him, though.

The lake's surface shuddered, and drew itself together into a formless mass, defying natural laws entirely. Shaine asked more strength, and the water-construct's outline flowed and blurred, became four-footed, two reflected stars settling themselves as eyes, moonlight sparkling through it in odd ways as the internal currents shifted so it seemed to glow from within.

A large wolf, the size of Bane, leaped lightly off the lake onto the shore, yawned to bare teeth of sharp shell, and stalked towards Patrick.

This is a half-trained mereni-mage? Wow! Figure out how to deal with that!

A barrier of raw fire didn't stop the water-wolf; it bounded over it, landed on the far side a trifle smaller. A handful of fire flung at it, it simply danced sideways to avoid and closed in on Patrick again.

Kevin glanced sideways at Shaine, found him gazing fixedly at the water-wolf, every muscle visibly taut, the song never faltering. Concentration held the wolf together, then? Still impressive. He fed him more power, careful not to disturb him.

Patrick wove a ring of fire around the water-wolf, made it too high for the wolf to jump, and constricted it.

Shaine swore softly, and the wolf's form collapsed in on itself, leaving only water seeping into the ground in the centre of the ring.

“That took a lot of energy,” Kevin told him quietly.

“Not just for him.”

“What,” Patrick asked tightly, “are you?”

Shaine laughed mockingly. “You figure it out.”

“The children of water and wind are myths!”

“So are wolves that can kill demons.”

Patrick frowned thoughtfully. “There is that.” He shrugged. “Doesn't matter.”

Moonlight warped itself inside-out and into a gate; two people stepped through, and it closed.

“Hold it,” Moira said frostily. “Kevin's blood is ours.”

Karl bared his teeth in a lupine snarl, a distinctly eerie effect in the light of mageshields and moonlight. “And damned good it's going to taste.”

“Who the hell is that?” Shaine hissed.

“Uh, it's kind of a long story...” Kevin said. This doesn't make any sense! Why would Karl and Moira suddenly be out for my hide? I could see maybe Jess', since he beat Rebecca... I don't get it.

“But we're in deep shit.”

“That about covers it,” Lori agreed. “What is she thinking? She might miss Shaine but she has to have known I'm right here and so is he!”

“That assumes Moira thinks,” Kevin muttered. Okay. Um, any two sides could potentially gang up on the third here and afterwards fight it out between themselves. I don't like this!

Patrick surveyed the situation calmly. “You have a claim on him so strong you're willing to interrupt a duel?”

“We have one coven-mate dead and one badly injured, and it's Kevin's fault!”

“It's what?” Kevin heard his own voice hit a high note in sheer astonishment. “Who'd dead and how am I involved?” Oh gods, don't be dead, Becky, please...

“All right,” Patrick said. “For something so heinous, I'm willing to concede—make your attempt. I'll take whatever's left of him.”

“Don't expect there to be much,” Moira said. “Lori, you can leave if you want, and the other one. It's only Kevin we owe.”

“If I believed you wanted to challenge Kevin one-on-one,” Lori said, “that would be one thing. But I know what you've been doing, and that it isn't one-on-one, so not a chance. If you get to have help, so does Kev. I don't suppose we can talk about this? Who's dead? How? And why are you blaming Kevin?”

Kevin made use of the probably very brief opportunity offered, and took a closer look at the pair with mage-sight. What should have been a smooth interlacing of sparkling thin threads binding each member of Whitethorn to each of the others was a chaotic tangle of frayed and weakened strands—and several ragged ends whipping around like agitated living things in their own right, bleeding bright drops of energy. He hadn't even known that was possible. What could have severed them like that?

Sharing power, especially deliberately and repeatedly, created a bond that could never entirely break. Kevin's with Karl remained, and he used that and their mutual one to Rebecca to triangulate on the red wolf-bitch.

The threads linking her to Whitethorn showed no signs of violence, but they were fading. Either that was a failure to renew it for an extended period, several weeks at least, or there was deliberate will involved, dissociating herself from them. Or both. That was actually more of a relief than it should have been, although it opened up a series of new, if less urgent, questions.

The rest of Whitethorn, however... the strand between Karl and Moira remained strong. The threads to one of the other points in the circle were tattered and badly damaged, oozing small amounts of energy, and the threads connecting the last to them and to Rebecca were the ones that had been torn apart and were leaking noticeably.

He couldn't even imagine how much that had to hurt. To say nothing of the emotional level, and whatever trauma had caused it...

