Chapter 132: Error... Error...
Nathanial sat at the homework table in his basement and tried to study. It was mid-morning; Micah would probably be running around the playground on his recess, Nick would be hanging out in the halls chatting with his friends, and -- being the first day of the school's six day rotation -- Geoff and the others would be just sitting down to Chemistry. Mr. Rufus would wait a few minutes for people to settle in before...
The Akita shook his head. 'Focus.' He set the book, 'The Principia Arcana Volume VII: Teleportation. An Analysis of the Theories Behind the most Common Means of Non-Displacement Travel,' more firmly on the table, as if forcing the book to behave would subdue the material between its covers, too. It wasn't the easiest read he'd ever found. 'I mean, come on. "Non-Displacement Travel"? Why not just call it "teleportation" like the main title does? Why does the subtitle have to use different words for the same thing?' The introduction said the word 'teleportation' covered a very broad subject, but there were still means of travel that weren't covered under it in colloquial speech that should be. 'Non-Displacement' was more precise because it covered everything from energy conversion to wormholes to sub-planar shifting; anything that didn't involve displacing matter as you travelled like walking, swimming, and burrowing did. Even knowing that, he thought it was pretty much rubbish and crafted as an excuse just to make the title more pretentious. Nathanial rubbed his temples. Even the intro had threatened to give him a headache.
He looked around the clean room and tried to loosen the tense muscles in his neck. Jay had swung by last night to pick up the dark anole beastie, but Faelen made sure he didn't come into the basement -- it would've raised too many questions about matters they didn't want an Agent to find out about. It was a pity in some ways, because Jay might be as useful as Nanny was in solving their problems with Nick. The Jackal did seem very keen, from what Faelen said, on joining them on a trip to the Plane of Darkness.
Nathanial shook his head again and smacked his forehead with the heel of his paw. 'Focus!' He flipped through the book to the entry on Kerfoot's dual-point teleportation formulae. There was a complete breakdown of how it worked; all the theories behind each formula, the enchantment process, the spell diagrams, the grimoire entries so an artificer could just copy it over to the new grimoire, and more. The only thing it didn't have was some sort of key so Nathanial could figure out what half the glyphs meant. That was why he was trying to slog his way through the book.
At least his headache was gone. He'd woken up feeling sluggish, but a lot better than last night. Liam was still very drained, too, and Nathanial got the distinct feeling he spent most of the night worrying about Aoife, grieving for Muireann, and trying to deal with all those emotions Nathanial had inadvertently stirred. The stuff with Seff, the fears of being worshipped and not befriended, the loneliness he suffered through for so many lives, and the confusion created by Yoishi transposing his feelings for Kaoru onto the Akita. The Mage was sure the Ancient One found himself getting Kaoru and Nathanial mixed up.
This was not studying. Nathanial stopped staring blankly at the page full of tiny letters and stood up. "Ah, phooey." That didn't express half of his frustration. "Darn it." Nope. "Hades fucking-damn that Athena thrice-cursed jumbled piece of shit to Tartarus!" Much better.
He heard Conor trotting down the stairs. The Wolf called out, "What's wrong, Nathanial?"
The Mage's ears felt like they were on fire. He hadn't thought Conor or Dirk would be able to hear that. "I-I, um, nothing. N-Not really." He waved at the book as if that explained everything. "It's just, uh, I was studying -- trying to study -- the books we got on the teleporter. It's like half of it is written in Cyrillic and not the Latin alphabet! Unless I can figure out what it all means, I won't be able to tell what's in--" He tapped his head. "--here is from the old teleporter or from what I'm studying."
Conor shook his head. "It doesn't matter right now." He crossed his arms and leant against the doorframe. "You're supposed to be relaxing and not getting yourself worked up. I don't know how it works for Mages, but I'm betting getting worked up over magical problems is the last thing Sens...Liam wants." He grinned lopsidedly. "It's going to take a bit to break the habit of calling Liam 'Liam-sensei' or 'Sensei.'" The handsome Wolf sighed. "Anyway, you passed out last night from a lack of magic, and it takes Liam a long time to recover from that when he does similar things, so if studying magic takes magic, you should stop it right now."
