Michael’s Diary I

   Michael Tesla was a character for a 1920’s “young superheroes” game. He possessed two primary talents – Lycanthropy and Major Psionics (mostly enhancing his physical and technical abilities), and had invested some of his available skill choices in minor magical abilities (allowing him to produce a few low-level nature, chaos, and technomantic effects per day) as well as in the “Distorter Wand”, one of his father Nikola’s gadgets that provided light manipulation abilities at a similar level. Unfortunately, he didn’t really know about any of those abilities other than the Wand at first. The fact that the Game Master occasionally handed out additional talent points eventually let him buy Faerie Powers and a bit of Faerie Magic when the situation seemed to justify it (the Game Master also tended to simply assign him new girlfriends at time, all of whom came with plot complications). The diary below covers the first couple of major campaign arcs: there were other arcs later – but to post those I’ll have to rummage out a few more of these 20-year-old files.

The Nexus War:

   The first time was a nightmare. Peacefully asleep – and then a sudden wrenching twisting, furious itching, skin crawling, entanglement – and convulsive thrashing that toppled him out of bed – and left him scrambling up onto all… four…. paws… ?!?!?! An attempt to scream that emerged as a… whine ? <Please God, What have I done? What’s wrong with me? Mooother! Faatheer! HELP MEEEE!> A desperate howl. Frantically scrabbling paws peel slivers of oak from an all-too solid bedroom door – until the strain of a first shift brings on his exhausted collapse. The mind retreats into shock, and fades into sleep <Please, Please, God, Please – I’m a human being. I am. I am. PLEASE!….>

   He tried to dismiss it as a nightmare. The way the gouges on the door faded out when he ran his hand over them (hoping they were just scratches and illusions) was encouraging. Waking up naked, on the floor, could have been dismissed. He nearly managed to believe it for a day or two – but his heightened senses and vast enhanced strength were too much to ignore. Consult his father of mother? How could he tell them that he was turning into a monster? He’d always been shy – he’d die first, if only of embarrassment. An awkward attempt at asking the servants some indirect questions about “some story I heard from a kid at school” got him a few “old wives tales” and a name – Werewolf. Fortunately, Boston has a very good public library. Unfortunately, everything he wanted to look at was in the sealed stacks. He had to sneak in – but he found a few volumes on European and Russian mythology that mentioned werewolves. They left him terrified. Cursed. Monsters. Ravening creatures to be burned at the stake. At least a few mentioned the lunar connection – that it would happen again – and that he could expect to get back his human form if he could make it through the night. He resolved to stay inside. If he could keep it a secret, they might not burn him. He’d also be safe from dog catchers, people with shotguns – and the federal bounty on wolves. On the other hand – what if he was a threat to his family? What if they found out? If they didn’t view him as human (and he supposed he wasn’t really), he might spend the rest of his life as an experimental animal in a cage… He resolved to leave the window open in case he needed to escape – or to get away from those he might endanger.

   As a wolf, considerations faded. The bedroom was a dark, confining, trap, the open window an irresistible invitation. The moon beckoned for a little run… OK, so skulking around Boston wasn’t exactly a romp in the wilderness – dogs barked at him, and there was nothing to chase except cats and rats – but pure canine instinct (and the thrill of experimenting with the “forbidden”) led him to stretch a bit.

   Meanwhile, at home, things weren’t going very well. Nikola and Irene were arguing again, as they’d been over the last few months. Apparently some “suspicious” men with Italian accents had been making Nikola offers for the use of some of his work. Nikola believed them to be emissaries from the Black Hand, and wanted to refuse. Irene thought that they could use the money (and, just possibly, that it might be a bad idea to refuse). They had agreed to get Michael out of the “combat zone”, in part due to what seemed like some threats against him. (Wouldn’t they have been surprised). The easiest way to get a fourteen year-old out of the way was to send him to boarding school. Irene wanted to send him off to Europe – but Nikola absolutely refused to send Michael that far away. They compromised on Atlanta, and a most exclusive school; Sir Lawrence’s Academy for Young Men which, with its accompanying Madame Lawrence’s Academy for Young Women, made a speciality out of catering to the unusually brilliant, notably eccentric, (or otherwise troublesome) children of the rich and powerful. The place primarily taught English and American children – but a modest contingent of “more exotic” nationalities did attend. (It was a gilded cage / safehouse).

   Nikola, Irene, and Aunt Adrianna came to see him off. Irene was normal enough (airheaded as usual), and Nikola was upset (he kept apologizing, and even came along to show him around the place) – but Adrianna was the only one who really seemed to pay attention to things – she noticed it when he absent-mindedly picked up his trunk with one hand – and left a prepaid (international ???) telephone number to use if he had any problems… The Academy looked pretty dreary to him – dry and scholarly.

   <Oh God – Somebody will probably shoot me. What am I going to do when there’s a full moon??? Roommates – bed checks – on the second floor… THEY’LL BURN ME!>

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   The natural resilience of a fourteen year old child made such a mood impossible to sustain – particularly when a vagrant breeze brought a snatch of perfume over the wall between the two campuses, conveying an urgent message to wolf-sensitive nose and adolescent / wolfin hormones – GIRLS! Hmmm. Maybe he could find a way to manage things after all…

   His roommate turned out to be one Arthur Thaddeus – apparently a result of assigning new students to rooms in alphabetical order (at least initially). Arthur was apparently about ten (13, but small for his age) – and was really into the sciences. He was also “into” weird inventors (such as Nikola) – allowing Michael to break the ice by rewiring the table lamp to give more light. Judging by his aura he had a fairly good shot at being like Nikola when he grew up himself… He seemed to be pretty nervous – apparently the result of being a naturally happy person in a schoolplace full of miserable ones – and knowing that he was likely to get beaten up as a result. Michael had most of his “science” courses with him. As a result, he wound up appointing himself the kids protector – and, by extension, protector of the other small kids around the school.

   The curriculum turned out to be surprisingly “solid stuff” – it didn’t have much of the english “imperial” indoctrination and, outside of a mandatory nondenominational service on sunday, not much religion. Michael rapidly found himself gaining a reputation; as someone who “didn’t know his place” among the dominant clique, and as a protector among the younger kids… It’s not like it was hard to break things up – even sticking to his innate, unenhanced, strength.

   The top thug in the local dungheap apparently calls himself “Jack”, aka Kevin Sandwell. No doubt once I’ve “shoved” enough of the lesser thugs I’ll have to watch out for him… <No pack leader can afford to shrug off a challenge for long> Uhmmm… What am I thinking ?? Anyway, Jack is the bully in school. He and his friends not only have the place “wired”, but they’re into cute little extortion rackets and fake English accents. Truly a batch of brainless, bootlicking, and social climbing junior mobsters.

   Things were fairly stable for a week or two, as the new students arrived and got settled in. Michael knew that he’d probably have to deal with “Jack”, but was a lot more worried about the upcoming full moon… Even that worry faded for a few minutes when he saw an aura walking the halls without a body… Michael whimpered slightly (either he was going mad or there were ghosts haunting the school) and tried to ignore it as it turned into “Jacks” (?!?) room… Jack came out a few moments later pursuing his roommate, one Jonathen Smythes III. Michael went to the boys defense – and promptly wound up accepting a challenge from “Jack” to settle things off the grounds…

   The fight was attended by half a dozen thugs, about a dozen of the smaller kids, and by one kid with a blank face, a black aura, a feeling of evil about him, and a gun. Oh swell. “Jack” has backup – and he seems to be fairly powerful already… On the other hand, he wants to know if I “would like to do this the sissy way – or the mans way, with blades”. I told him to use a knife if he liked – and just about then the auras started to show up again. That bodiless aura seemed to be in attendance, accompanying Smythes? Who has a matching blue aura (if weaker). He’s also talking to me in my head? At least that dark fellow shows up more clearly – he’s just a nasty thug, not a true evil… He’s also almost as “strong” as I am??? But…

   Michael ran out of time for thought when Jack moved in on him. Too excited and distracted to pull his blows, Michael left him rather broken up – even before he got used as a missile weapon when when his “backup” pulled out his gun… Most of the kids panicked and ran (but, thanks to Smythes ability to project calm, nobody was hurt in the rout). In the ensuing confusion, Michael very nearly went berserk when the fellow revealed that he knew Michael was a werewolf, the gun got melted via some odd combination of Michaels and Smythes powers, and the fellow used Dim Mak on Michael just before Michael knocked him unconscious and broke his pelvis… It was the first time he’d ever actually considered killing a man – and it left him shaken and nauseated. Maybe be was a menace…

   Meanwhile, back at school, Arthur had carried back word that Michael was beating up “Jack” – beginning a general riot as the smaller kids ganged up on the few remaining thugs. Arthur was seriously injured before Michael got back to intervene – but it was late in the next day before things settled down enough for Michael to find out (and get a stern talking-to). With Arthur in the hospital, in serious condition – and feeling that he was partly to blame, Michael decided to sneak out and visit him, whether or not it was allowed. In the meanwhile, Sir Lawrence was trying to get everything back to “normal” as quickly as possible – which meant a few shifts in room assignments – to separate those who had been on opposite sides – and to provide roommates for those who had been left without one thanks to parental withdrawal of their kids. Alphabetical order (or a bit of ghostly tinkering) struck again, leaving Michael in the same room as Smythes… The ghost waved cheerily – and Smythes asked “Uhm… You’re not going to eat me are you?” – forcing Michael to run off and be violently ill.

   Seeing little choice but to reveal his planned trip to his new roommate, Michael used the “Distorter Wand” to create a hologram to conceal their absence, and took Smythes with him, since he insisted on coming along. A quick (30 MPH) run across town and a bit of climbing got them in, whereupon Michael found that Arthur’s injuries were critical – and probably terminal. Determined not to allow it, Michael tried to do something to help – and wound up transferring much of his own vitality to him. (Thirty HP, along with seven “points” of nature magic, some chaos manipulation to fix his bones – and Smythes healing spells). This wound up leaving Arthur awake and fine (if a bit confused) – as well as annoyed that his parents were transferring him away – and had forbidden visitors. Arthur later fed his parents and the doctors some story about “a visit from an angel”. He’d taken a good look at his chart before the nurses came through, and had a fair idea of just how badly he’d been hurt… Michael visited him again a few days later – to see if he’d accidently turned him into a werewolf or anything like that. Fortunately he hadn’t – but it looked like he’d activated his latent talents. Sir Smythes (Jonathen Smythes guardian ghost), told Michael to be very careful doing that to latent werewolves (and possibly to other latent talents) – as it might “activate” them… Michael didn’t think all the implications through for some time – but it eventually occurred to him that finding a girl with latent werewolf genetics might be a lot easier then finding one with active werewolfism.

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   Bothersomely, along the way, Jonathen had demonstrated some ability to manipulate Michaels mind – leaving him with the unpleasant thought that Smythes mental “link” with his mind might offer him options far beyond basic communications… It had been all right that time – if Smythe hadn’t tried to calm him he might not have been able to regain control after jumping the school’s wall (And was that ever a shock – he’d had no idea that he was that strong), but how far did it go? He seemed to maintain a continious awareness of him in any case… This set the stage for days of mutual apprehension, as Michael worried that Smythes might take over his mind, and Smythes worried that Michael might eat him…

   It was enough to make Sir Smythes grind his ectoplasmic teeth in frustration! The pair would make such great friends if they’d only decide to trust each other… It seemed fairly obvious that Michael didn’t want to eat anyone, and his grandson couldn’t possibly control him, spells just don’t work that way. Maybe if he could get them working together on something or other they’d get used to each other. Oh well – priorities. Jonathen needed a look at a real library, and they’d both need someplace secure to keep things. Not easy in a dorm room, but a few secret compartments might do the trick… WHY THE HELL WERE THEY SO SCARED OF EACH OTHER?

   Over those next few days the school clamped down on the rules – especially with regard to the students who played a more significant role in the riot. Bed checks and room inspections were a pain – especially for a pair of kids with so much to hide. At least there wasa one bright spot. His roommate knew Michael was a werewolf already – so he wouldn’t have to find a way to hide it from him. Even so, the bed checks during the full moon were going to be a problem… Sir Smythes took one day that weekend to take Jonathen to a “real” library – in some secret rooms under an old building. Getting into it took some negotiating with the assorted spirits who guarded it (and a lot of the books had been destroyed in any case), but it was well worthwhile. Jonathen picked up a minor grimoire – and a book on mystic animals for Michael to read…

   Meanwhile, Sir Smythes sent Michael shopping at the hardware store, picking up the tools and materials for adding a few secret compartments to their room… That was simple enough, although his trunk already had some secret compartments (along with an electrical defense system if he turned it on) – but the way that Jonathen was stocking up on silver weapons, wolfsbane, and other anti-werewolf supplies, was not comforting. (Please – Couldn’t you keep the wolfsbane in a sealed bottle or something? It makes me sneeze)

   Great. Just great. He’d killed enough werewolves in his time – but never children. For every one he’d had to fight there’d doubtless been a dozen who ran around peacefully. You didn’t need a bloody silver arsenal to do it, a lousy dagger would do. Filling the room with silver weaponry was absurd – besides, it must make the poor child feel like the room was strewn with coals… So the full moon was coming up. Big deal. Still – he’d better see about planning an outing for him before the kid had to spend the night in a room full of poisonous weapons… Was this how most people reacted to a were? No wonder most of the ones he’d met were so antisocial and defensive.

   Sir Smythes was a great (almost indispensable) help in planning Michaels full-moon excursion – providing a list of bedcheck times and guard routes, a plan to get out that evening, a dummy to put in the bed, a warning about the local predators (bears and mountain lions) – and even a list of good spots to go and try hunting… Michael was nearly twenty miles out of town – and well into the hills – when the moon rose…

   <FREE! Night-Woods-Scents-Prey! Moon!! [Howl!] (Embarrassment fades, as human shyness dissipates before a tidal wave of wolfin instincts). Territory-Mine! Run-Play! SCENT?!? Deer-Prey-Munch! Good!!! Right-Strange? Newfood? Oldfood/Wolf-Newfood/Person-Me! ScentWrong! Strange-Smoke-FIRE! PanicRun? NO!-Small. Follow-Find!. Hmmmmm. PeoplePlace-Cabin! SmokeAlright, PlinkingMusic Alright, Squeak-RABBIT! Munch? TiedStick? Offering?! Snatch-Run(FAST!)-Munch! HowFAST? (Run) REALLYFAST! Me PREDATOR! Like BigCar! Catch-ANYTHING! Mark-Territory! (Embarrassment twinges – as underlying humanity stirs), (tug) SunRise-Soon? GoDen? Awwww (tug) GoDen. RunHome. TUG? WhatTUG? Jonathen?!! (whimper) NotFREE! ONALEASH! NoPlease! AmThirtyMilesOut! LetGO!! Please LetMeGo? Please-Jonathen? Please?… (Unfortunately, Jonathen had already shut off his alarm clock, and gone back to sleep – so he missed the chaos he’d inadvertently sown in Michaels mind.

   Michael headed back reluctantly – going most of the way as a wolf before his “animal tendencies” subsided. Becoming human again was something of a shock. Most of the night was a blur – except for the pleasant feeling of fullness? Oh GOD! What (WHO? Please not! He didn’t think he could’ve…) had he eaten?… And why wasn’t he tired? It was only… FOUR MINUTES TO THE SCHOOL’S WAKE-UP CALL! OHSHIT! Sort it out later! Not-much-further (thank you Lord)… MADE IT!

   It took Michael most of that day to “sort out” what had happened during the night – Jonathens inquiry into whether or not he’d “eaten anybody” revealed that he’d eaten a deer, which was comforting in comparison – but when he realized that Jonathen had called him back…

   Late that evening Vincent put in an appearance – in an incredibly creaky iron wheelchair and a massive cast. Considering the bodyguard of six thugs he brought with him, apprehension swiftly conquered distrust, bringing Michael and Jonathen into alignment. Vincent had, however, come to “make peace” – having apparently decided that there was no point in fighting, that Jacks little extortion racket wasn’t really worthwhile anyway – and possibly that he’d like to be friends with some of the few others like himself… As Michael and Jonathen had never cared about the information-gathering anyway and would greatly prefer peace, they were most amenable to the deal… Jonathen even threw in a spell to heal his bones as lagniappe… <Michael was satisfied with the deal as well – Vincents aura had been much friendlier>

   (C’hi Masters. Gaah. He’d had to deal with a few of them when he’d been alive. A pain in the butt each and every time. A good thing that this one decided to make peace… Hell, he’d even had the kids working together for a few minutes. If only he could manage it the rest of the time. Michael was definitely harmless – hungry as a were got during a full nights run, he’d passed up any number of chances to eat people. He’d run all over the place until he’d found a deer… Hmmmm – Fast too. Probably those boosted physical abilities… Now if he could just get Michael to stop worrying about Jonathen “taking him over” he could surely talk Jonathen around in a few more days. Maybe if he got them to experiment and proved that it was impossible? He’d have to try to talk them into it).

   Over the next few days Sir Smythes Did – right over Jonathens reluctance to try to do such a thing to anyone. Michael didn’t really want to either – but he did desperately want to know… Late one evening, the two decided to go ahead and find out for sure…

   [Deep inside Jonathens mind, power stirred. A Telepathic gift of rapport accidently locked into Michaels psyche by the gestalt feedback of encountering another powerful, animalistic, psionic during its “awakening”, the link was now specific to Michael – and was correspondingly powerful and long-ranged. Taking total control of Michaels mind proved to be terribly easy…]

   (Go ahead and give it a real try Jonathen – make it a real test and prove that it doesn’t… Oh Christ. It does work. I never thought it… How complete is… Oh Lord. That complete. God. Did he sense this? No wonder he was terrified. How long can you hold him Jonathen? I’ve got to think about this…)

   [How long? A secondary power stirred – reached out to take Michaels own strength and turn it against him, to take the energies of the wild and weave them into a perpetual cage… NO. Jonathens revulsion joined with Michaels helpless terror to suppress the gestalt power before it reached the conscious level. Forcing Michael to keep himself enslaved was out… Still, Jonathen’s own strength sufficed for more then an hour…]

   Slowly, Michael returned to himself… Knowing what Jonathen had done to him – still might do – exhaustion would not prevent him from summoning a surge of effort if it was necessary. Michael turned away blindly, collapsed into a sobbing ball – “Don’t do that. You could make me hold still while you sawed my head off. Please don’t do that. Please Jonathen. I don’t want to be a pet dog. Don’t…” Jonathen tried to reassure him – but his words made little impression on Michaels total misery… In the end, Sir Smythes exerted what little telekinetic power he could summon up to pull a blanket over Michael – and got an exhausted Jonathen into his bed. Talk wouldn’t help either of them at the moment.

   <“You just might get it”. You’d think he would have learned by now. He’d wanted to see the future and his great-grandchildren – and he had. Be careful what you ask for… Jonathen wouldn’t be afraid of Michael any more – but Michael was terrified, and it was difficult to blame him. What were a few reassuring words to the knowledge that your soul was on a leash? There had to be something… Perhaps the oathbinding spell? It was worth a try – even if it would take three days.>

   Less tired then Jonathen, Michael woke up early the next day. Sir Smythes was already hard at work, making some sort of magical circle on the floor – but Michael only wanted to stay away from Jonathen. He managed it through most of the day. It gave him time to think… A week ago Jonathen “touched” him. Two days later he could influence him. Three days ago he could call him back from thirty miles away. Yesterday he could seize control of his mind for an hour… In another week he might not even be able to let him go… Perhaps Nikola could help him? Maybe Boston would be out of range for awhile? At least long enough to say goodbye if nothing else… If only Jonathen would let him go. He seemed to be “aware” of him all the time now. Surely Jonathen wouldn’t make him hurt anyone? Or kill himself? Even if he tried to slip away? But – what if he was wrong? There was nothing left except to ask…

   “Can I go home?” “Michael… You don’t have to ask my permission! I won’t hurt you! I won’t control you!

   “Please?” <Oh God. He’s so terrified he hardly even hears me. What am I going to do? I never meant to hurt him!> “Michael. Go home if that’s what you want. You can do anything you want to. I’m not keeping you on a leash!” <Lord! I hope he doesn’t go that fast down the corridors! He’ll give himself away!>

   Michael slowed as soon as he turned the corner. How was he going to get home? The school wouldn’t just let him leave – and he wasn’t sure he had enough for a train ticket in any case… Maybe that phone number Aunt Adrianna left? Even in his current mental state, Michael was sensible enough to avoid being too explicit over a local (and likely party) line – but Michael’s utter panic came through clearly enough. Adrianna assured Michael that she’d make the arrangements – and to be ready for the trip. She knocked on the door a few hours later… Aura flaring with the same blue light as the Smythe’s, as well as a green reminiscent of his own (odd – some- how he’d never noticed that he’d never really seen her aura before) Adrianna demanded to know why there was a ghost drawing an oathbinding circle on the floor, just who Jonathen was – and who had been “messing with” her nephew… Jonathen took it on himself to begin the explanation – and got far enough for her to realize that Michael was too frightened of Jonathen to explain with him around. It was easy enough to probe Michael’s mind for a moment… It was a whirlpool. Wolfish instinct and human mind joined in common, desperate, terror… It explained the situation clearly enough… What a thing for a child to find himself facing. As if dealing with puberty, being a werewolf, the mafia(?!), and being sent away from home wasn’t enough. At least Smythes didn’t seem to want to take him over – but simple reassurance would never be enough. With instincts that strong, it was surprising that he hadn’t simply bolted already… Well that explained the oathbinding circle (if not the ghost) – but it obviously wouldn’t be enough. Much as she hated to tamper with him, she was going to have to add some trust/calming/reassurance charms to it to get it to work. Besides – it might be a good idea to leave a safety clause in it. Werewolves do occasionally lose control (or get controlled).

   Michael. Jonathen. Come here and give me your hands – Now Jonathen – I want you to promise that…

   <What?!? Somebody had just drawn off all the energy he’d accumulated! He’d been working on that for a day and a half! Besides – neither of the kids could do that! Now who… A sorceress? (defensive energies gathered – then relaxed as the situation became apparent) Must be some relative of the boys, at least judging by the way she’s holding him while he cries. Good. The child had needed someone to hold him desperately. That had been worrying him anyway. The oathbinding wouldn’t have been much use if he didn’t believe in it – and he seemed to trust her. He’d get Jonathen to explain later>

   Adrianna quietly arranged to take Michael out for a few days. He needed his father, he needed to have some things explained to him – and he needed a little time to himself… The child was too distracted to even notice her exotic travel methods…

   Nikola was pleased to see him – but both He and Irene were upset to see him out of school (and back in Boston) – but Adrianna managed the explanations. Both of them seemed to be awfully distracted anyway. Aunt Adrianna took him into the woods and fields outside the city that evening – and showed him how to shapechange voluntarily.

