A Culture Shock

A Culture Shock
by Addie & Paula

Introduction & Disclaimer

This is collaborative story with each writer writing from the POV of a different character. Addie is Magpie and Paula is Rondo.

All items contained on these pages are non-profit amateur fiction. The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire and all characters named in those books are the copyright of Storm Constantine and her publishers. No infringement on the copyrights are intended.

To contact the authors, email Addie (addief@usermail.com) or Paula (pellsfan@yahoo.com).

A Culture Shock

– 1 –

Magpie

I felt like I had been running for hours. Perhaps I had. My lungs were about to burst, and my legs felt like jelly. But I had to get away from them. Whatever they were.

Freaks…perverts.

I only stopped because I had come to the edge of the sea. For a few moments I considered just walking into the surf and drowning myself. But I couldn’t do it. Something stopped me. Probably a fear of dying. But I should have died after they had done *that* to me…the pain was enough. There were times in those few days when I had prayed for my life to end.

I looked out into the tumbling waves, at the kids tousled in them, body boarding and swimming into the shore like salmon on their last ride up the river. So happy they were…carefree…enjoying life. I flopped down into the soggy sand, letting the water ripple over my aching and burning legs. They looked normal enough…my legs that is. A bit skinny, with very fair hair, five toes on each foot. I held my hands up to my face. Yep…five fingers on each one, but there were hardly any lines on my palms. They looked new. I felt new. In fact I had so much energy that I felt as though I could run for another few hours.

I touched my face, which felt smooth and unblemished. That’s one good thing I thought, the two or three pimples on my chin had gone, but so had the few whiskers I had been nurturing. Shit! What else did they do to me? Shave all my body hair off! My arms were as smooth as a baby’s bum. I looked down at my body, trying not to appear too obvious about checking myself out. One little kid, making a sand castle on the edge of the waves was already looking at me funny.

I smiled at him, and he chortled to himself, then went back to his pile of slushy sand.

It was worrying me, now that I had stopped being terrified and angry and confused, just how else had I changed? I flicked my hair behind my ears…well at least they hadn’t shaved my head…I hated the thought of being bald. My dad was bald…well nearly. Although he wouldn’t admit it.

It was all Dane’s fault. This whole fiasco. My best mate Dane. Together since kindy. Since that first day when I wet my pants and he did the same, just so I wouldn’t feel bad. All through primary school, then high school. Mucking about together, getting drunk, trying to play football…checking me out in the shower. That’s what gave it away really, I suppose, when I come to think of it. Dane, being more interested in looking at my bum, than at Sarah, with the blonde hair and big boobs.

But he was still my mate even if he did like the fellas. Through thick and thin. He wasn’t a prissy boy…he was strong and tall, with black hair, one blue eye and one green…excellent physique. It was me they thought was gay. Me with the slender frame, almost too pretty face, blonde curls. God how I hated my curls. I always tried so hard to prove that I wasn’t gay. Acting macho, trying to be cool. Taking all the knocks on the football field just to be one of them. One of the guys.

Yeah, it was all Dane’s fault. If he hadn’t talked me into going to that party, it wouldn’t have happened. I should have known they were a bit suss. They weren’t our normal mates. Dane wanted to come out. He had decided he wanted the world to know…so he had begun to hang out with this group of real weirdos.

Very strange bods. Some of them looked more like birds, and I thought they were transvestites or something. And some of them…well I couldn’t work out what some of them were. Tian was OK. He was friendly and smart. I think he was studying electronic engineering at university. But some of the others…well weird was actually too tame a word for them. Sometimes Spider – yeah, he swore it was his real name – looked feminine, sometimes he looked like a bloke. And they were all off with each other all the time. Sick!!

I was just thinking about the argument Dane and I had had about going to this party the weirdos had organised, when the little kid in the shallows threw wet sand into my face. I swore at him, splashed some water over him and walked up towards the loo. I needed to take a piss and I was nervous. You see, when the pain had gone, and the weirdos plonked me in the bath again, I didn’t open my eyes. I still had them squeezed shut when they dressed me, their soft hands touching me all over, ooohhing and aahhing. Perverts.

I had sat in that darkened room, with just a single candle in the windowsill, when Tian came in to talk to me. At least, at first I thought he had just come in to talk to me, but I reckon he had something else on his warped brain. He kept smiling at me and trying to get me to calm down. Perhaps I should have listened to what he was saying…but when he leant forward and tried to kiss me…I panicked. I fled, that’s what I did…ran and ran and ran. And here I am…about to take a piss and nervous as all hell.

The toilet block smelt like the beach, probably because half of it was in there on the floor. Sand and water all over the place, and little kids under the shower, plugging up the hole, causing even more water to flood the floor. Not really a very conducive place to discover oneself, now was it? But I was desperate, just about to pee my pants in fact. For some reason, maybe it was a premonition, maybe it was something Tian had told me and I hadn’t taken in at the time, but I decided to go into the stall and not piss in the urinal. Just as well.

I unzipped my pants and took hold of myself. Can you imagine what it would be like to find that what you normally thought you had between your legs, had been transformed. Not transformed as in grown…but literally, fucking changed…like in having petals and being purple and glowing. Fuck….I was glowing. If I hadn’t had to pee so badly, I would have turned and ran…but the damn thing would only have followed me. I stuck my fist in my gob and forced down the scream. I still gurgled though and groaned, as my piss came out of *that* thing.

When I had finished, I stuck it back in my trousers and zipped it up tight, then leant back against the door. I was breathing so hard and still making these funny little snufflng sounds. Oh God!!! I was deformed. I was a weirdo. I had a bloody flower in my pants.

Someone was banging on the door asking me if I was all right. No, I wasn’t all right, I may never be all right again. But I didn’t tell them that. I mumbled something incoherent and ran out of the toilet, and guess what? I kept running. This was getting ridiculous. But at that moment it was all I could think of doing. It kept my mind off my body and that *thing* and made me concentrate on not running into traffic, or into a ditch, or off a cliff.

But a weirdo cannot live on running alone, so I eventually stopped again when I realised I had run from the beach right into the city, which is about 15 miles. I was puffed, and the mucles in my calves were hurting, so I decided to find a quiet place to sit down. Perfect! I was at the library…my favourite place in the world, and it was open. Even better. I flashed my card at the librarian, asked if any computers were free…they were, found one and sat down.

The guy next to me said hi and winked. If I hadn’t been so knackered, I would have sworn at him and left. But just to not feel my feet pounding on the pavement and to rest my back against the chair, was bliss…so I ignored him. For a few moments I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I needed to talk to someone, but not just anyone. My friend Rondo. He always seemed to understand me, was always happy to hear from me…so I typed in my net name, Magpie, then Rondo’s email address. My fingers were trembling as the words began to flow out of me.


– 2 –

Rondo

The door slammed behind behind me as I burst into the kitchen, dropping my books on the table as I hurried through to the computer room. My brother Aredo, dropped the dish towel and scowled at me. “What the hell is your hurry?”

Without stopping, I threw a quick answer back over my shoulder. “I haven’t heard from Magpie in days. I am getting worried.”

Aredo had followed me into the room and stood behind me as I booted up the computer. “Why do you care? He is just another human. Besides, he is half way around the world, you have never even met him!”

I drew a deep breath and prayed for patience. My brother was propriety itself in public, never giving anyone even the slightest reason to suspect us. But when we were in the privacy of our home, his hatred and repulsion toward mankind burst out, unrestrained.

“He is my friend”, I repeated for the hundredth time.

All the time I had been talking to him, I had been watching the screen. I was hoping that I would get a good connection. Communications had been getting rather erratic as of late. Phone lines were down. Cable communications were iffy at best. Thankfully, we had a satellite connection.

“Well don’t stay online too long. You have homework to finish.” With these words, Aredo turned and walked back toward the kitchen. After my inception, my brother had insisted that I remain in school. Our numbers were growing but we still had to exist in the world of mankind. I had at first protested, but had changed my mind when I realized how much easier it was to grasp the abstract concepts my teachers were trying to drum into my head. The little homework I had to finish would take less than ten minutes, but then my real lessons would begin.

Aredo was five years older than my sixteen years and had been Wraeththu since he was my age. Each night, we would sit and he would teach me. Even though I had been Wraeththu for less than ten months, I was nearly ready for caste elevation. I couldn’t imagine life without him. In fact, he was my only surviving relative. Our parents had been killed in a train wreck, when the neglected tracks had given way. Now we clung to each other. “Is Codo coming over?” I yelled.

Aredo stuck his head through the door. “Why?”

“I just wondered” I mumbled.

Aredo took pity on me and answered. “Yes Rondo, he is coming and he is bringing Jago with him.”

My body began to sing. ‘Jago!’ We certainly weren’t chesna, but we seemed unable to keep our hands off each other, and I hadn’t had aruna in almost two weeks.

Aredo chuckled and turned back to finish the dinner preparations. “You had better get off that computer if you intend to be ready when he gets here!” he called.

I hurriedly opened my mail and was happily surprised to see an email from Magpie. Opening it, I started to read. My mouth dropped open in astonishment as I read his garbled words. Not sure if my eyes were deceiving me, I read it again. “Aredo!” I yelled.

My brother hurried back into the room. “What is the matter?”

“I think Magpie has been incepted!”

Aredo pushed me out of the way and read the missive. He cursed, and slammed his fist down on the table. “What are those idiots doing? This kid has no idea what has happened to him. He is terrified.”

Getting up, he pushed me back down in the chair. “Try to get him online. He needs your help. Don’t those hara know anything?”

Quickly I tapped out a message and settled down to wait, all thoughts of aruna forgotten.

– 3 –

Magpie

I couldn’t stop myself, I had to tell Rondo what had happened to me. He seemed to be the only person I could talk to honestly, knowing that he wouldn’t judge me at all. In fact, for a while, some of the things Rondo had been saying to me made me wonder if he was gay as well. He was certainly sexually active, as he had mentioned his friend Jago to me a few times. I wasn’t sure if I was envious or not. I was happy for him though. It had also been interesting to hear about life in his part of the world. He told me about the gangs that were roaming the streets and how he seemed fascinated by them.

These gangs reminded me of Dane’s friends, the weirdos who had cut me, making me sick beyond belief. The bastards. I let it all flow out of me in a garble of words. About the pain, the fear, the change in me. What if he thought I was off my face and didn’t want to talk to me any more. Please Rondo, understand. I hit the send key, sat back and waited for a reply. Please be online….I prayed.

The bloke on the computer next to me had gone now, I hadn’t noticed him leave, then I looked at my watch – the library closed at Noon on Saturdays and it was 11.55am. Come on Rondo, answer me, please. The librarian was packing up and I was beginning to panic. She came into the computer room and told me I had five minutes. I nodded frantically and clicked the send and receive button again.

Relief swept through me as I saw a message pop up in my in-box with Rondo’s tag on it. I was just about to read his message when the computer froze. “Damn!” I swore loudly and the librarian snorted in derision. “Sorry!” I mumbled. “The computer has frozen.”

“I’ve shut down the internet connection.” She said. “You have to leave, I’ve got to lock up now.”

“Please, a couple more minutes…can’t I have just a little bit more time.”

“Sorry love, I’ve got an appointment…I have to go.”

Reluctantly I shut down the computer, cursing her under my breath. Tomorrow was Sunday and the library wouldn’t be open until Monday morning. How could I wait another whole day to hear what Rondo had to say to me? Once outside the library I slumped down on the wooden seats and buried my face in my hands. Why did Rondo have to live so damned far away? I needed to talk to him.

I sat there for about an hour, just thinking. I wondered if I could get up to Sydney somehow, maybe I could hitch a ride with a truckie. Then I could find some work for a while and get a cheap flight overseas. I knew Rondo lived somewhere near St. Louis, at least that’s what it used to be called. He said the gangs had almost taken over and renamed the city, but news was slow these days with some of the satellites not working now, and Australia was becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the world.

I was getting cold, so I began to walk down the main street, past the hotel, and the big houses with their lush gardens, and high fences. No friendly faces in there. I continued walking along the winding footpath until I came to the small village of Aldgate, nestled in amongst its English trees covered in gold and red autumn leaves. I hoped a few of my old mates would be there, hanging outside the video shop, like they always did on Saturday afternoons after the footy. I stood at the edge of the carpark, watching them, sitting on car bonnets and making lewd remarks to the female shoppers. Jake and Mick were there and for a few crazy hesitant moments I thought about going up to them.

I took one or two steps forward, then stopped. What if I looked really different? What if my face was changed as well as my dick? My heart began to pound. No, I couldn’t go up to them, so for a couple of hours I sat outside the pub, listening to the live band in the courtyard, and thinking to myself. Then I stood up and began to walk – my feet were taking me home, without any direction from my brain.

I couldn’t go inside. I just stood there over the road from my house, under the trees and stared at it. I saw a light go on in one of the upstairs rooms. My bedroom. Who was in my room? Then I heard Jake barking. Could he hear me breathing and shivering out here?

My street, the street where I grew up. The street I walked down every day on my way home from school. The kids next door who were my friends, with their swimming pool and tennis court. I wondered if I could knock on their door, but they would only call my dad. He would come running over, then he would know I wasn’t his son any more.

I kept standing there with my eyes shut, breathing in the fresh smell of grass and eucalypts. The magpies were warbling to each other, settling down their babies ready for bed. The only day birds I knew of that liked to talk at night. It was a comforting sound, and for a few minutes their gentle chatter transported me back to evenings lying in my bed, listening to them until I fell asleep.