Wordlessly, he shared that with Lori, who had a less ready avenue to track the connections, and Shaine, who knew very little about coven-bonds and hadn't yet entirely worked out the sonic equivalent of seeing them.

*Oh gods,* Lori whispered. *I've never even heard of anything like that. That's not just someone dying.*

*If they're the ones playing with demons,* Shaine said, *then you have an answer already.*

“Avryl...” Moira's voice broke in a sob, then spiralled back into rage. “The demon that killed her explained it all, and it was right. All Avryl wanted was more books. Rebecca leaving us and Avryl dying and Duayne maybe dying, all of it, it's all Kevin's fault, and that damned black wolf of his!”

*Okay, grief, trauma, already unstable,* Kevin said. *Demon gives her a way to see Whitethorn as innocent victims instead of responsible for their own situation. Anyone think it's even worth wondering what kind of logic is behind this? Or that it's worth trying to argue it rationally?*

*No and no,* Lori said sadly. *But I have to try once more anyway.* “Moira,” she said gently. “You're hurting, on a lot of levels. Fighting isn't going to accomplish anything at all, except probably more pain. Please, can we...”

“Shut up,” Karl growled. “Enough talking. Too much talking. This ends. Kevin pays. No more messing with us, ever.”

Moira began to chant—and Kevin cringed, he'd heard those words or similar, all consonants, earlier. They couldn't fight a...

Demon, taking on the form of an ethereally lovely humanoid, slender and silvery-shining and feathery-winged, fairly tall and clad in more feathers.

Shaine jumped and cursed, as something small darted around their feet and paused between them. Kevin looked down, saw the white tip of a tail all but luminescent in the shadows, green eyes reflecting the light of his shields back at him.

“Al...” He bit it off. No point giving her name to the demon. “Get back to Sam! This is no place for a cat!”

Alfari gave him a haughty glance, then padded sedately forward to face the demon.

“Wait,” Lori murmured.

The beautiful thing whimpered, shrank back away from Alfari.

“Kill him,” Moira commanded, pointing directly at Kevin.

Unwillingly, the demon started to edge around Alfari.

One of the demon-wolves rumbled a warning, shifting position to track it.

The demon shifted nervously from one foot to the other. “Please, mistress, some other command...”

“Kill them!” Moira repeated.

Sam had insisted that demons were as variable in temperament and values as the residents of this plane, though bound by conditions that allowed them or forced them to act here. This demon, aside from being undoubtedly lesser, felt very different from the other three earlier.

Maybe it was just an innocent bystander hauled into this? Foolish as he might be, he hoped it wouldn't die here like this.

That it wouldn't? It had just been told to kill him! Its innocence was about to become irrelevant!

“Kill him!” Moira insisted, when the demon still hesitated. Miserably, it came forward, trying to watch Alfari and the demon-wolves all at once.

Alfari simply looked at it, and advanced towards it.

The demon retreated in front of her, and she backed it up against the warded wall. There she sat down, the very picture of composure, her tail curled neatly around her feet, staring at the unfortunate demon; the demon pressed against the wall, stayed quite still.

Way to go Alfari!

Moira spat a curse. “It's just a cat! Kill it and get on with it!”

“Can't, mistress...”

Must really have a word with Sam about these special familiars of hers, just as soon as I live through this.

Lori chuckled; he picked up no surprise at all from her. “Just a cat, huh?”

Maybe my coven ignored me? Now would be a good time for them to have... He reached for the bond with them... was answered by Sonja, the one telepath in the group other than him and Lori.

*Are you done with the macho hero junk now?* she asked.

*Yes! I'll apologize for stupidity later, right now I need lots of power before Moira and Karl turn us into spaghetti!*

*Nice going, get Whitethorn in on things. Catch.* Something shifted, he felt Cynthia's presence and that of the other two witches, Sonja and Sam and Flynn, Deanna the one non-human in the circle, and pure power flowed into him, along the contact with Sonja, along the coven-bond...

Now there's a power-base to work from! Everyone but the wolves and those fool healers! He touched Lori, alerting her, so she could tie herself into it, then together they wove Shaine into the meld; Kevin saw/felt the meren start in surprise.

Moira shrugged. “Hiding behind Samantha's cat isn't going to save you, Kevin.”

“People keep saying things like that to me lately. It seems awfully negative. Nobody ever tells me what will save me.”

“Nothing can.”

“Somehow I had a feeling that was what you meant.” Except that I already know what will save me: having the world's greatest friends.