   Michael – you don’t truly have to wait for the full moon you know. But… I thought it was… No Michael. The moon strengthens and feeds your wolf-aspect, but you can change any time. Just turn your attention inwards, feel the wolf-form, envision the shift… There. (Hug) You see? Now go. Run. Play. Be free… 

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   Aunt Adrianna gave him an (invisible) wristlet, and told him to “tap on it” if anyone tried to control his mind again, before she dropped him off back at school. She even spent a little time talking to Jonathen while she was there. Michael settled in again quite readily. Relieved as he was, he could have “readily settled in” almost anywhere… Now that he was “safe”, it was even sinking in on him that Jonathen could easily have kept him as a pet – and hadn’t. Still, the elimination of his personal terror left him with some time to think about one of his earlier fears – and the chapter on werewolves in Orvon’s Guide To Mystic Animals. Mystic Animals… Was that what he was? Not human at all? A beast in the form of a man? Was that why Jonathen could control him so easily? Because men had that right over beasts? But – if he was an animal – only humans had souls…

   Raised protestant, and faced with a religious dilemma far beyond him to untangle, Michael decided to do what he’d always been told to do about religious questions. He’d ask a minister. With any luck, even if they sent someone to burn him, they’d shoot him first…

   Whether for good or ill, Michael’s instincts led him to a wise, kindly, and forgetful, elderly minister – a man just senile enough to calmly accept – and to quickly forget – a nervous schoolchild’s hesitant inquiry as to whether werewolves had souls… Anselm had heard that basic question many times before – and didn’t hesitate to assure the boy that yes, they certainly did. [Back at school, Jonathen, despite his constant awareness of Michael’s general whereabouts and activities, was far too polite to pry – but Sir Smythes was not. Over the many years he’d seen it all – and he thought that children, especially children this powerful, needed a little bit of supervision… What a thing to be asking anyway! and of a minister! Why not ask a priest like any sensible person? He’d have to talk to that boy a bit…]

   In the ensuing week, Michael gradually got involved in a variety of school activities; the equestrian and rifle teams, helping Turlough (a jock, but not a thug) with his studies (and, incidentally, gaining access to one of the labs through him). Unfortunately, it seemed like it would be unwise to get involved in most of the sports – if he didn’t accidently injure somebody, he’d give himself away. He was simply too strong… He also paid a visit to Vincent… It had occurred to him that he’d have a terrible time learning to walk again if he kept that cast on for a year. Rigging a set of hidden catches so he could get in and out of the thing was easy enough – as was magically “massaging” his weakened and stiffened leg muscles back into shape… [Hmmm. Ok. So green is healthy, a yellow tinge indicates some sort of disorder – and brown indicates things like old scars and places where things are going completely wrong… Odd. I suppose black would indicate dead tissue… Now why won’t this brown spot at the base of his spine go away like the others? Some sort of wild growth? It didn’t feel like something he could cure at the moment… He could only put it into hibernation for a while… He’d have to do some research… Maybe Vincent could fix it himself? He apparently had pretty good control of his body – and putting the disorder into “hibernation” would give him an extra year or two…] “Uhmm – Vincent…”

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   With his life settling down at last, Michael turned his attention to (inevitably) Girls… “Investigating” the “woman’s campus” turned out to be fairly easy – the post-riot rules crackdown hadn’t been as strict there. He saw several he’d like to meet – and then saw one red-headed girl who was absolutely lovely. Her green-eyed glance was utterly bewitching. Michael fell instantly in love (well, OK; lust) with her – to the point where the fact that she was wearing some incredibly powerful mystic/psychic amulet around her neck seemed quite unimportant…

   <Michael? Michael! (Smythes waved a hand in front of his eyes and shook his shoulder… His eyes didn’t waver – and neither did the stunned, slack-mouthed, look on his face.> (Oh boy. He’s practically drooling. He’s got it baaad. I’m pretty sure he’s managed to overhear her name already – but perhaps I should get a bit more information for him. I’ve been wanting to try out that appearance-shifting spell anyhow. Maybe she’s another werewolf – or a latent. That might explain it…)

   Jonathen returned a little later, and found Michael madly trying to think of a way to get an introduction. “Michael… That Irish girl? Rebecca Faye? Well…”

   Jonathen supplied Michael with; the location of her dorm room, her class schedule, her roommates name, the information that she liked the dance hall and associated businesses over on Forrest – and, later, an introduction to her at the dance hall.

   Meanwhile, Vincent had passed on a warning that one of the “families” was interested in his father, and that his family was unhappy about that… “If you see some older men in suits they might be my uncles – we’ll try to give you some warning, but there might be some guys out looking for you… Michael paid little attention. Perhaps a little caution wold be in order, but somehow men with guns seemed unimportant compared to her green eyes dancing in his memory…

   At the dance hall, Rebecca’s amulet had flared when Michael sat near her – and there was instant attraction. (GREAT!) <Hmmmm – I wonder what that “flare” was? Oh never mind>. Unfortunately, the mutual fascination was interrupted by a drive-by hit on two trench-coated men who’d been watching the dance hall from a car… This might not have diverted the pair at all – save for the fact that Jonathen managed to get clipped by a slug.

   The wound was bloody, but not serious – well within the limits of Jonathen’s minor healing spells – but the two thugs were not so lucky. One died immediately, the other while crawling towards Jonathen. In the ensuing screaming confusion Jonathen “lifted” one thugs wallet and cleared out… Michael checked on Jonathen, and then headed after Rebecca… What if something happened to her? He could catch her easily enough by motorcycle – without giving himself away. Rebecca’s auric trail was easy enough to follow – until she ducked into an alley and people started shooting at him… SHIT! Across in front of them? At least it would steer them away from Rebecca… [Current pulsed through the cars electrical system and Michael’s mind. Natural energies turned to an unfamiliar purpose, a technomancers emergent powers – however minor – reached out for the first time, freezing the vehicles engine as the sparkplugs died] GAAH! WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!?! What did I do???

   Michael was suddenly too busy for thought as one of the bullets – which had been being fired to miss – hit his rear tire and the thugs piled out to follow on foot. (Not good. They’ve got those rapid-fire guns. At least they probably don’t have silver bullets – they seen to want me alive…)

   Unwilling to follow an order to come along quietly, Michael prepared to fight, but things were interrupted by the arrival of another crew of thugs from the other end of the alley – a group apparently there to protect “Da Kids”. Outnumbered, the initial group pulled out – only to see Jonathen’s (vastly overpaid) taxi run into their stalled Model-T… Sadly for him, the thug with the Thompson started to raise it as Jonathen emerged. [The simple systems of the gun were clear in Michael’s mind. Energy, tightly bound in chemical form, awaited a catalyst for release. A breath of heat torn from the heart of chaos touches the core of the magazine… The detonation flowered as Michaels mind withdrew, hurling the gunman against the wall in a spray of blood] NO! I didn’t mean… But he’d have hurt… (Thought fades in a rosy cloud, as the tension born of the confrontation fades and the fuzziness which has lurked in his mind for the last few days reclaims him). What had happened to Rebecca? (Michael barely noticed as the casual pass of his hand repaired and reinflated his tire). Jonathen was all right – Rebecca might be in trouble…

   Michael picked up Rebecca’s auric trail easily. It went into the alley – and vanished in a haze of residual psychic energy… A dozen auras, overlapping, the same yet different? Nothing else here except a stray alley cat… “Here kitty” (No – I won’t bite you. It’s OK). Michael absently petted the cat while his mind ranged. Rebecca? Back at the school already? Even I couldn’t have made it this fast… Teleported? Most likely that amulet…

   Michael headed back to school at full speed. Partly to get back before any reports of the “hit” could send the school staff into hysteria – but mostly so that he could check on Rebecca. She was fine – and she wanted to meet him off the grounds later that evening… Michael spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening in a happy haze… Was Jonathen concerned about something? Whatever it was, it couldn’t be very important.

   “Michael. Michael! It’s nearly time for bed check. You look fine. Come on, at least try to pretend you’re really going to bed. Look – I’ll fix you up for your date after they check. <You’re giving the boy a pretty inflated idea of your abilities aren’t you? He already thinks you just divined the information about the girl he’s meeting – now you’re offering to get him ready to meet her in a few minutes? “I’m just trying to get him mussed enough to pass bed check grandfather – I’m only going to use some cantrips on him.”. Well, perhaps you ought to tell him that Jonathen. Letting the boy think you’re omnipotent could easily get you killed. “Later grandfather – I don’t think he’d really hear me at the moment.”>

   Rebecca’d picked a spot several miles away from the school. Michael hardly noticed. She was waiting on a bench when he got there. She looked him in the eyes, and said “Michael – I must tell you something. (Green eyes gaze into his and a rosy mist gathers in his mind. For a moment Michael nearly resisted, but the sexual lure of her psychic enticement and green magic drew on his own adolescent male drives, weaving a psychic leash that might as well have been a cord looped around his balls) I want you to go with these men…” Two classic thugs stepped out of the bushes to take Michaels arms. He didn’t resist… Back at the school, Jonathen felt something go drastically wrong. Someone had taken over Michaels mind… Oh shit. That amulet. He might have known that it was too good to be true… “Grandfather? Do you know any fast transportation spells? – Thanks”. Back on the hillside, Michael had reached a conclusion – despite the rosy fog in his mind. Rebecca wanted him to go with the men. But they were taking him away from Rebecca. If he knocked them out, then he could do what Rebecca wanted, and still stay with her – because they wouldn’t be going anywhere… Action followed thought as he casually got his arms free and knocked their heads together. His mind lost in a happy fog, the crunch of bone breaking barely registered… Rebecca frowned in annoyance (Sorry Rebecca! What did I do?) – and told him to go with some other men – and not to hurt them. They took him towards a car – but were taking him away from Rebecca again (The schematic of the car unfolds in his minds eye. Chaos-born heat touches the fuel tank. Fire blooms in the night). Rebecca frowned in the light of the flames… “Come and get in a car with me Michael”. Michael moved eagerly to obey…

   (Shit! <Michael! Don’t go with her! Grandfather! Is there any way to boost the speed on this flight spell? Yes? Good! HooOOOOW!?!)

   (NOW what? Somebody else is linked with him? Damn it anyway, this is getting complicated. MICHAEL. Don’t listen to anyone except me. Good. Now I want you to… Eh? Complete block? Can’t this utter idiot control his own powers? Bother. I’ll have to lead him by the hand. At least the instinctual bond is still operating…)

   As Rebecca stepped forward to take his hand Michael happily seized the opportunity to kiss her – and his own superhuman sexual impact went into effect. The ensuing feedback loop effectively held both of them in place – although Michael soon began “feeling around” with some nature magic for a nice soft spot in the grass…

   Meanwhile, the various thugs attention was diverted by Jonathens aerial arrival and their fruitless attempts to grab his hovering feet… Simple shock granted him time to send most of the thugs to sleep – and a second spell sufficed for Rebecca. With her collapse the loop collapsed as well – leaving Michael nearly insane with frustrated lust, enraged at her heartless manipulation of his mind, and near berserk. [For a moment he thought about killing her. A crimson tide of rage made it seem almost reasonable – if only because of the blood she’d already placed on his hands…] Hands shaking, Michael reached down – and snapped the amulets chain. Whatever power pulsed within it tried for him – and failed – as he ground the metal to dust between his palms. At the core lay a cold, glittering, gem, resistant to all his strength… Cold rage grew… “SMYTHES. How can things like this be restrained? A circle? Draw one to contain it in this box… Now one against heat and friction… Finished? Good.” Michael hefted the box, drew back his arm – and hurled it upwards, a shooting star in reverse. The light died as the box exited the atmosphere, still traveling more then fast enough to forever escape the earth… Michael massaged his arm as Smythes spun away from Jonathen, almost gibbering in shock…

   “Grandfather? What is that thing?” “There shouldn’t be anything like that left! Anything that powerful was supposed to have been hidden or destroyed ages ago! It could take any ordinary human over – maybe even one of us! We’ve got to get rid of it somehow. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? Werewolves can’t do that! They’re not that strong! Nothing and Nobody is that strong! GET AWAY FROM HIM JONATHEN! What are you Michael!?!? 

   (Absently) “Ow. My shoulder hurts”

   Michael hesitated – then reached down to drain away any abilities Rebecca retained… perhaps permanently. He found none save for a residue of the amulets power. She wasn’t nearly as pretty without it either… Pity stirred – as the thought crossed his mind that she may have been as much a victim as he had been.

   Meanwhile, other eyes had seen the explosion in the hills… <Interesting. Perhaps something he ought to look into. It wasn’t as if he had anything else to do since he’d gotten stuck in this silly school. Now what would be fastest? One of the raptors? A night hunter in any case> [Flesh flowed, molecular structure caught in the grip of a psionic field. Excessive mass warped into an extra-dimensional pocket, expending profligate amounts of magical energy. The form of a slim sixteen-year-old Amerindian boy resolved into that of a night- hunting bird of prey. The fire in the hills beckoned, as his wings carried him upward.

   Jonathen had been placing a spell of forgetfulness on the thugs – but that exhausted his magical energies for the moment, leaving him stranded twenty miles from the school. “Michael? You’re the technomancer. Do you think you could get one of these cars going?” Michael looked, thought he could – and keeled over unconscious as his powers, unbidden, reached out to perform a task a bit beyond his abilities. (Oh bother. Could you get him into the car? I hope you know how to drive. By the way, who are you? Vladimir? With a face like that? OK, fine. What’s with her? Doesn’t know where she is? Does she know what year it is? 1913? It’s 1922. Oh hell. She’s only fourteen – that means she’s been wiped back to the five-year-old level… Put her in the car too. We’ll have to look in the records and send her back to her family… At least I’ve got plenty of cash… Help put Michael to bed would you? Vladimir? Gone already. A lot of help he was. He does radiate a lot of magical power though… Oh stop having a fit grandfather. It’s still only Michael. As for Vladimir – so he’s got one hell of an aura. Even if he is a dragon, what would it matter? So they wouldn’t be extinct. Why wouldn’t that be a good thing? Oh, go ahead and put up more wards if that’s what you want. You’ve already got this place so warded I can barely see out the window for the runes.

   (She hated to dump something like this on the boy – but he and Jonathen certainly had the potential power to deal with it. OK, it wasn’t properly focused – but she still hadn’t seen energy flows that strong in… SHIT! Who could have left him THAT sexually charged? It had to be driving him nuts! – Worse, it had obviously been used to drag him around… Great. Controlled twice in two weeks) “WHO’S BEEN MESSING WITH MY NEPHEWS MIND!?” (A girl? OF COURSE IT WAS A GIRL YOU IDIOT APPARITION! THAT’S HARDLY A MALE TECHNIQUE! NOW… Oh. An amulet. Now who would – the Mafia?! I suppose that fits. Send a 14 year-old girl to seduce a 14 year-old boy. Nasty, but practical – at least if they had access to a thing like that. So what did you do with it? He… threw… it… off… the… planet… He’s even stronger then I thought… DON’T GET HYSTERICAL. I’ll explain later. Does he realize what he did? His thinking isn’t going to be very clear at the moment… He’s that confused? It’s a good thing I wasn’t really planning on reaching Chicago before morning. There are some things I’ve got to explain to him… What a thing to steal from a boy; his first evening out alone with a girl… Bastards.)

   Michael. It’s all right. You’ll find another girl – one who won’t enslave you psionically. Please Michael. Listen to me. This was a lousy thing to have happen on your first real date – and it wasn’t your fault. You’re not an animal. You’re just as human as anyone else is. You simply happen to have a rare talent… Michael – I know – see (Adrianna shapeshifts to wereform). It runs on Irene’s side of the family… Didn’t Irene tell you any of the old stories? Even if she thought of them as old wives tales?…- Michael… What do you know about werewolves and shapechangers?…

************************************************

   [It wasn’t much. Most of the boys information came from a few hours of surreptitious poking around in the Boston public library – and from Orvon’s Guide… It was no wonder he was confused, most of his information was completely wrong – and it never even mentioned psionics. Adrianna sighed. There was a lot to explain… Later, after Michael had some basic explanations, and was a lot calmer, she explained why she’d come. One of the Mafia “families” which operated out of Chicago had kidnaped his father – and she wanted Michael and Jonathen to go and rescue him… Her talents might have greater scope – but they had power. It would take a few hours to make arrangements to cover their absences – and, for arcane reasons, she wanted to leave a bit before dawn. And so Michael had a few hours to work in…]

   Oh joy. Lots of heavily armed thugs against lots of “potential”. This didn’t sound good. Strength was all very well – but bullets had a better range. There had to be a way to change the odds. He needed something to knock over a lot of thugs at once… Hadn’t there been something like that in some of Nikola’s (older) notes? Something about kinetic bolts… Hmmm… Well – he did have access to a lab. Maybe he could put something or other together? {Lost in thought as a new psifunction came “online”, Michael managed to forget how painfully horny he was – at least while he worked… Other hands seemed to guide his, selecting components that twisted at his touch. A dreamlike sense of repeating something he’d done long before… There. Done.} Michael looked at the curious geometry of the wristlet in his hands – done, yes… But what did it do?

   At about that time the “Distorter Wand” by his hand began to hum. Michael looked at it puzzledly. He’d been using it for… something? But what was it doing now? [As Michael hesitated, the wand projected a shimmering image of Nikola… “There you are Michael! Liars. They claimed they had you in a cell…” “Uh. Ah… Father?

   Michael talked to Nikola for several minutes before Aunt Adrianna arrived to see how he was doing. Nikola wanted Michael to check on Irene, tell her that he was doing fine – and that everything would be all right. The “family” just wanted him to work on some “interesting” problems – such as an AI Babbage Engine… Nikola also said that he probably would have gotten away – if he’d had the wand (thus giving Michael a huge load of guilt to handle…) They’d thought it would take months, but it had only taken him a couple of days… Michael made an attempt to persuade him to go slowly – but had very little success, until he mentioned that they’d already tried to grab him – and had been shooting at him. Nikola was outraged – and told him to go into hiding. A glance from Adrianna sufficed to warn Michael not to tell him anything about their plans… Nikola signed off to get back to the lab they’d provided… Possibly to arrange a few surprises for his captors – and possibly just to get back to something that interested him…

   Adrianna turned to Michael to comment – and found him raptly staring out the window at a couple of girls who happened to be passing by… <This simply wouldn’t do. There was nothing wrong with a little sexual fun – but not now. That kind of distraction could easily get him killed in this situation… Maybe a suppression spell? God NO. That would be all he needed. She’d essentially be castrating him – however temporarily. She couldn’t do that to him, if only because, somewhere down there, he’d know it… He didn’t need another trauma… Ah. A satiety spell would do… Ok, so the backlash would double his current, er, “problem” – but if she kept an eye on him he should be all right… At least he would be once he, er, “worked it off” with someone… – Hmm. A lucky bitch she’d be>

   Aunt Adrianna went off to prepare her spells, while Michael went to recruit Jonathen – and maybe Vladimir. Sir Smythes objected violently (this did not seem like a good way to keep Jonathen safe) but there was little he could do. Jonathen had decided to go. Vladimir was a considerably greater problem. He accepted werebeings easily enough. In fact, he considered them normal. He also turned out to be unaware of both his basic nature and many of his natural abilities… Attempting to get it across simply led to him panicking, diving about, and taking wide variety of forms. Unexpectedly, when he banged into Sir Smythes, the wraith suffered a serious “wound”… Michael easily restrained Vladimir until he quieted down (into fox-form) – then dumped him out the window to go and hide for a bit. Sir Smythes seemed to be in worse shape then usual, so Michael transferred a bit of his personal energy to him to cure him – and then went to see Vincent. His abilities had been developing lately… He might be able to cure him now – before he went off to get shot at. It would be nice to fix something for a change…

   Vincents thugs were a bit startled to see him – but Vincent told them to let him in. Apparently he’d used his own talents to confirm Michaels diagnosis… Since Vincent seemed to feel that curing it would be a major service (Michael hadn’t thought so. It would only take about fifteen minutes and wouldn’t cost him anything – if it worked) – and felt that he’d owe Michael a lot for it. Michael tried to think of something to charge him, (Hmmm… Maybe some advice? Vincents got connections with one of the other mafia families…), and gave him a brief summary of the situation (as well as asking if he’d like to meet someone else with “special” powers). Vinnie didn’t know all that much about the Chicago mob himself – but he gave him a local contact in the city; the bookmaker Lebitowitz, who might be able to help, and could certainly provide some information (just mention “Vinnie” from school…). “Vinnie” seemed to feel that “they” couldn’t afford to let another “family” have an edge like Nikola’s “services” anyway… As for meeting another metahuman; it would be interesting, but later. (“By the way Michael – see if you can’t find a girl to fool around with, Hmmm? You seem a bit… tense.)

   Aunt Adrianna was waiting for him when he got back to his room. She wanted to take him on a trip. (First, because her satiety spell was a water magic, and would work best by the sea – and second, because Michael still seemed rather confused about having an affinity for an animal. She wanted him to talk to one – and a Dolphin would make an excellent choice and an fine distraction while she worked). Michael found the experience quite interesting… He hadn’t known he could call and speak with animals – that they had distinctive viewpoints of their own – or that they so closely resembled humanity in many ways… The dolphin thought that Dirty Whales (ships) were rude, that Michael seemed nice enough – and might like to come visit sometime, and that perhaps he ought to talk to one of the great whales – but not one of the black and white ones (killer whales) – as they’d actually left the water once a long time ago…

   Adrianna looked over her somewhat bemused nephew… (Good. He’s calm again, has some idea of what he is, and seems to be accepting it. Time to take him back and put him to bed for a while before we start… I’ve already got the maps and such we’ll need… Hmmm… Now that he’s calmed down enough for me to look – it seems like that psychic feedback loop opened up a few pathways… It might prove to have been a good thing after all…)

   WAIT A MINUTE! What was that? You healed Smythes? How?! Like that? But that wouldn’t work if he was… You know Michael – Sir Smythes isn’t truly dead… He just doesn’t have a body…

   Nikola laughed quietly… Nice to see he still had his touch. That remote retransmitting trick with sound wasn’t nearly as easy as Michael thought. It was good to know he was all right – ESPECIALLY SINCE THOSE DAMN BASTARDS HAD BEEN SHOOTING AT HIM! Hmmm… It looked like Michael had been tinkering around with that old kinetic transducer design from back when he was a kid… (Odd. He’d just been daydreaming about building one). Every boy liked things that went bang… He wasn’t thinking of fighting was he? No, surely he had more sense… It was probably just some talent emerging… It was about time for anything like that – and he had noticed a few odd readings on the boy recently… Something like his own – maybe stronger… Odd that. You’d think they’d start off a lot weaker then his current readings… It might be some kind of telepathic talent… That would explain his “daydream” – and the fact that he couldn’t ever remember showing Michael the exact plans for that gadget…

   When Michael got back, Jonathen was “hiding” in the corner of the room – gibbering. A lock of his hair had turned white and his eyes didn’t seem to have any pupils in them. Michael tried to find out what was wrong, but Jonathen denied that anything was – and promptly hid the evidence from himself (if not from Michael). Somehow, Michael found himself unable to argue, and disinclined to ask any further questions… Actually, he was much too relaxed and mellow to argue with anybody – much less with Jonathen… Michael quickly, easily, slipped into sleep – despite the droning background of Jonathen and Sir Smythes working on some sort of ritual… (Smythes was puzzled as well. Perhaps the boy had had some kind of vision? He hadn’t left him alone for more then five minutes all evening, there’d hardly been time for much else. Peculiar – but the boy had an incredible natural talent (How he got the spells off without the gestures and such was beyond him) – it would be almost surprising if it didn’t have any odd ramifications. Still, a good familiar could keep an eye on him).

