The world has always existed of different realms, divided by veils and boundaries which only opened on the solstices and equinoxes. Four times a year any soul could fall through the veil and end up on the Other Side. It had many names among the more popular were Faery, Otherworld, even Summerland, though it was not a place wholly of the dead. Certain people, called Realm Jumpers, could cross the divide at any time, having the ability to pierce the veil. There has always been an exchange between the two realms. Those who came to the Other Side were called Wanderers. Those who left to settle in the human world were known as Wayfarers. They could return to their homelands if needed but there was always a reason a Wanderer or Wayfarers’ soul called them to travel. Peace was usually found on the other side of the Divide.
The Archives of the Other Side are full of Wanderer tales, but few hold the history of the Wayfarers, how they settled and grew in their own communities, existing on the sidelines of humanity.
That was, until a Bard of the Sidhe capital Ville crossed over the divide and found himself settled among an unruly pack of Wayfarers.
It begins, like so many of a pilgrim’s tale, in a riverside tavern.
Four wolves, three wizards, two ghosts, and a fire demon with a self-esteem problem walked into a bar on the Cambridge side of the Charles River.
“Try not to break everything this time,” Mira hissed as they took their customary seats.
“We would’ve been fine if it wasn’t for fucking Ashur,” Duro growled.
Agron placed a hand on his brother’s arm to calm him down. As much as he agreed about everything being that fucking Trickster’s fault, now was not the time.
The Temple was the gathering place for all of their kind; those of a blood far from ordinary trying to make it in the mundane world. It wasn’t quite a safe house or a sanctuary, but there was enough blocking magic in the architecture to make it neutral ground. It was a space where they could all relax and actually enjoy a drink strong enough to be worth it.
Except for the ghosts of course, but that was part of the bullshit that came with being mostly non-corporeal.
Agron looked over their group. There were his fellow pack mates, Duro, Donar, and Saxa, all wolves like himself. The three wizards sat together, Spartacus, Naevia, and Mira with the two ghosts, Sura and Auctus bookending them. Crixus sat at the end, glaring at both Agron and the beings in between himself and Naevia. The fire demon really need to get the balls up and ask Naevia out before someone, probably Duro out of sheer stupidity, beat him to it.
It felt good to have his misfit family around him. They drew strength from each other as they passed their years in this modern city of technology and industry. As Wayfarers they were both blessed and cursed with long lifespans. It was a privilege to see the rapid change over the centuries as the human world evolved without magic. It was painful to watch friends and lovers die out. Having a group of Wayfarers helped ease the pain and pass the boredom. It kept them from the temptation of running back to the Other Side during a Veil Drop between the worlds.
They’d all left Capua together three centuries ago and they would stay together.
“I assume everyone wants the regular?” Pietros asked.
Pietros, a Sprite, ran the the tavern with his lover, Barca. No one knew just what group Barca came from, but a Giant and Autumn Sidhe ancestry was likely. Auctus probably knew, but he wasn’t one for volunteering information on his former lover, his former life, or anything really.
“You know us too well,” Naevia said, answering for them all.
Pietros smiled, even in the face of Auctus’ glare. “You are in for a treat tonight. We had a new arrival after Midsummer. He claims to be a simple minstrel, but Barca swears he is one of the Bards, perhaps even a Siren.”
“Oh joy, dinner and a show,” Auctus said. “A show which will possibly see the rest of you eviscerated if the entertainment is a Siren. This was almost worth dressing up for.”
Pietros' joy refused to falter, a strength of the Sprites to a point of infuriating their enemies, and he nodded at the ghost. “Anything which causes you to speak words instead of incoherent mumblings brings light to the tavern, Auctus. I hope you enjoy it.”
Even Crixus laughed when Pietros moved on. “I think that speck of a boy just won.”
Duro leaned over the table to mime patting Auctus on his incorporeal shoulder. “Even the church mice must win a battle or two, friend. Let Pietros have this one. We can’t afford to replace all the lamps.”
“Again,” Mira said.
Auctus inspected his hands without saying anything else. Sura looked disgusted with her companion but said nothing. Ghosts were interesting company to keep, especially when they bickered with each other; it was a guessing to game to see what would fly off the shelves first.