Nathanial grimaced. "It doesn't take magic, but it is getting frustrating." He actually felt almost fine. He wouldn't want to try to open a portal to Taipei, or even Cork, but general around-the-house magic didn't drain him noticeably. Fixing up the basement took hardly any effort at all. Liam still got mad at him for it, though.
"Then stop. Go play a game, practice some kung fu -- Dirk has expressed a bit of interest in lessons, so you could teach him some of what you know -- or browse the internet. Do something fun."
If only he could do a search on these stupid glyphs. That'd be fun in some fashion. Not Final Fantasy fun, but it'd be a huge weight off his shoulders. Internet search... That might not be exactly what he needed; he may need to go to the source and ask the server. That should count as studying for its purposes, too.
Nathanial tipped his head to the computer. "I'll do that."
Conor nodded shortly, pleased, and turned to go upstairs before pausing with a paw on the doorframe. "Do you want me to put the kettle on?"
The Mage trotted toward the computer and jabbed his thumb over his shoulder at the kitchenette. "I got a pot steeping already, thanks." The Elemental trotted back upstairs. Nathanial sat down at the desk, plugged the spell tag in, and activated it. The server quickly took control of the computer.
["Present: User: MarksNa95."]
["User: MarksNa95 showing signs of stress. Stress abating. Recent activities causing elevated stress halted. Approved.
User magic levels: Reduced. Scans show high levels of ambient environmental magic fading. Many sources detected."]
["Theory: User: MarksNa95 engaged in combat with hostile life forms. Records indicate Agent: HalifaxNS_J writing new paper on unknown planar entity. Events linked.
Time elapsed from call to Agent: 11h28m.
Minimum possible level of ambient environmental magic present at time of call: Very High. Noted.
Potential Risk to Surroundings: High.
Potential Risk for Exposure: Moderate to High. Warded Basement: Approved."]
Nathanial exhaled slowly, if gustily, through his nose relieved the server wasn't threatening to 'neutralize' him or whatever. He was a bit curious about that ambient magic level rating system -- was 'very high' the highest rating, for example -- but he was far more interested in seeing if he could get the answers he wanted. He levitated the book he was studying over and ignored the computer's protests. "Server, I'm trying to study this book, but I'm having trouble with the glyphs. Is there a list of some sort of the various glyphs and what they mean?"
The screen showed the title of the book in the title bar of a new window and rapidly scrolled down to the page Nathanial had it open to.
["User: MarksNa95 knowledge level: Elementary.
Text level: Academic.
Recommendation: Resume studies of approved texts. Develop skills in logical format. Base glyphs used as foundation of higher level glyphs. Approved texts contain glyphs necessary for all Basic and Intermediate spells. Kerfoot's Dual-Point Teleportation Formulae are Advanced. Spell not recommended.
Answer: No list extant for all glyphs. Glyphs form in pyramidal fashion not suited for lists.
Action: Creating list for glyphs in selected formulae."]
Seconds later a long list of all the glyphs in the five formulae appeared on the screen. Beside each one was an entry containing the glyphs used in its creation and how the combination altered the composite ones. It was useless without knowing what the composing glyphs did, but given how you were supposed to build up to them, it made some sense. A high level glyph like some of these might represent twenty or more strands of magic meeting and interacting at that point in the spell. Giving a full description of that could take dozens of pages.
He moved the mouse over the first entry. "Server, show the glyph-pyramid for this." A window opened on the side showing six tiers of glyphs building into the selected one. He knew the base, plus three-quarters of the second tier, and a few on the third. This was going to take a while. He moved his mouse to that window and put it over the lowest level glyph he didn't know. "Server, show data on this glyph, including a spell that uses it."
In less than a second a third window appeared and filled the screen. A basic description of the glyph showed up top, the bottom two-thirds of the left had a grimoire-like entry for the spell Phosphorescent Code, and the diagram of the spell took the right of the screen. Nathanial scanned through the information. "Animate the spell diagram." It cycled through. "Loop it twice." He watched it go through twice more. Easy peasy. He scribbled on a pad of paper and flicked his finger at it. The ink vanished just like it was supposed to. He cast Mage Light, and under its soft glow the squiggly line reappeared in a faint bluish luminescence.
["Spell: Mage Light and Spell: Phosphorescent Code cast correctly. No alterations detected. Approved."]
["Spell: Phosphorescent Code not listed in grimoire registered to User: MarksGa75 or User: MarksNa95.