   Michael awakened hours later, still feeling utterly mellow. Now what had bothered him? Jonathen and Smythes seemed to have finished their ritual. Their familiars ought to be arriving soon… (Uhmmm… How do I know what they’re doing? Must be leak-over from Jonathen – even if he seems to be keeping his mind pretty tightly sealed this evening). Now wait – that must be it. That unnatural howling. So that was what was making him so queasy… Now where the hell had that thing come from? {The giant, black, demonic “dog” tore at the eyes – as sharp and unrecoverable as an electrical spark. Its own eyes blazed with bottomless hunger. Potential power as high as Jonathens – and a lazy assurance that “I could eat you”. From whence had it came? Who could say, when the eye refused to follow its movements, or light upon it for more then a moments time?} “Uhmmm… Jonathen? That’s your familiar? It casts spells?” [Jonathen was frantically paging through one of his references. Uhm. Familiars; Small Animals; Bats, Birds, Dogs (Small)… Uhm, Grandfather? It says it was summoned, but I can’t find anything like this in the book… (Err… Well it may be cranky, but at least it says it doesn’t eat and that it can hide itself…). (Michael considered. He didn’t like it. It seemed to be challenging him. But it “belonged” to Jonathen. Attacking a familiar would hurt the summoner. Maybe he could banish it? But what if Jonathen wanted it?) “I think I could send it away Jonathen… No? (Well – Hell) The dog settled down for a “snooze” on Jonathens bed – just about the time that Vladimir arrived…

   [Vladimir hadn’t been able to sleep. Those idiots. Trying to tell him he was a dragon. Shapeshifter, yes, but dragons were purely mythical… Weren’t they? He hesitated – and dug out his parents old trunk. He hadn’t ever really finished going through it. Maybe something in it would answer the question for him… One volume, engraved on metal plates, turned out to be his fathers diary… The diary of a dragon. Ohboy. Maybe a work of fiction? What was that weird howling? It didn’t sound like Michael. Besides – the moon wasn’t full. Jonathen and Michael. Maybe he ought to talk to them again. (Lost in thought, Vladimir hardly noticed that it was in the wee hours – until he went to knock on their door. Not wanting to wake the neighboring rooms, he confined the noise to the room as he continued flipping pages. Fled from Europe to get away from the “priests of Cthulhu”? Ha, bloody, Ha.) “Jonathen! Michael! Open up!”]

   [As the door opened, Vladimir tossed the diary over to Jonathen (nearly fracturing his wrist), and froze – staring at the unnatural hound on the bed. So that was what he’d heard… It made him queasy. In the ensuing debate Jonathen and Michael tried to convince Vladimir that he was a dragon, Sir Smythes studied the “hound”, Vladimir tried to persuade Jonathen to dispose of it – and the hound announced that its name was Vladimir – and then vanished, taking the unnatural feeling along with it (much to Michaels relief).

   In the morning, Aunt Adrianna got them all into her car – apparently simply as a maneuver to keep them all together – drove to the railroad tracks, and drove off them outside of Chicago. “The spirits walk powerfully with your aunt”. (Sigh) “Riiight Vladimir”.

   Michael asked Adrianna to drop him off just outside of Lebitowitz’s place of business – startling her more then a little. “I’d planned to drop you off at one of the safe areas!”. “Well – I thought some local help and information would come in handy…”. “Yes, but… Oh, fine. Someday you’re going to have to tell me how you got in contact with the mafia”. “Maybe later”. Sadly, Adrianna had urgent business elsewhere – and so couldn’t stay to help out. Lebitowitz was quite another matter. He apparently assumed that the three teenage kids were acting as couriers for someone, and passed on a wealth of information, a selection of firearms, and the keys to an armored model-T… Adrianna had left them her car as well – but they had no real plans to use it. As for the city, it seemed to be divided between the Gambioni (the most powerful family, as well as the one that was holding Nikola. According to the rumors, The Gambionis have “got the mojo”), the Depascos (violent, thuggish, allies of the Gambionis, a relatively small family), and the Valenti (Vincents family). Nikola Tesla was being held in an old church. Fortunately for the group, some fairly detailed drawings of the place were available – even if the Valenti were reluctant to “hit” a church.

Michael felt no such reluctance.

   In the meantime, Jonathen and Vladimir had gone off to continue their discussion about dragons – and finally concluded that Vladimir really ought to give it a try. A handy warehouse offered sufficient cover – and allowed Vladimir to stretch out when it worked. It felt quite, quite, natural… Sir Smythes declined to comment – as he didn’t seem to be around – despite his intention to meet Jonathen in Chicago… Jonathen didn’t seem very concerned about it (“My dog said I didn’t need him, so he stayed home”). Vladimir’s attempt at flight was far less successful. It seems Dragonflight takes practice. Returning to his less-conspicuous human form, Vladimir spent some time considering – this cleared up a lot of odd items from his past…

   A quick pass by the church revealed the location of several of the guards, as well as that this was a very old church, dating back to when the territory belonged to the french. Some sort of old ward protected a part of the yard as well… Jonathen located a tunnel into the basement – where they were keeping Tesla. The plan they came up with was simple; Vladimir would “drop in” up on the roof and create a diversion – while Jonathen and Michael slipped into the basement and rescued Tesla. <Odd. I’ve never met such an obliging werewolf. Mostly they’re cantankerous, independent, and stubborn. This one seems to be willing to go along with anything that Jonathen says… I wonder why?”>

   Vladimirs diversion was more then successful. Using his sonic energy-manipulation to cover his approach, and the scream as he disposed of the guard in the rafters, Vladimir began to enact his own version of survival of the fittest – freely shifting to a variety of horrible forms, emitting earshattering howls – and slaughtering the guards.

   Down in the tunnel, Jonathen and Michael confronted a solid concrete wall. Unsure of his strength, Michael braced his feet and pushed – gradually stepping up the pressure until the concrete crumbled… Michael hefted the slab… easily. A ton or two? Easily? How strong was he? His thoughts, and consideration of the “weird science” jackhammer that would have allowed the crooks to escape, were interrupted by Vladimir’s sonic howls. As signals went, that was pretty unmistakable. The two moved on into the basement. The path was unexpectedly smooth… Apparently Vladimir was getting all the attention. Jonathen cast an appearance-shifting spell on Michael to keep Nikola from recognizing him – and went off on some errand of his own. With the guards out of the way, getting Nikola out of his cell was easy. The hard part was gathering his notes and equipment from the lab – so that he’d consent to leave… Michael sealed the labs entrance with the slab he’d pried open to get out of it in the first place, and raced to hold the side door closed – while persuading Nikolas “AI” program to “download” itself onto some punched cards… Up above, Vladimir, wounded and nearly exhausted, took the form of a hummingbird and left – leaving the last few thugs to their own devices. He arrived back at the Model-T just as the others were climbing out of the tunnel – and dove into Michaels pocket as he slid behind the wheel. (Oh boy. I hope I don’t run into anything. How do you get the… Oh. OK, off we go).

   Sadly, things didn’t go that smoothly. There seemed to be some sort of magical “presence” trying to follow the car. Vladimir turned into a mouse and tried to cloak the car psionically, while Jonathen set up a diversion spell – and Nikola examined Vladimir with considerable interest. Meanwhile, Michael felt something unnatural (Jonathens (tentacled?) diversion) following the car – and found himself driving like a maniac… Towards the docks. <But… I’m headed for Boston. Why am I headed for the docks? Oh yes. That’s the best way. I can find them. They’re right over that way. I wonder how I know that? I’ve never been near Chicago before… Oh well. Its time to go [TURN LEFT] to the left now…>

   [Vladimir tried to get Michaels attention – and had no luck. Some dark spirit had a hold of him. Jonathen? No – that demon-dog already had a grip on him. Still, there might turn out to be something he could do – but not inside the car. It was time to bail out. Michael hardly noticed – but Nikola brought the car screeching to a halt. Unfortunately, they were already almost at the docks – and a group of thugs were moving to surround the car. (“Michael – this may be a bad time, but that appearance-shifting spell I put on you has almost worn off.” “Great Jonathen, just great. How am I going to keep Nikola from recognizing me?. I’ll have to shapeshift”). Michael sprouted fur and fangs as the thugs and their leader (an old woman?) moved in around the car and realized, as wolfish instinct burned through his mind, that somebody had been manipulating him again. He was not pleased. Still in “rapport” with Jonathen, Michael poured psychic energies into the kinetic transducer, and generated an expanding sphere of force around the car. Vladimir dissipated the portion of the force that came his way – but the thugs were not so fortunate. Already near-unconscious from the kinetic blast, the impact as they came down was sufficient to finish the job. While the “old woman” resisted the blast, it did strip away her disguise – revealing “her” as a dirty old man in a cloak. He responded by raising an “aura of tentacles” and tossing some sort of energy bolt at Vladimir (who, back in dragonform, was certainly the biggest target). Jonathens demonic “dog” leapt out of his head (!?) and attacked (the magus held him off with a gesture) – and Michael snarled and leapt. He was sick of people getting into his head. He didn’t like people who attacked his friends and family – and he didn’t like people who were so unnatural that they practically radiated disruption… (Michael slashed through whatever-it-was with the many tentacles easily. His own power flared as he sought to disrupt whatever forces the man controlled – but found none save his basic life energies. Unfocused, Michaels power disrupted that – finishing the job his claws had begun)

   Vladimir cursed under his breath. That hound-thing was back again… Decision made, Vladimir focused his will, calling upon the spirits of nature to expel this power of the outer darkness. The “dogs” body wavered, then firmed. Vladimirs strength was nearly exhausted – the remainder was not enough. Snarling, the ebon hound turned towards Vladimir – who promptly broke its neck. [For an instant Jonathens agony as the dog transferred the attack to him echoed within Michael’s mind. Their link flared for an instant, before fading into a final darkness. The hound fled, returning to its own realms. Chaos spun in Michaels mind. Guilt, anguish, loss, the pain of responsibility, renewed freedom – undesired at such a price – warred with the knowledge that even now he stood over a bloody corpse. Perhaps he needed such a restraint… A myriad shards of thought united in a wash of crimson rage as Michael turned on Vladimir…]

   Whoever these kids were, they were way too powerful to argue with… Besides, it wasn’t as if he wanted to stay a prisoner of the mafia. Ah. It was some sort of disguising effect, fading now… Now who would bother to…? Michael? A Werewolf? (Startled, Nikola wrenched his attention away from the effects the kids were producing, to the situation. Things had just gotten kind of personal. He’d have known sooner – but the disguise spell had warped his perception of the gadgets Michael was carrying as well… Werewolf. That explained quite a few of the odder things he’d noticed in Michael over the last few months. Restlessness, an aversion to the silverware, frightening the pets… He’d have to look into it, and see if it was something that needed curing. Still – it did seem to make him quite powerful. It was no wonder Michael’d thought he could pull off a rescue – especially with those friends. Where had he found a dragon anyway? Now that he came to think of it, it was no wonder that the Gambionis had failed to kidnap him- or that he’d disobeyed being told to hide… Oh Damn)

   [Nikola brought the car screeching to a halt as things began to happen – and fumbled around in his pocket for his disruption-field generator. The kids might need a little help. On the other hand (as he watched Michael deal with the cthulhuoid “priest”), maybe not…) His gaze on Michael, Nikola was only peripherally aware of of Vladimir and Jonathen – until Michaels anguished howl turned his attention to them. <Berserk. Being a were obviously has it’s downside. I can’t let him kill his friend – he’d never forgive himself.> With the ease of long familiarity, Nikola’s power tuned the disruptor to Michaels neurology. Michael was unconscious before he even registered the fields touch – still believing his furry “disguise” was proof against his fathers all-too perceptive gaze…

   Nikola loaded Michael into the car, and slipped him into full hibernation, for the trip back to Atlanta… Vladimir, throughly upset over Jonathen and apprehensive about riding with Michael, decided to fly… He needed the practice in any case… With the police responding to Michaels sonic boom, there was no time (and seemingly no point) in recovering Jonathen’s body. Explanations would be so awkward…

   Michael woke up back in his bed at school, with his aunt bending over him… She’d already done some more work on his mind – but his sense of guilt and depression were still a terrible burden… For a moment he tried to believe that it hadn’t happened, but full wakefulness made it undeniable. If he hadn’t asked him to go, Jonathen would still be alive… Almost as bad, Nikola had recognized him – seen what he was – and dumped him here without even speaking to him… Michael spent the next few days in his room, depressed and grieving. Aunt Adrianna, having finished her own business in the four days it took Nikola to drive to Atlanta, and feeling a bit guilty herself, made her own arrangements to stick around for a while… (Vladimir wasn’t going anywhere near Michael)

   Three days later someone knocked on the door – most insistently. When no one answered, the visitor opened the door and walked in himself – <Well bother. I know it’s going to be a shock – but it’s my room too!>. It was Jonathen… “Hi guys”. Michael promptly collapsed. As for Adrianna; she looked at him with her jaw slack, and said; “You’re Dead!” (“Please don’t rub it in.”). As for Sir Smythes, he ventured his first words beyond “I Failed” in days – “I’m more alive then you are!”… Jonathen looked at him – “Well, that depends on if you count being alive or being mobile…” He’d gotten his body up and moving through pure percipient will, and had “ridden the rails” back to Atlanta and school after he’d gotten out of the morgue… Unfortunately, the police had taken his wallet – and reported his “death” to the school… [Michael woke up again at about this point, “felt” Jonathens total lack of natural life energy – and fainted again. Next time Jonathen was waiting to tell him that it was all right. Michael, unable to face the spectral presence of a friend he thought he’d lured to his death, fled into the woods, and spent the next three days curled up under a log – having hysterics…] Aunt Adrianna came by early on the fourth day…

“Michael… You have an undead friend.” 

   Michael managed to meet Jonathen that afternoon. He took a moment to find his voice – and a moment longer to manage to look at him… “I’m Sorry!“… (Michael hung his head and waited – whether for forgiveness or for a silver knife in his heart… Instead, Jonathen choose to explain. “Michael… Remember just before we left? Something happened to me? Well – there was a sort of a “ripple” in time… I felt it coming an instant before it hit, but the best I could do was ride with it. That turned out to be a mistake… It turned out to be some cthulhuoid priests out to look forward through time… They wanted to see the outcome of their current plans. I saw as well… They’re going to win unless something very unlikely happens… I think they died – but they got to me as well. They were turning me into something inhuman and horrible. In a way, you and Vladimir saved me. They wanted to eat my soul. They would have if I hadn’t died… The hound was only their lightest touch upon the bridle – and it kept trying to make me nasty. I would have gone anyway… It knew of some books in a crypt under that church that it thought I should have. That’s why I went off by myself down there. I grabbed them… I couldn’t help but grab them… I used them too… That was why Vladimir couldn’t banish that dog. I was drawing on the book to sustain it… I was still drawing on it when I died – and it brought me back. But they lost all contact with me when I died… The hound lost its access to earth… I had a free choice. I’m going to wipe them out. The priests and their lore. The hidden shrines and books. The creatures and cults that lurk in the shadows… Then, perhaps, I can rest.”

“It was very strange, being dead.” 

“Jonathen – If that’s what you want – I’ll help you”

   Michael turned to Sir Smythes. Jonathen would need allies – and Smythes could be a very useful one. He’d seemed almost tangible, and a bit more powerful, after Michael charged him up the first time. Perhaps another dose? It would hurt of course (and perhaps he deserved it – a bit of penance for his lingering guilt), but it would be easy enough… Smythes and his aunt were still deeply engrossed in a book on magical theory – as they had been since Jonathen “came back” – so it was simple to “touch” Sir Smythes and transfer some of his personal vitality… The results were surprising – Sir Smythes became solid enough to feel the tug of gravity – and for Adrianna to remove his curse. In fact, he even seemed to keep on getting more solid gradually thereafter…

   Meanwhile, Vladimir had arrived. Apparently briefed by Aunt Adrianna, he came to say that he’d set Michael up with a date to go dancing… Suddenly that began to sound like a really good idea. <Adrianna smiled a bit. That certainly ought to distract him… Relaxing that satiety spell a bit should be more then enough to get him to go on it> An incredibly good idea… <The smile vanished. How long had she left that spell on him? Er. Ah. More then a WEEK? With HIS drives? And the charge he’d ALREADY been carrying? OhShit. She shouldn’t have let Jonathen distract her. His condition couldn’t get any worse> [Michael started shaking] GIRLS! <Jonathen! The pressure’s too strong! The spell’s coming apart at the seams! Damp him a bit or he’ll run amuck!> Luckily for Michael, Jonathen did. He actually managed to get through a dance and a half before leaving with Thea… It was just as well. Even in that time the energies he was radiating nearly converted the dance into an orgy. [The other ladies were disappointed to see him leave – but consoled themselves with their own dates, who were surprised, but pleased… Michael hardly noticed. He didn’t get back for a day and a half, but was a lot less tense and unhappy when he did… He’d arranged some regular dates; she seemed fairly nice and very intelligent.]

   Over the next few days Michael tried to help people instead of breaking them – or siccing dragons on them. He kept “working” on Sir Smythes. It didn’t take very long before Smythes was fully solid and healing on his own… Michael also started sneaking into the hospital at night and healing people. If he worked slowly, there didn’t seem to be a limit on the number of people that he could treat psionically. Encouraged, Michael tried working on Anselem out of gratitude for an answer he’d needed badly… Besides, he could “work” on Anselem in the afternoon. He took several days, but there seemed to be something helping the process along…

   Anselem turned out to be a “real” priest – and a very powerful one. If he hadn’t been careless enough to let himself get senile he wouldn’t have needed outside aid at all. As it was, Michael took Jonathen to see him. A priest ought to understand things like this. Sadly, all Anselem could do was pronounce him dead (and offer him a proper burial). As an alternative though, he was a member of an ancient order dedicated to opposing the followers of the “Cthulhu Mythos” – and was willing to offer membership to both Jonathen and Michael. Jonathen barely hesitated. Membership would suit him perfectly (and he’d always wanted a knighthood), but Michael had reservations… He took his promises quite seriously – and there were some he didn’t want to make. Obedience. Poverty. Chastity… While Anselem assured him that as non-priestly trainees they wouldn’t be responsible for much, Michael preferred to borrow Anselems books about the order… At least he was giving them a month or so to make up their minds… (Actually, even Jonathen had a few other things to think about. He had to call home and assure them that he “wasn’t dead”, get back on the meal plan (if only for appearances sake) – and explain to the school authorities… Maybe he could just tell them that someone had stolen his wallet?)

   Competent again, Anselem recalled Michaels original question. Understanding now why he so wanted to know – and why that knowledge was so important to him – Anselem took a few hours to explain things a bit more clearly. All living things had souls… It was merely that some were more advanced then others. Humans were somewhere in the middle. Dolphins and whales were relatively high on the scale – but the highest forms he really knew of were embodied as coherent energy fields. Humans lacked the capacity to fully understand even those, much less the parametaphysical forms that came later. Each soul reincarnated again and again, rising or falling on the scale in accordance with its “Karma”… Forces that he knew as “primal beings” overlooked the process – but a few attempted to subvert it as well… As for a bit of history, it seemed that, back around Babylonian times, there were three major cities / tribes – Humanity, the Vampires, and the Werewolves. The humans had the highest civilization and the broadest range of powers. Vampires had their innate powers and a reverence for the “truly living”. The werewolves… Well, Ah – they were strong and tough. But they weren’t very, er – well they weren’t very smart. (Anselem looked at Michael a bit tentatively) The Humans and the Vampires regarded them as pets. The first pets, respected pets – but pets. (That hurt. Was that why it had been so easy to learn to live with Jonathen’s power over him after “master” promised he’d never use it to hurt him? Was that why Jonathens death had sent him berserk?… At least things had changed a bit since then. The werewolves had obviously interbred with normal humanity until shapeshifting only appeared as a rare recessive gene. Besides, He was smarter then most humans… OK. Now what had Anselem been saying? Ah. He’d stopped to give him time… A wise old man.) The relationship was relatively peaceful. There might be a “hunter-prey” relationship with the vampires, but it was in individual cases, not a general thing. There were many other ways for a vampire to feed… (Michael had to go and retch as Anselem pointed out that he could get a “good meal” by eating a person). Things went fairly well until the human/vampire rivalry got out of hand. “Someone” provided slanted translations of the oldest religious texts – providing a justification for humanities first strike. That gave them the advantage. Werewolves tried to warn their owners (whether vampire or human), then scattered and hid. The vampire survivors scattered as well – but left the humans badly damaged. Feeling that the werewolves had betrayed them, whether by their flight or by adhering to vampire owners – and were now more numerous then they were – humans decided to lure in small groups of weres under the pretense of peace – and kill them. It worked for quite a while… Until there weren’t very many left. Paranoid, humanity turned against anyone who was suspiciously “different” from the rest… The Cthuluhoid priests moved in with their “holy” magics, got a stranglehold on humanity, and went after all the nonhuman sentients… The remaining vampires and werewolves, the dragons, the sasquatch, the true leopard-men, and perhaps others now unknown… The nonhumans banded together to stop it… They won, but smashed the last remnants of the elder civilization in the process. Ever since then, the surviving nonhumans have respected a general truce (although there are, of course, always personal exceptions). Sadly, the elder vampires have passed along their hatred of humanity. All too many delighted in corrupting a humans life force until they could infect them – while even the rest often viewed killing all too casually. As for the organized religions – most of have forgotten. There are usually a few librarians and such who know something, but they tend to be regarded as eccentric (at best), and rarely get promoted. The upper ranks tend to be very, very, political – although they usually have a few powers.

And just to answer him again – yes.

He did have a soul. He‘d looked. 

   Meanwhile, Jonathen saw a deep hurt in Michael that could be easily healed – and set out to do so. He got on the phone with Nikola… (“Sir? This is Jonathan. I’d like to talk to you about your son… Think about it from his point of view. He was terribly afraid that you wouldn’t be able to accept him as a werewolf – but he disguised himself as best he could and came running to rescue you when you were in trouble. He got to see a friend die – then you saw him as a werewolf, knocked him out (and kept him out) for four days, dumped him a thousand miles from home (in a school where you’d told him to “stay”), and left without even speaking to him. OF COURSE HE’S HURT!… Yes, I know you never meant it that way! But Michael’s got a good reason to be afraid that people will see him as a pet animal – and no matter how unintentional it was, you’ve left him with the impression that you think of him that way – and that hurts him a lot. I’m going to get him on the phone now – and I’m going to tell him that you called him.”