It didn’t take long for their meal and drinks to appear. Barca employed more than a few kitchen sprites who moved faster than plain sight. The wolves, ghosts, and Crixus could spot them, but it was always delightful to see the wizards continually amazed by the swiftness. Laughter and conversation filled the tavern, even bringing Auctus out of his sulk, until the lights flickered and a hush filled the space.
Barca strode to the stage at the exact center of the tavern. His height and beauty captivated many, long braids swaying in time with his stride. He effortlessly jumped on the platform, body working with a grace that even Agron, as a wolf, could admire.
“I hope you all take your meals well. And if not, I wish not to hear your complaints.” Barca smiled at the joyful shouts of his audience. “Welcome to all; Realm Jumpers, Wanderers returned, and Wayfarers on their first travels. This is your home now, our community, and we celebrate each and every one of you. Know that the door is always open to those with honor in their hearts and peace in their souls.”
There was a loud cheer through each corner. Even the kitchen sprites slowed to watch the spectacle.
Barca helped up his hands to quiet them. “Of all the travelers to come through the Veil, we are blessed with the talent of one particular guest.”
A cloaked figure appeared from the backroom. It was easy for Agron to watch the creature, even in the dark. All movements were to a subtle rhythm and innate grace that made his mouth run dry. From what he could see around the room, he was not the only one so captivated. Even Auctus and Sura leaned forward for a better look, and they were two whose sight pierced all veils.
The cloak fell to the ground as the figure took the stage and an audible gasp went through the room. Golden skin showed through rich green robes. Dark hair and eyes shimmered with some sort of magic. A small harp was clasped in elegant, jeweled hands.
“By the fucking gods,” Saxa said, “that is a true Bard.”
Among them Bard was not simply a title. It was a whole race of beings who kept the stories and songs of all peoples. Their skill was unmatched, save for the Sirens, whose power came from the water itself.
Barca bowed his head and left the stage to the much smaller man.
“I give welcome and thanks to all who are here this eve. It is always a blessing to be with those who have seen the Other Side,” the Bard said. His voice was smooth and steady, deeper than Agron expected for one so small of height.
“I have traveled many roads on both sides of the Divide and learned all sorts of secrets and histories.” A sly smile guaranteed a tale or two of sordid gossip. “Yet I think the best way to start all celebrations is with a song of reflection. Then we shall give way to dance and joy.”
He took the stool, fingers moving skillfully in the sound of a familiar anthem Agron had not heard for two centuries. It was a lament sung during the years of the Sidhe war, brought out for solemn ceremonies.
“You’re enchanted, brother,” Duro’s voice mocked in his ear.
“Aren’t we all,” Mira said. “Look around you. That Bard could order us to do anything right now and half this room would without hesitation.”
“Thank the gods Bards usually don’t abuse their power then,” Spartacus said, half-amused, half-calculating. “He would be a good ally.”
“Spell’s broken now,” Agron said. “Always like Spartacus to remind us that at any moment the world could go to shit.”
“It is his specialty,” Crixus agreed.
“Everyone just shut up and watch the performance,” Sura ordered.
They knew better than to argue with Sura; the ghost had a temper to rival Vengeance herself. Then again, it wasn’t like they were eager to keep their attention off the stage for long.
The crowd had thinned out once the Bard finished his set amid applause and promises of more performances. A few couples still danced to the music softly playing from Pietros’ own musical collection. The Temple never closed, it just wound down. Too many of them were used to a nocturnal existence.
Agron tracked the movements of their new guest. Something didn’t sit right with him; gut churning and instinct making his skin crawl. Duro tapped his arm in concern but he waved his brother off. Best not to cause alarm without reason.
The Bard walked around the tables of all still present, holding quick conversations and gathering more stories. Their group was the largest left and presumably the last stop. Agron sniffed the air again, taking in the scent of the creature before them. Whatever he was, a simple Bard was not all. Before them stood more than just that race of skilled singers and storytellers; it was a mixture of power so strong he could taste it.
“What are you?” he asked, when the Bard took a seat at their table.
