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The Saga of James Stormcaller [Harry Potter AU]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Baked the Author, Nov 2, 2021.

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  1. Index: Intro
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    Introduction

    Hello everyone~. My, it's been a while since I posted in the SFW sections, haha.

    No, but seriously. Welcome to this, one of my oldest and -- in my opinion -- best works.

    EDIT: FOR THOSE WONDERING, YES, THIS IS THE SAME STORY ON FF.NET, James Stormcaller and the Walnut Court. THIS THREAD WILL CONTAIN THAT STORY, AND ALL SEQUELS AS THEY GET POSTED.

    It says AU on the header, but what this really is, is a top-to-bottom reimagining of the world the Harry Potter series takes place in, mostly in the sense of actually paying heed to the thousands of years of human history that is just not touched on in the books, except in the most vague sense.

    The story is camp, and far from perfect, but it's also the labor I most love to write about. It is also the longest work I have planned; hell, I'm not even at Hogwarts yet, and the first book is already longer than The Philosopher's Stone.

    Having said that, I will only say this once: if what I'm writing about disagrees with Harry Potter canon, it's either intentional, or I'm replacing the element with something that isn't convoluted. This is fanfiction, and I will ultimately write this story how I wish to write it. Criticism is, of course, welcome, but I reserve the right to ignore it if necessary.

    So, welcome! Prepare for a tale of nature, magic, and the bonds of friendship that will take us from the Forest of Dean to the furthest wilds.

    Welcome, enjoy, and please let me know what you think of it!

     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2021
  2. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 1 "The Boy Who Speaks To Trees"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]

    What is magic?

    What a fascinating question. Small surprise that you ask such a thing, innocent young man that you are.

    In my long existence, I have come to realize that it is not the philosopher who asks the wisest questions, nor the hermit, nor the druid, nay, not even the emperor, though such beings are oft surrounded by intelligent advisors who think themselves wise; fools, seeking to shape the world that has shaped them.

    Tis children who look at the world and wonder, and in wondering, ask the questions that must be asked; ha, please forgive this old lizard for rambling. I shall answer your question in brief.

    Look about you, child, and tell me what you see.

    Mountains? Yes, they are very tall, aren't they? Do you see the trees, growing on their knees and shins, or the grand eagles that nest upon their chests and shoulders?

    No? You see no knees or shins or chests or shoulders, only stone? Tis perhaps not too late, then, for you to understand. Patience, child. Be as the mountain, and listen.

    Do you hear the wind, blowing warm tidings from the west? Do you hear the grass about us, singing for the coming rain? Hahaha, of course you don't! And just because there is no cloud in the sky does not mean t'will not shower tonight or tomorrow!

    But you hear none of this, because you're not listening. Oh, verily, you hear the world about you, but you're not listening to it.

    In the same way, to understand magic, you must first learn to listen to magic. You wish to learn how? Well, a hint I have for you, and a warning.

    Firstly, your advice: magic is alive, in the same way you are and, yet, not. It waits for those with the talent to shape it, and will leap to your will should your cause be just. Listen for it, learn from it, respect its power, and your path will become clearer.

    But if this is the path you truly wish to walk, then, child, I caution you: it is a difficult path, harder than the ease you would find in civilization, for though such a path leads to wonders great and glorious, there is darkness in the world, brought here by the blackest of deeds, seeking to ensnare the unwary and corrupt them to wicked purpose.

    So if you walk the true path of magic, child, then take heed; for there is darkness in the world, worse than even the Dark Lords of old, who, before their end, learnt the bitterest lesson:

    If you listen for the darkness, know that the darkness listens for you.

    -Introduction to The Magic of Nature, by Jardine Gwinnett, Berlin Publishers LTD, 1912
    BOOK RESTRICTED UNDER I.C.W. ARTICLE 17, CLAUSE 2b
    GENEVA CONVENTION OF 1956

    The answer to a question posed to
    Persephone, The Fangs of Winter, Last of the High Dragons
    by a ten-year-old Gellert Grindelwald
    Austria
    June 1893
    […|…]

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    James Stormcaller
    and
    The Walnut Court


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    Chapter 1:
    The Boy Who Speaks to Trees
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    As a nine-year-old Harry Potter watched his Uncle Vernon drive out of the nature preserve's parking lot, he realized that he'd just been abandoned.

    It wasn't too surprising to the black-haired boy; after all, his relatives didn't much like him. Harry, as he got older and learned about the world around him, didn't much understand why they didn't like him; he was well behaved, did all his chores in an efficient manner, and got good grades in school (not that he liked school much, as his teachers would yell at him for doodling during maths, but he wanted to do well there, as he had a thirst for knowledge that was only matched by his hunger for a good adventure).

    Last year, though, he found out why they called him 'freak' sometimes: he had a Power in him.

    Harry didn't know what else to call it after discovering it, running from his cousin's gang of bullies and, suddenly, he squeezed himself through the eye of a needle and was on top of the school! His Uncle had been furious, but Harry was used to his Uncle being mad at him; there were more important things to think about at the time, anyway.

    Such as the fact that he'd teleported just by wanting to be safe!

    So Harry Potter did what he usually did when he had a question that needed answering: he went to the library.

    His school's library was smaller than the one near his relative's house, but he'd found books on history there, ones that were better than the heavy, unhelpful book his teacher had given him, and it was easier to access than the bigger library. The stories in those books were more detailed than the one in his class textbook, so, Harry thought, they might have a book about people who used Power.

    But there was nothing in the History section about people using Power! Just a bunch of vague stories about burning witches and claims that 'magic isn't real'. Or bad. But Harry wasn't using magic, he was using Power, so he didn't have to worry about getting burned for being a witch.

    There weren't any books at his school that talked about his Power, though he did learn a lot about surviving in the wild. Useful stuff, that. Harry started gathering things he found lying around outside, in case he needed to make something; he kept them in a tattered canvas backpack he found in the public park.

    Nice looking rocks, feathers, sturdy branches, string and wire (he found those most often, next to loose buttons), even animal bones! All of it went into the bag; the book he'd read on survival said that anything he found could be useful in a dire situation, and Harry took that lesson to heart.

    Hiding his loot from his relatives wasn't hard, because Harry could be sneaky if he wanted to be; just like his teleport was his Power saying 'safety', Harry found a few weeks later that if he really concentrated on being 'unseen', no one would notice him. He started going 'unseen' more often, slipping off to the Surrey Public Library after school, searching for a clue to the source of his Power, or scavenging the neighborhood for useful items before garbage day.

    Then, three months before he watched his Uncle drive away, Harry had a breakthrough.

    He found out about Shamanism.

    Talking to the Earth? To spirits? Turning into animals, or even smoke?! That sounded like what Harry was looking for!

    Harry spent the whole summer learning how to become a shaman: first, he meditated to find what the books called 'his center', but that was just another word for Power, Harry figured. That part was easy; Harry was good at clearing his mind of distractions from living in his cupboard under the stairs.

    When he found his Power, Harry nearly cried out in surprise! At first, his Power seemed to be a large ball of flame, like the Sun; but when he touched it, it jumped!

    It also cleaned all the dirt from inside his cupboard, probably because Harry had been thinking about cleaning his relative's house to help himself focus.

    Harry spent the next few weeks getting a good feel for his Power, not wanting to make a mistake and burn the house down; his Uncle probably wouldn't understand if Harry said it was an accident.

    He stumbled into the next step on the Shaman path when Harry tried listening to his Power near a copse of trees in the local park. After a few minutes of meditating, Harry could hear someone grumbling to themselves; focusing his Power on listening to the voice, Harry could suddenly hear it clearly; it sounded like a grumpy old man, and it was coming from the oak tree he was leaning against!

    'Silly bloody squirrels, get out of my branches! Out, I say! Stealing my acorns and chewing at my bark, chattering about nothing all night and day! Ruddy fancy rats, you are! Out!'

    Harry blinked as the tree went on grumbling about the chittering squirrels in its branches; it seemed rather cranky, for a tree. But what did Harry know about being a tree?

    To wit, he went over to a smaller, nice looking beech, and, placing a hand on its trunk, asked, "Excuse me, and I don't mean to bother you, but I have a few questions."

    Unfortunately, this tree was no nicer than the oak, 'Eww! Away with you, greasy meat-thing! Stop touching me! It's already hard enough to breathe with all of you making a mess!'

    After that, Harry decided not to try talking to trees in the city. They didn't seem to like human beings very much. Instead, he started on the next part of the Shaman path: crafting his staff and spirit-rattle.

    This part was harder: he needed things that were not only personal, but that channeled his Power well. Harry also had to hide his work from his Aunt and Uncle, as they'd probably say he was being 'freakish' and punish him.

    The staff was actually pretty easy to hide: Harry found he could make things shrink or grow by gripping his Power and thinking 'smaller' or 'bigger', so he kept his staff (a five-foot-long piece of driftwood with a gnarled head) in a pocket of his hand-me-down trousers, just in case he found a new piece of ribbon or a feather that would go well with it. But Harry had to be careful to think 'stop' at the right time, or the item would keep growing until it was the size of a house, or shrinking into nothing!

    Harry had to start over once, after shrinking his first staff to the size of a dust speck!

    One thing that was special to Harry went on top of the staff: a green and black banded stone the size of his fist that he'd traded a squirrel (as they were much better behaved than the trees in the park, if prone to rambling about nothing for minutes at a time!) four hazelnuts for. Reading up on it in a book about rocks told him the rock was called malachite; another book about the spiritual meaning of gemstones told him the rough green rock was good for healing and transformation, and protected travelers!

    So Harry tied it to the gnarled head of his staff with a strip of faded purple velvet he'd pulled off a broken chair left on the curb; Harry reasoned that the velvet had once supported others and made them comfortable, so maybe it would help the malachite feel at home, too!

    According to the books he'd read (Harry had started reading fiction, as it made more sense than the Life or Times articles on Shamanism, especially the works of Tolkien, where he'd learnt Quenya and how to respect nature from Elves, Ents, Hobbits and Bombadil), his "wizard's staff" would allow him a better connection to the Powers of Nature: wind, earth, water and fire.

    Around his birthday, a week before Harry found himself sighing sadly in the parking lot near the Forest of Dean, he found himself hesitantly completing his spirit-rattle.

    The books on Shamans said that they were simple things, a piece of bone with a bunch of things that made noise attached. Harry saw the real problem right away, though: most of the rattle was made of dead animal parts.

    Good thing Harry wasn't squeamish. He also cleaned the parts he found lying about with the hose or basement sink, so his relatives wouldn't make a fuss about the smell.

    The two most important parts needed to be a hollow bone filled with small stones and nuts-in-the-shell, and something close to his heart; again, from what Harry read of Shamans, adding a personal piece of his life would amplify the rattle's aura and allow Harry to commune with the final Power of Nature, Spirits.

    When he was seven, he'd been given a charm bracelet from a girl in his class for Valentine's Day; she was lonely too, and didn't have many friends because she sounded like a chipmunk when she talked, and her bushy hair hadn't helped. But she'd made friends with Harry over their shared love of books, and in the two weeks his cousin had allowed it, they'd dreamt up adventures together, based on western dime-novels like Indiana Jones and King Solomon's Mines.

    He was James, a rough-and-tumble explorer out for adventure with his trusty dragon-hide whip, and she was Jean, an expert on ancient history who tried to keep her good friend out of trouble, to mixed success!

    It was fun…until Dudley bullied her. Then Harry got beaten up for defending Jean (he'd forgotten her real name, but it started with an 'H'); and then she'd gotten transferred to a different school for smart kids. But James kept the bracelet. He'd given Jean a round, glittering stone after they'd been friends for a week, a prize from an adventure during a class field trip to South Downs National Park; the book on stones said it was called gneiss, and the spirit book said it helped with calming the mind in rough times.

    Harry hoped Jean still had the stone as he attached the bracelet she gave him to the rattle, right next to the owl skull that was the head of the rattle; he'd added feathers, a string holding beads and buttons, and some furs from discarded coats. Smiling to himself in his cupboard, Harry felt the deer rib handle grow a bit warmer to the touch. Now, he just needed to call a spirit!

    That night, two days before Harry's Uncle drove him away from Number 4 Privet Drive, Harry went out into the backyard, cleared his mind, and shook his rattle once.

    And immediately stopped, as his Power had shaken like an earthquake! Something told Harry that shaking the rattle here was a very bad idea!

    So Harry shrank the rattle down, wrapped it in a napkin for safety, and put it in his backpack; he'd have to try shaking the rattle in a forest, or somewhere better connected to nature, Harry figured as he drifted off to sleep.

    The next day, he was woken to the sounds of his relatives screaming! Looking out the slit in his cupboard, Harry was surprised to find the house filled with animals!

    Rabbits and chipmunks and squirrels and field-mice and raccoons! Even a skunk or two had moved in while Harry had slept!

    "BOY! WHAT THE BLOODY HELL HAVE YOU DONE THIS TIME?!" Harry also hadn't ever heard his Uncle so mad before.

    Convincing the animals to leave was as easy as saying 'exterminator' in their presence, but the mess they'd left had his Aunt bursting into tears. Harry tried explaining that it was a mistake, but his Uncle was really mad and didn't listen. Harry spent the day in his cupboard, keeping quiet as hired professional cleaners undid the mess and his relatives spent the day at an amusement park.

    Then, the next morning, his Uncle had opened the cupboard and told him to grab whatever Harry didn't want thrown away. Harry grabbed his pack, his threadbare blanket, a baseball cap (Harry didn't like people looking at his scar) and his knight figures; the mattress was too stiff for Harry to easily move, so it stayed behind.

    Two hours later, Harry was standing under cloudy skies at the entrance to the Forest of Dean, watching his Uncle drive off, his last sneering words echoing in his ears, 'If you want to do freakish things with nature, then you'll be right at home here!'

    Sighing sadly, Harry realized he'd really messed up this time; his Uncle had even left him a suitcase, obviously second-hand, no doubt filled with the barest essentials. He probably wasn't coming back.

    Shaking off the sadness at being abandoned, figuring he should try making the most of this situation, Harry opened the suitcase to check its contents: a battered steel flask for water, a jar of peanut butter (thankfully full), a new loaf of sliced wheat bread, two apples, an electric lantern with replacement batteries, and a small sleeping bag (also second-hand, if the dirt stains were any indication).

    'Good thing I took that pocket knife off Dudley,' thought Harry as he closed the suitcase and pulled off his backpack, 'Vernon didn't even give me any rope. What's an adventure without rope?'

    Resolving to make some, Harry pulled out his staff and, making sure no one was around to see, unshrunk it and laid it down carefully. His spirit-rattle was next, secured in a belt loop in his oversized trousers.

    Now, for his backpack items: all three balls of thread (green yarn, hemp twine, and good nylon cord), his stones (mostly interesting plain stones that sparkled or shimmered in the light, with two raw amethysts, a mother-of-pearl shell, petrified twig, a small coinpurse half-full with rough pink quartz pieces, and a flat piece of obsidian the size of his palm) all wrapped in a piece of denim, a butterfly knife Dudley threw away after getting bored with it, along with his cousin's broken air rifle, a brass compass and sailor's spyglass (the things people throw away!), two sets of clean, if somewhat worn, clothing, and a few library books on Shamanism, British wildlife and geology, wilderness survival, and his copy of Tolkien's Silmarillion (found at the thrift store near the library, and who puts a first edition Tolkien in the bargain bin?!), which he was learning Quenya from.

    Why learn a fictional language? Well, Harry had read that a big part of being a Shaman was singing to nature, and Finrod had battled Sauron with songs, as had Luthien against Morgoth, and Orpheus in Greek mythology had sung his way through the Underworld, and the Valar had made so much with only music! So Harry resolved to learn the language that shaped the world! He hoped it would work.

    Gathering up his backpack and battered suitcase, Harry gripped his staff and looked at the forest around him.

    It reminded the young Shaman-in-training of South Downs, except wilder; he could barely hear the sounds of people anymore with all the birds chirping around him and the trees sighing in the warm summer breeze. Smiling to himself at the peacefulness of this place, Harry ignored the footpath and began walking north into the trees, stretching his Power and listening for any conversations the trees might be having.

    He wasn't disappointed. After only a moment, he picked up a quiet conversation between a sweet chestnut and an ancient-looking ash.

    'I say, lad,' the ash commented, 'The North Wind brings such strange tidings these days!'

    'Hmm, too right, old sport,' agreed the chestnut as Harry began approaching the two, 'To think that airy fairy had such a temper, all this time!'

    'Bah, serves those catfish right, if you ask me! Especially after that poor fawn went to wade in the shallows and got bit on the leg by those nuisances! Good riddance, I say!' harrumphed the ash before apparently noticing Harry walking into the chestnut's shade, 'But what's this, now! Lad, you've got a human taking a stroll in your shadow.'

    "Good morning, sirs," greeted Harry politely, causing both trees to gasp in surprise, "May I say, you're both looking fine today."

    'Ha, indeed little one!' barked the chestnut in good humor, 'Better than the copse across the way, too close to the road to hear the Winds, them!'

    'Hush up over there!' called a nearby larch, 'I'm trying to listen to news from the boar farm! Some scandal involving the owner's daughter and the miller's apprentice is underway!'

    'You and your gossip, it's a wonder you still have branches with all the listening you do!' another chestnut tsk'ed breezily to much laughter from their neighbors and a sophisticated snort from the larch.

    Harry laughed with them; these trees were much better behaved than the ones near Privet Drive! Maybe they could help him on his path, "I was wondering, actually, if any of you know of a place that would be good for me to listen."

    'Oh, is that all?' chuckled the ash good-naturedly, 'Just reach out with your branches-'

    'Oi, geezer,' huffed a distinguished-looking beech, 'Humans don't have branches, they have things called hands. See how this one grips their walking stick?'

    'So that's what those are called…Forgive me,' the ash apologized, 'but they certainly look like branches,' the tree's leaves shuddered as it did the equivalent of clearing its throat, 'Well…For you humans, there's a good spot a ways north from here where the trees are older-'

    'Oh, but take care laddie!' the first chestnut warned, 'There's fairies up that way, and they don't take kindly to humans snooping about like boarhounds.'

    Harry blinked in surprise as the other trees made various noises of agreement. He didn't know fairies were real, and said so, adding, "Surely you're not mistaking them for dragonflies or finches, good sirs?"

    The beech answered Harry, 'Ah, you must've come from the mundane world. Well, boy who talks to trees, you'll do well to remember that all myths have some truth to them, no matter how fantastic,' the other trees around Harry gave hums and grunts of agreement, branches creaking and leaves fluttering in the warm West Wind.

    'After all,' the ash added with humor in its tone, 'Are you not speaking to the forest? Verily, in all my many summers I've not heard of such a thing occurring!' amidst more hums of agreement, it went on in a curious tone, 'What manner of human are you, then, who speaks with the forest?'

    Normally, Harry would have given his name, and almost did; but he remembered that he was on an adventure, to discover the ways of the Shaman in nature! Plus, he was leaving his old life of misery and disappointment behind, Dursleys, bullies, drunk parents who died and all!

    So, he'd need a new name…well, James was his adventuring fallback, but his last name? Then, inspiration struck! His scar looked like a lightning bolt, so…

    "I'm James Stormcaller, Shaman-in-training," he replied with a grin, giving a little bow of respect, "It's nice to meet you all."

    The ash chuckled, as did many of the other trees, 'Haha! Well met, Stormcaller!' 'Don't be bringing any typhoons around, now!' 'Aye! No need, with the warm front coming through tomorrow!'

    James laughed with them; these really were nice trees. But the sun was getting higher into the sky, so he bid the trees farewell fondly, "I'll head north then, and watch out for fairies. Thank you all, may you never rot!"

    This was apparently the right thing to say, as the trees rattled their branches happily in the wind and the larch commented, 'Oh, so polite!' The ash bid him farewell as well, 'And may your feet never fail you, young one! If you go north, seek out the circle of stones; that's a good place to listen, or so we, the Forest of Dean, hear.'

    Bidding farewell once more, James walked away north in high spirits, listening for trees that sounded older and keeping a weather eye out for stone circles. With each step and tap of his staff, he felt the comforting warmth of the forest watching out for him.

    'The forest for the trees…I think I understand, now,' James mused as he walked in the green-lit shade, the clouds parting to let in the sun, much to the joy of all the nature around him.

    The boy lost sight of the paths quickly, vanishing into the deep shadows of the Forest of Dean.

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    [..|..]
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  3. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 2 "Into the Forest"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]
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    PUBLIC COPY
    INTERNAL MEMO

    Attn: All DoM Agents and Staff
    From: DoM Assistant Head of [REDACTED]
    Re: Incident [REDACTED]


    There seems to be some confusion regarding this event, and the Boss has asked me to clarify exactly why no one can remember where most of the stone circles in [REDACTED] are.

    The short answer is that our Agents, at my behest, placed a Fidellus Mortus on the [REDACTED] so that what happened near [REDACTED] doesn't happen again. If it weren't for our quick response time to the incident, the Statute would have been irrecoverably broken; as those in the Ministry Department of International Magical Cooperation can no doubt tell you, the ICW is quite hacked off that the [REDACTED] was nearly broken by a couple drunk Purebloods, not to mention that I've been in meetings all week assuring said big hats that this will never happen again. And it had better not.

    For those of you who have been out of the country and still don't know, three wizards, [NAME EXPUNGED], [NAME EXPUNGED] and [NAME EXPUNGED], drunk on Firewhiskey, kidnapped a young Muggle woman, and took her to the circle at [REDACTED].

    [3 PARAGRAPHS OF REDACTED TEXT]

    Therefore, I don't think it needs to be said that placing Fidellus Mortus on the entire [REDACTED] was the least we could do. We've already salted the earth, and several Druids are still purifying the surrounding lands, so quit asking me why you can't remember the plans you made for the Solstice or you have research missing as a result. Get over it.

    Finally, we've put out a separate memo and have prepared information brochures on stone circles for the Ministry and public, respectively. You're not children by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll say it anyway:

    DO NOT USE MAGIC IN A CIRCLE THAT ISN'T ON THE ATTATCHED LIST!

    For [EXPLETIVE DELETED] sake, people, if you find or happen to know of a circle that isn't on that list, bring it to [REDACTED] or a responsible Druid so we can figure out if there's any taint and cleanse it! Before this happened, we'd gone 245 years without an incident, but it's clear putting signs that say DO NOT ENTER isn't sufficient to keep some drunks from accidentally summoning one of THEM. Looking at you, Michelson; stop whining and put the bloody wards up, or else.

    And if it somehow still isn't clear what's got the Boss' knickers in a twist, see Incident Record H-1433b-12Q, and use your imagination.

    -Public copy of an internal memo
    released to the British Department of Mysteries
    following the accidental summoning of a malevolent spirit
    which claimed the lives of 12 Muggles and 6 DoM Agents
    before being banished
    May, 1923

    [..|..]

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    Chapter 2:
    Into the Forest


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    It was two hours of walking and one sandwich later that James came across a strange part of the forest. The sounds of nature were still around him, and the trees were humming contentedly in the warm breeze blowing though their leaves, but something felt… off, to James.

    'Just go North, find the stone circle,' thought James as he gazed at the sight before him, 'Easier said than done…'

    In front of James were the tallest trees he'd ever seen; trunks as wide as his relative's house, with branches reaching up to the sky, they were like mountains to the child standing just outside their eaves. At their feet, large roots wound between each tree, making it hard to see the ground through a thick moss covering every root and patch of dirt, a rolling green carpet as far as James could see; which wasn't far at all. The tree's branches and leaves were so thick that the Sun's light barely touched the ground; further in, everything was shrouded in a deep gloom. He couldn't see more than a hundred feet or so into this forest!

    The strange thing about this place was that James hadn't been able to see it until he was right at its edge; he'd walked around a tree about thirty paces back and suddenly, these massive oaks, beeches, chestnuts and ashes were right in front of him!

    Biting his lip, the shaman-in-training tried to figure this mystery out logically, like Jean would do if she were here, 'Maybe it's like my 'Unseen' ability; no one can see it unless you're right near it. Wow, it must be hard hiding an entire forest! Maybe the faeries that nice chestnut warned me about have something to do with it…'

    Another idea came to James, then, 'If it's made of Power… I wonder if I can feel it…' The young shaman tapped his staff against the ground and let his Power flow through the wood and into the soil; he'd found, as he was walking this way, that the ground conducted Power very well, allowing James a heightened awareness of the world around him.

    Gently clearing his mind, eyes lidded but focused, James directed his Power to examine the area in front of him; at first, he felt and heard nothing but the contented dreams of the earth and the quiet hums and sighs of the ancient oaks as they basked in the sun and breeze.

    Then, it came: a faint feeling, like brushing a hand through a curtain of fine lace, or running his fingertips through a pool of warm, still water; it certainly felt like James' 'Unseen' ability, but with other things that he wasn't familiar with mixed in, all of which had to do with hiding things! Pulling back on his Power, James looked at the strange forest with an awed expression, 'Someone must have hid this part of the forest! Is it another Shaman, or Power user? The faeries?' Shaking off the surprise at, apparently, finding a place that was hidden with Power, he resolved to get to the bottom of this mystery place!

    'One last thing, though,' pulling out his brass compass, James glanced at the needle to make sure he was on the right track; it was still pointing North, but… the needle was twitching from side to side!

    Blinking, the young Shaman wracked his mind, trying to remember if there was anything he'd read about that could interfere with a compass needle, 'It points north when I'm in the Northern Hemisphere… but there's certain places where Earth's magnetism can disrupt the needle, like volcanoes and the like, but, again, I'm nowhere near anything like that. Is it Power? Maybe…,' James looked up at the trees before him again, contemplating what he felt in the nature around him, 'Maybe, when there's a lot of power in one place… it can make compasses act weird. Oh, I wish Jean were here to help me figure all this out! A real adventure, and-,' James gasped suddenly, 'I FORGOT MY NOTEBOOKS! Oh, darn! Jean's going to be so mad, when I find her again! All these discoveries I've already made, and I can't take notes!'

    James sighed regretfully; he really should've thought to bring his school bag with him… 'Well,' he thought, stuffing the compass back in his pocket and picking up his battered suitcase again, 'Nothing for it! Onward!' Away James strode, into the shade of the ancient forest.

    A dozen strides later, he decided to look back; the normal Forest of Dean looked so small and young, compared to this place. Gulping back his fear, he turned toward the deep green darkness that marked his path.

    'No fear. Fear is the mind-killer,' squaring his shoulders and putting on a determined face, James Stormcaller strode carefully forward, his staff tapping the moss-covered roots and green eyes flicking side to side as the dark enveloped him.

    [..|..]

    Though James didn't know it, as soon as he entered the forest, a wardstone under the front lawn of Number 4, Privet Drive began to lose power.

    He would also never know that, at the exact same moment, a series of spindly silver instruments in a castle tower far away in northern Scotland ceased to function; their owner, away on important business on the continent, wouldn't notice for a week.

    By then it would be too late.

    Harry Potter, now James Stormcaller, was hidden from all eyes. He would not speak to another human for many months to come.

    [..|..]

    Sitting on a great root, about an hour into the dark forest, James frowned at the lantern in his hand, 'Broken light bulb. Of course…' He sighed, wondering what he, personally, did to make Vernon hate him so, recent events notwithstanding.

    The world around James reminded him of a passage from The Silmarillion: "…trees whose tops were crowned with cloud as they were living mountains, but whose feet were wrapped in green twilight." That was what this forest was like, a dark hall with massive dark brown monoliths seeming to hold up the viridian sky, the rare sunbeam slipping through its canopy to light a mossy mound covered in blue flowers, or pools of stagnant water, mayflies and mosquitos buzzing over them as they went about their brief lives.

    It was beautiful, but James' Power told him there was something different here: amidst the earthy scents of the forest and the contented waves of Life flowing uninterrupted was a bitter undertone. A metallic scraping, distant and old seemed to come like a far-off whisper to his ears whenever he tried to Listen; it made James wary of this place, as it seemed like trouble might be ahead.

    'Not that I'm not in trouble as is,' mused James to himself as he set the broken lantern back in the now-empty suitcase, having moved all the supplies to his backpack; hiding the suitcase in the roots of the tree he'd been resting beneath, the young Shaman's gaze fell back on his compass.

    Its needle was waving back and forth erratically between East-Northeast and West-Northwest, jittering the whole way; he hoped he was going in the right direction. The only other forest he'd been in, on the school field trip a year ago, had well-signposted trails, and there were certainly no hidden old-growth forests that made compasses misbehave!

    Settling his backpack on his shoulders, James took off his hat and squinted in the direction North should be in; from the looks of things, he'd have to go uphill and over all these huge, twisting roots to get to the circle.

    'Well, if it wasn't going to be difficult, it wouldn't be much of an adventure!' James thought as he began determinedly walking again, staff thumping along as he used it to balance himself as footing became more treacherous, 'Besides, the destination's worth it; a secret stone circle, in a hidden forest rumored to have faeries, of all things, living in it! I might have to send Uncle Vernon a thank-you card-wha?!'

    The last part of that thought had less to do with him thanking his Uncle for anything and more to do with the massive tree roots that were suddenly blocking his path!

    'Where'd those come from?' wondered James, having not felt any shift in the land around him; he looked left and right to see if there was a way around this blockage, to find himself boxed in by thick, dirt covered roots in every direction except back the way he came. James frowned, feeling Power lace the air around him through his staff, as the air became colder and a small voice, probably trying to be spooky, filled the clearing.

    "Turn back, monkey," it said, making James raise an eyebrow; was this a prank? "Turn back, you're unworthy of this place-place-place-place… place… place…" Yeah, this was a prank.

    Then James blinked, 'Oh crap. Faeries are pranking me!' He'd read a few stories about the creatures (mostly at Jean's insistence), and knew that they could be quite pesky indeed; which would be an understatement for the (alleged, in James' opinion) more powerful breeds of Fae folk, some of which could tear a person apart with a thought! Considering the simplicity of this 'prank', such as it was, he was probably dealing with a few of the weaker faeries living around here; they probably saw him walking about and decided to have a lark at his expense.

    James smiled and shook his head; when he'd found out about his Unseen ability, one of the toughest things he'd dealt with was making himself Seen again. After a while, he found he could turn it off by imagining a gust of wind and thrusting his Power out of himself, blowing the Unseen… cloak, he supposed, away! 'That should work here too,' thought James as he swirled Power through his staff, into the tree roots, and directed it beneath the, what he assumed were, illusory roots.

    Figuring he shouldn't antagonize them much, James called, "Nice try!" and, directing the Power he'd sent out, rapped the butt of his staff against the soil and blew the faerie-made illusions away.

    There was a sound, like a stone plopping into a pond, and the way ahead cleared up! There was even sunlight, seen through the trees a ways up the hill! Grinning, James began moving a bit faster, but keeping his Sense ability sharper; those faeries really snuck up on him, but he could Sense them now, like three little buzzing balls of static electricity that nonetheless felt very… forest-y, to James anyway, about thirty feet to his left and hiding behind some roots.

    Confident that he wouldn't be caught unawares again, James soldiered on a bit faster to the light, which was hopefully the location of the circle.

    [..|..]

    Meanwhile, lying on her back behind a tree root, Breech was freaking out!

    She and her brothers, Snapper and Louie, had been out looking for mushrooms, minding their own business, when they'd seen a human walking through the forest! While this wasn't unheard of, this one smelt like he'd come from the Muddy world, and was a little kid at that! Figuring they should be good neighbors (Muddy kids could get hurt in these parts, after all!), they set up an illusion to scare the pretend druid (snicker) back to his family… or wherever he came from… or just for laughs, in case he was the spoiled son of some rich wand-waver in disguise or something!

    It wouldn't be the first wand-waver they'd driven off, after all.

    But then, right when Bree was about to break out the rattling chains and thudding feet, the kid snarks "Nice try!" at them and obliterates Snap and Lou's illusions, all in one go! To top the whole thing off, the three faeries now had frizzy hair, from the sheer amount of raw magic that puny human threw at them, and they'd been knocked flat on their wings!

    So, yes, Bree felt quite justified in her panic.

    "Winter, what was that?!" whispered Lou from where he was sprawled out on the ground next to Breech.

    Springing back up to the edge of the root, Bree watched the kid continue to climb the hill right in the direction of the stone circle. "He must be a wand-waver, a sorcerer's apprentice that found out about this place," she mused out loud in her squeaky voice as her brothers joined her.

    "Are we gonna just let a wand-waver strut up to the circle like it's nothing, then?" Snap put in, wings jittering in agitation.

    "You," Breech snapped, pointing at Snap, "are gonna go get Landlady. Tell her some kid blasted through our illusions like they were nothing; me an' Lou-"

    "Lou and I," corrected her youngest brother, not that Bree cared.

    As she carried on as though Lou had said nothing, "-are gonna follow him, make sure he doesn't do anythin' dumb like-like… I dunno, summon one of the big hats?" Bree shuddered along with her brothers; the idea of some idiot kid summoning one of the Court Knights by accident was too terrible to give voice to.

    Not to mention how angry Landlady would be, if they survived.

    So it was that Snap shot away to find Landlady while his siblings followed the strange kid at a distance; as the lad neared the top of the hill, Louie worriedly asked Bree, "What if he does call one of the Knights, Bree?"

    The young faerie adjusted her ash-leaf overalls and sneered, "Then we bugger off home while the big-hat's distracted with the brat, and…" she gulped as said brat paused at the edge of the circle clearing, "hope to the Seasons the big-hat isn't one of the curious sorts."

    [..|..]

    '…Westgate has been hidden, guards in place, this is good… Through the storm they sailed and found port, he is home again, smells of lavender and cinnamon and her, the call of the sea quiets in her comforting embrace… Highgate remains broken, stones buried deep, none shall ever find it… His car hasn't started again so he will be late to work again and probably lose his job, doesn't know the homely woman he slapped in a bar a month ago is a witch, Hel hath no fury… Wealdgate has been corrupted, the Weave has been cut from it, safe but impure…'

    James Listened raptly as the feminine voice prattled on from the edge of the forest clearing, wondering if this was where he was supposed to be.

    It surely seemed that way; a ring of standing stones, like great grey potatoes with mossy coverings, made a ring around two menhirs that looked as though they'd once been an archway, though they were now cracked and leaning in the gnarled roots of an enormous, ancient yew growing between them. While not as large as the trees around them, the tree's branches still cast the dozen-or-so-feet-tall menhirs in shadow, reaching for the sky and the edges of the circle of stones.

    James had seen pictures of ancient yews in his school library, but hadn't had the honor of seeing one in person; given the relative size of the stones standing in the two hundred foot wide clearing, it had to be over a thousand years old! The yellow and white dragon-snappers and daises scattered in its shade near the ring of boulders went well with the dandelions and nightshade blooming in the tall grass surrounding the circle.

    That, and it was talking to itself constantly, the trees around it quietly ignoring the prattling old woman voice whispering, '…Twins in blood and soul share a glance and a grin, their little sister really wants to fly but their mother is too traditional, a plan forms in their shared minds, the eldest sibling will help them, no doubt… Another boy, now a man, sits across his grandfather and hands him the shard of green glass, the oldest tragedy is passed on… Rivergate is guarded, hidden, sealed, never again they say… This has all happened before, and will happen again…'

    Removing his shoes, as this place had a sacred feel to it, James stepped into the clearing and, removing his hat and standing straight, cleared his throat when the yew paused and spoke respectfully, "Good afternoon, venerable madam. May I rest in your shade?"

    A jolt of surprise came from the ancient tree, followed by a feeling of warm wind suddenly rushing out from it and washing over James; after a pause, the yew spoke again, '…You are far from your home, child who Speaks and Listens. What has brought you here?'

    Once again forcing down the sadness of being abandoned, James replied solemnly, "I'm a shaman-in-training, madam, but my relatives hate me for my abilities… So they left me at the edge of the Forest of Dean; some nice trees said this would be a good place to listen to the power of nature, so…" James shrugged; really, he hadn't thought this adventure completely through, and was beginning to think he might be in over his head.

    'Ah, so you wish to become a shaman… An odd choice, in these days,' the yew replied in an interested tone, 'Tell me young one, do you understand what such a path entails?'

    "Well," James began slowly approaching the circle, taking care not to step on any flowers, "it involves taking care of nature, speaking with spirits, and doing all sorts of amazing things, right?"

    The yew gave a raspy laugh at that, its branches rustling in humor, 'A small fragment of what a shaman could be, child… You come from the mundane world, yes? Those who live in the world of cold logic can never understand what it means to be Shaman."

    The boy stopped outside the ring of stones, frowning up at the great tree, "Have you known many shamans, then?"

    'No. But their ways are known to me.'

    Realization dawned in James' mind, "When you were talking to yourself… You were Listening, weren't you?"

    'My, how perceptive!' the yew laughed, 'Yes, child shaman; what know you of the stone circles that litter this land?'

    "Erm… The ancient druids built them for various reasons," calling on his history research, James steadily answered the tree, "Some were built to their gods, some were used as seasonal calendars, and some… some were built to glorify nature, um, right?" He hoped he was right.

    After a brief pause, the ancient yew said, 'Somewhat. Sit in my shade, child shaman, and I shall tell you of the path you seek.'

    Grinning, James stepped between two of the outer stones, their mossy heads rising above his head; finding a sturdy root to sit on, he slung off his pack and leaned his staff against the great tree, asking innocently, "Do you have a name, madam?"

    'No. Do you?'

    "I'm James Stormcaller. It's nice to meet you."

    'Likewise. None of your kind has tread this land in many centuries, and never has a shaman visited here,' the great yew replied, 'At least, not so long as I've stood.'

    James was awed; how old was this tree? "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but… how old are you, madam?"

    'Old enough to have witnessed the rise of three ages of man,' was the yew's somber reply, 'I was planted by a Roman girl who lived nearby with her family, one thousand, eight hundred springs past.'

    'Blimey!' James thought, eyes widening in awe, 'That would make her one of the oldest free-standing yews in Britain!'

    Before he could give voice to these thoughts, however, the yew went on, 'But my history is boring and dry, and not what you are here to learn. You know how to listen to nature, and how to speak to it; verily, these are the first steps on the path of the shaman. I will tell you what I know, and then you may make your choice, so do not interrupt,' she paused, James sitting up straight in eager attention and wishing, once again, he'd thought to bring his notebooks.

    'As you have no doubt learned, the mundane world sees shamans as those who speak with spirits in order to guide and heal those in their respective tribe,' the yew patiently explained, 'While not incorrect, it does not do the position justice; a true Shaman, James Stormcaller, is a conduit for the will of Gaia, Mother Earth if you will. They are her caretakers, her emissaries and, in times of sorrow, her warriors and her judges; very few people can travel down the path of the true Shaman, however, as a true Shaman must have magical blood, otherwise they cannot take even the first step on that path.'

    James wanted to deny that he had magical blood, that he had Power in him instead, but the yew hadn't finished, so he kept quiet as she continued, 'As for spirits, the true Shaman can not only speak with the souls of the departed but can also commune with the animal totems of the Spiritual Realms, though their spiritual familiar generally reflects their own personality; for example, the brave Shaman usually has a bear or monkey familiar, while the clever generally bond with ravens or foxes. It is good that you came here, actually;' the yew's voice took on a mischievous tone as she concluded, 'you see, young Shaman, the circle you sit in was of old called Rivergate, and was part of a network of thirty magical gateways throughout the world. In these places the fabric which separates this world and the Spiritual Realms is thinner than elsewhere; therefore, calling a spirit should be rather easy.'

    Blinking, James raised his hand and asked, "So… When you were rambling about Highgate and Westgate, you were Listening for the other gates?"

    'Yes. Though I should caution you, young Shaman: the gates were broken or sealed for a reason.'

    When she didn't continue, the boy sitting on her roots looked at the standing stones on either side of the yew; if what she was saying was true, those stones might once have been like the arches of Stonehenge, two stones holding up a capstone.

    Shaking his head, James decided not to ask more about the gates; instead, he asked, "Why were the circles built, then?"

    'They were built so that the flow of nature would be tamed,' the yew explained, 'Most of them, anyway; those built in the highlands of Scotland have a more… sinister past. Without the taming of nature's flow, magic would still be wild, and the world would be a much different place.'

    "Different how?"

    'How to describe it? Imagine, young Stormcaller, a world where spirits walked the world in the same way a deer or bear does; where dreams could shape reality, or a hand gesture could change the flow of a great river. Such things are still possible, of course, but they are much more controlled than they once were.'

    Drumming his fingers on his staff, James said slowly, "So… Without the circles… the world would be more chaotic?"

    'Perhaps.'

    The yew fell silent then, and James didn't try asking her any more questions; he felt he had enough to try calling a spirit. The only question left was what kind of spirit would he get?

    Standing, he began pacing around the once-again muttering yew, thinking about what he should do. 'From what the yew said, my spirit rattle should work really well here. But how will a spirit hear me?' James stoked a finger over the rattle's rib-bone handle, taking comfort in its warmth. 'Spirits might not like the mundane world… But if I become a caretaker to nature, like Yavanna… Maybe…'

    James slid the rattle from his belt loop, looking at the charm bracelet Jean gave him. Gulping at the memory of the last time he did this, James stretched out his Power into the world around him.

    And he understood!

    The trees all around him pulsed with life, and it was like the warmth of a fire to his senses! Beneath the circle, a river of… Power flowed through the ground, distant whispers coming from within it; James didn't know how, but he knew that most of those whispers were coming from the Spirit Realms! Above his head, the wind brought tidings of so many things that he couldn't comprehend them all, though he blushed when the boar farm scandal reached his mind!

    'Is this what it's like… to be a Shaman?'

    For a moment, it felt like James would be swept away, like a leaf on the wind, by the whirling of the world; were it not for his staff grounding him to the world he was in, James felt that he just might have been sent tumbling into one of the Spirit Realms!

    As it was, he raised his spirit rattle slowly…

    And shook it.

    'Such a beautiful sound,' thought James with a contented smile as he kept shaking the spirit rattle; it sounded like rain in a forest, pebbles shifting on a slope, wind in the fields, and the hissing of hot springs. A small voice in his head said he shouldn't know what any of those things sounded like, especially given his upbringing, but James didn't care; the music was too beautiful for him to doubt.

    Beneath his feet, he felt eddies and currents forming in the river; there were spirits listening! Elated, James began to sing from his heart, though he didn't know where the words came from:

    We've braved the forests, braved the stones;
    Braved the Dark, the brutal fire!
    Conquered countries, crowns and thrones,
    but we've never crossed the river…


    Oh, my friends, what have they done?
    So much stock in rage and muscle.
    So I'll open my heart and hands and soul,
    and help them cross the river!

    Twirling on the spot with his eyes closed, James kept up his rattling even as a soft drumbeat kept time with his rattle and a young girl's voice joined his.

    What once was lost can now be found!
    In valleys deep, o'er mountains tall,
    beneath the seas, or tumbled wastes
    that is where we'll surely play!

    We'll pay no mind to gold or jewels!
    No to lies or weapons that kill!
    But yes to joining everyone's hands as one!
    Together!

    Rattle, rattle, drum-drum-drum!

    Together!
    We'll show them how to cross the river!

    Thumping his staff against the ground to finish the song, James grinned hugely and laughed, "Wow! That was great!"

    "I'll say!"

    Spinning around so fast he fell on his rump, James looked at the top of the stone behind him, where the voice had come from.

    There was a fox sitting on the stone! Its fur was white, with blue on the tips of its ears and its paws, and its whole body was shimmering like a river in the sun! It was also small; its ears would probably make it halfway up James' thigh if it was sitting down.

    It leapt off the stone and landed in front of James, and that's when he saw that it had two tails!

    "Hi!" she said; James figured it was a she, given the pitch of her voice, "You sing really good and purely!"

    "Err, thanks," he replied before shaking himself out of his surprise, "You sing really well too."

    Bouncing on her paws and grinning, the fox asked excitedly, "You sang about adventure and putting things right! Are you a druid?!"

    "Um, no. I'm a Shaman. My name's James," smiled James even as he thought in disbelief, 'I'm talking to a fox!'

    Said fox gasped, "A Shaman?! A Shaman! Ha-ha-ha!" she began bouncing in a circle around a now-surprised James and chattering excitedly, "I found a Shaman! I found a Shaman! I found a Shaman! Take that big sis! Little Vera found a Shaman first! Ha-ha-ha!"

    Thunk! And she ran headfirst into James' staff.

    "Oh! Are you okay?"

    "Ouchie…"

    Though neither being knew it then, this was the start of a beautiful and lasting friendship.

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    Shance, HearthBorn, @non and 27 others like this.
  4. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 3 "The Foxy Song"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]

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    Concerning Kitsune

    A kitsune, or fox-spirit, is most commonly found in eastern Asia, though there are records of sightings on every continent. While seeing one in the wild is rare, as these spirits keep to themselves in nature, they have been seen in the company of many a witch or wizard as a bonded familiar.

    Kitsune are much like humans in that each one has its own individual personality, setting them apart from certain other animal-based spirits like bears (particularly vetfrir) or hemmravn that exhibit a more 'hive-mind' disposition. Additionally, kitsune exhibit an intelligence that varies with age, from near-human for the youngest to supernatural for the oldest.

    Generally, these spirits have a strong affinity with the natural forces of our planet, namely Earth, Wind, Water and Fire; in most cases, their appearance will reflect their affinity. An Earth kitsune, for instance, will usually have brown, green or grey fur, while Wind kitsune will be some shade of blue or silver; Water kitsune vary between the deepest blue to a snow-white, with the tips of their fur being either color. Fire kitsune will be, predictably, a shade of yellow, orange, or red.

    As most kitsune never leave the Spiritual Realms, it is unknown if there is an upper limit to their age; only one kitsune has remained in our Realm for an extended period of time: Kefka, a seven-tailed Fire-aligned female kitsune who, at the time of this writing, has been teaching Master-level Enchanting at the Ishtar Scriptorium in Babylon for three hundred years; prior to this, she was bonded to a Shaman living in Armenia for an unknown length of time. Additionally, most of the information on how kitsune gain tails comes from her.

    According to Kefka, kitsune gain tails when two criteria are met: firstly, they must reach an advanced understanding of their nature; secondly, they must be a certain age. For example, a kitsune with four tails is at least one hundred and twenty-five years old and at most two hundred and fifty. As the kitsune gets older, the rate of tail gain over time becomes longer and longer; the length of time between six and seven tails has been said to be as much as one thousand years, with seven to eight being even longer. Additionally, the more tails a kitsune has, the larger they are; Kefka, for instance, is forty feet long from snout to tail tip, and thirteen feet tall when walking, fifteen when seated. A two-tailed kitsune would be around or slightly larger than an ordinary adult fox.

    All kitsune are born with a single tail. No human has ever seen one, as these are nurtured and taught by matrons and patrons in their home Realm until they gain their second tail.

    Two- and three-tailed kitsune are regarded by both kitsune and human society as adolescents and young adults, respectively; these are encouraged to go out into the world and explore, so they might gain experience and understanding of their affinities. Three-tails in particular are commonly found in the Far East as bonded familiars, or, in rare cases, join the Silk Road caravans as camp guards or scouts.

    Four- and five-tailed kitsune, while not uncommon, are rarely found in the company of wizards; these are usually found near places where their affinity is strongest, preferably far away from human populations.

    Six-tails and seven-tails have only ever been seen in the company of Shamans; given the hermit-like nature of most Shamans, sightings of these kitsune are incredibly rare. Kefka, in Babylon, is the only known example, though she has said that many Shamans throughout history have bonded with sixes or sevens.

    Only one eight-tailed kitsune has ever been seen by human eyes: during the Black Decade, when the Dark Lord Herpo the Foul sought to drown the world in Darkness. An eight-tails joined the Coalition that formed in the wake of the destruction of Cilicia and the subsequent corruption of the High Dragon Ipsilion; the eight-tails was present for said High Dragon's demise in West Africa, two days before Herpo the Foul was slain in Syria. The details of these events are, of course, documented elsewhere.

    Eight-tails are the elders of kitsune society and rarely leave the Spiritual Realms; much of what their duties entail, as well as the structure of said society, is shrouded in mystery. When asked for details, Kefka has invariably replied, "None of your business."

    There is only one nine-tailed kitsune, the Kyuubi no Kitsune, literally Nine-Tailed Fox. It is regarded with reverence and some fear by all kitsune, who view it as a god. It has never been seen by human eyes. When asked of the nine-tails, Kefka replied, "If you ever see the Kyuubi no Kitsune, not only will everyone know about it, it's probably the end of the world or something. It's not like he's going to come down from his mountain for a pie and a beer, after all."

    It should also be noted that all kitsune have a strange sense of humor, and are not above pulling pranks for their own amusement, regardless of age.

    Kitsune also have a long-standing grudge with the major Courts of the Fae Folk, particularly the Winter Court. The origin of this grudge apparently predates written records, and neither species will speak of what happened to cause this observed coolness toward each other. While neither camp is openly hostile to the other, it should be noted that it is inadvisable to bring a kitsune of any age into Fae-populated areas, and vice-versa.

    -Excerpt from Walking With Spirits: A Definitive Guide to the Denizens of the Spiritual Realms
    by Gorgio Potts, Machiavelli Publishing Co., Italy, 1813
    Chapter 4: The Spirit Totem, 4th Revised Edition, 1915
    BOOK RESTRICTED UNDER I.C.W. ARTICLE 17, CLAUSE 2b
    GENEVA CONVENTION OF 1956
    BOOK BANNED IN MAGICAL BRITAIN AND GERMANY

    [..|..]

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    Chapter 3:
    The Foxy Song


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    "A fox," deadpanned Bree from next to Lou, crouched behind a root at the edge of the circle clearing, "The entire pantheon of the Spirit Realms to choose from, and the kid picks a smelly fox."

    Breech and Louie had kept their distance from the kid, choosing to observe his actions rather than interfere; after all, Landlady had told them all to stay away from the circle because bad things could come out of it if they messed around there. Bree's wings had jittered when the kid started singing and shaking that rattle of his, feeling powerful magic at work; for a moment, she thought something from the Other Side would come through and tear everything apart.

    Then a stupid fox had appeared and started spazzing all over the place!

    Lou nodded next to his sister, moving to fly, "That tears it, then. The kid's a menace; we should tell Landlady right away."

    Waving her hand irritably at her brother, Bree kept her eyes on the two in the circle as she responded, "Snap's on that, we gotta keep an eye on these two in case they start causing trouble."

    Spluttering, Lou ran clawed, tree bark-brown hands irritably through his stringy blue hair, "But why? We're faster than Snap," her brother whined while Breech rolled her purple eyes, "and it's not like there's anything important around here that they can mess with! Kid's obviously a tree hugger, so he won't hurt the yew or break the circle!"

    Whipping her orange-maned head around to glare at her brother, Bree snapped, "Because this is our home, you dolt! What d'ya think Landlady would say if we just let some trespasser walk about unmarked?! Now shaddup so I can listen to what they're saying." Both young faeries glared at each other for a moment before Lou shrugged his shoulders and broke eye contact, resigning himself to the boring task of watching some kid.

    Satisfied, Bree turned back to the clearing… to find that something was definitely missing, "Louie…?"

    "Hmph?" her brother grunted.

    "Where'd the brat go?"

    The circle was, indeed, devoid of young boy or fox spirit, causing the two young Fae to start freaking out again; they buzzed on dragonfly wings into the clearing, searching for some sign of where the two had gone.

    Unbeknownst to either faerie, the yew in the circle chuckled at their antics before going back to Listening to the world.

    [..|..]

    "Wow, this forest is amazing! It's so old! So much magic in everything! Not as much as back home, but for a forest in Mundus, it is incredible! So awesome!"

    James grinned at the babbling mass of fur bouncing along at his side as they walked West of the circle; in just a matter of minutes, the kitsune, Vera, had identified the source of the bitterness he'd felt while journeying to the circle. It was about an hour's walk west of the circle; having nothing better to do, James decided they should check it out before finding somewhere safe and dry to sleep for the night. It was getting late in the afternoon, after all.

    On top of that, Vera seemed to be a real chatterbox, not that James minded; he was grateful for the company. According to the white and blue kitsune, she was the youngest of a litter of twelve, and had been practicing her Listening near a river in the Spirit Realm when she heard his song; apparently, he was the first Shaman to sing for a spirit in more than a hundred years!

    As they walked, James told Vera a little of his past with the Dursleys; she'd huffed and growled and said that she'd 'drop a lake on them, show those bullies what for!' if she ever met them. James liked Vera, she was just as fiery as he remembered Jean being!

    Although… something had been bothering James since he'd first felt that bitterness in the world, "Hey, Vera? What does that bitter feeling mean?"

    The kitsune looked up at her Shaman in surprise, "You mean you don't know?" at his negative head shake, she huffed, "It means something's corrupted ahead; the nastier the taste of the world, the worse the corruption is… or, that's what my Mima told me it means."

    "Your Mima?"

    "Yeah!" she made an extra high bounce and continued, "My Mima's the eight-tails of the Currents… or is it Tides?... Anyway, she taught me and all my cousins about Water's song!"

    Well that made a little more sense to James, "Oh! So you can hear the music of the world?"

    "Nah," said Vera, hopping onto a boulder and looking at James, who stopped to regard the shimmering fox, "Just Water. Normally, I wouldn't learn about the rest of the songs till I got older, but I'm your spirit-familiar now! And you're a Shaman! That means I can sing to anything now, so long as I'm with you!"

    James nodded, tapping his staff a couple times against the ground; the trees had more space between them now. It seemed they were walking into a tamer part of this hidden forest. Still, he felt the bitter tang of corruption hanging in the air, faint but present; nearby, a tree moaned painfully as the creeping bitterness clung to its bark and seeped slowly into its core. Biting his lip, James felt sorry for this forest; it was a beautiful place, and he didn't want it to rot!

    "There must be something we can do," he mused aloud, digging his staff into the soft earth. He could Sense the corruption moving through the ground like a slime mold, reaching out to taint nature.

    Vera tilted her head and regarded the young Shaman, "Well, you're the Shaman! You can banish the darkness, can't you?"

    "But how?" asked James; again, he felt in over his head, "I don't even know what's causing it!"

    "Then Listen," replied the snowy kitsune, sitting back on her haunches and closing her eyes, tails swishing and ears perked up; taking her advice, James reached out with his senses, gripping his staff tightly.

    The corruption was like veins of liquid metal, trying to drink everything good out of the world; but the trees were strong and resilient, and had long weathered the darkness. Following the branching veins, James felt the bitterness rise like bile into the back of his mouth, until…

    "Blegh!" he cried, spitting on the ground as he tried to get the taste out of his mouth, "What was that?!" Whatever the source of the corruption was, it had tasted like rotting apples and dirty pennies, and smelt like curdled milk. Gross!

    Smacking her chops in obvious distaste, his kitsune companion shuddered and replied, "I have no idea, but that is one nasty taste!" Accepting some water from James' canteen to clear the after-taste from her mouth, she continued, "We should probably prepare to face it, whatever it is…"

    Nodding, James mused on what he knew of good and bad spirits from his reading: good ones, like Vera, were sunny and free, while bad spirits were cranky and hostile to everything around them. 'If it's a spirit, then something really bad must have happened to make it so bitter toward everything. I wonder…'

    Looking about, James spotted an oak tree that had been drained nearly dry from the darkness; its bark failing and leaves listless, it was stuck in the throes of melancholy. The Shaman tapped a finger against his lips, an idea slowly forming.

    "Oooooh, you look like you've got an idea!" Vera observed with a foxy grin, bouncing on her paws again, "What is it? What is it? What is it?"

    "What if…" began James slowly, "We take some of the nature around us… and bind a compassionate spirit to… a, err… golem, I guess? If I put my power into it, I think it could purify the trees and land here; hopefully, that'll weaken the source…"

    "OH!" bounced Vera in realization, "You mean a spirit construct! Yes, yes, yes! We can do that!"

    Grinning at Vera's infectious enthusiasm, James began rhythmically tapping his staff and asked, "But what should it look like, that's the problem I'm having; see, I'm tired from my hike, and the spirit might not like a binding."