I couldn’t stay there any longer, otherwise I would go inside. I couldn’t go inside. I could never see my dad again. A light appeared out of the darkness and a car drove past. It was the catalyst that sent me on my way, running again, across the railway yards, down the main road to the oval, and onto the walking trail along the creek. Maybe I might find some shelter under an overhanging tree, or maybe use the toilets at the tennis courts to sleep in. I was miserable and alone.

The toilets were locked, damnit! I walked on, slowly this time, not knowing where my feet were taking me. Then I remembered the cave where Dane and I used to go as kids. Hopefully it wouldn’t have been filled in, or blocked up, but I wondered if I could find it in the dark. I looked about. I could see the path ahead of me as if it were lit with streetlights. The moon was only half full – had my eyesight improved? Another question I couldn’t answer.

The bridge over the creek was new, with strong planks and sturdy hand rails, not the rickety old thing we used to play on. I walked over it, looking down into the rippling water of the creek. I could actually see the stones on the bottom.

The dogs behind the fence by the trail started to bark at me as I walked by, and I called out their names. But they kept barking…perhaps they could tell I had changed. Besides feeling strange and disoriented, I was also beginning to feel unwell. The energy I had had, when I first fled the weirdos, was waning. My stomach was churning and my limbs were beginning to tingle. I needed to lie down, rest my head and sleep, because any minute now I felt I was going to throw up.

With leaden limbs, I made my way up the embankment by the waterfall and found the entrance to the cave. It looked as though it had been cleared recently and a glow was emanating from within. Crap! Someone else had the same idea as me. Well I would have to find somewhere else to flake for the night…but would my legs get me there? I had just turned and was making my way back down to the trail when I heard a rustle behind me.

“Jael, thank God. Where the hell have you been?”

I turned to see Dane standing at the entrance to the cave, a torch in his hand. He held out his free hand to me, and called my name again. I made a move backwards. I didn’t want anything to do with him, especially if he had any of *them* with him, but my foot hit a rock and I lost my balance. I began to tumble backwards, head over heels, all the way to the bottom of the slope.

Blackness.

I must have hit my head, for the next thing I remember was Dane standing over me with a concerned look on his face. I reached up to him and winced in pain.

“Take it easy mate, you knocked yourself out.”

“Where am I?”

“In the cave. I had to drag you all the way up here.”

“Shit, I didn’t think you were that strong, that hill’s bloody steep.”

“I didn’t either. There are a lot of things that are different, Jael. I have heaps to tell you.”

“Are they with you? The weirdos?”

“They’re not weirdos. They’re my friends, and you’re one of us now. You have to come back with me.”

“I don’t want to Dane, that Tian bloke was trying to get into my pants. I’m not gay. Didn’t you tell them that?”

“That doesn’t matter Jael, you’re not a man any more.”

“What! What are you saying?” It was too much for me. Dane sitting there as calm as you please, telling me I was no longer a man. I tried to sit up, and wanted to punch his lights out, but I became dizzy and passed out again.

– 4 –

Rondo

“Any word yet?”

I shook my head and stretched, trying to relax my cramping muscles.

Aredo walked up behind me and lay his hands on my shoulders, rubbing gently. I moaned with pleasure. “Perhaps he is sleeping. ”

“It is 11.30 am there. His email sounded so desperate. Do you honestly think he would sleep in?”

“No,” my brother admitted. “But you are not going to help him if you make yourself sick with worry.”

I remained stubbornly mute and Aredo sighed. “Jago will be here soon.”

“Oh no! I forgot. Can’t you entertain them?”

“Rondo, I want some time alone with Codo. Jago is your guest, not mine.” Before I could protest, he continued. “You have an email alarm on the computer. Simply rig a connection to your room.”

At my reluctant nod, Aredo left the room. I leaned forward and opened the message I had sent to Magpie. Had I expressed my concern adequately? I had tried to be very careful about what I said in case someone else should intercept the missive. Being Wraeththu was terribly dangerous. It was not unusual to hear about gangs of vigilantes roaming throughout the city streets, killing any young boy who had the bad luck to appear slightly less than macho. Aredo had drummed the necessity of caution into my head. I no longer went out after dark because I would be an immediate target.

I was slight and wiry, having played soccer since the age of six. I had delicate features, which had proven to be the bane of my existence, having to constantly prove myself in fights with the school bullies. They had finally begun to leave me alone after I had broken a few of their noses.

The problem was, ever since my inception that effeminate look had intensified. I had taken to wearing large horn rim glasses with plain glass lenses to mask my large emerald eyes and tightly tying back my long wavy auburn hair at the base of my neck. I had no idea what Magpie looked like but I was willing to bet that he was nothing less than beautiful if he had been incepted against his will.

My message had expressed concern and very clear belief in what he had told me. I had mentioned that I believed I understood what had happened to him. Finally, I had stated, “Magpie, we have been friends for years and I have never lied to you. Please, if you have never trusted me before please trust me on this. You must go back to the ones who did this to you. It is your only chance at safety. Tell no one what has happened. Mankind came from savages and it is slowly sinking back into the slime. You will be in grave danger if anyone finds out. If you can’t find it in yourself to trust anyone there, come to me. I have money saved up and I will buy you a ticket. Please, Magpie! Please email me as soon as you get this.”

The door opened behind me and I knew that Jogo had entered the room. “Aredo told us what has happened. Do you want me to leave?”

He leaned over me, his hands running down my chest and abdomen with light teasing strokes while he bit gently at my earlobe. I moaned helplessly. “No. Help me run a speaker into my room.”

Leaning over, Jago picked up a speaker and cord he had placed at the side of my chair. “Aredo is way ahead of you, love.” Quickly, he plugged the wire into the back of the computer, grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. Wrapping his arm around my waist and pulling my tightly against his body, he walked backward nibbling at my neck and trailing the wire behind us.

When the speaker had been placed on the floor inside the door, I turned back to Jago. “I really need you tonight,” I whispered.

He chuckled and ran his hands over my buttocks and abruptly lifted me to nestle against his still clothed erection. His mouth covered mine as we shared breath in something akin to desperation as my long legs wrapped around his thighs.

Settling my body comfortably against him, Jago walked to my bed and placed me atop the covers. Without breaking the intimate kiss, he stripped us both of our clothing and settled his larger frame on top of mine. His hands began their old familiar coaxing and I moaned into his mouth, shivering. For some reason, my body had always craved to be soume with Jago and tonight was no different. My ouana lim retracted and I opened to his penetration.

I cried out in pleasure as he entered me and clutched at him desperately. “Harder, Jago. I need you to be a little rough tonight.” He needed no further encouragement and began pounding into me, growling and clutching handfuls of my hair. As we approached the pinnacle, I dug my fingernails into his back and fell over the edge of ecstasy, taking my partner with me.

As we relaxed, he began to rain small kisses on my face. “Don’t get too comfortable, we aren’t finished yet.” He had pulled out of me and was now stroking me intimately. I moaned, my body responding instantly. Jago knew just how to touch me and I had never been able to resist. My body was sprawled on the bed, completely open to his touch and his gaze. Again and again during the night, he brought me to completion. I was completely at his mercy. When we finally lay exhausted, I stared up at the ceiling. Why couldn’t I love him? I felt as though something vital was missing from my heart.

As I fell asleep, a name filled my mind. ::Magpie::

– 5 –

Magpie

I could feel that I was covered and laying on something soft. So Dane had either brought a mattress and a doona into the cave with him, or I had been moved. I opened my eyes slowly, to see Dane’s curiously odd mismatched eyes, looking down at me.

“Ok, say that again, only slowly.” I whispered to him.

“Say what again?” He was confused. Of course time had passed, the last thing I remembered was being told that I was no longer a man. Well I was never really quite a man, but I was certainly never a weirdo.

“Tell me what those creeps did to me? Now! Then tell me that it can be reversed. OK!! I don’t want this thing in my pants.” I was grabbing at Dane’s t-shirt and his face was a couple of centimetres away from mine. “If you don’t I will bite your bloody nose off.”

“Jael, calm down, please. Here drink this, it will help settle you down, then we can explain things properly.” Dane prised himself out of my grip, lifted my head and forced some luke warm liquid down my throat. I sputtered and coughed, getting most of it on him. “Jale, drink it…it will help, I promise.” He brought to cup to my lips again and this time I managed to swallow some of it. It tasted like coke. It probably was, with something in it to put me to sleep hopefully. Because when I awoke, this time, I would be normal. Right! Wrong!

It didn’t put me to sleep, but I could feel my body relaxing. Not enough to want to hide myself in sleep, just enough so that I wouldn’t beat the crap out of everyone in the room, and flee again. I sat up after a few minutes, with a little help from Dane and looked about. I recognised Tian standing next to Dane. He was sporting a black eye. Whoa! Did I give that to him? I certainly hoped I had.

He nodded to me and touched his eye. “Did you just read my fucking mind?”

“Sorry Jael. I won’t do it again.” He looked worried, and so he should be. I was bigger than him. Then he put his hand on the shoulder of this spunky looking boy next to him. I shook my head when I realised that I had just perved on another bloke. But he was gorgeous. Taller than me, with golden locks that hung down onto his shoulders, grey – exceptionally beautiful eyes, and lips that enticed me with their smile. I was swooning…over a guy…I was sick.

I must have made some little moaning sound because Dane became concerned again. ‘Jael are you all right?”

I nodded, but I knew I would never be all right again. “This is Raven.” Dane advised me.

“He’s been one of us for quite a while. In fact he’s come out from the States to incept as many of us as he can. You can have him if you like.”

“I can what?”

Tian stepped up to Dane and looked at him, then Dane nodded. It looked to me like they were reading each others thoughts. This was getting freakier and freakier.

“Dane…what’s going on?”

“I suggest you both leave for a while, I need to have a serious heart to heart with Jael.” Dane said to Tian and Raven. They both nodded and turned to walk out of the room.

I was relieved and unhappy at the same time, because I didn’t want Raven to leave…he was gorgeous. Then I realised it had happened again, as Raven turned around, winked and blew me a kiss. I was gob smacked, shaking all over and furious at myself.

Dane shooed them out, then turned to me taking my hands in his. “Jael, it can’t be reversed. I thought you understood what they were when we were at that party. I tried to explain it to you.”

“You did?”

“Yes, I did. I told you they were hermaphrodites…an evolved race…stronger, better than us. I asked you if you wanted to be like them. Didn’t you listen to what I was saying?”

“I was on “E” Dane…I thought you were having me on. I thought they were a bunch of weirdos. For God’s sake, you know better than to tell me anything when I’m high. I thought you were messing with my brain…joking around.”

“You weren’t high when they injected you…I’m sure of that. Why do you think they starved us, and kept us locked in that room?”

“Did they?”

“Jael, don’t you remember that?”

“I remember being hungry, and thinking that maybe they wanted my body. I was terrified…then the pain…God Dane…I wiped everything out of my brain then except the desire to die. When Tian came in and started touching me, I thought…here goes, he’s gonna rape me.”

“He wasn’t going to rape you. They would never do that. They might be different…but they aren’t cruel.”

I growled at him. “Not cruel…what was that hideous torture they put me through then, if it wasn’t to be cruel?”

“That is the only way for us to change, Jael. To become one of them. But there is still something that has to be done. You have to have aruna with one of us…its important…it’s the final stage in your transformation. Without it you could get sick.”

“Aruna? Ok, I give up, what’s this aruna when it’s home?”

“Sex, Jael.”

I stood up and pushed him away from me. “Oh no…they’re not getting into my pants…have you seen what I’ve got down there?”

Dane smirked…”Rather impressive, isn’t it. But there’s more to it than meets the eye as well.”

I had him by the shoulders now and was shaking him violently.

“What are you saying, Dane. What’s down there that I haven’t discovered yet?”

“Do you know what an hermaphrodite is, Jale?”

“Yeah, it’s both bloody sexes…oh shit…what are you saying…Christ!!! Leave me alone for a bit, will ya.”

“Well I could let you discover things for yourself if you want. But the offer stands…Raven is ready, willing and very able. He’s also gentle and patient.”

“So you’ve had this aruna with him then, I gather?” I had slumped back down on the bed again dying to check out my equipment. Surely I couldn’t have a girl’s thingy as well…shite…I was gasping for breath. This was too much…way too much for my poor addled brain to take in.

Dane sat down next to me and put his arm around my shoulder. I rested my head on him…he was still my best mate…I had no one else to believe. He wouldn’t lie to me…would he? “No I wouldn’t lie to you…and before you try and hit me, yes I read your mind…but I have to know for sure that you trust me.”

I looked into his face. He was so handsome, even more so now. I had always thought that if I had been gay, Dane would have been a good lay, but after seeing Raven…

Dane grinned broadly. “You’re doing it again aren’t you?” I whispered to him.

‘Jael, everyone lusts after Raven. I think that’s why his tribe sent him out here to begin incepting us Aussies. But you could never be chesna with him.”

I must have screwed up my face in confusion because he chose to quickly explain that word. I nodded in understanding.

“He’s a high caste…which I will explain to you later and he has a mate back home. He’s only here for a short while. To teach us, so we can continue their work.”

“What will happen then, when I have this aruna with him? Will it hurt?”

“Why don’t I invite Raven back in here and let you find out for yourself.”

I nodded. “But first, do you have computers here? I have someone I need to contact urgently.”

Dane agreed to my request and within minutes I was sitting in front of a computer, waiting to send another email to Rondo.