Query: State location spell was learned. State how spell was learned if glyph not understood."]
Oops. "I, uh, just learned it, now." He pointed at the screen. "From the entry you have there."
["User: MarksNa95 cast spell as listed. Spell not available to User: MarksNa95 in any other location.
Other Mages with access to User: MarksNa95: User: MarksWa46, User: SuzukRo49.
Grimoire registered to User: MarksWa46 and User: SuzukRo49 transferred to User: MarksGa75. No other grimoire registered."]
["User: SuzukRo49 rented grimoire on 15/11/2011. Spell: Phosphorescent Code not listed in rented grimoire.
Grimoire specializes in healer magic. User: Suzukro49 not registered as healer. Noted.
Action: Investigate User: SuzukRo49 for failure to disclose healing aptitude."]
'Fuck.' Why did he even bother trying to use the server? Every time he accessed it, it caused nothing but trouble. Should he warn Nanny or try to convince the server to back down? There was only so much he could threaten the server with before it tipped the balance and it blackmailed him. Besides, the rental of the other grimoire was on the system; she must have some sort of cover story ready for just this eventuality.
["Spell source not located.
Other Mages with access to User: MarksNa95. Searching..."]
The screen flickered as a long list of names scrolled by. He caught the word 'No' next to almost all of them.
["All Mages with access to User: MarksNa95 have time accounted for. No time available to teach spell, or Mage had no access to spell.
Conclusion: Source of spell unknown.
Stated source: Computer Server."]
Conclusion: Source of spell unknown.
Stated source: Computer Server.
Does not compute.
Query: State location spell was learned."]
"I-I did. I just read it off the screen and studied the spell patterns you showed. Some s-spells just...click. They work for me with little to no study from a grimoire. Mostly they're Dark-aligned, but this Light one worked. I have bonds to planar entities from the Light and Dark Planes."
["Symptoms common to deception: Not Detected.
Conclusion: User: MarksNa95 not engaging in deceptive activities. Approved.
Conclusion: User: MarksNa95 learned spell from non-grimoire sources."]
Conclusion: User: MarksNa95 learned spell from non-grimoire sources.
Does not compute.
Mages incapable of learning spells from non-grimoire sources.
Conclusion: One or multiple sources of data in error.
Action: Compile all data on subject."]
Nathanial sighed. Marcia and Ella were going to be pissed if he broke the server. Should he warn them? He thought about how scared Marcia seemed around him sometimes, just like Agent Hugh, and cringed. Agent Ella would be horribly worried and disappointed, too. Maybe he should just offer a quick prayer to Hephaestus and hope it worked, but Liam said he shouldn't do anything to attract the gods' attention, and offering a prayer like that certainly would. Hells, that was the point of saying a prayer. What about one of the gods who was already watching him? Could Hecate keep a magic computer from crashing? The sudden increase in the volume of the fans on his computer made him look back at the screen.
["Processing power: Insufficient.
Appropriating more resources.
Was it compiling the entirety of known Mage history?
["Analysis of phone data and locations show no Mage was in contact with User: MarksNa95 for sufficient time to teach spell in past four years.
Agent grimoire not removed from premises. No Agent in possession of private grimoire came into contact with User: MarksNa95."]
Nathanial moved that screen to the side and looked at the glyph pyramid again. He brought up the next one and glanced through it. The spell example was Eternal Incense and, while he could get what the glyph meant from it, the spell didn't click at all.
Over the next half-hour he whipped through the first glyph-pyramid while the server chugged away at the seeming impossibility. It appropriated more resources five times, but it seemed to be requisitioning them from under-utilized sections, because no one phoned or knocked down his door. He learnt a few more spells, one of which was called Improved Drying. It was minor Light aligned, and a higher end basic spell. It worked very similarly to the original spell, but it only targeted the loose water on the surface of the object and just converted it into vapour that got moved two metres away. There was no risk of damaging fur, could be used safely on food without risking the quality of the meal, and had potentially interesting side-effects. What, for example, would happen if it was used on a submerged person? Presumably nothing -- the water in contact with them would be vaporized and new water would take its place -- but if the person was less than two metres under water, then all the vapour shunted up would be in the air. It'd be an inefficient way of emptying a small body of water, but it'd work and likely create a small bank of mist in calm conditions. The real plus side was the spell was easy for Nathanial to cast, far easier than Drying. The speculation was more whimsy than anything else. Now, if he altered it...