    Thumping her tails against her boulder, Vera rhymed back, "So long as you've got good stones, the spirit will happily come! So shake your rattle, and my tails I'll drum! And together! We'll make a fox!"

    He drew his rattle with a smirk, "A fox?"

    She clicked her claws mid-bounce and nodded happily, "A forest-y-fox!"

    James' rattle made a happy sound like moss underfoot and a babbling brook, "A fox to guard and clean and protect, and this forest will be its den!" he shrugged off his pack and produced the old coinpurse with rose quartz pieces filling it, "Stones pink and pure, they'll make the heart of our new friend!"

    Hopping off the boulder with a delighted 'Yip!', Vera addressed the stone, "Great big rock, sitting in the dark, doing nothing but grumbling at us!" The boulder shivered as their magic took hold; Vera pointed one of her paws to where James was placing quartz pieces on the ground near the withered oak. "Roll over there, don't stop and stare! You'll be the bones for the fox!"

    With a great groan, the boulder shifted where it sat, shrugging off the moss and rolling toward James, who raised his staff and brought it down with a great thud! The moss and grass-covered soil wrapped around the quartz stones and rose into the air, a pink light beginning to surround the orb as the rest of the ground beneath it swirled like a stirring soup in time to the Shaman and kitsune's music; the boulder rolled into the swirls, and melted into it like water! Its grey color joined the brows and greens as James continued to sing.

    "Moss and soil, rich with water, listen to this foxy song! Leave behind the bitter dark, wrap around those stony bones, and make this fox so strong!"

    The grey nearly vanished beneath the swirling soil and greenery as the land responded to James' will; now the clearing they were in roiled like a pond in a windstorm, the ground seeming more like water than simple dirt and rock! Amidst this, James' rattle sounded like a symphony of wind, and Vera's tails a bubbling river. As they moved to the next part, Vera bounced over and sang to the withered oak, who'd been watching the act with melancholic wonder.

    "Hello tree, so sad and strong! Hearken now to the foxy song! The darkness bit you, took your green; but a new day dawns, I'll tell you what I mean! Join our fox, walk with us, and heal the hurts that pain the forest!"

    With a pleased groan, the oak stretched its roots to the swirling earth, a shimmering silver light filling it as it flowed like water into the magical swirls, mixing with the green soil and grey stone and regaining its brown hue as the pulsing magic rose about the two beings.

    Laughing freely, James reached out with his staff and made a circle around the quartz heart before pressing down on it with the malachite head as Vera hummed and drummed along with his stamping feet and symphonic rattling; he didn't know where all these ideas were coming from, but just chalked it up to his connection to the wider world and nature.

    He sang again, "Our foxy friend is almost here! But I wonder, now, my shiny dear," James matched Vera's grin from where she pranced and drummed on the other side of the glowing mound between them, "Your tails are two, so to make sure our friend; isn't left out, how many tails shall we give them?"

    Vera leapt into the air, landing on her feet, even as James copied her, both of them bounding around the quickly swirling, glowing mound, speaking one after the other:

    "One!"

    "Two!"

    "Three!"

    "Four!"

    "Five!"

    "Six!"

    "Seven!"

    A pressure began to build in the air about them….

    "Eight!"

    The mound shone with a golden light…

    "NINE!" Shaman and kitsune shouted together, "A NINE-TAILED FOREST FOX!"

    A warm wind blew through the forest glade they were singing in, caressing the trees that were watching the proceedings in great awe, nine tail tips wiggling out of the edges of the golden mound…

    "Oh!" cried Vera, "But what shall our friend's name be?"

    Though he didn't know it, James' green eyes shone like fire when he spoke, young voice thrumming with magic, "The same name as the one, who gave life to the first trees!" He raised his staff, gathering as much Power as he could from the surrounding nature-

    "YAVANNA!"

    -and slammed it into the ground.

    [..|..]

    Beating her shimmering wings as hard as she could, Melfina the Landlady considered what her response to this latest report of humans would be as she flew toward the stone circle at the edge of her property.

    It wasn't the first time a human had stumbled onto this place since she claimed it two-hundred-and-thirty-seven years ago; the Ministry regularly sent people to try and reclaim Walnut Manor (so named for the stained glass window over the main entrance) those first few decades, but had lost interest in the past century, probably due to her wards, shored up with the shattered remains of the Manor's own spells, creating misdirection and confusion amongst ill-intentioned trespassers. Other than the usual suits, the occasional Mundie-born witch or wizard stumbled into the forest while on vacation with their families, but were invariably turned back; Melfina had made sure every member of her Court was well-practiced with their illusions and taught them how to scare Muddy people away if they got curious. No human, child or adult, had managed to get past them, except one werewolf, with her permission of course, who stayed in the Manor during the winter.

    Until this boy appeared, anyway!

    237 years of relative peace; of keeping the filthy revenant bound to this property sealed in the stables; of taking in the thestal herd when their forest was cut down; of making sure the griffons in the west paddock were happy, made sure the werewolf didn't go off the property during full moons, and kept their hunting discrete; of welcoming the merrow family when they moved into a nearby pond, who explored the partially flooded catacombs beneath the property, providing her Court with a prime location to make their caches and grow bloodmoss and luminous amantia and other foodstuffs in the glowing dark grottos. Two and a half centuries of exile from the Grand Courts, and now some random kid had apparently just waltzed through her defenses, defeated the Triplets at their own game, and was heading for the friggin' circle to do Seasons knew what!

    Grinding her teeth in frustration, the Landlady of Walnut Manor checked the Goblin-forged dagger sheathed at her hip before regarding her path: she'd taken a left at Vileclaw the goblin's house, then a right at the old stone driveway that led to the Manor's East Wing entrance, and she was now in the wilder, eastern parts of her property. Hovering for a moment, as she was now out of sight of the Manor, she went over what Snapper had told her.

    One kid, scrawny, dressed like a Muddy but with obvious hand-me-downs, staff with random stuff on the head, baseball cap and messy black hair; Breech and Louie were keeping an eye on him; he noticed their illusion right away and dispelled it with practiced ease.

    'Right. So I'm probably dealing with a second-generation Mundie mage, maybe a druid's apprentice,' Melfina tapped a green-tipped finger against her bicep before running her hand through her glossy auburn hair and growling to herself, 'Hopefully he's not from Old Moldy's camp. The revenant's bad enough without some Dark brat causing trouble.'

    Was she paranoid? Yes, and she would easily admit it for the asking; in the past two hundred years, she'd found that it was better to be vigilant in the face of adversity than to become complacent. That was one of the things she'd hated about the Grand Courts and the lands of the Fae: the lack of any real preparation, just endless parties and occasional battles between Summer and Winter.

    Not that she was homesick. After all, Melfina and her friends had left willingly.

    Drifting forward at a slower pace, the powerful Fae glanced at what treetops she could see, almost expecting to spot the ancient yew that occupied the circle being tossed into the air by something terrible, 'Bloody kid has no idea what the circle even does! Seasons, I hope I can stop him before he does something stupid.'

    Suddenly, a warm, comforting wind swept swiftly through the trees, making the Daystar seem to shine brighter; it also touched her magic! Freezing in place, Melfina quickly realized what she was feeling, 'A spirit of compassion?! A really strong one, too! WHAT IS THAT KID DOIN-' before she could finish her thought, a cry came to her pointed, sensitive ears:

    "Yavanna!"

    And it felt like the world exploded!

    Golden light blazed in a clearing up ahead, making the sky seem dark it was so bright! Out of the clearing, the radiant light whipped outward, caressing the trees and coming right toward her!

    Throwing herself behind a tree to avoid the enormous amounts of magic whipping through the air like hurricane gales, Melfina hunkered down…

    Even as she watched the grass, which had been getting listless lately, suddenly perk up and turn a healthy green! Looking around herself as the eldritch wind faded, she saw that most of the trees, which had been showing signs of rot for decades, were… healing! As she stared, Melfina saw her trees' bark smoothing out, bruises and breaks mending before her seafoam eyes.

    'Seasons… what has he done?!' Launching herself back into the air, the Lady of the Walnut Court double-timed it in the direction the explosion came from, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

    [..|..]

    Vera came to with a shudder. Blinking away the spots in her eyes, the young kitsune found she had been tossed onto her side when-

    'Oof! That really wiped me out, hehe!' the spirit-construct had been so much fun to make, but maybe they should've started with something smaller! The Mundane Realm, her Mima had told her when she was just a one-tails, had a different set a rules than Foxhome, the Realm of the Kitsune; back home, Vera wouldn't even have been winded from what she'd just done, but here

    Trying to rise, Vera found she couldn't! It felt like she'd been run over by a vetfrir or something! The little kitsune had never felt so weak…

    Thump… She looked up at the sound, near her…

    And her blue eyes widened in awe.

    Above her was a great fox, big as a seven-tails, made of moss, leaves, mud, grass, flowers- it was like all of Nature given life and form, its green and brown 'skin' flowing about as though it were fluid! A golden glow came from beneath, bathing the clearing Vera lay in with comforting light; its eyes were a glowing pink, and made of water! It looked down at her briefly, before regarding a nearby tree, listless with corruption; as Vera watched, a long, sinuous tail, creaking with swirls of mossy bark and healthy heart-wood, snaked out to wrap around the wounded beech.

    The tail, one of nine (distantly, Vera realized her Mima would have given her a lecture for making a mockery of the Kyuubi, but at that moment she was too stunned and excited to care), tensed about the stem of the tree, and, right before little Vera's eyes, pulled the rot from the beech and gave a flick, splattering a light gray mud onto the ground, from which mushrooms and nightshade vine instantly grew!

    "Wow…" breathed Vera, a tired grin on her face as she watched… oh! James named her Yavanna! What a pretty name! Looking up at their new friend, Vera watched as the great Nature avatar began walking, pink eyes searching and tails wagging and caressing trees as it passed, her great paws leaving wildflowers and strawberry plants in their wake.

    Letting her head thump back to the soft ground, Vera couldn't stop grinning! "We did it, James…" she breathed, arching her back and wiggling on the ground, not wanting to get up as she was so tired, trying to get into a better position so she could check on her Shaman, "James?"

    He was lying on his back, glasses askew and hat a few feet away, spread-eagle across the bowl-shaped divot between them; his staff wasn't sun-bleached grey anymore, but a deep, healthy brown. Also, his spirit-rattle, clenched in his right hand, had a white glow emanating from it.

    He wasn't moving.

    "James!" Vera called hoarsely, rolling onto her shaky paws and trying to rise; oh, she'd gone and done it now! Not even one day with her Shaman, and she'd already gotten him hurt! On top of that, she could barely walk, let alone raise her tails; she only made one quivering step toward her Shaman before falling on her face, "Oof!" Looking in James' direction, worry started to fill her; using her claws to drag herself closer to her fallen friend, Vera began muttering to herself, "If only I were close to a river, I wouldn't be so weak… Oh, James! Wake up!"

    But he didn't stir, not an inch! 'Oh, what'll Mima say; I've gone and gotten my Shaman-NO! He's not dead! I can feel his magic still!' And she could; when they Bonded, she could feel James' magic, like a crackling, humid storm-front rolling over fields of lotuses (which wasn't uncommon, back at home), swirling and singing beneath his skin. But now, it was so quiet, like a sun shower, pulsing weakly against Vera's senses, which felt bruised and raw, 'Oh no! Our Bond was almost broken! Stupid Vera! Stupid! Big sis'll never let me hear the end of it!'

    Panting with exertion, Vera finally reached his bare feet; the weakened kitsune gripped James' worn pants and pulled herself onto his lap. Using the last of her strength to throw herself forward, Vera laid the side of her head on her Shaman's chest and listened…

    Tha-thump… tha-thump…

    His chest was rising and falling slowly as well! "Oh, thank goodness," Vera whispered in exhausted relief; curling herself up as much as she could, she looked inward for her spark of magic and started rebuilding James' and her Bond. Without it, she'd… Fade.

    Shivering despite the warm weather, the little kitsune whimpered, calling for her James to wake every few minutes and trying not to cry.

    Then, she heard a buzzing sound approaching, followed by someone shouting in a high-pitched voice, "WHAT THE SEASONS IS THAT?!"

    Raising her head, she saw- a FAE! It was hovering in the air on the edge of the clearing, looking at Yavanna, who was still nearby, in total shock; not that Vera cared, seeing as it was a filthy, treacherous, slimy faerie. She growled low in her throat, summoning some of the moisture in the air around herself to make a water-ball between her tails, 'I won't let her touch James!'

    The Fae must have heard her growl, for it turned its head to look at the little kitsune lying protectively on her Shaman's chest, tail-tips caressing a football-sized globe of wobbly water; it flew closer slowly, seafoam blue eyes wide with anger and green-tipped bronze claws raised, "Easy, little fox. Could you tell me-HEY!"

    Vera sent a weak water bullet through the air next to the faerie in warning; she also gasped in pain, her water ball falling apart as her tails went limp. Still, she managed to get out, "You… stay 'way… from James…" before her head fell limply onto her Shaman's chest.

    Vera was vaguely aware of the Fae pulling something out of her bag before she started falling

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    Shance, HearthBorn, @non and 24 others like this.
  5. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 4 "Khepri, the Serpent of the Sun"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]

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    The Other Side of the Sky

    Little is known about the place or phenomena Shamans refer to as The Other Side of the Sky. Perhaps even more frustrating is the fact that, at the asking, every Shaman that has been interviewed on the matter has been evasive and vague in their responses. I will try to sum up what is known, though I hesitate to speculate without further evidence that proves this oddity's existence.

    In Northern Canada, Inuit Shamans, both Mundane and Magical, declare that The Other Side of the Sky can be viewed through the Aurora Borealis; observations written by naturalists, mages, and Glimmervale Journeymen out on expeditions during the Age of Discovery theorize that this phenomena (the viewing of ancient cities, people, animals, and sundry in the Aurora's shifting light) is a form of passive, natural Divination. Most Seers have sought to disprove these notions whenever mentioned for a variety of reasons.

    Russian woodsmen, particularly those who enjoy the company of Spirit-familiars, call this most vexing place the Realm of Earth's Dreams, where the planet itself dreams of ages gone by; Eastern mage-philosophers call this report proof of the Akashic Records (see page 214), despite Shaman Jander the Sky-Sailor's (c.1377-1490 CE) repeated insistence, in the writings he left behind, that this is not the case.

    Shaman Jander writes (syntax edited; original writing in Appendix), "…the Fade, or Other Side of the Sky, is not a repository of human knowledge… Rather, think of it as Paradise for Spirits, their memories and dreams of life… and, verily, it is where Gaia herself remembers the past ages and glories that have passed by."

    Further research into this subject, as it deals with what appears to be a fundamental property of our planet, should be approached with extreme caution, if at all.

    -Entry excerpted from Strangest Magical Phenomena and Mysteries
    By Various Authors
    Nicol and Sons Publishing Co., Warsaw, 1922
    BOOK BANNED IN ALL COUNTIRES BY I.C.W. ARTICLE 17, CLAUSE 3 (DARK CLAUSE)
    GENEVA CONVENTION OF 1956

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    Chapter 4:
    Khepri, the Serpent of the Sun


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    [..O..]

    One moment, James was excitedly finishing the spirit-construct that would cleanse the darkness from the forests.

    The next, he was lying on his back, head ringing and feeling like he'd been hit in his everywhere with the world's biggest frying pan. 'Owwwwww… Maybe we should've tried something smaller,' groaning painfully, as his whole body felt like one huge bruise, James tried curling into a ball, only to stop as a white-hot lance of pain in his belly made him gasp, "Ah!" 'Oh darn! I hope that explosion didn't hurt me too badly…'

    Replacing his spirit-rattle in its belt loop holster, James patted himself down to make sure he didn't have any bad injuries; other than feeling like he'd fallen down a couple dozen sets of stairs, though, he seemed to be perfectly okay. 'Wow, it's really bright now… Was I out all night?' thought James; though he hadn't opened his stinging eyes yet, he could tell that everything around him was bathed in intense golden light that turned his closed eyelids red; how long had he been out for? 'Okay… easy now.' He took a deep breath through his nose, figuring that scents were easier to find out about than sight right this moment.

    He could smell… a smoky incense, and a heady, dry smell that he wasn't familiar with… and raisins? A breeze flitted across his face, bringing warmth and a graininess that reminded James of sand. No forest-y scents or twitters of birds; where was he? "Vera?" James called carefully, only to receive no answer.

    'Oh no! Did the faeries kidnap us? Is Vera being held prisoner? Oh, I knew we should've rested before bringing Yavanna into being,' replaying the last few minutes in his head, something began to confuse James; how had he known when to add the rose quartz "heart" to the mix? How had he known how to do any of those things, especially how to bring a compassionate spirit into the world?! It didn't make any sense!

    "Makes perfect sense, actually," came a lady's voice off to James' left; the stinging leaving his eyes, James opened them…

    He was lying on a wooden bench, padded with soft leather, in a room made of red granite and limestone; the ceiling, which he was looking at, had the two stone types swirling together to create a falcon-headed man with the sun behind his head, an ankh in one hand and an ornate staff in the other, sitting cross legged and looking down at James with eyes of lapis lazuli, a serpent encircling the sun behind the being; hieroglyphs made a ring around the image, which seemed to have been woven into its image from the surrounding stones.

    Looking about, James saw he was in a large room dominated by a huge, purple silk-curtained bed; a large desk of gold-trimmed wood, groaning beneath heavy tomes and stacks of yellow paper(?), sat by closed filigreed doors of silver that led to a balcony, which was the source of the bright light. To the left of the doors, an urn smoked steadily with sweet-smelling incense, and further along the walls, which were painted with images of people hunting in a forest of reeds…

    Someone, presumably the one who'd spoken, was sitting with their back to James before an expansive vanity covered in clay pots of every color, someone with long hair, black as midnight and woven with golden threads; as he watched, a hand of burnished bronze rose and ran an iron comb through their ebon mane, a ring with a roughly cut citrine gleaming on her middle finger. It had to be a woman, James figured; the voice that had spoken was a woman's, and there was no one else in the room…

    Then her words hit him; sitting up carefully, as the pain in his gut had lessened to a dull ache, James said, "But… But it doesn't make sense!"

    "Yes it does, dearie," the woman replied, her voice like cool water in the heat of the room, though she didn't turn or cease in her combing, "You're just having trouble putting all the pieces of the puzzle together."

    Blinking, James remembered what the yew in the circle told him about Shamans, "Does… Does it have something to do with… me being a… conduit or whatever?"

    She laughed, the sound a music he'd thought could only come from his rattle, placing her brush back on the desk and reaching for a silky yellow robe that was folded on the vanity's desktop, "That's the first half of it, James Stormcaller," the woman rose, revealing that she wasn't wearing anything but a gold anklet, a jeweled bracelet on her left wrist, and painted hieroglyphs spiraling down her arms and legs; thankfully for the boy, her long hair hid her body from view, and the robe she swiftly slipped into did wonders to temper his embarrassment.

    Though not by much, as he flushed red and looked at the floor, gripping his staff tightly and babbling, "I-I'm terribly sorry, ma'am, for-for, um, for intruding on you like this. I'll, err, I'll just find my friend, Vera, and be on my way," he looked around, anywhere but at the bronze-skinned beauty in the room with him, half-expecting his bubbly friend to come bouncing around a corner and humming a tune.

    The woman sighed, replying with tired patience, "James, dear, I assure you, this is hardly an imposition on your part; it is more an… intercession, an intervention if you will, on our part, mainly due to your foolish, though pure and well-intentioned, actions."

    Wincing at her soft chiding, James looked toward the woman, an apology on the tip of his tongue; however, that apology died in a breath of awe as he took in her full appearance.

    The yellow robe with green trim she wore hugged her hourglass figure, leaving little to the imagination; it was open in the front above her midriff, and matched her bronze skin well, the silk shimmering as she moved. Her nails, sharpened to fine tips, were painted turquoise, hands slender but clearly strong. Between her full breasts was a golden scarab pendant hanging from a fine chain of the same material. Her slender neck led up to the most beautiful face he'd ever laid eyes on; from her strong jaw to her full, gold-painted lips, her perfect nose and high cheekbones and thin eyebrows, all framed in straight black hair that fell to her waist. And her eyes… they were a pleasant light green, her lashes long and heavy, framed with thick black kohl in a pattern of small, gleaming scales, giving James the impression of a snake, which was highlighted by the golden circlet on her brow: it was fashioned to look like a cobra, scales and all, encircling her head. She was the most beautiful lady James had ever seen, and her appearance left him gaping in awe.

    She smiled at him, eyes softly regarding the boy before her, and said teasingly, "You are also hardly the first male to be struck speechless by my beauty, though you're certainly the most handsome," and she laughed gaily while James averted his eyes again and felt as though his entire body blushed, such was his embarrassment!

    It took James a moment to get ahold of himself, during which the woman raised a hand and beckoned to a simple chair and large wicker basket, both of which flew over and rested in front of James; watching as she sat regally and crossed a long leg, James asked carefully, "Um… Where am I, ma'am?"

    Tapping a finger to her lips in thought, the woman replied after a brief pause, "In a moment, dear James."

    Frowning, he asked, "Wait… how do you know my-?"

    She raised a hand, saying in a calm tone with a small smile, "In a moment, James; first, I need you to hold out your hands in front of you, like this," and she held out her arms, palms upraised, as though she were going to catch something.

    Hesitantly, as he still had no idea what was going on, and was getting more confused by the second, James did as she asked; holding the position for a few seconds, it didn't seem as though anything would happen. Right as he opened his mouth to ask why he was doing this, James heard a familiar voice screaming with fright, coming from far off but getting steadily closer! "Vera?"

    "…yaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH-oof!" and the kitsune fell back-first out of thin air, right into his arms! It was the first time he'd touched her, and he was surprised that she felt less like a furry creature, and more like a soft mass of solid water; not like ice, or even snow, but like both and neither, solid yet slippery, a feeling of warmth and a chilly tingle where his skin touched her fur. It was at once weird and comforting to feel her, both alien to his senses yet, somehow, as familiar as meeting an old friend.

    All these things, though, were far from his most immediate concern, which was for his friend, "Vera! Oh, you're not hurt, are you?"

    Shaking her head and blinking away her shock, Vera looked up in surprise at an equally stunned James, "JAMES!" And tackled him onto the bench, licking his face and crying with worry as he hugged her and stroked her back, trying to calm her down, "Oh, James, I'm so sorry! I should've let you rest, or-or started on something smaller! Oh, we've gone and done it now! Our Bond nearly broke!"

    "It's not your fault, Vera; I insisted, didn't I?" burying his face in the side of her warm, fluffy neck, James let relief flow through him at finding his new friend unhurt, "It's okay, we're both okay," he pulled back carefully and looked at the woman again, who was smiling fondly at boy and fox, "Um… right?"

    Vera pulled his attention back as she gasped, looking around fearfully, "Oh no! James… we're in the Fade!" James blinked in confusion, then broke out in goosebumps when his kitsune friend explained, "It's where spirits go when they die! Oh, James, I'm so sorry!"

    The woman laughed, "Calm yourself, young kitsune! Neither of you are in danger here; indeed," her smile turned from humorous to one of mirthful reproach, "you would not have found yourselves here if you were not, firstly, a Shaman and his spirit-familiar, and secondly, channeled the raw power of Gaia. Though every Shaman ends up here at some point in their lives, usually through deep meditation, none have been as young as you, or achieved the action so spectacularly."

    Remembering what he'd done to create Yavanna, James quickly tried to apologize, "I-er, we didn't mean to! I just wanted to help the forest!" Vera nodded swiftly, tails twitching in nervous agitation.

    "I know, and neither of you are at fault," the woman soothed, face showing her sad understanding, "Truly, few Shamans start out with formal training, though you are both the youngest of your kind, spirit and Shaman, to ever come here. Oh! Where are my manners? I am Khepri, the Serpent of Giza, High Priestess of Ra, Arcane Advisor to Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator, and Shaman of the Daystar." She delivered her introduction with perfect poise, sitting up straight and smiling at James in a most disarming way.

    While the young Shaman and kitsune in question gaped at her; after a moment, James managed to reply disbelievingly, "Cleopatra? But… but that was over two thousand years ago!"

    Khepri nodded patiently, "Yes it was, James. Though, to answer your earlier question, I know your name because… well," she smiled sheepishly, "this is all happening inside your heads. To keep it simple, you are dreaming."

    Vera gasped while James continued to stare at the beautiful Shaman in wonder; when neither spoke, Khepri continued, "When you two created Yavanna, you expended quite a lot of magic, all while channeling the raw power of nature itself; were you an ordinary mage, or were you, Vera, not Bonded to James, you would both have burned. As it was," her gaze turned serious, making James and Vera quiver under her serpentine stare, "your Bond, a sacred joining of your souls and magic, was strained to the breaking point; had you not asked the spirit to join you, that is, had you forced it…" the female Shaman's face remained firm as she trailed off, which made James fearful at what horrors could have happened, if he had been so cruel.

    But young James wasn't cruel, and replied quietly, "We wouldn't have forced her…"

    "Yeah!" Vera agreed with a glare, "James is really nice! He wouldn't have made the spirit come against its will!"

    "I am aware, that was simply a warning," Khepri's face softened, "For there is much neither of you understand about the path you've chosen, the road less traveled; had myself and the others not assisted you in your great work, neither of you would have realized your potential."

    "Our potential?" chorused child and fox, glancing at each other before looking to the other Shaman for an explanation.

    And, boy, did they get one! "I shall start at the beginning. The place you are in is, to Shamans, known as The Other Side of the Sky, or the Fade, as it is known to most Spirits; it is where dreams take place," Khepri grinned happily, showing off her perfect white teeth, "where Spirits go when their time comes. Additionally, it acts as a sort of repository for Gaia's memories, which are tied to the bones of her being. Because of this, it is a place of history, an ever shifting Realm of memories, made from the lives of countless Spirits and the experiences of every Shaman that has ever lived; and that, James, is how I am here, talking to you, two thousand years after my death," she finished with a smile and a shrug that mad the gold braids in her hair clink together.

    While James continued to stare in awe at her; he had no idea that such a thing could ever exist, not in all his reading about the world! None of the books on Shamanism even touched on things like this, most of them talking about healing, conversing with spirits, and shapeshifting into animals! Maybe this was a more advanced extension on the, admittedly simple, explanations he'd gotten from books. Looking down at Vera, he asked her, "Did you know about any of this, Vera?"

    But she looked as confused as he felt, if her head shake and quiet response were anything to go by, "No… my Mima told me the Fade was where kitsune who use up all their magic in Mundus go."

    "And she wasn't wrong, little Vera," chimed Khepri, still smiling, "In fact, all Spirits come here eventually; indeed, the bench you're sitting on, the walls and the floor? The light pouring through the walls? It's all alive," the Egyptian Shaman's eyes glittered with happiness as she concluded, "Everything around us has been made from the lives and memories of Spirits, given purpose through Mother Earth's limitless power; they mimic Mundus, to preserve what has been lost to the millstone of Time, while the Spirits themselves return to the world to nurture new life."

    James gasped, "So-So someone could learn everything about history from here?! Even what's been lost to time?" To his disappointment, Khepri shook her head sadly, "But why? You said-"

    Vera cleared it up for him, "She said they mimic Mundus, James. Some of what's here really was, and some is what could have been… um, right?" she finished sheepishly to the amused Shaman before them.

    Who laughed, the sound like wind-chimes in a gentle breeze, "Yes, but not quite; you see, Vera, James, this place, while strange in its history, is also a… library, I suppose is the best term for it, of every Shaman's memories, from one end of human history to the other. That is how we were able to help you survive channeling Nature: we are Nature's conduits, Her messengers if you will, so it follows that I, along with three other Shamans, sent some of our memories so the two of you would not only be successful in your venture, but survive the act."

    The boy before her frowned, before realization hit him, "Oh! I get it now; I've read that a Shaman can speak to the spirits of the Shamans who came before them! You're saying it works the other way around?" Khepri smiled and nodded, happy that James understood, "Wow… I had no idea! But wait…" now James thought back on what little he'd learned about the Ancient Egyptians in school, "I've never heard of you before, and my teacher at school told us all about Egypt and Cleopatra when we started on world history, this past year!"

    Khepri sighed, and explained patiently, "History is written by the victors, dear James; the Romans who conquered my people ensured I would not be remembered, and my Queen's name was dragged through the silt; if that were not enough, another reason such things are not remembered is due to the magicals, witches and wizards, hiding their storied and long history from Mundane society; indeed," she continued while James stared in shock, "all magicals have been hiding, sustaining their own society apart from the one you've grown up in, for nearly 300 years."

    Vera looked up worriedly at her stunned Shaman, "You really didn't know, James?"

    He slowly shook his head, not looking away from the… Spirit? Shaman? Which was it? The enormity of what he'd learned today felt too large to comprehend. Three hundred years… Magic was real… His Power was magic… He was Nature's messenger, at only nine years old, the youngest Shaman ever… Vera was bound to his life, and he to hers; did that make them siblings? A fox was his sister… James started laughing to himself, 'Figures; I put up with my stupid cousin for years, wishing I had a brother or sister, and I finally get one, but she's a bubbly little two-tailed fox spirit! Not that it's a bad thing, but blimey, what a day!'

    He must've started laughing a little hysterically, because Vera dropped a large ball of water on his head, "GAH! COLD!"

    "Well then you shouldn't've worried me, laughing all crazy like that!" Vera nearly sobbed, looking at him with shining eyes and a trembling lip. Not only that, but James found he could feel her concern and sadness, and her worry that he wouldn't want her as a familiar! 'Oh, my heart!' James felt a tug at something inside him at the very thought at being parted with Vera, 'Who cares if she's a fox-spirit? She's my fox-spirit, my crazy, funny, foxy sister!'

    "Oh, Vera, I'm sorry… This is, well, it's a lot to take in, you know?" he placed his hand on her neck, stroking Vera's soft, watery fur as he assured her, "I… I never had something like this," he gestured between them with his free hand, "before, but I know for sure that I won't let it break, ever! We have to set things right, after all!"

    She sniffed, then smiled up at him, "Of course we are! Someone's gotta keep you out of trouble too, you scatter-brained Shaman! May as well be me, the toughest kitsune since the Kyuubi!" and she puffed out her chest and smirked superiorly.

    James grinned, "Have at thee, you silly fox-spirit!" and started tickling his foxy friend, who squealed in delight.

    After a few minutes of engaging in a tickling fight, James looked up to find Khepri smiling warmly at the two of them, "So, erm, what happens now?"

    The older Shaman's smile slipped a bit, "Well, the two of you are here so that your bodies can heal; my three associates are taking care of that. So!" she pulled over the tub-sized wicker basket and smiled impishly at James, "It would be remiss of me to send you back into the world without teaching you any magic, so how would you like to learn a type of magic I perfected while alive?"

    James and Vera nodded eagerly, though James thought he could hear hissing voices coming from the basket, and asked, "Are there, um, snakes in there?"

    Vera licked her chops, "Does that mean it's snack time?"

    Khepri laughed again, "No, silly kitsune! I'm going to teach you Parselmagic, the Art of the Serpents!" and she lifted the lid off the basket. Leaning forward while holding Vera back (he didn't want the possible snakes to get scared and bite her), he found the basket was filled with adders, vipers, asps, cobras, and a large black mamba coiled in the center, all of them looking up at both Shamans curiously; looking down with him, the older Shaman hissed, "Sssay hello to Jamesss, deariesss!"

    "Hello!" "Nice ssspectaclesss." "Looksss a bit ssscrawny, Misssstresss." "Oh, what a cutie!"

    Feeling giddy at learning some actual magic, James looked up at Khepri, "You're going to teach me how to talk to snakes?" That sounded useful!

    But then the female Shaman giggled, replying with a smile, "No one can teach you Parseltongue, James; you must be born with it. Oh, but don't despair, dear!" she added when James frowned, then hissed, "Your mother wasss born with thisss gift, and passsed it to you; look at the mamba, and ssspeak." Khepri gestured to the open basket again with a smile.

    Filing the comment about his mom away for a later question, James glanced at Vera with a raised eyebrow, silently asking if she understood; the kitsune immediately nodded and said, "It's a bit hard for me to follow, what with all the hissing, but I can understand most of it! Give it a go, James!" and she grinned, tails wiggling in excitement at seeing something new.

    So James looked back into the basket; the mamba was looking up at him, having heard Khepri's hissed order. He smiled and said, "Hi. I'm Jamesss." He blinked; that had felt weird!

    "Yesss, I know," the male mamba replied patiently, ignoring the adder rubbing against his coils, "Misssstresss jussst told usss your name, after all; well met, Ssspeaker, I am Judecei."

    "A wizard who can speak Parseltongue," Khepri explained, "has access to several abilities, one of which is a form of healing; come here, Menin my dear," she finished with a hiss, holding her arm over the basket; one of the vipers, a red and green-scaled affair, rose and wrapped its neck about her wrist, before nimbly coiling the rest of its length about her arm. Lifting him up for James to examine, Khepri continued her lecture in Parseltongue, "Unlike what you ssshall learn of wanded magicsss, Parssselmagic hasss no incantationsss; it isss entirely sssympathic magic, which you have been doing on your own for sssome time. Sssimply reach out with your inner fire, the power flowing through you, and imbue your ssscaly friend with compassssionate thoughtsss." suddenly, Menin started glowing with a shimmering white aura!

    "Wow!" pipped Vera, "That's the same color as when Mima does her healing!"

    James, meanwhile, had a question, "Would it work to purify the darknessss? There'sss a corrupted foressst back where I am, sssee…"

    It was Menin who answered, still glowing, "Only if the darknessss isss sssmall, Jamesss. Big darknessss isss harder for sssmall ssserpentsss like usss to remove."

    "Regardlessss," added Khepri, "you have Yavanna, now; ssshe will be able to purify the more… persssissstent darknessss… that you might come up againssst. Ssshe isss quite the powerful Ssspirit, Jamesss; but more on that later. Now, practicsse." And she gestured to the basket again with a smile, letting Menin slither about her shoulders, the large viper still glowing brightly.

    [..O..]

    So James got to work, calling Judecei up with a soft hiss, and set learning what Khepri had to teach him; it was hard work, but Vera was so helpful, giving him a few pointers on how to mold his magic. Judecei himself was also a great help, being quite intelligent himself, and, as Shaman, kitsune, and snake taught James, the young Shaman found himself understanding the Power within him much better.

    There was more to Parselmagic than healing, which James was really glad for! If he put a special type of kohl around his eyes and the eyes of a snake, he could see what the snake saw! Speaking of the kohl, Khepri taught him how to make it, as well as other types that could produce different effects, like allowing him to see in the dark, or see heat and cold, even one that would allow him to see what plants were magic or not! Wearing makeup to do magic was, to James' mind, weird and girly, but Vera thought he looked cool with scales swirling around his eyes, so he let it go; that, and he was learning real magic!

    That he could now make a black mamba, the deadliest snake in the world, spit lightning was a major boost to James' enthusiasm to learn all he could about Parselmagic!

    It wasn't all snake-based magic, either; the beautiful Shaman taught James and Vera how to make pockets bigger on the inside so he could hold more things in his backpack, along with another spell to make the contents lighter. She taught James the difference between using magic with his staff and his rattle; his staff was good for everyday use, like mending fences or moving earth, while his rattle should only come out in times of great need, or when James felt he might need a Spirit's guidance.

    Neither Shaman nor kitsune could wait to wake up so they could start gathering things together and practicing all they'd learned! Well, provided the faeries Vera had seen just before passing out didn't take offense to their tromping about, but James wasn't too worried, especially with what else Khepri taught him.

    She'd stressed that, despite being an orphan and living on his own, he should still learn how to 'comport himself in polite society, lest someone think him a barbarian'; Khepri's words, not James'. And, blimey, were there a lot of rules to follow! He had to talk a certain way when speaking to certain people, found out that there were scores of ways to nod his head or bow depending on the situation, and the less said about table manners, the better! But James was determined to do his best, especially with a possible altercation with a bunch of angry Fae Folk in his near future; Khepri had stressed that offending a Fae, even one of the lesser ones, was an unwise decision to say the least, and both James and Vera (reluctantly, for some reason, in the kitsune's case) took the older Shaman's words to heart.

    Khepri also taught him about the hieroglyphs on her arms and legs, too. Apparently they were the Runic language of snakes, and protected her from magical harm; she added that it was also part of the magical protection his mom had placed on him when he was little, though Khepri admitted that James' protection was far better than her own.

    Which led back to James' curiosity on how the ancient and beautiful Shaman could have known his parents.

    "But," James argued, pausing in his calligraphy practice (needed for writing Runes correctly), "my relatives said my parents were drunks, and died in a car crash."

    "You really believe what those bullies told you, James?" snarked Vera, who had covered her blue-furred paws with white kohl and was now walking on the ceiling, "I wouldn't believe anything they told me, even if my eyes told me it was true! Oh, grass is green? The sky is blue? Water is awesome? Balderdash!" and she giggled while James raised an amused eyebrow at her antics.

    "While I wouldn't quite go that far, Vera is correct, James; your relatives are hardly a reliable source of information, especially in regards to your heritage." Khepri put in from where she was lounging nearby on a bed of plush pillows, her snakes slithering around her as she regarded the young Shaman looking imploringly at her, "Your mother, while not a Shaman, was quite the accomplished witch. Though we were never properly acquainted, her works were impressive enough to draw the attention of many Shamans here; for instance, she managed to uncover several types of Parselmagic, including the lesser protective spells I've shown you, that were thought lost to time."

    James looked down at the Runes he'd drawn so far, his heart pounding in his chest; quietly, he asked his teacher, "Do… do you know how they…" he couldn't say it.

    "Yes, James," Khepri had approached while he struggled with this latest revelation, and knelt beside the younger Shaman, stroking the back of his neck in comfort, "Your parents died in your defense, for a powerful and terrible servant of the Dark wished to wipe your family out. Your mother loved you so that she used magics that are forbidden in Britain to protect you from all harm, and your father fought this… abomination with all he had, tooth and nail, despite the monster's greater power and ruthlessness, hoping to buy your mother time to complete her spell. And he did. And she did. And the abomination was slain. And you lived."

    Looking up at the beautiful woman with stinging eyes, James whimpered, "Why?" He didn't know what he was asking, just… he wanted to know. Why?

    She smiled sympathetically, cupped his face with a warm, soft hand, and answered, "Why did they not run? Because the monster would have chased them to the ends of the Earth. Why your family, why them, why you? Because your parents hated all that the Dark represented, because they could not stand by while the monster slaughtered their friends, because they stood against the monster, and they were not afraid of his power; but, like all monsters, this monster could not abide defiance. Why did they die, why did the beast die, and you live, if the beast was so powerful? Because he underestimated just how much they loved you, Harry James Potter; Lilly and James loved you with all their heart, and would have died a thousand deaths, if it meant you would be kept safe. Their undying love protected you, fueled a protection that still protects you from Dark Magic; the monster was vanquished, your scar a monument to their love for you, and their defiance of the Dark. And I tell you now, surely as the Sun rises, they would be so proud of you, Harry."

    By the end, James was clutching Khepri's soft robes as she held him gently, Vera nuzzled up to his chest, her wet nose tickling his face when she licked away his tears as he wept with all his heart. He sobbed with sorrow and bitterness for his lot in life with the Dursley family, cried with grief for what his parents must have gone through when fighting the monster, and… tears of joy streamed down his face, because he now knew his parent's names, knew that they hadn't hated him, hadn't abandoned him, knew that they loved him, and that meant more to the boy than anything else.

    He didn't know how long he cried for his parents and himself, there in the beautiful Shaman's arms; it felt like weeks, years, even. When he stopped, sniffling and hugging Vera in thanks, James was surprised to find he hadn't flooded Khepri's apartment; smiling up at her, he breathed, "Thank you… You-you didn't have to, tell me that is, but… thank you."

    "Oh, James, you deserved to know," she wiped a stray tear off James' cheek, ruffled Vera's fur with a smile, and stood elegantly, "Though I can tell you little else of what happened, other than that the monster's Master yet lives," Khepri strode toward the light-filled balcony, face sorrowful.

    Just as confused as her Shaman, Vera asked, "Why not? You know so much, taught us both so much, why can't you- wait! How long have we been here?!" James' eyes widened as well; he had been having so much fun learning about magic, and history, and (sort of boring) etiquette, and then his parents, that he'd lost track of time! It had to have been weeks since he passed out in the hidden forest!

    "Never fear, my friends," spoke Khepri gently from where she grasped the balcony's door-handles, "While it may seem like many months have passed since you arrived, in reality, a day, perhaps, has elapsed. You forget," she turned a smile on them, "this place is magic." And she threw the doors wide, the desert sun blinding both James and Vera for a moment.

    But when James' vision cleared…

    He beheld a wonder no living man had ever seen, "Miss Khepri… are… are those…?"

    Vera was equally awed, "Whoa. Who put those there?"

    The Daystar Shaman laughed freely, arms held wide, as though she wished to embrace the vista before them, "Behold, James Stormcaller, Vera Stream-Strider: the Great Necropolis of Egypt, and the city of Cairo, as they were when I still walked the world!"

    Pictures in textbooks didn't do them justice, James decided as he and Vera gazed at the white limestone wonders, unmarred by time, their peaks capped with gold that shone like fire in the slowly setting sun; at their base, a sprawling temple complex covered the Giza Plateau, the glittering blue of irrigation ditches interspersing red-columned tombs, work-houses, and temples to the gods of Egypt, dedicated black granite statues in various poses towering over wide courtyards. Nearer to the… huge palace he was in, James could see the Sphinx of Giza; it was thrilling seeing the famous statue undamaged, its distinguished nose and painted mane one of the greatest sights he'd ever seen. Beneath the balcony, stone houses sprawled in a complex labyrinth of streets and alleyways all the way up to the base of the palace, whose grounds were marked by a high wall and wooden gate, the entire vista before him underscored with green grasses and tall palms, vines clinging to the sides of buildings and ferns edging countless courtyards and market squares.

    Mouth agape, James couldn't find words to say, seeing one of the ancient civilizations restored to its former glory; neither could Vera, from her perch in James' arms, though her tails were wiggling madly as her body quivered in excitement!

    Feeling a tap on his shoulder, James looked up at a brilliantly smiling Khepri, who pointed north, "Look and see," so he did…

    There, barely above the horizon, was a glimmering star; Khepri's reverent voice came to James as he squinted at it, "The Pharos Lighthouse, though this is more a trick of the Fade; truly, you'd have to travel a few dozen miles north before sighting the beacon of Alexander and Ptolemy's Great Work, the city my beloved Cleopatra spent much of her time, learning the ways of governance," her tone was sad at the end; when James finally tore his eyes away (the Pharos! He wondered if the Library was here as well!), he saw his fellow Shaman looked very sad, yet, happy at the same time.

    Carefully, he asked, "You knew Cleopatra well, then?" Vera's head swung around eagerly, always ready to hear a fresh story.

    Khepri nodded solemnly, "In her youth, I was her chief servant and handmaiden; as she grew into a young woman, I became her closest advisor, her friend even; when she became Queen alongside her foolish brother, I was here in Giza, finalizing my Shaman training. We reunited when she sought to unite Egypt under a single banner; we were lovers," her voice was quiet, as though saying the words would make them untrue, "Despite my devotions as High Priestess to Ra and her own responsibilities as Queen, despite our differences in birth and station… she loved me, an orphaned child of a whore and a vagabond, as the Sun loves the land: with such brilliance and fierceness that I, and all the people, were in awe of her," the female Shaman raised up her arms to the setting Sun, a bright grin on her face, "And though the vile Romans poisoned her mind, violated her body, and ravaged her kingdom, she was a true Queen to her people until the end, ensuring, through me, that their history would never die, that their stories would outlast their usurpers and destroyers. Such was the love she held for her people, a love that burned in her heart like the Sun."

    "What happened?" whispered James; this was a much different story than what he'd been taught in school!

    Sighing, Khepri concluded, "Never you mind my love's tragedy, dear James; you have enough trials ahead of you without bearing my grief," lowering her arms, she then favored him with a smile as bright as the descending desert Sun, "Though I find myself compelled to tell you this: much of what you've learned of the ancient civilizations is grossly incorrect. The Romans burned a library, not the Library. My final act of defiance was denying those barbarians their prize, and it still stands, all the knowledge gained by the Ptolemaic dynasties and magics of the ancient Mediterranean there preserved for those wishing to learn, dear James."

    "It's still there?!" Vera crowed excitedly, James grinning right along with her; if Jean were here, no doubt his bookish friend would faint straight away! He was excited enough as it was: the Great Library still stood! It was still there!

    "And one day, you may even see it," confirmed Khepri, looking to the Sun as it touched the horizon; suddenly, her face became grim, "Our time draws to a close, James. A final warning I have for you: the Darkness is relentless. Though your parents defeated one of its servants, it persists, and it will always hunt you; doubly so, seeing as you are a Shaman."

    Vera growled, James holding the young kitsune tighter as he asked, "What do you mean?"

    "The original Darkness, James. It lives, has been here since the dawn of civilization, and even before. The servant your parents faced was only its latest work; it weaves plots that topple nations, corrupts all that is good, and its spies are countless. It is patient as well, some of its plots taking centuries to reach fruition. It hates our powers, our ability to speak with Gaia's voice, and the love we share with Mother Earth, and covets those things," She looked at him seriously, "You know of the Darkness, a small number of its dastardly works, though my teachings; three more Shamans will you meet, in the coming days, and after teaching you of Earth, Sea and Sky, they will tell you what form the Darkness takes, what it has done, and, finally, you will learn its name."

    Suppressing a shiver of fear, James thought of the filthy Darkness in the forest; no doubt it would be his first challenge, removing the source and purifying the taint. Thinking of how this day had gone so far, he chuckled, looking down at Vera and saying, "To think, I thought being a Shaman just had to do with healing cuts and bruises, but it looks like I've got my work cut out for me now!"

    Vera laughed back, flowing out of his arms and wrapping her tails around his ankles, smiling up at her Shaman, "Ha-ha! I almost feel bad for the Dark! Between the two of us, those nasties don't stand a chance!"

    "Ho-ho, truly!" Khepri laughed with them, jade eyes glittering, the sky darkening, "You've chosen the hard path, but…" here she knelt, coming to eye level and brushing a lock of hair behind James' ear, "I think you're more than equal to the challenge."

    Grinning again, James bowed slightly, Vera copying him at his side, "Thank you, Khepri. I'll never forget this, ever."

    Then he felt something soft touch his forehead; she'd kissed him! It was so warm… wouldn't it be nice… to fall asleep… eyes drooping, James felt himself tumbling backwards, Vera flowing up into his arms and snuggling close.

    As the world turned black, Khepri's voice came to him, one last time:

    When you find someone
    Who sets your heart aflame
    Hesitate not at all
    And love them with
    The passion of the SUN!

    And then he was falling…

    [..|..]

    Smacking his lips, James slowly came back to consciousness; whatever he was lying on was both soft and firm, and the air was thick with mossy scents.

    Eyes opening tiredly, he found himself beneath a huge willow tree whose branches had shattered the stone roof of a house… or maybe the roof shattered first? 'Bahhh, I'm too tired to think.'

    Looking left and right, he found he was lying between two of the great tree's roots; distantly, he could feel the tree protecting them both, a steady thrum of warmth covering them and mumbling worriedly to itself. Glancing down at the weight on his chest, he found Vera snoozing there, and there was his backpack, staff and rattle, all propped neatly on a tree root.

    Smiling contentedly and rubbing a spot between his familiar's ears, James settled back and returned to sleep. After all, it had been a long day!

    He never noticed the narrowed, shrewd eyes watching him from the shadowed eaves of the room…

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  6. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 5 "The Willow and the Triplets"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    The Fae Folk

    Fae Folk, or Faerie as they are more commonly known, can be found virtually anywhere in the world, though they are most often found in Western and Central Europe, the Amazon rain forest, and the uncharted wilds of western Canada. In areas unmentioned, they tend to congregate in places of great magical resonance, such as stone circles, ancient ruins, or near magical population centers. They tend to avoid deserts or regions with arid climates, as well as high elevation forests; the Southern slopes of the Himalayas is an exception to the latter observation.

    In Canada, Faerie populations have been known to migrate with the changing seasons, drifting south into Cascadia's dense mountain forests or the redwood old-growth forests north of the San Francisco Bay area during winter months, and keep very much to themselves.

    European Fae tend to stake out a claim on an area, hide its presence from both Magical and Muggle, and remain there year-round, sometimes venturing out to play (usually harmless) pranks on nearby human populations, or forage for food and building materials.

    Amazon Fae are, as far as anyone can tell, nomadic and reclusive, and avoid humans at all costs; attempts to locate a centralized structure or compound where they range from always results in failure, either from expeditions giving up due to misdirection on the Fae's part, or the total loss of those expeditions from the Amazon's resident wildlife, both mundane and magical.

    In passing, most Faerie are docile, shy creatures; when humans come near them, they tend to hide themselves rather than seek confrontation. They are quite able at doing so, seeing as most of their kind are quite practiced with illusions.

    However, it should be stressed that, when approaching the Fae Folk, one should comport themselves with respect and politeness toward said folk, at least until their alignment can be determined; many a disrespectful witch and wizard have met with a gruesome end due to insulting these prideful beings. They are quite powerful, both physically and magically, with even the smallest Fae capable of dealing grievous harm when pressed, and will defend their homes against any and all intrusions. Therefore, one should only approach a colony of Fae at need and with good reason.

    Appearance

    Like human beings, Faerie have two distinct sexes, male and female, and are of similar build to humans; they also share many of our own features: broad of shoulder, handsome faces, and short heads of hair for the males, with females displaying long hair, slender bodies, and firm breasts.

    Nearly all Fae Folk have wings of some description. These will be insect-like in nature, most often those of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, or bees. A Faerie's biology will usually reflect their wings; a dragonfly Fae, for instance, will have a sturdier, wiry build than, say, a moth Fae, which will have a softer, elegant appearance. As an aside, it should be noted that the urban legend of Faeries having antennae or compound eyes is markedly false and probably due to some devious prank these beings played in the past.

    A Faerie's actual features can be hard to determine; their prodigious skill with illusion magics, by and large, comes from a cultural quirk regarding a love of aesthetic beauty, and use an appearance-altering glamour to this effect. Therefore, most Fae will appear as exceptionally beautiful or handsome members of our own race. Without this glamour, their actual facial features are sharp and angular, with large pointed ears, pointed chins and noses, thin lips on wide mouths, and almond-shaped eyes. Skin color varies based on Natural alignment and location; tree sprites, the most common variety of observed Fae, are some shade of brown, from a light walnut to a deep oak. Faerie who make their home in marshes and wetland are paler, from snow white to a light bone. All Fae have smooth skin, though one should never attempt to touch a Faerie without clear and express permission, unless losing a finger or one's life is on the agenda.

    Hair and eye color vary wildly from Faerie to Faerie, even amongst close relations, all colors, hues, tints and shades represented.

    Faerie vary in size according to power, age and occupation. Most are rather small, around six inches to two feet in height; these are the commoners of the Faerie race, the worker 'bees' if you will, and generally take care of the basic needs of their clan. Fae in excess of two feet should be approached with extreme caution, not only due to the considerable amount of magical power they can bring to bear, but also because of the widely varying temperaments between Faerie of differing Courts.

    The lifespan of any variant of Fae is, at present, unknown, though they can be killed with various methods (see Defense Attachment (Aurors/Hit-Wizards/FRoST Agents only)).

    Diet

    All Faerie are omnivorous; their main diet consists of non-poisonous fungi, small insects and arachnids, garden vegetables, nuts, most fruit (they have a strangely strong dislike of lemons), and fish. In the case of living food, a successful Fae outpost will raise and breed such creatures as livestock.

    Larger Fae, such as Court Scribes and Knights, may dine on fare comparable to that which humans consume, if such things are available.

    It should be noted that certain factions of Unseelie Fae have been known to consume human flesh and the flesh of other Fae; be aware that such factions are considered pariahs at best, hated enemies at worst, amongst their parent Court and should be killed on sight.

    Factions and Behavior

    All Fae Folk are divided into two main groups, or the Grand Courts, with one other, rarer group having been observed at times: the Seelie Court, Unseelie Court, and the Exiles.

    The Seelie Court, or Summer Court, is ruled over by the Summer Queen, a Fae of mythical and legendary power. Fae from this Court are, at first meeting, benevolent and kind; do not be fooled, as these Fae are not above harming humans when pressed.

    Most of the Seelie Court's human dealings have to do with mostly harmless, if highly annoying, pranks, from using their illusions to cause embarrassment and scandal, to outright vandalism and larceny. Many are a neighbor to a Seelie clan that have had items from their home go missing, or moved around; a good way to avoid possible Faerie raids from Seelie forces is to leave out offerings of fresh berries, hemp cord, shiny objects, wine, or nuts in the shell, preferably near a forested area or mire, as this is where Faerie of all types make their homes. Use of small earthenware bowls or jugs are recommended, doubly so if said crockery has pleasing images painted or carved on.

    In France and Germany, some isolated parts of both countries exhibit villages engaging in regular trade with local Seelie clans, some going so far as holding grand festivals during the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice.

    The Unseelie Court, or Winter Court, can be best described as a dark mirror of the Seelie Court. With the Winter Queen as its overlord, the Unseelie Court has long been at violent odds with the Seelie Court, though their behavior toward humans can be described as amused dismissal at best, antagonistic at worst.

    The Fae of the Unseelie Court are the only Fae who will willingly live in wintery climates; the magical governments of Norway, Sweden and Finland actually employ Unseelie Fae in guarding these countries' stone circles from looters. The Fae in question are only too happy to do so, as not only do they gain a year-round base of operations, they are also always in close proximity to a center of magical resonance, which appears to be a must for all Faerie living in the Mundane Realm.

    Unlike Seelie Fae, Unseelie Fae will actively go out of their way to harass or enslave human beings (the Scandinavian clans being the exception rather than the rule), typically through some magically-binding agreement the Faerie trick the target human into. While such practices are not uncommon with the Seelie Court, Summer Fae usually reserve such things as punishments for crimes, such as slights against their kin, insulting their Queen, et cetera. Unseelie Fae will do such things simply because it amuses them. Unseelie Fae are also much more martial than their Seelie cousins, regularly patrolling their redoubts in flights of five or more.

    The largest problem when dealing with Fae of either Court is that neither camp will come out and declare their allegiance at the asking, which can be extremely annoying to a researcher seeing as, both behaviorally and physically, they are quite similar. As such, it is important to gauge a Faerie's disposition before agreeing to anything they're offering, as well as being diplomatically courteous ad nauseam lest you accidentally offer insult to an Unseelie Fae.

    Common Faerie of both Courts are directly ruled by Court Knights, who rarely leave the Realm of Twilight, the home of the Fae Folk. Court Knights are extremely powerful and beautiful examples of their race, though they are typically quite prideful and cold-hearted, and will offer insult simply to amuse themselves before, usually, slaughtering or enslaving their entertainment. Court Knights are, by and large, between five and six-and-a-half feet in height, and are rarely seen by humans (unless, of course, a human finds themselves met by Fae and are not very clever). Court Knights are usually accompanied by one to five Court Scribes, a magically adept and highly intelligent variety of Fae that act as record keepers, advisors, and overseers for the Knight's underlings and fiefdom; it is theorized that Scribes become Knights over time or after performing some task for their Queen, though this has never been proven.

    Finally, there are the Exiles. These are Fae that have been banished from the Courts for some slight or transgression against their own kind, be it physical or traditional in nature; for some reason, the Fae Folk are hesitant to slaughter members of their own Court, choosing instead to banish them to our Mundane Realm. Coming across a group of Exiles, or even an individual Exiled Faerie, is stupendously rare in the wild; Exiled Fae do not last long on their own in the Mundane Realm, most dying from exposure, unable to find a locale of magical resonance to make their base. If an Exile comes across an Unseelie or Seelie encampment in our world, the Exile, or Exiles, will likely be slaughtered out of sheer principle at worst, imprisoned and cruelly enslaved at best (though one wonders, given observations of the treatment of enslaved Exiles by Grand Court Fae, if death would not be preferable).

