November 30, 2170
Dry leaves crunched underfoot and bickering echoed up from the rocky path, far out of sight of the eighteenth century Victorian house, save the highest rungs of the of the widow’s walk. The bare trees displayed a lifeless valley and the budding, old American town recovering from centuries of wear, disintegrating pavement, and various fires as they came and went. The tops of the two-story, brick stores which still housed their shopkeepers could be seen from the path, but not the street on which they lined, parallel with a vein of the Shenandoah River. They could just barely see the frigid water rushing away from the mountain from a clearing in the trees.
“You’re an idiot if you think I’m jumping that!” his voice echoed more than he intended it to, but the barren autumn skyline carried his voice for miles.
“You can totally make that!” his older brother assured, hanging onto a dry, dead branch that would surely crack if he put any more weight on it, “We’ve done enough switchback, you can just land on the path or in a tree.”
“Zade…” the third member of their party, who had fallen behind, called up in a breathless voice, “you’re good at getting a hold of trees, and you’ve got enough practice, I’ll make sure whatever tree you land on has enough spring to keep you up.”
Zade looked down at the older boy’s arm, pressing his lips together as he watched the vibrant wooden prosthetic, wielding a sturdy walking stick as he climbed the hike with them. “Easy for you to say, Nymph, you can manipulate plants!” he spat the nickname, knowing it brought up sour memories in his friend. The youngest of the three of them, Zade looked back up to his big brother, who appeared neither bigger, nor older than him.
Honi’s patchy blonde and brown hair caught the wind, the little tramp had been growing his hair out like the older boys he looked up to. Zade felt a bitterness welling in his mouth, knowing Honi did it because he desired nothing more than to emulate the idiots around him. Zade however, was no different, his lanky black hair was on his neck, but it kept him warm in the winter so he was waiting to cut it, right when Honi was happy with long hair, just to annoy him.
Honi was only a year older than Zade, but Zade was a good head taller than him. The two brothers looked nothing alike. Nymph on the other hand, was coming up on twenty-eight years old, and didn’t look a day older than eighteen. Nymph was often the voice of reason, when Honi schemed, and Zade beat the daylights out of him when something when wrong. They were alone often enough in the woods that having a childish adult like Nymph made them feel a tad safer when they got themselves into crazy escapades.
“Come on…” Honi goaded, “Maybe this time it’ll work…”
Zade focused down on the path below, the switch back looped around so many times, if he gauged it right, this could potentially work, or get him killed. “Okay…” he murmured and immediately he unzipped his coat. Balling the mass of fabric up, he threw it at his brother, scoring him in the face with one of the big plastic buttons. Down to his light sweater, Zade relaxed his shoulders and stepped back to the interior of the trail. From behind him a pair of shiny black wings unfurled, their scales glittering in the dampened sunlight, and he stretched them out, reaching as far as he could. The wingspan was not quite ten feet, and though the cold made his wings tense, he was ready, ever so desperate to fly.
Gulping hard, Zade readied his nerves, keeping his eyes on the sky, his goal was the sky, not the path down below. Taking just a second, he closed his eyes and visualized only the thick, foggy clouds, fully surrounding them, until brazenly, he leapt for the edge.
“Darmis Zade Fanír!” a loud voice struck him, causing him to stumble into the dormant trees, suspended above a fifteen foot drop directly above his mother. She crossed her arms when he found her furious gaze, but only a second later he was glaring up at Honehe who was attempting to hide over the edge of the path. Scratching up his wings, Zade controlled his fall to slowly get down to the stony path. Nymph helped with a descent a little, moving the trees to carry him gently.
“Honi!” the woman snapped, hiding her bright pink hair under a knitted hat. That was how Zade knew she wasn’t actually worried, or mad, whenever she was relaxed about a situation, no matter how angry she sounded, she really wasn’t that upset if her hair was pink. “You better get down here before I get your dad up there to drag you down!”
Ashamed, Honi crept down slowly, slipping on some loose stone as he made his way back down the switchback as slowly as possible. Zade smirked a little, seeing it in his mother’s eyes, Honi was the one who was in trouble here. She might as well have grabbed him by his fuzzy ear and dragged him down the trail by the tone in her voice as she reprimanded him, “Homework and chores first! And then I told you to get ready to leave, not go romp around in the woods!”