A raised brow was the initial response. “Is it not obvious?”
“You do not smell of a Bard.”
His eyes narrowed before he attempted to throw them off with a laugh. “Perhaps I have asked a wizard to mask my scent.”
Duro shook his head. “We can smell you out, little singer.”
He looked over their group again. “Ah, how could I miss it. Wolves, of course. I did not know you to keep company outside of your packs.”
“Things are different here, by necessity,” Agron said.
Naevia nodded. “We find our own families.”
“And quite a family there is before me.” He held up his hands, palms out signaling peace. “I am called Nasir and my home is the byways. I make my living as a Bard, though I have lived and served among the Sidhe in the royal capital at Ville. I’m sure I stink of them and many others, since I often cross the divide during Veil Drops or with Realm Jumpers.”
“We welcome you to our table,” Spartacus said, easily taking the role as leader. “I am called Spartacus. This is my wife Sura, and fellow wizards Mira and Naevia. Auctus comes from the byways like yourself. Crixus is of the fire demons. I’ll leave Agron to introduce his pack.”
“So kind of you,” Agron said.
“I dare not step on the toes of an Alpha.”
Agron playfully growled. Spartacus was one of the few who could make such jests without worry of the pack attempting to rip his throat out.
He turned and met Nasir’s amused gaze. “I am Agron; this foul creature next to me is my litter-mate, Duro and our cousins Donar and Saxa. Our pack comes from Chauci, past Midwood and far into the Eastern Woods.”
Nasir titled his head. “I have heard of the place though never traveled so far inward. Do you all come from Chauci?”
“We came through Capua,” Mira said.
He looked surprised at that. “The Sidhe stronghold? Forgive me for insult, but none of you seem the type to willingly live among so many of the courtiers.”
“Which is why we are here,” Duro said. “Are you a Bard without sense?”
“Such things have been whispered about me.” Nasir nodded at them. “Gratitude for the introductions and the company. Pietros assures me we will meet often. I look forward to hearing your stories.”
“And if we wish not to share them?” Crixus asked.
Nasir’s smile did not falter at the accusatory tone. “Then I look forward to your companionship, if nothing more.” He stood. “If you will excuse me, it has been a longer night than I anticipated. Good eve.”
Agron noticed that even with his advanced hearing, Nasir made no sound as he moved.
“I do not trust one who smiles so often,” Crixus said.
“I find myself in agreement with the demon,” Agron said. “Something smells distinctly of shit.”
“That would be you, brother,” Duro muttered. “I like the Bard.”
“You are easily entertained,” Saxa accused.
“I simply do not suspect every person I meet of wanting to kill us.”
“I told you we should have sent him to Diona’s tribe,” Donar said.
Agron chuckled at the frightened look on his brother’s face. Diona was an elder of her own pack and had spent a lifetime taunting Duro. It was all in good jest, memories of Duro as a young pup attempting to court a female high above his station, but the embarrassment still stung.
“She would not have him,” Saxa said.
“Though not for lack of his own trying,” Agron said.
“Fuck you all.” Duro slid back in his chair. “I am ready to leave now.”
“Soon, brother,” he promised, patting his shoulder. “I must speak with Barca first.”
“Then I will order desert on your behalf,” Duro said.
“And my tab, I’m sure.”
He left the table and slid past the barrier line that protected Barca and Pietros' home from intruders. He caught movement to his side and saw Nasir in Barca’s office, taking off his robes to reveal a t-shirt and worn jeans underneath. It should have helped dispel the thriving aura around him, but it only seemed to make it worse.
“What are you,” he demanded.
Nasir did not jump, he did not raise his head to meet Agron’s eyes, he simply went about his task of taking off vestments and ornaments.
“I already grow weary of this questioning and we’ve only just met,” he said in a bored tone.
Agron leaned against the doorjamb, refusing to leave without answer.
“Why must you know. Can you not just satisfy yourself with knowing my occupation?”
“You could be a risk. As the leader of my pack, I must protect them.”