    Exiles will, however, offer their services as festival decoration, caterers and entertainment in exchange for room and board, hence many countries employing them for Yule, Samhain and New Year's Day celebrations. Most known Exiles are currently in the service of various Ministries and magical schools, such as Hogwarts and Beauxbatons.

    Several members of the Society of Magical Creature Enthusiasts have proposed the theory that all Amazon Fae are actually highly successful Exiles, though there has been no proof of this beyond the population's reclusive nature and looks of disgust whenever said group is mentioned in the presence of Grand Court Fae.

    It should be noted, however, that a Seelie Court encampment in Southern France reported, in 1751 CE, a large exodus of Exiled Fae from the Realm of Twilight, most coming from the Seelie Court with smatterings of Unseelie Fae, all forest sprites, most of them common Fae with five or six Court Scribes. This horde of Faerie have, thus far, avoided detection. Why they were exiled, where they have gone, or the reason so many (low estimate of 150 Fae, high estimate 380) Fae were exiled at once, has remained an unsolved mystery ever since, as the Seelie encampment in question was soon after destroyed by the Roman Inquisition; all other interviewed Fae encampments were either unable to give the horde's location, or gave contradictory information regarding the reasons behind their exile (see page 28 of this report).

    Addendum: Regarding Kitsune

    Both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts regard kitsune (multi-tailed fox-spirits) with distaste at best, outright hostility at worst. Seelie Fae will usually make such beings unwelcome in their territory in the hopes of driving them off; Unseelie Fae will actively try to kill any kitsune trespassing on their land. All kitsune meet such behavior in kind, and will only rarely attempt peaceful diplomacy when meeting with any Fae.

    The reason for this mutual dislike of each other's race is unknown, though there are records in the Great Library going back to c4400 BCE that relate this observed coolness between Fae and kitsune. Asking either race about the source of this grudge has been met with silence and one case of a particularly persistent wizard being permanently convinced that dung beetles contain the soul fragments of a Creator God. An Archimedes Prize awaits the lucky (or unlucky, depending on the truth of the matter) soul who discovers the reason for the Fae/Kitsune grudge.

    X/O-Threat Levels
    X-Threat Levels based on ICW-approved one-to-five-X rating system for potentially dangerous magical creatures.
    O-Threat Levels based on ICW-approved one-to-five-O estimated danger caliber of extremely powerful, unique, and supernaturally intelligent magical beings.
    Readers are advised to proceed with appropriate caution when approaching any Faerie.


    Common Faerie (6in-2ft in height): XX, RELATIVELY HARMLESS UNLESS PROVOKED
    Faerie Swarm (20 or more Common Faerie): XXXX, USUALLY HOSTILE, UNTRAINED WIZARDS: FLEE ON SIGHT

    Court Scribe (3ft-4ft in height): XXX, XXXX on home turf, APPROACH WITH CAUTION, generally non-combatant unless provoked or in company of Court Knight

    Court Knight (5ft-6.5ft in height): XXXXX, EXTREMELY DANGEROUS MAGICAL BEING, FLEE ON SIGHT / DO NOT ENGAGE, REPORT SIGHTING/RUMOR TO LOCAL DMLE IMMEDIATELY

    Summer Queen (height unknown, true name: Unspeakable): OO, EXTREMELY DANGEROUS MYTHICAL BEING, REPORT RUMOR TO LOCAL DMLE IMMEDIATELY, DO NOT ENGAGE / FLEE ON SIGHT

    Winter Queen (7.25ft in height (source: Shaman Ildus of Crimea, 124 BCE), true name: Unspeakable): OO, EXTREMELY DANGEROUS MYTHICAL BEING, REPORT RUMOR TO LOCAL DMLE IMMEDIATELY, DO NOT ENGAGE / FLEE ON SIGHT

    -Summary page from ICW Archive File on the Fae Folk
    First filing: November 1694 CE
    Most recent update: June 1985 CE
    Information compiled from various eyewitness accounts, SMCE files, and Great Library historical records

    [..|..]

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    Chapter 5:
    The Willow and the Triplets


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    As James drifted back to sleep, the owner of those shrewd eyes let out a quiet sigh of relief.

    It had been a little more than a day since Landlady, Shepherd and Sandor's grandkids brought the lad and his fox into the Manor, and both Cook and Rafiq had been getting worried that their newest charges might not wake. At least he now had some good news… if he could make the Herculean journey to Landlady's rooms to inform her of the boy's waking before the Daystar rose.

    Grumbling to himself, Vileclaw stood from the short root he'd been relaxing on and began hobbling to Willow Hall's exit, short cane tapping along with every other step; Landlady was, no doubt, still awake, waiting for news on this human child's condition. The old biddy had been going spare ever since that spirit-golem had made a circuit around the Manor's grounds before coming to a rest just outside the stable's iron chains, which kept the revenant pinned down. It hadn't
    moved since noon, and ignored any and all attempts at convincing it to move.

    Glancing up as he reached the threshold to the large room (which had once been a small salon, with a spare bedroom above it, before whatever horror that destroyed parts of Walnut Manor had come by and blown a hole all the way through the domed roof), Vileclaw nodded at the Triplets, where they were camped out on a jutting bit of moss-covered stone, of whom only Snapper was awake; the three had been among the first Fae born when the Walnut Court first came here, and
    were some of Landlady's best illusionists. To think they'd been bested by a kid

    Over thirty years ago, the aging Goblin accountant found himself looking for a nice, quiet place to retire. Having tired of the infighting and cutthroat business of his brothers and sisters at Gringotts, not to mention his getting on in years (102 was pretty good for a Goblin), Vileclaw sought out somewhere out of the way, where he could tinker and manage his remaining investments in peace.

    At the time, he'd assumed Walnut Manor was abandoned, which was indeed what Gringotts' files listed the property as: a derelict, crumbling building, possible Dark creatures roaming about with partially-shattered wards keeping them in, and a rocky forest growing unchecked around it with a natural spring, about a mile from the Manor itself, feeding into the River Wye. It had been buried deep in the bank's defunct property files, along with a note (dating 70 years old at the time) that no one owned the place.

    So a place where he could build a nice cozy house into a hillside, hunt, and keep his combat skills sharp in case vengeful stockbrokers came a-calling. Imagine his surprise at finding Melfina and her Walnut Court already fully invested in the place, playing host to a herd of griffins and one old occamy while locked in a constant struggle to keep the trees from dying due to the poisonous nature of a revenant!

    Well-away, he'd still managed to make his retirement home, under hill and stone and all, for the low price of one fifty-seven carat ruby, along with his occasional advice and assistance around the grounds. A sweet deal if he'd ever seen one!

    Now, at the fine age of 133, old Vileclaw was starting to feel his years; his hip wasn't what it used to be, and his eyes were starting to cloud. On top of that, Melfina liked being able to look over her whole property, so of course her room was at the very top of a five bloody story tower!

    So it was that he was huffed his way into Landlady's rooms an hour before midnight with a growled, "Argh, me poor, battered legs. Ever heard of elevators, ya daft sow? One of these days, that climb'll bloody kill me!"

    His words, which would see him gutted and cooked by Seelie or Unseelie, were met with an amused snort from the auburn-maned, rainbow-winged beauty standing by the window that overlooked the part of the grounds where the stables lay; dressed in a moth-eaten nightgown meant for a child and knocking out a short smoking pipe in a clay ashtray, Melfina the Landlady didn't take her eyes off the distant golden glow of the Nature avatar as she responded in kind, "If your legs are so tortured, ya damn cranky stump-face, why don't you pay one of the griffons to taxi your old arse up whenever you need a chat? I know you've got the gold, stingy bastard," she then reached out to a well-upholstered velvet ottoman, levitating it over next to her with a gesture.

    Grinning, which made his already weathered and scarred features look like they'd been carved from a stump by an 8-year-old, Vileclaw limped his way across a threadbare Persian before sitting on the offered furniture with a grateful groan; despite their perceived barbs, both retired Goblin and Exiled Fae held a great fondness for the other, Vileclaw being reminded of his sister (Stone rest her), while Melfina appreciated someone who could (and had, at that) match wits with her, a former Court Scribe, while still being a decent sort.

    Accepting a wooden cup of Faerie wine (made and bottled in house) with a grumbled 'thanks', Vileclaw took a moment to savor the bitter red drink and the cool night air before reporting, "The lad woke for a few seconds. Scratched the fox's ears and went right back to sleep."

    Sitting and helping herself to a cup of her own, Melfina looked out the window again and sighed, "Look at my trees, Vile. They're healing, that damn revenant's rot cleansed from leaf, root and heartwood, all because of some human boy that wandered onto my lands…" huffing, she knocked back a healthy gulp of wine and groused, "Seasons, but I don't like being indebted to anyone, least of all a trespasser, young though he is."

    Humming an agreement, her Goblin tenant regarded the pulsing golden light in the distance before responding slowly, "That he's in league with a fox-spirit doesn't help your mood much, does it?"

    "Tch!" the Fae's brow furrowed in greater frustration, glaring into the distance over her cup, "It's infuriating! He heals my forest, succeeding where Cookie, Lisanna and I failed, but has a kitsune as a companion; he trespasses on my land without so much as a by-your-leave, but that spirit-golem of his is weakening the revenant simply with its presence! How am I supposed to feel about this boy, Vile?" and she deflated with a sigh, not knowing whether to be grateful or furious.

    "If you want my advice, Mel, I'd wait till the lad wakes up," the old Goblin mused, sipping the fine wine before continuing, "We know a couple things about him, at any rate: his dress and gear are all second-hand, he's got nothing new on him; a young lad, whose shoes were held together more by tape than anything, wandering onto our land and not being scared by the Triplets?" Vileclaw gave his now thoughtfully attentive Landlady a significant look, "My gold's on him being an orphan of the last war… that, or he's been abandoned for accidental magic," he spat the word like a curse; child abandonment amongst the Goblin Nation held a punishment worse than death. Cutthroat and ruthless though they were, Goblins took care of their young.

    "Can't bet on both, old friend, but… yes, both are possible… damn heartless humans," was Melfina's grimaced rebuttal as she rose and stepped closer to the window; a griffon, one of the night guards, flew past the golden light near the stables, the glittering lights of its Fae companions trailing in its wake.

    A few minutes of thoughtful silence passed before the Landlady shrugged, "No use worrying ourselves, I suppose; the kid'll wake up by tomorrow morn, at least. You squatting here tonight, stump-face?" she cheekily added to Vileclaw, whose eyelids were indeed starting to droop in tiredness.

    He nodded, shooting back playfully, "Not unless you feel like flying this old bag-o-bones back to his house on your big, strong wings."

    "Ha! As if! My poor wings ache at the thought of carrying your dense arse!"

    "At least you're still young and spry, belligerent bloody Fae!"

    "Young?! I'm five times your age, you rock-muncher!"

    "Fern-humper!"

    "Knut-pincher!"

    And so it went, until Melfina blew out her lamp and Vileclaw fell asleep on a threadbare chaise lounge, though not before the Landlady called up Rafiq and his daughter, Asha, and gave them orders to lay out some clothes and breakfast for the lad and his kitsune.

    Just because Melfina couldn't figure the boy out didn't mean she couldn't be a good host.

    [..|..]

    Eyes fluttering in the morning light filtering through a tree, James returned to wakefulness-

    -and found himself looking into Vera's blue eyes, inches from his own.

    Blink. "Good morning, Vera. Please don't do that again, I almost punched you."

    "Hehe, sorry!" she hopped off his chest onto a neighboring tree root, "G'morning James! I've been up for a few minutes already, took a look around, got bored," the two-tailed kitsune explained as James sat up and stretched his slightly stiff arms out, "We're in a really big house, it might be a castle though, what with all the stone, oh! And the loo's out the door to your right!"

    Taking a second to glance around, James found they'd been sleeping between the roots of a large willow tree growing in the middle of a partially ruined room made of rough vine- and moss-covered stone. An arched doorway led into another darkened corridor, pale sunlight spilling out of the occasional open doorway before reaching another open area further away, if the shafts of light coming from above were any indication.

    Then his body made its protests known. "Thanks, Vera! Be right back!" And the young Shaman dashed over the roots and made for the indicated loo to answer nature's call.

    He chuckled to himself, as he washed his hands, at the irony of the thought, 'Nature's call, pfft!'

    Though… looking about as he returned to the willow, he noticed that, despite the loo being in fairly good condition, the rest of the house looked like it had been abandoned for centuries; thick vines twisted across the floor, walls and ceiling in such a way that it seemed they were holding the house together more than the grey stone itself was. 'Weird… hmm, maybe the faeries have something to do with it?' mused James as he looked to Vera.

    She was sitting perfectly still next to his pack and staff, narrowed eyes fixed on a point above the door, where a section of stone flooring clung desperately to the wall of the house's second story, "We're being watched, James," Vera stated in a flat, unamused voice.

    Blinking, James drew on his power and extended his Sense ability-

    -and promptly shut it off, due to it feeling like he'd been whacked with a hammer! "Oof! Yep, too much magic in here, Vera; I can't use my Sense power."

    His foxy companion raised an eyebrow at him before speaking slowly, "Remember what Khepri said, James; there's a time for precision, and a time for…uh…"

    "Letting loose, yeah, sorry." Sitting next to his pack, James grabbed his staff ('Huh. It looks new... must be Yavanna's doing.') in his left hand and tried again, gently opening his mind to the world through the eye of a needle…

    Magic. Life. Everywhere around him, above, beneath, to every side! It flowed harmoniously in a labyrinth of currents and veins, pulsing with pure purpose, but there were… gaps, cracks, jagged fissures in the façade, where Life rippled slowly and Magic formed gossamer threads to bridge valleys. It wasn't perfect, but there was a homey undertone, as though the beings that lived here didn't mind the breaks in the magic much… And speaking of the balls of static he could feel buzzing about…

    Hundreds of Faeries… He could feel them, three above the door, with so many more spread throughout the building, some still sleeping, but most waking and beginning to go about their morning routines. Far above his head and to the left, a brightly burning star shuddered into wakefulness, a dense stone shifting near it as it also woke; further away to the right, another, dimmer, star twitched and shifted about like a hyperactive Rubik's Cube, a third star with two neighbors, their twitchy auras shrouded in mist, sending little sparks of magic to every corner of the… enormous castle they were in! James was about to try and sense further, get a better idea of where they were…

    Then Vera slapped his leg with a tail, breaking his concentration; blinking and coming back to himself, he found Vera looking really woozy, "James… I love you, but please give me some warning before doing that again!"

    'Oh! Our Bond!' "You feel it all too, huh?"

    "Ya-huh!" she nodded, clearing the remaining cobwebs with a little shake, "The star up above must be the leader; dunno who the other two might be, but we should be careful!"

    James nodded, about to add that carefulness was a given when exploring, when he felt three 'sparks' come their way!

    Pop-pop-pop!

    A platter of dark-colored fried bacon, thin sausages, and seasoned scrambled eggs with toast and pancakes, complete with butter and jam, appeared on a flat part of the willow's roots! Another bowl had appeared beside Vera, half of which had apple slices and cherries mixed with walnuts, the other half containing grilled fish fillets! A tall, blue glass sat on the edge of James' platter, filled with orange juice, while a second bowl filled with clear water sat next to Vera's breakfast.

    Both young boy and kitsune stared at the spread in open-mouthed shock, at least until another pop came from the jut of stone above the doorway, soon accompanied by a high-pitched female voice.

    "Finally! Snap, Lou! Breakfast!" The air around the stone rippled, revealing the source of the voice.

    It was three faeries! It was the first time James had seen them, and he took a short moment to examine them. All three looked pretty similar to each other, about a foot-and-a-half tall with bronzed skin and leafy clothes, and glimmering dragonfly wings sticking out of their shoulder blades. Their hair was… odd, to say the least: the two who looked like boys had shiny silver and metallic blue heads of messy hair, while the girl had orange curly hair that fell to mid-back. Their ears were long and pointed, 'Like Elves…' James mused, faces full of noble angles, with their arms and legs twisted with corded muscle. As he watched, the girl picked up a still-living beetle with clawed fingers, broke it open and…

    Gulping, James looked down at Vera; she'd made her and her race's dislike of the Fae well known in Khepri's dream-scape, and the disgusted look on her face right now underlined that. 'I'd best run interference for now, at least until we can figure out where we stand with the faeries.'

    Tapping his familiar's barrel with his staff to get her attention, James nodded to the plates that were obviously for them, "So… breakfast?"

    Vera gave the bowls laid out for her a distrusting look before shaking her head vigorously, "No way! They're probably trying to ensnare us in some agreement; we eat the food, then they demand some ridiculous payment-!"

    "Oi! Fox!" came a boy's voice from above them; looking up, they found the silver-haired male faerie glaring down at them with orange eyes, a half-eaten grub in his hand, "We're not out to get ya, so eat the damn food!" He then got hit in the cheek with a pebble flung by the girl-faerie, "OW! Breech, what was that for?!"

    "Snapper! Be nice!" the faerie, Breech apparently, chided her grumbling companion, then looked down at Shaman and kitsune, "And as for 'ensnaring you'," she scoffed, "Landlady offers her hospitality freely, in exchange for healing her forest from that Seasons-damned revenant's corruption, so, yeah, shaddup and eat. Asha obviously went all-out for you two." And she turned back to her breakfast with a huff while the third Fae, named Lou if James had everything right so far, looked between them all while nibbling on a mint leaf.

    Figuring questions could come later (with his stomach wholeheartedly agreeing), James smiled back down at Vera, "See? They're not trying to trick us." His Bonded friend still didn't look convinced, so he knelt to eye level with her and said, "Vera, we haven't eaten for two days, and I'm sure if they actually had anything against you being here, you wouldn't have woken up next to me."

    He then reached over and grabbed an apple slice, holding it under her nose; Vera's ears perked up at the scent of food, tails wiggling as her hunger overcame her prejudice. On top of that, she didn't want to disappoint or embarrass James (or herself) any further, so she grumbled, "Oh, fine," and snagged the apple slice from his fingers, quickly devouring it, "But don't expect me to like it."

    The two friends ate in silence, the three faeries alternating between watching them and conversing quietly amongst themselves; James didn't eat all his food, wrapping part of the bacon rasher and a slice of toast in a spare napkin for later. Vera asked him to do the same to a couple of her filets. Once he'd done that, he found there was still a lot of fruit and nut salad left over, but he didn't have anything to put it in!

    After a quick glance about showed no available vessels, he decided to ask the willow they'd slept beneath, "Um, excuse me?"

    The willow, which had been enjoying the morning breeze, gave a start of surprise before replying hesitantly, 'Oh! Um, yes? Can I help you?'

    Smiling bashfully, James continued, "Sorry for startling you, and good morning. Thank you for watching over us while we slept; your roots are very warm."

    Leaves rustling in surprise, the large tree replied, ''Tis I who should be thanking you! That blasted creature was slowly rotting everything till you came along! Twas the least I could do!'

    "And I'm sorry to ask more of you," apologized James in advance, "Seeing as I don't feel I've earned such praise, really; Vera here did most of the hard work," said kitsune wiggled her tails and sat up straight at her Shaman's praise, "but could I use some of your wood to make a small bowl to hold her berries and nuts? I promise I won't hurt you."

    'Is that all? Of course!' the willow allowed, adding in a warning tone, 'So long as it doesn't involve axes, that is…'

    "Of course not!" was James' taken aback reply, laying a hand on the tree's trunk, "Now…" Closing his eyes and concentrating, the Shaman stretched out his magic into the tree, taking hold of its own magic and the Natural magic flowing through the land, and asking the wood to come to his hands in the shape of a bowl, adding a well-fitting lid as an afterthought.

    Slowly but surely, the bark parted, a round wooden pot flowing into his hands like water, but with the magic of Nature giving it a finished sheen once it solidified and fully separated from the willow with a low tok! The swirl of its wood-grain seemed to have foxes frolicking across it, much to James' amusement. 'Is it to your liking?' the willow asked.

    "Oh yes, it's beautiful! What do you think, Vera?" his familiar gave a pleased yip! And took the bowl in her tails, carrying it over to her remaining breakfast to begin storing it; turning back to the tree, James bowed in respect, "Thank you so much, Mr. Willow; may you never rot!"

    Giving another rustle, this time in happiness, the Willow replied, 'Oh, it's no trouble at all! I heard from the River Yew, you know,' the tree added, surprising James, 'You're always welcome to the Willow Room of Walnut Manor, young Shaman, and may your feet never fail you!'

    Smiling warmly and inclining his head in recognition, James turned back to Vera…

    To find her staring down Snapper, the wooden bowl behind her with teeth bared and tails writhing in agitation, the Fae's glare strong enough to strip paint from a wall from where he stood on an opposite root, wings jittering in annoyance; then Breech landed behind her silver-haired friend(?), slapped him upside the head ("Ow!"), and, folding her arms, frowned up at James with narrowed eyes, "So… you can talk to trees, huh?" After he nodded warily, keeping one eye on Vera, she followed up her question with, "You're not part-Fae, are you?"

    Blinking in surprise at the strange question, James moved closer to Vera (as she still hadn't dropped her guard), sat on the same root she was on, and replied, "Um, no, I… don't think so. I'm James, by the way, and this is Vera," said kitsune huffed, settling back on her haunches and nodding to the Fae, though her glare didn't relent, "Good morning."

    Sliding one of her leafy overall's wayward straps back onto her shoulder, the orange-haired faerie nodded and responded neutrally, "Breech, and these are my brothers, Snapper," the silver-haired Fae grumbled while rubbing his stinging head, "and Louie," the last faerie landed next to his brother and gave a kind nod to human and kitsune, "We're the Triplets of the Walnut Court, and you're the kid that ripped our illusions apart." Breech folded her arms again and narrowed her eyes at a now-blushing James.

    Vera blinked at that information, saying to her Shaman, "You beat three faeries at their own game?! Why didn't you tell me?"

    "You never asked!" James smiled cheekily at his sister-familiar, who stuck out her tongue in reply; then he said to Breech, "Sorry about that, I thought you were pranking me."

    Spluttering while his sister's eyes widened in incredulity, Snapper retorted, "Pranking you?! Full-grown wizards have fled from less than what we threw at you, ya Muddy brat!"

    Vera bristled at that, but James' calm hand on her withers stopped her from retorting; meanwhile, Breech leveled a glare at her brother and hissed, "Snap, if you can't behave, make yourself useful and go get Landlady!" Once he'd left, but not before shooting another glare at Vera over his shoulder, Breech looked back at James, "My brother's rudeness aside, he's right; no one's ever gotten past us before, so how'd you do it?"

    The young Shaman in question pondered for a moment on how to answer, before going with, "Before I answer that, tell me: is the Walnut Court a branch of a Grand Court?" Khepri and Vera both had given him warnings about the Unseelie Court, and he wasn't keen on falling into a trap here.

    "Oh, Seasons, no!" laughed Breech, shaking her head, "We're Exiles from both Grand Courts; a couple Court Knights got executed a couple centuries ago and their fiefdoms confiscated by those bitch Queens," James only blinked in response to the small Fae's snarled curse, but Breech wasn't done, "so the leftover Scribes banded together rather than submit to their rule and came to this world."

    Louie picked up where she left off, speaking quietly, "Back then, there were five Scribes, led by Landlady… Then they found this place, already abandoned with a revenant roaming about…" Both Fae fell silent then, looking at James and Vera expectantly, as though they were waiting for something.

    Remembering Breech's question, James smiled and said, "Watch this," and molded his magic into an Unseen cloak around himself and Vera, who sniggered at their audience's reaction.

    Both Faerie's eyes bulged, Breech pointing in James' general direction and crying, "Where'd they go?! Weren't they just sitting right there?! I can't even sense them!" Louie spun on a heel, looking about wildly while his sister's wings jittered in agitation.

    James laughed and dispelled both his and Vera's cloaks with a pulse of magic along their Bond, making both Faerie squeak in surprise and Louie fall on his butt, much to Vera's snickering amusement; James explained further, "When I started doing accidental magic, I found a way I could make myself go 'Unseen', though it was tough making myself 'Seen' again; when I blew away your illusions, it was just a matter of taking hold of the spell and… um… tossing it away?" he shrugged; honestly, he'd been doing it for so long, going between Seen and Unseen, that he didn't much think about how he did it, "It's how I make myself 'Seen' again, if you follow me."

    Breech gave him a strange look, "So… you just… messed about with your magic, and figured what you did would work on what we did?"

    A snort came from Vera, "Well, why wouldn't it? It's magic, after all!" James nodded in agreement with his friend; he really didn't see what all the fuss was about.

    Louie scoffed at Vera's statement, "Because it's Faerie magic, not human magic, you…" then he sighed, looking away for a second, and then continued in a softer voice, "Sorry. You may be a fox, but Bree and I saw you make that Nature-golem to help heal our forest, so you're good in my book."

    Breech nodded in agreement while Vera's eyes narrowed in suspicion, at least until James nudged her; he was aware of the grudge between kitsune and Fae, even if Vera wouldn't tell him why there was a grudge to begin with. Despite this, James had a talk with Vera while in the Fade, and they had (very grudgingly, on the kitsune's part) agreed to be as polite as possible to any Fae they came across.

    Therefore, Vera sighed and replied tersely, "I'm sorry for being suspicious, though I'm sure you understand. Oh, and thanks for breakfast, it was really good!"

    Breech grinned, "I'm sure Cook, Rafiq and Asha'll be happy to hear it. Still, Louie's got a point: human magic doesn't work on Faerie illusions, so I still don't get how you got past us!"

    Thinking about the different types of magic that Khepri had told them about (wand, staff, sympathetic, and spiritual), James shrugged and asked, "Well, how many humans have you met that use a staff to do magic? Or talk to trees?"

    "Huh." Louie allowed, "I guess that's fair…"

    It was then that Snapper returned, gliding down from an upstairs doorway; landing gracefully next to his siblings, he reported in a calmer tone than he'd used earlier, "Landlady'll be down in a few; she was having breakfast with Mister Vile," while James and Vera glanced at each other, confused, Breech nodded in satisfaction while Snapper looked at his brother and asked, "What'd I miss?"

    Once Louie and Breech filled their brother in, Snapper ran a hand through his hair with a grimace before bowing slightly to both James and Vera, "Please forgive my earlier rudeness, it was unbecoming to act that way toward guests," he frowned toward the end, glancing at Vera with a small amount of distaste.

    Breech laughed, "Landlady chewed you out good, didn't she?" Louie grinned with her while Snapper leveled an annoyed glare at his sister.

    "Shaddup!"

    "Err…" all three Fae looked up as James raised his hand slightly, "Couldn't help but notice: you said there's a revenant poisoning the land?"

    The matching scowls of Breech and Snapper were offset by Louie's sad face and quiet response, "Yeah. It's a really powerful undead… thing. We lost a lot of our kind before Landlady sealed it in the old stables… including our mom."

    "Lou," hissed Breech, her own eyes going pained, "he doesn't need to know that."

    James felt one of Vera's tails wrap around his lower back, the touch soothing the empathic pain in his heart, before she chirped, "I guess we all have something in common, then! My, uh, my mom was already old, so she died after my older siblings and I were born, and James lost his parents when he was young; I'm allowed to say that, right?" she added to James, who smiled sadly and nodded.

    "So you're an orphan? No relatives or anything?" asked Snapper carefully; at James' quiet 'No.' the Fae chuckled, "Well don't we all make a bunch, eh Bree, Lou?"

    The female Fae scoffed and said, "Kindred souls we may be, I still owe Nadira three fish; she's a younger griffon, engaged to the chief's grandson," she explained to James' confused look, "you'll probably meet her later, so long as you stay respectful. You don't want to annoy a griffon."

    "Oh! Of course I will," James agreed, Vera nodding excitedly next to him; he could feel her vibrating against him, no doubt raring to bounce off and explore this whole place, and James couldn't blame his Bonded's enthusiasm! Griffons and faeries and a whole castle to explore! He still wasn't too sure what a revenant was, but if it was afraid of Yavanna, James felt confident he could defeat it!

    "Well, it's nice to see you all getting along," came a new voice from the room's doorway; looking over as its owner stepped into the light, James got his first look at the Landlady of Walnut Court.

    She was around his own height, but had adult features: her slim body was clad in a light green sundress with a silk belt around her waist, skin the same color of the three faeries he'd first met, but her fingertips had a dark green tinge to them; unlike the other three Fae, whose wings matched their hair color, Landlady's reminded James of the color of tarnished bismuth, the gossamer wings representing every color of the rainbow, shifting as she walked forward on bare feet. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a messy bun that was skewered with a knitting needle, exposing pointed ears pierced with tiny golden studs; her intelligent seafoam eyes flicked from James to Vera and back again, a small smile tugging at her thin lips as she came to a stop at the edge of the tree's roots. It was then that James noticed an ornate dagger tucked into her belt on her right side.

    Standing and nodding in greeting, James greeted the Fae respectfully, "Thank you for your hospitality, ma'am, and please excuse my rudeness for intruding on your land without permission. I wasn't aware of your claim to this place."

    The Landlady waved him off with a smile, "We've had intruders in the past, but if you could get past these three," the triplets shifted uncomfortably, Lou rubbing the back of his head, "then you've earned a roof over your head and breakfast at least," which set James' heart and mind a little more at ease.

    Then she folded her arms and spoke officially, "I am Melfina, Landlady of Walnut Manor, and Leader of the Walnut Court of Exiled Fae. You are James, and you," she looked down her thin, pointed nose at Vera, who was hiding slightly behind James' legs and watching the powerful Fae suspiciously, "are Vera, or so Snapper tells me. Now…" the now-named Melfina narrowed her eyes at James, smile disappearing, which made James gulp in nervousness and Vera shiver against his leg as the Landlady continued, "For your information, I am a 700-year-old Faerie, which means I can easily tell if someone is lying to me, young James. So when I ask you these questions, you had better answer honestly:

    "Where are you from, how did you find us, and who taught you magic?"

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  7. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 6 "Welcome to Walnut Manor"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    In Great Britain, the effects of the Statute took form, on the Mundane side, in the Jacobite Uprising of 1718, which was swiftly quashed by the British home forces…

    ...Meanwhile, on the Magical side of things, a social revolt was gaining stride in the form of a Pureblood movement; some of the established Magical families of the time believed that consorting with Mundane humans would taint bloodlines with impurities in Magic, bringing about more Squib births. This flies in the face of more recent research into family trees of old families in the Balkans and Italy, which raises the theory of Squibs being created by the practice of inbreeding, especially in cases where parents are closer in relation that three degrees.

    Leading the resistance against this way of thinking were several of the old families, namely the Dagworth-Grangers and their allies, the Altons and the Hyslops; these families were unique in their practice of allowing any Squib-born children to live on their lands, allowing such individuals to study Magic to their heart's content as well as providing them with employment opportunities. Several Squibs from the Dagworth-Granger household turned out as capable Potioneers and Apothecaries, along with occasional Magical Creature experts; the Magical Menagerie on Diagon Alley was founded by one such Squib, though this is no longer common knowledge. Unsurprising, given the following events.

    Naturally, proponents of this Pureblood movement took offense to these families' 'polluting Britain's good society with riffraff', and attempted to push through laws in Britain's Wizengamot to make the practice of training Squibs illegal, said push being led by the Selwyn, Nott and McNair families. However, their attempts at legal action were rebuffed, the Bones Lord going so far as to call his Nott counterpart 'ignorant and paranoid' in the Ministry's Atrium.

    What happened next is unclear, as few records have surfaced, but what is clear is, around the same time as the Jacobite Uprising, the Pureblood proponents sought to cleanse what they saw as 'undesirables' from their land; a considerable number of people, both Magical and Mundane, went missing around this time: The Dagworth-Grangers vanished entirely, the Altons reduced to a few family members in Hogsmede and the Altons nearly wiped out. The Nott family, while still wealthy, were a shadow of their former House with six members out of seventy surviving, the McNair family reported only one surviving member, a sixteen-year-old Wilhelmina McNair; while the Selwyn family survived mostly intact, though its main branch was utterly destroyed, only two matrilineal lines continued intact following what has the appearance of a minor civil war, one which the British Magical community has striven to forget…

    Excerpted from:
    The Statute of Secrecy and its Effects on Magical and Mundane Society
    a collection of Essays from Magical Universities around the world
    that record the implementation of the Statute and the results
    Published by Alexandria Scrolls and Tomes, inc., 1958

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    Chapter 6:
    Welcome to Walnut Manor


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    James felt Vera bristle at the Landlady's hard tone, so he looked down at her, meeting her eyes and shaking his head.

    Losing their cool in front of a Fae of this caliber wouldn't do them any good at all, even with Yavanna's presence at the edge of his mind, felt like the Sun through a morning fog; not that James wanted a fight! He just wanted somewhere to stay, figure out all this magic business and practice what Khepri taught them.

    'The truth…' he took a deep breath and faced Melfina, who was waiting patiently for his response, 'Okay…' "I'm from Surrey, a suburb of London, about two hours' drive from the Forest of Dean. My… uncle…" swallow the lingering pain, focus on Vera's fluffy tails brushing his ankles, "…he left me at the forest's edge after I, err," James blushed a bit and muttered quickly, "after I filled the house with wild animals by accident."

    Melfina blinked. Hard. The Triplets and Vera giggled at the thought of such a prank. Then Landlady chuckled herself, a hand coming up to cover her mouth demurely, "So you went playing around with nature magic and made your uncle mad?" At his nod, the Fae rolled her eyes, "And it never occurred to you that he was probably trying to scare you into not using magic again?"

    This time, James blinked, but not nearly as hard as Landlady, before answering with a sheepish smile, "Well, yeah, I sorta figured that's what he was trying to do, leave me out here for a few days before coming back to pick me up… Still, I'd been working on figuring out how to talk to nature and spirits for a few months before messing the house up, so, seeing as I was in a forest and the trees were better behaved than the ones in the city, I decided not to waste the opportunity," he finished with a shrug…

    While Melfina raised an eyebrow, "Talking to nature and spirits, huh?" When James and Vera both nodded, Landlady huffed, "Right. Kiddo, I wasn't born yesterday; you've got a staff, and a rattle that you used in a stone circle to summon her," she gestured at Vera, who frowned, and reiterated, "Where did you get those?"

    James smiled fondly at his staff and turned it in his fingers, "Made them myself! The staff was driftwood, but Yavanna must've renewed the wood-"

    "Hold," the Landlady raised a hand for silence, so James reigned in his eagerness at discussing his tools and listened to Melfina as she went on in a stern tone, "…Yavanna. You incanted that name right before summoning that… spirit-golem. Who or what is 'Yavanna'?"

    It was Vera who answered, giggling at the Landlady's sternness, "That's her name, silly Fae! Yavanna, the Nine-Tailed Forest-y Fox, protector of forests!"

    Smiling himself and ignoring the Fae's incredulous expression, James told her as much as he could about the Nature avatar he and Vera brought into the world, "She's a spirit of Compassion that I called into the world; I wanted to heal the forest outside from the corruption that was slowly making it rot," he grimaced at the memory of the taste of the source's magic, Vera shivering a little as well; man, was that nasty! "Vera and I blended Earth, Water and Air in the form of soil and grass for Earth, and one of the really hurt trees for Water, Earth and Air; she's got bones of stone and, well," James rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, "Yavanna's a pretty powerful spirit, so she takes care of the Fire part of a living being."

    "Ya-huh!" pipped Vera, bouncing forward a bit while Landlady looked at both of them skeptically, tails wiggling, "She's gonna guard and clean and protect this forest! We, me an' James, we brought her here to wash away the bitterness and weaken the source!" Then his Bonded narrowed her eyes, "You haven't tried to hurt her, have you?" James shot the Fae a look of warning as well; he may not want a fight, but if these Faeries had tried to harm something that was only here to help

    But Melfina laughed, the sound like tinkling wind-chimes, "Oh, Seasons, no! I mean, really!" She put her hands on her hips and smiled wryly, "You two may have trespassed on my land and made everyone's hair all frizzy with bringing Yavanna here," both Shaman and kitsune shifted nervously, despite that being said with humor, "but doing so healed my forest, and made that blasted, thrice-damned revenant cower in fear of your golem's presence!

    "Therefore," and Melfina bowed slightly at the waist, making the Triplets gasp in surprise; they'd never seen Landlady bow to anyone, except Mr. Vileclaw! "You have my thanks, and for that reason, you can stay here in Walnut Manor, at least until I can find if you've got relatives out there somewhere that won't abandon you."

    Grinning so wide it almost hurt, James bowed back quickly and replied happily, "Thank you very much! I promise, we won't be a bother!" Vera nodded excitedly at his feet, bowing respectfully as well.

    "But," Melfina raised a finger, "You say you made that staff and rattle yourself?" at his nod, she then held out a hand and asked politely, "May I examine them? For safety purposes, you see."

    James glanced at his staff; it was a deep, shiny brown, like it had been finished and stained by a craftsman. The polished malachite lump at the head shone dully, as though with a soft inner light, and the velvet holding it looked freshly cleaned. A slight thrum, a vibration, ran through the wood, barely felt beneath James' fingers; it was different enough from how it usually felt that he frowned and warned the Landlady even as he held out the staff, "Sure, just be careful with it, please; I think creating Yavanna changed it in more than looks."

    But he needn't have worried; the only change to Melfina's expression was her eyebrows shooting into her hairline and a stiffening of her shoulders as the Fae took the staff from James. Running her green claws over it and turning it from side to side, the Landlady of the Walnut Court examined James' staff with pursed lips and quiet hums, wings jittering every now and again.

    After a minute of not saying anything and Vera practically vibrating at his feet, Melfina finally spoke in a clinical tone, "For a Mundane kid with no real training, this is a pretty good staff; you could probably run Natural magic through it all the live-long day and not feel any bad side-effects, what with the strong harmonic attunement it now has," James didn't know what that even was, though it sounded a bit like Khepri's explanation of how sympathetic magic functioned.

    However, Melfina plowed on before he could ask any questions, "Downside is that you used a white willow branch for a Nature focus, though your use of malachite as the primary focus probably saved your life," she held it out for James to take back with a neutral expression.

    While James wondered what the heck she was talking about! Khepri taught him and Vera a lot about magic, but, the young Shaman now realized, she hadn't really mentioned much about what he used to perform magic, or magical foci, only stating what situations were proper for using staff or rattle; as he took the still-quietly-vibrating staff back with shaking hands, Vera voiced his concerns worriedly, "Huh? Is white willow bad for using magic? What do you mean?!"

    Melfina shrugged indifferently, "We've got a library in this place; whoever lived here before we claimed the place put strong wards on their book collection, so even if the main wards were destroyed, the library would remain intact. I've had plenty of time to read the books there, and one of them is on magically conductive materials. As far as willow wood goes, most wands are made with bay willow, an excellent magical conductor; white willow, on the other hand," she quirked her lips in humor at James and Vera's attentiveness, "is like trying to squeeze water from a brick for even the smallest spells, at least if it doesn't have a good stone focus. Even with that stone, trying to make big magic run through white willow… well, most wands would've exploded, doing what you did. That you've made it work at all is pretty impressive, for a kid your age."

    'Not to mention someone who has no clue what they're even doing!' thought James, even as he realized just how lucky he'd been! 'Hold on…' thinking hard, James replayed what he'd been doing with the willow staff: drawing magic into it from Nature and forming it into a focus to expand his sight, using it in tandem with song to call Vera, and, after that, to coax enough magic into Yavanna's being that her physical form would be stable once she arrived.

    'Harmonic attunement… so… I tuned my staff like an instrument… by using it over and over again to do Nature-based magic…? Crikey, I really need to know more about this stuff-wait!' Gasping, James blurted, "There's a library here?!" At Landlady's slow, smiling nod, James just stood in wonder; wow… he really was lucky! A whole hidden forest of Faerie and griffons and who knew what else, all living in an abandoned castle! With a library! It was a situation straight out of a fantasy novel, and James couldn't wait to explore this wondrous place!

    Then Melfina cleared her throat, regaining James' attention; holding out her hand again, she asked, "The rattle?"

    "Oh! Sorry," drawing his spirit-rattle from his belt, James took a moment to examine it: all the feathers, beads and strung-together bones were the same as ever, the owl skull didn't look any different, and the bracelet Jean gave him still had its raven, book, pencil and heart charms. 'Weird, that my staff changed but the rattle didn't,' James mused before handing it over, saying, "Be careful with it, please."

    "Of course," smiled Melfina, looking it over before reaching out her hand for the deer rib handle…

    Right before she touched it, though, James got a feeling, deep inside himself; it was similar to how he'd felt when he tried using the rattle at Privet Drive, like what he was doing was wrong.

    Luckily, Vera must have felt it too, and gave both Landlady and James a loud snarl before sharply speaking up, "Don't!" the elder Fae's hand jerked back right before Vera continued, "That's not like a wand or a staff! It's a part of James, and no-one else should touch it!"

    "A part of… ohh, I see," eyes widening in realization, Landlady nodded and withdrew her hand fully, "That explains all the stuff with spirits and whatnot. Well, seeing as you're staying here for now," she looked up at the willow tree in thought as James returned the rattle to his belt with a relieved sigh, "Bree! Give these two the quick tour before settling them near Lupin's room; make sure you bring them by the library and introduce them to Lisanna."

    "Yes, Ma'am!" Breech chirped, gliding down to sit cross-legged on James' hat, much to Vera's annoyance and the boy's amusement.

    Dragonfly wings buzzing, the Landlady hovered into the air, "One last thing, James and Vera: this place, Walnut Manor, was abandoned for more than a decade before we moved in, two and a half centuries ago; I still don't know how this place was destroyed or why it was abandoned, but whatever caused it was violent. There are holes in the floor that go into scary dark catacombs, some of which are flooded, and aren't nice places for little boys or young fox-spirits; some of the rooms have no floors, and, in some areas, we've had to cover big holes with lots of roots and vine, and the roof is gone in some places," she gestured upwards in example before concluding, "So mind your steps whenever you go somewhere; the Triplets will keep an eye on you so you don't get hurt or take a wrong turn, but keep that warning in mind. There are also more than three hundred Fae living in this place, so be careful when entering a room; you might be intruding on someone's house."

    Nodding, James bowed again, being careful not to unseat Breech, "I'll keep all that in mind, Landlady. And thank you, again, for giving us a place to stay!"

    "Yip! Thank you, Landlady," added Vera happily, giving a little nod of her own.

    Bowing back with a flourish, Melfina the Landlady bid them farewell with a warm smile, "Welcome to Walnut Manor, kiddo," and flew off.

    "Right!" Breech squeaked in a commanding tone, "Let's get up higher so we can show you the grounds! Forward, march!"

    Laughing as Vera grumbled at the enthusiastic Fae, James shouldered his pack, took a firm grip on his staff, and walked confidently into the manor proper, Vera at his right side and Breech's brothers flying in their wake.

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    Walnut Manor, James found at the start of the tour, was huge! It was practically a castle, rather than a manor house, what with its two stone towers, one above the main entrance in the East Wing, with the other marking the library, just a quick dash from James' room in the West Wing, its broken parapets and strong, grey stone; it even had a moat, though it was now more a forest of cattails than a proper moat, but still! The whole place was shaped like an equilateral cross or plus sign, the two towers, the willow and the kitchens making up the four sides.

    Having gone up to the third story landing of the East Tower, the fifth floor being where Landlady lived, Breech pointed out major landmarks throughout the grounds, Snapper and Louie adding information here and there; pointing east to a wall of towering trees, she squeaked, "Over there is where you came from, the northern wilds of the Forest of Dean; a little foot-path'll take you straight up to the Yew Stones, but we'll have to wait till you get settled in to retrace your steps. A bit closer, that low hill? That's Mister Vileclaw's house; he's a Goblin, moved in thirty years ago. If ya need to learn how to fight, ask him, but make sure you can pay; Goblins don't do anything for free. Up north is, of course, the Willow Room, and juuust beyond that," the young Fae pointed to some darker evergreen trees growing a ways north of the willow's great bulk, "is the Thestral Glade; they're fairly nice, keep very much to themselves, but you can't see 'em unless you've seen something die. So don't mind the sound of hooves coming from nowhere or random screeching, 'kay?"

    Filing the name of the creature, Thestral, away for later study, James and Vera nodded quickly before Louie picked up where Breech left off.

    Perching on a west-facing windowsill, the blue-haired Faerie pointed out some of the Manor's other features, "There in the middle is the Great Walnut," a bronze claw indicated the hard-to-miss tree, growing out of a shattered dome in the middle of the Manor, that was nearly as tall as the tower they were in! Dozens of Faeries buzzed around it, some breaking away to fly to one of the many holes in the Manor's roofs, "It's where everyone who lives on the grounds gathers for meetings, or for parties, though parties don't happen often; just past the Walnut, you can see part of the West Tower," another cylindrical tower, on the other side of the sprawling manor, was indicated; James could see vines growing up its sides, though he could only see part of the top, as the Walnut was in the way.

    Louie went on, "The West Tower is over the Library. Lady Lisanna, the Librarian, lives there; be careful around her, James. She used to be an Unseelie Scribe, and, though she won't go against Landlady's orders and hurt Vera, she takes her job really seriously."

    James nodded quickly, along with Vera; in James' case, it was exposure to librarians in the Muggle world that had to deal with hyperactive children who were more concerned with getting their homework done and/or goofing off than treating books with care, while Vera had, more than once, been berated by her Mima for not putting scrolls back where she'd found them.

    Presently, Snapper continued the visual tour, "You'll find out more about Lisanna later, when you meet her. Anyway, see that chimney there?" He pointed south, where a red brick chimney was steadily spewing puffs of wispy white smoke, "That's the Kitchen; Sir Cookie, the Chef, runs it. He's the last of the Scribes, but he's just as tough as Landlady or the Librarian; plus, he has Asha and Rafiq, the House-Elves."

    Confused, as his only knowledge of Elves came from Tolkien, James asked, "What're House-Elves?"

    Bree's face appeared over the rim of his hat, "Think of them as a magical butler that's tied a magical location; they cook, clean, do the washing, stuff like that. They're actually a type of Fae, though wand-wavers don't recognize that fact," James asked what she meant, which made the little Faerie grin, "The term 'Fae' applies to Faeries, House-Elves, Selkies, Merrow, Leprechauns, and Red Caps; the Fae Folk generally means Faeries, but what it really means is 'a being that isn't human but can use magic, either of their own person or the environment'."

    "Jeez, Bree, gonna tell him your cup size, too?" snarked Snap with a grin, which caused Louie to cover his mouth with a hand as he shook with laughter; while a brightly blushing Bree glared at her brother, James wondered what the size of cups had to do with anything. Vera didn't seem to get it either, if her confused expression as the Faeries began a squeaky argument was anything to go by; maybe it was an inside joke?

    Deciding to cut to the chase, James pointed to where he felt Yavanna, just south of the kitchens, "I'm guessing the stables are over there?"

    Looking where he pointed, Lou frowned bitterly, "Yeah. That huge fox-Yavanna wasn't it?-set up shop over there; hasn't moved since Sandor's boys brought you in, thank goodness! Stupid revenant, I hope it's in pain... Oh! Almost forgot!" He pointed past the West Tower, but it was Breech who spoke.

    "Just past the Library is the Gardens; Gregory the Occamy is the Gardner, but don't worry, he's really nice! Some of the griffons help him tend the Gardens, 'cause he's old; Gregory showed up a little over seventy years ago with a broken wing, and he liked the Gardens so much that he asked Landlady if he could tend them in exchange for healing," Bree took a deep breath, then got interrupted by Snapper.

    "Further out west is the Paddock, where the griffons live; Sandor's the boss of the herd. They're the security around these parts, along with the Merrow family that lives in the lake, a three-minute flight past the stables," finished Snap, who hopped into a hover in front of James right before a dark-brown griffon flew past the window and out of sight, making Vera jump into a paling James' arms with a squeak of fright; smirking, Snap finished, "So, other than the Library, what do ya wanna see first?"

    Which was an easy question: James wanted to see where he'd be staying, so off they went!

    Getting there, though, was easier said than done; Landlady hadn't been kidding when she said there were a lot of holes in the floors and ceiling! More than once he had to edge around a gaping hole that plunged into inky darkness, cold air flowing upward and outward through a hole in the roof, walking on a root that ran across the edge.

    At the asking, Snapper explained the common theory behind all this damage as the group passed a shattered hallway, its foundations at ground level now a pool of dark water: "Ya know how the dome in the middle of the Manor's all shattered? Well, there's not much rubble in the hall its stood in, so most everyone figures something blew the dome outward; the walnut was growin' in a fountain in the middle of the room, and, well, we are tree sprites. Reason the trees in the Manor're so big, see?"

    "Huh," regarding the dark water for a moment, James then asked, "So what's underground, then? The Sun's almost high in the sky, but it's still dark down there."

    Vera yip-ed and reported happily, "There's a lot of water down there, James! Maybe the basement flooded?" she looked up at the Faeries for confirmation.

    Lou nodded, smiling a little, "There's a bunch of tunnels and catacombs under the Manor, but most of 'em are flooded, so only Shepherd, a Selkie, and the Merrow family go down there. Some of them are dryer than others, but most of those are used by us Faeries, for growing mushrooms and stuff."

    "And the ones we're not using," interrupted Bree sharply, "are either caved in, or have nasty creatures livin' in 'em. So listen to Landlady, and don't try goin' down there, kay?"

    James and Vera both re-affirmed their promise not to go exploring too much; besides, there was a whole sprawling castle to explore, a library to visit, gardens to walk in, Griffons and Merrow and other residents to meet… and a revenant to study and, eventually, defeat. Neither boy nor kitsune felt they'd be bored, not with so many things to do!

    They took lunch in James' new room, located off an intact and well-kept hallway on the second floor of the West Wing, not far from the Library's second floor; well, apartment was a more accurate description, if James was being honest. Well-preserved cream wallpaper had been all-but covered in miniature paintings of life as one of the Fae Folk; Lou explained that it was a common theme of the Manor, the primary residents painting the walls with images from everyday life, and these three rooms Landlady'd given James were no exception.

    Additionally, James now had more items than he'd ever owned before, living in the cupboard under the stairs; upon entering, there was a square arrangement of antique sofas, all threadbare but well-cared for, on an expansive dark green carpet in the main living area, with a low, square table between them playing host to a tea service and vase of wildflowers, and a small dining table with four chairs placed next to the arched windows, on the opposite side of the room from the door, that overlooked the Manor gardens, though it was hard to see them through the thick blue glass.

    Both Shaman and kitsune resolved to visit the gardens, right after the library; Vera could sense complex streams of water snaking through the area in question, and James' experience in dealing with his Aunt's garden made him excited at the prospect of seeing what a magical garden looked like.

    To the right of the entryway was a door that led to a nice, blue-tiled bathroom, with a huge porcelain tub that little James could probably swim in! Vera was excited by having a large water source nearby as well: "I'm almost old enough to gain my third tail, but I need to practice a lot to get there!"

    Grinning, James looked to the other side of the living room, where an empty bookshelf sat next to another open door, a bedroom with a big oak bed, with dark green sheets and fluffy pillows, desk and wardrobe, all well-cared for, "We both need a lot of practice! Jeez, can you believe how lucky we are?"

    She blew a raspberry at him, "Lucky, shmucky! We're awesome, is what!"

    "Keep tellin' yourself that, kitsune," teased Bree from the top of James' head, which earned her another raspberry from Vera and a clump of moss dumped on her head, courtesy of Snap.

    Presently, though, with a delightful lunch of veggie and cheese sandwiches and some warm tea in their bellies, James felt it was high time to take his first look at the library! Vera, having snacked on her leftover fish along with the bowl of cream that was her own lunch, was just as eager to learn more about magic with her Shaman; bouncing along while he walked down the surprisingly intact hallway that led to the West Tower's second floor, Vera hoped there was a book or scroll that helped her learn more about Water. The young kitsune couldn't wait to get her third tail!

    As they approached a heavy oak door, decorated with a brass plaque reading 'QUIET IN THE LIBRARY', Breech, now flying ahead of the group, turned and gave Shaman and kitsune a nervous look, "Right… now, we already told you 'bout Lisanna, but you should know a few more things before meeting her: first, listen to her rules, or you'll get punished, and even Landlady won't be able to save you if Librarian feels you've broken a rule. Second, don't be scared; Librarian might seem scary, but that's just 'cause she takes her job super-seriously. Third, no matter what you do," the female Faerie's face became hard, "don't ask Librarian why we were Exiled. Even if you've already asked another Faerie and found out, don't even mention it in front of Lisanna; she doesn't like talking about it," both Snap and Lou nodded seriously, backing up their sister's statement.

    "Okay," said James, nodding even as he steeled himself; the Librarian sounded really strict, so he figured he'd be polite as possible, so as not to offend, "I'm ready."

    Vera climbed up her Shaman until her head rested on James' left shoulder, wanting the comfort of being close to her Shaman, just in case a quick escape was needed; after all, Mima and big sis always told her Unseelie Fae weren't to be trusted, even at the best of times. "Me too!" she chirped, not wanting her nervousness to show, "Let's learn!"

    "Alright…" gulping, Breech tapped a claw on the doorknob, which glowed as the door opened slowly to Walnut Manor's Library, Lisanna the Librarian's private realm.

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    HearthBorn, @non, Bogdan and 22 others like this.
  8. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 7 "The Mystery of James Stormcaller"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    Exiled Faeries

    The first thing one needs to remember, when approaching a large group of Exiles, is that respect is earned, not given.

    You're not owed anything and you shouldn't feel obliged to offer information for free, unless you've done something silly; so if you've heard rumors of Faeries in an area you have interest in, tread carefully and try not to do silly things!

    Unless you find something wrong with the area, don't try to fix broken things; some Faeries like broken things!

    You mean like how we took care of the revenant, but Shepherd didn't want the boat fixed, James?

    Yeah, Vera!

    If you find something that's been corrupted by Dark forces, either try dealing with it yourself, if you can, or make contact with the Faeries in the area, as they're probably set against it, before going for reinforcements.

    No one likes unexpected guests, after all! Unless they're me and James, that is!

    James and I, Vera.

    Bugger your English words! マイシャーマン戯ける

    STOP DEFACING MY NOTES!

    Remember, Faeries are our friends and are willing to help us, so long as we're willing to help them back! A unified front against the Dark equals a happy world!

    彼らは虫を食べなければならないのですか?

    VERA!

    (A series of tic-tac-toe games, winged stick figures, and paw prints are scattered across these notes)

    -From Shaman James Stormcaller's notebooks
    Taken at Walnut Manor, 1989-90
    Donated to Hogwarts School, August 2003

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    Chapter 7:
    The Mystery of James Stormcaller


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    Beneath a hill topped with an ancient beech there lived a Goblin.

    It would cause anything from dismissive amusement to outright rage amongst his kin, Melfina the Landlady mused, if they ever saw where one of their best bankers made his retirement home; since ancient times, the vitriolic creatures generally made their homes amongst the deep bones of the world, in caverns no other beings could survive in, content with their hoarding of the planet's precious metals and jewels and creating masterworks of jewelry and armaments.

    Only in the past two thousand years did their race arrive on the surface of the world, becoming quickly embroiled in its glories and horrors as they realized the sheer riches that could be had; funnily enough, from the Landlady's perspective, they were now the premier bankers in Europe and Western Asia, their numbers dwindled from the vast hordes of the past that so terrorized the world, the greedy, malicious people greatly underestimating their opponent's ability to adapt and respond to new threats.

    The lesson, to never underestimate the humans, was something taught to all young Fae, whether Seelie or Unseelie; that lesson was an old one, dearly bought in blood and fire, and was part of the reason Mel was sitting at Vileclaw's table, sipping tea and watching her friend as he mulled over what she'd just told him.

    The Goblins underestimated the humans, and were forced to guard their treasures, or face genocide; Faerie underestimated the humans…

    The Landlady of the Exiles took a big gulp of the bitter stoneroot tea, reminding herself of why she'd left the Grand Courts.

    There were things worse than death, and staying in the Realm of Twilight was one of them. But back to Vileclaw's house.