Nymph stayed up on the path, “I’ll catch you guys back at the house, I’m going to go get some pictures of this sky,” he called, brandishing his old, left-handed, digital camera over the edge. Nymph could do basically whatever he wanted, and it drove Zade nuts how much freedom he had for someone who was practically still babied by his father. Zade also hated Nymph’s dad, but then, most people in the Viridian had some level of resentment towards Mark Halo.
The walk back was utterly painful for two reasons. First, Zade could see the intensity of his mother’s pink hair fading and the red of frustration showing through. And second, Zade could not acquire a full thirty-minutes away from the noisy occupants of the house without getting into some kind of trouble, unless he went alone, and it was before dawn. Having wings but no ability to fly didn’t help with that. This weekend was his only chance before Christmas to get away from the Shadows and Novas to just spend time with his real family. Uncomplicated, normal, powerless, biological family.
The thing Zade actually liked about hanging out with Nymph and Honi was that he had something in common with both of them. While the boys were both Shadows, Nymph was a Nova, and Honi was a Bloodless. Zade suffered the lessons Mark taught all the kids about how the Shadows worked, and where their little plot of land in this mountain actually resided. Zade had grown up knowing one thing, in the midst of Shadows, with their one unique power, their understandings, and their access to the Realm granting them telepathy amongst each other and indivisibility, Zade had none of those. And of the Novas, built, engineered, designed, programmed, revived, and not born, with Nova hearts guiding them to feel emotion and harness it, Zade had none of those. And what little of the Bloodless the all-knowing Overseers actually understood, an animalistic understanding, and shape-shifting powers, Zade had none, but he was a Bloodless. With a pair of wings, and an annoying tail which he curled around his leg in his pants to hide it, Zade had just these traits, and a story about how he hatched from an egg to convince him he wasn’t human.
Zade didn’t believe all the stories, but he enjoyed listening to them, afraid it was the only way he’d ever get to know his origins. Not a human, a Shadow, or a Nova, but Zade was aware, through Mark’s lessons, that he was born far away from here… in another country, on another world, in another dimension, and not by the woman he called his mother. Entering through the old house, Zade peeked through the studio, to see if Mark was distracted, and as he followed his mother he stretched out his wings in the huge open space of the foyer. From the bottom, he could see up the banister all the way to the ceiling of the third floor, and all the bustling children that lived packed into those rooms.
Zade and his parents lived in the second house, the little one, built twenty feet away from the main house. He could never complain about that, enjoying the silence he could get at night. The garden was dead now, but in the spring and summer it welcomed the bees and the pollen that cursed his allergies until autumn when the leaf mold got him again. There was no ice yet, but it was getting cold fast.
His mother led him into the little house, small by comparison with the big Victorian structure looming over it. It had beige siding, and it never got any sunlight because of the trees, the mountain, and the Viridian on all sides of it. It had five bedrooms, one for him and Honi to share, one for his parents, one for the Overseers, one for new Shadows, Novas or other creatures Mark kidnapped or rescued—the image could be spun either way—and one for the transient but well-loved and self-proclaimed vigilante, Ira. Zade wasn’t sure why he liked Ira so much, he knew the guy had a shady past he wouldn’t talk about, and that he did some unsightly things when he wasn’t staying at the Viridian.
However, every time Zade saw Ira he was greeted with a cheerful, “Madainn heitte!” that filled Zade’s heart with warmth like the smell of sweet Indian spices, and malted chai tea.
Ira was from that other world where Zade was born, the Nova Realm, which boasted an incredible language with two dialects Zade spoke fluently. “Flie…” he sighed, disgruntled, but speaking Novan made him feel at home around Ira.
“Hey…” his mother snapped a little, “No Novan when you’re not alone, it’s rude.”
Behind her back, Zade wrinkled his nose at her defiantly causing Ira to smile as he saw the spunk, “Charly… how often does he get to speak his mother tongue?” Ira reasoned, half-focusing on the dishes he was cleaning up after himself.
Charly guided Honi to his room with a sharp, “Homework, chores, then we’ll talk.” Honi was fourteen, but he still acted like he was eight, and yet, it didn’t seem right when it took this much effort to get him to obey. Zade criticized her silently, but she had two teenage boys, who could blame her? Zade stretched back in the kitchen chair, letting his wings soak in the air they desperately needed. Of what powers he had that could even be called that, he could make the wings small, incapable of flight and easy to tuck away, but it was so utterly uncomfortable. He loved spreading them out.
