I was a little stunned that Hans’ wolf had provided such a… eloquent? …reply. It was a far cry from the emotional demands of ‘kill, eat, fuck.’ that had dominated my interactions with its mind in the past. I was broken out of that by the sudden sound of a growl and another wolf’s yelp, and the skittering of claws against concrete
Without hesitation, I dropped through the trap door and into the basement.
I was not confronted by the scene I’d half expected: Jockboy being mauled by the sisters and Hans. Instead, Jockboy’s wolf was hunkered down in a corner. Hans’ wolf was sitting nearby. And Shantaya’s wolf and her sister’s were rolling about in the limited space: pouncing on and snapping at each other.
I gathered myself to pull them apart, but felt Hans’ wolf thinking at me before I could.
“They are only playing.” Hans’ wolf told me.
I hesitated and watched the two wolves ‘play’ fight for a moment. Some of those bites looked too serious for play. “But they could hurt each other,” I told Hans’ wolf. And they would remember it in the morning, wouldn’t they?
Hans’ wolf stood and approached me. “They could kill each other, and it would heal. Our teeth and claws are teeth and claws, not silver.” The thought was tinged with what felt like amusement. “Leave them be: they need to learn how to fight, and what their place in our pack’s hierarchy will be — and they do not have long before moonset.”
While I hesitated to concede the point, Hans’ wolf nudged my hand with his head. He leaned into me, pushing me to one side. I took a step so I wouldn’t fall, and Hans’ wolf continued to push. Soon I found myself being herded into another corner.
“There,” Hans’ wolf proclaimed. “Now we can sit and watch without being stumbled over and dragged into the contest.”
I took in a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh and sat with my legs stretched out in front of me. Hans’ wolf laid down beside me with his head toward my feet. I ruffled the fur between his shoulders. Hans’ wolf made a surprisingly comfy arm rest.
But after just a minute or two I couldn’t stomach watching the two female wolves ‘play’ fight anymore. Play or not, instantly healed or not: the spily blood was all too real and. Combined with the approach of sunrise it was also distractingly appealing. And I wasn’t even all that thirsty!
But I felt the need to distract myself from the temptation, regardless. I turned toward Hans’ wolf “So,” I thought at him. “You’re really eloquent, now,” I concluded banally.
The wolf let out a whuffed sigh. “I always was. The only difference is that now my mind is infested with my humans’ words, rather than the purity of thoughts unrestrained by linguistics.”
Well, that was an awkward way to put it. At least: awkward for me, since that ‘infestation’ was my fault. I fumbled for a different topic of conversation. “Why isn’t Jockboy’s wolf playing too?” I ended up asking.
Hans’ wolf looked back at me. His gaze conveyed all too clearly his concern that I might be an ignorant child. “He has been cowed by them already. By all of us. He is the least of our pack, but I have accepted him into it. Any pup deserves better than that pathetic alpha he had. Perhaps by the next time we shift he will be willing to stand up for himself again.”
I frowned. Pathetic alpha? “Wait, do you mean Ben?”
“Is ‘Ben’ what you call cowards who leave the weakest of their pack alone in the territory of others?” Hans’ wolf asked. And somehow he managed to do it without venom: it was just a question, not a veiled criticism.
“Um. I guess so,” I allowed after a moment. “Except I don’t think he really saw it like that.”
“Then he is an ignorant fool as well as a coward and a failure of a leader,” Hans’ wolf concluded. He seemed satisfied with this answer, as though it gelled well with his world view. “Vampire, I understand perfectly well that an alpha female requires an alpha male for her mate, and that you are the alpha of alphas. But you could do better than that one. He doesn’t even have a pack anymore!”
For a moment my brain sputtered. When did I become an alpha female? And an alpha of alphas?! Who was this wolf describing, anyway? But then I managed to put together a coherent thought that wouldn’t undermine my position with the wolf sitting next to me. “Sure he does: his blood donors.”
Hans wolf whined in distress. He got up, turned around, and placed himself so that his eyes were level to mine. “Prey do not make a pack,” he told me with utmost seriousness. “At best they are a herd, and he is the dog that guards them.” It was clear that this was, in his estimation, even worse than being an alpha male who’d lost his pack members to another. “You. Can. Do. Better.”
Hans’ wolf continued to stare into my eyes, and I continued to stare back. I couldn’t put together a reply to that, so we stayed that way until I heard the front door open. Followed immediately by Ben shouting for me.