It was right then that the server finally chimed.
User: MarksNa95 is a Mage."
It was good to know someone was sure about that. The text box continued on to read,
"Mages require grimoire, or a primitive variation of one, to learn spells.
User: MarksNa95 had no access to Spell: Phosphorescent Code prior to 18/10/2011
User: MarksNa95 showed no signs of deception when stating spell learnt via non-grimoire means.
Spell cast with no variation from displayed entry.
Conclusion: A Mage learnt spell from non-grimoire means.
Alternate conclusion 1: User: MarksNa95 is no longer a Mage.
Alternate conclusion 2: User: MarksNa95 has engaged in mistaken or deliberate deception while betraying no detectable symptoms of deception, and learnt spell from a grimoire unknown to the Arcane Society via a Mage unknown to the Arcane Society at a time while hidden from the Arcane Society. User: MarksNa95 in a location known to the Arcane Society at all times prior to 05/09/2011. User: MarksNa95 under heightened surveillance after 05/09/2011. Contact lost with User: MarksNa95 on multiple occasions after 05/09/2011. Conclusion possible."]
["No enchantment detected to force deception. User: MarksNa95 biography states honest nature even under duress."
Report: User: MarksNa95 displayed impossible feats on 07/09/2011 and 30/09/2011. Feats recorded."]
["Magic used on 30/09/2011: Unknown. No matching spells for magic recorded. Mages incapable of recorded feats. Impossible feats impossible.
Impossible feats recorded cannot be impossible as recordings record the events that transpired. Transpired events cannot be impossible. Events recorded irreconcilable with laws of magic and nature. Events impossible.
Conclusion: Recording device flawed.
Report: Recording device in good working condition. Recording device checked to confirm status as operational. Recording of feats flagged and disseminated to experts in field. Professional analysis pending.
Recordings removed from current analysis."]
All conclusions implausible.
Error: Data irreconcilable.
Error: Data irreconcilable.
Error: Data irreconcilable.
Error: Data irreconcilable.
'I broke him. Shit. They're going to get mad at me.' The computer beeped four more times before the screen flickered and a new window popped up.
["System error found. Analysis suspended and flagged. Emergency shutdown. System rebooting."]
The screen flickered and his normal desktop returned. The computer continued to shut down. 'Well, I guess a break it is. Maybe I'll look at the book on enchanting items after.' He really hoped he didn't get into trouble.
About an hour later, Nathanial stood by the stove and carefully used his telekinesis to draw out the bubbling molten sugar into two dozen dime-sized spheres. He kept them as perfectly round as he could -- the book said they'd be easier to enchant the closer to perfect they were -- while gently bathing them in a modified Chill spell.
The book on enchanting objects was far less...dense than the one on teleportation, but he felt it'd be easier to understand with a bit of practical application. There were just so many variations that made no sense when he glanced through the examples. He knew there had to be some underlying patterns to it all. Like why use spheres for anything to do with water? Why did the syrup have to be stirred after reaching the boil when he was always taught never to do that when making candy? It turned the resulting sweets cloudy. He could understand using food for some single-use enchantments, especially foods that lasted a while, but hells, why use hard candy for single-use obscuration items?
Nathanial's eyes widened. 'Cloudy candy to enchant for fog spells? Is that a coincidence or do the gods like jokes?'
It took a few minutes -- rather than the typical half-hour to full hour -- for the balls to harden. Since they had no colour added, the resulting spheres looked like solidified fog. The Mage's tail wagged as he grinned. 'Heh. Cool.' He checked the book again to make sure he had the next step right. Yup. He placed twenty-one of the best candies on a thick towel he'd laid out on the counter. The location of the candies drew out a constellation-like version of a glyph. They were on a towel because, apparently, the softer the surface the better. Since they had to be placed very precisely, it became a bit of a balancing act of softness versus precision. He figured a pillow would be too lumpy, and towels related to steam and stuff anyway.
