“Why didn’t you save me?” Elena’s turquoise eyes bore into me.
A spreading stain of blood expands over her blouse. “Now I am gone”, she says with great finality. “Gone forever”. I reach out with a clawed hand, with an arm that is webbed and covered in scales rather than human skin.
I scream something–
— and then I wake up.
“Shit!” /A dream, it was just a dream, Rune./ I put a sweaty hand against my face, tracing the scars. When I remove that very same hand, something sticks. Feathers. I glance down at the ruined pillow. I must have grown claws in my sleep and shredded it. Gah, this is more embarassing than that time when I was eleven and peed in my bed.
I get up from my bed, and I immediately wish I hadn’t. It’s December, and you can feel it in the temperature, radiators not withstanding. I am going to have tell Hermann to increase the temperature or I will get frostbites.
I open my bureau and grab clothes and gear. Shoes. Underpants. Pants. T-shirt. Heavy-layered t-shirt. I sneak up through the villa, where the almanac tells me that it’s Christmas before I head out.
/What are you…. ah./
Fallowfell in the middle of winter is pretty. Snow so shiny that it hurts to look at. Your breath steams the air. Great pines and firs shake their heads, sending snow cascading. Pretty, if cold. Now Dalarna, the province or landscape that I live in is rugged, but Fallowfell takes that climate one step further. I wonder if it’s the location, or the altitude, or a combination of them both.
I run out of Fallowfell proper, and into the forest. ‘Run’ is perhaps the wrong verb, it’s more accurate to say that I take really long steps through the snow. Since the…. since the Bonfire Ball I have been able to feel more strains of Verde. I can now pull ten strains, rather than eight. If each strain represents five percent, then I can now use roughly half of the potential that Verde’s magic affords me. And it scares the everliving crap out of me. The Great-Form…. let’s just say that my respect for Greyscale and the members of the Flight has increased ten-times over, because to be able to have that power and not rule the world…
My phone triggers an alarm, and I stop my run.
One Week til Perenell administers the Philsopher’s Stone to Elena
It’s going to be in the nick of time. In January the Council will send one of the Seven, and Fallowfell will face Censure; a limited time-period when all usages on magic will be restricted as an investigation is launched. That’s why we have to fix Elena before that. Elena… Elena who slumbers in her coma like Sleeping Beauty.
I continue to run. I have done my research on the places who have failed Censure, the names supplied to me by Greyscale. Roanoke 1590 A.D, ancient Thonis somewhere in the 12th century B.C, Skara Brae 2512 years B.C, Calakmul 856 A.D. The list goes on. Their crimes, if you can term them such, differed. Greyscale wasn’t alive when Skara Brae was destroyed, but according “to someone I know”, Skara Brae was annihilated because they shared the secrets of their supernatural natures with humans. Calakmul used too showy of a magic in their wars against the successor-states they fought. Thonis sank beneath the waters of the Mediterranean due to the rage of a rogue Council-member. And Roanoke was terminated because the alchemists, even if there weren’t any alchemist at the time, accidentally created something that had to be destroyed.
But, I think as I run back home, unlike Skara Brae we’ve managed to cover up the evidence, which should be counted for something. In the end much will depend on which of the Seven they send.
/I for one cannot wait until our driving lesson starts./ I wince, internally. Since my birthday two weeks ago, I am now sixteen. By Swedish law I can thus start the training for my driving license. For some reason Verde is obsessed with this. I personally think that he is substituting the speed of flight that someone like Greyscale can achieve with the speed of a car.
I shower, and grab some more normal clothes. Thick sweatpants and double-layered sweaters, that is to say. It appears that member of the Flight don’t handle cold well, and I didn’t handle cold well before I earned the constitution of a giant dinosaur.
I search the floor of my room for a second, and finding my query, I am on my way.
Ten minutes later, I find myself restraining Runt at Fenner Bog. The little ahuizotl tries to slip the leash, and no matter how hard I try to steer him in the right direction, he won’t do it. And so when all else fails, I resort to bribes. “Look, Runt, you do as I say, and I will give you two slices of salmon.”