– 6 –

Rondo

I rolled over and burrowed my head under the pillow as my sleep-drugged mind slowly became aware of a soft beeping sound. Suddenly I shot up to a sitting position. It was the computer! Stumbling to my feet, I bounced off the doorframe in my haste to reach the machine. I rubbed my arm as I sat down and clicked a key to activate my email. There on the screen a message flashed. It was from Magpie! Quickly opening it, I began to read.

“Aredo! I have an email from Magpie!”

An echo of hurried steps signaled my brother’s arrival. “What does he say?”

“We were right. He has been incepted, and apparently he is back with the group. He is talking about aruna. My God, Aredo, he hasn’t been sealed!”

Aredo leaned over to read the email. “He has no idea what aruna is. Rondo, answer him quickly. Stress the urgency of the matter. Tell him not to resist them, that his life may depend on it.”

I was already typing furiously. “You do know that I have never revealed my nature to him, don’t you?” I muttered, backspacing to correct a mistake.

Aredo chuckled. “Well, if he doesn’t know after you send this, he isn’t terribly bright, is he?”

At that remark, I turned and glared at my smug older brother. Aredo was quite aware that I had little patience with fools. The few friends I had were Wraeththu, Jago being the closest. Even then, my connection with Jago could best be described as one of physical necessity. I had never been terribly gregarious even as a human child, spending my time with my books and sports. It was not that I was antisocial. The fact was that for years, I had suffered from crippling shyness. Only after my inception had things changed. According to Aredo, I had bloomed. With growing confidence, I had begun in reach out to others. Aredo had often stated that if ever there had been a boy destined to be Wraeththu, it was I. Only with this one distant internet friend had I felt any real interest. Now I sat before the computer anxiously awaiting an answer to my email.

Aredo muttered something and I looked at him curiously. Realizing that he had been observed, his face grew red with embarrassment. “Just a little prayer. It can’t hurt.”

Codo and Jago shuffled sleepily into the room. They usually spent the night when they came to visit.

“What is going on?” Codo yawned.

Quietly Aredo explained the situation.

“Aredo, I told Magpie that he could come to us, if he wishes. Is that alright?” Before the older boy could answer, I hurried on. “I have plenty of money from my inheritance, I could buy his ticket.”

Jago cursed softly under his breath and turned to stomp from the room. Startled, I looked around, filled with confusion. Codo sighed and followed his angry brother.

Aredo sighed and placed his hand on my shoulder. “I am afraid Jago is jealous.”

I felt my eyes grow round. “I have never given him reason to expect any commitment from me.”

“I know, but tell me, with whom else do you take aruna?”

I covered his face with his hands as I realized the truth of his words. “Oh no. Damn! I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

Aredo’s hand tightened in sympathy.

Codo poked his head back in the room. “I am going to take Jago home. He is a little upset.” Looking at me he added, “Don’t worry, he is a bit impulsive. He will be OK tomorrow.”

Aredo hugged Codo and shared breath with him lingeringly. “Call me?” Codo smiled, nodded and turned to leave.

Faintly, I heard the outside door open, allowing the noise of the night to intrude. I seldom noticed the occasional echo of a gunshot anymore. Violence and disorder had become commonplace. Even the police were loathe to venture into the night.

The door closed, effectively sealing the two of us in our haven of false security.

“Aredo?”

“Hmm?”

“Why does our clan always use names ending with an ‘o’?”

Aredo barked with laughter, the tension broken. “Go back to bed. If Magpie answers, you will hear it. Obviously you are sleep deprived.”

He pushed me out of the room.

– 7 –

Magpie

There was an email waiting for me from Rondo, and I read it quickly. He was concerned and told me to return to those who had done this to me. Well, I had already done that. But why did he say to do that? Did he know already what I had become?

I sent him another one, telling him of my adventures and my rescue…if that’s what it was. Well at least I hoped it was a rescue and not an abduction. Dane came in, with a hot coffee, while I was waiting for a reply He looked concerned.

“I’m sorry I got you into this Jael. But I really thought you understood what was happening.”

“I guess I never really believed what you were saying. It just seemed so ridiculous. But I should have known better, shouldn’t I? I mean, when have you ever lied to me?”

“Never!”

“Exactly.”

“Are you emailing Rondo?” Dane had known about Rondo for quite a while. In fact he was all I talked about sometimes. For a while I had thought that Dane was jealous of my long distance relationship with my friend, but he assured me he wasn’t.

“Yeah, I’ve told him everything. Do you think he will understand? I would hate to lose him as a friend.”

“Well you will soon find out what he thinks, cos you have incoming mail.”

“Shit!!” I was nervous. Dane looked over my shoulder as I read his email. I remarked loudly. “He’s one as well…my God. Why didn’t he tell me before?”

“Perhaps he didn’t think you would understand.”

“He’s invited me to come and visit, and he’s going to send me some money. What should I do? God, I would love to visit him…it would be wonderful.” I added wistfully.

“Well go then. Raven is going home soon. He’s managed to get a flight, on a rather round about route, via Europe. But perhaps you could go with him…I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” Dane winked at me as he said this.

I replied immediately to Rondo, saying I would think about his offer, but it was late, and I was totally buggered. I turned to Dane. “Do you think I could see Raven tomorrow?” Dane nodded.

– – –

“Are you well rested, Jael?” Raven asked me, as he settled himself down in the overstuffed lounge chair.

“Thank you…I was very tired. I did sleep very deeply. Could it have been because of something Dane gave me earlier?”

“Most likely. He slipped a mild sedative into your coke.”

“Raven, can I ask you a stupid question?”

“Of course, we can talk for as long as you want.” Raven smiled gently at me, making me feel kind of tingly inside. It was a nice feeling and I blushed. Raven continued to smile.

“Well…you have such beautiful golden hair, so why are you called Raven? I mean that’s not your original name is it?”

He laughed out loud, but it wasn’t a put down laugh, it was a happy cheerful one, which made me laugh with him. “Good question, Jael? My original name was Rick…a little boring, but I can explain the name Raven better by showing you.”

With that he stood up and began to unbutton his shirt. I could feel my palms becoming sweaty and I rubbed them up against my trousers. The whole time he was undoing his shirt, his eyes never left mine. His dark grey, sexy eyes, which held a glint of things to come, sparkling within them. His shirt slipped to the floor.

“Come here.” I did as he bade. When I was close to him, he turned around, and I saw a tattoo of a raven on his shoulder. Tentatively, I reached out and touched it. I could feel him shivering under my touch, or was it my hand trembling? I wasn’t sure. He sighed and turned to face me.

“I have another tattoo on my backside. Would you like to see that one?”

I wondered then, if it was possible to blush any more than I was. I nodded hesitantly and he lowered his trousers a smidgen so I could see the top of it. “What is it?”

“If you want to see the rest of it, you have to share breath with me first.”

“Share breath?” But he didn’t really need to explain that one, as his mouth was on mine as soon as my words came out. Soft, sensuous and wondrous. I had never kissed a boy before…but he wasn’t a boy was he? I closed my eyes – I was floating and colours of every hue sparked in front of my irises. He tasted sweet and smelled like tangy mandarins. Then something very strange happened…amongst the sensations of taste and smell I became aware of other feelings, much deeper…like I was sharing his thoughts and becoming part of him.

He pulled away from me and I realised we had fallen to the floor and he was lying on top of me. “Delicious.” He swooned, then began to slowly lift my t-shirt up over my head.

I grabbed his hands. “Sorry, Jael. Am I going too fast?”

“No!” I replied, and helped him remove my shirt. “Let’s get into bed shall we. It’s cold on the floor.” He helped me to my feet, and pushed me backwards onto the bed, grinning at the surprised look on my face as my hands sprung out behind me.

I slithered up to the top of the bed and rested back against the pillows, just watching him, watching me. He was beautiful as he slowly lowered his trousers down over his slender hips, turning around so the first view I had of him naked, was his perfectly rounded backside, sporting a cheeky tattoo of “Daffy Duck.”

I giggled and he wriggled his bum making Daffy look like he was dancing. “You like birds then?” I snickered.

He turned around slowly, and I gasped out loud. Just under his belly button he had a long scar. He looked down at it and touched it lightly with his fingers. “Another time, Jael, we have business to attend to here.”

I giggled stupidly as he began to pull my jeans down. Nobody had ever stripped me before. The one fumbling attempt I had had with one of the girl’s at school, had been under the covers, in the dark. This was blatant…all the lights were on, like he wanted to see every inch of me.

I was also very pleased to see that the thing he had between his legs, was like mine, but his was standing very erect. Why wasn’t mine? I was beginning to feel very embarrassed about this, when to my horror, it began to disappear.

“What the fuck?”

“Jael…you are becoming soume for me…just lay back and relax.” He lifted up my head to share breath with me again, then parted my legs. I wrapped them around his waist, like it was the most natural thing for me to do, as he entered me slowly. I shuddered and sighed, then moaned with the most intense pleasure I have ever experienced in my entire life. All 17 years of it.

I was soaring as I felt him move within me, as he bent his head to mine again and kissed me. So this was aruna… Aruna I like!!!

Raven was not only gentle, he was very experienced, and by the end of the night I had learnt just what my ouana-lim was capable of. Now it had a name, and a reason for being. A very wonderful reason for being.

As we lay together, worn out, but not really sleepy, we talked about everything. Raven told me how he got the scar on his abdomen. It had been there before he was incepted, a very deep wound from being stabbed in a fight. Even after his inception it was still visible, but no longer raised or rough to touch.

He then told me his time here was coming to and end and he was needed back home. I must have looked quite forlorn, for he shared breath with me for quite a long, luxurious moment, then asked me if I would like to go with him to the States.

I grinned then leapt out of bed.

“Where are you going?”

“To email my friend Rondo.”

Raven smiled at me. “That’s fine…just one thing though.”

“What’s that?”

“Put some clothes on first.”

– 8 –

Rondo

Jago was still angry and had walked away when he had seen me alight frommy brother’s car in front of the school. Sighing in regret, I headed for the metal detectors at the door. Violence has escalated to the point where armed guards now patrolled the halls, and each student was searched before he could enter the building. I was quite happy that I was to take my final exams early. Once I was free of this place I would be able to drop a lot of the pretense that stifled me here. I walked through the school hallway to my locker. Hanging up my jacket, I grabbed the books I would need and headed for the classroom. There had been no new message from Magpie this morning, and I wondered how I was ever going to be able to concentrate on my classes.

The day seemed to drag endlessly, or was it because I was anxiously watching the clock? My last class was a deathly boring economics class, which I could have taught myself.

“Mr Kelly, could you answer my question?”

My head shot up, “I am sorry Ms Thomas, I didn’t hear you.”

The teacher lifted an eyebrow sarcastically. “Why am I not surprised?”

She proceeded to bombard me with questions, which I answered rapidly and accurately. I could feel the rest of the class settle back in amusement to watch the show. When Ms Thomas and I faced off, which was often, they knew that she would probably forget to assign homework.

I was in the middle of answering a complicated question when the final bell rang. No one moved. Never taking my eyes from the teacher, I finished the answer and took a deep breath. “Anything else?”

She glared at me but her eyes gave her away. They were shining with pleasure at the exchange. Every good teacher seemed to delight in challenging. “Class dismissed!” She turned back to her desk.

“Hey Rick!” Looking up, I saw a soccer teammate approaching. No one knew my Wraeththu name and I sometimes found it hard to remember the name I had been born with.

“Hey, Allen. Can I catch a ride with you to the game? My brother has to work tonight.”

“Sure! Want a ride home afterwards?”

“No thanks, it is only a few blocks from home.”

Allen shrugged, “Your funeral” he quipped.

“Hopefully not” I shot back.

After the game I gathered my books and equipment and started home. It had grown dark and the street was deserted. As I walked, I became aware of footsteps behind me. Starting to turn, my attention was drawn to a shadowy figure standing under a light post across the street. ::Jago::

Something long and hard hit me in the ribs and I staggered backwards, fighting for breath. Two local hoods stalked towards me, each holding a baseball bat. Fighting the pain in my side, I waited until the first one got within range, ducked under the swing and grabbed the bat. Twisting, I used the boy’s own momentum to wrest the bat from his hands. I spun around and cut the legs right out from under the first boy then turned towards the second. Enraged, the hood charged forward, swinging his bat. I deflected it with the one I held before dropping the weapon and applying a karate chop to the back of my opponent’s neck. It was over in a matter of minutes. I left two moaning boys sitting on the sidewalk and turned towards home. Looking across the street, I could see that the spot beneath the light post was empty.

When I finally reached home, my ribs were aching painfully and my breath seemed to be coming in gasps. I headed straight for the bathroom and took off my shirt. The skin was already mottled and discolored. Sighing, I poked at the most painful spot and winced. Apparently there was at least one cracked rib. Sighing, I grabbed Aredo’s laptop and headed for bed. There would be no sitting in front of the PC tonight.

Booting up, I was delighted to see an email from Magpie. I had to hold my ribs tightly because the chuckles were making them hurt. Magpie had raved about his first experience with aruna, discussing it very thoroughly. Then he began to sing the praises of someone named Raven. Finally, he disclosed the fact that he would be coming to the states in a short while and asked if I still wanted him to come to St. Louis.

Quickly clicking on reply, I muttered sarcastically, “Sheesh, did you read anything I said?” as I typed: ‘It sounds like you have had a very satisfying night. Your Raven sounds fantastic. I think I am jealous. And what do you mean, do I want you to come? Didn’t I beg you to let me send you plane fare? Let me know when you are arriving and I will meet you. For god’s sake, do NOT try to find my house by yourself. It isn’t safe.’ Adding encouragement, I signed my name and sent the email.