Next, align the candy constellation to a powerful water source. To book entry pointed to another section that went into great lengths of how to determine the most powerful point along a river, in a lake, or ocean, all of which often coincided with the habitat of a water entity of some sort. The wording in the book gave Nathanial an idea, though, since the goal was to tap into water-aligned energy from the terrain. He'd just get Conor to stand where needed.
He also required a very light breeze, solved by turning on the ceiling fan to its lowest setting, and fog, for which he had the spell. The actual enchanting ritual involved reciting the fog-spell of his choice once per candy to be enchanted with the activating phrase taken out and a bridge phrase added in. While he recited the bridging phrase he had to draw a sigil on each sphere in turn with the last candy being 'sigilized' while he uttered the binding phrase. It seemed very simple, if lengthy.
Nathanial cast his mind out to Conor; the Elemental was in the sitting room of his suite working on his laptop. *Conor, could I get your help in the kitchen when you have a moment?*
The Wolf stood and reached up toward the ceiling. Soft pops came from his spine and Conor sighed. He twisted a few times to get the last kinks out. *Sure. I need a drink anyway.* The Wolf paused. *Hey, cut out the magic. Liam was very clear about that.* He began walking swiftly out of the room.
Nathanial smacked his head on the counter. "Fuck!" He straightened out the balls. *I don't need your help, then. Sorry. I completely forgot about the no-magic thing. I feel fine, though.*
Conor spun around the banister by the stairs and trotted down them. *Feeling fine is irrelevant. Your healer was explicitly clear in his instructions: no magic until he gives you leave. What matters is trust. Do you trust Liam's judgement? Do you respect him enough to listen to his instructions?* The Wolf turned down the stairs leading to the main floor.
Nathanial grimaced at his aborted project. *I do. I just forgot about it. Magic has really become integral to my life since I have magic now. I used to dream about it all the time -- the pittance I used to have only served to show me how much I was missing -- and now... I can't imagine going back. It's who I am.*
His 'daddy' shook his head. *Everyone has to make allowances for their health. A broken bone can set anyone off their regular life for weeks at a time. A flu can stick the most active person in bed for days. Surely you can stop casting spells for the length of a school day. You have to when you're in school.*
The Mage pulled a stool away from the counter and sat on it. He called out to Conor as the Spirit rounded the corner. "I know, and I do. It's just at home I'm not used to restricting myself like that. If I felt like I did last night, or felt ill today even, I'd have a reminder. I merely forgot."
The Wolf stopped on the other side of the counter, and looked over the candies. "What were you doing anyway?"
"Working on some projects. Earlier, I was studying the teleporter -- the actual core spells -- and now I'm trying to figure out how enchanting things works. Rather than starting with something that complicated, I decided to do some simpler ones. This was for Faelen." He picked one of the extra spheres up and held it with the claws of his thumb and index finger. "Portable fog. Once enchanted, he can create banks of fog wherever he wants by either crushing one of these or throwing it into water. If he crushes it, it'll burst into a three metre cubed area of dense fog, but if he has a source of water, it'll bubble out in a five metres of fog to one litre of water ratio. There are diminishing returns after the first ten metres of fog, but that's still a crap-load."
Conor looked impressed. "That's extremely handy if he has a pond or something around."
Nathanial nodded. "Yeah, but even if he just has a decent-sized puddle, or really needs to take a leak." The Water Elemental looked momentarily taken aback by that, but the Mage merely shrugged in a, 'hey, it works' kind of way. "He'll have enough water to make more fog than he'd get by crushing it. Either way, it could let him heal enough to save his life or give him the boost he needs to get Geoff out of a tight spot."
Conor picked another one up and rolled it around in his paw. "He's having a rough time."
"He doesn't have enough confidence in himself, but the big problem--"
The Spirit raised his paw sharply. "I know. He was dealt a bad paw -- most of us were -- by the traditions of the clan. He should've been given training. We should have a tradition of martial arts to train our pups in. But even aside from general clan-issues we should have pushed things for Faelen. I recently found out he's always had an interest in wrestling; if I'd known I would've made Geoff join the team in middle school. Hells, if he'd expressed the slightest interest, Geoff would've jumped all over it." Conor snorted and shook his head. "The chance to do something for Faelen would've made Geoff extremely happy, especially if it involved tight clothes and rolling around with him in suggestive poses. But it would've been some paw-to-paw training. If any of the schools actually had karate or another style, I think Dirk would've made a point of suggesting it if I hadn't already enrolled them."