Runt raises a paw, with four digits. “Uh-oh. Two.” He glares at me. “Alright.Three then.” With that settled, I look around. The stream is frozen. The reedy, marshy ground is hard and cold. The iced-over pools glint in the light. Yeah, I am going to have cause a ruckus to get some attention.
I call upon ten full strains, and a green, green light surround my body. I envision a wave, cascading outwards. That’s not what happens. The magic flood in, rather than out. I grow fangs. Plated armor works its way through my skin, giving me the appearance of a dragon-man. My sharpened senses explode, and I become aware of the birds in the sky, in the same way you know the birthdays of your best friends. My single eye is probably green. Oh bother.
Maybe because of my transformation, or because my senses are so much sharper with all the magic I am pulling from Verde, but I detect something moving through one of the pools. So I am not that surprised when a giant tentacle bursts through the frozen surface. I am however surprised when said tentacle sprouts eyes.
I carefully raise my hands in the universal mode for peace. “I just want to talk with Mizu. I come in peace.” I decide to repeat that. “I come in peace.” The tentacle stares at me. No eye-lids, the eyes on the tentacle have no lids. Ugh. It retreats as fast as it arrived, and as it does, I do some math. That tentacle was atleast ten metres long. If I ever have to fight the kraken, then I’d need to put atleast twenty, no, thirty metres between him and me. You might think it a bit overly dramatic to consider a fight with a gigantic sea-monster, but then again, nobody considered that one of the seniors in the local high-school was doing necromancy.
A pillar of water rises through the same hole that the tentacle emerged from, settling on the ground. There is a flare of magic, and the pillars turns into steam, revealing Mizu. Unlike normal steam, which is supposed to dissipate, this one surrounds her. Both Greyscale and Hermann have described her, but words often pale when faced with reality. Mizu’s eyes are a light green color, accented further by dark blue skin. I expected a crown of lilies on her head, but on this wintery morning, she wears a knitted cap. And she is naked. Yeah, I am maintaing eye-contact.
Suddenly remembering my manners, I put my palms against each other and bow, an action that is returned. “I have come”, I start, and grap a small package from the sack over my shoulder, ” to give you a gift, Mizu-san.”
She raises one eye-brow, an eye-brow that is a darker shade of green.
“It’s… it’s for Runt”, and the little demondog nods solemnly,” because you warned Greyscale about Helena Gravsten….” and I trail off.
“Because if I am being completely honest”, unsaid goes the fact a good chunk of supernaturals have ways of separating truth from lies,” I have a overt motive.”
“Thus you bribe me?” I expect her to speak Swedish with a Japanese accent, but hers is the accent of an immigrant that wants to blend in- spoken without a trace of anything that can give her away- which might not be so strange, considering what Hermann told me about her.
“Bribe is a strong word”, I offer in an attempt to buy more time, an attempt which fails,” but yes, it could be seen as a bribe. Or a gift.” I throw the package at her, hoping that the natural reflex of catching things close to your face will do my work for me.
She seizes the package midair, and holds it in her hand. After a moment, she rips it open with strong and concise tugs. When she is finished, she looks down at the garment that is my gift.
Snow starts to fall. First gently. Then, as if deciding, no-this-is-Christmas-and-on-Christmas-it-snows, a white cascade ushers down. Mizu casually makes a noise, and the flow of the snow changes, now flowing around us rather than between us. I frown, then nod. Of course. What is snow, but frozen water?
Eventually she speaks. “What is that you want?”
“I want to be able to talk to you. To come and ask questions.” I have trouble analyzing human faces, let alone supernaturals, but damn me if that isn’t surprise I see on her face.
“About what?” There is a certain amount of suspicion in her tone.
“Life. Japan. Magic. And… Hermann.”
She pats the kimono I had ordered all the way from Osaka with a longing that makes tears form at the edge of my vision.
“I would like that Rune Fallowfell. Yes, I would like that very much.”
She snaps her fingers, and the tentacle bursts out once more from the pool. It embraces her, and with a dizzying speed they’re back in that place between worlds. Remember how I said that I’d need thirty metres to fight the kraken? Make that forty.