   Nikola didn’t even notice that Jonathen was “alive” again… He’d never meant to hurt his son – he’d only set the disruptor that high because he wasn’t sure any lesser setting would stop him. He hadn’t meant to put him out for four days either – but he hadn’t been able to stay with him. Michael had his own abilities and that dragon to protect himself with – Irene didn’t. Besides that, Adrianna had said she’d look after him – and she seemed quite competent herself. Even enhancing the car hadn’t given him enough margin for anything more – not with the side trip to Atlanta thrown in…

   Happiness and apprehension mingled, Michael’s voice was hesitant and unsure. Nikola had hoped that Jonathen had been wrong. “Father? I thought… You just knocked me out and went away…” “Michael… Killing your friend would have been a great mistake. I didn’t mean to stun you for that long – and I thought you’d be safer there while I was setting defenses up here. I knew long ago that you might be a shapeshifter… It doesn’t matter. You’re my son. I love you… (pause) Would you like to come home for a while? Irene’s being far more reasonable now…” <Nikola waited, caught in his own anxiety. So much pain there… It would take time to heal – but this was a bandage for a a gaping emotional wound. At least it would keep him from bleeding to death inside. Ah. Thank god. Much of the pain was gone from Michaels voice…>

   The ensuing conversation wasn’t long – but it had a lot of emotional depth. In the upshot, Michael decided to go home during the upcoming break, but felt that he still had “things to do” in Atlanta… Nikola worried quite a bit about that, but at least Michael seemed to be pretty powerful… Still, Michael obviously didn’t understand his own powers – or his upper limits (whatever they were). That could so easily get him killed. Look what had happened to his friend the mage… Maybe a few tests? But how could he suggest testing without looking like a “mad scientist” with a new experimental animal? He’d hurt him with actions – and words were thin things next to those. It would certainly look that way to him… No. He couldn’t risk hurting him like that again. Still, Michael wasn’t foolish. Maybe he’d ask on his own?

   Meanwhile, Sir Smythes was completely alive again – a condition that startled Jonathen, as well as leading him to ask questions like “How are we going to explain you?” and “Where are you going to sleep?”. In partial answer, Sir Smythes showed him a spell for creating an extra-dimensional room (Jonathen put one in the back of the wardrobe) – before going off for a month with Aunt Adrianna? [Apparently the two both felt utterly out of touch with “normal” society…]

   Michael was out walking in the woods when he felt a tap on his shoulder… He started violently. He’d been positive that there was nobody around! He should have sensed… A tree? A tree that had followed along a few steps? And was talking to him?… Sheer shock held him still – along with a curious feeling of… normality?? lot of power to get there. If he died violently he’d really die… (Somehow it’d never really occurred to Michael to doubt that). The spirits invited him to come back and talk whenever he wanted to… Even if a lot of it did seem like a dream to him later…

   “You’re Rude! You’ve been by here a dozen times in the last few weeks, and you never say “Hi!”. The green aura walked the tree back into its original position and shimmered out of it… “But – But – I didn’t know you were there! I don’t even know what you are!” “How can you not know? Did you have to limit yourself that much to fit into that body? Now come along…” The aura led him to a tree… It was sick. Rotting from the inside out. Bugs perhaps. It would make great fertilizer when it fell in a few years… How do I know that? Why do I “feel” things like that? HOW SHOULD I KNOW “WHY?”! I HAVEN’T EVEN FIGURED OUT ALL THE QUESTIONS YET!

   “Shhh. Don’t be upset. You know because you’re one of us… Somewhere, deep inside, you know that – even if you lost your memories when you took over that body after it died during birth. As a major nature spirit, your personal energies were more then enough to awaken all its innate powers…

   The spirit gave Michael lots of explanations. Some, such as his past as a spirit of elemental nature, were too much to accept or absorb at the moment… Somehow though, merely “speaking” to the spirit was incredibly soothing… It might be (OK, was) too much for a human brain to comprehend – but it seemed to make everything fall into place. He was hearing the complete truth for the first time… His life was purposeful, meaningful, and right. There were things he would need to do – and this body would work to do them… Probably something to do with the mythos priests… He’d (HE’D?!?) always been better at looking ahead through time then most of them… It would be very bad if the mythos won… Hard on everyone – from plants to spirits…

   The first spirit introduced Michael to three more – leaving Michael even more confused (if that was at all possible). They didn’t have “names” – just a personal psychic signature. One seemed very familiar somehow… A “mingling” kind of feeling? A great liking? Balanced energy flows? An old GIRLFRIEND?!? Michael wasn’t up to facing that idea at all – especially when he’d just realized that he was talking to some of those coherent energy field beings – and that they claimed he was one of them as well… Apparently he’d voluntarily demoted himself – something that gave him a vague feeling that he was breaking the rules. Besides – being human made him vulnerable… The body was a link. Apparently he’d used a lot of power to get there. If he died violently he’d really die… (Somehow it’d never really occurred to Michael to doubt that). The spirits invited him to come back and talk whenever he wanted to… Even if a lot of it did seem like a dream to him later… 

   Vincent came by a day or so later – to find out how things had gone in Chicago. He looked at Jonathen and went into deep shock. (Blast. I might have known that a specialist in bioenergy fields would notice that I’m dead almost instantly. Maybe if I just ignore it and act normally?). What? No, I’m fine. It went pretty well. Did your car get back all right? Yes? (Oh blast. He’s just about wheeled himself out the door backwards. He thinks I’m some sort of lich or something. Bother).

   Michael stopped by a bit later – mostly to check on how his “patient” was doing, but partially to find out if anyone in his family had been hurt or anything when/if they took advantage of the diversion… Fortunately no one had been hurt. In fact, no one had even spotted the car. Vinnie did think that something would have to be done about the DePascos – they were way too violent and were getting above themselves thanks to the occult backup they’d had lately. Michael tried to reassure him about Jonathen and told him that he might have taken out the DePascos backup – as well as taking the chance to try to introduce him to the need to fight the power of the mythos. While that part of the message simply didn’t seem to sink in, at least it was a start…

   Meanwhile, Jonathen was having various and assorted (comedic) troubles with one physics teacher who seemed to be immune to illusions – and hence unable to see or hear Jonathen. He kept getting marked absent – until he tried greasepaint to give the man something real to see… Fortunately, he managed to get transferred out of the fellows class fairly quickly.

   [That evening, Michael decided to test himself down in the gym… No one would be around there this late – and he had a feeling that he really ought to have some idea of what he could do. The gym did not suffice. He could readily leap up to the rafters, lift the heaviest weights available in one hand – and wind up running on the wall when he had to turn on the track… Trying to test his endurance was useless. He’d already run until it was nearly dawn… Oops. Out of the gym and back to the dormitory baths – quickly. Surely there would be a few others who were masochistic enough to rise and bathe before dawn? – Yes. There were. Loons. Besides, it was a good distraction from sitting down to think… Just how powerful was he?]

   Nights were boring. Jonathen supposed that you had to expect that when you didn’t sleep anymore, but they were still boring – hence a modest disturbance outside his window was more then enough to draw his attention. It turned out to be coming from the local graveyard… and it’s population of haunts. Card-players, mourning mothers and crying children, some restless dead trying to escape from their graves… A bit transparent even to Jonathen, they still seemed solid enough to him. He had the card-players deal him in… and cured the babies “colic”. The card players were a bit startled at that; “Where’d that go? The kids been crying for 200 years!” Jonathen played cards until nearly dawn… Most of the hands were pretty similar… Evidently the players had died while playing… Oh well. It was better then just trying to read all night every night.

   The next day Jonathen invested a little of his ill-gotten mafia gains in a few plot covers (to help still the restless dead) – and some short story collections to give them something else to do… The magic to provide enough “light” to read by was very minor… The others though… They seemed… Lonely? Missing contact with others… with life. They seemed to be ever-so-slowly recognizing that they were stuck – and were beginning to regret it, beginning to want to leave… Hmm. Life and nature had never really been his fields (and less so now then ever). Perhaps Michael? He was very strong on the life-nature-freedom bit…

   {In reality, Michael knew very little about haunts, but he did know who to ask to supplement his guesses – although he didn’t try to explain them to Jonathen. He didn’t understand them well enough for that himself… If Jonathen wanted to know about them he was more then capable of listening in in any case.

   (Haunts? Now that’s simple enough. They’re psychic remnants. They’re formed when something (usually something organic) or some place closely associated with a person absorbs enough of their bioenergies and psychic pattern to manifest later. Basically they’re replays, a sort of “restless memory” in humanities racial mind. They have a very limited sentience because they retain a tenuous astral connection with the original soul – and can be slowly modified over time like any memory – but they aren’t really alive. They usually dissipate over time as the imprint or focus item decays – but they be reinforced by inputs from the people they affect. They can be manipulated like other psychic constructs – but they’re pretty fragile. As for those you’ve mentioned, their original souls probably reincarnated a long time ago. They feel “caught” because their souls, wherever they are now, are “aware” that a portion of their past hasn’t let them go. There really isn’t much you can do except lay “them” to rest by dissipating their focus and allowing “them” to rejoin their souls… By the way – about your friend Jonathen? He’s being very unnatural. We wish he’d get his soul the rest of the way back and make a decision about whether he’s going to go forward or back…) [Michael promised to deliver the message – even if it didn’t make much sense to him.]

    Jonathen had hoped for company, but the next nights visit merely confirmed that the haunts didn’t remember from evening to evening. “They” were merely repeating last evenings activities – as they had presumably done across the years. Saddened, and curiously sympathetic, Jonathen turned to Michael – and asked him to try to set them free…

   (It was easy enough to open the way – to offer them release into the unfading memory of the racial mind, a rejoining with their fuller selves – and most took it. One, however, choose to resist, to draw psychic energy instead of giving it up. Michael hadn’t been prepared for that – if it drew enough power over his links, who knew what it would become? Haunts were harmless – but a full-scale apparition might not be.)

   Meanwhile the card-playing haunt was insisting that “the game wasn’t over yet!” – and was steadily growing in power… (Jonathen sighed internally. Botheration. Maybe he could disrupt the things pattern as if it was a spell? It was worth a try anyway…) “Look. The game is over.” [The haunt suddenly toppled, cards falling, spectral bullet wounds opening – it’s psychic energies dissipating in a rain of ectoplasmic blood… Michael, too slow in his attempt to stop Jonathen, was quick to both recognize the problem, and to sympathize with it. He’d had nightmares about being shot himself, and so;] “Jonathen! Stop it!” “But I’m not doing that!” “How do think the card game ended originally? He was obviously playing when he died!” “Oops!”. [Jonathen frowned. It wasn’t very sentient, but he’d never meant to cause it pain. Perhaps if he tried (re)building it like a spell and infusing it with some of his own arcane energies?] Michael frowned. What was Jonathen doing? Haunts were natural enough (OK, a little weird – but natural), but that part of it seemed to be slipping away and something most unnatural was taking its place… The once-haunt, now a Tulpa (an arcane sending based on the pattern of a sentient being) gained near-solidity – clothing neat and stylish, revolvers holstered. A snap of its fingers apported an ancient box of cards to its hand. Free at last – if no longer even remotely “alive”…

   Jonathen was a bit startled – but at least this was something he understood. A magical construct. He could handle that… He applied a bit of magical “pressure”, collapsing the Tulpa into… the deck of cards? Well, that would work as well as anything. It shouldn’t take much magic to reinvoke it at a later time if he needed to… Jacob (the tulpa) had looked so sad and disconcerted… Jonathen picked up the aged wooden carrying case and the deck (with its four extra aces – in their hidden compartment. Poor Jacob hadn’t even really been cheating when somebody shot him… Well – it seemed as if he had a sort of inheritance…

   Over the next couple of days Jonathen gradually got the hang of pretending to be alive – but not before he made himself rather conspicuous by such faux paw as accidently walking through that pesky physics professor. Even Vinnie seemed to be getting used to having him in the same school – even if he definitely didn’t want to come near him. Since Michael and Jonathen had decided to accept membership in the Ordo Equites Crux Ansata“The Order Of The Knights Of The Cross” – Anselem sent for Bishop Robert Oriss, his superior in the order, to preside over the formal ceremony… All of them found it a terrific pain – Jonathen because all of the “holy symbols” and priestly ceremonial made him itch. Michael didn’t like the pomp, the ceremony – or the silverware and silver swords that burned his fingers. Bishop Oriss because he saw no point in inducting kids – especially kids who wouldn’t take priestly vows – and Anselem – who had avoided telling anyone too much about the kids, as he didn’t want the bureaucrats trying to give them too many orders… Sadly, Anselem found that keeping such secrets from the rest of the order made him feel quite guilty, however expedient it might be… Michael spent a lot of this period continuing his affair with Thea and [per the GM] chasing other girls – most notably, the two he’d liked the look of earlier – the cute, sensible, blonde Anita Hargrave and lovely, fiery, dark-haired Cindy McCaferty. Both were about his own age, both were students at Sir Lawrences – and both were a lot of fun in bed. Given Michaels supernatural talents, it was easy both to get them there – and to keep them all happy. Some of his remaining time went to continuing his private campaign of healing at the city hospital… Whether fortunately or unfortunately, this soon brought Michael into close contact with the victims of a recent rash of warehouse fires – allowing him to glean a few details which were not available to the general public.

   [Out in Atlanta there had been fourteen major warehouse fires in the mid-fall months, and a few earlier. Some were the result of “ordinary” accidents – but the rest, extraordinary fierce and deadly blazes, were the result of explosive “spontaneous human combustion”. At least one blaze was caused by the simultaneous, fiery, deaths of three warehouse employees… The police were inclined to blame the mafia – feeling that it might be some sort of “secret weapon” – or fakery covering more conventional arson. As far as they were concerned, the mafias increasing presence, and recent introduction of a variety of high-caliber weapons into the area, was a dead giveaway. Hearing a few descriptions and nightmares left Michael a lot less sure… The logical move if it was would be to ask Vinnie – and Jonathen went to do so]

   Unfortunately, Vincent had no desire to see him – and had left definite orders with his thugs not to let him in. Vincent also, most definitely, refused to “invite him into his dwelling” – apparently on the theory that he might be a vampire… As Jonathen wasn’t, he simply used a spell to walk through the thugs and door – even if he did upset Vinnie – and his thugs. Revealing that “the” mafia was infiltrating Atlanta upset him a great deal more… It seemed that Vinnie’d been acting as an advisor for an uncle who controlled the area until the man died – and then quietly took over. Whoever these new thugs were working for, it wasn’t him… Vinnie turned to make some phone calls – almost forgetting Jonathen.

   (Shit and Damn! I hope I live long enough to learn to keep my temper, no matter how stupid someone is being! Never hurl personal insults at the Don… He’s got to take it as a personal challenge… Hell. If these new thugs in town are his, I’ve only got a few hours… If they’re somebody else’s, I’ve probably got about three weeks – but it’ll be a three-way war. Time to call up the troops and hand out the heavy stuff… Great. This wasn’t supposed to happen for ten to fifteen years, if then. He might have been able to manage without it…)

   Vinnie began making hurried calls to his assortment of lieutenants – telling them to gather his troops and bring them in… In his rush, Vinnie, used to relying on his ability to sense living presences, forgot about Jonathen – allowing Jonathen to observe enough that it was pointless to eject him… Vinnies thugs turned out to be devided fairly evenly between kids (who got sent home), Italians, Blacks (unusually for the 1920’s), and Orientals (who didn’t want very many weapons). Some of them even seemed to have a bit of real power – besides the fact that there were three hundred of them. Vinnie even had some advice for Jonathen and Michael; that they should either sit tight – or get out of the city for a bit. The Dean wasn’t pleased with this horde of armed thugs in his hallways (and the other students were out and out terrified) – but Jonathen used a bit of hypnosis to calm him down and send him back to his office while Vinnies thugs cleared out…

   The war didn’t break out over the next few days – and Vinnie turned down Michael and Jonathens tentative offers of direct assistance when it did – although his actual reply left a good deal of room for interpretation. The situation apparently stable (and lacking any clues to, or new incidents in, the sequence of warehouse fires), Michael prepared to go home to Boston for the upcoming one-week break, dealt with a quarrel between Anita and Cindy by taking them both to bed at the same time, and began forging himself a sword – mostly because Anselem had one – and it seemed like the thing to do… Jonathen cheered up as well. Even if he didn’t have anywhere to go for the holiday, at least his soul had finished reconnecting itself to his arcane “body”… Even Anselem found something to do besides investigating the fires- even if it was only taking Michaels suggestion that he forget about explaining, and simply tweak the records to arrange his “death” – and a new identity as his own son. “Father certainly was a nut wasn’t he?”

   Michael was very glad to be home – especially after Nikola apologized to him. He hadn’t realized that his gadget would put him out for that long… It was a day or so later when Michael regained enough confidence to ask his father to help him test himself. “Father? I’ve been wondering…”. Nikola looked eager and just a bit embarrassed. “I was hoping you’d ask… I’ve kind of been wanting to run a few tests. I’d like, and you need, to know what your abilities are. I just didn’t want to risk upsetting you… I hurt you without even knowing it once already…”. Michael followed Nikola into the basement laboratory… It seemed that Nikola had known about the nature magic aspect of his abilities – and had suspected that it might extend to shapeshifting. He’d simply never been able to think of a good way to check on it… He’d known about the psionic tap as well – and suspected he was drawing on a third energy source. It was really very comforting. Father knew a lot about it already, and would help him get it all figured out…

   The basement held a number of strange devices…. A hydraulic resistance system, a keyboard reaction-speed tester, a black, clicking, metal wall with a punched-card slit (probably another Babbage engine) – and a wide variety of less-recognizable devices… Nikola had to rebuild the strength-tester three times to accommodate Michael’s strength – and kept explaining while he did… “I know what it’s like to be “different”… I could do calculus when I was five – but I hid it. I didn’t want to tell. I didn’t want to be different. So I put on an act. I pretended to be normal… I still do it to some extent. It’s harder when I’m tired – that’s why I act so distracted sometimes. I knew you were going to have special powers too… It showed in your aura when you were two… they seemed likely to be both stronger and more physical then mine, but at least they were mostly latent. You wouldn’t have to deal with them as a small child… Hmm.” Nikola’s voice trailed off as he found Michaels upper limit – and began to consider it as something other then an abstract figure… “Uhm. Michael? You can stop now. How much did you feel like you were lifting? A few tons? You could say that… You know how I’m a sort of “mental giant”? Well – you’re a sort of physical one… You were lifting just a little over eight hundred and fifty tons…

Michael had to sit down for a minute. 

   When he looked up again, Nikola was standing beside him with his hand on his shoulder. Michael hugged him very, very, carefully… After a moment Nikola turned away and began walking towards another device “For the next test we’ll…” [Nikola spun and threw a small white object at Michaels head. It looked fragile, so Michael reached out and caught it – gently… It turned out to be an… Egg? Michael looked puzzledly at his father – who looked back at him, and said :] “You have lots of fine control. Hug me like you always did…”.

   Other tests followed. Reflexes/Agility (Fast enough to ruin the testing machine – and probably fast enough to evade high-caliber guns), Metabolism (weird), Speed (135 MPH sprint – and up to twice that as a wolf), and even Healing (this required forging a special blade to make a nick… Fast). Given that none of this had even made him sweat too much, Nikola decided that trying to test Michaels endurance would be a bit pointless… He still had that old potted plant Michael gave him after he grew it in the 4-H club… He’d forgotten to water it for six months once, and it was still thriving. If he could do it for a houseplant Michael could probably do it for himself. Nikola did have him throw a modest package off the planet – he wanted to see it, it would be an easy way to get an instrument package launched – and he thought it would be a good way to impress Michael with just how strong he was…

   Nikola carefully didn’t suggest checking on the old stories about silvers effects on a werewolf. He’d seen the way silver alloy coins irritated Michael – and how pure silver tableware burned his fingers… It was the most virulent contact reaction he’d ever seen… If it was that deadly as a poison… He’d partially checked Michaels hypersenses by doing the speed test at night, but that was surely something Michael could check more easily on his own… He ought to be able to handle the mafia – but I’ll have to look into that nasty reaction to silver… Other then that, I almost feel sorry for anyone who messes with him. Nikola spent a few moments just being proud of his son, but (as always) a vagrant thought soon drifted in… (You know – it must be very relaxing to be able to go wolf once a month… To let out all your tensions and stop thinking such complicated thoughts, to be anchored firmly in the present for the night, to be able to completely relax… Between that and the physical advantages, it was enough to make him consider asking Michael to bite him (gently) – if that was the way it was transmitted)…

   Afterwards, Nikola wanted to play ball – carefully. Michael was delighted… Nikola seemed more “settled” then Michael had ever felt him (perhaps due to letting out a few of his own secrets…), and enjoyed it a great deal. They played for a while – until Michael started turning red, as it occurred to him that there was something else he probably ought to tell his father about. “Uhhmm… Father? There’s something else that seems to be enhanced… (Michael started drilling his toe into the dirt and mumbled – as Nikola inquired as to what). “Uhhmm… Well… You know the girls campus is next to ours? [Nikola, thick for once, wondered whether he was referring to his enhanced sense of smell or some other enhancement – then slowly began to turn red himself as Michael half-strangled explanation continued…] Well. Err. Ah. Well… Some – a few – several – quite a few? of the girls have been – uhm – willing to – well – let me catch them?” [Nikola, quite red, and sounding rather strangled himself, took refuge in objectivity…] “Er. Well. How many? How long? And, err – How many have you impregnated?” [Michael nearly choked – but eventually the answers came out. Lots – hours – and none, thanks to his use of his ability to manipulate cells to block conception…]

   Nikola was impressed – and a bit appalled. Michael had “suddenly” turned into a young man while he wasn’t looking… With no idea what to say, Nikola fell back on the old “the birds and the bees” lecture… Michael, innately tied into the forces of nature – and recently experienced – had that information down already… The “lecture” quickly wound down into a companionable walk around Boston…

   Back at school, Jonathen was getting bored. England was a bit too far away for a weeks holiday – and, unlike most of the other foreign students, he hadn’t made too many local friends… Something about his being undead seemed to repel everyone somehow. Michael would have invited him of course, but he hadn’t made it possible. It wouldn’t have been fair. Michael badly needed some time alone with his family – and Jonathen knew he made him nervous. It wasn’t like Michael had any choice in his loyalty to him. Ah. Someone new was moving in. Perhaps he’d go make his acquaintance.

   Joseph William Harding II was annoyed. Having spent half his life knocking around Hong Kong and the far east in the backwash of his fathers shipping interests, and having learned to take care of himself, being stuck in this place was a bit much… Just because some elderly soothsayer had convinced his mother that his “destiny” lay here. What a crock. OK, so he’d found some truth in parts of the oriental mysticism his nanny had given him – but if the soothsayers could predict the future, why weren’t they rich? OK, he’d give them this much – as long as he was stuck here anyway, he’d keep his eye out for this “Nightrazor” thing… And – just to be on the safe side – he’d keep his shields up… Meanwhile, maybe he could find someplace to work out in.