Ira stepped over to him, setting down a ceramic mug on the table and chuckling as he joined Zade. Mark claimed that Ira was over a hundred thirty years old, but no one really believed that, and Zade’s only interest became Ira’s mesmerizing orange eyes what in some lights were the same shade of gold as Zade’s own. “Mo faer…” Ira soothed quietly in Novan, “er tú glegt suelá túr ghaleigh?” he asked gently, knowing that Zade’s attitude usually soured before he got to spend time with his family.
Zade loved listening to the sweet tones and deep throaty Gs of the Novan language. The words rolled around inside him all day and it felt good to hear them aloud. “Já, já…” he assured, inviting the conversation in Novan. Nymph spoke Novan as well, but his knowledge of it was fading leaving just Ira. The man appeared very regal, with a certain posh appearance in his angled brow and sharp feline eyes. Ira looked more like a model than a vigilante, and certainly more of a head-smart individual than a street-smart one.
Charly returned back into the kitchen, still dressed for the cold, “Come on, Zade, go get ready!” she urged.
“I am ready,” Zade retorted, short with her and sassy. She only sighed, unwilling to fight with him, from the look in her eyes, Zade knew all she could think about was how short his fuse got when he had the chance to spend the weekend with his family. It hurt her a little, Zade could feel it, because in his heart he knew both of them were hurt by the fact that he was adopted, and this was ever present in his life. The time when Zade was just her little boy, her son who got to be all hers without any biological parents, was gone the moment Zade could understand what it meant to be adopted.
Heavy boots caked with dried mud stomped into the kitchen as a man with short, dark hair stepped in, fetched a lunch from the refrigerator, and garnered all of Charly’s attention, “You taking the boys?” the man asked, pulling her close and kissing her.
Charly accepted the gestured but was ever still annoyed, “Honi is giving me his drama again, and this one,” she gestured now directing her tone at Zade, “is not moving to the car!”
Zade smirked and got up to leave the kitchen, “Bye Popa, good luck,” he offered sarcastically. The Novan words influencing him, Zade turned just as the thought of calling that man Dad rolled around in his brain and then vanished. First off, the word ingrained into him was Novan, and second Ohara wasn’t his father and never would be. He tagged Honi on the way out, congratulating him for stirring their mother’s madness, and then he trod out to the little gray car, which was offered up to anyone with a driver’s license who needed it as long as they pitched in for fuel.
Barely doing as much as combing his ragged and patchy hair, Honi tore through the hall to the kitchen. He might have looked like a lanky fourteen-year-old, but he still acted like a child, or a puppy with too much energy and a ravenous appetite. Ohara glared at him from the kitchen table shaking his head, “Any day now your instincts are going to kick in and we’ll have a mountain of trouble to deal with.”
Honi chuckled, picking out of a bag of deli meat with his fingertips, “I’ve got my instincts already, I’ve gone hunting,” he assured, eating so quickly Ohara feared he would make himself sick.
“Yeah, but you don’t need it yet, you’ll get there,” his dad ruffled his hair as he passed into the family room, “Now are you going with your mom, or are you going to follow me around?”
Honi’s tall and furry ears perked up at the question, knowing it wasn’t an offer of some kind. Poking around until his dad left, Honi bundled himself up into his coat, packed a little lunchmeat for himself, and waited to see Ohara’s car leave the driveway to leave the house. Out into the crunching leaves, Honi breathed of the glorious autumn air and smiled to himself. Something felt a little incomplete in his heart when Zade wasn’t around, but it didn’t sadden him, he just missed his brother sorely. He knew it made his brother happy to spend time with his biological family, and that was enough for Honi.
Once he felt fully alone, Honi relaxed in his heart, then took to the garden stairs on all fours, inciting his transformation as he moved. Fur grew upon his arms and his face, his ears perked up and his tail wagged excitedly, and his nose merged into a potent snout, a long muzzled designed for hunting. At the bottom of the stairs, Honi sniffed at the loose gravel before looking onward. At the shoulder, he was half his usual height, a huge dog, a young wolf who stood on the cusp of maturity.
Opening his heart to the Realm, he felt the world around him, sensing the location of each Shadow nearest to him, with a range of about a mile. It was a small range compared to the Overseers, or even Nymph, but with his heightened senses as a wolf, it was all he needed. It was enough. Honi had everything he could ever want, a great place to live, two parents, an adopted little brother he adored, and miles of woods to romp around in. His quiet nature as a Dire Wolf, gave him everything else he could want.