*Flynn says you need a hand,* Sonja added. *Eva's wanted a viable reason to thump Karl for ages, she's on her way.*

A small pale wolf dashed out the gate so close on Sonja's words it was hard to tell which might have acted first.

An alpha who started a fight with a non-alpha outside her pack was considered a bully. Even if that non-alpha repeatedly made disparaging public comments about the alpha's witch, who suffered from extreme emotional highs and lows, though less so since joining his coven. Getting on her nerves over and over was no excuse, even if other wolves might sympathize somewhat.

An alpha stepping in to defend others against an aggressive wolf of any status was another matter altogether.

Karl spun towards Evaline and she met him with her teeth bared. He was larger than her, but Kevin hadn't the slightest doubt who was going to win.

Moira traced a symbol in the air; fire trailed after each gesture, lingering, leaving the entire thing clearly visible. Kevin didn't have long to look; she finished it, and the unfamiliar symbol flared up. From its heart, where the light was most intense, poured what seemed like countless small glowing winged shapes, all streaking directly at him and Shaine and Lori. Instinctively, he channelled extra power into the shields at the front, only to have the whole flock do ninety-degree turns without slowing at all, over them or to either side. Lori flung a ball of green and tawny fire at one, but the ball was absorbed harmlessly.

Kevin let go of Shaine and spun around, praying the connection was steady enough to hold now without physical contact, reinforcing the shields all around them. It was too confusing, facing different directions: he had to stop using Shaine's senses and concentrate entirely on his own.

One of the small flying things hovered just in front of him, wings buzzing hummingbird fast, the body they supported vaguely weasel-like.

“What the bloody hell is that?”

“I have no fucking idea, you do fire, not me,” Shaine said shortly. Everything blurred, to Kevin's sight, even heat-images distorting; it took him a second to realize it was because Shaine had created an extremely dense foggy barrier around the three of them that seemed to slow and weaken their small attackers. It would at least make the shields last longer, but it wouldn't solve the problem.

“I don't know,” Lori said tightly, “but nothing seems to be working on them.” She tried her lioness avatar, snapped at one, but it dove out of reach with improbable agility.

“I'd say it's a technique from the Maridas' book on elementals,” the Lucian mage said with interest.

“Brace yourselves,” Shaine murmured. “With this kind of volume, I don't have much fine control.” He took a deep breath, and began to sing.

Volume? Uh-oh...

He couldn't see it, but he knew the lake was on the opposite side from the walls, and he knew what Shaine was, which he doubted Moira did. He closed his eyes and concentrated on creating a kind of arced telekinetic barrier between them and the lake—Shaine wouldn't mind getting wet, but he'd personally prefer to avoid it just now, and couldn't imagine Lori would be thrilled with the idea. He heard the sudden disturbance, the shift in the pattern of the waves against the shore.

Lori grabbed more power from the link, poured it into the barrier, adding her will to his.

Moira can't see it any more than I can.

For just a heartbeat, the moonlight was blocked by a huge wave looming over them; then it crashed down. Even prepared, Kevin winced from the noise, the sheer uncontrollable force of it, and Shaine fell silent mid-note.

When Shaine says volume, he's not kidding!

At least the barrier held. Mostly. They'd been caught by no worse than spray. Judging by Moira's venomous swearing, she couldn't say the same.

The wave washed away both Shaine's mist wall and the flock of elementals, and did some serious damage to their primary shields. Kevin let go of the telekinetic one, fed the power back into the main ones, felt Lori doing the same—standing here with minimal shields right now was suicide.

“Sorry,” Shaine said; he sounded a bit out of breath. “Had to do overkill to be sure I got anything useful. It's going to be a minute before I can do anything else.”

“'Sokay. Lori, you've got defence for a minute?”


Well, let's hope Moira doesn't have any demon protections. He pulled power from the whole group as quickly as he dared, gathering it together. “Hey, Moira, catch!”

She looked up, raised her hands to defend against the rainbow serpent that abruptly coiled around her shields. Much the way Patrick had, she hurled a simple fireball at it, intending to disrupt it.

They'd based this one on Shaine's gifts, too, a refined version of Kevin's instinctive retaliation against Patrick in their first meeting; he'd never heard of getting through a mage's shields like this, but it had worked when they'd tested it—although with lower power levels.

The fireball touched the serpent, and in the instant that a channel remained between it and Moira, the serpent grounded itself through it, intense power abruptly flowing in when she was still oriented on power going out.