   Jonathen wandered down and gave Joseph a “briefing” on the school… The pair soon got to be good friends. For once the lack of psychic feedback was no handicap. Neither Joseph, tightly wrapped in his psi-shields, or Jonathen, deceased, expected to feel it.

   Michael arrived back on the early train. He’d been missing his girlfriends. Besides – the Halloween dance was tomorrow – and, of course, both Cindy and Anita wanted to go with him… It was an official school function, and attendance was mandatory. He finally got Anita to go with Jonathen (who was quite obliging about it), by promising to take both her and Cindy someplace private later… They even insisted that Joseph go, new to the area as he was. Even Vladimir went – although he had a lot of trouble finding a dancing partner he liked…

   The dance went reasonably well, even if Michael was the only one of the four who really enjoyed it – until the moon rose. Of course the Halloween dance had been scheduled on the night of the full moon… Michael was “just a bit” startled and dismayed – but luckily found he could resist the transformation for a time with his nature magic. The moon wouldn’t be quite full until sometime tomorrow. Blasted almanac. He’d nearly been exposed by a technicality. Maybe he was getting a bit more sensitive to it? He was missing his run too. Oh well. [Michael inhaled Anitas scent] – Dances did have their – compensations. Besides, the moon would be just as full tomorrow…

   Unfortunately, complications were on their way. The followers of Cthugha were attempting a summoning – and half the town was on fire already… Joseph noticed it first. He’d been looking out the window anyway, and saw what was going on before the chaperones started trying to keep the students from getting outside. They meant well, and it was hard to blame them – it would be easy for “normal” students to get hurt or killed under such circumstances – and the building seemed safe enough. The campus buildings were well spaced out… For Michael and the others it was a pain. Joseph provided a diversion (as a favor to Jonathen), while the others slipped out the side… The really hard part was making excuses to the girls. The trio got out of sight – while Vladamir, confronted with more then two hundred blazes on a fast aerial sweep, got into gestalt with Michael and Jonathen and psionically called for rain… The power they sank into it was more then enough to create a vast storm… That sufficed for most of the fires – except for a few which seemed to be igniting the rain. Michael swept up Jonathen and headed for those… While Michael ran off Cthughu’s “fire vampires”, Jonathen transformed heat and flame into vast quantities of smoke… At the core of the inferno they found a burned-out human body – and a curious lizardlike wooden mask. It was quite unharmed until Jonathen smashed it… Thanks to the storm, the problem was now flooding instead of fire. Vladamir set his mind to dispersing the storm and random rescue work, while Michael headed for the hospital… If he played stretcher-bearer and got to the worst cases on the way in… Jonathen headed for the hospital as well, albeit with a darker motive. Any surviving priets of Cthughu might well end up there – where it should be very easy to pick them off. Michael stayed until things began to get organized enough so that someone might notice him, but Jonathen stayed the night – poisoning four men and suffocating another.

   The dance was just closing up when Michael got back to it – and Cindy was furious. She slapped him and stormed off herself… Evidently she didn’t want to be part of a threesome. Feeling that it would be best to let her cool off a bit, Michael gave Anita his full attentions for the evening.

   In the morning, Michael stretched eagerly. Tonight he’d get his run… First though, he had to think of a story to give Cindy, stop by, apologize – and tell it. He’d never been very good at lies – especially when he was fond of the “target”… Blast and bother. Maybe an edited version of the truth? “Uhmm. Cindy? I’m sorry I disappeared on you last night. I went to see if any of the fires were moving this way, and got involved in that sudden downpour. I wound up soaked and muddy and had to go and change before I could get back to you. I’m really sorry. Uhmm. You don’t like threesomes? I won’t try to get you involved in that sort of thing anymore. OK? OK!” [Cindy made her approval abundantly clear… Between that, a visit with Thea, and his projects, the day was fairly busy… Meanwhile, Vladamir considered the information he’d gained by going into gestalt with Jonathen and Michael].

   (Poor bastard. No wonder he’s so agreeable whenever Jonathen suggests anything. He’s on a leash – and it’s been tied around his brain… He can’t even tell when he’s being influenced – and everything Jonathen thinks influences him… Be damned if I let Jonathen use that “mindlinking” enchantment on me while he’s keeping the most powerful were I’ve ever seen as a lap dog. That’s cruel. I wouldn’t do that to a normal wolf – much less a were)

   Halloween was fun. Both the fires and the floods had been so short-lived that both injuries and damage to the city were fairly light – although the mess was vast… In the exuberant mood, a celebration seemed in order – and Halloween made an excellent excuse. Vladamir called up a thick swirling fog for atmosphere – while Michael howled at the moon, let people catch brief glimpses of him, lurked in bushes, peered in windows – and otherwise acted silly. Jonathen even went trick-or-treating in a ritzy section of town – as a ghost.

   <Streets-Fog! Moon! Howl-Lurk–Startle! Bounce-Run! DROP? WhatDROP? Scent-Chocolate! Shape-Rabbit? RABBIT- MUNCH! – Howl! GoesFar! Make-Echo! AmswerHOWL?! Rival- PACK! Territory-Mine-Mark! WherePACK? FarOff? HowHEAR? SpiritWolves? MagicNight? NoMind-NotHERE-OK. Peek-Wuf! WatchJUMP! Jonathen-Call? Stretch-Run! JumpGuys? Which Guys? BlueGuys! RunRound. Circle-Bump! Knockdown-All. Burningstuff! Yuckthings! RunFast? NO! After-Jonathen! BITE! StillMove? Lively-Meat! Hmmm-Cook! Remove-Hand! OW! BurnTongue! (Michael spent the next few minutes – as the others cleaned up – looking incredibly foolish as he tried to stick his tongue out far enough to see it… Until Jonathen came over) Wag… Master! (Jump and Lick! OW! (Back to trying to see his tongue) “Michael? Michael! – Oh great. He’s gone all the way wolf on me. Never mind.” (Jonathen petted Michael, patched up his tongue – and told him to go play, which he did)). Late. Empty-Streets. NoFun. TryHills. Find-Raccoons! Munch!>

   Michael found out what had really happened later… It seemed that Joseph had been following Jonathen (for practice) when Jonathen ran across a man threatening a girl – and apparently trying to kidnap her… He and his companions reacted quite poorly to being interrupted – and began chanting in Latin and summoning things. In the resulting chaos, Joseph decided that this was not, as he’d first assumed, some hotheaded scion of a great house quarreling with his concubine, and joined in the battle – much against his will. The streets were a mad mix of shambling masses of vegetation, mages, priests, heavily armed DePasco’s, flaming shoggoths, and deadly magic. Entangled in arcane war, Jonathen called Michael in to deal with the DePascos – and set them glowing to make them easy to pick out. Michael simply ran around and hit them at nearly 300 MPH – with his force field up… He dealt with the thugs in short order. Vladamir, who had been playing “Dracula” outside the girl’s dorm windows to frighten them, heard the shots and came as well – but it took him a few minutes. Joseph, finding the priests fairly impenetrable to reason, fell back as Jonathen’s illusions made them lose control of what they’d called up… Finding one priest who refused to stop fighting, despite numerous mortal wounds, Michael bit his sword hand off and threw the rest of him into the fire, taking some damage to his mouth from the fellows energy aura. The battle wound down as Vladamir arrived and began to pick up and drop the few survivors… Interrogating one of those few revealed that the mages were specifically after Jonathen – because they thought he still had the extremely rare tome he’d taken from beneath the church in Chicago… As for that weird negative-energy blade the one priest was using, Jonathen kept it…

   Jonathen, tired of this nonsense, decided to put an ad in the paper stating that he didn’t have the book – that maybe he was the book – and that he would meet them in a small rocky valley outside of town if they wanted to meet him… Anselem (and Michael) told him that he was crazy, and begged him not to go – but Jonathen was in his maniac phase, so their pleas fell on deaf ears. Michael couldn’t help but go along… At least Anselem could tell them a few things about that sword. It was some sort of alchemical artifact – a really old Katana with some sort of link to the shadow realm. It seemed to have negative energy powers – and bore an elder sign, offering the user some protection from the minions and auras of mythos beings… Jonathen decided to take it with him. It might come in useful. He set the meeting for midafternoon, a week later…

   During the week, Michael actually paid attention to his classes, easy as they were. Well – some attention. His social life took up a lot of time. Between Cindy, Anita, and Thea, his three regular girlfriends, and an assortment of casual [GM noted] liaisons, he was fairly busy… It really began to get hectic when Thea started wondering why she wasn’t pregnant. He’d certainly made love to her enough times. She wasn’t worried about sterility – but she was somewhat worried about him. She thought he was a nice young man and that he deserved a kid someday. That was a problem… Thea was brilliant. He wouldn’t be able to palm off some half-assed explanation. Maybe if he told her about Aunt Adrianna’s herbs? That might work.

   It did. He told her he used this stuff his aunt had supplied, and that it had worked for her and her friends for years. He gave her a sample – and assured her that it had no lasting effects… All he’d have to do would be to quit using it for a week or two. Thea apparently studied the stuff a bit, concluded that it worked, and told a couple of her friends. He’d already mounted a few of them who hadn’t believed Thea’s stories. By the weeks end he had eight regular partners in his harem – and frequent casual encounters.

   The cult of Cthughu came to the valley in the guise of a group of fifteen “archaeologists”, and demanded the book. Finding that Jonathen didn’t have the book, they demanded that he come with them instead. Unwilling to go, Jonathen gave Michael the signal to start a modest avalanche instead. Being dead already, that wouldn’t annoy him very much. As it turned out, it didn’t annoy them very much either, as they simply raised a shield. Michael tried to crack their shield by “restoring” the natural order – and by calling on the local spirits of nature to help him. The shield went down as Jonathen decided to go for broke – invading the priests psyches through his gestalt power, and trying to burn them out from the inside. Unfortunately, it turned out that the priests were already part of a gestalt – and were linked with their entire order. Still, Jonathen was far more powerful then any single priest – and when he burned out the first one, his death-trauma weakened the others… Jonathen, dead already, was barely affected – at least at the time. Michael was not so lucky. Without control over Jonathens link, or even the ability to transmit a protest, he felt it all. Mercifully, after a dozen or two, the link began to fade as Jonathens mind traveled deeper into the gestalt – leaving Michael free to vent his terror, grief, and helpless agony. Sadly, Jonathen either did not hear – or did not care. 

JONATHEN!

(LetGo! PLEASE LetGo! Oh Stop! NOOOO!!!)

DON’T!!!

 

   [Consciousness fled. A frantic attempt to maintain sanity buried most of his memories of the episode deep in his unconscious mind. Grief remained, but memories of unendurable pain – and far too many deaths – sealed itself away…]

   [Deep in the gestalt mind, barriers were crumbling. Brains and nervous systems overloaded, living minds fell into deep unconsciousness. Now unresisted, Jonathen’s power swept the fragments of a hundred shattered minds into his disembodied consciousness… Lost and confused, Jonathen and company reached for focus – and found one in one of the bodies that wasn’t quite burned out yet. Excess life force drained from a hundred fading heartbeats poured in. Suddenly eager, Jonathen snatched at something he’d thought forever lost – life… Assured that his basic personality and goals would drive his new existence thanks to his being the only truly conscious mind involved, Jonathen let the imperatives of a truly living body take over, and slept for the first time in weeks. In his body seething energies sought balance, the chaos of rebirth molded by a hundred seperate tugs and constraints. Power in abundance, but with the old forms stripped away. Something potent would walk upon the earth, but how its potential would find expression was, as yet, unknown.]

   [OW. THAT HAD NOT BEEN ANTICIPATED. STABILITY OF MINDCORE QUESTIONABLE. FULL CONSCIOUSNESS COULD READILY SUSTAIN LINKED DEATHSTRESS, BUT HAS MORE LIMITED SKILLS IN USING MORTAL POTENTIALS. DECISION: APPLY SECONDARY STABILIZATION, EGO TO REMAIN IN HUMAN MODE. REVERTING TO PHYSICAL LEVELS… NOW]

   Consciousness returned slowly. A terrible sense of loss warred with confusion and simple physical pain. The confrontation had ended in a big… explosion? Why was his memory so fuzzy? Where was Jonathen? Why couldn’t he feel him? The rocks shouldn’t bother him… Maybe be was pinned? [Michael dug down through the landslide easily enough – but Jonathen wasn’t there. Nothing but that silly sword – not even his playing cards. Somehow, suddenly, he was sure that Jonathen was gone. The knowledge seemed to come out of that blank hole in the center of his mind. Psychic pain passed for grief… Michael took the sword (it had belonged to his friend) and wandered vaguely back towards the school. Shock and fatigue blurred distance. Hours passed.

   Hours later, functioning, if still in deep “shock”, Michael realized that there was a last thing he had to do. He had to tell Sir Smythes. As last he’d heard, he was with Aunt Adrianna. The call was simple enough to place… Michael found it hard to explain. Trying to think about what had happened simply ran up against the blank spot in his mind. His broken tone said more then enough in any case. They arrived soon afterwards. Lost in his private void, Michael barely noticed.

   (Good God. What’s wrong with him? Smythes?) {I can guess. Jonathen’s gone, and it looks like he forgot to let go of Michael when he stopped resisting death. But that’s peace… I can understand shock and pain and grief, but this?} (I’m sorry) {Don’t be. Jonathen died a long time ago – he just finally decided to let go… I did my mourning the first time, I won’t do it again. Look, I’ll try to get him talking while you work on him. Try to find out what hurt him this badly} (How?) {How? How should I know? You’re the psychic} (True enough)

   “You wanted to tell me something Michael?”. Michael did. It took several tries – but eventually he managed to start with Anselem and the order… Smythes was not pleased by the way that they’d gone downhill recently, or by the current layout of the roman catholic church. (“I’ll have to go and have a talk with those idiots!”) Apparently he was a member at one time… He “whistled up” his magical warhorse and gear in preparation… He told Michael about how he’d tried to “subdue” a dragon as a steed and lost. It seemed that he hadn’t known they were sentient – or that they used magic intelligently. Michael finally got to “About Jonathen” – and started to cry. Smythes told him the truth about his own mourning – but had no answer for the hole in his mind…

   {Got anything? I’ve got him talking, but I’m almost out of things to say!} (Yes. I think I’ve got most of the basics. Apparently Jonathen tried a solo war with the cult of Cthughu and dragged Michael along with him.) {So what’s with… ?} (Apparently Jonathen decided to fight their group mind from the inside – but forgot to cut Michael out of the circuit when people in the mass mind started dying…) {What in hell was Michael doing in that kind of battle to begin with?} (You know that he had no control over the link. I hadn’t realized how much what Jonathen wanted influenced him…) {You mean that Jonathen just dragged him into a battle he had no way to fight? That he risked letting them gain control of the boy? That he could have cut him out of the loop at any time – and simply didn’t think about it? Didn’t pay attention to his screams? Took a loyal friend and abused him? Jonathen, if you were still alive… What can you do for him?} (I don’t know! He ought to be mad or dead! He seems to have repressed the memories somehow… He’s more resilient then I ever imagined – but I hope nothing stirs those memories up… On the other hand, I don’t dare move him. He’s too unstable to risk changing anything I don’t absolutely have to…)

   (Oh Jonathen. How could you? Had you forgotten so much about what it means to be alive already? Had you forgotten how much the living can be hurt? Michael was your friend! There was no need to drag him after you! I should never have left a helpless child in the hands of an obsessed, vengeful, ghost… I trusted you Jonathen. I thought you were his friend. You promised that you wouldn’t use your power over him to hurt him. How could you abuse him this way?)

   Eventually, Michael found a worry to divert himself with. What if he ran amuck? There was no one left who could control him… Smythes and Adrianna were relieved. This was something they could deal with… A practical problem rather then a teetering mind… Adrianna felt that a oathbinding variant that would knock him out if he was about to attack an innocent might do – but both Michael and Smythes were dubious. A simple mistake could flatten him in the middle of a battle that way… Sir Smythes remembered some old “rods” that were sometimes used to restrain berserkers back in his day, a sort of “artificial conscience”. Michael and Adrianna felt that that sounded bad… A control device linked to him and laying around for any idiot to pick up? Uh-uh. Michael promised to think about his options carefully first…

   [Sir Smythes left soon thereafter. He wanted to go and talk to the pope – and he didn’t want to stay around Michael. He felt partially responsible for making such a mess, and hated to admit that there was nothing that he could do… Besides. The mass summoning attempt had strained the dimensional walls – and the powerload the kids had poured into making it rain had half-blown the planetary radius-limiting wards, which kept the mythos priests from locating the remaining mages… It looked like the long cease-fire was drawing to an end…]

   Three days went by. Vladamir, having felt the surge of unnatural energies found the landslide site – and the dying empty bodies of a couple of the priests who were near the top. With no idea of who they were, and feeling that somebody ought to try, he went to fetch Michael – who might be able to heal them… Smythes and Adrianna gave a (very) brief explanation and sent him away. He went back to look, and spent some time trying to explain how to survive to a youthful squirrel who’s mother had been killed in the avalanche… Since it “hailed” him telepathically evidently something very very weird had happened to it in all the excitement… Still, trying to help felt good. He had lots of powers… Maybe he could be a superhero! Like that Captian Britian fellow over in England! Seized with sudden enthusiasm, he set to work making himself a “costume” – ceremonial Indian battle dress. Late that evening he went out to “patrol the streets” looking for good deeds to do… With the last of the Indian wars within recent memory, this got a poor reception in Atlanta.

   [Surrounded by curiously warped obelisks, hidden in the heart of a shunned patch of jungle, eyes opened. A wave of fragmented memories; alien landscapes, ancient scenes, fights, deaths – far too many deaths – work, and play, rolled over the newborn consciousness, and receded again. An arcane birth-trauma passed beneath the light of the full moon… As yet nameless, the entity rose. Naked? Defenseless. Vulnerable. A wash of inner heat as psychic energy gathered. Metal, harvested from the scattered debris of ritual, spun itself onto a psionic warp. Inhuman memories gave form to armor of unearthly technology. -SYSTEMS ONLINE-]

   [Spins the wheel of the twenty count. The Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess, The Empress – and Emperor, as the wheel spins for the second time. Youthful folly and potential, skill, mystery and recreation, action – and power. Grandfather Sun rises in the east, and provides basic illumination as he goes west to meet Grandmother Earth. The opener of the way rises from the primordial waters, his skill brings forth the mystery of creation and other gods, to act with power upon the earth. The wheel turns. The time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. Svaha. A waiting for promises to be fulfilled.]

   Meanwhile Joseph had become very interested in that katana… A blade of darkness which would cut through anything. He could feel its energies. A perfect match for his. It might have been made for him… Jonathen had gone off with it. He’d just have to talk to him… Huh. “Nightrazor”. Maybe there was something to this “destiny” stuff after all… Joseph went to talk with Jonathen – and was told that Jonathen was gone. This was something of a shock… He hadn’t known him very long, but they’d gotten to be friends. He went to visit the avalanche site, both as an act of mourning and, if truth be told, in hopes of finding “his” sword… Sadly for his plan, Josephs knowledge of Atlanta was limited. He got throughly lost, “dealt with” some local rednecks – and was very late getting home. One of the teachers was going to give him some demerits for it – but he swiped her notepad while she was in the lounge…

   Michael threw himself into his “normal” activities; sneaking into the hospital to heal people, dates and sex with his harem, and his classes. Classes were easy. Sex was straightforward enough, even if the social aspects took some work. Healing people turned out to be more of a problem. Like so many hospitals in the US, those in the local area were catholic hospitals. A steady stream of “miraculous” cures (started off by the story of an angelic visitation no less) was quickly noticed. Michael, with few connections with the church and many other concerns to keep him busy, was mostly unaware of what was going on. The fact that they were keeping the windows closed as the weather turned chill was sort of inconvenient. The growing numbers of nuns and such in the halls were obstacles to be avoided. He didn’t yet know that a most observant nun had associated him with what was going on – and had circulated a description.

   Running away from a bunch of nuns – and the elderly night watchman – was quite embarrassing. They were easy enough to avoid, thanks to his superhuman strength and agility – but he hardly got any healing done at all… They apparently thought that he was a saint, “blessed” with the healing touch. Michael panicked and ran. He could just imagine their reaction if they found out he was only a not-especially holy teenage werewolf. He had a feeling that the Vatican wouldn’t be amused. To make it worse, they’d probably think his disappearance was another miracle. Great. Just great. What if they got Arthur to tell them who he was? (It never occurred to him yet that they can probably figure it out in any case. A redheaded fourteen-year-old boy had set to work healing people starting with Arthur – a schoolboy with a redheaded fourteen-year-old roommate.)

   [Deep in Brazil a look at the nearby obelisk showed it to be inscribed with a summoning spell, intended to call up some sort of squid-thing… A plasma beam took care of it. -CURRENT LOCATION UNKNOWN. NO NAVIGATIONAL DATA ON RECORD- Lost, the armored entity set off into the forest. He found some locals eventually. A poor man and some kids. They seemed to accept him as some sort of spirit. Vaguely recalling that a place called “Atlanta” was “home”, he got them to point him towards North America… -FLIGHT SYSTEMS ONLINE. NAVIGATIONAL DATA <<<MINIMAL!>>>. MAGNETIC SCAN INDICATES <NORTH>.- Stopping was a problem… He wound up crash landing in the ocean near Cuba. At least that let him get more directions. He was slowly closing in on Atlanta…]

   Meanwhile, Vladamir had decided to consult Michael. “Have you noticed that we’re different?” That provoked a hysterical giggle… He wanted to start a group, to be like that “Captian Britian” fellow, to help people. (“I was trying, but the bloody nuns were in the way!”) Michael wasn’t really all that receptive, but at least he could tell Vladamir what was wrong with his costume choice…That led to a quick history lesson. It seemed that Vladamir’s peculiar “tribe” had been sealed up in their little warded valley for quite a while. Along the way they looked through his parents diary for some information about dragons – and read something about a “breath weapon”. They decided to try it out – outside. Vladamir, a handsome dragon with his blue-black scales and iridescent highlights, turned out to breath a “mist” of obscene corrosiveness. Experimenting gave Vladamir a sore throat and an upset stomach – so they went to ask someone that they thought might know about dragons – a literature professor. He wasn’t really helpful.