Growing up, Honi was never much for toys or games, he could barely hang onto a cell phone which his mother begged him to keep on him, but since his little brother was unable to use the Realm, it was the only way they could silently communicate from a distance. Zade encouraged in Honi one valuable trait; silence. The brothers couldn’t remember a time they had been apart, despite being born from different mothers and fathers, and through this connection, they had developed a silent bond, never speaking much when they had the time alone, and only brightening up when Nymph was around.
Honi’s ears twitched when he heard a screeching high-pitched noise peeking through the old, single-pane window of the garage near to him. The structure could have once been a barn, it was clearly added to the property after the original building, which had also been added onto. It was a simple space, that had been recently insulated, with a studio and a loft, where Mark taught a quite thorough homeschool curriculum to the Shadows in the Viridian. This sound wasn’t from Mark teaching a small crowd of young Shadows.
Peeking in through the old dusty window, Honi looked around the studio to see a pair of bare feet striding across the carpet. The man’s feet were scared from surgeries he had endured fourteen years ago, but with time he could walk again. He paced the room, slow and smooth with every step while his hands occupied the strings and bow of a very old violin. Honi couldn’t hear the music well, but it irritated his heightened senses and he knew better than to bother Irwin when he was playing violin.
Putting his nose to the ground, Honi sniffed around, getting a feel for his surroundings before trotting off down the driveway. Out in the open, unashamed by his powerful form, Honi stepped lightly down the gravel, frightening a squirrel before he got to the road. Promptly, he was spotted by a car, which swerved a little and reduced its speed as its occupants awed at the huge wolf out in daylight in Virginia. Honi had seen a handful of coyotes in his time, quite a few foxes, but Virginia wasn’t exactly known for having a wolf population, much less one that would be seen in daylight.
Honi crossed the street and jumped over the guardrail into the woods and upon some slippery rocks. His feet rolled out from under him and he crashed on his shoulder. It didn’t injure him but it still winded him enough that it took a moment for him to find his footing. Upon doing so, he caught the scent of something alive as it scurried away from him and dashed up a tree. There was no shame in his audacity as he sniffed up the tree to catch the tail of a four-foot black snake. He yelped when it lunged at him, and skittishly took a step back as it coiled up at the base of the tree defensively.
Knowing it wasn’t poisonous, he shamelessly terrorized it, snapping at it, at kicking its tail with his forepaws to make it hiss, and rattle its tail against the leaves to mimic a more dangerous snake. Barking at it, he whined and waited for it to attempt to get away. Much bigger than it, Honi held up his right paw, and waited just long enough for the snake to move away. He stomped down on it, holding its head down and leering down to smell it. The snake constricted on the leaves, grasping at whatever it could, but Honi was far too strong for it. With his full assessment, Honi spoke to it, whispering in his quiet Voice to see if it would respond.
The waited, knowing the snake was afraid, but Honi acknowledged fear probably wouldn’t get anything out of it, even if it was a Bloodless. He released it, but still he was suspicious. The snake hissed louder, snapping at him, but Honi smugly walked away letting the snake know it was only alive because Honi had permitted it to remain so. Very easily, the snake could have become his meal. The slope from the road was incredibly steep and lead through the woods down to an old warehouse that was abandoned and only otherwise accentuated by a “for sale” sign posted on old metal door. Honi had heard a few rumors that Mark was thinking about buying this property if they could convert it into more housing. Right now, they had just enough room for the thirty young Shadows housed in the Viridian, however, there were a handful coming up on adulthood that were eager to get out and find lives outside the Viridian.
One such adult Honi considered his good friend was Jeromy Stuart, a twenty-six-year-old demon of a young man, who terrorized the children with nightmares, and concocted horrible schemes to prank the girls. Jeromy was Honi’s friend, solely because his slightly mean-spirited nature empathized with Zade. Jeromy could see into Zade’s heart when Honi couldn’t sometimes, and any friend of Zade’s was Honi’s friend as well. Jeromy had been with Mark’s parade of Shadows since before Honi was born, and Honi got the impression, Jeromy was never straight with anyone except Mark. The young man hid much of his past, and Mark helped him. It drove Honi nuts, and he loved to pry.