Nathanial thought about that for a moment, deciding that he could work with it -- as long as Conor knew they'd been stupid about it. Maybe this would actually lead to change. He shrugged. "Then, since the past is done, what about the future? He's learning kung fu from Liam, but even with daily lessons, it'll still take years to learn enough to be useful against anything other than a random thug. The Hunters we've run into haven't had tons of training or experience, though they seemed to be what Liam calls 'chi-adepts,' but we can't count on their inexperience all of the time." Nathanial tossed the candy sphere into the air and caught it. "The best part about these little fog-bombs is that, once used, they can easily be passed off as smoke grenades. Should we be in a situation where Faelen needs to manifest, it'll make the Society's job easy, and that'll cut down on the flak we'd otherwise face. However, he still has no confidence in his Spirit powers."
Conor grimaced and put the candy back on the counter. "And? There's nothing I can teach him. Nor can Dirk, Avery, Da, Faeden or any of the other advisors, or even any of his close relatives. Do you want me to spar with him? His powers are useless in combat, so what help would that be?"
Nathanial cocked his head to the side. "Are they? Are his powers useless, I mean. I wasn't there when he fought Gordon or last night against the Demons, but it sounded like he was key to stopping both of them. Just because he can't bludgeon someone to death with fog doesn't mean he can't use it so he can bludgeon them with his paws. Or so Geoff can bludgeon them. Stop thinking like a fighter and think like a rogue." Conor stared at him blankly. "Role playing game archetypes. Fighters run forward and smash the bad guys while keeping said bad guys away from the rest of the party. Rogues can't deal damage out like that, and certainly can't take it, so they manoeuvre around stealthily to strike where it'll do the most damage at the best time. Faelen needs to work like that."
Conor pursed his lips in mild annoyance. "That's not me. I can think guilefully in diplomatic situations, but when the gloves come off I pretty much react in a straightforward manner." Speaking of guile in diplomacy, Conor shifted tacks to move to a more comfortable topic. "That leaves you as the best candidate for a coach, but I think this isn't helping you relax. Earlier, when I suggested some things for you to do, I wasn't thinking you'd do this." He waved his paws at the candy. "Faelen isn't your responsibility. You don't need another worry to add to your list."
Nathanial felt the muscles at the corners of his mouth twitch. "No, he's your responsibility. If I was working on something like this for Geoff," which actually shouldn't be any harder than fog-bombs, "would you be telling me to stop when I said I was fine?"
Conor's spine stiffened. "Yes. Yes, I would, Nathanial, and I don't like the inference you seem to be making. I raised Faelen alongside Geoff. Avery, Dirk, and I took care of both pups -- together -- their entire lives, raising them almost as brothers and loving them both as our sons. If Faelen was in danger, I'd fight just as hard to save him as I would Geoff. The special treatment Geoff gets isn't because he's my flesh and blood, it's because he's the Dark Elemental. If Faelen was the Elemental, he'd be the one with the special treatment. Even as an O'Conall, and Geoff as a McDougall, he'd probably have Geoff as his bodyguard. Do you understand how uncommon it is for two Spirits to be born so close together? Do you know how rare a Dark Elemental is, or what it means to all Spirits to have one nearby? Lineage would mean squat in that situation. I've threatened to leave the clan when it served Geoff's best interests, but if this issue with Dirk or Liam threatens Faelen's life I'd pull the exact same sort of dirty tricks to save him. I've got Da over a barrel and he knows it; the council would learn it just as fucking fast if they threaten my boys." Even though Conor looked almost calm on the outside his eyes blazed with anger. "Don't you try to tell me I don't care for Faelen, or should I say that you don't care for Micah because Nick is in a tight spot and you're paying more attention to him?"
Nathanial's blood boiled, but he knew what he'd said was totally unfair and out of line. Conor was just looking out for him -- even if he had recovered from last night -- and Liam would be really hurt if Nathanial blatantly ignored his advice. The Mage hugged the Spirit, taking him by surprise. "Sorry." Nathanial chuckled. "But maybe you shouldn't lecture me so much on diplomacy if your goal was to smooth this over. That last line was probably the worst thing you could've said."