   At about that point the wardspells on Michaels room “called” to him. It seemed that there was someone in his closet? In Jonathens secret rooms??? This was very weird. Michael and Vladamir went to check it out. It turned out to be a very large man, inhabiting a set of “secret rooms” which were “built” into the back of his portable wardrobe? This confused them both – and caused quite a debate about what to do with what was probably a demon in his closet. They decided to get rid of it, but couldn’t get it out past the wards. Some sort of spirit-servant told them to call Sir Smythes about it, so they got in touch with Adrianna while they held the wardrobe door shut. Adrianna showed up in a nightrobe and went in to argue with the man – while Michael felt too guilty to let her go alone, and followed. The man said his name was Azrael (among other things) – and that this was his home. Adrianna figured out the “committee effect” quickly enough – and that this was basically a new person… “Azraels” power was quite sufficient to look however he wanted – so he changed form to be less conspicuous around school. The only kids “form” in his repertoire turned out to be Jonathen’s… Michael went into blank, total, helpless shock. It wasn’t just that this was the last straw… Seeing Jonathen stirred up all the things he’d repressed. Jonathen would hurt him again. He’d died and hurt him, he’d died again and hurt him horribly… Now he was back again. How much would he hurt him this time? He couldn’t – please – noooo! – (blankness – darkness – peace). [Adrianna spun as the mental shockwave rolled out…]

   “MICHAEL! Please Michael! Talk to me! DON’T RETREAT THIS WAY! Vladamir! Help me carry him! Anywhere away from Azrael! (Oh Jonathen. It’s not really even “you” anymore… Did you have to take that form?) [Tugged by Adrianna’s telepathic talents, Michaels plunge towards catatonia, the instinctive retreat to the peace of the womb in the face of the unbearable, slowed… halted. Denied escape, Michael began to babel… “Oh sure, I’m fine there are nuns chasing me and people dying and coming back and dying again and people in my head and magic amulets wiping out peoples memories and weird priests and monsters with tentacles and things and they’re going to burn me and there’s a dragon in school with me and I’ve killed three people and…”

   [Dealing with the Dean took less then five minutes. Adrianna had Vladamir load him in her car and took him home… Her link with his mind momentarily weakened by the concentration required for her teleport spell, her telepathic pull weakened… For just a moment, Michael reached what he’d been before birth – and sat up]

   Vladamir fumed. Just because Adriana was older then he was, she thought she knew it all. She had no right to treat him or Michael this way. So he was in shock. He’d get better. Dragging him off somewhere was no way to get him to face it. So Jonathen had done something to him. This wasn’t really Jonathen – he simply looked like him at the moment…

   “What are we doing here?” [Adrianna nearly lost all control of the car as she gaped at Michael; “But – You were having a breakdown!” [Michael reached out to hold the steering wheel steady – despite the pain which the touch masses of iron around him brought] “Yes. But I’m better now. You shouldn’t drive like that. You could get hurt.” [Aunt Adrianna, suddenly in shock herself, looked at the raw magical energy pouring off him… Oh my God… What’s he done?] “Uhmm… Do you want to go back to the school?” Michael considered for a moment. Things were getting kind of urgent – but Atlanta was a start, and would let him pick up some allies… “Yes I think so. Then I think England, Rome, and perhaps Easter Island” “OK…”. Michael considered. His full mental abilities required that he function mostly as a spirit rather then as a mortal. That had advantages, but it meant that his mortal talents would lack a lot of fine control. No help for it. He’d have to keep the links with the ethereal open at the moment and accept it. The human portions of his mind had to have a “vacation” in any case. Ow. He’d never expected anything like that to happen. Dealing with the deaths of the animal links he used to use was easy by comparison. Even the hawks, and he’d always been really fond of them. Hmm. Perhaps he ought to add a personal symbol to these clothes. It was a whim, but he’d like to keep up the tradition.

   Back at the school Michael set about recruiting the others… Vladamir didn’t like the way he was acting, “All adult, just like your nasty Aunt” – but he had to admit that “doing something” about the noxious “mythos priests” who had nearly wiped out his race was rather important – especially after they attacked… “Azrael” was easy enough to persuade. His fierce, if confused, opposition to the mythos (along with a feeling that he might owe Michael something) made it easy enough, even if he did agree with Vladamir that they ought to “Form a superhero group!”. Joseph showed up again asking for “his sword” – and Michael gave it to him. Recruiting Joseph was quite difficult – until Michael pointed out that he’d just accepted a sword from him… OK, so it was a cheap way to invoke the oriental customs and honor his nanny had taught him – but the problem was urgent. He consulted Vinnie as well… Explaining the problem was fairly simple. The priests wanted to invoke things that would kill virtually everyone on the planet. This would be bad for business and for Vinnie personally… The mafia had special resources – and great sources of information. It would be in his interest if he placed those at the groups disposal. Since the DePascos were working for the priests, the group would have to clean them up anyway – and they were his major opposition at the moment. Everyone would benefit. (Vladamir thought that Michael had been possessed – and he wasn’t entirely wrong. He just wasn’t sure if it was a good spirit or an evil one… Besides, these cultists seemed to want to kill him and use his body for ritual components…) Right. Was everyone agreed? Something had to be done? Especially since (sigh-), a couple of hundred cultists had just surrounded the building and started to chant. Idiots. Somebody with influence must want them really badly… Normal cultists. He would have liked to spare them – he would have spared them if they were anything but followers of the dark side of the mythos. As it was, he had Vladamir raise a concealing mist, and went on the offensive. Against dragonbreath (Oh stop with the self-inflation Vladamir… When did you pick up a growth power anyway?), shaped negative energy (focused and amplified by the sword), Azrael’s psionic “powered battle armour”, and Michael’s raw strength and speed, the thugs didn’t last very long. Apparently they hadn’t been expected to. Their leader was a necromancer – and had planned to absorb the energies of their deaths all along.

   (Hmmm… A negative energy aura… Wants the sword back? That aura seems to dissolve anything… Joseph’s negative bolts can’t quite penetrate, acids, telephone poles, and photon beams just seem to vanish – it can’t extend under his feet or he’d fall through the ground. OK…) Michael heaved up the pavement he was standing on, punched his hand through it, and tried to pull the mages leg back through the hole – while simultaneously disrupting his nervous system. Michael hadn’t counted on him being personally charged with negative energies – or on his getting off some major summonings first… The detonation as Michaels powers met the necromancers destroyed him – and left Joseph unconscious, thanks to injuries from earlier in the fight… Dragonbreath and banishment dealt with the minor monsters while Michael got to work on Joseph… He’d be fine in just a couple of minutes.

   After that little demonstration, Vinnie believed in their story, but didn’t want to get directly involved. Bullets he knew how to handle, this “Mythos” stuff was something else again… Still, he was willing to give them some backup and information – and that was all that Michael had ever really expected or wanted from him… The DePascos were working out of a number of buildings around the city. Vinnie provided them with a list.

   One last thing to do. Adrianna had already made his excuses to the school, but the rest would need some as well… What were their excuses? OK – [Michael reached out to the telegraph wires… A bit of simple technomancy sufficed to tap into them and send some messages]. Joseph’s father was sick and – since Joseph had worked with him quite a lot, they needed him to check out the accounts… Vladamir’s “mother had died” and he had to return to attend and carry out some tribal rituals. As for “Azrael” – well, he looked like Jonathen, and was assuming Jonathen’s identity. Jonathen had to meet his mother on arrival, as she was sailing over to find out what was going on with the reports of his death…What he’d tell his girlfriends was another problem… Maybe they’d just assume that his family had wanted him home for a bit. The school wouldn’t be keen on telling anyone that a student had had a nervous breakdown. That seemed to cover everything. It also solved the problem of the school officials pestering Vladamir about being unable to find a roommate. He’d be out of their hair for a bit in any case. Vinnie would be providing cash, none of them needed to pack very much, and the next stop still “felt” like England – after the DePascos.

   Things stalled briefly. “Azrael” was suffering from the most extreme case of multiple personalities in all history. Vladamir was sulking about how adult Michael was acting – and Michael was in trouble. Vast knowledge, inhuman clarity of thought, ages of experience – and a set of gaping holes where most of his emotions, ego, and drives ought to be. Still, Vinnie had provided a list of DePasco strongpoints… Eventually the “team” came up with a plan; They’d go, and look, and jump the place, and try to keep the civilian casualties down. The details they’d make up as they went along.

   They took an hour or so to prepare. Joseph, feeling that a frontal attack wasn’t his sort of fight, stayed to get everyone’s stuff packed – while the rest headed for Vircotti’s Restaurant, where the DePasco’s Don was to be found. On the way out, a cheerful voice answered Michael’s abstracted; “I wonder what they offered this guy anyway?” with “They promised him power”. It was -Arthur? (“Hi Guys!”). Michael was quite imperturbable at the moment – but was also very slow. Arthur looked about two years older then before – and explained that “I’ve been going through “trials”. The last one would have been easy if I’d known the dragon was here.”.

   Apparently, while Michael hadn’t realized it at the time, transferring a part of his elemental life energy to Arthur had unlocked his magical potentials as well. Suddenly attuned to the ethereal plane, Arthur could be touched by the elemental spirits of nature – and was. A variety of ethereal “trips” served to focus his powers, as well as to reveal the nature of the upcoming menace to reality – and the truth about Michael. Equipped with his new mastery of divinatory and technomantic magics, Arthur had decided to come to help. He didn’t try to explain. Michael was in no shape to understand at the moment. When he was, he wouldn’t need to have anything explained. Perhaps it would be best if he simply gave them the layout of the restaurant – and told them that there weren’t any “civilians” present.

   Michael came up with a brilliant plan. He’d punch a hole in the wall and Vladamir would breath through it. Fortunately for the group, Arthur was even more clever then Michael… “Shouldn’t somebody watch the front and back doors?”. “Oh… Good idea”.

   The modified plan was promptly put into effect with “Azrael” and Arthur to guard the front – while Michael ran around to the back to guard there… Things almost went wrong when Vladamir had to remind Michael that he needed a bigger hole then that, but a simple arm sweep sufficed to correct that. Things did go wrong when two thugs proved unexpectedly durable, and escaped out the front while the Don DePasco, his other thugs – and the restaurant – dissolved in a seething cloud of acid…

   Ugh. That was nasty. The guard at the rear entrance threw it open just in time to melt… Just this once, it’s probably a good thing that “Michael” is “asleep”. “He” won’t have to remember seeing that. At least the plan seems to have worked out reasonably well – unless all that noise from the front indicates a problem? Oh, BOTHER. [Meanwhile out front, two of the Don’s “minor” lieutenants had emerged from the acidic vapor virtually unharmed. While they weren’t really all that powerful, Vladamirs breath was most effective on inanimate items in any case… Since the Don and his friends had gone down with the linguini, The two wanted to make a deal. Michael was trying to think of one that would work – and was trying to get in touch with Vinnie – when Vladamir got impatient and killed both of them in the confusion when some thugs tried to make a classical drive-by hit against the group. That was a mistake. Michael jammed the carburetor valves on the cars to give himself time to think, and wound up setting them up for the others. Apparently massacre was the order of the day… On the theory that one disaster deserves another, the “group” made swift visits to other DePasco strong points. The first three were easy. They hadn’t yet gotten the word that the Don was dead – and that the “family” was well on the way to being wiped out.

   The last major DePasco strongpoint was “supposed to be” nothing but a weapons warehouse… It wasn’t. When the group approached it they ran into a force field… Azrael found it familiar. A standard R17-B Divergence Field on emergency overload. Admittedly a bit hard on the system – but it would reduce the field’s threshold velocity to the point where a even slow crawl wouldn’t penetrate it…

   While Azrael muttered to himself Michael and Vladamir tried a more direct approach. Michael scanned the area for the “off” switch first… No luck. The system was too alien and too well monitored for that to work. The really direct approach (shoving his hand through) gave some results as the tissues tried to diverge. It hurt. A lot. Michael spent the next minute or two healing.

   Meanwhile Vladamir had turned himself into a badger and dug a tunnel underneath the field. It turned out to extend about ten feet down. He came up inside about the same time that Azrael finished sorting through his alien memories. Azrael barely noticed as his psyche settled into an alien mode. A nullfield would do it – if only he could get this silly armor to adjust itself so as to put one out. He managed eventually – but left himself believing that he really was a “Lanarkian” – and that he was trapped in a strange body…

   Vladamir got himself inside and found a horde of very weird thugs – including a collection of blue aliens in environmental suits and/or powered battle armor… This was not good. At least Azrael found something familiar – the guys in the armor were “other Lanarkians”.

   Azrael got his null-field going about the time that Vladamir got the idea that acid was the better part of aggression, turned back into himself, and began spraying the room with the stuff… This got messy. Acid rain, blaster fire, bullets, battlesuits, kinetic bolts, and plasma fire swept the room. The normal thugs went fast enough, but the aliens managed to hold up for a little while – but not for long. Between the amount of pure, raw, power Vladamir, Michael, and Azrael wielded – and Arthur’s precise touch tilting the scales at carefully chosen moments – even this bizarrely souped-up version of the Mafia had little chance.

Unless the fact that half their opposition

was currently crazy counted for something. 

   (This wasn’t working very well. It would have been quite bad enough trying to work through a body without a functioning resident consciousness, but trying to do it using the purely ethereal portions of his mind was a disaster. It wasn’t like Michael was a separate person – Michael was him. Er – Me. Us? Bother. Words. Trying to work with large portions of (Our?) consciousness on vacation was… Where was I? Ow. That hurt. All of his aggressive instincts, talents, and ability to “access” power variations (not to mention My/Our/His ability to relate to mortals) had been/was a part of My/Michael’s personality core… Owww. Now what? Oh yes – I’m being shot at. Hadn’t they been doing that a minute ago too? Now what should… Attack. That was it. Now why hadn’t He/I/Michael done that already? Oh yes. He/Michael was on vacation. Now lets see… Mass. Trajectory. (Grab), Forces… Application… Hurl. Bother. Missed. Well – mostly. It was hard to miss entirely with a tank. Oh DRAT. He’d forgotten to accelerate his metabolism. He wouldn’t be able to get to them before they… Owww! I hope We/I/Us/Me are OK again soon… This could get me killed. Emergencies are not my thing at the moment.)

   They looked around the crater afterwards… Nice and tidy those blue fellows – everything of “theirs” which hadn’t been atomized already simply disappeared. Kind of planned obsolescence with a vengeance. Anyway, the whole job had only taken an hour or so. Time to notify Vinnie (who was somewhat surprised – and very pleased) and get out. (Why does that squirrel have a permanent psychic link with you anyway Vladimir? Just something that happened around that avalanche site? Oh, Okay) In the meantime they tried to persuade “Azrael”/The Alien to accept what had happened to him – and failed. What they did manage to do was to throw him into a feedback loop that had him changing personalities several times a second… Coherent he wasn’t. Oh well – Michael had been wanting to go and see Anselem before he left anyway.

   Anselem was a bit upset. It seemed that Sir Smythes had a big mouth… He’d mentioned Anselem’s trick with his name – and gotten him in all kinds of trouble. He was under suspension, forbidden to use his powers, and had been excommunicated. This was not good. Michael tried to be comforting, but while he had the wisdom at the moment, he lacked the words. Vladimir wasn’t any help either. Having heard about the orders prior poor relationship with dragons, Vladimir apparently decided that this would be a perfect time to set things right. He turned into a full size dragon – and began to lecture Anselem. At least that got Anselem over the hump about using his powers. He raised his defenses automatically when Vladimir transformed. Unlike Vlad, Anselem was still sensible enough to know that that period had been over for centuries – and even if it hadn’t been now was not the time to discuss it. Michael eventually managed to ger Vladimir to shut up – and then upset Anselem again by bringing in Azrael… “OK, the problem here is that Jonathen is sort of back as chairman of a committee, and can’t seem to keep himself coherent…”. Anselem was a bit shocked by Azraels energies – but managed to apply a technique for soothing insanity. A vast improvement. It sort of “blended” the various personas… With that out of the way, Michael could finally get to the stuff he came for – finding out if Anselem could make secure arrangements to have some stuff picked up in Egypt. He thought he might need his spear again – and it was about time that the book was returned to the order. If anyone could get the eye to accept them, they would be more then welcome to that as well. Anselem felt that his current status left him quite, unfortunately, free – so he might as well go himself. No, he wouldn’t need a dirigible ticket, he’d walk the path of the light… Evidently he was feeling a bit better. Michael patted him gently on the shoulder… Don’t worry. Smythes has started a schism… One side or the other will surely need you. Remember – sacerdos in aeternum.

   <Anselem mused… Huh. Was that a fourteen-year-old kid talking? Where did a protestant pick up Latin and an extensive knowledge of the church anyhow? And that symbol… The Eye of Horus and an Ankh? Protection and Life? That could be read a lot of ways… “Guardian of Life”? “The Living Horus”?. And that cartouche… Tcha Tcha Em Ankh? “Strengths-In-Life?”. NO It couldn’t be. A youthful warrior-healer, immensely strong, using a flaming sword, redheaded, wielding forces which only immortals are supposed to be able to tap? Guardian of the gates of the earth?? He was even NAMED Michael…! Come to think of it, how had the boy casually sent him off across the earth after a cache of ancient Egyptian artifacts? You couldn’t just look up the location and opening invocation for the tomb containing the Book of Thoth, the Eye of Anubis, and the Spear of Horus, in the library… Michael might need HIS (!?!) spear again???

   Loosely shepherded by Arthur, the group departed for New York… At least Jonathen was functioning again – or would be once he came out of shock. In the meantime they were moving him around in a wheelchair… Getting to New York proved easy enough – but once in the city, Michael began to feel like he was being followed. That was a potential problem – even if it was… Government Agents??? Now what did THEY want? One of them seemed to have some sort of magical powers as well? Now that was really weird. Arthur? (Hmmm. Arthur’s not talking. Some sort of trance? Oh never mind. I’ll find out myself). Given Michaels current penchant for brilliant and subtle plans, his approach consisted of strolling back to them when everyone was waiting in line to board the ship and asking them what they wanted – and whether he could help them with it. They denied everything… In the meantime, Vladimir had had a terrible time getting the semiconscious forms of Jonathen and Arthur through customs… Fortunately, Arthur had brought the tickets to Atlanta with him, so at least those were ready…

   Arthur had bought luxury-class tickets on on of the largest dirigibles in service. Vladimir (and the agents) played cards, Jonathen recovered, and Michael wandered around vaguely and stared out the windows while Arthur muttered to himself… Unfortunately, the trip did not prove an uneventful chance to get everyone’s heads back together. A bit of cult meddling with the pilot’s mind led to a pass directly above a city of the deep ones – a lesser version of R’lyeh itself… The attack opened with a curious spiraling coalescence in a nearby cloud (Uhmmm… Vladimir? You’re the weather-master. What do you think?” “I think that’s not a cloud”) that turned itself into a squadron of attacking biplanes. Vladimir promptly dove out the window (causing several innocent bystanders to faint in shock), plummeted into a cloud, re-emerged as a dragon (causing almost everyone in the dirigible to faint), and attacked them right back. They did not do well. Azrael decided to join in as well and leapt out himself – but couldn’t get his armors flight system to activate. Michael frowned as the dirigible lurched. Even his limited knowledge of Elder Egyptian Magic sufficed to start pulling Jonathen back up – but what was wrong with… Ah. Cthulhu was pulling it down in person. Definitely a problem. At least Vladimir had dealt with those silly biplanes readily enough, but he wasn’t up to Cthulhu – or to holding up a dirigible by himself. Here came the water too. At least that would put out the fire… Oh blast. He’d forgotten. Illusion masters. Well – too late now. Evacuation was the only thing left to do. Now how did that portal-opening invocation of Ptah go? Ah yes… [Michael tried to keep himself from being too closely linked with the hole in the air that led to London – but he did stand by it to help people through (and incidently heal the wounded a bit.] One old fellow desperately wanted his luggage. Curious, Vladimir asked Arthur what was in it, and was informed that it contained around two hundred thousand dollars in gold and equipment for printing banknotes – now headed for the bottom of the Atlantic.

   Vladimir went after it instantly (TREASURE!!) – and Jonathen decided to race him… This was not really a very good idea… Vladimir gave up when his whale-form started to get uncomfortable – but Jonathen pursued it right down into the alien city. Fortunately for him, the deep ones recognized the style of the armor. They wanted to know what had happened… He hadn’t finished the job they’d hired him for – releasing Cthulhu. (Ah. So that was what he’d ben trying to remember… No use trying to tell them that conditions had changed – and it might be unhealthy.) He just told them that he needed the suitcase – and teleported out when they brought it to him. Meanwhile, Vladimir was headed for England and a curious “tugging” feeling.

   In England, Michael and Arthur were busy creating the impression that Vladimir and Jonathen had arrived with the other passengers. It was easy enough in all the confusion. They simply gave differing names to various officials. The authorities were coping with something they simply couldn’t believe by being “reasonable” IE; by inventing a theory they could accept involving some ship which had a) picked up the passengers, b) slipped in unseen, c) dropped them off by the dirigible docks, and d) slipped out again, all without being noticed. They were “giving out” free hotel rooms while they “investigated”. At least he knew that they’d be along – he’d managed to get an (old) communications spell to work for a bit.

   Nearer the coast, Vladimir was ecstatic. His father seemed to have left some arcane “recorded messages” in case Vladimir ever made it to England – detailing just where he’d hidden parts of his horde. Whole caves full of gold! His hoarding instinct went into full gear…

M   eanwhile, Jonathen was a bit lost… His teleport coordinates turned out to be an alien (Lanarkian) base on the moon. Shapeshifting to his full alien form had been quite a strain – but this was weird. They seemed to have been tied in with the Cthulhu cults worldwide. There was a full scale war gearing up – focused on the “guy who could ward off the great lords forever”. That would be him he supposed. All that excess energy… At least the place included a nice lab and a lot of gear.

   In London, Michael got into touch with Jonathen and supplied coordinates for a jump back… They picked a small park for Jonathens (and the trunks) “shimmering” appearance. Jonathen noted that “blueness” didn’t seem to fit in back on earth… He liked the essence and the intelligence of the “alien” form, so he simply shifted his appearance… Michael took the trunk – and told him that they ought to visit Stonehenge… soon. Jonathen was quite agreeable.

   Michael wasn’t sure of what to do with a (complete) set of plates – much less with the paper and ink (OK – so the seawater had spoiled the paper). He eventually decided to dump the ink and take the rest to the Consul. Still a bit naive about human society he gave them his name and settled down to wait… No, he didn’t want to give them the package. He wasn’t the first to tell the consul about the weird goings-on aboard the dirigible, but he was the first to hand over a set of plates. The Consul nearly choked on the spot. He was trying to get some more information out of Michael (who was sticking to “I found them in a suitcase during the crash”) when Michael suddenly realized that the “team” was urgently needed at Stonehenge. He looked absently at the Consul and told him that “I’m sorry, but things just got kind of urgent” before he teleported out. Used to doing it as an elemental, it took him several minutes to recall that humans didn’t usually travel that way… Oh well. Maybe the Consul wouldn’t report it? Too late to worry about it now in any case, the crisis was coming. He’d worry about the gold if there was a later.