She didn't even have time to scream; she crumpled to the sodden ground, motionless. Alive, though given her body temperature it wasn't a given that it would continue. She was, at least, out of the picture for the foreseeable future.

With a sigh, Kevin turned to face the other mage, and felt Lori and Shaine regrouping as well.

“Beautifully done,” Patrick complimented them.

“Thank you,” Kevin said tiredly. How much longer could they hold out, even with the circle behind them? “Can we finish this now?”

*Oh, I think so.*

Wait, that wasn't out loud. That was mindspeech.

How was an enemy using mindspeech during a fight, past all Kevin's defences, without the open doorways of direct physical contact or an active two-way coven-bond?

Telepathy was a normal elven ability, so much so there were even a lot of non-mage elven telepaths. The lowest prices were on enhancing what already existed.

And there were feelings rousing that he'd gone to great lengths to disown and bury, feelings he recognized but desperately didn't want to experience again, feelings that made him far too much like what Patrick thought he was. Arrogance, scorn, superiority, aggression...

*Lori!* It came out almost as a shriek. *He's in my...*

*That's enough,* Patrick said, his mind wrapping around Kevin's, spreading in an oily layer that Kevin couldn't get through.

Reality warped, perception twisted; Kevin fought frantically to hold onto what he knew for truth, but the other thoughts slid into his mind unstoppably.

*Get out! This is my skull and you are not welcome in it!*

*Kevin Lioren,* Patrick purred. *From what I see in your memories, you're very good at hurting the people you're close to, aren't you? Physically, emotionally... now I see why your little wolf there chose to come back to the city. But he couldn't get away from you, not completely, not after you'd touched him. What were you saying earlier about not being like me? I think you're much worse.*

“Get out,” Kevin snarled out loud, clawing desperately for any kind of leverage that would get Patrick out of his memories.

They didn't trust me to do it alone, that's why they both insisted on helping. Like I need help from anyone! How dare they doubt me!

They don't! a rapidly weakening part of him wailed. They trust you, they care about you!

They thought I couldn't take one damned Lucian who doesn't even have much power of his own! That or they thought I'd run off and join him. Yeah, as if I need him either!

“Oh, hell,” Lori muttered, and yanked Shaine behind her, breaking the linked shields and reweaving her own.

“See how readily they turn on you?” Patrick pointed out.

Lori doesn't trust me! She never did! Shaine never trusts anyone, he lied to us all...

“Fight him, Kev,” Lori pleaded. “You got past this once, you can do it again.”

“And who made you the judge of what I should be or do?” Kevin growled. He grabbed for power, but felt the link dissolve, melting like ice in summer. Cutting him off, pushing him out, leaving him with only his own power to use.

So what if they could all betray him so easily? He needed nothing but his own gifts.

“Shaine?” Lori said, her voice heavy. “Try not to hurt him too much.”

Kevin pulled together the moonlight, drew power up from within the depths of himself, and condensed it all into his phoenix; the bright bird dove directly at Shaine.

Lori's lioness appeared, and flung itself at the phoenix, foreclaws raking the air only an inch or two from feathers. Kevin had the phoenix circle a couple of times, considering ways to get past Lori, even if he had to do something nasty to get her out of the way. She deserved it anyway, turning on him. Shaine at least had never pretended to be more than a temporary ally.

What was Shaine doing?

The meren's clear voice rose again above the sounds of wind and wave and the savage wolf-fight a short distance away, sliding through a range no human was likely to match, tenor and soprano and higher yet.

The song held winter, ice, bitter cold, and it wrapped around Kevin like a January wind. Instinct screamed at him that he was child of fire and the ice could kill, even as the rage intensified, how dare Shaine do this... He felt weakness wash over him, his legs gave and he dropped heavily to his knees, head bowed, struggling to breathe.

“I can't even think of a name bad enough to call you,” Lori spat, somewhere beyond the ice, but, oddly, it didn't seem to be at him. He felt her touch in his mind, and struggled against her, there was already much too much inside his head, two conflicting sets of thoughts, and he couldn't tell which was real... All around him, ice began to form, not touching, but never more than a hands-breadth from him, shutting him off from everything else. He reached for Deanna, she was always there, but the cold drained too much, he couldn't get outside his own head.