Nasir scoffed. “Do you honestly think Barca would let me under his roof if there was any chance of harming his beloved Pietros? He would rip my head from my shoulders before I even finished crossing the threshold.” He shook his head, the lowlight of the gas lamps shining in the dark locks. “You should not use the protection of your pack as excuse for your curiosity. Has no one ever cautioned you against courting disaster?”
“Often, but it takes me time to learn lessons. Stubborn creature and all that.”
Nasir raised his head and even though it was dark where Agron stood, he felt bare. Nasir could clearly track him, even in the shadows. That was an interesting trait and not one a Bard possessed.
“What do you want of me, Wolf? I fear I have no grandmother for you to snack upon.”
“Cute,” Agron said, moving into the light. “Perhaps I only wish for a bedtime story.”
Nasir's lips quirked but no smile was forthcoming. He walked a circle around Agron, openly studying him. There was nothing lewd in his eyes, no sense of desire, just simple curiosity.
“Sing to me, O Muse,” Nasir started.
“I have no taste for the tales of Homer, little bard.”
Nasir’s eyes narrowed at the taunt, but still held fast. “I sing of warfare and a man at war.”
“I always found the Romans to be arrogant fucking pricks.”
Nasir did smile at that one. He settled down on the edge of a desk, palms laid flat and legs extended. “Often the solitary one finds grace for himself.”
Agron couldn’t help the shiver that went down his spine at the opening words of The Wanderer. It was more than just a poem to people from their land. It started as a prayer and incantation for safe passage but over the generations of Realm Jumpers, Wayfarers, and Wanderers, it’d become nothing but another piece of ancient literature.
“Do I pass your test?” Nasir asked.
There was a twinkle in his eye much like any Goodfellow. He had the magical empathy of a Bard and yet his scent was neither.
“What are you?” Agron asked again. He didn’t sense danger or malice, but often evil came wrapped in pretty little packages.
“A storyteller. A singer of songs. A minstrel. A stranger. An intrigue. I am whatever my audience needs me to be.”
“That doesn’t lead to an identity crisis?”
Nasir laughed, the musical sound filling the room.
It made Argon’s blood roar. Possible Sidhe then, even if his eyes didn’t glow green or blue.
“I know who I am, Wolf. Perhaps you will discover it as well.” He stood and walked past Agron to the door. “If you’re worthy.”
Agron watched him go, gladly admitting defeat for this round.
Home was a small, old apartment building made of wood and stone down on the South Shore. It was close enough to the city to easily take mass transit, but far enough to let them breathe relatively fresh air. The pack took up the entirety of the first floor, each with their own small apartment. Duro and Agron had knocked down the wall between their own while Auctus shared his living quarters with Donar. Saxa threatened weekly to move upstairs to join Mira and Naevia, but she had yet to follow through on that threat. Spartacus and Sura commanded the third and final floor. The building had all the typical problems of one built pre-World War II, but it was their home for the past thirty years.
The sun was barely up when Agron dragged himself out of the apartment, canvas bags and lists from Naevia and Mira clutched in his hands. After each Veil Drop the shops in and around Salem, easily disguised behind all the touristy kitsch, would get resupplied. And each time Agron was elected as the one to take the train or boat up the coastline to shop. Something about how no one dared rip him off on any of the prices.
He decided to stop by Barca’s before switching transit lines for the commuter train. After Duro ate half the menu worth of desserts last night, he desperately needed to pay off some of their tab. His brother’s sweet tooth could rival any humans but it was one of his more endearing traits.
“Come to pay for your brother’s dietary sins?” Pietros asked as he walked into The Temple.
“Some of them at least,” he said. “I thought I’d knock off some in trade. Is Barca in the back?”
Pietros shook his head, light catching on a truly impressive earcuff. “He’s out on the patio doing his morning yoga.”
“And you’re not greeting the sun with him?”
“I’ve already completed my morning routine of worship,” he said without missing a beat.
It was good to see Pietros so comfortable in his own skin. He was a world changed from when he first stumbled into them a decade ago, beaten and hungry. Pietros, more than any of them save perhaps Agron himself, needed a family about him to shine and survive.
“I will see myself to the back,” he said, giving Pietros a reassuring smile as he passed.
