The variable layout of the Keep guarantees, that you always never reach your designation using the same way twice. Sometimes a short walk or minor errand turns into an odyssey. You’re walking through corridors and corridors and halls and more corridors, on and on for miles and miles, without any sign of your designation.
This is one of those occasions.
I don’t know how long I’m wandering through the ever changing labyrinth of the Keep’s innards now. To me it seems like hours. My feet are tired and heavy as lead. I have to stop, bending over to prop my hands on knees. Now it’s easier to take a deep breath, giving my hammering heart the opportunity to slow down.
A bench to slump down for a moment would be nice. I raise my weary head and look around.
What a pity, no bench, only a bare hallway. And I mean bare. No rug on the tiles, no tapestries adorning the walls, no doors. Turning around I see there’s no door in either direction and behind me also no lights, the way I’d come vanishing into blackness.
“Lady Kyia”, I whisper, calling out the name of the Keep’s guardian spirit “what are you up to?” Suddenly I’m feeling very nervous. After a while I answer my own question: “Leading me to who-knows-where.”
So I gather what little strength is left in me and head along, following the lights like a moth.
The ordeal isn’t of long continuance. After hardly 100 paces and a bend the way ends on a single, undecorated wooden door.
In the stories situations like the current one never end well. Anxiousness already left me for good, now I’m afraid, more than I should. My heart’s pounding with deafening intensity.
Weeks are going by until I’m able to raise my hand, months until I open the latch.
Somehow I expect a loud, dramatic creak. Alas, the door leaf swings inside in eerie quietness.
Darkness greets me, an un-illuminated room of unknown dimensions. And a mirror three paces from the entrance, facing me.
Silhouetted against the doorway I look at my reflection. With the light source behind me there isn’t much more to see, though. What stands out most are my polished black boots and the equally shiny bald head.
Wait a minute, that’s not right…
I lower my head and glance down at me. The only article of clothing I wear is a linen kilt. No tunic, no breeches or boots and especially not bald. Of course not, I’m covered in fur! How could I forget?
With a start I switch focus back to the mirror. My “reflection” is still there, with arms now crossed, while mine are on my sides. The face is too much covered in shadows to make out even the slightest details, but I’m certain the other one is smiling.
Then it is speaking:
“Wake up, dreamer!”
A key is turning, opening the lock on my cell door.
I shake my head, trying to drive off the drowsiness of my uneasy sleep. What a bizarre dream. Reality isn’t much better though. The dungeons of Metamor Keep aren’t as bad as some of the rumors I heard about (this Roscoe guy is actually a decent one), but a dark, moist and gloomy place nevertheless. You’re far too alone with your thoughts down here.
The well-oiled hinges making surprisingly little noise as the massive oaken door opens, revealing the chief gaoler himself, Roscoe and a well-known small, skinny shape.
“Hey, Spotty, how are you?”
The worry in his voice stings. Dustin obtained some roles in the time since we met: Of a friend and confidant, guide, part-time mentor, even of a little brother here and there. And now the big brother. That is all right, I strongly suspect I’m younger than him. He doesn’t have to look that worried, though. I’m feeling better already, seeing him. “Don’t make such a sour face, Dustin. I’m not in the infirmary.”
“You’re on a heap of straw in a moldy hole and in terrible need of a good groom, Spotty. You look bad enough.”
Not to mention my bad mood, but it’s a good move of him to only mention the obvious. Maybe I should ask for a brush, at least it would give me something to do for a while.
“It’s nice of you to drop by. How went patrol?”
His smile brightens a notch, seems like he expected me to say something like that. “I’m not visiting. I’m here to pick you up.”
“Get up and drag your carcass out of here”, Roscoe says, not as unfriendly as his words might indicate. “Looks like you have at least one very good friend here.”
I hurry to do as the scorpion-morph ordered me. It’s a quiet getaway out of the jail, I’m still unbelieving what’s happening and Dustin too occupied to grin like the proverbial cat that ate the bird.