* * *

*I can't reach him right now, it'd take too much concentration, and we can't afford that,* Lori said in Shaine's mind, her voice nearly as cold as the ice he'd just trapped Kevin in. *We're going to have to finish this without him.*

*Any thoughts how?* He tried to keep his thoughts off Kevin, off his own prayers that it wouldn't do the mage any permanent harm. He was certain that much cold had to be very bad for an elvenmage, but he hadn't been able to think of anything else that might work.

*Can you do to him what you just did to Kev?*

*Yes, but since he's using demon-power, it won't hold him for very long.*


He picked up on a flicker of movement, to one side, and scanned the area without turning his head.

Jess, his silver dagger in one hand, bare feet silent on the grass, limped closer. The effort in every step made Shaine long to run to him and support him, but that would get them both killed. If Jess could get close enough unnoticed...

*Hit him all-out,* he told Lori. *Throw everything you have at him.*

She must've caught the information about Jess from his mind, given how instantly she agreed.

Lori flung at the demon-mage a hail of daggers made all of moonlight; Shaine sang moisture out of the air into a second rain of flying daggers, these ones made all of ice, coming from an angle instead of straight on like Lori's. Trying to deal with that kept the demon-mage occupied briefly, long enough for Shaine to start a different song, while Lori simply fed him her own power and that of the circle in the house.

This song was of confusion and fear and disorientation, the same technique his family had used on Unity, muddling the senses and blurring the mind. It was meant to spread out, pouring across a broad area and affecting everyone within a supernaturally large hearing range. Though it meant he had to sacrifice some of its strength, he focused it as tightly as he could on the demon-mage alone. Still, it inevitably spilled over.

Aindry or Jaisan whimpered, and let out a plaintive puppy-howl.

The demon-mage hesitated, his shields rippling.

Jess stumbled, caught himself before he fell, and kept going. He couldn't be more than six feet away, behind the demon-mage and to one side. Would shields formed partially of demon-power keep out a demon-wolf?

Better safe than sorry. He shifted the song, gradually, made it speak of acceptance and belonging and home, of peace and safety.

The demon-mage's shields wavered and fell, fading away into moonlight.

Evaline, with a couple of dark streaks in her pale fur and one forefoot not taking her full weight, darted directly through the face-off, very close to the demon-mage. She seemed to be in better shape than her opponent, who had to be on his feet still only through pure mad will. The larger wolf ran after her, though in less of a straight line, and his shoulder bumped glancingly against the mage's legs. Automatically, the mage spun in place to track them, raising both hands again.

It only took Jess one side-step to be directly in front of him. With both hands wrapped around the hilt of his dagger, he thrust it upwards through the jaw, through the throat, and judging from the way the mage collapsed bonelessly with total disregard for how he landed, hitting the spinal column where it joined the skull at the back. Shaine wasn't sure the demon-mage had even seen Jesse, between the light levels and the distractions and Evaline's perfect timing.

Jess dropped to his knees, head bowed; where he'd found the strength, Shaine wasn't sure, but it had obviously run out.

Evaline trotted back and nuzzled him, tail waving slowly, and Jess draped an arm over her. “Kev?”

Shaine surveyed the area, but it was over: the larger wolf was moving only a little, small twitches accompanied by soft whining, the female mage was unconscious still, the demon-mage was very definitely dead. There were no demons left to fight at the moment, the one Alfari had cornered had vanished at some point, and the others were dead. Aindry and Jaisan were a couple of largely motionless shadows, but it wouldn't take long for assistance to show up, he was sure.

Lori let go of his hand and ran to Kevin; Shaine headed for Jess instead, helped him to his feet.

“Is Kev okay?” Jess asked.

Evaline whined, nosed Jess briefly, and loped unevenly over to Kevin.

* * *

Kevin's consciousness blurred, the raw cold draining him more than any mage-battle ever could, his metabolism struggling vainly to keep his body temperature at its usual level.

The ice shattered.

Oh gods, now what?

*I'm here, Kev, it's okay.* Lori's arm around him, Lori's wonderfully warm body pressed against his, heat wrapping around him in an intangible blanket. *Brigid, you're cold. C'mon, Kev, tell us you're okay.* A warm, furry body snuggled against his other side with a soft whine. A third body, much smaller, climbed onto his lap and purred.

“Kev?” That was Jess, out loud, coming closer, but he sounded terrible. And worried. “You're still you, right?”

“Still me?” he echoed fuzzily.

“There's no more outside influence, it's all just Kev in there now,” Lori said reassuringly. “I called the others, they'll be out here in no time. Wake up, Kev, you can't sleep now, not until we get you warm.”