    Well, if Landlady was being honest with herself, mansion was a more accurate depiction of the Goblin's redoubt; a square stone door, etched with powerful Runes, opened to a warm, welcoming foyer, the roots of the beech winding around the hardened mud of the walls, which were painted to emulate the colors of the sky, red-orange near the floor shifting to white blue at the ceiling's apex. Speaking of the ceiling, Melfina was rather thankful she only had to duck a little to walk through the halls, though that had more to do with her insistence that the cranky stump-face make his home available to visitors; not that he complained much, as Vileclaw was an unusual Goblin in that he hated low ceilings and dark places, hence the warm honey tones of the living roots winding though the expansive halls, which were filled with weapons, jewels, reams of parchment, clay and stone tablets, and all the detritus of the Curse-Breaker-turned-accountant's long, full life.

    The result was an organized, confusing mess that only made sense to the wizened, world-wise Goblin; glancing at a window, another heretical idea to his race, Melfina spotted a star-sapphire the size of her fist resting on a dog-eared edition of Isaac Newton's Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, a sample of Saguaro cactus, potted in the skull of a grindylow, basking innocently in the Sun next to them.

    Mel was going to miss him when he died, though Lisa would probably dance with joy; some of the books and tablets in the old Goblin's collection were one-of-a-kind, priceless artifacts, and Mel's oldest friend was such a knowledge fiend.

    "A Druid," Vileclaw flatly stated, breaking his contemplative silence, yellow eyes rising to Melfina's face as she nodded, "That would make sense… Though it doesn't explain how the lad knows enough of the subject to make… Yavanna, yes?"

    Nodding again, Melfina fiddled with one of her ear studs as she replied, "S'what he named it; as for the knowledge involved, well," she shrugged, "he has a kitsune. Though the Grand Courts've been at odds with them for millennia, I, personally, have respect for the fur-balls; they're as practiced with elemental magic as we Faeries are with illusions."

    Gesturing his assent, as the old Goblin no doubt knew this already, Vileclaw countered, "I've lived in Britain for nearly 100 years, lassie, and done work all throughout this world, as ye well know; no kitsune or Druid could do that, not 'less they were older, better trained,"

    "What're ye saying, Vile?" cut in Melfina, raising her eyebrow, "That the kid's, what, a natural Sorcerer?"

    Scoffing, Vileclaw breathed in the fumes of his tea and curtly replied, "Dunno what I think, Mel, save the kid's got talent; there's also somethin' he ain't tellin' ye."

    Huffing herself, Melfina went back to regarding that star-sapphire; it was such a soothing shade of blue… "Whatever he's not telling me, Lisa should be able to sous it out of him."

    "Aye. Iffin she doesn't frighten the lad to death."

    "Pfft, fie, Vile! She's not that scary!"

    "Not that scary, the Exiled Unseelie says! Woman's glare could melt diamonds, were it magical!" Melfina opened her mouth to retort, but Vileclaw snarled, "An' ye know damn well, Landlady, 'ow yer Librarian gets with mysteries."

    Blinking, it took Mel a moment to realize she was left gaping like a trout out of water, because the stupid stump-faced Goblin was bloody right! Lisanna was merciless when there was a mystery to solve, doubly so when it was a potential threat to the Manor; the revenant was only one example. She'd warded the upper two floors of the Manor's Library against intruders, though Mel helped, but no one could enter without the Librarian's knowledge and permission…

    That, and Mel's fellow Scribe was more martially minded than herself, so the fact young James was able to cross their outer wards with ease would probably make Lisa a little violently curious…

    … 'I'm such an airy-fairy.'

    "GottagoVile,seeyalater!" the old Faerie cried, bolting out the front door and making for the West Wing as fast as her wings could carry her.

    Seated at his kitchen table, Vileclaw rolled his eyes and heaved himself to his feet; limping over to his foyer, the aged Goblin slammed his door shut with a grumbled, "Ruddy scatter-brained at times, these Faeries."

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    While living with the Dursleys, James rarely had time to himself. Between chores, cooking and the occasional lecture, private time wasn't so much a privilege as a rare commodity for the boy. His friendship with Jean and the discovery of his magic changed things in this respect: books became James' way of rebelling against his Uncle's insistence that he do worse than Dudley in classes, and his magic allowed the young boy to complete his duties around the house much faster than without.

    Combining books on housekeeping, gardening and cooking with what he was learning, in regards to magic, helped James with this endeavor; as such, the local library became his home away from home, his fortress of knowledge, where he'd learned so much about the world and its history.

    Compared to the small and sparse public library, twenty minutes' walk from Privet Drive, Walnut Manor's equivalent was like comparing Buckingham Palace to a mud-thatch hut.

    Stepping though the door after Breech, an excitedly vibrating Vera on his shoulder, James welcomed the familiar scent of old pages, alongside the pleasant smell of finished wood and the vague memory of a pungent incense, a whiff of flowering plants drifting through a partially opened window. Quickly, he looked around, grinning at what he saw.

    Unlike the wood floor of the hallway outside, the floor here was white marble, dark blue carpets making four squares, within which reading tables were placed, only some of which had chairs, though all were the same color: a dark walnut that seemed to glow in the light; and such light! Each wall had three arched stained glass windows, rising nearly to the rope-molding that bordered the cream-colored ceiling, bathing the library floor in warm multicolored light. Four pillars, fashioned and painted to look like trees, their branches and leaves stretching across the ceiling, stood at the center of the squares, an iron band around each sporting two scones, each of which held a dull blue crystal.

    And the books! The walls were covered, from floor to ceiling, in bookshelves of the same walnut as the furniture, each section eight shelves high; an endless kaleidoscope of books sat neatly in residence, some ancient, some newer-looking, thousands and thousands of books! Directly across from where James entered, a wrought-iron staircase went both up and down, peaking the young boy's excitement; a multi-level library, filled with books that, no doubt, were mostly on magic!

    No-one was on the second level, so James turned in place, his kitsune familiar grinning at everything she could see; letting his Sense ability stretch out a bit, James felt the sheer power flowing through the walls here, along with the intent behind it: protecting the treasures within from any who would wish them harm, preventing thieves from taking even a single book, even a shield that could spring into place around the whole tower- this library really was a fortress!

    Landing on a nearby table after looking warily around, Breech grinned up at James, who'd moved to the center of the room and was admiring the painted ceiling with a bright smile; quietly, she said, "Pretty cool, huh?"

    "It's amazing!" breathed James, Vera giving a quiet 'yip!' of agreement; smiling at the Triplets, as Snapper sat on the table's edge and Louie hovered next to his sister, he added, still quietly, "Was it like this when you all arrived?"

    "Hem," a harsh throat cleared, in the direction of the staircase, just out of James' sight, making Vera squeak and his Faerie friends pale in fear; nervously, he looked at the source.

    This Fae was taller than Landlady by a few inches, and much scarier to look at: wearing a black, sleeveless halter dress that stopped at her sock-clad knees, exposing her toned, wiry arms, rust-red skin tattooed with blocky patterns and highlighting her slender, hourglass figure; arms folded beneath her breasts, black tips on her clawed fingers, a diamond hole in the dress exposing a hint of cleavage, simple dragonfly broach in the middle of her throat…

    Her face was the scariest, set as it was in a scowl that would send even his Uncle Vernon running; like Landlady Melfina, she had thin lips, but her chin was more pointed, her cheekbones and jaw more pronounced, ears longer, though the gold hoops piercing them were nice. The Fae's blue-black hair was short, stopping just above her jawline and in a brutal cropped hairstyle that reminded James of some of his worse female teachers; her eyes were the worst, though, the shining pyrite-yellow orbs in narrowed slits regarding the boy like he was a beetle she'd caught in the breadbox.

    Then James saw her wings, as the four appendages jittered behind her: a deep copper fading to a sunny yellow at the tips, the young Shaman realized what this Faerie's physique was based on, 'A wasp. I'd better be careful here, don't wanna get stung.'

    She spoke, then, in a harsh, cold voice, "To answer your question, human, there were books strewn all over the floor, cracks in the wood, and the staircase was rusty from rain. It took me decades putting that mess to rights, so," her voice, somehow, became even more menacing, making all present gulp as the temperature in the room dropped, "unless you are feeling suicidal, don't. Harm. My. Books."

    Nodding swiftly, James disclaimed such a notion as fast as he could, "O-Of course I won't! This, erm, it really is a lovely library, and you've done good work," seeing as her glare abated a couple notches, James ventured carefully with a small smile, "Librarian Lisanna of the Walnut Court, I presume?"

    Lisanna gave a swift, curt nod before ordering the Triplets, "I wish to speak to the boy and fox alone. Buzz off, you three."

    "Erm… yes, Librarian," replied Breech unsteadily, rising up on her wings as Louie added, to James and Vera, "We'll wait at your place."

    Nodding, James watched the three Faeries leave with a worried heart; once they were gone, he turned back to the Librarian, whose face had softened somewhat, sharp eyes flicking between Shaman and kitsune. 'Don't be scared,' he reminded himself of Bree's warnings, 'She may have been Unseelie, but she won't hurt Vera. I'll be fine.' Clearing his throat, James introduced himself, "James Stormcaller, ma'am, and this is Vera, my Bonded familiar," he gestured to his shoulder with a smile, Vera giving a wary nod as her Shaman introduced her.

    "Hmph," the tall Faerie grunted, staring right at Vera for a moment longer before speaking to James again in that cold voice of hers, "Boy, I am not just the Librarian; I am also this Court's expert on magical artifice and phenomena. When you were brought here, Melfina bade me examine you and the items on your person, which I carefully did."

    "You didn't touch the rattle, did you?" hissed Vera suspiciously, making James glance at her reproachfully; he really didn't want to get this Faerie mad.

    But she just snorted, "Of course not, kitsune; no, it was a cursory examination of the magics at play in the tools your Bonded carries…" Lisanna turned her seemingly-permanent glare back to James, her next words shocking him to the core, "…as well as your physical beings, in case any detrimental effects lingered from the Nature magic you brought into this world, Harry James Potter."

    James actually took a step back while Vera stiffened; across their Bond, he felt her fear as the young kitsune drew on her magic, preparing to flee. Reaching up and touching his Vera's face, hoping she'd stay calm just a bit longer, the boy fearfully asked the hard-faced Faerie, "How do you know me?"

    Eyes rolling in exasperation, the Librarian snapped the fingers of her right hand, a book zipping from a bookshelf to her hand with a soft slap! James blinked at the action; he barely felt her use magic! Then the Faerie held out the book, roughly, showing boy and kitsune the cover: The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.

    'What the…?'

    Lisanna's cold voice broke through James' confusion, "Do you truly think yourself anonymous amongst magical creatures, wizard? When nearly every one of your kind knows your name?"

    Looking between the book and the Faerie, James just felt more confused, which was reflected through his Bond; Vera didn't know about this, and Khepri hadn't said anything either! "I-I'm sorry, ma'am, but I really have no idea what you're on about!"

    The Fae blinked, before her gaze hardened again, "Explain. Now."

    Gulping, James wished Landlady was there; she seemed a lot nicer than the Librarian. Still, he replied politely, "I didn't even know there was a magical world until I came here…" his frustration, at the entire situation, from being abandoned to becoming a Shaman to meeting a horde of suspicious Faeries, bubbled to the surface, though he managed to keep his voice down, "I didn't know Faeries were real, or Griffons, I still don't know much about what a kitsune even is, sorry Vera," he added to his Bonded through angry tears.

    "S'okay, James," she soothed, nuzzling his shoulder, "I don't know much about the Mundane world either, so we'll have to learn from each other!"

    Smiling thankfully at her, James turned a frown on the now-confused Faerie, "All I know about magic, I learned through trial-and-error, on my own, or from the River Yew-"

    "You spoke to the River Yew?" hissed Lisanna, setting the book on the nearest table and looking at the pair with surprise, "You can hear her?"

    Nodding, and wondering why she was so surprised, James answered, "Well, yeah! I can hear most trees; most don't talk much, just happy to be alive, though the Forest of Dean likes to Listen to the Winds and the tidings they carry. The River Yew is different, though,"

    Waving a clawed hand though the air, Lisanna interrupted him, "I ruddy know the River Yew's different; the point I'm making is, even if you're a Druid, you shouldn't be able to hear her Speak! Those stones were altered back when the Roman Legions overran this land, so even if they captured a Druid, the barbaric fiends couldn't tap into the land's magic," as she took a breath, James thought, 'That's what she meant! The Gates were broken so the Romans couldn't use them!' The Librarian finished, "Therefore, either you're lying or this kitsune is teaching you things she shouldn't," and glared at Vera.

    Before Vera could retort, James snapped at the Fae, "I'm not lying and Vera isn't to blame! I called out to her at the circle, that's how we met!" his Bonded nodded, glaring at the Faerie herself.

    Lisanna's brows slammed together right before she snarled, "Explain!"

    "Why should we?" put in Vera, matching James' own thoughts, "You're not very nice, even for a Faerie!"

    The Librarian made a noise like a teakettle, yellow eyes glowing dangerously and wings buzzing in agitation; gripping his staff a little tighter, James felt Vera tensing, though the young Shaman realized something: they were in this Faerie's seat of power, her magic rippling through every grain of wood and pane of glass. Escaping or fighting her would be difficult; 'Maybe we can get out the window before she tries anything…'

    Before anyone could do anything, however, a loud, authoritative voice boomed from below, shaking the Manor and making Shaman, Faerie and Spirit-Fox pale in fear, "SCRIBE LISANNA! GET YOUR SKINNY ARSE DOWN HERE NOW!"

    Mumbling, "Aw, shite," the Scribe in question rose on humming wings and flew down the stairs without a second glance at boy or fox, who were both shaking in the wake of Landlady's command.

    Letting out a relieved sigh, James glanced at Vera, who looked just as happy to have the intense Faerie out of their sight, "Wow, that was close! I'd just wished Landlady was here, too."

    His foxy sister nodded, "Me too. I think the Librarian's curious, but doesn't know how to ask the right questions," she hopped off James' shoulder and bounded over to the book on the table, "She said you're in here, James; why d'ya think that is?"

    Smiling at her change in gears, the boy walked over to the book, which Vera was now sniffing suspiciously, "Probably has something to do with that Dark servant my parents fought," resting his staff against the table, James pulled out a chair and settled into it, Vera hopping onto his lap after pushing the book closer with a tail, "Thanks. Let's see…"

    Opening the book carefully, remembering the Fae's warning against harming her tomes, James found the table of contents and began looking for his name; but it wasn't there! Just stuff about the 'Grindelwald Conflict, 1914-1945' and 'Britain's Blood War, 1969-1981'; Vera asked, "What do those numbers mean, James?"

    "Those are years, Vera," James told her, "It's 1989 now… and I was born in 1980, so let's read about how that Blood War ended; I was a baby when my parents died, after all," his foxy sister yipped in agreement as James turned to the appropriate page, marked in the table as Godric's Hollow, 1981

    His parents… James knew they were his, from the man's circle-lensed glasses and messy hair, and the woman's fair face; both of them were smiling and waving in an oval picture, a baby held in his mother's arms… with messy black hair, just like his own. The caption read: Last photo of The Potter Family, James, Lily and Harry, taken together on Easter, 1981, six months before the war's end.

    He wasn't too surprised at the picture moving (magic was fairly amazing, all things considered), as his dad waved again and his mom smiled and tickled baby Harry's chin; not that James noticed much, drinking in the sight of his parents, for the first time ever…

    Vera nuzzling his face brought him back; he was silently crying, though, thankfully, his tears landed on Vera and not on the book. He didn't want that Faerie mad at him.

    "It's okay, James," whispered Vera, rubbing her face against his cheek as he held her tightly, "I'll always be here, protecting you. Promise."

    Sniffing, James gave her a quick, tight hug; Vera might not have known him long, but she sure knew how to help him feel better.

    A light buzzing above his head heralded the Triplet's return, along with Breech's squeaky voice, "Huh. Your name's actually Harry Potter, then?"

    "Was," James thickly replied, wiping his eyes and looking at the opposite page, where a sketch of what an artist though he'd look like at eleven held pride of place; grimacing a moment at the well-dressed and confidently smiling (bordering on arrogance, it was) doppelganger, James smiled and elaborated to Louie, who'd landed on the table, "Harry Potter grew up in a boot cupboard and lived in fear of his relatives; James Stormcaller's who I am now, a Shaman that'll set things right, and drive the darkness from the world."

    Vera nodded vigorously, "Yep! We're gonna help everyone get along and make sure it stays that way!"

    Snapper landed on the book's right side while Bree hovered above it, rubbing her chin thoughtfully; after staring at James and Vera appraisingly, he spoke thoughtfully, "So… not only were you Harry Potter, you're a Shaman too?" at the duo's affirming nods, the Faerie's lips quirked in humor, "Cool."

    [..|..]

    There were few amongst the residents of Walnut Manor and its surrounding lands who could catch Lisanna the Librarian off guard, and, of those few, she feared only one.

    Melfina the Landlady. Youngest Court Scribe in Unseelie history. The Fae who'd led the Exiles to this place, who'd been instrumental in sealing the revenant, who'd taken over the Seelie tree sprites after their Scribe was killed by the filthy thing and organized them into making these lands somewhere worth living.

    Lisanna's oldest friend. Her only friend, as even the other Scribes in the Realm of Twilight hadn't taken kindly to her insatiable thirst for knowledge and coarse personality. Melfina, despite serving a different Knight, kept the Librarian's temper in check, was there for her when no one else was… even her own Knight, who'd spat in her face when Lisanna told her of Melfina's exile and her own desire to leave the Realm, not wanting to be parted with her friend forever.

    The Librarian never regretted what she'd said in response to her former liege's insulting gesture, or gouging the bitch's eyes out before fleeing, taking most of the Knight's books and servants with her.

    But as scary as the Winter Queen's disapproval had been, as frustrating as the revenant's rot was to contain over the centuries, and as hard as it was to keep her new Court well-fed and happy, Lisanna hadn't been afraid; Exile though she was, her Unseelie training was deeply engraved into her person, and the Winter Horde knew no fear in the face of hardship.

    No, only Melfina deserved her fear. Mainly because, beautiful her sister in all but brood may be, she was utterly terrifying when angered. Like now.

    Seafoam eyes seeming like the daunting walls of the Crystalline Citadel, auburn hair whirling in an invisible wind, bismuth wings vibrating with barely-contained upset-ness, Lisanna felt like she was two inches tall before her friend, and she didn't even know why her sister was so angry!

    Oh, and Cookie was there too; the only remaining Seelie Scribe, he was the only male Faerie Lisanna knew who had pink hair. Where Melfina was their leader and Lisanna the enforcer, Cookie was their counselor, the Arbiter of the Walnut Court… though he spent most of his time in the kitchens, as there was rarely any reason for him to break up arguments with everyone getting along under Landlady's guidance, so he was more commonly known as Chef to the younger generations.

    Only an inch shorter than Mel, Cook offset the other two Scribe's appearance with his fair face and skin, grey-black moth wings always folded against his back; unlike most of the Faeries here, he wasn't a tree sprite, but a field-tender, a type of Faerie that aided the growing of crops in fertile land. As such, Cookie, who always wore a plain blue robe wherever he went, was of a much more patient disposition than his cousins, though one wouldn't know it, looking into his steel-grey eyes; there was a calculating coldness there that both Lisa and Mel, over time, came to respect.

    Just because he looked soft didn't mean he couldn't be dangerous. Taking a careful step toward her still-fuming sister, Lisanna remembered a moment, mere months after their Exile, where Cookie reduced her to tears with a single, coldly-delivered sentence. While she wasn't afraid of him, she respected such ability from a Summer Faerie.

    "Mel, could you please tell me why you're angry?" the Librarian carefully ventured, adding with a small smile, "Before you burn a hole in my nice, freshly polished floors?"

    Around a dangerous hiss, Melfina growled, "You were going to attack him, a mere boy-"

    Indignantly, Lisanna retorted, "He's keeping knowledge from us-"

    Sighing, Cook snapped his fingers, activating a silencing spell on the (thankfully empty) ground floor of the Library, right as Mt. Melfina erupted, "IN. MY. HOUSE!"

    A tiny sprinkling of dust fell from the ceiling, making the Librarian shiver; she'd just dusted, which meant a small amount of plaster had been obliterated by Landlady's burning roar. All the same, she assuaged her sister's concerns quickly, lest such obliteration be visited on her person, "I wasn't going to hurt him! Stick him and the fox to the ceiling and ask them questions, maybe-"

    Cookie broke in before Melfina exploded again, which looked likely, his voice calm as a Spring breeze, "If Mr. Lupin was holding something from you, would you do the same thing, Lisanna?"

    Oof. Cookie only used her full name when he was angry. Not good, "Err… no, Cookie. But-but Lupin's an adult wizard, not-"

    "Not an orphaned, lost boy who danced and sang away the revenant's rot," Cook calmly overrode Lisa's objections, making the wasp-winged Fae wilt in shame, "On top of that, he's Harry Potter, which puts you doubly in the wrong."

    Lisanna was surprised Mel's head didn't twist off, so fast did Landlady turn on Chef, "Excuse me?! Harry Potter?!"

    Shrugging, the male Scribe blithely pointed out, "He has the scar; Rafiq confirmed it when he cleaned the lad up. Also, Asha looked through his belongings, and he has something called a 'Library card' with his name on it. Sadly, that's all the evidence I have."

    "The scar was caused by Dark Magic, Mel, and he all but confirmed our suspicions when I confronted him regarding that fake name of his," the Librarian eagerly added, feeling the winds of this argument shift in her favor, "The glasses, the hair, the scar, it all fits!"

    Frowning severely, the Landlady crossed her arms and mused aloud, "…He didn't lie to me, though. He is from the Muddy world, his uncle did abandon him, and, from what we've all seen, he has no idea what he is to the wand-wavers, didn't even know they existed till he met the fox! GAH!" Throwing her hands into the air, Melfina started pacing, wings jittering in fury as she asked Lisanna, "What'd that book Remus brought us, the one about the war, say? Dumbledore, right? He hid the boy?"

    Blinking, Lisanna remembered that was what the book said, along with the Sorcerer's assurance that the Boy-Who-Lived was safe and learning of magic and the Wizarding World's traditions; realization struck her like a ringing bell as she whispered in shock, "He… did. And never checked on him. Winter's fat, saggy rump, the old fart probably doesn't even know the kid's out here!"

    Their male companion paled, however, "Or does he? He is a Sorcerer, after all- oh, wait," he slapped his forehead, grinning, "I forgot, we're Faeries; old Bumbles couldn't find us if he tried," that observation lightened the mood a bit; though James, or Harry rather, was able to get through their wards, learned wizards were another matter. After the first six attempts by the Ministry to retake the Manor and its grounds, Lisanna'd added an illusion spell that would turn around anyone who approached Walnut Manor's surrounding forest while holding a wand; Remus was the only exception, as the Werewolf's father once did business with Vileclaw, so the lad had an in on getting room and board for the winter. That he was politer than the other humans was a happy plus, in the Librarian's eyes.

    Waving her hands in the air, Melfina still wasn't totally calmed, "Even if the wand-wavers can't find us, that doesn't stop the biggest problem we have here: Harry friggin' Potter is in our house, and he knows bugger-all about himself, to say nothing of the rest of the world!"

    "We're in a library, Mel, dear," Cookie observed, though he stopped talking when Lisanna stiffened in horror, "Something wrong, Lisa?"

    "I left that book on the war on the table; he's probably read it, by now," she whispered, chiding herself internally for making such a stupid error; her sister's unimpressed head shake and Cookie's face-palm was just salt in the wound.

    Then the boy's voice came from the stairs, "Err, excuse me, Ms. Librarian?" All three Scribes turned to find the object of their conversation halfway down the stairs and looking at them with interest; to Cookie, he said, "Oh! You must be Sir Cookie, the Chef. Thanks for the meals, they're delicious!" A foxy yip! of agreement followed his statement, though the creature was out of sight at the moment.

    "Well met, lad, and I'm glad you like our cooking," said Scribe greeted the boy warmly as only a Seelie could, "How do you find the Manor?"

    "It's wonderful! I love what you three have done with the place," the Boy-Who-Lived walked the rest of the way down the stairs, looking about the ground floor with interest, that kitsune at his heels and the Triplets alighting on the railing, "I, err, have a question, though, about that book you left out," he addressed Lisanna warily, holding said book carefully in his arms.

    Who huffed and spoke apologetically, "I'm sorry for scaring you, earlier; when there's a mystery about, I can get… carried away; feel free to browse my library to your heart's content, while you're with us. Anyway, what's your question?"

    "Well," he glanced down at his kitsune, who nodded, while Lisanna's fellow Scribes looked on with interest, "It's more like… three questions," at her impatient gesture, the lad took a deep breath and asked rapid-fire, "Why do they call that Dark guy You-Know-Who, 'cause I don't know who, why's the book say I defeated him, when it was my parents that did it, and where can I find this Dumbledore guy?"

    Melfina interjected carefully, "Before we answer any of those questions, why do you want to find Dumbledore?"

    James jerked a thumb at Vera, who'd bristled at every mention of the Sorcerer's name, and replied angrily, "Because that book says he's the one who hid me; therefore, Vera here's gonna drop a lake on his head, right after I ask if he knew my relatives made me sleep in a boot cupboard."

    The meeting sort of dissolved after that, mostly because Lisanna didn't want Melfina breaking anything in her library, but also because what Cookie had to say about young James' treatment, before arriving at the Forest of Dean, wasn't language meant for the ears of youngsters; luckily for everyone involved, most of the mysteries surrounding James Stormcaller (once everything'd been explained, Lisa understood why he changed his name) were answered before dinner was served.

    'A Shaman,' the Librarian thought that night as she lit the glow-stones in their braziers, bathing her library in soft blue-white light (and activating a ward that would wake her if someone entered her domain), before flying to the third floor, the scroll repository and Lisanna's sleeping quarters, with a humored frown on her face, 'The Boy-Who-Lived, savior of Magical Britain, is a friggin' Shaman, and an Exiled Court is putting him up after his last living relatives abandoned him. What a coup! The Winter Queen would never believe such a tale, even if the Playwright himself wrote it!'

    Despite her disbelief and chagrin over the situation, Lisanna found herself making a list on what the boy would need to learn… at least until Remus returned at the end of October; intelligent though she most certainly was, the Librarian knew most beings learned more readily from their own kind.

    To wit, she'd dug up as many scrolls on Druidism she could find in her private stores, as well as crafting (Mel'd told her of the boy's staff and the issues he might run into with it), Herbology (there were far too many dangerous plants in the Magical World!), and a few magical theory texts to get young James a good grounding in actual magic studies, rather than going off his instincts.

    It was a wonder, in all three Court Scribe's unvoiced opinion, that the boy hadn't blown himself up before now!

    Blowing out her candle after getting ready for bed and slipping under the covers, the Librarian was all ready for a good night's sleep...

    When a sudden and delightful thought occurred to Lisanna, as she reviewed the events of the past interesting day; leaping to her feet, she ran to the east-facing window of her personal tower.

    Flinging the shutter wide, the Librarian screamed into the starry night, "HEY, MELFINA!"

    A moment later, her sister's tired voice hollered back from across the Manor, "What?!"

    Taking a deep breath, a mischievous smile splitting her face, Lisa yelled, "IMAGINE FUDGY-FUDGE'S HIDEOUS MUG WHEN HE FINDS OUT THE BOY-WHO-LIVED GOT RAISED BY KITSUNES, GRIFFONS, FAERIES AND A WEREWOLF!" and waited for the inevitable reply with a face-splitting grin of pointed teeth.

    Silence reigned over the Manor for a moment…

    Then the sound of squeaky peals of laughter filled the air as the entire population of the Walnut Court began laughing uproariously at the prospect of such a glorious prank! She could even make out Cookie's snorting guffaws and Melfina's high-pitched cackling in the raucous!

    Leaping through the air with her own peal of laughter, Lisanna fell into her bed with her grin still in place; finally, after all these years, things were looking up for the Walnut Court!

    [..|..]

    In his room, a book on magical plants open on his stomach, James looked up at the Librarian's yelling and resulting Manor-wide humor; smirking, he glanced at a dozing Vera, head laid over his heart, "Wonder who this Fudge guy is?"

    "Dunno either," yawned Vera, smacking her chops, "but he probably deserves all the pranks he's got coming his way, James."

    Marking his page with a handy feather, James placed the book on his nightstand (his nightstand! He had his own apartment! Take that, Dudders!) and put his glasses on the cover; yawning himself, he snuggled up to Vera, "No doubt. Wizards are weird… Night, Vera."

    Tails wiggling against his arms, his foxy friend licked his chin, "Night James."

    Both Shaman and kitsune had the same thought, as they drifted off to sleep: everything was turning out for the best, and they couldn't be happier!

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    [..|..]
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    A/N:
    Rough Japanese translations:


    My Shaman is being silly

    Do they have to eat bugs, though?
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021 at 8:18 PM
    HearthBorn, @non, Bogdan and 21 others like this.
  9. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 8 "Lost and Found"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]

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    Chapter 8:
    Lost and Found


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    [..|..]

    5 Days Later…

    "But-"

    The Landlady sighed, again, "No, James, it just rained!"

    "Exactly!" The young Shaman threw his arms up in protest, trying to make the ancient Fae see reason! It wasn't like he was asking for a sample of her wings! "It just rained yesterday, so there'll be mushrooms out! Ink caps and fly amanita! I need those for a potion I'm trying!"

    Melfina put her hands on her hips, asking in a stern tone, "And just who gave you potion gear?" James spluttered, not wanting to get the Triplets in trouble; well, thinking about it, the messy-haired lad in brown and gold robes figured it might not be as much trouble as he suspected.

    No one was using that gear, after all! It was just rusting and gathering dust in that closet!

    But Landlady's next words proved that wasn't why she was upset, flipping a hand in the direction of the Kitchens, "Cookie told me just this morning you couldn't get a boil curative, a simple enough potion, exactly right; therefore, until you succeed with the simpler magics, you shouldn't be experimenting on your own!"

    James frowned; for the last five days, the Fae of Walnut Court had been treating him and Vera like ignorant children! Melfina, who no one wanted to cross, issued a decree to all her fellows: neither James nor Vera were allowed to leave the Manor's walls, not until she was satisfied he could fend for himself.

    Vera saw the reasoning better than James did, when the Triplets brought the news that second morning, "I can sorta see where she's coming from, James," his foxy familiar had chirped from a couch, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them open on an armrest for her perusal, "We've been super lucky so far, and this book says there's all sorts of magical pests that live in abandoned buildings. We should both learn some defensive magic before exploring…" her face scrunched up a bit before she muttered darkly, "…no matter how much I really want to…"

    "But-but Yavanna-!" James began to object, looking to Snapper and Louie, the latter of whom was nibbling a cracker on the coffee table; Snap, on the other hand, shook his head…

    While Breech cut James off from her reclining perch in his freshly washed hair, "Can you shoot fireballs? Bring down lightning? Make vines that can pin down threats?" James deflated with a sigh, because no, he couldn't.

    Not without a snake familiar, anyway.

    Thus, his lessons on magic began, Vera always at his side and just as he was to learn about the magical mysteries of Mundus! Usually at the attentions of the three Walnut Court leaders, Melfina (history and Runes, both important, though she also suggested he watch her dealings with her Court so he might learn property management), Lisanna (crafting, practical magic, and, to a lesser extent, the esoteric studies of Astrology, Druidism and Auramancy, the foundation of learning Faerie Glamour), and Cookie (Potions, Herbology and, not that he needed to learn much about it, Magical Cooking!).

    Each of the powerful Fae made time for the pair each day, though only two Scribes taught him each day, and they seemed to have a free-form schedule; the first two days, it was Lisanna and Cookie teaching him, the latter allowing them to observe the kitchen work in the morning, and the Librarian dragging them away from repeated attempts at a runic night-light after lunch for a lesson on magical wood-shaping.

    Lady Melfina abducted them the third day, which was spent in her rooms above the main entrance; her chiding at trying his hand at Runes without proper instruction was, thankfully, short-lived, punctuated as it was with Shaman and kitsune being made to sit on a settee and read Cicero in Linguam: et Quasi Communibus uti Infrenaverunt, a beginner's guidebook to Rune carving that, despite its Latin title, was entirely in English, if of a tone better suited to pre-Victorian times.

    However, what got on James' nerves was the fact that, barring the aforementioned failure at making a basic potion under Sir Cookie's watchful eye, all he was learning was theory!

    Oh, sure, the amount of magical theory James and Vera didn't know about literally filled an entire section of the Manor's library, but they'd created Yavanna without knowing about leyline congruencies or celestial alignments or wandlore, all of which Lady Lisanna felt were necessary subjects for a growing mage, related to Spirit and Shaman by the Court Scribe with inescapable surety and haughtiness dripping from her voice; on the bright side, she was an excellent teacher, even assigning the pair practical homework if the lesson called for it!

    His staff was already conducting personal magic better, and all he'd needed to add were a few copper wires near the head and butt of the willow branch! He'd still need a proper staff and wand, but the Librarian insisted on at least a year of learning crafting and wandlore before making another attempt at a proper magical focus.

    James could see the reasoning there, especially after reading a book on magically conductive wood and finding just how dangerous using white willow was. He really was lucky he hadn't blown himself up, both in the Yew circle and bringing Yavanna into being!

    In fact, if it wasn't for the fact he was Shaman, on top of using malachite as a focus and using his magic wandlessly most of the time, he would've died, trying to create Yavanna.

    That little revelation kept him up at night, the orphaned boy thinking of ways he could improve so that eventuality never came to pass. Never mind his own well-being; Vera was his responsibility now, and if James died, she'd probably die too, seeing as his bubbly little sister wasn't old enough to fend for herself.

    He'd do better. James had a title to live up to, a purpose, and he wouldn't let Vera get hurt while fulfilling it.

    On top of this, after five days living in the Manor, both he and Vera were now better attuned to the magic running throughout the old castle; their evenings were generally spent meditating, something Shaman Khepri insisted was a necessity for any Shaman, and, through the practice of their shared Sense ability, both James and Vera now had a better idea on just how extensive the building and grounds of Walnut Manor really was!

    The catacombs in particular drew Vera's attention; partially flooded oubliettes and passages abounded in the lower levels, along with even deeper rooms, which James figured must be the Roman villa the River Yew mentioned, long buried and forgotten, even by the Fae…

    That, or the Triplets' warnings about menacing creatures living in the catacombs was extremely accurate; either the revenant's rot had poisoned the walls of the ancient villa something fierce

    …or there was something down there even darker than the bound spirit, a feeling of absolute, soul-crushing thirst ripping into their Sense ability, tasting of ashes and despair, when Shaman and kitsune tried to find the original Roman ward-stones. Landlady mentioned that the upper ward-stones, in the Manor's catacombs, were safe from corruption, but drew their power from an even deeper set of wards.

    Both Vera and James resolved to mention the dark presence to Landlady… once they felt ready to deal with such a threat… and after they found a way to banish the revenant…

    And had better tools for the job. For James, to say nothing of his fox-sister, didn't want to keep imposing on their host's hospitality! They were Shaman and Familiar! The Voice of Gaia, trained by the Daystar Shaman! Dealing with the Dark was their duty!

    So thinking, he rebutted Landlady, Vera watching with interest from the edge of the Great Walnut, where they'd been planning out their day before Melfina showed up, "Landlady, I'm not experimenting! Um…" 'Here goes nothing…' thought James, "After I made Yavanna, I spoke with an ancient Shaman," her lips pursed, clearly not pleased at the reminder that he was a natural at Nature-based magics, but James soldiered on! "She showed me how to make certain potions, poultices and… and, um," he muttered the last, blushing slightly, "makeup… that'll help me on my path. I need those mushrooms, and-and Yavanna made a bunch of those mushrooms beneath a tree, near where she's sat-"

    Melfina cut him off, "Which is right next to the stables. James," she sighed, looking both tired of this argument and worried, probably for his safety, "that blasted thing killed two of our finest, plus a good number of others."

    "Exactly! I need to see the damn thing if I'm going to figure out a way to defeat-ow!" where did she get a fold-up fan?!

    "Language, young man! I may not be your mother, but I am responsible for your upbringing, as Vileclaw couldn't find any relations who could take you in without causing a world-wide ruckus!" tapping one of her feet and staring expectantly until he said "Sorry, Landlady…", Melfina then let out a large sigh, "Barring your language, you have a point: you are Shaman, so I can't exactly stop you from investigating the stables without breaking several millennia-old treaties, but!" she cut in before he and Vera could do more than exchange an excited glance, "You will take the Triplets with you, and you will go through the Gardens first; Gregory may have what you're looking for and then some. Better you play it safe than expose yourself to a centuries-old undead; if he doesn't have everything you need, ask one of the griffons to keep an eye on you before going near the stables, understand?"

    James nodded swiftly, happy to have a chance to see outside the building! "Yes, Landlady! We'll be careful! I have to run up to my room, so, um," he gave her a questioning look, shuffling slowly toward the nearest stairway, that was answered with one of her soft, chiming laughs.

    "Yes, I'll have the Triplets meet you in the Library," she waved a hand, adding to his retreating back, "And remember, be respectful to Gregory and his assistants! He's old and they're mostly griffons!"

    "We will, Landlady!" chimed Vera happily from next to James; leaping onto his shoulder as he carefully climbed a mossy set of stairs, his fox-sister giggled, "I can't wait, James! There's so many streams in the Gardens! So full of Water magic!"

    Grinning as they reached the second floor and took care to avoid a still-wet patch of stone next to a hole in the floor, James agreed, "I can't wait either, Vera! Breech said Gregory's been here for a long time, tending the Gardens, so all that accumulated Nature magic must be his doing!" she yipped in agreement as they approached their rooms; he was getting better at navigating this place!

    "Now that I think of it, this explains why the revenant didn't corrupt the Library, too… Okay," Vera hopped off his shoulder, bounding over to James' backpack and staff as the boy himself approached at a steadier pace, planning out loud, "we go into the Gardens, explore there for a bit, meet Gregory the occamy, then we go check on Yavanna and get that monster's measure!" He hefted his pack, now with a few magical books straining the worn piece of equipment, over his shoulders before holding out his hand, "Staff!"

    Vera nodded sharply, tails wrapping around James' staff and sending it into her Shaman's grip with a quick snap of the appendages, saying, "It'll probably be a good idea to stay in the Gardens for a bit afterward, James."

    It took him a bit to remember, but Vera had been teaching him some of Water's Song, so it wasn't too hard, "So any lingering Darkness gets washed off us and recycled back into Nature, right?" Water wasn't the only form of magic that could do that, but it was the quickest and most efficient way of getting rid of mild corruptions.

    According to Vera, who was taught by the Eight-Tails of Deep Currents, one of the kitsune elders, anyone who knows and understands Water's Song doesn't even need to physically touch water to heal themselves of Dark corruptions, especially in places where the element was strong; there was a lot he still needed to learn, though, mainly concerning which Chakras he needed to open and close for maximum effectiveness, but Vera was patient with him and knew how to cleanse things already.

    On that note, James realized he hadn't really talked to Vera about where she came from; oh, he knew the name of the Realm, Foxhome, but, James noticed with a pang of shame, the personal knowledge he'd attained regarding his Spirit-familiar, who was practically his sister in soul if not body, was sorely lacking.

    He hadn't many friends over his life, James thought as he ran his fingers over the staff's grip, let alone anyone as close as Vera was to him; Jean was, really, the only one he'd felt truly comfortable with, brief though their friendship was. He didn't know what it was, at the time, but in hindsight, she'd felt… warmer, he supposed, than the other children. Earthy. Focused. Always leaping feet-first into anything, and quick to understand it, as though the knowledge she sought wanted, craved to become part of her. A solid presence in the world.

    Jean felt nothing like Vera, who was like a wild stream of lukewarm water, always shifting to whatever caught her fancy, but once something did interest Vera, the two-tailed kitsune always tried to assimilate it into herself, surrounding the idea or object from all angles so, once she could see all its facets and understood the dangers, she could avoid them. Smooth. Watery. Cautious and capricious at the same time.

    The Dursleys, on the other hand… they felt… numb. Cold and calculating. Inhuman. Unnatural. Whether that was a product of their environment or just how they were, James didn't know or care to know, at least not yet; that was a mystery for the future, when he understood all there was to his path and Shamanism.

    Now that he was Shaman, James knew his views were changing, making him question how everything felt, and this was no exception. 'There's a clear difference, between Jean, Vera and the Dursleys. Yavanna, too; she feels like the Sun, like Khepri. Life, freely giving and patient, ever vigilant and stronger than steel. Jean grew up in the city, too, so why does she feel different from, say, Dudley? This means something, but what?'

    "James?"

    He looked down at Vera, who was looking at him, head tilted in curiosity, "Sorry, Vera. I was… thinking of stuff, from before we met… hey!" he grinned at her, decided, "After checking on Yavanna, we can have lunch, I can tell you about my first friend, Jean, and you can tell me about Foxhome!"

    That perked her right up, more than he'd seen since they'd met at the Yew's circle, "Oh, yes! I thought you'd never ask, James! Oh, there's so much to tell you, I've no idea where to start!"

    Exiting the room, James grinned down at Vera as she bubbled along, both making for the Library and the Triplets, "Mind, I do want to know about this Jean, but-oh, James, the sights I've seen! I wonder if the Faerie would be offended, replicating Foxhome's wonders in their illusions? They're so fantastic, James, the places my relatives have made out of raw magic! Kyuubi's Mountain piercing the heavens, surrounded by the Labyrinth Forests and the Fields of the Inferno and the Whirlpool Palace – that's where I was born, ya know! – and-and the Aria Citadel, oh, I've always wanted to visit but I can't fly…!"

    [..|..]

    All well and good,
    But what's this at Hogwarts?

    In an office full of spindly silver objects and other arcane potpourri, silence reigned, save the occasional shuffle of a wall covered in portraits.

    Former Hogwarts Headmaster Phineas Nigellus Black pulled at his painted beard, lips pursed in annoyance; Albus was late. The brat hadn't been particularly punctual as a pupil and, much to the Slytherin alumnus' chagrin, old age and elevation to the august rank of Grand Sorcerer hadn't helped the boy realize that keeping others waiting was, well…

    "Bloody rude!" Phineas finally snapped, glaring at the empty perch near the Headmaster's desk, the latter of which was steadily becoming more and more laden with paperwork! Idiot boy, taking on more titles than he could handle! Hogwarts required constant attention, for Merlin's sake! "He said, and I quote, three days, at most!"

    "Now Phineas," that spineless twit Dippet tried, and failed, to soothe Phineas' fury, "I'm sure young Albus has a very good reason for his tardiness. Being Supreme Mugwump can't be easy for him."

    Phineas glared sideways, through the folds and whorls of reality, at his fellow magical imprint, "That is the point, Armando; why, the lad could barely complete a Potions essay or get to his Runes classes on time, when I was Headmaster, and he believes he can juggle both the leadership of this school and the ICW with effectiveness! And Chief Warlock on top of this! Hmph!" Phineas turned away, "With such truancy and poor management skills, no wonder Riddle went sour."

    The indignant uproar in support of Dumbledore was, in the former Black Patriarch's estimation, wholly predictable; he didn't know why everyone worshiped the ground the (albeit talented) Sorcerer walked on, but sometimes, it was annoying. Hence the small amounts of satisfaction he got from riling up his painted peers; still, he missed managing the school, making sure the students received the best magical education he could provide them. And the issues that'd sprung up since his death! That curse on the DADA position would've been dealt with already, were Phineas still alive…

    'Oh, to have a body again,' thought the construct, just before a singing cry filled the otherwise empty office, heralding a flash of True Flame.

    That was the only thing keeping Phineas from constantly tearing strips off the boy: being able to see a fragment of the True Flame in action.

    And there was Albus, grandfatherly countenance immediately slipping away into exasperated tiredness; Fawkes, his phoenix, crooned an uplifting melody, trying to keep the aging wizard from collapsing on the floor.

    "Hard time of it, Albus?" Fortescue called boisterously, much to Phineas' annoyance.

    Sighing even as he smiled and patted Fawkes' head, Albus addressed them, voice slightly strained, "It was the Ottomans, again; they were rather adamant about pushing some legislation through. Apparently," he chuckled, making Phineas roll his eyes, "they don't much appreciate Babylon's continued independence and tried, again, to force them to declare Protectorate status."

    Phineas groaned, along with most of the assembled Heads, but he was the only one who spoke up, "I can't imagine that going over well; the last time they tried, back when I succeeded my father as head of House Black, I believe Kefka laughed them out of the debate hall," he smirked, a look more sourly matched by the living Head before him, the other Heads chuckling in remembrance, "before doing the same on the battlefield, except with quite a lot more fire."

    "Mmm, quite." Allowed Albus with an agreeing hum, fishing one of those damn sweets out of his silver and chartreuse robes (Phineas was forever grateful his eyes were no longer mainly physical, or he'd have gouged them out long ago, Albus' fashion sense was so terrible); the Sorcerer popped the sweetmeat into his mouth and, savoring it, asked, "Anything of importance to report?"

    'Never you mind the mountain of paperwork right behind you, that you'll end up foisting off on your poor, overworked Deputy,' Phineas snarled mentally; at least he had the acumen and discipline to do his own paperwork, when he was alive!
    Anyway, the former Slytherin gestured airily behind Albus, "Well, aside from the paperwork…" with relish, he watched the bearded poof's face slowly drain of color as he registered the silence in the room, "your 'little project' seems to have failed. Pity that."

    Ignoring the chiding of his fellow departed Heads and the living Head whirling around so fast he unseated his startled phoenix, Phineas let out an internal sigh of depression; Potter though he was in name, the Boy-Who-Lived had Black blood in his veins, and if he was gone, that meant Narcissa's little hell-spawn would inherit.

    The very idea of that tiny brat inheriting the Black estate would've made Phineas shiver in revulsion, if he wasn't a painting, and even then it was still a near thing!

    "He's alive," Albus reported, shaking the former Slytherin Head from his musings and drawing his attention to a softly puffing urn that the Gryffindor Sorcerer was waving his wand about, "Unfortunately, barring the fact that the lad's heart continues to beat," the elderly wizard cast a pointed glare worthy of dragonfire at the other instruments, all of which were silent, before whispering to the air, "When?"

    "A week ago," Phineas happily oiled; as Albus' arm snapped up, Fawkes rushing to his Bonded's side with a vengeful cry, the Slytherin added in a happily vicious drawl, "Do give the Dursleys my regards, lad."

    Right after the pair vanished, Phineas chuckled to himself, Dilys' cry of "Really, Phineas!" only adding to the humor of the moment. Whatever fate would befall the beings described as "The worst kind of Muggles," by Minerva McGonagall no less, Phineas felt no sympathy whatsoever.

    He knew how terrible humanity could be. He was a Black, after all.

    Speaking of which, 'The boy is alive…' Without another word, the former Black Head made his excuses and shuffled off, mind steeling itself for the incipient meeting with a certain other portrait in a certain townhouse in London.

    His great-granddaughter wasn't going to interrogate herself, after all.

    [..|..]

    If Albus hadn't been so outright furious, he might have thought a bit before flashing into poor Arabella's backyard.

    "Oh! Albus, dear, you scared me!" the elderly Squib put a hand over her heart, sitting on her garden bench while her "charges" mewled in concern.

    "Terribly sorry about that, Arabella," apologized Albus sincerely, even as he sent a mild Calming Charm her way; now that he thought about it, Albus figured he'd need one of his own, sooner or later…

    Really, it never ended! One moment, he'd just averted another Magical War, one which would've absolutely ruined several of the city-states whose survival relied on Babylon's lynchpin status as the Western hub of the Silk Road, and the next he comes home, hoping to put his feet up and deal with some of the more pressing paperwork, only to find that young Harry was missing!

    Still, he couldn't stop now, and popping into the Dursley backyard was a good way to get a shotgun stuck in his mug; some Muggles… but, now, for Arabella, who looked much calmer, "Sorry though I am for dropping in unannounced like this, dear, I must ask: have you seen young Harry lately?"

    "Hmm?" the woman blinked at him owlishly, absentmindedly stroking one of her kneazles, before appearing to rally, "Oh! Yes, I… saw him just this last Saturday, trimming the rosebushes."

    "Yesterday, you mean?" maybe this was all a simple misunderstanding, or a minor issue with the wards?

    To his dismay, the woman shook her head, "No, the one before… Oh, I've been trying to get in touch with you, actually!" Albus heart began to plummet, "They called in some exterminators and a professional cleaning service, last week… I'm sorry, I can't remember exactly when." And she truly was sorry, Albus could see it.

    The poor woman. Riddle's war, damn the madman, did this frail young thing no favors.

    Nevertheless, he was a man on a mission, and made his excuses with a warm smile, "I'm sure it's nothing, Arabella, but I'll pop over and see if anything's the matter. If you'll put the kettle on, I'll tell you of Geneva when I return."

    That went over well, as it always did, the agoraphobic woman ever eager for visions of faraway places; before heading outside, Albus transfigured his robes into something less magical and more stockbroker, casting a Muggle Notice-Me-Not charm on himself and powerwalking toward Number Four, Fawkes glaring on his shoulder; really, Albus couldn't blame his familiar. He was rather wrathful about this whole situation himself.

    Why? Well, there was the slight, not-at-all worrying matter of the blood ward-stone having cracked in half. 'Deliberate, or accidental?'

    The Bond between the boy and the stone has been severed, Albus, came Fawkes' reply, verifying what Albus had already seen through his enchanted spectacles, It doesn't look like it was strained to breaking, but, well…

    'Appearances can be deceiving. You are right, of course, old friend,' observed Albus sagely as he strode up the walk, expanding the Notice-Me-Not spell with a twitch of his core, spreading it out to encompass the house, 'Is Harry within the house, hidden?'

    Nay, sighed Fawkes into his mind, before adding hopefully, He seems to have spent much time nearby, however; we should be swift, old sport. The trail's going cold!

    Humming in agreement, Albus made sure his beard was a respectable length and trim for this decade and rapped his wand on the door; from the looks of things, Petunia was home, as was her son. If ever he doubted the older Evans girl was more Squib than Muggle, it was evidenced in her son.

    13 pounds at birth, done naturally, without magic, his arse!

    Shoving the thoughts to the back of his mind, Albus decided to use Stern Administrator Gaze #3, usually reserved for particularly rambunctious Seventh-Years. There was a time and place for his "Airy-headed Grandfather" persona, after all, and this wasn't it.

    Petunia arrived at the door, opening it and asking politely yet warily, "May I help…?" She didn't recognize him at first, but trailed off with a look of horror at the sight of Fawkes glaring down at her.

    "Petunia," Albus' eyes weren't sparkling; they held a cold gaze that few saw and lived to tell of, his voice matching that coolness in such a way that the horse-faced woman wilted in terror, "May I come in?"

    [..|..]

    Albus left three hours later, having waited for Petunia's walrus of a husband to return home so he could get more details on the matter of young Harry's disappearance.

    The cowardly woman, honestly, hadn't been having a good time of it; her marriage to Vernon Dursley was merely one of convenience and social self-preservation, on the horrible man's part anyway. Most of the details Albus ripped from the man's head sickened him in ways he hadn't felt since Riddle's descent into the Dark and the crimes of Bellatrix Lestrange… wherever the insane woman had gotten to after that fateful Halloween was still a mystery, but one for another day.

    Going to the Forest of Dean was a lost cause, the last Potter's trail long cold and washed away by a recent rainstorm. 'No matter,' thought Albus, returning to Hogwarts and collecting the urn that monitored young Harry's life essence, still steadily puffing away, 'A brief scrying should reveal the lad's location, even if he's behind wards.'

    Swiftly carving the proper Runes and placing the urn in the northern quadrant of the circle, Albus retrieved a certain velvet pouch from a hidden drawer in the side of his desk; from it, Albus drew a piece of smoky quartz held on a silver rope. A prize from his first Tour of the Continent, this scrying device had never failed him before, and was instrumental in the defeat of… Gellert.

    Clearing his mind, Albus silenced the portraits and looked to Fawkes, "A feather, old friend?" With a trill of agreement, Fawkes plucked one of his wing feathers and set it to drift while Albus conjured a map of Europe in the southern quadrant of the Runic circle before kneeling before it, twisting the silver rope about the gnarled fingers of his right hand.

    When the feather was exactly ten inches above the western quadrant, the Grand Sorcerer took the other item from the velvet bag, the freely-gifted knucklebone of a Sphinx, and tossed it into the swirling Runes of the eastern quadrant. It landed on the rune wheel contained therein, on the Elder Futhark Rune for 'spirit'.

    The feather was five inches away. Albus knew the terminology behind 'spirit' could mean many things; hopefully, it would only mean that Harry was hidden from lesser forms of scrying. The form Albus was currently using wasn't even one of the middling forms, but a high form only taught at one magical academy in these days, after Hogwarts slashed Divination in the 30's: the Glimmervale College of Greater Arcana in the Tibetan highlands.

    Albus was lucky that he'd learned this magic while still a boy. When he'd tried, after defeating Grindelwald, to request access to that most prestigious establishment's libraries, the resident Grandmaster dismissed him with a surprising amount of nonchalance and derision, given his station.

    Though it was less surprising, once he'd discovered who protected the College.

    At one inch away, Albus unraveled the silver rope and let the quartz sway over the map; no wards, not even those of Gringotts, could defy this scrying technique. Once he knew where Harry had gotten to, Albus would go in with Fawkes and-

    The feather touched the circle.

    -and Albus let out a cry of shock as the urn exploded, the Sphinx knucklebone crumbled to dust, the phoenix feather vanished in a crackle of raw aether, and the quartz prism shot into his open palm, bruising the skin.

    He'd also been knocked flat on his back, Fawkes crying out in shock, Albus! Are you alright?

    "Ah," blinking away the spots in his eyes, the old wizard patted his beard, checking for burning embers, "I'm alright Fawkes…" he looked at the circle…

    It was cracked down the middle, the items within ruined; opening his hand, he found the quartz prism had been turned to salt, the silver rope crumbling into carbon ash, but his hand was unharmed.

    Stupefied, Albus wondered aloud, "What magic could possibly-"

    Then raucous, high-pitched laughter echoed from the urn's remains, ending in a blown raspberry of such intensity that would make even Peeves green with envy, before the bits of pottery crumbled to dust as well.

    Albus, however, was supremely unamused, face taking on a furious, stormy cast, blue eyes glowing with a barely-restrained fire; around his office and in random places throughout Hogwarts, stone rattled as the Grand Sorcerer spat a single, hate-filled accusatory word:

    "Fae."

    [..|..]

    Back in Walnut Manor's Library, Lisanna glanced up from where she'd been watching James and Vera frolicking merrily amongst the Gardens, much to the joy of the gardeners themselves, at the feeling of one of her traps going off.

    Two seconds later, a grin split her face, 'Nice try, Dumbles, but it'll take more than that to outwit an Unseelie Scribe.' And she went back to smilingly watching the boy excitedly pointing out a palm tree to his Bonded and the Triplets, oh, and was that Gregory about to sneak up on the quintet and their griffon guide?

    Lisa let out a little giggle, at once hoping Nadira wouldn't get too spooked by her mentor and attack anything that moved, while also amused at the stupid wizard's attempt to bypass her wards. Informing Mel could wait; she didn't want to miss the show!

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    HearthBorn, @non, Bogdan and 19 others like this.
  10. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 9 "Shining Silver, Bright Gold, Bitter Steel"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    The Tree of Babel

    …rising above all, the tower was lined with countless grasping vines and pungent flowering plants, their scents, and those of the Hanging Gardens, drifting to us in the fields surrounding ancient Babylon, glorious Babylon; upon the summit of the great tower, a silver light shone against the night, drowning even the light of the full Moon with its glorious radiance.

    The light seemed a beacon, a ray of hope in the night, and the sight of it seemed to wash the weariness of our travels away; I felt as if I'd shed a heavy cloak, and left it in behind me to be forgotten in the dust, such was the power of this wondrous vista.

    To our guide I asked in quiet reverence, "That is the Tower of Babel, yes?"