   Jonathen was easy enough to “collect”, but Vladimir was almost impossible to pry away from his gold. He seemed to be operating on pure instinct at the moment. He’d been regressing before, but this was a little bit extreme. He seemed to have gone back to dragon infancy – “It’s pretty – MINE!”. No time to do anything about it now – but if this kept up they’d have to put him on a leash… It was a good thing that Arthur’d been with Jonathen, Michael didn’t think he could manage another jump and still reach Stonehenge… This body handled too much power in other ways. There wasn’t very much spare capacity for sorcery. Joseph would just have to wait. Besides, he probably wasn’t done making “arrangements” in Rome yet… He’d gone ahead to set things up there. After all, it was currently the center of the schism – which seemed to be turning into world war two… So be it. Stonehenge…

   Stonehenge was alive with blazing power, woven into the core of a gargantuan lightning storm. Bolts hit every few seconds as energy poured from the global ley line network into the stones, building an unbelievable core of force. Michael frowned… So much for the idea of simply hitting a few people. They’d obviously been setting this up for millennia. The old Roman and Inca Roads, the Great Wall of China, the ancient Statues of Easter Island, each and every one a part of the network. At least the Pyramids were still stabilizing things in the middle east… Now where… Into the pacific? They were out to raise R’Lyeh? No wonder they needed power, they were out to redesign a major tectonic plate. This wasn’t going to be easy. There was no way they could stop, channel, block, or dissipate that much energy. Ah – What would happen if they triggered it too early? Massive earthquakes around R’Lyeh – power feedback against the cultists and general destruction. They wouldn’t be able to use Stonehenge again – although he supposed the English might be rather upset when it blew up.

   It was simple enough to trigger it, after all, they were at the core… The ensuing blast was spectacular. Fortunately for all of them, Arthur had quietly placed the group in the dead zone at the center of the blast. Jonathen had found it simple enough to detonate…

   <Michael stretched luxuriously. He’d been needing a vacation – and somebody (Who? Never mind – It had been somebody he could trust), had told him there was time. They’d even booked him into this resort in Mexico. Sun and air, swimming, rambles in the hills, and cute girls. Even those weird headaches had been gone away… What was that? Some sort of… Explosion?>

   The cultists weren’t pleased – and those who hadn’t been caught in the power backlash were quick to demonstrate that Michael wasn’t the only one who understood teleportation. Arthur had apparently been “blocking” cultist attempts to divine information about the group for quite a while now (hence the trances), but blowing up Stonehenge gave them a definite location…

   The main body of the impromptu assault consisted of blue guys in battle armor – both normal-sized and the giant exoskeletal models – twenty combat troops and some fourteen “Mechs”. Backup was provided by six floating guys encased in glowing orange auras…

   Michael was reaching for a chunk of Stonehenge when somebody with good reflexes shot him… Little damage, but a painful burn… <OUCH! Michael’s world suddenly turned inside-out, as fur and fangs sprouted. A stormfront swept over him, bearing a cargo of vile enemies. Berserk wolfish fury accelerated his metabolism, dumped adrenalin into his bloodstream, fed regeneration and the psionic enhancement of his strength. THEY WERE ATTACKING HIS PACKMATES> Vladimir grinned happily as Michael howled. Now THAT was Michael. Whatever spirit had been possessing him must have let go… Vladimir added his own, special, welcome-home touch – increasing Michaels size to match the Mechs… Things got nasty, as, in a mad blur, Micheal hurled an eighty-ton block of heated stone through the center of the power armor formation, ripped open one of the Mechs (and it’s unlucky pilot), attempted (unsuccessfully) to cancel the orange auras, and took (and regenerated) enormous amounts of damage. Vladimir took hummingbird form (to be less obvious), and took control of the local storm, turning the lightning against the foe… Jonathen fired a plasma bolt – and was gravely wounded as the return fire overwhelmed his defenses. Jonathen drew on his deep reserve energies – healing his wounds, renewing his strength – and taking a more combative form. That turned out to be a variant on the basic Lanarkian form, and one of quite incredible power… Arthur stayed in safe spots – and helped the others “see through” the psychic “influences” of those fellows with the orange auras… They tried to tinker with Jonathens teleportation circuit – to turn Michael and Vladimir against Jonathen – and otherwise directed most of their efforts against Jonathen. It didn’t work very well. Being willing to die to get Jonathen mostly meant that they died trying…

Once again, the blue guys cleaned

up after themselves quite neatly. 

   Standing amidst the steaming wreckage of Stonehenge Michael began to ask questions… “What am I doing in England?!? Why am I ten feet tall!? What’s going on?!? What happened to my pants! (this is embarrassing), Why does my head hurt?” – [Enough is enough self. There’s no time to explain now. Go back to sleep now Michael] <What a weird dream… In fact, I seem to be dreaming now… Is this what they call “lucid dreaming”? Might as well enjoy it… C’amere you dream-girl you… Ah. That’s the way to do it…>

   How disappointing, Vladimir mused, that blasted old spirit seemed to have a hold of Michael again – but at least he’d broken free for a little while. That was a good sign anyway. Whatever spirit it was, it probably couldn’t hold him much longer. What was he saying now? Something practical about getting away from Stonehenge and back to London before the authorities showed up to ask questions? How boring. Maybe this was a pattern of some sort. Werewolves were commonly frothing berserker types, who howled and shapeshifted at the drop of a hat. So when they got possessed they got all calm and logical and adult and talked calmly and never shapeshifted. Sort of a rule of opposites… He’d have to ask a shaman about it. When supernatural beings got possessed they turned into poised polite calm boring normal people? Yeeeech! Well – he’d fly them back to London in any case. They needed the lift (Michael seemed to be all spelled out) and they had said that they’d recovered the luggage… Michael was out of it, Arthur was tired – and Jonathen was having a reaction-collapse… Well, they shouldn’t be all that hard to keep on.

   Back in London the group’s landing was concealed by a thick fog (courtesy of Vladimir the weather-monger). Jonathen was still semiconscious (at best) so Vladimir took human form to carry him… <Ahhh, that was good. Still asleep?… Hmmm… I’ve been asleep for a long time… People don’t normally sleep this long… [Uh- oh. Michaels “elemental self” began trying to suppress his awareness of just how long it had been… Too late for that. Oh BUGGER. I hope he’s ready] SOMEONE’S been KEEPING me asleep… (Fur and fangs began to sprout on Michael’s dreamself, primal wolfish fury drew strength from the wilds – and a tidal wave of psychic energy rose against his bonds). I don’t LIKE being kept asleep…>

   [Michael’s mental core surged outwards, engulfing bits of his elemental consciousness along the way. Suddenly his mind was a much larger place then it used to be… Balance was achieved. Surging elemental energies fused with flesh, bone, and sinew, birthing the twilight might of faerie. While the full assimilation of his ethereal consciousness and power-birthright would take millennia, Michael was at last aware of what he was – and what he had been before. Memories of the past few weeks passed through his expanded mind in swift review. Not ideal – but not as bad as it might have been. OK. Now (Michael suddenly became aware that he’d turned into a werewolf and begun howling in the middle of a London street].

…Oops. 

   Fortunately there was still quite a lot of fog – but things got even weirder as Michael’s howl was answered from London’s streets and parks… Michael felt… Other weres? And a bunch of wolves? In the middle of LONDON? Michael sprinted for the nearest park… Whatever the psychoarcane shockwave he’d emitted had stirred up, he didn’t want to meet it on the public streets. Besides – If he got away quickly enough, most of the witnesses wouldn’t really believe what they’d seen.

   [In the park the fog swirled, coagulated, spun into long, lean, canine forms. Thunder rumbled. The spirits were talking. The gates were open again – and the pack was gathered, the circle closed]… Michael burst into the center of the park – to be met by wolves. The old wolf-spirits of England were awake again. The old ways stirred… A bridge had been forged, the cycle turned, the mystery of the twilight lands would touch upon the earth once more. As for the wolves – Michael waited… The largest paced forward, and dropped a rabbit at his feet. “Leader is back – The packs will roam again…”. Michael frowned… “Go. Hunt. Ride the winds…”. This was going to take quite a bit of getting used to. Were things like this going to be happening all the time?

   Vladimir, and a newly-woken Jonathen, stepped up as Michael took human form. Jonathen grinned slightly. So much for the emergency shorts. Lost his clothes twice in one day hmmm? Easy enough to fix (and far easier to pass in London). Nice to see Michael getting his head back together in any case. [Power spun from Jonathen’s spirit, spinning carbon into complex organics, weaving strands into cloth, tailoring cloth into clothing. It should even have enough “flex” to it to shift with him a few times… That would be convenient]. As Michael turned around a part of his memories really sank in… Jonathen was alive again. All the way. Two conflicting impulses fought… For a moment Michael simply hugged Jonathen – before he started to shake him. “Don’t EVER do anything like that to me again. If you ever do that again I’ll – I’ll – I’ll [Michaels voice trailed off – then continued, far more quietly, as his hands relaxed their grip] I’ll probably die. Please don’t do that to me Jonathen.” Jonathen apologized for his former self, and promised… Michael considered.

   They ought to have a little time. It would take at least a week for them to “focus” on the potential gate in Rome… There were two major groups of cultists in England… Maybe they should hit them and look for some clues? On the other hand, why bother? They knew what they were up to. [Vladimir snarled. These humans never seemed to get anything done. He was annoyed – and he was entirely out of patience with all of them. It was time to try really pushing the shapechanging bit… Perhaps an elder dragon? An ANCIENT GREATER WYRM WIND DRAGON!] {Ignoring Michael and Jonathen – who were trying to make plans and pick the best way to reach Rome – Vlad tried the shift… YES. This form allowed full expression of the dragonmight… [Utterly intoxicated by the power-surge inherent in the shape of an Elder Wyrm, Vladimir scooped up Arthur, Michael, and Jonathen, carried them into the upper atmosphere – despite various protests – and dissolved them all into wind… A few moments later, the group appeared over Rome… Vladimir made a quick pass over the city before the group’s complaints (that they’d had a week to plan, that they didn’t like being grabbed, dangled from a vast height – and unexpectedly dissolved, and that Vladimir was behaving like a three year old) began to register… They had a week? Good! That gave him time to find a nice lair… (An outraged chorus rang out as Vladimir dissolved them all again – and rematerialized them all in a cave. Cold, thin air, high in the mountains… Michael didn’t know what told him, but his outraged voice rose… “TIBET!?! YOU TOOK US TO FUCKING TIBET?!? YOU IDIOT! NOT ONLY IS THIS ONE HELL OF A LONG WAY AWAY FROM ROME, TIBET IS ONE OF THE CULTIST’S MAJOR STRONGHOLDS! ARE YOU TRYING TO GET US ALL KILLED? WHY DID YOU PICK… [Vladimir located the reason why he’d chosen this cave – a nice pile of good sized diamonds] Oh. Oh Lord. Vladimir. Now is NOT the time. [Vladimir had a sudden, brilliant, idea. They’d probably need more help next time. The cultists might be ready for them… Now that he could “feel” anything that breathed, perhaps he should find more “artillery” – some other dragons. Yes… He could feel them. About fourteen… Right. Off to do some recruiting]. Michael was still expostulating as Vladimir dissolved into the air again… Ob BOTHER.)

   Since Jonathen couldn’t take anyone else along when he teleported, and Michael wasn’t up to another spell, the group spent some time “cooling their heels” in the Himalayas… Jonathen wanted to experiment with using a few diamonds as “lenses” in his weapons systems, but knew that Vladimir would object. Michael tried to make him a few out of charcoal, but found that his strength still had upper limits… “Industrial grade” was about the best he could do. Fortunately, Michael felt up to opening another gateway the next morning…

   In Rome they found Anselem waiting for them… With Michael’s Spear – and a new job for himself. Pope. Now that was a promotion. It seemed that Anselem had used the Book to find a bunch of other lost relics… Some ancient biblical scrolls, the Ark (which had been very helpful), and a variety of other stuff… They’d been trying to get the Grail – but somebody had moved it to Nigeria, and they hadn’t been able to find anyone powerful enough to get in and still pure enough to bring it back… They could use it. It seemed that the catholic schism had turned into world war two… Everybody was getting in on it. The Protestants were either backing Anselem because god was obviously backing him, or were opposing him because his “miracles” were obviously the work of satan… The Islamic world didn’t want to see the Catholic church getting revitalized – so they were against Anselem… Japan had seized the opportunity to grab a few things in the confusion… The US was split down the middle – and (among other things) Anselem was rewriting the bible to bring the Protestants back into line…

What a mess. 

   Jonathen had an idea though… He could go and get the Grail. He was powerful enough to get past all the guardians, he was freshly “born” – and so still almost innocent – and the dark Book had already taken most of his personal evil… Apparently the Grail filled with “the evil of your soul” when you touched it – and it was a bad idea to spill your soul upon the ground… Or to have it overflow.

   For once, something turned out to be simple enough. Jonathen was more then capable of getting it… As it turned out, Anselem had wanted it to use in a very old ceremony… The Mass Of The Holy Light. It seemed that Anselem wanted to prove that he was the right choice – or die trying. He also wanted Michael and the rest to attend the ceremony. It began with the last rites, reblessing a bowl of holy water, and the mass… It ended with Anselem taking up the Grail, pouring his personal impurities into the holy water, and then refilling the cup (to the same level) with the holy water, replacing his personal weaknesses with the “Holy Light Of God”.

This was often fatal.

 

   Fortunately, Anselem managed it.

   Meanwhile, Vladimir was off recruiting some dragons for the battle… Several of his prospects turned out to be frightened children. A young female water dragon who thought she’d seen other dragons eat her parents and try to eat her (Illusionists. Bastards. She was barely equivalent to eight!!), a small-boy forest dragon who’d been hiding in the woods (and very effectively too), A perpetually young Illusionist-Dragon (and his quasi-real imaginary friend), a small celestial dragon (hiding in the aura borealis), a great wyrm earth dragon (trapped in his cave by a cultists curse since he’d fought them the last time), a juvenile fire dragon (he was burning a village when Vlad found him – apparently they’d been pretty rotten), a juvenile air dragon (who’d gotten so scared that he’d dispersed himself beyond his power to pull himself back together), an adult fire dragon (who seemed to have put himself into a “stasis field”), two who’d gotten stuck “between the dimensions” (when they tried to leave and seal the gateways behind them to keep the cultists from pursuing the other dragons who gated out), an adult water dragon from china (He’d been busy raining on New York city in an attempt to clean it), and a variety of others… All in all, sixteen. Six kids, five juveniles, four adults – and one great wyrm… Five couldn’t come. Oh well…

   Michael hadn’t exactly found it easy to deal with a dozen assorted dragons. Most of the kids were fine (at least the water-dragoness was once Arthur had revealed what her name would have been if her parents had lived long enough to give it to her) – but he eventually had to beat that juvenile fire dragon into submission. He kept trying to burn down Rome. Vladimir didn’t seem to be doing his recruiting very sensibly… Even if they were all doomed if the cultists won, those “kids” were too young to be much help… As for the way he’d been talking to that elder earth dragon, it was a very good thing that he’d had seen through Vladimirs pretense of being an adult… Otherwise he might have killed him. Something really seemed to be wrong with Vladimir. He was acting like a drunken six-year-old… If this kept up that leash idea might have to become something more then a passing thought… Perhaps he’d better go along to “ride herd”… Michael hitched a ride the next time Vladimir blipped through…

   “Vladimir. Vladimir! PAY ATTENTION TO ME! Now first – what was that about “most of the big adults couldn’t come”? Ah. I see. Curses and magics. Well, did it occur to see if Jonathen and I could do something about that sort of thing? Did it occur to you that, no matter how nice reunions are, this may not be the time and place? We had to borrow a cathedral from Anselem for them. Have you any idea how much trouble that could make for him if someone finds out about it? Dragons do not have a holy reputation… As for the ethics of you running around pretending to be an elder dragon and dragging a bunch of little kids into a war zone as “artillery”…

   [Michael’s voice trailed off, as it became apparent that Vladimir wasn’t really hearing him. Something was seriously wrong… Vladimir was acting as if something else was steering him while he slept. Perhaps he ought to… (Memories of his own recent behavior ran through his head)… No. Whatever it was seemed to be helping. He’d give it the benefit of the doubt. Where would He be if someone had meddled with him? Dead or insane?]

   Visiting the dragons was easy enough… The Greater Earth Dragon trapped in the cave was suffering from an illusion-curse that left him unable to breath the outside air, as well as from Vladimir’s rampant infantile dragon-greed and obnoxious behavior. At least the curse was easy enough to fix… After that, he was more then willing to come along for the battle and, however much he grumbled about it, for the kids. Over the last few millennia he’d gotten somewhat lonely… Suddenly being able to get out again was a bit of a shock… He dealt with Vladimir’s greed by demonstrating his powers over earth and metal – such as his ability to create masses of precious metal and his diamond-plating breath weapon. Michael explained the situation while Vladimir frothed with incoherent greed…

   [Michael also took the opportunity to ask “Uhmmm… Would you mind making about a dozen small diamonds for me? About fifteen carats?” “Not at all. Why?” “Well… The girls would really like them.” (Vladimir recovered enough to interject; “And you’re complaining about me! What gives you the right to assume that they will want to hang around with you any more?”) “Well… Thea and Cecelia and Ling and Anita and Cindy and Laura and the others all seem to like me!” {Ma’Karinak frowned just a bit – “and the others”? That was quite a harem for a human just out of puberty. He peered at the boy just a bit closer – and grinned to himself. Ah – a werewolf, and a bloody powerful faerie (?!?) werewolf at that… No wonder. Even if they evidently had gotten smarter, an alpha male was still an alpha male… He’d whip up some nice gewgaws for his females. It was hardly a big favor, and, as a major creature of faerie, the boy was something of a peer. Besides, he owed him something. He’d casually broken a curse that had resisted him for millenia and offered him companionship and a chance at revenge to boot. A couple of minutes work wasn’t much in return…} “It’ll be no trouble at all Michael”.

   Ma’Karinak was a lot of help – even if he was a bit doubtful about their chances. “We (the massed might of the dragons) lost the first wave. Those who could, left, those who couldn’t – died. I couldn’t have gone, even if that curse hadn’t trapped me underground – I’m too well anchored in the earth…”. On the other hand, he saw nothing to lose – and he didn’t want to see the last of earth’s dragon-children die… He used binding earth magic to pull the dispersed fellow back together again – but the two caught between dimensions were another problem altogether. Michael could easily release the reality warp which held them – but that might well tear them to pieces or leave them lost between worlds.

   The solution to that dilemma turned out to lay with May’sera and his imaginary friend… He simply turned his own reality-warping talents to releasing them. He thought they ought to be fine – and so they were. “I’m gonna take a nap now. I’m really tired allofa sudden – nighty-nite.”. (“Well at least it isn’t “illusion tag” again. Sleep May’sera. We’ll find you some lovely toys when you wake up.”) “GOODY!” (Oops! – I thought he was asleep already. Kids.” “Worse – a perpetual kid”).

   At least that spared Jonathen from having to do it. As for the one in stasis… Michael was quite capable of breaking the spell now that he’d had some rest. He turned out to be “the gatekeeper”. He’d stayed behind to close the gates and cover the dragons retreat. He’d volunteered to do so because he’d planned to stay anyway. He liked earth, and had simply planned to wait them out… He’d been “waiting” for more then five thousand years, and wasn’t pleased to learn that the priests were likely to wreck the planet before their downfall. That would never do. It seemed that he’d been “working” in empyrean form while his body slept. While that limited his power and awareness (and was quite a strain), it had been a lot safer. They hadn’t had to go very far for this one. His “lair” was deep beneath Rome itself – and was he ever surprised to find that they’d built a city on top of him. It really wasn’t any wonder – the seven hills of Rome boasted three major power points and six major ley lines, as well as a selection of minor ones.

   Meanwhile, back at that cathedral, Ma’Karinak was playing with the kids. He’d made them some big diamond balls to roll around. At least they could once they’d pried them out of Vladimir’s claws… The “council of war” met. Apparently the cultists would be using the Colosseum as their focal point. Wonderful. They were going to wind up blowing up another national monument, Michael could see it coming. At this rate they weren’t going to be welcome anywhere after the war. Apparently the cultists had given up on Cthulhu. This time they were going to be trying to open a gateway right there. They were using the Colosseum because it was about the only place with room for all the “Weird Science” stuff that they were going to use in the ritual. Besides, they were ready for an attack this time, Rome was full of cultist thugs. After Joseph had finished, Michael (who had come bolt upright at the mention of the weird science gear) spoke a single word… “Nyarlathotep”.

   Plans were laid… They might be able to handle the assault by themselves – but only if someone would keep the thugs off their necks. That called for “thugs” of their own… The dragons would help out there, and there were a few other members of the order around, but more help would be nice. Michael was torn. He hated to involve his father Nikola in anything like this – but he was the earth’s premier master of weird science. If anybody could do anything about a design influenced by an elder god, he’d be the one… I’ll ask Arthur. He ought to be able to tell me if it would be a good idea to call him. [Arthur? Would it be… it’s a good idea, you called a week ago – and he’ll be here in about ten minutes? Give me some warning next time, OK? I’d like to know these things a few minutes in advance.]

   It was nice to see Nikola, but it was a bit hard to explain. Nikola was sensitive enough to mana to feel Michaels power-aura, and didn’t exactly approve of his young son getting caught up in an arcane war. At least Arthur seemed to “know” just what to say – but what it came down to was that Nikola trusted Michael (and that was an unexpected gift.) Besides, while Nikola hated to see Michael putting himself in danger, he knew that he was eminently capable of taking care of himself.

Possibly even more so then before. 

   Nikola would probably be able to do something about their gadgets – but that left the cultist’s thugs. The dragons ought to be able to handle a lot of those, but Joseph had said there were a lot. It would be nice to have more help. Vladimir had brought in the dragons… maybe it would be a good idea if I got out and recruited a few werewolves? Arthur? {I checked out your family a while ago. It was weird. At least one of them snarled at me through my divination spells – impressive that.} “Oh. Well. I’ll have to meet them sooner or later anyway.”

   Michael did take the time to call his aunt. It was really the least he could do – he had the feeling that he’d left her seriously worried about him… She was a little difficult to get in touch with – and she couldn’t talk for long – because she wasn’t far from the “front lines”… There was time to tell her that Anselem and Smythes were both busy radiating holy light, to ask if she needed any help (not really), and to say that he was sorry if he’d upset her – but “I think I’ve got things a bit sorted out now”. He also told her, as he’d told Smythes, that Jonathen was “really” back again… She made sure that Jonathen wasn’t “back inside” Michael’s head – and assured him that he hadn’t upset her, she’d just been startled. [She had to go – but she took a moment more to hope that Michael really was all right. He was a nice boy, and he deserved better then to have either Jonathen, or those stupid cultists, burning out his mind. So they were the ones responsible for the mess at Stonehenge. Those kids had power]

   Meanwhile, Michael and Jonathen left for Yugoslavia via Air Vladimir (Which made for a quick trip). It was easy enough to find the family pack once there – Vladamir had homed in on them… They landed a little ways out, but Vladimir remained in windform – just in case. They first encountered a pair of youthful males out on “patrol”… Michael tried to be reasonable – but they insisted on growling at him, whereupon Vladimir growled back and popped them over the head with a bit of “hard air”… They both thought that Michael had done it – and promptly rolled over in submission. After Michael took their surrenders they were more then willing to escort him to meet the rest of the pack…

   It seemed that he’d arrived during a very important “ceremony” – Andrei was “proving his worthiness” to be alpha male by meeting all challengers. Apparently he did this every year… The pack accepted Michael without question. His scent told them that he was part of the family – and his presence indicated that he was here to challenge for position. (What timing. Arthur – I’m going to get you for this. You set me up. What happens if I lose?).