“Damn,” Shaine muttered. “Maybe I overdid it. Is he going to get over this?”

Shaine sounding all concerned about Kevin's wellbeing was a sufficiently unusual occurrence to make Kevin blink and focus on the meren. “I'm cold.”

“No shit,” Jess said. “Get up, so we can go inside and get you warm.”

“Inside. Warm. Right.” Something clicked into place, and he gazed at Lori and Shaine in horror. “Oh gods, I attacked...”

“He was messing with your mind somehow,” Lori said firmly. “It was probably easier to trigger old behaviour patterns than to try any kind of direct control. He found a weakness and he used it. That doesn't mean you deliberately betrayed us. Get over it. Get up.”

“Yes, do,” Bane said, leaning down to slide an arm around Kevin and halfway pull him to his feet. “Walk. Inside. Flynn has the kettle on.”

Things got fuzzy, but he knew there were familiar arms around him on both sides helping him to his feet; in the warm brightness of the house, a cup was held for him, and he obediently took a swallow of soup.

“Jess?” he asked.

“They're fine, all three of them,” Deanna said. “Badly exhausted. No injuries to them or Eva that are going to be a major issue. We'll get them cleaned up and fed and Mandisa can look at them tomorrow.”


“In better shape than you are. Take another drink.”

“Too bad elves don't jump-start,” Aindry said, with a weak, slightly hysterical giggle, from nearby.

“The other guys?”

“Cynthia's dealing with it,” Sam said.

Bane hugged him, and Kevin gratefully leaned against him, absorbing his warmth through the blanket someone had wrapped around him. “It's all over, phoenix. Now we can all get on with our lives.”

“That sounds awesome. Just as soon as I'm awake enough to do it...”



Jess shifted position so Jaisan could lean against him more comfortably, and surveyed the living room.

Everyone was there, all more or less recovered from the battle a few days before, though magically speaking it was going to be some time before anyone was up to normal levels. Mandisa had taken care of the wounds of the demon-wolves and Evaline, which would heal, and treated Kevin's brush with hypothermia; exactly what she'd said to the two healers while checking them, having banished everyone else, they kept to themselves. Time would take care of all the rest. All three cats had found welcoming laps and obliging hands, and Gwyn lay sprawled next to Naomi.

“Well,” Evaline said. “Looks like life can now get back to normal.”

“Or become something like normal,” Jaisan countered.

“So. What are you, meaning Aindry and Jess and Jaisan, going to do now?”

“Find a home and a job,” Aindry said. “Maybe someone to teach me more about cars, that seems to be one of my stronger talents.”

“You have a home,” Cynthia said.

“Will there be room?”

“I'm in no hurry to leave my mom,” Flynn said. “This house has plenty of room, it'll just take some time to fix up the parts that are in the worst shape. You guys might need to share or something for a bit while we get that done, but ultimately, we'll all fit. Stay here.”

“I can't really argue. There were some people who've been very kind to us, too. I'd like to make sure they know why we couldn't stay and couldn't explain and that we're okay.”

“That should be easy enough to do, and I'm sure it'll make them happy. And I bet if we visit the garage, there'll be a job just opening up.”

“I think I'd like to go back to high school,” Jaisan said slowly. “After that, we can see what happens.” He snuggled against his twin. “As long as we're together. I think I'll get used to having lots of friends again.”

“Can be done,” Lori judged. “Jess?”

He thought that over. “I don't know. Maybe in September I'll go back to school with Jais. It would be really cool to see if we can make us and Sam exist legally again.”

“We can call one of Haven's very own lawyers and ask what we can do,” Cynthia said. “We can track down birth certificates and such, and get your name changed back to what it should be, and whatever else.”

“My uncle is one of them,” Evaline said. “He'll tell us for free.”

“And I'm wondering if it's too late to bring someone up on abuse charges. I didn't realize until that demon looked like him, but... I think I'd be able to leave it behind better. Not that he isn't a hotshot lawyer himself, and he'll probably get off...”

“That's how it goes,” Shaine said dryly. “Hit the hookers and the street kids hard and heavy, let the rich sons of...” He stopped, switched phrases. “Bastards walk away after fucking with innocent lives.”

“But just knowing I tried might help.”

“We'll look into that too,” Cynthia promised. “And you're quite right, we should at least do our best. Anything else?”