Sniffing around the blades of grass peeking out through the cracks between the asphalt, Honi chased the dead leaves and scratched at the old door to see if he could get inside the old building. He wished it was summer, the crunchy cold under his feet was getting old, and he missed chasing grasshoppers and lizards into the fissures between the bricks on the garden stairs. He was content either way, knowing that Zade loved Christmas and winter because of the increase in opportunities he had to visit his family.
As Honi worked his way further down the hill into the valley, he smiled to himself. His life revolved around his little brother, and his happiness relied on the joy of everyone else, but his secret desire, the smile that perpetually stretched across his face, was the constant search for other Bloodless. Honi only personally knew two Bloodless, Zade, and Zade’s grandfather, who refused to show them his other form. Tægan Fanír was the only grandfather Honi knew, and even though Honi was aware he was not related to Tægan, he recognized Tægan was the only male figure Zade was directly related to. That in itself was valuable.
Honi to a dip into the frigid Shenandoah, happily soaking his rusty-gray fur, and shaking himself off on the same bank. Honehe Halo Ravenwood! He could hear his mother scream at him, do not go further than the river! He was convinced she yelled at him just because she liked doing it. She was always screaming about something. Honi chuckled, he certainly liked the sound of his full name. No one called him Honehe unless he was getting yelled at, and that always made him laugh.
Climbing back up the hill, he used a little switch back of a maintained trail, frequented by hikers, to reach the nearest convenience store. This general store, preserving the old America aesthetic which was so valued in this area, was the quaint store where Honi’s dad worked. It was a very valuable stop on the Appalachian Trail, offering dedicated hikers a small campground, a warm tavern, hot food, invaluable supplies, and friendly faces from the several Shadows that worked there. As he came up to the shop, and under the unlit “Brightriver General Store” sign, which had cracking red, white, and blue paint, Honi half transformed. Taking a moment, he slipped on a camouflage painted, thick collar with silver studs, to imitate a domesticated wolf-dog. He was perfectly well behaved around humans, but there wasn’t a drop of domesticated dog blood in him.
He wasn’t quite full grown yet, but compared to other wolf-dogs he had seen, he was huge. Reaching the pavement, Honi padded around to the front of the store and sat down on the sidewalk and smiled, panting a little until someone opened the door for him. Welcoming himself inside, Honi sniffed around at each of the tables, inspecting them for fallen French-fries, or a drop of ketchup that hadn’t been mopped up yet.
“Hello Honi!” a sweet old voice cheered him and he looked up smiling into the eyes of a regular who knew him. The old man’s gray beard and wrinkly smile made Honi’s tongue hang out as he let the old guy pet him on the head, and scratch behind his ears. Rebelliously, he put his paws up on the table, almost as tall as he was in human form when he stood on his hind legs. The tables were polished, smooth and oily, old wood, which retained some of his bark along the sides, and the burned, charred, rusty places from where old nails had been pried out of them. Around the edges of each table, old quarters had been carved into them, displaying their tail face of whatever state they had originated from. The silver coins were worth a lot now, but they were protected under layers of lacquer which were added annually to protect the aging table.
Honi trolled the shop, wagging his tail, and bringing a smile to a couple of hikers who gratefully took to the beer chest, and fluffed Honi’s thick coat. This was the best place on earth, there was so much life in this restored shop, and Honi made his way right to his favorite spot. A thin chain blocked humans from entering a small section of the back, fenced off with the same material and structure as an outdoor deck, across from a wall of refrigerators chilling a slew of beverages. He slipped right under the chain and climbed up on one of the displays to sit right in a bear fur, under a mountain of trophies that would impale him on their antlers if they fell. This was his favorite spot, because if he sat still enough, unsuspecting people would come admire him, and then he could growl at them to thoroughly terrify them. It was also a step up from the rest of the shop, providing a great view of the kitchen and deli.
At the end of the row of refrigerators, Ohara appeared from the back room, carrying a case of bottled sodas. Ohara spotted Honi among the hunting trophies upon second glance, and he glared at his son knowing he’d be perfectly happy sitting there all day. At the front of the store, the door opened, ringing a cute little bell and causing Honi’s ears to pick up. The scent hit him instantly before he even saw it, and he got up quickly to race to the front. Wagging his tail eagerly, he scared a Golden Retriever into frenzied barking the moment they made eye contact.