“Abigail?” Ben called. He sounded alarmed. Probably because he could hear the wolves fighting as clearly as I could hear him talking. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I shouted back. Hans’ wolf turned back around and laid down again while Ben appeared at the opening of the trap door. Ben’s arms were loaded down with plastic shopping bags. “They’re…” I hesitated to give the wolf’s explanation, mostly because I was uneasy with the idea of telling Ben what Hans’ wolf’s opinion of him was. But also because I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I’d just gotten unsolicited dating advice from a wolf. “…just playing,” I finished lamely.
Ben dropped down through the trap just like I had. His arrival also caught all four wolves’ attention — they froze in what they were doing and all heads pivoted to stare at him.
Ben’s eyes slid around the room, taking in the attention focused on him. His eyes widened slightly, and with a curse he blurred in place. The very next instant there was nothing where he stood except a pile of shopping bags, and he reappeared just a few steps to my side. Which saved him from being bowled over by Hans’ wolf, because in that same instant the four wolves charged at where he was. They didn’t even arrest their charge after he disappeared: they all went for the abandoned shopping bags, instead.
Ben took the two steps necessary to reach my side. We both watched the wolves’ frenzy with wide eyed fascination.
“So,” I said. “Steaks?”
“And a bunch of poultry,” Ben replied. “As much as I could carry that wasn’t pre-frozen.”
“Good thing you dropped them so fast,” I noted. Even as I said it, the wolves were continuing to tear apart the offering of food: plastic bags, cellophane wrap, styrafoam trays and all. “You would have lost an arm.”
Ben sputtered. “Yeah. Jumping into a den of wolves while wearing raw meat probably wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had. Please don’t tell anyone: my donors would never let me live it down.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked without thinking. It was a good thing the wolves were supernatural creatures. I didn’t think injesting that much plastic could possibly be healthy, otherwise. “I won’t let you live it down! So, what else did you get?”
Ben shook the handles of the remaining bags down his arm and into his hand so he could offer them to me. “Some clothes,” he said. “And a few rawhide bones in case they tore through the meat too fast,” he added almost guiltily, as though he too wasn’t sure if treating werewolves to dog treats would be conscidered patronizing. “Richard — one of my donors — told me he and the kids’ pastor went back to the church and picked up actual clothes for today from a donation bin. They’d taken them to the hotel, so Richard is on his way to bring a few sets here. Since I didn’t know what sizes to get people, anyway, bathrobes seemed to be the best call for the interim. Are they going to be okay, eating like that?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I mean: it’s styrafoam and plastic, not silver platters. Maybe they’ll get indigestion, but it shouldn’t be anything life threatening. I think. I’ll ask Hans’ wolf when he’s done eating. Or Hans when he shifts back.”
Of course, that got me thinking about when they would shift back. My eyes widened slightly. “Oh crap,” I muttered. I hastily started went through Ben’s bags until I found one with a couple of folded robes in it. “Let me borrow that. And no peeking!” Why had I said that? Ben just raised an eyebrow at me as I put the robe on over my glamoured clothes.
“What is it?” Ben asked me.
“Well, they’re going to shift back to human,” I pointed out. “And trust me: their clothes are not going to be coming back in decent shape. And two of them are teenage girls, and the other two are boys.” If Shantaya and her sister were anything like me, that would not go over well. My stomach was twisting in knots just thinking about it. Or maybe that was because of the impending sunrise. Whatever.
I frowned and put my hand on the wall behind me. Ben stepped back and watched me. I did my best to ignore him and focus. I’d managed to deliberately shift my glamour around a few times now. I’d even managed to anchor it to another soul, when I’d given it to Ben. So if I tried, I should be able to….
It took a few fumbled attempts before I realized that I had to reshape it before I detatched it from myself. And that I didn’t actually want to remove its connection to my aura, anyway, since that was the source of the essence that would maintain it. But, as with the silver fork-slash-knife-slash-sword, it didn’t have to be attached to me in order to be attached to my aura. When I finally had it, my glamoured clothes flowed off of me and out the sleeve of my robe. I walked backward, willing a privacy curtain to grow across the room as I did.
I stopped just a little bit short of the opposite wall, leaving enough room to be treated as a doorway around the partition. I did my best to lock down this new form and function for my glamour, and then took a moment to review my work. It looked good. Steel rings fixed it to a rail that ran across the basement ceiling. The curtain itself was heavy blackout cloth: completely opaque and long enough to pool slightly at the floor.