    "It has been called that. There are other names. Old names. You may call it Babel." The Bedouin woman replied, voice distant as she joined me in gazing upon the mighty building, illuminated by the many lights of Babylon; even in the night the city was awake, her wide walls welcoming our weary caravan as a mother would guide cold children to a warm embrace. T'would be many minutes yet before we passed through the great Gates of Ishtar, completing the latest branch of our quest to the East.

    Therefore, I asked once again, "The light on the summit, t'was hidden from mine eyes, until we crossed the boundary, many miles behind us. Whatever is its purpose, if not to guide travelers through the deserts and fields to sanctuary and safety?"

    She did not answer, sun-kissed face furrowed in thought as she formulated a response, as was the wont of all Bedouin. Patiently I waited, and was rewarded for my patience.

    "The elders say a Tree grows upon the Tower. I have never seen it, except from afar, but my father journeyed, and saw, and his eyes gleamed with silver when he returned to the tribe, and ever after."

    I thought on the little she told me, and reflected on my learnings of the history of this place, and observed, "The legends in the West do not speak of it."

    She spat to the side, "The Tree of Babel does not match their legends, so they do not think it worthy. Visitors rarely speak of it, for it does not glow in the Sun. You are the first of the West in many years to see it at night beneath the full Moon, when it shines brightest."

    I disagreed on the worthiness of this wonder, but let the matter rest; instead, I prayed upon her for more information, and was rewarded once more, richly.

    Our guide told me these things, and I engraved them into my mind, as a mason would stone, even as she spoke:

    "Little do I know of these things, Marco Polo, for I am a simple woman of simple means, but I shall tell you what I have heard of the Tree of Babel: the seed of the Tree was a gift to Man, given to us in the days of the ziggurats, of Ur and Sumer, when Man was still young, building their first cities and reaching for reason, when magic was still untamed and spirits walked in throngs uncounted. From whom the seed was given, I know not.

    "The High Dragons may have given it to us, mayhap they even made it, for they are older even than Ur and Sumer, and know much that has been lost to Man, so the wise say, but I know next to nothing about the deeds and thoughts of the High Dragons, save what is known to all. Some believe their forebear gifted it to them, to give to us, but who knows these things?

    "What appearance the tree takes, my father would not speak, and I have never seen it. To stand on the summit of Babel is forbidden to all save the worthy, and my father was seen as worthy. But he would not speak of it, and there was silver in his eyes ever after.

    "I have heard of a story, from a wise woman of another tribe: the Tree turns its leaves and gives a seed once every century, and that seed is given to an Arborist. What they do with the seed, I know not, for I am not an Arborist, and care not for such things. Whatever my beliefs, all who live in Babylon know this: beneath the light of the Tree of Babel there can be no darkness. No evil. Herpo the Foul learned this, praise Allah, before the Horns of Autumn slew him."

    And she spat again, at the mention of the Black Fiend, Herpo, and would speak no further of the matter, save, "This is what I know. I pray you are sated."

    I prayed to the One True God for the Black Fiend never to return, that he would burn forever in Hell, and thanked Jesus for Sandalphon, the High Dragon that burned away the Fiend's corruptions.

    One question more I asked, before reaching those embracing and beautiful gates that were Ishtar.

    "What must I do, my guide, to become worthy of seeing the Tree?"

    She laughed, as I were a child asking for a sweetmeat, and answered, "I asked my father that, but only this would he say: You must learn to not ask. You must learn to listen. And so I listened to the winds of the desert, I listened to their shifting sands, and I listen still, and so, no matter where I may roam, I am never lost, for the winds tell me their secrets, and the sands remember the old paths. All Bedouin know how to do this, but we do not teach it, and it is not enough to stand before the Tree. You must listen, Marco Polo. Listen, and, if Allah has blessed you, you may one day stand before the Tree."

    And she laughed again, and would say no more, and, though her words became clear to my mind, many long years after that warm night, illuminated by star, Moon and Tree, the sights before me, of Babylon herself, drove the matter swiftly from my young and wondering mind…

    -excerpt from the tales of Marco Polo,
    detailing his first visit to the Free Magical State of Babylon,
    as related to Rustichello de Pisa in Genoa, 1297,
    published in the European magical community as The Beauteous Wonders of the East, 1305

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    "You wish to know what a spirit of Compassion feels like? What a dumb question! If you have to ask what selflessness feels like, then you wouldn't understand the description, would you? What kind of monarch are you, then, to not know empathy?"

    – Shaman Woterix the Wolf King, to Saladin l
    response to a spirit visiting the monarch in dreams
    Syria, August 1192

    "…Woterix then fled across Syria to Baghdad, as Saladin took offense to being called dumb and apathetic by what the Sultan saw as a dirty, smelly vagabond. Such is the importance of having an unbiased interpreter, preferably learned in deciphering both tone and sarcasm, when speaking across cultures.

    "Yet, for all these humorous misunderstandings and the Shaman's dismissal of the Sultan's worries, Woterix is correct: if you cannot empathize with the world, accept all its glories and faults in equivalency, a spirit of Compassion will, in general, ignore your platitudes, even if it wishes to aid you and continues to do so; should you force the issue and attempt calling it to heel, the spirit shall twist upon itself, and deny you the light of Compassion. Verily, your impiety and arrogance shall gift you with Pride, and you shall suffer for it. Blessed are those who are of pure heart and soul, indeed, for through them is known the greatest of kindnesses; through them we may know Purity…"

    – excerpt from a historical lecture by Persephone, the Fangs of Winter
    Lecture Hall, Alhambra (Magical Quarter), Granada, Spain
    March 1857

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    Revenant
    ICW Threat Rating
    : XXXX, XXXXX if capable of speech

    Of the many fiends an explorer may find in the dark places of the world, few are as dangerous and lethal as the revenant. An undead of exceptional power and strength, this creature's abilities seem to vary depending on the creator; in some cases, they are capable of casting rudimentary yet deadly spells, while others may favor a weapon of some fashion to deal with threats. Many that have been encountered use both, but all are terrible foes, especially for the faint of heart. Even the weakest revenant is stronger than ten of the fittest doughty men one might find, and are as durable as any troll or manticore, though the revenant is seen as far more dangerous than either. As they are undying, they can exist indefinitely, needing neither food nor drink, and are both patient and darkly devious; indeed, countless unwary adventurers have met their end by thinking a revenant a statue, or surprised by such a fiend hiding in a shadowed alcove, unknowing of their peril until its cold blade pierced their flesh and drank their lives away, fueling its dark and hateful unlife.

    One ability that seems omnipresent in all observed examples can be used by the experienced explorer to determine the presence of such a beast: their very existence corrupts the surroundings they inhabit, causing pestilent rot in growing things, while turning steel and stone to a dark disposition, their habitat becoming a terrifying gauntlet of hazards, where the very environment will seek to trap and slay intruders to the revenant's demesne.

    As they are created by the darkest of magics, both the physical and mental capacity of any revenant should never be underestimated. Should you be so unlucky as to encounter such a fiend, conjured barriers of cold iron are strongly advised as a slowing measure; however, unless you have powerful magic or are confident and prepared for close combat, and are possessed of great strength in both mind and spirit, it is the author's recommendation that you flee and seek professional aid. There is little that can stop a revenant forever, and defeating one has never before been done without a large cadre of experienced Battle-mages or Spiritual assistance.

    If you happen to encounter one that is capable of speech, it is strongly advised you flee immediately and inform the ICW as soon as possible, should you survive the unlucky encounter. Such fiends are only surpassed by actual Dark Lords, and are listed as Class 9 International Threats. Under no circumstances should one engage such a beast.

    For further reading on the dangers and abilities of this type of undead creature, seek The Black Decade by Petra the Luminous, Magick Moste Evile (abridged) by Godelot the Reviled, and Encyclopedia of the Darkest Artes by Grand Magus Yvette Salome and High Dragon Sandalphon.

    – excerpt from The Great Explorer's Handbook by Hansel Kopernik
    3rd edition, 1699
    BOOK BANNED IN ALL COUNTRIES BY I.C.W. ARTICLE 17, CLAUSE 3
    GENEVA CONVENTION OF 1956

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    Chapter 9:
    Shining Silver, Bright Gold, Bitter Steel


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    The Gardens of Walnut Manor were one of the most amazing sights James had ever seen! He'd heard of the Botanical Gardens in London, but had never gone; this place would put them to shame, no doubt!

    A glittering, omnipresent light flickered over countless flowers, only some of which James could put a name to; they flowed across his vision in a carefully arranged carpet of colors, interspersed with every shade of green he could imagine; bushes, hedges and shrubs formed walls, separating one section of the sprawling garden from the next. Crushed white stone, trampled into a hard path by countless feet over the centuries, formed the winding path James and Vera found themselves on, after leaving the Library's ground floor and stepping into this arboreal wonderland!

    And the trees! Vines and creepers hung from them in curtains, through which Faeries darted, some calling pleasant greetings to the Triplets and the wide-eyed Shaman and kitsune. But the trees! So many were represented, both local and exotic (was that a cocoa tree?!), and the afternoon sun broke through the shining green and gold ceiling of their canopies in shafts of smoky light, lighting their smooth, perfect trunks and making the small irrigation streams bubbling through the glowing Garden shimmer like living sapphire!

    "Wow…" breathed James. There were no words for this! Life, delighted and pure, rippled around him and seemed to embrace the young Shaman, warming him to his very bones; it… it felt like…

    "Pretty awesome, huh?" Breech piped up in her squeaky voice, having landed on her preferred perch of James' hat, her brothers flitting about the flowers while Vera spun in place in front of him, trying to take everything in at once with her vulpine grin, "Landlady likes walking in it at night, 'specially when the Moon's full."

    Finally shaking himself from the awed stupor he'd found himself in, James grinned brightly, "This is incredible! Is-how-you've all been tending to this for centuries, haven't you?!" There was so much to look at, and no word could do it justice! Unless, of course, he thought of how Tolkien spoke of Lothlorien, Galadriel's bastion in Middle Earth, and even that description seemed gray and dull compared to the reality before him!

    "Oh, yeah," drawled Bree smugly, reclining on the brim of James' hat, "I mean, we did most'a the work, but it wasn't till Gregory came along that it really started to glow."

    Grinning (and hoping he met the occamy, as he'd read about them, and wondered if they spoke Parseltongue) and finally finding his feet, James moved forward carefully, feeling the raw magic rippling over everything: every blade of grass, every knothole and leaf, every grain of dirt; this wasn't just a garden, this… was art, someone's life's work. And James was walking in it!

    He was glad he came barefoot; this place felt almost as sacred as the River Yew Circle!

    Vera was babbling the whole time they walked toward the first towering hedge, about forty yards from the Library's door, so fast James couldn't understand her until she finally took a deep breath and grinned up at James, "James! Can you Sense it too?!"

    Laughing at his Bonded's excitement, James admitted, "Vera, I barely caught anything you said! A little slower, please?"

    She bounced in place, much to the humor of a passing clique of Fae carrying what looked like seeds, and chirped, "The streams! They make a glyph! This whole garden is protected!"

    James was really surprised by that! Glyph architecture went out of favor after the Roman Empire fell, according to the books on magical history he'd been reading before bed every night; but, then, he also figured it was part of the paranoia of wizards. When something big failed, it went out of favor, instead of someone trying to innovate and improve to prevent it from going wrong again.

    Wizards were weird, James had decided, but that didn't mean he wasn't going to try and learn all he could about magic!

    There was so much history that the Statute wiped away! He'd even found a book about Egypt in the Library, and there was Khepri, Cleopatra's Consort, and… well, the true story, of how Antony seduced the Queen with potions and spells, gave her to his Legion (he didn't understand what that meant, but it didn't sound good…), and nearly destroyed her nation before Khepri killed him, healed Cleopatra, and tried to save Egypt from the bloodthirsty Romans, only for the two to die together, the blood of their sacrifice protecting the Great Library from any who would seek to destroy it or tear at a single scrap from the scrolls and tomes therein, even to this day…

    It was such a sad story, but beautiful in how much Khepri loved Cleopatra, and it scared James, seeing just how terrible the wrath of a Shaman could be. But he took solace in a simple fact, which Vera agreed with: they weren't Khepri, and this wasn't then. He wouldn't be tearing Legions apart with sandstorms and plagues of flesh-eating insects.

    There were other things spoken of in that book, hidden things and lost places, of Phoenicia and the Labyrinth of Anatolia, of the Sun's Anvil and the Temple of Flame, of the Valley of Solomon and the Lost City of Shangri-La, and of Sandalphon and Persephone, who were only spoken of as 'wise and eternal', no description on what they looked like, only that they were what held the Darkness at bay. These things were lost to the ages, spoken of in no other book he'd read so far, and asking Lisanna about them only gave him a smirk and the order to continue his studies of theory, to leave history until the day he could reliably call on his magic for anything.

    James and Vera agreed, after reading about what'd happened to Khepri: magic was dangerous, and some things were better left alone (Wendelin the Weird came to mind), but once Shaman and kitsune were ready, they'd find these lost things, bring them back to the light, and give everyone hope in magic again! It was what they'd agreed on in the first place, after all! To set things right and find what had been lost.

    The wonder before James only crystalized this desire, to explore and uncover and protect; and because Melfina and the Walnut Court never gave any human, save one werewolf, leave to enter this place, James was the first person from the Mundane world to ever see a magical garden, tended to by master Faerie gardeners, griffons and an occamy! And he'd protect it, come what may!

    And a glyph of protection was etched into the streams! "That'll keep the place pure and free, right?" he asked, and grinned wider when Vera cheered in agreement and Lou cried out, from his place on a bright yellow lotus, "Give the Shaman an acorn, for he is right!"

    Then a feminine voice, which was a little squawky, came from the left, on one of the beaten grass paths winding through a bank of dark-leaved bushes, sounding curious, "Hello? Is that Louie?"

    "Nadira!" cried Breech in greeting as James looked over in the direction she was waving.

    Out of the path came a griffon; pictures in Fantastic Beasts didn't do them justice, not at all! Standing a good two heads over James, she indeed had the body of a lion, with the wings and head of a peregrine, sky blue eyes full of intelligence, long furred ears twitching with curiosity, and her bronzed, dirt-speckled forelegs ended in sharp black talons (with an opposable thumb!), but there the pictures' depiction of what a griffon was ended.

    James could Sense it, now that he was up close to one: a griffon was the marriage of two elements of Nature, Earth and Sky. He could Sense that she could Listen to both, and, if his studies and instincts were correct, was attuned intrinsically to the magic of the Air and Earth. Her whole body shimmered with magic, to James' eyes, and she moved with a regality and elegance he'd only seen in Landlady.

    The satchel around her neck, with its well-worn gardening tools that clinked when she moved, bounced as the griffon Nadira jerked in surprise at the sight of James and Vera, "Oh! Hello, you must be James! The Fae have spoken of you, and Vera too!" she bent a knee slightly and nodded, eyes smiling brightly, "I am Nadira, daughter of Sozen of the Glade Griffon tribe, one of Gardener Gregory's apprentices. Good morning!"

    Smiling and bowing a little in return, James introduced himself happily, "And a good morning to you too, Nadira! I'm James, the Shaman, and this is Vera," the Water kitsune bounced and yipped, moving closer to the griffon dam to sniff her legs, "We love what you've done with the place!"

    Ruffling her wings in delight, Nadira proved to be a bit of a chatterbox, "Oh, my thanks! We, that is, the Faeries and my fellow griffons, take great pleasure in tending to this beautiful place! Gardener Gregory is so very knowledgeable in his subject, and I have learned so much from him. He was raised by an Arborist of Babylon, so very long ago, but came here when the Arborist died. His presence is a boon, truly, for the dark being Landlady and her clique imprisoned has struggled to undo all our works, ever and anon; since Gregory came, it has been thwarted in its attempts, but still it persists! Oh, but we have you and Vera to thank, truly, for all but locking the fiend away!"

    A bit bashful, James blushed and said modestly, "Ah, it was our pleasure! This place is really beautiful, and it doesn't deserve to rot."

    Snap agreed with a nod and dropped a pile of lily leaves on Bree, adding, "Oh, hey Nadira! Show them the palms! You're gonna love this, you two!"

    Yipping excitedly, Vera started bouncing around, leaving a trail of glowing water in her wake as she chanted, "Palms! Yes! Palms!" over and over again.

    Laughing, Nadira acquiesced; the palms weren't far, but they were tall and glorious, their leaves long and healthy, trunks like marble pillars rising to the glowing emerald ceiling, and their griffon guide seemed quite proud of them, "I have worked on them very much, but they are difficult to grow; the soil must be just right, as must the water and the humidity of this area, but a little magic to help them along never hurts, of course."

    "You can do magic?" asked James, watching with delight as Vera chased a butterfly around the gleaming trunks, Louie joining her in her frolicking while Breech and Snapper nibbled on lily petals.

    Nadira nodded, eyes wide and serious, "Oh yes. It is a difficult thing to learn for griffons, magic, but I have endured and learned, and have a great teacher in Gregory," she reached out a foreleg in front of James, and, as he watched, she stroked the stem of a dragon snapper that was looking a little dry and wilted.

    Green light rippled around the gently moving claw, and James felt the magic of the Earth flow into the flower; before his wide green eyes the flower's dry bits fell off, and then it was healthy again!

    Withdrawing her claw, Nadira's tail swished about happily as she looked down at James and chirped, "It is more difficult to do with larger plants, but I am young yet, and Gregory says I shall become better with age."

    Smiling, James looked up at her, "I think it's brilliant, even as it is." His new griffon friend ducked her head and shuffled her wings in embarrassment, but then James asked, "I'm wondering, though: how do the palms grow in the winter? Britain's had some pretty bad ones."

    Before she could answer, a deep, friendly voice hummed from above and behind them, "Why, magic of course."

    Nadira, Breech and Snapper all squeaked and squawked in surprise, while Louie raised a hand in greeting from his perch on the side of a palm and Vera (with a monarch butterfly now resting on her nose) looked at a spot over James' head in owlish surprise.

    Turning around, James saw… feathers?

    He looked up.

    And up.

    A serpentine form presented itself, massive and regal in its forest green and sky blue-trimmed feathered body, making James wonder just how such a large creature could move so quietly! The occamy, Gregory presumably, had lowered his head until it was just above and behind Nadira's, the long face turned slightly so a slitted golden eye could look closely at James; on the right side of his body, to James' left, Gregory's wing looked a little weak and sickly. Indeed, there was greying fur throughout his long body, which was still coiling out of an archway a little ways away, and there were lines about his striking eyes, which blinked slowly, and there was a curious silver shimmer about them.

    While Nadira and the Faeries that weren't Louie spluttered and composed themselves, James mastered himself before this large creature, which was described in Fantastic Beasts as a dangerous magical creature, "Gregory the Gardener, I presume? Your work is impeccable, greater than any I've seen or heard of back in London."

    A slow nod precluded a smile and the occamy speaking, deep voice marred only slightly by a hiss and a mild foreign accent James couldn't place, "Well met, Shaman of Gaia, Spirit of Water," Gregory added to Vera, who'd hopped over and climbed onto James' pack during that slow nod, "I feel I must thank you for Yavanna. It has been a very long time since I have felt the light of Compassion."

    James could hear the capital letter, there, but waved off the praise, "We only did what felt right, Mr. Gregory. And you're most welcome; hopefully we'll be able to defeat the revenant, with Yavanna's help, so you won't have to worry about your gardens none."

    "Ya-huh!" Vera nodded on his shoulder, "I'm really glad we did, too! But it looks like you kept everything neat and tidy, here! If I didn't know better, why, I'd think this was Foxhome!" James' face hurt from smiling, but he kept doing it, because he agreed! This place felt… more than sacred, otherworldly, like there was something… more, to the Gardens of Walnut Manor.

    Also, Gregory reminded James of Treebeard, with his slow, humming voice, "I am happy for your praise, but it is undeserved," Vera twitched in confusion, and James looked over at Nadira, but the griffon's face seemed to understand, even as Gregory invited, "Come, Shaman, Spirit. There is something I must show you."

    [..|..]

    They walked through the Garden, following Gregory carefully down the paths, Shaman, kitsune, griffon and Faerie clique; remembering his task, James asked the Gardener about the items he needed.

    Gregory just looked at Nadira and nodded, and his new friend looked at him and asked, "Do you have a list? I can gather them."

    "Oh, I didn't want to impose, Nadira!" surely she had other duties to attend to, after all, and he could do it himself just fine!

    She ruffled her wings with another eye-smile, "It is no trouble to me; there is little that needs doing at the moment, and I have already seen the Sapling. A list?" She repeated her request, clearly happy to run errands.

    So James drew out the short list of plants he'd need to make five different kinds of Parsel-kohl; one for viewing through a snake's eyes, one for detecting harmful magic, another that showed the properties of magical plants in colors, a type that would let him see the world through heat, like a snake…

    The final one, which would require James' blood to activate, would make the Hydra, which granted both Mage-sight and protection against Dark influences; it was one of the strongest kohl patterns Khepri knew, and the strongest she'd taught him.

    Or, the strongest he'd been willing to learn. The Gaze of Death, the Basilisk Mask, wasn't something James felt he should know. Way, way too dangerous.

    Handing the small sheet of parchment over to the griffon, James watched as Nadira read it over quickly and flicked her ears thoughtfully, "These are relatively common, though papyrus pulp… yes, yes. We should have that in the marsh section. I shall have them brought to your room, yes?"

    "Oh, you don't have to go out of your way," James told her, smiling, "Vera and I will be here in the Gardens for a while."
    Nadira nodded in a very decisive way, "Then I shall find you once all these have been found," and off she trotted, down a passage formed in the yew and hawthorn hedges.

    Then Gregory spoke up, "She wishes to distract herself, young one that she is."

    "Why?" Vera asked from James' shoulder, matching James' thoughts once more; was she bored, now that Yavanna was here to tend to everything?

    "Cuz she's in loooove," cooed Breech, before laughing, "Chief Sandor's grandson, Matthew, is smitten with her, and she with him, and the whole thing's soooo funny to watch, those two stumbling around each other like foals, ha!"

    "It's not funny!" protested Louie from the air next to Gregory's head, hands on his hips, "It's beautiful, and-and sweet and-"

    "Prithee, lest the wind not suffice to carry mine heart, then let this soul soar in the blue of thine eyes, the sky I wish to fly within forever, my white-winged love, pfft-hahaha!" cackled Snapper, sounding like he was quoting something, much to Louie's red-faced anger, "Brother mine, romantic though you may be, Mattie's poetry is enough to make even the Playwright gag!"

    "Who's the Playwright, James?" whispered Vera as the Fae dissolved into squeaky squabbling and the party arrived at a row of shimmering grapevines, which appeared to shield the Garden's center.

    Feeling a… tender sensation brush across his Senses as they approached the vines, James shrugged distractedly, whispering back, "Dunno. If the stories are right, though… it's probably Shakespeare." A Midsummer Night's Dream sounded like something the Faerie would appreciate, and, if the Statute was what James thought it was, the tale may even be true.

    He wasn't about to ask, though. Merry and capricious though the Walnut Court was, he could sense there was a darkness behind them, amongst the Grand Courts, and the few times he mentioned Summer or Winter just got him dismissive laughs, but… the Exile's eyes were cold as they laughed.

    So James didn't ask, because he really didn't want to know.

    The tender feeling only grew as the vines came closer, and the light beyond seemed white and blinding compared to the emerald-trimmed rainbow they'd been walking though, while Vera nodded thoughtfully.

    "Ohhh…" she clicked her tongue and asked, louder, "Who's Shakespeare?"

    That brought James up short, and caused the Triplets to cease their argument and stare at Vera in shock. In James' case, 'Oh, I really should have her read some classics! Maybe Lady Lisanna has something…'

    "Barbarian fox!" cried Snapper in faux-offense, holding a hand over his chest while his face took on a disgusted look, "How do you know nothing of the Playwright, whose tales and prose are known to all and sundry?!" he got a raspberry for his trouble.

    "Settle down, now," rumbled Gregory, restoring order before things got out of hand; those old, wise eyes looked down upon Shaman, kitsune and Faerie clique, and, once he had their attention, the occamy began to speak, "As Nadira no doubt rambled to you, I was once owned by an Arborist of Babylon; their duties are manifold, but their main purpose is the maintenance of the Hanging Gardens, and that is what is commonly known to outsiders.

    "Less well-known is their charge: the Silver Tree of Babel, which was planted in the same moment the tower was completed. In a way, all the wonders of Babylon pale when placed next to the Tower, whose aqueducts run water from the city, to the peak and the Tree, and back down again. But the Tree, that is a true Wonder, though few tomes in the West speak of it.

    "Once every century or so, the Tree gives up a seed, and the senior Arborist selects one of his charges to receive the seed; I do not know how this is done, for I was young still when I left Babylon for this place, after my father and mentor died. What I do know is that these seeds are planted in places of great magic, and Walnut Manor was worthy of the seed my father gave me. That my wing was broken at the time and I needed a place to recover was merely a happy coincidence, and, since great joy was had after my coming here, I gave back to the land in thanks, as is proper for a Gardener."

    Gregory's tail flashed a light green, then, and the vines parted…

    Revealing a bright, circular, sunlit courtyard, full of well-worn benches and ancient chairs painted in a riot of colors, Faerie houses in the few trees growing around the border; on one side was an old gazebo, where Landlady and Mr. Vileclaw were taking tea and conversing quietly over reams of papers, a dark brown griffon looming like a shadow over them.

    In the courtyard, the silver light seemed most prevalent, practically soaked into the very air. James felt refreshed, being there…

    And the source was before him.

    Growing in the center of the courtyard, on a bright green mound placed in a clear pool of water, was a white-barked Sapling. Unlike the quietly sighing trees basking happily around it, this tree was silent… no, James corrected himself while Vera let out a quiet "Oooo" of amazement, not silent; a keening, a chiming from the distance, seemed to both come from the tree, and around the tree, as though from elsewhere!

    Its leaves were the darkest green, and its bark was silvery-white. Small though it was (it was only about half-again James' height), there was power in this tree, flowing outward and around and bathing the whole Garden in a silver light and, if he Listened closely, he could hear all the Gardens, and feel everything in them, and James knew no Darkness could flourish in the Sapling's presence.

    It took the young Shaman's breath away, seeing this simple yet incredible thing, growing on a grassy mound in a pool of water, when he felt it should be put somewhere better protected. Then he remembered, from his reading of Tolkien's works…

    "Nimloth…"

    Breech's face appeared over the rim of James' hat, "Huh? What's Nimloth?" Vera was looking at him too.

    Blinking away tears, because… if the writer of Lord of the Rings were alive to see this, "It's from a story I read in the Mundane world, a… fairy tale, no pun intended," James grinned at the Triplets before returning his gaze to the silver tree, "The person who wrote it had a tale that was like Atlantis; on his Atlantis, there was a white tree, Nimloth the Fair, that was the seedling of Celeborn, that was the seedling of Galathilion, made by the Queen of Earth in the image of Teleperion, the Silver Light of Valinor, which that Queen sang into existence. From Teleperion came the light of the Moon, and from his sister, golden Laurelin, came the Sun."

    James stared at the Sapling, glittering in the Sun, but not truly shining; it looked rather dull, actually, but that didn't stop the young Shaman from smiling fondly. It would be quite the tree someday, so long as no Saurons came to chop it down, "That's what the Tree of Babel sounds like: either Nimloth of Numenor, or Galathilion of Tirion, with many seedlings passed out and around the world, so many could see the beauty Yavanna made."

    "Wait, wait, wait," interjected Louie, drawing James' attention; to his surprise, he found that the Triplets and Vera weren't the only ones listening to his small speech. More Faeries were hovering around and listening curiously, "You named that Nature avatar after some Queen in a book?"

    "Well, yeah," replied James nonchalantly, "Tolkien wrote that she was the goddess of all growing things, and, um, it was appropriate?"

    "Not to mention pretty!" piped up Vera, flowing off James' shoulder and moving a little closer to the Sapling and asking a slowly following James, "Was he, Tolkien that is, a secret wizard or something?"

    "That's called a Squib," put in a wasp-winged Fae that was buzzing above James, "and, well, maybe he was. Not like the Shaman would know, yeah?"

    "How's he know the story, then? Was it written?" argued a blue-haired and butterfly winged female drifting near an amused Gregory's maw.

    James nodded swiftly, "Oh, yes! His son had to finish the story, though, because Mr. Tolkien died before he could finish it. It's quite the amazing tale."

    "Can't be better than the Playwright," came from somewhere to James' right, a yelp signifying someone slapping the wit; honestly, there were a lot of Faeries swarming about James now, all arguing and guessing at the names he'd dropped, some even asking Vera for clarification, which his foxy sister mostly deferred to James on…

    They tapered off once he got to the edge of the Sapling's pool, but were still asking question after question about Tolkien's work, and whether or not James could give them an anecdote or quote a passage at them.

    Smiling, James glanced over at Landlady, who was watching the going-ons with a quirked lip, and turned back to his impromptu audience, "Well, I have the book, but I've got a lot on my plate today. Maybe I'll have a song or two for you, once lunch rolls around," that went over well with the inquisitive Faeries, and they scattered back across the Gardens, spreading the word: a song! The Shaman would sing to them come lunchtime!

    Vera rolled her eyes at how easily distracted the Fae could be, and said to Gardener Gregory, "It's really a nice tree! But, there's something off about it," she couldn't figure it out, and it seemed James couldn't either, if his mild confusion was any indication.

    Humming, Gregory nodded and said, "This tree is different from others, and is still young. I know not what an adult seedling would be like, but her soul is still unformed, even sixty years after she sprouted."

    Sixty years! Surprise echoed between Shaman and kitsune as they looked between Gregory and his Sapling; the small thing was only a slender stem of silver with a few branches, green leaves shimmering in the sun. How long before she was full-grown?! How long before she could Speak?!

    James hoped he was alive to see it, and gazed long on it before thanking the Gardener, "It's really beautiful. The revenant can't damage it, can it?"

    The great old occamy shook his head and chuckled, coiling up into a resting position, "No, the revenant couldn't touch it, though the beast was quite miffed at its planting. Caused a ruckus for three days and nights, but it can't leave the chains. Cold iron slows it, and Madame Melfina's power is in those chains. It cannot escape."

    Nodding, James tapped his staff against the ground a couple times, letting his magic flow out and in, like breathing, but… magic.

    The magic here was pure, and just what he needed before heading over… there. Unsurprisingly, James couldn't feel the revenant clearly in the light of the Sapling, but Yavanna was bright as ever: a golden light to match the silver of the Sapling, pure and uncorrupted, a bulwark against the Dark.

    Which made James wonder, given the story he'd just related, 'Does Yavanna know? No, that'd be silly!'

    Making sure his hat was secure, James asked one of the Triplets, "Bree? There's griffons over near the stable, right?"

    "Yep! Let's, uh, try not to get too close, okay?" her voice got shaky, there, one of the few times James or Vera heard it do so.

    "Never fear!" Vera yipped, bouncing in the direction of the stables after bidding a now-dozing Gregory farewell, "Yavanna's there!"

    James waved over his shoulder to Landlady, who gave him a stern look but waved back, and added to a nervous-looking Louie, "And, c'mon, I'm a Shaman you three! What c-"

    "Don't." snarled Snapper, suddenly in James' face, hand on a small blowgun that he kept in a belt, orange eyes glaring hard into James' worried greens while the small Fae poked him in the nose, "You. Ruddy. Say. That."

    "O….kay," assuaged James, rubbing his mildly abused nose; nodding, Snapper flew away down the path, Louie following after, shaking his head at James exasperatedly. Confused, James looked at his familiar, "What?"

    Vera tossed her head and laughed, "My Mima always said, 'Don't tempt fate, lest fate bite you', James."

    Oh. Enlightened, James continued down the path to the stables and the bright glow of Yavanna in his Senses, which cut through a forest of cacti, of all things! "Is that a gecko?! Oh, a bearded dragon! Wow!"

    [..|..]

    The trees were darker here. Even the Sun didn't seem to shine as bright, and the Faeries that dared this place looked… rougher, than the others. More like Lisanna than Melfina, they were armed with spears of blue metal, crouched as they were in the dark-leaved muttering oaks surrounding the stables, and their glittering eyes were watchful and promised malice for any who crossed them.

    A broken wheel axle stuck out of the ground near the path James was following; it was here Breech flew off James' head and buzzed in front of him, holding out a hand to stop their movement, "Okay," adjusting her overalls, she glanced over her shoulder with a gulp, where a gleaming light could be seen amidst the foggy murk of this place, "Okay… Rules…" she looked real scared, wringing her claws and nibbling on her lip, to both James and Vera's eyes.

    Neither could blame her; the ice cold bitterness was clear to their senses, offset by the warm honey taste of Yavanna's light. The two seemed to war with each other, making the air cold at times, while others were the usual warm of late summer.

    Hence, Vera was crouched on James' pack, tails waving in agitation and a glare on her foxy face, and James had one hand tightly gripping his staff, while the other was stroking the rib-bone handle of the rattle, frowning.

    There weren't many books about revenants, and the ones that were in the library, Lisanna wouldn't let him read. 'But this is my task, as Shaman,' James assured himself while Bree composed herself, 'I have to try, and if I know what it really feels like, I might be able to defeat it.'

    Louie flew up to his sister and rubbed her shoulder with an encouraging smile, "You got this, Bree."

    "Yeah… yeah. I got this. Right!" even though she looked like she'd rather be anywhere else, Breech ploughed on, "One, don't touch the chains. You don't want to know what happened to the last Faerie who did that. Two, don't go past the chains, but," she smirked at James, who'd rolled his eyes, "that's kinda given, yeah? Three… actually," Breech brightened, "I think that's it. Now let's get this over with, my lunch is callin'."

    Agreements were had all around, beneath the watchful eyes of dozens of Fae, but right as they were about to move forward…

    A golden-brown griffon landed in front of them with a heavy thud; his cloud-grey eyes looked them over right quick as he asked sharply, "Where do you think you're all going?"

    "Hey, Matthew!" crowed Snapper, folding his arms at the now-frowning griffon, "How's the poetry coming, eh?" said griffon's eyes narrowed at Snap and his giggling siblings in annoyance; James knew it was all in good fun, but Khepri's last advice echoed in his mind.

    'When you love someone…' James cleared his throat and said, "Okay, you three, don't annoy Matthew, what he does with Nadira is his own business," once the Fae sobered up, James turned to the griffon guard, who was still looking stern, "Vera and I want to see Yavanna, and examine the revenant. Landlady said we could," a yip of agreement came from Vera, who'd tensed after Breech's warning.

    The guard gave a wary nod and said, "Don't get too close to the chains, young Shaman. The revenant has a large blade, and if it strikes you…" brown-gold wings shuddered in revulsion, Matthew glaring in the direction of the stables.

    But James wasn't to be deterred, not from his task, and smiled, "We know, we'll be careful," and began walking with a purpose, Vera's tails drawing moisture from the surrounding air; though there was little they could do against such a strong undead, she figured a little defense was better than nothing at all.

    And besides, Vera thought with a vulpine grin, they had Yavanna! The little kitsune couldn't wait till James saw how beautiful and grand she was!

    So it was that they slowly, carefully approached the stables, the Triplets slowly migrating closer to Matthew, who was following James at a respectful distance; the sky seemed to darken and the air took on a chill the closer they came to the corrupted place. Yet, for all the darkness, Yavanna's light seemed to glow brighter, and there were wisps of tender, warm light winding between the worriedly murmuring trees.

    Then James saw her. Yavanna.

    The first thing he thought, on seeing the Nature avatar he and Vera brought into the world, was, 'Blimey! She's big as a house!'

    Sitting before a row of icicle-laden chains was a golden-green fox. Her coat was a rippling, undulating swirl of grasses, mud, flowers, leaves, and stone. Large ears pointed skyward from her unmoving head, forty feet off the ground, and nine sinuous tails weaved behind her; occasionally, a wisp of golden light would manifest at the tip of a tail, and with a light flick would dart off through the air, encircling the grounds in front of the great creature.

    James had felt her before from afar, and likened her presence to that of the Sun, but now that he was here… it… the feeling was strange. Yavanna felt like the wind blowing through the Forest of Dean, and Vera's snuggles, and Jean's hugs; brighter than the Sapling, with a greater imprint in the world than the Yew, Yavanna was everything he'd dreamt of and more… James couldn't say exactly how it truly made him feel, but it almost made him cry, seeing the Avatar of Compassion in person. She was difficult to look at, like staring into the Sun on a cloudy day, but beautiful, unlike anything he'd seen before!

    About her seat, where the nine-tailed forest-fox held vigil, were flowers, mushrooms, and vines, all of every color and type he could imagine. 'Maybe I can pay Nadira back for helping me,' thought James, hoping the griffon dam didn't trouble herself too much on his account.

    Then a sound came, like rusted iron screeching over granite, giving an undertone of rage and anguish to James' Sense, which he was still using.

    "Ah!" grunted James, feeling both the impure emotions hit him like a mallet. Vera snarled on his back, claws digging into the worn backpack she was perched on, tails readying a pair of snowy spears.

    Breech shouted squeakily behind him, "James! You good?!"

    Taking a breath and shaking his head to clear the awful thoughts away, James called back, "Yeah… j-just didn't expect that." He glanced up at Vera; her normally happy blue eyes were pinched in anger, a small growl warbling in her throat as her tails thrashed in agitation.

    He couldn't blame her, but there was something… wrong, here, "Vera?" she blinked and looked at him, "You think Yavanna can Sense it?"

    Vera's nose and ears twitched in thought for a moment before she nodded, "Yep! She might even be able to tell us about the spirit that's bound to that filthy thing!"

    Nodding in agreement, as he'd read of how a spirit of Compassion could see into the deepest parts of a soul, James approached the massive fox.

    He saw her face for the first time: long and vulpine like Vera's, but on a far larger scale, her teeth were made of stone, and her eyes were of glowing pink water. The golden light beneath Yavanna's 'skin' pulsed like a heartbeat, slow and steady, thrumming through James.

    "Aaaaooooooooo!"

    Both James and Vera yelped at the awful howl of fury that was leveled at them, whipping their gaze to the stables, James' staff leveled shakily in its direction as they took in the sight with wide, fearful eyes.

    Once, it might have been a nice place to stay, with the stone outbuilding and wooden rafters denoting where the stables proper once were, where the owners no doubt kept the horses that lived there happy and dry; now, though, it was a sorry sight to see, the stone runny with black ruin, the wood twisted and evil, and all the grass and trees within the chains were grey and dead, the stifling smell of deep rot and wormwood permeating the air. No bird sang, no Faerie or griffon flew overhead. Save the wind and the creaking of Yavanna's tails, and James' quick breathing, all was silent…

    The chains surrounding the stables were covered in deep blue runes, and icicles hung from them as they leapt from one stake to the next; while James searched for the source of the howl, he spotted small nicks and dings on the chains and the stakes that held them fast. 'It's been trying to escape!' he realized, taking a firmer grip on his staff and drawing the rattle, lips pursed in focus.

    Vera stilled, then, and a frisson of raw fear came across their Bond, "James…"

    He saw it.

    Lurking in the wooden stables were two glittering rubes of malice set in a full-face helm of matte-black; it was giant, more than seven feet tall if it was an inch, covered in ancient, rusted armor, and, even from this distance, James could smell it, a foul, rotting scent worse by far than any back-alley dumpster on a hot day. It creaked and groaned as it moved, pacing, waiting, glaring at everything hatefully, and when it turned James saw the blade it held: a ridiculously huge blade, wider than James was and three times longer than he was tall, with hideous green runes and a rime of ice rippling over the surface.

    James wanted to puke just looking at this fell being, this hideous abomination! How could something like this exist in the world?!

    Then there was a soft creaking, and one of Yavanna's tails encircled him, pure heartwood brushing against his ankle-
    -and both he and Vera Sensed something else, buried deep within the revenant's being.

    Anguish.
    Despair.
    Sorrow.
    Suffering.
    Loss.
    Heartache.


    Yavanna's tail left him.

    And the revenant roared.

    "Ghhhhaaaaaaooooo!" the fell creature lunged forward suddenly, into the darkened midday sun, making a beeline straight for James and Vera, who were frozen in shock at the emotions Yavanna showed them.

    It cleared half the distance to the chains, which started to glow, when Yavanna barked.

    Like a physical blow, golden light erupted on the revenant's breastplate, knocking it back! The chains pulsed, then, with white light, and the undead beast staggered away from them, snarling in hatred, keeping the flat of its blade between it and the chains, and Yavanna, who growled, the sound like stones tumbling down an embankment. Moments later, it was back in the stables, glaring at everything again, but especially James…

    Who was shaking, as he understood what was happening here, 'There's… someone. No, a soul! This used to be a person! Oh, this is terrible!' Swallowing his fear, James glanced out the corner of his eye at Vera, who was doing the same, eyes wide with shock, "Hey Vera?"

    Her voice sounded dry, "Yeah, James?"

    He gulped, whispering, "I think there's a person in that thing…"

    "Yeah," she nodded, tails twitching with worry, "What do we do, James? They're in so much pain…"

    James squared his shoulders, "That's easy, Vera," he holstered the rattle, gave Yavanna a pat on her withers, and crouched to pick some ingredients for his stores and Nadira, "We study, we get ready, and we set them free."

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    HearthBorn, @non, Bogdan and 21 others like this.
  11. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 10 "The Twilight Shepherds"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [..\|/..]

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    "…In the same manner, there is a marked difference between the Shaman and the druid, though the unlearned layman would not immediately recognize the contrast. Yes, my friend, you are hardly a layman, but the differences between Shaman and druid are easy to miss, to those who know little of the former. Understandable, really; most Shamans have been reclusive hermits, while druids are easily identified.

    "I blame the druid's observed disposition toward frilly robes and walking around barefoot, personally. Alas, forgive my prattling. You desire knowledge, and, happily, have come to the right person! I shall keep my descriptions as brief yet bountiful as possible, as you'll no doubt wish to argue the minutiae and underlying theories in person.

    "A druid is a practitioner of, first, Spiritual magic; in the execution of some of their duties, such as the purification of a being or location, druids call on old, named Spirits to assist them. Old British or Norse culture would call them gods, but primitive man would not have been able to tell the difference; indeed, I've often a difficult time relating such distinctions to my apprentices! These Spirits take on many forms here in the Mundane realm, as you are no doubt aware, but usually will reflect the Spirit's idea of how they should appear before our eyes; generally, especially so in the case of fertility "gods", such Spirits will, instead of taking on humanoid or animal forms, manifest as rays of light or shadow, or simply as a fleeting "presence" in the world. This is more to ensure the acting druid or druids are not overtaxed by the raw, overwhelming power these great Spirits hold; more druids does not improve the likelihood of a corporeal Spirit, by the way.

    "Secondly, a druid, given their limited (and this must be stressed, a druid's influence is far less in this aspect than that of a Shaman) ability to access the Spiritual realms, is able to recognize and, with practice and learning, influence the speed and breadth of growing things; not only in the professions of gardening or arborism, but these abilities also manifest in some minor form of geomancy. The isles of Britain are a prime example of the beauty possible when many druids work in tandem, over centuries, to fashion the land.

    "It, however, must again be stressed that the average, singular druid is not very powerful, in the sense of large or spectacular magic; many of the wonders wrought by the great druids of old, Hogwarts, the standing stones of Essex, Wales and Scotland, Uffington White Horse and its surrounding points of interest, to name a few, were only possible through large, lengthily and exhaustive rituals, at most involving more than one hundred druids; in the case of Hogwarts, they were of course assisted by the Mage Founders. Nevertheless, you are correct: a druid's garden is quite the sight!

    "Conversely, a single Shaman (with Spirit-familiar) raised the Tower of Babel and founded the Arborist Guild in Babylon; through a ritual produced and executed by a single Shaman, the Great Library at Alexandria cannot be stolen from, set aflame, or otherwise vandalized; the foundations of the Alhambra, the city of Tenochtitlan, and certain parts of the Forbidden City were all created by singular Shamans.

    "On the other side of this coin most intriguing, Herpo the Foul, may Marduk curse his name and deeds forever, was a Shaman turned to Dark paths; I hardly need relate the Black Fiend's many dark and terrible works to you. Thankfully, as of this writing, he remains the only Shaman who openly reveled in the Darkness. Others have been seduced to an, again thankfully, lesser extent, and have either been found out and slain or lived their lives in bitter reclusion and contemplation.

    "That, my friend, is the main difference between druid and Shaman: personal, individual power. A single Shaman is capable of changing the world in ways that would take thousands of druids to accomplish. The reason for this, as you have stated your library lacking in this knowledge, is thankfully known to me; I shall elucidate forthwith.

    "To become Shaman, one must begin their path with respect to nature, to Gaia, Mother Earth if you will; there is little instruction involved in the beginning of each Shaman's path, which is to say that there is no master/apprentice affair, no tome or scroll that can teach a person to become Shaman. It is a way of thinking, of behaving, that draws the attention of Spirits and, in that holy marriage of soul and magic that is a Spiritual Bond, brings the attention of Mother Earth upon the rare individual who arrives at this state of being.

    "Forgive me, but the fine details of how this selection takes place are unknown to all I have interviewed on this subject, save Persephone of course; unfortunately, and I hardly need relate the reason, as you know it well beyond my ken, I was rebuffed at the request for an audience. Interestingly, however, there does not appear to be a minimum age limit; a child may happen upon this mindset, and become Shaman! Such a feat is rare, of course, but you are correct in that Shaman Jander was one of the youngest, having attained the mantle at a mere 15 autumns.

    "What follows is not from my own observations, but from the records of the Arborist Guild: should this individual, whether they be human, centaur or, yea, even House Elf, should they stand before the soul of our world that is Gaia and be seen with favor, they then become Shaman: the conduit for Her will and magic, an agent of Nature itself.

    "Any language spoken upon the Earth, be it of man or beast, mundane or magical, a Shaman understands and may speak with ease; inherited magical languages, such as Parseltongue and Draakensprek, excluded. Any land upon which such a being stands shall respond to their will and magic, for the Shaman's will is seen as Gaia's, made manifest; apparently, there are exceptions to this last observation, such as in the case of large cities or areas that are barren of both magic and life. The why of this, however, remains a matter of fierce debate amongst my peers, one which I am hesitant to engage in; I am but a humble teacher, and those arguments could be held in an arena, or upon a dueling stage.

    "It is said, and on this we have only rumor and hearsay, as this phenomena has rarely been observed, that a Shaman may commune at will with any of the Spiritual planes; yea, verily, it is also said that a Shaman is not physically nor magically limited to the Mundane realm at all, but that they may walk the manifold planes that brush against our own yet are as different from our world as earth and sky.

    "For all this grand power, however, a price has been observed; tis a theory of mine, that Gaia limits each Shaman to a select "expression" of her will, for each Shaman has exhibited individually unique abilities with each iteration. Take Shaman Khepri for instance, Cleopatra's Royal Consort and one of history's most famed Shamans; many are the legends of her awesome and terrible power, of the plagues and sandstorms and swarms of insects she inflicted upon the invading Romans. Yet her self-appointed title in the Book of Queens is 'Shaman of the Daystar'; to wit, her abilities centered on the powers of Sol, the Sun itself, along with the powers all Shaman possess! Tales there are where she brings drought and blistering sunlight to waylay an attempt on the Sinai by the Parthian Empire, or, with but a word, flooded the Nile following a bleak Winter at the great river's headwaters.

    "Likewise, there is Shaman Tlaloc of Azteca, who brought such fertility and bounty to his people, yet is reviled by the Anasazi as "Blood Rain Fiend" in what writings remain of that reduced people; for all this, his title amongst those remaining Azteca is, indeed, 'Bounteous Shaman'.

    "Do not bother looking for a book or other text which mentions this last. You'll have to travel to Angkor Wat to find the relevant scrolls, located in that illustrious redoubt's many reliquaries and vaults. However, as you no doubt have found in Shaman Jander's notebooks, Tlaloc, toward the end of his life, was indeed much more readily accepted by the Tibetans for regulating the monsoon seasons that, for centuries, were thrown out of sync with the natural cycle of things; though this is as you expected, I hesitate to relate the details in writing.

    "Should you find yourself wanting a vacation from that dank and rainy place you have the nerve to call a country, I will be more than happy to assist you and your lovely wife on a pilgrimage along the Silk Road to Angkor Wat so we may look upon these writings and, by your leave, happily debate their merits and implications…"

    -from a letter addressed to Nicolas Flamel
    written by Grand Magus Yvette Salome
    dated April 1667
    Budapest Historic Letter Archive
    Restricted File Department


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    …And through the window I beheld
    golden fields beneath golden horizon,
    and I knew, then, that mine eyes stared
    upon that rarest of visions, beyond mortal ken.

    Through the window I stepped, laid hand
    upon shining grain, listened raptly to the song
    echoing from far off, and then
    it came: the guardian of this holy den.

    No word was spoke, no description can justify;
    yet I knew the mind of the Archon,
    in that hallowed bastion beyond the sky.
    I wept, and turned, and departed once more,
    for t'was not yet my time.

    Yet ever do I dream, and in dreaming, return
    to that far off wonder, my home, where
    we all will one day find rest eternal:
    Elysium.

    -from "The Long Journey"
    Author Unknown
    Excerpt from a cache of letters and scrolls
    found in a cave near
    Thebes, Greece, 687 CE
    Translated and published in Letters and Verse of the Ancient World, by Various,
    Compiled by the Great Library at Alexandria, 922 CE

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    Chapter 9
    The Twilight Shepherds


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    The afternoon that followed James and Vera's visit to the stables was merrier than said visit, mainly because James kept his promise to the Fae. Though the truth behind the revenant, the fact that the soul pinned within its body wasn't there willingly, darkened his thoughts at first, James, Vera and the Triplets started feeling better once they were back in the shining light of the Gardens and got some lunch in them.

    So it was that, with fresh corn beef and pickle sandwiches warming his stomach, James sat on one of the riotously-colored benches surrounding the Silver Sapling and withdrew, from the depths of his pack, his blue-fabric-bound first edition copy of Tolkien's Silmarillion.

    The pages were only slightly yellowed with age and handling, but the spine was still strong and unbent, the book's dark blue cover stainless, it's title and four-leaved symbol still gleaming with faded gold in the afternoon Sun reflecting off the Sapling. Even now, as Faeries and Griffons both began gathering about while James smiled fondly at the tome and Vera made herself comfortable at his left thigh, he still couldn't believe someone tossed this treasure in the bargain bin! Jean would've had a fit!

    "So, James," James looked up to find Melfina walking amongst her quietly tittering subjects, carrying a blue-and-red checkered blanket under an arm, which she unfurled onto the emerald green grass nearby with a smile, "I hear you've got a song or story for us Faerie." A squeaky raucous of cheers was the Walnut Court's answer.

    As James smiled bashfully at the Faerie's eagerness for a tale (surely they'd heard and read plenty, with their library and all!), he noticed Nadira perking up and beckoning at the sky with a claw. Matthew landed a moment later, glancing about curiously, whereupon the female Griffon pulled him down and began whispering into his ear excitedly.

    In fact, there was Gregory, looking over from his resting spot with interest! And the other Griffons that tended the Gardens!

    Surprised he'd drawn such a crowd, James cleared his throat and told Landlady, "Well… they're not my songs or stories, but I think everyone here'll appreciate a tale that's rather grand!"

    Around another round of eager exclamations and the quiet grumbling of Mr. Vileclaw, who stumped over to Melfina's blanket and settled himself on a low chair Sir Cookie, who'd appeared further away in a hedge's shade, conjured with a finger snap, James went on in an officious tone, as was worth Sir Tolkien's great work, "While I was in school, my first friend and fellow explorer, Jean, showed me a book written by the same author who wrote this," a tap on the blue cover, "and that book was called The Hobbit.

    "I liked it so much that I looked for other books written by the man, one Dr. John R. R. Tolkien, professor of literature, and found this," James held up the book, spine out, and panned it about so all the curious Fae and Griffons could peer at the gold lettering, "A first edition copy of the world he wrote of, and all its millennia of history, The Silmarillion."

    Carefully settling the book's spine in his palm, James smiled to all and bade, "Be warned, this book won't be finished today, as I'm a busy Shaman and you're all busy Faeries and Griffons," a humored laugh came from all, Melfina giving her Court a mock-stern look, "Now, our tale begins, as any great, wonderful, tragic, beautiful tale should, at the beginning of all things, in the unformed mists of ancient times, before the first songs were sung, before any bird cried… and," James smiled wider, but his eyes were serious, "indeed, before the world as we know it came into existence."

    With the gathered Fae and Griffons of the Walnut Court now listening attentively with the odd flick and rustle of wing, and Vera wiggling in anticipation against his arm, James opened the book and turned to the first chapter.

    "Ainulindale," he read the first title, voice even and face sober, "The Music of the Ainur." Taking one more deep breath, James read.

    "There was Eru, The One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar…"

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    Melfina watched with wonder as James finished the beginning of what was surely to become a fantastic tale, the boy seeming to more than stand there as Vera all but vibrated upon a bench and watched her Shaman regale the Court, wide vulpine grin firmly in place:

    "'I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other. Therefore I say: !" James threw a hand into the air with a great shout, his childish yet grand voice carrying to every raptly listening ear! "'Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be; and those of you that will may go down into it.' And suddenly the Ainur saw afar off a light, as it were a cloud with a living heart of flame; and they knew that this was no vision only, but that Iluvatar had made a new thing: Eä, the World that Is."

    Before James could go on, a cheer came up from the gathered Fae and Griffons, making the boy start and blush with a pleased yet bashful grin, and Melfina's voice was among them as she applauded the tale thus far! Her good friend Vile stamped his cane into the ground and Gregory lightly slapped his tail against a path in their own approximations of applause, with Cookie shouting "Oo-De-Lally!" to much laughter and repetitions of the cheer.

    Once the most recent raucous died down, James found his place and went on with the story, but Melfina only gave it half an ear as a humming of wings heralded Lisanna's arrival on the Landlady's picnic blanket, followed by that of her sister's soft whispering, "I have heard many creation myths in my day, but this, Mel, this one may be the best; Manwe seems like one of the High Dragons, and this Melkor seems much like what we have heard of the Black Fiend."

    While Melfina agreed with her sister, she still shushed Lisa and hissed, "We will speak on this later, my sister, for I wish to hear what happens next!" A grinning, vigorous nod was her answer as, before them, James detailed the first days of Ea, and not a few listeners shivered at hearing of that first war, before time was counted, between those Ainur who became the Valar and the greedy usurper, Melkor:

    "…and they built lands and Melkor destroyed them; valleys they delved and Melkor raised them up; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down; seas they hollowed and Melkor spilled them; and naught might have peace or come to lasting growth, for as surely as the Valar began a labour so would Melkor undo it or corrupt it. And yet their labour was not all in vain; and though nowhere and in no work was their will and purpose wholly fulfilled, and all things were in hue and shape other than the Valar had at first intended, slowly nonetheless the Earth was fashioned and made firm. And thus was the habitation of the Children of Iluvatar established at the last in the Deeps of Time and amidst the innumerable stars.

    "So concludes the Ainulindale. I hope you all found it enjoyable," finished James, tucking a stray leaf between the pages as a bookmark before bowing to his audience, who nearly drowned out the young lad's final words with their loudest cheer yet!

    Amidst the cheers, Melfina heard one of her Court say to another, "See there, Ulrich! How's that match up to the Playwright, then?" Others were calling for more of the story, whilst still others were asking silly questions that, Melfina felt, would no doubt be answered further into that blue text held in the young Shaman's hands.

    Therefore, she stood, Vileclaw's gravelly voice yelling for quiet over the din; her Fae knew better than to go against Vile's word, as they all knew it was as good as Mel's, such was their friendship and fondness for one another. But, though all were now silent and every eye turned to their leader, she didn't speak, yet.

    The approval of her fellows and tenants came first.

    First, she looked to Sandor, who was seated near his grandson. The great eagle Griffon nodded once, a pleased look in his amber eyes; behind him, Gregory's smiling face and the eager gaze directed at the Shaman were answer enough. Next, Melfina's seafoam eyes found Cookie, who was smiling wider than she could easily remember; near him, hiding in the hedge that shaded the former Seelie Scribe, the House Elf Asha's wide blue eyes were looking to James in wonder.