Just now I take notice of his condition. His clothes look fresh; the rest of him not. I don’t have to ask, it’s clear he came back from patrol not long ago. A sleepless event I gather, looking in his eyes. I feel a sudden pang of guilt, keeping him away from his well-deserved rest.
Although daylight is a welcome sight (must be late morning), I can’t enjoy it properly. With my friend and me finally alone it is time to discuss the state of affairs.
“I don’t know how to begin… or where.”
“Suits me”, Dustin breaks in. “Then I will start. You can think about your benediction-speech later. And don’t be so awfully troubled about my look. I’m a child, remember? The occasional sleepless night can’t harm me.”
Who could argue with that? Besides, he looks like he will blow if he can’t tell me all and everything right now.
“First of all, the woman you hit will press no charges against you. She suffered a bruise and a bad case of injured pride. I imagine her make-up took the majority of the punch. I’m afraid that’s it for the good news. The bail-out wasn’t exactly for free. I had to call in two or three favors. It’s possible you have to work off one of those.
“Besides, you have the sympathy of our patrol master. The Sensates are a constant pain, in particular for the more rare animal cursed and the guard. They caused quite a number of incidents in the last few years, results reaching from embarrassing to traumatic for their ‘clients’.”
Oh dear, the boy surely loves hearing himself talking, I tend to forget that. Before he proceeds to throw the latest gossip on my head I need to guide him back: “Sen-what?”
“Patience, I’m about to tell. The Sensates are a bunch of hedonists, constantly hungry for all sorts of pleasure. Tumbling in the hays is not only the way how they earn their keep, bedding an exotic or very cute keeper is almost a sport for them. You’re a priced trophy, Spotty.”
“I cannot say I’m feeling flattered”, I grunt. In reality I can’t tell what I’m feeling now, there’s too much thrown into the blend. I can taste embarrassment, a grain of fear and… all right I admit it: I’m a little flattered!
“No reason to be. Most Sensates are annoying at best and some are downright creepy. I almost changed shape the first time one of them tried to get into my pants. Instead I grabbed a piece of wood and hit her. And I did it better than you, I broke her frigging nose! Oh, the irony: They gave you my old cell.”
At last, the tension is leaving me as I share a hearty laugh with my friend.
“The days around full moon must be a real pain for you”, I say, ears perked up to signal a smile (I’m still re-learning how to smile with a muzzle). We stroll through a courtyard currently devoid of other people, so talking about sensible topics like Dustin’s… special situation is a manageable risk.
“No more than for everyone else”, the boy asserts. “I’m prone to accidental changes – the more if I do not regularly change on my own – but thank the gods the moon has no saying in that matter.”
“They make them not the old ways today, hm?”
“You mean, like in the legends?” Dustin asked. “Dunno. You know, I once met a real, an ‘old school’ werewolf. I’d been an adult that time, able to uproot a tree in my wolfen shape. But this… thing scared the living hell out of me. I’m sooo not like these monsters.”
“Yes, the bite-incident comes to my mind.” This makes us laugh again. Now we’re able to, the very opposite to that certain day…
A few days earlier:
I had buried myself in the library, researching facts about werewolves and lycanthropy. O course I could have done it the easy (and smarter) way by simply asking a particular werewolf I already knew. Alas, I decided against this approach, the events at our first meeting made it clear in my eyes that Dustin doesn’t liked to talk about it.
The naivety of my undertaking started to dawn on me relatively late, around the third or fourth book. Let’s say, the writers of the various treatises weren’t totally agreeing about a number of details.
Were creatures are servants of the daedras, no, spawned by them, nonsense, they’re made by a curse, no, by a disease, wrong, a crossing of ley-lines is to blame, or unlucky stellar constellations. They change under full moon, when angered, when drunk, on free will, using a fetish, using a potion, at given stellar constellations. They’re vulnerable to silver, to lodestone, sanctified weapons, wood from lightning-struck oaks, on given stellar constellations. And so on, you get my drift.