Now relieved, I lay back and closed my eyes, my mind drifting back to the fight. Why hadn’t Jago helped me? I would have to ask Aredo about that. As I began to drift into sleep, a pang of jealousy cut through my body like a knife. Could I possibly compete with the fabulous ‘Raven’?

– 9 –

Magpie

Bacon and eggs had never looked so good as they did this morning, with Raven grinning at me from one side of the table and Dane and Tian fussing about in the kitchen, cooking up another batch. I was starving, and realised I hadn’t eaten anything except a couple of snack bars, since I had run away. Last night I was too tired to eat.

I babbled on the whole time about Rondo, and how he wanted me to visit him, then I wondered how Raven felt about this. Did he have any feelings for me? Our aruna the night before had seemed so special.

Raven looked at me for a few seconds, then winked. “Jael, it was special…and no I haven’t read your thoughts. I can tell what you are thinking by the expression on your face. You are so open. You will need to learn to hide that when you accompany me to the States.”

“Am I that obvious?”

Raven laughed softly. “Jael, you are very obvious…it is one of your special traits…that and your innocence.”

I coughed, spitting scrambled egg all over the table in front of me. “Innocent…me?”

“Yes, in the ways of the big bad world, and of what your are now. You will need some caste training before we travel. You need to be at least Neoma.”

‘And here’s me thinking I had gotten out of school. Dammit!” I grinned back at Raven. “So it’s OK for me to look up Rondo when I go with you?”

“Absolutely. This Rondo, Jael. Where does he live?”

“St. Louis…or what once was St. Louis.”

“You’re kidding me?”

Jael looked confused. “No…not kidding…why?”

“Well I was incepted with a group of friends from school in St. Louis. My best friend Arthur and I went through it together. He changed his name to Aredo, when I changed mine to Raven.”

“What!..now you’re kidding me…right?”

“Why?” It was Raven’s turn to look confused.

“Aredo is Rondo’s older brother…I’m sure that’s the name. He’s talked about him a few times.”

“Aredo’s younger brother at the time was called Rick, the same as me. Always was confusing…we became big Rick and little Rick.”

“He must have changed his name to Rondo…shit what a coincidence…”

Raven was grinning. “I think I am going to enjoy taking you to see your friend, Jael…Aredo and I were very good friends…if you get my drift.”

Jael gave an embarassed cough. “That’s cool, Raven. But do I have to change my name as well?”

“Only if you want to. Some do, some don’t. Jael is a good name though.”

“Magpie!” I slapped my hands down onto the table making him jump. I heard Dane curse from out in the kitchen. “Bloody hell…you nearly made me burn my hand. What’s all the racket in there?”

“Sorry Dane.” I yelled to him. “Come in here you two, I have an announcement to make.”

Tian and Dane came rushing into the dining room, plates of egg and bacon and glasses of orange juice in their hands – enquiring looks on their faces.

“Well?” They said in unison.

“I’m going to change my name to Magpie, and I want a tattoo to match it.”

– – –

My dad was at the door, looking at me like I was a stranger.

“So you are OK then?” He said to me, hands on his hips, in a parody of bravado.

“Yeah…can I come in?”

He stepped back from the door, taking in the new me. My hair bleached white at the sides, tied back in a ponytail, the earings in both ears and the nose stud…and last but not least, the tattoo of a magpie showing on my left bicep.

“Thanks for the phone call Jael. At least I knew you weren’t dead.” He snarled at me sarcastically.

“I’m sorry dad, I couldn’t contact you for a while…then I just didn’t know what to say. How are you dad…are you OK?” I wanted so badly for him to hug me, to tell me that I was still his son. But dad had never been very demonstrative when it came to showing any kind of emotion. I had known that he had loved me, but it was always from afar, as though by touching me he might ruin or change the relationship we had.

“What’s with the piercings and tattoo. For Gods’ sake, Jael. You look like a street kid.”

“Thanks dad, you’re looking well too.”

So this was how it was going to be. Him putting me down, telling me off, and me just standing there and taking it as usual. I wish now that I had let Raven or Dane come with me. But no, I had wanted to do this on my own.

“Want a beer?” He asked me gruffly as I followed him into the kitchen.

“Yeah!”

We went outside and sat on the park bench in the sun, drinking our beers, just kicking the grass with our feet. We discussed the weather, the footy, the upcoming election anything but the reason why I had disappeared and not contacted him. He told me he had been sick with the flu recently and that his business was not doing very well. I kept trying to explain where I had been and with whom, but he seemed not to care. I think he preferred not to know, in case I told him something provocative or embarrassing. Typical of dad really.

I gave up trying, and told him. “I’m going away dad.”

“I thought you already had?”

“No I mean far away. To the states.”

“Where ya gonna get the money from. I’m not giving you any…that’s for bloody sure.”

“I don’t need your money dad, I’m going with a friend. He’s paying for me.”

“Dane…you’re going with that little queer aren’t you?” He stood up and began pacing up and down, taking long gulps of his beer.

“No dad, I’m going with someone else, and I’m visiting my friend Rondo. He lives in St. Louis.”

Dad stopped his pacing and looked at me carefully. “You’re different Jael. You are acting strangely. What’s happened to you?”

I took a long gulp. Could I tell him just how different I was…would he understand? Could I tell him I was no longer human, and that I had a flower between my legs, and that I could become a woman when I made love? Could I tell him I was stronger now, and was learning to read minds, and that I was now neoma?

I wouldn’t read his thoughts, he was a private man. But I decided then, as I watched him looking at me with a worried expression on his face, that I couldn’t tell him the truth. I had really only just accepted it myself.

“I’m still your son.” I whispered.

He turned away from me then, no hug, no good luck wishes, just a growl deep in his throat as he fought to maintain his composure. I put my bottle of beer down on the grass and walked up to him.

“Goodbye then.”

As I ran down the driveway to the street, and kept running, I wondered to myself if it had been a tear in his eye, or whether it had just been my imagination.

– 10 –

Rondo

I walked into the house ahead of Aredo and threw my book bag on the kitchen table. “Remind me to burn that thing,” I called back as I sailed through the door towards the bathroom.

Aredo laughed and asked, “How does it feel to be finished with school?”

“Great!” I shot back, shedding my clothes and stepping into the shower. I could hear Aredo moving the bag to the living room and returning to the kitchen to set the table.

“Don’t waste time. The caste raising ceremony starts in less than two hours.” He called loudly.

By the time he had put together a quick supper, I was walking back into the kitchen toweling my long hair vigorously. As I reached for a hair tie, Aredo grabbed my hand. “No, Rondo. You are finished with school. You are about to become Brynie, there is not need to hide any longer. No tie and no glasses.”

I stared at my brother with mild panic, which I knew was visible in my eyes. I had worn my disguise since before my inception. Could I really go without it? Aredo nodded in encouragement and I smiled slowly. “OK, you’re right. By the way, is Codo coming to the ceremony?”

Aredo eyed me carefully, “Yes, do you mind?” I stared down at the table, running my finger absently over the polished surface.

“No.”

” Have you spoken to Jago yet?”

“No. Why should I? He made his choice when he left me to face those thugs alone.”

“Codo said that he deeply regrets what he did. He was terribly jealous and hurt.”

I looked up at my brother, “That is no excuse, Aredo. I could have been killed. We all know that we do NOT abandon one of our brothers! Besides, I had never given him any reason to believe that I belonged to him.”

Aredo was silent for a long moment, giving me time to control myself. “He will probably be at the ceremony tonight.”

Gritting my teeth, I nodded. “I thought he might be. Don’t worry, I won’t cause a scene.”

“Codo reported his behavior to the elders. He will have to undergo intensive reevaluation and retraining. Although Codo taught him, he failed to notice these tendencies in him.”

At my silence, Aredo changed to subject. “I am sure you will be getting plenty of offers tonight. If you decide to leave with someone, let me know, OK? Or better yet, you could bring him or them home with you.”

Trying desperately to control a smile, I looked out of the corner of my eye, “them?”

“Sure! Don’t knock it until you try it. Come on, we are going to be late!”

– – –

Hours later, I leaned tiredly against mantel of the large stone fireplace watching my fellow Wraeththu laugh and dance and drink. The ceremony was over. The mingling of my blood with oil had been placed in an urn and now stood blazing in the center of the table.

Aredo had been right in his predictions. I had been approached by numerous lovely hara and shared breath with them all under the pretext of congratulations. Even Jago had approached me hesitantly. I had accepted his greeting coolly but had offered no encouragement. With a sad smile, Jago had gone back to his brother.

“Have you decided whom to accept yet?” I jumped, not having heard my brother’s approach. “Yes. Marcus and Robin are coming home with me.” I smiled at the pair standing nearby.

“Good. However you look exhausted. If we don’t leave now, you won’t have strength to walk into the house, let alone have aruna. Go! Make your good byes and I’ll get the car.”

Walking over to Marcus and Robin, Aredo gathered them up along with another har he had met and herded them toward the door. After making the rounds, I slipped out the door to find the car idling at the curb. Aredo’s new friend sat beside him in the front seat while Marcus stood beside the open rear door. Climbing in, I found myself sandwiched between two, very amorous hara. Aredo laughed as he pulled away from the curb. “Save some of that energy for the bedroom. It will be much more comfortable.”

– 11 –

Magpie

I watched Dane’s face as I turned around one more time to wave goodbye to him. I had tried to talk him into coming with me, but he said he had work to do at home. He was to incept as many young boys as he could. But I knew the real reason…I had seen it in his eyes when he looked at Tian. I was happy for him…but very sad to be leaving my best friend. Well one of my best friends…I was going to be seeing my other one for the very first time.

Rondo.

My last email to Rondo had been the times of our flight. We would be landing in Chicago and driving or bussing it down to St. Louis. Apparently the airport in St. Louis had been closed for about a month due to the vandalisation of the hangers and planes that had been in them.

Both Raven and I were exhausted by the time we reached Sydney, hitch-hiking part the way and getting a ride on a train for the rest. We only encountered one hassle on the trip and that was an altercation with some gay bashers in the little town of Hay. Well what could you expect really? Hay was a hick-town, even more isolated now that there were very few trucks on the road.

We had managed to get accommodation in a caravan park, and had just settled in for the evening, with our take-away pizza, when some yobbos started terrorising the residents. They drove up and down past the caravans, shouting obscenities at everyone, not just us. The young couple in the caravan next to us were terrified and came running over . Of course the yobbos took one look at Raven and I and began to go ballistic. Swearing, spitting, calling us every gay basher names they could think of – poofters, faggots, arse bandits…very original!

Raven showed them what he is made of…like a mad-man he stood in front of their car, glaring at them. Raven can look bloody frightening when he puts his mind to it, but the leathers and piercings might have helped to add to his image. Then it was on for young and old. Raven can fight, he’s very strong and agile, but I also discovered that I wasn’t bad myself. I have always been fit, but with my extra strength, we soon had these idiots bruised and tearing off with their tails between their legs.

The rest of our trip was quiet, thank goodness…talking while we rode in the back of utes, and sleeping rough. It didn’t seem to matter where or how we found ourselves for the night it didn’t stop us from having aruna. Once I had discovered the joys of this, I wanted to do it all the time. In fact I wore Raven out, or so he told me.

The flight was horrendous. It took us three full days to get to Chicago as we were unable to get anything more direct. We had to fly via Singapore, then wait for 6 hours for another flight, which took us all the way to London. Then stopped off at nearly every main city in Europe. We thanked our wraeththu blood for the ability to survive this trip just losing a little weight, and being extremely tired. Two people who had been on one of our planes, had to be taken off in ambulances.

Chicago was surreal..the airport was intact – just, but we were unable to hire a car…even with the cash that Raven had, so we found ourselves walking through the streets. Parts of the city seemed normal, with people going about their business, but most of it was in ruins. Several times we came across gangs of young men, wandering about. They seemed lost…and mostly took no notice of us.

I have to admit, I was frightened…all of the gangs so far had been were human, we were sure of that, we could smell them. This was something new to me…being able to work out who was who by their smell. I felt like a dog sometimes, sniffing the air as we approached another rag tag group. I’m not quite sure if they could tell we were wraeththu though. We had one narrow escape…very narrow – too narrow for my liking. We were sitting in a filthy diner…in Australia we would have called it a Cafe…just trying not to vomit up what we had just eaten, (whatever it was), when we realised we were surrounded.

I could feel Raven’s whole body tensing as he looked about, trying to find an escape route. He grabbed my hand and communicated silently to me. ::What-ever happens Magpie, don’t look back, just run for it::

::I’m not leaving you here, if that’s what you are saying:: I replied the same way.

We didn’t have a chance to say anything else as suddenly the group…there might have been 7 or 8 of them, pounced. I was on the ground fighting for my life, punching, scratching, biting – swearing, cursing, grunting. Blood – my blood – was everywhere, but I managed to injure a few. I couldn’t see Raven for the arms and legs that were surrounding him, but I could tell he was putting up an incredible fight judging by the number of prone bodies lying nearby.

Then the fists and boots hitting me became lest frequent – and after a few seconds I realised I was looking up, through blood shot eyes, into a dirty ceiling. I groaned and moved my fingers and toes. Thank God…I was intact…bleeding, in pain, but all in one piece. I sat up gingerly, grabbed my bruised ribs and tried to find Raven. I was in awe – if indeed it had been him who had beaten back our aggressors. But he was lying on the ground moaning next to me. He turned his face to the side and I could see him sigh with relief when he saw I was still alive.

Someone saved us…but who?