    Finally, she looked to a nearby stream, where a few Merrow were already nodding to her unasked question. She needn't look to Vileclaw, as he'd hummed thoughtfully wherever the Valar Aule was mentioned; Shepherd was with his relatives on the Isle of Man collecting fish and other foodstuffs for the Manor's winter stores, as was his wont each year, and would not return until early October, but Mel had no doubt the young Selkie's voice would have been amongst those calling for more of this tale.

    Only then did she favor James with a smile, declaring for all to hear, "This Tolkien fellow spins a fine tale, and you tell it well, James Stormcaller; and that is very high praise indeed, to come from the Fae Folk! Therefore, at your convenience, I would like you to tell the tale further… once a week, perhaps?" That went over well with her Court and tenants, a murmur of approval running through the throngs.

    The lad looked about to agree, but then he blinked, and, around the shadow of a mischievous smirk, gave his answer, "That seems fair Landlady, and it'll be my pleasure! Say, every Wednesday?" Melfina was about to nod, happy with this easy arrangement, when James quickly added, "And, if you'll please, I'd like some of your musicians, so I might teach them the songs Tolkien wrote!"

    That went over very well with much of her Court, dozens of cliques volunteering for the job in mere moments, with such volume and exuberance Melfina didn't know where to look first!

    'The little brat pranked me! Ha! Right, lad, you get a free one,' letting the little jest go as just that, Mel was about to select a clique of five who were shouting loudest and, from her memory, were not particularly responsible for duties beyond the tending of the forest, when Breech cried over the swell of voices.

    "We saw 'em first, ye ruddy vultures!" crowed the young Fae in challenge, flying to her favored spot on James' hat, her brothers flanking her at the surprised Shaman's shoulders and glaring down any who'd approach, the little Faerie she's accent becoming heavier with her excitement, "Iffin' any of ye wanna fiddle fer James and Vera here, ye'll hav'ta oust us first!"

    "Settle down," Melfina drawled, which quelled the arguments immediately; after thinking on it for a moment, the Landlady struck a thoughtful pose and spoke officiously, "So be it: the Triplets will provide what music James the Shaman requires for this tale," cue disappointed groan of much of her Court, "and I will assign further accompaniment, should an orchestra prove more appropriate."

    Then she grinned widely, happily, and declared once more, "And no doubt we will need one, before this tale has ended! Your manner of storytelling is rather grand indeed, James Stormcaller, the best telling I've heard since the Playwright put on a merry show for Summer and Winter long ago! Let there be a story!"

    Another loud cheer was the response to her declaration, Shaman and kitsune joining in the merriment; Nadira even managed to approach, with her beau in tow, and babble to James and Vera for a few moments, while the former Scribes and their Goblin tenant convened near the hedges.

    Cookie was still smiling as he observed, "I have not seen such joy in our Court, not for many decades at least! By the Reed," he glanced to Lisanna, who held a thoughtful expression upon her face, "have you heard nothing of this Story-Spinner Tolkien, Librarian?"

    After a moment of thought, Lisanna let out a frustrated huff and admitted with a smile, "By the Reed indeed, Cookie, I have not! Given that it is a tale from the Mundane world, however…" she shrugged before looking down her nose at Vileclaw, "And what of you, Goblin? Have you heard tell of this man in your dealings?"

    "The name does ring a bell," the old Goblin said slowly, rubbing a temple as he thought on the matter before saying to Melfina, "If you might assist an aging accountant, dear Landlady; I'm sure the name is written somewhere in my records, but…" he shrugged, and Mel understood, though she still huffed before answering her good friend.

    "And so, you need someone better equipped in manuscript organization and managerial acumen, not to mention a fully-functional spine, of course," though one might take offense at such words, they were said with eager fondness, and were responded to with a rueful, toothy smile from Vile; it was about time the old rock-muncher asked for her aid in cleaning up that mess he called his "vaults"! "I accept freely, Vile; now, enough on the matter of this author," her merry smile fell away, replaced by a visage of seriousness, "Our resident Shaman's voice… did you all notice it?"

    Cookie sobered up quickly, though there was some of that old Seelie mischievousness behind those grey eyes of his, "That he is unconsciously lacing his words with magic? Oh yes! I nearly thought I was in the story, or that the lad is more Bard than Shaman, so potent and subtle is this ability; not since… well," he glanced at Lisanna with a wary look, "Not since our Exile have I born witness to such a feat."

    "You needn't step around nettle in my presence, Cookie, I am not some delicate flower, as you well know," responded Lisanna easily, though her brow was lightly furrowed in concentrated thought; while she went on a moment later, Melfina watched Shaman and kitsune, out the corner of her eye, take their leave of the Gardens with the Triplets after bidding Gregory a fond farewell, "In fact, I agree… mostly. T'was much like the orchestral Glamours employed by the Grand Courts, yet different somehow, far more subtle indeed… Asha!" a loud squeak of surprised fright made Vile chuckle lowly as Mel's sister finished with easy grace, "The way his vocal magic behaves, is it alike what House Elves use to protect their charges?"

    Out of the hedge, a short figure stepped; she wore a small poncho of bright green which partially hid a satchel and belt containing a variety of tools that helped the young House-Elf in her duties around the Manor. Her skin was darker than British House-Elves, and her ears were pierced near their pointed tips with small hoops of silver, a common affectation amongst Elves enslaved to the Ottoman Empire.

    Brought to Britain as a babe by her father Rafiq, Asha usually kept out from underfoot where the denizens of Walnut Manor were concerned, content to move about unseen as she aided in the sprawling building's upkeep; nonetheless, Rafiq had trained his daughter in defensive magics due to the revenant's persistence, and all the Fae, Griffons and Merrow of the Walnut Court treated the House-Elf, whose dark hair was always in a beautiful braid, with the utmost respect.

    That she was the one who'd fixed the plumbing had much to do with the young Elf's reputation amongst the Exiled Court, in Melfina's honest opinion.

    Wringing her hands, Asha replied eagerly yet hesitantly, with a vigorous nod that made her long ears flap, "Oh yes, Madame Librarian! Young Master James' way of speaking is… being close to how House-Elves protects their masters… but," Asha frowned a little, an odd expression for a House-Elf, and, after glancing about warily, murmured, "…They be listening, Ladies and Lords of Walnut Manor."

    Melfina stiffened, quickly asking, "Who? Who is listening?" Lisanna glanced about casually, but none of the Fae were eavesdropping, knowing better than to ear-farm their Landlady's conversations, and the Griffons and Merrow were both departed to their duties and homes.

    Pursing her lips, Asha beckoned to the leaders of the Court and Vileclaw; once they'd leaned in closer, the female House-Elf glanced at the Sapling and whispered to both Fae and Goblin, "Spirits, Sirs and Missies. They be hearing young master James' voice, and be hearkening to it. The Sapling be singing louder because of this, Asha thinks, and her papa agrees."

    Blinking in pleasant surprise at this news, Mel turned her senses to listening to the Sapling; her soul was still unformed and fluid, happy for the moment with immersing itself into the Garden's inherent magic…

    But where before there was a chiming, keening sound, there were now undertones of nature! A distant rumble of thunderstorm over a wide, calm sea provided the melody for a rudimentary, ululating aria that spoke to Melfina's most primitive side; not the animal, but who she'd been before attaining her position of Scribe: the romantic, the idealist, the indomitable presence that impressed her fellow Scribes so and, ultimately, ensured her eventual Exile.

    It was the furthest thing from unpleasant, and it left Melfina with a feeling of 'home' in her soul and magic.

    'He caused the Sapling to stir with but a short tale!' thought Landlady with awe; even at her best, even with both her fellow Scribes assisting, she'd not been able to influence the Sapling at all, for all these years!

    Truly, a Shaman was as impressive as the old stories said.

    "Well," drawled Cookie with small humor; looking to him, Melfina saw the pink-haired Faerie sticking that long silver pipe of his between pointed teeth, an eager gleam in his steely eyes, "I now wonder what themes he'll sing, and how the Triplets will grow at his side."

    An old pain flared in Mel's chest, remembering how the Triplets had been orphaned, and the curse laid on her by Winter; she dismissed both, as such woolgathering was pointless here. The three were happier, as was her entire Court, since James' arrival. It now fell to their Landlady to ensure this happiness didn't die out.

    "Never-mind, for now. We have work to do."

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    A fortnight after that first reading, as evening approached on the appropriate Friday of the week, Lisanna the Librarian left her demesne with the intention of dragging a wayward Shaman and his kitsune familiar to their lessons on Glamour, followed by the basics of Transfiguration, by their ears if need be.

    Not that the powerful former Unseelie was annoyed by the young human in question, nor the bubbly fox at his side; far from it! In the past weeks James had related further on the tale written by this great Story-Spinner, Tolkien, who was apparently quite the renowned author; how he'd escaped the Librarian's notice could be easily attributed to her unfortunate ignorance where the Mundane world was concerned.

    Lisanna blamed the advent of Muggle industry, which disgusted her to no end. Polluting the skies and choking the trees just so they could move faster across the world, bah and fie!

    Happily, Vileclaw, with Melfina's assistance (and wasn't that a development, her sister's eagerness to assist the aged grump), found several old paperbacks in his vast coffers which related another section of Tolkien's tale; dubbed The Lord of the Rings, old Vile admitted they were an early Saturnalia gift from young Remus, shortly after the Werewolf began wintering on the Manor's grounds seven years ago. The three small books were, therefore, skimmed before being forgotten amongst Vile's multitudinous baubles and trinkets.

    The last was hardly a surprise, in the Librarian's disgusted opinion; why dear Mel continued to allow the rock-munching little shite forbid Lisanna's assistance in cataloguing and preserving the many priceless pieces of literary history, gathering dust and rotting within his halls…

    It made her wings itch and ears burn, it did, to know such relics and wonders were lying just out of reach, neglected by that… that... pack-rat!

    Happily, James' relating of the Spring of Arda, and the creation of the Two Trees of Valinor, and of the secrets of Iluvatar concerning Men and Elves, these things kept Lisanna from seeking out a kelpie or travelling abroad to hunt a manticore, as was her previous mode of stress relief. The visions the Shaman-

    (and his kitsune, Vera, whose happy voice read of 'trees like unto mountains' and other bright passages, to the surprised joy of the Fae: a kitsune, bringing a story to the ears of the Faerie! Who would have thought or guessed at such a happening?!)

    -wove for the Walnut Court, beneath the great namesake at the Manor's center, were more than enough for Lisa's heart to calm and cool in the face of denied knowledge.

    That Cookie, Rafiq and Asha took the occasions as an excuse to prepare delightful picnics certainly helped.

    But this day was the Friday at the beginning of the month of September, and was marked by many happenings: t'was the First of the month, and the leylines of Britain were, this morn, agitated by parents bringing their children to the Hogwarts Express; the previous night had been the finale of the Moon's most recent cycle, and a new cycle would begin tonight as silver Luna began waxing once more; and, finally and most importantly, three weeks from now was the Autumnal Equinox, and would be marked by a waning Quarter Moon.

    These portents meant that spent magic was rich and thrumming through the hills, dells and downs of Great Britain, and would for at least a month, as had been the norm for time immemorial since Hogwarts' founding. Which also meant, with the revenant being pinned by Yavanna (apt name that, Lisanna felt once the appropriate tale was related by James and Vera's readings), the Walnut Court's harvest would be more bountiful than the last decade at least!

    Additionally, Lisa mused as she approached the closed door to James and Vera's apartment, she might actually get the Shaman and Bonded Spirit to accomplish what neither human nor kitsune, in all history, had been able to do before: weave a Faerie Glamour from ambient magic.

    James was already capable of becoming invisible (and, most interestingly, Melfina and Lisanna discovered this ability was also tied into a minor Notice-Me-Not), as was Vera by extension, but neither were able to change their appearance at will.

    Yet, that is, for Lisanna felt confident, given the pair's seemingly effortless ability to draw on ambient magic for their works, that Shaman and kitsune could prove the old Faerie sages wrong and accomplish the impossible.

    Then she could return to the Winter Court, present her findings, and rub that smug bitch Mab's fat nose in it!

    Not bothering to knock, Lisanna threw the door to James' room wide with a mock-annoyed statement, "When I set a time for your lessons, Shaman, I expect to… be… heeded?" which trailed off into incomprehension at the sight before her.

    James was looking at her with wide eyes, his robes bunched about the beltline, and the Triplets were each holding a short paintbrush; they'd painted esoteric Runes (which the Librarian, to her irritation, didn't recognize) all over his bare arms and equally bare torso like winding snakes. About the Shaman's eyes and brow, a five-headed serpentine creature was painted amidst the shining scale-patterned kohl: the central head, positioned betwixt the boy's eyebrows, was looking straight ahead, whilst the other four were looking outward on the left and right, both up and down. His staff was laid next to his kneeling seat, the rattle on the coffee table before him, where reams of parchment, strewn with countless notes and inky pawprints, weighed the furniture down.

    Then there was the kitsune, who was also painted with kohl, save in the image of roiling waves, and there were little ropes, festooned with simple bells, nuts-in-the-shell, and small clay tablets etched with Eastern characters tied on her tails and ankles, and about her neck; a scaly weave of silver kohl decorated her own wide, surprised orbs as she perked up on her seat amidst the many notes and papers.

    The Triplets were, thankfully, not decorated in such ways, but she saw their chosen instruments (a flute for Louie, Snapper's lute, and Breech's set of bagpipes) laid out on one of James' couches; oh, and each was holding a small piece of parchment with those unusual Runes drawn on, and were dressed as though for festival, with small daisy-chains crowning their heads.

    Lisanna… did not know how to react to this sight most odd, so she just stared at the young Faerie clique, who'd frozen in place over James' shoulders and chest at the Librarian's entrance, and frowned. With displeasure.

    After a deep, anxious breath, Breech looked at the Shaman's chest and squeaked, "Yeah, I think we done got everything, James!" and the little Fae flitted over to her bagpipes after depositing her brush in a cup of water, her brothers following her example with likewise statements.

    "Ah, err, brilliant!" stammered out James as his mind caught up with his eyes, taking up his staff and shrugging his robes back on, though he left his chest bare, "Librarian, good evening! Sorry, but I can't make our lessons this eve-"

    "Fie and nonsense, boy," whispered Lisa in barely-restrained upset, staring at the young human's chest; there were faint scars there, hinting at the Shaman's troubled past as Harry Potter, but the lad was building up nicely with regular meals and exercise.

    Not that this tempered the Librarian's furor much as she hissed through clenched teeth, "What do those Runes do, where did you find them, and what in the Seasons are you five up to?"

    It was Vera who answered happily, as she strode to her Shaman's legs with purpose, "They're Parsel-Runes, and they'll protect James an' me from harm. We learned them from Khepri in the Fade," went on the kitsune mercilessly as Lisanna felt a headache forming, "And we're off to send that revenant packing!" and the little furball nodded, like that was that!

    Which it most certainly was not, not if Lisanna had anything to say of it! "You may have misinterpreted my query, kitsune," hissed the Librarian coldly, making the Water Spirit gulp and move a little closer to James, who wilted slightly, "so I shall ask again: what. Do. The. Runes. Do?"

    "Ah," began James, the young man looking understandably nervous, "They're meant to keep any Dark influences or ambient magic from harming me or Vera," Lisanna nodded slowly, committing several of the strange Runes to memory, "Um, and the kohl mask, it's called the Hydra," he indicated the scaly whirls, which were moving slightly, "It protects from… uh, other Dark stuff, that can affect my mind, see, and helps correct my vision a little, though I still need glasses," he finished with a humored frown.

    The Librarian digested the young Shaman's words with folded arms and narrowed eyes, 'Parsel-Runes. Like Parseltongue, but as a magical language in the mode of Elder Futhark and Celt. Fascinating.' Making a mental note to have James explain the syntax and uses to her at a later time, Lisanna asked aloud, but with less coldness, "And you believe that some Runes and kohl will ensure victory in battle over the revenant?" Folly, no matter their response.

    If a revenant could be defeated through force of arms, they wouldn't be such a grave threat, and none of the Exiles would have been slain.

    To her not inconsiderable surprise, James shook his head and smiled sadly, "No, Librarian. We're not going to fight him."

    The kitsune at his ankles nodded swiftly and seriously, "We're gonna set him free!"

    That… was not what she wanted to hear. Therefore, Lisanna glared at the Triplets and asked, "Detail what you are about to attempt, now."

    Breech flinched at the last word, but stood up straight and proud as she replied for her clique, "Yavanna's been puttin' down magic the whole time she's been sat there, right? Well," the little Fae shrugged when Lisanna gave a single nod in reply, "James an' Vera are gonna use that to break the enchantment keepin' the thing bound…" she glanced at James with a frown, "Uh, how's that work again?"

    James sighed and looked ruefully at Lisanna, "I checked a couple books about types of undead, and it said a revenant was a, and this is a quote, 'willing, hateful soul that's been bound to a fleshy prison', unquote. But this revenant, according to Yavanna, wasn't willing when he was made," and the young Shaman knelt to adjust a couple of the rattles on Vera's body…
    While said kitsune took up the thread of the story, "So, seeing as me an' James are Shaman and familiar, and we got a connection to Yavanna-"

    That was all Lisanna needed; she was a tree sprite by birth, after all, "You intend to use the natural, raw magic that Yavanna has been saturating the stables with, and break the revenant's body?" happy nods were had all around, the clique, Shaman and kitsune clearly delighted the older Faerie understood.

    However, this only added to the Librarian's headache. The Court which found Walnut Manor and its surrounding lands had tried just such a thing, not long after their arrival; however, after losing two Scribes and over thirty lesser Fae making such an attempt, Melfina, Lisanna and Cookie felt a physical barrier was the better measure, at least until they could find a way to destroy the filthy thing.

    On the other hand, James was Shaman; tales of the Old World abounded on what such beings were capable of, from Khepri to Jander to Archimedes to the heroes and villains of the Black Decade. They were figures spoken of in the same breath as the High Dragons and Grand Magi.

    And these were as nothing to the spurious myths and legends surrounding Atlantis, and the Winter Endless following its fall, which pre-dated the rule of Mab and Titania by myrietes*.

    Additionally, there was Yavanna to consider; a greater Spirit of Compassion was nothing to scoff at. One might argue that such a Spirit, called by a Shaman and bound into a Nature avatar, would be the absolute nemesis of any undead creature. There was also the fact that the three Scribes hadn't tried the Nature approach since the failed attempt, partly because of the pain of loss that sat as scars upon their hearts, and because the Silver Sapling hadn't matured.

    James was Shaman, and Vera, while young, was quite talented. With the Triplets backing them up (the method they'd use probably required music, if the physical evidence said anything), and Yavanna to guide their hands and magic, they may just succeed in this endeavor.

    Even so, there was one last matter the Librarian needed to clarify, and did so quietly, in a severe tone, "The creature, whether willing or no, slaughtered many of our kind, and has hampered the renewal of these lands to such an extent that the whole remains injured, as it has poisoned each of our attempts in the same way Melkor poisoned the Spring of Arda," James nodded in understanding, as did Vera, but neither relented in their near-pugnacious visages of surety, even when Lisa hissed out, "I cannot forgive that, James. Melfina, though she is far kinder than I, grieved for every life lost, every branch and twig carefully nurtured only to fall to this thing's poison… she will not forgive the beast for spilling the blood of her Court.

    "Knowing this, and knowing that I believe you when you say the soul pinned therein has done these things unwillingly, I ask you, Shaman, kitsune: what shall become of this troubled soul?"

    Lisanna expected another long-winded explanation, or for the Shaman and kitsune to begin digging furiously though their notes, or for the Triplets to brag and bluster.

    She did not expect the Triplets to congregate about the kitsune, the Sprit letting the trio ride her as one would a beast of burden…

    And, out of James' satchel, the Shaman withdrew a branch and held it up, without a word, for Lisanna the Librarian's shocked inspection.

    A sprig of mistletoe.

    The Bough of Gold.

    For the first time in many, many centuries, Lisanna spluttered, "You… cannot be serious!"

    "It will work," there was no inflection in young James' tone, merely a statement of fact, as though he were no mere boy, but a seasoned wizard who had faced such foes dozens of times.

    …given that he was Shaman, and the peculiarities of the Fade, however…

    But Lisanna had a Court to protect. Melfina was their leader, and Lisanna was the equivalent of her Knight.

    So when she spoke, it was with authority, "This day was not chosen by accident or whim?" negative head shakes were had, though there was impatience in their bearings; the Librarian understood. The Sun was setting.

    "Very well," she relented at last, marshalling her magic for what would come, "On the condition that I and the senior members of the Court, along with what guards will stand fast, shall oversee your work."

    James nodded, though a change was coming over him, a… peace, Lisa presumed, "Then go and prepare, Librarian… oh and," he looked the bashful child once more, "sorry for springing this on you so sudden and all."

    But Lisanna only grinned, all teeth, "Should you succeed in this battle, James Stormcaller, Vera Stream-Strider, Triplets, and those of the Sunless Lands not take offense to your trespass, the Walnut Court will sing the tale of your life, long after you have gone to Gaia's side. I have waited for this day for far too long. Now," she stood out of their way, "Go. I must rouse the Court."

    And they left the room with brisk haste, heading for the Gardens, leaving Lisanna to her thoughts.

    'They will likely detour about the Sapling before approaching the stables, so our young Shaman and his kitsune will have the pure magic for this task,' Lisanna smiled brightly before heading to the windows, a musical whistle leaving her teeth; with a grey flash, she wore the masterwork wooden cuirass, gauntlets, greaves and helm the near-one-thousand-year-old Scribe wore in the Realm of Twilight.

    Oak dark and gleaming with power, it fitted her body perfectly as Lisanna threw the blue window wide and launched herself into the sky, summoning her rime-coated bident with a vengeful laugh that echoed over the Manor. The revenant, the hated foe of her Court, would fall this eve!

    She felt Melfina's eye on her, and a query along the ethereal strings of magic that bound the three Faerie Scribes together; at the Librarian's response, Lisa felt both her siblings in all but blood spring into action, Cookie directing the House-Elves to seal off the kitchens and Mel darting away to fetch Vileclaw, as the old Goblin would relish a good challenge. And if he died? Ha! The old Gob would see it as a good end, to die in battle; in this way only was he a typical Goblin, and that, if nothing else, commanded Lisanna's respect.

    But this was far from her mind. Drawing a breath of air and magic, Lisanna the Librarian called out to her fellow Faerie guards, and their griffon counterparts, "TO ARMS! SURROUND THE STABLES, FOR THE BEAST SHALL FALL THIS EVE! THE SHAMAN COMES TO BANISH IT FROM MUNDUS! IT HAS SEEN ITS LAST SUNRISE! TO ARMS!"

    A cry of righteousness and purpose was her answer, the Faeries and Griffons who long stood vigilant about the stables beating their wings loudly in support; primal shrieks came from the nearby lake, the Merrow therein sending their best to protect the small streams that wound their way to the Gardens, its arboreal green shining bright as Gregory let life and magic flow into the forests.

    The golden beacon of Yavanna shone brighter for it, and the revenant cried out hatefully, to Lisanna's pleasure.

    Her wasp wings beat hard as she shot away from the Manor, aiming for a tree within sight of the stables where she could intervene, should James' and Vera's plan go to pot; as Melfina arrived with Vileclaw in tow and Cookie appeared beneath her perch with a burst of Spring-scented magic, the Librarian sent a prayer to Gaia even as she explained the plan to her fellows, 'Look with favor on your son, Mother of All, as he goes to do your will.'

    [..|..]

    James was afraid.

    Even after last night, when he and Vera dreamt in the Fade once more, seeking Khepri's guidance and wisdom, a thorn of fear had dug into his heart and refused to yield.

    A week ago, he'd finally found a book that told of revenants, The Great Explorer's Handbook by Hansel Kopernik; they were scary, James thought, and it underlined just how strong the one here was, to defy all attempts at ousting by the Faerie who called this Manor home.

    It assuaged him that this one wasn't, apparently, capable of speech, but it was still classed XXXX, on par with things like a Manticore or Griffon (he hadn't met any of the former, but the latter seemed nice enough). Vera's water wouldn't be able to wash it away, and James wasn't strong enough to break the spells keeping the soul bound to the monster's body. Not alone.

    "Trust in Yavanna, James. Trust in yourself, and in Vera. Gaia stands with you, my dears. Sing, and set this right."

    Even with Khepri's warm words, even with his friends following dutifully, even with Yavanna's light warming him as they left the Gardens and approached the broken axle, and even knowing that the song he planned to sing should do the trick…

    James still felt afraid. Not of the revenant, no, but of the power he'd stumbled upon.

    In the span of just over a month, he'd gone from being a starving boy who lived in a boot cupboard, to a friend of Nature, Shaman. He'd thought that his problems would be solved, but it'd only complicated things; James felt small, even with the expectant and encouraging feeling of the surrounding lands warming his skin in the increasingly-misty twilight…

    Speaking of which… "Hey Breech?"

    "Y-yeah?" her voice was higher-pitched than usual, but still brave.

    "Do these lands have a name?" he'd never heard them speak of a general name for this place, beyond each of the landmarks contained within.

    It was Snapper who answered, looking up from tuning his lute, "Nah. No one could ever agree on a name when we Faeries got here…"

    Louie picked up from where his brother trailed off, "And with the revenant here, no one could find a name that was fitting."

    Breech finished, "That, an' Landlady didn't want to give this place a name till it got banished." And she looked at the golden glow ahead with determination, whispering, "So we gotta do this, we gotta…"

    Vera nodded sharply, eyes more serious than James had ever seen, "Yep! We'll sing and play and send him on his way, and then we'll give these lands a name!"

    "How 'bout Valinor?" Louie suggested, taking out a small strip of cloth, "Y'know, after the story?"

    But James smiled and shook his head, "No, we've got no mountains…" then he cleared his mind, reaching out with his Senses to Yavanna while the Triplets prepared their blindfolds, "We'll talk about it later. Once we're done."

    Coming up to his ankles as they continued forward and the Triplets darted away to settle on Yavanna's withers, Vera murmured, "You're scared." It wasn't a question.

    Swallowing, James nodded once, but kept walking forward, "I'd be stupid not to be afraid, Vera. You're scared too." He knew it. He could feel it through their Bond.

    "Ya-huh," his fox-sister whispered, but she didn't break her even, determined stride, "Mima'd probably put me in a whirlpool for doin' this without an older kitsune watching," but then she smiled up at James, hope blossoming in their hearts as Yavanna came into view, "But you're here, an' so's Yavanna, so I'm not so scared."

    Smiling back at her, James nodded, "Same here."

    The revenant howled, its Dark influence beating against Yavanna's preparations; it was for naught, James knew.

    Yavanna was the land.

    Her nine tails wove behind her in a halo of green-gold, the Triplets already congregated on her back with their blindfolds firmly in place; they'd all agreed, given what they were going to attempt, that it would be better for the three Fae to have as few distractions as possible.

    James and Vera weren't as worried. Once the song began, they'd enter a trance that would better allow them to harness the power of Gaia and use Yavanna's gathered magic. But even then, the rattle, the staff and Vera's tails weren't enough for their plan, hence the Triplet's assistance.

    They had two missions, here. They needed to break all the enchantments, both Wizard- and Faerie-made, that were either on the stables or the revenant; this would destroy its physical body and allow Yavanna to purify its lingering essence.

    The second part of this mission… James put it from his mind, as they came around Yavanna's bulk and stood once more before the chains. The time for second-guessing and hesitation was past.

    Before them, the revenant was pacing in front of the stables, the chains encircling the place pulsing brightly; it waved its greatblade about when it spotted James and Vera, a dumpster-scented wave of magic ripping toward them. The black spell died before it could reach the chains… and the thorny rose vines that were snaking towards it, the thick green growths sporting buds that hadn't yet bloomed, weaving their way in every direction toward the furious undead.

    Cookie was the first Scribe either of them spotted, standing off to James' left, staring at the creature with the coldest look he'd ever seen on the moth-winged Fae; Lisanna was to his right, to the west, a terrible bident clutched in her now-armored claws, pyrite eyes shining with barely-restrained fury.

    Melfina and Vileclaw were behind him; the old Goblin was wearing shining steel plate, and was carrying a red-bladed battle-axe, face hidden by a masked helm that gave the impression of a snarling tiger. By contrast, the Landlady was wearing fine ice-blue robes, but the sapphire-encrusted short-sword in her hand sent a chill down his spine.

    When her concerned eyes met James', he smiled warmly before turning back to face the revenant, which still looked quite miffed, a pulse of black rot thrumming from its body stopped by the vines Yavanna was sending under the chains, their rotted lengths feeding those that came behind.

    James knew Landlady wanted to protect him, but he felt compelled to help her as well. Why, she'd given him a place to stay, to live, to be himself and learn about the world, a world that was far older and stranger than he'd ever suspected!

    In this, he'd repay her kindness one hundredfold!

    Yavanna was the one who pinned the revenant. It was James and Vera who needed to deal with it on a more permanent basis.

    Taking one more deep breath and letting it out slowly, James saw the setting sun blaze through the trees, accompanied by a warm wind; the Dark of the revenant made it seem dim, but that wouldn't last.

    "Ready, everyone?" a chorus of yesses answered James' softly asked question. He drew the rattle, and said at last, "Count us off please, Vera."

    Six taps of her tail later, James banished the last of his fear and brought his staff down with a low thump, shaking his rattle with the other hand.

    As Breech let out a melody on her bagpipes amidst the sound of wind and Yavanna's form shivered and gleamed, James and Vera let their minds be subsumed into the magic around them so they could better direct it…

    And the song began.

    [..O..]


    The revenant howled at the haunting melody of bagpipe and rattles, lute and flute, and the soft drumming of Yavanna's tails against the loam, swinging its blade side to side, trying in vain to stave off the encroaching vines, but Melfina was barely paying attention to that.

    Rather, her eyes were for the boy Shaman and the young kitsune; as they danced and created a music so soothing and pure to ear and heart. The rose vines grew about her chains at their melodies, leaving trails of rust.

    She hadn't agreed to this, hadn't known of it until Lisa's declaration, but neither would she have thought such a thing possible: to unbind the revenant before guiding the soul trapped therein to the Sunless Lands. So she let her power bleed away from the chains, and hoped the boy Shaman knew what he was doing.

    If it came to the worst… she'd sell her life dearly, to protect her Court.

    The light of the setting Sun seemed to shine all the brighter, and Vileclaw moved closer to her, and she to him, as golden mists began to form about the stables

    Water chimed through the air as Vera's tails sent a cloud of droplets over the chains; they encircled the stables, much to the trapped beast's snarling chagrin, just before James' solemn and childish voice keenly sang as Breech's pipes faded:

    Still 'round the corner, there may wait…

    He pointed his staff to the revenant, then to the west, as Vera twirled and clattered about his ankles, singing the next verse herself.

    A new road or a secret gate…

    Both Shaman and kitsune spun away from each other, Yavanna's tails bringing a melodious wind, the chains beginning to hiss from the rust forming on them, the revenant now beating against the encroaching vines with one hand, trying to dislodge its ensnared sword with the other.

    The pair sang together, the sound rapture to Melfina's ears:

    And though we pass them by to~day…
    Tomorrow, we may come this way,

    And take the hidden paths that run!

    James, on the left (east) side of Yavanna, pointed his staff that way, and a silver shine came through the trees, which, to Mel's shock, the revenant cowered from! 'They can do it!'

    Toward the Moon…

    Vera, like a hound, pointed an elbow to the west, and the bright light that painted the sky a riot of colors.

    or to the Sun!

    All through this, there was a haunting yet beautiful shiver of music that came both from the Triplets and Yavanna, from both Vera and James, who, even through the lyrics they uttered, never stopped playing.

    It filled Melfina with awe, seeing the bright lights and rose vine wrapping about the revenant, tearing at her chains; the thing screamed a sound that sent claws down her spine, but the fear and anguish were washed away as James waved his staff over the chains, pointing it right at the revenant with the last of his next slowly sung verse.

    Apple, thorn and nut and sloe:
    Let them go! Le~et them go~!

    With one last cry, the revenant was enveloped in golden fire, the vines binding it in place crumbling to ash as the undead's body was destroyed…

    An echoing crack, like a lake of ice thawing in Spring, snapped against every ear…

    Leaving behind the ghost of a cowering man; he was dressed as a wizard of times now long past, to Mel's eye. 'Like what people wore when we arrived!' this explained much; according to Lisa, who was looking absolutely gobsmacked some ways away, the older a revenant was, the stronger it became.

    The poor soul now cowering amidst the retreating vines (and Mel realized that her chains had been shattered! Ah, well, it's not like she liked them anyway) likely hadn't been a revenant for very long before being bound to Walnut Manor's grounds. Once this was over, they could, perhaps, discover the reason for it being here.

    She'd ask, but Mel wouldn't dare for two reasons: one, Vile would never let her hear the end of it, and two, Shaman and kitsune weren't done.

    Into the now unchained clearing Vera bounded, the silvery ghost flinching as she landed before him and sang slowly, merrily, kindly:

    Sand and stone and pool and dell:
    Fare you well! Fa~are you well!

    Yavanna howled, the wonderful sound heralding further music from Shaman, kitsune and Triplets, a beautiful, primal song that filled more than one eye with tears, though few were shed, those present vigilant despite the revenant's physical destruction.

    Then the golden and silver lights faded, and a cloying mist hid the stables proper from view. The ghost suddenly cried out, prostrating himself (and t'was a he indeed, though he was thankfully clothed) before James and Vera and begging, quietly and pleadingly, for mercy.

    And Melfina understood the purpose of the sprig of mistletoe tucked into James' belt.

    "Eyes on the ground, now," she commanded in a whisper that didn't carry to those dancing in the clearing; Melfina knew all the old legends, from all the corners of Mundus, and she knew which were true and which were merely fable or hearsay.

    The Tragedy of Orpheus was of the former.

    Out of the mist came the sound of water lapping upon a rocky shore, and through Melfina's bangs she saw it! A rotted dock, a haggard figure approaching on a boat, gnarled hands curled about an oar as ancient as stories, old as the bones of the Earth.

    Tartarus. Charon the Ferryman.

    Her hand found Vile's, which gripped her own in tight comfort, though she could hear her friend whispering his own prayers to Stone as she wished with all her heart for Charon to ply his trade and leave her people and demesne unmolested.

    And then James sang again, standing between the weeping ghost and the vision of Tartarus' gate, his young face stern but empathic, caring, and these things showed forth in his voice:

    Home is behind, the world ahead…

    Those same emotions were echoed as Vera twirled and danced to stand beside her Shaman:

    And there are many paths to tread.

    Turning suddenly, James whipped the Bough of Gold from his belt and sent it sailing at the now-docked Ferryman; a gust of warm wind carried it into the surprised shade's free hand, accompanied by James and Vera singing together once more, voices seeming to rise to the very heavens, sending a strange sensation through Melfina:

    Through Shadows! To the Edge of Night~!
    Until the Stars… are all alight…

    Charon looked up, meeting James' gaze as the Shaman raised his rattle in outstretched palm at the vision, as though to ward Tartarus off… and the Ferryman's ancient, wrinkled features seemed to smile in understanding, and it lit a warmth in Melfina that nearly forced her to tears.

    Mist and Twilight! Cloud and Shade!

    The Ferryman used his oar to push off the dock, paddling away from the gate, the Bough of Gold glowing on his rope belt.

    The vision of Tartarus faded as he departed, becoming veiled in mist once more at James' young voice, and then Vera finished, softly, gently, as the ghost stared in awe:

    Away shall fade… Away~ sha~all fade…

    James' staff came down, tapping the soil at his feet. Both Shaman and kitsune stared into the mists, from which a golden glow began to take form; above, against the sky, a kaleidoscope of colors painted the scene in a light to put the Aurora to shame. The playing of the Triplets, the humming and drumming of Yavanna, the soothing flow of Vera's dance, and the soft shaking of James' rattle: all these came together in a glorious symphony, a requiem that bespoke forgiveness, empathy, and love.

    And Melfina watched, hand in hand with Vileclaw, and listened, and felt her heart soar as it had not soared in many years; but behind this rapturous feeling, this perfect moment in her life, the Landlady was of two minds.

    First was that, in spite of this event being sprung upon her with little warning, Mel had long expected James and Vera to take a crack at the fiend who'd caused her and her Court such grief. Verily, she was grateful for their presence, for Yavanna, and she knew, as surely as she knew every leaf and twig in her fief, that the boy would exceed every expectation she'd set.

    He would be great, a force to shake the world. But not with blade, nor rod or crown, but with his kindness. Mel prayed he never lost this innocence, this selflessness before her.

    Second, she wondered, with much confusion: if he didn't plan to send the ghost, who was looking at James' back as the child raised his staff once more, to Tartarus (and such a fate was earned, willing in the Dark or not, in Melfina's opinion), then where…?

    The staff came down with a soft tap.

    And the golden mist flared, parting suddenly to reveal…

    Melfina threw herself prostrate against the ground as a searing light filled the clearing, Lisanna and her fellow guardians following this action with a cry of shock and awe and soul-crushing fear. Through it all, Mel's hand never left Vileclaw's, who'd taken a knee, his weapon falling to the dirt at the same time as her own sword.

    Terror beyond any she'd felt, and she'd faced the Winter Queen's displeasure, filled Melfina as the burning light seemed to scour away even the music, bringing a supernatural silence to all the land. Through her bangs and frightened tears, Melfina beheld a sight she would never forget, even should she live ten thousand years, and another ten again.

    The ghost's hands were clasped in prayer amid the shining gold wheat stalks that'd replaced the grass of the stables; further, the tip of James' staff was bright as Polaris, the rattle in his hand nearly lost as it glowed as gold as the grain about the lad, and Vera's blue and white shone like Sirius, the pair standing side by side, radiant and beautiful before a greater radiance, the source of the burning light…

    Melfina did not look directly upon it, for it was too bright. More than this, she knew what she was seeing: for all Charon was the gatekeeper to Tartarus, he was still lesser than what hovered before and above Shaman and kitsune, framed in the mists.

    Feathers edged the light, countless and constantly moving. A presence seemed to gaze upon the clearing, and, in that moment, Melfina felt the immortal being's gaze fix upon the three standing amidst the grain.

    She prayed for the third time in twice as many minutes, here at the edge of night.

    She prayed the Archon of Elysium would not take offense to James' trespass.

    But it seemed that the Archon did not see this as trespass. For, after a moment that seemed both a handful of seconds and a blind eternity, it vanished, taking the burning light with it…

    And a breeze, warm and comforting and rapturous, blew over all the gathering. The golden wheat seemed to march from the clearing's edge vanish into the far distance, an endless field of bounty, out of which came whispers, like leaves blown in a warm Autumn wind, tinged with curiosity and hope. Figures appeared, both young and old, and Melfina the Landlady felt her heart leap into her throat as the ghost's head jerked in recognition.

    As this happened, James and Vera both turned and began approaching the ghost of the revenant once more; the rattle was stowed in a belt loop and Vera pranced ahead of James, a blue-edged tail rising to wipe a tear from the ghost's face. The kitsune's face was full of understanding, and James' features bespoke what he felt in his heart.

    What was happening here, to James, was right.

    As Melfina slowly rose, looking at the nearest glittering stalks in absolute shock, James took the ghost by the armpit, his physical body levering the ethereal being to his feet as easily as if they were solid, and sang with a bright smile into the continuing music:

    With world behind…

    Movement, in the fields. Melfina's seafoam eyes found it quickly: a small figure had jerked forward, away from the throngs of other figures. So far away were they, the gathered whisperers, she couldn't make them out clearly from her kneeling on the ground…

    Vera wove about the grain before leaping onto her Shaman's back, the ghost staring at the pair in wonder as the kitsune sang brightly:

    …and home ahead…

    The small figure in the mist jerked again, and a child's call came, desperate and longing, distant but clear, like leaves scattering before the Autumn wind, "Papa!"

    The ghost's face whipped up at the call, and it took an uncertain, hopeful step forward, as though it dared not hope for the absolution before it.

    And Melfina's vision was obscured of the rest, as she lost the fight with her tears. Her hand flew to her mouth, stifling an empathic sob, and she felt Vile's arm take hers in comfort.

    She knew not what brought the revenant here, what bound it to the land, or what had caused the destruction of Walnut Manor, but she swore she would discover it. She swore to the Seasons, in that moment, she'd find the descendants of the ones who created this revenant and tore a family apart and prank the living daylights out of their next seven generations!

    And she promised herself to always have a warm bed available, to the end of her days, in case James and Vera needed somewhere to rest after the journeys she knew the inquisitive duo would embark on.

    James pushed the ghost's shoulder with his staff, urging him on with a nod and another softly sung verse, Vera joining happily:

    We wander back to home and bed.

    The ghost looked between James, Melfina, and the distant child, who'd broken away from the other figures, and was running for the gate.

    Then his mouth moved, the words too quiet to hear, but James merely nodded, and Vera waved a tail with a smile.

    And, like a bolting deer, the ghost turned and ran into the holy light. As he went, the silver light of a ghost faded, and was replaced with a glittering sheen.

    But the mist was rising once more, and the warmth was fading with the slowing of the music. A part of Melfina didn't want it to end, to stay forever in this moment; she ignored it, and listened to James and Vera sing together once more, their voices bespeaking glory and kindness no mere mortal could give. The Shaman's arms were raised, and Vera seemed a gleaming sapphire on his shoulder:

    Fire and lamp and meat and bread!

    Then Vera giggled, licked her smiling Shaman's cheek and asked brightly, eyes shining with tears of her own, "And then to bed?"

    James laughed wetly back, and kissed his familiar's cheek. He raised his staff once more….

    And the~en… to bed.

    It came down with a soft pat. And there was silence, the last note of the pipes drifting away on a warm wind that caressed all present. The Sun set, but a silver glow seemed to come from every tree, every blade of grass, and Yavanna glowed like a lantern, her face tilted back in pride as she looked on her summoners while they collected themselves.

    Furiously wiping away her tears, Melfina struggled to her feet, Vile helping gently as her breathing quickened, both in happiness and slightly hysteric denial: near a quarter millennium of this thing gnawing at her roots, ended in moments!

    In spite of her disbelief, there it was before her: emerald-green grass, ivy vines climbing all over the clean (clean!) but still ruined stables, and the dead trees that'd littered the revenant's pen were outright gone, small saplings already rising from the soil! The echoing, metallic taint that'd hounded her and all her Court, night and day, was nowhere to be felt!

    And there, in the middle of the clearing, was a fully bloomed spider lily, ruby-red and shining bright with dew.

    "Woof," James breathed, shaking his head and rubbing a temple, drawing Mel's attention back to him and the grinning kitsune on his shoulder, "That was pretty hard, huh Vera?"

    The little water kitsune huffed, drawing herself up and waving her three tails – 'THREE TAILS?!' Mel thought, jaw dropping in shock – dismissively, "Nah, James, not as tough as bringing Yavanna here!"

    "Wait, what?!" Breech's tinny call came from Yavanna's shoulder; the Nature avatar turned so the Triplets could have a better view. The three were busily trying to get their blindfolds off; Breech was first, and looked into the clearing for all of two seconds before cheering, "OH, BRILLIANT! WE DID IT! LANDLADY!" Melfina's gobsmacked face turned to gaze at Bree's wide grin, her brothers quickly sporting matching grins as their blindfolds joined their sister's on the avatar's back, "WE DID IT! THE REVENANT'S DONE FOR! OO-DE-LALLY!"

    That shook Mel from her disbelieving stupefaction; as the three young Fae fell to Yavanna's back in a cheering group hug, more cheers, of Fae, Merrow, and griffon, began rising.

    Melfina felt her chest shaking; for a moment, she thought she was weeping, until the sound began leaving her mouth: a carefree, joyous laugh. Their bane was gone! She grinned down at Vile, who'd removed his mask to reveal his own smiling face and kiss her hand.

    "Oh, fie!" she snapped with a smile, snatching her hand away from the Goblin… and giving him a right proper kiss! Then she rose up on her wings and cheered herself, letting her magic unfurl into the land freely, laughing at the absence of any Darkness, while the blushing Gob below her raised his axe and gave a cry of victory!

    "Whoa!" the cheers and laughter paused at James' call, and Melfina saw the reason: his staff was vibrating and glowing brightly, Vera's watching with shock in her wide eyes, tails whipping fearfully.

    Lisanna's sharp order came, then, as a keening sound came out of the staff and James' face turned red from keeping the magic from going wild, "BOY, DITCH IT!"

    James obeyed, flinging the staff toward Yavanna and hitting the dirt, covering Vera's body with his own as other cries of alarm went out, the Triplets buzzing away swiftly!

    The Nature avatar took the staff in a tail and covered it on the ground.

    Whumph!

    And a spark of green-gold magic burst from the tail; Yavanna's eyes widened slightly before she raised the appendage, revealing the split staff: it wasn't blackened anywhere, but it was certainly destroyed, the item now in four splintered pieces. The velvet-wrapped malachite was whole, as was the fabric, but the first split in the staff was barely inches away from the head.

    "Aw, blast!" moaned James, picking up Vera and approaching warily, along with everyone else, "I mean, I figured that'd be too much for it to handle, but I liked that staff…"

    Lisanna huffed dismissively, "Take the malachite and the velvet. I will prepare a display case for the rest. After all," and Melfina saw her fellow Scribe smile freely for the first time since their Exile, "it helped you bring purity to these lands, and should be honored thusly!" An agreeing cheer came from all, which made James, who now had the Triplets dancing on his hat, blush brightly.

    As Melfina called for a feast of celebration, the expected happened: Vera noticed her third tail.

    "JAMES!" she interrupted Mel with shocked happiness, "MY TAIL! I GOT MY THIRD TAIL!" and she flowed out of his arms and began bouncing rapidly around his bare feet in the clean grass, chanting excitedly, "I GOT MY TAIL! I GOT MY TAIL! I GOT MY – oof!"

    And she ran into Yavanna's cart-sized paw. The avatar huffed and shook her head in exasperated amusement, an act repeated by the rest of the gathered guardians and peoples of the Manor, though Melfina simply laughed at the merriment.

    "Oh, Vera, not again!"

    "Hehe, oops!"

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    HearthBorn, @non, Bogdan and 21 others like this.
  12. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 11 "Wyne"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    Selkie
    Thinking Magical Being
    Official Individual Threat Rating: XXX
    CLASS 1 PROTECTED SPECIES- ICW DIPLOMATIC RESPONSES ONLY

    Protected Status Details

    All Selkies are listed as a Class 1 Protected Species under the ICW Charter of 1699; the stance of the international magical community regarding this thinking magical species has not changed at any point in time.

    Any evidence of a being or government, magical or mundane, found to have poached, harmed, stolen from, or otherwise impinged on the liberty and/or free will of any Selkie, or group of Selkies, no matter the reason, will be arrested and prosecuted by the ICW Council of Mugwumps, assuming they are still alive. They may be subject to Obliviation, imprisonment on Azkaban Isle, and/or Damnatio Memoriae, depending on the severity of their crime.

    Additionally, Selkies are classed as Twice Sacred by the Edict of the Great Coalition (440 BCE); any harm which befalls a Selkie Clan will invite measured Spiritual retribution, regardless of Mortal Law.

    Furthermore, if one is so foolish as to slaughter a settlement of Selkies, no matter the reason, the Edict allows for the execution of the antagonist be carried out by High Dragon Persephone, the Fangs of Winter.

    Only the Dark Lord Franz the Malcontent, creator of the Cruciatus Curse, has ever broken this article of the Edict (1422, Amsterdam), killing 87 Selkies and driving another 12 to insanity with his infamous curse, including one 8-year-old.

    In reply, The Fangs of Winter broke his wand and staff after a brief engagement, removed his arms, legs, eyes, and tongue, then hung the Dark Lord from a gibbet in his hometown of Budapest, ensuring the suffering was long and dolorous, before a captive audience of Franz's supporters, who were executed by the Emperor shortly afterward; finally, Persephone vitrified the corpses with flame and buried the remains in a mound of dragon dung fertilizer, stating "At least now they shall be of some utility". This fertilizer is famous for being the soil from which Hungarian Whomping Willows grow best and most quickly.

    None have intentionally sought to break the laws regarding Selkies since.

    Species Details:

    A Selkie is a type of Merrow. Unlike their more visually known cousins, the Mermaid, Selkies construct small above-water settlements, usually out of driftwood, and spend much of their time out of the water. What underwater settlements exist, and their appearance, is a mystery hidden from humanity.

    Selkies are one of the few thinking magical races that can naturally shapeshift. Like Werewolves, their physical changes seem to coincide with the phases of the Moon. Unlike Werewolves, Selkies do not become mindless killing machines on the full moon; rather, during the period between the first and last quarter Moon, Selkies are, for all intents and purposes, prodigiously intelligent and magically-capable seals.

    While in this form, their attunement to water becomes extremely potent; a single Selkie may be able to create whirlpools, undertows, and choppy water in a given area (record is 4 square nautical miles), while large groups of Selkies can create heavy storms, up to and including small hurricanes, even in areas where such weather is stupendously rare (see: ICW Report on the 1987 European Great Storm [1989], or 745 Things You Should Never Say To A Selkie, by Perenelle Flamel [1990]).

    When they are not in their seal forms, a Selkie strongly resembles a human being, with few differences; hair color is, generally, brown, black or white, regardless of age. Skin color seems to be generally pale shades of white or gray, regardless of exposure to the Sun; interestingly, Selkies appear incapable of developing a tan. It should be noted that Selkies are not in the habit of wearing clothes; any covering comes from a magical totem taking the form of a seal hide, which becomes a part of their being during their monthly transformations. The reason for this requirement remains unclear.

    Selkies are known for their artwork and skill with fishing, as well as their aptitude with certain magical crafts; magically-expanded chests, Mokeskin pouches, and potions ingredients are their most common exports.

    Population centers are mostly located in various parts of the British Isles (including the Isles of Wight and Man), the fjords of Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland. The exact locations are deemed classified by the International Department of Magical Creature Law Enforcement (IDMCLE).

    Despite widespread knowledge of their presence, both in the Magical and Muggle tales, Selkies rarely trade or interact with human beings in either society, mainly due to Muggle poaching and Magical miseducation on their species' behavior.

    Poachers believing they have come upon a pod of seals are usually slain if they attempt or succeed in killing a Selkie, no matter the time of the month. Rabble-rousers are usually beaten senseless and left dangling from a tree somewhere.

    Due to their apparently insular and slightly xenophobic society, there is little to no knowledge of how Selkies interact with one another, how their society is structured, whether they have their own language (though rumors of musical sophistication raise the possibility that they do), or their species' history.

    The only record of a Selkie taking part in any major event of human history is a note from the Greek Admiral Kratos l of Thebes, who led the fleet that broke the Siege of Cyprus during the Black Decade; it is noted by the Admiral:

    '…a Selkie scout that followed us offered to sink the daemonships. At the cost of his own life, he created a great storm and sent the fiends to the bottom, allowing our forces to come upon the invader's unprotected camps on the land; Nike praise him…'

    All other notations or tales on the doings of Selkies, most of which have been submitted by those who are not magical creature researchers, have, so far, been unfounded in fact. Collected writings that survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries suggest that most stories relating Selkies were produced as fictitious or cautionary tales by Dark and Middle Age peasantry, presumably as tavern entertainment or Christian propaganda.

    For instance: stealing and hiding a Selkie's skin will only invite the ire of said Selkie's clan, with gruesome results. There are six reports of someone trying this (see: IDMCLE Incident Reports, sub: SLK/1 through 6), with the perpetrator seeking to take a young Selkie female as a wife or slave. All the reports ended the same way: the perpetrator was tortured by the Selkie clan into giving up the skin's location before being beheaded.

    Otherwise, the Selkie species seems to wish to live apart from humanity, and will insist on being left to their culture and devices; as they have never been known to lash out at humanity without provocation, they are tolerated by all Magical governments. Prosecution of incidents is generally treated on an individual basis; traditionally, Selkie and Magical will try perpetrators in a bipartisan court, outside, with the sea and mainland in clear view from the place of hearing.

    Notation: most trade with Selkies has fallen off after the implementation of the Statute of Secrecy. Barring the cordial yet cool relations exhibited by Icelandic populations, most Selkie settlements now avoid human contact; trade continues, but now appears to be limited to gifts of gratefulness. Due to various human laws regarding their race, owning Selkie artifacts requires Veritiserum questioning by the IDMCLE regarding the artifact's origin, and how it came into human hands.

    -Summary page from ICW Archive File on Selkies
    First filing: November 1699 CE
    Most recent update: February 1993 CE

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    Selkies
    by James Stormcaller
    and Vera
    and Wyne

    The books are wrong. Selkies aren't Merrow, and while Merrow don't really care about this mistake, Selkies get offended if you mix them up.

    Selkies are a type of Fae Folk; like Faeries, House Elves, and, yeah, Merrow, Selkies fulfil a part of Gaia's dream of the world. Faeries take care of the land, House Elves make sure everything stays tidy, Merrow make sure none of the predators in the deep water come up higher…

    And Selkies are Water's Artisans! They take all the stuff that comes from water, like fishbone, sand dollars, seashells and other stuff

    Like fishscales

    And they make artwork out it all. They can make pretty much everything, so long as there's no metal involved. They don't like metal much.

    Selkies are good at making tools, jewelry, clothing, hats, and, unsurprisingly, boats

    But they enchant their boats so they don't move on the water, but under it, wich is SO COOL!

    A Selkie doesn't need to shapeshift with the Moon's phases. They can resist it, but their eyes will darken into a full black during this time, if they don't want to change. They can slip into their skin at any time to become seals.

    Doesn't matter what time of the month it is, either. Selkies like swimming

    And so do we!

    So, if they need to dive deep to hunt or gather up some stuff for crafting, they put their skins on and, with a little magic, become a seal so they can go right down!

    Selkies are also pretty shy, at first. In order to become a Selkie's friend, you gotta be respectful of their space; so long's you respect them and just go about your business, they'll do the same, but won't be hostile if you approach them after a while.

    Most Selkies don't much like humans for whatever reason, but they're willing to try if you're serious about knowing them.

    Once you have their trust, keep being their friend; don't try to extort them. Like trying to trick a Faerie, it just won't work.

    Yep. Selkies are real, real clever, and they can tell if someone's lying to them, or just want them for some kind of gain, like money, or something yucky.

    Give gifts to show affection, or just to be nice to them; Selkies are really affectionate once you've established a friendship with them, so make sure you let them know where the boundaries are with physical contact.

    Bit late for you, huh James?

    Shut up, Vera…

    Do understand that a Selkie, once they have established a friendship with another, no matter the race, will seek to enjoy physical contact with their friend. It is in our nature to express ourselves in a physical rather than philosophical sense; this comes from families sleeping in piles during cold weather. We are also of the habit of giving gifts of affection and thankfulness, primarily in the form of some necklace or bangle.

    My people also practice piercing of the ears, are adept at crafting clothing from seafaring plants, and we are all well-versed in water magics. I think this is why James and I became close so swiftly, his aptitude with water that is, beyond his obvious amazingness of course.

    I do hope my report has been informative. I would not have known of this report's existence were it not for finding it after spending the night in your rooms. But, James, do you not like our cuddling times? I do not understand your exchange with Vera. Is this the ribbing Snapper spoke of?

    HAHAHAHAHA! あなたたちはすごくかわいい。ハーマイオニーが加わったらどうなるのだろうか、へへ!

    Yes, Wyne, that was very informative, thank you, and yes, that was a little bit of ribbing.

    Having said that, VERA! WHEN I FIND YOU, SO HELP ME GAIA I'M GONNA [remaining text is illegible due to a splotch of water damage]

    (the margins of these notes are littered with inky pawprints, tic-tac-toe games, and a crudely drawn tree with stick figures representing a fox, three faeries, and two humanoids cheering from the branches. A detailed charcoal drawing on the back depicts James sleeping against a tree with a book on his lap, a three-tailed Vera curled against his right arm, and a young female Selkie [presumably Wyne] cuddling up to his left; part of her leg is muddled by the aforementioned water damage. The picture is subtitled '"So cute!" by Breech, Louie and Snapper, the best Faeries ever!')