Well, after five wasted hours (no, make it four. To be fair, some of the stories were rather good to read) there remained one (in numbers: 1) common point in my notes: Lycanthropy is contagious! You could get it if you drink blood of a lycanthrope or eat his flesh (one resource even mentioned intercourse)… or if you get bitten by one.
Oh. By. The. Merciful. Gods.
After the lutin dagger poisoned me, Dustin had to bite me to keep me awake, twice or thrice.
Call me a drama queen, but the prospect of enduring another curse, one that could make me an outcast even at a place like MK, drove my calm demeanor out of the window in screaming terror.
I had developed a pretty dark mood the time I arrived at Dustin’s door. Without knocking I stormed in and spotted him on the living room floor, playing with his kids. Pointing a finger with unsheathed claw at him, I snarled: “You!”
His oldest, Andrei, a boy of 10 years, immediately jumped to his feet. Waving his arms dramatically in the direction of his father, he jelled: “Him!”
And Dustin joined in the “fun”. Kneeling, he threw his hands in the air and screamed: “Me”!
Everyone broke down in a giggling fit, but me. If possible, my expression darkened even more.
Eventual one by one grew silent, as they realized something was amiss. Tamara, Dustin’s wife, age regressed like her partner, was the first to rise to speak: “Mark, dear, what’s wrong?”
“Sorry, Mara, I need to talk with your husband, in private.” I pulled myself together and gathered what’s been left of my self-control. You do not raise your voice in anger as long as Tamara and the kids are around.
“Of course, Mark. Give me a second”, Dustin muttered, snatching his boots.
I nodded and left without a word. Waiting outside was the preferred alternative to bear their bewildered gapes.
Bewilderment was the least of emotions I could read in Dustin’s face, after I cornered him in a seldom used storeroom, hissing: “What have you done to me?”
“Mark, what’re you talking about? What’s up?”
Honest Dustin, he really had no hunch. However, his clueless look only poured oil into the fire of my rage. Within a heartbeat I had him by the shoulders, lifting him to my eye level, not even feeling the pain in my half healed arm. “Your disease, your curse. Call it like you want! And you told me nothing, not a single word!”
I might’ve just smacked him instead; the outcome would have been the same. With the realization dawning what’s going on came a rush of expressions in short succession: anger, hurt, shame and determination.
“Mark, before we continue, two thinks need to go down a bit: Your temper and me, preferably on my feet.”
What was I about to do? I don’t know, but Dustin’s soft spoken words helped me to come back to me. – That and the faint growl underlining everything. I put him back to the floor and made a step back, letting him sit down on a case. He gave me a resigned, tired look and pointed to a row of crates. “Please, take a seat. This will take some time.”
It was probably the best to approach things a tad slower. Swallowing my anger I did as he wanted and let him do the talking. After all, wasn’t that the plan?
“You’re not infected”, he began. “You were never in danger becoming a lycanthrope. In fact I can’t inflict others with my curse. With me, there are many levels of different, remember your own words?”
Did I mention something about smacking the boy? If he snatched a random heavy object and smashed my skull with it, well, that’s a good comparison to how I felt then. Oh, if he would just do it. I bedded my face in my paws, absolutely impossible for me to look into his eyes – ever again.
I heard him sigh. “I should’ve seen that coming. Being secretive about me is more than a habit. It is a way to protect myself and my family. But at least with you I should’ve made an exception. I will not do this mistake again. - Oh, wait a second.”
Sniffing noises were audible, then the groan of wood and nails thrown out of it, after that the rustle of wood wool. Something smooth and cool was tapped on my head to get attention. I looked up. A brown furred hand held a bottle of wine, already opened.
Dustin had wasted no time. He had changed shape to open one of the crates. Obviously with nothing but his bare hands, a reminder of the strength hidden within his small frame… And of the beating he would’ve given me if things worsened to the state of palpability.