   At the moment Andrei was winning handily – casually tossing werewolves all over the clearing… One (Iuri, the current beta male), seemed to be sitting it out at the moment… Probably waiting for a good shot. Iuri’s eyes widened as he looked at Michael – and employed some sort of psychic scan. {Oh Good Lord – If he knows how to use those powers… I’ll have to win this time. At least I’ll be able to hold onto the beta slot…]. The fight seemed to be winding down until Iuri moved in to challenge… He wasn’t as strong or durable as Andrei, but he was faster – and a lot smarter. He actually used (Now that was clever. How had Iuri managed to trigger the weapons on Jonathen’s armor? Michael took the shot on the hand (and didn’t Iuri look disappointed) and leaned over to ask a pack member if that was considered fair. She said it was. Since Jonathen wasn’t a pack member, he and his weapons were considered to be a part of the background – and the “rules” allowed you to use anything that was “lying around”. Jonathen shrugged – and fired.) decent techniques. Andrei, already battered, needed to get in a few good shots early on – and missed them. He still seemed to think that he was going to win though. In fact he refused to surrender – even after Iuri used some sort of “palm strike” to blow out the back of his chest… [Michael could “feel” Andrei’s body trying to heal itself. He could save him so easily if he’d just admit defeat and let the fight end… Why wouldn’t the idiot submit? He could barely breathe, much less move]

   At about that point Iuri tilted back Andrei’s head and demanded his submission. Andrei snarled out a choked “Never!”. Iuri shrugged and went to tear out his throat – and then Vladimir said; “I want him!”. Iuri glanced at him and obliged, rolling his defeated opponent over and reaching down between his legs rather then for his throat. Michaels wince paralleled Andrei’s groan, as the wet ripping sound brought the battle to a close… The new pack leader tossed a handful of bloody organs into the woods for the animals, turned to Michael, and said “Heal him – but not those”. Michael winced again – but it was Iuri’s privilege. Andrei had refused to submit, leaving Iuri only two options – disqualification as an alpha male – or death. Michael healed Andrei’s chest, scarred over where his testicles used to be, and – to be kind – finished “adjusting” him to his new status as a neutered pet. Vladimir didn’t want him any more (“He’s not a whole dog!”), so Iuri decided to keep him in wolf form as a pet. Poor bastard. Stubbornness? Pride? Ego and stupidity… Apparently Andrei had really believed he was invincible, that he’d get up and win.

   The fight between Michael and Iuri was pretty anticlimactic. Iuri’s logic apparently went something like “Now if he doesn’t know how to use his powers, I’ll be in pretty good shape… He does know. No wonder he was willing to let me rest for an hour first. So much for the idea of winning. I submit already! At least I get to keep the beta slot.”.

   Vladimir had some obnoxious comments about werewolf “culture” to make afterwards, but nobody paid much attention to him.

   Maybe Vlad would understand a bit better when he matured – in a century or so. At least Michael had recruited some more “thugs”. That should make it easier… They all liked a fight anyway – and it was their world as well. [Shortly after hearing that there was going to be combat, Iuri gave Michael a handful of pasty stuff – and said to give Andrei a bit before he sent him into battle… Some sort of testosterone extract combined with a stimulant he’d “whipped up” somehow. That seemed sort of cruel to Michael – to give him occasional tastes of what he’d lost. Oh well. Andrei was Iuri’s pet – not his. Besides – the others seemed to think it was fair enough. Apparently Andrei had been alpha male for nearly twenty years – and hadn’t been very nice about it. All the males (it seemed he’d been keeping all the females for himself), and most of the females (they didn’t like him much either) greatly preferred him this way. Michael petted him a bit. It looked like he was going to be grateful for any bit of kindness. He was.

   Nikola could only find one thing to say when he met the pack; “The family is stranger then I thought.”.

   Back in Rome, Jonathen had been “shopping” for some thugs of his own… He’d gotten Ma’Karinak to “create” a pile of the greenish metal (a room-temperature superconductor) that the Lanarkians used as currency, and had hired a few mercenaries of his own – one standard merc group; five psychics, five mech pilots, and five techs in battle armor. Oh boy was this fight was going to be hard to explain. In the middle of Rome yet. At least Anselem could protect a lot of the area.

   (Wait a minute now. Vladimir? What did you want him for anyway? You were thinking of starting a collection of diamond-plated THUGS? YOU’RE A LUNATIC! OK, I admit it would be a unique horde – but they’re still PEOPLE. Have you really thought about that? You’d have to pose them and then leave them to suffocate… Could you watch that? Could you bear to keep them around knowing what you’d done? The whole idea is SICK. No, I didn’t think you’d really thought about it… Yes I think you ought to pick something else. If you want to keep souvenirs, why not try equipment?]

Dragons. 

   With several days left to go, Michael decided to be a tourist for a bit… He’d always wanted to see Rome. Besides – it would let him get a firsthand look at the colosseum without being too conspicuous. It was mostly a lot of piled-up rocks.

   While Michael drew attention, Nikola quietly spread a thin “web” of superconducting wires across the floor of the Colosseum – as well as planting a large bomb in the underground levels… There. With any luck Michael wouldn’t have to get in close enough to get hurt. That would be an enormous load off his mind. Even if he was incredibly powerful, Michael was still a child…

   As before, the plan was quite simple. Michael would topple part of the outer wall into the Colosseum, Vlad would blast away at anything that was left after that, and Jonathen would stay in reserve to handle emergency defenses and backup requirements. (Michael sighed. What were they going to do if they ever met a group with as much raw power as they had? Tactics and skill just were not their strong points.) The plan even worked – up to a point. Electrocution, explosion, avalanche, and sudden exposure to vacuum (courtesy of Vladimir’s powers over the air) proved devastating, but the cultists had been expecting such an overwhelming assault. They’d managed to set things up so that their gate would open anyway, fueling part of the ritual with their own deaths.

   It had never occurred to Michael that they’d be that fanatical. How he hated fanatic cultists. Most of them were dead – but they’d left a hole in the sky that was leaking bizarre gases all over, sucking up the remains of the Colosseum – and dropping a rain of Drow. That was bad. Ok, so it was only three of them – but it was still bad. They were busy falling. The gateway would have to come first. Vladimir began “pushing” the gases back through while Michael tried to dispel the gateway – with no luck. Jonathen was busy shooting at falling Drow – but fortunately Morfran (the dragon-gatekeeper) saw what was going on. Closing the gateway essentially “wiped him out” for the day, but at least it was shut. Meanwhile, one of the Drow had sliced Vladimirs whirlwind in half – and all three were rapidly adjusting to earthly conditions. Once they could shift across the dimensional aspects freely there would be no catching them. At least they were on the ground. [Michael blurred – closing at full acceleration. They’d only be vulnerable for a few seconds. Hopefully (yes!) their armor wouldn’t include neck joint limiters… If he’d let himself think about it, the cracking sound of the neck breaking would have been sickening.] Across the wreckage of the Colosseum, Vladimir had done something unbelievably silly… He’d fallen back on youthful hawk-form habits – and stooped on a Drow. Ok, the impact of a stooping dragon was not to be sneezed at, but the impact had driven the Drow’s sword entirely through his foot and up into his leg. Vladimir virtually bounced aloft again (apparently the air-dragon form made him quite maneuverable) – leaving his stunned victim open to Jonathen’s storm of relativistic rubble. The armor could take it, but the impact killed him on the spot and swept his body off the earth. Oddly, he apparently managed to transfer his mind into his sword as he died… [Vladimir heard a thin “voice” coming from the sword that was still stuck in his leg; “This sucks. It’s dark and boring and even worse then that stupid interdimensional space.”

   Unexpectedly, as the trio turned their attention to the third Drow, he surrendered. He was tired of it. Given time to check, Michael could see it in his aura. With time to think, he supposed that tens of thousands of years could do that to a person. He hoped that the other two hadn’t felt the same way… Did they? {“Well Cynyr (that fellow stuck in the sword) might have been all right – but Ailill probably wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation to experiment on people.”}

   After a short talk, they decided to send him to the mages. He’d probably try to get his gear back later, but given the way that Drow always linked the stuff to themselves, that was understandable. The real problem was the dimensional barriers. They’d already hit them twice and punctured them once – given the pressures on them they could collapse at any time, and the Drow would come pouring through. They’d tried with this one – but it hadn’t lasted long enough for more then a few.

   The group collected some Drow gear – and Vladimir got Michael to pull the sword out. It wasn’t easy. He took it to Ma’Karinak for advice, but he got irritated with the fellow trapped inside it along the way, and tried to get Ma”Karinak to sink it down to the core. Ma’Karinak wasn’t that cruel (and besides, it was so hard to get a good magical sword to horde these days). Michael kept busy patching people up. All the werewolves had made it, along with the members of the order (although some needed extensive healing) – but one of those Lanarkian psychics didn’t make it. Well – they were professional mercenaries, and they had gotten about a hundred times their usual fee…

   That hadn’t gone at all well. One more victory like that and they’d lose the war entirely. Staying on the defensive wasn’t going to cut it. They’d have to try a preemptive strike. The cultists were using the Great Wall of China as a device to store power, so Michael sent Vladimir to wreck it. Dragons were a big thing in China so hopefully he could get permission – and maybe a little help. Arthur sent along a book of directions for the current Emperor… a new “mandate from heaven” personally delivered by an imperial dragon… (Arthur seems to have a very “Harry Seldonish” view of history and civilization…)

   It worked better then Michael expected. The Emperor was happy to have a guide to maintaining stability, he liked having a dragon making personal visits, and he was quite willing to give Vladimir the “deed” to the Great Wall in exchange… It wasn’t like it was nay real use to him. Vladimir got clever. Rather then trying to destroy the wall directly, he got Ma’Karinak to cast a very powerful linking spell between the deed and wall- and tore up the deed. While the physical destruction was fairly limited, on the magical level the wall was most throughly destroyed. He was back in time to join the scouting trip to Easter Island the next day. At least that gave Michael enough time to get everyone healed – but they decided to go by themselves this time.

   Vladimir had to really “push” seriously to get them there – and when he did, it was really weird. Michael stared down at the quasi-metallic “sea” that lapped the shore at his feet… and absentmindedly took a sample. His gaze crossed Vladimir’s. Some sort of pocket realm illusion? The pair linked their talents and attempted to return things to “normal”, but while the scene wavered briefly, it very quickly became apparent that this was a waste of time and power. They’d have to take it like it was. Well – Shit.

   Easter Island seemed to be located in space, adrift on a pool of shining “mercury” filled with stars – and surrounded by an enormous spacegoing battle fleet. It did not look good… Jonathen shifted everyone “out of phase” during the first volleys – which burned off the upper surface of the island, revealing a stasis field. Perfectly reflective, the field “returned fire” – and so destroyed quite a lot of the fleet. While they were rebuilding their power reserves, the team dashed for a vent of some sort – apparently where one of the island volcanoes used to be. The vent led to some sort of old reaction chamber – very, very recently burned out. It might have been a fusion chamber once… Michael felt some sort of intelligence while he was scanning for an exit – apparently some sort of computer. It was saying that the power to the stasis field would be failing in about fifteen minutes – and that that would unleash some sort of gateway and allow the destruction of the station by the alien fleet… Worse, this would happen in less then two minutes if there were more energy spikes outside.

This was bad. 

   Michael looked at Vladimir and Jonathen… Critical moment time guys.

   Vladimir and Michael pooled their powers yet again, directing their vast psychic potentials, and arcane life force focused by the Spear Of Horus, against the gate. Pain flared, as minds and nervous systems and ethereal forms overloaded. Wild energies tore through skin and muscle and bone, burning. Jonathen took the outpouring forces, forged it with the fire of his spirit upon the anvil of his will, focused the hammer-blow against the gate…

   The gate began to close. Michael and Vladimir had been so generous with their personal energy that there had been little strain on him. There would be. Someone or something was trying to come through the collapsing gateway… The four Drow were not important. Whatever- it-was that was trying to come through, had apparently inadvertently blasted their minds. Michael wouldn’t be much help. He was barely conscious – and was using the dregs of his talents to keep Vladimir from lapsing into a coma. Jonathen sighed – and channeled much of his essence into a blade as he moved forward to attack an elder god. Astonishingly, it worked. An elder god could have crushed him readily, but he would have left a few permanent scars on the essence of an immortal – and any of them who would put up with that had long ago been whittled away to nothing.

The force withdrew. 

Jonathen hadn’t actually had to fight it. 

   That left nothing except the vast alien battlefleet that was, even now, preparing to blast them all into a scattering of subatomic particles… (“Uhhh – Guys?”)

   Between the now-conscious Vladimir and Jonathen, they managed to teleport out in time. They even took those Drow and the station computer with them. They dropped off the Drow with Anselem. He cured and converted the helpless gibberers and laid bindings they couldn’t break on the two whose minds were partially intact. His new recruits “special talents” eventually turned out to be quite a lot of help in WWII.

   Perhaps Vladimir had the defining commentary on the whole episode… “Uhhh. Michael? Where am I? What’s going on? How do I know you? Why does my head hurt so much!? What am I doing outside the valley? Where did all this gold (Cool! I like that part!) come from?”.

   This led to a fairly lengthy discussion. It looked like the last thing which Vladimir actually remembered clearly was being summoned by the tribal shaman… It looked like the old buzzard had had some idea what was up – so he slapped a pile of compulsions and orders on Vladimir and sent him out to help. Understandable enough given the threat, but it was hardly ethical. No wonder Vladimir had been acting like an animal… As they got closer and closer to the end the compulsions took over more and more of his mind. Towards the end, he’d been operating almost entirely on instincts and basic drives.

Vladimir wanted to go and punch him in the nose. 

   Michael wasn’t sure that was such a good idea. From what Vladimir had told him earlier, it seemed that the elder shaman had been running the valley as a haven for magical beings for at least ten thousand years. That was a long time. Any mage who’d managed to survive for that long probably knew a lot of tricks. Couldn’t it wait until after the school year was finished? They’d already missed several weeks. (It wasn’t easy to get Vladimir to agree to that – but Michael finally talked him around. Thank God. At least that put off having to deal with the problem for a several months.)

   Meanwhile, Jonathen was creating another problem… Nikola had been very interested in the Lanarkian technology, so Jonathen took him to the lunar base and keyed him into the teleportation system. He told him that he didn’t need most of the base – and so Nikola should feel free to use it as a laboratory and experiment with the stuff there.

   At least Jonathen remembered to remind Nikola to go home once in a while.

   As for the werewolves – the pack settled down again soon enough. Michael was an excellent alpha – even if he did commute, his special powers were so useful that they more then made up for his absences. Besides – he didn’t monopolize the girls. (OK – so he was more then willing to add a couple of the cuter, younger, ones to his harem – but he limited his selections to ones that were willing… Iuri kept a couple as well – but most of them paired off with the other males). Poor Andrei got pushed more and more to the fringes of the pack as the others tired of abusing him, until they eventually kicked him out. Michael felt sorry for him, so he took him in. He could keep people from wandering in when there was something going on that they shouldn’t see.

   Michael really didn’t think much about Andrei. He’d accepted pack customs (at least regarding the pack), and he didn’t really want to think about Andrei… It made him queasy.

   Vladimir was not prepared to allow him that luxury. He was still much too young to understand personally – but some of his friends kept pets. Neutering males made them much more docile and easier to train, but it seemed to reduce them on a lot of levels. As a beast- speaker, he knew. He thought that Michael ought to try to heal Andrei, even if he was Michael’s pet, and not his. After a few days of being pestered, Michael decided to consult Arthur.

   Arthur (typically) had some answers ready. The pack wouldn’t take him back in – and he was too old to join another. If he turned him loose in the wilderness he’d start eating people (again) if Michael regenerated him and restored his aggressiveness. If not, he’d starve. Male or not, he couldn’t function in human society. He thought of humans as a herd of prey. He could survive as a pet – but if Michael regenerated him now, he’d be challenging him every two weeks and biting people. Any lesser master would get challenged more often, even if he left him neutered. [Michael sighed. Sorry Vladimir. He stays a pet – and he stays neutered. Maybe after he fully adjusts to being a pet… He’s certainly making an extremely good one. He’s even reversed that growing power he had to “shrink himself down” to the size of a normal dog. A good thing too – he’d be hard to explain as a full-sized wolf).

   As it happened, Vladimir’s pestering of Michael had been annoying Jonathen as well… He had a simple, and most direct, solution. His talents could easily reach the mental level… “He had his fun, he was a jerk, he sort of deserves it. [Jonathen’s power crackled.] Nice doggy. Happy doggy. You’ll never miss `em”. Vladimir couldn’t find much to say about that. Michael thought it was a little bit harsh – but he hadn’t been able to come up with a better solution…

   Jonathen’s real project at the moment was to locate whoever’d built the station which had been holding the gateway closed… The computer they’d “rescued” didn’t really know, but it did have some emergency procedures on file. Some of them seemed to be calls to whoever had built it… Jonathen headed back to Easter Island, jumped from there to that ersatz version out in space, and transmitted the call. He thought that he could deal with whoever it was. After all – he’d faced down an elder god. He got a query-response, and told whoever-it- was that the gateway was gone. There was a brief quiet moment – followed by a terrible wrenching sensation as space folded around him.

   He materialized in a very strange place. It looked a bit like a forest with circuitry growing in it – and a population of polite, calm, buglike creatures. Somehow the place just didn’t seem to register properly in his brain. It was just too weird. The computer ran a translation program – and Jonathen found that the “bugs” wanted to know how the gateway had been closed. They’d never been able to concentrate enough power.

He told them.

   There was some discussion, and then the “bugs” wanted to know just… “HOW did you threaten an ELDER GOD!?!”

   Jonathen sighed. It hurt him to do it – but he pulled out the soulsword… “With this”.

That provoked a reaction. 

   It seemed that there were very, very, few people in the universe with that much pure power – and that much of an inclination towards self-sacrifice. There were a lot of “Thank-You’s”.

   It seemed that they were one of the oldest races in the universe. Calm, intelligent, peaceful – and almost infinitely “nice” – the elder powers of the universe’s beginning had entrusted them with watching over it when they transcended this reality. Naturally enough, they had never spoken to any humans before. Humans were one of the more violent, nasty, races running around. It just wouldn’t have been any use. But – there were four other gates that could really use closing… (Jonathen sighed slightly – “I’ll need some help – and Michael.”

   Michael was most annoyed when the warp grabbed him. He’d been just about to… Well at least it was one of the werewolves. It would have been hard to explain if it had been one of the other girls. It was still rude though. So what was it they’d wanted? More gates? He wasn’t up to that by himself… With their help? They could block the pain and pool their energies with his? Well… All right – but not permanently. It would be way too easy to kill yourself without that warning.

   The gates were easy enough to close when no one was putting them under pressure… In return, they sorted out the Drow who were still stuck in the abyss, helped Jonathen adjust his brain to maintain a human point of view and Lanarkian mental advantages – and constructed a new home planet for the Lanarkians, so they wouldn’t have to rent themselves out as mercenaries so much. It was a long way from Earth. Michael made sure of that. As for any other jobs… They set up a couple of large parks on one of their planets – one Lanarkain, and one earthly – and invited Jonathen and Michael to drop by once in a while.

   The dragons set up “housekeeping” – mostly as a way to keep in touch – in a series of caves Ma’Karinak set up in the Canadian rocky mountains. Ma’Karinak wasn’t nearly as grumpy as he liked to pretend he was – and all the kids knew it. He soon found himself being treated as teacher/protector/grandfather by the kids, and loving it – even though he made it a point to grumble a lot.

   Michael used a part of that 200,000$ in gold to buy a house and grounds. He needed a place for those two werewolf girls – as well as for any of the other girls who wanted to move in. They’d really appreciated those necklaces in any case. He hadn’t even had to have them set. Ma’Karinak had set them in intricately “braided” strands of silver, gold, and spun diamond(!?! – A cute trick Ma’Karinak. How am I going to explain that one?) with minor variations between them. Obviously a set, but not quite identical. The girls had been quite pleased. Thea though… Thea was becoming a problem. Brilliant, studying medicine and physics, and most observant, Thea had noticed a lot of little weird things about Michael (beyond the obvious) and was determined to investigate. Luckily she hadn’t yet noticed that he’d slowed their aging process. It was bad enough already. He almost hadn’t noticed when she loaded the luggage she asked him to carry with 750 pounds of lead. The garlic and catnip extracts she’d put on her fingernails and slightly scratched him with had gone unnoticed – but the wolfsbane extract gave him a nasty rash. She kept trying to “catch” him verbally as well. Apparently Nikola had decided that she was the one that Michael was most likely to actually marry, as she was the dominant member of the harem, and had been giving her a few presents. Special instruments and more advanced equipment. (Nikola was a bit old-fashioned). Thea seemed to have narrowed it down to an animalistic affinity – but wasn’t sure as to which one. Canine or feline probably. A fascinating problem.

   Michael found his own way of dealing with that. One evening in bed he quietly informed her “You could just ask about it you know. Do I have to be a science project?”. Thea seemed a bit embarrassed… “Uhmmm… It’s embarrassing not to know what questions to ask… Dear? Are you a werewolf?” [The answer got put off for a time, but eventually – now that the question was finally out in the open – he answered her] “Yes – but I don’t run around and bite people or anything.” “I sort of figured that out. It’s not like you come back with blood on your breath. You’re very nice. What I think I really wanted to know was could you turn me into one?” [Michael had recently checked on that very problem… The answer was; easily enough. Using nature magic, cell adjustment, and energy transfer, he could do it readily. If that was what she really wanted…] “Yes. It’s fairly easy if it’s what you really want. And no – it does not involve getting bitten, despite tradition”. She wanted it.

   Actually, it didn’t quite work. Thea developed limited shapeshifting – and a remarkable C’hi-based ability to control her biochemistry and body functions… Still, she could take wolf-form – and was as ageless as Michael was. She was a bit clumsy at first – but she and Michael went off to play… Andrei was a bit jealous “What do you need another wolf for Master?” “You’re not my type for this. Why don’t you go patrol? I hate to be interrupted” “OK!” “Why does he keep calling you Master? Oh! You’re alpha male! Ohhhh… you’re very male…”.

   Further explanations had to wait.


   Michael’s adventures continued episodically for several thousand more years. The rest of the old files are rather less detailed, but with any luck I’ll get a summary added on a bit later.

 

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