Conor hugged him in return. "Yeah, I know. It's a bit of a sore point for me. I'm supposed to treat Faelen like a servant -- as my son's helper and bodyguard, and no more -- but how can you not love a pup you helped raise? How could he not feel like your own in some way? Dirk feels the same way about Geoff, even if it's even more improper than the other way around, and I can't fault him. Gwen sees Faelen as more of a brother than her real one." Conor tilted his head so it rested against Nathanial's. "I want you to make those fog-bombs, Nathanial, but I want you to be safe and healthy, too. Wait for Liam. Even if you made them right now, you wouldn't see Faelen any sooner."
"He'd have them with him when he went to the funeral though. He won't if I wait for Liam." The funeral. Nathanial's stomach plunged; he'd been subconsciously trying to keep his mind so busy he wouldn't think about it, and it worked...until now. So much death. This world was a truly cruel one.
The Wolf rubbed his back. "Hey, don't worry; they'll be fine. Nothing will happen to them, I swear. Neither of them is a big target for the Hunters, so the risk wouldn't be worth whatever the Hunters thought they'd get out of it. I ordered some ballistic vests last week and they should arrive in the next few hours. If it makes you feel better, I'll tell Faelen to wear his. I can say I just want him to test how they feel and see how practical they are. Geoff, Liam, and Faelen all seemed to express some concern over that."
Nathanial heard the sound of gunfire echo in his head. The shot aimed at him. The shots that took his mother's life. The shot he fired into the skull of the defenceless Jezebel. Shot, after shot, after shot -- all those bullets he'd sent to kill, or those sent by others. Why? What did Geoff ever do to earn the hatred of the Hunters? What did Nathanial do that his own mother would want him dead?
Sharp teeth pricked the skin of his ear. "Shut up, Son. I don't know what it is exactly you feel guilty for or why you feel betrayed, but stop. You're loved, and we're glad you're here even if those who wanted to hurt you died. Donald Markham has nothing to do with your family, and his family would thank you for bringing him back so they can have a funeral."
Was Nick all right? Would his worry over Nathanial lead him into a depression, just like Zhaohui said, and cause him to kill himself?
Nathanial's teeth clattered together when Conor suddenly pushed him out to arm's length and shook him. "Hey! Snap out of it! Gods! What is it with you and Geoff?" Nathanial stared up at the sternly frowning Spirit in shock. Conor smiled grimly. "Better. Now, when is the cleaning staff coming by again?"
Nathanial checked the clock. It was 11:42, so in about an hour fifteen or so. "U-Um they're scheduled for one. Since it's a bigger job than normal, they'll have twice the staff coming, so about twelve people. I expect it to take an hour and a half."
Conor nodded. "That works out fine, then. I need to run home at quarter to one for about twenty minutes. Why don't you come with us, and we can go out for a late lunch while your house is being overrun? I want to try that place Garret took you on your first meal together. What was it called again?"
Nathanial thought back to that day. The hot sun beaming down across the waterfront. The smell of the warm wood of the pier mixing with the cool breeze coming off the harbour. The sight of Micah laughing in delight as he dashed about trying to see everything at once. "Da Maurizio." It had been a perfect afternoon. He was so happy it scared him at the time. He'd been terrified Garret would leave again, but...Dad was still here. He stayed.
Conor smiled down at him and wiped at the newly dampened fur on Nathanial's cheek. "Then while we're waiting to go, why don't you show me some of those forms Liam is teaching you three?"
The Akita smiled timorously. He saw the last time he crashed his family's class with Si Fu Jim in his mind's eye. His heart quivered when he thought of Nick: the young teen's brow furrowed in fierce concentration as he moved through the san-so-sot form, his deep red clothes glistened like his mother's blood, and his sharp exhalations sounded like one fighting for his life. Nathanial forced his mind to continue on to what he knew was coming up rather than fixating on the macabre thoughts... How Nick's delighted grin peeked out like the moon from behind the clouds whenever he received a positive comment from their teacher. How Nick cast happy glances at his brothers and father at every pause in the lessons. How Nick drily inserted stupid puns or witty comments into the conversation as they cleaned up in the showers. Of course, Nick also stole as many glances at Si Fu Jim's huge dick as he thought he could get away with. Damn, that Polar Bear was hung.
Nathanial shook his head and led Conor downstairs, pleasantly distracted once more.