The owner of the dog stammered at the sight of an obviously full-blooded wolf rushing at his dog but Ohara came running hurriedly. “Honi, Honi quit it!” he snapped, grabbing Honi by the collar and hoisting him backwards. Honi was easily stronger than Ohara but he complied and sat down like an obedient dog giving the Retriever a moment to calm down. “Sorry, he gets really excited when he meets new dogs,” Ohara assured, gesturing to the open door, “but we are pet friendly,” he assured, startling the dog-owner at Brightriver Store’s remarkable hospitality.
Honi stayed sitting when Ohara let him go, inviting the man inside, and Honi wagged his tail when the other dog looked at him, assessing him carefully. Humans had a sense that Honi wasn’t a dog, but real dogs were sent into a frenzy the first time they saw Honi, knowing he was a wild predator the moment they saw him. Ohara hurried over to the register with something drawn from his pocket, and as he opened the register he noticed how the dog-owner, who seemed to be a hiker, was still concerned about his dog near the huge wolf-dog.
“Oh don’t worry about him,” Ohara assured, “he’s real good with other dogs, he just needs a moment to get to know them,” closing the register he stepped out from the counter and smiled warmly, “what can I help you with?”
“Uh…” the man hesitated, pulling his Retriever away from Honi, “I’m doing a month on the Appalachian Trail, been out for three nights already, and I left my solar charger at my car which is now thirty some miles behind me.”
“Wow…” Ohara awed, “Have you done it before? You’re making pretty good time.”
The man chuckled and nodded, “I try to do parts of it yearly. Now, do you have a little solar charger, I don’t need a super powerful one.”
Affirming eagerly, Ohara directed the man to his left, at the two or three aisles of non-food convenience items. Honi took a glance back at the food items, a long, shelving unit, many sections high into the rafters, which was on the opposite side of the tables. The moment he looked back, he realized the hiker had dropped his dog’s leash and the Retriever had very obediently stayed put. Sitting just three feet from Honi, he couldn’t help but find that a little odd. Most hikers kept their dogs at their heels, and most dogs were certainly not this well behaved.
“We have a small campground out there, showers, a buck for five minutes,” Ohara explained keeping friendly and also taking note of the obedient Retriever, “And a communal firepit we light up a lot. If you stick around tonight we’ve got enough winter campers we’ll have a small party, my kids might show their faces tonight if they get their homework done.”
The hiker laughed heartily crossing his arms with a packaging of a small solar charger under his right elbow. “I might just, I’ve never been to this little stretch of Appalachia, at least not in… ten years I’d say.”
Sighing pleasantly, Ohara gravitated to the register, “Yeah, I started working here about six years ago, the whole town has changed a lot, they’re all going for the old America vibe.” He rung up the solar charger, “is there anything else I can get you right now?”
“No, this is good for now,” the hiker assured, forking over a little money, “So you’re not the owner?” he puzzled and Ohara just shook his head. With a little chuckle, the man gestured to Honi, “Sorry, it’s just I see that’s your dog, I assumed—it’s… well, he’s a beauty, what breed?”
Ohara shot a little smirk at Honi, “As full-blooded as I could get,” it wasn’t a lie, he had married the boy’s mother to become his father, it was as close to full-blooded family as he could get. Offering a laugh with the man’s receipt, Ohara dumped the change into the hiker’s palm, “I’m pretty sure there’s regulations about how pure he can be, but who gives a damn about those out here?”
“True that!” the man nodded, tucking his change away into his pack, “it was nice meeting you…” he extended a hand to shake, healing his tone open for introduction.
Stammering, Honi watched his father jump, “O-Ohara… Ravenwood.” Honi chuckled, Ohara had no clue what his surname was, or even what his birthname had been, Ohara had grown up with no one. So when he got married, he adopted his wife’s surname, and this too made Honi smile.
The hiker shook Ohara’s hand firmly with a kind declaration of “Dan Nealucci.” The handshake broke away and the man waved him off cheerily, “see you, I’ll be in town.”
“Bye,” Ohara called out, his eyes finding the Retriever as Dan Nealucci didn’t pick up the leash, and rather whistled a sharp, quick note, to get the dog to follow. Honi’s eyes followed the swift, and obedient dog then looked to his dad and wagged his tail eagerly. As if he was showing off to Ohara how obedient he could be, Honi panted happily with a big smile on his face. Ohara just shook his head, getting back to work and leaving Honi to roam how he wanted.