    -From Shaman James Stormcaller's notebooks
    Taken at Walnut Manor, 1989-91
    Donated to Hogwarts School, 2003

    Japanese:
    "You two are so cute. I wonder what might happen if Hermione joins you, hehe!"

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    Chapter 11
    Wyne


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    October was fast-approaching. Shepherd could feel it in his bones.

    For the past month-and-a-half, near as he could figure (as Selkie clans didn't use calendars), Shepherd had enjoyed the departing Summer and the stirrings of Autumn amongst his own people… though this meant he'd also dealt with the stares and murmurs of his clan and family, situated in a hidden cove on the Isle of Man.

    Adjusting his oar to avoid a sunken boat in the River Wye, Shepherd suppressed a sigh of weariness; his decision to remain at Walnut Manor, ten years past, hadn't endeared him to his people, to say nothing of his parents. They'd expected him to remain with the clan, take a wife and have children, all while providing food and supplies from the deep waters, as was his profession as a Gatherer of the People. Nevermind his own desire to aid the other races, to explore and journey to areas the People hadn't ventured.

    And the People had ventured far, in the distant past. But those ancient glories were long gone, half forgotten, and the world was grey.

    The time of the High Dragons was all but gone, Persephone having not moved from her roost since the defeat of Grindelwald. The populations of the Fae Folk's various factions were lessening. Fewer Spirits walked the Mundane world.

    The world was grey, but there was hope.

    Still there were, in Shepherd's mind, places where the People hadn't gone, hadn't explored; maybe Shepherd would, he'd argued at the time, discover a redoubt where the People wouldn't need fear poachers or seal hunters. Mayhap he'd find somewhere where all the clans could live in harmony and peace, away from the Mundane folk who polluted and drove off the fish with their engines.

    None of his People listened, and few cared, even after he'd brought news of Walnut Manor and the Fae Folk who'd settled there. In their minds, the revenant which there resided was more than enough proof of the rightness of the People's self-imposed isolation. Why move to another danger when the dangers, where they lived, were known and expected?

    Shepherd paid them no heed; the revenant would be destroyed, eventually. Such was the way of the stories: old darkness was eliminated by new light. The revenant would fall, someday.

    All the same, Shepherd mused while scowling at another foil wrapper of some Mundane confection drift past the bubble surrounding his boat, he wished the Last High Dragon would do something about the Muggles and their polluting ways. This was the first time he'd brought one of his fellow Selkies on the journey to the Manor, and the briny waters of the Wye weren't exactly making good impressions on his passenger.

    Not that she noticed, as the young Selkie in question was fast asleep.

    White haired with pale skin that showed a touch of pink, her back bandaged with bloodmoss salve and kelp, Wyne, a ten-summers-old child of his clan, was curled up in the bow of Shepherd's rowboat with her skin wrapped about her for warmth, two Mokeskin sacks acting as pillows, the streaks of her most recent tears just visible on her pained yet lovely face.

    She was not here by choice, a fact which caused Shepherd's pale mustached features to twist in bitterness, and row faster. The sooner they arrived at the Manor, the sooner Wyne's healing could be completed, for Shepherd was no healer. Cookie and Melfina, on the other hand, were; he just hoped the Scribes would take no offense to his bringing one of the People to the Manor without advance warning.

    They would likely not have many complaints for his ears, however. Wyne was one of the People's most promising youngsters; having selected her Path at the age of four, the Path of the Artisan, she was now the youngest Adept in the clan. Her ability with fish-scale, coral, kelp and flower would, in the fullness of time, be unmatched by all on the Isle of Man.

    Indeed, Shepherd thought as the hidden path, which would take him to the Merrow Pond, appeared on the starboard side, those People of Norway and Shetland would no doubt be amazed at young Wyne's ability with artistic expression, her mosaics and jewelry especially, when the decennial meeting of the clans took place next summer.

    Or, they would, if the clan heads had not just exiled her.

    For all their honor when it came to family, Shepherd knew there were some traditions which should have been abandoned with the onset of the Statute.

    Arranged marriages and the patriarchal structure of some clans (Shetland and Norway were more progressive), in particular, were two things that'd never sat well upon his heart.

    From what Shepherd had been told by his sister (reluctantly, as he was a sort of pariah amongst his kin), Wyne was arranged this past Spring to wed one of the strongest Guardians in the clan. It was seen as a good match by many: once Wyne was a few years older and able to bear them, her children would no doubt be both dexterous and powerful in their magic and arm. The People would be enriched by such a union. Nothing could go wrong.

    Except Wyne disagreed. She didn't want to be wed, least of all to someone nearly twenty years her senior.

    Her protests were seen as the naïve rebellion of youth, however, and her parents, in their infinite wisdom, pushed the marriage through.

    The ceremony had been a week ago, and, in Shepherd's eyes, was a rather nice and calm event, especially after all the hubbub regarding the boy that'd crossed Landlady Melfina's boundary with a kitsune, just when he'd been preparing to leave.

    It'd been a beautiful wedding. Everything had seemingly gone off without a hitch, and the newlyweds made for their wedding bed in seemingly good spirits.

    'Hindsight is 20/20,' as Lisanna the Librarian would say.

    Shepherd felt he should've noticed the tense set of Wyne's shoulders during the ceremony, the well-practiced false smiles and laughs that'd fooled so many well-wishers… and her betrothed.

    If it was any consolation, no other of the People had noticed or suspected anything… until the masculine cry of pain, swiftly cut off in the night, followed by Wyne attempting to flee into the sea, leaving her now one-eyed and unconscious husband behind.

    Her defense before the People was that she prized, above all else, her freedom of choice; she wished to choose who she shared her bed with, who she shared her life with, and they, the chieftains and her family, took that choice from her. Wyne wanted freedom.

    They gave her twenty lashes across the back with a wierwood rope, for striking another of the People, and exiled her.

    Worse than this, she was forbidden from communing with any of the clans ever again. Her tools were burned and, were it not for Shepherd and his father's intervention, Wyne would've had the Mark of Abhorrence tattooed onto her forehead.

    It'd been a close thing; the Guardian she'd wounded demanded the Mark even when it was clear he'd not likely see the poor girl again, going so far as to challenge Shepherd for the right to drag her to the mainland. As Shepherd doubted Wyne would survive the journey with her life or honor intact, he refused.

    The Guardian challenged Shepherd to a duel for it instead, but the clan heads overruled him. Good for the Guardian. Shepherd had learned a thing or two from the Court Scribes, and wouldn't have shed more than a tear over crippling one of his more idiotic kin.

    As it was, Wyne was to never show her face on the Isle of Man ever again, or anywhere else the People had their redoubts.

    It was a fate the poor girl never thought would happen to her, and yet, here she was: beaten, friendless, orphaned, and cast out, being taken to a place where a Dark undead was pinned.

    Yet, as Shepherd let out a soft sigh of relief at feeling the wards of the Faerie wash over him, the water clearing of trash and oil, giving way to the river that would bring him to his chosen home…

    Wyne, he felt, would overcome this, eventually. Gregory's Gardens and their Merrow cousins would help her heal, and one day, perhaps, feel at home…

    'What is this?' he thought, then, looking about in surprise; every time he'd made the journey in the past, there'd been the bitter tang of the revenant omnipresent on his senses, but now…

    It was gone!

    More than this: the waters about him were a gleaming blue sapphire, fish and crab and other life that'd been depleted over the years were thriving amongst the tumbled stones of the riverbed, in the forests of kelp that were growing nearly to the water's surface! Not a grindylow or kelpie in sight (though this was less surprising, given the Merrow for hunting the former, and Lisanna exterminating the latter)!

    What had happened in his absence?

    "Wyne," he ceased rowing for a moment to press the rounded pommel of his oar into the younger Selkie's ankle, calling to her softly, "Wyne, wake up."

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    "Wyne, wake up."

    Her uncle's voice brought a tired and grieving Wyne back to consciousness.

    The ordeals of the past week weighed heavy on her body and mind. Outcast. Pariah. Shamed. She'd been sent away, no doubt to be brought before the Fae Folk and sold into slavery, as many of her cousins amongst the clan thought happened to Shepherd, her own personal Ferryman. Why could her clan not see? She'd only wished to have her choice of husband. Other clans allowed this. It was the done thing in Shetland, why could the Isle of Man not agree on this?

    'Because they are the Isle of Man, of course. Fie!' she told herself, trying not to break down crying once again. Wyne had already cried enough, and if they were close to her future prison, she would not go to her fate with tears in her eyes, but with the same bravery she'd held herself with when she explained why she'd gouged her unwanted betrothed's eye and tried to flee.

    At least… until they'd flogged her… her own family

    Sniffling, she kicked the offending object poking her leg, murmuring bitterly, "Away. Leave me in peace."

    "Wyne," Shepherd's softly wondering voice broke through her melancholy thoughts, "Look about you."

    Opening her dark eyes, Wyne did as her uncle asked…

    Her misery was replaced by awe.

    All about were sapphire waters, like in the old tales of the West Tropics! Fish flitted around the boat, crab scurried atop the rocks, and a kelp forest rippled and swayed all around them, the gleaming green leaves brighter than any little Wyne had seen in the shallows of the Isle! It looked nothing like a river polluted by the Mundane world; rather, it was an aqueous wonderland that put the Isle's kelp farms to shame!

    Her back still stung as she sat up more to drink these sights in with bark-brown eyes, but those very sights allowed Wyne to ignore the pain and grief; never before had she thought a sight such as this was possible, in the North anyway!

    Were they indeed approaching her prison? "You said… there was a darkness here. Where is it?" whispered Wyne, watching an eel, of all things, flit out of its den to snag a carp, a few grindylows scattering and giggling at the action! There was none of the bitter tang the Elders and Teachers spoke of, when they whispered their warnings of the Dark; what was this place?

    "There was," carefully, so as not to agitate her back, Wyne turned to Shepherd when he quietly spoke; the older Selkie was looking about with suspicious awe himself, moustache twitching as he chewed his lip, "I feel none of it now. Nowhere… it is gone; I can't think of a reason."

    "What does this mean?" asked Wyne, beginning to become fearful once more; had the darkness hidden its presence? Had the humans cleansed it, drove out the Faeries? What would they find, on arriving at this… Walnut Manor?

    "I don't know," Shepherd's moustached face set itself in determination, and he rowed harder, "But we will find out soon, come what may. The dock approaches."

    Wyne looked ahead, becoming morose once more; she only wished for freedom. Instead, the People banished her to a place where she'd probably be chained. She hoped whoever bought her would allow her to paint, or create new tools to craft with… or swim into those dark waters Shepherd was steering them around, but she didn't hold much hope.

    Too soon, the boat rose from the waters next to a short walkway of wood, and… and…

    Wyne could not believe her eyes!

    The trees! They were shining!

    It was afternoon, but the trees shone with a soft, subtle yellow light that was reminiscent of the Sun, from every leaf and branch! The grass glimmered with silver, and fireflies blinked in the shade of the groves ahead! Even the old wooden dock, a simple jut of boards and logs, seemed to be gripped in the light that embraced everything. Butterflies and other insects fluttered and darted, and birdsong filled the air.

    Wyne took all this in with wide eyes, and felt her fingers itch for a brush and some paints, or even a simple graving tool and a panel of driftwood; she'd never seen or heard of such a place!

    "Gaia's breath," Shepherd whispered in abject shock, Wyne's eyes flying over the scenery, trying to take in all the colors, all the flowers scattered through the rippling grasses, the mushrooms growing in the dank shade of the trees, and the flicker of the Faerie, the small creatures flitting amongst the branches and toadstools, deeper into the forest; they paid the Selkies no thought, and Wyne didn't blame them.

    All was embraced in warmth that complimented the cool of Autumn, and the last revels of Summer. Wyne was certain, now: the sight before her could not be a prison! There was too much life and color and light!

    …had the People, her parents, lied to her? Was Shepherd truly Banished, if this was where he made his home? But… but he told her this place was charming, yet dreary; this was so far from that as to be ridiculous!

    Out of the trees came a light humming, then, like that of a bug's wings yet magnified; the sound heralded a Faerie, one larger than Wyne's young eyes had yet seen.

    Dressed in a gold-bordered black dress, her short hair decorated with a few daises and dandelions, the tattooed, dark-skinned Fae was possessed of a sharp, angular body that was, regardless, martially feminine. The wasp wings jutting from her back hummed loudly, reminding the young Selkie of the only time she'd been stung by a hornet, and Wyne was afraid at first; the kind smile the Fae's face held didn't do much for the little Selkie's confidence, especially when the Fae's piercing yellow eyes found Wyne's, but Shepherd greeted them warmly nonetheless, as though the sharpness of the Faerie meant nothing to him.

    "Librarian Lisanna, well met! I take it things are going well around here?" called her uncle cheerfully while he moored the boat. Wyne simply tried to make herself as small as possible amongst the baggage; any Faerie that large was not to be trifled with.

    The Faerie chuckled, her voice somewhat rugged, but replied kindly back as she landed at the edge of the small dock, "Shepherd, I'm glad to see you safe, and my fellows will doubtless be too; we were worried you lost your way. I trust the entrance was better than past years?" and the tall Faerie, Lisanna, landed and walked over to help Shepherd unload his cargo, glancing Wyne's way with friendliness and warmth while picking up a sack of salted fish, "And who is this? Another wayward soul come to…" Lisanna's gaze hardened, and her warm voice vanished with a blast of wintry cold, "Whatever has happened to her back, Shepherd?"

    Wyne cringed away and clutched at her Selkie skin, trying to hide from those bright yellow eyes so full of wrath

    Her uncle sighed and reported with grief in his own voice, "She is my niece, Wyne. She struck her betrothed, and pleaded with the People for freedom to choose her own spouse and life. They flogged her, banished her, and gave her the title of Pariah; were it not for my intervention, the People would have delivered her to the shore of Britain and left her there. Wyne, this is Lisanna, the Librarian of the Walnut Court of Exiled Fae; she is one of the caretakers of this place."

    This was it, then; Wyne curled in on herself and waited for the Faerie's judgement. She would no doubt be placed for sale before its kin, and they would-

    Lisanna hissed through her teeth, "Of all the… such an act would never fly in Shetland," Wyne peeked through an eye as Shepherd gave an empathic hum; the Faerie was crouched next to the boat, their long wings jittering, but the woman's face was solemn as it smiled kindly upon Wyne, "Hello, Wyne the Selkie. As your Uncle said, I am Lisanna the Librarian, one of the three Scribes of the Walnut Court, a group of Exiled Fae who manage these grounds. Can you stand?"

    Hesitantly, Wyne nodded and shakily rose to her feet, keeping her head lowered and trying to preserve her modesty as much as she could before the Faerie's piercing gaze. However, it seemed the self-titled Librarian was more interested in Wyne's back than her front, as the tall Fae leaned over and examined Shepherd's work.

    "The bloodmoss went off a bit, Lisa," Wyne's uncle admitted when the Faerie clucked her tongue disapprovingly, "I did what I could, but… well, they used a wierwood rope," Wyne shivered, remembering the awful pain of her lashes, though the temperature around her also dropped drastically as the Librarian stiffened.

    "By the… oooh," the Faerie leaned away from Wyne and placed her claws on young Selkie's chin; gently, far more gently than the young Selkie thought possible, the older Fae lifted her face until Wyne was looking at their compassionate gaze, "I take it you also have no tools, or any belongings beyond the necessary?"

    "… yes, ah…" how was she supposed to address the Faerie?

    "Call me Librarian, or Lady Lisa," smiled the Fae, before gently leading Wyne out of Shepherd's boat, saying to her uncle, "Shep, grab her things. I know just the young one to put her up with."

    "Oh? Is that little human boy with the fox still here?" Human? Fox? Wyne didn't understand, and the Faerie's answering grin did not help at all. "He must've made an impression on you, if I may be so bold. You're quite chipper."

    "You'll have to speak with Melfina for the details, Shep – she is the owner of the property, dear; you will meet with her eventually," Lisanna added to Wyne, who carefully accepted the single, pitifully small sack that was the entirety of her worldly belongings, containing the crafting materials she'd gathered herself over the years, the only things she'd been allowed to keep, "Make sure you go see her after you've unloaded everything; Cookie and Rafiq should be down in a moment.

    "Now, young Wyne, let us go and introduce you to James and Vera. They are likely in the Willow Room, putting the finishing touches on their little treehouse laboratory. Step lively, now," Lisa the Librarian began to walk away; after one more glance at her uncle Shepherd, who shooed her with a smile, Wyne followed the Faerie away into the gleaming forest.

    With every step on the soft, dewy grass, she felt a small piece of her heartache falling away into the wonder that gripped everything; occasionally, a smaller Faerie would call out a greeting to the Librarian, or even Wyne. Contrary to what she'd been taught, not one insult was flung at the young Selkie Pariah; rather, all who they came across – including a beauteous white Griffon dam, who held a short conversation with the Librarian before flying away, after giving Wyne a polite nod of greeting – were so… welcoming.

    It unnerved Wyne, who tensed when the grand stonework of a towering vine-gripped castle came into view, its east-facing entrance the place Lisanna was leading her; Wyne made sure not to fall behind, even though her anxiety was rising by the second.

    Was this where the illusion would be broken? Would poor Wyne be forbidden from crafting, unless she performed the duties of a simple servant, and cleaned the floors of this Faerie-infested ruin? Who was this "James" human, and what manner of human befriended foxes? Weren't they annoyances, much like the common skunk?

    "You needn't be so tense, young one," the Librarian tried to soothe, as she led Wyne through a door, surmounted by an archway with a stained glass window depicting a walnut tree, revealing a pair of partially-ruined staircases to the second floor; vines and flowering plants were everywhere, and all was just as touched with light as everything else in the forest, if more subtle and ordered, "James and Vera are both selfless and kind."

    "He is a human. Selkie don't deal with humans, except those who've earned our trust," murmured Wyne, not trusting the Fae's assurances as she was, nonetheless, led down another corridor; open doors revealed the magnitude of the Faerie infestation: there were small doors and balconies built into the walls, both in the halls and in the rooms, and parklands in miniature were scattered across every floor. Small towers and hanging lamps of liquid light were everywhere.

    Despite herself, Wyne felt a small hope; the Faerie here liked artistic expression. As one of their kind, maybe they'd understand her need? Oh, sure, she didn't quite feel worthy to add to the masterpiece of light surrounding her, but maybe someday…

    And… there was no feeling of encroaching menace, despite the din so many Fae living together brought, as they approached a tattered curtain draped across a room's entrance; rather, it felt as though the light of the manor – Walnut Manor, as Lisanna called it while they walked through the forest – was increasing, a soothing radiance that made Wyne feel comforted, like her mother or grandmother were embracing her.

    She tried to tell herself that it was wrong, that she shouldn't feel comforted, but it was difficult to resist; Wyne was having difficulty likening it to any Selkie story, save the ones about Greater Spirits of Compassion, but such a thing couldn't be! Why would a Spirit of Compassion aid the Faerie, who were known far and wide for their callous cruelty?

    "Yes, but James is unlike any human I have ever met," assured Lisanna, her voice brokering no argument, but it didn't sound forbidding…

    And then they passed through the drapery, entering what was doubtless the Willow Room, where…

    Wyne's jaw dropped in shock, while Lisanna laughed softly at the sight before them: the tree, a gargantuan weeping willow with dark, glimmering leaves and a wide trunk of healthy brown bark, had a door and a window in the side of it, and a small pipe in the side was puffing smoke, yet it lived!

    Roots spilled out from the trunk to cover the ancient and broken marble floors with mossy wood, flowering vines crawled over them and snaking over the walls, and a whole section of the room was depressed into the floor, revealing a pool of dark water…

    Where a human boy was sitting, his legs in the water and a book open on his lap; Wyne stepped closer to the Faerie – as, while they were a Fae, she wasn't human – and took the human in. He was the first she'd ever seen, and she was surprised at the sleeveless vest, revealing thin but muscled arms, skin tanned as humans who spent time in the sun did.

    "James," the Librarian called, and the boy looked up, brushing some of his wild black hair out of his… emerald green eyes, "This is Wyne, a Selkie from the Isle of Man. She'll be staying here, for now."

    "Oh! Hello, it's nice to meet you Wyne," his lips curled into a toothless smile, and he closed the book so he could stand, setting the tome on a root…

    And a white-furred vulpine head popped up from behind said root, big blue eyes suddenly filled with mirth, "Wow! A Water Artisan; hi, hi, hi, it's so great to meet you!"

    The kitsune jumped up to stand next to the book, three blue tipped tails waving behind her as she gave a toothy grin and waved a paw at Wyne… who looked between the two in surprise.

    She could feel it on the air, see it in the way they stood and breathed. There was a powerful Bond between them, which left Wyne stunned; this… this human boy, not even an adolescent of his kind, had accomplished something even the People's Elders struggled with: forming a completely pure bond with a Spirit.

    "Are you trying to catch a fly?" asked the kitsune, tilting her head to one side, "Is that why your mouth is open like that?"

    "Vera, be nice," James chided the fox, then turned back to Wyne with that same soft smile, "Sorry about her; she and the Faeries like their jokes," he blinked, face shifting from warmth to worry, "Are you okay?"

    She frowned at him, scowling, and tried to hide further behind the Librarian, who unhelpfully moved; she didn't know why the human boy was concerned for her-

    "Uh, James?" the kitsune's nose was twitching, "I smell blood coming from her."

    "I'm fine!" Wyne snapped, not wanting the human to touch her; she looked back the way she came, wondering if she could run back to Shepherd before the human caught her.

    The Faerie tsk'ed, "Don't be silly, girl; you need healing, and James is quite skilled with that."

    "Oh, you're hurt?" he stepped closer; he was barefoot, unlike many of his kind Wyne's family had described in the past, and… his faced showed nothing but honest concern. The Spirit at his knee mirrored it, though it, or her, given the voice, trotted closer when Wyne hesitated.

    "It's okay; I was a little scared, too, when I got here," the kitsune, Vera, bubbled… water rippling over her tails; the water-aligned fox spun in a circle while Wyne watched, and beckoned again, "Nothing bad will happen. Just come sit on a root, so James and I can look at you."

    Wyne glanced at him suspiciously and, trying to keep her body hidden with her Selkie hide, asked, "But you're young. What do you know of healing?"

    He shrugged with that same smile, "Vera taught me a little, and I've picked up more stuff here and there, as I've walked my path," then he stiffened, glancing at the mossy roots, and asked Wyne, "Would you like a blanket or pillow to sit on?"

    She blinked at the show of courtesy; all humans were shrewd hunters who only thought of food and trophies, Wyne was always told this. But here was one that didn't act such a way; she was still suspicious, of course, but… she'd trust him, for the moment. He was a youngster, after all; which begged another question.

    "Where are the other humans, then?" she asked quietly, shuffling a little closer, holding her pack tightly to her body.

    "Other humans?" Vera asked with a head tilt, while James dashed nimbly up to the house in the tree and returned, a bare second later, with a thick blanket of dark blue fabric.

    "Yes. I was taught little humans stayed with their parents, until they were grown…" she trailed off, noticing a wince from both James and Vera. Looking to the Librarian, Wyne didn't see any expression on the Fae's face-

    "They're, ah, gone." James said softly while draping the blanket over a root; he still smiled at Wyne, inviting with a hand, "Please, sit. I'll take a look at your back."

    She was horrified stiff by her rudeness; human though he was, that alone was no reason to assume things! Wyne bowed, quickly, "I-I-I ah, forgive me. Please, accept my condolences-"

    "Wyne." James was still smiling; feeling a brush of warm water about her shins, Wyne felt herself moved a little closer to the root. Taking the hint, she stepped closer, while James sat off the blanket, the boy saying, "It's okay, Wyne; it was a long time ago, and I know they loved me. So I'll do my best to make their spirits proud. What happened to your back?"

    The pain of her exile returned, just like that; she sat heavily on the blanket, each burning cut of the lash playing over her skin- Vera's paws pressed against her knees; looking up, Wyne found a pair of big blue eyes looking at her, sniffing her. Could the Spirit smell the shame on her-?

    Vera hopped up and, swirling warm, water-like fur around Wyne's lap; a stream of water took the Selkie's pack and set it beside the pool, while the kitsune flopped on Wyne lap with a huff, "You arriving interrupted my sleep, so I would like you to pet me," a mischievous eye met Wyne's, "Do well, and I might allow you to rub my belly."

    "…very well," who was she to argue with a Spirit? While running her fingers over the fox's ears, Wyne heard a rattling that reminded her of a mortar and pestle, and warmth was gliding over her back; she turned her head…

    And found James holding a Shaman's rattle, shaking it this way and that; she felt her heart shudder as motes of light flickered in the owl skull's eye sockets, the feathers rippling and swaying in an invisible wind.

    His eyes met hers, "Could you keep looking forward please?"

    "Can't do it while she's watching, my Shaman?" Vera quipped on Wyne's lap; Wyne, who was feeling stunned.

    "Shaman?" she breathed, cutting off James' retort; she absently ran her hands through a Spirit, manifest in the world, and wondered aloud, "You… you are a Shaman?"

    "Uh-huh," James replied; at the same time, his fingers took the corner of the bloodmoss bandage. With the sound and smell of a warm freshwater stream, he peeled it slowly away. Wyne sighed at the feeling of relief that slowly followed, James' voice seeming to come from far off to her ears:

    Flesh, knit and sew, by my voice you remember to be whole.
    Pain, fleeting and brief, leave this body, it is not your keep.
    Blood, invigorate and flow, beneath the skin, you are at home.
    Scars, tarry not, leave only a faded reminder, of how this wound was bought.

    "Oh yeah, riiight there, Wyne," purred Vera, pushing her ears into Wyne's scratching fingers; for the first time since arriving, the young Selkie felt at peace, not even the slightest sting… of… pain. She blinked.

    "Hey, why'd ya stop scratch- ahhhh, thanks James."

    "Once you start scratching, you shouldn't stop, or she'll bother you all night for more (would not!)." His fingers were almost entwined with hers; this close to his face, Wyne could smell wood shavings, clay, and the smells of both water and land.

    His smile was kind, and his eyes were full of warmth and curiosity, "And yeah, I'm the Shaman."

    "How?" she didn't understand; the tales said all Shamans of Gaia were older, came into their mantles over time.

    "I, ah, was raised in the Muggle world," a pain flashed over his face, so brief and fleeting, "I didn't even know what magic was, until they abandoned me outside the forest for trying to figure it out; turns out I was studying Shamanism without realizing what it really was, and my relatives didn't much appreciate magic at all."

    "So you are an exile too…" Wyne became crestfallen, but still stroked Vera's back; she didn't mind James' proximity too much, mainly because he'd healed her, and was Shaman, "But, I don't understand. If you are human, and Shaman, why not find the Magicals? They are your kind, aren't they?"

    Shrugging, James moved to sit on the root across from Wyne, smiling brightly as he looked at his surroundings and explained, "I don't want to, mostly because I like it here. Sure, it's kinda weird being around the Faerie-"

    "Love ya too, hero! Who's the fine lady with you?" called a small female Faerie from up high, the little tree sprite beating a small rug against a stone. That was all Wyne saw before she processed the Faerie's words and ducked her head, glancing at James in worry.

    His smile didn't diminish, "Hey Breech. This is Wyne, a new arrival from the Isle of Man."

    "Ah, welcome!" the Faerie waved and walked away without waiting for a response.

    "See? Weird," chuckled James, kicking his legs and continuing his train of thought, "but there's always something to do here, whether it's clearing blocked areas of the Manor, or telling a story at the great tree in the middle, or wandering the Gardens- you'll like it there, I'm sure; it's as beautiful as you are."

    Vera twitched on Wyne's lap, while the Selkie herself spluttered, cheeks flaring red, "I, wha, you-"

    "What?" he asked, tilting his head to one side, looking genuinely confused, "You're beautiful; not the same way as Vera or Landlady, but in your own way," he squinted, "Are you sick? Is that why your face is so red?"

    "James, as much as I love you, sometimes you can be so clueless," Vera droned, while Wyne tried to hide her face in her hair; none of the Bards ever sang of her beauty, in particular, but there were a few short poems about her works… though those would probably be forgotten, before long.

    "What d'ya mean, Vera? I was just complimenting Wyne, so she'd feel better."

    "I do not feel better," Wyne squeaked, equal parts embarrassed at being referred to as beautiful, and ashamed by her clanlessness. "You are making me uncomfortable, Shaman."

    "O-Oh, I'm sorry!" he stood, slowly, and bowed, "If there's anything I can do to help you feel more at home, let me know."

    She was at wit's end, "Why are you acting so… so servile?" he blinked foolishly at her, so Wyne elaborated, "You are Shaman!"

    "Because a Shaman is a servant, not a conqueror or ruler," James explained patiently.

    Wyne didn't know how to deal with him; all she'd been told were that humans were rude, and enjoyed killing and polluting. To meet one, a Shaman no less, and find them so cordial and kind...

    "Forgive me," she said quietly, feeling tears coming on, "I… You are the first human I've actually met. You must think so ill of me."

    "Wyne," Vera flipped over, exposing her belly and looking right at the Selkie, "James doesn't have a mean bone in his body; he doesn't think ill of you at all. He just wants to help, and so do I."

    Glancing at James' nodding head, Wyne curled into herself. She'd been expecting a prison…

    "I can go wherever I wish?"

    "Eh, I'd say ask the Merrow where you can swim; there's flooded parts of the Manor that aren't real safe, yet." James said, to Vera's nod, and Wyne felt her dams breaking.

    'Am I safe?'

    "C-Can I… remake my tools?"

    "Oh, are you a crafts… uh, Selkie?" James perked up with interest, tapping his rattle with one finger, "I made my own tools, you know, and Librarian Lisanna's gonna teach me wandmaking someday… hey, where'd she go?" One of the Faeries above said something, but…

    Wyne didn't bother looking up, as tears filled her eyes and a sob left her lips. She wasn't a prisoner, wasn't going to be sold to the Faerie, wasn't a slave; she was free… exactly as she wished, before her exile.

    She said as much, after Vera flowed up and hugged her with paws and tails, and asked the air, "W-Why does it hurt s-s-so much?"

    James gulped, and stepped closer to put a warm, lightly calloused hand on her shoulder, "I… don't rightly know, but I can tell you what I think."

    Wyne, to her shame, nodded and leaned into the Shaman's touch; what would her mother- what was she thinking? Her mother would probably try to slap Shaman James with a bass!

    "I think it's because you think you're alone," James said quietly, rubbing Wyne's shoulder with a thumb, "The people you trusted to keep you safe just… kicked you out, in the worst way, like you never mattered to them; but you do matter, Wyne. If I've learned anything since becoming a Shaman, it's that everyone has a place in the world. So, yeah, they kicked you out."

    Another hand touched Wyne's face, and wiped a silvery tear away; she jerked back, and took in the silent apology on James' face. Then Vera pulled back, looked into Wyne's eyes, and spoke, brightly and certainly.

    "Well, you're still alive! Just keep swimming, Wyne, and, if you listen to your friends, sooner or later, you'll find somewhere to be happy again!" James passed Wyne a square of cloth, and gestured at his eyes.

    Wyne wiped the tears away, and whispered, "I have no friends. I have nothing."

    "You do so have friends," James promised, sitting next to her and patting her shoulder, "Even if no one else will, we will, right Vera?" his kitsune familiar yip-ed and nodded, and the boy Shaman said, "So, y'know, don't feel like everything's already ended, Wyne. Your story just hit a snag, and it's just getting started. D'you want help finding someplace to stay? There's a lot of rooms in this place that aren't taken."

    She nodded, and looked around the room, before asking James, "C… could I stay in the tree, just for tonight?"

    "Course! I just put in a cot, too, and Mr. Willow loves having company," he held out a hand for her and, after Vera flowed to the floor, Wyne took it with a smile, allowing the human boy to lead her into the small tree cabin; it was a spacious room with shelves playing host to jars containing all sorts of things, there was a trio of Faeries – one of whom she'd met earlier, Breech – nattering to each other in a cubby up near the ceiling, and a bench large enough for two Selkies was situated on the second floor, along with a large number of old books.

    She was introduced to all of this by James, while Vera carried her things and boasted about the pool's strong Water attunement, which all three of them talked about while unpacking Wyne's things.

    Yes, James was correct, Wyne felt as night fell and the Shaman and his kitsune stayed with her, pointing up at stars that were both similar and different, and later, being tucked in and read a story by the – as she found – younger being of magic, James Stormcaller.

    'I am alive. My story will go on,' Wyne mused sleepily, while James read about an African lion that not only talked, but learned to defend himself against poachers; it was a terribly funny tale, even though she didn't know what half the things were. But she could find out! 'And I can grow, make art, without the clan telling me how to do everything… and I don't have to go it alone.'

    Eventually, both James and Vera ended up falling asleep on the blanket Wyne sat on to be healed; quietly, she pulled her hide close about her, and joined her friends on the floor. She kept a respectful distance, though; it would be shameful to be so forward, so soon after meeting her friends. And, Wyne thought with a smile, falling asleep while watching James and Vera breathe, she had plenty of time to get to know them.

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    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021 at 8:22 PM
    HearthBorn, @non, wargonzola and 20 others like this.
  13. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 12 "On Meadows Green"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    Lycanthropy

    Few know how it began.

    I will tell you now, in the final hours of my life; let this stand as a record for the origins of the vilest curse laid upon humanity, now or, I pray, hence.

    We were betrayed, all of us, in all four corners of the World, though it did not always seem so.

    I was there when our betrayer was still young.

    He came to Greece in the guise of a prophet, a wise-man, a Shaman true. He drove out the snakes from their dens, and made water spring forth from barren moors. The people came to delight at his passing, his gentle nature.

    It was false.

    He spoke in the town squares, and it was there many began to doubt: he asked the people, 'Where are your Gods? Must I, a humble beggar, do their work for them, while they debauch themselves on our innocent race? Where are their children, the Heroes? This I say to you, Greeks: they are false, but I can show you the way.'

    He was shunned, then, from Macedon to Sparta… but some listened. I listened. Indeed, I was one of his most vocal supporters; for a time, I thought myself his trusted friend, as he confided in me, and others, of his plans for humanity, and in private, his worries and flaws.

    Such designs and wonders he showed to us, inspiring us all to great deeds; with the devices he made, with the teachings he imparted on us, with his words in our ears, we achieved so much, there on the Isle of Obsidian in the Black Sea, and from there we beautified the lands of Bosporus such that even marble-clad Athens could not compare.

    It was all lies. A ploy, hidden behind honeyed words and kind smiles.

    Some of us went on missions and never came back; others went to the workshops and stayed there. I was told they were more content there than in the fields, or on the battlefields against the Thracians and Dacians who harried us. I believed him, trusted him, as did so many others. My wife. My children. All in service to him, who would raise humanity up once more, and lead us into a new Spring of Gaia.

    He betrayed us all.

    By the time I realized what had been done to us, it was too late; my wife was a ravening horror, my children no more than beasts. I only retained my wits due to my origins, as an apprentice to one of Thebes' great magisters.

    I confronted him, barely able to speak around the canine shape of my jaw, on that infamously bloody night, when what is now known as the Black Decade truly began, when Campus Scythii burned in [Fiendfyre] and the peoples of the steppes were raised from the grave, the beginnings of the Blighted Host.

    I accused him of treachery, of apostasy, of turning his back on us all, on humanity.

    He laughed at me, and asked, 'But child, have you not the power you sought?'

    He left me for dead, in that ash-blasted waste. Few of us, those that managed to stay sane through the transformation, found each other, joined together under the Centaurs' banner as those forest-folk were roused to war, for the first time since the count of time began. We beat our chests, and gnashed our teeth in bitterness, and swore to see his end, for all the sorrows he had wrought, and those that came after.

    I witnessed the Filigree Tower, last true relic of Lost Atlantis and meeting place of the High Dragons, shattering like glass.

    I was there when Ipsilion struck his sister Veronia down, in that place the Bedouin call "Sun's Anvil".

    I was there when Persephone received news of the radical Fae who helped him, who even as the messengers spoke were attacking Phoenicia, and I was there when Summer and Winter brought forth their legions from the Realm of Twilight to destroy these traitors.

    My blood was added to the Pact of Coalition, as all who breathed free in Mundus swore upon Life and Magic to stand against the Dark.

    I was there, in Hatra, when Tsunami-no-Miko, Mistress of the Deepest Fathoms, led the Spirits of Gaia into war, and the demons fled before her wrath.

    I was there when Babylon was sieged for two years by the Foul One and his endless hordes of undead; I fought upon her blue walls until they ran red and black with demonic ichor; and I was there when that siege was broken by Sandalphon and Glimmervale.

    I beheld the Second Dawn, the battle between Ipsilion and Gaia's Sprits, with Persephone at their head.

    I was there when Herpo the Foul died in a pool of his own blood, weeping, and his last words were, "I don't want to die!"

    And now… I am old.

    The Isle was obliterated by the Scythian storm-singers, in the Fourth Year of the Decade.

    The demons are vanquished, the Gates have been sealed, and may they ever remain so.

    I found love again, in Antioch, and my children are blessedly free of the curse that ails me still, as is my wife… but this is not true for all those like me.

    The darkest days of my life seem distant and worn, yet also fresh and harsh, as though t'were only yesterday they happened. Some like me still live, against my wishes; the High Dragons and Coalition spared us, but the Scourge of the Beast still courses through our veins, and will infect anyone who imbibes it. I know how it was created, and have killed all those who also knew; but some of us, the innocent who were not part of the Dark Lord's inner circle, yet remain.

    I feel it in my bones, in the singing beast that has been slowly eating my body and soul; they are alive, and the Scourge may spread once more.

    I have consulted the Dragons; they say that, in time, the Scourge will dilute itself and become relatively harmless. But to them, who see a century and a millennium as one in the same, I hold little trust, and their assurance is bitter as the ashes of Scythii in my mouth.

    To those reading these words, I say: do not judge us for what we are. Yea, some may choose this cursed life, not knowing the steep price that must be paid every Moon, in exchange for great strength of arm and quickness of wit, but most who find themselves cursed with the Scourge are good in their heart of hearts; they were either born to this, and have no choice but to fight and endure, or are cursed by happenstance, and give their all to fight the beast within.

    And this is where Gaia's love for us shines through, truly, for though we who are plagued by the Scourge have no choice but to become a beast, we can still fight; we can remain human.

    My name is Kaarle of Macedon, the First Werewolf, and I am proud to die human.

    -note on parchment, currently held by
    The Manuscript Archive of the Great Library
    No date recorded

    This note is the only remaining original writing definitively proven to have been made by Kaarle of Macedon, the First Werewolf and former General of Herpo the Foul. Multiple copies of other writings exist, but all these only relate his various business dealings as a procurer of colored dye and glassware; none of the writings or maps made during his tenure as a General for the Black Fiend have ever been recovered. –Library Curator al-Saif, 1967 CE

    .
    [..|..]
    .

    "…and while it is, indeed, a tragedy of the highest order, I cannot, and will not, allow this motion to come to a vote, especially within this august council. Yes, Greyback attacks my country's shores at least once every two years; yes, the people of Scandinavia are tired of his continuing existence; yes, he and those who have submitted to the Beastly Scourge are a blight on our world, one we should all be ashamed in allowing to fester this long.

    "These are facts, my fellow Mugwumps, but if you think I will stand by and watch as you condemn the Sanctuaries to summary execution, simply because their inhabitants happen to be Werewolves, then you have forgotten the history of this world, along with your place in it, and should review our collective histories – particularly why the Sanctuaries exist and who founded them – before making such nearsighted and rash decisions."

    - Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
    Supreme Mugwump of the ICW
    Chief Warlock, Magical Ministry of Great Britain
    Headmaster, Hogwarts School, Scotland
    Grand Sorcerer (cred. ICW DMLE)
    at the Geneva Convention of 1985 CE

    The matter on the docket that day was Fenrir Greyback's continuing raids of Europe's coastal regions from his base in the Scandinavian fjords; an alarming majority of the ICW called for a summary Purge of all Werewolf populations across the planet, which would have been in violation of the Coalition Edicts protecting pacifist Werewolves, as well as myriad local laws, particularly those in the Americas, East Asia, and Canada. S.M. Dumbledore's speech managed to quell these heated voices, and other measures were taken to dissuade Greyback from continuing his raids. –ICW Scribe Lintel, 1985 CE

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    Chapter 12
    On Meadows Green


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    Remus Lupin never liked Apparition.

    There was just something unsettling about forcing one's body through a pinhole with little more than raw magic and force of will; yes, it was an easier way to get around than, say, taking the train, but he much preferred Portkeys. There was no chance of accidentally losing something important, with Portkeys.

    But, alas, he was only able to take a Portkey from Four Corners, United States, to the Ministry Building in London, England, mostly due to various laws governing Portkey creation that were generally overlooked, for most wizards – that is, so long as it was inside a nation's borders and no crime was being committed, the offense would only get a slap on the wrist and a mild fine.

    Not so for Remus. It was even odds he'd be tossed in Azkaban or exiled to Scandinavia, especially in Britain, because he was a Werewolf.

    Very few people in his home country actually liked Werewolves; a sad few were in a government office that could change the policy, though none could bring up the condition without being subject to scorn. This dislike of lycanthropy was further evidenced by the absence of any official Sanctuary in Great Britain or Ireland, along with severely restricting laws regarding Werewolves – mostly related to employment and property ownership – that bordered on prejudice.

    No, Remus amended, blowing a frustrated huff through his nose and watching the London rain from his place in a Muggle apartment building's doorway, where he sought shelter from the downpour; the laws of Britain went over the line into outright discrimination, and if the ICW ever got up off its ass and audited Britain's Ministry, they'd likely dissolve the whole thing and put it under an Overseer Committee for the next century, at least.

    To think, it wouldn't be so bad, for Werewolves anyway, had Fenrir Greyback been killed in the War…

    But, whether good or ill, for the winter this year, as with every year since Remus graduated Hogwarts, these Isles would be his home; luckily for him, he had somewhere relatively pleasant to stay, as opposed to one of the Order's old derelict safehouses.

    Scratching a scar on his neck, Remus sighed, tapped his pocketed wand to cast a minor Notice-Me-Not Charm, and cleared his mind, focusing on a destination few in the Magical World knew about; the Beast in him, surly and unsatisfied after the most recent Full Moon, perked up with excitement, which brought a small smirk to Remus' lips.

    Walnut Manor; it was the only place, outside Four Corners Sanctuary, where Remus and the Beast in him agreed about in a positive way, though these reasons differed somewhat.

    For Remus, it meant three full meals a day, excellent company in the form of Gregory, Vileclaw and the Fae Folk – Cookie, Lisanna and Melfina especially – lovely grounds to walk around on and a magical library that was without compare, outside a Noble and Ancient House. It was the closest thing to 'home' he could find, since the War's end.

    For the Beast, it meant spending the Full Moon with Griffons, one of the few sentient Magical Creatures who could overpower a Werewolf, and the only one that knew what 'holding back' meant.

    Remus pointedly did not think about the Beast in him asking for tummy rubs from the Griffons; that was just asking to get Splinched.

    Letting the visualization of the Forest of Dean fill his mind, Remus gripped his magic and shoved-

    -himself through the eye of a needle-

    -and with a wrenching snap, he was standing between two trees; coughing and swallowing to keep from revisiting his breakfast, patting himself down to make sure everything made it – still impeccably lucky on that front – Remus looked at the tree on his left out of reflex, and let out a weary sigh.

    There, well above his head now, was a carved heart, "J+L" in the middle, so old now it was nearly invisible to those who didn't know it was there.

    That had been a good summer…

    Dismissing the bittersweet memories with a fast head-shake, Remus turned around and smiled wryly at the deeper forest, unshrinking his walking stick in the process and doing a couple stretches; sure, he wasn't exactly old yet, but between his condition and those awful months he spent spying on Greyback's pack during the War, Remus felt less like 29 going on 30, and more like 50 going on 60, most of the time, anyway. Some time spent among the Fae Folk should fix-

    Right as he was about to start walking, Remus was suddenly surrounded by flames that didn't burn, but promised death. Vengeful, wrathful, they encased him and- just as suddenly, they were gone.

    "Remus! Goodness, lad, I'm so sorry!" that was Dumbledore. A trill that imparted the feeling of 'apology' on Remus' frayed senses told the Werewolf that Fawkes was with him.

    The Beast in Remus snarled in annoyance, its hackles rising; how dare the Headmaster sneak up on them, in this, of all places!

    "Albus," Remus panted, one hand on his chest to mask how hard he was shoving back at the Beast; there was an explanation… well, there had better be a good explanation as to why Dumbledore was there. Otherwise, he might have to give his old Headmaster a lecture, "Not exactly the 'welcome home' I was expecting, but I've had worse."

    And he didn't like thinking about those times, either, the silent, lonely days, so he shoved those back too.

    "Again, my apologies; I'd warded this area expecting to catch someone else and… well, I wasn't expecting you to be the one to trip it; out for a hike, then?" looking up, Remus found Albus Dumbledore standing well out of arm's reach – smart of him; the Beast was still snarling in Remus' mind – wearing orange-gold sequined robes and a politely curious look on his bearded face, with Fawkes the phoenix on his shoulder, giving the Werewolf a sheepish bow.

    Registering the question, Remus' lips twitched as he straightened back up, "Hmm, yes; this is a good place for me to calmly reflect on the past. I've spent a few moons in this forest, camping with… the Marauders, and James and Lily camped out here, the summer before their 7th year; I assume it's here the scalawag proposed to her, so taking a trip down memory lane is usually a good way to sooth my nerves" he ignored the wince on Albus' face, shoved down the faint bitterness of the past decade, and asked lightly, "Anything I should be worried about? You seemed like you were ready to burn the whole forest down."

    After glancing around in suspicion, Albus cast a couple privacy wards – ones Remus didn't wholly recognize – and said wearily, "I really should've listened to Minerva… and you… and Alastor…"

    Remembering a heated argument nearly a decade gone that involved both his former Head of House and that neurotic madman, Remus' face hardened, "What, did the Dursleys finally show their true colors?"

    "Sadly, yes; apparently, young Harry decided to try his hand at some form of Nature magic," Remus recoiled in surprise, and Albus nodded, lips twitching in humor, "Yes, I was quite alarmed too; fortunately, the worst to happen was the lad calling every woodland critter within four city blocks over for a sleepover. Luckily, there weren't any deer or anything larger than a raccoon, but Vernon Dursley had a rather close call with a skunk."

    Remus couldn't stop the snort of mirth at the mental image; he might've been the most rule-abiding of the Marauders, but he was still a Marauder, and the man who married Lily's sister… well, there were words for that man, few of them polite.

    But, alas, the humor quickly died, "And I take it the man didn't appreciate it, hmm?"

    "Not at all," and here, Albus' face went stormy, "Vernon packed up everything young Harry owned, drove him to the car park a half-hour's walk that way," Fawkes indicated the direction with a wing, "and left him there."

    Remus grit his teeth, closed his eyes, and counted backwards from thirty. Slowly. The alternative was tearing Albus' throat- no. He needed to remain calm, even if the Beast was the furthest thing from it.

    "Remus, I-…" at the Werewolf's raised hand, Albus stopped with his empty apologies, and waited for the younger wizard to collect himself.

    "Have you tried a Divination?" Remus finally asked, though his tone was more than a little flinty, now. A Divination spell made sense, to the Werewolf. Few other mediums would be able to locate Harry, and, as everyone knew, Albus was a Grand Sorcerer. For one such as him, no wards would be an obstacle.

    "Yes," the ancient wizard sighed, his own teeth gritting, "but, that leads us back to why I'm here. The spell I used would've been able to find anyone, no matter what kind of ward they were behind… unless those wards were crafted by the Faerie."

    The younger wizard blinked. He rolled the staff in his hand and chewed on his tongue, not meeting Albus' eye.

    Inside, he was fuming; either one of the Courts had Harry – it would be difficult to collect the lad, but not impossible – or… well, odds were the nearby Exiles wouldn't chase young Harry off. If the lad was delving into nature magic, a manor full of Faerie would seem like a dream come true, and if he was anything like his parents... Remus almost felt bad for Lisanna, though Melfina and Cookie would probably like the kid, to say nothing of the other members of the Walnut Court.

    Still, the revenant was on the grounds. Not something Remus wanted in the same postal code as James' son.

    Either way, letting Albus know of the Manor was simply impossible.

    "Remus? Is there something I should know?"

    The younger wizard looked up at the sky – cloudy, but the rains had already come through this area, evidenced by the birds chirping in a nearby puddle – and replied, carefully, "My studies of Magical Creatures and their lifestyles say Harry is unlikely to come to harm, if one of the Grand Courts has him; if the Seelie have him, it'll be a simple matter to secure his release. If it's Unseelie… well," Remus' smirk turned a tad dark, "I have my ways."

    "You seem awful calm about James' son being kidnapped by the Faerie," Remus would be lying if he said that one didn't hurt, but it was also uncalled for.

    "Panicking would get me nowhere, Headmaster," Remus finally met the older wizard's eyes, Occlumency shields up to full; only a slight probe pushed against them, but Remus ignored it and smiled good-naturedly, "And, if neither Grand Court has him, there's one other place I could look; sadly, I can't tell you anything about it."

    Albus frowned, Fawkes tilting his head in confusion as the Chief Warlock asked, "The reason being…?"

    "I submitted to a geas, to the effect that I can't reveal its location or the nature of said location's inhabitants; never fear, sir," Remus chuckled when Albus stiffened, "If Harry's with them, he's safer than anywhere else in Britain, Howarts possibly included."

    The aged wizard didn't look convinced, but sighed after a moment, pocketing his wand, "I'll take you at your word, Remus, for now. I expect an update, whether or not you find young Harry in this… safe place of yours."

    "I'll send you a letter before Halloween," Remus nodded, turning to begin walking, though his voice was a tad clipped as he bid the Headmaster farewell, "Have a merry one, Albus."

    "…and you, Remus," with that sad mutter, Albus vanished in a plume of True Flame, back to Hogwarts once more.

    Meanwhile, the Werewolf of the pair kept walking, though his pace was a tad faster than usual.

    Harry was missing. Harry had been brought to the Forest of Dean, after playing with nature magic, and was now missing. Talent with nature magic was in high demand all over the world, from the gardens of Spain's magical nobility to China's few remaining royal bathhouses; the possibility of one of the various organizations or cabals around the world getting ahold of him…

    'It's not likely at all,' Remus assured himself as the outer woods of the Faerie redoubt, massive trees like pillars to a huge temple, came into view. Their leaves were the browns, reds and golds of autumn, the sight sending a feeling of safety through Remus' body. If Harry had come this way, Remus was sure the lad wouldn't have been able to resist exploring the place… which could be either good or bad; good if he found the Manor, but if Harry accidently wandered into the ancient circle…

    Resolving to find Melfina but quick, he strode into the undergrowth and focused on not tripping over roots, slowly making his way toward the distant Manor.

    [..|..]

    It'd been a week since Wyne shuffled into the Willow Room, and James was sure of it now: here was a friend who'd stay that way, no matter how long he lived.

    Oh, he wasn't about to get his hopes up, but… well, currently she was trying to water-fight with Vera in the pool outside the Willow Treehouse, where James was reading a book on magical foci; wands were covered, but so were staffs and other more specialized implements, like gauntlets or swords. That was the realm of enchanting, though, and it'd be a long time before James had the tools to imbue iron with magic.

    But Wyne… a peal of laughter came from the pool as Vera, more water than fox currently, split into multiple streams and started tickling their Selkie friend; it made James smile, hearing her so delighted and happy. She'd been so sad and alone when they met, but after a week of exploring the Gardens – certain flowers could make dye, and Wyne was excited to find ones she needed – and the grounds of the Manor, including the Merrow Pond – where James finally learned how to swim, and thank goodness the waters were still warm – not to mention seeing her eyes full of wonder as he began reading of Beren, Luthien and the hunt for the Silmaril…

    'Is this what Landlady saw in me; a sad youth, reveling in freedom and wonder?'

    Taking a deep breath and letting it go gently, James refocused on the task at hand: figuring out how to make a staff that wouldn't blow up because he overused it…

    A few minutes later – and Wyne squealing with excitement as Vera turned the pool into a whirlpool, dragging the Selkie under the water while James grinned at their antics – a light buzz of wings alerted the young Shaman to a Fae landing on his recently-washed hair.

    "Whatcha reading?" Snapper asked after belly-flopping on James' head, chin held in his hands, "Ooh, staves? Gonna make a new one?"

    "It's 'staffs', I think," James quirked a lip and flipped a page, "or, that's how the book refers to them."

    "'Staves' sounds cooler."

    James shrugged, "Either or, I suppose; anyway, yeah, I'm making a new one."

    "Thought Lady Lisa said you weren't allowed to craft no wands till you graduated Hogwarts, or something," there was a mischievous note in Snapper's voice, which raised James' humor a little; the coarser of the Triplets had warmed up to him and Vera over the months, since their arrival at the Manor. It finally looked like the days of being scorned were behind them.

    "Staffs aren't wands," he poked one of the book's pages and summarized, "According to this, I did everything right except the type of wood I was supposed to use, though, when I make my next one, adding a cap on the staff's bottom would probably help with its longevity…" James sighed, "But I lost most of my wrappings and copper when my first staff broke."

    Snapper hummed, glanced over at the pool – another pair of giggles as Vera and Wyne broke the surface again, clearly tired of their game – and asked James, "Didn't you have a lot of stuff like that in your bag? Just use that."

    "Yeah, but…" James dug in his bag, which was next to him, and held up a couple solid-copper wires, "They still got insulation on them, and these have kinda melted onto the copper from heat and overuse."

    "Gimme," Snapper snatched it out of his fingers. James watched, through his fringe, as Snapper used his sharp fingertips to slice the wire open, peel one end, and pulled the wire through his razor-sharp teeth; spitting to one side, the Fae handed the cleaned copper back, "Bleh, that's nasty. There ya go. Got any more?"

    Holding up a handful with thanks, James picked up his increasingly-ratty backpack and got to his feet, "May as well head out to the forest, see if I can find a decently-sized branch for the staff."

    Apparently hearing him, Vera called over from where she was lying at the side of the pool, "Why not just take a branch from the Walnut?"

    "Vera," James frowned a little, "Faeries live there." Shrugging, his foxy sister got to her paws and started hopping on them, limbering up for a hike; turning to Wyne, who was using her arms as pillows and watching him, James asked, "D'you want to come with us, Wyne?"

    "What is in the forest?"

    "Lotsa stuff," Breech called, flying down from the branches with James' wide-brimmed hat; after a small scuffle that resulted in James having two Faeries riding on his hat, with Louie perching on the backpack's side, Breech elaborated, "There's ponds and streams all over the place, should be plenty of soggy and dry leaves, 'cause it's Autumn, and there's all kinds of bugs and shiny rocks and flowers."

    "Then yes, I would like to join," Wyne rose from the pool, only stopping to collect and put on her seal-skin totem before following James and Vera out of the Willow Room…

    Though James called over his shoulder, "Be back soon, Mr. Willow!"

    'Farewell, James!' the tree replied merrily; he'd been so happy ever since James moved his laboratory there.

    They didn't even make it to the exit before Vera took the lead and started humming Roads Go Ever On, Louie's flute joining her once they started walking under the trees surrounding the Manor. After a while, James joined the humming, and Wyne sidled close to hold his arm; even though he blushed at her closeness, James fought it down and held her hand. Beautiful though she was – he almost felt like Beren must've on meeting his first Elf, sometimes, Wyne's features looked so perfect – James only thought of her as a good friend in the making; so, he would treat her kindly, because that's how he wanted to be treated.

    In time, they passed Mr. Vileclaw's house, where Melfina was having tea with him, her boyfriend – James didn't wholly understand how that worked, as Master Vile was old and Landlady was a Fae, but it worked, so it wasn't his place to judge.