“Here, try to drown some of these guilty feelings, but don’t forget to pass it back. Revealing ancient family affairs isn’t only embarrassing, it also makes thirsty.”
The bottle switched places three or four times between us (good stuff, I must add and much too expensive for any of us) until the boy-now-were-puppy decided for a more direct approach and broke the seal of another one.
“The best point to start from is most likely my great grandfather. Sir Samuel Elias, knight of Longrift. You see, we weren’t always farmers.”
“You surely don’t talk like a peasant.”
“Why thank you.”
Then Dustin told me the story of this Samuel of Longrift. A complicated tale, mainly because of the narrator, though. My friend is gifted with many talents, telling a story in a straight line isn’t one of them; I had to constantly query him about details.
In short: Longridge is a relatively small and insignificant countship in Sathmore. Sir Samuel was the count’s most trusted troubleshooter of all his few knights. He had helped a mighty dryad, saving the trees of her grove and thus her very existence. To thank him for his service she granted him a boon. The knight should whisper a deep desire of his in her ear and she would do her best to make it real.
And from there the opinions differ. Was the dryad prone to cruel pranks? Were Sir Samuel’s wishing improper or phrased in a misleading manner? Or was he just a weird sicko? (A variant adamantly rejected by his descendants!) Most likely no one ever will find out the truth. Immediately after the nature spirit accepted his request, the knight turned into an eight foot tall wolf-man-beast.
Sir Samuel went insane after his sudden transformation, mindlessly slaughtering the members of his entourage. Only his squire survived the bloodbath. He made it back to the town of Longridge and informed the count before he succumbed to his heavy injuries.
The count had no other choice than assembling his men and hunt down one of his former greatest knights. In the beginning they attempted to get the beast alive, although the catastrophic outcome of the first encounter with two more men to mourn changed their intentions. When the knights mounted their horses again, the count gave only one order: “Kill it.”
And so it happened. Although the chase and the battle were long and bloody, the beast was defeated easier, if someone could use a word like this, than expected. Contrary to common beliefs ordinary steel was all what it took to kill it. The silver bolts the count’s smith made for him were never needed.
The story could be over at this point. Sadly for poor Sir Samuel’s family, the nightmare had only begun.
In the following spring, the eldest of his five sons, Calvin, already a young knight, went through the same transformation that’s been his father’s demise. Unlike his sire he retained most of his sanity, but committed suicide shortly after.
The second son, Tobin, was the next to suffer the dryad’s witchery. However, he decided to fight for his humanity. He was the first to reach a certain degree of control over the beast and accomplished it to change back.
Meanwhile, rumors of the “curse of Elias Estate” had spread. With every passing day the gossip became more frightening. Fear grew in Longridge and turned to hate. So, one dark and cloudy night a big group of men assembled on the outskirts of the town. They marched to the estate, with spears and swords and torches and burned it to the ground, killing everyone they could get. Here, even Dustin lost very few words.
Only one got out of the massacre, the youngest of Samuel’s sons, Simon, Dustin’s grandfather. A child of nine summers by that time.
His tale alone is one for many nights by the hearth. The most part of the years to follow he lived on the streets, traveling with vagabonds, minstrels and merchants. Almost he forgot the terrible past, until after his 14th birthday the dark legacy of his father caught up with him.
Like his brother Tobin he refused to give in to desperation and the beast, his lifestyle had taught him to fight. Not only he learned to control the animal, he made it a tool, an ally.
Later he joined a wandering group of showmen, married the daughter of the troupe’s chief and had two children with her.
His son Marcus settled down and became farmer.
And in every generation the male offspring changed into a wolfman upon reaching puberty.
Silence surrounded us, heavy with thoughts and wine. Hours had passed, two empty bottles at our feet, a third one half on the same way.
I cleared my throat. “So, out there, when we fought with the Lutins, why did you call yourself a werewolf? In principle you’re something else.”