He stopped on the threshold of the patio and watched Barca’s form. Ages ago, after Auctus and before Pietros, there was a brief flirtation. One born out of a mixture of frustration and lust but nothing so tender as what Barca now held. The initial stirrings were gone, but he still had his moments of admiration. Barca truly was a sight to behold.
“I never thought you one for yoga.”
“I’m succumbing to the effects of living in Cambridge,” Barca said. He took another moment to finish his last pose before joining Agron. “I assume you’re here to offer labor over money?”
“I’ve been ordered up to Salem. The least I could do is offer to pick up your orders.”
“And then have us knock off a quarter of what Duro ate last night? Are you sure the pup isn’t with cubs?”
Agron shuddered at the thought. Stranger things had happened when a wizard or healer got it into their mind to experiment. “Please don’t wish such a thing upon me. You know how Duro gets close to the full moon.”
“Nothing with sugar is safe,” Barca agreed. “I will gladly take this exchange if you do one favor for me.”
“For today at least. Take Nasir with you. It would do him well to get acquainted with the train schedule while he’s with us.”
“I thought Pietros prepared that packet for new Wayfarers, like the Wanderer’s Handbook?”
Barca rolled his eyes. “As much as I admire his attempts, nothing beats real experience. I trust you not to leave him alone in an ice cream shop.”
Agron scoffed. “That was one time, the place was getting crowded, and Pietros was taking far too long to decide on a flavor.”
“A word of caution then, I do not think Nasir’s temperament will be so sweet.”
“Of that I am fucking certain.” He motioned to the door. “Wake-up your Bard. I’ll be waiting outside.” He smiled wide. “Though I might have to hear how Pietros obtained such an earcuff.”
“A gift from Aindrea Haldane, nothing more.”
“Oh, nothing more, just a gift from the royal prince of Merrymec. How does Eideard feel about such things?”
“I am not fucking fool enough to tempt the wrath of a Siren. Eideard designed it. Since he has a whole room full of earcuffs after five hundred years of marriage, he’s desperate to pass the tradition on to someone else.”
“Such lofty company you find yourself among.”
“Just old promises fulfilled, you suspicious wolf.”
Nasir spoke little on their journey up the coastline. He’d only shown a brief bit of life when Agron explained how the Charlie Cards worked over paper tickets. He didn’t know how Nasir kept cool as they maneuvered through the old t-stations and lines to the commuter rail. Agron was sweating even in the early morning with a sleeveless shirt. Nasir wore a long-sleeved hooded sweatshirt and even refused a sip of offered water.
Maybe he was part dragon.
They were halfway to Salem’s city center when Agron had to break the silence or lose his mind.
“If I offended you last night, I suppose I should apologize.”
“I was not offended,” Nasir said. He shook his arms out. “It’s been some time since I took up the title of Wayfarer. I forgot what it was like to live with such polluted air and all the electricity surrounding us. I was kept up half the night by the smell and sounds.”
“We are now in the open air,” Agron said.
“Yet it’s still foul.” Nasir looked around. “And full of tourists.”
“Easy enough to hide among the population here. You should see it around Halloween.”
“From what I’ve heard, I’d rather not. I’ve seen enough Bacchanalias for five lifetimes.”
Agron laughed. Nasir was less collected this morning, full of spite and fire. He liked it more than the act from last night even if it did make him wonder just what the true Nasir was like.
It was early enough that the streets weren’t too crowded. The summer sun was still a bit too warm for Agron’s liking, but he was forever a wolf of the winter lands in Chauci. The breeze off the ocean was pleasant though.
He watched Nasir as they dodged small children with ice cream cones and teenagers on skateboards with ear buds dangling around their neck. He didn’t look completely shocked by all around him, not like brand new Wayfarers.
“This is not your first time across the divide this decade,” he said.
Nasir’s smile was faint. “No. Though I’ve not seen America since the 1950s. I spent many years traveling with the folk artists to learn the new songs of their history. I was in Europe most recently helping a friend setup her own sanctuary.”
“Anyone I know?”
“Not unless you know a Summer Sidhe named Chadara from Velia.”