It wasn’t as good as an actual wall, but I was satisfied — and that was good, because I was also surprisingly tired. Even though I’d drawn some of the energy I’d used to manipulate the glamour back into my faerie bubble when I’d been done, I’d had to dump a lot more of it into the glamour itself to replace what it had lost when I’d disconnected it from myself, and then to grow it when it’s original ‘size’ was too little for my purposes. And on top of that: just the act of reshaping it so drastically seemed to take a lot out of me. Not in terms of essence, but in that I had the start of what promised to be a resounding psychic headache.
Ben whistled and ran a finger along the fabric. “You know, this is really amazing.”
I shrugged uneasily. “It isn’t, though,” I said. “I’m just giving direction to a glamour that already exists. Any witch could do as much.” Shoot, Fumiko could do as much and she wasn’t a witch at all. So really: any person with a bond to a faerie could use glamours.
“Yeah,” Ben said with a snort, “but your ‘familiar’ is a changeling. Most witches wouldn’t be able to throw around physical illusions like this. Not unless they were actually in the faerie realms.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, so I changed the subject. “I’m going to take the girls over to that side,” I told Benjamin. “Will you stay here with the guys? They are going to hurt when they shift back, so some vampire healing might not be a bad idea.”
Ben nodded. “I can help with that. I don’t know that Hans will let me, but the boy’s already been bitten by me once. How are you going to get your two over there, though?”
I frowned. “I’ll ask,” I answered Ben. “And I’m not biting Hans anymore,” I added. “So if he wants super healing, he’s going to have to get it from someone who doesn’t take so much out of an aura.” Although, given how Hans’ wolf felt about Ben… “Maybe we can ask Elaine to help with him,” I concluded.
“You’ll ask…?” Ben said in confusion, but I was already concentrating on asking and didn’t explain.
“Hey,” I sent to Hans’ wolf. “Will you tell the girls to come over to the other side of this curtain with me until moonset?” I wasn’t confident in my ability to communicate in ‘the purity of thoughts unrestrained by linguistics,’ so I was going to use the one wolf I could use words with as my translator.
Hans’ wolf didn’t ask why, or even send a reply. He just raised his head and nosed two of the wolf pups toward me. If he conveyed any psychic suggestions to them, I wasn’t included in the sending. But the two wolves seemed to get the point just fine. They split off from Hans and Jockboy’s wolves without complaint and disappeared past me, around the curtain.
“Okay,” Benjamin said. “So, that happened. You can talk to the wolves? And silently, so: psychically?”
I gave him an innocent look. “Sort of? I only have a good ‘connection’ to Hans’ wolf, though.” Which wasn’t really true, but Hans’ wolf was the only one that I could vocalize thoughts to and trust they’d be understood.
Ben shook his head. “Here,” he said. He shifted three of the remaining bags to his other hand and passed them to me.
“Thanks,” I said, taking them. “Don’t get eaten,” I added and then I went to the girls’ side of the privacy curtain. The two young wolves who were waiting there looked at me expectantly.
I gave them a weak smile and hastily sorted through the bags Ben had given me. One of them contained two massive rawhide bones, which I swiftly tossed to the wolves before they could get it into their heads to pounce on me for them. Another had bathrobes, and the last had a short length of thick rope. Each end was tied in a knot with a frayed fringe sticking out.
I stared at it, thinking: Seriously, Ben? But before I could toss it aside, Shantaya’s wolf — who, oh my god, had already eaten her ‘treat’ — pounced on the end I wasn’t holding. She growled fiercely and shook, and if it weren’t for my supernatural strength she probably would have ripped it out of my grip. As it was, I stumbled a couple of steps before I could brace myself.
Then her sister pranced over, also having made her snack disappear, and watched with interest. And then she lunged to take a snap at the exposed length of rope.
I yelped at the jaws closing so close to my fingers and let her have it. As soon as I let go, the two wolves started an energetic game of tug of war. I stepped back and let them: at least this was play that wouldn’t make me freak out or want to bite them.
Maybe I should get them a tennis ball to chase for tomorrow night, I thought. But as I looked at the two wolves I reconsidered. Neither of the pups was near as large as Hans’ wolf, but they were still pretty big. They’d totally pop a basketball, though. Maybe a soccer ball?
I sat down by the wall to watch them. Then, as I nervously drummed my fingers against the floor and ruminated on my sparse knowledge of the construction of sportsballs, I waited out the sun.