Getting out of the car with both feet into a pile of moldy leaves, Zade started working his outgrown black hair into a little high ponytail to keep it out of his face, though most of the lower layers he left down. Charly saw him do it as he stepped out of the car behind him, seeing how eager he was to go inside, “I know, I know, I’ll get that haircut scheduled for you.”
With a little smile, Zade drew his coat a little closer, “Before my birthday,” he reminded, growing a little desperate to have short hair again. His mother nodded and at the door they knocked loudly before entering without preamble. The little split-foyer smelled like stale pot-pourri and slow-cooker soup for lunch. Zade took in the smells, paying his respects to the pinecone among the basket of dusty dried flowers and fruits. He loved the smell of his grandmother’s house.
“Wait…” he whispered at the door, his feet binding to the ground as his mother pushed past him up the stairs.
“Perry?” Charly called before looking down to see her son still standing in the foyer now holding his arms and shivering, “Close the door, you’re letting the cold in.”
Zade complied but his hands were shaking and he clung to the doorknob when his uncle came around the corner to see them, “Hey, come on upstairs, the soup is ready and we were waiting for you.”
Looking up to the top of the stairs, Zade eyed up his uncle, a little dizzily. It didn’t matter that the man’s blue eyes stuck out like glittering gems or that his blonde beard reminded Zade of the tickly feel of it on his face and under his fingers, the first thing that always stuck out to Zade was Perry’s right shoulder. The long sleeve of his shirt had been cut off and sewn together to close the arm hole, leaving the stump very obvious. It didn’t bother Zade, it was just a soft reminder he didn’t want to think about.
Clutching the cold metal of the doorknob, Zade trembled, “I don’t want to be here…” he whispered, his breathing growing a little faster and hasty, “I can’t be here! This can’t happen today!” he muttered aimlessly, jumping in pure terror when his mom touched his shoulder, “Something’s wrong! I can’t do this today!”
Charly puzzled, stroking his back, “What’s going on? You were fine a minute again.”
Zade tried to refuse her touch but in his heart he clung to it, “This house…” he wheezed, “it’s so dark! I can’t be here today!”
Looking up to Perry confused, Charly wrapped her arms around her son, “Is something going on here?” she fretted, holding Zade tightly.
His eyes growing dark, Perry rubbed his face firmly, with his one remaining hand. Charly’s brows knitted together the moment she realized, her son was right, something was very wrong in his house. Stressed, Perry acknowledged he had been trying to hide it with a cheery face, “Your G-ma is having a rough day…” he admitted to Zade, “she didn’t really want company today.” Gesturing his little nephew up the stairs, Perry gathered Zade to follow him into the back bedroom.
Shakily, Zade stepped up after him, growing more agitated with each step. It was intense emotion in Zade’s golden eyes, growing more powerful the closer he got to the bedroom, but when the door opened, a wave of release came over him, and his heart steadied. Curled up in her bed, a lonely twin mattress, his G-ma laid gazing into an old picture she cherished. Illuminated from within her phone, the woman gazed into the picture at her three children, the eldest on either side of the youngest as they laid on the floor of the living room. Zade got just close enough to see the picture, and see that the middle figure had his legs crossed above him, the left over the right, and the left boasting a bare, scarred stump. It had been taken before Perry had lost his arm, and it was one of the last pictures ever taken of Zade’s father.
“Oh—hey!” the woman jumped when she realized Zade was peering over her shoulder, “Hey, Darmis, you’re here!” she faked a bright smile, but even in the darkened room, Zade knew it was forced. She gestured him closer, pulling him into the bed with her.
His joints locked causing him to almost fall into the bed, nervously as the full scope of his grandmother’s emotions hit him, “What’ wrong, G-ma?”
She waved it off, cradling the phone in her hands and staring into the bright screen with tears still escaping her eyes, “Oh don’t worry…” she assured shakily, “I’m just really missing your dad… it’s this time of year, it’s just not the same without him.”
Making himself comfortable, Zade propped up the pillows for her, so they could both sit while his mother and uncle watched from the doorway. The sweet smell of his G-ma’s favorite lotion transferred from her hands as she wrapped her arms around him. He didn’t mind it so much because he loved hearing her talk about his father. “Will you tell me about that picture?” he asked gently, in a sweet voice to keep her from crying more.
G-ma’s heart broke to look into it again, “He came home that day so upset, it was the fourth of July, and he didn’t want to be around Shadows. It was right when he got his instincts, and he didn’t know how to control his urge to hunt, so rather than giving in, he refused to eat, he lost a lot of weight because of it. That night was so hard for him, but he… just wanted to be with us.”