“I do not associate much with the Sidhe,” he said, trying to reign in his temper. The Sidhe were no friends of his pack. They’d used the wolves too often to fight their wars with little thanks or compensation.
“With the glaring exception of Barca,” Nasir said.
“He is Sidhe then, he never said.”
“Partially. And it is obvious for any who know the lineage of his family. They are one of the warrior clans of the Autumn Sidhe. My own brother lived among them.”
As much as Agron wanted more of that history, Naevia had taught him sense over the years. He filed it away for a time when Nasir seemed more open. It was better now, to focus on Barca.
“Autumn Sidhe are different. They’re aligned with the Sirens and have far more fucking sense than other branches of the royal family. I cannot wait until they finally destroy each other.”
“If the gods are kind Haldane will emerge victor. I wish war on no one, but when Queen Catriona abdicates the only acceptable answer for peace is Haldane.”
Nasir spoke as if he held intimate knowledge of the royals and honestly, from the skill exhibited last night, Agron would be more surprised if he didn’t. He couldn’t decide if that was something that made him trust Nasir more or less. The Sidhe were no friend of his, but he’d have to think long and hard if he should condemn someone by association only.
He tsked. “The Sidhe could always put aside their fucking differences and rule in royalty as name only.”
“No, they cannot,” Nasir said. He almost sounded surprised.
“Why the fuck not?”
Nasir paused in his steps and gaped at Agron. “How can you not know?”
“Do they not have archives in Chauci?”
Agron tried not to be insulted by his tone, even so he felt his jaw clench. “Our history is passed down from keeper to keeper through song and story. A Bard should know that.”
“You already know I am not fully Bard, there is no need to be insulting.”
Agron could feel his eyes widened as his fists instinctual flexed. It took every ounce of his restraint to keep the growl buried down in his throat. The wolf was snapping at his soul, demanding blood for insult. He could just hear Spartacus now if he lost control and switched forms in the middle of Salem’s main tourist drag.
“I give what I get, friend. I’m sorry if my people aren’t as civilized as your Sidhe. We value honesty and openness over lies and false action. We may not know all of the Sidhe’s history but we well recall their forgotten promises. Our depleted pack numbers and generations robbed of cubs are better testimony than any pretty scroll in a fucking archive.”
Nasir placed a hand on his forearm. Agron was surprised to find it cold to the touch.
“We both seem to be choosing the wrong words this morning, or perhaps the wrong meaning. I assumed that the legends of the Sidhe’s throne rights were part of your own history. Their legendarium formed the basis of all the archives. Since the throne was taken and sworn by blood magic from an alliance by the Sidhe, Dragons, Sirens, and Reapers, the Sidhe must hold it to maintain balance of our world. They are the only group of the old magic close enough to every other race on to keep it stable. If the Sidhe fall, so goes the balance and all the Veils. The old magic will break bonds and consume all.”
“And you know this to be truth and not just a children’s tale?”
Nasir scoffed. “Even the dragons do not attempt an uprising. Is that not proof enough?”
“I do not think any should rule by default.”
“Which is why Sidhe rulers must abdicate after a millennia and why our court systems are run by Realm Jumpers and not full blood Sidhe royals.”
Agron shook his head. “A politician in a Bard’s robe. What else can I expect from you?”
Nasir widely smiled, the first open one of the day. “If you can hold your temper and tongue, maybe you’ll live long enough to see what’s next.” He gestured to the street before them. “Don’t you think it’s time we moved on? I assume you have a reason to be here other than to accost me in plain view.”
Agron couldn’t let the taunt go unanswered. He bent down, almost halfway, to meet Nasir’s ear and whispered softly, “Clearly we need to show you the true meaning of accost.” He palmed Nasir’s shoulder and straightened up. “Though you do have a point, we should not keep Melitta waiting.”
“You’re a jackass,” Nasir yelled after him.
He playfully gasped. “Such language from such a cultured tongue.”
Agron barely dodged the quick leg that shot out to trip him. Nasir was definitely more than he seemed. He would ask Oenomaus to do a reading for them. The wizard’s skill at soul gazing was better than any he’d ever met. Though something told him that at the end of their visit, Nasir would usurp him in Oenomaus’ affections, probably Melitta's too. There was something about his presence that reminded him of the couple; a certain world-weariness and knowledge gained beyond years lived.