He took another deep draught (remarkable what his childlike body could hold. My eyes were hard on losing focus). “I once asked my dad a similar question. Mark, I’m able to turn into a menacing – don’t laugh! – Wolf-man-monstrosity. How would you name it?”
“Point taken. Pass the jug, there are some gears still working in my head.”
On other days we would’ve laughed out loud over a line like this. Even so we shared a smirk.
“Dustin, please accept my apology. I acted like an ass.”
“I will accept yours if you accept mine. We are friends. And it almost ended today, ‘cause I should’ve told you everything the day I picked you up for the grand tour, but I chickened out.”
I was about to say something, even raised my arm toward the ceiling to underline my words, the hand holding the wine. On the peak of my move the bottle slipped and flew, describing an elegant arc, to the opposing wall where it shattered.
What a barbaric waste.
I pinched my muzzle bridge and muttered: “You know what: we should sober up now, preferably before anything else gets the way of all earthly.”
Dustin hopped to his feet and helped me up. “Agreed. We better call it a wrap, Spotty. Let’s go home and think about a way to reassure Mara everything is all right. She’s surely worried about us.”
“And if she sees our condition…” I chimed in.
Dustin groaned. “Another night on the couch.”
“The bite-incident. Oh yes, our merry little bender in Hiram’s store room”, the boy snorts. “Tell you what; you’re absolutely no cute when you’re enraged out of your mind. Work on that.”
I stop dead in mid-step. “Hiram’s? How can he afford all that stuff?”
He shots me a funny look. “Aw, come on! You never realized he’s a poacher? Why do you think he’s so often outside alone? He’s very good at what he’s doing.”
“Good to know”, I muse. “We still have to pay for the wine.”
“No, we don’t, that bone is already picked”, Dustin declares. “I talked with the foxy and worked something out. By the way, you and I are going hunting one of the next days.”
“Yes, daddy.” Sometimes I feel like a cuddly toy, the way he’s dragging me around. But it’s hard to be mad with him. At least it’s never dull in his company.
Suddenly, Dustin’s head flips in another direction, away from me. “Could you excuse me for a moment?” Naturally he does not wait for an answer. He simply vanishes between some bushes.
I mentioned it’s never boring with him, did I? And exhaustive, I definitely forgot to include exhaustive.
Not only my heart takes a flying leap. What the... There he is. In the past few heartbeats he had lost some years in age along with a number of inches in height and now looks like a child who’s wearing the hand-me-downs of his older brother.
As fast as his short legs could carry him, he’s aiming for his target: a red fox-morph, unknown to me. Judging his clothes a farmer from the valley.
The unexpected battle cry had the poor guy visibly startled. Without mercy Dustin takes advantage of it. Before the surprised fox can react, my friend is behind him and hugging his tail, nuzzling the bushy appendage.
The unknown fox and I are undergoing a moment of mutual dumbfound-ness. What the heck is going on in Dustin’s head sometimes? Well, it’s not over yet, he’s fixing his eyes on me.
That piercing yell makes my eyes ring (adults tend to forget what strong lungs such little pups are equipped with) and I close my eyes involuntarily. Terrible mistake, in a split, little arms closing around my waist and his face pressing into my tummy fur.
And again every piece of my self-control is needed to not jump and scream like the pipe on a teakettle. (Oh gods, I’m ticklish, he never must know!)
His timing flawless, he separates from me and runs away, a second faster than my reaction. In a doorway, he turns around and waves to us. “Bye foxy, bye kitty!” Then he’s gone.
“Eh, nice kid”, the fox says, after a perplexed cough. “Not yours, I suppose?”
“NO!” I yell. With a portion more dignity I add: “No, I know his family, though. I better go after him; the inner keep isn’t the best place to frolic around.” It’s rude to leave without waiting for a reply, but the other surely wouldn’t mind.