Zade shifted a little, deeper into her arms, she was soft to rest with, and despite how small her bed was, Zade always felt comfortable with her. He sighed pleasantly, closing his eyes and savoring this, “You knew Popa better than anyone else… didn’t you?”
The loaded question made G-ma chuckle happily, “Well yes, except maybe Mark, he swooped in and took your dad under his wing. He saved Cælan’s life more times than I can count, that’s why I really trust you’re safe over there.”
Giving a weak smile, Zade sank back, but his mother reinforced it, “Aw, c’mon G-ma, you trust me too, it’s plenty safe there.” Glancing to his mother, Zade frowned a little, aware part of the reason he was adopted and not just living under his grandmother’s roof or with Perry, was the fact that Charly was a family friend. It wasn’t that bad being adopted, it was just not knowing what happened to his real parents that hurt.
G-ma fell into bitter tears again, gazing lovingly into the picture as she sobbed, “Sometimes I wonder where he is, if he lived a good life… or if he went out fighting.”
Charly and Perry dismissed themselves quietly as Zade cuddled with his G-ma contently, “What about my Moma?” he wondered softly.
Heaving a heavy sigh that spewed the heavy smell of lavender over the bed sheets, G-ma fretted, “I didn’t know your mom very well, she only spoke Novan. But your dad loved her to death, and I’m sure he kept her safe.” Hugging him tighter, she offered a very fake reassurance, “I’m sure they lived a long, happy life, with a little adventure sprinkled in…”
Zade no longer allowed his demeanor to brighten with hers, “What about my siblings?”
The question struck G-ma, breaking her heart silently, Zade was the youngest of six, and all of his dragon siblings had gone with his parents the day they disappeared. The Halos kept what had actually happened to them very quiet, Zade could tell Ira knew the truth, but the man would never tell him the full details of the story. To them it had been fourteen years ago, and it was time to forget. Almost fourteen years ago.
“Wow…” Perry whispered around the corner, out of sight of the bedroom, “That was fast…”
Charly crossed her arms and grimaced, groaning a little, “He’s getting really good at it and it drives me nuts, if you think negative emotions set him off, you should see what positive ones do to him.”
Perry led her into the kitchen towards the hot food they had prepared, “And you’re sure he’s not a Nova?”
Shrugging, Charly got out a handful of bowls, “He has round ears, Perry, and he doesn’t want to be tested.” She sighed as Perry gave a loud whistle to call for food, “I don’t know what to do, he’s always been very empathic, but it seems more and more like a power every day. And of course, Honi takes advantage of him, he doesn’t even realize how sensitive Darmis is to emotion.”
Perry stood at the crock pot calmly as a pair of rambunctious kids scurried into the room with plastic bowls, decorated with their favorite cartoon characters. Perry filled the bowls on the counter for the two of them, urging them to go sit at the dining room table, and be polite as they ate. Behind them, a tall, regal woman with her hair in braids in a bun on her head, entered slowly protecting her impregnated belly from the two rascals who preceded this one. Perry took a bowl from the cupboard for her, filling it up and taking it to the table for her before getting one for Charly.
“Hi Angie…” Charly sighed, glancing down at the woman’s ankles before finding a smile.
Perry passed her again, kissing his wife before he finally got a bowl for himself. Perry had married Angelique about five years ago, adding a little normalcy into the family as it got back on its feet after losing their little brother. However, seeing Perry’s growing family made Charly feel more as if she were the adopted one, replacing Cælan as the youngest. She looked at Angie and was constantly reminded she had been far younger than this woman when she had her first child, even though they were about the same age.
Separating the last two bowls in the stack, Perry filled them on the counter with only one hand to work with as he yelled through the thin walls of the house, “Zade, Mom, soup’s on!” His loud voice made the two kids, Angel and Jacqline to giggle at each other.
“I’ll go get them,” Charly offered, stepping out with her bright pink hair flaring up with a hint of purple, “they probably just need a minute.” Hurrying back down the hall, Charly barged in through the open door, the call for food on the tip of her tongue just as she saw Zade and G-ma, asleep together in the little twin bed. Instantly she smiled, Zade had that effect on people, the people who influenced Zade’s empathic side would go from the height of emotion, to a gentle crash, allowing them to sleep peacefully with the adolescent black dragon protecting them.
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