With great care I stood up slowly, using a broken table for leverage, then put out my hand to help Raven up. He staggered slightly, but managed a grin. “Fuck…did you do that, Magpie?”

“No, I thought you had.” We both frowned and looked about into the darkness of the diner.

There were two of them just sitting nonchalantly on a couple of unbroken chairs, having a smoke. They looked up when we saw them and said “hi”. Casual as you please, like they had just had a cup of coffee, not beaten a bunch of enraged humans to a pulp.

I sniffed…not human…I sighed with relief, then said thank you.

“You’re welcome.” One of them replied politely.

“I’m Magpie and this is Raven.”

“We know.”

“You do?” I said surprised.

“Rondo asked us to look out for you. Just as well we did.”

“Rondo…is he here?”

“No sorry, but he’s waiting for you. We are your escort. I’m Orontes and this is Wolf.”

– 12 –

Rondo

I placed the phone back in its cradle just as Aredo walked in the room.

“Who was that?”

“It was Wolf. Apparently we were right in sending them to fetch Magpie. They were just in time to prevent them from being badly hurt.”

“Them?”

“Yes. Raven has come with him. They are leaving Chicago immediately. They should be here by tonight.”

Aredo stared at me for a long moment and then flopped down on the couch. “Well, at least I will finally have the answer to my question.”

I had heard the story of my brother’s best friend, Raven. Although he had spoken in an offhand manner, I knew my brother well enough to see beneath the words. The two had obviously been much more than just friends. For Aredo’s sake, I prayed that this Raven was one and the same. Aredo had spent every minute caring for me since our parents had been killed. He had given up the opportunity to travel and find a life for himself; instead sacrificing his own happiness for me. But no matter how much he tried to cover it, I had seen the loneliness and sadness lurking in his eyes.

“And if he is your Rick?”

Aredo raised his head and stared at me, conflict plain on his face. “I don’t know. We aren’t the same people anymore. He might hate the sight of me.”

I sighed and walked behind the couch, laying my hand on Aredo’s shoulder and squeezing gently, not saying a word. A larger hand reached up and covered mine for a long moment. Finally, I said, “I think I will check to see if everything is ready.”

Aredo laughed, “You could have a state dinner with all the preparations you have made. And the house is clean enough to eat off the floor.”

I could feel a blush steal over my cheeks. “Am I that obvious?”

Aredo climbed to his feet. “Oh yes, little brother, and for your sake I sincere hope that your Magpie returns your feelings.”

“I feel stupid. I have never even seen a picture of him. He is a complete stranger!”

“Is he?” Aredo asked gently.

I stared at him and then whispered, “No. I know him better than I have ever known anyone else before. I understand his soul as he understands mine.”

“Then be patient. It may be awkward at first, but don’t be discouraged.”

“As long as you listen to your own advice where Raven is concerned.”

Aredo chuckled, “I really walked into that one, didn’t I?”

I giggled in agreement, my nervousness forgotten for the moment. “I think I will go to my room and meditate for a while.”

Aredo nodded absently and walked to the window to stare blindly into the darkness.

I pulled myself wearily from my bed. I hadn’t slept well in my anxiety at finally meeting Magpie.

Walking into the living room, I wasn’t surprised to see my brother in nearly the same position as the night before.

Moving to his side, I stared out into the bright sunlight. “Do you think they stopped somewhere to sleep?”

“No. Wolf would have called. They will be here soon.”

Suddenly we both noticed a car moving slowly along the litter-cluttered street. I placed a hand eagerly against the glass.

“Is that..?”

“Yes! It is Orentes’ car.”

Eagerly, we rushed to the door and flung it open. The vehicle had pulled up to the door and four rumpled and exhausted hara had climbed stiffly from its confines.

I stood as if paralyzed, my eyes drawn instinctively to a beautiful har with glorious blond curls and large eyes.

Dimly, I was aware of Aredo’s first hesitant steps toward the other stranger but couldn’t tear my eyes off the blond.

Then the young har looked up and our gazes locked. I felt a large grin grow on my face which matched his.

“Magpie!”

– 13 –

Magpie

All the way down to St. Louis in the car, Raven and I listened to Orontes and Wolf’s talk about their tribe. At first I thought he meant gang…but he was definitely talking as though it were a race of people not just a bunch of them. Sometimes I shut their banter out and just stared out the window, taking in the scenery, which changed from pleasant countryside to cities that looked like they had been bombed. It was disconcerting, to say the least. But mostly I shut my eyes and wondered what my first meeting with Rondo would be like.

I felt a slight tension in the air around Raven and I knew he was thinking about his reunion with Aredo. He was doing the same as me, answering Wolf and Orontes with monosyllabic grunts… then drifting off into his own little world of memories. I took his hand and squeezed it… he gave me a wan smile then shut his eyes again.

After we began to drive through a built up area of apartment blocks and office buildings, I asked Orontes how long we would be. I had no idea we had been driving through the outskirs of St. Louis for the past half an hour. When he said about 10 minutes I could feel my heart thudding fast. Raven turned and kissed me on the cheek.

“We will always be friends, Magpie.”

“I know.”

I felt dreadfully nervous…like I was about to embark on a blind-date. Well in a way I suppose I was. I didn’t know what Rondo looked like, we had never exchanged photographs. I knew he was 17 years old and he had told me that he had dark hair. That was all. What if he was ugly? What if I didn’t like him? My palms were sweaty and I wiped them on my trousers. Raven picked up on my state and took hold of one of my hands.

“It’s OK. Rondo will adore you.”

“But…but I….”

“Oh my!” Raven exclaimed. “You don’t even know what Rondo looks like, do you?”

I shook my head, and felt an embarrassed flush creeping up to my cheeks. Raven grinned cheekily at me. “He’s beautiful.” He picked up my hand and kissed it. “Almost as beautiful as you are.”

Cripes! I was doing it again…blushing ferociously now, which made Raven burst out laughing. Orontes and Wolf stopped talking and turned to stare at us. “We’re here, guys, and we have a welcoming committee.”

“Oh God!” I covered my face with my hands. “I look awful. My hairs a mess, I must stink. I haven’t had a bath for days. God, Raven. We should have stopped off somewhere first.”

When I didn’t receive a reply, I took my hands down to find that I was alone in the car. Through the window I could see everyone hugging and patting each other on the back…Raven was in an embrace with an incredible looking guy, with black hair to his shoulders. Now he should have been called Raven, I mused to myself. I wondered if it was Rondo he was hugging.

I tentatively stepped out of the car and waited to be introduced. I was kicking the ground with my feet, my head bowed, when I heard a soft voice.

“Is that you Magpie?”

Shit! This was terrible. I was shaking so hard that I knew my voice would come out like a croak. I so wanted to make a good impression. I looked up and ceased breathing. A young har was standing in front of me…smiling hesitantly, and holding out his hands. He was delightful…with bright green eyes, that were glistening with tears, auburn hair falling softly to his shoulders and features so perfect I felt like weeping.

“Rondo!” I managed to say. We hugged each other and I could feel him shaking as well.

“You have no idea how glad I am to be doing this.” He whispered in my ear. “Did Wolf and Orontes look after you OK?”

We pulled away from our embrace and smiled at each other shyly. I hoped he couldn’t hear my heart thundering away, or see me wiping my hands again on the back of my legs.

“They saved us from being beaten up.” I stuttered. “Real life-savers they were…it was quite frightening actually. We were surrounded by these…humans, smelly humans. I thought we were going to die, it was…” Shut-up, Magpie, I said to myself…you are making a fool of yourself. But Rondo was just staring at me, still smiling.

Rondo introduced me to his older brother Aredo, then asked us to come inside. “Have you got much luggage?” I shook my head, then I heard Wolf saying that he would bring in our bags for us. Rondo took me by the hand and led me into their modest house. Afterwards, I remembered how clean and sparkling the whole place looked, but at the time all I could think of was how much I needed to take a shower. My clothes were filthy, my hair was a tangle of knots – in fact I felt disgusting.

I’m not sure if Rondo had read my mind or not, but he immediately asked if I would like a shower, and within a few minutes I was standing under the steaming hot water, soaking my aching muscles and washing my hair. God it felt good to be clean again. I brushed my hair vigorously, pleased that for once the curls went where I wanted them to, and not off on tangents of their own. Satisfied that I was finally presentable, I ventured into their living room.

Rondo was standing by a bar pouring some drinks, and Wolf and Orontes were sitting on the couch, looking quite at home. Raven and Aredo were nowhere to be seen. I was about to ask him where they were, when he said.

“They’re having their own private reunion.” Rondo winked. Was he reading my thoughts, or my expression? It didn’t matter. All I was interested in at that precise moment was talking face to face with my friend. Rondo asked if I would like a beer or something stronger.

“The second thing. Then the first.” I said and sat down opposite Wolf and Orontes.

I gulped down a shot of whisky, then sipped slowly on a bottle of beer. Ahhh! It felt good going down and was certainly helping to make me feel a little more relaxed. Rondo sat on the arm of my chair, sipping his own beer. He touched my hair for a second, letting a curl twirl through his fingers. “I love your hair.” I looked up at him, and he was blushing.

Great! Someone else’s turn. I giggled like a school girl and took another sip of beer.

After a few minutes of giggling and small talk, Wolf and Orontes took their leave, saying they had something to pick up across town. I guessed they were just leaving us alone to get to know each other.

“Are you hungry?’ Rondo asked, jumping up from the arm of the chair.

“Starving.”

“Good. Come with me and we’ll cook up some sausages and eggs.”

Half an hour later we were tucking in, supping on another bottle of beer. I was getting a little tipsy. We kept clicking our bottles together, toasting each other, then drinking some more. By the time we had finished eating, and cleaned up a bit, we were on our fourth bottle. Now I’ve never been much of a drinker, so I was beginning to lose control – which didn’t seem to bother Rondo. He laughed when I leant in and kissed his cheek, lost my balance and fell against the kitchen cupboard, nearly knocking a few of the dishes off.

I felt his arm steadying me then he slipped his other arm around my waist and stood there breathing heavily in my ear. “You certainly smell better now, than when you first came in.”

“I’m sorry I stunk…” I answered him, still hanging onto the cupboard for support.

“Well…you didn’t really stink…it’s just now you smell…wonderful.” He was sniffing my neck. I turned to face him and we found ourselves sharing breath…very strong beer breath…but it was incredible. We were so alike… Beneath the flavour of hops, he was sweet and light and comfort and dare I even think it…love.

My mind was alive, and I felt the strongest wave of passion come over me, that I began to tremble. Now, normally this would have been fine…but being pissed as well, it became rather awkward, because as soon as he let me go I promptly slipped to the floor. He slithered down with me, pinning me to the cupboard. I wanted to laugh, but he was lying on my face and all that came out was a stifled chuckle. He was also laughing so hard, that he was jiggling up and down on top of me.

“I can hardly breath.” I managed to mumble, and he pushed himself up on his arms and fell to one side.

“Think we’ve had too much beer.” He chortled.

“Wanna go and lay down?” I said to him.

“We already are…”

“On the bed.” I suggested, in between guffaws, not even realising quite what I had said.

“Thought you would never ask.” He replied and pulled me unsteadily to my feet.

– 14 –

Aredo

Aredo stared at the tall, beautiful blond har who had turned to look at him. Dazedly, he began to move forward, stumbling aver a stone in the grass. Coming to a stop, he shakily raised a hand to the other’s face.

“Oh Gods, it is you. I was afraid to hope..”

Raven’s eyes were filled with tears. “Aredo. At last.”

Suddenly, they were in each other’s arms, clinging desperately.

Aredo felt Wolf’s hand on his back, guiding him back toward the house. Blindly, he allowed his friend to guide them, unwilling to relax his grip. Only when they had to negotiate the steps did he allow Raven to move ahead of him.

Aredo was dimly aware of his brother and his friend as they too, entered the house but he couldn’t seem to see anything but Raven. Wolf squeezed his shoulders and whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry. We will look after them. Go!”

With these words his friend pushed them toward the bedrooms. Despite the years that had separated them, being in each other’s arms seemed the most natural thing in the world. They stood silently in the center of Aredo’s room for several long minutes before Aredo released Raven, took his hand and led him to the bathroom.

No words were spoken as they shed their clothing and stepped under the stinging hot spray of the shower. Silently, they washed each other, their hands reverent. Finally turning off the water, they dried each other and hand in hand, walked back into the bedroom.

Aredo pulled back the covers and together they sank into the softness of the bed.

Raven’s beautiful hair was spread over the pillow as he stared up at Aredo, who was leaning on his elbow above him.

“Raven” he choked.

Raven’s quickly placed a finger on his lips, “Shhh. Share breath with me.”

Then he pulled his head down. The taste of clean, pure air, the smell of honeysuckle and fire, desire and long neglected love overwhelmed them. Aredo choked back a sob as he sank deep into Raven’s arms and essence. Their fingers caressed each other’s flesh in near desperation, as though afraid this was all a dream.

As the fever of their desire rose, Raven pulled Aredo onto his body and spread his legs. “Complete me,” he whispered.

Deliriously, Aredo obeyed and sank into the body beneath him. Intense need took control and they clutched at each other, scratching, biting and snarling until exploding in climax.

Several minutes passed as they lay unmoving, completely exhausted. Then they began again, this time in slow, gentle exploration, their feelings for each other coming to the fore.

As he moved inside Raven, Aredo grasped his face and rained gentle kisses on his cheeks, eyes and lips. “I love you” he whispered, tears pouring down his face.