The boy is not hard to follow, he’s simply laughing way too loud. Around the next bend I catch up with him, he’s slumped down on a bench, holding his gut. Guffawing so hard he has barely enough strength left so sit.
“You fiend!” I roar, “I should spank you like the brat you are!” Though, it’s hard to maintain my angry expression. No, it’s impossible, seeing him.
“Oh my”, he sputters between gasps for air “I didn’t knew you’re into kinky stuff.” That’s the last straw. Against my will I join the laughter, not caring for the looks bypassing keepers give us.
“One day, you will yank the false tail”, I utter. “…Pun intended.”
“Actually, that happened before now. There was this grumpy, grey fox kit. Who could have guessed, he’s animal cursed and age regressed and a wizard?”
“Did he turn you into a toad?” I tease.
“He set my boots on fire.”
Now it’s my turn to start laughing and his to follow after.
Even once we’re able to regain a façade of restraint, we spend the best part of the next hour on that bench, chatting idly about trivial stuff. And again it’s Dustin who’s seizing initiative.
“Let’s hit the Mule, my tread of course.”
“No, apart from that it’s awful early for a drink; I don’t want to make a draft on your generosity again. I owe you so much already.” I cut his protest with a raised index finger, something I picked up from Skylark. “Besides, I will be able to pay you back eventually. I think there is a suitable job for me.”
“That’s great! It’s not good for you to sit around and let your mind work on its own all the time. You really need something to do.” It strikes me now, he never mentions the money. He’s either a very charitable guy or just too polite to do. “What do you have in mind?” he inquires.
“I thought about applying at the writers’ guild for a copyist and illustrator.”
Were he in his wolfen form, I’m sure his ears would perk. “Your handwriting probably could need a little polishing first. That can take some time”, he announces. “You will need something for the meantime.”
Ah, now I understand. “And perhaps there’s something you have in mind?”
“Might be, you remember the favors I called in? One of the people I could persuade to help was George, said patrol master. What do you think about patrol duty? Skylark’s squad is still one man short.”
Well, I have the ears to perk them up, and I do it out of sheer surprise. “Dustin, you can’t be serious! Last time we were out there you had to safe my sorry… behind ‘cause I fell over my feet.”
“And I know exactly how to help you with that problem. Follow me Spotty, we’ll meet with Mara.”
“Why do you have to pull your wife into this?”
“Patience, I would never spoil the surprise.”
It’s afternoon. You could say Dustin took his time to reveal the “cure”. He took a nap first, while Tamara prepared lunch, her famed stew.
I dedicated the interim to my fur and got it back to a tolerable shape. Then I had to grab Andrei and his younger sister Lucy and went out for a walk. I made it just in time before they could drive their mother up the wall and made her throw them out herself.
Lunch was the usual lively and chaotic event a meal turns into when all participants are filled with boundless, childish energy (a certain feline morph excluded). An experience I grew very fond of. Amidst the seemingly untraceable four-way chatter, Dustin brought me into the loop…
“Why am I doing this?”
“No problem”, my friend calls and continues with tuning his wheel fiddle.
“Relax, Mark. I promise I will be gentle.” Tamara presents a warm and slightly amused smile while she steps near and takes my paws in hers. She had changed in one of her bigger garments to accommodate her grown body. Now she’ resembling an adolescent of about 14 years, the highest of age an age regressed keeper could reach. She’s quite something to look at with her wavy, red hair and sparkling brown eyes. With her now more prominent feminine curves the beautiful woman Dustin once married is much easier to surmise.
“If I was in your place”, I speak softly, “I would be the anxious one.” It’s your feet I’m about to flatten.”
Her mirth is almost as infectious as her husband’s. They’re very alike in that case. “Don’t worry, dear. I donned the sturdy boots.”
“You have absolutely no clue why we’re doing this, am I right?” the boy asks me.
I raise the left corner of my muzzle. A weak smile for my feelings. “It seems you lost me somewhere on the way.”