Two weeks passed with Agron making little headway in terms of discovering just what and who Nasir was. He stopped talking to everyone about it, save Duro, who out of a sense of solidarity only mocked him half the time in front of their friends.
Personally, he felt like he was taking all the teasing pretty damn well especially since every time Mira saw him she started quoting choice selections from Bambi. Even Melitta was filling his voicemail with taunts. His friends were truly evil and worthless and if it wasn’t for the fact he owned his damn apartment building, he’d leave them all behind. The only one with any sense was Auctus and since hanging out with a ghost who only liked to bond with pigeons left little to do, he was going stir-crazy. Even the gym was a no-go since Gannicus of the Mocking Laugh decided to take it over; a task he was positive Oenomaus put him up to.
Naevia, thank the fucking gods, was kind enough to take pity on him. She’d demanded he come over for dinner and it was a mostly relaxing affair, minus the corner of glaring fire demon that was Crixus. He could take the muttered insults though, if it gave him more time with Naevia’s insanely delicious lemon cake. He had yet to prove it, but he was damn sure she’d baked an enchantment into it.
“When was the last time you left the pack for more than a night?” Naevia asked.
He used his finger to pick up the crumbs left on the plate as he thought. It’d been at least five years, perhaps longer. “I don’t recall; probably when Aurelia was visiting and decided I should court Dagan.”
Naevia hissed at the memory of that specular fuck-up. All of it could be blamed on fucking Ashur. Agron got out relatively unscathed, but Dagan lost an eye. It worked out for the best in the end; Dagan enjoyed restoring the works at Byway Books, but for a while there it felt like all alliances were gone to shit.
“You need to leave and clear your fucking head,” Crixus said. “I’ll even offer my protection this once.”
Agron pouted at his empty plate. “I’m more worried about protecting you from Saxa,” he admitted. He had to remind himself that he was in human form and it would not be good manners to lick the plate in front of his host.
“She’s not in a mating cycle again, is she?” Naevia asked, her voice suddenly gone tight.
Agron lifted his gaze and looked between his two friends. There were really fucking obvious but completely oblivious to each other. Something needed to be done. Maybe he could convince Spartacus to slap them both with a clarity spell.
“I don’t think Saxa’s ever off her cycle, honestly, but hell, one of us should be enjoying all life here has to offer.”
“I thought she had an arrangement with Nemetes,” Crixus said.
Agron shook his head. “Not wolf enough for her, so to speak. Saxa values truth and honor above all. Every last wolf in Sedullus’ pack carries the tang of bullshit. Nemetes the least among them granted, but it’s still potent.”
“What of Varro then? He’s flirted with you wolves often enough.”
Agron almost laughed. “Aurelia would skin Saxa alive.”
“She has made no claim,” Naevia argued.
“Not in so many words, but he is marked with her scent. Any fuck stupid enough to mess with Varro deserves whatever Aurelia gives them.”
Crixus nodded his head in a rare moment of agreement. He knew well the she-wolf’s wrath. “Either way, you should leave, Agron. You’re almost turning serious.”
“Godsfuckingforbid we have that.”
Naevia reached over and patted his arm, a pulse of warmth filling his body. “Leaving should lead to clarity. It’s what Melitta advises. One night away. Take Duro with you if it would ease your conscience. Go into the woods, leave the city; we will take care of the others.”
Naevia was so earnest, her words so full of promise and hope that he couldn’t deny her. He had been more stressed than usual lately. Being around Nasir made his skin itch and he found a myriad of inane reasons to find himself at The Temple every day since his arrival. It would be good, at the very least, to force himself away for a night. Remove the temptation and clear his senses of all traces of Nasir. Maybe then he could get on with life.
“You offer good advice, Naevia.”
“Of course she does,” Crixus said.
“I’ll take Duro with me. Just make sure to keep an elemental sentry at our door. I leave it unlocked incase Auctus is too tired to use his will to open it.”
Naevia smiled. “I am certain Crixus can spare a fire messenger.”