    Both of them were taking advantage of the pleasant weather – it'd rained earlier, but now the sun was out – to sit outside in a pair of rocking chairs.

    "Hey, Landlady!" James called, and the party of Faeries, kitsune, Selkie and Shaman made their way over; on hearing about their plan, both older members of the Court decided to join them, Vileclaw laughing off protests that he was 'too old', before making them chase after him.

    On the way, though, Melfina hovered closer to James, a small smile on her face, "You should know, Harry, that Remus Lupin has just arrived; he crossed the wards just a few hours ago.

    Oh! James had known about the Werewolf, from the Triplets and Lisanna mostly, and all the rumors about the Werewolf were good, so, "I'll make sure to keep my distance on the full moon, then." Weird how Melfina used his real name, though…

    "He is a Werewolf?" Wyne asked curiously; getting yesses and nods, she sighed and shook her head, "One day, the Scourge will be gone, and none will need fear it again."

    James squeezed her hand, smiling at her when she looked up, "One day…" that made Wyne brighten, and talk turned to other matters, like how Walnut Manor didn't celebrate Halloween – because they didn't' want any ghosts coming to squat in their halls – and what Wyne could do with a couple reeds and some gneiss, and James put thoughts of the Werewolf, Remus Lupin, aside for the moment.

    [..|..]

    There was a worn and battered suitcase hidden in the roots of a tree; if his steps hadn't turned toward the circle, or spotted the handle sticking out of the moss and leaves, Remus would surely have missed it. Inside was a broken electric lantern, and nothing else to say who once owned the discarded luggage.

    Frowning at the surrounding forest, Remus noticed… something, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what was different. Checking the area with some detection spells, including one of his own invention that could detect Faerie glamours, Remus found there were no illusions in play, and yet… the forest seemed, well, brighter, since last he came this way. Always, since his father's note led him to this place, there was always the oily feel of a greater undead at the edge of his senses, becoming stronger the closer he was to the stables, where the revenant was bound.

    Now, however… none of the rot was making itself apparent. Before, small mundane animals would avoid the forest, but now chipmunks and starlings were flitting to and fro, over ground and through the air, and a few insects were still buzzing about.

    After a sideways glance in the direction of the stone circle and rubbing his chin – which would need a shave soon – Remus decided to check with Melfina first, figure out what exactly happened since he left for the Americas back in March, before approaching the old altar to the druids.

    So, after shrinking and pocketing the suitcase, Remus turned his feet west and forged on, keeping an eye peeled for smaller Faerie; they were known for their love of revelry, after all, and the idea of a chipmunk or squirrel mount would be right up their alley… but then, only a few minutes from the roots where he found that suitcase, he heard stirrings of musical instruments. One was a flute, for certain, and maybe a small bagpipe being tuned.

    "Muffliato," Remus murmured, silencing his steps and creeping closer to a small clearing; one of the many streams winding through the forest made a shallow pool ahead, which was filled with small stones. As he approached, Remus also felt… odd. A not-unpleasant pressure was becoming known in the air; despite the peacefulness, and a pair of laughs that certainly sounded like Vileclaw and Melfina herself, Remus approached warily…

    And, on seeing a large vulpine head that seemed Nature manifest, Remus felt his heart stutter with joy and the Beast within curl up in a dark corner of his soul. It was a Spirit of Compassion, bound in the world as an Avatar of Nature, or he knew nothing of magical phenomena. Glowing pools of pink water formed the eyes, stone and mud vied with swirling moss and grass, and all about its lounging form flowers and vines were sprouting.

    The beautiful manifestation of Gaia wasn't alone, either. A young Selkie girl was sorting flowers and stones with the help of a silver-haired Faerie – Snapper, Remus thought was the Fae's name, one of the Triplets, a clique of siblings who were trained by Melfina herself. Near them was a boy in a vest and loose linen shirt with frayed trousers, feet bare and a girl Faerie – Breech – playing with her bagpipes on the wide-brimmed hat that didn't hide the lad's messy black hair – Harry?

    Next to the boy, who was focused on peeling bark off a length of wood with a knife, was a three-tailed kitsune, snow white with ocean-blue highlights, laughing loudly at a joke Melfina had told from her seat on a root next to Vileclaw, who seemed happier than Remus could remember seeing the Goblin. The final member of the Triplets, Louie, was seated with the kitsune, clearly preparing to play on his flute.

    Remus was nothing short of baffled, mainly because a kitsune was sitting with multiple Fae and no one was arguing.

    And then Louie began to play his flute, joined shortly after by Breech's bagpipes, and Melfina called, "A song, James?"

    '…no. It can't be,' Remus denied, pinching himself; it wasn't a dream, so it had to be a coincidence.

    "Sure, Landlady… but only if everyone joins in with their favorite parts – Wyne, you just read the book, so sing the parts you like the best." the lad smiled up at the nearby Faerie Scribe, revealing his face, before he addressed the young Selkie, who beamed at the boy.

    Remus barely noticed, however; it was Harry! The scar, the glasses, Lily's green eyes-

    Before Remus could think of a way to approach, however, the plinking of Snapper's lute joined the flute and pipes, and the last Potter began to sing.

    The Road goes ever on and on,
    down from the door where it began.
    Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    and I must follow, if I can…

    Remus knew this song, because of course he knew it; the Hogwarts Choir – such as it was back in his schooldays – had done a splendid rendition of this poem in his second year. But it was memorable not because of Tolkien…

    It was when James Potter first heard Lily Evans sing. Never would Remus forget the look on his best friend's face, that quiet Christmas evening; it was soon after that, James promised he would marry Lily Evans, something the other three Marauders didn't think would be possible…

    Before his eyes – which Remus quickly rubbed moisture from; bloody thrice-cursed autumn wind, throwing dust around – Remus watched their son continue the song, the kitsune next to him joining in with a high soprano to match his tenor.

    Pursuing it with eager feet,
    until it joins some larger way
    where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither, then? I cannot say.

    And then all in the clearing joined in, the massive Nature avatar behind the party waving multiple leaf-and-stone-covered tails, creating a drumbeat and the quiet sounds of a flute to accompany the swelling song, the harmony bringing such joyful pride to Remus' heart, he thought it might burst:

    Roads go ever, ever on,
    over rock and under tree,
    by caves where never sun has shone,
    by streams that never find the sea;

    "Over snow, by winter sown!" sang Melfina, the kitsune, and the Triplets together; a kitsune and the Faerie singing together! Remus felt positively blessed to see such a rare thing.

    "And through the me~rry flowers of June!" Wyne and Harry rejoined, their combined childish voices making Remus smile so hard it hurt.

    "Over grass, and over stone," Vileclaw's low bass rumbled with the humming of the Nature avatar, whose eyes had closed.

    Taking a deep breath, Remus stopped fighting against the urge to join, and sang in his low tenor while walking into the clearing, "and under mountains in the moon."

    Rather than stop the song, or ask who he was, Remus was met with welcoming smiles all around. Harry even grinned and waved at him, while Melfina gestured toward an empty root for Remus to sit. Well, he wasn't about to refuse, and took his seat, a million questions spiraling through his mind… but the song wasn't done.

    So, he went on, as he had that day when James became smitten, "Roads go ever, ever on, under cloud and under star."

    Melfina's voice matched her wide, happy smile, "Yet feet that wandering have gone, turn at last, to home afar." Vileclaw raised a cup of that undrinkable tea of his, and mouthed 'Welcome home, lad'.

    Remus could barely see as that damn Goblin boisterously sang with Melfina, "Eyes that fire and sword have seen, and horror in the halls of stone!" A shiver, unbidden, ran through the Werewolf, remembering the battle in York's underground magical quarter, how he, James, and Sirius had all almost died a dozen times over…

    "Look at last, on meadows green," a canteen was put in Remus' free hand; looking up, he found Harry smiling gently at him, the boy's eyes just as misty, that kitsune twirling around Remus' legs with a happy yip.

    And all in the clearing – with some voices a bit choked by emotion, but strong nonetheless – finished, "and trees and hills they long have known."

    "Ha!" Snapper cheered, strumming a merry tune on his lute, "How's that for a 'welcome home', Remus?"

    Remus laughed, wiping the last few tears from his eyes, "I daresay it's the best I've had in many, many long years; thank you, all of you," he looked at each participant in turn – Wyne the Selkie ducked her head but smiled, while Landlady and Vile both puffed up proudly – before Remus turned to Harry, who was walking back to the staff he'd been carving…

    Wondering for a moment what he should say, Remus decided to address the biggest issue in the clearing, indicating it with his walking stick while preparing to sip from the canteen, "Not that I'd ever in my life complain, Landlady, but wherever did you get a Spirit of Compassion?"

    Rather than Melfina, it was the kitsune who spoke, brightly and happily, "Oh, that wasn't Landlady! That was us, me and James here!"

    Remus half choked on the water, coughing – and looking incredulously between the smiling small three-tails and nine-year-old boy, and the house-sized Nature Avatar nodding serenely at him – before finding his voice, asking Melfina hoarsely, "I take it I'm going to be astounded by this tale, aren't I?"

    She laughed, and… there was a golden shine to her eyes – all of their eyes – as the Landlady of Walnut Court replied, "Remus, lad, I have been here the whole time and I can scarcely believe it."

    So it was that, first in the clearing, then in Melfina's solar, Remus Lupin was told the story of Shaman James Stormcaller, who, with his trusty Bonded Familiar, Vera Stream-Strider, told tales to the Faerie, brought much-needed joy and laughter to the grounds of the Manor, and banished the revenant… to Elysium. It was a story worthy of the greatest songs, something right out of an ancient myth.

    Ultimately, he had to see it for himself, so Remus went to the stables, as the sun was setting…

    Where a few dozen small wooden markers had been erected on the green grass, each one carved with the sleeping face of a Faerie; offerings were laid at the foot of each, but it was to another sight the Werewolf's gaze was drawn. Namely, the red spider lily in the middle of the clearing, and the two silver markers next to it; those, especially, held the light shimmer of dawn that now seemed to permeate everything in Remus' sight. And yet… there was a feeling of peace in the air, something that pressed against his heart and head, saying without a word: this is hallowed ground. Show respect.

    "No matter what Vera says, it wasn't easy," Harry; Remus looked down at the child, who was frowning thoughtfully at the clearing while, simultaneously, wrapping stitched-together pieces of fabric around the middle of his staff, his kitsune partner lying next to him with a serious expression on her face.

    "Nothing worth doing is ever easy, Harry," Remus said.

    The boy looked up, still frowning, "You say my name like it's familiar."

    He nodded, grimacing, "I… was one of your father's best friends, while he was in school; your mother was a Prefect at the same time I was, and Head Girl later on."

    Vera growled, tails writhing in fury, "Well, why didn't you-?"

    "Vera." Harry looked at her, and she at him; Remus held his tongue, as he knew that those with Spiritual Bonds could speak to their familiars with thought alone. That, and he still hadn't thought of a way to word his defense, for leaving Harry to his relatives' nonexistent mercies.

    After a moment of silent conversation, the water kitsune sat down in a huff, while Harry looked at Remus again, "You're a Werewolf, so, well, I don't blame you for wanting to stay away; besides," the boy's face brightened as he gazed at his surroundings, reaching out with one hand to scratch behind a pleased Vera's ears, "if you had taken me with you, I wouldn't have been able to do all this good. The revenant probably would still be here, Wyne would be so sad, and me an' Vera wouldn't have met."

    Nodding slowly, Remus pointed out, "True… though, and I'm sure the Librarian's already told you this, but the magics you've been using are dangerous, Harry. Yes, you and Vera have a lot of luck and smarts, and those can get you quite far in the world of magic… but the more you stand out, the more people will take notice."

    "Isn't that a good thing?" Harry asked innocently. "If more people notice what I'm doing, seeing the good things I'm making, won't they want to do the same?"

    "Not always," Remus chuckled sheepishly, before his gaze darkened a bit, "Jealousy, envy, pride, and lust can be dangerous things, Harry, and magic makes it even worse. You've learned a lot, and have been keeping yourself in shape," he poked the boy's bicep, and got his hand slapped, though a smile lit up Harry's face at the affectionate action, "but crafting and nature magic, or garden-variety illusions and defense, will only get you so far. After all…

    "Your parents had enemies, Harry," the Boy-Who-Lived's smile vanished at Remus' serious warning, "and not all of them are gone. Sooner or later, you'll have to rejoin the magical world, and if they find out you're a Shaman, well… not every Shaman in history was good as Jander the Sky-Sailor; you'll need a cover for your real abilities, and should only share them with those who've earned your trust."

    Harry hummed for a moment, shared a glance and a shrug with Vera, and replied, "Well, I suppose… I heard that druids use staffs and gestures to work their magic, so…"

    Remus nodded and patted Harry on the back, already drawing up a lesson plan in his head, "You can join me in the mornings for Tai Chi exercises – it's a martial art that has meditative benefits," that seemed to get the lad excited, but there was one thing Remus felt he needed to point out, before heading to bed, "And it's staves, Harry, not staffs."

    "Oh, not you too!" Harry laughed, and then expounded on the difference between the words, all while Vera giggled behind a paw and Remus listened and argued with amusement clear on his face… and a bright ember of hope in his heart.

    Yes, he'd been absent from Harry's life for far too long, but now… now that was going to change. And this time, there'd be no Dumbledore to get in the way of Remus taking care of James and Lily's incredibly talented son.

    'You'd be proud of him,' the Werewolf thought while leading Harry and Vera back to the Manor, where Wyne was waiting in a doorway, telling Shaman and familiar about Jander the Sky-Sailor and his infamous sky-boat, 'Both of you…'

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    HearthBorn, @non, wargonzola and 19 others like this.
  14. Threadmarks: Book 1: Chapter 13 "Precious Gifts"
    Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    [.\|/.]

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    "…the cycle of life and rebirth is painful, but in these pains we make a mark upon the world. In time, these marks may fade and vanish to mortal eyes, but to the enlightened, those who walk with our kin of the soul, the Spirits? Our mortal works live on in the beyond, so long as these works are done with passion, with dedication, with calm, but most potent are the works of love, selfless and everlasting.

    "They are treasured more than any gold or jewel, not just in the world, not just in tales; those who are not man yet come from [Gaia's] soul- the Spirits- they tend to the embers of our past lives… for they love us, their kin, who can touch another part of life's great circle. And we must love them, the Spirits, for what are they but the caretakers for our souls, who will ensure our rebirth so we might continue seeking Nirvana?

    "So I say, without doubt or ego, the ultimate fact of life, the failure of despair, and the hope that gives all hearts wings: love prevails over all…"

    -Siddattha Gotama
    The Buddha
    Student of Persephone and Sandalphon
    The Enlightened One

    Sermon in the Ganges Plain, c500 BCE
    Declassified portion
    (full copy of sermon is sealed in the Great Library's secure vaults)

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    [..|..]
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    Cultivation

    Cultivation of Natural Energy, or Chi, or Qi, or Chakra, is a method of creating a dense core of stored magical power within the body, usually attached to the soul. It is the oldest and most reliable way for most magical humans to use Sympathetic Magic - that is, the casting of large-scale spells using the body as a conduit, usually with specific gestures or movements, mainly ones that cause the body to exert itself in some way, either physically or magically.

    Due to its difficulty and learning curve, Cultivation is a nearly dead Magical Art. Only two remaining institutes of learning, Glimmervale and the Tonga Tower, still teach Cultivation as a class; in both cases, it is an elective.

    -from Encyclopedia of Magical Arts, 5th Edition (1977 CE)
    published by Osmund and Son, LTD, Valencia, Spain

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    Cultivation may be of use in proving Theory 22i. Talk to Rashka and Claude, other peers; maybe Guru M. or Master Aunt Phessy will have insight.
    Addition: a Shaman doesn't need to Cultivate. They are Ascended by definition.
    Reminder: ask H about CB, uses in PC and Rs


    -scrawlings on the margins of a sheet of parchment
    containing handwritten notes detailing the Paths of Cultivation
    handwriting has been identified as Hermione Jean Granger's
    presumably written between 1993 and 1995 CE
    the final line has never been figured out, 'H' may refer to Harry Potter
    Found in between the pages of an abridged verson of Tales of Beedle the Bard, Hogwarts Library, 2007 CE

    [..|..]

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    Chapter 13
    Precious Gifts

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    October and November rolled through Great Britain much as they had done in centuries past; leaves turned their colors, animals prepared their food caches for the coming winter, and humanity added more layers to their clothes as temperatures fell.

    On the border between Britain proper and Wales, in a hidden vale that bordered the River Wye, the magical residents of Walnut Manor only felt the seasons' change in the slow retreat of the summer's sun, and the oncoming purples, browns and golds of the grounds' and gardens' manifold trees. This year, their leaves were more even and crisp in their change than in all the Manor's 230 years of playing host to a horde of Exiled Fae, each leaf falling to the ground around the trees where the Faeries made their home like a slow arboreal snow.

    Naturally, said Fae were delighted by this, and collected what leaves fell so they might make artwork. Crushed-leaf mosaics were common gifts during the Yule season, after all, and it was rare to find any resident of the Manor or its grounds, be they Griffon, Faerie, Goblin or Merrow, who didn't appreciate amber baubles or leaf-made clothing.

    The gardens' bounty was greater than previous years as well, much to the Occamy caretaker's delight, and that of his Faerie and Griffon apprentices too. Corn and fruit were coming out larger and plumper than in previous seasons, as were nearly every type of mushroom grown in the Manor's many grottos.

    And amid it all, a silver sapling on an emerald green mound watched, the wind rustling her leaves sounding almost like the laughter of a babe… to those who could listen. Of course, in these lands, most couldn't hear her as she began to wonder at the world around her, singing quietly in awe at the tidings brought on the wind, or the sounds rumbling through the soil. Few could hear her giving voice to her many emotions, in many small ways.

    Melfina, the Manor's Faerie Landlady, was one of those who could hear. She expressed the joy of hearing the small tree sing, by singing herself. For the first time in over two centuries, Melfina's voice was added to the songs that seemed to live in Walnut Manor, and her chiming voice made all the difference.

    Wherever the Landlady walked and sang, she caused the roots, that her Court had long ago wound through the Manor's broken walls to hold them together, with Melfina's song they grew thick and glossy, their bark flattening and forming true halls of wood mixed with stone. In two months, Melfina endeavored to turn the ruin of her long-time home into a Manor worthy of a light she and all her Court had seen, at the end of summer; if asked, she would laugh, and say no work of hers or anyone's could ever do that sought-after light justice.

    And she would be correct, for no work of Mundus or the Outer Realms can equal the light of Elysium; but the Manor's residents, to a one, would proudly declare their Landlady, with her assistants, came quite close to matching it.

    The Caretaker of the Gardens, Gregory the Occamy, also delighted to hear the sapling he planted finally singing; but he was old, and knew his time would be soon, as Occamies count the years. Soon, for him, it would be time to name a new Gardener for Walnut Manor's lush and marvelous gardens, and the thought filled him not with dread, but anticipation and joy.

    And the Librarian, Lisanna, too could hear the sapling, from her demesne above the Gardens, in the Library that she painstakingly restored over the centuries. She was glad for it, as with the sapling's swelling song, she was finally able to lay down her bident and turn her mind away from martial purposes, returning to studies long put off, and students long neglected, in the face of repelling the revenant's persistent rot; many Faerie, Griffon, and Merrow came to her for teaching, as the months rolled by, and, much like her three youngest students, all were in awe of the magical knowledge held by the former Unseelie Scribe.

    The only remaining Seelie Scribe, Sir Cookie, could hear the sapling even from the kitchens, fifty meters and change from where that very remarkable tree was planted. Even as the days cooled, the moth-winged Faerie would push the painted windows of his kitchens open wide to let in the scents of the Gardens, and let out the aroma of the three meals prepared daily for every resident in the Manor; the many harmonious scents matched the colored tiles of the floors, the cabinets and counters painted and splattered in rainbow hues, and the flower garden Cookie kept just outside his sitting room, where a restored grand piano could be heard playing most nights; sometimes by the Scribe, but occasionally by a guest.

    In the Manor's center, the colossal Walnut growing from a pool there had never been more luxurious; even as fall rolled on and winter threatened, the six-story-tall tree still held leaves of glossiest emerald, only beginning to turn gold at the edges when November began to close. In her shade, new songs were sung every Thursday, along with a reading from a book, The Silmarillion, which always drew a crowd; the tale was half the reason for the numbers crowding into the commons beneath the Walnut.

    The other half was the readers, Shaman James Stormcaller and his Spirit-Familiar, Vera Stream-Strider.

    It was these last two who were most credited with the new and beautiful changes that'd come over the Manor and the surrounding lands; one, the first Shaman in over 100 years, the other, the first kitsune to ever Bond with a British magical. Together, they had brought the Gaian Avatar called Yavanna into being, a Spirit of Compassion bound into the body of a 9-tailed fox, formed from soil and grass and wood and stone. Through her, the woods were healed of the rot brought by a vile undead, a revenant, that had long been tied to the grounds.

    Through her, and Shaman, and Spirit, and the music of the Fae, that undead's soul was unbound from its shell and, seeing that it was made from the body of an innocent man, who'd once called the Manor home… James and Vera called out to Elysium, and gave the poor soul the release he had craved.

    In the wake of such selflessness, Walnut Manor became even more unique, for its grounds bore witness to that most holy place, to the light of an Archon, not in evil or greed, but in benevolence.

    Because of this, the pariah Selkie artisan Wyne, a young thing barely older than James himself, found no darkness in the place she was banished to. There was no prison, as she expected. Instead, she found flowers, and stones, and leaves, and many other materials to work her craft, free of the rigid traditions of her clan on the Isle of Man. But most precious of all was the friendship that bloomed between Wyne and James, and Vera with them; and the Faerie Scribes, all cursed by their former lieges to never bear children of their own, delighted to hear the trio's laughter as they played on meadows green, in the shade of the thousand trees that grew on the grounds.

    With his coming, Remus Lupin, a Werewolf who long called the Manor his winter home, found his redoubt had become a home true. A pleasant surprise waited for him, however; for the Shaman James Stormcaller was actually Harry James Potter, the only living member of the Potter family, the Boy-Who-Lived… and the son of Remus' most cherished friend.

    So, like any wayward uncle, Remus aided Lisanna and Melfina and Cookie in teaching the nine-year-old lad about magic, and things relating to magic. Though, with their quick closeness, both Vera and Wyne, and other Manor residents, quickly found themselves drawn into the lessons taught by Remus.

    Of magical pests - complete with examples brought by the Faerie - and magical plants - the Gardens, as always, provided - and even meditative exercises in the form of Eastern Martial Arts; these James and Vera and Wyne all learned as readily as they could, and found they all excelled at each task.

    This, of course, led to the present conundrum, as the days became shorter and colder and Remus scrambled to keep up with James' inquisitive mind and impressive talent for learning, prompting a visit to the young Shaman's willow treehouse - that being a literal small apartment within a tree, in the Manor wing opposite the kitchens - where Remus tried to present James with a more advanced set of lessons.

    "No," Vera put her paw down on the most recent book Remus tried to give to her Shaman, pushing it back across the table while shaking her head definitively, "We don't need to learn Cultivation."

    Nodding without looking up from carefully tying the malachite chunk to the head of his new staff, with Wyne's head on his shoulder as she watched, James continued to his clearly disappointed uncle, "Because we're Gaia's conduit on Earth, Vera and I can just draw natural energy from whatever source happens to be nearby; the only problem is, well," he shrugged the shoulder Wyne wasn't using and smiled ruefully at Remus, "I can't really do that without a working staff."
    Letting out a foxy bark of agreement, Vera added, "Without one, James can't make his magical core breathe the energy of Gaia that, uh, is everywhere?" she glanced at James, who didn't noticeably react, but she nodded anyway as the feeling of confirmation flowed along their Bond. "Yeah. So long as we're not, like, in the middle of a mundane human city, we should be fine."

    Humming, Remus picked the book back up and suggested, slowly, "With martial arts and Cultivation, you'd be able to make larger magic happen."

    "We made Yavanna without it," James pointed out neutrally, though Vera shivered a little at the mention.

    "You did… and there, I think, is when you two truly became Shaman and Familiar," Remus theorized, drawing all three young beings' attention, plus that of the Triplets, the three Faeries having kept to themselves on James' preserve shelf until that moment.

    The Werewolf elaborated, "The process to becoming Shaman has always been, well, opaque, when it comes to scholarly pursuits; it can't be learned or taught, as it's considered a way of behaving that leads one down the path to becoming one with Gaia. What is known, however, is that just about every Shaman must go through a near-death experience - that is, Harry," he leaned forward as the child stiffened and Vera flowed into his arms, wrapping her three tails around his torso in comfort, "to touch the Fade with your soul, and commune with the Shamans who came before you. You did that, and again, with the Archon of Elysium; and now…"

    He chuckled warmly, gesturing at the living tree growing around them, "And now, you are the voice of Gaia, Shaman true, the youngest anyone's ever heard of. Every druid in Britain would give both their hands to have your gift, dearly bought though it is."

    "But James doesn't need to learn Cultivation," Wyne repeated her friend's earlier protests, clutching his bicep in comfort; clearly, his brushes with the Other Side had marked his soul, else his face wouldn't have become sad to her eyes. "Gaia will provide for him."

    "Again, he has enemies, Wyne; you do have them, and sooner or later, they will likely try to get revenge on behalf of the Dark Lord. You need to have every advantage you can, for when that day comes." Remus insisted to James, who pursed his lips in thought. Happily, the older Wizard let him think.

    James had, through Lady Lisanna, heard of Cultivation, but it was deemed too dangerous to learn for him; his age, for one thing, was a factor. Attempting to Cultivate might stunt his magical growth, and make him less powerful, rather than more; the Librarian of the Walnut Court cited his selfless nature, too. It was a good personality trait, but… that led to another problem.

    The Path of Cultivation - or, the general principle behind it - hinged on taking from the world and giving nothing back, except in the spending of that stored magic through spellcasting. There were cases where that wasn't true, like druidism, but that was a pale shadow of what James and Vera could do with the art.

    For they were Shaman; they could skip whole steps of the Path and turn their bodies into pure magical constructs… but the cost would be their humility and, possibly, their status as Shaman. It would mean taking everything they'd given to the Walnut Court, including Yavanna, and hoarding it within themselves.

    'So we don't do it,' Vera thought at James, her mood stubborn as her sapphire eyes met his emerald greens, a paw set gently on his chest, 'That's not what we've set out to do.'

    Nodding, but less sure, James thought back while stroking his fox-sister's side, 'I'll see if any of them are listening, and ask if there's a way we don't see; that way, we can be sure.'

    Vera huffed, but relented with a smile, 'Fineeee, my silly Shaman. See what your past lives have to say about it.'

    With that, and a smile of his own, James effortlessly let his mind and magic become one with the flowing ebb of Gaia, which ran from the ocean to the River Yew, like a liquid thread through the eye of a needle, and on to other places in the world…

    [..O..]

    ...and found himself seated cross-legged on the post of… a flying boat.

    He was on the edge of it, the post one of many that jutted up along the sides of the gondola-like flying boat, its two triangular sails full of wind as it flew on a path; looking back and down, James spotted a long river in a field of green, and further away… mountains, capped with snow far as the eye could see.

    Turning back around at the sound of a creaking board, James found himself face-to-face with a tan, sandy-haired teen who was smiling, "Finally got tired of Khepri's deserts, hmm?"

    Smiling back, James replied, "I felt that the winds could tell me easier than the sun or the sands, you know?"

    Nodding, the other Shaman stuck out a hand, "Jander the Sky-Sailor, at your service."

    "James, Voice of Gaia, at yours," he replied, shaking the famous Shaman's hand; James then looked around, and asked, "Um, will Vera join us?"

    Jander shook his head and leaned against the nearby mast, "Nah. You're just here to confirm something with us; lessons will come once you're both ready for it."

    James nodded back, but his head felt fuzzy; maybe that confirmed it, that he wasn't completely in the Fade, like when he met Khepri. In that case, he decided to hurry up before his focus broke, "Cultivation: do we need it?"

    "It's something we invented, actually, a long, long time ago," Jander waved a hand for emphasis, "back when ice still covered the lands, before the Tree was planted in Babylon. One of us, whose name was written but forgotten, taught it to mankind; it's actually kind of like what we do with our magic, breathing with the same breath as Gaia. Just remember to exhale when Spring begins," the elder Shaman winked, "or the seasons might go a little out of flux."

    James blinked, "Can… that actually happen?"

    "Yeah, but no; it's pretty rare," folding his arms as the light around them started to fade, Jander concluded, "Do you need Cultivation? No. Gaia's power lives in your every cell and hair, now that you're Shaman. To Cultivate would be to pervert your natural growth; to use an analogy, it'd be like shaping a mountain into a sword. Sure, it's impressive, and your foes will quake at the sight of such a marvel, but look how much you destroyed that will never be the same again, at least, not for eons unseen."

    It was as James figured, then; smiling ruefully, he bowed to the Windborne Shaman, "Thank you, Jander. Oh! But if I could ask one last thing: do you know what, um," he felt the waking world coming closer as he blushed, "what would a Selkie like as a gift?"

    Laughing as the lights dimmed, Shaman Jander's voice seemed to come from far off, "Haha! Why that's an easy one; here, this is what you'll need."

    A light flared in James' dimming sight, and the spell appeared in his mind; well, it wasn't really a spell, but raw application of magic.

    He did know one thing, though: Wyne would love it.

    [..|..]

    James returned to his body… which was lying down, his head laid on the pillow he'd been using as a seat. Remus was next to the window smoking his pipe, Vera was lying nearby in a ray of sunlight, the Triplets had taken one of his sheets of paper and were sketching something on his desk…

    And Wyne was kneeling at his side, her dark eyes fixed on his face. Smiling as his gaze found her perfect face, she greeted, "Welcome back, James. It's been about five minutes."

    Pushing the new "spell" to a safe corner of his mind, James stretched and sat up to hug his friend, "Thanks for watching over me."

    Tucking her head into his neck, Wyne tightened the embrace and murmured against his skin, "Of course."

    Giving her one more squeeze, James released her and turned to Remus, who'd knocked out his pipe and was giving James a look of polite curiosity, "A Shaman doesn't need Cultivation. It would be like fashioning a sword out of a mountain; grand indeed, but far too destructive to the world's beauty to justify."

    "Told you," Vera hummed smugly, tails swishing in victory.

    Nodding in acquiescence, Remus thought for a moment before admitting, "Honestly, I'm a bit relieved; between Yavanna and the revenant, I think you're plenty powerful, magically anyway. Regardless, I reckon practicing your katas, and learning other martial arts, will only help you improve and refine your magic."

    "I do like meditating with Tai Chi, Uncle Remus," James told him, feeling his face heat as he used the affectionate title, though that was tempered by the cool breeze that brushed through the Manor.

    "Ooh, gettin more frequent, those," Breech remarked from her and her siblings' perch on James' desk, rubbing her upper arms with a shiver. "Might want to rustle up some curtains to keep the cold out, Shaman; this winter might be a chilly one, even with Yavanna runnin' around."

    "Mmm, good point. I'll talk to Mr. Vileclaw, see if he has any fabric bolts in storage that he's willing to trade for," James hummed with a nod, running his fingers over the edges of the window that looked out onto the Manor's grounds, the Threstal Glade and its evergreen Firs in particular, "Or Vera and I could try a few things with Runes," his foxy sister perked up, tails wagging in eagerness, "We haven't used any Parsel-Runes in a while, and it'd be a shame if we got rusty..."

    Remus cleared his throat pointedly, reminding the pair, without words, to take care when using magic.

    "With the Librarian's approval, of course!" the boy added with a grin, while his friends giggled; but… James noticed something, a look of melancholy on his uncle's face. "Uncle Remus?"

    "Harry…" the man winced, but quickly schooled his features, "Would you like to visit your parents, before it gets too cold to travel?"

    James… or, Harry rather, was quite taken aback by the sudden offer, and quickly tried to find some excuse to avoid it; saying he wasn't ready felt, well, empty. He knew it was just his parents' bodies, that their souls had long ago gone to the Fade, to leave their memories behind and be reborn… but that didn't change the fact that those bodies held the souls of his parents, were the medium that brought him into the world… because they loved each other, and him, till their end.

    And there wasn't any pressing business he needed to attend to; there were no classes with the Librarian or Landlady or Sir Cookie. His staff was, well, completed - James picked it up and rolled it around in his hands, getting a feel for the leather grips and… how it already thrummed and hummed with his magic.

    Vera's tails wound around his ankles; their eyes met, and understanding flowed between them.

    'You don't have to visit often, James. Those who go wouldn't want that; I know my Kaasan wouldn't want me pining. But…'

    '...I can still see where their bodies are, and talk to their echoes.' Vera nodded, verifying James' thought.

    It was… still sudden, though; so, he looked at Remus and asked, "Can I think for a day?"

    "Of course… James," Remus replied with an understanding smile, "Go, walk in the Gardens, explore the Manor, whatever you wish; I'll be ready for you tomorrow."

    And so, James smiled, took Wyne's hand as Vera climbed onto his shoulder again, and said, "Let's go find another adventure!"

    With laughter, the children ran off to do just that, and Wyne didn't mention the coming visit to James' parents' graves, where he and Vera would pay their respects and grieve properly; she much preferred her friends smiling and laughing, dancing and singing, and enjoyed joining them.

    So she kept her silence, let herself be swept up into a game of hide-and-seek in the Gardens, and promised herself to be there for them when they returned.

    [..|..]

    Apparation, James and Vera decided together, was for the birds!

    Dry-heaving one last time, he wiped the tears from his eyes and shuddered, "That… was absolutely rotten! It didn't feel like that when I did it before!"

    "You did that before?" croaked Vera inside his pack; James had gone all-out, just in case the unexpected happened, bringing the bottomless messenger bag Remus gave him a week after his uncle's arrival, the red/blue dragonhide vest Mr. Vileclaw gifted from his coffers ("For felling the revenant, and brightening Mel's heart, laddie."), and the gold-brown robes he'd been wearing since beginning his apprenticeship under Lady Lisanna, thought they were less threadbare than when he got them, the Triplets taking care to make sure "the Court's Shaman presents himself well in human company". The worn boots Cookie found in a closet somewhere were snug and warm, too, and very sturdy.

    "Accidental magic, I take it?" Remus commented from the brick-wall alley's entrance, where he was keeping a lookout while James lost his lunch.

    Nodding, James unshrunk his staff and tapped the dirt, letting his magic flow so he could roll the soil to hide the puke. Once done, he queasily plodded over to his uncle, Vera's head poking out of the bag as he walked and talked with returning strength, "Was getting chased by my cousin and his friends, and suddenly ended up on the school's roof. That's why I started looking into Power, and found magic by mistake."

    Chuckling as they walked into the misty roads of Godric's Hollow, an Unseen cloak wrapped around them all, Vera piped up, "One of these days, James, we gotta make a picture book of our adventures."

    "I think there's an arts and crafts store around here, actually," Remus hummed half to himself, stretching his neck to look around; tsking, he added, "I'll come back another day, during the Christmas rush, see if I can find it again; and… it's better to blend in on days like that."

    "Did you just spoil our Yule present? For shame, Mr. Moony; no holiday spirit," James teased cheekily, the grinning Shaman and kitsune getting a mock glare before the Werewolf chuckled lowly.

    "Why of course not, Mr. Littlefoot, Ms. Snowball," their laughter was quiet as they approached a monument… and beyond it, a ruined house, "No… that will be a gift from me to you; your Yule gifts will be far more special."

    "As will yours," James said softly, coming to a halt next to the monument, looking with sadness and an inexplicable longing at the small cottage… with half its roof missing, the edges seared yet sharp, like someone cut a section away with a burning knife… and the opposite end of the first floor was twisted into shapes that made his head hurt to look at. Some of the angles folded into themselves, or kept going when his brain said they were supposed to stop; around them, the air occasionally twitched as though alive, and the smell of ozone was thick in the air.

    "Wow," Vera summed it up with wide eyes, staring with open shock at the first floor; glancing at Remus, who was scratching at a scar and frowning, she asked, "Was that James' dad?"

    "Yes," Remus sighed, a bone-deep sadness hiding behind that single, burdensome word, "Or, most of it is. Your father, my friend, was one of the youngest Transfiguration Adepts in history; only the current Head of Hogwarts' Transfiguration Department, Minerva McGonagall, attained that title earlier, getting hers at the age of 15. Could've surpassed Dumbledore, who's a Grand-Master of the art, but she decided to stop at Mastery. James… probably would've been the next Grand-Master." Remus sniffed, clearly fighting against scars not quite healed over, "They say you could hear their duel, short as it was, for miles."

    James took Remus' hand, smiled at the Werewolf when he jerked and looked down, "And he won. He gave my mom time."
    Vera yipped with a sharp nod, "Good riddance to awful corpse-humpers!" and blew a raspberry that set James to giggling.

    "Language!" Remus barely got out through the bark of wet laughter that came out of him.

    After a few chuckles, James looked up at the destroyed second floor, commenting quietly, "You miss them."

    "They were the family I never really had," Remus agreed, though a touch of bitterness entered his voice next, "I will never forgive You-Kn… I will never forgive Voldemort, for taking them away from me, and even more, from you." The venom and disgust in that name was… sublime; it sounded like how the Faeries talked about the revenant, before it was banished.

    "Me either," Vera grumbled, "They sound like they were awesome."

    Thinking about the life he'd had, James still smiled, though it was a sad one, "I don't think I'll forgive him either, but it doesn't matter; he's dead as a doornail."

    "...wait, but it's a nail. It wasn't alive to begin with!"

    "It's an expression, Vera," James rubbed his sister's ears, "I'll explain back at the Manor."

    Too soon, however, their steps turned to the nearby chapel, and the graveyard next to it.

    As they walked, and Vera flowed into James' arms as his nerves reached a fever pitch, Remus quietly explained that it was one of the oldest remaining public magical graveyards in Britain. "Most magical families cremate or use hidden crypts these days, either in their estate or out in the country. V-Voldemort's minions, the Death Eaters, they destroyed your family's Manor early in the war."

    "D'you know where it was?" James asked quietly, glancing at an ancient tombstone that radiated a certain amount of pure bliss: Ignotus Peverell.

    To his disappointment, Remus shook his head, "No. Only…" his eyes closed, an angry expression flitting over his scarred features, "…only Sirius Black, your godfather, would know where it is."

    Feeling it would be best not to press his uncle, James let it go… for the moment; between his desire, his yearning, to know about his parents, Vera's incessant curiosity about everything in Mundus, and that comment about his godfather, James would ask again… but not that day. Not then.

    His feet stopped well before the gravestone; it was impossible to miss, a block of pure white marble on a wide base. Though it was plain in its construction, the way the marble shone in the foggy light… like it was being shone on, rather than giving off light of its own. Words were inscribed on the face… but James didn't read them, not yet.

    Instead, he stooped and untied his boots; feeling his intent, Vera flowed out of his pack and helped him.

    Barefoot, like when he approached the River Yew, James approached his parent's graves, Vera at his side and Remus at his back, the Werewolf only taking his eyes off James to cast a glaring look around the graveyard. Even nigh on ten years after the war's end, some things didn't change… and he wouldn't put it past some of Voldemort's supporters, to desecrate even this place.

    It was likely they were only stopped by the threat of what Dumbledore would do to them, if Mad-Eye Moody, Cornelius Fudge or Amelia Bones didn't get them first.

    James' feet halted before he could stand over where their coffins would lay, and, with Vera, he read the words carved onto the headstone:

    IN LOVING MEMORY
    of
    JAMES POTTER ● LILY POTTER
    Born -|- Born

    27 March, 1960 -|- 30 January, 1960
    Died -|- Died

    31 October, 1981 -|- 31 October, 1981

    And below this, James read their epitaph:

    THE LAST ENEMY THAT SHALL BE DESTROYED IS DEATH

    That… it felt wrong, to James; not in a, this is out of place, sort of wrong either. No, the words felt wrong in a different way, like… like a distant memory, barely remembered from his infancy. A shadow of terror, a shivering, twisting horror that couldn't be defined, it was almost as though the memory, if one could call it that, wasn't a memory. A dream, maybe? Or something stranger, from becoming Shaman?

    James, Harry, didn't know…

    Kneeling with a sniffle, James laid his staff on the ground and sat before his parents' headstone, hugging Vera tight as she flowed into his lap.

    …and, right then, it didn't matter. Shamanism, magic, the Court and the Manor… even the Triplets, the Willow, Landlady, and Wyne.

    Aside from Vera, in that moment, only two people mattered to Harry.

    "Hi, mom… hi, dad…"



    Behind Harry, trying to keep his own grief under control out of respect, Remus Lupin watched his friends' son talk to their souls; the lad, after a short, pitiful cry, introduced Vera, told them about the Court and the Manor where he was living now. When he was mentioned, the Werewolf stepped forward and, like Vera, promised he was watching out for Harry now.

    The boy-Shaman told his mother of the Fade, of Shaman Khepri, the priestess of Egypt who humbled the Roman Legions before dying to preserve the Great Library. He told his father of Yavanna, and Remus' knew, even as it tugged his heart to think it, that James would've wept with pride to see his son's fantastic work.

    In time, nearly an hour by his watch, Harry took up his staff and stood from his crouch, Vera draping herself over his shoulders like a scarf… and stood there for a long moment, staring at the headstone.

    "Who made the epitaph?" Harry… no, Shaman James Stormcaller, asked Remus suddenly, his voice almost singing with the sound of distant rain and wind.

    Mastering himself, Remus replied tersely, "It was Dumbledore." Personally, Remus didn't agree with the statement, and doubted most of the Order would've approved, if they'd been consulted; alas, too much else needed to be done at the time, so it ended up being one more regret Remus had to bear.

    James only hummed… and then lifted his staff; placing the butt at one end of the epitaph, he swiped the magical tool across the stone, wiping it bare.

    "Harry!" Remus may not have liked the words, but defiling a gravestone-

    "How can death be an enemy, Remus?" James asked quietly, shaking his head slowly while Vera's bright blue eyes met Remus' yellows, warning him from approaching. "Even wizards and witches don't live forever. Sure, there's Nicolas Flamel and his Philosopher's Stone… but at what cost did he buy so much life? Eventually, like everyone else, his story has to end so a new one can begin; that's how life and death work, and trying to stop that…" he shook his head sharply, "I can't imagine wanting to live forever, and something doesn't feel right, talking about death like it's an enemy to defeat.

    "Besides," the boy huffed, sticking his staff against the stone again, "I think my parents would want something more personal to eulogize them, than that weird quote."

    Remus was fairly sure it was from the bible, the original quote, but didn't object further as James carved a new epitaph; after about three minutes of the quiet screech of magically-carved stone, the young Shaman stepped away, revealing the replacement quote:

    THEIR LOVE PREVAILED

    Giving a watery smile, Remus placed a hand on James' shoulder, Vera having moved to allow it, "Aye, lad. I think they'd prefer this."

    Five minutes of respectful silence later, the trio left the graveyard, and the somber mood was broken soon after, as both Shaman and Spirit groaned piteously at the idea of Apparating all the way back to the Manor.

    [..|..]

    Winter came slowly to Walnut Manor and the lands under its wards' protection, more slowly than the mundane world surrounding it.

    A few flakes at first, followed by the leaves falling off all trees that weren't evergreen; the Griffon herd took to staying closer to the Manor as the days grew colder, seeing the warmth of certain sections of the Gardens, when they weren't hunting of course.

    It was this way that James and his friends learned of Nadira and Matthew finally marrying each other – or as near as; after all, Griffons mated for life – and that Nadira was expecting a child come spring! Happy for his friend and fellow lover of plants, as well as Matthew, who long guarded the stables the revenant used to haunt, James gave their union an announcement at the next reading of the Silmarillion, which, by a happy coincidence, was both the day before Christmas and the same day he read of Eärendil and Elwing's journey to the West; so, everyone went to bed happy and with high spirits.

    For this, Wyne was glad more than ever to have met James; he was considerate, brave, true of heart, and so many more amazing adjectives she couldn't really think to articulate. It was no wonder Vera was so drawn to him, in Wyne's eyes; he was like a wide, implacable river. Stay on the shores, and one would know how calm he could be. But to venture his depths… oh, how the whirling, swirling currents of his life called to her, made Wyne want to spend more and more time in his and Vera's company!

    And so, she did! Oh, the Triplets could tease and brag all they wished. The Shaman James was her friend; indeed, she cherished his friendship more dearly than her tools and crafts, both of which saw much use when they were together. Already, she was putting together an illuminated picture book of James and Vera's journeys and adventures with the Walnut Court, from the arrival at the River Yew Circle, to the summoning of Yavanna, to that fateful first trip to the Gardens…

    Even the banishment of the revenant, and the visions of the Sunless Lands.

    Wyne freely admitted she needed the help of the Court Scribes to do those scenes justice.

    But that folio was a gift she would give to her cherished friend when he and Vera set out for that castle in the north, Hogwarts, the redoubt of the Four Founders. With it, he could not only show his fellow students the wonderful land of Rivendell – as the name of the lands the Manor sat on was voted for, shortly before Yule began – and not only would he have a reminder of the place he could always call home…

    James, her dear friend, would have been given a gift from a Selkie; a Pariah, yes, but all the same.

    Young though she was, Wyne knew the stories; to have a gift from a Selkie was a sign of greatness even among humans. Among the People it meant that person, whatever they were, were of the highest personal quality, and could very much be trusted by any clan.

    Regardless, it wasn't finished, so she couldn't give it to James for Christmas.

    Instead, Christmas morning saw Wyne climbing the newly-installed root stairs to James' room in the Manor; as it was too cold for sleeping in the Willow anymore, Wyne usually slept in the catacombs under the house with the Merrow and her uncle, Shepherd. To her chest, she held the precious gift she would soon give to James; it was after breakfast, of course, and Landlady had declared Christmas a day of rest. Therefore, Wyne could spend the whole day curled up at James' side!

    She increased her pace, and only slowed when the door to James' room came into view; further down the oak-paneled hallway, Mr. Remus was just entering the Library. Wyne didn't think he saw her, so, after making sure her hair was presentable, knocked politely on James' door. Mere seconds later, he opened it.

    "Oh! Merry Christmas, Wyne!" James greeted her; today, he was wearing a red sleeveless vest that presented his tanned, wiry arms quite well. In fact, Wyne had never seen him wear it before…

    "Merry Christmas, James," she greeted him back, darting forward to give him a hug and nuzzle of friendly affection, which was graciously returned; parting reluctantly, she held out her gift, wrapped in dried seaweed, with a blush, "I have made you a gift!"

    "Oh, Wyne, thank you!" entering his rooms properly, Wyne followed her friend to his couch, which had been moved in front of a fireplace; on the rug in front of it was some carefully folded squares of wrapping paper, and a few gifts, mostly books and clothes, though the young Selkie spotted what was clearly a carving kit.

    Noticing her gaze, James smiled and helped her sit next to him and Vera, who was knocked out next to an open box of chocolates, "I'm… kinda surprised so many people got me gifts. I've never gotten any before."

    "You will have some every year, now," Wyne nodded sharply to emphasize this fact of life, "even if I have to come to Hogwarts myself."

    "That's what I told him, after we gave him another chime for his rattle," Breech stated from her perch on the mantle, where she was sorting what looked to be round obsidian pebbles. "We're still workin' out the particulars and all, but us Fae are resourceful; we'll find a way to get James' presents to him, no matter where he is, mark my words!"

    Sighing happily, as this was just the best of news, Wyne thanked Breech before turning back to James…

    Who was holding the pendant she'd carved for him by the seashell chain; the pendant was a scallop carved from a single piece of ocean blue opal.

    She ducked her head and explained softly, "I chose it because it matches Vera's fur tips, a-and the color of your healing magic when you use water as a medium. I pray you like it."

    "Wyne… this is wonderful," James said breathlessly, giving her another quick hug before, with her help, he clasped it around his neck; his smile warmed her soul as he promised, "I'll always hold it dear, just like you, my friend."

    Wyne was too happy by this admission of friendship to care how loudly Breech went awwww.

    "Oh, I have something for you, too!" James told her, starting to stand before smiling at her, "Close your eyes." Laughing lightly, Wyne did so; she heard his feet go pitter-patter across the apartment, and a box open and close. Returning to sit in front of her, James then said, "Hold out your hands."

    Wyne did, and something wrapped in fabric was placed there; opening her eyes, she blinked at the piece of worn purple velvet hiding an orb-shape the size of an eye. Looking at James only revealed a light blush and a hopeful smile on his face.

    So, rather than sit in suspense, Wyne unwrapped the gift- and gasped.

    It looked like a pearl, but with clouds and blue sky swirling within; it shone like the sun, but not in a blinding way. The wondrous gem lit up the room like a lantern, bathing everything around them in the golden glow of morning. A slim ring of copper was looped around the pearl, and a chain of silver was attached.

    Looking up at James with wondering eyes, Wyne felt her mouth moving in question, but no words came out; she had never seen such a stone before, or even heard of it in any of the songs or tales of the People!

    "It's a Sky Pearl, a crystalized representation of Wind," James explained with a smile, silently offering to loop it around Wyne's neck; flattered beyond words, she acquiesced, and the Shaman did so while explaining further, "I learned how to make one in the Fade, from another Shaman who came before me. It's actually pretty easy: just take some water and mold it into a sphere, then apply magic and will some air to move into it."

    Around Wyne's neck, it shone even brighter, the fluffy clouds within framing the blue core of the wonderful gem.

    Her eyes burned, but she was smiling; even though she was a Pariah, never to walk with the People again… she was precious to someone, to many someones. From her aid in preparing fish in the kitchens, to her knowledge of water plants, even her singing voice.

    "Wow," James' voice brought Wyne's gaze back to him; he was staring, "I didn't think you could be more, well, Elven and beautiful."

    Wyne laughed and pulled her friend into the most tender and loving hug she'd ever given another, even among the People, "And I didn't think I would find such a wonderful friend away from the People. Oh, James," she kissed his cheek and pulled him to the rug, making him give a surprised oof as they laid down, "no gift, even one as beautiful as this, can replace how much I cherish you in my heart, my most precious friend."

    Sighing in defeat, even as his heart hurt to hear how much Wyne cared for him, James embraced his friend and surrendered to the nuzzles he was in for.

    Nearby, Breech landed quietly next to Vera, whose eye snapped open as she heard someone approaching her chocolate hoard. The Faerie, however, was more interested in gossip, "Five glazed acorns says they wed before James' twentieth year."

    "Tch," Vera flicked an ear dismissively and got comfortable again, ignoring James levitating The Two Towers over to read with Wyne, instead answering the Fae's offer in a near-silent whisper, "Are you deaf? They're friends, Breech. They love each other, yeah, but it'll never be anything more."

    "You're just scared to bet against a Faerie, fox."

    "Nope, just wise enough to know better," the granddaughter of Tsunami-no-Miko intoned sagely, closing her eyes and blowing the Triplet away with a huff, "Now buzz off, I gotta digest this chocolate."

    Rolling her eyes, Breech put the tiny fedora James gave her back on her head and flew away, leaving the children and the Spirit to their Christmas; it'd been a wild half a year, and she knew the next one might be even crazier, as Shaman and Fox learned and practiced more of their magic, found out more about the world…

    But, for now, she was more concerned with roping her brothers into stealing some pumpkin pie from the kitchens. The future could wait a little longer…

    .
    .
    .
    [.\|/.]
    .
    .
    .
     
    HearthBorn, @non, wargonzola and 23 others like this.
  15. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    And that's that for the first 13 chapters. There's one left for Book 1 and then...

    It'll be time for Book 2, James Stormcaller and The Forbidden Forest.

    Thanks for reading! Again, all feedback is welcome. Until the next chapter,

    ~Baked
     
  16. NotaWriter

    NotaWriter Not too sore, are you?

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    Great story! Are you crossposting somewhere? Because it will attract more attention if you do, I think.
    Really nice re-imagining and world building.

    Minor note, but you have 2 second chapters and no first chapter.
     
    Baked the Author likes this.
  17. Fencer

    Fencer Weaponized Randomness

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    It’s on ff.net. Not sire about anywhere else.
     
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  18. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    Yepper, that's the only other place it is. It won't be posted on SB until Book 2 starts.

    Mostly because it took me nearly 3 hours to crosspost this -- I had to do all the spacing by hand.
     
  19. Crimson Reiter

    Crimson Reiter Ahegao hunter

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    Fanfiction's formatting is pure, undiluted evil.
     
  20. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    So is QQ's, to an extent. If I don't manually put in double spacing, the xenophoro on this site doesn't register any paragraph spacing beyond the single -- as in, it sees it as pressing SHIFT+ENTER -- and pastes whole chapters as a solid block of text. So I have to go through the whole thing after pasting it in the reply box, and if I'm pasting from Word, I not only have to do the double spacing, I also have to redo the alignments.

    FF and SB don't have that problem, though FF has a tendency to save freshly uploaded chapters with the format code visible in the text if you paste from Word, and SB sometimes doesn't know what a right alignment is.
     
  21. TheDisturbedDragon

    TheDisturbedDragon *FWOOOOOOOOOSH*

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    I'm honestly surprised to see this - or more accurately, that I missed a chapter on FFN, apparently. Welp, time to reread the whole thing!
    But really Baked, I'm glad to see you're still working on this saga, it's amazing so far. Just the perfect balance of fluff, awesome, and action to properly catch and hold my attention. Your worldbuilding is extremely well done as well, and very detailed. I hope to see more soon :)
     
  22. NutakuFan

    NutakuFan Making the rounds.

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    Fix this. The "just" part contitutes that the magic chooses who to help based on their morals, and thus, bad guys woukd always lose or be weak, so why are there still any bad guys left?
     
  23. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    No. Why?

    She's speaking to a child, trying to direct him away from Dark paths, if subtly. That, and when it comes to Nature magic, she's technically correct: having respect and good intentions makes manipulating the elements easier, in most cases. The Dark has its own way of doing things, but, again, talking to a child here.
     
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  24. Vallan.Mandrake

    Vallan.Mandrake Know what you're doing yet?

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    I like this story very much. It's got detailed and interesting teasing worldbuilding. I especially like the hints of the IWCs work. (you strike a good balance with the book snipplets (before each chapter) and the main plot)
     
    Baked the Author likes this.
  25. Blyat

    Blyat Getting out there.

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    This story is awesome and I can't wait for more
     
    Baked the Author likes this.
  26. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    At this point, it's a matter of figuring out which plot bunny goes where. The next chapter should be done in the next week or two. Now, please excuse me...

    *continues sorting index cards and typing*
     
  27. punster lv1

    punster lv1 Getting out there.

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    I have questions. Can non humans become shamans? Will James grow out of being a Tolkien fanboy or will he introduce his tales to everyone who will listen to him song?

    Also I like the story so far.

    Edit: I'm not sure the stated time skip lenghts line up with James having been in the manor for half a year by the end of the latest chapter.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2021
    Naddakka741 likes this.
  28. Baked the Author

    Baked the Author (Chaurus-rights activist) (fluff enthusiast)

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    It's stated in chapter 10's historic entry that any sapient magical species can become Shaman.

    And of course he will. Most of his time will be spent doing magic things, when the time comes. Though people will still occasionally sing a Tolkien song -- they're just so good and fit the setting I've made rather well.
     
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  29. 2001smj

    2001smj Know what you're doing yet?

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    Yay! This is finally gonna be updated. I absolutely love this story and I had thought you had abandoned this since it has not been updated since June on ff.net
    Thank you for writing, continuing this fic!

    P.S: Please mention it is cross-posted from ff.net... I had originally assumed someone stole this fic and are posting here with a slightly different title.
     
  30. Not_A_Hivemind

    Not_A_Hivemind Wanna_Be_One_Tho

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    I’m ecstatic. I read this story quite a while ago and, truthfully, I didn’t believe it would ever get updated again. Now, because I’ve read this long ago, I must read it again. This isn’t even a tedious task. I’m positive it will be a delight to remember all of the magical world building you’ve created. I’m so happy I just happened to click on the creative writing section today. I will be waiting eagerly for the next chapter. Thank you
     
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