“See, Mark, I watched you walking around, sometimes even running. I entangled you in banter and guided you around; through stuffed rooms, huge crowds, on slippery surfaces, steps up, steps down. Every time you were an embodiment of grace and poise.
“And then the opportunities when I tailed you just to observe. Mark, you once pointed out that it’s not good for you to think too much. You were bloody well right. Every time you start to reason about what to do with your legs… you suck! I’d been honestly worried about you falling down some stairway and breaking your neck.”
“Objection, your highness”, I, well, object. “There in the woods I acted without thinking and we know how it turned out.”
“Yeah, you had an accident, lost every confidence in yourself that day and it got worse since.” He is pointing to his now bare feet. “I turn digitigrade, just like you are, when I’m changing shape (the reason why my boots are rather loose strapped). Oh, and never forget the tail. I know very well what you’re going through. But it’s not like you have to learn to walk again. All right, some keepers have to, although not you. You’re a natural.
“Everything depends on rhythm. Your body assumed a different one you’re used to. All you have to do is finding it. Dancing is all about rhythm. That’s why we are doing this.”
He’s pausing, probably to give me time to consider – he gave me a lot to mull over. With quite a small voice I speak off: “I’m not convinced.”
“Bear with us, what you have to loose?” my friend tries to light me up, starting to turn the winder. Lucy carries a tambourine to daylight, Andrei a flute.
Tamara diverts my attention back to her: “We start with something slow. I explain you the dance-steps. Try to keep up.”
Hours had gone by. Finally, I’m sitting on my host’s low table again.
Believe it or not, I’m feeling sore. Not only my feet hurt, my mind even more, from concentrating so hard over so long.
I would describe the first hour as a lesson in awkward. Everything got in the way: The feet (yes, very stable boots, I hurt my toes more than hers), the knees, even hands, elbows and tail.
Then, some when in the middle of the trial, somehow it got better. I won’t claim I turned miraculous into an acceptable dancer – I promised Dustin bitter retribution if he really dared to change my nickname from “Spotty” to “Klutzy” – Nevertheless, after my focus waned with time, a certain amount of fluency came back to me. Something I had not consciously experienced ever since waking up that first time.
I’d been trying too hard; Dustin had said me so, I guessed the same. But actually experiencing how everything got easier when I let go, was like a bucket of cool water in my face.
So we three (the kids are brought to bed) sit here. A tin jar of ale from Dustin’s own stash for each of us, enjoying this moment of calm in mutual exhaustion. One from dancing, one from steering a clumsy cat around, one from fighting his urge to break down in hysterical laughter. Figure out yourself who’s who.
A finger snaps twice in front of me. “Wake up Spotty, I’m talking to you.”
“Sorry Dustin. I’ve been deep in thoughts.”
“Wasn’t hard to guess. So how do you feel now?”
“You wear a pleasant content expression”, Tamara adds.
Good question. What do I feel besides of tired food pads? I’d became quite adept in self-analyzing me, shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out...
This time my friend snaps a little closer to my ears. “No zoning out again, fill us in!”
“All right, I won’t take the risk of you doing something with this ear”, I say quickly. “I feel good. It’s like this body was a couple of inches too big for me and I’m finally growing into. Thanks to you, friends.”
Dustin lifts his jar. “I call that a toast!” And boisterously chinks with me, only to let go a startled shout. Violently he splashes almost half of his ale over his face and chest.
Into the now dumbfounded silence my friend heaves a couple of exasperated huffs. “Forgive me, Mark”, he stammers. “Please be so kind and call me an idiot, a fool and a slowpoke.”
You can understand I’m taken aback by a request like this. “What’s up so sudden?”
He’s raising a finger and holds it close to my jar. An eye blink later he jerks it back with a muffled cry. But this time I’ve seen it too.
A tiny, blue-white lightning connecting the jar and his fingertip.
“No one of us thought about testing you for magic, especially me!”