“Just as long as it doesn’t burn down my apartment and stays away from Duro’s videogames. I’m not replacing that collection again.”
Naevia nodded and patted Crixus’ arm. “We will see it done.”
A night away stretched into a week. They didn’t go to the woods as originally planned but to Maine. Duro had an overt fondness for lighthouses, L.L. Bean, Stephen King, and lobster and Agron could never, ever deny his brother. It felt like the worst in stereotypes for a visit, but Duro got even more insane when they went to Canada, so all things considered, the trip was low-key.
Agron had taken advantage of their time to peruse one of the local Wayfarer libraries. He was still determined to find out what Nasir’s background could be but the most helpful thing he’d come across was a diagram describing the human watchers of the Chimera. They would be back in Boston tomorrow and Agron was a liar if he said his pulse didn’t race at the thought.
The only sound in their hotel room was the whirring of the air conditioner. Duro was laid out on his bed, fingers scratching through his hair while he hummed Spiders by System of a Down.
Agron placed a hand over his eyes as he tried to work out all the information in his head. What he knew of Nasir and what he’d pieced together from all of his research made fuck all sense. He needed to find a proper academic. He walked over to his brother and curled into the space next to him, a form of comfort since they were pups. He smiled as Duro’s hands found their way to his head, his brother’s fingers easily carding through Agron’s much shorter hair.
“Do you think it’s worth it?” Duro asked.
Agron had already spent his day pouring over texts and lore. He was hardly in the mood for his brother’s non-sequiturs.
“Duro, despite the fact we were born in the same litter I am not, nor will I ever be, able to read your mind.”
“Sorry, brother.” Duro swatted at him. “I meant Spartacus and Sura; do you think it’s worth it for them? Only able to touch four times a year during the Veil Drop.”
“Better four days than nothing more, I suppose. They still live for each other, even with Sura’s condition.”
Duro hummed in agreement but Agron could tell there was more. He waited patiently for Duro to ask his true question. It didn’t take long. There was a stuttered breath and Agron almost knew what was coming.
“Why do you think Auctus stays? He could work with the Reapers back home.”
Agron never acted as confessor for Auctus; he could hardly guess at the ghost’s motivation for doing anything. He cared for Naevia, but it was only love for a sister figure. All of Auctus’ unfinished business lay on the Other Side. He had his suspicions of course, but he knew nothing about the heart of a ghost.
“He has his reasons, Duro,” he said.
“It cannot be easy to see his lover with Pietros.” Duro’s words with twisted with disgust and confusion. It was hard for him, as a wolf, to understand the lack of a true bonding. Duro understood promiscuity and scratching an itch, but wolves, on either side of the divide, did not take love lightly.
“Their relationships are not like ours, Duro, you know that. Barca has found his happiness with Pietros. Auctus know his own mind. Neither of these things should be your concern, brother, unless you’re considering the ghost for your mate.” It wasn’t just a jest. Agron worried for where his brother’s eyes were starting to turn.
Duro scoffed. “I may be a fool but you cannot think me that stupid, brother.”
“You have your moments,” he muttered.
The kick to his legs was expected and anticipated. “Did you find out if Nasir is really a Bard?”
“Yes and no. Nasir is something, possibly Bard and Sidhe.”
“Like Haldane, the leader in Merrymec?”
Agron shook his head. “I don’t know.”
That caught Duro’s attention. “You’ve spent half a day for the past two weeks in his company and you couldn’t sniff out his species at all? Not even a hint? Are you ill?”
“His scent is not known to me.”
“Are you certain he is not like Ashur? He could be a Goodfellow.”
“Neither or perhaps both.” Agron flopped on to his back “He is a tease. There’s a danger about him.”
“Is that so, brother?”
Agron flicked his wrist and sent a force of power to smack Duro on the back of his head. “None of that from you, pup,” he ordered.
“Saxa will be delighted. She’s begun to fear for you.”
“Go to sleep, Duro.”
“Should I wish you sweet dreams of your minstrel?”
“Sleep. Duro. Now.”
He closed his eyes to the sound of Duro’s laughter filling their room.