“Long-term? Maybe find a way to help the kids still on the streets who don't have demon-luck and awesome friends to bail them out. But I have to get myself sorted out first, so for right now I'm going to just stick with working at the Brewery, if Tomas doesn't fire me.”

“All of us,” Sonja sighed. “I bet we have to work serious overtime for a while. Maybe he'll put that on hold until after exams.”

“This time,” Kevin said, nestled between Deanna and Flynn—he said he still couldn't quite get warm, and he spent all the time he could cuddling with anyone willing, “nobody forget Jess is around, okay?”

That got a variety of winces and chuckles.

“We could also,” Aindry said, “get word out about Mom, if we aren't trying to hide. We might not ever know what happened, or if she's alive or dead, but we have to try.”

“Definitely,” Naomi agreed.

“Sam?” Liam said. “This sets you free, too. What about you?”

Silence for a moment. “After so long of it always being in the back of my mind that I'd failed and that I had to watch for any survivors... I'm really not sure. All the ghosts in Unity can rest now. Maybe if some of the misinformation and prejudice about demons has been shaken enough, I'll see if I can find anyone interested in learning my kind of magic, since as far as I know I'm the only one left in this part of the world who knows it.”

“You can,” Nick and Cynthia said in perfect synch, and looked at each other, and laughed.

Sam smiled. “Otherwise... if I'm not so worried about keeping secrets, it might be nice just to relax and live.”

“And come party with us,” Lori said. “We've been inviting you long enough.” She smiled. “And maybe other stuff.”

“That too.”

“Shaine?” Kevin said. “What are you going to do now? You don't have to feel responsible for Jess anymore.”

Shaine regarded him quietly. “I could just disappear.”

“You could, but we'd miss you.”

“True,” Sam said softly. “We would.”

“You won't find anywhere you belong better than right here with us,” Caitryn seconded.

“Besides, without you, who'll yell at me when I'm being stupid?” Jess asked. “And I might need you to tell a judge you saw lots of bruises. And I think you and Kev and Lori are going to have an awesome time messing around with fire and water magic. And...”

Shaine held up both hands, palm out—for once making no effort at all to hide the delicate webbing between his fingers. “Enough already. So I'll spend a lot of time in the lake but I'll make sure I come visit.”

“Lots,” Gisela said.

“All right, visit lots.”

“Good,” Bane said, satisfied. “Then as soon as we get dominance order worked out more permanently, it would seem we have a wolf-pack of seven—which is the biggest one I know of. And everything will now work out wonderfully, and we can all live happily ever after.”

“Demon-luck...” Jaisan said hesitantly.

“It'll keep life from getting boring,” Kevin said.

“I'd love some boredom,” Bryan said wistfully. “Not forever, just for a while.”

Alfari, coiled on his lap, purred agreement.

“Know something?” Deanna said. “We've been long overdue for a party. We have a whole long list of reasons.”

“You're absolutely right,” Nick laughed. “Now sound like a good time?”

Jess groaned. “Oh, god, not another party...”

“You always survive,” Liam teased.

While plans were formed for a run to the store and other tasks, Jaisan glanced up at him and smiled. “It's going to be good to have a home again,” he murmured.

“Jess!” Deanna called across the room. “Go raid music collections, would you? I have to keep an eye on Kev... no way, phoenix, you don't do anything in that kitchen without someone keeping an eye on you!” She darted after the elvenmage, and Jess rolled his eyes.

“Yeah,” Jess said softly. “It's good to know where you belong. And this is it. Come on, let me up, we've got a party to get going.”


The Quicksilver Sphynx
Miscellanea, June 1995
Nick 'Winter

If anybody's behind on news, that fight we warned you was coming came, and was won. But that isn't half the news that happened to Sundark-Winter-Dandelion-etc in May.

Remember I challenged anyone to prove to me that Alessandria Kore-Tremayne, Starluck's wolf, had a seventh child that was fathered by a demon? I swear, I am never going to ask for any such thing again. I got proof, all right, in the form of three black wolves who can kill demons. If you haven't met them yet, and you probably haven't because they're very shy, Jesse's twin Jaisan and their sister Aindry showed up just in time. To those outside Haven who've helped them while they were alone, without knowing the whole story, just because they needed it: thank you isn't enough. Just to confuse matters even more, water has children too (who are not going to be pleased when/if they discover that I'm telling you they exist), and we now have one—Shaine, in fact—living in the lake. Nor is Coven Whitethorn likely to be much of a threat for some time to come. Whitethorn, incidentally, no longer includes Rebecca, who apparently has decided to turn solitary.