Raven answered with a soft cry, winding his arms around Aredo’s neck in a fierce hug. The pleasure this time, was the most intense either of them had ever experienced.

Aredo slowly rolled off of Raven and gathered him in his arms. “Sleep. We will talk tomorrow.”

The sun was high in the sky when Aredo opened his eyes. It had been morning when their visitors had arrived and apparently they had slept around the clock.

Raven lay curled in his arms, a small smile curling his lips. Aredo kissed his forehead and carefully pulled his arm from under his head, pulling himself from the bed. Raven mumbled and wrapped his arms around Aredo’s pillow, snuggling into it. Chuckling, he grabbed a robe and slipped into it. Then he placed a second robe at the foot of the bed for Raven’s use, and slipped into the bathroom for a quick shower. When he emerged, Raven hadn’t moved so he quietly left the room, pulling the door shut behind him.

The house was still. No movement or voices could be heard. Two glasses sat on the coffee table near the couch, which he absently picked up as he moved toward the kitchen.

Just inside the kitchen door Aredo stopped, stared and began to laugh. Dishes littered the table and the floor. Empty beer bottles lay on their sides everywhere. Obviously, his brother and his friend had needed a little liquid courage last night. Fondly, he thought to himself, :I hope you have found the kind of hope that I have, Rondo:. Then he began to clean up the mess.

Aredo was sitting at the kitchen table with his second cup of coffee, bacon and eggs cooking, when he heard shuffling approach the kitchen. Raven peeked through the door, his hair wet from the shower. “Coffee?” he begged hopefully.

“Of course, I know how much you need your caffeine in the morning.” Aredo got up and pulled a mug from the cupboard and poured him a cup.

A pair of strong arms snaked around his waist. “I have missed you.”

He leaned back against the warm body behind him. “They needed you elsewhere. I hated them for separating us.”

“So did I, but I learned to live with it. But now my work in Australia is done. They can continue on their own.”

They moved back to the table after filling their plates and began to eat ravenously.

Finally Aredo voiced the question that he had been reluctant to ask. “How long can you stay?”

Raven placed his fork on the table and stared at his plate. Then he looked up, his eyes full of uncertainty. “How long do you want me to stay?”

“Oh Gods, Raven. If it were up to me, you would never leave my arms.”

A brilliant smile lit up the blond har’s face. “OK. Then what do you say that I stick around until you kick me out?”

Aredo shoved back his chair, knocking it over. Grabbing Raven, he pulled him into his arms, burying his face in his neck. “I have loved you for what seems every minute of my life.”

Raven was silent, simply hugging him with all his might.

– 15 –

Magpie

I blew it, I fucking blew it. I was off my face when we finally managed to crawl into bed, and, as far as I could remember, we had both fallen into a boozy sleep. We did wake up wrapped in each other’s arms, but Rondo was still dead to the world. I sat up and rested my head against the bed end and looked down at him in repose. Even with beer breath, tousled hair and wrinkled clothes (he wasn’t able to get out of them), he was breathtakingly beautiful.

I reached down and pushed a lock of his auburn hair off his face. He stirred slightly and turned over. With an effort, I crawled out of the bed and stumbled to the loo. Upon gaining a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror, I let out a squawk. I looked hideous. My hair wasn’t just tousled, it was interwoven…strands of it had wrapped together and even with a hard yank with my fingers, causing me to yelp, I could do nothing with it. I sighed. Dane had always loved my curls…but for the life of me I could never understand why. They were simply a pain in the arse to manage. Several times I thought about chopping them all off, doing a number one with the shaver, but I was always talked out of it.

Another shower was in order, as well as a very vigorous tooth clean and gargle. I managed to accomplish everything under the shower. I was just about to step out into the steamy bathroom, when I heard someone else gargling. I peeked around the curtain and found myself staring straight at Rondo’s naked back – his clothes were in an messy heap on the wet floor. I wanted so much to stare at the nakedness of him…the slim curve of his hips, the well rounded backside, the firm muscled thighs. But I felt like a voyeur, so a quick glimpse was enough and I hid behind the curtain and sighed.

After a few minutes I guessed he had left the bathroom, for it had gone rather quiet, so I pulled the curtain aside again. I gasped. He was standing just the other side of of it grinning. “Wondered when you would invite me in?”

I giggled. Why do I do that??? Then pulled him into the cubicle with me. For a couple of seconds we just stood there, looking into each others eyes. Then he said. “Well, aren’t you going to turn it back on again, I’m getting cold?”

“Oh…y..yeah!” I stuttered like an imbecile, and reached for the taps. Rondo’s hands were on mine as we turned them on together, then he reached up to share breath with me. Mint was the first thing that assailed my senses, then the true essence of him came through. Light and colour, intermingled with warm summer’s days and cosy cuddles. I was in love. Well, I knew that I had loved him as a friend, but now it was so much more than that.

Our breath sharing was decidedly more pleasant this time, and with no clothes to restrict us, our hands were free to roam and caress. We discovered each other slowly…revelling in the pleasure we were giving each other, loving the sighs and moans of delight. I took his ouana-lim in my soapy fingers and brought him to the brink, then suggested we retire to the bed again.

We nearly didn’t make it…fluffy towels, I’ve discovered, can be very erotic.

How can I describe something to you which is beyond description. That is what sharing aruna was like with Rondo. I thought it had been incredible with Raven…but Raven I didn’t love. This was more than a union of two bodies, it was a fusion of our souls, and a cessation of longing. For I no longer needed anything but Rondo. He was my other half. My dream, my desire. This was a place where I thought I could stay forever…but I should have know better than that.

As we lay together, listening to each other breathing, talking about silly little things, like ‘what kind of tree, was that outside the window?’ and ‘what are we going to eat for breakfast?’ – if we ever got to the kitchen, when all hell broke loose.

A shout and a loud crash came from somewhere in the house, then we heard Raven and Aerdo screaming for us. “Get some clothes on you idiots, we’re being attacked.” Raven was standing over the end of our bed, chucking jeans and t-shirts at us. He was bleeding from a cut over his eye.

“Shit!” Both Rondo and I cursed together and dressed rapidly. I was grabbing some shoes from under the bed just as a shower of glass flew over me. Someone was leaping through the window and wrestling Raven to the floor. I did the only thing I could think of. Kicked the attacker in his balls, then hit him over the head with a vase. Raven stood up, grinned at me, then went over to the window. “There’s more of the bastards out there…come on, we’re outnumbered. We have to try and get to the car.”

“Who are they?” I shouted. “What do they want?”

“Humans!” Raven shouted back, “and our blood.”

Rondo grabbed my hand and all four of us headed down into their basement. Aerdo, put a large bar across the door.

“I thought we were trying to get to the car?” I said, confused as we stumbled through the cluttered room in darkness.

“Don’t worry.” I heard Rondo say to me, then his words were cut off by an explosion coming from the house.

“Grenades!” Aredo screamed. “Fuck them!”

Shit, now I was terrified. It had taken me this long to gather my aruna filled thoughts together. “Where’s the car then?”

He didn’t answer me, but he never let go of my hand, as we began to weave our way through a network of tunnels and caves. I decided not to ask him then, why the tunnels were here, because at the moment I was just mighty glad that they were. After taking a few sharp turns, and locking a couple more doors behind us, we came out into a garage with a four-wheel drive vehicle in it.

Aerdo jumped into the driver’s seat and the rest of us piled in. We took off slowly. At first I was a little concerned that we weren’t roaring off at speed, but when I saw that we were nowhere near their house, I knew it was because they didn’t want to be noticed.

I could see smoke billowing a few streets away and heard more explosions. Rondo gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then stared out the window.

“Where do we go now, Aredo?” Rondo asked.

“The only place we can go.” Aredo replied. “To the tribe.”

– 16 –

Rondo

Aredo was driving very carefully away from the burning house. I stared back at it with tears in my eyes. I had been born there and all my cherished childhood memories were going up in flames.

“Rondo, get the weapons!”

At Aredo’s terse command, I quickly dug under the rear seat, coming up with several automatic weapons. Raven grabbed one from me and turned back to watch for a possible ambush. Magpie hesitated and then took the weapon I held out to him. I understood his feelings. He had yet to experience the full-blown hatred the humans had for us. Australia was still new to the world of Wraeththu and violence was sporadic.

I gently pushed a curl from Magpie’s face and gestured to the outside world. “Keep an eye out. They would rather kill us than capture us.”

Magpie nodded and turned to stare out the window. “Rondo? Those caves…”

“This area is riddled with caves. We simply modify what is already there and use them to our advantage. However, this is the first time that I know of that any Wraeththu has had to use them to escape.”

“Somehow, the humans have gotten information about us. Look over there.” Aredo gestured to the left. “Wolf’s house is burning.”

Raven spared a glance at my brother. “A traitor?”

“It is beginning to look that way.”

We drove at a steady rate of speed, merging with the traffic on the only remaining highway, which was still passable. Eventually, we crossed over the river back into the farm country across from the city. Aredo let out a sigh of relief when we reached firm ground. “That bridge is going to collapse any day now” he muttered.

Raven shook his head. “It is best that we leave. Once humans are cut off from their food supply, it will be much worse.”

We drove on for another hour, no one uttering a word. We all knew that we could not go back. We had escaped with the clothes on our backs and little else.

“I am sorry I got you into this, Magpie.” I whispered.

He heard me and turned, hissing fiercely. “Shut up. We are together. That is all that matters!”

I stared in surprise at his narrowed eyes and moved into his arms, burying my face in the curve of his neck. Feeling his arms close around me, I knew that I had found my soul mate. Never had I felt so safe and cherished and I soaked up every bit of this moment. Who knew when we would be able to hold each other again?

Aredo’s voice interrupted us. “Rondo, pull out the banner.”

By the time I had rummaged for the magnetic strip of purple and blue, Aredo had pulled the jeep to the side of the road. I hopped out and placed the strip in the hood of the vehicle, testing to make sure that it held firmly. When I climbed into the back seat, Aredo pulled back onto the road. “We are getting close to the compound. That strip is our identification. We don’t want any trigger happy hara opening fire on us.”

After a few more miles, Aredo turned the Jeep off the road and continued up through the hills, avoiding boulders and trees carefully. The tribe had picked this area carefully. There were no roads and the entire area was private property, belonging to a wealthy young Wraeththu who had lost his family in a fire.

Suddenly a har, bristling with weapons stepped into the path of our vehicle. Aredo cursed and slammed on the brakes. “Damn, Hammer! I could have hit you.”

The har ignored my brother’s outburst and stared suspiciously at Raven and Magpie. “Who..? Raven is that you?” A smile burst on his face.

“Hello, Hammer. Yeah, I am back.”

“Glad to see you are still with us. It has been years.” The har was now staring suspiciously at Magpie.

I moved closer to him and felt his arm snake around my waist. “Back off, Hammer. This is Magpie. Raven brought him back from Australia and he is a very close friend of mine.”

Hammer snickered. “Oooh, Aredo, the lamb is growing claws and fangs.”

Aredo smiled. “That’s right, Hammer. And I wouldn’t test him if I were you. I don’t think he will back off when it comes to Magpie.”

I was cringing with embarrassment. What would Magpie think of this banter? My brother and Hammer were obviously linking us as a couple. Although I wanted this more than anything in the world, how would Magpie feel about it?

While I was worrying the idea, Hammer jumped up on the front bumper and directed us through a stand of tall trees into the heart of the compound. The area was teeming with Hara. Apparently, the humans had launched a full-scale attack.

– 17 –

Magpie

I was listening to the banter with this Hammer person with interest. So Aredo thought that Rondo and I were a couple. I hoped that Rondo felt the same. As I snaked my arm around his waist I tried to read his thoughts. He turned to me and kissed me gently on the cheek.

“Is that what you want, Magpie?”

“More than anything.” I replied, and we shared breath until we both felt the vehicle coming to a halt.

Perhaps I should have taken a bit more notice of my surroundings, but sharing breath with Rondo had to be a more pleasant experience than staring out a window. When we did look about, I noticed there were very few buildings to be seen. It was mostly trees and small mounds of dirt, with one or two rough looking timber buildings. There were hara everywhere, apparently preparing for some sort of attack. I was apprehensive to say the least, and surprised to see so many others just like me.

“Tell your friend he can shut his mouth, Rondo. There are bugs flying about.”

It was Hammer and he was grinning at me. I did as he said, flushing quite pink in the process, I was sure. Rondo squeezed my hand as we were taken into one of the buildings. It was sparsely furnished, with a few chairs and a table. I watched as Hammer walked over to the table, tipped it on it’s side, and opened up a cellar door. We followed him down several steps and found ourselves in a large open room, filled with weapons and more hara bustling about. There even seemed to be a surveillance system of some sort on a rather dicrepit looking computer. Shit, these guys were organised.

“Will you be able to keep them back?” Aredo asked Hammer, who had just finished barking a few orders a har sitting at the computer.

“We already have. They tried to attack us about an hour ago. Just as well you didn’t try to come in any earlier. We were surrounded for a short while. Not sure how they found out about this place…we try and keep it secret.”

“Same with us. It’s almost as if someone had given away our secrets, but I can’t imagine who it could be.” Aredo answered. He was wandering about now, obviously fascinated by what he saw. “You’ve certainly managed to acquire more weapons since I was here last.”

“What’s that there?” Raven was pointing at something on the surveillance screen.

“It was their tank. The stupid humes didn’t count on us having grenade launchers and bazookas. Although where they got that tank from I’ll never know. That’s one thing we weren’t able to lift from the army camp.”

“Maybe they are the army.” Raven piped up.

“There isn’t any army any more. Well not an organised one anyway. Could be a small faction that have spirited away some equipment though. One or two of them had combat gear on,” Hammer explained.

Tanks, bazookas. Cripes…this was way too much for me to take in.

“How organised are these attacks?” I asked tentatively. “I mean from the human’s point of view. Have they the ability to kill us all?”

“Don’t think so, Magpie…wasn’t it?” Hammer asked.

I nodded.

He continued. “The fighting has only been sporadic. It looks like they only had one tank, and their weapons were mainly hand guns, a few grenades and Molotov cocktails. They can’t even get close enough to blow up the wooden buildings up above. Our whole encampment is surrounded by booby traps.”

I was impressed and beginning to feel slightly better. Hammer asked us if we would like refreshments and led us into an adjoining room that was a kitchen and dining area. Quite comfortable actually, with pin ball games, lounge chairs and a couple of TV’s. Although from what Rondo had told me back at their house, there was only one TV Station broadcasting, and that was mainly news.

We were served strong black coffee and chocolate biscuits. Obviously there were still some luxuries available to them. I drank my coffee, dunking my biscuit and sipping coffee through it. Wonderful…just like I did when I was a kid. When I looked up all eyes were on me.

“Sorry! I couldn’t help it. Haven’t tasted a chocolate biscuit in yonks.”

“Are all Aussies as weird as you?” Hammer asked.

“I..I guess so.” I didn’t dunk any more biscuits, but I would have loved to.

Rondo looked at his biscuit, thought about it for a couple of seconds, then ate it normally. I could tell he wanted to try it though, and he winked at me. Then Hammer coughed, and I could tell the conversation wasn’t going to linger on the uncouthness of Aussies any longer.

“You won’t be able to stay here.”

“Why not?” Aredo and Raven answered back.

“There are too many of us here. You can go South with a small group who are meeting up with another tribe. It’s a new settlement, away from any unrest. All the humans in the area have dispersed or been killed. Wolf is taking a group down there in a few days time. I suggest you join him.”

Damn, just when I was beginning to like it here…nice biscuits, strong coffee. Rondo looked at me and I could see he was a little worried about all this. Travelling on the open roads wasn’t safe. Just as he was about to say something, we heard voices and another group of hara entered. Wolf and Orontes were among them.

Orontes had a large gash on his cheek and Wolf was limping. Through sips of coffee they told us of their clash with the ‘humes’ and how they only managed to escape with their lives. They hadn’t been able to get to their vehicle and had run the whole way on foot. My God, they were hardly even panting.

Hammer seemed concerned, when he discovered how organised the attack on the suburbs had been. “Think you might have to leave tomorrow instead. Can you be ready?”

I sighed…but Raven and Aredo nodded. “We haven’t unpacked yet, so we can move on straight away.”

“Only problem is we can no longer get any gas, you will have to go on horseback. We have a stable of horses a few miles away. Hopefully the humes haven’t got to them.”

“Is it that bad here?” I asked. “We don’t have so many problems in Australia.”

“The gas shortages are a problem, but we will soon sort out the humes. From all accounts the largest pocket of them is in this area. The rest of Magalithica has been taken over by our kind.”

“Magalithica? Where’s that?” I looked at Rondo who shrugged.

“Sorry – that’s what we call our land. It belongs to us now.”

– 18 –

Magpie

This was agony, not only did my bum hurt from sitting on a saddle for hours, my back ached, and I was bloody tired. My body was trying to tell me it was the middle of the night… but no, here it was, bright and sunny, the middle of the day. I wanted nothing more than to lay down – anywhere would do – on a rock if it was available, and sleep. I could see that Raven was feeling a little worse for wear as well. I’d always been told that jet lag was terrible, but until now I had, had other things to occupy my thoughts.

Now I was bored, oh and did I mention… bloody tired.

My thoughts were fuzzy as well. When we first took off this morning, I remembered that I had nothing of my own, all my stuff had gone up in the fire. So I had borrowed a clean pair of jeans and a jacket from Rondo. Just as well Rondo and Aredo had been organised, making sure their 4 wheel-drive was well equipped, not just with food and essentials, like knives, torches, matches and sleeping gear, but a few changes of heavy duty clothes as well. It was also very fortunate that Rondo and I were almost exactly the same build and height. We
even had the same taste – good, I might add.

I was also thinking about everything that had happened to me in the last few months. So much had changed… I was changed… the world around me was changed. I still wasn’t sure if it was for the better. I missed Dad and my old friends, expecially Dane. What had happened to me was a blur, it had been too fast, too overwhelming. I still hadn’t really come to terms with it. And now, here I was on a horse, riding through a foreign land, my body altered permanently.
Hell, according to Rondo I could even bear a child. Heaven forbid. I shuddered at the thought. I had been enjoying aruna with Rondo, and Raven, but from what I had also been told, mainly by Raven, that as I progressed as a Wraeththu, so would my enjoyment of aruna. How could it be any better than it had been?

Raven had told me it would be more of a spiritual joining, filled with magick – elemental. When I had asked him if that was how it was for him, he shrugged – not yet. “As we become more aware… more Wraeththu… as we move further and further away from what we had been. It will evolve.”

Hell I thought we were different, evolved, so different that there was no room for anything else. But apparently I was wrong.

My experience with Rondo had been magical, but that was probably just that I loved him. That was just how I imagined normal sex would have been like with my future wife maybe.

Even Rondo seemed content with how things had been between us and he had been Wraeththu for much longer than I. I hoped that the tribe where we were heading would be able to teach me more. Help me understand what I had become and help me to experience the magick.

As we clip-clopped along the dusty highway… sometimes past deserted
settlements and towns, sometimes open countryside, I remembered also that I had lost all the photographs of my old life. They were mostly of Dane and my dad, with a few current ones with Tian and Raven in them. I tried to picture Dane in my head… his dark hair and his odd coloured eyes. I missed him and wondered if somehow we would ever catch up again. I certainly hoped so.

I was lost in my reverie of memories and thoughts of what my future would hold, and was also aware on a more base level, of my sore, throbbing backside and rubbed raw thighs when a loud sound startled me. I spun about, more confused than frightened… at first. Then I saw Rondo slipping from his horse to the ground. Shit! Now I was frightened. I dismounted, slower than I would have liked, as I was so stiff, and hobbled over to him, taking no notice of the noise and mayhem about me. The one thought going through my head, was “No… no… you’ve got to be okay, Rondo… Please, you’ve got to be okay.”

I was just about to get to him slumped behind his skittish horse, when I felt someone shove me hard in the back, knocking me to the ground. I landed with a thud and a very loud exhaling of breath. “Fuck!” I was pinned to the ground and had no idea at first whether it was friend or foe. “Get off me…” I groaned, “I have to see if Rondo is all right.”

“Lay still you idiot.” Friend… it was Raven, breathing into my ear with his hot breath and holding me firmly beneath him with his strong body.

“I’ve got to get to him.” I squirmed beneath him.

“Stop it, Magpie. If you don’t stay still you’ll get shot.”

“Shot… shit! Who’s shooting at us?”

“We’re not sure yet.”

I managed to crane my head up and looked through the dust to the perimeter of the small clearing we were in. The horses had bolted and were disappearing into the thicket up ahead, and our small group of hara were lying on the ground like Raven and I, with their guns cocked, trying to discover who had fired at us.

Another shot rang out followed by some shouts. Raven pushed himself off me, obviously assured that I would no longer bolt for my friend, then he half dragged me behind a rock. Breathing heavily I rested my head back against it for a few seconds, as Raven drew a hand gun out of his boot then flattened himself against the rock. “Just stay where you are, Magpie, I’ll try and get Rondo.”

I heard more shots and felt like sticking my fingers in my ears, but I couldn’t act like a kid… I was a har, my friend was hurt and I had to help him. I turned to Raven. “No, you cover me, I’ll get Rondo.” He nodded to me then manoeuvred himself around the rock so he could get some shots off into the bushes. I hoped he was firing in the right direction, and with my heart thudding, I crawled on my belly over to Rondo. There was blood all down the side of his face, but I could see his chest moving… thank God… he was alive. Glancing over his body, I could see and hear Wolf and Orontes firing in the same direction as Raven was. I couldn’t see Aredo anywhere, or the other two hara who had accompanied us.

I grabbed Rondo’s arm and dragged him with me, across the stony ground… cursing several times when a sharp rock stuck into my belly or my legs. I didn’t care… and somehow found the strength to get Rondo to relative safety behind the rock. I laid him down carefully, then took off my jacket, which was really Rondo’s and put it under his head. With my t-shirt I wiped some of the blood off the side of his face. It looked like the bullet had just grazed the side of his head,
I couldn’t see any holes. The rest of his head was intact. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, just as Aredo and Slink came up to us. Aredo bent over Rondo, gave him a quick check and sighed as well.

“I think he’ll be okay.” He smiled at me. “Lucky boy… he’s got nine fucking lives that kid brother of mine. Just as well.”

Aredo grabbed my arm. “Magpie, you stay with Rondo, we’re going to skirt around behind that stand of trees and surround the bastards. Slink thinks it’s only two or three humes, with a couple of rifles… we should knock ’em out pretty quickly.”

I lifted Rondo’s head up and rested it on my lap, then shut my eyes and gave thanks… I’m not really sure who I was thanking… some greater power than me, I suppose. But it made me feel better nonetheless. As I was mumbling to myself, I felt a clammy hand touch the side of my face. “Magpie, are you okay?”

I looked into Rondo’s eyes and they were full of tears. “Oh shit, are you in pain?”

Rondo’s eyebrows knitted together…”What… no… I’ve got a bit of a sore head, but I was worried about you. I heard you crying.”

“Was I?” Surprised I lifted my fingers to my face and realised that I had indeed been crying, my face was damp with tears. Embarrassed I brushed them away, then took Rondo’s hand in mine.

“Well are you okay?” He asked again.

“Yeah, I’m fine, not a scratch on me… a few nicks maybe and a couple of bruises from pulling you across those rocks, but other than that…” He was grinning at me.

“So why were you crying?” He still had his head in my lap, and it seemed like the most natural place for it to be.

“You were hurt. I didn’t know if you were alive or not and… Rondo… I… I…” Shit out with it Magpie… I cursed myself. Rondo’s gleaming eyes were resting on mine, encouraging me to say the words I was sure he was needing to hear. “I love you Rondo.” I spurted out.

“You do?” His words were soft, hesitating, happy. “Oh Magpie, I’m so glad. It’s just that last night… well I wasn’t sure if you felt the same way as I do.”

I was just about to lean down and share breath with him when hara came from everywhere at once. Aredo from one side of the rock, shouting out. “They were just a couple of old humes… we got rid of them quick.” Raven, Wolf and Orontes from the other side, shouting and patting each other on the back.

“So how’s bullet head then?” Aredo asked, with a broad grin on his face. “Awww, did we interrupt something?”

Rondo seemed to find some inner strength and with an accomplished twist of his foot, he kicked Aredo’s legs from under him and brought him to his knees. “Bullet head is fine… thanks for asking.” He smirked back at his brother. “And yes, shithead, you did interrupt something. Always useless at timing, weren’t you bro?”

I laughed out loud, along with the two brothers, who were now wrestling on the ground. Slink and Davo came up then, with the horses in tow. I skittled away from Aredo and Rondo, leaving them to their brotherly bonding, and found a more comfortable spot beneath a shady tree. I then called Raven over and offered him a place on the grass beside me.

“Don’t know about you, Raven. But I’m going to have a nap.”

– 19 –

Magpie

My dad would have been in his element. When Aredo had mentioned a train, I had assumed it would be your normal every day, run of the mill, boring type train, with a diesel engine. But what I could see and hear winding it’s way through the narrow cutting was an old steam engine, puffing and chuffing and hooting away. Many’s the morning I had been awoken from sleep by my dad playing tapes of these things. Sometimes it would scare the shit out of me, until I realised that it wasn’t about to come thundering through my bedroom.

I hadn’t even thought to ask Aredo and Raven anything about the mode of transport they had suggested. I was just grateful that my bum would no longer be chafing on the backside of a horse. Now mind you, over the last week or so, I had become quite fond of Brian. Once I had gotten over my giggling that is, at the thought of anyone actually calling a horse Brian. But he was a nice nag. Quiet, friendly and happy to take a bunch of oats right from my hand… generous enough in temperament not to kick me, or buck me off, even when we were being shot at. In fact, Brian and I had become quite good mates. I did offer to pack him off to the knackery a few times though, when the blisters on my thighs became so sore that I even refused to have aruna with Rondo. But it wasn’t really his fault.

But now I could lay down, or stand up, while we were travelling and for that reason alone I was ecstatic to see this train roaring into the station. The only problem was, that it wasn’t actually going to stop at the station. We were going to have to hitch a ride, literally. Raven had done this before, so he said, and it was quite easy. Yeah… for him maybe. I had never attempted this, and I was
still stiff. I wondered if my legs would actually move when my brain told them to.

Raven did add however, that it was usual for the train to slow down slightly as it entered the station, because now and again they had goods to be off-loaded. I was also glad he had mentioned that fact, because the off-loading actually meant, standing at the door to the goods carriage and chucking them off. Heaven help anyone who was in the way, and hopefully nothing in the packages was breakable. This was what parts of the postal service had become. A few crazy old codgers, playing with the steam train from their local museum, taking
on the task of delivering parcels. Probably for a few beers and cigarettes.

I was luckier than the others, in that I didn’t have much to carry, except for a backpack of Rondo’s filled with a few light things. Raven had a backpack a carry bag, as well as a rifle. The train did seem to be slowing, as it gradually came closer, and I could see the engine driver watching us. I hoped he didn’t mind us catching a lift, but I was also sure that Raven and Aredo had a contingency plan
anyway. They probably had some bribes in those bags of theirs. A great cloud of steam billowed out of its funnel and another hiss of steam came up from beneath the wheels. They were braking… and a couple of boxes were being tipped off the side of a carriage onto the platform.

This was our only chance… and praying that I wouldn’t slip or miss hold of the door to the carriage, I took a running jump and leapt. Shit! I missed. But Rondo had managed to get aboard, and was holding out his hands for me to grab. Thankfully, because of his Wraeththu strength, he was able to pull me up into the carriage with ease.

It wasn’t exactly comfortable. The carriage we had hitched a ride in was a goods car, filled with boxes – containing exactly what, we were not sure. But a couple of them stank. I would have been content however, no matter what was in them, to lay myself out on top of one of them, and sleep some more, but Aredo and Raven wanted to explore. So off we went, jumping across the connections to the carriages, watching the ground whizz by beneath our feet. The train also jostled from side to side, so it made for a rather hairy exploration. The next two carriages were much the same as the first one, but the end one was an old fashioned passenger carriage, with reasonably comfortable seats and even a loo. It seemed like ten years since I had sat on a toilet seat, instead of crouching behind some tree or bush. This was going to be luxury.

***

We have been travelling on this rickety, clackety godforsaken train now for three days. I longed for Brian. For his hot breath and soft snout. The scenery we had been passing for the past 24 hours was bleak at best. Red dirt, barely any trees, nothing to look at. The one pack of cards we had were dog-eared, and the Queen of Hearts and the Ace of Spades were long gone, thrown out the window by Raven in a hissy fit.

We had stopped at stations about five times in all, to top up with coal and water and once we nearly derailed. We had to spend three hours relaying sleepers then praying the train would make it over the mended bits. It did… just. The driver, Keeper, and his fireman, Snort (don’t ask), were both Wraeththu, and didn’t seem to mind us hitching a ride on their train. Maybe the two bottles of scotch and the packets of cigarettes might have gone some way to keeping them happy, as well as the fact that we helped them off load some of the bigger packages. At least the smelly ones were gone now. Never did find out what was in them.

There had only been a few settlements of hara, and some of humes along the way, but they had all seemed friendly enough. Most of them were just glad to get their mail. They hardly noticed our rag tag group. Perhaps they thought we were employed by the postal service or something. On the third night, I was woken up by the steam whistle, blaring away, hurting my ears. I longed for some peace and quiet. As I sat up I rubbed the side of my face which was all wrinkly from sleeping on the cracked leather seat. The whistle went off again which was curious, as it was pitch black outside and we had topped up with coal and water only a few miles back

“What do you reckon they’re whistling for?” I asked Raven, who had been standing up by the window looking out at the night.

“A crossing maybe… just habit probably. I doubt if there are any vehicles on the road, especially this time of night. Although…” His voice drifted off, and he seemed to be peering at something.

“What can you see?” I asked him, stepping up now to look out the window as well.

“Some lights up there. Can you see them?” He was pointing now. Sure enough, there were about a dozen bright lights and what looked like a large group.

“Do you think they’re just after some mail?”

“Could be.” Raven replied. Then Raven went quiet, squinting slightly against the lights that were playing over the side of the train. In the headlights of the train I could see, hara, or humes, I couldn’t tell from that distance, but they were all holding weapons.

“Oh shit!” We both snorted in unison. “Better wake up the others.” Raven said loudly and we went off to shake everyone from their slumber.

The train was stopped now, and the only sound to be heard from its beast of an engine, was an occasional hiss of steam. It had gone ominously quiet and we were all crouched in the carriage, weapons at the ready.

“Why do you think they’ve got guns?” Rondo whispered into my ear. I could feel his body close to mine and he was shaking.

“Just taking precautions, maybe.”

“Someone is coming up the track guys… be ready.” Raven’s whisper was hoarse in the stillness.

A voice was shouting out, and for a few minutes we couldn’t quite work out what it was saying. Raven stood up and neared the window, craning his head so he could hear.

“Is there a Raven on board?”

We all heard it then, and looked to each other in surprise. Raven called back.

“Is that you, Tian?”

“What?” I crawled up to be close to Raven. “Did you say, Tian?”

“I’m not sure, Magpie. But it certainly sounded like his voice.”

“It couldn’t be. We left him in Australia.”

I peered through the filthy window and in the torchlight, saw someone I knew only too well.

“Dane!!! What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Nice greeting Jael… er, Magpie. Come on down and find out.”

– 20 –

Magpie

He told me all about it. About how they ran into trouble with the local group in Australia. It seemed they weren’t happy with the way Tian wanted to do things. The Aussies were simply too laid back and didn’t like the rules. Dane laughed when he passed on this information. “They’re not ready to be evolved, Jael. Sorry, Magpie.” We were riding the horses as he was talking to me, and he
reached over to pat me on the arm.

“Sound familiar?”

I laughed. “Yeah. Laid back is the right word. After my inception, they just assumed I’d be OK with it. I guess they would have rather been playing footy or watching telly. Couldn’t care less really. If it hadn’t been for Tian and Raven, I would still be running about in the bush, freakin’ out about my ouana-lim.”

“Yeah, that was a bit rough, wasn’t it? Well Tian decided to go home, and I had to go with him. You see, we’ve become chesna. He’s very special, Jael.”

“I’m thrilled for you.” I said sincerely. Dane deserved to be happy, he was kind and had always been there for me. We touched each other’s hands, like we used to as kids, just the fingers, no palms. It had been bad luck if our palms had touched. Silly really, but it was our special little quirk that no one else knew about.

“I see you’ve caught up with Rondo. He’s rather cute.” Dane winked at me and smiled.

Oh God! I was blushing again. Would I ever stop doing that? “Rondo’s, perfect, Dane…he’s better than I even imagined.” I looked about for him then, as I hadn’t even had the chance to introduce Dane to him properly, but he had disappeared. I called out to Raven in my mind. ::Where is he?::

::He’s all right, Magpie. He’s chatting to a few of the hara up the back. I guess he’s letting you catch up with Dane. Don’t worry about him::

I sighed loudly. Then began to tell Dane all about my flight to the States, which was now called Megalithica. He raised his eyebrows at this. Dane had come straight here, to this barren desert, having been informed via a rather ancient Morse code system that other parts of the country weren’t very welcoming. He had been very excited of course when he discovered that Raven and I were heading to the same place.

We rode on for another hour or so. Chatting occasionally about our travels, but mainly about Australia. Dane had gone to see my dad before he left, and told him that I was safe. He had been pleased to see Dane, and had given him an envelope for me. Dane said it was safe and sound in his pack, but had no idea what was in it.

I was exhausted by the time we saw lights from a small settlement up ahead. Well, completely done in, might be a better description. I hadn’t been sleeping very well on the train, and these last few hours on horseback were the last straw. It was with great relief that I fell onto a narrow bed and into a deep sleep as soon as I dropped my pack on the floor. I was too tired to even find Rondo. I just hoped he was safe and assumed he was asleep as well.

The next morning I awoke, and sat up in surprise. I hadn’t even taken in my surroundings the night before. All I knew was that I was in a wooden building, and several other hara were sleeping in the same room as me.

Rubbing my eyes, I saw Dane washing his face over a small sink. “Do you know where Rondo is?”

“No, I think he slept in another cabin. Come on. Breakfast is ready outside.”

Food… the very word “breakfast” had my mouth watering. I stumbled out of bed, performed some hasty ablutions then followed Dane outside. I would eat first then find Rondo. For some reason that morning, all I felt like was Vegemite on toast and a bowl of Weetabix, and Dane laughed when he read my thoughts.

“I agree with you, mate… but I’m sure they’ve never heard of them over here. Guess we just eat what’s given us.”

It turned out that breakfast wasn’t too bad. Strong coffee… fine. Eggs… runny. Then some potato thingies, that I still hadn’t quite gotten used to, but they filled up the gap in my rumbling stomach. I was just wiping my mouth when Tian, Raven and Aredo came sauntering up to us, coffee mugs in their hands.

“Interesting place this.” Raven said. “It’s quite a little town. They’ve got a couple of shops selling second hand stuff, and there’s even a tavern of sorts. Think we might settle here for a while and progress a couple of caste levels. They have a teacher who can help us do that.”

“School! Is that what you’re suggesting, Raven? That I go back to bloody school? I had enough lessons back in Australia.”

“Well it’s a little different here. You can move at your own pace. But remember what I said about the aruna magic. I’m sure you wanna improve your skills, Magpie.”

Don’t blush you twit… I berated myself. That word aruna, reminded me that I still hadn’t seen Rondo. “Can I have a guided tour when I’ve found Rondo?” I asked Raven.

“Sure. Haven’t seen him this morning though, the sleepy head.”

I could feel my heart constrict. What if he had found someone else already? I couldn’t stand it. I had to find him right then and there. I slurped the last dregs of my now lukewarm coffee… yuck! Then wandered off in the direction of another one of the cabins. The whole place was dry and dusty and all the buildings looked like they had been built from scraps of metal and wood, although they were substantial enough. I mean, the one we had been in, even had a loo. I was grateful for small mercies.

Hara seemed to be rushing everywhere, and there was even a small garden, where some very scraggly and dry looking plants were attempting to grow. I wasn’t sure, but one of them looked like a dwarf tomato plant. Dad used to grow tomatoes, and he was so proud of his bright red, luscious beauties. He would have laughed at these.

I tentatively knocked on the door to one of the cabins, and a har came to the door, dressed only in a pair of underpants. He was scratching his stomach and yawning. “Yeah!”

“Um… have you seen someone called Rondo? He would have arrived last night.”

“Rondo… Rondo… yeah, I have actually. Who wants to know?”

I was just about to give this slovenly pig a serve when I saw Rondo’s face peering around the door. “Magpie. Where’ve you been?”

“Well, I could ask you the same. We got separated, and I was so knackered last night that I just flopped on the first bed I could find. Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. This is Peanut.” He gestured to the slob and I nodded. Peanut seemed none too pleased to see me, and when I tried to delve into his mind, he slammed it shut. It almost hurt and he grinned when he saw my discomfort.

“Come in, hon.” Rondo, trotted off, leaving the slob, almost slavering at the doorway, and proceeded to wash up and get dressed. He looked tired, and he said he hadn’t slept too well. I led him over to the kitchen area and made sure he got some of the coffee into him, and a couple of the eggs. After filling his stomach and filling up on caffeine, he perked up a bit.

“So how’s Dane?” He had a sad expression on his face that I couldn’t quite fathom.

“He’s fine. It was great to see him again. We talked for ages about home and my dad. He even saw my dad before he left.”

Dane nodded thoughtfully. “That’s great, Magpie. Does this mean… I… mean… does this…. oh shit, Magpie. Do you want to be with Dane?” He was blushing now, and it certainly became him, but what he said surprised me.

“Dane… well yeah. I want to catch up with him, and I want to spend some time with him.” Then it twigged. Rondo was jealous of Dane. I was so chuffed I nearly stood up and did a hand spring. But Rondo was suffering here. I leant over and shared breath with him for a few minutes, letting him know through my feelings that he was being an idiot. Then I told him so.

“Rondo, don’t be a moron. Dane’s been my mate since we were in kindy. He is chesna with Tian.”

“Chesna? With Tian? Oh that is fucking great. So does that mean…?”

I stood up, pulled him up as well, then hugged him firmly. “Of course it does you idiot. I love you Rondo…I don’t want anyone else.”

I pushed him away from me so I could see his beaming face. How could he have thought that… but I guess Dane is rather a spunk… I would tell Dane about this later, he would be pleased. Being Wraeththu, suited him, but being Wraeththu suited Rondo more. When I could get up the nerve I was going to ask Rondo to be chesna with me.

Now I felt like exploring this outpost, now I had my Rondo at my side. I let him finish another cup of coffee, then we went walking. The hara we saw were happy, and all of them greeted us warmly. I didn’t think we would stay here forever, but a few months wouldn’t hurt. I needed to rest, get to know Rondo a little better, reminisce with Dane and elevate my caste.

– Two months later –

This is not the end of our little adventure, it will continue, sometime. Several great things however, have happened. Firstly I am now, Brynie, and proud of it. I have also been reunited with another old friend. Brian! A group of hara came trotting into the settlement a few days ago, and one of them was riding the old nag. He even seemed pleased to see me. The har didn’t seem to mind handing him over. The other thing that happened was our blood bonding ceremony. You see I finally got up the nerve to ask Rondo to be chesna, when he beat me to it. Dane was my best man, well I should say, best har. It was bit of folly on our behalf, as I was told it wasn’t a normal part of the ceremony, but I had always promised him he could be if I ever got married.

I’ve also been studying hard, practising my aruna magic and helping out in the stables. Well Brian insisted. Life’s actually quite good here in Saltrock.

Oh, one more thing. That envelope from my dad. It contained some photographs of when I was a little human, some gold coins he had been saving up for me, and a letter. Just soppy stuff about how he missed me and hoped to see me again one day. I never knew he had it in him.

The End

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2 Comments

  1. Ingrid Williams said,

    March 5, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    This was a really great story! I especially loved the Aussie jargo!

  2. mystic87 said,

    March 9, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    What a suprisingly lovely story! I really enjoyed the original characters. It was wonderful!


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