On my way through Fallowfell, I spare a moment to add the length of kraken’s tentacle to the file I have on a cloud simply named ‘abilities’. In columns I have:
Kai Blut — known magic-user. transmutation. Conversion of matter?
Nevena Stanislaw –descendant of a senior member of the Flight. Manipulation of heat. Offensive as defensive capabilities. Creating mirages in the air?
Nidar Greyscale– senior member of the Flight. Shapeshifter. Great physical strength. Can breathe fire. Regenerative abilities.
Hermann Schwartz– artificial humanoid. Can walk unseen. Wields the Shards of Zulfiqar, capable of negating magic itself. Killing-intent?
Amanda Skog– werewolf. ??
And the list goes on. Now you might wonder why I have made a list over various people’s abilities, and I assure you, there is nothing shifty about it. I want to understand my own magic, and to do so, I must first understand magic in general. I want to be able to do more with what I have got. I add a note to ask Greyscale how to breathe fire. That should come in handy…
It’s bit of a cliché, but Christmas is a time of forgiveness, and I have one big apology to make. And so I find myself at the street that Nevena lives on.
I close my eyes, and in the darkness of my own mind, I see the apology I have written by hand.( Greyscale’s advice, when I asked him, was that women like the small touches).
I am not certain how I shall phrase this, so I will simply be blunt. I did you a wrong. Yes, I know how stilted that previous clause sound like, but formality helps me express what I want to say. Because the truth is that I was afraid. That I am afraid. Afraid, that you’d betray my secret, that you would tell people. And so when you stopped talking to me, I didn’t think. Ironically, I thought that you had betrayed my confidence, when in truth it was I who betrayed your confidence in me. When I was little, Hermann taught me the difference between an apology and a statement about an apology. So Nevena Stanislaw, I apologize, from the bottom of my heart.
I open my eyes. I cross the street and I put the package in the cold snow. I press the buzzer. I pull, not magic, but an attribute from Verde, a feat that I have only just recently learned to do with accuracy. Speed. I recross the street and hide behind a lampole.
Simona opens the door and grabs the package. She looks around, obviously searching for me, and not finding me, she closes the door.
The ball is now in Nevena’s court, to use a sport-metaphor.
Sometime later I sit next to Greyscale and Herman, quietly admiring the food that Hermann has prepared. In no particular order we have ham, lutefish (it wouldn’t be a proper Swedish celebration without some kind of semi-rotten fish), Jansson’s Temptation (this is a form of potato-gratin, and no, don’t ask about the name), meatballs, must (this is a rip-off of coke), mustard for the ham and of course, a chocolate santa. I keep telling Hermann that I am sixteen, and no longer want a chocolate-santa, but he keeps on giving me one every Christmas.
“So”, Greyscale starts conversationally,” which one of the Seven do you think the Council will send?” He asks this while preparing a half-metre long sandwhich, liberally smeared with custard.
“Not now”, Hermann complains, eating another meatball.
“Oh but I want to know”, I add, not bothering to hide my curiosity.
Hermann sighs. “Not Tam Linn I hope”, he mutters between chews. “Amen to that”, Greyscale adds.
“What’s wrong with Tam Linn?” I am so Googling him later.
Greyscale answers my question with an out-of-character seriousness. “Tam Linn is mad. Mad can mean two things in English; angry or insane. He’s both. The Council tried to kill him, but he wouldn’t die, so they made him one of the Seven. This was…. the 17th century?”
“16th I think. I personally hope they will send the Sharpshooter. He atleast is sane, if albeit morose”, Hermann mentions.
“You want Tell because you both have that fetish for Germany”, Greyscale says with a grin. “How many times do I have to tell you? Tell was originally Swiss, I was originally born in Baghdad, even if I identify more with Germany.”
“They won’t send Nimue; not enough water here”, Greyscale says in an obvious attempt to change the topic. “You’re atleast right about that.”
They both stare at each other for a while. “Hervor!” They both say it at the same time.
“Who is Hervor?”
“Why don’t you answer that, Greyscale..” Hermann trail off, and now he is the one grinning.
“Hervor is…. an old friend. Our parting was less than… shall we say amenable. If they send her here, well I am going to get my ass kicked.”
“But the Great-Form…” Hermann snorts.
“Against someone with Hervor’s abilities, size means little”, Greyscale laments. “In fact”, he continues,” I’d probably have to shapeshift to a smaller size.”
“You can do that?”
“If you mean you as in ‘I’ then yes, if you mean ‘you’ as in you, then no. Or atleast I would be careful. If we discount the biological failures… there is always a certain identity-chrisis experienced when you change appearance. Isn’t that so, Hermann?”
Hermann roll his eyes. “The blade that killed Helena Gravsten, did you find out anything else about it?”
I positively vibrate with excitement. When we gave Hermann those cordinates, I think me and Nevena both hoped that he’d find her and bring her to justice. Instead he found her impaled to a fridge. No trace of the killer, none. But the blade… the blade was made of a metal called angelsteel, which, as the name implies, was used by members of the Host in a forgotten age. A rare metal used by various ancient supernaturals and members of Pier 7, the domestic agency that “protects Sweden against Sweden” to use Hermann’s own words.
“No”, Greyscale scowls. “According to my sources, Pier 7 have no active operators or operations in the area.”
Hermann frowns. “That is worded in a very interesting manner; no active operators. Meaning that there could be non-active operators in the area.”
Greyscale opens his mouth. Pauses. “I didn’t think of that.”
“Now wait one second. You guys are telling me that we could have an agent, like a supernatural James Bond in Fallowfell?”
Hermann’s face pucker and for once Greyscale doesn’t smile. “No, much worse”, Greyscale begins. “The operatives of Pier 7 are true-believers”, Hermann adds. “.. and they will do things..” Greyscale mutters.
An uncomfortable silence fall at the table.
“So shall we open the presents?” Hermann’s non-sequitur breaks the gloomy mood. We adjourn to the lower level of the villa, where Hermann has put up a tree and garlands. Beneath the trees lies a pile of presents.
By silent admission me and Greyscale decide that Hermann should be the one to hand them out. So without further ado..
Hermann grabs a package in silver. “To Greyscale from Rune”, he reads. Greyscale grows claws and rips the package open, revealing a t-shirt with a print of snarling dragon and the text ” I, FOR ONE, WELCOME OUR LIZARD OVERLORDS“. “Subtle Rune”, Greyscale comments.
Hermann chooses a pink package this time. “To Hermann from Greyscale” he says. Ties- three ties, each one with kittens and a monogrammed H.S. I can’t stop laughing. “Oh laugh all you want, your turn will come”, Herman rebutes.
“To Greyscale from Hermann”, he says with poisonous smile, and gives Greyscale a present covered in wax-paper. Greyscale opens it and laughs. It looks to me like a black stone with small brown spots. “Sit still Rune.”
Greyscale places the stone against my eye-patch, which moves, pulling towards the stone. “A lodestone”, he explains. “That wouldn’t make sense… unless your scales contain iron”, I mumble considering the ramifications.
“To Rune, from Greyscale”, Hermann intones in a solemn voice.I remove the blue paper from my gift, and I hold the item up. Knuckles made from a white material, with runes written on them. There is a sense of layered, chained magic within the knuckles. I carefully put them on.
The knuckles…. they smell like Greyscale in a fundamental way, like they are Greyscale. Bones, I realize. They’re made from bones. Greyscale’s bones. The realisation must be visible on my face, because Greyscale adds his cents.
“Yes they’re made from my bones.” “Where….” I don’t know how to finish the question. “My left hand– but because I shapeshifted into the Great-Form, I grew a new one.”
“I…” I clear my throat. “Thank you.”
“Yes, yes, Greyscale cut off his left hand for you, but what about my presents…” Hermann’s belligerent tone makes us laugh and I receive another package.
This is not the first Christmas since my family died, but it’s the first Christmas that I feel that… that Christmasy feeling. There was a time when I wondered if I could ever celebrate Christmas and actually mean it, but I am no longer worried. Merry Christmas!