I do not have enough room to tell you everything, but I'm sure the whole wild tale will get around on its own, duly exaggerated. Flynn's writing a story about it, and we'll make sure everyone who wants to know the actual facts about Unity, about demon-wolves, about Samantha's mysterious past, and about merenai has access to a copy.

I do, however, need to ask for help, not only of Haven but of all the villages and all our friends. If there are any other survivors from Unity, whether alive out there and hiding or dead since then that you know of, please get ahold of us and tell us. Three demon-wolves (not to mention Sam) would like very much to know what happened to their mother (friend) Dena Kore-Tremayne, especially. Please, spread the word as far as you can, and tell them the demons that killed Unity are dead.

News other than that I'm rather behind on, I've been a tad busy, but let's see what I can tell you. There's one wild summer solstice party being planned, a bonfire on the beach and all sorts of other stuff, get ahold of Covens Blackrose or Prism for more info or if you have ideas.

Perdita 'Harpsong has offered to give lessons to anyone interested in the use of song, drum, and dance in trance-work. Depending on the response, it might be individual or a group.

Haven has a new coven, Coven Avalon, who are apparently staying here even after they all finish at the college. Elsinore is a human healer from Aralu, Hale's a wolf from Falias, Natalia is a dryad herbalist from Irminsul, and Haven's own Pavel is (as we all know) a dryad telepath. Blessed be, cousins, and love each other long and well.

You'll have to live without historical notes this month, I'm out of time. (Then again, the simple fact that Alessandria's seventh child was real should be enough history for anybody!) See you next month, and have a great solstice!


Note: those mentioned in the Quicksilver Sphynx but not appearing in the main text are not listed

Jesse, our hero

In Haven:


Kevin, an elvenmage with a troubled past

Deanna, a dryad kitchen-witch who is loyal to her friends

Bane, an alpha wolf

Cynthia, a witch with an affinity for air , who acquires a feline friend, Hob

Flynn, a seer, originally from Scarborough, lives alone with his mother Isleen


Evaline, an alpha bitch

Liam, a dryad healer, Deanna's cousin

Nick, a witch with an affinity for water, who acquires a feline friend, Malta

Sonja, a human with an unusual set of psychic gifts


Bryan, a wolf, Bane's brother, Sam's closest friend and roommate

Naomi, a blind witch with an affinity for earth, who has a husky familiar/guide dog, Gwyn

Lori, an elvenmage, Kevin's cousin

Solitary friends of Sundark-Winter-Dandelion:

Samantha, whose past is a mystery, and who has a feline friend, Alfari

Gisela, a dryad healer, Deanna's sister

Caitryn, a wolf bitch


Rebecca, an alpha bitch with social claustrophobia

Karl, a wolf

Moira, an elvenmage

Avryl, a witch addicted to esoteric books

Duayne, an elf who studies questionable subjects

Others in Haven:

Tomas, an elvenmage Adept, Kevin's teacher, who runs the Brewery

Katherine, an elvenmage Adept, of Coven Firedrake

Claudia and Nyssa, full-time waitresses at the Brewery

Sylvia, Rebecca's aunt

Adam, bank manager

Mandisa, dryad healer and Haven's official doctor

Zarah, in Coven Helix, one of Deanna and Gisela's parents

Outside of Haven:

Shaine, Jesse's friend and roommate in the city

Aindry, a homeless alpha bitch

Jaisan, Aindry's brother

Patrick Lucian, a solitary elvenmage with questionable priorities

Troy, a dryad who isn't where he should be

Wynne, a runaway elf

Jake, a high school sports star with a major vulnerability

Pamela, a woman who attracts the wrong sort of man

Lew, Shaine's cousin, not seen in years

Dena Kore-Tremayne, an alpha bitch widowed with three children

Floria, a motherly dryad in Falias who offers hospitality

Ian, an alpha wolf, in Floria's coven

Wren, a human healer, in Floria's coven

various demons including Sikial

various predators

various cats

About the Author

Steph Shangraw lives in southeastern Ontario, Canada, with three rescued cats and their other human minion. In the limited time spent not writing fantasy, she makes handmade cat toys, runs a lolanimals website for her friends to play on, tries to keep up with a writing blog, and of course serves her feline overlords. She started writing over 25 years ago, offered several novels on her website for her friends, and is finally venturing into “real” self-publishing.

For more info, other work, or to contact her, visit: